Today Addie was supposed to be graduating in a royal blue cap and gown on a stage with her fellow homeschoolers. Like most seniors, her ceremony has been postponed. We’ve ordered the graduation announcements (hopefully we’ll send them out soon-promise!), and put a sign in the front yard so all strangers passing by the house can take note.
It would be easy to say, “Look how fast the time has gone! Where did the years go???” but I remember many of those years quite vividly and while they are behind us now, they certainly went at whatever pace was least convenient at the time. But ultimately, homeschooling has been like childbirth in that memories of the worst pains have been dulled with time and so I can always convince myself to keep going- it’s not that bad! Let’s homeschool another one!
But still, my oldest child, our first homeschooler, is graduating. From Pre-K to grade 12 we actually did homeschool her all those years. Sure we had some help, but each year we weighed the pros and cons, and each year homeschooling won out over the other options.
So what have I learned? What have the last 14 years taught me about home education and it’s lasting impressions on our family? In chatting with Tony about it, I can only share what we’ve experienced and the pros and cons from our point of view. Your experience may be different. If you appreciate my perspective great, if it’s utter hogwash, feel free to visit one of my funnier posts.
1.First and foremost, I learned that my personality, and my children’s personalities play more into a successful day and homeschooling experience than I ever expected. Your preferred methods and curriculum are a distance second. Of course all our kids are unique, however I thought homeschooling was a one size fits all task; this was the program, and y’all got with it more or less. I didn’t expect to butt heads with one child over writing, have another who never managed to complete a full page of math, and have another who would be so charming she could finagle her way out of all serious work for a couple years. I learned what I was good at teaching, and what I sucked at, and it was usually different for each kid. With some of my kids, we immediately fall into arguing, with others it’s silent acquiescence that resists asking for help. Some kids excelled at my favorite math program while others required that I begrudgingly find something else. Ultimately my kids and their unique needs, and my own strengths and weaknesses dictated what we did vs. high and lofty goals.
2.You need to be willing to let go of your perfect homeschooling vision. I’d like to say you can just pick a great looking, say, reading program, and use it with all your kids in the exact same way. While that might work for some people, I learned that certain programs that looked great in a catalogue, or seemed to align perfectly with our goals, sucked mightily when actually put into practice. Maybe it required me to read from a script and say the same things five times in a row, or maybe it introduced a new concept in such a fun and novel way that no one understood what was actually being taught. There were many programs I really wanted to love, but I just hated using them, and pulling them out everyday made me want to crawl into the pantry closet and hide. There were programs I thought my kids would love, and I tried so hard to make them work while my kids were running away and screaming. Even if everyone I knew swore by such a program, I had to let it go.
There were subjects Tony and I felt were ESSENTIAL to our classical curriculum but every year, we struggled to find a way to incorporate them into our day. They were not subjects that came easy to me, and while Tony wanted to help, his job and commute kept him from contributing more time to teaching. Sometimes we could outsource, but sometimes we had to let a subject go because the inconsistency and frustration on our part, and that of our kids, made it more trouble than it was worth. If you don’t know Latin, but you think it’s important for your kids to know Latin, but you don’t really want to take the time to learn it yourself to teach them, you’ll be astonished to hear that it will be almost impossible to teach your kids Latin unless you outsource it. You can swap Latin with any other subject you dislike, with the same result.
3.And just because you love a certain method of homeschooling doesn’t mean your child is going to embrace it. Your classical homeschooler may hate narration, copywork, and yes, even Latin. They might not want to grow up and become a liberal arts major at a small Catholic college having Socratic discussions about Tolkien. Your Charlotte Mason homeschooler may hate nature study. Your unschooler may not grow up to be a creative, self-motivated, free spirit; maybe they’ll want to join the military just to have order, structure, and someone telling them what to do. If we focus on these idealized goals, we don’t see all the wonderful traits and skills our children do develop, even if they’re not the ones our preferred method told us to look out for in our pupils.
Ultimately this insight into personality and letting go of perfectionism taught me that I can change my goals, find programs that work for everyone, and teach in ways that I enjoy, while still providing my kids with a great home education. Just because my goals are not the same as they were 14 years ago doesn’t mean I failed or that our homeschool suffered. You simply need to see homeschooling as the opportunity to teach your unique child in your unique way; make the programs and curriculum work for you and not the other way around.
4. It’s hard to be a teacher one minute, and a mother the next. When you’re home all day with your kids, and you’re trying to educate them, it’s easy to wonder, when do I get to just enjoy being with them? Sometimes you get that feeling when teaching, and it’s great. But there’s many hard days when you don’t want that responsibility on top of everything else. You want to let some teacher somewhere else hold your child accountable. This is another example of where I learned to let difficult educational programs go, so as to not strain the relationship between me and my children, and to limit the time of our school day. When everyone was young and I oversaw pretty much everything, school was done by a certain time and did not bleed into the other hours of the day. I only needed to be in teacher mode for a short time. Even now with my older kids, I only check work at certain times, not all willy nilly. But this awareness took time, and I spent many days wondering if I’d provided the proper balance of loving, and nurturing as a mother, with the necessary instruction of a teacher.
5. When you do find something that works, you stick with it. I still occasionally look at homeschooling catalogues, but I know enough now to plan writing assignments without a new book, or what literature to assign for a specific grade or historical period without a new textbook to go with it. I know what will make it more likely for me to check work, and what methods help keep the kids on task without any new planners. I know a new music appreciation program will amount to 0% more music appreciation in our house and that nothing will get me excited about nature study if the 29 books I already own don’t. You can keep searching and trying new things but eventually, even if something isn’t 100 percent perfect, if everyone is happy with it and learning, don’t rock the boat. Trust me.
6.You will lose friends along the way. Homeschooling middle school and high school is hard. Many homeschooling families transition to brick and mortar schools. Or perhaps like us, they’ve got special needs kids that need services only public schools offer. Or maybe, homeschooling just isn’t working for their family. And as your kids get older and become involved in activities that require you to drive them all over God’s green earth, the simple playdate, or tumbling class, or All Saint’s Party, is no longer on your calendar. You’ll lose touch with people, and your homeschooled teens may even struggle to find other homeschooled kids to socialize with who share their interests. Maintaining a network of homeschool friends isn’t impossible, but it gets harder, and your circle will grow smaller. When you start out, and find other moms starting out, there is so much enthusiasm and excitement and you feed off one another and share cute liturgical craft ideas and plan field trips, but that doesn’t last forever. (Man, this has become a real downer.) My point is, work to cultivate friendships and community; get out and meet people! Homeschooling is hard work and you need good friends at the same stage as you to help you through it.
7. In a nutshell, it’s been hard, but it’s been worth it. Tony and I look back and agree that we made the right decision to homeschool Addie. I’m glad we stuck with it and brought in help and changed things up as we needed to help her excel. Sure, I made mistakes. I always call Addie my guinea pig because I made all my mistakes with her. But she has become an amazing young woman despite my learning curve, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
Any homeschooling questions? Let me know because clearly I’ve unlocked a new level in homeschool mastery now.