There, now, with that out of the way, we can go on...
What are the qualifications for being a good homeschool parent? First, let's go over some things that are NOT required:
Lots of Money
I know, I just said in the Realities of Homeschooling that homeschooling takes money. It does, but not that much. Whatever your budget is, you will find a way to make it work for you. Studies have shown that homeschool students have much the same high test scores (only a 3% difference between those in the lowest income level and those in the highest) regardless of their family's socio-economic status. The "poor" kids do just as well as the "rich" kids!
A College Degree
Studies have also shown that homeschool students get those same high test scores regardless of their parents' educational background! Kids of parents with no college at all still score 33 percentile points higher on standardized testing than their public school peers!
So, with these two common little myths dealt with, let's talk about the real requirements:
Love - it’s all over the Bible. God is love. Love your neighbor. The greatest of these is love.
There’s a reason love is such a prominent feature - because it’s very important! Love for your children is what inspires you to want something more for them. Love is what gets you through the screaming tantrum days. Love is what keeps you up at night trying to figure out the perfect way to really get through to a child.
Love is sometimes the rock on which we stand amid the swirling storms of life. You must have a great love for your children to choose to homeschool them.
You know those verses in 1 Corinthians 13 known as the “love verses”? Let’s change the wording a bit and make those verses apply directly to homeschoolers
The Homeschooler’s Love Verses
Based on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 Though I read every homeschooling book on the market and attend every conference in a hundred-mile radius, but have not love, I have become just so much annoying background noise.
2 And though I have scanned every curriculum catalog out there, and studied every homeschool method you can think of, and though I believe totally in the ways we have chosen so that I know my kids will be well-educated, but have not love, I am nothing more than a boring old know-it-all.
3 And though I teach at the co-op and donate our used books, and take the kids out to community service, but have not love, it is all worthless busyness.
4 Love suffers long (on math problems your child just doesn’t “get”) and is kind (even to the criticizing neighbors); love does not envy (not even that $6000 a year per student the public schools get to spend of your tax money); love does not parade itself (no matter how much smarter your kids are than the kids down the street), it is not puffed up (even if your child wins the national spelling bee).
5 Love does not behave rudely (no matter how many times you get asked the “what about socialization?” question); does not seek its own (no matter how much want to prove people wrong), is not provoked (not even when someone bashes homeschooling right in front of you), thinks no evil (it is not OK to hope that your sister’s kids grow up to be thugs just so you can say “I told you so”).
6 Love does not rejoice in iniquity (not even when those kids do grow up to be thugs), but rejoices in the truth (because those parents need your encouragement now more than ever).
7 Love bears all things (cranky toddlers, hyper kids, hormonal teenagers), believes all things (hard as it is sometimes, the end result will be worth it), hopes all things (someday they’ll be admirable young adults and they’ll thank me for sticking with them), endures all things (even criticism and doubt).
8 Love never fails. But where we put our trust in experts, they will fail, where we put our faith in curriculum, it will fail, where we trust in books and methods, they will fail.
9 For experts and books know only in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come (love), then that which is in part will be done away.
11 When I was a new homeschooler, I spoke as a newbie, I understood as a newbie, but the more homeschool years I tucked under my belt, the more I realized the truth.
12 For in the beginning of our homeschool journey, we see the future as an uncertain dream, but at the end we will see God’s plans fulfilled. Now we know in part and do our human part, but then, at the end of our journey, we shall see our children as God has always seen them.
13 And now abide faith (that we are doing God’s will), hope (for the future of our children), love (for our children just as they are this very moment), these three, but the greatest thing we can give our children, now and forever, is our unconditional love..
When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with humility is wisdom.
Humility is a qualification you will need in many different areas of your homeschooling life. No matter how much you know, you’ll never know everything and you will not always be right.
You’ll need humility as you interact with you children on a daily basis. There will be times when you’ll have to admit to them that you don’t know everything. There will be times when you will lose your temper and then have to apologize to your children and ask their forgiveness.
There will be times when you’ll have to swallow your pride, reach out in humility and ask for help - from your spouse or other homeschoolers.
