My Homeschool Decision

I’m embarrassed to admit it. When my oldest two were no more than toddlers, I was looking forward to the day they would finally be old enough to go off to school, and I could have a few hours of peace and quiet to collect my thoughts. Despite being homeschooled for six years myself (and enjoying it), I had no plans to homeschool my boys. Sure, the idea crossed my mind every once in a while, but the situation I was involved with at that point would no more have allowed me to homeschool than to take a three-month vacation to a remote tropical island. My husband at the time resented me staying home with the boys instead of getting a “real job” to help pay the bills. It was a low point in my life. Shortly after the birth of our third son, he moved out. The divorce was devastating not only to me but also to my eldest two — particularly the oldest, who had just turned four. I moved back to my hometown and in with my mother to start attending college and regroup my life (this is another story that proves God is still able to bless in the midst of the storm, but I’ll save it for another time).

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Picking dandelions and playing in the leaves — the best kind of learning at that age

When my oldest was 5½, I enrolled him in our local church school’s preschool program. The teacher was awesome, and my son really seemed to mature as the year progressed. Sure there were a few bad habits that he had picked up, but I figured we’d just continue working on those as they presented themselves, and that eventually they would lessen and go away. The only problem was that the sour attitude and bossiness were not getting better. They were getting worse. I remember going to a birthday party with some friends from his class toward the end of the school year. Everyone seemed to get along famously, but near the end of the party a couple of children didn’t share the swings as my son wished. Instead of asking nicely for a chance to swing, he turned his back, crossed his arms, glared at them, and hollered angrily, “You’re not my friend!” I was shocked. He didn’t do that at home! I immediately told him that was not appropriate behavior, and we left shortly afterwards. This was one of many bad behaviors that I caught (and I’m certain there were many more that I did not catch).

At this point some of you may be thinking, “That’s typical 5½-year-old behavior. Why get bent out of shape over it?” Children need guidance — the best guides most often being parents, who know their child’s strengths and weaknesses intimately. I knew that it was not “more socialization” that he needed in order to break those habits — it was less. He was reacting that way because he was overwhelmed by all the stimulation of the day. (In a future post I hope to discuss sensitivity in children to a greater degree.) A classroom teacher, even the best, most wonderful, loving teacher — which he had, and we still adore her — is not always going to know the root cause of why certain undesirable behaviors are being displayed. The solution to correcting those actions may even seem counter-intuitive.

Over the summer things seemed to go pretty well. We moved out of my mom’s house and into our own place, and some of the behaviors that were so troubling seemed to go away. I decided to go ahead and put my son back into kindergarten that fall, hoping that things would be better the next year. Two days after school started it was very evident that the bad attitude had returned. He felt he didn’t have to listen to me at home, and was very mean and rude to a little girl that he had played with nicely several times before. I was not pleased with the person my child was turning into. He was thoughtful and helpful at home, but was becoming a tyrant to the other children at school. After praying about the situation extensively with my mother that evening, I went in the next day to withdraw him from classes. I told the teacher that it just wasn’t going to work out, and that my decision had nothing to do with finances or her (she is a wonderfully sweet woman who cares deeply about her students). While sad to see him go, the teacher understood I had to do what I felt was best for my son. And mothers, isn’t this is what we are here for — to do the best for our children, regardless of how difficult the road ahead may be?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was busy working on my college degree, so did not have as much time to devote to homeschooling as I would have liked. For the first year and a half, the bulk of homeschooling was done by my mother. It was slow, difficult progress. My son (six years old by that time) seemed disinterested in actually learning anything that required effort. He resisted, balked, and refused to apply himself. We strained for every ounce of progress that was made. But slowly, with lots of prayer and effort, there began to be improvement both in my son’s attitude and his desire to learn. Eventually I realized that we needed to “de-school” more than anything, so we took a break the next year. There was still plenty of learning that happened; it just didn’t look anything like what I thought homeschooling should. At this point, the style that works best for us is an eclectic mix of unschooling and textbooks. This may change at any time, and it may change for you. Ahhh, the ways in which we grow!

After going through this experience, I am more determined than ever to homeschool as long as God provides a way. So far we’ve been going strong for almost six years. The thing I admire most about homeschoolers is that many of them have a certain demeanor that their traditionally schooled peers lack — one of respect, attentiveness, and engagement. It is exciting to see my sons taking on those traits. When I, or any adult, talk to them, they are there soaking every word up like little sponges. The former indifference and heedlessness is gone. They are finally eager to learn. Sure, there will always be critics and naysayers, but as a parent I know my children better than anyone else in the world. I know what makes them tick. I know what they need to thrive. And, I know that I would not miss this blessed time of learning and teaching for all the quiet afternoons this century has to offer. My quiet afternoons will come one day in the not too distant future…and I’m certain some of them will be spent wishing my three little princes were snuggled around me working math problems, or asking myriads of “what, how, why, and if” questions.

