My husband Rob and I decided we wanted to homeschool in the eighties, before we ever became parents. Being self-employed, we really liked the idea of basing our family’s schedule on our own priorities rather than following a school district’s calendar. We were both avid readers with a wide range of interests and an attitude of lifelong learning, so even though curriculum options were more limited then, I felt pretty confident about the educational aspect. Of course, teaching the kids at home would also allow our faith to remain central to our family’s life and our children’s education. In many ways, the homeschooling lifestyle was ideal for us.
During our two decades as a homeschooling family, we lived in four different regions of the country. This rich experience expanded our understanding of culture, race, religion, history, and identity. As we met more and more homeschooling families, I was surprised to find they cover a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices. Many people think all homeschoolers wear jumper dresses and have large families, but I discovered that wasn’t the case. We met atheists, conservatives, former teachers, missionaries, Democrats, college professors, Mormons, farmers, Republicans, Unitarians, and high school dropouts who homeschooled their kids, all for different reasons.
It was fascinating to see how the different locations in which we lived affected how people homeschooled. The diverse lifestyles in the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Upper Midwest, and the Deep South informed the way our neighbors in those regions worked, played, worshiped, and educated their children. All along the way I collected varied, multicultural nuggets of wisdom. I discovered firsthand the truth of the advice offered by one of our least favorite neighbors. He scowled at me one day out by our mailboxes and gruffly scolded, “Remember, you can learn something from everyone you meet, even if it’s how you don’t want to be.”
Our homeschool journey ended up taking a very different path than I expected. Like most newbies, I did lots of research before starting. I naively assumed that if I covered the issues everyone talks and writes about, we would have success. Within a few months, however, I began to suspect that finding the right curriculum wasn’t nearly the silver bullet everyone acted like it would be. Three cross-country moves, a dual diagnosis of ADD and OCD, and an emergency miscarriage took their toll on my physical and emotional health. Power struggles with my headstrong firstborn left me no time or energy for my compliant, stressed-out, younger child. The more I tried to force the situation to work, the worse things got.
As we struggled along at home, Rob saw a steady stream of homeschooling families in his counseling practice. They were trying to reverse the long-term effects of these same challenges we encountered, plus many others. Burned-out moms grieved over rebellious teens who rejected their faith. Older kids medicated their stress by obsessing over video games and secret online pornography. Younger siblings were exposed to explicit material or sometimes even molested in their own home. Dads were often absent, working several jobs to make ends meet. Church was a source of conflict and stress that divided them by age group and absorbed family time several nights a week. These families confirmed our growing suspicion that we homeschoolers hadn’t yet recognized our biggest enemy. Satan was having a field day with our families.
With a growing sense of urgency, Rob and I realized we had to find a new paradigm if we were even going to keep homeschooling our own kids, much less be able to help others. We took inventory of every area of our family’s life to assess whether our practices reflected our true priorities, as set forth in scripture. Instead of taking the same approach as everyone else, we gave ourselves permission to blaze a new trail. Far more than high test scores and engaging lesson plans, we wanted to develop safe, intimate relationships with each other and with Christ.
Slowly, we began to make changes. Instead of trying to impose a public school mindset of sitting at desks every day doing worksheets, we became both more flexible and more purposeful. We were still serious about reading, questioning, discovering, and asking “Why?” but we were more relaxed about schedules. We tossed our expensive, all-inclusive curriculum and went to museums and community events and read classic literature. We did math in our pajamas with cats in our laps. When Rob traveled to speak, we went with him, learning from the new places and people we encountered. As the kids got older, they were given more freedom to focus on the areas of learning that they felt they would use in their future calling and careers. Conflict decreased. The kids’ individual passions fueled their excellence instead of Mom’s nagging. We discovered that, when we fostered an environment of mutual respect, our kids surprised us by meeting and exceeding almost every goal they set. Their standardized test scores had always been high. Now our satisfaction and fulfillment levels were equally elevated.
As we compared our experience with the dozens of families who had poured their hearts out in Rob’s office, some common patterns quickly emerged. We wrote an article entitled “The Perks and Pitfalls of Homeschooling” and shared it with a homeschool group at a local megachurch. Families there identified with these concepts so strongly that some of them began making major changes in the way they did their schooling and family life. The feedback was so encouraging, and the need so great, I realized we needed to expand the article into a book. Now that our own children are grown and I finally have time to work toward that goal, I’ll be sharing excerpts with you as I go along. Your own stories and nuggets of wisdom will become a part of our ongoing experience, and together we’ll continue to blaze a trail for the next generation of homeschool families.