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The Quest for the Perfect Homeschool

By Rhonda Barfield
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #98, 2011.

A Quixotic quest at best

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Rhonda Barfield

Imagine a Monday morning at 6:30 a.m. Your four children are wide awake, washed, dressed, and breakfasted. They sit at the kitchen table with sharpened pencils and open textbooks while you, the perfect mom and homeschool teacher, finish peeling potatoes to complement a beef roast in the crock pot. “Let’s start the day with math tests,” you announce in cheery tones. Everyone smiles and claps.

We’ve all fantasized scenes like this, at least for a moment. Then reality sets in. We soon return to scattered toys and clutter, a mound of dirty laundry, grumpy toddlers, ADHD boys, and hormonal teens.

Our lives are far from ideal, but surely somewhere, there must be home educators who accomplish every goal with effortless ease. Aren’t there?

No. There are no homeschool Mary Poppins.

Granted, some homeschool parents make it look easy, due to years of experience (and lots of mistakes along the way!). Most of us move closer to the ideal through trial and error, step by step, learning as we go.

But I have never discovered a homeschool every one of us can copy. I promise, neither will you.

That’s partly because no curriculum is the best fit for all of us at once. A friend of mine sells books at homeschool fairs, and often desperate mothers ask her advice on buying the “right” one. It’s hard for these women to believe there is no one-size-fits-everyone-best set of books, DVDs, or online courses.

When first beginning to homeschool, I appreciated my friend’s wise advice to make a choice—any choice—to start using a book, then adjust as needed. This works!

In contrast, a homeschool grad I know, Bryan, says he wishes his well-meaning mother had settled on one high-school curriculum, rather than jumping from program to program. In response, his mom, Kathy, explained she kept looking for the perfect one. She finally realized it didn’t exist.

Like Kathy, I’ve also learned there is no ideal method of teaching. Many families I know started out “rigid” and “school-like,” as they describe themselves. Through the years they relaxed. Those using textbook courses, for example, often supplemented with other books and activities. They sometimes took a break from the program to study their children’s areas of interest.

Others found they needed more structure as their children grew. My friend Susie began with an eclectic, casual approach to homeschooling, but told me she “completely switched gears and started using Calvert, a big change but a major relief.” Her three kids “had no trouble at all switching from a very loose approach to a complete curriculum.” At least, for now. Likely she’ll have to make adjustments in the future.

All of us find it necessary to make constant accommodations because everyone’s family is different. Some of them probably get up earlier than ours. Some may actually have dinner started by 9 A.M. Some kids love math and get excited about acing an upcoming test. This doesn’t mean those families are better than ours. We only think they are, sometimes, because we don’t have the chance to observe all the intimate details of their daily lives.

A few years ago I got a Christmas letter from my friend Fran, a homeschool mother of five, who now lives in Alabama. I read about her family’s involvement in Scouts, substitute teaching, babysitting, church events, camping, backpacking, canoeing, and rigorous homeschooling. As I finished reading I wondered how she managed to supervise all this activity. It made me envious.

I mailed our own family’s letter to Fran, and was surprised when she replied, “I get dizzy reading all you’ve done.”

Ironically, we both looked over the fence and thought the other’s lifestyle superior to our own.

So you see, even experienced homeschoolers can get caught up in this silliness. Let’s stop chasing the illusion of the perfect curricula and the perfect teaching method. Just start somewhere, and keep adjusting till it’s perfect—for you!


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