Ten Very Sweet Reasons to Homeschool

RoxI recently snapped this photo of my daughter, Roxanna, sleeping on the couch. It was 10 a.m. on “a school day” and she was suffering from an annoying head cold. I love this scene because my daughter looks so warm and serene, protected from the outside world by her loyal companion, Boomer.

These are the moments I love best about homeschooling.  Academics, character building, and faith development are all important facets of homechooling. But there are some things that are even more basic, even more important for moms and dads to do for their children. Things like love, care, nurture, and keeping their children safe.

Home is so much more than a school. Schools are institutions, but home is a place where all the cares of the world can be shut out and children can just be, well, children.  No worries. No pressure. No stress. A place where, when you don’t feel well, you can grab your favorite blanket, bury yourself in the well-worn family couch, be warmed by the companionship of the family pet, and feel so comfortable and rested that you can fall asleep in the midst of the daily activities of a large family.

I learned the value of love and care in education when my oldest son was in second grade. It was the first day of school and we were looking at the teacher assignments posted on the front door of my son’s public school. There were a number of second grade teachers who were considered great teachers. But I was nervous because there was one teacher, Miss Sutton, who some of the moms in my neighborhood had warned me to avoid. Miss Sutton was considered too young, too nice, and too inexperienced to be a good teacher. But there was my son’s name…on Miss Sutton’s class list.

As I was still musing over my son’s bad luck, my friend, Kim, tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out that her son was in the same class as my son. She looked happy. So I asked her, “Did you WANT Miss Sutton?” She gave me a surprised look. “Of course,” she said. “Miss Sutton is nice. More than anything, I want my kids’ teachers to be nice.”

Kim’s answer raised my eyebrows. I had been a public school teacher in the past, but I had never aspired to be “nice.” I wanted to be a great teacher. I wanted to accomplish something with my students. I wanted to be respected.  Could it be that I missed something?

That second grade school year my son got sick. He was so sick that just getting him through the school day became a challenge. Day after day, week after week, my son suffered. But Miss Sutton took care of him. She made him a priority. She called me regularly. She bought a book on his illness and read the whole book. She was nice. And my son survived. Even thrived. I had learned an important lesson. There is nothing more important in education than how a teacher feels about and treats her students.

As homeschooling parents, your greatest gift to your children is your love and your home, the place where your love reigns. Children don’t need great curriculum, fancy schools, decked out classrooms, and trained teachers. They need love and care. Providing for your children’s schooling in the comfort and security of your home is one of the greatest gifts you can give your children. In view of that, here are:

 Ten Very Sweet Reasons to Homeschool

 

1. When your child doesn’t feel well, he can curl up on the couch with a blanket and a book.

2. When the neighborhood children are huddled on the street corner at 6:45 a.m. in the morning waiting for the school bus,        your child is still asleep in his bed.

3. When the bus returns 7-8 hours later, so full of noisy kids it takes an adult monitor to keep things under control, your child isn’t on it.

4. When other children are rushing through their 20-minute lunch period in the din of the school lunchroom, your child is sharing a relaxed meal with siblings at the family table.

5. When personal events disrupt the lives of your children, you can put school on hold without a moment’s hesitation or explanation.

6. When tragedies strike, events can unfold with your children by your side.

7. When you go on on family trips and vacations, there’s no make-up work when you return.

8. When other children are up late doing homework, your child isn’t.

9. When other children are going out for recess, your child’s school day is long over.

10. When school gets long, you stop. When lessons get hard, you rest. When bodies get tired, you go outside and play.

There has been much said and written about how the atmosphere for learning affects learning. Stress, pressure, fear, and insecurity can shut down learning, while the loving environment of the home builds it up. Michael and Susan Card wrote this in their book, The Homeschool Journey: “Home is a place of comfort and healing, a place of safety and security. And from this secure outpost we can explore our world. Home is where great things are spoken and where our imaginations are unleashed to explore and wander in the presence of warm, loving companions who both encourage us and teach us what areas are best left unexplored. Home is where you learn discipline and are disciplined, because home is where you are loved.”

