"I want to homeschool, but I'm afraid"

We've had a sick baby around here these days; no time for the keyboard or screen. I saw this list of doubts and fears at Conversion Diary late Sunday and I've been thinking about them while I rock and rock and rock my sweet, sweaty baby. She's sleeping. I think I'll take a stab at this.

    • "I worry about getting physically and mentally overwhelmed -- I find motherhood hard enough without the responsibility of being primary educator of my children. Is there any way to both homeschool and make sure I get the breaks that I need?"

    Hmmm...I'm a 15-year veteran of homeschooling and I'm still worrying about getting mentally and physically overwhelmed. Heck, let's be honest, right now I AM mentally and physically overwhelmed. But you know what? Right now, it's August. We've been on summer "vacation." My overwhelmedness is not about homeschooling. It's about living this here life. I think that maybe living the Christian life leads one to periods of being mentally and physically stretched to the limit no matter where your children are educated. And then, when you go over the limit (and you will), you give God an opportunity to step in and shower you with grace. Ah, grace.

    Adjust your sleeping and rising times so that you can have the house to yourself at least a few minutes every day. Just those few minutes will help you feel as if you have dominion over our home and will give you time to give God dominion over your soul.

    Institute prayer breaks as the first component of your homeschool routine. Look to those moments as non-negotiable refueling throughout the day.

    But, I think you're talking about bigger breaks, particularly time away from the children. If you are an introvert, this is crucial to your well-being. You can get the breaks you  need if you (1)identify that you need them and make them a priority in your planning and your execution and (2)enlist the help of your husband. The fact that this is still an issue for me, indicates some sort of breakdown in #1or #2. Or both:-).

    • "My kids are already in school. I worry that they'll balk at the idea of doing school in the house."

    So, don't do "school in the house." If you are going to pull your kids from school, explain beforehand that you're not going to set up a classroom in your house and replicate the school. Have a frank conversation and take their concerns seriously. Will they miss leaving the house? Well, then, tell them all the places you will go when you're no longer constrained by the confines of a school building. Do they want to ride a bus? You can do that. Are they going to miss their friends? It's a good idea to give some thought to that one, too. How will they see their friends? Who will be in their social circle? No concern is a small concern. You don't have to have all the answers, but you do have to promise to consider all the questions.

    Show them how different it will be--in a good way. None of you will be bound by the old ideas of what school is. No one will be bound by a one-size-fits all program of study. Get them excited about what you will study. Let them see how enthused you are about learning alongside of them.

    And, in the end, you are in charge. You make the decision. Remember, no one is thrilled to be going to school each and every day, either. You don't have to revisit the decision with your child every day. At some point, you just do what you do and you expect cheerful obedience.

    • "I have babies/toddlers around and will probably have more in the future. How can I make sure the older kids get a good education with little ones underfoot?"

    Be assured that those little ones will give your big ones a priceless education. There is much to be learned in a house full of different ages. You will look at your environment and varying needs and you will find a way to ensure quiet concentration and conversation when it's needed. Trust me. People do it. Ask around. They'll tell you how.

    If you have lots of littles and just one older child, you'll take advantage of naptime. If you have a couple of older children or more, and lots of littles, you can let the older ones take turns having concentrated time with you or alone and then entertaining the wee ones (or taking a turn teaching the littles). And you'll take advantage of naptime.

    If you have much older kids and middle kids and little kids you probably have this figured out.:-) You can have a rotation of people watching the littles or teaching the littles and clusters of of kids with Mom. As they get older, they can (and should) do more on their own.My much older kids are in their rooms to study independently or they watch video courses or they take classes for dual enrollment credit at the local community college. And big kids stay up late! Hard as it might be for this morning person, there is good conversation to be had with big kids when little kids are sleeping.

    • "I'm not particularly good at math [or other subject], and I worry that my children's education would suffer in that area."

    Ah,  there are tutors to be found. No money? Barter with another mom who is good at that subject. Look into video or computer courses. Is Dad strong where you are weak? There  are resources. Keep looking.

    • "There are so many curricula out there! I have no idea how to find one that's right for us."

