Friday, February 7, 2014

The "I-Could-Never-Do-That" Home School Nod {Or What Home School Is For Us}

I started my day without coffee.
First mistake.
Or maybe, staying up way too late last night to have some much required quiet time of my own was the first mistake.
Either way, today was not a good school day for us.
Honestly, this whole week has been a bit rough.
While not a complete train wreck, it was spent getting less done than anticipated.
Handwriting and spelling are like mountains to my second grader. 
He can read until the cows come home and practically does math in his sleep.
But hand him a paper and pencil and ask him to neatly write a few sentences, well, you would think I asked him to throw away all his Legos.
What I planned to start our day with, and should only take ten minutes to do, took two hours. 
Two hours.
By the end of those hours, I was a frustrated and impatient mama.
He was discouraged and hated the assignment even more (if that is even possible).
I don't think he liked me much, either, by the end of it all.
These are not the kinds of days that I think "today I will finally write that post about homeschooling". 
But every other time I sit to write about our home school journey, I come up short.
Probably because I am trying to write on the days where, miraculously, everything comes together like strawberries and cream.
Those days are like diamonds.
Beautiful, exciting, and rare.
So, today I decided that it was time to get real and to get what I could into a post about home school.
The good, the bad, and the I-don't-want-to-do-school today ugly.
I always love when people talk with me about home school.
Their first response is " I could never do it".
That was my thought, also, before I jumped into this life of home schooling and all hours learning.
That is my thought, sometimes still, especially on weeks like this.
Every home school mama I knew would just nod her head and smile when I would say those words to her.
And, really, I used to believe the paralyzing lie in every syllable of those words.
How could I be "school" for my children? 
Where would I find the time, the wisdom, the patience, the sanity?
Sending my kids off to school, although a bitter sweet milestone, was also a chance for me to maybe get the house clean for once, or go back to school myself, or jump back into a job, or volunteer, read a book, write a book,or even just catch up on some of the sleep I lost since they were born.
How would I pick curriculum (what is curriculum?).
How would I teach them? Educate? Inspire?
How would I grade them without being too easy or too hard?
What about socialization? How would they have friends?
Home school was not even an option for me.
At least the home school I had in my mind.
Then we tried public school.
It wasn't for us.
The teachers are, for the most part, amazing and real miracle workers.
How they can take a class overflowing with little strangers and get the masses of them each and every year to hit major benchmarks is nothing short of a miracle.
But I could not stand the "masses" part.
I could see how my bright little boy was getting lost in the shuffle, his spirit of learning being squashed by the requirement of sitting still and not asking questions at every turn.
Don't get me wrong. 
In a class of twenty plus kindergartners there has to be a system if anything is going to get done and people are going to not go crazy.
But it was that same system that was killing the natural drive and enthusiasm to learn my little boy had.
It just wasn't for us.
So I started (frantically!?) calling everyone I knew, past and present for advice on home school.
Those dear veteran home school mamas that answered my relentless questioning after a mere week in public school for my first born, they are saints.
Those mamas that prayed me through the struggle of what I was expecting and what I was experiencing, they still deserve my thanks.
My husband, who listened to God's call on our family and agreed to change the course of education for our whole family, he is amazing.
How God changed my heart and opened doors, surprised me at every new milestone, that with Him, I could do this, that was a gift of grace.
And so, now, when people find out we home school and they say to me "I could never do that" I have somehow learned that same nod I once saw others give me.
And I can't speak for the other mamas, but I know for me that nod means so much.
It means:
Home school isn't about replicating the institution of school in our home. 
It isn't about making our kids into mini-geniuses or rushing them into subjects just to check a box on a form or to show up nay-sayers.
It is important to remember that others do judge us for this choice, especially when they see a child's messy handwriting, a misspelled word or my incorrect grammar (" and she teaches  her kids?" I might hear them snicker.) 
These kinds of criticisms will be great teachers for our whole family.
Their judgement does not equal our truth.
