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10 Minutes that Changed Our Lives

By Sue Hofer
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #89, 2009.

A few fateful words launched this family's homeschool journey

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Sue Hofer


10 minutes. 10 minutes away from a major shift in my life—and my daughter’s life, too, not to mention my husband’s. Did I have even a suspicion that this intrusive change was coming? Not a clue. I approached the office of our local elementary school expectant, yes, even excited! After all, we had moved to this town for its superior school system.

I approached the secretary and asked her what style of the alphabet this school taught, so I could get my daughter prepared for kindergarten. She answered and I turned to leave, fulfilled. It was at this crucial moment that the principal (who by the way has since been replaced by one who is both friendly and a great leader for the kids) sauntered out of his office. What an opportunity! “Excuse me, Mr. ________. My daughter is 4 now, and I wonder—does this school have a program for gifted children?”

Every mother of a 4-year-old thinks her child is sooo smart! No, we don’t. We mainstream.”

I was appalled at his snide response. More than that—I knew immediately that I couldn’t put my child under his leadership!

But what to do instead? Within a few days, an acquaintance invited me to a homeschool orientation workshop. Homeschool??! I’d known some of those people. They were . . . a little . . . peculiar. But what could it hurt to go?

Surprisingly, I was positively impressed and ordered my first curriculum that day. I started “school” at home a week later. I was nervous, but plunged ahead. After all, she didn’t even have to be in school yet, legally.

“It’s Not Fair!”

“You shouldn’t do that. You’re not a licensed teacher. You don’t know what to do. It’s not fair to your daughter. She won’t get a good education.” This I heard over and over . . . and partially believed.

So I took it year by year. What fun! Freedom! Flexibility! Field trips! Critical thinking books! Historical fiction books to read aloud. Sonlight! Always new curricula to try. I zigzagged her through six different math curricula. (Practical Homeschooling, you were always enticing me with your constant reviews of materials!)

Eight years later—still homeschooling: “You shouldn’t do that. It’s not fair. Your daughter gets an unfair advantage with so much personal attention.” Times had changed during these years of our homeschool journey! But confidentially, I still felt that I didn’t know for sure if I could do it.

What About High School?

At age 14, things were beginning to get very troubling. This is high school. This really counts. This will go onto a transcript. Can I do this? I plunged on, and I also took Kelsey for the entrance test at our community college at the end of freshman year. The results showed her to be ready for college in math and ready for Honors English? My self-confidence soared! I could do it! And more importantly, so could she!

As a high-school sophomore, Kelsey started taking courses and was accepted into the Honors Program at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, student population 24,000. She started with one course, then two, then three or four per quarter throughout the rest of her high-school years. I supplemented with homeschool curriculum such as Chalk Dust for math, The Great Courses for art and social studies, a friend for writing skills, and with fun courses that I created. We read books separately and discussed them together, went on more serious field trips, and thought about issues together.

At the beginning of her junior year, Kelsey took the PSAT test along with 1.5 million other juniors in the U.S. The resulting score took her up the incremental steps with the National Merit Scholarship organization, until she reached the status of National Merit Finalist!

What About Socialization?

But with all these academics, did Kelsey have a “life?”

After lots of fun things in grades K–6, the junior-high and high-school years brought three very important activities into Kelsey’s life.

  1. Homeschool volleyball team—which eventually led to tournaments in Omaha, NE, and lots of great friends—6 years.
  2. Homeschool debate league—which led to the procuring of many invaluable skills and overnight weekend debate tournaments and lots of great friends—5 years.
  3. Volunteering and employment with a local organization called Clubhouse, which runs after-school enrichment programs for elementary children in seven locations in at-risk neighborhoods. It’s led by teens.

In Clubhouse, Kelsey was the mentor of the Teens in Training, a program for selected 6th graders to help them form leadership skills. By 11th/12th grades, she was asked to be a paid intern, leading the Clubhouse program in an inner-city location. This provided her with leadership experience that I could never have dreamed of, and she learned and grew from it. She also continued her volunteer mentorship role.

In addition to the three pursuits above, Kelsey participated in a 4–H club and did projects for 10 years.

What About College?

After visiting nine colleges within five hours of our home, we haphazardly dropped in on Eastern University, a Christian school, while at a conference in Philadelphia, 10 hours away from home. When the tour guide mentioned the words “honors college,” our ears perked up.

Eighteen months later, last weekend, we said goodbye to Kelsey, our only child, leaving her with the leaders and professors of Templeton Honors College at Eastern University in Philadelphia. We are thrilled by everything she will discover and the level of critical thinking she will be pressed to do.

Of course, as a homeschool mom, I’m still saying to myself, “Can she do it? Did I do a good enough job to take her successfully through such a strenuous college program?”

This is what you should know-the anxieties of a homeschool parent never end. If you’re like me, it’s your present and it will also be your future. But don’t stop because of the fear. Look for options. We used printed curricula, computer programs, distance programs in the mail from a university’s high school program, co-ops, extra materials for critical thinking, friends with skills, and much, much more. And those extra-curricular activities can add so much that book-learning can’t. It’s been a great ride and I’ve loved it.

Reach for the stars!

Sue Hofer grew up across the river from New York City. She earned her BA in Sociology from Wheaton College and her MS in Agriculture from University of TN. Now that her one and only homeschool student has graduated, she is working at a small public library near her current home.


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