Mary James

Meet the James Family

Our home school journey officially began in 1989 when our oldest son was four years old.  That son will graduate from high school in 2004, the upperclassman in a school of seven students (so far).  Each year and each new addition to our family has sealed our resolve to teach our children at home.  Our children are not the only ones who have learned through home education – my husband and I have learned so much along the way.

In the beginning, when people asked me about my choice to homeschool, my pat answer was that I wanted to teach my son at home because of what the public school did not teach and because of what they did teach.  I was discouraged by the shift of focus from strong academics to the agenda of secular humanists and New Agers.  When my husband Lee speaks about our home-school experience, he says that in the beginning he was very supportive of the idea; he told me “It sounds fine, Honey… go right ahead and do it.”  My, my but we have come a long way!

For the first few years of home schooling, I felt rather like an island.  Everything went very well.  My son and I both enjoyed school tremendously; however, we did not participate in any outside activities or even spend time with other home schoolers.  When he began to outgrow the early elementary material, I sensed the need to better equip myself.  The local support group, the Christian Home Education Association of Austin (CHEA), offered monthly meetings, a newsletter, and a yearly book fair.  This put us in touch with more and more like-minded families.  Before we knew it, Lee and I were serving on the board of this very worthwhile organization.  We held the position of Logistics and later that of Publicity, with the main responsibility being that of Newsletter Editor.  What a wonderful experience!  We strongly encourage those who have not taken a turn at leadership within their local community to reach out and become involved.  The friendships we formed during those years of service are still some of our strongest.

Our years with CHEA saw many changes in that organization.  Growth in the Austin home-schooling community was such that CHEA eventually became a regional organization serving all of Central Texas (CHEA of Central Texas, CHEACT).  Toward the end of our tenure as publicity chairpersons, we helped start an orientation program for new and potential home schoolers. Monthly meetings were held at two local branches of the public library.  When we chose to leave the CHEACT board, we continued to conduct these informational meetings in our part of Austin.  Lee and I both felt renewed and encouraged whenever we spoke to people about the home-schooling lifestyle.

After about eighteen months of conducting these library meetings, the Lord laid a new project on my heart.  Many people have heard me tell the story about the inception of Smoothing the Way, the support group for new home schoolers.  I do not know when in my life I have ever received such a fully-formed idea as that of Smoothing the Way.  I knew from that very first moment that this idea was from the Lord, and I felt–and feel to this day–honored and humbled to be a part of it.  I had been thinking about all the people I met at the library meetings and feeling burdened to provide more help for them.  I knew they would be fine if they could just get connected and equipped with some basic information.  Then the idea came – what about a support group dedicated to meeting the needs of the brand-new home schooler?  It could focus on that first important year, walking the new home schooler through the first questions and the early struggles.  The group could be led by a couple of veteran, home-schooling moms who could offer suggestions and anecdotes from their own experiences.  I knew so many veteran home schoolers who, like me, enjoyed spending time encouraging those who were just beginning this wonderful adventure. Lee and I prayed about how to get this project started, and the Lord prompted me to call someone who had helped us with our library meetings in the past.  I remain grateful that Diane Broadway answered God’s call and became Smoothing the Way’s co-founder and my very dear friend.

In June 1999 Diane and I sat in a restaurant with another home-schooling mom and put together the Smoothing the Way calendar.  It was our decision that this would basically operate as a one-year course to get the “newbie” grounded by providing the information she needed most.  We carefully considered the first questions that home schoolers always seem to ask (about lesson plans, schedules, curriculum, teaching difficult children, keeping the house clean), and we developed a calendar that we felt would take those questions in the order they would most likely come.  We started the year with two groups: one in south Austin, which Diane and I led, and one in north Austin led by our friend, Sara Kokajko.  Our first meeting had three participants.  By the end of the year, at our graduation ceremony, we had about fifteen regulars.  We just began our fourth year with twenty-five Smoothing the Way groups and have officially branched out of Texas, with one group in Washington State.  Smoothing the Way is now incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, and we continue to seek new ways to meet the needs of new home schoolers.  In February 2002 we developed a one-day seminar specifically for those teaching children under the age of five.  Starting the Way is still in its early stages of development, but participants have been very enthusiastic, and interest is high for future engagements.  Diane and I both enjoy sharing some of our workshops at home-school conventions or local support group meetings.  God has blessed us by raising up new Smoothing the Way leaders wherever we go.  We continue to rely upon His guidance to manage the remarkable growth we have seen. In August 2002 Diane and I were named THSC’s Support Group Leaders of the Year.  We were both stunned but deeply gratified when we read the precious letters of nomination written by some of our dear “Smoothies.”

As I said, Lee and I have come a long way in our thinking about home education.  Oh, I still make those 3-Rs a top priority, and Lee still lets me do most of the teaching, but we have come to see that home education is really more about “home” than about “education.”  If all we did were focus on teaching our children to read and write, we would be missing most of God’s plan for our family.  Rather, we have made building a godly family our main goal, and it is the standard by which all activities and accomplishments are measured.  While I do most of the teaching, my husband has become actively involved in the entire process (from choosing curriculum to overseeing the feeding of the two silkworms we are raising).  When he speaks to new home schooling fathers, he is passionate about the father’s role as visionary, protector, and provider.  He is my greatest champion and is always willing to listen to me think aloud about whatever struggles I might be facing.  His advice is well thought-out and has been useful on many occasions!  My role has changed from being a strict taskmaster to being a mother who hopes she has encouraged a love of learning in her children.  Our children (Daniel, 17; Laura, 11; Sarah, 8; Rachel, 7; Lee IV, 6; Nathan, 4; and David, 2) have become the delight that God intended them to be, and we thank Him every day for His great outpouring of blessings upon our household.