The Evolution of Our Homeschool
We did not come into our marriage with the clear expectation that we would homeschool our children (it was on the radar, but we had no resolve). Although Andrew was homeschooled from kindergarten through the twelfth grade, and I was a product of public school all the way through, we did not have any strong conviction on the subject. In fact, I doubt we were seriously thinking about the schooling of our children until the first was born. However, I (Holly) did some research ahead of time, before I found out I was pregnant with our first child. I knew that the school district in which we lived was not considered prime. I also knew that I had a teaching background, and I was dedicated to doing whatever it took to help my children flourish. The fall I found out I was pregnant with our first child, I decided to volunteer in the public schools about once per week to scope out the scene. After my experience in that school, it was not hard to rule out public schools for my children.
The little years are magical. They are here one moment and gone the next. How I relish the memories I created with my first little boy! He and I went so many places together, from park dates to family vacations to the Florida Keys and Colorado. Upon enrolling him in a local mother’s morning out program, I knew it was the right thing to allow me time to work on completing a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. However, it was heart-wrenching, too. I dealt with “mom guilt” when I had to drop off my 18-month-old baby. It was tremendously hard to go to my counseling internship on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, leaving him with either the preschool or my mother-in-law. Both situations worked out just fine for him (I am ever-thankful to those who helped me), but for my momma’s heart, it was so hard. There was no need to be fearful, though. Hindsight, the hardship for me was exacerbated by raging hormones as I found out we were to have our second baby in the fall of 2016!
When our sweet baby girl was born, it did cause me to think more about our family’s trajectory in terms of schooling. However, we savored those first few months. A scary bout of RSV (a respiratory virus) in my two-month-old newborn pulled me into a new phase of parenting. I had been brought low, weakened by the strain of the acute anxiety surrounding “the event” when I had to call 911 the moment my baby girl became unresponsive. It was probably the most panicked I have ever been. The time I got caught in a riptide at age 17 was a close second. The doctor told me she would have had Baby Girl hospitalized, but since she trusted our level of vigilance, sent her home with us. I, of course, did not sleep at all the first couple of nights, watching every breath and rise of her chest. God really did have it all in His hands, and I had no need to be fearful. Deep down, I did know that as I leaned into him, He would pull us through this.
My point is, 2017-2018 in my parenting life stands out as a turning point. It was not all fanciful and free anymore. I dealt with anxiety and sadness. A miscarriage in 2018 would exacerbate that sadness and lead me to cry out to God, “WHY!?” Do not get me wrong, there we so many wonderful moments between 2016 and 2018 that brought me hope and deep joy. Conceiving our second son (post-miscarriage) was a complete surprise that same year, but I learned so much. God is faithful. He will never fail you. No matter how deep your sorrow is, He understands it, too (see John 1:9-13). We have a God (the Son, Jesus) who was made man. Being fully God and fully man, He came down and dwelt among us. “He came to his own,[b] and his own people[c] did not receive him” (John 1:11). Jesus knew pain and suffering on this earth; He willingly gave Himself up to die on a Roman cross almost 2,000 years ago. So, while we long for something better, a place where “all that is sad is going to come untrue” (Tolkien), we can take heart that He sympathizes and cares.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”John 14:27, NIV
Another BIG take-away for me is this: I need not operate out of a spirit of fear. I did not need to make decisions for my family that were fear-based. I am speaking to myself, but I bet I am speaking to a lot of you, too. Deciding to homeschool as a result of wanting to protect a child so much that I smother him or her is not where I am or where I aspire to be. Becoming paralyzed by fear that I may be “messing up my child” is also a place I have found I can avoid. We must all choose what is right for our own family. I rest in that. Therefore, if I myself cannot sense that I am headed in an overprotective/harmful direction, may God convict me and allow us to find a better solution for schooling. It is being intentional at home that matters, whether or not you homeschool. I need to remember that we are, and should be, the primary influencers in our children’s lives, no matter what. What will they take away?
The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, by which we have the hope of heaven. The hope of heaven, eternity, stamped on my eyeballs (as Jonathan Edwards said), is what gives me hope. Eternity. I have a hard time thinking about forever and ever and ever and ever…because being at home has given me a better perspective about the here and now. Yet, I catch a glimpse of eternity every now and then. I know I am parenting souls that can never die. I am also becoming educated, the second time around. I love it. I am soaking it all in and asking God for more.
My children have questions about eternity. Just last night, my sweet girl, who is now four years old, asked me if she would have her “Baby Duck” in heaven. Baby Duck is a staple bedtime friend. It is such a hard thing to communicate to a child, whose questions are so profound, yet whose scope of understanding the physical versus the spiritual realm is so limited (as is mine). Hope of heaven must grow into the spiritual things that are unseen. The paradox is that those things are manifested in some physical ways here on earth (i.e., the bond of genuine friendship, the beauty of a sunrise, the warmth of a hug). The shadow of the eternal, truer, better things are here. Getting to the truth HIMSELF should be the lifelong pursuit.
