Homeschooling mum of seven, Belinda Moore, describes what a homeschooling lifestyle is really like.
Over twenty years ago I first heard about homeschooling. It was in the days before home internet connection, so all I had at first was a phone number of a Christian curriculum supplier in another state. From there I found the nearest contact person, who lived about 250km away from me. From there I made another phone call and we received a newsletter in the mail full of personal stories, drawings, articles and inspiration. All the while I was thinking that this wasn’t the path for us, but as a parent and educator, I was intrigued.
Time passed and more snippets of homeschooling information and serendipitous contacts came into our lives. We managed to visit with the homeschoolers 250km away - and that sealed it! Theirs was a lifestyle we longed for; time with our children, free of the constraints of an education system we weren’t confident in, learning from life itself. Surely it couldn’t be as easy as they made it look?
Soon after, we attended our first homeschooling camp and met many other families. Each family had their own list of reasons they weren’t using schools, and different methods of conducting their homeschooling journey.
On one hand, it felt like the sky was the limit, and on the other, the seemingly limitless information was overwhelming.
Researching madly, I narrowed our options down to the three main methods of homeschooling I had discovered: distance education or another formal curriculum, eclectic homeschooling, and unschooling. Our eldest child was academically gifted, so we decided against a packaged curriculum as none appealed to her needs or our beliefs. Unschooling is described as self-directed learning, where the parent acts as a facilitator rather than teacher. This did appeal to me as an educator as it ticked all the boxes of those educational theorists I’d studied at university, but as a young and busy mother I didn’t have the confidence to leap into the uncertain world of unschooling. So, alongside most other families we’d met, we began an eclectic homeschooling lifestyle.
I have delighted in allowing our children to learn at their own pace, in their own styles. They have begun reading with confidence between three and nine years of age. We have covered the basics of mathematics in many ways; including stories, manipulatives, workbooks, games, computer programs and nature. These have all aided their understanding of mathematical foundation concepts. When a keen interest in literature, science or history has been evident, together we’ve found fun, effective and unique paths to learning.
Through the years the energy that has ebbed and flowed in our lives has directed our children’s education. When energy was high and routine craved, we did piles of bookwork, projects, reading and exploring. When we needed some quiet space due to a new baby arriving, moving house, illness or any other life change, we simply played, talked and learned from everyday life. I still remember fondly how, when our fifth child arrived, I declared that we were doing a unit study on classical music and art. In preparation, I borrowed a great stack of art books and music CDs from the library, dug out all of our own suitable resources, set up some peaceful spaces and quality art supplies, and let the children immerse themselves in this beauty for at least a whole month. It was much better for me than rushing with a newborn baby to three different schools each day, to keep up with a typical large family’s commitments.
As our children grew into teenagers, the focus and flow became less about my energy and more about their interests and needs. We aimed to expose our young adults to relevant and varied people, places, and further education opportunities. For us, the high school years are the most exciting and important stage of homeschooling. There is space and time for personal growth, family connectedness, travel, sleep and following passions. It is sometimes as angst-filled and exhausting as any teenage lifestyle, but it’s our chaos. I’m glad we mostly avoided the school bus, homework, uniforms, packed lunches and all the parts of school life I wouldn’t have enjoyed as a mother.
Having a messy, busy, noisy, child-centred home still suits us just fine!
With seven adventurous, outgoing children it has always been important to us all to have other people around. The widespread concern over socialisation is one that homeschoolers generally find amusing. Home educated children almost always have a wider scope of social contact than their schooled age peers. In any given week, our children had contact with children at their dance and drama classes, children from newborn to mid teen years at our home education outings, neighbours of all ages, coaches and tutors, several school teachers, librarians, staff in shops and stallholders at markets, our adult friends, extended family, and workmates and employers of the older children. We appreciate and respect the confidence and acceptance our children have when interacting with other people in our community, and we do not worry about their social skills.
Whilst homeschooling our large family, I mostly stayed out of the mainstream workforce for over two decades. I have dabbled in some freelance and temp work, continued to study and learn, run small businesses from home, and enjoyed a wide variety of hobbies and volunteer positions in our community. I feel privileged to have spent this time nurturing my family and my own interests simultaneously. I am not extraordinarily clever or patient or maternal, but I am trying hard, and having fun along the way.
(First published in 2012 in Mindful Parenting online magazine, this version has been edited to update the family’s current circumstances.)