By the end of the week I sat at my desk, my planning binder open with the daily plans all marked up with items I checked off as completed, and notes beside items we didn’t get to. I stared ahead at the whiteboard with the carefully created daily schedule and order of subjects, the memory verse written above the printer that we didn’t get to, and I had to laugh at myself. “Stephanie,” I thought, “You’re an idiot to think your first week would go according to plan!”
I’m sure that every experienced home school parent saw my pictures of my set up classroom, created lesson plans, the individual powerpoints for each Math lesson, and LAUGHED HARD! Every home school mom-friend that I had cautioned me to let go of the “teacher” in me and just relax…that things wouldn’t go as I planned and that it would be OKAY! Of course, I internally dismissed this comment and quite frankly, saw it as a challenge to prove them all wrong. If this was a metaphor to a weight loss challenge, I would be typing this with two Twinkies in my hand and a large strawberry milkshake in the other, while an entire roast pig would be rotating on a spit outside in an open fire. Things definitely did not go according to my lesson plans.
First, let me tell you how my son’s adjustment to home school and structure went.
Day one was the honeymoon. Sam was finding his way in our little classroom, trying to figure out the balance between the casual nature of being at home, while understanding that we still needed to learn material, and that his mother was probably the strictest teacher he would ever have in his whole life. With a few wiggles, giggles and reminders to focus, Sam did very well. He did the work I asked of him, and engaged in all his subjects, even though he whined about the difficulty of certain topics. As promised, I told him that we would only do school from 8:00-11:40 (this includes 30 minutes of praise and devotions in the morning, plus a 20-minute recess midday). Right after that, we pick up his little brother from preschool.
I learned a couple of valuable things the first day – recess was going to be outdoors tomorrow and my child is smarter than I am. He chose his first day recess to sit and read a book with a snack at the kitchen counter. This was definitely a bad idea in hindsight. He was so wired and full of energy by the afternoon, that by the time his brother came home and they started playing, they were off the walls! The second thing that I learned was that I grossly underestimated how quickly children catch onto new concepts and absorb material. With Math, I could see I wasted many hours making PowerPoints. Before I was even done going through every slide, Sam was working two lessons ahead of me. I was so annoyed that my work had gone completely wasted! C’est la vie, I guess.
Day two, I had created a “Good Focus and Listening Chart” that motivated him to take responsibility for his efforts in the classroom. As he showed attention in the classroom, he climbed up the chart to earn a special reward. We collaborated together to create rewards that he would find exciting like, pajama school day, extra 10 minute recess, bring a toy to school, a special snack etc. This DEFINITELY helped him stay focused on subjects he already knew he didn’t find exciting. I was very conscious of the fact that we needed to nip any beginnings of a bad attitude towards a particular subject so that we had a successful year. Instead of forcing my way through lesson plans I had naively prepared, I tried to be sensitive to changing up materials and modes of delivery to keep him engaged. I was starting to get a hang of how he liked to learn, and what would work.
Day three, I had hit the wall. While Sam was picking up momentum and getting the hang of home school, our structure, and the subject material, I was getting burned out. It’s not just because of the teaching portion. That unto itself was not that overwhelming to me. What started to get to me was what I was nervous about in the first place. It was the fact that we are now into 3 days of nonstop engagement with my children. I had them all morning where I actively taught and worked directly with them. Then all afternoon, they were home while I was moving about, making lunches, tidying the classroom, cleaning the kitchen, preparing materials for the next day, marking the current day’s work, revamping lesson plans, doing a load of laundry here and there, running errands with my boys, and staying on top of my volunteer ministry commitments. I was pooped! I could see my exhaustion leak into the classroom.
By the end of the week, I didn’t even open my lesson plan binder. We pretty much just opened textbooks and winged it!
Ever since Sam was little, there was no doubt in my mind that he was gentle, kind, considerate and generous. However, in 3 short years of school systems (5 years, if you include preschool), there was something a bit edgy and hard that started to overshadow some of those original traits. It was for that reason that we ultimately decided to try home education. The two biggest areas of concern we saw at the end of last school year were his attitude at home in regards to how he would respond to us with tone and body language, and the second was how he had zero patience with his little brother and how they would fight nonstop from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed. There was rarely a day that would go by where my husband or I didn’t have to intervene in a dispute because tempers were getting out of control.
Friday, we went on our first field trip to a provincial park thirty minutes away. We had our buckets to collect leaf and seed samples, our magnifying glasses to see the plant biology up close and a camera to take pictures of any relevant findings. While we did focus on the educational side of it, I ended up giving them most of the day to explore, to play, to chase a little snake they found, and to run around in the beauty of the park since there was almost no one there. It was at the park, that I saw some profound differences in Sam.
The boys had been looking forward to this field trip all week. When we got there, they took off in a burst of excited giggles with buckets and magnifying glass in hand, as Sam excitedly chattered to Caleb about what they were looking for and pretty much teaching his little brother everything he learned in science this week. After they were excused from “school” stuff and just went to explore, I noticed that Sam constantly hung back to make sure his brother was close behind and safe. I would hear many words of caution to Caleb to be careful, that the rock was slippery, or that there was a prickly plant nearby. Caleb relishes the company of his big brother and was beaming all day while trying to keep up with Sam’s pace as they raced up hills, climbed rocks, and looked for caves or hiding spots. My mommy heart was full, watching my two babies love each other, play kindly and explore the nature around them without any fear.