This is where my philosophy of education is linked inextricably to my lifelong pursuit of the eternal perspective. I draw from many good ideas, but have recently taken to a lot of the principles surrounding classical tradition, as outlined in Karen Glass’s 2014 work, Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition. The philosophy of education starts with the definition of a student/learner/child. “The manner in which a society or culture answers that question [what is man?] will drive its educational practices,” (Glass, p. 11). My children are persons. How do I define “person”? The person/child/man/woman is a living soul created in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26). So, the educational task is not a utilitarian one. We are not machines. “We seek to discover all the potential in each child so that he can become everything that God meant him to be”, from Glass’s work, rings true (to me).
How do I define “person”?
If children have such potential to become everything they were meant to be, then who determines what they are meant to be? I believe in the Author of all wisdom and knowledge and understanding as the Holder of our potential. God Himself (the one, triune God in the Bible), is the Author of our personhood. If He holds all our potential, then He must hold all the keys to wisdom. Goodness, truth and beauty are His. Therefore, while wise thinking is an end in some ways, “good conduct was the desired end of wise thinking,” (Glass, p. 21). So, unlike our “modern” utilitarian view of man as a machine, I choose to view man as a person, created in God’s image, with a soul that can never die, and a lifelong call to be pursuing wisdom, and in that, right conduct. The Holy Spirit is obviously the key player for the Christian in producing right conduct, as a result of the wisdom he or she obtains.
So, here I am. I have just two years of homeschooling under my belt, but I am committed to learning more about philosophy of education as one who follows Christ and is sympathetic to the classical tradition’s purpose and methods. I am an eclectic homeschooling mom, if I had to be “put in a box”. I draw heavily from Charlotte Mason (1842-1923, Victorian era, England), but I also realize she was a product of her time, and there are potential errors in her way of thinking on some points. I also love implementing unit studies, tying in content from various areas. Karen Andreola writes in her 1998 book, A Charlotte Mason Companion, “I find it works well in our home to allow the children to make their own associations. We find that subjects overlap more often than expected, without any particular effort on our part,”(p. 110). Keeping this in mind, I do believe that unit study has its place for those younger learners, whose foundations are still being built and who are still gathering so much knowledge about the world. I love my unit studies, and I am not ashamed! A wonderful example of a year-long curriculum broken up into 34 separate, week (unit) studies is the Heart of Dakota curriculum. For example, my children make weekly connections between the Bible verse, the history, science, poetry, geography, music, art, and more!
Having started homeschooling in 2019, I am still in my infancy as a homeschool mother. So, you can view me as a case study, a longitudinal case study. I love it. Patience and meekness are two flowers still growing in my heart that are truly fighting to blossom and thrive. What else? The act of parenting is sanctifying in and of itself. Need I say more? Making the decision to homeschool our firstborn was not necessarily hard, but the journey has not been easy or straight-forward. (Is intentional parenting ever easy or straight-forward, homeschooling or not?) Others’ advice can be overwhelming on one hand, but so informative on the other! Did I mention I am a sucker for what the experts say? While this might seem as a strength, it can also be weakness (i.e., biting off more than I can chew). I would like to say that I am ambitious, but really, I need to just learn what works for me. This [website] is part of that journey of fleshing it out. Looking back on my son’s kindergarten year, I know that I did some things right, but I would have changed a lot of things, too! I am getting stronger in my anchors, though. Right now, the anchors of whole family approach (looking at how one small decision affects the entire family), precepts found in the Bible, philosophy gleaned from the classical education arena, and Charlotte Mason methodology have informed my teaching this year. I am a proponent of knowing/learning how my children respond best to discipline, what motivates them, and how they learn best, but I must fight daily to care about it and go the extra mile, if it is required. I am starting to shift my focus to the heart more. How much do my children CARE about the world around them, as a result of being in our homeschool?
the maple in our front yard
How much do my children CARE about the world around them, as a result of being in our homeschool?
I am happy to step into other realms and listen. I like to listen to strong, Christian women (many of them homeschool mothers) of our time: Elsie Iudicello (Farmhouse Schoolhouse), Sally Clarkson, Heidi St. John (my girl’s not afraid), Dr. Kathy Koch at Celebrate Kids, Inc., the sweeter-than-a-Georgian-peach ladies over at Simply Charlotte Mason, Sarah Mackenzie, etc. I have listened to a great designer/blogger/homeschool mom, Rachel Van Kluyve, who also happens to be a woman of faith. Together, these ladies are a dream team (think C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the other “Inklings”, except a more feminine version). Together, they have shaped who I am as a homeschool mom today. They have also allowed folding laundry to 1. happen and 2. feel less burdensome. My family probably unknowingly thanks them, too.