RAR#209: What Worked? What Didn’t? Looking Back on Homeschooling with my 20-Year-Old Daughter


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Early on, pretty much everyone in my world told me we were making a huge mistake in homeschooling.

It was weird, it was unknown to them, and of course, we are afraid of things that are weird and unknown.

I actually didn’t know anyone in my personal life who was homeschooling.

I read some blogs and books (of course!), but I just had a very strong hunch that we should do this home education thing. So we did, and I’m so glad.

I loved it – not every minute of it (ha!) – but now that my oldest kids are adults, I’m so grateful for the time I got with them during all of those growing up years.

Today, I have a treat for you. My oldest daughter, Audrey – 20 years old at the time we’re recording this, just finished her sophomore year at Franciscan University of Steubenville as an English major, and she is joining me on the show.

(Audrey’s in the blue tank on the left – she’s 13 in this photo)

Audrey was homeschooled her entire education.

And there were some rocky years! When Audrey was 12 – so you know, 6th grade-ish, I also had a 10-year-old, an 8-year-old, a 1 year-old, and twin newborns.

Yes. Three babies age 1 and under. It was… a lot.

We’re going to talk about that, plus:
  • what was most helpful for Audrey’s future
  • did she feel “prepared,” for going away to college and becoming an adult? (you’re going to love her answer, I think!)
  • what she really remembers about that time with babies (💗 😭) Mama’s with newborns – you just need to hear this. 💖
  • We’re also answering YOUR questions!
This is a podcast episode. Click the play button below, or scroll down to keep reading.

And because much of Audrey’s homeschool education was formed by being the oldest of six, you’ll see some photos here taking you back to those experiences.

‘A few unexpected turns’

Audrey graduated from high school in 2020, which was, of course, in itself, quite the adventure.

In her own words:

“There was so much unknown about whether or not universities would even be in-person, and then throughout freshman year the constant conversation of whether or not we would be allowed to stay open was something that we all had to face. It was certainly not how I imagined the first year on my own to be, but thankfully, all was well and I was able to have an in-person experience that first year.

I attended a private Christian university in our hometown and it was, while a bit uncertain due to the state of the world at times, a wonderful first step into adulthood, but at the close of the year I was offered the opportunity to go to Austria with Franciscan University, and through prayer and discernment, really felt like that was where I was being called.

The following Fall semester I transferred to Franciscan and spent my first semester with them at their remote campus in Gaming, Austria, where I traveled to eight countries, had the honor of meeting His Holiness Pope Francis in Rome and grew so much as both an individual as well as in community with such wonderful fellow Catholic students.

It was such a difficult and bold decision to step out and do something so new, but I can confidently say that was the best decision I’ve ever made, and after a full year now with Franciscan, I just wouldn’t change a thing about this journey.

So much of this really can’t be attributed to me or any of my own courage (not quite the word most people would choose to describe me, I don’t think!) but really all of this comes back to God and His abundant grace that enabled me to make such a leap.”

Let’s jump right in. Here are Audrey’s responses.

“What was most helpful for you to know heading into college?”

When I’ve spoken with women at homeschooling conferences about this, I sense there being a certain urgency about what topics they should cover and what sort of content is necessary.

I think first I want to say that there are gaps in everyone’s education. There’s not a way for every student to study each aspect of science, history, literature in-depth. Some people have a greater knowledge than others on specific topics, just as we all come with different perspectives and ways of viewing things, this is natural and to be expected.

That said, a couple of key things come to mind:
  • Knowing how to write an essay well and differences between the various types of essays – analytical versus persuasive versus research, etc.
  • Being able to read and engage with content, asking questions, keeping the wonder.
  • The heart of a learner, this really stems from faith, I think. This genuine awe and wonder about the world and a longing to taste and see the goodness of the Lord in His creation. This was really cultivated for me in prayer, of course, as well as following interests, especially through books.
A little more practically speaking:
  • Laundry!
  • How to keep spaces clean
  • How to manage time well – this is a big one! Outside of class, you determine the way you spend your days, and being able to do this well is so helpful. A few things you did to help me with that were making checklists of my days that allotted amounts of time for certain things, so I could get a grasp for what was doable and how much rest to carve out in between tasks.
  • There is certainly some learning as you go, though, I think it’s good to remember that while high school may be the end of their time under your roof, it’s merely the beginning of the rest of their lives as adults!
    Ultimately, you give your kids the tools, and they do the building. You don’t have to do the building, you just have to supply the equipment.

“Was there a big learning curve entering the college scene from a homeschooling one? Or were you able to jump right in?”

No, I didn’t feel like it was a big learning curve, as much as an adjustment to the next right thing.

Although I’m the oldest of six, so I do think my disposition is naturally one ready to jump into things with great amounts of determination. I also spent all of high school taking many classes from our local co-op and then my senior year of high school doing part-time dual enrollment (sometimes called a ‘running start program’) and I think this helped the adjustment of having external deadlines and teachers other than my mom.

I can’t recommend dual enrollment enough for this!

“Did you feel prepared for life? Are you comfortable living on your own? What helped you with those things the most?”

I mean, are we ever really prepared?

I never expected to transfer to a university and fly across the world alone to a tiny Austrian town where I would live in a centuries-old Carthusian monastery, but when the time came to do all of those things, God’s grace was poured out in abundance.

There were so many unexpected twists and turns in even those adventures – missed trains, long days, minimal sleep, and so on.

