Educating Our Kids for Life

I am often asked how I manage to homeschool my children, maintain the family business, keep on top of 6 kids and their activities, and do everything else that I have to do on the daily to keep our family life from imploding.

On most days, my answer to that question, “How do you manage?” is an honest,  “Not very well”. 🙁  But despite my failings — somehow — at the end of most days, we have accomplished what needs to get done for that day.

I honestly believe that if we try our lousy best to educate our children and keep our eyes on heaven, that God will take care of the rest.  So far, it’s worked for us!

Maybe you want to explore the possibility of homeschooling your own kids, or maybe you just need a little encouragement to stay the course — or maybe you think homeschoolers are crazy and you’re reading this post to prove that point — whatever brings you to this little place on the internet, I thought I’d share my thoughts on why we homeschool and ways to make it work for your family.

First Things First: Why I Homeschool

I homeschool my children because I want to prepare them for a life of joy and abundance now — and ultimately — one day in heaven.  I don’t just want my kids to score well on tests and make a lot of money.  I want them to be truly happy and I want them to help others to be truly happy.  I want them to love God and share His love with the world.

For me, I would consider myself a failure if my kids were successful in the world but became selfish individuals who left their faith in God behind!  I believe that the first goal of every Catholic parent should be to get their kids to heaven.  Homeschooling my kids ensures that I have time to teach them the faith of our Church and to be available to answer those big questions about life when they come up — and believe me, they are going to come up.

But beyond the spiritual benefits, I believe that I can offer my kids a better education than anybody else out there.  I don’t mean that I am smarter than everybody else, or even that I am more interesting than most teachers — because I know that I am not — but because I love my kids I am wiling to go the extra mile to ensure that their education will be stellar.

What About Socialization?

This is the number one question I heard when I first decided to homeschool my kids.  It seems like everybody I met was worried that my decision to homeschool would ensure socially awkward kids with no ability to relate to other people in the real world.  Admittedly, it did make me question myself on more than one occasion.  Looking back, I wish I hadn’t worried so much about that.

Know when to say when or you won't make it! :(
If only I hadn’t been homeschooled — maybe then I’d have a friend and not be so socially awkward. 🙁

The truth is, there is good and bad socialization.  There are a lot of mean kids in schools who will spend countless hours terrorizing other kids — for no good reason.  So, throwing your sweet kids into a hostile environment is not necessarily going to help them thrive as adults and learn to relate to others in a healthy way.  And they aren’t necessarily going to learn to be kind and honest and true to their values in a typical school environment either.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that having an experience with a bully can be a good thing — I really do.  It can teach kids to empathize with those who are bullied — to stand up for what is right, even when it is hard — and to resolve to never, ever make anybody else feel that way.

But some situations are just too toxic and damaging to a young child to be good for them — homeschooling gives you the ability to remove them from a toxic situation and put them into a more positive environment that will help them thrive.

I won’t paint too rosy a picture of homeschooling – you will encounter mean kids in homeschooling circles, too.  The difference is that in homeschooling circles the parents will typically work together to address the problem and you don’t have to have those kids together on a daily basis.  You can choose the socialization opportunities for your kids that you think are the best ones for them.

And there are a lot of really wonderful kids that we have met in our own homeschooling circles — so there is no lack of great friend material out there if you choose to go this route.  These are normal, fun kids — lifelong friend material, for sure.

If only I hadn't homeschooled -- maybe then I'd have a girlfriend and be able to relate to people.
If only I hadn’t homeschooled — maybe then I’d have a job and a girlfriend and be able to relate to people. 🙁

Don’t worry!  With a little effort on your part, your kids will end up with many, many good friends who will encourage them to be the best they can be and to pursue heaven.  Your kids will learn to look adults in the eyes, to be kind and polite, and to make the world a better place with their presence.

Putting Your Ducks in a Row:  Figuring Out What Homeschooling Will look Like in Your Family

There are so many amazing resources out there, so I won’t even attempt to name one program or set of textbooks as the end-all be-all of a homeschool education.  I do have a few suggestions, though, for developing a general framework for how homeschooling might look in your own family.  It’s different for every family — so this is just a peek into what it looks like for our family.

One major goal of the early years is to instill a love for reading good books!
I hope that in the the early years I will help to instill in my children a love for learning that will last a lifetime.

I spend a lot of time in the early years on the basics — reading and arithmetic — and slowly work on filling in their schedules with subjects that cover a vast array of topics — everything from history and philosophy to art, music, politics, and religion.

Often, this means that for the older ones I “hire out” and enroll them in classes with amazing teachers who will do a better job than myself on a particular subject.  I like to think of myself as the older kids’ school counselor — I help them make good choices based on their own temperaments and help them on stay on task when they are lagging behind.

We have chosen a “hybrid” approach for the older kids.  By the time they are in junior high, they are getting most of their classes presented to them by highly engaging teachers in a Catholic environment.  We still do math at home, but we use a program called Teaching Textbooks — it does all the grading for you and has in-depth explanations all the way through to Calculus.

I love this hybrid approach because it still gives the kids much more time at home, while ensuring they are getting an amazing education from qualified teachers.  It’s a Win-Win!

What About Extra-Curriculars?

Extra-curricular’s are a big issue for all families because they can take up a lot of precious time — especially as your kids get older.  The amount of time a homeschooler spends in classes every day is about half the time of their traditional-schooling counterparts.  This leaves more time for sports, music, or whatever other pursuits your child might find of interest.

This means that extracurriculars are far less likely to negatively impact time together as a family — and time together as a family is important to us!  

Even with the extra time, you have to make peace with the fact that you can’t do every good thing out there — you have to choose just a few good things and say no to many more really, really good things.  I have been homeschooling kids for the last 10 years, and I have learned the hard way that you’re not going to survive unless you learn to say no to a lot of very good things.

We usually stick to one sport for each child, and almost everybody attends the games together as a family.  They get to cheer their siblings on and have fun with all the other families that are in attendance.  It’s an fun, lively environment for kids to grow up in.

To learn to win and lose with grace, to work hard to become your very best, and to overcome your own emotions and feelings of defeat to push forward to victory are great life skills that sports can teach a child.

We are blessed to live in an area where there are very competitive homeschool sporting associations. They have taught our kids a love for physical excellence while not taking away from family life and Sunday Mass.  I realize not everybody can find that — but if you can, take advantage of it!

John and I also agreed early on that music would be an important part of our kids’ education.  Because I am not a musician, we have hired wonderful teachers to teach our kids violin and encourage a love for really good music.  Becoming a virtuoso is not the main goal, but if they desire to take it to that next level, we provide good teachers and let them decide if they are willing to do the hard work required to meet those goals. It’s up to them!

I’m no tiger mom, but I believe in providing the best teachers you can reasonably afford while teaching your kids a personal responsibility for their own education.

A little more free time means music lessons and practice are less of a burden on our family.
A virtuoso I am not, but I know a few  — and they have generously shared their knowledge and love of music with my kids.  

Final Words of Advice:  Know Thyself

Don’t homeschool just because everybody else is doing it.  This is a biggie.  Homeschooling is a huge commitment of time and resources and it is a challenge to persevere in the long-term, so you need to start off with the right mindset about homeschooling.

Do I think everybody should homeschool?  Heck, no!  I really don’t.  It is not easy to homeschool, and I think it’s important to have realistic expectations before you take the plunge.  That being said, sometimes you just need to take that leap of faith because it is possible to successfully homeschool your kids — and there are a lot of lasting payoffs for all your hard work!

There has to be a united front with husband and wife on this.  If you and your husband are not united on this issue, I think it’s going to be really hard to make it happen.  Honestly, as you invest countless hours of time and dollars into purchasing curriculum, school supplies, and extra lessons or classes, I think resentment will set in if you don’t have a united front.

Something has got to give.  The truth is, that something has got to give if you’re going to choose to homeschool your kids. Your house may not always be as clean as you want it to be — or your own free time might be greatly diminished — whatever it is, there will be sacrifices.

And despite your best efforts, some things are going to fall through the cracks — they just will.  For me, it’s definitely penmanship that takes a back seat to almost everything else in our educational goals.  To be honest, I had 8 years of penmanship — and my handwriting is horrendous — but I still see it’s value.  Trying — but mostly failing– in the penmanship department! 🙁

Penmanship problems -- where I fall short :(
Penmanship problems — one place I fall short in homeschooling 🙁

Point is, that there will be things that you fail at, but the overall picture of your kids’ education will not necessarily suffer.  How many of us can remember inadequate teachers or classes in our own schooling experience?  It’s gonna happen and don’t expect that you can be a master of all subjects!

At the end of the day, parents are the primary educators of their children — and if this means you send your kids to the local Catholic or public school because it’s the best fit for your family — great!  But just know that you still need to be involved with knowing what they are learning and filling in the gaps of their education.

There is no “perfect” out there.  Let’s just keep trying our best.  Stay close to God — love your kids — and pray, we need to pray!  Hope this helps somebody out there.

Gotta go — time to start our school day. 🙂

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