Homeschooling with Joy?

I had only been homeschooling for one month, and I was desperate. Why did I think I could do this? Why did we think this was the best fit for our family?

I wanted the day to paint this picture: I gather our children to begin school. They listen and move to our “classroom” area. The children sit at my feet and we pray together and read a story. Then, I commence one-on-one work time with our son while our girls play peaceably together. 

As the mother of my three small humans, what was I thinking?!

Instead, our children would gather, sometimes half-clothed. We would pray, some of us sitting, others standing, others on the ground playing with their sibling’s hair or toes. At the mention of schoolwork, our son would moan, and at the start of schoolwork, he would melt down his chair, defeated by some invisible thing I could not understand. Instead of play together, our two-year-old would either take off running in her diaper or displease her sister by playing incorrectly with a certain toy, and our four-year-old would protest that the schoolwork I gave her to do was not schoolworky enough!

One day, as I cried and looked into brick-and-mortar schools for our son, I decided to look for a podcast that could speak words of wisdom to my weary soul. I typed in “Homeschool struggle.” 

What popped up: homeschooling with joy and Bonnie Landry

As an aside, I have since typed in “homeschool struggle” (though not for the same reasons), and many other options populate, homeschooling with joy not included. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for having my back that day.

I listened to an interview with Bonnie Landry, and then tracked down her four-part workshop on homeschooling with joy. I took in her wisdom, humor, and encouragement. I picked up tools and put them in my homeschooling tool belt. Most of all, I gathered up hope. It’s going to be okay. We can do this.

Every family is different, so home education in our home will be different than in the Mackenzie, Foss, or Landry homes. I also don’t know if we would still be homeschooling were it not for the tools and support these women provide to so many. Through their books and other media, they have helped our family find joy in home education.

So, what have I learned and how has it fostered joy? 

Reading Aloud is Never a Waste

A friend introduced me to Sarah Mackenzie’s Read Aloud Revival and her book, Teaching from Rest. What I’ve learned both from Mackenzie’s words and my own experience is that reading aloud to my children is never a waste. Picture books can be beautifully written and illustrated. Adults do not need to and should not settle for cheap made-to-sell picture books based on television shows. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally—and often far more—worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” Reading aloud together brings us physically close and connects us—even if only for a moment—in a common task. 

On the difficult days reading aloud seems to be the only thing I know how to do well. Or, rather, that we, my children and I, know how to do well. Because even when we are sick, tired, or on edge, we can still cuddle close and enter a story together. 

There is joy in this presence.

Education is Everywhere

In home education, our children (and we) do not learn in blocks of 30 minutes, move mechanically from subject to subject, and then neatly close the school day to commence our not-learning part of the day. Rather, education is an environment and disposition. (Elizabeth Foss’s Real Learning Revisited is an excellent resource on this.) My children learn during math and reading work and while we sit outside to notice and wonder at nature. They learn when they help put away laundry and the clean dishes. They learn when they play, fight and then forgive. They learn when we pray together, read Scripture together, and talk about the saints. They learn from me—from my habits and virtues (or lack thereof). Learning is a way of life. 

There is joy in this curiosity and wonder.

Pleasing, Not Perfect

How am I supposed to keep a home clean, educate my children, get meals on the table, and steward my own self-care? Given that being frantic or discouraged all the time is not a good option, we are called to find a more life-giving way. 

Bonnie Landry offers a wonderful phrase to guide us: pleasing, not perfect. Our homes do not need to be perfectly clean or organized, but it helps tremendously if they are pleasing. Sufficient order in our space helps us think clearly, allows for creativity, and fosters peace. 

Upon transitioning from one thing to another, we tidy up. We clear our dishes from the table and push in our chairs. Even toddlers can assist in these simple tasks. The beginnings of responsibility, respect, and good habit building. There are moments in the day that our home does indeed look as if the toy closet has vomited all over the house. But, we try our best to tidy as we go. 

There is joy in the discipline of pleasing, not perfect. 

What’s Your Why

When we started to consider home education, some of our motives were based in fear. But, those motives were only partial truths.

Our true why comes from a love of what is good, beautiful, and true. It is good, beautiful, and true to see our children teaching and helping each other. To discover what our children find joy in and struggle with as unique persons. To pray together, visit Jesus together, and talk about the deeper questions of our minds and hearts. To keep “Papa time” on Wednesdays and to “read with Omi” on FaceTime. To learn together what it means to know, love, and serve God, and become the people he wants us to be.

While education looks different in each family, I’m grateful that God has placed home education in the heart of ours. Though I would not have believed it in the first month of school, and it can be challenging to believe on the tough days, it is possible to homeschool with deep joy.

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