Why do we homeschool? Are our children keeping up with their public school peers? Are we making the right choice? Are we using the right curriculum? Are we using the best homeschool method? Why don’t they enjoy learning as much as I want them to? Why aren’t they grasping this concept faster? Is it OK to break the traditional 8-3, M-F school day? Will we finish our school year on time? And what is “on time” exactly?
This homeschool year is our 3rd official year of homeschooling. JR is in 1st grade, M is in K-4, and A and N do a little Montessori activity on the side. It is our 2nd year using the Abeka curriculum. This year has been a little rough. Between the housing issues causing a lot of interruptions and delays in our schooling, holidays and vacations that resulted in us taking weeks at a time off, and the birth of our newest baby, I have really struggled to stay even close to “caught up” on our assignments and daily lesson plans. The anticipated upcoming move only added to the pressure I was feeling. After we re-started school after the Christmas holidays, I began having a lot of attitude problems with JR during certain school lessons. It caused me to get a bit frustrated and I threatened to burn out for a short spell. All the circumstances combined to make me start asking myself the questions above. I really had to start praying and re-evaluating my reasons and choices. S and I had a lot of discussion, and fortunately, even on my roughest days, he was the one that pushes me to continue because he so strongly believed in what we are doing. In an attempt to really find some solutions to my problems, I started experimenting with our school day a bit. I researched other curriculums and school methods again. Then, recently, I talked to some fellow homeschool moms that attend our church. Over the last couple weeks, I have had some HUGE light-bulb moments in regards to what our priorities are, and how they relate to our homeschooling in general.
I realized that I was putting far to much pressure on myself to create a more traditional schooling experience for my children. I was trying to document lessons, organize worksheets, keep good records, and train the children to act almost like they were among 30 other children in a classroom– they should sit still, with good posture, be quiet, focus on work, and ask questions only with permission.
When I began to re-evaluate, I began to see why homeschooling was no fun for the kids! We homeschool because we want MORE for our children than a standard school day! Yet, I had become a bit of an ogre of a teacher, with my priorities completely mixed up! I immediately backed off. I lessened the seat work I was requiring, quit following the teacher’s manual so strictly, and waited to see what would happen. I also began to watch the children. I realized that my 4 and 6 yr. old children both read far better than their public-school friends and neighbors of the same age. My 6 yr. old can read a traditional clock and tell me what time it is. JR can count to 200 by 1’s, 5’s, 10’s, and 25’s. M can count almost to 100, and A can count to ten and identify many letters of the alphabet. JR can add and subtract 2-digit numbers, and understands basic fractions like 1/2, 1/3, and 1/4. He can count money to a point, understands basic sentence structure, can spell many words, and is starting to write multi-sentence stories in cursive. Much more important than basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, our children can sing praise and worship to our Heavenly Father. They can tell us what communion is, how the earth was created, and identify many people of the Bible. They know Jesus loves them personally, and created each of them in their own special and unique ways.
When I started to realize what they did know, I quit worrying so much about teaching them what they didn’t. Amazingly, many of the bad attitudes and resistance disappeared, and were replaced by more willing attitudes in regards to completing schoolwork. Formal learning, while perhaps not their favorite past-time, became more enjoyable. I also began to realize that even though we had fallen a bit behind in some seat work areas, we had more than made up for it in real-life lessons. We have visited the zoos where I have been able to use my extensive history in the animal field to teach my children all sorts of things about animals of our world. We have gone inisde real working gold mines, panned for gold, attended rodeos, hiked to mountain tops, learned about our military, and so much more! We have been able to travel the country-side and give the children visual and personal experience in the states and places they have studied. I have been able to turn on the news or youtube.com and let them listen to and see images of things happening in our world today. They have been able to watch the duties a president or a king or a dictator performs, and see how they treat their people differently. They have watched the poverty that some people live in, and we have been able to discuss our blessings in detail. We recently attended a Native American Indian festival, where they learned all about traditional Native American crafts, beliefs, dress, and more. Where they were once a bit nervous at the idea of an “Indian,” they were able to mingle and talk to real Indians, and see that we were all the same in God’s eyes. They have been able to participate in projects to help and serve others. They have been able to witness daily the duties of being a husband/wife/father/mother, as S and I try diligently to include them in many of our household responsibilities. JR has learned to prepare and even cook basic meals with no assistance. The older children have been able assist us with their new baby sister, learning how to dress, bathe, feed, diaper, swaddle, soothe, etc. Because they don’t just leave every morning and come home to a clean house every afternoon, they have experienced first hand the effort that it takes to clean and keep clean. Oh, how the list could go on.
My point in this once-again-too-lengthy post is that I am learning that in order to be most effective, homeschooling has to be integrated as a way of life. In order to work through those rough days, it must be about so much more than the seatwork, formal curriculum, and daily lesson plans. It must be about earning our children’s hearts, showing our children the world, allowing them to experience as much as we can about the world around them. Rather than focusing on teaching basic arithmetic, I can show them why we need arithmetic to cook, mix cleaners, and build things around the house. It is my job to teach them how learning can be fun through these experiences. As part of this, I am learning it is OK to mix-and-match homeschool methods and curriculums so it suits us and our children. I can tailor and customize to each child, so JR can learn by hands-on experience, M can read about adventures, I can use activities to help A with his focus, and allow N to always be improving his fine motor skill development. It is OK to not limit JR to his one lesson per day, but rather, to allow and reward him for taking initiative to work ahead on future lessons when he finds them easy and understands. When I do feel a bit behind, it is perfectly acceptable to do school on the weekends, or to do the minimum needed for that day. And through it all, because I am there, I can better ensure that godly, bibilical seeds are being planted so that they can grow spiritually as well as physically and mentally. After all, isn’t “raising the next generation for Christ” the foundational basis of true Christian parenting?