What it takes to continue homeschooling

There are just so many things in this house that don’t work exactly right.

Today as I pulled back the half-ripped shower curtain and later turned on the stove light, which now has only one dim bulb working, I decided:  It’s time to make a list.

bathroom tap

electrical outlets (kitchen)

walls (dirty and with patches of paint missing in a few spots)

balcony blinds

bathroom light (it only needs a new bulb)

I could go on.

It seems most days our homeschool isn’t working right either. I could make a list for this as well, but it would be too embarrassing. It would include too many mom-faults and too many son-criticisms.

In the last couple of years, I have often said, “Oh, I don’t read homeschooling books anymore” and “I don’t look for curriculum anymore.” I mean it has to stop somewhere, right? Someone will always be writing another book or presenting another curriculum. And I have so many books and guides and projects that I haven’t even used yet. I just keep telling myself to find something I already have and use it.  And those thoughts come on the good days. On the not-so-good days, I just want to get through the checklists and see some completed workbook pages.

This year has probably been the worst for me. This year, #1 son has to take a national exam (at age 12), which he has to pass or retake again next year. So out of necessity I have too often found myself telling the boys (and myself) to just “get the work done.”  I have had to switch off creativity for the most part (just give them the answer that they want), I have had to drop all the really interesting subjects (sorry son, history and geography are not on the exam), and I have had to focus almost solely on exam preparation (real learning will have be put on hold until October). With this mentality, I had reached a point of no longer caring about good materials or even about why we were homeschooling. We are under siege, bombarded with requirements of the law of the land, who has time to read about how kids learn or how to how help this dyslexic boy with his spelling?

And then that Brave Writer lady had to get inside my head and write this blog post.  Just because I have been homeschooling in one form or another for the past 7 years (or 11, if you look at as starting from birth), doesn’t mean I can now switch off my brain and switch on veteran homeschooler auto-pilot. I still need to read blogs and homeschooling books. I still need to look up ideas for fostering a good environment for learning. I had proudly assumed that I didn’t need those forums or email subscriptions, but I do. I have started reading again. I have been looking at blogs and forums. And I have actually purchased an item or two based on what my son is interested in studying after this exam is over. 

Recently, we have come close to a decision that we will continue to homeschool #1 son for secondary school. So again, I find myself back to researching methods and curricula, reading about the experiences of other homeschoolers and looking for things this boy-becoming-a-man is interested in studying. While I must admit that I find homeschooling a teen a daunting prospect in some ways, in other ways I find it rather exciting.

And in order to rise above all the things that don’t seem to be going right, I have *tried* to start writing again. This is critical for me as it is what keeps my brain alive and my vision fresh and my soul cleansed. I can wax philosophical about the undone housework–or at least put it into proper perspective.   And the insane length of the to-do list need not be the focus of my life. These things are the sandbag-weights for my hot air balloon. It’s time to do them, drop them, and fly. 


Days for remembering

I needed a day like today after having thoughts like I’ve had the past few weeks. Wasn’t homeschooling supposed to be fun? Weren’t my children supposed to be highly motivated to get the 3Rs done in the morning so that the afternoons would be free for building, drawing, researching, playing and reading? Weren’t we supposed to have more free time than families with school going children? Where are all those lapbooks we should have been making? Where are the photos of the nature walks we should have been taking? Where are the scrapbooks of the museum outings and special classes?

I’ve thought of many reasons (excuses?) why we seem to be trying to keep up with the Joneses (or the Tans, in our case) more than we seem to be doing interesting things in our homeschool. They all seem valid and utterly reasonable…but something in my spirit is still unsettled.

And so we come to today…

I woke early to send #1 son off with a friend to play Gaelic football with other homeschoolers. I let #2 son sleep in to help combat the virus he’s got. I let The Girl sleep in even longer…just because. It was a quiet, reflective start to the day.

Once #2 son was up and going, he began asking me the question that he’s been trying to get the answer to for a few days now–

“Mommy, what’s an atom? And what’s a molecule?”

Today I decided to remember why we are homeschooling.

I switched on the laptop and found a video explaining atoms and molecules and a few others. He watched, he listened, he learned, he went on to another….

