A Military Family’s Guide to Homeschooling
A little over a month ago, we received our official orders. We had two and a half weeks to rent out our home on the East Coast, find a rental on the West Coast, purge adequately to squeeze into a cottage one-third the size of our former suburban abode, ship our vehicle, pack up our family of four, and fly to our new duty station in Southern California. And I lived to write about it!
The military lifestyle is not for the faint of heart, especially around PCS (permanent change of station) season. Other factors like long deployments, detachments, and long hours further complicate the lives of service members and their families. One might think it ambitious to consider homeschooling in an environment riddled with uncertainty and constant change. However, home education has proven to be a steady anchor for our family. (Forgive the pun. I couldn’t resist. Go Navy!) It is one element of our lives that we can truly say is consistent, no matter our destination. Even still, providing a stable home education for our children while navigating the tumultuous seas of military life requires a boatload of flexibility, creativity, and courage.
I have picked up a few lessons along our journey that I hope will help homeschooling service members and their families. These tidbits of wisdom have proven invaluable to me.
A seasoned military spouse whispered that phrase to me during a meeting at our first squadron. I had shared with her the story of our almost-didn’t-happen wedding and cancelled honeymoon. My husband-to-be had received orders that placed him 1,400 miles away from our wedding venue the night before we were set to take our vows. He managed to make it to the ceremony but we had to trade in our tickets to Jamaica for a long ride to our first duty station. “Semper gumby,” she said, as she patted me on the shoulder. Always flexible.
Military families are masters at flexibility. It is that attribute that keeps us from breaking when we are asked to bend. That pliability will serve you well as you homeschool your children.
• Be prepared to stretch to accommodate varying homeschooling laws as you move from state to state. From umbrella schools and homeschool charters, to private school affidavits and portfolio evaluations, we have seen a wide range of homeschool requirements – some more involved than others. One of the first things to do when given options for your next duty stations is to investigate the homeschool laws for that area.
• Be willing to drop or alter your lessons and activities in order to take advantage of hard-to-come-by Skype/Facetime sessions with a deployed service member or an opportunity to catch a Space-A flight to an exotic destination. In an effort to provide consistency, we can become so rigid with our learning schedules that we do not leave room to live. Take advantage of the freedom to school at your pace and redeem that precious time with your family.
• Consider lightening your curriculum load in order to become more portable. When the rubber meets the road, we can usually pack our grammar, writing, and arithmetic books in our carry-on bags and then rely on local libraries to supplement our learning. What are your bare essentials? Though it is tempting to collect materials, manipulatives, and other classroom tools, I have found that doing more with less makes for a more peaceful home. When you are purging before the next big move, consider scaling down your school items.
Embrace the Richness of Military Life
Often, I have felt like the demands of the military life have interrupted or impeded my well-laid plans for our schooling. It would seem like we would get into a routine and then my husband would leave for a temporary assignment and we would have to readjust around his absence. Even his returns would throw us off-kilter. Recently, I made the decision to stop kicking against the goads. We decided to make the make the military lifestyle a part of our education.
• Take advantage of your ability to travel. When we fly out to meet my spouse on his temporary assignments, we dig into the history, geography, agriculture, and culture of our destination. We do not consider these trips an interruption to our school year. Instead, we welcome these adventures as a part of a well-rounded education.
• Learn military history, traditions, and technology. Bases offer tours of ships, planes, subs, tanks and more. Discuss the roles of the various branches of the military and make it a point to understand the role of your active duty member within their squadron or platoon. My girls love to sit with their father and watch planes take off and land. He gets to share some of his work with them and they get to show appreciation for his skill and ability.
• Connect with your community. It takes courage to venture out into a new city and build with people who have may have lived their all their lives, but it is worth it! The most loving co-ops, churches, and neighbors have taken us in during our various tours. Not only have they proven to be valuable sources of information, with inside information on the best museums, parks, dental and medical clinics, etc., they have also provided support and encouragement during our most vulnerable seasons. But do not just join to receive those benefits; give of yourself as well.
Among the freedoms I am most grateful for is the freedom to choose our own path as we educate our children. As a military family, what might appear to be obstacles to homeschooling can transform in to catalyst for exciting and enriching educational adventures. Homeschooling while serving in the military requires some ingenuity, resourcefulness, and grit, but we know first-hand, the price of our most treasured freedoms.
About the Author
Nathalie is mother to two intelligent, capable girls and doting wife to a handsome naval aviator. When she is not managing or her website (www.ToTeachHerOwn.com) she enjoys audiobooks, reading anything by Jane Austen, heading out on impromptu field trips, and playdates with her two girls, Elise and Lydia. Her best moments, however, are spent on her travels and adventures with her husband of 10 years, Emile.