The Heart of Homeschooling

 

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Confession: I’ve been praying for some time now that God would help the whole world to embrace homeschooling {cringe face}. For those of you who have recently been thrust into the job and would like to throw something at me for this, I apologize, and am willing to empathize with your frustrations. My prayer was not born out of a stellar experience with homeschooling, but rather the discovery of God’s heart in the middle of it. And not just for my children, but for all children, including yours. I had no idea that we would end up here, with literally the whole world under the mandate to homeschool, but God knew, and I believe He prompted those prayers ahead of time, in an effort to set us up for finding treasure in the middle of the darkness.

I’ve been homeschooling for about 17 years now. I’ve homeschooled my step-daughters, my semi-adopted kids, my own kids, and even a couple of neighborhood kids and close friends’ kids – for short seasons. Ours has been a mixture of different programs and approaches, and even partnerships with some of the local public schools. Each year, and each child has been different. This has meant that we are always learning, always looking for new ways to learn, and always finding more room to grow.

I am not a teacher. I have a love for teaching, and even the spiritual gifting for it. But somehow, that doesn’t always make my job effective or easy at home, with my own kids. There are unique challenges to homeschooling, but there are also amazing privileges and benefits.

I confess that, despite my years of experience, I am far from an expert. Rather than writing blogs for other homeschooling families, I am usually the one reading them, in another desperate search for yet more help. However, a recent conversation with a friend who has been freshly thrust into this new assignment prompted me to write today’s post, in the hopes of encouraging my community to see this moment through God’s perspective. We have in front of us, if we are willing to embrace it as such, a divine opportunity, rather than an unwanted burden.

I know your feelings may not agree right now, and that’s understandable. You have permission to have meltdowns (in your closet, please), and to process through all the emotional turbulence this has stirred up. But don’t stop there. I want to urge you to bring your heart before God and ask Him to move you through the storm of emotions and into the joy and potential of the moment you’re standing in.

I could tell you so many stories about my experience – some that would make you laugh, some that would make you cry, some that would inspire you, and some that would make you terrified. I won’t do that today, because I want to use this space to share some golden nuggets with you instead. But I want you to know that if I can do this, you can, too. I also want you to know that you will have your own stories to tell, when this is all said and done. There will be moments of failure, triumph, exasperation and breakthrough. And all of that is ok.

My heart’s hope is that this will become more than just a moment for you and your children. My earnest prayer is that you will catch God’s heart for your kids through this experience, and that you will want more. When God first called me to homeschool, it was the most impossible job I could ever have imagined saying yes to, on so many levels. My brief testimony in it is that, in saying yes and stepping into His will, He has miraculously provided financially, and He has produced unimaginable growth emotionally, spiritually and mentally. If you’re feeling unqualified or unable in any way, I am here to say that God can do big things with the little to nothing you feel you have. He is truly able to do the impossible when we trust Him and embrace His will.

So, for the new homeschooling families all over the world, here are some of the treasures of wisdom I have mined from my journey. I pray they encourage, inspire, challenge and convict you to embrace this moment with all that you are, and lean into God for what He wants to accomplish in you and your children through this journey!

Homeschooling Has Nothing To Do With How Good You Are At It. It has everything to do with how good God is, and how He has promised to help you and guide you and grow you…and your children! Just start every day by thanking Him, and praying for His direction, strength, heart and help. He will give it! A great verse to pray is Proverbs 22:6, and this is how I pray it each day: “Thank You, Lord for my children, and for this opportunity to guide them into all You have planned for them. Please help me to love them and lead them in the way they should go today, and when they’re old, please help them not to depart from it.”

Start With the Most Important Thing: Bring Them To Jesus. I’ve learned too many times that when we don’t begin with our training in God’s Word, we end up not having time for it before the day is over. The pressure to finish everything in time is real, especially if you’re having to cooperate with the public schools’ agenda. But when you put God first, and prioritize your children’s spiritual growth in Him, God will multiply the rest of your time and build a deeper connection between your hearts. This doesn’t have to be complicated. For now, a devotional in the morning together, providing room to read and discuss a verse and pray over how God wants it to be lived out today, is good. Teaching them to put God first will help them (and you!) to see and understand real success. A great verse for this is Proverbs 16:3.

