It occurred to me that one role I have as an older women is to share encouragement and perspective (dare I call it wisdom?) with those coming after me. I am privileged to have completed the homeschool journey with six children who are now adults, and have made me the grandmother of ten (so far). As such, I am able to look back on the road from a bit of a height, and with hindsight. And you know what they say about hindsight–20/20 vision is much clearer! So, this post is meant as encouragement from an older woman, who looks back and is able to get above the fray and pick out some major milestones that might be hard to see when you’re in the middle of the journey with only the headlights on your car to guide you through the fog.
Permit me to start with an analogy of how I feel that all of life (including homeschooling) works. Imagine with me a virgin forest: the kind with lots of tall, deciduous trees and not much thorny underbrush. Year after year, this forest is undisturbed by man. Year after year, each spring, leaves appear on the trees. The sun warms them; the rain waters them. They grow. The fall comes; they whither and fall to the ground. The rains come; the snow falls. The sun beats down; the winds blow. In the spring, new leaves appear, and the cycle starts again. After about 70 years of undisturbed cycles, what would you find on the forest floor? Usually, deep, rich humus: fertile, dark soil that has “naturally” occurred. But, what if a forest fire has ripped through about 10 years ago? Then the soil would have evidence of that event. What if humans had come through and done some logging? Their tire tracks and felled trees would have left their mark. Places where animals have wintered would have soils enriched by animal wastes, but also compression from where they had made their homes and laid down, night after night, to sleep. Etc.
Now, you can’t hurry the natural processes outlined above; nor can you hope to exactly duplicate them. Each spring, summer, winter, and fall contribute different characteristics to the overall quality and makeup of the soil that formed. Some winters were brutally cold; others mild. Some falls were wet; some summers brought drought. That fertile soil took decades to form, yet one could say that it was formed by individual leaves, by sticks, by animals, by weather, and by the grand design of God’s creation working silently, at His direction, year in and year out. Change any of these contributing elements or conditions, and the soil would be different. Each of these has a role, but you wouldn’t say that any of them was determinative. The soil is what it is, at its broadest level, because God caused it to be that way.
I think that our lives are like that forest. Season by season, year by year, we have thoughts, we have interactions with people, we have experiences, we make efforts, we read books, we make decisions, and we hear persuasive words. Some memories are clearly etched in our minds; other things that happened to us–and shaped us–are not things we clearly remember at all. Yet, taken together, these influences and the general gene pool (and spiritual gifts) that we were given form us–almost imperceptibly–year by year. They make up the soil into which the gospel seeds fall, and either flourish, or merely survive, or fail the thrive altogether.
Who can say what makes one soul’s “soil” more fertile than anothers’? Well, there really are basic elements. Loving environments during childhood, educational opportunities, mentorship, opportunities for advancement, and the people who alternately teach us, cheer us on, or trip us up. These all play a part, certainly. But, could any human being duplicate the complex set of factors (inbred and external) that go into shaping a human life?
Americans are “can do” people. We love self help books, lists of steps to success, and the joy of individual achievement. When we homeschool moms start thinking about homeschooling, we naturally ask, “What must I do to be successful?” Seeing the daunting amount of work involved, we naturally want to know, “What do I do in order to journey well?” When looking into curricula, we ask, “Will this one make me a successful teacher, and my child a successful student?”
Here’s the thing that I want to say, in a nutshell: you were not formed by any one influence, and neither will your child be. What I see, looking back, is that my children remember so little of the day to day, nitty-gritty of the academics that we did in our homeschools. That nitty-gritty, daily teaching and learning mattered, but, at the same time, it was just one of the factors that shaped them–and to my way of seeing with 20/20 vision, a minor one. So many other little things were almost as life-changing as were the academic pursuits–things I couldn’t control, like an emotionally painful encounter with neighbor kids, or becoming lost in a grocery store, or winning an important sports match and becoming puffed up with pride. As homeschoolers, my husband and I —who we were and, thus, how we reacted to life’s situations, great and small, happy or sad, challenging or easy–were the biggest single influencers in our homeschooled children’s lives. Our characters, passions, hopes, and dreams have translated, in various forms and in various degrees, to all of our six (very different) children. The things that we did not value, esteem, or promote have secondary places in our adult children’s affections to this day.
So, as you consider homeschooling academic things (like curricula, outside classes, hobbies and electives) consider yourself as well. To begin with, your soul’s “soil” is still forming. God is not done with you yet. Embrace this fact, and put your growth moments on full display. The best single thing you can do for your child is to grow yourself. Grow in godliness. Grow in humility. Grow in servanthood. Grow as a helpmeet to your husband. Grow in repentance, and in forgiveness. Grow in kindness. Grow in trusting God. Certainly, grow in diligence as you learn to teach academic subjects. Of course, actively instruct your child as you rise up, and as you sit at home, and as you lie down. Do make the effort to find the best fit for this season for curricula. I’m not making a plea for unschooling here! But, looking back, it was how Scott and I grew in all these things, not the content of spoken or written lessons that most shaped my homeschooled children. As a disciple (and homeschooling teacher) it is not required that you present a perfect picture of a Christian to your child, but you do want to present a passionate, pursuing, growing, changing, and ever-more-lovely (meaning, of course, more Christlike) one! If you are growing, believe me, your child will grow likewise! If you are stagnant, your instruction will lack that life-giving spark of authenticity that children need to be inspired to imitate you. “Do as I say, not as I do” has never produced good results as a pedagogical philosophy!
Before you get overwhelmed, let me just say this: God is already at work on this project! God uses your experiences in the season of journeying with your children into homeschooling as part of the mix of your unique soul soil. You aren’t finished yet, and as He equips you to meet and greet the challenges of the homeschool journey, the hills and valleys are all part of God’s rain and wind and drought and sunshine–the elements that He beautifully orchestrates to bring forth the varying expressions of Himself in you and in your children. Like that forest, the process is full of so many imperceptible moments and elements that no one but an omniscient, loving God could ever orchestrate it. But we do have such a God, and He really is at work! Be of good cheer, for, with Paul I can say with certainty that “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 (ESV)