“Let him kick up his heels,” he thought, “and run away. Leave him build his flutter-mills. The day’ll come, he’ll not even care to.”
The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings p.21
Childhood is brief. Children need time to think, to sit on the grass unhurried each day and dream. We’ve found learning occurs in spite of us. Children learn quite naturally, even without worksheets or timelines or tests. They desire to read and write as they see us reading and writing. Our time together at home is also brief—so we’ve chosen to spend a bit more of this short time together
I’ve long since past the point of desiring or even trying to persuade others as to the merits of home schooling. I’ve been doing this long enough that all romantic notions regarding home schooling have long since left my mind. It is the hardest work I have ever done or ever will do, I am convinced. It brings my greatest joys and my greatest sorrows. It’s something I have never been more sure of, and, at times the biggest doubt that looms above my horizon. It energizes me and exhausts me at the same time. I don’t recommend it, I say, partly in jest. Then why do I do it? I think simply because it feels right in my gut.
When people hear the word “home school,” they usually respond by saying they knew one family that home schooled—and they were, well. . . weird. It’s true that as a home schooler you know that any quirks or deficiencies you or your children have will be explained by a simple knowing explanation, “oh, they’re homeschoolers.” Whereas other public school children’s quirks are often shrugged off with “kids will be kids,” or “they’ll grow out of it.” The argument that public school children are better socialized just doesn’t seem logical to me as I know plenty of people who attended public school who seem to have their fair share of social quirks and challenges. It seems that most children learn their social skills from their parents and families, rather than learning it outside the home. So, yes, we all have our irregularities, thank heavens, home or public schooled, and we all have our opposition.
Really, everyone home schools. We all learn at home. When people ask me how long I’ve been homeschooling, my first thought is that we’ve always home schooled. From the time I dreamed of having children, I’ve been planning the curriculum of our home. Idealistically, a curriculum of happiness, patience, the gospel and great literature. Realistically, it is often a curriculum of irritation, impatience, asking for forgiveness and a great need for grace.
I’ve wanted to home school for as long as I can remember. First, I wanted to be home schooled. Then, I knew I wanted to home school my own children. I don’t know where I first heard of home schooling. It just seemed natural.
I have five children ages eleven down to twenty months. There are days I love being with my children all day, and then there are plenty of others when I fantasize about sending them out the door to school—any school. Why? The biggest issue is the desire for order and cleanliness. Five young children at home all day does not equal order and cleanliness. But, it does equal many hugs and kisses all day long, lots of stories, snacks, and some quiet times too that are relished.
I guess I take comfort knowing that as I look back over the years I don’t think I’ll ever wish I, “would have spent more time with the kids,” because I spend almost all day every day with them.
So, with the above disclaimer, and by the request of dearest CJane, I give you…a day in the life of a home schooler.
We begin the day hopeful and full of energy. It seems the children have clean slates, their memories washed clean of any discord the day before may have held. One great benefit of being at home is that we can linger longer in the morning, spending a few more minutes in bed. Of course Dad has left for work long before we wake. If the toddlers and even the older children crawl into my bed in the morning, I can, if we choose, linger and talk together, cuddle or read a bit without the rush or the stomach worry, as I came to know it, in my own early years of hurrying to go to school.
I do have a goal of trying to have us all up and ready in the mornings—I begin calling to the children who aren’t up already—wanting us to be showered and presentable, beds made, by around 9:00. We eat breakfast. Some ideal days I make breakfast for everyone, but more often than not, the other kids fend for themselves with cold cereal and toast, while I get breakfast for the toddler and baby. Actually, my eleven year old is getting to be quite the cook—specializing in fried eggs—cooked to perfection.
Then we have what most outsiders would consider to be “home schooling.” We actually do sit down at the kitchen table with a few workbooks—some math, penmanship, phonics, journals, and spelling for the older children. I help Henry, our seven year old do his work. I enjoy it---his first grade work is still easy to help him with. He enjoys his work and feels satisfaction from completing it. Truman, eleven, does almost all his book work on his own. He works hard, occasionally asking me a math question. Sadly, I must admit that most of his math questions are answered with, “you’ll have to call dad, or talk to him about it when he gets home.”
Lilian, nine, also works mostly independently, not by my choice. I try to help, but from an early age she’s wanted to “do it herself.” She taught herself to ride her two wheeler without help in one day at age three. It causes friction between us, but I am still trying to find ways to help her in the right manner.
Along with this “book work” our mornings are also devoted to practicing instruments.
After the bookwork and practicing, during which I am alternating between helping my three year old color and read books, keeping the baby happy, and picking up the kitchen. Then, we usually do our read aloud. I try to always be reading a classic book to the children. Right now we’re reading Carry on Mr. Bowditch, by Jean Lee Latham, the story of a boy during the Revolutionary War. We have learned much about the late 1770’s by reading this book. I can usually read a chapter or two before the toddlers cry mutiny.
This reading aloud is the greatest single factor of success in our family home school. We have grown closer and learned more about God, man, history, and our dreams for the future by reading classics aloud than by any other thing we’ve done.
After book work, instruments, and reading aloud, there’s not much time until lunch. The house usually needs a pick up by this time because of the three year old and baby searching and destroying while the three older children are working at the table.
Some afternoons we have piano or violin lessons, club meetings, or errands. We try to keep these to a minimum. If the afternoon is spent at home we’ll have mostly free time. For me, that means phone calls, cleaning, laundry and yard work. I try to have the children help. Lilian usually spends her free time reading or sewing or helping with the babies. Truman reads, draws, and prepares for book discussions that he and dad have on Saturdays. They have household chores to do too. Their time is also interspersed with a fair share of arguing with each other. Henry plays with Legos most of his waking hours. Lucy, three, usually watches a show or two in the afternoon, and Lincoln, the baby naps some of the time. This is also the time for playing outside, friends to come over, or to go to friends houses.
Around I usually find myself surprised at the mess the house is in already, while simultaneously feeling fatigued , wondering what we’ll have for dinner, and wondering if this is really the best thing for our family. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the days quietly alone with the babies?
Dinner, of course, and “whose night for dishes is it?” And if time allows, by far the sweetest and most favorite time of our day is when Dad reads aloud to us. Along with the book that Mom is reading, Dad is usually reading another classic at night. Between work, church, and community obligations, we average probably four nights a week of actually being able to read. Most recently, Dad has read In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon. We sit in the family room and listen. Because bed time looms near, the children are more than happy to stay up as long as Daddy will allow and listen as he reads. We have cried and laughed our way through so many wonderful books this way. This has created quite extensive vocabularies for our children—they often surprise grandparents and friends with their use of vocab.
After reading, prayer, and reminders to brush teeth, I put the baby down and then sing a few songs to the girls as they try to go to sleep. The boys are down in the basement, so they don’t get my bedtime routine very often, but they usually listen to some C.S. Lewis or Tolkien on audio while trying to go to sleep.
Then comes the savored quiet time to read myself before going to sleep. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes, but usually a half hour or so to read—sometimes a classic, sometimes a magazine or the scriptures.
I go to sleep peacefully, but still with a few worries. Am I doing right by my children? How can I help them to stop fighting? Will they be OK in spite of me? Would they be better off at a “real” school during the day?
All parents must feel the same—a universal doubt and feeling—wondering if we are somehow going to make it through successfully taking care of our most precious blessings—our children. At the end of our sometimes long days, I get peace when I know that I have loved each child that day, and when I remember the times throughout the day when we have connected. Whether it’s a smile, a knowing glance, or a hug—looking into their eyes and knowing that I love them somehow makes it all enough.
What about you--how do you come to peace with your efforts at parenting?