As of this writing, I am preparing for my 7th year of home schooling. It's hard to believe we've been on this journey for so long, but that is what my calendar says.
Seven years ago, when my oldest son was 5 my husband and I began looking at educational options. We felt that the Lord was calling us to provide a biblical education for our kids, but at that time I was still vowing "never to home school." So we visited and toured a couple of Christian schools nearby and were shocked at the tuition rates. Since we were living on a youth pastor salary at the time it became clear that private education was not an option for us. With public and private schools ruled out, we were left with my 'never' option: homeschooling.
With a sigh I started doing online research and spent not a little time at the local library reading everything I could find that pertained to the world of home education. The Internet is a double-edge sword when researching because of the overwhelming information out there. While it's true that you can find almost anything you are looking for, you will spend countless hours sifting the wheat from the chaff. But I was finally able to find a few helpful sites that recommended materials for the novice: Donna Young and homeschoolreviews.com. Two books that were the most helpful (and that I still use regularly) were Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling and The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling.
The first year I cobbled together some workbooks and got started. Let me be completely honest here and disclose that year one was a fiasco. My son Noah was 5 and daughter Fiona was 4...way to young to start on a regimented schoolwork routine. But I had my goals: to prove to everyone that I was a great home school mom. That my kids were really really smart. That I was godly. That my kids were well-rounded, early readers who were going to graduate 3 years early from high school and become rocket scientists. Are you sensing a theme here? Unfortunately, I'm not totally kidding. I had not committed that year to the Lord and I was not making it about my kids. It was all about.....me. Not proud of that.
Because of that rocky start, when we moved due to a job change, we decided that we would give public school a try. Enter the worst six weeks weeks of our lives. Ever. Noah was in 1st grade and Fiona was in Kindergarten. Noah got put into a large class with a teacher who could hardly have been worse. She was perpetually grumpy, smelled bad (kids will notice that sort of thing) yelled at the students, and made my son feel stupid, unwelcome and generally miserable. He came home in tears almost every day. And I have to live with the fact that I sent my 6 year old child to spend 8 hours a day for six weeks with this horrible woman. Fiona, however, got on great with her teacher. This woman was a Christian, gentle and sweet. In fact, after several weeks of having Fiona in her class she told me that my daughter was the sweetest, happiest girl and it was a joy to have her in class every day. Funny, because the child I got home every day was tired, cranky and not at all happy. The night after that conversation the Lord asked me, "Why are you torturing your son and giving the best part of your daughter's day to a stranger and settling for the leftovers?"
When the Holy Spirit speaks, one does well to listen and act. The next day we informed the school that our children were not returning. I got on my knees (finally) and gave our plans over to the Lord, asking Him what He would have us do.
Teach them at home.
Lesson One: Obey the calling of the Holy Spirit.
So that's what we did. But I still had a lack of confidence (because I continued to place my trust in myself rather than Jesus) so I went online and bought an expensive packaged curriculum that was guaranteed to give my kids the perfect, well-rounded education.
When the boxes arrived, I opened them and cried. Truly. The teacher's manual was so confusing that I didn't even understand how to organize it. There were so many worksheets and books and stuff that I felt overwhelmed again. But doggone-it, I spent good money on that junk and so help me we were going to use it! We did...for a while, like the rest of the year. But it was not for us, so I sold it online and recouped enough money to start over.
Lesson Two: You will waste money occasionally. Chalk it up to learning experience.
I love Jesus. When I was finally at the point where I simply didn't have any more bright ideas; I didn't have a plan, or a perfect curriculum, I realized that if the Lord was calling us to home school, then He was going to have to show me how to do it and
The hubs and I began praying in earnest. Lord, show me how to do this thing You've called me to do. Funny how the most powerful position I have ever been in is on my knees. The Lord answered that prayer through an old acquaintance from college named Kara. She called me one day saying she'd heard I was back in the area and homeschooling and invited me to her Monday homeschool Co-op. I accepted with alacrity. Attending that group the first time I was welcomed into a place filled with moms and children who were learning together with joy. They were not all classified into tidy little groups like Classical homeschoolers, or Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, or Unschoolers. They weren't tied up in knots, gritting their teeth and suffering. They weren't beacons of motherhood perfection standing with perpetual smiles nailed to their faces. They were just plain folks. Doing their thing with joy, challenges, fun, and frustration, and I realized that there were (in varying degrees) just like me.
