Thursday, June 16, 2016

Four Words that Have Redeemed Our School Year

I had been trying to find a way to sum up this school year in my mind. And I was having trouble. Perhaps it’s because I still have one straggler who has three more math pages to finish before all my kids can say, “School’s out for the summer.” Three pages. Just three. So help me, God.

Life has been crazy and hectic. Our pace vacillates between fast and faster, it seems. I frantically finish spelling lists and copywork pages the night before school begins for the week. Then the proverbial bell rings and we are off on another week, all of us doing the best we can with what we have. Along the way, it has created many different emotions in me.

It’s the second year in a row I’ve been home educating while working a part-time (but feels like full-time) job. A toll that is showing itself to have a high cost. I have felt constantly divided in my focus and energies. Giving what I can to all things, but feeling it’s not enough for any of them.

It’s the second year in a row I have been teaching three different grade levels at the same time. 

I never got it right last year. So I began this year with a new game plan, and it has helped all of us thrive a little more and learn better time management. It’s required more work for me in the planning, but I think it’s paid dividends.

BIBLE consisted of the kids keeping a prayer journal. 

We did a series on the names of God. We learned about manners and etiquette. We read through my all-time favorite children’s bible (again). 

And we started reading a book filled with Bible facts that the kids love. One of my favorite times of the day is sitting at the breakfast table reading our bible material and waiting to see where their questions will take us. I never know. I am often surprised. And I am humbled by their hearts. This time of study and prayer together is tender and sweet, and has also spurred an idea for a writing project for me - to put to paper a prayer exercise I often do with my children.

This year for SCIENCE, the children chose a Chemistry and Physics curriculum. I’ve never loved science and because I am no fool, I tried to schedule science when I was in the office. Times when my husband or a good friend was with the kids. It’s a scary proposition when your children remember more about things like viscosity and atoms than you do as the teacher. We got with some friends and explored the periodic table through cookies. 

We made a homemade smoke bomb. We discovered the pros and cons of various energy sources. And while we only completed 10 of 14 chapters, I feel good about what the children were exposed to and had the opportunity to learn.

SOCIAL STUDIES meant using September to finish up a study on the 50 states that we began the year before. We celebrated the completion of this study with a trip to our nation’s capital. It was a wonderful and memorable trip that we will not forget.

 We then studied world history from nomads to Ancient Rome. And the kids loved it. Absolutely begged me to read more everyday. I love history, but to have my kids loving it too, well, that’s not shabby! We finished that volume early and while the kids wanted to move on the the next book, I told them they would have to wait until next school year. 
(Insert sad kids faces here).

All the other subjects were personalized to the child’s age and ability.

That meant my creative 5th GRADER loved any writing assignment given to her and made some up herself. It meant I sat through tears as she learned about all things fractions. To add, subtract, multiply, divide, find greatest common factors, and solve for unknown with a fractional coefficient. It meant wanting to beat my head against a wall that my daughter who loves writing still can’t spell “available” correctly even after 3 weeks on her spelling list. It meant watching as she began a typing program that now has her typing in better form than I have. That meant watching as my little girl grew into a young lady who gave a full voice recital, and is willing to step in and serve wherever help is needed.

That meant trying to manage my 3rd GRADER’s anxiety just because I mentioned that there would be a writing assignment later on. He didn’t inherit the same affection for stringing words together like his mother or older sister. It meant watching in wonder as he would effortlessly do mental math and easily mastered his times tables. It meant watching this reluctant reader blossom into a bibliophile. It meant hearing complaint after complaint as he began learning to type only to find he now will complete his assignment without any commentary. It meant spending lots of cold Michigan mornings watching soccer games, but it was worth the sacrifice because my shy homebody was playing his first team sport and liking it. It meant watching this boy begin to grow into a young man whose sensitive heart cares about what is right and just.

