In our LV Moms’ Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with thought-provoking views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not ours, but we look forward to opening up the floor for discussion.
In the past, we’ve spoken to parents who chose not to use diapers with their children and dove into the stay-at-home parent debate. This time, one mother shares why she has decided to home-school her children.
In 2002 we had our third child, ten years after our second was born. Our eldest two boys were in a private school, but we began to consider the best way to educate our newest addition. Although we loved the school our boys attended, each year cost us about $10,000. We questioned how feasible it would be to put additional kids through there, too.
We had three more children in the following years, for a total of six, and with each new baby came further confirmation that putting our four youngest through private school was out of the question financially. Our two eldest were approaching college age, which put even more pressure on us.
The decision was simple. We elected to educate our four youngest at home.
Why Public School Wasn’t an Option
We always knew that we wouldn't send our children to public school. Parents who opt out of public school do so for many reasons: safety, quality of education, religious conviction and many others. My husband and I both went to public school, but that was a long time ago, and I don't know what schools are like today. For us, religion was the main reason. We believe that God gave parents the responsibility to raise, train and educate their own children. Many parts of the Bible talk about training your children--to us, that includes education.
We believed that for our two oldest boys, too, but we sent them to a private Christian school that shared our beliefs, so for us that was a partnership. I had home-schooled my eldest son when he was in preschool, because a regular preschool's schedule didn't fit in with my work as a physical therapist. But that was only three days a week, and involved simpler lessons. After that, I sent him to the private school.
As we considered how to be more involved in educating our children, we were afraid that we couldn’t effectively cover all the subjects needed beyond the preschool stage, that we lacked official teaching credentials and so on. I believe we missed an opportunity to grow closer as a family when we sent our oldest two to private school—which is something, now that I have home-schooled for years, I can say with certainty.
Would You Home-School?
Have you ever thought about home-schooling your children? Why or why not?
Now that we've tried it, any doubts we had have fallen by the wayside. We've found good resources like lesson plans, online courses and, perhaps most importantly, the confidence that we do know enough to teach our own children and give them an excellent education. Below, I'll explain what that looks like to us.
Our Home-School Life
We’re following the classical model of schooling, which is also used by the private school our boys went to. It goes through three phases: "Grammar" is what would be primary school, and it focuses on teaching children facts—but, as defined in the classical model, "grammar" is a far larger category than just learning sentence structure.
For example, my first and second graders are learning about electricity, so they've learned what protons, electrons and neutrons are. "Logic" starts around 6th grade and teaches the framework for these facts. "Rhetoric" is for high school and focuses on teaching students how to clearly express themselves. So for example, rhetoric as applied to math is learning how to use the basic concepts in a more theoretical way in algebra and calculus.
I do the teaching, and my husband helps with discipline. We get our curricula from Veritas Press, which is geared toward parents who don’t necessarily know the subject, so that they can learn it ahead of teaching it to the children. I can do the lesson word-for-word if I want, or put it in my own words. I'm learning as I go, and it's a lot of fun for me. My education in physical therapy (what I did before I became a stay-at-home mom) focused on math and science, so now I'm able to go back and learn literature and history. And, as with any teacher, my enthusiasm for that rubs off on the kids--they love history.
Right now we teach three of our children at home. We start classes at 8 a.m. (well, ideally). My first grader is finished by 1 p.m., my second grader is finished no later than 2 p.m. and the fourth grader goes until 4 p.m. That’s eight hours of my day every weekday.
Teaching First, Second and Fourth Grade
Sometimes it’s tricky to deal with three children of different grade levels. For example, after a short lesson, my fourth grader spends an hour and a half working on math problems by herself everyday. While she’s doing that, I tackle lessons for my first and second graders. Sometimes the lessons overlap a little, so I try to incorporate their lessons into the same activity.
For example, I bring them to the calendar, and ask them different questions according to their level. I'll ask one how many days there are in one week, two weeks, three weeks, etc., to teach counting up by multiple of sevens. For the other, I'll ask what is the day of the week one week from today? A lot of their lessons overlap because they're only a year apart. We use a spiral math program, meaning I'll teach them something new and keep coming back to it throughout the year to build on the concept.
