Praise God that after an uncertain weekend regarding our sole source of income Tom is now able to work again remotely. We are hearing of more and more families that are being affected financially by these extreme measures to reduce illness in our country. Perhaps you’re not being affected financially but your world has been turned upside down in other ways. Maybe you have loved ones at home with pre-existing conditions that you are fighting to protect. Or maybe the fighting is on other fronts. Perhaps a difficult living situation is now being exasperated by the lock down. There are all kinds of issues at play right now that can easily create a stressful environment in the homes we’ve been sequestered to. Don’t let the perhaps new experience of homeschooling be one of them.
I want to be sensitive to those for whom home is not a happy sanctuary right now. But I also want to encourage you moms out there who have it in your power to make the place of your family’s confinement a little less prison-like. Take it from a recovering perfectionist. Moms have the capacity to bring more misery into the home than any virus and sometimes homeschool can be the perfect vehicle for that misery.
A little background: We’ve been homeschooling for over 10 years but my homeschool ambitions pre-date that by probably another 10, maybe 20. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do. And after a miserable public school career myself, I wanted to do a very thorough job of it. I even got a degree in Philosophy just because it was the closest thing the university offered to a classical education, which I considered absolutely essential to intellectual formation. I was literally making scope-and-sequence spreadsheets and writing up science and Bible curriculum before our first child was ever born.
Then we had boys. 5 of them. It took me about 10 minutes to realize my well-wrought plans might need a little tweaking. It’s taken me about 10 years to finally come to terms with my strengths and weakness as a homeschool mom. While we were living in Hawaii I blogged through several years of that journey on these three sites: God Made Known, Of Skies and Seas, and Full Manger. Each of those links is to a post chronicling the trial and error process of trying to get this homeschooling thing right.
The evolution continued when we moved back to California and I adopted our 7-by-11, Delve-till-Twelve, Done-by-One schedule. This means that each boy has 7 tasks they needed to accomplish independently by 11AM. Those tasks included such basics as “brush your teeth” for the youngest, morning chores for all and subjects like math, spelling and music practice for the olders. I really like this feature because it’s super flexible allowing kids to choose the order in which they want to get things done, or getting it all done the night before if they want to spend their morning hours hunting, fishing, playing hockey on the frozen pond or just sleeping in. By 11 I’ve had a chance to do my tasks, down a few cups of coffee and spend some time with the youngest on reading before we all come together for Bible, science and history. These are the subjects we really get into. I do a lot of just reading aloud but we also do a lot of discussion. In other words, we Delve-till-Twelve. That’s when Dad comes home for lunch so we take a break and then clean everything up. Which means on a good day, we’re Done-by-One and they’re free for the rest of the day. Now I have a sophomore and freshman in high school so they do have extra work later in the day, but in general this is the schedule that works best for us. At least for now.
My point in all this is that homeschooling can become really stressful, really fast if you’re not willing to be flexible with expectations, activities, resources and schedules.
- Having a houseful of active boys meant that I had to give up on my child-hood dreams of a one-room-school house like setting where my kids sat in old-fashioned desks and listened to me instruct them from the chalkboard in all the classics. Instead they sprawl on the floor and scoot back and forth on a skateboard or hang upside down from the sofa as I read to them about whatever we find interesting.
- As my boys grew their tolerance for crafts and busy-work disappeared which meant I had to let go of all things cute or clever. I cannot think of a single thing we do now that would be deemed Pinterest worthy. They want the information and if I can’t get it for them, they want to find it themselves. They want to talk about what they’re learning. They want to plot and plan and put what they’re learning into practice themselves.
- Not all curricula are created equal. Or egalitarian. Mostly they’re designed by girls, for girls. The agrarian themed Mennonite published materials that I was so enamored with early on were absolutely loathsome to my blood-thirsty boys. They don’t want to study farm animals, they want to study fierce and hostile predators. The most exciting thing about history for them is not the womens suffrage movement. It’s war. Thankfully, there’s plenty of material for them in that regard. And word problems in math should just never, ever involve Betty and her bake sale.
- Finally scheduling. Some kids thrive in a highly structured environment. They like the security of being told what to do and how and when to get it done. They need a well-regulated rhythm. I have about a half of one of those kids. He volunteers to make more rules (I hate rules) one minute but breaks the few that we have the next. He asks for a written schedule and then spends all his time ignoring it. He insists he needs a thorough explanation for an assignment and then argues his way out of doing it that way. In general I’ve learned that most boys really just want one thing more than anything else in the world and that’s FREEDOM. That’s why traditional school can be such torture for some of them. And homeschool can become the same way if flexibility doesn’t reign supreme.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a proponent of chaos. I’m a recovering perfectionist, remember? I’m the type who can’t sit down to read a book in a messy room. I make my bed every morning and clean the kitchen overnight. Loud noises rattle my nerves to the core. Spreadsheets are my friend. So God gave me a fun-loving, impulsive husband and 5 adventuresome boys who would probably be leading a very tidy but bored existence if it weren’t for their Dad to balance me out. In other words, I’ve had to learn to be flexible. To laugh at myself and my failures. To trust a faithful and merciful Heavenly Father who has led our family every step of the way.
And I’ve had to learn to make home a sanctuary, not a prison. To know the difference and draw the line between order and obsession, between fun and frenzy, between comfort and chaos, between pretty and Pinterest-worthy, between structure and slavery-to-a-schedule, between teaching and tyranny. I’ve had to learn balance and moderation and flexibility and letting-go and economy and grace and—all the while it was my kids that were supposedly being home-schooled.
What might this new experience of being “stuck-at-home-all-day-with-your-kids” have to teach you? By God’s grace we will all come out of this historical event a little more conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, and a little more peace in the places we call “home.”