Thursday, May 21, 2015

What I've Learned This Homeschool Year

Every year it's fun to look back and see what I've learned about home education and parenting (it's hard to separate the two).

From this past year, here are a few of the things I've learned:

You can't push readiness

Okay, you can if you really want to. But it's a surefire way to make everyone involved miserable.

This past year, our 8yo finally read his first full-length novel ("The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"). "Hurray," quoth I, "We're finally done with picture books!"

So I tossed all picture books aside and started reading a ton of full-length picture-free novels during our reading time.

And he wasn't ready.

I persisted for quite some time, but when I saw that all of the joy was leaving our reading time, I finally desisted. The truth is that the transition to upper-level literature is going to be a long one - and there are going to be many more years when he enjoys picture books as well as novels and upper-level works.

In this, as in all areas of parenting and home education, progress is slow. And I need to let it progress at a healthy and natural pace rather than rushing things unnecessarily.

We're in this for the long-term

In both home education and parenting, progress is often incremental. It's slow going, and it can be frustrating to look at how little progress we've made over the short-term.

And that's why it's necessary to take the long-term view. When I look back to four years ago, I can finally see: Wow! We've made so much progress, and I didn't even notice it happening! That is really encouraging.

Additionally, it's neat to realize that with both parenting and homeschooling, mistakes aren't permanent. Oftentimes, parenting books make it seem that if you make a mistake, you might as well consign your child's future to the dustbin and retire in despair. (You failure, you.)

But the truth is that mistakes and mis-steps are a constant given. It's our job to assess, recognize problems, and make adjustments to our course. It doesn't mean that we're failing - it means that we're normal. Mistakes aren't permanent, and progress is best seen from a long-term view.

Children have amazing memories

This year, a club leader gave out a huge Scripture memory assignment to the children. I didn't even bother trying to have the 8yo learn it, because I thought it was impossible. It was just too long. But when the second assignment came out, I heaved a great sigh and decided to give it a go (rather embarrassing not to).

To my surprise, the 8yo memorized it - and did so much more quickly than I did. I found what I have often heard others say - that young children have amazing memories and can easily surpass adults in this area.

Since then, I have begun to incorporate memory work into our home education program. We're memorizing long Scripture passages and poems, and I'm hoping to incorporate historical documents and speeches as well. This is in keeping with the Classical grammar stage, and it's actually been a lot of fun.

You learn something new every year.

Curriculum choices aren't ever completely "made"

My initial thought was that the curriculum search had a final endpoint. Regardless of how long it took, when I found curriculum that was THE ONE that worked for our family, my search would be over.


First of all, almost all moms I know are constantly tweaking the curriculum they choose. (Guilty as charged.)

Secondly, just because you find something that works doesn't mean you won't eventually find something else that works better. Of course, that can take on a pathological mania of its own (i.e. the homeschooling mother who can't stick with anything longer than two months), but occasionally it's bound to happen.

Thirdly, curriculum choices can vary by life-season. Even the craftiest, most unit-study-prone homeschooler might turn to textbooks or online classes during a difficult season of life (morning sickness, health challenges, caring for an ailing grandparent, etc.).

And lastly, I am told that oftentimes the curriculum that works beautifully for one child will be a disaster for another - necessitating another curriculum search. We are still three years from having our second student, so this will be a whole new field of experience for me.

All homeschooling families are different

Homeschooling families and their home education programs are as different from each other as they can be. Even though I know this, the wide variety of educational styles and family environments still surprises me.

Here are a few examples, and you'll see why they would vary so widely in style and substance:
  • Family A - Two daughters are teens and study independently, a third daughter is very young with serious health problems. They fit in homeschooling around hospital stays.
  • Family B - Eight children of all different ages, mother is a unit-study genius and intensely creative. They homeschool with an eclectic mix of textbooks and hands-on studies.
  • Family C - Three boys, all of whom are intensely involved in local STEM competition teams. They spend much of their year traveling for competitions in math groups and LEGO robotics teams.
With all that variation, it would be strange indeed if homeschooling families weren't different and unique!

But it's easy to fall into the trap of comparing my weaknesses to other families' strengths. Gee, I really should be doing more awesome craft projects. And why aren't WE competing in LEGO teams? And we should take more field trips (like THAT family does). And... and... and..."

Which leads me to my next point:

I need to follow God's leading for OUR family

God has a plan for our family and our home education program. It is not the same as His plan for any other family. Thus, I should not feel the pressure to do what friends are doing with their homeschool programs, nor should I expect others to follow my lead.

The temptation to do so is growing less with each year (thankfully). I think that the she's-doing-it-so-I-should-too trap is almost irresistible to new homeschoolers, but I do feel the effects wearing off. Thank goodness, because it's exhausting to run around madly trying to do what everyone else is doing.

Large family homeschooling is very different from small family homeschooling

This is not to pit one against the other, or to claim superiority of one over the other. It's just an observation that curriculum choices, schedules, and ways of life are vastly different in large families than in small families. Indeed, it would be odd if that were not the case.

Unfortunately for our family, we are currently in the awkward family-size stage that is neither large nor small. I don't know where the demarcation lies between "small family" and "big family" (all the more so because such a division is both entirely subjective and culturally defined rather than based in any true absolutes). However, we're at that stage where I'm starting to feel a bit out of touch with small-family homeschooling styles, but not yet "in" with large family styles. An interesting cultural experience.

