Friday, March 28, 2014

Why We Choose to Homeschool

Sam built this bridge at Classical Conversations today
Recently I blogged about our homeschooling schedule and was asked why we've chosen to homeschool. Before I answer that question, I want to preface it with this: I realize that many reading this have chosen differently than we have. In this day and age, disagreeing with someone is translated to mean that you hate them and/or their choice. This is simply not the case. I can disagree with you and your choice and still love you. Or I can choose one thing and you can choose another and we can both be right*. Sadly, I can even choose the same as you and not love you. Somehow, our culture has gotten this all mixed up. Agreement does not equal love or acceptance. Likewise, disagreement does not equal hatred or exclusion. Many of my best friends have chosen to send their kids to school in public schools or private schools. So, just as my previous blog was not the best schedule for homeschooling, it is simply what we've found to work for us, this blog post isn't why YOU should homeschool, but rather why WE have made that choice for our kids right now.

The number one reason why we have chosen to homeschool is our faith. We believe that Jesus Christ is our Savior. That we are all born sinful and in great need for a Savior. God saw that need before we were even born and sent His Son to live a sinless life and die a cruel death for our sins. He defeated death and the grave and was raised to life again three days later. We believe that through His death and resurrection we can have life, if we repent, believe and follow Him. We believe that the Bible is the true Word of God, given to us that we might know Him and how to live this life for His honor and glory. That is our chief end, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We want to raise our children to do that as well. When given the option of sending our kids to someone else for 7+ hours a day, or let them stay home and spend that time with them, it seems to be an easy choice for us. I'd rather spend those hours pouring into their character, seeing their sinful little hearts (because trust me they are sinful--they come by that just as naturally as they do their brown eyes!) and pointing them back to the One who loves them in spite of their sin. Along the way, we typically do a little math and reading, but the goal at the end of the day is not to have the smartest kids on the block, but kids that love the Lord and want to their gifts and abilities to serve Him.
Jon playing peak-a-boo with Maggie
all four of our kiddos enjoying playing together
Another thing we love about homeschooling is the way it promotes family relationships. My boys are each other's best friends. When I asked my boys this morning why they thought we homeschooled them, they answered, "because we like being together--you like being with us and we like being with each other and you." I love that they thought that was THE reason. It's definitely a big bonus!

Jon and Sam jumping while reciting memory work
 the boys sorting their CC timeline cards

A third perk of homeschooling is the fleixibility. Kids are unique. Their gifts and talents are much easier to recognize and encourage in a smaller group setting. Both of my boys are bright and are working ahead in one subject area or another. Occasionally they struggle with something and we can slow down and make sure we really have mastered it before moving on to the next thing. Also, I have been asked by more than one person if my oldest has ever been tested for ADHD, and since we homeschool, the answer is no. Does he struggle to sit still? Often yes, and we are working daily on that. Is his constant movement and ability to do three things at once going to serve him well later in life. I believe the answer is yes, and while I understand why kids need to sit still for long periods of time in a traditonal classroom, I'm glad to not have to make him do that day in and day out. If he wants to pace while he reads to me or jump up and down while spelling words that he's missed, he can. If my six year old wants to do three math assignments on one day and then take two days off of math, why not? 
 Jon reading beside Maggie last summer
We want our children to be lifelong learners. I mentioned this in my first post, but I'll sum it up again here. I really hope to encourage my kids to love reading and understand that if something interests them, they can learn all about it. While I don't buy into the "if you believe in yourself, you can do anything" philosophy, I do believe that the ability to learn about and understand the things around us in this day and age is limitless. I hope that our kids will jump in with both feet, and learn constantly about new things and share what they're learning with me, too! During my education, I was taught how to pass a test. I learned a lot of things very temporarily, and very few things that stuck. The way we are teaching our kids, with God at the center of all things tying everything together, it is my hope that they hide many of the things that we are teaching them away in their hearts. Most importantly, that they know how to learn and enjoy the process. It's something I've only in recent years begun to do.

