Is it Time to Quit Homeschooling?

Christmas was over. The ceaseless cold set in and once again I dreamed of boarding schools in Switzerland that would take my children until they’re eighteen (or even twenty-one) and send them back as well-mannered functional human beings capable of bringing untold benefits to all of society.

More realistically, as I do every year around that time, I pulled up the websites for local private schools and called the public school for a kindergarten information packet. This year I went so far as to fill out and drop off applications for three of my kids at a local private school, go to an open house, and schedule a meeting with the principal.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but homeschooling can be tedious drudgery. In all the articles that I read telling me I should homeschool, this was never mentioned. I’m tired. I’m worn.  Sometimes I want desperately to quit.

I’m no homeschooling newbie; I’ve been at it for eleven years. But, at times it is so much, too much. It defines my life and the person I am. I feel that homeschooling has eclipsed me. I spend all day with my children but wonder if they even know me.

Am I selfish in wanting to pursue dreams so long on hold? I’ve written four novels and published none. I want to sit in a coffee shop sipping mocha as I edit a manuscript instead of worrying about gaps in my kids’ education.

At my third INCH Convention I went to a session by Christine Field entitled “Is it Time for a Change?” She addressed this very issue: throwing in the towel. One thought stuck with me all these years. Christine said (basically), “As much prayer and soul searching should go into your decision to put your kids back into school as went into your decision to take them out in the first place. If you felt led by God to start homeschooling, you need to wait for the same leading to quit.”

This year more than ever I prayed and sought counsel. My friend Linda Hall said, “His will could be a number of things as long as I’m doing them with a clear conscience and covering them in prayer.  He can bless a multitude of paths if they aren’t contrary to scripture.”

This was very freeing to me. There isn’t just the one right path which I must somehow decipher, but possibly many.

“But,” I told Linda, “I want to follow the BEST path, God’s best plan. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

The homeschooling path is difficult. It’s work. It’s selflessness. It’s deciding to do for the kids instead of for yourself over and over and over, and it’s a path I finally decided to continue to travel.

Why am I going to continue when it would be so much easier to quit?

Because a path being difficult doesn’t make it the wrong path, and the reasons I began homeschooling in the first place still exist:

  • I don’t want to spend eight hours a day missing my kids.
  • I think homeschooling will give my kids the best chance to draw close to God. One day I will be held accountable for the choices I made and how those influenced my children’s hearts for (or against) Him.
  • I want my kids to learn independence, not to follow the crowd. Homeschooling is making that happen.
  • We’re having good results. With two in high school now, we can see that it has actually been working.
  • I like taking vacations during the off season and scheduling appointments during the less busy times.
  • I like my kids having plenty of time to run wild and free. (Though I do wish they would do it with less mess.)
  • I have a lot of great curriculum I’d really like to keep using.
  • My kids take care of each other. I don’t think they’d be as close if they were in school.
  • The other day my seven year old and five year old spent hours playing with my friends’ (homeschooled) fifteen and nine year olds. Meanwhile my sixteen year old and one of their twelve year olds were hanging out in the next room. I love how with homeschoolers age so often is not an issue.
  • My fifteen year old makes me breakfast. He couldn’t do that if I were putting him on a bus every morning.

Anyway, let’s be honest, I’m not really cut out for the school system: the daily commute, packing lunches, and don’t get me started on dress codes. My girls wear an odd array of dress up clothes, leotards, scraps of cloth and blankets every day. I don’t really want them to be stifled into khakis and polo shirts.

Writing for homeschoolers…what is your plan?

Since I have been part of Explorers I have worked in one way or another in writing classes. Most extensively with IEW. As a homeschool mom, I probably purchased one or two curriculum packages per child for writing! I am quite familiar with many writing programs. Now I am working with Terri Rigby in our High School Classical Writing class. Of course this curriculum is my current favorite.

Since we have this blog, I put this question out there : What is your writing program? Do you love it? Are your kids good writers? How did they get there?

Best of: Grandparent Wisdom

Grandparents are famously inclined to give parenting advice, and for the most part, we’d be pretty dumb not to listen. Some of their pearls become especially well-worn in the day-to-day of homeschooling; for example, my mom once made the frank and humorous observation that:

“It takes a long time to civilize a human being.” 

