Learning outside the lines: Home schooling in Kansas

Cathy Barfield says home schooling fit for family

May 13, 2007


See more in our home schooling series
Learning outside the lines

Our choice to home school began the year before our first child, Betsy, was ready for kindergarten.

The idea to home school came from hearing an interview with Dr. Raymond Moore on the radio broadcast of Focus on the Family. It intrigued me since I've wanted to teach since I was four years old. For me, teaching has always been a passion. If I wasn't in school, I was "playing school" with my brother and sister.

As I grew up, I graduated with a degree in biology with a teaching certificate for secondary schools. My teaching experience consisted of teaching high school biology for three years while on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ in South Africa. As our family grew, I had no trouble staying at home, but my desire was to eventually get back to teaching when my children enrolled in school.

The radio broadcast excited me because I could have the better of two worlds - teach my own children and stay at home! I began to discuss the prospect of home schooling with my husband, David. At first, he was a bit wary of the idea. He has always been the type to not rush into something but to investigate everything out thoroughly.

At the time, my brother and sister-in-law had just begun to teach my nephew at home. At Christmas time, David showered them with questions. My sister-in-law suggested some readings, which he devoured over the Christmas holidays. As he began to read, he realized that teaching them at home made sense. However, not to rush into anything, David decided that we should look at all the options first. That spring before Betsy's kindergarten year, we visited the public school where she would have attended, a local Christian school and spent an evening with another family that we knew that home-schooled.

As David looked at all the options, God worked in his heart and he became excited about home schooling. I have always felt blessed that my husband right away took the lead for our home schooling. He read books and developed our philosophy of education. Each year he actively participated by regularly checking our children's progress in their programs, going to the conferences, outlining what areas to focus on and choosing the curriculum.

David also came up with the name of our school. He didn't want just an ordinary name, but one that meant something special. As we were reading Charlotte's Web aloud, David found the perfect name. In the book, Wilbur questions Charlotte about a curious object - a sort of sac containing all her eggs. She replies that the sac was her "magnum opus," which in Latin means her greatest work.

Just like Charlotte, we desire our children to be our greatest work. We feel before the Lord that it is our responsibility to raise our daughters by diligently teaching them God's words as we sit in our house, as we walk by the way and as we lie down and when we rise up (Deut. 6:7). We feel strongly that we could not fulfill these instructions if we were in the company of our children for only a few hours of each day.

The school years

We have always followed an eclectic approach in selecting curriculum. In their early years of home schooling, the focus was instilling a love of reading and learning using a basic phonics program, reading many books aloud, doing numerous units studies, and math. In the elementary years, we added subjects from a variety of vendors but still continued to read aloud and made sure that learning was fun through hands-on unit studies. In junior high, we began a literature-based history program using "living books." This means that one studies a period of history relying on a textbook to provide an overview but primarily using literature coinciding with the time period being studied, therefore making history come alive. This is in contrast to a textbook-driven curriculum that most of us are familiar with. By the time they entered the high school years, the studies were more self-guided with Mom, in the back seat role, as a facilitator.

Over the years, other home schooling moms, knowing of my training and love of biology, asked me to consider teaching a biology course. I first did this when my oldest girls were ready for biology. This began our high school classes with TEACH (Teaching Effective Academics in Christian Homes). I have continued to teach biology, and at times, advanced biology. We have used other people to teach chemistry and physics, as well as writing, speech and other classes.

Of course, time spent with our children is a double-edged sword. There are days that home schooling is frustrating. Finding the right combination of motivating each child and taking the amount of time to teach and correct every subject properly draws heavily on all our reserves. It affects every other part of our life and takes up time that could be used for other activities. We could not do what God has called us to do if it weren't for his help and strength.

Home schooling our three daughters has been the best decision we have ever made. It has drawn us close as a family. It has been exciting to see our children grow in their love of God and others, to see them develop a love of reading and also a love of learning.

Where we are now

Betsy, 23 years old - After spending her first year at Kansas University, Betsy decided to transfer to MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, where she completed her degree. She was a cheerleader at MNU for 2 years and continued to be very active in our church, including serving our church's worship team. She is graduating magnum cum laude this May from MidAmerica Nazarene University with a degree in elementary education.

Amy, 21 years old - She is graduating with honors this May from Kansas University with a degree in music education with an emphasis in piano. College life kept her busy learning to play the saxophone with KU's marching band and University Band, secretary of Sigma Alpha Iota (music honor society), accompanying other music majors and playing or singing on the worship team at our church.

Megan, 17 years old - She is graduating from our home school this May as well. Her high school years were full with her studies, playing piano, earning money baby-sitting and selling her home-baked bread, and dancing with the Lawrence Dazzlers Christian Drill Team for the last nine years. She has been active in the church's youth group and is a vocalist on the church's worship team. Last summer she traveled to Peru with Brio magazine (part of Focus on the Family ministries). She will attend Washburn University in the fall.