Until next time…Be fearless.

 

Unleashing the Brain…and Other Homeschooling Thoughts

Because we all struggle with doubt, sometimes a crisis in our lives is the one thing that can propel us to set aside fear and do something truly remarkable. A failed business can lead to an exciting new startup. A serious disease can lead to a cutting edge remedy.  A failed relationship can lead to a wonderful new friend. Infertility can lead to a glorious adoption.   

This is the way we started homeschooling. In kindergarten, my oldest son got sick. For four years we tried to balance the demands of our son’s illness with the demands of our son’s school. When we just couldn’t stand the stress of it any longer, we threw in the towel and tried something revolutionary in our community. We started homeschooling, a choice that ultimately changed the lives of everyone in our family…and got our son healthy again in the process. 

This same sort of crisis led to our decision to homeschool our children in new and different ways. The crisis started on the first day of homeschooling my third child. Hello world….meet Jesse. 

Everyone who knows me has heard “the Jesse stories.” At five years old, Jesse could run faster, jump higher and cause more trouble than all the neighborhood kids put together. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t mean, or disrespectful, or destructive, at least not on purpose. He was a cute kid with a friendly personality that everybody liked. Take a look at the cute kid in the photo….photo

What’s not to like, right? I call Jesse a “troublemaker” because Jesse didn’t want to do anything the way everybody else did it. He didn’t want to sit in a chair unless his feet were higher than his head. He didn’t want to walk across a street because he would rather explore the concrete tunnel underneath. He didn’t want to play with his little kid toys because the big boy toys — things like full-size skateboards and power tools — were so much more interesting. We are probably the only family in the neighborhood who once got a visit from the police because they saw Jesse playing in our garage and were afraid he was going to hurt himself.

As you might guess, when it came to school, Jesse was the prototypical “reluctant learner.”  On the first day of kindergarten, when I pulled out the electric skillet to fry apples (so we could talk about the letter “A”), he looked at me like I was crazy. He sat there at the kitchen counter (with his feet higher than his head) and asked me repeatedly, “Can I go outside and play now?”

I tried to teach Jesse to read “in 100 easy lessons” and 100 turned into 200. Then I tried Hooked on Phonics. And Bob Jones. And Sing, Spell, Read, and Write. Nothing worked.

Over the course of the next 10 years, doing school with Jesse was such a painful and unproductive process that I did as little as my pride and good sense would allow me to do. I simplified the lessons. I decreased the lessons. I scaled back my expectations. We did so little school I wondered if I could get arrested for truancy.

So, if Jesse wasn’t doing school, what was he doing? He played. A lot. He lived to go outside. He rode his skateboard and his bike. He explored the neighborhood. He built things. He took up soccer and got good at it. He played video games. He played the drums. He wrote digital music. He had fun.

And something happened that I didn’t expect. Jesse got smart. Really smart.  He learned to read well and count his money.  He developed interests that were typically the interests of smart kids. Interests like politics and finance. He not only found his way in the world around him, but he developed a beautiful mind. He was happy. 

But there was still one mountain yet to climb: we wanted Jesse to go to college. This presented a definite problem. Jesse had zero study skills, little foundational knowledge of core subject matter, and no interest in anything academic. How could a child like this thrive in a purely academic environment? We were about to find out.

His junior year of high school, we enrolled Jesse in a couple of classes at the local community college just to see what would happen. He passed. After that, he took the college entrance exam. He got the score he needed. After high school he enrolled as a full-time student in a private, liberal arts college not known for easy coursework. He did well.

How could this be? How could a child like Jesse beat educators at their own game? Because Jesse had something very special. He had a God inspired, God created, fully functioning brain. When that splendid brain was properly stimulated and given the freedom to grow, it naturally began to do amazing things.