Three is hard

Not "having three children," but "the age of three." Despite all of my efforts to train and teach diligently, the age of three is still a very, very difficult age. I'm surviving it, but it's definitely not an age that makes me feel like a stellar parent. (Okay, no age does, but three is worse than most!)

The hardest part of homeschooling is not the homeschooling

I've written about this before, but I relearn it every year. The "education" part of home education is the easy part.

Here are the really hard parts:

  • Discipline
  • Character training
  • Requiring responsibility and diligence
  • Chores and helping out
  • Sibling relationships
  • Attitudes

Comparatively, lessons are the easy bit!

My life is not just about home education

Lessons are important. Very important. But they are not the only thing that matters.

My marriage matters. My home matters. My health and sanity and happiness matter.

In other words, I cannot run myself into the ground over homeschooling. It's not okay to make myself into a bedraggled, spent, emotionally-fragile mess because I've worked myself into a frazzle over lessons and curriculum. While those are important, I need to be able to take time for myself, my marriage, my children (aside from lessons), my home, and all of the other things that matter.

How does this work out practically? It means simply that homeschooling cannot (completely, at least) take over my life. I need to choose curriculum that doesn't devour our entire day. If I need to use textbooks rather than super-complicated unit studies, so be it. If we can't cover every subject under the sun and participate in every extracurricular activity, that's okay - and I need to relax enough to make sure that I'm okay with that.

(If I repeat this three times a day and tattoo it on my forehead, maybe it actually will sink in.)

My days of high-volume productivity are over (for now)

In "the old days," when my husband took the children out for a couple of hours, I could dive head-first into any ongoing project and really get things done.

For now, those days are over.

When my husband goes out now, most of the time he is taking only the older children and leaving the littles with me. Secondarily, there is simply more work to be done - caring for babies, dishes, food prep, laundry, cleaning. You name it, it's on my to-do list. And when my husband is gone and I'm home with the littles, I find that several hours can go by with me doing nothing but working busily at my daily to-do list - and never getting around to the bigger projects I have on hand.

I've worried over this for quite some time, but it's time to accept reality. Big projects are going to have to take a back seat to the practicalities of serving my family in everyday life.

And similarly...

Life takes time

A lot of time. Lots and lots and lots of time. From the time I get up to the time I go to bed, there is a huge amount of work to be done, and getting it done is a full-time job.

Right now, extras are just not going to happen.

High-intensity hobbies? Lots of outside activities? Women's groups?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Not right now, and not for a long time. Basic life is more than enough to keep me super-busy. And that's okay with me.

I love what Lori at Always Learning says:
"...I encourage mothers to not have many activities outside of the home since keeping a clean and tidy home, fixing nourishing food, training your children and having time for your husband take a lot of time and energy from of you." {"When Do Mothers Get a Break?"}
In the past, I have felt guilty about not having a big outside-the-home activity load. But I am finding peace in realizing that I need to be home, and that home is more than enough.

This journey is going more quickly than I thought it would

I can hardly believe that we have four children... or that our eldest is already nine years old... or that I'm approaching my mid-thirties... or that we're beginning our fifth year of home education. All of this has happened so quickly - time is passing with incredible rapidity.

When I look at veteran or "graduated" homeschool moms, my feeling is always: That's great for them, but I will never, ever, ever make it to that stage of awesomeness. Not gonna happen.

But the journey is passing very quickly, and I am beginning to realize that at some point, we will begin to graduate children. At some point, we will have "children" who are... adults. And it's not really that far off.

Life is brief. The homeschooling journey (though it may last 40 years) is similarly brief. And though the days are long, the years are passing so very, very quickly.

I want to treasure this time.

What have you learned from this year of homeschooling?


  1. This is a really lovely post. I found it inspiring and quite wise. Thank you for writing it and sharing it.

    What have I learned this year? So, so much! I think my biggest lesson is one I have to learn over again each year, and that is to accept my children for who they are. I tend to try to make them fit molds/timelines/categories that are artificial (I don't know why I do that!). Over and over again I come to the lovely realization that they are unique individuals . . . and I love them for it.

    On a side note: I read this lovely, lovely talk this morning, and as I finished I thought you might enjoy it, too. You're so good at sharing what inspires you, so I hope I'm returning the favor a bit.

    1. Anne, I completely agree about the individuality bit. I've had to learn that with our eldest, and I've already seen how different the 3yo is from him. Teaching him will be a whole new adventure. In looking to the future, it's mind-boggling (and a wee bit discouraging) to see how far there is yet to go (and how MUCH I have to learn), but I know that God will be faithful. It's always a little by a little.

      Thank you for the link - I will check it out!!

  2. I agree, this is a lovely post! I may borrow the idea for a post of my own. I have been feeling especially nostalgic as I've been going through my blog posts from the beginning doing some editing for printing a blog book (and closing the blog...soon...and moving to a different blog...and....yeah, busy here). Having these records and being able to go back through them to see not just a month or year of progress but multiple years has been neat. Lots of lessons I've learned when I look back on those earlier years.

    1. Absolutely. I've only been in the HS business four years, but when I look back to those early blog posts, I can really see that I've made progress - a lot more than I realize!

      Blog books are super-cool. I've never had one made, but I have a friend who blogs and prints a book each year (as a form of family scrapbooking for their family memories), and they are just great. I loved reading through hers. Yours will be great too. You could probably use some of your advice-type posts to put together a book for selling!

      Lots of love to the family!


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