Homeschooling and Money


Five years ago we made the conscious decision to homeschool our children. It was altogether exciting and frightening not to mention a bit overwhelming. Now that we have some experience under our belts it is difficult to imagine living any other way.

There are countless positives to our lifestyle. There are also some obstacles. One of those would be living in a two income world on a single income. My wife works extremely hard to make ends meet but as we all know inflation and day to day living expenses have little foundation or consistency in relation to ones income. In fact when curious families approach us in regards to potentially becoming homeschoolers they express concern over being able to afford the lifestyle more than anything else, even more than the mythology of socialization.

In general, homeschooling lends itself to creativity. My first piece of advice would be to embrace that aspect in order to successfully live the homeschooling lifestyle. There are a number of ways to make ends meet. By exploring the less beaten path there is opportunity. Maybe not endless wealth but the potential to pay the bills and put food on the table. Lets explore some of the things our family of 6 has done to accomplish our goals.

Curriculum:  Initially we used a canned curriculum and it was very helpful. It was also a few hundred dollars and with experience we now realize unnecessary. Though it is a nice safety net for beginners there are a number of free and inexpensive resources available.At the Library

First of all make friends with your local librarians. Aside from the obvious assets a library provides in the form of books, periodicals, dvd’s and cd’s there are also a number of social/educational experiences available.  Everything from technology club to lego club, author meet and greets to local political debates can be found at your local library. Most importantly, for free! Our librarians are on a first name basis with our children and are very receptive to program ideas. They have been so warm that my oldest daughter currently wants to be a librarian when she is older.

We have found websites like amazon.com to be a great place to buy used books and learning materials. With a little research you can easily find books for a penny. The shipping tends to be about $4.99 but $5 dollars for a “school” book is perfect for the tight budget.

There are of course cheaper options. Library book sales, garage sales and thrift stores are great places to find learning materials.

We have also borrowed material and traded with other homeschoolers as well.

Clothes: I know that along with the lack of socialization myth there is an idea that most homeschoolers walk around in homemade denim dresses. Though they do exist they are not the norm. There are a number of frugal options for homeschooling families in regards to clothing.

Locally we have a number of really nice thrift stores and consignment shops. If name brands are important to you there is a good chance you can find something nice on the shelves way below retail cost. If sturdy, clean, wearable clothing is more important than name brands you can find that as well. Last year my wife bought an entire years worth of clothing for our family at a consignment store “bag sale” for less than .20 cents per article of clothing.

As with a number of these subjects garage sales are another option.

There is also the hand-me-down circuit. Our family has never been too proud to accept other peoples used clothing. 99% of it has been in great shape and very stylish. When we outgrow it we in turn pass it along thus helping the next family in line.

042Food: This can be a tough one. We all eat so we all experience the outrageous prices in the supermarket. There are ways to eat healthy and ways to do it frugally.

If you are fortunate enough to have a little land a garden is a great way to go. We have taken it to the next step and on 1/16th of an acre have an urban homestead. If you are interested in knowing more about it you can check out my blog for Grit magazine at  http://www.grit.com/blogs/whitaker-gardens-and-micro-farm.aspx or my long running gardening blog at  http://seedtoharvest.blogspot.com/

The point I am making is that you can grow food for a fraction of the cost of what you would end up paying for it in a market. You can eat it fresh or store it by freezing it, canning it or drying it to eat later. We have vegetable gardens, fruit and berry patches, edible flowers and herbs and also raise chickens for eggs.

Another option are farmers markets. In our experience you can get healthy food for a reasonable price. Plus if you buy when it is in season you can get bulk and then can or freeze some of it for down the road.

Bulk stores also have their benefit but be careful not to get carried away.  We tend to stick to things like rice and baby products.

leeExtra Income: Extra income is always helpful. Be creative. Watching other peoples children is an option. I know some people who have “shops” on ebay who have made some money. Going back to our discussion on consignment shops that is another option for some additional income. We have raised and sold rabbits for a few dollars at farm stands, sold excess vegetables from our gardens and had garage sales.

Though all of these suggestions are rather brief and barely scratch the surface the point is this, it is difficult to homeschool and to do so on one income. It is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that we are committed to and with a little creativity anyone can do it. On some level you just need to reevaluate what it is that is important to you. We can always find ways to make ends meet we will never get this time in our lives back.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

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Home Is Where The Heart Is


051Nearly three weeks ago my wife gave birth to our fourth child, a lovely, healthy baby girl. We decided early on that we were interested in having a homebirth. The reaction has been varied but none the less interesting. In fact it created a dialogue between my wife and me in regards to family and home in general. Not only did we have a homebirth but we homeschool and have a modest homestead as well so as you can image we have been exposed to a number of stereotypes over the years.

