My posts are usually just a record of our schoolwork, but today I wanted to share a little of what God’s been teaching me through our first term of structured homeschooling. Actually, it’s kind of a confession, because I’ve been doing things in our schooling that I knew weren’t best for my children, and yet I stubbornly held on. I’ve been treating them like they were just like me, I suppose because it would just be so much easier if that were true!
My oldest, Ian, is my only “official” student this year, and since Kindergarten isn’t required in our state, even he doesn’t really NEED to be doing school work. However, he is interested in so many things, and I love learning alongside him. I scheduled more for his Kindergarten year than I would for any of my younger children simply because he doesn’t have the opportunity to be exposed to an older sibling’s lessons. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Ian usually enjoys his schoolwork, especially since much of it is simply listening to me read from carefully selected books. I tried to lighten up our school load for November and December, and he missed some of his favorites, so I added them back in to my Schedule.
Last week, however, sickness hit our house, affecting all four children and myself. The Schedule got set aside for a few days. My first reaction to that was to groan. Even as miserable as I felt being ill, the thought of missing some of what I had planned just didn’t sit well with me. On the first day I told Ian he got the day off in celebration of Elijah’s birthday (fostering a little sibling appreciation!) But then the next day I still wasn’t up to doing much and I didn’t bother coming up with an excuse. The truth was, I had enjoyed watching the two older boys play together so much the day before (they were the least sick of our bunch) and I wanted to give them more of that. I realized that Ian usually spends most of his weekday mornings with me. I know how important it is to give a 5-year old time to play, and I think my Schedule has become detrimental rather than helpful.
Oh, that hurts. You see, I thrive on schedules. Seriously. My husband and I have had an understanding since we first started dating: Deanna’s not big on surprises. Yep, it’s true. I am a complete party pooper when it comes to spontaneity and the unexpected. Even wonderful, positive surprises usually feel negative to me at first, at least when it comes to things to do (though I have learned to push through that gut reaction because I do honestly have fun once I get past it). The thing is, surprises mess up my Schedule! It’s not just about homeschooling for me; it’s a way of life. No, I don’t always write it down (obsessively in nice little formatted tables on the computer, laid out both by week and by school term…), but mentally I have always liked to know at least generally what my day is going to look like, and to have at least some idea of where I’m going and where I’m going to be 6 months, 12 months, even 10 years down the road. To some extent I think this is a good thing. My organization helps us do things that wouldn’t we wouldn’t get to do if I didn’t plan ahead. It helps me make thoughtful decisions about curriculum, field trips, etc. However, I need to be the master of the Schedule that I love so dearly, rather than letting it be my master, especially when it’s not keeping in mind the best interests of my precious ones.
Because you know that sweet boy I was just talking about? He’s not much like me. I used to spend my recess time reading on top of the monkey bars. Ian enjoys books, but even more he loves rough-housing and sports. I tend to focus on the serious side of life; he adores silliness in all forms. I love a quiet day at home; he wakes up asking, “Where are we going today?” You get the picture. As we’ve started school even more differences have become evident. I learned quickly and got bored waiting for the rest of the class to catch on (especially in math). I envied my homeschooled friends who got to just finish their work and then have the rest of the day to spend as they would, rather than wasting hours at school. My report card usually had high marks for “takes pride in the quality of her work.” I liked the feeling of accomplishment I got from finishing an assignment and knowing I had done my best.
None of this is how I would describe Ian. I realized early on that his brain and mine work very differently. When he wanted to learn to read, I started to teach him in the way that would have made sense to me. It led to a lot of frustration for both of us. He was four, and a lot of people would just say he was too young, but I knew it wasn’t a matter of age. Thankfully we discovered Reading Eggs, and within a few days of turning his lessons over to the computer, he was off and running… er, reading.
We’ve run into similar frustration with math. I really like our MEP curriculum, and Ian’s learned a lot, but sometimes I feel like I’m pulling teeth. Some days he’s enthusiastic and seems to enjoy working through the lesson. Other days he looks at me blankly after a problem like “0+1=?” He couldn’t care less about which lesson we’re on or how fast he’s getting through the book (whereas I used to get extra workbooks just for the joy of completing each page and the satisfaction of finishing the whole book.) When it comes to understanding concepts, we’ve tried number lines, Cuisenaire rods, counters, Unifix cubes, balances, dominoes… everything I can think of. Some things work well one day but not the next. Some days I just have to stand back and give him time and he comes up with the answers. Other days stepping back just means time wasted. His brain is a puzzle to me because it doesn’t process things as quickly as mine. And it doesn’t seem to bother him, which is beyond my comprehension!
I have to admit that a few years ago I would have equated slower processing with lower intelligence. Getting to know my husband helped me realize that just isn’t true. Eric is much like Ian. His brain seems to take a much longer time (and a completely different route) to understanding things that seem simple to me. Yet he is incredibly intelligent. Like me, he was frustrated in math class as a child, but for the opposite reason. While I impatiently waited for the others to catch on so we could move to the next concept, Eric wrestled his way to a good understanding and then was irritated that they had to move on rather than staying there to enjoy the satisfaction of practicing what they had learned.
I think Ian is much like Daddy, and Mommy’s drive to press forward and stick to our Schedule just isn’t making him thrive. He loves to learn, and I’m so afraid of squelching that by treating him like he’s a “mini-me.” So I’m trying to loosen up and lean more toward “delight-directed” learning. We’ve been spending time reading books and watching videos on underwater archeology, ocean exploration, the Titanic, astronomy, volcanoes… whatever he’s been showing an interest in. It’s brought a lot of joy into our school day, which has been a relief to both of us. There’s still some work to be done on finding a balance that suits both of our styles, but I have a feeling we’ll be fine-tuning that until he finishes high school.
As our other children get old enough to join in, that balance is going to become even more difficult. I can already tell the Elijah is a LOT more like me. He’s been self-motivated about learning to read and understanding basic math concepts. He gets great delight out of finishing one leveled reading book and moving up to the next one (and he ALWAYS knows which number he is on). He loves having a schedule and knowing what to expect. This is a mind I understand! My main challenge with him will be providing enough quality material to help him keep up the pace at which he wants to go. I’ll also have to be careful about not comparing the two boys and still providing Ian with a school plan that works for him instead of just forcing him to join Elijah and me on our Education Express.
And who knows what Arianna and Nicholas are going to end up needing when it comes to school? Only God knows, the one who formed these precious individuals for His purpose and pleasure. As I disciple my children, I do want them to acquire my values, my worldview, and most importantly my passion for Jesus. However, as uniquely created beings, they are not going to acquire my personality or my learning style, and I think I was starting to lose sight of that. And so I cling to the promise of James 1:5, which says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (ESV).
I’m lacking, Lord. Oh, am I lacking! I look to You for wisdom in how to teach and guide these precious children with whom You have entrusted me. They are Yours. You designed them according to Your own perfect plan. Thank you for showing me where I have strayed from what is best for them. Help me, Lord. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5)