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Our homeschooling journey … the philosophical framework

(Edited to add: feel free to browse around our site by clicking these links: homeschooling in South Africa, homeschooling in our home and FAQs about homeschooling)

Recently, the SACHS blog carnival focused on how we came to choose homeschooling.  It prompted me to record, for the first time on this blog, the details of our journey into homeschooling.

Now, the SACHS carnival topic is “philosophies of homeschooling”.  In other words: the ideas behind a family’s approach to home schooling and what that looks like in terms of curricula, day-to-day living and so on.  Again I find myself recording, for the first time on this blog, the details of our approach to education.  Here goes …


Our home schooling style has developed in a most unorthodox manner.  Organised, methodical people would gather lots of information, read through various philosophies of education and come to a conclusion.  I came to a conclusion and worked backwards.

My conclusion?

For us, literature-based education with a Christian worldview is the way to go. 

Having studied through a system that flip-flopped on Christian principles and was all out antagonistic at a university level, I realised that I wanted to equip my children with better skills than I had ever acquired.  Having taught in a Christian school, I saw a wonderful example of how this could be done.  And, as a former history and English teacher, I knew that students learn best through good stories where well-developed characters relate to the world around them.  I saw how my own students most seemed to soak up knowledge with interest and excitement when we read excellent literature together.  And, as a child growing up loving books, I came to realise that my learning was best fuelled by great literature.


My own experience began with one book that I must’ve read when I was ten or so. It was a beautiful story about a young boy and his sister, stuck away in their grandfather’s old house.  I don’t remember much about the book, except two things.  The first was the way the author described how the children began to learn and discover the world around them.  With their grandfather encouraging them, they delved into deep history studies through exploring the stories in his vast library.  The children transformed from bored, book-wary kids into curious, excited to learn young people who found their time with their grandfather to be the best learning experience of their life.  The second was my emotional reaction to the story.  I was caught up with the children in their excitement.  When I closed the book, I remember feeling a sense of disappointment that my own education was mostly snippets of dull and boring information handed out on a worksheet or found between the pages of musty old textbooks.  I was *jealous* of a couple of fictional characters.  I wanted to learn that way too.  So I did.  Even though I didn’t consciously count it as learning, I discovered historical novels and other brilliant books written in other time periods or around subjects I hadn’t read about before.  Countries, circumstances, wars, heroes, geographical locations – these things became alive to me when I read.  It was the most fascinating learning I ever did and led me directly into my History major at University.

Francine Rivers: The Atonement ChildWhen I became a teacher, my students taught me how important literature is simply by how they responded.  I had even the most disinterested, reading-adverse students loving learning when we read Atonement Child together.  Abortion was the main topic and after reading the book, the kids did group orals around abortion, abortifacients, birth ‘control’, s3x before marriage, counselling and more.  It was the most interesting experience of their year.  I had never seen such enthusiasm for a school project before.  These kids were committed – heart and soul.  Quite simply, they could identify with the character’s agonising journey as a Christian person faced with a terrible decision.  It was faith-testing stuff and they were challenged deeply.  Their final projects were excellent: they were driven by heart-felt convictions of young 13 and 14 year old young people. This was the the type of learning I wished I could infuse into every aspect of school life.  But… I fell pregnant and left formal teaching.  I never had the chance to research this way of learning and apply it in the classroom.

Fast forward a year or so.  I found myself faced with the education decision when my first born was just a pint sized 1 year old.  Home schooling became a real option.  And then I read the Sonlight catalogue.  I was sold on homeschooling.  While I had read about homeschooling here and there, I was only convinced when I read through the Sonlight catalogue and engaged with the 27 Reasons Not to Homeschool with Sonlight article as well as the 27 Reasons Families Love Sonlight, not to mention the numerous glowing testimonies from families whose home schooling experience had been revolutionised by this literature-based curriculum.  The more I read, the more I felt the curriculum resonate with me.  This truly was the way that I wish I had been taught.  It was Christian world-view, literature-rich education.

But what did that mean exactly and what about all the other methods of education?  By this time, I knew I would school the Sonlight way.  But, I needed to know more about what that was:  the philosophy behind it and how it compared with other popular methods.  I needed to check that I wasn’t missing something that would fit our family better.  So, working backwards from my already established conclusion, I began investigating home schooling in a broader sense.

I went along to an open day at Footprints on Our Land’s co-creator, Wendy Young’s house.  She answered many of my questions.  Through her, the mystery of who this ‘Charlotte Mason’ person was was made clearer.  I had come across her name but I hadn’t really got to grips with who she was and what she had to do with literature based education.  I soon discovered that she, in many senses, gave birth to it. The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola became a much loved gentle explanation.  I visited Ambleside.com, a free Charlotte Mason based curriculum online.  The concept of educating the wholehearted child came into focus for me through this process.  And I loved it.  Then my sister gifted me with the Clarkson’s book: Educating the Wholehearted Child.  It was another great resource for helping me crystallize my thinking. I knew that I wanted to homeschool in a whole life sense.  In other words, I wanted the school part of our lives to fit seamlessly into the rest of our lives.  Every life moment would be a school moment and every school moment would be a life moment.  We would learn by living: living books, living life, living out our convictions, living while interacting with our world.  I could picture our happy home schooling moments like picture postcards – all with their rose-tinted borders.

