Homeschool Hints
Homeschool Hints Podcast
When Homeschooling Was Illegal: Q&A with Zan Tyler

When Homeschooling Was Illegal: Q&A with Zan Tyler

Zan discusses threats of jail-time, the rewards of homeschooling, and what to do if your children ask to go to "real" school!

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Shanxi: Hello, this is Shanxi Omoniyi, host of MPE’s “Homeschool Hints” podcast to encourage you wherever you may be on your homeschool journey.

Today we'll be hearing from Zan Tyler, our featured speaker for both our Women's Encouragement day and our upcoming homeschool conference and curriculum fair in April!

Zan homeschooled her own children 21 years and continues to be involved in homeschooling because she believes it is a powerful way to teach your children and prepare them for life. 

Zan: Hello and welcome. My name is Zan Tyler, and I am so excited to be with you tonight, looking forward to being with you the weekend of Feb. 2-3. The Third is the Women's Encouragement Day and we'll be doing the retreat on refined and how we can remain strong and not burn out as a homeschooling mom. So I'm really excited about that retreat and being with you there.

So we are going to, I'm going to be looking for comments and questions in the comment session. But I want to tell you just a little bit about myself. My husband and I started homeschooling in 1984 not because we wanted to, but because we really felt like we were backed in a corner with our oldest son’s education.

We just wanted to hold him back a year. He was very bright and gregarious, but just wasn't reading yet.

I wish I had known then what I know now, that some children read at 4 and some children read at 10 and he was right back in the middle of that.

So in the process of trying to get our district to hold Ty back a year, they refused. Private schools were filled, and our only choice was to homeschool.

So back in 1984, we didn't know one person in the world who homeschooled, and we could not find an attorney to defend us or help us. Neither our school board nor the [South Carolina] State Department of Education would even give us the homeschooling law.

There was no Home School Legal Defense [Association]. There was no LexisNexis or Internet. So you really couldn't find information at your fingertips.

So we finally hired a lawyer and he told me what I needed to do to be legal in South Carolina. So we submitted about a 2-inch-thick application to our school district, and they turned me down. Not because I hadn't met the requirements of the law, but because they were making a statement that they didn't think parents should be able to teach their children at home.

So we hired our attorney again, and he said that the State Board of Education where we needed to appeal next would turn us down and that we would end up in family court.

Well, in the middle of that process, I realized that the State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Charlie Williams, was actually a friend of my mother’s who had been a public school teacher. And when she was in the fourth grade, he observed her classroom.

So I knew him from my childhood up, so I called Dr. Williams and I said, Dr. Williams, I have a real problem. My name is Zan Tyler. I'm [my mother’s] daughter. And I knew you was a child. And you observed my mother's classroom.

And he said, Oh, honey, come on up. He said, I want to meet you. Let's talk about your problems. I’ll see you again.

So I went up to Dr. Williams’ office and explained to him that we just wanted to hold Ty back a year. The school district had agreed, then they revoked that decision. Then private schools were filled and our only choice left was to homeschool.

A friend of mine had given me a book called Homegrown Kids by Doctor Raymond Moore and I thought, Well, I think this might be the answer for Ty for one year.

And Dr. Williams, I thought he was gonna say, Oh, honey, well, I can see you’re a concerned, involved parent. Let's see what I can do to help you.

Instead, he said, Zan, if you continue down this path of homeschooling, I will have you put in jail for truancy.

And I'll never forget the shock and fear that I felt at that moment in time.

And so for the next eight years, our story is just a remarkable story. And I'll be covering some of this at both the retreat and the MPE homeschooling conference in April. So I won't tell the whole story now. But the Lord was very gracious. He really worked a miracle for us, and so for the next 8 years, Joe and my sons and I were very involved in lobbying in the legislature for homeschooling laws.

HSLDA got involved at one point. And really Mike Farris, several others there really helped us out. So after eight years of homeschooling and eight years of either being in the court or the legislature every year, we got a good homeschool law passed in South Carolina.

And so it's interesting because we homeschooled all three of our children for 21 years, all three of them, from kindergarten through. And it just was such a great way. Still a great way to raise kids and to teach them for so many, many reasons. There's so many reasons why I really believe that the mom is the greatest teacher a child will ever have.

And so I want to answer some of the questions that have been sent in from your Facebook page as I tell you my philosophy of education and why I believe homeschooling is amazing. And I think that home school is fabulous. It is the most rewarding experience I have ever had in my life to raise my children and teach them at home.

