Well, I have finally made it! I have reached a milestone in the journey of home schooling: graduating my first child from high school. It feels like I have been teaching forever, but it has actually only been thirteen years.
My research started when my oldest son, Ted, was only four years old. I heard Dr. Raymond Moore on Focus on the Family with Dr. Dobson, discussing an idea called home schooling. Between hearing his reasons for keeping a child home and my own hesitations about sending Ted to school, a desire and a passion for home education was born in my heart and mind that day.
I dove full-force into reading, researching, and attending conferences. I was educating myself that year and having a great time doing it. I knew only two other homeschooling families at the time, so their advice was like gold to me. To this day I am thankful that God put them in my path so that I would have someone to call when I needed guidance and direction.
However, as I have gone through this journey and been the advisor for many potential homeschooling families, I have often thought about how those first years of advice shaped me and what I should tell others who are following behind, the two biggest areas being advice about curriculum and the importance of being an independent thinker.
Let me start with curriculum. Ahhhh! The thrill of the hunt and the fun and the stress—all rolled into one! It is what excites us teachers the most and yet, the thing that gives us the most worry. It is the tool that can make or break a good experience in the academic area of home education.
What I wish I had known in the beginning was that there are different reasons and different seasons for choosing curriculum. You are not locked-in to one company, one style, or a scope and sequence unless you want to be. The choices go deeper than just what the Christian school down the street uses, and you can spend as much or as little money as you want to.
I also wish I had had the wisdom of great pioneers like Charlotte Mason and others from the beginning. Having it might have saved me from setting my home up like a school and wondering why it felt so cold and boring. I would have liked to have known more about the “relaxed” way of homeschooling and the fact that reading good books holds the key to growth and enjoyment . . . for both the teacher and the child.
I would have benefited from someone telling me that just because something works in the elementary years does not mean it will be the answer to your curriculum questions in the middle school years. I also would like to have heard that life changes and that just because you have a picturesque view of sitting on the couch for all twelve or thirteen years of school, with your child tucked sweetly by your side, does not mean life will not require you to take a different approach at some point.
For instance, as my oldest son moved into the “credit-counting years,” I was forced to take a more active role as “administrator” rather than teacher. My having to do so affected my younger son as well, as he had to learn to be independent while I worked on high school courses, schedules, and transcripts.
Another part of this lifestyle that kept me on my toes throughout the years was style. How should I set up this education process in my home, and what about the opinions of others? What should our schedule look like, and what if it does not look like that friend’s—the one who seems to have it all together? This is where the “independent thinker” needed to arise inside of me!
After the first few years of homeschooling, my confidence grew, and I realized that God had placed this task before me and that He must trust me to do a decent job. My home school did not need to be a carbon copy of my friends’ or that mom’s in the magazine.
For example, I became comfortable with a routine rather than a strict schedule. Oh, I tried many times to implement a perfectly manicured schedule, complete with breaks, snacks, and recess. But, oh, how fast it faded, and there we were, right back into the routine we had had for several years; and it just fit. I was OK with that—at least until someone came along who could whip out their spreadsheet schedule and intimidate me into a scheduling frenzy!
One final lesson I learned about being independent in this home schooling world is not feeling pressured to join a formal group. This is tough! I have seen independent women come to their knees at the thought of not belonging to a formal group! I have seen children being run ragged because they were trying to do it “all.”
What I wish I had known then, that I know now, is that God would place friends in my path that would become my support group. It may have been only one or two, but I would not be friendless unless I chose to be. I did not need to trade the public school system for a home school group that basically offered the same things, just with home schoolers. I have seen small co-ops that were started with the best of intentions turn into full-blown private academies where the “home school” became virtually nonexistent. This scenario was not necessary!
My advice is to remember that God will guide you in your choices, whether it be in the area of curriculum, friends, style, or extracurricular activities. If you turn every decision over to Him, your home schooling journey will be one of the best seasons of your life and the life of your child. It is called home schooling for the very reason that it revolves around your home, yourfamily, your beliefs—not the world or the world’s expectations.
What I wish I had known years ago (but I am getting stronger in each year) is that it is OK to do my own thing. In fact, it is more than OK—it is what homeschooling is all about!