The Majors of Homeschooling

majors of homeschooling

With a new school year upon us, I want to steal a few minutes between lunch and tonight’s VBS to talk about some important things I’ve learned about homeschooling in the last four years.

And the fact that we are in our fifth day of VBS should mean you will show me some grace, won’t you, should the words and the thinking and the processing not work for me?

I’m the music director, and a girl can only hear those same catchy songs so many times before her brain erupts into a gurgling stream of nonsensicality…

I shall do my best, though, to bring to you what I feel are important components of homeschooling without losing my wordage stuff.

So let’s get started!

When you first start out in the homeschooling world, you tend to focus more on the minors. The question: “What do we need to run a homeschool?” brought different answers to my mind four years ago than it does today. I was desperate in those days to simply find a curriculum I liked, some sensory toys and puzzles, some educational videos, and DEFINITELY some vintage lunchtrays.

Today, I still like all those things…curriculum is good, toys and games are fun, videos are helpful, and lunchtrays are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL…but it is increasingly dawning on me that what I have always most needed to run a happy and successful school-at-home — the MAJORS, if you will — cannot be purchased at Mardel’s homeschool sale. Or, alas, even at Etsy.

In fact, they’re quite free.

And, in our home, they are absolutely essential; when I get the following things right, the “minors” fall nicely into place.

This list might vary from person to person, but the things that I’ve realized Mrs. Gore’s Home Academy NEEDS to stay open are as follows:

1.A belief in what I am doing.

I have been at very low points as a homeschooler when I am not valuing, deep down, the basic importance of education for my children.  Simple as that. Without seminars and daily peer encouragement from others who are enthusiastic about education, it is easy to become lost in the daily grind of checking off boxes and keeping the housework afloat and to completely forget WHY you’re doing what you are doing.

And when you forget WHY you are doing it, you can look up one day to realize that the “school” part of your homeschool has almost been lost. You’re not really schooling your kids, so much, as you are just keeping them at home.

If you are going to choose this route of home education, I think it is really important to develop a sturdy philosophy behind your decision, which will include some education for yourself about…well, education!

And in this discovery of “why”, I encourage you to get beyond the boxes that you’ve lived in all your life. Don’t just settle on educating your children because this is America and education is what is done with children. Don’t just do it because your kid is five and when you were five you learned the alphabet so you should probably teach your kid the alphabet.

Step back and observe bigger pictures. WHY is education so important, in the first place? How will “being educated” really serve your kids? What is the purpose in all this?!

There are many great philosophies out there, and you can draw from any or all of them, but Charlotte Mason has played a big role in my own philosophy. Her teachings just make sense to me, and I agree with her in almost every regard, which means that I can employ her tactics with a heart that truly cares about what I am doing.

It doesn’t take much to develop a genuine passion for your homeschooling operation and can be as simple as reading a good book — or even an article! — about why education is important.

On the brink of our 5th year as a homeschooling family, I understand now that I can’t homeschool because my friends are doing it. I can’t do it because it is popular in my denomination. I can’t do it because I’m scared to send my kids to public school.

I’ve got to do it because I believe in it, or I’ll not have the stamina to stick with it for the long haul.

2. A full-time job mentality.

Okay, this one has been a big deal in our house. It didn’t take me too long as a homeschooler to realize that, in order to maintain a constant atmosphere of learning in our home, I was going to have to make a job out of it.

In other words, my BELIEF in what I was doing (see: above) was going to have to dictate how I spent my day in a very intentional way.

Homeschooling is very simple in the beginning…as simple, really, as learning the ABC’s and counting to 10 and reading “Little Bear” and Mother Goose..but, like me, eventually you will arrive at the point where you have to make a real, life-altering choice: who is more important? Me or the kids? My Facebook account or our read-aloud time? My late wake-up hour or my son’s understanding of mathematics?

It has become ever more clear to me that I can’t live like a stay-at-home mom whose kids go to school outside of the home and still run a smooth and vibrant homeschool. That sounds obvious, right, but…sometimes we try to live that way!

And since I personally need rigid guidelines to keep me from floating adrift, this meant serious changes in our household. An early wake-up time which calls for an earlier bedtime (wahh!!!). A strict “no internet in the morning” policy. A phone going straight to messages because, from the hours of 8 – 12, I am at work. And then again from the hours of 1 – 3.

