Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why We Chose To Homeschool

Why do I homeschool my kids? I have been asked this question many times recently. I have been doing a lot of thinking about this. There are many reasons that Josh and I have chosen homeschooling for our family. I want to start off by saying that I do not believe that homeschooling is the only way to do things, nor do I believe it is for every family. I have many friends who are educating their children in private Christian schools and in public schools who have amazing children. These parents are doing what they feel is best for their children and doing a wonderful job with that responsibility. Each family must do what they feel God has in mind for their unique family. This post is merely stating some of the reasons that Josh and I felt called to homeschool our little ones.

Josh and I first started considering the possibility of homeschooling our children when I was pregnant with Mary Alice. I was teaching second grade at the time. There is nothing that makes you think about and plan for the future like the idea that you will be responsible for teaching and training a little human being. I used to come home from teaching my class and tell Josh stories about my sweet “kids.” We were both struck with the loss of innocence that happened so early...too early. My kids read this blog, so I will not go into detail on the things that I heard on a daily basis from the mouths of my seven and eight year olds. Let it suffice to say that they were shocking and vulgar. Half of the time, I don’t think they really understood what they were saying. Some of them did understand, though. This horrified me. We started throwing around the idea of doing “something else” for our kids. We started praying for wisdom. We still had a while. Mary Alice girl was still in the womb. :)

Mary Alice was such a joy. As she grew from a baby into a toddler, our days were filled with learning. We read books and sang songs. We pointed out things about the world around her. We taught her Bible stories and verses. It was all so fun! Teaching her was an absolute delight! I remember having so much fun seeing how much knowledge I could cram into that fuzzy little head. :)  It was all so natural. We had been teaching her all along. The transition to Kindergarten at home made more sense to us than sending her away to learn. I think we decided to educate her at home when she was two or three. I grabbed every library book I could find and started researching home schooling, curriculum choices, learning styles, etc. Yes, we were sure that homeschooling would be a great fit for our family.

In Deuteronomy 6, God says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.   Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.   Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” 

God commands His people to Love Him with all of their hearts, soul, and strength. He commands them to impress His commandments on their children, to talk about them all the time. These people are to be surrounded by God’s commandments and to submerge their children in them. God’s people are instructed to get God’s Word inside the hearts of their children, to talk about these important things from morning until evening...all the time.

This verse says that if I am a Christian, the responsibility for teaching my children about God and His Word falls on ME, as their parent. It does not fall on their Bible classes, their youth minister or any other youth program. This is a serious command. I believe that I will be held accountable by God for whether or not I taught my children His commands. A parent’s main objective for their children should be teaching them about the Lord. Nothing else is more important to me than filling my child up with God’s Word. Of course, I would like them to be successful in many other ways, but the most important thing I hope to do for my child is to teach them about God and His Word. The Bible does not say exactly how to do this, except that it is a parent’s responsibility and that the parent is to spend time communicating God’s truths to their children as they go about their lives. This can look different ways for different families, but ultimately, if you are a believer and you fail to do this, you have failed in your job as a parent.

This verse also talks about the commands being talked about often. It indicates large amounts of time spent together, as a family. Schooling my children at home allows me so much valuable time with my children. I love this! I love the fact that we are together almost all day long, just living life together. There have been many opportunities to discuss faith related things. We know each other so well. We love hanging out.  I have repeatedly heard advice from friends whose kids are grown to enjoy the time with them, because the time with them passes so quickly, and they are all grown up before you know it. I want to enjoy these kids while they are living at home, to try and influence them while I still have their hearts, to love and cuddle and pour into them in meaningful ways...with lots and lots and lots of my time and energy.

It takes us less time to do their school work than if they were in another school setting, which frees the kids up for other pursuits. My kids have been blessed with the gift of lots of extra hours in their days.  I want them to have free time to dream and create, to play outside, to do nothing, to just be a child.  It is my opinion that kids in our society today are overscheduled. Many children spend their entire childhoods being shuttled from one place to the next, all day every day. Rush rush rush....all day long. A typical day of many children might be getting up early, going to school, going to a practice of some sort, going home, doing homework, getting ready for and going to bed, only to start the same routine again the next day.  I don’t believe this is good for the soul of anyone, much less a growing child.  I love the freedom that homeschooling affords our family. I like my kids to have plenty of time to be bored. Homeschooling is freedom.

