What a delight to chat with Tiffany Jefferson in today’s Homeschool Conversations episode. We hear how God took a young woman who never wanted to have children and made her a joyful homeschooling mother of ten! Tiffany has practical tips for other homeschool moms, and a unique perspective that is sure to encourage you regardless of your season of homeschooling life.
Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!
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Who is Tiffany Jefferson
Tiffany is a Caribbean- American who moved to the US when she was a little girl because her father joined the Army. She is married to Kendrix and together they are the thankful parents of 10 children ranging in age from 25- 3 years old. The Jefferson’s are in their 17th year as a homeschool family and have graduated 3 of their children so far.
For over a decade, Tiffany has had the honor of serving in various teaching, mentoring & leadership roles for community-based women’s ministries & homeschool programs. Through her writings online, she offers Biblical encouragement, hope & practical tips on everything from motherhood, choosing a curriculum, organization & home management.
Her work has been featured on various blogs, podcasts, a magazine, a video project with Homeschool Legal Defense Association & a local TV interview.
Tiffany is also the founder of Your Homeschool Helper where she provides coaching services to new and experienced homeschool moms across the nation.
Watch my Homeschool Conversation with Tiffany Jefferson
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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends. Today I am joined by Tiffany Jefferson who is a Caribbean American who moved to the US when she was a little girl because her father joined the army. She is married to Kendrix and together they are the thankful parents of 10 children ranging in age from 25 to 3 years old, what a fun age spread. [chuckles]
The Jeffersons are in their 17th year as a homeschool family and have graduated 3 of their children so far. For over a decade, Tiffany has had the honor of serving in various teaching, mentoring, and leadership roles for community-based women’s ministries and homeschool programs. Through Tiffany’s writings online, she offers biblical encouragement, hope, and practical tips on everything from motherhood, choosing a curriculum, organization, and home management. She’s also the founder of Your Homeschool Helper, where she provides coaching services to new and experienced homeschool moms across the nation.
Tiffany, I look forward to chatting with you today. I know your experience and just having all those different ages even now, keeps you where you can both have that perspective but also you’re still in the thick of it.
Tiffany Jefferson: I am.
Man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps: getting started homeschooling
Amy: Tell us a little bit about your family and how you guys got started homeschooling.
Tiffany: Amy, I am delighted to be here with you today. As you mentioned, I’ve 10 children, 7 sons, and 3 daughters. One thing I’d like to share is I’m often asked if I always wanted that many children or if my husband and I always wanted a big family. The short answer is, no, and I’d like to share with your listeners something that I’ve never shared publicly before.
As a teenager and young college student, I had no plans of being anybody’s mama ever. Did you all hear that? I wanted zero children. I was the oldest, I am the oldest of three children and so I had a fair understanding of what responsibility meant. I saw a small sliver of what being a parent– What that cost my own parents. I just didn’t think parenting should be in the equation for my own life.
I was an ambitious college student. I was pretty bent on being a career woman and taking care of three people. That was me, myself, and I. God, in His sovereignty and kindness, did not give me what I thought I wanted. He brought a young widower into my life who had two young children. On my wedding day, not only did I say yes to the covenant of marriage but I said yes to the beautiful journey called motherhood as well.
That’s just to give your listeners some perspective. I was not this woman who just wanted to have so many children, and 10 children by today’s standards, that is certainly a lot. They are a joy and you’re going to get to hear a little bit more about that.
Now, as far as the genesis of our homeschool journey is concerned, our first three children, who we affectionately called The Bigs, they started out in public school. They are homeschool grads and they are college grades but they did start out in public school.
When we started homeschooling 17 years ago, it was rooted in a concern for our then-oldest daughter. We knew that she was bright and that she was capable but her learning style and the teaching style in the traditional classroom were like oil and water. My husband and I were deeply concerned for her academic future and what would happen if we left her there. In our family, every decision starts with prayer. As my husband and I began to pray, we believed that homeschooling would be the better option for her.
Now, we knew nothing about homeschooling. Hadn’t read a book. The internet, Google was a baby, Instagram was not around. We knew three homeschooled family. The mom from one of these families, she helped me understand the legalities, how to comply in the state that we lived in. Another family generously lent us a year’s worth of curriculum.
We brought our boys home the following year. It was just my daughter and I, that first year. I also had a two-year-old at that time, but we brought our boys home the following year. They were thriving academicall,y but what was concerning for my husband and is we could see the effects of humanism on them in some very basic ways, like judging between right and wrong, that concerned us. We brought them home.
