I’m going public today with a secret I’ve kept for a year—my husband and I are homeschooling our children. I never dreamed we would become homeschoolers. I wanted my kids integrated and socialized. I wanted their eyes opened to the realities of the world. I wanted the values we taught at home put to the test in the real world. But necessity drove me to consider homeschooling for my 2nd and 4th graders, and so I timidly attended a home school parent meeting last spring. Surprisingly it was full of doctors, lawyers, former public school teachers, and other professionals. These were not the stay-at-home-moms in long skirts that I expected. The face of homeschooling is changing. We are not all religious extremists or farmers, and our kids are not all overachieving academic nerds without social skills.
An estimated 2.04 million k12 children are home educated in the United States, a 75% increase since 1999. Although currently only 4% of all K12 students nationwide are educated at home, experts are predicting an exponential boom in homeschooling in the next 5-10 years. Most states even provide free online public schools, known as virtual schools or virtual homeschools for K12 students. An information site called [email protected] provides some useful information.
For a year I was afraid to tell any of my work colleagues that we were homeschooling. People would stereotype me as a right-wing kook. My boss might assume that I couldn’t possibly be committed to an academic medical career. I wasn’t sure I could homeschool my kids well. I feared the whole year would be an academic failure and emotional nightmare. I was so unsure about this homeschooling experiment that I even kept a spare school uniform in case I had to send my kids back to school at the last moment.
This week our kids are finishing their standardized curriculum and we will spend the rest of the school year doing enrichment activities. Alas, I think we can call this success.
We’ve had our kids in both public and private schools, but homeschooling has turned out to be the best option for our family. Here are 18 reasons why we have joined America’s fastest growing educational trend:
1) We spend less time homeschooling each day than we used to spend driving. With four kids in four locations last year (including a newborn at home), school drop-off and pick-up took four hours, on a good day. We’d get home at about 4:30 and still have homework, music practice, sports, chores, dinner and bath to fit into the 4 hours before bed. Now we spend about four hours per day homeschooling, instead of four hours in the car.
2) We can’t afford private education. Even on a doctor’s salary, private education has become unaffordable, especially for larger families. Which choice would you make: save for college, save for retirement, or pay private school tuition? Few families can afford for all three, and most can only afford one. As educational debts loom larger for each successive generation, this financial crunch will only get worse.
3) Our kids are excelling academically as homeschoolers. Homeschooling allows us to enrich our children’s strengths and supplement their weaknesses. The kids’ education moves as fast or as slow as required for that particular subject area. They are not pigeon-holed and tracked as gifted, average, or special needs.
4) Homeschooling is not hard, and it’s fun! We bought a “box curriculum” from a major homeschool vendor, and all the books and the day-by-day curriculum checklist came in the mail. We have a lot of fun supplementing material through YouTube and online educational sites like Dreambox, Khan Academy, and others. Our kids do about half of their math online.
5) Use whatever public school services you like. Need speech therapy, the gifted program, or remedial academics? Homeschooled kids are still eligible for all these services. Some homeschoolers come into public school daily for “specials” like art, music, PE, or the school play. Your kids can even join high school sports teams once they are old enough. Our kids are still in sports and scouts sponsored by their old schools.
6) I like parenting more, by far. As a mom of school-aged kids, I felt like my role as parent had been diminished to mini-van driver, schedule-keeper, cook and disciplinarian. And there was no mercy from the schools– six minutes late for pickup and they’d be calling my husband at work, unpaid 5 cent library fine and they’d withhold my child’s report card. Every day I’d unpack a pile of crinkled notice papers from three backpacks and hope that I didn’t miss the next permission slip. I was not born, raised and educated to spend my days like this. Now, I love being a mom.
7) Our family spends our best hours of each day together. We were giving away our kids during their best hours, when they were rested and happy, and getting them back when they were tired, grumpy and hungry. I dreaded each evening, when the fighting and screaming never seemed to end, and my job was to push them through homework, extracurriculars, and music practice. Now, our kids have happy time together each day. At recess time, the kids are actually excited about playing with each other!
