Here’s my account of our third homeschool year. As of date, we’re approaching the second semester of our fourth year as a homeschool family. I wrote these sentiments months ago when I was in the thick of my feelings and a light bulb went off. Today, I’m finally posting what has been lying dormant in my Word documents since April 2018.
I share these real mom moments in hope that it can help free some of you from the unnecessary burden you’ve placed on yourself to raise the perfect homeschool prodigy. For some of us, this burden stems from the need to prove to outsiders that our children are meeting the mark. Don’t allow yourself to enter into the New Year still burdened and carrying the weight of everyone else’s expectations for your child.
I was one of those anxious moms, so to speak. I just sort of lived with it and attributed it to the stresses of homeschool. After all, stress is normal.
Or should it be?
I didn’t jump out of bed eager to start the day. I found myself tired even after a full night’s rest. I was constantly worried about my children’s progress. If they were on target with their peers—if they measured up.
If I measured up as a home educator.
I teeter-tottered with the idea of “traditional school,” thinking to myself perhaps my boys would be better off. After all, who was I to think that I could supply all their educational needs? This was the weight of other people’s words that I carried for a long time.
This year, I’ve noticed we’ve been gravitating toward a more relaxed learning environment. The whiteboard in our classroom has not met the stroke of an Expo marker in months. Our workbox drawers have not been pulled open in months. My boys have not sat at their desks in months. I have not stood at the top of the class teaching lessons in months. In fact, I kept telling my husband, “One day we’re going to go back into that classroom and actually use it.”
I felt guilty. Like I’ve somehow failed as a homeschool teacher. I feared my boys would never learn how to sit still in the classroom. I feared they’d never learn how to raise their hand and wait to be called on to speak. And even though they were still learning, I feared I wasn’t teaching enough.
Yet, I was exhausted—burned all the way out. Some of the exhaustion stemmed from the war going on in my thoughts.
Some of the exhaustion stemmed from doing the absolute most.
I grew tired of force-feeding information to my children. Things that held very little value to them. Things they’d learn just enough to ace a test and then forget the next month. It all felt counterproductive. We weren’t having fun anymore. They went from “YAY, school!!!!!” to “Oh no! It’s a school day?”
I could laugh every time I think about my second-grader “spacing out” while I’m teaching him a new concept. His little eyes just glazed over with a blank stare. His default nod to convince me he’s paying attention. His sigh of relief when I’m finished explaining everything (I tend to be long-winded, haha).
Laughter escapes me whenever I think of my preschooler actually running from me whenever I pulled out his reading curriculum. All the excuses he’d make, like, “I’ve got to draw some pictures, first.” He was the one who initiated his reading journey, yet I sucked ALL the fun out of it by using a traditional teaching approach unsuitable for his learning style. The daily battles to get him to “do his school work” put a strain on our relationship. I’d say things like, “You’re the one who wanted to learn to read.” Yea, I’m sure this is a great way to ensure he shares his interests with me in the future.
In that video, Shelly, a homeschool veteran, said something like this, “If you’re still holding onto the standards of public education, you’re missing out on the freedom homeschool has to offer.” The freedom of not being bound by age, grade-levels, and “what your child should know” propaganda. The freedom of not being bound by one teaching method that caters to one learning style. The freedom of not being bound by a classroom. Chairs. Desks. Whiteboards. These things work for some people. But for our family, they just don’t.
So, if I were to add a fourth point to the post Three Things It Takes to Homeschool, I’d say unschool yourself.
That was my mistake. I was still bound by traditional education and all the stress that came with it. The emphasis on performance and looking good on paper over quality learning.
I’ve realized that, while we’re concluding our third year of homeschool, I’ve never officially “unschooled” myself. Each time I tried to break away from the traditional model of education, I found myself being lured back in, fixating on grade-levels, assessments, and teacher’s manuals. Why? Because that’s all I knew, and that structure worked for me as an “A” student growing up.
But it doesn’t work for my boys.
What is unschooling exactly? This quote by the late George Bernard Shaw sums it up nicely:
“What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”
Slowly, my new motto became, “if education isn’t organic, I want no part of it.” Each of my children have subjects they gravitate to. They burst at the seams with questions about all kinds of things, and I miss teaching moments because I’m busy trying to get them to remember the difference between mass and matter.
My boys retained more information about random questions they’ve asked during fifteen-minute car rides than information they’ve studied for two to three weeks. They don’t mind spending an hour listening to me read a book about architecture because that’s what they’re into. But it’s a struggle getting them to follow along on a book about medieval history.
I get it. There are just some things that children should know and learning won’t always be “fun.” But the heart of education comes from the Latin word “educare” which means “to draw out” and “lead”—yet, I spent more time putting information “into” my children rather than encouraging them to discover learning for themselves.
And, truthfully, children don’t need help learning. They’re natural learners. But they do need guidance; someone to help them develop their ideas and concepts, answer pressing questions, provide the right resources, and demonstrate the lifestyle of learning.
So, instead of “doing school” or “going to school,” we’ve made a point to ask God how to help our children learn to live intentionally with vision and purpose. If we do this, they’ll always seek the knowledge they need to pursue that calling. In that, we can help them develop the habit of “being in pursuit of knowledge.”
Until next time, friends…