Thirty Pieces of My Thirty Years #22: Homeschooling

Depending on your background, the word "homeschooling" might conjure up images of prairie dresses, nerdy spelling bee champions, and cultural disconnectedness -- or perhaps more positive pictures of cozy family educational moments around the dining room table, beaming children completely enthralled by their math problems and history projects. While reality includes a little bit of each of these pictures, it is also a lot more complex.

In my experience as a homeschooled child, homeschooling was both normal - in the church culture in which I grew up - and bizarre - to our neighbors and to the friends I met in my ballet class, not to mention the well-meaning strangers who were perplexed to see school-age children walking around the grocery store at noon on a weekday.

Even today, when I happen to mention that I was homeschooled for the majority of my elementary school career, I get varied responses: everything from "But you're so normal!" to "Me too!" to "I always wondered what that would be like." I've grown accustomed to the fact that my homeschooling background makes me somewhat of an oddity in most settings, and I actually rather enjoy the chance to describe my experience to those who are curious and even skeptical.

I tell them about the most commonly-described benefits of homeschooling, about how in contrast to a classroom of 20-30 students, homeschooled students receive the benefit of truly individualized instruction and are able to learn at their own pace. I tell them about how homeschooling allows students space to pursue their own interests and passions, how my "homework" was done by 1 or 2 p.m at the latest, allowing me plenty of time to read for pleasure, write in my journal, and run around outside in the fresh air. I also tell them that homeschooling is definitely not for everyone, how as an educator myself I would never recommend it for every family or every kid.

What I talk about less frequently though - and find more difficult to even notice - is how much my eight years of homeschooling shaped me as a person in so many little ways, mostly for the better, but sometimes making me, well, just a little different :)

Because I was homeschooled,

*I spent thousands more hours with my family than I ever would have otherwise.

*I sometimes felt/feel left out when people talk about elementary school experiences like recess, snow days, field trips, and school lunches. For example, I never got to bring cupcakes to class for my birthday, though I guess I wouldn't have anyway since my birthday is in July.

*I didn't write my name on my school papers until I started attending public school in middle school. I just expected to be known.

*I entered middle school not really knowing how I compared academically to other students. I got to enjoy 7 years of learning without seeing it as a competition or worrying about where I fit in the rankings. Though I would later find a great deal of identity in my scholastic achievements, my early years focused on learning for the sake of learning, a gift for which I am very grateful. I can only imagine how much more achievement-oriented I might be were it not for those years.

*I find it difficult to read novels unless I have the time and space to read them from cover to cover. When I was homeschooled, I read an entire book (usually Nancy Drew or Boxcar Children or the like) each afternoon, and I never really learned how to read a few chapters each day over the course of several weeks. As a result, I still tend to read fiction primarily when I am on vacation or when I can otherwise step away from my responsibilities for at least a few uninterrupted hours. I sometimes wish I had developed a habit of reading a few chapters before bedtime, as I would be able to read a lot more that way.

*Learning with and from my family feels normal to me. They are the first people I call when I have a question about something - be it domestic, theological, practical, scientific, or literary. When we are all together, we love to talk books and ideas.

*I'm comfortable working with and befriending people of lots of different ages. Since I didn't spend my early years surrounded by a large group of my peers, I value being around people both older and younger than me.

*My expectation of life tends to include freedom to pursue my various interests and to spend time with people. Since homeschooling took up such a relatively small portion of my day, I grew up accustomed to lots of "free" time; during busy seasons of life, I have often struggled that "work" takes up so much of my day. Homeschooling spoiled me a bit in that regard.

I am sure there are many more effects I could list; any other homeschooled folks care to add some?