Another reason Josh and I have chosen to teach our children at home is to protect their hearts. When I was in elementary school, I remember hearing terrible words and ideas from other kids. I remember once, in second grade, learning things that I should’ve never been exposed to at that tender age. My heart was changed forever. I was confused. I was still a young child. I went home to my parents and asked them about the things that I had heard. My mother talked me through it, but I would never be the same. My innocence was gone. I was repeatedly exposed to ungodly attitudes that stuck in my heart like black tar, contaminating my world view and my thoughts and ambitions. Some of the things that I learned were how to get attention from boys and how to be unkind to those who weren’t as well liked as I was. I learned how to flirt and how to manipulate other children and situations to my advantage. Oh how I wish I’d had the watchful eye of my mother in those situations, to point me back to what God said about my awful heart attitudes, to speak to me during those times and pray me through them.  All this to say, I know there is no way I can protect my children from seeing and hearing everything. In fact, I know that I can’t protect them from Satan, no matter where they go to school. I do, however, want to be their primary influence during those young, tender years. I hope to nurture them as they grow, waiting to expose them to the harsh cold realities of sin in the world until they are stronger, better prepared to handle these things, because they’ve been equipped with the tools to fight. Little ones are like sponges. They absorb everything they see and hear. My hope is to fill them up with so much that is good and true that they can be real bright lights in the world when they are strong enough to do so, not snuffed out while they are still most absorbent.  I want to fill them up to the brim with Scripture, to talk openly about the fight that they are facing, to prepare and equip them for battle. I want to do this so that hopefully they can be real front line leaders, people who can help others along the way instead of getting shot down in cold blood before they have a chance to grab a weapon. I want to train their hearts. I want to train their minds. I want to equip them. I am passionate about this.

I don’t want to offend anyone who has a different way of educating their children. I want to restate that I don’t believe that home schooling is the only way. I have several friends who have amazing children who were not homeschooled. I see many of these women as mentors to me. I have so much to learn! I do believe, however, that it is God’s will for me to homeschool our children right now. I absolutely love it. Everyone has good works that God ordained for them to do. Some people are preachers. Some are teachers in the public school system, spreading Christ’s love to the little ones in their care. Others serve in different ways. Each person has to decide what God’s will is for them, for their occupation and for their family. I believe that God created me to be a homeschooling mother. I take my calling very seriously. I have an army of little people that he has entrusted to me. I am preparing them to fight the ultimate battle. I love this job! I believe that every mother who pours God’s Word into her children, no matter the way they choose to do it, is impacting the future in a mighty way. It is my hope that one day the work done in my home will impact generations to come, that through my little life Satan will shrink back and many will come to know Jesus.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homeschooling...Then and Now

