368 | How To Make Educational Decisions For Your Family (Jessica Smartt)
Are you evaluating education for your kids? Are considering (or re-evaluating) homeschooling? Looking at part-time or full-time school? Considering a co-op? Online classes? Activities? No matter what choices you face, this episode will give you new, effective tools to make these decisions for your family, making the choice that you will feel best about!
Jessica is a wife, homeschool mom of three, author, and blogger. She lives in sunny North Carolina on a big family farm with chickens, goats, cousins, and lots of mud.
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Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody. Welcome to The Homeschool Solutions Show. My name is Jessica Smartt and I'm one of the many hosts here on the podcast. I'm also the author of Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, and the creator and founder of Homeschool Bootcamp. Each week we bring an encouraging conversation from this busy and blessed journey of educating our children at home. While the title is "Homeschool Solutions", of course, we don't pretend to have the answer to every question. It's our hope that this podcast will point you to Jesus Christ, that you'll seek His counsel as you train your kids in the way they should go.
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Jessica Smartt Hey, everybody, this is Jessica Smartt, and it's an honor to be with you today as we talk about how to make educational decisions for your family. And it's my hope that this is a help to you no matter where you are in life. This will hopefully be a huge help if you're sitting there with a kindergartner and at that terrifying crossroads of all of the options. But additionally, even if you're in a position where you have been doing one thing or another, I hope that this is helpful as you rethink through the next year all of your various options. So we are going to dive into that in just a minute. I want to remind you that I have a course called Homeschool Bootcamp. It will be super applicable if you're interested in homeschooling. You can find that in the show notes. You can also find me over at Instagram. I'm @Jessica.Smartt. And just hop over there and let me know what you thought and if you have any other follow-up questions.
Jessica Smartt So again, we're always faced with educational decisions. And this time of year (as I'm recording it's in March)... February/March is when people start getting very analytical and antsy and looking over everything they have been doing and could be doing. And so my hope is that this is a timely help to you. Please pass this episode on if you know someone who is really considering... I genuinely hope it will be super helpful. As we dive in, let me just clarify here: This is going to apply to everyone every year. It will hopefully talk about whether you should start or continue homeschooling. Maybe you're looking at adding additional classes for your kids, whether that's a class online or a class in person. Maybe you're thinking about adding a co-op or switching to a different co-op. Maybe you're considering sending your kids to a part-time school, whether that's a drop-off program one day a week, two days a week, three days a week. There's a lot of varieties of those in my area, and I'm sure in the areas that you are as well. Maybe you're just thinking about extra activities, the extracurriculars. And that may not be overtly academic, but it totally is as we think about the whole development of our children. We certainly know that they can learn things in a lot of different areas and facets that they're involved in. So as you're looking at your kid, it's not just about what math they're doing. There's a ton of different options of things they could be involved in. And so we're going to talk through how to know if something is a good fit or a bad fit.
Jessica Smartt And then again, obviously, you may, in one of your options, be considering sending your kids to full-time school. And the reason that I am recording this episode is because I've just had so many conversations recently with people evaluating their options, whether they're leaving homeschooling, contemplating leaving homeschooling, contemplating starting homeschooling. There's just all of these things that you have to consider. And typically how we make a decision like this (and this includes me), and I would not consider this a healthy way to make this decision, is that we look around, we're sensing a little bit of something that we're not sure about. Okay, maybe it's something that we're not sure about in our option that we're looking at, or something that we're not sure about in our current scenario. So we're sensing some dissonance. And then what we do, our immediate methodology usually, is to just look around and say, "What are all my options?" And you see there's the charter school, and you see there's this co-op or this co-op, or you see there's this group, or of this online class system, or this regular school, or just homeschooling (which we lump a ton of things into that). And it's very paralyzing to try to make a decision in this way, because I don't think that it's really a good rubric for acting just to consider all the options and then try to go with the best option. That's not a great starting place. Now, obviously, you'll probably land on one of those options, but just simply comparing A to B to C to D is not always going to help you arrive at the best conclusion.
Jessica Smartt So I'm proposing here a different way to make your decision. And it's going to start with a very large cup of coffee. Okay, because you're going to want to be very alert with this. Now, a lot of these conversations, I think are great to have as a husband/wife team. But obviously we all have different capacities and schedules and personalities. And so as I told a friend just this week, you know, you may have a husband that's very in tune to all of the layers and nuances of these decisions. You may have a husband who feels super great about you making the decision. But in either scenario you can involve them as much or little as possible. If your husband is just very busy or very overwhelmed or not as knowledgeable about all the options, then I could suggest that you go through this, but then take back your answers to him and get his feedback and say, "You know, this is kind of what I'm thinking about this question, but would you have answered it a different way?" And kind of get his insight. And I know for me, even if my husband and I don't go through the exercises at the same time, it's always super beneficial to have him kind of lay his eyes on it afterwards and weigh in. And his insights are really invaluable, even though he's not here in our home (at least for us) for hours and hours of the day. He always really has some good things that I hadn't considered. So ideally, I guess you could go through it together as a couple for some of these. But if you can't definitely bring your answers back to your husband, if applicable, and kind of get his thoughts.
