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Some Advice for a New School Year

The new school year brings many new things. Among these are new families and new students who have joined Classical Conversations communities around the world. For many of these new families, homeschooling moms and dads are experiencing a number of new emotions: fear, excitement, being overwhelmed, or perhaps underappreciated. The truth is you are not alone. Many of us (homeschooling fathers like me, homeschooling mothers, veteran homeschoolers, newbie homeschoolers, and tutors) experience these emotions at one time or another. For many of us, they drive us to fall back on one singular tactic: imitation.

Imitation in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is the way we learn. Ultimately, aren’t we called to be imitators of Christ? Even in imitating Christ, aren’t we also called to imitate others along the way? Paul writes in his epistles, “Be imitators of me as I imitate Christ.” It is not the act of imitation that can be distracting, but the object of imitation that can be.

One of the most common objects of imitation for us is going to be our own experience, which is commonly our own public school education. I spent six hours a day in a classroom; therefore, my child must spend six hours a day doing school at home. I sat at a desk during that time; therefore, my child must sit at a desk during homeschool time. I spent my days working out of workbooks; therefore, my child must spend the day working out of workbooks.

This imitation frequently results from fear and results in our being overwhelmed. The problem is that it isn’t even true. We think because we learned that way that it must be the way to learn, but it isn’t. A young child can learn all she needs  to learn in one to two hours of reviewing her memory work and two to three hours of play and exploration in the home, the yard, the neighborhood, and any of the places around town you might need to visit. Learning in this way results in a child learning what might be called passively, what classical educators often refer to as poetic knowledge. It is more important than we often give it credit, probably because it can’t be measured on the standardized tests we took in our own school experience.

The other more common object of imitation is the creative homeschooling friend who can fit everything under the sun into their homeschool day. Once, I had a friend from church who was considering homeschooling her daughter. She talked to another homeschooling mom in the church and asked her what her days looked like. That mom told her that she and her daughters started the homeschooling day at six o’clock a.m. and finished at six thirty p.m. when her husband came home from work. They were able to study all of their core work and had added a number of extracurricular and elective classes. The mother who had asked the question never became a homeschooler.

We don’t have to do everything that everyone else is doing. We don’t have to be as organized, as creative, as rigorous, as comprehensive, or as intense. We can trust the program. If students needed more, Classical Conversations would have devised a curriculum that offers more. The program works, and if you are feeling overwhelmed or fearful trying to keep up with everyone around you or with your own expectations based on your school experience, just stop, take a deep breath, and find a moment to rest.

A time will come when you will know you are ready to take on more, and when that time comes you can take on more. Add what your individual state requires of you and trust the program. When you can be more organized and remain at rest throughout the learning day, then be more organized. When you can be more comprehensive and remain at rest throughout the learning day, then be more comprehensive. Not only will the Lord let you know when you are ready to take on these new responsibilities, but your child will let you know that he is ready for more.

This last point is crucial. How many children do we know who have grown up hating learning? They see school as an enemy. All people are created with an innate desire to learn and know, but the way learning was imposed on us as children takes away that innate desire. We should give our children what they need at a pace that whets their appetites and grows that love for learning and knowledge within them. This approach will look different from one child to the next. If your child is reading faster than another, then feed that appetite, but don’t encourage another mom to feed an appetite that doesn’t yet exist in her child. If your child is slower at math than another, teach him where he is, not where his friend is. We should love and educate our children the way God the Father loves and educates us, right where we are.

Fear, excitement, being overwhelmed, or feeling underappreciated: these are normal feelings we all experience. Don’t let them control you. Don’t let them force you into decisions you don’t want to make. Don’t let them make you think things about yourself or your child that are just not true. You are the best teacher for your child; you have to be because teaching is an act of love and no one can love your child the way you do. Believe this about yourself, trust the program, and depend on God. You will have a great year. You just may not know it until the year is over. And that’s okay.

CATEGORIES: Articles, Big Ideas: Truth, Beauty, Goodness and more!, Classical Christian Education, Homeschooling Life

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