Self-Discipline for Mother: the Crux of Homeschool

My 7 children

Note: This article is intended for homeschool moms that have been at it a long time. I share these feelings with other veteran homeschoolers as a motivation to improve. New homeschoolers may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of doing homeschool at all, let alone improving what they are doing. This article is not meant to discourage anyone, but to inspire to higher ideals. If you are a beginning homeschooler, please skip this article for a few years!

When my first son, Daniel, moved out on his own, I found myself looking at homeschool and mothering with a new perspective. Although he was 19 years old, I was still getting around to the things I’d put on hold while I had babies, moved, planted my garden, endured chicken pox, etc. The music lessons, the family vacations, the trips to the museums, the mountain hikes, reading classic books together—somehow they all never happened like I’d hoped they would. (We did do a lot of them, to be sure.) Truly, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.

I don’t really have regrets because our relationship is very close and strong. Over his childhood years, we did do many good, positive things together. We talked, laughed, worked, confided in each other, discussed life and God’s laws, shared favorite scriptures we found with each other. Our hearts were knit together in love. There are skills that children learn in a close relationship that are priceless. No other experiences of life draw us nearer to heaven than those that exist between happy parents and children.

But as I watched him clean out his closets while he packed, I winced at the things I had hoped to teach him as he was growing up such as woodworking, first aid skills, writing succinctly without frustration, taking notes and studying effectively, and so much more. Basically, I wish I had given him every opportunity to learn and develop himself (every mother’s dream!) I wish I had a plan and had carried it out no matter what distractions developed in my life.

Homeschool is only as good as the mother’s ability to discipline herself. If you can’t get up, get dressed and be on time every morning for school to begin, you will likely find yourself with unruly children that can’t discipline themselves either. Getting dressed can be a problem! I want to do it right; meaning exercise, take a hot shower, dress nicely for the day, brush my hair and put on lipstick, straighten up my bathroom and bedroom, etc. Since the opportunity rarely avails itself, I find myself thinking that I will just attend to this spill, explain that math problem, or fix my girl’s hair while still in my nightgown, and then I will go get showered and dressed. Operating in that mode means occasionally I am still in my nightgown until noon. Arrgh! I have learned to just get dressed! I slip on a skirt and top and am done with it. Not a fashion statement, but at least I look together. It has a very positive effect on the homeschool for Mom to be dressed and start at the same time every morning. For one thing, she can expect the same from the children.

I know from sad experience that if homeschool does not start on time (whatever you deem to be the time, 8:30, 9:00 AM or whenever), it usually will get thrown off track by everything else (doorbell, phone calls, toddler’s messes, etc.) and not really get underway until 10:00 or 11:00 in spite of your good intentions. Children need a solid 3 hours a day if they are going to get a basic academic foundation. That’s not possible to manage if you don’t get started on time, dressed and ready to learn. That is one good thing about public school: children must be there dressed and on time! We could take a lesson.

I listened to my son Nathan at 16 years old, trying to substitute for a parent and teach devotional to the family one morning. Oh, it takes years to learn to teach well, to be patient with children, to know how to keep interest, to rely on your belief in God. Children need guidance! They need supervision and teaching and nurturing and love. Our responsibilities are great. Each parent must choose what is most important for their children to learn, but learn they must! It is our God-given duty to train and teach, and to prepare them to the best of our ability.

Mothers are still on the hook as far as disciplining ourselves, when it comes to the content of the studies. If every morning of homeschool is a scramble to assign something, you can bet you will feel disappointed when your children graduate into adults. There is barely enough time to teach them what they need to know if you have an organized plan!

The older my children grow, the more I feel opposed to the “unschooling” approach (in children are allowed to follow their interests freely, with no constraints). I wasted two years of our homeschool this way. Why? Freedom looks so appealing! It looks easy for Mom, especially if she is childbearing. There is no flack from the children because they are basically doing what they want all the time. (I don’t complain when I get my way either!) There is usually no accountability or stewardship, meaning neither Mom nor child has to feel guilty. The sad news is that while they are under your thumb, it seems to work okay. As soon as they get out in the world, they see their inadequacies and academic weakness in glaring clarity! A person doesn’t have as much influence in the world if he can’t speak, write, think and reason clearly. He doesn’t have much confidence if his peers are debating Plato while he is struggling to read!

