As one who enjoys a road trip, I appreciate when I am warned of potential hazards or pitfalls along the way. I carry over that same appreciation when someone willingly offers a warning about something they’ve already experienced in life.
A few years ago, I attended a writer’s conference for a much-needed injection of inspiration. After a long day of workshops, I schlepped to the hospitality room for a quiet table in a corner to sip tea while reviewing my notes.
I was mindlessly dunking my tea bag when two young women approached my table asked to join me. Never one to turn down a potential conversation about writing, I welcomed their company.
Indeed, the three of us shared a passion for writing, but we stumbled over another commonality: homeschooling. After learning that I have two decades of homeschool experience (and still maintain my sanity), they leaned in closer to ask what advice I could impart to two novice homeschool moms?
By now, these two sweet homeschool rookies are teary-eyed and apparently full of angst about their homeschool endeavor.
It took me a few minutes of introspection to sift through twenty plus years of homeschool memories to produce something noteworthy for these women to take home.
The best advice I could impart—my mistakes, my weaknesses, and what homeschooling pitfalls to avoid along the journey.
The homeschool community offers comfortable, warm, and deep family-like friendships. We can get too cozy in that bubble and forget to build relationships with people beyond our homeschool friends. Early in my homeschool journey, I wrapped my homeschool friends around me like a security blanket. As the years went on, I realized that the homeschool cocoon that I enveloped myself in prevented me from stretching my missional wings.
These days when I am at the park or on a field trip, I don’t hunger to find another homeschool family in the crowd. There is so much more to a person than how she educates her children. Instead, I yearn to connect with people about the gospel rather than homeschooling.
On this side of my homeschooling journey, I rarely bring up the fact that I homeschool. Homeschooling is something you do; it doesn’t define or affirm you as a parent, only God can do that.
Trusting a Formula
Too often homeschool parents believe that following a biblical checklist or particular model produces squeaky clean, sanitized, trouble-free kids. Uh, sorry to drop the bomb, but homeschooling does not guarantee this. As a homeschool parent, you can spend years outfitting your kids in matching denim skirts, khaki pants, and polo shirts only to discover that no matter how you dressed them on the outside, its the heart that matters.
A few years ago, I attended a homeschool conference that invited a celebrity homeschool family as keynote speakers. Every session that featured this family had a line that coiled the length of the convention center halls. I stood back in amazement. For a brief moment, I wondered if people believed that this family possessed the golden key that could unlock the answers to a happily ever after homeschool life.
In one particular session, the matriarch of the family spoke on raising daughters and a handful of her daughters joined her on stage for a Q&A. I decided not to attend the keynote session, but a friend did, and this was her take- away: “They make homeschooling and parenting seem so easy.”
Neither parenting nor homeschooling is easy because they both clash with self-centeredness. And let’s be real, most of us struggle with self-worship.
To think that homeschooling your kids is the formula for producing Christian children that are well-behaved, highly driven, violin-prodigies, is arrogant and devalues the importance of placing our trust in God.
It’s one thing to admire and support an individual, family, or organization within the homeschool movement. Its another more serious matter if you believe for one minute that following their formula or checklist will make your homeschool life easier.
Judging Others For Not Homeschooling
On the rare occasion that I pop into a store during typical school hours, my kids and I usually make it through the store unnoticed…until we hit the check-out line. Cashiers sweetly inquire why my kids are not in school. At some point in the brief encounter, I reveal that we homeschool. Then the sweet cashier feels the need to justify to me why she does not homeschool her kids. Our dialogue typically begins with the unveiling that she does “not having enough patience” and predictably ends with “God bless you for doing that.”
For some reason whenever people find out I homeschool, they seem to want me to exonerate them from some displaced guilt for not homeschooling. It is entirely okay if you choose not to homeschool your kids; I would enjoy hearing about your child’s public or private school experience.
Sadly, some homeschool parents exude a condescending attitude shrouded in false pity for those who do not homeschool. I can’t imagine a day that I don’t homeschool my kids, but many of my friends and family feel differently. That is okay.
The years I’ve spent educating my kids at home produced some of the richest memories. More important than memories is the chance to create our blueprint for learning. Our unique, “family education blueprint” meets the specific spiritual and educational needs of each child so that they can embrace and celebrate their unique design.
Homeschooling is a family matter driven by choice or calling. If you are reading this article, and you are a Christian, then realize that the only homeschooling that scripture mandates is gospel-schooling.
Chasing After Homeschool Empires
If God is not your King then your king will become your god. Empires made of mortal men eventually diminish or collapse. Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge writes, “Shakespeare speaks of the “rise and fall of great ones that ebb and flow with the moon.”
I’ve watched homeschool families emulate leaders in the homeschool movement to the extreme that they’ve uprooted their family and moved just to be near the empire. Yes, I know that is the extreme, but none of us is infallible.
I know when I experience an epic homeschool failure, I am tempted to buy the books, listen to the podcasts, attend the retreats offered by the empire that claims to have parenting and homeschooling all figured out.
If you find yourself investing more time, energy, and resources in an empire than you do in homeschooling, then it is time to reevaluate who you are putting your trust in.
Feigning to Homeschool
Homeschooling your kids is like any other job. You must show up and be productive. A measure of responsibility comes with the decision to educate your kids at home. Whatever type of homeschooling method you select: Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Video-schooling, you are the primary educator, not a private tutor or a tutorial.
I make it a practice not to delineate too much from our homeschool routine. Despite the homeschool family stereotype, we don’t stay in our pajamas all day, unless someone is ill. It’s rare that you see us in a store before 3 p.m. because we are, well, schooling most of the day.
Yes, we are a homeschool family that maintains what I like to refer to as a routine and not a schedule. If we are spellbound by our latest history lesson then, yes, we will keep reading well beyond our appointed start time for the next subject. In spite of our occasional over-indulgence in a great novel, we make every effort to put in a rigorous school day.
That is not to say we don’t break our routine to trek out to the backyard on a sunny day and binge read on a great read-aloud under the shade of the poplar tree. For the most part, we blend routine with flexibility.
Obsessing About Socialization
So what about your kids’ socialization? is perhaps the most common question posed by well-meaning, inquisitive people. I appreciate how homeschool father, public school teacher, and writer David Guterson balances this question in his homeschool read, Why Homeschooling Makes Sense, “that homeschooling must mean by definition a great diminishing of social opportunity.” For many people, homeschooling “evokes sad isolation, a world devoid of intimate friendships and composed chiefly of loneliness.”
Guterson, responds to the socialization questions aimed at his kids, “homeschooling when practiced carefully, allows children to develop a more balanced set of relationships not only with peers and with adults in their communities but with their families and parents as well.”
One of my homeschool daughter’s serves as a missionary which takes incredible socialization skills. Homeschooling afforded my son the opportunity to allow his entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. He owns and manages a small yet thriving cattle business while juggling an internship with a prominent university and college courses. Because he possesses astute social skills, he is able to interact with adults on a business level
Fledgling homeschool parents enroll their kids in a myriad of activities because of the “socialization” myth. Rather than allowing their kids the chance to explore their environment and enjoy the schedule flexibility that homeschooling affords, parents make the mistake of over-scheduling out of fear.
Avoiding the Pitfall
Once the three of us finished our chat, we went our separate ways never to cross paths again. Before we departed, I also mentioned that homeschooling will be one of the most difficult yet joyful journeys a parent will experience. It is always nice to have someone come along to warn you of potential hazards so that you can leap over them with confidence.
Ask Yourself, Why am I Homeschooling? At the beginning and end of every school year, ask this question.
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