If you haven’t read my article on how to have conversations when we make different school choices, you may want to do so before reading this article, but if not, that’s okay, too. Bottom line: I love all my readers, and I love the diversity you all bring to the conversation, even when we disagree!
Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, some of my friends are ready for traditional school to get back to normal. They love their children and enjoy spending time with them, but are fervently praying for schools to open! Other friends are intrigued by the possibilities of homeschooling, and are exploring their options (especially if a particular school is already going to be so modified as to be unhealthy for their children).
For all of you, for my friends who do not have children, and for my friends who homeschool for reasons of their own, I’d like to talk about some of the underlying reasons we homeschool. This is our 13th year homeschooling, and we have three children (going into 12th, 11th, and 8th). We like to say that our schooling choices give us tradeoffs. Even though we sometimes give up some good things that traditional school offers, we haven’t found anything essential that we can’t duplicate, and we like the unique advantages that homeschooling gives us.
I love that my older children have the freedom to shape their education to fit their goals. I work hard to help them take ownership of their education, even if it does mean that I have to be willing to let them have different goals than have (like time spent on writing assignments, high GPA, or even college attendance). I love that David can plan an hour of photo editing into his morning from time to time, or that Bethel has time to pursue her interest in creative writing. Last year, David asked if he could do an additional semester of biology so he could study ornithology in depth. We spend a lot of time experimenting with how we learn best, and when, or how we measure achievement or reaching goals. Traditional school works well when you have traditional goals, or work well in a traditional environment, but parents may be surprised to discover that their children appreciate greater freedom in education.
I like that I have the freedom to include subjects I believe are important. Some are specific to religious freedom and Christian values. Others are simply topics that the public schools don’t have time to cover, or have gotten lost in the curriculum and testing regimen. I like being able to choose a math curriculum that fits them well. We cover local history more thoroughly than others (and, since we move every three years, we end up covering a wide variety of local history). As I teach literature, I can teach a great number of classics written by Christian men and women that are not typically a part of the public school classroom. (The Bronze Bow, in elementary school, for example, or Milton and Solzhenitsyn in high school). I’ve had teen neighbors who stop reading altogether because of the depressing curriculum stuffed down their gullet.
Homeschooling is quite effective at transmitting one’s world view. We know that homeschoolers on average perform as well or better than their peers. What is scary to public school officials and politicians is that isolating a child from the secular world view in the public school and inculcating one’s own world view is remarkably effective. The thoroughness of indoctrination is what scares people, and that interests me. I’m convinced I can teach my children to be better citizens of our country at home. I’m deeply concerned by the culture of bullying and intolerance at our public schools, and I’m hopeful that we can make a difference in our community with kindness and intentional love for others.
Parents are often worried about spending too much time with their children. “We’ll tear each other apart!” my friends tell me. They may be surprised that patience and enjoying our children comes gradually, and time actually can help those things grow. I’m learning patience by living with my children, by failing and starting over the next day. Along the way, I have grown to love watching my children learn. I like sharing in their discoveries and interests. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, though. We can get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes I’m too intense and they cry over math. Other times I fight with fatigue and want to cancel school three months ahead of time. Overall, though, the teen years have been delightful, and I’m glad I have time to know the lovely people they are becoming. As they develop interests and start making afternoon and evening plans on their own, I am happy for them. I know I wouldn’t be so happy if those were the only hours I saw them each week.
One of the surprising advantages of homeschooling is how it fits our family schedule. Our children see their dad during the weekdays when he is home, since he works through many weekends. We can take vacations during odd times. We’ve been able to spend time when family members have had terminal illnesses without getting behind in school, because we can take school with us for these extended trips. Our military moves are less stressful because our school travels with us. These end up to be spiritual advantages: we spend a lot of time together, and I think that’s been good for our family.
Teaching God’s Word and Ways
Parents are charged with the very sober responsibility of teaching their children to know and love God. They are a child’s first teachers of God’s Word and ways, regardless of where their children go to school, whether they are natural teachers or not, or how much Bible they were taught as a children. For this responsibility, we like the laboratory of the home better than the laboratory of the public school.
The danger, of course, for homeschooling families, is to think that simply having children home 24/7 means that they are being taught God’s ways. Actually, teaching our children about God requires active decision making throughout the day and year. When my children are discouraged, we can stop and talk through that discouragement. I can help them learn how to disagree with love. I can help them understand how to be good stewards of the minds that God has given them. All of these things are possible to teach children in after-school hours, of course, but homeschooling gives me more time to do it. Furthermore, I’m able to teach a Christian world view from the start, instead of undoing what has already been taught, day after day after day.
Practically speaking, as my children approach the end of the high school years, I’m excited and eager to see them stretching their wings and test their faith and ideas in other places. I’m thankful for the hours we’ve spent talking about God and his ways and word. I love the conversations that happen organically as we live life together, and I think homeschooling allows these conversations more often.
Cultivating Gospel Community
Homeschooling gives us more time as a family that we can invest in our local church community. We’re not worried about getting home on time because the kids have to get up early. We don’t have homework in the evenings (mostly!). We can take a day or week off for special projects. It’s not that you can’t prioritize community in other situations, but it does make for a super busy lifestyle. Our friends who love the local church and also are schooling traditionally are some of the busiest people I know. We like having more time margin than that!
I like that the center of our close relationships is at church rather than school or our neighborhood. I love seeing my children seek out younger children, older children, and also peers each Sunday. We’ve made youth group activities an important part of our schedule, and I love the opportunities our children have to build friendships with other Christian teens. Our small group has no teenagers, but it has adults who love our children and include them in casual conversations and also spiritual discussion. I love the freedom to linger over conversations at night.
Of course, there are many other decisions that go into nurturing a love for our local church. We bring our love for the church to our homeschooling lifestyle. What homeschooling gives us is more time to express that love as we attend church events, and serve and love people.
Cultivating Godly Friends
In our experience, homeschooling is particularly well suited for the task of seeking godly friendships.
Traditional schooling can sometimes mask the need for godly friends, because students are around lots of people much of the time and may not hunger for relationships. They may not be around godly friends, and it’s hard to predict or ensure good mentors and peers.
It’s actually been a surprise to my older children that their school friends can be lonely, too. All of our children need time to pursue friendships. We have appreciated the ability we have to encourage friendships that will build up our children in a variety of ways. We value the time and flexibility we have to invest in our friends around the world.
When our children were younger we sought out families who shared the same values with us. We did many field trips and classes together. In the younger ages, the interests of our children were not as important as the places we met: parks and trails, backyards and living rooms. Some years we built in much of this socializing to our school week, planning four days for academic subjects, and one day a week for social activities. As our children have grown older, their interests have played a larger role in how we plan their social interactions. We still prioritize wise friends– who we invite over for dinner, or plan afternoon or weekend outings. Sometimes those friends are homeschooled and we plan field trips together. In addition, we’ve added in some community activities– community sports, science club, music opportunities. These change from semester to semester, and allow us to reach out to families who might be quite different from us.
This coming school year, many parents are seeking God’s wisdom, and many of my friends are torn because their first choice is not available or has become unsuitable. I’m praying for direction as you seek to do what is best for your children and your family. One thing that helps me is remembering that my choice in a school year is rarely unrevokable, that is, I can make adjustments throughout the year if our approach is not working well. It’s also helpful to remember that my child’s education or social development is rarely destroyed in a single semester or even year. God has not abandoned our children; nevertheless, I’ll need to consider that God may use COVID to lead them in unexpected ways. We can trust him!