Friday, October 30, 2009

I'm still learning to drive an automatic and let go of the gear shift....

A lot of what I had read on the internet spoke of implementing routines and being organised. Routines! Aahhh, something I was good at doing ;-) We already had daily routines in place, like meal times, sleep times and story times. Our week already had a routine to it. Shopping day, cleaning day, a day to visit friends and a day to visit grandparents. And we still met with my friend and her children to do crafts.
So what did the teacher in me do? Designed a planner! What’s on this week? Did the planner help? Well, it made me see that my kids were already being exposed to learning situations! However, I was still feeling a little guilty that I wasn’t doing anything constructive with Jenna (something I would also need to learn to not worry about). So I started introducing a baking day and a day to be out walking and exploring in nature.

Now, I am not really a homemaker at heart! Cooking, cleaning and crafts are not my strong points! However, I am blessed with a husband who thinks I am great at cooking and doesn’t get too bothered with a mess. So, if I am perfectly honest, it is my high expectations of self and perception that I needed to do what other moms were doing, that led to the next mammoth task! Using a menu plan I found from another home school mom, I designed a weekly meal planner. (That took me weeks to complete!)
I also spent time trying to plan a cleaning routine. I thought that it was important for the kids to see me doing the housework, and even joining in!

Boy does it take a while for the penny to drop for me.
I knew that the Lord was helping me to let go of my need to control my environment by means of set routines. But I was still finding it hard to let go. You see, first I needed to realize that what others did in their homes wasn’t necessarily what we needed to do! This was learnt the hard way. I was trying to follow advice from other moms instead of resting in the Lord and seeking His way for us! The result was: The routines started ruling me as I spent more time planning and cleaning than relaxing and being with the kids! 

Cleaning my home was even taking me away from time with my kids. It also added stress (self-imposed!) when I wasn’t managing to clean because I needed to help them with their little life lessons. Yes, I know that there are many moms out there who do both. Well, the Lord wasn’t asking me to be someone else-He was asking me to be me! In fact, I soon realized that I had a certain amount of pride about the fact that I could run my own home, cleaning, cooking and raising kids. So for me, personally, I had to let go of this and once again went to my husband with a request: Please could I get a domestic helper? We are now so blessed to have Annah, who helps us keep our home clean! And now that I don’t need to clean the floors at night or catch up on ironing I can spend much needed time with my husband!

Surfing the net was great, but learning to discern what the Lord was wanting for us as a family was the most important lesson I needed to learn. The Lord knows us as individuals. He knows our needs even before we do. He wants to bless us! He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us. I learnt that I would often turn away from His blessings and feel that I needed to do everything on my own. When instead, I should have been leaning on My Lord and trusting that the Author of my Life had already pre-planned all the days of my life, all I needed to learn was to listen! Something I have to practice everyday!!!

And what were my children learning all this time? To discover their own world! 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Discovering a whole new world of ideas……

Discovering a whole new world.....

The library was running out of books to read and I was starting to feel that I needed to find other types of support. When I was teaching I always had two or more colleagues whom I could go to, to ask questions or bounce ideas off of. Now I had no one whom I could turn to who was following the same path.
I was going through a patch of “ What exactly am I doing here?” After ten years of teaching, where every day was mapped out and you had a clear idea of who you answered to, I now had no one telling me: These are the “rules” follow them!
None of the books I had read related to home schooling in South Africa. The few home schoolers I knew didn’t really know about the legalities of home schooling in South Africa, so I couldn’t even turn to them for help.
After much consideration and discussion I think I finally convinced my husband that it was time to ……… get internet access at home!
Wooooohooooo! I felt like Jan van Riebeek!!!! (Ok, I know he probably didn’t discover South Africa, but as history was not my favourite subject I’m not really sure who did!)
As I learnt to use the internet I spent a lot of time reading other families accounts of their home schooling lives. Again I was drawn to the more unschooling type families-it just seemed to be far more relaxed! I think I had teacher burnout still from all that planning and anything that looked remotely like planning and following a curriculum, just seemed like I would end up being ruled by the curriculum again!
Eventually, I started to find sites which were South African based. I had always known that there was a S.A home schooling community out there, finding it hasn’t been that easy. Realising how young home schooling is in S.A compared to the USA or UK helped explain the small amount of information available to us. I joined an S.A e-loop and my world opened up even more. Here I could see that home schooling was indeed growing in S.A, as weekly, new families would introduce themselves.
I discovered a wonderful, comprehensive site written by an S.A home schooling mom: Homeschool Curriculum for Life. Here I began to learn more about practical home schooling tips. Somehow the fact that it was coming from a fellow S.A mom helped me feel like it might just be possible to do this in S.A.
By now my philosophy about education and learning was changing from: a set in stone curriculum is needed to map your way to: the Lord created us all as individuals and each family should seek Him as the ultimate curriculum provider! Who knows us better and who knows our needs, desires and gifts? Learning to trust Him for this guidance was part of the home schooling journey. Learning to trust and let go control to Him is my daily challenge! But by His grace the teacher in me is learning to let go of a need for a curriculum whilst the mom in me is saying: Slow down, watch, wait and see: they are learning everyday, in their own way. He is their ultimate teacher, I am here to enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reading any and every "map" book to discover a possible route!