Morning Huddle or Morning Basket Time is A Great Way to Get Started. I am not by nature a very organized person. I’ve had to work hard at this, and I’ve found that when I create a little bit of structure, my kids do much better at embracing what I put in front of them. Homeschooling (and life) are full of unpredictable, crash-the-whole-schedule moments, so finding ways to build in small and predictable things is golden, and will serve to help your children feel secure, and help you feel like something got accomplished – even if it all unraveled after the morning huddle. Creating a little basket or hub (currently we have a little stack on the table in front of the fruit bowl) where your “First Things First” materials are gathered will help keep your goal in front of you (things seem to disappear frequently in our house – not sure if that’s my lack of organization or the kids’ journey toward learning to be more responsible and prepared). Keep your devotional, assignment schedule/goals for the day, and any additional things you would like to be consistent in doing together before the day gets under way. (We say the pledge of allegiance, and so have the pledges laminated and a little flag ready to hold up. I also like to keep a little sticky note pad, a pen or two, and the kids’ Bible journals, so they don’t have to go digging for them each day…an expedition that can end up derailing the whole morning!) Our morning routine is breakfast, Bible, prayer and pledge time, chore time, 30 minutes of free time (for them to creatively play – no screens!!! – and for me to get my act together and prepare for their work. The morning huddle is also a great time for me to look them in the face and communicate to them the plans for the day, and my love for them – and that we are in this together. It has done wonders for our little home school.

You Are the Atmosphere Setter. If you’re overwhelmed, they will be, too. If you’re frustrated, they will feel like they’re failing, and they will respond with all kinds of not-so-fun behaviors. Do your best, through prayer before, during and after schooling, to create and maintain an atmosphere of acceptance and encouragement for your children. You have the opportunity to make learning safe and fun, to celebrate their strengths and quietly and prayerfully recognize their weaknesses so you can help them in those areas, and to remove the burden of what school has likely been for them. Whether it’s hot chocolate during reading or a snack during math, or the freedom to sit on the comfy couch in pajamas while doing science, play up the privileges and remind them that this a really cool opportunity that you’re excited for them to have. Make them feel special and like you’re so happy to have them home with you (you may not feel this way now, but it’s how God feels, and you can borrow from His heart when yours feel overwhelmed. It’s critical for your children to feel loved, wanted and embraced by you during this time. The schooling demands will feel heavy, but that’s not their fault. Try to unhook from that and remember that you get to love and protect and nurture their hearts right now.) When it feels hard and you hit a wall – whether in your own ability or in theirs, take a break. One of the wonders of homeschooling is that we get to make room for life. We can call recess at any time we deem it appropriate (10-15 minute breaks are amazing refreshers!). If your child is struggling, don’t send them to time out, bless them with recess and tell them you’ll come back to it after they have a chance to play and refresh their little minds. Tell them you believe in them, and that their best is good enough (because it is!). In public school, the atmosphere is full of pressure to perform at a certain level, and thick with expectations that they accomplish the ridiculous workload they’ve been given. At home, you have the authority to free them from that awful yoke. Convey your desire to see them try their best, and lovingly challenge them when they’re not. But let Heaven come into your home and remind both you and your child that God made them unique, and learning doesn’t have to be so hard and heavy. Learning can be fun, and joy can be drawn from the connection of your hearts. If you connect with God’s heart first, He will give you the strength to set the atmosphere of your home to be one in which your child can thrive (Sidenote: sometimes, if your child has been hurting or struggling beneath the surface, thriving may look like coming undone, and may mean that some healing needs to happen first. This is not a bad sign – it’s an opportunity to nurse your child back into the grace and love and acceptance of God.).

Start with a plan, but stay flexible. As mentioned, the beauty (and frustration) of homeschooling is that it makes room for life to happen. And life is happening – not just for us, but for them right along with us. They are impacted by this pandemic, too, and you will see it show up at home. Be willing to shift when necessary and regroup and reevaluate the plan at the end of the day. They are also adjusting to your new role as mom-plus-teacher, which is a big change for them. Prioritize their hearts in the learning process, not just the accomplishment of all the work. My assignment book is full of things that have been crossed out and moved to another day. It’s never been the end of the world or our homeschooling career – or their educational progress.

