Advice From a Homeschool Veteran

After eighteenth years of mothering, thirteen (or more?) years of homeschooling, and ten years of learning, teaching, serving, leading in different homeschool communities, I think I know a thing or two (or seven) about that homeschool life. Here's some sage advice from a somewhat salty veteran. 

1. Be realistic about your children.

Your children are not perfect. If you don't already know this hard truth, just attend any co-op long enough. The other people there will reveal (or try to reveal) truth to you when they confront you about your child's bad behavior. Humble yourself and just let the harsh realities sink in. It is good for your soul and the best thing for your child. All co-op veterans have had to do this again and again through the years to remain in community. You have to understand that your child needs a Savior just like you do. Their sin is real enough that Jesus had to die for it, too. So commit to remaining in community and dealing with the ugly issues as they arise. If you blame the other students or teachers and resist taking responsibility (or even avoid taking responsibility altogether by leaving co-op), you may avoid ugly reality for a time. In fact, you may actually avoid it for so long that you find your child is no longer a child at all, but very much a grown-up man or woman stuck in anti-social, destructive thinking and behavior. And if you are like me and you already know your kids have real problems, because you are constantly confronting and dealing with their problems at home, don't be too hard on your kids when they fail in public even when they really, really embarrass you. Mortify your pride. We have to teach our children how to live at home and in community, and the best way to learn how to live in community is to just remain in community as humiliating, painful, and inconvenient as that can be at times. 

2. Lower your expectations when dealing with human beings, even when you are paying them as professionals. 

Your child's tutors aren't going to be perfect. Even Christian, spirit-filled, virtuous, brilliant, well-trained, experienced, professional tutors will have some human flaws you should probably just continually overlook and bear with (and teach your children to bear with) in Christian charity. Disclaimer: If your co-op is totally secular and you are godless, maybe you can feel a sense of freedom to treat your tutors (and teach your children to treat their tutors) like a commodity that you may or may not be entirely satisfied with at any given moment and that you may or may not decide to purchase again next semester or next year. But if you are a Christian in a Christian homeschool community of any sort, this spirit and attitude grieves the Holy Spirit of God, and you must treat others with the charity, grace, mercy, etc. commanded by God. That doesn't mean you won't confront people about issues, but it does mean you'll handle conflicts and complaints totally privately, and you will be ready to understand, forgive, and reconcile, and your love will be ready to continually cover many, many offenses, "seventy times seven." So Christian, prepare yourself to have to bear with the imperfections of other Christians in your homeschool community as they are most certainly bearing with yours. And since many co-ops are often led by regular moms and dads just like you, a good rule of thumb is to realistically consider how well you and/or your husband would do in the exact same position with all the same variables, and then judge and/or give grace and mercy to the other parents accordingly. 

3. Lower your expectations even more if your co-op is volunteer-led and you aren't paying a dime for the class your child is in. If your co-op is free and led entirely by volunteers, it's probably realistic to lower your expectations even more. If a class is free, that teacher may believe she's doing your group a real favor when she shows up. To some extent, she may even be correct. I can be annoyed that my child's teacher doesn't show up, but if that person is just a volunteer, I can't be totally surprised, and I don't have much recourse other than to switch my child out of that class and find one taught by a more consistent volunteer. If my child isn't actually learning any chess in the chess class at co-op, I can be disappointed, but if that class was totally free for me, again, I can't be totally surprised and I can't complain much. When people take money for what they do, they tend to be more accountable to show up and do a good job. This is not the way it should be in an ideal world, but it's realistic, and it's best to keep your expectations in due proportion to reality at all times. 

4. Take on some real responsibility. 

You should volunteer or apply for a job at your co-op. Bear real responsibility there. Get your skin in the game. Enough should depend on you that you are actually vulnerable to real criticism if/ when you fail to perform. That much responsibility should be enough to secure you from ignorance and arrogance. Moms who never take on responsibility at co-op are, as a rule, to the individual, most critical. These moms hold themselves aloof and manage to maintain a spirit of superiority because they have never allowed themselves to be put in a position of servitude to anyone in the community. In truth, these moms are the only ones in community who can maintain a critical spirit and complain without shame, because they are the only ones who are truly ignorant of how well their leaders are actually doing. Moms who take on a measure of real responsibility are always more gracious with others and more content with the way things are. This is, of course, no coincidence. Moms who serve in a co-op know from their own experience bearing under responsibility how well the other leaders are actually doing considering all the variables they are constantly dealing with. 

5. Don't treat co-op as extra.

Families who treat co-op as optional, who show up just when they feel like it, are also those who end up leaving because they "don't see the value in it." The truth is that these families treated co-op as optional, so therefore, it was functionally optional in their lives. They don't get much value from it, because they don't show up to receive the value it has to impart. If you treat co-op as indispensable, it's likely to become exactly that. Note that this same rule applies to any stuff of life. If you don't attend church consistently, you are likely to start doubting the value of church attendance, too. 

6. Don't let your son or daughter fool you. They probably don't really want to learn Spanish. 

Teenagers can be crafty devils.  They'll resist doing schoolwork by all manner of ways and means. And if they can't wear you down and make you give up expecting difficult things from them altogether, they'll come up with ingenious tricks to fool even the smartest of moms. And here's the interesting part: Your teenagers have convinced themselves they mean what they are telling you. But what you need to understand is your teenage son who hates doing his schoolwork doesn't actually want to learn Spanish instead of Latin. Spanish is not his real passion. He does not think it will actually be more useful in real life because people actually speak it somewhere. He does not want to use it on a future mission trip. Your teenager still just hates the work of learning any language, living or dead. He's really interested in avoiding learning any foreign language at all. Yes, you will have found a Spanish program online that "he's really excited about" and yes, quitting Latin will offer a measure of relief from the ongoing struggle of making your child submit to your authority and obey you and do his schoolwork. But in the end, your son or daughter will end up merely surveying Spanish like all the other students in all those mediocre schools. You'll be able to give him a credit for foreign language, honestly. But honestly, at that point, your son will have truly wasted his time studying foreign language. He will never use it (or be able to.) But he will certainly have learned how to resist authority, manipulate people and situations, and avoid learning a form of discipline that only mastering (or trying to master) really difficult things could teach. 

7. Guard against extracurriculars. 

There are a lot of appealing programs for homeschooling teens out there, and these programs are actively recruiting homeschoolers. They sell themselves as "a great compliment to your homeschool." But in reality, these programs don't often compliment homeschools well, because they can actually take over homeschools. Naturally, these programs' leaders prioritize their program and really hope you make their program your priority, too.  These "special" opportunities swallow a day here, then a few days, then an entire week, then a few weeks. All mundane schoolwork is pushed to the margins, because these other opportunities are so special, urgent, important, exceptional, a real privilege, etc. Given enough of this type of thing, your teen representative or debate champion devalues regular schoolwork and becomes a mediocre student in everything but his or her special extracurricular/s. So I guard against even the best of opportunities. We take extracurriculars on a very limited basis. The majority of our school days, really and truly, go to pursuing excellence in the basic, boring, not-so-special, not-at-all-extra, fundamental things like chores, reading, writing, math, logic, science, etc. 

These are the tips I have to give, seven insights earned through two-ish decades of numerous humiliations, mistakes, observations, conversations, reassessments, and of course, all the usual blood, sweat, and tears. 

I volunteer these for free. So whether or not you like them, you're probably just lucky to have them. 


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