Thirty years ago I found myself on my knees beside my side of the bed pleading for God’s direction. I had no idea how soon he would lead our family into a new 30-year journey.
Our children were ages 5, 4, 1-½, and newborn. My husband had just taken a traveling job which meant he was gone much of the week – day and night. Our two oldest children, the four and five-year-olds, were enrolled in a Christian school thirty minutes from home, one in Kindergarten, and one in Preschool at a separate location about a 10-minute drive from the main school.
After hectic mornings of diapering, dressing, breakfast, and everything else, it was thirty minutes to school, get everyone out of car seats and escort the five-year-old to class, put everyone back in car seats and drive to Preschool, get everyone out of car-seats and escort the four-year-old to class. Put the toddler and colicky newborn back in their car seats and head the thirty minutes to home. Two hours later: REPEAT. Every day, the 1-½-year-old toddler would swing her legs crazily in her car seat while the newborn would just cry all the way to school. And home. Every day.
Days in that era were long and hard. The nights were even harder – and darker. People kept telling me to enjoy it all while they were young. “It will be gone before you know it,” they would say. Really? It sure didn’t feel that way.
I arrived at my first school conference with the toddler and newborn in tow. We met in the Kindergarten classroom which was in an out-building addition across the road from the actual school. Sitting in the Kindergarten classroom, my five-year-old daughter’s teacher told me how good and responsible and mature Kristin was for her age. Honestly, that did not surprise me. Wherever we went whether it was a restaurant, library, or grocery store, we always got compliments on how well-behaved and polite our kids were. Things were rough, but I knew we were doing some things right along the way.
What did surprise me was what the teacher had chosen to do with our “good, mature and responsible” five-year-old daughter. First of all, since she was good she was seated between the two “bad” boys. I know what a hard time teachers can have maintaining their classrooms, but did my daughter deserve this? Was her own learning taking place if she was being pestered on either side?
The teacher went on. Since Kristin was so mature and responsible, she got to carry the attendance sheet to the front office in the main school each day. I looked through the window beyond the teacher to the ROAD which lies between the Kindergarten classroom and the main school. I asked, “Is that a road she has to cross, alone? The teacher said I shouldn’t worry because only buses were supposed to use that road. Only buses? How would one of those giant yellow buses ever spot our little five-year-old daughter, walking unattended to the main building? How about cars that weren’t supposed to be using that road? How about strangers? I would never do things this way! Our daughter was precious to us and I would never take such risks.
But I was.
It was a tough enough thing to do to get those two children to school. Rough nights followed by hectic mornings followed by long crying car rides, but now I didn’t feel like Kristin was as cared for and protected at school as much as she was by me. (Of course, that’s true! Even with some outstanding and caring teachers, no one loves their child as much or is more protective than their mother.) And how about her learning? Was it being compromised? Her four-year-old brother was reading little readers and she had a hard time even with sounds. (I would find out later that the “look-say” method of teaching reading that the school was using at the time had not worked for her.)
I got on my knees and prayed. I poured out my heart to God. I told him all about the rough days and rough nights, the crying car rides to school, and the school itself. I told him everything and begged for his help. I got up from my knees and did the next thing. There was always that to do.
Days later, standing in my kitchen together, my mother told me what she had seen on The Phil Donahue Show. (A talk show that aired between 1970 and 1996.) “There was this family on and they HOMESCHOOL their children.” “HOMESCHOOL,” she repeated. I had never heard that word before, but I knew that instant that that was what I was supposed to do! God had answered my plea for help.
First I told my husband about this HOMESCHOOL thing. We were so busy with our young family and on top of that, he was busy building his career. When I look back on that, he probably just went along with it, being the nice husband that he is, but within a couple years he was at least as on board with the idea as I was.
It was before Christmas, the day I went in to meet with the principal, toddler and baby in tow. My less-than-confident self said confidently, “I’m here to let you know that we are going to HOMESCHOOL.” The principal’s reaction surprised me. He knew what I was talking about! He told me that their school was homeschool-friendly. He said to just take the children home since it was so close to Christmas Break and enjoy homeschooling them. “In fact,” he said, “Just take them home and love them and read to them and bring them back in the third grade. They’ll do just fine.”
Picking up Kristin from her classroom that day, I let the teacher know that she would not be back after the break, that we were going to homeschool. She was surprised and said she would really miss Kristin. From there I drove over to pick up our four-year-old son at preschool. I told grandmotherly Mrs. W. that Brian would not be returning after the break and that we were going to homeschool. She looked concerned and asked, “But who will teach him how to read?” I was shocked that she didn’t know that Brian was already reading (little readers at home). But then, how could she with twenty-plus other preschoolers in the class?