“Oh, I want to learn about the structure of molecules now!”

Another video.

“Oh! Two hydrogen and one oxygen–so that’s what H2O means!”

We take a break to get The Girl up and dressed and fed and give vitamins to the sick boy. Then it’s on to the Geology lapbook we never finished. Today we are going to work on it because today is a day to remember why we are homeschooling.

Maybe later it will be time for a video on Gaelic football, and finding Ireland on the map, and discovering why Ireland is split into two parts. I hope I can make the Math a living subject today and that the Chinese language will come alive when they do their assigned homework.

There is a long holiday coming up. When I put the plans together for the rest of this year, I need to remember. It’s time to remember.

What’s Possible on a Tuesday Night and a Wednesday Afternoon

Tuesdays are gymnastics night.

#1 son gets home around 7:30pm, his boundless energy spent after 2 hours of intense physical training. So we had a dilemma when we realized we needed to increase the academic training time for Chinese. We had been making an effort to do this most evenings but thought gym nights might have to be excluded. It was not pleasant most nights– our  parental efforts being  met with much complaining…but when I came out of the kitchen after washing up the dinner dishes one Tuesday night, this is the scene that greeted me: 

With the carrot of iphone game playing time dangling in front of him, tired #1 son set himself to the task at hand. “This is possible,” I thought to myself. While he need an extra incentive to get going, this became a night of possiblities in my mind. Now gym nights are also Chinese nights and no one is the worse for it.

So there are Tuesday and Thursday nights where many things seem impossible because of the late gymnastics classes…and then there are Wednesday afternoons where many things seem possible but rarely materialize.

On Wednesdays, there are no regular appointments or classes. There is no need for me to prepare dinner (we go to my in-laws’ for dinner every Wednesday evening). According to my master plan, we should have free time to go for walks or do projects or play games. It almost never happens. Schoolwork doesn’t get done in the morning and drags on until dinner time. When schoolwork drags, I drag my self though the afternoon ‘should’-ing on myself for not being more strict and resentful that I’m not getting a break. Tempers flare in our tiredness, #2 son retreats to his room to read, and #1 resists all my efforts to get him through his schoolwork. I hate it when this happens and I always tell myself there must be a better way….

Then one Wednesday, we all got up earlier, all the schoolwork was done before lunch and this is what we did while little sister took her afternoon nap:

It is possible and now that I know this, now that we’ve done it once, I pray next homeschool year we will see more afternoons of games, walks, talks or just peaceful rest. It is easy to lose sight of what is really important when the pressures of keeping up with the local curriculum loom over our heads. It is easy to swing to the other extreme and be complacent about the discipline that is good for all of us.  So, we find ourselves again teetering on a see-saw of priorities, praying we’ll get the right balance to fulfill that command to “Train up our children in the way they should go.” (Proverbs 22:6)

A Have or a Have-Not?

How I wish I could answer this question once and for all–clearly, concisely, maybe with a printed t-shirt so I could save my voice and the artificial smile I muster when the question(s) come.

How do you do it all?

Do you have any help?

How do you manage three kids by yourself?

Can you still homeschool with the baby around?

You cook?!?

I usually answer these questions with the same list of replies–and I try to keep the focus on the things I have:

–I have boys who are older now and do a lot of things for themselves

–I have my rocking chair next to the school tables so I can feed the baby while supervising lessons

–I have a part-time house cleaner

–I have a husband who does a lot of things around the house and with the children

–I have good friends who come to my rescue when I need it

–I have a small cafe downstairs where I can buy food on days when cooking is difficult

–I have a dishwasher and a clothes dryer

Frankly speaking, I have many things and people that help and I have it a lot easier than many other people I know who don’t have all these things that I have. Many people, usually people who don’t know me that well, seem to view me as a have not. That is one thought-path I don’t want to walk down. No, I don’t have a full-time live-in maid. No, I don’t have a spotless home. No, I don’t have perfect control over my tongue when I’m at home with my children all day. And no, I don’t have perfectly behaved children…

But I am convinced, in the midst of the messes we all make, that this is right for our family, it is settled–settled in the deep place in a way that makes me able to say truthfully that I like being home with my children and I enjoy homeschooling.

