Although Ever-Patient and I fully embrace homeschooling and all the benefits we reap from it, homeschooling can be difficult. This next question comes from parents who see homeschooling as a possibility but just aren’t quite sure about it or these are some of the reasons I hear why they can’t homeschool.
What are the challenges of homeschooling?
1. The most obvious one: I am with my children all day during the week. I do love them but if I haven’t had any breaks or time without them, especially on the weekends, I lose patience easily. They have complete access to me during the day. I perform daily balancing acts. I am the fulcrum. They are my constant companions throughout the day. There is a fine line between feeling overwhelmed and feeling blessed.
Over the last few years, I have created time for myself outside of the home on weekday evenings often sewing or playing soccer or just going out to dinner with friends because the kids are older. On the weekends, Ever-Patient is more present while I spend a little more time in bed in the morning reading or catching up on sleep. I am grateful that he comes home by 4:00pm on weekdays and makes dinner with the kids. After dinner, the kids clean the kitchen before bed and Ever-Patient handles bedtime. After everyone is tucked in, I make my way upstairs for the last good night.
In the first year, the kids were all over me. They all needed me at once. Some were little and some were used to only having me after school and on the weekends. Things have settled down tremendously. They are all so independent and do their own thing. I think it’s because they know they can come to me at any time. It’s a paradox. The more accessible and close in physical proximity I am, the likelihood of them working/playing on their own increases.
2. Like I said, it’s ALL ME. Some of it is Ever-Patient. Some of it are the great mentors in their life that we’ve met through our homeschooling group and programs. Some of it is family. But it’s mostly me. What they learn, what they are exposed to, who they meet, what opportunities they encounter – for this, I am responsible. I can put a lot of pressure on myself by consuming my thoughts with what-if’s. What if I’m not doing enough with them? What if I am missing something? What if we don’t devote enough time to free play? What if we don’t make the effort to do the disciplined work? It’s easy to be both overwhelmed by their presence 24-7 and by the presence of self-doubt.
I remind myself of this quote from John Holt, “For it is love, not tricks and techniques of thought, that lies at the heart of all true learning.” Although I don’t officially “unschool,” we have many unschooling moments, where the children take on an interest passionately or I’ve lightly touched on a subject and they want to know anything and everything there is to know about it. I often let go of my agenda if the kids and their curiosity have taken them to a new place. There are also unexpected connections made during lessons and a spark is ignited. I am here to love them and nurture their love of learning. In fact, it’s not “all me,” it’s ALL THEM.
3. Homeschooling pushes me to my edges. I am naturally inclined to introversion. I’d like to stay in my cozy home, under my cozy quilt, snuggling with my cozy children. But remember challenge #1? In the beginning, I really had to commit myself to cultivate relationships with other homeschoolers. The kids and I need time to be with our peeps. The kids need their time with friends and I need time with moms to laugh, to share, and to commiserate. In the last few years, I have put our family out there and have made meaningful connections with other families. I have met the most wonderful, loving, and compassionate parents. The moms in my circle of community keep me going – their tenacity, their humour, their insights, their wisdom, their determination; they inspire me. But it’s always tough meeting new people. But I am happy to say that I’ve only met the most beautiful souls on this adventure.
Another edge of mine would be that whole nature thing. Talk about an edge. I definitely did not grow up like my kids are growing up where nature is concerned. It has always been our intention to have them be comfortable in the outdoors and eventually have a strong nature connection. In the last few years, I have spent more time outside than I have in my entire life. Again, it’s all on me. I have to set an example. I remember hiking in -20 degree weather with a baby strapped on me as I dragged a lagging toddler with the rest of the kids laughing and having fun ahead of me. I remember going up hills saying, “I think I can. I think I can…” I remember getting up early to prepare snacks, meals, and extra clothing for outdoor excursions. I remember slopping through rainy trails wondering how my children are still smiling and finding wonder in snails while they are soaking wet. I remember camping for the first time with all of my children. All edges. All things that I might not have done if it weren’t for homeschooling.
4. External judgement, misconceptions, and the never-ending questions can test one’s patience. For the most part, people approach me with genuinely curious questions about homeschooling. Does the school board give you material? No. Do you have to report what you teach them? No. How are they going to learn how to take tests? Ummm… How are they going to get into university, get a job, and be successful? (Cue deep sigh and I walk away.) Homeschooling is probably one of the biggest decisions we have made for our family. It isn’t just school at home. I simply haven’t taken over the role of the teacher and the location of school has changed. It is a way of life for us. Defending a way of life isn’t for the faint of heart. You must trust yourself, your partner, and your children.
#1 has had the most trouble defending it to her peers. She is an athlete who plays a sport at a high level and there really aren’t many homeschoolers. She hates having to explain herself and “what she does.” It’s difficult to be a minority and to do the unconventional. The younger kids have no problem telling strangers our business. The best thing is to see how people react. They don’t react to the message that we homeschool. They react to the delivery – my kids look people in the eye and clearly articulate what we do. During the moment that the stranger is stunned, I bolt with the kids before I have to do more explaining. (Remember that introvert thing?)
5. There is a financial cost associated with homeschooling. One partner stays at home. We give up an extra income and we don’t get any subsidies from the government to support our choice. We are fortunate that we can live quite comfortably on one income. I am grateful every day for being able to homeschool but there are sacrifices that we make. I rarely buy the kids new clothes unless it is outdoor gear that they have worn through. The kids choose one activity to do each season in addition to their Scouts and outdoor program. All of their birthday presents and Christmas presents from grandparents go towards their extra-curriculars. We cut our own hair. We prioritize our spending. What helps me run a smoother household? What experiences do I want to spend money on?
Ever-Patient and I constantly touch base on where we want to spend our money. It’s great for the kids to see. We communicate about how we value our time and what we are willing to pay for. The lesson of opportunity cost is one I teach frequently. We have to go back to why we homeschool which inevitably leads us down that road to re-defining or recalling what ‘happiness’ and ‘success’ means to us and how we want the children to define it for themselves.
Without Ever-Patient’s support, this journey would have been close to impossible. Every challenge I face as a homeschooler, he faces. He gets both positive and negative comments from the general public but his constant faith in what we do has never wavered (even though mine does). Karen said it best in her comment on one of my recent homeschooling posts. One of her pros on her pros/cons list was that her “family would be happier.” I’ve thought a lot about that over the past few days. Although we have rough days (and there are rough ones with 7 different personalities in this house physically together on a daily basis), the absolutely fantastic days have grossly outweighed them. I hear “this is the best day ever” often. I hear “thank you mom for this day” often. Happiness flows in and out of our days. We’ve slowed life right down so I can pinpoint exact moments of pure bliss like naming stars in the vast sky that is our world we have created at home.
Homeschoolers! What challenges have you faced? Parents with children in school…do you have any questions about homeschooling? I’d love to answer any of them!
Tomorrow, on my last post of “Our Homeschooling Story” series, I will answer a few controversial questions and also talk about what my children have taught me on this journey.