I was not homeschooled. In fact, I attended public schools for my entire education. In Connecticut, I did not know any homeschoolers, and everyone in our community believed the stigma that homeschooling was for hippie-dippy fringe families who live off the grid and don't contribute to society.
When I was 16, I met the incredible family of a dear friend who I studied abroad with. They were some of the most beautiful humans I had ever met: funny, gorgeous, faith-filled, stylish, brilliant, and super talented at ballet, among other things. They had active social lives, traveled, and had read more classic literature by high school than I have to this day. I was thunderstruck by their self-awareness and work ethic. I began to wonder if homeschooling was actually cooler than regular school-- they even had prom!
Even from then, the homeschooling movement has grown immensely. There are hundreds of programs and curriculums for all ages, and some might say that online colleges are also a continuity of the flexibility that homeschooling families love so much. Some choose homeschooling because they travel frequently, others because they do not have access to the kind of education they desire for their children in their area (or can't afford it), and others because they are part of a community of like-minded families that teach the same worldview, morals, and values.
Our choice to homeschool our 3 year old daughter Cecilia was a result of all of those combined. She started to exhibit reading readiness when she was just 2, and I knew by Fall of her third year she would be ready for consistent education.
Over the summer Stephen and I attended a homeschooling conference to get an idea of what to expect. After listening to a few interesting conferences and browsing the curriculums and vendors, we both shared the gut feeling that Cecilia was going to love it and so were we. We immediately signed up for the Seton Home Study program because it not only had the Catholic faith component we were looking for, but also looked rigorous enough for Cecilia to be challenged. With the Seton program we are studying religion, literacy, art, handwriting, and math.
For under $200, we got all of our materials for the entire school year, curriculum syllabus, and access to an academic counselor to help us along the way. Most pre-k programs cost more than that a week in our area, so we were thrilled.
A few months later after we enrolled, my husband had to pause his day job for a military assignment that would last the entire fall semester. Homeschooling turned out to be the perfect solution for us. We could travel with my husband, and still maintain our plan for learning.
With a handy carry-on suitcase, we packed up our whole "school" up to easily transport it from place to place. We've done school in a hotel, at cafes, and at home. You can see more about our journey over the course of Summer and Fall on instagram at #acarusoadventure. And now that I have had weekly appointments for my high-risk pregnancy that require almost a full day away from my daughter, we have loved the flexibility of getting a full school week done in 4 days, or even catching up on a subject on a Saturday afternoon. With the pending birth of our baby boy right around the holidays, we plan to take about a month off of school to acclimate as a family of four, and there is so much peace in that for me. We can pick up right where we left off as soon as we're ready.
I hope to debunk some of the common worries families have about homeschooling with the surprising results we've experienced thus far.
COMMON WORRIES ABOUT HOMESCHOOLING
1. IT PREVENTS SOCIALIZATION
This is the most common argument against homeschooling I hear, and I understand where it's coming from. If a family is homeschooling in isolation, it can be problematic because the children don't have the opportunity to interact outside of their family and siblings in extreme cases. The parents of homeschooled children definitely need to strategize how their children will be involved in their communities, and how they will develop experiences and relationships outside of their studies.
Our daughter is introverted, and I did have a slight concern that homeschooling may stunt her sociability. Because she thrives in one-on-one and small social environments, when we do go out (for field trips, music class, Mass, or the playground) she has been much more confident than ever before. Much to our surprise, her personality has blossomed. She now introduces herself to new friends without prompting, shakes hands with adults to say hello, and is no longer silent in social gatherings, but instead tells jokes, dances around, and interacts without hesitation. I never imagined she would find security and confidence through her home studies, and truly come out of her shell from being home with me more.
Lucky for us, we have the benefit of living close to the Washington DC metro area, which provides the richness of museums, parks, and historic landmarks. Another way we get out and about during the week is with by attending events at our local library, seeing friends, and going to Mass and Holy Days at our church.
