Sunday, May 31, 2015

You Can Do This!

Do you remember when you had your first baby?  The first moment you had with that sweet, little person? I had a long, hard labour with my oldest, over 36 hours of labour and hadn't slept in 48 hours and neither had anyone else in my general vicinity.  After Connor's birth and he had been bathed and fed and the 500 pictures taken with both sets of new grandparents, everyone left to go take showers and get food and sleep.  Finally, I was left with my little man.  I placed him on the bed and looked at him eye to eye and introduced myself, "Hi, I'm your Mom and I am going to try my very best not to mess up your life. "  Some may laugh and ask if I really made that little speech, but I really did.  I needed to verbalize my commitment.

When my twins were born, I merely promised them that somehow we were all going to survive this and prayerfully, thrive.  Thriving seemed like a reach with two newborns and a three year old but I was going to put all my efforts into making it happen.

When we brought home our children, each time seemed like a Herculean effort.  With Connor, everything was so new.  How did we know that the fresh salad and broccoli I was eating would cause terrible tummy aches in our newest little member?  When was he actually going to sleep the entire night?  We put a schedule into place, read all the books, talked to older, wiser people and made it work.  With the twins, we took a deep breath, read all the twin books, brought in a friend who had twins a year earlier and made it work, albeit with very little sleep.  With all of them we did survive and indeed, thrive.  I hold my memories of that time close to my heart and with much love.

When we start thinking about Homeschooling we often get a similar level of fear and nervousness.  Are we going to totally mess up our children?  Can we really teach them to read, to do long division, to diagram sentences?  Can we do this without losing our mind, killing our children, and still make dinner?  Is it just hubris to think we can do this better than the experts?  What will everyone say?  Are our in-laws or parents going to completely freak out?  Will our kids become unsocialized, social misfits?

That level of fear and questioning reminds me of the fear I felt when I brought my first child home from the hospital.  "Are you seriously going to let me go out if here with a child?  Do you really think I am capable of this?  What will I do if they cry or get sick or...".  With our twins, it was more of a, " Please don't make me go home!  There are not near enough adults at our house to deal with all of these children."

Homeschooling is much the same.  It's gonna possibly be the hardest, most draining, challenging, most rewarding and blessed thing you have done since bringing home your first baby.  I have found that now, 12 years into Homeschooling, I wouldn't give up even one moment of it.  I have put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and many a tear into three of the most amazing people I have ever met, and it has been well worth it.

So just like the little pamphlet that they gave me at the hospital on, "How to Take Care off Your Baby" here's your, "How to Homeschool and Thrive".  It won't be nearly enough information, just like that pamphlet from the hospital, but hopefully, it will give you some help along the path.

(Keep it Simple Sweetheart)
The temptation the first time you homeschool is to buy everything and more that first year.  One of your friends says that Sonlight teaches your children to love to read and someone else says that My Father's World has better Bible so it makes total sense to buy both and try to combine them.  You can't decide whether a spiral math or a mastery based math is better so let's do a little of both.  You've heard that homeschoolers are unsocialized so one of the first things you do is sign up for a Co-op two days a week as well as piano, soccer and choir.  Some of us, me included, buy twice as much curricula than we need each year and find it would take us 22 hours a day to get it all done.

I am here to tell you a little secret, homeschooling is less about the curriculum you choose than the way you put it into practice.  The best homeschool curriculum is the curriculum you get done.  Your child is going to have gaps in their education, they just are.  You cannot teach them every possible thing but you can teach them how to love to learn.  You can teach them how to find information, how to be diligent in their work and to persevere until they do understand and to keep searching until they find out the answer to that problem.  More curricula is never going to give you a child like that but you can.  You can encourage your child to ask questions and if you don't know the answer to say, " I don't know.  Let's go find out together" and then do it.  Not knowing something isn't a failure, it's just a stage of the process.  If we don't know something, then we just need to find out that information and not to stop until we do know.

We often feel that choosing our curriculum is the biggest factor in having a successful homeschool.  I would agree that it is important but it is no where near the most important decision.  We need to think of our curricula as the vehicle that gets us to where we need to go.  Our destination is our homeschool goals, we are the drivers (in high school our children may be the drivers) and our curriculum is merely the car we use to get there.  It may be luxurious with all the bells and whistles or it may be a Pinto which a badly needs a paint job. You can still get where you are going with either vehicle, the ride may feel differently but ultimately it is up to the driver as to whether we are going to make it to our destination.  We should never let the vehicle determine where we are going, we are the driver and it is merely a tool we use.

Especially the first year or two or in years that life is happening at the speed of light, you need to just keep it simple.  Figure out your goals, make a list of your "have - to's" and work on those.  I always recommend starting the year slowly.  I start at the beginning of August and add a subject or two a week and by week 5 or 6 we have added everything in.  I also recommend buying just the absolutes and start on those and only add in things as they are needed.  Do not start the year with an overflowing schedule, start slowly and make it successful.  Having everyone hate school (including you) at the beginning of the year isn't going to do anyone any good.  When you brought that first baby home you didn't over schedule.  You made things as simple as possible, homeschooling is going to be similar.  I will also tell you that the first 6 - 8 weeks in a school year are hard.  It takes everyone a while to get in a groove.  Don't change too many things in those first weeks, just start slowly and keep it simple.

Just DO It.

