Sunday, October 11, 2009

Balancing Life

Never blog about being busy. It’s bad luck.

I don’t believe in luck, but if I did, I’d say boasting about being busy only tempts Fate to throw one wrench into the dancing chaos and stop the music. The juggling act is over. Things fall down.

When it comes to homeschooling, I have at least a couple self-destructive habits. One of them is asking too many people’s advice and trying to do what works for them, instead of being confident of what I’m doing and the things I have already found to be true.

It’s like drastically changing your running pattern because you read an article about a new injury-free stride. Sometimes you just have to run the way that works naturally and let your own body over time “learn” how to run.

About a week ago, just as the reality of our family commitments was beginning to sink in, I talked to a veteran homeschooler about how she balances academic school work with homeschooling activities – sports, scouting, clubs, volunteer work, music lessons, not to mention play dates and park time.

She said, “I don’t drive them anywhere until they do their work.”

Ok. No dessert until veggies.

I can do that.

I tried this hard-nosed approach and discovered that it made all of us miserable.

For one thing, I often have unrealistic expectations about what we “should” do and so when I hold the rest of our life hostage as incentive to complete math lessons and handwriting work, we don’t do anything but math lessons and handwriting work.

And I become a drill sergeant instead of a coach and facilitator. It makes me hate homeschooling.

After missing our weekly date with homeschoolers at the park last Monday, I mentioned how I was feeling to a friend who immediately offered to take the kids to the zoo the next day.

I went through the whole quandary of “should I let them go since I had already made a personal commitment to push through the curriculum this week?” or should I let them go to the zoo.

It should have been a no brainer. A trusted friend was offering an uncommon “day off” for me, and the kids were going to go to the zoo with the one homeschooling mom who knows more about animals than just about anyone I know.

Ok. Just go.

I took the day off and after getting a new pair of black heels at the brand new Target that just opened up around the block (I know … perhaps I am a little superficial and materialistic), had a lot of time to consider my expectations, our time commitments and why we are homeschooling.

I’m not particularly clear on what is the best balance for us with academics, social interactions and all of the natural learning opportunities around us. I come to this internal dialogue having been a homeschooled kid myself, knowing how much I would have enjoyed being a part of a homeschooling community. (We lived in rural Alabama when I was in 7th and 8th grade, and homeschooling was rare).

But I also expect my kids to be proficient enough in reading, writing, math and science to be able to go to college and pursue any life path they want. I want them to know and love history. I believe art and music is essential. Spending time reading and studying the Bible is also a huge part of our family life. So how to do it all?

I am not sure where the balance is. I’ll probably read this blog ten years from now and laugh and I’ll have lots of advice for younger moms with little kids.

But for now, here are a couple thoughts I have come up with this week.

1). It is very easy to push math and reading on a young child who is not ready. Allowing math and reading instruction to flow naturally out of everyday life is much more inspiring for kids. Delaying academics is in no way being "lazy."

2). As kids get older, if they are not squelched by all the “have-to-dos” in school life, they will find subjects, topics, projects, etc., that challenge them. They will rise to the occasion and learn more than you could have predicted.

These two thoughts probably reflect my DeMillian influence. But they do seem to be true in our house. I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts on this.

Speaking of the power of kids performing well when inspired and challenged .....

This is the hill she wanted to run. It took us ten minutes to gingerly walk down the steep steps.

And five and a half to run up! Ok, six for her. But she was a little mountain goat.

We reached the top of the hill, just in time to see the sun set into the Pacific and reflect on the city from downtown and Hollywood to the Santa Monica mountains. She loves going for a run with me these days.

How it all works

On Sunday Kip decided to give me a real lesson, white-board diagram and all, on how our camera works. Our "good" camera has been out of commission since August, and I was anxious to see how the new lens works. I love taking pictures, but the physics of how it works is challenging for me. So it was a good opportunity for me to model learning something difficult. (That is another Thomas Jefferson Education key point.)

So while I was learning how to use the camera, Kip was taking apart the sewing machine to figure out why it wasn't working. He and our son figured it out and here our son is explaining the inner workings to his sister, who is on the phone with a friend. It's a nice slice of life at our house, and if in a small way, it demonstrates how learning best works, each person challenging themselves to do something that is personally gratifying and even helpful to the family. We all learn from each other.

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