Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How to Homeschool When You Can't Get Off the Couch: Why I Love the Deuteronomy 6 Method of Home Education

One of the greatest lessons the Lord has been teaching me in my long struggle with chronic illness is Letting Go of Perfectionism 101. I am afraid I am a very slow learner.

I am a researcher. I research, I pray and I seek out the best I can find. The best homeschool philosophy for our family and the best resources within that philosophy. When my older children were toddlers I discovered the Charlotte Mason and Christian Classical homeschooling methods. I was delighted. I had been praying for guidance in how I should teach them and I was thrilled with how the Lord had answered. I still am.

I have spent many happy hours devouring articles and books on both philosophies (which have many similarities and can be beautifully blended). I love how these practical, gentle, yet powerful methods merge perfectly into daily family life. Short lessons, lots of read alouds, nature study and living books. I could do this.


Seven years ago, my two eldest were finally old enough to "do school" and I was eagerly looking forward to our first real school year. The Lord had other plans for us though and I hit a crisis point with my health from which I have never fully recovered. Instead of cuddling on the couch reading books or heading off on adventurous nature walks of delight and discovery I was focusing on things like breathing and staring at the ceiling. The most effort I was able to put into anything was playing Tetris on my phone since I only had to move my thumb - and that was on a good day.  (I did get really good at Tetris.)

School was put on the back burner for awhile (and thankfully the children were still young enough that this really was OK) and focused on survival. I recovered from that crisis point, but for two years I was still sick enough that my sister lived with us.We managed school with video school from Bob Jones - much to the horror of my Charlotte Mason loving heart. (More on Bob Jones later! He really is actually a pretty decent guy.)

I have had years where I have been better and years where I have been worse, but every year has been a struggle. The children have continued to learn and grow in spite of this and I am so thankful. Yet, one of my greatest sorrows is not that my children are not learning - it's that they are not learning in the way I long to teach them.

I still firmly believe that my beloved methods fit perfectly with Scriptural principles, are conducive to a happy childhood and would produce excellent results in the children both short and long term. But , in spite of the fact that these are simple methods, I still can't fully apply them exactly how I have always dreamed.

This is why I am so thankful that undergirding every other homeschool method that I love is one that I can attain to. The Deuteronomy 6 Method:
And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.
These verses not only tell us the most important part of education and what needs to be the foundation of everything else we teach - they teach us how to educate.

Many times I have wondered why the Lord called me to homeschool and then allowed me to be crippled in a way that has made it so difficult. When I read these verses though, I am reminded that I am  equipped to teach my children. Maybe not in the way my perfectionistic little mind would prefer, but capable none the less.

I so love that the Lord's commandments are not burdensome. He gives us plenty of options in what education can look like. He doesn't say " Teach your children between these particular hours with this particular curriculum, in this particular way. At a desk."  Nope. Life is learning and learning is life. We can teach them as we live.

As Kelly Crawford says:
 School doesn’t begin at our house. But it doesn’t end either. I don’t have any opposition to starting school or new notebooks and new curriculum. But for us, learning is too intertwined in our lives to mark it with stops and starts...
And whether it’s Saturday night or Monday morning, we learn. We learn without deadlines to make us grumpy or timelines that compare us to others who aren’t us...
Not that we don’t have order or schedules or times set aside for learning specific things, but I’ve learned that life is too precious to be crowded out by the expectations of others. Time is too fleeting to let “school” elbow our relationships aside.
I don’t want to be ruled by charts and clocks and tests and grades. That’s not real life. Life is learning about anything and everything all the time, beside the ones you love. 
The more I realize this, the more my burden is lifted. I might do a lot more sitting and lying down than rising up and walking, but I can teach my children just the same. This has been such an encouragement to me as I face another school year that will be a challenge and will not fit neatly into all the lovely charts, booklists, schedules and detailed plans I still insist for some reason on making.

I do feel true grief at the time I have missed with my children and the memories we have not been able to make. It is one of my greatest heartaches. Because I do believe that life is intertwined with learning my goal is not to just have them "do school". Although I certainly want to have them be independent learners (something we are accomplishing!) I also want to learn and grow together and we have not been able to do this nearly enough. For this, I have to swallow very hard and trust that the Lord's ways might not be our ways, but they are the best.

God knows my heart for my children. He knows the greatest prayer and desire that my husband and I have is not only to see them well educated, it is to see them walking with Him all their days. He is the one that laid this on our hearts and these trials have also come through His hands. I would not have chosen them. I would have made life as easy as possible for our family if it were up to me. Yet, I have a hunch that left to my own devices, my children would not have the character that is being forged in them as the Lord has faithfully afflicted us.

As Mystie Winckler sums it up in her excellent article "Virtue is the Goal of Education"
"To be virtuous, however, we must be diligent, persevering in the midst of adversity. Virtue isn’t a magic trait that smooths paths and makes life soft and easy. Rather, the opposite is more true. Virtue is forged in the furnace of trial, temptation, and difficulty. You can’t have courage without fear. You can’t have patience without irritation. You can’t have self-control without warring desires. Virtue is a fruit God grows in us through adversity."
I still believe that the Lord led me to the educational philosophies that I so believe in. They mesh beautifully with the principles of Deuteronomy 6 and still influence and shape our days - even when I am only able to loosely apply them. I still look forward to and pray for the time when our school days might have more of a pattern and steady rhythm and I will be able to better implement the methods I hold dear. I still love to read the many excellent Charlotte Mason and Classical blogs out there and tuck away ideas.

However, I am learning ("learning" being the keyword there) to loosen my death grip on my plans. Not that I don't still do the best I can in whatever our current circumstances are, but that I accept that this is my best and then leave it with the Lord. I am finally beginning to rest in  the fact that school for our family needs to fit our family, our circumstances and our season - and that although it might not remotely resemble perfect (which doesn't exist, after all), it is good. 

If you are in a difficult season of life that makes educating your children at home a challenge, I hope you will be encouraged. Take heart and a deep breath. Remember,"Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." (1 Thess. 5:24) Hang in there. Or rather,  maybe stop hanging and let go. Rest in Him (I'm writing this to myself too). We and our children are in His hands and His strength is made perfect in weakness.

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