Senior Year: Rigorous or Relaxed?

There is an amusing wall photo traveling the Facebook circuit right now regarding homeschools.   

You’ve probably seen it, but the bottom line, so to speak, of the photo is that what actually happens in most homeschools is very different than the perception of outsiders–the neighbors, the government, public school friends, professional teachers, etc.    Indeed, I talked in an earlier post about that impending moment when your homeschool environment must somehow conform itself into what the outside world (read college admissions offices, in our case) wants to see.     If your child is college-bound, those final four years must somehow fit into the format that is friendly for those who’ll decide if your seemingly avant-garde methodologies measure up to their standards.   There is another side of this equation, however: what happens when the educational requirements in your home actually exceed what is  required by a college?

My husband and I were having this conversation on the way back from a recent family mini-vacation.   With hours in the car, I chose to catch up on some neglected reading materials, including the oldest’s college information packages from all of her recent tours.    As I began to read through the required courses at the high school level, that light bulb that you see in cartoons was suddenly waaaaaaaay bright: after this academic year, she’s finished with most of the requirements!

Before I could settle into that moment of elation mixed with relief, I began to seriously ponder what this revelation meant to us in the coming school year.   Should I continue in a more rigorous path, or should I just teach/ plan for someone else to teach those few remaining classes that must be taught, and then allow a whole lot of “masterly inactivity,” as Charlotte Mason calls it?

Our daughter has personal and professional interests that are almost polar opposites of the direction I chose at her age.   Yet, she also has “closet” interests that are more similar to mine, so I’ve stuck to a fairly rigorous academic plan for her: much focus on writing, reading Western classics and great literature from around the world, exploring various areas of science, and making sure she conceptually understood math as opposed to mastering drill sheets.    We’ve been very strategic about her college courses and why we chose this path, when to take what class, and making sure that her choices of class aligned well with her interests.   Our goal, in part, was for her to have a good introductory experience to the pace and the many possiblities of college.   But now, I sit in the midst of a dilemma.    Dependent upon where our daughter applies for college entrance, all she needs to take to complete her required courses is 1 year of English.   That’s it!  I also have planned a World Geography course.   Otherwise, she can spend her time completing some of the courses required for college, she can get more involved in volunteerism or dance assistance/ instruction, she could potentially work–the world is her oyster!

Not coincidentally (as least I think so) during that extended ride, I also thumbed through one of my favorite homeschool “how-tos” and found this jewel:

‘If you ask a secular educator about learning theory, he would likely describe learning as a mental process centered on the child’s material brain, and measured by the retention of discreet facts and information.    He would emphasize the role of the teacher and the acquisition of knowledge…As a Christian home educator with a biblical view of education, …you would describe learning as a personal process involving both your child’s heart…and mind, and measured by wisdom, understanding and knowledge of truth...You would be more concerned with your child’s understanting of important ideas and concepts, than with the accumulation of discreet knowledge.   Your child is not just a soulless brain that needs to be filled up with facts by a teacher, but a person in relationship with you and God, who has eternal value, dignity and purpose because he or she is made in the image and likeness of their Creator.’

Sally Clarkson, Educating the Whole-Hearted Child, pg. 43

As a brief digression, I think every homeschooling parent needs to periodically go back to the old landmark, so to speak, and remind himself/ herself why they began this journey in the first place.   The trip back didn’t disappoint.   I needed to remember that this journey wasn’t, and isn’t, about cramming every moment with books and notebooks.   It is about pouring into the children, and then sealing upon their hearts and minds a confidence in knowing as well as a thirst for growing.     On that same page, Ms. Clarkson continues:

‘A child is not educated just because he’s logged enough time in classrooms, or performed well on certain tests, or completed a formal curriculum.  In God’s economy, to be “educated” is not a matter of something you know or have achieved.   Rather, to be educated is something you become.   A truly educated child is one who has the desire and the ability to learn and to grow.   The desire to learn (will) is from the heart; the ability to learn (skill) is in the mind.’

It is possible to do both–rigor and relaxation.   The question is not rigorous or relaxed, but instead, how to combine the two to give her one final, memorable experience of being at home, learning and loving with those who will miss her dearly.   Blessings, dear friends.

