Updated: Sep 6, 2021
"I will never homeschool my kids."
Never say never, right? I remember the moment four years ago that I realized I'd be eating those words. The idea of homeschooling had already been turning over in my mind for a few months, after hearing every person I know bemoaning the mayhem and madness that is middle school. But that was still a few years away for us, as my oldest was finishing up third grade at the time.
A few months later, on a Miami beach in July, I sat under umbrella reading a book on women in the Bible. No thought of school of any kind on my mind. But as I read, the topic of parental influence on children came up, and for some reason this notion of homeschooling popped into my head. As I watched my daughter laugh and play in the crystal clear water, it became equally as clear to me that I needed to homeschool my children... now, not later. "Why not?" I thought.
On the 9 hour drive home, I asked my husband, "What do you think about homeschooling next year? I mean, if we're going to do it for middle school, why not now?" I thought for sure he wouldn't think it was a good idea. He had shared my feelings about homeschooling being "weird." But surprisingly he agreed. So with a long seven hour car ride ahead of me, I dove into the world of homeschool curriculum. There were SO.MANY.CHOICES, and I was immediately overwhelmed.
After several weeks of pouring over websites, blog, and videos, I finally decided on an all-in-one literature based curriculum. My kids were close enough in age to share one core, and I loved the idea of all the books this curriculum provided.
Our first school day finally arrived, and with fresh pencils and plenty of paper, we all sat down at our round table in our designated school room, and I began to teach my 2nd and 4th grader. There I stood, giving a college style lecture, writing things on a white board for them to copy into their notebooks. I began teaching them shorthand so they could copy quickly and still remember what they were had written when they looked back over their notes, an important skill to begin mastering just shy of a decade before sitting in on college lectures (please note my sarcasm).
It didn't take long for me to realize this wasn't going to work, but it did take some time to figure out what would. In the end, our first year was a blast, but only after I ditched my lecture style approach and starting listening to what my kids needed and wanted. It was a year full of trial and error, great progress (theirs and mine), and a clearer understanding of what it would take for our homeschool to be successful. I had to ask myself, how do I want to present education to my children- as a means to an end, a way to get a job, a 13 year journey of memorizing facts and learning enough to pass the tests? What if I viewed education differently? What if I didn’t see it as a race with a beginning and an end, but rather as a life-long journey? What if I didn’t think of myself as simply a teacher but as a facilitator- a guide for my young explorers, helping them chart their own path and gather the tools needed to set sail on the adventure that is their life, equipped with everything they need to continue the pursuit of knowledge for the rest of their years?
Going into our fifth year at home together, I've become much more comfortable in my role, and I've learned so much along the way. I’ve learned to let my children’s interests be our compass, pointing us in the direction we go and the ways in which we spend our time.
Whether you’re just beginning your journey or you’re looking to take things in a new direction, I want to share a few things with you that will make your homeschool experience not just successful, but also meaningful.
Here are the things I wish I had known from day one:
Your children are more important than curriculum.
Whatever your homeschooling approach, your journey should always begin with your child. This sounds like an obvious idea. You are teaching only your child, after all, but so many well-meaning parents (myself included) fall into the trap of trying fit their child into a particular curriculum. Considering your child’s needs and interests in every decision you make is the first step in building an environment for relational and educational success. For all the hours I spent pouring over curriculum options, I wish I had instead spent that time observing and interacting with my children. Instead of asking myself, "What is the best curriculum out there?" I wish I had asked myself, "What topics will be most appealing and interesting to my kids? What fun things can we do together to make our time together special while also being educational?What special interests and skills do my kids have that I should try to cultivate?” When I started asking myself those questions, a whole new way of schooling started taking place in our home, and with it came more joy, more satisfaction, and a more meaningful relationship between us. My kids thank me regularly for taking their desires into consideration when making school choices. I can’t tell you the wonders it did for their attitudes and our relationship when I listened to them as they said, “Mom, we don’t enjoy this curriculum. Can we choose something else?” They notice the effort I have put into personalizing their education, and it makes them feel loved and respected.
The first step to implementing a child-centered educational experience in your home is to keep in mind: Curriculum is a product someone is trying to sell. Just like Coca-Cola, Nike, or any other of the millions of products out there, the creators and sellers of the curriculum you look at are first and foremost aiming to make a profit. We must be as consumer savvy about curriculum choices as we are about everything else. Now, this does not mean a particular curriculum or resource will not work for you. Companies want to produce quality products that DO produce results because those results are one of the keys to a successful business. But I'm sure we can all think of companies with mediocre products that have amazing selling power. One of the most powerful tools in marketing is emotional appeal. If a company can convince you that you NEED their product, they know there is a greater chance you will buy it. It’s best to ask ourselves these questions when thinking about homeschool materials:
Do we NEED this?
Will this work for my child?
Can I do this same thing for free/ cheaper?
Over the years, I’ve found that I often don’t need as much in the way of curriculum as I once thought I did. In a world where free information is available at the click of a button and libraries are filled with books, I can provide my kids with the same information and more without purchasing a lot of curriculum.
LESS MEANS ROOM FOR MORE
Another important thing to remember when structuring your homeschool day is less means room for more. One of the biggest benefits to choosing your child over curriculum: you have more time in your day to personalize the lessons. It's tempting to want to fill every inch of the time you've allotted for your school day, but leaving space for exploration is important. Many curriculum options out there will fill your days to the brim, leaving little opportunity for this exploration. There were so many missed opportunities in our early days when my kids had questions that went unanswered because I felt like we had to get to the next thing our curriculum had planned for us. It's inevitable, if you fill your days with boxes to be checked, you will begin to focus on the checkmarks instead of the child. I wish someone had told me:
YOUR CHILDREN MATTER MORE THAN YOUR CHECKMARKS.
Guard your home against companies and curriculums that over-plan your days and leave you and your child feeling burnt out. Leave room for those questions. Leave room for those rabbit trails, for sunny days, for spur of the moment experiments and art exhibits you didn't know were coming to the local museum, for trips to the library to sit with piles of picture books and hikes through the woods to find mud holes. With more room in your day, you will free yourself from the guilt of unchecked boxes that weren't worth checking off in the first place. Children are naturally inquisitive, but when we stop answering their questions they stop asking them. So make space in your world for their wonderings. It will not only lead to a love of learning and discovering their passions, it will strengthen your relationship because they will feel valued and seen.