I Have a Job

Dear friends, I have job.  My kids do too.  It’s a self employed job.  Talking with other writers, artists, or even my husband who farms, I think there’s this strain on relationships when you are self employed.

I’m a homeschool teacher.

This job comes with a lot of freedoms, especially in the younger years.  Kindergarteners and 1st graders take only an hour or so to teach a day because a large portion of their learning at that age is in their play. As they get older, the play time shifts to more academic work as their brains are developing and they are grasping bigger and bigger concepts.  My 6th grader now, has heaped so much on her plate (she has some big goals) that she struggles to be done at 3:30 each day, and often has still more work to do in the evening from time to time.  It’s just her job right now.

We do have freedoms, though, especially as this year I pieced together our curriculum.  I made the master list of what needs to be completed from various bought curricula I have chosen, and some I made myself.  When I first started homeschooling I really needed the hand holding of a printed out list that professionals provided me, and I followed it very imperfectly.  I have taken seminars, studied what other professional teachers to, read countless books, and dedicated myself to figuring out what this should look like for our home.  I have prayed over these plans.  This is not just my job, this is my life.

There are reasons we leave our plans all the time, but those reasons always fit our overall goals for our children’s educations.  Field trips to museums, or the zoos.  Then there’s activities, especially music related, that we just incorporate into our day as though they are as important as math or science, because in my mind…music is as important.

As my kids grow older, and our freedom of open hours dwindles, as my kids’ work of learning grows more intense, I find this pushback.

It’s very subtle, but everyone who is self-employed has felt it.

“Yeah, I know you have to work, but couldn’t you just do it later today?”

Well, yes, except later today we are doing different stuff.  The trick to successful self-employment is to not get distracted by every butterfly the flies your way.  Our days are full, and I have not figured out how to invent time yet.  I’ve looked into it.  I’m thinking about making it next semester’s science project.  But as of now, we don’t have the power to invent time.

“But I thought they were homeschooled.  I don’t understand why they can’t come during this time.  It’s not like they have to listen to any schedule.  Homeschooling is freedom, right?”

Actually they do.  They have to listen to the one I lay out for them.  And with much freedom comes much responsibility.  During that time time, maybe they’re normally doing their math.  Homeschooled doesn’t mean they don’t have things to do.  It means they do them at home, using different methods.  It doesn’t look like a traditional school in our home at all.  One of my students likes to take a 15-30 minute recess after each subject.  It helps him focus.  It means I consider open play a subject, because if you look at the science of learning, it kind of is.  Another one of my students likes to be in her room where it’s quiet, and just push hard.  I only spend a max of about 2-3 hours a day actually instructing the kids, and the rest of the time I’m coaching them, holding them accountable, grading them, and teaching them how to have a strong character through it all.  You know, general parenting/stay-at-home-mom stuff.

“It feels a bit like you’re making them do this because you just say so, like a power thing.  It’s not like the school district is making you give them this assignment on this day.  You aren’t reporting to anyone.”

I wonder, just a bit, if we would ask the same thing of our traditional school teachers.  “It feels, teacher, that you’re making him do this assignment just to make you feel like you’re doing something and you have the power, and he could actually skip it if you let him.”  We don’t (or at least shouldn’t) because that is the teacher’s job: to help the student learn.  To give them jobs and inspire them, and set boundaries, and expectations.

I don’t work under the school district in this state.  I don’t need my curriculum approved by anyone.  In this state my kids just have to take a standardized test each year, and I don’t even have to turn in the results to anyone.  (But if you want to know, my kids rock the standardized tests.  I’m not worried.)

I do work under authority, though, and honestly, sometimes a bit more intimidating than our local government.  I report to God, as all parents do.  I have to give an account to him, someday, on how I raised my children.  He calls each parent to a path he has laid out before them, and the path he laid out before us is homeschooling.  If I don’t teach my kids, I am not walking in obedience.  I can’t just skip it.  It’s a job God gave me.  I may not get paid, but it doesn’t make it any less my job.  It’s my profession.

