Time to Learn
Conversations With Adults Who Learned at Home
By Marty Layne
Author Marty Layne interviewed nine formerly home-educated young
people when they were 19 to 30 years of age and who grew up on Vancouver Island, British
Columbia, Canada. Although each of them learned at home, their
experiences of learning at home were all different – ranging from
“school-at-home” to learning from life and child-directed learning.
However, there are numerous common threads to their experiences, not the
least of which are their repeated comments about the amount of time they
had to learn and grow. (Each interviewee’s date of birth follows their
name the first time it appears.)
What did you enjoy about learning at home?
Matthew Skala (1975): The
biggest advantage was probably that I could pursue specific topics of
interest to me – many of which weren’t taught in school at all, or at
least were not taught at my age level. I especially enjoyed the time I
spent at the library.
Gloria Frye (1982): The time
factor: because I could get through work much faster on my own, I had a
lot more time to spend outdoors and reading (this may have also been
contributed to by not having a TV).
Amity Skala (1979): I enjoyed
the flexibility of my “schooling”, leaving me time to pursue my
interests and talents and creating a learning experience from daily
Marion Newman (1972):
Everything! The freedom to choose what I was interested in at the time
that I found it interesting.
Noah Layne (1979): Time to be a
child. Time to do things. No peer pressures. The time to develop a good
relationship with my mom. Time to be friends with my siblings especially
my brother, Josh, when I was young. A slower pace of life growing up.
* * *
Marty Layne: Four of these young
people mentioned the environment of acceptance and freedom to make
decisions about their own learning:
Robin Layne (1982): I enjoyed
the freedom to pursue my interests at my own pace and to avoid learning
things that I had absolutely no interest in.
Tacy Haddad (1980): What I
enjoyed most was that I knew that it was up to me to make the experience
[of learning at home] what I wanted it to be. No one was saying, “This
is how you will do this and in the end you will be successful.” This
freedom creates self-success. I knew that in order to feel as if I had
been “successful,” that feeling would depend entirely on whether I had
made changes in my routine to make myself feel like a success.
As adults we all know what it feels like to take control of one’s accomplishments, but to own
them as a maturing
child is a wonderful thing!
Carey Newman (1975): The freedom
to create; I was never told that my artwork or music should be thought
of as “Just a hobby”, as a result I am an opera singer and an artist.
The absence of a “curriculum” that set “parameters” that I was expected
to fit within. If I was stronger in one subject, I could move forward at
my own pace, if I was weaker, or disinterested in another subject, I
could leave it until I was ready, or work through it slowly.
The safety of an environment in which asking questions was never
ridiculed. The understanding that I had as much to offer any adult as
they had to offer me, in terms of learning. The understanding that
learning never stops, no matter what your position or age may be. The
realization that every single thing you do in everyday life is about
learning. There are no limitations on what I can do, and there never has
* * *
Marty Layne: One person answered by
redefining the question:
(1977): There is a difference between feeling that certain
portions of your life are “learning at home” times as contrasted with a
feeling of just living. So for me the question resolves to “What did you
enjoy about growing up, and what were the good parts about growing up in
an environment totally unlike the typical person’s?”
Enjoy is too mild a word.
Growing up as I did was a wonderful experience – I would not trade it
for anything. I have wonderful memories of when I was smaller. That’s
not to say I was never bored or furious or sad. However, having the time
to just play and live was so special. I love having grown up “isolated.”
I should add that having my brothers and sister to play with made it
much easier to grow up in “isolation.”
* * *
Marty Layne: What was difficult about
learning at home?
Josh Layne: I would say that the
worst times were those when someone was trying to teach me something.
Fortunately that didn’t happen too much, although as the oldest I had the
task of “educating” our parents.
Carey Newman: The most difficult
thing about learning at home was answering the repetitive and sometimes
condescending questions like “What is 2+2?” and, “Well, do you have any
friends?” Although as I grew older, and people became more aware of
homeschooling, this was less of a problem.
Marion Newman: Not much, really.
In fact, I can’t think of anything that wasn’t much better than school
would have been. Of course sometimes I didn’t feel like doing math, or
cooking a meal, but I was never forced to learn anything that made no
sense to me.
Amity Skala: Trying to live up
to expectation is never easy; having siblings who were very gifted in
particular subjects made it uncomfortable when I was not as adept.
Tacy Haddad: The self-discipline
and motivation that is required in order to get through each day. In my
sister’s and my growing up, nothing was spoon-fed to us (as most things
are in public and private schools) so that put the responsibility on us
and at times that was challenging. I look back on this as one of the
most important challenges of learning at home…very positive at the same
time as difficult!
Noah Layne: My homeschooling
experience would have been better if I had had no contact with the
outside world (such as neighbor children) before I was 10.
Matthew Skala: I often felt that
I was (although this probably isn’t how I’d have phrased it at the time)
out of touch with my culture. If I tried to talk to people my own age,
what could we talk about? I could talk about the books I’d read; they
could talk about the stuff they’d seen on television; neither side would
have much interest in the other. A few years ago an astrologer told me
that people have trouble connecting with me because “If they just touch
your reality, theirs can’t exist” – and I think that’s a good
description of the problem I had when I was a homeschooled student: a
lack of shared context with my peers.
