Friday, October 9, 2009

Hello, Homeschooling!

This afternoon, we got our preschool curriculum shipment from Sonlight. And today, I guess, would be considered the start of our official homeschooling.

In the spring and summer, I periodically researched homeschool techniques and different approaches, different kinds of curricula. Being a perfectionist, these times of looking into homeschooling consisted of bursts of panicked research into one tiny part of one subject, usually about 5 or so hours at a time, at which point I became completely overwhelmed and decided to procrastinate (who would think procrastination and perfectionism go together so well, but believe me, they do!) and wouldn't look into it again for awhile.
This roller coaster went on all summer, until I realized there was a problem. At this rate and by this pattern, I was sure to never start homeschooling until I found all the "right" intricate little pieces, brought together by my own self after much deliberation and careful scrutiny (after all, that's how my mom did it . . . oh, yeah. She probably didn't start out that way . . . maybe she learned as she went. . . good idea. . . maybe I should try that. . . ). In other words, we would NEVER begin homeschooling.

A post by a woman whose blog I read caught my attention the other day. It was about a specific aspect of the classical approach to education. Though I had heard the term "classical" before, and people I respected used it quite frequently, I had no idea what it really meant. Well, Carletta's post was a starting point in another few hours of research, after which I became convinced that Sonlight was a great start for our little family (the post was not about Sonlight, but that's where I ended up). BTW: even after my research the other night, I'm not an expert on what makes an approach "classical;" go read her post to get an idea and some links to more information. Honestly, some people may not consider Sonlight "classical" at all, I don't know. If you have insight into this, please share!

Many of the homeschoolers we know use Sonlight, and recently, a few friends in particular shared why they chose it and why they stuck with it. One of the greatest things about it, from my point of view as a beginner, not knowing what I'm doing, is their guarantee of a complete refund if we don't find it a good fit for our family within a year of ordering and having completed 18 weeks or less of the curriculum.

The main thing that convinced me of the appropriateness of this curriculum for our family, and my personality specifically, was this page on their website, which lists 27 reasons it may not be a good fit. I went through that list (which is more sincere than I expected) and by the end of it, I was sold! A few minutes later, I asked Case if we could have a date in a few days to discuss my findings. He replied that if I felt that strongly about it, we should go ahead and order it! So I did on Wednesday, and it was delivered today (standard shipping!).

One of the pluses that I believe will be the reason we will do well with this curriculum is that it is extremely simple. It (as in, the preschool curriculum--I do not pretend to know anything about the upper levels) is very laid-back, with a concentration on enjoying learning through reading classic children's books. It is not the typical "classroom" approach (workbooks, etc.), which I find is not good for me or the girls, because I begin to feel the pressure in such a setting, and I then transfer that pressure to them. Doing "school" oftentimes leads to frustration, and all of us just wanting it to be over. I don't want to squelch their desire to learn, and this is a step in the right direction: they are learning without realizing it!

Though I don't think the overly structured classroom approach is my style, neither is "unschooling," and I had it in my head that it had to be one or the other. Sonlight is structured, but it is not a "we're going to learn, now, children!" type of structure. Nor is it an "if it's October and you're still doing September's work, you're behind!" type of schedule.

The structure is just what I need: a teacher's guide so I don't have to come up with my own lesson plans, yet I can pick and choose which things I will do to supplement our reading, and no actual dates or timeline. Just a checklist of which things to do in what order and ideas on extras that are simple, like building with blocks after reading a particular story.

I love checklists, just not schedules. I like to see that progress is being made, but I don't want to be reminded that it wasn't within the time allotted. And I love that on some days, our preschooling will be complete by reading aloud to them alone, and on other days, having them help make Malt-O-Meal to signify Goodnight, Moon's "bowl full of mush." This is something I can do. It is the kind of stuff I already do. It is not a stretch to see myself homeschooling with this curriculum, and I think that is an important thing to consider.

Of course, we are only one day into this, and my take may change as we delve deeper, but overall, I am quite comfortable with the choice of Sonlight, and that is much more than I can say for other things I've looked into and tried.

