5 Things You Need to Know if You Are Thinking About Homeschooling
(Or Even If You’ve Been Homeschooling for 20 Years)
Thirty years ago when my first child was born, I had never heard of homeschooling. At the time, my husband was on active duty with the Marine Corps. The summer Emily turned five, I asked other military wives how to get my daughter ready for school. These women introduced me to homeschooling. I am so glad they did!
Homeschooling was a good fit for our family. I ended up teaching all seven of our kids at home, kindergarten through high school.
What did I learn over twenty-five years of homeschooling that I would like to share with someone new to homeschooling? I think the following five things are important to consider if you are thinking about homeschooling, or even if you are a seasoned homeschool veteran:
1. Know why you are doing this.
Parents choose to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons.
• Continuity: Many military families choose to homeschool to provide their children continuity of education despite the frequent locations associated with military life.
• Religious reasons: As a Christian, I wanted to explore the implications of this faith in every subject we studied. Faith is not something to be locked away in a box, only to be opened on Sunday mornings! What could we learn about God as we studied the created world, history, grammar, mathematics? Sadly, I hear accounts of how the Bible and the Christian faith are not only misrepresented in public school classrooms, but even openly attacked.
• Quality of education: Even public and private school administrators care about student-teacher ratios in the classroom. The more one-on-one interaction between student and teacher, the better the educational program can be adapted to fit the student’s unique learning style and abilities. This is especially important for children who have learning challenges or who are academically gifted.
• Family relationships: Between school, extracurricular activities, church activities, etc., many families today spend surprisingly little time together in a typical week. My children grew up being one another’s best friends. Even as adults, they regularly check in on each other, pray for each other, and seek one another’s input when faced with important life decisions. As their mom, I feel like I truly know their hearts, their personalities, and their struggles, and this equips me to better pray for and encourage them. I don’t know if this level of intimacy would have been possible without the time we spent together at home.
• Safety: with news of school shootings, bullying and student neglect, parents choose to homeschool to provide a safer learning environment for their children.
• Cost: Homeschooling is an affordable option for those who find the cost of private school prohibitive.
People homeschool for a multitude of reasons. Before you do anything else, determine why YOU desire to homeschool YOUR children. Articulate those reasons. Write them down.
Homeschooling is not an easy endeavor, physically, mentally, or emotionally. The truth is, you will have days when you ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?!” Thoughtfully and prayerfully consider why you want to homeschool, and put your list of reasons somewhere you can refer to it on hard days.
2. Think of this as your job. Show up for work.
The best piece of advice I received from one of the Marine wives who introduced me to homeschooling was this: “Camille, think of this as a job. If you want to succeed at this job, you have to show up for work.”
One of the benefits of homeschooling is that our schedules are “soft” – we can be flexible with our time. One of the downsides of homeschooling is that, because of that freedom, it is way-too-easy to compromise our school day.
We overcommit to outside activities and then discover that we are doing very little school at all. Instead, we are running a family taxi service! We all have days when we don’t feel 100%. Maybe it’s allergies, or the baby is teething. We all have days when we have bad attitudes, or we find our work uninteresting. Hmm, I think we’ll take the day of . . .
Missing work occasionally for a family holiday or sickness is understandable, but you would not skip work one or two days out of every work week simply because you “didn’t feel like it” or because a more interesting opportunity came along. A public or private school teacher who developed that lackadaisical attitude would soon find himself out of a job!
Discipline yourself to protect your school day and guard your time.
Think of this as your job, and then show up for work.
3. Homeschooling probably will not look like you think it will.
We all have some idea of what “school” should look like. I attended public school, so my concept of school included certain class subjects, sharp age/subject segregation, and a highly-structured, clock-controlled school day.
I quickly learned, however, that homeschool is not public school. The public school model was developed for large populations of same-aged peers moving along a rather rigid academic track. Our family school had only seven students whose ages ranged across eleven years. As long as we met state requirements for things like language arts and math, we were free to study whatever we wanted.
The clock did not rule our school day like a dictator, either. If someone finished a math lesson quickly, he moved on. If a student needed more time to work on a research paper, he took the time he needed. We doubled up on schoolwork during severe winter weather so we could take time off during warmer, sunny weather. We took random breaks to do household chores or go for walks on the farm.
Some folks entertain romantic ideas about homeschooling, envisioning a Little House on the Prairie one-room schoolhouse, where Mom grinds her own wheat and bakes her on bread and the kids are always well-behaved and eager to do their lessons. I know moms who bake their own bread, but I have yet to see a homeschool that looks like anything Laura Ingalls Wilder described.
There is no “typical” homeschool, no standard model to which to conform. Yes, we have things in common, but every homeschool is different, because every family is different.
Every mom has a distinct teaching style. Your kids have distinct learning styles. Every household has its own daily rhythms: when a parent or teenager leaves for and returns from work; cycles of mental productivity (eg – I do “thinking” work better in the morning. Others are more productive in the afternoon or evening.); naptimes; family mealtimes; chores.
Be quick to ditch preconceived ideas of what school is supposed to look like and embrace the freedom to create a school model that works well for your family.