Then there will be times when that old self-pride wells up inside you; when you are tempted to brag on your children’s accomplishments to show everyone what a wonderful homeschool mom you are. It’s going to take humility to keep your mouth shut! Now, there is nothing wrong with being proud of your kids or even feeling a sense of accomplishment yourself for helping them along. The problem comes when we puff up with pride and become arrogant, when we brag on ourselves and our children in order to make ourselves look good or, even worse, to try to make others look bad.
We should humble ourselves before our children, our spouses, our family and friends, and even our enemies. Most of all, we should humble ourselves before God, because it is through Him that we are blessed and able to help bless others.
“To make your children capable of honesty is the beginning of education.”
~ John Ruskin
Going right along, hand in hand with humility, is honesty.
It takes honesty to say, “I don’t know.”
It takes honesty to say, “I don’t have all the answers.”
It takes honesty to say, “Kids, I’m really upset today and I need you guys to help me out.’
It takes honesty to say, “I don’t know the best way to deal with this situation.”
It takes honesty to say, “I’ve done something really stupid and now I need help.”
Honesty is all about admitting when you’re wrong, admitting when you don’t know something, and asking for help. Honesty is about making your life an open book - the good parts and the bad.
The great playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “The best brought up children are those who have seen their parents as they are. Hypocrisy is not the parents’ first duty.”
How that statement rings true! We all want our children to be open and honest, and what better way to teach this than by example! Show your kids that it’s OK to not know the answer, it’s OK to talk about their feelings, it’s OK to admit to doing something wrong.
As homeschool parents, our children are with us all day, every day. They see us for who we really are. They know when we’re lying, and when we’re being truthful. If we want them to be honest with us, we have to show them respect by returning the favor.
“For when envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and everything evil are there.”
~ James 3:16
Every parent - at least every good one - has had to learn a degree of selflessness.
Homeschool parents earn a doctorate!
I know many moms who say they couldn’t homeschool because the hours when their children are gone to school are mom’s “me time.” When I hear this, I shake my head in amazement (at least in my mind!) and feel an overwhelming sense of pity for these mothers.
They’re getting their “me time” alright. For six or more hours a day. And then, when their kids are grown and gone, they’ll get “me time” 24/7.
And I wonder just how long it will take for it to hit them that what they really want is a lot less “me time” and a lot more “we time.”
Homeschooling means very limited amounts of “me time”, and often, when you do get time to yourself, you spend it reading homeschooling or parenting books or making lesson plans.
Homeschooling means less new shoes, and more books for the kids. It means vacations to educational places with the kids instead of that Hawaii get-away with hubby or the girls.
It means putting the needs of your children first - always. It means caring more for their well-being, their security, their joy than your own.
It sounds daunting and perhaps even rather unpleasant - to some. But, when you learn to look at things the way God does, your perceptions and your priorities, begin to change. You realize that the things you do for your children - the time, the effort, the energy, as well as the “me” things you give up for them - are so worth it in the long run.
There will be plenty of time for “me time”, for fancy shoes and second honeymoons, when the kids are grown and gone. Right now, your kids need you - all of you.
This certainly seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But let me elaborate just a little. Did you know that studies have shown that homeschoolers have consistently high test scores regardless of their parents’ level of education! It’s true! Homeschooled students whose parents have only a GED still perform 33 percentile points above their public schooled peers!
Why? Because degrees are not the only indicators of intelligence. The most brilliant woman I have ever known was my grandmother and she had “only” an eleventh grade education! What made her so brilliant was an insatiable hunger for knowledge, and a refusal to settle for knowing only what others would teach her. She read, I’m sure, thousands of books in her lifetime. By the time I came along, there was a little saying among our family and friends that if you had a question, Grandma Nan probably knew the answer, and if she didn’t, she’d know where to look!
I came across a quote one day (can you tell I love quotes?) that reminded me very much of my dear old grandmother:
“Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
~ Samuel Johnson
That is the kind of intelligence required of homeschool parents: either know the subject, or know where to learn it, or, in the later years, know where to point your child in order for them to learn it.
There is a great difference between ignorance and stupidity. No one except God knows everything, so everyone is ignorant of some things. The intelligent parent, when faced with a subject, a situation, or a question which they are ignorant of, has the common sense to seek out a way to educate themselves and become informed rather than ignorant.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
Confidence is an absolute requirement for homeschool parents. Your confidence will grow the longer you do this!
