31 May 2011

Qualified: The Case for the Homeschool Mom

My husband and I are soon journeying into "homeschooling" our preschooler. We hemmed and hawed at the idea even before we were expecting our oldest. We knew the sacrifices, the benefits and the things we would like to do differently (there's not much) because he and I, too, were homeschooled.

I have several friends currently dappling with the idea. Some are worried about structure and some about being "qualified" as a teacher. Let me set something straight, if you aren't a complete "ignoramous" you ARE qualified. The beauty of homeschooling is learning and growing with your child. Often your spouse will fill in where you aren't as versed. As a mother or father, it is our right, our duty to educate our children. We have been their primary educators since day one- why change that if the means (jobs, money, spouse, support, etc) allow us to do so? And since the institution of schools has been around for less than a century in the context that we know it, we can see that our children have grown and been nutured successfully in the home for hundreds of years. I know the argument could be made that only the wealthy were eductaed and had tutors but as truthful as this is, this isn't where all genius' came from.

I also realize homeschooling isn't for everyone. My husband and I support any family who decides a traditional school is best for their family. There is no "one way" for anything, education included. Homeschooling, for now, seems to fit us the best. Dan and I have agreed that we will take it one year at a time, each child individually and see what's working and best for that child, us (Dan and I) and our family.

Some would argue that because I'm a stay at home mom I'm not qualified since I don't have an education degree and haven't taught in a classroom setting. Well, I believe this absolutely preposterous! A few of my "education major" friends from college have straight-out told me that the parent is the most qualified teacher out there and that much of the schooling they experienced was about classroom management and planning lessons and bulletin boards, etc for a classroom. I won't have to worry about that. I won't have a classroom of 12 or more students in one grade level.

The fact is I am an educated woman. My husband and I have both earned Bachelors' Degrees and my husband holds a successful job. I went to school for Mental Health and Human Services, minoring in Theology and History. I held 3 internships in college and was offered a job at a local hospital with the agreement that I would be working towards my Masters Degree. After my time in college, I turned down this job in the mental health field, as I felt God had other plans for me and He sure did! It is humbling and sometimes overwhelming that I feel called to be the primary educator of our children- at least for now. It can be difficult to remain confiident in this, since both my husband and I have had conversations with people who aren't afraid to express that they don't think a mom or dad who isn't already a teacher is qualified to teach their own kids.

Because of our education growing up, my husband and I are interested and comfortable teaching different things, or at least different areas of subjects. We compliment each other well and feel we'll be able to provide our children with a well-rounded education. We want to make sure "logic" is something we stress with our children. I have heard that the homeschooled child only believes what their parents tell them. That can also be said of public school children in case you were wondering.  In the younger grades I believe this is important. They shouldn't be questioning their parents yet as they haven't fully cultivated their moral compass in order to figure out right and wrong. They need to trust that their parents aren't steering them wrong. As they become young adults we do want them to somewhat question, let's use the term "wonder", whether mom and dad are right or not. But I want them to do so knowing we are a sounding board. They can ask us questions, especially on morals, ethics, religion and politics. I hope they can see why we believe what we do. If they ask these questions they are making their beliefs their own and will be stronger adults, knowing what they believe, why they believe it and fighting for it. In summary, they should learn how to think not what to think.

Several things are also worth making mention of here. The more involved parents are in the now traditional school setting, the better the student is at excelling. This has been proven by studies of parental involvment and the percentage of high school graduates and college attendees. If we can easily see that parental involvement is important, almost necessary, why can't we go further and realize that if the parents are able to be their child's primary educators, it is such a gift to that child! To go further, let's bring in some statistics. Ew, I know, but important nontheless. The US has been rapidly declining where education is concerned. Once ranked #1 forty years ago, the US now ranks 27th in education among developed countries. The US also tied for 1st place in 1995 for high school graduates, but has since fallen to 14th place in 2006. It is sad to point out that we also have one of the highest college drop-out rates, being 53%. (In case you were wondering, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, France and Norway rank highest in many of the percentages mentioned above.)

At these rates it seems obvious that our school systems are failing somewhere. I do NOT blame this on teachers who love their jobs and give their "all" in the classroom, but we all have experienced teachers who just get by, and have heard about the school systems you would never allow your children to go to. To see more on this click here. (This information came from Mothering magazine No. 155, July-August 2009.)