I’ve had four different people contact me in the last week who are considering homeschooling for their family. It seems like everywhere I turn, there is another friend who is seriously contemplating  teaching their kids at home. How things have changed!
When I was a little girl, my parents pulled my brother and I out of the public school system and brought us home to learn. I was in the fifth grade. My brother was in the second. Mom and Dad were trying out some newfangled idea that they’d heard about from one of my dad’s patients, the idea of teaching your own children all they needed to know at home. It seemed a bold move at the time, one which only the daring attempted. My mom and dad were some of the pioneers of the movement. They were the objects of criticism and concern by many of their friends and family members. Most had never heard of it.
             I remember Mom breaking the news to the authorities at the school where I attended. It was just before the new school year was to start. While we were there, I was asked to go up the hall of my former school to a classroom. I had to collect something-or-other. While Mom talked with the school personnel in the front office, I walked up the hallway toward my old classroom alone.  I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of my former teachers and their colleagues. I was bombarded with questions. “Why are your parents home schooling you? Were they unhappy with the school? Were they unhappy with your teachers? Is your mother a qualified teacher? How is she going to teach you with all of those little brothers and sisters running around? What about your friends?”  I stared blankly at them, not really knowing how to respond. My fifth grade self instinctively knew that something was wrong with the whole picture. They were so...panicked.  They knew so little about the idea of this so-called home schooling and clearly disapproved of the whole situation, this blatant breaking of “the rules” about how things were supposed to be done.  As we walked back out to the car, I relayed the whole scene to my mother. Their concerned faces and tones had cast doubts in my mind about the plan my parents had for my education. Was this really such a good idea? What was it about their decision that would make me the object of a combination of fear and wonder by authority figures who had formerly been responsible for educating me? By placing me in this situation, had they sentenced me to a downward spiral into doom, from which I could never hope to recover? What the heck were they doing?!?
It must’ve been difficult for my mother. She and Dad felt convicted that this was what God wanted for their family.  Homeschooling  was very different from what it is now. Support systems were minimal. Information was hard to find. People seemed generally unsupportive. We were doing something considered freakish for the times. None of their friends did it. Nobody at church did it. We were weird. Visits to the grocery store, the library, or anywhere else during school hours garnered remarks and head shaking about why we were out during the day. “Were we out of school for the day?” they wondered. When we explained that we were home schooled they would usually get a puzzled expression and either stand there speechless, or start asking even more questions.
                  During our first year of home schooling, Mom was pregnant with my sister, Hannah. She was extremely sick. She laid on the couch for months that year, getting down to ninety pounds. She was so weak; I remember her slowly shuffling across the house each time she had to use the restroom. She was bent over like an old lady. She was weak and sickly. I know she felt terrible. I didn’t make things any easier on her. I was angry!  I was belligerent. I remember shouting at her, “You can’t teach me! You aren’t even a real teacher!” What an ignorant brat I was! Mom was juggling four children and pregnant with a fifth. She was so sick. She lost lots of weight and people from church started bringing us food. Mom trudged through that first year of school to the best of her ability.  
          I remember feeling so lonely back then. While attending public schools, I had been extremely social. I had lots of friends at school. I was one of the more outgoing students, voted class clown, always up to some sort of shenanigan, more of a leader than a follower.  Being social was pretty important to me. Realizing this, my mom found out that the local home schooling group met regularly at a nearby skating rink one day a week and started bringing our family to participate. I resisted her efforts to try to get me to incorporate into this group. I hated going to the activities. I told my mother of my misery and how I didn’t like to hang out with the people there. They all wore funny denim skirts and held hands with their brothers and sisters. I was a big fat snob. I felt so sad. I missed my school social life. Since I didn’t see my “good friends” from school on a regular basis, they mostly forgot about me. It was a very hard time for me. When we would go to the skating rink or any of the other activities that mom and the other mothers put together for us, I would put my nose up in the air and roll my eyes at the people there. I was terrible. What a brat! I believe that ultimately these years of being on the outside were character building years, ones that made me more empathetic and compassionate towards people who are different or left out. God used these years for lots of things, but this was one good thing that came from those years of heartache.
                     I did eventually meet a few girls that I was able to be friendly with, so that helped. It was funny. I remember feeling like in the public schools I’d had the reputation as being from the one of the most super conservative families among my peers and their parents. I’d had to leave several events because the movies were deemed inappropriate by my parents and was far more sheltered than most of my friends.  I remember sometimes being the one who was secretly judging my friends or the habits of their families as bad choices. As a new home schooler though, I found that I was often the one who felt judged. I remember always being afraid of one girl’s mom in particular, who always seemed to be viewing me through a magnifying glass. This woman’s face possessed an unintentional scowl. Through her frown lines, I felt like she saw me as some sort of a corrupting influence in her daughter’s life. When this girl would come over to play, I remember being so scared that I would do or say the wrong thing and that she wouldn’t be allowed to play with me ever again. This girl and I became great friends and her mother eventually grew less concerned about her daughter keeping company with me, but I was always cautious in her presence.
My parents were conservative and religious, but only in comparison to my public schooled friends. When you put them in with the home schooled crowd, they could be viewed by some as the black sheep of the bunch. What would make us appear this way? Maybe it was because we watched secularly minded television shows, “risqué” shows like Family Matters and Full House.  I had Barbie dolls. I listened to the New Kids on the Block and read secular books. Our family didn’t have nightly family devotions. I didn’t wear denim skirts. My parents didn’t believe in courting. The list goes on and on. Most people were homeschooling their children back then because they were extremely religious. It was so different than it is now.
             When we started home schooling, back in the late eighties, safety was a concern. Mom joined something called the Home School Legal Defense Association. For a yearly fee, this was an organization that provided a lawyer in case someone tried to take your children away from you for a home school related reason. The law at the time stated that we didn’t have to answer to anyone. There had been cases of school authorities coming to a child’s house, knocking on the door and trying to take the child away because the family had opted out of the public school system. Mom had coached us on how to respond to questions or what to do if someone came to our door. In a small way, it felt as though we were running from the Nazis, even though everything we were doing was perfectly legal. There was a sense of hiding out from those pesky school authorities that I knew were out to rain on our parade. So many people were ignorant about the laws. Many people were just unsure, especially older people. We got lots of, “Those kids should be in school! How are they going to be socialized?” 
Mom had done her research and found that plentiful data existed on homeschooled children that reflected highly on both their test performance and social skills. It seemed that even back in the late eighties, homeschooled children were being sought after by universities all over the nation for their academic successes.
           So much has changed over the last almost thirty years! People are being drawn toward the idea of home schooling by the droves! I hear from people all the time who are prayerfully considering home schooling for their family. I love that my children and I don’t have to be pioneers. They aren’t alone. Probably a third of their friends from church are homeschooled. My kids have lots of friends.
People who home school their children are no longer viewed as denim skirt wearing vigilantes. They are your everyday people. They are often highly-educated, passionate people who just want to do something good for their kids. Though some of the people are doing it for religious reasons, many just want to hang out with their kids more or cater to their unique learning needs or whatever. I think home schooled families are generally people who want to make their own rules and do things their own way. In my experience sometimes home schooled families have trouble with following rules. They are still pioneers, searching for better avenues of educating their little ones.
                There are opportunities everywhere for the family who chooses to educate their children at home! There are curriculums that are tailor made for every type of homeschooled family. There are programs for people who don’t want to do any teaching and people who want to be right by their children’s side all day long. There are social networks, academic resources, anything and everything anyone who was interested might every need or want. It is truly amazing just how far homeschooling has come!
          I know that home schooling isn’t for every family. I am grateful that we live in a country where people can choose how they want their children to be educated. We live in a land of options.  My next post will detail why we feel that homeschooling is best for our little family and try to answer many of the questions that people keep asking me about the how and why of our family’s homeschooling journey.

