Rule of Seven: Rejoice 2018

Rejoicing actually begins with me before my children are out of bed. Our day is better if I have some time with Jesus and some time to drink the first cup of coffee and work before the boys open their eyes.   It makes me a better mom.

By nature, I am an ugly, critical perfectionist. I try not to be, and I am far harder on myself than anyone else. Inside my head, I expect that I must do all the things, pick up all the slack, and be everyone that my people need all at once. Now, I know all of that is impossible and unrealistic. It looks more than a little crazy typed out here.  This is who I am without Christ – an ugly nut case, from whom you would never want to hear.

Jesus makes me better. Grace makes me better. Love makes me better. Rejoicing makes me better. Rejoicing is a conscious decision, made in my heart, to believe that I am who God says I am because of who He is and who He made me to be and to look for evidence of that in my day. Some days, that is easy. Other days, it is a lot of work. Every day, it is necessary.

I have kept a physical list of these blessings. Sometimes I photograph them so that I can return to them later, and sometimes I need to hold blessings in my hand. That is how I crawl from the black hole of deep grief. If I just hold on to proof that God cares about me, I survive. I don’t remember most of 2005, when Danny died five years after he made me a mother, or 2009, when our fifth son, Isaac, was born and died three months later, but I survived those seasons. For several years now, my days are colorful, and there is no whirling darkness threatening to engulf me. Occasionally, a smoke blows in, and I find myself anxious and exhausted and blind to blessings. It is the grace of God, and rest, and a re-evaluation of this particular habit of rejoicing that clears the air

Choosing to rejoice is still a critical part of my every hour (though sometimes I fail). Abiding in Christ and in His Word must happen each morning. The decision to worship needs making every day. These habits are as life-giving to my spirit as coffee is to my body. A good day doesn’t start without them. While my boys and I do worship and read God’s word together most days, this part of our Rule of Six starts with me in the quiet of early morning.

My Rule of Six and Creating a Plan (series landing page)

About 150 years ago … or you know… 2 years ago, I wrote a series of posts about how I create a plan according to what I want to do in a day. My kids have gotten bigger since there, I have decided to revisit that series as I consider how things change over time. We still have the same six seven touchstones in our day, but now that everyone has at least one activity outside of the house, our days have changed drastically.

I’m carefully looking at next year to make sure that we get to stay home more. It is time to make a plan. It feels very early to plan now, but I have to have all of the books pulled and boxed together before we move the library next week because we are working on moving house this summer. I will have Gideon in his last year of Foundation and Essentials who will be working on parts of Ambleside Online Year 6. Josiah will be in Challenge A. Micah will be in my Challenge 3 class, and Jon will be directing Challenge 4.

So, I’ll use the Rule of Six Seven to outline the plan for everyone and for our Council Meetings so that I don’t drown in my day. I wrote about the idea of a Rule of Six here so if you haven’t dreamed up your own few things that let you feel like your day is complete, you can go read it and start contemplating.

As I finish up the posts, I’ll link them here.

  1. Rejoice  2016  2018
  2. Relate  2016  2018
  3. Remember  2016  2018
  4. Reason  2016  2018
  5. Read  2016  2018
  6. Record  2016  2018
  7. Restore  2016  2018

Things I Learned this Term (or Enjoying the Journey) pt. 6

So, I discovered a LOT of things to NOT do this term if I want to enjoy this home education journey.

  1. Do not overtask me: I can only spend my time one way. I must seek God’s will for my schedule.  Because I am a people-loving introvert, I need to see people often, but I also need to make sure to have a little time every day in which I am alone. Otherwise, I feel very overwhelmed.
  2. All education is self-education. My students have their own abilities, desires, faults, and deficiencies. While batch education is easier, each of us needs slight personal variations.
  3. Do not expect more than my child can give. Those relationships are of eternal importance.  Quickly finishing up a math page right this minute is not. Try to call an end to a lesson while it is still tolerable. If frustration is building, take a break.
  4. Expect the best effort. Model giving my best effort as I go about my day. Perfection is a goal as we try to be like Jesus, but we expect only our Best Effort for our current circumstances.  Remember that the standard of Best Effort is fluid. I must inspect what I expect often so that course corrections can be made
  5. Do not compare. All children are persons. All persons are different. Therefore, all children are different. Adults don’t do things at the same rate or the same way. Why would we expect children to?
  6. Summer is a great time to put chore, laundry, and mealtime systems in place to grow the habits of all involved. These adults that I am raising must know how to wash dishes, clean, mow, launder, and vacuum. Those chores are a built-in class in Adulting.
  7. Do not overtask my kids. While sports, music lessons, etc. are all good, you must leave time for Masterly Inactivity: Nature Study, Artistic Exploration, Handicrafts and Life Skills, Creative Projects. Charlotte Mason says (quite rightly: “Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs, the elders must neither meddle nor make. They must be content to know that they do not understand, and, what is more, that they carry with them a chill breath of reality which sweeps away illusions.”
  8. Do not feel guilty. Only Jesus can be everything to everybody.  God created these boys and gave them to me. He knows what I am capable of and what they are capable of. He will inspire me towards what is right if I ask Him to do that.

