Fall 2020/ Diane Helfrich

            You’ve now been homeschooling for a while, and you have hit a wall. You are asking, “Did I do the right thing? Am I ruining my child’s life? Can I really do this long-term? Why am I not as far along with lessons as I expected? Why did I buy that curriculum that I don’t even like now?” You are asking the same questions and making the same discoveries we all did. At some point in the journey, insecurity rises, and we can’t see the progress, or what we see doesn’t match what we planned. Some of us (like me) questioned yearly if we had made the right choice. But God knew my frustration and gave me a sign that my children were in His hands and things were going just fine.

            Unlike you, I now have the luxury of looking at our schooling through the rearview mirror. My children are now twenty-eight and twenty-four years old, and they are well on their way to being established adults. We won the lottery. They have both excelled in college and beyond—far beyond my expectations, and I’m a type-A person with high expectations! So what do I see when I look back?

            I started, like many do, with all subjects lined up, a planner in hand, a flag on the wall, and a place where we would do our schooling. We were up with a prayer and the pledge was at 8:00 a.m. I hoped to finish by mid-afternoon with my second-grader whom we had pulled out of public school. My well-intended structure lasted about two to three months and then little by little, it started falling apart. I’m sure most of you are far more self-disciplined than I, so you won’t have these issues! Oops! We slept in and didn’t get started on time. We didn’t get all the subjects done today because we got so excited about making a play-dough model of the earth with multiple layers of color, cutting into it, and learning about the crust, the mantle…an hour later…. If we are going to finish by 2:30, we are going to have to skip math today. Time goes on. Math isn’t my favorite subject, so it is an easy “drop” for the day if we don’t have time. It’s April, and the beaches are great. Let’s stop what we are doing and take a beach day! Yay! Now, we’re almost to May, and we are only halfway through! What do I do? We opened our history curriculum and did the first couple of lessons, didn’t really connect with it, so we didn’t continue. I’m no longer making detailed plans. I am a failure!

            What if I reframe and look at what we did accomplish? Beyond that model of the earth, we learned about how airplanes fly, researched and drew a life-sized blue whale on our street with sidewalk chalk (and did a whole bunch of other science-y things), learned math through the multiplication tables and negative numbers, went to tons of museums, learned the names of states and capitals, and we read books and books and books and books. We learned about tide pools at the beach and brought home hermit crabs to study. We joined a local co-op and jumped in with two feet (Hah!) for a class on elections for elementary children that met every other Wednesday for one semester. I’m only scratching the surface, but by any stretch, we had a pretty good year. Learning became a lifestyle of following interests and getting excited about knowing new things.

            Some years, most of what we did was research for science fairs. But it included research, science, math, writing, art, and public speaking. Other years, we taught classes at our co-op that had things we wanted to learn—History Through the Eyes of Invention (a study we made of how inventions changed world history—do you know how much and why the invention of the flush toilet in England impacted history?), or the philosophy class where we read twelve full works starting back with Sophocles and going up through Hofstadter. It was rich. It was fascinating. It was what we wanted to cover, for the most part. We learned how to learn. I wasn’t a philosophy major in college—I never had studied any of that. I didn’t know about vortex physics when the science fair project began from the seed of an idea to build a stench gun to send out bad smells. We learned together, we learned deeply, and we learned well. Were we perfect? Far from it!

            In hindsight, what I see is that it really didn’t matter what we learned. It mattered that we loved learning and learned cool things that we now remember forever. Yes, we had to meet college entrance criteria, but we did it our way. It didn’t matter that my best-laid plans fell apart early in the game. It mattered that I was willing to jump in with the children and take the lid off so they could soar. However you structure your school, it’s sure to morph over time. The change is okay. Your choice is solid. You are learning how your family works and you are instilling your values. In the end, it’s your values that make the student. They will model after you. God leads them, and you get to help discover their gifts and passions. You don’t just get to watch the first steps and see them start to read. You get to see them do their first square root, come to understand the Crimean War, or read Chaucer and get excited about it. You might even help them build a stench gun and learn about vortex physics! No matter how it ends up, they learn because you care that they do. Whatever style of schooling you choose will change—and it will work. Be encouraged!

Diane Helfrich is a fourteen-year homeschooling veteran who believes in homeschooling so much that she still serves NCHE as the development director, and was a past regional liaison. She is married to newly-retired David (homeschooling will now take on a new flavor!) and they have two children. Ian is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at Georgia Tech, and Anna is a case manager for abused and trafficked children in Yakima, Washington

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