Our little excursion was cut short when Caleb slipped into the creek and landed in a bank of mud. I was back at the picnic tables when I saw a soaked and muddied Caleb run towards me with no shoes…just mud soaked socks and pants. I asked him where his shoes were and he said Sam had them. With a sigh, I stood up and started to look for Sam. When I saw him, I stopped a few feet away and had to blink away some tears. Just 10 feet in front of me, I saw Sam hunkered over the water bank, scrubbing and cleaning out Caleb’s muddy shoes. There was no fit of rage that his brother ruined his special outing. There was no whining that his brother ignored his cautious words about being careful around the water. There was no fight about how annoying he was that he always makes a mess. When I finally went over to Sam, he just looked up from the shoes, smiled at me, and said, “Almost done, Mom. Just getting the last bit of mud off this one and then we can go. Caleb’s probably freezing!”
I could write ten pages without blinking an eye about the academic progress, the classroom structures, the adjustments I learned throughout the day. Maybe, when you were asking me how my week went, that was the report you were wanting. However, I quickly found this week, that I was constantly reminded of why we chose homeschooling. Even in a short week, I am seeing changes in my son that show me the importance of raising him with purpose and with calculated care.
Every morning, we start with thirty minutes of praise and worship, then some time in God’s Word and then we pray together. This week, our devotions were focused on why we worship. We talked about the purpose of worship and how it impacts our lives and our relationship with the Lord. On the first day, I noticed that Sam was timid. I asked him why he didn’t want to sing or raise his hands. He was quick to say that he was embarrassed. I didn’t lecture him. I didn’t scold him. I told him I understood how he felt, that I often felt that way when I was younger in school, but that he didn’t need to be embarrassed here. I told him to feel comfortable, to watch how I worship and that God would gently encourage him wherever he was at. I told him that our home is always a safe place. By the end of the week, Sam was standing, singing and doing the occasional actions to songs we chose together. He wasn’t doing everything I was doing. But again, even in one short week, I am seeing progress in him knocking down walls that were built.
I saw the significance of how my son, without being able to articulate it in words, was so desperate for me to show him the very best of me. There would be moments in a day, when I would watch him work at his desk, that I saw just how excited he was that I was giving him all my attention even though it was regarding a school subject he found boring. Wanting so badly to make this a great and successful year, I constantly find myself digging deep into a well of patience that I never knew I had. I am finding that while I’m far from perfect at it, that I have extended more grace, mercy, and gentleness to my son in the past week than I think I ever have his whole life. I thought it might take months, maybe even the whole year, for me to see Sam respond to this. I was wrong. It took hours.
This whole week, I never once saw Sam’s spirit discouraged. Yes, he doesn’t love everything we are learning, and some of the practice work is tedious and boring. However, he loves being with me. He loves being home. He is responding to the peace that has been given him in his surroundings and the fun that we are learning to have together. We are laughing at little jokes in each lesson. We are high-fiving at concepts understood. We are getting excited over interesting things we are discovering in every subject. Sam is beaming in the mornings, excited to get into our classroom and excited to see which song I picked for praise and worship time. He has been in a great mood all week.
Are there still moments in the evening where he is tired and he needs some space? Absolutely. Is there still the occasional bickering between the brothers over silly things that annoy their mother? YES! Does Sam still dread grammar class and complain about taking notes? You bet. He’s still eight years old. I never expected perfection. But what I am seeing, is his heart softening again. I am seeing him enjoy being in our family, looking forward to family time, taking pride in our family values, and constantly offering help to contribute to chores and activities.
After our first day of home school, that evening, I had to go out and was not home to put them to bed. When I came home later in the evening, Sam had written me a note with pictures of hearts on it as well. In his note he asked me to come cuddle him when I got home, even if I had to shoot him with a Nerf gun to wake him up, and that he loved me. As I held that note, a tear or two may have sneaked out. These are the kind of changes that I would say made the week successful.
It was not the academic material we powered through, the laminated charts I created, the revamped lesson plans, or even the projects we managed to get started. The success in the week was found in the hugs that he gives his brother, in the chairs he moves aside without being asked so that I can sweep the kitchen easier, in the encouraging words he gives when he can see that Caleb is frustrated, and in the smiles that wears openly every morning when he takes a seat at his desk.
It is true, what I thought from the beginning. This journey is not a walk in the park. It requires sacrifice and grit. There were many moments in the course of our morning that my body and mind wanted to quit. There were times where I was frustrated that he wasn’t focused or sitting still, choosing to be silly when I just wanted to finish one more concept. By midweek, there were harsh words of impatience on my part. By the time my husband came home in the evenings, I wanted to take bath and shut off from my family. Yes, there is still a lingering fear that I might not be teaching him exactly what he needs to know in grade 3. However, when I reflect on the wins, it is easy to lay aside my fatigue. I’m really enjoying having a son at home that I not only love…but that I really, really like. He has been a joy to have and it has made our family dynamic and atmosphere so much brighter.
So…how was our first week? It was great.
“There is no school equal to a decent home and no teacher equal to a virtuous parent.” – Gandhi
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