I always go into summer thinking that I’ll use the time to clean and organize the whole house, make a perfect plan for the next school year – which will solve all our logistics issues and make it so much better – and probably lose ten pounds while I’m at it.

But it turns out summer is still full of real life with meals and naps and laundry and meltdowns. It’s one thing to make plans on paper for overhauling everything and it’s quite another to follow those plans when the day itself unfurls.

It’s good to have dreams.

Dreams give us direction and motivation.

But dreams aren’t standards by which we judge today. They’re compasses pointing the direction for the next step.

So on the one hand we need the dreams to propel us forward into the next steps we should take. We need the dreams to shake our apathy.

On the other hand we need a good, hard reality check so that our expectations stay in line, realistic and not idealistic. I am all for having ideals, but when our expectations are idealistic we’re going to feel like failures all the time.

Having ideals means having dreams, knowing where you’re going, knowing the direction you need to move to improve. And we can always, always improve.

Having idealistic expectations, though, means expecting your ideals to actually happen, to come to pass, to be check-off-able, achievable, doable. But by definition, ideals, achievable.

Keep your ideals. Keep your dreams. Know where you want to go.

But also. Keep your expectations realistic.

The problem about planning and dreaming about the wonder-filled homeschool, the teaching-from-rest homeschool, the wild-and-free-yet-also-disciplined-and-productive homeschool, is that we homeschool – we mother – in the messy middle – where we need to work hard for it, but we don’t actually get the payoff.

We think the payoff of focusing on all the right things is that our homeschools will be delightful, enjoyable, every day. And every day that our homeschools are NOT delightful or enjoyable, we think that means we’re doing something wrong.

Life is changing all the time. It’s hard to keep up. And it changes. It’s a different kind of hard every season.

So I want to walk through those stages of homeschooling and just see how to calibrate our expectations with reality even while we stay in touch with our dreams, with our ideals.

Eating my words

In fact, when I was 12, I wrote a list – a literal, real, written down list – of all the things I would not do when I was a mom.

I would never yell.

I would never make rules for the oldest children that didn’t apply to the younger kids.

I would never keep a secret M&M stash that I kept to myself without sharing.

I would never make my children eat oatmeal.

I would never use Saxon math.

Yeah. So. My mom found my list, even though I thought it was safely tucked away for my own future reference.

I was too big to spank, so what would she do?

It was weird.

She laughed.

A lot.

Oh yeah, I think another item on that list was that I would never laugh at my children when they were serious.

I bet you can guess what she said next: “Oh, honey, I can’t wait until you’re the mom, either.”

She knew: The joke was on me.

Now, there is one resolution on my list that I did keep – and if my oldest were he here would inform you that it’s not that I’m just as strict with the youngest children as I was with the oldest. And my middle child will inform you with sorrow that I do in fact make my kids eat oatmeal. My waistline reminds me that I do keep a personal chocolate stash.

No. This resolution have I kept: I have never even opened a Saxon math book. Sometimes I still get a chill down my spine if I even see one at a distance with its thick spine and bright cover “art.”

If you use Saxon and it’s working for you, more power to you. I’m just saying, yes, homeschooled kids might have weird baggage like abhorring perfectly legitimate math curricula, and we can still manage.

As we walk through the different stages of parenting, the different stages our kids go through, I am not really sharing my wisdom, but the wisdom I received and appreciated most through my own journey as I hit each new stage with wide-eyed wonder.

Not like childlike wide-eyed wonder, but more like wild-wide-eyes, crazy-eyes, “I wonder what I should do now” wonder.

Homeschooling well – even CM homeschooling – doesn’t mean walking easy street where everyone is composing poetry and quietly watercoloring every flower in our yard while we read our big stack of books. I mean, that does sound wonderFUL, but if that’s the dream, we have to remember that the dream is different from the reality.

So let’s go through those stages of homeschooling and just see how to calibrate our expectations with reality even while we stay in touch with our dreams, with our ideals. We can do this God helping us.

We start with preschool

We can all homeschool preschool, right? Preschool is fun. Preschool doesn’t actually take any curriculum, just board books and alphabet books and conversation and patience. And patience.

I remember when my oldest was 3 or 4 and I was chomping at the bit to homeschool. All the older homeschool moms I stalked – online and in real life – pretty much told me to take a chill pill, that preschool was no big deal.

What they meant was that preschool doesn’t need curriculum objectives. Just like some kids learn to walk at 9 months and others at 19 months doesn’t mean the early walkers have any advantage over the late walkers. Same with potty training, right. Whether you do the whole parent-training method without any diapers or wait until they’re three-and-a-half, by age 7 or 8 there’s no difference between them in ability.