8) We yell at our kids less. Homeschooling forces us as parents to maintain a loving authority in the household. We stopped spanking our kids. You can’t get your kids to write essays or complete a large set of math problems if you don’t have their respect and obedience. Spanking and corporal punishment establish fear, not effective, loving obedience.
9) Our kids have time for creative play and unique interests. Once my kids entered school, they seemed to stop making up their own creative play together. They didn’t have time for creative play during their busy evenings. Now they build forts and crazy contraptions, play dance parties, and pursue their own unique interests. My eight-year-old has taken up computer programming and taught himself how to play the organ. My six-year-old is learning to cook.
10) We are able to work on the kids’ behavior and work ethic throughout the day. My son’s poor work effort at school was nearly impossible to address. The teachers didn’t have time to make my son repeat work they felt was average quality. We wouldn’t see the work until days after it was completed. Finally, we’ve been able to push him to his full potential.
11) Get rid of bad habits, fast. Dirty clothes dropped on the floor? They used to stay there all day. Now there is no recess until they are cleaned up. I never really had the time to implement most behavioral techniques when my kids were in school. I knew what I needed to do to get my kindergartner to dress herself, but it was easier to dress her myself then deal with the school complaining that she was improperly dressed or late. Now, if she takes too long to get dressed, she misses out on free play time.
12) Be the master of your own schedule. Homeschooling provides a great deal of family flexibility, which is a tremendous asset for our busy family. For example, we save a lot of money on plane tickets because we have the flexibility to fly almost any day of the week. Zoos, children’s museums, libraries, parks, etc., are far less busy on weekdays as they are on weekends. Scheduling anything is eons easier—doctor’s appointments, piano lessons, vacations, etc.
13) Younger children learn from older siblings. For larger families like ours, even toddlers are learning during school time. Our four year old sits at the same table during school time as our six and eight year old. He wants to do his worksheet, too. Some of that math and phonics work rubs off on him, and he’s learning how to read. When chore time comes, he asks, “What are my chores?” And our one-year-old recently tried to clean a toilet.
14) Save money. Committing to homeschooling requires at least one parent at home for most of each day. Although you may lose an income with this commitment, you save (a lot) of money since younger children don’t need daycare and older children don’t need private school. We also save a lot of money on gas now that we drive less. Many homeschooling parents still work part-time. We pull off homeschooling because I work nights and my husband works part-time from home as an independent IT developer. I know many families homeschooling on family incomes of 40-60K.
Homeschoolers save tax payers money, too. According to The National Home Education Research Institute, homeschoolers saved the taxpayers $16 billion in 2006.
15) Teach your kids practical life skills. Homeschooled kids learn parenting skills, cooking, budgeting, home maintenance, and time management every day. Time management skills are learned out of necessity. Our kids have to keep their own schedules and budget their own time. If they waste time, they have less time for play and their own special interests. We use old smart phones with alarms to help teach time management. Our kids help with younger siblings while under our direct supervision. What better way is there to learn parenting? I learned to write a fake grocery budget once as a home economics exercise. My kids write real grocery budgets and help me shop.
16) Better socialization, less unhealthy peer pressure and bullying. Our kids no longer beg for video games we don’t want them to have or clothes we don’t like, or junky snacks they saw at school. One of our children struggled socially in school, and his schoolmates were ruthlessly mean. Despite a school anti-bullying policy and our best efforts to work with the teacher, nothing changed. Last year he played alone on the playground everyday. Now he’s organizing playground games at our homeschool co-op, and he’s smiling again. No one has ever said an unkind word to him at our co-op, because every child is there with his or her own parent. Our kids have plenty of time with friends, but without the unhealthy peer pressure and bullying.
