Learning to Laugh

late winter 2012 homeschool 016In Maine, near the end of July, our leaves begin to change, while our mailboxes are ambushed with endless Back-to-School sale flyers.  As a public school teacher for many years, I would scream at the wind and to anyone else who would listen, “I am still on summer vacation; leave me alone!”  But, like most mothers, I would get sucked in to those early back-to-school sales–you know, underwear and socks are the cheapest at this time, the latest clothing fashions are calling out our kids’ names, and the art supplies are next to nothing.  Nevertheless, just as seasons come and go, our paths of life do occasionally change directions.

For me, my life did an unforeseen, but yet, pleasant U-turn.  In less than three years, I went from a family of four to a family of six, resigned from my full-time teaching position, and started to home school.  Talk about a major transition!  Now, most of my homeschooling mornings start off with two sets of little girl feet–running around the house while their giggles ricochet off the walls of our now seemingly shrunken ranch house.

We have four children: our boys are ages nine and twelve, and our daughters (adopted from China in 2008 and 2011) are ages four and seven. I would have to say that homeschooling is the most ambitious job I have ever experienced–especially since my degree is in secondary not elementary education!  Of course, my children are at different levels in their educational experiences: one has an overabundance of energy along with dyslexic tendencies, two have attachment issues which require a lot of attention, and my mild mannered preteen, who has high academic standards, is frequently waiting for his mom to guide him in his studies. 

So, how does one person, who is certainly a work-in-progress herself, serve and educate these four diverse children?  Obviously, there is not a canned approach in teaching that will work for each child; after all, every day is a new, unpredictable adventure when working with children. Clearly, differentiated instruction is needed so that each child gets his needs met.  Organization, simplicity, and flexibility are the three goals attempted in our daily homeschooling routine.

Organization

There is no doubt that running a household, including cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, is a full-time job in itself.  But, how does one teach children effectively while at the same time maintain continuity in the daily tasks needed to oversee family life?  Well, for me, I plan my children’s academics two weeks in advance; this includes looking at the family calendar to adjust our school day accordingly.  For example, when I knew that I was going to be away for a homeschooling conference, I made sure that my children had their work done ahead of time so that dad could spend time with them: playing games, reading, and, of course, “family” grocery shopping!  Routine is so important and does promote security for all, especially for my daughters who were adopted.  Each child has a checklist of chores, although my four year old and I complete chores together.  What a great way to continue that mother-daughter bonding!  On the back of their doors, there is a checklist (with pictures for the younger ones) entitled “Morning Duties”; this reminds them to do the following before coming out for breakfast: get dressed, make beds, pick up toys, and brush hair.  Once breakfast is done and teeth have been brushed, each child has a small list of chores to complete which is certainly based on both age and developmental appropriateness.  Keep in mind that I take full advantage of potential bonding times with my daughters during this process: brushing and fixing their hair, being in the room while they get dressed, and sneaking in many kisses and hugs. Having the older siblings guide the younger ones in this morning routine is such a blessing; I love seeing our daughters continue to develop solid attachments with their big brothers.   Eventually, once our chores are done, and the school books and sharpened pencils are placed on the kitchen table, we all reconvene to the living room to complete family devotions.

Simplicity

Although we have morning chores, our home, by all means, is not immaculate.  Our goal is to have fun while working as a team: only the absolute necessities required for a smooth household are done.  This means the dishwasher is emptied and loaded, laundry may be started, counters and the table wiped down, and trash emptied. As far as the simplicity in academics is concerned, there are several manageable ways to teach a variety of subjects to the multilevel masses.  For one thing, social studies, science, art, and Bible are combined as much as possible.  While math, spelling, penmanship/keyboarding, and language arts are individual studies, they are all done at the same designated time.  While the independent subjects are being completed, I do much of my preschool training with the newest edition to our family who has become quite the conversationalist in English and is quickly learning her letters and sounds.  Many times, someone needs mom’s help and so, the other children take turns doing activities with their little sister such as puzzles, blocks, Legos, dress up, or playing outside.  Forming an attachment and a trust with siblings is equally as important to the emotional health and stability of an adoptive child.

Flexibility

Flexibility is certainly the one area that I am constantly working at.  Because I was a public school teacher for so many years, it is hard to set aside that educational agenda not to mention I have type-A tendencies!  For one thing, I still “over plan” my days; I am constantly both reminding and reassuring myself that it is okay to move that science experiment over, or we can finish that history project later in the week.   My priority has to be for my girls to frequently see my willingness to drop my agenda to meet theirs. During lunch time, I like to check my email, but it never fails, one of my daughters wants to be in my lap.  Sometimes, when we are right in the middle of doing a math problem or reading a story, my youngest wants me to hold her or will begin to act like a clown.  Though this can be frustrating at times, I have to remind myself that homeschooling is all about flexibility; this is why we chose this lifestyle in the first place.

angels and costumes 2011 014Although organization, simplicity, and flexibility are crucial in running a tight homeschooling ship, a sense of humor must overshadow these goals.  I believe all lessons in life can be achieved more effectively when people are joyful and love to laugh.  We have been blessed with two children who love to entertain us both with creative dress-up and silly skits; they are always enticing my two more serious children to relax as well as reminding mom to do the same.  Fortunately, for all of us, these acts of humor occur just when home school is getting too serious.  Doing life together and creating a family atmosphere full of playfulness certainly makes learning exciting and worthwhile.

This article was first published in Adoption Today, August 2012. 

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