I occasionally have coffee with my younger self, and we compare homeschooling notes.

When we sat down last time, Past Sara was homeschooling four kids, ages 9 down to 1. It was hard to keep her focused on the conversation. One kid was crying over math, another one had “forgotten” to set his computer timer, the 4-year-old needed her at all times, and twice the toddler got into the bathroom and spooled toilet paper into the bowl. Despite her coffee, Past Sara kept looking at the clock to gauge how close she was to afternoon Quiet Time. “Not just for the kids. I still have to take a nap every day,” she reminded me.

I could talk uninterrupted while the four kids, ages 16 down to 8, occupied themselves. They were all on electronics; I don’t fight that battle anymore. The school planner lay open in its accustomed spot, but all the kids ignored it because their attitude is “holiday until proven otherwise.” But I had to hurry through my coffee; we needed to get school done before I took two children to their outside classes—and be back in time to get the other two to our afternoon co-op. “Some days I hardly have time to think,” I said.

In among the interruptions and time pressures, we compared our day-to-day homeschooling.

Past Sara reminded me that homeschooling younger children is more labor-intensive, but more flexible. The school day is short because they learn better in bite-sized lessons. But kids this age usually need an adult to sit down with them and guide them through the activity. “Okay, go on to the next one. Good. Let’s look at the next one. Great. What about number three?”

Well, Mom sits, anyway. Most of my kids wouldn’t sit for a lesson until about age 9. They bounced on the couch, stood on their heads, or ran in circles. Their energy was matched by their enthusiasm for new information. They didn’t like formal lessons or drills, but they couldn’t resist learning more about something—whether it was the planets, math tricks, or new vocabulary words. The best times were when we could make up games that they could win by using their new knowledge. They felt like champions, while it was easy for me to feel confident. At this stage, I knew all the answers.

“Wow,” I said, sipping my coffee. “Now I’m almost done with that stage completely. I feel a little nostalgic.”

Past Sara poured herself a little more coffee. “That’s because you’ve forgotten about the meltdowns. So many tears, for so many reasons, every day. What are your days like now?”

I thought about it. With two high schoolers, a middle schooler, and an upper elementary schooler, I’m more of a supervisor and chauffeur than a sit-down teacher. Older kids can handle independent work; my kids prefer to finish their assignments on their own schedule. The lessons are longer, and they sit still . . . usually with earbuds in and music going.

While I appreciate more space to myself, there’s not a lot of room for spontaneity and creativity. We are no longer coasting, trusting that they’ll pick up what they need. We’ve got to tackle the difficult subjects head-on. Or, in some cases, find a tutor or accommodating school who will tackle it for us.

At this stage, I don’t know all the answers anymore. I’ve had to get used to saying, “I don’t know. We have to look that up.” Or even, “Oh. You’re right. I’m wrong.” The kids’ literature and science reading has led to in-depth discussions—sometimes not even during the school day, but in the car or at supper. Their appreciation for learning is still there, and the fact that sometimes they “know” more than Mom or Dad is very motivating for them.

Past Sara paused to help the 4-year-old tie a ribbon around a stuffed cat, which took longer than it should have because the 4-year-old had extremely inflexible ideas about how it should look. “That sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to get to that stage.”

I caught a passing tween and directed her to the school planner. She scowled and complained about how boring school was. “Yeah,” I replied, “but I miss the days when we could work through a concept with a fun little game. There’s more pressure now.”

“I look forward to the days when I don’t need to nap.”

“I miss teaching kids to read.”

We agreed, “Guess we’ll just appreciate what we’ve got right now.”

And as we clinked our coffee mugs together, Future Sara poked her head into the dining room. “About time to go visit my kids! I miss having them around all the time.”

Cheers.

—Sara

Photo Credit: iStock. Following images courtesy of author.