This fall will mark the beginning of our fourteenth year of homeschooling. As difficult it is for me to believe that we’ve been at it that long, it is even harder to wrap my brain around the idea that we have at least fourteen years to go given that our youngest is three years old. Currently, we are wrapping up our current year with just a few straggling assignments in various subjects, depending on the student. I am knee-deep in lesson planning and book buying. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Homeschool Conference is just a few months away. It is at this conference where I get to reconnect with old friends; receive and dole out encouragement for the new year; and buy Catholic merchandise and books that most stores don’t carry. I absolutely enjoy the catholicity of this conference. Most homeschool conferences are generic Christian conferences, often to the exclusion of Catholic vendors. Go figure. Anyway, the IHM Conference is dripping in the faith, so in addition to buying my books, I get a spiritual renewal as well—complete with the Sacrament of Confession. I can’t think of a better way to start a fresh school year.
As I begin to plan the new school year, I reflect back on past years. What worked really well? What didn’t work at all? I have never been afraid to make changes, but I have made the mistake of changing things too much or too often. In the attempt to achieve the perfect schedule I have come to realize that perfection does not exist; at least not for more than a week. The children’s needs and abilities are constantly changing. Life’s demands are never predictable. Flexibility within a structure is a necessity in homeschooling, forcing the homeschooling parent to be a vigilant student of herself and her students.
As in a sacramental marriage where the spouses challenge each other to grow and change in order to sanctify themselves and one another; homeschooling done well challenges both the teacher and the students (parents and children) to grow and change—to sanctify one another. Of course, we are called to do this in the family unit no matter how the children are educated, but homeschooling ups the ante by putting parents and children together for extended periods of time. With my health struggles, this year has offered unique opportunities to stretch our virtue muscles. Even on the days where very little formal schooling took place, my children were learning valuable life lessons that cannot be taught through books or worksheets.
Over the next few weeks I will share with you my experiences, what has worked well for us over the years, and –in true humility—what has not worked well at all. I hope you will share my blog posts with others who may benefit from my experience and weigh in with ideas and experiences of your own.
A friend recently emailed me to ask my opinion about switching from homeschooling her children to placing them in a charter school. Her specific question was if I had ever considered any other options. In the thirteen years that we have homeschooled I can honestly say that I have never thought of doing anything differently than homeschooling my children. Well, at least not any serious thoughts. Like all homeschooling mothers who have had a particularly hard day or week, I have had my moments of wishing I could just send them off to school where all problems magically disappear. But when reality is figured into the equation, the pro’s far outweigh the con’s and we look for new solutions to our struggles and difficulties and continue down the path of home education. This is MY family’s reality though. Just because homeschooling works best for us doesn’t mean it is the best answer for other families. It would do us all a bit of good to remember that God calls us to different tasks and we need to support one another in answering that call. I should probably put that last line on my mirror as a reminder.
I think it is a very natural response for parents who have switched from traditional schools to home schooling to have very strong convictions about what they are doing. In the transition phase, we are often quick to self-doubt and the psychological response to those doubts is to make it the one, only and best option in our mind. I think it is a survival technique, actually. I see it over and over again with “new” homeschooling families. A key indicator is when we have strong feelings of “oh, I could never. . .” or ” we will always . . .” I have to admit that I did this as well and continue to have a tendency to have all-or-nothing thoughts with any major shift in life style changes. After all, if it’s good for me it must be good for you too.
The short answer to my friend’s question and to anyone who is trying to make educational decisions for their children is to pray. God has a plan for each of us. The more we seek out what His plan is for us and for our children, the more peace and joy we will find in our lives. Fourteen years ago I swore to a friend that I would never homeschool (See, there’s that “never” word). Less than a year later I heard the distinctive call to homeschool. I won’t say we do not question our decision. We review it at least on an annual basis and we have had plenty of moments of self-doubt. We spent thousands of dollars in family court seeking the right to homeschool our oldest child only to lose in court to ignorance and prejudice. Our families questioned our decision in the beginning. We even got into a few heated discussions with close family members. I am fairly certain there is still some doubt on the part of others, but mostly we hear praise and encouragement. We felt called to homeschool and have continued to hear that call in every year since. God gave us the grace and faith to move forward and the blessings of following that call are too numerous to count. Whether God is calling you to homeschool or to any other form of education for your children, He will equip you to follow Him. The very fact that you are humbly seeking the best for your children shows that God has already blessed you with wisdom and humility.