I looked at my husband with a shocked expression while he was shaving one morning. I had been making the bed, thinking about our conversation when the thought hit me. We had just been discussing the coming school year’s curriculum choices, scheduling options and improvements to our homeschooling lifestyle.
“I just realized something!” I said to him, in a surprised tone.
“What?” He asked me, his face half covered in white foam.
“We’re both homeschool graduates, and we homeschool our own children!”
“That’s right!” he said with a widening grin. “I’ve never thought of that, either.”
The reason we had not thought of that before, is because I’m just barely a homeschool grad. My story is unusual, at least in comparison with the homeschoolers I know personally. Most of my education took place in a small Christian school in central Arkansas. I know all about the stress of getting out the door on time for school, the pressure of pleasing teachers and friends, the ordeal of buying a school uniforms and/or wardrobe each summer, boyfriend drama, or in my case, the lack of the drama was in itself drama (what was wrong with me? Why didn’t boys’ like me?). I was a cheerleader in elementary school and I played volleyball in junior high. I have some wonderful friends that I attended school with. In fact, when I think of “my educational experience”, I envision myself sitting in my desk at school, working arduously and longing for lunch break. I often forget that technically, I am in fact, a homeschool graduate.
My parents met while they were students at the University of Central Arkansas. They were both studying sociology. Mom wanted to be a social worker, to help those who needed a hand. Dad planned to do the same type of work. They ended up on slightly different career paths. Mom became an elementary teacher, later earning her Master’s in Special Education and Dad became Director of Field Services for the Cancer Society and later the Heart Association. They had two children, a boy and a girl. Life was good, or at least they thought so.
On a summer evening around our kitchen table in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a local pastor led my parents to a saving knowledge of Christ. They had only thought they were happy before. They discovered that true happiness can only come from know the Lord Jesus. Up until then, my brother and sister had attended public school. It didn’t take long for them to see that the humanistic teaching and exposure to worldly lifestyles was probably not the best place for a delicate young mind and heart to be 40 hours a week. They transitioned my siblings over to a Christian school.
By the time I arrived on the scene several years later, my parents were convinced that a Christian education was the way to go, so they signed me up for Kindergarten. When I reached my tenth grade year, I was experiencing some very difficult times emotionally. I had always loved school and been a good student, but now, I was getting ill at the thought of going. The pressure of pleasing everyone and of being liked, was too great. My school had also switched over to a curriculum that required more staff than they had available at the time. This meant I would be put back an entire grade in Language Arts – my best subjects! This was the final straw for me. I was miserable! By this time, my dad was working as an insurance salesman and worked from home. My mom was an elementary principal. I begged her to let me attend her school. Perhaps the influences and pressure wouldn’t be too bad if Mom was on the property, I thought. Mom was against this idea from the start. “It’s not the solution that you’re imagining it will be, Valerie. In fact, I think it will just be worse for you.” She said. She often shared with me why she continued to work in an environment which worked so hard to protect me from. After all, my only public school experience was roller skating around the second floor of her building during the summer and helping her put up bulletin boards. As a teacher, she had influence. She knew she could use this to be a light in a very dark place, and she was. I, however, wasn’t quite ready to be the “missionary” to my public school peers that some parents claim their children are. My tears began to flow again. “We’ll think of something, though.” She told me. “ Let’s pray about it and I’ll start doing some checking.” Relief washed over me. “Life is too short for you to be miserable.” She said.
My mother ended up finding out about the Abeka Video program (back in the dark ages before DVD!). Mom thought that since Dad worked out of our home, he could check in on me. Homeschooling might actually be a good option for us. A few calls confirmed that the video school was the route we should take. Mom was pleasantly surprised that this was going to be much cheaper than tuition to a Christian school.
“Valerie, we can do this because you’re a very self-motivated student. You’re a hard worker. We will have to trust you to do most of the work yourself. Can you handle that?” Mom asked me before we ordered our materials.
Yes, I could! I wanted it more than anything.