Same with preschool. An early or intense preschool or kindergarten program doesn’t actually make a developmental or educational difference long-term.

But that does NOT mean these years don’t matter. It does not mean that you’re just biding your time until you can get to the good stuff.

The preschool and kindergarten years are actually pivotal. But it’s not alphabet blocks or phonics or cute bear counters that make the difference.

Because although they will most likely pick up the names of shapes and colors as a normal part of learning language, what they WON’T pick up like their mother tongue is self-control and obedience.

THAT takes a lot of work to teach. It takes intention and time. Teaching self-control and obedience will never happen by accident.

So the real curriculum for the preschool years is obedience and self-control, because without those skills they can’t ever get to wisdom or worship. Worship is obedience to God. Wisdom is self-discipline, obedience to truth. God tells children to obey their parents as practice for obeying him and his word directly.

The work you’re doing in preschool is groundwork. It’s foundational. You don’t need checklists or curriculum, but you do need dedication and perseverance because the important work doesn’t look like much yet. But it will bear fruit in time.

Let's walk through the stages of homeschooling and see how to calibrate our expectations with reality even while we stay in touch with our dreams, with our ideals.

Homeschooling the elementary stage

You’ll get some tastes of fruit in the elementary years, but it is not the harvest. The wonder ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes, in the elementary years. The elementary years are where you can really capitalize on the wonder. Or, at least, where curriculum companies can capitalize on making learning fun.

The elementary years are when you can do butterfly kits and nature walks and it all counts as science. Yeah, actually, we didn’t do butterfly kits either.

But we did lots and lots of books, lots of time outside, free unorganized craft time that made more mess than finished products, dinner helper – and all of that was outside of “school time” yet equally as formative, as educational.

Living a full, interested and interesting life produces wonder – not full as in scheduled and organized and micromanaged to the minute, but full as in full of time spent engaged in the real world in a variety of ways.

The elementary years aren’t for wonder only, though. We also need to be planting the seeds of wisdom that will sprout and blossom later in their life.

What are those seeds? The Proverbs. We need to be reading the book of Proverbs on repeat with our kids. The book of Proverbs is a collection of things mothers repeated to their sons. So should we. When the book of Proverbs is in our vocabulary, we can apply it in conversation.

It truly is a wonder we can bring up our children at all. Parenting and educating children requires wisdom. Wisdom applied. And the whole point is Worship. We worship the God who accepts our meager efforts and multiplies them into glory for His name.

Homeschooling Jr. High

Junior High, middle school, 12-year-olds, whatever you want to call it. Not the wonder years. It’s the puberty years. At times it seems like the payoff, the harvest is close we think. Then we panic because we’re not seeing anything like the harvest we were working for. Don’t worry, this isn’t it yet.

Especially the boys, but even the girls at this stage are like the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Creeping along, slowly. Always very hungry. Then so tired. Of course, the book leaves out the whole liquified in a cocoon step of the process and next we see a beautiful butterfly.

Middle schoolers are like that – just no beautiful butterfly quite yet. Lots of brain liquefaction, though. As moms, we tend to look at the big fat caterpillar stage, the lumbering stupefied caterpillar, and compare it to the cute little caterpillar that was enamored with anything we offer to feed it.

We don’t know what to do with the caterpillar who is so tired and not hungry at all. The child is not what he has been.

Some of us do all we can to rewind and go back in time to get our wonder-filled days back again. Some of us do all we can to fast forward this creepy thing into a beautiful butterfly already.

But the “logic stage” thrashing about for opinions and reasons and logic and independence is them trying to figure out how to become a grown up, and if we try to hold them back from growing up we’re on the wrong side of the plan.

It is good and healthy to emerge from their parents’ wings so they can test their own. We can make that emerging more difficult, but it’s our wings that will be damaged. They will get free. We cannot and should not keep them children forever.

This is not the butterfly stage. Don’t panic that you turned out a moth instead of a butterfly. This isn’t the payoff season. This isn’t time to harvest the fruit. This isn’t the end. This stage isn’t a reflection on how well you’re doing – it’s the next level of work, of investment.

The fruit of this season is increased worship on our end because it requires us to be dependent on God alone and not our own efforts. It becomes clear it isn’t our work.

And our worship isn’t going to cover for theirs, either. They have to do it themselves. God is patient. So should we be.

Upper High School and Beyond

As our older teens get established in interests and jobs, they begin making learning their own pursuit and you don’t have to light the fire under them – well, not to the same temperature anyway. Just keep a few hot coals under them, but you don’t have to chase them with a torch anymore.

Self-motivation develops at different ages with different kids, but it happens like potty training happens – it’s normal and natural, but it never happens all by itself without any parental instruction and guidance.

