What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part Three: Boundaries and Ourselves

Boundaries With Ourselves

I previously shared with you some of the lessons I have been learning about how setting boundaries with our children and with others can help us homeschool more effectively.   However, sometimes the biggest boundary conflict does not come from without; it comes from within.

Have you ever felt like your homeschool day just “gets away from you”?  You have a plan of everything you were going to accomplish, but at the end of the day, you have only been able to do a fraction of it.  How do other moms manage to get it all done?

Are you a good starter but not a good finisher?  You love coming up with cool homeschool ideas but have trouble following them through to completion.  Are you easily distracted by new, exciting curriculum instead of finishing up with what you already began?  Are you unable to say “no” to other pressures that take time away from school?

Do you lose your temper and say things that are discouraging instead of encouraging?  Are you financially strapped because you can’t seem to live within your means?  You keep trying to get your act together, but nothing seems to work.

If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you might have a problem with internal boundaries.

We are often our own worst enemy.  Although setting boundaries with others can be challenging, in the end, we are only responsible to others, but not for them.  We are responsible for ourselves, though, making internal problems harder to deal with than external ones.  In addition, the strategies we gravitate toward to solve these conflicts may be ineffective.  In the book, “Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life,” authors Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out that those with poor internal boundaries may withdraw from relationships when they most need the support of others because of the shame they feel about their personal failures.  Instead, they try to use their willpower to solve their boundary problems, thinking that they can just muscle through them.

As I re-read this chapter in preparation for writing this article, I felt convicted.  I absolutely do this.  Of course, the difficulty of reaching out is that it has to be to someone who will have empathy and respond with love and support.  If one already has weak boundaries that developed as a result of a dysfunctional or abusive childhood, it can be hard to know who to trust.

However, making an idol of our own will is not the solution.  Be honest with yourself about where you are struggling.  Take time to examine what the root causes of those struggles are.  Identify the specific boundary conflict and pray for insight into the underlying need that it is masking.  Then, admit that you cannot heal yourself, and lay it at the feet of Jesus instead.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16

If you are interested in reading more about boundaries, you can find part one here and part two here.  As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part Two

Boundaries With Others

Last month, I wrote about the challenge of setting boundaries with my children and how important that is to homeschooling effectively.  Another area where it is helpful to learn and apply appropriate boundaries is with other adults in your life.

One of the ways that many homeschoolers face an invasion of boundaries is unsolicited opinions.  It can be frustrating dealing with people who criticize your choice to homeschool, ask leading questions like “Don’t you need to be certified to homeschool?” or give your child pop quizzes to test how much they’ve learned.  This can be particularly difficult if it comes from close family or friends.

Initially, I did not know how to handle these intrusions.  Over time, I’ve discovered that the motivation can range from simple curiosity, to ignorance of something out of the norm that they have no experience with, to jealousy, and sometimes, the assumption that you must be judging them if you made a different educational choice for your children than they did.  I’ve found that these conversations seem to go better if:

  1. I’m careful to show that I’m accepting of their parenting choices. Respect breeds respect.
  2. Rather than immediately getting defensive, I consider where their skepticism is coming from. I had a medical professional ask me, “Isn’t homeschooling lax?” only to discover later that one of her neighbors is a homeschooler that doesn’t do any formal lessons with her children at all.  I responded by telling her, that “Homeschoolers are like anyone else.  There are all kinds.”
  3. Answer questions based in curiosity matter-of-factly.
  4. Have a canned response for critics – one that puts a stop to the discussion without inviting argument.
  5. Stay focused on the fact that no matter what others think, the decision to homeschool belongs to you and your spouse, in conjunction with God. Whether others approve isn’t really relevant and you can choose not to let it affect you.

Another boundary that I’ve learned to set is with people who try to interrupt the flow of our school day.  It could be a friend who wants to schedule a play date, someone who calls during the day expecting that you are able to chat, or the friend who always expects you to babysit her child when they have off from school because you are home during the day.  Before you let others interfere with your schedule, consider:

  1. Whether it is important enough to make an exception or how disruptive it will be to your day.
  2. If it’s easier to call or text someone back when you finish your school day (or take a lunch break) or to get your children back on task once there’s been a disruption. This is the main reason that I still use an answering machine that I can screen calls on rather than voicemail.
  3. Could you be setting a precedent of being available when you don’t really want to be? It’s generally easier to set a boundary of “These are days/hours that I am available” than to make exceptions and give a friend or family member the impression that your schedule is more flexible than it really is.  This sets up the potential for frustration in the future for you and hurt feelings for your friend.  Avoid this situation from the start.

