The coupons began as a spontaneous purchase at Walgreens, although I haven’t seen them there lately, so we have made our own. One coupon says, “Your choice of restaurant the next time we eat out.” Another says, “Multiply your snacks by two today,” and a very memorable one said, “You make the snack, whatever you want, and Mom has to eat a bite.”
Hmm. Why do I do these things? I was nervous when they decided to redeem that coupon!
Fortunately, my children were nice (nicer than I probably would have been to my own mother when I was their age! LOL!) and decided that they would try to make peanut butter icing, knowing my love for peanut butter. The problem was that this 6 and 7-yr-old could not find a recipe, so they just guessed. They were so excited working together. I walked through the kitchen and saw my Kitchen Aid mixer on the counter as if this were a professional production. I tried to stay out of sight, but I enjoyed their whispers from a distance.
“No, no, no! I don’t think there’s baking powder in frosting!” I heard J.R. say, “I’m pretty sure there’s vanilla, though.”
“It looks like peanut butter mush!” they cackled and then hushed each other so I wouldn’t hear their surprise.
“Mmm, it’s good mush,” Christine said, and I pictured her eyes sparkling as she took her taste-test finger out of her mouth.
“What’s that white stuff in frosting?” she asked. “I think that’s what’s missing.”
“Oh yeah!! Shortening!” he yelled, and I heard his motions climbing the counter to get to the cupboard behind the prep sink.
I cringed from my office, wondering what kind of sick mind I had the day I thought that coupon was a good one to offer. Why didn’t I say DAD had to taste it?!
“Oh Mom–my!” they sang in a doorbell-toned duet. “It’s ready for you to taste!” and the giggles filled the room.
I rounded the corner to see the powdered sugar box empty, with clear handprints in its dust all over the island. Measuring spoons were out, though I wondered what they had measured, since they didn’t have a recipe. I did not see reptiles or worms present, so I thought it must be safe for eating. With all the courage I could muster, I took the spatula from JR’s hand, where it had been preloaded with peanut butter icing, and took a lick.
“Not bad!” I said, and they squealed with pride.
When I began homeschooling, I think I wanted a recipe to follow, but yet I LOVED being able to cater the learning to each individual child! I went with what I knew, and then added some things and subtracted some things. And I still do today! But just like in Christine and JR’s recipe, there are certain things I want to keep out. (By the way, that’s the real recipe they invented to the right. Use with caution! )
Some Homeschooling Mistakes Along the Way
Although I love lists, this one is not my favorite: my list of mistakes. (And it is longer than could be captured on any blog and still growing!) However, I am grateful I learned from some of these…at least once so far, anyway.
- Bringing school home: When I admitted to a dear friend, Sham Palomaki, that I never felt like I was completing a school day right, she said sweetly, “It sounds like maybe you are bringing school home instead of homeschooling.” I immediately knew what she meant, and I was guilty as charged! I had a chalkboard on the wall, and even had a 1950’s school desk I found at a garage sale! I was “teacher” during school hours, and “Mom” some time later. School wasn’t done until that little book said it was done. Missing ingredient: Home.
- Routine Rut: Routine is great! We start at the same time (approximately) each day. We do subjects in the same order (although for the first year, I wrote the subjects down on popsicle sticks and allowed him to rearrange the sticks daily). But routine can lead to ruts of “unfun” hours end on end. Too often, I have become a slave master, cracking a whip, worried about the time and when summer break (for me!) would begin. I had an agenda and it needed to be met. Similar to “putting the home in school,” I realized I needed to flex. We made family sandwiches (with mom on the bottom, of course – thanks, Marcia Robinson, for that idea), learned multiplication of 7’s using football guys, added recess, put in a field trip or special lecture series by Dad (since he is at home during the day), and my older two keep telling my younger two that we used to have “math substitute” once a week. (Shhh. Those two are doing fine with math every day!) Missing Ingredient: Laughter
- Keeping up with Joneses: We know that comparison is the root of unhappiness, and I really didn’t think I could be that way. I mean, my kids are the best kids on earth, so how could comparing with any others ever lead to unhappiness? Well, when someone says, “We accidentally hit an opossum in our car last night, so we decided to scoop it up and take it home for science dissection,” I realized “I am completely unworthy to ever be called a homeschool mom.” (LOL, Thanks, Wendy Lukonen, my hero!) “Keeping up with the Joneses” does two things: 1. It makes me feel like I should be doing something different in homeschooling. 2. Any moment I take thinking about “what I should have done” takes away a time where I could be encouraging another precious homeschool mom for doing her great job. I decided that Mrs. Jones was chosen to homeschool her kids. I am called to homeschool mine; no comparison allowed. Missing ingredient: contentment
- Low Expectations for my kids: I watched Casey’s math test “grades” dwindle. I was never much for keeping grades. Grades seemed to be for communicating between teacher and parents how well a student was performing. I never bothered. Instead, I looked for mastery. If he missed problems, he had to re-do them until he could do them well. Red pen? Optional. One day, I realized Casey was not getting 100% of his problems correct…ever. Knowing my kid, I realized he was capable, and completely unmotivated. Why would he care? I had no expectation for him to meet. The above “coupon” program was instituted to encourage 100% on the first try of a math assessment (test). It was amazing how as soon as there was incentive, he checked and doublechecked his work before turning it in. He had never known that I expected 100%, because I had communicated otherwise. I soon recognized other areas of my low expectations: excellence of chores, cleanliness of rooms, good attitude, edification of siblings, etc. Ugh! Writing this reminds me of how much I still need to do! Missing ingredient: great expectations.
