It’s been more than a year since I made the decision to become a homeschool parent. Military life is often unpredictable, and with moves, travel and weekend work hours, our family wanted to maximize time spent together while being able to explore our duty stations. As our oldest child approached kindergarten age, we debated the best schooling option to ease transitions of military life, and decided to try homeschooling. As former teachers we loved the classroom, but now we get to experience turning our home into a learning environment — with the added bonus of taking education outdoors.
While each state has different homeschooling requirements, when we fulfill those requirements is up to us. If we need to travel, we can arrange our breaks. If dad has a day off, we can do something as a family, and my children can attend promotion ceremonies and other events.
Becoming your child’s primary teacher
Teaching your own children is different from managing students, and while my professional background has been a benefit in some ways, the beauty of homeschooling is accessing non-traditional methods. Homeschool methods range from unschooling — where the child is actively making educational choices — to classical methods that focus on the different stages of learning, to road- or world-schooling where the education is focused on traveling experiences. There are also options for online learning where instruction is provided.
Like many homeschoolers, we chose an eclectic approach using spiral curriculum and texts common in classical approaches, but with lots of outdoor play, work and exploration that you might find in road-schooling or Montessori classrooms. Many homeschoolers make a dedicated schooling decision based on their family values, while others, like us, make a year to year decision based on their child, budget, goals, and current circumstances.
My daughter has done seven Junior Ranger programs at National Parks. We’ve spent the day at our local zoo, taking work with us and exploring based on our lessons. As field trips and recreational time becomes more scarce in the classroom due to class size, safety, and mandated testing, we are building experiences around the opportunities of each duty station.
Connecting with others
Taking part in a Co-op where we meet with other homeschoolers for classes and field trips, as well as Girl Scouts, sports and music lessons, allows my social kids to interact with teachers, mentors and kids, and gives me the breaks I need or advice from other homeschooling parents I can benefit from.
For example, I faced a minor health issue this year, and as I adjusted to a medication, I was unable to give the same energy to our daily instruction. I relied on independent activities and things we could do from the couch. I was frustrated, but I had family and friends that encouraged me, reminding me I could always change plans, that I took sick days as a teacher, and to look at my child’s successes. As I recovered, I found this setback had improved my comfort with homeschooling.
The hardest part has been explaining a lack of free time or my choices when they don’t align with cultural expectations. A portion of my day is dedicated to my children’s instruction. Additionally, I work from home as a writer and still want time for relaxation and chores. As a shirt one of my friends has proclaims, “All mothers are working mothers.” As a parent-teacher, I sense more pressure for my child to succeed, knowing that because of stigmas around homeschooling, that if they are behind in some way others will look to blame me, instead of recognizing learning and social differences in children. Getting away from unhealthy competition in any school setting is hard.
Admittedly, school experiences help many military families feel as though they are a part of the community, providing a way to meet people and amazing educators, so I do not want to minimize the important role that schools play for many families. For us, though, we know how different our experiences would be if we were dealing with the competing schedules of the classroom and the military, and we are grateful for this time.