This Mother’s Day, second-generation homeschool moms reflect on family legacy

As homeschool rates hold steady two years after the onset of the pandemic, many longtime homeschooling mothers are celebrating the freedom to not only fulfill their children’s academic needs, but also help them thrive.

Meet three Kansas City-area homeschool moms who, as homeschool graduates themselves, want their children to enjoy the same experiences they had growing up.

Their stories are unique, yet they share common themes that can encourage and support other mothers considering – or new to – this educational approach.

Sarah Michalak, KC-area homeschool mom and art teacher

As the second of three children, Sarah was homeschooled all the way from kindergarten through high school graduation.

Unlike many homeschool parents, though, Sarah’s mother came from an extensive educational background. She had taught math in the Omaha school district for years and saw firsthand how little some children in the public schools were learning.

Sarah also said her mother saw how some children’s disrespectful behaviors affected the whole classroom. “She thought, ‘I’m not going to do this when I have kids someday’,” Sarah recalled.

Her mother was thinking of private school, but when a few families in their church started homeschooling, she began to consider an education at home as well.

“We got a lot of flak from both sides of the family,” Sarah said, noting that she often heard relatives asking her mom, “When are you going to put the kids in real school?” 

Today, however, Sarah said she appreciates her mother’s sacrifice in choosing to homeschool. She made sure they were enrolled in co-op classes, took standardized tests, and participated in extracurricular activities such as soccer, swim team and art classes.

“I think it was hard for her, as far as that goes,” she said. “But I’m really glad that we homeschooled. I thought it was a great experience.”

Sarah credits her homeschool experience to thriving in college, where she said she felt more emotionally and academically prepared than some of her peers.

“Definitely I felt like I had a better education overall,” she said. “Just because you homeschool doesn’t guarantee that your kids are going to be Christians or follow that path, but at least it gives you the opportunity to teach them the truth, and then they can decide for themselves.”

Before she married her husband Matt, Sarah said they often had conversations about her homeschool experience. “He’s like, ‘That sounds so cool! I totally wish I had homeschooled!’ He went to public school all the way through. He’s like, ‘We definitely need to homeschool!’”

Sarah, however, wasn’t so sure at first. “I know how much work it is for a homeschool mom. This isn’t something that you need to go into lightly. You really need to think about it.”

Ultimately, though, Sarah said she decided the benefits of homeschooling outweighed the sacrifices and challenges. “I love that you can diversify and just let your kids really dig into something they’re really interested in.”

For example, her oldest son, Ryan, uses homeschool to explore his current passions such as robotics, coding and SketchUp, a 3D modeling program that can connect directly to the family’s printer.

“I think you do have to be committed,” she said. “One thing to think about is anything worth doing of lasting value takes effort, and sometimes it takes a lot of effort. … But I think it’s a lot more doable than people really think.”

Cassie Nichols, homeschool mom in Merriam, Kansas

Some of Cassie’s favorite homeschool memories involve her parents reading aloud to her.

“I remember my dad reading to us in the evenings where it was just such a cozy, comfortable, relaxed family time,” she said, noting that the children rotated between activities such as puzzles, knitting or lying on pillows on the living room floor in front of the fireplace.

Cassie’s mom, however, had a different experience.

“I remember her trying so hard to read aloud to us even when she was so exhausted with twins who were infants. And she’d fall asleep reading aloud to us, and we’d be nudging her, like ‘Mom, come on! You fell asleep again! What’s next?’” she recalled, laughing. “So I remember that she put in a lot of effort. It was important to her.”

As the oldest of seven children, Cassie was homeschooled all the way through 12th grade. She said both her parents believed they could best fulfill their God-given responsibility to raise their children by teaching them in the home.

“We still had classes and activities outside of the home for sure, but the majority of our time was spent in the sphere of our family,” she said. “They felt that was the best way to prepare us for life, and then of course teaching us the things that were important, not only in academics but character.”

Cassie and her husband, Ben, have five children ages 9 and younger. While Ben wasn’t homeschooled, Cassie said he was always open to the idea and knew that was what she wanted to do.

“It has been really neat to see how much more confident and comfortable he has become with it over the years since we started,” she said.

