Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homeschooling: The Journey Continues

The most challenging aspect of beginning the homeschool journey for me has been determining what our homeschool looks like. I love reading articles about the paths other moms have chosen. Simple Homeschool has some great stories where different moms share a "day in the life" and what their nitty gritty looks like. It's good to know they are normal people doing normal things and that pinterest-perfect isn't their normal either.

But, their day-in-the-life still doesn't answer the question, "What does my day-in-the-life look like?"

I've read and wrestled, and read and wrestled some more. At some point, a person can read too much and have too much to wrestle with. The mass volume of information and ideas available muddled my mind so fully that the structure of our homeschool began to look like a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey with me trying blindly to pin the right homeschool method on my family's unique build.

To describe the start of our journey, I jumped into a Classical Conversations community at the outset. We joined a community, purchased all of the curriculum, and I was hopeful that we would thrive and, as advertised on their website, I would single-handedly cultivate a love of learning in my child. They would read blissfully in fields of flowers by the age of 5 and the sun would beam down on our perfect happy homeschool family. Okay, maybe I didn't expect all that, but I look back and realize I was hoping the Classical Christian method would be our perfect fit.

We joined the community and we struggled immensely all year.  Each week, we went to a very LONG four hours of repetitive repeat-after-me sessions, where we both felt ignorant and ill-prepared. After a number of weeks of feeling like the dumb kid (and the dumb mom), I spent the week pushing Isabel (then only four years old!) too hard so that when she came to class she wouldn't feel inferior (and neither would I) and while she learned the content and began to improve in class, she began to hate doing "school," as did I.  Most of the time when we thought about doing "school" at home or at CC, we both internally cringed. We limped through the rest of the year and by the last 6 weeks, we had emotionally and physically checked out almost completely.  I was emotionally exhausted from trying to keep up and I realized I had caused damage in my attempts to do so in my child's "love of learning." The very thing I was trying to cultivate was the thing I trampled underfoot as I looked too intently at the "garden" I wanted to grow in the distance and not hard enough at the "garden" I was planting.

Recently, I've been reading through the amazing book, Homeschooling, Take a Deep Breath - You Can Do This, and this paragraph describes my feelings about last year homeschooling Isabel.

 "I began my homeschooling career by teaching only the oldest of my three children. I was new, so I was managing to make every mistake commonly made by homeschoolers, but I also faced the challenge of spending so much uninterrupted time with a child whose personality was as strong as mine. She and I clashed as I struggled to be the perfect teacher and to force her to be the perfect student. When I was teaching one child, I put all my self-esteem, my goals, my pride into this child's education. It was, I thought, her job to prove I could do what most people thought I couldn't do. Instead of starting out slowly and gradually getting used to what we were doing, I charged into full education mode ... This was far too much pressure for one child, and it's a wonder we get along so well today."

Over the summer, I struggled with whether to even try homeschooling again. I was exhausted and I felt like I had irrevocably ruined my child for life. I'm confident Isabel will be just fine, but at the end of the year, I felt like I had failed her and myself unforgivably. Maybe I'm not cut out for this, my mind swirled. Or maybe it was just a hard year with a newborn? Other homeschool parents have newborns and they don't seem to be ruining their kids' homeschool experience. I had, in fact, just read a blog by a mom who had homeschooled her children while also caring for newborn twins. What excuse did I have then to not be successful?

I read articles and blogs and they all said to go with the flow and not to stress. Easy for them to say, my brain retorted, their kids haven't been scarred by a mom who pushed her child too hard. Their kids don't fall apart every time they start doing "school." 

I almost gave up on it all, but I kept feeling like God was gently nudging me back to homeschooling. Don't you see how poorly I did last year?  I asked Him. He gently reminded me that He often calls His people to do hard things, things that they can't do in their own strength. His words resonated in me as I thought of what Jesus walked through for me and the hard things God asked of Jonah, Joseph, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Abraham, Moses, and countless others. Perhaps I did do poorly last year, but it seemed that God was calling me to do hard things with Him.

In so many ways, I look back at our last year and realize that I wanted to be successful in homeschooling for my sake and not for my children's sake. I wanted educated, kind, respectful children partially so I could say I successfully raised my children well. I needed to decide whether I was homeschooling so I could produce perfect children who brought credit to my name (not a great motivation, by the way), or whether I would homeschool for a deeper, more lasting reason. 

God gave me the reason I was homeschooling as clear as day here - paideia - and it changed my heart about homeschooling.

Finally, I had my purpose for homeschooling but was still asking the question, "What does homeschooling my children look like in light of the purpose God gave me?"

I may ask that question every day (maybe year if I'm lucky) for the rest of my homeschool life, but I came up with some solid framework for what our homeschool will may look like this year.

