This week’s homeschool grad is practically a classmate of mine! Joy Stouffer and her brother began homeschooling the same time my sister and I did, and the four of us were roughly the same age. Our mothers and the four of us children attended the same homeschool “field trips” together, roller skated at the once monthly homeschool get-togethers, and commiserated about our transition from private to home education. But in true homeschool fashion, we learned differently in our own families. The Stouffers were even more adventurous than the “school at home” Besses. I always marveled at the home-made pizza, family-built extra room, and computer her brother made (yes, I know a homeschooler who made his own computer!). The well-rounded, fun, loving education that emanated from their home is one I try to copy every day.
“So, what’s it like to sleep half the day and do all your work in your pajamas?” “Do you have any friends?” “Don’t you wish you could be normal, like other kids?” Most homeschooled children can relate that these are the top questions fired at them. Although most people have certain opinions and pre-conceived notions about homeschooling, few families would fit the typical stereotype. Since homeschooled children and experiences are widely varied, I would like to give a brief snapshot of homeschooling life in my family. Knowing my background, including the strengths and weaknesses of my homeschooling experience, play a critical role in my current endeavors and in my future desires.
Braces. Glasses. Simple words, but for a family with little extra money to spend, these costly expenditures meant the end of Christian education. My brother and I attended our church school until he was in seventh grade and I was in second grade. My parents had no real complaints against the school, but my mom, who is a teacher, was tired of hearing how we were bored in school and how we spent most of our time sitting and reading books after flying through the assignments. To earn extra income, my mother had been substitute teaching in local public schools, and greatly frustrated by the amount of time spent disciplining and trying to teach uncooperative children. All of these factors combined led my parents to “try homeschooling” for a year. When asked how long they would homeschool, my parents always said, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just put them back in school.”
After prayerfully making the decision to homeschool, my parents sought advice and curriculum tips from some friends in our church. Since finances were an issue, these friends graciously allowed us to borrow textbooks that they were finished using. I wish I could say that my parents scoured all of the available curricula for the best options, but truthfully, we used what was given to us. Fortunately for us, this family had excellent resources, and we had an eclectic mix of A Beka, Bob Jones, and Saxon math. My brother and I both love to read, and are very visual learners, so we spent most of our time reading textbooks, answering questions, and taking tests. Although the approach did not vary much from a traditional classroom setting, we enjoyed being able to complete the work in a fraction of the time spent in a classroom. My mother immediately joined a homeschooling group, and tried to convince my brother and I to participate in the many extracurricular activities and sports. Since both of us enjoyed a good book more than hanging out with unknown peers, our social interaction with the homeschool group consisted of going roller skating once a month. Lack of interaction with other homeschoolers did not equal isolation, however. We remained very active in our local church, and worked in many different ministries, including Bible clubs, summer vacation Bible schools, mission trips, etc. In addition, we took music lessons and art lessons at various points throughout high school. Although my parents repeatedly asked us if we wanted to return to school, we had come to love homeschooling, with the freedom to pursue practical interests, and wanted no part of a seven hour school day.
Upon graduating from high school, I left home and attended Maranatha Baptist Bible College, pursuing a degree in Humanities, with a minor in Bible and history. I was very accustomed to learning independently, so I did well in my studies. One area of struggle for me, however, was the quantity and length of papers that I needed to write in college. Although I had learned all the necessary grammatical skills in high school, my mom had not required us to write many formal papers, and thus the requirements to write six to seven major papers a semester was a daunting task for me. In addition to my classes at Maranatha, I took online classes, CLEP tests, and classes from a community college so that I was able to finish my degree in three and a half years. Upon graduation from Maranatha, I decided to go into education, so I pursued an education degree through an online university. Again, since I am an independent learner, I was able to quickly complete the program and fulfill my student teaching at a local public school. Becoming a teacher was not something I always wanted to do, but I knew that I related well to children, and once I started teaching I realized that God had uniquely gifted me with the ability to establish relationships and make learning fun. God has graciously provided me with a job as a first grade teacher at a local charter school, and I have been employed there for the last five years. Recently, I completed my master’s degree in Elementary Reading and Mathematics. The school where I teach is a high pressure, competitive environment, yet I know God has me there, and I am convinced that for now, this is my mission field. On a personal note, I am single, and currently live at home with my parents and two brothers. However, were I to get married and have children, I would love to homeschool my children. Although I am truly grateful for my homeschooling experience, I would definitely provide a more structured environment, and focus more on critical thinking, formal writing, and advanced math and science. In addition, my current place of employment has helped me to recognize the benefits of extra-curricular pursuits, so I would definitely encourage my own children to pursue sports, music, drama, etc.
Homeschooling is not a one size fits all approach to education. I truly believe that it works well for some families, and I am so grateful for the opportunity that I had to be home educated. Although there are minor details and curriculum that I would use differently, I would not hesitate to one day homeschool my own children. Meanwhile, I am excited to be involved in the ministry God has given me to educate others’ children and share the love of Christ.
Joy Stouffer lives in the Detroit area with her parents and two brothers. She is a teacher at a private school.