Jessica Smartt So back to the whole big cup of coffee thing. The reason that I said that is because a rather overwhelming first step, but necessary, is to kind of go with your family mission statement. And maybe this is something that you have put together, maybe it's not. But what I would suggest is that you look at overall questions about your family and the direction that you want to head, because this is going to inform all of the other options that you have out there. So here are some questions that you might ask when you're formulating a family mission statement. And obviously you could just put together one. It's like like a sentence of, "We exist to da da da da..." But in order to kind of arrive at it, you could also just say, "Here are some characteristics that we value." And there's a lot of helps online with how to curate a family mission statement. What helped me was to see a list of a lot of different things that your family could value--traits--and to kind of go through and highlight the ones that really resonated with our mission. So sometimes families value adventure or nature or being outdoors. Maybe it is activity, physical activity, community outreach, the arts. There's just a wide span of things that families prioritize. And so just nailing down a couple core values for your family mission statement and then also looking around and saying, "How is God using us right now? How do we feel called to be used as a family?" And answering that question is really great as well. So kind of putting together like this is the overarching purpose of our family. And then in a way to kind of say, "This is how I view parenting." I think that's super helpful to just say, "My purpose in parenting is to blank... To raise kids who blank." And I think as Christians, obviously a big thing is raising disciples. But the way that that looks is going to have a lot of different implications. And so answering that question of: "We view our job as parents is to blank." And sitting in that for a minute about the whole family mission statement is a great step.
Jessica Smartt And once you have that down--this is something that I do every year--you're going to think about each individual child and you're going to set some goals for that child for the next year. And these are just a lot of different things for our family that I feel like the kids need to work on. And it spans the gamut. You know, sometimes it's been handwriting, which I'm realizing is really terrible and someone never learned that. And or maybe it's they really need friends. You're just going to picture each child in your head and you're going to kind of see what dreams and hopes and improvements, I guess, come to mind when you think about that child and what God might be wanting you to do with that child in the coming year. And so a lot of times I might say, "They're really getting behind in math and they need to work on that." Or maybe it's, "They really need a sport," or, "They really need to work on friendships." Or just lots of different things. And I usually list about three things for each child for the next 12 to 16 months kind of thing. And this involves really being honest about what you see in them. Okay. And sometimes we don't... As much as we're around our kids and we certainly are taking care of our kids, we don't really take the time to see our kids. And so really sitting and looking and seeing, "Where do I see gaps and what am I actually seeing in this child? Are they tired? Are they lonely? Are they demonstrating any negative character qualities like laziness or being addicted to technology or succumbing to peer pressure or a lack of diligence to God's word?" So thinking about character traits. Just their kind of emotional health, and are you happy with where that is or what areas of growth do you see? Their spiritual health, being honest about that. And then finally, super important, do you have a good relationship with them? What is the status of your relationship? And that will really inform, I think, if changes need to be made, what direction you're heading towards. So whether you are in any variety of being at home or in a school, you're obviously, if you see a damage in the relationship, you're going to want to do something to change that. You're going to want to change what you have been doing and spend some time... Maybe not anything necessarily academic related, but something might need to shift with that.
Jessica Smartt So you've started with your family mission statement and then you've looked at each kid and been really honest about what the Lord has laid on your heart for each kid during the next year, and kind of done a little evaluation of where they're at and what you might like to see. And I do want to interject here something that I've learned from my friend Monica Swanson, who's amazing and has homeschooled four kids. Several have graduated. And so she is in Hawaii and there's not a great homeschooling community in Hawaii. It can be a little bit lonely. And her boys, as a result, have been a little bit lonely. And so she encouraged me to not necessarily give up with homeschooling when you see loneliness. Because even though that trait is something that we immediately want to fix in our kids, it can also be a gift. And she spoke about how their kids, when they were lonely, really relied on the Lord, and drew closer to each other, and honed their hobbies, and really grew in character. So I want to say that right out of the gate, to know that even if you do see signs that your kids are a little bit lonely, I would be really prayerful about that. And we're working through this, honestly, with our own kids. But I don't know that, necessarily, that's something that needs to be fixed in the way we think it needs to be fixed. So I could say more about that, but back to our subject here. After you have gone through your family goals and your goals for each child, you need to realize that your time is limited, and you're going to look over those goals about what you're trying to do, and then you're going to answer these two important questions: "How do I want my child to spend their days, their hours?" And, "What is most important to me as far as values?" Okay.