More on the nitty gritty of our homeschool plan for 2016 next....

Melody perusing fairy tales in ballet attire

{What does your nitty gritty look like? How did you decide on your method for homeschool? Subscribe to read new posts.}


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Elisha Reads: Homeschooling, Take a Deep Breath - You Can Do This!

I'm learning so much as I've embarked on this homeschool journey. I'm sure many of you are seasoned homeschoolers and much of what I am discovering now, you have fine tuned or you've already discarded. Each new day, it seems I discover what works for our family and what is a complete bust. It feels a little like trying on shoes - some squeeze, some pinch, some are snug, some are so comfortable you never want to take them off, and some fit just right for all the things you need to do in a day.

Last week, we sauntered down to our local library (and if you aren't aware, sauntering with three little children looks more like hustling ornery cattle through an obstacle course) wherein I proceeded to herd Samuel (my little one year old) around the library. As I bent to snatch him up before he could scale the book shelves, my eye landed on a book. It almost reverberated with that fictional magical aura and before I knew what my hands were doing, it had landed in my arms with my squirming child.  A happy throb seemed to emanate from the book as it snuggled its way into our overloaded bag of library loot.

When the kids settled in for naps and the house was miraculously quiet, the book almost jumped at me, so I didn't resist the impulse and I caught it and began to peruse the chapters. Each sentence seemed to flash before my eyes as if the author was looking straight into my fears and my challenges and my children and addressing every question before my mind had finished asking it.

More than any other resource on this homeschooling journey, this book has done wonders for my heart and mind. Even its name sounds like it was meant for me. 

Homeschooling, Take a Deep Breath, You Can Do This by Terrie Lynn Bittner

I won't spoil all the goodness of it, but if you are starting out homeschooling, this is a must-read. She breaks down the homeschool process well for minds that are bent towards creativity rather than list-making and organization. While at the same time, she supplies some very do-able recommendations for getting organized and making lists. It gives me hope that I will find my perfect balance between freedom and structure in my own homeschool life.  And on top of this, it has spurred my imagination and activated my creative juices!

I hope you get a chance to read it!

Most of the books I read are recommendations from others - they don't normally jump off library bookshelves like this one did - so please take a moment and share your favs in the comment section!

{With everything that is available to read, thanks for reading this!}

Friday, August 5, 2016

Homeschooling: The Journey Begins

Homeschooling and I have resembled a science experiment I did as a kid. I would pour water and oil into the same cup and swirl it around, but no matter how much I swirled and shook, no matter how many oil bubbles were created, the elements never blended into a homogeneous solution; they each remained distinct.

I've been swirling around in a jar with homeschooling and we've been bubbling against each other. Last year was a mix of frustration and self-doubt, mingled with enthusiasm and disappointment. Nothing, literally NOTHING, went as I had planned or imagined. My children did not wake up with enthusiastic smiles begging to begin school (yes, I had dreamed of my children loving school so much that I simply fed their eager imaginations and hunger for learning). Samuel did not sleep or play quietly while the older children and I read fantastic stories about fairies, world history, and science. I did not manage to drag my sleep deprived body out of bed before my children so I could greet the day with peace and joy overflowing from my time with Jesus.

My water of life was not mixing with my oil of homeschooling. By the end of the year, we were just really broken down into lots of little pieces and I was left staring at the fullness of my sin (impatience, lack of love, pride, and the list keeps going).

This is what homeschooling sometimes looks like in our house. Samuel climbing on everyone!
As we entered into summer, the Lord and I entered a season of His revealing how much work He has still to do in my life. I feel like he pulled back the curtain of my heart and gently shined His light into so many places where I need to grow.  My heart was humbled and repentance entered in. His gentle instruction has led me over the past few months and He has hemmed me in, behind and before, with His tender love.

Amidst this season of repentance and rebuilding (although isn't all of life full of both?), the Lord continued to encourage me to homeschool. There was no head-bashing. No forceful pushing. Just His firm gentle insistence that He would do this with me and that I could trust His leading in my life. I wanted to homeschool, I truly did, but I wrestled with whether I could homeschool. I have ADD, a part of me that is both wonderful and frustrating, and I wondered whether I could tame my mind's constant pushing and pullings to properly educate my children.

And so, somewhere in my heart, I committed to this journey. Really, I committed to my children, because I'm homeschooling for their sake and not my own, and I committed to the Lord.  Chaos may abound and attitudes may flounder, but the Lord and I are on this journey together.

Paideia, the latin word for nurture, stood out to me suddenly bold and bright as the Lord lit it on a page before me.  In Ephesians 6:4, Paul writes, "Fathers, do no provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."  The word nurture here is paideia in the original greek. The Lord impressed it into my mind like a seal upon wax, scribbled in the margins of my bible and circled in my own hand.

