It is 8:47 on a Thursday morning, I have been working for an hour or so, the kids are starting to wake from their sleep. No it is not school holidays, it is just an ordinary Thursday morning. Why is this significant? For me itis a milestone because when I started this homeschooling journey 8 years ago, I believed that we had to be up at the crack of dawn and that we had to have our noses in our books by 7:30 or else I would be a bad mom and that the kids would completely fail at life.
Not my first choice, but our only option
You see when I started this journey it was not my first choice, but our only option. I had very little faith in this system. I came from a super academic background and my faith was in the perfect academic environment. I felt super alone. I had no idea that as the crow flies from our home that there were at least 20 other kids being homeschooled and that there are thousands of homeschoolers across the country.
I felt like an alien in my own support structure. I hail from a family of educators, teachers, heads of departments, vice principles… and here we were giving the traditional schooling system a kick in the teeth… What made it harder for me was that I loved school, I lived at school. I had extra art classes, often until 21:00 at night. I am a work-a-holic, sadly I still often find my identity attached to a number of hours I put in, rather than being able to focus on being productive and not just busy. Hubby had a crappy experience in high school, so it felt less like a betrayal to his roots than what it did for me.
Learning to Embrace Freedom and Liberty
But why am I telling you all this… you see it took me 5 out of the 8 years to learn to really enjoy homeschooling. It took many battles for me to let go of some of my preconceived ideas of what discipline and education should look like. When we started out pajama days were from the devil, they were an evil temptation that would lead me and the kids down the path of destruction. Now we treasure our freedom to cuddle and read in bed on cold mornings, and we have learned the art of not having our mental capacity diminished by our PJ’s.
Yes discipline is important when you raise children, and yes it is important that they learn the value of getting up at an appropriate time and not to sleep the day away, but they will most probably spend their entire adult life getting up somewhere between 5:30 and 6:30 most mornings, why on earth should I rob them of the few years that they do not need to do that. Don’t get me wrong, there are mornings when we are up super early, like every Sunday because at least one of us is volunteering at our local church on a Sunday morning and we need to be there at 7:00 to do that. Sometimes I have early morning meetings or it is a crazy busy day and we need to get an early start, but we try not to make this the norm. Besides there is one awesome thing that has happened since we eased up on waking the kids up at the crack of dawn: We (the parentals) get coffee in bed most mornings, sometimes because our adult son is up for work, and sometimes because the younger two are up anyway because they have finished sleeping.
You see all of this changed when I learned to trust the concept of homeschooling. This trust was reinforced when our eldest started working and we got amazing feedback in terms of his work ethics, his morals, and his values. He is in high demand in his employment circle because of his people skills. (Not bad for an unsocialised homeschooler right?) I learned and eventually saw the proof that I am equipped to train my children to do life well. I learned that is was more about liberty and freedom than rules, burdens and yokes.
Safety Net, not a Spider Web.
I learned that while structure is your friend and it is a tool to keep you sane, but at no point should structure become a burden. Structure becomes a burden when you try to implement someone else’s ready-made, external structure or recipe into your family’s unique ecosystem. There are basic tools and building materials that we all can use, these come in the form of morals and values as well as skills, but it is up to you as the parents to set the tone for your home and to construct a structure that suits your family. Structure should be your safety net, and not a sticky spider web.
It is also important to have crumple zones for when life crashes into your family. Just like skyscrapers are built using “base isolation*” our structure and routine needs to be flexible enough that it does not come crashing down when your whole world is shaken. Life will happen and it will be a whole lot more stressful when the structure and the routine you have created becomes a cage rather than a refuge that withstood the storms of life.
Easier said than done
This is indeed easier said than done, but it is not impossible. It took my understanding of what it means to do life well to be challenged. It took stepping out of the fast lane for a while and then re-entering with a new perspective to make headway in this regard. I am in no way promoting mediocrity, anyone who knows our family will tell you that in their opinion the hay on our forks are way too high, that we are completely nuts and that we do things normal people do not do.
You may never read about us in the popular family magazines and we will probably not be featured as great entrepreneurs or business people. We have made the choice to both be self employed. We work hard and we spend more time helping others than what is probably good for us. While we do not like financial strain, and while we do experience this type of strain from time to time, it does not compare to the joy and the fruit of the life we have carved out.
We do not have a home worthy of the pages of the latest style magazine and most days you need to rinse the glass you took from the cupboard before you use it. This is not because we are not hygienic, itis because we have a 7-year-old who is learning to wash dishes. You see spending so much time in their company taught me to realise that when she learned to walk and fell down a bunch of times, no one told her to sit down so they can walk on her behalf. Everyone cheered her on. So why should any other skill such as dishwashing be different? The floors may not be spotless and sometimes we need to rewash a shirt or two, but again we have a 13 year old who knows how the washing machine works, who knows how to sort, wash, hang up and fold washing.
You see house work is no longer just my burden, but a family affair. Yes when things get out of hand I may blow my top and then we all jump in and clean up, but most days we each do our bit and it is simply not such a huge issue anymore. We carved out a structre that works for us and on the days that life happens and your favorite shirt is not clean for your special occasion you will be more eager to be the first to switch on the washing machine tomorrow.
It is about really understanding identity.
Identity warrants an entire series of posts on it own, but sitting back and reflecting on our far we have come, I have realised one thing: We have been blessed by storms that taught us not to attach our identity to what we have at all, but rather to how we treat other people and how we react to life’s storms. And yes sometimes we lose our stuff and act inappropriately and then we need to go back to the drawing board and rethink our stuff and adjust and grow… but no one can take away our identities, no media or propaganda, gossip or opinions of haters can challenge our identity to the core.
It is about your perspective
You see, it is often not the thing (i.e. the challenge or the problem) but rather the way you look at the thing that makes the difference. Homeschooling taught me that growing up / maturing is about learning to do life well. A big part of learning to do life is about learning to communicate. Reading and writing are but two tools in our communication repertoire. These two tools are more universal than others, but they are just tools.
So what if you are learning to use the different tools at a different pace to others? We respect the fact that some people are better at using pictures or music to communicate than others, but why is it that we doom children who take longer to be ready to read and write as having special needs or having learning problems.
Is it not more important to learn the value of communication and the rules of engagement for communication before we are pressured to use the tools to communicate. What is the use of a child having the ability to write full sentences, but they are unable to write down that which is going on inside of them so that they can make sense of it all? What is the use of a child simply regurgitating like a parrot the ideas of others when they are writing or speaking because they have not been taught to process information, ask questions and think about the information that has been presented to them?
Her eis another exapmple: What would happen if we teach children from a young age that mathematics is using consistent patterns to solve problems, rather than it being the ultimate measure of intelligence? What if we were less eager to impress people with our pre school children being able to count to 50 because we taught them a rhyme, and we rather spend time teaching them the meaning and the concept of each number? Why are we in such a rush to teach them certain skills that we destroy their natural reflex to be a sponge that soaks up knowledge… What would happen if we cultivated a love for problems solving before we taught them how to solve problems? Would they then not naturally want to solve problems rather than being forced to do so?
It is about your focus and drive
You see, in the end, it is not about homeschooling or not homeschooling, it is about deciding what it is that your family focuses on and what you are building towards. As homeschooling parents, we have more time with our children and we remain the principal influencers for longer, but this does not mean that you can not instill the same values in your children if they are in a mainstream school. It is about making choices that reflect your focus and your drive. It is about making sure that your children know what your values are, what the game plan is, and that they are comfortable enough for you to be the first person to hear about their curveballs.
- Base Isolation is a principle where skyscrapers float on systems of ball bearings, springs and padded cylinders. Acting like shock absorbers in a car, these systems allow the building to be decoupled from the shaking of the ground.