Homeschool Your Way: Finding Freedom in Your Christian Homeschool Journey
Do you long for more freedom in your homeschool? More of the peace and joy you thought you'd have as you taught your children at home? If so, this episode of The Homeschool Sanity Show is for you. In our time together, I'll share why a grace-based approach to home education may be just what you're looking for.
Hey, homeschoolers! Today's episode is about what homeschooling looks like when we seek a truly customized approach to home learning. I am passionate about this topic but I didn't have a label for what I believed until I joined a scrapbooking community this summer. I'll tell you about it after this message from my sponsor: CTC Math.
Finding a math curriculum that works for your family can be a challenge! With CTCMath, all of your kids from K-12 can learn at their own pace with one family subscription. That's right! With a CTCMath membership, you have access to all grades and lessons, which means your children can work at whatever level is best for them. Whether your kid needs to catch up, keep up, or move ahead, with CTCMath they can finally understand math and work at their own pace. CTCMath is offering listeners a half-price discount plus a bonus 6 months when you register for a 12-month membership. Yep. That means you have access to a complete online homeschool math curriculum for all your kids for 18 months!
The Idea Behind Homeschool Your Way
If you once scrapbooked but have given it up, you may be as surprised as I was to learn that there is still an active community of women pursuing the hobby. This particular community's leader, Jennifer Wilson, is also the author of The New Rules of Scrapbooking. In her book and messages, Jennifer communicates that it is more than okay to let go of scrapbooking rules. Scrapbookers know the old rules well–like having to start with your current photos and then get caught up; feeling pressure to create beautiful, artistic pages; or needing to choose between paper and digital scrapbooking. With her support for tailoring the hobby to meet individual goals and preferences, members are finding a renewed passion for their craft.
The parallels to homeschooling were clear to me. As with scrapbooking, rules can steal the joy of home educating, leading to burnout, and eventually to giving up.
It is not my contention that every scrapbooker must continue her craft, nor is it my belief that every homeschooler must continue to teach every child through high school. But I am convinced that homeschooling parents will enjoy teaching at home more if they pursue the occupation in a way uniquely suited to them and their children in this season of their lives.
Encouragement to Homeschool Your Way
The blessings of teaching my six children at home have been more than I could have asked for or imagined. I started because I believed God wanted me to homeschool. And though reluctant and thoroughly unprepared, I ended up loving it. I love:
- Having the time to teach my kids about God in depth
- Learning alongside my kids
- Watching my kids grow and make discoveries
- The flexibility of a homeschool schedule
- The closeness of our family relationships
I could go on, but these things I share with you to remind you of the some of the reasons you started homeschooling.
Obstacles to Homeschooling Your Way
I had enough obstacles in the way of homeschool success without adding unnecessary rules. Extra, homeschooler-created rules weren't an issue when I started teaching my oldest son more than 20 years ago. But more and more I hear rules homeschoolers are following like:
- “You shouldn't use textbooks as a homeschooler.”
- “You can't use state curriculum if you want to be a real homeschooler.”
- “You can't use any curriculum if you're an unschooler.”
- “You need to teach Shakespeare if you're a Charlotte Mason homeschooler.”
- “You can't use creation science curriculum if you want your child to go to college.”
I'm sure that together we could come up with a long list of homeschool rules that have been developed as homeschooling has become more popular. This propensity to create more rules reminds me of the Israelites, who were set free from the slavery of Egypt, only to enslave themselves by adding hundreds of laws to the ten commandments.
This rule-making behavior is obviously part of our human nature. When we have been set free from so many rules around education as homeschoolers, why do we create more than what we are required to follow in our state?
First, I believe we create homeschool rules because of fear. Rules and a dedication to following them can provide structure, order, and security. If we follow the rules that our homeschool organization, our curriculum provider, or our favorite homeschool influencer gives us, we can feel confident that we aren't going to ruin our kids' lives.
That makes sense. When we are just starting our homeschool journey, we don't know what to teach, how to teach it, or for how long. So we gladly accept the rules as we establish our school at home. I read a lot about homeschooling in my state and what various leaders said we had to do to comply with the law, so I could feel confident. I was afraid of having Division of Family Services knocking on my door and following rules calmed me down.
But there's a problem with this fear-based approach to rules. Some of the people involved in your homeschool organization, curriculum, or social media feed have their own fears that may not be appropriate for you and your family. For example, a leader in a homeschool organization may have met with a family who had family services visit. Although the visit had nothing to do with homeschool documentation, this leader adopts stringent documentation rules to allay fears. However, an influencer in a state with no documentation laws and no fear of state interference may promote not keeping records when that wouldn't be wise in your state.
A second reason we create unnecessary homeschool rules is because of pride. Although at first I didn't want to homeschool and had no idea how to go about it, I became proud and comfortable with what we were doing. I thought every Christian parent should homeschool and definitely shouldn't use boring textbooks! I quickly found other homeschoolers who held up other rules for me to consider–rules around which subjects to teach, which books we should and shouldn't read, and what we had to do for our kids to be accepted into college. Add in a bunch of rules around parenting, socializing, and technology, and we were overwhelmed.