Our daughter in fourth grade is taking an online class with an academy in a subject that is weaker for me: traditional grammar and writing. The classes are wonderful. Twice a week at an appointed time, 15 students "arrive" in an online classroom. The teacher uses the computer screen as a blackboard, and the students interact during the class by "raising their hand" (clicking a little hand button) and chatting via instant message. Besides filling in a weaker point in my abilities, it frees up an hour for me and gives my daughter friends in five different states, with whom she communicates regularly by letter, email and video chat.
My husband, who works every weekday as a contractor, is kind of like the principal. If we are having problems, like the kids aren’t doing the work or there is a disciplinary issue, that’s where he comes in.
Why Home-Schooling Works So Well for Us
As parents, we study our children. Home-schooling allows us to completely customize teaching for each child. We are able to choose from a huge variety of curricula, determine what is effective for their learning styles, and change it when necessary. My second-grader is doing second grade math, but first grade reading. I’m able to keep him at two different levels according to his ability, which is something schools can’t do easily. I don’t tell him so; I just say, “This is your grammar lesson and this is your math lesson.” He’s a happier kid for that.
We believe that the family environment is the natural environment. Children who are home-schooled live and learn among siblings who are older and younger than they are, rather than in a contrived environment with those strictly their own ages. They seek advice from their parents because they have always done so, instead of turning to same-aged peers whose opinions come from other kids. As parents, we always have their best interests in mind.
We also integrate religious studies into the home-schooling experience. Our first class is always Bible study. It's devotional time. We read something from the Bible, we sing something, we pray and we have a Bible lesson.
Being Teacher and Mom: The Unique Challenges
The biggest challenge of home-schooling is that it’s hard for a relationship to go back and forth between parent-child and teacher-child, especially when they’re young. To address that, I try to make the atmosphere a little bit different when we’re “at school.” We practice raising hands and taking turns. If they ever had to be in a classroom setting, I wouldn't want them to be totally unequipped.
We haven’t done any standardized testing yet, as it doesn’t start until 6th grade. I’m eager to see how they are doing, but I’m pretty confident. Home-schoolers have been found to do exceptionally well compared to public and even private school students. My kids are strong in reading and spelling, and are starting foreign languages early. I’m already teaching my fourth grader Latin, though this has been the most challenging subject this year for me to teach. (I don't know why I thought I would remember anything from my year of high school Latin.) I'm considering getting Rosetta Stone once my children move on to other foreign languages.
When it comes to socialization, we aren’t worried. In the textbook "Sociology," Richard T. Schaefer, Ph.D. wrote, “The family is the most important agent of socialization in the United States, especially for children.” We make opportunities for our children to participate in group activities. Community sports, home-school groups, church activities and play dates are all things they enjoy. They see neighborhood friends every day. Sure, they always want to see their friends more, but what kids don’t?
And there is nothing like the joy I experience watching our children play with each other. My two oldest boys, who are now 20 and 21, didn’t share a lot of activities because they had such different personalities. They are just now choosing to spend time together. But my younger children are buddies.
The Hidden Costs of Home-Schooling
I don't think you can put a price on the experience our kids are having being home-schooled. But the costs can add up: Books, supplies and the curriculum run us about $1,000 per year, per kid. Included in that amount is buying yearly lessons ($200 for three students) on subjects from math to science to history. The online class my daughter takes costs $500 for the year. And as the other kids come up we’ll be adding more of those, so I have to be discerning about which topics to teach myself and which to outsource to the online academy.
Overall, I pay $1,000 to $1,500 per child per year—but that's as compared to $10,000 for a private school.
And the dollar amount of home-schooling is second to the commitment of time. I was already a happy stay-at-home mom when I made this decision, so I was fortunate that we wouldn’t have to give up income to make the switch. But this is a career. You pour yourself into it. These are your children. There is no more precious investment.
Cate Dwyer lives in Glen Burnie, Maryland with her husband Duane and five of their children, Joe, Gillian, Jonathan, Amelia and Finn. Her oldest son recently graduated from college and is teaching in Indonesia. Her second oldest, Joe, lives at home while working and taking full-time classes at community college. She has home-schooled three of her children for five years and plans to home-school her youngest when he is old enough.
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