Thoughts on being scared to death of homeschooling, and thoughts on the thoroughly educated child

I’m entering my 17th year of homeschooling.

If you’ve read here for more than two minutes you know I favor the Charlotte Mason method, have an artsy/crafty bent, emphasize music and poetry, read a lot, and tend to be rather eclectic.

What you might not know is that I feel totally unqualified to do this job.

I’m not musical. I was an average student. I didn’t like to read. I’ve not mastered higher math or science, so how could I ever teach it!?

(I am artsy and that’s about it.)

swings

I’ve always known that I could not give my children the kind of education they need.

This has been the cause of a lot of fear in my life. I love my kids and didn’t want them to suffer because their mom was a bumbling idiot who thought she could do a better job than an actual teacher. I’ve always realized that if I messed this homeschool gig up, my kids would be the one to suffer in the long run. No pressure there.

I decided early on that the best course of action would be to attend a local homeschooling conference. For me, it was overwhelming and seemed to confirm what I already knew–“I’m not cut out for this.” Walking the aisles, eyes scanning the mounds of curriculum (too many choices!) I literally feel dizzy.  I was afraid that someone might try to strike up a conversation with me about what curriculum I’ve been using, and recognize me as the homeschooling fraud of a mom that I felt like.

I didn’t benefit from a homeschooling conference, but I did greatly benefit from an experienced lady at our local support group, Debbie. She listened and gave feedback. She encouraged me although she had a gazillion other things to do. She talked to me about all of the different ways people homeschool. She just gave me courage.

As I took each step, I also learned another truth: God had gone before me and was there to help me each step of the way. He was walking my homeschooling journey with me. He knew before the foundations of the earth that I’d be doing this job that I felt totally unqualified to do and that half the time I thought I’d lose my sanity performing. (You’re with your kids 24/7, ya’ll. That can be oh-so-good and bad.)

When I asked for guidance, He gave it. When I seemed lost, He helped me find my way through the advice of a friend or by information on the internet.

I learned that knowing my own limits as a teacher and understanding my personality mattered tremendously because I couldn’t be someone who I was not. And learning the personality of each child was crucial to understanding their learning style.

I devoured For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School and A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning and Educating the WholeHearted Child  and realized that I was drawn mostly to the Charlotte Mason method.

I connected with Charlotte Mason’s respectful ideas about children:

  • that they are not creatures to be molded/created but were already born a person;
  • that adults should not abuse power or use fear/manipulation to make a child learn; (all I can think about is Mr. Gradgrind in Dickens’ Hard Times!)
  • that the mind of a child thrives on quality knowledge.

I appreciated that she taught that children should be kept clean, taught good manners, never demeaned (this during Victorian England when children were to be seen and not heard).

In short, children are capable and deserve respect. You don’t teach them how to learn—they already have that capacity. You provide excellent resources.

I realized that I don’t have to be an expert on anything to read my children excellent books and to expose them to the lofty ideas and beautiful language of people more intelligent than I.

I try to lead a “beautiful life” (cultured) with my kids. Much of this comes by adding music, art, literature, and details to our surroundings during the day. For instance, I might add flowers or a candle to our school room. I display the artwork of one or two artists per month on my fridge to familiarize them with that artist’s style. We read the poetry of one or two famous poets per month.We bake and craft.  We take nature walks to enjoy the creation. We have tea and cookies in the late afternoon in the fall/winter. We enjoy local produce and do seasonal excursions. These are all things that anyone can do. I’m trying to raise kids who notice and appreciate little things because education is more than taking in information.

To be truly educated, you have to care about how you fit into the grand scheme of life. Knowledge has to change you for the better and move you to action. You have to appreciate beauty simply for the love of it. You have to be curious about the inner workings of that concept you don’t quite grasp.

A truly educated person cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others no matter how “insignificant” they are on the social scale. I don’t care how much my kids know book-wise if it doesn’t cause them to be better neighbors. 

I think as a society we’re satisfied with a shoddy definition of education. As moms, we have to make sure that we don’t confuse taking in information with being educated or advancing through school with understanding knowledge.

We need to see our kids as whole people–education being a small part of who they are.

They need to know that they were created for a relationship with God and that outside of that relationship, nothing else makes sense. Their minds need to be informed and infused with the mind of Christ.

As I enter another year, I am confronted yet again with my own lack: lack of expertise, energy, and knowledge. And I know that though homeschooling can be lonely, I am not alone; God has gone before me and will be with me (and you!) as we start this new year.

 

 

 

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7 comments

  1. Debbie Smith says:

    One of my favorite quotes…”Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” (a Charlotte Mason classic!) The “problem” with the CM method is that there are so many requirements imposed upon us academically that sometimes it’s hard to just live the “living is learning” style without being pressured that you’re not doing enough or having to do things just for the sake of requirement. (Does that make sense?!)

    • Sarah Beals says:

      YES, it makes perfect sense and I know the pull you are talking about. We rely on Ambleside Online for a good deal of our curriculum and they have so many “extras” that it can be overwhelming. I try to do one “extra” a day, so say Artist Study on Monday for 10 minutes, then handicrafts as we sit at night and read or talk (it has been knitting or crocheting lately). Fridays are my lighter days and we try to do nature study/picnic or a museum or some outing then. Of course, life happens and children get sick or ministry is busy, so we have to double up or skip it all together. But ideally, this is what we strive for. I hope you have a great year, Debbie!

      • Debbie Smith says:

        You, too, Sarah! A lot of crocheting has been going on around here, too…mostly Natalie! She is working on finishing the granny square afghan that I started over 25 years ago! I’ll have to check out Ambleside again…I did look at it once, but never really delved into it. Hopefully, things will be a little easier this year now that my baby is almost a year old.

  2. Tim says:

    It sounds like your children have received a quality education, Sarah (and I say that as a product of public school whose kids went to public school and whose wife is a public school teacher). Those three points you lay out from Mason’s teaching philosophy are excellent.

    • Sarah Beals says:

      Thanks, Tim. We did the best we could. :) I went to private school my whole life and unfortunately never loved learning. We didn’t want a repeat of that. AND CM’s philosophy (her 20 points) are something all parents should know, homeschooling or not.

  3. Sarah, this is so, so well written! I’m very much like you except I can almost scratch out Twinkle, Twinkle on the violin. Ha! But, we see eye to eye on education and it’s very reassuring to read the insights of someone whose efforts have obviously been blessed by the Lord! Thank you!

    • Sarah Beals says:

      Thank you. It is worth it. None of it was perfect. Do your kids play the Suzuki Method? My second child, Emily, just got certified to teach Suzuki Book 1! :) Hang in there!