Why we homeschool and how we got started

I read a great post by momlovesbeingathome by the exact same title as this one, and thought, “There’s an idea I can steal!”  This post ended up being way longer than I thought it would be, but here’s mine:

Before I had even left high school, I had decided that I wanted to homeschool my kids.  I wanted to provide for them the academic excellence, freedom, and support that I did not get, as a student.  I went to a small, private Christian school, for which my parents (and then, just my mom, after my parents divorced) scraped and saved to send my sibs and me.  It wasn’t the best experience.  I don’t begrudge my parents their decision to send us there;  they were honestly trying to do the absolute best for us kids.  However, after elementary school, the education we received was really sub-par.  Well, it was probably above average, but when “average” in American schools is so poor, then “slightly-above-average” is still poor.  KWIM?

The school was very small, and electives were very limited.  My senior year, I had the choice of taking either physics or choir.  Singing is my JOY, my delight.  When I sing, I most feel like I am doing what God made me to do.  Yet, I needed physics for college.  What’s a girl to do?  I took choir.  I got a D in college engineering physics my first semester in college (after graduating as valedictorian of my 16-student senior class, and never getting below a B+ in anything my entire life).  My senior year, I could also have taken either art or advanced math.  I took math.

My school did not have any kind of formal assistance to help seniors onto further education. 😕  A school that doesn’t really care about education?  What’s up with that?  Totally by the grace of God, and the kind assistance of Mrs. McCarroll, my English teacher, I was able to obtain a full-ride scholarship to Tulane University.  Upon arriving there, I discovered what a miracle that was, as I was surrounded by a school population, 98% of whom were better-educated than me. 

After I got to Tulane, I also found out that I could have taken an AP exam and tested out of freshman English.  Had anyone told me that at my high school?  No.  I knew that there were AP classes in public schools, so anything I had heard about any AP exams, I thought just pertained to those in public schools.  It ended up OK:  I had a delightful year of college freshman English (instructed by a Hasidic Jewish professor who loved debate, and who confided in me that he had given me the only “A” of any of his freshman English students that entire school year.  Well, of course.  The ones who were “A” students had taken that dumb AP exam and already tested out of his course!)

I also found myself holed up in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, poring over books to find out why I believed what I believed.  My education had been pretty much this:  “Christianity is good.  Evolution is bad.”  The school I went to was so pro-Christian that they didn’t even talk about anything non-Christian.  Not in science.  Not in history.  Not in English.  No myths.  No discussion of non-Christian religions.  It was just lacking.

And… my school provided no extra work, no advanced classes for the academically curious.  I felt like there was so much more that I should have learned!  So much more that I wanted to learn!  But there was little guidance, little challenge, little investigation, little delight in learning.  It was a school, I think, established simply to protect kids from what they might learn in a public school.  Anything established on the defensive, IMO, is poorly established.

The year my oldest turned three, I started investigating homeschool curricula.  Since all I knew was that I didn’t want to use A Beka (which was what was used in my Christian school experience) or ACE (which was used in my husband’s short, but very poor experience in Christian high schools), I was quickly overwhelmed with the options available to me.  After more than a year of research, I settled upon K12, which was created by Bill Bennett;  I had been very impressed with his book The Educated Child.  But the K curriculum would take about 6 hours of my time each day, and it cost about $800.  I despaired, because I didn’t think I could do that much school with my 5yo each day, and my husband gave a resounding, “NO” to the cost.  Then, a friend from a Bible study stepped in and told me I was making it too difficult;  K should take only 1.5 hours/day, and here’s what she used:  Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, Five in a Row, and a simple math program (which I didn’t like, so I’m not linking to, or naming).

I still use “EZLessons,” and am a big fan of it.  I still think FIAR is a stellar program.  But, even though both my 5yo and my 3yo learned to read that first year, I found myself not wanting to continue.  I needed more structure.  I needed some guidance and support.  But, I didn’t want the hyper-structured homeschooling systems like Alpha Omega;  I wanted to be more hands-on than that.  But, it seemed that the style of school I wanted to do did not exist:  literature-based (not textbook-based), Christian (but not “too” Christian, in light of my history), structured (but not too structured), parent-involved, academically challenging (but not too brainiac — like Classical programs), and not a program that needed me to be amazingly creative.

I was afraid that my inability to well-organize our days was to the educational detriment of my children.  I couldn’t plan;  I didn’t know what to plan.  I needed something/someone to say, “This is what you should do today.”  Yet, I couldn’t compromise and do school in a way with which I didn’t agree, even if they gave me a schedule.  I gave up and enrolled my son in a charter school, Abraham Lincoln Traditional School for the following fall. 

Later that month, July 2003, I was absentmindedly perusing the CBD homeshooling catalogue that had been mailed, and I felt like God spoke to me.  He said, “You really want to homeschool, right?”

