Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Approaching Homeschooling: Advice from the Little Blue Engine

May 29, 2007

This is the time of year when we often see questions like, “What is your best advice for new homeschoolers?” appearing on blogs and discussion boards. At Duncan's kindergarten graduation this year, the parents all presented our graduates with a copy of the book I Knew You Could by Craig Dorfman. Subtitled “A Book for All the Stops in Your Life,” this book features The Little Engine That Could from that perennial classic. Of course Duncan begged me to read the book to him the next morning, and as I did, I was struck by how the excellent advice that The Engine gives, meant to inspire graduates of all ages a la Dr. Suess’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go, is perfect for new homeschoolers.

“First of all, you must find your own track,
so you can start right away and not be held back.
But which track is yours? Well, that all depends
On which way it’s going and where it might end.
Different tracks wind around,
Over, under, and through,
So pick out the one
That works best for you.
Though the track you start out on
Will feel like ‘the one,’
You might take a few more before you are done…”

Homeschooling translation: There’s no one right way to homeschool. Find what works best for your family, but don’t be afraid the change “tracks” (i.e., curriculum, approaches, etc.) if something just isn’t working.

“You’ll go through tunnels, surrounded by dark,
And you’ll wish for a light or even a spark.
You might be scared or a little bit sad,
Wondering if maybe your track has gone bad.
So here’s some advice to help ease your doubt:
The track you took in must also go out.
So steady yourself and just keep on going—
Before you know it, some light will be showing.
And then you’ll be out, heading to a new place.
You’ll be ready for the next tunnel you face.”

Homeschooling translation: Homeschooling isn’t a piece of cake. There are days when you will be exhausted and filled with frustration, doubting your decision and sure your kids are learning nothing. That first year is especially hard if you’ve pulled your kids out of public/private school, if you have a new baby, or some other big change in your life. But it does get better! You are not the only one who had hard days. Find a friend, whether in real life or online, who will speak truthfully to you about the hard days of homeschooling, and you’ll find comfort. Homeschooling can be a rollercoaster ride: sometimes it’s tremendously thrilling and sometimes you think you’re going to puke.

“Sometimes you’ll look up and see planes in the sky,
And you’ll think to yourself, ‘I wish I could fly.’
The cars on the roads will see quick and free—
You’ll feel stuck on your track and think, ‘I wish that was me.’…
Don’t worry about not being a car or a plane,
Just enjoy the trip you’ll take as a train.”

Homeschooling translation: Yes, other moms, whose kids are in public/private schools, can go to Starbucks for a leisurely coffee, work-out every day, and get the grocery shopping done solo. But you have the privilege of having your children with you all day. You get to see a light-of-understanding come on. You get to hear their chatter at lunchtime. You get your kids—and your kids get you.

“You’ll follow your track
through twists and through bends,
and stop at new stops and pick up new friends.
They’ll all come aboard with smiles and greetings.
You’ll have such great times
With the people you’re meeting!
On the days when you’re sad and feel you can’t go,
Speak up and ask a friend for a tow.
That’s what friends do, so don’t be afraid.
You’d do the same if your friend needed aid.”

Homeschooling translation:
Find a homeschooling community. Whether its in real-life for those of us blessed enough to have support groups, or an online community, find homeschooling friends! Don’t drop your other friends, but there is something amazingly special about having friends who share your educational philosophy. Open yourself up and share your story, and you’ll be blessed in return. And practiced homeschoolers love to help new homeschoolers!

“You might stop at some stops that you never have toured,
And look for new friends, but they won’t come aboard.
So you’ll have to head out with a creak and a groan,
Setting out once again on your track, all alone.
Try to remember that the world is so wide,
Full of all kinds of people with their own trains to ride.
Just stay true to yourself as you travel your track,
With no second-guessing and no looking back.”

Homeschooling translation: New homeschoolers are often so excited that we want to convert everyone we know to homeschooling. Tread carefully! Not everyone wants to hear about your homeschooling adventure. What they hear is: “My way is better than your way.” And don’t let other people talk you out of your choice. You felt called to homeschool. Stay focused and persevere.

“Once you’re on the right track, you’ll probably say,
‘This one is mine—I’m here to stay.’
Try to enjoy the track that you choose—
Stop now and then to take in the views.”

Homeschooling translation: Enjoy the time you have with your children. Relax! Be flexible. Take lots of time to play, to enjoy the world, to enjoy each other. Memorize their faces and the shape of their chubby fingers. As the older folks always say, “They grow up so fast!” They do, but we get more of them than most people. Someday their chubby fingers will be long and slender, and they won’t splash in puddles anymore. Enjoy the journey.

“There’s more about life that you’ll learn as you go,
Because figuring things out on your own helps you grow.
Just trust in yourself, and you’ll climb every hill.
Say, ‘I think I can!’ and you know what?
You will!”

(All excerpts from I Knew You Could! by Craig Dorfman, Platt & Munk Publishers, 2003.)


  1. I am enjoying your blog, Sarah. I found you through simplehomeschool. Do you have any posts (or advice about) trying to convince your husband to let your kids try homeschooling? (Gently, or otherwise). I really feel drawn to it, but my husband, not so much. My daughter will be 9, and is public school now, but she is 86% interested (her words) and my 5 yr old son will continue in his little preschool that we love next year.

    1. Erica:
      This is a really common scenario that often seems hopeless. But I have seen the most reluctant husbands change their minds NOT because their wives pushed them into it, but because they have seen something to change their minds. Is it possible for your husband to be around other homeschooling families? A lot of times this is all he needs to be reassured that homeschooling can be hugely successful. Sometime in our co-op, we have Dads who think the kids need to go to school. These are almost ALWAYS Dads who are not involved in our support group at all. But once they come to an event, invariably they are AMAZED and have totally changed their perspectives. I would just pray for wisdom and that if this is what you are meant to be doing, that your husband will have people put in his path that encourage him.

    2. Thank you Sarah. I will think about that, it's a good idea. There is a co-op nearby that has meet & greets, and I know two nice homeschooling families (he sort of knows them). He's an introvert, so I am sure his brow will wrinkle at the concept of a "meet & greet" :) Here's hoping! Thanks again for your lovely blog...don't know how you find the time, but I am sure glad you do!


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