There’s a place in the oceans near the equator called the doldrums. It’s characterized by monotony and calm. There are no great winds to carry the sails to new harbors.
This time of year reminds me of that very place. It seems the hardest place to endure and the longest time of the year. It is neither the beginning with all of the freshness and enthusiasm, nor the end when the finish line in plain sight motivates that last burst of energy and accomplishment. I always found the February to April time frame the hardest. It seemed malaise kicked in and everything was drudgery.
A schoolteacher friend once shared with me that this was the most productive time of year for her classroom. As a matter of fact she said the bulk of their work was accomplished here in the doldrums of the year. That really panicked me. It was definitely not our most productive time of year.
“And let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” Gal. 6:9
This verse became light and salt to me as I struggled each “doldrum” day to fight through and bring vigor and strength to a new day of school. Isn’t it so true that we have all the energy and enthusiasm needed to begin…. but not to endure? Most things are fun to start, but somewhere in the middle we lose enthusiasm and are ready to quit.
That weariness you feel is designed to rob your harvest.
So, from the other side…. the finished side, where the books are all completed, the graduation celebrations are over, and there are no more little bits of paper scattered everywhere; here are some strategies to help.
Plan some simple fun every week. Give your students and yourself something to look forward to. Whether it is an afternoon of learning games, a quick field trip, or a playdate with friends, plan some fun into your week. It’s easy to get bogged down with fractions and grammar and forget to make each week an enjoyable one. Fun is essential.
Prioritize school. Distractions are especially appealing in the doldrums. This is a great time to refocus and remember that this is what God has called you to do. Put it in its proper place in your life. Focus on school.
No matter how tempting… don’t leave out the fun and messy subjects. Science and art often fall by the wayside because of the mess they create. There’s a real tendency to say….tomorrow…next week….or even next year, we’ll do more science or art. Kids love these fun messy subjects and they add so much to their love of learning. Purpose to do both.
Go to convention. The best cure for weariness (after the support of God Himself), is the support of His people. We need each other. We need the teaching and support that we can offer one another. Here’s the link if you’re one of my OK friends (for other states just google homeschool convention). https://www.ochec.com/Convention
Embrace your calling momma.
God Himself has called you to raise up the next generation with an unfettered mind and a core of forged steel.
Can I give you a hug and tell you I think you’re wonderful?
What you are doing matters.
It matters even when you or people around you think otherwise.
It’s also hard, really hard.
Comparing the dream of what it’s like to be home with preschoolers to the earthy reality is a train wreck. The dream is a Pinterest moment complete with freshly washed, sweet-smelling children doing creative art projects in an amazingly decorated play area. Reality is a muddy mess, complete with screeches, laughter and bodily functions. It is a quantifiable truth that children only smell sweet for the first five minutes after their bath. After that, you’re thankful if the only thing you smell is cheese puffs. Toys are the new decorator style. They are everywhere, under everything, and people never ever drop by when they are picked up. Little hands definitely don’t pick up as well as they dump. Laundry multiplies mysteriously in dark rooms, and everyone always wants a meal or a snack. Preschool mom days are filled with urgent needs, endless chores, and constant commotion.
Few things go as planned.
One child eats everything you put before him and more. He sneaks food off of anyone’s plate, and occasionally rummages in the garbage or dog food looking for a snack. You need locks on your cupboards and a safe for cleaning supplies. If that child can get ahold of it, he’ll eat it. Poison control recognizes your number and knows your name. Another child eats nothing but macaroni and cheese, and then only if it is the right brand and they are in the mood for it. The only guarantee seems to be that whichever child you have, you will feel like it’s your fault. The world will even clamor for the opportunity to let you know that it’s your fault. Everyone (who has no children or has never experienced it) will “know”, and let you “know” most assuredly that picky eaters come from incompetent parents, and garbage snackers are under-disciplined. If you happen to have both kinds of kids you get double the guilt.
Zech.4:10 says “For who has despised the day of small things?”
