My continued post on “Raising our Daughters” is in the queue, such that it is (lol), but there was such a positive response to the first of the “We Homeschool, Too” series posts until I thought introducing the next guest might be higher priority. I was thrilled at the numbers of women who were encouraged by Keisha’s work-at-night-homeschool-by-day testimony, and I think my next guest will be equally inspirational.
When Phyllis told me, “I don’t have my own writing outlet right now, so if I’m too long-winded, just cut something,” I literally laughed out loud. Her responses were so full of wisdom until it never occurred to me to cut one. single. word. She is one of my favorite people in the homeschooling community. Her strength, her perseverance, and her determination are nothing less than awe-inspiring. I look so forward to the day when we finally meet in person, but in the meantime, grab a cup of something and enjoy her story as a single home-educating parent.
First, please introduce yourself to my readers—a bit about you, your family, and how long you have homeschooled.
Hi, my name is Phyllis, and I’m a daughter of God, mother, sister, aunt, friend, college student, educator, and writer. I’m a single (divorced) mother of an 18-year-old son, nicknamed Ade. I lived mostly in a major metropolitan area for nearly 22 years before moving to a mid-sized city (with a small-town vibe) in the Midwest. I’m just recovering from the culture shock, but I’ve adjusted somewhat. I’ve homeschooled my son since he was a first grader, except for 11 months at random schools as I tried to find the “right” public school. Ade will graduate high school at the end of August.
I’m also a college student, who will graduate in August with a bachelor’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). During my homeschooling years, I have been mostly self-employed but also had brief stints working both part-time and full-time outside of my home. I’m also the admin of a Facebook group, AASPH (African American Single Parent Homeschoolers). My hobbies are reading, writing, crocheting, watching documentaries, and observing people.
Why do you homeschool? What was the catalyst that made you shift (if there was one)?
I began homeschooling because I recognized that Ade didn’t fit into an average student paradigm. I knew early on that he was highly intelligent, along with some challenges, and that he had a unique way of viewing everything in the world. So, I plunged into homeschooling after withdrawing him from a first-grade classroom post a discussion with the teacher. Ade had complained that he was being given “baby work” and was bored. The teacher’s response was that “these children,” meaning her students, didn’t know much and had to be repeatedly drilled on the same material. Her attitude was that they were incapable of learning, and I knew, from experience, that Ade would be bored and begin to act out. Also, she didn’t have a plan for the more advanced students.
Additionally, when Ade was eight, I discovered that he was on the autism spectrum (Asperger’s Syndrome), was cognitively gifted, and had learning challenges with math. In educational terms, gifted with special needs is known as 2e (twice exceptional), meaning exceptional due to both giftedness and a learning challenge/disability. It was the knowledge that I had about my son, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and Ade’s prior experiences at pre-K, private kindergarten, and eventually, kindergarten at a home learning center that made me an “accidental homeschooler.” Homeschooling was not on my bucket list.
You are graduating from college. Congratulations! Can you explain how being a student yourself impacts your homeschool environment?
Due to some health issues, which are nearly resolved, my graduation has been delayed. I will start my last class on July 10 and will finish all my coursework on August 13. It has taken quite some time. Being a student has impacted my homeschool environment as it allows me to model the importance of education. And honestly, there have been times when I was so busy pursuing contract work to pay the bills, having concerns about how I was going to pay the rent or buy food, cleaning, cooking, taking my son to appointments, etc., that traditional homeschooling fell by the wayside. I once said that during these times homeschooling devolved into unschooling. I now realize that there was no devolution—but rather an evolution—as my son continued to read, write, do math, perform science experiments, and learn as he has a thirst for knowledge. Also, I always wanted to unschool, but unfortunately, I had not yet progressed enough at that time in my own de-schooling to trust the desire of my (and every) child to learn. The desire manifests itself in fulfillment if a child is in the right environment.
Can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you, including rest, chores, and your many “hats” during the day?
Well, my son is now a 12th grader, so I’m resting on my laurels. A typical day is rising early (my target time is 5:00 a.m.) to pray and read the Word. I then get dressed and proceed to cook dinner. Ade is usually up by 7:00 a.m., and sometimes I cook breakfast and other days, we both wing it. For a few months earlier this year, I was working outside of my home and would leave for work around 7:30 a.m. and return at about 5:30 p.m. At that time, Ade would either do his school work at home or at the library. Since I’m in recovery mode now, I’m not working but will return to self-employment in another week or so. With my line of contract work, I have often worked at night, early in the morning, weekends, etc., but because I’m almost a college graduate (hard to believe), I have more work options and can set my own schedule. Throughout the years, I’ve always felt sleep-deprived, which is not healthy. Finally, I feel rested.