I don’t remember now if it was on our way home that day or while out on another errand that I tuned in to the local Christian radio station. There was a lady speaking about the importance of reading and how to teach it. I was glued to every word. At the end of the program, they gave an 800 number to call. I could not wait to get home and call that number!
The lady on the other end sounded older and wise and kind. She had perfect diction. She asked questions about our family and freely offered advice on way more than just reading. Of course, I purchased her reading program which I found out years later was the “Cadillac” of reading programs.
Dr. Marie LeDoux is with Jesus now, but I will never forget her part in the beginning steps of our homeschool journey.
The program alone was expensive, but it was also on LP vinyl records. Records were old technology even then, so we needed to shop around for a stereo system with a turntable. (Thirty years ago there was no Amazon!) Another couple hundred dollars and we were good to go.
The stereo was set up and the records arrived from California. It was like receiving a Christmas package. I poured over every piece of literature and instruction enclosed. It wasn’t long before Kristin and Brian and I were lying on our tummies in front of the speakers, book open in front of us. They were learning how to read and I was learning how to teach reading all at the same time.
Just like the nice lady on the phone had said, in just two ten-minute sessions a day the kids were mastering reading. They read little books to me and I read to all of them. A lot. We did little math things, some writing, and crafts with glue and scissors. Our days were happy and relaxed and the kids were learning like little sponges.
The next year we moved to a new state and for the first time, we met another homeschool family. Their kids were a little older than ours and they had been homeschooling longer. My husband and I observed how respectful, well-behaved and interested in learning they were. We wanted the same for our children. I peppered my new friend, Judy, with questions and listened diligently to everything she had to say.
It wasn’t long before I was introduced to the books of the great homeschoolers of the time like Mary Pride and Gregg Harris. I poured over their books and so many more. We had to keep adding more bookshelves for the kids’ books and for mine.
Three years later we moved again. This time we found a homeschool organization that I eagerly signed up to be a part of. I could go to monthly meetings and learn how-to’s in homeschooling, and as a family we could go skating and on field trips. Even with all of this it still seemed like an experiment. Would this homeschooling thing really work? Would the kids turn out OK?
A couple years in, my mother – the same one that stood in my kitchen and said the word HOMESCHOOL, asked about college scholarships. The kids seemed to be learning well, but would colleges recognize that and offer scholarships, or even accept them? That was a good question at the time. Others would question our kids’ socialization.
Each year we made the decision to continue on and homeschool for another year. In our state our kids took standardized achievement tests each year, so we knew that solid learning was taking place. Our kids seemed respectful, well-behaved and interested in learning. They easily spoke with others in the community so we knew socialization was not a problem.
It wasn’t long before other moms started asking me questions. How did I train our children, why were they so well-behaved and polite? Several moms even admitted that they could hardly stand to be around their own children. Other moms wanted to know how we were supposed to clean the house or cook dinner while we were doing this homeschool thing. Some didn’t know what to do next or how to teach their kids a certain subject. I was asked to speak about homeschooling for the first time in the mid-1990s. I was still learning and growing, but by then I knew my topic well.
We went on to have four more children. Our little five-year-old I referenced earlier is now 35. Our eighth child is now 18 and recently graduated from high school.
God led our family on a journey that would suit our children well, their father well, and me well. We sacrificed time and money and energy along the way. At times we were stretched to what seemed beyond our limits. But with God all things were possible. He has been with us all the way.
Has God guided you to a similar place? Have you been homeschooling awhile or are you new to homeschooling? We all have different stories of how God is specifically leading us. He is a personal God and interacts with us as the individuals that he created us to be. If we will seek him, he will be faithful to direct our paths and lead us along the journey that he has planned just for us.
At this point in my life, I think that God is leading me to write. It didn’t happen suddenly like when the word HOMESCHOOL was spoken in my kitchen and I knew what I was supposed to do. I wish his leading was always cut and dried, but the truth is that it isn’t. As I try to follow God in this new direction in my life, my prayer is that I could be to you what Marie LeDoux, my friend Judy, and others were to me: mothers and sisters in Christ that taught, strengthened, and encouraged me on my journey.
As you begin or continue on your journey, always be open to God’s direction. Do you feel distant from God? Sometimes I do too. Be humble and adjust your attitude as necessary so you can hear his leading. He speaks to us in so many wonderful ways, like through Scripture, through others, through circumstances, and through Creation itself. If you are asking for his direction, he will be faithful to lead. Remember, he will never speak against his own word, the Bible.
What story might you be telling in thirty years? Ask God to help you create that story today.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalms 32:8 NIV
About the author
Patti Wright is a former homeschool mom of 30 years. She has eight adult children engaging in professions from law to medicine, and eleven grandchildren. It is her goal to strengthen and encourage younger homeschool moms.