From my prayer journal, circa October 2010:
“The plan of the LORD stands forever; the design of his heart through all generations.” Psalm 33:11
I’m a planner. I’m always making lists, mapping out my day, my month, sometimes even my year. We’ve started our first official year of homeschooling, and my propensity to plan kicked into high gear. I created this elaborate spreadsheet that broke up our days into chunks of time and study. Not a minute would be wasted. We’d have nature study and observe great art together. Madeline would practice her sums and reading. Everything would go relatively smoothly because I had a plan.
During our very first week we were reading about the Fertile Crescent. I was showing Madeline (and our little onlookers) where the area is on a modern day globe. What I hadn’t anticipated in my curriculum planning were how the two younger sisters were going to want to get involved. Mary Elizabeth was constantly in destruction mode, trying to eat crayons. I’m afraid her poop might be a swirl of colors. Rachel didn’t want to feel left out and was constantly asking me for more “school” to do. I thought I’d anticipated this well because I had put together her own “school” box – a big cardboard box full of fun things to do like write with white chalk on black construction paper or use lacing cards. But she really wanted to do big-girl school.
I was desperately trying to keep Madeline’s attention amidst the chaos, but it was too much for her. Her sisters distracted her. She stood up and walked away from the lovely lesson I’d planned and before I had a chance to tell her to please come back and listen just for a few more minutes (you know, so we could live up to that fancy spreadsheet), I watched as she went to help her little sisters. She showed Rachel how to write a letter “D,” and then she handed a toy that had been out of Mary Elizabeth’s reach. My daughter, my little school girl was sticking to the most important plan of all: The Lord’s plan, Your plan, and a plan that is led by love more than the clock or accomplishments. No wonder generations have called You blessed. The world is full of goodness of the goodness that is You and so are our homes even when our personal plans are completely derailed.
I was flipping through my journal and when I saw that entry, I came face-to-face with many of the doubts I’ve had about homeschooling that had led me to discern sending my children to school. For now we are going to continue homeschooling.
In many ways, the school decision was sort of made for us for the immediate future. The local Montessori school’s waiting list is quite long, and the parochial school’s academic year starts the first week in August. This seemed so early, and during the discernment process I was concerned how it would work out sending Madeline to school around the same time a new baby was due. We’ve been very spoiled in not having to answer to anyone else’s schedule. So my husband and I decided I would homeschool for at least one more year figuring we can’t screw up elementary school and then make a more deliberate, prayerful decision for the 2012-2013 year.
Honestly, I was in panic mode when I started discerning all of this, and there were some underlying emotions and family stresses that I never felt called to discuss outside of our home coming into play. However, my time of necessary rest has given me profound inner peace about the decision our family has made.
As soon as I was faced with pre-term labor and the possibility (which grows less likely every single day I continue to gestate, thanks be to God!) of a baby in the NICU, I was grateful we could be flexible with exactly when our more formal homeschooling began. (I’m thinking probably after Labor Day.) We’ve had a lot of help with the girls, and sometimes this has required them going to stay with the grandparents. I miss them, and I can’t imagine having to shuffle Madeline off to school every day. Nor did I want to even think about how we would all handle the stress of a possibly medically-fragile baby and a complete shift in our family’s daily rhythm if Madeline was to go off to school-school.
I’ve actually found myself getting excited again about homeschooling, which I would have thought would never happen again a few months ago. (An added bonus: Homeschooling gives me an excuse to binge on some new books each summer!) I’ve been reading and planning – but not obsessively so. I’ve been putting my trust back into Charlotte Mason’s gentle art of learning – and into God.
I also recently finished reading Pocketful of Pinecones: Nature Study With the Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola. The book serves to encourage homeschooling moms as well as to provide insight into how to make nature study a part of your family’s life; yet, it’s not written in a traditional how-to format. There is no didactic instruction. Instead, the reader is invited into the pages of a journal belonging to a fictional mother living in the 1930s who embarks on her first year of homeschooling. The book also includes a list of books useful for nature study as well as excerpts from some of Charlotte Mason’s writings.
These words from the book’s supplement section jumped out at me as I was reflecting upon this upcoming homeschooling year:
“To have an aim and a direction, even if accomplishments are small at the start, is far better than to drift along in insecurity and confusion, relying only upon snippets of advice from well-meaning friends. Even with great guidance…home teaching may still be a struggle. Please understand that a new home teacher goes through a transition period.
Carol [the fictional woman whose journal we’re privy to in Pocketful of Pinecones] put her trust in a method that appealed to her. She was careful to attempt no more than she felt she could handle at any given time. She couldn’t fully realize the ideal educational environment presented in Home Education [by Charlotte Mason]. She had to be content with what she was able to do, while acknowledging room for improvement.”
With this wisdom in mind, I need to remember a few things as I begin another year of homeschooling:
1. Having a plan is helpful. This gives us aim and direction, but it needs to be our family’s plan, and it needs to be rooted in God’s will as well as be flexible enough that it won’t make us all miserable. Likewise, as this wonderful post reminded me, one of the biggest perks of homeschooling lies in the flexibility – not only in terms of how our day-to-day lessons and learning unfold but also how I approach each child. I need to be aware of and focus on my daughters’ strengths and adapt accordingly. I can build our days around what makes my children strong and as La Paz Home Learning points out,
“By focusing on her strengths, gradually her weaknesses, which really are so small in the long run, become even smaller.
Until eventually, without us even noticing, they quietly disappear.
And that’s the beauty of it.”
2. Homeschooling is going to feel like a gift sometimes. It will easy to be recognize the beauty of it then. On other days, however, it’s going to feel like a real struggle. I need to try to focus on the big picture and not get bogged down by the challenges. I need to call to mind all that we have accomplished rather than obsess over what didn’t get done. I need to remember what’s gone right when things start to go wrong. I need to accept that there will be a transition period this year, especially since we are welcoming a new baby into our home.
3. I need to trust my instincts and the methods I have chosen for our family. I need not be overly ambitious or feel like I have to do everything I want to do or set out to do. I want to allow for plenty of “free” time to dawdle, dream, play outside, read, enjoy board games together, and draw.
4. Likewise, I need to remember that this is just one year. This is not the rest of our lives. Discernment is an on-going process. I need to approach decisions about each of my children’s schooling year by year and child by child. No need to get ahead of myself.
5. Finally, I want my children to know that our family and caring for one another takes primacy over their lessons. If my daughter abandons her copy work to help a younger sibling, I should be grateful, not frustrated. I entrust this year to God and the lessons He plans to teach all of us.