Homeschooling and Other Horror Stories
So after plenty of hinting in the last blog, I’m sure you’ve seen it coming that we have decided to homeschool Luke (13). And as Ethan’s (11) history of school entails 3 termly parental meetings to discuss his not paying attention, settling down, or the inevitable “he just cannot stay in his seat,” we’ve decided to homeschool him as well.
This post is not to justify or explain our decision. That is also the reason we have not told a lot of people. I don’t feel patient and clever enough yet to field questions about how they will learn Maths and Science at a higher level, and the incredulous, all-time-winner, “How will they
be socialised?” I know I have some school stories that tell you how to NOT be socialised, but that’s a different, very negative blog, and I’m not going there. And to clarify, I love teachers. Always have, always will. I think the system is against them though, and right now in South Africa, there’s not a lot of latitude that one can extend to a child who is more creative, less filtered and less academic than the system requires.
If you have any questions, google is amazing. I will, however, be documenting the awesome learning that is going on around here. And I’m not only talking about the kids.
Luke has had a rough time in his first 10 weeks of high school, which we did foresee, but at the end of last year, we decided that we would see how the boys coped with the first term of highschool (for Luke) and Grade 6 (Ethan); it would give us time to finalise our decision, and then… errm, okay no, not really. Truthfully, I was too poop scared to begin homeschooling then, I had too much self-doubt, I didn’t know enough about the process, and I didn’t know if I could sacrifice my solitary grocery shopping excursions and rare peaceful moments during school hours for being in the company of two very energetic souls all day long. I’m an introvert, for heaven’s sake, this could actually kill me. Anyway, the year began as usual. Hectic. 3 detentions, 2 teacher meetings, endless commentary about how teachers hated him (from Luke’s own point of view), frustrations with the curriculum’s inflexibility, Ethan’s teacher stating that he was “going downhill” and the slow decline of Luke’s self belief, self liking and love of learning were all the combined kick up the…hoohah for me. And the rock that is my husband. He thinks I can do it. His belief fills in a lot of my gaps. Psychology states, “if a child feels unsafe or unworthy, then the child cannot learn.” And thus, they were not learning.
So Luke stayed home for the first time on Monday 27th January, Ethan on the 29th.
I am de-schooling. This is different to “UNschooling” where a family follows no formal curriculum but learns as they live life. Like this…
Child: Hey, look at that bird. He’s flying without flapping his wings.
Wise parent: Oh! That’s because he’s taking advantage…a-dv-a-n-t-a-g-e (I’m sure they use big words to help with grammar and spell them as they speak…) of updrafts produced when the wind blows over hills and mountain ridges. Or maybe he’s making use of rising columns of warm air called thermals…t-h-e-r-m-a-l-s.
Nope, I’m not unschooling material. De-schooling refers to a change of mindset from the very structured, this-is-how-we-do-it outlook of being schooled and having kids in school, to figuring out how best a child learns. (Do you also have Montell Jordan’s 1995 song now in your head? My apologies.) The first week we spent doing life things- grocery shopping, housework, errands, keeping the expenditure entries on the budget up to date on Excel spreadsheets. The boys were terrible on Excel, much better now. They also are finally fathoming how much they flippin’ cost. Much shock and wonder when deciphering receipts. We also watched a few classic movies that had been my parenting fail, uncovered by the innocent question over dinner a few days earlier: Who is Mary Poppins? Grief, did he just say that out aloud? So I downloaded “Mary Poppins” with Julie Andrews in all her glory, as well as “The Sound of Music,” which even had Aiden wandering through to watch it, as he mumbled, Ohhh, is THAT where that song is from? “Wizard of Oz” still to watch. We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Essential, I tell you.
Day 1: Luke does everything I do. Grocery shopping, dishwashing, laundry.
Day 2: I realise gadgets are going to be a problem. Luke’s phone is a distraction, so we use Heath’s iPad for the Bible reading. Aftewards I see Clash of Clans (game) is open- clearly that was played during his quiet time. Not such a quiet time, then. Delete Clash of Clans on iPad. Do devotions together.