Don’t let yourself be beaten down by critics. Try not to get overwhelmed by the responsibility and the never-ending array of decisions you will be required to make.
So many parents wonder if they would ever be able to manage, to handle it all. Eleanor Roosevelt - a truly amazing woman - said it best when she said, “What one has to do usually can be done.”
One of my friends said to me the other day that she “didn’t know how I did it” - homeschooling 4 kids in 3 different grades, keeping the house clean, the laundry done, cooking a full dinner every evening and having fresh baked goodies always on hand. My answer was probably not terribly helpful - you just do it!
You just say “these are the things that need to be done” and you do them! You don’t waste time second guessing, you just jump in and get it done! This requires confidence, and it is a learned art, a skill that grows with time and practice!
Confidence can be a wonderful thing.
Over-confidence, however, can be big trouble.
Confidence is, like so many things, something that is best when it comes from God. Confidence in experts, in books, even in self will fail you eventually. Only when we place our confidence in God and allow Him to work through us will be truly “have what it takes.”
A Soft Heart and a Tough Hide
A soft heart and a tough hide - they seem like completely opposite character traits - and they are, really. But if you want to survive the homeschool journey, you’re going to need them both.
You’ll need that soft heart when dealing with your children every day. You’ll need it when a mother - be she friend or stranger - needs a listening ear and a word of encouragement.
You’ll need that tough hide when faced with criticism, or when you lose friends over your choice to homeschool. You’ll need it when standing up for your rights - or your children’s - as homeschoolers. You’ll even need it when your child grows into adolescence - yes, even homeschooled teenagers get hormonal!
The tricky part here is balance. This is the part that takes awhile to learn. In the same day you may need to defend your choice to a nasty relative, and then turn around and teach your child that God is love. You may have to challenge the school board and still be a Godly influence on a public school teacher.
Remember always that your children are watching you all the time - everything you do, everything you say. At times it will be a struggle to keep your head up among the storms of life. At times it will be a struggle to deal with life without becoming bitter or hardened against those you love most.
Compassion is one of those things that sounds easy enough, but is much easier said than done. It’s easy, even pleasant, to think of ourselves in the idyllic angel-mother role, pouring out compassionate blessings on our enraptured children.
That’s a nice dream.
But this is real life.
This is where real kids and real parents meet in real head-on battles. This is where it’s sometimes easier to get angry, to dismiss our children as irritating distractions, than to actually take the time - show the compassion - to listen to them, hear them out, try to see their point of view, figure out what is going on their little minds.
Have you ever used the phrase “because I said so, that’s why!”? Or the very similar “because I’m the Mom…”? Have you ever stopped to think about how frustrating that must be to hear all the time? Imagine if someone took you to your favorite restaurant and then told you that you could only have one bite of a dish of their choosing. Now imagine you ask them why just that one bite, and all they say is, “Because I said so, that’s why!”
Frustrating, isn’t it?
Life to a child is an all-you-can-eat buffet of people, places, things, and experiences. They want to know about everything, to experience everything, and when they can’t experience something, they want to know why!
It is not a sign of disrespect for you children to question things or to question you and your decisions. It is out of their natural curiosity and desire to know and understand things.
Compassion should be a requirement for parenting in general, and especially for homeschool parents. When your child is upset, whether it’s over schoolwork, siblings, friends, whatever, try to see things from their point of view. This doesn’t mean you’ll always agree or give in. But show them that you care enough to hear what they have to say and truly consider it before making decisions or pronouncing judgment.
It’s not easy being a kid. Remember that next time you’re talking with them. As Josh Billings says:
“To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.”
What profession could there possibly be in the world that requires more creativity than that of parent and teacher? There is none!
You will create schedules, lesson plans, art projects, field trips, science experiments, journal ideas, play dates, and a thousand other things during your career as a homeschool parent. You will have the awesome privilege and responsibility of creating a true learning environment for your children to grow up in. You will create a bond with your children that only living together all day every day can form.
You will create the world in which your children grow.
