Preparing Preschoolers for a Classical Education: Part I, by Jane Emily

 

Lately there is a lot in the news about young children and a “college prep education.”   Many of us have read the news story about the school that canceled the kindergarten class show in favor of “college and career” skills.  We’ve heard about the incredible competition for places at expensive private preschools in New York City.  Some of us might start to wonder–are the rest of us missing out on the magic ingredient that will make our kids successful?  Or is it just that the world has gone insane?  Even when we sensibly decide that yes, the world has indeed gone insane, there is a part of us that wonders if our kids are going to make it in that insane world.  Universities are more competitive (and more expensive) every year.  Everyone is worried about jobs.  How can we possibly prepare our kids to do well?  Maybe those fancy private preschools are on to something?

It is my belief that classical education is a good answer to those questions.  Here on Sandbox to Socrates, we’ve already talked about why we chose classical.  Now I’d like to talk a bit about a question so many parents of little ones have: how to prepare our preschoolers for that classical education.  What special things should we be doing?  In this article, I’m going to assume that you have almost no prior knowledge, even of basic parenting.  Please don’t take this as condescending; yes, you will see plenty of things you already know about, but that way we will cover all our bases–if there can be such a thing.

First priorities.  Young children need a stable, loving environment that is fairly predictable.  Have routines for mornings, meals, and bedtimes.  Give these things enough time that you aren’t always rushing, and allow for free time. Try to work with their abilities, and not against them; run errands when they are cheerful, relaxed, and fed, not when they are already hungry or tired.  Give them clear and age-appropriate expectations before you go into a situation, so that instructions will be at the front of their minds.  Remember that they are going to make messes, and things are going to be hard sometimes, and react to the inevitable accidents and disasters with cheerful firmness as much as you can.  Take care of yourself so that you can react with cheerful firmness!

Time outside.  This is another obvious one.  Kids love to play outside, run on the grass, look at growing things, and just enjoy the world.   All that time outside is not somehow wasted when it comes to things like learning and problem-solving and “21st-century skills.”  It’s helping her grow.  She is observing and learning, experimenting and testing herself.  She is practicing large motor and fine motor skills.  There are few better places for her to be.

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Simple toys.  You don’t need a zillion toys, and they definitely don’t have to light up or go beep.  But every child should have blocks to stack, a soft toy to snuggle, a puzzle or so, a car to go vroom with, and a few items to play dress-up in.   The basics will let them play imaginatively and give their bodies interesting things to do; more is not necessary.  That doesn’t mean you need to limit your child to 5 toys.  Just don’t feel like you need to buy lots of expensive items; they are not needed.

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Limited electronics and screen time.  It can be so hard to limit the TV, the computer, and the iPad.   Kids love them, they are easy, and we are constantly being told that “educational” electronic toys, videos, and games will help our kids learn more and prepare for their futures.  Then, TV can be a lifesaver when you’re trying to make dinner or bathe the baby–I’m not here to tell you that any TV at all will poison your child.  (I am, after all, a survivor of years of intensive Scooby-Doo exposure, and I’m still here.)  But it is so important to use these things wisely!

Observe your child and see how she does with and without screen time.  Many children (many adults!) are unable to tear their eyes away from a screen; the lights and motion grab our attention and don’t let go.  Many children can only tolerate a certain amount of TV without losing their cool.  When my own kids were tiny, I found out the hard way that I had to limit TV to 20 minutes a day.  More than that, and I had a cranky, whiny mess of a kid on my hands–every time.  You may find that if you turn off all the screens in your house, your day goes better.  TV in the morning may make for a difficult day, so it might be better to save it until the afternoon.

Remember that while some screen time isn’t bad, it also may not be very good.  The more time a child spends looking at a two-dimensional image, the less time he is spending in the real world, which is infinitely more complex, demanding, and developmentally appropriate.  Almost any “educational” video or game is not actually as educational as a real life full of people, dirt, sticks, and blocks.  Remember those Baby Einstein videos that were so popular a few years ago?  It turned out that they weren’t educational at all, and watched in large amounts, they were damaging.  This is because small children are built to learn from real life and personal interaction.  They can’t learn their first language from a screen, and they can’t learn well from flat images they can’t touch.

You may have to train yourself to turn off the TV and not to get out your iPad when your child can see you (I know how much they love to play those games!), but keep him away from it as much as you can.  We are now seeing some kids who have spent so much time playing on tablets that they don’t know how to do real-life activities.

Don’t worry that your child won’t be as good at using a computer when she’s an adult.  It’s not that hard to learn to use a word processor, and playing games on a tablet doesn’t have much to do with serious computer work.  She has plenty of time.

Don’t worry unnecessarily.  You play an enormous part in setting the atmosphere of the home.  When you burden yourself with stress about whether you are doing enough for your children’s education, whether you are doing things “right,” and all that, you make yourself unhappy and your children can feel that.  They won’t know that you are feeling understandable fears out of love for them; they will just sense that you’re unhappy.  Sensitive children will decide they’ve done something wrong.

I’m not talking here about severe life problems like depression, unemployment, or family issues.  I just mean that if you’re doing your best, it’s better to remember that and keep a cheerful attitude than it is to stress yourself out over the fact that you are not a perfect mother.  Remind yourself that you’ve done your homework and you are choosing the best you can for your child, and then relax and enjoy the ride.  These are days to treasure.

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Next time, I’ll talk about preparing a child for classical academics.

Janejane-emily-Emily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian at the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.

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Wisdom and Virtue are Best Learned at Home — A Response to Criticism, by Amy Rose

We at Sandbox to Socrates are not in the habit of getting offended by strangers on the Internet. We don’t have time for it after our pressing responsibilities of rocking babies, singing nursery rhymes, going on nature walks, standing at kitchen chalkboards teaching sentence diagramming or long division, getting supper on the table, finishing tomorrow’s Hamlet lesson plan, driving our teens to work, washing dishes, spending a little time with our husbands before they fall asleep exhausted after their day, staying up a bit later to read Chesterton and nurse the baby, going to bed to do it all again tomorrow…no. We don’t have time to look for offense. Life is full.

