Friday, April 30, 2010

Guest Post by Lisa Rivero: My Homeschooling Education

I am very excited to embark upon the first of what I hope will be many fertile blog cross-pollinations inspired by a “blog-swapping” thread posted earlier this month at She Writes (

It is an honor to introduce to you writer and teacher Lisa Rivero, and to host her post today. Rivero’s blog Everyday Intensity ( is a daily discussion of lifelong learning, living with intensity, creativity, and personal growth. She is the author of four books: The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (2010), A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (2010), The Homeschooling Option (2008) and Creative Home Schooling (2002). Photo: Lisa Rivero, first day of school.

My Homeschooling Education

This week I was returning home from a walk in our neighborhood when I met another mother whose daughter, a college freshman, is the same age as our son. We hadn't seen each other in awhile, so we had the usual awkward but not entirely unpleasant experience of catching up on our families’ changes and growth, much too much information to fit in a five-minute conversation.

An added awkwardness is that, for the last ten years of our son’s elementary and high school education, our family homeschooled, so when my neighbor talked about how our local public high school did such a good job of preparing her daughters for college, I struggled, just for a moment, not to assume that she was making a broader point. However, something I’ve learned from homeschooling is not only to refrain from taking things personally, but also, and, in keeping with another of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements, not to make assumptions, especially about what kind of education is a good fit for a child or family.

Perhaps you have considered homeschooling. Or maybe the idea puzzles you. Do you wonder what it looks like? Do you ever wonder if you could do it?

I want to share here a bit about why we homeschooled, how we homeschooled, and some things that homeschooling taught me.

Why We Homeschooled

When we started homeschooling at the end of our son’s second grade year, I had no plans to do so long term. All we knew was that our son, though very bright and doing fine academically in the classroom, was not thriving emotionally or socially. At the time, I didn’t know what the problem was; I only knew he was extremely unhappy at school, and he was beginning to shut down at home as well. The spark was going out.

In hindsight, I understand better why a full-time classroom—even a small one—was not the best fit for him. First, he is an introverted learner. My favorite pithy description of introverts comes from Jonathan Rauch: “introverts are people who find other people tiring.” Introverts don’t dislike other people, and they don’t necessarily lack friends. However, a full day of intense interaction with other students—especially other intense students such as the ones at the school for highly gifted learners our son attended—is simply too much.

Another lack of fit was that our son’s intellectual needs were varied and did not fit neatly into a single grade level. I’m not sure if any child’s learning needs are best met by a single-grade curriculum, but, for gifted learners, who may be extremely advanced in some subjects and closer to grade level in others, or who may have unusual interests that are not part of regular a scope and sequence, the rigidity of a day of third grade math followed by third grade reading then third grade science will inevitably lead to boredom or frustration.

When we decided to homeschool, however, all I knew is that what we had been doing wasn’t working and that we would try learning at home for a year while we researched other schools, as a way to buy some time.

Ten years later, our son “graduated” from homeschooling and was headed to college. We may have begun homeschooling as a way to fix a problem, but we continued because we couldn’t imagine anything that would work better or that we would enjoy more.

How We Homeschooled

One reason I hadn’t considered homeschooling sooner than I did was that I had bought into the usual stereotypes about homeschooling: that families who homeschooled all did so for religious reasons, or that homeschoolers were unsocialized, or that homeschooled children would lack the necessary academic skills and credentials to go to college and succeed.

What I learned is that homeschooling families can truly create an educational approach that fits their individual needs, personalities, and values.

In our case, that meant focusing on self-directed learning, creative thinking, and multi-disciplinary study as much as, if not more than, a more traditional approach to curriculum. We often followed our son’s interests in-depth, staying with one or two subjects for days or weeks, until they had run their course, rather than always fit in five or more subjects a day.

We also did not follow the usual academic calendar. We usually homeschooled through the summer, not in order to get ahead, but simply because that’s what our son wanted to do. Homeschooling and regular life were not that much different from each other. This flexibility of scheduling allowed him to be involved in figure skating for several years and to accept roles in local theater productions, without sacrificing sleep or study or peace of mind.

We took advantage of homeschooling groups and found one that was a good fit for us: a mixture of families of different religious backgrounds (including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists) and who had different approaches to education. What united us was that we all saw the value that homeschooling has for strengthening the family, especially the relationship between parent and child.

When the high school years came, our son considered going to the local public or a private high school, but decided to continue at home. He took the SAT once—early—which allowed him to enroll part time in college during his sophomore high school year. He made the decision on his own not to take the SAT again just to improve his score, and to bypass the college preparation frenzy he watched many of his schooled friends go through. Instead, he used his high school years to continue to take advantage of time for hours of leisure reading, study of subjects that were outside of most high school curricula, and even daydreaming.

What Homeschooling Has Taught Me

Now that our son is nearing the end of his freshman year in a college honors program, I find myself looking back, not on what he learned from homeschooling, but what I did:

I learned that it’s okay to go against the grain, and that other people can make assumptions about me and my family without the world’s coming to a stop. A big question among homeschoolers is how to deal with the inevitable assumptions about why we homeschool or whether we even should. Having to face these assumptions has led to much personal growth for me, finally allowing me to begin to face and overcome a lifetime of people pleasing. Now I allow others their assumptions. In fact, I listen gladly to them without the need to be defensive. Homeschooling has helped to make this possible.

I learned that there are more “good fits” in education than we realize. Every child and family have unique needs that require unique solutions. Sometimes a school is a good fit, whether public or private or a hybrid. Sometimes learning at home is. Sometimes it’s a combination, or even another option we haven’t yet considered. We might not know what works until we try it.

I learned that there are many ways to approach education that work well, such as doing away completely with grading, allowing students a true choice is what they study and when they study it, and even taking time off from subjects when roadblocks occur.

Finally, homeschooling rekindled my own love of learning. I remember very clearly my own first day of school and the excitement of finally being able to learn everything the world had to offer. As with so many of us, somewhere along the line, I lost that feeling, and began to approach learning as a chore rather than a passion.

My spark is back.


Doreen McGettigan said...

I wish I would have been brave and secure enough to home school my kids..Now that they are grown with kids of their own, I've been thinking about homeschooling my grand children..there are 8 of them school age and 2 still babies. I provided day care for all of them for the first 18mos. Do you think that is too many children in one group to be effective?

Lisa Rivero said...

Tania, thank you so much for the warm welcome and hosting the post!

Doreen, I certainly know of families who homeschool that many children successfully (they are usually very organized!). I think it is wonderful when grandparents are as involved as you are with their grandchildren--homeschooling or otherwise. I live several hundred miles away from my family, so my son does not know his grandparents nearly as well as I knew mine.

Liz Brennan said...

Thanks for the post Lisa. I am inspired to read your books!

Lisa Rivero said...

Liz, I'm sorry I didn't see this comment until now! Thanks so much.