One Family’s Unexpected Journey into Homeschooling

Crystal Holsinger

“Learning is not the product of teaching, Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” – John Holt


Before having children, the thought of home schooling never crossed my mind. I admit that I had preconceived notions and stereotypes of who I would have pictured as a “home school family”. Luckily I have a great friend (who happens to be a former elementary school teacher, as many home schooling parents are) who convinced me to read Peter Gray’s Free to Learn, and as with many (hopefully most) things in life, as we learn, we grow and realize that there truly are many ways to live. Just as there are many different ways to live, eat, parent, etc… there are many ways to approach education.

What we think of as a school is one place for people to learn and even that can look different among the seemingly infinite educational philosophies. Schools can also provide support in many other ways. They can be a physical place for children to be while parent/s work, they can provide food security, they can even be a safe haven for those whose homes may not be. However, here is the thing, a school can be a great place to learn but is certainly not the only place to learn! Just as there are numerous types of schools, the same applies to home schooling. There are families who have their children enrolled in on-line school programs that follow the state guidelines and have “school time” that looks very similar to a traditional American school, there are those who might follow Waldorf or Montessori curriculum, many families home school for religious reasons and follow a religious curriculum, some may choose to home school because their child/ren may not thrive in a traditional school setting, plenty of families want the ability to travel and consider themselves Worldschoolers, and the list goes on and on and on… So much of the beauty in home schooling is that you get to choose what works for your family!

The work of Peter Gray really helped shape our views on education (“the sum of everything a person learns that enables that person to live a satisfying and meaningful life”) versus how it is viewed in our society (“typically imposed or compulsory schooling that is based on a system of rewards and punishments”). After reading Free to Learn we had a whole new perspective of how education could look (and has actually looked for most of human history) so we began to delve even deeper and began reading more, watching documentaries and listening to podcasts all supporting the idea of Self- Directed Education or S.D.E. This way of life felt right for our family but could we actually do this? There were so many things to consider; the judgment from others (homeschoolers are crazy!), potential loss of income, isolation from other children and adults, would I ever be able to make an uninterrupted phone call again, and the fear of not being a ‘good enough’ parent or teacher. In the end our family realized that our values fell outside of the mainstream and we wanted something different than the norm, we wanted to give our family the freedom and joy that S.D.E. allows.

According to the Alliance for Self Directed Education, self-directed education is, “Education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the person being educated.” This philosophy is rooted in the belief that, “Children come into the world biologically designed to educate themselves. Their natural curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and playfulness were shaped by natural selection to serve the purpose of their education.” This is why in most neuro-typical and physical ability typical children, they truly learn to roll over, crawl, walk and talk without being expressly taught (although it must be said that the “baby industry” tries incredibly hard to get you to doubt this and will conveniently sell you just what you need to help). There are schools across the globe that are rooted in S.D.E. principles, but none in this valley, so we practice it at home. This allows us to structure our lives in a rhythm that works for us, we wake when our bodies are ready (which still happens to be 6am for the girls), spend a lot of time in nature, incorporate much more physical movement in our days (or less, depending on where we are all at), travel when it is convenient for us, visit museums and galleries and for our daughters to learn in a way that is individualized and allows them to truly follow their interest.

Our daughters are still young and so our daily rhythm looks a lot like play (which, luckily for us, is the foundation of all learning and what looks like play is actually so, so much more) with “academics” mixed in when our oldest is drawn to them. We often pop into The Launchpad to view and discuss the art, we take a weekly hike and are able to take our time to really see the sights and hear the sounds, much of our time is spent on the banks of the Crystal River engineering pathways for the water to fill and playing in the willows, day trips to orchards and farms happen regularly, we visit other libraries and places like the fish hatchery to learn, and often we can be found milling around our home hanging out.

It is amazing to see how much can be learned through simply participating in life; Recently I was slicing up a watermelon and eldest, who is five, remarked that I had cut it into quarters (she has never had a” lesson” on fractions) and we took that as an opportunity to have further discussions on the subject. This same principle can be applied to many, if not all, subjects. Just as she learned to crawl, talk and walk as a result of participating meaningfully in life, she has begun to learn to read and write because knowing how to allows her to “live a satisfying and meaningful life.” As parents we listen, answer questions, support them with what we can and connect them with resources when we can’t. As John Holt (author, educator and pioneer in youth rights theory) says we, “See which things interest them most, and help them go down that road.”

