I started homeschooling this beautiful girl when she was seven years old and in the second grade. I love this photo because it documents that sometimes God can work miracles even through someone like me who has a BROWN thumb. This watermelon came from our garden that first spring. I’m also in love with that dimple! Too cute!
Fast forward five years — count them! — FIVE years, and here she is, all grown up and more beautiful every day.
Five years ago, the Lord led me to begin homeschooling. With my husband’s whole-hearted support, I once again put my teaching degree to use and set out to build a strong academic foundation in my one and only child. Unlike some families who feel led to homeschool all the way through high school, we decided to re-evaluate our decision on a year-by-year or even semester-by-semester basis with much prayer. Above all, I want to obey the Lord in finding the BEST educational path for my daughter. She’s the only child He has given me — on earth — to love, cherish, and build up in the knowledge and admonition of the Lord.
It’s not as if I planned to have only one child. I have at least two babies in heaven — one lived three weeks in the womb; the other lived eight. There was a four year gap in between the conception of those babies. I think of them often — one would be ten, the other would be five. I would probably be happily enrolling them both in Classical Conversations Foundations program had they made it to my arms. But that is not my reality. When I consider my daughter’s status as an Only, I am glad that one day when she goes to heaven, she will get to embrace those siblings and love them like she could not here on earth.
The older my beauty gets, the more keenly I feel the loss of her brothers/sisters. Those families with multiple children have a strong advantage when it comes to situational learning about love. I am a sibling myself, and I know the fierce love I have for my brother. When we were kids, I would have gladly traded my ears for his when it became apparent that he had developed a progressive hearing loss. Sure, we fought like cats and dogs sometimes. But we were — and still are — family. We have each other’s back, and we learned how to work together for the good of the family. We learned how to make up after we had a fight. We learned life skills — sometimes at each others throats! — but we learned them still.
My daughter does not have that social structure. She does not have to share me. She does not have a partner –aside from me — to work with. This presents unique challenges to the homeschooling environment. When she was younger, a once a week co-op plus church provided plenty of opportunities for her to interact with other kids of multiple ages. She has learned much about getting along with others — in fact, we get compliments from other people about how she manages to be friendly to and communicate with kids much younger than her, kids her age, and even adults. However, her Only status means she has not had the opportunity to learn many other life skills. Take leadership, for example. There are not many opportunities for her to lead any project or endeavor in our home school environment because the only person she has to lead is…herself. She can learn how to show love through servant hood in our home, but the only ones she has to serve are me and her dad.
Classical Conversations is a very strong framework for homeschooling families, and I highly recommend it. (I should…I directed it for two years!) The Foundations program for elementary served our homeschooling needs and then some — it added just the right amount of community and academic rigor. The Challenge program for junior high and high school has no equal in terms of academic strength. However, as my daughter turns into a young woman, we are finding that the once-a-week model falls flat for us not because there is anything wrong with CC’s Challenge program, but because of her “only” status. My beauty has entered the stage of learning that Dorothy Sayers terms “pertness.”
It is difficult to say at what age, precisely, we should pass from the first to the second part of the Trivium. Generally speaking, the answer is: so soon as the pupil shows himself disposed to pertness and interminable argument. For as, in the first part, the master faculties are Observation and Memory, so, in the second, the master faculty is the Discursive Reason.
In Classical Education, students move from the grammar stage of learning (with much memorization) to the dialectic and rhetorical stages of learning, which contain much “discursive reason.” In layman’s terms…children in the dialectic stage of learning learn through arguments and debates. In our case, there is no one at home with which to debate, except dear old Mom and sometimes Dad. Yes, we can debate her and challenge her thinking, but only to a certain degree.
Many opportunities for debate and learning arise from our children’s own life experiences with other children. Consider this example, also from Sayers,
But above all, we must not neglect the material which is so abundant in the pupils’ own daily life.
There is a delightful passage in Leslie Paul’s “The Living Hedge” which tells how a number of small boys enjoyed themselves for days arguing about an extraordinary shower of rain which had fallen in their town–a shower so localized that it left one half of the main street wet and the other dry. Could one, they argued, properly say that it had rained that day on or over the town or only in the town? How many drops of water were required to constitute rain? And so on. Argument about this led on to a host of similar problems about rest and motion, sleep and waking, est and non est, and the infinitesimal division of time. The whole passage is an admirable example of the spontaneous development of the ratiocinative faculty and the natural and proper thirst of the awakening reason for the definition of terms and exactness of statement. All events are food for such an appetite.
My Only does not have the opportunity to explore such thoughts with anyone except her parents. She has not developed deep friendships with girls her age — friendships that would be conducive to such arguments and learning as described above — because she only sees them once a week — either at her once-a-week Classical Conversations class, or at church.
So, then, if our daughter’s needs are no longer being met in the homeschool, what shall we do? In researching our options and on the recommendation of several friends, we are now in the process of applying to a University Model School in our area. Students in UMS’s attend classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and they have assignments to complete on Tuesdays and Thursdays at home. We believe this model will be a beautiful transition for our daughter — and for us — because we will still be very involved in her academics. The school views parents as partners. It will offer her a chance to debate and learn alongside other kids. The particular UMS school that we have chosen to pursue has a strong community feel. Older students mentor younger ones. Bullying is not tolerated. There are very strict behavior expectations, and there are multiple opportunities outside of school to connect with other students and families. Yet students are not educated in a bubble. They learn about tough subjects and evaluate them in light of Scripture. In fact, building character and leadership in students is just as important to the school as building a strong academic foundation.
I will be giving up control — of the curriculum, of the school calendar, of subject matter — by choosing this path. But my daughter will be gaining experiences that I simply cannot give her. I know I am capable of teaching her any academic subject that comes along, but I cannot replicate the debate and rich experiences she will have at least three times a week at the UMS school. She will learn things about community that I can’t teach her.
The deciding factor for my husband and me was hearing other students speak about their experiences at the school. Repeatedly the junior high and high school students spoke of the sense of family and community at the school. They talked of how their teachers really love them and pray for them. They spoke of learning how to step outside of themselves to serve others and of learning how to lead. Their enthusiasm was contagious!
The deciding factor for my daughter was the day last week when she shadowed another seventh grade student at the school for half a day. When we picked her up, her eyes were shining, and she wore a huge grin. “I want to go to LCA!” she shouted once we were in the car. She said the other kids treated her as if she’d been a student there since Kindergarten. She loved it and would transfer immediately if it was at all possible.
It seems as if this option is the best of both worlds — private Christian school and homeschooling. We will know for sure about her acceptance in the school after she completes standardized testing and we’ve obtained all the necessary paperwork. If all works out, (and the Lord willing), she will transition from a home schooled CC student to an LCA Warrior in January!