Which Came First, the Child or the School? by Briana Elizabeth

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We were having a chat in the Sandbox Facebook group (Did you join? You should!) about Genevieve’s post Greenest Pastures. She had asked the group what our biggest challenges were. As I started to think about my homeschool challenges, I realized that they all stemmed from one thing . . . disordered priorities. Every time things go off the rails in our homeschool, it has come down to my placing school ahead of my kids.

So which came first, the child or the school? Seems like a silly question when I phrase it like that, doesn’t it?

Yet I so often get caught up in what I think schooling should look like and what I think a kid’s level should be, and my expectations get so high that it’s really easy to flip it around and put schooling before children.

School is made for the child; the child is not made for school.

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making pretzels

When I forget this simple truth, the disorder quickly upsets everything and everyone. We go from a peaceful household that runs smoothly to placing expectations and execution of skills above people. I fall into checking off assignments instead of being a present part of my child’s learning. I divorce myself from these people I have made this great sacrifice for, and then I get angry at the outcome. Unmet expectations are the frustrated fruit of my disordered priorities.

School is made for the child; the child is not made for school.

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they’re never too old to play

The opposite side of this coin is making sure we respect our children, and that is also a part of the disorder of putting school before the child. If I didn’t hold my child accountable to the level of work I know they could do, if I let them slack, if I am laissez faire, if I am so sanguine about schooling – I am still putting school first. How? I don’t want to say that they’re not living up to their potential, because that sounds too ‘positive reinforcement’. What I will say is that when I don’t hold them to their highest standards, I am not respecting them, their ability, the beauty of the rational mind that lifts us above the animals, or the community that these people will one day be a part of.  If I don’t take their schooling seriously and put off the preparation it might take me or if I don’t suffer with their struggles, I am not respecting my child.

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when’s recess?

It’s the same if I hold a child back from a responsibility that they have the ability to do but I’m too afraid to let them do it. This is just as dangerous as if I pushed them too hard, and they rightly resent it just as much. If I push too hard or if I brush my preparation off and leave it up to an easy grace, I am still disrespecting the dignity of the child.

This is hard stuff, this homeschooling. It can be anxiety inducing. The pressure of comparisons leaves us grasping for easy answers and fixes. The one thing we can do to battle the extremes of both ends is to always remember our first priorities.

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School is made for the child; the child is not made for school.

When we remember that, the rest falls into place.

Briana1  

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Time In, by Genevieve

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Feature photo by Gretchen Phillips 

I believe that the parent-child relationship is one of the most important things on earth. I want to protect mine at every turn and with every interaction.

In fact, I once wrote a paper titled “Force Flowers, Not Children.” That is all well and good for a 20-year-old education major with no children of her own, but how do you get anything done without forcing? Children who won’t listen or mind are a danger to themselves and to others.

I am frequently asked questions about homeschooling, but upon closer discussion, the questions are not really about homeschooling but about parenting.

“My son refuses to do any school work.”

“My daughter defies me.”

“They are so disrespectful!”

How is it possible to have cooperative, respectful, obedient children with real, ingrained morals?

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I’ll tell you the secret and it is the opposite of Time Out.

When your child makes bad choices and pushes every button you have, try pulling her in tighter with love instead of isolating her in anger.

Many behavior issues can be prevented before they become big problems with this method. Try spending some special time in with your child every day. Spend time in fun activities that your child enjoys.

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“I wish I could,” you say, “but this kid ruins every activity. Why should he be rewarded when he won’t do his work?”

You just described the kid who needs time in most of all.

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We can never truly control what another human does and the choices he makes, but time in gives you the opportunity to get deep into his heart.

My brother was once working as a barista. I don’t think he was very good at it. He told me that he was constantly resisting the urge to get sarcastic and hateful with customers. “Then I would think about you,” he said. “I knew how upset you would be if I treated people that way. I couldn’t bear to be a disappointment to you.”

He had internalized my value system. Decades later, those nights I let him sleep in my bed while I read chapter after chapter, the walks to get pizza in our matching shoes, the art projects, the games…. They are still paying dividends.

