Time to learn and grow was a common thread among nine different formerly home educated young people from British Columbia, Canada. They were interviewed when they were 19 to 30 years of age. Although each of them learned at home, their experiences were all different – ranging from “school-at-home” to learning from life and child-directed learning. (Each interviewee’s date of birth follows their name the first time it appears.)
By Marty Layne
Marty Layne: What did you enjoy about learning at home?
Matthew Skala (1975): The biggest advantage was probably that I could pursue specific topics of interest to me – many of which weren’t taught in school at all, or at least were not taught at my age level. I especially enjoyed the time to learn that I spent at the library.
Gloria Frye (1982): The time factor: because I could get through work much faster on my own, I had a lot more time to learn, and to spend outdoors and reading (this may have also been contributed to by not having a TV).
Amity Skala (1979): I enjoyed the flexibility of my “schooling,” leaving me time to pursue my interests and talents and creating a learning experience from daily life.
Marion Newman (1972): Everything! The freedom to choose what I was interested in at the time that I found it interesting.
Noah Layne (1979): Time to be a child. Time to do things. Time to learn and grow. No peer pressures. The time to develop a good relationship with my mom. Time to be friends with my siblings especially my brother, Josh, when I was young. A slower pace of life growing up.
* * *
Marty Layne: Four of these young people mentioned the environment of acceptance and freedom to make decisions about their own learning.
Robin Layne (1982): I enjoyed the freedom to pursue my interests at my own pace and to avoid learning things that I had absolutely no interest in.
Tacy Haddad (1980): What I enjoyed most was that I knew that it was up to me to make the experience [of learning at home] what I wanted it to be. No one was saying, “This is how you will do this and in the end you will be successful.” This freedom creates self-success. I knew that in order to feel as if I had been “successful,” that feeling would depend entirely on whether I had made changes in my routine to make myself feel like a success. As adults we all know what it feels like to take control of one’s accomplishments, but to own them as a maturing child is a wonderful thing!
Carey Newman (1975): The freedom to create; I was never told that my artwork or music should be thought of as “Just a hobby”, as a result I am an opera singer and an artist. The absence of a “curriculum” that set “parameters” that I was expected to fit within. If I was stronger in one subject, I could move forward at my own pace, if I was weaker, or disinterested in another subject, I could leave it until I was ready, or work through it slowly.
Marion Newman: The safety of an environment in which asking questions was never ridiculed. The understanding that I had as much to offer any adult as they had to offer me, in terms of learning. The understanding that learning never stops, no matter what your position or age may be. The realization that every single thing you do in everyday life is about learning. There are no limitations on what I can do, and there never has to be.
* * *
Marty Layne: One person answered by redefining the question.
Josh Layne (1977): There is a difference between feeling that certain portions of your life are “learning at home” times as contrasted with a feeling of just living. So for me the question resolves to “What did you enjoy about growing up, and what were the good parts about growing up in an environment totally unlike the typical person’s?”
Enjoy is too mild a word. Growing up as I did was a wonderful experience – I would not trade it for anything. I have wonderful memories of when I was smaller. That’s not to say I was never bored or furious or sad. However, having the time to just play and live was so special. I love having grown up “isolated.” I should add that having my brothers and sister to play with made it much easier to grow up in “isolation.”
* * *
Marty Layne: What was difficult about learning at home?
Josh Layne: I would say that the worst times were those when someone was trying to teach me something. Fortunately that didn’t happen too much, although as the oldest I had the task of “educating” our parents.
Carey Newman: The most difficult thing about learning at home was answering the repetitive and sometimes condescending questions like “What is 2+2?” and, “Well, do you have any friends?” Although as I grew older, and people became more aware of homeschooling, this was less of a problem.
Marion Newman: Not much, really. In fact, I can’t think of anything that wasn’t much better than school would have been. Of course sometimes I didn’t feel like doing math, or cooking a meal, but I was never forced to learn anything that made no sense to me.
Amity Skala: Trying to live up to expectation is never easy; having siblings who were very gifted in particular subjects made it uncomfortable when I was not as adept.
Tacy Haddad: The self-discipline and motivation that is required in order to get through each day. In my sister’s and my growing up, nothing was spoon-fed to us (as most things are in public and private schools) so that put the responsibility on us and at times that was challenging. I look back on this as one of the most important challenges of learning at home…very positive at the same time as difficult!
Noah Layne: My homeschooling experience would have been better if I had had no contact with the outside world (such as neighbor children) before I was 10.
Matthew Skala: I often felt that I was (although this probably isn’t how I’d have phrased it at the time) out of touch with my culture. If I tried to talk to people my own age, what could we talk about? I could talk about the books I’d read; they could talk about the stuff they’d seen on television; neither side would have much interest in the other. A few years ago an astrologer told me that people have trouble connecting with me because “If they just touch your reality, theirs can’t exist” – and I think that’s a good description of the problem I had when I was a homeschooled student: a lack of shared context with my peers.
* * *
Marty Layne: How could homeschooling have been better?
