From the beginning, it has been my goal to homeschool my kids from kindergarten to twelfth grade. I wanted to homeschool forever. But homeschooling year after year is hard. For many years we changed the way we schooled just a little, always searching for a sane way to keep on going. Our first priority wasn’t a curriculum with the highest academic standards, it wasn’t following the latest trends, and it wasn’t to impress friends and family. My goal was to be home with my kids, give them a great education and ensure that we loved it enough to do it the next year. And the next. I have shaped my choices around that goal. I had to or I would never have survived.
If I try a new curriculum maybe I can homeschool forever
When I started schooling my children, I looked around at the choices my homeschool friends and mentors were making, and they used a lot of curriculum. Sure, I had read books by unschoolers, but I wasn’t convinced that would give my kids an excellent education. Perhaps a happy childhood, but not an excellent education. I started buying curriculum, because I thought that was how to homeschool.
At first, I bought curriculum for individual subjects. A reading program. Phonics workbooks. Saxon math. And we read a lot of books! While I flipped through catalogs looking for book ideas, I realized how little world history I knew. Because I doubted myself I thought, perhaps if I bought a history curriculum I could do a better job teaching my children. Then, as we had more kids and the kids made life crazy, a school year that involved no more thought than checking off a list sounded like it might make homeschooling easy. I needed homeschooling to be easy if I were going to homeschool forever.
Homeschooling is never easy. Check boxes and detailed schedules did not make it easy. In fact, someone else’s plan made my life more complicated. The curriculum involved more busy work than we wanted. There were pages and pages asking for complete sentences. The curriculum scheduled books we did not want to read, but missed one of our favorites. After a few weeks, we reverted to our tried and true method: language arts instruction, math, and reading a lot of books.
We tried multiple curricula this way.
The last curriculum I ever bought
The most expensive curriculum I ever bought was Tapestry of Grace – Year 1. My husband was happy to see me spend the money because I was desperate for a little sanity, and he considered it money well spent. After days of research I entered my credit card number and there was an immediate sense of relief. Now homeschooling would be easy, just do what the curriculum says. Now my kids would be well educated. Relax.
Next, the boxes arrived. Notebooks with labeled dividers. Printed covers. Day by day lesson plans. We ordered our books, lined them up on the shelf. Ready for the new year. Once that was done, I diligently began reading the parents manual, and that is when it all began to unravel. There were amazing map projects. Reading assignments. Writing assignments. Quizzes. Papers. Guided discussions. Make your own mummy projects. All in the first week. Then!!! Parents should read the encyclopedia article and prepare a lecture…What? She expected me to prepare a lecture?!
I gave up boxed curriculum but not homeschooling
Maybe – maybe – we did one full day of Tapestry of Grace. Then we did a little less each consecutive day. Finally, we resorted to our tried and true method (the same one we had used with every other curriculum I ever tried): Let’s just read the books. But not all the books – let’s take out a few and add others.
When I resold Tapestry of Grace the following year, one page had been written on. My over-zealous second grader had written on one page. (She was my child who relentlessly begged for workbooks after I announced we no longer wasted of time in workbooks because they didn’t facilitate genuine learning. “But mom, I really want a workbook.”)
By the way, Tapestry of Grace is a great curriculum choice – that’s why I named it here. Ironically, the homeschool mom who wrote it found it to be the system that saved her sanity and kept her going. But it didn’t do that for our family! If you love it, use it with confidence. But if you’re drowning do not expect it to be a life-preserver.
Never let me buy a curriculum again
I told my husband to never let me buy a boxed curriculum again. The next year I asked for one more big curriculum purchase (I was tired), and Bryan kept his promise and told me no. Actually, he said “I thought you told me…have you changed your mind?” No. Sigh.
I knew what I wanted to do and had learned what we needed to do. Finally I understood what we loved to do. It took me ten years of homeschooling to be comfortable and confident in my own ideas.
Here is what we don’t do so we can homeschool forever
So what kind of homeschool did we run instead? When my oldest two prepared for their freshmen years of college I teased them, “You’ll have to work now. No more homeschool slacker school.” What kind of schooling happens in a homeschool slacker school?
- We don’t do lectures
- We don’t do lesson plans
- We don’t do lesson preparation the night before
- We don’t do unit studies (they would involve too much preparation)
- We don’t “teach”
- We don’t grade…subjective subjects like composition or history
- We don’t do workbooks
- We don’t teach health and consider government an optional course
- We really don’t even use a curriculum…one that comes out of a box and tells you what to do each day.
Have I scared you? There is a little hyperbole there – but not much. We DO a lot of things. And we focus on trying to DO the most important things really well. We’ve been wildly happy and successful (enough).
Find a system you love
That’s what I wish for all of you – because I really believe anyone can school the way we have: pick and choose curriculum components and a lot of good books that facilitate a love of learning in every child. Do not feel the only choice is an all-consuming, prepared curriculum that takes all individuality out of your homeschooling. Try to create your own curriculum. You can do it, and love it, and succeed in it. Then, when you love it, you can homeschool forever.
