Saturday, September 29, 2012

Encouragement as we Begin a New School Year

I had the privilege of speaking at the South Austin Homeschool Network's Moms' Night Out at the beginning of the month.  I wanted to share here on my blog what I shared with the ladies that evening.  May you be blessed as you begin a new year with school, activities, and LIFE!!

Every year at this time, I get so excited to start some new things for school with the kids.  Whether I have schooled through the summer or taken a break, there is something about September that brings me to a place of renewed vision and commitment to my calling to homeschool my children.  Summer brings curriculum fairs, extra time to plan for the coming year, and much-needed rest.  So when school begins, I am ready!  We have new schedules that look so full of wonderful things on paper. We have new books, new pencils, notebooks, and school supplies.  We are excited, and maybe our kids are even excited as well!

We begin with a bang!  We look to our shiny new schedules to keep us on track. Things may even go great for the first day, few days or even a week or two.  Then reality hits--the new shiny pencils start to break, new crayons get lost, the kids aren't so excited about the new math, Science....fill in the blank...the baby gets sick, the car breaks down, and all those great hands on activities we are doing really mess the house up!  We fall off the wagon and begin to become discouraged!  

This year we didn't even get through the first day of school before my plans were interrupted!  I had a quite lovely schedule made up on a spreadsheet (I am a recovering perfectionist--God has given me a large family to cure me!), hanging in the kitchen.   We started school the first morning, and by 9am, we were already off schedule.  The kids found a dying Texas Spiny Lizard while doing their outdoor chores (dog got 'im?), and then my soft-hearted 9-yr-old boy was begging me to find a big box for him and look up what he ate so we could try to help him live.  The next couple of hours were dedicated to trying to save this lizard!  We let a couple of things go in the morning, and stayed *somewhat* on schedule the rest of the day, but this year I didn't even get one semi-perfect day.  When things like this happen, or worse, suddenly homeschooling seems so very hard, and we wonder where we went wrong, and where all our dreams will end up.  When this happens to me--and it invariably happens at some point during the early part of the year, and then again after Christmas break or after a vacation of some sort--I like to remind myself of why we are doing what we are doing.  Let's face it--this is not the easy road.  So, this is the time I like to list the reasons out, to revisit the journey we took to get where we are today.

When Todd and I started out, he was dead set against homeschooling.  He spent his childhood in public school, and he turned out pretty wonderfully (he's pretty awesome and my hero!), so he did not see the benefit in undertaking homeschooling our own children.  I did my student teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area, and during this experience, I came to feel that when we had children, I wanted something else for our children--private school?  We moved to Portland, Oregon and soon after became pregnant with our first child.  During this time, we became involved with the High School ministry at the church we attended.  We were impressed by all of the young people we met there.  Some of these high school students were homeschooled.  I had never even thought about homeschooling, but meeting these students and seeing parents could actually teach their own children at home, I was intrigued.  Todd still wasn't so sure.  A friend gave us the book Homeschooling Why and How, and gradually Todd was convinced.  After spending a year overseas in Israel, we moved to Texas and decided we would try homeschooling.  Shortly after returning to the States, I gave birth to our third child in less than 3 years, and Todd thought it was as good a time as any to "try out" homeschooling.  Preschool!  We did three days per week of preschool, and invited a friend to join us with her little girl.  We loved it!  Each year, as circumstances have changed and things have gotten more complicated (more and more babies, moving to a farm, etc.), it seemed that God was calling us to keep going.  Each year the Lord has confirmed that this is what He wants us to do.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed or question whether this is the right path for us, there are some things I do to help me get back to the right place and some things that I can do to make it easier.  Here is a list of some of those things that you may find helpful as well:

1. Remind myself of the reasons we are choosing to homeschool.  Talk with your husband about what your vision for your homeschool is if you haven't done this yet, and then post them somewhere in your house to remind you.  I like to re-read some of the books we read in the beginning that inspired us to choose this path.  A couple of excellent books for this are: Educating the Wholehearted Child by Sally and Clay Clarkson (the beginning of the book especially) and The How & Why of Homeschooling by Ray E Ballman.  There are many others out there.  Post the list of reasons somewhere you can see them every day.  (When doing this one time a couple of years ago,  I listed out some of the things I love about my life--you can read them in my blog post from March 24, 2011.)

2.  In keeping with the first tip, if you haven't laid out your goals for your homeschool, do it!  List out goals for each child for the year and for the long term so that you don't get caught up in what "everyone else" seems to be doing--that may not fit in with your goals!  While reading through Sally Clarkson's wonderful book, Seasons of a Mother's Heart, I came across this list of questions to ask myself that helped me a lot.
-What do I want my children to know? I want them to know the Truth so as to be able to be a channel of God's truth in this dark world.
-What do I want my children to be? I want the to grow up to be adults who show character.  Character speaks louder than words. (Yes, even Latin words, all you Classical Ed lovers out there!)
-What do I want my children to do? I want them to have the passion of Jesus for the lost and hurting. I want them to be people who see the needs of the world and then move their hands to reach out to the people for whom He died.

3.  Make lists of  all the positives and/or keep a gratitude journal.  Some examples from my own life are: my kids are best friends, they know how to interact with all ages from babies to adults very well, there is not really the "age barrier" that can be seen with kids in traditional classes (my 10-yr-old is good friends with kids who are two grades below her).  Life is the best classroom.  I can interact with the kids in the world around us and they learn soooo much--I get to be part of that 24/7!

