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I have been feeling nervous––anxious even––about Liam transitioning into high school years of homeschooling. I have a loud inner-critic and a long memory for naysayers, unfortunately. And while I look back at the last decade without a single regret of our choice to homeschool, I find myself facing new giants as we turn this corner into high school transcripts, standardized tests, more advanced studies, and university in the near distance. I cannot count the amount of wide-eyes I receive when I tell people Liam we are continuing to homeschool next year. “Are you sure you can handle it?” they ask. And the short answer is no. I’m not sure at all.

I am certain that I’ve never been sure though. It is easy for me to feel confident now about our choice to homeschool, to reflect on the beginning years in the context of today, but I felt anything but confident then. I felt curious, idealistic, passionate, motivated, but never certain about our decision. The irregular days of babies and toddlers in the mix, the tears through math, the lack of concrete proof that we had actually accomplished anything at all in those first years was on some days enough to want to quit, to label homeschooling a failed venture and move on. But somehow––miraculously––I never did. I took breaks, tweaked approaches, asked for help, researched weak areas, talked with the kids, but I always got back up and tried again.

I have been reading Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance this month––a book I highly recommend to anyone, especially parents, entrepreneurs, homeschooling parents and teens––jotting down timely encouragements and challenging lines I’ve needed to hear in many areas of life right now. But this one in particular struck me yesterday, “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They’d rather show the highlight of what they’ve become.” I realize as the online homeschooling community grows and more resources are made available remotely, it is these hours spent becoming that are most often lost. Even for newer homeschoolers reading this blog filled with highlights, it would be natural to miss the life between the lines, the hours expended in working through hard circumstances or questions, the hours spent becoming.

I have always honestly described homeschooling as the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done. And it’s true. It is not hard in every moment or even in a way that might seem like drudgery; there are so many cumulative and deeply satisfying moments of discovery, contentment, accomplishment, and pure joy. There are also many logistical aspects that have eased up with time as our family has grown older. What I mean by hard is that it is a journey that requires continual study of your children and home. It requires you to pay attention, to consistently problem solve and initiate honest conversations. It is hard because you regularly encounter your shortcomings, whether academic, character, financial, energy, or time. It is hard because you have to choose this path again and again. But these moments are the hours of becoming, the hours not always recorded on Instagram, editorials, or this blog. They are the unwritten parts that have intrinsically formed who I am. These hours are rewarding because they are hard, because I have fought for them again and again.

I truly don’t exactly know what the next year will look like for our home as we walk down this path. Our children love homeschooling. They are eager to do it again, and so again, I am stepping forward in courage. The boys will both be in Challenge programs with Classical Conversations, and we’ll build from there. I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing with the girls. I’m patiently listening and talking with the girls, thumbing our bookshelves, and researching right now. It will come.

What I hope to say in all of these thoughts here is this: it is not the easy paths that form us. They delight us. They enchant us. They are rest for us. But they do not form us. We are formed by what and how we endure, by the amount of times we fall and get up, by the way we help and receive help from others along the way. This part of homeschooling––or living!––isn’t always beautiful in the ways we want it to be, but it is beautiful. And purposeful. Whether in homeschooling, business, family life, health, or in whatever endeavor you find yourself working toward––keep going, friends. These are the hours we are becoming.

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Around this point in every semester, my children and I tend to hit a lull in our learning together. The enthusiasm of fresh beginnings is waning and other areas of life begin to crowd in, diverting attention and easily sliding us out of routine. Am I alone in this? We are caught in the nebulous middle of our term, far from both the start and our finish around the holidays. Perhaps it is here where I’m most likely to forget goals each year, to lose sight of what we wanted in the beginning when I felt so hopeful and full of clear vision–or at least more energy. Wink.