Research continues to show that homeschooled kids do well socially. Our kids have no shortage of time with friends—each week they attend homeschool co-op, scouts, sports, dance, choir, piano, religious education and have plenty of time to play with neighborhood friends. Add in the birthday parties and homeschool field trips, and we find ourselves having to decline activities so that we can get our homeschooling done!
17) Sleep! A research study by National Jewish Health released in March, 2013 showed that homeschooled students get more sleep than their peers who attend school. The result may be that homeschooled kids are better prepared to learn. Parents get more sleep, too! Now we don’t have to get up early to meet a bus schedule, prepare sack lunches, etc. Our mornings are great times together to snuggle with our children and talk about our plans for the day. No more “Hurry up and get your shoes on or you’ll be late for school!”
18) Teach kids your own values. According to the national center for education statistics, 36% of homeschooling families were primarily motivated by a desire to provide religious or moral instruction. Our family is not part of this 36%– we never objected to any values taught in either our public or private schools. Nevertheless, we’ve really enjoyed building our own traditions and living out our family values in a way that wasn’t possible before homeschooling. For example we make Halloween a little holiday without too much decadence, but we spend an entire week celebrating Easter. When our kids were in school, the Halloween parties went on for 2 weeks and they had a Halloween vacation from school. In contrast, they didn’t get any time off for Easter, and there were no Easter celebrations or even decorations at school.
Homeschooling isn’t right for every family or every child. I can’t even predict what the future holds for our family—will we continue homeschooling through high school? I don’t know. But for now, we’ve found a way for our family to be very happy growing and learning together.
Thank you to the more than 200,000 of you that have taken the time to read my thoughts on homeschooling.
Many people have asked me how we do it, how my husband and I both hold down jobs and homeschool our kids at the same time.
Every homeschooling family has their own unique time management plan to balance employment, schooling, household needs, and rest time. For our family, this has been a work in progress over several years.
Four years ago, after I had my third child, I started working all night shifts as a hospital-based pediatrician. This schedule allowed me to be home with my babies and available for school pick-up for my older children. When we were expecting our fourth child, my husband resigned his full-time job a large company in St. Louis so that he could start his own business as an independent IT developer, and so that he could be more committed to our family life. Once we had the flexibility of my husband’s self-employment, homeschooling became a real option for our family.
We complete our core homeschool curriculum on Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays our kids attend a home-school co-op, and on Fridays we take field trips, do special activities, and complete any catch-up work.
I sleep (with earplugs!) the mornings after my overnight shifts. My husband does the homeschooling on the mornings when I am sleeping. On the mornings when I am awake, I do the teaching. My husband and I split the teaching about 50/50. We try to make sure that at any given time one parent is employed and one is teaching/parenting/running the home. The baby usually takes a nap in the afternoon while my older kids do independent reading and online math, and so we can usually fit in 1-2 hours of personal time or work then. Any employment work or housework that is left we do after the kids go to bed.
Now that we homeschool, everything has become a team effort in our house. Both my husband and I teach, do housework, and make money. Everyone does chores. Walking in each other’s shoes each day has made us more compassionate towards each other. We are less likely to criticize each other when things don’t go right, and we’ve learned to be better communicators. This is, perhaps, my favorite part of homeschooling, that our family is happier together.
Addendum, May 6
Everyone asks me how I am raising 4 (soon to be 5) homeschooled children while working full time. I could never do it without my husband Greg and his willingness to make many unconventional life choices, including quitting his well-paid job at a major St. Louis company so that he could be more committed to our family. He’s not alone—according to 2010 census data, 17% of preschool-aged children have dad as their primary caretaker while mom is at work. Here my husband Greg Berchelmann shares his perspective.
An Expanding Family
My wife and I knew we wanted a fourth child, but it seemed logistically impossible. We knew we couldn’t be the parents we wanted to be and still maintain both of our full-time jobs. Something had to change.