My goal is not to call into question the lifestyle of those who may read this piece, because honestly I am comfortable with the choices of others (for the most part). Rather it is an attempt to shed some light on some good old fashioned family values that somewhere along the line have become clouded with fear and simply put a lack of knowledge on the subject.

As a country we often speak of the importance of family yet our day to day values and experience speak otherwise. Family is regularly put aside in an effort to gain a financial or social foothold. The truth is we live in a two income world for the most part. Very few families are able to live comfortably otherwise. I would suggest the cost goes far beyond our bank accounts though.

My oldest child is nine. She did attend pre-school at one point but has been homeschooled, along with her siblings ever since. Financially speaking it was and at times continues to be a very trying experience. In fact homeschooling is what lead us to homesteading. In the beginning the goal was not necessarily even healthy meals but simply providing meals on a regular basis. By taking part in the homeschooling lifestyle it has provided an avenue for our family to grow significantly stronger as a unit and to come up with some very creative and satisfying solutions. 044

We shop at consignment shops for clothing. We use the internet to purchase used curriculum and other educational materials. We are on a first name basis with our local librarians. We grow vegetables, fruits and berries and recently started raising rabbits and chickens. We can, freeze and dehydrate summer crops and farmers market purchases. In other words we are attempting to be responsible for our own well-being as far as circumstances will allow. This of course does not imply that we can do this alone because we cannot. In fact it is only possible by being part of a wonderful and supportive community. We have amazing neighbors and have been fortunate enough to find other like-minded families in our neck of the woods. Just like everyone else we have needed assistance from time to time.

Homeschooling was the first step. It made us reevaluate the way we looked at the world and our role in it. That is the catch; homeschooling is about being active in your community. In fact it is only successful if you are fully engaged in the day to day activities of your town. My children and the other homeschoolers I know are very happy, motivated children who thrive in social situations. Recently I heard it put best when it was said to me, “Just because my kid does not act like an asshole does not mean they are not socialized.” So I politely put the “socialization myth” to rest.

043As mentioned beforehand homeschooling led to homesteading. Homesteading has created numerous financial benefits, educational opportunities and has ensured that our children will benefit from the knowledge of good stewardship. In essence you cannot separate one from the other.

Homeschooling and homesteading eventually led to us exploring a home-birth. Our second child was born via emergency C-section so we are very aware of the value of a hospital in the role of childbirth. But with that said we were fortunate enough to have one of the most empowering and beautiful experiences of our adult life. An experience that could not have happened without a knowledgeable and nurturing midwife and a patient and caring doula.

None of the above mentioned lifestyle choices were made hastily or blindly. In fact you can rest assured most people who take part in such activities are far more knowledgeable on the subjects at hand than those who simply respond out of fear and ignorance. I realize how condescending this may sound but this is the truth of the matter. In order to be successful you have to be educated. In the process of educating yourself you are in turn setting the example for your children in regards to the value of knowledge and providing the work ethic to obtain it.

Homeschooling, homesteading and even a homebirth take a c090ertain level of sacrifice. I realize not everyone can make these sacrifices; there are a lot of variables in life. There are also those simply not willing to make these sacrifices. But with that said, walk away from this article knowing there is another choice out there. Leave knowing that your spouse and your children will be the most important opportunity to express love that will come into your life. Life is far too short. Someday we will all unfortunately realize this. Do not let it pass you by while pursuing false notions of happiness.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

 

An Often Overlooked Solution


Social networks are ablaze with conversation revolving around “Common Core Curriculum” especially since testing took place yesterday. My goal is not to negotiate the pros and cons of the newest canned educational format but rather to talk about parents following their instincts. Admittedly I may slip and give an example or two dealing with the cons from my perspective if only to make a point.

I think that it is obviously very important to gather as much information as humanly possible in regards to subjects that have a direct impact on your life or the lives of those you care about. With that said I tend to be a person who allows my instincts to merge with knowledge and in turn set the pace for decision making. I am an elected official (please don’t hold that against me). After taking into account the “facts” I attempt to blend my decision with what my gut is telling me to do. I am a passionate gardener. When working in the dirt I allow instinct to direct my decision making. The point being it is a voice that speaks not only to me but to all of us if only we are willing to listen.

