by Katie Julius
I feel like one of the most common frustrations I hear from homeschool parents is that they struggle to find community. The need to find a place where one fits in and belongs is certainly not exclusive to homeschooling families, though, perhaps a bit more essential. Despite the increasing popularity and knowledge of homeschooling, it is still not mainstream and choosing to teach your children at home can be isolating and create a greater need for fellowship.
However, as I see so many families seeking this necessary community, I also see many of them still feeling a bit disconnected once they do join a group (or two or three). I believe there are several reasons for this. The first is that we, as a society, fill our schedules so much that we don’t have time to do more than sit and chat for an hour while our children take a dance class together or while we are chasing a toddler around a museum during a field trip.
Second, and somewhat related to the first, I find families are part of more than one homeschool-related group. Maybe it’s an attempt to be involved in as many things as possible so our kids aren’t “behind.” Maybe it’s the number of offerings now available to homeschool families, especially in California. Maybe it’s the hope that one of these groups has to be “the one” that fulfills that need. Whatever the reason, our schedules are full with activities of multiple circles and we never have the chance to build deeper and more meaningful relationships because we are spending time with a completely different group of people each day.
The final reason, and one I want to look more closely at, is how we are defining community. I think many people who say they are seeking community are looking for opportunities for their children (and sometimes for themselves) to socialize. This often happens at park days, field trips, classes, maybe even a mom’s night out. However, I have found that many families find themselves craving something more.
About a year and a half ago, a group of families in my area came together to create a homeschool community. We weren’t looking for a co-op, classes, or academics. We weren’t looking for “socialization” opportunities for ourselves or our children. We were looking for a deeper connection – we were looking for our oikos.
The pastor at our old church often spoke about oikos. He explained that it was the eight to fifteen people that we did life with; who we spent our time with; who we influenced and who influenced us. While oikos in the Bible often refers to a “household,” in biblical times, a household often included extended family. Today, American culture largely discards this concept, leaving us searching for those connections with like-minded friends who become like extended family.
Our little group is still in its infancy and is certainly not perfect, but I have been witness to several instances of that deeper, more meaningful community already.
Despite being a guest at the party herself, one friend unexpectedly arrived early to my daughter’s birthday party last spring to help me set-up before the rest of the kids descended upon the food and bounce house. She also offered to help plan and coordinate my mom’s retirement party this fall.
Knowing that I work part-time, I have had several moms offer to help watch my daughter during a meeting that I knew would be a bit on the long side or one where I knew I had to be focused.
I’ve received text messages with spur of the moment invitations to join families as they were headed to the park, to have lunch, to Knott’s, to see Christmas lights, to go shopping at Costco (it is more fun when there are friends with you – and easier for mom!).
I have been a part of countless conversations where a mom has tears running down her cheeks as she shares her feelings of being a failure for not recognizing earlier that her fourth-grade daughter may be dyslexic, or as a mom shares her feelings of loneliness because her husband has worked 12-plus hour days for the last 11 days for a major project at work, or as a mom shares about her feelings of inadequacies to be able to teach her own children at home.
The relationships that have developed in such a short time between this group have done so with much intentionality. It takes time. It takes dedication. It takes effort. It’s not easy to find or easy to create. But when you do get there, it is so worth it.
You may be thinking now, “This!! This is what I want. But how do I find it?” Pray. Ask God to bring people into your life to create this community. Be open to taking the initiative to bring together this group of people in your life. Be patient. It takes time to learn whether these are people who you can be transparent with and who are willing to trust you with their vulnerabilities, also giving grace for each others’ shortcomings. Love one another (and their kids) because love covers a multitude of sins.
Don’t focus on the size of your group. Your group may start with just you and one or two other families. Sometimes a smaller group is better suited for developing relationships. It is impossible to create a deep connection with everyone if you have more than a handful of families. God may have bigger plans for you and your oikos someday. Trust that God knows what you need and exactly when you need it.
My daughter is seven, going on seventeen. You think the toddlerhood is challenging–wait until you hit the pre-tween stage! Not only are kids this age seeking independence, much like their toddler counterparts, but they actually have the capacity to be, in some areas. Throw in a much larger vocabulary, attitudes picked up from peers (yes, even homeschooled ones), and an inexplicable propensity to whine when one doesn’t get what they want, and you have yourself innumerable opportunities for discipleship.
As homeschooling parents, we have the unique opportunity to discipe our kids in the midst of most any circumstance. Whether a poor attitude toward schoolwork, unwillingness to complete chores, or a general “me first” outlook on life, our daily lives are rife with situations where our kids need love and guidance from us. Discipleship is more than just discipline or teaching children to be obedient or to behave, though that’s certainly part of it. Discipleship is teaching our children to be followers of Jesus; disciples of Christ. I can only imagine the missed chances that non-homeschooling parents have to walk through a situation with their child.
In addition to the natural age-related independence seeking, December is kind of a crazy month. On top of all of our usual responsibilities, we usually have extra things thrown in our schedule–parties, outings, performances–plus shopping, baking, cooking, and decorating. Throw in working part-time and trying to get all the projects done so you can actually take some time off and enjoy the holidays with your family, all the added chaos and stress makes for a perfect storm.
Just last week, we encountered one of those moments. My daughter has picked up an “I hate school” attitude recently (if only she knew how great she has it!). However, once we get started with our day and she has some successes in her school work, her attitude typically improves. The key is getting to those positive moments quickly or it can be a battle to get most anything accomplished that day.
