When my girls were young, I paid close attention to their interests. With home education, you spend a lot of time in the same space and pick up on where your kid’s curiosity lies. In my experience of going through the public school system, there was little room for free thinking. We were given our work and sat at a desk, slugging our way through material we had little interest in. It was a requirement to get somewhere in life. 

How many apples are in the basket? That one was to help with grocery shopping because we all go to the store with wicker baskets over our arms.   

Count the chickens because we all had them in our backyards roaming free range against city ordinances. 

Circle the letter F. That had nothing to do with curse words. It was simply learning the alphabet so one could identify a fudgesicle from a frankfurter which we always said hot dog, anyway, so what was the point?  

“Class, pass your paper to your neighbor so they can grade it.”

Words of dread because I always sat by someone who seemed to have it in for me. With their fat crayon wedged between their fingers, poised and ready to strike, I kept one eye on my work and one on the sheet in front of me. When I had to mark something wrong, I always felt a wave of guilt.

I see now how this took the pressure off the instructor. They didn’t have to be the bad bearer of news. It was peer against peer, which may be why the aggression at recess happened later. Some child was subjected to a thrashing on their spelling sheet, which built up anger all day. 

Like caged animals, we were given a few short gulps of fresh air, and for somebody who had been wronged, this was the perfect time to act and release those hostile feelings in a way the teacher might not notice. 

I have often wondered why Mary bit me in the arm that day. We were sitting under some trees talking when suddenly, she sunk her teeth into my right bicep. I don’t recall if I checked over her work and she was carrying a grudge, but when I got home and told my mom, she immediately disinfected my entire body, even though it had happened right after lunch, and it was now late afternoon.

Not to speak badly, but her teeth were dirty and some a bit ragged like fangs. My mom knew that the family often struggled with keeping up appearances, like combed hair and a drop of Crest now and again. So her response was to protect her young one from having a medical malady. 

If rabies had settled in, I was past the point of no return by the time she got her hands on me. However, she relished having an emergency on hand that she could stop.  

I made it without a single sniffle or infection, enough so that I had to, unfortunately, return to the classroom the next day. 

I bypassed the public school system’s way of educating and opted to home school before it was popular. I was met with many questions about the well being of my children.

“So she won’t get to ride on the bus?”

This was one of many inquiries I had to answer as if that were a significant milestone. I harkened back mentally to when I had to ride the bus to high school. It wasn’t like a limo picked me up by the end of the driveway. I had to walk three blocks through ice and snow and sometimes run to ensure I got on in time or face the wrath of a mom who didn’t want to drive me.  

My brother, six and a half years older than me, would often follow me in his car and sing obnoxious songs while I tried to ignore him. He never offered to give me a ride but practiced his opera skills, much to my horror. 

At the start of my day, I was subjected to humanity that had no manners, no volume control on their voices, and some forgot all about the personal hygiene habits we learned in health class.

She was missing out on nothing. 

The only drawback about teaching them at home was that I saw every activity as a school experience. I had to learn early on that making a tray of ice cubes didn’t have to turn into a science experiment. It was just ice cubes. 

One day, while I was out in a garden I used to have in the backyard, and both of them were with me, I had a moment of clarity. Most caretakers only get to spend so much time with their kids. It struck me as a blessing while digging around in the dirt and depositing seeds into the soil. My oldest daughter and I discussed a subject from her school work like it was a regular conversation.  

How many times had I crossed the threshold of my parent’s home to be asked:

What did you learn today?  

I wanted to reply, how to hate school, that is what I learned. How to avoid detention, how to sleep with your eyes open, and how not to lash out at the child next to you who was clicking their pen repeatedly. Valuable life skills to be applied if a person was incarcerated at any time. 

But, in my home, speaking about what was being learned was a natural part of our days, and it also gave me insight into what the two of them might want to participate in. I discovered early that the older one preferred something other than contact sports.  

She tried her hand at soccer at one of the home school events. She had the ball all to herself and could have easily taken it down the field for a shot at the goal. But then, out of nowhere, a boy came along to challenge her. She stopped dead in her tracks, looked at him, and said,

“You can have it.”

Competition was not her speed. She took up ice skating and was fantastic. 

The other one I was not so sure. She approached life a little differently, and when I asked, she would always say she didn’t know. 

One day, as I walked through the kitchen, I saw her dancing, similar to a cartoon character she and her sister watched.

I asked her if she liked to dance, and that is when I enrolled her in the first dance studio. She had a natural talent for it, just like her sister did for skating. After her first year, I moved her to a different location that offered more of a modest approach to music and movement.

Because she was coming in a little bit behind the class for her age, she had to dance for the instructor alone. We showed up early one day so she could do so. The woman teaching her was kind and patient as she ran through various moves to see where her strengths and weaknesses were.  

“It’s all about muscle memory,” she said at the end of the session. “You are very good at what I asked you to do, but the connection has to be made between your brain and your body. As you practice each week, you will get better and better.”