Keep in mind as you navigate these situations that, ultimately, your responsibility to your children is greater than your responsibility to your friends or extended family.  God will lead you in handling these moments as you focus on that truth instead of allowing emotions to dominate your decisions.

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Developing Patience for the Road Ahead

Back in May, I wrote this post for the Homeschooling with Heart blog.   I almost didn’t get it written, because a tornado hit our state, and we lost power for almost a week.

The first two days, my children kept asking when they’d be able to watch TV or use the computer again.  I’ve made a point to limit their screen time, and because there was less availability and dependence on these things when I was raising my two adult children, having a device always on hand to entertain them just didn’t seem natural to me.  Even so, my kids still went through a withdrawal of the screen time that they are allowed to have.

They began to wander outside frequently to entertain themselves and joined with some neighborhood children to build a shelter in the woods behind our house.  I ended up having to coax them indoors for meals.  They managed to find something to engage them that also created an opportunity for teamwork and socialization.  It was almost a blessing in disguise.

Meanwhile, I was going through the withdrawal of having running water and access to information about what was going on, without phone or internet service.  I attempted to model patience for my children, along with gratitude that our home was not damaged in the storm and none of us was injured, although it became more difficult to do as the week wore on.

My reflection on this experience is that you never know when a situation like this will happen.  Many things are out of our control, and it is easier for you and your children to deal with when the virtue of patience has been developed.  It is these moments when it is really put to the test that you begin to realize just what an important life skill it is and how much you are actually lacking it versus what you would normally give yourself credit for.

In my opinion, the real long-term benefit of learning to wait until later for what you want now is the ability to wait on God.  It took many years of waiting and praying before I met my husband.  It might be a spouse, a job, the birth of a child, or any number of things that you or your child needs to wait on God for.

One thing that I have found helpful for my own children is making it the default that they wait in public (at a sibling’s extracurricular activity; at the DMV) without devices to entertain them.  If they’ve had practice stretching and developing those muscles during these short periods of waiting, I believe it will help them to be better prepared for the marathon when it inevitably comes.

My goals for the future are to be a better example of patient waiting in times of stress, to pray that God strengthens both my patience and that of my children, and to trust that He can do this work in us.

 

“A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him by heaven.” – John 4:27

“But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” – Luke 8:15

The Importance of Outdoor Education in a Digital World

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I grew up in a large city.  Swapping childhood stories with my husband, he was appalled when I explained that recess at the schools that I attended meant being released to an enclosed, asphalt yard.  I counted myself lucky that I actually had a backyard at home with trees and flowers.  Most of my friends only had a small square of grass in front of their house.  Needless to say, our exposure to nature was a bit limited.

Luckily, the private school that I went to recognized this need.  We had an environmental education program in grades 4 through 6, where we got to stay at a campground for a few days in the fall and the spring.  I recently asked some old schoolmates about it, and found that they have as many treasured memories of the experience as I do.

Unlike me, my children are growing up in a more rural area.  They have much more experience with nature than I did.  Even so, when we went camping for our family vacation this year, and completely disconnected from electronics (no TV, cell phones, or other devices), my children were even more engaged with the world around them than normal.  Some of the things that we did were:

  • Identified leaves and plants that we found
  • Learned about wildlife that was native to the area
    • Learned the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
    • Learned how to identify raptors in flight
  • Collected leaves, ferns, etc. and made charcoal rubbings and sketches in nature journals
  • Observed and felt moss growing
  • Found a bird’s nest
  • Saw the natural growth and decay of the forest
  • Learned how to build a fire and cook over it
  • Practiced carving wood
  • Collected pine resin and learned some uses for it

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My son actually remarked that he thought life was better without TV!  Being outside without the distractions of modern society allows for more intimacy with nature and with each other.  We interact more fully with each other.  It inspires awe.  It demands use of all of the senses and strengthens observation skills.  Navigating on uneven terrain helps to develop core strength and a sense of balance.  Self-directed learning occurs naturally in the outdoors, as children ask questions about the world around them.

