It has been an adventurous five years. So many memories are made in the beautiful, sometimes hard minutes that make up home-school days with many little minds and hearts to teach and shepherd. I was raised in the public-school system, with a brief stint in Catholic school, and half a decade into doing something entirely different with my own children’s education, it never ceases to amaze me the unique opportunities this lifestyle and educational method affords.
Home-school life yields countless new insights each home-school year about oneself, one’s children, and the art, joy and challenge of home schooling.
I share five big-picture takeaways from the past five years of home schooling.
1. Follow the child. This principle, which is foundational in the Montessori method (an education philosophy I often draw from in the early years) has been a guiding light. I have to ask myself often — during big-picture planning for the year and during specific moments in our home-school day — “what is best for this child right now?”
One of the significant benefits of home schooling is the ability to customize education to a particular child. I have learned to take advantage of that; it helps me know when to push, when to pull back, how to identify and fuel a passion, and how to focus on a child’s unique needs rather than what a sibling, neighbor, hybrid or private school is doing. It helps me to focus not in terms of “ahead” or “behind,” but to focus on his or her own pace. It’s relieving and freeing. I try to avoid comparisons and “if onlys”; and, instead, I just do the next right thing for the child right in front of me in the present moment.
To expand the principle, I’ve also learned to “follow the family”: to check in and make sure I’m not constructing or comparing our home school to someone else’s, but align our approach with our unique combination of people, gifts, passions, strengths and weaknesses.
There is no one right way to home school. Follow the child, follow the family’s mission and style, and, most especially, follow the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
2. Prioritize delight … and rest. I want my children to enjoy home education, to take delight in each other and in our days learning together. I try to begin the day with enthusiastic greetings when I first see my children: “Good morning! I can’t wait to have a wonderful day with you!” We do tea time together (diving into religion, poetry, literature, science, memory work, history, book chats, etc.) over tea and healthy treats, we weave liturgical living into the day (recently eating breakfast in our “hermit cave” under the table on St. Benedict’s feast day), we read aloud a lot (we were having so much fun reading aloud together in our first year of home schooling that I became a children’s book author!), we vacation when others are in school, and we take random days off when the weather is wonderful to hike or play or adventure. I try to smile a lot (even when I don’t feel like it). I have to be intentional about making time to delight in my children and my home-school life so I don’t get caught up in a stressful to-do list of academic subjects or extracurriculars. That said, I also make sure I don’t burn myself out. I nap, take time to read, and weave in hobbies as I’m able, recognizing that my home school needs a peaceful parent running it.
3. Make a plan, but don’t hold onto it too tightly. I curate our curriculum each year, but if you choose a boxed curriculum, someone else has taken care of the daily plan. I’ve gotten better at making sure that whatever plan I follow, it aligns with my vision for our home school (which requires that I take time to articulate a vision in the first place). I’ve learned to make sure my plan plays to my own strengths, so I’m not uncomfortable or bored or inconsistent as the teacher. I’ve learned to know myself, to know my kids, to be flexible and adapt as needed, and to remind myself that every home-school day will not be epic and memorable; and that’s okay. I’m aiming at a plan that is peaceful, sustainable and joyful, while, of course, educational.
4. Emphasize relationships. While we learn together, we learn to get along together.
I want to help my children foster friendships with one another, which they have a unique opportunity to do when they are together all day!
I know I need to prioritize my relationship with God through daily prayer and learn to be patient with myself, as he is with me; to admit my mistakes; and to call on God throughout the day, in good times and bad, so I can be Christ to my children.
I also emphasize their relationships with God and their faith, making time for daily prayer, Mass (at least on Fridays, which is also a great opportunity to connect with other home-school families), and by caring more about their virtue formation than test scores.
I have learned that I am a mom, not a teacher, first; that is an irreplaceable role. If a math lesson is just destroying my relationship with a child on a given Tuesday, I shift gears (no learning is happening amidst intense frustration anyway) and rebuild that relationship first.
5. Trust and entrust. The greatest lesson I have learned, and am still learning, and probably will never fully appreciate until the end of my home-schooling journey, is that if your trust is great, God’s generosity will be limitless. My meager efforts encounter God’s greatness and, over time, little and big miracles happen. Entrust your children to Christ’s Sacred Heart and to Our Lady. Entrust yourself to the Holy Spirit. Do your best, which won’t be perfect, and God will take it from there.