I am enough for these boys.

And you are enough for your crew.

Things I Learned this Term, (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 5

WHAT ABOUT THEM?

“Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen. We must begin with the notion that the business of the body is to grow; and it grows upon food, which food is composed of living cells, each a perfect life in itself. In like manner, though all analogies are misleading and inadequate, the only fit sustenance for the mind is ideas…

You aren’t actually required to educate your children. You can only help them learn how to learn and to spread a veritable feast of ideas in front of them. That’s it. They have to apprehend knowledge for themselves.

You can help them develop the habits of learning and learn to use the tools of a student. You can tutor them when they are stuck. But you can’t make them learn one single thing. They have to do the learning for themselves.

Good habits are essential. You can develop those in yourself and help your kids to develop them in themselves. This extends to housework as well as to study.

We cannot do all the things by ourselves. It isn’t healthy for anyone in our household for us to try that.  But I inevitably get tired of reminding people to finish their jobs and wind up doing them. Then I overdo it and am sorry for days. That doesn’t work around here. The boys get frustrated if I can’t do all my usual things because I did theirs. Since I struggle with chronic pain, they are very aware that me doing all of the work is going to mean that they won’t get to go and do something that they want to go and do because I won’t have the energy to make it happen.

Spread the Feast: the real work of an educator

Education happens when we get our hands on real ideas, and those are found in books and in real things. It is important to meet authors by reading their words, even though some of them require practice to understand. We need to use different tools, create with different media, perform different experiments, inspect different discoveries, and explore new places. We learn the most from things we can touch and hold and from varying voices we can read and hear. Spreading a broad educational feast will give students a broad experience of the world.

We can learn from apps, screens, and devices, but those things don’t impact us as much as the things we can put our hands on, see up close, listen to, taste and smell. Screens are good for watching documentaries, enjoying stories through films, studying foreign language vocabulary and learning from native speakers, and even creating worlds in video games, but they can’t replace the learning that takes place when we really get our hands in the dirt and experience things for ourselves.

I have more joy in this journey when I am sure of what I am responsible for and what my kids are responsible for. Are there consequences if they don’t accept and act on their responsibility? Sure. Are they fun? No. But I know that I can’t make them learn something.  I can make life uncomfortable for them if they don’t try, but discipline is not going to force any knowledge into their brains any faster.

 

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 4 – Be who you were made to be

Be who you are

We only get one body, and we have to take care of it. We have to eat right, move plenty, and rest well in order to be about to do the hard work of mothering. Unfortunately, the hard work of mothering can get in the way of a mother taking care of herself, or of a father taking care of himself. We need to do our best without obsessing. I do best when I eat at home, walk several miles a day, and sleep at night. But it is hard to do all of those things while I am also trying to be a teacher, mother, driving, cook, launderer, and write. I get frustrated because I can’t do all the things for all the people at the same time, and I have to prioritize. Only Jesus can be all things to all people. The rest of us can try our human best, but we can’t do all the things. We don’t always control our situations, but we can control ourselves and our thoughts. If we choose to look at the world through a lens of grace and a sense of wonder, we have the freedom to intentionally look for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. We have to feed ourselves also, so choose the artists/composers/poets for your children that you want to study so that they also interest you. What did you learn today?

What about YOU

That said, we also have to be realistic with ourselves about what we can do in a day, in a week, in a month, in a term, in a year. I have long been in a situation in which my To Do lists are a mile long and rarely completed. This doesn’t allow for any rest or downtime. I am making progress on some of my necessary habits, but I haven’t gotten as much of Anna Karenina or Norms and Nobility read as I want to, and I’m regularly waking up in a panic because I know that my day holds too many necessary tasks. I have a couple more weeks of this level of crazy before things start to slow down. I’ve intentionally scheduled Jon and I a few days away over our spring break. They will be working days away, but we will eliminate household responsibilities and hands-on parenting in order to concentrate. I look forward to summer break.