But it's also the hardest thing that I've ever done. And so I think I love the concept of the midwinter retreat because in February we're all getting tired. Those are hard months. You're through the first semester and Christmas. You have not much to look forward to in terms of what's coming up next, and it's really easy, I think, during the cold winter months to get discouraged.

So one of the questions I have here is what was the most rewarding moment of being a homeschool mom?

And, you know, I really have a hard time narrowing down that to one moment because there were just moments of breakthrough with each of our children. I remember when my oldest son, just one day we were eating lunch out, which was highly unusual. We'd been working on phonics and reading for over a year, and he picked up the menu and started reading it like an adult, just out of the blue. I would say that was one of those really rewarding moments.

We have two boys that were 9 and 7 when our daughter was born and so there was a – we had lost a little girl when I was five months pregnant before Lizzy was born – and though we didn't expect to have more children, the Lord was very, very gracious to us in giving us Lizzy. So there are rewarding moments with each of them.

I'll share one story that happened when the boys were teenagers. One of the things that I think I love the most about homeschooling is our ability to help our kids be others-centric rather than self-centered.

In this day of social media and online capacities, people, kids are so concerned with what they look like, what others are thinking of them. It is really hard for them to focus on the needs of others.

I love that about homeschooling, that we can do that, and so I can honestly say there were a lot of things that I wasn't consistent enough with, but the things that, the thing that we were maybe the most consistent, with was trying to teach a heart of service to the kids.

So every year we had a service project and service activities that were non-negotiable. We wrote them into our lesson plans, and I think they were really life shaping for the kids. One of the things we did was we had what we called Widow Baskets during the Christmas season when the boys were 4 and 6.

I really wanted them to grow up, to have this heart for other people in this part of service. The second greatest commandment is that we love others like we love ourselves, and put others first as Paul reminds us in Philippians 2.

And so, I wanted that for the boys and for Lizzy desperately. At this point, Lizzy wasn't born yet, and so I prayed over the verse the Lord kept giving me, was the one in James that says, Pure and undefiled religion is this, that we take care of orphans and widows in their distress and remain unstained by the world.

And so we, for some reason the clarion call for me was the focus and emphasis on widows and we had a church with over 20 widows in it. It wasn't an extremely large church, but we did have a lot of widows.

So I went down to the church, got the name of the widows. I had tried, let me say this as an aside – I'd tried various organizations where I could bring the boys with me and we could serve together, and all of them would say, When you put your kids in school, come back; we'd love to have your help.

So this was a project we could do together, and we started that first year, the boys learned Scripture passage, maybe 10 or 12 verses, several verses to four or five Christmas carols.

And, you know, Christmas carols, some of the classic hymns, are a great way to teach poetry and language, arts and theology. It's amazing, the theology in the old classic hymns and the Christmas carols.

We cooked something and we made a craft and a Christmas ornament. And so the first year I remember, I had the boys. I would call each widow ahead of time and say, We just have a little something we'd like to drop off for you, and the boys would say their verses and sing their songs and give their gifts. And that was about it the first year.

But over the years, as we did that year after year after year, and we made making the widow baskets – we started in September, so it wasn't so overwhelming in November and December – and we would start memorizing the long passage of Scripture and memorizing new Christmas carols. And making things and having our baskets ready by the beginning of December. And it became an important part of our Christmas, making these deliveries to the 20 or 25 widows, and we added staff members in our church. It just was this growing thing in our home.

And so I think one of my most precious moments in homeschooling came when the boys were probably, they were either 14 and 16 or 13 and 15, and they had disappeared upstairs.

And I could tell they were really collaborating on something, which made me a little nervous. So I went upstairs to find out what they were doing, and it turns out they were planning our widow basket deliveries. And they said, Mom, we've got these 20 baskets to deliver, and we know Miss Yates is going to want us to stay. Miss Vincent's going to want us to stay. The Van der Waters might want us to stay, all these people.

And they said, We've got gifts and they asked us in and we can only do 2 deliveries at night and dad's got a heavy travel schedule. And so we, here's our schedule if we start the week after Thanksgiving.

And you know, it was them taking the initiative in a project like that and to serve other people, it really became our Christmas, our focus at Christmas.

