by Vicki Bentley
Some of you have read my articles on “Beginning the Homeschool Journey,” and you know I have often been geographically challenged during the trip, both figuratively and physically. As we come to the end (sigh) of our homeschool “road,” I couldn’t resist one last “travel” analogy! Imagine this crooned by a misty-eyed veteran homeschool mom, maybe with the help of a few volunteers from the audience doing the ba ba da ba bum’s, followed by Things I’ve learned these past seventeen years – what I would do the same and what I would do differently.
[Fun parody omitted for copyright law purposes; ask me to sing it with you in person sometime!]
We started homeschooling because of the academic needs of our four younger daughters. Two of them were in the “gifted and talented” programs at our local public school, feeling quite un-challenged. Another daughter, born with cerebral palsy, had been miraculously healed at the age of two but was doing some catching up; we didn’t want her “labeled.” And we didn’t want our toddler to ever have to attend a public school.
So, not knowing anyone else I could call who taught their kids at home (I had met one mom several years earlier, several states away), I ordered a pre-packaged curriculum from a correspondence course. During the time I awaited its arrival, we did the typical “waffle” thing: We know this is what the Lord wants us to do. We’re doing the right thing. Why on earth did we think I could do this? I’ll be “doing school” till 10:00 every night! What have we gotten ourselves into? This is the right thing for our family. We can do this. Oh, no! Is it too late to change our minds?
When the box of materials arrived, I sat on the floor and cried.
That was seventeen years ago, and we have not regretted our decision. My last child has now finished her formal home education; I look back over our journey with a bittersweet longing for the only identity I now know, and I ask myself: If I had it to do all over again, what have I learned, seventeen years and seventeen kids later?
(1) We all need a routine.
Kids need routine for security. We had a good schedule (I am a compulsive list-maker, and that was a help to me). Our routine included responsibilities, so the children would know they were needed as part of the family unit, part of a ministry team (during this time, we fostered over thirty of our almost fifty “borrowed” children, many of them formally homeschooled as part of our family). That routine included daily prayer and character training.
Putting our routine in writing made us accountable and was a reminder to those of us who tend to be a bit forgetful. Having it in writing also helped relieve mom of the duty of being The Bad Guy. And when I started to feel “out of control” of my life, it was usually because I had (a) slacked off in my devotional time, which was a result of (b) getting a little too relaxed in my routine.
Now, this routine was not set in stone; we tried to maintain some flexibility (I think Flexibility is every homeschool mom’s middle name!). But we did rely on a realistic, basic starting point to keep life in perspective and give me some margin.
(2) I can do ANY thing for eight weeks!
When we first started, we worked with the same schedule as the local schools; it was all I knew. I eventually determined that working eight weeks on, one week off, for most of the year, with four weeks off at Christmas and in July, worked well for us. This gave me forty weeks of accountable study, which was four more than our state required, so I had four weeks’ leeway for days off, teacher sanity days, laundry catch-up, family trips, etc.
It is important to note that we were not enslaved by the calendar or the requirements of our state. I am of the firm belief that ALL our days were learning days, because we did our best to create a “learning lifestyle” environment. However, it was reassuring to me to know that we were above reproach, should the question ever arise from our local superintendent.
My first year, I thought I would be ultra-organized, so I lesson-planned (I use the term loosely) the entire year in August. So what happened when the first child didn’t grasp the math concept as quickly as we’d anticipated? Right—we “got behind” (or we thought we did –maybe you’ve been there, too). So that threw the whole plan off.
This panic taught me to have an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, but to divide that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. After all, I can do any thing for eight weeks! At the end of the eight weeks, I would evaluate our progress and during the week off would write down the plan for the next eight weeks.
One week off was long enough for the girls (and me!) to get a short break, or to catch up, if they’d lagged a bit. The one month off in December and in July gave them time for an extended break or project, but not enough time to forget what they had learned or to get bored.
(3) It is not my job to teach them everything. It is my job to teach them HOW TO LEARN.
There were times that even my overachiever had to remind me that I was expecting too much. I learned that they will inevitably have some gaps in their education—regardless of where they are educated; I just had to be selective about what gaps I was willing to leave, understanding that their education would not end at the age of eighteen.
I did my best to teach them the skills they needed to think for themselves, to evaluate what they read and heard, to think through processes. I prayed for revelation of their learning styles and their giftings so they could learn about God’s world from His perspective, to figure out how they fit into His plan for their lives, so they could minister to others in a way that would bring glory to Him.
Vicki Bentley, the mother of eight daughters, foster mom of over fifty since 1985, and grandma to fourteen wonderful grandbabies (so far) has homeschooled seventeen children over the last twenty years, with the strong undergirding of her husband Jim. She served for fourteen years as leader of her local support group of over 250 families, and has written Home Education 101: A Mentoring Program for New Homeschoolers, as well as other materials to help families. She has served on the executive board of the Home Educators Association of Virginia and has addressed state and national conventions, university teacher organizations, and many mothers’ groups; she currently coordinates HSLDA’s Early Years program (www.hslda.org). Vicki has a heart for moms, with strong practical wisdom and encouraging words. www.everydayhomemaking.com www.HomeEducation101.com