By Leslie Wyatt
The phone rings, and it’s a young home schooling mom wanting some sage advice from me, illustrious mother of six and therefore assumed to be a home school veteran. As I look around at the state of semi-chaos in my kitchen, including math books on the table waiting for my third grader to do a lesson before lunch, I feel like giving the caller someone else’s phone number—someone more qualified than I.
But instead, taking a calming breath, I scoot the books aside, because I hear the underlying question in my friend’s voice: “Can I really do this? Will I do a good enough job?” and I remember. I remember my own first years—the conviction that the Lord was guiding us to home school our children and the almost overwhelming fears and challenges that decision brought with it. I remember the stress of trying to teach new concepts to a wiggling second grader while my toddler dismantled the house room by room, the baby wailed on my lap, and two students insisted on asking me questions at the same time. My patience was thin, my workload intense and my glaring weaknesses were ever before me.
I also recall early days spent trying to uncover the perfect curriculum, only to be shocked at how much it would cost, and then disappointed to find out once I started using that ideal material that it wasn’t so perfect after all, and worse, that I fell far short of my concept of the ideal teacher.
As bits and pieces of my journey come flooding back, I take a sip of the coffee that I’ve already reheated at least twice (and is now cold once again), and share some of the landmark lessons I have learned along the way. What did I need thirteen plus years ago when I was starting out? Perhaps foremost would be the knowledge that my greatest need was—and still is—to walk with the Lord in this journey.
In practical realms, the years have taught several things, one being, as the cliché aptly puts it: Rome wasn’t built in a day. I needed someone to tell me that it was not realistic to expect to instinctively know every aspect of home school the first year I began. Reality is more along the lines that each year builds off the one before it. With each additional year under my belt, I knew more what I liked about the curriculums I’d tried and what I didn’t. I had a better sense of where each child was at and how he or she learned, which also helped me make better selections from the myriads of catalogs out there. Also, I had gained a better idea of my own limitations, strengths, and weaknesses as a teacher.
It would also have relieved of me of a major burden if someone had helped me understand that the public school model I grew up under is only one of many options, not the pinnacle of teaching excellence and the standard to measure everything else by. It took my husband and me several years to finally bury that sacred cow, and still sometimes we struggle with feeling like the fluidity of our schooling methods must somehow be too easy or too unlike our own school experiences to count as real school.
It took me years of gleaning from books and other sources to acquire the vital knowledge that teaching styles differ and that is all right. There are those to whom organization is second nature, whose home school day runs predictably and efficiently, and who know before the start of each school year exactly which day in spring their school will end. I’m looking at my track record, and wonder if I will attain those heights in my next thirteen years. Other parents are very “hands on”, glueing, acting, creating, interacting, laughing and having a great time. (I have long envied the children of these whizzes and secretly wished my kids could enjoy all their crafts, experiments and field trips too).
I would have loved it if someone could have told me early on, “You’re somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and that’s all right. Your kids will still learn and still be prepared for life even if you’re not the world’s most fun, creative, or organized teacher.”
Zip! My third grader zooms past and I have time for one last piece of sage advice for my friend before I start math time. That final statement would be, “Give yourself permission to evolve.” What my husband and I are today as home schooling parents is not what we were when we began all those years ago. Yet our current concept of home schooling is built upon lessons learned and experiences we’ve had as each year unfolded. When first launching into the great unknown sea of home schooling, I chose one curriculum company and bought all subjects from them. It gave me security to know that if I went through all the books and workbooks, I would cover everything our child needed to know for grade one. I also tried to do every activity in my teacher’s manuals and one year even sent our child’s work off to the curriculum company to have the scores recorded.
But as year followed year and child number two, three, four, etc. began school—each with their own unique learning styles—one curriculum no longer seemed the best way to go. So I began dabbling in the wild and exciting world of combining. A little of this, a little of that and in the fullness of time I now find myself conversant with many types of curriculum and styles of learning and teaching. What was scary and largely unintelligible when I began makes (almost) total sense to me now, and where I will end up thirteen years from now when our youngest, now just four, finishes high school, does not seem so overwhelming…
“You’ll do a great job,” I tell the new home school mom, as I open my teacher’s guide to the lesson of the day. “Just remember, we’re all in process. Find your own teaching style and enjoy the process. Every year you’ll know more than you did the year before. Besides, you already have the vital ingredients you need to go the distance—you love your kids, you care about their education, and the Lord is abundantly able to help.”
I hang up, but I find myself smiling at the new tone of hopefulness in my friend’s voice as she said goodbye. In the mistiness of future time, I envision a day when she, too, will answer a phone call from yet another newbie and will be able to draw words from her own journey that will make someone else’s way just a little easier.
Leslie Wyatt has been married to her husband, Dave, for 20 years. They have six children, ranging in age from 4 to 18. They have been homeschooling for 14 years.