Quick, when you hear the word "homeschooling," what do you think? Admit it or not, it's likely that the image of an ultra-religious mom with seven kids comes to mind for a good majority of people. A mom who's "extremist." You know, the kind they show on Wife Swap.
But that isn't the case at all, and Debbie McGeehan is living proof. After sending her daughter and son to public school up until they were in fourth and fifth grade, Debbie, who worked in the school district her kids went to for five years, decided to pull them out in order to homeschool.
Debbie talked to The Stir about everything from the impetus behind her bold decision to how her kids still socialize to what a typical day of homeschooling really looks like.
Your kids went to public school up until they were in 4th and 5th grade. Why did you take them out? We had a list of reasons. It started when my oldest was in 2nd grade and, for the first time, a teacher refused to challenge him. He got in trouble a lot that year, mostly because he was bored. Two years later when our youngest was in 3rd grade, she was mildly bullied by some kids who were never discouraged by the teacher. There was even an incident where the teacher agreed with a child, in front of the entire class, who was calling our daughter names. When our oldest went to middle school (5th grade) he was not challenged at all and spent the majority of his school day playing games on the computer after rushing through and turning in mediocre work. That same year, our youngest was in 4th grade and came home crying every day. She wasn’t learning in school because she was so stressed out and was embarrassed to ask the teacher when she didn’t understand, so I was reteaching her after school so she could do her homework. There was also an incident, late in the school year, where my husband went to pick our daughter up early and her teacher didn’t know who he was talking about (although our daughter was the only child with her name in the whole school and the teacher had met my husband on multiple occasions). That was basically the last straw.
How did your kids react when you took them out of school? Our daughter had been asking to be taken out of school, and we had many conversations with both kids before making our decision. So by the time we made a final decision, they were both content with it.
How did others react? There was a mixture of responses. My family was mostly okay with it. They had a lot of questions about homeschooling, but they didn’t question our decision. My husband’s family had a different reaction; his mom didn’t like the idea at all. Some friends have stopped being our friends, and others have become closer friends. I really had to remember that this decision wasn’t about anyone outside of our immediate family, and I had to try to not let other opinions bother me.
When did you first start thinking about homeschooling? I had thought about it on and off since my oldest was in second grade. I always thought it wasn’t an option for us since I need to work. I worked in the school district for years while they were in school, so we thought it just wasn’t an option for us. I also felt that if I was involved enough in their schooling that that would be enough.
What’s a typical day like for you? How do you make sure each child’s needs are being met? The kids get up and have breakfast, pick up their rooms, and get ready for the day. I spend 60-90 minutes with my daughter, teaching and going over anything from the day before that needs to be fixed. Then we do about 60 minutes of together subjects (this could be a documentary, science experiment, or anything we can all do together). Then I do 60-90 minutes with my son teaching and going over things from the day before. While I am working one on one with one child, the other is doing independent work. Around lunch time or later, I get them to a sitter and head to work. When I get home, after we've eaten dinner I try to look over any work they finished while I was gone.
To be honest, it isn't always easy making sure each child’s needs are being met. They have some subjects separately, but I kept them together for as many things as I can. Next year they will be separate more often. Their curriculum is different and they progress differently. My personal goal for next year is to work harder at separating their assignments and the teaching as much as I can.
Where do you get the curriculum? We order it or buy it at book sales. We also borrow a lot from the library. I look into different curricula and read reviews. Then I try to find it used from other homeschoolers, or if it is something I really want for them I go ahead and purchase it new.
Were you homeschooled? No. In high school, I really wanted to be but my mom didn’t think she could do it.
Do you plan on homeschooling them until they graduate? I think so. I didn’t think that when we started, but I can’t imagine sending them back to school now!
What do you hope for them after they turn 18 and are "done" with school? Bottom line, I want them to have a good academic foundation, but more importantly I want them to know what is really important in life. I hope they will love learning and pursue that in some way, but I also want them to be confident, hardworking, independent, and compassionate.
What advantage do you think homeschooling has over public shooling? I think it’s different for every child. I have one child who naturally enjoys learning, and the another who doesn’t think learning is very important. I think homeschooling can show them that they can have a say in some of the things they learn about, and that learning can be done in ways that work for them.
How do you respond to people who suggest that your kids aren't being "socialized"? I think there is a misconception about "socializing" in school. School really isn’t meant for socializing in the way that we think. Kids are always being told to not talk or socialize during class, they are often assigned seats in classes and at lunch, and they are told what they can and cannot play during recess. Our kids are still active in sports and this year they did a co-op class biweekly and a homeschool gym class on the opposite weeks. We also did field trips with other families and spend a lot of time with our neighbors who homeschool, as well. They now spend time with kids of different ages and abilities rather than being in a class of kids only their age. They spend a lot of time out in the world interacting with all different people.
What would you tell a mom who’s considering homeschooling? I had a friend with three older children, and when I mentioned I was considering homeschooling she said, "Try it. I have always regretted that I didn’t." That was some of the best advice I got. I would tell moms who are thinking of homeschooling the same thing: Try it or you’ll probably regret it. I was also reassured when people reminded me that I wouldn’t do any harm in a "trial" year, so I went into it just thinking we would try it for a year. Homeschooling is not easy. We love not being rushed in the mornings, working at our own pace, taking days off when we need them, and changing methods that don’t work. But it’s not always perfect. I discipline a lot more because we are together a lot more. We annoy each other, the kids fight, they get frustrated. Being mom and teacher is difficult. But it is 100% worth it to know they are getting what they need all the time.
What’s the biggest myth about homeschoolers? That we're all the same, or that they are one extreme or another. Homeschoolers are always portrayed as either a very religious family with lots of children who push their kids academically, or as "unschoolers" who just let their kids run wild and don’t actually teach any academics. Most of us are more middle of the road, and we choose to homeschool for a wide variety of reasons. But the bottom line is that the majority of homeschoolers, just like the majority of parents, want to do what is best for their children.
Have you ever thought about homeschooling?
Images via © Klaus Hackenberg/Corbis; Debbie McGeehan