God has called me to paideia my children: to nurture, discipline, train, and instruct them in the way of the Lord. The public schools won't do this for me. God did not call my church to do it for me. He didn't ask a private school to do it for me. He commanded fathers (and I'll imply from the whole of scripture that this includes both sexes) to train their children in the way they should go, to talk about Him when they sit at home and when they walk along the road, when they lie down and when they get up (Deut 6:7).  To be clear, I don't think God calls everyone to homeschool, but a number of years ago I very clearly felt the Lord tell me to homeschool. And so, here I am, finally committing to this journey.

I'm not committing to "homeschooling" itself. I'm not pledging myself to the classical learning style. I'm not placing my flag on the hill of better education.  I'm standing my ground on paideia. My children may not speak chinese, sign language, and write in perfect cursive by the time they are six. They may not learn to read faster than their peers. They may not have perfect attitudes and be the best behaved children on the playground. But I'm not homeschooling for these reasons.

I'm homeschooling because I want my children to see Jesus, day in and day out, in my weaknesses and in successes. I want to nurture them and instruct them. I want the gospel to saturate their life.  I want prayer to be in their left hand and God's word in their right. I want faith to be as natural to them as breathing and salvation to cover them like a helmet. Because they are going to face some battles in this life, (we all do, don't we?) and I want them to be prepared in the "nurture and instruction of the Lord." I want their first response to be "Jesus!" and their last breath to be "Jesus!"

And since He has called me to this, I believe that He will equip me for it because He has prepared these "good works" in advance for me to do.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 1:11).  I am assured that my hope, which is Christ, will not disappoint. I am confident that every promise God has made is "Yes" and "Amen!" in Jesus. So I'm walking into this knowing God is with me and that He will guide me and instruct me. That He longs for my children to walk with Him and that He is faithful to finish the work He has started. That His Word will not return void. That He will extend His faithfulness to the thousandth generation of those that love Him. These are the promises I cling to and the impetus for this journey. 

No matter whether homeschooling and I are remain water and oil, paideia and I resemble sugar water. Sugar dissolves when it is mixed and stirred in water and both are changed by the process. This journey may have mixing, stirring, and all kinds of agitation throughout the process. In the end though, something new and sweet emerges. Add a little lemon and you've got a refreshing drink. ;)

I will be chronicling my journey here to keep a record and history of the "science experiment" God is conducting in my life. Sometimes you'll see the agitation process. Sometimes you'll get a drink of our sweet concoction. My hope is that we'll look back and see a record the results of God's handiwork and His scientific method at work in our life. 

Care to join us? 

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Friday, June 27, 2014

365 Days with God - Day 175: What are you praying for?

I'm giving myself a challenge. Read the Bible each day for a whole year, following the ESV Study Guide 1-year plan. Each day, I will post whatever God has revealed to me in His Word, and how it is changing me. A friend of mine once said that nothing has changed her life as much as reading the bible each day - and I'm excited for how this will change me. Join me on an adventure into the heart of God - and day by day, we can learn more about who He is and what that means to us!

- Andy Catts

Day 175, June 27, 2014
Readings: Proverbs 27, Proverbs 28, Deuteronomy 27, Micah 3, Matthew 6:1-18

Ask my wife and she'll tell you - I'm not much of a public prayer person. Or even semi-public prayer in front of other people. 

I wish it was because I was doing my best to obey Matthew 6, where it says to pray in a closet so that you aren't using prayer to try and convince others of your holiness. But really, I just don't want to embarrass myself by saying something foolish in front of others. I'm worried that I won't have the right things to say. But Jesus says to pray this way: 

 And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8)

Pray for what you need. God's not impressed by our quantity or quality of words. He knows what we're going to ask for, and he knows if we need it, before we even ask. He wants us to be sincere. He wants us to be honest and forthcoming. He wants us to ask for things that we need from him - not just provisions, but the ability to live out a godly life. Because a little later, He tells us to pray that our sins would be forgiven - as we have forgiven others.

I don't know about you, but I need help to forgive. And I need to be forgiven. God wants to provide both of those things for me - and he wants me to ask for them. God, I am broken, I am in need of your love and forgiveness. Please help me so that I can show your love and forgiveness to others as well, just as you have shown it to me.

365 Days with God - Day 174: Hope for a Fool

I'm giving myself a challenge. Read the Bible each day for a whole year, following the ESV Study Guide 1-year plan. Each day, I will post whatever God has revealed to me in His Word, and how it is changing me. A friend of mine once said that nothing has changed her life as much as reading the bible each day - and I'm excited for how this will change me. Join me on an adventure into the heart of God - and day by day, we can learn more about who He is and what that means to us!