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Raising Truly Beautiful Girls

We have two daughters.  

 One is a teenager who is imminently, and almost unbelievably at times, becoming a young adult.   The other is an 8-year-old who thinks she’s imminently becoming a young adult.   They are as different as day and night, but there is territory that ultimately must be covered with any girl at some point in her life: what makes a woman beautiful.   And before we can approach this topic with our daughters, we must first reconcile some of our own misgivings, our pains of rejection and persecution, and our sense of self confidence and self worth.

I have to give it to our youngest: once she gets excited about a project–and this happens almost daily–she goes after it with missionary zeal.    I am sure the Lord will use this personality trait to His glory one day, but right now, it sometimes becomes quite exasperating.    Her latest quest was to become a pageant queen.    She simply said to me, “Mom, I want to be in a pageant,” and in a matter of a few hours, she’d found the pageant online, along with another site that sold appropriate evening gowns for children, and she was thinking–in detail–through her choice for a talent. Perhaps because I’d just paid for dance shoes for three and extra dance classes for her early start on this year’s performance team, or perhaps because I was aggravated by today’s “have to, HAVE TO(!!)” project, but I said “no” in a manner that wasn’t as kind or considerate of her little feelings as I could have been.

The oldest, in the true spirit of an oldest daughter who considers herself an additional parent, began to chime in about all the hidden costs of pageants, and to share with the younger daughter that she had once considered being a part of a pageant as well.    I’d forgotten that I’d covered that same ground with her a number of years back.

The end result of all of this discussion was a very disappointed little girl, who needed a moment or two alone with her tears.   I felt bad. 

I don’t really have a problem with pageants; it’s just not a priority for me.    Of all the numerous needs and wants that come through this household, allocating money to those events, of which many look like fundraisers for various organizations rather than a real victory for any one contestant, would be on the very bottom of a long list.

I do, however, have a problem with a mentality–a mentality that says that women have to look a certain way to be considered attractive.   It’s a mentality that we swallow wholeheartedly and sometimes pass on to our daughters waaaaaayyyyy too early.    I think this video, sent to me years ago, just about sums it up:

With two girls, I’ve spent quite a bit of time with where I am, so to speak, regarding make-up, clothing, hair, and all those other “girly areas” that inevitably become HUGE topics of conversation as girls mature–sometimes even before that.   I’m clear on a few things.    There will no cleavage shown, no bellies exposed, and no dresses that go much above the knee.   Your clothing should please God first, then you can enjoy your choices, but you aren’t dressing to please a man, so nothing needs to be written across your behind (why else put those big letters there? It’s not as if YOU can read them!)   Those are not just rules for the girls; I, of ample bosom, live by the same rules.   In fact, I began sewing again in part to rectify the dress length issue: have you noticed how very short women’s dresses and skirts are currently?? 

 The foundation of any house rule must be the Word:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

                                                                                                                                     Proverbs 31:30

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                         1 Peter 3:3

The Word of God is so liberating to us as we search for clarity in how we ought to live.    But let’s also face facts: we all want to be known as having more than the proverbial “great personality.”  

So, as I see videos like the one listed above, I experience freedom about the fact that on most days, I’m not a supermodel.   But there are some places where I’m not as resolved, areas where there are still question marks.   I mull over these areas each time I help our daughters prepare for dance competitions.   They must wear “stage make-up” in order to not have their faces washed out from the lights.   Okay.  A little blush here, a bit of lipstick and a splash of color on the eyes there wouldn’t kill them or me.   But this past year, we had to have fake eyelashes.   And we had to put mascara on the fake eyelashes.   Our girls both wear glasses.   Who is going to see all of that junk(?!), I thought, and more importantly, where is all of this going?

Personally, I’ve always believed in working with what God gave me.   I tried daily make-up during my freshman year of high school; it was a rite of passage, or so I thought.   That lasted about 2 days before I realized that it took too much energy to  worry about what I looked like after I’d sweated, or to keep checking to ensure that no color ran into any other.   Bottom line?  I was just too darn lazy to wash all that stuff from my face at night.    30+ years later, I’m almost strictly a lipstick woman.   I’ve been blessed with dry skin.    I say ‘blessed’ because I’ve almost never had problems with acne, etc., even as a teen.   I simply don’t have enough oil on most of my face to cause some of the blemish issues that others have, so I’ve not had to worry with powders and such.   The eyeliner that I love and adore started irritating my eyes a few years back, so I now allow my glasses to be the sole adornment of my eyes.  

