This, my friends, is what classical education looks like in our house. I’d like to point out a few details that you may have missed at first glance.
- The school work commenced on Saturday night at 8pm.
- The dog is practicing proper foot licking technique.
- The student is diligently working…while wearing pajamas.
My daughter is completing week 24 of a 30 week course in Classical Conversation’s Challenge B program. Many of my homeschooling friends are gearing up for a Challenge journey with their children. They are understandably anxious about work load, materials needed, parental involvement, scheduling, time constraints, learning disabilities, grading, quizzes, tests, and more.
For these friends of mine, I offer one word of wisdom that I wish someone had told me before my daughter began Challenge A:
There. Don’t you feel better already?
I confess that I was the stereotypical helicopter parent. As a public school teacher in my former life a hundred years ago, I was used to hovering over my students, making sure that they were on task and not secretly building robots out of legos inside the confines of their student desks. Now, as a homeschooler, I find myself cheering on those same robot-building students that used to give me so much grief. Let them build robots! Let them doodle, and let them eat cake, too!
This transformation did not take place easily for me. We began Challenge A and stuck with it for only one semester before pulling our daughter out and putting her in a private university model school. You see, I had gotten caught up in the perfectionist mindset (again) that carried over into the next semester and contributed to probably the worst five months of my baby’s life. If my life as a “part-time-homeschool-mom” was drawn in a cartoon, the artist would have given me red eyes, horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. I was over-involved in every detail. To say that I hovered would be an understatement: I smothered.
Take your lesson from me….don’t learn it the hard way like I did….just relax. It will be okay! Your child will have good days and bad days. You will butt heads often. Just wait until your child takes formal logic in Challenge B and proceeds to tear apart your parental argument using logic! You won’t know whether to laugh or cry, so you might just do both.
You won’t be able to relax if you are not flexible. I’ve learned to contort my “idea” of school a thousand different ways in this homeschool journey of ours. We used to have a dedicated school room and “walked” to school at a set time each day. Now my daughter completes her assignments at odd hours and in strange places…the floor, the couch, outside in the fort, coffee houses, the skating rink. That dedicated school room is now a storage room for all the books we’ve accumulated over the years. Our coffee table is decorated with Henle Latin, Formal Logic, and Saxon math textbooks. A pencil sharpener has taken up permanent residence in the kitchen. I imagine at 10pm tonight my girl will be diligently working on her short story — because she has learned that the later she writes, the more creative she becomes. On Tuesdays she doesn’t even begin working on school work until 4pm because the day is filled with piano lessons and skating lessons and practice. And you know what? MY KID IS LEARNING. A LOT. There is no rule that says a person’s brain can only learn between the hours of 8am and 3pm. So let life happen. Be flexible!
I don’t know how other Challenge families structure their time, but usually at least some of our weekend is blocked off for the last bit of classwork that didn’t get completed during the week. I LOVE the fact that in Challenge the students have six full days to complete the assignments. Sometimes my daughter finishes all her Logic in one sitting. At other times she spreads it out over the week — it’s her choice, within reason. Of course she can’t put off all school work during the week and expect to get it done all on Saturday. So when life happens during the week — migraine headaches, dishwasher repairmen making a loud commotion in the kitchen, dogs tracking mud all over the floor — it’s okay to put off some of the day’s work to the next day. I promise.
Flexibility is also important in considering how to make accommodations, if needed. Buy audio books if your child struggles with reading. Use voice recognition software if they struggle with the mechanics of writing or typing. One of the guide requirements for Latin, for example, is that students create flashcards for vocabulary. My daughter has made exactly…ZERO….flashcards all year because language is her strength and she has the memory of an elephant. Why make her do busywork that she doesn’t really need? If she can prove to me that she knows the vocabulary and can do the assignments, then why make her write them down on cards she won’t ever look at? I realize some parents will disagree with me on this — writing down the vocabulary will help cement the memory — but that’s the beautiful thing. You can make your child do the flash cards. You can do the flash cards for your child. You can skip the cards altogether. There’s also an app for that! Nobody is looking over our shoulders telling us what is allowed or not allowed.
It’s also good to note that the homeschool police will not cite you for allowing your teen to stay up until midnight and sleep in until 10. In fact, a recent study found that 55% of homeschooled teens get the optimal amount of sleep per night, compared with 24% of teens in public and private schools. Our kids have a tremendous advantage because they have — if we let them — the opportunity to get the sleep their bodies need on their timetables, not the timetable of the system. From personal experience I can tell you that allowing your teen to stay up late and sleep in will improve her attitude. (Unless she stays up until 4am reading a book she couldn’t put down and then struggles out of bed at 8am in order to get to skating practice on time. But that’s a different story.)
Remember this: the Challenge guide is just that: a GUIDE. YOU are the parent and the primary teacher. You get to decide what gets done this week and what gets skipped. If you have a trip to the beach planned, you can have your student work ahead…or even have her tackle the assignments while lounging under an umbrella at the beach.(But don’t blame me if she get sand in her math book.)
Add in a dose of humor to your flexibility, and you will be a much happier Challenge parent. This evening my daughter tackled a selected portion of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” The thees and thous caused great consternation — and humor.
After reading the selection, she posted the following on her FaceBook status:
This mortall life wast glorious
From the rising of the Great Celestial Orbe
O! the great Sol of the tapestry of the sky
On which, pinprick’d, are the stars
That doth givest light to mankind in the
Dead of night
That tolerates necromancers and vampyres
That is to state that this mortall life
Protected by a thin panoplye that giveth mine hearte life
This mortall life wast sublime
Until the fallling of the time
Wenst I wast forc’d to readeth Paradise Lost.
We’ve had some funne with that this evening!
So there you have it, friends. Relax. Be flexible. Be accommodating. Let the guide be a guide and not on par with the Ten Commandments. Find humor in the ordinary.
That way, when your teen uses logic to build an argument against doing logic homework, such as…
If you study logic, then your brain will explode. If your brain explodes, then you will die. Therefore, if you study logic, you will die.
you can laugh and then “go between the horns” of the brain-exploding dilemma:
Your brain is made to process logic. It will not explode. So if you study logic, you won’t die. Nice try, kid!
(By the way, my daughter and her classmates came up with the above argument in class a few weeks ago. It’s been a favorite joke ever since!)
Finally, I can’t write about the parent’s role in classical education without highlighting the fact that our Teacher is the one who is in control. Not the one who tutors our kids during the week…the Lord of Lords, the Creator, the Prince of…what? Turmoil? of Angst? of Hand-wringing? No. His Name is Wonderful Counselor, Prince of PEACE. Begin your day acknowledging him, and He will bring peace, joy…and the freedom to homeschool in the way that fits your family best.
For our family, that meant struggling through Paradise Lost covered in pajamas and puppy kisses. For your family, it means _____________(fill in the blank). Realize with everything I’ve written that your story will look completely different, as it should! My way is NOT the high way. God will help you make your own.