Sometimes, however, offense finds us. As lifelong friends of the classical education revival and frequent readers and purchasers of CiRCE Institute’s work, we were astounded this week to see classical homeschooling attacked in a piece by CiRCE member Josh Gibbs, both in the article itself and in the subsequent discussion. As our staff discussed amongst ourselves the many fallacies in the author’s logic and information, we decided a response was required. The author seems to be whispering to potential homeschooling mothers that classical education is best left to the experts. “Don’t try this at home.” We refute this opinion with the best possible evidence: our own children, who have achieved their classical education at our own kitchen tables under our supervision. The veteran homeschooling mothers at StS are not sitting around wondering whether we will ruin our children if we homeschool. We’re looking at our grown children, knowing that we taught them well. We are here to encourage other parents who desire to do the same.

The following response is the reaction of just one of our contributors as she attempted to take in the dubious wisdom of CiRCE blogger Josh Gibbs’ A Regal Fantasy. While our website is committed to a secular-leaning inclusive perspective, this author is a Christian and is responding to the Christian language and references in Gibbs’ article. The original article, included in its entirety, is bolded and the responses are in normal typeface. All scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise noted. ~Editor

A Regal Fantasy

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return?
By Joshua Gibbs

Mr. Gibbs, when my son stands before the throne of God, he will come as a son returning to his Heavenly Father. As the child of the King, he will have gained some lofty titles: Joint-Heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), part of a holy priesthood (I Peter 2:5), a priest-king after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:21-25), a saint (Romans 1:7), and a pillar in the temple of God (Revelation 3:12) – but when he goes home, he will be going home as a son to his father. In all of scripture I can find nothing about earthly or spiritual monarchs as such greeting Jehovah in heaven on that footing. All must appear before the judgment seat of Christ (II Corinthians 5:10)…as men. They will be sons of God or not. Nothing else will matter about their station during their earthly life as nothing material exists beyond death. So what does this imagery of an abandoned earthly monarch have to do with us?

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On a Friday night, a stranger knocks at your door and puts into your hands a newborn. The stranger says, “This child is fated to be president of this country in fifty years,” then the stranger runs away, vanishing into the night.

Over the coming weeks and months, you don’t regard the newborn any differently than your own children, who are nine and twelve respectively. As the years pass, though, you come to think of the child very differently than your own.

Not according to the history and literature of the West. Ask King Arthur.

Leader of the free world, you think. The things I put into the mind of this child will someday come to weigh heavily on the heart of the man who makes war. The sense of fairness and justice I grant to this child will someday sway the imagination of the man who considers nuclear war, abortion, the arts, taxation and slavery.

You might think that, or if you are Sir Kay, you might send him out to tend the pigs and sheep because he lives here and there is work to be done. If you are Akki, you might set him to picking apples in the garden. If you are a fisherman who rescued the infant boy and his mother in their wooden box in the sea, fleeing for their lives, you might just teach him to fish.

What is man? Rather, what is the purpose of man? “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” according to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12: 13). If the goal is for my child to know the Lord and make Him known, the manner in which I raise him will not vary, whether he is to be butcher, baker, candlestick maker, or king. Whether he is a manager on a construction job, a father in a home, a leader in a church, or governor of the state, his character will need to be of one kind if he is to be both righteous and effective.

If a stranger knocked at my door and placed into my hands a newborn with a prophecy, I would tell him that I only know how to raise children created in the image of God and their destiny is known only by Him. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT). “He changeth the times and the seasons; he removeth kings and setteth up kings…” (Daniel 2:21). Shakespeare acknowledged as much: “There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 5).

The Messiah Himself was placed into a humble home, not into a cradle for kings. He wasn’t given to a Lord High Chancellor. He was given to a mother. He was given to a family, to be raised with humble children as one of them. Tell me more about the education of Mary and Joseph, and of their great wealth to be able to send their son to the best schools. Jehovah God knew He was sending the Messiah to poverty-stricken carpenters who would follow their faith while eking out survival in an uneducated community. Yet that is where He placed the King of Kings for His childhood.

As I alluded above, this is an extremely common literary trope in the canon of the West, this idea of an infant monarch being stashed with humble folk for the duration of his childhood. We see it from Holy Scripture to Greek mythology to the early modern era to the post-modern era. People love this idea because it is true to life: Simple and good people are best qualified to raise someone else’s future leaders of the free world because they will bring him up along with their own children and according to their own home values. You assumed the humble folk would begin to treat destiny’s child with more love and care than their own. According to our history and literature, they don’t. They treat him exactly the same or sometimes slightly worse than they treat their own biological offspring.

Mr. Gibbs, as you are a high school English teacher, I’m sure names are already springing to mind, but in case they are not, here are a few: Sargon, Perseus, Alfred the Great, Arthur, Aurora, The Prince and the Pauper, Superman, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. It’s 2014, and the world has largely forgotten Danae’s fisherman friend, Akki, and Sir Kay, but human nature is still quite ready to believe in the humble Kents from Kansas. Why? Because if baby Superman were dropped off on our doorstep we’d raise him the only way we knew how. We’d think in pity that even though he was special, the poor little thing deserved a proper Midwestern upbringing, the same as any child.

At the age of three, the child sees a “Looney Toons” show on television, though you have not shown him any such thing before. You wonder, “Is this the kind of thing I want forming the heart of the most powerful man in the world?” You turn off the television.

