Dad Lessons and Homeschool Schedules

Considering the greater good

“Are you finished with school? Want to ride with me to the dump?” my husband Donald inquired, poking his head into the schoolroom. Pencils flew everywhere as the boys jumped up, ready to go. We hadn’t finished school, of course, but they were taking off to enjoy another type of education — dad lessons.

Dad lessons are usually the ones that are fun and dirty. They are also good and necessary.
Image CC0 1.0 Universal

From the very first year we started schooling, a big part of my education was learning to loosely hold the the schedule and plans I so carefully crafted at the beginning of the year. Left to myself, I tend to be overly fond of a structured routine and sometimes found myself overlooking a greater good — letting the boys spend time with their dad when he had a day off —  in favor of sticking rigidly to a schedule. Fortunately, my dear husband was faithful in wanting to share in the boys’ lives, and he persisted, even when I didn’t see the value of what he offered.

The kind of help you weren’t looking for

I’ve heard many homeschool moms talk about wanting their husbands to share in the homeschooling process, but when Dad does participate, it sometimes seems that these same moms aren’t happy with what he does or how he does it. Recently, I caught portions of a conversation in which a group of moms was swapping horror stories about dad lessons or things their husbands had done to mess up a school day.

“Can you believe he took the boys outside to fool around with car parts when they hadn’t even finished their math?”

“He said he was going to help with their history this year, and all he does is tell them stories and take them to his grandma’s house and let them play in the barn and the attic!”

“I bought a science kit so that we could do an experiment every week, but since my husband took over teaching science, they haven’t done any of the experiments out of the book. They just play with the stuff in the kit. I don’t know if they’re going to learn anything, and they make such a terrible mess!”

That conversation brought back memories of my childhood, and my mother’s dismay at some of the things my father chose to do with me. She was often horrified to find that I’d been on the garage roof “helping” to set the weathervane, over in the garden digging for sow-bugs, or in the machine shop playing with the curly metal shavings from the lathe. She was appalled that Daddy had stopped to help someone change a tire on the freeway while I was with him (we could have been killed!!!). Needless to say, Daddy and I often came home tired and grubby, but we had such fun.

Vintage photo of children and dogs in a car; Florida, 1921. Public Domain.

Learning to see the unseen

What stands out to me is the fact that my mother saw only the danger, the wasted time, or the very dirty dresses, while I remember the joy and sweetness of the shared time, the deep conversations about eternal things, and the close relationship that my father took time to build with me.

Because of these childhood memories, I realized fairly early in our homeschool journey that my husband could provide the boys with things I couldn’t offer, and I tried, with varying degrees of success, to keep a place of honor open for him in our homeschool. It could be a challenge — I wasn’t always immediately gracious about an upset schedule or a postponed lesson, but when I remembered to focus on the ultimate goal of our schooling, I could be grateful that he was part of our boys’ lives.

3 things I wish I’d known

As it does with many couples, it took time for us to learn how to work harmoniously together. In the process, I learned things about husbands and homeschooling that I wish I’d known when we first began. Here are three of those things.

1- No matter what subject your husband offers to teach, he will not be doing it your way.

“Chip” Carlson and his Uncle Charlie July 1947 — by R. Blazenhoff via Flickr.
(This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.)

This is okay. Actually, it’s more than okay — it’s optimal. My husband’s interests and natural abilities are different than mine, and my boys needed his input. He would never offer to teach literary analysis, but his quiet, steady logic encourages analytical thinking. He doesn’t schedule his life, but his boys can observe his awareness of things that need to be done, and his gracious, proactive meeting of the family’s needs. It’s good for children to see that there is more than one way to approach life and learning, and they will learn a lot from your respect for your husband’s approach.

2- Schedules and routines are good, but it takes a lot more than a schedule to become a loving, well-rounded human.

Because I deeply value focused, orderly use of time, it is always a challenge when something interrupts my well laid plans (I’m guessing I’m not the only one). However, relationships must come before schedules (a flexible time-map approach to scheduling, along with a long-term vision for what is to be accomplished academically, makes it possible). In the dozens of relationship-focused verses in scripture, there’s a lot about showing love, being kind, patient, and forbearing, but not a lot of encouragement for placing a schedule before the heart-needs of the family. 

