Schooled

When our four children were young, and I was in the throes of homeschooling, I followed a strict inner compass. There were a few things that I was bent on teaching them, and it had nothing to do with worldly recognition, high grades, or prestigious awards.

Mainly, I wanted them to grow and mature in godliness. We sang the books of the Bible together, memorized Scripture, and read God’s Word daily. It was also my aim to teach them to be kind. Academically, I strived to help them become proficient readers and able writers–skills needed for all of life.

Read-alouds reigned supreme, and that is what I miss the most: diving into the good books, together. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Pilgrim’s Progress, Shiloh, Caddie Woodlawn, Where the Red Fern Grows, Summer of the Monkeys, Owls in the Family, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Lad: A Dog. I still recall how much we all looked forward to our read-aloud times.

Then there was math–a necessary evil, (in my opinion) because, well…college.

I received much outside help for higher mathematics, given the fact that geometry gave me nightmarish flashbacks to my freshman year of high school. My teacher, Miss O’Neill, of frosted hair, coral lipstick, and smoker’s voice, was as thin as a wisp, gaunt really, which made her appear older than she likely was. She spent the entire class fuming at anyone who did not pick up on the finer details instantly, which was pretty much all of us. Tapping her heeled toe and rolling her narrowed eyes, she tossed up her hand with an irritated: Come on people!

When the bell finally rang, she flung her heavy purse over her shoulder and made a dash for the cement stairwell, landing in the parking lot for a quick drag on a cigarette before next period began. I never fully understood proofs, (still don’t) which is why I did not teach geometry to my children but farmed out those painful lessons. Obtuse, scalene, acute, intersecting, congruent, isosceles? What in the world?

Algebra was far better, thanks to Mr. Munroe. Excellence in teaching is a sweet gifting, isn’t it? And just because a person understands a subject does not mean that he or she should be teaching it. Patience and kindness and classroom leadership come into play, big time.

It was of prime importance to me that my children learned to be timely, meet deadlines, complete chores, and be able to interact with and serve all kinds of people. So we worked together on these things, little by little. I knew that if they could pay attention, heed instruction, welcome constructive criticism, and read and write with ease, then they could learn pretty much anything.

During this time, my husband was pastoring his first church. From time to time, he asked the congregation to stand and read Scripture in unison.

And I was stunned.

The group was unable to read chorally.

Some were reading aloud quickly, blowing through commas as if they were green lights, while refusing to pause for periods. Others were reading so slowly, dragging behind by a good three or four words, oblivious as to the flow. It was terribly distracting, with voices all over the place, so much so that I could not possibly concentrate on the meaning of the verses, which was the entire point in the first place.

So I made it my immediate mission to teach our children the art of choral reading. I am sure they thought it was overkill, which it most certainly was, but I could not live with the notion of them growing up and lagging behind or racing ahead in church. Reading in unison was a skill, a unifier, and we worked it out.

There was another area that bubbled to the surface, mainly because it felt to me like fingernails scraping north to south on a chalkboard. It was a widespread problem: the inability to summarize.

I noticed this issue at church, the grocery store, with friends, even at football practice. Everywhere.

Our children were so, so, cute. Polite. But it was hard for them to endure a longwinded story from a parishioner as I stood in conversation. Take someone’s upcoming surgery, for example. A woman might look heavenward, beginning with the words I was born in Kansas in the year…. and fifteen minutes later she had still not arrived at the ailment prompting a surgery. I can still envision my little ones tugging on my sleeve, eyes wide, shoulders droopy, silently pleading for deliverance. It had been a long morning, church was over, and they were ravenous.

So that is when I sprinkled another couple of features into our homeschool curriculum: the fine art of patient listening, coupled with the art of summary. I had them speak and write four or five sentences to capture that entire movie plot, book, or event from sports practice. We also put diligent effort into becoming a kind and patient listener, and I might have even taught them how to slip in a question in order to break that tedious soliloquy and gently hasten the story towards its conclusion.

After years of summarizing together, I began to notice a stunning benefit: my children’s ease of encapsulating large passages of Scripture into a few sentences. In hindsight, it is simple to realize that summarizing Scripture should have been at the forefront of my mind, rather than summarizing so as not be an annoyance to others.

Monday-morning-quarterbacking is real, I tell you.

And that, my friends, is the truth about homeschooling. As the teaching parent you are able to address pet peeves, and to deal with uncouth habits. I peek back in time now and plainly see the dozens of ways I could have improved as a homeschooling teacher. Time (plus a quiet house) often yields clarity, but God used even small pet peeves of mine to teach my children an important skill for better understanding his Word. Isn’t he wonderful?

Truthfully? No education is perfect because we are not perfect. God was gracious to allow me to serve him as a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling parent, and I thank him for gifting me those years.

This is the first year in forever that I am not homeschooling someone, and while it feels strange, I figure that every now and again I can encourage younger parents in the midst of their labors.

So I will offer this:

If you are new to this homeschooling venture, be patient with yourself and your children. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is an education.

Pray over everything, stick with a simple plan while keeping a routine, tell your sweeties that you love them, buy doughnuts on the first day of your schoolyear, and make sure that everyone receives a solid dose of fresh air and sunshine daily. (Teacher included.) Recess is golden. Truly.

Recess and read-alouds.

Our grandson recently turned one, and every time I visit him we read books together. His Daddy, our firstborn, likewise reads to him every night. It is part of their routine, and my heart is bursting. The love of reading has been passed down to a brand-new generation.

Our grandson’s first word was Dada. His second?

Book.

I cannot stop smiling.

His education has already begun.

***

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7 thoughts on “Schooled

  1. It is so funny how much we remember our favorite…and maybe least impactful teachers. One of mine was calculus…of all classes right! He knew math was hard and made it fun. I saw him a few years out of school and interrupted his lunch to let him know how much of an impact he made on my self confidence knowing things are hard but with a teacher and a helper we can do hard things.
    Also, Where the Red Fern Grows is one of my all time favorites 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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