It has been a long road to homeschooling.
Back when we first considered it, it seemed like it was the domain of intensely religious people unhappy with secular schooling or overly ambitious parents trying to be the perfect teacher for their precious snowflakes. I was neither of these types I imagined; in fact I was quite certain that my son and I would end up hating one another if I tried it! But what do you do when your local public school can’t accommodate your child?
When shopping for our first house, it was important to us that a good elementary school be nearby. Our plan was fairly conventional — Kindergarten at the age of five, followed by public schooling until high school, when we might consider private school or magnet options to set our kids up for success, depending upon our options when we got there. But as soon as my son hit preschool, it became clear that he knew quite a bit more than other kids his age and that he wasn’t bonding with them. Family members started to worry us that it could be Aspergers, so just to be on the safe side, we started a series of screenings and tests to learn the truth. It turned out the only thing “wrong” with him was that he had a very high IQ.
This sounds cool, right? Time to celebrate? But representatives from our school district told us (off the record, of course) that they didn’t know how a public school could accommodate him, and this placed a huge burden on us to give him the education he both needed and deserved. Public schools have the resources to provide for children on the other side of the norm, but everyone else is put in a classroom with the holy grail of differentiation as a possible outcome. The reality is closer to a “one size fits all” education, with an emphasis on raising low performers to a median benchmark and slowing the top learners down so they’re easier to accommodate. In any event, public school was never an option for us.
That’s when the spectre of homeschooling first came up, and when I first shot it down. Not only did I feel unprepared to do it, but I really felt we needed the time apart from one another, and that he should be with kids his own age. There was a private school for gifted kids in our area and he went there for the entirety of his elementary school experience. It didn’t always challenge him, but he did learn and thrive, and he made friends who accepted him for the very quirky kid that he was. Over the years school became less behavioral in focus and more about academics, and it was at that point that he expressed to me that he thought he could work at a faster pace than the other kids. He actually asked me the question, “Can I be homeschooled next year?”
Then it occurred to me that my boy wasn’t a toddler anymore, fighting me about nap time and screaming for juice. He had grown into a child who was hungry to learn, who had the passion and the discipline to work independently. I realized that times had changed, and that there were now an abundance of online resources that hadn’t existed before! I didn’t want him to feel lonely, though. I approached his best friend’s mother and asked her if she’d be interested in teaming up with me to teach both of our kids, together, and a plan began to take shape!
This is our first year of homeschooling. His current curriculum is a mishmash of accredited courses online, courses taught by myself and my co-conspirator, tutoring in specialized subjects, and involvement in arts and sports activities to round out his social interaction and to give his experience more breadth. He’s happy, has more time to rest in the mornings, and has had the opportunity to pursue some things he’s always wanted to try, like piano lessons and martial arts. His coursework is challenging! We are also paying a small fraction of what we were paying for private school, and he is getting a fairly customized education. In our circumstances, my husband works from home, too. This means that I can work part time outside of the home while my son does his online classes, and it is very nice for me to have some time each day with other adults instead of feeling like I’m stuck at home with kids all day.
The “system” isn’t designed to serve its brightest students. In our homeschooling story, this just means that we decided to take matters into our own hands. I’ve since met plenty of parents who have made this choice for the exact same reason. The flexibility in schedules, pacing, and the freedom to pursue pet projects and interests make it both a forgiving and productive experience. As with any educational option, we’ll continue to assess over time, but it certainly seems to have opened the door to many possibilities we didn’t even know were options before.
Bethany Rhodes lives in Texas with her husband, a couple of dogs, and two bright, energetic boys. When not wrangling her own children, she teaches Theater classes to other people’s kids.