In my son’s case, I’ve watched his confidence grow as he is now able to answer some of his younger sister’s questions.  Sometimes, he can even answer mine, when he shares a tidbit that he has learned from his father.

Of course, we can’t camp all the time, but now that it is spring, we often finish up our school day with a walk.  I ask them to point out any signs of spring that they notice and it is fun to witness the progression from day to day.  The exercise, fresh air, and connection with nature is calming and has pretty much the opposite effect on them that screen time does.  Screens have their place in our lives, but they cannot replace time spent outdoors, which meets a need that seems to be instilled in us from our Creator, to recognize our part in His creation.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?”  – Job 12:7-10

 

Don’t Marry Your Method!

happy school girl on math classes

As I was preparing to embark on my homeschooling journey, I read books, consulted veteran homeschooling moms, and gathered materials.  One of those items was a set of vintage readers that was recommended for practicing oral reading.

I purchased another book to teach phonics, so we focused on that first.  My son hated it, though!  For a while, we tried practicing small passages in the reading primer instead, which he preferred.  Eventually, I resorted to splitting our time equally between the two books.  After all, the phonics curriculum had come highly recommended and I’d spent money on it.  I should use it; right?

This school year, we finally abandoned that phonics book in favor of the preferred vintage readers, and he is making significant progress.  I toyed with the idea of ditching his spelling curriculum, too, and just focusing on the new words introduced at the beginning of each lesson in his reader.  Again, though, I thought, “But I spent money on that spelling book,” and he didn’t dislike it.  As our year wore on, though, I didn’t think that he was making connections between the words in the spelling lessons when he would encounter them in other reading material, so I decided to revisit the idea of using the readers for that purpose.

As I searched for direction on how to do that, I discovered the original teacher’s manual online.  I discovered that the series was designed not only for teaching reading, but also spelling, grammar, vocabulary and composition and it seemed to me that the publisher’s intent in how they were to be utilized made perfect sense.  I believed it would be more helpful to him than what we’ve been doing so far, so I began the new year with this method.

I have asked myself why I fought these changes.  I know that I was afraid of steering away from curriculum with the teaching steps explicitly provided for me as well as overlooking the recommendations of other moms that I respect.  While reading the manual, this comment leapt out at me, “…we wish to warn the young teacher especially of the danger that the method will become a hobby unless he is careful, and that thus the end will be lost sight of in attention to the means.” 1  Consistency is important, but if what you are doing isn’t working, maybe you are putting too much faith in your curriculum, your teaching philosophy, someone’s advice, or valuing the money that you spent on that book a bit too much.   Depending on where your heart is, any of those excuses could actually be idolatry in disguise.  In the end, as I prayed for direction, God just steered me back to where I needed to be.

Maybe you have less of a tendency to get stuck in one way of thinking than I do.  If you’re like me, though, beware of marrying your method (or curriculum)!  In the end, consider what works for your individual child, pray on it and trust the leading that you receive.  Don’t be afraid to make changes.  It may be exactly what you and your child need.

 

1 The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers.  Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., 1885.

Trusting God’s Plans for My Children

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This is my daughter’s third year studying classical ballet, and she loves it.  After her first year, her teacher decided to keep her in level one.  I agreed that if she hadn’t mastered the basics, it made sense for her to remain there until she was ready to move on.  After all, as a homeschool parent, I understand how important mastery is in any subject.

At the end of her second year, her teacher decided to hold her back again.  Most of her friends had moved on without her after the first year, and now, this year’s classmates would do the same, including her best friend.  I was afraid that watching her peers move ahead without her would damage her self-esteem and wondered if she should try a different activity.  Maybe she would be more successful at something else.

My husband was the voice of reason.  He said, “She loves dance.  As long as she wants to do it, who cares what level she’s at?”

So, she began her third year in level one, while taking some private lessons in addition to help her catch up.  She also wanted to try scouting, like her brother, but I had a lot of trouble finding a local troop for her.  Her best friend’s mom told me about a group that her daughter was attending that was similar to scouts, but Bible-focused instead, so we decided to try that.  However, it turned out that the time of her friend’s level two dance class conflicted with the other activity, so she couldn’t participate this year.  I briefly wondered if we should forget about it, but decided to let my daughter try it out, anyway.

