Our Family's Journey to Homeschooling - FBE (Family-Based Education)!
Karen M. Gibson
Our journey to home education was a roundabout one and yet, in hindsight, it seems as though it was an inevitable one. Even before we had children, my husband and I decided that they would be our number one priority. We felt that it was of the utmost importance that one of us always be home and available to our children. This would severely limit our income potential but that was a choice we knowingly made.
Preschool. Our society certainly puts a lot of pressure on families to put their young children in preschool. There are all kinds of subtle, and not so subtle, phrases that are meant to make us believe preschool is in the best interest for our children - get a jumpstart on Kindergarten, learn early to play and socialize with other children, learn that they aren't the center of our world. Somehow that all didn't sit right with me. These were my children and I didn't give birth to them just so that someone else could raise them. They were meant to be with their parents and family in their early years. I honestly didn't see what preschool would give my child that I couldn't do in a much less stressful and chaotic atmosphere. So, my children stayed home.
The preschool years were definitely the beginnings of our journey to home education, even though we didn't realize it at the time. We were just raising our children the way we thought worked best for us. Questions that our children had were explored as fully as they wanted and their interests were pursued as best we were able. David, our middle child, has always had an almost insatiable interest in science. He loved taking science books and encyclopedias to bed at night. Even though he couldn't read yet, he would explore the pictures, charts, and diagrams and ask all kinds of questions. I remember once having to make a special trip to the library because I couldn't answer his question about how many of Earth's days it took Pluto to complete it's orbit (he was 3 1/2 at the time!). We also included our children in our daily activities as much as was safely possible (we were living on a farm at the time, and certain areas were off-limits).
Then our eldest, Kat, went off to Kindergarten. She had been looking forward to going and really enjoyed it. I know I enjoyed the extra time to spend with our two younger children, although I did not enjoy the extra stress that Kindergarten seemed to add to our daily lives. Suddenly an outside influence was exerting pressure on our schedule, but wasn't that what school was all about?
Life seemed to be marching on an orderly path. Each child successfully went through the Kindergarten screening tests and started their journey through the public school system. Each year there were new problems, new concerns, with our children's school situation, but nothing earth shattering. These problems and concerns were mostly similar to what we had disliked about school when we were there: too much busywork, not enough hands-on activities, covering the same subjects year after year without learning much of anything new, inexperienced or uncaring teachers, and more peer pressure becoming evident each successive year. Weren't these the normal problems to be expected? Wasn't this just part and parcel of getting an education?
I don't know whether it was moving to another state, or just the fact that at the fifth grade level a lot of changes are occurring, but fifth grade was a most difficult one for our daughter. Academically, the new system was far behind our old one. Technology practically didn't exist in the local public school and sports were emphasized to the extreme. It didn't take very long for our daughter to learn that it wasn't cool to know the answers and she began to hide the fact that she did know them. She became quieter and quieter, both in school and at home. Corporal punishment was also a fact of life in this new school system, and even though she was never on the receiving end of the paddlings, the fact that other students received them almost daily created unbearable mental stress in her. She began to exhibit all the classic symptoms of not wanting to go to school - stomach aches, headaches, tears, sleepless nights, etc.
Her brothers were also having their own problems in the local school. The academics level was not challenging enough, there was violence in the classroom (classmates needing medical attention due to injuries from other classmates), and there were distractions in the classroom (from medicated children wandering the classroom and talking to themselves to class members stealing everyone's snacks). Recess would be withheld because one son completed tests too slowly and yet, when he hurried to complete them, he would still miss recess because of poor penmanship. There were other things, most of which were small irritations but, when lumped together, they amounted to an atmosphere that was not conducive to learning.
By February of that year, Kat was asking to be homeschooled. Now, I knew nothing about homeschooling! If someone had asked me about homeschooling, perhaps I might have replied that I thought it was something that very conservative religious families might do, but I wouldn't have been sure of even that. Certainly no one I knew home-schooled. I didn't even know whether it was legal or not. It was time to do some major research! I wasn't sure that home schooling was the answer - I still felt that I could do the most good by continuing to help as much as possible in the school. We had also been trying to counteract the low academic level by doing more things at home with our children, although this was hard to do. By the time they were done with school and homework, there simply wasn't much of the day left and they were very tired and wanted nothing to do with more academics.
So, I began to research homeschooling with an open and questioning mind. The more information I got, the deeper I delved. The amount of information on the Internet was amazing, while the lack of information in our local library was extremely disheartening. For five months I dug and probed and asked questions of everyone I could to find out if it was legal to homeschool in our state, what home education encompassed, what kind of curriculum was available, and a myriad of other questions that needed answers. But I did find answers! And we made an informed decision to try home education, if only for one year, to see how it went.
Three and a half years later we are still learning at home and our intent is to always do so. Of course, we have discovered that homeschooling is really a misnomer. Our children have participated in community sports and church (cover) school activities. They take lessons from groups and individuals. They have joined 4-H, Scouts, special interest groups (the local Astronomical Society), and museums as needed. They use computer programs, the Internet and several library systems for their curriculum. Education occurs everywhere! You can't live without learning.
Home education and homeschooling can also be called "family-based education". No matter what you call it, home education means, to me, that the family is making the choices for each child's individual education, rather than depending upon outside "experts" to make those decisions for us. In our case, it is as though we have come full circle to where we started from- living our lives naturally and including our children in everything we do. We are making our own decisions independent of the influences and pressures of society. This is what home education is all about. This is what education and life should be. This is what we can make it be.
Originally published in the March/April 2000 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine)