Tuesday, January 15, 2008

When They Were Younger

Recently my sweet friend Alycia asked me a question in a comment on my other blog. I thought I'd take some time today to answer her question.

She asked how I managed homeschooling when my children were young. She shared that she sometimes feels like she is not able to balance everything... homeschooling, lesson plans, what she thinks they should be learning/doing, whether she is doing enough, etc.

What an excellent question, and an excellent topic! I love to hear other homeschool moms discuss the issues of how to get "it all" done (that elusive "it all!" What is it???) and share ideas about how to balance all of the responsibilities that come with the task of schooling our children ourselves. I used to think it would get significantly easier as my children got older. I felt tugged in so many directions when they were in those toddler/preschool years and as they got into early elementary grades. I longed for the days when it would finally "even out." In my mind we would finally look like that serene family on the front of the Abeka or Sonlight catalog.

I have to admit, things have gotten smoother for us the past few years, but not because the task got easier or because I suddenly got more competent! I need God's grace every bit as much now as I did in those early years, and He meets me each day with a fresh supply. Okay, on to Alycia's question. I think there are two issues at stake: What is "it all" and "enough," and how to balance the "it all/enough" with the rest of... life!

When I started out during the preschool/ early years I was QUITE ambitious. I was coming off of teaching public school, a career I dearly loved and for which I was still enthusiastic. Now I could teach whatever I wanted! Whenever I wanted! All of it! All day! Every day!! Yippee! Additionally, not long after I started planning, I got my hands on a copy of The Well-Trained Mind, so not only was I going to do a bang-up job, I was going to do it classically. Oh, the joy!

As my oldest started her Kindergarten and early elementary years, and my son came up two years behind her I was really Charlotte Mason-y. By God's grace, I had come across Charlotte Mason's books and some wonderful websites, so I took TWTM methods and Mason-ized them pretty well. Lots of outdoor time. Short lessons. Books, books, books. I think that was the only way I stayed sane trying to do all that TWTM entailed. I took things in small chunks and stuck with what was really worth doing. But there was so much! And, like Alycia (and many other homeschool moms) I seemed to tread a fine line each day between being overwhelmed with all we were doing and yet feeling like I wasn't doing enough.

A few years ago I took some time to really look at what we needed to do. First I went to Scripture, my primary guide. According to Scripture my husband and I were commanded to bring our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) and impress God's Word on their hearts as we went about our lives (Deut. 6:7). I've read, as I'm sure you have, all of the scriptures pertaining to raising godly children. I reminded myself of this primary goal. Beyond this, really, there was no specific Biblical guideline as to what school subjects we were to do. But there was another Scripture which pointed to how I could pinpoint those. According to Romans 13 we are to submit to governing authorities. So, what did those in authority over me say I was to teach? According to the laws of my state I was to teach "reading, spelling, grammar, math and good citizenship." The law also stated I was to do this in a "bona fide manner" using a "written curriculum." God's Word plus 5 subjects. To this day if I become overwhelmed with too many subjects, projects, ideas or extracurriculars I remind myself that I am largely bringing that upon myself. If I simply pare it down to what God's Word and my state say, it's doable. That's the "it all" and "enough."

Now, how to balance that with the rest of life? I don't think God would give us the above guidelines and then give us an impossible scheme into which to fit them. I also don't think He is going to allow us a sense of "balance" in homeschooling if the rest of the priorities He's given us are out of whack. As wives, we are to be keepers at home ("busy at home.") We are to love our husbands. As important as the homeschooling of our children is, it is not our primary calling. As much as homeschooling our children requires the use of our unique Holy Spirit-given gifts, I believe that Scripture teaches that our husbands are to be the primary recipients of those gifts. I remember once reading a homeschooling mom (in a Christian homeschool publication) who said that if she had lots of energy left at 4:30 she probably didn't put as much energy into her kids as she should have. I couldn't disagree more! Where's her energy for her husband? The hours after 4:30 are my primary hours with my sweet husband. And while I have days when I'm wiped out by the time he gets home, I can't imagine planning for him to always get the leftovers of my time and energy, or feeling guilty if I had energy for him! For me, the key to finding "balance" was to find a way to make our school life (as important as it was) not detract from or take away from the bigger picture- a God-glorifying marriage and home. This, for ME, required a schedule. It required dropping out of some good-but-not-best activities and co-ops. It required discipline in the area of not hanging out with other moms and friends for afternoons on end. I've posted before how I discovered that homeschooling, for us, needed to happen... at home. (I had to put the "home" back in "homeschooling!") That may not be how it needs to be for everyone, but that's how it has worked for us.

I had to designate certain times/days for certain subjects. I had to make certain times of the day off limits for the phone or email. (Usually I only return phone calls or email in the afternoons, in that "lull" between after school and dinner.) I designated specific days of the week for working on different ministries in which I was involved. (Ex. Monday I planned my Childrens Choir lesson for the next week, Tuesday I planned my BSF lesson, Wednesday through Friday I worked on our school plans, always trying plan at least two weeks ahead.) Most of this planning, by the way, happened e-a-r-l-y in the morning, too, after my quiet time. I commited to spending a few minutes daily going over their work from that day and stuff their folders for the next day/week. I got serious about making doable meal plans and chore charts. (Managers of Their Homes was a terrific help to me in this area.)

These are habits that were hard for me- the right-brained, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants procrastinator- to get into, but they still benefit me to this day (and are still hard at times!). Oh, how I hope I can still do this when our new little addition gets here!

I hope this answers your great question, Alycia! I can't say I'm any sort of expert, but this is what we did. By God's grace, we are still on this homeschooling journey and I'm learning more and more as I go along!

6 comments:

The Lloyd Family said...

Wow!

Being so new to homeschooling, this is SUCH a good read for me.

Thank you for taking the time to put this all into words. You are such a blessing.

Joni said...

Thanks, Cyndi. These are great reminders. I am in a stage with one toddler, one preschooler, and a school-ager. I constantly struggle with the demands on my time with homeschooling, much less marriage, homekeeping, and ministry. Hearing about your early morning "work ahead" time and assigning certain days for certain tasks was helpful. Now, I really need to work on the discipline of sticking to my plan!!

Praying as your adoption process moves forward!

Kristi said...

So encouraging--as always! I gave you a little "award" on my blog :).

Daisy said...

Hi Cyndi! I'm back - finally able to log on! - and I was wondering...when your children were younger, did you have/make time to do things like exercise/work out, or was this something that just happened in the course of your playing and interacting with your children (running around with them etc.)?

Alycia said...

Hi Cyndi!! Thank you so much for your thoughtful, wise and very encouraging post to my question!! God has placed some of the very things that you shared here, on my heart and this was more confirmation to what His will is for me in my desire to seek more discipline. Thank you!! You are so sweet and such a dear bloggy friend!

I'm heading back to reread this again...

Blessings,
Alycia

The Byrd Family said...

I just found your blog from Holly's blog. I have two children who are 20 and 24 and we have two three year olds, one from China and one from Korea. I have prayed and prayed about homeschooling and know in my heart this is what is best for our family and especially our little ones. This post really spoke to me this morning. Homeschooling can be a bit overwhelming when you are just beginning to research it and your words this morning have set my mind at ease a little. I have a catalogue from Sonlight and my girls love, love, love books so I am leaning towards that curriculum BUT any other helpful hints would be great! I want our two little ones to have a different education than our older children who went through the public schools. Lottie can already memorize bible verses and I just love feeding her more and more, she is like a little sponge. I am going to spend time this week reading the rest of your blog. Thank you for sharing!

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