“Why did you decide to homeschool?” It’s a simple question, but
there are as many different answers as there are homeschooling families. Today on
Homeschool Heartbeat, hear stay-at-home dad and homeschool teacher Peter Cook
explain why he loves teaching his kids at home.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Peter Cook. Peter is a
stay-at-home dad and homeschooling teacher who lives in Maine with his wife and three
children. Peter, welcome to our program today!
Peter Cook: Thanks for having me.
Switching places [0:29]
Mike: You know, Peter, the beauty of homeschooling is that
there are so many different ways to do it. It all comes down to what works best for your
family. How did you end up as the primary homeschool teacher for your children?
Peter: Actually, kind of by accident. My employer at the time
was making cuts, and there was a pretty good amount of uncertainty about the future. And
at that point, I was on my third manager. And when she left, I just knew something had
to change. And my wife and I had talked about “switching places” for years.
So when she was offered a really great opportunity for a full-time position at her place
of work, we thought and prayed about it and decided to make the jump. We’d been
homeschooling for a couple of years already, so part of taking on the new job of
stay-at-home dad was taking over the schooling.
Mike: So how long have you actually been taking over the
Peter: Since 2014.
Mike: So Peter, what does your typical day look like?
Peter: Well, our curriculum has three major components:
mathematics, Classical Conversations grammar, and English grammar are the major
subjects. The CC curriculum includes subjects like history, science, art, music, and
others throughout the year. So it’s a pretty well-balanced approach. We try to
teach in the morning, primarily, so the kids can have some time to be kids in the
afternoon. But we also try to take an opportunity to find teaching moments throughout
the day—only my kids don’t call them teaching moments, they call them
Mike: You know, that’s pretty cool. How did they come up
Peter: My oldest daughter came up with it when she realized we
were trying to use a television program at the time she was watching to teach her about
history. And she was like, “You’re being sneaky and trying to do
Mike: That’s cool, that’s tremendous.
Why homeschooling? [2:04]
Mike: Peter, how did you first find out about
Peter: Well, my wife and I both went to public school, so we
had no experience—no personal experience—with homeschooling. But we knew a
lot of friends from college who were teaching their kids at home. So we talked to a lot
of them, and we looked into the quality of the curriculums offered, and we just decided
it was definitely an option for our family.
Mike: So can you tell us a little bit more about why you
actually decided to do it?
Peter: Well, one of the major events that led us to take action
was when our oldest daughter was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. And
homeschooling kind of seemed like the best way to give her a chance to learn at her
pace, without putting her in an environment that we knew had the potential to impede her
ability to learn. And so far, that’s served her and our family well.
Mike: Well Peter, if I was to ask you what the most rewarding
aspect of homeschooling has been for your family, what would that be?
Peter: I think the most obvious is just the time you get to
spend with your kids and build into their lives. When I first became a parent, I thought
“it goes by so fast” was a cliché that older parents told you. But
it’s really not. It does really fly by. So getting a chance to spend that time
with your kids is great.
And another is watching the kids kind of grow. Each week, [in] our Classical
Conversations community, each student has to do a presentation before their classmates.
And that’s helped our oldest daughter develop her social skills, her presentation
And I would say the last, perhaps, is the one-room schoolhouse effect. We’ve
seen the younger kids start picking up on things sooner because their older siblings are
Mike: Those are good reasons, my friend. The one-room
schoolhouse is the best—that’s the genius of home education.
Peter: [It’s] unbelievable how much more my 5-year-old
knows than my oldest did when she was 5.
Mike: You know, the ones that really benefit are the younger
Peter: Oh yeah, yeah.
Mike: Because the older ones end up being more teachers, but
then they like that, so.
Peter: Yeah, teachers / test subjects.
Why every homeschooler is a rebel [4:08]
Mike: Peter, homeschooling offers families a lot of freedom to
create a teaching structure that actually works for them. What advice do you have for
parents trying to figure out the best way to divvy up the teaching responsibilities?
Peter: For us, it’s “go with your strengths.”
My wife is much better at math than I am or will ever be, most likely. So it’s
kind of natural that she teaches that part of the curriculum. I’m a writer and
I’ve always been interested in grammar, so I tend to gravitate towards helping the
kids during that part of the day. We both do the Classical Conversations grammar because
that’s kind of a repetition thing. And other times, it just depends on schedules.
I’m the primary grocery shopper and [I] cook most of the family dinners, and so
sometimes, if the family wants to eat and some school still needs to get done, you know,
my wife will step in. And if my wife needs to do something, I’ll step in.
Mike: Well, Peter, you already know this, but some people
assume that if a family is homeschooling, the mom is doing all the teaching. But that
social expectation can actually make families feel restricted instead of free to do what
works best for them. Now, my question: As a stay-at-home dad and a homeschool teacher,
how would you advise parents who are dealing with that assumption—whether
it’s coming from themselves or from others?
