Another school year is approaching and many are busy evaluating last year’s learning and making plans for the upcoming year. Some are filled with anticipation and others maybe with a little fear and apprehension mixed in. I wish I could reach out to all of you feeling anxious and unsupported, I wish I could physically come up alongside and sister you as others have done and continue to do for me. If this is how you are feeling, let’s imagine we are sitting down together, sipping on a favorite drink (make it a big one cause this post is loooong) as we laugh a bit (or maybe a lot) over the mistakes we made and cry over the regrets we have. We compare and contrast our homeschooling journeys as we encourage, inspire, and build each other up. You tell me about your last year and the plans and dreams you have for this new one. We order a snack (and maybe go to the bathroom) and then you listen as I cry over my failings and as I ramble on about my thoughts on this new year of learning. If we could meet, here’s a bit of what I would share.
I started homeschooling my first child six years ago. You would think after six years that I should be into a nice little rhythm and routine, but I was just beginning my third year of homeschooling when my brother took his life. And then, not even two years after his death, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer.
While these last few years have been difficult and painful, I have learned so much. It is in this ‘hard’, that I realize I’ve been given a gift. A gift of perspective that I never would have had, had it not been for the hard. Perspective has allowed me to see life in it’s rawest and purest state. The hard in life has stripped off all of the extras and forced me to choose what’s most important, what’s most meaningful. This perspective has changed how I see everything – including how I educate my children.
I heard a sermon from one of my favorite pastors last summer on simplicity in life that really helped me in preparing for homeschooling last year. He used a marriage illustration on glass, metal, and rubber by Les and Leslie Parrot, that I tweaked for the difficult year we had facing us. I found a blog post that summarized this illustration on these priorities really well.
“There are three categories: rubber, metal and glass. When you drop things that are rubber they bounce back. Nothing really happens. There are no permanent consequences or visible damage. Nothing is lost. Then there are things that are metal, when you drop these it creates noise. Recovery is possible but there are dents and visible consequences. Time, effort and even specialized help are often necessary to fix these problems. Glass is by far the most fragile and delicate material. When glass is dropped it shatters and may never be the same again. There are consequences, some pieces may be missing forever and once broken it may never function the same way again.”
My husband and I prayed hard as we were forced to rely on God in a way we’d never needed to before. We really looked at what we wanted our children to learn and then prioritized the topics by dividing them into the three categories of glass, metal, and rubber. We listed the topics that we felt needed to be placed in the glass category. These were the topics that if we didn’t teach them on a daily (or almost daily) basis, would shatter and have a lifelong and lasting impact on their lives.
Then we looked at the topics we had left and decided which ones were topics that should be placed in the metal category. These topics were ones that we could teach here and there; topics that we definitely wanted and needed for them to learn and that would have consequences if not learned, but topics that maybe we didn’t have to teach them everyday, topics we could rotate.
That left the remaining list of topics that we placed under the rubber category. These were ones we could do without teaching them for a time that wouldn’t have a huge impact in the person they would become.
Throwing the expectations of the world out the window, my husband and I discussed, prioritized, and divided our learning into the three categories of glass, metal, and rubber. We blended these with our learning philosophies and created a life-filled way of learning for our children, a way of learning that, even though I am now cancer-free, we have decided to continue to use with our younger children.
After losing my brother, being diagnosed with cancer, and almost losing my life to the treatment of it, I have learned that life is anything but predictable. I am a work in progress but I (mostly) no longer feel guilt in lesson planning as we go. Back in the day before I had kids, I used to dot all of my i’s and cross all of my t’s, I used to have all of my clothes on color-coded hangers and even had them facing in the same direction (too much time on my hands I think). But not anymore. Now I’m lucky to get my clothes hung. I’m still a planner and I still enjoy adding things to my to-do-list just so I can check them off, but for some reason I don’t like making concrete plans or to-do-lists with homeschooling. I’ve never been a ‘fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kinda gal’ – until I started teaching my children at home. So every summer, my husband and I re-examine our mission, our children, and our philosophies. We evaluate last years learning, it’s joys and the regrets, and then we make a loose overall plan for the year. Then I make flexibleish lesson plans on Sundays and better define them the evening before or sometimes even the morning of (I’m an early morning riser so I often wilt as the sun sets). This allows me to easily change things throughout the year that aren’t working, to tweak and adjust as we go along. My oldest will be a part of this process this year, taking a more active role and having more responsibility for his learning. He’s eleven now and we feel he is better ready for a little more metal and rubber, better ready for a little more formal routine.