Growing into homeschooling philosophy
Amy: Wow. Thank you for sharing that story. I love hearing the way, even there at the beginning of the story, how you were able to see the Lord at work where you were going on one path. You were like “All right, I’ve got it all figured out. I know where I’m going. I know my plan for my life.” God graciously, as He does for all of us, was like “Actually, I have something even better and so be something you couldn’t have imagined.”
Over the years you started homeschooling there with your older daughter and then your sons, not really knowing anything about homeschooling. How have you seen your approach to education, your philosophy of homeschooling grow and change in the years since?
Tiffany: Oh, man, that’s such a great question because it certainly has. When we started, I didn’t even know what a philosophy of education was. I was unaware of the different methodologies. To this day, I have still not been to a homeschool conference. Actually, I take that back. I’ve been to one and I went as a speaker.
In all simplicity, my focus was on educating my children with Christ at the center, and in ways that complemented their individual learning styles, all while learning what would complement and not complicate family life.
During my second year, I was using three different curriculums for my three school-aged children, while having a toddler and a baby, and I might have been pregnant. 10 out of 10, I don’t recommend that anybody do that.
At the end of that time, at the end of my second year, I was part of a wonderful homeschool support group. I just asked the veteran moms to recommend a curriculum that I could use with my three older ones that would help me avoid being spread so thin. That was a blessing.
In 2011 our family began to be introduced to the classical method through our mutual friend, Dr. George Grant. We loosely use the classical method as well as Charlotte Mason and some Montessori methodologies for my younger children.
That is how it has changed. I don’t put a label on myself like I am classical because, quite honestly, classical educator purists might be mortified to learn that we don’t learn Latin. I’m not slapping that label on myself.
I have just taken from different methodologies what works best for my children, and then for our holistic goals for them and have used what works from the different methodologies.
Amy: I love that. I love to hear what you were saying, it’s so true. That goes, I think, for classical educators or Charlotte Mason purists or Waldorf or Montessori or pick your poison. People can get very uptight if you don’t do things exactly the way that they think you ought to in order to use their label. I think it’s so good for parents to remember that we are the bosses of our own homeschool, under the Lord, of course.
We get to do what’s best for our families and it doesn’t have to look just like anybody else’s. When we take those good principles that probably don’t change, and actually may have more similarity across some philosophies in unexpected ways, but when we take those principles, we really have the freedom to apply them. You don’t have to do Latin.
Some of Tiffany’s favorite parts of homeschooling
Amy: What have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling over the years?
Tiffany: This could be an episode all by itself. I had to exercise a great deal of self-control to make this my answer, not so lengthy. Here’s my shortlist of some of my favorite parts.
One is definitely all the time that I’m able to spend with my children and the daily opportunities that the Lord gives me to be an instrument in His hand to prepare them for life.
Also, how those same opportunities are part of my own sanctification and maturity, so it’s like this double-edged sword.
Also, being able to hear my children read the Bible for the first time. I was thinking about this just a few days ago and I was almost in tears because the living words of the Bible, they are the most important and impactful words my children will ever read. Preparing them to read, so that they can read the Bible, it’s absolutely one of my favorite parts.
Lastly, being not only the teacher but the student alongside them continues to be a gift for me. In school, I was identified as being academically gifted, but there is so much that I have learned for the first time or relearned, “Hello algebra,” as a home educator. Those are some of my favorite parts of homeschooling.
Amy: I have loved seeing my children learn to read and then read God’s word, but I think it’s been especially special for me with my youngest, who has had some struggles with reading. It’s come very, very slowly, very laboriously and he continues to persevere, and I’m so proud of him for that.
Recently in our family devotions, we were reading in the book of Isaiah and he asked if he could read the first couple of verses. I wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to manage it but we just let him take as long as he needed, and he was sounding each word out so slowly. It’s the passage where God gives Isaiah the name for his first child, and I look at this name and I’m like, “I think you can just sound it out. Trust me, none of us really know how to say this word.” [chuckles]
When he sounde it out, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz or whatever it was, and we were like, “That was great.” It was just a really special moment because that’s what we worked hard for. At the end of the day, we want them to read and love God’s word. That’s why we teach them to read and that was just a little special moment I thought I would share.
Tiffany: Yes, absolutely.
Overcoming the challenges of homeschooling
Amy: Well, okay. These are all very special moments that are very joyful about homeschooling, but it can have some challenges, too. What have been some of the challenges that you have faced and how have you sought to overcome those challenges?
