by Athelda Ensley
In the late 90s my family decided to give homeschooling a try. At the time our oldest daughter was nearly two years old. She’d begun to sing commercial jiggles and the intros to her favorite televisions shows. In our minds it was time for her to give the alphabet a try. Fortunately for me and my husband, there were many tools available in the average bookstore for teaching at this level.
When we began this educational process, school was only 15 minutes per day. We hadn’t worked out all the kinks about which curriculum to start a 1.5 year old on, neither did we know if the process would succeed. We did know that this schooling option was being adopted by white families throughout North Carolina, where we lived at the time. Taking this step would steer our family in a beautiful path of learning, growth, and pioneering education for our race.
A matter of commitment
Commitment is definitely critical when it comes to home schooling. Finding a choice of curriculum wasn’t as difficult as finding other Black families with our same interest. Despite this problem, we made a commitment to see what the next three years would unfold for our daughter (and the one on the way) in terms of this process. The first five years of development are really the most crucial when it comes to teaching an educational foundation. So we were committed to spending those five years teaching at home and determining if we would continue.
Finding a teaching style
By the age of three, our oldest daughter was reading short books. This was definitely a milestone for success. When our youngest daughter reached 1.5 years old, we did what had now become natural. We started to teach her at home. To our surprise, she wasn’t interested at all. We quickly learned that teaching styles have to adapt to the child being taught. This is true not only for Black children, but for all children. Our daughter quickly began to spark interest when a friendly hand-puppet joined her in school each day. This was the beginning of her homeschool journey.
Evolving your plan
As the girls got older, I needed help teaching math (my weakness). My husband stepped in at this point. Before I knew it they were learning high school math, while still working on their middle school curriculum in other subjects. From that day to now, our plans have had to continue to evolve. Now the girls are 14 and 16, and in college. They are both working on associates degrees, one in social work and the other in humanities. Homeschooling is all about learning as a family and being ready for opportunities when they come your way.
The girls now
I cannot say that this long process was always easy. There were times when we all had to motivate each other to continue. Each year we began to see more and more progress in the girls and their ability to think critically. Now that we’ve finished the homeschool process and the girls are attending college, teaching has taken on a new role for me. Both girls understand that their story isn’t typical, not only among Black families but any family. Moving ahead it is important to them that they inspire other girls, especially minorities, to achieve despite the odds, stereotypes, and hurdles.
As a family we have overcome a host of challenges as it relates to homeschooling. We had to learn early on the art of living on one income. I believe that sacrifice and pursuit has been just as important in the lives of our children as the process of educating them. I mentioned our desire to find other Black families with the same schooling goals. It took a few years for us to connect with those families, but we did it. Along the way, we were able to embrace all of the families that we met, whether through support groups or extracurricular activities.
– Homeschooling Basics (101) by Beverly Hernandez, About.com Guide
– “The new pioneers – Black Homeschoolers,” Home School Legal Defense Association Magazine, July/August edition.
Athelda Ensley is a freelance writer and author who writes at her Speed of Life blog.