Camille was in a public school kindergarten one county away from us because our county's schools were not ideal. We were paying $500.o0 a year just for her to be able to attend plus providing transportation with equaled 120 miles of driving a day. When it became apparent to us that social difficulties were hindering Camille's educational growth and standardized testing was the main focus of the school- we started weighing other options. If public school at $500.00/year plus transportation costs were not ideal, neither was the exorbitant costs of private school at $2000.00 a year plus transportation. What did that leave us? Homeschooling.
We decided that it was worth trying homeschool to see if it was a fit for us. We had seen episodes on WifeSwap that involved homeschoolers and even though they might not have been portrayed in the most appealing way, I saw family togetherness and parents displaying an invested interest in their child's education, welfare and hearts. Those elements made it appealing to me outside of the quirks that were publicly displayed for ridicule and criticism.
I started researching curriculum and at first I was bombarded with local parents telling me the praises of the ABeka program, which the private schools in this area use. If nothing else, we had a program to follow if I couldn't find something that better suited us. The internet was our saving grace as well as the library, after talking to a semi-local homeschool group we discovered Sonlight which was a breath of fresh air compared to ABeka in our eyes. "That was it! I thought, we're going to be Sonlighters!" Around this time I also decided to join the homeschooling community online and discovered The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. I put the book on hold through interlibrary loan and poured over the Sonlight catalog trying to decipher which of their products to use. The day to order Sonlight came and as I reached to call Sonlight, the phone rang, the copy of The Well-Trained Mind was at our library ready to pick-up. I spent the next two days reading The Well-Trained Mind knowing that our direction for homeschool had drastically changed. There within the pages, I saw the beginnings of our hopes and dreams for our children's education.
A Few Bumps in the Road
So began our journey with The Well Trained Mind for first grade at home. What a year! We grew so much as a family, I became obsessed with how to teach and creating my own materials and lessons (not recommended), I joined the masses in having a homeschool blog and had philosophies and convictions thrown at me from every direction. It was a year of confusion in a lot of areas, I feel God was using the experience to test my faith, my preserverance and devotion. I discovered for the first time what young Earth meant, differing philosophies of education (Principled, Thomas Jefferson, Charlotte Mason, John Holt, unschooling, traditional, etc.) and I defended our choice in The Well-Trained Mind wholeheartedly, albeit foolishly. The young earth/old earth, evolution vs. creation issue really weighed on me until God broke me free of it with a reminder that it is man's argument, not His. This scripture among many brought my heart peace about this issue:
1 Corinthians 4 : 1-6I do not know the truth of creation whether it involves the theory of evolution or if a day mentioned in the Bible is actually 24 hours, I believe God created and everything else will be revealed when I finally go home to Jesus. Until then, I will teach my children that God created and present all theories of how and when to them when the time is right. In our second year of serving in the ministry and first year of homeschooling, I was bombarded with many of ideas and convictions which took me on rabbit trails, ones I feel God intended and ones He didn't. I wish I would have used the internet more as a tool than a crutch that first year but we make our mistakes and hopefully grow and move forward.
1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. 2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. 3 I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. 6 Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, Do not go beyond what is written. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.
Seeking Instant Perfectionism
God gave me many different avenues in which to grow, all at once I realized all the different disciplines I wanted to model, teach and lead my children to. Talk about overwhelming! I wanted to become the perfect teacher, mother, wife and woman, all RIGHT NOW! I felt an urgency to get all of it right in my mind, heart and soul and I put undue pressure upon myself to accomplish all of this.
I read so many books about "how to __________", I dove into reading The Great Books because, my goodness! I only have seven years before Camille will be ready to start doing the same and it takes time to read, analyze and absorb. I even started a Great Books online discussion group where as a group we read, How to Read A Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren taking extensive notes and then moved on to The Well-Educated Mind by Susan Wise Bauer with the same intensity. As a group we worked on Gilgamesh, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, and finally The Iliad before the group dissolved. It was a great year for me in the self-education department, not so much in the other areas of my life. A person can only do so much.
