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Practical Homeschooling® :

Military Mom’s Challenge with Space and Privacy

By Drue Porter
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #11, 1996.

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Drue Porter

Not long ago a homeschooling family living in military housing stood out like a soldier out of step in a formation of marching troops.

That’s how we felt when our family began homeschooling in 1988. We were the only homeschoolers in our housing area. Our neighbors were incredulous when they learned that our children were not going to school. Most had never heard of homeschooling. They questioned and challenged both the legality and wisdom of our decision.

As homeschooling has grown in popularity, homeschoolers on base are not the oddity they once were. Though our family is still regarded with curiosity, those who ask questions are genuinely interested and recognize homeschooling as a credible educational option.

Many potential military homeschoolers, however, are concerned about the impact living on base will have on their family and their school. They have heard a “war story” or two and are apprehensive about the obstacles they will encounter.

Homeschool Regulations

One question we often hear is, “Do you have any trouble homeschooling on base?”

We have never had any conflict with military authorities. I am aware of only two instances (though I’m sure there have been more) in which homeschooling was challenged by a commanding officer. Both of these situations occurred overseas, and both were resolved favorably.

Generally, all families living on base in the United States, whether attending public, private, or homeschool, are subject to the educational regulations of the state. Therefore, you should know the legal requirements of a state and take any action necessary to be in compliance before you move.

Military bases and families overseas are more strictly regulated in all areas, including education, than those in the United States.

If transferring overseas, you should investigate the homeschool situation prior to your move. Find out if there has been any previous difficulty homeschooling at that base. If you have a sponsoring family (a family assigned to help you make the transition to a new duty station) ask them if they know of any homeschoolers currently at that base or assigned there previously. Contact these homeschoolers, if possible, and find out what their experience has been at that particular base.

Also, try posting a note on the message boards in the PHS areas of America Online or CompuServe requesting information about the homeschooling climate at your new duty station.

Whether relocating within the United States or transferring overseas, be sure to contact Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). If you are not a member of HSLDA, consider joining. Membership in HSLDA is a wise investment for military homeschoolers and will pay dividends in sound advice and peace of mind.

With respect to the day-to-day operation of your homeschool, employ the same precautions you would use if you lived off base. Exercise discernment and avoid calling unnecessary attention to your family. Keep your children, home, and yard neat. Don’t send children outside to play unsupervised during school hours. Discipline your children privately. And don’t have the kids answer the phone or the door between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Housing Rules and Regulations

“A rule for everything and for everything a rule” could be the unofficial motto of the housing office. Residents must comply with regulations pertaining to everything.

Some rules apply to the interior of your quarters, both during the time you occupy the unit and when you’re ready to leave. There are also standards for maintaining the grounds surrounding your home.

The policies that affect homeschoolers the most are the ones concerning the walls. Homeschoolers tend to have more than their share of things to “stick” on the wall: children’s artwork, handwriting guides, and maps, not to mention that essential homeschool tool—the timeline. Rules about sticking things on the wall (or should I say not sticking them on the wall) can make wall papering á la homeschool a little tricky.

Depending on the type of finish on the walls, tape may leave marks, pull off paint, or not come off at all. Tacky-tape substitutes leave greasy spots that are impossible to remove.

In an effort to both comply with housing regulations and display all our charts and maps, we have tried a couple of alternatives. To limit wall damage, we have installed large bulletin boards both in our schoolroom and in our children’s bedrooms. We have also used bookcases as room dividers, tacking up some of our visual aids onto the back. We’ve seen other families display maps on table tops, under Plexiglas.

Also, if you have the option, consider accepting your quarters “as is.” This allows the housing office to postpone putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls until after you have transferred and gives you a little more freedom in putting the walls to educational use. You’ll have to live with less than perfect walls, but you won’t have as much work to do when it’s time to move.

“Clearing quarters” when moving out is a major hurdle for families living on base. Most bases require a high standard of cleanliness and repair in order to “clear” quarters. These requirements are far above anything you would expect to do if you were moving out of a normal rental house. Cleaning for a final inspection takes several days of hard work and often includes dismantling and degreasing kitchen fans, returning appliances to like-new appearances, and removing and cleaning all light fixtures in addition to washing walls, scrubbing floors, scouring bathrooms, and cleaning windows.

