By Renée Gotcher
“When I was a kid, I had to walk five miles to school… uphill… in the snow!”
We’ve all heard that one before — Grandpa’s way of saying, “Stop complaining! You’ve got it pretty good, kid!” And even though he didn’t actually walk five miles uphill, in the snow, to get to school everyday, we know he’s right: Things are better (or at least easier) for us now than they were back then. And soon, we find ourselves telling our kids the same thing.
As a NextGen Homeschooler, I find myself feeling like Grandpa when it comes to the modern conveniences of homeschooling. For example, when my daughters complain about missing the weekly cooperative classes our local homeschool group used to offer last year, my typical response goes something like this: “Yes, co-ops are fun and I can see why you miss them, but when I was homeschooled, we had to drive more than an hour away from home just to be around other homeschooling families, let alone try to do classes together. I was just happy to have a field trip every now and then!”
Another common whimper: “I wish PE Plus was more than once a week!” To that, I reply: “At least you have a homeschool PE class, and there are homeschool sports teams you can join. When I was homeschooled, I was just happy to get a park day every once in a while and be outside with other kids besides my six sisters and baby brother!”
You get the picture. Times have certainly changed since I was a homeschooled high school student, mourning the loss of team sports, cheerleading, student council, the school newspaper, and five days a week with my peers — away from home, away from my six sisters and baby brother. Those two years of homeschool were an adjustment for me in more ways than one. We didn’t have weekly cooperative classes, homeschool PE, or other local programs to enrich our homeschooling experience with some of the extras I was missing. It took every ounce of obedience still left in my teenage know-it-all brain to go with the flow of homeschooling and leave all that behind.
So when I decided to homeschool my own children 21 years later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the wealth of opportunities available to homeschoolers today. Curriculum is now so widespread and diverse, you can fill up a whole convention center hall with booths and tables selling it. Local supplemental programs offer homeschoolers everything from weekly PE, team sports, art, music (bands, orchestras, and choirs), drama, dance, debate, science labs, presentations, competitions, cooperative electives, and even cooperative curriculum (ie. Classical Conversations). On top of all the local offerings, you hop onto the Internet and the list grows exponentially. You name it, you can have it — in spades!
In other words, many of the challenges (and children’s complaints) that my parents faced a generation ago as pioneering homeschoolers have long since been addressed. Today’s homeschooling parents have “got it pretty good” compared to their predecessors. From the local support groups, legal defense organizations and state independent umbrella schools that provide a great foundation, to the in-person and online programs that can supplement or even completely cover your homeschool curriculum, homeschooling success has never been easier to achieve.
At first, I was thrilled to pour through the lists of local resources. All of my fears about pulling my social, physically active girls out of a school they enjoyed started to fade. I felt confident that no matter what the girls were “missing,” I could easily replace with an excellent homeschool alternative. Problem solved!
It didn’t take long for that excitement to become an overwhelming sense of confusion. The more I asked other moms what they used, the more offerings I discovered. The list went on and on, and I found myself paralyzed by options. How many hours of outside education was I willing to commit to on a regular basis? How much driving across the Denver metro-area sprawl would I have time for? How much additional parental involvement would be required? And how would I keep up with the structured daily schedule of the curriculum I had chosen?
Before you know it, your schedule could easily be filled with more activities, programs, and cooperative classes than when your kids were actually in school seven hours a day. At that point, what are you really accomplishing? And what kind of message are you sending your children about the purpose of homeschooling?
I found myself longing for the “simple” days of my own homeschooling experience, when my mom would give me lectures at the local fast food restaurant using the back of paper napkins as her white board, while my youngest siblings unleashed their energy on the outdoor playground. Although at the time I was missing some of the more fun, social aspects of school, I really absorbed a lot during those two years at home under a very loose and simple educational approach. And most of what I learned would have never been a part of any traditional high school curriculum, though it’s the stuff I draw from most in my life today.
It was wisdom. And in my mom’s simple homeschool, gaining Godly wisdom was front and center. I had to remind myself that the reason my husband and I chose to homeschool in the first place was not to replicate or improve upon the traditional school experience — and fill our days with “better” versions of the same activities — but to replace it with a learning environment that would cultivate a desire for Godly wisdom in our children. It’s my turn to “pass it on,” to give my own children the best of what I’d received from my mom during those “no-frills” early years of homeschooling.
This year, a switch in curriculum was my first step to get my homeschool back on track. At the same time, I wholeheartedly appreciate the fact that there are vast resources available for homeschooling families to take advantage of. In fact, the ever-increasing menu of homeschool support programs should be a great comfort to those parents who are still unsure about homeschooling, are concerned about teaching upper-level courses or certain subjects, or have limited time or resources to provide a complete curriculum on their own.
I have just learned that I need to carefully pick and choose those things which best complement what I want to accomplish, rather than take away from it. For us, that’s things like weekly PE, monthly presentation days, fine arts like ballet and piano lessons, and several field trips each month. After all, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing!
Another mom in my local homeschool group brought up this very issue with me today over coffee. She’d decided to try a new charter school for her 12-year-old daughter that offers middle/high school homeschoolers a chance to plug in for classes like science labs, advanced math, and even AP courses, a couple of days a week. It’s only October, and already she is doubting how long she will continue. For starters, once you’re used to being 100-percent in charge of your homeschool program, it’s hard to give away one or two days a week of your agenda so your kids can be part of someone else’s agenda. Especially when decisions like curriculum and scheduling are out of your hands. Then there’s driving across town, reworking the rest of your schedule to fit the program’s schedule, the reintroduction of homework, and you can imagine where the conversation went from there.
At the end of our discussion, we came to the conclusion that the absolute best part about homeschooling is that you never have to be stuck with something that isn’t working for you. Whether it’s curriculum, scheduling, supplemental programs, extracurricular activities, or even the fact that you’re homeschooling at all, you can always change your mind! You’re in charge, and the ability to wake up tomorrow and say, “I’m doing something different today” is priceless.
Hopefully, that part of homeschooling will never change!
— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She currently resides in Castle Rock, Colorado.