Mr. Gibbs, have you raised a man yet? I have. Of all the mistakes I made, a little exposure to Looney Tunes was not one of them. We first met Rossini and Verdi, Wagner and Corot through Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Porky Pig. (In the hands of Blanc and Jones, Rossini’s Barber of Seville became The Rabbit of Seville, and everyone knows What’s Opera, Doc? Porky Pig frequently walked out in blue smock and black beret, easel and chair under his arm in the fashion of that forerunner of French plein air painting — Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot.) Of course, our studies of composers and artists did not end with Looney Tunes, but the laughter and fun are very precious memories. As the mother of four sons I prefer to teach and share with joie de vivre, and I want my sons to be hale and hearty men who can laugh at harmless amusements within their culture. If they cannot, of what use will they be to this world? If they are so hot-housed and removed from those whom they are to serve, they will be useless.

Have you raised leaders yet? I have. I can claim the precious privilege of understanding for myself how George Washington could be better educated than his men, and far more apprising of the grave responsibility they all faced, yet able to joke with them according to their sense of humor. He wasn’t talking down to them either. He was laughing with them.

When the child cries for a toy which has been stripped from his hands, you hesitate a moment before giving the toy back. Yes, you can give the toy back and spare yourself a splitting headache, but years on, will the world receive a leader who cannot counter the difficulty of austerity and asceticism? You deal with the screaming. For the sake of the world, you deal with the screaming. For the sake of just tribunals, you deal with the screaming.

Good parents do not spoil their children, whether they are raising future kings or future ditch diggers, sir. Good parents do not go out of their way to put their children through trials, either – in the godly home, the family endures hardships together. We teach our children to be stoic and brave by being stoic and brave when the inevitable challenges of life come to us.

At the age of four, the child lusts for every sparkling and glittering thing he sees in a mall. You decide the mall is too much… for the child to deal with? No, the mall is too much for the world. You find it hard to see the child as anything other than a fifty year old man, a man with missiles and nuclear submarines and trillions of dollars at his disposal. The child is a child and the child is not a child. The child is but a child and must be treated like an angel. The child is a man and must be treated like a monk, like an abbot. When the child lies, you correct world currency markets. When the child strikes a playmate, you cut off preemptive strikes and encourage leniency—the kind of leniency which spares the lives of women and children who know nothing of political science and prudence.

No matter who our children will grow to be, we teach them self-denial by practicing self-denial. The child’s father works alongside him and in the sweat of their faces they eat their bread (Genesis 3:19), and A Man’s a Man for A’ That. Each knows that if any shall not work, neither shall he eat (II Thessalonians 3:10), and they sleep well because the sleep of a labouring man is sweet (Ecclesiastes 5:12). The child learns to speak the truth because he knows full well the difference between virtue and vice. He learned it at his mother’s knee. He learns not to strike others in anger because the Son of God, when reviled, reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and no man who is a brawler is fit to be a pastor in the church (Titus 1:7). He learns to show mercy because he has been shown mercy. These are home lessons of the most basic kind.

At the age of five, you weigh your options. You might send the child to the best school in town and eat less for the next twelve years, or you might educate the child yourself and spoil everything in the child which could rise like a seraphim to please a strange teacher. You might send the child off to doctors and philosophers, and the leader of the free world might know Latin and Greek and read Plato and Ptolemy and Euclid and Athanasius, or the leader of the free world might get a discount education or a free education and you could trust yourself to read good books with the child on the weekends, when you’re not too busy.

Education in a good home begins at birth. Mr. Gibbs, have you made the sacrifices to live on one scanty income and teach your children at home, believing that you owe it to them to pass on the great traditions and heritage of the West? I have. It wasn’t a bit of reading on the weekend in my spare time either. Latin, Greek, Plato, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Athanasius are well known to my son through my own diligence over the course of his life. I have not spoiled what is best in him, and I care nothing for the strange teacher deprived of his seraphim. What does that even mean, that my son would rise like a seraphim in a classroom somewhere if I didn’t hole him up at home? If Christ Himself does not glorify and sanctify my son, the teacher will never be able to do it. Education is not the means to salvation. It never has been. Even though I give my life to teaching my child to know God and trust Christ, and though I love him far more than any schoolmaster ever could, even I cannot save his soul.

At the age of six, the child takes up an interest in ninjas and mutants which have crept in from well-meaning but undiscerning friends from church. What will you say to the leader of the free world about mutants? Will you say nothing? And what will saying nothing to the leader of the free world about mutants mean when all the aberrations of society are banging on his chamber door for pure discretion and unlimited rights three decades in the future?

The father, the foreman, the governor, and the president all need to know what is good. Ninjas and mutants are of no interest to my family, but those shows aren’t really about real-life ninjas or real-life mutants, you know. They are childish entertainment. With proper education and example, children will grow to put away childish things (I Corinthians 13:11). As our future classically-educated President finds himself confronted with citizenship rights for cyborgs, he won’t think of childish ninja turtles even if he caught an episode or two at a friend’s house when he was six. He will think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. He will consider the definition of man and the rights of man, two common themes of the Great Conversation, in light of the best and brightest thinking of the West.

And on and on.

But your own child was given to you with the same promise that the hypothetical child in the parable above was given to the hypothetical you. Your child is the leader of the free world, which is only to say the leader of their own self, their own family, their own society. You are raising kings and queens. Do you want kings and queens raised on cartoons or something better? Do you want the leader of the free world raised on Pop-tarts and pop culture, or something better?

I am not raising kings. I am raising men who will stand before kings and give testimony of the risen Christ (Matthew 10:18). I choose to raise them carefully through character training and classical home education as my duty, but I know that Christ does not need them to be so carefully prepared in order to save them. As the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians after listing their former sins and deprivations of character, “…and such were some of you. But ye were washed, ye were sanctified, ye were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” (I Corinthians 6:11). Any missionary or minister will tell you that a person raised in pop culture and paganism can be saved and made new. The pride of the classical schoolmaster might bristle, but history tells us that the leaders of the free world don’t always need him, anymore than the Savior of the world needs him. Some of the world’s most important leaders have often been self-taught or trained out of school; it’s an American truism. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. God will use whom He chooses, and He will discipline and train His children, according to the Hebrew writer, with an education we could never preempt nor duplicate (Hebrews 12:6). Shakespeare again in Twelfth Night: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

I believe in teachers and in classical education. I have devoted my life to teaching my own children classically at home. But let’s not lose our sense of proportion about our own importance and worth.

Education becomes nothing more than an idol when we start to believe that, through it, we have the power to determine and control the spiritual destinies or future earthly course of our children.

Your own child spilled off the cliff of the Empyrean into this land of exile and shall someday return to the throne room of God. In what manner should they return? What kind of upbringing is appropriate to kings and queens? Why are kings and queens given special treatment while young? And why should your own children not receive the same? Rulers must be “habituated to self-respect,” as Edmund Burke says in his Reflections, or else they have no sense of what might be lost if they fritter away their years.Too glibly we speak of “a child of promise.” If you knew your child would someday rule a nation, would you raise them differently? However you would raise a child to rule… this is how you must raise them anyway.

The royal interest returned on an investment into the education of a king… it is yours for the taking. If you would not raise a queen on cartoons because you fear a zany crown, then neither raise your own child this way. If you would not raise a king who patronizes mediocre artists, then do not fill your home with mediocre art. What kind of table manners ought a queen have when dining with foreign dignitaries? Incline your own child to care about the polity of dinner.

You might think I’ve been agreeing with you all along without knowing it, that I have colossally missed the point because I am obviously also calling for equality in child rearing. But while we might generally agree on how to raise children in this culture (from good books to table manners) I think you’ve got the wrong end of the stick as to the “why,” to an almost fatal degree.

You want the children of shepherds to be raised as if they were future monarchs. I want the future monarchs to be raised as if they were shepherds. History and, indeed, God Himself are on my side in that. Why was Jesus placed in a humble home? King David, Gideon the Judge, and Moses the Hebrew slave were all raised in the meekest of families and then called to take up their tremendous positions of leadership. Home is the seat of training in character, faith, philosophy, and leadership and is by no means in opposition to Burke’s call for that habituation to self-respect so necessary for future leaders.

In “Sin No More,” Rémi Brague suggests the universality of the command to keep the Sabbath points toward the aristocratic blood of all men. God commands that even strangers and foreigners and slaves be treated like gentry on the last day of the week. In the end, everyone is free. Everyone is folded into the leisure of the ruling class, because the privilege of the aristocracy is an icon of humanity, not an icon of wealth.

God claimed the Sabbath before He made kings and taught us to rest as He Himself rested after creating the world. We are not like kings when we take our Sabbath rest. Kings are like the humble and obedient people of God when they take theirs.

For this, no matter how poor and powerless we are, we must crown our children early.

I am not here to crown my child. I am here to crown my Lord with many crowns and to teach my child to do the same. Therefore, as a Christian classical educator, I cannot accept the imagery and metaphor of this article. I am repelled rather than inspired. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – that is glory enough to aspire to without seeing ourselves as keepers of children more special than average. We’re not here to raise hot-housed prigs who have been so preciously kept, unfit to live among the common man and enjoy simple pleasures of life with those whom they are sent to serve. We are here to raise humble, wise, brave, and faithful people who identify more with shepherds and prophets than with the kings of this age. Their heads may be full but so are their hearts, filled with love for God and for their fellow man whom they believe to be equally created in His image.

12211601494_8a0a5dcb15by Amy Rose–Amy Rose was a middle child growing up in a trailer park in the Midwest with talented parents who struggled financially. Her future life was easy to imagine until one magical day when she was thirteen her fairy godmother gave her a box of oil pastels and a vintage textbook titled, “England in Literature.” Suddenly the entire wealth of riches found in the history of the West became to her a Holy Grail.  So she grew up and learned how to classically educate her own children who all turned out to be geniuses or at least mostly teachable.

Parents Are Teachers: No Operator's Manual, by Briana Elizabeth

by Briana Elizabeth

It’s a joke of motherhood, that these children we have came without operator’s manuals. Then, when you have one of them figured out, you have another that is the complete opposite.

They break our hearts, and they make us cheer, and they keep us up too late at night, and they throw up on us…yet we still keep having them! Mothers, who’ve given birth and KNOW what they are getting into, still decide to have more children because just look at them, and how they make our hearts burst within our chests.

But wait, you never got an owner’s manual. You didn’t get a certificate saying that you had attained the skills to successfully raise a virtuous person. You have no Parental Degree. How are you even capable of this?

Love.

And I would argue that that same love is what enables you to homeschool them successfully. Love, and the acting on that love — the drive to do your best by them at all times.

How?

Firstly, you know your child better than anyone else. You may not actualize all of that knowledge, but you can tell when you’re pushing too hard, when they’re not working to their hardest, what they like and dislike, and when they just need some food and a nap.

You want the best for them. I know there are questionable parents out there, but I have yet to meet a parent who wanted their child to fail. Having children makes us want them to do far better than we have done, and we would do anything to give them those possibilities.

Being a part of some large homeschooling communities over the years, I have seen parents from every walk of life successfully homeschool their children. Poor and uneducated themselves, to the multi-degreed and even teachers who have decided to teach their own at home.

Apart from the love you bear for your own child, you will need to be able to learn with them, perhaps ahead of them so that you can teach them. And though it’s hard work, it’s not impossible. Midnight feedings are hard, yet not impossible. Changing a bazillion diapers is hard, but not impossible. Raising kids is hard, but not impossible!

So what I am saying is that homeschooling is a continuum of parenting with all of the hard work, the losses, and the benefits. And just like  parenting, the good of love outweighs the hard work. You don’t have to be perfect, or have the perfect curriculum, or the perfect house. You have to want the best for them, and be willing to work hard for that best with them. Just like parenting.

