In a word, we have been swamped this homeschool year. Hubby has traveled extensively for work such that I do not have much day-to-day help at home. The oldest leaving for college means that I lost my at-home driver while Dad’s away. Our son’s dance activities and college-related activities increased exponentially, meaning that my taxi cab hat is on more often. Finally, the business is growing and taking unexpected turns, all of which I consider blessings and the path of God. Following that path, however, means that when I am home, there is much more to do than usual, and I must be an even better steward of time. Having said all of that, I definitely need to commit to a blogging schedule. Perhaps that is something that I can think about during our fall break on next week.
When life gets this busy, our homeschooling schedule can quickly go awry. In the earliest days, that drove me batty. I can even remember our first year of homeschooling, when I took the time to plan every day of the first semester; imagine my frustration when something unexpected and urgent sent my erasers into overload. Thank goodness that I did not write down anything in ink! Over the years, however, I have learned several realizations to this whole “homeschooling thing” that have truly given me peace and a sense of freedom about scheduling, planning, and learning to look at life–including our school life–in its proper perspective. If I knew over a decade ago what I know now, I might follow this type of advice:
1) More subjects–and/or more dollars– don’t always translate into more learning. Sometimes more is just…well, more. I can remember in the early days, I thought the Charlotte Mason approach was just entirely too simple. No texts? Short lessons? Are you kidding me??!! So I began adding…and adding…and adding. I grew weary just watching the kids try and complete all that work!! Written narrations and a separate writing course, plus formal lessons in grammar, which included writing assignments. Yes, I was a crazed woman. Thankfully, it only took me a semester (or maybe a year–yikes!) to make the adjustments and get back to basics. Plus, that revelation was far more budget-friendly than what I sought out to do. Knowledge for knowledge’s sake can become a source of pride and idolatry if we are not careful (1 Corinthians 8:1-2). Therefore, I deliberately focus on mastery of core information and then allow the kids to build from that foundation as their interests dictate.
Another bit of wisdom that fits into the category of ‘more does not always mean more’ is the purchase of teacher’s manuals. Do not misunderstand here; there are subjects and places where a teacher’s manual can help both student and (even more) teacher. Some parents even welcome the pre-scripted lessons and total layout of lessons and lesson plans. But those thick, costly manuals with tons of “say this” and “say that” were an unnecessary expense for me, especially in the grammar stage of learning.
2) Learning happens outside of the books as much as it happens inside. I feel very confident about the choices we have made regarding living books, textbooks (where we use them), and other planned activities that formally educate our children. Moreover, as a curriculum writer, I spend countless hours with that same expectation for those children who will learn based upon what I have written. I can now state with equal confidence, however, that the bird feeder, placed strategically at the window of our dining room/ schoolroom is an educational experience. The snails, lizards, and frogs that don our front yard are an educational experience. Grocery shopping, as well as managing a home in general, are educational experiences. Consequently, I do not need to buy a home economics curriculum; I need to engage the kids in the day-to-day operation of our home, and the economics involved in that operation.
3) School is a reflection of what is happening in my home. In reading Charlotte Mason’s series on education, I found it curious that she begins her volumes with discussions about eating and resting. What do these have to do with educating our children? Everything. As of this writing, one of the most heated debates regarding American public school education is what to feed the children, how much, and who controls the primary administration of this task (the government versus the parent). There are valid arguments on either side, but where I am going with this discussion is that this is one place from which we can get a clue from the public school system: junk in produces junk out. Our children respond very differently to hours at the table based upon a diet of whole foods, primarily raw, with salt and sugar controlled by me versus the processed, salt and sugar-laden foods that are marketed with kids dancing around while eating. (Maybe the amount of sugar is why they’re dancing!! LOL!!!)
Similarly, if there is no discipline, there is no education. However that happens in your home, it must happen. That habit of attentiveness must be deliberately nurtured and developed such that your child can receive the world around him. Moreover, here’s something to think about when it comes to creating the atmosphere for learning at home: you cannot mentor in others what you cannot master in yourself. The best way that we can keep our children excited about learning is to be life-long learners. This facet of education includes the books we read, the television programming we watch, and yes, our countenance at the table. Kids pick up non-verbal clues about how they should approach the table and its content from parents. I am not suggesting that you sing as you wash dishes or dance with a broom, but I’m just sayin’…
4) My most important role is in producing Christian disciples. Quite honestly, this has been the hardest lesson for me to learn, although you would think that it would have come easily and naturally. Part of the reason that I understood this later rather than earlier in our homeschooling journey is that, unlike many Christian homeschooling families, we did not begin homeschooling because of some heartfelt conviction from the Holy Spirit or great calling from the Lord (although I do sincerely believe that homeschooling is a calling and is not for everyone). Our initial decision was more economic, and the idea of continuing the children’s Christian education was an added bonus, but not the primary catalyst for pulling our children out of private school. Consequently, I focused heavily on the academic content of what they were learning. Fast-forwarding a number of years, we have always included Bible study, but it has only recently (as in within the last 5 years) hit me that if we raise smart children who do not comprehend the power of the Blood, we have done nothing. When our children were small and largely under our protective wing, it was easy to shield them from an ungodly world. When our children began to branch out from under us with age, however, I saw and heard of some of the choices of their peers–their peers who were raised in Christian homes, mind you. And though I know that no one is above making wrong choices in life, I also see the need for positioning them to have an encounter with our Most High God. We can no longer take for granted that because we take children to church on Sunday then it will be enough; we must be intentional in our walking out the life of Christ each day, all day.
5) Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness…(Matthew 6:33) Where will this journey lead us? With one child (somewhat) out of the house, our path is far from completed. I can say in complete faith, however, that if I had it to do over again, I would still choose this path. There are countless intangibles that have come our way in addition to the comfort in knowing that our children have a solid educational and spiritual foundation. The shift from academics first and foremost to discipleship as the foundation has made me a better teacher, making much clearer decisions about our subject matter and where it might fit in to the overall objectives of this time in school. More than anything, with an eye on the Savior, I choose joy and find peace when my plans go awry–something I could not do when I had academic studies out of order. I am also able to model for our children that Christ comes before it all, and is Lord over it all.
Having said all of this, I count myself not to have apprehended, and would love to hear your thoughts. What are some lessons in home education that you wish you had known in the earliest of days?