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Meet the Homeschoolers

An increasing number of Hawaii families are choosing to educate their children at home. We spoke with three of them to learn more about the realities of homeschooling.


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Photos: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

Today, the Guiles’ small Makiki apartment looks something like a realization of that early Cheaper by the Dozen dream. The living room is packed with children’s stories, well-thumbed workbooks, school supplies and toys. Tasha wanders through the place practicing her violin, and there are a few didgeridoos stacked in the corner, left over from a demonstration a few weeks ago.

There’s not much room for a dedicated study area. The girls do their schoolwork spread out on the floor of the living room, around a low table, or maybe on the sofa. Nicole assigns Celeste a spelling worksheet, but has to take a quick break to console Lulu, who has burst out crying across the room. They had taken a field trip that morning to the pumpkin patch at Aloun Farms, and now, just after lunch, could all probably use a nap.

Martin works full time at the Oceanography Department at UH Manoa, so Nicole handles almost all of the teaching duties. Her job is a daily juggling act, keeping each of the girls engaged and completing her assignments for the day, and herding them all to the many lessons and activities they’re enrolled in—ballet, P.E., field trips to museums. And then there are the regular responsibilities of running a household—shopping, laundry, cooking. No sick days here, no vacations.

She fits in schoolwork whenever possible—generally for a few hours in the afternoon, other times in the morning as part of a larger weekly class held by the local homeschooling co-op. She teaches the girls math and English every day, science on Tuesday, history and geography whenever she can manage it.

Nicole says she’s still learning the ropes. “It’s been a process, figuring out what works, what doesn’t,” she says. “And I don’t think that will stop. I enjoy it, but there is so much second-guessing, so much worrying about whether you’re doing the right thing, or doing it the right way. It takes a lot of faith to keep going.”

She relies heavily on her local network of other homeschooling families, comparing notes on teaching techniques, time management and curricula, and sharing textbooks. The Internet, also, has been a tremendous boon.

“After they go to bed at night, I’ll be on Google,” Nicole says. “Celeste asks me about things, and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll research it and get back to her the next day.”

So far, the girls have been making good academic progress. Tasha is just starting first grade, and hasn’t yet taken an evaluation, but Celeste, now in third grade, has been performing well on her year-end SATs. There have been a few blind spots, however—specific bits of knowledge taught by the DOE’s curriculum that didn’t match up with what Nicole was teaching. She had been handling history chronologically, for example, whereas the DOE follows a unit-based schedule that tackles 20th-century events early.

“I need to dig a little more and find out exactly what’s on these tests,” she says. “I use test guides to prepare, but apparently they’re not always complete.”

For Celeste Guiles, classwork can happen just about anywhere.

Photos: Elyse Butler and Matt Mallams

If not much of this sounds like fun, it’s balanced by moments of achievement, celebration and togetherness. Nicole says she and her husband couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. “Yes, our kids could be in school, and we could have two incomes, and we wouldn’t have to live here,” she says, glancing around their 480-square-foot apartment. “But it’s a choice we made, and it’s what works for our family.”

And when Celeste or Tasha or Lulu makes a breakthrough, Nicole is there to share it, and feels the pride of having made it possible. “When Celeste started to read, there’s nothing that could compare to the feeling of seeing your kid loving this book,” she says. “I taught her how to do that!”

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Honolulu Magazine December 2019
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