Homeschooling advice from Leigh A. Bortins, founder of Classical Conversations
By Barbara Danza
As many parents trepidatiously dip their toes in the homeschooling waters this year, veteran homeschoolers are watching and cheering, knowing that so many children are about to experience newfound freedom in their education and life.
While homeschooling may be a new concept to some, it’s become a learning style, and indeed a lifestyle, enjoyed by many for decades.
Leigh A. Bortins, a veteran homeschooling parent, not only educated her children at home but also shares her homeschooling wisdom with countless others through her company, Classical Conversations, and numerous books, including “Echo in Celebration: A Call to Home-Centered Education.” I asked Bortins for her advice for new homeschoolers just getting started.
The Epoch Times: You began homeschooling your children in the 1980s, before the internet, and when homeschooling was considered, perhaps, a radical idea to some. What inspired you to take that leap?
Leigh A. Bortins: My husband and I were studying aerospace engineering in college when we were married and had our first son, Robert. My husband, Rob, was concerned about the low educational standards of incoming freshmen (he was older and working toward his third degree), and I had a horrible K–12 experience that I didn’t want my children to repeat.
I saw an episode of a talk show about homeschooling, and I was convinced that we would homeschool, even though our first son was still a baby. I told my husband about the option, and he was very relieved.
The Epoch Times: As if that didn’t keep you busy enough, you started a company that has since grown to serve countless homeschooling families. How did Classical Conversations come to be?
Ms. Bortins: I read a lot of books on classical education. The dialectic and rhetorical arts require a community of students to debate, practice speeches, give presentations, participate in plays, wrestle with math concepts, and enjoy science experiments. You can do this with just your family, but we wanted our sons to have some time in small academic groups.
So we merged our love of family school, service, and work with a one-day-a-week culmination of rigorous academic activities with homeschooling families. The Classical Conversations families did the hard work at home and then met to improve and share their studies through projects and performances.
The Epoch Times: What words of encouragement would you offer the many parents who find themselves unexpectedly homeschooling this year?
Ms. Bortins: Take a breath and consider the blessing of this opportunity. Use the time to reconnect as a family and consider holistic opportunities in education. Maybe your little children need more playtime. Maybe your older children need more service time. Maybe your family can finally travel. Also, consider the skills that encourage healthy family life and spend time cultivating your family’s legacy.
The Epoch Times: What do you feel are the key elements to a successful first year of homeschool?
Ms. Bortins: Put your own oxygen mask on first. Read about parenting, homeschooling, and classical education. Join a community of homeschoolers like Classical Conversations who can support you. Expect great things!
The Epoch Times: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self starting out along the homeschool journey?
Ms. Bortins: Don’t expect big heads on little bodies. Adults tend to overestimate children’s experiences and underestimate children’s abilities. Little children can be taught to complete a complicated task, if given infinite time and a patient instructor. Children learn through repetition over extended periods of time. I wish I knew how to be as patient as a grandparent when I was only a young parent.
The Epoch Times: What did you find to be the greatest benefit of homeschooling your children?
Ms. Bortins: The comedy show. My kids make me laugh and laugh and laugh. Good thing they all live nearby as adults and we can include grandchildren and in-laws, as well as aunts, uncles, and extended family. Academics are one way to expand the material for life as a family.
The Epoch Times: Through your work, you surely interact with numerous other homeschooling families. What do you believe are the most common mistakes homeschooling families make?
Ms. Bortins: The credits in school systems encourage us to check off boxes that do not reflect truth. For example, parents have told me that their child doesn’t need to participate in our Classical Conversations’ biology seminar because their 10th-grader has already studied biology. My response is, “Really? They know everything about biology as a 16-year-old?”
As a homeschooler, I believe everything we do is practice for the next day and the rest of life. We are never finished learning. We are only practicing. Rereading the same material from different perspectives is part of that practice.
The Epoch Times: Why do you believe homeschooling has grown so significantly in popularity in recent years?
Ms. Bortins: Seeing is believing. Most people now know someone who has successfully homeschooled their children and trust the process. Homeschooled children do well as adults. Take a look at NHERI.org for 30 years of research on homeschool outcomes.
The Epoch Times: Would you like to offer any final pieces of advice to this year’s new homeschoolers?
Ms. Bortins: I’ll make a guarantee. Substitute the long day of carpooling and time in classrooms with just two hours a day of mixed reading, and you will successfully educate your children. Mixed reading means any mixture of fiction and non-fiction that is below, at, and above your child’s reading level. You read aloud to the whole family for an hour a day and let them read alone for an hour a day. Introduce them to the best of ideas they wouldn’t explore for your read-aloud books, and let them read what interests them on their own time. You’ll find the children begin to broaden their reading choices as you broaden yours.