Education is a Life, Homeschool Wisdom, How We Make it Work

Homeschool Carousel, by Briana Elizabeth

I woke up this morning feeling a strong sense of deja vu. It’s a homeschooling carousel, the music and bright lights being the books and pedagogies, and the choosing of what to do each year is the up and down of the circular ride.

Though I am wed to classical schooling, each child is so different that I have to reassess subjects each year and decide what is to take precedence.

This year has been particularly hard for me, so I’m going to do something I never really do: I’m going to share about one of my children specifically so you can understand how some of these questions and struggles never leave until your last student is out on his own. This is just part of homeschooling, and you can expect it. It’s nothing to angst over, and yet these are our children and our high calling, and so we dwell on these questions.

He is entering his sophomore year and is my first child that I have homeschooled from the very beginning. There has been a marked difference between his studies and that of his two older siblings whom I pulled out of public school. Though my other children were good students, their public school years served as a birth defect in their education. This son’s studies, his abilities, his bent, if you will, are a shining example of how education informs character and will and forms loves. I say this only to remind myself that there is no right or wrong decisions with his schooling at this point; there are only right and wrong decisions as to what is best for him. Let me unpack that and share how though your children get older, the struggles of what to teach each year are still there, no matter how long you’ve been a homeschooler. My purpose is to hopefully give you some peace; this is how it goes; this is a stage of every year, just like stages of growth in children, and in relationships.

I could graduate him. Yes, as a sophomore, I could enroll him into the community college in my town and let him loose. He has finished his required subjects for graduation. However, he is also enrolled in our local public school’s extra curricular activities of marching band, jazz band, concert band, wind ensemble, honors choir (this is a hugely popular choir whose performances with purchased tickets are standing room only – rightly so), and this year he is auditing AP music theory. He also participates in track and swimming. To graduate him would mean that he would have to give up those very worthy classes, having  been matriculated, and these are classes and experiences that I would not be able to afford him privately.

He has also started his own business, and is working toward his Eagle Scout. He is taking coveted classes with a renowned luthier.

And so I am left with deciding which subjects are the most important for him to know in these three short years we have.

This is no small decision. And this is where I can say there is no wrong answer -he is essentially finished – yet our choices are of the utmost importance because we have to choose the very best for him. He doesn’t have the time for me to throw a full schedule at him; he only has 24 hours in his day and I insist on his sleeping at least 8 of those hours, and having some hours to stare at a wall if he chooses. Eating is also high on the priority list.

Believe it or not, he loves Latin enough to continue on with Henle 2 this year. I thought for sure we could cut out Latin because we had more than finished it as a requirement, but this is what he wants, and how can I argue other wise? He has a wonderful mentor in Scouting who was classically educated, and they conjugate verbs and talk of translating when they’re not teaching young scouts to shoot rifles, and my son’s affection for this mentor, and this language are so worthy of his time. However, I am leaving it all up to him. He can take The National Latin exam if he chooses also.

We could cut out math, but should we? With his desires to continue his education, quitting math might be a danger because his lack of using it might lead to forgetting much of what he had learned. Math continues. It will be what he chooses, and we’ve been toying with the idea of  a course in statistics.

Science is our own course, The Physics of High Fidelity and some Biology* this year because I love dissecting things, and I think he should too. This is not a course that I’ve built for him, rather he has built it for himself and I’m just giving him the credit. It is basically what his business is. He is designing guitar foot pedals (they alter the sound on the guitar, and he can design them to make different sounds; he then draws the schematics and builds them with electrical circuits. It’s a lot of wire and welding) He chose to do Chemistry last year, and we can switch things up like that because we’re homeschoolers.

So that leaves humanities to whittle down – and the pain of this you cannot imagine. Which books to cut? It’s a knife to my humanities-loving heart. His father and I have an abiding love of history, and he wants to pursue a minor in history in college.  He happens to love the Catholic Textbook Project’s textbooks, so it will stay as a spine. (Did you know I hate textbooks? Hate. These are amazing. I have all but one.) But we can’t do all of the wonderful assignments. He can’t outline every chapter. We read (I try to keep up with him) and we discuss – this is what we’ve done for years. How can I argue with this streamlined option when it made him love history so much in the first place?

The last choices would be what books to read. With this schedule, it’s leaves only room for the most excellent. However, because I’ve used the Norms list since seventh grade, he has some excellent books under his belt already. Now I can cherry-pick the ones from the tenth grade list he hasn’t read and that I feel are most important. He doesn’t have time to write reports on all of them. Again, we read, and we discuss. I can’t bring myself to fix what ain’t broke.

When I have to pare reading lists down to what is most essential, I always check myself with Memoria Press’ choices. You can’t go wrong if their books are the only ones read for the year. More is not always better. For this year I’ve chosen The Aeneid, Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, St. Augustine’s Confessions, Dante’s Inferno, Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man, Erasmus’ Education of a Christian Prince. That still is quite a list, and we will just keep chipping away at it. Literature is read year-round in our house, so there is no set month he has to finish these. If he is still reading them next year in eleventh grade, is that the worst thing? Not in the least. Poetry will be interspersed because that’s how I roll.

The last of my decisions, and what I will require, is one small paper each semester and one research paper to be handed in at the end of the year. Because he has been homeschooled from the start, because right thinking leads to good writing, we’ve climbed this ladder well. We’re honing skills at this point, and our lingering family dinners have made this possible as much as any writing courses we’ve done over the years.

So that’s it. It’s the most of what we can do, and the least of it.

I can get anxious over what he might be missing–what I thought he should have done – but would that really be worth the anxiety? Isn’t he doing enough? Is it not classical? Is it not beautiful and crafted specifically to him?

This is why I don’t really pore over books and schedules and get upset, fretting that we didn’t do everything. Those books and schedules don’t have MY child, with his talents and loves. I’m not saying to not look at them, but don’t be bound by them. Glean what they have for you, but be free in leaving what is not for you, your family, your child. Leave it with no look back.

*This is my friend Macbeth’s homeschooling site. She’s a biologist who has graduated four kids. We love her science recommendations.

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