From Homeschooler to Homeschooling

By Audra Talley

I was homeschooled. Yep. Right here. Me. I hadn’t realized I was an anomaly until I started thinking about it. 

First, there just weren’t that many of us being homeschooled in the dark ages of the modern homeschool movement (read, the 1980’s). Second, I think that most of the parents of first generation graduates, after fighting an enormously taxing battle for the right to homeschool in the first place, just slipped silently back into the mists of history, their battles fought and won. Finally, we had been trained to keep a low profile during those contentious early days, so when we graduated we simply continued to do so, just quietly integrating into society around us.  Plus, there wasn’t the dramatic fall-out of the proportions predicted by homeschool critics; society didn’t convulse with the influx of socially awkward, uneducated homeschoolers, so why raise a ruckus?

So, while there are quite a few first-generation homeschool grads out there, only a portion of them have opted to homeschool their own children, and only a portion of those who have continued the tradition, have opted to step out of obscurity. Like it or not, even 40+ years later, there is still a stigma attached to homeschooling and those homeschoolers that garner public attention these days seem to be those who came out of genuinely abusive situations (homeschooling was a tertiary element) or who have an ax to grind with their parents and, by proxy, with homeschooling. 

Because of this, I think the current homeschool movement, which has largely been borne out of necessity, out of crises, has been short-changed. They have more resources than ever before; more educational freedom than any time in the last 100 years; more ability to network than ever before, but they are functioning in a vacuum of experience and generational wisdom.

I have written many articles from the perspective of an “in the trenches” homeschool momma, but it wasn’t until my pastor wanted me to share a little of my homeschool “testimony” at a recent event that it even occurred to me that I might have some of that “generational wisdom” to share, that my perspective might offer a unique angle on homeschooling that few have: a deep and abiding love for this way of life, as someone who has lived it and is living it now.

But first, let me paint the picture of my life as a homeschool student in the early 80’s. We lived in a tiny mountain community, so we didn’t have to close our curtains and wait to go grocery shopping until after school let out like many of my peers; there really wasn’t anyone to tattle on us in the first place. But even then, the concern that dogged most homeschool families of time, causing them to exercise an almost paranoid level of caution was not without merit: families in Idaho were having their children taken away and were jailed for homeschooling in those days. Our school district was predominantly rural. Towns were flung across vast swaths of mountains and prairies, supported by ranching, farming, logging, and other forest related industries. A few larger towns had K-12 public schools (smaller towns may have had K-8 grades), but outlying communities had to bus their children long distances to attend. Homeschooling, though uncommon, was a constant, quiet presence in our area; that existed in a live and let live sort of way.

My parents’ choice to homeschool us (myself and two siblings) was not really because they were opposed to the public school.  Rather, they chose to homeschool because they felt that the Biblical admonition in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 placed the responsibility to educate their children directly on their shoulders. They simply weren’t willing to abdicate that responsibility to just anyone.

There was no support for homeschoolers in those days; no co-ops or state organizations. There were only a small handful of curriculum providers, but no used curriculum sales. And, more often than not, you knew of very few other homeschoolers. My earliest memories were of Abeka phonics lessons that I listened to on a “retro” tape player; then, sitting every so proudly on the closed toilet seat and rehearsing those lessons to my mom as she did her hair in the mirror over the bathroom sink. More often than not, my younger brother and sister were there, too. This kind of easy-going, mix of daily life with academics would come to define my educational experience. My determined mom was an eclectic homeschooler before it was a thing. Actually, looking back it, the eclectic aspect was driven more by necessity than any real intent. We were a single income family, so we utilized whatever resources were available for the best price. She turned consumables into textbooks by having us write answers into spiral notebooks so that every piece of curriculum could be used by us all. 

Our days were a weird mix of “book learning” and the outdoor adventures afforded by rural life. Our vacations backpacking into the wilderness taught us more about nature than could fit into any middle school science textbook. When my sister’s congenital medical condition required travel to far flung corners of the US, we stopped at every historic site along the way. Long winter afternoons were spent with our noses buried in books while listening to my dad’s old vinyl records. We turned to my dad’s Timelife books for history lessons and our encyclopedias for research papers. I enjoyed perusing those encyclopedias – they were the Google of my childhood. I learned to spell with a dictionary – because who wants to look a word up twice? Our “schooling” encompassed every aspect of our lives. At about 8 years old I remember “helping” my dad build the small home they still live in. As an early teen I helped build our two-story shop and learned to swing a hammer, tie rebar, measure twice, cut once, and calculate slope for an actual roof. In between firewood fetching and caring for our random critters, I learned about animal husbandry, how to calculate tax in my head and count change when selling animal feed from our small feed store, how to manage a horse endurance ride, how to work and save money for a mission trip I took at 17, and how to handle an emergency when I became an EMT the day I turned 18. A couple times a year we traveled 50 miles to the next town over for a harvest party or field trip. Even our trips to the “big city” for groceries or medical care were interrupted by stops at every little local museum we could find along the way. Mom drove 100 miles twice a month for piano and judo lessons. My parents actually started the local 4-H club and taught classes so we could be involved. I could go on and on about the different, sometimes odd ways we learned, but we learned. 