Use your imagination, here. What is it like for people who work outside of the home? Sure, part of the greatness about homeschooling is we don’t HAVE to live like people who work outside of the home…we can be flexible! we can learn as we LIVE! we can take our workbooks and do school on the way to the splash park!…but we can take a few tips from the professional world.

My daddy doesn’t sit in his truck and talk on the phone all day. He doesn’t scroll through the internet every 30 minutes, looking for updates. He doesn’t watch television, ever. From the hours of 7-3, he’s at work. I want the same to be true of me, even though I’m at home! From the hours of 8-3, I’m at work, doing worky things, dying to my previous life of non-work.

This sort of mentality makes ALL the difference in a homeschooling day and ensures that I am leaving my family open to endless outlets of education.

The great thing about this is, it doesn’t mean that you have to have your day rigidly scheduled. It just means that, for the most part, your head and your heart are dedicated to your homeschooling operation. You are “on the clock”, ready to read aloud, ready to answer questions, ready to train and teach and inspire.

3. Motivation and encouragement.

Oh my goodness…

I just want to start cackling hysterically when I contemplate what a lone ranger I was when I opened the doors to our homeschool in the fall of 2012.

I had read a few books, sure…two, to be exact…but…thaaaaaat’s about it. The daughter of public school, myself, and a college graduate with a degree that had nothing to do with education, especially of the childhood sort, I had only the vaguest ideas of what homeschooling even looked like and NO idea of how I was supposed to accomplish this gargantuan task of educating four children alone.

Since that time, not surprisingly, my homeschooling career has been a pretty repetitive routine of “pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again.”

That ALL drastically changed earlier this year when I discovered — far too late, in my opinion!! — the Read-Aloud Revival, a bustling website chock-full of resources and motivation for the homeschooling mom.

When I first watched Sarah Mackenzie’s Periscope series on “How We Homeschool”, I was blown away by the ideas she shared. Here were simple things I had never even thought of, things that would make my life so much easier!

And then I started listening to the podcast, episode by episode, and it began to dawn on me, in levels, how crazy I had been to tackle this lifestyle without seeking out an education of my own, followed by frequent…and I mean FREQUENT…inspiration.

After I listen to a podcast on education, I am inspired. I have excitement in my heart to do what I’ve been doing, but to do it with vigor. I have POWER, because knowledge is power and the more moms and experts I hear from, the more ideas I have to draw from and the more capable I am to handle all the bumps that come up in our day.

I just had no idea how terribly thirsty I was to be taught. To have someone lead me. To have a voice in my ear, spurring me on.

If you are feeling shriveled up and alone in your homeschooling world, I would suggest that you are in need of food. Feed yourself by finding a cheerleader, whether that comes in a website, podcast, co-op, or mentor. There is simply no reason in our modern and connected world to feel alone in this. Which leads me to my next point…

4. A teachable spirit.

The fastest way, I think, to wind up in the homeschool graveyard is to think you’ve got it all figured out.

It’s easy, since these are your own children you are educating, to feel a weird temptation to put on an “I’ve got this all covered” front. I birthed these children. I keep them groomed. I’ve had them vaccinated. I CAN HOMESCHOOL THEM.

Now, I’m no psychologist, but perhaps…maybe?…we carry around this facade of capability because we are deep down kind of terrified that we are going to mess our kids up?!?! I know I have harbored that fear, too many times to count.

But listen, most of us don’t have teaching degrees. Most of us don’t know the first thing about teaching kids to read, write and do arithmetic. Most of us are homeschooling from a compelling conviction in our hearts more than a background in home education.

And that’s okay!

What is not okay is never admitting that we need assistance. Or forging ahead with our noses in the air because we don’t want anyone out there to know we are weak, or scared. Or keeping blinders on our eyes to the abundance of help, service and mentorship out there.

It seems counter-intuitive to our stubborn hearts, but we do ourselves — and our families — a world of good when we stop and say, at least to ourselves, “You know what? I don’t really know what I’m doing here. I NEED HELP!”

Believe me, help is out there. It might be from your homeschooling neighbor who has tried a different curriculum, a homeschooling veteran who knows her stuff (I love homeschool veterans. I NEED homeschool veterans!), a husband who might gladly take a class off your hands if he knew you were this close to losing it, a church lady who would help you clean your house once a month, or even from a refreshing book like Sarah Mackenzie’s “Teaching from Rest”. (a link to the book will be at the end of this post!).

