As a new homeschool mom, especially one living in a great public school district, I’m often asked why we would choose to homeschool our children. And, to be honest, there are times I ask myself that. Especially when I hear of my mom friends meeting for lunch or coffee, or bump into them while they shop for groceries alone. Or when I see their kids walking home from school together, forming friendships that may last a lifetime.
I don’t think there’s a homeschool mom out there who doesn’t struggle with self-doubt at one point or another. Sometimes on a daily basis.
- Are we doing enough? I mean we’re talking about loving, educating, and training our kids all on our own – are we really capable of all that?
- Are we smart enough to teach our kids everything they need to know?
- Would they be better off academically or socially in school?
- Are we guilty of trying to keep them in a bubble?
- Will they be prepared for the world when they leave our home?
For the days when I’m unsure of myself and our decision to homeschool, I want to write this post as a reminder to myself. And maybe to give some inspiration to those of you who are kicking around the idea of homeschooling or struggling with your own doubts.
So here’s a little of our story and two of my BIG reasons for homeschooling.
1. God Called Us to Homeschool
If you’d told me as a newlywed or even a young mom that I would be homeschooling one day (and loving it!), I’d have thought you were out of your mind.
When people look up the word “patient” in the dictionary, they most certainly do not see my picture.
I have a temper, and I’m easily frustrated when my child doesn’t listen to me.
I have absolutely no background in teaching.
I’m a good learner, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being a good teacher, does it?
Before we had kids, I knew a few amazing adults who’d been homeschooled, so I didn’t suffer from the misconception that homeschoolers where weird or anti-social. I actually thought the idea of homeschooling was pretty cool. Customizing your child’s education to his needs and interests? Spending lots of time learning together as a family? Incorporating your faith into education in a natural, everyday way? Sounds great.
There was no way I was cut out to do it. I’d surely ruin my kids and their futures if I tried to educate them myself.
Funny how God has a way of changing our hearts.
When my oldest son began Kindergarten (at our amazing neighborhood school), we were all so excited!
He’s one of the most social, verbal kids I know – I was sure he’d love school. And at first, he did. He made friends easily and was soon reading a grade level, and then two levels above his own. These are the ingredients for success in school, right? He had the social side and the academic side down…easy peasy.
But before long, he was no longer smiling when he jumped in my minivan at the end of the day. Or, rather, he was smiling, but only because school was over. He told me again and again that school was boring. That nothing interesting happened. That he didn’t learn anything (which I’m sure he did, but he couldn’t seem to remember it). The one thing he did remember was that so-and-so got in trouble for disrupting the class again. I could see the light in his eyes…that little spark of excitement and wonder growing dimmer day by day.
This is when God started whispering to me that maybe we were called to a different path.
Naturally, I didn’t listen.
Instead, I started researching other school options. There were classical charter schools, and expensive private schools, and part-time university model schools. There were after-school programs to expand our education opportunities and enrichment programs to add to his base of knowledge.
They all were appealing in one way or another, but none were quite right. They were all too far away or cost too much money or didn’t fit with our family schedule.
But God kept whispering, and eventually I started listening.
I thought about all the time my son spent at school, learning things that didn’t always line up with our faith or our values. And then I thought about all the time he could be spending with his family and friends, building a strong foundation of faith, character and knowledge.
I thought of all the opportunities we could have to teach and learn in every environment…from our own backyard to destinations all over the country.
I thought of the bonds of friendship he could form with his brothers if he had more time to play and learn (and yes, fight and make up) with them.
I thought of how he might learn to listen to his father and me as a teenager if he started to see us as intelligent, thoughtful instructors when he was a child.
I thought of the shared culture our family could develop if we were all reading the same books and discussing the same ideas in history and science and math.
Then I prayed about my lack of patience and experience. And God showed me that I was actually perfectly suited to teach and guide my sons. In fact, of all the teachers in the world, who would know and understand them better than their own mother?
Hadn’t I already been their teacher for years? Teaching them to speak and to hold a spoon. To recognize letters and colors. To use the bathroom and ride a bike and look both ways before crossing the street.
Yes, I was still impatient and easily frustrated, but perhaps that was my lesson to learn. My area of education and growth.
It’s funny. When I started to embrace then idea of homeschooling, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I saw so may possibilities that I couldn’t wait to get started.
Plus, I had another big motivator spurring me on. This whole idea of education itself was becoming bigger and more beautiful than I knew it could be.
2. Education Means Something Different to Us
As I watched my son start, even in small ways, to dislike school, I was puzzled. I LOVED school as a kid. I always thought it was because it was easy for me…something I excelled at. And, naturally, I something I enjoyed.
