After six weeks of sessions featuring discussion among academics, a Harvard conference on home education gave homeschooling parents the last word.

In the June 17 webinar concluding the virtual event, five parents with varied backgrounds and approaches to homeschooling explained why they chose this learning method and what it has meant to their families.

Why they chose to homeschool

Many of the parents talked about being motivated by a desire not only to provide a better way for their children to learn but to build stronger families.

Valerie Bryant, a former Air Force officer who has homeschooled nine children over 30 years, said many factors influenced her decision to opt out of conventional schooling.

Growing up as an African American in the Midwest, she learned to appreciate the value of a rigorous education—but felt that her public school experience had failed to provide certain opportunities. As a young woman, she told herself there had to be something better: “If I ever [had] children, I would give them every advantage I could.”

When she and her husband did have children, they were serving in the military and knew they could expect to move frequently. In order to minimize the effects of frequent transitions on their kids—and to maximize the time they spent together—the Bryants chose to homeschool.

Since then, said Valerie, “we take our children with us every place we go. We enjoy that. It’s been a positive experience to watch them learn in leisure.”

Another benefit of homeschooling, she added, was that it helped her and her husband teach religious values to their children—including their conviction that their Christian faith calls them to contribute to society.

Caprice Corona, a daughter of Mexican immigrants to California, described similar influences in her decision to homeschool her three children.

She and her husband worked as professional opera singers, which meant frequent travel. They were living in Germany and had their kids enrolled in school there. Caprice’s husband had been booked for a performance in Italy, but the fact that their children’s school only allowed so many absences meant they were prevented from traveling as a family.

By switching to homeschooling, Caprice said, “we’ve been able to value our time together as a family unit.”

The Coronas have also been able to focus on things that matter to them as a family: music, art, and interacting with and appreciating other cultures.

Customized learning environments

Many of the parents at the panel also discussed how homeschooling has allowed them to craft educational environments that meet their children’s individual needs.

Ann McClure, a former public school teacher, said the flexibility of homeschooling has helped her son, who has high overall intelligence but struggles with reading. When she saw that he was failing to thrive in his school program, she reflected on her own experience as a student in public schools and decided to make a change.

“I felt like my education was choosing what other people expected of me, or what looked good on a transcript,” Ann recalled.

She explained that she did not want these sorts of restrictions for her children. Instead, Ann said, “I wanted to provide a really rich academic environment, but I wanted to do it in a way that they were learning naturally and individually.” Homeschooling has provided that.

Air Force veteran Douglas Pietersma said homeschooling has also benefited his son, who suffers from epilepsy that cannot be controlled by medication.

After undergoing brain surgery in an effort to ameliorate his seizures, Douglas’s son entered a school program for children with special needs. He made slow progress.

Douglas and his wife wanted more for their son. They talked about how homeschooling would provide him increased academic engagement, since he would be learning at home with the people who knew and loved him best—his parents.

“If we spend that one-on-one time with him,” Douglas recalled saying, “we are going to see improvement.”

And they have.

“He’s doing things now as 14-year-old we thought he would never achieve,” said Douglas. “He surprises us every day.”

Focus on students

Karen Dematos described her journey toward finding an educational approach that engaged her son’s unique way of learning.

He started out in school, but he struggled. “Homework and studying was really challenging for us,” Karen recalled. By the time her son approached middle school age, his frustrations were leading to anxiety and anger.

Karen withdrew him from school and connected with a community of homeschoolers who focused on letting students direct their own studies based on individual interests and abilities—an approach sometimes referred to as “unschooling.”

As Karen explained, this type of education “extends principles of self-regulation to all areas of life.” With this approach, the parent’s job is “to guide them and bring whatever resources they need.”

Karen spent a couple of years observing her son closely and adjusting his homeschool program in ways that seemed beneficial. She learned that her son enjoyed hands-on projects. By age 11, she recalled, “he was building things, fixing his bicycle.”

The biggest change Karen said she noted in her son—once he left what she called the limited and overly structured school environment—were his improved social skills.

Now he wants to start his own business—an ambition driven in part by his connections in the community developed while homeschooling. “He was able to connect with kids and adults,” Karen said. “As a young man, he’s well liked and has friends all over. He’s engaged in his life in ways that I could never imagine.”

Freedom, please!

Given that freedom and flexibility contribute greatly to homeschool success, the webinar panelists also agreed that legislation placing greater restrictions on home education is simply unnecessary.

“I think regulation is a slippery slope,” remarked Karen. “I understand the concerns. I think they are mostly unfounded. I think that parents who choose to be with their children care deeply about them.”

Karen said officials should focus instead on empowering parents, since unnecessary scrutiny could undermine the ability of moms and dads to choose what’s best for their children. Extra bureaucracy, she claimed, “limits a parent’s ability to feel confident about what they’re doing.”

Douglas concurred. “I think education should be parent-directed, privately funded, and out of the hands of the government,” he concluded.

Ann McClure summed up the homeschool experience of the panelists and their families: “This is a very valid, and beautiful, and rich educational choice.”