  1. How do you best learn? How do you best teach? What do you love?

I love books. I like pens and paper and music and poetry and order and languages. Jon loves math and logic and science and chaos. So, at our house, we’ve worked to teach our kids to love those things also. While the more orderly of us constantly struggle against the chaos of the others and we work to instill reasonable habits of putting things away, we also demonstrate to our children that they should love music, books, languages, math, logic, and science. Your children will learn to appreciate what you appreciate, so if you want them to love music, you need to listen to music with them. If you want them to learn to love books, you need to read in front of your kids, read aloud to your kids, and show that you value books by owning some. Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.”

It isn’t about you

You don’t have to already love everything that you want your kids to love. You do have the privilege of choosing what you think about and what you listen to and read and watch. You don’t have to know advanced algebra to teach arithmetic. You can learn as your students do, staying ahead of them enough to guide them. You don’t have to read Latin already to include Latin in your homeschool. You just have to be willing to learn algebra and Latin. It’s like everything else – you can put in the time to learn and teach the subject, you can pay someone else to teach the subject, or you can not teach the subject. If you don’t teach Latin, you’ll need another way to get a foreign language credit. Algebra must be taught in order for your student to progress in both logical thinking and mathematics. Learning it well will increase their ACT and SAT scores and earn them better scholarships. You can consider good math education as an investment that will pay off later.

Feeling inadequate? Great! Because His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Give your Best Effort. Do it afraid.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 3 Purpose

As in any large project, stating your purpose for your homeschool is an essential part of the process.  What are you trying to do here? What do you expect to do? How do the struggles and dreams that you have had over the years make you a better teacher? How do you like to learn? How do you best teach? How do your children best learn? Where do they struggle? What do they dream about? Where are they in their studies? What do they need? What do they want?  What does your family need from this experience? Ask all these questions. Pray about them. Discuss them with your husband or a fellow home educator or both. Where is God leading you?

Write down your purpose. Refine it. See if it rings true. Keep it handy. Check in with it often.

Now.  You have to make up your own purpose for your own family, but this is the one that Jon and I decided would work well at our house after a lot of thought and prayer. Our official family purpose is: “To seek after God and develop wisdom and virtue as we grasp the fullness of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that God provides for us.”  It is important to us that our children are seeking after God and His purposes and not just seeking grades (good or not). We want them to develop godly wisdom and virtue and to find Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the process. We work to set their feet in a large room and to teach them to care as much as we lead them to learn to know.

Now that we know what we are trying to do, we can look for the best way to accomplish it. You might try more than one idea before you hit on the thing that will work in your house. You might have some failure in the process. And, as you and your kids change, you may have to shift your methods. Your school day will be vastly different when your kids are 9, 5, and 4 then it will when your kids are 15, 12, and 11 and when they are 19, 15, and 14. Your purpose should remain steady, though. You’ll know where you are going for sure, and the plan will have room to develop as you go.

That’s a really good thing, because I don’t control all of these boys’ choices, and I am losing more and more control every day. That isn’t a bad thing as much as a sign of growth. Gone are the baby days, when their boundary was the length of my reach or the baby gates on either side of the playroom. Actually, even the playroom is gone – turned into the household library because their toys now fit in their rooms and naps are a thing of the past. We can compel them to make right choices through explanation, reward, or discipline, but there are many things in their days now that we can’t make them do. I can’t make a boy copy something neatly. I can assure him that he can do it, I can encourage him along. But it has to be his decision to pick up the pen and make marks on his paper. I can’t make a boy write every step of his math problem down, but I can encourage him to develop the habit of doing so because it will make high math much simpler. Also, the more he writes, the faster he will get at writing and the easier it will be for him. There are other things I can’t will a boy to do if he doesn’t want to. I can make his life rather uncomfortable if he refuses, but I can’t make a boy weed a garden, practice an instrument, tie his shoes, or load the dishwasher. Yet, these tasks need doing, and most need doing daily. We accomplish many things through teamwork or duty to household or orchestra. But at some point, each of us has to choose to do what is right. That choice is no longer mine. It is his.

One particular area is made easier by knowing our purpose. Having a purpose helps us to limit activities for each student in order that we may have a plethora of good things without feeling overwhelmed. Even with this knowledge, I struggle to give everyone what they need without going overboard. This semester that we are just finishing was particularly hard because activities were spread out into slots that we needed to have free for schoolwork at home.  For years, I could control the whole schedule. Now, we have members of two different orchestras, violin lessons, basketball, and theater, as well as park trips, nature study, field trips, and time with grandparents.  All of these things are blessings, but I said No to spring soccer this year because we can’t do one more thing. Josiah and Gideon played soccer last spring. Rec league spring soccer is fickle in Oklahoma because it takes place during the rainy season. Our schedule is set enough that if a practice is rescheduled or postponed we probably won’t make it. Last year, we missed half the practices and several games. This year, I just said no. Not “No” to meeting friends at a park with a soccer ball… just “No” to the scheduling nightmare that last spring became. I know that doing a soccer league would be fun for the boys, but it would interfere with our purpose.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 2

Our job is not to raise perfect children. We are raising adults. The next generation is here now, and it is our job to show Jesus to them.  So we pray for these future adults, and we do our best to follow His lead.