I was scrolling through one of my "mom homeschooling groups" online the other day and several moms were selling homeschooling informational books. My first thought was to jump on these and then the thought came to me that my husband and I already know all about homeschooling from personal experiences. We realize that we don't need to be versed in every homeschooling "philosophy". Instead, we need to focus on what works for us and our children and be committed to bringing the faith into our home. I don't need terms to define and defend what we're doing. My husband and I have talked extensively for the past 4 years about homeschooling, what our experiences were, what we want to keep, what we want to change, increase, decrease, and curriculuum we would like to use. The fact is we won't know every decision until we're at that point. A large part of the discernment will be our children, where we are, what new curriculuum is out there and is it better than the older textbooks that we loved. For now, my husband and I could name you almost every "textbook" for every grade and every subject we want to avoid and which ones we want to use, but I will not share this information with friends right now, because I simply don't know if we'll find something else by the time we get to that grade level.

I have been criticized for using the term "unschooling" as a philosophy that I believe in. To this I will say after reading "The Unschool Manual" a few months back I have learned that, for our family, this is much too lax as we become more involved with educating our children. I use the term loosely, as it is often interchangeable with "homeschooling" and "Montessorian" in our home. I do firmly believe that "unschooling" is the best for preschoolers, as I have seen firsthand how rigorous and strucutred preschools and kindergartens in the area can be. I do not agree with their form, but also think it may be necessary in a school-setting to teach a group of children to insure order instead of chaos. I, personally, do not believe in homework before middle-school and only as necessary after that. If a child is to be expected to sit for 6 hours in the classroom 5 days a week, how unfair to expect them to go home and do another 4 hours or more of homework. What a disadvantage for our children who should be out playing, getting dirty, exploring and questioning things he comes across in his world. This is another type of classroom; one where the child doesn't realize he's learning but he is! My husband recently read a study in a Men's Health magazine in which it was found that most sucessful CEOs spent a greater portion of time as children exploring, adventuring, taking risks and learning outdoors than those who headed up unsuccessful companies. I think the point is that you can learn some of your most important lessons outside of a structured environment. Making observations and asking questions is how the amazing men and women before us became great!

The beauty of homeschooling is the freedom of flexibility and changeability. If something isn't working, try something else. If a child hates learning about the earth's core and isn't planning on being a geologist or archeologist, teach it and move on without dwelling on this particular part of science. If they're interested in health sciences instead, expose them to more of this. I believe children need to learn everything, but it is unfair to force them to master every area of every subject. I spent a lot of my junior and senior years of highschool sitting in on pig's in lung surgery and rat's having spinal cords re-attached. (Really, I did and loved it!) I wanted to be a surgeon and my parents were able to provide ways for me to see what I could. As it turned out, I realized I was called to motherhood first and not to balancing a career as well.

For now we have a classical Catholic preschool curicuulum we have chosen for our daughter. It is meant to be done in 1 year, but already I'm splitting it into 2 years. I refuse to set certain days or times for preschool. We'll do it around the nursing baby, the toddler, the weather and other activities and family time. My oldest and I both thrive on structure, but since I don't feel this is the best way to instill a love of learning early on, we are taking unschooling and a structured curiculuum and melting them into our own preschool. I want some sort-of discipline early so she'll be able to be more independent and driven later on but I don't want any rigor or stress if lessons aren't learned in a certain time frame. Everyone learns at a different pace. I will not (or at least I will try not to) compare my children to other friends in the same grade or the same age. It's just like infancy- why force the baby to sit at 4 months, crawl at 6 months, etc when you know they'll eventually get it. We need to focus on our family not on others. I need to know that we're giving our children quality instead of getting caught up in competition.

May God make His will for your family known and may you be confident going forth in your decision!

Other articles worth reading: (You have to pay to read them. I do own these magazines and am willing to lend them to local moms.)
No More Homework- agree!
When Every Day Is A Homeschool Day- almost fits my unschooling thoughts to a "T"

19 May 2011

Together we will serve

I remember one day after daily Mass in highschool where my mom's friend came up to us and told us about a recent trip she went on with just her husband. She explained that they both had different ideas of what they're trip should look like and were trying to make each other happy. The woman decided to let her husband take the lead in planning and trust him. She admitted she was nervous and hoped he knew how to plan a trip successfully. She wasn't saying this to put her husband's intelligence down, but she was definitely uneasy about the whole thing. She was hopeful that her husband would lead them in a close spiritual encounter indiviually and as a couple. She was amazed by the graces poured forth on their marriage for doing this and was convinced it was because she relinquished control.

This story has stayed with me for years. It was a simple yet very profound lesson in a society where woman are advancing and often out-performing men in the business world. With the renaissance of woman having a say in public matters beginning in the 1920's, women have gone on to abuse this. Instead of "equality", woman now traipse around believing they are far superior to men.

