When Barbie Towner first encountered homeschoolers when meeting her then-fiancée’s family in Alaska, she “felt sorry for all that the poor kids were missing out on by not going to school.” An elementary education major who taught preschool for four years, Barbie later found herself imagining the days when her own firstborn would go of to preschool, kindergarten, summer camp and college.
But the Jacksonville resident already had a soft spot for performing learning activities at home; when her oldest daughter was 2, Barbie started her own at-home preschool. They had so much fun reading, creating and learning that the following year, she invited two of her friends to join her in what became an at-home neighborhood preschool. “But everybody goes to preschool at 4, so it seems,” Barbie observes, “and we were on our own again after that. I had a new baby at that point, and no money, so paying someone to do what we were having so much fun doing at home just so my oldest could experience preschool seemed silly.”
When Barbie began officially homeschooling her oldest, she “figured we’d do it until third grade or so, since apparently I’d do such a lousy job that all those kids at school would have caught up with her by then. Nevertheless, I certainly did fall in love with homeschooling. It seemed like the ideal — doing what I loved, all the while being with the people I wanted most to be with in the world: my own family.” Today, Barbie has been homeschooling for more than a decade, and that 2-year-old she started “home-preschooling” is now a teenager (she also has two elementary-age boys).
When asked to describe her homeschooling philosophy, Barbie hearkens back to when asked the same question in her education classes 20 years ago. “My answer was the vague and general ‘eclectic’,” she explains, “which pretty much translates to ‘whatever works.’ I’ve found there is no one best, higher path to homeschooling. Every family, every child is different. You have to find what works for you. I’ve also certainly gained a little perspective and a whole lot of humility since I started.”
Part of that humility comes from the realization that she can’t homeschool on her own. “I’ve been blessed with a supportive extended family,” Barbie declares, “a community where homeschooling is embraced, and a network of homeschooling friends for support and encouragement. I have a child with learning challenges, which always begs the question of ‘Am I doing enough?’, but I know I am able to tailor his education to his learning style in a way that would never be possible in a traditional classroom.”