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Wednesday Thoughts

For the next three days, I’ll be attending my first home-schoolers’ conference. Last summer, I didn’t want to attend one. It required a small amount of pocket money, and I felt wary of what I imagined would liken to a pep-rally of home-schooling enthusiasm and propaganda. I’m clearly not opposed to home-schooling; I just know there are a hundred different approaches, some healthy and some not, and one thing I seriously caution against is believing that this venture is the thing that will change the world for my child. It’s to our family’s pleasure and benefit, and ultimately committed to the Lord for what He’ll see fit to bring about in the future. I do it with hope. It is not my Hope.

This conference will be smallish. I definitely have a share of experience and research behind me, so my own opinions are already planted, leaving less room for confusion and sway. And this will be with like-minded parents in that we’ve all chosen a Classical approach. Most significantly, it’s where I’ll receive training to be a tutor in the co-operative we’re joining this year!

Anyway. I wanted to share two short thoughts, and be on my way today.

  1. I read yesterday, tucked inside a whole paragraph of good ideas for Language Arts education, “The best way to help your children learn to write well is to practice writing your own essays and stories.” Ouch! I got stun-gunned! Maybe I’ll be inflicting my not-together thoughts upon this site a little more often.
  2. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, readily found in milk, are fat-soluble, meaning our bodies need fat in order to sufficiently adsorb them. This is why my family drinks whole milk. This is also partly why consuming fats with vegetable-rich meals is critical. (Along with that pleasing taste motivates us to eat our full portion of nutrient-dense foods!) The trick, for me, is using quality fats. Moderate butter, olive oil, cream, yes. Donuts, chips, not so much. Now, look, I did it! I said something in Science!

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Subject: Humanity

In PreK-4, Noah exceeded government allowance for illness-related absences.

In K, I kept count of his absences, sometimes sending him tardy and ill, rather than have a day docked.

In first grade homeschool, we have:

  1. Taken a three-day weekend to attend an out-of-state wedding.
  2. Attended the funeral of Noah’s great-grandfather.
  3. Taken a week off to visit out-of-state family and attend the funeral of Noah’s great-uncle.

None of these three would be excused absences, especially (and understandably) the spontaneous week’s worth of #3. But to us, they are valuable. They’re the stuff life is made out of: human relationships at the raw, family and friends in the most basic expressions of community. I am thankful.

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The Why of GHS

In 2010, my wheels began turning. I’d met a women named Melanie, she seemed cool. She didn’t advertise it, but she was a homeschool mom. It was the first time I’d seen homeschooling as a legitimate possibility. People do this. Admirable, normal, city-dwelling people. I started reading.

After months of research and brainstorming, months of exhilaration and anxiety whirl-winded together, and after a Spring Break trial week, we did it: we withdrew Noah from his high-performing, so-fortunate-we-got-in charter school. We said good-bye to bright classrooms and gifted teachers. We were homeschooling. We were on our own, by choice.

Why?

Teachers. They know what they’re doing. They’re organized and researched. They offer things I can maybe do, but with the confidence of experience. Or they offer things I cannot, such as violin lessons, P.E., and theater productions.

Administrators. They pull it together with tested techniques and curriculum. At the KIPP Academy, they do what works. It’s passion-invested, praise-worthy, brilliant.

Peers. Children need peers to develop well. Childhood spats builds character muscles, in the long run. Kids need friendships.

Yet we’d hit a point where it was undeniable. We had to do this. For Noah. For our family. We couldn’t even wait politely to end the school year. We had caught vision for what could be; and we were reacting to a reality of tension and chaos.

I could talk about reading. Or diet. Or rest, physical health, character growth. They were all situational problems that required parental solution. The main point, though, is that we were no longer raising our son. Where I saw Noah having an actual need, or our family unit having an immediate need, I had to first answer to the school system. It was a huge burden, and a conflict to our home. So often, my maternal instincts clashed with the organizational demands of the school. I started to see the school, the excellent school, as a surrogate family: great for children who don’t have a mom available; imposing for a child whose mom wants access to her role.

