Saturday, January 31, 2015

Homeschooling Through Crisis

At first, we thought it was funny.  My husband and I would watch our son start to nod off during car rides. He would seem almost infantile in his struggle to be awake and it was funny to see him nod off and jerk back up.  Then he started doing it at meal time. It was funny then too.  I caught it on video several times with the intent to use it as leverage when he got that first girlfriend.

Then he started napping right after breakfast. Then lunch. Then I could not keep him awake. Initially, I thought he was coming down with something. Then I thought it was a growth spurt. Then I realized that something was wrong. One day I simply could not wake him up. I thought he was unconscious. I very nearly called 911 until I pinched him and the pain stimulation woke him up.

It wasn't funny anymore.  Something else was wrong.  We were back in crisis mode.

I once heard a preacher say that you are either in a crisis, coming out of a crisis, or getting ready for a crisis. I don't know that is overly encouraging but I find it has a lot of truth.

When a homeschooling family is in crisis, they not only have to figure out how to continue their lives but they also have to figure out how to fit school in.  If one child is affected but not the other kids, what do you do about their activities, their schoolwork, etc.  If a parent is affected then how do you deal with a spouse in crisis and take care of the kids' schooling?

Homeschooling during a crisis is about as much fun as peeling your fingernail off.  But, it can be done.

1. Be prepared for crisis (as much as one can be).  I have a chronically ill child. For us, being prepared means having age/grade appropriate worksheet books to turn to when I can not teach a lesson or be "hands on mom"  and for taking in a backpack to doctor's offices. It also means knowing where insurance cards are, always.

2. Have a small cooler washed and ready to use.  When I have a lot of errands or doctor's visits in a day, I pack a cooler with ice, water bottles and some cut up sandwiches for snacks. It helps a lot to be able to feed the kids on the road if necessary.

3. Rethink your extracurriculars - but only temporarily!  When you sign up for things, know how to extricate your child from them and the consequences for doing so. If you must pull your child out, then ask if they can return when things are better.

4. Stick to your normal routine as much as possible.  Your family benefits from routine when everything else seems messy and troubled.  Even now, we all get up at the same time, we do school in the mornings (barring appointments and anything happening that I must be there for), we have lunch, they play and so on.

5. If you have a sick child and he can do something, then make him do something. It keeps them feeling more normal and keeps them from falling farther and farther behind. Don't let them slack unnecessarily on their school work or their chores.

6. Take excellent care of yourself. This is my biggest hurdle. Take time out when possible for you to recharge and regroup. Make sure you give your spouse time out as well. Take time out with each other.

7. When people offer to help, accept it. If they say let me know if there is anything they can do, ask them if they mean that then find something for them to do. Maybe it is helping you catch up on your laundry, making you a couple of freezer meals, picking up a prescription for you, taking your car in for an oil change, etc.

8. Don't be afraid to say no. No is a magical word. It helps you to keep your time free. Don't feel guilty about saying no.

9. Take time off. You can just sit and breathe. Maybe this time is when you all spend days with each other and do nothing but comfort each other. Sometimes, that is just what we need. No pressure of life, just family togetherness.

10. Seek help. If you need help, get it. If you think you need help, get it.  No man is an island and we should not live like one.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Hearing Through the Noise

I get up every morning at 5. My hope is to get my oldest ready for school and onto the school bus and then have some quiet time with my Bible and a cup of coffee.
It rarely works that way. When 6 rolls around my other children start waking up. My 6 year old insists on snuggle time in my lap and my 9 and 10 year old want to be close as well.  We start our homeschool at 9 am. The hours between that are used on getting everyone ready and some light housekeeping and taking my intellectually disabled brother to work.
We do school and have lunch. Then there are chores and I have to finish school with any stragglers. Then my daughter,  my brother, and my husband begin arriving home and it is time to start dinner.
It is hard to find quiet time. I felt I needed quiet time, without distraction not only to be in the Word but to have some time of reflection. I have considered getting up at 4:30. I also need sleep so I haven't done that.
After dinner I try to spend some time with husband or speak with friends on the phone or in person.  There is also another clean up time thrown in and by 8:30, it is bed time. I have tried to go to bed at 8 and snag some quiet time there but often time my dh will decide to go to bed early as well or a child will come to get some mom time.
The days are full and exhausting. How does one recharge and read their Bible,  how does one stay close to God? 
I decided to search Google and Pinterest to see how others handled this.
I found a lot of blogs with pictures of nice journals arranged with equally nice Bibles,  pens and cups of coffee.   But there were no real answers to my dilemma.  I am unwilling to get up earlier,  I am unwilling to send the children away when they come to me for attention,  and I have household duties that I am as obligated to meet as I am to read the Bible. 
Then the answer came to me. My issue is not one of quiet but it is an issue of hearing through the noise.  So here is my plan:
1. Keep an attitude of prayer and open communication with God. Just knowing that He is always available to listen helps me to pray, even when loading the dishwasher.
2. Make the time I do have in the Word count. So often we pick up our Bibles with no real plan and waste time trying to find a passage that "speaks to us". The entire thing was written for us so it all speaks to us.  I have decided to reread the book of Proverbs and John. 
3.  Don't wait for silence and look for opportunity. My house is busy. There are a lot of people who live in it. It is never really quiet. This means that I may never have pretty pictures of bibles and coffee but there are worse things than spending time in the word with a child on my lap.
4. Understand this time is short and know God knows my heart.  In no time at all, the children will be grown and I will have more quiet than I can stand.
We serve a God of grace.  He is the one who gave me these guys along with the intense desire and dedication to meet their needs. He gave them to me knowing my life would be full and busy and loud.  I trust the One who gave them to me to also take care of me and to reveal himself to me in ways and times that are good for me.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Time for Reading