It's funny, I almost forgot to mention that I enjoy homeschooling because it allows me to do something I love to do: teach. I have mentioned this before, but I love teaching. I have known for as long as I can remember that I wanted to teach. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching other people's children for years before I had my own. Just over a year ago, we considered sending our kids to a classical Christian school nearby and in the end decided that it was silly to pay someone else to do the part of my day that I truly love. People often assume that because I was a teacher, that's why we homeschool, but that's really not why. It's is a great added bonus though! :)

Lastly, lest you think it's all rainbows, butterflies and fuzzy kittens, we do have rough days and weeks. It is a struggle to balance all of this in our home. Here are a couple of the homeschool pitfalls in my book:
1. My kids are wonderful, but they do get on my nerves sometimes.
2. I am constantly confronted with my own issues and sins.
3. I get little time to myself or time to pursue my interests outside of the home.
4. Consistency and discipline is essential and that is not easy.
But just as other aspects of parenting involve a dying to self in order to serve those little ones, homeschooling is just that continued. Lord-willing, I will have years to pursue my interests outside the home after my kids are grown. My kids rough edges and my own issues are being worked out together in the safety of our home. In the words of a friend, "homeschooling is one of the ways God is sanctifying me each day!" And I need to learn to be more consistent and more disciplined, hopefully, my kids are learning right along with me.

Here are a few blog posts that I find encouraging about homeschooling. Also, the book When You Rise Up by R.C. Sproul, Jr. was a big encouragement to us.
*I do believe in an absolute truth and that there are things that are absolutely right and wrong. I was simply saying that you could choose pizza and I could choose a burrito and neither of us has to be wrong. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

What this homeschooling thing looks like for our family

So what exactly do you do? I have been asked this on more than one occasion and there's not a simple answer. Just like each family has their own rhythm and routine, their own unique spin on crazy, each homeschooling family is unique. I remember being told once that homeschooled kids are only as bizarre as their parents. To that, I can only say, I'm sorry, kids!
Sam reviewing his memory work for Classical Conversations
I have always loved teaching. My mom will tell you, I used to teach my stuffed animals and dolls. I have a degree in Elementary Education. I taught sixth, then second, and then, my personal favorite, fifth grade before having kids and staying home. Teaching in the classroom gave me some great insights that are no doubt a huge asset to my teaching at home. On the flip side, sometimes I think that our homeschooling needs to look like my time in the traditional classroom. That is actually quite silly. In the classroom, I had between 22-30 children to teach at one time. At home I have two at different levels, plus a toddler and a preschooler. Clearly, it should look quite different. Probably the most helpful thing that I have taken away from my time in the classroom has been that I can learn along with the kids. As long as I have resources to turn to, which are abundant in this day and age, I don't have to know all about every single thing that I am teaching the kids. Which is good, because I have learned through our homeschooling experience that I don't know a lot of the things that I want my kids to learn, and I've had a blast learning with them!

I have mentioned Classical Conversations (henceforth referred to as CC--on my blog it is not short for Common Core) before in several posts, but in case you missed it, you can learn about it in a clip here. Briefly, CC gives us a skeleton of sorts for our curricula. We base our history, literature, science and even some of our handwriting on what we are memorizing at CC. Classical Conversations has three cycles that get repeated, one per year. This is our fourth year in CC, so Jon is memorizing information that he was introduced to three years ago. Obviously, at age 8, he is able to comprehend more of what he is memorizing than he did at 5. Because of that, we are actually applying much of the memory work in our math, English grammar, science, and more. Each week the kids are introduced to seven new facts (science, history, math, Latin, English grammar, geography, and timeline) that we review and expand on at home. I explain this just so that you have a better idea what I'm talking about later.

In case you're visiting, we have four kids. Jon is eight and doing third grade work. Sam is 6 and doing first grade. Will is three and is a whirlwind of activity. Maggie is one and is recently trying to give up her morning nap, much to my chagrin because we usually do most of our schooling while she naps in the morning!
 piano practice often involves a younger sibling "helping"