Not that they still didn't have the energy to tell me what they wanted for Christmas – they they told me that plenty – but it was a focus on other people. And you know, as the kids went off to college, it was amazing how a lot of their prayer support came from the elderly people in our church, and often when they would come home from college and we would have them for that short weekend, it was amazing how they would find one of the widows to sit with in the congregation.

So I just want to encourage you that homeschooling is such a great way to teach and train kids. As a mom, I believe you're their greatest teacher and coach. That doesn't mean you teach everything. You certainly can take advantage of co-ops and video classes like we have. We offer many at BJU Press, Home school, and some are great believers in having help in using resources, but we also want to remember that God called us on this earth to serve and love others and home schooling is just a natural way. It's a natural springboard for serving together.

The areas that the Lord cause you to serve in will be different than the ones he calls me or maybe your neighbors to serve in. But you, maybe as a family, you can pick out a project, as a co-op, you can pick out a project. But I have seen that we are happier together as a family when we are focused on ministry and other people. So I would say that was one of my most precious memories as a homeschooling mom.

How has homeschooling changed from the time you started until today? 

Well, you know the main answer to that question is, that it's legal in all 50 states and lots of people do it. And so you have community and resources that I didn't have.

I am not complaining about that. That was a precious time of freedom fighting as a family, that my kids learned so many lessons from that.

But I would say, value your freedom. Don't take advantage of it. Work with your homeschooling organizations for rally days or capitol days, keeping your laws free and making your children aware of fighting for freedom.

At the same time, value the freedom you have. And value the time you have together as a family and as a homeschooling community. We didn't have those things, the first 8 or 10 years that we were homeschooling.

What things have stayed the same?

I would say I think the thing that stays the same is the homeschooling mom’s heart. All of us, regardless of our circumstances, want one thing, and that is for our children to have a happy childhood, love life, love learning, love Jesus, and love each other. And we only want the best for our children.

And I think as homeschooling moms, we always have this inner fear that instead of blessing our kids, we're ruining our kids. I'll never forget the first time Joe and I went to Japan to speak at a couple of homeschooling conferences there.

We were doing this all through a translator and a Japanese pastor’s wife said. Can I talk to you? This is all done through a translator. And she said, I'm just really afraid I'm ruining my children by homeschooling them when I want to bless them.

So I think that we love our kids so much, we take raising them so seriously that we really fear that we aren't blessing them, but somehow holding them back.

I can remember when we started homeschooling, all of my neighbors and many relatives and people at church used to love to take issue with me about homeschooling. Well, you know, what about the prom? What about PE? What about physics? Is it legal? What about socialization? You know all these questions.

It was like I had an alarm clock set in my head that went off every night at 2 or every morning at 2 a.m., and Joe was my best friend and best supporter. And I knew he wanted to talk to me about those things.

So I would wake him up and say, You're not gonna believe what so-and-so said to me today, and can we pray about this, or what do you think? Will you help me get through this?

So finally, after several weeks of that, Joe looked at me and he said, Zan, Jesus is always awake.

And so that really hurt my feelings a little bit. It's kind of funny in retrospect, but it really did change my prayer life. And so I spent a lot of time in the wee morning, wee hours of the morning, really praying over our homeschooling and asking the Lord to bless our kids, bless our schoolwork, bless their lives.

And so I would just encourage you that you are doing a great service for your children by laying down your life for them so that you can bless them and teach them and help them.

I had a good education growing up, but I don't know that I ever had a teacher who stayed awake in the middle of the night praying over me.

Whether it's a character flaw or not being able to grasp a geometry concept, we worry about our kids because we love them and we want to make sure we're doing the best for them because we love them. So it's really love for our kids that motivates us.

You know, homeschooling is really a love-your-kids movement. I think that is always the same regardless of the decade, regardless of the circumstances. We all just want to bless our children by homeschooling them.

Did your kiddos ever have a desire to go to public school? If so, how did you handle this?

Yeah, I can think of two situations where that happened. The first was my oldest son. You know, he just started talking to me.

He said, Mama, I'd really like to go to school with real kids and go to a real school. And it was interesting because we were about in our third or fourth year of homeschooling, and I had no idea that the Lord was gonna call us to homeschool through high school.

Because I had seen one homeschool family that was homeschooling in high school at that point in time, and I could not even imagine that.

