Sunday, August 31, 2014

My story of how our family started homeschooling 2 1/2 years ago - a response to a mom's question

A blog reader asked my story of how we started homeschooling. Here is my response to her. If you are a public school family, please don't take offense from our family's experience or the blessings we have received from making this choice. How to best educate your children is a very personal one and should be made with much thought, prayer, and personal revelation. 

My story is basically this. 

Almost three years ago I asked for an audio book for my November birthday. It was The Duggars: Twenty and Counting, Raising One of America's Largest Families, How They Do It. As I listened to the book (which is a life changing book), I kept thinking, "Wow, this is an amazing family. I wish my kids were best friends like these kids are. But it wouldn't work because we don't homeschool." "I wish I could protect my children from the world as well as the Duggars do, but that wouldn't work because we don't homeschool."  Pretty soon God had worked on me long enough and He gave a persistent prompting that God wanted me to start homeschooling.  

I really didn't want to. 

I had sooooo many reasons, one of which was that I was scared my family would be seen as weird. I'm embarrassed to admit that, but it was probably the biggest fear I had.  I also didn't want to leave our schools. We had been super involved in our schools - volunteering, Community Council, choirs, band, jazz band, orchestra, theater, and all my kids got great grades. My oldest had just graduated from our local high school within the past year. I loved many of the teachers and all three principles at our elementary, junior high, and high school, which are all on the same road, very close to our home.  What if I never saw many of my friends again that I know from school functions?  What if my kids never see their friends again? It was so painful to my heart to drive by these schools that I didn't know if I would ever finish grieving it. 

After feeling the prompting for a while, I told my husband about it. He got an answer quickly, feeling really good about it. Then we presented the idea and asked each of our children to pray and get their own answer from Heavenly Father, because I was having enough resistance in myself, and I didn't feel strong enough yet to handle resistance from them. Eventually they all got an answer that it was the right thing. 

That has made THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE, that we all got answers from God and knew this was God's will for our family. 

I immersed myself in prayer, scriptures, fasting, and journaling, asking the Lord to pour down spiritual strength to help me do this seemingly impossible task He had asked me to do. I felt a serious kinship with Nephi and Lehi, being told to do things that looked utterly impossible, but God made them possible - leaving their comfort zone and virtually everyone they knew, going to a place they had never gone before and didn't know what to expect, getting brass plates from a man who refused to give or sell them and even threatened their lives, building a ship to get their family across the ocean when Nephi had never built one before. I dug into their story with myself in the pages. I was being told to do something utterly impossible to me, I didn't know what it would look like or where we would end up, I had never done this before! Here are the two passages that became my mantra: 
"I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them." (1 Nephi 3:7) 
"And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth..." (1 Nephi 4:6)

I also wrote a list of stories like Nephi's and Lehi's where God had helped people do the impossible. I knew that remembering their miracles would boost my faith and courage, knowing God would help me do this seemingly impossible task, and guide me to everything I needed to succeed with it.

My four children still at home were in the middle of grades 10, 7, 4 and 4 (twins). Taking the paperwork to the schools almost gave me a panic attack and I had to ask my husband to do it for me.  But we finally did it in the middle of January at the new semester. 

I was given lots of advice to let my children de-tox for a while and gain their love of learning again that public school often snuffs out.  

Since I had no clue what I was doing yet, this seemed like the logical choice. So we went to our neighborhood library a ton, read a ton, alone and together, and did things that were fun and learning at the same time, like field trips and projects. During this time our family also took our daughter's girls camp challenge to memorize The Living Christ, which was a cool experience. I felt super stressed during this de-tox time, because I knew the public school kids were learning things my kids weren't learning right then. 

I threw myself into training mode. 

I read books and articles about homeschooling, I joined homeschool Yahoo (and later Facebook) groups and asked a gazillion questions to the homeschool friends I already knew. I started attending park days and other events to meet other homeschoolers and get ideas, and taking any training I could. I attended an average of one training a month for my first year -- a TJED (Thomas Jefferson Education) conference, Latter-day Learning conference, Moms' Retreat, an online writing training, joined a monthly Family Builder group, and others. My kids were older and I didn't feel like I had time to waste, other than whatever time they needed to de-tox and love learning again.  

Our two teens were able to join a LEMI (Leadership Education Mentoring Institute) group, one taking a class called Key of Liberty, the other taking Pyramid Project. I asked if I could sit in the back of the Key of Liberty class, so I could get my feet wet and learn from the two moms teaching the class, both their material, and to start seeing how this homeschool and group thing works.  I fell in love with the Key of Liberty class, and I wish every young person (and old person) in the country took that class, which teaches the principles of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the history and character and events of our founding fathers. Another part of my training came from learning bits and pieces about Common Core, and every time I did, I became more and more grateful God had prompted us to pull out before Common Core was fully implemented. 

By the next school year, seven months later... 

