by Rebecca Kocsis

I changed curriculum three times during my first year. And it was okay! Let me explain.

The year we started homeschooling, I only had two months to prepare. By the end of my children’s last year in public school, I knew we needed to homeschool. The problem was, I had no idea how to go about it, and I had never met anyone who had actually done it.

Providentially, the Lord connected me with a group of new friends that summer, through an international exchange student program, who homeschooled! They, by and large, used traditional textbooks from a major Christian publisher. So that’s what I did. Much of our curriculum I used at the beginning of the first year was borrowed from them, though I did fill in the gaps with my own purchases. I loved seeing the stacks of nice new school books. The three-ring teachers’ binders were more than a little intimidating and expensive. No matter. We jumped into our first school day with great excitement and purpose.

It did not take me long to discover, only one day in fact, that duplicating a classroom experience in my home was not going to work. The classroom-oriented material was very inefficient when used in a family setting at the kitchen table. The three-ring binders were filled with instructions on how to manage the lessons in a classroom with multiple children. I found myself skipping over entire pages of instruction that simply could not be applied to a single child. 

Shortly after that I discovered a phonics program that would work for all three of my children. It seemed a little pricey at the time, about $100, but when you divided that by the number of kids and that it was intended to be used over a three year period, it was worth it. Since my second grader was not taught to decode, we essentially had to go back to the beginning with her. So there went the first round of language arts materials.

Later that year I learned about unit studies and came across a program based on character traits. That sounded so much like what I really wanted for my children’s education. I gave it a try, only to discover another unit study program a few weeks later based on the book of Genesis. Oh, decisions, decisions. What’s a mother to do? I bought that one, too! After spending a few months attempting one and then the other, it became apparent there was more prep required than I had time for. Long lists of books to request from the library and the never-ending supplies needed, it felt like I was always lacking something integral. I loved the concept, but I was never able to pull everything together in time to have some good lessons. Clearly, unit studies was not for me. 

It wasn’t until the spring of that first year, a friend invited me to see Susan Schaeffer Maculay in person, and I was introduced to the largely literature and nature study based approach espoused by Charlotte Mason. Sitting in that lecture hall, listening to her talk about her childhood experience learning from that approach, I truly had an epiphany. The method took into account our love of reading good books and learning about creation. There wasn’t too much prep involved and few expensive supplies. Implementing that approach worked for my family. We took off in that direction and did not look back. 

Over the years, our homeschool took different shapes and forms. The kids got older and the Lord added more children to our family. Though we would incorporate different methods and, yes, in the high school years even return to traditional textbooks, we would always be somewhat literature-based. 

I know many, many families who thrived using traditional textbooks. There were just as many who thrived using unit studies. I always admired them, because I would have loved to do that. Still, the Lord showed me what would work for us. That was what was best for my family. 

You might call that first year a loss—one simply of trial and error. I do not. The journey was necessary. Through it I discovered something about my children’s learning styles and my teaching style. I also learned my limitations. Starting homeschooling, I had such high hopes. I had expected I would have more time to do craft projects and bake. Silly me. As a homeschool parent, I had even less time! Ultimately, there was just as much value in knowing what wasn’t going to work for us and why as we moved into the next years as knowing what did work.

So why am I telling you my true confessions? Because someone reading this right now—some new homeschool mom or dad—is feeling like less than a hero because their school year did not go as planned. 

The curriculum you bought wasn’t as miraculous as you thought it would be. Or you thought you would have more time for crafts. Maybe yours, like mine, was fraught with a few false starts. Take heart. It’s okay. You are learning what works and what doesn’t for your family. That is invaluable. The journey is necessary to know how to take the next steps.    

Remember, we make decisions to the best of our knowledge, but God is the One directing our steps. Each twist and turn on the journey is important. Each lesson learned is valuable. Be encouraged. God is directing and establishing your homeschool whether it seems initially apparent or not.

“A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], But the LORD directs his steps and establishes them.” Proverbs 19:9 AMP