When we set out on our homeschooling adventure 3 1/2 years ago, like pioneers blazing our own trail, we had plenty of hopes and an equal number of fears. There have been days when the road is long and muddy, and we wonder if we’ll ever get there (wherever “there” is). But there have also been many wonderful blessings that keep us going:
- Relaxed mornings with no rushing around or yelling at the kids to hurry up so we’re not late for school. We start whenever we’re ready to start, and progress through our day at a relaxed pace.
- Being there for educational milestones as well as physical ones. I will never look back and sigh over how quickly my kids have grown up because I’m right there with them, every day, not missing a thing.
- Sibling closeness, as my kids basically have no choice but to be friends. I’m confident that they will be better spouses someday because of all the years of practice they’ve had in getting along with the opposite sex.
- Freedom and flexibility to tailor my children’s education to their individual learning styles and interests, taking breaks or changing things up when we need to. Since my husband is now a college professor, we can match our schedule to his.
- Watching my kids fall in love with my favorite subject (history), and gradually warming up to all the other subjects, as well. There’s no more, “I hate math and spelling!” in this house. My daughter has asked for more spelling this year, and my son always wants to keep reading just one more chapter of our math book. (Life of Fred. Check it out. Now.)
I could go on and on about all the things that make homeschooling such a great fit for our family (although I acknowledge that it’s not for everyone, and there are days when I wish the yellow bus would take them away). But there’s another, somewhat surprising benefit that I’ve discovered recently. I shouldn’t be surprised, since the foundation of the Leadership Education model, which we loosely follow, is development of a child’s core character and passion for learning before rigorous study is applied. And yet, until recently, I didn’t realize that this focus on prioritizing internal growth before external results would not only change their educational experience for the better, but change their lives.
I’ve often read my kids the book You Are Special, by Max Lucado. It’s about a race of little wooden people, called Wemmicks, made by the woodcarver, Eli. In the book, the Wemmicks love to put stickers on each other, based on how they perceive the other’s value. Smart, pretty, talented Wemmicks get star stickers. Ugly, awkward, “different” Wemmicks are given dots. The main character, Punchinello, has been given a lot of dots. When Wemmicks who don’t even know him see his all dots, they walk up and give him another dot.
We all know kids like Punchinello who are different, and end up with a lot of dots. By the time we pulled my son out of second grade, he was covered in dots. He struggled with writing, so the heavily writing-based curriculum of the public schools was torture for him. He’s a smart kid, but there was no way he could finish all those worksheets each day. Dot. He’s also slower with calculations, even though he’s capable of grasping advanced mathematical concepts like gear reduction (at age 7), so those daily math drills were a hopeless cause. Dot. Homeschooling him was an obvious decision because kids who get covered in dots eventually see themselves that way and give up. But there’s more to this story…
One day, Punchinello meets Lucia, who has no dots or stars. Some Wemmicks see that she has no dots and try to give her a star, but the stars fall off. Other Wemmicks see that she has no stars and try to give her a dot, but they also fall off. Intrigued by this, Punchinello asks her why the stickers don’t stick. She replies that every day she goes to see the Maker, Eli, who loves her and reminds her who he created her to be. Eventually, she takes Punchinello to meet Eli, and I’ll leave it at that so I don’t spoil the ending for you, but I’m sure you can guess what happens. It’s a great story. But can taking our kids to see their Maker each day really keep the stickers from sticking? Yes!!!
My daughter is just like Lucia. She would probably thrive in public school and get lots of “stars.” She’s naturally athletic – star. She’s sweet (‘n spicy!) and makes friends easily – star. She just turned 9 last month and is doing 5th/6th grade work in school – double star! And yet, I had the strangest conversation with her last spring. I was thinking ahead to the inevitable changes that will take place sometime this year, since my son is turning 12 this fall, so I took my daughter out for smoothies and actually encouraged her to consider going back to public school. I didn’t want her to feel rejected by her brother, who is her best friend, as he begins the necessary process of pulling away from childhood. I thought it might ease the blow if she had other friends at school. (She does have other friends, but doesn’t see them every day.) I pointed out that she’d be repeating 4th grade (since we’d already covered the material when she was in third grade), so she’d get good grades. <insert blank stare and sound of crickets>
At this point, my daughter looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language – and come to think of it, I was. Grades mean nothing to her. Her only public school experience was in kindergarten (which I don’t regret because I am not a crafts person, and she loves the crafts), so she has not been indoctrinated into the grades value system. The thought of repeating material instead of learning new things was ludicrous to her. After 3 years of trying to instill a love of learning in her, it hadn’t occurred to me that she actually loves learning and could care less about a grade! I wanted to put a star on her, but stars just fall right off. Why? Because she spends time with her Maker. Because I made a commitment to God before I ever cracked open a workbook (then promptly put it back on the shelf) that I would do this thing his way, and disciple my kids to be followers of Jesus – not of me, a “system,” or their peers.
As a result of giving them a reprieve from the world of Wemmicks while they discover their own identity, and taking them to their Maker – who gets all the credit for their transformation - I have seen them begin to blossom in their uniqueness. Not only do the stars not stick to my daughter, the dots don’t stick to my son, either. He’s completely comfortable in his own skin, free to be himself because he’s confident that God has a plan for his life. Are my kids perfect? Of course not. But homeschooling has given them the gift of freedom from constant reminders of their imperfections and pressure to be a star, while their Maker is slowly revealing in them the purposes for which they were made.
I hope to eventually share more details on how we nurture their love of learning (while reinforcing a strong work ethic through chores, lest you should think it’s all fun and games around here), but I wanted to establish first that how we educate is of less importance to our kids’ success than building a strong foundation of character and a secure identity in Christ. You don’t have to homeschool to take your kids to the Maker each day.
When we are confident that we are loved and valued by our Maker (and our family), we’re free to explore the world we’ve been given with joy and anticipation instead of fear of judgement/dots or a misplaced desire for external rewards/stars. (When I cleaned out my boxes of childhood memorabilia last summer, I threw away gobs of meaningless certificates and awards that did nothing for me except make me crave rewards and recognition. Yes, I’m still a recovering star-aholic and dot-fearer, which is why I’m so amazed at God’s work in my kids.)
The more time we spend with the Maker, the more we discover his plan for our world and our place in it. No stars. No dots. Just freedom to be who we’re created to be.
Is God trying to peel off your stars or dots? I’m praying for you – and me – to know our Maker more fully, and find our true selves as we shift our focus from stickers to our relationship with Him.