If worrying was a sport, I’d have a black belt by now. Over the years, I’ve worried circles around my pregnancies, parenting choices, and the ingredients in our breakfast cereal. As a homeschooler, I must make daily choices about how to structure my children’s education outside the framework of institutional schooling. Such choices provide plenty of fuel for my worry prone mind to burn.
We homeschoolers think we have such good reasons to worry. After all, we’re educating our children…at home! We might as well be performing open heart surgery or manning a spacecraft!
In all seriousness, of course, we are taking on a big responsibility. Homeschooling requires a great deal of faith, and it can take time to develop this faith in our children’s God-given ability to learn and in our own strength to meet the challenges that often arise in homeschooling.
Over the years I’ve learned that worry is, actually, a choice, and it doesn’t have to be our constant companion in homeschooling. Just as we can choose our curriculum and our homeschooling style, we can also choose peace over fear.
Here are three common homeschooling worries and some thoughts on how to let them go.
Worry #1: We Aren’t Doing Enough
Homeschool parents everywhere can probably identify with this vague, nail biting anxiety that hovers over us as we go through the school day with our children. We craft lovely, organized lesson plans and schedules, only to realize that we might accomplish barely half of what we planned on a really, really good day.
We look at the clock and imagine that the public school kids down the street have been working diligently at their desks for hours while our family has only managed to eat breakfast, enjoy a read aloud, and work out a few math problems.
We seem to forget about all the hours we ourselves spent in class as kids when we passed notes, doodled in our notebooks, or simply daydreamed as we prayed for the bell to ring. The institutionalized schooling mindset does not die easily, even after we’ve rejected much of its ideology.
One of best antidotes to the “we’re not doing enough” worry is to clearly define your educational goals for your children. Do you want to raise independent thinkers? Passionate readers? Does a spirit of exploration rule in your household? Once you know what you want for your kids’ education, you should ask yourself whether you are doing the right things to support those goals rather than enough things or simply forcing your kids to log in a certain number of hours each day doing busywork.
Recently, I had felt like we weren’t putting in enough time each week towards our science studies. Then, we got to the insect unit of our science curriculum and began to study butterflies. We purchased a mail-order kit of caterpillars and watched metamorphosis unfold. My kids were fascinated and excited as we savored this project over three weeks. Releasing our butterflies was one of my favorite homeschool moments so far, and I know my kids will remember it for many years to come. Since I want to encourage a love of nature within my children, this project was far more valuable than trudging through science worksheets that held little meaning for my kids.
Try to follow a formula of “passion, progress, and perseverance.” Spend lots of time on kids’ passions with books, classes, experiences, and so on. Aim for progress in the basics (math, reading, grammar) by doing a little bit every day. Persevere in areas that are more difficult for your child by implementing regular, short practice sessions that end before you and your child become frustrated. This method maintains a sense of discipline and hard work in the homeschool environment without forcing hours and hours of busywork on kids.
And just keep going. You’ll be doing enough.
Worry #2: Socialization
I imagine that every homeschooler on the planet has fielded concerns from family or friends over the issue of socialization. Our culture espouses the belief that children learn social skills best from other children, preferably other children of the same age. How else will children know what music to listen to, what internet videos to watch, and how to be liked by the crowd either in real life or on social media?
Yet do these skills really constitute socialization? Socialization involves many subtleties and values that are usually best conveyed by responsible, loving adults who have more life experience than children. Call me crazy, but I would much rather my children learn how to carry on polite conversations or how to be respectful towards people of all ages, colors, and creeds from their parents and extended family than from schoolmates.
To me, true socialization is a gradual process of learning how to live peacefully and respectfully with and around other people in our increasingly diverse world; narrowly focused, cliquish interactions with same-age peers will not be likely to give kids an advantage at getting along socially in the wider world.
Kids definitely do need some time to play or just be social with children from outside their own household, but the vast majority of homeschoolers provide such opportunities for their children through church, co-ops, or simple playground visits. If you’re making an effort to get your kids around other children somewhat regularly and your kids seem happy, then they’re most likely doing just fine.
And let’s not forget that a strong sense of identity and security within a family unit is a huge factor in a child’s self esteem and overall well being. Kids who spend lots of time with parents and extended family will hopefully grow up knowing how special and loved they are. Perhaps these positive experiences can, to some degree, make our children more resistant to the peer pressure, stress, and mental health crises that seem to plague so many young people today.
For an interesting perspective on the topic of children and peers, I recommend reading Hold On to Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D and Gabor Maté, M.D.
And finally, let the critics in your life carry on a conversation with your (usually) articulate and polite homeschooled child. That will likely put everyone’s worries to rest.
Worry #3: The Future
Worries about the future are universal, especially for parents. A quick internet search can provide thousands of articles pouring over the parenting conundrums and fears we face today: Should we free-range parent to help our kids build confidence, or is hover parenting more appropriate in our supposedly violent and socially fractured times? Are our kids getting enough STEM education, and will it even matter since robots will take everyone’s jobs anyway? Will it be possible to get through even the most modestly priced college without a mountain of debt accumulating for children and/or their parents?
I don’t have the answers to these questions, and I do have concerns for my children’s futures in a troubled and rapidly changing world. However, I have to lean on faith here and put most of my energy into the present. We know that life has never been easy, and our children will face challenges no matter how much we try to protect them and prepare them for adulthood.
Homeschooling can’t insulate our children from all the harsh realities of the world, but it might just give our kids the advantage of having spent their formative years in a low-stress environment where family connections, lifelong learning, and moral development are core values.
Like many of the homeschooling families I know, my family makes financial and material sacrifices to homeschool. In doing so, we don’t model a material form of success for our kids. Rather, we’re trying to live out our values and principles and doing the best we can with limited means. We aren’t keeping up with the Joneses, but rather forging our own path. Even at their young ages, my kids understand that our small home and modest vehicles give us the freedom to live and learn the way we want. They understand that more stuff doesn’t always equal more happiness. They don’t see education as a fast track to an economic rat race in which the winner receives the nicest, newest stuff.
Home education lets our kids know that it’s okay to question the status quo and choose an alternate route for education and life. While the future is not mine to see, I can only imagine that the ability to think for oneself and to live modestly will be helpful skills in any economy.
Most importantly, in the battle against worry we have to commit to focusing on gratitude for today. I am grateful that homeschooling is legal and better understood than in years past. I am grateful that I can cuddle with my children every morning for our read aloud. I’m grateful that, like most homeschoolers, we’re stubborn and we don’t give up. So pour a cup of tea, take a deep breath, and let confidence and peace guide you in your homeschooling journey.