Family & Education

Advice From a Veteran Homeschooler

Parenting expert Nicholeen Peck on love of learning, planning, and family unity
BY Barbara Danza TIMEJuly 13, 2022 PRINT

Nicholeen Peck is a veteran homeschooler and parenting expert who teaches parents to raise children who can self-govern—from following instructions to accepting consequences to disagreeing appropriately.

As countless parents spend their summer months contemplating homeschooling or planning their upcoming homeschool year, I asked Peck about her experience and advice.

Epoch Times Photo
Nicholeen Peck. (Courtesy of Nicholeen Peck)

The Epoch Times: What led you to decide to homeschool your four children?

Nicholeen Peck: If there was someone who was the least likely to become a homeschooler, it was me. My father was a public school teacher and college professor, and I excelled academically, socially, and in extra-curricular activities during my school years. I had no inclination to homeschool.

In 2000 a neighbor told me that she was contemplating homeschool for her son and it got me thinking of homeschool as an option. My 3-year-old son was reading at the time and I knew he would be bored learning his colors at school. I also was doing therapeutic treatment foster care for troubled teens at the time and knew firsthand all the issues in the schools because of my foster children. Additionally, working with the teens after school hours took a lot of time. So, I knew that if I wanted to give my young children the nurturing time they needed from their mother, then I needed to give them a separate time of day to learn from me.

These were the factors that started me down the homeschool path. But over time, I chose homeschool for my family because I wanted a close, united family. Without enough time as a family I knew my children wouldn’t be close friends and our bond could be devalued by the social training that happens at schools with solely same-age peers and often negative attitudes about parents and home life.

One of the hidden benefits would also be time. With all the hours of the day, my young children, who loved learning and reading already, would not be interrupted as they studied and academically experimented to their heart’s content. I saw that familial social training, infusion of morals into educational topics, and uninterrupted study time would give my children an edge socially, morally, and academically.

The Epoch Times: What have you found most rewarding about homeschooling?

Ms. Peck: Of all the benefits of homeschooling that I could list, by far, the most rewarding parts of homeschooling for our family were the family unity that developed because of daily project-based learning and discussions we had as a group, the individual inspiration for both parents and children to engage in self-motivated learning, the world-class education we received, the focus on making a positive impact on the world that was attached to all of our studies, the obvious social maturity that our children displayed due to being socially trained by socially mature parents instead of immature same-age peers, learning from other families in the homeschool community and teaching classes there, the moral confidence that comes from moral discussions surrounding study topics, and the creation of life-long learners.

The Epoch Times: What did you find most challenging about homeschooling?

Ms. Peck: Homeschooling opens the gateway to freedom in education, which means that the educational opportunities are endless. Because of the abundance of field trips, homeschool social groups, and classes offered by the local homeschool community, we occasionally had a hard time being home enough. I remember one time when our family deliberately decided to stop being in the homeschool choir and homeschool debate league and cut the classes or lessons taken outside the home down to two per child so that we could have more reading and discussion time at home as a family for the health of our homeschool. It was hard to say “no” to so many good things, but we knew that we needed to keep deliberately putting our home culture as our first priority if we were going to be successful at our homeschool goals. In most areas, homeschool opportunities are endless. People are starting homeschooling groups all the time.

The Epoch Times: It’s summer, and although homeschoolers can schedule as they please, many are currently planning for the next school year. What strategy do you recommend when it comes to planning a new homeschool year?

Ms. Peck: Summer planning gives parents increased confidence as they move into the upcoming school year. Even though our family always kept homeschooling through the summer with a lighter school load, each fall, we always had a fresh start to things. Every June or July, I dedicated a new composition notebook to planning my upcoming school year.

First, I’d take a page or two for each child. On these pages, I’d write what phase of education I felt that they were currently in and what educational experiences or social experiences I felt they needed in order to stay educationally inspired and developmentally progressing. When I first began homeschooling, I read a book called “A Thomas Jefferson Education” by Oliver DeMille, which taught me the phases of learning and how people learn. This book inspired me to begin researching education and how people learn, as well as motivated me to get my own leadership education.

After assessing each child’s phase of learning and needs, I made a list of the things that I hoped to study or experience with the children to inspire my learning and make great family memories. Then, it was time to meet with each child. Two times per year, I sat down with each child and made a big list of all the things they wanted to learn and do in the upcoming year, which always included lots of cool field trips, too. I also asked each child which phase of learning they felt they were in to make sure my assessment matched theirs. They knew the phases of learning and where they were at, even though they didn’t always know what grade they would be in if they had been at school. I wanted them to know what was going to happen with their educational progression more than know how they measured up to standard age groups or matriculation systems.

