When I write, I like to start with a killer opening, a real attention getter that has the reader salivating to see more.  This will have to suffice.

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term home schooling?  What images come to your mind?  Does it sound abnormal to you like thinking of someone eating pizza while drinking milk? (Okay.  I admit it, some people like milk with their pizza.  I find the image disturbing.)  Does it sound like something you’d want to do, but doesn’t make practical sense.  Perhaps you think of a friend or relative who home educates their children.  Perhaps you’ve heard or even lived a home schooling success or horror story.  Maybe you’ve never given the concept much thought.

Today’s article is not meant to be a defense of home schooling.  I write a blog called Home School Dad, so don’t suspect I’m going to tear down the institution either.

What will follow is an answer to some of these questions.  What made you interested in home schooling?   What happened to make you the primary care parent/ home school teacher?  Hey didn’t I see you backstage at the Barry Manilow concert?  What does a typical day/week/month/semester look like?

Why People Home School.

I have, over the years, read many books, articles and blog posts about home education.  Some of these materials allege that there are just a few main reasons why parents choose to home educate.  I tend to disagree, I think the reasons why people home educate are as many and varied as the people out there home schooling. I have also found that individual motivations for home schooling tend to evolve over the years. I recently met a veteran home schooler in my area.  She has two students in high school, one graduating this year.  She told me that when she first started home education her main reason for doing so was fear of the sub-standard school system she was living in at the time.  Over the years she has moved to a much better school system, one she would be proud to send her kids to.  She continues to home educate, no longer from fear but because of the passion she has developed for it over the years.

Why We Home School.

My story is as follows:  When I was in my mid to late twenties I started encountering home school families.  At first the idea seemed unnatural to me.  As I encountered more and more home school families, I decided that when I ever got married (which at that point seemed unlikely) and had children, I would be open to the idea of home education.  During these rough and tumble years I lived in the rural Midwest, the suburban Midwest, in foreign cities and in the Southern United States.   Each family I encountered was different, with varying reasons for choosing home schooling, different methods and goals.  Some couples split the teaching between them, a concept which, at the time, appealed to me.

All of these observations and experience predated my marriage.  Oddly enough, my then future wife was having similar experiences and observations back in her neck of the woods.  She, like me, had decided to give home education a spin if she was ever to wed.  We of course did wed and each other of all people.  Surely enough, our dynamic duo became a terrific trio, a fantastic (Sorry, Marvel Comics) four, and then the quintessential quintet.

Eliminating Obstacles.

Before Amy and I did the old hitcheroo we made choices that eventually helped us with our initial foray into home schooling.  Individually, and then corporately, we worked ourselves out of debt.  We also made the decision to live only on one income from the inception of our marriage.  Several months prior tot the birth of our first child we were completely debt free.  This may not seem like it has much to do with home education.  However, the first obstacle that many potential home school families face is whether they can live on one income.  We hadn’t even decided if we were going to home school yet, but at least we were financially prepared.

The Early Years

Home Education for us began when Amy was expecting our first child.  I would read children’s books in the direction of the baby (if you consider the Chronicles of Narnia, “children’s books”) and when our daughter was born we continued right where we left off.  In those early years, aside from the copious amounts of time spent reading to her, we also explored the world with her.  Some of this was on a small scale like playing with her at the park across the street; others were on a large scale like the trip we took to Ireland for my brother’s wedding.  To us home schooling was just doing what you usually do, and bringing the kid.  This exploring the world was soon augmented with Amy “playing school” at the table with our daughter and then playing school with our son while she actually did school at the table with our daughter.

We now interrupt this story.

Before I go on and get to the part of our story where I became the home educator in our family, I want to say just a few things about home schooling in general.  Home education is legal in each of the 50 states.  Some states have more regulations than others. The Home School Legal Defense Association website has a page that summarizes the home school laws of each state: http://www.hslda.org/laws/default.asp.  Illinois, where I live, is one of the least regulated states.  There is no notification to the government required in order to home educate.  In Illinois home schooling is considered a private school.

What about socialization?

One of the greatest problem home-schoolers face is the issue of socialization.  The problem isn’t getting socialization for the kids.  Most home school children have countless opportunities for that.    The problem is the myriad “concerned” friends, relatives, and on-lookers and their objections and questions about socialization.  I have yet to encounter a home school parent who had problems with not enough socialization.  If there are any problems, it is with too much socialization.  With us, between sports, park district, home school field trips, church, and home school co-op, our children have plenty of opportunities for socialization.  There is an old joke in our house: it seemed early on in our home schooling adventure that we would often have to answer friends and family members’ concerns about socialization.  Every time this issue came up, one or more of our children were out somewhere socializing, usually with other home school families.

Sometimes people forget that not all age segregated socialization is good.  To that point I highly recommend Rick and Marilyn Boyer’s excellent tome, The Socialization Trap. Also, onlookers can be so concerned that our kids might be missing out on something; they don’t see what they are gaining.    By home educating our children Amy and I have become the effective teachers of socialization.  And let’s face it, family is the best place to “socialize” and teach moral values.  No parent in any educational system should be willing to relinquish their given role as the moral mentor of their child.  I have heard of many parents who decided to home educate because of all the reteaching they had to do with what  “socialization” was teaching their children.

