Several years ago, I found myself in a new season of life. My five babies and toddlers were now entering preschool and grade school. After a decade of adoptions, pregnancies, diapers, bottles, and all things babies, I felt a little out of sorts when my kids started off to school. I felt like my world was being turned inside out. Some days I felt like doing cartwheels and celebrating my new freedom, other days I felt like crying.
I considered if now might be a good time to pursue additional education and a university career. I got excited about the idea and I spent a few weeks researching the right program. As time went on, rather than feeling happy about my new adventure, I felt unsure and confused. Something didn’t feel right in my heart. I missed my children. I pondered and prayed for direction. My husband and I discussed things at length. One day, I came across this quote and it pierced my heart.
When you grow old, when your hair turns white and your body grows weary, when you are prone to sit in a rocker and meditate on the things of your life, nothing will be so important as the question of how your children have turned out. It will not be the money you have made. It will not be the cars you have owned. It will not be the large house in which you live. The searing questions that will cross your mind again and again will be, how well have my children done? Teach your children when they are very young and small, and never quit. As long as they are in your home, let them be your primary interest. In terms of your happiness, nothing-I repeat nothing- will have so profound an effect on you as the way your children turn out. (President Gordon B. Hinkley)
About this time in my life, I began considering home school. Whenever I thought about it, I felt terrified and worried. Yet for some reason I was continually drawn to the idea. Before having children, I worked as a 5th and 6th grade schoolteacher. Education and teaching have always been a source of joy for me. One might think that choosing home education would have been an easy fit for me, but it wasn’t. I had all of the doubts and fears that come with making a big decision. I worried about many things. I read several books, spoke to other mothers, researched countless curriculums, attended conferences about homeschool, and gained a lot of information. This process took me a couple of years. As time went on, I continued learning and peace began to fill my heart. Once peace took over, so did excitement and energy!
I have now been homeschooling for nearly 4 years. Through trial and error, I’ve learned a few things that seem to work best in our family school. Although I’m still learning and growing at this, there are a few truths I have come to know for sure. I hope that by sharing these thoughts, it may help another mother who may be considering a similar path.
- You don’t need a university degree to be qualified to teach your children. If you are a parent, you are called to the work. “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.” (D&C 4:3) No academic training can really prepare you to homeschool. Being a parent who knows and loves your child more than any other person is the only qualification needed.
- If you involve the Lord and pray over your children, inspiration will come. Ideas will enter your heart and mind and you will know what God wants you to teach your children. PRAY every day and ask the Lord “What will thou have me teach my children today?” That sincere question has brought great insights to my heart.
- Don’t be overwhelmed by the curriculum. When I first began to plan our homeschool, I made a list of all the subjects I felt responsible to teach my kids: writing, reading, math, music, art, history, science, PE, character Ed, foreign language, etc. I was overwhelmed! But with prayer comes peace. The Lord helped me simplify and magnify our focus. He gave me greater vision and understanding, in ways that my mortal mind couldn’t see on my own.
- When it comes to curriculum, it’s better to cover narrow and deep rather than wide and shallow. It’s not about fitting it ALL in, it’s about focusing on what matters most and going deep with that learning.
Over the years, I have come to find what matters most in our family homeschool. There are as many approaches to homeschool as there are mothers who homeschool. No one family is perfect at this, we learn as we go. Every mother is entitled to revelation for her family and she will be guided in her pursuits. With much prayer and pondering, these are the priorities that I now hold space for and give my best efforts to:
- Gospel Learning:
Nothing will create a better start to your day than beginning with the Spirit. We begin each day with what we call Morning Time. This happens right after breakfast. The kids are most fresh and ready to learn first thing in the morning, so I prioritize gospel learning. During Morning Time, we memorize scriptures, songs, and wise quotes. We each take turns sharing “gold nuggets”, our spiritual insights gained from our personal scripture reading. We discuss our Come Follow Me chapters, we sing primary songs, and hymns. The fruits we receive from Morning Time far exceed our academic pursuits, so we put this first in our day.
“Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom” (D&C 88:118). Not only is there good/better/best in the music we listen to and the movies we watch, but there is also good/better/best in the books we expose our children to. Weed out those books that don’t elevate your child’s mind. Acquire excellent literature to add to your home library. Great words inspire great thoughts. If you want your children speaking well and thinking well, give them the very best words to read. Great books can have a wonderful influence on your children.
A large part of our school day involves books. I have curated a home library that is filled with high quality literature. I lay the feast each day by offering my kids great books, then they choose which books interest them the most. There are wonderful, trusted book lists out there to help mothers get started in building a home library.
Even after children can read independently, they will still benefit from being read to. Carve out time to read to your children. It is a bonding experience that I treasure. Nothing feels better to me than snuggling my kids while enjoying a good story.
As part of our schedule each day, the kids also take turns listening to their current choice in audio books. They listen to their stories using air pods while they play Legos, draw, practice handwriting, and while doing chores. I have invested in many excellent audio books. They are the gift that keep on giving. My son has listened to the entire Chronicles of Narnia series at least 15 times. My 3 boys have all taken turns listening to: My side of the Mountain, Charlotte’s Web, The Hobbit, and Trumpet of the Swan several times. My daughter has listened to the entire series of Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, Little Men, and Little Women, just to name a few.
