Educating For Life!
I'm surrounded by my children at the big table covered in bright tie-dyed African fabric in our study. The computer at the desk prompts our daughter Peace, age 12; "Sass...never sass your parents", as she works through her spelling drill work. Maura (also 12) sits daydreaming out the window instead of reading her open science book, and Heretta (15) waits patiently for me to check her science lesson and meanwhile watches over Peace's shoulder.
Caleb (10) and Lawson (12) work away at their math lessons at the big table. Hannah works at a nearby lap-top taking care of Children Concerned e-mails. Nikki's off checking that both sets of washer/dryers are still running. Thomas is writing a letter in the quiet of his room. Charlea's finished with her lessons and is off playing with the three little ones. Rachel's hard at work tending to Children Concerned tasks, as well.
Let's see--that accounts for 13 of the children; Jack (21) Jordan (18) Chelsea (17) are out mowing lawns and Ethan (15) is working with my husband, Tom.
This is the scene on any average morning at our home. It's nearly 10am...the dishwasher hums away, the kitchen is cleaned up and the evening meal defrosting on the countertop (lunch will be leftovers), bathrooms and bedrooms are tidied and the day’s work is written upon a dry-erase board. Each child is assigned work equal to their abilities; roughly one-hour's worth.
Soon we will gather in the living room to read God's Word and pray. Currently we are working our way through Revelation. The children read one to three verses depending upon their abilities as we go around the room. We give this about 45 minutes; then pray. Afterward, I read aloud a chapter of a book. Today I'm starting an old favorite, Appointment in Jerusalem. (The phone rings, but we leave it go to the answering machine.)
11:30am--reading time is finished. The children wrap up their lessons and most have begun their housework from the dry-erase board for the day. With so many able-bodied children to do the work, we can keep the house running! One very helpful resource in training workers is a Kent Hovind video entitled, "How to Make Money and Spend it God's Way". (I say it should've been called, "A Mother's Sneaky Way of Teaching Children to Become #1 Workers"!)
Let's face it; teaching is training. What my children learn (educationally speaking) doesn't matter as much as HOW they learn. My children will pick up my attitude easily. If my thinking is, "How can I get the best for them?" but I fail to teach them to lay down their lives--then I cannot complain when I see my children as self-centered adults who care little for others.
Many home-educating years ago, I remember lamenting over which curriculum to use with my precious little ones. They were blossoming into eager learners and I desired to give them ALL I COULD as any good parent would. When I sought the Lord in prayer, asking Him what He would have me teach them, He asked me a question. "Candy, what if all your sons turn out like your husband and all your daughters become JUST LIKE YOU?" Suddenly, what to teach was of little importance!
My focus became less about my children's education and more about becoming the person I was in Christ. I became more concerned with living in a way that would bring honor to my Lord. They were watching how I was handling situations, and would model my behavior. I needed to focus on what mattered to God, and I knew I needed to turn my thoughts more to loving and supporting my dear husband, also. The best thing we parents can give our children is a good marriage! It will bless their lives far more than anything else we could provide, aside from salvation.
There are seasons to our lives--these may last weeks, months or even years. Our life seems to ebb and flow every other year depending upon a pregnancy or new baby, or an adoption. It seemed to be the pattern that every other year we would have a terrific year of advances in our children's education and the in-between year we'd simply maintain. We'd keep in sight our overall goals and remind ourselves that Home Education is a lifestyle.
There are days we get behind in the house and I call a strike on the lessons. Laundry gets messed up, we can't find things, office supplies can no longer be found! Meals in the freezer are eaten up and a big cooking day needs to be scheduled again. This is LIFE. Sometimes cleaning and creating order is more necessary than lessons. It is education; life education.
It comes down to the question, what really matters to us? What are our goals for our children's future? Do I want them to be geniuses but live in disarray or possibly forsake their faith? That may sound extreme, but we must remember that what we do today will become the pattern for the future!
Many a Sunday evening I've gone to bed with grand plans for the upcoming week. What educational heights we were going to hit! Where we would go and how the children would be able to get so much out of it--only to awaken Monday morning to sick little ones or maybe I didn't even make it through the night myself; being up with a small baby. Through it all I learned what was needful that week!
When I was pregnant every other year, so sick, unable to do much for them or myself, they took care of me! This would last four to five months each pregnancy. I would lament, "Oh! I'm unable to be the wife/mother everybody needs! Their education is suffering. They have to take care of the house and each other and ME!"