Whether you have to actually leave your house to find this help is up to you, but one thing is necessary in the equation: humility.

Humility in homeschooling bring waves of refreshment to the heart that has grown weary of pretending to be masterful. It will keep you from comparing other homeschoolers to you (in an inferior kind of way), or you to other homeschoolers (in a superior kind of way). It will keep you from trying to force things that aren’t working for your family. It will keep you from living in fear when you could be discovering the world, with the joy of a forever student! And it will most certainly keep you on your knees.

When you start with a humble heart, your homeschool can only go UP.

5. A custom plan for YOUR family.

Dear ones, if you listen to one thing I say today, please make it this one.

A crucial turning point for our homeschool took place when I pulled all the square pegs out of the round holes I had been shoving them in and actually developed a plan that worked for our family.

Tell me, when it is time to plan for our kids’ wardrobes, do we go online and print off another family’s list and try to make it work for our family?

No, because that would be weird.

They might have more kids than we do, and we’d wind up with more clothes than we needed. They might have fewer kids, and we’d not have enough clothes to dress our family. They might have all girls when we have all boys. Or they might have a girl, boy, boy, girl, when we have a boy, girl, girl, boy. Their sizes would be different. Their climate would be different. Their budget would be different. Their style preferences would be different!

The same is true for a homeschool.

Going online and printing off someone else’s daily schedule can give you guidance, and buying a pre-planned curriculum can be useful, but expecting them to work, verbatim, in your house is not an idea that usually pans out.

I’ll be honest, it is borrowing trouble when I line up our “home academy” to a family whose eldest is a daughter rather than a son. Or to the schedule of a family with a type-A mom at the helm. Or to the plan of a family who relies on a co-op for their schoolweek. Or to the resources of a family that lives in the city rather than a tiny town with no stoplights.

Those families are not the Gore family. And when the Gore family tries to be the So-and-So family, the Gore Mama winds up in a puddle of self-loathing that directly effects her educational prowess, her confidence, and her SANITY!!!!

Now, I will warn you, crafting a homeschool that suits your family and fits you like a glove can take time. You have to scrap some things and try again. You have to adjust with the changing seasons of life. You have to learn as you go.

But when I peeled myself away from the idea that I could find a magical print-out that would solve all of my scheduling bumps and homeschooling problems, and began building, brick by brick, an infrastructure that could cradle and nurture MY family — with our specific needs, personalities, budget, schedule, priorities, etc. — I began to really ENJOY  homeschooling, like never before.

I daresay we began to soar!

And homeschooling, with all of these MAJOR components more firmly in place than ever, has never been more gloriously doable. I’m a fan.

~

Wow, I tried to keep that short, but there you have it! There are many more homeschool majors in my life, including the Holy Spirit and a good support system, but these are the five things that I wanted to focus on today. Is there anything you would put on your “majors” list? Did any of these principles resonate with you? Please share below! And if you want to hang out with me on Facebook and hear funny stories and go shopping and have tickle fights, find our page here!

And find Sarah Mackenzie’s “Teaching From Rest” from my affiliated link by clicking on the picture below. I love this book, and I know you will too!

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…and Schoolmarmee Burns

So yes, I cried the first night of homeschool when it hit me like a doorjamb (has anyone else ever run straight into a doorjamb? It hurts…) that my baby is a schoolboy now.

But that was nothing compared to the tears I shed on the 2nd day of homeschool, this time of a very different (and much darker) variety.

Sometimes it dawns upon a lady with an unsettling and depressing clarity that she has limitations that are in need of supernatural healing and strength, and sadder still, that she is undeniably selfish.

Schoolmarmee was met with such a dawning before we were halfway through our 2nd lesson on the first Friday of homeschool.

Gideon wasn’t so much being bad as he was being a normal and wiggly and self-absorbed little boy. The problem was (as is the norm) that I had set my expectations too high, and, during our week of preparing our homeschool sans children, I had conjured up blissful images of a Home Academy wherein my children sat on the edge of their seats, brows furrowed sometimes in concentration, sometimes in wonder, as a world of learning was opened up to them via my creative heart and eloquent tongue. There would be lots of laughter and order and tranquility and movie-quality moments, and my children would arise and call me blessed before we sat down to the extraordinary lunches I discovered on Pinterest (and then actually made).