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I have two grown children now. There is no one around to tell them what to do or to punish them. I have to trust the investments I have already made – all of the late night talks about the nature of the universe, the walks down our road with the dogs, discussions about Milton while we milked the cow, the tea parties, the beach trips.

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They will always have free will. I know they will make some bad choices. Isn’t that part of growing up? So I pray, and I hope that 18 years of time in has been enough to mark my values onto their hearts, and that no matter how old they are, or how far away, they will always feel the tug of irresistible love that brings them back to the right path whenever they have strayed too far.

Are you willing to give this a try for a month? Is your heart telling you that time in is what your child needs in spite of what your head may believe?

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If so, you should stop reading right now and go bake some cookies or color together or go to the park and swing.

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Make some memories today, and give your child a little extra time time in.

Genevieve   

Genevieveis a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .

Relationship First, by Genevieve

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“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think that whatever else you do matters very much.” ~ Jacqueline Kennedy

Almost all parents are obsessed with not bungling, but exactly what that means and how it looks is different for each one of us. With that very first positive pregnancy test, I began making plans. I wanted her to be beautiful and kind and brilliant, and loving and helpful and confident and happy and industrious…

The next order of business was how to achieve all of that. Making plans was so much easier before I really understood that babies come into this world with their own personalities, and yes, even their own strengths and weaknesses.

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My next hurdle was one that we all share. There are only 24 hours in a day and a mere 18 years in a childhood. How was I ever going to cram it all in? I soon discovered that every activity I focused on left even less time for the next one.

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Opportunity costs demanded that I had to edit my plans and set some priorities. Even within the same family, our priorities for each child will be different, and of course, each family will value some traits more highly than others.

But there is one thing I believe should come first.

It should come first in every family. It should come first for every kid – that is the priority of keeping healthy and strong family relationships.

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In the long run, I believe the value of this outweighs all others. Would I want an impeccably educated prodigy who was filled with doubt and insecurity? What good would it do to raise the perfect child if all she wanted was to get as far away from me as possible?

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What does this have to do with Classical homeschooling, you ask. Homeschooling moms can be perfectionists. Sometimes perfectionist parents fall into the trap of expecting perfect children. I think this is a trap that we fall into out of love. We want nothing more that to give them the very best of everything.

Sadly, that just isn’t possible for any of us . . . ever. There isn’t enough time or money or mom to go around. Some dreams have to fall by the wayside so other dreams can become a reality – but please, don’t let the dream that dies be the dream of loving and respectful relationships among all immediate family members.

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Think of this as pre-homeschooling.

Mothers and children are in a very close and constant environment when we homeschool. Taking stock of the relationship may need to be a daily habit. Tiny adjustments are much easier than trying to get back on track when frustrations and resentments have led us far astray.

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So what does this mean in practical terms?

Every family has bad days. Sadly, we sometimes even have a bad season where life throws us too many curve balls too close together. Our patience has run out, our resources are depleted, and everyone is at wit’s end. During these seasons it is even more important to show each other grace and rely on the time we have already invested in having a close relationship.

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But what about when the conflict turns personal? What do we do when the stresses of life, of homeschooling, of a specific child’s attitudes or special needs and your own reaction are in danger of actually damaging your relationship?

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One thing is certain: you are going to have to change something, and the first thing that you try is unlikely to be the solution. Your child may need more extracurricular activities. Your child may need to have some of his classes out-sourced. You may need to change your schedule or your curriculum. In some cases, you may even need to look into enrolling in the local public school.

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Whatever you do, you will never regret putting relationships first.

For further reading on this concept, see Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. 

Genevieve   

Genevieveis a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .

 

Getting Back on Track and Making Changes, by Cheryl

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Each August we are ready to dive into the new school year. We have new books, new pencils, new co-op classes, and exciting field trips planned. Our fall school session is productive. We school from mid-August until Thanksgiving with no real hiccups. We accomplish everything in my plans.

I feel great!

Then Christmas season arrives.

We hit a slump. We have shopping,  gift-making, preparations for all the baking I plan to do, and costume orders for the dance recital. Then in January we have a musical production.

