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Help! I need to Start (or Restart) Homeschooling But I have No Idea How
 
FIRST, FROM MY HEART

If  you are, for the first time, considering this arena of homeschooling with many questions and doubts, you are very likely feeling overwhelmed and frustrated at the many choices before you. Or if you have already been homeschooling for some time and are now burning out and/or frustrated with the results thus far, you are probably feeling overwhelmed too, mixed with a lot of regret and frustration. 
  
I want this experience of homeschooling to be the best that it can possibly be for your family. For this to happen, you will need to come with an open mind and heart, no matter where you're at right now, willing to have your view of education changed and broadened.  Homeschooling at its best and most effective is not what people commonly think it is. But more on that in just a moment.
   
Many of those who contact me are at a "crossroad" with their child, with this option of homeschooling possibly even being their "last hope." Or they have been homeschooling a long time and are not happy with what they are doing.  Because of how much is at stake, and because you will not hear what I have to say from any other source, I'm going to speak more boldly and forthrightly than I normally do. Some of what I say may be hard to hear. Since I can't cover the many different situations in one clean sweep, only you will know what "fits" and what doesn't. Keep what does; discard what doesn't.

EIGHT MOTIVATIONS FOR HOMESCHOOLING

There are almost always "compelling circumstances" that force people into looking into (or staying with) homeschooling. Some people actually knew in their hearts it was the right thing even before they had children!  But they are few!  I'd like to say that was our case, but it wasn't!  For us, it was a decrease of finances that forced us to withdraw our then two-year-old and four-year-old from the preschool they were attending!  I was appalled and thrown into a tizzy at the time, but I am so thankful now for those cutbacks in my husband's pay! It totally changed the course of out lives! -- For the better!  MUCH better!    
   
It is for this reason that I ask you to please hear me out, even if you begin feeling uncomfortable with what you read here. There may be things that will possibly be even downright irritating or maddening!  But please know that I speak with much love and concern in my heart. This may be a turning point for you as it was for us. Turning points seldom have comfortable or easy beginnings! 
   
There seem to be eight main situations, for better or worse, honorable or not, that motivate people into looking into (or staying with) homeschooling, even if they were closed to the idea at first... 

# 1 - The first possibility, as previously mentioned is, wisdom and conviction, which may come early on, or may develop later after study, reading, and prayer. We now know that homeschooling is not merely a "loser's option" -- not at all!! -- but is the absolute best choice we could have possibly made, no matter what our resources had been! 

# 2 - The second motivating factor, as was originally true for us, is a lack of finances to provide private education. This has long since ceased to be one of our reasons for homeschooling!  If you offered us a full-ride scholarship at the most prestigious private school, not only would I not accept it, and not feel a bit of regret about it, you couldn't pay me enough to accept that option! 

# 3 - The third motivator is the child who is unable to keep up academically.  This is the one who is "falling  through the cracks" in the system . He may be a slacker, but more often than not he may very well be putting forth effort to do his studies and "stay afloat" but it seems like a hopeless uphill battle. He just isn't making it. A parent in this situation will typically tell the child things like: "You need to toughen up if you want to make it in the world!" or "Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get in there and DO IT!" (This can be just as true for a homeschooler doing too much "school at home"!)

# 4 - The next possibility is the child who is not doing well in the school setting socially. This is the child who is typically the target of ridicule or mocking from his peers, and treated with scorn, or contempt. Or he may be shunned and ignored all together. Who knows which is worse; absence of conflict may be a relief, but loneliness and alienation can be just as painful in their own way. Typical parental advice in this case is: "Just ignore them. You're there to get your education; don't let them bother you." But your child is finding it impossible to ignore and very difficult to continue growing or staying focused on learning in that possibly-even-hostile environment.  ...  Or maybe you're to the point where you are realizing your child is getting "eaten alive" in the process of trying to just "stay alive"!  It's just not working, mere "survival" is all that's coming of his efforts, and it seems like it's just not worth the time and effort anymore. In fact, that's exactly what may have led you to look into other options.