 

Bribrianaana 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.

Parents as Teachers: Qualifications, by Lynne

 

One of the most frustrating things I have heard when I’ve told some people who know me that I homeschool my children is, “Well, YOU are qualified to do so.”

Yes, I’m fairly intelligent, have gone to grad school, and have taught and tutored many students. I have even taken half a dozen education classes in college. I’m not a certified teacher, though. I dropped out of the education department when I realized I’d be spending the majority of my life with angst-ridden teenagers if I taught high school French classes. (That wasn’t the real reason, but it’s a darn good one!)

So, yes, one might think that with my background I am qualified to teach my own children at home.

But guess what — so are millions of other parents who have completely different backgrounds from mine. Homeschooling is an entirely different animal from traditional school. Although many former teachers have chosen to homeschool, you don’t need a degree in education to teach your children at home. In fact, in my state, all you need, legally, is a high school diploma. If you’re willing to devote your time and energy to provide opportunities for your kids to become productive adults, you’re qualified to homeschool.

Homeschooling is not one definable “thing.”It’s as varied as the families who homeschool.   Homeschooling works for so many families because the parents are invested in finding out which methods, which curricula, and which approaches work best for their individual children.

Here are the qualifications that I think are most important for a homeschool parent, in order of importance.

  Resourcefulness
Flexibility
  Patience
Resilience

I’ve put Resourcefulness as number one, because from the homeschool families I’ve observed, it seems to be the main factor in the success and happiness involved in this intense journey. You need to be able to do the research and find the materials or techniques that will help your child learn and grow. As Apryl pointed out in her article, sometimes that means finding someone other than yourself to teach your child.

Flexibility. Life happens. Kids are kids. You must be flexible. All the carefully planned out lessons in the world can be derailed in an instant. If you don’t go with the flow, your homeschool path will not be as happy as it could be.

Patience. This is another thing that makes me a little nuts. Mothers who have stayed up nights with colicky babies tell me they would never have the patience to homeschool their own children. Here’s my answer: “Yes, you would.” Do you have the patience to clean up vomit from a sick child’s bed? Do you have the patience to make macaroni and cheese every day for lunch for a decade? Do you have the patience to be vigilant when your baby starts to crawl and get into things? Of course you do. You’re a parent.

                                                  Patience is your job.

How else are these little people going to learn to ride their bikes or tie their shoes? And, I believe, your relationship with your child has a different dynamic when you are homeschooling as compared to when your child is gone for a good chunk of the day. My kids have gone to public school, so I’ve experienced both. You have a lot more patience for homeschooling when you don’t have to worry about homework, packing lunches, making sure the trumpet is packed for band practice, and getting to the bus stop on time. It’s a completely different way of life. That said, I think I’ve dug down deep into my baby toe to find my last reserve of patience as I’ve been teaching fractions this year.

Resilience. Not only do you need to be flexible, but you need to be able to bounce back from setbacks. Things will go wrong. It’s inevitable. You need to pick the family back up, brush off your pants, and get back to work. Sometimes homeschooling isn’t all kisses and cuddles and field trips. Sometimes you worry that you’re screwing your kid up for life. If you get bogged down in this mire, it’s hard to see the end goal.

So basically, your parenting skills transfer over to homeschooling skills. Don’t have any idea what the quadratic equation is? Find a math tutor. Your kid blew through in one month the Language Arts workbook that you were planning to use for the whole year? Go to the library and find books on parts of speech and punctuation. Your fifth grader can’t learn to capitalize a sentence after being made to correct about 8 billion un-capitalized sentences? (Personal experience!) Learn meditation techniques. The wonderful curriculum you spent $200 on is not working for your kid? Sell it online and buy something else.

I love teachers. I think many of them do an amazing job of reaching kids and inspiring them to learn. They have earned a degree in their field, and it applies to what they do in a classroom setting. I also think that the really good teachers have all the qualities mentioned above. So if you feel intimidated or worried that you are not a “real” teacher, take a moment to think. You are not in a classroom setting with other children. You are with your own children, and nobody knows them as well as you do. You are plenty qualified to inspire your children to learn and to become the best people they can be.

 

Lynnlynnee–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.

Parents are Teachers: Calling for Backup, by Apryl

 

Sometimes in the homeschooling journey, we run into subjects we cannot or do not want to teach. Sometimes our children need more interaction with the world at large. Sometimes mom just needs a small break. When these times arise, calling for backup is warranted.

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Outsourcing is an important part of homeschooling, especially as your children reach the teen years. Depending on your area, income level, and family preferences, outsourcing opportunities can look very different from family to family. I will be discussing some of the ways our family has met these needs.

Volunteering

Volunteering is a great way to expand your child’s view of the world. There are so many unique ways your family can serve others in the community. My oldest child, in particular, has been a very active volunteer.

When she was twelve, we managed to talk our vet into letting her help at his office. She was able to observe surgeries, interact with adults, and learn a bit more about the profession. This experience allowed her to realize that she really did not want to be a vet like she thought, but she also learned that she has a very strong stomach!

Her love of animals, and that iron stomach, have led her to be a volunteer at a rescue center for birds of prey. There she has learned so much and developed a great relationship with the woman who runs the center. Now she is a pro at cleaning up bird dung and handling mouse guts.

She has also volunteered at two different libraries, one that was part of a metropolitan library system and one that is a small town library. Working at a local food pantry was another volunteer position she had and she learned so much about people there.

The girls have all spent time volunteering at nursing homes. They have gone with homeschool groups, scouts, and our church and have done everything from putting on a show to doing arts and crafts projects with the patients.

All of my girls will be volunteering at a summer camp this year. They will be mentoring and teaching younger kids in a science camp.