As I check that our books are all where they should be, update the online planner, and gather our supplies to start again I kick myself for letting us take six – yes, SIX – weeks off! What was I thinking? We will never get back in the swing of things.

Then I remind myself: one reason we homeschool is to match school to our family’s needs. We cannot do all of our school work during show week. We are at the theater until midnight many nights. Then the kids need to sleep. But no matter how I feel, we cannot really get behind in any subject – because I set the schedule. Finally, I look at what we actually did in those six weeks and realize – we never truly took time off. The kids learned; they moved forward without direct instruction and workbooks!

My biggest challenge, my biggest struggle as a homeschool mom is reliance on curricula to teach my kids. Yes, I need a Latin program because I don’t know Latin. Yes, I need a history book to help me keep the timeline straight. What I don’t need is to let my curriculum choices drive my homeschool. Learning can happen in different ways.

In those six weeks of no “school,” we accomplished the following:

  • Lilly read a book daily! For my struggling reader, this is big!
  • Aidan finished a few books of his choosing and started one of my choosing.
  • Lilly worked on Reading Eggs and Mathseeds.
  • Aidan did some math pages. When I went to mark off what he had finished – it was a full unit!
  • Lilly did art everyday. She painted, sculpted, and drew some amazing pieces!
  • Aidan did a couple of president report pages, worked on his writing assignments, and did some Latin when he was bored.
  • Both kids participated in a musical production. Lilly helped me sew costumes, and Aidan helped his dad build sets and set up sound equipment.

While we did not check boxes on my list, learning happened as life happened.

Tomorrow we go back to our normal schedule, but I am in control of our school. I don’t want to let the curricula take over again.

We will use All About Reading, but if Lilly wants to read me a book instead, we will. If Aidan wants to get out his math puzzle books instead of reading graphs and charts – fine. They will learn just as much, if not more, when they are doing what they enjoy.

Rabbit trails make the planner in me crazy, but we will follow where they lead. Not every day, but I will make an effort to let the kids go when they find something worth exploring more.

cheryl

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Greenest Pastures, by Genevieve

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“I could never homeschool.”

“You must be such a patient person.”

“My kids would drive me crazy.”

I’ve been homeschooling for thirteen years now. I’m actually a rather impatient person.

I’m not really any crazier than I was before I started.

I keep at it, day after day, year after year because for me, the benefits far outweigh the sacrifices. I’m just going to say it: I’m crazy in love with my children… all of them. Even when life gets tough, there is no one on earth with whom I’d rather spend my days.

Every homeschooling family has challenges, and those challenges are unique to each family.

There is one aspect that hangs over my head like a cloud of dread. There is one fact that wakes me up at night, bathed in a cold sweat.

I am totally and completely responsible for my children’s education…me… just me.

The thought is absolutely terrifying. How can one person carry that much weight upon her shoulders?

Through the years, I’ve come to the startling realization that ALL parents are completely responsible for their children’s education.

I’m very lucky to know inspiring, amazing kids who have graduated from private and public schools. These kids are not just outstanding students and athletes. They are leaders in their schools and in their churches. They are role models for all who know them… even me. What do these traditionally-schooled students have in common with the young adults who have been successfully homeschooled?

One thing.

Their parents took complete responsibility for their education.

In their families, they might not have done math in their pajamas, but their parents tirelessly kept up with how the school was doing. When there was a problem, they talked to teachers, hired tutors, drove them to Kumon. They didn’t delegate all their authority and just assume that the experts had everything under control. I realize that these parents bear the same weight I do. That, like Atlas, we all carry our child’s world upon our shoulders.

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I understand that this pressure did not originate with my decision to homeschool, but rather with my children’s first breaths. So now, when the weight of this enormous task  starts to descend upon me, I simply remind myself that the grass isn’t really greener on the other side.

Genevieve   

Genevieveis a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .

The Table: Family Culture Shared, by Briana Elizabeth

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If I ever write a play, there will be no set except for one table haloed with chairs in the center stage.

I am grateful for having married my husband for many reasons, but the most important reason was because he introduced me to a strong family culture, and in the center of that culture stood a table.

