The Upside of Homeschooling

1502163_618095204904916_1989038916_oEvery time I go to The Homeschool Store just north of Houston, I get a little excited and at the same time, overwhelmed.

471ffbf89645245fe819ef0c1caf7eb4Do you remember that scene in the old Disney movie “The Sword in the Stone”?  The owl was taking on giving lessons to Arthur. He began by instructing the boy Arthur to “…Read these books”.  To which the shocked boy replied, “All of them?”    The owl knowingly told him, “That my boy…is a mountain of knowledge”.  And boy was it!  The books were stacked in enormous piles all the way to the cathedral ceiling.

That’s a bit what it feels like to walk into The Homeschool Store.  It’s a mountain of knowledge.  Some of it is curriculum style.  Lots of it isn’t.  The options are purely overwhelming.  I found some that looked more dull that a 1960’s textbook of polymer chemistry (trust me, it was bad!) Others, I just wanted to drink in myself.  I wanted to look through them, dive into them, and just savor them because they were so colorful, so richly detailed.  I get giddy when I think that we could choose to literally devote studies to books like those.

There were different types of ideas on how to teach science in the elementary years.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t remember much science until I got to middle school. There was some, but not enough to really make a deep impression.  Some would argue that kids might not be able to comprehend science at a deeper level, and that lightly covering a lot of topics might be the better path before getting into great specifics. However, I remember myself at 8 years old, getting obsessed with dolphins and whales.  I studied them – all of them.  Obsessively so.  I wanted to work at Sea World as a whale trainer so I wanted to learn everything possible about them. All of my birthday and Christmas presents involved whale and dolphins. I drew them. I diagramed them.  I plastered the posters on my walls.  I did outgrow this (eventually), but this means that if a subject is interesting enough, a person, even a very young one,  might just study it for the joy of learning it.  Anyways, there are entire curriculums where you study for a very long period of time (maybe half or all of the year) on one subject matter- in order to become a subject matter expert in the elementary years.  One year could be zoology, another aquatic science, another space science.  Imagine getting to really dig into the good stuff, and not just skimming it.  In addition to the rich text,  The “workbooks” were more like field guides (and wouldn’t you know it, they are in a fashion of the science journals I had to keep for all of my labs in college!) where the kids would take notes and comments.  It was fascinating and beautiful.

If you think the science stuff is awesome…you should see the history.  Talk about the pictures, the rich text, the details that aren’t text book boring but lifelike.

One of the reasons that I love the homeschool plan is that I get one more chance to fix something that I missed out on in my youth – I get to actually learn this stuff for me, and not because it’s going to show up on a test, that I have to get an A on, because I want to get scholarships, and get into college, and get a degree, and a good job, etc.  It can mean something to know it just because it is worth knowing.  I’ll never forget that I never had a single class, in my entire school life, that managed to get through history past WW1.   WW1!  Never mind that at the time, I had a living breathing family member that could have told me all about events following that time as he actually recalled them.  The curriculum just never seemed to get that far, because the school year ran out.  But, I remember spending countless years studying the foundation of America, and the Revolutionary War.  I’m not trying to make a case against studying that…but I am saying that our more recent history is pretty relevant to our current lives, and maybe more time should be spent on some of that?

We’ve been in the midst of a war on some front since 2001. That’s over 15 years (as it stands right now).  Doesn’t it make sense to make sure that kids know what exactly led to this, (besides 9/11), but the history in the 20-30yrs before? How did we find ourselves in this situation? I sometimes feel like maybe we should teach history, in depth, in reverse – starting with the most recent and going backwards a decade at a time.

And what about literature?  What passes as literature and “classic” literature is something of a mystery to me.  If we are going to study classical literature, in order to get a sense of the time period and the struggles and the historical social norms, doesn’t it make sense to have classical literature as a device of studying history itself…as in, part of the history lesson? It doesn’t make sense to separate the two, because lets face it…reading The Hunger Games, will always be more exciting than reading Wuthering Heights.  Wuthering…a word so foreign now that spell check can’t stand it…  Does it make sense to deeply delve into these characters that I never ever felt connected to, and more, were truly despicable or utterly unbelievable characters? I was a voracious reader as a child, but I can’t recall a single book that I loved reading in school.  Why is that?  I remember reading The Great Gatsby as a 10th grader. It was a summer read. I can’t tell you how often I fell asleep reading it.  I hated it.  The characters were, to put it frank, just awful.  How about reading Beowulf…man that was tough because it was like reading a foreign language where you only understand a tenth of the words.  One day, I picked Robinson Crusoe for a book report…Oh my dear God that was a bitter mistake.  It’s terrible when you are FORCING yourself to read something that you can’t get in to, or you just don’t like the character you are reading.

