Since COVID19 has forced families to home school, I thought it might be helpful to share from my experience. I have often referred to Joe and me as educational schizophrenics. Over the 25 years we parented full time, we public schooled, private schooled, boarding schooled and home schooled our seven children. I spent more than half those years homeschooling, and even though it was super demanding, I have many fond memories of being at home with my kids all day. Here a few of my favorite things about it.
1. Ruling our schedule: Having a school decide what time my family must get up in the morning, arrive at concerts, and endure athletic contests can make us all feel chained to rushing. Sleeping in and having an empty calendar were gifts to me in an otherwise busy world. I believe my children were well adjusted because their schedule was tailored to suit our family’s needs, including the chaos of welcoming a new baby every two years.
2. Establishing our family identity: Joe’s most vital contribution to homeschooling was a single phrase we continue to use as a family: “Remember who you represent.” With kids at home all day, I was able to drive home the fact that the Colemans are Christians and we do things God’s way. We began each day with “conference,” something akin to a morning meeting at school. We read scripture and prayed. We talked about sins and mistakes from the prior day. We reviewed the calendar and the chore chart. It positioned me as the daytime leader, but the kids knew they had to face Joe later if they gave me flack. Ultimately, it positioned God as Savior and King, a position he holds in our children’s lives now that they are adults.
3. Teaching my kids to read and reading aloud to them: Few things are more satisfying for me than knowing I am responsible for my children’s academic foundation. Our home was filled with phonics-based reading books from the Abeka Curriculum. This set the stage for them to enjoy the rainy days we curled up on the sofa as I read chapter books aloud. We were especially riveted by the literary adventures included in the Sonlight Curriculum.
4. Training my children to do chores: This was an absolute necessity given the size of our family. There was no way I could nurse a newborn, homeschool, and do all of the housework so I trained the children to do it. Everyone followed the chore chart, and if they could talk they were working. That meant two year-olds emptied waste baskets, while others made their beds, swept floors, and washed dishes. All of my children were doing their own laundry by age six. That’s what step stools are for, right?
5. Journaling: Because I love to write, it was natural for me to expect my children to write every day. We used Writing Strands in addition to journals that included space to draw a picture to go with the writing. We also maintained a family journal where I encouraged the children to document family memories. Those journal entries are absolutely priceless now!
6. Binge watching PBS and Little House on the Prairie: One of my friends described me as an “unschooler,” a term applied to those who have a less structured homeschool style. I kinda resented it at the time because I ran a very tight ship and my kids will attest to that. Admittedly, however, the kids were done with their schoolwork by noon most days and that left a lot of time to fill. PBS was a savior and the educational programs ignited my kids’ imagination. When it was time to play, they often acted out what they had seen on TV, building trains by lining up chairs in the living room, pretending to be Laura Ingalls, or reenacting scenes from The Voyage of the Mimi, a drama that starred a 10-year old Ben Affleck.
7. Filling our lives with music: People remarked over the years that my children seemed so happy, but I didn’t really understand it at the time. I now can attribute their joy to the fact that we were always singing. I made up a song for being obedient, for going to bed, for learning the 13 colonies. When we travelled we played music in the car, and of course we were at church three times a week where music is central to worship. At home, this meant concerts with pots and pans that morphed into a drumset in my living room. No regrets. There’s nothing like watching my children perform or lead worship now that they’re adults.
8. Rest time: My children took naps – actually slept – every day until they were six years old, if not older. They didn’t know anything else except our afternoon rhythm that included time on their beds. As they got older, they read quietly or colored pictures. I needed this time to regroup or prep dinner. It was a non-negotiable way for me to stay sane.
I understand that it was my choice to homeschool while parents right now are being forced into it. Many are also required to work from home with kids there. I can’t even imagine how tough that is.
But at least you’re in it with all of your friends and family members. Encourage one another and be strong. Give yourself an hour of silence each morning to plan the day for your family. See this time as an opportunity to help your kids with remedial work or to help them develop the habit of being self-guided with online tools. Most importantly, use this time to teach your children some of the practical and spiritual things you can’t teach them when you’re separated all day every day.
Homeschooling is hard, but it’s worth it.