Today, we have a special, bonus edition of “Ask the Grad,” featuring Linnea Caswell. Linnea shares with us many benefits of the home education experience, including her strong faith, education, and family relationships.
It is a joy to be able to share my homeschool experience with you! I am so grateful to God for the privilege of having been homeschooled by two people who love me the most, know me the best, and pray for me daily – my parents.
The Adventure Begins
When my parents first heard of homeschooling, they immediately thought, “This is right.” It just made sense to follow God’s call to disciple their children. My parents started going to our state homeschool convention when I was 2 years old, and have gone every year since then – all 21 times! They started out taking one year at a time. Now that my parents have graduated 3 students from our homeschool high school, Vine & Branches Academy, they would tell you they’re in this for life.
I’m the oldest of eight children at 23 – with 6 sisters and 1 brother from ages 21 down to almost 9. My dad is a lawyer who has a flexible schedule which includes working from home for 3 days a week. After earning a master’s degree in computer science, my mom left her job when I was born and has dedicated her life to her family – helping my dad and our family be in leadership roles in many areas.
Teaching us to Learn
My parents’ basic educational philosophy was to teach us to how to learn on our own. The ability to figure out something you need to know is invaluable and has served me very well in the entrepreneurial paths I’ve taken after high school. They wanted us to grasp, first of all, the love of God and duty of man, and after that to give us a love of reading, a broad educational experience, and a strong ability to learn.
In the early years, I remember my mom and dad reading great children’s literature to us for hours on end. They believed that the best way for kids to learn to love reading was to be read to. I think it’s worked! My dad’s viewpoint was that grammar and formal English were best taught by reading high quality literature and by doing lots of writing. In grade school, our writing most often consisted of journal entries and letters to grandparents or other pen pals that were read and corrected by mom or dad before they were sent. This encouraged openness and helped us see that quality work is important!
Math has always been a priority in our family, and since both my mom and dad were math majors in college we always had someone who could answer our questions as we got to higher level mathematics. Though I wouldn’t say math is my particular strength, I completed Saxon’s Advanced Mathematics in high school – which led to some easy college credits and a first year calculus course in college. I know many homeschool moms who struggle with teaching math, so I’m blessed to have a background that will make certain subjects easier when I’m homeschooling my own kids, Lord willing.
When I was eight years old my younger sister and I started piano lessons, and began a musical journey that’s grown to include my entire family and given us the opportunity to share God’s love and vision with hundreds of people over the years. My parents have been incredibly supportive of our musical endeavors – and have invested time and resources in giving us the opportunity to grow. There are not many moms who could tolerate 2 or 3 pianos, a couple violins, and a few cellos all practicing at once in the house! All my siblings and myself play classical piano at differing levels – three of my siblings commute weekly to a local university to take lessons – and everyone plays a second instrument as well. Over the last 6 years we’ve been able to develop vocally with the help of various conferences and teachers, and love working together as siblings in our family singing ensemble, especially on a capella arrangements in a classical choral style.
The Real Advantage of Home Education
As I see it, a major benefit of home education is that siblings and parents have a chance to develop close, deep family relationships. Once when we were singing at a local church, a lady came up to us and said how much she wished we were in her public school choir. We responded politely, but thought afterwards, really, we wouldn’t be singing together like this if we were all in public school, and had totally different schedules, different friends, and different goals!
This is not to say that we don’t have individual callings – we do – but I believe that God puts families together in unique ways so that they can accomplish great things together, using the individual gifts, skills, and talents of each member. The family is really a microcosm of how the Church should function – one head, one purpose, many members, many gifts.
We’ve helped plant a family-integrated church and have started a fledgling homeschool youth orchestra with 30+ members and a homeschool graduate as our conductor, a public-speaking group designed to enable young people to “have an answer for the hope that is within them”, a family singing ministry, and many other projects. Without each one of us, we would be limited in being able to do these things that God has brought into our lives.
Home education, beyond academics, is something God is using in our lives to help us become a strong, productive, creative, and powerful family unit for ministry and discipleship in our community and church.
So, What’s Next?
After graduating from high school in 2005, my parents and I knew I would be continuing my education in some way, since I love learning, wanted to continue growing academically, and thought a credential could be useful in teaching my own children someday. At the perfect time, the Lord introduced us to accelerated distance learning and the CollegePlus! coaching program, which gave me an efficient, cost-effective and God-honoring way to get a degree. Distance learning simply means studying “off-campus” via credit-by-exam (CLEPs, DANTEs, etc.), online courses, correspondence courses, or other methods.
