One of the questions I hear the most from new homeschoolers is “what do you wish you knew when you started homeschooling?”
Well here it is, the good, bad, and the ugly.
1. I wish I knew that my children were not gifted.
Everyone wants to think their kids are gifted. We started homeschooling (in part) because my kids were just SOOO amazing! The truth was they weren’t. I mean, yes, they ARE amazing in their own ways but not in the sense that I thought they were. They aren’t ahead of their peers, they aren’t math geniuses, they aren’t even reading “above grade level”. My kids are totally and completely average as far as their IQ and other academics are concerned… and that’s ok.
The truth is that your child does NOT need to be the next Einstein in order to deserve the fabulous education only YOU can help them get. Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old, was severely dyslexic and his teachers told his mother he was a simpleton and needed to learn a trade… thank goodness she didn’t listen! The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of world changing ideas are brought to pass by children whom society deemed as “lesser”.
Your child’s genius might not show at five years old, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have genius in them! They may be “behind grade level” or not progressing as fast as their public school peers… that’s OK!
We all want to believe our children are extraordinary, and they ARE, but they don’t need to be running circles around their peers academically in order for them to have amazing potential and a hidden passion that will change the world. Gifted, average or special needs our children will thrive when WE (their mothers) take an active role in their education and make it our business to find out their passions and individual needs.
As long as they know who they are, are happy, loved, and progressing AT ALL, you are doing your job right. Don’t worry about the Joneses. Their kids have problems you will never have to deal with.
2. I wish I knew how hard it would be.
On second thought, no I don’t. If I knew how often I would longingly look at the yellow bus as it drove by my house, or how often I would want to lock myself in my room with a carton of ice cream, or how often I would have grown-up tantrums I might not have signed on for the deal.
Homeschooling is HARD, but it’s not hard in the way that so many newbies think it will be. Homeschooling is hard because motherhood is hard. It’s HARD being around your kids. All. Day. Long. It’s HARD being the only homeschooler in the area. It’s HARD being snubbed because you are Mormon. It’s HARD having to field the questions when you are out as a family in the middle of the day. It’s HARD when the noise takes me to my breaking point.
But you know what isn’t hard? Knowing exactly what every day will look and feel like regardless of whether “school is in session” or not. It’s not hard to get to set our own schedule or not have to “catch the bus” or set an alarm in the morning, or worry that my kids are learning bad behavior from spending so much time with their friends. It’s not hard not having to deal with peer pressure, bullying, moody teachers (we’ve all had at least one) and the PTA, or the ever changing curriculum and “standards”. And it’s not at all hard being able to gather your children into a hug the minute you hear of yet another school shooting, knowing that your arms are the safest place they can be.
3. I wish I knew I was smart enough.
You ARE smart enough to teach your kids. Every subject. You ARE smart enough because you are still capable of learning. And as an added bonus, as an adult it takes you FAR less time to learn something new than it would take your children.
Did you struggle with math in high school? Pick up your kid’s math text or log onto Kahn Acadamy and brush up on your skills. Was history never your subject? Given what history texts are made of I don’t blame you. Check a biography or some historical fiction out of the library and give it go. Did you hate science? So did I… it’s fascinating now! What eluded you when you were younger will be a breeze as an adult. I know this from experience. The only dogs who can’t learn new tricks are prideful ones, and if you have a love of learning it will be impossible for your children to not love learning as well.
4. I wish I knew I was patient enough.
Look, we are ALL going to have days when we are sick of being touched, when we want to have a grown-up conversation, when we just want ten minutes where we don’t hear a little voice calling our name.
That comes with motherhood, not homeschooling. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the kids that drive you crazy are the kids that are too young for school. The hardest time of my life was when I was the mother of children ages 5 and younger. It was constant noise, mess, and crying. Then that blissful day came when I sent my oldest off to kindergarten… and it didn’t get any better. In fact, it got worse. Not only did I still have to deal with constant noise, mess, and crying, but I also had to deal with busses, packing lunches, permission forms, and my daughter’s newly discovered bad attitude.
