Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A reflection on Motherhood and Homeschooling

(with random photos from a party last week)
Next month, Steven and I will celebrate 10 years of marriage. We've now got about 9 years of parenthood under our belts. This week marks the end of 3 years of "official" homeschooling, although I joined our homeschool support group about 6 years ago when Mary Clare was only 2! Now that we're in our mid-30's with 4 kids, we're starting to feel like "old fogies" these days! I can't believe how fast time flies. Steven always says that we're going to wake up tomorrow and be 50! I can see that coming true.

I know we still have a long way to go in parenthood, and we're just now entering a more academic phase of homeschooling as Mary Clare starts 3rd grade. Third grade always seems to be a big jump in workload and academics. But as the years have gone by, I'm starting to gain a lot more confidence and security in who we are as parents and as homeschoolers. I know this will ebb and flow, and I can easily imagine myself a week from now facing a new challenge and thinking I know nothing about this vocation to motherhood!

But overall, after 10 years, I'm feeling grateful about the choices we've made for our family. They are different than other families' choices and are not better or worse than theirs, because they're ours. Our family is unique and in no way exactly mirrors any other family on earth. What a beautiful thought! God has created our family and given us each other to work through our faults, to grow together on Earth, and to be happy in Heaven together with Him one day. No one can better help us to do this than our spouse and children.

I remember all the calls and the questions I had for my friends and mentors after Mary Clare was born. Just how do you "co-sleep?" What do you do with a wet cloth diaper? Do you wear a sling? We had all sorts of ideals before we had children...everything from opinions on Santa Claus to diapering, to our plans for me to stay home with the children and homeschool. As time went on, we realized that many of these things were not as black or white as we had once believed. They would be different for each family, and we had to grow as our own family to see how God might be calling us in each of our parenting decisions. I credit the NFP Board for giving me a great perspective on Catholic motherhood and even just on various life experiences. I could (and can) ask my questions to hundreds of mothers, many who have similar ideals as I do, and get such unique perspectives and advice. Of course I get a lot of this from my real-life friends too, and Facebook is now another good source of perspective for moms.

Our form of baby and child care has ended up being what I would call very "attached." I am rarely away from my babies, and spend nearly every day and every waking hour with my older children too. Our infants nurse on demand until they're around 2, and we co-sleep with our babies and toddlers for several years. It is a very demanding and exhausting lifestyle, but also one that brings me great joy and many rewards as I watch them grow every day. I pray that it will help maintain a close bond that we form in infancy and continues throughout childhood between the children and parents, and the children and each other. Sometimes on hard days, I think I might be a lunatic for choosing this kind of parenting approach, but honestly I can't imagine doing things any other way.

As we moved into a homeschooling lifestyle, I began to realize that my background in education really didn't give me that much of an advantage when it came to teaching my own children. In fact, it hindered me in many ways to have a classroom mindset and certain expectations based on the children I taught in the past. A homeschool is so much different than a classroom, and each day I learn more and more how to educate my own children in their very individual, very unique ways.

I had planned on following a "classical" approach to education, mainly because that was what some of my friends used, and it seemed like a logical step for our family to study the classics and in particular a Catholic classical curriculum. The problem was, I didn't know what a classical education really was until recently. I've read the books, and followed the syllabus, but it didn't click in my brain until our co-op meeting last week! Can you believe that?

Susan Wise Bauer of the Well-Trained Mind defines classical education:

Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.
And Laura Berquist of Mother of Divine Grace states that:

Experience has shown that in the earliest years, kindergarten through second grade, one needs to emphasize the first tools of learning: reading, writing, and arithmetic. One should also work on observation and memorization, and filling the imagination with noble and heroic images.

For some reason, these thoughts have finally solidified for me the past few days. The "nuts and bolts" that Mary Clare has learned these first few years of homeschooling will be the foundation from which she moves into the "logic/dialectic stage" of learning in the coming years. The facts she has memorized, poetry she has learned, rules of phonics, observations of nature, etc. will be the basis for her to begin to formulate her view and understanding of the world around us.

I don't need to worry yet that she isn't reading novels or that she doesn't know how to write an essay about what she has learned. Those will come with time and she will have many years to spend time reading novels and writing essays. These days of playing "grocery store" and "dress-up" are numbered, and so allowing her to spend a lot of time in play with her siblings each day. along with her schoolwork, is still important. The slower pace of this classical approach in the early years is not what I had initially imagined for my children, but so far it has been just what they've needed.

Tonight, Steven was showing the children a YouTube video about Yosemite National Park. He told them that valley and rock formations were formed by a glacier, and that we knew that because of their shape. The kids were content with that answer and went about their play. I can see how in the future, these kinds of discussions will move from facts to logical explanations. They will want to learn more, and they will begin to piece together the story of the world, as they delve into each of the different subjects they will study.

Also tonight, Mary Clare was looking through a little science discovery book about trees on her own. She told me a fact about how if a certain tree was planted on top of a building, the roots would fall 40 stories down below. She is asking more questions about correct spelling, and wanting to learn about the presidents. All these little bits of information she is learning will be soaked up and pulled out again and again over the years. It is so much fun to watch them learn and get to the point where they can read and learn new things on their own!

And so, I've rambled on a bit here, but I am confident with where we are right now. I hope that these years of experience will continue to build us into the family that God calls us to be. I still fail every day at being the best mom I can be. I make bad choices and am lazy and distracted. I am not the work horse that is needed to run an efficient and orderly home of young children. I hope and pray that the children can look past my faults and remember just how much I cared about each of them and tried my hardest to give them the best education that I could.

As we learn about the world together, and grow in knowledge of God together, I know that we will look back on these days with fondness, rather than remembering all the chaos. I hope that I can treasure each one of these days and be content in them without longing for the future. Because they are a treasure. Each child, and every day spent with them is a gift. Every one of them is a joy.


Melissa D. said...

I enjoyed this post so much, just as I always enjoy reading about your beautiful family and the beautiful journey you are all on.

Colleen said...

I loved this post, Blair! It's so interesting to look back at how our mothering has developed over the years and where it is different from our expectations. You are such a beautiful mother and are doing a great job of raising those fabulous kiddos of yours!

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