By Vicki Bentley, www.everydayhomemaking.com
Some of you who have heard me speak or have read some of my other works know that I have often been geographically challenged during the homeschooling journey, both figuratively and physically. As we come to the end (sigh) of our homeschool “road,” I couldn’t resist one last “travel” analogy! Imagine this crooned by a misty-eyed veteran homeschool mom, maybe with the help of a few volunteers from the audience doing the ba ba da ba bum’s, followed by Things I’ve learned these past 17 years – what I would do the same and what I would do differently.
Note: Fun parody omitted for copyright law purposes; ask me to sing it with you in person sometime!
We started homeschooling because of the academic needs of our four younger daughters. Two of them were feeling quite un-challenged in the “gifted and talented” programs at our local public school. Another daughter, born with cerebral palsy, had been miraculously healed at the age of two but was doing some catching up; we didn’t want her “labeled.” And we didn’t want our toddler to ever have to attend a public school.
So, not knowing anyone else I could call who taught their kids at home (I had met one mom several years earlier, several states away), I ordered a pre-packaged curriculum from a correspondence course. During the time I awaited its arrival, we did the typical “waffle” thing: We know this is what the Lord wants us to do. We’re doing the right thing. Why on earth did we think I could do this? I’ll be “doing school” till 10:00 every night! What have we gotten ourselves into?This is the right thing for our family. We can do this. Oh, no! Is it too late to change our minds?
When the box of materials arrived, I sat on the floor and cried.
That was seventeen years ago, and we have not regretted our decision. My last child has now finished her formal home education. As I look back over our journey with a bittersweet longing for the only identity I now know, I ask myself:If I had it to do all over again, what have I learned, seventeen years and seventeen kids later?
(1) We all need a routine.
Kids need routine for security. We had a good schedule (I am a compulsive list-maker, and that was a help to me). Our routine included responsibilities, so the children would know they were needed as part of the family unit, part of a ministry team (during this time, we fostered over 30 of our almost 50 “borrowed” children, many of them formally homeschooled as part of our family). That routine included daily prayer and character training.
Putting our routine in writing made us accountable and was a reminder to those of us who tend to be a bit forgetful. Having it in writing also helped relieve mom of the duty of being “The Bad Guy.” And when I started to feel “out of control” of my life, it was usually because I had (a) slacked off in my devotional time, which was a result of (b) getting a little too relaxed in my routine.
Now, this routine was not set in stone; we tried to maintain some flexibility (I think Flexibility is every homeschool mom’s middle name!). But we did rely on a realistic, basic starting point to keep life in perspective and give me some margin.
(2) I can do ANYthing for eight weeks!
When we first started, we worked with the same schedule as the local schools, as that was all I knew to do. I eventually determined that working eight weeks on, one week off, for most of the year, with four weeks off at Christmas and in July, worked well for us. This gave me forty weeks of accountable study, which was four more than our state required, so I had four weeks’ leeway for days off, teacher sanity days, laundry catch-up, family trips, etc.
(It is important to note that we were not enslaved by the calendar or the requirements of our state. I am of the firm belief that ALL our days were learning days, because we did our best to create a “learning lifestyle” environment. However, it was reassuring to me to know that we were above reproach, should the question ever arise from our local superintendent.)
My first year, I thought I would be extra-organized, so I lesson-planned (I use the term loosely!) the ENTIRE year at the beginning. So what happened when the first child didn’t grasp the math concept as quickly as we’d anticipated? Right – we “got behind” (or we thought we did -maybe you’ve been there, too?). My whole plan got thrown off.
This panic taught me to have an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, but to divide that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. After all, I can do anything for eight weeks! At the end of the eight weeks, I would evaluate our progress and during the week off would write down the plan for the next eight weeks. (I highly recommend My Homeschool Planner.)
One week off was long enough for the girls (and me!) to get a short break (or to catch up, if they’d lagged a bit). The one month off in December and in July gave them time for an extended break or project, but not enough time to forget what they’d learned or to get bored.
(3) It is not my job to teach them everything. It is my job to teach them HOW TO LEARN.
There were times that even my overachiever had to remind me that I was expecting too much! I learned that my children will inevitably have some gaps in their education; I just had to be selective about what gaps I was willing to leave, understanding that their education would not end at the age of eighteen.
I did my best to teach them the skills they needed to think for themselves, to evaluate what they read and heard, and to think through processes. I prayed for revelation of their learning styles and their giftings, so that they could learn about God’s world from His perspective, figure out how they fit into His plan for their lives, and minister to others in a way that would bring glory to Him.
(4) I would have backed off the textbooks in the early years.
If I could do kindergarten over again, I’d use something like Five in a Row, or I’d just cuddle my babies and do fun stuff, enjoying nature and words and music and stories together. I thought I had to cram all this in them; I didn’t. (How many of us learned everything we know in the first eighteen years?) Where were Clay and Sally Clarkson when I started? Educating the WholeHearted Child would have been required reading if it had been published. I also highly recommend Ruth Beechick’s writings to my beginner homeschooling friends.
