The Homeschool Decision Part 4: The Home Stretch

One mom's homeschooling journey, from her initial decision to the experience in hindsight

It’s Tuesday, an “at home” day of homeschooling, and my daughter and I are each at our computers in the attic that serves as our makeshift schoolroom. I’m preparing an art history lesson while she works on language arts. Sunlight streams through the window and I gaze at the water off Shilshole Bay.

My daughter has headphones on as she does vocabulary drills online. She sings softly to music I cannot hear, making me smile. We have found a comfortable rhythm, sometimes working silently side by side, sometimes in heated discussion. The dogs are snoozing at our feet, and I realize with some sadness that our last year of homeschooling is coming to a close. I’m going to miss these days.

Taking stock and measuring progress

The time went so quickly. Even though I often felt we barely scratched the surface of what I had hoped to cover academically, I’m still amazed how much learning occurred. Over the course of three years we — for it is now clear that I have been student as well as teacher — studied 24 subjects; watched 43 films; read over a hundred books; wrote more than 70 reports, lesson plans and assignments; and completed countless vocabulary drills, worksheets and online exercises. Not to mention the art classes, theater and a sprinkling of sports that my daughter did on her own. Phew! 

By a variety of markers, my daughter has done well. She’s had exposure to a broad range of subjects from art history to zoology. She’s had the opportunity to travel. She strengthened existing skills and learned new ones. Her test scores are the highest they have ever been. She has a solid circle of friends, old and new. And she has come into her own as a quirky, happy teenager with a strong sense of self.

For my part, I’ve learned that education — and, more importantly, learning — is not purely a numbers game. It is a mindset more than a list of books read or math problems solved. In fact, the most valuable lesson is that learning is not something that takes place only on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Learning is a lifetime activity. It takes time and patience. Failures? They don’t exist in our homeschooling because each experience — especially the ones that don’t turn out as expected — teach us something.

Ninth grade: Ready or not, here she comes

Ask me about the days when we’ve gone to the beach to do geology or talked about life and love over tea. Ask me about our trip to London in the off-season and our hikes in the middle of the week. I have no regrets.

The years between fifth and ninth grades are a time of tremendous change. I’ve witnessed these physical, intellectual and emotional changes in my daughter during the last three years. Academically she is now more self-directed and has developed the ability to grasp broad concepts and infer from a variety of sources. She has a wider range of interests and lots of strong opinions. This is all good.

And yet, as anyone knows who’s tried to get a child to eat vegetables, you can put it on the plate, but you can’t make the child eat it. It is the same with education — I can teach but there is no guarantee my daughter will learn. As Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” When I still see procrastination, poor study habits and bad sentence structure, I worry. Did I not light a strong enough fire?

There has been progress, but I had hoped we would conquer those issues during homeschooling. Will she be ready for high school come September? Test scores say she is at or above grade level in all her subjects, but what about all the other adjustments? Will she be able to keep the self-confidence she’s developed during homeschooling?

Some surprises along the way

While my goals with homeschooling were mainly academic, there have been unexpected benefits. The primary one: We’ve become closer as a family thanks to all the time spent together. We’ve built a reservoir of goodwill and strength during a time usually fraught with tension between teens and their parents. As a result, our daily life has been so much less stressful. There has been more fun, better sleep and little to no anxiety.

What will my daughter ultimately remember about our homeschooling? The lessons I prepared or the trips we took? The nuts and bolts of taxonomy, or my own fascination with botanist Carl Linnaeus? The times we yelled at each other, or the times we laughed?

Summing up

Homeschooling is a lot of work and it’s not for everyone. It’s tough thinking up the lessons and planning whole semesters. It’s hard to stay motivated when your teen pushes back. On the bad days, it’s not easy being around each other and keeping our tempers. But ask me about the days when we’ve gone to the beach to do geology or talked about life and love over tea. Ask me about our trip to London in the off-season and our hikes in the middle of the week. I have no regrets.

I believe the best education is self-taught. Knowledge cannot be force-fed with any real success. I’ve done my best and still made plenty of mistakes. Fortunately, my daughter learned in spite of me. With luck, she will get teachers in high school who will help her continue on her journey of self-discovery. 

It occurs to me that the real power of homeschooling — and all education — is not to be experienced or revealed right away. It is planting a seed that will over a lifetime become a tree. One way or the other, come September, I’ll be back to being “just Mom.” Life goes on.

The author’s daughter is now taking honors classes as a ninth grader at Ballard High School, and is enjoying having multiple teachers amid the social swirl of being one of more than 1,700 students. The transition has been more difficult for Mom, who misses her job as curriculum planner and teacher, but is channeling extra time and energy into writing, tutoring and completing a lifetime’s worth of unfinished crafting projects!

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