Marion Newman: I don’t think it could have been. And I don’t think it is over yet. One of the things I love the most about homeschooling is that it is never finished. My parents are still learning, and so am I. I never have to worry about whether or not we will graduate, because that isn’t an option (or a limitation) that is placed on any of us. Mum used to joke that we’d graduate when we could make our own jeans. I could, with the skills she has passed on to me… but I think I’ll put it off for some time to come.
* * *
Marty Layne: How has learning at home prepared you for the things you are doing now?
Marion Newman: I have learned how to learn, so no matter what I do, I never feel as if I can go no further. I have learned “people skills”, how to ask questions, how to try anything, how to be clear about what I want. I am now living in Toronto, singing with the Canadian Opera Company in the chorus, teaching voice, piano, flute and theory. I have just signed on with an agent I trust and respect who is busy getting me auditions and work in the oratorio, recital and operatic field. I have many friends within the music biz and without. I am loving my path.
Carey Newman: The freedom to create that I mentioned as something that I enjoyed about homeschooling was what has prepared me best for what I do now. I took music lessons all of my life, starting out with piano at the age of three. I went on to go to university in pursuit of a career in piano. I have gone on to start a career as an opera singer. At the age of 26, I have had principle roles in six professional operas, and have appeared on CBC television. I also own a small business called the Blue Raven Gallery through which I market my own and my family’s artwork.
Matthew Skala: I’m studying for a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo; that includes some scientific research, some classes I take as a student, and some classes where I act as a teaching assistant.
As to how I’m using my homeschooling now: I spent a lot of time writing computer programs when I was a homeschooled student, and although there’s more to computer science than writing programs, that skill is certainly useful in my work. I feel that I’m at a considerable advantage over some of my colleagues who didn’t start programming until they were at the college level and just don’t have the same intuitive understanding of how to build software.
This next point is harder to measure, but I think I’ve also gotten a lot of use from the volume of reading, and computer networking, that I did as a child. That background has given me both skill and confidence in expressing my ideas as written words. I didn’t realize until I became involved in academia just how much the whole system depends on writing skills, and I’m watching a lot of my students having trouble because they aren’t comfortable with the written word yet.
Josh Layne: It’s given me the confidence to tackle many things myself. I learn new skills very, very quickly, and I’m not afraid to go into a situation where I know nothing or very little at the outset. Moving more specifically to music, I think being homeschooled helped enormously with my performance ability. I am very comfortable standing up in front of people and being the focus of their attention. The time that I had because I was homeschooling helped me to develop and practice a much deeper process of learning new music – especially compared to the hectic (insane) schedule of a typical university.
Noah Layne: It gave me the time to pursue my artistic interests. It gave me a different point of view on life and gave me the ability to appreciate artistic things which aren’t appreciated in the mainstream culture.
Amity Skala: I currently teach students from three to 76 years old in a variety of dance styles. I also work part time in a retail store where I put my artistic talents to work creating theatrical masks. As a self-employed contract worker I keep my own ledger and accounts using my hard-won math skills. I continue to study on my own, learning as I go and pursuing my own training as a professional dancer/teacher. Homeschooling gave me the flexibility I needed to manage a very busy schedule of dance classes. I think if I had attended formal school, I would not be the same person I am today.
Tacy Haddad: Right now, I am traveling…all over. For the past two years, I worked at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (after art school). I decided to look around the world for this year. Everyday in being out in the world, I am made aware of the effects that my education has had on how I am with people and situations. I feel that I am able to interact with people of all ages and backgrounds, on all levels.
When you grow up with exposure to people of all ages on a day-to-day basis (instead of being put in classes with children almost entirely in your age range), they become your peers. Essentially, everyone you come in contact with becomes your peer and this creates a wonderful equality. Learning at home gave me enough time to develop my creativity and imagination. I constantly use this everyday, especially with art and writing…two of my passions.
Gloria Frye: I think I have a tolerance for people with unusual or abnormal backgrounds, which some of my friends do not. I heard once that children who have never taken exams don’t know how to fail. Up to a point I think this is true. Now consider the possibilities of that for a moment. Imagine a society where failure wasn’t really a concept!
Robin Layne: I’m leaving for L.A. to attend the L.A. Music Academy for six months, at which time I’ll make the decision to either continue my studies at a university or start working professionally in the L.A. area if I can get gigs. There are many ways in which homeschooling has helped prepare me for my career as a percussionist, but most importantly it has given me the belief in myself that I can do anything I want to do, if I work hard enough at it. When the mind creates no artificial boundaries the sky is the limit.
Marty Layne has four adult children who learned at home from k-12. She wouldn’t trade the years they spent playing in the park, at the beach, in the backyard, or in the house for anything. She wrote a book to answer people’s questions about why she chose homeschooling and started her own publishing company to publish Learning At Home: A Mother’s Guide To Homeschooling. She has also recorded a children’s music CD, Brighten the Day – songs to celebrate the seasons. Read more about her at www.martylayne.com. This article was first published in Life Learning Magazine in 2003.