“Where do your kids go to school?”

“Where do your kids go to school?”

This common question always catches me off guard. It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. I answer—with some pride, but mainly apprehension—that we homeschool our kids. Thankfully, most reactions involve admiration and praise followed with general inquiry. However, some reactions have involved judgment, concern, and overall disapproval.

Homeschooling has definitely been a lifestyle change for our family. The journey arriving here certainly wasn’t a part of our parenting plan for our children, even though I have always felt that teaching is my vocation.

I was a public school teacher in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wis., for six years. During that time my husband and I had two children. I worked full time and returned back to school for my masters and an additional teaching license in bilingual education. I was pregnant with our third child when we decided that I would relinquish all my teaching credentials and become a full-time stay-at-home mom. What a blessing!

During that time, my oldest attended a small WELS preschool. This was all new to us and exciting. We had projects, snack calendars, special gym shoes, and a Thomas the Train backpack.

After that year, we moved to a suburb outside of Milwaukee. We found a new church and school, and it quickly became our lifestyle to serve there. My son was thriving, and we received countless praises about his character and love for Jesus and all things in nature. We were pleased with his academic progress and social, spiritual, and physical development.

Our second child started school, our fourth child was born, and our family life started to feel overwhelming. Everything felt rushed and hurried—a result of the choices we had made together, but something had to give.

We started to see signs that our son was struggling in third grade. It can all be summed up into time management and personal responsibility. No one likes to feel rushed and hurried. He confessed feeling this way all the time in school. We worked with his teachers and got to the heart of the matter and discovered that his learning styles weren’t conducive for a typical classroom setting. The teachers were gracious in modifying their lesson assignments for him and provided me with resources and suggestions to better meet his needs.

I spent the rest of that semester exploring all options. We had our son’s vision and hearing tested and met with professionals to offer any insight into his wonderful world of learning and retaining information. We tested his reading comprehension and learned he was reading just below grade level. Finally we decided to pull him at the end of the semester from his WELS grade school, and we began our homeschooling journey.

As we discovered, each homeschooling family is different. We decided to fully involve our son in this decision so he could have ownership and personal responsibility for his schooling. We told him this was going to be the semester we try it out and see if it’s a good fit for our family. And that’s exactly what we did. We used that semester to identify areas of weaknesses and strengths. We poured into his personal interests. We read a ton of books based on his choice of topics, wrote in journals, explored our community, visited several museums, enjoyed nature, made messes doing science and art projects, watched historical documentaries, and occasionally worked on math work books. We finished the school year, and during the summer he informed us that he wanted to continue homeschooling, so we decided to keep going.

We enrolled both our daughters at our church’s school that year—second grade and half-day 4K. I purchased an entire grade-level Christian curriculum, joined a Christian co-op homeschooling group, and began fully homeschooling our then fourth-grade son. He and I worked tirelessly around the baby’s nap schedule and carpool pick-ups. We managed extra-curricular activities and became involved in our co-op. There I met several homeschooling families from all different backgrounds. It was refreshing to be among such diverse company. I was always encouraged and supported, and every family had their own unique story and experience that led them to homeschooling. I was in awe of the spiritual gifts and talents of these parents, all of whom shared a similar sentiment and belief that the schooling of our children is not a one-size-fits-all specific program. What works for your family may not necessarily work for ours, and that’s okay.

That was my first full year of all-in homeschooling. The most exhausting part was the baby. The one-on-one with my son was rewarding and enjoyable. During that year my eldest daughter continually inquired about staying home with her brother to be homeschooled. Although hesitant at first—I didn’t feel ready to add another student to my classroom and she seemed to be thriving at school both academically and socially—we decided to bring her home as well at the beginning of the next school year. I turned my dining room into a classroom and fully committed to this homeschooling lifestyle. It was an absolute joy seeing my children learn together and grow closer to one another.

The benefits of homeschooling have significantly outweighed the challenges for us. We immediately eliminated the busyness, rushing, and hurrying. Our family has grown closer together and developed a collaborative and comfortable learning environment that fosters exploration and discovery and appeals to each child’s interests. We provide balanced amounts of structured and unstructured activities. We give our children a flexible routine that enables them to take responsibility in finishing their own tasks. We provide a comfortable learning environment free from judgment and comparison, focused instead on encouragement and inspiration.

We regularly go on field trips. We go sledding and ice skating for recess during the winter. We have a reading club on the trampoline on warm days. We even have poetry reading family nights with recitations and performances. Our homeschool lifestyle is unique to our family because it caters to our needs and interests while building on the fundamental skills and knowledge for personal growth and progression in all areas of development.

Of course there are drawbacks to homeschooling. First off, you are the school. You are the educator, principal, secretary, guidance counselor, recess supervisor, art and music teacher, gym teacher, etc. It’s a lot of additional responsibility on top of the demands of parenting.

Also, it is a tremendous amount of pressure to provide a well-rounded education for your children. Homeschool parents can’t call a substitute teacher. We often feel inadequate and insecure. We see the neighbor kids getting on the bus, and we are envious. We see pictures on Facebook about school programs and spirit week dress-up days, and we feel excluded. We sit among family, friends, and neighbors who boast about their children’s school achievements, and we are overwhelmed with doubt that we may have made a mistake choosing to homeschool our children. We look at state standards and wonder if we did enough at the end of each year. We see social awkwardness with our children and feel responsible for not providing enough social interaction among peers. The list goes on.

The homeschooling family needs community support. We need encouragement and love from our family, friends, and neighbors. We need to feel accepted, cherished, and included in our church so we may continue to grow in faith. When you meet a homeschooling family, acknowledge and encourage them. Above all, pray for them. The homeschool family needs prayer of wisdom, discernment, and perseverance. Show love and kindness to these families. And when you ask, “Where do your kids go to school?” to a new family and find out that they homeschool, make sure to follow up with, “That’s wonderful! Tell me about your homeschool.”

Sarah Haeuser and her husband, Frank, have four children and live in Merton, Wis.

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