That Moment When You Suddenly Realize…

I am frequently reminded that my own little “trials and tribulations” can teach me a lot about homeschooling my child. It hit home again today.

I’ve taken maybe three years of lessons on viola since the 1990s, and have attempted to play it on and off for seven or eight years. It has been loads of fun, but I’ve become resigned to enjoying something where I sound terribly, well, unmusical. (My cats, dogs, and family members can confirm this.)

Last August I also picked up fiddle, hoping that maybe learning to play by ear would help my viola too. The results seemed like they were going to be the same for violin too, but at least the process has still been enjoyable if not overly musical.

I’m thanking God for finding me the right teacher for this moment!

Then last week my teacher gave me three tips — each of which I’ve tried at various occasions in the past — and had me practice a piece right there, while she corrected and reminded. And then…

All. The. Stars. Aligned!!!

Somehow, trying A, B, and C, all at the same time, together with coaching, and then actually producing a more musical sound on the spot…all came together to finally make sense to my brain. I was afraid it was a fluke, but practice this week went pretty well, and my teacher confirmed at today’s lesson, “You DO sound better!” LOL.

I’m not going to be earning my living at it in this lifetime, but maybe I won’t play in a perpetual state of embarrassment now. “Thank you, God” has been murmured several times this afternoon.

I was sharing that little story on Facebook when it hit me: This is what homeschooling is about too. Do you ever despair that there is a certain subject or concept your child is never going to get? Has he or she been trying to memorize something or understand something or process something for months, or maybe even for years, but with no visible progress?

Maybe “visible” is the key word. Sometimes the brain just takes a while to process information and make it useful. All those pieces to the puzzle can be floating in your brain, waiting for the right timing to come together. It can happen to adults — me, for sure — and it can certainly happen to kids.

Age 10: doesn’t know times tables. Age 11: doesn’t know times tables. Age 12: doesn’t know times tables. Age 13: doesn’t know times tables. Age 14: “Do you mind if I take some time to memorize my times tables? I really want to know them.” Wow! Sometimes you even need to wait for the motivation to kick in.

We get pretty worried about our expectations and timelines, though, don’t we? Maybe we need to relax, trust that those puzzle pieces are gradually compiling, and wait on the Lord.

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:13, 14 ESV.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Do you make New Year resolutions? I don’t. Too apt to break them and disappoint myself. This year, though, I decided on three, because they are what I’d label “way of life” or “stay the course” rather than radical changes. In fact, let’s just call them reminders rather than resolutions.

  1. I will start every day talking to God. I’d particularly like to ask Him to guide me, keep me open to truth in all areas, and help me put everything in His hands — especially my child. It’s harder than it seems on numerous counts, the least of which is remembering. Maybe I’ll set my clock for an odd time, like 7:03 a.m. or something, every day to remind myself to talk to Him.
  2. I will endeavor to always be kind to my son. That sounds really worthy and not that difficult — until he’s forgotten how to multiply fractions for the fifth time in as many days…or he’s telling me some incredibly boring (admit it: our kids can be very, very boring sometimes) and intricate and drawn out story about his bike. Note to self: don’t react, think first, be kind.
  3. I will also endeavor to be kind to myself. Am I going to occasionally forget #s 1 and 2? Yes. Will I beat myself down to the ground about it when I do? Maybe. But, I will get back up, shake myself off, and remember God’s grace applies to me too.

That’s it. Short and sweet. What are your resolutions — no, wait, I mean reminders — this year?

“But show me unfailing kindness like the LORD’s kindness as long as I live,” 1 Samuel 20:14.

Fiddles, Math, and Training Up a Child

A few months ago I started taking fiddle lessons. Wow! I sound really BAD. It’s like cats are fighting in the living room when I practice. LOL.

Now, how could this possibly help our homeschooling effort?

I’ve been sharing a series based on the familiar “Train up a child” text of Proverbs 22:6. Recently it struck me that we usually focus our attentions on the child when we think about training up a child. Makes sense, right? We focus on what he or she should be learning. That’s definitely the larger part of the equation, but an additional part is the example that we the parents are setting for them. Values? Yes. Morals? Yes. But, I’m thinking more about the “schoolish” part where you take in new information, memorize material, learn skills, etc. Are you keeping your own brain growing by learning new information, ideas, or skills? Does your child witness this?

Honestly, when I took up fiddle lessons, there was no higher thought involved about how it could benefit my child. I simply wanted to learn the instrument. The payoff is there for both of us, though.

As are most of us, I am pressed for time. There was a flurry of activity at first with my violin, but then for at least a month it ended up sitting in its case all week — until I panicked and pulled it out right before my lesson. Hence…the cats fighting in the living room. Hmmm.

Something I learned: Not practicing doesn’t work.
Something my son learned: Not practicing doesn’t work.