 4.  Remind myself that God loves these children and has their future in His hands.  I just need to be faithful.  God always provides what the children need.  I am always so amazed at how I "stumble across" just the  right books for whatever we are studying.  One fall a few years ago, we were studying gardening and flowers, and the week we started, a HUGE banana spider wove her web right in front of our kitchen window, so we added in a unit on spiders, and it was incredible!!  God orchestrated the whole thing!  I should know by now that He cares for these children and He will give them just what they need for exactly what he is equipping them to do.

5.  On the practical side, I do make a schedule (or schedules) but take a deep breath and am flexible when things aren't happening exactly according to my plans.  This has taken me years to master, and there are days that I still have a hard time with it, but in general getting off schedule doesn't faze me anymore.  Remember that you are home schooling, NOT doing "school" at home!! You aren't a slave to any curriculum--it's there to serve you.  The minute you begin feeling guilty about it, you are no longer being served by it.  The same thing goes for your beautiful master schedule created in Excel!

6. Another practical thing I like to do is to make a list of what I DID accomplish at the end of the day/afternoon/evening--kind of like a reverse to-do list!  This helps me to see that I did accomplish many things, even if they might not have been on my actual "To Do" list.

7. It is very helpful for me to plan a menu for at least one week at a time and then shop for the ingredients I will need for the week's meals on the weekend so I am ready to go.  I used to freezer cook with a friend once per month, but now, when I can, I make 5-6 times of a recipe to freeze.  I use my Use crock pot a LOT!  I have even heard of friends getting together and doing a meal swap in which several people make a given number of dishes to freeze, and then pass them out to one another--everyone gets several meals and a nice variety!

8.  I have learned to never Never NEVER compare myself to anyone else--we are all so different.  Each family is called differently, and our children are different.  Focus on Jesus, and ask for His grace and contentment.  A wonderful book to read for this is Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow.

9.  Take time every day to spend time with the Lord, reading and meditating on His Word!  I like to memorize Scripture and post the verses all over the house as reminders.  Find a time to fill up your cup spiritually, even if it's just one drop at a time.  You can't give out what you don't have yourself.  Model it for your kids.  I know for myself, I can't get through the day without meeting with the LORD first and then putting a smile on my face when my children begin to come down for breakfast.

10. Instead of comparing myself to or judging others, I actively reach out to other women, and I initiate getting together.  Seek out friends and mentors.  Don't wait for them to come to you first!! Take the initiative.  I think as homeschooling moms especially, we can feel isolated, but instead of taking this sitting down, you can be the one to surround yourself with friends and support.  Come to the homeschool Moms' Night Out, call a friend to come over and have coffee while the kids play.  Find someone to pray with you and with whom you can share prayer requests.

11.  Part of being able to survive the hard times of homeschooling and all of its demands is to be able to make a little time to do something I enjoy every now and then.  There are things I do alone, like go for a run in the morning.  I love writing, so I started this blog.  I really enjoy putting my thoughts and feelings on paper.  It's a great way for me to process what's going on in my life, document different things, and maybe even offer some encouragement to others along the way.  I try to fit this in whenever I can.  There are things that refresh me that I do with my husband and/or my kids.  For example, my husband and I are very intentional about having a regular date night.  When the children were all little, we hired a babysitter once or twice per month.  Or we would plan a "date at home" when we would put the children to bed early and enjoy an evening alone together eating a special meal together and just talking or watching a movie.  Now we have teen girls, and we actually get out more often--about once per week!!  Whoot!!  We also like to spend time as a family outside on our property, just enjoying time together.  Family game nights and movie nights are also fun ways for us to refresh as a family. 
12. Find a prayer partner.  I try hard to get together with a friend to pray together and encourage one another whenever possible.  Finding a support group that has a monthly moms' night out  is a great way to do that as well.  It's so important to do this.  If you don't feel like anyone is calling you to get together, call someone and invite her!!  Chances are, many other moms out there are feeling the same way you are and would appreciate the chance to meet together and pray.  You can pray over the phone if it's too hard to meet in person.  Texting and emailing are great ways to keep up with each other also in this high-tech world in which we live!

13. Finally, remember that in the long run, God will reward our faithfulness.  He will be our strength when we're weak.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, "He [the Lord]said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

We must trust that God is able to fight the battle for us.  I will end with a story I came upon while reading through the Bible in my morning quiet times this year.  The passage is in 2 Chronicles 16.  In the previous chapters, we read that King Asa had done right in the Lord's sight, tearing down idols and high places where idols were worshiped.  Then in battle against the Ethiopians, Asa realized that his army was not strong enough, so he cried out to God on the battlefield, saying these words, “Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You!” This is what God did after Asa's prayer: "So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled."  God had won the battle for Asa because of his trust in God.  However, in chapter 16, Asa relies on his own strength and intellect, making a treaty with the King of Syria instead of trusting in the Lord the way he had before.  Here is God's response.  I have read 2 Chronicles 16:9 hundreds of times, but I never really knew or thought about the context.  It makes a huge difference in the way I think about that verse knowing the whole story.  God says to Asa through the seer Hannai, "Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand.  Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.”  The big mistake Asa made was not trusting God!!  How many times do I try to take the battle into my own hands, and fail to really trust God?  The result? MORE BATTLES--more wars!!!  May we remember this as we struggle, fail and feel inadequate.  God is the one who wins the battles.  We need only put our faith and trust fully in Him.  This is what it really means to have a "heart that is loyal to Him."

I pray that we will all be able to renew our hope throughout this school year whenever the going gets tough!

May you be blessed in your journey!