By Marguerite Cleveland
Military families face many challenges with their children enduring frequent school changes. They are either ahead or behind each new school. Many families are turning to homeschooling to provide more stability for their children. I turned to my friend, Mary (name changed to protect families privacy) who homeschool all five of her children. She currently has 3 college graduates who were all accepted to competitive schools and received scholarships, a junior and one in 8th grade. With over 20 years of homeschooling under her belt, she has a track record of success.
Why is homeschooling a great option for military families?
Living at Ft. Irwin, the school on post was very academically behind the Catholic school we had attended at our last duty station. The “local” catholic school was an hour drive each way on a long, thin, road in the desert. We still had other small children and felt a 2 hour drive was not something we wanted. So for us, the start of homeschooling was because we wanted a faith-filled education but it wasn’t accessible.
We realized our oldest had gaps and holes in her math and science education from changing schools 3 times between Kindergarten & 3rd grade. We found she could complete her entire day of school in 2 hours. This enabled us to travel all over CA, visit family, complete field trips, CA missions, Grand Canyon and see the giant redwoods. Real life became a bonus education.
For the kids to have any time with their dad, we needed to be available whenever he was available. This continued through 2011. So when dad had block leave in October or February, the kids had school vacation. When dad was gone, we did school through the summer and often on weekends. During this time, we also moved high schoolers in middle of fall and spring semesters. We would have had to stay behind and miss out on time as a family.
Since 2011, we haven’t lived in one place more than 20-30 mos. Homeschooling has made the moves and transitions smoother. We started with an academic purpose, but continued because we became accustomed to the freedom of our own schedule. Additionally, the kids had more time to participate in multiple extracurriculars such as sailing teams, swim teams, scouts, youth groups, etc.
When OCONUS stationed, what makes homeschooling so great?
When stationed overseas, homeschoolers are able to participate in DODEA classes and sports. We opted for sports. Outside of the academics, we traveled to 15 countries in 20 months. The kids were responsible for directing us to train platforms, airline gates, bus stations, etc. I would make the itinerary and they would plan the transportation. They also had the advantage of seeing so much history, culture: They stood next to Caesar’s burial, walked through Mozart’s childhood home, stood 4 feet from Pope Francis and rode bikes to all the Sound of Music sights. I can’t type enough about the experience living overseas gave them. All are capable of traveling the world.
What are the keys to success and how do you stay organized?
Success is measured differently by each family. For us, we wanted our children to have a worldly view of life. We wanted them to know how to crunch numbers and write papers, as well as look people in the eye and speak to anyone of any age, lastly, but most importantly, we prayed they would be faith filled and good citizens.
In order to accomplish our goals, we needed to be organized and we all needed to have good discipline. The discipline to get up on time (alarms) and do what is needed each day. If they didn’t finish their work due to their own laziness or disobedience, they did not participate in outside activities that day. Anything not complete by Friday would earn them Saturday school.
Our rule for curriculum has always been, “If it doesn’t work for mom, it’s not going to work for the child.” We follow a schedule and a few rules. We school 8am-1pm, sometimes less, sometimes more. We have an annual goal for each child. Then we break it down into weekly goals.
We started our kids in 8th grade with online classes. They meet weekly or bi-weekly in an adobe classroom with a teacher and 15-18 other students. The teacher goes over the material, gives assignments and deadlines, and grades the work. They’ve had teachers who broke up the class into debate groups. The groups coordinate who is covering which portion, pass information through emails and conduct the debate in class.
When it came to the upper levels, I did not try to teach subjects I was unfamiliar with. Online classes for some kids included Chemistry, Adv. Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics. Some places we’ve lived the kids took classes with other homeschoolers in a family’s home or a co-op type environment. Our kids have also been dual enrolled in community college courses. This year, our son will take Chemistry from another homeschool mom who used to teach science at the local university. Our daughter will take a computer apps class from the same teacher.
So, while we started because one child was missing math topics, we continued because of the freedom it gave our family. I never thought I would homeschool. Then I never thought I would homeschool high school. But here we are, 21 years later with 5 more years to go.
If you decide to homeschool your children make sure to visit the School Support Services or Liaison Officer on your installation. They can help you make sure you are in compliance with state laws, for example Washington State regulates home schooling. Also check your local MWR which has many programs for homeschoolers. At JBLM, there are sports programs, art classes, and a school center with a gym, computer room, art room and even a cooking space all available to homeschoolers.
Marguerite Cleveland is a freelance writer who specializes in human interest and travel stories. She is a military brat, a veteran and now a military spouse. Her military experience is vast as the daughter of a Navy man who served as an enlisted sailor and then Naval Officer. She served as an enlisted soldier in the reserves and on active duty, then as an Army Officer. She currently serves as a military spouse. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two sons. Visit her website www.WanderWordsWine.com