By Contributing Writer, Marcia Wilwerding
When I write about our homeschool experiences, I do so in the context of having finished my course and now enjoying all the blessings of that 19-year investment of blood, sweat, tears, and prayers. Yet, it could not have been done without so much excellent advice from others who had often learned from their own mistakes first.
Thankfully, one of the first mistakes I was able to correct was trying to run our homeschool like the public and private schools. Though it helps for children to raise their hands when they need to interrupt the lesson, there’s no reason why you can’t be a little more flexible with your few children than a teacher trying to corral 20 little strangers from 20 different homes in one cramped room. Always keep in mind you are not running an institution; you are a family whose children are being educated at home. There is a vast difference.
Relax and Make Yourself At Home
You may not need a rigid schedule. Again, we are schooling at home, not within the confines of lock-step institutions. Instead, a daily routine might begin when your children all get up in the morning, then flow from one activity to the next in succession. If there are appointments, field trips, or a drop-in visit from Grandma, there’s no need to sweat it. There will always be tomorrow when the routine may begin afresh without much loss of headway.
Schooling year round helps buffer those unexpected blips in the schedule. Perhaps with the births of younger children or with household moves, you might want to take a few months off from scheduled schooling and allow the children to do as much on their own as they are able. Sometimes your “school” may only consist of gathering on the couch to read Winnie-the-Pooh or Beatrix Potter’s works before afternoon naps.
If wiggles are a problem, getting away from the table might help. Though we always began at the dining table with everyone sitting in their appointed seats, our children often ended up scattered about the house in more comfortable places before the day was through. However, if you feel the need to keep everyone in one room, a break to do chores or even just run around the house outdoors may keep those wiggles at bay.
Reconsider Teaching Methods
Teach some subjects with all the grade levels together. Having separate curricula and time slots for each subject and grade level among your children could very well be a recipe for burnout. You would be surprised how much the little ones pick up while you’re teaching the older children about the Bible, history, and science. Give them corresponding coloring pages while you discuss these subjects with the older children and skip having individual grade-level classes.
You may not need curricula at all. Our best science year ever was when I got hands-on kits loaned out to teachers from our local museum. I chose kits which corresponded to each day of Creation. The older children were in awe, and the little ones were intrigued. Mom learned a lot that year, too. If you are interested in developing lesson plans without using traditional curricula, you might be interested in the Charlotte Mason and unit study approaches. Families with many children tell me these have been very useful.
Large families may also benefit by having older children work with younger children. This was how Sarah Wesley, mother of John and Charles, educated her many children, pairing the oldest with the youngest, the second oldest with the second youngest, and so on. It is also how one-room schoolhouse teachers were able to juggle several grade levels at once. Older children may give spelling tests, listen to practice reading and Scripture memory, read aloud for story time, or simply keep toddlers occupied for a while. You will also have the added benefit of instilling responsibility and teamwork in your mother’s helpers.
Refuse to Second Guess Yourself
Fretting over whether or not you are “doing it right” is seldom profitable. Can I tell you a little secret? Just the fact that your children are being homeschooled– regardless of the curriculum you choose or how consistently you finish it all, regardless of how well (or poorly) your kids write or spell or do algebra equations, and even if they never participate in organized sports – automatically puts them at an advantage over their institutionally educated peers. It’s been proven over and over and over again. Believe it, do your best, and leave the rest to God.
Prayerfully develop a family vision. If you and your spouse have a clear goal in mind, it will help keep you focused and on track. What do you see your children doing when they leave your homeschool? What kind of adults will they be? What do you want their families to look like? All the little choices you make in their education at home will have an impact on that future reality. Daily look for those teachable moments from God and take full advantage of the opportunities He gives you. I can tell you from experience the best years are yet to come when the journey is complete.
Stay in it for the long haul. You don’t want to give up right at the brink of realizing your vision, but many home educators do just that when they get to high school. However, if you allow your teens to do more on their own, you will eventually work yourself out of a job and instill in them a love of lifelong learning in the process. Other than correcting their tests (or otherwise making sure they are “getting it”), guidance in curriculum and course choices, and occasional one-on-one tutoring should be all that are needed to get them through. Other options might be classes outside the home (perhaps at the local junior college), paid tutors, and parent-directed, shared-teaching coops with other homeschoolers.
I truly believe many of the struggles, hurdles, and dead ends of home education may very well be attributed to this fear of not being able to compete with the methods and standards of institutional schools. However, it is my hope and prayer you may glean something from our experiences which will help you not only enjoy the journey of home education, but also arrive with joy at the finish line.
 Though I’m sure there are many newer and more popular proponents of homeschooling, these were the ones who influenced us the most, especially when we were just starting out: Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Mary Pride, and John Taylor Gatto.
 David N. Bass. “Colleges Courting Homeschoolers.” Carolina Journal Online. April 3, 2007. Accessed July 19, 2012. <http://www.carolinajournal.com/exclusives/display_exclusive.html?id=3983>.
 The Washington Times. “HOME-SCHOOLING: Outstanding results on national tests.” The Washington Times. August 30, 2009. Accessed July 19, 2012. <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/aug/30/home-schooling-outstanding-results-national-tests/>.
 Hans Villarica. “Study of the Day: Home-Schooled Children Score Higher on Tests.” The Atlantic. September 14, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/09/study-of-the-day-home-schooled-children-score-higher-on-tests/245036/>.