On Finding Nanny McPhee


             Josh and I don’t get a chance to go out on dates very often. Choices we’ve made (having five precious children) make it....shall we say...nearly impossible. Sometimes I get to the point where I begin feeling sorry for myself. I am so incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to stay home with my kids. I love them. I love my job. I really do. I enjoy living out my dream, being able to spend so much precious TIME with my little blessings. I love that I am their primary influence right now. I love the freedom I have at home, the choices I am able to make. I love being their teacher. I am so grateful.

Sometimes though, I get downright angry. When I look like something that the cat dragged in, haven’t left the house for anything other than the grocery store for weeks, spend hours on end with my rear end plastered to a rocking chair nursing, nursing, nursing, nursing or pumping, pumping, pumping. When I come to the realization that my roots are two inches long from failing to get my hair done in half a year or that I haven’t slept through the night in months and haven’t spent time with my husband, it makes me feel angry.  When I hear something like the Hallelujah chorus each morning, substituted with the word “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” and feel a major accomplishment in taking a bath or using the restroom sans child, my heart wells up in anger at the pure exhaustion of it all! My selfish heart screams, “ME! MINE! ME TIME!”

 This is how Satan gets to me when I feel overwhelmed. He gives me a complaining spirit. I tell myself that it isn’t actually complaining, because it is so subtle. Instead of focusing on my many blessings, Satan creeps in and gets me to focus on problems. I think, “Why won’t someone help me out here? Doesn’t anyone understand my plight? Surely someone somewhere can see all that I have to accomplish in a day and wants to come offer me a helping hand of relief?!?” Really I have nobody to blame for these problems but myself. When I have this victim mentality, it is usually over something that I have the power to change.

