As we all know, parents at GCA are also co-teachers. And we know being a spouse, parent, and a homeschool parent is tough; but you're not alone!
Over the next three weeks, we will feature guest blogs from our moms sharing their greatest struggles, and the things they've learned from homeschooling. We're hopeful this blog series will be an encouraging and helpful resources for all of our GCA parents!
Author: Ashley Quinones
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenges and controversy."
Martin Luther King Jr.'s words resonate deep within me. Challenges are not something we look forward to, but are a place we must go in order to be refined and live a full life that can encourage others. I remember as a twenty-two year old mom, holding my first born child and pleading with the Lord to help me be a mom who is diligent about knowing her children and teaching them God's deep love for us. When I prayed that prayer, over and over, I assumed it would just happen miraculously. I had no idea the challenges I was asking to come my way.
One of the challenges God has allowed me to experience, in order to fulfill that prayer, is homeschooling (well, part-time at least). In the day-to-day grind, it feels like more work than accomplishment. Then, every once in a while, something crazy will happen. My four kids will be uniting together to create the best hotel and restaurant I've ever been to! Even despite the fact that I really didn't' get to eat or sleep.
My point is, we can only experience life when we embrace challenges. It is like a marathon (I imagine). You train so hard for so long and push your body past what seems to be its limits, but when you cross the finish line, you experience a feeling that is like none other. You can never get to that feeling without all of the discipline and mundane challenges you experience on a daily basis.
So while homeschooling brings many challenges, I have to look at each challenge as an opportunity for growth, both personally and for our children. One great thing about God is that He created us to live in community through the ups and downs of our lives. I think GCA has done an amazing job at making us feel like we're not in this by ourselves.
Three challenges (out of a million) of homeschooling that are significant for me are:
- Homeschooling leads me to work on myself
- Homeschooling drives me to figure out how to know my children
- Homeschooling forces me to find creative ways to figure out what to do with my very active preschoolers
Alas, in any area of our lives we usually have to start with our own selves. It is always so much easier to tell people, especially our kids, what to do. It is so much harder to actually do it ourselves. I have had so many instances where I find words coming out of my mouth directed to one of my children and I literally had to stop what I was saying.
Why? Well, I, a grown adult, am not always doing what I am asking my children to do. I say one thing and do another. Through many sermons on the topic of maturity, I realized that there's no escaping it: I simply have to grow up in some areas. This has everything to do with homeschooling and parenting. If I cannot become authentically selfless (only by the grace of God) then how am I going to be able to put aside my selfish desires in order to give my children a fun, learning environment?
So much easier said than done! In order to become selfless, I have had to pray that I would lay down my expectations of having all four children calmly sitting and tackling all their schoolwork with a smile on their face. As a "Type A" person, this is hard to let go of. I have had to plead with the Lord to help me be okay with a less than spotless house and children who don't fit the mold I first wanted to put them in.
I remember the summer before our oldest started kindergarten at GCA. I had a whole room dedicated to homeschooling. I had created as many Pinterest-y, homeschool-y things you could fit into one room. Needless to say, on the very first day of homeschooling, I learned that I needed to shift my expectations.
On the very first day, there she was, lying on the floor during reading, wanting to be outside for math, and the most shocking part was that she never sat in her pretty pink desk! In fact, out of the whole day, we were in the "schoolroom" for less than five minutes.
God has also helped me realize that I can only control myself. I cannot control if my children wake up beaming and ready to get after those fun math facts. I can control my attitude to their lack of wanting to learn. I can stay calm and pray for patience and creativitiy as one of my kids just cannot have a breakthorugh of what divsion and multiplication are all about. Keeping this perspective helps me in every area of life. Regardless of the circumstances, I can still find joy as I am relentlessly drilling division facts to my not so happy 4th grader.
A mentor of mine, who also has her 3 children in a University-Model School, taught me such an important lesson: don't let your circumstances determine your joy. It's difficult because our circumstances are right in front of us as homeschooling parents. A screaming toddler during Bible, a frustrated kindergartener who struggles with reading, multiple interruptions as we finally get a chance to sit down to teach a child. The list goes on every day.
I have to pray right when I feel myself start to lose joy and get stressed. I have to step back and shift my perspective. I have to think eternally. Does God care more about a child getting every single word from the Bible reading or does He care more about the child! I then ask myself, "Am I showing my child I care more about them or getting their school work done?"
Also, one huge joy killer is the game of comparison. For example, let's say we are having a smooth homeschool day despite messes, noises, and scattered children. The children are playing and having a great learning experience. The second I start to think about another family who may have a clean house, children that are sitting nicely, and playing calmly, is the second I lose contentment with where I'm at. As a family, we repeat this saying over and over, "Don't look to the left and don't look to the right. Look straightforward."
