Growing pains hurt. Often we are so distracted by their discomfort that we can’t see them for what they are. The beginning of this school year was a bit of a struggle for me. From my current vantage point (the point being now, when the hard part has been muddled through and can be seen for what it was), I realize that my struggles really boiled down to a need for growth. Our family had gotten bigger (Deo Gratias!) and my plate had become significantly fuller. With more to juggle and more at stake, the systems and habits we had in place just weren’t cutting it.
I was being called to stretch and grow, and it was unpleasant. The good news about growing pains, of course, is that we usually end up taller on the other side.
In Teaching Tips & Techniques, Laura Berquist suggests creating a list of things that “work” as we stumble upon them. We can then look back on that list and gain a little perspective when our days get rough. Life gets foggy in the middle of chaotic dailiness; it’s nice to have a written list to turn to. This post is just that. A beginning of a list.
Five things in particular spring to mind that are “working”. These five things may not be your cup of tea; if that’s the case, ignore them. This is certainly not a post in which I tell you what to do (do I write those? I hope I don’t write those). My oldest child is 10, so you can safely assume that I don’t have any idea what I’m doing, no matter what I write or say.
I will need this list next February when I’m pulling out my hair and wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Maybe some of them won’t work for us anymore. Maybe some of them will. In any case, I’m sharing them, and if any of these ideas bless you, that’s terrific! If not, then please ignore me and carry on. I’m not bossy, I promise.
1. Just Press On
First, I need to remember when we hit bumps in the road that the most important thing is to just press on. It’s so tempting to throw in the towel. We second-guess our decisions about curriculum, about scheduling, about extra-curricular activities; we even second-guess our decision to homeschool altogether. When things get bumpy we really just need to take a deep breath, hit our knees in prayer, and carry on.
Try not to fall victim to the silly thoughts that if we just did the normal thing and put our kids in school like all the sane women, then everything would be alright. (what? you don’t have those thoughts???) We all have our burdens. God has called us to teach our kids at home. Why would we choose a load other than the one He has offered to help us carry?
2. Simplify Wherever Possible
We’re hitting math and language arts every single day. Also religion, in one form or another. Other than that, everything gets touched on through memory work or reading aloud. For now, I’m not scheduling “history” or “science” on the calendar, but we do get to quite a bit of each in the course of our days. We are reading about, writing about, and discussing history and science in the context of improving basic skills.This has done a few things for me.
1. It’s made our days feel less frantic and fragmented.
2. It’s helped me remember to get my big rocks in first (skills usually trump content).
3. The kids are learning like crazy.
Simplifying has enabled me to give my kids a solid academic course and lots of time to pursue their interests. It also gives me time to get to those other important things like… laundry. I think it essential that my kids have time to play, create, explore, and work on projects of their own imaginings. For my kids to have ample time to do so and get a superior academic education makes me all kinds of happy. It’s a huge part of why we’re homeschooling in the first place.
3. Start Early. Very Early.
This is a big change for us. Until now I’ve insisted that my kids and I be dressed and ready for the day before starting schoolwork. I’ve required made beds and brushed teeth, tidy kitchen counters and picked up learning spaces.
And we’ve always, always struggled to get school going at a reasonable hour.
This year I threw that all to the birds. We wake up and we start school. I do start the coffee pot right away (I mean, duh– right?), but other than that: Nothing. No checking email or starting laundry, making beds or changing clothes. It’s all of us- pajamas, bedheads, barely coherent- gathering in the living room and reading aloud.
Trust me, getting out of bed is a much more appealing prospect when chores and math aren’t looming directly overhead. My kids wake to the promise of a cozy blanket while mama reads a story. I sip coffee while I read, and before we know it we’ve got 30 minutes of literature (or history, science, religion, or whatever else we’re reading about that day) under our belts.
Mornings are so pleasant now! If kids are hungry, they can eat while I read. If they are sleepy, they can hide under a quilt and just listen. If they are hyper, they can do somersaults. I don’t really care- I just want everybody there. I’m not nagging anyone to get on with their chores or hurry up or come-on-already-we-need-to-get-our-day-going!!! We mosy into our day doing one of the most important things we could be. And it’s a good thing.
Primrose has suggested following our read-aloud time with a daily decade of the Rosary, and I think we’ll make a go of that, as well.
4. Prioritize Memory Work
Every year we seem to get a bit more Classical, and this year one of the big leaps was in making Memory its own separate subject. Andrew Pudewa is the one who initially sold me on the importance of memory work, but the rest of the credit probably goes to seeing how much better my kids understand when they have memorized.
I used to quote that over-used “education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire” line, and I would consider memory recitation nothing more than turning on faucets. I now realize that memory work is actually the kindling for the fire I was so hell-bent on setting aflame. When my kids have information stored in their brain at their ready disposal, they are in a prime position to learn anything for mastery.
It has been said that a child who can recite a long piece of poetry or prose from memory will know, without a doubt, that he or she can learn anything under the sun. I believe that. Throughout time, memory recitation has played a hugely significant role in the formation and education of children; it is only the progressive modern model of education that has left it for dust.
Rather than tagging on a bit of memory work here or there, I moved it front and center; we spend 30 prime-time minutes on it every single morning. (I’ve got my eye on Classically Catholic Memory for next year. Anyone use that?)
5. No Matter What, Do Latin
Who could have guessed this would make my list? Up until last year, I didn’t even have it on my radar at all. I have become sufficiently convinced of the importance it plays in the curriculum, however. So convinced, in fact, that if all else fails- if the day goes to pot and nothing else gets done- my advice to myself is: Just Do Latin. (Okay, do math too.)
Latin delivers a power punch in one sitting- foreign language, English grammar, vocabulary, logical thinking, history and religion- all rolled into one lesson. It is probably the best investment of time I can possibly make.
I know this list of “what’s working” will morph and change as our family grows and changes. But for now, it’s a start. Come a dark day in February, I hope these few tips will make a small difference in helping us press onward and upward. Goodness knows that come February, we’ll need all the help we can get.