I could start this post off with some wise quote about homeschooling, but sometimes, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Sometimes, things just, well, stink.
The 2017/2018 school year went upside down, sideways, and so far off center it still leaves me fighting back tears to reflect on it. We have managed to homeschool through some incredibly difficult situations (like the first year that Elliana and Josiah fell sick, for example). We’ve homeschooled through great, smooth years. As stress and all goes, this year was nowhere near as complicated or intense as that first year of illness was, and yet somehow, we managed to accomplish so little. We had a great start. We got through about a third of our Term 1, and then things just rapidly deteriorated. Elliana’s hospitalization happened early November; James’ car accident followed closely after, and then the holidays swept through.
We started back in January with every good intention, and then the whole family promptly got sick, as families tend to do in the winter months. Each kid kept up with their individual work as they could, but our group studies, which had already taken a substantial hit late in the Fall, fell behind even further. Elliana began to deteriorate again towards the end of the month, and then Cincinnati Children’s happened- meaning we’d have to leave all of the other children home with a caregiver while we spent almost a week away. Our group studies fell even farther behind. I blinked, and it was suddenly early April before everything stabilized again.
I was shocked to discover in mid-April that we had not come close to completing our Term 1 work- a term that usually ends the last week of November. It’s not that our Term 1 work was overly difficult or demanding (which can sometimes be the problem-expectations too high- but that’s another post altogether), but the sheer amount of time to actually sit and work was utterly lacking this year in ways that haven’t been true previously. And it really showed. A lot of our learning days together in late March and early April felt just awful. One student was taking ages and ages to read a short, short passage. Another child was crying over one math problem for half an hour. And read alouds? What read alouds? It’s not unusual for us to read somewhere around a hundred books (picture books, audio books, novels) each year together. This year? Three. We all felt miserable.
With Easter/Pascha coming up, I decided to take a true break and reconnoiter. This was also a weird situation, too–the fact that it wasn’t until ‘Spring Break’ that we were actually taking a true, official, put it all away and breathe, break. Because things had been so off kilter we hadn’t been taking any Sabbath weeks, like we usually do. We just kept picking up where we left off prior to whatever appointment or crisis had occurred. I think this was my first mistake. As much as was possible, we should have tried to stay true to our original rhythm. It works well for us; it’s been honed over many years of learning together.
The second mistake I made, truthfully? I forgot that the point of education is not to tick off some box or finish some book or what have you, but mastery. And mastery moves on a completely different time table. If you’re getting locked into plans and schedules and all, or (like me) you’re guilting yourself into finishing a whole bunch of lessons because ‘you’ve gotten so far behind’ due to illness, you will, as I learned to my sorrow this year, shove your kids forward into concepts they aren’t ready for or you will overwhelm them with too much to learn in too short a time. This is when a kids starts crying over one math problem, another kid struggles mightily for much longer than they should need to read aloud a short passage, and everyone is miserable. You lose the joy and the reason why you all wanted to do this in the first place!
Don’t confuse kairos and chronos time. If you’ve only got ten minutes, make sure it’s ten minutes of kairos with that kid! Love on them. Listen. Read. Talk. Don’t let those precious minutes get stolen away in a pile of ‘things needing done’. Ten minutes of kairos will add up to hundreds of chronos minutes, trust me. That’s the juicy, lovely, wonderful, best-kept secret of homeschooling- that God’s grace and your little loaves, lovingly given, will multiply. And how!
I am grateful to report that we returned from Spring Break with fresh perspective (and I stepped off the guilt train), things rapidly improved. I went back to what I knew to be true: spend time with your kids, play games, read books. Really listen to what’s going on. The kid that was struggling with math needed to play some math games with me for a few weeks to reinforce the missing link that was causing so much terror with that math problem- after that, not only that problem but whole pages of math disappeared under the student’s pencil, done with a smile and a laugh and “hey, mama, did you notice that when you do this to this it can make this happen” aha moments of mastery. Same with the kid that was slogging through their Reader. Has it been perfect since? No. But we’re all wanting to come to the table each morning, and that’s the difference.
As it stands, we really just needed literal time to invest where we want to go, so we’re working through the summer, which is new to us. We are getting together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the rest of the the week left to more typical summer pursuits. I’ve been surprised at how much gets accomplished in a few short hours, and also, at the one on one tutoring time that is somehow happening again. It wasn’t exactly ideal to work through the summer at first, but I do feel like it has been a wise investment: a kairos investment, the way I want to spend my time.