In context, the Israelites had returned from captivity to the promised land and rebuilt the temple. The people were sad because the temple was smaller and less grand than Solomon’s original temple. It was therefore less than they had anticipated. They were tempted to despise their efforts and the result. Sound familiar? As moms we always think we are not enough, that we fall short. Our reality always seems to be less than we hoped for. Honestly, we’re less than we’d hoped for. We don’t look or act much like that original dream. Preschool moms find themselves overwhelmed with the small things of life. Laundry, toys, booboos, meals etc. They all seem like insignificant things.
God however, warns us not to despise the day of small things; because maybe just maybe the small things are what matter most.
Preschool years are crucial. That is precisely why the enemy fights so hard against you. The mom that teaches a child what a spoon is for and how to use it will also teach what life is about; and how to live it. Since the spoon really works like you say and they even eventually master it, the bond of trust and belief begins. That lifetime bond helps to ensure a future generation that is more ready for the tasks ahead than the previous.
Affecting future generations is exhausting work. This glorious calling comes cloaked in the ordinary tasks of an ordinary life; but those ordinary tasks are of eternal value. The enemy will continually tell you that you were made for greater things. He will mock what you do and declare it insignificant. He will try to distract you, condemn you, discourage you, and over all of that he will shine a magnifying glass on all your failures. If he can convince you that your job doesn’t matter, he has already begun to conquer the next generation.
He realizes what we forget, nothing worthwhile is accomplished in an instant.
Everything that matters takes time to grow and is built bit by bit ……even people. . Every big decision is made up of hundreds of small decisions that were made before it. Every big accomplishment starts with the first brick of a foundation. Your patience while your little one learns a new skill establishes the foundation for his or her character that allows for failure, time to learn, and persistence. As you care for them and meet their needs they learn trust, love, and service.
So mom of young ones, be encouraged. Your job is important. In fact your job is essential. The people under your care are just that… people. People that will be your gift to a world in desperate need of God. Think of that. You are giving a gift to the times you live in, by how you raise your little ones.
All of the ordinary is really quite extraordinary isn’t it?
I have to confess I love to buy curriculum. I have about as much resistance as people do at an extraordinary food bar. I’ll have one of each please. Over the years I did find that some basic principles applied to choosing the best of what was available. Knowing that many of you are still mulling over choices for the upcoming year, I thought I’d share some thoughts.
Choose a spiral approach. That means there is constant review of previous skills woven into the daily work. Chapter approaches look appealing, but children forget math skills easily and require continual practice to cement them. It is definitely less painful if the necessary review of previously learned skills is already built into the program. Children are seldom thrilled with extra practice sheets on top of their daily math work. Since the goal is to have them love learning (even math) don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the start. A chapter approach generally means a constant need to reteach previously covered concepts, breeding frustration for both of you and perpetuating a serious distaste for math.
Look for a program with some room to work problems on the page. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen one that I thought really addressed this adequately, but I mention it here in the hopes that curriculum producers will take heed and produce a page with space for kids to work the answer. I personally loved Abeka’s elementary math, but felt they could improve on the space given. (I also did not require them to do every problem on every page… Abeka has a multitude of problems to work each day so that you can pick and choose what your child needs.)
Remember: curriculum is your servant; you are not it’s slave.
Whatever you choose, do math daily. Kids need math for so many higher level subjects, that just like reading it’s fundamental. Let them whine, but do it everyday.
I prefer a standalone science rather than a more integrated unit study approach. This is probably because my kids loved science to such an extent that they couldn’t get enough of it. I’d have had to write so much of the unit study in order to get enough new information in it for my older kids that it just wasn’t practical to use a unit approach. Go for colorful material rich in content. The more the better, and do every experiment that you can fit in your busy life. Your kids will remember them all.
In elementary school, explore nature voraciously. Kids love everything about nature from bugs to clouds. Let them have bug zoos, spider pets, weather charts and gardens. Teach them about winds, seas, rocks and creatures.
There are so many approaches to teaching reading that I think it’s better to cover that as a specialty blog post. However, once your child can read fluently, make sure they read daily. For most homeschool kids this isn’t an issue, but it bears saying if you have a reluctant reader.
