I would say this is one of the homeshooling pioneers! Eleanor has shared some wonderful wisdom and I was very encouraged by this interview….
What were your reasons for homeschooling?
In 1983, my highly educated sister mentioned she was thinking about homeschooling her children. My response was, “Why would you want to do that?” In fact, amongst the young parents at our church, I had argued against Christian schools, convinced they offered a lower quality of education. I’ve discovered I was entirely wrong about that, but I felt I knew what I knew. 🙂 My sister, however, has always been influential in my life and I began to be impressed with what I saw her children accomplishing — her second was a fluent reader by age 3!
I read whatever I could about home education and attended a home education seminar in Winnipeg in 1987. When we moved to Ontario later that year, we discovered Junior Kindergarten (for 4-year-olds) was upon us and I laid out for my husband what I’d learned. He agreed we could try it for a year.
Primarily, I would have to say that our initial reasons were academic. I believed homeschooling would give our children a superior education with its freedom to pursue learning at an accelerated pace. As years went by, I grew as a Christian and began to cherish the opportunity we had to pass on God’s truth to our children. A legacy of godly character and a biblical worldview became more important to me than mere academic smarts. Although the pursuit of knowledge was still vital, wisdom became more of a priority. Although there are times, now that I have a son in school, that I’m convinced my main motivation to homeschool was to avoid having to pack lunches.
How long did you homeschool?
Twenty-five years! We started our oldest in kindergarten in fall of 1988 when he was five. At the time we had three boys and a newborn daughter. (Later, three more boys were born.) We finished home schooling our youngest, who has Down syndrome, when he was 16, in 2013. Because his siblings had all left home by that time, we felt it would be best for him to have the routines, the physical activity opportunities and the social interaction with other kids. He’s very well taken care of in a small local Mennonite school.
Could you highlight some of your experiences during your homeschool years?
I’m sitting here bawling, remembering… When I look through our family photos, I realize most of our happy and fun memories are connected to our schooling. It was a way of life. Birthday parties were often connected to whatever the children were fascinated with at the time (medieval feast, Robin Hood, Davey Crockett and the Alamo, etc.)
We all learned so much! I, a math-averse girl, had a chance to re-learn it and came to love and appreciate God’s genius with numbers. After all, I’ve now gone through Grades 1-12 at least seven times!
One afternoon stands out in my memory: I had given a writing assignment and after they were done, the children went out to play. In the rare quiet of the living room, I read their stories. Ben, in typical eldest fashion, had written a detailed account of a squire’s longing to become a knight. It showed great vocabulary and style and was near perfect in spelling and punctuation. I was proud. Dan’s action-packed adventure followed the antics of Ambrose, a boy in ancient Greece, who wanted to go to sea. I howled with laughter as I read page after plotless page in that messy scrawl of leaping and climbing and falling and “oof” and “argh” sword fights and near-death experiences. Finally, Tommy’s story of woe involved the mishaps endured by another ancient Greek lad, a slave boy named Elmo. There were abject descriptions of the filthy hovel he lived in and one memorable line, “…his skirt was savagely ripped.” Each of those stories encapsulated something about the writers and I realized I was privileged to know these very different boys who were gifted in such diverse ways.
Just to keep it real, I also remember times of great frustration. One day when the oldest three boys were about 15, 14 and 12, I actually stormed out of the house in the middle of a science lesson on quarks, and went for a long walk. I was furious with their juvenile nonsense and disruption. I felt torn, longing to enjoy learning with my little ones while being forced to neglect them so I could bang my head against the wall trying to impart knowledge that I didn’t understand very well myself, to these miscreants.
“We homeschooled in part to avoid junior high, that ghetto of immaturity!” I fumed. “And now here it is in my own home!”
Now I sit in a very quiet house and miss them all.
Was there a certain method and/or curriculum that worked for you?
I began with a very structured curriculum, because that’s what my sister had used. In 1988, there was very little out there. Bob Jones and Rod & Staff were about the only choices. But after we moved to Alberta and I met other homeschoolers, I was exposed to other options. The unit study approach was a lot of fun, and more appropriate for pencil-resistant boys. We pretty much did unit studies, Saxon math (which I loved) and Learning Language Arts Through Literature until high school.
Did you homeschool high school and could you tell us a little about those years? (If you have a child who went onto post-secondary could you briefly describe their experience?)
We opted out of doing high school accreditation after one year. I found it to be a futile rat-race that required me to be a slave-driver for unmotivated students. Instead we used great curriculum like Jay Wile’s Apologia sciences, Saxon math, and other self-directed studies. We were also enrolled in Advanced Training Institute and followed their curriculum for other subjects. I loved the discussions that came out of learning together, and the opportunity to influence their thinking in those formative teen/young adult years.
Number one son went to Brandon University (Manitoba) when he was 22 and had decided he wanted to pursue music. He was accepted as a mature student, without a gov’t diploma. I provided a home-grown transcript. In that first year, he once commented that he had gotten a good education. Currently, he has completed one year of a doctorate in piano performance at Florida State University, an Artist’s Diploma from Columbus University in Atlanta, GA and in the new year will be auditioning to complete a doctoral program somewhere else. He has done all this without student debt, thanks to God’s provision and assistantships/fellowships.
Our other children: one is apprenticing in a trade, two operate their own businesses (security/bodyguarding, and fencing business) and our daughter is a homeschooling mom of 3.25 children!)
What piece of advice would you recommend to homeschooling families?
I found it was essential to have a vision of why we were doing what we were doing. Seeing the big picture of raising children to follow the Lord helped me look beyond the weariness, demands and many feelings of inadequacy I was so often plagued by.
Over the years, I’ve come to see there are two other essentials. 1) a stable marriage and the approval and support of your husband, and 2) a reasonably orderly home. I’ve been alarmed as I’ve seen family after family that looked exemplary on the outside fall apart through divorce. There’s no doubt about it, home education is an added strain on a marriage and a woman needs to remember she is a wife first.
Beware of looking to your children for your self-worth. Even when they rebel or reject your rearing, you are greatly beloved by the Lord and your obedience to Him in devoting yourself to their upbringing pleases Him. The outcome is His alone so that the glory is His alone.
Is there anything else you would like say about your homeschooling experience?
I am now 55 years old. My youngest, although still quite dependent due to his disability, has recently turned 18. Many years ago, I surrendered my life, career and goals to the Lord, dying to myself and choosing to live for Him. As baby after baby arrived, and with each one, an 18-year commitment to educating them, I couldn’t see any life beyond family and homeschooling.
Once everyone had left home and the youngest was in school, I faced a bit of an identity crisis. Who was I if I wasn’t a homeschool mom, and of what value was I now that stage of life was over? I found myself in good health and possibly decades left in which to “do something”. But what? And who would hire me without “experience”. Well, the library manager in my hometown evidently thought my skills and experience were of some value, and I now work part-time there. Most amazing for me, though, is dusting off my writing career and finding I can still do it. I blog at jewelofcontentment.wordpress.com, and early in January, my first novel, Lifelines, is coming out. There is life after homeschooling!
In a fit of optimism at age eleven, Eleanor Bertin began her first novel by numbering a stack of 100 pages. Two of them got filled. Lifelines, her first completed novel, was shortlisted in the 2015 Word Alive Free Publishing Contest.
She holds a college diploma in Communications and worked in agriculture journalism until the birth of her first child. The family eventually grew to include one daughter and six sons (the youngest with Down syndrome) whom she home-educated for 25 years.
Eleanor and her husband live amidst the ongoing renovation of a century home in central Alberta where she blogs about a sometimes elusive contentment at jewelofcontentment.wordpress.com.