Now when you take that into consideration and you read direct comments from parents, teachers, school board members and state level officials who express great reserve over common core you begin to question why so few of them look toward legitimate alternatives. People , as we all know, get very touchy when you address their politics or their religion. Since education in some unique fashion actually serves both of those notions it is no wonder folks get so bent out of shape when it is discussed. It has now become bad etiquette to bring up education with guest at the dinner table.

001So I tread lightly. Knowing most people already have their guard up. But I feel it is important to tell parents, trust your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong with public education, maybe there is. This does not mean there is something wrong with teachers but rather the system they are being swept up in just like the students. I will use my local school district as an example (told you I would slip up and give you one). My local school does not teach social studies or science to early elementary aged children. This is done to focus on math and language in preparation for the test that will occur. That is startling and concerning to say the least. We all know the statistics in relation to the U.S. when compared to the global community. That is the sort of thing that should bother parents and it does. But just as important is the reality that school is not a place of interest and learning but instead seems to foster a number of unhealthy physical and mental responses to the institution and its core curriculum. How many of you know a parent who has commented on the horrible stomach aches or anxiety their young child is experiencing attempting to prep for exams? It is creating a culture in which we are signaling to our youth it acceptable for you to feel that way and if you do simply take medication to alleviate it. I suppose that is another topic for another day though.

My children are 3, 5 and 8 years old. Today for “school” we did not test, let me say that first. We started the day off writing fan letters to our favorite MLB teams (language and handwriting/computer skills). We walked in an old cemetery looking specifically for Civil War veterans (social studies/history). This lead to dialogue dealing with economic classes, “Why does that person have a larger headstone than that person?”. We then played at a public playground (recess!). We to the grocery store saw the friendly clerk who always greets the kids and bought items for lunch (math/health/economics). We then came home and prepared a chicken noodle soup with artisan bread (home ec. remember that archaic class?). We will be listening to PJ Harvey and Brown Bird on vinyl while finger painting in a few minutes because art is important contrary to what they say! There will be reading time and play time and so on and so forth. You get the picture. On occasion we are far more structured. Sometimes we use a curriculum of our own and use workbooks for reading, writing and arithmetic. The point I am trying to make is that homeschooling allows you to follow your gut instinct. It is flexible. Not always easy but geared for individual learning. That is why I find it a bit sad and curious as I watch from the side as families express utter frustration with the public education system and then try to bend the machine to fit their individual need. Public education is not about individual need. The answer exist beyond the scope of public education. It is homeschooling.

This is a solution that is often overlooked. People have been conditioned to believe that they lack the ability or time to educate their own children and that is simply not the case, for the most part. Homeschooling is a sacrifice, without a doubt. We live in a society that has a crippled economy which in turn has forced most families at the very least to rely on dual incomes. Financially speaking homeschooling has been a burden on our bank account, but as we all know somethings are worth way more than money. I am aware of and sensitive to a variety of reasons that cause people to hesitate when considering homeschooling. For some people it is simply not a reality. I do believe it is far more obtainable than most people would admit though. It is a lot of work. It requires a hands on investment in regards to your time as well as your children’s but that feeling deep in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong eventually disappears and is replaced by. . . .get ready for it! Learning!

I am friends with a number of public ed. teachers. I am friends with University professors who are educating the next crop of teachers. I’m friends with school board members. I have immense respect for them. They all went into the profession to touch lives and open minds and now are being faced with every obstacle imaginable. I sincerely hope that one day they are able to focus on their primary purpose rather than the distractions of test scores. But I am not willing to sacrifice my children’s education in the process. Truthfully you do not need to either. There are far more options available than taking the test or not taking the test but then spending the rest of the year preparing for it. Homeschooling is an umbrella term that in turn has as many options as there are families. But don’t take my word for it investigate it! Because that’s what homeschooling is all about, education!

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Change of Direction


Parenting is not easy. Everyone from comedians to psychologist have covered the topic. When you add homeschooling to the mixture you increase the oddity of child rearing a hundred fold. There is little time away from one another and you are exposed to the positives and negatives of each other’s personalities on a regular basis.

Just like parenting there are as many methods of homeschooling as there are families. What works for one family, scratch that, what works for one child does not necessarily work for another. I have slowly come around to the fact that there are going to be failures just as there will be success and that one can only exist along side the other.