What I want to hold onto is my girls' absolute excitement about "school." I have no doubt that they will be the ones to nag me, "We need to do our school!"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Importance of being Real: a post to myself

Nope. No pictures today either. Whenever I think I have a moment to blog, I then remember that I have yet to download pictures from my camera and then I decide not to blog. So this time, I'm just going to do it.

Life is good at the Cowart Casa. I find myself smiling more and laughing for no apparent reason. This is a good thing, and I'm afraid, not exactly usual this past year. There's something about carrying the weight of responsibility to love, care for, teach and train three little ones as well as the usual daily responsibilities a home-maker has . . . I have found myself under a tremendous burden as of . . . Haley's arrival? Not really sure, but a long enough time. Two of my children are in the throes of "dig-your-heels-in" training mode and life's responsibilities in general have all but sapped me of my energy, joy and drive at times.

However, there are hopeful moments; days where I can see a tiny glimmer that it isn't all a waste. Haley using manners without being reminded, Claire stopping to think before she yowls and gives way to a humongous tantrum, or Ruby coming to me in the kitchen, "What can I do for you, Mommy?" hands already washed, willing to do any task I find for her in my dinner project.

Such a day was today. I asked a lot of them. We took Gram out to breakfast for her 88th birthday (forgot the camera), returned a shirt at Penney's and did our monthly Costco trip. I didn't actually believe we could get it all done, and was completely prepared to ditch the Costco shopping till another day. But they came through, and no one was more surprised than I at how it went. Yes, we had issues. Yes, there were at least a half-dozen fits by a couple girls. Yes, we were all completely worn out by the time we returned home. But the fits were not out-of-control: "We-have-to-leave-now!" They were blips that came and went fairly suddenly (at least for what I'm used to!) and I can say that I actually enjoyed the morning errand-running, and so, I believe, did the girls.

I don't know what my deal is, but I feel as if I'm alone most of the time in my feelings of overwhelmedness. In fact, when I start to see that confused, "I'm not sure I get what you're talking about" look with others, I just go ahead and trail off on whatever I was saying.

I remember back to when I was that young single woman, or that starry-eyed pregnant-with-her-first-sweet-little-baby-with-whom-I-could-never-see-losing-my-temper woman or that woman with one child, and how I probably gave that, "Really?!?" look myself. And then I remember how much I now take comfort in recalling those times when I probably was giving that confused look, and yet that woman continued to be real about her struggles, and I am determined to continue to be real, even though at face value it is under appreciated, and possibly even frowned upon. I may turn a hundred people off by my realness, but if one woman can look back (as I do) and appreciatively remember that it wasn't easy for me either, then I think it is worth it to be real. After all, we are surrounded by people who make it look easy. If we didn't have an example of realness to point to now and then, we may begin to think we are crazy freaks.

In fact, I shudder to think how much more overwhelmed I'd be, were it not for women here and there in my life who gave me a glimpse of the reality of their situations. What kind of encouragement am I being if I keep my struggles to myself and act as if I have none? Yeah, I may look better to others. I may even have the respect of people who otherwise do not respect me. Perhaps even, a person may think I am the one to ask, since I clearly have it all together. But I think more often, a lack of openness breeds more of the same in relationships. And I don't want others to feel as if they cannot be real with me, that I would not understand (which I may not, but I do struggle, too!) and would not be compassionate to their situation.

When I started typing this evening, I did not intend for this to be a pep-talk to myself on the importance of remaining real, but I really do need to remind myself of this, because it is not a celebrated thing--even among Christians, where it should be encouraged (1 John 1:9, James 5:16, Proverbs 28:13).

God is so good, and that is not any less true when I am exuding sinfulness and struggling with my own fleshly desires. He is faithful to complete the work He started, and that is what I need to remember as well. He is my only hope in overcoming my propensity to anger or my critical spirit, my laziness, perfectionism or my tendency to feel guilty about every little thing I do or do not do.

Even though this post has been mainly helpful for me to express, I pray that by posting it, it blesses someone out there who also struggles :) and needs to know she's not alone in so doing.