Reading high quality books covers LAYERS of learning. Kids are learning vocabulary words, history, science, grammar, geography, spelling, sentence structure, character skills, and more.
Children don’t usually choose vegetables before dessert; they must be taught to appreciate healthy foods. As with reading, children must be taught to appreciate high quality literature.
A child cannot learn from you if he doesn’t first feel loved by you. Starting each day with Morning Time gives me an opportunity to warm the hearts of my children. On days that we skip morning time and jump right into academics, there seems to be more contention. Children seem to glide more gently and kindly through the day when their love buckets are filled first. One of the things I appreciate the very most about homeschooling my kids is the opportunity to spend my days with them. Life is busy for families. I appreciate that our mornings can feel slow, gentle, and cozy. We can snuggle and read stories, play toys together, jump on the trampoline, and learn together. Spending the day with my kids helps me feel closer to them. An old Quaker Proverb states: “Thee lift me and I lift thee and we’ll ascend together.” As I teach my children, they teach me, and we all grow and learn. It’s a joyful adventure we get to share together.
Nature is God’s university. Taking my kids on hikes, to the park, the sand dunes, and even playing in our yard brings such joy. Spending time outdoors, soaking in the sun or the snow enlivens our spirits. Kids need unstructured play time. There is so much to learn from nature. We learn with the changing seasons. We observe the tulips that sprout in the spring, the changing colors of the leaves as fall approaches, the cycles of the moon, and the tall trees that teach us to look up to God.
“All things denote there is a God” (Alma 30:44). Take your kids outdoors and point these truths out to them. Ralph Waldo Emerson taught “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” And…whenever we are having a difficult day, the outdoors seems to fix everything.
God is the greatest mathematician! We can learn more about the divine by learning about numbers, patterns, shapes, and formulas. Math is found in nature, architecture, cooking, budgeting money, and a myriad of other places. Although math may not always be the favorite subject, I believe math is a discipline that teaches us how to think. We stretch our minds when we solve difficult math formulas. In our homeschool, we aim to spend time on math most every day.
Learning to write well and express thoughts on paper is an important skill. Part of our day includes writing. My younger kids do hand-writing books, they copy down scripture passages, wise quotes or song lyrics that we are memorizing. They also write journal entries and stories. My older kids are currently writing novels. My daughter is typing her second novel right now. When I read her writing, I am amazed at her creativity and ideas. I believe she writes well because of the many beautiful books she has read. My kids all find joy in writing and being creative in their stories. If you have younger children who can’t write yet, they can narrate their stories to you, while you write for them. I have purchased blank books from Amazon which allows kids to write and illustrate their own pages. These books have become treasures to us.
I love that our homeschool day can include music practice. The kids take turns on the piano and they get their practice minutes in. I love to see my kids learning and appreciating great music. There are layers of learning going on in the study of music! Carving out time to practice music each day is a high priority in our homeschool.
I won’t pretend that homeschool is all roses.
Is it hard sometimes? Yes.
Do I lose my patience some days? Unfortunately, yes.
Do we have more good days than bad? Absolutely.
If I were to start over in my parenting, would I still choose to homeschool? Without a doubt.
Homeschool is not only for my kids. It’s for me too. I am learning so much from this experience. Because of this educational path, I have read many books, I’ve refreshed my math skills, I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, I have strengthened my knowledge of the scriptures as I’ve taught them to my children, I have relearned piano as I have attended music classes with my boys. I have been inspired as a mother as I’ve attended homeschool workshops and met wise mentors. My life has been incredibly enriched by this experience.
So, how on earth does a mother find the time to homeschool? I understand those feelings of doubt. With five children ranging from ages 7 to 15, our lives are very full, very busy, and very taxing on my time. I still question how I have the time to do this. I believe the Lord can and will magnify mothers. He’s helped me prioritize things differently in my life. I am learning to simplify and multitask, to create space each day to homeschool.
Julie B. Beck shared this insight: “A good woman knows that she does not have enough time, energy, or opportunity to take care of all of the people or do all of the worthy things her heart yearns to do. Life is not calm for most women, and each day seems to require the accomplishment of a million things, most of which are important. A good woman must constantly resist alluring and deceptive messages from many sources telling her that she is entitled to more time away from her responsibilities and that she deserves a life of greater ease and independence. But with personal revelation, she can prioritize correctly and navigate this life confidently.” (And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit, April 2010)
Is homeschool right for every mother? I don’t think so. The Lord knows us perfectly. He knows our gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. I believe He can and will inspire every mother to the best parenting practices that work best for their unique life situations. I honor every mother. We do things differently, because we are each unique and different in wonderful ways. There are many ways to nurture, teach, and love your children. Home education is just one option. Certainly, there are many other ways to connect with and love your family.
Seasons in life come and go. Embrace the special season of life that you’re currently in. A favored quote hangs in my bedroom, it reminds me to seize these precious days while my children are at home:
“The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home.” (President Harold B. Lee)
Do I regret the fact that I didn’t pursue a University career? No. In exchange, I get precious days, weeks, months and years cultivating my most important investment, my children.
“Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in, it is what God gave you time for.” Neil L. Anderson