Securing Your Oxygen Mask

Jul 27, 2018 | Posted by Jennifer


In the somewhat musty memories tucked into the corners of my mind, I can vaguely recall my thoughts about homeschooling before I took the plunge. Perhaps I had a bit of hubris, but overall I remember I felt pretty confident I could handle the challenges of homeschooling. I had been a good student myself and had enjoyed learning, both in high school and in college. And, I reasoned, how hard could it possibly be to teach kindergarten to one sweet, nearly perfect, little boy? And so our family gamely took the plunge. My husband trusted me to instill a love of learning into our children, and I was excited about the adventure upon which we were about to embark. Content to play with his toy cars and snuggle with his soft kitties, my sweet son was oblivious to the monumental decision we had finalized..

We duly began. My son and I counted and grouped M&Ms. We recited phonics ladders. We raised and released painted lady butterflies. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, we continued on our happy educational journey together. Eventually a younger brother was added into the mix, and his baby sister followed two years later. Our little learning group grew to three students, and I loved almost every minute of it. I continued to follow a Charlotte Mason approach to learning and kept school as hands-on and multisensory as possible. The kids grew as kids are wont to do, and the months, somehow without me noticing it, turned into years.

When my oldest entered third grade, I first felt the first whisperings of inadequacy. And it appeared not as others might guess in mathematics or science. It wasn’t even in the study of grammar. No, instead I felt entirely inadequate in the study of history. While I had received A’s in my history courses in high school and in college, I had never enjoyed them. I equated history with drudgery. Unfortunately, much of my experience with my own history coursework required me to recall dates and battles. This was definitely not my strength. And so I began to fret about how I would teach my children a subject which I myself hated.

Rather than diving straight into a history curriculum, I decided that I first needed to equip myself for the battle. If you have ever flown in a commercial airplane, the flight attendant will always instruct adults to first secure their own oxygen mask in the event of a loss of cabin pressure before they help their child. I realized that if I wanted to share the study of history with my children in a stigma-less, engaging style, I first needed to learn to embrace history study myself. I viewed it as a three-step process. (1) Banish the negative thoughts I had associated with history and replace them with positive ones; (2) Teach myself history using a variety of approaches that were interesting to me; and (3) Communicate my joy of learning history to my children.

Step one in my plan was the most challenging. I had to dig myself out of a state of inertia. Eventually, though, I started to check out some videos on historical events from the library. While there, I also cruised through the juvenile non-fiction and biography area, selecting a variety of books about history that centered around a theme I was interested in. I had always loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales of her life lived on the prairie, so I started there. I re-read her books and then started in on her letters. That led me to study her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Lane’s experiences as a journalist, political thinker, and global traveler at the turn of the century fascinated me. I read blogs about her, checked out books on her, and marveled at her globe-trotting experiences in the days before the the battle for women’s suffrage was even won.

I started small, with one person—Laura Ingalls Wilder—but in short order my interest grew and spread to all sorts of things historical: westward expansion, women’s suffrage, World War I, and political party formation. It was a delight-driven seed that had sprouted and branched into many different directions, and suddenly I wanted to learn even more. For our first year of history study, I had planned on beginning at the beginning—the ancient world. To help me prepare, I bought bigger, scarier looking books—books with titles like The History of the Ancient World and Famous Men of Greece. I had already discovered that my connection to delight in learning history was through literature, so I re-read some of the books I’d encountered in my earlier years such as The Iliad and The Odyssey, and I found new books to read as well. And as I studied, my enthusiasm grew even more. No longer confined to memorizing dates and boring battles, history became a subject that I truly enjoyed.

When I began our history study after “securing my own oxygen mask,” our studies took off. History became the core of what we did, and I built all of the rest of our curriculum around it. When we studied ancient history, we wrote about it using Ancient History-Based Writing Lessons. We studied the stars using using a book about astronomy and a handy star chart. We learned how to use an abacus. I had shored up my personal weaknesses with history and in the process supercharged our family’s homeschool such that history remained our central focus for many years.

Andrew Pudewa wrote an article a few years ago entitled “Fill Yourself” that describes this process, discussing the many benefits that pursuing self-education provides. It is a value that we as educators should inculcate within ourselves, for when we do, we model for our students the incredible value there is in personally pursuing education and prioritizing it. As you begin to plan and prepare for the upcoming start of the school year, decide that this will be the year for you to “secure your oxygen mask” by making your own self-education a priority. Not only will you be blessed by the effort, your students will, too. To begin, pick a subject you feel inadequate in and dive in. Perhaps you are interested in learning Latin (for more on that, check out this blog post). Or maybe you would like to shore up your understanding of grammar (Fix It! Grammar is a great way to begin!). Make this the time to address it. I promise you, your learning is contagious. After all, your students are watching you.


Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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