Before I get started, here are my credentials:
- I am 46 years old.
- I have been married for 25 years.
- We have 7 children, aged 21 down to 4.
- I have been homeschooling since 1999.
- We have 2 sons that have graduated from a course of study acceptable to our state.
- They both work and take college classes.
Sure, I love homeschooling and it’s what we’ve done for 17 years. But I also love Catholic schooling and public schooling. I love kids learning stuff and parents engaging with their kids. It happens in all the places, each with their own dance between the pros and cons.
The fact that tempers my points below is that homeschooling did not exactly pan out how we thought when our eldest was five. The rose-colored glasses got lost. I may have thrown them in the trash. We had all the feels about faith and family unity; all the plans for excellent books and science journals and museums; and all the expectations of academic curiosity driving them to be active learners. I was sure all the beautiful benefits would be ours.
After all these years, I offer our surprises to the families just starting out.
1) Children will not work without force
Maybe in the beginning when it’s sunshine and roses but not as the months and years plod on. To leave them be means that they will play legos and fight (teenagers, too), not cheerfully look up interesting things and journal with abandon. And sure, legos are smart toys but that’s not going to teach them times tables or geometric proofs. It must be insisted upon. Ballast becomes necessary. Shocking surprise.
2) Most of our science experiments did not work
The rockets never went up; the paper never turned purple; the potato never shriveled; and what in the world is agar and why does the box say “common items easily purchased?” Grumpy surprise.
3) Not every kid will like to read
Even if you read nothing but beautiful picture books and classic chapter books to children; even if you assign important literature to teenagers, you may get a kid who, at 18, does not read for pleasure but shrugs and says, “I don’t like to read.”
This will embarrass you.
But that kid may understand vehicle manuals and be a great mechanic. This will not embarrass you. Still a surprise.
4) We rarely go on field trips
They are expensive for a big Catholic family and absolutely crazy with a ton of kids.
Galleries, museums, and shows all cost an arm and a leg. If I go with just the older ones, then I need a babysitter for the younger set. More money.
Huge coffee table books are good friends and can usually be found on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble and Sam’s Club. Actually, we don’t have a coffee table anymore due to too many split lips, black eyes, and goose eggs. You can find gorgeous oversized books on art, architecture, Civil War, battlefield maps, and the real Ingalls family, and you might not have to force the kids to flip through them. OK surprise.
5) My children don’t love morning prayer time
In fact, I pass out sticks of gum if they are decent and there’s usually at least one who doesn’t get gum. We’ve been Catholic for 11 years, so most of them are cradle Catholics and know all the liturgical seasons and prayers. They still make jokes for prayer requests, balk at leading, and generally goof off. Worried surprise.
6) Catholic school seems wonderful
The uniforms are crisp, cute, and scream Smart Kid. Daily rosaries and an extra Mass a week is a dream come true for this mother who often goes to Sunday Mass with a wet head and an empty stomach.
If only it didn’t cost 6 weeks’ pay per child. There is no sacrifice to be made (Food? Gas? Braces?). May we have some teaching sisters, please? Sad surprise.
7) I signed my children up for a homeschool public charter school in our town
What this means is that I bring my kids to a building full of teachers teaching classes for homeschoolers ~ grades K-2 one day, grades 3-5 another day, and grades 6-12 on another. So I get to lose a few kids each day and they get to do science experiments, oil paint, deal with bullies on the playground, and obey another teacher. I never thought this would be something I would desire. But surprise.
* * *
My sweeping proclamations in the first few years of homeschooling – of Christianity, unity, beauty, logic, community, academia, older kids that aren’t lazy and don’t make stupid decisions – didn’t exactly come to fruition.
I’ve been surprised both at them and at myself.
Mostly, I now know that all the ways of educating children are good with parents’ love. I no longer think any other way is second-best. Homeschooling is what we do and we like it. We like reading science texts and good stories on the sofa with hot chocolate; we like older kids helping younger kids with math (sometimes what I have them do if they’re not understanding theirs); we like high schoolers getting up at 6am to get their work done before the younger kids get up; we like taking off whatever days we want because Daddy’s off; and we like arguing over what Jesus meant in Luke 6:30 (what we’re memorizing for Lent).
I raise my cup of tea to all of us with children and adult children – to their growth and education in academics and virtue and to our growth and education in wisdom and charity. And surprises!
[See also: You Do NOT Want to Be an “I.O.C” Believer]