We are lucky to have a homeschool interview this month with a seasoned Aussie homeschooling mother. Elizabeth was one on the organisers of the Big Picture conferences a few years back. I hope you like it.
How long have you been homeschooling?
We began when our oldest, now 18, was 5, so that would be 13 years. Our youngest is 4, so we’ve got a good few years to go yet!
What are your kids doing now?
Our oldest son is in Year 12 at school, doing the International Baccalaureate in a couple of months. He intends to have a year off and do something mindless next year, and then hopes to begin studying Law the year after. Our second son began school this year in Year 10. He has no real idea what he wants to do in the future (which is quite reasonable at 16), but his mother thinks he would make an excellent primary school teacher 🙂
What do they think about homeschooling now that they have finished?
James is glad that he chose to go to school at the end, but very glad that it was only for 3 years. He chose to go because he realized that he was motivated by competition, and with none at home he found it hard to motivate himself to work. School has achieved that purpose well for him. Edward is quite enjoying school, and thinks it was (probably) a good idea to go. He enjoyed homeschooling, and envies the kids who are still at home, but towards the end he, too, found it hard to motivate himself to do the work he needed to do. He is doing more, and harder, work this year, which he feels good about, at the same time as missing all the discretionary time he had last year.
What are you doing now?
Homeschooling! And just taking the first steps towards training for pastoral care and teaching roles in our Church.
Are there any things you would have done differently?
Of course! All of my homeschooling life (until now) I have tended to swing from one end of the formal-informal pendulum to the other. Each end has its advantages and disadvantages, and is at first a welcome relief from the negatives of the other end, but eventually begins to chafe and back we would swing to the other end. Anyone relate? I am finally – finally! – happy with our particular blend of formality and informality: just enough formality to ward off the middle-of-the-night panic attacks, just enough informality to prevent the I’m-boring-the-kids-to-death guilts. But you know what? Either end of the pendulum can work. The important thing is not what approach you take or what curriculum you use. It’s that you like being with your children and they know it. So easy to say; sometimes so very, very difficult to live.
Have any of your views about homeschooling changed?
Yes, definitely. I no longer believe it is the best option for everyone. I no longer believe it is even a possible option for everyone. I no longer believe sending the kids to school, either for a period of time or for the rest of their schooling, is an admission of failure. But I still believe, passionately, that it is a wonderful way of life and gives children a fantastic base on which to build the rest of their lives. It took me years – decades – after leaving school to really know who I was and what I liked and wanted, independent of what my peers liked and wanted. I love, love, love that my children don’t seem to have any of those same insecurities. They are becoming, from the beginning, the unique and confident individuals that God created them to be. And I love having the freedom and time to let the kids pursue things that interest them, and to let them spend hours playing with each other and with friends.
Are there any differences in homeschooling now as compared to when you commenced? What would they be?
The array of curriculum materials and the ease of access to them is vastly increased. Is this a good thing? Not necessarily. Too much choice can be paralyzing, and can prevent you ever really settling into what you have chosen. What if something new arrives that is even better?? The numbers of people homeschooling are greater now, which has resulted in more support groups and far more group learning opportunities. Homeschooling is much more widely known about and accepted, hence we very rarely now hear the standard response of years ago – “Can you do that? Is it legal?” But I think that with the ‘acceptability’ of homeschooling we have lost that feeling that we are doing something radical; taking a completely different path in raising and educating our children. This makes it tempting to just try to do what schools are doing but do it better, rather than ‘risk’ blazing an entirely new trail.
What is your vision/focus as a mother these days? Has it changed?
I think I would say that now my focus is on developing what God has already placed in my children; finding out their strengths and gifts, and making ways for those to shine. It’s a little hard to remember, but I suspect that when I began I was more focused on producing a pre-determined outcome. I am also much more focused on the aspects of our educational journey that are enriching and memory-making: reading aloud, talking over coffee/hot chocolate, walking in the bush, spending time with other families, following passions.
What special insight would you like to share that burns on your heart but we haven’t thought to ask because we don’t know?
I’m glad you asked 🙂 One of the things I have become more and more aware of over the years is that we as homeschooling mums often – often! – neglect ourselves, in our frequently-exhausting efforts to give to our children. Homeschooling mums, particularly mums of many children, have enormously demanding and draining lives. We are giving out constantly, and if we don’t make regular, intentional efforts to re-fill our reserves, we will at some point run dry. This takes different forms in different women: anxiety/depression, a nervous breakdown, a sudden resolve to put all the children in school, marriage breakdown, or just increasing anger toward, and distance from, those we love. I have always known I was an introvert, but what never occurred to me was that if introverts NEED time alone to re-charge, and I was effectively never alone, my ‘battery’ would eventually go flat. Which it did. I now spend 2 nights away by myself – did you notice that? BY MYSELF – every 3 months. It is the most wonderful, soul-replenishing time imaginable. For me. For others, time alone is not what they need, but maybe regular time with friends is just what the doctor ordered. Or maybe an absorbing hobby. Do not let the daily grind of laying down your life make you forget what really makes you come alive, because that is what your children need MOST – a mother who is truly alive to God, to them, and to herself.
Thanks Elizabeth for your encouraging words.