It’s important to me that I know my child, and that he knows me. I was trying to stuff our relationship into Saturday pockets, un-doing and re-shaping the values he had picked up from the playground the prior week. We didn’t have much time together, and much less did Noah spend with his dad and brother. We were tired, cranky, frequently sick. Noah became despondent at home and school. I attributed that to fatigue, and most importantly, how as parents, we had imposed constant discipline (mostly in the form of “Hurry up”s) without the balance of affection. I’ve heard that for children, love is spelled t-i-m-e. We weren’t investing in him as parents whose love is realized — but we pushed him to keep the pace up, because we couldn’t afford to slow it down.

So that was our Spring Break Revolution. It’s been a year. We’ve learned a lot. It’s working.

I’ve lost the handy gauge that comes from teacher expectation and peer level. But I know Noah’s progressing. I know he’s comprehending our lessons, piecing the components together. As a home-educator, I’m learning about programs to introduce to maximize the flexibility we have here. History, grammar, math, reading, scripture… playgroup, choir, possibly a co-op next year. I don’t want to pull Noah away from the world. If anything, I want him to go into the world, being involved and helpful. We’re simply figuring out how to get from A to B, assessing where to place our steps so we can meet the goal.

A lady I admire, about my mom’s age, recently advised me that homeschooling is okay since my kids are young, but that high school is an important experience. It was hard for me to relate to that. Then I realized: our starting ground is drastically different. This lady’s experience of high school, perhaps even her daughter’s, is nowhere close to mine. The context is all off. I was a senior the year of Columbine. Some of my teachers were invested, some of them were careless. My family fell apart, and I crumbled under the weight of it, nearly not graduating.

My values, hardly a coincidence, are:

  • Struggles are important for learning to navigate, and that experience builds character. But too often for students, too often, crises don’t just callous; they impair. Strain builds muscle — unless the strain overwhelms, and the spirit collapses underneath it. Who among us has not observed this in the present generation??
  • There is perhaps nothing so important for a child as having a home base. A place to retreat, to be built up, to make sense of things, and to gear up for the next day. In Song of Solomon, this is metaphorically called En Gedi. I think children need an En Gedi, too.
  • School, as a building and a culture, is not always a safe place. Physically, sexually, emotionally, and on a different thought, ideologically. School is often a safe place. But parents cannot risk the gamble of assuming that everything will be fine because their imaginations want it to be fine. To be a parent is to be the responsible party. At least for your duration, and to the boundaries of common sense. I am over-protective, my mother has said. So be it. I will not close my eyes to my child.

None of these values say that homeschooling is the right way (not everyone could, should, or would want to). They just call for vigilance. My and Jared’s vigilance, which is hardly a virtue, it’s so reactively instilled, told us we had to do this. There’s been an increase of peace since then. If impatience is synonymous with intolerance, than I became impatient with our previous family system. And not as my credit, but as my treasure, patience is easier to find now.

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Impatience shouts. I’ve been trying to play more the observer — when I have the eventual melt-down, to open up and see what brought me to that ill moment. Unfailingly, it’s  stress, pressure, feeling like I must do such-a-thing, in such-a-way, to meet such-an-expectation. At least that’s what it looks like for me. This is simple, but I think my emotions communicate the breaking points my mind tries to overlook. They’re my heart in “Stop ignoring me!” swing.

When I’m impatient, restless, that’s the time to step back and identify.

  • In a relationship, is my integrity being challenged? Is my intuition calling attention to legitimate fear? Or is my heart rebelling against sanctification, resisting the open space where discipline and generosity would humble the voice of self-service?
  • In my schedule, is the engagement a benefit? Or does it compromise peace, and the things I more deeply long to be doing?
  • In my spirit, what is going on? Is my heart responding to a tension between God, my flesh, my worldly influences? Is there spiritual attack?

One thing I know: Impatience indicates that something is wrong.

Passion excites. What drives me to impatience is when I don’t have passions satisfied! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)  In spirit and in truth, the more my passions conform to God’s passions, the more I can delight in pursuing them full-heartedly, joyfully, and free from repercussions.

Parenting grows [a child — and hello, a parent, too]. That I am impatient with my children points to sin: either mine, theirs, or both. I have broken Noah’s tender heart with my impatience, in following pressures from a third party. Braeden, the thick-skinned one, frequently feels impatience towards us who would ask him to pause a moment. (He’s learning well.) A year ago, I would teach Noah something, but want him to hurry up already, so I could go on pursuing my  more immediate priority — revealing my sin (especially when it was So You Think You Can Dance?) More recently, we feel impatient when Braeden interrupts dinner conversation. So we’re teaching him how to manage that situation to where he can be both heard and respectful.

