It occurred to me recently that my oldest child is over halfway through his homeschool education. Working his way through seventh grade, he has a mere five years left before he moves on to whatever is next. While I know that there is plenty left to tackle in those five years, I also know that we’ve come a long way. Today I’m looking back to reflect on the first 8 years of homeschooling.
10 Things I Know:
1.There is no schedule, rhythm, or season that makes homeschooling easy. Sorry to break it to you, but I wish I had realized this years ago. I kept looking ahead at the horizon, thinking that it would be lighter once we _______. And it does get lighter at times; like all things, the workload ebbs and flows. But it is never effortless or light. It just isn’t.
2. Homeschooling involves a lot of trial and error. In the beginning, I bought curriculum and ditched them. I tried schedules, organizing techniques, and routines- and then I scrapped them. I had to try to things to see if it was a good fit. About five years in, I finally settled on a philosophy that I could lean on and haven’t looked back. I don’t see those early years, tossed ideas, or unfinished curriculum as a waste- they were part of my learning process. I knew what I wanted for my kids (a literature rich, developmentally appropriate, soul-focused education) but I didn’t know how to get there. The years of experimenting not only taught me so much about the pieces (books, theories, and supplies), but they taught me so much about myself as a home educator. I needed those years in order to confidently pick something.
3. Do not underestimate the impact of simple things done faithfully over many days. Amen.
4. I’m a big believer in the power of reading aloud to build vocabulary, cultivate empathy, expand the mind, and bridge reading and writing gaps. I know this isn’t a startling discovery. From Jim Trelease’s classic “The Read Aloud Handbook” to the popular podcast “The Read-Aloud Revival”, the benefits of reading aloud to kids are widely recognized. What I did not realize is that reading aloud would increase not only vocabulary but the complexity of kids’ own writing, their editorial skills, and the level at which they aspire to write.
In our current homeschool routine, I read aloud to the kids for the first hour of the day. That time usually consists of a chapter of the Bible, a chapter of fiction (or more if we’re at a can’t-put-down point), and some non-fiction books or passages. This the part of the day where we discuss vocabulary, characterization, and make predictions. It’s also the part of the day where we make connections, talk about past things we’ve learned, laugh the most, google things to answer questions, and are generally the most content. The kids do various things while I read to them (color pages, word searches, and matchbox cars are the current preference) yet their ability to hear and remember astounds me. It took me awhile to believe that time was truly “school”. But a few years in, I see it as the most valuable hour of our day.
5. What works for one kid may not work for the next- or ever again, for that matter. There are things that are tried and true (picture books, copy work, and read alouds) but then there are things that vary considerably (learning styles, when they read, how they’re encouraged, math personalities). Over the years, I’ve slowly learned to be flexible and not frustrated by their individuality.
6. There is no solid timeline for becoming a strong reader. I wish I had known and embraced this more in the last few years. My kids could all “read” by six, but the age when they actually loved reading and could read efficiently through a book? That age has varied from 7-10. And guess what? Pressure will not help. Angst will not speed things along. Urgency will not make anyone love to read. They will get it when they get it. My job is to be steady and patient; their job is to keep trying a bit at a time. Give your kids the gift of their own timeline.
7. Don’t chase comparisons. There’s a funny thing that happens. You start out on this homeschool journey because you want to set your own pace. Then at some point you look around and panic sets in: WE’RE BEHIND! All kinds of chaos (mostly internal) follows. I have to remind myself often that I did not set out to meet others’ standards and timelines, so it is of no use to gauge our progress by others’ standards and timelines.
8. Heart matters are not a waste of time. Oh, man. This one is hard. So many school mornings have been ambushed by a bad attitude, a harsh word, an unkind conversation- and then the school morning seems to slip away as I deal with that issue. It’s easy to look at the clock and think, “10:45- we didn’t even finish our first hour! What a waste of time.” No. The time spent in speaking intentionally to your child is not a waste. Is wisdom a waste? Is cultivating compassion and empathy a waste? Is helping them have insight into their own dark tendencies a waste? Absolutely not. Those are moments of teaching the soul.
