Yes, I know it’s been almost a year since I last posted. I have wondered a lot in the past few years why I haven’t written as much as I used to, and I’ve come up with all kinds of ideas. Partly life has just been busy. Like, two kids, full time job/ministry, life in a foreign country type busy. There were a lot of times in the past few years where I’ve felt really overwhelmed and like I’ve barely been keeping my head above water, but much of that has changed, especially in the past six months.
We hired Kim a little over a year ago, and she’s been amazing and taking on a lot of the day to day stuff for Chris and I, freeing us up to focus on other things. That process hasn’t always been easy for me, because apparently I got a lot of my identity from small daily admin tasks, but now I feel like I’m in a place where I’m excited about work again and not feeling like I’m drowning. I can focus on bigger areas rather than small tasks, and that feels good.
One of the big issues, that we didn’t realize was as big as it was, is that we just had really bad internet after we moved to our new location. For the past three years or so we’d been dealing with 2G internet, because we live in a rural area that none of the internet/cell providers thought deserved a 3G signal. I could go into a lot of detail about all the things we’ve tried over the years to boost our signal, but it really would bore you to tears. Let me just say that Chris is amazing, and in the past few months was able to install a new system and we now have fast internet. It’s a game changer! I realized that I mostly just gave up on most of the stuff I enjoyed doing online, like writing, because it often just didn’t work, or if it was “working” it was such a time suck that I would see the minutes of my life ticking away.
Life now feels a bit more manageable and like I can open myself up to other things, which is fabulous given the life altering decision that we jumped into about two weeks ago.
For a bit of history, our family has been very blessed to have been able to send our kids to a local, English speaking school for the past 4.5 years. Olivia was in a different English speaking school before that, but we moved her because this one was closer and felt like a better fit given our needs at the time. Alex was able to start a year later, and it’s worked for us for the most part. The school was started by a local children’s home so their kids could get an English education, and eventually they allowed outside families to enroll. It uses a conservative Christian curriculum, which was fine with us. In areas where we were less conservative we would just have conversations with our kids to share our differences and explain why we felt the way we did about certain things. The kids had a structured school environment with uniforms, recess, and even PE and French a couple times per week. It allowed me to continue to work full time for the mission, which was something that was important to us.
The past year or so though, has been harder. Our kids needs were changing and we realized they were struggling, each in their own ways, and we were doing the best we could to help out at home to compensate. Things kind of came to a head last fall when we realized that they were both struggling a lot more, so I rearranged my mornings to be helping them with homework and planning their work days before school, and started spending at least 2 hours a day after school helping one or both of them through homework. We saw some really good improvement with one of them, but the other was still having a hard time.
After Christmas we kept going with all the extra effort at home, and then about two weeks ago, things became very clear. Something needed to change. On average I was working with one or both of them for about 3 hours a day – after they’d already been in school all day, and I had already done a full day of work. I was exhausted because our days start very early (4:30 am the alarm goes off) and between work/ministry, school and general family stuff like preparing meals and getting kids to bed, there was no break for me. It wasn’t sustainable, and everyone was miserable.
This is where I should probably stop and let you know that while we had discussed the option of homeschooling in the past, both Chris and I had felt like it wasn’t the best choice for our family, which is one of the reasons why we REALLY appreciated that our kids were able to go to school locally. Seriously. Our reasons included things like me feeling like I just wouldn’t be a good teacher to our kids because we would butt heads, and my work day needing to be focused on work/ministry stuff. Chris had concerns about our kids not getting a solid enough education to get into university in the future, and what homeschooling would do to my ability to work with the mission. They’re all legit concerns, and they were all things that we felt were good reasons to choose a different path.
As a Christian I believe that God knows the number of days we have on this earth, and what will fill our time. I believe he opens doors for us, and through the Holy Spirit, presses on our hearts the way we should go. I believe that when we clearly know the path to follow that while it might not be the easy way or the way that makes the most sense, that there will be peace. I believe this because I’ve seen it play out in my life SO many times before, and friends, that’s exactly what happened here.
