Monday, July 15, 2013

Some Advice for Homeschooling Families Just Beginning the Journey

First, let me apologize to my regular readers for how sketchy I have been this year on the blog.  I'm here writing a bunch of stuff consecutively, and then I disappear for weeks at a time.  This is no way to blog.  It doesn't help my need to write regularly and it doesn't help those who actually enjoy reading whatever silly stuff I think to post here.

Truthfully, though, my heart is here wanting to blog on a regular basis.  However, since I had to back track with my therapist recently and set a very simple goal for me -- to get out of bed by 8:30 a.m. each day -- actually doing much more than that has been very, very challenging for me.  Hopefully, I'll have better news on that front soon.  I'm getting my medication for depression and anxiety evaluated again this week and having some more regular therapy appointments during this rough patch, so I hope these things and lots of prayer will have me better able to see life more clearly and maintain some focus to be able to blog.

Today, though, I suddenly felt inspired to blog.  Though I've wanted to blog, I haven't felt a lot of inspiration recently.  So I'm seizing this opportunity amidst my life storm to reach out and be helpful to others.  My brain is seriously uncooperative with me lately, so please do your best to follow the crazy and I'll do my best to stay on track.

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My good friend, Vanessa, texted me early in the day on the verge of panic (or so it seemed as I read deeply into her text message) about beginning the process of homeschooling her daughter this coming year (and hopefully beyond).  She has three older kids, but they've all be educated  by someone else because it was what suited their family at the time.  But now with this youngest child (by a good margin), their family has decided that homeschooling is the best option after a year of having her attend a public preschool.

I jumped at the opportunity to encourage her and to guide her as best I can because as a more seasoned homeschooling family, I have learned a few things over the years.  But it has not been so long that I've forgotten what it was like to be a new homeschooler.

Though my adventure began by homeschooling S beginning with sixth grade (following finalization of her adoption), I have since then had the opportunity to teach every school grade level through high school graduation.  Some grades I've done as many as four times as the years went on (1st - 3rd), others have been just once so far (8th through high school).  Kindergarten was definitely one of my easier years to do!  I've done Kindergarten 2-1/2 times.

Yes, 1/2.  We pulled Z halfway through his kindergarten year realizing that the back and forth between home and school just did not suit a kid with some pretty strong Reactive Attachment issues.  That's a whole separate topic that I've brushed upon several times, so I won't go into that here.

Anyway, I've been around the block a couple times in this whole thing we call homeschooling, or whatever.  So while I'm still learning a great deal along the way, I do have some things I can share with Vanessa and others who are just beginning their own homeschooling journeys.  I know that my greatest help at the start of my own journey came from a few long-time homeschooling families I knew at church and out of respect and appreciation for all the direction and advice they gave to me, I will not only help Vanessa best as I can, I'll try to share more about our experiences here.

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Before you begin homeschooling your child(ren), there are some important steps to take...

1.  Pray.  See if this is what the Lord wants for your family.  I love homeschooling, but I know some families where it just doesn't seem like a natural fit.  This means either major changes in their lives would need to occur (which may be what God wants) or they are possibly just not ready for the challenge.  But however your children should be educated, God knows His plan for them and His plan for your family.  Consult Him first.

2.  Discuss this as a family (or at least as a couple if your kids are young).  I never decided to homeschool S (or the others) on my own.  We felt the nudging from the Holy Spirit years before it even became a possibility.  Notice also, I said, "WE."  Both C and I were of the same mindset that homeschooling was going to be the best option for our family when the time came that we could make that decision (during foster care years, this was not an option legally, so we had to utilize the public school system).  Not only did we have the Lord supporting us through our venture into homeschooling, we had one another.

Based on our roles and jobs outside of the home, etc., C became the Principal, while I became the Teacher.  C often teaches our children (and their friends when they are over) various subject matter.  He is a really, really excellent teacher.  When my brain is not mush, I'm an alright teacher, but my strength is really more about organizing, researching, ideas for lessons and field trips, etc.  My strength is administration.  So maybe technically, I'd be a better principal and he'd be a better teacher.  But because he works full-time away from the house and I'm home with the kids every day, it makes more sense for me to teach because I'm actually here.  So we have our specific titles, but we cross over into each other's typical job role quite often.  The titles are really more for fun than anything.

The point is, we are a check and balance for one another.  This is true of most everything in our marriage and family, but it is especially true in homeschooling.  When I start doubting myself and abilities, he is there to support and encourage me and sometimes to re-teach a lesson with a better explanation.  When he plans a family day trip, I am there thinking of ways to make it more educational by initiating discussions or having them write something about the trip later in the week. 

