Great(er) Plans

I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming homeschooling season. This will be my fifth year of choosing to keep my children at home and provide them with the gift of learning. For some parents the decision to homeschool is a difficult one. They weigh the pros and cons, pray, worry about their kids not being socialized enough due to one choice or running with the “wrong crowd” if they make the other. For others the decision can be a fight. Perhaps one parent disagrees with the other and believes keeping the children home will be a disaster. Perhaps the parent chosen to stay home regrets giving up their career and only sees what they are losing by staying home to educate. Some even battle with the Lord saying that they can not possibly be the one to lead their child through their schooling, even if it is clearly laid on their heart to do so.

For me the decision to keep our littles at home was the easiest part of homeschooling. I’d never heard the phrase “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers” until I’d been one for quite awhile, and was easily able to laugh that concern aside as my children are at least as socialized as their peers and probably more so. I do still worry about them making good friend choices though, that is not just a worry for public/private school parents. I was already staying home with my little ones and adding in some focused learning time seemed pretty natural, as those babies grew that learning time continued to grow with them. My husband was in agreement from the beginning, I do not remember having to convince him and he has trusted me over the years as my teaching philosophy has evolved into more of a leading philosophy. I know that if he were the one staying home, his way of teaching would be different than mine, but we agree that this is where they belong. There are other people who’s support is valuable in my homeschooling journey and without people on my side I would have a much harder time schooling at home. I haven’t wrestled with the Lord either, I know this is the best choice for our family and I know that God calls me daily to lay down my own life in sacrifice to leading
His children well. That is not always an easy thing, but I know it is the right thing for me.

I have taken many different routes over these few years to plan our school year out. There have been spreadsheets, curriculum choices, book lists, spelling lists, science project ingredients added on to my grocery list. This past year in particular has changed my way of thinking quite a lot though. Nearly three years ago when our last child was born I stressed too much and planned every day, trying to allow time around the birth of a new baby. As it turned out, God laughed at me and must’ve said something like, “Um…nope!” There was no way the newest addition to our family was going to make homeschool easy for the rest of us, she simply did not cooperate with my well laid plans. Proverbs 16:1, or 19:21, or James 13:15 anyone? There are several verses in the Bible reminding us that our plans are null and void if they don’t line up with God’s plan for us. We can try but we will likely be frustrated at every turn. Psalm 33:10 could be written on the front of my yearly school planner; “The Lord nullifies the counsel of the nations, He frustrates the plans of the peoples.”  He nullified and frustrated my plans alright! And not just that first year after her birth. When she turned two, my ability to teach came to a screeching halt. We tried every homeschooling momma trick in the book and some made up ones too, in the end we got as much formal schooling done as we could while she napped (which was not often, nor every day), I felt defeated. I could not manage a toddler and help a third grader with her multiplication and assist a five year old in building his reading skills. Why? Why, why, why?

To say I gave up wouldn’t quite be correct. Instead I’d say that I fully embraced my unschooly-ness. It had been there all along of course; we used a ton of outside time as classroom time, worked on mastering jumping jacks while memorizing poetry, and read Harry Potter or C.S. Lewis for entire days if the mood struck us. I just wasn’t quite sure we fit the unschooling model I’d read about. In my desire to ensure my kids were actually learning something everyday it occurred to me that there is no perfect model for unschooling (much later I realized that there is no perfect model for any schooling), and that is what made unschooling perfect for us. We didn’t do math for awhile, can I say that? Instead I put batteries in the graphing calculators that my big kids had accumulated over the years and my littles used them daily for all manner of games and can probably navigate them better than I can. They counted jumps off of the steps before they fell and how many seconds they could hold their breath in the pool. They made calendars and filled them with all of the activities and days out that we could come up with. I also stopped trying to teach my five-year-old how to read. The kid had basically taught himself anyway and when I gave him the freedom to just read he flew through books. He was unhindered by my insistence that he sound out every word and instead he just read! Who knew he could? Well, he did. Him and God I suppose, he didn’t need me for this, but if he did he knew he could come to me for help.

Instead of writing book reports we wrote down our daily chore lists (penmanship/spelling practice) and talked about books we loved at length. Instead of reading about scientists and their discoveries we practiced what they discovered (can you make a ball fall up?, can you melt an ice cube in cold water?). When I look back over the year I can see that we really did a lot, but not what was on my spreadsheet. I let them read for hours a day, I read to them for hours more. This time alone with characters in books proved to be the most amazing thing as they would incorporate different aspects from all of the books they were reading or had read into their daily playtime. Their imaginations were deeply enriched, their creativity exploded, they were allowed to have ideas and play them out in so many different ways. It was awesome.

As we chase the sun this summer I wonder how much planning I should do for autumn. My now nearly three-year-old is showing interest in letters and numbers, wants me to read to her endlessly and also wants to ride her bike and swim in the pool. I wonder, should I buy a few workbooks to work on letters? Should I pull out my pre-readers for her? Hmm…I don’t think I’ll jump too quickly to make plans for her.

I went back and reread Psalm 33, as I did I was reminded that God doesn’t want to frustrate me or defeat my plans. If I will come to Him in the planning and seek out His answers in the first place I will have much more success. Verse 11 reminds me “But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.” As I begin my planning for this coming year I have decided to allow my children to continue leading our educational journey. I’m paying attention to what they are interested in and filling our days with those opportunities. Will we do math this year? Spelling? Yes, we probably willI have great plans for my children, this year those plans are based on the purposes they were given by God. As I follow His leading I can allow them to do the same instead of forcing them in to my mold of what they “should” be learning. Do I worry about their spelling or math fact mastery? Yes, yes I do. When I get bogged down in those details it’s easy to forget the life skills they are mastering. They are learning to love learning, become people who seek out lessons in unusual places, learn from unexpected teachers.

I am trusting that there is a great plan in store for these kids and that I have a place in that plan. If I can stay out of the way God’s purpose for my babies will prevail in their lives. My spreadsheet looks a little different this year, there are more life lessons on it than history lessons. Knowing that my kids will be following their hearts makes the journey well worth it.

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