Leading from Behind

As a parent, leadership is a daily job, and it can be all-consuming.  If we don’t direct the day, will teeth get brushed?  Will math be practiced?  Will bedrooms be cleaned?  Will Bibles be read and prayers be said?

If we don’t walk at the front of the line, will these little ones go astray?  Will they know where to go and how to get there?

We are placed in the position of authority in our homes, and that isn’t a job to be shunned or taken lightly.  However, being in charge can lead us to put on blinders as we focus intently on the goal of raising healthy, responsible adults.  We can too easily miss the wonderful people these kids already are.

Early in the fall, we had a remarkable day with glorious, sunny weather.  My mom and I took the kids for a big walk.  We strolled behind as my children walked ahead of us, happily brandishing sticks (and light sabers!), picking up interesting finds, and relishing the  warm day.  I called out to them from time to time if someone drifted too close to poison ivy or became too enthusiastic with a stick.  But overall, I simply chatted with my mom and observed the wonderful way that children learn even without direct leadership.  Their curiosity comes naturally, so I can’t help wondering if their learning actually happens more readily without my interference.  Certainly their joy seems to!

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But this post isn’t simply an attempt to say “get out of the way” of kids’ learning, I have something a little different mulling around in my brain as I reminisce about that particular afternoon and reflect upon some things that I’ve observed in the last few months of homeschooling with a newborn in our family.

When I stand behind the action and watch from a few steps back, I am still leading my family.  I am leading them toward MORE of what they are doing.  I am showing my children that their activities are productive, their conversations are important, and their observations are valuable. I am leading them to do more of the same, to see their choices as good.  By not interrupting, I am saying, “You are doing good things.  You are smart, curious, and important.”  I tell them by my actions that we are on the right track.  School is going well, and they are growing as amazing people on this beautiful planet.  I do have to step in at strategic points in our week.  I do have to make concrete plans from time to time and take the first steps into new activities and new lessons.  However, the more I lead from behind, the more I see the leaders that these kids are becoming, and I have the ultimate pleasure of watching it happen.

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Getting Back to the WHY

We hit a rough patch early in the fall.  We had been working hard on the house–painting, cleaning, organizing, and decluttering.  That’s exciting!  All good things.

But then there was the flat tire, the dented car door, the leaking sink,the dentist appointments, the strange little stomach bug with a slight fever, the lost library books, and those pesky multiplication facts.  Sigh.  Real life.

Suddenly, in the midst of all that LIFE, I kind of crumbled under a whole lot of self-doubt.  Have you ever been there?  You’re working hard to do all the right things–to check off all those boxes–but you always feel behind and inadequate.  That’s where I wallowed for awhile.  Homeschooling, in particular, was feeling like a bunch of “get dones” instead of the joyful privilege that it can be.

I’m not one to linger in a bad mood for long, and I knew I needed to do something to shake the funk.  I reached out to a group of homeschool moms who might understand.  Their responses were incredible.  They were practical, offering actual help for spelling and reading.  They were whimsical and inspirational, reminding me that I’m not alone.  One friend told me to get back to the WHY of our decision to homeschool–to return to all the things I love about educating my children at home.  That advice was a true answer to prayer, and I followed it immediately.

In our homeschool, getting back to the WHY means experiencing the outdoors.  It means learning through all of our sense.  It means learning by doing.  It means reading lots of things from a variety of sources and subjects.  It means learning together as a family.  And it looks a little something like this:

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Learning New Things

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I love many aspects of educating our children at home.  I could go on and on.  I love the freedom to learn what, when, and where we choose.  I love that my children can learn together, developing their relationships with each other in special ways.  I love library visits in the middle of the day and dropping everything to go on a picnic at lunchtime.  But if I could pick the number one reason that I keep on homeschooling even through the squabbles and messes and meltdowns over the times tables, my favorite part of home education is being a witness to my children’s educational milestones–seeing the BIG THINGS as they happen, watching their faces as the light bulbs go on.

 This week Charlotte wrote her name without any help.  She’s been getting close for awhile, but she needed to copy the letters or be reminded of what came next.  On Monday, she wrote it alone–no model, no reminder.  I wasn’t surprised by her ability.  I was taken off guard by her reaction (joy and pride) and her brothers’ jubilation!  The process of learning new things is a joyful one–whether you are 6 weeks old or 106 years old.  I feel such privilege to be able to see new things being learned by the people I love best.  Sometimes–as Mom and Teacher–I play an important role in that learning.  Sometimes it’s only between my child and God.  Those are the most amazing to behold.

Hello, Monday.

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Hello, Monday.

I love that you hold the promise of new things, new routines, endless possibilities.  I love that you ride in on a hint of sunshine, still carrying all the warmth of a weekend well lived.

Hello, Autumn.

I love the beginnings of your glory on the tree outside my window.  The prettiest yellow-orange starts at the top of the boughs, but summer’s green is still going strong at every window.  Autumn, your cool mornings make me excited for the sweaters and pumpkins and cups of tea that will return to our days in the coming weeks.

Hello, School Day.

I’m looking forward to the discoveries that wait in you.  I love the furrowed brow of a boy considering 9×6 and the excitement of a perfect letter “C” drawn by a chubby three-year-old hand.  I love the sounds of poetry and scripture recited by heart.

“This is the Day.”

Hello, Gratitude.

Room for Learning

Our days are structured around learning, so it is no surprise that the #1 factor in choosing our new house was (for me anyway) the place where we would “do school.”  Now, to be fair, our work happens all over the house, and much of it doesn’t look like school at all.  However, when I saw this sunroom, I envisioned cups of tea, good books, finger paintings, and sunshine.  Here is how our “school room” looks when it is all tidied up and ready to go.

You pass through the French doors to enter the sunroom.  The sweet rocking horse was given to us by the house’s previous owner.  She said that it was enjoyed by her children and made by her sister.  I love having it in our school room.

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We already owned the loveseat, and it fits perfectly at one end of the room.  To give you a sense of the size of our room, it is only a little wider (maybe three feet) than the loveseat itself.

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The big school table is actually a “retired” library table with two big drawers at the front.  I love that it came from an honest-to-goodness library.  We adopted it from a friend, and it couldn’t be more perfect for our purposes.  Bins beneath the table hold our books and supplies.  The wool, braided tote on the radiator holds our percussion instruments.

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The flowered tin is my sticker box from when I was a child.  I still have stickers in it from when I was six or seven years old, plus many new additions.  The little metal buckets are from the Target dollar bin. 

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The wonderful owl puppet was a Christmas gift to our oldest son from my parents when he was four.  He adored it when he was little, and the owl still brings a bit of charming wisdom to our days.  The alphabet puzzle is a Melissa and Doug toy from Aunt Kristy and Uncle Jake.

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We love to use magazines in our homeschool.  We typically use National Geographic Kids and Highlights.  The microscope is a “talking microscope” that we really enjoy.  It was a gift from my in-laws, and it is used very frequently!  The books are ones that we are using currently.  We did a unit on the library.  We’re slowly reading through the Little House books, and you’ll notice our Story of the World (Volume 2) history book and the accompanying activity book, plus some fables and a collection of Beatrix Potter stories, perfect for spring.

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This board is the Everyday Display from Creative Memories.  Unfortunately, it is no longer available, but I’ve seen them on Ebay for good prices.  The board is magnetic.  We made the rainbows  for a unit on refraction and shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day.

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I hope you enjoyed your tour of our sunroom.  We love it!