They Can’t Fail At This Point In the Year, So Let Go Of That Fear. Do the best you can and encourage them to do the same, but remember that if they unravel under the pressure of the changes, it’s too late in the year for them to fail. The professionals will bear the burden of getting them back on track next year. Or you will decide not to place them back under that burden, and instead plan to keep homeschooling them. Make room and time for lots of hugs and encouragement during this time. Nurture them and calm their fears, don’t add to them with threats of failing their grade. Of course, you don’t want them to know they can’t fail, either, because kids are experts at capitalizing on opportunities to get around doing their work. Communicate the expectation that they will do their best, and you will accept and celebrate that each day.

Schedule Time For Connection. As a new homeschooling parent, my kids’ breaks were time for me to recuperate in a corner somewhere, and try to rebalance my brain and calm my frayed nerves. The first three weeks of every year are still always very hard. But after that, we find our groove, and I’ve learned – especially in times of crisis and transition – to make time to sit with them. Whether it’s lunchtime or recess time or after school, I offer my undistracted attention for a period of time (try 20 minutes a day with each child), and it does wonders to calm and motivate them.

Organize Your Teaching and Independent Work Times. Do your teaching and instructing at the time that works best for you, and schedule their independent work while you have other things to tend to. This will take some juggling to figure out, and may have to be adjusted sometimes when other things come up, but you will get it. Utilize planned breaktimes (10 – 15 minutes between subjects or assignments) as motivation for them to finish things you know they are capable of doing on their own. If they get stuck on something while you’re unable to help them, teach them to move on with the things they can do, and build in a homework help time toward the end of the day, where you can answer all the questions at once. If you’re constantly interrupted with trying to help them every time they get stuck, your stress will build, and you won’t be very effective at supporting and celebrating. They will learn to wait for the appointed times if you insist that they keep them, and lovingly remind them that at a certain time, you will be available to help.

Reward Their Accomplishment At the End Of the Day. I have a couple of little treat jars on my bookshelf that the kids have access to only after all their work is done for the day. I keep them stocked with special treats they love, and it’s a sweet reminder of their success. Stickers work, too. I also reserve their media time for after school, and limit it to 30 minutes a day. This is not always easy, because sticking them in front of a tv or tablet used to give me time to accomplish more of my own work at home, but it didn’t do much to build good character or imagination in them. Be mindful of the tendency to entertain your kids all the time, for your own sanity. It builds bigger problems later. Instead, encourage them to read, play in the yard, get creative, or find ways to serve. My favorite response to the complaint that my kids are bored is, “Oh, I have plenty of work I can give you to do.” They are usually pretty quick to take that back and find something to do!

Ask For Forgiveness When You Fail, and Grant it When They Do. When I unravel and snap at one of my kids, I stop everything and apologize. I have taught them to do the same. Under pressure, and when they’re feeling incapable in a new area of learning (or sometimes just overwhelmed mentally), they can have pretty negative and disrespectful attitudes. When this happens, we pause, and I ask them to take the time to find their good attitudes and teachable hearts. I let them know that I will teach and be available to them as soon as they come back with those. It took a period of being consistent in this, but it’s a pretty quick process now. We all have tough moments, and we all need to apologize sometimes. The quicker we do, the sooner we can move back into our plans for the day. Forgiveness is a wonderful gift we get to offer and receive daily!

I’ll stop there for today, but please send comments if you have specific questions or would like more tips or resources. We have no way of knowing what will happen next. We hope for a summer break, but may be faced with summer schooling responsibilities. Whatever comes, we have the promise of God’s help, and the gift of seeing our children (and the responsibilities that come with them) as gifts instead of burdens.

Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I hope you will find a little hope in your heart today for this moment. I pray that you will experience God’s grace lifting your head out of the chaos and distraction of all that’s happening, and helping you to focus on the divine calling in front of you right now: raising your children up in the way they should go. The miracles is that, while you may not have a clue what that way is, God does! And you have the chance to partner with Him in preparing your children for the dreams and the future He has in store for them.

If you’re considering the possibility of continuing this journey after the mandate is over, reach out to me and I’ll be happy to share some of the programs we’ve used. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to homeschooling, and there is a lot of room to help create the perfect learning journey for your children. It doesn’t have to look like it does in the public schools. Laws and requirements for homeschoolers are actually different in the state of California!

Be blessed as you undertake this great work, and trust that God is with you and for you in it. When it becomes stressful, take a deep breath, pause and refresh yourself, and remember that God means to bring much good out of it!

{Photo images courtesy of my homeschool classroom and http://www.pixabay.com}

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