The Hundred-and-Twelfth Letter: A New (Home)School Year

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Dear Daughters,

We started school this week, so I guess this is the requisite back-to-school post.

I knew this year would have a different feel to it since both of you are home every day and officially “in school.” The past two years, the Goose has always been at preschool two or three days each week, but now she’s in Kindergarten, and the Bean is in second grade.

I realize it’s only been two years since I led a child through Kindergarten curriculum, but apparently I’d managed to forget just how hands-on it can be. Still, we’re making progress each day with figuring out how our schedule will (or won’t!) work. All I can say is, I assume parents who homeschool a half-dozen kids at home are significantly more organized than I am.

I spent a lot more time planning this year, knowing that homeschooling two would be considerably different than homeschooling one child, especially when the first child was an independent and focused child like the Bean. This summer, I worked on a daily, subject-by-subject schedule, printed off our state’s academic standards by subject for each grade, and wrote a report about what we accomplished during our last school year, organized by subject and addressing the surpassed academic standards.

I’ve even read a few books about classical education to get my mind kickstarted, and let me tell you, I would never have imagined spending my free time reading philosophy of education texts would be something I would choose to do.

I also spent time this summer considering what I want our homeschool goals to be—not according to academic achievements or tasks I want you to be able to accomplish, but rather related to the larger, grander life pursuits I want you to reach for, and of course the habits we need to cultivate to get there. So I thought I’d include that here, in this letter, so that years from now, that doesn’t get lost in the abyss of school files.

But first, this week:

It’s been tiring, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve ended up with a summer cold.

Our days felt long, and each afternoon, I needed to hear the nudge I felt: whatever you do is enough.

Just because we don’t check off every box, every day, doesn’t mean we aren’t rocking this thing called homeschool. What it more likely means is that I have too many boxes on our to-do list. (I should probably apply this principle to my “real,” non-homeschooling life, too.)

This week, in addition to homeschooling, I was also working on an exciting project for a local nonprofit and also spending time brainstorming plans for what an afterschool reading program for public school students might look like this fall. I was also thinking about our church involvements, mowing the grass, sucking on cough drops, and buying school supplies. I was also getting up early to run with our neighbor… or getting up early to not run with my neighbor, like this morning… or not getting up early at all because this cold is kicking my butt. This week I was also checking in with friends and family in far-flung places, and checking in with friends right here in our little town, and making plans to spend time at the library with your new homeschool co-op teacher in order to assuage some of your fears.

I was also evaluating what it is I should be spending my limited time on, but also offering myself a lot of grace.

Because, let’s face it, this week I also lost my temper too many times, wanted to run and hide too many times, and drank too many cups of tea. (Just kidding on that last one.)

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: at some point every day, I want to quit this homeschooling thing. (Of course, at some point every day, I want to quit this motherhood thing, too, but that’s an issue for another day!)

I want to quit, but I don’t. And part of the reason I don’t is because I have not just all the feels but all the conviction: conviction about educational philosophy, conviction about how I want you to spend your days, conviction about cultivating your habits of attention. I love hanging more knowledge on your pegs of learning, making connections between the various subjects we’re studying, and giving a big-picture education.

I want you to work hard and rest well and you yourself see the connections between what you’re reading in books and what you’re seeing in the world.

And yes, I want you to see me juggling a thoughtful life with the tug of Kingdom work always refocusing me. I want you to see how much grace we need to get by, offered to one another and to ourselves. There are so many things I love about homeschooling that are unexpected surprises to me.

I started out with practical reasons to homeschool: because you were an early reader, because I wanted art and music to be central to your curriculum, because the public school schedule doesn’t line up with the college schedule, because we travel to see family and I want a portable education.

But now, it’s all these other things, too.

Girls, do you want to know what it is I hope and dream for you on this homeschooling journey?

These are the goals I typed up this summer and tucked into our daily schedule binder that (I hope) are shaping how we do school this year:

to cultivate

            compassion & empathy

            courage & wisdom

            wonder & curiosity

to love

            God

            one another

            other people

            beauty

            books

            learning

to foster a joy (and proficiency) of reading all things: all subjects, all genres

to nurture an interdisciplinary worldview by making connections between disciplinary knowledge, especially as connected to the “pegs” of our classical curriculum

to incorporate creative expression through music and/or art every day

to develop the ability to converse with others, especially those different from us

to exemplify how Kingdom-work is incorporated into daily life and rhythms

It’s a list of ideals, I guess. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

At the very least, it’s where we’re headed on this homeschooling journey.

Here’s to another year, girlfriends!

Love, 

Your Momma

 

The Ninety-Fifth Letter: School Is All the Time

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Dear Daughters,

And just like that, we’re sixty days into the school year.

The “official” school year.

That is, the part of the school year where I keep track of what we’re doing and when we’re doing it. It’s when we have our official math curriculum and spelling and reading and writing and grammar. It’s when the community for our classical community meets weekly.

But it’s not exactly accurate to say that the school year “starts” at a given time, because school really is all the time. Even Saturdays are full of reading and learning and playing the piano and constructing your snap circuits and making art and singing and reciting and making connections.

A few weeks ago, I was explaining to you why it’s important to your dad and to me that we always try to answer your questions thoroughly, always try to connect new information to information you already know: that’s how you learn to love learning itself and how to cultivate a life of curiosity. But I ended with, “School is pretty much all the time in our house because your dad and I give good answers.”

You replied, “Well, yes, but also because I ask good questions.”

And that’s true. You ask good questions. You love to learn.

Girls, if asking good questions is important later on, surely it’s important today: this afternoon while you’re working on a puzzle, and tonight after dinner, and then later while brushing your teeth, and then even later as we’re tucking you in and saying prayers. So many questions.

It’s all learning. It’s all questions. It’s all answers. It’s all school.

But since the day I had you hold up the chalkboards that announced your first days of PreK and 1stgrade, we’re staring down 60 days of school already.

All summer long, we fielded the annoying questions I’m sure all homeschooling families get: Are you homeschooling again next year? Do you homeschool year-round? When are you starting back?

Most of these are asked with a glazed-over look because most of our friends do not homeschool and they think we’re probably just little bit weird because we do.

But girls, I am confident that homeschooling is what is right for us and our family in this season. And I articulate those reasons all the time.

To myself. In my head. Like every day.

Because at some point every day, I need to talk myself off the ledge. That’s a good metaphor.

So is this: every day, I have a come-to-Jesus moment about homeschooling.

What I mean is, it’s hard.

And yet somehow, miraculously, it is so totally normal and makes sense and fits us and fits you and fits me so much that I forget that others don’t feel this way about schooling. I forget, that is, until I see that glazed-over look in their eyes. Which is often followed by, “I could NEVER homeschool my kids,” the “never” emphasized with groans and hand gestures and eyes bulging.

The things is, I don’t feel like homeschooling is hard work. It is fun. It is flexible. And it really doesn’t feel like it is swallowing up my whole life. It is one part of my life, sure, and it is kind of like a thread that follows us through everything we do during the day, but it isn’t a burden or an obligation.

And when I am working on a painting project in the afternoon and listening to a song of the first and second Latin declensions, it feels normal.

When I am driving in the car and quizzing you about the parts of a plant cell or the seven wonders of the Ancient World, it feels normal.

When the tooth fairy brings you a book about Madame Curie and it talks about her Nobel prizes for discovering two new elements, I can remind you about the Periodic Table of Elements song we learned last year, and you make another connection, and it feels normal.

When you are working on your snap circuits with your dad and design a spinwheel that you can write on and see lines when there aren’t lines, I can remind you about ‘persistence of vision’ and we can talk about how amazing God’s creation is, and it feels normal.

When we collect fall leaves to trace in your Hello, Nature! book and we talk about the variety of leaf shapes that we learned last week in our memory work, it feels normal.

When we’re talking about Beatrix Potter and her love of nature journaling and we print out photos of birds that visit our own bird feeder right outside our window so we can sketch them, it feels normal.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s also hard in normal and frustrating parenting ways. I lose my temper. You cry while practicing your piano. You get a sassy tone in your voice and I nip it in the bud. My to-do list is too long and I don’t want an interruption for the seventeenth time during a quiet hour in the afternoon. Welcome to the life of every parent ever.

And I admit that in my low moments, I certainly contemplate all of the good things I could be doing with my time if you went to normal school. I think of all the nonprofits I could serve, all the ways my hands and feet could be Jesus’s in the world, all the books I could write, all the meals I could deliver.

But then I think of how rich our days are, and I think of how much I love that in our current life, you actually get to see me being the hands and feet of Jesus.

And, what’s even more amazing, your own little hands and feet get to be Jesus’s too.

So, I guess what I mean is, it’s been a good, full year so far.

But I still can’t believe we’re nearly 60  days in.

Love,

Your Momma

 

The Eighty-Fifth Letter: Snow Day

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Dear Daughters,

There is no snow on the ground today, but the public schools called off because of potential ice hazards.

I heard the rain in the wee hours of the morning, the rain that was supposed to turn over to wintry mix and ice, and I couldn’t stop from checking my phone when I got up to go to the bathroom whether schools were cancelled.

That’s probably a weird compulsion, my wanting to know about cancellations that don’t really impact my life at all, other than the fact that our church activities get cancelled if school is called off on a Wednesday. But as a general rule, our family is not impacted by the public school cancellation policy. It’s one of the beautiful things about homeschooling.

But, still, I always check the delays and closings tab on the local news website because I have to know if schools are closing. It’s silly.

I think it’s probably because I remember what it’s like, that excitement of finding out school had been cancelled for the day. I remember lying in bed in the still-dark morning, trying to listen for the scrape of snow plows on our usually busy street where I grew up in central Pennsylvania. The traffic sounds were slower on those mornings, more muffled, but it was the scrape I was listening for.

I can still hear that sound clearly in my mind, even though here in Kentucky our street rarely gets plowed, and when it does, it’s usually a pick-up with a plow hooked onto it.

Y’all, it’s not the same thing.

Later you can tell me how mean I am about this, but I don’t actually give you snow days “off” this year. Not completely off at least. If there’s actual snow on the ground, I do let you take breaks to go play in it. And we make hot cocoa. And we spend a lot of time looking out the windows. Still, I make you do our minimum school activities of reading, piano practice, and having family readaloud time.

Even on “snow” days.

On Monday, I was brushing about an inch of light, super-fluffy snow off of the car to head to piano lessons. (Public schools had cancelled but the slush had already melted off the roads by 10 am.) As I cleared the car, I noticed just how beautiful the snow was. I could see the little crystals of snow stacked up with air between them, or so it looked to me as I fluffed them away with the broom.

When I pulled the car forward so that your door lined up with the sidewalk your dad had salted before he left for work, to keep you from traipsing through the snow, I was thinking about how rarely I have to drive in bad weather, and how my perspective about what constitutes “bad” weather has significantly changed since I was a teenager.

What I mean is, I’m a big wimp.

One time when I was in high school, after a two-hour delay, I was driving to school with my friend Olivia in the passenger seat. There was a lot of snow on the roads, way more than I would drive in now, and at one point, I pulled from a minor neighborhood road onto a busier street that headed down hill, and as I made that turn, the car just drifted right off the road into a snowbank on Olivia’s side. Well, first, the car glided completely out of my control into head-on traffic but then turned the other way and drifted into a snowbank without, thankfully, hitting any other cars. But there we were when the car came to a stop, us hyperventilating a bit, the car smushed into the snowbank.

I wonder if Olivia still remembers that one.

I wonder why the heck I was allowed to drive my car in that kind of weather.

I am pretty sure I would have a panic attack now if anyone asked me to drive with that much snow on the road. I am not exaggerating.

Because my perspective has changed. Also because I’m a wimp now. No shame.

During my undergraduate years at Houghton College, I can remember going out to my car, parked behind Walldorf House, and needing to clear more than a foot of snow off the top of it. Clear a path to the exhaust pipe, clear off the whole area around the drivers-side door, turn the car on so it would start melting ice as it warmed, and then the long slow process of pushing the heavy snow off the hood, the windshield, the roof. I have rarely seen snow like that as an adult. Thank goodness. My mental health is more stable because of it.

The problem really is that we moved to Texas the summer after we graduated from Houghton. And after four years in Texas, we moved to Kentucky, where we’ve been now for almost ten years. And okay, in Kentucky we occasionally get crazy ice but rarely the kind of snow I used to have to dig my car out of.

I won’t compare the quality of the roads or the abilities of the drivers by region because it isn’t fair. Kentucky’s resources for winter care of the roads are limited.

But I’m honestly happy to live in a place that basically shuts down at the threat of snow. The flexibility of our normal days, your schooling, my working, our life together, makes it so that snow days and hot cocoa add a beauty to our life, not a stress. If the roads happen to be “bad,” or its too cold for the 1999 Volvo’s engine to start, your dad just bundles up and walks to work.

And if school is cancelled on a day when there is absolutely no bad weather, like today? Well, we just go about a normal day.

Except church was cancelled.

Love,

Your Momma