A day in the life of a homeschooler
Parents teaching their children at home appreciate having control over curriculum, schedule, and where they teach
About this series: This is Part 2 of Parenting NH’s three-part series that explores homeschooling guidelines and the pros, cons, challenges and benefits of homeschooling your child. Also, Granite State families share their experiences with homeschooling.
When Faye Grearson’s oldest son Colton Orr was born, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. As he got a little bit older, friends told her how happy she’d be the day that big yellow school bus showed up to whisk him away to school. But she had her doubts.
“I just thought, ‘I don’t think so,’” said Grearson of Lebanon, a former schoolteacher who has been homeschooling both of her children since they were in kindergarten. ”I’m not doing this as a protest of anything, I simply love being that involved with them and their education and the time we’ve gotten to spend together.”
This is a growing sentiment among parents who are choosing to homeschool, the numbers of which are also growing. Though there are parents who homeschool because they find fault with the mainstream educational system, or are politically opposed to public education, or have religious reasons for homeschooling, many are also doing it because it gives them the opportunity to not only spend more time with their children but to also tailor their child’s education.
“Because I’m with them, I know what they are thinking when they are thinking it,” said Jennifer Steinhauser of Concord, who homeschools her three children, Joe, 18, Matthew, 15, and Lily, 13. “I know that there are things that if I weren’t with them I wouldn’t know because they wouldn’t think to tell me at the end of the day.”
Parents of homeschoolers say that homeschooling offers their children more opportunities and flexibility than traditional school. Charissa Gudek of Chester said when she pulled her two children, Stephen, 11, and Grace, 10, out of public school after second and third grade, they were in love with learning.
“I didn’t want to squelch that at a young age. I just thought I really wanted to fuel that,” she said. “Our main reason for homeschooling – their opportunities and their whole education seemed to open up. It was so much more diverse, it was broader. They had more available to them other than just one particular curriculum. The opportunities are endless, just endless with homeschooling.”
When it comes to curriculum, there are many online options available. But in the early years, after the math and reading lessons were done, days were spent exploring nature to learn science, making art and taking music lessons in some cases.
“When my kids were young, we drew a lot from Waldorf school model,” Grearson said of teaching her sons Colton and Kinsley, now 19 and 16. “There was a poem we recited at the beginning of our day, then we would sit together and plan our day. We did some reading, some math, a lot of nature-based science, a lot of art projects, and it was really an extension of their childhood.”
Parents are also using the myriad local museums, science centers, cultural outlets and YMCAs that offer specialized classes for homeschoolers. Grearson said her sons often participated in programs at The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth and the Lebanon Opera House. Steinhauser said her kids often took homeschooling programs offered at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord and learned music theory by taking piano lessons with a local private tutor. Gudek said her kids frequent the Audubon Society for homeschooling science programs.
All of them also participated in local homeschooling co-ops, groups that include anywhere from 20 to 60 kids where parents team teach the kids. This is just a drop in the bucket for the enrichment programs homeschool families have available to them throughout the state, said Steinhauser.
“There are almost too many opportunities and if we actually did all of them, we would not have time for their schoolwork,” Steinhauser said.
The co-ops also serve as one of many social outlets for kids who otherwise spend a lot of time with mom and dad.
“In a school setting, it’s more of an artificial social setting, because you are with only kids your own age. The fifth-graders are hanging with the fifth-graders,” Steinhauser said. “Homeschoolers are more in mixed groups, so they really have friends in a variety of grades and know how to interact with kids and adults of varying ages.”
A benefit to this, she said, is that you know what you’re getting in terms of behavior more often than not in these homeschool settings.
“They also are not always adopting some of the antisocial behaviors that they would see in their peers,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s across the board. I know a ton of public schoolers who are amazing and wonderful and I love them and I know some homeschoolers who are not.”
Many homeschoolers are also involved in extracurricular activities with public and private school kids. Grearson’s son Kinsley is on the Lebanon High School soccer team, Steinhauser’s daughter Lily is in 4-H, and her sons participated in bowling and fencing teams.
That said making friends with kids who aren’t homeschooled does pose some challenges.
“It’s a little tricky,” Grearson said. “Especially since a lot of things happen in a school day. And my kids have a totally different social group. They don’t overlap as much.” My sons have to work harder to be friends with non-homeschoolers, she said.
For Gudek’s kids, Stephen and Grace, socializing includes spending a few hours a week at a nursing home visiting their great-grandmother. Gudek said in addition to getting to know their family and its history, her older son, who is a war buff, hears first-hand accounts from generations of veterans he interacts with while he’s visiting his great-grandmother.
Because these parents make their own schedule, they are free, Gudek said, to take educational vacations or spend four hours or four weeks on a particular area of interest for the kids.
“In a public school, it’s just a fixed curriculum,” Gudek said. “You have 40 minutes for a class. If my kids say, ‘I’m really interested in that, can we do another four weeks of study on that?’ you can’t do that in the public school system.”
As their kids get older, these parents say that not only does the curriculum change for their homeschoolers, but their role as teacher changes, too.
“When they got older,” Steinhauser said, “Obviously our school day expanded. They all do work in different areas of the house so that they can have quiet. And now there’s not so much direct instruction from me. Now I’m more of a director. I direct their instruction and I’m available to help.
“I think sometimes kids get dependent on a teacher and get dependent on the idea that someone has to teach them, so that they can learn it and they don’t have the confidence of knowing, ‘oh wait I can learn this on my own, I can read this on my own, I can figure this out on my own.’ I think that they’ve become really good independent learners.”
That said, her kids have a firm structure in place, one that she based on what some of the top colleges in the country were requiring for admissions.
“You don’t know what your kids are going to want to be when they grow up,” Steinhauser, who was also a former teacher, said. “I like to over prepare them, probably give them more than what they need, because you don’t know if they’ll need it or not.”
Some of these requirements include four years of a foreign language, five years of English and advanced sciences like AP Physics. Steinhauser said her son learned these things by reading the textbook. But when he got stuck, she said, he would find the answers in books and through online classes, such as the Kahn Academy.
“I think it’s important if you don’t know the answer, you know where to look for the answer,” Steinhauser said. “We know as moms, we don’t know all the answers, but we know where to go to get them. And he knows how to do that. And I think that’s important because that’s what he’ll be doing in college and in life.”
Steinhauser’s son will attend University of New Hampshire this fall where he will study mechanical engineering. Meanwhile, Grearson’s son is at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt., where he is studying art.
“He told me he was very unsure academically because he never felt that he’d really been tested,” Grearson said. “But he did do well. He was one of those kids who went and met with his professors, got to know them, made Dean’s list the first semester, and had a perfect 4.0 second semester.
“I can be so proud because he did this. ….At one point he said to me mom, ‘I am so ready for this.’ As a parent, what more can you ask for?”
For more information:
New Hampshire Homeschooling Coalition: nhhomeschooling.org
NH Dept. of Education: education.nh.gov/instruction/school_improve/home_ed/index.htm
Coalition for Responsible Home Education: responsiblehomeschooling.org
Melanie Plenda is a full-time freelance journalist and mother living in Keene.