Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschooling: Embracing the Uniqueness

We've been back in Texas for 18 months now.  It hasn't been at all what I expected.  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE TEXAS!  I'm a Texas girl through to my backbone.  I could write a whole blog post on this blessed renegade state.  Hmmm...maybe I will....  But, these 18 months have been some of the most difficult of my life.  Again, a whole blog post could be dedicated to that subject too...but I'll spare you...for now anyway.

One small part of the bigger difficulties has been that for this season of life, we have not had another homeschool family to walk alongside.  It's not that we aren't living in the very best homeschooling state (thank you, Lone Star State, for your amazing homeschool laws!  I love you!), and it's not that we aren't involved in a homeschool group (because we are).  But, for some reason, God has not yet opened the door for us to do life with another homeschool family in that one-on-one, messy but wonderful sort of way.

And I miss that.  WE miss that.

I'm not at all advocating that we only stay with "our kind."  Lord knows that the homeschooling community is sometimes accused of this, and it's time to move out of that.  Whether it's about race or socio-economic status or education...we truly need to intermingle more with those who are different than we are.  It stretches us and makes us grow in ways we'd never be able to grow if we only stayed in our comfortable box.  But, just as a person who speaks English as a second language sometimes needs to speak to another person who shares their first language (their heart language), so I have found that as a homeschool mom, I need to speak my educational heart language with those who share that bond (which is what I'm doing here in this blog post...hello, homeschool community!).  There's just something about doing life with people who truly understand your beliefs, goals, parenting, education, family dynamics.  We had such a great circle of homeschooling friends in Georgia, and I suppose I took it for granted.  I don't even think I realized how supportive that circle was for me as a person and for my children as homeschoolers.  There's something very nice in being surrounded by people who "get" you. 

And a good homeschooling community can provide immense support in a world that otherwise may not quite get us.  I mean, we homeschoolers are well aware of the general public's views about us, and I haven't met a homeschooling family yet who doesn't take it with a grain of salt.  We once saw a bumper sticker on a van that said, "Warning: Unsocialized Homeschool Kids On Board!!!"  We all laughed the we-so-get-you laughs and made plans to find one of those bumper stickers for our own van someday.  Come's tongue-in-cheek hysterically funny!  Because we know the truth (as we drive our brood home from the umpteenth social event of the month).  We can laugh at ourselves, and we can laugh at the outsiders' ignorance of who we are and what we're really all about.  

Homeschoolers are the first to admit that we can be a bit....ummmm, what's the word??               ODD.  
Yep...absolutely...and we love every single second of it (okay, not EVERY when the baby throws up right in the middle of the 5th grader's math lesson...nope, not enjoying that...but you get my point).  We have chosen this crazy lifestyle, and it's super wonderful when others who have also chosen that lifestyle come alongside us and share in this very unique walk.

Of all the things I miss about being plugged into our homeschooling community in Georgia, the thing I most miss are the random moments when 2 or more homeschooling families would come together for a meal or a book club or a parade or whatever "unsocialized" <grin> event we had planned.  And all the children, like interlocking fingers, would all mesh together...everyone having at least one other child to play with or talk to.  Girls, boys, big, little, teenagers, toddlers...all meshing together...sometimes as a whole group, other times breaking off into little pods...all "getting" each other, because they were part of the same community of imperfect homeschoolers who were comfortable with their own quirks.  I suppose I never thought about it then, but because we haven't had that in 18 months, I see now how very special it is.  

God's plans for us are good.  He moved us out of our comfort zone, which is never...well, comfortable.  The antonyms of comfortable are "tense, vulnerable."  Our move came with losing our bearings, as well as all things familiar...friends, landmarks, culture, foods, home.  And yes, "vulnerable" is an accurate description of how I have felt.

And THAT is exactly the place God has wanted me in this season.  Why?  Perhaps so that I can identify with the marginalized, the misunderstood, the hurt, the broken, the vulnerable.  To embrace this DIScomfort is sometimes like hugging a cactus, but in order to compassionately minister to others, sometimes we have to sit where they sit and walk in their feel what they feel and find ourselves desperate to be heard and understood.

This season of not having a supportive circle of homeschooling friends has also made me look with new eyes on this lifestyle.  I've been a homeschooling mom for 12 years, and I've never questioned it...ever.  God led us to this lifestyle, and that was that.  Plus the fact that we thoroughly ENJOY it and cannot imagine learning in any other format.  But with the human props pulled out from under us and with the occasional well-meaning comment or question about our educational choices, I did stop to think it through.  I'm not sure why we do this as humans.  I mean, if God says to do something, we should just step onto the water and do the thing, never mind the wind and waves.  Or maybe it is good from time to time to discover again the very reason we do the things we do.  This is what I have done, and as I emerge out the other side of that time of reevaluating, I find myself more passionate about this homeschooling lifestyle than ever before.