I have since added two more children (and a third on the way) to my repertoire and homeschooling. Instead of adding to my workload and making my life harder, homeschooling allows me to ENJOY my children. Why? Partly because half of them are no longer in that stage of everlasting neediness. They are now independent(ish), helpful, and FUN to be around.
If I were to send my school-age kids to public school I would be in a perpetual state of “young motherhood” and that is EXHAUSTING!
5. I wish I knew they wouldn’t be lonely.
I was SO scared of this at first. The first several weeks of summer vacation after her kindergarten year my oldest pined away for her friends. That was also about the time we started “testing the waters” as far as homeschooling was concerned.
After she got used to the “new normal” she no longer asked to see her friends every day.
Here is the dirty little secret. Little kids don’t need friends. WHAT? That’s CRAZY talk! Preposterous!!
Up until the age of eight children are naturally drawn to their families. If kids get used to hanging out with other people all the time they will become acclimated to it and begin to crave it… kind of like TV or candy… but that doesn’t mean they NEED it for healthy development. Out of my five children the only one that has ever craved peer interaction before about eight years old has been the only child who has gone to public school.
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In our church the children are not baptized until the age of eight. The age of eight is important for more than just being old enough for baptism. It’s called “the age of accountability” for a reason. It is around that age that they start to make sense of the world, start to be a little more conscious of how they fit into it, and they start to look outside their families for social interaction. In public school (pre-common core) it is also the grade where all of a sudden things get HARD.
It’s not just a church thing, it’s a cognitive and developmental thing.
Coincidentally (or not) the age of eight is also when our primary age children start attending mid-week church activities. The moment our children start to crave extra-familial interaction Activity Days and Cub Scouts swoop in to save the day!
Around age 12-14 the need starts to increase, as does the church activity level. Seminary, youth dances, firesides, and other youth activities are perfect to fill our growing children’s social needs. There is absolutely no evidence that suggests that daily peer interaction even at these older ages is helpful or even desirable (as a grown up do YOU get upset if you can’t spend several hours a day with your friends?).
The Church has done an amazing job in the organization of these developmentally appropriate activities and I am so grateful for them.
It’s almost as if they were divinely inspired
6. I wish I knew I didn’t need to change who I am to be a good homeschooling mother.
Now this one is a tough one, because in reality I (personally) DID have to change who I was in order to be a good homeschooling mother, but that is not what I mean…
What I mean is that it’s ok that I’m not super organized. It’s ok that I’m not an early bird. It’s ok that I love history more than math and that I need to have a a good supply of chocolate on hand for emergencies.
Heavenly Father gave me these children because they need ME, not Suzy Homemaker, Molly Mormon, or Hannah Homeschooler. I may struggle with certain things but I also have some amazing strengths that are JUST what my kids need in order to fulfill their mission on earth. I don’t need to feel bad that I don’t wake up at 5 am, that I can’t stick to a meal plan for more than a few days, or that all the pretty planners in the world will never make me start science at exactly 11:35 am (after we have breakfast promptly at 8:30, scriptures at 9 and math at 10).
Never going to happen. And my children will NOT suffer from it. I may need to abandon my weekly manicures in order to be able to afford their new math book and I might not be able to go to the gym as often as I would like (and my fitness level will inevitably suffer for it). Sacrifices will inevitably need to be made but I don’t need to pretend that I am someone I’m not. That is the wonderful thing about our Heavenly Father’s plan: They need what I can give them.
7. I wish I knew there was no “perfect” curriculum.
There are hundreds… nay… THOUSANDS of options out there for homeschoolers! It’s an AWESOME blessing! But it can also become a terrible curse if we let it. The truth is that while we may have a child whose needs make us need to try something new (I had a dyslexic daughter and the reading curriculum we had been using was a disaster for her), MOST of the time we can make do with what we have available to us… even if that is nothing more than a library card.
