Sunday, February 05, 2006

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does the Homeschooling Go?

Glad you asked! Friends and family are always asking, so I thought I'd share the success, so far, of this year's unusual arrangement with them and with readers of the Carnival of Homeschooling (welcome!). It is story of divine creativity--of putting aside my own ideas and listening to God.

In our family's first eight years of homeschooling, we used an eclectic mix of workbooks, living books and classes for homeschoolers--our area offers everything from writing to band to P.E. to one-day-a-week "schools." It's been wonderfully flexible to accommodate each child's specific learning needs and interests.

Last summer, though, I faced the coming school year with apprehension. We'd had a very stressful spring, with a baby born in February and hospitalized for 2 weeks in March; he'd needed a great deal of extra care after that, and I just wasn't finding my usual energy and enjoyment in planning the coming school year.

I prayed. I prayed some more. I woke up one morning hearing myself saying, "I just don't want to do this anymore." I thought about putting them in school...but knew that wasn't really an option. (I'm not against public schooling. I trained to be a public school teacher--my father was a public school teacher for 33 years--I know wonderful Christians serving in the public school system-and our oldest is in a public school, exactly where God wants him to be, we're convinced. But we're equally certain that, for now at least, we are to be homeschooling our others.)

So I kept on praying. (Like a dog worrying with his bone, or like the woman in the parable who wouldn't stop knocking, I am persistent! One of my more annoying qualities, my husband would say.) I knew I would obey, but I sure wanted some vision, and a little excitement and energy would certainly be helpful.

Then my friend said, "Hey, I'm thinking about ordering Calvert for my 7th grader. Didn't you say you'd heard good things about it? I never thought we’d use textbooks, but with our move and everything, I just need a school in a box."

Wow, "school in a box"--that sounded really good. I did know two ladies I respect who like Calvert. But it's expensive, I remembered, and I had so much stuff on my shelves already that I felt I really ought to use. I dismissed the idea, unable to justify the cost, and kept on worrying with that bone of how to pull this year together.

Then once again I awakened with words ringing in my ears. "Why not?" Why not indeed? If we ordered the same curriculum, our 7th grade daughters could work together. In fact, we both have 4th graders too. Wow! there could be some synergies here! This could be my answer to prayer!

I wasn't sure what my friend would say, but she was excited by the idea. We set up a schedule so that each of us took the two 7th graders and the two 4th graders for two days each week, and we alternated on Fridays. I still had a first grader, a preschooler and an infant on my days "off," but at least I got some focused time with the first grader, a chance to get the laundry done and maybe even some time to catch up from the previous difficult season. My friend got settled into their new house.

The kids loved the new arrangement. Of course they enjoyed doing lessons with their friends, and they liked the variety of locations and teachers. But they surprised us just before Christmas, when they expressed the desire for some days where we didn’t get together—not because they were tired of each other, but because they missed just having days with nowhere to go. The moms missed that too, so now we have two days a week of working separately.

It also turns out that we love the curriculum, despite its textbook orientation. (In fact, we love some of the texts!) We enjoy the way the schedule rotates through the subjects--including poetry, geography and composition--so that, except for math and spelling, they don't do the same ones every day. (Why didn’t I think of that before?) The lesson manual is easy to follow without any advance planning and at the middle school level is written to the student, so our 7th graders have been able to work independently. And because it’s so structured, it’s been easy to stay together.

This is not a commercial for a certain curriculum or homeschooling arrangement--but it is one for prayer and being willing to go where God points you. My friend and I agree that we almost missed this answer to prayer—because she didn’t think she’d ever use a textbook, and because I didn’t want to spend the money. We would have missed not just the “burnout recovery” period we’re having, but our kids would have missed out on what they all agree has been one of our best homeschooling years ever!

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