Yes, I have a ton I need to be doing. Proof of Progress and Notice of Intents are due to the school district; college applications, both for full-time and dual enrollment need to be done. I have mounds of paperwork from last school year to sort through and file, plus lesson plans for next school year to complete, print, and bind. Books are covering the office floor and the year's broken pencils and dwindling paper supply needs sorted and re-stocked. It's summer for a homeschooling Mom. But I am not the only one getting ready for a new academic year - so are public schools, private schools, youth programs, and children's programs. This has been on my heart and mind for several week, and I felt it was worth taking the time to put into words.
My heart is for homeschoolers. I in no way want to minimize the struggles faced by our public schooling families. They are very real, and also deserve our attention, but that isn't my area of experience. (I also think many of these ideas could be helpful for public school families.) Heading into our 17th year, I have homeschooled through a wide variety of situations, talked with a lot of different families, and seen and experienced both successes and failures. Too many of our churches are dealing with 21st century families with 1980's style support - and it isn't working. I think the #1 reason I hear of families stopping homeschooling is a lack of support. Mom is overwhelmed and/or doesn't know how to solve problems. Students want more experiences and opportunities than can be provided at home. Struggling learning. Special Needs. High school.
We all know education is important. We all know discipleship is important. Yet, too often when families hit burn out or blocks to providing the education they want for their children, the answer they are given by churches and the community is - "There is always public school". We all know that. But there are reasons we didn't choose that for our families to begin with. That isn't an answer - it is sometimes a way for churches and communities to keep from feeling guilty for not following through on the responsibility taken at baptism and church membership to support parents in raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So I want to give a list of some ways churches and church members can help their families - both little and big ways - and encourage both to prayerfully consider what you may need to do.
#1 - Support parents - Some people are saying "Well, of course" and others "We want to help the kids", but the best thing you can do for any child is to support their parents. When parents are burnt out, overwhelmed, stressed, and feeling lost, they cannot give children what they need. Talk to your parents and find out what they need. Here's a few questions you can ask parents:
- What are the biggest blocks for you to be educating and discipling your children the way you want to?
- How can we help you overcome those blocks?
With this, please be asking yourself some questions about your adult, children's, and youth ministries:
- Who is volunteering and why? Are your parents the ones teaching and running everything simply because if they don't, those opportunities for their children won't happen? Do they know they can step back if they need to, or want to, and those things will still happen? (I no longer volunteer for children's ministry. If I have to volunteer, my children do not attend. It is a mental health necessity for me.)
- Are you providing regular times of discipleship, rest, and refreshing for your parents? The "Leave it to Beaver" days are well over. Your homeschooling parent is with her children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Many are also working part-time and even full-time jobs, volunteering at Scouts, dealing with special needs, playing the roles of multiple teachers, guidance counselors, administrators, bus driver, school nurse, custodian, and curriculum supervisor, all while trying to keep up the normal "housewife" responsibilities. Many of the Dads are working long hours, and even multiple jobs, to support his family. There are single-parent families homeschooling, where the parent is doing the job of 2 parents plus entire school districts. THEY NEED TIME OFF. They need time to be discipled, to learn, to worship, and pray without interruption, to be able to rest, to simply breathe.
#2 Encourage church members to use their interests, hobbies, talents, and professions to help teach and support the children and youth in your church. It could be as simple as inviting children to work with the Grounds Committee in planning and planting gardens. Even better, instead of flowers in your church beds, put in vegetables that the children have grown from seeds under the supervision of your master gardeners. Have teens work alongside the adults in building projects and running sound and audio. Use as much of the work within a church as learning opportunities for your youth as you possibly can. Ask for your hobby automotive tinkerer to invite teens to help with oil changes and tune ups. Your physicist could be helping a teen study for AP exams. A plumber could walk a family through replacing pipes. Your special education teachers and social workers could be helping with resources, methods, and ideas. Your retired elder could be teaching theology and philosophy to a family or local co-op. Let them learn alongside their church family those things which parents may not be able to teach at home or those things they just need a little help with. You may have a mom who just needs help with laundry, or someone to read to the preschooler, or to rock a fussy baby, or run multiplication tables and memory verses, or bake the gluten free bread. You are investing in the next generation of Christ's hands and feet. The value of those relationships and skills cannot be underestimated.
