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February 2018 Subscribe to the Toddlers to Tweens newsletter >>

Vicki Bentely
Vicki Bentley

10 Things I Learned Along My Homeschool Journey

by Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Toddlers to Tweens Consultant

My husband and I began homeschooling because of the academic needs of our four youngest daughters. Two of them were in the gifted-and-talented programs at our local public school—and were feeling quite un-challenged. 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 homeschooled, I ordered a pre-packaged distance-learning curriculum. While I awaited its arrival, I did the typical “waffle” thing:

    Minute 1: We know this is what we’re supposed to do. We’re doing the right thing.

    Minute 2: Why on earth did we think I could do this? I’ll be doing school till 10 every night! What have we gotten ourselves into?

    Minute 3: This is the right thing for our family. We can do this.

    Minute 4: Oh, no! Is it too late to change our minds?

(And you thought only you had those misgivings!)

When the box of materials arrived, I sat—overwhelmed—in the middle of my kitchen floor and cried.

That was more than 20 years ago, and we have never regretted our decision. Now that my last child has finished her formal home education, I ask myself: What have I learned, 25-plus years and 17 kids later? So, in no particular order, here are 10 takeaways from our homeschool days.

(By the way: Just because I chose to do or not do something, it doesn’t mean you have to emulate me—I just wanted to share some personal insights!)

1. We all need a routine.

For our family, we weren’t looking for a rigid schedule that had us dinging a bell to move from one task to the next, but more of a pattern to the day, so the children knew the rhythm of meals, school work, and other occurrences in the day. Our schedule included chores, so the children would know they were needed as part of the family unit, part of a team, and our routine included “opening exercises” and character training.

We tried to maintain some flexibility, but having a starting point gave the kids security, kept life in perspective, and (usually!) gave me some margin.

2. I can do anything for eight weeks!

When we first started homeschooling, we worked with the same schedule as the local schools; it was all I knew. I eventually determined that working eight weeks on, one week off, with four weeks off at Christmas and in July, worked well for us. This gave me 40 weeks of accountable study, which was four more than our state’s public school schedule, so I had leeway for days off, teacher sanity days, laundry catch-up, family trips, etc.

(We weren’t bound by the calendar or 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.)

I had an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, then I divided that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. 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.

3. It is not my job to teach my children everything. It is my job to teach them how to learn.

There were times when even my overachiever daughter had to remind me that I was expecting too much! I learned that there is not enough time and resources to have my students study everything I wish they could learn by graduation. I just had to be selective about what I was willing to leave out, understanding that their education would not end at the age of 18.

I did my best to teach them not only the basic core subjects, but also the skills they needed to think for themselves, to evaluate what they read and heard, and to think logically as well as creatively. I prayed for an understanding of their learning styles and their gifts to help them know how to best use their talents to effectively serve others throughout their lives.

4. I would have used fewer formal textbooks in their early years.

If I could do kindergarten over again, I’d use something like Five in a Row and a basic math and language program, or I’d just cuddle my babies for read-alouds and enjoy nature and words and music and exploring and stories with them. I thought I had to cram a specific, exhaustive “scope and sequence” into them; I didn’t. Where were Clay and Sally Clarkson when I started? Educating the WholeHearted Child would have been required reading for me, if it had been published; I also appreciated Dr. Ruth Beechick’s writings.

My goal in their earlier years would have been to give them lots of experiences, lots of discovery opportunities, to give them “hooks” on which to hang their future learning. Of course, the time would come for more rigorous studies—but it would be after we had laid the foundation of a love of learning.

5. I would have enjoyed my children earlier.

I was halfway into this homeschool journey when I realized I had no joy. How could I be a more joyful mother?

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 eat your healthy food. Yes, you may play with her after you finish your morning jobs.

I was not The Bad Guy anymore. 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! Teaching the concept of personal responsibility!)

7. I wish I had taken my kids more places.

Not necessarily more of the structured, guided school field trips, but more family experiences. We didn’t have the funds to do much, but what my children tend to remember are the campouts, the road trips, and the pack-a-picnic outings to the monuments, the museums, and the potato chip factory.

8. My kids needed opportunities to make wise choices. Or learn from the not-so-wise ones.

My husband and I gradually invited our children’s input into their course choices, extracurricular activities, chores, spending, and more, as their maturity levels allowed. Our goal was for them to have ownership of their circumstances, to realize that we all have choices and we must make them wisely. We let them bear the consequences of their actions if safety was not at risk. We learned: When you “lead a horse to water,” you can’t make him drink . . . but you sure can salt his oats!

9. It’s not my job to change my children. It’s my job to lead them by example.

I needed to model the desired attitudes. And though I often failed miserably, I wanted them to see a woman who could admit her failings, humble herself to ask forgiveness, and learn from her mistakes.

I reminded myself that when my children are 25 years old, nobody will remember their SAT scores or GPAs or know what their degrees are in (or whether they even have one). But people will know their character—whether they are dependable, compassionate, honest, diligent, trustworthy, and cheerful. They would not learn those things because I nagged them to change, but because we, their parents, endeavored to exemplify those 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: our daughters plus foster children eventually totaled almost 50. At one point I had six kids under the age of 9.

But there is, as we read in Ecclesiastes, a time and a season for everything.

Homeschooling moms: This season will pass. Enjoy it! Invest in your babies, and 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. (I had to trust God to help take out the wobble as the arrows approached the target!)

I know my husband and I made lots of mistakes as parents. We didn’t have kids when we were older and wiser—we got them when we were still young and inexperienced—so we had to rely on God. We trusted Him to guide us day by day in the path that was right for our family.

What are you learning on your homeschool adventure?

You can do this! And if you need encouragement along your journey, HSLDA is only an email or a phone call away! (Contacting an HSLDA education consultant is a member benefit.)

Adapted from an article by this author that previously appeared in the July/August2009 Court Report.

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