Charlotte Mason Education, Part 1

When I first began homeschooling my children just over a decade ago, one of my favorite things to do with them was to read aloud. I loved sitting in a cozy space with my children all snuggled around me while I read great adventures and heartwarming stories of old. I was drawn to vintage curriculum used in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and I stumbled across Old Fashioned Education online. Little did I know this would be my introduction to Charlotte Mason education. I taught my children to read through McGuffey Readers and spent hours reading stories aloud to them after lunch. We used a grammar curriculum from the early 1900s, along with Dick and Jane books. Plus, we spent a lot of time reading aloud. I loved this time in our education.

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But, somewhere along the way I got burned out, life got hectic, the kids were getting older, and a new little one was on the way. I tried a bunch of different types of educational methods and just couldn’t find what worked. So, I resorted to worksheets. While it was easy, it was lacking in depth and passion. The kids weren’t enjoying it and neither was I. I craved something meaningful, enriching, and beautiful. I longed for that simpler time when the kids were younger and all we needed was a good book and time outside! And, then it happened! I was perusing Pinterest and stumbled across Charlotte Mason. I don’t remember exactly what blog post, quote, or picture drew me in, but it was like a fire was lit! All of a sudden I was excited again! I spent hours researching and reading everything I could get my hands on. The Charlotte Mason method of education was exactly what I had been craving.

So, who is Charlotte Mason and what was her method of teaching? Charlotte Mason was a British educator who believed there is more to education then just learning to take tests. She believed that each child is their own individual person, capable of dealing with a multitude of enriching ideas. She believed they are not just a blank slate ready to be molded. She said that education is a discipline, an atmosphere, and a life. True education is about finding out who we are within this world that God created and how we fit into it.

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“An Atmosphere, A Discipline, A Life”

Charlotte Mason had three main principles that her method was built around. “Atmosphere” refers to the surroundings in which a child grows up. A child absorbs so much from their surroundings. In fact she believed that the rules that govern us as parents make up one third of a child’s education. “Discipline” is also referred to as “Habits,” specifically good character habits. This is another third of a child’s education. The last third of a child’s education is “Life.” This portion applies to academics. Charlotte Mason believed that we should give children and education that is full of living books, thoughts, and ideas, rather than dry textbooks, worksheets, and facts. The application of her educational method is based on this idea.

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Charlotte Mason believed in teaching subjects through living books. She encouraged including topics that were lovely, like poetry, composer and artist study, and nature studies. She was a huge proponent of children spending lots of time in nature, and believed formal education should wait until the child is 8-10 years old.

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I am still in the learning phase of this method of education, but I found that I could immediately apply her method while still learning. There are so many wonderful resources out there that have helped me.

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Further Links for Reading:

Next month I will cover Part 2 on how we are applying the Charlotte Mason Method with our children from toddler to middle schoolers.

 

Life Skills for Homeschoolers, Pt 12 When You Can No Longer Be There

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In the normal scheme of life, our babies grow up and move out on their own. Sometimes though, our children end up needing lifetime care. Unfortunately, the number of children needing lifetime care is increasing exponentially. Research shows that by 2030, over 80% of our children will be on the autism spectrum. That doesn’t even come close to the numbers predicted for type 2 diabetes.

When our children have challenges, it brings along many topics most parents do not have to think about, much less plan for. If your child has only one presenting issue that is easily managed, you might not have to worry about anything else. If your child has multiple issues, then it might be beneficial to think “what if?”

When my son was nine, I was told that he would need to be put in a home when I got tired of taking care of him. Let me tell you, this mama became more determined to do whatever it took to prove them wrong. They didn’t know the power of our God or the stubbornness of his mama. I’m very blessed that God granted prayers. My son functions quite well.

Sometimes, though, children do not develop to the point where they can live independently and function somewhat normally in society. They will need some type of care even into adulthood.

When that happens, the parents need to be proactive and take steps when the child is a teenager. Once a child hits 18, the parent loses rights to make many decisions. Before this magical age, a parent needs to set up things like guardianship if a need exists. There is a lot of paperwork involved, depending on the state. Agencies such as Parents Unlimited can help a parent through the steps, if needed. Disability Action Center also provides assistance to resources. Every state has these agencies.

One option parents can choose is to become a Licensed Family Home, where they can receive state help to care for their child. It is easy to look up the requirements. Others may be unable to provide the needed care for a number of reasons. Other options would be group homes where they have staff 24/7 who are trained to provide assistance. There are different levels of homes. Some homes the residents are pretty independent with only minimum assistance. They are taught life skills to hopefully help them be able to reach a level where they can live alone. Others exist where more care is given. The resident may share a home with three or four other residents with similar issues. They will have a house parent who may or may not be 24/7.

