Homeschooling Part 2

Homeschooling Part 2

In my last post, I traced our decision to home school from financial constraints to academic concerns to a cross-country move.  Even though we may have started for these reasons, over time we began to see the enormous benefits of our decision.  Below are some of the biggest advantages, and why we will continue with our homeschooling journey heading into this school year (not necessarily in order of importance):

1.  The ability to customize my child’s education.  Instead of having to keep pace with the rest of his class, Colton was able to really focus on the areas where he needed a little more help and also take off learning a subject in which he excelled or that he was just really interested in.  He could  also learn using the style that suits him best.  Being very hands-on, he naturally absorbed material at home through acting out something we read, manipulating objects and just plain exploring.  Like most six-year-old boys, he is VERY active and energetic.  At home, he can stand instead of sit still to do his math problems, walk around the room while answering questions, and play with cars or Legos while I’m reading to him.

2.  A learning environment with minimal distractions and few time constraints.  Colton has difficulty processing information when there is a lot of noise or activity in the background, and he struggles with two-step directions.  The over-stimulation from the busyness of the classroom and the sharp transitions between play time and seat work made it hard for him to understand what the teacher wanted him to do.  He would sit down and stare at his paper blankly, because he did not process the directions given.  He was still thinking about what he and another kid were talking about five minutes ago or the fun game he had just been playing on the playground.  At home, if he didn’t understand something he could ask me to explain it again in another way, as many times as it took.  Since he didn’t have to rush through assignments because of the class’s schedule, he could take his time to do work and really produce something he would be proud of.  If he wanted to know more about something, we could go down a rabbit trail discussing it, using Google or YouTube to find more information.

3.  Spending quality time with both children.  When we started homeschooling, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give my daughter the attention she needed while teaching my son.  What I found was that through being focused on providing learning opportunities for one child, I naturally included the other one in the process.  Rory joined in on Science lessons, listened right along to stories and scripture, created works of art, and learned many valuable pre-writing skills.  I was less distracted from “busyness” around the house and going to tot outings which were taking up valuable time I could have been spending with her anyway.

Colton’s love language is quality time, and he got plenty of it this past year!  We had a blast learning about cowboys & Indians, trying to grow our own bean plant (it was a fail, both times), “traveling” to distant countries, making a solar system out of play-doh, discovering heroes of the Bible and using our imaginations to come up with silly stories which he illustrated.  Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games.  There were moments of sheer frustration when Colton struggled to blend sounds together to form words, and I believed he would never learn to read.  There were times I thought I would lose my ever loving mind when he couldn’t figure out how to count sequentially past 20.  BUT, the rewards were great when he finally had those breakthroughs!  And I was still there every step of the way to encourage him and see him succeed.  Before I knew it, he was flying through his phonics readers and wanting to try Dr. Seuss books.  I blinked and he counted to 200 all by himself.  Those are things I will treasure forever.

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4.  Countless opportunities to speak God’s truth into my children’s lives and teach them Christian values, belief system and philosophy of life (in other words, worldview). This year, we were able to really dig in deeper with our daily Bible reading and even memorized several verses. During prayers or while listening to worship music throughout the day, Colton often asked questions about what he heard, which then sparked a great discussion. These spontaneous conversations would not have happened if we were rushing around trying to get ready in the morning, or if he was away at school for six hours each day.

We also read a book of different missionaries’ experiences around the world, and were inspired to learn about several nations’ beliefs, culture, and language.  Sometimes Colton colored or drew pictures of the people groups we learned about, and we hung them on the refrigerator as reminders to pray for them.  He began to see that there is a whole other world out there, with children that have very real needs.  Through all of our reading, Colton started to grasp the heart of the Gospel and how to live it out in practical ways.  He is also beginning to understand the flow of the Bible and how it all fits together, which has helped give him a sure foundation for his faith, even at a young age.

So now I am excited to share our curriculum choices for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year! Colton will be using Sonlight’s Core B program with 1st grade Language Arts and Science.  Core B includes Bible, History/Geography and Read-Alouds.  Sonlight Cores are not necessarily grade or age specific, but chosen based on skill level and maturity of the child.  He’ll also be using Horizons for Math at the first grade level.  We used Sonlight last year and love its emphasis on Christ-centered education and high quality literature. I also appreciate their ready-made lesson plans and discussion questions, while having the flexibility to tailor lessons to Colton’s needs and interests.