Veteran after veteran warned me to slow down, to focus on the present and to be consistent above all else. This was sage advice and through burnout, I started to pace myself. I have stopped reading every title out there about "how to _____", with the exception of the ones that will benefit us the most where we are in our journey. I've cast away all the Christian self-help books to seek wisdom in the Lord instead through reading the Bible and prayer.
I spent hours (and days) designing our own curriculum so that we could use Story of the World volume 2, The Middle Ages but include church history, use books that were on our shelves instead being so dependent on our unreliable library system and organize all the elements I felt were important so that during our year, history could be pick up and go. I over-analyzed, over-extended and used materials that were not on the appropriate age level for Camille and thought I had created the perfect solution for our history studies. I'm laughing at myself now only because everything I was trying so hard to provide Camille was already neatly packaged in Tapestry of Grace but I was too blind to see it before.
I was blinded by the prejudice that rankled my heart from reading the educational philosophies of various Christian curriculum providers that I felt went too far in trying to train and mold young Christians with heavy indoctrination, going so far as to plant seeds of hate towards those that did not subscribe to their beliefs. I wanted to stay so far away from that and protect my children from being exposed to such ideology that most Christian curriculums were just bitter tastes in my mouth instead of truly looking at each without prejudice. When I saw the word, "reformed", I cringed and Tapestry contains "reformed theology" so it was quickly dismissed as were other products. Since that time I have learned more about reformed theology, our own United Methodist beliefs and I've learned how to truly assess homeschool materials for content and discern better (and more fairly) what would work for us.
We have since decided that Tapestry can do the work for me and I can be satisfied with the weekly planning and implementation of the program instead of the constant, draining exercise of trying to create something that includes everything. Tapestry has saved me in so many ways! First, Tapestry has saved my children from an inexperienced mother who might have golden intentions but still tends to push too far, Tapestry has saved me from fears, insecurity and years of self-doubt about whether what we are using is of the best quality and worthy of our efforts and finally Tapestry has provided the meat to the education we dream of for our children, the same one that The Well-Trained Mind provided the bones for. Now, it's time to work on matters of the heart and the approach of how to teach. We have the educational tools that provide the information (curriculum), we have an outline for our studies (The Well-Trained Mind and Tapestry of Grace, among others) but something is still missing.
Living, Loving, and Learning
I am currently waiting for books about Charlotte Mason to come from the library, books that I have skimmed before and dismissed. I have the gist of what a Charlotte Mason education looks like and we use many elements already:
- As short of lessons as we can comfortably handle
- use of living books, no twaddle (well, just a little)
- importance of developing good habits young
- copywork, narration and dictation
- free afternoons
- we've dabbled into nature study
I'm no longer looking for a method to follow but a philosophy of education that will inspire us and keep our hearts in tune to each other and God. We are not in a classroom, we are at home with our emotions, desires and sins always present. I'm looking to reach my children, not only teach them. This is why I am adopting and adapting our homeschool to reflect a more natural learning environment in which I can do both, teach and reach. We have many goals for our children, the academic portion is not light at all but I believe we can pursue the academics with gentleness. This philosophy has changed a few of our curriculum decisions, using products that would better serve the heart and academics, not just the academics. When I say heart, it is the means by which I teach from, the philosophy of the curriculum itself, but it can also include the presentation and delivery of each product. In some cases it also means delaying a few academic pursuits for when our children are more ready for them. The curriculum is not the end all though, my whole approach heart-wise is changing to fit these goals for our children's education.
The ultimate goal for our children is that they have open hearts at the end of this homeschooling journey. We desire for our children to develop a close and everlasting relationship with God but realize that there may be a period in which they run from Him. We hope to instill enough self-discipline, discernment and fortitude to help them return to God if they should decide to forsake Him for a season.
