What I Would Do Differently

We've been a homeschooling family since our daughter entered second grade. As of this writing, I have now taught all grades from pre-K to 11th grade, not to mention all those "pre-school" years...and some grades more than once! After Janna graduates next year, I can say that I have gone through school all over again! As I prepare now to start the homeschool journey with my youngest son, I know that I'm going to do things differently. How thankful I am that God has given me this opportunity, for I know that not everyone has this chance. As I talk with moms who are considering homeschooling or are new to this lifestyle, I honestly tell them that homeschooling is the best hardest thing I have ever done (it ranks up there with being a parent and adoption!). Yet if I could do it all over again, I would, in a flash. But what would I do differently?

Don't try to replicate traditional school.

Oh, how I struggled with this when we first started! I thought that in order for me to be officially teaching my kids, we needed to work at a desk, start at 8 AM and finish by 3 PM, and have recess at precisely 11:13. Not so. What freedom has come when I realized that God has given me free reign to start school at a time that works best for our family, take breaks when we needed it, and choose curriculum that meant something to us, not just to meet state standards.

Some may think that will only breed pride, rebellion and the inability to submit to authority, but I don't think that's true. It is becoming more and more clear that our current school system doesn't work. It doesn't provide the results that these "experts" are so sure it will give. New methods and curricula are unleashed every year to meet new and changing standards. No wonder it's a mess. We need to resist the temptation to compare our school to public schools or other kids or worse yet, let that be our standard to follow. As a homeschooling family, I know that I can teach the things our kids need to know in a way that best fits their bents, so that they are enriched, equipped and ready to face the challenges that await them.

Go at their pace, not the textbook’s.

If I have learned anything from teaching Janna, that would probably be it. The poor girl has had to suffer under my dogmatic hand for so many years. "But it's only supposed to take 20 minutes to do this lesson! How come it's taking you 30?" Sigh. If I knew then what I know now, I would have just realized that maybe I need to take a different angle, break it down to smaller pieces, or even chuck the curriculum itself (gasp!). Now that I've also been schooling Matthew, I am beginning to realize that while something may work for a majority of kids, it may not be a good fit for mine. And that's okay.

Don’t put young learners off.

Jonathan has started to read. Okay, so it's only short vowel words that when strung together, aren't very exciting sentences. But he wanted to learn. Capture that, moms, because once it's lost, it is hard to get back.

Sure, it's not convenient. But with a little forethought, our little ones can start their own educational adventure even while they are pounding playdough or flipping through a picture book. Our attitudes about learning speak volumes to them. When they are told that "they're not old enough," they'll accept it. And then when they really do need to start formal school, they really aren't that interested anymore. I'll need to post some more on this topic, but I will move on for now. 

When you hit a wall, take a break. Don't keep pushing until they (or you) cry.

I think that's self-explanatory. Don't try it. It doesn't work. Trust me.

Don’t forget the “fun” subjects or extras.

Science experiments, art projects, music appreciation, poetry...how often have I just skipped over them because we ran out of time. How easy it is to just settle for reading a book or two. It takes time to find the equipment (even if it is just household stuff!). It takes time to clean up the paint that dripped on the floor or wash the paintbrushes or find a place to put that wet painting. I have realized that even though the public school system needs to cut these because of financial shortfalls, I don't have to.

Even if your children (or you) are not inclined towards these types of activities, give it a try. Sprinkle it in every now and then. For us, it is poetry, art and music that get the short end of the stick. I hope that I will be able to give a little taste every now and then to my kids, so that in the midst of the word problems and five paragraph essays, there is a little beauty.

Don't be afraid to go on rabbit trails.

When I first started, I had a plan and doggone it, I was going to stick with it! I found that I could do that, but how much I would miss. We didn't have to go on long rabbit trails, but there was always time to look up a website to answer a question. If you have more time, Google a list of suggested reading material that is appropriate for your child and head to the library. In doing so, we do a couple things: 1) we show our kids that their opinion counts and 2) we model to them that learning is fun. I think that in the long run, those lessons are worth the cost in time lost.

Remember your children are people, not just your students.

I'm not sure if I'm the only one, but it is so easy to slip into this mode with my kids. I find this especially so with my older daughter. Inevitably, most of our conversations go back to school, what she's working on, where she's at in her book. It takes real concentrated effort for me to think of things other than school to talk about with her. I am far from being good at it, but I am trying. With the others, I hope that we will share some non-school interests and have time just to hang out together.

Have fun on the adventure.

How many times do I wish that I did not get so wrapped up in them "getting it" that I lost it. It served neither of us in the end and may have only instilled in them a distaste for learning. How thankful I am that God gave me Matthew to teach. We have had such wonderful times roaming (if not literally) through battlefields, exploring the beauty of gemstones, and escaping reality through our read-aloud times.

My bottom line? Enjoy the process, not just the product. You'll be glad you did.