Being Cool About School, a series: A Letter to My Homeschooling Self {What I Wish I’d Known}




Hindsight is 20 / 20 right? Or in this case, hindsight regarding my kids’ education is better than blindness. Honestly, I was pitifully clueless about so many things at the beginning of this journey. But after years of homeschooling through good days, bad days, and lets-just-forget-this-one-ever-happened days, I’ve learned a thing of two about where I wish I’d put my time, energy, thoughts, and money.


This is the letter written to my striving, naive, well-intentioned, six-years-ago self. The post in which I hold her hand, push aside her pile of books written by homeschooling experts, close her laptop with all of the curriculum company windows open, and speak with gentle candor, face-to-face.

Here’s what I tell her:

Darling mother with the noblest of plans but no real clue about what’s actually doable, choose curricula with yourself in mind. Don’t purchase a certain math just because it gets the best reviews and supposedly enables your child to complete their high school arithmetic credits by the age of 15. What is even the point of that? Choose what makes sense to you. Choose what you can teach relatively well and easily. 

Focus on the academic basics. You don’t need a language arts program that also incorporates drawing and Bible verses and keepsakes. You need simple programs that teach your children to read proficiently and write well. There is a time and place for grammar. Don’t stress much about it though. So much of good writing is modeled through good books.

And speaking of books, read as many as you can to your kids for as many years as they’ll let you. Don’t feel badly that you’re not doing as much “work” with them. {And for any of Scooper’s homeschooling friends also reading this letter, if this is not your thing and reading to your own kids puts you to sleep or encroaches upon other needful things, no worries. Your kids can read to themselves and read to one another.} Keep books on CD in the car and keep exposing them to great stories. You’ll be amazed at how well they’ll speak and write just from being exposed to language.

There are many wonderful things to memorize: geography, poems, history timelines, presidents, and words in foreign languages. But what do you really want them to know? All of these things will pass away but the Word of God stands forever. Hide it in their hearts now. Knowing the states and capitals will not bring them consolation during the hard days when they’re away at college or when they’re at a loss to understand how to answer the big questions in life. We know that the Word does not return void. Passages that mean nothing now may speak life to him when he’s 40 years old and face to face with life’s harsh realities.

Right now you’re looking around at all you have to do. It’s never-ending. The dishes, the laundry, the meals, the math, the lesson plans, the child-rearing, the grading, the piano practice. Guess what? You don’t have to do all of this. You shouldn’t do all of this. Honey, homeschooling is not part and parcel of motherhood; it is above and beyond the call of motherhood. It is extra. Do you hear me? It is a full-time job. And here’s the thing: you get paid for jobs. Read this post on “paying yourself.” {It explains the whole thing.} No, I’m not necessarily talking about paying yourself a salary. I’m talking about paying yourself with currency that is meaningful to you and that gives you a break, currency that may clean your house and save your sanity. 

Because here’s the thing. Your time? Your energy? Your health? They’re consumable. Not only that but they’re in short supply. Steward them carefully. As I’ve mentioned before, The world won’t stop spinning on its axis but you may stop spinning on yours. What may feel selfish at first could actually breathe more life into yourself, your home, and the world you influence. That’s a win / win for everybody. Don’t be a martyr mom. Be a wise one.

All the “fluff” you’re leaving out because you’re concentrating on the basics, it’s not really “fluff.” It has its place too. Art and movement and music–they matter. You just don’t have to incorporate them into all your other academics. If you do, you may find that a certain child will spend at least two hours drawing and coloring with painstaking detail her fold-out timeline and then have no patience or energy left to practice her letters. A lovely keepsake is fine and good…but not if your artistic, perfectionistic child is still illiterate at the end of the year.

Leave the “fluff” as the reward. Go to the park when your work is done. Get out the art supplies after lunch and let them create masterpieces the rest of the day. Sign her up for music lessons. Do nature walks and bark rubbings. By all means, do these glorious extras. Just don’t stress about making the extras a cross-disciplinary thing. I mean, you can if you want and if it works for your kids but I’m going to give you a heads-up right now. It won’t. Not for yours. You’re welcome.

Accept who you are and homeschool accordingly. You need more of a break than you give yourself. All of these tiny humans all of the time doing all of the talking and all of the inquiring and all of the needing…I know, why didn’t anyone tell you that your introverted self would be all out of her own words by noon? 

You have your ways of coping and they’re not at all bad. Like that writing you sneak away to do? You feel like it’s a guilty pleasure you should probably refuse. I get it. You’ve got kids to educate and dinner to fix and math to check. Well, you shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s actually one of your gifts and years from now you’ll finally accept this. God created you to notice and observe, to make meaning out of the ordinary and to connect with others through your words.  

Now, we can certainly be more disciplined and intentional about this so I propose a plan: hire someone to come do school with the kids a couple of mornings or afternoons a week. And if you don’t have the money from time to time, beg your mom or someone else who loves you. Go sit at Starbucks and put in your headphones. This is your time to think and read and write and stare at the wall. You’ve no idea how restorative this will be. 

What did I tell you earlier? Homeschooling is a full-time job beyond that of wife and mother and home manager. As much as you’re able, pay yourself by stealing away for some restorative time.

Prioritize your marriage. Whatever it takes. This should be at the top of the list. You cannot prioritize your marriage if you are exhausted to the point of death most every night when your husband comes home. Grunts and sighs and tears do not actually make for meaningful conversation. Who knew? So if you are this exhausted, you need to do something about it. How about the two of you come up with some strategies together, like farming out some of the subjects or getting a sitter for time away or scrimping a bit on groceries or clothes or cable or whatever so that you can get take-out more often. {Preferably all of the above.} I don’t care what you have to do. In the words of Tim Gunn, make it work

Also, talk more with him about this thing of school and be open and receptive to his honest opinion. Whatever he says, hear it out. Respect it. Ponder it. Do not get defensive. You are raising these kids together. If he wants to help more, let him. If he thinks you need some assistance with things, receive it gladly, regardless of the cost or what other homeschool families are doing {or not doing.} And if he thinks that you need a break and should consider other educational alternatives for a season, listen to him. For the love, listen to him. He sees things that you don’t and he wants to protect you from your own worst enemy: yourself. He loves you and he loves these children that you’re working so hard to disciple and educate. 

