In September 1990, my twin brother and I started Grade 1 at home. After our Kindergarten year at a local school, my parents decided to homeschool us and that’s how we did school for the next twelve years. I don’t know all the reasons behind their decision, although the long bus-ride from our acreage into town was a factor. What I do remember is being excited about it—an excitement that held until I graduated.
Homeschooling is now growing more common, but my brothers and I were among the first generation to do it. It was fun to go with Mom to the grocery store and have the cashiers look at us with questions in their eyes and ask why we weren’t in school. “Because we’re homeschooled!” my brothers and I would sing out, relishing in the freedom we felt in being places where other kids weren’t.
Homeschooling wasn’t just about the free time, of course, but we had lots of it. Even through my high school years, if I was motivated, I could have my school done by the early afternoon. We knew two homeschooling families who lived near us, and the rule was that we couldn’t call each other to play until 2 pm. School was usually done by then so that one of us would be on the phone at two o’clock, planning a playdate—and then running down the road to meet our friends and play as hard as we could until we had to be home by 5 pm for supper.
We did the standardized tests for our province in grades 3, 6 and 9. Rather than being a time of stress, these were a time to meet our homeschooling friends and maybe have some time to visit before or after the exam. The exams were easy—read some questions, fill in some bubbles. Our homeschool coordinator kept joking that she needed to find harder exams for us.
As high school approached, things became a bit more serious. Everyone began asking us what we were going to do after Grade 12. Everyone also seemed to assume that we’d start “real” school now. However, our reasons for homeschooling hadn’t changed now that we were a few grades older. Neither my brothers nor I had any desire to head to our local high school. I had started writing novels and enjoyed having my afternoons to write or read (I finished a book every day or two). I also had several regular babysitting jobs, because I could babysit during school hours when other sitters were unavailable. We’d seen our neighbour friends in public school basically disappear as they hit junior and senior high; they got on the bus at 7 am and didn’t get off again until after 3 pm, and then they had homework to do. That didn’t seem like fun to us, as we were still getting school done by 2 pm.
And so we jumped into high school at home. My dad insisted that we keep our options open for whatever we might want to do when we finished. We continued using the same curriculum, which was well ahead of our provincial curriculum, and I wrote five diploma exams—biology, chemistry, math, social studies, and English. Those five exams created a transcript for me, which allowed me to apply for the Bachelor of Arts program at a local university.
It was in university that I realized what I’d learned by homeschooling. As soon as I had my student planner and syllabi, I sat down and wrote out everything I needed to accomplish in the semester. And then I did it. On time or ahead of time. In four years of university, I never pulled an all-nighter for either a paper or an exam. Many of my papers were done days or weeks ahead of time, because I had learned during my homeschooling days to motivate myself to get my work done. I could plan to be finished my math problems by 2 pm to play with a friend, or I could plan to be finished my English paper by Friday so I could head to the mountains all weekend.
I loved university. It was, in many ways, similar to what I had done with homeschool; sit down for a class with Mom or a professor, then go finish the rest of my work on my own. I made new friends and even met my husband there (though we didn’t start dating until our last year). And I aced my classes. I’d gotten average grades through high school, but the first As I got motivated me to work harder and four years later I graduated at the top of my class with an almost perfect GPA. When the local newspaper came to interview me and asked what high school I’d gone to, I was proud to say once again, “I was homeschooled.”
Bonnie Way is now homeschooling her oldest in Grade 1. She has a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Writing and continues to read as much as she can. Now she writes a blog about books and motherhood, but she still has some novel ideas waiting to get written someday.