I was only able to homeschool in this way because we are part of a Private School Program. We have been asked why we don’t use the Charter school system so I thought I would share my reasons with you today. I would prefer not having someone coming to my home, evaluating my teaching, and my children’s learning. I use a Bible-based learning approach in our learning which goes against the terms and conditions of Charter schools in our state. I would also rather not put my little introverts through the stress of state testing and I would prefer to fly as far under the radar as possible (which is why we’ve joined a private school academy as opposed to filing the affidavit ourselves).
To fill a need for an umbrella school in California, my husband and I created Kinderfarm Academy, a private satellite program (PSP) that allows students to be enrolled in an established private school recognized by the State of California’s Board of Education while still having the freedom to receive their education at home. Kinderfarm Academy files all legal forms, provides a teacher ID card for one parent, and maintains attendance records, cum files, transcripts, and diplomas for students enrolled in our program. This enrollment will also include 30 minutes of free consulting. If you live in California and you are in need of these services you can find more information here.
I also understand and respect that for some people using a pre-packaged curriculum provides structure, guidance, and support, but it makes me feel tangled and restricted. When a stranger finds out we homeschool one of the first questions I’m always asked is “what curriculum do you use?” I answer with the sophisticated response, “Ummmm….” as I avoid eye contact thinking of what to say. (It’s the same reaction my kids have when they’re asked in the line at the grocery store what grade they are in.) I don’t use a curriculum, or at least what most people mean by the word. Math aside for our oldest, our curriculum doesn’t come in a box because then I feel put in that box. I feel confined and limited by lessons, activities, and workbooks that tell me how, when, and what to teach my kids. It confuses, restricts, and smothers me. It makes me feel that if I’m not following their schedule then I must be doing something wrong. If pre-packaged curriculum makes me feel this bad then I know that it isn’t for me. (That being said, I do feel I need the support of some type of math curriculum for my oldest this year so I am researching what will work best.)
I don’t think a cookie-cutter curriculum is right for my children during their elementary years. All children are unique in the way they learn, their interests, their talents, and in the areas where they need more training. My young children learn best in a more relaxed and life-filled way of learning. They enjoy creating and building and learning through experience. “Missing the opportunity to equip a child for a vital individual purpose will be the price paid in our attempt to feed too much knowledge too soon. The preadolescent years are crucial to allowing and encouraging natural development. The child is at high risk during this time of becoming passive to further learning because of burn-out…. In our culture, reading, writing, and arithmetic skills are relevant to every child’s life. The timing of introducing them will depend on the individual child’s development and readiness” (Marilyn Howshall, The Science, Art, and Tools of Learning, p, 75, 76). I have to remind myself, time spent on something means time away from something else. As the parent, I must be on-guard against useless learning obtained at the expense of learning that is relevant and useful for each child. There are only so many hours in a day, so much learning that can be done. I want to protect their learning, making it as rich and life-filled as possible.
