how we homeschool: the Suburban Correspondent from Northern Virginia

Meet Suburban Correspondent, a friend I met years ago via blogging. She and I became friends and eventually even had the chance to meet face-to-face on a couple occasions (so I can attest she’s a real, honest-to-goodness person, promise!). She’s been homeschooling since forever, and has the stories and dry wit to show for it. Enjoy!

Hi! In the blogging world, I’m known as Suburban Correspondent. I live in northern Virginia, and I have 6 “kids” – 3 grown and flown, 2 college aged, and one high schooler. In theory, I should almost be an empty nester by now, but currently 4 of them are living here, because THANK YOU 2020. 

Phys Ed, plus Nature Studies.

Why did you decide to homeschool?
I’ve been homeschooling since Hector was a pup (that’s an archaic phrase meaning “for a heck of a long time,” and I would love to know its origin), and my reasons for homeschooling have changed through the years and with my kids. Some were late readers, and I didn’t want the schools to make them hate reading by forcing them to learn before they were ready (they both learned at age 9). One had a severe dairy allergy which rendered the school cafeteria deadly. Another was already playing with two queen bees her age in the neighborhood several hours a week, and I feared that forcing her to socialize with them 35 hours a week at the local school would be a permanently traumatizing situation.

Also, I’m lazy. I couldn’t imagine getting kids to and from school on time, especially when there were babies to nurse and toddlers who needed naps.

But how did you even know to try homeschooling? Were your friends doing it?
I think I stumbled on How Children Fail by John Holt when my two oldest were still young, and what he wrote really resonated with me. Also, I had taken some teacher certification courses while I was in the military (before kids), and I realized that a lot of classroom teaching was about crowd management and lesson plans and lesson objectives — just all really top-down sort of stuff that had very little to do with how my two young ones were going about the business of learning. So John Holt’s book seemed like a Get Out of Jail Free card to me.

Animal husbandry, or how to spot a really good deal at ALDI and come home with a $5 flock.

Logistically, how did you manage homeschooling six children? 
For the longest time, there were little kids, as the spacing between oldest and youngest was 13.5 years. So, for the longest time, we had lessons in the morning, social time in the afternoon, regular mealtimes, regular snack times, etc. There was, if you can even imagine it, almost NO screen time (first because there was no internet, and later because we couldn’t afford all the screen-y things). 

It all seems so far away now. And my two oldest, who suffered the longest under the strictly scheduled homeschooling regime, never fail to point out to their youngest sister how spoiled she is, as she wanders into the kitchen yawning, at 9:30, to look for breakfast and then sits on the couch and scrolls through Twitter on her phone.

Life sciences: Murder hornet, yes or no?

How did you keep from going crazy? What about your own interests and needs?
Interests and needs? You mean, beyond survival? Let’s see…the thing is, when you have enough children and you live in a place where they can go out and play on their own, you can usually scrounge up an hour or two per day for your own pursuits. Especially if you lock the screen door after they go outside…

But, OMG, make sure to exercise, even if you’re carrying a 25-pound toddler on your back while you do so! It’s no joke trying to get back into shape once you turn 50. I did it, but it sure wasn’t easy.

Social needs were the easiest to look after, as homeschool moms tend to socialize at group activities for their kids. I think I had more friends and saw them more regularly than did my friends who were “regular school” moms.

What’s been most challenging?
When you start homeschooling, the most challenging thing can be the questions and doubts from others. It’s challenging, because at that point you’re not sure you are doing the right thing yourself! As we move on from that stage, though, I think most homeschool moms (except those of us who are now too tired to care much) waste a LOT of energy constantly second-guessing ourselves: Is he learning enough? Does she have enough friends? Did I miss something?

Yes, you missed something. Don’t worry about it.

What sorts of things would people say to you?
They said I was overprotective, they said the kids needed to learn to play with other kids, they said I was too involved in their lives — all the standard stuff. In the meantime, we were living in a neighborhood where they played with other kids every single day, and I was spending less time helping my kids on their daily schoolwork than my neighbors were spending on their schooled kids’ homework. Go figure.

Pioneer culinary arts: apple butter, but with an electric crockpot.

What did homeschooling teach you about our culture’s view of education?
Our culture has a warped view of education. First, it views education as a scarce resource to be fought over, rather than as a public commodity to be widely shared. Our county currently has a STEM magnet program (high school) that has for years experienced overwhelming demand and is therefore ridiculously competitive. The county has recently decided to make an effort to include more minorities/people of color in each class and this has provoked an uproar over which kids get to partake of this valuable educational experience. Yet, in all this noise, no one bothers to say, “Hey – all these kids who are applying are qualified to learn STEM. How about we set up a second program at another high school? And even a third one, if there is enough demand?”

I mean, wouldn’t that make more sense?

Second, our educational culture views education as something outside the child that needs to be placed inside the child, rather than as a process that happens within a child confronted with new information. Homeschoolers are fond of quoting, “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire,” a quote we have (most likely mistakenly) attributed to Yeats. Teaching your own, if you stay alert to it, provides you many opportunities to witness this lighting of a fire; in turn, these instances encourage you to continue this nonconventional path to see where it might lead. Formal education, I fear, leaves neither the time for this sort of joyous exploration nor the inclination. It is, in short, exhausting.

