It’s the question I get most often these days: how is homeschooling going? Perhaps you’re curious too?
I feel as though I should have some semblance of a clear answer by now. After all, I’ve made a living working in public communications for nearly a decade, distilling complex answers into crystallized talking points. Shouldn’t I be able to give words to my own experiences?
And yet with the end of the school year just a month away, for all my inner wrestling and soul searching, this is the only conclusion worth sharing — homeschooling is so very good, and homeschooling is so very much work. There are days that are pure joy and others that feel like pure drudgery, but for all my efforts, it is certainly worthwhile.
This, I find, is not necessarily what people want to hear.
Moms who are even remotely interested in the idea of homeschooling say things like, “I’ll be watching you - let me know how it goes!” They want to know what curriculum we’re using and what I do with our hyperactive toddler during kindergarten lessons. They want to know the length of our school day, whether I’m happy or stressed out, and if I’m a part of a co-op. Their questions flatter me, as though I have any of this figured out, but secretly, they want me to succeed. If I can do it, perhaps they can. And although I admire their bravery, let’s just say I’d rather not be the poster child for this sort of thing. There are far more enthusiastic homeschool moms with better routines and systems. (I know and can recommend them.)
Others ask with pessimism, acknowledging the experiment this obviously is, secretly wanting my experience to validate their own perspectives, whatever they may be. They want to know what interaction my child is having with other children (because socialization) and whether he is involved in sports. They want to know whether I’m working and if I miss it. They ask how I am practicing self care. And I love them for it. This is the camp I used to be in after all. I hear the questions behind their questions and see the criticism in their eyes. They are far too polite to ever insinuate that I am ruining my life, or my kids, but more often than not, they want to find fault with our schooling decisions to justify their own. Part of me wants to grab them by the shoulders, look them in the eyes and say, “Listen, I know this is crazy. I never thought I’d be here either!”
But alas, here we are.
And so if only for my mental sanity, today I’m going to take a stab at responding to some of the questions I’m asked most frequently. This is not to say that we have any idea what we’re doing over here (we’re living prayer to prayer, people), but maybe sharing some of our journey can help folks who are interested … or just curious ;-)
Why are you homeschooling, again?
We started homeschooling because 1) we felt God was leading our family to do it; 2) as parents, we affirm our responsibility as the primary disciplers of our children and we believe having our kids with us during more of the day gives us more time to do that; and 3) it’s extremely important to us that our kids adopt a Biblical worldview especially during these young, formative years. We want our kids to receive an education that teaches them to recognize the wisdom of God in every discipline, love and enjoy Him wholeheartedly and ultimately make Him known.
Let me also just say right here that we believe homeschool is one of many schooling options. There are plenty of reasons why it doesn’t work for every family, nor should it. We don’t think we’re better than anyone else because we homeschool. We also don’t expect homeschooling to save our kids or shelter them from the world. But we do pray the time they spend in our home will give them a strong foundation that enables them to see the world rightly and shapes their worldview for years to come.
That said, I’m personally biased to believe that having your kids with you for more time if you’re at all able is a noble undertaking and among the most important work there is. But you already knew that. I wouldn’t be a homeschooler if I didn’t.
So wait, you don’t work?
No, not right now. And it’s not because we’re secretly millionaires. It’s because I’m a horrible multi-tasker and this Herculean effort has required (is requiring) literally 100 percent of my physical, spiritual and emotional energy, which is not an exaggeration.
I stopped consulting full-time in 2018 to devote all of my time and attention to school. And surprisingly, home has been the respite I never knew I needed. The daily and predictable rhythm of the kids’ schedule has actually been a pleasant and welcome change of pace from my crazy workaholic tendencies. I find myself with my thoughts quite often and have been able to make a lot of healthy lifestyle changes simply because I have the time. Although I’m thankful for the margin, I frequently have to sit on my hands to keep from filling my time with a thousand new projects. Such is the way of a dreamer :-)
What curriculum are you using and do you like it?
We used Sonlight’s kindergarten curriculum this year. We settled on it after hearing rave reviews from other homeschool families we trusted. There are so many good things about Sonlight and it’s a great place to start if you’re new to homeschooling. All the lesson plans are done for you and there are a lot of hands-on elements, which are perfect for my kinesthetic learner.
That said, it can still be a little overwhelming at times, especially if you’re a box checker like me. I cried real tears when our Sonlight box arrived in the mail and I pulled out what felt like 15 million books. Despite the fact that the lesson plans are done for you, it does take time to learn what your kid can handle each day and schedule it all out to fit your life. I’m grateful to my community of friends, especially my mom and my sister, who sat down with me at the start of our school year, went through the curriculum with me and even bought our school supplies. And I’m grateful for my husband who walked alongside me and was supportive at every step. I never would have made it this far without my people!