But my son was also “good” at school, and he was bored. He never came home telling me about the amazing, fun things he’d learned that day. And this was Kindergarten, when most kids are just itching to discover new things.
Of course, school today looks very different 30 years ago, when I was a young child.
When I was 5, Kindergarten was only half a day, and we spent large amounts of time playing with rice activity centers and play kitchens. The goal seemed to be less academic and more experiential. To enjoy being with other children, to love the act of learning through play, and perhaps, to be able to write your name by the end of the year.
Contrast that to the first time I walked into my son’s Kindergarten class. Yes, there were a few bins of beads and magnets. There were some art supplies tucked away in the corner. Instead of a play kitchen, there was an impressive iPad station (one of the things my son did love about school was his iPad time, but that’s a post for another day). The rest of the classroom was rather bare bones. With reading aids and sight words on the wall, and a huge projector screen for lessons.
Now, I wasn’t a part of the classroom teaching time (I came to read books to the class a few times and attended class parties, but that was the extent of my participation), so there may have been some wonderful things the teacher did with the kids. But I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact that most Kindergarten classrooms look very different than they did when we were growing up.
Children these days are expected to come to Kindergarten knowing all their letters, numbers, phonics, sight words and basic addition and subtraction facts. And Lord bless those teachers, wrangling 20 or more wiggly 5-year-olds for 7-8 hours a day…pushing them to get through the curriculum so they won’t be behind when they move on to 1st grade.
I started wonder if this was really how I wanted my child to be educated.
What, after all, is the purpose of education?
- To be able to pass a test each year?
- To get into a good college?
- To be prepared for the work force?
- To learn to get along with others?
These are not bad things, but they don’t really add up to the idea of education in my mind.
For me, the purpose of education is to form a child’s character by teaching him or her how to think, and what things are worthy of their attention.
Not just to know basic facts (which are very important), but to be able to understand them to a degree that they are no longer lists of memorized words, but real, living ideas to be analyzed and synthesized and inspired by.
To be educated is to be well-rounded, exposed to many different ideas, and to love learning so much that all of those ideas are, to varying degrees, interesting. Because if you love something, how can it ever be boring?
I didn’t want my boys just to “do well” in school, but to fall in love with learning. And, in my opinion, most public schools today are simply not pursuing this goal. In fact, they are encouraging students to specialize and narrow their areas of interest, preparing for specific fields of study or jobs earlier and earlier. Their love of learning is never truly nourished.
They are taught to love winning. To love achieving. To love recognition. To love tolerance and acceptance. But rarely to love learning for it’s own sake.
This is not because teachers and administrators don’t care about our kids or want to do them harm. They simply believe in a different set of values than I do when it comes to education.
For them, the purpose of education is mainly job preparation. My purpose is mind and heart preparation, which should, incidentally, prepare them for any job they want to do. It’s not that the schools are trying to do anything wrong. It’s just not what I am trying to do. And our differing philosophies do not happily co-exist.
I realize that I may not always succeed in my endeavor to shape my children’s hearts and minds. But I only have so many years and days and hours with them. The more I thought and prayed about it, the more I realized that I whole-heartedly want to spend that time at least trying to give them the education I believe they deserve.
That’s what we all do as moms, right? Move heaven and earth to give our children what we believe is important and meaningful. For me, that includes homeschooling. For you, it may mean something entirely different.
I want to be clear that if you do not homeschool your kids, this does NOT mean you’re failing them as a mom or that you don’t care about their education. Please do not misunderstand this post.
If you’re not called to homeschool, that probably means that God has called you and your family to something else. Some other and equally important way to build His kingdom. You may be called to give your children a healthy lifestyle (endlessly battling our culture of convenience and sugar highs). You may be called to a career, working every day to balance your family’s needs and the obligations of your job (I honestly don’t know how working mothers are able to stay sane). You may be called to a ministry that requires your time and commitment (and your children benefit immensely from watching you serve). God uses all of us in different ways.
Whether you homeschool or not, as parents we’re all trying to do the same thing. To love our children well, preparing them as best we can for the day they go out into the world without us.
And if you do homeschool or you’re thinking about it, I hope this rambling little manifesto is an encouragement. I hope in your moments of doubt and struggle, you remember reading this or maybe even write your own list of reasons you decided to homeschool. You might find it’s just the pick-me-up you need on a tough day. Because the journey we’re on may be difficult sometimes, but it one worth seeing through to the end.