For Cassie, one challenge as a homeschool mom was learning to be more relaxed and patient, adjusting her expectations as a teacher. “Everybody learns differently, and at their own pace. We can sometimes push a lot of academics really young, and yet lots of studies have shown that no matter if a child learns to read at 3 or 4 or at 8, they all end up pretty much on the same level.”

She said parents should realize they can constantly re-evaluate homeschool options such as enrichment programs, daily routines and coursework. “Every family functions so differently, and it should rightfully be the same for a homeschool. Scheduling, curriculum – it’s individualized for the family and the child.”

 Some benefits of homeschooling involve more time to spend with her children, she said. “We have a lot more hours in the day to be able to get those times in with each child, and to be very aware of what’s going on in their daily life. What’s troubling them? What are they working on? What areas are they growing in? And just being able to be more purposeful in addressing each of those.”

She also encourages people new to homeschooling to find people who are already homeschooling, whether for just a short time or many years.

“Feel comfortable to ask them any questions, or have a group of moms that you can just shoot out a text and say, ‘I need some mom advice here,’ ” she said. “Or even more, ‘Would you just pray for me today? It’s been a rough morning.’ … Nobody needs to feel like they’re on their own and they have to start from scratch.”

Cassie says she’s recently been thinking about the history of moms who chose to homeschool before it became more mainstream. The generation before me paved the way to make it so much easier for those of us who are just starting our homeschooling journey.

“And that can be encouraging for us now to see and to think, ‘What I’m doing now is going to make such a difference for those coming after me, and for my children who are still very young – toddlers and elementary school.’ 

“And yet, the daily choices that we are making are going to be known and remembered for a generation – or generations.”

Renee Bichel, homeschool mom in Peculiar, Missouri, and co-founder of Mighty Roots Academy

Renee was in 3rd grade of public school when her father started attending a church where lots of families homeschooled. Her parents were divorced, and her father had primary custody.

“He started to feel a real calling to educate me himself,” Renee said.

 Renee said her father made many sacrifices to homeschool her, which included changing his full-time work schedule and listening to her concerns about the transition.

“I really did like public school, so it took a little bit to get used to the idea of being home,” she said. “But I did trust my dad. We had a very good relationship. He was a fantastic parent.”

For her first year of homeschooling in 4th grade, her father put her in a homeschool co-operative that met one day a week so she could still receive a classroom experience.

“I immediately made friends, and it didn’t feel as harsh of a shift,” she said. “I feel like he was smart, he knew what I needed, and just provided those things for me so I didn’t feel lonely.”

Her homeschool schedule looked different than most. She would do some classes on her own in the morning while her father was at work. Then, once he finished work, he could help her with anything else she needed in the afternoons and evenings.

“What’s lovely about homeschooling is, it doesn’t have to look a certain way,” she said. “You can do it any time of day. 

Renee enjoyed her experience so much that she said by age 16 she knew she wanted to educate her own children at home. Today she has three children, ages 9 to 14.

“I feel like my dad did a really good job of preparing me for the world and preparing me for college classes that I took,” she said. “I loved the idea of a family unit being together more, and not eight hours a day doing separate things. And then maybe getting a few hours in the evening to be together – and then starting that day over again.”

Renee said she needed some time to convince her husband, Curtis, about her choice to homeschool.

“We have a relationship where we like to debate,” she said, noting that she had thrived during homeschool speech and debate classes when she was growing up. “There are things we debated that I came around to his end, and this is one where he fully came to my side.”

Renee also said that hybrid homeschool models, such as the one she had growing up, can provide a middle ground by providing enrichment programs, extracurricular opportunities and other social gatherings. 

“You have class experiences, you have group experiences, and you’re learning in discussions with people who don’t necessarily hold the same views as you,” she said. “And those are things that I wanted for my kids, especially going into high school.”

 Renee would encourage any mom to consider homeschooling, since moms already have so much knowledge about their children’s academic, social and other needs.

“I don’t really have any special ability. It’s just the path that I’ve chosen for my family, and we all work at it together,” she said. “It does take some sacrifice for sure, but it’s one of those things that is worth it for me.”