Spring 2022/Jennifer Smith

When talking with homeschool moms, I frequently hear that they are discouraged because they think their teaching method or curriculum isn’t working. “I don’t know why it isn’t working,” they say. “Lots of people rave about how great this curriculum is, but my kids hate it! I’m not sure if our school has ever fully worked for us, but it seems like so much work to change now.”

When I first started homeschooling years ago, well-meaning family and friends flooded me with books and advice on how to teach. Ironically, I didn’t realize how many were just trying to help me create a “classroom style” of teaching at home. I’d read the curriculum review list from Cathy Duffy and do my homework on homeschool teaching methods, but being exhausted with a kindergartener, preschooler, and baby left me with little room for ideas. So I defaulted to a structured curriculum that set out all the lessons and all the days. When I fast forward to a few years later, I remember what I believe was my worst year of homeschooling ever. I was battling chronic illness and feeling so discouraged that I was failing my kids. Now with a preschooler, second and fourth graders, I found that our days were filled with more lessons, frustration and tears. I told myself it’s a season; things will get better. But the days turned into months and the months into the next school year. All I knew was we had filled our time with something. Even Grandma and a dear friend tried to help the kids learn, but this cloud wouldn’t lift.

Then I woke up one day and just tried something new. We left the books, desks, and kitchen table behind and went outside. I can’t recall anything we learned that day; I probably read a story. I remember my girls saying “Can we have school outside every day?” I saw an excitement in them I’d been looking for. So, the next day, we had school outside again. Then I pulled out those homeschool teaching style lists again, looking for what seemed to match this new energy. I read some articles online and a book or two. A Charlotte Mason education was the answer for us. I quickly returned to that new homeschool mom feeling. None of my homeschool friends taught this way, so first-hand advice was in short supply. Struggling to change our habits, I pressed in with a strong desire to see this through. Our days changed from textbooks to literature and a larger dose of nature study. The girls were still young, but my son was a tougher nut to crack with years of workbooks and tests behind him. So I plodded along changing things subject by subject. It was an answer to prayer when we found a community of families teaching Charlotte Mason style only forty minutes away. Now our favorite classroom no longer had a door. Would this really work long-term?

Today we are a thriving school full of discovery and joy. Our desks are still there but heaped with literature and journals. We now attend a Charlotte Mason co-op each Friday. Even my reluctant son has found fun in his seventh grade year, learning Shakespeare and British history. He recently said, “Mom, this is the best school year we’ve ever had!” It’s enough to make any mother cry. For now, this method works well for us, but I learned a valuable lesson that day. If you are struggling to make your school days work, or that math course has become dry and burdensome, break out of the routine and try something new! Maybe just one day outside or a new book could spark the fresh start that your family needs.

Jennifer Smith was a homeschool student herself in the early 1990s and now enjoys teaching her three dynamic kids. She sits on the board of a Charlotte Mason style co-op and leads the Stanly Montgomery Homeschool Association with her husband. As a regional liaison for the NCHE, she loves to serve homeschooling families in NC with faith, joy, and excellence.