For a long time, I tried to homeschool in a way that would please a well-meaning relative. She is a wonderful woman who cared for and taught many people. She also was one of our state’s unsung heroes: a public school teacher. From the moment we chose to not enroll our kids in public school, there was no way for me to please her. I finally quit trying.

Then I tried to do things just the way that Susan Wise Bauer suggested. That resulted in a To Do list that was too long, a kid who refused to do anything that involved a pencil in the hour his brothers were actually all napping, and a constant headache for me.  I started looking for a different plan.

Then I discovered Charlotte Mason, and I tried to do everything in my house just as she would have done it… you know, if she had had babies and toddlers and was pregnant and trying to keep everyone not-filthy and not-starving and the house clean enough to not cry if there was company ringing the doorbell. Then, my sister and I started a playgroup that grew in two years into a hundred family group of associated nature study groups and book clubs, and we were trying to please all of those people.  I was exhausted. My kids were happy and getting plenty of outdoor time. We were reading aloud great stuff. But I was spending more time solving other people’s problems than I was spending schooling my own kids.

Then a friend introduced us to Classical Conversations, and my family decided to try it out because our older son needed some help learning how to function in a group setting that wasn’t outdoors. At that point, I had read enough Charlotte Mason to know that there were things about the program that she wouldn’t like and that there were other things about it that seemed to mesh with some of her ideas.  We just finished our ninth year in CC, and it is a fit for us as long as we keep Charlotte’s principles in mind at home.

It took me a couple more years to finally wrap my head around the fact that neither Leigh Bortins or Charlotte Mason was going to come to my house and tell me that I was doing things the wrong way. There was, of course, a good chance of my well-meaning relatives telling me that I should leave this folly behind and put my boys on the big yellow bus, but that was pretty much guaranteed no matter what I did.

I finally realized that I only needed to figure out the things that God was calling our family to do, and then do those things to the best of my ability. I don’t need to please anyone else. No one knows my kids like I do. And it is my job to figure out what they need and how to give it to them.

And so I decided I’d better figure out what our purpose is so that I could order our day to reflect what we wanted for our kids.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 1

I think most of my people who know me for real … my friends with skin on… would say that I am a fairly calm and balanced individual. I can make a task list and keep a calendar and knock out the work without being fractious and whiny. I can usually see a graceful way out of a situation for a friend who is asking advice. I can usually pull together a plan to get things done. I can usually see what to cut out. I can usually salvage my mood, feed the people, assign the chores, grade the math, edit the essay, translate the Latin exercises, learn the music and talk another mom out of her tree.

But this spring, not so much.

Along about the beginning of March, I drowned in my schedule. You see, this year, I signed up boys for group strings lessons thinking they were all on the same day in the same location back to back. But, that wasn’t how it worked out. We love music, but this schedule had us outside of our house before noon two days a week every week from mid-August to mid-May (except for Christmas). When you add in our community day, a class my husband was teaching that I needed to attend, classes I was teaching, drama practice and private music lessons and basketball… we had to be out of the house multiple times every single day of every single week. I held it together for a while. We all became decently skilled at doing math in the care, carrying around work and getting it done when we could, and in reading things on the go. But that isn’t the best way for us to work. We all like to stay home, though some of us need to stay home more than others.

It was insane. But we couldn’t stop things without letting other people down, and so we kept going.

I don’t know if I would make that choice again. Micah’s schoolwork suffered this last six weeks because he was doing twelve hours a week of music outside of his personal practice time (at least another seven hours a week, and more if he had a bunch of new stuff to learn). That didn’t leave him enough time for eight hours of class and twenty-four hours of schoolwork in a week. He isn’t finished with biology or Algebra 2, and he didn’t memorize his Latin vocabulary. He learned a lot about himself and how much he can handle. He stuck out his commitments, and he made a lot of musical progress. He did read a lot of British literature and Western cultural history and wrote about all of it and discussed it with his class.

Josiah and Gideon’s work suffered less because they had less to do. But I didn’t do a great job of keeping up with their writing assignments or grading their math. They did their work, but I didn’t get my job done because I was busy doing all the other jobs.

So, I really didn’t enjoy the journey at all this term, but I’ll have to tell you how I plan to enjoy the next one another day.