Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.comor read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.comto read the magazine on your mobile devices.
The modern wave of homeschooling essentially began in the 1980s and has now embraced a new generation. Homeschooling has matured—it has aged. And, it seems, we are aging with it. Since homeschooling families tend to be larger than average, there are more families than ever who are still homeschooling long after their counterparts have faced an empty nest.
I am a prime example of this growing trend. I began homeschooling in the eighties and am still homeschooling today. I am 50 years old. My husband is 55. We have three children with college diplomas and one of them is married. Yet, we still have an 11-year-old and 14-year-old at home. If all goes as planned, we can expect to be homeschooling for another seven years.
Sometimes it scares me to think about how old we will be. I envision myself hobbling through homeschool book fairs, pushing a walker rather than a stroller. I wonder what it will be like to buy curriculum with a Social Security check. I only hope I can still hear well enough to appreciate the graduation ceremony as my final homescholar accepts her high school diploma.
Okay, maybe it won’t be thatbad. But it is a future that I never envisioned for myself during my college years. However, I can comfort myself in the knowledge that at least I am not alone. A recent survey by The Old Schoolhouse®Magazinerevealed that in roughly 20% of homeschools in the U.S., the parent who serves as the primary teacher falls within the 45–54-year-old age group (Dr. Heather Allen, 2007). Add to that the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 grandparents who are homeschooling their grandchildren, and it is clear that the number of aging homeschool parents is significant.
Being an aging homeschool parent is not all bad. In fact, there are some definite advantages. The major advantage is that we now have more experience. We know which educational approaches work for us and which fail to fit our teaching style. We have more experience as both a parent and an educator. We don’t make quite as many mistakes as we once did.
This experience also gives us more confidence. In the early years of homeschooling, I was constantly second-guessing my decisions. Now, I don’t feel the need to justify my decision to homeschool to those around me. Now, I realize that, even if I choose the wrong textbook for my child or fail to dissect a frog, the results are not disastrous. I have learned to focus my attention on the endgame: rearing Godly, well-educated children who can think for themselves.
Bobby Land, a homeschool father with five children ranging in age from 9–25, is an example of someone whose perspective has changed with age and experience: “Even though I don’t have the energy I had before, I think I am more focused and have grown spiritually so that I can pass on my faith better. I feel that God has given me a second chance,” he said.
Being a middle-aged homeschooling parent can offer personal benefits as well. One such benefit is the cognitive stimulation we receive. As you well know, homeschooling requires you, as a parent, to invest a great deal of time thinking, planning, and learning as you educate your children. According to a 2009 study by the Mayo Clinic, learning and cognitive exercises during middle age causes you to be 40 percent less likely to develop problems with memory loss as you age. Therefore, home education can benefit you as much as it can benefit your child.
However, homeschooling during your middle years does pose some particular challenges as well. One of the most common is the increase in responsibilities as a caregiver, for as we age, our parents do as well. Elderly parents often demand our time and attention, whether it ranges from occasional errands to full-time care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most caregivers for the elderly are women, and 70 percent of those women are between the ages of 45 and 56. This places many homeschooling parents, particularly moms, in a position where they are caught between meeting the needs of their parents and the needs of their children.
One solution to this problem is to involve your children in the caregiving process. This is not always possible, but if it is, the experience can be rewarding for you, your parents, and your children. Your children can often benefit from the interaction with another generation, and you are providing them with valuable lessons about the ways that family members should care for one another.
Not only do caregiving responsibilities often increase as we age, but other responsibilities tend to pile on as well. Your older children (and grandchildren) now require your support in new ways. You probably face increased responsibilities at church and in the homeschool community. You may be working part-time in order to help with college expenses or to save for retirement. It is easy to spread yourself too thin.
All this comes at a time when your energy levels are likely far lower than they were in your early years of homeschooling. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, much of the problem stems from sleep issues that tend to develop as we age. Most people find that they sleep less and less, and the sleep we do get is often not as restful. Studies show that 65-year-olds spend less than 5 percent of their sleep time in deep, restful sleep, compared with experiencing deep sleep 20 percent of the time when they were in their twenties.
Other physical challenges increase as well. Middle-aged people are more likely to be dealing with new issues such as diabetes, joint pain, or high blood pressure. Learning how to deal with the quirks of our aging bodies can be just as challenging as the issues our teens are learning to deal with as they enter a new stage of their lives as well. It is even more important, as homeschool parents, to address these health issues through proper rest, diet, medical care, and exercise so that we can be here for our families for many years to come.
Another challenge to veteran homeschool parents is the loss of excitement that once accompanied the homeschool adventure. Experience is wonderful, but it can sometimes form a rut in the road. In the early days of homeschooling, there was more of a need to prove one’s self, and so you may have embraced the challenge of homeschooling more passionately.
Our later children may benefit from our experience, but we need also to convey to them the same passion about education that we had in earlier years. One way to do this is by connecting with other homeschooling families through local groups or conferences. There is a tendency to pull away from such associations as we get a handle on the homeschooling basics, but the passion of newer homeschool parents can ignite your own, even as they benefit from your wealth of experience. You may even decide to shake things up a bit and try a new educational curriculum or approach just to keep the experience fresh! Remember that one of the greatest benefits of home education is the ability to adapt to individual needs and new situations.
Seasons of life are a part of the human experience. For those who are fortunate enough to take the long road on the homeschooling journey, middle age can be one of the most fulfilling and enriching times of your life. As always, however, we need God’s guidance as we face the challenges that lie ahead.
Amelia Harper is a homeschooling mother of five and a pastor’s wife. She is also the author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete one-year literature curriculum designed for secondary-level homeschool students. In addition, she is an English tutor and a freelance writer who contributes regularly to newspapers and magazines. For more information, go to www.homescholarbooks.com.