First Grade: The Homeschooling Journey Continues

My five year old daughter started First Grade yesterday. We have been homeschooling for a year. Kindergarten was very relaxed because I didn’t want to force her too quickly into a rigid school routine. She was interested in starting some school at three and became very interested at four. To my delight, not so much surprise, she breezed through Kindergarten and was ready to jump into First Grade early. The reasons we homeschool are vast. Some of these reasons include: religious conviction (this is the biggest), conscience issues, intellectual rigor, immorality within the culture, and the desire to go at our daughter’s pace.

Thankfully, we live in a state where homeschooling is respected and we live in great freedom. We do homeschool under a religious exemption and I applied under Virginia state code with my local school board using a variety of quotes from Popes and other Catholic resources. The great gift of the Church’s 2000 year history! It makes finding resources easy. Our exemption was granted with no trouble at all. It is very difficult to argue conscience of homeschooling with a Catholic because the Church has made it very clear that it is the parents’ right and duty to school their children in the manner they see fit and which will lead their children to Heaven. That latter part can be something we forget at times.

Part of homeschooling is to focus on going at the child’s own natural pace. My husband and I knew from birth that our daughter is smarter than both of us combined. While this does invoke some level of pride in us, some good and some bad, having a very smart kid comes with interesting problems and times of great comic relief. There’s nothing quite like your child pointing out your errors from a very young age. In fact, yesterday I was on the phone with my husband explaining to him a situation in which I felt powerless. When I hung up the phone, my daughter said to me: “Mommy, only God has power.” I was momentarily stunned into silence and then told her she was absolutely right.

Since I am a newer homeschooling mom, I try to read a lot of different books by veteran homeschoolers. I have read books on unschooling. I have read books on classical education of which I am a fan. I have read books on discipline and the need for tight schedules. I have read books on monastic living within the domestic church and the list goes on and on. These books have been helpful to a point, but really they tend to point to the author’s individual preferences over any universal necessity or practice in homeschooling. There is a need in day-to-day living and the spiritual life to instill discipline from an early age. Even though I was in the Navy for 6 years, I still struggle with discipline. One of the real difficulties is finding books that fully apply to us. I can learn a good amount from a mother with 10 children, but her situation is drastically different from my own. Homeschooling an only child comes with great blessings and difficulties that differ greatly from a large family.

First, I do not have older children or younger children who my daughter can learn from throughout the day, weeks, months, and years. Many of these moms discuss the great gift of learning from siblings, of which I have no doubt, but at this point it is God’s will for us to have only one child and that may remain. I do not know. We are looking into adoption, but just like my fertility, these things are entirely up to God. So the gift of a large family is wholly unhelpful to me and at times is painful for me since one child was never our plan. In all honesty, It makes it hard for me to want to attend a Catholic homeschooling conference since all of the speakers seem to have 6-10 children while the rest of us with one child or small families, through no fault of our own, are not represented in the speakers. My other friends who homeschool one or two children feel the same way.

Second, since it is just my daughter and me, there are times she is going to get tired of me and there will be burn out.There will also be burn out for me. Let’s be honest, homeschooling is something we are called to and it is by the grace of God that we are successful and survive. This is precisely why I cannot express enough gratitude and extol the blessings of our local Catholic homeschool coop.

Mondays are Coop day and while it is exhausting and crazy, it allows my daughter to be in a classroom with other kids of a variety of ages–I might add. She learns from other teachers on a whole host of subjects, many of which I do not do at home. This year she is learning Art, Italian, Classroom Concepts, as well as two programs we are doing at home, Harcourt Science (I am her teacher at Coop for this) and Classical Catholic Memory (CCM). She learns from me at home four days a week: Reading, Math, Religion, Science, Spelling, Writing, Art Appreciation, and CCM (a memory program that includes Latin, Religion, History, Science, Math, Poetry, and Geography each week). Coop gives her the opportunity to spend time with friends and to communicate with a wide age range of people from 3-18, as well as adults.  There are over 30 kids in our Coop. Each Monday, she spends all day with other kids and moms and we both get a break and guidance as we go through this homeschooling adventure.

This year’s journey has only just begun. She seems to enjoy learning, and because it is just the two of us, we are done for the day by lunchtime. I am sure we will hit bumps on the road frequently. There will be days she isn’t as interested or a topic is a bit of a struggle. That is when we can take our time and down shift or up shift depending on her needs. Her being ahead allows for flexibility in future years. If she hits a subject in junior high or high school that is difficult for her, then we can take two years if we need to. She will graduate at 16 based on where we are now, but homeschooling her means that we can move her back to 18 if we need to. The point is to stay at her pace, so that she can foster a life-long love of learning from a very early age rather than become frustrated by either being ahead or behind. Pray for us. Like I said, no homeschooling family would ever pretend that it is an easy road. It is deeply difficult and one completely dependent on God, but it is rewarding, and in my view, the most assured (there are no guarantees, we can only do our best and rely on God’s grace) in keeping our daughter on the path to holiness in later life.