# 5 - A fifth possibility for motivation to leave the school scene is the gifted child for whom the curriculum is too slow, too boring, and/or non-challenging. (Actually, you don't have to be gifted for this to be a possibility.)

# 6 - A sixth possibility, and one that is growing more and more common, is objectionable content in curriculum. This may be any of the following: objection to the theory of evolution being taught as fact in a science class; s-x* education being taught in unacceptable ways (I just received a call from a mom last week whose 12-year-old daughter was being taught how to place a cond-m* on a banana!) in a health class; homos-xual* marriages being condoned as being an "acceptable alternative lifestyle" in a marriage and family living class; pornographic books being required reading in a literature class. The list is endless and growing by leaps and bounds.

# 7 - A seventh scenario is the child who has been labeled a "trouble maker" and has even been expelled or suspended from school, or is very close to it. He has "attitudes" towards teachers, school, schoolwork, and probably has only a small group of friends about whom you have some serious reservations.
  
# 8 - I added this eighth one more recently, in light of all the latest violence in the schools.  Some (more likely many) parents are going to pull (or keep) their kids out of school to guard them from the possibility of being shot.  This is certainly understandable, but what I find interesting is that they did not recognize the many other dangers they should have been just as concerned about long before this!  A bullet can kill a body, but the moral environment of the schools is just as likely to kill a child's sense of morality, the learning environment just as likely to kill a child's love of learning, and the flirtatious, promiscuous s-xual environment just as likely to kill a desire for purity.  (This is not always the case in schools, but it is more and more prevalent even in the "best" of schools.)
  
May I suggest that none of the above automatically mean that the student is a misfit or stupid; nor the parents overprotective or failures. Homeschooling is often seen as a "last ditch effort" or as "last chance education." But God's view of it is quite different!  He sees your situation, no matter what the problem, as being "the FIRST chance I get to work!"  As you allow God to lead you into His light and truth, you are going to find out some things that will be very surprising, relieving and exciting. There may also be some discoveries that will be more difficult to encounter and deal with, but they will be well-worth working through!

LONG-TERM BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS?

  
(I'm going to make a quick digression here for those who may be in need of it...)

If you have been experiencing behavior problems with your child, having trouble or conflicts with teachers or the school district, or the child has been expelled from school, chances are you have been experiencing some frustrations within your home as well for some time.  And I don't mean just academic problems. We are led to believe that bad attitudes, inattentiveness and rebellion are to be expected in the teen years. This is a lie the enemy concocted and loves to perpetrate. However, contrary to popular belief, it is simply not true. These problems are not "givens"; they got there -- or were allowed to get there -- for a reason.  "Do not be fooled; we reap what we sow."  This does not mean parents are responsible for everything a child does!  (Split families with "problem ex's" and problems with step-parents and step-children are common.) But it does mean that even if we have dealt with our children in ways that have resulted in dissatisfactory behavior or attitudes -- even unknowingly, even doing our best -- we are still going to have problems.
   
If you truly want things to be turned around, you will need to realize that you, the parents, must be the initiators in this process. You will need to be willing to face some things in your family and your own hearts, views, opinions, ways of dealing with things, manners of responding, and attitudes that you have very likely not ever seen before; at least you have not seen how they all work together in the "bigger picture."

OFF WITH THE OLD!

No matter what your situation, it is imperative that you be willing to shed old ways of thinking. Until you do, God will not be free to breathe His new life into your situation. You cannot insist that the traditional school methods and curriculum be brought home and still discover God's way out of this situation.
   
Homeschooling will be a complete waste of your time and resources, totally fruitless, ineffective, and pointless if you do not approach it with this open-hearted attitude. I assure you, though, that not only is it well-worth the effort, it is the only way out of your frustrations. I know families who have made drastic and wonderful changes that resulted in transformed children and parents, but they had to start with this heart.
  
At some point soon after finishing this article I want to encourage you to read "The Biblical S.A.T.'s of Learning" by Marilyn Howshall.  This will greatly aid you in starting to re-form your ideas about education and will actually help free you to start thinking that something other than what you have been thinking is "OK" to think!  You'll know what I mean more as you read it.