But my fears were all unfounded! No one complained (other than me) about them having to care for the little ones or Mom. My eight year old daughter learned to cook simple meals. The six year old became an expert at caring for her toddler brother! The three year old and the toddler learned to play well together, and no one was the worse for my lack of involvement! We'd actually come out of it stronger as a family! Yes, we had some catching up to do in the house and lessons once I was on my feet again--but a child can accomplish a lot in three to six months time!
Whenever I meet with the beautiful mothers at Above Rubies retreats, I am asked, "How do you do what you outlined in the “The Life of a Queen” in # 64 Above Rubies? I do not have it all figured out, I just know what works for the Zackeys. What the Lord has revealed to me, works for us. He'll have a plan for you, too, as you seek Him.
What to do
Figure out what your overall goals are. Keep the Big Picture in sight. For instance, one goal may be that the children have a good working knowledge of Scripture. Well, then, are you making Bible time? Will it be a subject of great importance, and how often will you have instruction in the Word? What about Scripture memory? If you want your children to memorize God's word, you must apply yourself to helping them ENJOY memorizing each day!
We assign a chapter of Scripture to the entire family for the month. We discuss together which one to do, and then DO IT! I break it down into four parts and require they meet the weekly goal by a particular day. I always tie a privilege to the accomplishment.
Don't require things that are drudgery (other than math). I remember a friend (back in the early years when we all attended Home Education support groups) asking a home educating father, who happened to be a school teacher, how she should best direct her son. He responded with a startling question, "What do you love to do?" As he wisely explained, our children will love to do what we have a passion for. Do you love playing guitar? If so, you will be able to REALLY teach your children to play, or pass on the desire to want to excel!
I LOVE to read great literature! I always make time to read to them and discuss symbolism, foreshadowing, etc. and talk through the book when we've finished reading. All my children love reading. In fact, several of them have gone on to study great works, beyond what I ever sought out.
What I don't love or excel at (like Geography), I find creative solutions for. In the case of Geography, I put the US map and the world map under a see-through plastic tablecloth at the dining table. The children loved it! They would quiz each other on the capitals of countries and US states and learned all about where everything was in the world.
We have always had a good district to work with, even when we lived in Florida. Here in New York we are required to provide a list of syllabi at the start of each year telling what teaching materials we will use, and provide quarterly reports and annual assessments for each child on Home Instruction.
That may sound daunting, but we've made it simple! I write out an IHIP (Individualized Home Instruction Plan) for each child. Really, I just use the same one for each grade and change the child's name. It spells out the minimum to meet state requirements in each subject. I count the housework as learning time, as well as any time spent reading aloud. I call it “Applied Studies”.
Our older children are allowed to work at a desk in their room. They appreciate the quieter atmosphere. They take their IHIP and break it down into goals for themselves and we meet to check over their progress weekly.
But then we do more! Meeting the State requirements doesn't take all our time; we also keep a list of what we want to learn, what we want to study, where we want to go (field trips), etc. Some years its following an interest in studying about the blind, dinosaurs, African wars, explorers, ice skating, sign language, quilting, sewing, nature, etc.
Contentment and Focus
But even in the hard times, when “extras” are not part of what we're doing; we must stay the course of what's important. Loving each other and keeping things together are goals as well!
At the end of the year, what do you want your children to remember? I know what I don't want them to remember. I don't want them to think back and say, "Mom was always too busy for us. The computer and everybody else took her time from us. She was on the phone..." I don't want them to have wasted their time on the computer or in front of the television either! Some years we have set the goals to be “learning to get along with each other” above any educational accomplishments. For our younger adopted children; their first year home was, “learning to play and adapt to our family” as they had so much to take in changing cultures and never having played with manipulatives like blocks or dolls. Those were important goals.
Adoption has taught me a lot about what's important. Our African children have come with gaps in their education, some more than others. Rather than say, "Oh! How terrible! They're so far behind!" We have chosen rather to see the blessing. What an opportunity to spend quality time with these, my children, which I have not raised until now. Helping them fill in their learning gaps strengthens our bonds with each other and makes them confident in their abilities! What joy!
Akron, New York, USA
Tom and Candy Zackey are blessed with 17 children: Jack (21), Rachel (19), Jordan (18), Chelsea (18), Ethan (16), Heretta (16), Hannah (16), Nicole (15), Thomas, Jr. (13), Maura (13), Peace (12), Clay (12), Caleb (11), Charlea (9), Hawa (9), Olivia (5) and Cecilia (3).