 Recently, I just felt so overwhelmed and for the first time, was suffocating under the weight of the responsibilities that went along with raising five children. I needed an intervention. I think Josh needed one too. We needed some time together...badly and we needed it now! Kids are great, but if you are doing the kid thing 24/7, that can be a bit smothering, even for someone who loves being around their little kiddoes as much as I do.

          We had tried having babysitters in the past who were teenagers. Don’t get me wrong, they were all very capable, wonderful babysitters. Many times, when we left our kids with teenager, it seemed like they were a bit overpowered by our large bunch. Having five children, we now feel that we qualify as having babysitting “special needs.” We knew what we really needed was a professional. We had to find someone who would take charge and who had lots of experience with children.

          After searching for months, we finally found her... I called her and made arrangements. It was all set. The long awaited day had finally arrived. We heard a knock at the door. “Nanny McPhee” (name changed to protect her privacy) stood in our doorway wearing a black pea coat and looking something like a more attractive Jo Frost. (Or maybe I just wanted her to look like Jo Frost, since this is the only nanny I am familiar with. Of course, there’s Mary Poppins, but she wears that weird flower hat and funny clothes, so I couldn’t put her image in my doorway.)  She had a calm demeanor and wore a pleasant smile. Her hair was pulled back into somewhat of a bun. She was carrying a bag full of toys in one hand and a folded up musical piano under her other arm. The kids eyed “Nanny McPhee” with interest as she stepped into our living room. Mabel ducked behind my legs and gave a shy smile. Milla loves people and was beyond excited to meet a “new friend.” As soon as Nanny McPhee pulled out a blue elephant that blew butterflies out of its nose, we knew we had a winner!

          The sight of this Super Nanny I had heard so much about thrilled me because it meant that Josh and I would finally have our long awaited date. We planned to eat dinner at a local steakhouse. After giving “Nanny McPhee” typed out instructions and a quick wave goodbye, we practically ran out the door. Was this really happening? It all seemed too good to be true! Finally we were able to go out on a date!

          “Nanny McPhee” was excellent with our children. I had not a moment’s hesitation about leaving our little treasures under her care. When we came back home, crafts had been made, games had been played and fun had been had by all.           Most importantly, my sweet husband and I had a chance to reconnect without the kids and I had time to look at him, really look at him and listen to him without multi-tasking or trying to prop my eyelids open so that I could stay awake long enough for us to have a meaningful conversation. Reconnecting is so important in a marriage. We have a great marriage, but the past four years have been really difficult on both of us physically. In a word...exhausting! We’re so glad we’ve found Nanny McPhee. Now that we’ve found such a wonderful caregiver that we can trust, we plan to date more regularly. I have a growing list of places that I want to go with my Josh. :)  I am so incredibly excited! I have always been fascinated with the idea of having a nanny. Nanny sounds so much more intriguing than the title of babysitter. I got to visit with Nanny McPhee for a full hour after Josh and I came home. She stayed and chatted with Mary Alice and myself. She is a wonderful person that I know I can trust to come and take care of our kids for a few hours at a time so that Josh and I can go on regular date nights.  For our family she is “practically perfect in every way.”  Ahhhh....success. Planning for date night number two will now commence.

I'm Back

          It’s been a long time, such a long time since I’ve blogged. I’ve felt the blog calling my name and yet, I’ve been so darn exhausted that I haven’t been able to sit down and attempt to write more than a sentence or two on Facebook. 

The last time I posted on this blog was over two years ago, for MA’s birthday. She is now eleven. So much has changed since that time, most notably, the extra two extra tiny children who now live at our house. :)

I want to be able to write down some of the special things that I want to remember some day. Without doing this, things I know I will certainly forget. Josh had all of my blog entries printed up to this point and gave it to me for my last birthday. It was one of the best presents ever and it was a great kick in the pants for me to continue writing things down. The kids loved reading all of the stories and pictures I had recorded. I had almost forgotten those sweet stories and the feelings I had back then. I laughed and cried my way through the two big novels Josh had published for me. I am SO glad to have those sweet memories in book form!

I’m going to attempt to write a little more often, just to preserve these moments for the kids to read later. I guess I also like to use a blog for a little bit of introspective reflection as well.