Somehow the Lord just got us through that. I will tell you, when your kids ask to do that, you might want to take some time out from your lessons, do a few things that they really love. Take a vacation, take some field trips. And when we would be on field trips or out visiting or doing things they really enjoyed, I would say to them, Now if you were in a school situation, we could not do this in the middle of the day.

It's not that we did that all the time, but I would encourage you to have markers in your days and your weeks that, you know, they look forward to. Like every Wednesday, we would go to New Hope Ministries and tutor children in a deprived or an underprivileged setting for several hours a day.

Or it might be we were working with Project Angel Tree with Prison Fellowship ministries at Christmas. But those things gave our kids something to look forward to.

But also encouraging maybe to have an interview each of your kids and say, If you could take one field trip, where would it be?

If you could go visit one place, where it would it be? If you could do something outside, what would it be?

And that way, when they get discouraged and they want to go to school, you have some things lined up. It's really exciting for them that you can do because you homeschool. Maybe one class in a co-op if they're missing their friends.

I just remember Deb Bell, my dear friend, telling me that God loves to bless our children. And I think the more you make it a matter of prayer and look for creative ways to keep them engaged in the homeschooling process, that really helps.

The second time that this happened to us, the boys were 9 and 7 when Lizzy was born. So when she started kindergarten, they were – let's see if I can do the addition – they were 13 and 11. So Lizzy comes downstairs one day before we start doing K-5 at home and she says, Mommy, if you worked really hard, then you could find me a school where there are other little girls and not all these boys.

And I said, Lizzy, do you want to go to real kindergarten?

And she said, Yes, ma'am, I do.

And I said, Well, would you like to go visit and observe some kindergarten classrooms?

And she said, Yes, ma'am.

And so the boys were all saying, Oh Lizzy, we're a homeschooling family. You're gonna ruin our family if you go to school. Mom, are you really gonna let her go to school?

And I was not, but I knew my daughter even then. She likes to have the facts and come to her own decision, and of course, we made it a matter of prayer.

So we visited a couple of kindergarten classes and praying through this and asking the Lord, What are we going to do if she wants to go to school?

And she comes downstairs one morning and sits down at the kitchen table. And she says, Well, Mom, I've decided this year that I want to home school.

And I said, Well, Lizzy, can you tell me what changed your mind?

She said, Yes. I've just been praying about it, and the Lord spoke to my heart.

And so, you know, you're going to have different instances where your kids want to go to school, I think one of our sons in high school came to Joe and talked to him about going to school in high school, and Joe just handled that masterfully.

So if you feel like this is a calling, and this is where the Lord has you and your kids, I really believe He will continue to make that way for you.

I think one of your biggest helps now is so much community in the homeschooling world and take advantage of that when you can.

Do you think generations now are blessed or hindered by so many curriculum choices and pressures?

I will tell you, I think homeschooling brings pressure with it whether you have a lot of choices or few choices, because of the nature of homeschooling. And the buck stops with us when we homeschool.

And you know, I used to say, if my child doesn't do well on the SAT, I can't blame his crummy algebra teacher, or if he's got a bad attitude, I can't blame the little boy who sat beside him all day, he had a bad attitude.

I mean, the buck really does stop with us, and I think that's the greatest pressure we have.

I can understand when you go into a curriculum fair now that it's overwhelming, but when I started homeschooling and had one choice, really, that was BJU Press. At the time they were the only ones who would sell curriculum, including a teacher’s manual, to me when we started.

And they, I now consult with them, and they are sponsoring me to be at both the homeschool day of encouragement and the conference. And so I appreciate them making those resources available.

But it was hard. I mean, homeschooling was pressure, just having that one choice. But I would encourage you to talk with someone who's been homeschooling longer than you have and ask them to mentor you or be your guide.

Belong to your organization. You know, I know that you have great help and encouragement from the many events and the resources that MPE has to offer, and take advantage of that. And I really do think we just have to come to grips with the fact that homeschooling brings a lot of joy with it, and it brings a lot of pressure with it.

You mentioned co-ops and other programs. What's your advice for new homeschoolers and trying to pick the best co-op or program for their family?

So if you're a new home schooler, one thing I want to tell you is it’s gonna be different if you homeschool from the beginning or if you start, like when you have children in the 3rd, 5th, and 7th grade. I'm just using that as an arbitrary example.

Because when you homeschool from the beginning, your children know a little bit what to expect. You've learned with them. You've grown with them. You know where they are academically, where they are socially, what their interests are, extracurricular, in, in that aspect. And so it's easier for you maybem to make a choice about a co-op or a particular group.