By this point in our unofficial school year, I’ve realized maybe some goals I had in August are meant to be pruned and left by the wayside for another year or season. Our handwork, for instance, has been slow, as we’ve encountered trouble I didn’t anticipate. I’m not intending to let it go, but I didn’t understand how long it would take to work on skills unfamiliar to all of us. Slow is okay, I have to remind myself. We have no tests or checkmarks to prove, take your time and enjoy it. This seems to be a fitting reminder in all of our work. Some of our science or history projects have seemed to fall away simply because of time, which is okay too. But it begs the honest question of myself: how do I fight the lull, the longing to shove aside what is hard and instead sink into comfortable, yet aimless days? I know, as with tidying or anything else, I’m looking for that tender balance between effort and letting go. Here’s a few things I’m trying right now.

relax the routine a bit | Last week, emotions seemed to be running fairly high around here, and I knew we needed to change our routine up a bit. I let the kids sleep in and we limited our academic work to practicing maths and a bit of reading each day. We took a few mornings out for hiking and other things. It was sort of a fall break, a way for us to experience a change while keeping with a few, small goals.

make time for yourself to be inspired | I realized part of why I feel fresh with vision at the beginning of the year directly connects to the amount of time I’m giving to learning myself. I read everything from books to blogs, sifting through ideas and finding ones that might fit our family. Once we begin our school year, this sort of time naturally falls away, too. We are busy doing! This week, I’m planning a little more time for myself. I’ve begun sifting through books and magazines I’ve read before, notes I’ve made, perusing blogs or Pinterest for help revising my original ideas and searching for fresh inspiration. In short, I’m taking time to nurture my own love of learning. It’s a good start.

ask my children | This can seem simple and obvious, and yet I sometimes forget to simply ask my children their thoughts about our routine. Since my children are getting older this is getting easier to naturally discuss while we’re making dinner or reading together. I ask them them questions such as, “How is our work going for you?” “What’s difficult or dull for you during our day?” “What’s your favorite thing you’re learning right now?” “Is there anything you’re sad we don’t have enough time for?” These straightforward questions help bond us in such an insightful way.

Do you experience this sort of lull in your routine? How do you fight your own or your children’s lack of enthusiasm?  I would love to hear.

 

We just quietly finished our seventh year of homeschooling. We didn’t have an award ceremony or any large posters or completed books or projects to show off this year.  Instead we simply wrapped up our lessons–some of them neatly at the end and others midway–and decided we were done for the summer. I write a lot publicly about homeschooling here and elsewhere and I think it unfair to only talk about the beautiful and successful parts of this journey (and there are many) without noting the adversity, too. And it should be noted:

Last week, I hit a wall.

Perhaps it is easy to sit with pen and paper and draft the way you expect and hope home education will occur, and in some seasons and years, things have gone generally as such for me. In previous years, I’ve spent part of my weekend planning for the week, reviewing what lessons we’d need to cover. A natural balance between planned and unplanned learning occurred. I even shared some of that process here and here. But this academic year, I didn’t really plan much at all. I felt exhausted and almost adverse to it. In our more formal studies, like math or reading, we’d simply turn the page to find another lesson and work from there. We had a few regularities in our routine, mostly surrounding our mealtimes, but in between, our days seemed more in-the-moment, an unorganized journey through books and ideas and play and life-work (daily chores, yard+gardening, cooking).

Sometime a few months ago, I began referring to this as our water table year–the place in the marathon where you pause and drink and use the latrine. This sounds theoretically lovely (minus the last part), but what that meant was: I threw out most of my original plans for the year. I love this journey, even the hard parts, but I also felt mentally exhausted by it. I needed to find a new pace, to continue but in a much smaller way. We struggled to keep up with most of our planned lessons for most of the year, and by early spring, we had stripped our days down to the basics of math and spelling lessons and reading. We still read a lot and often but we didn’t produce much writing (ironic, I know). We did an assortment of random projects and continued with outdoor play and work. We shelved our formal science and history studies, leaving these discussions to whatever they were reading in stories or learning outdoors. We researched bugs and plants in our yard/garden, and while this would be an excellent journal of its own, we haven’t yet recorded it. In short, our learning has been practical and somewhat random. We’ve allowed our routines to breathe a bit, something I desperately needed in the seventh year.

I realize some of you will read this as an affirmation that you shouldn’t homeschool, that somehow you would be like me, too disordered or lacking in simple routine. Trained by traditional education, you might perceive non-linear learning as a lack of progression. Regardless of style and method, this journey is certainly not linear–and perhaps this is what causes myself and other homeschooling parents the most doubt and conflict. Lessons, formal and informal, build upon the other, but not always in the way we expect. The nuances of home-education are innately more holistic and organic, they ebb and flow with life seasons. Like a run through the hills or a mountain climb, the terrain is varied, and progress can feel downward, wayward, or challengingly upward. Still, it progresses. I hope this encourages us, all of us, to remember sometimes in life we run these figurative races with steady breath and strength, and other times we crawl, sucking wind. Either way, we must keep moving. We must cross the line.

