We joined the Homeschool Phenomenon this year!
Yes, we did.
As some of our friends have termed it, we’ve “de-institutionalized” our two boys. I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but that is a good way of putting it.
The main question we are asked about this, regularly, is, “Why did you decide to do this?”
It’s a fair question, I guess, even though I believe I would be perfectly within my rights to say that it’s our own personal decision. However, since we kind of live our family life out loud on this blog and on social media from time to time, I have decided to be as forthright as I possibly can about this, without embarrassing my boys, and without causing them to suffer any consequences of having their lives shared as an open book too awfully much when they are actually too young to make that decision for themselves.
I am sharing all this here for several reasons:
- To begin the process of keeping an online journal about our adventures, successes, and failures so we can learn from this experience and, hopefully, improve the process as we go along.
- To become a stronger part of the homeschooling and educational community – developing relationships, and sharing and gleaning ideas and helpful tips along the way.
- To keep the lines of communication open about this whole thing, with family, friends, and whomever else may be interested in this endeavor.
- To bring about some type of accountability along the way.
Why is communication about this important? Some folks are just simply curious about the whole “homeschooling thing;” some are interested and might be entertaining the idea of homeschooling themselves; and some are actually worried about us – especially about my boys. And if the latter is the case, I have to say, I don’t blame you one bit. I’m concerned about them, too, to tell the truth!
This wasn’t a decision that we made lightly. We didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Hey! I think we should pull our kids out of that whole crazy institutional school process and see if we can just force some knowledge into their brains ourselves! Or maybe osmosis will work! Wouldn’t that be fun times??!?!!”
No, this is something that we have prayed about since before the birth of our children. In fact, before I became pregnant with my eldest son, Aaron, we were members of a small group at our church. Many of the members had children and homeschooled them, very successfully. This was truly our first exposure to this phenomenon and to families who choose this lifestyle –I say that because it very much is a “lifestyle choice.”
We were continually amazed at the children – how intelligent and well-behaved they were. They exhibited none of the problems that people seem to be concerned with when it comes to homeschooling. They were extremely socially adept, and we noticed that they handled conversations with adults especially well. They were interested in so many different things, were willing to learn, and seemed to clearly understand the importance of their place within their family dynamic. They took on more chores, more responsibilities, willingly, than any other children I had been around. They were exceptionally musically and artistically gifted or, at the very least, “artistically inclined.”
Other things I noticed included how much they seemed to enjoy reading, playing with children of all ages (not just hanging out with their own age group), and how they actually ate better, more healthfully, than other kids I had been around! That was pretty impressive then, and especially now that I have two boys who are the pickiest eaters in the world!
So, while I was pregnant with my first, lying in bed beaten down with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (read about my lovely experience with that here), my husband, James, and I began talking and praying about this strange, new, crazy idea of homeschooling.
It seemed extremely radical to us, but the more we learned about it, the more it made sense. We especially liked the idea of our children having an education that included a “Christian world view.”
Before some of you go all nuts on me for that last comment, let me explain that it is not, nor has it ever been, our goal to prevent our children from learning the same things that other children learn in the public school system. However, it IS our goal that they should learn these things when THEY are personally, individually, ready to learn them. And we believe that as their parents, we are the best judge of when that time rolls around. This is true of certain educational subjects, such as creationism and evolution, as well as social topics, such as drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. (Yes, I took a “History of Rock ‘n Roll” class at the University of Tennessee and loved it.)
An education with a “Christian world view,” to us, means that we discuss our Christian beliefs with our children, freely. We raise them in church, we raise them on the Holy Scriptures, we talk to them about our daily life and decisions, and how we make choices based upon the precepts and beliefs of our personal faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. As we learn, we learn with a firm foundation of Christian precepts and biblical knowledge, and are able to understand things from an “eternal perspective”- the perspective that comes with the full knowledge imparted only through the Holy Spirit.
Our children will make their own, individual and very personal decisions about faith. This is something strictly between them and the Lord. We are not afraid to educate them about other religions and belief systems, because we have the freedom to educate them as their parents, and they will grow up able to make a personal decision after they have seen how we live our lives out in front of them as individuals and as a family, and can compare and contrast it with others.
So, all of these reasons were in our hearts and minds as we gave birth to our first precious child, and prayed over the next few years about what to do.
Even though I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, we sent Aaron to a private pre-school for a couple days a week when he was 3 and 4. This pre-school was located in the church of my childhood, I had attended pre-school there myself, and I knew the teacher very well and had complete trust in what she was teaching my son. I had no qualms about this, and he thrived and made wonderful friends while there – friends that remain among his closest today.