I have so much.  Above all, I have  Grace, which covers me in the areas where I’m a have not.

Bebo says it best:

What we’re reading–June 2010

What can I say? I love to read. I love books of all kinds. I feast on good literature. My life is enriched by a good story. So here’s what I have piled up by my bed at the moment:

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

I pulled this off the shelf a few weeks ago when I realized I was in need of a spiritual turn around. This hasn’t been an easy book to read, especially when I had been feeling very distant from God…but easy books don’t help me grow. Here’s a quote: ” What makes life worth while is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance; and this the Christian has, in a way that no other man has. For what higher, more exalted, more compelling goal can there be than to know God?  pg. 30

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Huh? Okay, I must confess, I really just want to read this so that I can say that I’ve read it. It’s been sitting on my shelf for several years. I’ve started it several times but never finished it. I thought I should read the books I have first before getting more from the library. I’m proud to announce, that while I haven’t been reading consistently, I have made it all the way to page 65.

Teaching the Trivium by Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn

A friend gave me this book and I thought it a good thing to read for the sake of research about homeschooling. It’s not the most enjoyable book I’ve read  on homeschooling, and I’m not particularly interested in the philosophy behind classical education. However, I am trying to glean what I can from it in terms of stages learning that children go through and how and when to approach various subjects. I’m hoping the writers will convince me one way or the other about including Latin, maybe Greek in our homeschool.

With the boys we are mostly following the Ambleside Online year 2 reading list and #2 son’s requests.

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

We’ve read this before, but when I saw it on the list of free reading for AO Year 2, I couldn’t resist reading it to the boys again. We’re about halfway through and often find ourselves feeling hungry after reading the many descriptions of the homecooked food the family ate. These people really worked, so when mealtime came there was no such thing as a fussy eater. The children were HUNGRY (especially the boys) and they ate everything given to them with gusto!  #1 son has been most impressed that Almanzo Wilder didn’t have to go to school until he was 9 years old. My how times have changed.

The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel

These stories are some of the best for early readers. We’ve been reading aloud to #2 son, with him helping us when he knows the words. All the stories use simple language but are cleverly written and often hilarious.

Of course there is more…but this list constitutes the bulk of the current bedtime reading!

Ready or Not . . .

I have been silent on the blog for a long time because I have been too tired to write or had so many other things to do that I could not justify using the time for writing. I didn’t write a Year in Review for 2009 because it all went by so fast that I haven’t had a chance to properly reflect on it.  It was a year of some traveling, some events organizing and learning to be consistent.

Since school has started for 2010, I would like to keep a bit more of a record of what we are doing and how I am doing in the midst of it by writing here. We’ll see how it goes…

I spent a couple of weeks in December on planning. I had hoped to spread it out over the whole month, but there were just too many activities going on. The perfectionist in me attempted to rear her ugly head and hurl me into the depths of the pit of “not good enough”…I was ready for her this time. I had a little discussion with God and with myself and firmly stated that if I only had 2 weeks to get ready for school, then 2 weeks would just have to do it. I knew delaying the start of school would result in too much pressure later in the year, so I got the schoolroom as organized as I could, typed up the first 12 weeks’ worth of lesson outlines, printed the readings for the first two weeks and gave the boys a pep talk about starting off the year right.

And you know, by lowering the standards just a little (read: my self-imposed standards) and refusing to lament over the things that went undone, I were able to start school with a much better attitude. The minimum requirements were there: a tidy schoolroom, a list of lessons and readings, and the required books. And, most important, a sense of peace was there. I had accomplished more than I thought possible in the two weeks I spent on getting ready. I believe there was a Divine hand at work leading me along.

As for curriculum, here is what we are using:

#1 Son (7, turning 8 this year, Primary 2 by Singapore school years)

#2 Son (4, turning 5 this year, K1 by Singapore school years)

This year, a few things will be different. First, #2 son will be doing a little more formal schoolwork and will have a schedule to follow. Which leads to the second and third differences–#1 son will have to do more work independently while I work with #2; and I will have to prepare more materials. Fourth, our Friday playgroup outings are being converted to Friday science lessons with 4 other homeschooling families. I hope to see other changes in myself and my character so that there are fewer harsh words spoken and more patience peppering the school days.

