“We can’t possibly mess up kindergarten, so let’s give this homeschooling thing a try for a year.”
When my parents reminisce about their venture into homeschooling, they laugh as they share those early thoughts. I was 5 years old when they started. By the time I walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma from my parents at the Homeschool Iowa graduation ceremony, both they and I considered the experiment a smashing success.
As I reflect upon my childhood and teenage years, I’m flooded with fond memories and a great appreciation for how my parents educated me. Although there were tears over phonics and creative writing, I ultimately came to love learning.* (By the time I got to college, I could figure out just about anything from a textbook and enjoyed the bonus of studying under professors who could answer my go-deeper questions.)
As a teen, I got to work both with a professional carpenter and with my dad to build custom kitchen cabinets from scratch. To this day, I love woodworking. My business class in high school was writing a business plan, incorporating an LLC, and ultimately launching a lawncare business with part-time employees. Instead of prom, my siblings and I—along with some of our friends—helped organize formal ballroom-style dances through our local church. Truly, my parents crafted a wonderful, well-rounded homeschool experience for our family, and I can’t imagine giving my children anything less.
My wife, Elizabeth, had a similar experience. Her parents were committed to providing their children with a Christian education, but homeschooling was the only option that fit their growing family. Because of her parents’ love for history, her childhood was enriched with countless field trips to historic sites and reenactments across the country. She chuckles as she describes how her mom would plot out vacation travels with leg-stretching stops at historic sites; “It was such a part of our traveling life that we came up with the family-coined phrase, ‘education on vacation.’”
In high school, homeschooling enabled Elizabeth to pursue her personal interests in stained glass work, rabbit and poultry farming, and travel. The freedom to personalize her education and to broaden her worldview with traveling shaped her into the person she is today.
By the time Elizabeth and I started dating, neither of us had any doubt that we wanted to homeschool our future children. Now, as parents of six active kiddos, we are knee-deep in the second generation of this homeschooling journey.
People often think that because my wife and I were homeschooled, we must have this homeschooling gig all figured out. Would that it were so simple! There is a big difference between being a student working through the math curriculum your mother chose for you, and being a parent searching through the ever-multiplying list of math curriculums to find the best fit for your 2nd grader—and for the teacher! As young parents, we are definitely climbing the homeschooling learning curve.
But it is true that we don’t have to relearn everything, and there are many tips and tricks we picked up from our parents.
Second-generation tips and tricks
First of all, we have already delved deep into the “why” behind our homeschool endeavors. Looking back at my own childhood experience, I know my parents started out dissatisfied with the school options in their district, and homeschooling started out as an experimental alternative. But as time went on, they began to discover how well it worked and just how effective it was to disciple their children at home with a distinctively Christian worldview.
Elizabeth and I are convinced that educating our children from a biblical, Christ-centered vantage point is essential in our own family. And, as both of us experienced growing up, there are huge advantages to being able to customize the curriculum and teaching methods to the strengths and needs of each child. In short, we see homeschooling as the best way to give our children a tailored education from a Christian worldview.
Another blessing of being a second-generation homeschooler is that we don’t have to unlearn the inside-the-box, recreating-school-at-home thinking that many first-generation homeschoolers—including our parents—had to struggle through.
When people ask us how long we’ve been homeschooling our kids, we often answer, “since the day our oldest was born!” We love to share with others how homeschool is a love-of-learning lifestyle, not just scheduled formal instruction.
Elizabeth finds teaching our children a natural part of living life as a mom, and she attributes that to her own mother’s relaxed and natural approach to teaching.
“When we were on a walk with mom,” she says, “we were never just walking. We stopped to learn about milkweed by the wayside, moss on the tree, and birds on the telephone line. When we were baking with mom in the kitchen, we were always talking fractions, the chemistry of baking, and precise measurement. All of life was learning, and it looked a lot like everyday love.”
One of the greatest gifts Elizabeth’s and my parents handed down was an understanding of how to do family life well. Sibling squabbles happened, but we were shepherded through reconciliation. Delicious family meals and family devotions together were the norm, not the exception. Social etiquette, current events, and the growing pains of life were all learned in a safe and loving home environment. These experiences are priceless.
Together, my wife and I have melded our experiences and personal strengths into our own flavor of homeschooling. There are end goals, but in the journey, we value relationship over rigor, tangible experience over textbooks, and the ordering of affections over the order of the daily schedule.
We credit God with giving us this great gift—the gift of standing on our parent’s shoulders. Without their sacrifice and obedience to the calling of intentionally raising their children, who knows where we would be?
So if you’re a first-generation homeschooler and find yourself going through a hard time, wondering if you really can mess up kindergarten, I encourage you to press on and remember that this isn’t just about your journey: this is about paving the way for your children’s and your grandchildren’s journey. The seeds you’re planting now may bear fruit for generations!
We’re in this together, praying in faith for a bountiful harvest. “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9).
*My Strengths Finder 2.0 profile includes “Learner” as one of my top five strengths!