Today I am really excited to be branching out our interviews series by interviewing our first homeschooling DAD.
I couldn’t imagine a better father for our first interview. Jason Grooms, co-creator of Kid Quest Science Adventures, is a self-proclaimed avid and active homeschooling dad if six incredible kids. His family has been homeschooling since 1998 and are about to graduate their first. How exciting!
Now, who better to interview a dad than…a dad? So all of these questions came from my own husband, the active homeschooling dad to my own children, Marmaduke.
Marmaduke: What was your initial reason for homeschooling?
Jason: In the beginning my wife and I decided to homeschool because we really didn’t like the public school system, especially where we lived when our oldest daughter was little. There were a lot of issues and both of us had really bad public school experiences when we were young. We talked about all of our options and sort of landed on homeschooling. She had gone to school for elementary education and I had my degree in anthropology and was a science and history buff, so we decided to give it a try.
Since that time however (17 years now), my reasons have changed. My thoughts on the whole homeschooling movement and what it does for kids has really evolved. As time has passed I’ve come to realize that the real power of us homeschooling came in teaching our kids to love the adventure of learning and to never have to experience the mindset that learning has to be a painful, punishing process. When I think back to my childhood, I learned the most when I went to a museum or watched a documentary, or read a cool science magazine. Not only did I learn more but I was truly in love with it. I could have lived in those places and soaked up everything they could throw at me. That’s why I homeschool now. The sense of wonder and excitement I see in their eyes gives me unbelievable satisfaction. It doesn’t matter if I forget a fact or topic because they’ll learn it eventually on their own and probably understand it more deeply than most of their peers.
Marmaduke: Have you come across any more reasons to continue with this choice since you began?
Jason: One of the biggest things that discouraged us in the beginning was the struggle to find secular and non-religious content. It seemed like everything in the homeschooling space was Christian conservative, and being atheists that was a huge turn off for my wife and I. Many of the groups we tried to join at that time even required us signing a statement of Christian faith just to be part of the group. It became such an issue for us that we started our own secular homeschooling group that was open to all, but contained no religious content and required no statement or faith to any religion or lack thereof. We were pleasantly surprised at the flood of families who joined us because they were looking for the same thing we were.
Since then the homeschooling landscape has changed quite a bit and that’s made a huge difference for us. Families are a lot more outspoken about their desire for secular content and there are many more options and groups for secular homeschoolers like us.
Marmaduke: What are your thoughts on the public school system?
Jason: As I mentioned before, we initially started homeschooling because of our thoughts about the state of the public school system. I used to have some pretty strong feelings about it and homeschooling was part teaching our and part protest, but now I’m much more apathetic about the topic. I still think the public school system is terribly broken (worse now than it was then actually), but we’ve been out of that system for so long we pay it little more mind than a sad head shake.
Marmaduke: What is the best thing about homeschooling that you and your family have experienced so far?
Jason: It’s hard to narrow down to any ONE best thing. I’d have to say that overall the greatest experience has been a shift in our whole mentality as a family. It has changed from a very typical teacher/student dynamic in the beginning to all of us learning as a family now. Learning really has become a family affair. One of the biggest (and hardest) lessons we’ve learned as homeschoolers is that we don’t know everything, and that’s OK. We don’t have to. If there’s something we don’t know, we look for the answers together and talk about the discovery process. That seemingly small shift in mindset has had a major impact on my life overall. It even gave me the inspiration and courage to start my own business making science workbooks for kids called KidQuest Science Adventures that I hope will eventually become my primary job. I’ve told my wife many times “I need a job that’s more like homeschooling.”
Marmaduke: Does one parent or both parents participate in the homeschooling?
Jason: We’re both very active and do it together, although my wife definitely does the lion’s share at home during the day. We try weaving the learning into everything we do and don’t often attach a subject label to what we’re doing. However, when we do actually focus on a subject we tend to split the duties (although we do overlap quite a bit.) For the most part I’m all science (my specialty), history, geography, and culture. My wife is mostly math, reading, and writing.
Marmaduke: There has been a lot of assumption about the income level of homeschoolers being very high. Is this your experience?
Jason: This one actually made me chuckle. When we started we were below the poverty line by a good bit. At one point I worked three hourly jobs that added up to 7 days a week, just to pay the bills on our tiny little apartment. Even now I’d say were more on the lower side of middle class, but that has never stopped us. The homeschooling communities we’ve been a part of have always been incredibly generous. As one family finishes using a curriculum for their kid’s age group, they pass it on to the next family with a younger kid. We do the same thing every chance we get. On top of that we’ve found lots of fantastic outings and field trips that cost nothing or close to it. The kids and I spent one year on what we called DadQuest challenge. We would look for a new place to go visit and explore every other weekend but it had to meet certain criteria: it had to be under $10 for all of us, it had to be within a 2 hour drive, and it had to be something we had never done before. It was an amazing experience.
Marmaduke: What does an average homeschooling day look like for you?
Jason: There really is no such thing. We go on at least one field trip a month and most months do two or three. We also float around topics and subjects throughout the week and month as the kids’ interests change. Right now we’re doing a lot with the Big History documentary series. That includes a lot of reading, discussion, writing, science, history, art, math… you get the idea. Since we focus on the learning experience, we put little or no emphasis on subjects and sitting down to do the whole “math on Tuesday, reading on Wednesday” thing.
Marmaduke: Do you feel you are judged negatively for your decision to homeschool?
Jason: When we first started, absolutely. Our family wasn’t supportive of our decision and we got a lot of flak, even from people we didn’t know. You’d be surprised at how many absolute strangers would say to one of our kids (while we were right there) why aren’t you in school? We also got a lot of the typical comments that most homeschoolers can recite in their sleep: “What about socialization?” “I couldn’t stand being around my kids all day.” “Are you qualified to teach them?” “Is that legal?” and on and on. But we stuck it out and knew what we were doing was right. More than that, we knew that what we were doing made our kids better people and gave us the chance to become better people ourselves.
Now it’s almost exactly the opposite. When I mention I am a homeschooling dad to someone at work I almost always get “Really? That’s so cool. What’s it like? Can you send me some information?” Over the past few years I’ve talked to at least half a dozen friends who eventually ended up deciding to homeschool after we talked about it. It’s just another great sign of how the perceptions and biases about homeschooling are changing. Even our family has come around and become advocates for homeschooling.
I want to thank Jason for his time and consideration in answering our questions.
I encourage my readers to hop on over to KidQuest Adventures and check out his very affordable science workbooks. And if you happen to be at the National Association of Secular Homeschoolers Conference in September then be sure to stop by the KidQuest Science Adventures booth to say “hi.”