Saturday, August 28, 2010

Homeschooling Update

Well, here we are, two weeks into our first year of homeschooling. Many people have asked me how things are going, and all things considered, I think they're going quite well. We've had some ups and downs as we get used to our new schedule, and I've identified some areas that need to be changed so they'll work better for us, but I think that's pretty normal.

I didn't realize how fulfilling this would be for me. Homeschooling is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but I never felt ready until this year (second grade). Now I find myself wishing I had started sooner! I worried that homeschooling would overwhelm me. I asked myself how I would ever manage to get things done if I was also educating my children. But as we've gotten started, I've noticed something so interesting: I actually feel less overwhelmed and I'm getting more accomplished. I think there are a few reasons for this.

I'm one of those people who thrive on staying fairly busy. When I don't have enough to do, I get bored and lazy. I fall into this a lot as a stay-at-home mom, to be honest. I mean, yes, there is obviously a lot to do, but it doesn't provide me the structure I thrive on. I find myself thinking, "I can wash those dishes or clean the bathroom later, so why do it right now?" and I end up not getting everything done. Homeschooling adds more responsibility to my plate and gives more structure to my day, and I find that I'm actually managing my time better and getting a lot more done every day.

Besides that, there's something about educating my children that fulfills me in a way that cleaning and even childcare do not. I love having a clean house, but it makes me want to pull out each of my hairs individually to do the same tasks over and over and over with no end in sight, ever. Dishes, laundry, picking up toys, sweeping, dishes, laundry... But homeschooling feels more purposeful to me; it is not simply a task that I will do over and over in exactly the same way multiple times a day every single day. It changes, it's a process, something is accomplished, we move on, growth is seen.

Plus, I'm a nerd and also a tad bit (okay, a lot) OCD, so I get great satisfaction out of lesson planning and getting things ready for school. It's something I truly enjoy doing.

So I think those things-- doing something structured, purposeful, and enjoyable-- play a part in why I feel less overwhelmed and am getting more accomplished now that I'm homeschooling. The level of fulfillment that I am personally receiving from homeschooling also leaves me feeling more content and confident in general, which is certainly a positive thing.

Have you ever noticed a difference in other areas of your life when you start doing something that is fulfilling to you?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The One Where I Talk About Boobs

The other day, I heard a statement that made me giggle a little inside, but the more I thought about it, the more irritated I became. This is nothing against the person who said it; in fact, this was said by a very pro-breastfeeding individual. But what was said was that breastfeeding moms should be discreet about nursing in public and they shouldn't just pop out their boobs where anyone could see them, because, after all, "You wouldn't want someone's eight year old son or a teenager seeing that."

At first, I laughed to myself. I have an eight year old son, and honestly, yeah, he sees me breastfeed every day. And it's no big deal. It's how a woman's breasts were meant to function.

But later that day, our family was in the checkout line at the grocery store, and right there on my eight-year old's eye level was the newest issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. And hey, look, there's Jessica Alba on the cover with her boobs nearly falling out of the top of her dress, surrounded by headlines like, "Untamed Va-jay-jays" and "Guy Sex Confessions: 37 Things He Doesn't Have the Balls to Tell You." Oh, did I mention that my eight year old son can read? Yep. He can.

And that's when I got angry. What a double standard! In our culture it's perfectly fine to put adult images and headlines like that right on a child's eye level in the store, but if a woman shows any boob while nursing her baby, people want to shield their eyes or get the woman to cover up or leave the room.

I would rather my son see women nursing their babies in public, breast showing and all, than to walk him through the grocery store and see sexy pictures and headlines about sex confessions and, um, female grooming.

It's no wonder so many people end up being uncomfortable or even grossed out by breastfeeding; what else should we expect when we make it clear from the time our kids are small that breasts in our culture are meant for nothing more than sexual arousal? Our society as a whole-- and this includes children!-- needs to be exposed to breastfeeding as natural and normal, and not something to hide or be ashamed of. For heaven's sake, women are just trying to nourish their babies the way God designed them to be fed. Why should they be expected to hide that? They shouldn't be.

Can breasts be sexual? Well, yeah, but so can mouths, and we don't ask people to hide them when they're eating. Think about it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Homeschooling Adventure Begins!

A few months ago, I attended an informational meeting for parents who were thinking about homeschooling. One of the women said that when you're just getting started with homeschooling, it can be a good idea to start slowly and ease into things rather than starting every single subject on day one. This made a lot of sense to me, and I filed it away to use in August.

Well, now it's August. Today the county schools started; we heard Elijah's old bus drive past the house this morning. I get nervous and excited butterflies in my stomach every time I think about it: I am officially a homeschooler. I already was, but this realization that he would have been sitting in a second grade classroom right now makes me even more aware that we're really doing this.