Homeschooling lets you turn this idea on its head.  You see, sometimes, I think we only need to know about the story to understand how it relates to our lives.  I’ve never read Lord of the Flies, but I know that basically a bunch of kids were stranded on an island, and eventually starting killing each other off, even the nice ones.  The point – we are each capable of unspeakable acts of evil to each other.  To be honest, there are quite a few good and accurate theatrical adaptations of famous books that get the major points across, and I think that maybe it might be better to ensure that the content was gotten, even if it means we don’t have to read the entire book.  Why read Shakespeare, when it was truly meant to be watched anyways?  I just think I can get more time value of learning in place if I can conduct it without someone’s snotty idea of what makes up “good literature”.  I think there are more valuable books to read and study – especially for boys – than Withering Heights.  If it’s that important, we’ll watch the movie.  The characters are still unlikable.

The upside of homeschooling is that you get to direct this learning adventure  It’s going to be more fun because you’re not going to pick the sadly boring, uninteresting, textbooks.  You get to pick the media that will get the information inside of their little heads as best as possible.  You get to take real field trips and vacations.  You can make it tangible.  You can be honest about history and the choices people made, both good and bad.  You can be honest about the stories that they are expected to know, and be understanding when the material is on the boring side or difficult, and scale it to what is truly meaningful and relevant.  You can choose when to start, pause, and move on, when you are satisfied of their mastery level.  Kids can fool their teachers.  They can ace tests like I did, but without ever learning the information.  But, when Mama is the teacher…there is no fooling Mama. And I love that.  I love that I can know EXACTLY where they are, what they are capable of, and more importantly, what they are not yet capable of. I can know exactly what areas to work on.

The scary part of homeschooling is when you walk through those doors to the Homeschool Store, and you begin to realize that the kids are only going to be home for a very, very short time of their lives, and then they will move on.  An that’s terrifying because there is a mountain of knowledge sitting in that store, and you have precious few years to get it inside their heads where it means something.  It’s just not much time.  Homeschooling makes me feel each one of their days a little more strongly. It’s one day down on the way to adulthood, and I swear, it’s moving too fast.  I feel as if I will never have enough time to teach them everything that I want to – not unless I get real creative.

The Downside of Homeschooling

One day, you boys are going to hear me fondly recounting our many homeschooling adventures.  I’m pretty good at trying to focus on the good memories and the positive outcomes  – like trying to always keep the good stuff close and push the bad stuff out of my memory as much as possible.  That may create an unrealistic expectation when it comes to raising your own kids. It paints a pretty and peaceful picture, but it raises the expectations to ludicrous levels.  In reality, it’s noisy, sticky, and loud.

I can’t see the future. My job is just to prepare you for as many challenges as I can.  But I can’t see who you will marry, what your future wives might think of homeschooling, and whether they were homeschooled themselves or were like your dad and I, and went to public or private schools.

So this is not a letter to you boys.  This is, most likely, a letter to your future wives. Not to pull the gender card here, but women usually have the job (again if this is what you choose) to stay at home and homeschool the kids.  I’m not judging here whatever you choose.  Please don’t read that.  Life has a lot of choices, and sometimes when you think you’ve made one choice and put the decision to bed, you find that you just hadn’t gotten far enough into your own life story because the choice comes back to you.  So homeschool or not…not judging here.

But if you do homeschool….

I want, instead, to give a message to your future wives who may choose to homeschool your kids.

Let me say that I love homeschooling you kids.  I do.  Honestly.  I love that we homeschool. I love that you boys are learning together and growing together.  I think it helps that you see each other struggle through material.  You see that neither of you is perfect, and you have very different strengths and weaknesses.  Right now, you are 5, 4 and 2 1/2.  Max hasn’t joined us yet.

But days like today…   It’s only lesson 2 of your new curriculum  studies.  And this morning there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  I feel like the tyrant school teacher I had when I was in the second grade.  Boy, I couldn’t do anything right for that woman.  Mrs. Tussinger….I still hate her.  Somehow I drove her so crazy that she put me outside of the classroom.  Literally. She sat my desk in the hall and I wasn’t allowed back in for a very long time.

