There’s a dogged optimism that radiates from Walt and Katie Cheshire’s faces when they talk about homeschooling. Their underlying trust in God and determined, can-do attitude provide the framework for understanding how they have homeschooled successfully—despite years of serious, debilitating health challenges and the high-tempo of Army life with its frequent moves and time apart during deployments.

In the end, it’s this joyful spirit that guides their homeschool and their life.

“Homeschooling is priceless,” Katie said. “Now that the two older boys have graduated it's just made me so grateful for the time that we had.”

Choosing Homeschooling

The Cheshires are one of many military families who have found homeschooling a natural fit for their lifestyle. Walt is retired now, but he served in the U.S. Army with his family of 10 for more than 20 years. This fall marks their twenty-second year of homeschooling.

While they were stationed in Okinawa, Japan, in the late 1990s, Katie picked up a copy of Chris Klicka’s Homeschooling: The Right Choice. Her oldest was a newborn at the time, and she already felt pulled toward teaching her own children at home. Watching her pastor’s family homeschool also left a positive impression.

“God just put it in my heart: ‘This is the road you need to take,’” Katie shared. “And we’ve never looked back.”

Military Life and Homeschooling: A Perfect Pairing

It didn’t take Walt and Katie long to discover that homeschooling was a natural fit for their life in the military. The average military family moves every two to three years, which can be disruptive to a child’s educational journey. Homeschooling provides consistency for children whose lives are otherwise marked by change and the need to pivot at a moment’s notice.

The Cheshire family

Walt and Katie with six of their children

“You don’t have to take your kids in and out of school,” Walt explained. “Looking back, choosing to homeschool was one of the best decisions we could have ever made.”

Military couples who choose to homeschool often find that due to the nature of deployments and training tempos, the serving parent is less able to be regularly involved in the teaching than their civilian counterparts.

“Going away for 30 days or 60 days at a time … Katie had to run the roost,” Walt said. “It was in many cases much harder for her than it was for me. She’s at home having to manage the household, homeschool, take care of the children, and then when you get sick and things, it gets worse.”

While Walt was deployed, Katie said she was grateful if everyone was safe and happy by the end of the day. “I try not to put pressure on myself with getting all the academics done. And it's not that I didn't try to do academics. We did. But I would just encourage [other military] moms. Your husband's deployed, right? Don't put too much pressure on yourself.”

The serving parent can help offset this burden by being fully present when they are home, and by giving the teaching parent a break. He took time off from work when he was home, and stayed with the kids so that Katie could go on a much-needed retreat.

“You engage when you can,” Walt said. It’s about quality, not quantity.

The flexibility of homeschooling also allows military families to take advantage of the cultures just beyond their doorstep when they are deployed. The Cheshires found this true while in Japan and Germany, where they were able to explore the people, history, and foods of their host countries because of the flexibility provided by homeschooling.

Homeschooling through Health Challenges

On top of the challenge presented by the cycle of moving, settling, uprooting, moving, and resettling again, the Cheshires also faced health challenges. During Walt’s deployment to Iraq in 2009, Katie was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. In addition to homeschooling and solo parenting, she had to contend with the physical limitations of her diagnosis.

That year “was probably the hardest year of my life,” Katie said. At the time, she had six children ages eight and under, including a newborn. “We ended up in the ER a lot. I was very sick.” Four years later, Katie received an additional diagnosis: Lyme Disease. Thankfully, Walt was retired at that point and able to step in and carry the weight of homeschooling and caring for their children.

Cheshire family

Cheshire family

“I was in bed sometimes 80 percent of the time,” Katie recalled. Then Walt faced his own health challenge. He was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his jawbone in 2018.

He needed extensive surgery requiring the removal of his jawbone and the insertion of part of his leg bone to reconstruct his jaw. “They are still working on me as far as that goes,” he said. “I’m not the same as I used to be, but we’re coping. God’s getting us through it.”

Even during these dark times, the family flourished, in large part because of their decision to homeschool.

“You are doing a wonderful thing for your children,” Walt said. “Stay the course and trust God. You’re building this beautiful community within your family and with other homeschool families.”

“For me personally, homeschooling is the best gift you can give your children in the realm of education,” he continued. “You're doing the best for your children that you can. So to see it turn out well, that is just the joy of homeschooling.”

Finding Support

The combination of health costs and periods of unemployment due to health issues left the family stretched financially. As long-time members of HSLDA, Walt and Katie applied for and received several Curriculum Grants to help alleviate their financial stress.

Walt credited the grant with allowing them to continue to homeschool, and said it has been “a great help,” especially when he couldn’t work. “Grants from HSLDA have been a backbone to our homeschool for several years,” he said. “Being a disabled veteran dad and a mom with compromised health, homeschooling would have been an overwhelming challenge without your support.”

“It’s just blessed our family immensely,” he added.

The Cheshires are still homeschooling their youngest three children, and two of their adult sons have chosen to follow their father’s footsteps and join the military—truly making the career a family affair.

Katie knows without a doubt homeschooling is the right choice for her family. “It's just those hours and hours of homeschooling that add up to the fellowship that you have together,” she said. And her kids think so too. “They all plan to homeschool their children,” Katie said. “It does my heart good to hear this!”