By Sarah Schafer
Note from Joanna Sheppard: Parents have become instant home educators in recent days as they face this unprecedented time in world history. Whether they are teaching colors, manners and potty essentials to littles, following distance learning options, or continuing the homeschool year, educating their children looms large on their hearts. Teaching one’s own children can be overwhelming to the most experienced teachers, but especially so to first timers. It’s a season that is without a doubt a challenge, but also a gift as families have the opportunity to grow together. I’ve invited Sarah Schafer, a 6-year homeschooling mama from UFC, to give us mamas some perspective and practical encouragement.
My husband Ray and I have 10-year-old boy/girl twins, a 7-year-old boy, and a 4-year-old boy. I didn’t necessarily choose to homeschool. I think of it as a direct calling from the Lord, one that I couldn’t easily avoid, though I tried. I didn’t have a concept for what it looked like to educate my kids at home, and yet, I dearly loved my time with them, even in the chaos of the early years. Initially teaching my kids at home panicked me as I thought about the long days at home with them with no break and no family in town to help me. But I continually returned to the idea and had to wrestle long hours with the Lord regarding the decision.
When I finally made the decision to educate from home, the Lord was gracious and has been with me every step of the way. Yes, we still have days wrought with tears and long, hard lessons. But the grace that has been bestowed, and the sweet, quiet moments of growth and learning, far surpass any of the challenges. In the face of this pandemic and the resulting closure of public schools for the unforeseeable future, I have had tremendous opportunity to bestow on other sweet mamas some words of peace that I have received over the years. These are a few things I wish I had known sooner than later:
Educating from home cannot and should not look like educating in a traditional classroom.
Coming from a family of educators and being public schooled myself, I fought against this concept for many years. I felt like I needed to recreate a school environment at home, and I felt like I was continually missing the mark, most specifically because we weren’t behind a desk or books all day. Would my kids be missing out? Would they be behind? It took many years to see that the home school environment can be anything I want it to be. It can be the kitchen table, the backyard, or even the back seat of the car. Learning can take place anywhere. In a day and age where domestic education is a lost art, these long hours at home are a treasure trove of crucial skills long lost. Literally anything can be a form of learning. If a child loves Legos, make Legos the theme of the day with writing, math and history mixed in! Follow your kids’ interests, and it will amaze you at how much they retain and remember.
Do many small things with great love.
Intentional has become the motto of our days. Our mornings look the same, for routine is important. We share breakfast together, do our chores, then gather on the couch for morning devotions and journaling. Following that, we do our school work: language arts and grammar, math, history, or handicrafts. We allow ample space for chasing ideas and researching questions using books or google. We share the duties of getting everyone fed as each child has a hand in preparing meals and snacks, and all share the responsibilities of household chores. Sometimes we scrap everything and write letters, bake muffins, and watch a documentary or we take our journals on walks and document what we see, feel, hear, and smell. We rarely, if ever, do focused book work for more than three hours a day. Here is the key: Learning can take any form if done with intention. Flexibility and spontaneity are dear friends.
This time of sheltering in place can be awkward, forced, and ugly if we allow it. Our homes can be chaotic, our kids can be cyclones, and our lives can feel out of control and lonely. It can feel like we just can’t get a break or get away. May we remember the unique opportunity during this time of discomfort. Perhaps we can embrace the unmanaged home and see it as an opportunity to teach our kiddos how to do the laundry, load the dishwasher and make their beds. Perhaps we can reestablish some life-giving routines with our families by drenching ourselves in early morning scriptures, while enjoying a pot of tea. Maybe we can write more letters, cook scones, or learn to play a new instrument. What sounds life-giving to you? Practice those things! Allow your kids to come alongside you and take part in your routines and establish healthy and peaceful habits in your life. Do things that remind you how much you like your children because,honestly, it can be hard to remember in these long and arduous days. Give yourself heaps of grace and freedom and stay focused on the heart. And don’t forget, we are all in this together.