You see, I married into a first-generation 100% Italian family. My husband is third generation and still 100% Italian. There are traditions that make their family culture, and what holds that culture together is the table.

Now I, by comparison, am mud. My Nana was second-generation Irish, my Papa was second-generation German, and my father was 100% Brazilian and my step-father is English and Swedish. There was no single culture we clung to that formed our family identity.

When you marry into a strong Italian family culture? Conform or die, people. Conform or die. And I was all too happy to conform. I was utterly delighted to conform, honestly, and not just because my heart was so much my husband’s, but because the fruit of that family culture was evident in everything they did. From the way they dressed to the way they ate to how they celebrated and most importantly, it formed their love and deep loyalty. I have never, ever seen such loyalty, and truly, it is beautiful. How do loyalty and family culture like that affect us? My husband’s two best friends are from grammar school. He works with one of them every day, and we see the other every chance we get. When we sit around a table with our children, it always startles me with such pleasure that this is the stuff that life is made of. This is the poetic that we strive for.

That table culture was what I noticed when he brought me home the first time, and it was my most important mission once we started having children. Of course with my husband’s help (he who had been raised in it and knew of no other way and to whom it was the same as if he were breathing), it was easier for me, but this culture is not beyond you who might also be mud like myself. It’s something you create and curate. It has nothing to do with what heritage you are, although some heritages have a stronger table culture than others.

It’s easy to just say that you need to have dinner together every night, but it’s not that simple. I know many families who had dinner every night and yet never grow a strong family culture. Why? Because the sitting down to dinner is just the tool – you have to learn to talk to each other while there. Eating and conversing together can be sacramental things that grow you in intimacy, or they can be be utterly torturous. I’m sure most of us have had a torturous meal with someone. Why would we want to subject our families to that? I don’t want my kids to ever say, “I have to go masticate with the ‘Rents.” I want them to love to come to dinner at our house, now and forevermore. You have to build that word upon word, day by day, year by year.

So how do you start?

First, eating together in our house is never a chore. It is always seen as special and a joy. Cooking can sometimes be a chore, but that is what happens when I’m not prepared, and over the years I’ve learned how to cook, so both of those things can be quite manageable with some forethought.

We also have never had a children’s table and never ever fed the kids earlier so that we could have dinner by ourselves. We made these little people. We didn’t make them to set them off to the side, away from us. We made them so that we could grow in love as a unit. If, for some reason, the kids couldn’t eat with us (baby is going through a growth spurt and needed to eat at a time where they weren’t going to be hungry when dinner was served), they would still come to the table and share with us. The meal is the tool. I’ve also been known to nurse many a baby at our dinner table. It’s mealtime, after all!

We never demanded a lot of conversation of our children when they were young, but we did converse with them, never talking down to them and always asking follow up questions. Being your own children, you never have to pretend to be interested in their thoughts and stories. Delight is hard to feign, and a child can sniff out insincerity a mile away.

As they grew, conversations became deeper and more interesting, but this is a natural progression of being brought into mommy’s and daddy’s conversations. Politeness demands we never interrupt, but they were always free to offer their opinion or an anecdote.

Another thing that I learned was to linger over your meal. So many of us eat as if we had to catch a plane in the next few minutes! Where’s the fire? Enjoy your family. Enjoy their presence. You sit not only to eat but to share, to communicate, and to grow in intimacy. This is not the place for answers like fine and good or chats about the weather. Soon enough they’ll be gone, and you’ll have missed so much if you were rushing them away so that you could Do the Next Thing. And the lesson they’ll have learned is that they were not as important as whatever it was you had to go do.

If you can’t have dinner together every night of the week, start with one day. Sunday, at the least. Make a dessert. Linger.

I’m sure many of you are wondering what any of this has to do with homeschooling.  Nothing. And everything. My ability to have deep literature discussions with my kids grew out of our having conversations over dinner. Family dinner is even more important to a family that doesn’t homeschool, but for the family who can homeschool, that love, loyalty, and conversation flow into every other subject we tackle at home. It makes learning not something that happens between the hours of 8 and 3, but something that happens all day, every day, with every member of the family.

So, what are you having for dinner tonight?

Briana1  

Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.