Column: The Experience of Growing Up Home-Schooled

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    Margaret Drye, of Plainfield, with her "K-12 Boys School" students. Drye home-schooled her nine children. (Photograph courtesy of Margaret Drye)

For the Valley News
Published: 3/31/2018 10:45:07 PM
Modified: 3/31/2018 10:45:08 PM

“We’re home-schooled.”

“Oh, sweetie, don’t you miss being around people?”

— From the novel Lucky Few by Kathryn Ormsbee

One question that has dogged home-schoolers for decades has been “What about socialization?” The answer depends on your definition of socialization.

To our family, it meant being able to interact with people of all ages. Home schooling accomplished this by getting us out in the community when everyone else was in school. This seems to play itself out in the greater home-schooling community as well. In 2003, Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Institute surveyed 7,300 adults who were home-schooled: 71 percent participate in an ongoing community service activity (compared with 37 percent of U.S. adults of similar age), and 88 percent were members of a community organization (compared with 50 percent of U.S. adults).

I asked my nine kids what kind of reaction they get when people find out they were home-schooled. Aside from some joking — “Guess you can’t get sent home from school,” or, “Is every day Pajama Day?” — the responses were all over the map:

“Most are surprised. I guess I don’t match their preconceived notions.”

“I always got comments of being lucky to be home-schooled.”

“Most people react positively.”

Almost all agreed that it isn’t as surprising to people now as it was years ago.

What was it like growing up home-schooled?

“The first thing I realized was that we operated on a completely different timeframe from everyone else.”

“There was no separation between home and school. Academics were interwoven with daily living (such as errands, cooking, cleaning, volunteering.)”

Home schooling let us work around health issues like a back injury, pregnancies and hospitalizations without falling behind. It gave us the flexibility to travel: two sons went to Malaysia to visit fellow home-schoolers for three weeks one May and the entire family took the train from White River Junction to San Francisco for a two-week journey across the U.S. one November.

It enabled us to incorporate others into our family life. Over the years, we have hosted students from Spain, France, Germany, Taiwan, China, Japan and Albania. Some years we spent the entire month of September doing activities with visiting exchange groups, then started school in October.

We were also free to care for our young grandsons one day a week, an opportunity, as one friend put it, to pass along “tribal knowledge.”

“Being able to walk in the same place as history was eye-opening. Watching movies and reading books can’t compare with being there.”

The Knox Expedition (moving captured artillery from New York to Boston during the Revolution) took on a whole new dimension when we traveled its route from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights one winter. We once spent an afternoon at Dartmouth College poring through explorer Ernest Shackleton’s diary — not a copy, but the actual book! When a large portion of our family was in a production of Little Women, we took a cast field trip to Louisa May Alcott’s home in Concord, Mass. — just because we could.

“I’m grateful for the ability to study independently and choose my own curriculum to match my interests and preferred learning style.”

“I got to figure out what subjects I liked to study to a greater degree on my own.”

“Delight-driven” study gave us a chance to experiment with different ways of learning and different kinds of curricula.

During the days when all the students were boys, we enjoyed using a Lord of the Rings language-literature course. Our younger girls preferred a course that let them choose a novel they liked that came with a language-literature study guide. Occasionally, we would get “stuck” in a particular time period when we found an era in history that was so interesting that we just kept exploring it. The low cost of books per student made it easy to switch to a different curriculum if one style wasn’t working out for a particular subject.

“If I had trouble, I had time to focus. If I excelled, I could move along.”

“I could power through or I could take a day off.”

Our pace was our own. That’s how one son ended up studying Latin and high school grammar in elementary school and that’s why an occasional student would take extra time to finish a course.

We got to set our own calendar. We weren’t affected by snow days and could turn birthdays into full vacation days. We also developed our own family version of the Plainfield School’s eighth-grade trip. My husband, who loves train travel, took any current eighth-grader on an Amtrak trip to a destination he or she helped choose, usually with a visit to relatives thrown in. Destinations included: Washington, D.C., San Francisco by way of Seattle, Arizona, Texas, Civil War battlegrounds in Atlanta and Tennessee, Legoland, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif.

We always started school after Labor Day, just because we could. In the days leading up to school, we met with each student individually over breakfast, to discuss the upcoming year.

Every August, when the school bus made its first morning run, we rolled over and went back to sleep — just because we could.

“Home schooling taught me to be self-reliant and self-motivated.”

“I gained the ability and desire to learn on my own.”

“Home schooling set me up for a ‘Life-is-Learning’ attitude that prepared me well for the workforce.”

We’ve had academic successes: two students got perfect scores on the English portion of the SATs, one won the state spelling bee, and three won the state American Legion Oratorical Contest (plus one held a Lebanon High School 4x800 relay record for a time.) Six have gone on to college so far and we have multiple associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees, a doctoral candidate, a master technician, two former Marines, and a cordon bleu chef.

At the very first workshop on home schooling we attended, the presenter asked this question, which to me sums up all the good things about home schooling: What students wouldn’t flourish in a relaxed atmosphere under the private tutelage of a teacher who loves them?

We started home schooling because we believed that it was our God-given responsibility as parents to provide for the training and education of our children, and the idea of doing it ourselves made sense to us. That is not to say that every day was ideal. Home schooling is life, and life is sometimes rough and tumble, but watching the interaction between all the different ages and being part of their day, all while teaching and learning, has been one of life’s greatest adventures and greatest blessings.

Margaret Drye lives in Plainfield

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