Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Letter to New Homeschool Parents (And Reminder To Myself)

It's 3:30am, and I'm sitting here by the glow of the computer screens {my husband has three monitors, so by glow I mean broad daylight} waiting patientlyish for my littlest to decide if and when she'll be going back to sleep, and my mind is racing about all that I didn't get done for tomorrow.

Because tomorrow, well, today, starts Homeschool Review Camp!! Yay!!! {Slightly forced excitement}.

To my kids, HRC is two weeks of jumping back into school, reviewing some of last year's things they learned, and getting to finally use our new homeschool room while sitting at the big table with the new bench that their daddy just made for them.

For me, HRC is a chance to introduce routine and discipline of schedule back into what was our first lazy and quiet summer in a long time. The break was good for us all, but we're realizing the kids need more structure again. I really am excited to teach my littles again this year, but there's a part of me that longs for summer to not end.

So we call it review camp, and my son tells me that since it's camp we'll need tents and to sleep in the basement by the school room. By all means, son, go right ahead, but I will just glamp upstairs in my comfy bed. The bed that I am currently out of even though slumber should be overtaking us all.

I'm sitting here realizing all that I forgot to prep for tomorrow's first day of camp. I had this plan to make little name cards and put at the table by the new bench, welcoming the kids back to school. I needed to print off those math review worksheets. I looked three times at our theology school book on my daughter's floor thinking, "Gee, I really need to see which chapter we're going to start with tomorrow morning during breakfast," but was always in the process of another chore and never went back in to the enemy territory to get the book. If you saw her floor you'd consider it as such as well. Maybe that's why I didn't venture back into her room for the book: fear.

Speaking of fear, we got our letter today officially recognizing Cedar Crest Academy as an accredited private school. No pressure. You know, just the state of Kansas, future universities and everyone my children will interview with for a job one day will need to know this...

Realizing all I did not get accomplished like I'd hoped paired with all I hope to accomplish this year made me realize just how far I've come in my long two year stretch of teaching. We started haphazardly with one foot in the NICU and the other foot at the Ronald McDonald House teaching preschool to our oldest. I'd never planned on homeschooling, but we were realizing that with the delicate care of our youngest, life lived in hospitals and appointments, that we might not have another option.  The Lord wanted me to teach, but I did not. It was a work in my heart that He had to do to get me here, with ample amounts of tugging and pulling, but by the end of the preschool year, I was ready to dive into teaching Kindergarten.

You know that saying, "Ready or not, here I come!" Yep, that was me. I never knew if I was ready or not to teach my children their schooling, but we dove in nonetheless. I've been blessed with many friends who also homeschool and who have mentored me, but it's still just something I had to learn on my own by being hands on with the whole idea. So here's a letter, written to the new homeschool parent, or as a reminder to seasoned ones, or just a letter to me from me, as a pep talk for the coming school year...

Dear Homeschool Parent {Me},

You're here. You've arrived. Or arrived again. And your mind is already excited about pencils and fresh lined paper. The smell of a new book just waiting to be opened and read to eager kiddos who are aching for adventure to begin. The dust of the chalk (because I'm vintage like that). The stain of the marker. The tape. Oh the endless tape.

There will be days where you've prepped to your heart's content, fully responsible and ready to steer this ship. And other days you'll think you're not even the captain of this ship. This usually happens when a child gets you off topic in something called a rabbit trail. Or a scissor attack. Or a tantrum of the highest magnitude. Or when you're trying to teach a concept to a child less than half your height and wondering if you're even forming the right words to express the meaning you're trying to convey. Either way, your heart is in the right place with your mind focused on helping these littles to learn.

There will be days you feel guilty. That you slept in more before school started because the baby was up in the night. That you didn't get all of that chapter read yesterday. That you didn't prep and believe that lesson planning is best planned at 9:04am when your mind is fresh and focused and class started three minutes ago. That you only did four days of school this week instead of five because you just. couldn't. handle. it. all. That you took that week of fall break because the weather was beautiful, but feel guilty because public school is still in session right now. There are so many guilt traps. I got stuck in many of those last year. The last two years. Let them go. Let the guilt wash away while realizing that the reasons for the guilt are actually replacing the very joy that comes with schooling at home. No you are not lazy for starting school at 10:30am if it's what works best for your family's schedule. No you are not behind if you took one day off because your family needed a day of life and no stress in your current season or situation. No you are not in trouble if you plan for random week long breaks in months like October and February. No you are not a failure if your child is not picking up on the concept by the time the workbook says they should. Guilt is the robber in the bank of joy. Wow. Crazy metaphor there. Blame it on 4am. But it's so true. Pick your stride with schooling, and roll with it. Change things like schedules and start times as needed until you find your groove. Give yourself grace. Daily. Give your kids grace as well.

