“The Homeschool Experiment,” by Charity Hawkins

Charity Hawkins, 2012, Familyman Ministries, 229 pp, $12.99, 978-1937639068

Review by Patricia O’Sullivan.

Julianne Miller, the protagonist of The Homeschool Experiment, a novel, homeschooled her three children last year with mixed results. This year she is determined to do better. With a little organization, lots of patience, and a network of supportive friends, Julianne learns how to focus on what really matters to her as a mother and an educator.

I must confess, when I began to read The Homeschool Experiment, I was put off by a few elements of the story. Julianne didn’t clearly state her reasons for homeschooling at the outset.  She seemed to make the decision to homeschool because her husband thought it was a good idea. She occasionally mentioned fears she had about the public school curriculum and how the commute to a private school would affect her youngest child, but these comments did not seem substantive. I couldn’t figure out why Julianne had undertaken homeschooling. In addition, though her husband was supportive, he was not involved in the homeschooling in any formal way. I found myself irritated with how he encouraged Julianne to homeschool their children without participating in it himself. And when he saw how stressed she was and how his mother sometimes made negative comments about homeschooling, he did little more than comfort Julianne with words.

As a former homeschooler who’s experienced many of the things Julianne went through, I was surprised at how critical I was of her method, or lack of it. I cringed every time she gave into her children’s whining, when she took them to McDonalds or Chik-Fil-A almost every day, and when she included television shows as part of the curriculum.

A third of the way through the book I had to put it down and ask myself, “Why am I being so judgmental?” I think the answer is in the insecurity I felt as a homeschooler that came back in waves while reading Hawkins’s narrative. Homeschooling can be isolating. No matter how good a homeschooler’s support network is, at the end of the day (or the beginning of the day in this case) a homeschooler must wear several hats simultaneously and try to be competent at all of them. Julianne was still nursing a one-year-old, she was trying to introduce her four-year-old to a school setting, and she was attempting to give her six-year-old a solid first-grade experience. In addition, she was worried about doing (or not doing) housework and all the other things a stay-at-home mom is expected to do. The stress, the guilt, and the exhaustion can be overwhelming.

Julianne’s outlet was prayer. Okay, that and a lot of Diet Coke.

On page seventy-six, Julianne finally figures out why she is home schooling. Hawkins writes, “This is how I want to raise them and one of the reasons I want to homeschool. I want them to get to explore the world, marvel at God’s Creation, be awed by His power rolling in on the waves and breathless at His beauty hanging in the clouds. Not that they couldn’t do that if they were in school – I guess I just want to be there for it. I want to be there with them as they discover this world, not only on vacation and in the summer, but in the quiet of ordinary days.”

When I read that passage I understood. Take away the Christian overtones and that is why I wanted to homeschool too. It isn’t that public schools are terrible or that my kids needed specialized teaching. It was that I wanted to be there when they discovered things about the world, themselves, and each other. Like Julianne, I wanted to enjoy time with my kids during those early years of wonder and excitement. After page seventy-six, I eased up on Julianne and began to sympathize with her struggles.

The Homeschool Experiment is an easy read, perfect for a busy homeschooler with a few minutes of free time each day or who is too tired for heavy reading in the evening. The appendix contains discussion questions for a homeschool group aimed mostly at Christian homeschoolers, but that can easily be adapted to secular or mixed homeschool groups. Also in the appendix Hawkins lists many of the real resources Julianne used to homeschool including books, films, and websites. Again, many of these resources are Christian-based, but there is a lot in this list for the non-Christian homeschooler as well.

Hawkins’s novel is a great contribution to homeschooling. There are loads of non-fiction how-to books available for homeschoolers. Of the few fiction books about homeschooling, most are written for young adult readers or are sensationalized accounts that focus on the children’s experience rather than that of the parents. The Homeschool Experiment is most definitely a book for adults who are considering homeschooling or who are homeschooling. Even parents staying home with young children will appreciate Julianne’s struggle to find a little bit of peace each day. More than that, Julianne’s story is a wonderful reflection on savoring the journey parents and children take together.

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  1. This is the first fiction book about home schooling for adults that I have seen. As an author of an adventure book about home schoolers for children, it is nice to see the genre expand. With 2 million plus home schoolers I am still surprised that there are not more books for this market segment.

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