Decisions for the New School Year

As another school year winds down, homeschooling moms begin to think ahead to the upcoming academic year. The new homeschool catalogs arrive in the mail, homeschool conventions are available, and decision time is upon us! Perhaps there are some lessons the Lord has taught me through sixteen years of homeschooling that I could share with you to help this time be more peaceful and more fruitful for you.

First, I had to learn the hard way to bathe all of my school plans and curriculum decisions in prayer. I can mull a school purchase over and over in my mind for weeks, not coming to any conclusion and gradually becoming more anxious simply because I cannot make a decision. I will think about the pros for the decision going one way and then the cons. However, it is balanced by the pros and cons associated with making the decision a different way.

I remember needing a different phonics program than I had been using because of the unique needs of a particular child. Each program I looked at had strengths and weaknesses. None seemed to offer exactly what I wanted. Rather than resting in the Lord and praying about the decision, I let it pressure me. I felt I had to make the decision simply to relieve my anxiety over it, while at the same time having no idea what to decide! This was not productive for my spirit toward my homeschooling nor toward my decision.

When prayer over school decisions is the basis of my thoughts, then I can have a peaceful heart as I wait for the Lord’s direction rather than forcing myself to make a choice simply to have it done. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

If I will follow the truth of Philippians 4:6-7 not to be anxious about anything but to present my requests to God, then I can set my thoughts about it aside. Usually, when I come back to the decision, I don’t have the same level of frustration over it. If you begin to feel yourself becoming tense, worried, or fearful about any of the decisions, stop thinking and begin praying.

Next, I have needed to learn to be content. Philippians 4:11 says, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” Here is what would happen to me during a school year. Things would be going well in our school, but I would hear about this new spelling program “everyone” just loved. I would see it advertised in the homeschool magazines and look at the program’s website. It sounded so perfect! Very quickly I found myself discontent with our spelling program and thinking about all of its weaknesses. In reality, I had invested time learning the spelling program we were using, and it was working. I had no leading from the Lord to change our spelling. All I had was a desire not to be left behind the rest of the homeschooling crowd.

If you have a curriculum that has been working for your family, don’t change it. You have invested time learning the material and are now experienced with it. This is such a time saver for you as a homeschool mom! Even if others are raving about what they are using, be grateful for the experience and success the Lord has given you with your curriculum. Unless the Lord is clearly directing you to something else, stick with what you already know.

I discovered I was a wise woman to seek my husband’s input. I try to type out information for Steve so that he can help me make upcoming school decisions. I include what has been problematic for us in the current school year. I write out the pros and cons of a new curriculum I am considering and how I believe it will impact our school. With this background, Steve is often able to help give needed direction on the decisions.

My schedule was another tool that was instrumental in helping me make curriculum decisions. When I had completed a school year where I could have comfortably devoted more time to school, I would expand and add more subjects or extras in. I could also consider a curriculum that was more teacher intensive. However, when I was completing a school year where I felt extremely busy with school and where we were barely accomplishing the essentials, I looked for ways to streamline my curriculum.

You, too, can use your schedule to help you with school choices for next year. If you are pushed for time this year, pray for curricula that will be less time intensive for you or the children. Please consider the importance of your curricula truly reflecting the available time you have. So often I see moms who are struggling with homeschooling because they don’t have time for it. They have not been willing to trade off a time-intensive curriculum for one that takes less teacher time in order to maintain their own peace of mind and the overall integrity of their homeschool.

Whatever challenges you are facing as you start your preparations for the next homeschool year, may you be realistic about what you can do and content with what the Lord has already provided. Step out boldly in a new direction the Lord is leading, but only if He is leading! Don’t think you have to follow the crowd. Perhaps you will be given the chance to honor your husband by following, without questioning, his suggestions. My prayer for you through the school decisions you are making as a homeschooling mom is that this becomes an enjoyable season for you. I encourage you to use each choice you must make as an opportunity to pray and then rest in the Lord.

(After this Corner was written, we wrote a book called Managers of Their Schools: A Practical Guide to Homeschooling. The book shares our experience gained from over 23 years of homeschooling, including what has worked for our family, homeschooling how-to’s, planning the school year, what curriculum we use, and how we manage homeschooling).

Preparing Sons Real Life Stories

I recently spoke with a homeschooled, eighteen-year-old young man of whom I think highly. Let’s call him Eric. He is friendly, respectful, and I have not observed him being silly like many others his age. Unfortunately, there is one disappointing aspect of his life—he has not been working toward acquiring the necessary vocational skills needed to earn a living once he graduates from high school.

What makes it worse is the golden opportunity Eric has had. Eric’s father is a computer programmer and would love to have his son learn programming. His father has also produced and sold a number of software products that require telephone customer service. In addition to learning programming, Eric could also have learned valuable customer support skills.

As Eric and I talked, I continued pressing to find out why he hadn’t been studying and learning programming. Finally, when he ran out of evasive, general answers, he blurted out the real answer—he wanted to continue trying to make a go of his graphic arts business. What this really meant was that he was too focused on the desires of his heart. He did not understand how God uses parents to lead and equip children. His desire to learn graphic design caused him to ignore his parents’ counsel. He was unable to look down the road a short distance, past his heart, to see how God might use programming to establish a vocational and financial foundation for him.

Eric is a man and needs to be working hard—especially considering the three or four years of vocational learning opportunities that have been lost. I explained to Eric how programming and graphic arts complement each other very well. At least this is what we have found in our business. Had he listened to his father, he could have learned programming during his final years of high school and been working full time, for a good wage, upon graduation.