When I first started homeschooling, I was obsessed with keeping up with whatever the public school kids did, and making sure we not just met it, but surpassed it.  I thought school had to look like that.  But the more training I attend, the more I read on the subject, the more I see that I should not hold my school standard to the world’s standard, but to God’s.  God’s standard is by no means lower than the world’s.  But it does look different.  I spend more time on spiritual things.  We spend more time in the Word.  Not only a religion class, but I study my kids, and see what their gifts are and pray about what God wants to prepare them for.  Then I dedicate more time to developing their gifts, and not spend their whole day working on what they are not suited for, to try to bring them up to some standard.

Granted, one of my kids hates reading, but I feel reading is important in the Christian life.  If you don’t love to read, you won’t love God’s Word.  If you don’t love God’s Word, you have to get your truth filtered through other people.  You can’t read it yourself.  I will push a subject that isn’t their favorite, if it’s one I feel is required for their future.  They may hate math, but they need to know how to manage their finances, and at least have a respect of all math can do.  Sometimes I push them because I do see their potential, when they don’t see it in themselves.

I am a teacher.  I have a job.  This means I have to set expectations, boundaries, and inspire my students.  That means I rarely pick up the phone during the school hours, so I can be available to them.  If I finally get my highly distractible kid working on a math equation, and I just stop and chat for a few minutes, I could possibly lose his attention for 2 hours.  I don’t pick up my phone when I’m at work.  I sometimes have pockets of time here and there, and if you hit the pocket, it’s your lucky day.  I can talk.

But I have a job.  I’m a self-employed teacher in my own school.  It’s nothing against anyone.  I don’t avoid people.  I’m sorry I don’t always pick up my phone.  We can’t go to everything.  I just have a job.  My kids do too.  (They don’t get paid either, but they find it equally as rewarding.)

Yarn Along

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I’ve been in a stash-busting mood.  I’ve also been in a non-thinking-knitting mood.  That means I’m knitting lots of patterns written by other people that I’ve been longing to knit for years.  This week I cast on Francie by Rebekkah Kerner.  This is such a beautiful, well thought out pattern.  It’s interesting but not all-attention-consuming.  The ribs in the sock are winding and gnarling like a tree, and the designer had the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn  in mind when she was designing it.  (One of my all-time favorite books.)  I love patterns based on literary characters.  It’s like my 2 favorite hobbies hanging out.  Last time I was in the twin cities I stopped by a little yarn shop and was introduced to “Dream in Color” yarn.  I could not leave there without a skein, and picked this lovely, smoky blue.  I intended it for some kind of shawl.  But when I was looking up on Ravelry some great projects using this yarn, this pattern kept coming up.  I hadn’t connected before that this was the yarn used in the original design.

My reading has been limited to books for the kids lately.  In our morning hour, one of our subjects is Shakespeare and we are using How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, which is just so great.  We’ve finished all of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and are now moving to “Twelfth Night” now.  My kids are absolutely loving this unit, possibly more than any unit we’ve done in years.

For our morning tea time, I read aloud a chapter book directed towards the younger kids, but one the older kids would still enjoy.  This year it’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  We read this author last year too and loved her then.  This book does not disappoint at all.  We are all in love with Edward Tulane, and are watching him slowly learn to love as well.

After the little girls go to bed at night, I read a book directed more at the older kids.  Little Britches has been on our reading list for awhile.  This story is told so well of a little boy moving to a ranch and learning to be a rancher, horse man, cowboy…he calls it by various names.  The kids have been begging me at the end of each chapter to read more.  My voice hasn’t been able to hold up to that, as the chapters are a bit longer than the books for the little kids.  But I have to admit, I wish we could too.

Dear Mom Starting to Homeschool Kindergarten

I’m on a few homeschooling groups on Facebook.  I see this common theme over and over in each and every one of these groups.  It starts by stating that their child is 5 years old, they are just starting kindergarten, their child is resisting seated work, or reading isn’t clicking, they can’t spell at all, or they are fighting all the time.  They are weeks into homeschooling, their families are watching and critiquing, they want to do this right.  They feel like they are failing.

Oh dear mamas.  Take a breath.  Pour yourself some tea.  Let’s have a chat.

I know you have pressure from relatives to make education formal and school-like.

I know you are trying to kill all the birds with one stone.

I know you are researching where your child should be, researching state standards, worried you are failing before you’ve even started, and calling yourself crazy every step of the way.

But deep, deep down, you’re doing this because you feel called.  You are aware of your weaknesses, and you’re scare you won’t live up to your calling.  I know.  I’ve been there.

Consider these words:

1) What you are doing is hard, but it’s important.  I know you know this.  But I want this to sink in: it’s supposed to be hard.  Hard doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.  Sometimes it means everything is right.  You are at the front lines of a spiritual battle.  I’m going to be honest.  Satan will do everything that he can to discourage you.  You will get a flood of lies daily that you have to fight off with truth.  You will get exhausted if you fight all the battles.  God does not intend you to fight every battle that comes your way.  This will require wisdom.

Wisdom of when to push your kids and when to pull back and watch what happens is paramount.  That is goal #1.  You need wisdom, and the only way for this to happen is to ask God.  Ground yourself in Scripture and prayer, daily.  Since this is the #1 most important thing for you to get done each day, expect it to be the #1 goal for the Evil One to foil.  Seriously, if you have to choose between you getting your time with God or your child learning spelling that day, choose the time with God.  There is no subject in your school that should stand in the way from you getting your daily fill of wisdom from God.

2) Your child is designed to learn.  I know it doesn’t feel like that right now, but consider all your child has learned so far.  Could you have stopped them from learning how to roll over as a baby?  Could you stop them from climbing?  Do you do language drills to get him talking?  I remember pushing my first child to walk, but with all other children, I put on slippery pajamas on them all day so they wouldn’t crawl so stinkin’ early.  Good luck trying to get your child to NOT learn something.  They will memorize t.v. commercials without coaching, they will study their baby food without your training.  Yes, there are times when you see your child isn’t walking, and it’s time to bring in some specialists.  But when your child is 10 months old and they’re not walking, don’t lose sleep.  It’ll happen.  Your child’s brain is a sponge.

They may not be learning what is on your agenda that day but they are learning.  Work with their brains; don’t force it.  This will take a lot of reading your child’s signals.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is to be able to customize their schooling, but sometimes when we do exactly that the world tells us we are coping out.

The same goes for reading, and school readiness.  Do you know the range of my kids reading?  My earliest reader was just before she turned 4, and my latest reader was around age 8.  Both age 3 and age 8 are normal.  My child who learned to read at 8 is not any stupider than my child who learned to read at age 3.  In fact, each of them have their areas of genius.  All of us do.  There’s not much you can do about it.  It’s their design.

Consider several countries that consistently outscore the US in education don’t start school until age 7.  Also consider that even compulsory school laws here in the US start at age 7.  That is because the science firmly points to the fact that not all kids are ready before then.  Science also says that kids learn best at this age through play.  Occupational therapists dealing with kids with IEPs in school are shouting this from the rooftops, on deaf ears of the politicians.  Educators are angry about things like the push for Common Core because it does not follow the science they know.  Their brains need play.  If you are letting them play, you are ahead of the game.

What you CAN do is create an environment where learning is constantly happening.  Turn off those screens.  Bring out books.  Have educational toys.  Replace entertainment-only toys for toys requiring building and imagination.  Bring them alongside all your chores, cooking, cleaning, and train them.  Have them shadow you.  If they can’t sit down and do a worksheet, then put the worksheet away and do some other learning activity.  This isn’t giving up, or giving in.  It’s moving forward out of being stuck.

The problem isn’t that your child can’t learn, it’s that he can’t learn on demand yet, or learn like a 10 year old.  Make it easy on yourself.  Focus on making the home a delightful place for their brain to wander.

