We came to the homeschool lifestyle both accidentally and on purpose.
Over the last few years, there have been a number of people, authors, and random encounters that served to direct us into homeschooling. While it was a peanut allergy–and the significant risk of exposure in a school setting–that cemented our decision to stay at home for the elementary years, in truth we began homeschooling years ago.
Yes, hindsight being 20/20, it seems our “sudden” decision actually unfolded gradually over time. And when I talk to other parents who’ve made the choice that we’ve made–either temporarily or permanently, the “accidental” and rambling route is about as common as the clear-cut, linear one.
Some highlights, from memory, of our own experience in rough chronological order:
• An article how to choose a preschool from the now defunct Wonder Time magazine came along just as we were considering our options. I fell in love with the Reggio Emilia (R.E.) approach. “What’s that?,” you ask. Voila, Wikipedia:
The Reggio Emilia Approach is an educational philosophy focused on preschool and primary education. It was started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II. The destruction from the war, parents believed, necessitated a new, quick approach to teaching their children. They felt that it is in the early years of development that children form who they are as individuals. This led to creation of a program based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.
At the time there was no R.E. school in our area. Having received an M.A. from and worked in a top-tier university’s college of fine arts, the emphasis on art materials fascinated me.
Moreover, because our kiddo (“Tater Tot”) is a high-energy guy, we didn’t think that Montessori was a good fit. (Waldorf wasn’t an option here, though there is one up the road in Austin.) Even if we’d have embraced the Montessori approach–and there are a few good programs in the area, attendance would have meant a significant commute. Moreover, had I been working and the commute been something that I could integrate into a daily trip, things might have turned out differently.
Rounding out our options, the play-based schools in our area were offered by churches. I personally attended two Christian, play-based preschools as a child and loved them. But the ones in close proximity didn’t work for us.
So, we wound up with an R.E.-inspired homeschool preschool. I intentionally created a home-learning environment that encouraged experimentation and discussion. It’s not unschooling, but I certainly share with unschoolers a belief that many children have a drive to learn. I wanted to support that natural impulse as it manifested in our family with an eye to preparing Tater Tot for public school. Our living room, kitchen and even the yard became a large, light-filled (chaotic!) “studio.” Art supplies were in easy reach. I took the time to listen to “clues” about what might interest our child and then “built” activities around the interest. We read a lot. We watched PBS Kids.
• Seeking validation for the preschool decision, I sought out the wife of an old friend who homeschools her boys. She gave me two books to round up: John Holt’s Teach Your Own and Rebecca Rupp’s Homelearning Year by Year. Rupp’s book was great. I loved her advice to let the preschool years flow. That fit with the R.E. approach that I’d latched on to. Her book seemed like a great way to evaluate progress after we started public school.
With regard to Holt, I had to stop reading the book after a couple of chapters. Why? Because I thought it would convince me to homeschool longer and, at the time, we were set on a public school experience.
• Around this same time a chance encounter with the founder of our local homeschool group at the park stands out in my memory. She asked if I was looking for the group. I said “No. We homeschool preschool, but we’ll go to public school.” She then said, “You’re always welcome here because, you know, parents are the first teachers.” That quip stayed with me. Any surprise that when we made the decision to stick with homeschooling that I immediately joined her group?
Through that group and the support provided to us from the affiliation, information on elementary homeschooling came in torrents.
If you’re a homeschooler or passionate after-schooler, I’d love to hear how you came to make the choices necessary to provide your kid(s) with an optimal learning experience.
Pamela Price is an award-winning blogger, journalist, and homeschooler in San Antonio, Texas. She attended public schools from kindergarten through graduate school. Her first book, on how to balance homeschool with work and other “adult” responsibilities is forthcoming from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press in 2013. Pamela can be found on Twitter at @redwhiteandgrew and on Facebook. She offers online homeschool workshops every quarter.