Ask the Grad
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Ask the Grad – Lea Ann Garfias

Today, I have the distinct pleasure of introducing … myself! I have enjoyed reading the home education stories of my friends so much, it has been hard to interject myself into the series.  But at long last and after much insistence from my readers, I finally agreed to share my own unremarkable tale. Stick with the story to the end … there is a FREE gift in store!

I was not always home educated. But education was always a serious part of my upbringing.  Though my mother’s education ended at high school, she continued to develop herself by reading magazines, journals, and books and attending lectures and political gatherings.  My father had a master’s degree in engineering and continued earning certification in management phycology as I grew up.

So it is no wonder that I enjoyed learning in a beautiful play school and then a series of private church schools throughout my elementary years.  Likewise, my younger sister attended a Christian home day care when she was three, where she learned to read and memorize poetry, before following me to school.  Soon, we were rounding out our education with private piano and violin lessons.

My parents were always involved in our education.  Dad quizzed me on my spelling words on the way to school every day and drilled me on my multiplication facts until I remembered that “7 times 8 equals 56 because … 5,6,7,8”! Mom took us to the library regularly and made sure I read non-fiction books as well as my preferred “Nancy Drew” and “Ramona” novels.  Under my parent’s careful watch, my grades always stayed at the top of the class and my knowledge of subjects grew to be more rounded.

While my father became increasingly concerned that my younger sister and I receive an excellent academic education, my mother became more convinced that it was their responsibility as parents to insure our proper upbringing.  And while both my sister and I seemed to be flourishing with stellar grades under their watch, it became apparent to both of them that they could actually teach their own children and better achieve their objectives.

Thus it was that for my 7th grade year (and my sister’s 3rd), my parent’s decided to homeschool for “just one year.”  That “just one more year” would be the continuing time frame until both I and my sister graduated.  I would finish in only 5 more years (without skipping any grades).

We very definitely home-schooled. Our first week included rigid schedules, pledges, bulliten board like displays across the basement/classroom wall, and desk-fulls of text books.  I remember a tense look on Mom’s face and a cranky feeling of my own; it wasn’t fun to listen to her “lecture” me on the parts of speech that I already knew, just because the teacher’s book said that is what came next.  I probably gave Mom the harder time of the two of us, being already an independent learner and accustomed to reading ahead of a class and tuning out a classroom teacher.  Now it felt like my teacher was in-my-face and on my case all the time!

It took a few months for us to hit our stride, but after a while Mom found a method of learning that worked for us.  She dispensed with the schedule, lectures, and institutionalized methods and just handed me my daily assignments.  I happily breezed through my grammar, spelling, math, history, and science assignments while she went over new material with my younger sister one-on-one.  Later in the morning, Mom would sit on a stool and read us our Bible lesson and teach us our etiquette habits.  I really loved etiquette lessons; Mom was an elegant lady, and I knew that she was teaching us the secret to her own greatness!

As time went on, Mom let me learn more and more independently.  I used textbooks from the mainstream publishers: BJU, ABeka, and Saxon.  Mom supplemented my own studying with discussion, testing, and writing.  The latter is where Mom really excelled.  She was a meticulous editor, and Mom’s taste for parallelism and form was impeccable.  It was not until I attended college and tested out of freshman English that I really understood the level of training my mother had given me.

My father taught math and science.  Under his guidance, I completed calculus and the equivalent to one semester of college statistics.  In science, I studied general science, biology, and physics with him.  I studied on my own during the day, and we would stay up late once or twice a week grading papers and discussing my mistakes.

When we first began homeschooling in 1989, Michigan was antagonistic toward educational freedom.  Both private schools and homeschools were fighting government control through teacher certification laws.  Our homeschool was technically legal because of my father’s advanced degree, but we did not welcome any scrutiny of our family’s activities.  So we, like many other homeschools in our area, named our place of learning.  We were “Troy Christian Academy, a very exclusive private school.  You’ve probably never heard of us.” Sure enough, no one had. My parents maintained membership in a homeschool legal defense organization and stayed abreast of legal happenings in our state.  We actively marched on Lansing in protest; my sister’s picture was in the newspaper.  These experiences make me swell with pride and wonder when I can now publicly declare, “We home educate our children!”

I do teach my own four children.  When I graduated from my own homeschool in 1994, I did not expect to every be a homeschool mom.  I was completely ready to leave the homeschool lifestyle behind me, with its work and stigma.  Since I married a Peruvian from private and government schools, I felt safe I would not need to worry about it.  However, when our firstborn was 4 years of age, my husband felt strongly that we should try to teach him ourselves; he made that fateful deal with me to try it for “just one year.”  Sure enough, I was addicted within a month!