Lesson Three: RELAX.
There is no such thing as a perfect homeschool family. Everyone struggles occasionally. Everyone has wonderful days and horrible days and mostly average days. Some moms choose to teach their children Latin, some don't. Some do school for 8 hours a day, some don't. Some have 13 children, and some don't. Our only job is to walk in obedience and faith as we bring up our kids. The Lord will bless the works of our hands in ways we cannot even conceive. And while we're on the subject...
Lesson Four: Stop comparing yourself (and your children) to others.
When I first started this home learning thing I read all these amazing statistics on home schooled kids. They graduate early from high school, and with honors. They all start successful home businesses by the age of 15. They are all model citizens who constantly go around town looking for sidewalks to shovel or little old ladies to help. Yada yada yada. Of course, there are many bright and talented home schooled kids out there. But in my experience, most home taught kids are just like most school taught kids. Normal, bright, slow, gifted, struggling, quiet, crazy, helpful, selfish. In other words, I am not a failure if my kids aren't geniuses or models of perfect behavior. And neither are you. A friend once told me, "Comparison is the theft of joy." And she was right. Find contentment and joy in your circumstances and your children.
Lesson Five: Academics are not the reason we homeschool. Discipleship is.
The devil doesn't like us Christians discipling and training our own children all day so he whispers ugly little lies in our ears at every opportunity. Shut him up with the truth.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
I couldn't find any verses that tell us to cram our kids with tons of information so that they can get into the best college, so that they can get a high paying job, acquire a big house, two new cars, so that they can then wash, rinse and repeat. I'm not saying academics are not important or valuable. In fact, I love knowledge. What I am saying is that there is a list of priorities in every home. As parents, Chad and I firmly believe that our primary job is to raise godly men and women. Homeschooling is the best way for us to accomplish that goal.
Lesson Six: This is hard. Find support.
Teaching my children at home all day, every day is hard. There's lots of stuff I don't know how to teach and have to learn. There are daily challenges to get done what needs doing. We get tired and cranky and stale. My kids disobey and pout and use phrases like, "No!" and "I hate school!" and "This is stupid!" And so all those doubts I mentioned earlier still manage creep up in my own heart and mind occasionally. When they do I know to share them with my husband and fellow homeschool moms so that they can encourage and support me in my endeavors. It can be a lonely thing to swim against the stream of popular opinion so surround yourself with others who are like-minded. That co-op that I mentioned? Still going strong. In a few days our family will be starting our fifth year there. There is also a county-wide internet support group for local homeschoolers that we belong to. Both are places I can find other godly women who will mentor, encourage and uplift me. If you're struggling to find a local group then at least join your state group. Go to hslda.org to find yours. Take all the support you can find, and be thankful there is so much available.
Lesson Seven: Be Grateful.
We not only have a vast amount of support and information at our fingertips, but we are indeed fortunate to have the freedom to take advantage of it. If you are a U.S. citizen consider yourself blessed. While our country is mightily flawed, it is still free. I want to just take a sentence or two to say, out loud, thank you to those veteran homeschoolers who prayed, fought, wrote dozens of letters, made hundreds of phone calls, contacted politicians, rallied and broke the path to make homeschooling an option for me. I am grateful to you for trailblazing the path I now follow. I am grateful to the Lord for placing this wonderful calling on my life. I am grateful to be blessed with children to teach. I am grateful to my husband for his unwavering love and support. I am grateful to my home school friends who encourage and enrich me. And who will remind me of this post the next time I complain.
As I sit here and write I realize that my children aren't the only ones in our house who are getting an education. I'm continually learning and growing (and stumbling) and I know I've many more lessons to learn. Even the lessons I've shared are ones that require the occasional remedial course. But hopefully some of what I've shared here will encourage you in your homeschooling journey. Because it is indeed the adventure of a lifetime.
If you need more encouragement, please email me. I would love to talk with you.