(A Little) Of What I've Learned From 30 Years of Homeschooling5
It was 1983 and I had two children, ages three and two. It was time for me to find my son the most wonderful Pre School in Northern Virginia. One of my three college majors in the three years I went was Early Childhood Ed. Needless to say, I never got my degree- what I did get was a passion for giving my kids a good head start. And so the search began. After lots of research (with no internet, mind you) I narrowed the choices down to three that were close enough to be practical options, and then called the schools to set up site visits.
Two schools told me couldn’t permit parents without registered students in classrooms during school time, but would be glad to have Josh join a morning session to see how he liked it. Then I could meet with the teacher afterwards to answer any questions I had.
That was easy. Two phone calls; two crossed-off options. Not allowing parents to even observe a working classroom meant these weren’t the schools for me.
To make a long story very short, I left the third school visit both encouraged and confused. The staff was warm and caring, and Josh had a great time interacting with the children in the classroom. The teacher was competent and friendly. The facilities were clean and well organized, with colorful artwork displayed in the classrooms and hallways. The playground was spacious and only one child called Josh stupid because he had never been on a teeter-totter before. Josh survived the little boy’s shove down the slide with only a slightly bloodied knee.
But something besides that feisty little boy just didn’t sit right in my heart. A friend told me I was being a clingy Mommy that just needed to let him grow up. I thought maybe she was right.
I was the only one in my circle of friends with kids. All my neighbors had their toddlers in pre-schools. I lived in suburban Washington, DC where academia thrives and your college alma mater matters. It was time for me to accept the fact that my little man needed a good education. Yeah, he knew his colors and numbers and could tell the difference between a penny and a nickel. But, of course, he was really smart and I didn’t want to keep him behind by delaying school another year.
Then a trip to Ohio where I met a woman who taught her kids at home (wait…and she actually didn’t live in the boonies and yellow school buses drove by her house every day!) and a Charisma Magazine article on home education rocked Benny’s and my world. Well, mostly Benny’s. I thought he was crazy when he started talking about the possibility of homeschooling our kids.
Fast forward to two years ago when I completed almost 30 years of homeschooling. And, believe me, I learned far more than my seven kids during those decades. I could blog for a week about what I learned, but today I’ll keep it to the top two.
First, I learned that homeschooling is not for everyone but can be done by anyone with the passion and calling to do so. Again, ask anyone who knows me well. I don’t recruit people to homeschool their kids and that’s not my motive for this post. In fact, over the years Benny and I have gently encouraged numerous families to prayerfully consider other options for a myriad of reasons. Yet we’ve seen single, working moms and GED grads and moms with graduate degrees and grandmothers and families with ample funds and families struggling big time financially successfully home educate children. In fact, one of those grandmothers was my mom, who initially challenged our decision to homeschool the kids but a few years later rolled up her had-to-drop-out-of –school-after-seventh-grade sleeves to teach my 3rd grade niece at home for a really important year in her life. Home education is hard work – but so is every aspect of parenthood. If you don’t have the calling or the passion (or the fill-in-the-blank) to do it, I support your decision to do what’s best for your children and the hard work that choice will mean for you. Yet for those who are considering or desire to homeschool, the simple fact is that God empowers each of us to do what He has called us to do.
Second, I learned that homeschooling does not solve parenting problems or protect kids from making wrong, sometimes painful decisions. Our kids are like us: sinners in need of a Savior. I was looking at some notes a few weeks back and it was 1986 when Benny and I first starting telling ourselves and others that “homeschooling can’t protect kids from the world, but should prepare them for the world.” This helped when a 10-year-old yelled the “S” word in earshot of a friend of mine (and I’m not talking about “stupid”), an 11-year-old was caught stealing math answers from the teacher’s book, and teens convincingly lied about participation in sinful activities. And, yes, these are my kids I’m talking about. People who homeschool to ensure they’ll raise kids who don’t curse or try smoking or dress immodestly or kiss before their weddings…and who leave home with hearts full of gratitude for all the parental sacrifices that helped them get that academic scholarship to a great college may be in for crushing disappointments. I walked through some of those disappointments – and it was good for me. I’m grateful to have learned the important lesson that home education is a great option but a poor Savior.
Even though I don’t believe homeschooling is for everyone I do feel as passionate about it being a viable and good choice for many as I did 25 years ago. And while it’s not going to save the souls of a single child it can provide parents with a context to teach far more than the three R’s. Home education provided Benny and me with the opportunity to build the kind of relationship with our kids that make them among our most treasured adult friends today. (And, yes, that can happen if you don’t homeschool – but I truly believe it happened for us because we did.) I’m grateful that college scholarships became available for some of our kids and that all seven of them are “doing well” in the world’s eyes. And yes, that required that they learned to read and write and do math and love learning…things they could have certainly had more fun at surrounded by a room full of peers and teachers with lots more training than their mom who took some Early Childhood Ed courses one year. Yet that wasn’t God’s plan for our family and I’m glad.
Are you thinking about homeschooling? Were homeschooled yourself and promised you would never “do that” to your kids? Are assuming that feeling inside that doesn’t want to let your child go is probably you just being clingy?
Perhaps the call and passion are there; perhaps they’re not. And if they’re not then pursue whatever education options are best for your family with faith and passion! But if you’re homeschooling, or are considering it, don’t be afraid to humbly talk to others about it or share how it’s working for your family. If others feel you’re being preachy or are judging them for making a different choice, then hopefully they will pray for you…and perhaps care enough to also humbly ask if that might be the case just because they love you.
If I find an eating plan that gives me tons of energy or a system that helps me keep my house clean with less stress I would want to at least let you know, right? I see that kind of “recruiting” all over Facebook on a daily basis! Well, back in the day I think some homeschoolers –including me at times – sought to convince people who unknowingly didn’t want our eating plan or cleaning schedule to at least try it. Today, though, the Christian culture seems to have swung in the other direction where homeschoolers (or those considering it) feel almost apologetic for mentioning it as an option because we fear being perceived as self-righteous or pushy.
So here I am unapologetically – but hopefully humbly – mentioning home education as an option. A good option. A fun but hard and frequently exhausting option. A fruitful option. An option I’m grateful that God called me to in 1983 after a little boy called my son stupid and, among other reasons for not signing the pre school registration papers that day, I just wasn’t ready for that.
One mom, seven kids, and 30 years later I’ve learned a third thing. I still love and believe in homeschooling, and want to do whatever I can to encourage and support younger moms who have the passion for it to keep going. I’m asking God what that should look like – and welcome your prayers and ideas.