We started home schooling our children in 1981. At that time Bryce was 6, Ben was 4 and Blaine and Betsy, our twins, were just over one year old. Shirley had been working with our chil- dren from their birth. We felt confident. We thought this would be just a snap. How hard could it be? Though at the time we did not know it, we were in for not a few roller-coaster ups and downs.
Since we thought home schooling meant school at home, we followed the traditional school method. Thus began several years of guilt and frustration. Shirley was trying to cover 5 to 6 subject areas everyday, with several children. Because she was unable to finish all the expected work, she was feeling very discouraged and desperate. Like running on an ever increasing treadmill, the pres- sure to succeed was mounting. Our parents, our friends at church, our neighbors, and business associates were all watching - just waiting for failure so that they could congratulate themselves that this home schooling idea was as crazy as they thought. To other people it seemed like such a strange idea to choose to keep our children at home with us all day long. But God was calling us (and he is probably calling you) — calling us back to be families. But let us take you back to those early days of our struggles and successes.
BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE
By January of our first year of home schooling we were exhausted. Could anything be as hard as this? Because of Shirley’s educational background, she was trying to implement a full scale preschool program in our home. At six Bryce couldn’t read; however, wouldn’t just a little more phonics take care of the problem? But he went from 6 to 7 and then from 7 to 8 and 8 to 9 and then from 9 to 10 and 10 to 11 without being able to read. This was our first child and he still could not read. Our parents and friends thought we were making a drastic mistake by denying them of the finest that schools could provide. Had we made the wrong decision to home school our children? Was it too late for Bryce? Should we have him tested? Would he ever read? These were just a few of the touch questions we were wrestling with during those first few years.
Because Bryce could not read, Shirley began to read to him. Bryce and the rest of our chil- dren loved it. They were thirsting for good books. They wanted more and more. Gladys Hunt writes that ‘Books are like friends. Who has too many friends.’ We were adding such wonderful friends to our lives. At first we met Cowboy Small, Mike Mulligan, Curious George, Mike (the policeman in Make Way for Ducklings), little Sal on Blueberry Hill. Later on in this home school adventure, we would meet Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, Freckles, the Girl of the Limberlost, Peter, Susan, and Aslan, Nathanial Bowditch, John Erricson, Captain John Smith, little Dan and Ann (two koon dogs) and so many others. We began to feel like these people were are next door neighbors — our very best friends! Though Bryce could not read, which we thought was such a curse, he and our other children were developing a wonderful love of literature. God meant it for our good!
Another difficulty for us during those early years, was that we only owned one car. Because I needed it to go to work, Shirley was stuck - home, but not alone. She was home with two and then
four of our small but active children in a small two bedroom duplex. Most all of her friends were ‘out and about’ going to this activity and then another. But Shirley was home- sort of closed in. What would she do?
Though sometimes Shirley did feel like she was going to lose her mind, she played with our children, they worked with her, they cooked together, they took walks together, they went to the library together, they potted plants together, they talked together, they learned together. Shirley and our children were enjoying simply being together. We were becoming our children’s role models for how to live successfully in families.
Another difficulty during those very early years, was that the large curriculum suppliers were not willing to sell books to home school families. And even when they did begin to do so, textbooks were written for group instruction, not for home teaching. Shirley wanted to spend one-on-one time with our children. When our children were spending all their time with a workbook or textbook they were not relating to her nor understanding their lessons. In fact, she found that we were actually being isolated from each other. This is exactly the opposite of what we had hoped would happen.
She would often ask me what we should do. Because my masters degree was in Curriculum Design, I began to write one-on-one conversations for her to use with our children in teaching math and science. They loved and responded so wonderfully to these times of natural learning together. Our relationships flourished as she taught them in this new natural way.
Though these early struggles were very real, now almost 20 years later with five of our nine children godly young adults, with one in law school and another in college, we know that they were divine blessings in disguise. Though we believe that Satan was attempting to stop us, to keep us from home schooling our children by introducing such difficulties into our lives, God was turning these daily difficulties into real blessings not only in our children’s lives but in our lives as well.
THE SECRET TO OUR SUCCESS
You may ask “what was the secret of our ‘getting through’ those difficult days?” If you have three or four children under the ages of 8, we know how tiring life can be? It is so easy to feel like giving up - losing heart. Denying the difficulty is not facing reality, but despairing is turning our backs on God. If you feel inadequate, that is exactly where God wants you to be!
We know that God placed within our hearts (and within yours as well) the desire to home educate our children. He turned our hearts toward discipling them - imparting to them “not only God’s good news (the gospel) but also our own lives as well’ (I Thess 2:8). The Bible teaches that this not to be done in our own strength “for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” (Philippians 2:13).” We knew that since God had given us this desire, that He would also give us the ability to perform it - though not through our own strength, or our own ingenuity, but rather through His Spirit who lives within us. This is the major ministry that God has given to parents - the discipleship of our children. The beauty of Christianity is that God is not just with us, but he now resides in us ‘’both to will and to do” for his good pleasure. The secret is so simple, yet so profound.
We often wished and prayed that the difficulties of those earlier years would have been different. But God had such a better plan for our lives. I am often reminded of Heidi. After returning to the Grandfather, she explained to him that though she prayed and cried every night and day while she was in Frankfurt, that God had arranged it so much better than she could ever have done. Yes, though we often go through difficulties, we are learning to agree with the Apostle Paul to ‘give thanks in everything for this is the will of God in Christ.”
THE REST OF THE STORY
You may ask “Did Bryce ever read?” Yes, he did. Before turning 12 he read his first five books. They included The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkein, and Kidnapped and Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson. He is now a second year law student. And yes, we do own more than one car now. But now we have to face the problem (or curse) of too many activities to chose from. It is so easy to find ourselves moving busily from activity to activity in a whirlwind. Saying ‘No’ to good activities, allows time for The Best opportunities.
We must see difficulties as disguised blessings. “For I know the thoughts and plans, that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome” (Jeremiah 29:11). Of course, the final outcome is that we, and our children will “grow up in every way and in all things into Him Who is the Head, [even] Christ (the Messiah), the Anointed One] (Ephesians 4:15).
All Scripture references are from the Amplified Bible.