The thing that hurts, and the thing that’s hard to say, is that I don’t understand what my friends-who-are-unquestionably-committed-parents quite mean when they say they don’t have the patience to spend time with their child. I don’t trust I hear the motive correctly. Is it that Child is driving Mom crazy, and she needs moments to herself? Is it that parenting is a big, multi-faceted job, and she feels there are experts who could be helpful along the journey? Is it that she sees a handful of options, but none seem to suit, especially the stay-at-home ones? I don’t know what’s behind, “I don’t have the patience to be with my child.” Parenting and teaching are rather synonymous in my head. Not everyone should homeschool. Not every mommy will teach her child directly, the skills of X, Y, and/or Z. Yet parents are teachers, and always will be. Whether it’s academics, character, ethic, worldview, leisure conduct, religion, relationship skills,  self-identity, or lack of it all — no parent can escape being also a teacher.

My heart dearly wants to say that patience is not a human characteristic. It’s fruit of the Spirit. Where God issues His blessing, there is peace. There is patience. Where He has not, patience fails.

I want to be on the sniff. Armed with bible knowledge and a houndishly sensitive nose. Jesus says, “…Hear my voice….” I’ll paraphrase, quite loosing the shepherd context, and say, “Sniff me out.” I hesitate to plan far in advance, because I want to be fragranced by His directing, before I commit to my own ardent, well-intended, foolish-laid plans. This I believe: God does not want us to try harder to cope with chaos. He wants us to seek out peace, which is the sound of His voice, the aroma of His fruit.

I need the Body just as much as the next girl. Let me know if you think my nose is disjointed. We need each other, almost as much as we need the grace that connects us.

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It’s been awhile! School is in session. We’re starting gradually, while we acquire the materials we need. Here’s where we are:

Things I love:

-Reading with Noah daily, and doing narration exercises. That means after I read, we close the book, he retells the story while I write his words, he reads his narration aloud, illustrates, and captions. It’s good hearing his retention, and he’s on the path to learning storytelling. His narrations are already above where we left off in school; I credit that to simple attention span, as  it relates to interest and energy (we struggled with fatigue during the group-school days).  And also, I suppose, method. In school, he was asked to relate to characters, which I thought was too abstract for his age. I just ask him to tell me about the story. Today we completed a book of fairy tales. I believe his favorite is Pinocchio.

-Penmanship. I choose a sentence from the reading, which he transcribes onto first grade lined paper, focusing on precision. Yikes. He had gotten into a few bad habits, and it feels good to be correcting those.

-Grammar. We’re new into grammar. The focus is on common nouns. Last week, Noah memorized a short poem. It’s so impressive what young minds can memorize! Braeden always gets in on the game, which is especially fun.

-Play. Noah’s favorite part of homeschool is playing with his brother. Amen.

-Breakfast at the park. Because — why not? Plus, it affords us outside-time during the freshest, most pleasant time of day.

-Non-compete field trips. The zoo. The went the hour it opened, which meant we beat the field-trip rush. There was one moment when Noah, Braeden, and I stooped down on the sidewalk to examine the ants. I would never have had time to do that before! It was bliss. And we see so many other homeschool families, which at this early phase for me just feels nice.

-Lunches. It’s small, but I treasure sharing lunches, and preparing them fresh. Lunch used to be mundane and predictable in the lunchbox. It’s nice having healthy options that can come right out of the fridge, and eating together. Noah loves to be in on the prepping/cooking action.

The Jesus Storybook Bible, on audio. This is one of Noah’s favorite parts of the day. He reads as he listens. The writing is good, so his language skills are being strengthened with his reading. The audio narration is excellent. And the stories are some of the best children’s retellings I’ve experienced. I absolutely love this bible!

-Science. Noah has a sketchbook where we do science narrations and illustrations. It’s pretty adorable. Already he asks me questions to which I don’t know the answers. So I say, “Let’s look it up in the Animal Encyclopedia, and then make a narration page.” Did you know ladybugs have a defense mechanism of bleeding from their knees, because it gives off a bitter taste? I knew I’d learn a few things from revisiting elementary education.