#3 Build a library - This is so simple, yet could be a huge blessing to so many families. Most churches have a library already. Those that don't, should. Public libraries cannot always be relied on for material and, I am finding, they increasingly have less of the type of material I need. Stock your church library with not just theology and Christian books, but classics, biographies (especially of people of faith), homeschool encouragement and methods, and even curriculum. Remove those old copies of the Prayer of Jabez, or the fluffy stuff like "Best Life Now" and "Purpose Driven Life", and replace them with C.S. Lewis, Homer, Alcott, Whitman, and Augustine. One of the biggest needs for parents (with both time and money) is being able to get a hands-on look at material, and maybe even being able to try it out, before purchasing. A place where there is curriculum available to look at, check out, and try out would be an enormous blessing! For those who have the space, also include manipulatives, specialized art supplies, science supplies, etc... If you are really invested a laminator, binding machine, paper cutter, and other tools to make notebooks, worksheets, and projects.
#4 Develop a book depot - Along with a library, a stash of books any student can take as their own. This could be a great ministry to not just homeschool families, but public schooled students who cannot write in books, cannot bring them home, or are having to share. Encourage your church members to take advantage of clearance sales, bulk sales, thrift stores, or even their own dusty shelves, to provide a stock of literature students can take. Everything from Plato, to Narnia, to Peter Rabbit. School supplies are always appreciated too. Stock up both your public schooled kids backpacks and your homeschooled kids shelves with paper, crayons, markers, binders, etc...
#5 Open and offer your building during the week - Provide classrooms, kitchens, gyms, fellowship halls, nurseries, etc.. for art, playdates, PE, music lessons. One of the most frustrating experiences I had as a homeschooling Mom was trying to find a place for 4 families who wanted to work together to do science and art. Have you ever seen 20 kids gathered around a dining room table trying to watch a frog dissection? We simply needed space where we could make a mess and easily clean up - but our home churches (where we tithed, volunteered, and served) all said "No" while those rooms sat empty all day. One of the best experiences was our home church opening up its hallways for a high school physics assignment so we could measure force on a surface with little friction. Do you know how amazing it would be to have a church gym open in February to let kids run?! I know there are liability and budget issues which need to be considered, but find ways to work with those before shutting down the idea. You will find most homeschool families are more than happy to clean up after themselves, repair anything broken, or even provide volunteer hours in exchange for space.
#6 Know your state's homeschool laws and find what help is needed for compliance and limitations. Every state has different laws. A few are very unregulated, with little reporting, and full use of public school resources. Some have very heavy oversight, testing, portfolio reviews, and limited to no access to after school activities, special ed services, sports, or fine arts in the public schools. Those limitations are often things which force families back into public schools. I have seen homeschool bands with over 120 members, all volunteer run, with 3rd through 12 graders. I've seen homeschool footballs teams, soccer teams, science and math teams. But they require space and volunteers. (Maybe your church choir director would be willing to direct a homeschool choir? Or you have young adults willing to organize and coach a sports team?) I know families with special needs struggling to provide therapies and interventions - and often all they need is someone to show them what to do or financial help to provide private therapies and accommodations. Maybe you have qualified people who are willing to help with assessments - standardized testing and paid assessors can get expensive.
#7 Help families who want to homeschool, or a private school, but can't. This is a much bigger commitment, but part of our responsibility. It could be as simple as networking families to share education and childcare responsibilities. It could be setting up a fund for scholarships. It could be purposely employing parents and allowing children to be there working next to Mom or Dad. Maybe, you are being called to open a school for those who can't afford private school - even if it is simply one multi-age classroom.
What can you do? What can your church do? How could your business help? Its back to school season. How are you going to help your community go back to school?