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Homeschooled: Going beyond the label

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By Clare Kolenda – Collegiate Staff

There are many conclusions that are drawn when people first hear that I was homeschooled. The most common questions that follow are, “Did you get to do school in your pajamas?” “Do you feel like you missed out?” or my personal favorite, “What did you do?”

The truth is, being homeschooled was one of the best and most challenging things of my life. My day startedwith waking up, making my sisters’ and myself breakfast, and kissing my mother goodbye as she left for the day to work at the bakery of the local grocery store. ClaireBooksbyJacquelyn copy

This usually shocks most people. No parental instruction during the day? It must’ve been a party all of the time! Not quite. My mother originally went back to work after my father lost his job. While we all handled that reality differently, all of us understood one thing: we all had jobs to do. My mother’s job was to go to work at the bakery to provide a sure and steady income, it was my father’s job to find another job that could help support my family once again, and it was my job to keep studying.

When my mother first started working, she would leave a list of detailed instructions of what school my siblings and I needed to complete, then she’d come home after a long eighthour shift and review what we had learned. Slowly, as the months went by, the list no longer appeared on the kitchen table. My mother trusted me enough to not only carry out my schooling, but help teach my two younger sisters, who were both in the 3rd grade.

With both of my parents away from home most days, my schooling looked different than even most homeschoolers. I woke up, did chores, made breakfast, and then sat down with my sisters to start the lessons for the day. The rest of the day was split between teaching my sisters, going over my own schoolwork, and putting another load of laundry in the wash because the mountain of towels never seemed to get smaller.

This is how most of my childhood went. Was it tough? Absolutely. Mustering up the energy to teach myself grammar rules after a long day of going over third grade curriculum was exhausting. But it was my job. And I knew that though my mother hated being away from home most days, she was doing her job. So I had to do mine as well. Now that I look back though, I realized that being the primary source of instruction for two 3rd graders and myself, I gained more knowledge than I ever would have going through traditional schooling.

I learned at a young age that just as people have different personalities, they also learn differently. When teaching one sister multiplication tables, all I had to do was write a few equations and the concept was understood. Yet, for my other sister, I had to demonstrate using marbles just how two times three equals six. This knowledge helped my own studying, realizing how I learned and maximizing the time I had to study. The techniques I learned when I was young have helped me be a more disciplined and prepared college student.

The flexibility I had with my own schooling was both a blessing and a curse. Because I was home, I had no one to compare my work to. Was I doing alright in my studies or was I really behind? What were other kids my age learning? Yet, because I set my schedule, I was able to focus more on what I really loved.

I enjoyed history so much I would focus on learning about a specific time period throughout most of the day. Now I may not be able to give you the proof of the quadratic formula, but I can talk about World War II all day long. Literature fascinated me, so I would spend an entire afternoon studying the writing style of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, or O’Henry. These and other great writers were my inspirations for writing short stories on my own, which eventually developed my love for writing that I have today. I doubt I would have discovered my passion so early had I had to follow a strict school regime.

What I learned wasn’t just confined to the subjects I was studying. I learned how to make a dinner in less than 30 minutes that could rival Rachael Ray. I became better at time management as I realized that 24 hours wasn’t enough time to get everything done that I needed to accomplish. Multi-tasking became my best friend while I folded the sixth load of laundry while reading about cell mitosis.

Yet not every day was just filled with chores and school and work. On the days that my mother had off from work, sometimes she’d take my sisters and I on adventures. We would go on nature walks and learn the differences between the maple and oak trees. Sometimes we’d go over to my grandparents’ house to just play a quick game of cards and listen to them reminisce about the good old days. There were days where we’d go out to our favorite Chinese restaurant just because. These random adventures and times spent out of the house helped me realize there was more to the world than just what I could study in the textbooks at home.

I’m not going to lie and say that it wasn’t a lot to have to grow up with so much responsibility. Most kids, public schooled or homeschooled, don’t have to worry about teaching two younger siblings or keep up a home while the parents are away. But I’m more prepared for life because of it. It would’ve been so easy to get overwhelmed by the countless school assignments, chores, and responsibilities of life. I learned how to take it all day by day and just live in the moment. That’s a practice I still use to this day and I’m grateful to have learned it so young.

Did I miss out on normal activities such as prom, football games, or even just having the expertise of a teacher by my side? Yes. Yet, I gained so much in place of it. I have a great relationship with my sisters and mother to this day. I learned how to persevere even when school gets tough and I wanted to quit. If I hadn’t kept moving forward, then I would still be stuck in the 8th grade. But the biggest thing that homeschooling taught me is that learning isn’t just an act; it’s a way of life.