What Does it Mean to be a Homeschooler?
When I first created the “Teach Your Own” site, my intention was that it would be a source of information and inspiration for other homeschooling families like mine – those who were looking for ideas and insights to help them along the uncommon, sometimes-bumpy, homeschooling path. For the first few years, that is exactly what it was, and I loved sharing my experiences and “wins” while learning about the journeys of other families, too. As my two boys grew into teenagers, though, and as the homeschooling adventure became more predictable and less dependent on me to direct it, I found that thinking and writing about homeschooling, especially the daily and more detailed aspects of it, became less of a priority.
Over time, my focus has shifted from the short-term, tactical considerations of homeschooling, to the more long-term, strategic planning necessary to help my older son prepare for college. New projects have begun to take more of my time and attention, including researching and writing a book about college admissions for homeschoolers and creating a new “virtual college fair” to support non-traditional students planning to apply to college. Both have become true passion projects for me and have given me the opportunity to connect with homeschooling families in a whole new way.
Which is why this past winter I began to think about closing this site.
The issue is not just one of time limitations, but also the realization that I feel less like a homeschooling parent than I used to. As a junior in high school, my older son is managing his education independently now, taking his core classes at the local community college and pursuing his personal interests through online elective courses and local extracurricular activities. My younger son, who discovered a passion for musical theater several years ago, auditioned and was accepted into a boarding performing arts high school, which he will begin attending this fall. In short, with both of my boys taking the reigns of their education now, my days of choosing curriculum, planning projects, and scheduling field trips has come to an end.
So, am I a homeschooling parent anymore? What does it mean to be a homeschooler, anyway?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time grappling with these questions recently. Homeschooling has been more than just an educational choice – it’s been a lifestyle choice, too, with “school” and “life” often blending seamlessly. (I know this is true for other families, too – how often have we laughed at stories about struggling to answer the store clerk’s question about what grade our kids are in? Or what classes they’re taking at school?) Even though the “schooling” part of the homeschooling equation has changed, the “home” part, including the strong family bonds we have woven over years of shared time and experiences, is still very much intact.
As I reflect on these aspects of our journey thus far, it strikes me that homeschooling is really more of a mindset than anything else, one deeply rooted in the core values of family connection, commitment to personal and intellectual growth, and respect for individual choices. Regardless of how a family chooses to formally educate their children, if they are embracing opportunities for their children to explore and pursue their own interests, fostering a love of learning and a sense of independence and ownership in their education, and cultivating curiosity and creativity, might they not be considered members of the homeschooling community, too? Homeschooling is already a rather large umbrella, encompassing all types of approaches to learning and growth, so maybe it’s useful to stretch its boundaries slightly further to include a few more.
With this perspective, I have decided to maintain my “membership” in the homeschooling community as I continue to advise and guide my boys’ education, albeit at more of a distance than before. And I have also decided that I will continue to keep “Teach Your Own” running, but with a slightly different focus. Now it will be more of a “transition travelogue”, sharing our successes and struggles as my boys evolve from self-directed learners at home, to young adults venturing out into the world with a new level of independence and merging into more mainstream pursuits. What has their non-traditional educational background provided that will serve them well? What other tools do they still need to add to their travel kit? I’ll let you know.
So, I’ll be spending more time around here in the coming weeks and months with stories of adventure and insight. I hope you will stop by from time to time when you have a moment. Better yet, pour a cup of tea, pull up to the table, and share your stories of transitions and change, too. It’s always nice to know we are not alone in our journeys, lonely as they may seem sometimes. And, with any luck, maybe we can help each other prepare for some of the inevitable potholes and detours along the way, too.
Lori Dunlap worked for almost twenty years in the corporate world, first as a management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and then at a large research university as a program director, admissions committee member, and adjunct faculty. She has homeschooled her two boys since 2011, and recently published her first book, “From Home Education to Higher Education”, published by GHF Press in 2017. You can connect with Lori and find more information about college admissions for homeschoolers at: www.uncommonapplicant.com