The Stevenson Family

What was it like to homeschool my kids? Hmmm…where do I begin…my thoughts are all over the map. I’ll give it a try. Here’s our story.

I knew absolutely nothing about homeschooling, not even that it existed. My initiation began when I started to look for a school for my first born daughter, Samantha. I have to say that when I was pregnant with her, I was working full time and had no intention of not returning to work. I thought my mother and mother –in-law would share babysitting responsibilities. That didn’t happen. I wound up staying home and working a few part time jobs. Turns out I loved it. I had the greatest fun of my life taking care of my daughter, talking with her, playing with her, and teaching her how to walk, talk, and learn about the world. Then came the issue of school. Where will she go? Public or private school was what came to my mind. I visited them all. Nothing seemed to be quite right.

One day, I went to the pediatrician for a well visit. He asked what I was going to do about school. After being very frustrated in not being able to find the right school, I said, quite facetiously, “I don’t know. At this rate, I’ll wind up teaching her myself.” I, of course, was joking, not having a clue that I really could do such a thing. He, then wrote a name on a piece of paper, and told me to contact this person, because she already was “homeschooling.” Long story short, although I had no desire to contact her, I knew he would ask at the next doctor visit, so I did. She convinced me that, amazingly, I already was “homeschooling” and didn’t know it. Needless to say, I continued having the fun I was having. It was working, my daughter was happy and learning, so, I thought, why not continue until it doesn’t work anymore. I also had a second child, another daughter, Cassandra, and I had fun doing the same with her.

I don’t really know how to tell the rest of the story without sounding very odd. I hope it’s taken the right way. I’m just relating the facts. Samantha began to read at age one. By the time she was three, she was reading children’s biographies of famous people. Her favorite was Abe Lincoln. When she was little, I read to her a lot. I didn’t know what else to do, and it was fun. I bought her lots of workbooks at the Teacher-Parent store. There was very little else available, since this was the eighties and computers were just becoming in vogue.

Through the homeschool support groups that were starting then, I found out that you could order textbook catalogues and pick whatever seemed to work and purchase them directly.

I did. One day, when she was about five, as she was lying on the dining room floor doing work from her textbook, she flipped the book over and noticed on the back cover that it indicated a grade level. I had never mentioned anything about grade levels. I simply bought the books that I thought she would like and could do. Samantha read the grade level, did some mental calculations, and said, “Well, if I’m doing this grade level now, then I can go to college when I’m eleven. That’s what I want to do.” Now, I never, for a minute, thought about her going to college at eleven, or any other age except the normal age. I was just having fun watching her be excited about learning the things she liked to learn. So, I said to her, “Honey, really, all you have to do is be five and be happy!” She would hear none of it. She insisted. She made it her goal. She told everyone. She even told the hairdresser as she was on a booster seat there having her hair cut. (The hairdresser still will never forget that day.) She made lists. She planned out what she would take with her when she went to college. Meanwhile, she kept learning and I kept just trying to have fun watching her learn and figuring out what was best for her. As a Mom, though, with such a determined little person, I had no choice but to help her reach her goal. At ten, she wanted to take the SAT. I found a program through Johns Hopkins, and she took the test. She did very well, even receiving an award for high score. I had the results sent to a few colleges, but only those within commuting distance. Despite the fact that Samantha fully intended to live on campus, I was not going to let that happen at such a young age. Western Connecticut State University had a wonderful admissions Director. When I asked if he received the test scores and told him of the situation, we both concluded we had no idea what was best in this situation. But he suggested that he meet with her, and decide from there. He did, and he said, “Let’s try it.” So, Samantha reached her goal. She entered college at age eleven. Despite her prior disdain for long division, she graduated with a double major in Math and Astronomy, at age sixteen. She then entered Wesleyan University, at age sixteen, as a Graduate student in Astronomy. This time, she did live on campus. I was very hesitant about that, but I spoke with the Wesleyan administrator, who chose a quiet residence with a mature young grad student roommate. We gave it a try. She soon chose to live in a “fraternity house”, made tons of friends, and graduated with a Master’s Degree at age nineteen. From there, she worked at the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University for three years, before moving to Arizona to begin working on her PhD at the University of Arizona. She then decided that she wanted to do a different form of science that had more immediate effect on us here on Earth. So, she transferred to the University of Colorado at Boulder and got her PhD in Oceanic and Atmospheric Science. She then got a job at the International Pacific Research Center at the University of Hawaii, where she stayed for two years. Now, she is in the process of moving back to Boulder, where she was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship, and also obtained another job with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. One small point: she never obtained any high school diploma. So, as she testified on year when Connecticut was considering such legislation, (and rejected it, thankfully), in those states where parents are required to have a high school diploma in order to homeschool, I guess she will never be able to homeschool there.

