I sometimes find it hard to articulate why exactly we home educate our children. I don’t mean to other people–I have that answer down pat. We were called to it. It was that simple. The truth, though, is that sometimes I grow weary, and when I do, it is important that I be able to articulate to myself why we do this. I mean, it would be a lot easier to just ship all my children off to public school; not that that would be good for our family or would foster the closeness that we have, for the opposite is true. Having had our first two in public school, I know the cost, and in all the ways that matter to us, home education has been far less costly to our family relationships. No, I am talking about about the days when things just go wrong, when it all feels like it falls apart, when I know that I will never win mother-of-the-year. THAT is when I most need to remember why we do this.
Today was a day that I will put in my mind as an “ah-ha!” moment for me to remember. Today Little Princess picked up a book (granted, it was the reader–all 69 pages of it–that we just completed) and read it completely by herself. As in, she wanted to do it. It wasn’t for an assignment or because Mommy asked her to. She did it because she finally realized that the written word has power and that she has the ability to understand it and to enjoy the words instead of just enduring them.
I remember when we first started home educating our children. Dee was five years old, and she was quite the eager learner. The one curriculum I purchased that I have never stopped using (except, of course, when I didn’t have anyone to teach how to read) is my Sing, Spell, Read and Write (SSRW). If one can love a curriculum, I do that one. Dee was reading fluently at about a third grade level by the end of Kindergarten. Star Child was much the same. A year of SSRW and she, too, was reading far above her grade level. I was super confident and figured I had this teaching thing down. Never mind that the older children and I were struggling. (They never regained the love of learning that had been completely destroyed by seven and six years, respectively, of public school.) I had proof in my younger children that home schooling worked.
And then came along Gladys Mae. I figured we would follow the same pattern and that she would be reading by the end of Kindergarten. Ha! I should have known it would not be so easy…she had (and still does!) always marched to the beat of her own drummer. We began the SSRW curriculum with high hopes. A few weeks into it and it was obvious that this was going to be a bit more difficult. I had no idea just how difficult it would be. I naively thought that if I cajoled her enough, she would naturally learn. Well, it didn’t happen anything like that. The first year we ended every session in tears–mostly hers, often mine, and sometimes both of us. It threatened to ruin our relationship, only I was too proud to see it. Back then I was pretty wrapped up in an idolatry of approval–seeking it from others as well as myself. (Not that I knew it back then, of course.) I wanted to be the “super home-schooling mom” whose children excelled. I was looking to my children’s accomplishments to give my life meaning, to validate me as a mom and as their teacher, to make me look good. And of course there was always that desire to prove to our families, many members of which thought we were nuts, that we had made the absolute best decision.
Gladys Mae finished Kindergarten well ahead in her math, but sorely unable to read. It was devastating. We went through summer break and gamely tried again in the fall, this time using a different approach, a book called Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I had friends who loved that book and it had worked well for them. So Gladys Mae and I began again this time with the new approach. We got five lessons in and hit the road block. It was not happening. By this time I realized that all the pressure I was putting on her was really causing damage. I decided to something radical, something veteran home-schooling moms had advised but that I was too afraid to do lest I appear to be a failure. I decided to completely drop the reading and just focus on what Gladys Mae was good at for a bit. At that time, as we are doing once again, we all did our history together. We would read aloud the main books (we use living books for history) and then the older kids would have more in-depth assignments to do. The little ones would do a lot of coloring and such. It worked well. Gladys Mae could narrate (that is, tell back what had been read) like a champ, often catching details that her much older siblings failed to catch. I never quite believed she was listening because she would often be dancing or tumbling on the sofa or wiggling on the floor, but when it came time to narrate back, she always remembered. So I knew there was nothing wrong with her intelligence. In math she was also excelling. She participated in our other activities–our classical music studies and our artist studies–but reading was at a halt. Then one day after Christmas, she asked me if we could start to learn how to read again. So we picked up the 100 Easy Lessons book, and again, five lessons in we hit the road block. She looked at me and asked me if we couldn’t just go back to SSRW. We did, and we never looked back. She quickly sailed through the curriculum, although she was past the age of seven by the time she was reading independently.
I will never forget watching as Gladys Mae caught on to the skill of reading. She went from not reading to reading everything. and she never stopped. Today she reads far above her grade level, and no one would ever know she had struggled. And I learned a huge lesson: a child will move on when he or she is ready, barring a learning disability. We later heard about Dorothy and Raymond Moore and their book, Better Late Than Early. I realized that our precious Gladys Mae, with her wiggles and kinesthetic learning style just needed time to mature before she was ready to read.
So today it was a pleasure to watch Little Princess as it finally clicked. And I realized that this is why I do it. I am the one that gets to see the breakthroughs. I am the one that gets to witness the ah-ha moments when my children get a concept that has eluded them. I am the one that gets to witness their progress. I am not depending on a teacher’s progress report, or looking through their homework, or even a regular visit to their classroom to see what they are learning. I am in the midst of what they are learning. I never miss the milestones. And that is worth a thousand frustrating days. It is worth the trials, lack of organization in my home, constant messes, and school-room decor.
So for those who may think we are crazy, know this: I am the most fulfilled woman in the world. I am doing something that matters in eternity as we disciple our children in faith and teach them about the Lord and His limitless grace. It is no longer about how it looks; it is about the relationship between our children and us. It is about family and fostering a love of learning. And, oh yeah, I get to teach them how to read. How awesome is that?