By the time the recital came in the spring, she had made so much progress that she moved on to the next level. The teacher’s words proved to be true. The repetition had created a neural pathway between her mind and the physical part of her. She now did a technique that had been uncertain and awkward with precision and ease as if it had never been a challenge.  

When the report cards came out at the end of her second year, she was asked to repeat where she had been so she could improve. It was stated clearly that it was normal for students to take the same level two years in a row, so most girls stayed together throughout the program.  

The other day, she pointed out that I had kept one of her performance skill sheets. I had folded it and put it in a kitchen cupboard. I don’t know why other than it was the year I got divorced, and I kept it as a reminder that I did my best to make things as normal as possible for both of them. 

Because money wasn’t as abundant during that time, I offered to clean the studios on the weekends to help offset her tuition so she could keep dancing as usual.

When I looked at the sheet, I realized how gentle the explanations were where she needed improvement.

She was praised as a good dancer, and pointers were given in specific areas needing improvement. It wasn’t meant to rip her down but to have her aspire to a higher point where she could perform more confidently and pay less attention to each step.

This type of report and how it is worded can either contribute to a person’s life or cause damage, especially to a child.  

Proverbs 18:21 says,

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. (Message)

As I read over what was written, I felt a difference in the approach of it versus what I had been subjected to in my youth. I could feel the love radiating from the paper, like the person who filled it out wanted my daughter to succeed and not get stuck thinking that she wasn’t meant to dance. Her carefully chosen words were meant to be received not as harsh criticism but as a mentor offering encouragement. 

That is who God is; as we learn new things, we are given signs and positive thoughts that keep us going. We see the highlights of what we have grasped spiritually and where we have the potential to go. 

I read long ago that God doesn’t need to test us. It’s similar to how I viewed parenting my girls. They didn’t have to prove themselves to me. And, often in our homeschool days, when we did school work, I didn’t make tests the end of the world.  

I wanted them to learn and retain information, not memorize, to pass an exam. A test can take an hour, but real education is acquiring knowledge that can last for the rest of an individual’s life. The goal was to take away valuable skills they could apply daily.

One subject where we often went against nonconventional schooling was math. If a problem was complex and needed to be solved readily, I would get out my teacher’s manual, and we would look at the solution.

That is cheating. No, that is learning.  

If we had the answer, we could go step by step without the pressure and find what we needed by working it out on paper. 

Who said there had to be a rough path to finding the answer? More often than not, when we did it this way, the information was retained so that they could recall how to get the correct answer by the time they got to a test. 

Timed tests, pressure, and a strict approach did not bring about good results, so I taught them in a way that helped them succeed. A relaxed state was the key to outstanding achievement. 

It’s too bad that more of what we are subjected to isn’t fashioned this way because it’s the nature of God that many of us miss. After all, we have been conditioned to perform the world’s way, which is about competition and test taking.

God wants us to use the gifts we have been given to benefit those around us and doesn’t push us toward an invisible finish line where we mentally and physically drain ourselves and others to get there.

When I folded up the paper and put it back in the cupboard where it had been for 15 years, I heard this:

Dancers don’t take tests. They take lessons.

We all could use a little more ‘energy’, couldn’t we?


When I chose to homeschool, it wasn’t as popular or understood as it is now.

“How will she socialize?”

“Won’t she be different than everyone else?”

“You can do that?”

“What about college?” This one I got asked when she was in kindergarten.

There were more fear inspiring inquiries, but I pressed on, trying to listen to that inward guide telling me to put aside the voices and give her an education that was meant to be.

I countered the naysayers by seeking out groups where I ended up teaching gym classes, arranged field trips, and wrote a newsletter to create a bond between all of us who were supposedly insane for wanting to teach our kids from home. We had relatives, neighbors, and friends looking at us with skepticism as if we were corrupting the next generations.

I met families with multiple children and watched as mothers utilized fantastic parenting skills to have each child learn responsibility by assigning the older ones to help out with the younger. We all had a common goal to see our kids learn but also be able to grow into their true selves

I signed my oldest daughter up for an ice skating class that was described for those who were home-educated. When we arrived, she ended up being the only student.

“We usually have more sign up, but I am willing to work one-on-one with her.”

So instead of a group class, my daughter was given private lessons.

Her first attempts were brutal. She fell over and over. But the teacher would pick her up and have her try again. It looked like a mess from where I was watching. And painful.

At the end of the first session, she said,

“She is a great skater with a lot of natural ability.”

That was the exact opposite of what I saw, so I thought maybe she was being nice.

“Go and get her a new pair of skates. What she is wearing is the problem. They aren’t supportive enough. With the right ones, she will fly on the ice.”

She wrote down the name and address where I could find her some.

We drove to the location, and I was able to rent her a pair. At her next class, she laced up and did as the teacher had said. She stumbled only slightly and stayed upright. The boots gave her the ankle support she needed to keep her from meeting the ice face first.

“Did you see the difference? She will move up on skills very quickly.”

She did, and by spring, I enrolled her in a nightly class where the same teacher was in charge of a group. The application of various techniques came easy for her. As I watched over the years from the stands, I saw her perform moves I never thought possible.

