What Happens When You're Homeschooling Five Children!
The following is an excerpt from the book
By Connie Colten
October '80-Camp Pendleton
Neither Shawn nor Chris attended preschool. I never felt it was necessary for the
scholastics. When Shawn's best friend went, Shawn decided he wanted to go too. When
I asked him why, he said he wanted to have papers with stars on them. I made up
worksheets for him to do and we pasted on stars and that made him happy. With a
December birthday we decided to have Shawn start school when he was almost six.
This gave him lots of time to play and learn at home. Before he started school he
was adding double digit numbers. He plans to learn multiplication at school since
that was what he saw his older brother, Chris, doing.
October '80-Camp Pendleton
Shawn came home from school very excited. The class had started basic addition.
"We started math today, when do you think we'll get to do times?"
Shawn also planned to begin reading in school. When I asked the teacher about
it she just looked pained and said, "I know that Shawn and a couple others are
ready, but I just don't have the time with so many of the children still learning
their letters." Shawn has started going to school, but he is learning his reading
and multiplication at home.
November '80-Camp Pendleton
"You know Mommy, each day we have to stay a little longer at school." Oh,
hearing Shawn say this broke my heart. Part of my sadness is that when I leave the
classroom I feel such a sense of freedom. But, I have left two of my children behind.
I am allowed to be there for special events like the holiday parties, just not on a
regular basis since I insist on bringing Devin. I tried explaining to the principal
that I felt that by being a "mom" in the classroom the children could relate
to me better. He doesn't agree.
February '81-Camp Pendleton
In Chris' class he is doing his usual excellent academic work. In fact, now the teacher
has him correcting papers, helping students in class, and even going to other classrooms
to help students in the second grade. I feel all of this is good for his self-esteem,
but I am seeing other things that are very disturbing. For instance, Chris comes home
in a very angry mood. He's surly with all of us. When the teacher told me during a
conference that it must be wonderful to have such a well-behaved child, I assured her
that Chris was very normal. He just had the self control to only release the "negative"
feelings when he got to the safety of his home. This was a shocking and enlightening idea
to her. Being the conscientious teacher that she was, she talked with the guidance counselor
and found books to read about classroom behavior. We never did come up with a way to even
out the dispositions. I'm sure she likes her part of the day better than we like ours.
The other big challenge is homework. Chris hates it. I tried having him do it right
after school to get it finished. I tried saving it until evening so he could have some
free time between school time and the schoolwork. I have such a hard time justifying the
homework. He has been in school for hours, and now he wants his own time to read what he
wants to, or to just run outside. I spoke to his teacher. She said that the parents that
she talked to preferred more, not less homework. She said that it was better to fill the
after school hours with homework rather than with reruns of "The Brady Bunch."
I told her that in our home the schoolwork was taking the place of outdoor play and free
reading. She did decide to cut some of the homework. I would have rather seen it eliminated.
One assignment in particular drives Chris to crying fits. It is a workbook in which a
paragraph is read and then you are asked if you were in the situation of the main character,
what would you think or do? I thought it was one of the most creative exercises I had come
across for schoolwork. I couldn't understand why Chris got so frustrated. When I asked him
about it, he replied "What I want to know is, what is the RIGHT answer?"
I try explaining that there were no right answers, for him just to write his ideas about
the questions. It didn't fit into his definition of schoolwork. Answers are either right or
wrong. It frightened me to hear him say this and watch him reject the notion of creative
thought. Once again, I went to his teacher. She said that she really enjoys these workbooks,
but that they were going to be dropped from the curriculum next year because too many teachers
objected to having to correct them. It takes too much time. Again we were unable to come up
with any solution to my concern about Chris' frustration with school.
Remember when I was a student teacher? At that time Chris was a year and a half old. I
lived with a baby that was interested, curious and charmed with all that he could see and
explore in his world. My students were high school age. They were basically divided into
two groups in the drama classes. There were those that sat blankly. They were bored, waiting
with cigarette in hand for the bell to ring. The rest were those who were "college-bound"
and wanted to know what was required to get an A, and what materials would be tested. Since
this was a theatre class I had a lot of freedom to open the class up in speech and movement.
It was nearly an impossible task. Occasionally the students would forget themselves and we
would have a lot of fun. This, of course, they assumed was a mistake, they were in school
after all. It was a real eye-opening experience for me. Now I see Chris getting into the
have-to-get-an-A group, and this is very distressing to me. I thought by helping at school,
having parents interested in his learning, and a home rich in learning materials we could
retain his love of learning. I'm starting to look critically at the educational system.
March '81-Camp Pendleton
The difference in our points of view continues to be a struggle between the principal and
me. I simply won't accept that I can't bring Devin to class when Mrs. Doyle said it was
fine. The children in the class like both Devin and me. Help is needed so much, and this
is what I have always done. The principal seems to feel that once a rule is made, that it
was final. He definitely feels that a principal of the school knows more than a mother. In
an effort to change the situation Russ and I met with him, I wrote to and talked with the
superintendent and asked teachers I knew to speak up in my behalf.
I am allowed to remain the room-mother for Shawn's class. The principal said I could come
to school with Devin on special occasions. I interpreted that to mean to show up when I wanted
and he could save face by not having to change his first decision on the matter. So I promptly
resumed helping in Shawn's classroom and started in helping in Chris' classroom. After a few
months I was told, through the teachers, that I was only allowed for parties and field trips.