- Too Many Activities: Just because opportunity knocks, doesn’t mean we have to answer it. We could go to a co-op all day Thursdays, play homeschool soccer on Friday mornings, go to homeschool art class on Monday afternoons; don’t forget library story hour next door – it’s so convenient it’s the same day and free! And shouldn’t Christine get homeschool gymnastics on Wednesday afternoons, since her brothers’ soccer dominates our evenings? Oh, and that worldview class at church seems too good to be true! But let’s not forget the “normal” evening activities of church choirs, music lessons and Awanas (Scripture memory). Not to mention that I went to Bible Study Fellowship one morning/week for 8 years. Wow. Some years, my kids did so much school in the car that I called them “Road Scholars” . Missing ingredient: school.
- Hungering for Encouragement: It can be a lonely world for homeschool moms. There is no one to say, “Your kids are awesome; here’s an ‘A’.” Or “I think your child should be invited to this honors class.” I must admit that there were many times when I would hear of awards given or school rankings of similarly aged public school neighbors and I would think, “I wish my kid got noticed.” I am embarrassed to say that I even sent the standardized test scores to the grandparents the first year of homeschool – just wishing someone would say, “You are doing a good job. Maybe you are not messing them up after all.” I know Col 3:23 says to do all for the glory of God, not man, so why does this desire creep back into me so often? Can’t I get just a little glory for me? Just a little glory for my kids? Ha! Do I really forget WHO is in charge of my homeschool? I have had to go back to that original list of “why homeschool” so many times. One of the reasons I homeschool was not, “So I can be recognized that I did a good job.” It was not, “So my child can get accolades from his peers.” But the biggest reason was so my child will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Missing Ingredient: Eternal focus
- Being Puffed Up: Too often on this journey, pride has reared its ugly head. It is difficult when taking a stand and walking against the crowd in any direction not to feel a bit of excitement when your way works! But the only way that happens is because God is at work. There were times I think I was homeschooling to “prove a point” instead of “do what was right.” When the “I’ll show them,” negative attitude wins over the “I’ll serve the Lord” attitude, the fall awaits. 1 Samuel 2:3 says, “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” This showed most clearly when we debated on sending our oldest son to high school. We had various reasons that looked like this particular Christian school could be a good opportunity for Casey: more Godly men leading as examples; competitive sports; Christian friends, etc. Casey asked us not to send him. My heart ached to have him (and frankly his good example) at home all day. Through prayer, we realized that we really felt it was the right thing to do for him and his wellbeing. Dark voices began echoing in my head, “But your identity is a homeschool mom of four! Everyone is going to know you “failed”! You’re quitting! You must not have really believed what you set out to prove!” and on and on. Chris actively wanted Casey to go to high school, but left the decision to me after his input. I analyzed five different ways of homeschooling through high school. I resisted the change in all of my normal ways – coming up with my plan B, C and D. But one morning, in silent prayer (amazing how many realizations happen on that porch while the birds sing in my ear), I realized that it was meant to be. As a friend, Ann Winters, says, “God is always on Plan A. Always.” I called the school and arranged a tour. The following fall, I sat in the bleachers watching him play high school soccer as the only starting freshman, and a man came over to me and said, “Casey is the answer to my prayers for a friend for my son.” I could hardly choke words out in reply. My prayers had been answered as well. Missing Ingredient: humility to accept when God’s plan wasn’t my plan A.
