Seven years ago, we started homeschooling our three kids. Four years ago, my oldest decided to return to public school for high school. Two years later, the second followed. And now, we are preparing for our youngest to start back to school in just a few short days. Those seven years were priceless for the time we shared together, all that we learned, the experiences we would not have had otherwise.
While many of you had a taste of homeschooling in this year of the pandemic, I know it was often filled with fear, panic, frustration, uncertainty, and exhaustion. For us, who chose homeschooling instead of being forced into it, it was an entirely different experience. Sure, we had moments of all of those emotions, as students, teachers, and parents do. But in the end, homeschooling was a gift I am so grateful that we seized and enjoyed as long as we did. Here are a few of the best lessons that came out of our homeschool adventure.
Lesson 1: Children are built for learning.
Given the right amount of water, light, and soil, plants just grow. We don’t have to convince them to grow. Children are the same way. Children will learn, whether they are in school, in my backyard, at my dining room table, in the woods, or at the playground. Children are naturally curious and soak up knowledge. At some point, I probably worried that my kids wouldn’t learn “enough,” but I have long forgotten to worry about that. Books, movies, backyards, forests, museums, art supplies – it’s all just water, soil and light to kids. Plant them with the basics, and they will grow beyond your wildest imagining.
Lesson 2: It’s hard work to find your people but worth it.
Before we started homeschooling, school was an easy place for both the kids and me to make friends. When that went away, we struggled to figure out who were true friends who would stay in our lives, who were friends just because we had been in the same space and would fade away, and who would be our new friends in this new world. While it took a while because we were not in a building with the same people every day, we did find a small group of friends that stuck. They will be our friends long after our homeschool days are over.
Lesson 3: School is not synonymous with education.
My kids have learned that they alone are responsible for their education. Sometimes school is amazing and inspirational, full of inspiration, curiosity, and knowledge. Other times, it’s an obstacle course of half-truths and hoops to jump through to get the grade, the certificate, the diploma. Homeschooling taught us all to be our own best teachers. This skill will serve them well their whole lives. The hoops they sometimes have to jump through are frustrating, but it doesn’t completely derail them. Do the thing, get the grade, move on. The world is full of opportunities for learning if you don’t find what you seek at school.
Lesson 4: No one can do all the things.
Of course not, but whew boy, did I try for a while. It was frustrating until I figured out how to share the load and outsource a bit. Just because we homeschool, does not mean that I have to know and do everything. Eventually, I learned to share the load with other parents who were happy to teach my kids science if I taught their kids art. Co-ops, online classes, tutors, workshops, museum classes, park programs, and occasionally even Grandma were all “teachers” at our school. The kids and I all figured out that learning can happen anywhere if you know how to look for it.
Lesson 5: How to learn is the only skill you need.
All of my kids were nervous as their return to public school approached. What if we didn’t learn enough history or science or grammar? Will I be behind? Will I look stupid? Will I fail? It is true. We did not cover exactly what they would have learned if they had been in school. What is also true is that they would not have learned everything in one teacher’s class or in one school building that they would have learned in another. There are ALWAYS gaps. That is not what makes or breaks a student’s GPA. No, my kids had never written a works cited page before high school. No, they did not study American history in 8th grade. What they did know was how to go about learning what they didn’t know, how to research a topic, where to find information, and effective ways to study. This will serve them well wherever they go, as they quickly learned there are some classes in which they end up teaching themselves even if there is a teacher standing at the front of the room.
Lesson 6: Family is precious.
I wish I knew how my kids became friends. I feel like I could write a best-selling book if I knew the instructions for how that happened. Sadly, I don’t know exactly how it happened, but they take care of each other, rarely argue, and clearly enjoy being together. I at least partially credit homeschooling, as for a few years they did nearly everything together and had to figure out how to get along. They lean on each other and are not just siblings but friends. I know that someday when they don’t have me, they will still have each other. If that was all we got out of homeschooling, that would have been enough.