Square One

 

There’s a reason that trial-and-error has long been a system of experimentation. It works in science, math, multiple choice. We’ve found that it works on the farm. Which end of the garden is the best soil for tomatoes? How much water do the plants need during the hottest month? What food helps the chickens lay the best? What kind of boxes do they like to roost in? If we make this fence higher, will the goat stay in the pen? No. If we add barbed wire? No. I think trial-and-error is exactly how some goat farmer long ago figured out that only electric fences will keep goats in the pen 100 percent of the time.

It’s all well and good when we’re talking about farm animals. We have the time to make adjustments. We have the resources to build, maintain, and redirect our animals. We have time to replant, time next year to try again, a grocery store to buy produce in the meantime. Trial-and-error is helpful on the farm. It works. Square One isn’t a huge threat on the farm.

What happens when our homeschool hits Square One? I never expected our homeschool to be a trial-and-error experiment, and even now, I am dissatisfied with the view from where we sit at square one.

It all started when my son’s disinterest in reading began to manifest into him not reading, refusing to sit quietly to learn, and conveniently forgetting his sight words just minutes after going over them and over them. Instead of yelling at him, making him sit longer, and more often, or starting over with the curriculum I knew was not working, we went back to square one.

The important first step? Assessing our child.

The program we were using was reading-only for the first year! When your kid isn’t interested in the reading, this can be a problem. So, I wanted a curriculum that included more than reading at his age. Although he wasn’t too interested in reading from a book or going over sight words on flashcards, he did love the computer. Games, typing letters, drawing, and more, he loved the computer, so I went to work finding a curriculum that was computer-based. I’m largely unorganized with recording homeschool hours, scheduling homeschool hours, and saving examples of work, so I searched for a program that had a built-in record-keeping system. 

When it was all said and done, I chose a program that my son loves. It is 100 percent online, but offers printable worksheets. It tracks time, grade level, and progress, as well as offering incentives and games. It’s exactly what I wanted and what he needed.

So, what’s the problem? 

I don’t like surveying the “race” around me and standing at the starting line with my kid. I feel like picking him up and carrying him through the race, when I should teach him to run it on his own. I want to skip through the alphabet and phonics, and buy him chapter books. I cannot remember not being able to read. As a five-year-old I would read my Granny books at bedtime until she fell asleep. I read and followed hymns in church. I don’t remember a time when I looked at a word and sounded it out. Ever. It’s hard for me to walk along with my son hand-in-hand, waiting patiently for something to click the way you’d expect a runner to find his stride just before he goes on to win the race. I’m not satisfied with waiting.

We have been in our little cabin in the country for exactly a year and a month now, and it seems I am just as impatient with farm life as I am with homeschooling. If I start the hens on layer feed, I want them to start laying right away. If I plant a seed, following the specified instructions, I want it to produce a plant at the very least, but would love to also have it bear some kind of fruit or vegetable. But, life doesn’t happen that way.

Everything we do seems to be some kind of trial and error, and only one thing is certain. King Jesus. If I teach my kid that Jesus is his Savior, and teach him to love, and to have a loving relationship with God and others, but never succeed with reading, do I succeed?

I wish I could come up with an answer to these tough questions. I’m praying that I can.

Christmas Peace for the Homeschool Mom

As Christmas approaches, our house becomes alive with excitement. It’s as if even the logs in our little cabin vibrate with delight. Our little family is one that celebrates Christmas. We open presents, read books about Santa, and bake brownies for the police and fire departments, among other things, but we also have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas. We have friends that just use the holiday season to spend time with family, and we think that is also a fantastic use of holiday time.

Despite someone’s holiday traditions, Christmas beliefs, plans, or none at all, it seems that it still ends up being a stressful time for a lot of families. This can be especially true of homeschool families.

While school teachers are busying themselves meeting goals and completing tasks before the end of the semester, homeschool parents are busy trying to squeeze units in before the holidays, or trying to make them stretch until the holidays. The holidays bring other stressors for our little homesteading family—weather changes, food prep, winterizing the house, preparing shelters for the animals, maintenancing the cars, planning for spring, extra costs for travel, and more. At a time when things should be calm and enjoyable, time seems to speed up, and this homesteading, homeschool mama starts to lose the race before it even begins.

Christmas Peace

This November I began reading a book written by a local friend called Christmas Peace for Busy Moms, and it has been a wonderful experience. It’s a five-week study that brings God into our daily life, to offer the peace we long for during the holidays: a peaceful heart, a peaceful day, peaceful relationships, peaceful surroundings, and a peaceful holiday. This is important stuff!

I spoke at church this week on the topic of prayer, and during the course of the sermon, I realized myself that prayer is the means by which I can find peace. It’s not just by reading a book, doing a Bible study, or even fellowshipping with other Christians. Prayer.