During this struggle of wills, the principal told me that he had polled the teachers
and they agreed with him on his ruling. He said that they would rather have a parent helper
without any preschoolers. I immediately polled those teachers that I knew. They said that
yes, they would rather have a helper without a preschooler, but better to have one with a
child than no help at all. Each of the teachers I asked spoke with other teachers to ask
their opinion on the matter. I concluded that the poll results, that the principal gave me,
were simply what he wanted to tell me. And what's more I found out that the "poll"
had been a couple of statements given at the beginning of a meeting before many people were
listening. I couldn't help but wonder how one of my children would be treated if they were
brought before the principal on the charge of lying. I felt the principal was lying to me
about the results of the poll he took from the teachers.
For the first time I am seriously questioning the system, and wondering if it is possible
to stay within the educational structure, while at the same time doing what I think is best
for my children. My first question is, basically: is the system designed to benefit the
children, or are the children being organized or adjusted to fit into the existing system?
Now it is time that I step back from the struggle of trying to compromise with the principal
and yet try not to compromise my ideas or ideals. I have been in tears trying to convince the
principal of the common sense of my view.
April '81-Camp Pendleton
One of the big deciding factors, now that we are debating whether or not to begin homeschooling,
was remembering the day that Chris simply didn't want to go to school. He stayed home for the
day, just to have a day off.
He slept in and read in bed. He played the piano for a while. He did lots of writing,
and then went out and played with the neighborhood kids when they came home from school.
I remember thinking that this would be a typical day in his life if he didn't go to school.
From what I could tell it was a productive time of self-directed learning. Plus he wasn't
stressed or tired at the end of the day. It seemed a perfect way for me to ease the tension
in my life caused by his moodiness after school, and a worthwhile way for him to spend his
April '81-Camp Pendleton
I am searching for an alternative that would make both the children and me happier with the
school situation. I called the nearest Montessori school. Both the cost and the distance made
this option unacceptable.
Recently, I heard about a friend that I know through La Leche League, who has six children.
She's now keeping them, not sending them back to school after Spring break. They will be
beginning their homeschooling. A couple of weeks after she started this I had the opportunity
to speak with her. I was interested to find out the how, why, and results so far, of their
situation. I came home with ideas bouncing around in my head.
June '81-Camp Pendleton
I went to school and watched the activities from a critical point of view rather than an
accepting one. Is it fair that all of the children have to be stopped, made to wait until
one child could be quieted, gotten in line or made to conform in some way? After the
administrative details, the breaks, the lining up, the discipline, how much actual time
is devoted to learning? How much activity is geared to the mythical average child, and
how much is actually helpful to my child? Could this learning be done in a fraction of
the time, with reduced effort if the boys just stayed at home? Would they miss the other
kids? Would they miss the achievement recognition they received at school?
Part of me is unbelievably excited at the freedom and the potential that idea of
homeschooling has unleashed. The other conditional, structured part of me can't really
believe that children just can NOT go to school. I mean, wasn't it just part of growing
up an American along with apple pie?
Russ and I talked the idea over, and we also asked the kids what they thought. Chris
is sure it was a fine idea. Shawn isn't as confidant that it will work. What we decided
was that we will think about it over the summer, and probably start homeschooling in the
fall of 1981. After all if it doesn't work the worst thing that could happen will be that
the kids will return to school, and have some make-up schoolwork to do. Since both children
are at least one grade level ahead in school, I figure that we can even mark time for an
entire year, and still not set back Chris and Shawn's educational path.
With incredible luck, timing or karma my good friend Cecily Parsons is also struggling
with doubts about her children's schooling. Together we found out about a workshop where
John Holt is the featured speaker. I don't know if you are familiar with his work. He is
an educator and author that first tried to reform the school system from within, and now
has decided homeschooling children may be a much better way to educate them. He has recently
started a newsletter called "Growing Without Schooling". We both registered and
went to the workshop, anxious to hear more about this whole idea. How did you do it? Was
it legal? What were other people doing once they had started teaching their children at
Cecily and I both came home from the workshop convinced that this was the avenue of
education that we were looking for. We found out that to meet the legal requirements of
the state of California we simply needed to write the Department of Education and request
an affidavit to start a private school. This is a two-page form asking for information
such as the name and address of our school, the number of children in each grade and dates
of fire and health inspections. The form is sent upon request. It needs to be filed in
early October. I think it is important to note that there are no state requirements for
private schools other than this form, keeping attendance records, keeping records of
businesses that your school deals with, and that the teachers are competent to teach the
students. Those who homeschool feel that simply by being parents of our children we are
competent to teach them. We are tuned into their learning because we live with them day
in and day out. It is a continuation of the learning we had provided during their early
In 1980-81 our family struggled with the decision of whether or not to take our two
oldest sons out of public school. In the end we decided to give homeschooling a try.
What followed was over twenty years of our five children learning at home. The book
Homeschooling Reflections discusses some of the experiences that occurred in that time.
The book is written in letterform to my good friend, Mona Harris.
At the current time: Chris works as an accountant in his life with his wife and
young daughter, Shawn will graduate in December with a degree in Theatre and is applying
to graduate schools, Devin works as a journeyman in heating/air conditioning, Donika
attends community college majoring in dance and music, and Trevor at fifteen still
learns at home.