One Father's Homeschooling Experience

When we were expecting our first child, I started talking with my wife about homeschooling—which I now prefer to call unschooling. She agreed, and we have never regretted it. Raised to be independent learners, both children did well on their college entrance exams and are now away at college.

Working at home, I was able to help with our children's unschooling. I read to them—I am eternally grateful for the public library—and played with them. We sang, danced, built a house, hunted for turtles, crayfish, mushrooms, and learned to keep honeybees together.

My wife and I both had been raised in the situation where the father is the one who says "no," and the mother is more lenient and indulging. I tried not to play that scenario, with limited success. Somehow when it comes to saying "no," a larger person with a deeper voice is effective. Go figure.

We attended local homeschooling network meetings for a while. I was usually the only dad present because most of the fathers had work obligations.

How fortunate I was! Because it turns out that parents benefit as much as children, the more time they spend together. The little ones are natural, joyful learners and their enthusiasm is so infectious! Free to learn what they want, at their pace, we found that one priority—though I didn't think of it this way at the time—was learning about and relating to the grownups in their lives. And a lot of that happened through play. I'm a bit of an unschooling evangelist. Nobody knows children as well as their parents, and parents learn a lot about being human from their little ones. It's such fun!

Ideally, fathers who help with their children's unschooling do so by example. We don't watch TV, and I think that sets a good example. Our daughters watched us learn (to build a house, for example). They watched as I collected wild mushrooms, made spore prints from them, and learned to identify and cook tasty edible species. They were interested in what we were reading and sometimes asked that I share my reading with them. They learned how to teach themselves by seeing us teaching ourselves. And they saw that we sometimes failed to learn, and that failing is OK. I have not succeeded in my efforts to learn to play music, but they certainly have.

The girls learn things from their mother that I could never teach them. If we'd had sons, the reverse would have been true.

Author and daughter playing with a puppy"How is it different for fathers who homeschool?"
It's completely different. No one is forcing the child to learn anything. There is no stress about grades. No homework! That leaves a lot more time for play—where much learning can and will take place, painlessly. The children see reading as recreational, not a chore. They look forward to reading, both by themselves and with a parent.

"What kind of support can fathers expect?"
I was fortunate to get support from the writings of John Holt. John Holt Associates used to publish the magazine, Growing Without Schooling, in which homeschooling parents wrote of their methods, both what worked and what did not. The unschooled children contributed to the magazine also. Although it is no longer published, 23 of the back issues are available to read online. I recommend Growing Without Schooling because it is full of practical ideas, and it helps one see how other folks did it.

Books

Have Fun. Learn Stuff. Grow: Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Love by David H. Albert
"David Albert's Homeschooling and the Curriculum of Love is fun and provocative to read. His attention to children as independent learners combined with his ideas for helping children learn, demonstrate, as he notes, 'that what we learn from the best teachers is simply how to teach ourselves.'" —Pat Farenga

Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles by Gena Suarez
There are several homeschooling methods/learning styles discussed in this book: classical education, principle approach, traditional textbook, unit study, special needs, carschooling, eclectic, unschooling/delight-directed, and whole-heart learning.

Homeschooling the Challenging Child: A Practical Guide by Christine M. Fields
How to deal with issues stemming from various learning disabilities, attention disorders, personality clashes, learning styles, discipline problems, managing stress and discouragement, how to plan a program, etc.

Teach Your Own by John Holt and Patrick Farenga
If you read only one book on home education, I recommend this one.

The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling by Rachel Gathercole
Gathercole writes that "once… all children were homeschooled" before more formal schooling and the development of "school culture." She notes that schools offer "socialization" through peer pressure, the stress of choosing between popularity and academic performance, and excessive attention to appearance. She details the networks of homeschoolers who provide opportunities for children to socialize, and cites research showing that homeschooled children have stronger self-concepts than conventional students. Gathercole explores concepts of socialization, and how homeschoolers integrate into the "real world."

Here are three books that I recommend almost as much as Holt's Teach Your Own:

A museum visitThe Lives of Children: The Story of the First Street School by George Dennison
When it was first published, Herbert Kohl wrote, "There is no book I know of that shows so well what a free and humane education can be like, nor is there a more eloquent description of its philosophy." John Holt, reviewing the book for The New York Review of Books, wrote, "If anyone felt he had time to read only one book on education, The Lives of Children should be the one."

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
In the second half of this book, Trelease presents a "Treasury of Read-alouds." He recommends some great books to read to your children, whether they are home-schooled or not.

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert
Papert developed a powerful computer-programming language that children could learn easily called Logo. Other books by Papert are good, too, but I especially like this one for his ideas about learning.

On the Web

The people at the Open Directory project have compiled an extensive list of homeschooling Web sites.

Lastly, here are three sites that fathers may find especially helpful:

HomeschoolDads.com
www.homeschooldads.com

Homeschooling for Dads, from the National Home Education Network
www.nhen.org/dads/default.asp?id=306

Homeschool Dads Talk
homeschooling.gomilpitas.com/weblinks/dads.htm