-Reading. All the time! Independent reading has found a spot in our home, finally. And it’s soaring.

To build on:

-Not surprisingly, schedule. We’re still finding our groove.

-Math, History, Spanish, Art. Religion. We’re building up, and we’ll get there by Summer. I feel most urgent about math and history, though I also feel the need to have Spanish exposure, maybe twice per week. Noah was in a great Spanish program in group-school, and I don’t want to allow his learning there to back-slide.

So we’re moving right along. Having a Dynamic Duo during the day isn’t as tricky as I thought it might be. They’re getting along well. Braeden listens during story time. He draws or self-plays during lesson time. He memorizes along with Noah. And there’s bountiful brother-time. I feel more relaxed, though I do want to get on top of scheduling for all the subjects. Right now, I’m trying to let myself off the hook by remembering how good it is simply to regain that family relationship, and let reading and writing take off.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

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Yep, I am a…

…homeschool mom.

I took cupcakes to Noah’s class today, to offer his peers a pleasant farewell. Noah had written letters to his teachers (art, music, P.E., violin, Spanish), which we delivered, along with single roses for those who are ladies. Miss. V. allowed each student to give Noah a hug in turn. I gave and received kind words. I cried when Miss. Denny held Noah in a super hug (she was a big, glowing part of Pre-K). I signed the withdrawal form, got a copy, and we were off.

It’s done, baby. I might be crazy. I might be clever. But it is done.

See ya tomorrow, Noah. What do you feel like doing? That’s a joke. Kind of. Because a day to decompress feels entirely appropriate.

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This is it!

Tomorrow is Noah’s last day enrolled in group education. I made the request yesterday for the withdrawal form to be prepared. I also visited Noah’s Pre-K teacher, wanting to share the news with her personally. She was an immense blessing last year; I will always picture Mrs. Perez as the perfect teacher-blend of professionalism and personal investment. If you need a Pre-K teacher, I know the best one in Houston!

I also spoke with Noah’s current interim teacher, Miss. V., who is graciously allowing me to bring cupcakes to class tomorrow as a farewell gesture.

I went into the school jittery, but happy and peaceful in my core. It was good confirmation. (I coached myself not to smile when I told the receptionist my business of withdrawal.)

The teachers were both incredibly supportive. I tried to go in without expectations — these are dedicated group-educators — but I could not ask for a more affirming response. Mrs. Perez verified that I had a curriculum, and after that didn’t question my plans at all, instead offering supportive and enthusiastic words. Before Miss. Rhoden-Lewis withdrew this winter for family reasons, she and I talked one afternoon about homeschooling. I had decided to keep quiet, but it came up naturally one day, and she supported me, saying she intends to be a homeschool mom once she has children! Miss. V.  was likewise so kind, sharing things she notices about Noah related to family involvement.

Somebody needs to bark at me, because I’m expecting it. Instead, I’m getting love, and it’s such a gift. These ladies know I want to be an engaged parent. It’s tough questioning someone who’s both joyful and confident. And so, so much speaks of their grace.

Last Saturday, we four sat down together to watch Up. It felt fitting. (Two weeks ago, we watched The Incredibles, which also felt fitting: a family of supers going about their super business!) On one hand, you have the adopted-family role of Carl to Russell, emphasizing how indispensable the relationship is to each.  Also are the stories of Carl and Charles Muntz,  each following after their lofty yet respectable dreams. Each comes to a point where the dream absorbs them, overshadowing their perception of what is good and right in the moment at hand. Carl lapses in his challenge, but is later able to refocus and apply himself to today. Charles Muntz remains bound by his dream, and it destroys him. What a fabulous image for me: I do feel like God has gently directed me in this, showing me that it’s good! Yet I don’t want homeschooling to become my driving force, my answer. I don’t want it to overshadow the moments, and people. It is lofty and ambitious. It will make demands, and offer rewards. If it absorbs me too loftily, too ambitiously, I’m in trouble. While, like Carl, embracing the romantic, the exciting, even the deviant, I want to stay grounded. I can’t believe it’s starting!

 

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