First posted April, 2010 (slightly edited)
I'm finding myself thinking a lot about Charlotte Mason's principle "education is a life." This is true for adult teachers as well as child students.
A couple of parents I know have had to put their children back in school recently, or send them for the first time...when their hearts would have preferred to keep on homeschooling if circumstances had allowed it. Why the italics?--because homeschoolers like homeschooling. If things are going well, then our day-to-day learning-related thinking isn't about whether or not we're keeping up with the public schools. It's about learning itself. It's about what to teach, how to do it, how our children learn best, how this fits into our larger lives. That's the kind of enthusiasm that instantly connects people standing in line together at a homeschool conference; we find it in ourselves, and we recognize it in others.
When homeschooling suddenly stops--or not so suddenly, because sometimes it just happens that our children grow up (they do, faster than you'd think)--for most of us there isn't a feeling of release from something we haven't wanted to do, but rather a reluctance to see it end. This may be because we, the parents, have found social connections in the homeschool community, and we don't want to lose those just because we're no longer worrying about math curriculum; but it may also be because we've found ourselves part of something larger, a way of thinking about learning that goes beyond how many children you actually have at home every day. It's not "playing school," as some have criticized homeschoolers; it's looking at our own lives differently because we've had these children to teach.
Awhile ago I spoke at a support group meeting, on the topic "What in your own life has inspired your approach to learning?" For instance, experiences I had (years ago) working with mentally challenged adults demonstrated that each individual has something unique to offer the world; and that has always reminded me to try to meet each person's needs rather than expect everyone to fit into a pre-determined system. But if I had the chance to give a followup talk to that one, I'd ask this: "What in your homeschooling has inspired the rest of your life?"
You may have started homeschooling for all kinds of different reasons. I know people who just always wanted to teach their own children, and I know others who got bounced into it because of teachers' strikes or bullying, or because their child wasn't fitting into the classroom or the curriculum. Some of the "bounced" ones have loved homeschooling and stayed with it, others haven't. But if you started and you stuck with it for any length of time, no matter what methods or curriculum you used, there's almost no way that you could come away from it and not think of school, teachers, learning, books, words, worksheets, writing, classrooms, play, authority, motivation, memory...thinking... differently.
We're often cautioned not to let homeschooling become our lives. Most of us have husbands, other family members, home and outside responsibilities and interests, ministries, jobs that require lots of attention. Nobody wants to get so narrow that all she can think or talk about is what's in the latest homeschool magazine. But education, in its broadest sense, does become a big part of our lives. We enjoy seeing our children learn. We figure out that we need to learn as well. Some of us pick up books...for ourselves. Some of us even pick up degrees. We don't want to have to stop doing that just because our children have reached a certain age or stage.
And we don't have to.