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.
One question we often hear is, “Do you have any trouble homeschooling on
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
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
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”
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.
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
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
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
Housing areas are relatively safe for young children as the speed limits
are low and strictly enforced. Playgrounds and recreation areas are
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.