If your husband is moved to invite the children on an exciting excursion to the dump, be thankful. There is doubtless something to be learned by the trip, even if it’s just that practical ordinary tasks can be done without any fuss. There may be someone there they can encourage just by their joy in being together. There may be something wonderful waiting for them (some of my best presents have come from the giveaway spot at the dump!), or they may be able to help someone lift something heavy.

What they learn in these real-life dad lessons is “juicy” learning. It’s memorable, sensorily rich, and relationship-building. If flexibility doesn’t come naturally, perhaps it will help to remember that education isn’t only the discipline of academics — it’s also a matter of atmosphere (including mutual respect and love) and life. Schedules, academics, and dad lessons can all be part of that nurturing and memorable life.

3- Love and mutual respect provide a strong foundation.

As wives and mothers, a big part of our job is to simply love our husband and children. It’s an attitude that is contagious within the home. When each parent models love and respect for the position and personhood of the other, children understand how to love and respect each parent, as well. I’m guessing your spouse is probably not perfect (surprise!), but he has gifts, knowledge, and skills your children need. The fact that he does things differently from you is a benefit, not a liability, and children’s lives are richer for having two loving and imperfect parents who want the best for them.

Even when your husband’s educational ideas disrupt the schedule you’ve crafted, remember that he is a responsible adult who loves the kids as much as you do. Your children really don’t need two of you — they need to learn about life from both of you. Even in challenging situations where the lesson is of the “what not to do” variety, kids do see and learn. 

Unexpected gratitude

Play doesn't stop just because you're grown up or dressed up.
Brothers . . . the fun never ends! Daddy and Uncle Ira from my family album.

Looking back through the years, I am grateful that my husband took time to round out the boys’ education with practical, hands-on lessons and spontaneous fun. As parents, we have about eighteen years to share life and learning with our children. Academics are important, but they are not the only thing. The experience of helping dad take apart the lawn mower is likely to be remembered a lot longer than the neat and tidy science experiment we labored over. What we model in attitude, flexibility, and mutual respect and appreciation is likely to be with them far longer than the Pythagorean theorem.

My boys are grown now, and as I look back I can see a few things even more clearly. In the beginning of our homeschooling years, I accepted my husband’s help only because I had limited energy, and I truly couldn’t do it all. Over time, I learned to trust that even if his lessons didn’t look like mine (or even like lessons at all), they were meeting a need.

In a similar way, my mother didn’t understand the importance of the things daddy shared with me, but his life and lessons are some of my sweetest memories of childhood. He had an immeasurable impact on my vision of who God is and what having him as a Father can mean. Those memories gave me faith that my husband’s input would have a similar impact on our boys, and I’m grateful that he was wise enough to persist, even when I couldn’t see where we were going.

Although I did a ton of reading about learning and had endless ideas for the boys’ education, there were blind spots and things I just wasn’t great at (hello sports! and algebra — yikes). Having a partner whose knowledge, gifts, and early life experiences were so different from my own was a gift, and I am grateful.

By stepping back and allowing Donald to work with the boys to the degree that I did (and I wish I had been even more trusting and willing to let go — hindsight is 20/20), I found that my husband is a wise man. By sharing his life with our sons, he has provided an education that is far richer than I could have offered alone, and I’m grateful.

NOTE: Although this article specifically speaks of dad lessons and accepting help from a spouse, I know that there are many moms who homeschool alone. If you are in this situation, know that this type of help can come from parents, friends, neighbors, support groups, and others. The point is that good learning, good memories, and a loving, relationship-centered focus will help children learn and grow. Remember — “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life.” <3 

Janice Campbell and her husband Donald homeschooled their four sons from preschool into college. Janice is the author of Excellence in Literature , a self-directed, classics-based, college-prep English curriculum for homeschoolers in grades 8-12, Transcripts Made Easy, Get a Jump Start on College, and Evaluate Writing the Easy Way. You can find her at Everyday Education, DoingWhatMatters, and, our resource site for studying literature and writing.

Note: An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in Home School Enrichment magazine in 2009.

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