Day 3: Ethan is now home. We buy Luke two arrows for him to practice shooting his bow. He spends time making targets to put up in the garden. The first arrow shatters into a tree. The second one disappears into thin air. We spent an entire morning looking for it in the bushes, in the neighbours’ bushes, and still didn’t find it. The mystery remains. I caved and bought one more, which we still have.
Snacks and T.V. boundaries are needing to be established. They think that since the fridge and pantry are within sight, that it can be accessed whenever. I set some boundaries before I go mad. We write a breakfast menu together for the week, so that cereal is not the staple food around here. The TV can be used to watch News during breakfast, and that’s all. If they watch anything else, it’s directed by me, and that means it’s educational programmes about World War II.Day 4: We drive past Ethan’s old school and he sees kids doing high jump, and realised he’s missed out on something he really enjoys. He is sad. I am sad. I pray, God help us. Fill in the blanks for us here, please!
The boys are playing with a soft ball in the house. Okay, not that soft. And it’s got Frozen on it. That’s what happens when you take your kids grocery shopping. You end up buying all sorts of rubbish. I thought it was quite humorous that this was the only design available for this boy family, and I knew it would help with physical activity, so I bought it. Sucker. Anyway, they discovered that kicking it down the long passage with all the bedroom doors closed provides great entertainment, as it can be quite surprising where it ends up when you kick it really hard. Yes, my zoning out skills have developed tremendously. They managed to knock a shelf off the wall at the end of the passage, which then landed on Ethan’s toe. Now they both have black toenails. Luke’s is from December, where he dropped a large rock on his toe in order to catch fish in a rock pool.
Day 5: I look outside my window to see Ethan jumping on the trampoline. Well, not actually a trampoline as you know it, but a lethal, spring-firing mechanism that has almost beheaded one of my children before now. It seems the stitching has perished, and so each of the heavy, rusted springs are just waiting to be the next one whizzing past an ear to be launched onto the housetop as a child hits the right spot on the torn-and-needs-repair mat. So it’s been out of bounds. But today, Ethan is suffering memory loss as well as lack of logical reasoning and is jumping on it. Albeit, not gymnastically, he’s only reaching about 60cm high and is seemingly cautious, but it is suicidal nonetheless. I ask, Ethan, is there any reason why you are not obeying the rule of the tramp being out of bounds? Ethan: Oh, mom, I’m not jumping, I’m bouncing with the ball. Ahh, well, thank goodness, the science of that clears up everything. I say, Well, bouncing and jumping are the same thing (note to self: work on synonyms) and so it’s just as dangerous. OFF. I try not to fall in a despairing heap.
Day 6 is a Monday. They’re up around 8. We start with writing down a plan for the day. Luke says it’s stupid, in fact, everything is stupid, and Mondays suck. I send him to his room to try and snap out of it, he has to figure out what to do with these emotions to work through them, because it’s like having Eeyore in the flesh. He is extremely anxious about meeting his old school friends on Friday to hang out at the mall. Luke is better later, but it’s a hard day. God heard me a lot today.
Day 7: I have kept to my morning routine, as the boys are beginning to wake up later, and happier. I have read a lot of research about the adolescent brain, and that schools- if they really wanted to tap into teenager potential- should open at 11am and finish at 7pm. That would really mess with
parents’ working days, so it’s not widely published. Ha ha! But I don’t sweat the late starts, as it allows me time to drop off Aiden (16) in peace, do my own devotional time and 45 mins of gym. Today I am in the middle of my gym routine, Luke is awake. His skin seems really bad today, and so I take time to show him how to clean it properly and deal with the pimple outbreaks. We do it together today, and he is happier. Back to gym. These windows of opportunity, I’m learning, are frequent and important, despite the distraction they are from the activity at hand. Then I shower while they get ready for the day. I hear voices in the shower, and it’s not God. I recollect days of toddlerhood, where they find you anywhere. Sigh. Learn to shout through shower doors again.
