By TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
Oaks wrote “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” to support families as they make the transition from conventional schooling to something completely different, bringing fun, mindfulness, and flexibility to the adventure of homeschooling.
“Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits” includes the history of both homeschooling and compulsory schooling, how to talk to naysaying relatives, how to keep your patience, how to make learning fun, and why homeschoolers generally are not hermits and are not worried about the “socialization” question. It also includes things like covering sex ed, finding free or inexpensive resources, and why many colleges like homeschooled students.
Oaks uses an informal and easy-to-read style as she shares about the educational format she knows so well.
One of her best friends at university was homeschooled, so Oaks started out with a good impression of homeschooling. When her oldest son was a baby, Oaks read lots of books on child development.
“Then I read John Taylor Gatto’s ‘Dumbing Us Down’ essay, based on the speech he gave for his New York City Teacher of the Year award. That made me think very differently about the education I had received, especially since my husband and I were both overachievers in school,” commented Oaks.
“The more I read, the more I felt that homeschooling was the way I wanted to go.”
What they enjoy about homeschooling
Oaks moved into the neighborhood in 2006 to be near Hamline University, since her husband teaches chemistry there. In 2011, she earned the Neighborhood Honor Roll Helping Hands award for hosting the Hamline-Midway Barter Market for several years.
The family has grown to three children, and all are homeschooled: Michael age 14, Benjamin age 11, and Simon age 6.
“I most enjoy watching the kids learning with gusto, choosing their interests, and being motivated to learn all about them,” remarked Oaks.
“I can learn at my own pace, as fast or as slow as I want, and don’t have to get up early to go to school,” said Michael. “There is more time to do other fun stuff like playing piano and doing things with my homeschool groups like book arts, board games, and woodworking.”
“It gives me time to do what I want with who I want,” stated Benjamin. “I can learn about Greek mythology or the Crusades whenever I want to.”
Simon said his favorite thing is all the good books. He enjoys being able to do electronics in kindergarten, and he loves being able to take road trips when other kids are in school.
Each of the kids sees homeschool fitting them as students in different ways. For Michael, it’s having a really small math class where he feels comfortable asking and answering complicated questions. Benjamin appreciates being able to learn at his own pace and deciding what alleys of learning to go down, such as the Punic Wars, and finding YouTube channels that actually make the Punic Wars interesting.
Tips for those starting out
Oaks offers these tips to families just starting out as homeschoolers:
• Relax. Do your best and don’t stress about it.
• Trust yourself and your kids. If you feel homeschooling will be best for your family, don’t let naysayers stop you.
• Don’t try to recreate school at home. Instead, create together what will be the best way to learn for your family.
• Keep your long-term goals in mind. What kind of people do you want your kids to be and what kind of relationship do you want to have with them?
• Be flexible. Things often don’t go the way we expect them to, and kids grow and change. Being ready to change with them will help.
• Look for help. Join groups online and find local groups that suit you. Veteran homeschoolers are happy to offer advice. The Homeschool Adventures site is a great place to start—HSAdventures.org.
Oaks has volunteered for several years with Homeschool Adventures, a homeschool support group that offers information on group activities and events, plus field trips and homeschool groups. She also helps organize classes for homeschoolers, including chemistry labs taught by her husband Tom Anderson and math classes taught by Judy O’Neill.
The biggest misconception out there about homeschoolers, according to Oaks, is that homeschoolers are hermits, doing school-at-home, and sitting around for eight hours at desks with nobody else to talk to or play with. That’s not what it actually looks like, she said.
“We take classes, both with other homeschoolers and those that are open to anyone,” remarked Oaks. “We go on field trips and take museum tours and have playgroups. Our two oldest boys have been involved in theater productions for the past two years with our secular homeschool co-op, Planet Homeschool.”
Another big misconception is that people homeschool only for religious reasons. “Plenty of people homeschool for educational reasons, health reasons, even social and emotional reasons,” explained Oaks. “The homeschool community is seeing more and more people who are pulling one child out of school because school just isn’t working for that child, even when it’s working fine for the siblings.”
School on the road
Kathy Oaks and family are among those who enjoy schooling on the go, commonly called “roadschooling,” and Oaks recently presented a workshop on roadschooling during the Minnesota Homeschoolers Alliance annual convention.
Oaks learned to love travel with her parents, who owned a VW camper van and took the family camping all over the United States. They also lived abroad when her parents took sabbatical leaves from university.
“I had a great time taking road trips as a young adult, but was very intimidated to take small kids on the road,” admitted Oaks. “It was my mother who proposed a road trip with just me and the boys (we had two at the time), and showed me that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.”
The family has been taking road trips every year since then, at least one and sometimes two.
Photo right: Kathy Oaks and her family at the Grand Canyon National Park. (l to r) Kathy Oaks, Tom Anderson, Simon, Benjamin, and Michael Anderson Oaks. They enjoy roadschooling throughout the country. (Photo submitted)
“My best tip is not to overdo it,” recommended Oaks. “Lots of people think about road trips and imagine 12-hour days and screaming kids.
We often stop, checking out free rest areas, visitor information spots, and parks. We also stop early, only driving 250-350 miles a day, and get a hotel with a pool or a camping spot with hiking available.”
The family takes advantage of their science museum membership, which gets them into other museums all over the country. “Last year we also made sure to get our fourth grader his free National Parks pass from everykidinapark.gov and took two trips to the four corners states to see 17 national parks and monuments,” said Oaks. “We were determined to get every ounce of value out of that card!”
Simon likes listening to music on trips, sleeping in different beds in hotel rooms, and trying new foods.
Benjamin observed, “It gives me the opportunity to see what life is like in other environments.”
Michael agreed. “I like discovering all kinds of interesting places that I didn’t know existed until we went there,” he said.
Book available on Kindle
Oaks’ book is currently available on Kindle and will be available in paperback by mid-May. A free homeschooling resource kit for new homeschoolers, including road trip resources, is available online with every purchase. It includes her roadschooling talk transcript and video, plus car trip activities, a packing list, and a camping packing list.
More at HomeschoolersNotHermits.com/book.
Next up for Oaks will be the “Homeschoolers Are Not Hermits Online Resource Guide,” a compilation of the family’s favorite websites, YouTube channels, games, learning activities, and resources such as the science museum membership benefits, educator discounts, and the Every Kid In A Park pass.