In addition to all of the above, I started a home school co-op with the friend mentioned above. Currently our co-op includes 8 amazing homeschooling families and meets twice weekly giving the children and parents alike an amazing social network and supportive friendships. While we are just beginning our journey on this path, and one never can know what the future holds, for now it has been truly amazing to watch our children encourage each other, learn and grow in their own ways. As for that uninterrupted phone call? I’m not holding my breath.

Common Questions We Get (answered with a little help from friends)

What you do about socialization? “This is one of the most common questions that home school parents are asked. Quite honestly it isn’t a concern of mine at all, and in many ways I feel that those needs can be best met through homeschooling. For example, in addition to neighborhood play dates and extracurricular activities, my children participate in a home school cooperative two days each week where they are given up to 6 consecutive hours to romp around with their peers. Best of all, this group of peers ranges in age from 5 years younger than them to 5 years older than them.

I truly find multiage interaction to be pure magic.  Each child is naturally given the opportunity to both lead and be lead. Every day I watch them collaboratively create new games, assign roles and establish rules for those games, and monitor one another’s actions within them. They have the time to work through their own problems within the group without adult intervention which is incredibly powerful. They have the time to delve deeply into their imaginative worlds together. Their interactions are not limited to 30 minutes or to adult directed activities. I think that if you want your child to have meaningful social interaction, homeschooling can provide the ideal opportunity.” – Cara Lynch, Carbondale, CO

Don’t you have to be financially privileged to be able to do this? Yes. And No. The reality is that this path may not be accessible to everyone. For some families this path can mean that one parent is not earning an income, many families get creative with flexible work schedules, use co-ops, relatives and friends for support, there are single parent families who choose this path and are able to make it work by getting creative, thinking outside the box. “It is a privilege for us to be able to not send our kids to school, but this really limits us financially; however, we make it work. I believe in my children and their potential to make decisions about their lives. Last year we traveled around the world, took 32 flights, and we spent less on everything than we would have if we stayed home. We think and budget creatively.” -Heidi Ahrens, Carbondale, CO

How will you possibly teach your child everything they need to know? Are you a teacher? “We won’t, and neither will you, or school, or any one person, group, or institution. Fortunately, we don’t need to teach them everything they need to know, because all people are naturally intelligent, creative, capable, and curious, and we aren’t homeschooling in isolation. We are part of a growing community of homeschoolers, professionals, parents, and friends with knowledge and skills to share. So we can trust that if we provide our children with the support and freedom to develop and strengthen those innate characteristics, they will be able to identify what they need to know and find the people and resources they need to learn it.” – Rachel Mulry and Ben Green, Carbondale, CO

How can you spend that much time with your children? I don’t! Well actually I do but it doesn’t always look like what you might think. While I am almost always in the vicinity of my children I am certainly not always playing with or entertaining them. Often, when we are out of the house, they are involved in their own games while I may journal or work on a project of my own, coming to me when they have a question or need food (which, let’s be honest, is a lot). When we are at home I may be engaged in something like cooking or cleaning or a really good crossword puzzle while they are involved with the building of an animal hospital for their play animals. Yes, we do spend a lot of time together reading, playing, discussing, hiking and enjoying being with one another (a really beautiful aspect of this choice) but it is certainly not all about them and no time for me.

What about college? “We want our children to explore all that the world has to offer. Commonly held notions of what is required to get into a college can be out-dated. Thousands of colleges accept creative, dynamic, outside the box thinkers. We hope that our children will be able to step up to that plate if they decide to go down that road.” – Heidi Ahrens, Carbondale, CO


More Information: Colorado State guidelines can be found at Peter Gray’s book Free to Learn is a great place to start if you are interested in Self-Directed Education. More information on Self-Directed Education can be found at, there is also a great member forum to answer questions and connect. There is an amazing and active Roaring Fork Valley Homeschoolers page on Face Book and a Yahoo! group for people to connect, ask questions and schedule home school meet ups (we meet at parks, museums, the library…)


Bio: Crystal Holsinger has lived in Carbondale for seven years along with her Husband, Paul, and two young daughters, Hayden and Maple. She enjoys spending time in nature whenever possible and can always use a reminder to slow down and enjoy the moment.