For those of you who are blessed to have the financial resources to keep your options open… don’t over think it. There are a few things that you are going to have to keep in mind (your worldview, your chosen educational method, the knowledge that there will likely be some anti-mormon stuff in certain things published by mainstream Christian homeschoolers, how scripted you want your curriculum, whether or not you want something independent of Common Core State Standards), but what was a life-saver for one person’s family might be a disaster for yours.
Feel free to ask questions, do your research, read reviews, and look at all you possibly can… but when push comes to shove pray about it and follow your gut.
8. I wish I knew my house would never be perfect.
If you know that you are supposed to homeschool but are a neat freak… you need to get over it… and fast. I’m a big fan of a tidy home and I am blessed to have the space that keeps my growing family comfortable, but we still have to clean several times a day to keep it the way I like… and some days it’s just not worth it. There are a few things that you can do to keep mess down to a minimum and you should never allow your house to become dangerous or filthy, but it’s not necessary to have it picture perfect all the time.
Beyond the “mess” side of things, most of us have more books than bookshelves to put them on, more toys than toy boxes, art supplies everywhere, loose papers with drawings and writings scattered… not to mention the mess and dishes that three meals and snacks for a large family every day makes…
Those of us who choose the alternative homeschooling lifestyle have stuff that other people don’t have and need to make allowances for having our children home all day every day. We have to shoehorn more bookcases, cabinets, and tables in our house than the average person and it’s not always pretty. We do what works because it’s what Heavenly Father wants us to do for our families.
Sometimes it can make us a little self conscious and we invariably compare ourselves to other people (other people who have very large blocks of time without children in their faces and still can’t manage to keep on top of their housework) but the truth is no one cares what your house looks like. If you are anything like me, no one but your kids and spouse will see it anyway. Stop worrying about the hypothetical visitor… they aren’t coming. Don’t let the state of your house become a source of contention between you and your children. You are around each other all day long and if you get upset at every loose crayon or cheerio you will all be miserable.
If you homeschool, chances are your hopes and dreams of a house worthy of Better Homes and Gardens will be dashed forever. That’s ok, no one wants to live in a model home anyway.
9. I wish I knew the worrying would never end.
I think it must be part of our feminine nature. I can tell you until I’m blue in the face not to worry about certain things but the truth is I still worry about those things, too. After five years I still I worry about my kids not being “up to snuff”. I worry about them not having enough friends. I worry about curriculum. I worry about my clutter. I worry about being fat. I worry about not eating healthy enough. I worry about illness. I worry about gaining too much weight when I’m pregnant or not getting enough sleep when I have a newborn. I worry about the month of TV my kids watched when I was bedridden with morning sickness. I worry about about everything you worry about and just because I “know better” doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.
I just don’t let it take over or make it question what I know is right for our family… mostly.
10. I wish I knew how awesome it would be.
Homeschooling isn’t just an educational choice, it’s a lifestyle. Choosing to homeschool will change your family in ways that you can never imagine. When I started I had no idea how much I would come to enjoy my children’s company. I had no idea that they would become best friends with each other. I had no idea how much I would come to love learning. When we started homeschooling I had no idea how much my relationship with my husband would grow. I had no idea just how much money we would spend on books and how little desire I have to watch television these days. I had no idea that I would weep when my younger daughter finally started to read on her own. I had no idea how different my priorities would be. I had no idea how much I would love being a teacher (to MY children… I don’t think I could teach other people’s kids). I had no idea how many wonderful family traditions it would allow us to have.
There are thousands of reasons why homeschooling has been the best thing my family could have done. Maybe one day in ten is perfect and there are a few things along the way I would have done differently, but I would choose homeschooling over and over again if I had it to do again.
Bonus. I wish I knew the woman I would become… if I had known, I wouldn’t have waited so long to start.