“Homeschooling was one of my lifelong dreams,” says Karen, mom to four children ages 9 to 13. “I was picking out curriculum when other girls were daydreaming about wedding colors.”
But two years ago, Karen transitioned her children into traditional school. What does it look like to go from “lifelong dream” to “former homeschooler”?
Karen was homeschooled herself from first grade all the way through a professional degree via distance-learning. She and her husband didn’t really “decide” to homeschool their four children; it was what Karen had always wanted to do.
“I had a lot of fun planning out curriculum scope and sequence when my kids were too young for school. But when it came right down to it I realized Ambleside Online was a perfect fit for what I wanted, so I used it exclusively.”
She started formal lessons with the older kids when they began the first and second grades, and continued until their oldest finished 6th grade. And then life took an unexpected and difficult turn.
“My husband has a progressive genetic condition, and it was growing worse. We tried for several years to adapt with me working from home part-time while homeschooling. It just wasn’t enough to keep us afloat and relieve the pressure on him so he could take care of himself.”
They found a school connected to Karen’s childhood church. Shortly afterward, Karen’s husband was in a car accident that rendered him unable to work at all for several months. The burden of supporting the family was now squarely on Karen’s shoulders, and homeschooling simply wasn’t possible.
“I honestly had no idea that school was in our future. I never homeschooled with an eye to my children transitioning into school,” Karen says. “It was a total shock—one day we wrapped up the end of our school year and I was full of plans for coming year and I expected to continue until college, and the next day I realized that we would never be homeschooling again.”
How did the four children transition from a literature-heavy self-paced education into the structure and system of traditional schooling?
“For the most part they’ve done really well.” Entering a small private school instead of a large, impersonal public school probably made the change a little easier. Even so, while the extroverted kids had an easier time, “the introverts found it a bit overwhelming.”
Karen reflects that her twins entering 3rd grade had the hardest time. She hadn’t pushed the reading and writing part of academics with them yet, focusing on reading aloud amazing books together. “So to be dumped into a 3rd/4th combined classroom doing 4th grade A Beka was a major shock.” But an encouraging teacher and new friends helped ease them into the new way of doing things. Karen does admit that homework for one child, who has attention issues and some physical problems with writing, “is a major drag and we still haven’t really resolved that.”
The older children found the transition easier. They’d had time to fill in any gaps in their knowledge. “But they still had to go back and learn a different handwriting style, which they found annoying.”
The family has struggled to adapt to the change. On a foundational level, Karen simply misses homeschooling. “It forges connections; we had homeschooling friends that we now don’t have time to hang out with. A lot of my online social life was in homeschooling forums and now I don’t really have anything to contribute. I had so many things planned out for years ahead that I had looked forward to doing that now I realize I will never do.”
It’s also hard that some of her kids really miss homeschooling. “And for the kids who have adapted too well and now love school, well…that stings a bit, too.”
“Also, that whole thing about how we really homeschool because we can’t cope with getting out the door in the morning? Oh yeah.”
But in the midst of the disappointment and adjustment, Karen discovered an important truth. “I’ve learned that my kids still can learn and grow even if it’s not my perfect situation.”
She sees a benefit in being part of a larger community. “I think sometimes homeschooled kids, especially as they get older, get the idea that whatever parts of their education they don’t care for is just Mom’s crazy notions.” All children being different, some of her kids do well with a textbook approach, especially for certain subjects. “And they even have Grandma as the math teacher for the upper grades.”
Karen’s advice for other parents facing this situation—don’t regret how you’ve spent your time with your children so far.
Even though the adjustment was hard, she wouldn’t have missed out on those days of reading Wind in the Willows and Seabird and Joan of Arc. Children are intelligent, curious, and flexible—by the end of the year, Karen’s four students were up to the top of their classes. Karen is glad she didn’t skip “sketching leaves just for the sake of being a little more adept at filling in blanks.”
“I believe in doing the most you can with what you have right in front of you. That is always the best preparation for what is coming next, though you won’t be able to see it yet.”
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis.