Looking Down the Road Less Traveled
By Michael Somerville.
I like beginnings. For me, beginnings are full of exciting possibility! I find myself brimming with confidence … before I start making mistakes! When I was younger (and possibly more foolish), I felt that I could do anything I set out to do. My attitude was, “Bring it on, world!” Growing up, I remember enjoying the excitement of the beginning of school. I loved the smell and feel of new books, the fresh sheets of clean paper, the return to a rigorous routine, and the sense of challenge and adventure that filled each day, as I learned what each new year would hold.
As a homeschooled student, I knew that the start of each year looked different for me than for many of my peers. Honestly, not very much changed from year to year for me. For the most part, I had the same teacher (Mom) and the same classmate (my older brother). I also had the same principal — my dad.Looking back, I realize how much those years shaped me, and I feel privileged to have had the benefit of years of investment from my mom, my siblings, and my dad. Now that I am over a dozen years away from my homeschool graduation, and starting homeschool all over again, I find that the memories linger, but things look different now that I am in a new role.
We don’t talk much about the start of school for homeschool dads. Each September, in many homes, wives and mothers are in the thick of everything, starting classes, setting routines, training, teaching, running around, and just generally making school work. With full appreciation and gratitude for their efforts, I want to pause for just a moment and talk with fathers about our return to a new year of school.
Now that I am a homeschool dad myself, I have come to recognize and appreciate the important contribution that I make in our home school, and I want to think out loud with you about this for a moment. In case you’re wondering, I don’t think there is anything especially profound in what I want to share, but I hope it’s encouraging, from one dad to another.
The title of this blog post comes from a Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.” In his simple (but elegant) poem, Frost describes his feelings as he must decide between two roads, knowing he cannot choose both, and of his decision to choose the one “less traveled by.” In choosing this, he realizes that it may mark a turning point in his life. It may even make “all the difference.” I think we all know that feeling, to one degree or another.
Educationally speaking, making the decision to homeschool is equivalent to choosing the path that looks less traveled. I don’t know whether you are passionately committed to home education, whether it’s simply the right choice for this year, whether you are finally letting your wife try something she wants to do with the kids, or whether you have some other reason for your decision. Regardless, your family is taking the path less travelled, and I believe it will make a difference.
I tend to be somewhat cautious when making big decisions. I want to love and protect my family. I’m sure you do too. They are some of the most important people in the world, to me. I certainly don’t want to lead them down a road that leads to regret. But how do we know what the future holds? As we set off down the path of homeschooling this year, let’s try to look a little further down this road in order to see where it might lead. Will it lead to regret or rejoicing? What might the choice to homeschool mean for my family? I’d like to offer three simple ways that homeschooling will almost certainly affect my family, by way of illustration.
- My wife has a job.
- My kids have a team.
- I am an investor.
Will these changes affect my family in a positive or a negative way over the next year? I believe that depends on how I lead my family’s homeschool in the days and weeks ahead, to some degree. I’m not a bystander. I’m a part of this. Let me expand on these ideas and consider how my involvement in each of these areas can positively impact my family. Remember that I am a relatively young homeschool dad, so I’ll also be drawing on memories of how my father led our school as I was growing up.
My wife has a job.
As I go through the year, I need to remember this fact, and build her up in her new role. In the spirit of Ephesians 5:28, I want to love my wife and see her succeed in her job. I want my wife to have a great year! Now, homeschool moms are teachers, and most teachers that I’ve talked to tell me that the key to a great year is having great kids to teach and having supportive leadership. Hopefully, your kids are great, so you’re off to a good start already! Even with the best kids, poor leadership can suck the joy out of teaching. On the other hand, good leadership helps encourage teachers and helps them overcome problems that will inevitably arise during the year, even with the best of kids.
Growing up, I remember how actively my dad stayed engaged in our schooling. He was always ready to help Mom make adjustments, lovingly enforce our respect for her as our teacher, gently peel her off the ceiling after a long day with all of us, and boisterously lead the cheers for her successes!
As I step into my role as a homeschool dad, I want to do the same for my wife, and grow in my ability to support her in her job. I want to make sure that I am a good steward of her gifts. I want to see her grow in her skill as a teacher. I want her to look back on this year with rejoicing, not regret.
My kids have a team.
As homeschoolers, our kids will spend a LOT of time with one another. They will be each other’s classmates and teammates. Our children will get their first teamwork practice by learning to work with each other. I’ve come to believe that learning to work as part of a team is a critical life skill, and I’ve come to realize that teamwork is an amazing thing. In a team, many people join together to do a job that they cannot do alone. This applies to education. It’s a big job, and we need others. But, here’s my question. Do my kids see their education as an individual effort, or as a team project? I feel that one of the wonderful advantages of homeschooling is the chance to learn as a whole family.
We were not hugely into sports when we were growing up, but I do remember my fair share of Little League games, soccer practices, and other team activities. Active participation in the Boy Scouts sharpened my awareness of working as a team, as well as participation in Chess Club and various high school dramatic presentations. I know that I learned so much by “eavesdropping” on my older brother’s education at the kitchen table. My older brother became my best friend and study partner during our years of learning together. As we got older, I remember games that we’d all play at dinner to quiz each other on our knowledge of geography or history. Guess who was the most passionate learner in our homeschool? Dad. He modeled what it meant to enjoy learning, and would use dinner to see what we were discovering. He tried to include each of the six of us, asking questions that we could answer, and making us feel like our education was something we were all doing together.
As I look at my family, I want to help my kids learn from each other. As a homeschool dad, I want to consider how I can help coach my kids as they to work together so that they help each other learn, and challenging each other without belittling one another. I want them to know the fun of learning as a team. I want to model what it looks like to rejoice in team success and build others up!
I am an investor.
Home schooling generally requires a parent to devote their full time to teaching. (As a quick aside, I know that there are single parent families and families where outside work by both parents is a necessity. My hat is off to you. Your commitment is commendable.) More often, the choice to homeschool means that one spouse gives up the extra income that could be earned at a job while the kids are off at school. Dad, if your situation is like mine, and you are the primary breadwinner, that means you probably are also the key investor in your home school.
Think about it. You are the wealthy benefactor who endows your school with the resources it needs. You are paying the tuition for all of the students in your school. You are the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. For me, this represents a major investment of time, energy, and money.
Is it worth it? Will I look on my investment with rejoicing or regret down the road? I encourage you (as I encourage myself) to be an active, hands-on investor. Don’t just pay the bills. Be watching your kids and enjoying their learning process. Check in on them. For the past few days, I’ve been coming home and saying to myself, “I’m going to ask to see what they did in school today.” I’ve been delighted to see what my kids are doing. It makes it more special for them, too, knowing that I value their work. Now, the future is always uncertain (although God knows it perfectly).
While I don’t know what the long-term return will be in my family, I do have the fairly unique privilege of watching my dad as he is on the receiving end of his investment. I must say, the returns look pretty good to me.
Men, let’s start the year strong, let’s stay engaged, and let’s finish well! In Robert Frost’s poem, he says that it is with a sigh that he realizes that his decision has made all the difference. If we someday say with a sigh that we took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference, let’s have it be a sigh of satisfaction, not regret!
Regardless of how you feel about the choice to homeschool this year, remember that we are following our Leader, and that our job is to authentically model our Father to our families, albeit very imperfectly. Over the next year, I look forward to finding ways to help my wife succeed at her job, to coach my kids as they learn as a team, and to seeing my investment thrive.
What are ways that you seek to lead your home schools? Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for a young homeschool dad? I would love to learn from others who are on this journey with me.