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)


The Independent Learner

cheeseburger paradiseOne of my goals in homeschooling is to help train my children to learn things on their own with minimal help from me. The hope is that we will not squash the love of learning out of them and that they will maintain a curiosity that inspires them to learn and keep learning.

This is one of those nice-sounding goals that I think I put in the application to exempt my son from mandatory public schooling here in Singapore. And it really is one of the goals…but in recent weeks this idea of independence has taken on a new meaning. My #1 son is quite naturally independent, to put it mildly. He’s 6 1/2 going on 18 and thinks he doesn’t really need his mother to tell him what to do. The other day he told me he likes to teach not to “be teached…uh, taught.” Alas, he is just like me…doesn’t like to be told what to do, likes to figure things out by trying first rather than listening, learns more when he is the teacher rather than the student. So now the parenting dilemma is to help him find the balance–not to deny his personality (which shows great passion and leadership potential) and yet bring it under control so that he learns to be teachable.

This week I changed my strategy a little. Rather than sticking to the timetable and dictating what subjects came first and at what time, I gave #1 a checklist of what needed to be done and let him decide the order. His checklist includes: getting dressed/tidying the bed, chores (dirty clothes delivery/trash), and school subjects for the various days. On the same page there is a list of the books/worksheets he’s to use and how long he needs to spend on each subject. Some of these things require my help but most don’t. Copywork seems to be the thing he despises most out of all his assigned schoolwork, so I have employed ‘desperate’ measures to help him overcome his dislike for writing. First, I read aloud to him while he writes. Reading always helps calm him, so as long as he can focus, I am glad to do that. Second, I have allowed him to use a pen (and correction fluid!) rather than a pencil. He claims that it makes him remember to be more careful in his writing because it’s troublesome to blot out the mistakes. I have had to fight back the feeling that I am letting him get away with too much, being the control freak that I sometimes can be. He does much better work without Mom breathing down his neck.

Nugget nirvanaBesides making for more peaceful school days and helping #1 to be more responsible for his own work, this has given me much more time to work with #2. He’s doing simple math and phonics work, but I’d been so inconsistent I had not been seeing much progress. Now he’s showing progress (and interest!) in learning to read and recognizing numbers, and to my surprise even in writing and drawing. Today he was very engaged in the Chinese lesson with the tutor as well. I’m quite pleased with the phonics materials I printed from FREE from Progressive Phonics. #2 even picked up the first lesson book and was reviewing the previous lesson on his own yesterday.

We took a long time to get into this workable routine after a month off in April. Now I’m afraid to stop for a break at the end of August…it could take us til October to get back on track. We are hoping for a short holiday and I need some planning time, so we’ll have to see how it goes. For now I am grateful for answered prayers in the form of new ideas and better attitudes.

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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