I'm taking the advice to ease into things. I think after two years of being used to public school and a long summer break, it would be overwhelming to both of us to start out on day one with every subject. We have plenty of time ahead of us; we can take it slow for the first few weeks.

This week we're doing lessons on nutrition. We're reading about fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and the five food groups. We're talking about a balanced diet, and Elijah's making a book with one page for each of the things mentioned above. Next week, we'll start our Sonlight core (this includes history/geography, Bible, reading, and language arts). Later in the month, we'll add our science curriculum (also Sonlight) and math. My goal is to have everything introduced by the first week of September.

I think easing into things gradually will be a good fit for us. I'll let you know how it goes. Let the adventure begin!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Point of Grace

Lately I’ve felt distant from God, and, honestly, a little angry. Some of it is righteous anger at the awful things that have been (and are being) done, said, and taught in the name of God. But I haven’t just been angry at the people who do these things; I’ll admit I’ve been feeling a little angry at God too. He surely sees the hurtful things that people do and say in his name, and yet he seems to do nothing about it. If someone attached my name to teachings or actions that I knew were wrong, I’d want to make it clear that I most certainly am not okay with those things. So many Christians twist scripture and use God’s name to justify manipulation, abuse, and teachings that are not true to God’s character. How does God put up with it– and why does he? Doesn’t it break his heart? Doesn’t it anger him?

I don’t have an answer, really. I’m going to assume the answer involves love, mercy, and understanding of a magnitude I cannot even begin to grasp. I’m going to assume that God must have a plan. He sees things I cannot– situations, motivations, consequences, people’s hearts– and he must be working it all out in ways I don’t perceive. The only other option is a God who’s weak, passive, cruel, or non-existent. And my heart tells me that just isn’t true; my heart tells me God is there, and that he is powerful, loving, and good.

But as I think through all of this, I feel God nudging me to consider some hard questions and answer them truthfully…

Yes, there are people who do and say wrong things in the name of God. But what if I’m one of those people and I don’t realize it? After all, it’s not as though I have a flawless understanding of God; perhaps there are things about him that I firmly believe to be true, but they aren’t, and those beliefs influence my actions. If that were the case, would I want God to become angry, lose patience, and disassociate himself from me? Would I want him to punish me and make a public example of me? No. I would want him to patiently work in my heart, show me the areas where I was wrong, and point me in the direction he wants me to go.

So why do I want him to make a big scene when people continually attach his name to things that are not of him? Honestly– and this is a hard truth to realize– I guess it’s because I believe they’re wrong and I’m right, and that they deserve his anger and I don’t. It’s as though I believe that at some point, the transforming love and grace of God are not enough. In the face of lies, oppression, violence, and abuse, love and grace feel too subtle, too weak, not big enough, not powerful enough. (I know this isn’t the case, but I’ll admit that it feels that way sometimes.) I imagine that God does feel angry and heartbroken when his people attach his name to things that are not of him. Yet he chooses to respond in love.

All I can do is ask God to show me how he feels toward those who do wrong things in his name and to help me see them the way he does. Left to my own devices, I become angry and harbor these feelings I didn’t even realize I had, feelings that they don’t deserve his love, mercy, and grace.

They don’t deserve it. But I don’t deserve it either. That’s the point of grace.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting Started With Homeschooling

As I make preparations to begin our first year of homeschooling, I am already learning a few things that I think will make our journey easier.

Don't wait until the last minute. With this being our first year, I was unsure about which curriculum I wanted to use. I looked at several and also considered creating my own. Eventually I decided on a curriculum that really appeals to me-- but it's quite expensive and I had to get creative (see the next paragraph). All things considered, I don't think I could have avoided waiting until the last minute to finally pull it all together. Hopefully by the end of our school year, I'll know from experience what works for us and what doesn't, and I'll be able to make decisions earlier.

Save money when possible. A brand-new curriculum can be pricey, and our budget necessitates that we find frugal ways to get what we need. Over the past few weeks, I've discovered several ways to save money.
-Borrow from a friend. If you know someone who has the curriculum you need, see if you can borrow it from them for the year. A friend offered to let me borrow her second grade curriculum. It was a different curriculum than the one I was looking for, and in the end I decided to find a way to locate the one I really loved, but her curriculum was a close runner-up (and it would have been free for us!).
-Buy used. This is what I ended up doing. I bought different parts of the curriculum from different places. Some things came from a friend at Gentle Christian Mothers, some from VegSource, and some from Homeschool Classifieds. I've also gotten books I need from Paperback Swap and from a local used bookstore. I may end up having to buy a few things new from Amazon, but they are kids' chapter books and they don't cost much. Hopefully next year I'll also be able to take advantage of local used curriculum sales; this year the sales happened before I had decided on a curriculum.
-Use the library. For the books we're going to read over the course of a week or two, the library is a good option, especially if we don't feel any need to add the book to our personal collection. Unfortunately, our library doesn't have many of the books we need, but I can always get an interlibrary loan if necessary.

