There’s a bittersweetness to the end of summer. I love when my husband has time off in the summer. It means lazy evenings without work interfering. Bike rides to the park. Field trips to the zoo and aquarium. And some summers, month long road trips. In other words, one way or another, we tend to make a lot of memories as a family during the summer.
But the beginning of the school year, even though it brings with it earlier bedtimes and earlier wake times as well as dad gone all day again, brings routine again. There’s more predictability. Our days seem to be more consistent and structured than in the summer. And on a whole, we yearn for that consistency.
The beginning of the school year also brings on fall. I do love fall. I think it is my favorite season. As a child I loved the newness of the dawning school year, the school supplies, the smell of the books. I still love those things as an adult. Fall, much more than the first of January, brings so much potential. It also brings football and the World Series. My husband and I spend many evenings discussing whether the Angels have a snowball’s chance of making the play-offs and debating the merits of the latest AP and Coaches poll for NCAA football.
This year, though I was looking forward to the new school year, I really procrastinated the lesson planning that comes with it. I wanted to hold on to summer as long as I could. Maybe it’s due to our summer not really feeling like summer this year. Home improvement seemed to suck it out of us. I wanted just one more week or so to play as a family, go on a field trip, ride to the park before the daily work began. Granted, by the time mid-August hit, I had all of my third grader’s work planned and pretty much all of my fifth grader’s work planned. And though my eighth grader is taking one online class, not to mention my husband planned math and I let Kolbe plan grammar and religion, I resisted planning the rest of his year. The night before we began, I was up until after midnight working on history plans. The entire time I had a gnawing feeling that what I chose for history was not going to work. But by this time, I didn’t know what else to do.
My fears came true within the first few hours of our first day of school. My eldest took his history book into his room to read the first 5 ½ pages of the introductory chapter. He came out about thirty minutes later saying he couldn’t get past page 3, it was too much to read, and he didn’t know what he was reading about. Panicking inside, I tried to calmly tell him to just try a little bit more. I sat with him, asked him to show me how far he got, asked him if he’d made sure to read the sidebars and such, and then said I needed him to try to finish. It was pretty clear within a few minutes that was not going to happen.
My eldest was a very late reader. Phonics finally began clicking towards the end of second grade. By the beginning of seventh grade, he was pretty much reading “on grade level” but he was a very reluctant reader. For the majority of his homeschooling career I have read everything out loud to him. But, once he hit sixth and then seventh grade, I needed him to read at least some of his work to himself so I could also read more age-appropriate materials to his younger siblings. He did alright in seventh grade. I made sure to ask him questions daily about what he read (only history and science), and helped him look back in the book if he couldn’t remember. But unfortunately the history book I chose for this year was just too much – too large of pages with too small of font with too much information in each chapter. He just wasn’t ready.
That night I called an audible. The play had to be changed and I was running out of time on the clock. So, my husband stood at our chalkboard, asked me questions about what we were hoping to cover through twelfth grade, and then together we came up with a (hopeful) solution to this year. The problem was I wanted him ready for Kolbe Academy’s ninth grade literature and history sequence, all based on Ancient Greece. Up to this point, we have studied a variety of history, largely based on interests. Last year he did US history as I knew he wouldn’t see it again until high school. I asked him this past spring what he’d like to study this year and he said WWI and WWII. (When we neared the beginning of this year, he denied ever saying that!) I chose to use Light to the Nations 2 – The Making of the Modern World with him. It has a great build-up to the 1800s and 1900s, and ends just after WWII. The books are extremely well done (he used From Sea to Shining Sea, also by CSTP last year). But, the intensity of Light to the Nations 2 ramped up considerably from the book he read last year.
As my husband and I discussed the problem of preparing for Kolbe, we came to the conclusion that no matter what we did this year, our son wasn’t going to be ready for Kolbe’s 9th grade year. I have taken eight years with him to build what little confidence he has. He’s not one that likes to rise to the challenge and much like boiling a frog, I have had to increase difficulty minuscule bit by minuscule bit. The jump in difficulty from last year to this was actually minor based on what he’d have to do next year with Kolbe. Now granted, he may emotionally and academically mature in the next twelve months. But he may not. And I have to go with who he is right now. So, high school got rearranged. And that solved my problem. My expectations were shaping our school year (and in many ways, we should have goals and expectations to shape our year – but the goals and expectations should always take into account the whole child we are educating), and my son was showing me he wasn’t ready for those goals and expectations. So, they had to be rewritten.
If we were only in this journey of homeschooling for academic success, college admissions, and a career, then I could justify pushing him through the original history book. It’d take a lot of tears (both of ours), a lot of time (both of ours), and a ton of hard work. And maybe we’d come out of this year stronger and wiser. Or maybe we’d come out of this year with wounded spirits and a wounded relationship. But, that isn’t why we are homeschooling. I am raising boys who will grow into men. Yes, I’d like them to be well-educated in an academic sense. I’d like them to have a choice when it comes to colleges and be able to pursue a career that brings them joy. But, more than that, I want them to love God with all they are and all they have. I want them to be men of virtue and strong character. I want them to love us, their family, as adults as they do as children. And I want them to be able to follow God’s call for their lives because they have the academic background as well as the emotional and spiritual background required. Because of our reasons for homeschooling our children, pushing our eldest through that history book was not worth it. There are other history books; there are other ways to achieve the same ultimate goals. All it took was my willingness to set outside my predetermined ideals and see my son as my son.
Brit and her husband are living this beautiful, crazy life with their three sons and one daughter in sunny California. They made the decision to homeschool when their eldest was a baby after realizing how much afterschooling they would do if they sent him to school. Brit describes their homeschooling as eclectic, literature-rich, Catholic, classical-wanna-be.