She absolutely loved the new club and was very motivated to bring her book home to read the lessons with me and practice memorizing Bible verses.  Before I knew it, she was earning rewards almost every week and feeling proud of her accomplishments.  She also enjoys the time each week with her new friends.

This past week, I overheard her dance teacher compliment her during class and the thought crossed my mind that maybe she was getting ready to move up, which could happen at any time during the year.  I was initially pleased, until it occurred to me that attending the level two classes would prevent her from going to her other club.  I know that would disappoint her.

This made me reflect on how God has assigned each of us individual gifts and has a plan for us to use them.  While I was concerned about her lack of success in one area, He knew that he had another place for her, one in which she not only would excel but would do so while being immersed in His Word and learning to write the words of it on her heart.

As we enter a new year, I want to learn to trust His plans for my children more and worry less.  I know that I am leaving them in the best possible hands.

 

Wineberries and Trust

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My little one, picking black raspberries in our yard.

A few years ago, I began picking berries to make jam.  My children have some food sensitivities, particularly to artificial ingredients.  We had some raspberries growing in our yard, and on a walk around the block, discovered an undeveloped property brimming with wineberries, a variety of wild raspberry.  My mission seemed clear – learn how to make homemade jam for my peanut butter and jelly-loving but ingredient-sensitive children.

The funny thing is, when we moved in to our home a decade ago, my husband discovered that one of our flower gardens was full of thorny red raspberry bushes.  He asked me whether I wanted to use the berries or whether he could tear them out and plant flowers instead.  I said that I wasn’t partial to raspberries, so do whatever you like.  I never dreamed that six years later, I would be braving thorns and poison ivy at the park and the property around the corner to collect as many raspberries as I could each summer.  I had a few stragglers left in my garden, but not enough to produce a jar of jam.

A couple of years into this, a friend pointed out that the berries in the park could have pesticides sprayed near them, which made them less appealing to me.  I still had some red raspberries in my garden, which were beginning to spread, and I discovered some black raspberries and blackberries in an overgrown area of my yard that my husband had partially cleared.  For wineberries, I still had my spot around the corner.  One day, though, as we took a walk, we discovered that the lot had been sold and was being cleared, so a house could be built there.  Our berry bushes were being dug up!  I suggested to my husband that we transplant one to our yard, which we did – a small one.  Eventually, that bush finally produced fruit and this year it has grown quite a bit, although it would never provide as much as we had been collecting from its original home.

Two summers ago, however, as I was collecting black raspberries on the outskirts of my property, I noticed a distinctive, fuzzy fruit developing nearby.  It was a wineberry bush!  It was not the one planted by me, nor close to it.  It was a new plant that had never been there before.  We speculated that a bird had spread the seeds there after eating some berries from our bush.  This particular bush now dwarfs the one that we planted, by far.  It is well on its way to replacing the place around the corner.  It produced so much fruit this past summer that I could barely keep up with picking it.

It amuses me to think about the time that I wasted worrying about my supply being cut off and tried to rectify it in my own way with my transplant, when God knew all along that He was going to bless me with this plant one day.  In my experience, that’s how it usually is when we rely on our own strength, instead of depending on God.  Our efforts will always be imperfect and pale in comparison to His perfect will and timing.

More importantly, that time spent waiting on Him to provide is usually the most productive in our own spiritual growth.  Learning to trust Him in a way that we never could with an earthly father (or any other human being, for that matter) stretches us in unimaginable ways.  When we stop striving to be our own God, making an idol of our own self-sufficiency, we can finally experience the peace that passes understanding.  We can focus on hearing His voice and being open to direction, which was once crowded out by our worries. .

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose hope is in the LORD.  For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

Why I Created a Blog

Spring forest in the Netherlands

For several years, people suggested off and on to me that I start a blog because they knew that I enjoyed writing.  I considered it, but I felt the same way about that as I did about acting when I was a teenager.  It’s great fun to be onstage when you are portraying a character, but if I was called on in class to speak my mind aloud, I was very uncomfortable.  I can write press releases and informational text all day long, but revealing myself to the world is another thing altogether.

So, about a year and half ago, when I felt God putting it on my heart to create a blog, I resisted at first.  He’d given me inspiration for an opening post and I composed it, but kept finding excuses not to take the next step.  I needed to finish our homeschool year first.  I had to plan my daughter’s wedding next.  In the meantime, my mind was flooded with things that I needed to say (and would periodically stop to put on paper).

