If you are new to homeschooling, you have already found that you have to contend with a myriad of choices and voices. As with any new endeavor, you must learn a new vocabulary, involving such words as “modalities” and “fine motor skills” and “unit study approach.” It’s a steep learning curve about a really important topic–your child’s education–and it can be bewildering and stressful!
Many different vendors of curricula, leading authors, and well-meaning friends (or relations) may tell you that their program is “the best” or “the only” or “the essential” ingredient to successful teaching and/or parenting. These mentors all sincerely believe what they say, or they wouldn’t be teaching others to do as they do!
But the truth is that there are many different, valid methods that will help you to achieve the general goal of successful homeschooling. So, if you are a newbie, how can you know what to choose? If you have a newbie in your network, how might you help them to know where to start and what to choose?
It helps to start with the end in mind. The years of homeschooling are well envisioned as a journey, with different phases, many adventures, and an ultimate destination. This journey requires dedication, perseverance, and faith.
Because many of us did not grow up homeschooling or seeing it done, we are like the early explorers or merchants who launched out by sea and land to seek a vaguely conceived prize with only the most rudimentary navigational aids. For centuries, adventurers steered by the stars.
Have you found your “guiding star” for the homeschool journey?
Parents start homeschooling for a wide variety of reasons. Before I go on, remember that all of these reasons for beginning the journey are valid, sensible, and motivational. God has all kinds of ways (some full of humor) of drawing us to paths that He’s marked out for us.
- Some start the journey as a reaction to life circumstances (from “my child’s Kindergarten teacher was intolerable” to “we are a military family and move a lot”).
- Some moms start homeschooling because they support someone else’s vision (like “my husband grew up homeschooling and really wants me to, so I am going to give it a try”).
- Some parents are eager to start, but only see homeschooling as a “get ahead” measure: they plan to homeschool only until their child is reading well, and then put them into a school. For them, it’s a “head start” measure.
- And then there are the ideologues: parents who homeschool for principled reasons, most typically related to education, religion, and/or family building.
My biggest concern for many couples who are attracted to homeschooling for the more practical (vs. principled) reasons, is that they have not yet crystallized their vision: they may lack a clear sense of why they are homeschooling. Sometimes, they have no clear vision of what success would even look like. When they are confronted with early schooling choices, they may have no star to steer by.
Given the long-distance nature of the journey and rigors along the way, it’s hard to sustain momentum. You may wonder if it’s even going to be worth it–whatever “it” is!
Moms in their first years of the journey need motivation, need context for making decisions, need trustworthy guides, and need resources by which they can choose the first guiding star that they can steer by. To borrow from a career book title by David Campbell, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else.
I believe that in most areas of life, couples need to take time to ponder their goals, not just the means that they will adopt to get to their goals. My husband and I have spent hours and hours over the years talking around and through what we want to achieve in our parenting. We have found we do best when we start with the principles, and then figure out our practices. Our principles (our values) serve as our guiding star, no matter where the practical affairs of the journey take us.
So, for homeschooling, let me ask you: “What is your guiding star?” Where are you headed? How long do you think it will take to get there? What would success look like? When will you have arrived?
Before those questions overwhelm you, take a deep breath. Remember, your stars will change with the seasons! Like the constellations of the night sky, different seasons will bring different goals.
Those goals that you crystallize for your grammar-school years may not serve you well in the teen years. As God grows you and your capacity to love and serve, you may find that your guiding stars are quite different at the start, in three years, and in ten years.
That’s OK! Homeschooling is a journey, and the great delight of picking a star to head for is that now you can make choices and gain some headway, instead of being anxious, or knowing that you’re wandering around in circles! You don’t have to know each bend and turn in the road ahead. God’s guidance is usually more like headlights on a car, illuminating only the path immediately ahead of us, than a map that lays out the whole journey at a glance. That’s where faith and trust get built. But we do need to start. And, to start, we need to pick a direction that we think is good to head. Only then can we begin to say “yes” to some choices and “no” to others!