To The Glory Of God: "Why We Homeschool" - Julie Weaver
When I was given the task of writing about our homeschool journey, I was asked several questions. The first question was:
"Why did you choose homeschooling over public school?"
The honest answer to that question is that we didn't choose to homeschool. God chose it for us. He really did. I want to make it VERY clear right off the bat that I am not saying every family, Christian or otherwise, is called to homeschool. God does call all believers, however, to be salt and light in the world. Some children will be "salt and light" in public schools. I would just encourage anyone who is considering whether or not to homeschool to pray fervently about it and God will make it clear.
I had been working in the school system for 9 years before we had our son, Matthew. We had no plans to homeschool our child. I even took part in trying to talk a parent out of homeschooling her daughter once because she would "miss out on socialization!" After all, she was an only child, and how would she ever get any time to interact with other kids her age? (By the way, it's a myth that homeschooled children aren't "socialized," as I eventually found out - the local homeschool group we belong to has weekly park days, more field trips than we can keep up with, and there's even something called "Super Friday" that Matthew attends where he goes to 3 different classes with other children his age).
My idea of homeschooled kids was skewed because of the kids I saw in public school. They were typically the ones whose parents would become angry at the school staff and pull their kids out to "homeschool" them. Oftentimes, these children would come back in the middle of the year, or a year later and be way behind academically and have trouble realizing they weren't the only child in the room. That was what I thought all homeschooled kids were like.
My misconceived notion of homeschool families changed while we were attending our previous church, where quite a few of the children were homeschooled. We didn't know it at the time until we got to know the families better, but we did notice that they had great kids who were well-rounded, polite, smart, and able to hold a conversation with adults as well as other children. They were very enjoyable to be around. What a shock it was to find out they were homeschooled!
One family in particular had a big influence on us. Without me even asking or bringing it up, the mom mentioned to us one day that we ought to homeschool Matthew. When I said I wasn't sure if I could, she said, "You're already doing it, but you just don't realize it." After talking with her a while, I came to the conclusion that she was right. Matthew knew his alphabet at 15 months and could name all of the states and put them where they belonged in a puzzle by the time he was two. It was crazy, really. People would freak out at the stuff he knew and could do at such an early age. They began to say things like, "Wow, y'all must really work with him a lot!" I would always respond by saying that we probably didn't work with him as much as people thought. We weren't drilling him or forcing him to sit down and learn things he didn't want to learn. We were just having fun with him, showing him things in this new world he was in, like most parents do, and talking to him A LOT!
Even though our friend convinced us that we were teaching Matthew everything he needed to learn for his young age, we still hadn't committed to homeschooling him. After all, there was still the issue of what curriculum to use. That was totally overwhelming, to say the least, which brings me to 2 other questions I received:
"Has God brought you through any anxiety you've had with homeschooling?"
"What are some of the hardships/insecurities you've experienced while homeschooling?"
The answer to the first question is "YES! and He continues to do so everyday!"
One anxiety I had was the fact that I have a hard time making choices and there are a TON of homeschool curriculums out there. Once others find out you are going to start homeschooling, you can get a lot of well-meaning people who are very passionate about the way they homeschool coming up to you and telling you exactly why you should use the same curriculum they use, or why you shouldn't use another that someone else is using. I did not know where to start. I just told God that if He wanted me to do this, He would have to help me - and our God is so faithful! He helped me through a friend who was considering homeschooling. She came across 2 curriculums and looked into them and sent me the links to check them out. One in particular she sent because it incorporated art and music. Since it was very obvious at an early age that Matthew loved drawing, and Matt and I love music, I went with that curriculum. Plus, it came with daily lesson plans already laid out for you (There was no way I was organized enough or sure of myself enough to write out my own daily lesson plans!).
When deciding on what curriculum to use, you have to find what really works best for your child and your family, and not worry about what someone else is using, or what is considered to be the "latest and greatest." The truth is, most families use a combination of different curriculums. One friend who home schools her 2 boys told me just the other day that they don't like sticking with the same curriculum, but like to switch each year because otherwise, they tend to get bored. One of the beauties of homeschooling is that you have the freedom to do that, and you can teach to your child's strengths. That's not to say you ignore his areas of weakness. If an area of weakness is writing, for instance, you have the freedom as his teacher to allow him to write about something he's interested in. In the public school setting, he would not always be given that choice and, depending on what teacher or what school you go to, sometimes you find they expect the whole class to learn a concept the same way. That can really have a negative impact on the child and take away their love of learning, or it can also cause some children to become bored. Just yesterday, as a matter of fact, I realized I was frustrating Matthew by trying to follow every writing assignment in our writing book. It was miserable for both of us until I took the advice of the mom who reminded me I didn't have to do what the book told me to do that day - I could tell him to write about something he really liked. The result: He ran excitedly to his room and came back in about 15 minutes with the most descriptive and best hand-written paper he'd ever done, and it was about Angry Birds Transformers!