Working in- or outside of the home, I get most of my housework done on Saturday, and during the week, my son and I maintain it. It’s a joint effort, and Ade is good about helping when asked, but I must be specific. I’ve often stated, “There are two people in the household, and if we both clean up behind ourselves, there won’t be an issue.” Ade is also a good shopper and often makes runs to the grocery store.
How do you balance work (especially studying), family, and other aspects of home life?
It somehow balances itself. Ade is quiet by nature. He calls it an “inherent personality trait.” He loves reading and studying, and in his last year of homeschooling, he is unschooling (his choice). It’s easy for me to study because he’s often studying at the library, going to church, or doing outdoor exercises. He’s always known that if he needs anything or just wants to chat, I’m available. Sometimes he wants to talk about a subject that he’s geeked about, such as church history, economics, world cultures, etc., and he’ll come and share some new research with me. Other times, I have asked him for help or advice with a class, i.e., philosophy, logic, science, and he’ll help or direct me to excellent resources.
We usually find time to eat at least one meal a day together. The dynamics of our home life are not the norm, as I changed my child-rearing techniques midstream. I’m no longer a strict, authoritarian type of mother. I respect Ade as a human being and as a young man with thoughts and opinions that sometimes don’t jive with mine. My son’s father and I divorced when Ade was a 1-year-old. It’s always been me, my son, and God (a three-fold cord). When he was 11, we had to live in a studio (the only thing I could then afford), then an extended stay motel room (for 19 months after we left the big city), and long last, a two-bedroom townhome. We actually live like roommates, but my son has always understood when I change to mama mode, and he listens to and values my wisdom. Our extended family is small, and most are several hours away, but we’re in contact with some of them.
Are there particular homeschooling approaches or curriculum that you find more useful given your schedule?
I’m an eclectic homeschooler who leans toward unschooling. I began homeschooling with a school-at-home approach, which didn’t work for Ade. In the past, I’ve used Time4Learning, MobyMax, and eTAP; all of these are online curriculum, and I’ve also used Christian Liberty Press curriculum, and many books that I bought off Amazon. I have also written my own curriculum if I couldn’t find what I wanted. My son informed me that he prefers books to online curriculum, so books it is. One of my favorite curriculum resources is the internet.
Finally, what tips would you share for someone who might be furthering their own education but also considering homeschooling as an option?
I would say that proper timing is crucial, and don’t be discouraged if you have to modify your school schedule. (Part-time school is a good option, too.) Much depends on the maturity of your child(ren), and children can be taught to become self-directed, independent learners, but it takes time. There was a seismic shift when my son reached age 13. I had been encouraging him to work independently all along, and one day he told me I could just give him a daily list of assignments, without my long explanations, and he would complete it, asking questions as needed. It was the way he liked to work, which was fortunate for me. Shortly thereafter (2013), I returned to school and will graduate with honors.
When I initially returned to school in fall 2009, my timing was bad. By early 2010, I was on academic probation, and eventually dropped out. My son was about 10 years old then and needed my attention. He had therapy appointments and other issues. My main concerns were obtaining the help he needed, instilling a love of learning, and making certain he had a foundation for future success. For me, homeschooling was the priority as it commenced before I returned to school.
If I were already in school and considering homeschooling, I would decide based on my spouse being onboard, marital status, need to work, income, and support system. If married, homeschooling without a spouse’s support likely won’t work and would cause division in the home.
I would also contact local homeschooling groups and talk to veteran homeschooolers and seek answers on the time, cost, and emotional investment of homeschooling. I would also consider my child(ren’s) needs. If they weren’t thriving in school, I would homeschool—even if I had to cut back and take part-time classes or delay my education. I would also read books on homeschooling and join online (Facebook) groups for those who work/go to school and homeschool and ask tons of questions.
But everyone’s life situation is different. If you choose not to delay school because you can’t find a viable way to homeschool, don’t feel guilty. Just find the best school situation that you can for your child, be an involved parent, and help your child at home as much as you can. Exceptions for me would be kids who are being bullied/mistreated and are having emotional/mental health issues because of school. I would find a way to remove my child from that environment, seek help for him/her, find an alternative school, or homeschool.
I would caution against doing too many things and doing none of them well. I believe in doing everything with a spirit of excellence—which is not perfection—but merely your best. Yes, I (and we all) sometimes fall short, but c’est la vie (that’s life).