Don’t get me wrong. There is only one true Creator, and that is God. But through His leading, guidance, and inspiration you’ll be amazed at what you can come up with!
Children get bored easily and quickly. The thought of providing enough learning, activity, and inspirational fodder to get them through the day - every day - can be an overwhelming one. But there are countless books and websites full of ideas for games, crafts, art projects, music projects, inexpensive outing, rainy day ideas…the list goes on and on. And don’t forget what an amazing source of ideas your own parents or other relatives or friends can be!
And here’s a crazy thought: every once in a while, ask your kids what they think would be a good way to pass the time!
The longer you’re at this homeschooling thing, the quicker and easier these ideas will come. It’s almost like you have a little box inside your brain full of index cards containing every creative thought or idea you’ve ever heard, read, or thought up. It sounds funny, but it’s true!
Perhaps the most important use of your creativity will be finding truly creative ways to help your children learn. You will observe your children’s unique learning styles, their strengths and weaknesses, their likes and dislikes, and you will find creative ways to make education work for them!
And you will discover that, as your children get older, they come up with amazing ideas of their own! Actually, one of the best things you can do for your older children is to give them what I like to call “Do Something Time.” This is a time when they are left to come up with ways to entertain themselves. The possibilities are practically endless - read a book, write a book, write a poem, draw a picture, do an art project, build something, plan something, create something, practice an instrument, sing a song, write a song, play with siblings, make up a play, play a game, create a game, just daydream, whatever! The only rules are: no TV, no computer, no video games! Boredom is a great impetus for creativity.
Saul Steinberg said, “The life of the creative man is led, directed, and controlled by boredom. Avoiding boredom is one of our most important purposes.”
There is nothing like bored children to get a parent’s creativity flowing!
Spontaneity & Quick Thinking
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
Theodore Roosevelt said those famous words, and I think perhaps homeschoolers should adopt it as our mantra.
Back in my days of child development education, I learned something called interest-led learning. Unschoolers live solely by this method. While most homeschoolers are not quite ready to just let go and let their child’s interests govern all of their education, we would all do well to try a little interest-led learning.
Interest-led learning requires quick thinking on the parent’s part. It also requires resourcefulness - the ability to make do with what’s easily accessible - and spontaneity - the willingness to change direction, change topic, change schedule, sometimes right in the middle of doing something else.
Unexpected things will happen - changes in the weather, an injured bird outside your window, road construction on your street, a visit from friends or relatives, even an injury and a trip to the emergency room! All those unexpected moments are opportunities for learning! And the quick-thinking homeschool mom or dad will make the most of those opportunities!
If you’re teaching about the digestive system but your kids are more interested in the strong spring winds tossing the trees outside, go learn about wind! There will always be time to come back to digestive system later! When something - especially something temporary - piques your child’s interest, follow that interest for a day or two!
And conversely, if you’re supposed to be out studying the wind, but your kid is stuck inside with a stomach virus, now would be a great time to learn about the digestive system!
The point is, homeschool parents need to be flexible. They need to be quick on their toes, able to pursue an interesting sight or experience or question without worrying too much about messing up a schedule or deviating from a lesson plan.
Life is short, and moments of genuine wonder and amazement few and far between. When presented with an opportunity to let your children be truly amazed by something, seize that moment and hold on for the ride!
You won’t make it without faith. I guarantee it. There are times in every homeschooler’s life - many times, no matter how long you’ve been doing it - when fear, doubt, and uncertainty come creeping in. There will be times when you will question whether or not you have made the right decision, whether or not you’re doing the right thing.
These feelings can be brought on by criticism or other outside stresses. They can be brought on by the financial strain of living on one income in a two-income world. They can be brought on by stress in your marriage, difficult subjects you just don’t know how to teach so that your kids “get it”, or by problem behaviors in one or more of your children. They can be brought on by health problems in yourself, your spouse, or your children. These feelings can be brought on by any number of things, and they can be overwhelming.
And the answer to these feelings - often the only thing that keeps you hanging on through it all - is faith.
When you make the decision to homeschool, you take a leap of faith. You say, “OK, God, I’m not sure how all of this is going to work out, but I believe this is something You have called us to do, and I’m going to trust You to get us through it.”