Our Homeschooling Journey: Short and Very Sweet
I promised my mom that day that I would give my all to this endeavor. I was going to make this work, and I did. I planned out my own schedule, I kept lists of the assignments that needed to be done outside of my regular work. The next three years were filled to the brim and loved every minute! I wrote my first ever research paper. I memorized poetry and studied fine art for the first time! I understood science better than ever and I fell in love with Government class. In fact, I loved Government and Economics so much, that at one point I’d decided to become a U.S. Congressman or a lobbyist! I worked better away from the peer pressure at school. I had time to dream, and write about my dreams! I got to see my Dad nearly every day for lunch and in the afternoon. Looking back, I realize what a special blessing it was to see him so often. The Lord took him to Heaven suddenly when I was only 26 years old. I grew closer to my parents because they were my teachers! They decided what classes would suit me best and were able to cater to my specific talents and interests. Mom graded my work each night, along with 130 other students’ work. I had never felt so loved, so successful or so happy in my entire life.
It was bittersweet attending my friends’ graduation from our Christian school. They got to walk out to “Pomp and Circumstance”, with family members looking on, misty-eyed. I wasn’t part of that. But, that was okay. Mom and Dad hosted a graduation ceremony for me in our garage. I had a whopping ten people in attendance –the ten most important people in my world. No, I didn’t wear a cap and gown. Our pastor, Bro. Graham, and my brother who was also a pastor, spoke words of encouragement . We had cake and punch, and Mom set out photos of me when I was little. Later, Mom and Dad took me on a Senior trip to Washington D.C.!
And when it was all over, I wished I’d done it from the very beginning.
Starting the Journey Again
When I gave birth to our first child almost 12 years ago, I didn’t think about how she would be educated. If you had asked me in the early months following her arrival how we’d educate her, I probably would have said, “A Christian school”, because that’s how my education began. I remember thinking, “It will be forever before my girl is school age!” Oh, how wrong I was! I couldn’t believe how quickly five years zoomed past me. When she turned four, I remember being in shock that the time for school was fast approaching! We had to start planning how we’d get the tuition money together. But, as the days drew near for her to be enrolled, I couldn’t bear the thought of her being away all day, everyday! I’d been a stay-at-home-mom from day one. How could I be away from her now? Well, I couldn’t. We purchased the Kindergarten program from Abeka and got started. It was the perfect set up. I had lesson guides which gave step-by-step instructions on how to teach my child, pre-made visual aids and games, and bright, cheerful workbooks! The first few weeks…okay, months, were challenging. I didn’t know what I was doing. I cried a lot, and so did our sweet Lauren. But as I gained experience, read books on homeschooling, and got encouragement from my sister who is also a homeschooling Mom, I became more relaxed. I began to find my niche and truly enjoy the homeschooling lifestyle.
Today, I’m in my 8th year of homeschooling. I now have a larger class which includes four of my five children. Since I’m the kind of parent who needs guidelines and lists, I continued using a pre-packaged curriculum of some kind over the years. Two years ago, I branched off and tried some unit studies and then the Charlotte Mason style, but neither of those felt like the right fit for us. Unit studies required too much work on my part. Charlotte Mason was too relaxed, but I did love the emphasis this method placed on reading “living books” aloud. I’ve now morphed into my own unique style of homeschooling. I use a packaged curriculum – traditional workbooks and textbooks – as a base for our schooling, and I supplement that curriculum with some living books about the topics which we are studying. We’ve come to enjoy our time cuddled together on the couch reading books so much. I also have a goal to be more relaxed. Because of my “list maker” personality, I tend to be a bit of a task master. I am striving to be better in many areas, but lately I’ve been working on maintaining a balance between getting the work done and enjoying these precious, fleeting years.
In the beginning, my focus was making sure that my children could read, write, add, subtract, have good table manners and converse with adults. Sadly, the last thing on my list was spiritual growth. I’m happy to report that I’ve switched my priorities around. Teaching my children the Word of God, the importance of witnessing for Christ, and how to serve others is far more important than whether they ever enter the National Spelling Bee. When I stand before the Lord, I doubt He’s going to ask me why I didn’t use a better math curriculum. No, in the end, all that will matter will be what I did on this Earth that had eternal value.
I can see that my being a homeschool grad was providential. Those three years of my life turned out to be the happiest of my school days. Those years also gave me a foundation of homeschooling to build upon with my own children. I may not have even attempted to homeschool my first child if I hadn’t had some experience under my belt. I cannot imagine my life without the constant thread of home education running through it, and I don’t want to.Valerie is married to the man of her dreams. He pastors in southwest Arkansas. They have five children ages 12, 9, 6, 4 and 1. You may visit her blog at The Bishop’s Wife, or contact her on Twitter. She enjoys writing, reading, talking and fiddling around with blog design.