NOTE: This article was originally published in 2015.
We have been a homeschooling family for over 15 years, since our oldest child started kindergarten. None of our children have ever been enrolled in public school; the only reason any of them have stepped foot inside one has been to take college entrance exams. As of this year, we have graduated two students, and we are still schooling a senior, a sophomore, and a sixth-grader. We’ve been at this homeschool journey a long time, with many more years to go.
I firmly believe in every family’s right to make their own decision regarding their children’s education, and I don’t think any type of education is inherently right or wrong. But, having said that, I also have to say that homeschooling has been a wonderful thing for our family. Did we do everything right? Far from it. Do I have regrets about some things? You bet. Read on to hear my true confessions about the good and the bad…
In the beginning we had some grandiose plans for our homeschool – classical education, amazing field trips, winning the national spelling bee (lol), getting half of college done while still in high school, etc. For many homeschooling families these are achievable goals. But for us things turned out differently; we discovered that we are a lot more ordinary than we realized!
When we started homeschooling, we lived in California. We were attending a church that had a special homeschool program – learn at home for four days a week, then don uniforms and go to the private church school for PE, music, and other fun stuff on Fridays. California state homeschool laws required that we “enroll” somewhere, and that sounded like the best option for us; so we signed up.
I have to say that it was a WONDERFUL way to start homeschooling. #1 made new friends; #2, #3, and #4 (and eventually #5, too) were in the nursery; and we moms got together for snacks and group encouragement. There were field trips to go on (all organized by someone else, gotta love it!), and I received helpful feedback about curriculum, lesson plans, etc. So we continued to be in that program for several years, enrolling two more girls.
Our curriculum started out being very classical, mixed with some Charlotte Mason. I loved the idea of studying all subjects in relation to the history of the world, starting Latin at an early age, drawing pictures of nature, and doing dictation. And for awhile all of those went very well – at least until I had to do them with more than one student, lol. Amazingly enough, I discovered that in the early grades those activities require a lot of teacher time, which is not always available when you are schooling multiple children — and there are toddler and infant siblings to take care of as well.
Field trips began to fall by the wayside as the schooling became more time-consuming. We started leaning more towards textbooks, such as Abeka, as the pressure to document learning and have objective grading practices became more urgent. The fun and flexibility of homeschooling started to diminish somewhat.
I feel bad about that. I wish I had been more diligent to keep learning as an adventure… and yet in a family of multiple children on a tight budget, you make the choices that seem best at the time. And there are limitations to your resources, emotional and financial, that I don’t think smaller families can thoroughly appreciate.
Sometimes I think we homeschoolers set our expectations way too high. That’s actually one of the purposes of this blog – to encourage homeschoolers that homeschooling CAN be simple, even easy. It does not have to be overwhelming or all-consuming. We don’t always have to do everything that we see out there. And you know what? It’s OK to be ordinary. I know that now.
By the time #1 was entering 5th grade and #4 was entering kindergarten, I was feeling ready to not have such direct supervision as was required by the organization we were in. The timing on that worked out well, because it was about that time that we moved to Missouri, where homeschool laws are much more relaxed. We found a house on 8 ½ acres in a very rural area and were set to be on our own.
As we added a fourth and then later a fifth student to our homeschool, it became imperative
to my sanity that the older children learn to work independently, so that I could work with the younger ones. This, the idea of independent learning, became one of the key aspects of our homeschool philosophy, in fact. We saw it as teaching the children how to learn, which would be more important to them in later life than being able to recite dates or declensions. (On a side note, speaking of declensions: I did try Latin with each of the older three girls in turn, but beyond just an elementary level it was frankly beyond our scope, requiring too much supervision/help and causing too much frustration. Eventually we gave it up – another dream gone by the wayside, sacrificed to practicality. Do I sigh over that? Yea, I gotta admit I do. But again, you learn to set aside the dreams of grandeur and replace them with what actually works for your family. And guess what? This is OK, also.)
I began developing strategies to move them from needing complete supervision to needing little supervision; so that by the time they were in high school, they were pretty much scheduling their own time and checking their own daily work. I stepped in only when there was a question and to grade quizzes, exams, and papers. In this way we were able to keep things running relatively smoothly. (To see exactly what we do, you can view our senior’s curriculum for this year here and our sophomore’s curriculum here.)
But I have to admit, school wasn’t that exciting. Field trips still didn’t happen very often, although for different reasons this time: first, we were so rural that there were no homeschool support groups nearby; and second, even if there had been, we lived so far out from any field trip destinations that the cost of putting enough gas in our car to get anywhere was prohibitive. Our big thrill was library day, lol.
The gas problem also prevented us from getting to a community college for dual enrollment during high school for our eldest (actually haven’t made it there for any of the others, either). Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE living out in the country — but there are drawbacks, and we had to adapt to them.
But all through our homeschooling career, really, there have been adjustments to make, one way or the other, and for one reason or another. Things don’t always turn out the way you plan. And that, too, is OK.
And so we have perservered. It wasn’t the most impressive way to homeschool, but it did get the job done. Looking back at those high school years for my three eldest, I do wish they could have been fuller and richer for them. I wish they could have been involved in more things, travelled more, and studied more difficult subjects. But we had to consider the needs of the entire family.
That is perhaps one of the universal things that the older children in a family have to deal with, I’m afraid. The fact that I could not give them every opportunity does not indicate a poor schooling choice. Too often we run around doing so many things because it seems our culture expects it of us; in our family, we have found a simpler lifestyle works better for us.
So of course I look back seeing some things I wish we had done differently. But on the whole, we lived and learned as a family. It wasn’t all about what they learned academically and what they did for activities. It was about being a family and living and growing together. Learning about relating, learning self-control and responsibility, learning to love and be loved. There’s a lot to be said for that.
I do think we as homeschoolers get caught up in how wonderful it’s supposed to be, how flexible, how exciting and adventurous, how colorful – and we get discouraged when our homeschool doesn’t look that way. We look on the internet and see people creating amazing lesson plans from many books, with hands-on activities and timelines and notebooking journals and foreign food, and we know we don’t measure up.
I’m here to say that ordinary is OK. Homeschooling does not have to be difficult. It may be stretching, and there will be days you’d rather be doing something else; but it’s important to remember the reasons we do it for our family, and not compare ourselves to others. It is important to find what works best for our own family — not try to imitate someone else’s.
I do confess that once we kick #3 out of the house to college next year, I’m hoping to make our homeschool more “exciting” for the two that are left. We will be missing the happy chaos of having everyone home, so we’ll need to make some fun for ourselves — and with smaller numbers, that will be more doable. We’ve already talked about taking a year to travel and school on the road — again, grandiose dreams that may not actually happen.
There is an ebb and flow to any homeschool journey; what worked one year may not work the next. Dreaming and planning and revising and adapting is all part of that. Let’s learn to forgive ourselves for not winning the spelling bee and embrace, even enjoy, the reality of who we are now. Ordinary is not such a bad place to be.
Shared with: Hip Homeschool Moms
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