I became pregnant with our second son during our Aaron’s second year of preschool. Again, I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, so I was completely bedridden and out of commission, and felt like I really missed out on his last year of preschool.
So, after my second son was born, I was excited about the possibilities of homeschooling, and spending more time with both of my boys that next year, as my eldest began kindergarten. I thought, “Hey, its kindergarten! I can’t really mess that up!”
But, um, yes, it IS possible to mess up kindergarten!
I was really suffering with a lot of health problems following my second pregnancy, on top of the post-partum blues and a very demanding baby (if you follow me on Facebook, you’ve “met” Will, our strong-willed, funny, loving, creative, and um, “spirited” second-born son). I was way in over my head. Half-way through Aaron’s first year of homeschool, I finally admitted defeat, and we sent our precious kindergartener to public school.
He had an excellent teacher, and we were very pleased with the progress he made to quickly catch back up with the others. First grade in the public school was a success, also. So we decided to remain in the public school system. We had so far been blessed with excellent teachers and administrators who were strong Christians. The school itself had such a sweet spirit about it, and we were enjoying the friendships we were all making through the process.
However, in second grade, our boy started to show signs of major changes in his personality and self-confidence. We noticed that he no longer looked forward to going to school, and his shoulders drooped and he refused to make eye contact with us whenever we asked about it. He wasn’t failing, but he wasn’t performing near the top of his class, either. In fact, his teacher suggested that we have him tested for a learning disability. When we discussed this with our trusted pediatrician, he assured us that he had NO learning disabilities at all – he was just a boy, but he was an unhappy boy.
So, we began investigating a bit further. Turns out, there was a child in his class who was “bullying” him quite a bit. As time went on we, and other parents, were witnesses to some of the episodes. I was livid about this. We had meetings with the teacher, and even the parents of the child. This went absolutely nowhere.
Now, we aren’t “helicopter” parents, and I have serious concerns about the term “bullying” being overused in our society today (another topic for another day, perhaps). We totally believe that kids have to learn to deal with the world around them and the people in it – and that means that they get to experience the good and the bad, and figure out for themselves how to navigate through it, with help from us when needed. We teach them, we give them tools, and then we let them figure things out. We stay close by and make sure we know what’s going on, but we do not hover, and we do not insist on getting involved in every little dispute or problem they have going on. If they can’t figure out some of the problems they encounter now as children, how in the world can we expect them to take responsibility and figure things out as adults?
So, trust me – when I say “bullying,” I mean it. I don’t mean there was a kid who didn’t like mine and so didn’t invite him to a party or something. I mean, there was a kid twice his size that was jabbing and elbowing and stepping on toes, and taunting him with hateful remarks with the intention of hurting and embarrassing our son in front of others. And it was affecting his personality. THAT’S when I step in.
We also realized that the teacher that year was enamored with the “multi-age method” of teaching. She was “experimenting” with this method on our children, and it was not a method that worked well for Aaron that year. We know this for sure because the very next year her wish came true to go teach at a school that specializes in this method of teaching.
I was serving as a volunteer tutor to some of the students at the school, and made it a point to volunteer to help in my son’s classroom for a couple of hours on the days I did this. The teacher was not thrilled to have me there, but I insisted. She made it obvious that I wasn’t welcome when the first time I showed up; I ended up just sitting there the entire time, with nothing to do. By the fourth time I attended, I still had nothing much to do, but I had observed everything I needed to in order to understand that my son was not performing well in this type of educational atmosphere.
Her method was to bring them all together in a circle to listen to a story. Then, she would prescribe “pathways” to them. She gave instructions, rapidly, which involved dividing up into groups of two or three students. Each group would go to a particular station and complete a task together before they could move on to the next station. There were usually five or six stations that students needed to complete, otherwise, the students would end up taking home a lot of homework. My son always ended up with homework – lots of it – and I soon understood why.
One of the classroom rules was, “Do not ask the teacher for help until you have asked at least two other students first.”
There are two things you need to know about my son. First, he is a first-born, people-pleaser, like his mom. He has a deep-seated need to make others happy, whether by performing deeds of service or by performing tasks extremely well. Second, if he disappoints you, he will shut down. He will find the furthest corner of the room, if not another room, and he will fold his bony little body up like a morning glory in the glaring heat of the sun – shutting out the world.
So, if Aaron didn’t understand the instructions, or couldn’t figure out how to complete an assignment without some help, the situation quickly deteriorated. I watched him ask a couple of classmates for help a few times. Here are some of the comments that came from second graders, who should NOT have to do the teacher’s job: “Go away, you stupid boy!” “I don’t have time to help you!” “You should have listened, you dummy!”
