Capt. Kitchener “Kip” Harding and his wife Mona Lisa of Montgomery, Alabama, are homeschool parents of ten children, six of whom started taking college classes before they became teenagers; their four siblings also expect to attend college at an early age. The Harding family was featured on the NBC Today Show’s “American Story” segment on April 18, and they joined Fox and Friends on May 24, 2013. The Harding parents are shining examples of being dedicated to the education of their children.
Mona Lisa and Kip were high school sweethearts. He graduated from college at age 25 while flying helicopters in the military, and is an Officer Training School instructor at Maxwell Air Force Base. She studied to be a nurse before staying home to teach the kids. “I don’t have any brilliant children,” Mrs. Harding contends. “I’m not brilliant. My husband’s not brilliant. We’re just average folks.” Their philosophy about learning is that it’s the process of cultivating one’s natural curiosity, with Mr. Harding stressing “the expectation is that you’re going to have a fun day, not that you’re going to score A’s.”
The Hardings decided to raise their children by homeschooling them because, as Mona Lisa explained, she and her husband “wanted to be totally in control and make sure they had the right upbringing.” The couple’s faith played a huge role in their decision to homeschool. The Hardings believe in intelligent design and are staunch opponents of secular science classes that teach evolution exclusively.
While teaching their children the basics, the Hardings noticed that the kids would learn more quickly and get less distracted (and less bored) if they studied something they were really interested in. So they decided to let the kids follow their passions and explore the subjects they love in depth. Mona Lisa says, “We find out what their passions are, what they really like to study, and we accelerate them gradually.” As a result, the Harding children have excelled academically.
Hannah, the oldest, set the bar for the rest of her siblings when she sat for her college entrance exams at age 12. Although college may sound like too much pressure for pre-teens to handle, they still live at home, not in a dorm, and the Harding parents insist that their kids are thriving, not suffering. “All our children would have to tell us is, ‘You know, this isn’t fun any more,’” says their mom, “and we’d do something about that.” According to Hannah, they don’t have much trouble integrating into a college atmosphere at such a young age. “I’ve been able to meet a lot of friends on campus from different backgrounds and places,” she said.
Some may question whether the parents are pushing their kids too hard, too fast. After all, one of the great things about homeschooling is that you can take your kids out of an atmosphere where learning is a race to reach an end goal and external approval. The Hardings do give their children the freedom to follow their interests at their own pace, but mom said with a smile, “If they’re going to be working at my kitchen table, why not earn college credit for what they’re doing?” She explained that by the sixth child, early college courses had become the normal path for their family. The kids appear to be inspired by witnessing the successes of each other.
Even though socially they are teens and pre-teens, the Harding children seem confident in knowing what they want to do in life. After all, their homeschool experience is the epitome of passion-led learning. Mona Lisa affirms, “We really believe they can be anything they want to be,” and Kip adds, “the key is allowing them to chase their own dreams.” The children who have already graduated hold an array of degrees and work in a variety of fields ranging from engineering and architecture to computer science and medicine.
Hannah (25) received a B.S. in Mathematics at age 17 from Auburn University-Montgomery, the youngest graduate in the school’s 36-year history. She obtained her master’s degrees in math and mechanical engineering, and has even designed spacecraft. She became an adjunct professor Auburn-Montgomery University by age 20. As their youngest professor ever, Hannah had students who were older than her.
Rosannah (23) completed a 5 year architecture program at California College of the Arts by the time she was 18. A member of the American Institute of Architects, she is the AIA’s youngest licensed architect. She is currently employed at a leading architectural design firm in San Francisco. One of her recent projects, Calexico West Land Port of Entry, won a 2013 Progressive/Architecture Award from Architect magazine.
Serennah (22) graduated from Huntingdon College at age 17 with a degree in Biology, then she enrolled in the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Serennah just graduated from medical school in May 2013. Most likely as the youngest female physician in the U.S., she is about to embark on a career as a Navy doctor.
Heath (17) started taking college classes at age 10 while the family was living in California. After they moved to Alabama, Heath enrolled at Huntingdon College, where he completed his BS in English at age 15 in 2012 before moving on to Troy University for his master’s degree. He graduated in May 2013 from Troy with an MS in Computer Science, most likely the university’s youngest ever degree recipient.
Keith (14) is a senior studying finite mathematics and music at Faulkner University. He is a Faulkner University Chorus/Faulkner Singers member (and bass section leader). Fellow chorus member Wesley Jimmerson remarked, “It makes you wonder,” referring to Keith and his siblings, “are they advanced, or are we just really behind?”
Seth (12) announced at age 7 that he wanted to be a military archeologist. He is presently a sophomore and history major specializing in Medieval Studies at Faulkner University. When he’s not in class with students twice his age, he dresses up as a knight and has pretend sword fights with his younger siblings.
Katrinnah (10) is preparing for the ACT and working on completing high school, hoping to enter college next year. The youngest Harding children are Mariannah (8), Lorennah (5), and Thunder James (3), all of whom are being homeschooled too.
The Hardings are members of Outlook Academy, an Alabama church school as defined in Alabama code 16-28-1, which provides legal covering for homeschoolers statewide. By enrolling their children, homeschooling parents comply with the compulsory school attendance law for children ages 6-17. The Academy itself “is a hands-off church school. Because we believe that parents are best suited to direct the education of their children, Outlook Academy asks only for what the law requires yet offers support for your personal choices. We respect your privacy as well as your right to homeschool your children unencumbered by restrictions.”
Mona Lisa and Kip are convinced that all children have the capacity to learn at the rate theirs have. The Hardings have written an e-book, “College By 12,” to illustrate their teaching method and unique approach to education. The e-book features “lots of tips of how you can simplify your homeschooling,” as well as “testimonies of how God has worked in our lives.” Resembling a journal or family scrapbook, “College By 12” is a collection of short essays, experiences, stories, photos, and advice written by Mona Lisa, Kip, and their older kids.
By reading the e-book you will learn about their strong Christian faith and how it shapes their family values. You will vicariously experience how they manage the house, motivate their kids, and organize their various educational paths. You will also hear what homeschool life is like from the perspective of the Harding kids. In addition, Mona Lisa offers families advice on how to navigate college entrance exams, community college enrollment, extracurricular activities, and socialization. You can purchase the e-book on their website: http://www.collegebytwelve.com
Watch the Today show segment on YouTube: