By Jennifer Matlock, Contributing Writer
BACK TO SCHOOL!!! It’s that time of year again. School supplies are on sale, the kids are whining and the parents – apparently – are rejoicing.
That commercial annoys me, because it reminds me of all the people I know in my life who actually feel that way. They’re excited, happy, and can’t wait for the kids to be gone to school all day. How sad!
Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times when I wish I had the house to myself for a few hours. I realized just the other day that while I can clean the house when the kids are around, I don’t like to because they begin dirtying up the newly cleaned areas before I can get the whole place done. Just once, I’d like to walk around and admire an entirely-clean house for 5 minutes before the work begins again.
I love being with my children, though. I’m so blessed to be able to not only stay home with them when they’re young, but stay with them as they grow, teaching them and guiding them through every stage of life.
Image by EvelynGigglesBACK TO SCHOOL means something very different to me. Similar to the parent in the above commercial, I get excited about shopping for school supplies, although for a very different reason. Walking out of Office Depot with bags of folders, pens, pencils, tape, glue, markers, crayons and paper puts a smile on my face; doing so when I’ve spent very little money on it puts an even bigger smile there – I love getting incredible bargains at this time of year!!!
When I walk in the door at my house, my kids actually DO react like the ones in that video. And no, I don’t pay them to do so. They are just as excited about new school supplies as I am. They are just as excited about our school year beginning as I am.
I’m heading into my 9th year of homeschooling this year. Up through our 4th year, there was always the initial excitement about getting back to school, but after the newness of the fresh supplies and books wore off, we ran into an almost-daily problem: children who asked me “Do we have to do school today?”
That can lead to burn-out faster than you can say math drills. Burn-out for the kids, burn-out for the mom. Hey – we live less than 50 yards from the local elementary school. Believe me, there were plenty of days when the school bus (which stops in front of our house) never looked more inviting.
After enduring this for years, I finally began to ask myself some hard questions about homeschooling. I knew in my heart that we had good reasons to be homeschooling, and even through chronic illness and financial hardship it’s been very clear that we have been called by God to homeschool our kids. It just didn’t seem as though I was following the right prescription for homeschooling if I could only squeeze in 10-15 days of “school” before the complaining commenced for the year.
Thankfully, God knew that I was ready for what He had to show me, and that year he placed an abundance of resources in my path. Books, conference speakers, blog posts, websites, audio lectures… It seemed that everywhere I turned that year, I was finding more of the same ideas from new corners. My eyes were opened to a whole new way of homeschooling; a whole new approach with a very different outcome in mind.
This may not be new to some of you. Once I followed this rabbit trail and realized where it led, I had almost a “Well, DUH!” moment. It was so obvious, and yet for years, it wasn’t.
So, what is “it?”
“It” is a growth-focused approach to homeschooling. “It” says there’s more to education than simply academic achievement. “It” looks different for every family, because every family is different.
Here are just a few of the ideas I found that have taken “schooling at home” out of our homeschool:
My highest priority is to raise men and women who love God and follow Him. We may not get anything academic done during the day, but we spend time every single day reading, studying, and discussing the Bible, followed by time in prayer as a family.
To that same end, a good portion of our school day is spent on Worldview training (this year we’re using the curriculum from Summit Ministries – “Who is God?” for the elementary kids and “Lightbearers” for the middle/high school kids). When it comes to “schooling,” my main concern is not for my kids to make straight A’s or be able to recite all of Shakespeare’s sonnets in order from memory. It is for my children to have a real, deep and abiding relationship with their Creator and be able to not just keep their faith when they leave our home, but go out into the world and share it with passion and enthusiasm every day of their lives!
Relationships matter. I funnel much more time and energy into training my children to love each other, serve each other and be kind to each other than most academic subjects.
Speaking of academic subjects, I require my children to master only two: Math and English (reading, writing, spelling, grammar). In keeping our “core curriculum” to those two subjects, we have lots of time to branch out into a variety of general knowledge, which we do during the 3-4 hours a day I read aloud to them.
Their interests matter. Part of the reason I read aloud for so long every day is to expose them to a variety of subjects, and a world of possibilities. I would much rather my kids spend 2 hours digging into a subject or working on a project that they are interested in than spend 5 hours every day doing busy work for subjects they’ll never retain. Many homeschooler would consider this “unschooling” and I find it quite funny that very few unschoolers would. In general though, it makes sense to give children a broad, general knowledge base of most subjects, and allow them to explore in-depth the ones that interest them.
Consider: Why is there a game show called “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” It’s not because anyone believes that a 5th grader possesses a higher caliber of knowledge than most adults. It’s because there are things you learn in 5th grade that you only retain long enough to get through 5th grade, then you forget them because they’re neither useful or relevant to your life.
What ARE the things you remember? The things that ARE useful and relevant to your life. Releasing a child from a structured curriculum that requires them to learn/write/draw/illustrate The Water Cycle or explain the War of 1812 gives them the freedom to learn to think (instead of being told what to think) and learn to educate themselves in the subjects that are pertinent to their own lives.
I could probably write another 5,000 words on how and why to do this. But instead, I’m going to challenge you to research it yourself, if it interests you.
I will say this: Since we moved to this method of homeschooling, the complaining has stopped. “Do we have to do school today?” has changed to “DO WE GET TO DO SCHOOL TODAY???”
Our summers are no longer filled with “I’m bored!” because they’re busy working on and thinking about the next project, the next idea, and digging deeper into the subjects they’re already interested in.
Goals are being set and pursued, projects are started, and children are thinking. Best of all, around here, no one can wait to get BACK TO SCHOOL!!!
What about you? What would it take to shift your homeschool to a Growth-Focused approach? Or are you already there?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, so please share in the comments what you think!
Jennifer Matlock started writing before she actually knew how, pestering friends and family members to write down the stories she wanted to tell and ideas she wanted to document. She’s been doing it on her own for over 30 years now, and currently writes about life, marriage, parenting, Christianity, homeschooling, Real Food, politics, having a temper tantrum in Target and more at Love Will Be Our Home. Jennifer married Andrew in 1995, and is a full-time stay-at-home(schooling)-mom to Ryan (14), Aaron (11), Kaitlyn (7) and Megan (5).
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