Not All Academics
There can be no job on earth more humbling than being a parent, unless it is being a homeschooling parent. The eternal significance of soul building, the effort to impart academic excellence (whatever we perceive that to be), keeping our home organized and pleasant, and teaching life skills can seem mountainous most days.
In case those things don’t challenge us enough let me sprinkle in an above average number of children and living on one income. At our house we blend in adopted, foster and birth children all with unique learning styles and personalities. Then along the way came the reality that some have not only physical challenges, but learning delays as well.
We have moved 6 times, lived in 3 states and added 6 adopted children to the 8 children we initially had when we started home schooling over 15 years ago. We have experienced many job transfers, under employment and more recently unemployment as my husband, John, has undergone two surgeries for treatment of a brain tumor.
I have spent many a prayer time beseeching God for wisdom, strength and specific instructions on how He would have me do all that I have to accomplish on a given day. All of the familiar scriptures have been poured over and applied: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”, “God will not give us more than we can endure”--you know the scriptures I write of. Scripture is my fuel, God is the source. Still, day to day, what does that look like?
I am both an avid reader and a prolific list maker. I love organization and the power having a plan and goals give to our day. For a very long time I felt the learning delays had to be due to selecting incorrect curriculum, not working long enough hours at planning or teaching, or simply, gasp, I could not teach! At one time or another I have tried just about every approach.
I have poured over books on teaching special needs children, and organized to the point of exasperation at times. Looking back, all were an integral part of building our lifestyle of learning, so don’t despair if you find yourself studying and organizing and list making, it’s all good when we are following the leading of the Holy Spirit. The best teachers are those with teachable spirits themselves. Hopefully, as Christian parents we are sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we create, design and implement our schools at home.
Many of our children who learn differently also do not learn in sequential fashion. For example, they do not apply the knowledge that basic alphabet letters become words, which become spelling and reading lessons, which become information we apply in daily life. Our differently-abled children could not learn in an unschooling sort of teaching environment. So, I would swing to more structure and assume different curriculum would be the
key. I hoped if I found the right workbook, Bible lesson or made chores more doable and discipline more consistent I would see academic progress.
I wanted desperately to spare my children having to face questions about what grade they were in or from being asked to read aloud in Sunday School when they could barely find the page number of the lesson being studied. I wanted my children to ‘main stream’…after all, when I embarked on the home school journey I did so because I thought schooling at home would allow excellence that would exceed that which they would have attained in public school. Some of our children have graduated college by now with 4.0 successes. I was wrong when I hoped schooling at home would ensure every child similar results.
An element of pride had to be relinquished before I could understand differences and effectively teach. I feel it is safe to say that parents who have the tenacity and personalities to parent many and special children seem to frequently struggle with finding a balance of strength, humility and supposed success. I have personally struggled with my pride when my children did not measure up to the academic success I saw in fellow home school families. I confess it probably bothered me more than the children who struggled with the delays. When I would ask God what He wanted me to teach (and I consider this the single most important factor in teaching at home—seeking God and His wisdom) I felt His answer was ‘it’s not all about academics’. But, Lord…what does that mean? What does that look like in my day-to-day teaching, cleaning, cooking, and laundry?
I started by lowering my standard some. I set goals that had less academic challenges, thus reducing the stress on our entire family. I created a notebook and my own version of an IEP for each child so that I could not only set goals, but see progress, albeit not always academic. For lack of a better term, I began teaching to the whole child; I practiced creating a lifestyle of learning that was totally out of the box I had first put my plans and ideas in.
All too soon, (where do the years go?) we faced the ultimate parenting test. You know the one, your emotions play against your logic and all of that is in contradiction to the things in life you want to protect your child from. Our teens who were chronologically in the 9th grade were reading and reacting to life at about a 3rd grade level on a good day. Here they were, suddenly old enough to go on a week long mission trip with the church youth group. Oh Lord, how did they get to be teens so quickly and why are they still so unprepared? My own pride and feelings of defeat about not helping them be as successful as I had hoped began to surface.
How could we let them go? They could not make change when spending money; they could not read menus or directions. They had minimal phone skills and certainly would be unsafe. Fear raised its ugly head and my mommy heart hurt as the decisions I had avoided for so long now loomed on the horizon.
My husband felt it was time to release the boys, to let them go. We went to our youth pastors and tried to explain our concerns. At best they took note. However, because our children live daily in a large family their survival skills are excellent, as far as following others and appearing to function within that normal box. This is their greatest disability, appearing normal but being so delayed in unseen areas. The danger is much greater for our 4 children that have logic and learning delays than our child with severe cerebral palsy who is visibly disabled. I knew that I needed to follow my husbands’ leading, but it was hard, oh, so hard for me to release them to travel so far.
I prayed and interceded all week while the boys were gone. I mused and I wondered at what it looked like for them on an expedition to the unknown. How is it to be handsome healthy young men, leaders by personality, delayed for unknown reasons in academics and logic? How does one find a path with such a combination?
As I walked down the church corridor on the Sunday the youth returned, I was greeted time and again with hugs and huge smiles from knowing adult sponsors returning from the mission trip. By the third or fourth greeting my heart began to
flutter. Was it true; were our sons really awesome on this, their first mission trip? Was it true, had they prayed prayers that touched the hearts of man and God? Had they really been the spiritual leaders one sponsor beamed about when she whispered the news to me?
One glance at my nearly 6 foot tall twin sons confirmed in my spirit that indeed there had been a huge transformation. They stood tall and confident, peaceful with the afterglow we have all experienced upon completion of a powerful Bible study, beautiful time in prayer, or in this case, a spirit led mission trip.
As I drove from the church parking lot the Holy Spirit came over me in a profound fashion. Tears streamed down my face as God spoke to my heart in a most healing way. Past memories of struggles and disappointments waved across my mind. The moves, the difficulties with finances, their challenges at learning even the simplest of math computation flowed through my memory. God showed me that even though I thought my efforts had been futile, my lists unnecessary, my curriculum dilemmas wasted, my chore chart anxieties and our discipline useless, it had all worked together for good, just as He had promised.
When I had felt we should have been drilling academic concepts one more time, but instead we were rewriting scripture or talking for the hundredth time about accountability and a more logical way to accomplish a goal, we had inadvertently been achieving goals. I realized that day I had misconstrued the goals, not failed at teaching. Our goals of excellence for our children were happening.
Gently the Lord had nudged us toward teaching to the soul of the child. I had been mistaken when I thought my primary responsibility as a home school teacher was about academic success. We had been making eternal differences, though my eyes had initially been on academics failures, not all the other less obvious lessons of life.
I was so humbled that day as the ‘light’ finally went on for me! I finally understood what God meant when He said, “It’s not all about academics”. I was empowered and excited to press forward peaceful in my new found knowledge.
Since that revelation, our school has taken on a whole new concept. Guess what? When I truly understood what God desired for our school at home, when I let go and let God direct more intricately, academics s-l-o-w-l-y increased! We see continued spiritual growth, and that was always the goal. I just hadn’t understood.