The sanity-retaining power of this mantra can hardly be overstated. It is my mental go-to move when confronted with the inexplicable acts of my children who I know are smart enough to have not just done whatever they just did. It reminds me that you’re supposed to have to tell them the same thing a thousand times–that’s just how it works!–so no use being upset about it. Many angry tirades have been checked by her ten extremely well-chosen words. What a wonderful gift.

Now, while I’m pretty sure my mom actually is the smartest one out there, perhaps we’ll see she has some competition. Please drop your best homeschooling grandparent wisdom in the comments, and it will be like having an army of grandmas on your side.

The article I wish I had read before buying any homeschooling books

As many of us have unfortunately learned, devouring a shelf full of homeschooling books can cause surprisingly high levels of discouragement and confusion. Sort of the opposite of what we intend when we crack open a book. However, the right keys can empower us to explore the treacherous landscape of education theory. Here’s what I wish someone had told me:

1. You are an expert too. Remember that you define success and set educational priorities in your home, and you have access to the feedback loop that’s created between student and teacher. If you are putting in the time, thoughtfully observing and interacting with your kids, then you are unquestionably an expert in their development. If someone with a lot of letters after their name makes a suggestion that disconnects from your actual experience, go ahead and kick them to the curb. They don’t know as much as they’d like you to think.

2. There is no blueprint for success. Nobody has it all figured out. As silly as it sounds to say aloud, it’s natural to try to find the person who has ‘solved’ education. The ridiculousness of this should be allowed to sink in before buying any books.

3. Prepare for extreme viewpoints. And take them with a grain of salt.  It’s hard to whip customers into a frenzy by claiming to have a pretty good idea that works sometimes, under the right circumstances. In order to be heard above the noise, authors have to present their conclusions boldly. Don’t blame them; balance and wisdom simply do not move a lot of product.

4. Steal everybody’s good ideas. When you read a particularly compelling point by an ‘Unschooler’ or ‘Classical Education’ proponent, resist the urge to plant your flag on their side. You don’t need to join their team, just steal all their good ideas–the ones that work for your family. When you come across competing concepts that seem to have merit, chances are the tension between those things is good. Put them both in your toolkit.

Happy reading!

Maxim of the Week!

Administrator’s note: Welcome new contributor Julie Toshach! Julie is a former CEO of Explorers and has some great insights. The ‘maxim’ at the end is a real conversation starter; let’s get some comments going!

Interesting Fact: There is a great high school class called Classical Writing at Explorers. The students are focusing on Maxims this semester. What fun. Short, pithy, words that convey a lesson or moral. Remember Benjamin Franklin? He is probably the American King of Maxims.

Maxim of the week for homeschool moms: The root of education is bitter, its fruit sweet. Isocrates.

Vocab nerd discovers five-star app

imageIf you need any convincing, here are my top two compelling reasons to become a family of vocabulary nerds:

1. The ability to capture an exact shade of meaning or emotion with just the right word simply enhances our enjoyment of life. (This is still a valid reason to pursue a skill, right?)

2. In the information economy, good communicators can create a range of unique opportunities. If our kids can’t rub two words together, they might be missing out financially.

Motivated by these ideas, a vocab building scheme emerged in my home which involved lots of legal-pad pages falling off the refrigerator. (Don’t you hate those magnets that can’t seem to hold anything heavier than a butterfly wing?) No more! The advent of a simple, free smartphone app called ‘Quizlet’ helped us to create a relatively elegant system. Here’s how it works:

When it’s time for me to read aloud to my kids, I grab the book and my phone, and cozy up with them on the couch. Sometimes, when we come across a word they don’t know, they ask me to define it. We then pause briefly to create a study card in Quizlet with the word on one side and the definition on the other. Both kids have a list, and I occasionally quiz them. When they finally own a word, we erase it.

The fact that they’re asking for new words makes this system preferable to some isolated vocab activity where words they don’t personally require are introduced seemingly at random. This way, they are learning in context.

Now, there are two caveats that are really important. First, take the long view by resisting the urge to prompt them. Stopping to capture every word that you think they don’t know will transform a beloved bonding activity into a dreaded chore. The idea is that you help them capture the words they want. They’ll soon have a nice list along with an intact enjoyment of literature.