    Pray. Pray. Pray. Talk to moms you trust, preferably IRL moms who know your children and who know the curriculum. And then, turn off all the noise and pray some more. Then, lay it all out for your husband. My husband pretty much just rubber stamps my ideas, but he does listen and usually in talking it all through, I can see what God would have us do. Do NOT overthink this. Don't spend so much time agonizing that you are overwhelmed. And don't let anyone promise you that there is any curriculum out there that will run your house and keep your children clicking academically no matter what else is happening in your life. Instead, bring them into the heart of your home and truly live a one piece life.  Embrace all of it (and all of them) and see all of life as a learning experience.

    • "Our families are adamantly opposed to the idea of homeschooling and would put a ton of pressure on us not to do it, which would be distracting and demoralizing."

    Wow! Adamantly opposed, huh? Most of us just have passively-aggressively opposed extended family;-) Whether you are facing adamant opposition or passive-aggressive opposition, it's best to be direct. Lay out your plan and then let it go. Tell them you love them and you'd love for them to be partners with you in educating these children you all love, but that you are the parents and God himself has charged you with the education of the children. Keep inviting them to see what you are doing. Remember, this is a strange new world for most grandparents, especially. Be empathetic about their fears and worries and enthusiastic about your vision. Some of those adamantly opposed are going to become your best cheerleaders.

    Here's another thing: avoid at all costs the tendency to fall into judging. When you feel judged, when you know that you are different and so your family and your neighbors are probably scrutinizing you more than the average bear, there is a tendency to judge right back at them. Don't go there. It's poison. Over the years, I've watched homeschooling families set up walls around their homes , wagging fingers and casting aspersions on everyone who has made choices they haven't. They narrow their circle of friends and acquaintances to only those who share their perspective and then the inevitable happens: they begin to judge others' spirituality by their outward appearances of piety and to "disqualify" people who don't meet the standard.

    Opportunities for fellowship are narrowed to the extreme. The world begins to close in and grace is cut off. And it hurts the kids. Children raised in a culture of pride and judgmentalism become shallow judges themselves. And they begin to worry that they, too, will be judged and scorned by their parents, who appear to offer little grace to anyone who holds a differing point of view on anything. They begin to see the faith as little more than an unending list of rules and traps for failure, instead of a living breathing, loving relationship with the Savior. When children hear superiority and self-righteousness all the time, they begin to think that God is only for the "enlightened" few and when, as they grow older, they find that they hold differing views from the narrow perspective of their parents (or even that they have questions), they figure God isn't for them, either. They get the idea that only the perfectly behaved who think perfect thoughts are acceptable and they know that they aren't perfect. They worry that they will be discovered somehow within the walls of the fortress of perfect "virtue."  That's a scary place to be when you're a kid. So, don't build a bunker! Make home a haven and a mission house, not a fortress.

    • "I worry that my children won't respect me as a teacher and/or won't strive to succeed they way they would with the external approval that comes with traditional schools."

    Respect first: If your children don't respect you now, they aren't going to respect you when you try to do something academic. If they do respect you, then they respect you. That isn't a homeschooling issue. Often, children have trouble respecting the person who demands respect and even abuses authority. When our kids are little, we think that we have control over their behavior. And we do, to some extent. But as they grow, we want them to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. We want them to learn to listen to Him. They can't hear him if we are constantly hissing in their ears and telling them what to think and how to behave. The more you tighten that grip, the more they will slip like sand through your fist.

    Children respect parents who live their own lives according to their convictions. If you want their respect, live a genuine life that bears good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Talk to them all the time (you can do that when they're at home) about the Christian struggle to live in virtue. Make sure they know that you fall and you fail and that they will, too, but that we have the grace of the sacraments and the mercy of God to help us live a genuine life--together.