Anyway, back to Cassandra. Cassandra is a very different child. Whereas Samantha was a sequential left brained learner, like her Mom, Cassandra was a visual-spatial right brained learner, totally unlike her Mom. Teaching her, needless to say, was a challenge for me. Luckily, homeschooling is not like school at home. I did very little actual “teaching”. They were very much self-taught. I was just there to guide and to supply resources. I did try to teach a bit of, (dare I say it – the bane of my existence), math. Now, for someone who is trying to learn quadratic equations, in my own inimitable step by step left brained way, and then relay that information to my very right brained daughter, who wants to know the whole picture at once, this was truly a head banging experience – for both of us. Although, I have to say that I was very creative on occasion in figuring out new ways of teaching this enigmatic child. She also was very physically active. She did not like staying still for a minute. For example, I came home one day from the store only to have her greet me saying, “Look what I can do.” Whereupon, she did several jumping flips, down the length of the couch, before tumbling in the air to a perfect dismount on the floor. At that point, I foolishly said, if you want to do that, you’ll have to do it the “safe” way, and I enrolled her in gymnastics, where she stayed for ten years, resulting in, I can’t tell you how many injuries. I digress, however. Where was I? Oh, yes, the joy of math. At any rate, I recall vividly the day that I was painstakingly trying to explain to Cassandra, step by step, the intracacies of the long division (yes, that again) of one algebraic equation by another. Cassandra, being extremely frustrated at this point, kept saying words to the effect, “Just get to the point.” This was happening as I was “car schooling” her, as I waited for Samantha on the campus of WestConn for Samantha to finish one of her classes. So, I said, “Fine. Why don’t we just ask Samantha’s math professor to help.” We did. Thirty seconds later, Cassandra completely understood how to do the problem. I didn’t. So, I asked the professor if she knew of anyone I could hire to tutor Cassandra. At which point, the professor said, “Well, why doesn’t Cassandra just sit in on a class here.” Again, I had no intention of having yet another daughter go to college before the normal age. But, I discussed in with Cassandra, and Cassandra wanted to try it. She did. She audited a math class for a semester and “aced” it.

Again, I discussed options with Cassandra, offering her the choice of me continuing to “teach” her, of hiring a tutor, of going to a private school, or of taking classes at WestConn. She chose to take classes at WestConn. So it was that Cassandra began her college career at the age of ten. She graduated with a B.A. in Justice and Law Administration at the age of fifteen. She took a year “off”, and then, because she liked the courses better, she decided she would get a second undergraduate degree, this time at Quinnipiac University. She transferred there as a Junior in Interactive Digital Design, and got her second degree at the age of nineteen. Again, she took time “off”, and became a Ballroom Dance Instructor for a few years. Then, she returned to academics, combining her love of movement with a relatively new field of science, and got her Master’s Degree in Recreational Therapy. She’s now working as a Recreational Therapist at the V.A. Hospital near Palo Alto, California.

So, that’s our story. Odd, but true. Did I research all about homeschooling, and then decide logically that this would be in the best interest of my children? No. Did I decide to homeschool based on any religious or other philosophy? No. Did I assess as I was doing it whether it was “working” or not? Yes. It did. They earned their degrees, got jobs, and are pursuing their life goals. Did it all work out smoothly and effortlessly? Of course not. Where there doubts or regrets? What parent doesn’t have doubts and regrets? The only thing I can say is that I did what I thought was a good idea at the time, and I hoped and prayed for the best. I’m still hoping and praying for the best for them, and I always will.