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. 


Advent: Enough is Enough

Over the course of the past week or so I have come to realize that the number of plates I’m attempting to spin at this time of year, in this season of life is not realistic, maybe even ridiculous. It’s just me being me but trying desperately not to be. It’s like when I registered for my first semester of classes in college… Me being me I signed up for an insane number of classes which were way over my head. Things didn’t turn out very well that time, so since then, whenever I find myself getting in over my head, I try to grab hold of myself and tell myself to start simplifying.

I took a step towards simplicity today.

I clicked on ‘unsubscribe’ for two very nice weekly newsletters I’d been receiving but rarely reading. My inbox still has more than 900 emails in it, but I’m getting there. I’m thinking of just deleting them all without looking come 31st December but I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to really do that. Speaking of bravery, I’ve even toyed with the idea of leaving Facebook. I like being able to share photos and comments with friends and family near and far, but it has become a major distractor on some days. Would it be better to write more in depth (on this blog, for instance) or to read more? That question will remain unanswered for the time being.

Tonight after I had done my ‘unsubscribing’, I had another radical thought.

The Christmas decorations were not exactly complete, in my opinion. I still had ornaments that hadn’t been hung, my favourite nativity set still in the box, artificial greenery staring at me through a transparent ziploc bag. I had tried to get #2 son to help me get out some candles in the afternoon, but we didn’t get far with arranging them. And then the radical thought came,

“This is enough.”

The tree is up and nicely decorated. The advent wreath is nearly ready. The Jesse Tree ornaments are printed. It is enough. I had been simultaneously trying (hoping) to decorate the house nicely, plan for next year’s homeschool, plan for some sort of ending to what’s left of this year’s homeschool, keep the house in order, do the laundry, care for my not-yet-4-month old daughter, wrangle the monkey boys into doing the needful things like bathing and eating, prepare meals, attend parties, buy presents (and pray I find time to wrap them)…  and all this when I had hoped to slow down at the end of the year. It is enough. I am trying desperately to protect the last two weeks of the year for planning and preparation. And hopefully there will be some space somewhere in there for reflection.

I have been jotting down notes and stealing moments here and there to think about next year, so I do have some general sense of direction. Now…to get it all together by January, or at least get it together enough to get going even if it isn’t a perfectly laid out plan for the whole year…

Can Do

Being a princess, if not the queen, of critical negative thinking, I find it quite natural to point out potential problems with any proposed idea. Just give me time and I can come up with at least 10 reasons why an idea won’t work (especially if it wasn’t my idea to start with). A couple of weeks ago I observed a situation that gave me pause–it made me laugh at first, but later I realized I could learn something even from the air conditioner serviceman.

Two servicemen came to our flat that day to have a look at the air conditioners that had been out of commission for about a year. Whenever we have servicemen come to our home when my husband is not around, I just hope and pray their English is good enough for me to get the gist of whatever they need to tell or ask me without me having to launch into my horrendous Mandarin. The lead man seemed to be conversant enough, although I did have to ask him to repeat a couple of things that weren’t clear.

When it came time for him to write up the service report, here’s what happened: First, he phoned his office and explained in Mandarin what the problem was and what he’d done to fix it. Next, the office staff sent a text message to his phone which he was to copy on the service report for the customer. It was quite a lot to write for someone who’s not confident in the language, so he took a huge bite of humble pie and asked me if I could write it for him. To me it would have been humbling, but to him it seemed largely pragmatic. He knew I could write much faster than him and figured I wouldn’t mind doing this small thing to help him out.

After he left I was thinking “What a system!” It seemed like a crazy way to work to a person like me, who is used to being as self-sufficient as possible. But I couldn’t seem to muster up much criticism, which usually comes quite naturally to me. This company had a problem–they had men with good technical know-how, but poor language skills. Rather than not hire them (as I probably would have done), they found a way to make it work.

I could use a good dose of this “can do” attitude in many areas of my life.

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.

Kuantan Travel Log, Satu (1)

By the time I finish writing this post it will be just past midnight on the day we leave for a trip to Kuantan, Malaysia. I told myself I wasn’t going to leave all the packing until the last night, then I told myself I wouldn’t go out today until it was done, then I told myself I would get to bed by 11pm since we need to get up early. I guess I wasn’t listening to myself.

As I’ve been packing and washing and cutting carrots and mixing tuna and folding clothes and hanging up the shower curtain and putting away scattered toys, I’ve tried not to ‘should’ on myself too much. Thinking of all the time I spent doing other things the past few days when I could’ve been getting things ready for the trip. Being a highly perfectionistic person, I have a hard time deciding how much is enough–whether it’s packing for a week-long trip to a place where there aren’t a lot of activities for kids or cleaning the house when I know my mother-in-law will probably be in my house at some point while we’re gone. So at 11:55pm, with aching feet and an aching back and very tired eyes, I decided I’d done enough. If the kitchen sink didn’t get packed, well, I think we’ll be ok.

See why I need a vacation?

We’re setting off around 7am tomorrow and will be driving to the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia. Kuantan is the home of a good friend of ours from our days at UT, Knoxville, as well as the nesting ground for leatherback sea turtles. We’ve got plans to spend time with our friends and hopes that we might catch a glimpse of some of the turtles. It’s about a 6-7 hour drive along plantation roads and through small towns. I’m looking forward to the drive there and I’m looking forward to being in a quiet place, near the beach, with just our family. It seems like just the right time for a break from all our usual chores and studies and work–time to think, to write, to read, to dig in the sand, and do everything much much more slowly.