Remember that there's no right way to school. I struggled with this. Before even fully deciding on schooling my son's preschool, I was already scared of doing it all wrong. After all, his education and future dreams of being a Lego Engineer do rest fully upon my shoulders. No pressure. And my daughter wants to be a doctor and artist. Again, no pressure. {I'm sure in five minutes they'll change their minds anyway. I wanted to be a country singer when I was their age and looking to the future. That obviously didn't pan out so well}. I digress. The point is that you can study up on homeschool philosophies, attend conferences, read the latest book on how to best school at home, but ultimately, it comes down to the simple fact that there's no right way to do this. There will be days you didn't quite get it right, and days when you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you do. And either way is OK. I still remember the day my friend looked at me and said, "Oh, so you do the Charlotte Mason philosophy!" The whu-huh? I'd never thought about my teaching philosophy before. I just went with how I knew to school my kids. I have to answer the what curriculum do you use question with my own because I'm still piecing it together myself. It's just what I've discovered works best for my children's current school year, though it took me a full year to say that with confidence. I also referred to sounds made by two letters (oo, ou, ow) as double letter sounds until a friend said, "Um, those are called blends." I felt stupid for not even knowing the correct term. It was little things like this that at first made me think I wasn't cut out for all this teaching stuff. But the Lord was gentle to remind me that He will give me the knowledge I need to help my children to learn. James 1:5-6 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." If I earnestly seek the Lord for His wisdom and knowledge, He is good to grant that to me. I'm not saying neglect researching teaching methods or any sort of planning or such because He'll just fill my head with what I need to know. What I am saying is that if I seek Him on this topic of schooling my children, He has been and will be good to provide me the insight I need to know what to research, where to study up on things, bless me with mentors, and so on. Ask for wisdom. Pray for wisdom. Ask others for their wisdom on the topic. Then choose which way works best for you and your family.

The rewards are bountiful. After days, or weeks, maybe months of working on a particular skill, task, subject, there's this light up moment in your child when everything clicks and they get it. That thing that was so hard to grasp is now fully in their grip. That concept that they just couldn't wrap their mind around is now known. That word that they struggled to read all year is suddenly so effortless to read. There will be rotating seasons where it's hard and it's grueling at times, but to see that child glow when they finally accomplish what was set before them is nothing short of amazing. And as the teacher, you have the front row seat to this show. You get to be the first one to listen to them read. To hear them count to twenty. To line their letters up in order after weeks and weeks of struggling with letter recognition. But it'll come. The joy of homeschooling is that I've learned it comes with no stone timeline. There are areas where my children will leap with knowledge and understanding, and other areas where it'll take more time, but the joy is that we can choose that time together and learn at their own pace. I can let go of the guilt of thinking we're not measuring up or meeting the standards that their peers are meeting and instead focus on my children alone and their successes and needs, access it together, set a plan to work, and then watch them begin to grasp it well in their own way. On the days that are the hardest, and I feel I'm pushing the most against a wall {aka child} I need to remember that in time, there will be a sweet reward when it all finally comes together. I need to remind myself now of the patience I'll need then, to be steadfast in this good work because eventually it will pay off. I might need a few extra coffee breaks and hide-in-the-bedroom-breakdowns, but it will pay off. Note: I don't say this all wishy-washy as someone who just knows my child will grasp the concept easily or in time without regard to the parents out there who have children who might struggle with learning disabilities and such. Please know this comes from the heart of a parent who has children on the spectrum of anything from gifted to a child who has a serious developmental delay. I'm the parent who has a talented child who is doing 2nd grade math before he starts first grade. I'm also the parent of a sweet girl who is 2.5 years old and has just now learned to grasp something with both hands at the same time. I've rejoiced greatly and equally in both rewarding moments. Yes it takes perseverance, and strength, and character to push through the hard days, but it's worth it.

Finally, support your fellow parents who send their children to public or private school. You'll also find that they support you. We're all in this for the common goal of educating our children to a brighter future. I know that sounds cliche, but it's true. And that whole it takes a village thing? Yeah, that one is true as well. This year let's take down any divider wall between our beliefs in homeschooling vs. public schooling and instead choose to support the parents and teachers on both sides. Encourage the mom who works and sends her son to school early. Ask if you can help her and drop him off to school even just once a month so she can feel less rushed. Encourage the homeschool mama who's got a plate full of crazy before her and drop her off a coffee before a long day of lessons.  Encourage and support the moms who are teachers in the home, and the teachers who are moms but teaching a classroom full of students that aren't their own children. Teaching our littles is a community effort, not an individual one.

Let's recap: There's no right way to school. Give yourself grace. Let go of any guilt and comparison. Ask the Lord for wisdom to help you grow in your teaching. Remind yourself of these things often. Daily if need be. Persevere through the hard subjects and difficult lessons.  And rejoice in the little ah-ha moments.

Happy New School Year. {Now go buy those supplies before they're all the Frozen folders are gone!}