I didn’t notice the rain. The way their boots sloshed in the puddles, soaking their socks. All I saw were their backpacks. Neon pink and green, blue and red, like candy. On the backs of children walking past my house.

Mum rang the bell; it was time for lessons to begin. I turned from the window and joined my siblings in the dining room, resigning myself to another day of learning without a backpack.

It would take years before I’d rationally weigh the pros and cons of home-schooling.

Instead, all I could think about were those bright backpacks. And how I wanted one.

Why go public?

Dee Dee Risher, writer, editor, and mother of two children who attend an urban-city school, believes home-schooling has great potential.

"Two of my sisters home-schooled their kids – one because she had a certain curriculum she loved and no one else was teaching it. She’s a fabulous and gifted teacher, and went on to run a school based on the principles she believed in."

Yet she doesn’t feel comfortable with taking her children out of the public school system. Her desire, instead, is to work together, in community, toward implementing a wholesome education for every child.

Risher and her husband, who works to provide housing for the homeless, hope to establish this sense of community by intentionally engaging with the marginalized in their city. Through modelling such love in a harsh society, Risher believes parents can encourage their children to act likewise, and thereby embrace people so often regarded as "outsiders."

In addition, she feels that public schools and their communities benefit when motivated and caring parents like her get involved in helping in the school.

Hanna Kahtava, 25, is joining the Toronto District School Board this fall. Despite having been home-schooled, Kahtava plans to send her own children to public school.

"I think there are valuable things to be learned that cannot be learned at home," she explains. "Social interactions are key to life, and if they aren’t learned at a young age, there is potential to not learn them at all. School peers can offer situations and lessons that parents cannot."

While this may be true, parental involvement in the educational process remains critical. Navigating an environment that doesn’t always support, and sometimes even challenges, the values of home is a daunting task for a child. Children in public school may learn to respectfully coexist and interact with people who hold different values and beliefs, but parents need to guide them through this process.

Why stay at home?

Ann Voskamp of Kitchener, Ontario, is a home-schooling mother of six, ages three to 13. She was in her third year of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in education when she began to question the structure of the public school system.

Voskamp became determined to find a way to nurture innovative, resourceful, well-read and highly-skilled young people who were also passionate Kingdom builders.

"What I love most out about the home-schooling lifestyle is that we are all together, in all our glorious mess, day in and day out," she says.

Voskamp and her husband teach the children a curriculum that not only includes reading for at least two hours, as well as working in the kitchen, shop, garden and barn, but also a more formal program of grammar, phonics, math, Latin, music, art, poetry, Shakespeare, history, geography and science. Their farmhouse is filled with stacks of books – nearly 100 out of the library at a time – and the two oldest interact daily online with teachers and fellow home-school students at their level.

In spite of her happy home, Voskamp nevertheless recognizes the dangers of staying inside. If one doesn’t step into the world, she fears, home education will merely create "hothouses of weak plants that can’t withstand the winds of this world."

To prevent this from happening, Voskamp encourages her youngest three children’s regular involvement in mid-week church programs, while the oldest three participate in a community basketball league, 4H and Air Cadets.

"We make this a weekly priority so our children have opportunity to interact with those outside of our community of faith," she says.

Another home-schooling mother of six, Mavis Dey, recognizes the need for socialization, and believes home schooling strengthens life’s most valuable bonds: that of family.

"A number of important studies uncover the fallacies of the argument that children should go to school to be properly socialized," she says.

Dey’s eldest, Annie Skelton, is a new mother with an undergraduate degree in English and a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Home-schooled throughout her elementary grades, Skelton and her husband are leaning toward educating their own children at home; both have observed what they feel to be serious moral, academic and social flaws in the public education system.

While recognizing there are exceptions to every rule, and that home-schooling is only one of many positive alternatives, Skelton believes education is a responsibility of the family.

"Our confidence is bolstered by research and studies showing that home-schooled children overwhelmingly become well-rounded, compassionate adults, with positive character traits and solid convictions – individuals who are obviously able to compete, make significant contributions, and demonstrate leadership in the world at large."

Backpacks and other blunders

It may have been colourful, but the backpack I once coveted lost its lustre once I entered the public school system in grade five.

As I proceeded to graduate with honours from both high school and university, however, I grew to recognize the value of both home and public education.

While continuing to weigh the pros and cons of home-schooling, I realize now that lessons learned at home and at school helped prepare me for the rest of my life. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Emily Wierenga is a writer living in Neerlandia, Alberta. She is the author of Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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