Homeschooling with Structure – An Interview with Monica W.

Monica W., Tennessee

What is your greatest struggle when it comes to homeschooling?

Second guessing the way I homeschool because someone else is enthusiastic and convinced about their method, routine, or ideology of homeschooling. This year I have felt more confident in the way I homeschool but the insecurities and questions still arise from time to time. 

If you could go back in time, what would you change or do differently?

I would engage in more social play and role play with my first born when she was a toddler and preschooler.

I was desperate for structure and she was an eager learner so I did “school” with her at an early age. It was fun, laid back, and lots of crafts and reading (me reading to her) together. She was very timid and fearful socially and would freeze up in pretend play. I quickly tired of the power struggle it became to pretend together so I didn’t do much in that area.  I wish I had done a better job of coming alongside her to gently help her pretend and role play different emotions and situations. That being said, God has grown her in courage and compassion a lot in the last few years. 

How has your homeschooling changed since the Shelter-in-Place order was put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our homeschooling routine hasn’t changed much since the COVID-19 guidelines went into effect. The Co-Op we attended one day a week at our church was cancelled and that was disappointing but not surprising. The hardest part is not having the option to go to the zoo, museums, library, etc. since they are all closed. We didn’t go regularly but I enjoyed having the option. 

It has pushed me to be more creative and spontaneous at home which has actually been fun! I get a chance to do more “fun” school things with the girls since we are not pressed by outside obligations or distracted with all the other opportunities. 

What are your thoughts on the growing diversity, or perhaps lack of, in your homeschool community?

I LOVE the homeschooling diversity in my town. When I first moved to my town, right before marrying my husband, I noticed that there was a LARGE homeschooling community and it was/is very supported throughout the town. Many of the private schools have an Umbrella system set up to keep your records, perform yearly testing, offer counsel, etc. Many businesses offer weekly homeschool classes or events, the libraries offer homeschool classes, and there are numerous Co-Op’s and support groups around town varying in methodology and classes. My experience is that the town at large supports homeschooling as another valuable option for schooling your kid(s). 

Now that we have gotten to the heart of the interview, tell me a little about yourself, your family, and why you chose to homeschool. Do you work in addition to homeschooling your children or did you leave a career behind to do so?

I am a Christian, married, stay-at-home mom to 4 girls ages 1-8. I like to exercise, read, shop, go to yard sales and thrift stores, spend time with friends, and date nights with my husband. As a family we like to read aloud, movie nights, hike, camp, bike, walk in our neighborhood, spend time with people. 

My husband and his siblings were homeschooled throughout their school years (K-12). My husband is the 3rd of 5 children. My mother-in-law would be considered a “Pioneer Homeschooler” since it was the mid-80’s when she began homeschooling her first child, my husband’s oldest sister. Also, they lived in a small town and their family was one of very few families in that small town to homeschool. 

We chose to homeschool for a few different reasons. 

  • Primarily as Christians we believe God has given the primary responsibility to parents to train and teach their children habits and character that honor God and love others. (Deuteronomy 6:4-7, Probverbs 22:6) For us this can best be done by them being with us at home in these formative years when their character is being most shaped by the influences around them. 
  • Since my kids are with me the most I know them better than a teacher is able to do in a large classroom. I enjoy seeing who they are now and who they are becoming as they grow. I like that I can see their strengths and struggles.  I can stop in the middle of the Math lesson to talk about the bad attitude (mine and/or theirs) and deal with it thereby addressing a bigger issue of character than Math fluency. Also continuing with the Math example, I am able to spend more time on a lesson or chapter if my child is struggling to grasp the concepts. We can go at our own pace and structure.
  • We don’t agree with the worldview that is taught in the public school system and can’t afford Christian private schools.
  • However, we are aware that there may come a time when a school/classroom setting could be best for a child or the family. We are not against placing our children in school and evaluate every year what is best for the child/ren and our family. They may have needs that we can’t meet educationally or we face a change in our family dynamic where going to school is a necessity for a time. Homeschooling is a right and privilege we have, but not everyone is able or interested in doing it. I have friends who would love to homeschool but for health reasons, income necessity, or lack of support they are not able to. Also, I know wonderful school teachers who truly love their students and are very gifted in teaching. I would be happy for any of my girls to have them as a teacher if that was a need for us. Teachers have a lot of responsibility for the students in their class and a lot of standards required by the government on how to teach. Teachers have all my respect and support! 

How do you find balance and time for self-care in the midst of daily life as a homeschooling parent?

We have afternoon “rest time” while the 1 year old naps. This is the time where they can enjoy and grow in their hobby if they have one. My oldest is an avid crafter and artist and my middle two enjoy some art activities but they mostly play together.  I will tell them for a certain time to not interrupt me so I can have some quiet time to read, take a nap, concentrate on a task. This time has been in place since my oldest was a toddler and it is invaluable! I am an introvert so after focusing and interacting with school for a few hours straight, the afternoon break is welcome by all of us! 

The girls love playing together which is also a bonus of homeschooling. They are each other’s best friends and I have better opportunity to help them work through their “friendship” and train them in being good friends to others outside our home as they grow in their friendship with each other.

In a perfect world, what would your ideal homeschool day look like?

In a perfect world, it would always be 68 degrees, sunny, and pretty clouds in the sky. We would do our work outside on a blanket and have a picnic lunch. We would all have good attitudes about the challenges of learning and work.  🙂

I would also embrace more of the Charlotte Mason method of teaching. I like the idea but I struggle with how to implement it in our home.