Rory wanted her own “school work” last year, so I ended up printing off tons of alphabet, color and shape worksheets from free websites that she did when she wanted. She also got lots of practice counting, tracing lines, and cutting with scissors.  This year preschool will be pretty basic, focusing on letter/number recognition and formation, letter sounds, counting to 10, and calendar.  I’ve chosen Handwriting Without Tears Readiness and Writing as our main curriculum, and we’ll do lots of crafts, games and reading along with it!

The other thing I am excited about is turning the playroom into a school room.  It will still house most of the kids’ toys, on one side, while the other side will have a bookshelf for all their school books, a tiered drawer system for art supplies, puzzles & games, their easel and a small table.  The corner that faces the front of the house will be a reading nook.  I hope to post pictures of the transformation soon!

Changing Direction

Changing Direction

This year has been one of many changes for us.  In April, we moved 1400 miles away to Oklahoma from New Jersey.  We also started homeschooling our oldest child (more about that later).  So, I figured why not change my blog as well?  I have blogged over on Blogspot for the past 10 years, but decided it was time for a fresh, updated look so I switched to WordPress.

Since I have stuck to one website for so long, you could say that old habits die hard with me.  I like familiar.  I like comfortable.  When I put down roots, I am firmly planted in that ground and don’t leave very willingly.  That brings me back around to homeschooling.  When Colton was a toddler, I would take him to the playground near the elementary school behind our house.  I dreamed of the day he would be old enough to go to that school.  Not because I wanted a break from him, but because I loved school growing up.  Aside from the occasional bully or bad teacher, it was a wonderful experience.  I hoped it would be the same for my son.

Instead of thinking homeschoolers were weird and unsocialized, I was always kind of in awe of them.  I thought they must be really super organized and super patient.  Now I know that they are just ordinary moms who allow an extraordinary God to work through them to do incredible things.  I had seen and read about the benefits of homeschooling, and followed the blogs of two prominent homeschoolers.  They made it look so cool and exciting, but I believed I could never do it myself.  I was still very much committed to our particular education plan.  About halfway through Colton’s first year of preschool, we did switch gears and decided against the public school in our backyard in favor of a private Christian one 25 minutes away.  We were slightly worried about the cost, but trusted that God would provide the finances somehow.  In fact, I began telling people that if we ever became unable to afford private education, we would home school.  By this time, public education was simply not an option for several reasons, including Common Core.

In the back of my mind, I hoped that day was somewhere way off in the distance, but it ended up arriving much sooner than expected.  Kindergarten tuition proved to be a great strain on our budget.  We were also coming to realize that, despite an amazing school with the best teachers, great kids and small class sizes, Colton still struggled academically.  He was one of the oldest kids in his class, too, which we thought would give him an advantage (we held him back from kindergarten for one year because of his August birthday).  I spoke with his teachers, working with them to find solutions, and did my best to implement all the strategies at home that they suggested.  In spite of our joint efforts, during one parent/teacher conference I heard the words every parent dreads: “learning disability”.  He did very well processing and retaining information when we worked one on one at home, though, so I began to think that maybe the only difference was the learning environment.

The two biggest factors were now already in play, and the third was about to come.  My husband and I began to feel that God was calling him back into ministry.  We knew that could potentially lead to a long distance move, and we would have to pull Colton out of school anyway.  So we took the plunge.  I researched curricula and ordered materials.  We had the support of our family and many friends, along with a great home school group at our church, but honestly my heart just wasn’t in it.  I felt as if this was a door slamming shut on a future I had all planned out.  I was nervous that I was going to mess my kid up, and scared that I wouldn’t be able to give my daughter the attention that she needed at the same time.  I worried how I would possibly educate a six-year-old, entertain a three-year-old, AND do the laundry, prepare meals, and keep the house clean.  I began to think that cloning myself may not be a bad idea.

With all these doubts and anxieties, I forged ahead anyway.  And discovered it wasn’t so bad after all.  Sure, there were rough days.  Days when I thought I was crazy for trying this and had made a terrible mistake.  Days when the laundry and the housecleaning went unattended.  But… there were also days when I witnessed how proud and excited my son became when he finally “got” something he had been working so hard on.  There were days when I snuggled next to him on the couch as we read together, and days when we talked about his faith as we explored stories from the Bible.  The many, many days that he and his sister played together, acting out something we had read in a book or conducting spontaneous science experiments.  There was the day that he learned how to count to 100, and read Green Eggs and Ham all by himself.  I wouldn’t trade any of them for one day of him being away at school.

Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  For years I misunderstood what this verse is really saying.  I believed that God would give me what I wanted- a happy marriage, financial security, a good life- if I stayed in His Word and walked with Him.  Now I see it the other way around; when I pursue a deeper relationship with God, and learn more about His heart, my desires become what He desires for my life.  He has given me a desire and a passion for homeschooling that simply was not there before.  I also have a peace about it, knowing that I am fulfilling a calling.  In the next post, I’ll share more about the advantages of our decision to home school and what we plan to do for 1st grade and Pre-K.  🙂

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From The Inside Out

From The Inside Out

Summer.  It’s the best of times.  It’s the worst of times.  Great for unstructured, free play, staying up late on weeknights, hours spent outside in the sun.  Not so good for unstructured, free play, staying up late on weeknights, hours spent outside in the sun…  You get the idea.  Too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing.  This is something I have realized after about a month of summer vacation.  Something else that has come to fruition around this time are bad attitudes.  I have a lot in my arsenal to keep boredom at bay- paints, puzzles, books, tablet games, water toys and even workbooks- but even with all these, the kids inevitably become bored sometimes.  That’s when the ‘tude starts and disrespect creeps in.  It’s not just from my soon-to-be seven year old, either.  My sweet toddler can be a “threenager” as well.

I know I can’t blame it all on boredom though.  Unfortunately, it will always be there, lurking in the background, no matter what season it is: misbehavior.  And as a mom, it is my job to confront this problem head on.  I’ll be honest, my children’s disobedience is awfully inconvenient.  I would much rather slap a band-aid on the problem and continue on my merry way than take the time to get to the root of it.

All too often, I fall into the trap of being defensive instead of offensive when one of my kids misbehaves.  I sacrifice the long-term goal of their behavior improving for good for that short-term gain of momentary peace.  If I’m constantly reacting to my child’s disrespect with disapproval, and correcting the problems when they arise, it’s not solving the heart issue at hand.  I really shouldn’t react to their bad behavior as if I’m surprised by it, either.  I mean, why am I shocked at all that unregenerate children display disobedience?  And why do I always get so offended by it, thinking that I’m a failure as a mother when they talk back or mistreat a sibling?

The Bible says there is none righteous, no not one.  Even my soft faced, little hooligans  angels.  We all have a bent towards going our own way; in other words, towards sin.  Reward systems, time outs, natural consequences, and of course avoiding Red Dye #40 all have their merits as good behavior modification, perhaps outwardly, but only the Spirit of God can change their hearts on the inside. I want my kids to obey not just because they’ll avoid something unpleasant, but because they love and respect me.

What brings us to a place where we lay down our desires and surrender our wills?  This only comes from a day-to-day, growing and active relationship with the Lord.  So it is with our children.  As Christian parents, we need to always point them back to Jesus.  That‘s where they find their ultimate worth and acceptance. He’s the One who heals our deepest needs.  My main responsibility as a mother should be to lead them to Christ, through my words and actions.

One of the ways I can do that practically is to train my kids to hide God’s word in their hearts.  If, as a follower of Christ, I believe that His word is my standard for living why don’t I use it to discipline my children?  2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  I’m not just talking about reading them Bible stories.  I mean we should help them memorize verses that will be applicable to their real life situations, like Matthew 7:12, Colossians 3:20, Ephesians 4:29 and Proverbs 20:22.  Verses such as these speak truth to our children and equip them for godly living.

Now surely if I’m quoting scripture to them all day long without actually living it out myself, they won’t be very motivated to change.  More times than I can count, if my child is struggling with anger or frustration, I’ve modeled it before them in some way.  I need to evaluate myself before the Lord and ask Him to renew my thoughts, words and actions.  Am I in God’s Word daily?  Am I walking in the Spirit?  I’ve found that when I have a heart change, it leads to positive results in my children’s behavior as well.

Finally, while my children are still growing developmentally and spiritually, I also need to be patient with them.  They need to know I love them deeply, even in spite of their sin.  If there are rules without a relationship, it will produce rebellion.  After all, how much does Jesus love us in spite of our sins!  While He loves, He also always prods us to repent by showing us a better way.  He doesn’t continually punish or nag.  His heart for us leads us to want to obey.  When we know in our core that we are seen and known by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we are transformed.

It is comforting to know that while you and I are called to “train up a child in the way he should go”, God is ultimately responsible for his (or her) heart.  He is the one who draws them deeper and walks beside them on the path He has laid out for them.  However, in the process of raising and disciplining these little ones, we are refined at the same time they are.  As we seek God for answers in how to best reach and correct our children, we become more and more dependent on, and also obedient towards Him.  That’s the amazing and humbling thing about parenting!