The night I saw the instructor do a single axle and then looked at her to repeat it, I thought…no way! I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her feet leave the ground. It was one of those moments where you want to close your eyes but can’t because then you will miss it.

She did it perfectly.

Every year she performed in a show, similar to a dance recital. And while she was taking the ice by storm, I had a four-year-old who suddenly started dancing across the room.

I decided to enroll her in a preschool dance class. They learned simple steps by walking on their tiptoes, pushing small grocery carts, and leaping over strategically placed carpet squares. After a few sessions, I was approached by her teacher and was asked if she could go professional. At four?

“She’s got something the others don’t. Just think about it.”

All the kids got stage fright at the dance recital but not her. It ended up they all crowded around her and followed her steps. The teacher was right about what she had told me.

I considered the offer until I saw the next group of girls perform. They were in their young teens, if not preteen, and danced in a way that to me was not how I wanted my daughter to in her future. The outfits were revealing and the music sexually explicit. I knew as I watched, this wasn’t going to be her world.

The following fall, I had her go to a dance school that emphasized modesty and worked diligently on skills. It seemed to be a holistic approach to the art versus students throwing their bodies at the audience.

She thrived with other home-educated kids. And just like her sister, taking the stage caused her to act calmer. I could never fathom having to dance or skate in front of an audience. But not those two. They suddenly lost all fear and became so immersed in what they were doing that it looked effortless.

“She is so mean!” My daughter said, getting into the car after class.


“Maggie. She sticks out her tongue at me and glares. She’s mean!”

I had never heard her talk about anyone like that before. The following week, I figured out why this child was not so pleasant.

I was in the waiting room and overheard Maggie’s mom berating her.

“You are so stupid, Maggie. Get your stuff and get into class.” I observed a highly aggressive mom who verbally took shots at her daughter. She never said a kind word to her. I tried to start a conversation with her to see if I could uncover an underlying problem to help, but she was just as abrupt with me as her daughter.

I spoke with the teacher in private to clue her in on what I had witnessed. Not to gossip, but to see if someone else could develop a solution.

Nothing seemed to be working.

Christmas was coming, and a note was sent home that the kids could bring small gifts for everyone. My daughter chose to do gift bags. One of the things that she was giving was pencils that were glitter encased. We got a twelve-pack since there were eleven girls. This meant she could have one too.

To a seven-year-old girl, anything that sparkles makes life better. There were various colors but only one gold and one silver.

“Which one is yours?” I asked.

“I really want the gold one, but I’m giving it to Maggie,” she said as she put items together.

“You are? Even though she has been so terrible to you?”

“Yes. Her mom isn’t good to her, so maybe if someone is nice, she will change.”

This was beyond even what some adults were capable of.

She handed out the bags and noticed going forward that it helped her interactions with Maggie somewhat. Sadly, you can’t always undo years of damage with only one act of kindness. In time, Maggie returned to her old ways, but my daughter would smile back at her instead of getting upset.

That spring, for the dance recital, one of the costumes was a red leotard that had a matching feather that I had to clip into her hair. Before the performance, I saw Maggie and her mom snarling at each other. While I peacefully worked on my daughter’s outfit, those two had an awkward barking session in the corner. I never saw them enjoy each other’s company.

As the class was in the middle of their routine, Maggie’s feather broke free and started floating above her head. The kids had been drilled with the idea that nothing should stop them. If the music quit, they were to keep going. If a wardrobe malfunction happened, they were to solider on.

And they did, except for Maggie. She got distracted and chased her red feather across the stage. She batted at it, which only created more of a draft, sending it up higher, out of her reach more.

I heard the laughter begin and ripple through the audience. To those who didn’t know the situation, it was funny. It made me feel sad because this was just one more thing for Maggie to feel like a failure.

The song ended, and it floated to the ground next to a stressed-out Maggie.

Backstage as we picked up to leave, I heard,

“Just go get in the car, Maggie!”

And I saw her dejectedly go down the hall with her mom racing ahead of her.

That’s the last time I saw them.

This was a moment where my young daughter learned that there would be times when you can’t save everyone from their problems. Even though she tried to be compassionate toward Maggie, it went seemingly unnoticed. She was spending more time in a hostile environment, so my daughter’s actions weren’t enough to offset that. It was only a temporary fix for a short time once a week. Then, Maggie would go back to what was familiar, and even though it was destructive, it probably felt safe, so she didn’t know there was better.

“You tried,” was all I could think of to say. “And God knows that.”

Sometimes you have to be okay with that kind of result.

I am hoping that this girl and her mom had a divine intervention somewhere along the way. What a terrible pattern to keep repeating in a family line.

My daughter’s small attempt to disrupt it could have been a catalyst for change. You never know what God can do later when you aren’t looking. In Luke 6:35 it says,

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (NIV)

It’s like learning how to skate without the proper footwear; you fall and don’t want to get up, it hurts, but when you let God take over, you suddenly can glide along even with someone you are at odds with and they can be considered a frenemy.

It’s always good to apply the rule that is universal: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. With that, you will be golden.