Right now, my oldest isn’t a make-up lover, either, although she likes to keep her stage make-up on well after we’re home from a competition; I think she marvels at the change in her appearance.  The youngest is like most little girls who play in Mom’s make-up, I guess, waiting to be old enough to wear it amidst my parenting talks about what makes a woman truly beautiful.   As for me,  I’m still reflecting on the pageant–what I said, how I said it, and why I said what I said.     In the meantime, now 2 days later, she began forming her new rock band–band name, band members, instruments, and all.    She’s already got the names of her first two CDs and is busily writing song lyrics.

Be blessed, my friends.

Losing Control

We have two weeks of school left.

Usually by this time, I would already have summer reading lists compiled and printed off for the children.   In my defense, I have at least talked to my son about what I want to do.  

I plan to simply keep school going with our youngest daughter.  When I reflect upon her school year, there is too much low-hanging fruit for me to feel comfortable about a clear, seamless transition into third grade.   As one example, I still think she needs to “seal in” the concept of borrowing when subtraction.   Once she completes the first problem, she fine.   Yet, almost every day, I have to remnd her that, if the larger number is below the smaller number, you cannot simply reverse the numbers, i.e., 7 – 9 is not the same as 9 – 7.   I have to remind her all too often that since you are borrowing 10, it is as easy as placing a 1 in front of the number that you are adding to (as I write it, I realize that I sound equally confused!)  With the text having introduced borrowing from the tens’ columns and the hundreds’ column, she also sometimes forgets which column to borrow from.   Finally, there are also days when she’s very distracted and starts adding some numbers and subtracting others.   GEEEESH!   So the summer will give us an opportunity to slow down and gain confidence in this area.

We’ll also continue handwriting.   This week, she accomplished the difficult cursive “S,” and so she can now write her full name in cursive.  I intentionally delayed teaching cursive to give her more of a chance to gain confidence with a pencil and to work on the right direction for the “ball” of the letter “b” or “d,” or which way to turn a “j”–challenging lessons that all little ones must tackle.

What’s stopping me from bringing my “A” game?  Three things.

1) the heat. Spring is my absolute favorite time of year.  It’s when I crave the outdoors, the cool morning breeze that begs you to be out and about in the garden.  However, this year, we had no spring.  We went from winter to summer, and at a time when many in this country are experiencing flooding, we have not seen rain in weeks.   All our flowers and grass popped up, and just as quickly, it dried out and died.   Now I find myself in a bit of a funk after not seeing a hibiscus bloom after a fresh rain, or seeing my mimosa blossoms shrivel almost immediately after blooming.

2) the busy schedule.  In four weekends, I have had to prepare, as a parent prepares (given that I’m not the one actually performing), for a science competition, two dance competitions, and a prom.    Most Sunday nights I have crawled into bed, and most Monday mornings I wake up behind.   Hence, nothing that is outside of the norm do I accomplish without Herculean effort.    Searching book lists, reviews, descriptions, etc., has simply been more than I can do right now, especially with my laptop dying a slow death ( and consequently, the kids standing over me in line while I attempt to check off a few to-dos  on the family desktop).

3) the life-changing decision to allow our oldest to enter college early–at least as a part-time student.   The state of Texas has a wonderful partnership between community colleges and high schools, including high school homeschools.   With the dual credit initiative, a high schooler can complete college courses at a greatly reduced rate (like less than $200), receiving college credit and high school credit.    Most Texas 4-year colleges and universities readily accept these credits, saving parents bundles in higher education costs.   Many homeschooling parents actually enroll their children at junior college as Associates degree candidates, and then send them off to 4-year universities as degreed students for their final two years.   We went to all the meetings and thought well in advance about what a wonderful benefit this would be to both the oldest, and to us.   It all sounded great–that is, until now, when it is all about 3 weeks from happening.   Now I’m feeling as I felt when we packed her up at 3 years old and sent her off to private school, only worse.   Back then, I was convinced that we were giving her an early start on the best education money could buy; now I know that we’ve got the best education love can afford right here at home.   I’m struggling with her possibly learning history from another perspective rather than it being His story.   I’m struggling with the people with whom she might come in contact.   I’m struggling with all the plans I had that will probably not happen with her before she goes farther away to school in a couple of years.   How did this moment get here so fast?  

