We often think about homeschooling in terms of what it means for our children; the books they will use, what they will learn, and how to prepare them for a future career. However, now that I’m near the end of my tenure as a homeschooling parent, I think more and more about what I’ve learned about myself and my children.
Children need the freedom to grow as individuals.
As much as parents may talk about kids being unique and special, the temptation to compare them to other children their age is insidiously ever present. Our society has accepted the idea of chronological age as the best indicator of what-a-child-should-do-when, and Christians have allowed legalistic thinking to blur our vision of God’s path to spiritual growth.
- Charts and checklists warm my Type A heart, but I’ve learned that measuring my children with standardized testing and statistics is not and never will be an accurate measure effective enough to be useful.
- Allowing discouragement and dissatisfaction to permeate my spirit when I see other families’ accomplishments or their access to more resources is disrespectful to God’s plan for my life and that of my children.
- Although children are a parent’s God-given gift and responsibility, God will speak to them without checking in with me first. I have to trust God to guide my children without using myself or my husband as mediators.
Learning how and when to lead.
Children are influenced more by our example than by our lectures, which are often rather hypocritical. They know it, and I know it. If I speechify about self control at 137 decibels, my credibility decreases while their resistance increases exponentially. I must model the behaviors and attitudes I want to see in my kids, and when I do, I reap their respect and trust.
Knowing how and when to follow.
Children are curious and energetic by nature, which can be crazy-making for a parent obsessed with systems and organization. I discovered that binding myself and my kids too tightly to lesson plans strangled their creativity and desire to learn. It was the best day of homeschool our lives when I ‘deschooled’ (link is external) our homeschool and gave my kids ownership of their education.
Seeking out and listening to the counsel of others.
The abundance of books and blogs about homeschooling is both a blessing and a curse. The internet, the library, curriculum publishers, and co-ops offer parents a multitude of resources from which to gather information and encouragement. I learned to take advantage of the experiences and wisdom of parents who are already a little bit farther down the homeschool path. However, because of the sheer number of choices homeschooling affords, as well as the need for clarity and perspective, I also learned to:
- Listen to my God-guided intuition. I know myself, and I know my kids. After spending some time deschooling and evaluating our family dynamic, I developed the courage to follow where my parental instincts led us.
- Listen to the critics. Even though critics of homeschooling appear to be hostile to the idea of parents educating at home for reasons that seldom make sense to me, they sometimes have a point. I need to be willing to consider the perspectives and insights of others and not simply dismiss them because of the source.
- Consider when nay-sayers ask if I’m qualified to teach my kids… well, am I? Am I disciplined enough to keep them on track to their goals, provide them with opportunities to become responsible, contributing members of society, and ask them to follow me as I follow Christ?
- Deal with that pesky “What about socialization?” question, known amongst homeschoolers as the ‘S’ word. I had to teach my kids how to respond in social situations, play well with others, exercise self-control, and be introspective. They don’t get that stuff by osmosis.
- Defend homeschooling without demonizing other educational choices. Expressing concern and pointing out flaws is fine, but I can’t be offended when homeschoolers are lumped into categories- religious, fanatic, religious fanatic, isolationists, extremists… then use the same ad hominem tactics when explaining my reasons to educate at home.
Experimenting is fun, and I don’t mean just in science.
If there is one thing being part of the Schoolhouse Review Crew (link is external) taught me, it’s the fun and excitement of trying new resources and methods. My kids were an integral part of using and reviewing the materials we received every month, and we learned so much about how we learn simply by being able to try new things. I stopped being stubborn and sticking with something I wasn’t satisfied with because I’m a cheapskate and think “I must squeeeeeze every penny out of this $40 textbook!”. Homeschooling taught me to be creative, responsive, and open-minded. Sell the book, for cryin’ out loud.
Sticking with what works and knowing when to say “No.”
Every year the mailbox fills with catalogs and the email inbox fills with recommendations, discounts, and free shipping promotions. The lure of shiny new curriculum is almost irresistible. They promise that they hold the key to my child’s learning and without This Amazing Program my kids will not reach their full potential, resulting in a life of poverty, crime, and being mean to puppies. I had to kick covetousness and fear to the curb. I learned to use my homeschool dollars wisely on resources that provided real educational value for us, which meant we moved away from textbooks and used real books for most subjects. Focus and consistency moved us steadily toward the education goals we had decided on.
Homeschooling is both easier and harder than I thought it would be.
It is not difficult to find resources so kids can learn a foreign language, play an instrument, and tackle advanced math, so there is no need to be worried about how to teach Algebra or French. However, I was challenged to:
- Let go of some faulty ideas about what learning looks like.
- Not become too casual about character training.
- Cope with the criticism and suspicion of others that déjà vu me back to high school insecurities about where me and my kids fit in to society.
- Balance home life and education with extracurricular activities.
My everyday life, wherever we go, is the real world.
People just come out and ask me how my homeschooled children are going to learn to live in the real world. What does that even mean? Have I stumbled into an alternate dimension? Is there a rip in the space/time continuum? What is this ‘real world’ of which people speak that is somehow restricted to the public school classroom? And yet when I am asked this question, neither myself or the person to whom I am speaking are actually in a classroom! The fact is - a classroom does not provide an authentic learning experience. Being part of our community and living in a way that brings glory to God and blessings to others is plenty real enough.
Homeschooling gave us the luxury of time.
I knew this, but I didn’t understand it fully until just recently. We had the time to learn together, do chores, run errands, volunteer, and what’s more, we just sat around and talked, sometimes for hours. We laughed and cried as we read books aloud every morning, we bonded spiritually as we discussed controversial passages of Scripture. We debated the plot and character progression in television shows and movies. Some of our best discussions happened while in the kitchen preparing lunch or supper. I had no idea how valuable all our seemingly aimless chatting was until they became young adults. I had inadvertently laid a foundation of trust and open communication with them which has continued to this day.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to not only be a mother, but a teacher and friend. Maybe I would have discovered the same things in different ways if my kids went to a traditional school, but from my perspective, homeschooling was the catalyst for all we’ve learned about God, the world we live in, and each other.