2. PARENTS ARE NOT (ALWAYS) QUALIFIED TEACHERS
There are many families who struggle feeling "qualified" to teach their children school subjects. But aren't we the ones who know our children best? With a detailed curriculum and academic advisor, I truly believe that we can teach our children without hesitation. I was nervous during our first week of school, but the more material we covered, the more comfortable I was in this new role. I rely heavily on the curriculum to give our day structure, but since starting I have incorporated some of my own ideas or interpretations of the lessons to tailor them more to what Cecilia will respond to.
Since there are some areas that I do feel less confident teaching, I've found ways to "outsource" them. For example, Cecilia is learning French and I do not speak French; my husband does. We have found language videos, flashcards, and books like Babar and Dr. Seuss that she can read with Daddy to help her learn. We live in a time where experts all over the world are creating videos on YouTube. We frequently watch videos about animals, DIY crafts like sewing, ballet, yoga, cooking, baking-- you get the idea. Whatever your child's interests, there is always something new to learn (just preview the video beforehand to be sure it's what you want them to see). We also use apps to supplement certain subjects, such as Pooh's ABCs for practicing alphabet awareness and handwriting, Formed for Catholic kids videos like the Brother Francis series, and Paper by 53 for the non-messy version of finger painting.
When we homeschool, learning does not have a start and end time; it occurs all day. As parents we teach our children morals, habits, boundaries, ethics, manners, and so much more. I believe that if we can teach them how to think critically outside of typical school hours, we can also do the same as their full-time educators.
3. IT MUST TAKE ALL YOUR TIME
Since I was brought up in the traditional public school setting, I imagined homeschooling would take from 8am until 3pm. Most onlookers believe the same. And if that's the case, how can a mother juggle her other duties and spend that much time chained to such a schedule?
I can only speak on homeschooling one child, for now, but what we have discovered is that our school days consist of a few hours of actual work following our curriculum, with the rest of the day free for art, outside play, social time, chores, errands, and field trips. We're also not limited to doing one day's work at a time. There are weeks when Cecilia is flying through her math, and wants to keep at it, so we do. In fact, we are a few weeks ahead in math currently, because it's her favorite subject.
Additionally, because she has started to see the pattern of our day and the rhythm of the exercises, she is starting to show me she's ready to work more independently. Even after school she plays on her own much more than ever before. This is a parenting win for me. I give her a few dedicated hours a day, and in return she spends a lot of the afternoon in and out of her room, and I can get so much more done. I've been able to blog during the day without her begging me to get off my computer simply because she is too busy playing a make-believe game to notice.
I've honestly learned so much about myself through this process. I have had to develop my communication and body language to be more patient. I've had to learn to ask questions that lead her to figure the answer out on her own, rather than just point to something to get it over with. There are also some concepts in our curriculum that I had to read over a few times in order to teach them properly. I'm no theology major, so there were also times when I was teaching religion and learning right along with her (hello, Old Testament). I've had to practice patience with myself and patience with my little student. The little mantra I wrote up in my teacher binder to remind of this was "slow to anger and rich in kindness", which is a passage from the book of Exodus. I regularly use phrases like, "try again!", "I can see how hard you're working" (even if she's not getting it), and "let's read the directions one more time together so we can make sure we understand".
There have been days of trial and error. There have been days when we are both burned out and don't love our lesson for the day. There have also been days that she was overstimulated or not able to focus, so we had to do less work to avoid overwhelm. Just the way I read her cues as a baby, I do the same with her schooling. On the days when she is eager to learn and completing her work well we do more, and in the end it all evens out. I'm eager to hear if any of you are homeschooling, or thinking about it. If you have any questions for me, feel free to get in touch -- I respond most quickly to DMs on instagram (@nmcaruso) or through my facebook page. Also, I'm going to share some our favorite materials we use for school that have made all the difference.