          I like to talk, sometimes too much. I think my writing is similar to my brain. My mind is always going, always looking for ways to improve myself. I’m constantly on some sort of a self-improvement crusade.  The flip side of that is almost ever present guilt that I know shouldn’t be there. I have been told that I am a little bit too intentional. You’d think I’d be a better person by now after all of the many times I became passionate about some sort of project I was heart-convicted about! I just keep plugging along, doing the best I can to find God’s will for my life, confident that He’s working to transform me into the person He wants me to be, even if it isn’t on my timetable. I want to document a few of the wonderful things that have transpired over the last two and a half years.

I will start with what I consider to be the most important developments in my life over the last few years. I have experienced since the time posts were last written on this blog, a tremendous amount of spiritual growth. I have always read my Bible habitually throughout my life.  It all started when, in third or fourth grade, the church my family was attending issued a challenge. They challenged the congregation to read through the Bible in a year. Each week our preacher David Roper, would list that week’s reading assignment in the church bulletin. I followed along with enthusiasm. I wanted to complete the assignments, but really I just wanted to meet the goal, reading through the Bible in a year. I did it! I met my goal. Bible reading to me was a goal to be met. I checked that off of my to-do list and then... I didn’t read the Bible on a regular basis again for a long time. God was still working on this part of my life.

In college, my Bible reading became regular again for a while. I resumed again after Josh and I got married, after Mary Alice was born, etc. I made it through several intense Bible studies, but never felt the need to have daily quiet time with God. I don’t mean I didn’t have consistent quiet time. I did, for a few months here and a few months there. What I mean was that I didn’t NEED this time. I didn’t require it.

At just the right time, my sister-in-law introduced me to a wonderful Bible reading plan, Professor Horner’s Bible reading system. God was working, through this, to draw me even closer to Him. I was exhausted from the responsibilities of caring for and schooling so many little ones and several other hardships were going on with some people in my life. For the first time, I started to NEED the strength that God’s Word provided just to get through each day. Now, I am happy to say that I have a heart that truly hungers for God’s Word to fill up its broken and empty spaces. If I don’t have my daily time in His Word, I feel as bad as if I didn’t brush my teeth that morning or skipped meals. My heart is hungry, instead of my body. I need to be filled with His truths. God has answered so many of my prayers in the last two and a half years and filled my heart with a richness I want to share with others. God is still working on me. His Word is alive and active, as is the Spirit’s power in my life. I can see so many evidences of Him speaking directly to me through the Bible and this excites me!

          God has answered so many of my prayers for things and in ways I didn’t expect. It is funny how God chooses to answer our prayers sometimes. I have prayed earnestly at times for God to bless my life in certain ways, thinking that I knew just how he could/would do it. God surprises me, though. He usually never answers prayers the way I think He should. His way is always right. Love Him! Anyway, I hate to drone on, but this is such a wonderful bright spot over the past two years that I had to mention it. I love how people can continue to grow, even though they may have been a Christian for decades, there are always opportunities for positive change! No matter where you are on your spiritual journey, God can grow you to be more like Him, never perfect, but growing.

          In the last few years I have lost two grandparents, a great aunt, a close friend from college, and a father-in-law. We named our fourth daughter Mabel Emmalee after my sweet Grandma Emma Lee Stewart and after my great aunt Mabel, some special people who’ve left their imprints on my life. Just last night, I was lying in bed with Milla telling her the story of my Grandma Emma Lee and telling her some of the things I loved about my Grandma Stewart. Right now, we also talk regularly about Grumpy (Josh’s dad), how and why he in Heaven, and what he must be doing there. Losing people you love is hard. It is so important to love on people while you can, share with people, reach out to people, show God’s love to them. Not much else in life matters. I want to be good at this. I’m working on it. God is working on me.

          This was such a lengthy post. I haven’t written in so long. I feel a little rusty and out of practice. I didn’t know how to start this post and now I’m not sure how to end it. :)  I have had a major need to document some of the goings-on around here. On another day, I will have to write a little bit about my sweet and special kiddoes. I don’t think people out there are dying to read my sentiments about my little darlings. That’s fine. I’m writing this down primarily for them to read and maybe for the small handful of family members who feel the same way about my precious kids that I do. :) In fact, I may go private...Until next time...