In order to find volunteer opportunities in your area, just ask around. Don’t be afraid to ask local businesses and services if they can use help: the worst they can do is say no. You will have more luck with older children and teens than with young children, but even when they are small you can volunteer as a family.

Religious Activities

Church is a large part of our lives, and I consider the things we do there as part of our outsourcing. The kids have attended Awanas, worked in the nursery, sang in the choir, helped with events, and attended regular services. Again, they have learned things they could not pick up at home such as relating to the elderly, caring for small children and infants, meeting some of the needs of the poverty stricken, being part of a choir, and socializing with larger groups of people. They have also learned more about our faith, and grown stronger in it.

Park and Play Groups

This option will depend on how many homeschoolers there are in your area and how far you are willing to drive. Most larger metropolitan areas will have park groups. A group of this sort usually meets on a regular basis to play, go on field trips, or organize things like field day. Don’t limit these to smaller children. We were lucky enough to belong to a teen park group that met once a week just to hang out and play. On warm days we met at a large park that could handle 20+ teens and other days we would meet at various homes. The kids developed some very close friendships, and also got some much needed exercise. They often played things like zombie tag, or “everybody’s it” tag, dodge ball, Frisbee, or just ran around and had fun.

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Groups like this also have the ability to organize group field trips, often at a discounted rate. We were able to see plays at school rates, attend an astronaut school, visit museums at school rates, take farm tours, and more.

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It did take us a while to find a group that we felt comfortable in. We have had the most luck with inclusive groups. While we are Christian, we have found that exclusive groups simply weren’t a good fit for our family.

Online Classes

Sometimes you need a class taught by someone else. There are many reasons for this, from a parent needing a teaching break, to the parent just not feeling comfortable in their ability to teach a subject. We are fortunate that so many classes are available online. There are paid and free options, with the paid options giving you more time with a real instructor.

Our personal experience with online courses have been with both self-directed classes such as ALEX math and Kahn Academy, and with a class that had a live instructor and certain class times. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Self-directed courses allow more flexibility in scheduling and pace. However, if you run into difficulty, it can be hard to get help. With live classes, you will have an instructor that can help the student, but you are also tied to the class schedule. We have found both types of courses to be valuable to our homeschool instruction.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) should also be considered as part of this option. This is a rapidly growing area in which you can find self-directed courses on just about every subject you can imagine. There are both free and paid options from universities and teachers around the world. Some of the most popular MOOC providers are Coursera, EdX, and Udacity.

Co-ops

Co-ops are parent co-operatives in which parents come together to teach (or hire someone else to teach) classes to homeschooled children. Co-op styles and structures vary greatly and it is important to find one that fits your family’s needs. There are religious and secular co-ops, inclusive co-ops and co-ops that require a signed statement of faith. There are co-ops that are entirely parent taught, and there are co-ops that hire professional teachers for their classes. Some co-ops focus more on extra-curricular classes, and some are more academically focused.

We have attended three different co-ops over the years. Our first was a very small, parent taught co-op that focused on extracurricular classes. This was a good way for the kids to do some fun things a few times a month. Since it was so small, however, a little bit of drama between families made the entire co-op uncomfortable. We ended up leaving.

Our second co-op was huge. It was in a large city with a very large number of homeschoolers. It was run like a large one-day-a-week private school, and there were waiting lists to get into classes. We weren’t there for very long due to a move, but it was a good way for the kids to get a few classes in, like acting and choir, that I couldn’t do well at home.

Our third and current co-op has been a huge blessing to our family. Now that the girls are all in high school, there are some needs that I find hard to meet at home. Our current co-op is fairly large. While it is a Christian co-op, it is inclusive and does not require a statement of faith. We attend one day a week, and the kids change classes during the day much like they would at public school. Parents are required to volunteer and the classes are taught by paid teachers. The quality of the classes and teachers is very high, with many classes taught by former professors and degreed teachers of their subjects. The girls take all of their foreign language classes there, along with some very interesting electives like Ballroom Dance and Fencing.

Clubs and Sports

Most communities have various clubs and sports organizations for children. You often do not have to be part of the public school system to participate. I know our rural area has Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, basketball, soccer, softball, baseball, rowing, swimming, summer camps and more.

In some areas, you may also be able to participate in public school or private school sports teams. The laws vary from state to state. Some homeschool organizations even have their own sports teams.

Other Sources

Finally, don’t forget some of your most valuable resources: friends, family and neighbors. Grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, neighbors and friends all have talents and abilities that they may be willing pass on to your children. My father-in-law has taught the girls about gun safety, archery, botany, and more.  A friend organized a writing club for our children, and a friend of a friend ended up being our piano teacher.  The people in your life can become wonderful mentors to your children.

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Most of all, don’t let the thought of being responsible for your child’s entire education intimidate you. You are essentially the director of their education, and you can find the resources you need to accomplish your goals, regardless of where your own strengths and weaknesses are.

 

Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Life With a Preteen Daughter, by Nakia

 

My oldest daughter was a joy from the time she was born. She was always strong-willed, yet rational and easy to parent.

Until she turned 11 and suddenly wasn’t.

Almost overnight she turned from the child I just described into a sobbing, raging, hormonal preteen. Some days I didn’t recognize her; days I could not believe the child who yelling and throwing things was my sweet first-born. That strong will had turned from a blessing to something I dreaded to greet every morning. There were days I threatened to send her to school. There were days I threatened to run away from home.

Over the course of 18 months, we struggled and we cried, but we survived. And in the midst of it all, we thrived and learned so much about each other.

I’ve found over the last couple of years that many moms struggle more with the preteen years – or as a dear friend calls it, the “ten-age” years- than they ever do with teens. If you have a preteen, perhaps you are struggling with some questions of your own. “Who is this child and where did my sweet baby go?”  “Can I do this?” “Will we survive this?”

I suggest asking yourself these things:

  • What are your goals?

  • What are your expectations?

  • Are you expecting enough? Too much?

  • Is your child getting enough sleep, exercise, and healthy food?

  • Are you building up or tearing down?

One of the most important things, I think, is to find people who have been where you are. I strongly suggest finding other parents who share similar beliefs and have made it through the same struggles. There will be times when you simply cannot handle what is going on with your child and your family, and having someone to turn to who has been through the fire will be invaluable. You must recognize when to seek professional counseling. Enlist the help of your church, your child’s pediatrician, or a local counseling center. This is not a failure. This is helping your family be the best it can be.

Realize that the problems you are facing are not a product of homeschooling. They are a product, most often, of hormones. On the other hand, do not expect homeschooling to cure bad attitudes in your children—or you. Being a parent is hard. Adding homeschooling to that will not automatically make everything easier. Home education will present its own unique set of challenges. It is hard to separate your parenting role from your role as teacher. Be sure to set aside time each day to focus on your tween as your child and not as your student. Take school out of the equation as much as possible so that you can face the root cause.

Do not fight with your child. I’m a fighter by nature and grew up in a “yelling” household. I never wanted that for my family. Unfortunately, we ended up there. Some of the best advice I ever received was “Do not engage!” When she realized I would no longer engage in warfare, my daughter de-escalated much faster.

Let your child talk. What they are going through right now is a BIG deal to them. It might seem silly to you. You might be able, as a 40 year old mother, to look back on your preteen/teen years and see that your attitudes and actions “back then” were silly, but your child is living it now. Let them live it. Talk them through it. It’s okay to tell them “This too shall pass,” but do let them know you are listening and that their feelings are important.

Have clear boundaries/rules. Good parents know that children thrive with healthy boundaries, and preteens are no different. They will sometimes hate every limit you give them. It’s okay stick to them. It’s also okay to sit down with the child and look at those boundaries (rules) and sometimes recognize that one is too tight or rigid. The beauty of homeschooling is that you can discuss and adjust and watch what happens when you do.

Know when to apologize. That might be the hardest part of this whole parenting gig. I’ve yet to meet anyone who liked to admit being wrong, especially to someone under their authority. But we must show our children that we are human. Let them see you recognize your errors and apologize when necessary. A heartfelt apology will earn respect, and it teaches your child how to do the same.

Let your child make some decisions about school. I found that when I gave some of the control to my daughter, things went so much better. For instance, I printed off blank lesson planning sheets and let her fill them in. She knew what she needed to do each week, but with a little help from me, she was able to schedule it in daily plans. I let her pick whether she would start her day with math or science. This gave her a sense of responsibility and made her feel like I wasn’t treating her “like a child” anymore.  Another example might be letting your child pick a topic of study. My daughter loves horses, so I let her do a unit study from Beautiful Feet on the history of the horse. She loved it, and it gave her a sense of ownership since she had picked herself. Developing autonomy was not an overnight process, and we are still working on it.

As a Christian, I believe my greatest help is my faith. I never before spent so much time in prayer as I have as a mother. The thing I prayed over and over as we worked our way through my daughter’s preteen years (and still now that she’s a teen) was, “God, I know her personality is not a mistake. She will do great things in Your name.” I believe that with all of my heart. I encourage you to lean on the Lord and pray blessings over your child! Speak encouragement to them and about them!

Now my second daughter is a “ten-ager,” and I have one more right behind her. I’ll be printing off this post and hanging it on my fridge to remind myself that we made it through once and we can do it again.

Nakia–Nnakiaakia is a Southern girl, born and raised in North Carolina. She is married to her high school sweetheart and is in her 9th year of homeschooling her three wonderful daughters. She works part time as a nurse and loves photography, thrift shopping, baking, and autumn in the mountains.

Finding Joy Amidst the Chaos

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by Kristin

It’s 2:00 a.m. when I hear the pitter-patter of little feet on my bedroom floor. They are getting closer. I hear my son say, at a decibel that is far too loud for 2:00 a.m., “Mom….” I quickly wave my hand in an effort to shush him and get him out of my room as quickly as possible. I can already hear the baby stirring. Nothing good can come of this.

I throw the covers back. I’m sweaty from the night’s sleep, what little I’ve gotten, and as the cool air of my bedroom hits my skin I’m covered in goosebumps. I grumble a little under my breath. I’m tired. WHY is he up? I drag myself to the hallway where he stands waiting for me. Doesn’t he realize that lack of sleep and Mom do NOT get along? I grumble something about it being too early to be up and send him back to bed. He tries to protest, but I shut him down and he reluctantly heads back to his bed.

I breathe a sigh of relief. I can hear my pillow calling me just feet away. I slip back under the covers ready for sleep only to hear the crinkle of the pack-n-play mattress next to my bed. The baby, he’s still stirring. I roll over, my back to his bed, and convince myself that he’ll go back to sleep. He has to. I’m too tired to get up again. Nope. Baby is awake.

I drag myself out of bed, again, this time reaching for the baby. He feels like he weighs a thousand pounds. I was not cut out for this. I need my sleep. I carry him to the couch and settle in to nurse him back to sleep. Twenty minutes pass by and he’s still wide awake. Thirty, forty, fifty minutes, then an hour have gone by. I decide to lay him back down in bed. Surely he’s tired and will go back to sleep. Nope. He begins to fuss. I’m afraid he will wake my husband, or worse yet, my son. I take him back out of bed and attempt to nurse him to sleep yet again.

He kicks and flails, his little hands grabbing and patting my face. Doesn’t he know that it is now 3:30 a.m.? I’ve been up for an hour and a half. My patience has run thin. I lay him next to my husband with an exasperated sigh. The good man that he is, he smiles at the baby and says, “Let’s go out to the living room,” and then promptly takes him from the bedroom. I breathe a deep sigh of relief and allow my head to fall into the pillow and my eyes to close. Sleep.