But in reality, what does your typical day look like?

We thrive with structure though some days it’s like herding cats to get us to the school room to get started. This year we fell into a natural rhythm that worked really well for us. We used Sonlight Curriculum this year, so we did our Bible and History reading first. Then my 2nd grader did Handwriting and Grammar independently while I worked with my Kindergartner. Then some days we would rotate between each student so there was a break for each of them in between subjects. Some days I would just work solely with the Kindergartner until she was done then focus on the 2nd grader until she was done.  Whoever was having a break played with the 3 yr. old.

Now at the end of the year I tell the “free” one to play with the 1yr. old.  The 1 yr. old is into everything or just wants me when I’m trying to focus on the other student. The girls love their baby sister so it usually works out well. My 3 yr. old is pretty content to just play and some days I have forethought to set something up for her.

My oldest has really enjoyed the structure and curriculum we have used. She actually likes worksheets and I do too! She has had a much better attitude about school and is able to do more independent work because she can read! Being able to read is a TOTAL game changer for the student and parent/teacher. This has really been a blessed school year for us and I am so thankful! 

How has your homeschooling changed over the years? Do you subscribe to any particular homeschooling philosophy?

I feel a little unqualified to answer this question because it’s only my 3rd year to homeschool. But we did change things this year and I’ve seen benefit from it. For the first two years we were in 2 Co-Ops. One at our church and then Classical Conversations. Two days out of the house was too much for us to maintain alongside actual school. I was also pregnant with our 4th, so add in doctor appointments and many weeks it seemed like we only did 1 day of true school. It was stressful! I didn’t feel like I was being faithful to teach what was necessary and we had no room for field trips or relaxed days since we were so busy with other things. This year we scaled back to one Co-Op and the 4-day school schedule from Sonlight. These changes made a HUGE difference. We had a much more relaxed year and could incorporate more fun, educational things. I look forward to my baby being out of the napping phase and we can be more adventurous with our days. 

I don’t think I adhere to a particular philosophy. I love things about Charlotte Mason and Classical styles. Honestly since last year was so exhausting for us, we went with something SUPER structured this year and it served us so much. I felt like we could relax and follow the curriculum and I felt confident they were learning what they needed to learn.  The curriculum was simple to implement as the teacher. This has been helpful for me since I don’t have experience with homeschooling in the past. All I remember is public school and I liked the structure of lessons and worksheets at the elementary age. It’s totally a personality thing, your personality and the individual child. My Kindergartner is a different learner than my 2nd grader and I will adapt some things as necessary to help her learn.  But this year worksheets and simple check off assignments have helped me gauge if they are learning the information or need more help.  Also because of the structure, I felt free to do more fun activities or adapt content as necessary. This year was more about me scaling back, gaining confidence in homeschooling the way that works for our family, and setting up structure and expectations for our family. 

What are your best homeschooling memories thus far?

  • Snuggling on the couch while we read together.
  • Experiencing my Kindergartner learning to read so easily. 
  • Conversations we have at breakfast or lunch. 
  • Working through attitudes and character we each need God’s help to grow in. 
  • Seeing the girls make friends at our church Co-Op. I get to be a “fly on the wall” and watch from afar. It’s just fun to see your kids be people. What they laugh at and talk about with friends is fun and fascinating. 

Finally, do you have any wisdom to share or tips to pass on to those new to homeschooling?

While I still feel new to homeschooling I’ll share what I’ve learned and believe to be true.

  • It’s ok to change things up. We’ve changed curriculum each year and sometimes in the middle of the year because it wasn’t working for us. Find curriculum that works for you and you won’t really know until you try it. 
  • That being said, borrow before you buy if possible. Many companies will let you preview curriculum before you buy so you can know if it will work well for you. 
  • Also, go to a Homeschool Convention if possible. You will gain a better understanding of homeschooling in general as well as particular styles of homeschooling. The curriculum room is wonderful because you can put your hands on what you might want to use. 
  • Keep it simple when first starting out. Take advantage of using a “box” curriculum where everything is provided. Homeschooling is an adjustment and it’s ok to go slow. Just get settled into teaching and learning together and enjoy your child/children.
  • You don’t have to adhere to a particular method of homeschooling to be a “good homeschooling mom”. In some cities, states, and countries, homeschooling is controversial and challenging enough without unnecessary division over methodology. This also includes unnecessary division between any schooling choice. 
  • It’s ok if your homeschool is simple and straightforward. You don’t have to give your kids a Pinterest worthy school year full of all the crafts, nature studies, journaling, field trips, science projects, fun foods, role playing, fact learning, or map drawing activities in order to give them a delightful or good education. There are days, weeks, years where all you can give or require is simple, steady faithfulness to textbooks and worksheets. That’s ok. There is value to learning steady work even the “boring” kind. 
  • It’s not my job to make all learning fun or entertaining. Some days or subjects just aren’t “fun”. It is my responsibility to model and teach them to be cheerful and content hard workers and to know how to learn. We have shared these verses (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17;23) with our girls often and discussed that right now as kids part of their “work” is school, my “work” is teaching them, and we are to glorify God in all our work. We work heartily for God in our learning as a means of thankfulness and worship to him. We have an amazing God who loves us and has given us minds because he desires for us to know him and his world. 

I’d love to get to know you! Are you a homeschooling parent interested in being interviewed? Or perhaps you would like to collaborate on a project? If so, send me a message.