In my attempt to break the unhealthy cycles that have plagued my own family tree for a few generations I attempt to digest each and every situation in an effort to do the least amount of harm as a parent so that in turn my children feel loved and safe in their youth. In turn this will hopefully lay the foundation for happy and responsible adults. I have always found it odd that so much of youth is spent preparing for adulthood in the sense that happiness is overlooked for long term character. Being happy in ones youth is far more important than our culture is willing to acknowledge.

I have to admit that even in my own home I have dealt with my childrens feelings through humor rather than facing it head on. Recently we purchased a bunk bed. While putting the bed together I found some graffiti on the wall. “Bad Dad” it said. Actually my mother found it while helping and in some bizarre fashion she took great satisfaction in seeing me struggle to gain full credit with my kids. Of course we all had a good laugh over it. In fact my oldest daughter blamed it on my son who cannot write yet. This resulted in a deep belly laugh from everyone in the room.

I shared the story of when my oldest daughter was just learning to write and I found the word “Sophia” scribbled on our living room window sill. When confronted with the evidence she blamed it on her younger brother. Looking at the infant lying on the floor in his diaper I had a hard time buying the story. The next morning I found “Liam” written on the same sill. Turned out according to my daughter her brother had written that as well. I began to think I should try a different approach. I would meet fire with fire. I did what any other responsible father would do.  I wrote the word “Dad” on the window sill. My daughter found it and immediately ran into the kitchen and told my wife what I had done. Epic fail.

Those of us who homeschool know that there is no line between being a parent and being a teacher. It is a lifestyle that consumes every moment of our lives. When everyone is happy things run smoothly. When people are upset this is not necessarily the case. When people are distracted it can turn into a circus. As the parent it is our role to find what works best over the long haul. Though I initially made jokes about the “Bad Dad” graffiti I knew why it was there. I was not engaging my children in a manner that they were receptive to. I was allowing the imagined deadlines of curriculum to create tension in my relationship with my children. My deadlines with our local school system created a level of anxiety that I was in turn allowing to spill over onto them. My fears became their fears. My temper was short because I was blinded by my own fear. In short I was a bad dad.

The turning point came when I overheard my children saying that they were going to “fire” me. They wanted a dad who laughed more. I tried to laugh this off but realized all the issues were on my end. My children are perfect in their approach to life. I was falling short and needed to make a change. I went in and apologized to my kids. I explained why I had been acting the way that I had. Needless to say I was able to keep my job.  Though it turns out I won’t be getting a raise.

Since homeschooling is so intertwined with our daily approach to life I decided that I needed to change my method of instruction. For years we used a canned curriculum inspired by the Waldorf method. I still think Waldorf has so much to offer and that it is a beautiful and empathetic approach to life but I have known deep down inside for some time that it is causing more stress than it is worth. It is simply not for us. For a number of years I have been slowly incorporating elements of unschooling into our day to day learning and have found that this really seems to be when our entire family shines. The impromptu opportunities that arise tend to be the moments of enlightenment. I can only liken unschooling to jazz music. You rarely know which direction you are going but somehow you end up creating something lasting, something memorable.

It is a bit overwhelming to change direction mid-stream and to admit that as a parent that you may have had it wrong. But that is one of the most amazing aspects of homeschooling, the ability to slam on the breaks and make corrections. Homeschooling allows the privilege of putting your family first. Our entire family is involved in this journey and should have a voice in which avenues we pursue.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Homeschooling, A Parents Perspective


At the LibraryHomeschooling. Where to begin? As I prepare to write this I realize that the subject itself cannot be confined to one paragraph, let alone one blog entry. Though I am naturally a cautious and slightly pessimistic person I tend to make an effort to focus on the positive, especially when communicating publicly. With that said I can honestly say that our family initially began homeschooling in an effort to remove our children from the perceived negatives of institutionalized schooling. Now we homeschool for the numerous positives associated with providing an education at home.

As any parent who educates their own children knows there are a number of stereotypes and myths that surround our chosen lifestyle. With most things in life that are misunderstood it usually comes down to education on any particular subject, ironically enough. In regards to homeschooling there are a couple of common questions that seem to come my way. Now of course there are the common “socialization” questions and such but the two I want to focus on for this particular piece are in response to when we homeschool. People seem to want to know if we take a summer vacation and how long our days are. These questions upon first glance seem harmless enough. Usually I respond rather briefly that we enjoy our summers or something along those lines. But as the years pass and I gain more experience in this particular lifestyle I realize the root of the question is buried well below the surface.Frog Pond Farm

Simply put if one is properly homeschooling it forces you to redefine your concept of education. Education is not something that takes place between the morning and afternoon bell. Education is existence. Knowledge, regardless of how subtle or profound, is gathered every moment of our life. Initially I wanted to say every waking moment but dreams are a whole other avenue worth exploring at a later date. Homeschooling shatters the rigid constraints presented by government run education. Which is nothing more than an “education” that prefers conformity, consumerism and competition.

