Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Marta Darby: Homeschooling is Not for Everyone

The following post is a contribution by Marta Darby, who blogs at My Big Fat Cuban Family and Babalú blog on everything related to her Latina life...

Homeschooling is a loaded topic!

My husband and I did not reach the decision quickly or easily. To decide to homeschool your kids is to make a lifestyle decision. Both parents need to be on board if you're going to be successful. I had homeschooled my two older kids for a few years in the early 90's. I had been a single parent for a few years and when I got remarried and had my third child, I was anxious to reconnect with my kids. Working and sending them off to school had made us a busy, but disjointed little family unit. So I brought them home to commence their education. While Spanish is my first language, my husband and I both speak English primarily at home, so their education has been completely in English.

There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families, but I can share a bit of our homeschool journey. I began by reading, reading, reading. I knew I did NOT want to just replicate school at home. And I knew I wanted to focus on educating, not "schooling." One of the books/methods that impacted me the most was The Well-Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. It gave me the map I needed to follow to provide my kids with the best education possible. It's a language intensive program of classical education that helped me train them to read, think (!), to understand things and to be curious. The biggest thing is that I taught them to "learn how to learn," which is the greatest skill they'll need to succeed in life.

When we first began homeschooling, we were looked on as radicals.

The first reaction I usually got when someone found out that we were homeschooling was "I could never do that." I couldn't help but wonder, "why not?" I can't remember one positive comment about our decision. In fact, we faced quite a bit of hostility. We felt we were constantly being judged and my kids were scrutinized. Were they learning what their peers are learning? The simple answer was no, they weren't. We were learning history in chronological order. We were reading real books: biographies, historical accounts. When possible, we used Jackdaws (, or primary source materials. We didn't use any textbooks. I took complete responsibility for their education and developed my own curriculum. I know. Radical, right?

We also chose not to have television. That is, while we own a tv, we don't get any outside programming. The kids do watch movies, in fact, we have a weekly movie night where we play classic movies on a giant screen in our back yard for friends and neighbors, which is great fun. Early on, my husband and I determined that we, not the dominant kid-culture-as-seen-on-tv would be the primary influences in our children's lives. Another radical decision. We do have season tickets to the local performing arts center and regularly attend live shows and concerts. We have passes to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and the Science Discovery Center. There's so much to see and do and learn in the world. We taught our kids that there's no reason for them to ever be bored.

In South Orange County, California, where we live the Department of Education has what they call the Community Home Education Program (CHEP - In other words, it was like the public school for homeschoolers. We decided early on not to file our own school affidavit as long as we could homeschool in the manner that best suited us. By going through CHEP we got the benefit of outside classes, Art, French, Spanish, Algebra, Science, English Composition - quite a broad spectrum. We could choose whether or not to to participate depending on our personal interests and schedule. Each month I turned in work samples and lesson plans to a Master Teacher who kept our cumulative files and had someone with whom I could discuss any challenges we were having. She was a wonderful resource through all these years and is now a trusted friend.

Our favorite class was Drama. The kids met once a week to learn stage directions, blocking, songs and choreography. The parent volunteers filled in as Costume and Set Designers (me!), Prop Masters and Backstage Hands. As a natural offshoot of drama, I began hosting a group of 12 kids in our home once a week and had my older son (24) teach them improvisation games. We have been meeting weekly now for the past 3 years. We always feed them and many times their parents and younger siblings join us. Between CHEP classes, drama and improv, I never give "socialization" a second thought.

One of the biggest challenges I had when we began was that my son, Jonathan, was having trouble decoding words. He was a squirmy first grader and even though he loved to be read to, he didn't show much interest in learning to read himself. After doing some research, we invested in a trampoline and signed him up for gymnastics classes. That sounds crazy, no? We learned that the hemispheres in his brain were not making the cross-over needed for decoding to happen. We stopped doing any formal schooling for a while and just read aloud to him regularly and had him "bounce" every day. Within weeks of making this adjustment our bouncy boy was reading on his own. I don't think he would have fared very well if he was struggling in a regular school setting during this adjustment. The trampoline also served the purpose of helping us get our physical education in each day and ours soon became the most popular house in the neighborhood. Win!

I mentioned earlier that we didn't have much positive reinforcement when we began this homeschooling adventure, but now it's been eight years and our kids have grown. The people who know us and know our children are impressed by how charming and articulate they are. As teenagers now (17 and 14) they can look you in the eye and are comfortable discussing just about any subject. They are relaxed and fun to be with. Lucy and Jonathan are both self-taught musicians. Lucy wants to be a writer and Jonathan wants to be a film-maker. These past eight years of homeschool training, has made them confident and comfortable in their own skin and they've learned how to move towards their goals.

I know that homeschooling is not for everyone. 

But if you're a mom who is thinking about homeschooling your children, and your husband is in agreement, then I strongly encourage you to give it a try. The sacrifices and the time invested in those young lives are worth it. In fact, we are convinced that our homeschooling experiment has been a great success! We have raised four wonderful independent thinkers. They are comfortable in just about every situation. And we, as their parents, really KNOW them. They are not dependent on their peers and we have never, ever heard them utter the words, "I'm bored."


Marta Darby is an avid blogger, business owner, Cuban cook, graphic designer, scrapbooker, photographer and homemaker. She was born in Havana and left Cuba with her family when she was 5 years old. She likes to tell anecdotes and stories about her family (all 40 of them!), her passions (dulce de leche and red lipstick), and especially being Cuban. She is happily married to her fabulous gringo husband, Eric, and lives with him and their four children in a tiny house with a white picket fence.


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