Here’s the deal with the brain: it has been designed to grow and learn in natural environments, apart from the suffocating structure of traditional classrooms. Fortunately, the brain is so advanced and adaptive, so capable of meeting every intellectual need at every turn, that it CAN function and grow in almost ANY environment. But the place it loves, the place where the childhood brain thrives, is in low-stress, highly creative environments where children can play and apply and imagine and create. Places like playgrounds and back yards and bedrooms and ball fields. If you don’t believe me, consider this: the brain grows faster and children learn more during the first five years of life than during any other five-year period. It accomplishes this with no textbooks, no classrooms, and no professional teachers. The human brain learns best in an unhurried and nurturing place where mommy and daddy are at the helm and there’s a sign on the door that says “home.”  

Inadvertently, my husband and I created a great learning environment for Jesse, one perfectly suited for his personality and sensibilities. We had to be dragged into it kicking and screaming, but, eventually, we gave up on the long assignments, structured lessons, and complicated curriculums. Instead, we gave Jesse the time and freedom to pursue his own interests and the love and support to make the journey possible. Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were putting Jesse on the fast track to future success in college and life.

Today, we see evidence of Jesse’s bright and enterprising mind in almost everything he does. He does all the things proud parents want their kids to do, things like make good grades and work hard. But, where he really shines is in the ridiculously clever and creative ways he attacks life. The same spark that spurred Jesse to forge his own path as a little boy is still burning brightly. The best thing I did as a homeschool mom was not snuff out that spark.

There’s a fascinating statement by Michelangelo that homeschooling parents like to quote. It goes like this: I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”  It’s a reminder that parents and teachers are not in the creation business. We don’t create anything, build anything, form anything, fill anything up. That’s God’s job. Ours is just to love and nurture our children, holding their hands as God’s creating work unfolds before our eyes.

If you have a child like Jesse, one that scoffs at traditional studies and insists on making his own way, don’t be afraid. It’s quite possible he might be leading you down a different, but very good, road to personal success and happiness.

Until next time…Be fearless.

A Fearless New Blog

Writing a blog is scary. I questioned the idea over and over. Would people read it? Would they appreciate what I had to say? Would they like me? Fear pressed in from all sides until I wondered if there would even be a blog at all. 

Isn’t that the way things go with most things we attempt in life? We have great ideas, great plans, and great confidence…until the first “what if” sneaks up on us. It zaps our energy and destroys our initiative.

For the past 25 years I’ve been heavily immersed in education – public school teacher, private tutor, homeschooling mom. Almost every big idea that has swirled around me during that time has been rooted in an element of fear. We worry more about covering the basics and making sure no child slips through the cracks than establishing true excellence in education. Does anybody in America really believe that our schools inspire children to achieve at high levels anymore?

I find that homeschool parents are often driven by this same fear of failure. This fear grates on us daily and rattles our foundations until our homeschooling looks just like traditional schooling – rudimentary and uninspired. We scoff at traditional schools and then turn around and use the same types of texts and curriculums, the same kinds of classroom activities, and the same systems of grading and evaluating. We know, instinctively, that much of this does not work or we wouldn’t have turned away from traditional schools in the first place. But we are immobilized to change because we ask ourselves, “Wonder if they’re right and I’m wrong?”

A few years ago I resolved to set fear aside when teaching my own children. I was tired of fear dictating my every move. I was tired of doing the same wrong things over and over again for the same wrong reasons. I was tired of ignoring everything I had ever been taught or had experienced for myself about how children learn. 

So I changed the way I homeschooled my children. And a funny thing happened: My kids got smarter.  My home got happier. And our homeschool took a big, gratifying turn for the better.

This blog is about educational journeys – yours and mine. I want to tell you about my mine and I want to hear about yours. I was once employed as a news reporter so I’m naturally inclined to be curious about what people do and why they do it. I want to hear great thoughts and good ideas and I want to write about them.

I will try to be both practical and provocative on this blog. I will try to share both small suggestions and big ideas.  And, just to keep things fun and interesting, I will try to share a little bit of myself in the process. I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time…Stay fearless.