I replied, “Yes.”

“You don’t really want your son at Abraham Lincoln, right?”


“You don’t really feel like that’s the best for him, right?  You’ve wanted to homeschool since before you were even married, right?”


“But you don’t want harm to come to him since you are poorly organized, right?”

(with tears) “Right.”

“Then it sounds to me like you should become better organized.”

In other words, I felt like God was telling me that instead of running from my weaknesses, I should confront them.  Instead of accepting a compromise for my child’s education, I should do what I needed to do to better educate myself to make up for my lack.

So, I set to work investigating different homeschooling planners.  I also told my husband about the conversation with God, which brings up another point:  Prior to starting homeschooling, my husband wasn’t a fan of the idea;  he thought only weirdos homeschooled.  I didn’t really sell him on the idea of homeschooling, but he begrudgingly let me do K with our son.  So, I thought my husband had been supportive of me enrolling Ethan at Abraham Lincoln, and I thought he’d be upset when I told him that it looked like I was going to homeschool him again for his 1st grade year.  Imagine my shock when my husband expressed delight!  That K schoolyear, my hubby had come 180* about the whole thing, and thought hs’ing was the right thing for us to do!  I thought I had done so poorly with our son that first year of school;  my husband thought I did great!  (But, encouragement is not one of his stronger suits, and he’d never expressed his approval to me.)  I was shocked, and viewed it as one more thing, one more “sign” that I was supposed to homeschool.

The next day, I was talking on the phone to one of my few homeschooling friends about my new decision.  I already knew that we had similar goals for our children’s education, as we had spoken at length about it before.  She said, “I just placed an order for this school year from a company that someone else told me about.  I think you need to see the catalogue.  They match everything you’re looking for.  And, they’ve scheduled it out.”  I packed everyone up right then, and went to her house to pick up the catalogue.

I brought it home, read it cover to cover, knew immediately it was right for me — for our family — and started ordering Sonlight materials the following week.  That was almost four years ago, and we’ve been “Sonlighting” ever since.  I don’t use their language arts (we’ve tried SL, plus a number of other programs; we’re currently using — and loving — Rod and Staff.)  This year, we didn’t use their science, and next year, I think I’m going to probably use Bob Jones/BJU which is — gasp! — a textbook-based program, and is sort of a joke because… my husband got expelled from Bob Jones University, which produces the materials. 😆  But, at the heart of it, we’re Sonlighters.  We’re currently in Core 3, with my 4th grader and my 2nd grader participating fully, and my K’er participating in some of it.

I’m so glad I — with encouragement from God the Father, my hubby, and my friend– decided to continue homeschooling.  This year, our 5th, which is coming to a close (our last day will be June 19th), is the first year I’ve really felt like we’re in it for the long haul.  I pray to God that we can continue homeschooling until our kids graduate high school.  It has been so effective, and is such a blessing to our whole family.  I’m not totally dogmatic about homeschooling;  I don’t believe it’s for everyone.  But, for those who think that it might be for them, I urge you to at least try it.                  

About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on May 28, 2007, in Christianity, Encouragement, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Parenting, The Dear Hubby, The Kids. Bookmark the permalink. 24 Comments.

  1. What an awesome post!!! It’s always fun to hear how others started and how they homeschool! I have to say I cracked up when I read the part about how you were taught everything Christian in your school but nothing else – I was going to comment about how my daughter got really frustrated with A Beka because that’s the way they approach every subject. In the early elementary years we really liked it but the higher the grade, the less we liked it. Then, I get down a little further in your post and you say that’s the curriculum you used! haha! So… I know EXACTLY what you mean! We have moved away from A Beka and only use it a little for a couple of subjects now.

    We follow Sonlight’s reading list for reading/literature and I really like it. They have a really neat way of putting things together – I was so glad to read that it worked for you! In fact, that part was kind of funny too because when you talked about your friend finding something, Sonlight was what popped into my mind before you mentioned it! 🙂

    One thing I would recommend (if you haven’t already) is checking out Apologia for science – it is a FABULOUS curriculum!!! So sorry this has turned into such a long comment. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. That’s it. I’m adding you to my blogroll. 😛 I’m so hesitant to add anyone these days; I can barely keep up with those I have… but you have passed the test!! Hehehe!

    Never apologize for a long reply! I like the conversations.

    I don’t know what they do now, but SL never used to advertise in any of the hs’ing publications I’d read. I had never heard of it before my friend gave me the catalogue.

    I’ve heard great things about Apologia… but aren’t they just for older grades? I need to check them out again.