Having said all of that, I am also rejoicing.   In spite of my angst, I know this is a great opportunity for her, and I’m proud of her for stepping up to this challenge.   I’m proud of me and the realization that I had a little something to do with getting her here (not to take away from my husband or the Lord).   Most of all, I’m thankful that the Lord loves this mother hen (as my husband describes me) enough to allow me to gradually, lovingly, lose control.   Not that I’m misled into thinking that I had control anyway, but now, as these four walls become increasingly inadequate to  protect her from what she’ll encounter, I’m glad she is His.

P.S.   We finally got a bit of rain today.   Guess I’d better get busy.

What’s Been Happening?

 Apparently, there are a number of bird watchers/ lovers in my midst.  It blessed me to “hear” from several of you and to watch the previous blog post get distributed, then redistributed, then… Thank you!    On top of all of that, as if the Lord said, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet,” the first red-breasted robin visited us soon after I published my last post!    Here he is, courtesy of http://www.encyclopedia.com.

The youngest will make Apologia’s “smart suet” this weekend so that we can see what else likes our yard.   I have a feeling that, given the weather we’re having, what will eat most of the suet is ants.

For the few of you who follow this blog regularly, you know that I’ve not been here in almost two weeks.    Things have been crazy, to say the least, and time to pen my thoughts has been non-existent.   Then, with my laptop already (and unexplainably) unable to connect to the Internet, our desktop  computer caught a virus, and we were severely limited in our ability to connect with all the folks in cyberspace.   It was a stark reminder of how plugged-in we are as a family.    Thankfully, we had everything back in a matter of days, with 5 people then lined up to accomplish all those online tasks that, left undone, gave us the shakes.    Restoring computers after a repair is painful–every password (even the ones that I don’t remember!), every favorite, and every bookmark had to be reset.  Yet, praise God for technology that works.   Personally, I have three posts in draft stage–I’ve got lots to say!

We’ve had other life events occur as well.    As I mentioned before, February begins our competition season.   Our older two’s first outing was at the end of February.    This year’s ballet costume, I think, is absolutely beautiful.

BTW, our daughter has on this much make-up because of what stage lights do to the face.

This is her on a normal day.     Of course, I think she’s the loveliest teen on the planet.   Apparently, at least one young man thinks the same, and he has asked her dad if he can escort her to one of the area’s homeschool proms.    There are three–can you believe that?!     While we pick out dress patterns and discuss potential hairstyles, I am fighting a mild bit of depression and angst as I realize that she’s my not-so-little girl anymore.    I speak quite often about college, but it’s still far enough out there that I feel good about advanced planning.   But the prom.    The prom.    I still remember my own proms.   I still remember my dresses, where we ate, and my dates–Marcus Mitchell (11th grade), and Marvin ? (12th grade).    I’m struggling with her growing up.   Oh, saints, I covet your prayers.

The Eye Opener: Our Partnership (?) with the Public School

 October is winding down, and we’ve finally gotten our first taste of fall here.    There’ve been a number of firsts in the last few months, and perhaps as memorable as any has been our first interaction with the public school system.     

The oldest is now beginning the season of college preparatory exams before entering that phase of life where she’ll have to decide what she wants to be and then pick a place to begin closing that gap between that decision and who she is today.    I can remember well that season in my own life.   I also now realize as a parent how ridiculous it is that at such a young age and lack of experience that she must choose a life’s work.    But I digress.

After taking two exams amongst her peers in a more traditional environment, the three of us–my husband, my daughter, and I–agreed that this was, as my husband so aptly put it, “eye-opening.”   My daughter was much more blunt after this last visit: “I never want to go there again,” she declared.