WHAT TRUE (HOME) EDUCATION IS NOT

I'm sure that by now some of you are saying "For Heaven's sake! Let's get ON with it here!  I just want to know where to get my curriculum!"  Please hear me:  Homeschooling is not just about finding the "right" curriculum. It is not about going out and purchasing a $400 pile of curriculum (and that's probably on the cheap side!), or sitting your child down to a stack of workbooks and saying "Okay, now do school!"  In short, and this is probably one of the hardest things for people to understand (so please stay with me here!) and accept, but homeschooling, at its best, is not "school at home..."
   
It is not about expecting your child to "get serious about their education" as is so commonly stated by parents, as if the responsibility rests solely on the child's shoulders. Yes, they need to be responsive and responsible, but you must recognize that they have been part of a system (public or private!) that has been placing requirements on them that are in and of themselves UNdoing the very things you are wanting to develop in your child -- like a love of learning and self-motivation!  The traditional school system -- just the system itself, the way it all works -- drains our children of their best energy and prevents them from discovering their purpose in life, if nothing else, because it completely uses up their time! Insisting on adherence to this system will only produce further exasperation in your child. Worse yet, it will only cover up the real problems, leaving them to fester. If left unrecognized and if not dealt with, your only end result will be heartache and frustration. Curriculum alone will not produce the results you are so much hoping to obtain. In fact, improper or over-use of curriculum will actually be counter-productive to your own goals!  (I can't over-emphasize this!)  
   
True education is about growing and developing the whole child: his mind, yes, but also and primarily his heart, soul, and character -- these are his real, most fundamental educational needs. If left unattended, or way down at the bottom of the list, all other efforts are in vain.
   
"But what about curriculum?!" you ask again. Yes, we use curriculum, and I have some great forms and a framework I use, different ones at different ages. However what we do is not what or how much new homeschoolers might think we use. But it has worked for us! We graduated our oldest daughter in 1996, and our son in 1998! And they are two of the neatest people I know!  (I'm not a bit prejudiced either!  But actually, we have received many wonderful comments on all three of our kids, so I'm not just imagining this!)
   
(Lest you think you are "high 'n' dry" and on your own to figure out what to do without a textbook program to depend on, I share what we did for high school, along with all the record keeping forms, answers to all the high school related questions I receive, and much more in my book Senior High: A Home-Designed Form+U+la. ... What we did when they were younger, between 4ish and 12ish, is contained in "The Homeschool Jumpstart Navigator" for ages 4--12. And there are also a few other books that help with the bigger picture.)
   
But the "best" curriculum in the world is not going to do anything -- I repeat, ANYthing -- to truly "educate" the whole person. The world already has an over-abundance of people who are very well "schooled," with high degrees and honors, but a dearth of those who are truly educated. Or maybe a better way to put it is that "many are educated on the outside, but few on the inside."  The academic portion of their brains is full of knowledge, but neither their minds nor their spirits are renewed. And which is the only part that counts with God?  Which would you want in leadership over you or as a co-worker?  Which do you want teaching and influencing your children for the bulk of their childhood years?

TO BE PERFECTLY HONEST

I feel that in integrity and good conscience I can no longer contribute to the growing number of "educated fools" in this world. Nor am I going to help anyone else do it.     It would make me an "enabler," and down the road you would have reason to resent me, as you would have burned out early on, or been unhappy with the fruit! Many have come back to me -- called, written letters -- and thanked me, with great relief for not helping them start onto the traditional path. It will not get you the results you think it will! 
   