At the time, Kathleen was working twelve hour night shifts as a hospital-based pediatrician and I was working a standard work day during the week as a software engineer. Most mornings were “hi and bye,” and we both had substantial duties around the house apart from our work obligations. We were over-worked, over-tired, and constantly dropping our children off at various child care facilities. We were not present and available to our children the way we wanted to be. We really wanted to have another child and we were prepared to make some potentially big changes in support of our desire.
Who Is Going to Quit Their Job?
We are logical in our decision-making, and we listed out the pros and cons of each option. Who was making more money? She was. Who was more invested in their career? She was. Who could still make money from home? I could. The questions went on, but just like the electoral college map during the election, so too our answers were pointing to me as the “elected” stay-at-home parent. How would I begin to accept such a nomination, and would this be good for me, for my marriage, and for our family?
Many Questions to Wrestle With
Though it was easy to determine who should stay home, at least from a pros-and-cons perspective, it was very difficult for me to fully grasp how to handle such a change in mission. How would I maintain a “provider and protector” self-image if I wasn’t providing in the traditional sense? Would this change cause a “power struggle” in our marriage? As a Mr. Mom, how would I be perceived by my friends and family? Would I be viewed as less of a man, one who was not able to fulfill his natural/traditional duties to spouse and family? Would I be thought of as a failure in terms of career? I probably felt at the time that only men who lose their jobs or who otherwise have no career path are forced to stay at home. No self-respecting man would actually choose to stay at home, right?
Differences Between Men and Women
I’m convinced that the solutions to the above dilemmas come from re-examining the foundational nature of men and women, that is to say gender roles. The answers I came up with were built upon the roles my wife and I established over the course of our almost 13 year marriage. Also, as a disclaimer, I should say that I have not read any books, research papers, or other publications on relationships, gender roles, marital counseling, etc. My understanding of things is based on what I know of myself, of my wife, and of the relationships I’ve seen modeled by our parents and grandparents. I guess you’d call that the school of life.
Being a Dad, Yet Still a Man
As a married man and father, I have a deep desire to take care of my wife and kids. I get great satisfaction from this. And for me, taking care of my family means working hard (providing), keeping them safe (protecting), ensuring their success even, at times, at my personal expense (self-sacrifice), and leading us towards better places (leadership). So to be a stay-at-home dad and also be happy and fulfilled, I felt I needed to maintain ways to provide, protect, sacrifice, and lead.
Providing After Quitting My Job
Being a software engineer made it possible to continue my career from home. I traded my desk job for the dual job at home of parent and software developer. Although I spend most of my time parenting and maintaining our household, the time I spend in the evening working for my clients allows me to keep my technical skills current and earn money for our family. So maybe I don’t earn nearly as much as I did before, but I feel satisfied knowing “I work from home” and my wife feels better having the supplemental income and knowing I could easily re-enter the traditional workforce if I had to.
I often wondered why it matters so much to me that I earn money for our family. Is it because I want the freedom to spend “my money”? Or maybe it is because I need to have a job to save face when talking with (especially male) friends? Perhaps having employment would prevent me from having to take ownership of the unmanly “homemaker” role?
The truth is that having a wage keeps me from feeling idle (as if raising a bunch of kids is some kind of idle, non-productive, non-important job). My computer works gives me something to think about while I change diapers or fix lunches. I can sketch out technical solutions in my head while I drive the dreaded mini-van. Without clients keeping me accountable, I might be tempted to begin filling that idle time with less productive or even damaging activities and concerns. Mental and physical sloth could quickly sneak up on me.
So the saving grace for me in my new role as stay-at-home dad was the ability to work as an independent software consultant from home. I don’t use it as an excuse for having a messy house, nor as a reason why the laundry isn’t done. But the little paid work I am able to do keeps me out of trouble and fulfills my need to contribute to our family budget, to keep my skills fresh, and to save face when asked the “what do you do?” question.