Those are the nuts and bolts of my homeschool experience, but looking back there are some things that only hindsight reveals. Our homeschool journey was messy – sometimes really messy. There were not two consecutive years that looked the same. There was the year mom decided my brother’s struggle with handwriting meant he needed a break from it. There were the years where travel for Bible quizzing meant school days were lost and had to be made up with extra days into the summer. There was the year when English brought me so much anguish, that mom dropped the subject entirely until she ferreted out something that worked better. There were the years dominated by the medical uncertainty of my sister’s health or my dad’s unexpected work accident and rehab that meant homeschool got back-burnered for weeks or months at a time. The year my sister died meant the almost complete academic loss of my freshman year of high school. There were seasons where misaligned priorities meant we were just too busy and the books took second place. There were the years that we were literally snowed in with no power and cabin fever took hold, so we dropped the books and skied instead. Then there were the classic teen years battles. I had learned to love writing and always loved reading and history, but pretty much everything else academic was bleh and my motivation lagged. And don’t even get me started on math! I still remember the feeling of having all the determination in the world to understand Algebra, but was constantly thwarted by it until I just burned out and gave up. Sometimes we stayed on schedule and had nice long summer breaks. Other years we schooled all summer, too. Some days we schooled in the back of the car. Sometimes the lessons were done by breakfast and other days the lessons didn’t get done before bed. Sometimes there were tears and sometimes there were easy wins. Just like real life can be all over the map, there were times our homeschooling followed suit.

Everything we did for school or for extracurriculars cost money. There were plenty of activities we never could afford, but my parents must have learned to squeeze blood from a turnip to do what we did with what we had. I realize now what an enormous sacrifice of time they made to both teach us and provide all the learning opportunities we had. They never did get to build the nice house they planned to build. They were just an average couple, with an average education, and an average income, committed to a vision. Through thick and thin, my parents stuck with it. In the end, they sacrificed a more comfortable lifestyle for the homeschool lifestyle. 

There are a book’s worth of stories I could tell, experiences that I had, learning failures and victories I could share. But I really want to share some of the tangible lessons I have taken from my homeschool upbringing that I hope might encourage you.

  1. Remember, life isn’t perfect, so homeschooling isn’t perfect. Keep doing it anyway.
  2. There are certainly other ways to fulfill the directive in Deuteronomy, but none are better than homeschooling.
  3. If God places the call on your life, He won’t leave you to figure out how to live that calling all by yourself.
  4. Watch your kids learn in everyday life – it happens all the time, even when we aren’t paying attention. Use those moments as springboards to more.
  5. Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Learn with your kids.
  6. Dedication will make up for a bucket load of shortcomings.
  7. There will be gaps. We can’t possibly know and teach everything. Teach what you can, the best you can, and instill in your kids the belief that they are smart enough to figure out everything they need to know.
  8. Homeschooling is just one of many ways that God uses to sanctify us, so don’t be surprised when it is hard.
  9. Soak up every minute of every day with your kids, even the hard ones – it goes fast.
  10. You are giving your far kids more than you can imagine.

Now, nearly 30 years after graduating, I am homeschooling my own children. But it wasn’t until recently when I was reminiscing with my parents that they shared some insights that I hadn’t heard put into words before: 

Homeschooling is a mindset that sees all facets of life as an educational experience. Even the Bible admonition to, ” . . . lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul . . . And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20) is evidence that education and real, day-to-day life are actually inseparable. Finally, the choice to sacrifice convenience, to sacrifice the lifestyle that a second income would allow, to give up wants, to even give up some needs, in order to homeschool is a powerfully tangible way to instill in our children an understanding of how much we value them; that they are so precious to us that we are willing to invest 18 years of our own time, resources, energy, life, and love into their education. 

I cannot think of a better “lesson” to pass down to my own children.

Audra Talley was homeschooled during the early days of the modern homeschool movement and had a front row seat to the battle for homeschool freedom in her home state of Idaho. After completing her homeschool coursework, she attended the College of Idaho where she graduated with a BA in Political Science and History. She and her husband, Bruce, currently reside in southern Idaho where Audra homeschools the younger 3 of their 4 children (the oldest is grown). She is actively involved in the local community through a local co-op, she and her husband manage their church’s homeschool group along with other ministries, and they sit on the Board of Homeschool Idaho, a statewide homeschool organization that exists to inspire, promote, and preserve the homeschool way of life. Audra contributes regularly to Homeschool Idaho’s quarterly magazine and loves to encourage homeschool families along their homeschool journey.