I am excited to hear from home educated graduate, piano teacher, and writer Natalie Wickham. Natalie is the author of the much-praised Pajama School: Stories from the Life of a Homeschool Graduate. I had the pleasure of reading this encouraging and entertaining book last month; I’ll be sharing my impressions of it with you later this week. In fact, Natalie will be giving a copy away to one lucky reader! Find a special offer on Natalie’s products at the end of her article here.
In her book, Natalie shares candidly how the Lord used home education to shape her life and her family. Today she shares why homeschooling is important as a lifestyle and answers a criticism of her book.
Homeschooling for Life
by Natalie Wickham
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Those enduring words penned by Charles Dickens in the middle of the 19th century encapsulate perfectly how I feel about my homeschool experience. My best memories are replete with mischievous escapades with my five younger siblings, middle-of-the-year family vacations, freedom to pursue areas of interest, volunteering in the community, outings with other homeschool families, attending the annual convention, and family discussions around the dinner table. My worst memories bring to mind frustrations over difficult math assignments, squabbling with my sisters over who had to take the first piano lesson, my Dad’s imposed physical fitness regimen, and feeling weird in circles of public-schooled peers. But you know what? This is the stuff of life.
Homeschooling is woven so integrally into the fabric of life that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other. And so it is inevitable that any homeschooling experience will encompass both the good and the bad. And yet, I submit to you that it is the combination of these things that makes homeschooling a beautiful way of life – not because it is without struggles, but because it is such a natural extension of God’s design for the family as we live together, work together, and learn together, all with the end goal of loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Last spring, my book, Pajama School – stories from the life of a homeschool graduate, was published. Many gracious people have given me positive feedback after reading it, but inevitably there have also been some negative reactions. Interestingly, there seems to be a common thread in those who have expressed disappointment or negativity. To put it in the words of an Amazon.com reviewer, “this is not a book about homeschooling, as I had expected when I got it…References to her schooling are few and far between, as compared to her other experiences, and homeschooling in and of itself plays a small role in both the book and the development of her life as she describes it.” As I wrestled with discouragement, and pondered this and a couple similar comments, a realization struck me. Some people have such an ingrained idea of what education has to look like that even when I give them a candid view of my life in our homeschooling family, they still don’t get it. Apparently they keep flipping through the pages looking for the part where I sit at a desk for hours reading through textbooks and taking tests. After all, how can you learn things if you don’t “do school”? To wrap your mind around the idea that one can be successful in life without the aid of a stack of curricula requires mental contortions on a par with the ostensibly boneless Chinese acrobats!
I admit that my family’s view of education was equally inflexible when we first opened the doors of our homeschool. Maybe it was that our relationships seemed to be deteriorating under the pressure of doing everything right. Or maybe it was that we couldn’t for the life of us figure out how to take eight hours a day doing schoolwork. Or maybe it was the grace of God that kept us from being successful in our misguided attempt to imitate the world’s way of doing school. But after a year of trying to fit the mold we were accustomed to with the modern schooling model, we realized that it was time for a paradigm shift. That’s when we really began to experience what author and fellow homeschool grad, Rachel Starr Thomson, calls “education emancipated”!1
My Dad’s model for our homeschool grew from his study of how Jesus trained His disciples. He brought them alongside and let them walk with Him through life, teaching and expounding on spiritual principles in the natural course of each day. My parents likewise aimed to let us walk with them through life, learning real-world skills and discipling us along the way. Whether it was helping Mom navigate shopping carts and do price comparisons at the grocery store, or spending a morning at the office with Dad, or watching the ins and outs of dealing with repairmen that came to the house in the middle of the day, or gathering in the living room for our family prayer time, or making excursions to quaint little towns around the state, or any number of other adventures, we were experiencing life to the hilt! And so it was that life experiences themselves became the conduit of our greatest learning. Oh sure, we still did academic work, but that was seen as only a portion of our education, not the sum total of it.
That’s what I appreciate the most about my homeschooling experience; subjects were studied in the context of their relevance to life. If I was interested in improving my penmanship and doing artistic lettering, my mom arranged for me to take a calligraphy class. If I heard someone mention The Great Awakening in a lecture, I went home and researched it and wrote an essay to organize my findings and share them with others. If I got into a discussion with a friend on origins, I pulled books from our shelves about creation and evolution and studied the matter more in-depth. If I wanted to build a website for a business I was running, I arranged a meeting with a friend who had experience in that field. And then there were plenty of things that my parents knew were important and made a point to incorporate into our lives whether my siblings and I liked it or not! From daily exercise, to Scripture memorization, to menu planning and cooking, to finances and accounting, to practicing piano, to learning the names of every state and capital along with its geographic location, and the list goes on.
It’s been eleven years now since I graduated from high school, but the sentiment I felt at that time still holds true today – not a whole lot has changed. I’m still always on the lookout for new lettering styles. I listen to recorded lectures several times a week and am often compelled to research areas that pique my curiosity. Discussions with friends still launch me into deeper study of issues. Challenges with websites lead to phone calls and e-mails to friends who graciously instruct me and help me troubleshoot. I still exercise daily, memorize Scripture, experiment with new recipes, do bookkeeping for my businesses, enjoy learning new piano repertoire…and know how to find every state on the map. Did homeschooling educate me sufficiently for life? I’ll let you be the judge!
1Schooled at Home by Rachel Starr Thomson, http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001998.cfm
Natalie Wickham was homeschooled for nine years and lived to tell about it! In fact, you can catch the inside scoop in her book, Pajama School – stories from the life of a homeschool graduate. She credits her parents with passing on a legacy of faith in God and a desire to know and study His Word. Natalie loves learning new things and developing creative ways to share them with others so that they can achieve success in their endeavors. Her latest project is a CD, Journey to Self Publishing – 12 steps to successfully publish your book. You can find additional writings and resources on her blog at http://pajamaschool.com.
Follow Natalie on facebook, twitter, and on her music teaching blog, too. Here is a special deal on her new book! Readers of Whatever State I Am can receive 20% off their entire order when they checkout at http://SibroPublishing.com with the coupon code: askthegrad.