Eventually, summer arrived and the wedding was over.  I opened up my local paper, which I rarely do, and spied a letter to the editor.  A councilman from the town that my church is located in had written it, making arguments as to why we should not be allowed to build our permanent church (rather than renting space, as we do now) on the land that we have recently been given.  Although he was attempting to veil it, I saw his prejudice of churches between the lines and that he had a false impression of what the Body of Christ really is.  I felt God calling me to respond to it.  Initially, I thought, “I’m not even a resident of that town.  What difference does my opinion make?”

That Sunday, however, as we read about the parable of the talents, I felt convicted.  When I was in middle school, my English teacher, Mrs. Kruvcyk, told me that writing was the gift that God had given me and I needed to use it.  When I ran into her years later and she asked me what I did for a living, I saw her disappointment when I told her that I was an administrative assistant.  Was I burying my talent in the sand instead of investing it in the Kingdom, as God would have me do?

I made up my mind to be obedient in this small thing that God had asked me to do.  I wrote a rebuttal letter and sent it off, careful to edit my flesh out and stick to what I thought that God wanted me to say.  That Saturday, my letter appeared in the paper and a couple of days later, one of the assistant pastors called me.  “I thought you’d like to know that we had two separate people visit our church on Sunday who said they came because they read your letter in the paper,” he told me.

I was flabbergasted.  Although I know that as a believer, I am called to spread the Gospel to unbelievers, I have always felt unqualified to do that.  I am introverted and socially awkward.  No one would ever visit church or get saved because of my influence.  Well . . . aside from my husband, that is.

The lightbulb went off then that it doesn’t matter what flaws or failings that I have.  All I really need to do is be obedient to what the LORD has called me to do and use the gifts that He has given me to His glory.  He’ll take care of the result.

That’s when I knew that it was time for me to take a step of faith and just create a blog already.  I’ve known since I was eleven years old what my primary gift is.  If God was asking me to use it, then I needed to stop hesitating and just do it, because He obviously has a plan to use it for His purposes.

 

The Specks in History

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A couple of years ago, my husband and I took our children on a field trip to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.  When we exited the building, there was a television monitor outside loudly playing a video disparaging one of the founding fathers.  We hurried the children away from it.  It just felt wrong to me.

With the recent stories in the news about statues being torn down by angry mobs, I’ve given this some more thought.  As a homeschooling parent, it begs the question, “What is the right approach in teaching my children about historical figures?”

I suspect that the reason that there is so much vitriol towards some of these people is because the tendency in the past has been to venerate them and hold them up as examples to our children.  I can understand why that would have happened.  How better to inspire children to use their God-given gifts to the utmost and not settle for mediocrity than to give them an accomplished person to emulate?  The pushback to that in recent generations seems to be to point out their every moral failing, as if to make them pay penance for their fame.

As a Christian, I believe my job is to teach my children to idolize and imitate only one human being – Jesus Christ.  Anyone else, successful or not, is only another sinner just like them.  Even public figures that are generally admired by most of us still have hidden sins, as do we.  No one has attained perfection.

I want to teach my children both by my words and my example to emulate Jesus.  In order to do this, I have to follow His commands.  That includes not attempting to remove the speck from someone else’s eye when I have a plank sticking out of my own eye (Matt. 7:1-5).  It also means that I should not cast the first stone, when I am not without sin myself, and that I should treat others the same way that I want to be treated (John 8:7; Matt.7:12).

I also think that it’s a good idea to provide balance in our history lessons; presenting both what someone may have done that was right versus mistakes that they made.  There has to be a line, though, where I determine what information is useful for them to have and what is just tabloid fodder.  One thing that I find helpful is to take off my 21st century lens for a moment and look through the lens of the time period we are studying.  Every generation has their predominant sins.  There are things that were accepted in the past that appall us, but if the people living in that time were able to look forward to practices that are generally accepted today, they’d find plenty to be appalled with as well.

After I’ve removed and carefully examined the plank that was in my own eye, it makes me a lot more humble and less likely to harshly point out the speck in another’s eye.  If the person is deceased, what can be accomplished by pointing out their failings at all?  In the end, I wouldn’t want my own sins blaring from a TV into the streets of Philadelphia, so I won’t do that to someone else.

“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.  And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5