Prayer is how we bring God to us. He wants to be with us, and we often do a lot of things to stand in the way. During this holiday season I’m going to try my best to bring God into our homeschool experience through prayer. Yes, we do other things. We try to participate in the Adventurers program, and we go to Sabbath School and church. We also try to read the Bible at home (which ends up being Bible stories from books), and we like to learn memory verses.

To be completely honest, though, a lot of these things add to my stress. Planning adds to my stress. Driving 50+ miles to church three times a week adds to my stress, even finding time to sit down with a book every day adds to my stress, and I want peace.

Christmas Prayer

Because I want the peace that only Jesus can offer, I am prepared to begin a new holiday tradition this year. I’ve tried advent calendars and other fun traditions like unwrapping and reading a Christmas book every night for 25 days. These things are fun, but again, they add to my stress. This year I’ll try something different, something with less work, and abundant rewards.

Since we pray as a family each evening already, I’m going to start a Christmas tradition that will take little planning. It’ll be focused directly on Jesus and only on Jesus, and it’ll bring Him closer to us. Since I’m sure you’re dying to hear it, here is the plan:

  1. Prepare 25 prayer cards surrounding a topic of your choice (emergency services, our country, our church, our pets, our mailman, sick friends, the sky is the limit).
  2. Connect the 25 prayer topics in some way with the Christmas story (compare public servants with shepherds, pets=animals in the stable, mailman=angel/messenger, the church=the stable, etc.).
  3. Connect the 25 prayer topics with Jesus! (Finding a verse is a good idea. For instance, portions of Psalm 91 would connect with emergency services/protection, and various verses in Genesis would connect with pets. You can also decide to just use verses from the Christmas story here).
  4. Write down your children’s prayer requests and place them into a request basket (or homemade manger). Read them each night and celebrate and thank God when they are answered.
  5. Print a coloring sheet off for each day. Make 25 sheets times the number of kids you have. Easy peasy. I’m starting with a simple coloring sheet this year, and may do a craft next year. Time will tell!
  6. Make notes and put into your envelopes at the end of the day to remind yourself what worked and what didn’t! Adjust next year, or scrap it altogether.

Do you have to have special traditions to make Christmas special? No.

Just like Jesus makes Sabbath special, He makes Christmas special. He makes every day special. Let’s invite Him back into the festivities. After all, He’s the Reason for the Season!

Asking For Help — and Knowing Whom to Ask

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In a month it will mark one year we’ve been in our cabin in the woods. This place we affectionately call Hickory Homestead most days — and some days call other, less affectionate things — is a job! We, right along with our boys, are learning things daily: cutting firewood, maintaining a chimney system, clipping chicken wings, planting a garden (and watching it die), and more. What type of tree is best for firewood? What will keep us warm this winter? How do we tell if our goat is pregnant, and what do we do if she is?

When it comes to life on the farm, I am not shy about asking for help. I ask my neighbors and friends, my dad and mom, even the local feed store employee. This is something we know nothing about, and the boys get to see that Mom and Dad don’t have it all together, almost daily, or at least weekly.

I ask for help when it comes to homesteading, so why don’t I know when to ask help for homeschooling? People ask me for help with homeschooling. This baffles me, because some days I stand in my kitchen and cry, and mentally calculate how far my son would be held back if he went into public school today. I just don’t ask for help.

This week I did.

Praying for Rescue

When attempting to educate our own kids, it’s important to remember Who gave us this ability and this job. God did. He entrusted some rough-and-tumble boys to me, who have different learning styles, attention spans, and needs. God didn’t only create them, but He created me, and He knew what He was doing when He did. He created me with abilities that far exceed my earthly expectations. The worldly view of family dynamics, gender roles, education, and more often cloud our view of God’s creation — us. God gave you and me everything we need to get this job done, and done RIGHT. He hopes we’ll lean on Him, and when we struggle He also puts people into our lives that we can lean on for help.

Go Ahead and Send that Desperate Text

My moment was the first Monday of the month. We were starting day three of the same sight words, because my seven-year-old just couldn’t get them, and I was ready to haul him to the local elementary school. Instead of taking strides backward with my family, and setting him back (not just physically and grade-wise, but also emotionally by putting him in a room full of five-year-olds), I desperately typed out a text to a friend and hit send before I could delete. I sent the text to a friend who had spent two good years listening to me lament and worry over teaching reading. It was a stressor for me.

We’ve talked about this many, many times. She remembered.

She immediately asked when we could talk, and we got together on the phone before the end of the day.

Talking to her didn’t fix my problems with my lack of routine, or my not-reading-seven-year-old. But, it did help me formulate a plan. It lifted some of the burden off my heart, and it allowed her experience to help me. I asked for help. That made the difference.

I met Desi (my friend) while my husband served as youth mentor to a church in Wyoming for almost two years. I can think of several people who were touched by our being there, but more than that, I met Desi while I was there. That short experience in Wyoming put me in touch with someone who could help me on one very bad day of homeschooling. God planned this for me.