Our home education experience is different in many ways from when I was the student.

watching fish
watching fish

Some of the changes are simply signs of the times.  Home education in Texas, where we live now, could not be easier.  We have no minimum number of days, little curriculum requirements, no oversite, no reporting.  We are quite autonomous and free, thanks to the Leeper decision.

The rise of the internet has vastly changed the home education experience, too.  Home educators are no longer isolated.  Even my local homeschool support group communicates primarily by email and online message boards.  Thanks to social networks, blogs, and free e-newsletters, I am barraged by a constant stream of homeschool advice, encouragement, and information.  I wonder how my mother and her contemporaries survived without this help!

Thanks in part to this easy access to information, we can use a greater variety of educational resources, too. My children study with some “big name” publisher’s textbooks, but much of their science and history study comes from self-published newsletters and books that were not available in my generation.  I am learning so much about Creation science and God’s hand in history right along with them, thanks to these interesting resources.

My mother, before she passed away, encouraged me to teach my children gently.  She desired her grandchildren to love learning and to make it part of their lives, not something they do at a desk.  Because of my mother’s admonition, I have sought to de-institutionalize our children as much as possible.  Instead, we seek to learn from great books, real life experiences, and wise mentors.  Learning is a whole-family, life-long experience.

Do we use textbooks? Yes, there is one shelf of them out of the dozens of bookshelves in our home.  Do we complete workbook pages? Unfortunately, I can’t find a way out of using a few.  But the worksheets and textbooks are far inferior in priority to the real learning experiences that must be taking place on a daily basis.

Home educating is way more fun than I ever dreamed it would be when I was a teenager or young adult.  I credit my mother’s advice and my husband’s wisdom for much of that. I wish as a young person I had valued education more and grades less; I would have gained so much more from my time with my own parents.

And now for my own “Ask the Grad” question!

I have noticed you avoid the term “homeschool” and seem to favor “home education.” Why?

Homeschool is a general term and to most people means anyone who learns or teaches at home. However, homeschool is also growing in reference to “institutionalization at home.” I like the term “home education” because it means what I do: educate my children in my own home, not using institutionalized methods. However, if someone says, “So, you mean you homeschool?” I don’t argue with them, but rather say, “Yes!” proudly, in agreement with their obvious broad definition.

You may notice that at the beginning of my article here, I use the word “homeschool” often.  That is purposeful; I was homeschooled in every sense of the word.

When someone asks me why my children are out with me during the day, I avoid the term altogether by answering, “I teach them myself at home!” But, they always answer with …

Oh! You homeschool!


Would you like to read more about why I never wanted to home educate my own children and why you should teach yours? My homeschool story and those of 19 other home educated grads are told in the e-book Thank You! 20 Homeschool Grads Tip Their Hats. This ebook is available free download for a limited time for Whatever State readers from publisher Amy Puetz.


Lea Ann Garfias is a home education writer, curriculum reviewer, and consultant in the Dallas area.  You can read her regular column on “Early Learning” in Home School Enrichment Magazine. She recently began the Home Education blog for The Dallas Morning News’ online community.  Lea Ann and her husband, David, are rearing their four children together with a dog, a cat, two fish, and three frogs.  She invites you to join the conversation on the facebook Home Education page and contact her on twitter.


  1. Rhonda says

    Loved reading your story and realizing that I knew your family then. Do you remember when your mom & I were in the Christmas cantata together? That was before any of my children were born! So glad I get to home educate today; not sure I would have been that brave and adventurous years ago! Thank you for sharing.


  2. I DO remember when you and Mom were the “cranky old ladies” who “ain’t never done it thata’ way before,” Mrs. G! She had a lot of fun doing that with you, and we surely enjoyed watching it!


  3. No one’s story is unremarkable and I enjoyed every bit of yours! Thanks for sharing it, and also for the heads up on the terms homeschool vs home education. I had no idea. I enjoyed the information about your own current education at home….and I feel the same way about using whole books, less emphasis on grades, incorporating education during daily LIFE, and less time on work sheets. I also appreciated your mom’s advice to be gentle.~Shanda


    • Thanks, Shanda. I was loathe to write in this series after reading the really interesting tales my fellow home grads had written. They had such interesting learning experiences, backgrounds, and contributions to the home education community … I don’t feel worthy to join them!

      I am learning so much from this series and appreciate the time and effort each grad puts in to share their wisdom. They have so much to offer the next generation of home educators, and I can’t wait to learn more from them!


  4. I don’t even say “home education” anymore. I say private education. Most of what we do takes place inside the home, of course, but I want people to realize that our decisions are ours, and it’s a private matter. Also, this ain’t no DIY craft project. The word home seems to distract people from the “education” part. Besides, can you really call it a home education when we’re all over the place, all the time? 😉


  5. Pingback: Why Would You Want to Do That? | Whatever State I Am

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