Monday, December 29, 2014

Presents! Presents for everyone!

Merry Christmas! We are visiting my family in snowy Canada, although it is not as snowy or as cold as I expected. Considering that we dragged an extra suitcase here to accommodate snow suits and related paraphernalia, we better get at least one snow storm.

The Christmas season at my parents' house is full of chocolate, gingerbread, and never-ending desserts. Long nights invite pajama days and blankets by the fire. It's Christmas movies, puzzles, and walks in the darkness gazing at lights. It's at least one person becoming ill, children complaining they are cold, and me booting them out the door anyway. Builds character.
Christmas also means gifts, and a lot of them. Being the only grandchildren has it's benefits, after all. December 25th is a veritable paradise for my kids, leading to their logical conclusion that my mom is Santa Claus. Jon's trick of leaving footprints by the fireplace this year may have muddied that impression, though. Her feet are not that big.

Anyway, it's the annual mountain of gifts that has me writing today. I used to worry that all these presents would undermine our parental attempts to communicate why we have Christmas at all. How could my kids possibly understand and appreciate the gift of our Lord while unwrapping the immediate gift of a doll singing “Let it Go” or a Hexbug that makes mommy shudder a little? But I had an epiphany sometime in the last few years: the number and style of gifts is irrelevant. It doesn't matter if the kids get two gifts or twenty, if they cost $1 or $100, they aren't going to remember any of it. And I don't say this as an argument for not having gifts at all, but rather as a statement freeing me from worry. And maybe, perhaps, you too.

This epiphany came as I thought back to my own Christmases past. I don't remember much about what I received. (Although for some reason I kept a meticulous log and/or pictures of the gifts. This was either a lame attempt at journaling or early preparation for Alzheimer's. I was kind of a strange kid.) But what I do remember is the incredible special-ness of the season. I remember each tradition and the care with which we approached the day. It still isn't Christmas if I don't hear my Dad reading from the book of Matthew, or if we don't sing hymns at the Christmas Eve service. I remember the years we awoke at 4 a.m so we could spend the morning with my dad before his 12 hour shift. I remember wearing pajamas and eating chocolates all day. I remember the excitement of being with family, and the leftover turkey sandwiches. Oh, those turkey sandwiches. To this day I exclusively eat leftover turkey sandwiches for at least three days post-Christmas. It's kind of my thing. And I remember my dad thanking our Lord for his grace in providing us with this opportunity to care for each other.
To be fair, one Christmas does stand out for the presents. It was the year my brother received both Castle Grayskull and Snake Mountain, and we still talk about it. We don't reminisce about the castles themselves, of course (although they were pretty awesome), but rather about the joy of seeing a little guy shocked out of his mind.

My point is, if you are a parent – as I was - who is worried that too much plastic crap at the holidays will detract from the deeper meaning, please don't. If you are even thinking about these things, chances are you already have many other non-tangibles to offer your children this holidays season. And once you have that, no amount of gifts will detract from what Christmas is, and why it is special. I'll go out on a limb and say that what might negatively influence your kids is any stress and significance that you yourself have placed on those tokens. Kids have a way of sensing what we feel is important. And if we as parents choose to spend our own time looking towards the true light, our kids will find their gaze turned there as well. Just as the Grinch could not steal Christmas, neither can a few extra boxes under the Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Everything you ever wanted to know about why we're homeschooling....

You are not more surprised to find me teaching my children at home, than I am. In May, this was not on my radar. By August, we had begun.

Our start was rocky, as everyone adjusted to the new world order. My scramble to form a plan and routine, since the decision came quickly, didn't help matters. Some days are still rocky --  one child may find her toes more fascinating than her math, while another seems to enjoy the view from time out -- but I see improvement. Our days are still busy, but not rushed; they are full, but not burdensome.

But why the initial change of heart? There was no single reason, but rather a combination of different things, briefly listed here:
[Disclaimer: These reasons are very specific to our family. They are not meant as blanket statements about the pros and cons of a traditional versus home school. I would not suggest that anyone home school their children unless they feel called to do so.
Also, our decision is unrelated to the quality of education in Maryland, which is solid and filled with  wonderful teachers. In truth, when I found out that Isaac could have had the same kindergarten teacher as Anna, I seriously considered sending him, after all. Still do, some days.]

(1) Traditional schooling takes a huge chunk of time. Ironically, we considered this the main benefit not so long ago. Imagine how much could be accomplished on a day without children! I could get a job, get in a decent workout at the gym, or even dust all those hard-to-reach baseboards. I anticipated my own world opening wider, but at the same couldn't shake the feeling that our kids' worlds were about to get smaller. There are many non-academic pursuits we wanted to incorporate, including bible study and physical activity. Adding in homework, downtime, eating, and sleeping, we anticipated more busyness and less quality time as a family.
On a broader scale, it was increasingly difficult to plan family visits. As I'm sure you're aware, air travel is very expensive and horrible, so when someone is flying somewhere to see somebody we want to maximize our time with them.

(2) Physical activity. As in, not nearly enough. Anna's school offered only one outdoor recess per day, and none at all if the weather was cold or wet. As a result, half the year there was no outdoor recess. As for physical education, one per week seemed insufficient -- particularly given the lack of recess.
I'm not saying we do laps around the neighborhood now, but even on poor weather days we incorporate plenty of bouncing, tumbling, jumping, and wiggling. We also feel freer to sign up for soccer, gymnastics, etc., because our days are less rushed.

(3) Social activity. There are two aspects to this. First, I didn't feel there was enough social interaction or friendships developing at school for my extroverted daughter, perhaps due to lack of free time during recess. Second, as a family we were not building a community through her school. No doubt, my introverted nature contributed to this lack. In contrast, the home school group we attend is composed of kids from all ages, and it's small enough that I know the parents and they know us. And again, we feel freer to be part of extra-curricular social groups (e.g., scouts, Awana) without feeling over-scheduled.

(4) Even if home schooling is a bust, I won't regret the time spent together. This point was made by my dear friend Christina, whose children are also home schooled. Her words tipped the balance for us this summer.

(5) Character. Every child is so different, making it tricky to figure out what your particular one might need as they grow. At this point, ours needed more time their family. Anna in particular reminds me of a green bean seedling, growing strong and straight at first, but risks becoming too tall too fast if planted outside before it's ready.

(6) I felt called. When you feel called you pray, discuss, read scripture, and follow through if everything points that direction. It did, so we followed through. This is really the crux of the matter. Despite the reasons listed, there is much that is illogical about our decision to home school. To wit, the financial cost. We certainly could have used the money from my employment: nicer house, better vehicles, airline tickets to see family etc. But I felt called. And now I have that deep sense of joy and peace that only comes when you follow the call. Yes, our decision was swift, but no less thought out or accurate or prayed over, for that.