Jesus' teachings are prevalent to us, above all else we want our children to have a healthy worldview in which they view each person as one of God's children. Love each other, Jesus commanded us. He didn't say, "love each other only if others believe the same as you." I am purposely trying to raise my children to view the world as a place without boundaries. For this reason, we have decided that before the children are 18, we will take them on at least one mission trip. We have actually made this a requirement for graduation regardless of if they attend a mortar and brick school in high school or are dual-enrolled in college. We speak gently of other cultures and religions, teaching the children that although Jesus is the only way, other religions believe just as strongly in their beliefs as we do about Jesus and if we are to make a difference we should learn about what is important to them and why, so that others will be open to learning about Jesus through our example.
We make sure our children have time to be children, to dance in the sunlight and makes pies out of mud. Their childhood is very precious and it is given the nurturing that it needs to be one of purpose, imagination and wonderment. Time is also taken to ensure that we stay connected to our children, that we are shepherding their hearts the way God would have us do.
The end goal of our homeschooling journey is for our children to have tough minds, ones that can wade through the trappings and filth of this world easily without hindering their faith. We feel in order to accomplish this, the children have to be trained in the studies of logic, rhetoric, philosophy and theology/apologetics. We desire for them to be able to think for themselves with a strong foundation for support, to find value and purpose in their reading endeavors, and to be able to speak and write clearly and persuasively. It is not an easy road we have chosen, but we feel it is worth our best efforts.
This is the beginning of our homeschooling journey, our philosophy may change as we grow and learn more but I pray it will just grow with deeper roots with time and experience. Of course this is a living desire so this discourse may change and grow in many directions. Besides, I feel like I've forgotten to mention so many things that I cannot remember now! Expect this to be edited many times.
A Charlotte Mason homeschool
It has been 7 months since I first wrote this post and we've changed our once Well-Trained Mind driven homeschool into more of a Charlotte Mason homeschool although I still contend that we're really just illuminating our own hearts within our learning experience and that tends to portray a Charlotte Mason philosophy more than any others.
Through changing our homeschool, I've been able to discover many things about myself and the kids. First, I am and always have been a nature lover although I never realized it before. Tapping into this part of myself has opened many beautiful opportunities with the kids and allows me to truly be a role model for them and inspire them to live curiously. Trekking through State Park trails is a common occurrence as well as being more observant and aware of our natural environment wherever we go, it is such a blessing!
I am reading Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series, studying Habits, and applying new tactics slowly to our household. My discipline style with Danny has changed upon reading The No Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and although there are days when I feel I haven't learned a thing, the other days are so sweet with love- I just feel so blessed.
Gone are my ambitions to be the best homeschooling mother I can be, I just want to do my best with my kids.
Let's see, in the fall of 2008 it became very apparent that a divorce was on the horizon, mine. It was a time of hard decisions because I wasn't just deciding to end a marriage, but to change our lifestyle drastically. I started working part-time at night to save a little money of my own to help the transition and throughout the separation/divorce process, I started working more and homeschooling less.
The kids and I moved from Georgia to South Carolina to live with my parents while I work full-time to better situate us to live on our own after I pay off my personal debt. The kids will be starting private school next month (August '09) and with time I've gotten used to the idea and we're all excited. Luckily, the private school is a classical one so Camille will continue to learn Latin and read whole books and Danny will get a wonderful start to his education. Danny is repeating preschool this coming year because he is not ready for kindergarten but I fully expect him to blossom under the tutelage of the teachers there.
Unbelievably, the kids' classes are only 10 students per class and they will be done at 1:00 pm but since I will not be done at work until 5:30 most days, they will be in the after-school program and do their homework while being able to play a bit more. Saving graces.
2009 has been a year of change for us, especially for me. Our lifestyle has done a 180 degree turn-around but I am so blessed to have had three years of homeschooling Camille. I'm in college now, working towards my Bachelor's degree in Business Adminstration through online courses, working full-time, and learning everyday how important balance is. We have struggles, we have challenges but together we're rising to the occasion to meet and deal with them as they come. I have such hope for us!