Read aloud to your kids. All through their school years, read aloud to them daily. In high school you can read books together, alternating paragraphs or chapters, but don’t stop reading aloud. It makes wonderful memories through shared experience. Good literature provides opportunities for open discussion about almost every imaginable topic, and when you read it together the values you want to share are naturally and easily communicated.
If you can’t think what to read here are a few suggestions to get you started (any of these also make great read alone material for your kids)
Owls in the Family, Hank the Cowdog series, The Derwood Series (BJU press), Chronicles of Narnia, Little House Series, Boxcar Children, Grandmother’s Attic Series, Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Caddie Woodlawn, Number the Stars, The Sign of the Beaver, A Bear Called Paddington,
Cat of Bubastes ( and other novels by GA Henty), The Red Knight, Men of Iron, The Little Princess, Across Five Aprils, Midshipman Quinn, The Lost Baron,
David Copperfield, Olver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, and on and on and on.
Since we are talking about reading aloud, let me also put in a plug here for Five In a Row (http://www.fiveinarow.com ). This is my all-time favorite curriculum for Kindergarten or First Grade. Five in a Row is a unit study program based on a different read aloud each week. It is rich both in content and fun. If you aren’t familiar with it, check it out; you and your kids will love it.
Choosing Unit Studies
Many people like the flexibility of unit studies. They provide a way that the whole family can be learning about the same subject at the same time, just each at their own level. The weakness here is for the oldest children. There is a real danger to guard against in not moving the material to a difficult enough level for them. Make sure you choose to teach to the highest grade in the unit study and let the information trickle down to the younger students rather than trying to take a basic elementary study and enrich it for high school.
Unit studies can be labor intensive for mom. Probably one of the best I’ve seen and used is Tapestry of Grace. The author took the time to actually put the information in the teacher’s manual so that mom didn’t have to go out and search for it. This was especially helpful for me, since history is not my strongest area, nor my strongest interest.
Unit Studies tend to be very strong in history and some language arts areas. I’ve never seen one that covered science to the level needed, and suggest again that you use a standalone science program.
Everyone in my family is now laughing uproariously. I think spelling must be genetic. In fact, I’ve decided it just has to be. I’ve tried almost every spelling curriculum available and the reality is some of my kids can spell like champions, and others need to wear the t-shirt that displays the slogan
“Bad Spellers of the World”
I won’t even begin to give advice on spelling curriculum. I just included it so that you’d know I knew that the subject existed, and as a disclaimer if some of my kids ever write you a letter without spell check.
Most of the language arts curriculums available address writing adequately in the elementary grades. Choose one with a good balance between grammar and writing. I did find though that I loved the Institute for Excellence in Writing (http://www.iew.com ) for middle through high school. It’s a little bit pricey, but the DVD’s are wonderfully engaging and the writing portions are solid instruction for college prep.
It worries me a little that if I was a Mom today in the circumstances I was 28 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have considered homeschooling. I wouldn’t have thought I would fit. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought I had enough money.
Nobody likes to talk about money. It seems tawdry somehow, but I see lots of wonderful people who begin the homeschool journey, are passionate about it, yet eventually abandon it for monetary reasons. I can understand it. It is almost impossible to make it on one income today. Unless your spouse makes serious money, and frankly most people don’t; it takes real sacrifice. But homeschooling is not for the elite, the financially well-heeled, the talented or the exceptionally educated. It is for families passionate about raising their children to love and serve Jesus.
Homeschooling originated as a move of the sacred. Faithful church families from the previous generation were losing their kids to the world in droves. It was frightening to watch and sobering to consider. A revival of God brought families home. He brought them home to school, home to live and learn life together as believers. The vision was to create a firm foundation to launch mighty men and women for Jesus to be lights in a very dark world. The focus was on character, separation from the world, and service to the Lord.
The only thing early homeschoolers had in common was a deep desire to raise their children for God.
