How Homeschooling is Like a 200-Mile Race

Imagine you’re in a van with 6 sweaty, disgusting people for 40 hours, getting out only to run, eat, and use the restroom. Add another van with 6 more runners on your team and that pretty well sums up the Ragnar–a 200-mile relay race through Kentucky’s Bourbon Country.

Instead of doing what most people do when they try running competitively for the first time and starting with a 5K, my crazy husband let his crazy coworkers convince him to join their Ragnar team for an adventure that had him racing through the woods at 3:30 am when all the normal people were warm in their beds.

Homeschooling is like this race we enter, never having raced before in our lives. We have an intellectual concept of what 200 miles looks like, but the longest we’ve ever run before is around 5 miles—and we’d more accurately call that a jog.

We wonder vaguely if this “adventure” will turn into an “ER trip.”

Like amateur runners, a certain and thrilling rush of adrenaline shoots through our muscles when we hear the crack of the starting pistol. We start off the line with a sprint: we hear newscasters jabber urgently about early education and we feel our heart rate quickening.

We google, “What to teach a 3-year-old.” Google says we should teach our tiny humans to read, be empathetic, and swim. They haven’t even mastered pooping on the toilet, but an “expert” says they can learn to not die in a swimming pool? PBS shows us a man in a suit who says, “Research shows that mostly kindergarten is a mathematical wasteland for kids.” What does that even mean? We don’t know, so we start shopping for curriculum.

We’re jostling for position with the frontrunners, but thinking it’s all happening too fast; we’re out of our league. We’ll never be able to sustain this pace. We don’t have a clue what we’re doing.

So we keep reading, talking to more experienced homeschoolers, researching. We steady our stride and start breathing in rhythm. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge that the first leg of this run is just a warm up anyway. If we fail, we can still put him in school.

Eventually we get to a comfortable pace.

We feel like we know what we’re doing. Lessons are going fairly well. He’s learning some things, we haven’t ruined his desire to learn yet. Our earbuds are playing some good tunes, and the sun is out. Yes, the run is still a run. We’re still sweating, but the endorphins have kicked in enough that we can see why people like this homeschooling thing.

There are so many good moments along the way, especially early on in homeschooling, if only we notice them. They can be the way our smallest kids snuggle up with us on the couch for read-alouds. Or the way the older kids will sneak their way in the room too, even though it’s a picture book and they’re “too old for those little kid books.” 

Our non-homeschooling friends and family may think we’re crazy

for trying this 200-mile race, but we’re finding the benefits of stretching our normal limits. It becomes all we can talk about. We’re shocked at how fun it can be.

These adventures are both difficult and life-giving. There’s something magical that bonds you to others in the experience. We want to share every detail with those who weren’t there to smell the stench of cold sweat and bacon doughnuts. Those who weren’t there could read about it, but they’ll never feel what you did in the Kentucky woods at 3:30 am: the peculiar sense of being in a horror film, running for your life.

Homeschooling stretches us like a long, hilly race. It makes us become more than we thought we could. It makes us face the demons of our own self control. We handle things like a boss one moment, and we look back on those days of frantic hair-pulling and sit, amazed, that we and all the children are alive on the other side of the adventure.

Right now, whether you’re on mile 17 or 170 of this 200-mile race, know that this adventure you’re on IS a challenge. There are legit hard parts. There are places where you don’t think you’ll make it.

There will be muscle cramps, side aches, and hills you don’t think you could ever climb. You may have to walk sometimes. That’s okay! You may have to pass the baton to a tutor or a spouse for a leg or two of the race. That’s okay too!

This adventure you’re on IS difficult.

Learning things means growing new synapses in your child’s brain, and sometimes that’s so, so hard to do. But there are also moments of exhilaration and pride along the way. Moments that thrill us like the pride of racing past another mile marker. Moments of beauty like the sun poking it’s warm glow over the horizon when it feels like you’re the only runner on the road and it’s rising just for you.

At the end of this homeschooling adventure, you’ll be able to say with satisfaction, “We challenged ourselves. It was difficult, but we did it. And I’m proud of what we accomplished.” 

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