So, do you think a child like mine, a people pleaser, is going to ask for help again, believing that he had actually disappointed and angered these other kids? Do you think he’s going to go to the TEACHER for help? The teacher who has made it clear that she does not want to be bothered unless absolutely necessary? And, for a child who is so naturally funny, who has such a sweet, kind, servant-hearted spirit, who loves to make everyone around him laugh and makes sure that everybody feels included, it absolutely CRUSHED me to witness this.
James and I could not stand to bear this any longer that year. We prayed and prayed, and agonized over it all.
By this time, I had gone back to work full-time, and our youngest was in a day school at another Christian church five days a week. Even though that day-school/pre-school had an excellent program, I now regret this decision. Our youngest, Will, has a completely different personality than our eldest – we’re talking 180 degrees apart, and he most definitely could have benefit from more time, discipline, and direction on how to corral his instinctive “leadership abilities,” shall we say, from his mother at home.
But, things were what they were, and we had grown dependent upon my salary (okay, I liked the extra clothes, boots, and travel it afforded us) and health benefits (an essential because my husband owns his own business) by this point. It was not an option for me to leave my job at that time. However, we knew we had to do something.
So, we made the decision to move Aaron to a private Christian school halfway through his second grade year. We already knew several families there, one of whom had a son who had attended pre-school with ours, and who had remained his best friend. This decision turned out to be such a blessing in so many ways – but not perfect, by any means. Is there ever a perfect decision? If so, we have yet to find it!
Over the next few years, we went through the ups and downs and trials and blessings of being a part of a private school. Financially, and with some sacrifice, it finally became possible for me to leave my career and stay home again. Private school was working out, and I was able to begin pursuing some of my personal dreams, such as going back to work on my master’s degree and travel writing. Things were going pretty well, we felt “comfortable” with the Christian atmosphere of the school our children attended, and yet…
We just had this “feeling” that God was leading us in a different direction. First, we began feeling really convicted about the amount of family time that we were deprived. Even though our kids were in a “Christian” school, we still felt like we, the parents, were the best people to be teaching and raising them. They spent several hours a day in school, and yet came home with one to three hours of homework per night. We found I had to re-teach most subjects every night. I’m not suggesting that the teachers were incapable, at all. However, our eldest child’s learning style was not so compatible with the teaching style. And, there were personality conflicts with certain folks (yes, that happens EVEN at a Christian school, unfortunately), and I just don’t have the constitution to continuously deal with that, people-pleaser that I am.
It didn’t happen overnight, but throughout the past year I became more and more “convicted” about the idea of homeschooling again. So, I began talking to many of our friends who are doing it, and seem to be doing it quite well.
I was amazed at what I was hearing and seeing about how much homeschooling had changed and developed since the year that we tried it. There are so many methods to choose from, so many supportive organizations, so many co-ops, and so many amazing curricula from which to choose! I have to admit, we were slightly overwhelmed at the possibilities.
We decided to attend a homeschooling conference in Nashville in the spring of this year – the “Teach Them Diligently Homeschool Convention,” upon the recommendation of a wonderful friend. It was a HUGE event, with representatives from so many of the experts and companies within the educational and homeschooling realm. Over the course of three days, James and I attended meetings, workshops, and browsed through a humongous convention hall full of incredible homeschooling and educational resources. Our eyes were glazed over and our legs & feet were killing us by the end of it all – but we were absolutely psyched about the whole thing! In fact, we purchased our curricula for both boys and made our decision that weekend: we would homeschool both boys this coming school year!
Ever since that conference in March, I have been gearing myself up, doubting our decision from time-to-time, studying various methods, attending meetings that explain these various methods, emailing and messaging and calling and visiting other homeschoolers, and PRAYING, PRAYING, PRAYING! I have been organizing, reading studies, reading curricula, designing routines and schedules, and exploring opportunities for activities and sports available to our homeschoolers.
We set a date to start. I was ready. The boys were excited. It was the night before the first day of the “Holmes Academy of Homeschooling” (or “HAH” – see, God has a sense of humor!) was about to begin. The boys were fast asleep, their father content in his trust of my abilities to handle this (okay, truthfully, he’s nervous about my abilities, still)…and what did I do?
I made a radical change at 10:00 pm that night. The night before our first day of homeschool, I completely changed our curricula for the boys!