I don't believe that homeschooling as a single parent is impossible, but you'll definitely want to reach out to your support friends and extended family and find someone who will be there to encourage you in the tough times.  There will be tough times in your homeschooling journey (whether you're single or not).  Expect this and make peace.

3. Check your state's homeschooling laws to decide if they are acceptable to you and your family.  A great place to see what the homeschooling laws are across the nation is here.  It is up to you to maintain whatever is legally required of you so that if ever there was a time when your children's education was called into question, you will have readily available all that you need for proof that you are within your legal rights.

There are some states which require very little from families who decide to homeschool.  For instance, if you live in Alaska, there is really no notification to the state or school district required, there are no legally required record-keeping elements or days of attendance or material that is required to be taught and it is the burden of the State to prove that parents are not teaching their children.

Then there are moderately challenging states, which require a variety of notifications and record-keeping elements that don't seem terribly intrusive in the rights of a family to educate their children as they wish.  I feel like New Mexico's homeschooling laws fall into this category.  We need to keep track of immunization records, attendance records and we need to notify the school district each year that we intend to homeschool (via an online form).  I found this all to be much easier than when we lived in New Hampshire where we started homeschooling.

But there are states where from my "not having done it there" eyes that just seem almost too ridiculous to attempt homeschooling there.  Kudos to those families have managed to homeschool within the much more intrusive and strict laws of that state.  One such example of this would be Pennsylvania.  I do not want to live there while we are still homeschooling our kids or I would probably just throw the towel in.

Keep in mind that my summaries of the law in each state listed above are unofficial.  If you live in one of these places, please, please look up the exact wording in the law at HSLDA.org or somewhere else reputable.

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Getting Started

Once you have prayed, decided as a family to homeschool your kids and figured out what the law requires where you live, it's time to get started on some actual planning about how to carry things out.

When we first began this back in 2006, I had many people (and books and websites) recommending that we set some goals or a mission statement for our homeschool.  The whole idea of this became really overwhelming so at first, we lived day-by-day and seemed to wander aimlessly between curricula and other materials without really heading in a particular direction.

We didn't make any goals for our family.  We didn't have a mission statement.

As we began to homeschool more and more of our kids, it became very clear why this recommendation is so important.  Without direction -- without a map -- our journey would have been ambling and scenic, but it's very likely that we would not have completed the first school year, let alone graduate our kids.  While our homeschool has graduated from where we were at first, living by the law of the curriculum, to a more eclectic, child-centric educational environment, our goals have remained the same.

I will be honest and tell you that we never actually wrote these down.  As I was texting Vanessa this morning, I realized that it was the first time I really put into words the goals that C and I have discussed and rated our success in school against dozens of times over the years.  I suggest, in this case, you do what I say and not what I do.  Write them down.  But you know, whatever works best for you.

As one example, I will share with you our family's homeschooling goals.  These are the overall educational goals we have and aren't specific goals for any one year or any one subject or any one child.  Your goals may be entirely different and that's great.  We don't want a bunch of clones running around the world, which is probably one of the reasons so many more of us are choosing to homeschool these days.

OUR HOMESCHOOLING MISSION

GOAL 1
To help one another to love the Lord and to grow spiritually, as well as helping our children learn about the tools they'll need to continue growing spiritually throughout their lives.

GOAL 2
To teach our children HOW to learn and demonstrate to them a PASSION for learning.

GOAL 3
To help one another grow in compassion for others and to develop servants' hearts.

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A Brief Look at Ways We Work Towards Our Goals

With Goal 1, we make an effort to include Jesus in all we do in school and in our family.  We regularly pray together as a family - before meals, at the start of trips we take, when there is a need or a praise.  We begin each day in school with a devotion.  We maintain prayer or faith journals.  We memorize scripture verses.  We attend church and require our older children to take sermon notes that they turn in when they get too old for the kids' program.  We include Biblical wisdom in our discussions about behavior, choices, temptations and life.  We encourage our pre-teen and teen kids to attend youth group and youth camps/retreats when possible.  We encourage our kids to read the Word on their own apart from class times.

We have Bibles in a variety of formats and styles -- starting with different versions (KJV, NIV, the Message, etc.) onto different (still Bible-focused) styles like the Brick Bible or the Action Bible or Bible storybooks (for the early readers).  We watch Bibically-based movies as a family and have a variety of audiobooks that the kids love to listen to like Adventures in Odyssey and Jonathan Park.

We have incorporated different festivals into our lesson plan (Shabbat, for example) mostly based on suggestions from curriculum, but any way we can make the Bible more hands on, we love to incorporate that.  On one family trip to Florida, we visited the Holy Land Experience in Orlando and in Groom, Texas we visited a giant cross with life-size sculptures of the stations of the cross and at the end, there was the empty tomb that we were able to go inside.  These places really bring the Bible to life for the kids especially and they remember so much about those visits.