* * *
How could homeschooling have been better?
Marion Newman: I don’t think it
could have been. And I don’t think it is over yet. One of the things I
love the most about homeschooling is that it is never finished. My
parents are still learning, and so am I. I never have to worry about
whether or not we will graduate, because that isn’t an option (or a
limitation) that is placed on any of us. Mum used to joke that we’d
graduate when we could make our own jeans. I could, with the skills she
has passed on to me... but I think I’ll put it off for some time to
* * *
Marty Layne: How has learning at home
prepared you for the things you are doing now?
I have learned how to learn, so no matter what I do, I never feel as if
I can go no further. I have learned “people skills”, how to ask
questions, how to try anything, how to be clear about what I want. I am
now living in Toronto, singing with the Canadian Opera Company in the
chorus, teaching voice, piano, flute and theory. I have just signed on
with an agent I trust and respect who is busy getting me auditions and
work in the oratorio, recital and operatic field. I have many friends
within the music biz and without. I am loving my path.
Carey Newman: The freedom to create that I mentioned as
something that I enjoyed about homeschooling was what has prepared me
best for what I do now. I took music lessons all of my life, starting
out with piano at the age of three. I went on to go to university in
pursuit of a career in piano. I have gone on to start a career as an
opera singer. At the age of 26, I have had principle roles in six
professional operas, and have appeared on CBC television. I also own a
small business called the Blue Raven Gallery through which I market my
own and my family’s artwork.
Matthew Skala: I’m studying for
a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo; that includes
some scientific research, some classes I take as a student, and some
classes where I act as a teaching assistant.
As to how I’m using my
homeschooling now: I spent a lot of time writing computer programs when
I was a homeschooled student, and although there’s more to computer
science than writing programs, that skill is certainly useful in my
work. I feel that I’m at a considerable advantage over some of my
colleagues who didn’t start programming until they were at the college
level and just don’t have the same intuitive understanding of how to
This next point is harder
to measure, but I think I’ve also gotten a lot of use from the volume of
reading, and computer BBS networking, that I did as a child. That
background has given me both skill and confidence in expressing my ideas
as written words. I didn’t realize until I became involved in academia
just how much the whole system depends on writing skills, and I’m
watching a lot of my students having trouble because they aren’t
comfortable with the written word yet.
It’s given me the confidence to tackle many things myself. I learn new
skills very, very quickly, and I’m not afraid to go into a situation
where I know nothing or very little at the outset. Moving more
specifically to music, I think being homeschooled helped enormously with
my performance ability. I am very comfortable standing up in front of
people and being the focus of their attention. The time that I had
because I was homeschooling helped me to develop and practice a much
deeper process of learning new music – especially compared to the hectic
(insane) schedule of a typical university.
Noah Layne: It gave me the time
to pursue my artistic interests. It gave me a different point of view on
life and gave me the ability to appreciate artistic things which aren’t
appreciated in the mainstream culture.
I currently teach students from three to 76 years old in a variety of
dance styles. I also work part time in a retail store where I put my
artistic talents to work creating theatrical masks. As a self-employed
contract worker I keep my own ledger and accounts using my hard-won math
skills. I continue to study on my own, learning as I go and pursuing my
own training as a professional dancer/teacher. Homeschooling gave me the
flexibility I needed to manage a very busy schedule of dance classes. I
think if I had attended formal school, I would not be the same person I
Tacy Haddad: Right now, I am
traveling…all over. For the past two years, I worked at the Art Gallery
of Greater Victoria (after art school). I decided to look around the
world for this year. Everyday in being out in the world, I am made aware
of the effects that my education has had on how I am with people and
situations. I feel that I am able to interact with people of all ages
and backgrounds, on all levels.
When you grow up with
exposure to people of all ages on a day-to-day basis (instead of being
put in classes with children almost entirely in your age range), they
become your peers. Essentially, everyone you come in contact with
becomes your peer and this creates a wonderful equality. Learning at
home gave me enough time to develop my creativity and imagination. I
constantly use this everyday, especially with art and writing…two of my
Gloria Frye: I think I have a
tolerance for people with unusual or abnormal backgrounds, which some of
my friends do not. I heard once that children who have never taken exams
don’t know how to fail. Up to a point I think this is true. Now consider
the possibilities of that for a moment. Imagine a society where failure
wasn’t really a concept!
Robin Layne: I’m leaving for
L.A. in March to attend the L.A. Music Academy for six months, at which
time I’ll make the decision to either continue my studies at a
university or start working professionally in the L.A. area if I can get
gigs. There are many ways in which homeschooling has helped prepare me
for my career as a percussionist, but most importantly it has given me
the belief in myself that I can do anything I want to do, if I work hard
enough at it. When the mind creates no artificial boundaries the sky is
Marty Layne has four adult children who learned at home from k-12. She wouldn’t trade the years they spent playing in the park, at the beach, in the backyard, or in the house for anything. She wrote a book to answer people’s questions about why she chose homeschooling and started her own publishing company to publish
Learning At Home: A Mother’s Guide To Homeschooling. She has also recorded a children’s music CD,
Brighten the Day – songs to celebrate the seasons. Read more about her at www.martylayne.com.
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