As a homeschooling mom I have been asked many questions about how it works, how to choose the right curriculum, how I provide my children with opportunities to learn social skills and how I gained the confidence to homeschool. These questions came from a range of friendly sources to skeptical naysayers. I will begin with my own experience and that of my son, which opened my eyes to thinking outside the box.
The seeds of discontent sprouted in 2008 when my second grader told me he wanted to run away from home, but the seeds were planted in 1991 when I was in 6th grade.
Middle School is a wonderful mess of hormones, identity struggles and learning. I was the 6th Grade Class President and had friends, but as a 12 year-old girl I was ill equipped to answer the sexual harassment of my peers and the physical abuse on the bus by older boys. My skin crawled when my shop teacher winked at me, which happened often. He never tried anything but a wink meant something to my 12 year-old self and I was very uncomfortable. I am wary of the tendency to cut and run when things get awkward. I believe in working through things. But, with the gender based power struggles I experienced in Middle School – I felt acted upon and did not know how to act. The gift my mother gave me, the option to homeschool, gave me the time and experience I needed to return to public school for my sophomore, junior and senior years empowered and not academically deficient. I had no trouble getting into college.
When my 8 year-old son, who was quick to understand his school lessons and easily made friends, announced his desire to run away from home I took notice and pursued the root of the problem. I learned that his struggle was not at home, but at school. His classroom environment was high on anxiety, low on clarity and that the children lost many of their recesses for discipline. My husband and I spoke with the principle and were successful in having our son transferred to a different classroom in the same school. We made the change immediately after the Christmas break was over. He enjoyed his new teacher and no longer wanted to run away. I was content, sort of.
I resented the fact that my influence on my school age kids was so public-school centric. Each morning we woke up to rush them out the door. After they were gone for the best hours of the day, they would return with homework to be done, dinner to eat and then off to bed. I resented the daily log I had to fill out stating the titles of books, pages and minutes I had read with each of my children. One recurring homework assignment that especially got under my skin was that my 2nd grader use his spelling words to fill in the provided crossword puzzle. It often took us 30-45 minutes of trying, to figure out that the crossword framework was impossible to complete because there weren’t enough boxes for the letters. We would draw extra boxes, fill in the spelling words and my resentment would grow. I wanted those minutes with my child to be ours. I did not want 5 days a week to be totally entrapped by “the system’s” tenticles. Over the summer, thoughts of homeschool started to take root in my little mommy-heart and the decision was made when my 2nd-born was assigned to the same class that inspired our 1st-born to run away. Our family’s first round of homeschool lasted one year.
My first motivation to homeschool was driven by my desire to reclaim my right, as Mother, to influence my children’s tender years.
As a military family we received our orders to New York and chose, once again, to put the kids in public school to establish our family in the community and to give the kids opportunity to build friendships around our new home. After two years I had the desire to gather my children around me again. I learned and fulfilled the legal requirements to homeschool in the state of New York and we homeschooled for one semester. Then, for the second semester of the school year we switched gears again as I sent three of our four off to school each morning and enjoyed a couple hours alone with our baby and anxiously watched for our daughter’s kindergarten bus to drop her off around lunchtime. I had gained an attitude toward the public school system that was liberating. My attitude was this: I will use the public school system when I feel they can fulfill the needs of my children. I sent them each day to public school with a secret agenda, “For homeschool this semester we will be experiencing public school.”
Near the end of the school year we moved with orders to Texas. Knowing that we will be here for only one year I gave the children a choice. “Would you like to homeschool or go to public school this year?” Our oldest opted for public school and the younger two school kids opted to stay home. We lived the dual life for a few weeks before, “I think I want to come back to homeschool,” graced my eager ears. Like we made our oldest stick out his difficult circumstances in second grade until the semester ended, we likewise required him to stick with his decision to go to public school. We didn’t want to encourage him to bail on hard situations so we told him that he could return to homeschool at the end of the first quarter if he had straight A’s. He met the parameters we had set and in turn we kept our end of the bargain. I invested in grade level texts for him and he joined the rest of the family in our school day.
That is the summary of our use of homeschool so far, it may sound cruel, disjointed and flagrantly unsettling. It may be unsettling for some children, it is not “easy” for mine, but it works. It works because my kids are mine and I know them.
This history, flawed as it may or may not be, does not answer the questions that I have met with through the years. The “how,” “what,” and a major portion of “why,” has not been, and cannot be, fully addressed. With this post I will try to answer the single query of how I gained the confidence to homeschool.
First of all, when I started to homeschool my kids I had no confidence in my ability; I had no officially recognized qualifications to back the audacity that I could educate my own children. I just had a resolve, a God-given stewardship, a lifestyle that afforded me the time and I had love, not confidence.
The homeschool world can be overwhelming. Choosing curricula is a head-spinning process that weighs heavily on a home-educators mind and heart. This decision is both pinnacle and foundational. There are countless resources available and finding the “right” one, for me, has become a lost cause. I tried to find a great curriculum that I could really fully embrace. I had put myself in a double-bind. Finding a satisfactory, fully developed curriculum was not possible for me at that time because at the beginning of my homeschooling adventure my primary motivation was to cut ties that dictated every facet of my children’s education. I also felt passionate about educating my kids without having to buy into someone’s ready-made curriculum to the tune of thousands of dollars.
I was seeking freedom, freedom from engrained social norms that most have come to accept as mandatory. I had a fiery fight inside my otherwise conflict-avoidant soul. So in the beginning I lacked not only confidence, but I began the school year without a fully developed plan. This I knew; I knew that I had a solid understanding of 2nd and 3rd grade principles. I bought a book that outlined the goals for each of those grade levels. With that book I began providing the best eclectic education I could come up with – and I saw my children thrive. This was the beginning of my confidence.
As we have tackled a variety of grade levels I have found that I don’t remember everything my kids are learning; for instance, all of the tricks in 7th grade math. But my children do not suffer because over the years I have found that I love using the Saxon Math text books. I buy the companion Solutions Manual and together we decode any difficult principles. The false assumption is that I cannot teach anything I do not know. By seeking out and incorporating worthy texts – I learn with my children and our house becomes a house of learning. It is a beautiful experience. This strengthens my confidence.
I thought that confidence would come through deciding on a curriculum. I thought confidence would come through a degree in early childhood education. I thought confidence would only come through knowing everything before I tried to homeschool my kids. Each of these can add to and support confidence, but the fact is – the perfect curriculum doesn’t exist, except the one I provide through prayer and inspiration for my children individually. Another fact – friends with a degree in early childhood education, who have professionally taught in public school, have shared that even they waver in their confidence to educate their children at home.
As it is with parenthood, so it is with homeschooling. If parents are well socialized, children generally follow suit regardless of their status as home or public schoolers.
Another parallel I have observed is that homeschooling is as much a leap of faith as is becoming a parent. You are never “ready,” so don’t wait for that magical moment before you follow the promptings of our Lord if He is leading you in that direction. Simultaneously, there are ways to prepare yourself, your home and your family to find joy and success, do not neglect these preparations.
Do I have confidence in homeschooling? I have a lot more than I had at the beginning. My confidence comes from seeing my children grow in character and knowledge. My confidence grows as I see them provide piano accompaniment at a youth church meeting. Confidence has also come through discovering the world around us and recognizing our place in the world. Watch this video of the past year’s homeschool highlights:
With my family dynamics right now, homeschooling works wonderfully to bless our home. This may not always be the case so, today, I will appreciate the time I have to gather my children around me, confident that I am providing them, not with what others can offer, but with what only I can offer.