What Homeschooling for 12 Years Taught Me
Yes! I homeschooled from age 5 to age 16! Yes! I had friends! Yes! I had a smooth transition into a high school! Yes! I went to University and got a degree! Yes! I am employed and happy – and HAVE FRIENDS!
Phew. The facts above answer just a few of the questions I have been asked over the years. Homeschooling is legal in all provinces in Canada, and approximately 1-2% of all school-aged children in North America are homeschooled (ontariohomeschooling FAQ) but homeschooling still gets a bit of a bad reputation in some communities. As a person who homeschooled for 12 years, I want to share a bit of my journey and the lessons that I still carry with me from participating in something a bit outside the norm of public education.
My mom had a big interest in childhood education. She loved kids and loved the idea of spending all day teaching kids about the world. But when she had her own kids, she thought, “Why would I send my kids to school, and then go teach other people’s children, when I could stay home and teach my own?” When she started, she enrolled us kids in a distance-education school called SIDES. This kind of school is formally called “distributed learning”. We followed a curriculum and my mom was provided some educational resources that she used to teach us at home.
As a kid, homeschooling was amazing. We would wake up, work on our school work/projects in the mornings, and then spend the afternoon helping in the garden, going for hikes, taking trips to the library, going on field trips with other homeschooling families, or playing in the backyard. I have fond memories of us reading history books around the dining room table, or working on our math workbooks with my grandma, who was a math teacher for a local high school.
We eventually switched to another distributed learning school called EBUS Academy, and my smallest sisters still work with the same distance-teacher that I did! Each family has a distance-teacher that they get to ask questions and plan out projects with, which is great if a parent needs some new ideas or any support. Both SIDES and EBUS keep their students on the provincial-learning outcomes plan. That means that if a student wants to know where their skills are according to a certain grade-standard, they can. And if they want to go to public school, they will have met the pre-requesites to join in when they choose. I always explained it as doing the same schoolwork as public school kids, except that I could do it when worked best for me.
So as a kid, this was amazing. But when I reached grade 7/8/9 it got a bit tougher. We had moved when I was in grade 5 so I was on the lookout for new friends and of course, middle school is a tough time of any kids life for so many reasons. In grade 7 I switched to a new program called SelfDesign, where I took over my own schooling. I no longer answered to my mom for projects and results. Instead, I corresponded with my own teacher who shared many of my interests and we came up with special projects that let me explore my love of art, writing, and photography, as well as keeping up on my science and math classes. Taking charge of my own education was the best thing I could have done at that time in my life, because it gave me an independence and self-motivation that has served me well.
But grade 9 is a pivotal point, specifically for your social life. I had it in my head that I wanted to go to public school so I could spend more time with my friends. And we had me signed up and everything. I was all set to hop into a public high school when, all of a sudden, I changed my mind. I still don’t know exactly why I did, but I know that doing so was one of the decisions I am most grateful for in my life. Because homeschooling from grades 9-11 gave me three years of online courses mixed with working part time. It gave me $7000 in savings by the time I was 16. It gave me a confidence in myself and my values that I am so thankful for. And then, at age 16, I entered that same high school I almost attended in grade 9, and I crushed my grade 12 year.
This story of my journey through homeschooling is not to convince everyone that homeschooling is the best kind of education, it is just to give some perspective on a certain kind of educational journey, and a better understanding of the lessons that one student took away from that journey. Every child is different, every family is different, and the way we learn may not be the same as the way others learn. But for this chatty kid, homeschooling worked. Quite well I would say. And if you’re still interested, here are a few of the biggest lessons I took away:
We all have the capacity to choose our direction in life. And my direction may be different than yours. I chose to focus on language arts & photography (and I still studied business in University — you can do both!) and to prioritize saving money and gaining employment experience through my high school years. And I am so glad I did! But not everyone would choose that path. And that is 100% OKAY!!
When I started managing my own schooling, I had to figure out self-motivation fast. There was no one setting my deadlines so I would finish all the work in time. I had to set my own deadlines and learn how to meet them. But becoming self-motivated has helped me in many jobs, and in accomplishing my own personal goals.
Okay let me say this slowly… School does not create social skills, socializing with people does.
This is the number one thing I get asked about when people find out I was homeschooled. The concern was that I wouldn’t develop social skills or make friends if I didn’t have classmates that I spent every day with. Well, I think that we forget that many of our closest friends come from activities outside of school. I played sports, took art and drama classes, and joined other homeschooling groups when I was a small kid. I played sports and made friends with my coworkers when I was a teenager. And I spent more time with adults and small children than many of my peers, so my social skills were well-rounded. As long as you are creating positive connections with people around you, social skills are built!
Ownership / Responsibility
Do you know how much responsibility I felt when I took on my own education at age 12? I decided where my focuses would be for that week or month or term. And of course, I always had my distance-education teacher to chat with over the phone, or my mom to ask if I needed a hand. But taking ownership of my own education at a young age made sure I built the skills to be in charge of my own life when the time came for me to make adult decisions all those years later.
Embrace Your Weird
On more occasions than I can count, people have told me that I am the most “normal” homeschooler they have ever met. And to be fair, I am very chatty, outgoing, and responsible. And I have met some very shy or alternative homeschoolers in my day. But if I learned one thing on this journey, it is that we are all a bit weird and alternative. We all have our own way of doing things. And it would be amazing if we could all embrace that, and encourage others to do the same. Stop caring so much about fitting the “norm” and embrace your weird.
These personal essay posts are by far the most rewarding and so far, the most well-received. It means so much to be able to share a little piece of this unique journey. Thank you so much for reading & if you have any questions about homeschooling or transitioning into public school/university, you can contact me here.