 

 

Letters from Homeschool: Jumping from Preschool to Kindergarten

Child reading  pile of books.

Last month I formally, well, semi-formally, started to home-school my 4 year old daughter. We did letter crafts and other activities over the past year, but it wasn’t a set curriculum I was using. I had decided to order the Catholic Heritage Curriculum for Pre-school to get us started. The set came with what we needed, including lesson plans. I started looking through the workbooks and noticed, much to my wallet’s chagrin, that Michaela already knew most of what was provided in the Pre-school packet. I told my husband that I needed to buy some Kindergarten materials to supplement. He told me to wait a little while to get into a routine. I agreed.

In the beginning it was a bit difficult to get her going, but then out of nowhere, her learning exploded. She started writing letters and drawing non-stop. She began to grasp sounds and was retaining a ton of information. Even though she would battle me at times during school, I found that she was absorbing it anyway. My husband and I knew that God had given us a very bright daughter. In fact, I often tell people that she is smarter than my husband and me put together. I struggled to find materials to keep her busy and I cut back our time at Co-op because she is ahead in much of what is offered for her age.

So here we are mid-October and I absolutely have to jump her into Kindergarten. Yes, she is 4. The temptation is to just let her have a year of freedom and wait to start until next year when she is 5. The problem is that she wants to learn. She keeps telling me that she wants to be able to read. So, sure, I could hold her back, but why would I? Yes, we home-school because we have concerns about the public school environment these days. My husband and I both went to public schools and things have changed drastically since our time. While our Catholic faith is a part of our reasoning, my biggest reason for homeschooling is to teach her at her pace.

Human beings are not carbon cutouts of one another. Some kids her age are still mastering colors and learning to count to 5. Some kids are already reading at her age. I want her to learn at her pace, not some arbitrary pace set by some bureaucrats who really don’t care about sound education. Pardon my cynicism after having taught in public schools briefly which resulted in my radical shift away from teaching high school.

I have decided to encourage her and teach her at her pace. At this point she will graduate a year early, but in reality we may hit a year where she really struggles in a subject. Then we have the option to put on the brakes and focus, even take an extra year if we have to. Part of the beauty of home-schooling is that the child leads in their own education. She may get to high school and stumble over Geometry and Trigonometry like I did, or she may breeze right through it. She may need time to emotionally mature and we can slow down so she doesn’t graduate too early, or she may be ready for whatever vocation God calls her to.

I was sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist’s office the other day listening to my daughter talk to a fellow patient. She was writing down letters and sounds for this woman and the woman was shocked that she is 4. I said we home-school and she said now it made sense. It’s not that intelligent people don’t go to public schools. Plenty of intelligent kids go to public schools or private schools. The problem is that many of those kids are bored to tears because they are ahead or frustrated because they cannot keep up. There are a good many who are content in the middle. Why shouldn’t education meet the needs of each individual and unique human being? Quite frankly, it should. That includes in technical areas that don’t require a college level education.

At this point my daughter is ready for Kindergarten and I am along for the ride. Homeschooling isn’t easy and I have days that I need serious patience, but then she shows me that she is learning even if she is having a battle of wills with me. What an amazing, difficult, and sanctifying journey we are on. Pax Christi.

Motherhood vs Talents: The Internal Battle and Trusting God

m and me

My regular Confessor knows just how much I struggle with being a stay-at-home mom. The reasons are varied, but more than anything, I am trying to find the balance between doing what is best for my daughter and using the gifts that God has given me. I know that the best thing is for me to stay home at this point. I love being with my daughter all day, even when she is throwing her 3 year old tantrums. I get to see her develop and grow. I get to read with her and snuggle with her. I get to teach her the alphabet and about the Church. I am called to homeschool her, even though I know that will be a major challenge and sacrifice.

On the flip side of that, I get lonely and I crave intellectual stimulation at a deeper level. I have always been this way. My Dad and I spent hours talking philosophy and theology while I was in high school. That fire was stoked at a young age and has burned, even as embers, for decades. Unfortunately, this has turned my primary vocation into an internal battle ground.

There is no reason why being a stay-at-home mom should be pit against the gifts that God has given me. I turn it into a battle. I realized recently, that while I was focused on my own struggles, God has been taking care of it for me. It is possible for me to serve and teach my daughter and use the intellectual gifts that God has given me. It just happens that it will not be on my terms, but on God’s.

