Back in the Saddle Again

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Western life serves as an allegory for homeschooling to me since I am a bit of a Louis L’Amour fan. My dad owns every book and the images of cowboys and pioneers taking on hard challenges are seared into my mind.  Adventurous and inspiring, these westerners left behind the familiar and comfortable in hopes of staking a new claim and making a better life for themselves and their families. Starting homeschooling is a little like heading west. We choose to be “beholden to no one” by disconnecting from the public educational sector. Only a few brave souls join us in our trek. We know it won’t be easy, but we expectantly hope for the glorious end of the trail. As we climb back into the homeschool saddle this year, it is good to remember some of the principles that helped our pioneer forefathers stay the course and finish the journey.

  • Pioneers have a different mindset.  We all walk with paradigms in our heads of what “education” looks like.  For me it was little desks, backpacks, and red marks on test papers.  But as pioneers we need to evaluate what we think a good education really entails.  Some things are worth taking on the journey but others are just extra dead weight we will need to discard when the trip gets rough.  Discerning this isn’t something that comes easily on the fly, it takes time to pray, ponder and plan.  Just as families coming west spent months or even years planning, you too need to set aside time thinking out your homeschool.   One of the wisest pieces of advice we received when we started our homeschool trail was to make a family vision statement.  When the road gets rough it reminds us why we are taking this journey. What is your vision for homeschooling?  What is your spouse’s?  Hang it over your kitchen sink as a daily reminder that you do have a plan and a goal.  This journey isn’t pointless it has purpose. Having good short and long term visions is like laying out your map and marking your intended trail.  Knowing where you aim to land and what you aim to accomplish ahead of time will guide your steps when the view gets dim and hazy.  Any good cowboy will tell you that you better “aim for something otherwise you’ll hit nothing.”

  • Get a good guide.  Pioneers knew that trailblazers had much to share to make their journey easier.  There is no need to fall into caverns and potholes someone can warn you away from.  There are shelves of good books written by true homeschool pioneers who have gone before you.  Read and learn.  Remember you don’t have to do this alone. Pioneer women hung together tightly on their journeys, forming communities based on needs and common interests rather than family and class status.  We homeschoolers need to lean into each other for help as well.  Plug into a support group of other pioneering folks who can give you some good tips. Lone rangers and stragglers rarely finish the trail. 

  • Schedule yourself for success.  Pioneers knew travel was easiest across the west during certain times of the year and times of the day.  They arranged their schedules accordingly.  They planned for the long term goal, slowing down and speeding up based on the needs of the group. For example, my husband is a tax accountant.  During tax season we get a lot of school done and plan to take breaks during the off season with dad around.  Pioneers lived by, “early to bed, early to rise” rule because that suited the life they lived.  What schedule suits your life?  Does daddy work swing shift?  Then your sleeping schedule will probably be different as you make extra time for him with the kids and start school later in the day than others.  You don’t have to have the same schedule as anyone else.  Do what works for your family.

  • Settle in slowly.  A fully functioning homestead isn’t made in a day.  Don’t expect a perfect homeschool to appear overnight either. You may discover that character needs to be formed or attitudes might need to be tweaked (yours or your students) before academic success takes place.  At the beginning of each school year we choose to introduce one or two subjects at a time over a series of weeks.  This gives us time to see what works and what doesn’t and make adjustments as needed. 

  • Use your resources wisely.  Clutter and chaos are contentment killers. We moms know very well if we deep clean a child’s room they will suddenly be found playing in it non stop. Clean surfaces and tidy workspaces encourage and invite children to spend time there. Homeschooling is impossible if you can’t find your “tools”.  Set up a teacher station, or book shelf where you habitually put your resources so you will not be scrambling to find missing materials. Bring the whole family onboard to do “chores” that help your homestead function properly. Pioneer families worked together to get everything accomplished. Moms can’t do it all, spread out the work!   

  • Expect the unexpected.  Indians and cholera were something the pioneers knew might be coming but it was always unexpected.  In-laws and colds may come and mess up your great schedules that you have in place but don’t give up!  Knowing the unexpected can happen makes it easier to deal with when they come.  Tell yourself that sidetracks are just that, small deviations on your journey that you will overcome and move beyond.  May this year be filled with adventure and happy trails.