A typical week here is anything but typical. As I sit here with a sick three year old, I can safely say that rarely does one week actually look like the next, a perfect world the following would be our norm:
Monday/Wednesday and Friday are very similar and begin with piano practice around 9am. While one boy practices, the other begins his handwriting (Handwriting Without Tears or CC Prescripts) for the day. Then they switch. After handwriting, they each do two pages of phonics(Explode the Code). This gives me time to finish up breakfast with the little ones and get my morning cup of coffee. No one wants the teacher to start teaching before she gets her coffee! Once they've finished phonics, we typically review CC together for 20-30 minutes (we review in many ways, I will write about that later). Next Sam begins his math (Saxon 2), while Jon does his spelling (Spelling Workout-Mondays: Pretest/Wednesdays: workbook pages/Friday: test). Next, I teach Jon his math lesson (Saxon 5/4) and do the first 10-15 problems with him. Often Sam finishes his math and spelling during this time and goes to play with Will (3) for a bit. Once Jon gets to problem 15 in his math, we switch to science (AIG) or reading. After completing science or reading, they'll often take a break for a snack or to play with their brother. Then I call Sam back for Shurley English, teach him his lesson and get him started on his work, and call Jon to do the same with him at his grade level. After they finish, they listen to a chapter Story of the World CD that correlates with what we are learning at CC, while I go make lunch. Sam is typically able to finish all of his work by lunch time. Jon usually finishes his math during quiet time, which is from 2-4 pm at our house, but occasionally has other work to finish up on as well.
Sam playing Mouse Trap with Will during a break from school
Tuesdays we meet with our CC community. My mom graciously comes and stays at our house with my little two, who are one and three. That gives me more freedom to help out in Jon and Sam's classes at CC. Classical Conversations for their age group, Foundations, is from 9:15-12:00. We stay for lunch to fellowship with the other families there. The kids love playing with their friends, and I love the encouragement I get from the other moms. If you are considering CC, and aren't sure if you'll stay for lunch, I would encourage you to try in for a couple weeks. I think you'll find that it is worth the effort of packing lunches to spend that time with other moms who are going through similar experiences. Next year, we'll stay for the afternoon for Essentials, Classical Conversations class for 4-6th graders, but for now, we head home around 1pm.
Thursdays we host a Bible study group for ladies from our church. It's such a blessing that they come to our house. I don't have to load up all four munchkins, and Maggie can take a nap here in her own bed. The boys get to hang out with friends in our basement with the sitter, while I enjoy fellowship and refreshment from God's Word and the ladies who come each week. It does make for a little bit of chaos with school. We don't start until after lunch, but I plan for Thursdays to be light. We do a shortened CC review, math, handwriting, and reading is often assigned as silent reading on their own during their little siblings' naps. That's the beauty of homeschooling, I can make Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays a little more saturated with work and Thursdays lighter, or we could do school longer into the summer, or...well, the possibilities are endless.
this boy is so messy-and the mess doesn't phase him a bit!
I love routine. It's for this reason that we don't take many random "days off" during the school year now. If we get out of our routines, it is like pulling teeth to get them back into those routines. And again I say, I love routine. We do take a week off in the fall to go to Alabama to visit family and have a vacation of sorts. Also, we usually take a week for Thanksgiving and Christmas to spend time with family. Besides that, we'll take a day here or there for field trips.

To sum all of this up, I am sharing this not because we've got the perfect routine or method here, but because I'm often asked and frankly, I like reading about what works for others. I'd love to hear from other homeschool moms about what works best for you. Or if you don't homeschool, but have ideas that you think my be helpful, please share!   I am often making little changes to make things run more smoothly. I love asking seasoned moms for their tips and tricks in all aspects of mommyhood. There is so much we can learn from each other along the way!

**It should be noted that I am completely overwhelmed at the thought of trying to do school with two preschoolers next year. Maggie won't be napping, and Will will just be turning four, so there will be some serious juggling going on over here. We've actually been talking to our super-wonderful-babysitter about being my mother's helper a couple mornings a week so that the younger two get some fun activities and attention while the older two can get some quality teaching from a mama who's attention is not quite so torn!**

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Head Above the Water

We all have limits. As we are all different, the limits we have are unique to each of us. It's good to know what they are. For instance, Sam, my six year old, can't swim yet. He knows that he can't swim, so he doesn't go into the part of the pool that is above his head. I'm fairly certain that is the long and short of the phrase "head above the water." We need oxygen and can't get it when our head isn't above the water, therefore, we need to have our heads above the water.

