I remember our oldest child’s first day of public school. My husband and I had decided to go the public-school route so that we could be involved in a positive way in our local community. Our daughter had on a new outfit, and I braided her hair special. We waited for the bus to come pick her up for kindergarten. Living in a rural environment, she would end up spending two hours on the bus every day.
In the following months, we noticed some changes in our daughter that troubled us. Discipling her became more difficult because our time with her was so limited. The school bent over backward to accommodate and encourage her. But, in the end, we decided to take her out of school for a year. Then, one year turned into two.
When it was time to put our next child into school, we realized he had some learning disabilities and was hyperactive. He would need extra accommodations, and we saw the simplicity of just helping him at home. So, we decided to homeschool them both. At that point, it just became a part of our family culture and is what we’ve done with all six of our kids for the past 12 years.
There are a lot of logistical advantages to homeschooling. It’s hard to downplay the advantage of extra time with our kids. My husband’s job has hours that vary widely in different seasons, so it’s been a huge benefit to the kids’ relationship with their dad to work their school schedule around his work schedule. Our kids can also pursue their interests more deeply. Homeschooling makes travel, field trips, and apprenticeship opportunities easier. Furthermore, the kids have more play time because it takes only a fraction of the time for a handful of students to complete the work it might take a much larger classroom to complete.
Advice for new homeschooling families
Every new homeschooling family is full of nerves. I have seen a lot of my friends pull their kids from public school, each having their reasons for keeping their kids at home. It’s often an exciting and terrifying endeavor. The weight of educating your children creates in us a longing to do everything perfectly. We really don’t want to mess it up, so the pressure we put on ourselves is usually severe. As new homeschooling parents describe this to me, I always stop them when the discussion turns to talking about homeschooling as if it’s an insurance policy.
Our family chose homeschooling because it made the most sense for where we lived and with the kids we have. It fit our situation. However, the biggest temptation — and possibly the greatest way to infuse stress into your homeschooling life — is to treat what you are doing as a sure-fire way to ensure that your kids grow up to be Christians. Once our oldest was able to drive, she wanted to go to a local private school, and that ended up being a great option for her, though it was a sacrifice for our family in multiple ways. Ultimately, we felt free to let her do that because our hope isn’t in homeschooling.
Homeschooling makes a poor god. I’ve now seen many kids in my circles graduate from homeschooling — and some walk away from the faith, not wanting anything to do with God. I’ve seen the heartbreak of mothers who made many sacrifices. They thought they did everything right to the best of their ability, and now it feels like it was all for nothing. For these mothers, it’s devastating.
The truth is that homeschooling is no savior at all. If we look to it as if it will do the work that only God can do, we’ve made it into an idol. And like all idols, it looks good — even religious — and it will fail you. The law, whether we’re talking about God’s good law or our own made-up formulas for success, is insufficient to save. God’s law is good and wise when used rightly. Our children need to know it, and they need rules. But none of it will save them. Eventually every child will have to face the sin that they can’t seem to will or discipline away. They need the one and only Savior. And homeschooling families don’t need Christ any less than our public or private-schooling friends.
Loving our kids as whole people
If your home has people with a sin nature (which it does), you will not escape struggle in the midst of homeschooling. While it has been a great tool in God’s hands for our family, we could stop homeschooling tomorrow, and God would still hold us. None of that depends on the type of schooling we choose or on doing everything “right.” His promises are not so shaky or fragile that we must teach our kids to live a perfect life so that they may obtain them.
As we teach our children, we must remember, as Susan Schaeffer Macaulay points out in For the Children’s Sake, her book on education at L’Abri, that they are whole persons. They struggle with a real sinful nature, they are made in the image of God, and they have real needs. And as real persons, they need a real Savior.
Therefore, love your kids as whole people, not projects. Give them a big view of God. Pray for them when their hearts are hard. Don’t be scared when they wrestle with God (sometimes wrestling with God is where we find his embrace). Our day involves a lot of forgiveness. I’ve learned to apologize a lot and to teach my children to apologize. And we talk a lot about the power of the gospel.
These homeschool years have been a gift, and I am thankful. But I am reminded often: I am a servant of the Lord, but I’m not God. I can’t make them into my image. I can’t change their hearts. I teach my kids about God and his Word, but their little souls are in his hands, not mine. The older they get, the more I’m thankful for that. When we realize that it is not our homeschooling that is saving our kids, we can unload that burden onto the sufficient shoulders of Christ, and educate our children from a place of rest.