Chris and I want what’s best for our kids and our family. As a parent, when you see your kid struggling, you start to ask why. In our case we asked a lot of questions, and we chose to dig in and see what we could do to help fix the situation. As I spent time working with both kids I started to see things, and those things made it very evident to us that our kids need more than their current school can give them right now, and that’s okay.
For example, Olivia has been struggling with Math for the past two years. We’ve continually tried help where we can, but she needs more. The school predominantly has Haitian teachers, most of which have had a base level education themselves. That’s no fault of their own, it’s because of circumstances here in Haiti. The school is doing the best it can with the resources it has available to them. The unfortunate part of it is that some kids will not get the extra help in all the subjects that they might need it, simply because their teachers don’t have all the skills they need to help out. The curriculum is also student led, and is all reading based. Math is not one of those subjects you can learn only by reading. You need someone to demonstrate, to explain, to answer questions, and to approach it from a few different ways until it clicks. The curriculum just wasn’t working for Olivia. As I was trying to help her through things, I would ask her why she was doing what she was doing, or to explain things to me, and she couldn’t do it. She would get overwhelmed and frustrated, then try to avoid doing her Math all together.
Alex is a different story. He just wasn’t getting any work done in class. And yet, he could bring home all his homework, essentially everything that he should have done that day but didn’t, and do it all in about an hour and a half. We realized that the curriculum, which is set up for the kids to be working quietly at their desks, and to be checking and correcting their own work, isn’t working for him either. He’s very smart, and loves to learn. He’s the kid that will read a book about animals or some engineering thing as he’s going to bed, then come to breakfast the next day and say things like, “Mom, did you know that Tasmanian devils are going extinct because of this disease they get that causes them to swell up around their mouths, making it impossible for them to drink so they get dehydrated and die?” At 5 am. The kid is a sponge. He just doesn’t do well with a setting where he needs to sit quietly and not interact with his materials. He needs to be challenged more and to study things that really interest him. He also needs to know that nothing will slow him down or get in his way of learning.
One afternoon after working with him I basically had a meltdown because I was just done. A few other things had happened that day that were really the nudge we needed to start talking about our options, and at some point I think I uttered the words, “I’m already spending 3 hours a day doing homework. We could just homeschool and we’d be further ahead!” At that moment rather than reminding ourselves of all the reasons why we couldn’t homeschool, all of the sudden we looked at each other and realized that maybe that was exactly what we were supposed to be doing. That night we talked more, and the decision just seemed to settle in for both of us in a very peaceful, sensible way. Like, “Of course this is what we should do.”
The next morning we woke up, and we just knew. And we started putting things in place. I went to visit a missionary friend who has been a huge homeschooling inspiration and we spent several hours talking through the how to’s and curriculum. I went from feeling overwhelmed to having a really good idea about what direction I wanted to go in with our kids. I was excited! We brought home some textbooks that they were done with and our kids started pouring over them.
Our biggest concern was how the kids would take the decision. Alex had heard some of our conversations that day, and when Olivia asked about the books he told her that we were thinking about homeschooling him. When I asked how he felt he said that he would miss some things about his school, but mostly he was excited. Olivia was different. She is very social, so we knew the big issue for her would be her friends. Initially we had considered keeping her in for the rest of this year, and just homeschooling Alex, but decided against that because it didn’t solve all the issues.
That evening as Alex was looking at the textbooks he kept asking if we could study the things he was reading about. Olivia asked if we would be studying the books they were looking at, and when I confirmed that we would be she all of the sudden said, “I want to homeschool too!” We talked about what it would mean as far as leaving her friends, but in the end she decided that while that would be hard, she wanted to homeschool. There were no tears or anything like that. I was honestly shocked, and yet so thankful because we had anticipated completely the opposite.
The very next day Chris and I were scheduled to fly to Florida for our annual Board Retreat. While were were there we went shopping and I was able to buy most of our school supplies. When we got home last week I was able to order our curriculum to come in with his brother who is coming to visit in a few weeks. All of these decisions just came together and seemed so clear.