When someone ask these seemingly harmless questions in essence they are asking you when your children stops learning. At what point during the day or season do they just float through life? It is kind of frightening to think that some people see learning as being so laborious. Something in which they simply ignore for hours or months at a time. If one takes a moment to think about it that is not case. Humans , especially children, are sponges. Information is constantly being presented and digested in a number of different ways. Filtering that information through specific time periods and seasons obviously creates more harm than good if ones goal is indeed education..

Once the process of redefining education takes place the world suddenly becomes your classroom. Libraries, grocery stores, fire departments and nature trails become your place of study. Socialization is conversation with the elderly gardener down the street, the other kids in your dance class, the chance meeting of a like mind at a local museum. It suddenly becomes obvious that you are not an isolated individual walking single file down a hallway from class to class but rather a vital part of your community. A community that is alive and breathing and can only function with the constant interaction of its members regardless of age. Barriers of fear and prejudice are taken down. Hands on education allows a level of learning to take place that could never be reproduced in the sterile petri dish of public education. Suddenly learning , education, wisdom, knowledge has no limits. No imaginary boundaries presented to create the illusion of control. Education is then a gift born of curiosity.  Homeschooling, if done properly, places that seed of curiosity in fertile soil and allows the childs mind to bloom and stretch toward the heavens unknown.

The true beauty of homeschooling may be hidden in the fact that it is not only the child who receives an education. Suddenly the parent is face to face with the boundaries presented by their own education as a youth and they must then make the choice of hiding in the shadows or redefining their own concept of education and stepping into the sun light for the benefit of those they love most.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Book Review (Free Range Learning by Laura Grace Weldon)


free range

I am a parent who homeschools. In an effort to provide the best education possible for my children I have developed a ravenous appetite for literature promoting this particular lifestyle. There are a number of fantastic books out there on the subject, some better than others of course. One book has really taken center stage and become the foundation for my philosophy and approach. I am speaking about Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon. Free Range was published by Hohm Press in Prescott, Arizona.

I am going to cut straight to the chase on this one. This book is hands down the best book I have read in regards to homeschooling. It is difficult for me to imagine a more comprehensive collection of work on the subject. This 304 page book is arranged in two distinct portions. The first section of the book delves into the philosophy and benefits of homeschooling. I suppose this description is extremely general in nature. Free Range covers everything from an overview of natural learning to the importance of play. For me personally when I stumble in confidence or approach this section tends to be incredibly uplifting and inspirational. It reminds me why our family chose this particular path and to embrace the entire journey as a success. It helps me recognize the positive results in all of our actions.

The second section of the book deals primarily with breaking down specific avenues of education. Everything is covered from field trips to business and critical thinking, the arts and volunteerism. There are literally hundreds of hands on activities included as well. One of the aspects of the book that I really appreciated is that the vast majority of the ideas can be accomplished on a limited budget. Another real benefit is the author is able to find an educational moment in all aspects of daily living. Catch is she points out some things that I could have been doing that I simply overlooked on occasion due to the day to day hustle of life such as learning how to vote with your dollar or taking math to the store. Now our family does both.

I hope I am not painting this book as a dry educational manual because it is not. One beautiful aspect of this book are all the testimonials by homeschooling parents and their children which are delicatly woven through out the text. It displays a sense of humor and connection when you find yourself relating to some of the very specific issues presented by the families who provided their input. On some level it may be the most important contribution of the book, which says a lot since the entire book is a valuable tool.

I cannot say enough positive things about this book. It has really become the backbone of my technique. I read and reread Free Range Learning and every time I pick it up I find myself inspired to do more for my children. One of the hidden gems of homeschooling is the education of the adult working with the children and this book is a must have in that regard.

I purchased my copy on Amazon.com If you prefer to go directly to the publishers website you can find it at www.hohmpress.com Laura Grace Weldon also has an interactive facebook page called Free Range Learning that I highly recommend as well.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

The Grand Experiment


ImageI am a 40 year old male. In December of 2011 I left my job of three years and took over the role of primary caregiver in our family. It has been a wonderfully confusing and satisfying experience thus far and even on the slowest of days it is full of bizarre situations that can only arise within the company of young children.