- Andy Catts

Day 174, June 26, 2014
Readings: Proverbs 25, Proverbs 26, Deuteronomy 26, Micah 1, Micah 2,  Matthew 5:17-48

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)

Am I trusting in myself, or am I trusting in God?

Because if I think I've got all the answers, if I'm sure that I have figured things out, that I provide for myself, that I do everything right...I'm hopeless. God has provided everything I need, and any knowledge that I have, He has given me. Who am I to say that I've done anything? How can I give myself credit, how can I count myself valuable, when I brought nothing into this world, and can take nothing out of it? How can I think myself important when I cannot control even my own life?

I pray that I am not wise in my own eyes. I pray that God is the one who provides for me and my perspectives. Because if I am providing everything for myself, what need do I have of God? If everything was my own, why would I need him? And if I am without God, I am nothing.

365 Days with God - Day 173: Hide it under a bushel...NO!

I'm giving myself a challenge. Read the Bible each day for a whole year, following the ESV Study Guide 1-year plan. Each day, I will post whatever God has revealed to me in His Word, and how it is changing me. A friend of mine once said that nothing has changed her life as much as reading the bible each day - and I'm excited for how this will change me. Join me on an adventure into the heart of God - and day by day, we can learn more about who He is and what that means to us!

- Andy Catts

Day 172, June 25, 2014
Readings: Proverbs 23, Proverbs 24, Deuteronomy 23:15-25, Deuteronomy 24, Deuteronomy 25:1-19, Amos 9, Matthew 5:1-16

I wish I had time to cover all of the beatitudes, but it'd take weeks. So I'm just going to pick one.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

A lamp under a basket does one of two things:

1) It is burning so hot that it lights the basket on fire, and thus burns brightly anyway
2) It is snuffed out by the basket.

Which do you want your faith to be like? I'd rather the first one. I'd rather it be unable to be hidden. So bright, so prominent, so on fire that encountering it was unavoidable.

But where have we ended up as a nation? All too often we are trying to put our faith under a basket. Telling others to tone it down, to not share so much. Personally, I'm tired of hearing this stuff. Our fire is to burn brightly. Note that these verses don't say to ramrod our faith down other people's throats. It should be unmistakeable. Visible, no matter what.

So rather than trying to hide it, rather than continually making our faith personal only to ourselves, we should be making sure it's prominent. Constantly in front of those who look at us - so that Jesus would be known by our word and deed. That encountering the same saving grace and love that we experience would say all that needs to be said. Do you burn brightly?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

365 Days with God - Day 172: Elevating the Poor

I'm giving myself a challenge. Read the Bible each day for a whole year, following the ESV Study Guide 1-year plan. Each day, I will post whatever God has revealed to me in His Word, and how it is changing me. A friend of mine once said that nothing has changed her life as much as reading the bible each day - and I'm excited for how this will change me. Join me on an adventure into the heart of God - and day by day, we can learn more about who He is and what that means to us!

- Andy Catts

Day 171, June 23, 2014
Readings: Proverbs 21, Proverbs 22, Deuteronomy 23:1-14, Amos 7, Amos 8, Matthew 4:12-25

Hear this, you who trample on the needy
and bring the poor of the land to an end,
saying, "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain?
And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale,
that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great
and deal deceitfully with false balances,
that we may buy the poor for silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals
and sell the chaff of the wheat?" (Amos 8:4-6)

Do we love our fellow man? Do we care about them the way Jesus does? Are we eager to see their best realized? (Note, their best does not necessarily equal their most profitable...)

Time and time again, throughout the scriptures, it is evident that God cares about those in need. Every prophet testifying against Israel mentions their abandoning of the poor, their lack of concern for those in need, and their selfishness. But God is not talking about mere social justice here. The prophets cry out against the exploitation of the poor. And I think we see a lot of that today, thinly veiled in "good deeds."

I don't want this post to become terribly political. But I do want to encourage God's heart for humanity. And through the prophet Amos, he is challenging us to take stock of how we care for those in need. Do we treat them as second class citizens? Do we take advantage of them to further our own agenda? Are the "solutions" we put forth really for their best, or does it just sound good so that we get more votes?

I believe our nation is in a place where we must examine our principles, our purpose as we move forward. What are we motivated by? Where will this end up? Does it just sound good, or will it actually result in the needy being elevated, educated, and free? The challenge of being poor is not lacking wealth. The challenge of being poor is lacking options. Money, knowledge and connections give you options when you are in trouble. When we talk about helping the needy, we need to give them options. Give them freedom. Give them Jesus.