When new parents think about homeschooling, most of the time our minds go immediately to “Can I teach someone how to read?” We don’t typically think, how do I teach my child to add or how do I teach my child about how to tie their shoes?

Teaching a child to read is for sure an overwhelming thought. The process seems a bit strange and abstract. So we start by teaching our child the alphabet, generally around the age of three. We sing songs and play games and buy videos and apps for our kids to watch and play to encourage reading.

When the child officially starts kindergarten, we jump right into whatever book we have chosen to help propel our child into literacy. Then it happens. The child only offers a blank stare at the proposition that letters are more than songs and things on a fun app. A stands for more than apple.

They don’t get it.

So we search the internet about teaching a child to read, ask all our homeschooling friends, and all the teachers we know about the process of teaching a child to read. Then we gather those suggestions, our own research and we form our own theory about how it should work and why it isn’t.  The next step is finding a curriculum that closely resembles the theory we have come up with and the method that addresses whatever we believe the problem is.

We eagerly, with new hope and a bright shiny attitude, offer the proposed curriculum to the child. The child sees more of what confuses him in the first place. A stands for more than Apple. All the letters look different from each other. They all make sounds and are not consistent in their sounds. The instructions have a lot of words that look like a foreign language. The child is being called upon to deal with more than just one letter, one sound at a time and is now being told those sounds go together to form words. The problem is there are so many sounds and they all have to be memorized and then sounded out in a particular order and his parent is looking at him with a wistful longingness that is shadowed by a hint of desperation. He is confused and his self esteem takes a hit.

The parent sees that the child is struggling and apparently not comprehending. The parent’s self esteem takes a hit. Maybe they are not cut out for homeschooling. Maybe they were silly to think they could homeschool to begin with. Maybe someone else could do it better.  Maybe it is the curriculum.  So, they buy another curriculum (maybe there is something different about this one) or hire a tutor or put the child in a brick and mortar school. Maybe the parent will have the child tested.

The real problem?  A always stands for more than Apple, folks. The process of blending is essentially the same and there will always be sight words. The real issue is typically the child and their readiness to read.

The Common Core State Standards are not the only things that have decided a child should read by first grade. So have a lot of parents.  

The wonderful thing about homeschooling is that children can truly learn at their own pace. If they are not ready to read or are really struggling, we can set it aside or back up to a place where the child is mostly comfortable. Instead I find we as parents tend to judge our ability to homeschool and sometimes our ability to parent based on our child’s ability to read. And then the parent continues to push the child towards something they are not ready to do. This is not okay. Your child’s value and success as a student is not based on his or her reading ability. Your capability as a parent is not measured by your child’s reading ability.

I encourage you to take a breather. If your child is struggling, take a break. Skip reading lessons for a while. Read with your child or listen to audio books together. Skip school and play. Give your child time to mature a bit.

I have taught four children to read. My three older children all struggled. Their lack of ability made me question my own worth as a mother. But we persisted and worked in spurts. If they struggled and if there were tears and/attitude, we simply stopped. Eventually, there was enough starting and stopping that one day we started again and we did not have to stop. They were all around 9 when this happened for them. My youngest learned to read at lightening speed. She was reading at age 4! I am not even sure I taught her, it seemed to have just happened!  

So, parents, give yourselves and your kids time. Remember childhood is about learning and play and figuring out the world and how it works.

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