3) The longer I homeschool, the more I believe that character training is more important than academic training, and should take a priority.  The reason for this, is the character training will pay huge dividends of making academic training a piece of cake.  Character training is the foundation to all other learning.  Teach them about God.  Teach them about kindness.  Train them to love, and show them what that looks like.

Pause a moment and consider if you would rather have a child who grows up to love the Lord and love his neighbor, and lives by grace, or would you rather have your child be a top notch surgeon or lawyer who holds no regard for human life, and whose personal life is falling apart?  You don’t have to pick between whether or not your child will have a good spiritual life or academic life.  But you do have to prioritize.  You do not need to smash a lifetime of learning into their kindergarten year.

Character Training

Character training, teaching them to bring their cares to Jesus will have a more profound impact on their lives and on the world than any other school subject.  Therefore, consider Satan to set his sights on making this a low priority in your homeschool as well.  Expect your feelings to be manipulated in this area.  Expect a lot of false guilt for not getting math done, because you had to have a heart to heart with your child that lasted forever training him not to hit his sister.

Expect the lie that this isn’t what you are supposed to be doing, or that you shouldn’t have to do it.  Because that’s what Satan does.  He lies.

The truth is that training them to follow God’s ways is exactly what you should be doing.  Training them not to hit, scream, disobey is exactly what you should be doing.  When this foundation is there, teaching school a few years down the road will be much smoother.  Their hearts will be turned to following God, and their curiosity about his world will be intense.

Academics is frosting the first few years of school.  Still keep in on your calendar.  If your child loves it, then great!  Do it!  Try to get it done each day.  But know your battles, and know the lies that will constantly be thrown your way.  Write down on a piece of paper what your goals are for that day, when it comes to training and discipling the hearts of your child, and tape it up in your kitchen.  Look at it often, and don’t be baited into every battle with your kids that will be thrown your way.

You are living in a sacred space, with these children of yours.  These souls under your care?  God cares so deeply for them.  Delight in their ideas, pull them on your lap, and tell them stories.  Foster their imagination, their creativity, and keep feeding them the academics watching them closely on if they’re full for the day or need some more.  Their brains are wired to hunger for knowledge like their stomachs are wired to crave food.  Lean hard on wisdom on the Lord for this push/pull issue.

Take a breath.  Lean on Him.  Keep speaking truth to yourself, and guard yourself from lies.  What you are doing is important.  Pray for wisdom to see the truth from the lies.  Forget everyone else’s standards.  Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Satan will tell you that isn’t enough.  He’s wrong.  Jesus will not lead you astray.  He will not leave something important out.  Fix your eyes there.  Dig into the Word, beg for wisdom in prayer.  Rest in God’s faithfulness.

Fresh Start

We officially started our new school year this week.  I delayed starting school this year so I could focus on my busy garden season without any guilt.  Do you want to know how many jars of delicious garden food I got canned during this last month?

zero.

So I didn’t really work in my garden like I said I would.  A lot of tomatoes went bad in there.  The strawberries didn’t get transplanted like they were supposed to, and I will reap the consequences of that next summer.  While being all talk and no action isn’t anything to be proud of, I’m trying not to be too hard on myself because I normally burn out this time of year, and I burned out later than I usually do.  People seem to think I’m this great gardener, but I’m of the belief that a truly great gardener doesn’t burn out at the end of the year.  I see neighbors get their garden beds all cleaned and prepped for winter.  Produce is packed up, and stored.  I think it’s the little bit of “city” left in me where I just sit down and say, “I just don’t care.  I can buy that at the store.”  A born and bred country girl wouldn’t say such blasphemes.

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However, we’ve had one of the best starts to a new school year that we’ve ever had.  I’m not sure if it’s because David is doing so much better, or after years of trying out methods, or I’ve finally got my finger on a method that’s working for us, or it could be because I’m trying to focus myself to do school well with the kids, and not get distracted by all my pet projects.  I’ve been convicted more and more that if I want to do this homeschooling well, it will require more sacrifice.  Before I knew that it required sacrifice and I was dragging my feet about it.  This year I just feel inspired.  It’s more like a battle charge.  My passion for other things is dwindling, and I thank God for that.