Some things will be more or less the same. Most schoolwork will be done before lunch. Our holidays won’t exactly match the Singapore schools, to allow for time with my family when my sister visits, time away at church camp, and other events in the family. We’ll continue with Chinese tutoring twice a week. We have a nice barter agreement with the Chinese teacher–she teaches Mandarin to both my sons, I teach English to her son and one other girl. Gym lessons will go on, as both boys are now in gym and enjoying it very much. I will continue Cradle Roll (Toddler Sunday School) teaching and coordinating for most of the year. Ed will keep up his involvement in Boys’ Brigade.

I remember telling someone after our first official year of homeschooling 3 (or was it 4?) years ago, that I can’t imagine not homeschooling. We have plenty of difficult moments and we don’t get everything right the first or even the second time, but I feel a very certain clarity that this is my calling. I get a thrill out of preparing lesson plans and perusing new books for the year. And I love that I am able to be at home with my children during these formative years.

A good week and a clearer vision

Despite my foul mood for much of the week, I liked this week much better than I have liked any other week since 2009 started. Why? Because the mornings were all clear of outside activities. This is the ideal I’ve been hoping for and I’m now working toward. Basketball on Monday mornings was fun for Eli, but it meant getting off to a very slow start for homeschooling. Traveling there and back was not too inconvenient, it’s just that the heat and the hour and a half of basketball sapped all of us of our energy for the rest of the day. So much so that even #1 son often took naps on Mondays. Playgroup on Friday mornings has been part of our schedule for the past 2 years; however, the group has been rather inconsistent this year, and I’m wondering if it’s time for a change. A shift to a mini co-op perhaps? Afternoon meet-ups instead?  I’m not sure what to do about it, so for now it will remain… but it was so nice this week to do schoolwork on Friday morning and then go out after lunch. In fact, this week all of our outings were in the afternoons and it seems to work out much better. So, for now it will go something like this: (pm meaning afternoons)

Mon am–school

Mon pm–play outdoors at home

Tues am–Chinese tutoring & school

Tues pm–Chinese speech & drama at West Coast

Wed am–school

Wed pm–at home (or out for homeschool group activities)

Thurs am–Chinese tutoring & school

Thurs pm–gym at Sporty Joe’s 

Fri am–playgroup or some variation thereof

Fri pm–at home, housework

Sat am–housework

Sat pm–school prep 

Sun am–church

Sun pm–rest

I am feeling the need to really limit my commitments outside of the home right now. It’s clear we still have a long way to go in training our children. Neither of them are ready to do their schoolwork completely independently, unfortunately. Although #1 is capable of independent work, we have not trained him well to do this (and he is extremely extroverted and likes to have someone sitting next to him most of the time!). So the focus for schooldays right now is consistency and training in good habits. Perhaps I should delve back into the Book of Daniel again…Ms J’s comment was timely in reminding me to keep my little students focused on following God’s instructions and the academics would follow. I’m also reminded that Daniel was a highly disciplined person, able to pass up foods that were delicious but forbidden, able to continuing praying three times a day even when it might cost him his life, and able to hear from the LORD in matters concerning the pagan kings he served as well as the future. The other quality that stands out to me about Daniel is his spiritual longevity–from the time he was very young until he was very old, there is no record of Daniel ever having wavered in his faith. He was uncompromising to the end. I long to be like this and to pray this for our two boys. Perhaps I should name our homeschool The Daniel Training Institute! 

I have been searching for a vision for myself as the main homeschool teacher…a word of wisdom or encouragement to keep me going and remember what we’re aiming for in training these two boys. I can’t melt them down and pour them into a mold of the Daniel of the Bible but I will endeavor to keep his character and way of life ever before us through this season of training and educating our boys. 

There, I’ve said it. I’ve made a commitment and I’ve put it in writing. God help me as I attempt to make it a reality in daily life.

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