I was not a conventional little girl. Dolls were okay, but I much preferred trooping through the woods with my BB gun. Shooting birds and cutting them open to see what was inside—now that was a good day’s fun! When my friends dreamed of being teachers and mommies, I held firm that I would be a mortician. Or maybe a woman body builder. Anything but what was expected of me. So why is it, that when I began homeschooling, I suddenly became a conformist?
I was going to do this right, by golly. I bought little desks. I researched curriculums. I tried so hard to do it all and do it well. The ‘experts’ said that I needed to teach a multitude of subjects: bible, art, music, foreign language, reading, literature, grammar, language mechanics, world history, U.S. history, state history, basic science, biology, botany, geology, astronomy, P.E., handwriting, creative writing…(Holy cow, it’s no wonder so many homeschool moms either quit or end up loonier than me!) I was absolutely exhausted. Disillusioned and discouraged. My kids hated school, and frankly, so did I. So why was I force-feeding mind numbing workbooks and materials on my kids? Why did we not love learning together as I had envisioned?
I remember the day that things began to change. I was trying to do a unit study on geology with my two school-age kids. We had done a couple of cool things like make ‘rock’ candy, but overall the subject was booorriiiing! I guess I just don’t like rocks much. I do not find them fascinating in the least. As we were getting set to start our study for the day, I looked at the weary, unfocused eyes in front of me and I realized something profound. I did not have to continue. I asked my kids “Do you guys like what we’re learning?” Their eyes got wide and frightened, like perhaps I was asking a trick question and would eat them if they answered incorrectly. That was really all the answer I needed. I ditched our geology book that day and I’ve never looked back.
That was the beginning of a whole new way of thinking, and since then I have learned many things that make our homeschool a lot more fun. I hear a lot of tired moms wonder how in the world we do it all. I hear many depressed moms talk about giving up. I know exactly how that feels, so I would like to share with you all a bit of how we now do things.
1.) I do not teach everything. There is no one on God’s green earth who can teach everything to their kids and I don’t think we are supposed to try. I ask my kids what they want to learn about and make choices based on their interests and mine. Yes, there is the ‘broccoli’ of school like reading and math. Those are necessary. I’m talking about the other things that may or may not be important. Do you hate ancient history or art? Then don’t teach them. Your kids will not grow up to be serial murderers because you failed to introduce them to Greek philosophy. Really.
2.) It is perfectly okay to quit or modify a curriculum that is not working for you. Resell it on Ebay, or tweak it a bit to work for you. Even if you like a curriculum, you do not have to do everything it offers. For instance, we used to spend hours on math alone, until I realized that we could cut some of the problems. Now we only do the odd or even problems on any given day, as long as they are grasping the concepts. What a relief for my kids and me!
3.) It is okay to only do formal ‘schooling’ for a few hours a day. If you and your children are hunkered down over the workbooks until dinner time, that is too much. Unless of course, you are enjoying it. If so, then knock yourselves out!
4.) Expect bumps in the educational road. Each of us is wonderfully and uniquely created and we will not learn at the same rate. There are family events, hormones, growth spurts and more that will affect how your kids learn. If you need to back off on something for awhile, that’s okay. Your kids will likely ‘get it’ eventually, just not in your timeframe.
5.) And last, but perhaps most important to consider is this: there are a myriad of ways to learn that do not include workbooks, essays or oral reports. We often look at bugs and bog water under the microscope just to see what we can see. We casually try to identify birds that we see out our window. The kids are learning the presidents by shooting aliens at their portraits in a really fun app on the iPad. History is usually a video followed by discussion. Our new curriculum includes church, dancing, music, playing outside, cooking, cleaning, drama, co-op, games and snuggling. Those things are all ‘school’ now.
It’s called living, and yes, it counts!
For my academic friends who are doing fine in the traditional curriculum, I salute you. But to my fellow non-traditionalists: If you are feeling weary, then lay down your red teacher’s pen and take a break. As with all things, take some time to sit at the feet of the One who called you to this. Ask Him what to teach and what to let go. I believe that Jesus desires me to do less ‘school’ with my kids and calls me to do more living. And I’m so grateful. I have gotten to know each of my kids in ways I never could before. (I was too burned out and tired!) Yes, my children will enter college geologically challenged. So what?!
*First published in BACH Newsletter, Nov. 2011. Revised and updated, March 2013.