My experience with homeschooling my own kids is still in its beginning stages. With John V I have now done pre-K, K, 1st, and now we are on 2nd grade. Since I do a more limited amount of formal schooling up until 2nd grade (phonics, handwriting, math, and lots and lots of time reading), this is our first year of a full load of school subjects. I am seeing many things that I saw in my own family and in the many homeschool families I have worked with over the years as well as the things I learned from my years working part-time in the public schools. Kailey is like me and many of the girls I’ve taught, schoolwork is right up her alley. The sight of a blank workbook causes her tiny heart to skip a beat just as it always has mine. But these little boys of mine, they are just a different species. That is one reason I feel called to do what I do, so that they can learn in a way that fits them, that fills their needs, and works with the way they have been created. And words on paper just do very little for my little man’s soul. He needs activity, variety, creativity, and honestly, for it not to feel like “school.” Yes, he has to learn the discipline of sitting for certain lengths of time and working, even when he doesn’t feel like it. Now that he’s seven, he has a few hours of his day where that is required. In the past years it has been maybe 45 minutes to an hour and not always at one stretch. Does this mean he is behind in his learning? Nope. It is absolutely amazing what a kid can learn in a few fifteen minute segments throughout a day and then just teaching as we do what we do. Grocery store, zoo, baking, cleaning, outside, there’s something to learn everywhere. And meanwhile he has ripped muscles that would make Arnold envious, an imagination that would make Rich and Smitty consider a fifth Mover, more friends than I can ever squeeze into a social calendar, and a lot of confidence.
That confidence has really been a lot of my focus over the past few years. My experience with boys is that most of them do not begin with a high level of academic confidence built in. While Kailey attacked reading and writing with hardly a tremor, my usually bold John V could quickly be reduced to tears by a piece of handwriting paper and the old #2 pencil. Math, on the other hand, was where he greatly excelled. But even there the school books said he should be writing those pages of numbers. He wanted to do the math, but he struggled early on to write. So for a while I wrote the numbers. He learned the math, decided he loved it, and by his 1st grade year had written numbers he was proud of to go with his amazing number skills. Now in 2nd grade he does pages of fifty addition and fifty subtraction without thinking about the effort it took to write all those numbers. He’s too excited about how fast he can do the problems and how few he misses. Math was his confidence and I worked hard to focus there and build that in him so that this daunting “schoolwork” seemed like a reasonable challenge instead of an enemy. It took gently, gradually working in him to show him that it takes time and practice. That it may not come naturally, but he can learn it, and when he does the feeling of accomplishment is priceless. We had some bad days and some good ones. There were days I knew would be bad so we didn’t do it. There were days I saw the stamina wasn’t there and didn’t ask as much. I was careful to evaluate before I asked because once the assignment was stated, then he was required to finish. I want him to develop that skill of seeing a job through to the end. And we had some doozy showdowns, I’m telling you. I’m the adult and it is my job to evaluate the job and the situation beforehand. There were times I realized we were going to have to work on our attentiveness and obedience issues before we touched school again. And yet here we are on a very acceptable 2nd grade level, plugging merrily along. I don’t have to fight him to do his work, he sticks with it until he’s finished, has confidence in reading and writing that I wouldn’t have believed possible, and I’m still honestly in shock. I believed it would work, but it actually does! And we’re surviving the process! Sweet boy.
Levi may be completely different. He may be like Kailey and read by four. He may be like other kids I’ve known who didn’t read until third grade and then were reading chapter series in a week. Based on the interest he already shows, I think it will be earlier, but meanwhile I already see that he has very different needs from his siblings. And yet the basics are the same. I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time worrying about his “learning type” or if he’s “hands-on” or “visual” because we do a little bit of everything. And hopefully he and all of my kids will find some things that come easily to them and some types of learning in which they will gradually improve their abilities. We will do our best to affirm their strengths and even more strongly affirm when they push through their weaknesses and allow the Lord to build character in their lives. We will not tell them every time their pencils touch paper that they are probably Michelangelo reincarnated or the one to finally unseat Shakespeare from his throne of literary greatness, but we will tell them that we delight in the way God created them and see His handiwork all over their different abilities and talents. And that we are there to help them. This isn’t something they need to “get done” and “do it well” but a time to learn to learn. A mistake is a mistake, a chance to learn more, but poor effort is the thing we work diligently to eliminate. Honestly, it is not the information being assimilated that is of the utmost importance. Much of that will be forgotten or relearned at a later point. They are developing the skills, patience, diligence, and work ethic to see the delights of discovering new things and sticking with a task until they have become better fit to do what they are being called to do. It’s pretty simple as complicated as we try to make it.
When we started back to school this year, we began at 8:30 and around lunchtime when we had finished the “schoolwork” portion of our day, I announced that it was lunchtime and they could put their things away. John V looked up quickly and said, “Wait! We’re done?! That was school?!” And I knew that at least for now, we had hit on something that was working. Without even realizing completely what he was doing he had thoroughly enjoyed himself through hours of work and with fifteen minutes here and thirty minutes there, he always seems to wish we could do “just a little more of that, Mom.” And he and the other two run off to pretend to be Christopher Columbus, or talk about what the air is doing to their hair, or to build a fort, or to be ridiculously wild and silly. And that’s just how I want it. I want him always hungry for just a little bit more, because that’s the appetite I want him to carry through life. Learning doesn’t end when the books close; it’s just the beginning and then we live out what we have learned. Not focused on an end goal but on a seeker’s way of life. Then that will translate back into what is most important and will help them as they stay in a constant attitude of learning toward God. Knowing that they will never discover everything about Him and this world He has made or the people He put in it but will have humble hearts and sharp tools for that lifelong journey of discovering Him. Through the years, John V and all my kids will have to add to their work loads and fit more into their days, but for now it is such a delight to begin this journey and see their hearts and minds swell with the newness of everything. So often I feel poorly equipped to do it all, but then I remember excitedly that God chose me and He gave me these four, and we are just perfect for each other. And I was created to teach these four about God and about life. So teach I will, and Lord willing John V can sail right through to the end and ask, “Wait?! That was school?!”