With so many curriculum options out there and the rigors of a classical education, how do I know how much is too much or too little?
A nudge is not a push; it’s an invitation.
A spirited, unruly student is preferable. It’s much easier to direct passion than to try and inspire it.Joan Desmond
I certainly don’t want to overwhelm my kids, but I do want to challenge them.
- How do I maintain balance?
- How do I promote a love for learning?
- How do I make our school time fun and engaging?
- How do I get through those more difficult or disliked subjects?
- How do I know when I need to make changes – to our schedule, curriculum, or level?
While I still struggle with many of these issues…having an almost 17-year-old, an 11-year-old, a 10-year-old, and a 7-year-old boy makes me think I at least have gotten this far and I may know a little bit.
We certainly struggled in the beginning. We tried many different workbooks, curricula, even styles, before getting comfortable and somewhat settled. While I can’t even touch on all the issues that homeschool moms face, I can tell you what worked for us. It may work for you or guide you to evaluate and prioritize.
Start with the basics. Bible study, reading, writing, maths. Some seasons, this is all you need. Having the freedom and blessing to homeschool is enough. The kids learn so much about relationships and faith from being protected from the world. When they’re little, focus on manners, courtesy, and habits.
To borrow a little tidbit from Charlotte Mason …
“The well-brought-up child has always been a child carefully trained in good habits.” (Vol. 2, p. 174)
Find a history and science the whole family can do together. If you have two or more children, you will want to do this. Trust me. (We use Apologia sciences and Story of the World history and Tapestry of Grace.) There are options for every budget. We only do history and science a couple days a week until they’re 10 or so.
Determine which extras are important, interesting, within budget, or necessary. These vary from family to family. We study Latin. We have a soccer star, a runner, and a piano player so far. We desire to limit our time outside the house. We eat dinner together every night. Yes, even church events get in the way of family time sometimes. And we purposely do not participate in many church programs because they often undermine what we believe.
When our homeschool is out of balance, my kids tell me with misbehavior, whining, laziness, or tears. Instead of disciplining them for being overwhelmed, I must step back and reevaluate our priorities.
…Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
We are blessed to school year round and we can take time off to focus on a unit we really love or to review a fun product. So I don’t stress the schedule much. Now, if we lived in a state where I’d have to keep attendance and turn in lesson plans and stuff, I’d have problems getting that organized! But I did that when I taught public school, so I’d work out something.
So, how do I stay focused and evaluate our success?
- Pray. Do Bible study as a family and teach your kids to do their own studies separately as soon as they are able. Even the littlest ones can have a Bible basket for quiet times. Pray for peace, balance, humility, patience, and contentment. Pray for direction and needs! Pray for your budget.
- Reread The Well-Trained Mind every year. At least hit the highlights to help you remember what you’re doing and why, especially if you have a child changing levels.
- Don’t attend a homeschool co-op if they take away from family and school time or your personal values. Do attend a co-op if they reinforce what you’re already doing. Don’t feel pressured. Do what’s right for your family and take a year off of co-op if necessary. Don’t feel guilty if that’s what you need to do. We do not attend a co-op.
- Guard yourself against naysayers. I know it’s hard if they are family members. Pray for grace and understanding and for their hearts to be open. This is your family and your decision or calling.
- Protect yourself against comparison. That homeschool blogger or family down the street, across town, at co-op, at convention, wherever…they’re not you. Their children are different from yours. Their marriage is different from yours. Their issues are different from yours. Their financial situation is different from yours. Their children learn differently from yours. And you don’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff. You don’t know their medical history, their debt problems, their therapy bills, or any of the highs and lows of their past and present. You only see what they allow you to see. Just be awesome you.
- Find a schedule that works for you. I know homeschoolers who school at night, on weekends, only 3 days a week, take Wednesdays off…whatever works for your family!
- Make a list. Keep to a budget. Ask your spouse to help make or guide decisions about curricula and activities.
Don’t be a hoarder or a collector. I am slowly purging all the workbooks, unit studies, manipulatives, and reference materials that I thought we’d someday use. My oldest is almost seventeen and my youngest is seven, but I realize now that less is more. If I haven’t used it by now, chances are we never will.
I had this fairy tale vision of Jane Austen governesses and girls in pastel dresses lying on the grass reading, reciting, and discussing. That dreamy Charlotte Mason model is just that – a dream. I could no more recreate that scene than I could stop a stampede of wild horses. My kids are themselves. They are individuals. They are rambunctious, precocious, sarcastic, and wonderful. I am raising them to be leaders, not mice. But I want them to be challenged just right. And that takes constant tweaking and evaluation to determine when to move on, when to skip something, or when to practice more.
I’m sure other teaching methods can be overwhelming, but I think classical homeschoolers want to do it all, learn it all, not miss anything. We often want to recreate that educational model of the past with its great rigors. I know I teach some subjects and topics very thoroughly because I didn’t learn it well in public school and I feel it’s of great value. And we can do all that – with balance and love – when the child is ready. There’s no need to push a three-year-old to read or a thirteen-year-old to write a research paper that’s university-worthy.
Work with your kids, not against them. They’re not the enemy. And we have all the time in the world.
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Allow God to lead you. Monitor your children’s frustration levels and behavior. Ask your husband for guidance, even if he isn’t involved in the homeschool. He still notices moods.