Nine Lessons I Have Learned as a Homeschool Mom

Emma and Kenny Krogering

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.

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There are 8 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Alot of good advice here, thanks. One of the biggest surprises for me as a parent has been just how different two kids in the same family can be.
They've needed some major differences in approach.
On the other hand, I like a kind of constrained flexibility with standardized tests. There are norms for age levels that should not be dismissed too quickly.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Alot of good advice here, thanks. One of the biggest surprises for me as a parent has been just how different two kids in the same family can be.
They've needed some major differences in approach.
On the other hand, I like a kind of constrained flexibility with standardized tests. There are norms for age levels that should not be dismissed too quickly.

Interesting observation.  Even though we also needed different approaches (though not radically different) with our two daughters, we also saw standardized testing as a way to see if the targeted approach for each child was helping each learn the things she would be expected to know, even if each learned it differently.  I certainly get that with one interested in science/math, who eventually chose computer science, and one who clearly did not go that direction (music education), some of what each needed to know was quite different. However, there is a core of basics, like reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, typing, logic/critical thinking etc. that I expected both to know pretty well, and standardized testing does give some help measuring those.

Dave Barnhart

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Ditto. All four of my kids have been very different in their abilities and interests, and I've had to continue to adapt our homeschool to their changing needs. Now that three have graduated, and our youngest will probably graduate in 2018, it's interesting to see their differences become more pronounced, while also being able to see some of the same traits in all of them.

I don't dismiss testing, but multiple choice testing is far too limited and subjective to be dependable. It is best used to check knowledge of facts and procedures. And although a student may recognize facts or procedures and guess enough correct answers to score high on a test, they may not be able to think critically about the subject or how to apply knowledge. That's why I don't encourage parents to consider test scores as a true measure of their child's learning or allow it to influence their choice of curriculum. 

And then there's the fact that standardized tests do not indicate characteristics much more essential to a child's development, such as critical thinking, self-motivation and discipline, persistence, curiosity, creativity, dependability, empathy, self-awareness, teamwork, courage, compassion, resourcefulness... a high score on a standardized test means your work as a parent has just begun.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I pretty much agree. There is so much none of these tests can measure--and maybe no test ever could. When it comes to employment, there are credentials and skills that help get you a job, but it's only character that keeps you in a job or enables you to move to a better one. Though neither knowledge/skills nor character can serve as a substitute for the each other, if you have to be lacking one of them, you're sure better off in the long run if character is not the one.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

True- it's not like we have to choose between academics and character, but it's worth noting that most of us have learned what we needed to know to stay gainfully employed long after high school and college. So it's better IMO for kids to gain core skills, a work ethic, and how to learn - than to learn a specific set of facts to reproduce on a test. Bonus points if kids love learning.

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

I pretty much agree. There is so much none of these tests can measure--and maybe no test ever could. When it comes to employment, there are credentials and skills that help get you a job, but it's only character that keeps you in a job or enables you to move to a better one. Though neither knowledge/skills nor character can serve as a substitute for the each other, if you have to be lacking one of them, you're sure better off in the long run if character is not the one.

As a senior executive, I have had much experience in evaluating, hiring and developing talent, as well as the experience in disciplining and firing employees.  It is often character (including work ethic) that leads to disciplining and firing, and it is skills and more importantly how to apply those skills that keep you in your job.  Skills is obviously a spectrum observation and should continue to grow in your career.  Character is not something I should have to develop, nor is it something I have a lot of patience for when it is lacking in an employee.  I have hired some young people who were homeschoolers who were excellent employees and ones in which I rewarded greatly over the years for their work contributions.  When I am hiring someone, especially in more senior positions, I am looking for 3 things in this order (critical thinking, work ethic, and experience).  I have often found that specific skillsets is the easiest and least costly element to train someone on.  I would rather someone not have a specific skillset if they are a strong critical thinker, have a strong work ethic and have experience.  This is becoming increasingly important in today's workforce as America transitions from a manufacturing economy to one that is developing solutions to today's problems.  I have often found the current education system (both public, private and homeschooling) to not be as aligned to this transition that is taking place.  Finding high quality workers is a very hard task in today's workforce. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Much appreciate that perspective!

Close cousin to critical thinking--maybe included in it--is "good judgment," wouldn't you say? There are just too many situations you can't train a specific procedure for. So employers need people who can extract principles from patterns and procedures and figure out what to do when everything else happens.

I see much of this second hand in my current role, because we're reading a great deal about police department policies, procedures, training, professional standards, etc. There's kind of an attitude from the currently dominant criminal justice regime in Washington--and many of the schools... the word I want to use is "technocrats," but I'm not sure that's the right term. But the attitude is that you can come up a perfect procedure for just about every situation and solve all your problems by "retraining" on better procedures.

My impression, on the whole, is that where there are genuine problems, the need is for wiser application of the old procedures, rather than radically new approaches. (You absolutely would not believe the quantity of rules and regulations some of the major city cops are expected to remember and comply with!)

But critical thinking and good judgment are so, so hard to teach.
 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dgszweda's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

 

But critical thinking and good judgment are so, so hard to teach.
 

And this is why there are individuals that are high performance and individuals who will never reach that level.  It is really not about effort.

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