by Jessica Frierson, January 2023

This month marks the beginning of the end of an era in my life. My youngest child will turn seven in just a few days, marking the beginning of his official school years. Although we have a decade or so remaining until our youngest will graduate, the occasion is very bittersweet for me. When I began homeschooling his oldest brother in the fall of 2000, I had no idea that over twenty years later I would be starting my tenth child on their official home education journey.

In many ways, I conduct our homeschool in the same manner that I did in those early years. We take a relaxed approach to education with plenty of nature study, hands-on activities, and delaying formal schooling until age seven. I learned from various sources, including Dr. Ruth Beechik, Raymond and Dorothy Moore, and Dr. David Elkind, the importance of the young child having the opportunity to learn through play until their brains and motor skills are more developed. As I have written about here, teaching each child how to read and write is one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Many fond memories have been made over the years working with each child to master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, setting up science experiments, or diving into a period of history.

Over the years, we have had a variety of school schedules. Initially, we schooled year-round and freely took days off to visit family out-of-state. As our family grew, the out of state visits became less frequent. Still, the year-round schedule allowed us the freedom to take time off for the arrival of a new baby, sickness in the family, or catching up on household needs. (Toddlers can wreak an amazing amount of havoc while the rest of the family is gathered around the dining table for a history lesson!)  

As my children got older and were more involved in church and sport activities, we discovered that most of those activities were planned around the traditional school year. For several years after that, we altered our school calendar to match the traditional one more closely. Now we have come full circle and returned to the schedule that suited us most: six weeks of school followed by a two-week break. The first week off gives me a chance to tackle household chores, get the garden under control, or just catch my breath. The second week is used to go over completed school work and plan out the next six-week session. 

In a similar vein, my method of lesson planning has had a few twists and turns before returning to my original approach. One bonus of homeschooling for so many years is that I have had time to finetune what works best for our family. In the first years of homeschooling, I kept a notebook for each child in which I wrote out their assignments in each subject for each day, and we did school four days a week. Monday, a.k.a. “Momday,” was set aside as my day to get the week off to a good start by creating a menu for the week, pay any bills that were due, and cook double batches of a few things to put in the freezer for the busier days ahead. 

For several years after that, we had five days of school per week. This schedule meant that I had a lot of late nights trying to play catch up on all of those activities I had previously done on my Monday-Momday. These were also the years I had a child at virtually every stage possible–infant, toddler, preschool, elementary, middle school, and high school. These were also the days I look back on now and say to myself, “How did I survive?!?” These years were precious…and crazy busy…and full of memories…and exhausting…and wonderful. 

In those busy years, my lesson plans were put on a grid of five squares across to represent the days of the week and eight squares down for the subjects studied: language arts, math, history, science, music, handwriting, and art (yes, I tend to be over-ambitious. No, we didn’t fit it in as often as I planned.) I kept the master copy of this plan and referred to it to copy into my kids’ notebooks as often as I could. More often, they looked at it then went off to do their assignments. There were many days where we just winged it, with everyone just doing the next thing in each of their books. Somehow, my kids won blue ribbons and best of show in the science fair, placed first or second in the spelling bee, and played in the community orchestra. One of them won a history essay contest. I say this not to boast in our achievements but to boast in God’s power to help us in our weaknesses when we are faithful to trust Him. I think each one of these events occurred shortly after a period of me feeling discouraged about effectively homeschooling my children.

Now that we are beyond the years of having babies, toddlers, or even preschoolers in the house, homeschooling looks a lot different. It is calmer, quieter, much more organized–well, there’s still my tendency to be overly ambitious and spontaneous, so maybe we should just stick with, “slightly more organized.” I have gone back to writing out daily school assignments in a notebook for each child. Lessons don’t have to be planned around naptime, diaper changes, or feeding the baby. We are finished by early afternoon. And we have returned to a four-day week for the most part; Fridays are our “Fundays.”. We do online art lessons, play games, and watch educational videos.

Twenty-two years of homeschooling are behind me; eleven or so lie ahead. It is certainly a lifestyle for our family! We have loved the flexibility that homeschool offers. If I could go back to the beginning, what would I do differently? It may surprise you that my answer is that I would have put less time into outside activities. One of the concerns I hear expressed most by new homeschoolers is being able to find adequate outside activities, but I would be more focused on guarding our time at home. I would enjoy more of the moments that I spent worrying if I was getting enough done. I would laugh more and fret less. I would back up my documents and photos so they weren’t lost when my computer’s motherboard was fried from dust. But otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing. Homeschooling has been as wonderful, as challenging, as simple, as fulfilling, as frustrating, as freeing, as I expected it to be. Did I mention that I was homeschooled myself? So, I guess I had a bit of a sneak preview. The sneak preview sold me on the concept, and for once, the experience lived up to my expectations. It is with both a twinge of sadness and a heart full of excitement that I add my last student to the roll book (the one in my head, anyway) and set off on this course one more time.

 

 

 

Jessica Frierson is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling her ten children since 2000. She serves as the secretary for NCHE, writes for GREENHOUSE, and is the lead blogger for the NCHE blog.

 

 

All photos by Jessica Frierson.