My biggest critique, however, is that the daily workload seems to be a little on the heavy side for such a young kid, but it could also be our fault. We started Lincoln a grade level ahead because that was where he seemed to fit in the program, but the age gap shows more than I thought it would. It could also have something to do with the fact that he is all boy and would rather run laps around our house than sit and do a worksheet any day!
I absolutely loved the Math curriculum (Math-U-See) that came with Sonlight more than anything else. That said I thought the curriculum could have been a little stronger in Language Arts and would have love a little more support with reading. (We will Iikely look into Explode the Code Or Abeka’s Language Arts program this coming Fall.)
All in all, Sonlight has been good to us, but we’re still planning to switch to Classical Conversations in the Fall, mostly because of the community they offer through their co-op, but also because I love the Classical education philosophy and am super impressed with the amount of learning that happens at such a young age. (If you’re interested in learning about Classical education, “A Well Trained Mind,” by Joy Bauer is an amazing read.
What has surprised you most?
There are so many things! Right at the top of the list would have to be the brevity of my son’s attention span. When we started, he was just four years old, and could focus for approximately five minutes at a time, seven if I bribed him. So you can imagine the challenges of getting through a full day’s worth of schoolwork. As a result, we incorporated a LOT of breaks early on — run breaks, dance breaks, snack breaks, you name it — and we like to default to interactive lessons whenever possible (read: always).
The flexibility is also pretty incredible. Realizing that we can do school anywhere has been absolutely amazing. It’s super compatible with many of the things I want to do during the day like meet up with friends for play dates, run errands and take naps :-) And I’m learning that you can learn anywhere!
At the same time, the flexibility can cause so much anxiety! I was used to dropping my kid off at school and trusting that he was learning what he should. Now I’m worried not only about what my kid is learning but whether it’s what he “should” be learning, whether he’s motivated to learn AND whether I’m doing a good job teaching. It’s a blessing and challenge all in one!
I’m also surprised by how much I really enjoy learning with my kid. I love taking field trips, science experiments, library visits and nature walks. Somehow I grossly underestimated the pure exhilaration of watching my son understand a new concept for the first time. It’s unlike anything seeing his eyes light up when he learns something new.
Buuutt those “fun” things also mean a lot of planning and I don’t consider myself a “fun mom.” By the end of the school year, which is now, I just want to finish the workbooks and meet up with my friends. The end of the schoolyear fatigue is real over here. (I told you it was joy and challenge!)
Lastly, I’d have to say I’m surprised (although maybe I shouldn’t be) by how much I like my own kids. Anyone who has been a stay at home mom knows it’s not easy being home with little ones during the day, but my relationship with my kids is so much stronger and sweeter now that we spend practically all of our time together. That doesn’t mean it’s not challenging; it just means we’re much closer ;-)
I was never the kind of mom who cried dropping my kids off at school. Ever. But if I had to send my kids to school for the majority of the day now, I’d be really sad. I honestly can’t even imagine the thought right now.
What’s the best part?
The best part of educating our kids is teaching them to see God in everything, all day long, and training them to adopt a Biblical worldview. We talk about God in nature and in science and in math. We see Him in colors and in language and in history, and we invite Him into our fears and anxieties about even the smallest of things, whether it’s a complaint over lunch options (or lack thereof), an all-out meltdown at quiet time, or a panic attack over what we’re going to do for the rest of the day. When my kid says, “I love you mom because you teach me about God,” it makes me feel like I’m doing something right. Or when he prays, “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in my Math,” I smile to myself and think, he’s getting it. We’re far from perfect over here and there are a million other times when he’s not getting it (trust me), but I definitely see the fruit of our efforts in small ways.
I should also mention that these are principles that godly parents can and should teach their children whether or not they homeschool! Spending more time with my kids during the day just gives me more opportunities to do just that.
How long is your school day?
To be honest, I don’t really know anymore. The first few weeks, we were on a pretty solid 9a - 3p school schedule. Mind you, the average kindergarten curriculum assumes only about 1.5 - 2 hours of actual instruction, which usually turns into double. Breaks, snacks, lunch and outdoor play account for the rest of the school hours, even in public school.
Recently, however, we’ve taken a muuuuuch more relaxed approach to school and I’m a lot less stressed and anxious as a result. We usually do some work in the morning, but then we might meet up with friends, which may mean some carschool (copywork, learning songs, etc.) Then we’ll come home for naps, quiet time and dinner, and sometimes finish school in the evening. I’ve taken the pressure off myself to have our day look like an ordinary school day. And it’s seriously been the most freeing thing ever. Homeschooling works best for us when it’s not something we have to do (although it is, lol). It’s become a part of our lifestyle that flexes with our schedule.
Are you in a co-op?