A nutshell version of the hundreds of comments I have received from homeschool moms is: "I can't thank you enough for getting me started on a different (from the traditional, binding, burning-out norm) path of homeschooling!"  . . . "I have avoided so many pitfalls that my homeschooling friends are now stuck in and are having a hard time getting out of!" . . . "What a joy and relief to have started out on the peaceful, tailor-made path God has for my family!"  ...  I don't care if you ever come back and thank me, I just want a clear conscience, and to be able to sleep at night!      The people I'll be able to help are those who are open-minded and willing to approach homeschooling as God would have them do it. If this is your heart, I can help you get onto a path of finding out what that means for you and your family. God doesn't have a one-size-fits-all plan for all families!  His ways are not easy, but they are more rewarding and joyous than we can possibly imagine!!!  This could be one of the most exciting adventures you have ever undertaken! 

CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

I definitely and non-apologetically come from a Christian perspective. This is because I believe that education, outside of the context of seeking God for our purpose here on earth and linked with a personal relationship with Him, is pointless, and even potentially dangerous. I know that's a radical statement, but God is the One who created each of us individually and put us here on earth for a unique purpose. Outside of a walk with Him, that purpose will never be realized -- at least not fully, nor in the manner He intended. 
   
Yes, many good and valuable things have been contributed to mankind by non-Christians, but without God at the heart of study, many of these "good things" have taken a direction God never intended, or been used for purposes that are entirely anti-God in their very nature. But that's another whole article. The bottom line is that God is God, and anything other than what will lead us toward Him and His purposes for us being here on earth is ultimately and potentially vain and/or destructive. 

Martin Luther, in the seventeenth century said:
   
"I am much afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures engraving them in the youth. I advise no one to place his child where the Scriptures do not reign paramount. Every institution in which men are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt."

Yes, I know I am reaping the benefits of modern research and medicine, so I speak carefully and meekly. But for one thing, more modern advances have come through Christians than we realize. Most of the scientists you are familiar with up until later this century were devout Christians! Allow me to share just a few examples...

- George Washington Carver, when asked what was the secret of his success, said: "It is simple. It is found in the Bible. 'In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."

- Louis Pasteur, in one of his lectures, stated: "Science brings man closer to God."  And in describing anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that are able to grow without oxygen - like in my laundry bins?), he commented: "The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. Into His tiniest creatures, God has placed extraordinary properties that turn them into agents of destruction of dead matter."

- Sir Isaac Newton said: "God in the beginning formed matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, movable particles, of such sizes and figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space, as most conduced to the end (purpose) for which He formed them."

- Galileo Galilei said: "I am inclined to think that the authority of Holy Scripture is intended to convince men of those truths which are necessary for their salvation, which, being far above man's understanding, can not be made credible by any learning, or any other means than revelation by the Holy Spirit."

- One of my favorites is a statement made by Sir William Herschel, a renowned English astronomer: "The undevout astronomer must be mad."

- And Charles Darwin said: "To suppose the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selections, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

Do you think any of the above is exposed in public school texts? Hardly!  All overtly Christian content was removed from textbooks at the turn of this century!  In many ways I would rather have a humble, less sophisticated form of knowledge be predominant in society, yes even with all the comforts modern science avails to our way of life, than have a society that, in utter arrogance, throws off all regard for God in its scientific pursuits. 
   
We are not merely "evolved creatures" eking out an existence, hoping to be one of the "fortunate" who will be among the fittest and survive, our only end being death. No!  We are here for a very definite purpose, and only God, the Creator of each individual life, knows what that is and has the power and wisdom to bring it about!     
   
As we begin to walk in wisdom about education, get to know our child(ren), and allow God to show us how to prepare them for whatever His intentions are for their lives now and for their futures, we will enjoy walking in that purpose. (This is a primary focus of Marilyn Howshall's Lifestyle of Learning ministry. That link will take you to the Main Page of my introduction of this ministry, and some other articles by Marilyn, a review of Wisdom's Way of Learning, and some other links.)

TO DADS ONLY

Dad, it is vital that you to be "on board" in this endeavor, willing to educate yourself right along with your wife. Please do not make the mistake, as I have seen many foolish (or, at best, naive and  uninformed) fathers do, of just dumping all this on your wife. This is not a one-parent job -- IF there are two parents in the home.  And if you are single, God will be your "Surrogate Spouse"!    ;-)
  
If both parents are not "on the same page" in understanding, and in unity on how to approach the education of their children, there will be disharmony, confusion, strife, and unrest in the home. Your wife will be over-burdened and perpetually frustrated with trying to pursue what she believes God is trying to lead her into while her husband tries to pull her in a different direction, supposedly trying to "help" but in reality only weighing her down, and impeding what the Lord is wanting to do in your family. 
  