  3. I think your children are very lucky! I had a similar high school experience. We moved house and my parents were supposed to enrol me in the local Catholic school but they decided it would be better for me to go to the private school my cousin went to instead. This school was so substandard. I could probably get twenty blog posts out of how terrible the place was, but at the same time I feel bad because I know my parents were doing their best. Now I’m quite worried about Kiko. We’ve sort of decided he’ll go to Catholic schools – I feel as if I missed out because I didn’t have a Catholic education – but I’m concerned that the Catholic schools in Australia are private. In my experience, private schools = poor education. I was even wondering if I should enrol him into Rudolph Steiner, but that would also be private. I hope I can find the right path for him. I wish homeschooling was an option but I’m extremely poor at maths and know I would hamper his education.

    Thank you for writing about your decision, it is very interesting to read about this.

  4. I found this really interesting, Karen. I’d wondered for a while about why you homeschooled and what drove you. This gave me a bit more insight. I’ve always been a bit hazy on the issue because I’ve seen it being done and being done badly in the past and for the wrong reasons, but as always there’s danger in tarring everyone with the same brush. I think the culture of education may be quite different in the States than it is here, and especially in Lewis. We’re fortunate in that we have a very healthy school system and a lot of Christian teachers who teach about all faiths and cultures with balance without selling out their own faith. I hope I’m one of them. And I hope I inspire and excite the learners, just as you strive to. Be blessed with it!

  5. I’m so sorry you had such a lacking high school experience! I went to a very tiny school in a very tiny town, so I understand when you say you had so few choices. I love that with homeschooling you can open the world instead of being stuck with the choices your given. 🙂

  6. Helen ~ Regarding education in general, the situation is likely very different in Australia than it is here, but in the US, a Catholic education is generally very solid. And… if you’re not good at math, maybe you could just — IF you’re interested; I’m NOT twisting your arm — school him at home for the first few years, until the more difficult math catches up with you. I continue to say that we will homeschool as long as it remains effective. I fully intend to do everything to provide for an excellent education for my children. I’m confident that I can more-than-adequately school them through high school. But when any of my kids need something that is outside my expertise, I seek outside help (for example: Grant being in occupational therapy). There are lots of math tutoring progams, both in print and on video/DVD for higher levels of learning. (And some good ones in science for that matter…)

    Iain ~ Yes, I think the academic culture on Lewis is *very* strong, and it appears that *family* culture is much stronger there than here. I remember being in Tommy & Donna’s home and seeing Matthew doing his homework, and it was some VERY advanced work for an eight-year-old, as he was at the time. In my experience, both our strongest supporters AND our most vociferous detractors have been… public school teachers. My greatest support has come from my stepdad, who is a mostly-retired public school music teacher. He has given us money for curriculum when it was needed, and he provides music “class” for all my boys, and trumpet lessons for my oldest. Another retired high school science teacher we know is unofficially tutoring Ethan in mineral identification, and has told me that if he had children, there is no way he would put them into the public school system.

    There are certainly good teachers out there, and there have certainly been successful students to come out of the system… but I would say that that’s the exception, rather than the rule. Most teachers go into teaching with a good heart, but administration is screwy, and the general culture of what the educational goals are is so messed up that, frankly, actual EDUCATION takes a back seat to other priorities. There are *so* many problems with the public school system that in general, the only areas in which the public school system does do well are in the the areas which I would prefer my kids avoid, like: How to Be a Bully; How to Disrespect Authority; My Two Dads; Christianity is a Joke; Preparing for a Bad Guy Attack; etc.

    PLUS, there’s an anti-mothering culture in the US, which is showing an inkling of hope in turning around, thank God. But, the pervasive attitude is: “Have babies, then turn them over to someone — anyone — other than yourself.” Motherhood does not receive the support, respect and accolades that it needs and deserves. The family unit is generally weak. Parents are marginalized, and “experts” are lauded. “Experts” in education. “Experts” in child-rearing. “Experts” in behavior. There’s a general attitude of, “You CAN’T do it! Call in the experts!” When, in reality, what children need, especially young children, is the love, support and instruction from their own TWO parents. (There is a need for expert help, at times, but authority and empowerment is generally being sapped from parenthood in the US, which is why there is, IMO, a rising “backlash” in home-based interests, like homeschooling, home birth, homeopathic and herbal medicine, gardening and natural/organic foods…)

  7. Haha! You’re so funny! I’m glad I passed the test. 🙂

    Apologia has some elementary science too. We’ve done two of them (Botany and Astronomy) with my son and he really enjoyed them!

    By the way, your last comment should have been part of the post! That was great! 🙂

  8. That actually confirms the perception I had of the US public schools system, and rather depressing it is too. It’s a real shame that the system lets people down so much that they feel they have to home school. I’m glad that what we have here, at least for now, is so much healthier. Long may it last. At least then I won’t be out of a job!!

  9. Great post, Karen. I always appreciate hearing why other people homeschool.

    It’s interesting to hear other experiences in private schools. I went to a private school and the high school I graduated from consistently produces if not the top scores, close to it, on the MEAP (Michigan’s standarized test). I am amazed at how broad the grading scale is at other schools compared to that one, where 69% was failing.