When she visited the high school the first time, it was to take a practice PSAT.   I use the word practice because, for us, it was indeed a trial run.   We sent scores to no one except ourselves.     Even so, the PSAT, by design, woos a different element, so to speak.    Those students know why they’re there, and, for the most part, they want to be there.    The oldest came home elated about seeing a few friends, interacting with the counselors, and testing in the almost brand-new facilities.   As much as I was excited and relieved that she had a positive experience there, a part of me was nervous: is she going to ask me about attending public school next year?    Of course, having to rise before the sun killed any inclination in that direction, I’m sure.

The second exam, the PLAN, was given to the entire 10th grade population, from the college-bound, to the Armed Services-bound, to the Lord-only-knows-where-I’m-bound.   There’s a brief article here regarding the increased accessibility of college preparatory exams in the state of Texas, and the potential benefit of such access, but I can’t help but be suspicious of the real intent.    But that’s a post for another time; in the meantime, we stepped into the opportunity that availed itself to us.

My daughter talked about what I interpreted as a level of disrespect and a lack of self-respect–kids who challenged the teacher’s every instruction and level of authority, kids who sat with arms folded and texting while the exam was happening.   She spoke of teachers who had little control.   Though her report wasn’t all bad news, I think being amongst the entire student body changed that utopian view that she had after taking the first test.

For our parts, what immediately stood out was the level of security.  Funny thing, the school sits in the middle of what was once a rice field–what are you expecting to happen?   In all seriousness, I’m sure this is done with the kids’ best interest in mind, but in this era of identity theft, we both questioned why we had to surrender our driver’s licenses at the front door, even if asked nicely.     Nothing of our parental experience felt warm; only the smiles that left us, carting our daughter away, gave us the least bit of comfort about this whole process.    I couldn’t help but wonder, how does a parent overcome the almost punitive  treatment to try and help make a difference?

Of course, I still had a bad taste in my mouth from challenging the school as to why our daughter couldn’t say that she was enrolled in a high school.     She is a high school student, I argued.     She’s just not in a public school.    Then I was spoken to in a fairly condescending tone about how homeschooling parents are understandably assertive about certain things, but I needn’t worry…Maybe it’s just my baby-of-the-family issues surfacing, but afterward, I felt like a child who’d been told to calm down and go sit in a corner.

Sounds like a condemnation of the public school system, right?  It’s not, or at least, that’s not my intent.   I’m writing more because of my observation, mixed in, perhaps, with some sadness and frustration, of the realities of a college-bound homeschooler: our plan has to somehow transform and then conform into something that is recognizable by traditional schools.    For the last seven years, I’ve taken great pride and joy in our ability to tailor our home to what we need to educate our children with no outside influences.    Now, even if it’s only for a day here or there, we must interact with what is normal for most; we all have to adapt, and face the “real world” for more eye-opening experiences.

All things being equal, we’ll have one more “eye-opening” opportunity on next school year when our daughter takes the PSAT again–this time, to market herself (does that sound horrible?) to potential colleges and would-be financial partners.     For the other college prep exams, she can attend a designated testing center where she’ll be sheltered once again from the masses.    At this point, there are no television-inspired fantasies about what her life–or our lives, for that matter–would be like with her in  public school; we all saw first-hand how much our lives, our training, and our resolve would have to change in order to be a part of this environment every day.    What I hope at this point is that we all realize even more the gift we have in each other, and in what we’re able to do here each day.    There truly is no place like home.

The busiest summer–(until next year)

Unless the Lord says differently, this has been/ will be our summer:

Weeks 1 and 2: preparation for this year’s dance recital

Week 3:  oldest in class for PSAT review

Week 4 (this week): oldest away at camp

Week 5:  oldest in class for PSAT review, part II

 Week 6: son at National Dance competition

Week 7: VBS

Week 8:         (can you believe it?—nothing to do!!)

Week 9:  begin school(?)

There are at least two aspects of this schedule that have become my latest musings.   The first is pondering how, every summer, I make a declaration that we are just going to rest, and every summer, we are busier than the summer before.   I wonder if I stated, “This summer, we’re going to be busier than ever!” would we actually have nothing to do?    I might try that next spring.   Right now, however, what this schedule means is that we will potentially have only one “do nothing” week, which also happens to contain my husband’s birthday, before school would start.   I intentionally wanted to start earlier this year because my goal is to finish school early enough to get outside in late April/ early May before it gets too hot.   The older two weren’t totally in agreement with this, but then again, they’re not the ones that do the lion’s share of weeding, mulching, and watering during the blazing heat.   Now I’m not sure if my plan will work.    Rest is important to academics, too, and we’ve not had much of it as far as I can tell.    