Secondly, make sure they see you capturing your own new words from your own books. Create your list right next to theirs on your phone. After all, the point of an exercise like this is not really to increase their vocabulary in the short term, but to show them they are part of a family that values curiosity and lifelong education for the sheer enjoyment they bring.


Explorers 2033


Last semester, an article called “Your Life in 2033” led to a lively discussion with middle-schoolers in the ‘Junto’ class. In the weeks that followed I began to imagine what Explorers will look like in 2033. Specifically, what our roles will be, and how our thinking will need to change if we are to create a co-op experience that is not just relevant, but essential to students of the future.

Central in this conversation is the idea that information will increasingly be absorbed through online resources. When kids have free, instant access to the best minds in any field, they won’t need teachers in their immediate environment to dispense information. With every fact and formula conceived or recorded by humanity already at their fingertips, parents will be drawn to an organization that focuses on empowering kids through interactive experience. In other words, lectures are out.

This means we’ll need to start thinking of ourselves as facilitators rather than teachers in a traditional sense. Subjects that tend to use lecture as a default format (history) will still be taught in classroom settings, but they will look really different. Academic content will be learned at home, and then mastered by participating in classroom activities that emphasize critical thinking, creativity, and skillful communication.

Then, as we watch these lessons unfold, there will be various opportunities to coach our students. We’ll help them understand themselves by showing them their strengths and weaknesses manifesting in real situations. We’ll point out how their words and actions are being perceived by others. We’ll protect their capacity to dream by expressing the potential we see in them. A powerful transfer of enthusiasm will take place, not just a transfer of facts.

Re-imagining our teaching responsibilities seems a bit scary at first; the time-honored tradition of teaching facts makes us feel like we’re doing something valuable. It’s safe. But when we outsource that job, we’ll find that our new roles are more engaging, better suited to us, and more instrumental to the success of our kids.

The first step in implementing these ideas is to build better awareness of what’s happening in our classrooms already. We ought to regularly ask ourselves: Is what I’m doing right now easily replaceable? If I had put a video on, would the kids in my class have learned any less? Did anyone have an empowering experience in my class today? Did anyone learn anything about themselves? Sometimes, we won’t like the answers, but that’s okay. Just asking the questions will put us ahead of the game.

When we see better ways forward, we should put our trademark homeschooling fearlessness to work by adopting them immediately. While schools are bogged down by inertia, we are free to adapt quickly to changing times and create all kinds of advantages for our kids. Let’s set the pace!


Teaching Scripture Memory

The Bible tells us to meditate on His word day and night (Ps 1). That’s easier to do when His word is committed to memory. I want my kids to get Bible verses stuck in their heads the way that everyone gets Frozen’s “Let it Go” stuck in theirs.

Call me paranoid, but I harbor the thought that within my children’s lifetime they might be denied access to a Bible or that openly owning or carrying a Bible might become illegal. I think of Betsy and Corrie Ten Boom in The Hiding Place having only their tiny book of Matthew with which to minister to all those women in the concentration camp. I decided at the very beginning of my parenting career that I want my kids to have as much scripture memorized as possible.

The other day one of my sons was confronted by a friend asking if the Bible says anywhere that Jesus is as much God as the Father is. Without missing a beat my son replied, “Colossians 2:9, For in Christ all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form.”

Over the years we have memorized hundreds of verses, full chapters of the Bible, and many Psalms. Here’s how we do it:

In teaching my kids scripture, I borrowed the system I use during my personal prayer time. I got a 4 x 6 index card box and placed just one divider in the middle. Whenever I find a verse I want my kids to learn, I write it on a card and put it in the back of the box. Once a verse is memorized I move it to the front. I write the scripture reference on the top left corner of each card and the date we began it on the top right corner. I think it’s neat to look back and realize we’ve known a verse for a year… or a decade.

One September a local printing store had free laminating for educators. I got all of our scripture cards laminated. They are so durable that I’ve paid to have our more recent verses done as well.