In the beginning, faith obscures our fears and self-doubts with a giddy hope. As time goes by, and the day-to-day sets in, faith becomes stronger but sometimes harder to find. It is in faith that we are renewed and re-inspired and strengthened for the next leg of the journey. God helps those who ask for it. Sometimes the help comes in unexpected ways, but God’s ways always end up being best.
Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
A lot of the time - most of the time - faith walks blindly. It’s a lot like those games where one player is blindfolded and the other must lead them through a series of obstacles using only their voice. We are the ones walking blindly, trusting, having faith that God will lead us in the right ways and keep us safe even though we may not be able to see where we are going.
“A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel of brains.”
~ Dutch proverb
My kids have a little saying, a nursery rhyme they’ve memorized, that goes:
Patience is a virtue
Virtue is a grace
Grace is a little girl
Who wouldn’t wash her face
I’ve had my own little saying at times that goes something like this: “If patience is a virtue, I am not a virtuous woman!”
Patience is hard! People half-joke when they say, “Whatever you do, don’t pray for patience!” Because, you know, the only way to cultivate patience is by going through trying circumstances!
Your children will try your patience - again and again. You’ll need patience to help them through a long division problem - again. You’ll need patience when they spill their science experiment all over the kitchen table. You’ll need patience on the days when everyone seems to have woken up in a bad mood and nothing goes right.
Yes, your children need your patience.
But just as important, if not more so, is that you must be patient with yourself. So many homeschool parents get overwhelmed, try to do it all, all the time, and burn out.
You can not do it all, all the time.
You certainly can not do it all in the first year. Don’t even try.
Calm down. Slow down. Know when to stop and when to say no. Realize that you can only do so much in one day, in one year. Have patience with yourself. Allow yourself to take the time to actually enjoy being with your kids. Allow yourself to make mistakes. No one gets everything perfect on the first try.
Only God can perform instantaneous miracles.
These little miracles that we’re working on with His help - our children, they take time. They are works in progress, and so are we.
Don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake, or something goes wrong or takes longer than you had planned. Accept it, learn from it what you can, and move on.
Great masterpieces of art take time. Great musical compositions take time. Beautiful gardens take time. People are no different. We and our children require time and patience from each other and from ourselves.
Here is a wonderful piece of advice on patience from St. Francis de Sales:
“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them - every day begin the task anew.”
“…we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
~ Romans 5:3
When thinking about homeschool, we must think in the long term. Things we do and choices we make today influence who our children will become years in the future.
And sometimes the long-term seems awfully long, and the future seems so far away.
You will have wonderful times as a homeschool parent, and you will also have some horrible times. But through it all, you must persevere. You must remain steadfast, true, consistent, loyal to God, to your children, to your calling. You will be called upon to face many problems and challenges, from the mighty to the mundane. It is how you face these challenges that proves just what stuff you are truly made of.
Homeschooling will present its own obstacles into our lives. Sometimes it feels, quite literally, like we must run through an obstacle course of distractions, interruptions, and bad decisions that seemed good at the time. And, daunting as that thirteen-plus year obstacle course can seem, as Robert Frost said, “The only way round is through.”
Sometimes it seems like you’re doing everything you know to do, jumping through hoops just to stay ahead of the chaos, and never really getting anywhere. Sometimes it will seem easier to give up or give in. But the Bible teaches us that perseverance through trials and tribulations produces character and hope. The kind of character we develop in ourselves is the kind of character our children will learn from us.
When you think of it that way, perseverance doesn’t seem quite so hard, does it?
Well, still hard perhaps, but well worth it!
Sense of Humor
All of the requirements listed here will get you through homeschooling, but if you want to come out at the end with your sanity intact, you’ve absolutely got to have a sense of humor!
You’ll save yourself a lot of stress if you’ll just learn to laugh at things. Messy projects, disastrous experiments, field trips gone wrong, there are so many times when we have the choice to either stress out or laugh at ourselves.
If you want to make it through your homeschool journey, you have to learn to laugh! You have to learn not to take everything so seriously, and certainly not to take everything personally.
“If it’s sanity you’re after
There’s no recipe like
Laugh it off”
~Henry Rutherford Elliot