I would say if you're just pulling your kids out of school, depending on your children – and this is where it's good to have somebody in real life, who knows you, and you're not just taking advice from somebody online like me. Although I do feel like my advice is really hard-earned in terms of our experiences.

But I would tell you to really get to know your children, to give them time to enjoy being at home. Let them understand the difference in homeschooling and institutional schooling have the opportunity to get really to get to know them.

I had a friend of mine who brought her kids home after having them in public schools for many years and she said, Zan, my children were so burned out and I just realized we didn't know each other. So we just spent the first month – we were homeschooling – getting to know each other.

And you know, I think that's really a noble goal, because I think there's so many amazing things about homeschooling. But building a strong family and strong relationships is a key, key aspect of homeschooling.

We'll talk about this a lot at the retreat, the women's encouragement retreat, and we'll talk about it a lot too, at the April MPE Conference. But you just cannot go wrong in developing those relationships.

And then as you get to know your children better, you can decide which co-op to move them into.

Now, if you're homeschooling and it's your first year and you want to decide on the co-op at the beginning of the year and you're never home schooled, yeah. I would just encourage you to really pray about it. The Lord is going to guide you.

Seek some advice from your friends, what they like about various co-ops in your area, and choose that route.

We offer videos through BJU Press and all of the subjects, except for maybe one or two grades K through 12. And so if you want help with teaching, but you want your children at home – either for the long, long haul or while you're deciding on a co-op – that's also a way that you can get help with the teaching aspects, teaching various subjects.

And you can find the homeworks consultant at and just go to a map and find a consultant in the Kansas area.

So I would just, I would really encourage you just to look around, interview people. Don't be embarrassed to interview the people who run the co-op or go sit in a class if you have that opportunity before you go.

But you know, I think the best advice I can give you is to really enjoy the time you have with your children. Really get to know them, develop that love and trust. Make service an important part of your family life – that will bond you together.

And then, of course, just reading books more together, growing in your Christian journeys together, all of those things are going to be the things that make your homeschooling experience so rewarding for you and for your kids.

Do you have any tips for moms who are also working part-time or even full-time jobs in addition to homeschooling?

You know, I know there are a lot of websites out there devoted to the homeschooling working mom. And it really depends on whether you're working from home, whether you're working part time or whether you're out of the home.

I know there are a lot of situations now where grandparents, maybe, homeschool under the supervision of parents, and we see that a lot, and it's working well.

I would tell you to do everything you can to stay as involved with your children as possible. I know a lot of moms who just have one child, who will take that child to work with them and the child works beside them in a little, you know, a little place in the office while the mom is working. I think each season of life in that regard is going to be different.

I have a lot of friends who have had nursing careers. And so they will work, you know, Friday night, all weekend long, basically have the same pay and benefits as somebody who worked 40 hours a week, but then be home during the weekdays to homeschool their kids.

There are a lot of moms and dads now working together at home who take turns with the teaching. So I think there are all kinds of avenues available.

Then there are the co-ops that we talked about earlier. There are online courses and videos like we offer at BJU Press. I know I had a friend who was writing a book. She had eight kids. She just felt like she wanted to continue to homeschool, but she couldn't teach that year. And they would all get out their laptops in the morning and sit down, and the kids would watch their videos and do their schoolwork while the mom wrote. And they were all together doing that.

So you just really need to find out what works best for your family, and it's going to be trial and error. And I think you need to give yourself some grace. Some things are going to work well. Some things are going to be a bust and you just figure out what. Some things are going to work for one child and not the other. And then I think that's one of the greatest aspects of homeschooling, is that you can keep trying things, you know, trying different schedules, trying different approaches to your work and see how they affect each child.

It's hard. It's going to be demanding, but I will tell you that homeschooling, having that time with your children, directing their education, knowing what their interests are, and matching the way they learn, and the courses they take to their passions and their learning styles, knowing their spiritual giftings – all of these things are just things that we'll continue to talk about at the Women's Day of Encouragement and that we will also continue to talk about when we come for the MPE conference in April. 

Shanxi: Thanks so much for listening. We hope you are encouraged in your homeschool journey.

Please continue the conversation with us on our website,, or email us at We're also active on social media if you'd like to connect with us there. Thanks to Kevin McLeod of for providing this royalty-free song Wholesome, which is licensed under

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