For our family, my husband and I have had to really examine how our children learn, discover our missions and purpose (both individual and as a family), determine our educational philosophies, and define our roles in facilitating their learning. We’ve had to decide the best way for our children to form good habits and fall in love with learning. I’ve had to find what makes me feel confident and peace-filled, what speaks to my heart and sits well with my soul. Teaching or learning will not always be easy or fun, but most children are born with a natural curiosity and desire to learn, and most parents with a desire to mold and to teach. What lights this fire and what extinguishes it? This is the answer I search for on my knees. For a parent, teaching shouldn’t cause stress and worry. God has promised to lead and guide us and to carry our burdens – we need only ask for help, surrender our worries, and follow Him. (Sounds simple, right? But for me this is a daily struggle). For children, learning shouldn’t be a noose tied tightly around their necks, oppressing their freedom or robbing them in the simplicity of their childhood. Teaching should (for the most part) be enjoyable and learning interesting and, though sometimes difficult, should bring joy and a sense of accomplishment.
I’ve wrestled with whether I should include this TED talk someone showed me on YouTube. It has a couple of words that weren’t my favorite but the overall message of the video about education is important so I will let you decide for yourself whether to watch it.
I’ve been reading books by Marilyn Howshall and her Lifestyle of Learning Approach. She believes that learning should be delight-directed and we should focus more on how to learn and think rather than what to learn and think. “The homeschooler’s greatest stumbling block may be found in the false belief that we must cover every year a certain amount of subject material. Until we come to grips with the deception that ‘content equals education’ we will never be set free to explore a better way. And what is the better way? Learning how to learn and how to think (process) rather than what to learn and what to think (product)…. The only true education is one in which the student pursues and acquires it for himself” (Ibid., p. 23, 24). This sits well with my soul.
If true education is one in which the student pursues and acquires it for himself then what is my role? Is it possible that my kids will acquire their curriculum from their own natural-born curiosity, passions, and interests? Could it be that my role is maybe one more of molding and shaping, of inspiring and encouraging, of leading and guiding? Of putting them in the way of learning by creating learning environments rich in thoughts and ideas and flavor-filled with inspiration, wonder, and amazement? Of walking alongside them as they learn as well as walking ahead as I lead by example? If so, does this free me from the burden of following a pre-packaged curriculum and release me from following a strict schedule and rather have a more loose and flexible routine? Does this free me from teaching by the clock and instead allow me to watch for my children’s learning cues and readiness? Does this mean I can put more of my time into prayer and snuggling with my kids and more of my effort into training them?
That’s the beauty of homeschooling. Parents can blend educational philosophies and mold a curriculum that works for them and meets the unique and ever-changing needs of their family. If someone asked me what philosophy I use for homeschooling I would say we are a little bit Raymond Moore and unschooled, a little bit interest-led and Charlotte Mason, a little bit Ann Voskamp’s 7 Daily Rungs and Marilyn Howshall’s Lifestyle of Learning, a little bit unit studies. We’ve combined a little bit of a lot of methods to create our own way of homeschooling. But in doing this I no longer feel overwhelmed and out-of-control. I’m not saying at all that our days are all unicorns and rainbows, but I feel at peace; there is a joy in my heart and a calm in my soul. And our children are not only learning, they are thriving.
Our family’s mission can be summed up in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” and Philippians 4:8, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” and Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” We want to live a simple life, a life full of peace. We want to grow our relationships within our family and open our eyes to the needs of others. We want to help our children discover their purpose in life. We want to be intentional and deliberate in the guiding and the filling of our children’s thoughts and the shaping of their habits. Because thoughts become actions, actions become habits, habits form character, and character shapes us into who we become and how we live our lives (a variation from a quote by Ghandi). Will we be perfect in this? Absolutely not. But I know that God will cover us with His mercy and grace as we stumble through our days.
Children often need stability and a routine (even if flexible) so we provided a framework in our day. Homeschooling for our family looks a bit different each year but the how of our life-filled learning days with young children look like this:
- being still
- cultivating character
- working with our hands
- finding solutions
- exploring and discovering our world
- imagining in the quiet hour
- thinking on whatsoever things are lovely
- so happy together
While integrating subjects, we are able to combine our learning into these eight anchors. My children take an active roll in creating their own curriculum and lesson planning becomes a learning process that is challenging, spontaneous, creative, meaningful, and unprocessed – God-led and life-filled. An education that allows our children, as they grow, to have more responsibility in pursuing their passions, chasing their dreams, and finding their life purpose.