Tiffany: This is a little bit of a difficult question, not because I haven’t had any challenges, or because the challenges have been so many. It’s just that looking back, what I’ve endured it just pales in comparison to what I’ve gained, but here’s two that come to mind.
One was when our oldest child transitioned to high school. Okay, so a funny story. When he was starting high school, I was looking for a way to still have discussions with him about what he was reading, and provide some level of accountability that the curriculum didn’t offer. I decided that my course of action would be to purchase copies of all the books that he was reading to read for myself.
Now, let me just tell you a spoiler alert, that was not the best idea. I honestly don’t even know what I was thinking. My husband was assigned out of the state on a military assignment, and I was pregnant with our 7th child. I read one book and I was able to sell the rest. I found other ways to engage with him still, while he was making that transition to high school and have learned and continue to implement things over the years to provide accountability for my children, but also in the middle school years, to really be training and preparing them to take more ownership once we start that 9th-grade year.
Another challenge would be homeschooling through multiple deployments while being pregnant. I was just doing the math in my head, and my husband has been away from home, 6 out of the 10 times that I’ve been pregnant. Early in our homeschool journey, my husband repeatedly encouraged me to teach our children to do some basic household chores, that way they get help with managing the home. He would say, “Teach them to do what they can do so that you can do what only you can do.” I struggled with this at first because I was believing the lie that being a mom meant that I had to do everything.
Now, until our children reach certain developmental milestones, that certainly is the case but as I embrace the truth that teaching them life skills, folding laundry, setting the table, sweeping, helping in the kitchen, the list goes on, I began to realize that my children wouldn’t be children forever. I think that is something that a lot of moms struggle with.
I’ve had conversations and seen that “Well, they’re children,” they are but they are not going to stay that way forever.” As I embrace that truth, that was also freeing. Teaching them to do these things helped us to work together, to care for one another and that has become an invaluable part of our family culture. It’s also been so humbling for me to realize that I need to rely on them, and they needed to learn how to serve one another.
It’s been such a beautiful life-giving journey for us, and I have children as young as 10 years old who can cook, change diapers, lay younger siblings down for naps, those things, help in the kitchen. That’s how we’ve overcome those two challenges.
Practical tips for the overwhelmed homeschool mama
Amy: Well, this was a perfect transition to what I wanted to ask you next because, you understand what it’s like to have a lot of littles, to have a big age range. I would think there’s probably been some times and maybe you have felt overwhelmed for a moment or two, and I know that that is a common experience that many homeschool moms faced and expressed to me, “It just can sometimes seem like too much.”
I guess I wanted to ask what encouragement you would give to that mom who’s feeling overwhelmed, and if you have any practical tips. I think the one of including your children in the daily life of the house is certainly one of them, but I bet you have more.
Tiffany: I’ve got a few more. I’ll start by sharing– And you Montessori people don’t come for me because I’m not going to quote Maria Montessori exactly right, but the gist of her quote is about preparing the environment for a child to learn. While I agree with the necessity of preparing our homes to house the “operations” if you will of educating our children, the most important thing we can prepare is our own hearts, in daily communion with the Lord through prayer and time in the scriptures. This enables us to face the challenges of parenting and teaching our children while bearing with them in their immaturity, and ours, while we are growing up into Christ.
With that perspective of truth, what that helps us to do is that when we are squeezed– If we’re putting scripture in, we’re meditating on His word then when we’re squeezed, it’s the word that’s going to come out. Now I’m not saying that we’re going to do it perfectly and that’s when we repent.
In light of that, here are some other practical things. Pray not only for your children but with your children. Find simple ways to incorporate worship and devotion of some sort into your school day. Time together with Christ at the center is really transformational in our days. Even if it doesn’t seem like it right at the beginning, even if the body language of children, they’re sulky and they’re grumpy, do it anyway. Do it anyway.
Prepare as much as you can the day before. Gather all the necessary supplies for each day, your lesson planner or your books, and corral them into one spot, whether that’s a basket of bookshelf, these fancy rolling carts that they have now, put everything together. It is a challenge to be– You think you’re ready to start and then you don’t have this, and you don’t have that. You’re up and back and forth from wherever you’re doing your lessons, and then you’ve lost your children’s attention. I don’t know about anybody else but that can be trying to herd cats after you’ve had your moment of going back and forth trying to find the things that you need.
Also, remember your why. Why are we doing this? I have found that remembering why I’m doing this, has helped to serve as an anchor for when I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. That why then serves as the baseline for what we do each day, what we do each week, what we’re giving our time to.