Then I was introduced to the concept of ‘unschooling’ – it was my ideal: learning through living.  I love how much freedom home schooling allows and unschooling seems to give families huge scope in which to learn through life circumstances.  But it called for child directed learning.  I knew my limitations and my vices.  Without some kind of structure to follow daily, my laziness would prevail.  I would easily fall into the trap of following my own desires all day and neglect the kids.  “Later dear” would be my refrain when the kids asked to learn something new.  As much as I loved the ideal of learning through living life, I realized that I would need more structure if I was going to home school my kids effectively.

Which brought me back to Sonlight.  By this stage, I had learned about a number of different approaches to homeschooling.  Namely:

  • Classical Education, where children learn Latin and classical literature from a very young age.  It was a brief consideration until I realized the only part of me that the curriculum appealed to was my pride: namely, having my children be little child geniuses who were academic wonderkinds.
  • Konos, a fantastic Christian unit-study program that focuses on Christian character traits was tempting, but with the focus being on loads of hands on activities with a small injection of living books, I was not tempted enough.  Especially when I compared how much preparation would be involved compared to Sonlight.  I would need to visit the library to find our supplementary books for example and knowing how hard it is to always find books on subjects I had needed as a teacher, I didn’t like the idea of having to wait for books to be returned by other users, or having to improvise with other books or prepare something different for that day. With Sonlight we got all our books and formed our own personal library.  As a former teacher who had to develop a lot of the curriculum from scratch, I was not keen on spending hours each week in preparation for our home schooling – hours I could rather spend enjoying my family.
  • Accredited textbook based curricula like ACE, Bon Jones, Calvert and others looked glossy, rich and approved.  But it didn’t fit my now well-formed ideal for our schooling future.  Dry and boring, school-at-home was not what I wanted. Added to that was the expense – some programmes cost as much as private schooling. It was not for me.

I kept coming back to Sonlight.  It was everything I wanted for my kids and everything I had wished I had had growing up.

That was 8 years ago.  How do things look now? We still use Sonlight and we still love it.  By far the best part of all we do are the living books.  We have had the most amazing learning experiences through the books we’ve read.  Most especially the books that touch the heart.  I’d love to say that it is all as ideal as those rose-tinted picture postcards of my imagination.  The truth?  While we do have plenty of awesome days, we also have frustrating days where learning is boring but necessary, where we don’t learn a thing because we’re having a lazy day, where life interrupts learning despite my wanting life to inform our learning.  I am still trying to find the right fit for my second child who seems to be on the ADD spectrum and thus struggles to concentrate long enough to do anything that’s vaguely boring for her.  Which accounts for most of our seatwork: grammar and handwriting particularly. I don’t regularly remember to be consciously looking out for learning opportunities wherever we go.  Oftentimes I am tripping over obstacles I had never anticipated.  And tripping over obstacles I’ve created all on my own.  And I do mourn the things that schools offer that I just can’t.  But, by and large, the philosophy behind our choice of education stands firm and strong.  And, by and large, our experience has been that this style of schooling is the best approach for our family.

And every single time we finish another chapter of a great living book and I hear my kids beg me for another chapter, or I listen to their discussions about the characters and their experiences, or their knowledge of broad and deep biblical and secular concepts comes out in later conversations, my heart swells with joy.  In many senses, I feel like these excellent books are teachers in themselves.  And where I fail, many times these books fill the gap, informing my children’s worldview and giving them tools to manage the world around them with maturity.  Living books for a living education.  It’s a philosophy of education that works for us.


In this series: Our homeschooling Journey…

  • how we got here.
  • … the philosophy behind our style of curriculum (this post)


This post  features in the up-coming 11th SACHS Blog Carnival focusing on The philosophies and styles of homeschooling and hosted by Linnie of Back to Ancient Ways.  To find out more about the South African Carnival of Home Schooling Blogs, head to our SACHS BLOGS page. Keep posted for the 11th Carnival – live on Friday 11/11/2011!

Our homeschooling journey… how we got here

image source linked

In the beginning: Homeschooling is for weirdoes!

In 1995 I was a Rotary Exchange Student to the United States.  It was a wonderful year filled with amazing experiences, many of which were brand new.  I learnt how to ski and waterski, talk to strangers comfortably, figure out an American high school system and cope with –40°F (wind chill) weather.  I lived in Menominee – a little town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Yooperland.  Ice fishing, deer hunting, Green Bay Packer-supporting land.  And I loved it!  I really embraced one of the many pithy sayings of Rotarians across the world – “It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different”.  I even embraced the foods we ate, although, I was known to tease my host mom about all the “baa-ahxed” (boxed) food we ate – including beautiful looking stuffed potatoes! 🙂  But, the day I came across homeschooling, my embracing attitude came to a skidding stop.

“You’re going to a what?  A homeschooling science fair? Uh. Okay…. Well, yes, okay… I’ll come along.”

