When I have parents ask me for advice in where to start in their first homeschool year, the answer is never academics. I actually suggest the family take a year off of academics, especially if they are pulling their kids out of public school. This sounds backwards, but as backward as it sounds, if you start by giving your kids brains a chance to breath and settle, homeschooling is a lot more successful. Taking a year off allows you to plan field trips, fill your bookshelf with topics your kids are passionate and drawn to. It is a time to look in depth at your own heart, your kids hearts, and the heart of your family. It gives you time to brainstorm how you want your learning to flow in your house. For the over all health of your family working on the chore values of your family will create an open learning environment.
The first place Mark and I started was in building a relationship with our kids. Creating a solid relationship, understanding what our kids are passionate about. Understanding and appreciating who our kids are as individuals, how they fit in our family, and what their needs are. Helping our kids understand their role and value in our family. Giving them the gift of time and space to figure out who they are and what they love.
The second place we look at and evaluate is discipline, creating peace in our home. Character issues or bad habits we see in our kids need to be addressed for them and our household to become peaceful.When our kids understand there is an authority structure that isn’t moving, but is flexible, is important. Creating an environment where my kids know I have their best in mind. If you ask our kids why their parents set boundaries and limits in their lives, they will tell you it is because we love them and we want to protect them. When they choose to go outside of our protection and the boundaries we set, there is a greater chance they will get hurt. While discipline is important it comes back to relationship. It is important to create a safe environment in our home for when our kids mess up, no one is perfect, and it is important to set this tone in our family. While everyone does mess up, there are negative and positive consequences depending on the choices they make. As painful as negative consequences are to the kids and to us, their caregivers, it is important for them to learn society has rules and boundaries.
I want to share two stories with you:
1. When I was growing up my mom took parenting lessons when I was around twelve and let me tell you, I hated everything about that class! I hated the instructor, I hated the time it took my mom away, and even worse my mom began implementing what she was learning! Oh. My. Goodness! My two sisters and I balked like nobodies business. We fought back hard with worse attitudes, tantrums, and nasty remarks. It’s amazing she didn’t cave under our nastiness. I’m sure we drover her to tears and anger, but she hung in there and eventually we came under her authority. My mom would say discipline without relationship breeds rebellion and it’s true. While she was working on maintaining her authority she was also working on her relationship with us. Between investing in her relationship with us and sticking to her guns, it worked. We went from being brats who needed a good spanking to kids who still messed up once in a while, but not down right awful anymore. Building relationships with our kids and discipline go hand in hand. Trust is earned and when parents have expecmd more out of their kids than they are emotionally able to do or when you have dragged your kids academically, they are not going to trust you simply because you ask them to. It takes time, it takes prayer, and it takes our Heavenly Father to restore hearts and relationships. It is more than possible and it is more than worth it!
2. When Mark and I began homeschooling six years ago we had the best of intentions, but there are areas I wish we could go back and do differently. I used the method of be where I want you to be academically regardless of your emotional readiness. This created a need in Maddie to please us at all costs. We asked her to be perfect and she set the bar higher than we did. She tried for a long time to be a good girl and do what we asked, but after a while the pressure was too great. She became an angry and depressed little girl. We prayed and prayed about what to do. Thankfully, The Ultimate Journey came into our lives. Mark and I learned how to garden our brains to believe the truth of God’s word. When we could grasp God’s love and acceptance for us, we could then teach it to our kids. We could not give to our kids what we ourselves did not understand. The truth and reality is we will treat our kids and the world as we see ourselves. When we see ourselves for who we really are, we see the world differently. By the grace of God, we have been able to apologize to our kids for using the drag method. We have gone back to work on our families core. Working on our relationship with our kids and in turn we have been able to smooth out discipline and character issues. Our kids do not care how much we know and will balk at what we ask them to do if they do not know how much we care.
Honestly, academics is the bi-product of a healthy homeschooling environment. When open communication is created between the caregiver and child, when a mentorship relationship has been created, learning happens. Kids are naturally curious and will investigate every angle when given the right environment. Maddie once told me, “Mommy, it’s hard to learn what someone tells you to learn”. It’s true! I can give my kids the tools they need to sound out letters, blend sounds together, and I can keep reading to them, but I cannot make their brain ready to read. I can give my kids manipulative blocks, work on flash cards, but I cannot force them to understand the concept it takes to understand what the flashcards mean. It takes us the parents diligently watching for their light bulb readiness moments, it takes us being willing to put down our tablets, phones, and busyness when they bring us a book and want us to help them sound out words. It requires us to reassure our kids that they are able to learn, they will get there, and it’s important for them to know they are not in life or their learning alone. I want to give you an example of watching for readiness. Naomi has been wanting to sew for about a year and a half. As a five year old I wanted her to start with lacing cards, accomplishing one thing, and then gradually moving to harder projects. She could not lace those cards in sequence for the life of her. She was frustrated with herself, but I kept reassuring her in time her brain and hand would be ready to work together. A year later she asked me if she could take the lacing cards to bed with her and use them as her quiet time before going to sleep. I assured her it was ok and about half an hour later she came up the stairs and into the living room with a smile on her face. She had successfully laced the card right for the first time. After we cheered and admired her work we sent her back to bed and I told Mark, watch, we will begin to see an academic readiness in her as well. There is a connection to learning in Fine and Gross Motor skill ability. Sure enough, she was beginning to understand the connection between letter sounds, she was finally able to understand the directions I gave her for her sit down work, and even her ability to use a scissors improved! She gained more than academic readiness, she gained confidence that she could accomplish the academics in front of her. She learned patience, endurance, and perseverance really did work to accomplish the hard things she set out to do.
I want to encourage you to assess your family honestly. Do you need to go back to your families core as my mom, Mark and I needed to? Are there areas of character or discipline that need to be worked on? Has life distracted you from investing in one on one time with your kiddos and investing in your family time? Do you feel like you are using the dragging method and wonder how you change the course of the tide? I want to encourage you it is possible to have a fun and peaceful family learning environment. Over the next several weeks I will be talking about what structured learning time looks like in our family and what required learning looks like in our house. I’ll talk about how to help the two flow together to create joyful, peaceful kids who are excited to take their education by the reigns. I’ll encourage you in how to mentor your kids as they become the driving force behind their education.
I’m excited to take this journey with you! It’s an adventure worth embarking on!