Saturday, March 14, 2009

My Guest Natalie Tucker Miller - A Homeschool View

This is a topic I never tire of discussing and have felt that this was my greatest accomplishment in life.

I've been in business, had careers, but home schooling stands out as the single most meaningful accomplishment for me. I've got 2 daughters, we live in a bedroom community outside of Burlington, Vermont. I attended public school, graduated high school in 1976 and have memories of boredom, embarrassment and discomfort. Although there were some highlights (I played in the orchestra and that was my sanctuary) by and large I did not enjoy school. This was the impetus to my home schooling my own kids, though I always left it up to them. I simply wanted them to know there were options and that they could create any life they wanted, regardless of what "rules" might otherwise dictate.

I first learned of homeschooling in my early 20's when friends of my niece were being home schooled. There was no religious correlation, but it seemed to me that you would need affluence. This particular family traveled extensively and the kids had, from my view point, a truly charmed life. That was the beginning of my curiosity.

In 1986, then Governor Howard Dean, publicly proposed that home school parents should have a BA in education. Luckily, that never gained any steam in the senate. I have some real philosophical issues with that, even though I am a teacher by trade! Anyway, my elder daughter was an infant at that time so I didn't give homeschooling a ton of thought, though it was always in the back of my mind.

When Beth Ann started Kindergarten and Allison was 3, I walked Beth Ann to school, wondering the whole time if and how we could do things differently. Deciding to give public school a try, it wasn't until Beth Ann's extremely stressful experience in 5th grade that I finally decided it was time. Although I was teaching part time, I knew the girls were old enough to be on their own in the morning while I was at school, which was just around the corner (or spitting distance as we say in VT) from our house.

This was a family decision. My husband was skeptical at first and Beth Ann, who had been asking to be home schooled for a while, got cold feet when the rubber hit the road! Allison, who never seemed to have an issue with school, immediately said "Yes, let's do it". We decided a trial "3 month" period was the most appropriate approach. They never went back other than the occasional middle school or high school class to supplement their education. (musical instruments, science and electives).Shortly after we began, the effects were palpable. Stress diminished, joy returned, sleep patterns uninterrupted. My only regret was that we had not started sooner!

I honestly cannot, to this day, find a downside. There were some home school groups in our area, many of them Christian based. Since we had more of an "unschooling" approach, we did not find many commonalities with some of the more structured and religious groups. Almost comically (or cosmically lol), four other families whose children were friends with my daughters, began homeschooling as well, so we had a nice little network of our own. To this day, that group of 7 kids (adults now) are as close as family, or closer. It's a beautiful thing.

We tried a few different approaches as far as curicculum, but basically, we were able to create our own. Even then (1997) there was a ton of info on the web which we utilized extensively. We purchased some supplies (Saxon Math, which we only used occasionally) and some other texts and workbooks, but mostly we used much of what we had, visited libraries, all kinds of options such as that. We allowed each daughter to help determine the curriculum for themselves within the guidelines of the state. It was a tremendous opportunity for us to show the girls the faith and trust we had in them, while allowing their own unique abilities to blossom.

Beth Ann grew into a fabulous writer (she is currently interning at Ode Magazine) and Allison followed her passion for computers and is a computer software engineer. They both insist that had they not had the freedom to explore and nurture their passions throughout school, they may have been talked into other paths. They both took the SAT's and the ACT's (in lei of a diploma for college entrance) and college admissions was never an issue. In fact, they so impressed their admissions counselors at their interviews (they were much more clear on what they wanted from college than many of their contemporaries) they were both admitted almost immediately to their respective colleges. If this sounds like mother pride, it is, but it's much more than that. It's testimony to the fact that when you allow people the freedom to explore in a learning rich envirnoment, you don't have to do much!

Which brings me to the "time" question. There was always time for everything, because learning was always happening. We didn't stop our lives to "learn", we learned while living our lives. We incorporated lessons in what we would normally do, and the things we needed to cover we would create around as an enhancement to our lives. We took everything as an opportunity to grow. One of the greatest by-products is how well we all know one another and how close we are. We support one another in all we do. There is nothing in the way of us communicating honestly and openly, which I partially attribute to the coach training I was going through during those home school years. I graduated and became certified just as Beth Ann was going off to college. So yes, home schooling left time for all kinds of things!


Anonymous said...

I think homeschooling is as great as working from home (which I do now). So long as there are ample opportunities to get out and be around different people (for kids: after-school activies, field trips, etc.; for adults: networking, meetings with clients, etc.), I see it as a wonderful chance to operate at one's own pace in a calm, comfortable atmosphere.

renee @ FIMBY said...

Very cool story. I love reading stories from the "been there, done that" perspective. We're in the thick of it right now and I although I have faith that our learn at home family lifestyle will see our children through to being creative, productive adults it's nice to read that learning freedom actually does work.

Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

Renee and Christine

I wish I had known about homeschooling when my children were little. I am very impressed with it.


Mayra Calvani said...

This is a very interesting post into what home schooling entails striaght from a mom who has been there.

Thanks for sharing.