When I pulled my fourth and second grader from public school to begin homeschooling them in the 1980’s, my husband was an E-5 in the military. (For those of you non-military people, that translates to….didn’t make much money) We had 5 children under the age of 10, and no money in the bank. We didn’t even own a car. I think we were minimalist before it was trendy. There wasn’t any gross mismanagement of money or circumstances; frankly there just wasn’t enough money to manage. We were obviously poor. My husband rode a bike to and from work. Believe me we stood out. While we were in these very circumstances, God called us to homeschool. Even I didn’t think it would work out.
I’m concerned that today homeschooling more and more gives the impression that it is for the elite. Everyone has expensive clothes, music lessons, gymnastic lessons or special sports coaching. Our ranks are filled with high paying professions. Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not bashing any of those things. It is the very fact that God blessed homeschooling so strongly, and gave such outstanding results to so many very ordinary parents, that created the draw that fills our ranks. The problem that concerns me is that as the ranks fill with more and more financially successful families, the percentage of middle and lower income families diminishes. Each year I watch that percentage get smaller, and therefore the feeling of belonging gets weaker for those who are on the lower end financially.
The influx of financially prosperous families brought changes to our community, and it’s time we thought about those changes. Some have been wonderful. Prosperous families invested in the start-up costs for programs(especially sports) that have in turn blessed many. Other changes are not so wonderful. In the beginning most if not all homeschool events were free. Now in contrast…. EVERYTHING COSTS. The fees are often perceived as relatively small, but we are often comparing them to what similar activities cost in the secular arena. The flaw in that reasoning is that most families in the secular arena are dual income, and the government is paying for the children’s education. They have more discretionary money.
Let’s only charge for what’s necessary, and let’s only charge what it costs.
So….what’s my point? Mostly, I guess I want to encourage those families that think they don’t fit financially.
Homeschooling is a move of the sacred not the secular.
God blesses homeschooling. God will honor the fact that you do it in spite of your financial challenges. My husband rode a bike to work for about 10 of our homeschool years. He would do it again. We have wonderful memories from those very financially strapped years. If you are tempted to quit because of money, I beg you to reconsider. God did not care where we were financially. He cared about our faithfulness. Don’t wait to homeschool until you can afford it, because I don’t think that day ever comes. Homeschool because God calls you to it. Extras are nice, but they are not necessary.
For the rest of us, let’s never forget our roots as homeschoolers. God calls among all economic situations. God uses the poor or the less prosperous to test our hearts and our generosity. May the test find us open-hearted, open-handed, and embracing the opportunity to learn from those whose struggles are different than our own.
I love my adopted state. I am originally from New York, so almost everything about Oklahoma was new to me when we moved here with the army some 20+ years ago.
From greeting everyone with a hug (whether you’ve ever met them before or not), personal conversations with total strangers ( I am still so amused when a checkout person comments specifically on my purchases or tells me their life story) , tornadoes (which come with magnificent skies that look like the clouds are upside down), rodeo (where bulls sometimes have more sense than cowboys), a plethora of Indian names and places (I thought Western New York won in that race… but it’s definitely a runner-up); Oklahoma makes me smile.
So, this week I share that smile with you.
Yes, this is Cinderella’s carriage, the same that you might see in any major city, except in OKC; the coachman is a cowboy, complete with boots and hat.
If I were designing a city that sees regular tornadoes, there would be no high rises. This tower stands in the middle of OKC and thumbs it’s nose at the wind and skies.
Yes, that board says, “wagons, teams, mules” ; and no it’s not in front of a museum or a historical building. It’s just an old board, on an old building that still sits there; waiting for someone to come hitch their mule.
It is sunny here almost all the time. I have to admit that it is one of my favorite things about Oklahoma. As a bonus, All that sunlight makes for some of the most amazing reflections in the water that you could imagine.
This statue of the Abernathy boys about sums it up. Only in Oklahoma would you celebrate the cross country journey of two boys aged six and nine who traveled alone on horseback from Frederick, Oklahoma to Washington DC. Sons of famous Oklahoma marshal “Catch-em Alive Jack” Abernathy their journeys are chronicled in “Bud & Me” by Alta Abernathy. It’s definitely worth the read, though I imagine it will spark some interesting conversations with your sons. Have a blessed weekend!