Jessica Smartt So I want you for the first question to just envision the whole life, and really picture, "How do you want your child to spend their hours--his or her hours--of the day? And you might have some broad answers here, but maybe it's just things that you want to see involved, like great conversation and good reading, being challenged, free time, time in nature. The sky's the limit. Don't think about your actual life just yet and what you are doing, but just really set those goals of how do you want your child to spend his or her hours? And then secondly, as I said, "What's the most important to me as far as values?" And I'm gonna give you a list here of values that are things you... These are going to vary with family to family and even season to season and even child to child. But you're going to list out some things that are most important to you. So community engagement. (And when I think about that, I don't think necessarily friendship, but that's another one.) Community engagement might be more of an outreach function, and engaging with people who might differ with you. So then solid community and friendships. And that could be with the same sex or different sex. You might want to kind of hone that down on what might you be desiring for that child. Is biblical teaching something that you value? Is building unity in the home something that you value? Is sibling relationships something that you value? Is it important to counteract the effects of peer pressure that you've seen in a child? Is it important to counteract the effects of technology addiction that you've seen in a child? Is it important to advance in a particular field or subject? And this is could be either due to weakness or strength. Is there something that your child is behind in that you know that they need to work on? Is there something that your child is very interested in and you can see them doing this in the long term that you would want to work on? Is having a biblical worldview different than teaching about the Bible? But being able to understand how to engage the culture. Is it important to have athletic or active activities? And that, again, could be because of weakness or strength. Is this something that your child isn't quite getting enough of, or are they really gifted and you want to have the time and bandwidth to work on that? Is rest right now something that's important for your child? And I think that should not be overlooked in this day and age. I just look back to different seasons in our life when we were just going, going, going, and I've never even had a kid in school, and there were definitely times that my kids just needed a minute. And I think it can be particularly draining on the kids who aren't involved in the activities but are just getting swept around from one to another.
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Jessica Smartt Okay. So now that you've got all that down, and you've realized what you prioritize, you're going to look back over that list, and then you're going to compare that... You're going to list out your options, okay. And I would say that I would list almost anything, including things that you may have previously not considered, but list out all of your different educational options. And this can include things like joining The Gavel Club at a co-op or taking a class online. Okay. So you're going to list out a lot of everything that you can think of. And I love going to Facebook groups for more ideas, because there's always certainly ideas that you aren't even aware of that might fill a need or a void. So once you've listed out all of your options, you're going to compare the two lists. And maybe things will be a little bit more clear. You may land on the same thing that you were leaning towards. But you may realize that an option you were leaning towards is not really a fit for the ultimate things that you are looking for for your kids. And the two final, last pieces of advice that are super important: One is to pray, and to pray with expectation that God... And to pray honestly. And that can be something like, "Lord, I really don't want to do this option X, Y, and Z for these reasons, but I want to hear from You and I really want to know what You would have us do. So help me to have the honesty to admit when I see something and please..." And then to also pray for options. I really believe that God hears these prayers. I'm in the middle of praying, some of them for my oldest, that God would provide some activities and some outlets. And I really am praying in expectation that He would answer those requests.
Jessica Smartt And then lastly, to not be afraid of what the option says. God is bigger than all of these choices and He will give us what we need, whether it is requiring bandwidth to do something that's not in our natural wheelhouse. I would not be afraid because if the Lord is leading you in a direction, it's good and it's good for your family and it's good for the long term. We can trust Him in that. And the last thing I would add that just came to mind, I didn't have it in my notes. But I do really think that grandparents can actually be really wise. They love these kids as much arguably as we do, and they often have a different perspective about things that a kid might need. And obviously, that's a touchy subject because many of those relationships aren't healthy or aren't encouraging. But if there are other mentor figures in your life or your kid's life, I would weigh in on and just.... That's obviously a very tender thing to do. But if it's someone that you respect, you don't have to do what they say, but you might be interested in what they learn and maybe it might help inform just some things. I think that God really does speak through other people in those ways when we ask. So I hope this episode was helpful to you. And I'm encouraging you again, if there's someone that you know, that's facing some of these choices, forward this to them. I again want to mention my Homeschool Bootcamp course, which if that's a direction that you're going to go or you're seeking a revamp, you can find the link in my Instagram account. It's linked in the profile and I'm @Jessica.Smartt. I'd love to know if this episode encourages you or any other thoughts that you have. Thanks for joining me today.
Jessica Smartt Guys, thanks so much for joining us this week on The Homeschool Solutions Show. You can find show notes and links to all the resources mentioned at Homeschooling.mom. Don't forget to check out my friends at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medicare and why over 400,000 Christians have made the which, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare.
Jessica Smartt If you haven't already, please subscribe to the podcast and leave us a review and that'll help other homeschooling parents find our community. And finally, don't forget to tag us on Instagram @HomeschoolingDotMom to let us know what you thought of today's episode.
Jessica Smartt Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the U.S. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. Hopefully, I will see you there. And don't forget to check out my books, Memory Making Mom and Let Them Be Kids, and my Homeschool Bootcamp course. You can rock homeschooling and I can help. Check the show notes for all of those resources.