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Ten Things That Have Kept Me Sane (sort of)

by Bette Solomon

Our son Bodie just finished seventh grade, and I have homeschooled him for six and a half years. He went to school briefly, in fourth and fifth grades. "I thought if you really loved learning, thatís where you belonged," he explained later. Instead he encountered tedium, peer pressure, and lack of substance. One day in desperation I took him out again. But thatís another story. My husband and I are pleased with homeschool. We have a child who loves to learn and is self-directed. Homeschool is very rewarding, but it is not for the faint of heart.

I have saved, over the years, a wonderful folder of inspirational items, which have encouraged me on desperate days. It is tattered and coffee-stained, but beloved, and I often get it out to remind myself why I homeschool and to share with friends who need encouragement. I will share it now with you.


When Bodie began Kindergarten, my vision of school was orderly and fact-filled, and I structured homeschool accordingly. We started class at 9 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m. There was a short recess but academics were the main thing. I bought so many supplies, I could have opened a school! That October we went to an Indian skills workshop. It was a long drive, the children were tightly controlled, and it was hot. Before long Bodie didn't want to participate, and he was adamant. (I loved it, of course.) At lunch I joined some other families on the grass. A mom with older children asked me, "And how is your school going?" I told her about the many wonderful things I was teaching my son, or trying to. "Does he enjoy it very much?" she asked. "It sounds like a really full day." Well, no, we were both miserable, if the truth were told. "All you really need to do in Kindergarten is read and play games. Heíll learn a lot," she told me. Her comment really revolutionized my teaching - and she was right.


That same year I found a book about Thomas Edison. His Kindergarten teacher had told his mother that he was unreachable and sent him home, but Thomasís mother knew better. "Read books and tell me about them, and Iíll give you a dollar," she told him. Thatís all! That was her curriculum. Within a few years, young Thomas had built a chemistry lab in the barn, and by age fourteen he had his own business. That book gave me great hope. Just by reading, Thomas Edison learned all he needed to know to invent many wonderful things. I have often fallen back on this, and it has served me well. Bodie loves books on every conceivable subject. He reads and rereads his favorites, and I read to him as well. An added bonus to time spent reading is how it impacts writing. This year as we worked on Bodieís writing, I found that he has internalized the rhythm of good writing just by saturating his brain with good books. My friend, Diana, who teaches English at a I local university, told me, "The research confirms that reading good books makes for good writing. It is that simple." I hold on to these words.


"What are you doing about socialization?" The dreaded question. Iíd answer nonchalantly, listing several activities, but underneath I quivered. One day I read a wonderful article. The author had tried to get her kids to invite friends over, but they never seemed interested. They just wanted to read books and hang out. Then it dawned on her - they were spending time by themselves. This is something that few children today enjoy. They are never alone at school, and their after-school lives are often tightly programmed as well. Her children had a gift of time alone that was priceless.


As I began homeschooling, some kind soul told me about World Bookís pamphlet, "The Typical Course of Study, K-12." This wonderful booklet lists what most children study in the U.S. in any given grade. It makes a wonderful checklist and guide for the year. You can order it for a nominal price from World Book Encyclopedia / 525 W. Monroe St. 20th Fl. / Chicago, IL 60661/ Attn: Scott Phillips or you can get it from anyone who sells World Books. I found it invaluable.


Tucked in my file is a note from a friend. She had homeschooled a year or two when I started, and she shared with me what she had learned. "You have to realize that there will be gaps in your childís education no matter ho-w thoroughly you teach him," she offered. "You have to select some subjects and leave others behind. Schools do this, too." This had been a great revelation. "It really comes down to the Big Questions - What does your child love? What do you want for your kids? What do they want for their lives? School as we know it is a very recent invention." Looking at school like this gave me a very different perspective. When kids have some choice in what they learn, they provide the motivation to pursue it. All you have to do is guide them.


Gail has a degree in Christian Education. She spent many years designing and implementing Sunday School curriculum in a large church and additional years teaching elementary school. I value Gailís expertise. "Bette," she told me, "I always worry that I havenít taught my kids anything. I even warn their next teacher, ĎRobert, keep an eye on my kids next year. Iíve missed so many important things. "Gail,í he tells me, Ďyou worry too much. Your kids are always great!... I was stunned. Gail worries about this, with all her experience and training? We laughed and decided to relax. Teaching is like parenting - you donít know the results of your hard work for decades.


I recently became acquainted with a professor at the local seminary who homeschooled her older son. "I was homeschooled myself," Dr. B. informed me. "My family was in the mission field. When I got to college, I found that I was more mature than my peers — I knew myself better, and I was really focused. My son is just entering college, and homeschool has been good for him also." Dr. B. was an answer to prayer. She graciously spent several hours with me, answering my questions and providing, in addition, catalogs and books for me to borrow. I felt more solid in my decision after talking with her; notes on that conversation made their way into my "Inspiration" folder.


C. S. Lewis, the Christian writer, speaks poignantly about his early school years in his book, Surprised by Joy. He talks about his time in school being so structured, about being shamed by the headmaster, about the brutal teasing, about the agony, for him, of team sports. In early adolescence, his father brought him home for a year and he just hung out - no structure, no classes, just time to himself. This was a year of pure magic for Lewis, and he describes it in eloquent detail. His writing spoke deeply to me and strengthened me when I needed it. Another wonderful writer, Madeleine LíEngle, spoke at the seminary near us, and she also shared her own childhood. "School is a killer," she said. "I was looking for Ďthe Truth,í but they were feeding me facts. Facts are just facts; they are neither true nor false. My teachers gave up on me; I never could get it right. I would just go home and write." Later that day, Bodie got to meet this wonderful author, and she signed one of his books.


Talk about Inspiration, John Gattoís book, Dumb Us Down is a must. Mr. Gatto spent 26 years teaching in New York City; he was named "Teacher of the Year" in 1991. He writes about the realities of compulsory education as he saw them from inside the classroom, and he elaborates on what his students really learned — disconnected facts, emotional and intellectual dependency, indifference and conformity.

John Gatto is an encouraging speaker also, and his talks are rich in anecdotes as well as history. "Schools were designed to be instruments of the scientific management of a mass population." Think about the implications of his statement, and run out and get this book.

10. PRAY

This could be first on my list. As a Christian, I give my day to the Lord, and this has changed everything. I stopped worrying (so often, anyway); I stopped comparing our school curriculum to what friendsí kids were learning, which always sounded better. I learned to relax, to trust my instincts as a mother and a teacher, and to let learning happen.

Copyright © 2006 Modern Media