Peter: When I first started homeschooling, someone sent me a
great article from National Review, and the author called homeschooling parents
“the last authentically radical social movement in the country.” And I love
that, because if you’re homeschooling your kids, you’re already breaking
social expectations. You’re already a rebel. So the best advice I could give, I
guess, would be to go out and find a community full of your fellow rebels and join it.
Communities provide structure, they provide fellowship, encouragement. And spending time
with other homeschool families will lessen those sort of self-imposed restrictions and
criticisms by giving you peers to talk with on a regular basis.
Mike: So there’s a good part about being a rebel,
Peter: Yeah. That’s exactly . . . I think so.
Parenting is teaching [6:10]
Mike: Peter, we sometimes hear from parents that they’re
afraid to homeschool because they don’t feel qualified to teach their kids, or
they’re afraid of the commitment, or because it sounds like a lot of work. How
would you encourage these parents?
Peter: In a way, they’re completely right. Homeschooling
is a huge commitment and a lot of work. That said, so is parenting. I don’t feel
qualified to be a parent most days. But there’s no degree or training program that
can teach me how to do the most important job I have. But if you’re a parent,
you’re already a teacher, you know, and you have been since Day 1. You have been
since the day your children started to become aware of the world around them. I mean, we
teach our kids how to use the restroom, how to climb stairs, how to put on their
clothes, brush their teeth, wash their hands—I mean, parenting is teaching. And
homeschooling is just a natural extension of what you’ve already been doing with
your kids since the day you brought them home from the hospital. You’re just
adding some more formal subjects into the curriculum, so to speak.
Mike: Well, it’s interesting you said this about
parenting: that you don’t really have a choice, do you?
Mike: You have to parent.
Peter: You have to parent, and one of the most important parts
of that job is teaching already.
Mike: But you see, I don’t think most parents think of it
that way. They know they have to parent, but they don’t see teaching as a
mandatory part of that.
Peter: I think you’re right. Yeah, I think you’re
Mike: See, I think you’re on to something. Because
that’s how I think we have to encourage parents, is “Look, you’re
going to have to teach, because that’s part of your responsibility. You might as
well take the full responsibility for the education of your children.”
Peter: Yeah. Add history and math, and job done.
Mike: I think that’s the issue.
Mike: There’s nothing you can do about parenting. You
have to parent.
Mike: But there’s something out there called a public
school that says, “But you don’t have to teach your kids—we’re
going to do that.” That’s the problem.
Peter: Well, it’s the idea that you need to be
credentialed to teach your kids, that there’s some sort of special something
that’s laid upon people when they get a teaching degree, you know? And I just
don’t see that.
Mike: Well, the interesting thing, of course, when we were
starting homeschooling in 1981 and the movement: the big hurdle was you have to be
certified, you have to be a trained teacher to be able to teach children. And of course
that wasn’t true—it’s a myth—but way back then, people
didn’t know it, because you really didn’t have any success stories,
didn’t have a lot of kids that were demonstrating that they could actually be good
students and learn a lot with parents that aren’t certified. So we actually had to
do standardized achievement testing of homeschool kids. And so we start finding out
these kids are scoring 80th, 90th percentile, with some parents that weren’t even
high school graduates but certainly not certified teachers. So that kind of blew that
myth out after a while.
So today, I don’t think most people would actually make that argument. They
know better now.
Peter: Yeah, I think so. Thanks to you guys’ work.
Mike: Well, thank you.
It’s not about you [9:05]
Mike: Peter, even the most optimistic homeschooling parents can
get discouraged. The kids aren’t happy, you’re always stressed, your
homeschooling isn’t making and progress—we all know the feeling. What
encouragement would you give to parents who think they have to quit homeschooling
because they feel like a failure?
Peter: For us, it’s been [that] sometimes I need to
accept that we’re going to fail; things are going to go badly, we’re going
to have bad days. But failure’s just—it’s not defeat. You know,
failure’s just a lack of functioning. Defeat is being conquered, being overcome to
the point where you quit. You’re going to have bad days if you choose to
homeschool—it’s a given—and you just need to find a way to fail
without being defeated.
And I think this is where curriculum and community home in handy. If you have a
strong curriculum, you can follow it even if your kids are maybe scowling at each other
across the table (which happens). And if you find a community, you can share your
struggles and find encouragement.
Homeschool is work. Sometimes it’s really tedious work. And sometimes it seems
like it will never bear fruit. And the best piece of advice I can give is: No matter how
stressed, discouraged, or tired you may feel, it’s not about you. In that way,
again, it’s just like parenting.
Mike: Well, would you be willing to share some of the struggles
your family has actually faced and overcome through homeschooling?
Peter: I think we’ve faced a lot of the same ones that
other homeschooling families face—bad days, days where the kids don’t feel
like learning and you don’t feel like teaching. But one of the major struggles I
think we’ve overcome was with our oldest daughter and her autism spectrum
disorder. You know, figuring out how to teach her and keep her engaged in school has
always been a huge challenge, but seeing the success of that has also been one of our
Mike: Peter, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show
this week. Thank you for joining us, and may God continue to bless your family as you
continue to homeschool. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.