Sometimes a child may need someone there to oversee their living situation, but they can operate independently for the most part. They may need a payee for money management. Disability Action Center can point you to resources that can help in these areas. They will also help the parent set up the best living situation for the youth as they grow older. Their main goal is to help people with challenges live as independently as possible. Be sure to take advantage of their free services.

Maybe a parent can provide the needed care past young adulthood. However, parents do not live forever. Before something happens, make sure arrangements are already in place to provide whatever care is needed. If the adult child will move to living with another family member, then this topic needs to be discussed in detail. What about living costs? How will those be handled? If there is a life insurance policy, then the legal paperwork needs to be taken care of ahead of time. We never know if we will have a fatal accident or become incapacitated due to illness/accident. Do not wait. If you have a special needs child who may need any type of assistance past childhood, take the steps now to become prepared.

Be sure to discuss plans with your child. Before I knew how far my son would develop, I took time to talk to my oldest son to ask if he was willing to provide care if something happened to me. I put everything in a will. All the paperwork was done in plenty of time. Even though this was not needed, it provided peace of mind. I also discussed this with my youngest so that he knew things would be ok if something happened. In fact, I even had a backup person if something happened to my son and he was unable to provide the needed care.

I truly considered myself blessed to have a child with challenges. Being his parent made me a better person in every way possible. I grew and developed to a greater depth of character that would not have happened otherwise. Because of this blessing, I made sure I took steps to carry out my responsibility in case something happened to me.

No one lives forever. If you have children with special challenges, it is extremely important to take those legal steps to make sure things are arranged ahead of time to provide whatever level of care they need for after you are gone. Pray about it. Talk it out. Do not sweep the subject under the rug. Your child needs you to be responsible on this important topic.

 

 

 

Keeping It Real

If you’ve been following our family’s story, you know four things about us:

1. My husband and I separated in 2010 and narrowly missed divorcing. The fact that our marriage survived is nothing short of a miracle of God.

2. My husband and I are “unequally yoked.”

3. Our family worked our way into radical unschooling.

4. Our oldest son decided to attend a traditional school this year – a charter school.

I thought I would give you an update on Ethan. Because of a couple of those four things, our path has been anything but smooth and I hope to encourage – or commiserate(!) – with some reading this blog if your journey be similar at all to mine!

I just firmly believe that many times we, as human being and especially as homeschoolers, tend to hide our warts and exaggerate our medals.

There are some families who really do just excel, and I wish them the best and continued success!

However, that leaves some of us feeling like failures, not sure where to go to get encouragement, because if we admit to struggles to some family members or friends, they will obviously or subtly blame the act of homeschooling itself. Or our family dynamics. Or our personal faults.

It’s scary to be vulnerable. It’s scary to be honest. And yet, I’m going to be both on this blog today.

You see, Ethan is struggling.

The first semester of high school he did great! Got good grades. Enjoyed his classes! He’d finally gotten what he always wanted!

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Now reality has set in. He struggles with personality conflicts with two of his teachers — thinks one just isn’t adequately teaching the subject matter.

A couple of days ago, I got a letter from the teacher he doesn’t like, his chemistry teacher. He’d gotten caught cheating.

Sigh.

Failure. My heart convicts me!

How is it that we take our children’s missteps so to heart, as if everyone doesn’t struggle, especially in their teen years?

That day, I met him at school to take him to work, and we ended up in an hour-long conversation. It started with him doing his level-best to push every button that I own, trying to make me angry. When that didn’t work, we moved into a phase of more productive communication.

Just to give you some background, once he got his driver’s license, we’d told him that we expected him to get a job to help pay his own expenses: car insurance and cell phone. He went out and got a job working at Burger King working 20 hours a week.

Working practically every Sabbath.

Another failure felt deeply.

Within the first week or so, I expressed my concern that a $9-an-hour job not jeopardize his education. He seemed more concerned with work and socializing than homework. Then I got the notice that he was failing a class (the teacher who wasn’t teaching right; “no one” was doing well in her class).

He assured me that he’d worked it out with her and turned in missing assignments.

Then came the email about the cheating (the teacher he had personality conflicts with).

The one thing that I wanted him to understand is that we don’t have all the answers. This is the first time we’re dealing with the issues of balancing work and school and his social life. Yes, Thomas – our son from Whitney’s first marriage – had lived with us during his high school, but his mom was perfectly willing to pay his insurance and give him spending money, so he didn’t have to work.

Thomas paid the price – and continues to pay – for that on many different levels once he was “on his own” as an adult…still expecting Mom to help pay for things.

We wanted better for Ethan, and one of the lessons we wanted him to learn is how to be responsible, how to manage and save his money.