Last year I had moments of bobbing up and down, barely able to catch my breath. I've blogged about the difficulties of my pregnancy, Maggie's early arrival (in our timing, obviously she came just when God ordained!), my thyroid problems, and just the general craziness of life with four small children, so I won't go into all those details again. I bring those things up just to say that I finally feel like I am starting to be able to keep up with the spinning plates. Every now and then one falls, but thankfully we replaced the ceramic plates with Correlle, so they are much more durable! Besides thyroid medicine, my children growing slightly more independent, and huge dose of the grace of God, I want to share a few of the things that have helped me get my feet back on the ground.

1. Asking for help/communicating my needs/accepting help. Amazingly, my friends and my husband are not mind readers. Just explaining when I could use help has made such a huge difference. Whether it's my husband pitching in more than usual with helping around the house, or a friend offering to drive both ways for a play date so that I don't have to wake sleeping kiddos, every little bit helps. This season is full and it's okay to ask for help. In fact, it's probably necessary.

2. Saying no. I am such a people pleaser. If someone needs help, I want to offer. If they are looking for volunteers at church, I want to jump in and help. Sometimes that is good, but I need to wait and pray before I agree to anything extra these days. If I want to do the jobs that are already on my plate well, I need to say no much more often than yes to any new tasks. I keep reminding myself that this is a season, and in another season, I can volunteer and help others then. Right now, my family is my first priority.

3. Lowering my standards.  That sounds horrible, but I think we all have unrealistic standards at times. For me, when it comes to homeschooling, I often have very high expectations for what we will accomplish. In the kitchen, I have lofty goals of trying new recipes. Around the house, I dream of organization and cleanliness. Perhaps simplifying is better than lowering standards. I just need to remind myself that the kids don't need to do every educational craft and file folder game and science experiment. One new recipe a week is more than enough with four young kids at home. And as for the house, well, let's just shoot for somewhat tidy and not a crazy mess! ;)

These are simple truths, but they are things that I need to constantly remind myself of, so I thought perhaps someone else out there needed to be reminded as well. If not, well, kudos to you for being more together than I am! I'll close with one more truth that I hold dear:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Fresh Start

For nearly two years, I have been pondering a new name for our family blog. For years now it's been Me and those Gross Boys, a play on our last name and the fact that it was me and my three boys and my favorite guy. Then we found out we were going to have a girl, and while thrilled at the thought, I could barely function through her pregnancy, so although many people pointed out that I should change the name, it really wasn't a priority. The 17 months since Maggie's birth have been a whirlwind of newborn-ness, moving into a new house, struggling with a thyroid problem, plus the usual taking care of the family, homeschooling two boys while taking care of two little ones. Every now and then, I would get a suggestion or think for a second or two about renaming the blog, but until a few weeks ago nothing really stood out to me.

One morning, as we were doing our normal thing (i.e. Will playing trains, Maggie getting into everything, me trying to teach and keep the peace) I searched for an answer to a question that Jon asked. He seemed surprised that I didn't have an answer at the ready, so I told him, "Sometimes I'm just learning as we grow, I mean as we go, too." I misspoke, but it struck a chord with me. Learning as we grow, growing as we learn. That's something that I hope we're doing around here. Our family is a part of Classical Conversations, a homeschool group that meets weekly.  One of the goals as we homeschool is that our kids would grow to have a love of learning. Deuteronomy speaks of teaching our children about God and His Word, when you sit in your house, when you walk along the way, when you lie down, and when rise up, pretty much all of the time. It is our desire that they would learn to love learning about God's Word, but also about the world that He has created. That they wouldn't just learn a lot of stuff for a test, but that as they have a new interest, they would know how to dive in a learn more about it. That throughout our days, whether we are sitting doing math lessons from a textbook or walking through the store, or playing outside, they would constantly learn and grow. I hope that there is always learning and growing, and growing and learning. So, while you can still find my old recipes, and maybe an occasional new one here, I will be posting about our family and how we are learning and growing right here. Usually this is a lighthearted place of reflection and story-telling, silly pictures and fun tales of little ones, but occasionally I get a little more introspective. Other times, it just a place for me to record things I don't want to forget--stats or curriculum choices. Feel free to tune in or out as you please! And know that your comments are more than welcome! :)