Embrace your children for who they are and not for who you want them to be. They come pre-programmed. Yes, you can help shape and influence them but ultimately you cannot change them. And why is that even your goal? Your children are not merely a gift for you to protect and enjoy; they are unique gifts to the world in which they will one day serve. They were born into a specific time and place for unique purposes. Notice the becoming and let them bloom in their own personal ways. You can discipline and correct while still appreciating the hidden “virtues” buried beneath frustrating aspects of certain character traits. Like that one’s strong will. And that one’s laid-backness {sometimes laziness.} And that one’s incessant need to make everyone laugh even when it’s totally inappropriate. 

It takes all kinds to make this world go ’round. Quit thinking that your kids should act or look more like other families’ kids. Conformity is boring and stifling. Love your quirky kids for who they are and not for who you want them to be. Your unconditional love, grace, and support will carry them further than the most well-executed education on the planet.

You may notice that I’ve given little advice on methods, materials, etc. That’s no accident, my dear. Despite what anyone tells you {and believe me, lots of slick and smart “experts” out there will tell you that methodology is king and content is queen}, how you teach and the curricula you employ is rather far down the list. I know, you are shocked to hear this because you’ve invested so much of your precious time and brainpower researching exactly how to do this and what to use.

So then, what is important? Well, this last bit of advice sort of overlaps with how I began this letter. Homeschool in a way that is practical for you and for the needs / lifestyle of your family. Because no matter how lovely and appealing the ideal is, it will get knocked down by the real each and every time. No curriculum can make you an extrovert when you’re an introvert. No curriculum can make your child do back flips over art appreciation when all he wants to do is play soccer and read Diary of a Wimpy Kid books over and over. 

My friend recently told me her teenage son has hated all forms of art and art education for years–homeschool, private school, and co-op. Regardless of the how it’s done, he simply despises art. She said that her son sees God and all of the world through a football helmet. I laughed. Not because it’s crazy but because it’s true. 

Yes, we all have to learn things we may never use or fully appreciate. That’s part of life and part of education. But don’t stress over the things they hate; respect these subjects and give them their due. Pay close attention, however, to the things your kids love and then do all that you can to encourage these God-given interests.

Your God-given interests matter too. Do what you love to do with them. They may not ever love American History the way you do but I think a little of the enthusiasm will rub off. Talk about slavery and abolitionism with the same zeal that inspired your college students. Bake desserts more often. {But only one at a time because all three of them? Crazy town.} Get creative together and fill the house with beauty. See what I’m saying? Enjoy some of your own hobbies with them and let your personal enthusiasm for these favorite things overflow into their lives.


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Dear one, there’s so much more I could tell you. Homeschooling can be a beautiful way to live and learn. Cherish these days as best you can but pace yourself and do not feel guilty about getting the space, rest, and help that you need. This endeavor doesn’t need to be as stressful as you make it. You can be disciplined and do this well while also having fun and being more reasonable in your approach. 

Please hear me on this: If it’s not doable, it’s not worth it. If it’s making life or personal wholeness quite off-balance, it’s not worth it. And if it’s hindering your marriage in some way, it’s definitely not worth it.

If you ever catch yourself thinking thoughts or saying things that hint about homeschooling being worthier or holier or inherently better than other ways of learning {and you will…sad to say}, just stop it. It may be the better thing for your family right now but it is not a superior thing. Self-righteous attitudes about education are the root of a whole lot of trouble. 

Never say never about other schooling options because, well, you can’t possibly know what the future holds. Enjoy what you have now but hold it loosely and with grace. Remember, this lifestyle is a gift for the present, not a given forever. 

So lighten up, pile on the sofa, read some books, and then take a nap while your kids watch a Planet Earth documentary on Netflix. And when your husband suggests that you take the evening off from cooking and order take-out? Say yes, be grateful, and love him well.

…………………………………


This is the fifth post in a series: 



Being Cool About School: 
Finding Grace & Freedom for Ourselves & Others in Our Educational Choices

{Whether We Teach Our Kids at Home, 
in School, or on the Moon}


You can read the earlier posts in the series here
  
Feel free to subscribe to the blog if you’d like to receive the rest of the series in your e-mail’s inbox. You can do that in the right sidebar. And you may unsubscribe anytime you like. 



Comments

  1. says

    On a scale of 1 to 5, this is a 20!!! Why do I say “20?” Well, because it’s on the same page as “5” but exponentially greater than “5.”

    I (as you well know) do not have school-age kids any longer and I never (as you also well know) homeschooled them when I did, but there are so many parts of this blog that I would have clipped and put on the fridge just as powerful reminders about mothering/caring for self/Godly estimations.

    Chapter number ? ? ?

    LYF,
    MOM

  2. says

    I am loving reading this series and all your thoughts and experiences in schooling, we are going through a homeschool to public school transition:) your writing is grace-filled, honest and practical; thank you for sharing!!

  3. says

    Just wanted to say I appreciate this series. I have an 8th grader from my first marriage who’s always been in public school. I have three littles from my current marriage (4.5, 3, and 10 mos), and I think daily about homeschooling them. (We do preschool-type stuff here at home.) Honestly, one day I’ll think I’m heading in one direction and, the next, the opposite. I feel very confused and sometimes overwhelmed by it all.

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