How often do you hear women spout off sarcastic jabs at their husbands, boyfriends or other men they know saying, "They're such a man" or "Don't worry honey, it's a man thing". It's as if we're allowing men to be stupid because that's what we think they are. (I don't mean "we" here to mean you and I, but women in general). I mean come on, girls, let's give them a little credit!

Now I know it may have been one of those days or weeks when you're reading this thinking I'm crazy. I have those days myself. The socks and t-shirts are strewn about the bedroom, the wet towel is in a corner with clean clothes, you asked him to dress the baby and she's now in polka-dots, stripes and zebra prints all at once. I've been there. On the other hand, I'm not such a gem to live with all the time either.

I have made a conscious effort in my marriage to replace disdain and annoyance with acceptance and respect. In the past my husband would offer suggestions about wedding planning or mothering and I would immediately tense up. What would a guy know about such things?! Can't he just trust me and follow my lead?! And why does he think that he needs to copy me by sometimes sitting me down like I to do him to say, "You know, I think you're really getting caught up in this" or "This isn't really leading you to holiness. Maybe try               instead." As frustrating and humbling as it is to sit there hearing that you weren't quite the holy woman in an instance that you would like to think you are, it is reassuring to know that I have a marriage that is calling me to holiness. Our vocation, whatever that may be- married, religious or the single life, is a calling to lead a life in submission to the will of God so that we can spend eternity with Him.

My husband and I see ourselves as a team. There isn't one of us that "wears the pants", although we'll laugh along with whoever says it's me just so we're "normal". But really, we are both very opinionated and strong-willed people and need to work together to overcome our "human-ness". We always look at each angle before we come together to decide what the best decision is for our family. It often begins with something we're certain on and then changes as we open our minds to each other and what others have to say. I love knowing that no matter what the topic- parenting, birth, Catholicism, politics, family, money, job, etc.- we are on the same page!

Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor. If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion. Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. So also, if two sleep together, they keep each other warm. How can one alone keep warm? Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist. 
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12

So often in today's society women take the words from Ephesians 5:22, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord." literally, as if St Paul is degrading women and making us slaves to men. But what about the verse before (5:21): Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Now we definitely have a new spin on things, and a humbling one at that. Let me go further:

For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So (also) husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."  This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church. In any case, each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband. (Eph 5: 23-33) 

We see here an obvious parallel between Christ and the Church and a husband and wife. We are to enter into a partnership with one another. Wives, we are called to be respectful of our husbands. We are to work with them as they set out to take care of us and make us holy. Men are called to give their very bodies for our own well-being and to respect our bodies.

If women weren't so caught up in the "equality factor", they would see the beauty intended by Christ for marriage as depicted by St Paul in Ephesians.

1 Peter 3:3-4 goes on: Your [wives] adornment should not be an external one...but rather the hidden character of the heart, expressed in the imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God.

Verse 7 calls husbands on: Likewise, you husbands should live with your wives in understanding, showing honor to the weaker female sex, since we are joint heirs of the gift of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 

And finally we see in verse 8-12 a unity between the two and how they are to help the other to holiness: Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble.

Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. For: "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit, must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and follow after it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears turned to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against evildoers."  

We see here that we aren't told "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" but to forgive and move on in a loving manner. If we receive a snippy or rather cutting remark, let's try to chalk it up to the other having a rough day. When they're cooled down, that is when we can bring it up to let them know how much it hurt us. If we are always returning a rough tone with another, this isn't a dwelling for love and humility. And if we need to make a point known, let's not put the other down but work together calmly to figure things out. My husband and I have promised each other that we will not fight in front of our girls. So far, we have kept that promise. It may be 9 or 10 pm before we get to talking about an issue, but by then our initial anger has often subsided. If it hasn't, we try really hard not to yell and say hurtful things while still getting the point across. It is really hard to do! He and I are both passionate screamers and it takes a lot to not storm out of the room screaming that the other's wrong, doesn't care or thinks the other is stupid. Ugh! We have done away with much unneccessary drama and hurtful things that are said "in the moment". Our hope is that our girls will learn how to deal with conflict in a loving way and always be assured that their parents work as a team.

Mary, our blessed mother, is the perfect depiction of a humble servant who was blessed so immensely. She could have defended herself or her Son so many times (or gone around proclaiming that she was the perfect mother of God), yet we don't see her doing any such thing. She is our most perfect example of how we, as women, are called to live.

