For the homeschooling community, this is a very busy time of year. It is the season in which, after a year or more elsewhere, many are making a decision to homeschool. Research for all-things-homeschool is at an all-time high; curriculum sales will abound over the next few months as newcomers rush to put their precious
trust dollars into a curriculum publisher’s hand. Personally, I always write customers, thanking them for ‘making A Blessed Heritage a part of their children’s educational plan.’ I know that for many, money is tight and where to invest it is never an easy decision.
This is also a season when many parents decide that, after trying homeschooling for some window of time, public school is the right decision for their child/ children.
It pains me to hear someone say, “We tried homeschooling, and it just didn’t work for us because…” Regardless of what the “because” is, I cannot help but feel as if I am listening to a parent who is missing out on a golden opportunity. Sometimes, very candidly, the “because” is symptomatic of a parent who really did not want to homeschool anyway. All he/she needed was enough data to conclude that this homeschool “thing” was not for them. So the first time a child bawled about math or said “no” when asked to do something else, curriculum went up for sale, and the family woke up before dawn and skipped to the school bus together.
May God bless that decision (as if that parent is actually reading this post). You’ll get no judgment from me (well, almost none, and I’m working on it). This post is for a different parent.
This post is for those families who were honestly excited, though apprehensive, about homeschooling. They researched everything and interviewed everyone they knew about homeschooling, they surrounded themselves with a supportive community (after fighting off the naysayers); they dug in with everything they had. They bought all the magazines, subscribed to the most popular homeschooling blogs, and of course, joined the local network. Behold, one year later, it just feels like it is not going well. At all.
“Am I doing something wrong?” This is the heart’s cry behind that smile. And if there is not a place in sight where we can speak candidly about our real concerns, our fears, and our places of anxiety, we find ourselves in the same place as that other parent–curriculum for sale, lunch kit bought, and looking over the school bus schedule.
I thought to write a 2-part post regarding a major stumbling block in the earliest homeschooling days. From what I see, those who fall hard enough end their homeschool journey, never to return again.
How much time do you spend educating yourself in homeschooling? It’s a fair question when you consider that public school educators spend many hours in re-certification classes and continuing education courses.
Some super-saint is out there saying, “Well, we just pray and trust God…” Believe me, I get that. But I also know that Jesus, before He turned water into wine and fed the 5,000, was a student. I also know that the word used to describe His followers–disciples–comes from the Greek and Latin ‘discipulus,’ i.e., student.
I think that there are certain activities that become ingrained into the beginning of a homeschool journey, almost like a rite of passage:
- Join a network or find a group of parents who homeschool.
- Research, research, research curriculum and then buy waaaaayyy more than you need.
- Join a co-op (after all, we MUST be sure our children are socialized).
- Make sure you meet the state requirements.
Understand that none of these are totally the wrong thing to do. In fact, dependent upon your state’s requirements, some of them must be done in order to keep your homeschool out of trouble! There are some crucial areas, however, that don’t get as much publicity. These steps are as critical as anything you might do in the afore-mentioned list:
- Visualize how you want your homeschool to look, not just academically, but logistically, psychologically, and most of all, realistically.
- Read books in order to have a conceptual understanding of homeschool (not just curriculum-oriented blogs and catalogs).
- Understand who you are as a parent and what you bring—or do not bring—to the table.
I think we do our children a disservice when we focus on curriculum, laying books on desks, expecting them to learn x because it’s Tuesday. This is what the traditional school system does; isn’t that what we were seeking to move away from? And yet, because this is how we were educated, without conscious thought, we bring this same dynamic into our homes, and we quickly grow frustrated when we don’t see the results we wanted.
So, how do we engage differently in the beginning (or at any point when we need to go back to our humble homeschool beginnings)?
- Visualize. Consider the following questions:
- What kind of time do Mom/ Dad have to spend with the children in homeschooling? Will you both work outside the home, or is one coming home (with the associated decisions about financial sacrifices)?
- What kind of support do you have in homeschooling? (Conversely, who might you need to grow distance from in the earliest days?)
- What sacrifices to your time/ energy/ lifestyle/ home are you willing to make in order to make homeschool successful?
- What does a day look like? (Computer time? Outdoor time? Doctor’s visits? Elderly relative/ newborn baby care?)
- Why are you homeschooling? What are your homeschool goals for your family, and for each child?
- What are the rules and boundaries under which your children learn (maybe consider having them craft a constitution)?
Having clear answers to these questions and more can save you and your family many headaches and heartaches, not to mention pocket/ purse woes before you ever sit down to school.
- Read. There are great blogs and magazines out there that detail all things homeschool. But, in order to gain a conceptual understanding of who you are within the homeschool, I believe that there is greater value in sitting down with a family who took the time to document both the mind and the heart of homeschooling. Here are some of my favorites, listed in no particular order:
- Encouragement Along the Way by Bobbie Howard
- Morning by Morning by Paula Penn-Nabrit
- Educating the Whole-Hearted Child by Sally Clarkson
- Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt
Speaking of sitting down with a family, some parents consider the idea of “shadowing” another homeschooling family for the day. Though I can see some value in this, I am a firm believer in the idea that homeschooling is first about home. Another person’s home will never be your home, so just when you think you know how to do this based upon someone else’s reality, you might re-enter your own environment to realize that your ideas were more like a fantasy. Bear in mind as well that when you visit as a guest, you change the dynamic of what happens in a home day-to-day. You might not see the dirty dishes, or the laundry on the couch, or the pet hair or the source of that strange smell; everyone cleaned up before you arrived.
- Know thyself. Much of what I had to say here is included above under ‘visualize.’ The key is to not try to create something that is foreign to you and to who you are. As I explained to a mom who is newer in the homeschool journey than I am and who was concerned about keeping the homeschool fun in the midst of her drill sergeant nature, there is nothing wrong with being a drill sergeant—as long as you drill in love. Also, bear in mind that your children can be having the time of their lives, with you dragging behind them like a hot, homeschool mess. This is not a win.
If the Lord says the same, I will talk about knowing your children in the other part of this post. In the meantime, for those considering this journey, think about looking up from the catalogs and into the mirror. Are you ready for this—really?
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. Proverbs 4:23, ESV
“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.” Lao Tzu