Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Homeschooling Our Way - Making Math Fun

Math -- the ultimate homeschool battlefield. Since pre-school, I have struggled to help my daughter grasp the basics of addition and subtraction.  It was, as my husband called it, the explosive subject. I tried many different approaches suggested by other homeschooling moms, to no avail. And it all came to the surface this fall, when my 7 year old daughter packed a bag and walked away in frustration.  I watched her sitting on a neighbor's porch, trying to hide from me, feeling like a failure in everything I was trying to accomplish as a mom and as a teacher.
 I had already moved her back from the advanced level she did last year to an easier, second grade curriculum. We were battling over the basics: 1 + 1 = I hate you. And this was after she had succeeded in triple-digit addition and subtraction at the end of her first grade year (although not without a fight).

As my husband returned from his walk, I alerted him by text to stop by our neighbor's porch and comfort her.  Once he arrived, she felt compelled to cooperate.  Yet, I knew he would be returning to campus very soon, and I would not have him present to help when the next skirmish might arise.

In the days that followed, my husband and I discussed our daughter's very unique personality and temperament.  We decided on an experiment I greatly doubted -- introducing her favorite "puppet personalities" into the classroom.  Since she was two, we've had a host of puppets around to entertain her, and each has developed its own quirky character over the years.  While I reluctantly consented to this approach, I was convinced it would not work.

To my husband's credit, I was wrong.  Our classroom experience has been transformed.  She and I are no longer at odds over homework, not even MATH.  In fact, it has gone from her least favorite subject to her new favorite pastime.  Today her reward for helping with chores was an extra math lesson taught by her puppet pals, Piggy and Cow.  With me urging them on, these two fuzzy puppets write problems on a white board and wait eagerly with red pen for grading (Piggy loves the red pen!).
They encourage her as she reads. And whenever her quick temper begins to spark, Cow yells "Bacon" and Piggy faints. The familiar banter continues, as a temper tantrum and total homeschool shutdown is averted.

We've come a long way over the years, and we have finally learned the most important lesson of homeschooling -- it doesn't have to mirror the methods traditionally used in the public or private school classroom.  Common errors can be made by a puppet, and corrected by another, so that our daughter learns from the mistake without having to make it herself.  Schoolwork can be chaotic and silly.  It can anticipate distraction and a puppet can shout "Focus" without invoking great wrath and defiance from my extremely strong-willed child when her attention wanes. 

We have gone from "making:" her do schoolwork to begging her to STOP doing so many extra lessons so I can prepare the evening meal!  Math has gone from being a dreaded chore to a special reward.  And that's just fine with us!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

When Foundations Crumble, Build Again

Funny, but when things are going well, we barely notice. Then, out of the blue, change falls upon us so suddenly and unexpectedly that we never even see it coming.  It's been that way for us with homeschooling.

For the last five years, our daughter participated in a local homeschool co-op, whose members were very much like family to us. But then one day when we least expected it, we received the news that our co-op was dissolving, and the remaining families were left to pick up the pieces and forge ahead. It was a very emotional time for all of us. I don't think it would be unfair to say we mourned the loss of our co-op just as we might the passing of a beloved family friend.

In the days that followed, we tried to hold on to what remained of our group's foundation, even as it crumbled beneath us. We then learned of another group in our area and attempted to work with them, but their foundation had already been set after much time and research. They did not want to go back to the drawing board or begin again to accommodate us, and who could blame them? Some members of our group were instantly ready to join their efforts. Yet, I and a few
others felt it was important to have a voice in how things are done. So, our group was faced with a choice -- join the new group's efforts or build something new of our own.

For our family, we chose to build.  A few others joined in, and what remained was a splintered and hurting remnant of families who will not be working with each other on a regular basis as in the past. This was particularly painful for me, as I felt some blame by others for the divide, for not "going along for the sake of unity." Should I have just accepted the option presented, though in my heart I knew it was not what my own daughter needed?

I could not, and it was an emotional and heartbreaking choice. Though I have great respect for what the other group aims to accomplish, I decided to help build something different, something more in line with our family's needs and goals. And what a blessing, and what a cost, that followed!

Seeing a new co-op come to life and grow is a tremendous gift from God. Being an active part of such growth is a great blessing and comfort to me.  I've met new people and made new friends. Yet the cost of losing frequent contact with so many who are dear to me is difficult, not only for me, but for our daughter, as well. She no longer sees some of her friends on a regular basis, though we and the other families are trying to maintain contact as well as our schedules allow.

Not a day goes by that I don't mourn the loss of the beautiful bond we shared with the families of our original co-op. I miss them all, and I miss their children. As one mom put it, we are all still "mourning the loss that we can't all be together." I echo that feeling, though I will not sacrifice my hopes for the future. My daughter is coping better than I in many ways. She makes new friendships easily, and is looking ahead to the future. I, on the other hand, can be melancholy over all that was lost and wonder what might have been if I'd chosen another path.

So do I regret my decision? Never. I know I chose what is right my family and I trust that I am following God's will for my family. Is it easy? Nope. All I can do is offer the pain, the discouragement, and feelings of loss to God, for the sake of both efforts and especially for the children. I do believe God will make both groups bloom and grow in amazing ways, though along different paths. The part of me that has always tried to please everyone must let go and move on. And another, more confident, decisive and purposeful part of me has emerged. Each day I feel the joy of watching the Holy Spirit at work in our efforts. We've grown from three to nine families, with great potential for even more. And I feel my efforts have not been wasted. In short, I feel tremendously needed and useful.

It is time to let go of the grief and guilt, and move ahead. I will always remember fondly all that was past, but now is the time to trust God and look to the future. Much work lies ahead. May God bless our efforts -- all efforts -- to raise His children up to know, love and serve him in this world!