Our pride whispers that our children need to be awesomely knowledgeable when they leave home. The Lord says they need to love him and know him and follow him (see II Peter 1:5 and/or Inge Cannon’s expansion of this topic atwww.eduplus.com). Now, don’t leave here thinking that Vicki says academics aren’t important! Of course, I advocate academic excellence, just not at the expense of relationships or character.
I would have tried to figure out my children’s bents earlier. Back in the “olden days,” before cookie-cutter assembly lines of dowel rods with feathers, arrows were made by whittling tree branches into some semblance of straightness, adding feathers here and weights there to compensate for the bent, so eight totally different arrows shot from the same distance at the same target could hit the same mark. We had eight totally different “arrows” in our quiver, and we needed to know which way they were each “bent” so that we would know which adjustments needed to be made, what needed to be whittled away, and what weights needed to be added here and there to help them hit “the mark” of God’s plan.
(5) I would have enjoyed my kids earlier.
The Greek model of education is all about knowledge; the Hebrew model is all about relationships (read Robin Sampson in What Your Child Needs to Know When or Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach). I was halfway into this homeschool journey when I realized that I had no joy. The Lord directed me to Psalm 113:9 and showed me that making me a joyful mother of children ranked right up there with seating the poor with princes.
I purposed to not take life so personally, to laugh more, smile more, love my babies more, and cherish my family. I wanted them to remember their childhoods as joyful, contented times with a mom who treasured them, not think back woefully to the stressed mother of their youth.
(6) Just Say Yes.
We seem to have bought into the “Just Say No” mentality: No, you may not have dessert because you didn’t eat your supper. No, you may not play with your friend because you didn’t finish your chores.
I realized that I could turn those no’s into yes’s and turn the responsibility into a positive thing for my kids. Yes, you may have dessert as soon as you finish your healthy food. Yes, you may play with her after you finish your morning jobs.
I was not “The Bad Guy” anymore. After all, I was giving them permission to do what they had asked (if it was truly an acceptable option). The responsibility was now in their laps. If they did not get dessert, whose choice had that been? And whose “fault” was it now if they didn’t finish their chores and get to play? Aha! The concept of personal responsibility!
(7) I wish I had taken them more places.
Not necessarily more of the structured, guided “school field trips,” but the family experiences. We didn’t have the funds to do much, but the trips are what they tend to remember. I hope the younger ones didn’t feel “ripped off” because by the times the older ones were older, we didn’t “go” as much. These didn’t have to be big-ticket items, just the pack-a-picnic outings to the monuments or the museums or the potato chip factory.
(8) We gave them opportunities to make wise choices (or to learn from the not-so-wise ones).
We gave them input into their course choices, their extracurricular activities, their chores, their spending, and more, as their maturity levels allowed (gradually, of course). Our goal was for them to have ownership of their circumstances, to realize that we all have choices, and we need to make them wisely. We let them bear the consequences of their actions. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink (but you sure can salt his oats!).
(9) It’s not my job to change them. It’s my job to be an example and role model.
I needed to model a Christ-like attitude (and I often failed miserably!). But they needed to see a woman who could admit her failings, humble herself to ask forgiveness, and do her best to rely on God to honor her Lord and her family in the future. I needed to stay on my knees and in the Word. I prayed along with Jesus, in John 17, for my children, just as He did for his disciples.
When my daughters are twenty-five, nobody will remember their SAT scores or their GPA’s or even know what their degrees are in (or if they have them). But they will know their character. They will know if my girls are dependable, compassionate, honest, diligent, trustworthy, and cheerful. My daughters would not learn those things because I nagged them to change, but because their parents endeavored to exemplify those Christ-like characteristics, and, in their human failings, repented and tried again to live what they taught.
(10) This was just one season of my life.
It seemed that I would always have little children. After all, the odds were pretty good: I had fifty of them! At one point I had six kids under the age of nine, and at another point I had seven teenage girls (and a newborn!).
If you are here: This really is just a season. There is, as we read in Ecclesiastes, a time and a season for everything. This season will pass. Enjoy it! Invest in your babies, your toddlers, and your young people. Regardless of what you “were” in the previous season of your life, this is, in the words of the arachnid Charlotte, your “magnificent opus.” Shoot those arrows toward the mark, doing your best to work with their bent, and trust God to help take out the wobble. We need not fret.
We all make lots of mistakes. We don’t get to have these kids when we’re older and wiser – we usually get them when we’re still young and inexperienced – so wehave to rely on God. Pray for the Lord to give you His vision for your family. Then trust Him to guide you day by day in the path that is right for your family.
Vicki Bentley is the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of more than fifty, and grandma to seventeen wonderful grandbabies (so far). Vicki has homeschooled 17 children since the 80’s, alongside her husband Jim, and led a local support group of more than 250 families for 14 years. She is the author of My Homeschool Planner, Everyday Cooking, The Everyday Family Chore System, Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, High School 101: Blueprint for Success, and other homeschool and homemaking helps, and HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens consultant and Group Services director. Vicki has a heart for parents, with practical wisdom and encouraging words. You can read more from Vicki at www.everydayhomemaking.com or www.hslda.org.