I love to read. In fact I could spend all day in bed reading if given half the chance-but that doesn't happen around here anymore. My love for reading and thirst for knowledge about home schooling led me to the library. As home schooling is still relatively young in South Africa, finding literature at the library was not that easy. At first I couldn't find many books at all and so I just started with books which focused on: "How to prepare your child for school", or "Stimulating your child at home". But none of them seemed to waver from the: design-fancy-teaching-activities-to-stimulate-your-child style which I had already discovered didn't suit our family.

Eventually I discovered that one of the librarians was a fellow home schooler. She was in the process of correlating a file of home schooling support material and a special shelf for any books related to home schooling. Yippee! A like minded soul!
As she ordered books, I reserved them, read them and digested all the info inside. I'm a researcher at heart, and this meant I needed to read about all aspects of home schooling I could find in order to fully understand what was best for us.

My book list included:
  • The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith,
  • The Successful Homeschooling Family Handbook by Raymond and Dorothy Moore,
  • The McGraw-Hill Homeschooling Companion by Laura Saba and Julie Gattis,
  • Free Range Education by Terri Dowty
  • Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
  • A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison
  • More Charlotte Mason Education: A Homeschooling How-to Manual by Catherine Levison

The teacher in me was slowly being convinced that my conscience was not entirely crazy! School at home was not what we enjoyed or desired and in fact many others felt the same.

So there I was. System overloaded with info about how-to, when-to, why and how of many different styles and theories of home schooling. I took a while to process the info and still felt that the Lord was saying: As you live your life you learn what you need to know. Teach your children about Me and about the world as you go about your daily living.

Because we had done "school" at my friend's home, my daughter still asked for it. 
 At first I tried to say :"We aren't going to do school any more love, life is learning and we'll learn what we need to as we go." But she is a creative child, who desired a routine. So I complied by spending time with her doing school-like things when her brother napped. We built puzzles, played games, squashed playdough, painted, drew, cut and glued and read lots and lots of books. And when she wasn't doing school? She loved to run around naked, climb trees, play with her imaginary little girl, visit her best friends, watch d.v.d's and of course, entertain her brother.

She went through the "why" stage and I tried to answer any questions she had the best I could either using books or her daddy-who is like a living encyclopeadia with a limitless capacity to store information! ;-)
Writing her name became an obsession. At first the teacher in me felt very uncertain about the implications of teaching her to write from the age of 3 and a half. But as it wasn't copious amounts of writing and I was right beside her when she wrote, I could gently guide her.
She has a great visual memory and had learnt most of her letters through books. So we started to play a simple game of what sound do you hear at the beginning of a word? After my initial introduction to the game she would often initiate it during the day as we would go about our daily life: Mommy do you know what toast starts with? What sweetie? t!
Of course her most challenging learning experience at this time was her 16 month younger brother! He was now very mobile and loved to do all that she did.... including climb trees! (or at least try!)

Along with realising that we didn't need lots of fancy apparatus or toys to learn, I was also beginning to see that when my daughter was ready to learn something new she'd ask questions. It wasn't really my job to expose her to loads of new information. Rather, my role was to answer her questions and patiently wait for a new interest to sprout! At this time in her life her interests lay in learning letters and numbers (reading, writing and counting). That was quite a lot to master for a just-turned four year old!

While my children's life experiences became their daily lessons I was soon to discover something new that would broaden my home school horizons.....

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Moving along....

My friend and I were both trained teachers. In fact we had met while she studied at the school I was teaching at. We both had a desire to be at home with our children. As a recently qualified teacher she was very inspirational to me and it was a joy to watch her enthusiasm. Her creativity and lesson ideas were wonderful. We spent a lot of time together with our children and eventually decided to start doing pre-school like activities together. We met together twice a week and followed a structured pre-school like timetable. Our planning sessions were a wonderful time of sharing and encouraging one another in our walk of motherhood and home schooling.

After a while she decided that she would like to set up a pre-school in her garage for other children to attend as well as our children. By this time I had had my son and I tried to help with lessons but found it quite difficult to stay focused and relaxed when I knew that he would either need a sleep or feed soon.
During this time I began to feel that this pre-school like schedule really didn't feel like natural learning to me. I kept on thinking: Surely we could do this in a more relaxed, home like setting. As I knew that my daughter had learnt a lot through reading books and day to day activities I felt that the school-like lessons were not really necessary for learning. In fact, a lot of what we planned she seemed to already know. We were just trying to make learning "interesting" because that was what we had been trained to do!