What's next?

Many people ask us what is next since we are now finishing up our home schooling journey. We continue to believe that private home education is a great way to prepare children for life as we are able to select and pace curriculum to benefit each child's learning style, interests and gifts, and to fulfill our responsibility to raise our children as we believe God desires.

Even though our days of home schooling our own children are coming to an end, we still desire to support others who wish to home school in this way. I will continue to teach science classes to home school students in our support group, and my husband and I will continue on the TEACH Board in an advisory capacity.

We advocate for private home education. In recent years, both in Kansas and around the nation, many public schools have offered increasing services to families who wish to home school. This includes Lawrence Virtual School. It offers curriculum and virtual oversight of the students' progress. We do not believe this works as well as private home education, where parents take the full responsibility for the education upon themselves. The dictated curriculum of these charter schools is not customized to the students' and families' needs as in private home education.

More significantly, when the oversight is delegated to others, there is a strong tendency for parents to be less engaged in the education process, thereby reducing one of the chief advantages of home education.

We appreciate living in a state and nation where we have this freedom to educate our children at home since many do not have this freedom in other counties. We also appreciate living in a state where home schooling is free from unnecessary regulation. While the majority of states are so blessed, a few have significant reporting requirements and oversight. Studies have shown that this results in no quantifiable improvement to the quality of education provided (see www.nheri.org for more information). We will continue to work to preserve for others the freedom to pursue private home education as we have enjoyed.


Isaac McPheeters 11 years ago

A very good read Mrs. Barfield. Thanks for giving us an informed and intelligent perspective into what it's like to be a home schooling parent.

roger_o_thornhill 11 years ago

Every time I look up there is something else on homeschooling. What gives? Did I accidentally stumble onto some sort of homeschool website? Isn't there any other news in the world today?

bunnyhawk 11 years ago

The problem with home schooling isn't parents like Mrs. Barfield. The problem with home schooling is that there are no required qualifications whatsoever for the teachers or the curriculum for home schooled children. A 3rd grade drop-out parent can legally home school his or her children in the state of Kansas. Legally-----but not effectively!

While most home-schooling parents do indeed make every effort to provide a quality educational experience for their children, there is another group of parents who choose home schooling as a way to isolate their children from society. Children of abusive parents are very, very vulnerable in this situation. There is no school counselor to call authorities on the battered child's behalf. There may be no friendly neighbor who even sees the child playing in the yard and wonders why they are not in school..........

Unregulated home-schooling provides the perfect cover for those who choose to abuse and misuse the children in their care.

Children are not the property of their parents to use and abuse as they please. Yet, current Kansas home schooling rules and practices completely fail to protect children's safety or interest in acquiring a quality of education adequate to prepare them for full participation in Kansas' social, political, and economic life.

Mom_of_6_Kids 11 years ago

I would like to make some comments to Bunnyhawk's: First, the main desire that many parents share whether they send their children to a secular, private or do school at home is that their children are better prepared for the life than they were at 18. This can not be determined by the government or by another other peoples! Your children are you children and once that is threatened to be taken away from you, you too will know what that is like.

Secondly, we do not live in an age where we have 3rd grade drop out although we do have (in the public system, myself being one of them) children who are being passed along through the system. This is not the way for a child to progress either. How can we account for these type of situations? Both parents work and are too busy to help their children after school with the work that needs to happen so they can excel beyond the others to get the best grades for scholarships into the best colleges? Mom and Dad didn't know any better. They thought that the tax that they were paying was giving me the best education and I would be able to read, write and do Math with the best of them - wrong! My dream to become something was gone because I couldn't pass the ACT test with good enough grades. My kids so far have done far and exceedingly better than myself and I too have been educated along with my children - how wonderful to learn together and my kids have score quite high on their ACT test and have gotten full ride scholarships to a private college for 4 full years without our money being needed.

Thirdly, as for the battered children - there have been some that have been call in that was false and we were one of those. As I have said before, these are your children and you really don't understand that until that right is threatened to be taken away. Yes, I do not deny that those types of things do happen in America and they happen all over the world too, but it is a small number and it also happens to children who are in the secular and in the private schools too.

Lastly, the constitution gives us our God given rights to teach our children the way that we feel is best for our own children and not to mandate what is right for everyone else's children. If you feel that it is best for your children to go to a private school than this is right, if it is to a secular school than this is right and yes even if it is a home school and even if the Mom and Dad is not a certified teacher this has got to be right too. The constitution says our rights are protected under God and that part of the constitution can not be changed. We all must have faith that we all want what is best for our own children and not worry so much about the next guy and who is doing it right and who is doing it wrong, the main issue is our own children and what is right for them!

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