But you should understand that failure came first. In this post I talk about our daughter whom we suspected early on had a learning disability. Later it was finally confirmed to us that she is dyslexic and has a language processing disorder. While of course that presents a daily challenge, I also see it as such a blessing. As contradictory as it may sound, without the difficulties and my resulting failings as a homeschooling mom, I may never have found the joy inherent in homeschooling.)
We can learn a lot from our successes, but it’s often our failures that prove to be the greatest teachers. I’ve learned, (and am learning,) to accept the lessons they have to teach me.
My very first venture into homeschooling came when my daughter was a preschooler and we started working on some basics together, simply because I noticed she didn’t seem to know many of the things other kids her age knew. I never called it ‘homeschooling’ however. Of course that’s exactly what it was, but I had no intention of homeschooling…EVER…so I wasn’t even going to use the term if I didn’t have to!
But necessity can be a powerful motivator. Our oldest child was enrolled in our church’s small Christian school and she was doing very well. When it was time for daughter #2 to begin Kindergarten and our school didn’t offer K, we found ourselves faced with a dilemma. I had already decided public school wasn’t an option, but from a practical standpoint, neither was another Christian school. For one thing, it was going to be a logistical nightmare getting two children back and forth to two different schools with two different schedules while I still had two small boys at home. There was also the issue of tuition for my Kindergartener at a larger, far more expensive school. The extra funds simply weren’t there, so….very much against my will, I decided to homeschool my daughter, even to call it homeschooling this time! But I would do it only for Kindergarten. Just this once.
And I wish so much I could tell you that this intentional effort at homeschooling immediately began to break down my defenses, to challenge my preconceived notions, to overwhelm me with joy and fulfillment in God’s purpose and plan for my life of home educating my children.
Instead, let me pause a moment and laugh hilariously.
Because my first attempt at homeschooling was, in my mind at least, an abject FAILURE. Maybe not entirely from an academic standpoint, but definitely from a personal one.
I blew it! I mean, I really blew it and by the time that year was over, homeschooling one child, I was more convinced than ever before that I never wanted to homeschool my children. Never. So let me explain…
While daughter #1 was the kind of kid who just “picked things up” with hardly any effort on my part, who knew all her letters and numbers before she even started preschool, daughter #2 was vastly different. I knew she hadn’t learned as many things as early as her sister and that she was easily distracted in comparison, but I chalked it up to some ADHD and maybe some immaturity and I thought we’d overcome it in no time. Once we focused in on schooling, the wheels of learning would begin to roll and she’d be on the level of #1 in no time.
But I was terribly, terribly wrong.
My sweet, creative, imaginative little girl is dyslexic. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, as it doesn’t reveal itself until a child begins tackling written language, but I quickly knew something wasn’t right in her learning. My daughter was drawing pictures with startling detail at an incredibly young age and she amazed me by knowing all of her shapes by name almost as soon as she could talk, yet she struggled desperately with something so simple as learning letters and numbers and stringing letters together into words.
Coming to understand what was wrong and seeing letters and words through my daughter’s eyes was a slow and very painful process. We struggled together for months. Even as an older Kindergartener, (she turned 6 just after we started school,) for the longest time she could not seem to tell her letters apart or learn their names. Some days she would do relatively well and I would be encouraged. The next day we would review letter flashcards and she would miss nearly every one of them. My 3-year old would often wander into the kitchen and blurt out the names of letters and numbers my 6-year old could not remember to save her life. It was always disheartening for us both.
I can’t begin to explain how long and painful those pitiful efforts seemed. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong as a teacher and my daughter didn’t know why she couldn’t get it or why I stayed so frustrated and I can’t tell you the times both of us finished school in tears. I was incredibly stressed. My patience was shot.
By the middle of February in our school year, I was desperate for some kind of progress and even questioned if I had no choice but to put my daughter in public school where perhaps someone could give her the help I could not. I was at a total loss for what to do and I was more convinced than ever that homeschooling was not an option for me.
