Trust The Children

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Home Schooling and Insanity

All of us deal with frustration. It seems like the very fabric of this existence is designed to provide a many opportunities to feel it and have to deal with it. Over the years, I keep coming back to a thought shared with me many years ago, a thought that those of us who educate at home, would do well to keep before us always. M. Grant Sharp, successful entrepreneur, religious leader, successful father and friend once shared with me this idea. I may not have the words quite right, but the thought goes something like this- "Frustration is a mild form of insanity. It is our inability to adjust our expectations to reality."

At first, I chaffed against this idea, because deep in my soul are the words of the song, "To Dream the Impossible Dream". I am a incurable idealist. Now I see that these two thoughts are not mutually exclusive and in fact form a rather helpful whole.

In our home schooling efforts, we attend conventions, observe friends, chat with others in support groups, and read books. From all this, we begin to form pictures in our minds of our own successful experiences at learning with our children at home. Our energy is high, our hopes as well, and our enthusiasm a driving force. When Monday morning dawns, we already have in our minds exactly how things are going to go. So we launch in. A few minutes go by and then David can't find his math book, all the boys fall asleep as we read the scriptures, Ben is taking language at the local high school and his success experience there is less than ideal. So we try again and again. We begin again, and again. Whatever pictures we had in our mind's eye gradually change from inspirations to demons. They haunt us instead of inspire us. Why? Because what we are experiencing today is so so different from the ideal picture we have in our minds. The result? Of course, frustration. And depending on how we deal with it, it truly IS a "mild form of insanity." And sometimes not so mild. Emotions can get the better of us. Again, depending on how we deal with this, if we are not careful, frustration can lead to other responses, less productive and more destructive.

Here is where Sharp's counsel needs to be applied. Without giving up on our dream for the future, the ideal pictures that inspire us, we need to adjust FOR TODAY our expectations for FOR TODAY. In other words, we need to see our experience in home schooling as a process or a trail. We don't lose or fail, as long as we stay on the trail and keep walking toward the object of our efforts. We may not be there yet. However not being there yet IS ok. Being a little further along today than you were yesterday or last week or last month is what we need to look for. In time we can and will get closer to the ideal.

So faced with "frustration" we have a decision to make. And this decision is crucial. We can choose to be counseled by our fears, frustrations and failures, thus suffering the feelings of frustration or worse, OR we can paint our ideals onto pictures we hang on the wall to remind us and help us to decide today which baby step we can take today that moves us little by little, closer and closer to the inspiring piece of art on the wall. Dreaming the impossible dream is essential, because such dreams serve as a guiding lights in setting our priorities. We only have so much time to give. However, after we have used our ideals to set our priorities and goals for today, they have fulfilled their intended purpose and can comfortably be put away until tomorrow morning, or next week, when we review them again to guide us again.

It is my experience, that if we just keep walking, trying and taking joy and satisfaction in the baby steps we are taking as we go along, we will enjoy the sustaining power and energy to persist in the dream of home schooling and any good thing we choose to do in this life. A little less insanity and a little more productivity is a good thing.

ps. In case you were wondering, I too have learned this the hard way. Enough said.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Building Fires In The Rain

My father was a great scouter. What he appreciated about scouting was that the structure of scouting provided the framework for building character and integrity into boys. Nowhere is this more true than on a rainy campout. And rainy campouts were plentiful and often, camping in the Northwest. When my father passed away, the funeral was attended by many of the scouts and adult leaders that my Dad served with in Troop 7. One of the adult leaders walked up to me and said, "The one thing I remember about your Dad, was that when we had a rainy campout, your dad was so good at building fires, I think he could build one, even underwater."

I learned well the lessons of firebuilding from watching my Dad on these campouts. Only now, in my advancing years, have I come to understand how this example can be applied to learning, applied to how parents treat their children in the home schooling setting. Let me explain.

The first key to building a fire in the rain, is to gather a LOT of wood. Wood is your resource and you can't have too much. And you need different kinds of wood. First tinder. These are like small shavings of wood, formed by using a whittling knife. Normal fire building would require a double handful, but in rainy fire building, you need twice that amount. Then you need lots of small kindling. A pile of kindling about 1/8" to 1/4" in diameter. Yet another pile of wood about 1/4" to 1/2" in diameter. Larger wood, in the rain, would be no larger than about 1 1/2" in diameter. In home schooling, you need to first gather your resources, books, articles, people, field trip ideas, whatever it takes to explore a topic. Reaching out and asking others for ideas is like gather double handfuls. You many not use it all, but you might need all of them to be successful.

The next key to building a fire in the rain, is to prepare the area where you are going to build the fire. First, the ground must be a bit rounded up, so that water can't pool where you are building a fire. Next, because it is raining, you need to cover the area to keep the rain from putting the small fire out. We did this by taking larger wood and laying it on the grate above the fireplace where we camped, or built some kind of TeePee out of this larger wood, so that it proteced the firebuilding process from the rain. In home schooling, creating or finding the right environment where learning can occur is key. Professional teachers call it the "Readiness Step". Find some kind of activity that gets their attention and helps them focus their attention. Sometimes it is gathering other friends who have the same interest, sometimes it is asking friends who don't have common interests to leave for a while. Sometimes it is managing noise, or the actual place where you are going to experience learning.

When lighting the fire, light the tinder first and get it burning high and bright. Then add the 1/8" kindling in a teepee fashion leaning against the piles of tinder. You need a lot of small kindling so that you get a hot burning fire in the rain. So don't skimp here. Keep the fire burning hotter and hotter before adding larger and larger wood. Patience here is the chief character trait of the master fire builder. Patience in keeping small wood coming for a long long time before adding larger wood. Hence, lots of small kindling prepared and ready before you light the fire. In homeschooling, begin with small goals and activities that are easily finished and lavishly rewarded. Persist in this for a long period of time, building both confidence and enthusiasm in the learning process. As in firebuilding, if you get too involved in the process you get burned. In homeschooling you have to strike a balance between your involvment in the learning and standing away so you can watch what is going on and decide what kind of wood to pile on next. Err on the side of smaller wood, or smaller short activities and gradually build on those.

There was one last key to my Dad's mastery of fire building. It was the famous Troop 7 Fantastic Fire Fanner. Dad owned a business that manufactured fiberglass reinforced panel. The kind that you often see over patios or in the roofs or walls of buildings. He cut a piece of plastic that was 1 foot by 1 foot that was corrigated. They were stiff when you fanned holding them in one direction, but if you held them in the other direction, they were way flexible. So you could fan HARD when you needed and fan softly when you needed that. In homeschooling, the "firefanner" is rewards and praise. Finding lots of ways to reward them with privileges and extra activities, when they get things done. Food, candy, activities, field trips, time on the computer playing games, or allowance matching. None of these are rights, but privileges you can grant when objectives are met. I can't count the number of times Cyndy has said, "Hurry and get your homeschooling done and then we can..." or "Get your writing done and you CAN go snow boarding" or "I'm sorry. You have lost your privileges to play on the computer until you catch up your math."

The funny thing about building a bright fire in the rain was how the boys in the patrol gathered around the light and the warmth. Such fires bonded us together. Our patrol was the Bat Patrol. To this day, many of us still stay in contact. I think we all smile when we remember all that we "suffered" together as we built fires in the rain. Part of the lasting bonding was because of fires that burned in the rain. We have seen homeschooling as an important element of bringing our children together. They are each other's best friends, without question. Cyndy has, over the years, built many fires in the rain, using piles of tinder, small kindling and the wise use of the Weiss Family Fire Fanner. And so can you.