But at the same time, our family’s finances did not rise and fall on him paying his portion of the now crazy-expensive insurance premiums or his cell phone. His father makes good money and we could do it; we just don’t believe that we should.

That day, the conversation veered back and forth. At first he denying cheating, blaming me for being forced to work; according to him, he’d been led to believe that if he weren’t working we wouldn’t be able to buy groceries because of the insurance costs {rolls eyes}.

When I proposed that he quit, suddenly he wanted to work, enjoyed having the money. And, once he’d calmed down he admitted that yes, in fact, he did cheat, but “everyone in that class does it.”

…{takes a deep breath and lets it out}…

This son of ours is an oldest child in every sense of the word.

I don’t know, perhaps your firstborns are responsible, willing to listen to advice, thoughtful and careful about the decisions they make. If so, you are blessed indeed!

I am the youngest child, and while I did my share of stupid things as a kid, I was still just not even a blip on my parent’s radar. I didn’t give them any cause to worry about my decisions (what they didn’t know couldn’t concern them, and I shielded them from many of my shenanigans). I never broke curfew. I listened and many times heeded their advice on grown-up issues.

So, I don’t understand this innate drive to go contrary to conventional wisdom! This need to make every mistake and jump off every cliff just to learn his own lessons! Why go SPLAT when you can observe and talk to those who have, and learn from their mistakes?

It has seemed like every single thing that I ever wanted that kid to do, he would subtly go the opposite direction. Sometimes not so subtly. While we have a really close relationship, there are times when I feel like I have very little chance to make a difference for him. He won’t let me.

He’s picked up every subtle, and not-so-subtle, cue about what I want him to do, and gone off in some other direction.

I guess that brings me around to this question, the question that probably haunts many of you.

What to do in the face of it?

I don’t know what you’ll do, but based on many conversations with my sister, who was the oldest, and her daughter, also an oldest, I am convicted that the only thing I can do is keep loving my son. Draw boundaries where I need to, but trying to “force” him to do anything – manipulate him into doing anything – will, in the end, drive him further away.

What I need to do more than anything is to show him that regardless of his decisions, regardless of his mistakes, regardless of whether I agree with any of the above, I love him and will be his safe place.

He’s 17 years old now. If I haven’t taught him my values (remember, I have a husband who doesn’t share them) and even more so lived them, then it’s way too late to try and force them on him.

And so, I do my best. Some days failing, some days succeeding. But the only hope I have is to show him God — the Father in the Prodigal Son parable who allows the son to make his mistakes, to go completely contrary to what he’s been taught, and who still loves, accepts, and welcomes his son back.

Hopefully my son won’t go completely away from “home.”

But in the end, if I don’t show my son that “religion” and God are all about relationship, then I’ve experienced the ultimate failure. I don’t want for him a shell of observance and rules. I don’t want an empty and dry heart sitting in a pew, following every jot and tittle. I would prefer a heart that has learned life lessons the hard way and been drawn back to a loving God to be in a living relationship.

And so, I man the oars and fight the fight.

To be continued!

Power of Positive Thinking

happy familyWe often think of homeschooling as teaching math, language, science, and history. Other learning such as career exploration, computer science, and music might be included, as might life skills such as personal finance and cooking. Some learning is by books, computers, or other media. Much is also by example.

Recently, I have been pondering the teaching of word mastery. Our children have a large vocabulary, but I’m referring more to using words with a positive attitude. An optimistic attitude is encouraged in our home, as is a “can-do” approach to life. I believe in these ideals, but sometimes I need to step back and ensure I am exemplifying them.

I’m normally what I refer to as a realistic optimist; I know that life can be challenging, but I also know that, in the long run, most problems will be worked out and the sun will shine again. But, when I am tired or frustrated, it’s too easy to slip into the “nothing is going right” mode, allowing the pessimistic words to flow. I’ve noticed that my children’s attitudes can quickly follow mine, and soon we are all irritable. I’ve found the opposite to also be true: my optimism can transform my family’s attitudes into the positive range, too.

“But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful,” Psalm 68:3.

A positive attitude serves more than just to make happy people, although it certainly does that. Chores are easier and more fun with a happy demeanor. Schoolwork is not only easier, but the lessons learned seem to be more set into memory. And, our household is just happier and more enjoyable when everyone is in positive mindset.

“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live,” Ecclesiastes 3:12.

Science has given us another reason to see the sun and rainbows amidst the rain. People with a happy, can-do attitude live longer and healthier lives. The Mayo Clinic cites these results in this article about positive thinking.

With all the benefits of keeping a positive outlook, it seems that modeling and teaching this to our children should be a major focus in our homeschooling and lifestyle. It may be a challenge some days to do so, but in the end the entire family will benefit!

Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

 

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