My best friend babysat a couple of homeschooled kids.  It was the first time I’d heard of such a thing.  And the first thoughts through my 18-year old brain were, “Oh shame!  Those poor sheltered kids.  They must be so strange!  They couldn’t possibly have any social interaction.  I wonder if they’re like super shy or something.  Homeschool?  Homeschool?  Boy, that’s just weird.”

original image source linked

I went to the fair.  What can I say?  I was curious.  I went in wondering about the “weird, unsocialised homeschoolers inside” and yet came away a little shaken by the bright happy faces, the personable young kids, the awesome projects on display and the buzz of people.  I had honestly expected to see just one family’s stuff on display.  I had thought hiring the church basement was a little over ambitious.  Turns out that I had no clue.

But, I wasn’t letting go of my firmly held deep convictions.  Those convictions that I formed within a few seconds of first hearing the words “home” and “schooling” being placed together.  I, in my 18-year old arrogance, had determined that homeschooling was inferior on all counts.  And I felt deeply suspicious.  Why would parents want to reject all that schools offer?  It had to be sinister – or, at the very least, silly overprotective parents who were destined to have unmarried adult children living with them until the day they died.

Well maybe not weird … arrogant, then?

Fast forward a few years …  I’m infinitely more mature: all of 22 years of age, I have entered the work force as a high school teacher.  I’m slightly more aware that I don’t know everything, but I’m pretty confident that I know a thing or two about education.  Hoo boy!  Looking back, I cringe.  But at the time, I thought I was well within the bounds of educated opinion when I met my first South African homeschooling family.  The mom was pointed out to me in a crowd, “She’s the one who home schools.”  We were at an educational conference on Christian education.  I remember feeling a mite offended that this mom was muscling in on a school-aimed conference.  After all, she had rejected our system in favour of her own.  Some time later, I met her kids at our school gala.  The school had opened our sporting events to homeschoolers in the area.  I remember purposefully trying to suspend my prejudice and be welcoming and warm.  When the young boy looked at me strangely, I put his behaviour down to “poor child must be embarrassed that he’s homeschooled and is trying to play it down at this Real School event.”  I neglected to take into account my, potentially, big fake happy smile and loud welcome that must’ve screamed “Oh, so YOU are the home schooled boy!”  The fact that the boy didn’t run away screaming is a testimony to his superb self-control! I was that scary woman.

A few more years later, I left teaching.  Oh, I loved the profession.  I loved the kids.  I really loved my colleagues and the ethos of our school.  I would miss it all.  But, I had something I loved more: a little baby girl who was due to be born just 2 months after I resigned my position at school.

Homeschooling, a viable alternative?

Kiera was born in August and before long my every waking moment revolved around her.  Her wake times, her feed times, her happy times, her poo nappy times, her bath times, her routines, her sleeps – it was all about baby.  It was also about tea dates with other moms.  And with those tea dates I met many new women.  Other moms.  Before long, I began to hear the tales of schooling woes.  I learnt that popular opinion was that if I wanted my child to have a decent education, they would have had to be on a private school list from birth.  If I couldn’t afford private schooling, I had better aim to move into the right zoned area for a good government school.

Education suddenly became a huge pressure in my life.  And my daughter was not yet 6 months old.

Meanwhile, all the way in Israel, my elder sister had decided to homeschool her eldest daughters.  They were 5 and 8 at the time.  She wasn’t convinced that the school system was right for their family.  So she took the plunge and began to homeschool in a country with very little homeschooling support.  Homeschooling was now in the family!

Closer to home, my friend, Sue, began talking about home schooling as a possible option for her baby daughter, Tegan.  As former colleagues who had both experienced our government’s attempts to introduce all sorts of undesirable learning material into the curriculum, Sue and I were aware that the question of education was indeed a pretty huge question.  We didn’t want our own kids subjected to age-inappropriate material like s ex ed in Grade 1.  I didn’t like the Outcomes Based Education system that was moving its way up the grades at the time.  Oh, I applauded the concept, but I also could see that it would not work well.  Not without an enormous amount of support, financially and physically.  Even our little school with its small classes couldn’t really do the system justice.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted my kids to experience an educational system that I didn’t place much stock in.

And, as teachers, Sue and I had worked on the other side of the system.  Now we were the parents.   Having such insider knowledge meant that I was more discouraged than encouraged.  I knew how my own failures as a teacher had a negative impact on a classful of kids.  I didn’t like the idea of how a single teacher has such enormous persuasive power over her classroom of kids – especially in the younger grades and especially when no other adults are present.  Kids intrinsically believe everything their teacher says, and with hours of unaccounted time with impressionable kids, well, a teacher could have fantastic influence … or cause a lot of damage.  I also really didn’t like the idea of how much influence peers had over each other.  I remembered moments inside and outside of my classroom where impressionable kids would be led astray, just to be accepted or loved by their friends.  It was worrying.  And looking at the schools available to me, it was also quite depressing.

Soon, though, I realised that I was operating out of unhealthy fear.  And despite my fears, my kids needed to be educated, one way or another. I knew that there were wonderful things about schools and that focusing on the negatives, especially those that weren’t givens, was simply self-defeating and pessimistic.  God had a plan for each of my kids and I could rest in that.  It was simply a matter of making a choice for our family that we felt fit our family, in the light of who God made us in Him, and asking Him to open and close the doors accordingly.   The best government school available was the obvious choice.  There were a few that we would’ve considered too.  Until home schooling started becoming a viable alternative….

