By Amy Nicholson
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
“Homeschool? I could never do that!”
“Send my kids to public school? I could never do that!”
I’ve heard both. I’ve said both. But parenthood bends the definition of “never.” I homeschooled my children for seven years. Now all three have been in public school four years. There was a time for homeschooling and a time for public school. It’s not that one was right and the other wrong or one better than the other. Each had its season. Although each was a blessing, transitions in both directions were difficult.
Like everyone’s journey, ours has been unique. My oldest, Tim, attended public school for four years. By October of fourth grade, the teacher had contacted me four times about his behavior. He was “building things in his desk.” I asked him why. “Because I like to build things.” If he were to remain in school, he would continue building things in his desk and would be labeled a trouble maker. I took him out of public school and began homeschooling him.
I had been considering homeschooling for two years. I had homeschooling friends whose lifestyle of learning appealed to me. I didn’t think I had the patience, but when the anticipated benefits outweighed my apprehension, I went for it.
I was scared. Having had a teaching certificate at one time, I had some confidence. More than that, other people had confidence in me. “Oh, you went to school for that. You know what you’re doing,” they said. That wasn’t entirely true. I had been certified in Pre-K to grade 6 and taught Pre-K for four years, but I had never taught reading or used an actual curriculum.
I was determined and God was with us. I researched, bought books, sent in my notice of intent, prayed, and got started. I discovered that if you can do homework with your child, you can homeschool. Yes, there is more to it than that. You have to plan a curriculum, for example, but there are resources to help.
I fell in love with homeschooling and naturally moved on to homeschool David and Sarah from kindergarten. It wasn’t perfect. I probably made mistakes. But it was such a wonderful time growing up with my kids. Tim had a chance to explore music making and David explored art. I didn’t force them; it was a choice they made and a passion they retain even now. We have a strong family bond we might not have had otherwise.
If you’re considering homeschooling, be encouraged. Seek God’s guidance. You’re not perfect. You will make mistakes. But even professional teachers and school corporations make mistakes. They are still standing. You will be too. Some of the best things we have to offer our children are our time and attention. Love and affection combined with your undivided attention serve your child more than textbooks and assessments. True learning takes place one-on-one. If a child needs extra practice in some area or enjoys it, spend more time there. If he’s bored, move on. You have that prerogative.
I homeschooled Tim from fourth through eighth grade. At the beginning of his freshman year he wanted to go to public school for social reasons. Deciding that wasn’t the purpose of school, I continued to homeschool him. The following September, he broached the subject again. He said it was for social reasons and because eventually, “I’m going to have to learn from another teacher.” Logical. Actually, it came as a relief. I wasn’t looking forward to teaching chemistry.
The transition to public school wasn’t an easy one for me. It was 10 days of frustration. Tim was required to take math and English placement exams. He failed both. He would not enter as a sophomore but as a freshman. I was opposed to this at first. How would entering a year behind his peers affect his self-esteem? He didn’t mind. And if he didn’t, why should I?
I worried about all the mean, ugly, scary things he might face in high school. He assured me he wouldn’t do those bad things. I had to trust him, trust what I’d taught him. More than that, I had to trust the Lord. This was Tim’s story, not mine alone. It worked out fine.
Because he transitioned well, I was less apprehensive when, a year later, I sent Sarah and David to public school so I could work. David started in seventh grade. Sarah started in fourth. They were excited and a little apprehensive, but after the experience with Tim, I had a new confidence. They would be fine. They were. They still are.
There was a point, though, when I thought I had short-changed Sarah. A reading specialist joined us during her first fourth-grade parent-teacher conference. I knew Sarah struggled with reading but I was surprised to see the reading teacher there. Sarah needed support services. Doubt crept in. Should I have sent her to school sooner? Should I not have homeschooled her? In a subsequent meeting, I was in tears. The teacher reassured me that I had served Sarah well. Any gaps she had were filled after a month and a half. It was a relief to know she would receive the skilled support she needed. That’s when I knew public school was the right choice for that season in our lives.
My Weakness, God’s Strength
I still carried around some guilt that maybe I should have sent Sarah to school sooner. But in seventh grade, when I met with some teachers and the school psychologist, they said I was probably doing remediation with her in those early years and not even realizing it. God’s strength was made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I thought I was fumbling my way through, but God was carrying us in his hand.
That my kids had varying experiences in public school after I homeschooled them proves they are who they are regardless of my teaching and my supposed mistakes. While David was a natural reader, Sarah and I tried at least a half dozen different reading programs. It wasn’t so much me; it was how God designed them. Tim, the public school student who was building things in his desk at nine years of age, recently finished his freshman year of college—on scholarship. His major? Engineering.
It was easy for me to take sides in the homeschool versus public school debate when I was on one side or the other. When homeschooling, it was easy for me to say public school would negatively impact my children. When I enrolled them in public school, it was easy for me to say that was the way to go. Both have had a positive impact on our children. One way may be better for one child and not another, and one may be better this year and not the next. If we lean on the Lord as we consider what is best for our children, he will make our path straight.
Amy Nicholson is a substitute teacher married to her high school sweetheart and lives with her family by a waterfall in northwest Connecticut.