Guest Article by Heidi Treibel
I love my kids. Being a parent for almost eleven years has been a fascinating study into human nature. How children learn and react to their world, then how I learn and react to them-it is a never-ending cycle of growth. I think I’ve finally figured out what makes each one tick, then, golly, they up and change on me again!
Perhaps nothing has been more instructive in learning my children than our years of homeschooling and then at-home days with Rock Solid. After a decade of teaching in the classroom, I knew exactly how my teaching at home would look: inspirational quotes adorning every wall, cute little well-kept desks for each child, and effortlessly flowing between the kids’ varying grade levels and subjects. My oh my, weren’t my children lucky!
Well, of course this at-home schooling has not matched my initial vision. My well-planned school room devolved into a craft and Lego room. Try as we might, the kitchen was always the center around which school has seemed to occur in our house. Let’s be honest, that’s where the coffee maker is, so that’s just usually where Mom is. And even as I’ve tried to create a cozy little school “spot” for each child, even that attempt ebbs and flows. So as we keep working through days at home, I want to share a few strategies that help me maintain perspective and sanity. Because, friends, we are taking the road less traveled in schooling this way! There are easier paths! But the challenges, I believe, are vastly outweighed by the opportunities for growth.
Strategy #1: Be a student of my student
The ever-changing nature of childhood and developmental milestones means I never stop learning about these children God has given me. Though the changes aren’t always pleasant or easy to navigate, they are necessary and beautiful in that awkward sort of way.
Last year, one of my kids spread her schoolwork out on the dining table, only to take it to lay on the sunlit floor by our easterly facing patio window. Apparently she’s part cat!
My other at-homer enjoyed a school-like desk last year, but this year she’s much more productive completing her school tasks while wearing roller blades. I anticipate these methods will keep changing! But isn’t that the beauty of schooling at home? At Rock Solid, students get to learn the social norms of desks and sharing space with classmates and rotating to various centers. But at home, they get to learn what makes them tick. Do they need absolute quiet or background music? Do they like to sit up straight in a chair or sprawl on the floor? What a gift that at their young ages they are learning their own learning styles!
Strategy #2: Redefine my definition of “successful.”
In an ideal world with perfect people, a successful school day would include every child (and parent) waking up perky and pleasant, self-motivated from the start, completing assignments with academic excellence, and all of us fueled by the joy of learning and the satisfaction of a job well done. But more often, even after our deep breaths and prayers for the Lord to be with us, any or all of us have bad attitudes, frustrated moments, and just a struggle to work hard because it’s the right thing to do.
Another mom at Rock Solid recalls one of her recent at-home days, and I’m sure all of us can relate to her feelings and experiences!
I woke up with all of life’s stressors swarming around in my brain. My oldest was (half-heartedly) getting independent work done, while I talked with our middle, who glared at me intensely, stomping his foot down. “I don’t WANT to do school.” My smallest was strapped in the highchair playing with dried noodles and decided to dump the container. Dried noodles and hidden plastic farm animals spilled all over the floor. I couldn’t hold it in - I just started to cry. The overwhelming feeling of all-the-things took over. The day had only started, and I felt so inadequate to do a good job. And it was then that the two older ones stepped up. Helping clean up, playing with the little one and then willingly getting back to schoolwork. My middle gave me a big hug and apologized.
The University Model is not the easiest route; however, there is great value and beauty in learning together as a family. It provides space in which we grow in grace and forgiveness with one another. Loving each other in our I-messed-up moments brings us back to the heart of the Gospel; we have been redeemed in our most challenging moments. The oh-so-hard moments of at home days are a part of that story, as are those precious moments of grace.
There have been tears during our at-home days, and not just from my kids! Success can’t mean flawless schoolwork and equally flawless attitudes. I’ve had to redefine my definition of success on at-home days in a similar way the friend above noted. True success in at-home days is living and experiencing the grace of Jesus. This focus helps me celebrate when my kids and I find ourselves in a really groovy rhythm, and it helps me look to Him when we are all woefully off-key. If I teach my children that success means perfection, they are bound to be disappointed in this life. If I model for them that real success means running to Jesus and his grace over and over again, they will learn there is never a reason to quit. He will help us find our tune and find our way.
Strategy #3: Choose to see conflict as an opportunity rather than a problem
This ties in directly with strategy #2. I will be vulnerable with you. I am triggered by conflict. Due to issues in both childhood and adulthood that I continue to work through, my primal reaction to conflict is fear. When that fear response is triggered, I feel those instincts of fight, flight, or freeze rise up in me. It takes a deep breath, a centering prayer of “Jesus, help,” and perhaps more than one sip of coffee to return to the present moment and see the conflict before me as a holy opportunity rather than a problem to avoid.
I recently read a book entitled “The Power of Discord.” The authors posit that 70% of human interactions are discordant, meaning that two or more individuals are simply not seeing an issue the same way. This sometimes involves conflict. They state that the “repair” that comes from discord is the way intimacy in relationships occurs. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the truth of this! Discord and repair. Every relationship of any substance is a constant dance of discord and repair. What does this look like with my children during at-home days?
For me, this often means reminding myself to listen more than lecture, to be still more than stern, to ask questions more than jump to judgments. If one child is vehemently refusing to do her cursive page, I can see the task through her eyes. I can ask if laying on a cushy pillow cuddled up to mom would be a nice way to do cursive today. Often, our children are craving connection with us when they don’t even know it. This is what makes having multiple kids at home so challenging many days—they all want a piece of mom at the same moment and there's only one mom (or dad, or grandma) to go around!
But when I see our conflict as an opportunity for connection, wonderful ideas come to mind that I couldn’t see while trapped by fear. Even reminding each child, “I can hear you really want me to come sit by you while you do math. I just started cursive with your brother, and I will sit with him for ten minutes, then I will come sit with you for ten minutes” can validate their need for connection. They know they are seen. They know that my unconditional love is not frightened by their big feelings. Even when they need correction or consequences for poor choices, they can feel me draw them closer.
Truthfully, the most poignant breakthroughs with each of my children have come on the heels of conflict. I still don’t like it, and I still crave “perfect” days.
But with Jesus’ help and some strategies to hold in my hand, I wake to at-home days with joyful anticipation. Even the “worst” days are days I got to spend with my children. These days and years will pass so quickly. I will not regret the time and heart I invested in them, and neither will you.