So You Say You Wanna Homeschool?

Very soon, our family will embark on our 9th year of homeschooling. Until the other day, I hadn’t really thought about how many years we’ve been doing this and when I counted it up, I was shocked. I started teaching my oldest when she was in 3rd grade and now she is in her junior year of high school. My middle child has been with me since the beginning of her school career and this year she’ll be in 7th grade. So, how did we get here?

I never planned on homeschooling. I always had my sights set on being a working woman. However, in 2009, we were stationed in the middle of the Mojave Desert at Edwards AFB. Previously, my oldest had attended private school in Florida while I worked. Upon moving to the desert, my husband and I discovered very quickly that our daughter was struggling with the public school on base. They didn’t teach science, social studies, or anything outside of math, reading, and writing. She had pounds–POUNDS–of monotonous homework every night, which was excessive for a 3rd grader. Scratch that. It was excessive for any grade level. To add to that, my daughter does not do well with busy work or repetition. She grasps things very quickly and then it’s time to move on. If she is forced to do repetitive work, her focus wanes. So, because she looked like a zombie after every school day and she was forced to complete page after page of tedious, unnecessary work, we pulled her out. I wasn’t keen on working while we lived there, seeing as we lived 45 minutes from civilization. I wasn’t interested in the long commute. I figured I’d teach my kids for the three years we were there and then put them back in school once we moved.

And, yet, here we are. Nine years later and I’d consider homeschooling one of the greatest blessings for our family. I never could have anticipated all the goodness that would flow from it, but I’m so grateful that it has worked for us.

When we first started, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no curriculum, it was half-way through the school year, and I had no idea about the laws and rules. I didn’t know if I was equipped. I was scared. Thankfully, I connected up with a leader of a homeschooling co-op at Edwards and I was able to talk to her on the phone. I told her how scared I was and unsure that I’d do a good job. She said, “Honey, you just gotta jump in feet first. Just jump in. You will make mistakes, but you love your kids, so you will do fine. You will never be perfectly ready to homeschool and that’s why you just gotta jump in.” And so, I did.

Our first year of school. We were studying Africa here and the girls got dressed up and we had an African meal.

I write this, because I’ve got a few years under my belt now and I want to encourage any parent out there that may be considering homeschooling. I’ll offer a few pieces of advice, if you are toying with the idea.

YOU ARE EQUIPPED

I have a master’s degree and, yet, I still felt ill-equipped to teach my kids. Look, you will never know all the things, but nobody does and that’s okay. There have been numerous times when I’ve gone to teach my kids something and I don’t know the information or what the heck the book is talking about. So, we learn together. There is nothing wrong with learning together. It is a valuable lesson. Nobody goes through life with a professor or a teacher right by their side imparting all knowledge in the known universe. If you want to truly learn and learn something well, teach yourself. There have been times when I’ve said to my kids, “Okay, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this, but let’s work it out. What do we know? Let’s learn this together.” Thomas Jefferson taught himself everything under the sun: architecture, seven languages, meteorology, gardening, etc. If he can do it, so can you and your kids. Part of learning is working it out, re-reading, discussing, writing it down, debating it, and then getting it. So, if you don’t have a PHD, that’s okay. Learn with your kids. It’s perfectly fine as a teacher to say, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out.” That’s learning.

I was doing my best to look scholarly. And the red pen! Oh how I love my red pen.

IT WILL TAKE TIME TO FIND YOUR GROOVE

It took some time for my kids to see me as teacher and not just Mom. It will take you some time to learn how your kids learn best. My oldest gets concepts very quickly, so I know that busy work and repetition are a waste of time for her. Rhianna learns like her father: Get it, got it, move on. My middle daughter needs to see how things apply to her and the world. She’s a very sensitive, aware and connected child and you can’t just throw a concept at her. She needs to see how it applies to life. Basically, she needs to see the social connection. She learns more like me, though I used to get very frustrated with her when she didn’t pick things up as quickly as my oldest, but over time, I have learned to adjust to her needs. She’s just as smart, she just learns differently.

Building and learning about electricity.