This is not all we do together as a family, but in every activity, the Lord is there with us and often the kids will grasp a spiritual concept in the midst of the most average day playing at the park or shopping for groceries.  I love those moments.


With Goal 2, much of what the kids think about learning stems from our attitude about it.  Keeping that at the forefront of our minds, is important.  I loved the blog post I read this morning from Holy Spirit-led Homeschooling about modeling a teachable spirit.  How many times have we been that parent?  Probably more than once every day about something.

Both C and I actually do have a passion for learning.  We don't always have a very teachable spirit though.  Both are important.  We're still learning to find a balance there ourselves.

C is one of those amazing people who just suck up facts right and left about whatever and may someday become a major competitor on a show like Jeopardy.  Or at the very least, he'll beat me at Trivial Pursuit nine times out of ten.  There should be a name for these kind of people who can collect random trivial facts and log them to memory forever.  Is there?  I wouldn't know because I'm not that kind of person.  He knows a lot of practical stuff, too, mind you, but he has a certain strength when it comes to memorizing stuff that many of us don't realize we'll ever need to know.

I am one of those people who finds something interesting and then I go crazy trying to learn every bit of information about that topic.  Before we had kids and I got really interested in family genealogy, I read and researched day and night about that topic.  When we were in the process to adopt, I read everything on adoption.  When we were beginning homeschool, I read everything about education and homeschooling.  When I got an iPhone, I learned as many "tricks" as I could and after about a week of owning it, I was able to teach people what to do with the iPhone they'd had for a year.  Starting to see a trend?

So far, I see most of the kids being a little like me in their learning tendencies.  They find a subject that engrosses them and they want to learn everything they can about that topic.  H is so into Legos that he wants to be a Lego Set Designer someday.  That led us to teaching him other subjects by way of his Lego passion.  That led us to the Brick Bible I mentioned earlier because what's more important than finding a way to incorporate Jesus into the Lego world?  For H, not a whole lot.

The only child I see has a knack for picking up random bits of knowledge like Daddy so far, is Z.  He has some inabilities to focus on something for very long.  He loves all things wheel/tire related and he does know a lot on the subject of modes of transportation, but he also knows a little about a lot of things in the world.  He tends to focus in snippets of time, but in those snippets, he packs in a bunch of facts and then recalls them later at the most random moments.  It always starts while I'm lecturing another child or having a serious discussion with C; here comes Z, "Hey Mom, did you know that...?"

Other ways to show them our passion for learning is to be excited when we get the opportunity to learn something new.  To speak excitedly when we introduce a new topic in school.  To read, read, read and then discuss what we've learned through the process of reading.

Most of the time when the kids see me on the computer, I'm either writing (typing) in my blog or in an email to someone or I'm researching stuff.  When I play games on my iPhone or iPad, generally speaking, I play word games.  It's not uncommon to see me playing Words With Friends and to look over and see that J and O have dug out the Jr. Boggle game and are playing it together on the floor.  J even jumps in on regular Boggle games and Scattergories when she can.  The timed element gets a little frustrating for her, but she gives those games a good try because she wants to play what I'm playing.  I love that.


Finally, with Goal 3, we seize every opportunity to serve others and to learn about people who are different from us so we can understand them better and have compassion for them and use that compassion to motivate us to serve them in some way.

I'll never forget a day out somewhere and the kids spotted a couple of fully-uniformed nuns walking about.  They kept staring and whispering questions to me about them.  So finally I instructed them to walk over and ask the nuns their questions because they would know the answers better.  Much to my surprise, they did!

This was after a few years of homeschooling and learning about people of other cultures and faiths and serving homeless and poor people, etc.  I guess it was perfectly natural for them to walk up to a couple of nuns and ask them questions about their lives.  The nuns seemed delighted to talk to the kids.  I was not so far off that I couldn't hear the conversation and it was fun to hear how happy they were to talk about their experiences of living in a convent and wearing their stuffy-seeming habits.  In the end, the nuns offered to pray for our children and that was the sentiment with which our kids returned to me.  "Mom, mom, mom!   The nuns are really nice and they are going to pray for us!"

I love that.

Just the other day at Target, O noticed a man in a wheelchair and his gaze was locked onto the man until we left the front of the store where he was sitting.  When we got outside, he asked, "Mama, why does that man have to sit in the wheelchair?"

I said, "I don't know exactly why, but apparently his legs don't walk, so the wheelchair helps him get where he needs to go."

He said, "Where does he need to go if he's in a wheelchair all the time?"

I said, "O, he is a regular man with a regular life.  He goes to work, he goes home to his family, he probably goes on trips places, he goes to the store ... he does everything you do except instead of walking or running, he wheels around in that chair."

