Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The One Conversation that Convinced Me to Homeschool

For many years, I was the person who always said, “I will never homeschool. It’s great for other people, but I know it’s just not for me.”

I reasoned that you could get a great education from homeschooling, but you could also get a great education from regular schooling, and I saw no reason why a busy mom—already immersed in cooking and cleaning and tending to babies and running a home—would want to add the strenuous task of organizing and implementing her children’s entire education on top of everything else. I figured that moms with more energy or organization than myself would be great homeschoolers, but I just wasn’t interested.
Despite my declared lack of interest, I seemed to have conversations about homeschooling everywhere I went. In college I happened to have several close friends who had been homeschooled, and the topic of education came up from time to time, as they all had loved their homeschooling experiences. 

I got a lot of opinions about homeschooling from them, everything from “X curriculum is the very best!” to finding out that some were able to take math classes and play on sports teams at their local public high schools. 

I also quickly learned that the oft-cited “socialization” concern is groundless. Some of my homeschooled friends, of course, were shy or introverted, but many were among the friendliest and most popular people on campus. 

One friend wisely pointed out, “I’d argue that us homeschoolers have better ‘socialization’ than kids in regular schools, because all day we are out interacting with people of all ages from different parts of society—while they are stuck in a classroom all day with just the same group of people their own age, for decades.” 

From these friends I learned to have a healthy respect for homeschooling—and a great deal of respect for homeschooling moms!—but I always maintained that “it just sounded like too much work.”

Then, ironically, I fell in love with and married a man who had been homeschooled. He was very enthusiastic about homeschooling and told me many things he loved about it, such as the self-direction that taught him responsibility and allowed him to explore topics outside the curriculum as they interested him. He also had loved that he was usually able to finish his schoolwork by lunchtime, so he could spend his afternoons engaged in the imaginative and open-ended play that children love and that we know is so good for them. 

He didn’t just tell me why he had loved being homeschooled; he also said he hoped I would consider homeschooling our future children. Once, when we were engaged, he even told me that one reason he wanted to marry me was that he "could tell I would make a great homeschooling mom.” I didn't really take this as a compliment at the time.

Before we got married, I told him several times, “I don’t want to homeschool. I don’t plan to homeschool. It sounds like so much work and stress and hassle. I will be busy enough keeping house and raising kids [and working, although I didn’t know that at the time]. There are plenty of great schools out there and our kids will go to one of them.” He always listened and nodded, and replied, “We don’t HAVE to homeschool. We have plenty of time to decide. Just learn more about it before you make up your mind.”

I promised to learn more, but privately, my mind was already made up; I could never see myself as a homeschooling mom.

Then one winter day, when my oldest was just a baby, a friend sent me a Facebook invitation for a talk on homeschooling sponsored by a local church moms’ group. The speaker was a homeschooling mom of twelve and the talk promised to be informational, offering pros and cons for those who weren’t homeschooling yet but might in the future. Most importantly for me, there would be other young moms with babies there. I figured I might as well go, fulfill my promise to Frank to “learn more about homeschooling,” and hopefully make some new friends.

The morning of the talk, I trudged through the snow, my chubby baby bundled in his carrier on my chest, to knock on the front door of a pretty Victorian home. Inside, I eagerly accepted a mug of steaming coffee and plopped on a comfortable living room sofa, propping my baby on the floor in front of me with a toy. 

Perhaps 6 or 8 other moms were there, mostly women whose kids were too young for school yet. Like me, they were researching their options before the time came to make a decision. Our friendly small talk hushed as the speaker entered the room and introduced herself. We were all eager to hear what she had to say.

The speaker didn’t waste any time getting to her reasons to homeschool. “The first thing I want you to consider is the economic argument,” she said.

I leaned forward, curious. I had heard countless arguments in favor of homeschooling, for moral or religious or intellectual or cultural reasons, but I had never heard an argument from an economic perspective.

“One year’s tuition at a Catholic grade school will cost your family, on average, $5000,” she said, “and often a lot more. Then consider if you have a large family, and you’re paying that much for child after child. Perhaps there is a sibling discount, but these days, it may not be much.”

I had never looked up the price of Catholic-school tuition, so I nodded, intrigued. Since that talk, I have looked up tuition for various local schools, and found that that her tuition estimate is indeed accurate and actually on the low end for local schools.

“Then let’s consider what it costs to homeschool,” she said. “One year of homeschooling—including all reading materials and workbooks, detailed lesson plans, grading help, and even phone support to an educator as needed—will cost your family, at the absolute most, $500.”

My jaw practically dropped to the floor. I had no idea the cost difference was that much. I also didn’t realize the extent to which an established curriculum does the work of lesson planning and course-material selection for you, so that homeschooling your children can be far less strenuous and exhausting than I had imagined.

