Think You Could Never Homeschool?
Confessions of a reluctant homeschool mom.
June 17, 2013 - 9:00 am
Did you happen to read Jen Hatmaker’s hilarous viral blog post titled “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever”? Hatmaker wrote:
We are limping, limping across the finish line, folks. I tapped out somewhere in April and at this point, it is a miracle my kids are still even going to school. I haven’t checked homework folders in three weeks, because, well, I just can’t. Cannot. Can. Not. I can’t look at the homework in the folder. Is there homework in the folder? I don’t even know. Are other moms still looking in the homework folder? I don’t even care.
She went on to list part of her to-do list for the end of the school year:
The emails coming in for All Of The Things – class gift, end of year letters, luncheon signup, party supplies, awards ceremonies, pictures for the slide shows, final projects – are like a tsunami of doom. They are endless. I mean, they will never ever end. There is no end of it. I will never finish and turn it all in and get it to the (correct) Room Mom and get it all emailed and I am pretty sure the final week of school will never be over and this is the end for me.
Oh my word! If you’ve ever wondered if you have what it takes to homeschool, reading Hatmaker’s blog post ought to at least convince you that sending your kids to school is no walk in the park, either. Or maybe you are on that hamster wheel and as you look toward another exhausting school year next fall, you wonder if your family will survive.
Looking back on our years of homeschooling, fourteen consecutive years in all, the most common thing I heard from people who found out we were homeschooling was “I could never do that; I’m not _______ enough.” The blank was usually something like consistent or disciplined or patient. I understand completely because before we began our homeschooling journey, I was the mom who made comments like that to other parents.
When we started homeschooling Ryan, it was only because we found out at the kindergarten screening that the public school didn’t teach reading in kindergarten and our precocious Pre-K Kangaroo, who had excelled in all things in preschool, was ready to read. Private school tuition wasn’t a realistic option for our family budget and we didn’t like the idea of stalling his education for a year. So our battle cry became, “How badly can we mess up kindergarten?” That was the extent of our personal homeschooling conviction at that point. Worst-case scenario, he wouldn’t be any further behind than his public school peers, who would be learning their letter sounds and basic numbers that year.
As it turned out, our little sponge soaked up everything we put in front of him. Though I had no training in teaching or pedagogy (I had never even heard the word pedagogy), I taught Ryan to read using a boxed reading program with phonics songs on cassette tapes (a-a apple, b-b-ball, c-c-cat, and d-d-doll…). By Christmas, Ryan was up and reading and we realized that we were not going to completely mess up kindergarten.
But we also realized that he was digging us into a terrible, wonderful hole. Ryan was getting so far ahead and we were beginning to enjoy homeschooling so much that felt like we were reaching the point of no return. A standardized achievement test placed our son in the 97th percentile compared to other kids his age. Armed with a shiny, stellar, state-approved test score (something we later learned was not a complete measure of intelligence or achievement) and new-found confidence, my husband and I asked each other, “How much harm can we do for first grade?” After all, we reasoned, we had both completed first grade in school, so we surely possessed at least a rudimentary grasp of the course work, right?
The first two years we used the curriculum recommended by a friend because we didn’t know any better. While the phonics program worked out well, other parts of the curriculum were too structured for our more laid-back family style. As our confidence grew, we tiptoed out into the nearly limitless world of curriculum choices available for homeschoolers. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can find a curriculum that fits your individual family and your kids’ learning styles. I began to look forward to the day the massive Rainbow Resource catalog showed up in the mailbox.
My confidence grew as I realized I knew my kids better than anyone else in the world and understood their strengths and weaknesses. I knew where they were academically at any given moment and could tailor the curriculum to suit their needs. What school could offer that?
And so it went, year after year, homeschooling Ryan and his brother, and we all learned as we went. There were a lot of years — more than I should admit publicly — when I think I learned as much as the kids did. There is nothing like homeschooling to teach you about the deficits in your own education! Eventually, homeschooling became a conviction for our family. We came to believe that this was the best possible educational choice for our children. They were not only growing academically, but socially and spiritually we saw signs of the budding maturity we desired in them. This had become a lifestyle choice for our family, and we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
That’s not to say we were the perfect homeschooling family with matching, hand-sewn outfits and freshly baked bread every day. I assure you, we were not that family! I struggled with discipline and consistency in my personal life; and of course, that spilled into our homeschooling world. There were many, many days I found myself on my knees in prayer asking God if this was really what he wanted me to do. Surely I was not cut out for this! I struggled with frequent migraine headaches, so we planned a 4-day school schedule in order to allow an extra day for my health issues. We worked through learning disabilities and speech therapy and the year we all now laugh about and refer to as “Algebra with Anger.” It wasn’t pretty and we’re not proud of it, but I remind myself that lots of kids in public schools went through much worse things in 9th grade than a grumpy dad with a whiteboard who worked an 8-hour day and, after an hour commute, tried to teach algebra to an uncooperative student. (I don’t recommend it.)
If I let my mind linger on those days and experiences I’m tempted to think that perhaps we failed our children and maybe homeschooling is something better left to the “experts.”
But then I have a picture in my mind of my precious boys snuggled up with me on the couch as I’m reading Johnny Tremain to them. The snow is piling up outside the window as a fire crackles in the fireplace. The American Revolution is jumping off the pages and coming to life for them as Johnny helps Paul Revere warn that the British are coming! We have already read a couple chapters from the Bible that day, a chapter from a missionary biography, and have worked on memorizing Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If.” Later in the afternoon the boys are scheduled to do some independent reading, work on a science lab (growing radishes), and complete their math lessons. But for now, they beg me to keep reading Johnny Tremain — and because we are homeschoolers, we have the freedom to keep reading all afternoon if we want to. And we do, because I want to know what happens to Johnny and Paul Revere.
Those are the days that define homeschooling for our family. The warm, cozy days with learning and nurturing and imparting of wisdom with dogs at our feet and dinner in the crockpot. Those days far outnumbered the stressful, unproductive days. On balance, our entire family — parents included — received a fine educated and we didn’t mess it up.
My husband and I, like most homeschooling parents, started out unsure of ourselves and wondering if we were capable and qualified to take on the awesome responsibility of educating our children. We made it through kindergarten and then first grade, and eventually realized that this wasn’t rocket science — not until at least high school, anyway. Homeschoolers are not some exceptional breed of humans who were born with extra measures of patience, discipline, or intelligence. We prayed a lot, learned along with our children, made mistakes, made corrections, and carried on.
Homeschooling can be a wonderful, rewarding experience for a family and, I believe, the best educational choice for many — if not most — families. Parents, who love and understand their children better than anyone else in the world, are well-qualified to educate their children at home and should seriously consider taking on the challenge.