Calm down or you are never going to make it
When Ally, my oldest, was in first grade my mom visited us. My mom and step-dad successfully homeschooled four kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade. My mom is a perfect role model for me. In the evening, after the kids were in bed, we sat down to talk shop. I went on and on about excellence; how as Christians we have a responsibility to educate with excellence. We must do the very best we can do. Outstanding. Amazing. Set apart – not by holiness- but by academic success. And she said to me: “You’re going to have to calm down or you’re never going to make it.”
My focus became homeschooling for long term survival, making it became top priority. Calm down or you’re never going to make it.
Families that did not make it
After sixteen years of homeschooling I have been around long enough to see how many families don’t make it. Maybe a family sets up their home like a classroom – and the next year their kids end up in a real classroom. Or maybe Mom feels she needs to dot every “i” and cross every “t”. And it’s too much…one mom can’t do it all. She buys a computer program and the next year the kids are working in front of the computer screen from 8-5 every day. Nobody is happy, not even Mom. Next year they’re all in public school. Or maybe a family is radically committed to the single best homeschool curriculum ever created (consensus on the “single-best” changes every few years). It’s consuming. The next year, their kids are enrolled in private school.
There were not health, family, financial stressors, or other extenuating circumstances that made them give up. Homeschooling just didn’t work out. These are families we have known, former homeschooling families.
Know why you homeschool so you keep going
Here’s what I want…I want to homeschool FOREVER. I want to homeschool forever because I have a really big WHY. My WHY is so big, I really have no other option.
Are you so convicted to homeschool that you have no other option? As soon as you know you have no other options – as soon as you know you’re stuck – you begin to think differently. No more thoughts about how long you’ll stick it out, or whether or not you should quit. Instead, think about how you can get it done. You have to do it differently.
I had to homeschool differently. There may be little things I miss. I may not give my kids the single best education available. But I want to homeschool to the end, to the very best of my ability. So, I pray, read, plan, talk, pray, tweak, compromise, try, re-work, adjust, then pray some more. All because of the WHY.
We homeschool as an act of obedience to God
Why do we homeschool? Here are a few of our reasons:
Most importantly, to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition, or fear and instruction, of the Lord. We can’t control whether or not our children become Christians. We can make certain they leave our home knowing the Bible and Christian doctrine and having seen genuine faith and love lived out before them. It is our act of obedience as parents. Homeschooling is not the only way to do this, but it is a really good way to do it. Here are some familiar verses to remind you that God has been very clear about what He expects of us as parents:
- “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” Genesis 18:19 ESV.
- “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV. Also read verses 4-9.
- “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;” Psalm 78:5-7. In addition read verses 1-8.
We have a long list of reasons to homeschool
Now let me give you a few more reasons. The more reasons I have for doing this, the better.
- To avoid anti-Christian or amoral teaching that our kids may hear in the classroom.
- Also, to avoid negative peer pressure. Even to avoid positive peer pressure. That sounds a little funny, but I want my family to be best friends and enjoy each other’s company. Too much of an emphasis on outside friendships can weaken family bonds. This can happen at homeschool tutorials too! Guard your family’s time and friendships wisely.
- Another reason is to take advantage of the flexibility that gives us freedom to do things and go places as a family. For years my husband worked at a college and his schedule did not exactly match up with the public-school calendar, but we had the freedom to work with his schedule. We could travel together. If he had Wednesday off before heading out of town, we could take Wednesday off and fit in some family time.
- Certainly, to give my kids a great education.
- To approach learning with a sense of wonder and delight.
- Finally,the one that has become most precious to me over the years. I am cultivating great relationships with my children. We spend a lot of time together, and I’m using that time to enjoy who they are! They are pretty amazing people. I love them, and I love them so much I will sacrifice until it hurts.
These are just a few of many reasons. Ask around in a group of homeschool moms and you’ll hear many more excellent ideas. We should all know WHY we homeschool because these are the reasons that keep us homeschooling when it’s hard and we’re tired (which is pretty much every day).
Make your list of reasons you will not give up
Years ago, we lived across the street from a school bus stop. Some mornings I would sit on the couch and watch the kids getting on the school bus, and long for one day of peace. Just one day when I could put my kids on the bus and relax – which wouldn’t have actually worked because I never saw any toddlers getting on that bus. Are you longing for a day of peace?
Peace will be scarce and you need reasons not to give up.
So make a list of the reasons you homeschool. Talk about it with your husband. Talk about it with your children, if they’re older and have some perspective to add. Write your reasons out in your own words. Take time to pray that your desires for your home and your children will be fulfilled. Pray that you’re faithful to your own dream. Pray for wisdom and endurance to do it well.
Over time, you’ll think of nuances to these or your primary reasons will change. That’s okay. Moms are growing in wisdom too. Don’t bog down in these…think about them for a little while, jot them down, then get to work. But always know WHY and have a big WHY. As they’re old enough to understand, teach your kids WHY as well.
You are the most important factor in your success
There is no curriculum that will make homeschooling easy and pleasant. There is no curriculum that will give you endurance to homeschool forever.
You bring the joy, delight, and perseverance that make it possible to homeschool forever. On the days when you are not feeling joy and delight and want to quit, remember why you are doing this in the first place. Then try something different. It is okay to think differently.
To sum it all up, if you want to homeschool forever you need a why that keeps you going and drives your choices so that it is possible.