As we continued on our homeschool path, I just kept getting answers to pretty much all of my questions before I could even fully articulate them to God or anyone else. God is so awesome that way! Don't be surprised when He does the same for you. He will send godly advice through other homeschool moms, articles you read, sermons you hear, etc...
Another anxiety or worry I had (and that still pops up in my head a lot) is the fact that Matthew is an only child. Most homeschool families have more than one child. In fact, many of them have 5 or more! And look at the Duggars with 19, for crying out loud! My thoughts as we were starting our journey were: "Of course it makes sense for those people to homeschool. Their kids have siblings to interact with, so their not "isolated" like my child will be. Schooling won't be any fun for us because Matthew doesn't have a sibling to read with and talk to and play games with at home. He'll end up being weird or totally co-dependent spending all his time with his mom. I don't want to tell people I'm homeschooling an only child. They'll think I'm crazy!" Those thoughts, however, were from Satan. Even though I knew that, and still do, it can be hard to overcome the feelings of guilt the enemy tries to get you to latch onto when you have an only child, much less when God is leading you to homeschool him.
A good friend of mine once asked if Matt and I were planning on having any other children and before I could answer, said, "Julie, don't do that to him! He needs siblings! Who's going to help him bear the burden of taking care of you and Matt when you're older?" Wow. That hurt. I just told her, "What makes you think this is something we're DOING to him? There's nothing wrong with having just one child. Some people can't even have any children, and it took us a long time to get pregnant, so we're grateful for one. We're not trying to keep from having any more children, it's just that God hasn't seen fit to give us more than one." I honestly still struggle with that off an on, but God reminded me that Abraham and Sarah waited a long time to have a child too, and they only had one. And I'm pretty sure he didn't go to public school, either!
The next question I was given to answer was this:
"In what ways are you able to teach the Bible/gospel to Matthew that you couldn't in public school?"
Well, unless Matthew went to private school (which we cannot afford), he would not be taught about God or creation or anything to do with the Bible. That was a huge benefit we saw to homeschooling. Young children are such sponges and imitators of the behaviors of others - especially our son - if he heard or saw someone doing something funny, he imitated it. This, to us, was all the more reason to homeschool him. If Matthew was going to "soak up" anything, we wanted it to be God's Word and godly things, not worldly things. There will be enough worldly things coming at him as he gets older, and as he goes to college and out on his own one day.
Since I'm being so open and honest here, I have to say that by calling us to homeschool, God also revealed a HUGE idol in my life: TIME. Homeschooling would mean that I would have no "me" time. While some of my friends would be sending their kids off to school for 6 or 7 hours a day, they could actually get something done or get together and have lunch - and have real, uninterrupted adult conversations. How glorious that would be! They could even clean their houses or go shopping if they wanted to of they didn't have another job outside the home. Or better yet...they could take naps while their kids were at school!!! What had I gotten myself into?!
I had actually prayed not long before our homeschool journey that God would show me what it truly meant to die to myself and serve Him. He did. The next week I was asked to serve Him in a way that would mean volunteering my Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. My initial reaction was to say, "Wait God. I want die to myself and serve you and others, but I meant I wanted to do it when it was convenient for me." However, God's timing is absolutely perfect, and I was studying the book of Matthew and had just read the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus told him, "Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." If you know the story, you know that the rich young ruler went away sad because he had many possessions and great wealth, and he didn't want to give those up. Jesus was revealing to the man the biggest idol in his life. His wealth was his god, and he wasn't willing to give it up for the one true God. I didn't want to be the rich young ruler who had just asked God what I needed to do to truly serve Him and then walk away because I didn't like the answer. Time was my god. The truth is, there's no such thing as "my" time. It's all God's time, and He had been trying to show me that for quite a while. And it doesn't matter how much time you have. It's kind of like money - you can be stingy with a little, or you can be stingy with a lot. It's all in how you use it. Are you using it for what God wants, or spending it all on yourself? When God asks you to give up something, He always gives you something way better in return.
I once heard a pastor say that when he and his wife realized God was calling them to homeschool for a season, his wife kind of grieved because once the kids were school-aged, that was supposed to be her time to have lunch with her sister or her friends, and really focus on herself. But as she looked at what God was telling her to do and she knew for sure it was God's will, she also knew that she would be rewarded in other ways - maybe not with extra "me" time, but in ways that you only get when you step out in faith and obey God by doing what He wants you to do.
I love the way this woman encouraged herself whenever people tried to discourage her or would try to tell her she was crazy for homeschooling, or when distractions would come or friends would call and ask her to do something during the day that she couldn't do because she was in the middle of homeschooling her kids. She took it from the Book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah said God had put it on his heart to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. However, he was ridiculed and threatened by those who didn't understand. Those who opposed what he was doing tried to intimidate him and distract him over and over again (as Satan will try to do to you through naysayers, mockers, and those who discourage and try to instill fear and insecurity in you whenever you do anything that God has called you to do- whether it's homeschooling or something else), but Nehemiah did not stop doing what God called him to do. Whenever someone tried to get him off course and make him come down from the wall he was rebuilding, he basically said, "I'm doing a great work. I can't come down." This was what that pastor's wife posted on her mirror so she would see it every morning as she started her homeschool day.