Last thing, super practical, just write your lessons in pencil or erasable ink so that you can make changes. Cross things out, circle something you didn’t get to today and move it to the next day or move it to next week, and carefully consider your season.
You’re talking about littles and having a lot of littles and those little years, they’re physically taxing. We have to lean into the fact that not every opportunity is an opportunity for now. The right thing at the wrong time quickly turns into the wrong thing.
The last thing I think I’ll say is we have to lean into the necessity of consistency and discipline, not only for our children, but it has to start with us. Sometimes people get a little squirmy when you start talking about consistency and discipline, but the truth of the matter is we need those things, especially for the family who is looking to stay in this thing called homeschooling for the long haul. You’re going to have to be committed and consistent on those days and in those moments where quitting is a lot easier.
Amy: Yes. Sometimes, I jokingly say that homeschooling would be a lot easier if mom weren’t a sinner, let alone the kids. We like to say, “Oh, the kids, their sin really cramps my style of homeschooling.” Honestly, I think most of the time it’s my own. That is, again, where we come and we repent and we say, “Mommy needs Jesus, too.”
Joyful freedom as homeschoolers
Well, I am just getting so much joy from you as you’re talking about homeschooling and even in the challenges or the things that we have to work through and plan as homeschool moms. This joy and this excitement about this gift that we’ve been given is coming through in your voice, which is really a delight to hear. I would love to know if you think there are these joyful freedoms that we have as homeschoolers that maybe we sometimes forget.
Tiffany: Oh, yes. I think we do. One thing I think we often overlook is the fact that the teacher’s manual is not the boss of us. It is meant to be a guide. It is not meant to be our master, so take it as a suggestion. I’ve told my clients before if you can’t do all of this that the teacher’s manual has laid out for you in a week, scale it back. Make it fit for what you have going on in your life.
We also have the freedom to reevaluate our goals and readjust how we meet those goals and how we are spending our time and our money. We have the freedom to not be tied to making sure our homeschool looks like that of our peers, other homeschool families. It absolutely does not have to.
As a Christian educator, and for those of you who are Christian educators, I think, it’s important to remember that we not only have the freedom, but we need to– I know need is a strong word, but I’m going to use that. We need to keep our gaze toward Christ, and in doing so, keep our educational endeavors geared towards preparing our children to know love and serve Christ in a culture that not only is confused but is increasingly hostile towards the gospel.
Yes, they need to know how to read and spell and understand things in the world around them, but if they are devoid of the feast of God’s word and feasting on His word and storing that up in their hearts, they will not be able to differentiate between right and almost right in their young adult and adult years. It will be detrimental. We can go back and watch videos and learn how to do math again and improve our spelling. While we have our children at home, these arrows that the Bible calls them, we think it’s so imperative that we take the freedom that we have in this country to educate our children and educate them with a biblical worldview that we take that opportunity and we use it daily to be helping our children to prepare a firm foundation for their later years.
Those are some of the things that I can think of, and for me, even this year– So this year I have a 12th grader, a 10th grader, 8th, 5th, 1st grader, a kindergartner, and a very inquisitive three-year-old, and my family started a co-op. At the start of the year, I was having such a difficult time navigating how do I fit in lessons with my younger ones, while my other children still need me, too.
It was a providential reminder from the Lord about what our family has typically done during kindergarten and 1st grade. Even though I’ve got this great curriculum, I needed to scale it back because my kindergartner and my 1st-grader aren’t my only ones that I’m schooling, but just saying, “Okay, I have this freedom, so let me adjust my own expectations for myself–” That I think a lot of moms can resonate with that. We put a lot of expectations on ourselves. I was able to say, “Okay, this is what needs to happen right now in this season.” Just the very basic framework for kindergarten and the 1st-grader, and it has made things so, so much smoother for us.
Amy: That is a great tip. I love that encouragement and that reminder. I sometimes jokingly remind people that “You’re only married to one person, you’re not married to your homeschool plan, and you’re certainly not married to the teacher manual.” You are not stuck there. You have a lot of flexibility to change and tweak depending on the season you’re in.
Advice for the new homeschool mom
Well, Tiffany, is there anything you wish you had known before you started homeschooling? If you could go back in time and talk to yourself as a new homeschool mom– I always love asking this question of people who have been homeschooling for a longer amount of time or veteran homeschoolers, I think I’d love to hear what you would say to your new homeschool mom self.
Tiffany: Oh, well, you know what, I was thinking about this, Amy, and here is what I think is the one thing that I would tell myself, and I’m going to tell you a story to answer this question.