9. Our two mottos:
We can do hard things.
How we treat each other matters.
All day, every day. For real.
10. Toddlers are the great X-factor. I have no wisdom to offer you as you try to homeschool with a free-range toddler on the loose. Contain the chaos. Do what works (which for us this year has been play doh, peeling the paper off of crayons, bubble baths, sibling breaks, and inconceivable amounts of goldfish crackers.) Give yourself a break. There will come a day when you don’t have a toddler. Steady on.
Things I Still Don’t Know
1. How to keep track of all the papers. Thousands of paper. Millions of wild and wandering papers. This eludes me still.
2. How to keep reading for fun amidst rigorous study. With my oldest in a fairly intense seventh grade program, he works hard each day. Latin, rhetoric, logic- those are some of the things that he is exploring and really delving into. I noticed, with sadness, that since the beginning of this school year, his own personal reading has almost disappeared (much like the college years for me). I’m not quite sure what to do about this, but it’s on my mind. I believe there are so many positive aspects of a healthy fiction diet, so I’m not ready to give that up as “a price we’ll pay” for intense academics. Nope. Not on my watch.
3. I don’t know how to soar through January and February. Those two months are always a struggle. We’re cold and stuck inside. We’re tired of the school year. We all wish it was still Christmas break. Those months are some of my least creative and most dreaded months of the year. I don’t know how to fix that, but I’m thankful that I can at least see it.
4. I don’t know what each child’s academic path will be. Right now we’re plugged into a great homeschooling community that embraces and teaches the classical model. Is it working? Yes. Am I committed to it? Yes. Do I think it will be the best path, K-12, for all my kids? I don’t know. Time will tell. I pray I have the discernment to see and the courage to move if a new path is needed.
5. I don’t know how to “fit it all” in. Our school days are pretty settled. But lessons? activities? field trips? Those things press in from the margins and pull us in different ways. I know that we are most sane and kind when we have a slower pace, so I tend to say no when I’m feeling pressed. With five kids, a husband with a stressful job, and a growing awareness of what I need to be healthy, I just can’t say yes to half the things that come our way. I try to be mindful and open, try to do things that cultivate community and love of learning. There are seasons of more yeses and times of mostly no’s. And that’s OK. But there is that fear that we’re missing out, that someone is not getting what they need, that I will regret a yes or a no.
What I’ve learned about myself
The lovely and horrible thing about homeschooling is the depths it reveals in my own life. I am not half as patient, creative, fun, or flexible as I thought I was. I have quite a bit of “counter aggression” (a term I learned in dealing with teens. It means they get mad- you get mad.) I have high hopes and low lows, and I constantly have to be reminded that this whole process is actually not about me. Lovely, I know.
The good news is that it truly isn’t about me. I have come to see that the education of my children is not my Sistine Chapel- it is my loaves and fish. And that realization is such a blessed relief. I do not have to be amazing- I just need to be steady and dependent on Christ. He’s got this. In the scope of the universe, I wholeheartedly believe that Christ is much more invested and concerned about my kids’ welfare than I am. I trust Him to provide, to lead, to sustain, to repair, to intercede, to overcome, to be all of our enough for every day.
If I had unlimited resources, I would still pick this path for my kids’ education (well, maybe I’d outsource math and Latin, but you get the point.) I love that we learn together, that they are learning how they learn, and that their hearts and minds are soaking up so much goodness and light in these formative years.
At a homeschool conference a few years back, a speaker was talking on perseverance and joked that some of us moms had “decades of homeschooling left.” I stopped to ponder and realized that, at 35, I still had 18 years of homeschooling ahead of me (assuming Silas homeschools through grade 12). I joked that they shouldn’t make those kind of statements at conferences that don’t have a happy hour. But in all seriousness, it did hit me hard. This is a long road and the turns ahead are unknown. The personal cost is high, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or has not homeschooled. But the hard work of education is a sweet and rewarding journey. I am grateful for this path that we’re on, for those walking beside us, and for the years of learning behind and ahead.