If a mother is not able to discipline herself to plan out the education of her children, her children may be better off academically in a private school or another setting. Of course, education was not the issue when I took my children out of public school. They could probably get an adequate education there. I have other concerns about the public school system. But I do not want to hinder my children’s development in a helter-skelter homeschool either. I want to do better than that.

Children need to be accountable for their work, to be able to show what they’ve done and receive your approval or correction. This seems to be the hardest part of homeschool for me. I can start on time (usually), I can get the course of study planned ahead (usually), I can write up their assignments in their planners, I can even search out the best materials so that my children will enjoy learning and feel enthusiastic about it. But, when lunch time rolls around, thoughts of “checking up” seem to vanish. If you don’t follow up, children may not always finish their work, or work as hard as they should. Questions will go unanswered. Learning won’t seem as important as it really is. You will have succeeded in training them that it really doesn’t matter so much.

We all need the opportunity to give an accounting of our efforts. We are only “half-homeschooling” if we are not following through to make sure the job is done. I have tried several different approaches to motivate my children, and have them check off charts, to have a sense of completion. The school year can slide right into the next year without much progress if you don’t keep track and work diligently.

So as Daniel left home, I turned to consider how ready my other children will be as they start their own lives. I know mothers all say that the time flies by and the children are so soon gone—now I understand it! There is so little time to teach them. It takes self-discipline for Mom to create the plan and follow-through so they will be given every opportunity to develop. It seems they are just learning to read, and you feel you have forever. The next time you notice, they are 8 years old, reading fine, and eager to learn everything. Next glance, they are teenagers and a bit resistant. How you wish you had taught them more when they were eager 8-year-olds! Suddenly, they are grown and homeschool is over for that child. We have only 10-14 years to prepare them for life. It is a grave responsibility! I feel a deep resolve to sacrifice my time and discipline myself to give them the best education—spiritually, academically and socially. May the Lord bless all of us homeschool mothers to catch the vision of our important work!

Creating a Home School Library

I’m a book-a-holic and live in a regular-sized house, so books get tucked here, there and everywhere. Naturally, when one of my children asked a question about the bottom of the ocean, I wanted to show them that wonderful book with the great picture of the ocean floor . . . but where is that book? By the time I’ve dug through this shelf and the cabinet and this drawer, they’ve lost interest.

After hearing a wonderful church leader’s talk about having a library in his childhood home, I started looking at my homeschooling area with an eye for building a library. There is seldom any extra space, but I started looking at our rooms with the hope for a way to fit in some shelves that could serve as our library. I finally settled on an area and with some rearranging and ingenuity, we created a “sort of” book shelf. Actually, I was so over-eager that we stacked honey buckets from our food storage with old boards laid across until they were high enough to be dangerous. Although it could only accommodate a portion of our books, it gave me a taste of a homeschool library, and now I was hopeful for the real thing. Time to build a family library!

We began shopping for shelving units. I found that a finished oak shelf unit, 6 feet high and 4 feet wide cost anywhere from $180 to $300! That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. Besides, that space was way too small to accommodate my dream. After more shopping and comparing, we finally settled on buying 8 foot by 1 foot boards from a lumber store. These boards were composition board on the inside, but were coated with a white plastic laminate surface, and the edge of them was rounded smoothly. The cost for lumber for a built-in shelf unit that measured 8 feet long and was floor to ceiling was under $60. Most lumber stores will even make the cuts for you, reducing the labor even further. Generally the first few cuts are free, and any other cuts are 50¢ each. It may be worth it to save the time if you aren’t a handyman-type.

