The Most Typical Time of the Year

It’s almost Christmas.  Yesterday I sat down with the kids and told them how this week will unfold if everything goes the way I suspect it will– that there will be fun but also boredom; sweet moments but also snippy responses from siblings and parents with cabin fever; excitement but also hints of the blues, maybe.  I reminded them that Christmas morning will come with presents under the tree, but also visits to two separate nursing homes, where my grandparents wait out the ends of their lives without knowing what day it is.

I wanted my kids to be prepared for the everydayness of this week–the truth that, even with the sparkle of the season, there’s going to be plodding and flashes of frustration.  Even in the happiness, there might be secret (or not-so-secret) undercurrents of grief and insecurity, as there are for so many of us.  I wanted them to understand, when they’re slightly let down after ripping the last package open, that having mixed feelings about all of it is OK.

Because I feel that way, too.  And so do most people I talk to about this season of high expectations.  It’s only when we accept that joy will steal up on us while we’re not expecting it, that it will be interspersed with normal–even banal–things like loading the dishwasher, standing in the doorway of a hospital room, or serving cookies to someone who can’t quite chew them the way she used to, that we are set free to celebrate the baby who was born in a drafty barn on an ordinary night.

*For another take on helping kids set reasonable expectations of the season, see this.*

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The Real Reason I Homeschool

IMG_00011Look, there are a lot of reasons people have for teaching their own kids.  Many of them are good and compelling.  But, for me, most have faded over time.  I see my kids growing up and I think, They were always going to be OK. 

And, anyway, homeschooling is hard and can suck the life out of a person, especially a person who used to carry a planner.  Our warm educational fuzzies have grown a little threadbare during these middle years, and the tender platitudes that used to spur me on now find me with my fingers in my ears and, you know, maybe rocking in my bathroom.

But, so help me, there is one thing that hasn’t changed–and that is my need to go slow through this life.  It turns out that a poet crawled into my head and, having rattled around there, came back and wrote a poem that exactly describes my Actual Real Reason for doing this life the way I do.

To wit:

Leisure

by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That’s my reason, folks.  What’s yours?

Vitamin B For the Flabby (Homeschooling) Soul

I don’t know if anyone else needs the encouragement to keep going with school-at-home now that the weather has decided to stop being foolish.  But I, for one, feel like I’m on the last lap at a track meet.  I always need to be reminded why I’ve chosen this life right about now.  So, without further ado, some quotable quotes from smart people about why freedom, flexibility, and focused time are some the best educational gifts we can give our kids–that, in the end, they help to foster real learning, not regurgitation.  (Plus, it’s almost pool weather).

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”
Plato

“Self-education is the only possible education; the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
Charlotte M. Mason

“Thank goodness my education was neglected.”
Beatrix Potter

“It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry.”
Albert Einstein

“The home is the chief school of human virtues.”
William Ellery Channing

“It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about what many people call ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing.”
John Holt

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.”
James Beattie

“We want our children to become who they are— and a developed person is, above all, free. But freedom as we define it doesn’t mean doing what you want. Freedom means the ability to make choices that are good for you. It is the power to choose to become what you are capable of becoming, to develop your unique potential by making choices that turn possibility into reality. It is the ability to make choices that actualize you. As often as not, maybe more often than not, this kind of freedom means doing what you do not want, doing what is uncomfortable or tiring or boring or annoying.”
Gregory Millman, Homeschooling: A Family’s Journey

“The home is the first and most effective place to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self control, the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
David O. McKay

Keep going, fellow Mom-Teachers!  Summer is coming.  What you’re doing is worth it!

How Much School Is Too Much? How Much Is Enough?

An email from a reader:

We are in our second year of homeschooling our daughter. She is in kindergarten, so we have not been very formal about it yet. I also have an almost 4 year old and a 9 month old. They all keep me on my toes. I’d like to think our difficulties with homeschooling–being consistent, engaged, keeping good attitudes, etc–can be easily explained by this season of life. But I’m just not sure! I want to be successful and enjoy the time teaching and learning with my children…I really do. 
I have had a difficult time finding a curriculum or curricula that I like and that my daughter likes. It’s been discouraging starting and stopping the few we’ve tried. At the same time, I feel like she is still so young…maybe she doesn’t need a curriculum yet. 
I think my biggest problem is that I feel as though I am doing this alone and I have no direction or guidance. And, of course, part of me feels inadequate and unable to teach my children the way they will need to be taught. 
Currently we are looking into a few different options for next year, two of which include homeschool co-ops of sorts. Like I said, I see the benefits for the future in homeschooling, but it can be so difficult to keep that perspective while going through the day to day. 
Thank you for being kind enough to offer your help and/or encouragement. (Sorry this kind of rambled on!) I look forward to your reply and also reading more on your blog. Have a blessed morning/day!
This is how I answered her:

Oh, A.  I wish we were sitting across from one another at a coffee shop and I could look you in the eye. 

Here’s the first thing I would say:  It is going to be OK.  Really.  Your little girl is TOO YOUNG to be forced to do school right now, unless you can have some workbooks and library books lying around and she picks them up because she wants to be a “big” girl.

The second thing I would say is:  Let her curl up in your lap and just read to her.  The same books, over and over, if she wants you to.  Let her know how special she is to you.  She will NEVER forget that you did this and it will mean the world someday.  She does not need more than that right now. 

Third:  Have you read Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s book, ‘Better Late Than Early’?  If you haven’t, let someone watch the kids while you run to the library to check it out.  You will be encouraged to find that children learn better when they start later with formal seat work, not earlier.

Fourth:  The library is more than adequate to provide you with curricula right now.  But when your daughter wants to read, you might like to try ‘Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons’–but only when she wants to!  I taught all three of my kids to read using this inexpensive resource.  It’s been passed down to my nieces and nephews and is tattered now.

Fifth:  Co-op can be a wonderful encouragement for your child, but the real winner might be you.  I find that co-ops offer some educational benefits to children here and there.  But the biggest beneficiaries are the moms, hands down.  If you can find one that suits you, and one that you can afford, then I’d say it might be worth it.  My kids and I did not join ours until we had been homeschooling for almost 7 years already, but it has been a real blessing for us.

My heart is for people just like you.  I am woefully human.  The Bible calls us ‘jars of clay’ because we are all so ordinary and easily broken.  My homeschool journey doesn’t make sense unless I tell you that it is Jesus who has made all the difference in my impatient, hurried, driven heart.  He is helping me to be kind, loving, patient.  It’s just taking a long time! 

But even with all my imperfections, and please know they are many, I asked my kids the other day if they’d like to go to school.  They looked at me as if I’d said a bad word, though I haven’t spent my time trashing the public school

They said, “Absolutely not!  Never.  No.” 

I said, “But I get angry at you all, and sometimes I want to explode, and so do you.” 

To which they replied, “Yeah but we still pick you.” 

And your kids still pick you.  Your daughter would pick you any day of the week. 

Be encouraged.  You can do this.  I know you can.

Love,

Hannah

For those of you who have a bit more experience on this journey, what can you add to help this mom?  There are many more like her (more every day, if the statistics are correct) and they need encouragement.  Leave your (polite, kind) thoughts in the comments.  I know they’ll be appreciated!