So here we are! We decided to plan to start the first week in March, giving me time to get our curriculum and get stuff set up. I need to shuffle some things around downstairs so we have room for all our books, but we’re planning on using the space we have in our kitchen, and the living room when we need a change of scenery.
It’s amazing to me to think back over all the reasons why we said we couldn’t do this, and then to see that now what felt impossible, feel possible.
My work load is lighter, and I’m in a good place to shuffle some things around and make changes. In fact, at our retreat, we made me going down to part-time official with the Board. I actually feel very free because of this. It means I don’t feel the self-imposed pressure to be in the office all the time, and that I have time in my day to focus on my family. It’s really hard to live where you work, because you never really get away from it. We always want to set a good example for our staff, so that meant being on “work hours” when they’re around, but then other things like trying to get some exercise or meal prep while the kids were gone would leave me feeling guilty or pulled in too many different directions. Knowing I’m only going to have a set number of hours every week for mission work is already causing me to think differently and put some deliberate plans in place so I can meet my responsibilities. And, it’s causing me to delegate more! And that’s good, because it means letting go of the little things that I don’t need to be doing, in favor of the things that I have to be doing because I’m the one that can.
I have done SO MUCH reading in the past couple of weeks about homeschooling in general, as well as curriculum, statistics, learning styles, etc. It’s amazing to me to see our fears laid aside, and being replaced with a confidence in our decision, and seeing how it really seems like a better fit for our family.
Our kids need to be challenged more than the curriculum they’re currently using is doing. They want to learn. We want our kids to love learning, and to be lifelong learners who are excited and engaged in what’s going on around them. We’re all excited about the fact that homeschooling means we can not only study our core subjects in a way that is more engaging and more in line with our kids learning styles, but that we can also be curious and study anything else that is interesting to us. There are no limits! Rather than only sitting and reading their workbooks, our kids will be able to do projects and field trips and all kinds of fun things that they just aren’t able to do now. As a parent that makes my heart so happy.
In my reading and research I’ve learned that homeschooled kids tend to fare really well on government exams and in college and university. Because they’ve had to be more hands on and self directed in their studies, they’ve learned study skills, how to plan their work load, and are typically more engaged in their learning process. The stats for homeschooled kids state that on average they score in the 85th percentile on government exams, while public school kids are usually in the 50th. That’s not meant to be a bashing of public schools, but rather just saying that we were surprised to learn that, and it helped us feel more confident in our decision. We’ve also learned that more and more colleges and universities are seeing the value of home education, and are seeking out homeschooled kids. There are more scholarships available now than ever before. In fact, our friend’s son just got a full ride to university for an engineering degree – as a homeschooled kid. For Chris, this was the biggest concern, and he’s feeling really good about our decision to go down this road.
I’m realizing that I’m excited to be learning along with our kids. I need to be challenged, and I don’t think I have been in the past few years. I’ve just been kind of floating along, and I need a change. Over the past few months of working with our kids one on one, I saw that I can in fact teach them. The issues where we would butt heads and just get frustrated had more to do with other things, things that we can work through. Being able to work so closely with them has shown me their insecurities, and what they need in a learning environment, and we can address that at home. I can tailor their studies in a way that makes the learning process more enjoyable for them. Now, please know I’m also being realistic here, and I know that this will be incredibly hard, but I believe the hard work will be worth it for all of us. Yes, we’ll have bad days where none of us want to do this, but we’ll also have good days too.
I’m also looking forward to seeing how this will change our day and our happiness quotient as a family. When we told Alex that we were sure in our decision to homeschool, he got giddy. I mean, he was giggling and SO HAPPY. He likes his school now, but it’s also been really hard for him, and I think we underestimated just how hard. It was like a weight had been lifted off of him. I can’t help but think how that has probably been spilling over into other areas. It’s going to be so interesting to see if we’re all happier because we feel like we’re all getting more out of the deal. More being learned. More fun in the process. More hours in our day because we won’t have homework… I could go on. I’ll definitely try to update on this.