So when we add laughter to great expectations, humility with contentment, and some home along with school, I suppose we end up with homeschool. It sometimes looks like peanut butter mush, but sandwiched between two cookies of love, it is really delicious. Really!
I recently came across a blog where a man thanked his wife for homeschooling their children. He was celebrating her “retirement from teaching,” since their youngest was graduating from homeschool. What an encouragement for those of us on the journey! A copy and link are pasted below.
Praising a ‘Retired’ Home School Mom
The homeschool teacher who taught my children is retiring after a stellar twenty-three year career.
In the next few days we will withdraw our youngest child from her homeschool, high-school program. She then will prepare for taking the GED test in the next few weeks. For Sonya, my wife, it ends a twenty-three year homeschool teaching career.
When we made the decision to start homeschooling our oldest daughter it was not because we heard a word from God. It was not because we thought Deuteronomy 6 applied to readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic. Nor was it because we were on an anti-public school tirade.
It was pretty simple. When our oldest daughter was 5 years old we lived in the country where I pastored a church. It was 10 miles each way to kindergarten. If we drove her to school we faced forty miles a day round-trips. If we put her on the bus she would board around 7:30 in the morning and return around 5:00 in the afternoon every day. That was not appealing. Each school bus, like the one she would ride, had kids from K-12. That was not appealing, either.
So, we decided to homeschool.
As is the case with most homeschool families, Mom carried most of the responsibility. After twenty-three years and three kids my wife has done at least 98% of the teaching, grading, record keeping, encouraging, reproving, threatening, laughing and crying. I probably threatened worse judgments but she did more of it.
She sought the best deals on curriculum every summer as well as determining what of our old curriculum we could sell. And, she determined what we had to keep for another child or two coming through.
She told me what math I had to do with which kid on what night. She oversaw so many science experiments we could not even count.
Some of them actually worked.
All three of our kids could read, because of her emphasis on phonics, before they started school. One, however, sandbagged all the way through first grade acting as if he did now how. It was only when she informed him he would need to repeat first grade Reading that he picked up a book and, to her amazement, started reading it to her. I feel certain a loud lecture soon followed.
She read aloud more books than anyone could count. Classics, modern stories, the Redwall series, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, dozens of Agatha Christie mysteries. Thousands of pages, perhaps tens of thousands. Our youngest preferred to read than be read to. Finally Sonya would get two copies of the same book so they could alternately read aloud and follow along. To this day all our kids read, read widely and read much.
One thing instilled in our kids was a love of learning. I have heard more than one person say over the years they never picked up another book after college. Sonya never went to college but has picked up books ever since high school. She modeled learning, both biblical and the “schoolish” type, to our three. Education really should not be about reports and finishing courses, anyway. Education should be about creating the desire to learn and freeing the ability to do it.
We are not that home school family where each kid got a full-ride scholarship to Harvard while finding a cure for a major disease over the kitchen sink after successfully suing the government over the freedom of education. No, we had to evaluate every spring whether we would do it again in the fall. We also were not that family who went into the yard, picked a couple of dandelions and marked science off for the day. Sonya made sure there was structure. Field trips were planned judiciously. Going shopping did not count as economics. Well, not often…
Our middle child, and only boy, hated school (except for the reading part) and fought it every step of the way. He did not care for college either. But he is gainfully employed, promoted three times in a single year on his job. Our oldest got a scholarship and finished a philosophy degree at a state university. She helps run a coffee shop and thinks about the meaning of drinking coffee. Our youngest is in the choosing college phase. All three graduated at least a year early.
A local school principal once told me that, of all the homeschoolers she had ever seen, Sonya was the only one who did it right. It might have been hyperbole, but it was encouraging.
Sonya Duren passed up the choice to have a “career” so she could pour the best of herself into the three to whom God entrusted us. We forewent a lot of things to buy school supplies, books; VHS lecture tapes, DVDs and entire curriculum sets. Anything you see in the Bible about the rewards of sacrifice is embodied in her.
So, she “retires” this year with no pension, no admiring colleagues, no principal’s speech, no plaque, and no pension. She just retires having changed three lives. Not to mention my unending appreciation and admiration.
The column was first published on Marty Duren’s blog, Kingdom in the Midst.
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