5 Homeschooling Truths
(written by Tresta Neil in 2016 for a friends book on homeschooling)
“I think we should homeschool our children.” These are the words I heard my husband say after our fourth child was born.
When I returned home early from my mission to the Netherlands I was told that I would not be able to have children. Thom and I began our marriage prepared to live our lives without children. After several miscarriages, our first child was born. We named him Izaak, the Dutch name for happy, because we were happy for an actual birth. Eleven months later (you can get pregnant while nursing) came our second. Twenty months later came number three. I was beginning to panic. I was still working as a nurse at night and while Thom worked during the day I tried to watch my boys and sleep. I would often wake up to torn up books, painted the couch, mice chasing or egg throwing. My fourth and first girl came twenty-two months later and I began to seriously wonder if motherhood was as wonderful as everyone had said it would be. Honestly, there were many days I wanted out, four children in diapers and too tired to clean or cook, let alone read or visit with friends. Now Thom thinks we should homeschool! Forget it!
Besides all the children and work drama, how could I, who was in remedial reading throughout school and barely graduated high school with a low GPA, teach my children? Plus, what would they do for friends and social life? “Isn’t that what school was all about?” I thought. “Nope, I was NOT going to homeschool my children and have them miss out!”
To appease my husband, I traveled to Utah to attend a homeschool conference where Thomas Jefferson Education was introduced. It seemed to be the best method for many families. Yet, my heart resonated with The Noah Plan created by the Foundation for American Christian Education (F.A.C.E.). The presenter talked about teaching principles, centering all learning on Christ, and the creation of notebooks that become individual textbooks.
This idea stirred up many emotions and questions. “Could all education be centered on Christ, even math?” “Could learning be individual?”
I recalled all the times during school I would be interested in going deeper into a subject and was stopped because it didn’t fit into the curriculum or we had to move on because of time. “Could homeschooling be different?” My professor at college taught me how anatomy and physiology with the knowledge of the restored gospel came alive. “Could my children learn all subjects that way throughout their life?” My reason for serving a mission was to be a great mother who effectively use scriptures in teaching and disciplining my children. Homeschooling could be the vehicle to assist me in achieving that desire. “Oh, Tresta,” I thought, “you’re going to be a homeschooler . . . well, Thom’s going to be happy . . . HELP!”
God was kind and sent me a mentor, LuJean Livingston. She had found The Noah Plan in a hotel drawer while on vacation, she felt it was the answer for Latter-day Saints and began sharing it with everyone including American Heritage School. We would meet together once a month. She opened up the scriptures and showed me how every subject was found in the scriptures. She taught me how to find principles in books, the difference between doctrines and principles, and how my children could come up with their own applications. Her guidance became my life line and the beginning of a wonderful education and experience for my children and for me.
Throughout the twenty plus years of homeschooling I have learned many truths and dispelled many myths. Here are my top five truths:
1. Parents are the best teachers for their children no matter their “schooling”
Throughout High School I believed the lies of my teachers and classmates that I was not smart. After graduating from college, I continued to believe it. In fact, I feared conversations because I might reveal my stupidity. As I learned alongside my children, making my own notebooks and sharing ahas with them, I began to gain confidence in my intelligence and communication. Our love for each other grew stronger every day and nothing can replace the feeling of watching them learn and receive revelation for their own lives.
2. Life’s Challenges are the Lesson
Life is full of challenges and trials from which we get to learn. Our challenges included personality clashes to the point of arguments and everyone complaining at the same time. We started out homeschooling so poor that we used the back side of discarded real estate fliers from Thom’s work for our notebooks. Our seventh child was in and out of the hospital for four years with liver transplant complications and internal bleeding. Two of our sons were in different hospitals at the same time, one with RSV and the other with liver rejection. We have worked through five home births, the loss of our home and other dreams, living in a two- bedroom basement apartment with eight children and major learning disabilities.
Our latest challenge is having Thom at home while he recovers from a virus that attacked his heart leaving it functioning at 25%. Life’s challenges are our homeschool/life lessons, they teach us how to solve real life problems, how to work together and find peace in the storms.
3. Success can be Found in Daily Routines
My son who had a stroke had many physical and learning disabilities. He took a lot longer to learn things than any of my other children. For example, we had to teach him to climb a ladder by doing it with him a few times every day and at first, physically moving him through the process, then talking him through it. Finally, we had him talk himself through it until he was able to do it without thinking about it. This is how he is currently learning to read. When he reviews the sounds of the letters daily he continues to make progress and can read words, but if he skips one day his progress stops and he has to begin again.
Homeschooling is like this, it is successful when we study daily. Consistent learning yields a great education.
4. Creativity Inspires Connection
When we struggled with getting along the learning never happened. One day I was frustrated because no one was listening to the lesson, so I sent them outside to the backyard. I soon joined them and ended up playing in the leaves, creating forts and laughing together. I took a picture of the children in the leaves and put it up on my wall. Weeks later a friend admired the photo and I said, “That was a horrible day!” She said, “I’d love to be a part of your horrible days.” She was right, we had made something beautiful out of a rough day and we returned and completed our assignments happily. When mental learning is not happening, doing something creative inspires connection and prepares the mind.
5. Recording Creates Lasting Memories
Creating notebooks has been the single most joyful thing we have done in our homeschooling experience. These notebooks have become a source of memories, of recalling lessons and for teaching and mentoring others. My son asked for his English reference notebook while on his mission so that it could help him learn other languages. Record keeping is fun and the pages become personal textbooks and books of remembrance for each of us.
I wish I had known these principles when I started.
Ten years into homeschooling, I was a happy mother of seven with a hard decision, “Should I put my children in public school?”
My seventh child was born without a bile duct (biliary atresia). He underwent an unsuccessful surgery, was placed on the liver transplant list and continued to get worse. Our “new normal” would be in and out of the hospital therefore I would not be available much. Homeschool had become our way of life, our daily routine and our passion! After a family meeting, three of our children chose to go to public school. After a successful transplant everyone returned home to learn together.
I aspire to teach my children using a system: 1) remember who they are, 2) receive and record personal revelation, 3) relate and act on their knowledge, 4) recognize principles, 5) retain by sharing with others and 6) rejoice in new wisdom and begin again with the new situation.
The wonderful thing about homeschooling is watching my children learn something new and experiencing their ahas first hand. The best thing is watching them confidently make inspired decisions, apply their knowledge wisely and lovingly teach each other.
Homeschooling is an accelerated way to learn patience, tolerance, and true connection. I chose the vehicle of homeschooling to help me develop these virtues. You can too. Christ qualifies those that have the desire. If you have been thinking about it then jump in. You will be lead to your mentors, just as I was. And one day you’ll have your child say to you, as my daughter said to me, “Mom, you are my best mentor.”