I think perhaps the focus should be less about how to make kids unbreakable, but rather, through your modeling and mentorship, to cultivate hearts that are hopeful in the face of fear, joyful in suffering, and persistent in moments of despair. Perfection is not the goal, but the willingness to arise again and again, even after mistakes are made. Because they will be!

Pope St. John Paul II says:

“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

And I think the one of the best gifts you can give is to instill this disposition in your children, and the sweet part about this is that you really don’t have to add this in, life provides many difficulties on its own and your children will look to you in these moments and learn how to walk through these things well.

The goal is not to prepare children so that they will be comfortable, but instead to curate hearts that refuse to be dimmed.

But I guess to answer the question – I did not feel prepared for life in the sense that no one could have prepared me to begin adulthood in a pandemic, or even just to step into any of the newness as a whole.

But there’s something to that.

We will never be “ready” to step into the challenges of life until we face them, and then, when they come along, we, thanks to God’s grace, do what we must and learn as we go. That dependency on Christ is incredibly beautiful, I think. And I believe you can trust your kids to this mercy and grace, too.

“What did your mom focus on that made you crazy but actually helped you? What did she spend way too much time on and you wish she skipped?”

Ah, this is a good question. I took three or four years of Latin, and to be honest, this has been something I’ve carried with me long past when I thought I would.

I am at a university that is classically based in nature, and so the integration I have seen of Latin within philosophy and theology and literature has been so surprising to me. Granted, I don’t remember very much and I certainly could not translate much Latin for you, but I think learning it at a young age did build a great foundation of language and I would love to dive back into learning more of it at some point.

(Oh, if my 11-year-old self could hear me she would be so disappointed! 😂)

As far as what I wish we would have skipped … I am a fairly type-A person and so to be honest there isn’t much I would say I wish she could have skipped, because by nature my mom is far more relaxed than I am. Because of my natural rigor, I think if anything, things could have been more intense, but I also want to emphasize that even though they weren’t, I do not feel like I missed anything by any stretch of the imagination.

Which brings me to a really important point which is this – God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave you your kids. He had your heart in mind when He fashioned theirs.

And so I think it’s good to remember that He is going to use all that you bring to the table and all that your kids bring to the table and create a beautiful masterpiece within the context of your home.

It’s been a great gift to have a mother so opposite me in these ways because I did not used to be someone who you could describe as “easygoing” or “laid back,” but now that’s often the first words friends would use to describe me, and so much of that was cultivated through being educated and mentored by someone who had this different perspective and offered a softness and gentility to my determined heart.

“How did you create a circle of peers to do life with?”

Community at Franciscan has been such a gift. I think finding a circle of peers has so much to do with taking time, because community is not something that can be expedited, it’s better when it comes naturally.

A few things that I feel like have helped me have been: asking people to coffee, choosing to say yes to things that feel outside of my comfort zone or require me to be the only new kid on the block.

(Note: Listen in to the podcast episode for more on how Audrey found community during her high school years.)

“Did you ever wish you were in public school? Why or why not?”

No, I didn’t.

I do think this just has to do with my disposition. I very much enjoy working independently and in a peaceful, quiet environment, and so the appeal for public school was never there for me.

I also had wonderful friends throughout high school from co-op, so my social butterfly heart was content.

(Note from Sarah: Listen in to the podcast episode for more about one of my children who did want to attend public school)

“How do you feel your mom fostered connection over curriculum? What bonded you to your family and created a sense of being seen, heard, and loved, especially in the midst of crazy homeschool days?”

There was always a mentality that the curriculum was serving us, we weren’t serving the curriculum.

The goal was to learn, not to finish the textbook.

Sometimes we would do all the math problems in the math book, sometimes we wouldn’t, it just all depended on what I needed at the time. There were also days when we would just set it aside and do something else.

There was space created for rest and also encouragement to press in and do hard things, too. There were certainly times when lessons went unfinished because I needed a heart-to-heart, and I think that came a lot from you meeting me where I was that day.

Can we talk about grammar?

Sarah: I didn’t teach grammar. I sort of assumed my kids would pick up a lot of it naturally through lots of reading, but Audrey is an English major. Oops. So I asked Audrey, should I have done that differently?

Audrey: Yes, I do think it would have been helpful to have done a few years of foundational grammar in middle school and early high school, not only because of being an English major, but because college work is very writing based, and in the beginning, especially, I received a lot of markings from professors on my varying use of punctuation and whatnot, but it’s certainly wasn’t something that was wildly hindering or a huge setback.

Through trial and error I have found my way and this isn’t really something I struggle with anymore.

The Years with Babies

Sarah: There were YEARS in there (especially that year when I had three babies age 1 and under) that I didn’t do a lot of “teaching” with you in the traditional sense. It was audio books and online math, in large part, and I was terrified I was ruining your education. What do you remember about those years? I’m curious about the impact of those very difficult years on your education and your skill set now.

Audrey: To be totally honest, I don’t remember what school looked like during these days. I really have no particular memories of school or what we did then.

What I do remember is how much I loved having baby siblings and how much fun it was to take naps with them asleep on my chest, read books to the toddler, and help you feed and put them to bed.

It was my favorite thing to come with you downstairs and rock one of the twins to sleep.

I really cannot recollect any details about what school looked like and while yes, this was a couple of years, I think I grew closer in relationship with my siblings and with you more than I did educationally, but I have found this to be just as valuable, if not more so, in the end.

If you’d like to follow Audrey on Instagram, head here. She also writes at audreymenck.com

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