Unschooled Journalism: Helen Hegener's Interview

Today's interview is with Helen Hegener. She and her husband Mark have unschooled 5 children, all adults now. The Hegeners have been publishing a great magazine about homeschooling since the early 1980s, Home Education Magazine. This magazine helped me a lot while I was homeschooling my two and I think I still have a box of old issues down in my basement.

She lives in Alaska which I find particularly interesting since I just finished reading Into The Wild . Helen, if I ever end up in Alaska, I hope you'll help me out because I certainly don't want to stay in an old bus in the wilderness!

I don't think I'd ever end up in a situation like that though, because I'm not much of a camper. And I married the right guy too because his idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel without a hot tub.

Okay, on with the interview...

1. How long have you been homeschooling (or if finished, how long did you homeschool)?

Our family has always homeschooled - unschooled, really - and it's a generational thing for us: my younger brother and sister (both in their 40's now) never went to school, and my grandkids are now being unschooled! But closer to home, Mark and I raised five totally unschooled kids, who now range in age from 24 to 35.

2. One of the main benefits of homeschooling is the freedom and flexibility it allows. Can you give us a few examples of how this freedom and flexibility benefited you (your family)?

Because I was largely unschooled I was able to play with writing and journalism and computers and everything that eventually led to our starting Home Education Magazine in 1983, and hopefully that has benefited many families besides our own over the years (thanks, Mom!).

Our kids have been able to pursue their own interests and that has led to following their own dreams, developing their own businesses, and unschooling their own kids.

3. Another benefit of homeschooling is the fun factor. Can you give us a few examples of some especially fun times you had as a result of homeschooling?

Wow, there have been so many, but I'd probably have to start with the traveling we were able to do as a family, from coast to coast and from Arizona to Alaska. I grew up in Alaska, and we traveled up here many times before finally settling down here for good a few years ago, and we loved the freedom to take as long as we wanted to on the road, exploring interesting places and taking side roads... It was great to be able to go camping, fishing, canoeing, sailing, or just riding our horses whenever we wanted to, without the need to worry about school schedules and commitments.

4. We all have funny experiences while homeschooling. Can you share one of yours with us?

Just one? Okay, one of my favorites was when our daughter Jody was about 12. She was spending the summer helping wrangle horses at a friend's guest ranch, and a group of kids from a fancy private school had come for the weekend. They were curious about this girl their own age who'd never been to school, and one day while out for a ride a few of them decided to try testing her math knowledge, so they got into a sing-song recitation of the times tables, figuring she wouldn't be able to keep up.

It took her a little while to see the rhythm and make sense of what they were doing, as she'd never been taught the traditional times tables, but she went along and was even figuring out some of the answers by the time they got up into the double digits. When the schoolkids got to 12 x 12 = 144 they quit, but Jody didn't know that was the stopping point and she kept right on going, 13 x 1 = 13, 13 x 2 = 26, 13 x 3 = 39... and left all the schoolkids with their jaws dropped!

This is Jody, on her horse named "Cool."

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