To “Thirty Years” and Beyond – Lessons Learned

In the early 80s while in seminary in Texas, I listened to radio broadcasts on parenting. One intriguing interview introduced a recycled idea, “homeschooling.” It was new to me as Raymond and Dorothy Moore, homeschool pioneers, encouraged waiting to begin formal schooling, especially with boys, and doing it at home. They did not mean to bring “traditional school” home but involve all age children in life learning – a one room schoolhouse – resulting in a complete education. While pondering these thoughts, days later, I met and talked to my first homeschooling family.

Considering this option, I collected everything I could find about homeschooling and jumped on the bandwagon. In 1985 we attended one of the earliest homeschool conferences in the country, in Orlando. Hundreds of other curious parents joined us in the quest for how to do get equipped for this educational concept.

With three small boys and convinced to homeschool, many concerns and apprehensions remained, especially under intense scrutiny from others – family, friends, and even strangers. Is this legal? How will they learn? How will they take standardized tests –be socialized – survive missing the prom? How will they ever go to college? These sincere questioners were usually met with, my honest, unimpressive answer, “I don’t know.” Questions have finally ended, but in those early days, we certainly felt we were “out on a shaky limb.”

When our oldest was five, someone gave us a full kindergarten curriculum, gold to a new homeschool mom with no book budget. This impressive program taught a concept, then repeated it daily for weeks until mastered. Excitedly, I began Day 1, the “Five Vowels” lesson. Wanting to get it right, I followed the well-scripted lesson for the day. Rising early on Day 2, I read the next script, which repeated the lesson from the day before, when my son interrupted, “Mommy, you told me that yesterday – I already know all that – why are you saying it again?” My first lesson – every child learns differently – at “his” own pace – and timing is everything. I would have wasted the next six weeks because he began reading in the first five days. Don’t be impressed. That situation never repeated itself in my other children…Lesson #2one size doesn’t fit all –my first son was just ready! In fact, my second son learned to read at age nine, even though I tried to teach him every month. He went to bed a non-reader and woke up reading whole books.

Pregnant with my 4th, I often frantically moved through my days as homeschool mom and busy pastor’s wife. I tried to stay off the phone since all broke lose when someone called me. I had punted on the kindergarten curriculum, ordering a simple phonics program for $12. Lesson #3 – It doesn’t have to cost much to be effective. In fact my children learned from home made, “hand-me-down,” inexpensive, and “no” curriculum throughout the years. Curriculum Lesson, #4 stop searching for the “perfect” curriculum – it does not exist, and there will always be new ones.

Homeschooling was not for the faint of heart. Our adventure included instruction and arguments – tears and laughter – frustrations and breakthroughs. Surrounded by nursing babies, toddlers, teens, and the male energy of seven sons was challenging and intense, but the woods and trampoline came in handy for dispelling some of that energy. One morning we were reading from Ephesians 6 about the pieces of armor. I tried to make sure we read something from the Bible first – just in case we got nothing else done that day– #5 lessonif we read the Bible and talked meaningfully about life, the day was considered a success in our often crazy household. The conversation that followed led to a son’s personal commitment to Christ later in the day. Lesson #6a simple homeschool day can change a life – a child’s or a parent’s.

Eventually “eight was enough” – seven sons and one long-awaited-for daughter. Each baby’s arrival changed and challenged our schedule. Lesson #7there was no perfect homeschool schedule. It constantly changed with people and life’s interruptions. We all had to learn to embrace these times, not despise them – they were part of the curriculum specially made for my family. I started out controlling and strict in my early approach to homeschooling, but then something would happen – a burp, a really dirty diaper, and everyone would fall apart laughing. One day birds came down our chimney and flew around our house, causing uproar. We were terrorized but couldn’t stop laughing. If it snowed we had to declare a snow day and head for the hill outside. Lesson #8never stop laughing and enjoying the homeschool process. Laughter, flexibility, and field trips were our best friends on difficult days. As frustration mounted, I yelled, “field trip.” Within minutes we were out the door for the nearest park and mountain stream…peace.

Moving back to Florida in 1999 with high school sons, I looked for ways to accomplish advanced high school subjects. Florida’s public school system allowed my boys to play multiple sports, sing in choirs – some making “all state” chorus, and perform in Epcot’s Candlelight Processionals. One got the lead in a high school musical and was later awarded “most talented” superlative in the high school yearbook his senior year, without being a student at the school! One was asked to pray the blessing at every varsity football team meal all season. School leaders appreciated our guys and we loved this contact with the community as a family. I began a homeschool co-op to encourage others to keep going through high school, with moms helping moms. We participated in the dual enrollment program at local colleges, with seven graduating from high school with Associate of Arts degrees – tuition free. This provided further growth and life lessons as our children took the challenge of college courses while still being at home.

Homeschooling has changed, gaining momentum and respect. Myriads of curriculums available – state conventions around the country – massive used book sales – enrichment and academic co-ops – technological advances – more acceptance as an educational option. It is not an easy road, as unpredictable as each child, with his own unique gifts and callings. I never believed the people who told me how quickly the years would go by. Yet here I am, officially done this spring, thankful my children weathered well the path of homeschooling, with me and in spite of me. I tried to find the right plan for each child every year but final lesson learnedthere was no perfect path – no guarantee.

My prayer – “God, I will give homeschooling my best; will You make up the difference?” He has done that and more. 64116_4753431521046_1148517697_nLooking back, I worried I would not do enough or be enough – my children wouldn’t read the right books – get the scores, the scholarships. Chaos of family and church life would overwhelm us. Yet during those times, my children were learning life’s most important lessons – how to love God – love each other – and love the people around them. We pass an engraved baton to mark the transition of each graduate from high school. How they are running is not without pain but with character and endurance. My eldest and wife are now homeschooling what they call his “village” of six children. This journey has been more than worth the thirty years investment, and I cannot wait to see what is “beyond.”

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