I had felt prompted to become a new teacher (we call them mentors) in a local homeschool group called Vanguard.  My younger three participated in this group, and slowly but surely, we started to feel more at home.  I loved learning with my children with the Latter-day Learning curriculum, the Spirit-filled devotionals, and studying like crazy to learn along with our Vanguard group and being the teacher one Wednesday every month. Our group also did temple trips, outdoor activities, game nights, choir, theater, and a yearly camp out. I was very busy, but I loved all this fun learning!  And I've always loved teaching, so that felt great. And the families in our group helped us feel welcomed and nurtured in our new lifestyle as homeschoolers. Our oldest son started an online program at a rigorous online high school called Williamsburg Academy.  We also started being involved in cool activities like acting at Constitution Day, attending a mother-son or mother-daughter retreat, and serving during a school day at Mothers Without Borders charity boutique. 

It has now been over 2 1/2 years since we pulled our children out of public school. 

Recently I pondered about all the amazing people and principle-based education, the activities and events we've been blessed by that we never would have known had we stayed in our old world of public school.  Some of my dearest friends I know only through homeschooling. Some of the most special things I've learned have been through homeschooling. Some of the events and activities and retreats and trainings that have been so meaningful to me have happened in our lives only because we started homeschooling.  Our family is closer than ever before. We are dear friends. My children don't groan when it's time for family devotional like is the typical reaction for public school kids (we were reminded of this today in a sacrament meeting talk). Instead, they have deep testimonies, connect their spiritual knowledge to their secular learning all the time, and like learning about God and His gospel. My children have had awesome experiences with personal revelation, which Julie Beck said is the most important skill anyone can learn in this life, and I totally agree. So I've prioritized that in our homeschool experience. 

My third year at the Moms' Retreat. I love this retreat! 

My children have grown immensely in their love of learning and their capacity to study hard.  

I love that our learning is focused on finding and living principles in all that we learn. Our learning is meaningful and never a waste of time. Our children's friends are quality teens with great families. Before, when my children were in public school, they felt like the only kids who didn't have cable TV, cell phones, and violent video games. They would come home feeling sad that their friends were talking about the latest violent movies or games, or saying bad words, or had negative attitudes in general. OF COURSE there are wonderful families in public school who have very high standards! But it felt like it was the exception, not the rule. Now the nice thing is, with our homeschool friends, it's the rule -- most of our friends have high standards like us, which is awesome! We have never been a big television-watching family, but since starting homeschooling, our family has been less and less interested in TV or entertainment in general.  Have my kids learned exactly all the same things as their friends at the public school? Nope.  Have their friends learned all the same things my kids have learned? NOPE. 

And which would I choose?  Ours. Hands down. 

It seems that my children moved from a culture focused on friends and entertainment into a culture focused on family and learning, and preparing to become and do what God sent them here to do. 

In my opinion, for teens, especially social teens, being involved in outside activities or groups is a huge help. 

Here is what my 15-year-old's education looks like this year. It will be more driving around than I am used to, but we pray hard about these choices, and she is excited about everything on her list. Each of these classes (other than seminary) meets once a week, and then she studies at home the rest of the time. 
  • Seminary (I am starting a calling of teaching seminary to a group of 26 homeschool youth)
  • Vanguard - includes leadership, government and economics, literature, gateway to the great books, writing. It also includes a little about history, science, music, and art. This also includes monthly LDS temple trips, outdoor activities, cultural literacy bees. 
  • Vanguard theater and choir 
  • Seeing God's hand in History 
  • Biology 
  • Speech and Debate 
  • Math  (she has to do this on her own and not with a group)
Our 12-year-old boys are starting a different homeschool group that meets one and a half days each week. It includes history and current events, science, writing/grammar/spelling. They will do math on their own at home. They're also involved in Vanguard theater and choir, and take their own music lessons. 

This makes us sound crazy busy!  The thing that makes this work is that I'm not their teacher any more, so it frees up more of my time to prepare seminary lessons.  

This story may not be what you are looking for, because my children are in an older stage than yours, and because we started out deeply involved in our public schools rather than starting out homeschooling, which in some ways would be much easier than our road. 

God bless you in your decision!  Be prayerful about it. I'm sure you are.  

If you feel right about homeschooling, or if you don't get an answer for a while, this would be my advice. Take advantage of the time you have before your kids are school age to do some research and preparing. 

  • Start reading some about homeschooling. 
  • Start meeting people who homeschool and ask them questions.  
  • Attend a homeschool conference or training here and there.  
  • Notice the light in the homeschool teens' eyes that looks different than what you usually see at the public schools. 
  • Join some Facebook or Yahoo groups for homeschoolers. I could recommend some if you want. 
  • Start learning a bit about Common Core.  Learn some of God's principles of education and the history of it. Learn about the agenda of some of the top education leaders in our country who are educating the educators, which filters down to our children in public schools. 

Don't stress about pushing young children to be too academic too early. They learn TONS through playing, working alongside Mom, doing projects, and from your reading to them. One book that has been a core of my homeschool philosophy is called A Thomas Jefferson Education by Oliver DeMille. I don't use his principles in as black-and-white fashion as he states them, but there is a lot of truth there, and I really like most of what he says. 

God bless you!  Keep in touch. 

Click here for tips for a newbie homeschooler. 

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