Day 8: Luke and Ethan have rediscovered the joy of Lego, in the absence of the gadgets. Luke is building, and needs pieces. Ethan says pieces belong to him, even though they’re in ‘communal’ Lego toybox. He first has to take out his special pieces (numbering 2390) before Luke can take what he wants. I play peacekeeper, appealing to reason, quietly showing another point of view to the LegoHog; but he’s steaming; it’s too unfair to bear. He goes to kitchen to cool off, huffing and puffing all the way, Luke takes a couple of pieces, I cry in the shower. Seriously, I have to give of myself every single second? Really, God? I think this is very sneaky of you. I finally see that home-schooling has nothing to do with the kids changing, it’s more about me. I’m not patient enough. I don’t think I can do this. Then I know that’s a good place to be because God has room to move. He can be strong where I am weak. Yes, lots of room to move! Ethan apologises to me at bedtime. He takes a while, but he learns at least.
Day 9: Ethan loves learning to type- he has learned to touch type completely in 3 weeks. He’s not fast yet, but I am amazed at his proficiency. He spends hours drawing and following art tutorials on youtube.
We went to the library. Ethan chose two WWII books (that’s his obsession at the moment), Luke is just speed reading Enid Blyton’s basic books- but I know it’ll lead to him loving reading again, so we’re going with it. Haircuts, shopping, milkshakes.
Panic sets in briefly. I’ve got to get some curriculum. I read that children naturally DO want to learn, and that allays my panic somewhat, because my greatest fear was if they were unwilling, or didn’t want to learn.
Day 10: Luke’s friends all bale on the meet-up. He is devastated. I’m wavering between heartbroken for my baby, and seeking out the children to kill them. They were all reassuringly going to be there, Luke insisted I didn’t wait with him, and then he called a half hour later to say fetch me. It’s a Friday- Joshua had just arrived home, so I took him with me to fetch Luke, as he can empathise, having gone through the same thing when we left Zim. I am trying to be intentional and open-hearted about my kids maintaining friendships, but this is harder than I thought. I roll over my concerns and burdens again to Him.For now, our everyday schedule consists of Bible study together at the dining room table, typing tutorials, maths, and language skills where I read to them. I have to admit I thought I would hate the reading but I LOVE it. I have ordered a bit of formal Maths and Social Studies (science, geography and history) curriculum, which arrives within 10 days, so I am looking forward to that.
Luke has started archery, and has shown a great natural ability. We go on Tuesdays and Thursdays to practice. They go to gym together 3 days a week, and the future holds a new foreign language, computer skills, music study, photography courses, and (selfishly) getting all the stuff I wanted made: vegetable planters made from pallets (Luke) and birdhouses and birdbaths for the garden. I’ll let Ethan get involved more in arty stuff- I’ve had watercolours that I’ve been working on for 2 years (working on = thinking about and wishing I could get to them), so he can try that out.
The weirdest thing is, I seem to have a lot of spare time. It may be the calm before the storm of a full homeschooling day. I’m still trying to figure out this enigma- surely children emptying the dishwasher and folding laundry doesn’t buy me that much time in a day? I think it may be prioritising things differently now. I’m not trying to buzz around doing things to earn money, or doing every errand that pops up in a day- I plan it for an ‘errand day’ and do them all at once. My afternoons don’t have to be free to cope with activities and homework, so I don’t have to cook dinner in the morning.
I’m still adjusting to having company constantly. Everywhere I go, they’re there. I turn around sometimes and still get a fright. But seeing every question and outing and everyday fact as an opportunity to teach and bring understanding puts everything in a different light for me.
I am sometimes stressed, yet more trusting,
sometimes anxious yet more grateful,
sometimes impatient, yet more teachable.
And hopefully they’re learning the love of learning more than anything else, because clearly, learning never stops.
May the lessons learned in the quiet or the chaos lead you closer to Him.
Lots of love,