After all this assessment, I was ready to make my daily and weekly schedules in my notebook. I plugged in times for as much as I could, always leaving time for a family field trip Friday. Then, from my schedule, I made a list of what supplies I’d need to have on hand or books that I wanted to buy. Since our family wasn’t big into textbooks, I bought a large amount of classical literature and biography each year.

With the rest of my notebook, I added new ideas for the next year and notes from our educational journey that year.

Epoch Times Photo
(Biba Kayewich)

The Epoch Times: What do you believe makes for a successful homeschooling experience for families?

Ms. Peck: More than anything else, happy family relationships and good family communication are the greatest factors for a successful and enjoyable homeschool experience. People ask me to speak at homeschooling conferences all over the world about parenting and family communication because the convention organizers know that if a family doesn’t have unified family relationships and calm communication, then the whole learning environment can struggle. Math shouldn’t create a daily fight, and chores shouldn’t take all day to accomplish. Families who do better at homeschooling are families who navigate daily discussions without a lot of drama. But don’t lose heart if math has created some tears in the past. Tears and emotional drain just show a family that their next great study topic should probably be family unity and self-governed communication skills.

Other factors for successful homeschooling include a parent who goes to bed and wakes up at a reasonable hour, a parent who maintains their own love of learning too, and making a plan for a loose schedule to live each day by. Creating family culture habits will make homeschooling easier as well.

The Epoch Times: For parents who are trying to decide whether to homeschool their children, what factors do you recommend they take into account?

Ms. Peck: So many parents are considering homeschool now. That’s really encouraging for family identity and overall freedom of thought. Homeschool, if done correctly, should teach how to think, as opposed to the lesson learned in most institutions, which is what to think.

When considering homeschooling, don’t forget that you already are a homeschooler. Every parent teaches their child what’s most important in life. Whatever a family spends their most time doing sends a message of importance to the children. The way a family spends their free time also shows the children what they should value and aspire to do as adults. So if you’re already, technically, a homeschooler, shouldn’t you get more deliberate about the influence you have on the children anyway, even if you don’t homeschool? Parents should consider that whoever or whatever they turn their child over to for education is actually being allowed to script the mind and heart of the child. So being very careful what sources are chosen for mainstream schooling or homeschooling is really important.

Don’t just pick up any curriculum to homeschool; be picky. Vet the authors you’ll read and the programs you use. And always remember that you own the book; it doesn’t own you. So many people trap themselves in a curriculum that doesn’t fit their family life or their goals. If it isn’t working for you, then pick the information you need out of it and use it your own way.

Also, remember that a good education is built upon a desire to learn. It isn’t inspiring to be the most ignorant person you know. So teach your children cool, advanced stuff, even if they aren’t reading independently yet. Don’t hold back on giving them a real education. Baby steps can sometimes be boring.

Finally, inspiration is most likely achieved by seeing someone close to you do something you haven’t done before. So as a parent educator, keep learning, reading, and doing educational projects, too. If you want them to want to play the piano, you might want to learn to play it, too. I remember studying Euclid’s elements on the back porch, and my oldest son wanting to study them, too—because I was. Be the inspiration for them. I know it seems hard to learn and teach at the same time. And indeed, many teachers stop learning once they start teaching. But even if you’re just learning a bit each day from your core book and sharing it with your children, you’ll continue to give them the inspiration they need to keep progressing.

The Epoch Times: To the parents who decide to remove their children from school or forgo school altogether and begin homeschooling, what’s the first thing you would recommend they do?

Ms. Peck: If you’re new to homeschooling, start by reading aloud to your children and discussing, going on regular field trips, and playing a lot of learning games. Create a home culture that they want to be part of. Work and play together, even if they’re high school age. (You may need to go back a few steps to give them a solid family foundation.) Make sure they learn to love home first. If you’re struggling with behavior or attitude problems, take a few weeks to learn self-government skills to improve your family’s problem-solving abilities. Finally, learn how people learn. Study Oliver DeMille, Charlotte Mason, and others who teach how people learn and how to set up a good learning environment. If you know how people learn, then you can reeducate yourself and educate your children at the same time.

Watch out! Homeschooling is the most fulfilling and liberating thing a parent can do. Your life will change. Your heart and relationships will change. And, by so doing, the world ends up changing, too. Enjoy!

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Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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