Don't get too stressed out. One of the great things about homeschooling is that I can choose when to start school. We had originally planned to start on August 9, but because I'm still searching for a couple books we'll need that week, and because the science portion of our curriculum won't be here by then, we may start a little later than that-- and that's okay. I'm also not letting myself get stressed over not having every single book I'll need for the whole year; as long as I have what I need for the first month or two, I can look for the rest as the year progresses. (All I'm missing are kids' chapter books; reading is a huge part of this curriculum!)

Be flexible. The curriculum I chose includes a schedule that tells me exactly what we need to do every day, but I'm free to make modifications if needed (and I'm sure I will). I don't plan to jump in on day one with every single subject; we'll probably spend the first week or two on language arts, reading, and history, then add in math and science (and eventually piano lessons, karate, and Spanish). With this being our first year, I don't want to overwhelm us in the very first week. We can gradually ease into things and still get everything done. There's plenty of time!

So that's what I've learned so far. I'm sure I'll learn lots more as we continue on this journey. If you're experienced in homeschooling, what have you learned?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lessons I've Learned

I originally wrote this post over two years ago, but it has been on my mind lately and I wanted to share it.

Families often experience unique circumstances that teach them new lessons about parenting. My son Elijah was diagnosed with developmental delays at the age of three, and although these delays are now in our past, the truths I learned from that experience have become the foundation of my parenting style. These also apply to children who are not developmentally delayed, so I hope other parents will find them helpful.

Listen to your heart. My heart told me that something wasn’t quite right with Elijah, but for a long time my concerns were shrugged off by family, friends, and even professionals as “just a stage.” If you feel strongly that something is not right with your child, you’re probably correct. A parent’s gut feeling should not be ignored. When Elijah was young, I was not very confident in my role as a parent. I worked hard to please the people around me and do what they thought was best, which led to a lot of inconsistency and confusion. If you see that something is not working for your family, listen to your heart, even if everyone else around you is doing things differently. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to raising children; know your child, know yourself, and do what is most beneficial to everyone involved. Do it confidently—this is your family and your child.

Slow down. I started college when Elijah was three weeks old, and I graduated a month after his diagnosis. While my education is valuable to me, I wish I had spent more time focusing on my son during those years. Since my graduation in 2005, I have intentionally slowed down by becoming a full-time mom. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be at home with him. During this time, I have gotten to know and understand him better, and I have been able to work with him one-on-one. While I do have other interests and goals, right now my highest priority is raising my children. I realize that being a full-time parent may not be the best fit for everyone. This is what slowing down looked like for me, but it may not be what slowing down looks like for you. (Remember to follow your heart!)

Recognize and understand your child’s developmental abilities. This will save you a lot of frustration! Elijah’s developmental delays meant that, for a time, I could not expect age appropriate behavior from him. Chronologically, he was three, but developmentally, he was on the level of a one year old. Even if your child is not developmentally delayed, educate yourself on the behaviors that are expected during each developmental stage. When you know what to expect and why, you are better equipped to respond appropriately.

Punishment is not the same as discipline. When I expected Elijah to behave in ways that did not match up to his developmental ability, I was quick to become frustrated and punish him. One of my biggest regrets is that it took a diagnosis of developmental delays for me to realize that punishment was ineffective; it increased our frustration levels and did nothing to remedy the situation. When I chose to discipline by calmly modeling and teaching appropriate behaviors instead of punishing for inappropriate behaviors, our frustration levels dropped and he responded positively.

Know your child. Know his or her strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, personality and temperament. My children are unique individuals, and my understanding of them equips me to parent them more effectively. I am able to focus on their strengths and interests in order to teach them new skills, and I am more aware of what to expect from them based on their personalities and temperaments.

When you intentionally slow down, get to know your children, and understand where they are developmentally, you will gain a new perspective on their behaviors and your role as parent. Your relationship with your children will blossom as you listen to your heart, grow in confidence, and actively teach them new skills and behaviors. Although I learned many of these lessons while parenting a developmentally delayed child, they can be applied in all families. These lessons changed my perspective on parenting, and I hope you are able to find them helpful or encouraging in some way.