The unit wasn’t too hard to put together. Because the boards were already finished and did not require sanding, painting, etc.; the work was cut to a minimum. My husband Rick chose screws rather than nails, thinking it would make the unit sturdier. He also screwed it into the wall to make it safe.

Once you get your bookshelf area set up, have a “treasure hunt” with the kids by gathering all the books in the house. I weeded out as many books as I could (be ruthless). I could barely wait for it to be finished! I dragged boxes of books from every place I had stashed them for years and covered the floor with them. I pulled them from cupboards and cabinets and closets and desktops. Just when I had an enormous book heap on the family room floor, my in-laws arrived from out of state (naturally)!  . . . So much for making a good impression of homeschooling!

I decided to arrange my books in subject order. I took a length of masking tape and applied it to the shelf edge, writing the subject neatly in permanent marker on the tape. I ended up with: World History, American History, Geography, Science, Health, Math, English, Life Skills, Children’s storybooks, Readers, Art, Music and Educational Magazines.

Our “History” section begins with Ancient History books: nonfiction, textbooks, documents, literature and good fiction reading that is set in the time period of ancient history. Putting the good reading books in their historical setting makes them very handy to read along with history studies. My “History” shelves continue through Middle Ages, Modern Times, US Constitution and Government, and Freedom Documents along with wonderful children’s fiction set in the time period.

Then come the “Science” shelves, divided into the 4 fields of science: Biology (including Human Body and anatomy books), Physical Science, Chemistry and Earth Science. Nature magazines and DVDs go here too.

The “English” section begins with reference books, and includes books on how to write poetry as well as books of poems, spelling books, grammar books, my favorite Vocabulary Cartoons books, as well as collections of literature that cover many time periods (and thus cannot be put in the “History” section). I also have a section for great reading books not set in any historical period. Art books have a place, as do foreign language, and other subjects.

Keep a bottom shelf open for your library books. When the library books have a place that they “live” at your house, it is much easier to keep track of them. (Beats hunting for them under the couch.)

What is so marvelous about organizing your home library is that everything is so available and easy to find! I love it! Now when one of my children talks about volcanoes, it is a cinch to just cruise over to the “Science” section and see all the pertinent books just at my fingertips: easy-to-find and use!  And the children can easily access what they need as well. An unexpected result of organizing our family library, is that it helped me see at a glance which areas of our educational resources were lacking. I can see that I probably don’t need one more Art book, but we are seriously in need of Science books!

I began to wonder why I hadn’t organized in this way several years ago. Moving, and never having enough shelf space had hindered progress, but it makes such an enormous difference that it is well worth any effort to create your library! It also meant that I now had a “place” for every type of book to be put away. Educational magazines now belonged somewhere, rather than just on an end table or in a magazine rack.

Naturally, in the process of putting all those books on our library shelves, I encountered numerous books that I hadn’t been able to part with, but hadn’t really found all that delightful either. Setting them right up there next to their kin of the same subject made it easy to see that they were no longer useful. You only need a few USA geography books to do the trick. Any more just takes space and creates educational clutter. Choose the best one or two and sort the rest out. It takes discerning eye to glean out the extra stuff, but it gives your library punch. Only the best. Donate the rest.

I do save some old quaint books just because they are so old that they seem like they come from another era. One example is a Home Economics textbook I have from the 1940’s. It actually has chapters on what to do when a baby cries, how to iron a shirt, and how to make a bed! I also had to save those “Run, Dick, run!” readers that marked the ruination of phonics in America. I have used them to explain to mothers why their children can’t learn to read easily in the public school system. These old treasures don’t go on my shelves according to subject. They are really kept just because of their antiquity, in a spot of their own.

Once I got my library organized, I found that I didn’t need to make so many trips to the library. I also didn’t buy quite as many books. It made homeschooling so much easier. When we were doing an art project, it was so simple to just go to the shelf and look through a few art books to come up with lots of ideas.

You are probably way more organized than I am. But, if your books are stored helter-skelter here and there, maybe a library is just what you need.  Best success!