That meant sitting with my 1st GRADER, day and after day, until she understood the difference between 13 and 30. It meant spending lots of time with place values on decimal street so she could accurately read a three digit number. It meant redirecting my daydreamer time and again so she would finish her work. It meant questioning my abilities as my 6-year old struggled to grasp the idea of three letters forming a word she can decode.  Reading was such a struggle. Like "never saw it coming, what in the world I am doing" kind of struggle. It meant marveling at the details she observed that had passed everyone else by. It meant watching her grow more comfortable using a computer. It meant watching her eyes light up as she went to her first live musical. It meant watching her quietly and patiently support her brother and sister in their endeavors, never wanting to take the spotlight from their accomplishments.

ADD IN TO THE MIX an 11-day trip at Christmas to see family in Kentucky and Missouri. A trip that brought us home to the glass patio doors being shot at and shattered. 

A month later we were back in the Bluegrass State for 9 days while my dad hovered close to death's door.

And then I turned 40. That was surprisingly hard. Don't let the smile fool you.

Throughout all of this, our family like thousands of others, have been living with a water crisis the has no end in sight. I am sure many in our country are tired of hearing about Flint and it’s water issues. Frankly, I am too, but when you live here you can’t forget it. The filters need to be changed, pipes need to be flushed, bottled water needs to be picked up. 

And in the back of my mind, although I will never really know for sure, I wonder if the water has had any effect on my youngest. We’ve been told that children ages 6 and under are a high risk for lead absorption. And we didn’t take all the hype seriously until last September just before the city finally issued their health warning and told people to stop using the water. 17 months after the switch to the Flint River. 9 of those months having a 6 year old consuming unfiltered water. Maybe my 1st grader just has some processing issues. Or maybe, the nagging voice in my head whispers, the water situation impacted her too.

There’s no way to know really. All 3 children had a blood test in October and they tested at normal levels. 

That isn’t surprising since lead only stays in the bloodstream for 30 days and we had been using filters for nearly a month. Nevertheless, the test gave me some peace of mind moving forward.

ALL OF THE ABOVE doesn’t cover the tasks, responsibilities, and stressors of ministry. This doesn’t take into account the toll we all experience from waking up to headlines like Paris, San Bernadino, and Orlando. Lord have mercy.

Bottom line: It would be easy to give in to the temptation to see all the ways I have lacked to do all I expected, hoped, planned. I’m really, really good at beating myself up. Even after listing the ways I can celebrate my children, their character, their accomplishments, and the impact I've had. (But that’s a whole other psychotherapy session.)

I’ve said a lot of stuff here. (Most that probably seems irrelevant to you because it's really for my future benefit when I need to recall specific challenges of various school years.) But if you are still reading, I want you to know that today I found a way to sum up this school year.

Four words have made the difference. Four words that have made it all worth it. Every tear. Every night I lay in bed thinking I was not doing right by my kids. Every questioning doubt I’ve faced about whether I could do this home education thing anymore. Every anxiety I breathed out in a prayer. Every desperate word spoken to Paul at the end of a seemingly fruitless day. It all mattered. Every single bit - the good and the bad. Worth it. Today, four words redeemed our school year for me.

My 1st grader…the one with three pages of math left. The one who struggled to discern 13 and 30, who has fought to decode words like ham, red, bit, cup. The one who has generated more blood, sweat, and tears from this momma than is natural. This one, after reading a 12 sentence story today, looked straight up into my eyes and said, 

“I want to read.”

“I want to read like sissy and Levi do. Big books that are mysteries."

"I want to read.”

Four words. 
And I knew it had all been worth it. Every single second. Every single moment of research. Every single phonics worksheet. Every minute of practicing sounds and blends. Every doubt and tear and stifled scream. All of it. I would do it all over in a second if it still brought her to this place of desiring to learn.

This school year has been hard. And it’s not quite over. But, in a few days, when that math book closes complete, I have a few words I will use to sum it all up now. 
Worth it. 
And over!