As we all know every parenting situation is unique regardless of the sex of the parent who stays at home. What makes my position a bit uncommon is that I live in a rural town of approximately 7,000 people and our family homeschools. According to the National At-Home Dad Network (athomedad.org) the number of stay at-home fathers has nearly doubled in the last decade. There are roughly 189,000 fathers at home according to the 2012 census. A much smaller number of dads are the primary homeschooling parent and in our neck of the woods most families that homeschool are part of the religious right, which we are not. So it has become a bit of a running joke in our family that I am a minority within a minority.

Admittedly when one becomes the stay at-home parent there is a sense of freedom that exist. With that said though there are unique stresses and prejudice that seem to tie in with “reversing roles”.

Initially there seems to be a level of suspicion among relatives and friends as though the father is simply on hiatus and will be returning to the “real world” shortly. There is even an underlying current of being a lazy husband as though the female parent in the household now has one more child to take care of. Truth is, I am rather immature for my age but I am not looking to regress to my teenage years!  The whole thing is viewed as an experiment of sorts that is eventually doomed for failure because somewhere along the lines in the subconscious of our society gender roles have been clearly defined and a stay at-home father fails to represent the masculine archetype we have all come to fear and love.

On some level it is a bit of an experiment I suppose. I still have not figured out the alchemical formula that my wife had in which laundry, dishes, diapers and supper were all done by 5:30 each evening. My wife has been kind enough to ignore the half folded pile of laundry that looms like a mountain over the thousands of puzzle pieces scattered on the floor when she comes home from a long day of running a local nonprofit.  I still see her smirk sometimes when I have a pile of dishes not only in the sink but on the counter as I try to prepare the simplest of meals. I have been pooped on, puked on, peed on and cried on more times than I can count this winter. It was like being in college all over again! I don’t comb hair properly and have to disguise this by saying it was a “jedi haircut”. I don’t color coordinate. I did not realize that was so important when the potential for spaghetti sauce, mud or finger paints loom around every corner. Sometimes I act surprised when I hear my two year old swear and then realize that particular word is a foundation block of my own vocabulary. How long should naps be? For me or for the child? Why don’t birds have human ears? Did Jesus have a vagina? How come hockey players are missing so many teeth? Why don’t you like the Yankees? Why can’t you wear ice skates on your knees? The list goes on. One thing is for sure I now realize how much I do not know.

There are also the encounters outside of the home. Somewhat regularly I find myself confronted by an individual meaning well but falling way short in startup conversation;

“Mom is taking the day off today I see, “
or the more aggressive, “Why aren’t your kids in school today?”
To which I calmly reply, “We homeschool.”
Now maybe I am not helping my own cause by wearing an old jacket with a patch that says, “Cult Leader” on it but I can’t help but find myself amused as I see their eyes shift from my odd patch to the kids who are usually adorned in outfits that proudly defy any logic. One example would be my four year old son wearing his hockey jersey, his older sister’s polka dot rain boots, his fingernails painted multiple colors, topped off with a fireman’s helmet and a light saber.

With all of that said there are moments of positive reinforcement. Most recently while working in the garden with my son a neighbor of ours stopped by the fence near our driveway and told me that she really admired our family and that our children were extremely lucky. As I tried to politely respond she walked away leaving me speaking out loud to my empty garden. I just looked at my son and shrugged. He saw the humor in it. Old dad, coming up a little short again.

There have been other obstacles as well. As we all know it is extremely difficult to get by on a single income in this day and age. I do hold a seat in local politics but the money is nothing to write home about. But this was a sacrifice we have long been willing to make. There are things far more important than money. Believe me when I tell you that. We have been creative in getting around the problem. We grow a huge garden in the summer. We wear extra layers in the winter. Simply put, we stretch a dollar as many people have to.

I’ve always been comfortable with stepping outside of the boundaries. Though staying home and homeschooling were both choices that were not taken lightly looking back on it it was a no brainer. When I see my kids wear wacky outfits with no inclination toward the latest trends or listen to them laugh deep into the night when they should be sleeping I know it is worth it. As I watch them explore the world around them with the confidence that arises from having a parent near it fills my heart with joy. They are happy, healthy curious young children who are truly benefiting from this grand experiment. As I was sitting down to type this up my two year old daughter came up to me and said, “Dad, I’m glad you’re here.” That right there is reason enough to break the mold.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .