Seven years after leaving home my daughter had room for all her books. I was packing them up, so thankful that one of our homeschooling priorities had been the building of personal libraries for all. I looked at the marvelous stories and thought: here is proof of good parenting (at least in one area), here is evidence of a childhood well spent. I remembered how the girls both loved The Sherwood Ring; I picked up Understood Betsy, smoothing the cover, recalling finding it in our small town library, where musty old books weren’t always thrown away. I recalled Hannah’s eagerness when I assured her she would love this book.
In thinking I would be the teacher, I was in fact the one who learned the most. I learned to get in the way, and to get out of the way. And I learned, as never before, to pray. Because when there are humans involved and a cause and call from Heaven, there will be, um, difficulties. There would be stretching and changing and growing up.
Beginning with me. I knew, for instance, that I would teach my children to respect other people, and other peoples’ property. I saw this as “socialism-proofing” as well as simply essential to convivial living. What I didn’t see was how upside down and backward it is to do anything at all without the freedom found in love. What I didn’t realize was how lacking I was in respect for other people and their most valuable property—their hearts.
My passionate child, Rebekah, at age four, had a very great desire to emulate me; this desire overrode the non-negotiable rule about staying out of my purse. I turned my back and in the blink of an eye she had found her treasure—my brand new and quite expensive red lipstick. It was ruined. I ranted, angrily, at this little adoring child. Sobbing, she went down the hall. “Whatsa matter, Bekah?” asked her big sister, Hannah (age 5). “Mama’s mad at meeee.”
She didn’t hear a word I said–she only heard the anger.
But my weaknesses always brought me to my knees, crying out, believing for what I would not and could not be without—Grace from God to pass on to my family. And Grace permeates, perfumes and perfects all things. Grace also sheds light on things dark—dare I say here, “Dark as in pre-packaged curriculum, scope and sequence guidelines, and tests.”
I simply could not pick a curriculum, and the light came on when I saw that according to the scope and sequence of a very popular one, my son was “failing” on every level. I walked away from the curriculum but the worry and confusion continued to plague me. I prayed, persevered, and persisted. And I learned.
I learned that even if a textbook was entitled “Adventures” in this or that, it was still a textbook, and thereby suspect of being what the great educator Charlotte Mason considered “twaddle”. Agonizing over which curriculum to buy, I had one of so many lightbulb moments. In discovering the meaning of “scope and sequence” I also discovered that my son wasn’t even close to being where he “should” be at age six. The lightbulb revelation: These textbook writers have never even met my son, much less have any knowledge of where he “should” be. I would follow a different path.
Early on, and then continually as we went along, I had to choose between two paths: Performance or Peace. And somewhere along the way it became clear that the Peace path was always the way. “Academics,” I said to my husband (who already knew this), “is the least important part of what we’re doing.” Missing it at times, overall we were raising our kids to love learning, love life, and love God.
Math, not so much. Realizing that even though I was always pretty good at math, I didn’t seem to have the tiniest bit of anointing to teach it. I got help. I ordered The Great Courses math curriculum—this after using other highly-rated options through the years. Still, math mastery wasn’t a hallmark of our homeschooling, at least not in all four of our students.
John was unconcerned. “I learned more in one college math course than in twelve years of public school,” he said. Not helpful. After all, there were those pesky ACTs and SATs and opinions of other people. There was that college prep and academic thing I said wasn’t the most important thing. And one of our kids really excelled (like scoring way higher than friends in costly private schools, even). I patted myself on the back a bit, and as usual a little child led me. “Mom,” this test-acing child said, “You always say not to care about the opinions of man. If you don’t care then why are you bragging about me to everyone. It’s embarrassing.”
OK, so I do care. So it does rankle to be judged (we did this when it wasn’t cool at all), and it is quite nice when your kids turn out nicer, smarter, and sweeter than their “properly socialized” peers; when they like you and want to spend time with you; and care about the world around them, and contribute thereto. All these things are common in homeschooled kids. Yes, of course you can find a train wreck among homeschoolers, but the results are in: even done quite imperfectly, homeschooling beats public “education” hands down.
Another homeschooler lamented to me of his three grown homeschoolers (all of whom were homeschooling their kids): “They don’t go to the same church we go to, they don’t much agree with our politics, they aren’t raising the grandkids like we think they should.” I smiled. “If you didn’t want them to think for themselves,” I said, “You shouldn’t have homeschooled them.”
That may be the best gift we can give our kids—the ability to think. This requires time, and to best effect, including time in nature. We all need time alone—time to be. Time to become. To be and become the unique-in-all-the-history-of-the-world miracles they were created to become.
Created. In view of my ever-increasing respect for His creations shared with me in my children, I gained an ever-increasing respect for living a creative life. The memories of our creative times brings me joy. There are the “paintings” they did on rainy days with homemade fingerpaints (on our living room walls); the wagon rides to shady spots in the woods for picnics and reading Timothy Tattercoat; the walks and talks, creekside rock skipping and stories. Once our younger two had writing assignments and requested going to the creek to play instead. “Take your writing things,” I said. “Write something—a poem, story, anything.” They came back with poems that absolutely delighted me—I still have them. So many things I’ve kept—things created.