I don't think these rules get developed only from arrogance. Homeschoolers (like all people) look for the root causes of success and failure so they can get the best results for their kids. But successes and failures almost always have multiple causes. We like to think we have control over all the variables, but the Bible tells us that God is the One who grants success. Here is just one example from 1 Samuel 18:14:
And David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.
Pride can also lead to more rules because we assume other homeschoolers are like us. If we've had great success doing school in the morning, throwing out the textbooks, or doing nature study instead of experiments, we think everyone else could benefit too. But the Bible tells us that we are all different parts of the same body. 1 Corinthians 12:17-19 reads:
If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
Where would homeschooling be if we were all doing things the same way? The beauty of it is that we are all unique homeschoolers just as God wants us to be. Does that mean we can't grow and improve? The body does and so can we.
When we trust God to train us up in the way we should go in our homeschooling and recognize that our journey isn't exactly like anyone else's, we can experience freedom and joy.
Principles for Homeschooling Your Way
The silliest thing I could do right now is tell you exactly HOW to homeschool your way. But I can share some principles that have helped me find freedom in my own homeschooling journey.
The first principle you might not expect. That is to follow the spirit of the law for homeschooling in your state, if not the letter. In Titus 3:1 and elsewhere, God tells us to obey our authorities because He has established authority for good. That doesn't mean we can't work to create more freedom with homeschooling in our state. We should! But while the law is in place, we can have peace of mind by following it. Then we don't have to live in fear of the authorities knocking on our door. But note that I said the spirit of the law. If you're supposed to provide 600 hours of education in core subjects a year, I'm not suggesting you have the stopwatch out, stopping it every time junior needs to use the bathroom. I mean to look at the number of days you are learning and the percentage of time you are studying core subjects like language arts, history, science, and math vs. drawing, listening to music, and shooting hoops. If your curriculum plan will provide that number of core hours without a major, unexpected event, I consider you to be following the spirit of the law. While your requirements will vary, I think it's a good practice to be obedient without being legalistic.
The next way to homeschool your way, in my opinion, is to try it. Trying new schedules, new approaches, and even a new educational lifestyle is how we learn what works for us in this season of our homeschooling. I say “this season” because as soon as you find a good rhythm, something will change. It takes energy and time to keep forging ahead, but these changes are also what makes homeschooling so engaging. If it was the same-old, same old, we would probably want to quit.
We obviously don't want to try something immoral or downright dangerous. But even if our experiments put us behind on our educational plan, I think that experimentation is worth it. Years ago, I met a blogger at a conference who intended to homeschool her kindergartener with an all-day video curriculum. I don't think I said what I was thinking: That's crazy! But I shouldn't have said it anyway, even though that plan was highly unlikely to work for her. The discovery of the limits of her daughter's attention span needed to be hers. She may have discovered that some aspects of the video curriculum she was interested in were captivating and a perfect fit for her daughter. If I had given her my opinion, she would miss those lessons.
I have spoken before about my fondness for eclectic homeschooling–taking aspects of many different approaches and curricula to create your own approach. But here's what I've realized lately: Your way may be using one approach strictly. You may be loving your weekly Classical Conversations group, your Instagram-worthy Wild & Free days, or your boxed curriculum. That isn't wrong. In fact, it's an amazing blessing that you have the freedom to do what works for you!
But if something isn't working as well as you'd like, I urge you to try something new for as long as you like. Write down how you and your students feel about it and why, so you can track your progress. This is the process I used to significantly improve my productivity. I write about it in A Year of Living Productively.
My third encouragement to you is trust God when you don't see a clear path ahead. I've written about the lessons I learned sending my oldest to public school for his last two years of high school. Those lessons were so valuable for both of us that I would make the same decision again. But if it had been a bad experience, we could have easily changed directions. Many parents take their kids in and out of school and put them back again without their lives being ruined.
I shared recently that I initially planned to have my kids do college while they were in high school. That plan changed except that they attend community college as juniors and seniors. My daughter also wanted to attend public high school. I didn't want her to, but I approach homeschooling with an open hand. I see it as a gift the Lord gave me and can retrieve at will. I prayed about it and she changed her mind. My kids' career plans have also changed with time. My son who wanted to be a lawyer works for an IT staffing company. My son who wanted to be a physical therapist is in PA school. My daughter who has wanted to be a teacher since she was a little girl just messaged me that she wants to be a nurse instead.
The beauty of homeschooling is that it's not a destination. It truly is a journey that prepares you and your children for obstacles and changes that will come. No one has a straight path to success. There are a few straight paths to failure, but you're not likely to to be on them if you're listening to this episode.
If you trust God to guide and direct you and your children, you don't have to be afraid of the unschooling police busting you for buying curriculum. You don't have to force your kids outside for six hours a day to please Charlotte Mason. And you don't even have to keep homeschooling to stay on God's path.
Thanks again to CTC Math for their sponsorship. Have a happy homeschool week!