An imaginary demon whispers doubt into our hearts late at night. It tries to wrap the fear around lives that we aren’t doing things “right.” Homeschoolers tend to love their kids passionately and want the best of everything for them, so the demon has plenty of emotion to draw from. Add to our own doubts that there are plenty of real people around telling us the best or right way to homeschool. The things we must do or our children will suffer, languish and drag themselves through doomed lives blaming their parents and this ludicrous experiment.
How useful is that doubt? Those comparisons to the people who are homeschooling “right,” the “perfect” families who have it all together? Sometimes, successful homeschooling (and successful living) is about letting go, giving yourself grace, and finding your own path.
We may misunderstand what other homeschoolers actually do, and sometimes we overestimate what we NEED to be doing. It’s a natural result of the driving urges to give our kids the best, to prove that we really can parent our own kids, and (above all else) to NOT ruin our kids’ lives.
After 18 years, I am retiring from my homeschooling career. I have successfully navigated 3 human beings into confident adulthood, and I am ready to dump all the guilt and shame for all the things I didn’t do. I’m proud of some of the “failures.” I feel like I successfully avoided traps that weren’t right for our family’s culture. Some of them weren’t deliberate, but just grew from our conglomerate personalities and the busyness of life. A few, I regret…but life turned out good anyway. I don’t share these to tell you not to do them. Some of them might fit your family perfectly. They didn’t fit mine.
What pieces of guilt are you hanging on to? What is it you think you SHOULD be doing that you aren’t? My guess is that it might not be as cataclysmic a disaster as you think. To help you give yourself grace in what you haven’t done, and to understand more realistically what a real life looks like, here are 18 things that I did NOT do in 18 years of homeschooling.
- Write research papers before college. I list this first because people who know me best are most surprised by it. Writing is my thing. We played with language a LOT. But I never saw the value in a full-fledged, formatted research paper. Essays, sure, with research, paraphrasing, and analyzing. Research papers? Uh-uh. So far, one of mine learned to write a research paper in college (yep, he handled it just fine) and one graduated college without ever needing it (lucky girl, one big headache passed by). If that last kid needs it during college, he’ll learn it then.
- Make all the kids study 2 years of foreign language, even though “everyone” said they needed to for college. Okay, I put my first poor kid (aka the guinea pig) through this. He check marked it, forgot everything he “learned,” and it was nicely noted on his college admissions. It may have made admissions go a little more smoothly, but I’m not sure it was worth two years of wasted time in which he learned nothing. The second wanted to study sign language, and I decided that totally counted. Her college didn’t care one way or the other. She’s the one now testing for her interpreter certification. The third was so immersed in math and science that foreign languages never showed up on the radar. His college didn’t care.
- Join co-ops. It just seemed too big a commitment (and too much like school) – a full day all semester? Shudder.
- Go to prom. To be honest, I considered missing prom to be a benefit of homeschooling, so it really wasn’t a hard decision not to sign up for the homeschool version. If it’s a big deal to you, sign your kids up or host a dance yourself, but if it isn’t, then don’t fret it.
- Teach high school – at least, not much of it. Let’s face it, my main role in high school was guidance counselor. I taught a few subjects (mostly English and speech), but my kids mostly taught themselves or were taught be other people. I spent a lot of time arranging opportunities and procuring resources. And checking to see that the kids were on track. I can’t tell you how many people tell me in fear, “Oh, I could never teach high school!” Guess what? Neither could I.
- Follow a schedule. The more rigid the schedule we attempted, the shorter it lived. Remember that 15-minute increment schedule that was popular for a while? I never completed a single day of it, which means I actually spent more time creating the schedule than using it. Eventually, I decided not to feel guilty about that. I gave away the planning book, and we pretty much ran on routines and rabbit trails.
- Follow through with schoolwork over the summer. I often planned to. I often announced my intention to. But we never actually did. We were too busy adventures and doing projects (aka learning) and decompressing to do any kind of bookwork. Summers are full of memories and life.
- Stay true to a homeschooling “philosophy.” I loved unit studies. I read up on classical methods. I adored Charlotte Mason. I admired unschooling. I dabbled in many philosophies, and absorbed a something of value from each, but I never committed fully to any label. I still don’t have a name for what we did, but it seemed to work well for us.
- Sit at desks. Just didn’t happen. We had a kitchen table that was sometimes handy. And couches. And floors with pillows. And exercise balls. And whatever else.
- Follow a 4-year history plan. There was that one time we spent about 3 years in Ancient Greece. And we all learned US history at some point in high school. For a few years in elementary school, we even kept timeline notebooks to add various books/people/events into their place in history as we learned about them. But we never got on a chronological cycle and covered the whole picture. There are gaps. There are still gaps in my historical knowledge (although the History Channel is helping me with that).
- Complete regular copywork/dictation. I know, I know. It’s the most natural way to learn language arts. It’s preached by Charlotte Mason and Brave Writer and Ruth Beechick…pretty much all my heroes. And we did it occasionally. But really not that much.
- Use yearly grammar curriculum. Didn’t happen. We covered grammar with a “full curriculum” twice. Loved the 5 minute reviews of Daily Grams for one year. The rest of the time…come on, grammar is not that complicated. We played Mad Libs. That counts, right? We used words and language all the time. Turns out, my kids are fluent English speakers. One of them wrote a novel and several playscripts, and one is interpreting and learning her 3rd language. They didn’t need yearly grammar textbooks for that.
- Teach my youngest child to read. I pretended to. He was my baby, and I cherished time alone with him during phonics lessons. We’d gotten no further than blending c-a-t and m-a-t when he picked up a Kings James Bible, flipped it open at random, sounded out the word, “Deuteronomy” and started reading it out loud. I was thick headed and still made that poor kid sit through the rest of his phonics lessons, but I also made sure to provide tons of real books so that he could read while I wasn’t pretending to teach him how.
- Make the kids get up early to prepare for “real life.” A regular early morning schedule never quite materialized. Most of the years, we roused them for a late breakfast which I would linger over, reading aloud chapters of magnificent books while they blearily shoveled in cereal. We got up early when we needed to. And you know what? Once they got in college and/or full time jobs, they were perfectly capable of finding their own rhythms of when to get up and when to go to bed. Growing up, they were all late to bed and late to rise. Those late night hours can be productive.
- Write “reports” in elementary school or junior high. We wrote often – but nothing academically formatted. I introduced those formats in 9th grade, and they soaked them in almost immediately.
- Give grades. I completed transcripts for high school using a holistic approach which I believe accurately reflected real learning. (No, none of my kids were “straight A” students.) Grades are useful for tracking a whole room full of kids, but I never needed them. I was closely involved in the learning process, and there are less formal ways of understanding how well someone is learning.
- Use a homeschool tracker, either a grade book or a computer program. When the kids were younger, I started a few years with an optimistic binder full of planning and tracking forms. After a while, I gave up the pretense and stopped wasting printer ink on them. They looked so sad and empty when I didn’t fill in all the boxes. A few lists (book logs, subject lists, that high school transcript) were all I needed or used. No one ever actually asked to see my records anyway.
- Give my kids private music, dance or voice lessons. Music is as natural (and common) as breathing in our house. Someone is always singing – whether for personal enjoyment or preparing for a performance, and we all sing together in church every week. Formal lessons? None for instruments at all. My son joined a choir his senior year which met weekly, so that’s as close to formal training as it gets. You want more than that? Hello, youtube!