By April Motl, Crosswalk.com
I was excited about homeschooling before we ever had our son! I loved the family closeness and personalized learning homeschooling offered. Also, it seemed a good fit for the repeated parenting instructions from Scripture for moms and dads to be constantly with and constantly teaching their kids about the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). While we knew lots of Christian families who successfully navigated public school, for my husband and I, the idea of all helping our son develop the way God made him through homeschool seemed a great fit.
This last year, our son turned four and I could tell by all the questions, his growing attention span, and attempts to read, that he was finally ready for regular, formalized learning. It was perfect for us to have a practice run at homeschool, get into our rhythms, for me to learn his learning styles, etc so that when kindergarten came we could really nail it.
What I felt led to make as our number 1 goal wasn’t letter recognition, or learning colors in Spanish, but to spark a passion for learning. We weren’t officially in school, so we didn’t need to meet any state standards, and even when he was older and had those standards, I knew the most important part of learning was to love it!
So with this foundation, I prayed for guidance, creativity, and wisdom and set out creating a curriculum for our first year of homeschool.
We just wrapped up our final segment of this first year of homeschool. I had earthworms in a jar in my living room, inflatable bugs hanging from the ceiling, and Safari Ltd bugs that kept escaping the sensory bin to scare the heeby-jebbies out of me when I got up in the morning and forget they were only plastic. And we have both loved it!
Here’s a few things I learned in my first year of homeschooling:Photo Credit: ©GettyImages-Kerkez
1. It doesn’t take as long as you might think.
The first unit we did we were flying through all the lessons I prepared. I kept reading homeschool blogs and teaching websites trying to figure out what I was missing. How could our “school day” keep ending so quickly? I soon realized, without the large classroom transitions and interruptions, little people don’t need five or six hours to learn all they need for that day.
In fact, many teachers (even public school teachers) suggest smaller children only needed about 60-90 minutes of directed learning. Shocking! (I found this article from a public school administrator about the time children need to learn particularly poignant.)
I’ve watched the happy surprise of a few moms of littles who have been unsure which educational path to take when I share our experience with our lessons not requiring the entirety of the day. I love that my little boy, with all his intense energy, can set his mind to learning great things, but also still have oodles of time to play, imagine, and get out that energy!
Also, I’ve known a number of adults who said as kids they felt school was a big waste of time. I never felt like that, but when I learned how little directed time was required for a child to learn, I could see how perhaps some kids are more sensitive to the feeling that dealing with other’s behavior issues, getting in a perfect line, repeating the directions for the kid who wasn’t listening all adds up to something that feels wasteful of their time.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Ridofranz
2. It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you might think.
When I began laying out our plans for the school year it all added up to a huge wad of cash. I quickly realized I would need to significantly trim down and only spend money on the most important items. I went with curriculum I could download (often for FREE!) and curriculum I could create (I made my own handwriting sheets with a font I bought from the teachers pay teachers site), redesigned projects to use items we already had.
While I love the Montessori lessons/set ups, many times they were just too expensive. So I redesigned them with free or less expensive items and through the process of using what we had I discovered the simplicity of what my son needed to spark his desire to learn.
At first I was a little crushed that we couldn’t afford all the field trips I wanted or every cool learning toy that initially felt so important. But, I realized the Lord would provide for just exactly what our son needed. So I prayed for that provision and for direction to use the provision wisely. And it has all worked out more sweetly and richly than I could have imagined!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Wavebreakmedia
3. It doesn’t have to be as rigidly scheduled as you might think.
I didn’t want to be a homeschool family that raised a kid to feel uncomfortable if he had to get out of his pajamas before noon. And yes, I know that’s the joke with all homeschool families, and yes, we’ve done our lessons in PJs too. But I really felt he would benefit from more scheduled routine and expectations.
Then flu season hit. Then some developmental leap/night-owlness kept him (and subsequently me) up between midnight and four everyday for a week. Then life came in! And you know what? Learning kept right on happening.
It happened whether we did our lessons at 8 or at 10 or at 2. Sometimes I could see that my boy needed to spend the fine weather outside running to his little heart’s content and we did lessons after dinner when more of that little boy energy had been expended. Sometimes, we learned things about life that weren’t penciled in the lesson planner.
Most days we had a rhythm and routine, but when life interrupted, learning still happened! Yes, I would have liked our routine to have been cemented, (probably every homeschool mom out there wishes the same) but the goal was for him to fall in love with learning and to love God and others with his learning. Not to live by a clock. I learned at the end of the day, the perfect schedule isn’t a requirement for quality learning.
Photo Credit: ©Thinkstock/JupiterImages
4. It doesn’t have to be as elaborate or difficult as you might think.
When we served in youth ministry, many of the parents felt like homeschool would be awesome for their student, but they had no idea how to make it happen. The thought of managing it all was all too big. And I understand. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as many parents imagine it is. And it didn’t need to be as elaborate as I initially planned either!
I have been amazed at the plethora of wonderful resources that have emerged over the last ten to fifteen years for homeschool. A mom from our church tried out a few different curriculums before she found the one that fit her family. The wonderful point to that story is that there ARE tons of different curriculums and programs out there so you CAN find the one that fit your lifestyle and kids. No parent is just out there floating on an island with a library card and their student! There are so many supportive programs and curriculums that you can be sure there IS one to fit your needs.
I slightly grieved over the field trips that wouldn’t fit in the budget or when a cool project I planned didn’t fit in the day, but some of our best learning this year happened in simple spaces. Uncluttered moments. Not the moments I thought would be the most exciting or even the ones that he might find most memorable.
God wired us to learn! So thankfully, learning doesn’t have to be hard or complicated.
As our lessons came to a close this year and I told my son we were taking off for the Summer, he said, “You didn’t ask me! I don’t want to stop!” I asked him when he wanted to take a break, he replied, “After I’ve learned ALL the things. I have to learn so much more!”
The Lord had graciously answered my prayer! We could complete assignments so he’d know his alphabet or basic addition, but lighting a passion for learning couldn’t come from a worksheet. And the Lord had met that prayer of mine for our homeschool foundation.
We are both still learning. But I couldn’t be more thankful for how this year went. I know there will be bumps ahead. But for now, I am grateful for all the Lord provided for both of us!
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Lordn