If it is obvious that God has called you to homeschool, then don't listen to the naysayers or mockers. Don't listen to the enemy. Don't focus on your weaknesses. Focus on God's strength! Just pray and trust that God will equip you, because "He who has called you is faithful, and He will do it" (1 Thessalonians 5:24). And tell those who try to deter you or distract you, "I'm doing a great work. I can't come down!"
The things we struggled with when we first started homeschooling are pretty much the same things we struggle with now: keeping a schedule, staying focused, and keeping learning fun. Because my husband's job requires him to work most weekends and to go in later and get home way later than most dads, it can be quite difficult to say, "Okay, we start school at this time and end at this time." At times, I really envy those families who can say and do that. I always thought that if I could do that, it meant I had it all together and that I was a better homeschool mom. I was comparing myself to other homeschool moms. Don't ever do that! God does not want you to do that, because He has made us all unique, with different areas of strength, and different areas of weakness.
I am a person who needs structure, otherwise, I flounder and get sidetracked and have a hard time accomplishing things. I fought so hard to make our homeschool day look "structured" and I think I was so determined to fit everything in on our curriculum schedule that I sucked all of the fun out of learning last year.
I tried writing a schedule of what time we did math, what time we did reading, and so on. It became a joke because I couldn't stick to it and when I didn't accomplish every subject within the allotted amount of time, I felt like a failure. What I found that has worked best for us is to simply write out the subjects we are going to do each day, but we don't always do them in the order they're written. I also do not put a start or end time. Some days, it may take 45 minutes to do math, while other days it may only take 20 minutes. That's perfectly okay! One of the great things about homeschooling is that we can adjust our day so that we spend time as a family in the mornings, and start schoolwork when dad leaves for work in the afternoon. We are also not tied to a specific school calendar, which means if dad has to work out of town, we may be able to go with him and just do our schooling wherever his job takes him.
God is so gracious and merciful. He will place people in your path or in your life who will encourage you when you need it the most. He placed a lady in my path who had homeschooled her children "back when homeschooling wasn't cool" as she put it. She homeschooled them all the way through and never once did they go to public school, and they managed to go to college and graduate and have good lives. At the time our paths crossed, my husband and I were questioning whether it was all worth it or not. After all, homeschooling can be exhausting! I asked her if she could give me one piece of advice, what it would be. She said, "Relax in it!" She went on to say that I should remember that when a parent homeschools, you are giving your child a part of you. In other words, you are not just teaching them how to read, write, and do math. You are spending precious time with them, building and strengthening that parent-child bond. She also said if she could do it over again, she would not stress so much about getting everything checked off the lesson plan for the day, but would just spend more time pouring into her children and enjoying the moment.
If I were to give any words of encouragement or caution to others who are homeschooling or considering homeschooling, it would be this: If God calls you to it, do it! He really does equip those He calls. You don't have to have a teaching degree. You just have to have kids! As a parent, you are already your child's teacher. You teach him/her to speak, sing songs, clap, etc... Who says just because they turn a certain age, you are no longer qualified to be your child's "teacher?" God gave you the perfect child for you and gave your child the perfect parent for him/her. Will He not also give you what you need to do your job?
The Bible says, "If anyone lacks wisdom, you should ask God...and it will be given to you (James 1:5).
If you don't know a lot of other kids or families, there are lots of homeschool groups out there where you can get connected. We belong to a local homeschool group called "H.E.A.R.T." (Home Education and Responsible Teaching). There are monthly meetings, field trips, and LOTS of support in whatever area you need.
I don't know how long God will want me to homeschool my son. It may be until he graduates, or it may be that He decides we should stop once he reaches middle school. We are just trusting that God will make it clear to us and are just taking it day by day and year by year. Whether you homeschool or not, as a parent, you are commanded to teach your children God's Word (Ephesians 6:4). We do our best to train our children up in the way they should go so that when they are old, they do not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6). After that, we have to release them into the world on their own to be salt and light. That can be scary, but I always think of how Moses' mom had to release him to God. God graciously gave him back to her for a a few more years to raise (and was even so gracious as to allow her to get paid for it!). However, when it was time (God's timing), she had to let him go again - this time, into the hands of Pharoah's daughter, to be raised in a very pagan household. I would love to know what all she said to her boy during that brief time she had him. No doubt, she taught him about the God of the universe, that HE will be with you wherever you go and will watch over you. He will never leave you, or forsake you. And GOD didn't leave Moses. The entire time, it was all a part of God's plan to prepare Moses to lead God's people out of slavery in Egypt. Just as Jesus would later lead those who believe in HIM out of slavery to sin.
Our children really belong to God, and we have to trust HIM with them and trust HIM to equip us to raise them in whatever way HE is calling us- whether they go to public school or are homeschooled. Just remember to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge HIM, and HE will direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6