A lot of us start this homeschooling thing thinking that we’re going to be Super Mom. Yep, we begin the journey starry-eyed and inspired -- optimistic that we will be able to single-handedly teach our children and lovingly usher them into academic excellence and emotional and physical competence.
Then life happens.
Those little things like learning challenges and the birth of babies, and personality clashes and chronic illness. Those things that make us re-evaluate everything -- ourselves, our children, our plan, our homeschooling -- and make us realize that we can’t do it all alone.
This is not a bad thing.
In fact, bringing others into our homeschooling world can be one of the best decisions we ever make for ourselves and our children. It has been for me.
I am incredibly blessed to live near both sets of parents. But, lamentably, it is only recently that I have truly begun incorporating them into my kids’ homeschooling experience. I like to think that I’ve gotten wiser over this journey of home education, and finding ways to let others be a part of our educational process has definitely been one of my better moves. But it took some realizations to get me there -- epiphanies that I believe have made our homeschool ever so much stronger. They are:
1. There are some things that I just don’t love to teach, but there are people around me who do love to teach some of the things I don’t, and who are good at it.
OK, I know we’re not really supposed to admit this, but it’s true. I am not a science person. I can teach it, but I don’t particularly enjoy doing so; science just doesn’t get me going. But even more importantly, the idea of gathering all the stuff for and then actually performing science experiments is only slightly more appealing to me than poking my eyeball out with a fork. Sorry. I know many of you are project-savvy, hands-on kinds of teachers, and that fact both makes me want to applaud you and stick you with said fork. Me? I need some help in the science department.
Enter my mom. My mother, who happens to be a former science teacher (go figure on how the genes worked out in that one), retired this year, and offered to teach Science to my children. So once a week they each have their “Gram day” in the afternoon, after we’ve completed all of our other subjects, and Gram does a week’s worth of science on that day. She loves the time with her grandchildren one-on-one, the girls adore their special time with Gram, and I get science done by a person who is passionate about it, as well as passionate about my kids.
All that - and they do all of those projects that I abhor. Completely, totally a win, any way you look at it.
2. My kids work harder and are more invested when working for just about anyone other than me, because I’m Mom.
As much as I hate it, there is no doubt that my kids get “used” to working for me. I do the majority of the teaching, the majority of the time. Plus I tell them to clean their rooms and pick up their clothes and not say that to their sister and... well, you know. It’s always Mom making them do. So the reality is that although I certainly hold them accountable to obedience and diligence when they work with me, they naturally perk up and show more automatic investment when they are working for someone else. It’s amazing how those Math problems that were so hard with Mom all of a sudden are no big deal when Dad or a guest comes around to help.
I’m using this to my advantage. Although I am an accomplished pianist and have spent a number of years teaching piano to my girls, I’ve decided to pass the torch. My mother-in-law was a former music teacher, and she is happily giving them piano lessons now. What used to be a time of complaining and “How much more do we have to do, Mom?????” has turned into “When is it time for my music lesson?”. And, amazingly, the girls have made more progress in a few weeks of working with Noni than they have in months of working with Mom.
Incredible, the value of someone else.
3. My kids benefit in many ways from learning from different teachers.
Another subject that often makes me want to pull my hair out is math. I am just not an effective math teacher. It’s like I can teach a concept a couple of different ways, but then if my child doesn’t get it – I’m out. That’s it – all I’ve got. I start resorting to, “Why can’t you get this?!” (OK, OK, so maybe not out loud, but definitely in my head). So when we get stuck, which is more often that I’d like to admit, I bring in others. My mom has gotten us over the hump many times, my mother-in-law pitches in periodically, my 5-hours-away special ed teacher sister-in-law has covered my back over the phone, and even my husband has had to pinch hit a few times in the evenings or on the weekend.
Every time I’ve brought someone in, it has ended up being a good decision.
Outsiders aren’t bogged down in the process, don’t have any frustrated history with teaching the child, bring a fresh perspective, and almost always can see a different way of tackling the problem than I can. My children always respond positively to the new person and new approach (regardless of who and what it is), and almost invariably are able to get over the hump that, with me, had seemed to be an un-scalable mountain.
Working with people other than myself exposes my children to different teaching styles, requires them to negotiate and be obedient to varying expectations, gives them the impetus to be particularly engaged, provides interest and excitement to what might otherwise be dull or “business as usual”, and allows them to experience variety in their educational journey.
Don’t Do It All
The truth is that we shouldn’t try to do it all. One of homeschooling’s greatest strengths is that the child’s parent -- he or she who loves the child most and is most invested in the child’s well-being -- is in charge of education. But that strength can also be a weakness, if we attempt to educate our children single-handedly. Having family help is certainly a tremendous benefit, because family members are usually already invested in your children, are often willing to help for free, and frequently share similar values. Now I realize that very few people have the luxury of living near two sets of family members, but help does not have to be extended family-based.
There are so many ways to homeschool with others. One homeschooling family I know hired a tutor for just one subject, while Mom taught all the rest. Co-ops provide plenty of opportunities for homeschooled students to receive instruction from other people. Local community colleges often offer courses for high-school-age homeschoolers. Some locales (such as Fort Worth, Texas) offer partial homeschooling options where students attend classes for two or three mornings a week and work at home with a parent the rest of the week. Interactive online courses are available for older students. And some homeschooling families have even swapped teaching certain subjects amongst themselves, so that each parent teaches to his or her strengths.
With a little ingenuity and flexibility, you can homeschool with others! Give yourself some grace from the pressure of feeling that you must teach your children completely solo. You don't have to be in this alone! Bringing in additional help will maintain all of the benefits of homeschooling, while overcoming some of its downfalls.
Sometimes, it is only once we realize we can't do it all ourselves that we can do the absolute best for our children.