“Homeschooling costs less than 10 percent of what Catholic school costs, and even less if you factor in the hidden costs of school, such as uniforms, school fundraisers, and commuting expenses,” she finished up. “If you homeschool, what could your family do with all the money you would save?”

I had never considered this aspect before. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My friends who were homeschooled have amazing stories of weeks spent driving around the country, doing schoolwork on the road while they toured redwood forests or Civil War battlefields in the cool of autumn while other kids were in school. Nowadays there’s a trendy moniker for traveling while homeschooling—“road schooling”—but many of my friends’ parents were doing it before it was cool. 

Some even took international family trips, visiting Lourdes or the Vatican together, taking advantage of cheaper travel deals at times when most American children are in school. It all made sense now; these trips were not only opportunities to enrich their homeschool education, but were actually MADE POSSIBLE by homeschooling and the money these families saved, not to mention the flexibility in schedule. (Certainly families may be able to take trips like these while sending their children to regular school, but they would be a lot harder to afford or find time for.)

Yet my initial thought—the lure of travel and adventures made possible by homeschooling—is not the biggest draw for me. Yes, a family could afford to take better vacations at more convenient times if they homeschool. But more importantly, a family could afford a better quality of life overall. Money saved by homeschooling can be used to pay off parents' student debt or save for a house (or pay a mortgage). Or it could be used to get housekeeping help: A dear family friend who homeschooled her nine (!) children recently told me, “If you can possibly afford a cleaning lady while you are homeschooling, do it! I didn’t have one, but it was really hard, and I would have been able to do a better job focusing on my kids’ education if I had had someone to help with the cleaning.” 

For many families, the money saved by homeschooling could be used for services like cleaning or cooking help, freeing up Mom’s (or Dad’s) time to focus on teaching. This realization answered my concern about homeschooling being "too much work" for the mom. Schooling on top of cooking, cleaning, and running a home sounds overwhelming. But schooling alone sounds like an exciting intellectual challenge, and I'd gladly outsource cleaning to make homeschooling my primary "work" in the home. 

Most importantly, however, is simply that homeschooling may make it possible to be open to having more children. When I talk to other moms, either at the playground or in online forums, again and again I hear women say, “We would like to have another child, but each one is so expensive. We need to pay for daycare and save for braces, for college… and grade schools aren’t cheap, but we want them to get a good education.” So they decide not to have that second or third or fourth child so that they can afford a better quality of life for the kids they do have. Personally, as one of seven kids, I know that I would rather have my siblings than any material possession or amount of money in the world—but that’s another blog post. Simply put, homeschooling drastically reduces educational costs, making it possible for couples to afford more children while still ensuring the same quality of life and great education for each child.

I find it a little funny, looking back, that years and years of conversations about homeschooling with friends and even my husband left me unconvinced. Yet this one brief conversation, in which a stranger simply explained the economic advantages to homeschooling, made me a “true believer” and I’ve never looked back. Now I’m the one talking up the benefits of homeschooling to my skeptical friends.

I know there are countless excellent reasons to homeschool that are entirely unrelated to economics. Everything from family unity to parent-child communication to sibling bonding can be enhanced by a positive homeschooling experience—not to mention the child’s growth in personal responsibility and opportunities for intellectual stimulation that benefit the whole family. I know all these things, but at the end of the day, it was the “numbers” argument that won me over. It’s such a simple reason to homeschool, but to me, such a good one. After all, what COULD we do with the money we would save? Our oldest is only two, but I’m already dreaming big!


  1. Hi Tess!

    YAY!! I'm sooooo glad that you all are homeschooling! I've been reading your blog since I was a freshman in high school and you all were engaged. I thought it was so neat that Frank was homeschooled, since I was also homeschooled (just graduated in June).

    I've been praying for you and your family that you will learn more about homeschooling and choose the best option for your family.

    Thank you for your blog. You have truly shaped my opinion of an authentic Catholic young adult woman and you are my inspiration.
    Good luck!

  2. Hey Tess! Long time no talk or post! :p

    I was homeschooled for high school! My parents also homeschooled my (much older) sister in the early 90s for a few grades. My nephews were homeschooled for a few grades too.

    I feel like I have seen the full spectrum of homeschooling. From homeschooled kids who are just kind of average (like me! lol); homeschooled kids who are extremely intelligent and taking the world by storm; and homeschooled kids who fell through the cracks and are struggling.

    Just like regular school, you get what you put into homeschooling. Little effort reaps little reward of course, while big effort reaps big reward. I think the most important aspect is to read your child and do what is best for your child. Some kids are great with homeschooling, some aren't. If you ever feel like your child would do best with regular school after a while, don't ever feel like you "failed" at homeschooling. You aren't failing when you are doing what is best for your child! Not only me and my sister, but most of my homeschooled friends experienced a combination of homeschool and regular school and there were aspects of both we liked and disliked.

    Also, don't be overwhelmed at first since that's an easy thing to do. :p

    I wish you the best of luck in this exciting adventure! :D

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