We have tried many methods over the years to memorize scripture. Here is what works the best:

  • For short verses: I read the verse, and have the kids repeat it in unison. We do this several times. Next, I have each kid say it alone, beginning with the child with the quickest memory. Then we all say it together. The following day anyone who remembers it gets a small treat. To be sure it’s well learned, we say it each day for a week before moving it to the front of the index card box.
  • For long verses: I read the whole selection every morning for a few days. Before long they just start speaking along. Other times I read it every day, and then we memorize just one verse within it each day.
  • For Psalms: We sometimes make is responsorial. I have the kids repeat the first verse as I read each subsequent verse. This is a really beautiful way to worship, and by the end of the psalm we all have that first verse memorized. Other times I read a verse, they read the next, I read the third, and so on. Then we switch the next day.
  • We often do a lot of these things in the car. We own a Bible CD set. So, if we are working on a long selection or a psalm we’ll listen to it a few times every time we’re in the car. Our CDs are dramatized, so the kids often begin to say the verses with the same inflection as the actors, which is entertaining, if nothing else.

Any system needs occasional refreshing and new ideas. Here are some of the extra things we’ve done:

  • “Bible Scratchout:” This is a very simple game that my kids love. I write the verse on the white board or a piece of paper. The first person reads the whole verse than scratches out (or erases) a word of their choice. The next person reads the verse, supplies the missing word, and crosses out another word. Each turn involves having the verse memorized just a little more, until the final player has to recite the entire verse. They get a prize if they do. Then anyone else who can say it without help gets a prize. Walla! The verse is memorized.
  • I picked up some giant notebook paper at a used curriculum sale for a dollar. I write out a verse or psalm in large print and hang it in an obvious spot, like the wall opposite the toilet. It turns out this is a good conversation starter: guests in our home come out of the loo asking about the verse.
  • When we worked on Deuteronomy chapter six we talked about writing God’s word on the doorframes of our house, as verse nine says. I printed out the verse selection and gave each kid five copies to tape up around the house. There were some funny locations, like the attic, and we lost some wall paint where we left the tape up too long, but we learned those verses.
  • When I was directing a Christmas play for a church group I wrote the narrator’s lines directly from the first two chapters of Luke. Then I cast one of my sons in the role (Don’t worry, he was the most qualified.) As he learned his lines, we all memorized a good deal of those chapters.

It’s easy to memorize things, but more difficult to retain them. We have several ways tokeep verses fresh in our minds by. First of all, we recite two Psalms each day as part of our morning Bible time. We rotate through the ones we’ve learned so that none get too repetitive. For example: We pray Psalm 1 and 4 one day, 16 and 19 the next, 23 and 46, the third, etc…

We also review different shorter verses each day. I pull five verses from the front of the box. I have the kids take turns saying them. Then I put them behind the other verses they know, right in front of the divider, so that the next day’s verses will be different.

We want to our kids see the application of the verses they have memorized in their daily lives. So I say a verse whenever it strikes me as relevant. For example: In watching a sunset or an eclipse I might say, “The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Ps 19:1) My children do this now, too. If one of the little ones is having trouble sleeping, I might hear an older brother telling her, “I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, oh Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Ps 4:8) If the older brother is getting frustrated I might hear, “When you are in your beds search your hearts and be silent!”(Ps 4:4b) instead.

An added benefit of all this scripture memory is that by the time the kids have a verse memorized, so do I. If I want to memorize a verse, I have the kids learn it. I’ll know it by the end.

As a believing mom, I love that moment when I hear a toddler, who can barely put a sentence together, mumbling bits of verses because all of our scripture memory has gotten stuck in his head. Mission accomplished.

Welcome to your new blog, Explorers families!

We’re looking for contributors who can share experiences or reflections that might benefit our homeschooling community. This could really be a unique resource if we stick to that simple formula–If it could possibly be helpful, share it! Had a big success or failure that could be instructive for others? Let us know! Want to discuss big ideas that could help each of us clarify our vision of a successful educational experience? Bring it on! Are you aware of an upcoming opportunity that you know to be worth the time/money? Don’t keep it to yourself!

Hopefully we can walk the fine line between those things and venting, preaching to the choir, or sharing the excruciating details of our Christmas vacations (just set up your own WordPress site if you’d like to indulge those impulses–it only took me about 10 minutes and I am a notorious tech flunky.) When in doubt though, let’s err on the side of posting stuff. Most blogs fail for lack of content.

Thanks to Rachael for seeing this opportunity (and generally doing an awesome job). If you have blog questions or if you’d like to submit something, please let me know, as she has plenty on her plate.

Blessings to everyone for a great New Year!