Sharpened pencils, new markers, clean binders, shiny new timeline cards, colorful math bears to weigh and count . . . I smile happily as I gaze at our homeschool shelves filled with supplies for the new school year. Next, I turn my start-of-the-year zeal toward our schedule and curricula. I figure out a routine I think will work, I order books from my favorite vendors and the library, and then I feel ready and prepared.
By lunchtime, I realized that our first day of school looked nothing like it did on paper. What I thought would take an hour and a half took at least three hours. My son cried because he froze up on his math drill. My five-year-old had a meltdown because she cannot read “the fast way.” My toddler ran around scattering math bears in her wake, generally bringing chaos into our schoolroom, and messing up my shiny new supplies. After stepping on the math bears for the fourth time, I dropped into my chair exhausted and discouraged. I think God has a great sense of humor when He says that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways.
Homeschooling is by far the most difficult job I have ever undertaken. Phonics and math facts have been a vehicle for showing me I need God’s strength and patience every step of the way and that I cannot do this on my own. In His goodness He has provided me two very practical tools that have made my homeschooling journey much easier. The first tool He has provided is our local Classical Conversations community. When I walk through the doorway to meet with other Classical Conversations families, I find moms who struggle just as I do, and I find moms who have survived the toddler years and are alive to tell about it. They encourage me. They build me up. They remind me that what I am doing is important. We work together to know God and make Him known to our children. These families help give my week structure without making it a straitjacket. I do not know if I would make it without the community and accountability provided by my Classical Conversations group.
The other special tool God has graciously provided are my mentors from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Every month, godly parents who have walked this road before me speak truth in a variety of articles. Did you know that Leigh Bortins writes a monthly classical column for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine (TOS)? I do not always have time to search out my copy of The Core (I think it is behind the math bears that are now on the VERY TOP of my bookshelf), but I can get my iPad out and read a quick article in TOS as a pick-me-up (www.TOSApps.com). Leigh offers reading suggestions, explanations of classical terminology, and specific guidance for different academic themes. Each month her column in TOS Magazine keeps me motivated to persevere with the classical model.
Both of these graces in my life offer resources that help our homeschool thrive—and when I say “thrive” I am not saying we do not still have tears and renegade math bears. We are also blessed with geography tables, songs to make memory work easier, and beautiful timeline cards. These Classical Conversations resources are tried and true. They work. I can make them fit into a schedule packed with ballet, play dates, and visits to the pediatrician. This kind of school does not just look good on the shelf; it looks good as we live it out in our sometimes messy lives. As for TOS, it is like having a homeschool convention at my fingertips every month. Each issue of TOS provides a quick reference list of companies whose resources pertain to that month’s theme. For example, check out the Back to School Directory here: http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine-digital.com/thehomeschoolmagazine/201208#pg93
The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine also offers an “Academic Spotlight” feature each month, highlighting a particular school subject. June’s magazine, for example, focused on art (http://www.thehomeschoolmagazine-digital.com/thehomeschoolmagazine/201206/#pg75), and I was able to find out about a DVD-based art curriculum that expands on the drawing we will be doing during the first six weeks of Classical Conversations. I saw SEE THE LIGHT in the Academic Spotlight column and then watched and listened to the free online Expo that included an introduction to it (SchoolhouseExpo.com) and bought the program. Our whole family is excited about this art resource. Both Classical Conversations and TOS not only encourage me to homeschool, but they also equip me with resources to do the job well.
I am starting this school year with high hopes and realistic expectations. After heeding the wisdom and encouragement that these two resources have provided, I decided to ease into our year by launching one or two subjects the first week to make school (and Mom) a lot more fun. I scaled back and focused on basic math and phonics on a light level. This approach trained my kids to know what to expect, and then I slowly added in other subjects, such as memory work review and handwriting. I like to start doing our math and language arts lessons before our Classical Conversations group begins so that we already have a routine and can add in our memory work as the most fun part of our day. Who knows—I may even get those math bears off of the top shelf.