Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Avoid a Homeschool Meltdown

I congratulate myself that after a mere two weeks in the homeschool arena I have already stumbled upon the surest way to pour molasses on the gears of forward progress. Behold as I share it with you:

  1. Begin with the assurance of a professional that your child is highly intelligent, mixed with learning impaired, and "if you have the resources, I recommend you seek an alternate educational situation for her."
  2. Pull the plug on sending your child to school. The next day (I still feel this was the best decision I have yet made in regards to her education). Resolve to use the rest of the school year spending quality time together. a.k.a. "de-school".
  3. Score on getting your kid enrolled in a private half-day half-homeschool. Embark on getting her academically "in shape" to join this group of academically advanced students.
  4. Spend a week going through the book "What your Third Grader Needs to Know" (foundational material of said half-day school) and feeling depressed that your student identifies familiarity with very little of the content. Commit to covering a year's worth of math curriculum in about ten weeks.
  5. At the same time, try to get her up to speed on the classical trivium method you always thought you would use if you attempted homeschool WITHOUT the half-day option. Attempt to cover a 250 year time period, including famous people, famous literature, famous music, and even a bit of science. Oh, and begin to study Latin.
  6. In the process, lose sight of your quiet time, regular Bible reading, Bible memory project, and time spent in prayer for others. Did I mention personal time? It has been sacrificed.

I have followed this recipe for a meltdown. So how am I not having a meltdown yet?

An interesting tree on one of our educational nature walks

First, I have felt prayer support as seldom before in my life. I feel carried along.

Second, I have recognized that my goals of "de-school" and "get up to speed" are mutually exclusive. And I'm starting to think my tasks of building the gifted/impaired student's confidence, and finding the keys to unlock learning for the child, probably trump the convenience of parking her in an academically rigorous, still-traditional learning environment sixteen hours a week.

We will be slowing down to smell the roses more next week. I'm looking forward to it. If we get her "up to speed" in time for the reassessment in May, and she does well with it, then super. But I'm going to stand strong right now in the need to slow down and redefine learning.

Additionally, I am beginning to come to terms with the definition of "gifted." As much as I would like to consider this a "label" I think it's a much bigger factor than that. I found a term tonight called "twice exceptional" that seems to describe my learner with startling clarity, including the fact that she can be exceptionally smart yet be an underachiever. I know this child is an amazing creature, full of fantasy and curiosity about whatever holds her interest at the moment. I have trouble seeing where she excels at anything that could be called "gifted."

And even more than before, I think I have a tiger by the toe. What world might open up for this child if I can help her unlock her brain? The sheer wonder glimpsing the treasure box of her potential, blows me away.

The most important thing I know I need to do Right.Away is to return to following hard after God. Instead of spending all my (precious, extra) time prepping or talking about homeschooling (hey, I need a few minutes for processing here) or grieving the loss of writing time, I resolve to just continue to Drink from the Well of God's Living Word. I remain confident of this, that he who began the good work in me will be faithful to complete it.

Are you trying to avoid a homeschool meltdown? Or seeking a way out of another meltdown? Drop me a line, let me know how I can pray for you. I don't have all the answers, but I do know how to lift the questions up to the One who does.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Like Riding a Bike

The fog in my brain tonight reminds me of the fog I walked through in the weeks following the birth of each of my children. This makes sense, considering that undertaking homeschool in some ways resembles the life change of bringing home a new baby. Fortunately, I know from triple experience that the fog eventually lifts. So I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

My encouraging first week experience led me to raise my expectations; at the same time, I seem to have lowered my performance output. As a result, Monday and Tuesday have felt brutal. Lack of focus, increased resistance from the student, and allowing new thoughts and ideas to use part of my processing power; all have combined to take away from a repeat of our magical time last week.

Photo Credit
Last week, I imagined myself taking on the new skill of homeschooling in the way a child learns to ride a bike. The child scoots along on training wheels for awhile while he learns the mechanics, then a parent removes the extra wheels and pushes him while running along beside until the child learns balance. My image had God as the watchful parent.

By the end of last week I found I had not fallen off the bike once, had no skinned knees or elbows, and felt I might be learning the trick of balancing. Hooray for victory!

This week I seem to be pulling a classic learning blunder. The moment I sense any control of the bike at all, I shout to the parent, "I've got it!" and charge off confidently in the direction of my dreams. Only I don't really know enough to thrive on my own, so the first thing that happens is that I steer directly for the side of the road and crash into a ditch. I forgot to learn how to stop.

So I pick myself up, get another helping hand and running start from the parent, and start off again, better this time. Hoping to get further before the next crash.

Except I have had a revelation. God is not the training wheels. He is also not the parent holding the bike, running along beside me while I learn. In fact, God is the bike.

Maybe whenever I get that, really get it, I will also learn to stop fighting the direction of the bike. And just ride wherever it goes.

I want to get all uptight about what to do schoolwise for the fall. The options before me all present a complicating factor here or there. Nothing contains the perfect solution.

But thank the Lord, he gave me just a quick flash of wisdom today: It's all in his hands. I am not trying to do what I think is best. I am only taking one small step at a time and being obedient to God's plan. If he wants me to write and begin teaching discipleship through church, then he will make time, order, and focus for me to do so along with homeschooling. Or he will provide a way for both kids to go to the 1/2 day school we are looking in to.

It's not my problem.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, school. Sorry, gotta run. I've got a day job now, and I need a little time for prep.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Homeschool Progress Report

I believe I officially fell off the radar 3.5 weeks ago. Seems hard to believe that's the extent of it. I still don't feel like a homeschool parent. But we have had a partial week and a full week, and are now into our third week. Interested parties keep asking, "How's homeschool going?"