It’s hard as mom during this stage to know where you’re at. You know how young they actually are and how much they don’t know. They don’t know how much they don’t know. They’re pretty sure they know all they need to. But honestly, big kids are awesome and there is a small level of payoff after the turbulent twelve-year-old years.

But 16, 17, 18 are not the payoff years. They are the baton-passing years. You as the parent give over the baton into their own hands and, ultimately, into God’s hand. You move out of the driver’s seat into the back seat and, somewhere in there, you get out of the car entirely.

We sometimes want responsibility to come the other way around. We want them to prove they’re capable before we let them practice. We want them to know how to drive well before we let them behind a wheel. But it just doesn’t work that way.

Accepting responsibility, being given responsibility, increases both our teens capacity for responsibility and their ability and their hunger for it. We should be looking for ways to give our teens levels of responsibility that challenge them, that call them to step up to the plate and stand or fall by their own effort.

It’s not that they’ll never fail or fall, but it’s only by experience that they actually get responsibility. Recovering from the failures and falls are an essential part of learning responsibility.

Letting our kids go

Growing responsibility will take them more and more out of our house, out of our jurisdiction. When we have little kids, our kingdom as mothers is on the increase. We multiply in God’s kingdom by addition. Our flocks and herds are increased and it’s a challenge, but a huge blessing and joy.

The mother who has spent one or even two decades glorying in her increasing and growing family sometimes hits a brick wall.

When we have teens and young adults, our own little home-kingdom decreases so that Christ’s increases. Yes, our kingdom work for so long was focused on keeping everyone home and healthy and engaged, but that’s not where our kingdom work camps out forever.

Our kingdom work doesn’t and isn’t supposed to stay in our single family group. Our kingdom work isn’t about establishing a single outpost of our own. We keep babies in our wombs, safe and nurtured for 9 months, then they’re birthed. They’re out. We keep them in our homes, safe and nurtured for 17, 19, 20 years or so and then they’re birthed again – out into the world as fledgling new households of their own.

We aren’t working at creating the perfect family in our own home. We aren’t working at creating the best homeschool. Our home school, our personal family isn’t the end goal. It’s only a stepping stone.

Scripture calls our children arrows in the hands of a mighty man. The mighty man who shoots the arrows is not their earthly father, but their Heavenly Father. They aren’t our arrows and we aren’t fletching them and sharpening them and preparing them to sit in the quiver looking nice, like a complete set, all sparkly. Our children are not our arrows and our children are given to us that they might leave us, armed and ready.

The wonder is that our own family isn’t the point. We put all that work into enriching our family culture and maintaining fellowship with so many individuals living together. But we build it up to let it go. We build it up that our children might build on top of us – even when that feels like a crushing weight messing up our own castles we had built.

So laugh when your boys use fallacies to tell you you’re illogical. Laugh when your girls make lists about everything you do wrong. Laugh at the days to come, because God – not you – is the one at work in their lives and ours. And He is so much more patient with His children than we are.

The payoff of homeschooling

The payoff of homeschooling well isn’t finally figuring it out so our days are peaceful all the time.

The payoff of homeschooling faithfully isn’t so our kids stay ours. The payoff, the harvest, isn’t finally achieving a school day where no one cries.

The payoff of homeschooling, the payoff of motherhood, is our own sanctification along the way. The payoff is that WE learn to wonder and worship. We get wisdom as we do the good work God has called us to at every stage of life.

God gives us the work. We do it in faith and reliance on Him. The results are His. What God does with all the work we’ve done all these years, from preschool to elementary, through puberty to launching those arrows out into the world is His business, and He who has begun a good work will bring it to completion.

We trust him to work in our children’s lives just as He has worked and is working in ours.

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3 Comments

  1. “The pay off is that WE learn to wonder and worship”

    This is a great perspective, and I have found it to be true in my own life.

  2. You’ve written many a wise thing, Mystie. And I’m so thankful you are just a step or two ahead of me in these stages so I can learn from your wisdom. I must say that this is the best article I have read from you thus far. It sounds like a culmination of the work you have put in/been putting in to your homeschooling and raising your arrows. It really reminds me where my focus needs to be and exposes the things I have been worrying about and fretting over that really don’t matter. Thank you so much for being willing to share all this with us, for being open to what you’ve learned, and reminding us about this sanctifying work of motherhood/homeschooling. 👏🏻

  3. Thank you so much for this article, I was panicking that I had birthed a moth, but clearly with a 13 year old and an 11 1/2 year old we are in the liquefaction stage…thank you for the advice not to try and go backwards, neither to try to push forwards. Worship, indeed!!! Needed this today, thank you.

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