Home Education is not for everyone.

Sometimes when I hear others say those words, it sounds as if they are either being condescending or don’t believe what they are saying.  But in my mind, fewer words have been truer spoken.  At my church, I sometimes get a vibe that some people are looking down their noses at the home educated families.  I found out recently, that some of the public school families felt the private educated and home educated families were looking down at them.  I think parents need to realize that just because a certain educational system might not work for your family, it’s not wrong for everyone.

Some families home educate only some of their children.  Others switch in and out of home schooling on a yearly basis.  I know a family that would like to home school their kids, but due to custody concerns aren’t able to.  I spoke with Christian recording artist Michael Card last spring prior to a concert.  He said that many people, after reading his and his wife Susan’s excellent book, The Homeschool Journey, decided home schooling was not for them.  Michael was glad that his family’s experiences could help other’s decide theirs.

Meanwhile back at the Home School Ranch . . .

Shortly after our third child was born, I lost the job I had held for almost a decade prior.  For the next two years, I worked all but 12 weeks at various jobs.  But with the increase in our family and decrease in my salary we found it harder and harder to live on my income.  In July of 2008, I got the proverbial axe again.  Amy and I both began to look for full time employment.  She was hired in her field 4 days after I lost my job!  Not only did her job pay much more than my previous ones did, her field is in the school systems, so we now have the summers off as a family!  Amy and I would both prefer educating our children as to working outside the home.  I envision that when the economy revives, that we will switch again.

A day in the life of a Home School Dad

Our home school day runs from about 9 a.m. to about 1 p.m. including lunch and a snack.    Our oldest is pretty self contained, I give her an assignment and she usually pops into her room and starts plugging away.  My son has made me think about a career in the dental industry, because getting him to work with me at the table is akin to pulling teeth. Most of his education at this point has to be directed by me in a 1 on 1 fashion.  As his reading continues to improve, he too will become more self contained.  My youngest has caused my career path thoughts to change once again, as the first year I was home I spent the majority if my time putting out her fires.  I have developed pre-school stations for her this year that have lessened but not extinguished her hurricane ways.

Our curriculum can vary year to year.  There are some subjects like math, where we continue to buy the same material each year.  There are other subjects where we are still looking for a good fit.  Each year we attend a Home School Convention, where one of the main draws is a vendor hall chock full of ideas for curriculum for the coming year.  In the fall semester we tried unit studies, where you teach all subjects from a particular unit.  This worked fairly well, but because of the disparity in our kids’ abilities that I mentioned earlier, and the fact that it didn’t quite match my teaching style, I didn’t continue it into the second semester.  This coming year looks like we will be going with more of a text book approach.

While home schooling seems to be atypical as compared to public and private schooling,  home schooling with the father as principle teacher is certainly atypical to the mom-as-teacher approach.  When my wife tells people at her work that we home school our kids, many of them envision her leaving them unsupervised at home with assignments, before they are told that I am the one staying at home teaching them.  The home school support group at our church has monthly mom meetings for the teachers.  Suffice it to say I have never attended.

Home educating my children is without a doubt the best job I have ever had.  It is also the most challenging, sometimes frustrating, and definitely the most fulfilling I’ve ever had.  I’d like to make a few closing comments to my target audience (men who are primary care-givers for their children) before bringing this article to a close.

  1. Whether you home educate your children or not, I encourage you to formally teach each of them in one setting or another.  This may mean leading a 4-H, church or scouting group, teaching them how to do something you already good at, or both taking a class of some sort together.  My wife has wanted to take a sign language class at our local junior college with my daughter for sometime now.  Now that she is no longer the primary teacher, this would be an excellent time to learn a skill together.  Parenting, in my mind, is pouring yourself into the lives of your children.  You do not need to home school to do that, but it is important to be intentional in what you do choose to do.
  2. If you have any interest in home educating your children, do some research, to see if this might be a good fit for your family.  I have already recommended a website that will help determine your state’s requirement and two fine introductory books on the subject.  Find a homeschool family or support group that you can discuss the matter with.  Feel free to contact me with any thoughts or questions.
  3. If home schooling at this point in your life is not for you, don’t worry about it. Don’t let other home school families make you feel like you are less a parent for not going that route.  To the same degree do your best to not alienate home school families from your circle of friends because they are different.    Most importantly, whatever educational system you follow, make sure you are an advocate for your child’s education.
  4. For those fathers who are currently home educating your children, make sure that you have a strong support system of other home school families.  Men tend to think they can make it on their own.  This is not correct.  By being part of this men’s group you have already showed that you know that you need the support of others.  Make sure you get it in the home education arena as well.

I hope these thoughts and ramblings of a home school father have encouraged and educated you.  I’d like to thank (guy who invited me) for the opportunity to share my story.  I’d also like to thank my editor (aka my wife) for taking these thoughts and making them follow-able.

By the way, I was not me you saw at the Barry Manilow concert.  When he was in town, I was at the Copa, Copa Cabana, the hottest place north of Havana.