How I almost Killed Homeschool
I received my Bachelors of Science in Education for Middle Grades Math/Language Arts at Western Carolina University. I taught for my first year out of college at an alternative high school in Concord, NC and then for four years at a small town Middle school that I loved dearly.
Despite my degree and teaching experience, I was NOT prepared for homeschooling my child.
I loved school as a kid, as a teacher, and even as an adult student, I love learning, I love the classroom setting of cooperative learning, I love a good list of standards, assignments, deadlines, feedback, and assessments.
When we jumped into homeschooling (okay, maybe it was more like falling into homeschool but whatever) I only needed to finish my oldest son’s first grade year from February to June. He was a great student in school, loved learning, and thrived in structure. He missed his friends at school but he was excited to learn at home.
((I should mention that it was also during this season of transition that Bubba was diagnosed with a learning disorder. It was a diagnosis that was a long time coming and while it was a heavy realization to come to, it helped for me to be able to learn strategies for helping him and observe how this disorder was affecting his ability to learn.))
Another detail to “set the scene” for you: Bubba was finishing first grade at home but my other kiddos were 4, 2, and barely 1 year old and we were all living in a 3 bedroom apartment in our new city. You can see us pictured during this stage of life. Needless to say, this was a challenging setting in itself. Despite all of these challenges, we knew that God was calling us to homeschool and honestly, if I would have slowed my heart and listened to His guidance and given myself time to figure out what was most important and what things I could let go for a season, I probably wouldn't have come so close to going insane and ruining homeschool forever. BUT - I dove straight in all on my own and tried my best to homeschool in the way that I thought was best. Spoiler Alert: it didn’t go well and here are a few of the things that I wish I wouldn’t have done.
… I tried to recreate school at home.
My experience was in teaching about 85 kids a day, 20 or more at a time for 45 minute long periods. There are routines and best practices that I was used to because of the demands of that setting but were completely inappropriate for a homeschool setting. As a homeschooling Mom, I have one student, who is also my son, and as a stay at home Mom, I am basically available to him around the clock.
… I reinvented the wheel.
We were “just finishing first grade.” My husband and I had said “yes” to homeschooling for that semester only and decided that we would take it one year, one kid at a time. For that reason, we didn't want to invest a ton of money in a fancy pants curriculum. I was overwhelmed with the financial investment that homeschooling (seemed to) require and honestly, we weren’t in a place that we could spend money on a curriculum either so I thought it was up to me to plan all the lessons, gather all the resources, and create all of the assessments. I want to slam my forehead into this laptop right now just remembering all the time I wasted recreating things that were already available to me. There are SO many completely free and extremely cheap options out there for download, for purchase, or just to borrow from the library. Another word about assessments, I had to formally assess my students in the classroom all of the time in order to keep my finger on the pulse of their progress and to report back to their parents what they are learning. As a homeschool mom, I am constantly able to assess my small group of students, there is little need for formal tests and grading because I’m right by his side and it's always very obvious.
… I over planned and over booked.
Bubba & I both thrive in routine. He does really well when he knows what to expect and I love the structure. What we needed was a routine and structure, what almost killed us was a SCHEDULE. Every activity was timed, the pressure to stay on schedule was always looming over our heads. There was little time for creativity and exploration and honestly there was too much on our plates for too long of a time period. The school day is 8am-3pm right? Wrong. Learning can happen whenever and wherever. That means that if Bubba wakes up at 6:30am ready to take on the day and the others are sleeping, he doesn’t have to wait until 8am to do his school work. He’s also a child, he doesn’t need to be working a 7 hour day. We learned to focus on the tasks and the amount of time required for it OR the amount of attention he had available for a given assignment before deciding when to move on. Even now, he’s in 3rd grade and finished with his “work” by lunch on most days.
… I missed out on the fun and freedom
When we started homeschooling, I printed out the local district’s school calendar and planned our calendar almost exactly like it. We worked 5 days a week, a school day was a school day, unavailable for play dates, grocery shopping, and other errands until afternoon. What?! Yea. I told you I almost killed homeschool. We missed out on almost all the perks. Now, I know. We actually homeschool year round, taking days and weeks off when it fits our lifestyle, family vacations are planned in September, morning library trips or breakfast picnics are a gift, practicing our newest math or spelling skills up and down the grocery aisles are a must, and our home is always open for play dates to learn alongside friends.
I’ll never forget it. It was a Sunday morning and I was serving as a welcomer for the first time at our new church. I was serving alongside a homeschool mom of 3 boys in late elementary to middle school. We started talking about homeschooling and I was just sharing some of my frustrations and all of the sudden I started crying. I didn’t realize how miserable I was until I started to say it out-loud. We had only been homeschooling for about 2 months but I was already burnt out and I knew I couldn’t keep up with this lifestyle for long. I wanted so badly to homeschool my kids, but I was ruining my relationship with my son. I was barely keeping up with my other household responsibilities and felt so disconnected from all of my kids. At that moment, my new sweet southern friend stopped me, put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Oh honey, you’re ruining it. It’s not supposed to be like this” she went on into detail to expose the lies I had been believing about what homeschooling was supposed to look like. She spoke life back into my weary momma soul and reminded me that this experience of learning at home was a gift and not meant to be a burden. She encouraged me in my faith and shared stories of her experiences. Her name is Kristin and I still see her at church on occasion and when I do, I’m so thankful. I’m reminded of how God used her to set me free on that day from the pressure that I had put on myself and the pressure that was stealing all the joy out of homeschool, sucking the life out of me, and tearing up our home.
There are hard days in homeschooling, no doubt. If it was easy, natural, and smooth, I wouldn’t be so dependent on God. But if you’re fighting back tears and worried that you’re ruining your child, let this be your “Oh honey” moment. Hear the love in my voice and know the love that your Father has for you. A friend of mine and I were talking about homeschooling the other day and I realized, some days, our homeschool journey has been more
about my sanctification than it is about the children's education Before these children are mine, they are His and anything that I’m doing outside of His will for us is going to lead to destruction. I don’t want that for my family or your family.
If you are struggling, here’s the next practical step: Take inventory of everything that you’re doing and start crossing things out. Get to the bare minimum. Pray over your school, your children, and your plans, submitting them to the Lord. Ask Him to guide your family’s steps and then LISTEN. If the Holy Spirit is alive in you, He really will guide your every step and there is no freedom like the freedom you’ll feel in following that guidance.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:28- 30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”