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Don’t want to homeschool, cyberschool, or send your kids to school this fall?

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Consider this “little way” of learning instead …

About a decade ago, I found myself living in a rural area without much along the lines of “school choice.” I’d had four kids in six years and felt ill equipped to homeschool my oldest son. Between dishes and laundry and nursing a newborn, I had genuine concerns that I’d underserve him and the whole family. Also, I wanted this particularly bright child to meet friends and benefit from the wisdom of professionally trained teachers. Cyberschools didn’t appeal to me, as I wanted my kids to have less screentime – not more.

In many ways, I was facing back then what a lot of parents are facing today due to the coronavirus pandemic – a severe lack of education options for their kids. I remember feeling like I was being forced to homeschool. But that just seemed bonkers when I looked around my kitchen table and saw that I’d soon be teaching two, three, four kids X amount of subjects in X amount of hours every day.

I can’t do it!” I prayed. Now this was right around the same time I’d discovered St. Therese of Lisieux’s little way to sainthood. I was in the middle of reading her Story of a Soul, where she talks about growing in holiness by offering up small, everyday sacrifices such as holding open a door to a stranger (or in my case – teaching my son how to hold his pencil). So it’s no wonder, the Holy Spirit spoke to me through her wisdom: “Don’t homeschool – just read to him,a little. Then have him write, a little. Then do just a little bit of math

We tried it, and things went … surprisingly well.

Pretty soon, our days evolved by slowly adding a few more subjects here and there, all disciplines based on the traditional “3 Rs” – Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. And even though I balked at the idea of being a “homeschooler,” I picked up a few great books to guide us on our journey; books all centered around the classical Greek educational philosophy of focusing on the good, the beautiful and the true.

Ten years later, that same son I was terrified of shortchanging has a great job as a river raft guide and is also starting college in the fall at only 16 years old.* But I’ll only take a tiny bit of credit for his success, because in so many ways he’s been self-taught. And that’s what’s great about kids studying at home in this day in age – there’s so much awesome, affordable curriculum out there to make it easy. It’s no wonder we’re still following our little way most days of the 9-month school year from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. (I’m done overseeing by noon at the latest; although my teens work a little longer on their own).

Here’s our typical day:

– Get cozy in the living room, and pray a little.

Read aloud a little (taking turns & alternating subjects – history, science or literature — and then talking about what we’ve read).

– Practice a little music or memorization work (piano for some kids; poetry for others); this is when I sneak away to wash a few breakfast dishes.

Then we move to the kitchen table for little math and a little writing (using a variety of workbooks according to skill level).

That’s it.

Oh yeah, and we play outside a lot and try to treat life like the fascinating adventure it is – taking advantage of car rides and cooking together as opportunities to have great conversations. Kicking the TV out of the living room and filling the coffee table with awesome books has certainly helped more than anything. Because in my experience, kids who read for fun fly over academic “benchmarks” without even realizing it.

How do you know you’re not leaving something out????” (That’s the hairiest, scariest question I get asked all the time – by myself more than anyone else). And I admit that I’ve had many sleepless nights where I envision someone shining a flashlight in my kid’s face – “What do you mean you don’t know the capital of Indiana?” A trapdoor opens up and my precious baby falls through as everyone all around boos at what a horrible, lazy mother I am.

But guess what? That hasn’t happened … yet. Like I said, my 16-year-old just got into college,* but also my younger children are doing great and make consistently high standardized test scores. All of them show me daily that they’re learning how to learn (so even if I do leave something out, I trust that by God’s grace – they’ll be able to find it). All this being said – I’ve certainly leaned on awesome resources to give me a little more peace of mind that I haven’t skipped over huge swaths of important information. Still, I’m too busy to do much lesson planning. Rather, I come up with ideas in my mind while folding laundry and “wing it” the next morning. I’m totally disorganized and don’t keep many records, but I do chuck all our work in a jumbled box every afternoon, so I always have plenty to show our district at the end of the year (I put it in a pretty folder, and they’re always impressed!). I can’t stand crafts of any kind, and I send my kids to YouTube to watch science experiments.

Now I know what you’re thinking – that lady’s a homeschooler! Fine, after all these years it’s an honor to wear the label. But I still don’t look at myself that way at all. Rather, I oversee about 2 hours of my kids’ education each day. I bet I’d put in that much time if I had to get them on a bus (too early for my taste); had to have permission slips signed (ours would be lost); and had to help out with homework in the evening (bad fit as my brain doesn’t work after supper). So thankfully, we’ve found our little way of learning, and I’m certain it’s the only way for us!

*My son is taking part in our community college’s “dual enrollment” program where a student is able to receive both high school and college credit for many subjects.

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