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Of course, over the weekend, I looked at our schedule and realized I had picked about the worst week possible to start a school year because of the various outside activities our family is involved in.  Every other week Silje’s orchestra at the public school is more invasive to our schedule than the other week.  This was the invasive week.  (When it’s on Tuesdays and Thursdays it causes trouble, but when it’s on a Wednesday or Friday it’s not so bad.)  Also, choir started for Silje and Elias.  Also I had a doctor’s appointment, which was just routine, all morning in the city on Wednesday.  I’m surprised we got any school done at all actually.

But we did.  It was a victory this week.

It’s also been rough, because I’ve struggled through 2 days of migraines, and so 2 of those days I was pretty medicated.  My oils weren’t even touching these headaches, which usually means bad things around here.

The big thing that I’ve been pushing this year is our 8:30 start time.  I have learned that our family does better with routines more than schedules.  Homeschool is rarely the place for bells.  I’m sticking my foot down on that start time, though.  My kids have constantly been pushing against it the last 2 years, and even though I say we’ll start at 8:30, last year my kids would slowly finish up their chores around 10am, and then protest that they couldn’t possibly start school, it was snack time.

IMG_4067My new method of having a morning hour with them from 8:30-9:30 has been working really well.  Only 1 day were they not ready at 8:30, and I started the morning hour anyway.  They just had to drop their chores, and join, trying to catch up later.  I’ve brought out my guitar, and have started teaching them some of the old hymns, have our devotions, read more of our Shakespeare, and then we work on a lot of the more tedious memorization, Greek, and grammar together.  We haven’t made it to  the Greek and grammar every morning, but I’m sure the kids will live.

The kids are loving our Shakespeare unit.  Obsessively loving it.    I want to thank the book How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare book for that.  It’s not written by an educator, but just a dad who happens to be a renown Shakespeare director, and his method of teaching his own children a love for Shakespeare.  The first play we are doing in this unit is A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It’s hilarious.

Actually, the reading this year has been a home run this week, and I’m so excited about that.  For instance, for our morning tea time, I do a book directed to the little kids, but that us big kids will enjoy as well.  This year we are reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.  We have done other books by this author, and this one does not disappoint either.  We stop what we are doing at 10am, and the kids get a little snack, a cup of tea with milk and sugar, and I read out loud to them.  They’ve been loving this book so much, we often read 2 chapters.

For our evening read aloud, (directed to the older kids after the little kids are in bed) is Little Britches.  I’ve been trying to get David to go through an audio recording of this book this summer, but he is still very suspicious of new books.  Silje has learned that any book I have chosen is 99% a winner and she grabs them eagerly from my hands.  David still looks at me as though it is a trick when I hand him a book.  I’ve given him 3 winners in a row this summer (books he read multiple times because he loved them so much) so I have to be building some trust.  I will win him over.  Just give him time.

At any rate, we have our share of struggles.  When we have a great school week, I’m just going to celebrate that while I can!  I have put a higher priority on my time in prayer each morning before school. That was not a constant before, and likely won’t be going forward because…life.  But I have realized that I need this time more than I need coffee.  I need that time getting encouragement from the Word, and just begging God for patience, and the wisdom to know when to push and when to let go.  The more I go on this journey to spend daily time with God, the more I see that the key isn’t in my alarm clock, or in having the time.  The key is recognizing my desperate need.  When I’m honest about how much I need it, it just happens.  My hands are reaching for my Bible with the impatience that it reaches for my mug.  That’s why it’s happening.

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Our house reflects the fact that we’ve had a crazy busy week.  But if I waited for perfection to have joy, then I would never have it at all.  I’m learning what to push, and what to let go.  Sometimes wisdom looks like a messy house.