Right here seems a good place to tell you: Write your lesson plans in pencil!
Do write out your lesson plans. This will help you determine the rate at which to cover material for each subject and will give you a framework to help meet your goals for the school year. This is your job, remember? Plan how to get the job done.
But also remember: life happens. Illness, a job relocation, a death in the family…things will disrupt your school year on occasion. (Even public and private schools deal with unexpected events like flu outbreaks and weather cancellations.)
A student may need more time than you anticipated to master a concept before moving ahead. Slow down and take the time your student needs. Or, he may grasp a concept quickly and be ready to progress than you planned.
Write your lesson plans in pencil and keep a good eraser on hand. Revise your plans as needed.
Homeschooling probably will not look like you think it will. Let it blossom into something beautiful.
4. You will have days when you feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and incompetent.
Can I tell you a secret? I have friends who are public- and private-school teachers and administrators, and they have days when they feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and incompetent. I have friends who are doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, factory workers, care-givers and entrepreneurs; they have bad days, too.
We all do. How can you prepare now for those days as a homeschooler?
• Join a support group. Find other homeschool families in your area. Plug in. Not only do homeschool support groups provide opportunities for kids (co-op classes, field trips, social events, etc.), they provide a wealth of experience, information, and encouragement for homeschool parents. Do you have a child with a learning disability or a behavior problem? Do you need help picking out curriculum? Talk to other homeschool parents.
• Take advantage of outside resources. A few resources available to homeschoolers include: educational counselors (Many umbrella schools offer counseling services free of charge, whether you register with them or not.); homeschool co-op classes; satellite, online, or video courses; dual-enrollment classes for high school students, either through a local university or online; private tutors. Check with your umbrella school or local library for information about resources in your area.
• Recruit your troops. When my oldest was seven, she had five younger siblings. I was trying to do second grade with a 7-year-old and kindergarten with a 5-year-old, while nursing twins and chasing three babies in diapers. I needed to stay on top of laundry and make sure everyone ate and was bathed, and I worked evenings as a cashier at Kroger. Exhausting!
A wise friend counseled me, “Camille, put the school books away. It’s time to focus on life skills.” Instead of math and grammar, we learned that fall that a 7-year-old can make pancakes for breakfast, a 5-year-old can run the washer and the dryer, and a 3-year-old can help empty the dishwasher and pick up toys.
From that year forward, all my children helped in significant ways around the house. Older kids helped younger siblings with school work, too, listening to them read beginning phonics books and reviewing math facts.
All seven of my children came back to me as adults and commented on two important benefits they derived from this aspect of their childhood. First, as children, they felt like they contributed something of real value to the operation of our household. They did! Second, they were amazed, when they went off to college, jobs and families of their own, at the number of adult peers who did not know how to do basic things like plan and prepare a meal, do laundry, and clean a toilet.
Your children are your greatest assets. Find practical ways they can help, for your sake and for theirs.
When you do wipe out – and you will – repent quickly, forgive freely, and extend grace generously…to your children and to yourself.
The truth is, none of us is completely adequate or competent. Thankfully, Jesus is.
It is not a bad thing when we fail, not if we redeem our failure as opportunities to walk in the truth and power of the Gospel. Our kids need to know that Jesus saves broken, sinful people. They need to see us running to, trusting in, and resting in Christ’s sufficient work on our behalf.
The greatest gift we can give our children is the Gospel lived out before them. This has far greater value than any academic or life-skills education.
5. Homeschool will not save your children.
None of us would ever say such a thing outright, but what we will do is believe subtle lies like:
“If I homeschool…”
• “…my kids won’t buy into the humanistic philosophy of today’s culture.”
• “…my kids won’t do drugs or have premarital sex.”
• “…my kids will adopt my faith and my political views.”
• “…my kids will grow up to have fabulous careers and to be upright, productive members of society.”
Yes, with homeschooling, we do have more control over the learning environment and over factors such as peer interaction and exposure to negative cultural influences. And, yes, we have greater opportunity to talk about things like faith, worldview, and what it means to be a good steward of God’s creation.
But we are all sinners, every single one of us, and we live in a broken world. Sin is not only “out there,” in the world outside our homes: it is “in here,” inside our very hearts. No one is exempt from the influence of sin and from the consequences of life in a fallen world.
Homeschooling cannot save your children.
Thankfully, in Christ, God loves to do just exactly that. Run often to him. Pray earnestly for the souls of your children and for yourself as you endeavor to parent them well.
Pray. Persevere in the labor God has set before you. And then trust God – his sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and mercy, his means and his timing – with your kids.
Pray. Be faithful. Trust God.
* * *
1. Know why you are doing this.
2. Think of this as your job.
3. Let go of preconceived ideas.
4. Get help!
5. Trust God.
Do these five things and you will be laying down a good foundation for a successful homeschool. I wish you well!
Camille Kendall, a Tennessee native, has 25+ years of homeschool experience. She and her husband, Steve, have seven children and six grandchildren, with more on the way! Now a writer and speaker, Camille blogs regularly about life and faith at The Hurricane Report. For more information, visit her website.