In my 20s, my husband and I, we were serving in leadership at a local church. There was a gentleman, he lived in Africa, and so he would periodically come several times a year to the church. He would preach and he would have specific time with the leadership, praying for us, encouraging us, those things. On one of his visits, our family, we had the pleasure of hosting him overnight. After dinner and we laid the children down, we were just talking. One thing that he said to me, and this was back in 2002, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. Actually, it’s here in my journal, so I’m going to read it.
He said, “In the midst of all your responsibilities, keep seeking Him.” Now, at that time, we had three children. Nobody was school-aged, we weren’t homeschooling, but I can just see the Lord in His kindness was wanting me to know that my responsibilities, they were going to change, but even as they did, I needed to keep seeking him.
Over the years, there was a general weariness that set in not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. I kept on saying to myself, “Well, when this child sleeps through the night, it’ll be better” or “When this child is potty training, it’ll be better,” or always looking for something external to change. I was wanting and waiting for the wrong things to change.
External circumstances are never going to be perfect. I don’t care what social media tries to feed us or blog posts or podcast episodes. External circumstances are never going to be perfect, but I was the one that was in need of change. My perspective about what I was doing needed to change.
The verse from Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 1, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about was so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us and let us run with patience, the race that is set before.” Running requires endurance, and patience requires endurance too, but this is what I would tell myself “In the midst of all your responsibilities, of temporary inconveniences, of temporary disappointments, keep seeking the Lord.“
Amy: What a beautiful encouragement. Thank you for sharing that, Tiffany. That is something that is timely for me, and I know for everyone listening. That would be an encouragement and a good reminder, a challenge as well. I have really enjoyed chatting with you.
What Tiffany is reading lately
Here at the end, I’m going to ask you the questions I ask all my guests and so the first one is just what are you personally reading lately?
Tiffany: I read several books at a time. I’ve done this since I was a child but I was listening to one of your episodes with Min and she mentioned that she’s got several stacks that she’s working through, the same. Three books that I’ll mention right now is Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I’m reading that. Work by Daniel Doriani and then Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. I would like to mention one read-aloud that I recently discovered. It’s called In the Shadow of His Hand. It’s the story of Holocaust survivor, Anita Dittman and it is well done.
Amy: Would that be one that you could read to a wide range of ages as a read-aloud?
Tiffany: Yes. I’m reading it right now to my 10-year-old, but if you’ve got 8-year-olds– My 7-year-old, he comes back and forth to hear when I’m reading it. I would say as young as seven if you’re comfortable with what I call hard history of just explaining a little bit about the Holocaust and Hitler’s agenda, so maybe eight and up.
Amy: I am very excited. I’m going to have to add that to my personal list. I have a couple of my children in particular, who have read The Hiding Place, who have read Darlene Deibler Rose’s memoir which was the same time, but her experience as a prisoner reporter– She was a missionary in the Pacific and I’m always looking for good encouraging books in that same time period to share with them so, thank you.
Tiffany: You’re welcome.
Tiffany’s best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly
Amy: The final question is, what would be your best tip for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?
Tiffany: I think I’ve hit on this a bit as we’ve talked but if I had to say what is my best tip, it would be for moms to remember what our role is in educating our children. Because I’m a Christian educator, that’s the lens that I’m looking through, so our time with them and their education, it is more than just dates and dead people, and things that have happened in math facts.
It is so much more than that but we have to understand that that is what our role is and when we do, we shift from seeing their education as some type of ending point, and we see it as a starting point. We are preparing them to– As I said, live in this world, in this culture, know God, serve Him, love Him, and engage in the culture through that biblical lens, but for lack of a better word, it lifts our vision higher, as we see that we are preparing them to be continual learners.
I don’t know anybody who graduated from high school and then knew everything, or graduated from college and then knew everything. I still had to learn how to hook up a washer and dryer, how to make basic repairs. All I’m saying is that their education is not the end. It is a foundation for them to then take with them into their adult years when they’re no longer with us when they are making decisions on their own. I think that would be– I think that’s my best tip.
Find Tiffany Jefferson online
Amy: Wow, it’s a good one! Tiffany, where can people find you all around the internet?
Tiffany: They can find me on my website that’s finishwithjoy.com. They can also find me on Instagram at Tiffany Homeschool Coach and on Facebook under the same name, Tiffany Homeschool Coach.
Amy: I will have links for those places in the show notes for this episode over at www.humilityanddoxology.com. Thank you so much, Tiffany. This was really great to get to chat with you.
Tiffany: It was my joy. Thank you.