Used to, another mother looked at you like you had four heads if you said that you homeschooled. These days, it’s akin to sainthood. “Ooooh, I couldn’t do that!”
Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, I know I was born to do it. That’s my reason. I can give lots and lots of other reasons, but the main one is: born to do it. I was writing lesson plans and checking off attendance for stuffed animals as soon as I could hold a pencil.
I thought I should be a “real” teacher, but when I hit that part of college, I realized it was a mistake. Traditional school was too homogeneous for me. There was no one grade or one subject that would hold my interest for even a year, much less for the next five. I didn’t know it, but I wanted to be a ONE ROOM school teacher. So, I went out got a degree in counseling instead. Never practiced, mind you. I just gave birth A LOT.
Four kids later, I love homeschooling. I just need some button up boots and a long itchy dress to complete the look. But, it hasn’t been easy. Turns out teaching has a pretty steep learning curve. I totally screwed up my second child’s reading by only teaching her phonograms for an entire year and never making her READ ACTUAL SENTENCES. Duh. But, we’ll get to that. So, after four or more years of doing this with three big kids and toddler, here are my thoughts:
Step 1: If you pray, do it a lot. I am not an in-your-face personal about religion. Especially prayer. If someone asks me to pray with them, I am totally creeped out. However, as a certified crazy person, I have to tell you that when making good decisions about my kids schooling, not just knee-jerk reaction to a bad day or a cool new resource, I have to be in my SANE PLACE. And I’m not talking about tossing your request into the great beyond, “Dear Lord, help me decide on Charlotte Mason versus Unit Studies.” I have to maintain a connection, or I get weird. And that is the last thing you will hear me say about religion, ever. If you don’t pray, meditate or something, just do whatever you do to become the best version of yourself that makes good decisions.
Step 2: Read and start noodling your values. There are tons of books out there. Have a ball. Read them all and feel out your reactions. Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist (of Mother of Divine Grace) turns out to be the closest to mine. The Well-Trained Mind is too intense for me and the Charlotte Mason books generally have too many boxes to check off in a day.
Step 3: Develop your philosophy. Just know that this is going to change over time. Most of us get really jazzed up about learning history in order and nature studies and cool crafts, and that’s okay. However, when your third grader still doesn’t find Easy Readers at all EASY but can rattle on about Boadicea, name all the animal kingdoms, and identify every edible plant in your yard and make you a salad, and you have two more younger kids behind her so you think you’ll be spending the rest of your life reading every subject aloud, it’s not going to seem as jazzy. I’m just saying. The more kids you have stacked up together, the more stripped down your goals become.
These days, our “philosophy” looks like this.
- Read an hour a day.
- Do math an hour a day.
- Write legibly, coherently, daily.
- Memorize some useful and/or enjoyable stuff to train that mind to accept and hold information.
- Promote reading books and exploring outside as the main forms of entertainment.
- Have cool collections and books around so kids can explore at will. (My home was a MUSEUM/LIBRARY growing up. “Dad, I want to learn to paint today.” “Well, I have and old oil paint set in the garage and a book about it. Lemme go dig them out for you.”)
Step 4: Throw the dart. In light of your home and school philosophy, look at the different approaches and compare them to what you want. Pick something. But if your experience is like mine, reality (after six months of use) is very different from what I imagined. Reality always matches my imagination for the first two weeks when I’m all excited to try something new. Things I thought were STUPID in the beginning, now make total sense. Things I thought were AWESOME, are now superficial. It’s a process. And the more children you have, the less able you are to tell on paper how this is going to work out once the idealism runs out.
Step 5: Do it on the cheap, if possible. In light of the fact that you may have a totally different philosophy after six month’s actual teaching experience, it would be really cool to not have spent $600 on your maiden voyage. Seriously.
Step 6: Change, change, settle in. The actual experience of homeschooling multiple ages (for me) was in no way related to what I imagined reading all those lovely books. Change your mind about every six months until you settle into a style…probably five years from now.
So there you go! Next time we chat, I’ll tell you about all of the styles I’ve tried and screwed up along the way!