The other realization I’ve had, as we left the oldest waaaaaayyy out west yesterday, is that this is the first time we’ve been apart from any of the children for an extended period of time.    On the bittersweet ride back home yesterday, past endless windmills and mesquite trees, I thought about a family favorite of ours, Disney’s “College Road Trip” (Martin Lawrence, Raven Symone.)   

At the end of the movie, as Raven’s character waves goodbye from behind the opened door of her dormitory, her parents fight back tears, and memories of childhood past flash through their minds as they return a final wave—for a while.   Were we experiencing a glimpse of what we’ll go through in a couple more years?    I think so.     And though she politely ushered us out of the door so that she could begin her week as a semi-grown up, she missed us, too.    During our 10-hour drive back, she texted twice, then called twice, saying the latter time, “Would you like me to talk you until you get home?”   (We were 5 hours away from our driveway at the time).     I couldn’t help but laugh at how irritated she gets when little brother and sister make an unannounced visit into her room, and yet, what does she do with her first opportunity to be alone?   She calls home, and talks with little sister.   Priceless.

When I’m not playing taxi cab/ head cheerleader for all these efforts, I have had a little time to think about next school year, and to even make a decision or two (smile).    The oldest had asked about learning home management skills—how to cook, complete the laundry cycle, etc.     I began to try and formalize this into a Home Economics course on last year, but it never materialized.    It probably won’t happen this year, either, at least not in a formal sense.   We will pull in some Dave Ramsey and/or Larry Burkett materials on personal finances, but I think that, for the most part, we’ll learn to manage a home by managing our home.   The biggest dilemma I’m having in this area is how to teach cooking to someone who doesn’t eat.      So much of good cooking is about intuition and instinct regarding taste, flavor, and pleasurable textures on the tongue.  Based on my own childhood experiences, I’ve had to fight the demons that cause food to be so much more than food—it was comfort, it was companionship, and it was love.  For our oldest, food is what food should be—sustenance to allow her to get on with the priorities of her day.    For that and a couple of other reasons, her diet is fairly restrictive; how do I turn her into a cook?    What I’ve thought about doing so far is to work with the things she likes and make sure she can prepare those;  artistry will come with time.

Otherwise, I’ve been gathering books and book ideas, and pulling projects into the kids’ studies for next school year.   It’s shaping into another fun learning time (at least, I think so.)    I’m also in thought/ prayer about joining a homeschool group again—not for the sake of the group, but for the sake of our youngest daughter, who needs to get out, and to do something different than what she currently does.    Of course, this could happen in a myriad of ways, and that’s the part that I’m prayerful about;  a homeschool group is not a homeschool group is not a homeschool group, and I am definitely not decided that we need some of the more negative aspects of a group in the effort to have more play days and field trips.   Somewhere in the midst of all this busy-ness I will have to carve out some thinking/ praying/ meditating time.   So much needs to be more carefully thought through than I have time to do right now, but I plow along.

I suppose frustration would be an easy space to crawl into right now, but I make the conscious effort to be thankful.    So, in the midst of all of this, I’m thankful that…

1)      We had resources to do all the items listed above

2)      Where resources looked limited, God provided abundantly (I’m still speaking that)

3)      Dad has been able to travel with us, and has worked from home on several days this summer

4)      We spent a safe and fun Father’s Day on the road, and returned safely on yesterday (also speaking that trip #2 will be the same or better)

5)      Today I will sleep as much as I want to (Hallelujah!)

6)      I saw the one corner of Texas that I’d not seen before

7)      I was asked to take on some additional work that won’t require too much time

8)      Our okra is growing like crazy

9)      With dance season over (for the most part), we can attend mid-week service

10)   Next dance season, class times were adjusted such that we can continue to attend mid-week services

11)   Whatever happens over this summer, busy or not, we serve a great God.

That’s a very small, non-exhaustive list.   Hope you feel the same way when you jot yours down.