I feel like answering, "Good, bad, ugly, and awesome." Truthfully, it's too soon to tell the kind of big picture answer I love to have. But I have a few observations about our experience so far.

I must have had low expectations for the first week, because we met or exceeded most of them. Or perhaps they were simply realistic, as I have pondered this course of action for five years.

I successfully set goals, documented my plan for each day and plotted actual time usage. I believe goal planning ten weeks of a school year was a great preparation for planning a full year.

The #1 goal was and is to spend quality time with my free-spirited firstborn; to strengthen our relationship. We are doing that. Especially when I keep reminding myself over and over, "Quality time." It helps me let go of worry for the things we are not doing.

My house is more clean than I expected.

I had more free time than I expected, including two glorious soul-filling nights out with girl friends.

My pupil and I did butt heads, but not as much as I expected.

I am really tired, which I totally expected.

Actually getting my hands on this girl's learning time, after four years of being afraid to demand it, has proven revelatory. She strongly resists buckling down to work, but what kid doesn't? I have always allowed her to resist, since she feels she works all day in school. Now she does not have that excuse, and when I call her on it, she brings her effort and we have a decent session. I hope that by the time school lets out in May, we will have worked through this particular hang-up. Maybe at least in part?

I have noticed her struggle with perfection. Every time she gets an answer wrong, she pounds her fist on her head while muttering, "I'm so stupid!" And I just want to take her in my arms and reassure her that failure is an essential part of learning; that nobody comes to the party knowing everything; that school is all about training the brain. Compassion for her has replaced my former impatience (mostly), as I try to encourage her and show her where she is already growing and learning. I guess that makes big-picture goal #2 to build her confidence in herself and her abilities.

As for my previous life (and subject matter), I probably have readers who wonder where it disappeared to. I privately wonder, too. But I am fairly confident that once I get homeschool underway, I might find it again. Actually, some neat things seem to be in the works behind the scenes, that I will discuss in a different post. For now, I know this is my number one job. And it seems to have gotten off to a pretty decent start, for which I thank God and the many people that have been praying for us through this transition.

For now, onward and upward.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Remember back in the garden of Eden, when the man and the woman screwed up, and they each received a curse? His had to do with pulling weeds, hers had to do with pain in childbirth.

Every time I work in my garden I find myself thinking this: The woman who pulls weeds has inherited double the curse.

Lest you think farmers have all the fun, the curse refers to a futility common to all endeavors. Wherever one tries to put out fires, others flare up. Eliminate one knotty problem, and something else falls apart.

I contend that women share that curse, as well.

At least, the Enemy wants me to believe I do.

I do pull weeds better than the average person. I pride myself on that.

But housework? Talk about a sense of futility. No sooner do I get the dishes clean than it's time to make dinner. No sooner do I get all the laundry folded and put away in one fell swoop than we have company or someone wets their bed (not me!) or the kids decide to spend the afternoon throwing mud at one another down by the pond.

Oh, and I was kidding about the weeds. No sooner do I pull them than they come back. Like, within a week. I really hate weeds.

I spun around today, feeling my usual unfocused, low-productive self.

I missed my #hellomornings tweetup. Wow do I love those girls and the accountability they give me, and I felt the loss of my morning quiet time all day long.

I didn't shower, never even dressed. I couldn't manage to do a simple errand for my honey, so he had to go do it himself. I didn't clean bathrooms, mow the yard, or pull any weeds.

And just to kick me in the gut a little more, Lulu's lovey got left in the car after dinner and went to the movies with Daddy by mistake. We have had a very tearful evening around here, and all of us are ready for Daddy to return with the lovey so we can all go to sleep. Intellectually, I just do not have what I want in order to be instructive in this moment. Feels like futility.

But today I suddenly had a glimmer that maybe I shoulder more of this futile sense than I should. Because the rest of the picture shows:

I took Rooster to school on a not-my-turn-to-carpool day, and picked up milk on my way home. And took out trash. And made my bed.

I worked with Boo on math facts, poetry, cursive, volume, and molecules.

I played phonics games with Lulu and read to her. I also managed to include her in some of Boo's math work, so she could feel part of school without disrupting it.

I watered the garden; emptied the dishwasher; cleaned off the counters; mopped the kitchen floor; vacuumed; and folded and put away laundry.

I then suggested we eat out, to prolong the experience of a clean kitchen.

I allowed the big kids to play down the street by the pond for an hour before bedtime. Followed by which I singlehandedly bathed all three children before bed, as hubby had dropped us off from dinner and gone back out to see a movie with some friends.

And I realized that upon combining today's accomplishments with my victory from earlier this week of getting the two kids' rooms clean, not to mention Tuesday's task of finally tending to the freezer after the great Unplugging Debacle of February (just guess--you don't really need a story), I could just clean bathrooms tomorrow and have a nice clean house. As long as you don't count my room.

In short, I don't really know how I accomplished so much today.

Of course for a truly deep clean I'd have to address baseboards, cubbyholes, and use a fair amount of Lemon Pledge--but that's the voice of the Enemy again, whispering Futility in my ear.

The voice of Hope says, Look at all you did accomplish today. It may not have looked like the stellar superstar TV moms make it look, but my day worked out far from futile. The Enemy is a big fat liar, and I choose not to listen to him today. And that's where I want to put my thoughts to sleep. Because now that Daddy is home with the lovey and all the children are finally asleep, I am outta here.