Essentially, homeschooling makes you realize that education does not have to be a slog and that it should be available to everyone.

Where did you get your support?
Hands down, support comes from your fellow homeschoolers. Find a group. Make friends. Support each other. Mine would have been a very different journey without all the socializing, carpools, and parties that we enjoyed over the years.

Can’t find a group? Make one. Build it, and they will come.

Citizenship lessons.
(Specifically, make sure to bring water and maybe a folding chair when you go to vote.)

How have your kids managed the transition from homeschool to college and/or adulthood?
Our original plan was very nice and neat and somewhat economical: after graduation, each of our children would do two years of community college while working and saving money for two years of university (or else a trade school, whatever they wanted). It’s almost cute, how simple we thought it would be.

But the reality has been much more complex, with each kid finding his/her own path. 

The oldest decided to finish high school in three years (he was doing an online program) and then apply for a ROTC scholarship so he could go to university right away. He became a logistics officer in the Army for four years after college, then spent a year teaching English in a Bedouin community in Israel, and then came home and got a tech/logistics job with one of the many contracting companies in our area. We could have predicted none of this. NONE.

The second-oldest spent a couple of years after high school waiting tables and bartending and living on her own with coworkers before she did the community college-to-university route. Once she graduated, she volunteered teaching English in Haifa, did an internship at a nonprofit in the same city, and then moved to Tunisia to work with a US nonprofit there.

[Side note: DO NOT let any child who is a liberal arts major incur student loan debt. Unless they are going into the military, they are guaranteed to be working for almost nothing for up to two years.]

The third did well enough on the PSAT to land a scholarship that covered tuition and room and board for four years at an out-of-state engineering school. [I swear, it was like winning the Willy Wonka golden ticket; we didn’t even know he was good at standardized tests because he was so homeschooled HE HAD NEVER TAKEN ONE.] He is now paid handsomely to test rocket engines in the middle of the Texas desert, which is essentially his dream job. His underpaid liberal arts sister tries not to hate him for it.

The fourth learned that programs in his major (industrial design) tended not to take transfer students (I will spare you my rant about the moneymaking boondoggle that is higher education in the US). Luckily, he had his rocket scientist brother’s two years of tuition money, in addition to his own, so he went off to a state school his freshman year, paying for his own room and board with the money he saved from working retail during high school. He’s currently taking the year off due to the weirdness that is 2020 and is looking for an internship that will help pay room and board for the next two years.

The fifth is staying home and working retail for a year to save up money for university (also, it’s just a weird year to start college). She is aiming to be a commissioned officer in the US Air Force, so she hopes to win a three-year ROTC scholarship to help her get through when her savings run out.

The sixth one is the 15-year-old “baby.” Her only career goal is to make enough money to have her own apartment and buy fun food. She hates anything to do with school. We’re all just sitting back and watching to see how this will play out.

The lessons here: You can’t predict what path will work for each kid. Don’t underestimate how badly they might want to leave home at age 18.

Oh, and make sure they take the PSAT. You never know.

Art class.

Looking back, what are their opinions about your choice to homeschool them? 
They make good-natured fun of the homeschooling lifestyle they experienced (okay, maybe there was too much Veggie Tales), but I think they are also glad they were spared the strange pressure-cooker sort of stress that their schooled friends experienced. Number 5 chose to go to public high school, and we noted — among other things — that her AP Psych class was WAY HARDER than the Psych 101 class her brother was taking at the same time at his university. It seemed that the high school made everything feel like really high stakes, while when you are homeschooling, the same courses are just…well…high school courses. Your entire future doesn’t depend on any of them.

Of course, maybe they hated the whole homeschooling experience and are keeping mum because they don’t want to hurt my feelings. That’s always a possibility.

Do you have a homeschool philosophy? 
I’ve had SEVERAL homeschool philosophies. I’ve been a Waldorf-y homeschooler, a structured workbook homeschooler, and now – Lord help me – I’m an unschooler. Sometimes I’ve been all three at once.

Prepare to be flexible, is what I’m saying.

Knitwear modeling is a part of our curriculum.

What advice do you have for parents who are considering homeschooling their children?
Don’t do it for any vague, high-flown pedagogical ideals. Don’t do it for reasons concerning the breakdown of societal values or the end of civilization as we know it. All your ideas might be true, but that’s not what will get you through each and every day. Do it because you want to spend the day with your kids, letting them read and play and figure things out. Do it because you enjoy the rhythm of life at home with kids. Do it because you perceive that that is what your kids need: time to be home, time to create, time to play.

Do it for the fun of it. The rest will work itself out.

Many, many thanks, Suburban Correspondent! If you want more tales of adult children-turned-roommates, murder hornets, and knitting projects, you can read all about it on her blog The More, The Messier.

This same time, years previous: just for sparkles, how to make a fireball, when cars dance, of an evening (and a morning), baguettes, sweet and spicy popcorn,


  • Marta Leigh McCormick-Connors

    Hello from another suburban mom in, what I think is, your county. My third grader is doing virtual learning and I am in no hurry for him to return to in person. He has so much more flexibility at home, and my husband and I really sees where he shines, where he is bored, and his tolerance for social drama. I am so glad that the view of homeschooling has changed since I was even a younger mom.

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