It was when Sue showed me the Sonlight catalogue that the small seed of interest in home schooling began to grow and flourish.  She said something to the effect of “if I homeschool, it’s because this catalogue sold homeschooling to me.”  I read the catalogue and had to agree.

It was exactly how their advert said it: “The way you wish you were taught!”  The literature-based, rich programme of learning was exciting and interesting.  The catalogue was peppered with photos and interviews with real live families happily home schooling.  The testimonies spoke time and again of the very values and educational ideals I was seeking to find: family relationships solidifying, faith deepening, exciting learning, no dry boring textbooks, but rather living books that brought history and the world around us alive, flexibility in lifestyle, fathers involved, paced according to the kids’ abilities and more.

I wanted to homeschool and I wanted to homeschool with Sonlight.

But reason dictated. And so did Craig.  He wasn’t interested in the idea AT ALL.  And I wasn’t 100% convinced, despite having a rather romantic notion in my head of happy families learning at home.  So I began to pray.  And I began to talk.  And I began to read.

I prayed that the Lord would clearly guide us in the decision.  I began to talk about the idea a little with friends and family around me – gauging their opinion, while voicing mine.  All in the name of research.  And I read and read and read lots of articles online and beyond.  Then, I talked some more.  Prayed some more.  And read some more.  Things began to happen.

And I began to learn.

Many of my friends and family weren’t interested in home schooling and would either argue vehemently against my exploration of the subject or quietly ignore me.  It was one of my first big lessons in learning to be more gracious in how I presented my thoughts and ideas to others.  And, I learnt to think through things a little more deeply on my own, before putting it “out there” for open discussion and risking being hurt.  One lesson has stood me in good stead; the other has been a mixed blessing.

I want to home school! Does Craig…?

One evening during this time of searching, I happened to be browsing the book sale at our church.  At the time, Craig and I were alternating night church and it was my turn.  My heart was feeling quite burdened by my conflicting desires regarding home schooling.  On the one hand, I really wanted to give that life to my kids.  On the other, I was worried that it wouldn’t be right.  It was a matter of prayer.  That night I prayed that I’d find something on home schooling on the sparse tables of books.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I came across the only home schooling book in the shop.  The only home schooling book in the shop that also happened to be on sale.  I had just enough money for its half-price tag.  Just enough to buy the book with the title that was my very own burning question, “Should I Homeschool?”

I read the book within 24 hours.  Written by home schoolers who were determined to be as open as possible to all the factors worth considering, the book made no bones about having a bias.  Instead they promised to be as balanced as they could given their bias towards homeschooling.  Then they began answering the many questions posed in each chapter in a way that resonated with me.  I finished the book convinced that homeschooling was a fit for our family.

But what about hubby?  What did he think?

Again I prayed!  I prayed that he would read the book.  I prayed that if it was right for our family, that the Lord would give him a similar conviction.  I prayed that I would graciously accept whatever decision he made and work with it from there.  The most important prayer.  And then I asked Craig to read the book.

It was a big ask, simply because Craig’s not a big “parenting non fiction” book reader.  Reading a book on home schooling was definitely not going to rate highly on the ‘what to do?’ list.  But, knowing that it was a big decision, he agreed.  I promised him that if he didn’t agree with the idea of at least trying it for a few years, then I wouldn’t ply him with other books and information, but would rather explore the more mainstream options of schooling.  Craig read the book in a couple days too and came to this conclusion, “I think home schooling is a good option for the early grades.  We can commit to Grade 1, 2 and 3.  But I’m not keen on going further at this stage.  We can reassess later, but I’ll commit to the first phase of school.”

I was floored!  He did a complete 180 on his views.  While he wasn’t shouting it from the rooftops, he was open to home schooling!  I was thrilled!

By this stage, Kiera was not even two!  I have a good chuckle at myself when I think back to this time.  There I was, frantically researching formal education, all while my child was still having day time naps in her cot!  But, if I had to do it over, I don’t think that I would change a thing.  Because, from that moment on, I felt a sense of peace about our decision.  Oh, for sure there were times I wondered if it was the best decision, or felt pangs of regret for the things we’d be missing out on: school uniforms, break time fun, school plays and the like.  But, mostly I felt relaxed about the schooling decision.  We knew we would home school.  I could enjoy my child’s learning at home without having to worry about applications and school readiness.  We would work at her pace.  And we would enjoy precious time together.

By the time our decision was made, I had already joined a little weekly play group with a few other moms.  Katie had arrived and Sam followed two years later.  Our group grew and then it shrank.  The other kids were heading off to school and it was time to say goodbye to our little group and hello to another one.  Enter: Lunch Bunch.  My friend Sue had also chosen to homeschool.  So, together with Sue, Kate and Caren, we formed our homeschooling co-op in Kiera’s Grade R year.  And we’ve not stopped meeting.  Each week we meet together for enrichment studies in music, art, and Xhosa.  We enjoy educational and fun outings together and our kids are firm friends.

Homeschooling… it’s for us!