He said, "Oh!  I didn't think about that before. Maybe he even has fun sometimes in that wheelchair!"

"Maybe so." 

At the heart of all people on this earth - rich or poor, healthy or sickly, fully-functioning or limited in someway - we are all God's children and I want the kids to know this and to know that as people who have been created by the one true God, we are accountable to one another for encouragement, support, help and prayer.  It is the heart of a servant who understands this.

Last week, H was able to begin volunteering at a nearby senior care home where one of our fellow church members works.  When I was talking to her, she suggested I allow Z to come along, too.

I was really excited about the opportunity for H because he's always been so social and a great conversationalist with people who have the time to give to him.  I was hesitant to send Z with H because the two of them can be so competitive sometimes and I worried that the staff would have more to deal with besides the residents once the two boys got to one-upping each other about everything.

But against my initial instincts, I allowed both boys to go to the care home.

Their first day, they spent three hours there.  When I picked them up, our friend from church let me know what a great job they did and how helpful they were and how much the residents enjoyed their visit.  She asked if they could come back on Friday.

On Thursday (the next day), Z asked to go back.  H didn't want to do a second day in a row.  So we worked it out and Z went (and brought with him his cousin, K).  They served about four hours that day.  On Friday, Z asked to go back and K went with him again.  K wanted to leave midday, so H went in to relieve her for the afternoon.  Z stayed from 9:00 to about 3:30 that day.

What's most interesting is that just in this short time, we have seen something blossoming in Z.  He's like a new kid.  He has a real passion for the residents in the home and their lives.  He doesn't mind doing some of the dirty work (cleaning out toilet walkers, taking out adult diapers to the trash and doing yard work and food preparations) because all the while, he gets to talk with the residents and they are really happy to have him around because they don't get many visitors.

Then he comes home from what he now calls, "his job," and he's more helpful at home and kinder to everyone in the family than ever.  I am just so proud of him for discovering something he really loves and then giving his all to it.

This morning he was there at 10am and didn't want to be picked up till 4:00pm.  He talked about some of the work he (and his cousin, L) did today and had more delightful stories of his interactions with some of the residents.  Z and L started talking about how they played Bingo for a little while with one of the ladies there and suddenly, there were a whole group of residents joining in the game.  They are full of competitive spirit there apparently.

H still offers to go there sometimes, but he comes home feeling tired and talking mostly about all the hard work.  Z comes home energized and ready to go back for more.  So while I thought this role would be perfect for H, it turns out, it's just the opportunity Z needed!  He is learning to have such a wonderful servant's heart.

I haven't given up on H.  He volunteers in the children's ministry at church, he volunteers on the cleanup crew at church (community cleanup) and he serves on the Teen Advisory Group at our local library.  All of these ways are helpful towards teaching him to serve others.  I'm waiting for that one opportunity that really snags his heart the way the care home has taken Z by a storm and the way the animal shelter and a local farm captured S's heart when she was here and serving others quite regularly.

Finally, one of the best ways to learn about others who have given their lives to serving others is to read about those who have done so and then discuss those stories.  What motivates these people?  How have they been rewarded for their efforts?  Have they been martyred in the process?  What do they think God will say to them when they reach(ed) Heaven's door?  What was the impact they left on this world?

YWAM Publishing has some amazing story books (chapter books and books for young readers) about several Christian Heroes.  The neat part about these books is that we not only learn about these heroes/missionaries, but we learn about the culture and time in history in which they lived.  They even have a curriculum that pairs with some of their books if you need some ideas for how to translate these books into other subject areas.  I have found these books to be interesting for the kids (especially as read-alouds, kids never really get too old to be read to), as well as to adults.

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More to Come

This post is getting really long so I'll conclude for now.  I hope to follow up with other posts about how we got started and some of the various curricula we have tried.

Please comment with specific questions you may have that I didn't answer about "getting started" and perhaps those, too, will inspire some posts.

Thank you so much for reading.


7 comments:

  1. I am famous now ..lol.....you were just the sounding board I needed this morning in my crazed panic....I to hold facts and such in my brain but yet can't remember to call in the water bill payment...Lawrence says I am the "best keeper if useless information, that at times is not so useless" ...you have been a blessing today and saved me roughly $250 dollars...keep up the blogging... I look everyday :)

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  2. One more thing....I think you may have inspired me to blog...watch out cyber world

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  3. Wow, lots of info here! Missed seeing your posts...praying for ya!

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  4. Vanessa, I'll be among the first of your followers! You go, girl! :-)

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  5. Thank you both for comments AND prayers. :-)

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  6. I appreciate reading about the process you have gone through to home school. I am, also, impressed with the kids, (both D's and yours) who have set such great examples as servants. (Thanks to your encouragement.)

    You are all doing an amazing job!

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