We don't need desks in a row and worksheets piled high enough to reach the moon to have quality learning.
(Although those are all things you would see me try when we first started on this journey).
Actually some of our best learning is done without worksheets and far beyond the confines of a desk.
Learning at home doesn't just happen between the hours of 8 and 3, and often a great educational discussion can come from a great cartoon, a picture on a cereal box, and especially everyday life.
Friends and friendships are made at every stop, everyday. 
The kids get to be themselves, and so, make a variety friends from many different age groups and social situations, who are interested in them, not what lunch table they sit at.
This fact, in itself, has huge positive consequences that will follow them for their entire lives.
The best books are enjoyed together or reading on the back deck or curled up on the couch next to our dog and they are almost never stories out of a textbook.
A home school home can never, ever, ever have enough books. 
I have found that my library card may wear out and the path the mailman takes to deliver my book orders may never grow grass again. 
I have rediscovered a love of fairy tales and classic stories and the joy that comes from knowing that the kids will stay up late reading just because they want to.
Math is more fun when you can listen to music and wear sunglasses.
History becomes relevant when it isn't just about dates and facts, but about real people we come to know and be inspired by through their real life stories.
Some days are hard, really hard.
One bad day, one bad week, does not equal a bad home school experience.
It is all about the journey, and some days we just have to stop and reset. 
Or stop and rest.
Or stop and drink a slow cup of coffee while a friend listens close.
Some days I wonder how we will get it all done? What if I am messing it all up? And I admit that I, too, would like to whine about having to do math.
Some days I might daydream about having a weekday to myself, or what having my own paycheck would feel like again. 
It has been hard when I  lose touch with some people because I can't meet for coffee without kids, or I have to turn down a great job, or even just say no to a great opportunity because we just have to make time for the kids to get that report on rock types done.
But some days are amazing.
The kind of days I just want to bottle up and store for remembering years from now.
The moments when I realize my littlest is reading.
Or when my oldest starts telling me facts that he learned while reading a geology (college!) text book late into the night. 
Watching things come together for each child, in their own way, in their own time, is a treasured gift.
When suddenly 3x10 has meaning and when a world that is bigger than all of us can be discovered just by digging in the back yard, opening a story book or while listening to stories from an much older friend.
The days when we have so many social activities we go from one place to the next with hardly a breath in between, meeting and making wonderful friends each step of the way are exhausting but priceless.
Or the days when puzzle assembly  leads to fish identification, or the painting time that finds me joining along, being inspired by their innovative creativity. 
It is a time where we learn together, where I am captivated by history and life stories from the world around me just as much as they are.
Homeschooling does not mean I must become "school" for my kids. 
Homeschooling is just making the commitment that we will learn how to live the best life we can in the world we all share
That includes learning math, reading, history, science ,personal and social responsibilities and  even making sure you have legible handwriting. 
And really, so much more.
I do not need to, nor can I ever, know all I need to know about every subject before I teach it.
I will sometimes learn with them, often learn from them, occasionally stay up all night trying to figure it out or just find a great person who better understands and can teach it instead of me.
Mostly, I have learned that our home school isn't about me and what I can and can't do.
It is about learning to trust God and knowing that He will direct our path. 
And He does. 
Every time.
I am thankful for all the times I get to nod this nod.
It helps me to remember why we do what we do.
It helps me forget to think of learning as an institution, as something that can only be measured by filling in bubbles on a test in a classroom. 
Instead, I now know learning as a way of life. 
Home school, for our family, is where life and learning coincide and something amazing comes from it.
So, this week has been a bit funky.
Not quite filled with diamond-y sparkles, not quite strawberries and cream.
But we still did learn so very much.
What was planned may not have all been checked off the list, but learning did not stop just because the list was left behind.
We learned, we played, we lived.
And even still, handwriting was practiced, math games were played and a few good books were started and finished.
And, if nothing else,
I have learned that come Monday morning,
I will start my day with coffee.