If the housing office permits a choice between cleaning the quarters yourself, or hiring a cleaning service who will guarantee a “pass” on the final inspection, think seriously about taking the latter option. Though it may be expensive, hiring a cleaner will free you from several days of exhausting work and enable you to concentrate on your family and the move. It will also preserve your energy for the trip ahead and for getting school started again at your new duty station.

Yard maintenance is a high priority in military housing and requires a greater investment of time than many families would normally allocate. Keeping the grass mowed, trimmed, and watered is mandatory. Making your yard beautiful is optional, but is encouraged by “Yard of the Month” competitions.

We have resigned ourselves to never having the “Yard of the Month” sign posted in front of our house. Though we love gardening, we’ve found it impossible to both homeschool and maintain elaborate flower gardens. Keeping the lawn mowed and trimmed and putting a few flowers out in existing beds and window boxes is the extent of our family’s gardening ventures. We’ve also learned from past experience that it’s not worth the effort to re-landscape (even as a garden unit study), as the yard has to be returned to its original state before we move.

Tight Quarters

You don’t often hear folks who live in base housing rejoicing over the spaciousness of their quarters. Small size and lack of storage is a common complaint.

The number of rooms in a unit often makes setting aside a room exclusively for school difficult. Bunk beds and creative storage may facilitate putting enough children in one bedroom that another can be freed up to use for school. However, rooms may have to be multipurpose, and you may have to use every organizational trick you know to make everything fit.

Homeschoolers tend to accumulate a lot of “stuff.” It’s all wonderful and educational, but it occupies space, and you can’t afford to store something you’re never going to use. Therefore, purchase books and school materials carefully. Consider buying reference books on CD-ROM. Encyclopedia, dictionaries, thesauruses, atlases, and commentaries, take up a lot of room on your bookshelves.

If you have school materials that you’re not going to use in the foreseeable future, sell them at a curriculum fair, pass them on to someone who can use them, or donate them to your local support group before you move.

Salt-dough relief maps, popsicle-stick forts, and other projects your children have made are difficult to part with, but they are best photographed and kept in a project notebook, or videotaped, rather than lugged from duty station to duty station.

Lack of Privacy

Multi-family units (duplexes, quads, townhouses), neighborhood structure, and population density make privacy scarce. Families are segregated by rank and size, which results in a large number of children in a given area. Yards are small, approximately 25 feet surrounding a house. Some fencing is allowed, but must be removed when you transfer.

Large common grounds remain the main play areas for children. If your house is near one of these common areas, the noise level can be distracting to your homeschool. When public/private school lets out, constant activity takes place outside. Baseball games in the common areas, bikes and trikes zipping along the sidewalk, rollerblades, basketballs—it’s tough to fight against this tide of activity with your homeschool day not finished. Experiment with your schedule to see what works best. You may want to start your day earlier or arrange it so your school finishes by early afternoon.

On days when we’re running late or the public schools let out early, I hang a note on the door letting my children’s friends know when they will finish. Then I’m not battling the distraction of the doorbell ringing several times while I’m trying to keep everyone interested in some fascinating subject such as English grammar.

Of course, there are times when a homeschool family causes this distracting noise. When the other children are at school and things are quiet around the neighborhood, your children and the noise they make (even if it’s not loud or unreasonable) are more noticeable.

Three of our children take piano lessons, and that means the piano plays several hours each day. We thank our kind and tolerant neighbors. If your children play musical instruments, try to schedule their practice sessions at reasonable times during the day. And if you have a piano, try to keep it as far away from a common wall as possible.

Benefits of Living in Housing

Some aspects of living in military housing have a positive impact on your homeschool both directly and indirectly.

If you move to a high-cost area, living in quarters may be your only affordable housing option. Even in average-cost areas, it’s usually less expensive to live on base than “out in town.”

The convenience of important services, such as the commissary, base exchange, medical clinic, and athletic facilities, is another advantage of living on base. Having these services close by can be a time-saver in your homeschool schedule and a help to your budget.

The level of security is high on base. You will particularly appreciate this security if your husband will be deployed or go TDY often. Living in housing also provides a supportive community during these kinds of family separations.

Housing areas are relatively safe for young children as the speed limits are low and strictly enforced. Playgrounds and recreation areas are usually provided.

Military housing is one of the most unique neighborhoods you will ever live in and will impact your family and homeschool in many ways. Although homeschooling families are no longer an oddity, they are still conspicuous in a community that thrives on conformity. Most families who live on base face challenges such as too little space and lack of privacy. While these obstacles may become hindrances to your homeschool, you can overcome them with a little creativity and perseverance.

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