But mostly, I expected that they would be grateful for all the hard work I had done and respectful of the amount of love and time I had poured into preparing our homeschool for them…

but I wanted a gratitude that 5- and 3- and 1-year olds don’t know how to express.

Unless they are characters in a book or on the big screen.

Needless to say, it didn’t take long for my high hopes to be violently dashed, and before I knew it, I was frustrated up to here with my students who wouldn’t know a good teacher if she was staring them in the face and who were absolutely undeserving of their tricked-out vintage homeschool room. (Not really. But that’s what I was thinking for a bit).

Don’t get me wrong – Gideon had plenty of fault in the matter, and was being as stubborn and mind-gamey as I was being unreasonable. And Rebekah and Betsie weren’t cooperating much, either…

but I am very ashamed at the way I lost my temper and yelled in anger at the human gifts God has entrusted to me.

I banished the lot to their nursery upstairs and called Mr. Gore on the landing of the staircase, crying.

“What’s wrong?!” he exclaimed, after the telltale silence on my end of the line.

“I don’t know if I can do this…” I sobbed.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m just not very good at this…” I whimpered.

“What?” he repeated.

“Oh…everything,” I wailed, “teaching…training…disciplining…being a Mom!!”

Because, worse than my disappointment that my life was not going to be a picture book, was the renewed awareness that I have a really hard time sometimes living for others. As excited as I was about our new routine and our new venture of home education, there was an underlying sense of dread that my days could not be spent doing what I wanted to do, that I was “chained down”, in a sense, to the decision we had made to homeschool for the next couple of decades, and worst of all, that the root of that morning’s frustration had more to do with my own sick and selfish heart than it had to do with the actions of my childish children.

Gideon occasionally peeked out the door to see if I was still crying, his eyes doleful. No matter what he has done, or how badly he has behaved, he hates to see his Mama cry. He slipped past me on the staircase and went downstairs as I continued to seek counsel from his Papa.

Mr. Gore is always good medicine, for he knows just how to encourage me while still giving me a good dose of tough love. He is always understanding, but never indulgent, and as he led me in truth, he helped me to remember that what I was doing was a praiseworthy and important thing…before reminding me gently that if we were going to choose this route for our children’s education, I must continue to work hard at living the gospel out for our kids and to mortify the sin that had been creeping into my life. (I had confessed to him earlier in the week that I had been sharp with the children more than ever before, and how much I hated it).

We hung up the phone and I sat there quietly sniffling, gathering myself, redirecting my focus, praying for forgiveness and grace…

I heard footsteps, and Gideon began to climb the stairs tentatively, a piece of paper in his hand.

“Here…” he said, shyly.

I took the paper in my hand and looked at it. It was a heart and it said “I love Mama”.

“I’m sorry I acted that way.” Gideon said.

“Gid…” I interrupted him, “I’m sorry. I should not have yelled at you like that.”

“But I was having a mean attitude,” he said. “That’s why you yelled at me.”

“Well…” I said, “We were both wrong. Do you forgive me?” I asked.

He nodded.

“I forgive you, too,” I said, “Our hearts are so broken, Gid. But God is going to keep fixing them and teaching us how to follow Him.”

We embraced, and sat there together, our hearts healing as we rocked back and forth.

So we had our movie moment, after all, even if it wasn’t quite what I had in mind. But we also discovered another facet of homeschool that I had yet to consider…the art of learning to live in harmony and to treat one another in the way that God commands, 24/7. And there on the staircase, I accepted the challenge of the lifestyle God has compelled us to live – the real one, not the one I had fabricated in my fluffy daydreams…

The breaks from each other will be few and far between. We will have ups and downs, peaks and valleys. We will have triumphs followed by miserable, miserable failures. We will be learning about the world and history and language together, but in the process, we will be on an intense journey of sanctification as a family unit. After our blissful week of preparation and our euphoric first day of school, reality had set in, and I’m glad. Because I think the best way for a Schoolmarmee to run her school well is to crash and burn right off the bat before swiftly handing the reigns back to the God who takes hearts of stone and turns them into hearts of flesh; I am confident that if our homeschool will turn out to be any kind of success, it will be by His grace and, for His glory alone. I pray that, more than book knowledge and cultural smarts and classical music appreciation, we will learn to love and to love well, beginning with one another.

And they say that home schooled children lack socialization and people skills…

On the contrary. I have a feeling that, by graduation day, we’ll be pros in the department of human relations.