It’s been four years since we started “formally” home schooling.  When we started, my main motivating factors were fear-based: would the schools be up to scratch? what about large classes? what about bad influences? what about the crazy curriculum the government is proposing?  It was mostly about what pushed me away from mainstream schools that influenced my decisions.  Now, my motivating factors are lifestyle-based: the pull factors of homeschooling.  Because home schooling is more than an educational choice.  It’s a life style choice.  And we’ve found that we love this life.:

We love the ability to pick up and go whenever we want.  We love being able to explore subjects of interest if we like or spend a little extra time focusing on a story we love.  We love that our biblical worldview is not pitted against a secular worldview on a daily basis, but that rather we get to explore the world through the lens of the Word of God.  We love that seatwork is over by lunch time.  We love that we can do school just about anywhere, even following dad up the coast on a business trip-family holiday and doing school in the resort gardens. Or hanging out mid term with granny and grandpa in Hermanus for a week.  We love being able to go at our own pace, whether that means slowing down to lighten my ADD daughter’s work load or allowing her to read aloud as much as she likes because it’s the one part of school that she loves.  We love that it means more family time and more opportunities to be a part of our kids’ lives.  And we love that that means we sometimes catch the most amazing moments in the middle of a maths lesson, like a s ex talk I had with Kiera a while ago.  We love the leisurely hours of reading beautiful, living books that are filled with exciting history lived out in the lives of the characters – especially in winter time when we gather around the fireplace after lunch with hot chocolate and fluffy blankets, or in summer time when we lie outside under the shade of our big plane tree, sucking ice lollies, still wet from a mid-morning swim.   And I certainly love not having to battle the early morning traffic doing the school run!  There is something to be said for waking up after dawn, instead of before it 🙂

As I write this, we are nearing the end of Kiera’s 3rd Grade and we have already bought the curriculum material for next year.  So, what happened to committing to Foundation Phase only?  Craig’s of the opinion that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  He says,

It’s working!  The kids are responding well and there are no reasons to change.”

Home schooling has shaped the way we do the day-to-day business of life.  And we love it.  It’s flexible and we’ve got so much freedom, without sacrificing on a quality education.  Of course, there are days when things are crazily chaotic or I second guess our decision.  And we don’t know if we’ll do this all the way to grade 12.  But, right now, it truly is the way that I wish I had been taught.  And it’s been a journey I wouldn’t exchange for the world.


This post  features in the 9th SACHS Blog Carnival focusing on How We Came to Homeschool and hosted by Tanja of So Homeschooled.  To find out more about the South African Carnival of Home Schooling Blogs, head to our SACHS BLOGS page.

Querying Homeschooling – the pitfalls

Recently I posted an article from the Cape Home Educators featuring FAQs about homeschooling.   In an enlightening discussion with a non-homeschooling friend, I came to realise a) how easily statements are misinterpreted, depending on one’s own life experience filters the information and b) how carefully we need to word things so that intended meaning and actualities are conveyed clearly.  I thought it worthwhile to run through some of the factors of homeschooling that the pamphlet touches on, and, where possible, deal with some of the objections raised.  Hence this post which is part of a series called Querying Homeschooling.  I hope that my explanation is not only clear, but that it is also received as honest and gracious.



Homeschooling and homeschoolers are oftentimes viewed with suspicion by the general public.  And not without reason.

In the early, early days, home schoolers were so few and far between most people didn’t even know what it meant to home school.  Just a few decades ago, the handful of families who did home school often fit into a certain mould that already seemed radically different from the world – before home schooling was added to the mix.  Soon enough, home schooling in Christian circles became synonymous with ultra-conservative, long-haired, pinafore-wearing, quiverful families who baked their own bread, canned their own fruit and milked their own cow on their own small holding.  While I have no issue with families like those (and would quite like my own smallholding one day!) I can understand how the stereotype compounds the view that home schoolers are radically different from most people in the Western world.

Also, the decision to home school is an active choice to swim against the stream: that in itself is enough to elicit suspicion.  Any time that groups of people actively rebel against the accepted norm, emotional responses come to the fore.  It’s easy to feel defensive in the presence of the home schooler, because the simple fact that they’ve actively chosen to do something radically different to you, suggests that they wouldn’t choose the path you’ve chosen.  That in itself can feel deeply insulting.

Add to that the many home schoolers who come across in an arrogant fashion about their choice, it’s not surprising that mainstream schooled kids and parents feel defensive.  Sometimes this is simply a misinterpretation on the behalf of the listener. Sometimes it is plain pride and boastfulness on the behalf of the home schooler.  In my experience, it’s often the “new to home schooling” families that are the most vocal and adamant that home schooling is superior across the board.  While the rose-tinted glasses are still perched on the end of one’s nose, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing only that which is exciting and advantageous.  That was certainly the case for me.

The reality is that home schooling is simply a different educational choice.  And, for some families, this extends to a different lifestyle choice.  While people who choose to home school may cite vastly different reasons for their choice, most of us experience shared benefits that keep us home schooling.  As I’ve outlined in the previous posts, being able to have more flexibility and time are huge advantages of the home school lifestyle, and these factors bring with them some wonderful opportunities and experiences families may never have otherwise encountered.

