Our beginnings – Homeschooling to Discipleship
We have been homeschooling now for over 14 years. Things are very different in our house now than they were when we began. Sometimes people can look at our family and forget that things weren’t always like they seem today. My mum says that sometimes people relate to her with no understanding that she has been a mum because they don’t see her dealing with her children now, they don’t see her struggling to keep balance of all her roles, they don’t see little ones tugging on her skirt and messing up her lounge room. But that isn’t to say she hasn’t been there (of course she has been!) It is much the same for me – while I go through the stages of parenting teens and young adults it is easy to forget that they were once toddlers and there was a time when this homeschooling journey was all new.
When we started homeschooling Naomi was 1 year old, Jessica was 3 and Joshua 4.5. In our first year my goal was to teach Josh to read and to start formal math but Jessica decided anything big brother could do she wanted in – so she joined in all my homeschooling plans right from the start. We used a preschool curriculum, Teach your kids at Home by Ann Ward, and LEM Phonics. This combination was full on and it didn’t take long before I started tweaking it and leaving bits out as we were simply not getting there or we were covering things in a different way, generally just in our family life.
The year previous Nomi had been diagnosed with a tumor on her kidney, she had that removed and underwent 5 months of chemo treatment (6months old when this all started). This meant us travelling down to Perth (5 hours by plane) every three weeks and weekly appointments here in Kununurra. By the time we started homeschooling the treatments were finished but she still had 3 monthly followup appointments with Perth doctors. Over the coming years these reduced to 6 monthly, and then yearly.
Towards the end of our first year of homeschooling Nomi had scar tissue complications (with internal organs). I was also pregnant with Daniel. Over the 12 month period we would be hospitalised 8 times with Nomi – let alone Daniel being born. Nomi’s symptoms caused a lot of interruptions to our daily routines and to our sleep patterns! But we continued to homeschool as it was fast becoming a way of life, a way of life that supported whatever was going on in our family.
So by our second year of homeschooling (1999) I had Daniel as a baby, Naomi 2yo, Jess 4yo, Josh 5.5yo. Towards the end of the year Nomi needed another operation which meant ten days down in Perth. Life went on and I am forever thankful for the friends who gathered around us during these years: they looked after Josh and Jess while I was away, helped with meals and even the cleaning of my home, they prayed with us and for us, they were our extended family.
It was also at the beginning of our second year that I found Five in a Row and have loved it ever since. FIAR has shaped my teaching style and love of learning more than any other resource or idea. I still look for a picture book for any topic that we start to study! During these early years we ‘homeschooled’ four days a week with Friday being for a trip to town to go to the library and the pool (or visiting with friends) – once we came home the kids would have a nap/room time and then watch a DVD while I focused on lesson planning for the coming week. We continued with LEM Phonics though switched to a different math programme (not sure why – I think it was peer pressure!)
When Josh hit grade three I had a panic attack – I suddenly (and maybe irrationally) decided that homeschooling had to get serious now, after all he was in grade three! I switched from a model of teaching as a mum and enjoying learning to a school concept being the teacher. The change was mostly in my head – or rather my attitude, which changed my actions towards my children. I started to be rigid and demanding on the work completed, I watched the clock and pushed for deadlines, we had no play time with the younger siblings, lessons went longer and we had a lot more tears. Going at this pace I soon burnt out. In my exhaustion I realised what I had done and cancelled all school lessons. For some time all we did was Bible study (and sometimes we didn’t even do that). During this time I reassessed, read a lot and found a new heart for homescooling.
Our reason for homeschooling was always to be the biggest influence in our kids’ lives and I still say this is our reasons to anyone who asks today. This obviously stretches further than math and grammar and yet that is what I had made our homeschool lessons all about: that is what I had made my priority. During this season of very little teaching the heart for discipleship started to come to the surface. I started to see that homeschooling my children was about building family relationships, and having a delight in God’s Word and God’s world, a love of learning and living. Slowly I started to pick up the disciplines of study again but this time my attitude was different. We still studied math and language arts, we still used FIAR and many other picture books as the basis for our unit studies, we continued to study the Bible together and in a sense our daily happenings didn’t look that much different – and yet my heart was very different and that showed in the interactions in our home.
Discipleship is about influencing your child’s life, their heart. It is about taking what you know about God and teaching it to your children. It is about what you know about your child and building on that and encouraging them to grow in every area of their life: the physical and practical areas of life, the spiritual and moral, the emotional and social. Discipleship is about living life with your kids and teaching them along the way.
My encouragement to mums with little children – regardless of how many you have, how close together they are in age or what personal issues you have to face, is to know that the things that you do today is setting the foundation, the groundwork for your years ahead. There will be changes, you will learn new things and take new paths, but if your heart is to teach and train the heart of your little ones, then that starts today, no matter how young your family is.
Note: It would have been great to have more photos and I’m sorry I can’t do that – but this was the time before digital photos and one, we didn’t take many photos and two, it takes time to find them, and scan them to put on the blog. So though I would love to share my young family – there just isn’t enough time to do all that!