I've been thinking, as I often do this time of year when folks new to homeschooling are getting the back to school jitters, raiding the binder aisle at Staples, lining up all the no. 2 pencils neatly in their boxes...What does it take to do this well? I am finally in a place in our homeschooling journey where I find people looking to me for advice and guidance on how to get started! As I counsel them about curriculum choices and what books are helpful, I think of the things I really want to say. Much of it comes from wise words a dear mentor and friend shared with me before I ever started homeschooling, but they have carried me so far. The balance of it comes from me making the very mistakes I hope you won't make if you read and consider what I share here.
This year my son will be 12. That means I have been homeschooling for 8 years, beginning with his pre-K year until now. If he were heading to public school (p.s.) he would be entering 7th grade. My daughter is 8 and would be entering 3rd, for what it's worth. I should qualify this by saying that I really don't know where they fall in comparison to their p.s. counterparts because a. I don't give the yearly standardized tests, and b. our course of study is so different that I can't really compare it to p.s. curricula, and c. I don't care how they compare. Now before you jump on my back and tell me how that's an irresponsible position to take and I'm not considering my children's future, and "they'll have to test sometime" and yada, yada...read this and this. I assure you that we've thought it through.
We are a pretty average American family: Hard-working dad provides a dependable income, we have 2 children, neither of whom have any special needs, allergies, or extenuating circumstances. I drive a mini-van. Yup, it's the average middle-class life. What I hope, however, is that the choices we have made are not average. Some would say that we are swimming upstream, that we have a counter-cultural way of thinking, that we are...odd. But, these are the choices we have made, and we feel that they are the best possible for our family. I don't mind being odd.
Are You a Victim of Your Own Life?
I've been encountering people often of late who seem to have become "victims" of their own lives, circumstances, schedules. They have an excuse for everything: why they can't exercise, why they can't homeschool, why they can't change their diet, why they are always exhausted, why they are making lousy decisions...a reason why they can't do a or b, and how they "wish they could but they can't because x, y, z." Oy. It makes me tired to listen to people gripe about circumstances which they have brought upon themselves. I'm not talking about people who have true extenuating circumstances, illnesses, tragedies, etc. I'm talking about...well, people like myself. Interestingly, the folks in hard circumstances are the ones least likely to complain...
In this post I want to break down into the simplest terms what we as homeschool parents need to consider before taking on this very important job. We also need to continually reconsider these things as we journey along, because babies become big boys and girls and lives grow more and more complex. We need to remove ourselves from our circumstances and take a different perspective, and spend some time meditating on the basics. Very, very few things are inevitable. Most things come about because of choices we make, and sometimes we find ourselves under the pile and feeling like a victim. Sometimes we need to take the very painful step of un-making those choices, clearing our plates, heading back to square one, and any other cliche that you want to use to describe the process.
Food, Safety, Survival
I used to be a La Leche League leader helping mothers breast feed their babies. Often we would encounter these mothers who were panicking and stressing and getting all kinds of unsolicited advice from people who should not have been giving it. They would want to give up, couldn't figure things out, would be sleep-deprived, hormonal, and often crying. In those moments I would break it down for the mom by saying this, "If you were stranded alone with your baby with no resources but a little food and yourselves, what would you do?" The answer I heard each time was predictable--she would breastfeed the baby and sleep with the baby at the same times, and wear the baby on her body. This is basic, commonsense parenting. Feed the baby, keep the baby safe, keep both of yourselves alive. It has brought the human race far.
Education Through Living
If you expand this for a few years down the road, you can consider what you would have to do to teach your child what he / she needs to live and survive past infancy. With minimal resources, what would you do? You would teach by demonstrating, working side-by-side, and by telling stories. In everything you were doing, you would be showing the child, talking to him, and explaining, probably by telling stories about yourself, relatives, Bible characters, mythical figures, fairy tales. Time would be plentiful and relationship would be deep. Life would be done together, and not divided into funky little modern-day compartments. It would all work together seamlessly.
Yes, You Can...
In this post I want to stimulate you to just break things down to their bare parts. You can homeschool your child, but you have to know that you can. Tune out the opinions, the social pressures, the cacophony of culture and media, and spend some time thinking about what is best for your child and you, his parent who has been given a responsibility by God to raise him well. Really...just go lie down on your bed or sit with a pad of paper and reflect on this: If you could remove all the perceived barriers that are in your way and have a clear path on which to travel with your child, what changes would you need to make? (Don't consider how hard or painful it would be--just what needs to be changed.) Pray for God to reveal to your heart everything that he would have you consider, and nothing that you should not, and believe that he will do it. Write it all down. Cry a little. Pray some more. Let go of all your preconceived notions about what educating your kids should look like. After you have done this very important part come back and read part 2.