I decided that the level of screechy playing I was producing wasn’t enough to satisfy me, so I evaluated what it was exactly that kept me from practicing. It’s ridiculous how simple it was. It was the out-of-sight-out-of-mind principle at work, teamed with the tedium of locating my instrument (we’re building on to our house, so this is an actual feat), opening the case and getting it out, tuning it up, and finally sitting down to play. I thought about it awhile, and considered options. My solution was to locate a safe spot in the house — my enclosed computer station — and leave the violin there, at the ready at all times. It worked! I’m up to three or four practice sessions a week, which is pretty decent for an inherent slacker.

Something I learned: Don’t give up. Use your brain to study situations and find creative solutions that work.
Something my son learned: Don’t give up. Use your brain to study situations and find creative solutions that work.

You get the idea.

The past week has been one of much struggle for my son and math. There’s a new concept for which he’s not remembering the steps. “I hate math. It’s my nemesis!” he declared two days ago. I don’t want him to have the idea that an entire subject is not for him, and I do want him to get the idea that devoting more time to something difficult helps, as does brainstorming for creative ideas.

Fortunately, we don’t live in a McMansion; therefore, our lives are fairly intertwined. I’m aware of my son’s activities, and he’s aware of mine. Thus, my fiddle-playing mission, which he has personally witnessed, became the perfect object lesson. We discussed his current difficulties, and I noted that being “bad” at one part of math doesn’t mean the whole subject is bad. I reminded him of some of the similarities with my violin issues, and what I’d come up with to help myself. That got him thinking.

Solutions arose. He admitted that more practice would probably help a lot. We also came up with a creative, step-by-step reminder system that he could use while working that type of math problem. The next day he completed the dreaded lesson with only a moderate amount of parental assistance.

Today, before starting into math, he asked me if he could repeat the last lesson once — on his own, without any help from me — to solidify the new process in his mind. Success! Yay!

I celebrated his achievement by picking up my violin and practicing for 20 minutes.

Moms and dads, what have you learned lately?

“Teach a child to choose the right path, and when he is older, he will remain upon it,” Proverbs 22:6 TLB.


…In the Way HE Should Go

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6 KJV.

Emphasizing the “he” is so difficult. So very difficult.

We are a musical family. My late husband was a professional musician — player, conductor, and teacher. I’m an amateur musician. We met on tour with an orchestra where we were both filling in as substitute players. Really, music was the only way our worlds could possibly have collided. He was raised Catholic and had just graduated from a public university in Massachusetts. I was an Adventist girl, educated in Adventist schools and colleges, and was then working for an Adventist university in California. And then, we both went on tour with the same orchestra.

Married three years later, our home was full of music. By the time our child came along, we were both involved in separate community orchestras, my husband was teaching music and conducting, he played the piano for Cradle Roll and Kindergarten at church, and we both played with the church ensemble.

Classical music filled our house all the time. I knew exactly what music to put on to calm our child when he was upset, and I knew what his favorites were. This was a kid who never sang London Bridge is Falling Down or Ring Around the Rosy. Oh, no. This was the kid who hummed the Planets by Holst, and made up his own little-boy lyrics to melodies from Carmina Burana.

We absolutely knew this boy was going to be an awesome musician! He did a couple years of Suzuki at ages five and six, but tired of violin. No problem. Maybe he would play percussion like his dad, or clarinet like his mom. Or, maybe he would dabble in the many musical instruments in our home, and pick something else entirely. I had visions of something unique that would ensure his place in a future orchestra — bassoon!

And then…our world changed when he was seven. His dad died. I eventually remarried and we moved across the country. BUT, he still lives in a musical home — not strictly classical, but still surrounded by the love of music. His stepdad sings all the time. I joined an orchestra, and even picked up a new instrument. The local homeschool group has a choir.

And, my child finally developed an interest in…art — and, more startlingly, BMX biking.

What!?!?! I mean, I’m completely appreciative of art and its, well, artistic side, BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY?!? Nothing? No violin? No clarinet? No marimba? NO BASSOON? Wait a minute. You might like an electronic keyboard to explore synthesized music? I feel a little ill.

I struggled with this for quite awhile. Music isn’t just “part of a rounded education” to me. It was an identity for our family, both past and present. What was my child thinking to forsake the family identity?!?

Eventually I came to a new understanding of Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way HE should go…” was a reminder to drop my preconceived expectations and follow the path best suited to my son. Honestly, that was pretty difficult. I really thought he’d embrace the path of our family, that we’d share dorky music humor together, that we might even play duets one day.

Instead, he’s casually pursued an interest in art. He’s painted with oils and watercolors, created charcoal and chalk drawings, sculpted from clay, and more. Personally, I’d prefer “casually” not be in the previous sentence. If he’d devoted his life to art and creating beautiful things — instead of beautiful music — I could understand better. However, though he has aptitude and interest, he’s more of a dabbler.

He started with pencil sketches, and discovered a knack for cartooning.

His latest interest, after sampling and leaving several art mediums, is sculpting from clay.