The high school years are vitally important to young men as they prepare for their future. Homeschooled children have a wonderful opportunity that others lack: they are able to tailor their curriculum toward God’s future vocational leading.

As well as a strong focus on God, character, and academics, we have tried to maintain a concerted vocational emphasis for our children in their junior and high school years. Christopher, our second born, spent extra time learning accounting and computer-based design. Upon graduation he became the Chief Financial Officer of our fledgling company. It was wonderful because he was ready for some real challenge and we had a need for him to fill that role.

Now, four years later, he truly deserves the title. He does a superb job managing the financial side of the company as well as doing all the computer layout and design we need. His earnings are on par with his responsibilities. His goal of buying his first house debt free, like his twenty-four-year-old brother just did, is looking very feasible.

I hesitate in sharing some of these details because I don’t want to boast. However, I do want to encourage you. Homeschooling moms and dads are blessed to be able to prepare their children for life in ways that others can only dream of. Homeschoolers should never think of homeschooling just as a way to teach their children, but as a golden opportunity to ready each child for his future. Even though many public high school graduation speeches talk about the graduates being equipped for life, I know from my own experience that was not the case.

Is the ability to purchase a home debt free a good goal for sons? Think about what a burden rent and/or mortgage payments are. They pressure men to choose work in places where Christians should not be employed. I have also known men, under tremendous financial pressure due to their mortgage, who participated in unethical and illegal business dealings. Concern over loss of income should never hold a Christian to a job with which his Lord would not be pleased.

Now can you see why we have presented our children with this goal of a debt-free house? Many parents may see saving for a house as unrealistic because a mortgage payment has hounded them through their marriage. However, I would encourage you to ask the Lord if it might not be a worthy goal for your sons.

Teri and I would have loved to provide our children with homes according to Proverbs 19:14, “House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the LORD.” Unfortunately, we are nowhere near being able to do that. However, we can provide them with room and board for as long as it takes them to save up for their house. Even then it is our desire that they would continue to live with us until God provides them a spouse.

If a young man has prepared well during high school, he should fairly easily be able to earn thirty-five thousand dollars or more a year when he graduates. Start with a yearly income and then subtract tithes, offerings, and taxes. Then money must be put aside for transportation, insurance (medical and auto), and other incidental expenses. If your son is frugal he should be able to save 50 percent or slightly more of his income while living at home.

Within six years from high school graduation your twenty-four-year-old son will have saved one hundred thousand dollars, not counting any appreciable interest. I find that very exciting. If he earned less than thirty-five thousand a year, it just means he must save a little longer.

Depending upon the location, size, and age of the house your son will purchase, he might not even need one hundred thousand. There are so many possibilities and intriguing options, but nothing happens unless a son has a vision, and you help him prepare.

My sons have found that as they accumulate a significant amount of savings, the interest starts to really add up. This has given them a true appreciation for earning, rather than paying, interest. That is where the battle is won! When you are successful in motivating toward a goal, your sons will own that goal and work toward achieving it.

As Eric and I ended our conversation, I told him I was going to keep asking him, every time I saw him, until he began studying programming in earnest. I admit I was a bit pushy, but I felt God’s leading so strongly that I was very forthright when I might otherwise have been subtler.

Since our conversation I’m delighted to say that Eric has really begun applying himself to the study of programming. He is now able to see that his father’s leading was correct and how the skill of programming will benefit him.

I am anxious to see the day when Eric is bringing in a reasonable wage for his efforts. He is a serious enough young man that I don’t expect him to waste his money on frivolous things but to save toward a house. What an incredible benefit that will be to him as he begins his adult life.

We have known Troy for quite a while. He was homeschooled, and his first job was as a two-week temporary assistant to the most junior employee in the company. Troy was hired to move heavy archive boxes in the basement. Being his first real job, Troy was determined to do his best regardless of how menial the tasks. That doesn’t sound like an impressive start to a career, does it? However, it was amazing to see how God was working. While doing his work assignments, he did his best to learn the archiving system of the company. He also tried to perform each task quickly so he would be available to do other “little” things for his boss.

His temporary position was extended, and after a couple of months, he replaced his “boss” as archiving manager for the company. Throughout the next year or so, he completely redesigned the archive system from the bottom up. This included designing a new database and tracking system for more than 4,000 boxes of information.

Computers have always interested Troy, and he found himself helping various people in the company with small projects in his spare time. While not an expert in formulas and the financial aspects of spreadsheets, his desire to learn enabled him to create, fix, and modify spreadsheets. Thus he began to be used in the process of converting the company’s spreadsheets from Lotus 1-2-3 to Microsoft Excel. After a while he was doing spreadsheet and database consulting full time. He completely redesigned their largest financial spreadsheet (which was made up of seventeen inter-working spreadsheets) in a three-month-long development project.

Troy began working for minimum wage, and within two years his hourly rate had climbed to twenty-five dollars an hour. He has chosen to go on to college and has found it extremely easy to continue earning that amount doing contract work for another company near his school. Think about how easy it would be to remain debt free through college by working part time and summers for twenty-five dollars an hour.

My encouragement to you is that any homeschooling parent can have confidence that their son can provide a good income for his family with the proper preparation. This requires determination and hard work on your part and your sons’, but the results are well worth it, lasting a lifetime.

For more information on raising sons who can provide for a family, please see Preparing Sons to Provide for a Single-Income Family.