07 October 2012

A 31 Day Grand Prix {day 7} - Is there time to {gently} home school and be a missionary, too? Pt. 2

"Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear." I Peter 3.3-6

I wrote yesterday about how once arrived and trying to survive in Niger, I discovered I wasn't the exceptional home schooling mom I'd convinced myself I would certainly be... and once I honestly admitted that to myself, I began asking some searching questions: 
  1. What do I know about me?
  2. What do I about my family?
  3. What do I know about God?
  4. What things are imperative and without wiggle room?
  5. What do I expect my home school to look like? Is this realistic?
  6. Are all of those factors compatible? If not what needs to go?
  7. What do I need to change to love and care for my family with a gentle and quiet spirit?
As I answered those questions, prayed a lot, talked with Tim some things became glaringly clear. First and foremost? I was trying to home school exactly the same way I'd go teaching in a classroom because that was the kind of teaching I knew best. It felt normal and comfortable and didn't require as much preplanning on my part. I tried to fall back into that routine, kind of like putting on an old pair of shoes. In this new race, those old shoes weren't working so well.

Our house does not run like a classroom. We are not an overly scheduled family. I do like a schedule and general time guidelines; I don't, however, like being boxed in and feeling ruled by that schedule. When you add on top of this a husband who enjoys multitasking and who also tends to be spontaneous (and kids who love that particular characteristic of their daddy and thrive in the environment created in our home as a result) - well, it became evident that posting an invariable schedule on the wall that we followed to the letter was not an effective time management strategy or tool - no matter how beautifully it worked for others - because what it accomplished for us and in our family was build tension and cause stress, which then diminished our effectiveness as well as our love of learning together as a family.

In a similar manner, I tried to create an environment that looked just like a classroom. It was really cute. The walls were painted bright blue. We made a long desk attached to the wall the perfect size for our kids. I covered old cans with contact paper as well as the top of an old metal teacher's desk, the body of which we also repainted. We found some old bookshelves no longer used where I could stack the curriculum. I, had maps and calendars on the wall, weekly schedules, homework folders, an independent learning center, a reading corner with pillows and stuffed animals... I even had a "bulletin board" on the wall. That first classroom, which was actually a very wide hallway between our bedroom and the bedroom all four kids shared, made an absolutely adorable early elementary classroom and I was pleased with what I had accomplished. 

Except I most often "did school" snuggling, curled up together on my bed, laying on our tummies on the floor, and occasionally sitting at a table for subjects like art and handwriting... or when I needed to be doing something in the kitchen and they still needed to be working on something else. Thus, in our home, school happened all throughout the day, in many locations with lots of flexibility to change the plan as long as the goals and objectives for the week were still accomplished. This also allowed for flexibility when people stopped by for a chat or because they needed some type of assistance. It gave me the freedom to let Brendan read to his siblings sitting on the kitchen floor while I taught our house help a new recipe. If something in particular struck our fancy, I stopped feeling bound by those guidelines I'd already written down and we pursued those interesting sometimes side trails and other times rabbit trails - but even that became an opportunity to teach about life.

I also was forced to acknowledge that God didn't have a one and only, most Godlike picture of home school hidden somewhere in the Bible that I must strive to discern. Just as we are each unique creations and He works both individually and corporately in our lives - so each family is unique and there is not any one single method of schooling that pleases Him most. What pleases Him most is that His name is being glorified and that these children seek Him and grow in stature and in favor with both men and God. It is one thing to say (or write) those words. It is another to let them become an integral part of my philosophy of home schooling. But what that did was release me from the bondage of comparison, envy and jealousy. I may not have taken my kids on a field trip to see the bakery, watch pita bread being made and practice their French - but we did have a valuable lesson on sharing out of our abundance as we counted and sorted and matched toys and clothes (math and science/observation skills), picking some to give to the family down the road whose hut had caught on fire and burned to the ground. One "school" wasn't more valuable or better than the other - they were simply different and God can be pleased with many different types of different. In thinking about this, I also began to acknowledge that there'd be some days I got it right and perhaps many days I got it wrong. That's okay - because it shows me where I need to change and improve and models for my children what it means to gently accept correction, to seek forgiveness and restoration and then to move onward and upward.

My expectations for our home school weren't realistic because they didn't take into account some of the wonderful and unique things about me, my children, our family or our circumstances. Why I thought I could home school in a vacuum, independent of those variables befuddles me, today. But it was so very true of me back then. I realized that what was imperative for our family... or our primary goals as we seek to educate our children include:
  1. Discipling our children as they learn to love, serve, listen to, obey, sacrifice and follow God with all of their hearts which then compels them to let God love the world in and through them.
  2. Instill within a love of learning.
  3. Help them learn to love reading, particularly reading God's Word.
  4. The three R's: reading, writing and arithmetic.
  5. Teach them to communicate clearly, concisely, eloquently and accurately.
  6. Grow a healthy curiosity about and respect for the world and people around them, both near and far away.
As I asked myself these questions and uncovered the answers above, I realized that what needed to go were my expectations that the home school our family created would look just like those home school I admired. Educating our children could not look like a lesson plan book with lessons successfully planned, taught, mastered and then checked off the list. Instead, our school had to be more about continual movement in a good direction.

So we gave up the classroom. I started teaching more in units. Schooling started happening all throughout the day, different pieces here and there as we worked towards achieving weekly, instead of daily objectives. We spent lots of time snuggled together on the bed, not only learning but enjoying being together. Sometimes we'd work on science and only science for several days - but that also included reading, writing and math skills - in context. I gave up on the idea of homework. Once a concept was grasped we moved on. Until that poin, t, we kept trying different strategies to facilitate understanding and mastery. I encouraged my children to pursue the things that interested them and we built academic activities around those interests: Irish flute, falconry, horses, raising chickens, writing stories, using the computer, cooking and baking, acting and performing... 

Our state doesn't have specific requirements for home schoolers - so I stopped trying to keep a gradebook and building a portfolio. My kids automatically chose to keep those pieces of work that they valued and treasured - and those end up being the best ones to represent what they've learned. I also only do tests when the child wants to see what s/he has learned, relying more on formative assessment in determining whether we are making progress on our objectives.

There are other things that I changed, but the key point was that I individualized our home school for our family and our needs - and those change from year to year, child to child. When I stopped trying to make our home school into something I couldn't make it be, I found I had time. When my children became integral helpers in ministry and mission opportunities, I found I had time. When caring our home because an important school objective, I had time to work on and enjoy most of those domestic chores that I resented before - and also equipped my kids with valuable life skills. When I embraced our family rhythms of multitasking, fluid, flexible and adaptable to the moment schedules, their daddy was more inclined to be involved and everyone benefited, particularly since it didn't even feel like school. And removing the stress helped me become a better wife, mama and teacher once again.

Please understand. I'm not advocating a one-two-three formula for how to find time to home school without stressing out both you and your family. My suggestion is that you study your family, its needs and rhythms, preferences and problems and then tailor your home school around those variables. Research different time saving tools to use, curricula, methodologies, etc., and give them a try. But if something doesn't work, don't stick with it just because it comes highly recommended or because that is what someone else you respect a whole lot is doing at their house. I've described some strategies that have seemed to fit our family well up to this point. However, this year, the ones that I'm home schooling seem to prefer a more fixed schedule with a to do list and items to check off...I'm expecting home school will look quite a bit different than it has in the past chez les Wright... I'm excited to see how God leads ...I'm looking forward some stretching and growing as well, as we figure out this new rhythm.

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