Encouragement for the New Homeschooler

Encouragement for the New Homschooler Text

I remember the feeling of holding my first child–wriggling, just-born baby, fresh in my trembling new-mother’s palms. I remember holding her, tears of my joy falling down on her face, and thinking: Am I ready for this? How will I ever be enough? How will I know what to do?

As parents, we are called to be the impossible: to be every earthly thing to the people we care about above all earthly things.

We want to do right by them; we want to give them our best. We want to nurture their strengths and help to temper their faults. We disciple, we discipline; we empower, we lay boundaries; we guide, and when they are ready (long before we are) we open our palms and watch them run, laughing, into distance.

One of the most important decisions we make as parents is how to educate our children.

This is your decision to make: your right as a parent, and no one has the right to make it for you or bully you about it.

The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.”

– Familiaris Consortio, St. Pope John Paul II (emphasis my own)

You know your child best, and you know yourself best. You and your spouse alone know what the best decision is for your family.

There are benefits and drawbacks to every kind of education. Those of us who have been called to homeschool do so for many reasons. We have weighed the pros and cons, we have weighed our duties and our options, and we know that–at least for now, in these circumstances, with these students–homeschooling is the right choice for us.

You know your own reasons for homeschooling this year. It may be academics, faith, ideology, or opportunity that has inspired you to try home education. It may be a job that keeps you on the road, a special needs challenge that keeps you on your toes, or a family crisis that keeps you all needing more time together under one roof. Whatever the reason, you know it. And unless you choose to share, nobody else needs to know.

That said, it can still be daunting, even scary, to be standing for the first time on the edge of this Precipice Known As Homeschooling.

To wonder if you are about to make the biggest mistake of your life. To hold this child’s mind, heart, being in your trembling mother’s palms and wonder wildly, Am I doing the right thing? How will I ever be enough? How will I know what to do?

Today, I want to put your mind at ease with some encouragement from another mama in the trenches, looking back from just a few steps ahead of where you’re at.

1. Know your reasons, and write them down.

Right now, you’re probably brim full of enthusiasm and starry-eyed over all the possibility homeschooling has to offer you and yours. Bottle that up and store it for later–on paper. Trust me: You’ll need it. In your own words. Write down all the reasons you chose to homeschool this year. Put that paper someplace safe. When you start to seriously question your sanity (probably sometime around October, just a guess), pull it out and remember. You might find just enough of that starry-eyed enthusiasm there to carry you through to Christmas. (Or a good answer for Aunt Mildred when she asks you with well-intentioned horror, “What about socialization?!”)

2. Be realistic about what success means for your child.

Homeschooling gives us the freedom to redefine success for our specific student(s). Yes, there are skills, knowledge, and wisdom we need to impart to them, but unlike traditional teachers, we do not have a rigid timeline or twenty-five other students to accommodate. If ten-minute reading lessons are exhausting for your child, cut it down to five and spend the rest reading aloud to him. If your child needs more time to complete a math curriculum, eke it out over the summer months. If your student is leaping ahead into fifth grade literature but dragging her feet through second grade grammar, do not panic. Celebrate, recalibrate, and stay positive. This is your normal, this is your journey. Don’t let any arbitrary marker rush you. Recognize that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to “get there.” As long as you keep your goal in view and put in daily effort, you are making progress. No matter how small or how slow, enjoy every step.

3. Give your curriculum a fighting chance.

It’s hard enough to make decisions about curriculum. It takes time, effort, and money before you crack the first page. You owe it to yourself to trust your instincts about the choices you have made, at least within reason. Even if you have immediate doubts about the resources or curricula you’ve purchased, commit to giving yourself one full term before tossing it. For me, this means September-December, or January-May. If at the end of that term, you still think it’s not working, then pitch it, consign it, or pass it on to someone else. But you might find that, with a little perseverance, it was the right fit for your student, after all.

4. Give yourself grace for this day.

Monday 10:00 AM: The toddler is tossing toys into the toilet, the baby finger-painted the wall with the oatmeal you forgot to clear from breakfast, your kindergartener can’t remember if we read from left to right or right to left, your second grader is sobbing over her subtraction, and your fifth grader is tearing up her long division. And you haven’t even showered yet. Let’s be clear: Giving yourself grace is not the same as giving up. It means recognizing when a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day is upon you and accepting its limitations. It means forgiving yourself for letting the kids self-serve cereal for lunch because you’re struggling with morning sickness and ancient history took precedence over meal prep today. It means prioritizing relationships or health or your speedily unraveling sanity over schoolwork for one day. Grace acknowledges that just because today was lousy, that doesn’t mean tomorrow will be, too. Stop. Pray. Listen to God’s priorities for this twenty-four hours. Do only those things, in the order He whispers. If you make it through, be at peace–no matter what else gets left undone. There’s always tomorrow.

5. Don’t expect tomorrow’s grace today.

Being a homeschooling parent is tough. Nobody is checking in to give us a pat on the back or a point in the right direction. We have to make a million decision–and that’s just before breakfast–and there’s nobody else to pawn them off on. Some days, we feel so scattered, so thin-spread, so anxious, and tomorrow is always looming just beyond. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in worrying about the future that we’re running in circles like hamsters in cages. What if she never learns to read? What if he goes to college still writing w’s as m’s? Will I ever be able to conduct a science experiment that doesn’t give me lab coat hypertension and leave me sobbing like a baby in a corner? (She will. He won’t. And probably not.) Don’t think like that, don’t do that to yourself. God will provide. Tomorrow will have enough troubles of its own; all you have to worry about is today. God is ready and able to provide all you need for now.

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Are you new to homeschooling? How can we encourage you today? Are you a seasoned homeschooler? What encouragement do you have for the rookies among us?

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I am not advocating homeschooling as the “best” or “only” method of education. You know what’s best for your family. My hope and prayer is that we, as a community, can fully support one another in our own “best,” with grace and compassion and oodles of timely and godly encouragement. That we can cheer each other on as we build each other up. Because this parenting thing? It’s tough. I don’t know about you, but I sure could use all the help I can get.

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