But I had made some egregious errors from the very beginning and I look back now, knowing well that had I had these issues in check, my homeschooling experience may have been very, very different. But…
1. I homeschooled that year totally against my will.
I agreed to educate my child at home, but I did it resentfully, frustrated that this was my only option. I viewed homeschooling as a burden instead of the wonderful opportunity it truly was. No wonder I was frustrated when things didn’t go smoothly! No wonder I spent the year stressed-out and aggravated with myself and with my daughter and with a disability I couldn’t understand!
2. I went at homeschooling with totally unrealistic expectations.
I didn’t want to homeschool, but I figured we’d have some beautiful learning moments together just the same. My daughter would be anxious to learn and fascinated by the things I taught her. All the distractions would easily fall away with a little one-on-one time. When she read her first word, dramatic music would play in the background and together we’d bask in the magical glow of learning. (Okay, I didn’t really expect to hear music, but you know what I mean. It was really supposed to be that magical.) When homeschooling didn’t go anything like that, of course I was discouraged.
3. I hoped for homeschooling success for mostly prideful reasons.
I realize I’m not painting a lovely picture of myself here, but I’m trying to be truthful. I wanted my daughter to learn quickly and seemlessly and with as little effort on my part as possible. I wanted her to excel and amaze her peers and mine with her incredible abilities, not for her benefit or for God’s glory, mind you, but for my own pride. When it didn’t happen that way and I not only felt inept, but was sure I looked it, too, it was simply more than my dignity could stand.
So, failing miserably and overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and complete inadequacy, I began to pray.
I know, I know. I was way late on that one! I should’ve been praying and praying hard about teaching my daughter from the very beginning, but I’d gone into homeschooling with this dissenting arrogance, convinced I could do it on my own and mad I was having to do it all. Sadly, it never occurred to me I might need to bathe my attempts in prayer.
But desperate times call for desperate measures and, no doubt about it, incredible things began to happen as I prayed. My daughter did not excel, but she did begin to learn her letters and by the end of the school year was reading very simple words, though it seemed to happen in spite of me more than because of me or any brilliant efforts of mine.
So at year’s end we closed our books and I finished my first attempt at homeschooling. Or just gave up on it maybe, but either way the summer passed and I breathed a sigh of relief as I sent my daughter off to Christian school for 1st grade. I wasn’t sure she was ready for it, but I hoped for the best and thanked heaven I didn’t have to homeschool again!
But unbeknownst to me at the time, something had begun inside of me that school year. My failures nagged at me. The miserable helplessness I’d felt, the horrid, humiliating inadequacy I’d experienced was painful, yet fertile soil for a “homeschooling epiphany” to begin to grow.
I wasn’t willing to homeschool, but in the slightest, almost indiscernable way I think I began to be willing to let God change my mind on the issue, if indeed that was what He wanted to do!
Now, I don’t think I really believed He wanted to change my mind at all, or maybe I didn’t believe He could. But it didn’t matter. All God needed was a little willingness, a tiny crack in the door of my heart. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. And then one day I prayed that half-hearted prayer I mentioned before.
“God, if you want me to homeschool, you’re gonna have to change my heart.”
Bam. I think that’s all He was looking for — the slightest willingness. It was very slight, mind you, but God in His mercy and love took hold of that prayer and was kind enough to answer it for me, even when I wasn’t sure I wanted it answered at all. He didn’t change my mind all at once, but slowly, through circumstances and through prayer and through gentle, but frequent proddings in my heart.
And when I decided to give homeschooling another try, this time with multiple children, I was so uncertain and so afraid. Surely I’d be stressed again. Surely my patience would be gone by Christmas. Surely I would be completely burnt out by the spring.
Yet here I am, more passionate about my decision to home educate than ever before. It’s been amazing. Miraculous. Something so far beyond myself I can’t even begin to describe it to you. It’s been a gift of grace, one as readily available to you as it has been to me.
“Oh, not me!” you say. “I could never homeschool!”
Yeah, I said that, too. Yet here I am. And thank God I’m here!
It’s my rallying cry, the daily mantra of my heart, and only in remembering it am I confident in this thing called homeschooling.
And I’m all weakness. I admit it. But I’ve learned, through my failures, that it’s not MY strength I’m depending on anyway. Thank God He daily gives me HIS. And thank God for the road that led me to homeschool.