SET BOUNDARIES 

When I first started homeschooling, other women started calling me asking me if I wanted to go to coffee or lunch. As my oldest got into her teen years, people would call me asking if Rhianna could babysit during school hours. I think people have this perception that homeschooling is kind of loosey-goosey and they often don’t take it seriously. I had to always say, “Sorry, we are schooling during those hours.” Sometimes they would get offended, but that was not my concern. My job was/is to teach my kids. My oldest is a competitive gymnast and she trains for hours a day and so our homeschooling schedule has to work like a well-oiled machine. I understand that not all homeschooling families have to operate this way, but you will need to learn to set boundaries. If not, you will find that your days get packed with playdates, lunch dates, and babysitting jobs instead of school. When kids are little this isn’t as big of a deal, but you need to show them that education is valuable and a top priority. Your schedule doesn’t have to be hard-core rigid, but you do need to schedule. Kids will take advantage of a parent that doesn’t take homeschooling seriously and before you know it, nothing gets done.

Field trip to the James Madison Museum.

IT’S OKAY TO HAVE  “AWKWARD” KIDS

Homeschooling kids often get labeled as “awkward.” As if no one who went to public school ever had an “awkward” kid in their class. Homeschooled kids are often very free to be who they truly are meant to be. They don’t have to conform to get accepted and then wind up being someone they aren’t. This perception always rubs me wrong, because the deeper meaning is that people on the outside don’t think your kid is “cool” enough. Homeschooled kids are generally educated enough, as tests and studies prove. So, by “awkward,” what the culture is telling them is that they haven’t conformed enough to society’s standards. In our home, my kids are free to be who they are. They can like their own clothing style, music, and books as long as they are things that are good, right, and true. They are free to read to their hearts content and not be labelled a dork. They don’t have to worry about being bullied.  All kids don’t have to look exactly alike.

My oldest thought she wanted to be an architect. So, she and her dad scaled the Eiffel Tower and she built it. It took her a year and a half. It was quite an accomplishment and it taught her that she didn’t want to be an architect. LOL!

BOTH PARENTS NEED TO BE ON BOARD

Homeschooling is very hard to do effectively if one of the spouses isn’t on board. Generally, it’s the mom that does most of the homeschooling, though there are dads out there that are the dominant teacher. Having Dad on board makes everything go so much smoother. The girls know that their dad and I are committed to their education and success. As my kids have gotten older, my husband takes a more active role in teaching. At night when he gets home from work, he teaches our oldest science and math, while I make dinner. He’s an engineer and can teach those subjects with ease. Not all dads are engineers, but they are still valuable to the process working well.

Dissecting a pig heart for Biology. Her face says it all!

THE OTHER JOYS

Each morning we all get to have breakfast together as a family. We start our school day with the pledge and a pray. We have lunch together and at night we eat dinner together as a family. I get my kids under my roof for 18 years of their life and these are treasured times. I love the talks I get to have with them. I shelter them, but I don’t smother them. We use our discretion to tell them things when they are mature enough and ready to handle the conversation. They are both in sports, they have friends, they get out, they are engaged and happy kids. I get to read with my kids, which I love, love, love. Reading the classics with them and then discussing the story is such a joy. I will miss it when there is no head resting on my shoulder while I read to them. It is their father and I that shape and guide their moral characters, not the culture. Some may see this as brainwashing, but I assure you, in our house, discerning truth is paramount. We explore and talk about nearly everything: science, religion, world news, culture, literature, ethics, morals, etc.

I realize that homeschooling is not possible for every family or even a desire. I write this for those who are considering it or are just wondering. It’s normal to feel scared, nervous, and ill-equipped. Homeschooling can and should be a wonderful journey for you and your kids. You’ll mess up, you’ll fail somedays, you’ll lose your cool, and you’ll want to throw in the towel sometimes, but that’s normal. Nobody does everything perfectly. It is not your job to make sure they know all the information in the world before they turn 18. That’s an unrealistic expectation. Your job is to teach them how to think for themselves and use logic and reason to make decisions.

All I know is that I’m so glad we got placed in the middle of the desert with a bad school, because it led us on this path. I’m also glad I found the courage to “jump in feet first.”