23 Years and 17 Kids Ago
We began homeschooling because of the academic needs of our four youngest daughters. Two of them were in the gifted-and-talented programs at our local public school, feeling quite unchallenged. Another daughter, born with cerebral palsy, had been miraculously healed at age 2 but was doing some catching up; we didn’t want her “labeled.” And we didn’t want our toddler to ever have to attend a public school.
Courtesy of the family
The Bentley family celebrates daughter Rachel's graduation in 1997.
IF YOU NEED
HSLDA IS ONLY AN
EMAIL OR PHONE
So, not knowing anyone else I could call who homeschooled, I ordered a pre-packaged correspondence course curriculum. While we awaited its arrival, my husband and I did the typical “waffle” thing: We know this is what the Lord wants us to do. We’re doing the right thing. Why on earth did we think we could do this? I’ll be “doing school” till 10:00 every night! What have we gotten ourselves into? This is the right thing for our family. We can do this. Oh, no! Is it too late to change our minds?
When the box of materials arrived, I sat on the floor and cried. What had I gotten into?
That was 23 years and 17 homeschooled kids ago (four of our own eight and 13 of our many foster kids), and we have never regretted our decision. But we have learned some lessons along the way. Now that my last child has finished her formal home education, there are a few things I’d do differently if I had to do it all over again—and a few that I’d do the same.
1) We all need a routine.
Our schedule included chores, so the children would know they were needed as part of the family unit, part of a ministry team. And our routine included prayer and character training. When my life started to feel out of control, it was usually because I had (a) slacked off in my devotional time, a result of (b) getting too relaxed in my routine. We tried to maintain some flexibility (every homeschooling mom’s middle name!), but having a realistic, basic starting point gave the kids security, kept life in perspective, and gave me some margin.
Here for You
HSLDA members may contact
our early years coordinator,
Vicki Bentley, for advice on teaching preschoolers through 8th-graders.
2) I can do anything for eight weeks!
When we first started homeschooling, we worked with the same schedule as the local schools; it was all I knew. I eventually determined that working eight weeks on, one week off, with four weeks off at Christmas and in July, worked well for us. This gave me 40 weeks of accountable study, which was four more than our state required, so I had leeway for days off, teacher sanity days, laundry catch-up, family trips, etc. (It is important to note that we were not enslaved by the calendar or the requirements of our state. I am of the firm belief that all our days were learning days, because we did our best to create a “learning lifestyle.” However, it was reassuring to know that we were above reproach, should the question ever arise.)
I had an overall goal of what I wanted us to cover each year, then divided that up and put it in writing only eight weeks at a time. At the end of the eight weeks, I would evaluate our progress and, during the week off, would write down the plan for the next eight weeks.
3) It is not my job to teach them everything, but to teach them how to learn.
There were times when even my overachiever daughter had to remind me that I was expecting too much! I learned that students will inevitably have some gaps in their education, regardless of where they are educated—I just had to be selective about what gaps I was willing to leave, understanding that their education would not end at age 18. I did my best to teach them the skills they needed to keep learning, such as thinking for themselves, evaluating what they read and heard, and understanding processes. I prayed for revelation of their learning styles and gifts so they could figure out how they fit into God’s plan and effectively minister to others throughout their lives.
4) I would have used fewer formal textbooks in their early years.
If I could do kindergarten over again, I’d use something like Five in a Row and a basic math and language program, or I’d just cuddle my babies for read-alouds and enjoy nature and words and music and exploring and stories with them. I thought I had to cram a specific, exhaustive scope and sequence into them, but I didn’t. Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson would have been required reading if it had been published at the time! I also highly recommend Ruth Beechick’s writings.
Of course, the time does come for more rigorous studies, but that happens after we have laid the foundation of a love of learning.
5) I would have enjoyed my kids more.
The Greek model of education is all about knowledge; the Hebrew model is about relationships (read What Your Child Needs to Know When or Heart of Wisdom Teaching Approach by Robin Sampson). I was halfway into the homeschool journey when I realized I had no joy. The Lord directed me to Psalm 113:9 and showed me that making me a joyful mother of children ranked right up there with seating the poor with princes. I purposed to not take life so personally, to laugh more, smile more, love my babies more, and cherish my family. I wanted them to remember their childhoods as joyful, contented times with a mom who treasured them, not think back woefully to the stressed mother of their youth.
6) Just say yes!
We seem to have bought into the “just say no” mentality: No, you may not have dessert because you didn’t eat your supper. No, you may not play with your friend because you didn’t finish your chores. I realized that I could turn those no’s into yes’s and turn responsibility into a positive thing for my kids. Yes, you may have dessert as soon as you finish your healthy food. Yes, you may play with her after you finish your morning jobs. I was not the bad guy anymore. The responsibility was now in their laps; if they did not get dessert, whose choice had it been? And whose fault was it now if they didn’t finish their chores and get to play? Aha! The concept of personal responsibility!
7) I wish I had taken them more places.
I don’t mean more structured, guided school field trips, but more family experiences. We didn’t have the funds to do much, but what my children tend to remember are those pack-a-picnic outings to a monument, a museum, or a potato chip factory.
8) They need opportunities to make wise choices or learn from the not-so-wise ones.
We gradually invited our daughters to give more input regarding course choices, extracurricular activities, chores, and spending, as their maturity allowed. Our goal was for them to have ownership of their circumstances, to realize that we all have choices and must make them wisely. We let them bear the consequences of their actions. When you lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink, but you sure can salt his oats!
9) It’s not my job to change my children. It’s my job to disciple them by example.
I needed to model a Christ-like attitude, and I often failed miserably. But my children needed to see a woman who could admit her failings, humble herself to ask forgiveness, and do her best to honor her Lord and her family in the future. I needed to stay on my knees and in the word of God. I prayed for my children just as Jesus did for His disciples in John 17.
When my daughters are 25, nobody will remember their SAT scores, GPAs, or degrees (or if they have them). But people will know their character—whether my girls are dependable, compassionate, honest, diligent, trustworthy, and cheerful. My daughters learned those things not because their parents nagged them to change, but because their parents endeavored to exemplify those Christ-like characteristics, and in their human failings, repented and tried again to live what they taught.
10) This was just one season of my life.
It seemed that I would always have little children. After all, the odds were pretty good: my own eight daughters plus my foster children eventually added up to 50! At one point, I had six kids under the age of 9.
But there is, as we read in Ecclesiastes, a time and a season for everything. This season will pass. Enjoy it! Invest in your babies, your toddlers, and your young people. Regardless of what you “were” in the previous season of your life, this is, in the words of the arachnid Charlotte, your “magnificent opus.” Shoot those arrows toward the mark, doing your best to work with their bent, and trust God to help take out the wobble.
We all make lots of mistakes. We don’t have these kids when we’re older and wiser; we usually get them while we’re still young and inexperienced—so we have to rely on God. Pray for the Lord to give you His vision for your family. Then trust Him to guide you day by day on the path that is right for you.
Editor’s note: This article is based on Vicki Bentley’s “A Mom’s Sentimental Journey,” which appears on her website, www.everydayhomemaking.com, and at www.heav.org.
| About the author|
Vicki Bentley is HSLDA’s early years coordinator.