A mom who chooses to homeschool never sets out to be a tyrant teacher.  But…trying to get two kids to stay on task and learn to follow instructions is a pill.  And boy do I mean it.  Here was my morning covering  exactly 1 subject lesson (Math).  I’m not even getting to Phonics or Science or Social Studies, or Bible.  This was our entire homeschool experience in one subject.

First, we were practicing counting out objects.  I gave them each a pile of shiny plastic gems and we used random flash cards 1-10 to count out the right number.

Here’s a recap:

Realize that Justin is just counting to infinity and not getting that once he gets to the right number, he needs to stop. Nor is he counting the objects at all. He is just reciting numbers.  Graham gets it.  Or…at least he does until we get to numbers 6-10.  Then he does the same thing.  Then starts making pictures with them.  So does Justin.  Start over. Count them out with them. Individually.  Success with both boys…after 10 minutes.  Now they understand the exercise.  Moving onto the workpage. After going over the topics of “first, middle, and last”, and then using our worksheet to circle the correct one, Justin decides to circle everything on the page when my back is turned to help Graham.  When I erase everything on the page for Justin and we do it together again, Graham starts making animal noises and falling out of his chair. Which he does every few minutes.   Justin joins in.  Yelling gets you both back in your chairs.  (We are only 15 minutes into the lesson).  I realize that Graham doesn’t understand the instructions, but is guessing very well.  Do the lesson again, using a different tactile objects.  Graham gets it.  Put the worksheet back in front of him.  He doesn’t get it again.  Graham’s language development creates some interesting challenges because audible language is a struggle, but he can read better than a 2nd grader – seriously (Thank you Einstein syndrome).   Justin, meanwhile, has started re-circling everything on the page.  When I get on to him, he starts to cry.  But now, Graham understands the lesson and can replicate it – Yay!   Now to calm Justin down.  Give a hug.  And a kiss.  Now we have to practice writing the number “1”.  Show them how to get ready to write by sitting up in the chair, turning the paper to the side, place their fingers on their pencil finger guides correctly, and we practice.  Actually, this part goes well.  But then, Graham starts halfway standing in his chair, he won’t put his arm and wrist down on the desk (he’s left handed too…just to make everything more fun), so it’s like he’s painting with a pencil, rather than putting stronger marks down so his circles and lines are so light as to nearly be invisible.  Justin is actually doing okay here.  Realize that the guides are causing Graham more trouble and maybe we don’t need them anymore.  Take them off (and they are tricky to get on and off) .  Seems like he’s doing okay without them.  Moving on to the next activity in the lesson.  It’s been 40 minutes.  The lesson is only supposed to last 20.  While erasing the board, realize that Graham, seeing that I removed his pencil guides, decides to do the same for Justin.  Ack!  Now I have to get them back on.  While getting them back on, Justin asks if he can be done.  Graham wants to eat breakfast.  I tell them both no, that  we  are almost done, and to get back in their chairs.  They sort of do it.  I yell again to get into their chairs correctly.  They start crying.  We eventually finish the lesson in an hour – it should have been 20 min.  They are now crying and need a hug. And a kiss.  And right then, so do I.  Justin is super happy school is over.  So is Graham.  Then…the guilt.  Justin points out “Mama you’re happy now”.  Congratulations..  You have finished Lesson #2 of #160. Just call me Miss Tussinger now.

When you homeschool, you ask yourself a lot of questions.  Am I being to hard on them? Too firm and demanding? Or am I recognizing that the discipline does have to start early if we are going to do well later.  Keep in mind, after this lesson and breakfast, they had 2 hours of playtime…mostly because I needed a long time out.  Still…the yelling at them.  Even the occasional spanking when they seriously get out of line. Regular school wouldn’t do that, right?  Well…I got spankings at my private school a lot.  My first grade teacher, Miss Lee….she used to blister my hands EVERY SINGLE DAY with a ruler.  I never understood how I could get in so much trouble when most of the kids didn’t.  But there was always the “usual suspects” which consisted of 5 boys and 1 girl…me.  I guess I had a lot of trouble doing what I was supposed to do.  Maybe I fidgeted and fell out of my chair a lot.  Maybe I hated following the instructions and always tried to go my own way. What scares me is that I hated those teachers and still do to this day.  However, in third grade, I had a nice teacher – Mrs. Petty.  She was quieter, and pleasant, and never raised her voice to me.  I thrived in her class.  But by then, the rules had been so drilled into me, that I didn’t even think about breaking them.  I didn’t fidget in my chair, I walked in a straight line without holding it up (which I was prone to do) to run my fingers along the walls or ropes or water fountains. I completed my work, and I didn’t talk when I shouldn’t.  I obeyed the rules.  I chose to start the school year that way because she was so nice I wanted her to like me.  Did the teacher change me, or did the first two teachers cause me to choose to be better and quit being a brat and obey the rules? Or did I just mature a little more? I honestly don’t know.  But right now, I feel too much like Miss Lee and Miss Tussinger, and hardly at all like Mrs Petty.  And I HATE it.