No. I really wanted to be able to do the first year on my own and get into a rhythm that makes sense for us. Early on, I also was doing school with a family friend and her children which was a Godsend. For this coming Fall however, we’ve joined Classical Conversations co-op, which I’m suuuper excited about. Promise to share more on that down the line :-)
What do you do with your toddler while your older son does school?
At first, my primary goal was just for Ellis (my toddler) not to interrupt his older brother, Lincoln, but once I got into a rhythm which my kindergartener, I began teaching him as well. We started with basic things like colors, shapes and alphabet letters, but his favorite thing is to review his numbers. I am most surprised at how quickly he picks up information that my five-year-old is learning like counting by twos and fives and tens. It’s pretty amazing to watch. More and more they are learning together and between the two, Ellis enjoys school much more. I’ll never forget the day he burst into my room while I was getting dressed to announce, “Teacher, I want to do my numbers!!” He couldn’t possibly be more adorable.
How are you practicing self care?
Ahhhhhh. This is the question I asked of homeschool moms most often and no one ever had an answer. I’m still learning myself, but every day I try to take full advantage of nap times/quiet times and evenings when the kids are sleep. I also get a night “off” each week where my husband takes the kids and I go do what I want. Sometimes that means strolling in Target, sometimes it means painting my nails or reading a book, and sometimes it’s meeting up with a friend. Knowing I have that time to myself each week gives me a really planned way to care for my needs in whatever way I choose.
How long are you planning to homeschool?
So the truthful answer is, I have no idea. I go back and forth between wanting to homeschool my kids until third or fourth grade, to wanting to continue all the way through to high school. There are so many good things about going all the way, but I honestly just don’t know. For now, we’re taking it a year at a time and letting us guide us through the process.
How does your husband help?
Because of my husband’s work schedule, he unfortunately has limited time with our children during the week. He’s gone before they wake up most days and gets home at around 6:30p most evenings (two hours before bedtime.)
Still, he is extremely supportive and makes time to help in whatever way I need him to in the evenings. Some weeks, that means reading through a chapter book with the kids that we didn’t have time to get to during the day. At other times, it means overseeing copy work or just reviewing what we learned that day.
He also takes time to listen to whatever homeschool challenges we’re experiencing and prays both with and for us regularly. Even though I’m the one facilitating our kids’ academic instruction, it means the world to have a partner who is equally committed to our kids’ education and to me.
I’m thinking of homeschooling but I don’t know where to start.
Prayer is always, always a good place to start! If you have even an inkling that God might be leading you in this direction, if you have remote interest, or if you’re just intrigued, start with prayer. Homeschool is scary to even consider especially because it’s so counter-cultural, but at the end of the day, it’s not our preferences that matter — it’s trusting in the Lord with all our heart, leaning not on our own understanding, and acknowledging Him in all our ways. When we do that, He promises to direct our paths.
An older, wiser homeschool mom also told me that you need to know why you want to do this and she. ain’t. neva. lied. Your why is what will sustain you when you want to quit (because unless you’re the homeschool mom type, you WILL want to quit at some point!)
Once you’ve prayed and figured out you’re why, it’s helpful to figure out your own values and what you want your children to get out of the education they receive. To that end, I highly recommend a book by Cathy Duffy called “102 Homeschool Curriculum Reviews.” This book is an excellent place to start because it helps you formulate your why, identify your educational values and philosophy and understand what kind of learner your child is. Then you can look through curriculums and see which programs align with what’s important to you.
How do you do it? I could never homeschool. I don’t have the patience.
HA! I said this myself at the beginning ... over and over actually lol. It was not untrue, but I do believe it was misguided for several reasons:
1. Patience is learned through practice.
2. Let’s not forget impatience is sin. Not preaching (ok, maybe I am ...) but it’s not exactly okay to boast about being impatient. My own impatience may be precisely why God led me home to educate my kids.
At the end of the day, my kids are MY responsibility. Whether I delegate their education to the public school system or not, I never want it to be said that I HAVE to send them outside of our home because I can’t handle them myself. I do believe there are many reasons why sending a child to school may be the best decision, but I don’t believe one of them should be my own short fuse and inability to love them well.
How is Lincoln doing academically?
So I hate this question because it invites comparison. Many moms often ask it because they want to see where my kid is in relation to theirs, which isn’t healthy. Neither is my own tendency to pride when my kid is “ahead” in a certain subject, or my tendency to dejection when he’s behind another kid in another area. I also feel that conversations like these encourage kids to compare themselves to each other, which is also problematic.
So I will only say that I am really pleased with Lincoln’s academic progress this year and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to go at his own pace in each subject. That’s another one of the beauties of homeschool that I really enjoy. We get to tailor his education to his pace and learning style.
Have a question I didn’t answer?
Let me know in the comments below! I hope this has been at least remotely helpful in answering some of the burning questions. Stay tuned as our journey continues!