Because I began college work right after high school, I was able to build immediately on my high school studies and make fairly quick progress. For instance, after completing Apologia’s Chemistry and Advanced Chemistry courses in high school, I was able to pass the Chemistry CLEP test and earn multiple college credits in that first-year science course. I was able to study many things, including literature, business, English, mathematics, and history and wrapped up my BA in Liberal Studies from a fully-accredited school in New Jersey in about 18 months and for a total cost of under $6,500. After that, I went on to complete a one-year paralegal program through a correspondence law school and passed a national paralegal certification test. I didn’t study law in order to pursue a career as a legal assistant, but instead because I was interested in learning about the Constitution and our legal system and knew God would use any knowledge gained for His purposes in the future! I have enjoyed helping my dad with a few pro bono projects, but have not felt a calling from God to move further in the paralegal direction, for now.
Through an amazing series of events, about a year and a half ago I was given the opportunity to get into freelance graphic design. I absolutely love the artistic and computer/technical sides of design and am grateful to have the chance to work from home and help other people communicate in an attractive, clear, and professional way. I also currently have a small studio of piano students, do occasional freelance writing, served as the Orchestra Administrator for the Northern Illinois Christian Youth Orchestra last summer, and participate in the eventful life of our family of ten.
My heart’s desire is to be a disciple of Christ – and to be open to whatever God calls me to in each season of my life. For the last 23 years I have been a grateful part of the family God’s put me in. Much to my surprise, but according to God’s plan, I’ve been blessed to just recently embark on the journey of courtship with a godly young man (who has also been featured in this series!). I pray that God would encourage each of you in the path He’s called you to – and that my experience, as a home educated graduate, would show a glimpse of God’s great faithfulness to those who love Him.
Karla asks: What things do homeschooling parents need to do to prepare their children for college? What were some of the difficulties you feel you faced in college coming from a homeschooling background?
As I’ve explained above, my college experience was somewhat non-traditional, but I am happy to share my thoughts based on what I’ve seen and gone through.
Any decision, particularly one about college, needs to be made on purpose and with purpose. By this I mean that parents and young people need to avoid making big decisions by default. “Well, everyone in my circle is doing this… I don’t know what else to do… Of course my child has to go to college – otherwise how will they get a job, get married, or move out of my house?!”
An “on purpose” decision is one that is made carefully, with prayer, thought, counsel, and research. A “with purpose” decision is made for a reason – with a goal in mind – with a specific aim in view. Have you sought God earnestly for His plan for your young person: as a man or a woman, as a child of God, as an individual with unique strengths and gifts? Would a degree be useful or perhaps necessary for the career or calling you hope to see ahead?
If college education is needed, then families need to consider how to prepare for it, and how to go about it in the best way. Obviously, I’m a strong proponent of distance learning and know many people who have had excellent experiences with that route (including students that have gone on to Master’s programs or have successfully entered the work force after earning an accredited distance learning degree). Some courses or degrees may be more difficult or impossible to do completely from a distance, so local colleges, especially within commuting distance, are another option to consider.
No matter how you’re getting academic training, I believe a student needs to be well grounded and focused on the Lord in order to successfully navigate the temptations and distractions inherent in higher education. A strong, Biblical worldview and a vibrant, growing relationship with the Lord are prerequisites to college work, in my opinion. By homeschooling, you’re already laying the groundwork for these very things.
On the academic side, if college is a possibility, make sure your student does lots of writing, reading of good literature, higher level math & science, and critical thinking. You would do well to pay some attention to entrance requirements so a student doesn’t need to do remedial work. Also, get some experience with timed tests, deadlines, essays, and other structures/systems that may be used so that your student is not caught off guard simply by the form of the question or method of instruction. Taking the ACT or SAT in a student’s Junior or Senior year in high school is good practice and can have additional benefits if a student scores well on them. We used my ACT score and a compilation of CLEP test scores to successfully make the case to our auto insurance company that I was a full time student with good grades. Thus we got a good student discount even though I wasn’t following the standard college path.
One caution is to not focus on academics at the expense of practical skills, entrepreneurial activities, service, home management skills, business opportunities or character development. I believe that homeschooled students can definitely be prepared for college, if that’s a step on the path God has for them, and that parents are wise to think about these things when their children are young. In my experience, home education gave me a distinct advantage in college, and for that I am grateful.