Dear "Homeschool" Mama - Mother's Day Series Part 1

It’s the first day of our “Dear Mama” series, which celebrates the many faces of motherhood. Today, we’re talking homeschooling with Mary Coleman, a mama of seven (yes, you read that correctly!) who homeschooled her kids for more than a decade. If you’ve ever aspired to homeschool, or if you’re homeschooling now, Mary has some great wisdom and practical tips to share. Read on to learn more about Mary, her family, and how she made homeschooling work all those years. (You may be surprised by what she wishes she knew then that she knows now!) And to all the homeschool mamas out there, you are appreciated!

Meet Mary Butler Coleman

Mary Coleman Headshot.jpg

 Mary Butler Coleman has been married to her husband Joe for 35 years and is mama to seven biological children – six girls and one boy – ranging in age from 33 to 21, which basically means she’s a superhero. On top of that, she homeschooled all but one of her kids for 13 years, which deserves a medal in and of itself! Mary is also a development director at a nonprofit in Charlottesville that serves children from low-income families. I first met her when she came to speak at a moms group at my church and I am close friends with her oldest daughter, Andrea. She is someone I deeply admire, not only because she’s obviously amazing, but also for her godliness, poise and candor. Want more? Be sure to check out Mary’s blog at www.thestudiousmom.com.

Q: How many children do you have and how long did you homeschool?

A: Seven children, plus one deceased. Her name was Victoria and Andrea’s daughter is named after her. All my children are two years apart in age. I homeschooled for a total of 13 years and the oldest five graduated from the same public high school. The youngest two graduated from a girls' boarding school in Raleigh. I often say my record is an example of educational schizophrenia!

  Mary pictured with her husband, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving in 2017. 

Mary pictured with her husband, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving in 2017. 

Q: What was your primary reason for homeschooling?

A: To protect them from what I thought was a lot of "evil" in public schools and for the freedom and flexibility to control our family life because we had so many kids.

Q: What did an average day look like?

A: I started every day by having my personal time with the Lord. That was critical because otherwise I wouldn’t have the strength to make it through. Next we had breakfast together, did chores, and then gathered around the table for what I called “Conference,” where we read the Bible aloud and did character training. I don’t even know where I got the word “Conference” from, but it was not a boring family meeting. I tried to make it fun, involve the children in reading, and encourage open discussion about practical and spiritual things. After that, I homeschooled for three hours and for the rest of the day, the kids played creatively and read lots of books. In later years, we did a few modest co-ops and homeschool sports.

Q: How did you manage homeschooling multiple children (at different ages?)

A: Unit studies. Sonlight is an awesome curriculum! I used Saxon for math and Writing Strands for writing.

Q: What would you say was the most significant challenge you faced while homeschooling? 

A: Balancing life with toddlers and school-aged children. I was always nursing or pregnant and really stretched emotionally. I also felt the kids needed more time away from me and each other as time went on.

Q: What were the greatest joys?

A: There were so many joys including being in control of my kids/family's schedule, reading aloud, not having to go out when the weather was nasty, being able to discipline the way I wanted and not having to undo what they might have been exposed to in public school, imparting godliness and biblical principles into their lives/building character and being able to serve others as the kids got older (Andrea, for example, sat with, changed, bathed and dressed her ailing grandmother). I also enjoyed being connected to the homeschool community. They are some of the most dedicated parents on the planet.

  Mary pictured with her husband, Joe Coleman.

Mary pictured with her husband, Joe Coleman.

Q: Looking back, what do you wish you knew now before you started homeschooling?

A: That the Christian identity we fostered in our kids was strong enough to withstand public school sooner. I burned out trying to sustain all the kids at home for too long. I feel the best possible scenario for us would have been homeschooling through third grade before the math gets hard! The early years are what truly laid the foundation with our kids. With that said, we live in a rural county and it’s very Christ-friendly, but Christian kids typically find each other no matter what.

Q: How did you know when your children were ready to enter public (or private) school? 

A: When Victoria died the day she was born, it sent me into a depression and that was the beginning of the end. As a result, Andrea went into public school halfway through 9th grade, which was really a hard and unfair transition for her. Looking back, they all should have gone in before middle school.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out? 

A: Make no assumptions about what you understand about education, especially if you don’t have formal training. Educating your child is a serious endeavor. My kids definitely had some gaps in their learning that I didn’t realize until they were struggling in other school settings. Also, don't treat home school like a sacred cow. Give in when your spirit is saying it's becoming too hard. The enemy tries to convince us that we have to be on call 24/7, but don’t be so hard on yourself and don’t be afraid to build in a break when you need it. I also think you should have a firm conviction about why you’re homeschooling before you start. Make a list of pros and cons, and count the cost. Then you can focus on what really matters when it gets hard, because it will! Remember that we live from our convictions, not our emotions.

Hope you enjoyed learning about Mary! To close, here are a few parting words I borrowed from her blog:

“In Proverbs 31 there’s a woman who loves God first, and that love is reflected in the energy she pours into her home and those who live there. It’s NOT about being perfect or making bread from scratch. Being virtuous is about being strong and attuned to what our families need today. That’s not going to look the same for each of us.”