I talk to a lot of homeschoolers in the course of a year, hundreds on a slow convention year and thousands in a busy year.  One constant refrain I hear is that everyday life gets in the way of homeschooling.  I agree it does, but that doesn’t change the fact that we just have to do it. When my twins were a year, I herniated two discs in my lower back.  I was trying to sit down on the ground at a Church picnic with both babies in my arms and wearing a backpack.  I tried to sit down without using my hands and as I hit the ground I felt a pop and severe pain.  Over the next year, I spent ten months in Chiropractic Offices, torture sessions with Physical Therapists and finally in a Surgeons office.  Needless to say it was a crazy painful year with 3 hospitalizations and a major surgery.  It was also my first year to Homeschool.  There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t in pain nor was there a day when I felt like it was the perfect day to homeschool but it was something I committed to and I was determined to do a good job of it.  Connor and I spent many an afternoon doing school while the twins napped and I laid in bed.  It was hard but we did it.  So like the Nike slogan says, “Just DO It”.

I find it helpful to think of homeschooling as my job.  If I was in an office, I might take an occasional sick day but I would have to be really sick.  I wouldn’t plan on Bible Studies or take personal phone calls or spend time checking my Facebook page.  I would give my time to do the job that I was being paid to do.  I think homeschooling requires the same level of commitment.  It doesn’t matter what we feel like or how tired we are, we have to just do it.  Homeschooling is hard, it is demanding, it requires us to give patiently of our time, our energy and every ounce of creativity we have but it is worth every ounce of sweat, every tear and worth the determination to do it everyday no matter what life throws at us.

If it’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Right

Homeschooling is difficult.  It is a constant balance of doing the have to and the want to, it is balancing being the Mom and the teacher.  It means we balance several full-time jobs that all require our constant attention and still strive to have a well-ordered, happy home that our hard-working husbands can come home to each night.  It is a constant balancing act of plates that could all drop on our heads at any moment.  I live this constant high wire act every day and I understand the strain but I want to add two more plates to the act.  The balance of character training and that of academic excellence.

Often we hear that we must choose our priority in homeschooling, whether we are going to strive for character development in our children or that of academic excellence.  I think this is a faulty premise.  Character training and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive.  They are not an either/or proposition, they can be different sides of the same coin - a great homeschool environment.

One of the goals in our homeschool has been to train and prepare our children for whatever God has for them.  In Jeremiah 29:11 it says, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  He has plans for our children and whether they are to be a wife and a mom or a Pastor or a Professor of Mathematics, I want them as prepared as possible to walk the path that God has set them on.  To do that, I believe that we need to focus on character development, spiritual disciplines and academic excellence.

Perhaps we are simply not asking the right question.  Perhaps the question isn't whether we should focus on character or academics.  Perhaps we need to simplify the choice by focusing on excellence.  The philosopher Aristotle said this, " We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then is not an act, but a habit."  Perhaps this is what we need to focus on, striving for  excellence in whatever we do and making it a habit. If we are training our children in character, with patience and diligence, we refuse to accept unkindness or dishonesty.  If we are teaching our children, we refuse to accept a paper that is less than their best.  We need to calmly, lovingly and consistently ask for our child's best whether we are dealing with sibling rivalry, their bed not made or a math paper that is not done correctly.

Excellence should not be confused perfection.  I love what the actor Micheal J Fox says, "I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business."  We are not asking our children or indeed ourselves to be perfect, we are asking for diligence and the perseverance to strive to do better.  We are not asking a child to get the answer the right the very first time but to promise them that we will keep going until they have it mastered.  We need to promise our children that they are not alone in this process but that we will be there to stand beside them encouraging and mentoring them.  We need to encourage them not to be okay with mediocrity but to strive towards excellence.  As parents and teachers we need to ask a little more of our children than they think they can can give, not to frustrate them but to nudge them to do their best.  Not their brothers best, or the best their friend can do but their best.

At the beginning of each year, my husband and I set goals for our children in three areas, spiritual, personal and academic.  We recognize that our children need all three areas to be properly prepared to do what God has for them.  They need to know and love God, they need to be able to get to a class on time with all of their books and be able to to have the education they need to succeed.  We want to stand beside them and say, "You have some wonderful gifts that God has given you.  Let's work on your strengths to make them stronger and strengthen these areas of weakness".  Let us not limit our children by failing to recognize that we need to ask for excellence in whatever they do, including academics, whatever they say and how they act.

You Can Do This, We Can Help

Every time I enter a convention hall, this phrase crosses my mind.  It perfectly describes how I feel about why I have spent 8-10 weekends in the past 3 to 4 years speaking and talking to homeschoolers around the country.  I want every homeschooler to feel empowered and have the confidence to teach their children if that’s what they have been called to do.  I want them to know that they are not alone, that help is there for the asking.  It also why I planned this event and roped my friends into helping.

The truth is that all of us need people.  We need people to go to for advice, someone to understand that this homeschooling is hard and someone to laugh with you when your best laid plans are all over the kitchen floor.  We need each other.  Don’t believe the lie that you are alone.  We all need community.  I find that I generally have a Mom or two that I go to who are farther along the path than I am, a friends or two who is at my same stage who can do life along side me and then several younger Moms who I can then help along their path.  We will all do a better job if we have community.



  1. Thanks so much, Dawn! I realized as I read through this that I just heard you speak at MassHope. This post really makes some great points about homeschooling and sums up much of my own 12 years experience. (I also realized this year that I should have focused more on character and academic excellence) I will be pressing forward in the year ahead, and sharing this with those who are just starting out!

  2. This is very true and good. I also have twins, boys age fourteen. Twin were a LOT of work.


I love comments!