We still remember the many tea parties: How we all loved History Teas, which often preceded and then followed museum visits. Art galleries stimulated ever-changing art creations. Knowing where all the best used bookstores were, and that Mom and Dad could always be counted on to buy books, went hand in hand with Dreams and Geography Teas. Herein we talked about going anywhere and doing anything at all when you got there. Especially in Etiquette Teas lovely classical music was played to go along with clean hands and faces. If I dressed up a bit and put on some lipstick and earrings, so much more their delight. Hearts were revealed, interests piqued, dreams encouraged. Etiquette Teas were attended by the boys with a bit less enthusiasm than by the girls perhaps, but Manners Matter and The Art of Conversation were heard and heeded as cookies were munched and crunched. Literature Teas were for talking about our current favorite books, reading passages–delight. What’s your favorite part, your favorite characters? Did you like the ending and what would you change? What’s the author’s world view? This would be a great movie—who should play the hero?
“Bookshares” were popularly attended by other homeschoolers, and followed a similar pattern. The kids, even those who only brought favorite picture books, shared what they loved with the group, then went on to play as the moms shared. What a joy one time when another mom brought the same book I brought—Freckles by Jean Stratton Porter. There are great friendships to be made between homeschool moms—so much of such import is held in common in our hearts.
But as much as is made about “socialization” and the supposed lack thereof among homeschoolers, we all need to get away to our own special space and place. I can still hear John’s choking cry when he came home to see 8-year-old Hannah reading, way high in a homemade hammock tied to the uppermost branches of a hickory tree. “Beverly!” Seeing my disappointing lack of alarm he rushed into the woods and stood beneath the tree, commanding Hannah to come down. She did so with a bit of a sigh. She had found a place where no one would bother her, or so she thought. It was hard having all these story-disturbing people about.
Kids learn and make sense of life via creativity. There is the time for hearing a story, for reading it for themselves, and then for acting it out in play. For our kids there were treks alone in the woods, and treks together as “The John Wayne Club.” The Club had rules and activities. They built forts and created worlds. There were destinations to be had via covered wagons, and those to be dressed up for because of train travel. Trains could be made in the garage with folding chairs, and picnic baskets for eating ham sandwiches and apples during travel. It was always messy, and sometimes painful.
As in the “Downhill Monster”
The Downhill Monster was a long bumpy trail through the woods above our house, then crossing the road, before going on down to the bottom of the hill. The older three managed to sail down it in their bikes, leaving the ground at times, and arriving fully alive and well, behind their fort. Seth, the youngest, was never to be left behind. From climbing everywhere by six months and walking (running) at seven months, he was always where the action was. One day when he was hot on the trail of the others flying down the Downhill Monster, John stepped outside to witness a spectacular crash. Seth was tangled up in his bike as it rolled over and around him, skinning him from shin to chin. Cringing, John started toward him, awaiting the wails. Rather, Seth said, “ugh” and got back on his bike. A man (at age 5) does what a man’s gotta do, right?
As in building with Legos. Every parent of Lego-loving children has stepped on one of those fiendish little Lego pieces in the middle of the night. But would we have it any other way? Would we want to be a Lego-free house, or a mess-free zone? (Yes, we taught our kids to clean their messes). Would we exchange creative play for an always-clean dining room table? No. After all, we can laugh about it. We can talk about the most challenging, fascinating and world-changing endeavor and privilege on earth: raising children. Learning how.
How is not via electronics. How is real. I recently saw a little boy playing trucks with a Tonka truck game on his phone. I was heartbroken. “This is not how!” I wanted to shout at his parents who were blithely ignoring him. How is learning how to be strong enough to say “No” to Tonka trucks on screens, and yes to playing trucks in the mud with real Tonkas. Or, if you prefer as did I, have some cool cars and build curvy roads, tunnels, bridges, and A-frame houses. I look back at such doings and am glad, so glad. I am glad the dishes didn’t get done right on time, that dinner was probably late that day, and the laundry waited for me (doesn’t it always?) as I played with my child. As we built strong and mighty bridges between our hearts.
Homeschooling families have to learn to get along (what else can you do with people you spend all your time with?), and the burden of that teaching falls mostly on the mom. It takes much prayer, thought, consideration, journaling, Bible reading, and did I say prayer to do this adventure justice. I did say adventure. I hear tell that homeschooling is difficult. But we do make it more difficult than it has to be. There is a place where difficulty becomes rewarding challenge; where weaknesses become strengths, where defeat is annihilated by joy.
If we will see it, our little children will lead the way. Or, if as was my case, we have a wise husband–we can be surrounded by people leading the way. “He’s never gonna learn to read,” I sobbed to John as he hit the door after a long day. For two years I had tried to teach our son Benjamin vowel sounds, and we weren’t past short “a” as in cat and hat. “You just need to back off,” John said. Fine lot of help you are. I prayed and received the Grace to back off.
Six months later, I was having coffee with John’s aunt on a beautiful Sunday morning. “Mom, what’s the Gay-Zuh strip?” Benjamin asked. “Gaza,” I corrected. “What are you doing!?” He was reading the editorial page. A few years later I told Benjamin to put the book down as he was doing chores. John walked up behind me and whined into my ear, “He never gonna learn to read.”
Thanks for the memories. And thanks for the blessed future we have yet to see. Amen.