Somebody recently did a “study” purporting to discover that at-home mothers spend hardly any more time daily with their children than mothers who work full-time outside the home. This is a neat trick on the part of the at-home moms surveyed, and I would like to know how they manage it. They must have superb child-avoidance strategies to spend all day in the same house with their children and yet leave the kids as isolated from motherly contact as if they were in day-care.
The study, and its subsequent publicity, were intended to make the same point Gloria Steinem and her ilk have been trumpeting for these past 20 years; namely, that mothers at home are parasites on society who serve no useful function whatsoever. Traditional women’s work has been getting terrible press. So it’s not surprising that otherwise-intelligent adults, instead of giving such “studies” the horselaugh they deserve, might even believe that mothers who stay home for an extra nine hours per day with our offspring accomplish nothing at all in this time.
It’s just as well that these social scientists didn’t interview any homeschoolers. Otherwise they would have been forced to conclude that mothers at home who homeschool spend about 16 hours a day with our children (about seven times as much as the typical mother employed full-time outside the home). This would have thrown the entire study off!
Consider a typical day in my own life.
It’s nine o’clock and the Pride household is swinging into high gear. Joseph (age 7) is cleaning off the breakfast table. Teddy (9) is vacuuming the living room, Sarah (5) is picking up her room, and Magdalene Joy (4) is, as usual, searching for her orthopedic shoes while Franklin (2) follows her around. I am playing “Little Piggies” with baby Mercy Grace while my husband, Bill, installs a new software package that just arrived via Federal Express.
A diaper-changing or two later I and the kids are settled down to serious educational stuff. The three older children are reading the Bible to each other and narrating back what they just heard. Magdalene Joy, otherwise known as Beanie (short for “Jumping Bean”), is settled in my lap playing with a felt board and math manipulatives.
“How many apples are on the tree. Beanie?”
“That’s good counting, but I think you counted one twice. Let’s try that again slowly.”
This time she counts the apples correctly. We experiment with counting up to ten apples, then try adding one apple and one apple, two apples and one apple, and so on. Franklin watches all this with great interest, occasionally counting along.
The older children are ready for their Bible memory work now. We are using the Bible A-B-C’s from Bible Memory Association—a group of 26 verses, one for each letter of the alphabet. They all know the verses up through the letter N, but the two younger ones have trouble remembering chapter and verse after letter F. Beanie hovers around for our memory drill, joining in with the verses she knows, while Franklin wanders off to play with Mercy in the corner of the room.
Time for some geography. I write out the alphabet on our kitchen chalkboard and set Beanie to copying it, first marking off a section of the board for Franky to practice his circles and squiggles. I then get out the Where in the World? geography game. Today Sarah, Ted, and Joe will be focusing on North and South American countries. I explain a little bit about each country while they are playing the game, e.g., that Cuba is communist and that Argentina recently lost a battle with Great Britain over possession of the Falkland Islands. As a counterbalance to all this adult wisdom, I also confess that until we started playing this game I thought Bermuda and Haiti were somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. (Until I was 25 I thought Missouri was on the Gulf Coast. What can I say—I went to public school!)
Meanwhile, I have been called away at least five times to admire Beanie’s lovely letters and to arbitrate disputes over who is hogging whose side of the blackboard. We are all looking forward to the summer, when I will be able to spend more time teaching the little ones using good old Calvert kindergarten. For the moment, the nonreaders get the shorter end of the stick. So I get out some pieces of paper and crayons and tell them to color, warning of dire consequences if I hear more squabbling.
In the summer we will have gingerbread baking lessons, alphabet flashcards, and cut-and-paste. We will roll snakes out of clay and turn them into miniature pottery. There will be songs and dances and stories and poems galore. This is also when the older ones will get more extensive history, art, music, science, and engineering lessons . . . sheer self-indulgence, in other words.
Back to springtime at the kitchen table. Ted is getting down the French tapes from International Linguistics while crayons and children roll underfoot. I settle down with Mercy back in my lap and the three older ones crowd around our one picture book. There is a little multiple-choice quiz at the end of each tape. Having scant faith in multiple-choice, I also ask them to describe various pictures from the lesson. When they all seem to have the vocabulary under control, we will move on to the next tape.