The argument about Homeschool is that kids don’t understand social norms – and specifically, that they aren’t developing social skills.  But I think most social norms are usually about following the unspoken rules – and there’s a lot of them.  If you are expected to sit quietly (and as an adult, that is a constant expectation), you have to learn it.  If you are expected to read and follow instructions, you have to do it or the consequences could be serious.  You have to learn to listen to the person in charge, whether it’s an instructor, a boss, or a preacher. You have to be part of a team and work cooperatively.  You can’t be obnoxious.  You can’t detract from the work that people are trying to get done.  You have to learn cooperation. You have to learn that, yes, there is a time for downtime – but more importantly, there is an awful lot of  “uptime” expected in life.

So whether or not we learned the lesson, they did understand that they had to sit in their chair.  They understood that if they didn’t sit correctly so that they were ready to do the work, I was going to get cross.  They had to learn that I made them re-do something over and over and over until they put the energy into getting it right.  They had to learn they had to listen to the instructions and follow them, rather than going on a tangent.  They had to learn that when I am working with one, they need to be quiet and be patient and wait their turn – not scribble or draw on the pages.  So maybe we covered more than the math lesson after all.  Maybe tomorrow, we won’t have some of these battles.  And maybe, just maybe, we will be able to move forward without tears tomorrow because they will know more of the social rules that I’m making them follow.

But it is freaking tough.  It’s the downside of putting the role of Mom aside and turning it into a teacher.  It sucks.  It’s miserable.  And you probably need to have a big group hug afterwards.

So…if there is a future daughter in law of mine who might one day sit where I’m sitting, just know you are loved, and that I’m here for you to vent – in every way possible, just vent to me.  I’m creating this as evidence that I’m not, never have been, never will be, perfect and I don’t expect you to be either.  But if this is one choice you’ve made, it’s not going to be an easy one. And most days early on…you may just hate it.  It doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong either.  It just means that it is real work – you know it is…because outside your house, people get PAID to do it!

 

 

On Sibling Relationships

Some Silly but Serious Rules You Should All Remember:

  1. Do not borrow money from each other. Ever.  I don’t care how affluent one of you may become, borrowing money puts a monetary value of the relationship.  It makes the person borrowed from feel as if the only reason that the relationship exists is to be a pocket book to the other.  It’s painful. When the person borrowed from finally says no, the relationship is extremely strained and it could take years or even a decade to overcome this.  No amount of money is worth this. Don’t Do It. Ever.
  2. Keep in contact with each other, but don’t feel like you need to be in constant contact.  This is a little tricky to manage and describe.  If one of you does all the initial contacting, that person is going to feel as if the relationship only exists because they are putting in the effort. So each of you must make the effort to initiate contact.  However, recognize that life is crazy hectic and busy. Long conversations, or the never-ending text conversation can’t always happen. People just can’t do it.  Sometimes just a simple text reminder that you are thinking of the other is enough.  Be aware of the other’s time commitments and struggles. Pray for each other. Be a support for each other.
  3. Be worthy of the relationship. Live your life as unto the Lord. Take care of your individual families. Always strive to improve yourself and do more and become a better man.  That effort should be there until the day you die. Be worthy.
  4. Be gentle with each other when it comes to childhood experiences.  Growing up is rough. Even under the best of circumstances, there will always be challenges when it comes to forging sibling relationships.  Mistakes are made. Bad attitudes may be present for a time.  Just try not to hold on to past resentments from childhood. If it still bothers you as an adult, it’s best to talk about it and get it out in the open. Handle it with wisdom and a great deal of prayer. Childhood experiences can open up some serious personal and hidden wounds. Just try not to base your relationship on things that happened during childhood itself, although I agree that it may be difficult.
  5. Try to see each other at least once a year.  I know that may be hard given how life leads us around, but do make the effort.  Having said that, when you do get together, there are some things you can do to keep things easy.  Try not to stay under the same roof, and if that can’t be avoided, keep the duration of that down to just a few days. People need a place to retreat to after a day of entertaining and visiting. That’s normal. Sometimes, we just need our coffee the way we like it, or we want the use of a normal size bathroom, or we just need our kids to begin to wind down without getting hyped up by their super cute and funny cousins, or we just need to chance to reconnect with our spouse because these visits often divide us up gender wise as men do men things and women do women things. I swear every family visit we have, I hardly see your Dad for a week.  It takes a toll but these simple things will keep the visits cheerful and manageable. Trying to visit for a whole week under one roof isn’t going to create the memory you want it to. Get a hotel if it’s going to be longer than 4 nights.  Seriously.
  6. Look for ways to make each other laugh.  There probably won’t be many people that can make you laugh so hard that snot flies than your brother.