It is difficult to discuss homeschooling without discussing the rest of our life. It seems one always gives and takes from the other, one of my favorite aspects to our learning. Last week, I figuratively hit a wall, but this was only in part due to our homeschool. It was more an exhaustion of soul, a stretching of my heart over too many things, too many concerns. I’m looking forward to pulling back a bit in every area this summer, to some travel, to some quiet. I need the space to listen, to more fully reflect and set new goals. I will be posting here in the process but more sporadically during the summer months. Last week, I remembered this short film I had seen a few years ago, the image of a runner crawling the finish line and a parallel story of her running coach battling ALS. I watched it again and felt so inspired by her finish, her will to follow through. I felt stronger listening to his perseverance, his fortitude and determination against a degenerating body. Take three minutes to watch it. I’m sure it will inspire you, too.

The Finish Line 2 – Short Feature from Evolve on Vimeo.

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Some of you have already read how we formally started on this homeschooling journey 5 plus years ago. (If you haven’t, you should read it first.) There, I share many of the facts and resources leading us to our decision, but what I’ve shared little of is the emotion in this process. The fear. The doubt. The faith. I’ve now met many mothers and fathers who knew they would educate their children from home before they even had children. That was not me. Until Liam was three, I had never once given it a thought. I didn’t really know anyone who had been educated this way and sadly I still subscribed to the same generalizations and stereotypes many people do concerning homeschoolers: awkward, culturally out-of-touch, geniuses. (Isn’t that embarrassing?) Without even pausing, I had assumed school to be a necessary rite of passage for anyone wanting to be — well, normal. Afterall, didn’t it work for me?

The truth is, no matter how many persuasions or successful accounts you read or hear in defense of home education, in the end, YOU still have to do the work. You have to determine what it looks like in your home, for your children, for your budget and your time. The glory and freedom [gratefully] allowed to home educators in the US can equally cause paralysis and fear, especially when you haven’t experienced it yourself or through observing another family close to you. That was me. For every bit of my idealism and enthusiasm about home education, I felt the equally lurking doubts and fears of can I really do this well? Will my children hate me for it? Am I depriving them of a necessary social responsibility? I wish I could say these feelings have obliterated and I’m completely confident and carefree about my abilities as a parent and educator; I’m not. Regularly, we pray and ask the Lord for discernment about all of these things, and honestly, this is where we have landed each time. Although I work hard, researching and planning and teaching, I’m aware of the Lord’s grace over me in this process. We didn’t choose to homeschool out of fear of public school rather because we asked for wisdom and agreed together this is where the Lord was leading us. I’m mindful of an excerpt from Walt Whitman’s poem, Pioneer, O pioneers!

We detachments steady throwing,
Down the edges, through the passes, up the mountains steep,
Conquering, holding, daring, venturing as we go the unknown ways,
Pioneers! O pioneers!

I am not a pioneer in terms of the homeschooling movement itself, but I am for our little family. And with each step forward in faith, venturing unknown ways, persevering, self- educating, staring down the fear and doubt, I am hopeful our children will inherit something greater, even if it is unknown to me right now. At the very least, in all of this, they can also discover that education is more than a class or a worksheet or a book; it’s a life-long process, and we never outgrow it.

“We have nothing if not belief.” -Reepicheep, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (film)

Mark walked in the room and found me watching an epic/adventure film. Again. This time it’s some part of The Lord of the Rings series. He just laughs, “Needing inspiration again?” “Always.” I muttered, but I think he had already sauntered away. It’s true; I have been absorbing these types of films lately (mostly while folding endless mountains of laundry), somehow relieved by the concrete and tidy nature they bring to such large-scaled abstractions as loss, suffering, war, perseverance, and hope. These films bring perspective. Perspective that smacks of my human fragility and need. Perspective of conflict and war. And of course what I’ve need most of all, the reminder that we’re never alone, that we all at some point need the (wo)men on horseback with painted faces yelling, recounting our hope and requiring us to hold the line; we need those people around us to whisper belief into our ears when our face is planted in the weedy field of despair; and we need that cloud of witnesses to encourage us to finish the “race,” even if we’re crawling to get there.

Here’s an appropriate (not epic) video of just that.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/34046413 w=400&h=225]

The Finish Line 2 – Short Feature from Evolve Digital Cinema / IMG on Vimeo.