Do you believe He plans things for you? When we don’t plan, He does.

My favorite prayer, which I believe the Holy Spirit gave me recently, is something like this:

“Don’t let me be selfish. I don’t know the plans you have for all the people and things involved in this issue. Your plans supersede my wants. Help my plans to become Yours. Help the outcome to be Yours.”

When I make homeschooling plans for my homesteading bunch of boys, I have to remember that the outcome belongs to Jesus. My plans are secondary to His outcome. Without tirelessly praying, studying His Word, and surrounding myself with like-minded mamas, I might lose sight of this fact.

Yes! You Can!

Pray

Musings of a Retired Homeschool Mom

Over the 25 years our family homeschooled, the main comments that I heard over and over were these:

      1. Is that legal?
      2. I could NEVER do that!
      3. What about socialization?

While the question of the legality of homeschooling seemed to be asked less and less over the years — until I eventually never heard it at all — I continue to hear numbers 2 and 3 to this day.

My response to “I could NEVER do that!” was usually just smiling, nodding my head and changing the subject as soon as possible. If I let the conversation go on long enough, it would almost always go in one of two different directions. One would end up with me getting the distinct feeling that they perceived that we were “too good” for the local public school system, and they were offended. The second scenario was they felt guilty for not doing what they knew might be best for their children, and would begin listing all of the excuses for not being able to homeschool.

Occasionally, as a homeschool support group leader, I would counsel and advise mothers who were contemplating homeschooling, or who were struggling with trying to make it work for their family. My response to them was always, “If God has called you to homeschool your children, He will empower you to accomplish it.” So, how did I know that God called us to homeschool? I’m not really sure, but I’ve never once doubted that it was what God called us to do, although I more than once doubted my own abilities, and came up short at times.

Looking back at the times I felt most overwhelmed with homeschooling, it always seemed that during those times I had too many other things going on. Maybe it was too many responsibilities at church, trying to earn extra money with a work-at-home job or part-time job, taking care of extended family’s needs (elderly parents, an alcoholic brother, etc.) There were several times over the years that I had to step back, pause for a moment, start eliminating the unnecessary things in my life, and spend more time praying for strength and wisdom.

One thing that helped me a lot when my children were all at home is that I taught them from a very young age to be helpers around the house. The housework load was divided among all of us instead of all on my shoulders.

Another thing that can be overwhelming is to be trying to homeschool using curriculum or a method that doesn’t fit your family’s style or needs. Perhaps you are trying to be too structured and need to relax a bit, or maybe you are too relaxed and need a little more structure to function well. I know when I first began homeschooling, it took me two or three years to really find a homeschooling style and materials that felt comfortable and worked well for us.

And, last but not least, pray, pray, pray and depend on God for strength and guidance. Those first couple of years I did a lot of crying and praying at night before I went to bed. I sometimes wondered if I really could do this; and, without Him I couldn’t have. When the going gets tough, and you just don’t think you can continue on in your homeschooling journey, remember that with God’s help, “Yes, you can!”

Next time I’ll muse a little about number 3… The “S” Word.

Pray Now!

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Have you ever been with a friend, in person or over the phone, and they said, “please pray for me”? I have…and on many occasions. As they come to mind again, I do pray, but how much better would it have been if I had prayed for them right then and there?

That is what I’ve learned from a dear friend name Darlene. I used to belong to a particular homeschool co-op near our town and there were many families in attendance. Somehow Darlene and I hit it off. When we would see each passing in the hallways and time permitted, we would strike up a conversation, which always inevitably would call for one or both of us to say, “please pray for me,” or “please keep that in prayer.” And with that, I would file that prayer request in my mind, and then when I was in my quiet time, I would go through my prayer request mind’s file catalog and try to recall exactly what and who it was I was suppose to pray for. However, there have been times when the mentioned prayer need got lost somewhere between the request and me finally getting around to it. That’s where the problem comes in. If I had just prayed for this dear one right then, I could have “reiterated” the prayer request later when it came to mind, instead of trying to conjure it up, especially if I had not written it down.

Darlene ALWAYS made it a point to pray for me whereever we were. It didn’t matter the location, noise level, or traffic jam in the hallway. I remember being self-conscious about others peering in on us in the middle of the aisle at times, but I guess Darlene figured that this was a Christian environment, so people should be used to seeing prayer happening often and without apology. And, that’s exactly how it was. Whenever the need arose, Darlene made it her business to offer up a request to God right then, right there…no delay.

I can do nothing but appreciate Darlene’s sweet audacity. It was as though there was no one present but her and me. She was on a mission to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need,” Hebrews 4:16. Nothing and no one mattered but the task at hand — petitioning our kind, gracious Heavenly Father who is ever present to hear our cries.

I cannot honestly say that I am as amazing and prompt as Darlene is in halting in the moment and sending up a prayer into the Heavens, no matter the place or hour, but I am getting better at holy boldness.