 

Sibling relationships can be complicated.  Let me just say that up front. Your father and I have several siblings between the two of us, and there have been times in our lives when these relationships can pose the greatest challenges to us.

Some of this is because of our expectations. For one thing, we tend to believe that just by having a sibling, that there is some supernatural bond that will tie us all together and that natural feelings of love, empathy, compassion, kindness, and support are all going to be there, all the time, and in every single circumstance.  Let me just start by saying….that’s not exactly true.  Probably more so than any relationship you have in your entire life, this is the one that will require the MOST work because you have to choose to work on it. And here is the kicker – you both have to choose it but more importantly, you both MUST  be the kind of men worthy of being chosen for this kind of serious effort.

The kind of man you choose to be will dictate how natural your relationships are.  If one of you has decided to live a reckless and for all intents and purposes, irresponsible life, then these relationships will be difficult, and may not even be possible. It’s important that you recognize the simple and beautiful truth that you…must…grow…up!  You must be willing to take on life’s challenges and struggles and ever increasing responsibilities.  If you don’t choose to “grow up” with each other, at the same general pace, then things are going to get rocky really quick.  This doesn’t mean you have to have it all figured out by 18.  Few, if any of us, do.  It does mean that you have the ability to handle 18 with dignity.  If you are partying, and living the life of someone who belongs on a talk show – well, that’s going to be your indicator that you have gotten off track with your life and it’s time to go back to the Word and read and renew your relationship with God, and begin to put your life back on track. From there, you can begin to renew your relationships with your siblings.

What happens if one of you does go off the deep end? Does that mean that person is cut off? Let me surprise you and say this.  While my motherly instincts tell me that you are each so loved and there is no reason any one of you should ever be cut out of the life of the others…wisdom says that as grown men, you have responsibilities that you have taken on, and the decisions you make have to reflect on the impacts to your individual families.  This means that tough decisions will be necessary and I won’t tell you that just because someone has the title of “Brother” to you means that you keep that person, no matter how reckless their behavior, deeply involved in your lives. Drugs, alcohol, extremely poor financial decisions, a lack of work ethic to manage and do a job well to support the family, poor handling of general responsibility, reckless behavior… these things will create insurmountable challenges to keep a sibling relationship healthy.  Like I said, it may not be possible.

Having said that…can a person recover from this kind of life? Absolutely – you will see it over and over again throughout your lives that the power of God is awesome, and it is only through Him that lives can be turned around. But, it is ONLY through Him that they can be turned around.  Nothing else in this world will do it. Why? Because if he devil has managed to get a person so far off course, that’s where he would like to keep them and no amount of therapy or other intervention will create true change in a person’s life.  Only with humble prayers to God, will a person like this find new hope.

In closing, just know that your sibling relationships require a lot of work.   Work means that you have to do things for each other that remind each other that you care about them.  A lot of the negative feelings that we have tend to come from the belief that the other person doesn’t care for us – at least, not to the degree we care for them.  Putting in the effort for each other is important. One of the reasons that we are choosing to homeschool you boys is to give you the honest chance to put in the work to build up your relationships in your youth.  You have to find your common ground early on. If I were to send you off to school each day, you would be split up for most of your lives.

I’m going to have to stop here. You boys are out of bed, and playing with the felt board with Mary, Joseph, and the Angel.  I told you the Nativity story yesterday or tried to.  So far, you know that the Angel said “Don’t be afraid. You are going to have a baby boy, whose name will be Jesus, and He is the Son of God.”  That’s as far as we got.  So I need to shut this down. Know you are loved boys.  Always.

Edit Update:  Later this day, during prayer, Justin had an interesting thank you to God.  He said “Thank you for Mama and Daddy and Graham and Max and Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and the Angel and the Moose”…     You read that right.  A moose. I don’t know what happened during the story that introduced a moose into the nativity, but he was very serious about it. Sometimes during prayer, I hear the craziest things.  God has to be laughing.