I cannot tell you how many times I have given up control of something only to be shown how it has sanctified our family. This can range from some tiny little thing in our family to something of much greater proportion.

I challenge you to truly follow your husbands. Call them on also, as we all need a little nudge to stay on the right path. But if you know that what he's telling you or suggesting isn't sinful, listen and pray. You never know the rewards that may follow- and you may not see them at all here on earth.

09 May 2011

Here's to you momma....

Instead of the usual lovely-written "props to mom" for Mothers' Day notes, this is my list of things no one ever told me about motherhood until I experienced them myself. And yes some seem rather interesting or may be a turn off to motherhood for some, but for me they all are things I now look back on and laugh at or just shake my head. Feel free to add your own in the comments!
It's funny no one tells you of the silly things you'll have to do and all the wonderful moments you'll have. There were so many sleepless nights with Ruby Red where the mainstream would be saying, "See, I told you so" when I treasured those moments.

Here is my list of what no one ever told me about motherhood. Some are funny, some are serious and some are sarcastic, but ALL are loving and I wouldn't change a thing!
No one ever told me that...

I'd be nursing my baby in the bathroom either
a) because baby was latched on in bed and I felt bad unlatching her. I would usually continue to nurse on the toilet until she was finished, feeling bad that I would have to interrupt her yet again. Several times my legs went numb waiting for her to finish...
b) because I couldn't bear her crying at my legs with a look of rejection. In her mind, it was as if I thought going to the bathroom more important than her.

I'd have stretch marks that make me look like a tiger. No matter how much cocoa butter I've slathered on they eventually came (maybe not with the 1st baby) and they haven't gone away, although they have faded.

I'd want my pre-breastfeeding boobs back because I wouldn't have to worry about cleavage. I remember the days when all I wanted was to get pregnant so that I could be bigger up top...

Babies take up more than half the space in bed and you and your spouse are clinging to the sheets so as to not fall off.

Baby puke smells amazing.

I'd also like the sweet smell of breastmilk poop.

Bodily functions are now a normal and acceptable topic of conversation (when talking about your children, that is).

Breastfeeding in public is so controversial, yet people are so ok with seeing breasts for sexuality on magazine covers. I never knew how "anti-breast-showing" people could be towards a nursing mother before I became one.

NFP comes naturally because momma's tired or the baby's nursing all night.

People think you don't love your child or are selfish if you choose not to vaccinate. Research!

Most of the books I now read for fun are about parenting or birth.

People will give all sorts of un-asked-for advice when it comes to everything parenting. After awhile, this is tiresome for a mother, even when it's well-intended.

People think you're an idiot if you're a stay at home mom instead of juggling work, kids and home. Apparently they don't realize how busy you really are. I wish I had the relaxing days people assume I have.

You're children mimick everything. This doesn't only mean the things you say but how you react to conflict and stress. Yikes!

At the end of the day, no matter how bad of a day it was, your babies will always love you and prefer you above all else.

It is so stinkin' impossible to keep a 1 year old clean all day, even with bibs.

Rocking your baby in the middle of the night is one of the most precious moments you can have with him/her.

I would spend most of my oldest's 1st year topless, trying to bond and get her to breastfeed better. 
You have to listen to that "gut feeling" instead of what your anybody else tells you about birth, sleeping, breastfeeding. etc. You'll truly know when you need advice and hopefully ask for it. But if you know you're doing what's right for your family, follow your heart!

Everything takes longer and is messier with a toddler.

My shirt has become the universal kleenex and always has snot marks across the shoulder.

I should also be packing an extra set of clothes for myself when we're out in public.

It's not that hard to make your own baby food instead of giving them that processed stuff in the stores.

I'd start eating healthier because I have to be a good example.

There are always cheerios in our couch cushions, even though I vacuum under them several times a week.

My car will never look clean for long, no matter how hard I try.

My husband is my rock and, although not a woman or a mother, the one I turn to first. The wisdom a loving father and husband has about a situation may be right on, even if I don't agree at first!

Our dates usually include our girls either going to a restaurant with us or asleep in the backseat while we're driving around on our "coffee dates".

Unless I shower at midnight, I have no privacy in the shower.

I'd become very good at singing Imagination Movers and Laurie Berkner songs.

No matter how bad I sound singing, my girls love it and it actually soothes them.

I'd get so much joy from simply watching my girls discover and enjoy life.

I always knew I'd love being a mom, but never knew I could love it this much. My girls are my world and when I think I just couldn't love them more, I fall in love all over again.

Happy Mothers' Day to all the fantasic mommas out there!

Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!