Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Workbooks are My Friends

Let's talk.

Leading a homeschool group can be time-consuming and tough. For two years, I spent countless hours answering e-mails, putting out fires, and giving advice over the phone to people I'd never met. By the time I had accomplished my daily leadership duties, I was tired--physically and emotionally. There honestly wasn't a lot of me left over for teaching my children in the creative way I wanted to.

We homeschool group leaders can often be trail-blazing and innovative overachievers. What we do is so visible and we often receive great praise for our work or great condemnation for our mistakes. In an effort to please people, I found that I devoted much time and energy trying to keep people happy--happy with each other, happy with the group and happy with me.

And our homeschool suffered accordingly. I found I didn't have the time or energy to keep every plate spinning. Part of the problem was that I believed that a superior home education meant the ever-present presence of a hands-on mom. I had always had high expectations for myself and our homeschool. In the early years, I wrote our own curriculum with a friend and sat faithfully with my kids as they completed their reading, writing and 'rithmetic. The truth of the matter is that we all usually ended up in tears by the end of the day and I hadn't gotten a stitch of laundry, dishes or cooking done.

So, I kicked against the goads and swung the opposite direction--hands-off, borderline unschooling. We still did our morning devotionals together and bits and pieces of read-alouds. Nothing consistent, definitely noncommittal, totally sporadic. We were at the whim of our daily desires . . . and I admit, that was fun. . . for awhile. Then they began to cry that they were bored and began to bicker and fuss. School wasn't fun for us anymore.

As I daily answered all those e-mails and phone calls, I secretly hoped my public school administration family members wouldn't drop by and fervently prayed over a solution for our family. Seeing my distress, my husband suggested we have more structure and that I <> keep grades. They need accountability, he said. He could see what I could not.

So, in time, I baby-stepped into some workbooks and began to administer timed tests every Friday on important things like math facts and spelling words. But that carefree part of me clung to the things we loved like living books and notebooking and devotionals in the morning and oral exams and lots of field trips. I noticed I wasn't hearing so many cries of "I don't like school" or "I'm bored." It was delightful.

I'm being very real with you here. We are just people doing our best by our children, trying to make a difference for eternity. What did it matter if all the world thought I was an awesome homeschool group leader, if I lost the heart of my kids and squelched their natural desire for learning in the process?

So, I learned that workbooks are my friends and serve as useful tools during this season of my life. And just like an uncluttered house sets your mind free to be creative and productive, I felt the daily work in the workbooks set us free to learn to our fullest. I was happy because we weren't hopping around anymore at my whim and they were happy because they knew what to expect every day.

From this whole experience, I have learned to let go of trying to keep everyone happy (it is impossible, by the way). I have learned how freeing it is to adapt our homeschool to fit our lifestyle, not the other way around. And I have learned that simple is just as excellent an educational approach as complex. Now, if you'll excuse me--the phone's ringing.

Your friend,

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