Let me ask you this...  If you were to tell your wife that you think she should start feeding the kids Trix for breakfast, fast food for lunch, and TV dinners for dinner, every meal, every day, would you expect her to just "submit"?  I hope not.  Anyone with even just a basic knowledge of nutrition knows that this will not produce healthy children.  Guess what...  the exact same thing is true for education. 
   
Homeschooling is at least as much about redeeming unsatisfactory family situations, including unruly or  sassy children, fighting siblings, disrespectful and broken relationships between parents and children. It is as much about parents becoming learners who are wise to the learning process as it is about the children getting an education.  I have learned so much in our experience of homeschooling for the last fifteen years!  But I'm not even talking about just academic "knowledge" here -- I'm talking about parenting, and growing as persons and family members. 
   
Dad, I hope you will be open to learning some things that will bring more fruit in your children than your current ideas of education could ever bring forth!  As the provider of your home you probably don't have time for as in-depth a season of learning as your wife does. But what has worked well for many couples is for the husband to listen to tapes the wife listens to, and for the wife to highlight things she reads that she feels would be good for her husband to hear. Then they can discuss the ideas and come to agreement about what will be best for their family. The most vital point is for Dad (Mom too!) to take on the heart of a learner.

  
"REDEEMING" YOUR FAMILY

  
The experience of homeschooling can be a chance to "redeem" your family. This may sound at first like a very stuffy or merely "religious" term, something you may want nothing to do with, or just don't realize the potential of!  I assure you, it is one of the best, most exciting words in the entire world!  In fact, it's the very theme of my life!
   
The word "redeem" means "to make good."  More specifically, it means "to take something of little or no value and replace it with something of great value." In my case, God has redeemed many areas of my life, including my mind, my sense of humor, my attitude toward writing, my sense of inferiority, my inability to stay focused when reading (which was awful in school!), and my marriage, just to name a few. I wouldn't be happily married right now if it were not for the amazing things God has done in both me and my husband! We were even separated for six months a few years ago!
   
I can't even begin to express to you how grateful I am that God has redeemed our terrible, messy situation, and also changed us in the process, which is really where it had to begin!  But I had to start by giving him the undesirable, needy, broken thing, in this case my marriage, that needed to be transformed. That was the hard part! In many cases I didn't even know that I -- or the situation -- needed redeeming! In other cases, I knew it, but thought it was impossible. But "with God, all things are possible"!!!
   
God wants to touch some areas in your home that will be life-affecting for not only your family now, but also for your children's entire lives. So even if your child has been expelled from school, is being shunned or mistreated by peers, or is not being understood or given the (positive) attention he needs, God can work in this situation for good!  But, as with me, God will be free to begin, or continue, the process in your life only IF you will seek Him on how He wants to proceed, and then allow Him to lead you. His plan is a good one!

  
WHAT IF YOUR CHILD IS REBELLIOUS?


If your child is in a state of rebellion and you are at your wit's end as to what to do, I recommend two books. One, Changing the Heart of a Rebel, is a small book, but to the point. It will help you see some things and then change your heart first, your child's heart second, IF you are serious about it and are truly willing to follow the advice given therein.
    
I need to be up front with you and say that if you are not willing to turn your heart and situation over to God -- which you can do the moment you want to -- this book will be futile. I have no other suggestions outside the Christian realm, as a child in rebellion does not need "behavior modification" -- he or she needs heart transformation!  Which only God can do!  And I cannot stress enough that this must start with the parent. A child who is rebellious did not get that way on their own. We as parents must be big enough to admit that we had something to do with it.  It is a process God will lead us in.
   