    Striving to succeed: It's true that kids in classrooms are often motivated by competition and grades. I happen to think competition is healthy. Kids need to learn how to compete before they are adults. It's tricky to create that competition at home. Enlist Dad's help, particularly where boys are concerned. And then look for natural competitions (like all those "bees" that are dominated by homeschoolers). You can also set up incentive programs in home if that is something that works in your family. My children naturally compete against each other and we constantly remind them that a good work ethic is not negotiable. We also try to help them see that as a family we have the same goal. So, while jostling a bit is perfectly acceptable, we really want them to co-operate with each other. We want everyone to work hard, we want everyone to  learn and we want everyone to get to heaven, so competition is tempered with co-operation. In the end, we co-operate to defeat the devil himself.

    As children get older, the reality of standardized testing and college applications make competition a part of the conversation. Freshman year in high school is not too early to do a few college admission tours and let your student get a feel for what the goal is (or isn't, as the case may be).

    And then, think too, about the purpose of education. We want children who want to learn. I think that it helps to involve children in the planning of their studies. Engage their interests and choose materials and topics that are meaningful to them. One of the greatest advantages you have over the schools is that you can tinker and tweak and make a program of study that is wholly appropriate for each of your children, one that interests and enthuses them.

    • "I don't worry about giving my young children a good education, but what about when you get to the high school level? I don't see how I could provide the same quality of education as, say, an AP-level class at a good public high school."

    In many, many cases you can do that. You can enroll  high school aged homeschooled children in the community college for dual credit. They will have the opportunity to manage their time and learn college study schools and get college credit, all before they graduate from high school. Also, in many towns, high school parents organize co-ops and teach amazing courses--with instructors who might or might not be parents, but who are always passionate and knowledgeable about the subjects. These students can take the AP test at the local high school. One more option: in our county, homeschoolers can take up to two high school courses at the public school without enrolling fulltime.

    • "I'm naturally disorganized and scattered. I worry that my children would have zero structure in their lives and/or that I wouldn't be able to keep on top of everything."

    Guess it's time to get organized:-). Home education is a school of virtue for mothers first. We are pushed to learn those virtues of simplicity and detachment and diligence (and courage) quickly. If you are called to homeschool, you are called to ask for the grace to grow in the virtues necessary to do this well. You can do it. God will help.

    • "I worry that my kids won't have any friends" or "I don't have a large family; I'm concerned that my child/children wouldn't get enough interaction with other kids."

    Your children will be socialized primarily in your family, but they will have limitless opportunities to make friends. My children have made friends through sports and dance, through homeschool support groups, and through parish family connections. Work to foster genuine friendships. No one needs a zillion friends; everyone can have at least one good friend.

    • "We have a small house that's already cramped. I can't figure out how we'd even make space to homeschool, and feel like we'd all go stircrazy being in the house all day, every day."

    You don't have to have a lot of "stuff" to homeschool. In our first house, everything fit in in two kitchen cabinets. And you absolutely, positively should not be in the house all day. The world is your classroom. I even know someone who educated beautifully while living on a boat. Year after year, she has bought next to nothing, but made a concerted effort to take full advantage of the environment in which she lives. It can be done!

    • "Money is tight -- I worry that buying all the curricula, books, supplies, etc. for all the kids would break the bank."

    You'll buy school supplies just as you would for going to school. Beyond that, it can all be done for very little, in very little space. There are ways to get by without most workbooks and textbooks.  Your librarian will be your greatest ally. Instead of gifts which clutter your house, ask for passes to the museum and the zoo and the theater. Be on the lookout for used curricula--be ready to buy out of season by having a rough plan for the next couple of years. As homeschooling has grown, the used market has exploded!

    Whew! Those are all my "quick" takes and pretty much all my blogging for the week. I've a dozen posts in my head, but this wee babe is just so very needy. It's been good to think about these questions. I've considered all these things for myself at one time or another (with the exception of taking kids out of school). Time has a way of shifting the questions. When I think about big decisions I've made in my life-- who to marry, when to have babies, which house to buy, whether to homeschool--I'm astonished that none of them was a big decision. That is, I didn't spend lots of time wrestling with them. Instead, I followed an overwhelming prompting that this was what was intended for me. I'm so grateful for that! Pray about it but don't overthink it. Don't spend long nights trying to solve every potential problem or providing for every contingency. God will shower you with the grace you need when you need it. He always does.