So, what gets every free moment? What gets repeated research on YouTube and the internet? What gets hours and hours and hours of painstaking practice, going over and over and over the same technique? It’s BMX biking. Yes, I’m dumbfounded. Not music. Not medicine or engineering. Not even art.

You know what, though? He’s pretty good. Even as I boggle at a skill set I never desired, I recognize his proficiency.

I used to pray that he would be blessed with his dad’s dogged stick-to-itivness. I’m more of a three strikes person: If I don’t catch on immediately, or at least in two or three tries, I move on. Not his dad, though. That man would practice marimba licks for hours, getting ready for orchestra, or often just perfecting music for his own growth. I prayed our child would be like that. Guess what. He is.

Watching my nearly-14 son progress in his chosen activity has grown my respect for this young man so very much. I’m awed at the time he devotes, the perfection he demands from each move. A couple months ago it dawned on me that I don’t have to worry about what he’s going to be when he grows up. Once this kid decides what he wants to pursue, he will do whatever it takes to get there — and to perform at an excellent level.

Whew. Everything else can be fixed if necessary, but the helmet is a requisite. LOL.

I sure wish I’d come to that realization back when I was pushing him to again try violin, something for which he was not particularly suited and not remotely driven. What are your hopes for your children? We all give lip service to “I just want him to do what makes him happy” or “Whatever the Lord leads her to will be fine,” but do we actually believe it? Are we pushing our kids to meet our personal expectations, or have we given them up to God and allowed them to take responsibility for their own choices?

It can be surprising when your child decides to forsake the family business for a degree in ancient history. Or, maybe it’s alarming that you have a multigenerational family of higher education, but your firstborn wants to go to cosmetology school. Maybe it’s as simple as your kid being the only one in the family not to play an instrument, or…maybe it’s as scary as your teenager not being content to flow with your family’s belief system, and instead striking out on their own quest for meaning.

For me it all comes back to trust, trust in my child and trust in God. Daily I remind myself to trust that God will direct his path, to pray that my son will accept His guidance, and to have the courage to step back and let it happen. And in the meantime, before this little bird has left the nest? I’ll keep asking for God to help me “train up a child in the way he should go.”

Train UP a Child… Part 2

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6 KJV.

Last month we looked at this text, and discovered that, rather than trying to create the “perfect” child by being “perfect” parents, and thus ensuring their salvation, we are to focus on dedicating, understanding, training, and preparing our children for the responsibilities and skills required in adulthood. What a blessing!

Today I want to concentrate on one word of that excellent commission: “up.”

I recently took a lengthy trip with my son. We ran into all kinds of problems concerning our transportation — rental car place was out despite our reservation, no cars available until midnight, first Uber “taxi” canceled on us, second Uber was a terrifying driver, etc. — and in the midst of all this, I realized that my son was being an incredibly non-complaining, patient blessing to me. And, I told him so.

How often do we compliment our children on character traits, especially when they may be doing something we just take for granted? Probably not enough. I read that text again, and suddenly “Train UP…” takes on added meaning. We are not just training our children. We are training up our children.

How can we do this? For one thing, we can lift a child up at every appropriate opportunity. I’m not talking about overdoing praise and thus devaluing it, but about recognizing those things that our child does well or has shown growth in, particularly character traits. Take a look at the fruits listed in Galatians 5:22-23 KJV again: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. You know how much we can doubt ourselves as homeschooling parents. Well, our kids can doubt themselves too. Assuring them both that we see signs of the Spirit working in their lives, and that we also appreciate their personal efforts to grow in character, will strengthen them.

Another way to lift them up is to look for improvements in areas of their schooling. I’ve discovered that if my son thinks he’s “bad” at something, inevitably he seems to be. The opposite is also true. For years he struggled with math (or maybe I just struggled with finding the right program). Finally we found one where he seemed to grasp it more quickly and move ahead. He was overcoming a lot of “bad” programming, though, and was two years behind. One day after he’d finished a lesson quickly, I told him I thought he had a flair for math. “Really? You think I have a flair for MATH?!?” he said. I explained that I’d seen rapid improvement once we found a program that explained math in a way he could understand, and that he hardly asked me any confused questions anymore. Well, guess who is now powering through two math lessons a day, much more confident now that he has “a flair for math”!

A third way to lift up our children is to lift them up to God — not just in our private prayer life, but also in their presence. Probably most of us have had the experience of a child who has had a scary dream or a bad day, and we pray to God with them to help ease them to peace and sleep. This is also an affirming way to handle school and life, both the problems and the achievements. Ask God, with your child, to help him or her work on sharing or self-control, and also to help you to model it as He would want; this makes it a team effort, too, and so lifts up rather than puts down your child.

I think the next time my son pulls out his math lesson, I’m going to go to him and thank God right then and there for helping us find the right math program, and for helping him to discover his “flair.”

Children will very often rise to our expectations. How can you train up your child today?

“Train UP a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” Proverbs 22:6 KJV.