A Parent’s Homeschool Journey

“All the same, I should like it all plain and clear,” said [Bilbo] obstinately, putting on his business manner (usually reserved for people who tried to borrow money off him), and doing his best to appear wise and prudent and professional and live up to Gandalf’s recommendation. “Also I should like to know about risks, out-of-pocket expenses, time required and remuneration, and so forth”—by which he meant: “What am I going to get out of it? and am I going to come back alive?”

Bilbo Baggins, from The Hobbit

That’s how I felt when I began my homeschool journey. I wanted some up-front guarantees too. I had my list of things that I was rather adamant that I needed, never mind the list of things I didn’t know that I was going to need. So with my list of things that I thought I needed and a list of things that I didn’t know I needed, the journey began. Our family set out to homeschool using this thing called a classical, Christian model.

Where does one begin? In my case, I was able to begin when mine were littlest and youngest. We resembled hobbits in feature and stature. My three children were seven, five, and four. Their outer stature, small and unimpressive; my inner stature, small and unimpressive. I resolved: I will learn with my children. As they grow, I will grow. I will journey with them.

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”

James 4:10

Establishing a Firm Foundation

I needed a firm foundation from whence to begin, so it seemed most fitting to tutor Foundations and learn alongside my children. We drilled memory work together each week. We grew in the scientific method, walking young minds through science experiments. We learned the tin whistle and with it a little about scales, rhythm, notes, and some foundational language of music theory. We listened to masterpieces of music. We beheld masterpieces of art, and the students and I enjoyed imitating their techniques.

Yes, I tutored all of these endeavors, which required me to humble myself and learn with the least of these and to become like them. I was learning geography, history, Latin endings, and more about the structure of my own language.

And perhaps most beautiful of all (and rather by accident), because I was engaged in all of these domains of knowledge with my children, I was beginning to see incredible order and purpose, which created wonder and excitement in our learning. The memory work recitations provided a welcome mat to a broader and more integrated view of knowledge and learning. My children were growing and learning, and so was I, and so was our wonder.

“You’ll have to manage without pocket handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, Bilbo Baggins, before we reach our journey’s end.”

Gandalf, from The Hobbit

Gathering a Few Essentials

Next, since I needed a few essentials if I hoped to educate my children through high school, it seemed fitting to tutor Essentials and learn alongside my children.

We learned more about the structure and style of writing, and we learned how to take apart sentences and think on words, phrases, clauses, and their roles and relationships to the whole sentence. We learned about declarative, imperative, interrogative, and exclamatory sentences and their purposes. We drilled the addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills that would be essential to success in higher math.

But perhaps the greatest lesson I learned out of Essentials was the importance of asking good questions. So these essentials moved me from the welcome mat, through the doorway, and into the foyer of learning. Knowledge was giving birth to understanding. Our wonder and joy in learning continued to grow.

Welcoming a Challenge

Finally, I was facing homeschooling a child in high school. This was the season of schooling with the most fears, fears that almost kept me from starting and, at times, continuing on the journey. But I was a different person than when I began my homeschool journey so many years ago. A transformation had taken place. And I had a new question, one that I had not foreseen at the beginning of the journey. High school would surely be a challenge. But now my question was: so why not tutor the Challenge program?

Armed with a working timeline and map in my memory, memory work from every domain of science, experiments, a little music theory, exposure to artists and composers, language structure, memorized Latin endings, writing structure and style, sentence parsing, arithmetic facts, and good questions, I was ready to have more conversations—good conversations—and so were my kids!

Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom had been moving us from the welcome mat through the doorway, through the foyer, and into the living room, soon entirely transforming our living room. Our home is now filled with good conversations and thoughtful dialogues about the true, noble, good (Philippians 4:8), how to consider and love others (Philippians 2), and how to love the Lord (Matthew 22:37). These conversations manifest themselves as we cook, work, and wash; read, write, and measure; and sit, walk, and stand.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”

James 1:5

Starting Your Own Homeschool Journey?

Many of the things I thought I needed at the beginning of my homeschool journey proved not to be so necessary. Some concerns ended up being provided for in ways I could not have foreseen. And there were still other things that I had no idea I would need. All of these, like the manna in Scripture and the train ticket to Corrie ten Boom, were provided just when they were needed, and not a moment before.

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

Ephesians 3:20–21

Are you new to the homeschool journey? Do you have young children? Then begin. Enter in. Some of the best preparation you have for your most pressing questions about high school is hidden in learning, growing, and maybe even tutoring a community, as you walk alongside your children.

Click here to learn more about how Classical Conversations® can help you homeschool by providing community, curriculum, and hands-on training.


This post was adapted from the original article “Beginning to Homeschool” by Heather Shirley, a homeschool mom, Challenge Director, and Chief Academic Advisor of Classical Conversations.

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