A Mini-Van Sacrifice
I hate mini-vans yet I drive one. I stay up late and I get up early. I clean up water, juice, milk, food, spit, vomit, poop, blood, and urine. I change diapers, cook meals, do dishes, cut the grass, fix cars, vacuum the house, pay bills, and home school our kids.
All parents sacrifice themselves for their kids. It is what good parents do. As a stay-at-home dad I have found no end of opportunity to take that humility-pill. At times it isn’t fun, but I take a lot of pride in what my wife and I do for our kids.
Leadership, Decision Making, and Power Struggles
I think men subconsciously fear becoming a stay-at-home dad because they fear they will also lose the power to lead their families. If you aren’t the bread winner then how can you make a “final decision” about this issue or that?
Of course this line of reasoning is flawed, and it is the problem women have been facing for eons. In marriage, making money does not grant one an authoritative power over the other. Spouses are supposed to be one, right? My wife trusts me in decision making because she values my reasoning and intuition, and she knows which decisions she needs me to make. Accordingly, I value her reasoning and intuition, and I know which decisions I need her to make. We are equals, but different.
So I don’t think becoming a stay-at-home dad affected our power balances, decision making processes, leadership roles, or any of these other areas of relationships that get people all bent out of shape. If having your husband home with the kids causes a major change in the way you relate to each other, then perhaps there are other issues going on that have nothing to do with who is home with the kids and who is working to make the money.
Final Advice for Men and the Wives Who Support Them
Before you quit your job and become a stay-at-home dad, I thought I’d include some advice for you and your wife to think about. This is mostly common sense, but I wanted to at least highlight a few explicit examples:
1) Make specific arrangements to keep your professional skills active, preferably in way that generates income. If you are a teacher, find a way to teach one night a week or during the weekend. If you are a construction worker, pursue a side-job business where you have small jobs that can be done over the weekend or during the day while the kids are in a parent’s day out program. If you are computer guy like me, get online and find little contracting jobs to maintain your skills and bill rate. For me, and I suspect for many men, having a job and generating money plays a big role in a man’s self-image and his relationship to other men in his life. Don’t underestimate this!
2) Don’t attempt to be a stay-at-home dad if you don’t have anything planned outside of the normal household/parenting duties to keep idle time to a minimum. Idle time, they say, is a dangerous thing. Specifically, consider if while at home you might: a) be tempted to drink alcohol on a regular basis; b) be tempted to “let yourself go” from a physical standpoint (e.g., over-eating, not shaving, not showering, etc.), or from a mental standpoint (e.g., apathy, sloth, etc.); c) get addicted to pornography or other marriage-undermining activities;
3) You might want to think twice about staying home if you don’t know how to cook, change diapers, operate a vacuum, or drive a mini-van. The glories of homemaking can be the bane of your existence if you aren’t willing to accept these kinds of tasks as part of your new job. There is no shame, just get it done!
4) Maintain your “band of brothers” as you transition from work life to home life. With your wife’s support, make sure you maintain your relationships with other men. You won’t get invited to that weekend campout or evening sporting event if you effectively fall off the planet after leaving the workforce. Use your new found life-flexibility to call your friends when they are commuting to work, of text them during the lunch hour just to check in.
5) And finally, wives, be ready to support your husband. Your attitude and support are key to making this work. Don’t upset the balance of power because of your newfound role as sole provider (men should do the same, of course, when the roles are reversed). Instead, give your husband good things to be prideful of in his new role as stay-at-home dad: a) tell him how his efforts at home are the rock you stand on; b) keep yourself put together and looking nice so he can see (men are visual) the awesomeness (you) he is sacrificing for; c) let your children be the glue that binds your love and dedication to each other. This is why he is staying at home, right?
Being at home with my kids has given me a tremendous opportunity to teach and form them in ways that would be impossible if I had stayed in the workforce. I hope these thoughts are helpful to parents who are thinking about non-traditional family arrangements like mine. I can tell you that things can be really good, and I believe kids greatly need fathers today. I have no regrets at all and I wouldn’t want things any other way.