Homeschooling has also made me more self-aware of what I can and cannot handle. It has forced me to put up boundaries and disciplines. I, for one, do not historically have a good day when I wake up to four kids already in a huge debate on who ate all the yummy kind of cereal. Therefore (and this is groundbreaking information) I have to wake myself up well before the kids get up! I also have had to tell them not to come downstairs until the clock says eight. This does not always happen, and they can read or "get ready for the day"( a.k.a. brush their teeth and perhaps get out of pajamas). This allows me to do what I need to do in the morning. I do a quick workout, get myself ready for the day, pray, read, and two days a week I hop onto RightNow Media (a resource with tons of great BIble studies) and watch a marriage or parenting message with my husband.
Before moving on, let me remind us that this is ideal. it does not always go so nicely, but when I'm able to set up the day this way, it tends to be smoother, and we have a more successful homeschool day.
Knowing My Kids
As I said earlier, I would pray (and I still do) that I would know my children. I want to know, as much as possible, what they are passionate about, how they process situations, and how they learn best. Homeschooling has driven me to take the time to do this.
The first thing God has shown me about knowing my children is that I have to be praying over them and with them. It is only by God's wisdom and grace that I can know how He wired my children. Sometimes I am so exhausted and overwhelmed that I do not even know how or what to pray. This is when I get out an amazing tool that always seems to address whatever we are struggling with. It's a book called Praying the Bible for Your Children by Kopp.
Additionally, I've had to get in the trenches with each child. It is always easier to see a behavior and blame it on a season and dust it under the rug. Sometimes this is an appropriate thing to do, but I always have to pray and figure out if it truly is something that will be grown out of, or if I am just wanting to take the easier route and not deal with it. Again, the great thing is that we do not have to do this on our own. My husband and I start by prayer, seeking to discern if there's a spiritual issue that needs to be addressed. From there, we check and make sure everything is physically okay.
With our first grader, we hit a wall last year. He was doing great at school but at home he seemed so angry most of the time. We were able to figure out somethings that were going on in him and get him what his body needed. This helped a lot. We also had to admit that we cannot do this on our own. There were some issues we needed help with. Nothing major, but still, we want to be able to give our kids whatever tools we can to help them. So a dear friend recommended an amazing play therapist. Through her, we have been able to find some tools to help our children. I think as a parent, especially a homeschooling parent, sometime we just have to embrace the fact that we cannot be all things to all people on our own. We have to pull from reliable resources and even more completely depend on God.
Engaging the Little Ones
Now, let's talk about the most vibrant challenge in this season of homeschooling: the littles. Oh, how I deeply love how God gave us four children who are energetic, creative, and people-people. I would not trade one single thing about any of my children, but the dynamic we have is, well, challenging!
Just because something is challenging though, once again, does not mean it is bad and we avoid it. It simply means we get creative. If you are not creative (or like me once was creative pre-children), then you simply hop on to Pinterest or some blog written by a cutesy teacher. You take as many simple ideas to keep the littles busy and learning, while the school-aged children are doing their work.
Since I have two preschoolers, I give the older one the responsibility to be the 'teacher' to the younger one. When I find extra time and energy, I make discovery boxes, plastic shoeboxes with a theme. Usually, I just use stuff from home but when I display it in a shoebox and theme, it's like they get a whole new box of toys. Now that we have the littles occupied and things are going smoothly, mom guilt starts to creep in, and I feel like I'm spending so much time keeping the littles busy so that we can have peace and quiet to do school.
I combat this by taking breaks from teaching and having the older children help each other with their work. During this time, I'll go have a 10 minute tea, dance, or car party with the preschoolers. Also, sometimes I have them join us and do worksheets at the table. All this sounds great on paper but the truth is, sometimes it doesn't look great. It looks more chaotic and crazy, but I know God has given us these children, in this birth order, and has us homeschooling for a specific purpose. So while I get creative, I also sit back and trust what God is doing, even in the lives of my preschoolers who are not at GCA.
Homeschooling is very challenging, but as we all know, very rewarding. And honestly, the challenges may seem bigger then the reward right now. On those days, I just have to hold on to a deep hope, and walk in faith that what God has started in these children, He will complete. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning I have to remember 2 Corinthians 9:6, "Remember this: whoever sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously." I have to remember that even with all these disciplines and efforts, ultimately, it is God who grows each of my children. My husband and I are their parents, but He is their Creator. So, as each new challenge of parenting and homeschooling arises, I must remind myself that God is equipping me with everything I need to face the challenges and love the precious children He has entrusted us with.
About the Author
Ashley and Joey Quinones are members of Hope Fellowship in Frisco, Texas. They have four children, two of which (Brody, 1st Grade and Julesy, 4th Grade) are students at Grace Covenant Academy.