I manage to sneak in a quick hour of sleep before my husband texts me to tell me to come get the baby. He’s finally sleeping. Once again, I drag myself out of bed, each step taking more effort than the one before it. I transfer the baby back to his bed in hopes of a few more hours of sleep. One measly little hour later, I hear the click of a doorknob. Boy Number One is back up again. This time, there is no convincing him to go back to bed. I guess it’s a 5:30 a.m. wake up call today.

I’m tired…..so tired. We go to the living room. I turn on the TV. Cartoons and breakfast. Maybe I can sleep a little on the couch. No, he wants to talk. Soon, it’s time to wake up the girls. We have a to-do list a mile long today. I realize that if I’m going to get everything done, I need to start now. You see, we have to bring lunch to a friend at 10:30 this morning. Homemade macaroni & cheese, her request.

I start the water for the noodles and prepare the pan for the cheese sauce. I can’t find the shredded cheese. It’s missing. I had just purchased it the day before, how could it disappear? We spend several minutes searching for the cheese only to find it in the sack, on a desk chair. Of course. It was left out overnight. I take a chance and dump it into the pan. The water is taking too long to boil. It’s not going to be done before I have to take Son Number One to preschool. I instruct the thirteen-year-old to watch it while I take him.

I return back home only five minutes later to drain the noodles and mix them with the sauce when I realize that I’ve forgotten to buy a disposable pan to bake it in. That’s okay, CVS is just a few blocks away. I’ll run there. Baby is back awake. I hand him off to the thirteen-year-old and run to the store, promising to be back quickly. They don’t have what I need. Figures.

It’s now 9:30 a.m. I still have to run to the mall and pick up a gift for my friend that I had dropped off for engraving the night before. I don’t have time to run to another store for a pan. It’s okay. I’ll just use my regular glass dish. I open the junk drawer and dig for a Sharpie. It’s not there. Why would anything be easy today? I send the six-year-old on a hunt for the marker. She finds it, I’m not sure where, but I quickly write my name on the pan and put it in the oven. My macaroni and cheese takes 30-40 minutes to bake. I’m running out of time quickly.

I spend the next little bit getting the six-year-old ready for the day and putting the baby back to sleep again. The thirteen-year-old agrees to stay with the baby while the six-year-old and I run to the mall and to drop off lunch to my friend. Six-year-old and I were gone only thirty minutes before the oldest calls to say that the baby is awake again. What is with these kids? Sleep: It’s good for you! I beg her to handle him for a bit. I’m running late. It’s 10:30 when we leave the mall. I have a ten-minute drive to get to my friend’s house.

We drop off lunch and chat for a little bit before leaving to pick up the four-year-old from preschool at noon. We arrive back home to find an exasperated thirteen-year-old. She isn’t exactly a kid or baby person. She manages okay, but doesn’t enjoy it. I take him from her. I’m exhausted. All I want is a nap. Time to nurse the baby. He falls asleep. I lay him down and start lunch for the rest of the minions. Can you believe that? They expect me to feed them!

It’s now 1:30 p.m. I have 1.5 hours before the oldest has to be at school for show choir. I gather the troops for a little school. It’s always harder with the four-year-old home. The six-year-old is about as distractible as they come and spends the next hour bouncing back and forth between school and conversation with her brother. I’m tired of redirecting. I’m tired of attempting to keep her on task. I’m tired of arguing with the thirteen-year-old about how much she has to do. I’m. Just. Tired.

The baby sleeps most of the afternoon and I have to wake him to take the oldest to show choir practice. I want to cry. Exhaustion has consumed me and I no longer have control over my emotions. Frustration pours from me in everything I say and do. I need sleep. I’m quite certain that I cannot continue the day, yet somewhere I find the strength to keep going. I suppose because I have no choice.

Dinner time comes and goes and it’s time for dance classes. I drag myself to the studio, now with a raging headache. Why do I always get headaches when I’m tired? The baby is tired too. He fusses. I put him down to play on the floor. He doesn’t want that and begins to shriek. I place him on my hip. He squirms and fusses, arching his back. My arms are on fire from fighting him. Is it time to go home yet? The four-year-old is pulling on my arm to get my attention. I restrain myself from letting every ounce of frustration from the day break free on him. He’s bored. He wants to go home. Me too, buddy, me too.

Once home again, the day winds down with baths and bed. Jammies for the kids, sweatpants for myself. I nurse the baby to sleep again, hoping it’s for the night this time. The house is quiet and I finally allow myself to relax. Sleep. It’s hitting me hard and fast.

Chaos. It’s everywhere. It is the summation of my life with four children and a husband who works long hours and attends college full time. I’ve never handled it well. When my life feels like it’s spinning out of control or I have too much on my plate, I get overwhelmed.

But recently, I had a large dose of perspective. The friend I brought lunch to? She lost her son, a twin, just a little over a month ago. He simply did not wake up in the morning. We’ve all said, thought, and been told to live life to the fullest, because you just never know what tomorrow holds, but never has it hit so close to home for me. My dear friend will never hold her baby on Earth again. He was just seventeen months old with beautiful blonde curls and the sweetest smile. I know she would give anything for the chaos that is my life if it meant having her baby back. She would stay up for hours each night, if only she could rock him one more time.

I now look at my children, even through exhaustion, with joy. I choose to be thankful that God entrusted me with their care on this Earth. Every moment I have to spend with them is a gift. It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of every day life, to get frustrated with the messes and lack of sleep, but I now choose to look at those moments as blessings, not curses.

Hold your children close and embrace each moment with love. Everyone is tired or crabby? Math can wait another day. Snuggle on the couch under a blanket and read a book or call it a movie day. You’ll never regret the love you share with your children, but you may regret NOT sharing those moments with them. The chaos that comes with having a family is a blessing…..embrace it each and every day.

vinnie-j