So I decided that it was time to stop.

My son was growing older and this meant he was becoming more interactive with my daughter and I during the day. During his nap times I tried to follow a programme of activities with my daughter which was designed to stimulate all areas of the brain and which was aimed at all learning styles. Although my daughter was coping and I could see that there were concepts she was learning, I wasn't really enjoying the lessons. My reasons for not enjoying the lessons were twofold: 1) it seemed like such an effort to do activities with her which she didn't really show an interest in and 2) I could see that the very activities/concepts we were doing could be learnt through daily life. So after a short period of trying to follow a structured programme I decided to stop.

So now what were we to do? I was at home with an almost 3 year old and a baby and I didn't know how to keep myself or them "busy"!
So I set up a weekly routine and planned to follow that. As I had learnt that living life was the best way for our family to learn I felt that the best thing to do would be to involve my children in my daily routine as much as I could. This wasn't really a new idea to us, as this is what we had been doing all along, we had just added school like activities to our routine. So basically we just stopped following the learning programme we had been using.

My children went to the shops with me. They helped (in very small ways) around the house while I did housework. We made play dates with friends and visited family. The library, beach, park and petting farms became regular visiting places. We had a routine to our day and a routine to our week. To keep my daughter stimulated I bought pre-school like computer games, magazines and craft equipment. We also met once a week with my friend and her two similar aged children to do craft like activities.

In the meantime I was reading every book I could get hold of that discussed home schooling.....

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The road to freedom.

So why does a qualified teacher with ten years teaching experience decide to home school? This is a question I get asked often. To give one complete answer is impossible. I have realised that part of this home schooling journey involves change and as I have mentioned before, sometimes daily change!

To put it simply I will say that it has grown on me! And this is how.....

Four and a half years ago I left the secure, organized, curriculum based institution of teaching to give birth to our little girl. I knew at the time that I would not be returning to the classroom for a while. I resigned from teaching other people's children to become the sole educator of my own child.
During my last year I was asked by a parent, whose older daughter I had taught, what did I think of home schooling? Without hesitation I replied: I would seriously consider it for my child, she shouldn't be concerned about her own abilities, go for it! (To this day I'm not sure why I gave such a supportive answer!)
Never the less a seed was planted.

We have friends who are blessed with four beautiful children who have felt that it is the Lord's will that they home school their children. At the time of my daughter's birth they had three children under the age of five. They weren't following any curriculum then but the desire was there. Knowing that they were interested gave me someone to go to, to ask my first few tentative questions. Basically the answer was: The Lord had given her the desire and she felt that for her children to be a blessing to others it was her responsibility to train them up in the way they should go.  For me that was both overwhelming and awesome at the same time! She desired to do it?! She actually wanted to be with her children 24/7! She thought her children could be a blessing for others because of how she trained them?! WOW! What a responsibility!

I will interject here to say that I now realise that: The Lord can change our heart (and it's desires) and that only by grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit do we learn how to train up our children in the Lord's ways.

And so the roots begin to grow....

Spending everyday with my daughter brought both many trials and many blessings. After the initial shock of becoming a parent, I settled into the awestruck role of observer, encourager and milestone recorder. While teaching I had been witness to many children who, because of poor gross and fine motor development as babes, had struggled to cope within the school environment. Because of this I felt that it was important to encourage Jenna (my daughter) to develop her gross motor skills (sitting, crawling, walking, climbing) and in turn her fine motor skills (holding small objects, building block towers, feeding herself). It was during this time that I started to realize that the more that I exposed her to the more she was eager to learn. There was no formal teaching happening, just life. From an early age she became a member of the library and she fell in love with books. We would often find her sitting on her “reading” chair looking over her favourite books.

I made a point of finding new and interesting places to explore together within our area. Often these places provided us with new learning opportunities. Visiting the farm animals not only helped her to recognize the animals we had been reading about in books but also provided us with the opportunity to overcome fears of new and loud sounds. I was learning about my child and she was learning about her world.

As she grew older I was amazed at her ability to retain new information and skills. We spent a lot of time outdoors playing, climbing and exploring new environments. I tried my best not to hold her back when faced by a new physical challenge and encouraged her to attempt anything she showed an interest in that would help her develop physically. I also believed that reading to her daily was a good way to enrich and grow her vocabulary and knowledge.
All this time I kept thinking to myself: If my child can retain so much information just from daily life experiences and lots of being read to, then why can't all children? This is what I had longed for in teaching: learning through life experiences and not creating life experiences to learn from! 

My child rearing philosophy at this stage of her life was: As her parents we could expose her to what we felt was important and we would be there to help her to learn how to face her challenges.
Around about this time I fell pregnant with my second child and another very dear friend and I decided to "school" our children together in her "classroom" garage.