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Reluctant: unwilling and hesitant; disinclined.
To say I was a reluctant homeschool mom is the understatement of the century. I was, in fact, adamantly opposed to it. I secretly believed all the stereotypes I had heard–the same ones that now make me want to go all Incredible Hulk on people who repeat them.
In my defense, my Public School Pedigree runs deep
-I went to public school K through 12, and so did my husband.
-My Mom was practically the PTA president from when I was in preschool through my high school graduation–there was never a year she wasn’t fully engaged at my school.
-My mother-in-law worked for the same district for 26 years and was fully committed to public education, even attending every board meeting after she retired.
-When we got married, my husband was a youth pastor with 300 public school students in his ministry. I am ashamed to tell you that in my heart I made fun of the two–yes, 2–homeschool families in our youth group. I thought they were so weird.
-And on top of all of that, I was a public high school math teacher.
I stopped teaching when our first baby was born. Staying home had always been the plan, and even though I loved school, teaching, my students, and even grading algebra tests, I was thrilled to be home with my sweet baby.
When she turned 4, we did what all good parents do and enrolled her in the preschool at the church down the road. My visions of accelerated learning and heirloom crafts were thwarted when she came home with a page of yellow circles. Yellow circles? This child could write at age 2. Why was she learning about yellow circles? But, knowing that she needed to be in school for socialization (oh yes, I believed it), and wanting her to have the same experiences I had, I walked her up the street 3 days a week, pushing her baby brother in his stroller, leaving her to the “experts” for a few hours at a time.
When she brought home hand, foot and mouth disease a month later, all those big ideas about accelerated learning and making friends flew right out the door. The horror of that rash tipped the scale in favor of my doubts, and she never went back.
My next thought was: I can do better. So I bought a book and found a willing friend, and for the rest of the year we alternated lessons, crafts, and snacks with our preschoolers. It was the best! Our younger kids joined in, learning together was SO MUCH FUN, and our girls became best friends. Best of all, no horrible, rashy diseases :O)
But honestly, I had no idea that was homeschooling. It was just the best solution I could come up with for what we needed at the time. In fact, I enrolled her in ballet so she would still have a teacher and the opportunity to socialize.
What can I say? I’m a slow learner.
So obviously, when my girl turned 5, we headed off to the local elementary school. I absolutely have those darling, quintessential pictures of her on her first day of kindergarten, backpack bigger than she is, princess lunch box packed with her favorite foods plus a note written on a napkin.
But despite the accolades this school had and my high hopes for her academic experience, none of us were content. It’s hard to pinpoint where the discontent started, but it can be summed up in one moment. I was volunteering in the classroom on the day the kids were painting apples. One at a time they came to the easel, outlined their apple, and chose red, yellow, or green to fill it in. A brown stem and green leaves topped it off. I loved it–this was the beginning of a lifetime of adorable paintings to fill up the memory box we had spray painted together.
I didn’t know it, but my one-of-kind daughter painted a Gala apple–her favorite kind–in bright swirls of red, yellow, and green.
The next week I saw dozens of apples hanging on the wall, ready for Back-to-School Night. But I couldn’t find my daughter’s name on any of them. At home I asked her about it, and she sadly pulled her apple painting out of her backpack. She wasn’t allowed to have her Gala apple on the wall because she used more than one color.
Don’t get me wrong–I understand the need to follow rules, and she broke them.
But I knew the creative genius inside this bright, happy girl. And in that moment I saw some of her spark leave her, and it broke my heart.
And so began our journey into homeschooling.
That bright, creative genius is now 15, and she is still homeschooled. Not only have we kept the spark alive, but we have fanned the flame and given her the tools to run with her passions. Ironically, she struggles with math. But she has taught herself to play guitar, to speak Modern Greek, and to make jewelry, which she sells in her own etsy shop. She dabbles in graphic design, photography, and Sign Language, and wrote her own medley of Star Wars songs for the piano. Last year when I had her choose her first high school elective, she found a college course called Masters of War: History’s Greatest Strategic Thinkers, and begged me to also buy her Sun Tzu’s Art of War and a military handbook called Counterinsurgency Warfare. Then she joined a government class at our state capitol and debated her way through elections, resolutions, and bills–and she was asked to return as a staffer. When we moved from Southern California to a small farm in rural Wyoming, she took on the raising of 22 chickens and the neighbor’s horses, and she has conquered it all.
Recently she’s made a connection with a successful online business woman who gifted her some business courses; now if you ask her what she wants to do when she grows up, it involves world travel and owning her own business. I have no doubt she will do both.
The thing is, she trusts with absolute certainty that she can learn anything. That spark of genius, that creative mind, has been consistently nurtured and grown, and she is confident in her ability to master whatever she sets her mind to. What obstacle can possibly get in the way of a young adult who believes in her ability to educate herself? What can stop this force?
I was the epitome of the Reluctant Homeschool Mom, but now my kids have proven to me, and to themselves, that it was without a doubt the best-hardest decision we have made.
Carlee is a Southern California valley girl turned rural Wyoming hobby farmer. Carlee has been joyfully married to her pastor-husband Daniel for 17 years. They have three personality-plus kiddos: Mckenna 15, Gabe 12, and Juliana 10. When she isn’t homeschooling or working as a Virtual Assistant, Carlee loves to coach soccer and encourage other homeschool moms.