But, home schooling, just like mainstream schooling, is not without problems.  While lack of individual attention or negative peer influence may be some concerns of mainstream schooling, home schooling has its own unique set of potential pitfalls.  From my, relatively brief, 5 year experience of home schooling these are some of the things I feel are worth watching out for:

  • Superiority:
    • making the choice to home school can stir up feelings of superiority and pride, both in the parents and the kids. Parents may feel that they’ve made the educationally superior choice for their child and thus look down upon families who have made different choices.  This only serves to widen the chasm between those who do and those who don’t.  It doesn’t engender understanding or support.  Instead it deepens suspicion and compounds prejudices.
    • Home schooled kids, especially those who excel in their academics, have been known to come across as arrogant in their self-confidence.  Sometimes this is just a misreading of natural confidence.  Sometimes it’s just plain arrogance.  In the early days of Kiera’s reading, I found myself praising her by saying “you’re reading so well!  You’re only in Grade 1 but you’re reading at a Grade 3 level!”.  Big mistake.  Along came the little home schooler who parroted her mom’s words of praise to all and sundry.  I’ve learnt now to focus on her achievements as a gift from God instead of comparing her to her Grade level peers.  And I’ve learnt to teach the kids to remind themselves of this too, when they’re tempted to be puffed up with pride.
  • Socialisation:
    • while I have written numerous posts aimed at dispelling the myth that home schooled kids are socially inept, the issue of socialising (and potentially socialisation) can be a problem.  Parents need to make the effort to create opportunities for their kids to mix with people outside of their immediate family.  In most cities, this is really easy, what with extra murals, shopping experiences, odd jobs, extended family and friends, and church and club activities.  But, it’s not always that easy and parents do need to encourage positive friendships, especially when the kids are little and rely on mom and dad to make the play dates (I speak to myself here!)
  • Selfishness (in the kids):
    • this is not a typical pitfall, but it can happen in home schooled families.  Where kids are used to individual attention when they demand it, it can lead to an expectation of being first or to an assumed leadership position, without consultation with others.  It’s a typical first-born syndrome in most kids; in home schooled first-born kids, it has the potential to be magnified in all its ugliness.  I’ve seen home schooled kids walk into a room and take over as if it were their God-given role to organise everyone according to their desires.  Of course, I’ve seen mainstream schooled kids do the same thing, but I do think that the home schooling environment could exacerbate this type of negative characteristic in a child if it is not carefully addressed by the parents.  I do think that it is helpful to nurture selflessness by requiring older siblings to help younger siblings, help with chores, and practise others-centeredness.
  • Selfishness (in the parents):
    • Learning styles differ from child to child.  They also differ from parent to parent. Sometimes parents choose a curriculum (or an educational philosophy) that fits their own personality but simply does not suit the child.  It takes time, effort and not just a wee bit of selflessness to truly focus on the child’s needs, rather than one’s own preferences.
    • It’s all too easy to let one’s own agenda distract one from the job of educating one’s child.  Parents need to guard themselves from the things that may compromise their kids’ education.  My big distraction is the Internet.  Even though it is a great tool for our school mornings, I find that the mornings are most productive when I don’t touch the computer at all (aside from setting up Starfall or some other fun educational website for the kids to do during their breaks).  But, with no one breathing down one’s neck, it’s easy to let one’s selfish pursuits interfere with the kids’ schooling.

While the points above reflect just some of the pitfalls that I have encountered, the truth is that home schooling moms will admit to many more issues of concern that arise from the choice to home school.  Home schooling is a full time job.  And it means sacrifices that can be really hard, including time out to recharge.  While most home schooling moms will agree that they are very happy with their decision, they won’t deny that sometimes it is just plain hard.  Yes, the educational choice is awesome; moms will report wonderful progress in the kids’ relationships; and most moms will agree that home schooling allows the time and flexibility to do life and school the way they want to.  But, these same moms have been known to collapse on the couch and confess to her fellow home school mom that she just doesn’t think she knows what she’s really doing.  Or cry over the hard week she had dealing with parenting issues on top of schooling issues.   Or bemoan the fact that she hasn’t had a minute to herself for over a month or more.  Or be frustrated with her kids’ bad behaviour that day, or week or year!  Or simply feel tired.  It’s not always the rose-tinted picture of happiness, excitement and motivated life-learning.  But, then again, that is true of all families no matter the educational system.  But, for moms who home school, there is oftentimes a sense of responsibility that creates a burden of anxiety that is potentially difficult to shake.

So, why do so many moms continue to home school, knowing the pitfalls and experiencing the hardships?  For many, the advantages outstrip the disadvantages. I imagine that it is similar to the reason the athletics champion keeps training.  He has to sacrifice many things that others enjoy in order to stick to his training schedule.  Often times he faces challenges and hardships along the way.  Sometimes he feels like giving up.  But, other times the sheer joy of running hard and exercising his God-given talent supersedes the tough times.  Knowing that his hard work will pay off in the future with a Olympic win keeps him going, even if it means hard work, sacrifice and sometimes even injury.  Yet, while he suffers, he also enjoys the benefits: health, travel, sponsorship and more.  The sacrifices, the tough times, the hardships are overwhelming at times, but when weighed against his running gift and his goal of reaching the Olympics, he keeps going because it’s worth it.  For some moms, they keep going with home schooling because the alternative would simply be worse for their family.  For others the wonderful freedoms, gifts and advantages of home schooling make up for the hard work that it is and the sacrifice that it requires.  And so they persevere; they recover from injury; they set new goals and they begin to conquer impatience, selfishness or whatever else is hindering their goal.