    That school addressed all kinds of non Christian stuff, like other religions, mythology and atheism based evolution. In fact, the natural science class caused me to have serious questions about the Bible. If only I had known where to look for answers! Thank God for Answers in Genesis!!

    I hated school, though. It was very tough for me to pay attention and keep up. Our homeschool experience is much different than what I went through there and yet our standards are not lower. Just different.

  10. I really enjoyed reading your post about homeschooling. We’re also finishing up our 5th year, and we’re in it for the long haul, as well. (Although we’re always open to what the Lord wants us to do…which right now is homeschool.) I’ve been searing for a language arts program…I’ll have to look at Rod and Staff. For science this year we used Answers In Genesis’ God’s Design for Chemistry. They have a complete series at http://www.answersingenesis.org/PublicStore/catalog/Gods-Design-Science-Curriculum.153.aspx. My kids love it and it’s pretty teacher friendly. There are experiments with almost every lesson, however, they use things that you have in your home. I’ll have to bookmark your blog and check it out again. Thanks for sharing your HSing story.

  11. I think I put a space in the answers in genesis link. Oops.

  12. Rubber Chicken Girl

    It would take too long, I suppose, just now to write the whole story, morning-glory. But I’ll just say that it was 1989 and we had just gotten married. I read two books by Mary Pride that year, The Way Home and All the Way Home, about her full recovery from feminism. In early 1990, I caught a bit of an interview with her on the radio RE homeschooling. All that I remember was that she recommended not overbuying curric as an over-eager newbie. (Too true btw.) She also said that she could teach her child to read with a piece of chalk and a chalkboard. Simplicity. We buy so much stuff and feel we need a 400 currics and we have good books and resources and simple things like pencils and paper and whiteboards at our disposal. I suppose I’d like Charlotte Mason if I ever got around to reading her.
    It just harkened back to log cabins and one room schoolhouses and the basics and it resonated with me. From that point forward, I was pretty confident that we’d one day homeschool. Public school was out (with lyrics to songs like Crazy B*tch playing and dowloadable porn getting loaded onto phones for education in *ral S*x 101–yeah, we are outta there–self-explanatory) We also knew we’d never likely afford Christian school (which are usually as heathen as the “free” government schools)….
    By 1991, after the birth of JQK, we met our first couple of homeschoolers at the University of Nevada. We met when one of them saw my Keith Green No Compromise t hanging on the line. I loved them and picked their brains for hours. I asked Becky what she would say to someone about the all-important socialization question. She said something like, “Being in a group of ALL one age is UNnatural. God meant for children to come one a time and be raised in a mixed age group setting. How on earth do a bunch of uncivilized 2 year olds (fill in the age) teach each other how to socialize?” I thought about that a lot. I had taught daycare and she was SOOO right. If socialization means Dog-Eat-Dog, then go for it. But if it means respect, politeness, regard for people of varying ages etc, then learning from peers is out. And really, are ALL (roll eyes) public school graduates smooth socially. Not by a long shot. Nor will ALL homeschoolers. It’s a mixed bag all the way around depending on the school, the parents, the temperament of the child, the developmental challenges of the child etc. No more tangent.
    More of the story than I intended, but there you go.
    One funny I hear from other homeschoolers is that they formerly though homeschoolers were freaks. That is until God led them that direction, sometimes kicking and screaming. “I don’t WANNA BE A FREAK!!!”
    Today, that woman’s two homeschoolers are successfully attending college.

  13. Thanks for this post karen. I really love your conversation with God. That is how God speaks to me a lot of the time. Just asking me questions and it always leads me to an answer. Not only that, but my biggest fear is being capeable… and what I am feeling is that that is not an excuse… that i’m comfortable with being incapeable and GOd is laying this on my heart now… he is giving me time to let him make me capeable (more patient, disciplined, and organized) Thank you so much for sharing and making this journey of discovering fuller.

  14. Mrs N ~ So is how you school just more relaxed than what sounds like might have been a high-pressure private school experience? And was it Christian? Or secular private?

    Teresa ~ I tried to fix the link, and it still didn’t work… 😦 But, I think you’ve given enough info that we could find it. Thanks for the kind words about the blog.

    Shellie ~ I’d forgotten that story… It’s a good read, a good reminder. Gives me pause in my current “perfect” science curric search.

    MZ ~ Love the comment. I can’t tell you how long it took me to learn that God was better-than-OK with me feeling incapable! It’s only then that He can step in and lend His fully-capable help. I think we Americans try to do it all perfectly… when what we really need to do is humble ourselves and say, “Father, God, help me!!!”

  15. We were forced to homeschool after a relocation. What a great opportunity.

  16. Super post. You may want to visit the conversation about classical homeschooling at the Heart of Wisdom blog.

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