It’s April and your oldest child is four years old. Your friends are enrolling their children in pre-school for the coming fall, but you just aren’t sure. The idea of bucking the system feels strange and uncomfortable, but so does the thought of sending your child away for several hours everyday. Or maybe your child has attended school for years, but this year is different. She is struggling academically, and your efforts to work with her teacher haven’t been productive. We all have our own story; one way or another, we found ourselves facing the decision: should I homeschool?
Can you homeschool?
Homeschooling is not the norm these days (although it has been in the past). Therefore, there is a tendency to think that it takes a special kind of person to be able to homeschool children, or at least to be able to do it well; that homeschooling is not something that just anyone can do. I tend to think that the question, “Can I homeschool?” goes hand-in-hand with the question, “Can I parent?” Certainly, homeschooling requires diligence, patience, hard work, and dedication. But so does parenting.
In his Large Catechism explanation of the Fourth Commandment, Martin Luther says,
“We must spare no diligence, time, or cost in teaching and educating our children, so that they may serve God and the world. We must not think only about how we may amass money and possessions for them. God can indeed support them and make them rich without us, as He daily does. But for this purpose He has given us children and issued this command: we should train and govern them according to His will. Otherwise, He would have no use for a father and a mother.”
Educating children is the responsibility of the parents. Parents can certainly choose to make use of schools to accomplish this goal. But God has entrusted the raising of your child to you, and education is a part of that. Whether parents make use of schools or not, it remains the parents’ responsibility to oversee the education of their children.
We are our children’s first teachers. We teach them to speak by speaking to them. We teach them to count by counting with them. We teach them to write their names, to play Candy Land, to sing songs, and to pray without thinking twice about it. There is no switch that flips when your child turns four that suddenly makes it more difficult for you to teach him. It is what you have been doing all along. I believe that most parents have the ability to homeschool if they choose to.
Should you homeschool?
The question, I think, is not, “Can I homeschool?” Most likely, you can. There are a few other questions, though, that you do want to consider.
Will I be diligent? Homeschooling requires effort. It requires planning and persistence to keep working with your children toward educational goals. It requires the self-discipline to stay on task and not to allow entertainment, social activities, or Internet browsing to steal your time. Being a diligent homeschooling parent also means being willing to prioritize your child’s education over other less important things. Some of your hobbies and personal goals may need to take a back seat because your time is limited.
Am I dedicated to spending most of my time with my children? I hope that you enjoy spending time with your children. Homeschooling allows us so much more time to enjoy our kids, and there is a lot of fun and delight to be found when we spend our days together. But our kids are sinners. So are we. Even in the most harmonious of homeschools, there is bickering, nagging, whining, and frustration. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we are with our children all the time, and thus able to discipline them consistently and be the ones who shape their character. One of the challenges of homeschooling is that we are with our children all the time, and thus we never get a break from their need for discipline and character shaping. Training up our children can be hard and frustrating work at times, but it is our work, and in doing it we carry out the vocation given to us by God when he entrusted these children to our care. We certainly fail daily at this task. But Christ died for these sins too. Confessing to our children when we wrong them and receiving their forgiveness is a powerful example of grace in action, a lesson to them and to us.
Am I willing to learn alongside of my children? One concern that prospective homeschooling parents often have is that they do not know enough or are not smart enough to homeschool. You do not have to know everything to teach it to your children. You simply have to be willing to learn with them. At the beginning of my homeschooling journey, my knowledge of world history was abysmal. And yet, history is one of my favorite subjects to study with my children. I have learned so much along with them! As a homeschooling parent, you will need to be actively engaged in your children’s lessons. In the middle and upper grades, your children may be able to study more independently, but they will still need your involvement and guidance.
Finally, do I have an agreeable school option available? If you are blessed to answer “yes” to this question, you have the luxury of making the decision to homeschool, or not, purely based on what you want to do. But for many parents, this final question is the deciding factor. In his 1520 treatise, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” Martin Luther cautions, “I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme.” It is impossible for an education to be values-neutral. If your child is not being taught your beliefs and values at school, she is being taught someone else’s. This is not to say that a child cannot receive a public education and maintain his or her faith, nor is it to criticize parents who choose to make use of the public school system. In many cases, public schools are a family’s best option for educating their children. I, myself, received a public education. Yet, when it was time for our oldest child to begin school, the lack of a Lutheran day-school in our area was the single biggest factor that pushed us to choose homeschooling. Those with a local Lutheran day-school may also answer this question “no” for a variety of reasons including cost, distance, personal issues, or an inability of the school to meet a child’s needs.
If you find yourself without a school option for your child that you find agreeable, I want to encourage you that you CAN homeschool your child. It is often a “no” answer to this last question that pushes parents to re-evaluate and decide that they are, in fact, willing to dedicate themselves to diligently spending their time learning alongside of their children.
Did you notice that the questions, “Do I have a college degree?” or “Am I smart enough?” or “Am I patient enough?” aren’t listed above? Your willingness to do the work of homeschooling is far more important than any credentials or personality traits you may possess. With dedication to your child’s education, you most certainly CAN homeschool. You don’t need to have it all figured out. You don’t need to worry about the future. It’s a journey one day at a time and God equips us with the tools we need at the right time. Trust that he will be faithful in helping you carry out the vocation he has given you.
Remember that the choice to homeschool is not a life-long, no-looking-back commitment. Many families continue to assess their choice to homeschool on a year-to-year basis. If you try homeschooling and find that it is not the best choice for your family, that’s ok. You can change your mind.
Whether you are excited at the prospect of starting a homeschooling journey, or you are unresolved and leaning toward “yes” one day and “no” the next, check in tomorrow for some suggested next steps!
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.