I find myself embracing this uniqueness.   

Take our breakfast routine, for instance...  Each day as we eat breakfast, I read a series of books with my children.  We start with the Bible (we're reading one Psalm each day right now), then the children's Bible story book, then a different blessing that I read over them each day, and then a chapter from a Christian Heroes biography.  When they finish eating, they push their dishes aside, and the table starts to fill up with interesting projects that each child is working on while they listen to me read.  The other day, I looked up to see all their interesting activities and had to snap these photos...because I really do love that there's probably not another breakfast table on the planet that is looking exactly like this one right now.  Unique children, unique pursuits. 

And lunch?  Well, here was our oldest daughter making lunch one day last week.  She had sewn this replica of a dress from the movie Last of the Mohicans, complete with corset.  So, she spent the day seeing what it felt like to actually live and work in time-period-accurate clothing.  Unusual, right?  Oh how I love the fact that she would think to do this in the first place!  (Not to mention being in awe at the sweet gift God has given her to be able to design and sew complicated clothing and costumes without using patterns).  This is so refreshingly far outside the box!   And none of it was my idea.  This is where things gel for me...  If she were not on this very customized, individual educational path, she would have likely no interest and definitely no time to explore things like this.  How could I not embrace the shear loveliness of this? 

Yes, homeschooling can be downright weird at least in our home.  Even among homeschoolers, we tend to be really weird odd crazy unique.  Case in point...  Just yesterday when I headed up to the loft to pull out the books that we were going to read together (currently a historical fiction book about D.L. Moody that we are all enjoying), I see what looks like the gnarled fur of some unfortunate animal spread out on the table in front of HB.  Now, in a home where education is given wide and vast boundaries, I'm never surprised to see that at least one child (and often ALL of them) have some intriguing project going on.  But this one did cause me to do a double-take.  There she sat with intense concentration on this black, furry, unidentified thing in front of her.  And her supplies lay out: scissors, hair conditioner, brush.  I didn't even have to ask...I just stared with eyebrows lifted.  And she explains, "This is a wig that my friend wants to use in the Mohican movie we are making.  It's tangled, and I'm going to untangle it."  Oh, okay.  So, the rest of us take this in stride and move into our reading if everyone in the world straightens tangled wig hair while they listen to a book about D.L. if everyone on the planet attempts to make movies out of books they have if this is NORMAL.  Because this crazy, odd, unusual stuff really IS normal for us.  It's learning at its most unadulterated, unedited form.  And we all embrace it like the first butterfly of spring...awed again and again while we push into the vastness of learning for the pure joy of learning.

And when she asks her brother to please put the wig on so that she can trim it, we again act as if this is normal, and we miss only a small beat as we continue to read.  (What a good brother to put up with this, I might add!)

The brother who is not involved in the Native American wig undertaking is busy with his own project.  He spreads out an old moving blanket on the floor and begins cutting and sewing and trying his hand at creating his own costume.  These vibrant minds who do not yet know that some things are "impossible" continue each day to venture into areas that intrigue and amaze me.  And the delight inside them is evident.  I could write a blog post about all the brain stuff going on here, but that would start to sound way too much like education <shhhh!> I'll just leave you with some photos...  

And let's not forget the princess.  She's the baby caboose that is bringing up our train of little learners.  After 12 years of homeschooling her older siblings, I am giving her the cream that has risen to the top.  Look at this fun alphabet board...way more fun than the sheets of lined paper that her older sister and brothers had to endure when they began to learn how to write their letters!  Each letter has little metallic balls that are pulled up as she traces the letters with the magnetic pen.  Super fun, right?  Unique with a metallic capital "U."  

And all this weirdness is completely, imperfectly beautiful to me.  It's a lifestyle that can so often be misunderstood by outsiders, but to my heart in tune with all that God has unfolded in all these layers, there's something divine at its very core.  Perhaps that is because the way a person learns is tied directly to how he/she was created in the very image of God.  This outside-the-box lifestyle echoes what my sweet friend shared with me recently:  We have to realize that there really is NO BOX.  How freeing is that??!  God created each child uniquely, and in this lifestyle of homeschooling, we are free to follow Him in custom-making each child's box necessary.  HE becomes our curriculum advisory board.  If I had it to do over, I'd do it all again (except I'd skip those boring letter worksheets altogether and go for the metallic letter board from the get go).