by guest author Patricia Dotten
I remember as a young mom being so excited to start homeschooling! I envisioned a small row of desks in a meticulously organized and colorfully decorated school room in our basement, posters of presidents and the cursive alphabet on the wall, an American flag and manual pencil sharpener strategically placed next to the oversized chalkboard at the front of the room. I expected large uninterrupted time blocks of teaching my attentive and eager “students” and on my big desk up front, a detailed planner laying open next to my “World’s Best Teacher” coffee mug!
Well, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my little “school” wasn’t going to be so neat and tidy! In fact, after a couple of years, we ditched the school room altogether because it was never used. The desks? We donated them to Goodwill. My favorite picture now is of my son hanging upside down off the couch reading his Biology textbook. I can count on one hand the times he actually sat in a chair to do school work.
Over time, my idea of “school” was morphing and my view of true education expanding. The big “Aha moment” came during one particularly difficult season. I had four little ones under 8 and was eagerly anticipating my fifth when sadly, I miscarried. In the days and weeks after losing this little one, I was so distraught I didn’t think I could handle “doing school.” And that’s when my sister, a seasoned homeschool mom, reminded me that school is really just living life together with my children: talking with them, grieving with them, going on walks, doing chores, cooking, cleaning, and reading together.
My sister suggested that I take this opportunity to read aloud for long stretches everyday to my children. And so that’s what I did. In fact, I would read for hours and hours each day — up to 6 hours a day. We would snuggle together on the couch, some of my girls would color and my son would play quietly with his legos or K’nex while listening to the stories. We read biographies, missionary stories, and classics. The time reading together became a healing balm to my soul and a binding glue between my children and I. We laughed together and cried together. And every time I stopped reading, I heard a chorus of eager voices crying out, “read, Mommy, read!” I found that my children were learning. My youngest was 2 years old, but we read real books, good literature. My children, unbeknownst to them, were growing in their vocabulary and grammar. They were learning geography and history, about foreign lands and cultures, about God and His kingdom, about character and morality all through the books I was reading aloud to them. We would stop and discuss ideas or concepts they didn’t understand as we were drawn closer by experiencing these wonderful stories together.
I wouldn’t trade those days for anything! What a rich time it was! And when we did return to doing some more traditional math, English, and history, my view of education had been forever changed. My “school” would be forever different: more relationships, less rigid routine; more conversation, less teaching; more real life, less textbooks; more hands-on, less sitting still; more adventure, less boredom; more whole books, less workbooks; more laid back, less stress. And we kept reading aloud, at least one hour a day, which I continued to do until my children graduated from high school. My goals had changed as well. Instead of tests and grades, I wanted to see my children love learning because I knew this would help them in whatever sphere God placed them.
Whether you’re experiencing a season of loss and grief, are in the throes of trying to homeschool with toddlers under foot, or are struggling to keep your children’s attention for school, just remember that homeschooling is a lifestyle, not a classroom. As you pass on your own love of learning to your children and introduce them to great books through reading aloud, you are equipping them for life. So hop on the couch with a good book and give your desks to Goodwill!