This particular day, I had a project to get done in the morning for work. It would take me an hour or two. When I’m under a deadline, sometimes, I have to resort to allowing her to watch television so I can work uninterrupted. Unfortunately, I have found attitudes are a bit more challenging after even a short time with a TV screen. This day was no different.
As we sat down to practice reading some high frequency words, I could tell she was a bit more squirrely than normal. I took a deep breathe as we started in. I was distracted and hadn’t shuffled the cards, so all the words she knew really well were on top. She flew through the first 15 or so words with ease. “Dog. Dad. And. Land. Cat.”
When we reached end of the ones she recognizes at word level, she started sounding out the ones she doesn’t yet. We got through just one or two when she started “acting out.” She was on the hardwood floor of our living room, cocooned in a blanket. She covered her head and started inching herself along the floor like a caterpillar. I took a deep breath.
I gently reminded her that she couldn’t read the words if she couldn’t see them. Her head popped out of the blanket, then an arm and a leg as she untangled herself from the blanket. She looked at the card again. “/d/” she said, beginning to sound out the word, “did.”
Then, in her mind, our living room became a yoga studio as she contorted her body into various poses (not sure any of them were actual yoga poses since we don’t do yoga, but you get the idea). I took deep breath again as I redirected her back to the word she was trying to read. “What’s the sound in the middle?”
Her face appeared from between her arm and leg, upside down. “/d/.” I took another deep breath, getting more frustrated by the minute. “Okay, what’s the next sound?”
She stood up, grabbed the card from my hand and ran to her bedroom, yelling along the way “I’m going to read it in my room.”
I hollered back, “Get back out here!”
“I’m reading in my room,” came her response.
I knew that sometimes, she just need time alone to adjust her attitude and she would be back out, ready to tell me what the word on the card was. I let her alone for a few minutes before I heard the sound of toys clinking together coming from her room.
“It’s not time to play. Bring the card back here and tell me what it says. Now.”
She came running out from the hall as she tossed the card in my general direction. “I dooonnnn’t knoooooow” she whined as she raced by.
“If you would sit down and look at the word, you would be able to read it,” I said curtly.
She was now racing back and forth across the living room, using the blanket to slide part of the way.
I’m not proud of it, but I snapped. I had reached my breaking point. I screamed at her. I threw the card down. Did she not understand that I was trying to help her? I explained to her (in a raised voice), “I already know how to read. I’m trying to help you. Don’t you want to be able to read?”
“NO! I don’t care!” and off she stomped to her bedroom. “You’re the worst mommy ever.”
I let her go. We were both too heated. We needed to calm down. She slammed the door to her bedroom as I headed to mine, collapsing on my bed, almost in tears of exasperation. The thoughts started to creep into my head.
Maybe I wasn’t a good mom. Maybe I’m not a good teacher. Will she ever learn to read? She surely should be reading by now. Maybe working is too much for our family. Maybe…
I heard a little voice from my door…”Mommy.”
I turned to her. “Yes?”
“I want to learn to read,” her eyes downcast, face sullen.
My heart broke. I know as a mom, I’m not perfect. I could be more structured and disciplined with her, her schoolwork, her routine. I know I make mistakes. I know I can work to be better.
I called her over to sit with me on my bed as I wrapped my arms around her. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly to her. “Mommy got frustrated and reacted out of anger and that’s not okay. Will you forgive me? I will try harder next time.”
“I forgive you. I will try harder too. I love you.”
We held each other for a few more minutes before going to back to the living room to continue to practice reading. She still struggled with words she should know by now, but she was trying. And I was doing my best to be encouraging and positive.
Moments like this are why I’m so glad I homeschool. Not only are we able to teach our children reading, writing, math, science, history–the academics, but we have the unique opportunity to disciple our kids, even in our humanness. We can have conversations about Jesus, the Bible, our attitudes, our choices…our mistakes…forgiveness, repentance. All of this is infinitely more important than any “book knowledge” our children may pick up along the way.
We still have almost daily struggles with attitude and work ethic. We are definitely a work in progress. Both of us. But we are learning. Together.
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New in the Math Mammoth online practice section!
Fact families is one of the main approaches I’ve used for addition & subtraction facts in the Math Mammoth curriculum. For example, in the online practice program, you could choose to practice fact families with 6. This means you will get addition & subtraction problems like what you see in the picture below — and also including missing number problems.
Check it out!
Where do I start with Math Mammoth? is a question I often hear (or read 😃 ).
Most of the time, the best starting place is this page:
Looking over the tests will give you an idea of what is covered in each grade level of Math Mammoth. A natural next step is to administer a placement test or several (instructions for this process is explained on the page), but it’s not always necessary to administer a test. Sometimes the teacher/parent can see just by looking at the tests, where the child would place.
Often, the test reveals gaps, and you can use the TOPICAL books of the BLUE series to fill them in:
Or, you can use other materials you might have, or Khan Academy, etc. Sometimes it works out to use one of these review books to help a child get more solidified before starting a particular level in MM:
So, that is the typical process. 😄
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Halloween can be hard on a mama. How do you decide what’s safe to do and how to celebrate with your kids in a wholesome, fun way without doing background checks on all your neighbors? Because Halloween should be magical for kids. They get to dress up and for a… Continue reading
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