Today’s guest post comes from my real-life friend Kim McCorkle, who recently abandoned the plains of Texas to work alongside her director/husband on “Unconditional,” a feature film due in theaters this fall. If that wasn’t perfectly clear, he is her husband and a movie director, not some weird new husband hybrid. Kim spends most of her days at her Tennessee home, where she educates their five children, ages 6-14, but sometimes she brings me apples. 🙂
Not My Plan
I always marvel at the mothers whose little ones are still in diapers, and who are already researching the various homeschooling methods and strategically selecting the materials they will use when the time comes. This was not how our homeschool experience began…to put it mildly. My decision to homeschool was made abruptly when I realized that first grade meant sending my daughter away for seven hours a day. I just couldn’t do it. I wanted her with me…and so began my bumbling journey into the great unknown.
When I was younger, I had always imagined homeschool kids as the socially bewildered, highwater wearing types who hide behind their mother’s long dresses. This was obviously not for me. Furthermore, I had even been guilty of making remarks like, “Homeschool breeders are taking over the world!” But that was before I decided to homeschool…and before I had five children. I’m pretty sure God is laughing at me.
Learning As You Go
People often ask me how I do it, to which I always reply, “Not gracefully.” I would say that homeschooling is not so different from parenting in general, in that your first child is the “guinea pig” so to speak. And by the time the second child arrives, you are much more prepared to deal with diaper rashes and gassy tummies, and you don’t have to agonize over what kind of baby food you’re going to use. You’ve been there, done that. You’re an old pro. But there are new challenges that come with every age and with every season, and all you can do is learn as you go.
So here I am, eight years into the homeschool experience, and I have not “arrived” and I’m certainly not an “old pro.” I still have days where life happens and nothing much gets done…and moments when I doubt myself and wonder why I’m not better at this by now. But when I look back and remember myself as a naïve but optimistic young mother just starting out, I realize that I’ve come a long way. I have some experience under my belt, and lessons learned the hard way. But what if, from where I sit, I could go back and give myself some advice? Yes! What if I could send my younger self a letter? What would I say? Hmmm…I think it would go something like this:
It’s me, your older wiser self. This decision you’ve just made to homeschool? You’ll never regret it. We’re having a wonderful time. The kids are doing great…all five of them. Yeah, that natural birth control doesn’t work, but you keep using it OK? Your life will be the better for it. Trust me on this one.
I know you’re a little overwhelmed with all the options. Textbooks? Boxed curriculum? Charlotte Mason? Unit studies? Classical Edcuation? Yes, yes, I know. There’s a lot to choose from. I could tell you what you’ll love in the end, but I’d be spoiling half the fun. What’s more important is how you proceed once you’ve made your selections.
Let me make an observation. You, my dear, are something of a perfectionist. Actually, that’s a gross understatement and you know it! Someday, you’ll believe me when I say that perfectionism is a fault, not a virtue. But for now, let me just say this. You CANNOT do everything. And if you try, you will get so overwhelmed, you will literally become paralyzed. You will find yourself accomplishing nothing, even though you’re planning a stellar education. Just hear me on this. There is no such thing as a perfect homeschool, a perfect teacher, a perfect mother, or a perfect wife. You have to make peace with this, and the sooner the better.
About curriculum . .
You will be making too many purchases and trying too many new things at once. I would tell you to slow down, but I know you won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll get it right eventually. Don’t be afraid to discard the things that aren’t working, and don’t worry about the money you lost. You can re-sell it or give it away… doesn’t matter. Just get rid of it and move on. Try to take baby steps, and for goodness sake, use only ONE new thing at a time! Once you get used to it, then you can add something new. Baby steps, Kim. Baby steps.
Be careful not to get caught up in trying to emulate other “successful” homeschoolers. They have much to teach you, this is true. But you are unique and your kids are unique. What works for them and for their kids may not be what’s best for you and yours.
There are so many variables to consider: learning styles, teaching styles, personality types, family dynamic. Learn what you can, but embrace your uniqueness. Find your backbone, and trust your own mothering instinct. You are connected to your children like no one else. You know what’s best for them. So when you find yourself overwhelmed with all the options and all the advice, go with your gut. Trust yourself. You’ll figure it out.
And take care of yourself!
I know it seems counterintuitive, but you have to put yourself first sometimes. “WHAT?!?!” I can hear you screaming at me. I know, I know. It sounds all wrong, but let me explain. You pride yourself in being “low maintenance,” but there is no such thing. You need plenty of water, plenty of rest and exercise, good food and supplements. You need your “me” time. You need to go on dates with your hubby. And you need girlfriends. Girl’s night out is essential! Being “low-maintenance” will leave you physically exhausted and emotionally bankrupt with nothing left to give. But taking care of you means that you can be a better wife, a better mom, a better teacher, and a better friend….all those things you so desperately want to be. It’s a balancing act, I know. But don’t feel bad about taking care of yourself. It’s the best thing you can do for your family and for the people you love. Hear me on this…or you’ll learn the hard way.
You can do this. I’m proud of you, and you should be proud of you too. Just take it one day at a time.
I Wonder If I Would Have Listened
I wonder if I would have been ready to take these pearls of wisdom to heart. The truth is, there are no shortcuts. You just have to get in there and get started. I will always be failing forward. After all, a cook that isn’t flubbing recipes is obviously not taking risks…not learning new things. Homeschooling is no different. You try new things…and some stick, some don’t. And eventually, you find what best suits your homeschool personality. But as long as your children are learning, and as long as you’re enjoying each other in the process, you’re doing great. Don’t look back.