When I focus on gratitude and pay attention, I can see where God answers those struggles. I am a full-time graduate student. If that doesn’t fill an intellectual void then I don’t know what will. Out of nowhere an opportunity to teach theology for an online homeschooling academy popped up. I have an interview for the job today. Even if I don’t get the position, God is saying that options are available to me. I can serve my daughter and share my studies with other people. He is not asking me to sacrifice one for the other, but He is asking me to trust Him.

The world can make women feel like our only option is to work long hours outside of the home or stay home. It’s an all or nothing. Women who are stay-at-home moms are made to feel like second class citizens, while I know many women who work feel tremendous guilt for not being home. Women are not in competition with one another. We need to find the balance that works for our family and that is in line with our vocation and gifts. I made the decision before I got married that I would be home with any children we had, but that didn’t mean forever and it didn’t mean that I am lazy or lack intellectual capabilities.

I have found that these stereotypes or hostilities are most telling when someone learns about the life I had before motherhood. You did what?! As if my entire life has been me at home. You means stay-at-home moms have something to give?! It’s amusing and annoying at the same time. My husband and I both lived in Europe in our 20s before we met. I worked for government agencies and tried my hand at politics. I lived all over the U.S. As far as our culture is concerned, I truly lived in my 20s. I guess the difference is that none of those things satisfied me the way that motherhood and theological studies do.

Even though our culture can be anti-motherhood, I need to examine those areas where I have taken on that mantra. My battles come in part because I have accepted some areas of the cultural cry for productivity. That productivity is strictly defined by full-time work and long hours. I am firmly opposed to that idea.  For me, I want to find the balance between giving my daughter what she needs from me and serving others with my talents. That is where God wants me.

I need to look up more, so that I can see how God is working in my life. He provides. I have wandered a bit in the past few years as I adjust to this period of my life. It is an adjustment to go from the rugged individualism of my single life to the union of marriage and family. I am finding that this period is a lot quieter in many ways than the past. It is also noisier, at least volume wise. There is real peace in learning to live the vocation God wills for me. It takes the pressure off of me to try to figure it all out on my own.

Do you struggle in your vocation? If you do, let go. That is what my husband is always telling me. “Stop fighting it and just be.” If you haven’t figured it out by my blog, my husband has me more figured out than I do. God knows the desires of your heart and He will provide in His time. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we need when we need it. So utter that prayer for guidance or tell him of your dreams.  Then make sure that you are looking up to see what wonderful things He has in store for you. It probably won’t be how you expect it or want it, but what you need will come. Embrace what He gives and that storm inside will quiet.

I actually have an interview for that teaching position today. Say a prayer for me. I am looking up, and if God wills it, I will begin teaching once a week for a homeschool academy this fall. If not, then there will be more on the horizon.

Small Success Thursday: Lent and School

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Today I am going to take a break from my series on sinful anger to participate in CatholicMom.com’s Small Success Thursdays.  I will say that beginning my Lenten series on sinful anger is a small success for this week.  For those of you who have struggled with anger at different periods of your life, I suggest reading my first two posts.  Anger is usually coupled with tremendous pain whether from childhood or other periods in our lifetime.  Sinful anger is toxic for ourselves and all the people around us.  If you struggle, join me on the journey to overcome this sinful inclination.  I have made great strides, by God’s grace, over the years, but it is still a battle for me.  Join me in giving this struggle to Christ.  You can read the first two posts here and here.

Another small success for this week is that my daughter and I unofficially started preschool.  I will be homeschooling her and will not start a formal curriculum until she turns 4 years old, but we started using the Catholic Icing curriculum to get us started.  We have worked on the letters A and B, as well as discussed Lent.  She loves school and asks me to do it all of the time. She is so bright and full of energy.  She is absorbing the material and likes to work on her whiteboard on her own.  She now knows St. Anne and St. Bernadette and the liturgical color for Lent happens to be her favorite color.  She was quite excited to see our priest dressed in purple (violet) at Mass.

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I also consider my daughter’s potty training to be a small success this week.  She has been in pull-ups and using the potty for over a year now, but she was having a lot of accidents.  With the help of a timer and more focus, she has done really well this week in “big girl panties”.  We started with a couple of accidents, but now she is paying more attention to her body and avoiding accidents.  I am so proud of her.

I spent all of last week studying for my Fundamental Theology mid-term (I am in a MA in Theology program full-time).  My studying paid off and I got an A on the test.  This weekend I have to write a succinct paper on the Scholastic understanding of the Sacraments of Initiation: Eucharist, Baptism, and Confirmation.  The material is amazing and fascinating.  Pray that I am able to be clear and direct in my answers.  I can be a bit wordy and the paper is limited to 3 pages.  Three Sacraments in 3 pages while expounding on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa?!

It’s been a busy week and I am glad to take a moment to celebrate the successes that I have experienced.  How has your week been?  What small successes have you had?  Join the conversation at CatholicMom.com.