Math drill is next on the agenda. Mercy is asleep on the lambskin in her crib upstairs by now, and the two other little ones are outside on the swing set. So I send Joseph, our daydreamer, to get our Providence Project CalcuLadder drill sheets. “They’re in the right-hand filing cabinet, in the second drawer from the bottom.”
Naturally, he dawdles back a minute later claiming he can’t find them. So I send Ted. He returns triumphantly bearing the drill-sheet file and casting contemptuous looks at Joe, who ignores him.
Our kids now hunch feverishly over their worksheets trying to beat the clock. If one succeeds, I draw a star on his or her paper and mark it on a sheet I use to see who is on which level. If not, I mark the time it took to complete the sheet. This way, we can tell from day to day whether we are progressing.
Today Ted finishes his sheet the first time, while Sarah and Joe each miss by only a few problems. They beg me to let them try once more. Feigning reluctance, I give in. I put the file away while Ted saunters off to do some work in his Saxon Algebra book. On a normal day, we also do some grammar and English composition work, and the other two also progress through their math books. I grade all the work as it is finished and answer any questions as they arise. Today, however, I received some new art appreciation materials in the mail, so Joe and Sarah gather around while we pore over pages of art reproductions. History and science lessons will take care of themselves, thanks to our extensive library of Usborne books, a heavily-used library card, and the world’s greatest collection of time lines.
Now it’s lunch, which means mail-opening time. Ted received another envelope from the Postal Commemorative Society—I think he is singlehandedly trying to double their annual budget. While he checks out their latest offering, the little ones clamor for stamps off our envelopes. Some days the pickings are good—we have received letters from as far away as Nepal. Today the hit of the day is a new flower catalog. I promise to read some of it to Beanie after lunch.
Ted will be out catching bugs and butterflies this afternoon. He, will also be bugging me to add a packet of ornamental corn seed to my gardening list. He has visions of going into business selling it retail door-to-door and wholesale to the nursery down the road. Joe will be either writing a story or drawing numerous action-packed pictures featuring airplanes and fire engines (each of which he will bring to me for a few words of praise and encouragement), unless he decides to spend the whole afternoon outside on the swing set or exploring the yard.
Sooner or later someone will get out the Crayola marker set. Sarah will read a book or two to herself and one of the children will read to Frank and Beanie. I will be writing something or other on the computer: maybe answering letters, maybe working on a book. Bill will be running errands and entering orders for our home business on his computer. If one of us is not too busy, we might find time for a quick game of chess with Ted or Joe. The little kids will take naps (in theory). About a dozen times this afternoon someone will fall down or tease someone else or snitch someone else’s toy. I will kiss the boo-boos, admonish the teasers, and deal out on-the-spot discipline to the thieves. There will also be numerous diaper-changes, tubs, messy faces that need scrubbing, and lessons in toothbrushing skills. (Amazing that the “experts” think all this only takes me 30 minutes a day!)
Suppertime is the signal to ask Daddy detailed science questions (“Why do candle flames go up?”) and to beg Mommy to tell a story. Most of the stories feature three siblings who live in cottages on the edge of a deep forest wherein reside goblins and trolls. The goblins and trolls get snookered, and the children find their treasure and live happily ever after. This old plot, beloved of Ogden Nash, still is a hit.
Archaic fossils that we are, we never go out for the evening to “get away from the children.” Bill might take out his telescope and let us look at the moon or Saturn. Sometimes we watch a video or read to the little ones. This is also prime time for chess or Stratego. Then we have family worship, and the younger ones toddle off to bed. Ted generally hangs around for a bit, exercising his privilege of reading for a while or just chatting with one of us before going to bed.
Our schedule is not untypical for a homeschooling family. Usually, Mom does most of the homeschooling while Dad works at a full-time job. In those families (like ours) where the father and/or mother are self-employed, the main difference is that the children get to spend more time with their father as well as with their mother. Since the average amount of time an American father spends with each child supposedly amounts to 30 seconds a day(!), homeschooling dads would really throw off those statistics.
