As many of you are planning out a new school year, excited, anticipating what lies ahead, I am reflecting on my years of homeschooling. It has been a full year since I closed our homeschool (at the time of writing this article.) We graduated our last son at the NCHE graduation in May of 2016. A prouder mama no one could find. Both of my sons have gone to college, are doing well at it, working, and growing into their new lives as the men of God I had hoped they would become. We homeschooled for just fourteen short years!
When starting our homeschool experience, I never knew how fast time would fly. It seems like yesterday that I was reading the Rainbow Resource catalog from cover to cover. (Anyone that has seen an actual hard copy of their catalog would be impressed.) Finding just the right curriculum and making sure you do not mess up your child’s education is a huge weight on most homeschool parents’ shoulders, just as it was mine. I loved reading the catalogs when they came in the mail. I still get them, and I am slowly getting to the point where I can toss them out, and remove myself from the mailing lists. I have shelves of books on homeschooling that I just cannot get myself to part with. You never know when you might meet someone who needs one of them, or, one day, I hope a new daughter-in-law will need them for my grandchildren.
There are many things, as I am reflecting, that come to mind. Things I wish I had done, or not done. What would I share with a new homeschooler? Let me start at the beginning, the first and most important lesson I can share.
1. Put the Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible first. Yes, we used the Bible in our homeschool. We used Bible-based curriculum when we started. We studied history from Creation onward. However, it wasn’t until I read those words in an article that they came to life for me. We needed to base all our studies and life on this book, not just get the curriculum that was based on it. We needed to start our day out reading the actual Word of God. Looking back, I can see how the Bible could be used entirely as someone’s curriculum. “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). All subjects, reading, writing, history, even basic or supplemental math, can be learned from God’s Word (search the internet for ideas for using the Bible for teaching!) That is how they taught in the homes so very long ago. Why have we been dependent on someone else to gather up the lessons based on the Bible instead of using it directly to teach? I will admit that we did not do our entire curriculum from the Bible. I just said I could see, looking back, that I could have done that very thing. We did, however, start each day reading the Word. We read through the entire book several times. We did not even skip those difficult books, like Numbers or Leviticus. We read; we discussed; we learned; we used the information, the wisdom, for our lives, and the rest of the day fell into place as we started this habit. I encourage you to start your day out this way. Children can learn anything that adults can learn. Their spirits are just as big as ours. Do not talk down to them when reading the Bible or make them read a Bible story book. Give the Word to them in small bites of meat, then repeat it again and again in different ways.
2. Take time off before you start. If you are just beginning to homeschool, I recommend that you do not start until you have done your research. I wish, when we began, that I had taken six months or even a year off to read all those books that I have on my shelf now. I read just one when I began, and it was written by a highly structured homeschool mom. It still makes me hyperventilate when I read it. It was so intense. I never could do all the things she said in her book. It was intimidating. It was not until the next year or so that I found other homeschool books that fit the style I wanted in our home. We were a relaxed homeschool, but we did not start out that way. I opened our little school with the pledge and prayer and did all the subjects just like that first book said to do. By the end of the first year, we had stepped back. We re-evaluated where we wanted to take our boys in their education. We needed some structure, but not as much as we had begun with. That is when the real research began for me. I read everything I could get my hands on, including that Rainbow Resource catalog! We discovered unit studies! I read many books over that first summer break. It was so relieving to find the other philosophies. Do not be in such a rush to start back this school year. Take some extra time to research for yourself. Pray and see what God wants for your child’s education.
3. Keep up with the activities. When we started our journey, we met at the park every week with other homeschool families. It was the best couple of years! We were all new at homeschooling, and we could let the kids play while we discussed all the issues that arise when you are teaching your own children. When the kids grew, we stopped the group because life got busy in other areas. Later, we got involved in 4-H and Contenders of the Faith. We took science classes at the science center, art classes at the art museum, and did a lot of field trips. After some time, however, my boys and I got to where we were tired of all the running, and we began to stay home more and more. I got tired of making the boys go to clubs and activities that they did not want to go to. Today, I wish we had not stopped. I do not mean that we, as homeschoolers, should overdo it. I think there must be a balance. We do not have to keep up with the homeschool Joneses, but we should not isolate ourselves either. I think our family did a little bit of that. By the end of our homeschool journey, we participated only in football with the Hickory Hawks. (We kind of had to do that, since football was always a huge part of my boys’ lives, and my husband is the GM of the team.) Now, I think that the clubs and classes played more than one role in our lives. We need to think of our kids like little puppies. When someone gets a dog, especially a potentially dangerous breed, like Rottweilers or Pit Bulls, they must keep them around other people to make sure they are properly socialized and trained. (Yes, I said the word socialized. It comes up everywhere, doesn’t it?) If we are going to keep our kids in the greenhouse, we also need to temper them by taking them in and out of the garden every now and then to help them make the adjustment for the day they are planted into the great outdoors.
4. Do not forsake the field trips. We did a lot of field trips with our boys when they were younger. The older they got, it was a little more difficult to find things they could do that were age appropriate. That is a shame, but part of life. I have always been a doer. I am a take charge kind of person, so it was easy for me to get field trips together. When we wanted to go somewhere, I posted the information in our homeschool newsletter (back when we had those), and later, online with the Yahoo group. Support groups have changed over the years. When we started, the parents were used to doing things for themselves, so it was natural to include field trips and other activities into that. Today, I see more isolation which includes not having regular support group meetings, depending on someone else to get something going, or giving an idea but not being willing to organize it. The result is that no one is going on trips together. It cannot be us four and no more. If you are going somewhere, make the effort to open it up to other homeschoolers. Remember, the dog illustration? It is not hard to post a time and a place on your homeschool loop. Post it, and others will show up! (Oh, and you should attend the trips planned by others. Do not isolate!)
5. Don’t get rid of your books, at least not right away. When I mentioned that I had a lot of homeschool books, I meant the type a parent would read to learn about homeschooling—not curriculum. I sold, or threw out, all our curriculum, and I wish I had not. We did keep items from the older son to use for the younger, but I got rid of the items after we finished high school. There have been several times that it would have come in handy to have some of the old books. My younger son wrote a paper in college on the pros and cons of homeschooling. Some of the points he brought out were things he learned in his studies in history with me. He used the points, but his teacher wanted him to cite where he got the information. We had to find the books and videos all over again to get the information cited. The math books would have also come in handy when going over subjects that needed some recollection while taking college algebra. When the boys were young, after the crazy, intensely structured lessons we did the first year, we did unit studies. I created most of what we did. I researched topic after topic, gathered crafts and activities, recipes, field trip ideas, books to read, and so much more. When the boys got into high school, we stopped doing unit studies. What did I do? I threw out all my papers with all my ideas! What if my sons’ wives do want to homeschool? What if they want to do unit studies? I am not one to be a pack rat, but in this area—saving all my plans and ideas—I wish I were.
Maybe my sharing my 20/20 hindsight will help you as you start into your new school year. Think carefully before you make unalterable decisions.