As a Christian, home schooling has served to keep me praying harder than I may otherwise have.  I’ve been forced to address my impatience, and I have loads of opportunities to practise!  I fail regularly.  Very regularly.  But, I am ever reminded that God in control.  I can rest in the knowledge that He is using every one of these opportunities to shape and mould me.  And I can rejoice in the knowledge that we can enjoy the wonderful benefits of our home schooling lifestyle, knowing that the difficulties are just as much in His hands as the joyful moments are.  When I am plagued by self-doubt, it helps to remember the reasons we chose this path; reassess the reasons in relation to where we are now (as realistically as possible) and then reason through the alternatives.  At the end of it, I rest.  I rest in Him.  I rest, knowing that He is in control.  No matter the pitfalls; no matter the problems; no matter the hardships, if it’s worth it, I know I can trust Him to carry us through.


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Querying Homeschooling – the qualification factor

Recently I posted an article from the Cape Home Educators featuring FAQs about homeschooling.  In an enlightening discussion with a non-homeschooling friend, I came to realise a) how easily statements are misinterpreted, depending on one’s own life experience filters the information and b) how carefully we need to word things so that intended meaning and actualities are conveyed clearly.  I thought it worthwhile to run through some of the factors of homeschooling that the pamphlet touches on, and, where possible, deal with some of the objections raised.  Hence this post which is part of a series called Querying Homeschooling.  I hope that my explanation is not only clear, but that it is also received as honest and gracious.


It’s okay for you to home school – you’re a teacher.  But I’m not qualified.

diplomaMoms who are tentatively considering home schooling often run into this perplexing wall of opposition.  Knowing that I have a teaching background (ha – all 3 years of it!) often makes them worry out loud that, while home schooling is okay for me, perhaps their lack of a teaching certificate means that they’re not qualified to teach their kids. 

That is simply not true. 

Let me explain…

There is a big difference between qualified as in certified and qualified as in more than able. Most times we mean "certification" when we use the term "qualification".  I am a certified teacher.  I did my HDE and have been registered with SACE.  I have the paper that says I can teach.  But, the truth is that while I am certified to teach, my teaching degree did not in any way prepare me even vaguely adequately enough for teaching.  Most of my HDE year was filled with excruciatingly boring philosophy lectures explaining post modernism.  Our only worthwhile classes were our method classes (subject specific) and yet even these only touched the tip of the iceberg when it came to teaching in the classroom set up.  I never learnt about ADHD and how to cater best for kids who struggled with that.  I learnt virtually nothing about different learning styles of kids.  Classroom management?  Ha!  Administration skills? Nope.  Relationship management skills, especially in dealing with difficult parents?  Not even close.  I was a post graduate student learning how to teach in a one year course aimed at the philosophy of education more than the practicality of teaching.  The most I learnt about actual teaching I learnt during the 8 weeks of prac teaching I did in that one year and many years previously in youth ministry.

I had to learn about classroom teaching on the job.  While I worked hard at the time, and coped fairly well on the whole, I look back on many moments where I so obviously failed the kids.  At the time I had no clue I was doing anything wrong.  Now I cringe when I remember my mistakes….

One particular incident stands out in my mind.  I was trying to teach my grade 9 class some history.  I had placed a very sweet, but very distractible, young man right in the front group of tables, under my nose.  This distractible young guy couldn’t sit still and spent the morning tapping his desk with his pencils.  Eventually, I insisted that he placed his pencils on the floor, so that I could carry on without losing my train of thought, and so the rest of the class could concentrate.  Well, it lasted all of two seconds before he picked up his pencils, almost without realising, and resumed his tap, tap, tapping.  At the time, my solution was to take his tapping tools away.  Quite possibly I gave him some extra consequence and a lecture too; I can’t remember.  But, what I do remember is that some years later, once I’d started homeschooling my own kids and had begun reading more about learning styles and learning difficulties, I realised that this boy (who had been diagnosed with ADD) was simply doing what he needed to do to concentrate.  I had taken his coping mechanism right out of his hands and left him unarmed and helpless.  Oh how awful I felt when I realised that!  I had no clue. Today, with just a little more knowledge under my belt, I think I may have given him a ball of play dough in exchange for his pencils.  That way he’d be able hang on to his coping mechanism whilst not distracting everyone else.   But, I was not trained to meet the kids at their needs.  Certified, yes.  But not qualified.

I am just one of thousands of teachers who are certified, but not really qualified to be a truly great classroom teacher.  So what does make a truly great, and qualified, teacher?  I believe that the best teachers are those who put their heart and soul into the job; they connect with the kids; they put time into working out how to meet the kids’ academic and other needs, rather than just churning out the material; they keep up-to-date with practical education and vest time and interest into learning more about common, and rare, complications that hinder the learning process for kids.  In other words … they care.  There are plenty of excellent teachers like this.  I was not one of them.  I was certified, but I was not really qualified.