I had recently been to a conference about the “Charlotte Mason” method of homeschooling. I won’t go into that here – but it’s a bit radically different than the scheduled routine and method I had originally chosen. I was really convicted about this method – I prayed about it. And I absolutely felt, and still feel, deep in my heart, that this method, or a “form” of this method, is the method of homeschooling that will work best for our guys right now at this stage in their lives.
So, I sent back the beautiful books and computer program discs that we had originally chosen, and began scrambling to put together materials for our new method – the night before we began! Yes, it felt absolutely CRAZY, and yet absolutely RIGHT! FREEDOM! That’s what I feel right now about our decision.
It’s not exactly “Charlotte Mason,” not 100%, probably not even 50%. However, it begins to incorporate some of the methods she espoused. I do feel the freedom to grow into this method gradually. I am not completely comfortable abandoning the “routine” that I have been so conditioned to within the “institutionalized” school systems. So, we are holding on to some routines with part of our hearts, and then reaching out into the great unknown with abandon with the other part! It is exciting, and it is adventurous, and I am so looking forward to seeing where it all leads us!
I will tell you, I’ve had my doubts about doing this – doubts about myself and my abilities. I am a person who THRIVES on “me time” – to read, write, travel, get outside, visit with friends and family, and just do stuff that I want to do, along with the stuff that I get myself into because of my inability to say “no” most of the time.
So, yes, this is a huge adjustment for me. My days are not my own. This is a commitment, and it kind of goes against the natural grain of my human nature. But I am trusting God. If He leads you to it, He will lead you through it! He will provide the tools needed for this and equip us all, as long as I trust HIM for guidance, every step of the way. I believe, firmly, that the Holy Spirit is the teacher in our little academy, and I am simply the facilitator, the vessel He uses to get some of it across.
This whole thing is going to be a “dying” and a “growing” experience for me – dying to my selfish needs and growing in trust and faith on the path on which the Lord is leading us. And you know what? I’m up for that challenge! Anything that will provide a way for me to “decrease” and for my Father to “increase” is something I can get behind completely, because I know that I’ve got lots of changing and growing yet to do!
So, this a growth experience for our entire family. Do I KNOW for certain that it is going to work? Well, no, I don’t. I guess it all depends upon how you define “work.” All I know is that we are putting it all in the hands of God. It is HIS plan, and we are just trying to be willing and obedient servants, trusting him for each step along the way.
I trust that if we begin to fail or fall, He will pick us up. I trust that if we are overwhelmed, He will provide a way. I trust that if we begin to doubt what we’re doing, He’ll reassure us. I trust that if we continue to follow Him, we will see the rewards. And I trust that if He wants us to put these kids back into a private school or a public school, He will clearly show us that – and we will willingly obey. I simply trust Him.
I want to make that clear – I have no qualms about sending my children back to an “institution of learning” – as long as that is the will and plan of God for them, and for our family.
So, I’m going to begin blogging occasionally about our journey. I will be honest and open, as much as my kids will allow, about our experiences. I know it will be a tremendous journey with many twists and turns. I know we’ll have successes and failures – and we’ll learn from both. I look forward to hearing from you and sharing ideas together, whether you homeschool, or are in public or private schools. I will be praying for you and your family, and I hope you will pray for us!
Finally, I wanted to leave you with a little “Mission Statement” that we have for HAH. I will blog more about this in the future, in case you are interested in following along. Like any good mission statement, it’s a working document, which means it will grow and change as we do. For now, these are a few of the reasons, set down in black and white, we have chosen to homeschool right now. I’d love to hear your feedback – especially if it’s encouraging!
WHY WE HOMESCHOOL OUR CHILDREN:
- In order to ensure that their education is in line with God’s plan
- To provide a Christian world-view
- To provide educational structure and environment that does not detract from the importance of family time
- To provide an educational environment that is most conducive to their individual learning abilities/style
- To allow each child to learn best according to their individual interests, strengths, and gifts
- To provide hands-on experiences, such as travel, which we believe are important to a well-rounded education.
OUR GOALS FOR OUR FAMILY:
- Strong love for and faith in God
- Love and service for God, humanity, and country
- To study Christianity rooted in and proven by American and World History
- There are worldviews that oppose our faith: Learn to analyze opposing world views from a biblically sound and compassionate perspective
- Understand our times and others, compassionately and whole-heartedly, in the Spirit of Christ
- Be equipped to argue/defend effectively for our faith
- Be trained in both liberty and self-control
- Seek to fulfill the purpose of God in our generations
I look forward to sharing with you, and I especially hope to hear back from you regarding your thoughts and ideas on educating children today.