Our own children have not been rebellious, but we have had to deal with a few problems, and I have had to repent to them in some cases!  I had to take responsibility for my own wrong ways of dealing with things, my inconsistencies, my wrong thinking, and my ungodly reactions. Like I said, God has redeemed much in my life and in my family!  But it wasn't because I passively waited around for them to see the light or learn the hard way! It had to start with me!!!
   
Even though you have most likely done your best, any lack of wisdom in dealing with the hearts of our children will still produce the exact fruit that was sown, good intentions or not. We have a God who is a very wise, gentle and capable Redeemer, but He does not barge in uninvited. He is free to work only if He is given full management of a situation, no matter what stage it is at, which means the hearts of the parents must be fully yielded to seeking and doing it "His way" before anything can start happening. 
  
The other book I recommend, Shepherding A Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp, gives much more practical how-to and encouragement, and is applicable to all parents, whether the children are rebellious or not. (Neither are widely available, but both can be obtained through us. See this section of our online catalog.)

  
WHERE I COME INTO THE PICTURE

  
First, as you may have guessed, one thing I do not offer homeschoolers is directions for where to go to get their pile of text or workbooks. There is much I have to share with you: advice, encouragement, practical forms for use with your children that will help you get organized and give you direction, and more. 
So what I will offer you is suggestions for starting onto a path that is much less expensive and that will help you get the results that you desire -- a much lighter and well-fitting "load" than a pile of curriculum!  the starting point for this for those online is what I suggest for a... 
   
SEASON OF RE-EDUCATION AND RENEWING OF THE MIND
      
This is vital and non-optional as far as I'm concerned!  But this is just the beginning!  I do have resources to help you get your child going on a "lite and do-able" jumpstart plan, something academic and organized, yet simple, and that won't be expensive  or overwhelming. But the main point behind this is that you, the parent, enter a season of re-educating yourself in what true education is -- and isn't.  This season is vital and non-optional if you want to truly educate your child and not merely make him capable of spouting a bunch of facts, which usually stick for maybe a week or two after the test! 
   
There are several wonderful resources I recommend for this season, a few produced by me, but most by other authors I greatly admire. (These resources are listed in the "Season of Re-education and Renewing of the Mind" area here at my website.)
   
At the heart of this season is Wisdom's Way of Learning, a book by Marilyn Howshall.  You won't be the same after reading it!  It will impact you, your family, and your entire view of education to the very core of your being -- whether you have homeschooled for 15 years or are just starting out!  At the heart of this book as well as all of mine is a focus on deepening your relationship with God, which is not just a nice "sideline" but is the very hub, core, heart, and soul of your and your children's educational experience!
   
      
* Just want to let you know that I personally have no problem using the full words that have bleeped-out (hyphenated) letters in them.  But if I wrote the whole word, for instance:  replacing the hyphen in s-x with the e that belongs there, certain Christian search engines would ban my entire website from being accessible to anyone whose engine or server had such "morality controls" or "improper word screens"!  The reason is that they scan for such "bad" words, assuming that any site containing such words is "adult viewing." With millions of websites out there, they don't have the time or technology to actually read every article at every site and see whether or not the usage of such words is appropriate, so the search engine would automatically disallow any viewing of my website in an effort to keep your web viewing child/family friendly.
 
Copyright by Barbara Edtl Shelton.
This article is used by permission from the author.
   
The Shelton's operate a home-based ministry to homeschoolers from their home in Longview, WA, primarily through the books that Barb has written.  All of Barb's speaking and writing is on topics of vital interest to burning-out as well as brand new and wanna-be homeschoolers. Barb's resources reflect her "lite" approach to homeschooling that is based on the verse in Matt. 28:11 in which Jesus says "My yoke is easy, my burden light."  With vulnerability, humor, God's Word, Barb's heart is to inspire parents to pursue God's unique plan for the education of their children, and she offers much practical help in doing so. You'll be challenged, irritated, and moved to laugh, cry, think and re-think your views about education, and best of all, get set free (or freer) in Jesus!  They may be contacted via their website:
   
http://www.homeschooloasis.com