Where does this leave the home schooling mother, with no teaching degree?  Is she even less qualified than the worst teacher?  According to the Cape Home Educators (CHE), the lack of a teaching qualification should not deter parents who are committed to home school their children.  They site US statistics saying,

The excellent results obtained by thousands of mothers who have no more than a high school diploma should dispel the teacher qualification concern. Research done in the USA, (references available), on teacher qualifications demonstrates no significant relationship to the students achievement.

Essentially, they’re saying that the results of home school students with parents with teaching qualifications are no better or worse than students without.  It is not essential for a parent to have a teaching degree in order to be a great teacher to their kids.  Why?  Well, simply, because … they care.  Skip back a couple of paragraphs and see if the list of the truly great teacher applies to parents too.  In most cases, parents are invested in connecting with their kids; wanting to work out how to meet their kids’ various needs in a way that is best suited for each child; putting their heart and soul into the job and learning about the way their kids learn.  It all boils down to the same thing: care.  Great teachers care about their students.  Great parents care about their children.  And, parents can be great teachers of their kids.

Does this mean that all parents are going to be their child’s best teacher?  I’m sure many parents reading this now can recall a homework moment with their child that has left them in a cold sweat just contemplating the idea of teaching all day.  We all have moments where, no matter how much we care for our kids, we want to throttle them!  Laboriously trying to explain some academic point to an unhappy child can seem like fast-forwarding the aging process.  It’s not easy.  And we’re often not going to be the best teacher.

More seriously, some parents genuinely feel completely out of their depth with very good reason.  Some have had bad home experiences themselves, where they feel ill equipped with the tools needed to loving facilitate their children’s academic learning.  Illnesses or instabilities complicate matters of home schooling.  Obviously, a parent with very little primary education would need to seek a lot of outside help in order to home school effectively.  But, these are the exceptions.  Certainly in my experience anyway.

Most parents care about their kids enough to pick up when they’re not coping or to determine to try figure out what it is that makes them tick.  From just talking to the many moms I know, both home schooling and mainstream schooling, I hear story after story of how they noticed something about their child and chose to investigate it further, discovering something significant about how their little minds and bodies work differently to what others expected.  Moms with kids with ADHD start to read up about the condition and how they can help.  They often end up knowing more than their child’s teacher.  At the end of the day, it’s mom and dad to whom the child comes home.  And it’s mom and dad who care more about that child than just about anyone else could.  Which means that even on our off teaching days, the package deal is worth it.


So, I would argue that most parents are indeed qualified to teach their kids.  Because, teaching is more than imparting knowledge.  It’s facilitating learning through a myriad of methods – and the best environment for great learning is one where a nurturing, loving relationship exists.  And, quite frankly, one doesn’t need a teaching certificate to determine to love their own child.  And loving one’s own child usually means knowing when they’re too ill to work on one particular day; or recognising that they need to learn in a way that is different to their sibling; or realising that one’s child is struggling in a particular field of education and determining to investigate alternative options as much as possible. 

So what do I say to those moms who bemoan their lack of teaching qualification?  I say, "you’re lucky". 

Why?  Because being a classroom teacher meant that I learnt classroom techniques of teaching that weren’t easy to try unlearn at home.  Plus, I had to adapt my high school teaching style to a 4 and a 6 year old – a very different set of students indeed!  Oh, some home schools are "school at home" and look very much like the classroom set up.  That is perfectly acceptable.  But, for many families, home schooling works best when it melds into the general hum of the home.  Moms without a classroom teaching background come to home schooling with a slate (mostly) clean of preconceived ideas of what "true" teaching looks like.  In the meantime moms like me have to unlearn old teaching habits to make room for more effective home schooling.  Gradually I’ve been able to realise that a skipped spelling test is not a big deal, especially when it mean that big sister got to have a wonderful bonding time with little brother while she baked cookies without mom hovering nearby…  And wall displays of the kids’ work are great fun, but don’t replace the sense of achievement from sharing with dad what we all learnt together that day, each chipping in with the bits they contributed…  And taking 1/2 hour longer over a math’s sum than my estimated allotted time is a fantastic privilege, rather than a worry about falling behind…  And when my 6 year old constantly tap tap taps her pencil on the table while I am explaining something to her, it’s not that she’s not concentrating, but rather that she’s doing what helps her brain work in the moment.  (And perhaps I should pass her the 2-year old’s playdough for a bit!)

Moms – while we may not all have a teaching certificate, most of us are more than qualified to be the one to guide our children in this world.  We’ve already taught them so much from lacing their shoes to eating with a knife and fork.  We’ve intervened with arguments over toys and we’ve taught them about the world around us.  Many of us do this for 4-6 years before we suddenly worry that we’re not qualified to teach them.  Helping them decipher letters and words is the same gradual process as teaching them to count.  And, to help those of us who feel a little unsure of ourselves, there are thousands of excellent resources that help us help them to read and write and grow and learn.   And, while you may outsource for calculus or chemistry, you are still qualified to be the one in charge of their education.  Because, you are the parent.  And… you care.


How have you experienced the tone of the posts from the Querying Homeschooling series?  Please participate in this anonymous poll to help me gauge whether I am hitting the intended mark:

Please select the answer/s that best fits how you have received the "Querying Homeschooling" series.

View Results

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Posts in this series: Querying Homeschooling (unlinked posts are still to be written/published)

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