Sunday, 7 August 2016

Homeschooling on the Challenging Days

There are days when homeschooling feels like a dream come true. The children are happy and engaged, they are building on their strengths and working on their weaknesses and we have the right amount of outside activities such as sports and music. The birdsong is beautiful, mornings outside are peaceful and life feels good. If you look through my photo albums, these are the type of photos you might see.

But there is the other side. There are days when nobody really seems to want to do anything. Rather than smoothly being able to teach three different levels at some subjects, one or other child will be complaining and requiring (demanding?) more attention, with the result that the others feel neglected and start to act up too. Sometimes then I decide to cut our losses and get out one of their favourite games which has some educational benefit - lego, building blocks, a trainset, that type of thing - but even then, on these types of days, they might not even engage with that. Often then, I end up taking them all out for a walk - it doesn't matter where we are going, we just walk and walk until they start to relax (usually at about 4 Km). It is as though they just have a restlessness for no particularly good reason. (Or on reflection, there is often a good reason - perhaps tiredness, mild illness, a chance in circumstances such as one parent being away, being too hot - sometimes these can be easily recognised and remedied, but at other times less so).

Hardest of all for me are the days where the attitudes are wrong. I can understand a child who is a bit clingy and tearful through illness or fatigue, but there are days when there is a high level of wilful disobedience and attitude issues are very clear. On those days, it does not seem right to get out a favourite game or change pace to break things up - because somehow then I might be rewarding the behaviour I am seeking to correct. These are the times when it is necessary to stop, to talk to the child and to show them clearly and specifically where they need correction. We start every day with the Bible and increasingly are moving beyond simple knowledge of Bible stories through to application to day to day life - and so often there is a memory verse or a recent discussion  to draw from. But it takes time. It is not always straightforward, and isn't quite as black and white as, 'The Bible says this, and therefore you should think, feel and act like that...' It can be difficult as an adult to remember what a six year old or a seven year old should know; at times they surprise me with their depth and understanding, and at other times I find myself having to remember that they are just young children. Sometimes we can spend a significant proportion of a day dealing with attitude. And on those days, I sometimes find myself wondering whether we are even doing the right thing in homeschooling them!

I was therefore encouraged by a series of blog posts from the Sonlight team this week, in particular this one about attitude. It helpfully reminded me of something that I know, but need encouragement in: that these days are among the most important in homeschooling and give us a wonderful and unique opportunity to teach our children the things that matter most (far more than maths or language arts or electives!) In mainstream school, our children would have exactly the same sinful hearts and character flaws - I think one major difference is that children learn quickly how to externally conform or to hide how they are feeling. And in truth, it is a blessing that one of my sons simply cannot hide his defiance from his face: it is instantly recognisable. It is a good thing that they giggle when they are being naughty because I am immediately alerted to the problem. I should be thankful for this - but there are days when I wish they would simply sit nicely, listen well and do the things I want them to do!

I have also felt quite alone in this. There are some wonderful Christian blogs I love to read - you probably have your own encouraging reading list. But somehow some of them have inadvertently discouraged me, but suggesting that if my children do not obey FIRST time EVERY time, that I have clearly failed in my role as a parent. There are people who will be quick to give advice, and tell me that if I simply do X, Y and Z, then everything will be fine. Often there is also what seems to be a subtle accusation (perhaps I am being sensitive) that I am not working hard enough or being creative enough or somehow not sacrificial enough. And that is hard! I know I am not perfect, but there are many hours of prayer, preparation, soul-searching, reflection and the actual day-to-day teaching and looking after them that go into it all. It is more tiring and takes more of myself than working 13 hour night shifts dealing with medical emergencies!

However, I also have some good friends who share their experiences about how they deal with these challenges - here I am thankful for networks and Facebook groups, since whilst I am far from many of my friends, I can still communicate with them often (and to be honest, sometimes a frank online discussion in a hidden group can be more focused than trying to snatch a conversation face to face with a large number of young children running around!) The kinds of suggestions they have made include:

1) Make sure there are no obvious problems (illness, hunger, tiredness) - and if possible fix. I have discovered that for one of my children, a mid-morning snack works wonders
2) Jumble up the order of the lessons and the order of your day
3) Take a field trip or focus on electives (art, music, experiments, cooking, nature) instead of whatever might be in the timetable for that day
4) Make sitting down time short, and intersperse plenty of physical activity
5) Press the 'reset button' - somehow!
6) Use a 'stealth attack' - don't let them know they are learning
7) Check your own attitude - and make sure you are not exasperating them by unrealistic expectations
8) Remember the priorities - that taking the time to correct poor attitude is really worthwhile
9) Top up on coffee - my suggestion, but on these days I often realise I have not eaten nor drunk enough
10) Should probably be #1: Pray. Pray for strength and for wisdom. Pray that you do not react in anger or frustration, but rather with firm gentleness. Pray that you don't get into a vicious spiral of negative attitudes
11) Remember that this season of life is short even when the days feel so very long. Remember that the opportunity to speak truth into their lives and to discipline and correct on a daily basis will not last forever. And take encouragement from those who are further down the road, such as this blog post

I have found this week difficult at times. My husband is overseas and the boys have been restless. However, I am reminded of the important work we are doing as we seek to lay a foundation in their lives. I am reminded that it is often the days which are most difficult which might present the greatest opportunities to show the children the truths which matter most.

How do you respond on the more challenging days?

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