As I was preparing to start the new year, I couldn't help but think of an experience I had this summer that mirrors homeschooling so perfectly! I know the title says "hedges", but it's really just a row of bushes that line the side of our home. (I needed some alliteration so work with me.) Typically, I don't do much (any) yard work, but when I noticed the bushes looking a little unruly, I decided to trim them myself. The weather was pleasant with comfortable temperatures, the kid were all outside playing and I didn't want to be alone inside. So I scrounged around in the garage until I found the hedge clippers and set out to work with resolution. As I clipped here and trimmed there, I couldn't help but draw the following analogies:
The first one was fun and easy. I'm chuckling to myself because I've found that to be painfully true at the start of every school year. The first few weeks are fun and easy! I think to myself, "I got this; no problem! It's hard work but it'll be fun and rewarding." And, as with the bushes, it doesn't take long for the enthusiasm to wear off. Why? Because we get tired after a while and the newness wears off. The solution? Pace yourself. Whether it's bushes or books, you have to settle into a reasonable pace so you can finish the task. For clipping, that means taking a break to wipe your brow, grab a drink of water, step back and evaluate the progress. That's also the secret to enduring the school year. One of the best decisions I made years ago was to do a modified year-round approach for our school schedule. We roughly do six weeks on, one week off. I have found this keeps my sanity in check and allows for me to catch my breath and get caught up with the rest of life. Which leads to my next point.
Know when to quit. I do NOT mean quitting homeschooling altogether! Don't give up; you can do it. I'm in the process of writing a book right now with the sole purpose of encouraging and equipping moms to endure the race of homeschooing. For now, though, mark the option of quitting off your list permanently! What I do mean is knowing when to call it a day. If you've been homeschooling for any amount of time, you know we all have one of "those" days. As soon as you get out of bed, it starts going downhill. <insert whatever chaotic scenario first comes to mind>. But you are determined, at least initially, to redeem the day; that you will do school no matter what. Maybe you're grumpy and premenstrual. Maybe your kids are cranky and uncooperative. Maybe the baby or toddler was up all night. Whatever the case, it's just not going smoothly. Instead of the sweet, patient, Laura Inglas type teacher you envisioned yourself being, you're more of a cross between the Hulk and Medusa. (Can I get a witness?) The best thing you can do for yourself and your children is to stop. Put the books aside and make a new plan. I give you permission to skip all things "academic". Instead, take a field trip (art/history). Go to the park and have a picnic (P.E.). Or find a good episode (or two) on NOVA or the History Channel for the kids and go back to bed. Obviously this needs to be the exception and not the rule. When I set out to cut the bushes, I thought I could do it all in one day. Being stubborn, I decided that since I couldn't finish the task all at once, I'd go as long as possible. Being really stubborn, I kept working even when my stomach was growling and my face was beet red. By the time I went inside I felt sick, and I was no good to anyone the rest of the evening. I think you can see where I'm going with this. There is great wisdom in knowing when to stop so you can recover and regroup.
Deal with the undergrowth. This is where it gets messy. As I stepped back to evaluate my initial progress, I noticed that, in addition to trimming the tops of the bushes, there was also a good bit of undergrowth that needed to be cut and cleared. That required squatting low and partially crawling under each bush. The ground was slightly squishy from recent rainfall which produced a damp rump when I lost my balance. There was also a fair number of spiderweb type masses and, as it turned out, poison ivy. It would have been much easier to just leave it, but I wanted it done right, which meant I had to get messy. Here's the deal with homeschooling: it's more than just the academics. That's just the top of the bush. Homeschooling is also about character training and dealing with heart attitudes and that is where it gets messy! Sure, it would be easy to just ignore the undergrowth of bad attitudes, sibling rivalry, disrespectful tones, and halfhearted efforts. It is far better to stop the lesson and spend time addressing the attitude than to push forward with lesson plans and fail to deal with heart. A child who has a soft heart and teachable spirit is far greater than the one who knows it all but lacks integrity. C.S. Lewis stated it well: "Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil". Almost every mom I know decided to homeschool because she was greatly concerned about the spiritual health and influences on her children. Yet, in the name of "getting school done", sometimes we fail to spend the time necessary in training our children in godliness.
Some bushes are stubborn and difficult. This one doesn't need a whole lot of explanation, but it does take a supernatural amount of patience and unconditional love! There was one bush that just would. not. cooperate. I clipped and pruned, shaped and sculpted. No matter what - or where - I tired, it just would not take shape. Even now it has a gaping whole in the side created by uneven branches, partially dead leaves, and a twisted trunk. I eventually realized there was not a whole lot I could do to change its shape. I realize all children are different and have unique needs, strengths and weaknesses, and character. I would never advocate any attempt to treat or shape each child exactly the same. What I have noticed, however, is that some children are just determined to go (grow) their own way. I have one like that, and at times, this child is difficult to embrace. This one redefines "stubborn". Does that give me permission to throw down the clippers and walk away, abandoning my task? No. What it does mean is that I do the best I can with what I have, and that I endeavor to love unconditionally the twisted branches and missing limbs. That I love the child for who they are and not what I wish they were. If you struggle with a child who is difficult, don't loose hope and don't ever give up. You are influencing the shape of their heart and life whether or not you recognize their unique shape.
I did finish my job after a couple of days, and felt a great sense of accomplishment every time I pulled into our driveway. I can only imagine the joy and success that I will feel as we graduate our students out of our home school and into the world! It will be well worth every minute invested, every struggle overcome.
I'd love to hear from YOU! What "lessons" have you learned along your homeschool journey? Please join the conversation by commenting below. Also feel free to share this with others on any social media network.