Monday, June 9, 2014

Where messes and memories abound

We celebrated the last day of school under the sea, at the aquarium.

Emeth completed Kindergarten. Yohanan completed Pre-K3, a.k.a. a certificate in Following His Big Brother Around. And I completed my first year as a Kindergarten and Pre-school teacher, a career I never imagined for myself.

I am tucking away a few thoughts on homeschooling for years to come, years when they will all be taller than me, years when cereal will actually stay in their bowls.

1. Homeschooling was much like hosting a year-long dinner party — for people who needed a lot of help getting food into their mouths (literally and figuratively). Like all great dinner parties, messes and memories abound. My children were my guests, and a whole new world was on our menu. Homeschooling, however, was no magic carpet ride. It was my job to tell them "No" and where to go.

2. We learned a rhythm that worked for us (i.e. that kept me somewhat sane). School is simplified into two routines. I called them high tide and low tide. During high tide hours, we sat at the table and practiced math, spelling, painting, and penmanship. Basically, things that required maximum supervision. During low tide hours, the boys found their own comfortable corners; they read, drew, or worked on their various projects — things that required minimal help from me. A normal day would have some combination of the two routines. As a friend wisely concluded, it can't be high tide all the time or we would all drown. True words.

3. I had a lot to learn from parents who went before me — mommy polar bears, mommy belugas, mommy elephants, human parents, too. Keep the children close. Remember they learn best by imitating. Resist the urge to help too much. Sometimes, I walked a step or two in front of them. Sometimes, I stood behind them. Other times, I pushed — hard.

4. I learned to aim for the heart. Sure, I cheer like a crazy woman when their arrive at certain milestones, but reading and writing and counting are not our ultimate goals. They are means and methods to get to their hearts. I want my children to love people, to love serving others, to be curious, to work hard and work cheerfully, to overcome their fears, to know they are not perfect, to fail graciously, to be brave and try again.

5. I learned to study my children, how they played, how they learned. When choosing curricula, toys, books, or any other tool, I evaluated the product's potential by thinking of my child's skills, interests, and habits. Instead of thinking about what the tool can do, I learned to think about what my child can do with the tool. Reviews and good quality products certainly helped, but every child played and learned so differently. So, they benefited from the tools differently (or not at all).

6. I learned to be ruthless when it came to chopping off unfruitful activities and things. We made space and time for only things we loved. Having a small home forced us to donate books and toys regularly. Every month, the boys chose a few books and toys to give away. If a book was not cultivating good vocabulary, if a story was ugly or untruthful, we talked about it and moved onto other books. If the curriculum was too advanced, we put it aside.

 7. It has been a year of learning and accepting our limitations, while loving our freedom. We are homeschooling in a two-bedroom apartment. Because we do school and eat meals at the same table, you can imagine the boys' artwork, markers, crayons, pencils, spoons, bowls, all mingling in the most unattractive ways on my dining table. And then, there are other limitations, such as my patience, and my ability to fold the laundry.

On the other hand, we loved our freedom. The brothers were free to spend all of their waking hours together. We were free to spend our mornings at libraries, parks, friends' homes, and grocery stores. We were free to drop unsuitable curricula and pick up new ones. We were free to explore whatever that fascinated us.

It has been a good year-long dinner party. Summer, we welcome you with open arms. Hakuna matata, right? Wait, what?! I still have to do laundry in the summer?


Jean Tsen said...

Thank you for writing about homeschooling. This is the most I've heard of it. I am so curious to hear more. Thank you for being so patient with me for my cluelessness of your world. Can't believe your first homeschooling year has gone by. Congrats! So proud of you, jie! I am reminded of how you are always willing to be the one walking where we have not trod. And I just follow behind and learn from your explorations. Thank you for being so brave and leading by your trust.

MissBlueBlossoms said...

I love this!!! You inspire me greatly! I love the high tide and low tide terminology.

Ruth Park said...

you definitely sound like a true educator! (especially #5) Thanks for this post! :)

Jimmy Jih said...

Good stuff!

Anonymous said...

As a "veteran homeschooler" I thoroughly enjoyed this. I am concerned that too many homeschooling moms miss out on the opportunity to disciple their children as they struggle to "fit everything in" their school day.

My children are now young adults and I cannot thank God enough for the privilege of spending those years with them. I would do it all over again!

May you continue to cherish the precious ones He has entrusted to you for a short season.


Irene Sun said...


Thank you for your encouraging comment! It must be so amazing to witness the work of God bearing fruits in the lives of your children. I will heed your advice to cherish this short season. Much love to you and yours.