“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?” (Charlotte Mason).
We have tried to create a classroom that extends beyond the four basic walls of our home. There is so much learning in the world around us. Life is our curriculum, nature is our classroom, and the bodies, minds, hearts, and souls of our children our pupils. Building chicken coops, growing a garden, working in the home, serving others, reading quality literature, creating an atmosphere of peace and calm, shaping and defining habits that will last a lifetime is the flexible, ever-evolving process we use in educating our children.
I never want people reading my words to feel they aren’t doing “it” right. I don’t ever want to be the cause for someone to feel empty or less than. I know these feelings, because I have read others’ words and wished I had more, wished I was more. My life is full of imperfection, ugly, and messy and I don’t just have this one room in the picture below to prove it. This is how our school room usually looks – used and abused with chaos overwhelming.
You don’t need a designated schoolroom or property to teach and kids don’t need it to learn. Even if you live in an apartment a child can build a birdhouse, hang a feeder, build a small garden box, and grow a few vegetables, learning can be found wherever you call home. Again, everyone’s day is going to look different. Some homes will be filled with science experiments, others with notebooking, still others with days spent making crafts, or reading on the couch. Again, that’s the beauty of homeschooling. You make it the best you can and you pray to God to cover where we fail or what we can’t afford.
You are enough my friend. Because He has made you in His image. You are the daughter (or the son ;)) of a King. You are courageous and fearless because the Mighty God has your back. You are the best and most inspiring homeschooling mama for your children. You are enough. Say that to yourself over and over when you hear whispers in your ear that you are failing and not measuring up. Run to Him. Follow Him. As you make all of the decisions for homeschooling your children this year, consult with Him. Each walk is unique and special.
I’ve found that you can pretty much find any research to support just about anything and often these findings change with the views and trends of culture so I encourage you to seek counsel first from God. Ask Him to give direction and provide you with a peace in educating your children. I’ve included a few of my favorite homeschooling resource books that have been very instrumental in helping us determine and define our homeschooling journey.
Clay Clarkson: Educating the WholeHearted Child
Ellyn Davis: I Carved the Angel From the Marble
John Taylor Gatto: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling
Susan Schaeffer Macaulay: For the Children’s Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School
Sonya Shafer: Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook
If you are at all like me, many of you will want a fool-proof, easy-to-follow formula, a guide on “how to not fail while educating your children in 10 easy steps”. But each family is unique and different – there is no formula. I hesitate to advise without knowing your specific needs, circumstances, and priorities within your family. I unfortunately have only limited time to spend answering each of your questions, as I have four children of my own, so my husband, Joey, a high-school science teacher who has a Masters degree in Education, and I, a labor and delivery nurse beginning our sixth year of homeschooling (with three years experience homeschooling through difficult situations), are now together setting aside time in offering consultations to homeschoolers. If you are overwhelmed by all the different learning philosophies or would like guidance in creating a life-filled way of learning in your homeschool, we offer individualized direction incorporating your family’s mission, philosophies, desires, needs, and personalities with project and experienced-based learning. Joey specifically is able to offer the advantage of a male teacher’s perspective. We also offer advice in gathering resources, supplies, and tools, collecting an in-home literature-rich library, designing schoolrooms, and creating indoor and outdoor learning spaces within your home. If you are local in Southern California, we are offering additional options for personalized face-to-face collaboration and assistance with learning space design.
Whew! Thanks for hanging with me through this book of a post. Later this week I will be sharing another long post with the resources and tools that we find helpful in our learning. If you are feeling overwhelmed, unsure, and unsettled, I encourage you to pray and ask God to lead and guide you in teaching your children from a place of peace and contentment. Bless you as you trust in His promises and follow in His footsteps.