I am not only spending time with my children. We are accomplishing things together. All our children thus far have learned to read shortly after turning four. And when I say read I mean read. Every one of them can read the encyclopedia with ease. I am also free to offer my five-year-old an acrylic painting class normally reserved for adults (we do this with art instruction videos). And our children can learn French or Latin or any other language we choose. We pick the resources; we are not hamstrung by what some committee somewhere thinks children can do.
We are very pleased with their standardized test scores (99th percentile in a grade level one year more advanced than the one normal for children their age). That, too, is fairly typical. Numerous real studies have shown homeschoolers average about two years ahead of their public-schooled peers.
I am saving the taxpayers $4,000 a year for each of my school-age children (based on the average cost per child of public school). That already amounts to $8,000 a year and soon will be up around $24,000. We are also saving ourselves money. If we were to send our children to private school, at an average cost of $2,000 per year per child, we would soon be spending $12,000 a year. Figuring that we need to make four dollars in order to come up with two spendable dollars (thanks to taxes, tithes, and other expenses), that means my “salary” for homeschooling, e.g., the money I save our family, will soon be around $24,000 a year, minus the amount we spend on materials. Not bad wages!
Now, the truth issue. Our homeschool is not censored. I can explore with the children the real differences between communism, democracy, and republicanism, for example. I can discuss the Pilgrims and the Indians without consulting with the American Indian movement to make sure everything I say about the Indians is flattering. (Not that everything we learn about the white settlers is always flattering, either.) I am not forced to present feminism and careerism as the One True Way, or to pretend that Gorbachev’s Russia is morally equivalent to the USA. I am also not stuck with the hero-worshiping attitudes of some Christian curricula. We can get into real history and real culture studies, without the burden of propaganda from the right or the left.
Last, there is the issue that counts the most for 90 percent of homeschooling mothers—our children’s spiritual heritage. Our kids are not going to be rootless nomads suckled by a peer group if we can help it. We do not have to worry about things like drugs, AIDS, and suicide because we are teaching them who they are and where God wants them to go. Not only our experience, but the experience of thousands of other homeschooling families shows that when parents get serious about training their children and protecting them from social evils they are not equipped to handle, the kids do turn out OK. It’s just a question of who is raising them—Madison Avenue and the NEA (peer groups are not really original thinkers) or their own parents.
Our society has made the mistake of placing a high value on people whose jobs depend on other people’s children having problems, but no value at all on parents who save their children from ever developing those problems in the first place. Today we “need” trillion-dollar budgets for programs to deal with social problems that didn’t even exist when most mothers stayed home and took their job seriously. And many of our government leaders are screaming for more programs, while doing their best to liquidate at-home motherhood altogether.
Bill has a theory about the present trend toward government bureaucracies taking over family tasks. He posits that, since all tasks done within the family are nontaxable, our leaders have a financial interest in eliminating traditional motherhood. A mother who gardens, or makes her own clothes, or teaches her own children, or takes care of her aged relatives, or does charitable work, is doing all this for free. If the same work were done by professionals, every bit of it could be taxed. And regulated, too. Lots of money for the nomenklatura in Washington and elsewhere.
Still, even in the face of unremitting propaganda and strong financial disincentives, the number of active homeschoolers is doubling every year. Trustworthy estimates of the number of homeschooled children now hover around a quarter of a million, meaning somewhere between one hundred thousand and two hundred thousand women are now employed in homeschooling. That’s more than the number of female cops, airline pilots, and engineers all put together (all of whom are featured heavily in public school texts while at-home mothers are ignored). In other words, homeschooling is a growth profession for women today and deserves to be taken seriously. As Bill says, “If it is worthwhile work to take care of other people’s children in a day-care center or to teach them in a school, it certainly is worthwhile work to do it on your own.”
Everyone agrees that children are tremendously important and that “we” need to “do something” to insure that “our” children grow up happy and productive. “We” to many people means the “government” and one-size-fits-all central planning. To homeschoolers, it means Mom.