Every August for the last 12 years in anticipation of a new school year, the same conversations fill our home, the same shopping trips are taken, and the same prayers are prayed. Conversations that beg the questions- what if there are no friends in our classes, who will we sit with at lunch, or what if the teachers don’t like me? Shopping trips for the latest trend in lunch boxes, school supplies and backpacks, and of course that perfect first day of school outfit. An outfit that neither draws too much attention nor allows anyone not to notice you. The one that suggests to the world “my children wake up like this every day” despite the hours of planning and preparation that goes into that obligatory first day of school picture for Facebook!
And the prayers- “Lord please let Hallie find her people and let them be good people. Let Cade’s teachers notice and understand him despite the dozens of other students in his classes that also need to be noticed and understood. Protect Kori Jane from all the confusing and conflicting voices that she will hear again this year telling her what to love, value, and build her life upon. And Lord, please protect little Lacey from the voices in her own head that tell her that she is not good enough.” Lacey- I pray at the start of each year that all my children would grow stronger, shine brighter, think deeper, create more beauty, and love more fully no matter what that new school year may bring.
With much anticipation, each August we attend Meet the Teacher, Back to School Nights and High School Orientations just before the new school year begins. This is followed of course by the comparing of class lists and schedules with all the friends.
This August your three siblings began seventh, ninth and eleventh grade in the usual fashion while you started your third-grade year at home with me as your teacher. The years of struggling to fit you in the public-school box while you battled debilitating anxiety and relentless tummy troubles ended right about a year ago (halfway through your second-grade year) when we found ourselves on an unexpected home-school journey. We made the choice to pull you from school and create an environment at home where you could learn and grow despite your struggles. I realize now just how fortunate we were to be able to make that choice. Fortunate that we could financially afford for me to not work in order to stay home with you, and that up until then my entire professional career had been working to help children with learning differences and disabilities and their families find success. Unlike many families in similar situations we had both the knowledge and the resources to make a sudden change when a change needed to be made.
I am also realizing that the whole country is suddenly being thrust into homeschooling tomorrow without being given any choice. We have suddenly all been faced with the challenge of figuring out how to create an environment at home where all of our children can learn and grow without regard to the availability of financial resources, our social circumstances or the knowledge and education we may or may not have.
So ready or not Lacey, our little Home-school of one has tripled enrollment and we are adding a middle schooler and two high schoolers to the mix beginning tomorrow!
So while it is not August, we are none the less embarking on the first day at a new school- The COVID-19 Spaulding Home School. I admit that I am a little worried as I keep thinking about the steep learning curve you and I endured those first few weeks and months as I tried to be the perfect home educator for you. And a full year later, I am still learning to have grace on myself when most home school days look nothing like I had ever imagined or hoped. Below you will find a list of ten things that I wish I knew the first time I found myself unexpectedly homeschooling you. And now as I find myself unexpectedly homeschooling all four of my wonderful children beginning tomorrow, I give you full permission to remind me of these points in hopes that I do not have to make all of the same mistakes this time around. May these ten realities help to manage all of our expectations, answer as many first day of school questions as possible, and remind us of all the things that matter most.
- You’ve already met your teacher. No need to ask if she will like you- she knows all about you and already loves you like only a mother can! Don’t bother comparing schedules or class lists with your friends; your teacher and your classmates are the same people you have already spent the last nine days in quarantine with.
- New Subjects to begin immediately. Any school happening at my home includes the long-lost subject of Home Economics including exploring the arts of mopping, cleaning out the refrigerator, laundry, lawn and garden care, and food preparation. There will also be a hands-on class called Communication and Conflict Resolution complete with practical tips for empathy building, non-verbal communication skills and how to assume the best of other people. Other subjects will be added as needed!
- No custodian or lunch lady on duty. You will eat lunch with the same people you’ve eaten dinner with most every night of your life. However, unlike dinner there is also the option for you to eat by yourself. Free breakfast and lunch are available daily however there is no printed menu- only a full refrigerator and pantry for you to explore your options. Your grade in Home Economics will in part be based on your ability to navigate mealtime on your own including clean-up.
- No dress codes. There is no need for first day outfits as everyone at The Covid-19 Home School already knows what you really wake up looking like. Pajamas are totally fine however you are required to continue showering even if you have nowhere to go. We will add a Self-Care class if necessary.
- No tardies to be given. 8:00 AM does not seem to be the hour of the day that our family is at our best, so official school days will not start until everyone’s coffee, medicine, brain waves, etc. have kicked in. This is not going to be the same for each of you as Hallie is often the first one awake, and she tends to accomplish more in the first hour of her day than she will with all the rest of the day’s hours combined. And then Kori Jane and Cade (as you know) tend to be obnoxious zombies for at least their first waking hour, and will therefore be required to spend that first hour alone. Given that the four of you are not only different ages and grades with varying strengths and weaknesses, but that you are also motivated and interested by completely different things, I am assuming that you will each benefit from different start times, schedules, amounts of social interaction, technological interface, and teacher support. We will figure it out as we go!
- Sick days are inevitable. For me that is- your teacher will need a sick day occasionally. She will also need a mental health day every so often. Unfortunately there are no substitutes lined up for any of that. It is also safe to assume that you and your siblings will need your fair share of mental health days as we are all processing what it means that there is a worldwide pandemic sweeping through. This means that you will likely be having even more virtual field-trips coming up to places like Arendelle or Camp Kaikawaka than we did last month. And that’s ok!
- Hours of operation vary. A typical homeschool day is not 7 hours long followed by several more hours of homework! In fact, all the work we do is technically homework. I have already mentioned that we will not be starting at 8:00 AM every day, but that does not mean that we will finish school any later than usual. In fact, it is likely we will have many more early dismissals than extended days as long as everyone gets their required district/school assigned work completed. I remember when we first started to home-school last year, and I tried to wake you at the same time every day. Then we’d sit down to do back to back lessons from 8:00-3:00. We were both losing our minds, and the tension between us was spiraling. I finally did some basic math to add up all the transition times, busy work, bathroom breaks and special assemblies in a typical school day. That’s when I decided that sitting with you one-on-one for an hour or two doing actual lessons and schoolwork was more than you were likely getting any given day in a typical public-school classroom. I’ve learned that there is simply no set amount of time that learning takes. Sometimes I take two weeks to cover a concept I thought would take a day, and sometimes we spend a whole day getting lost in learning about a period in History that I thought would take us a whole semester to explore. When I finally quit caring more about checking boxes than I cared about watching you grow, and started caring more about following your curiosities than following a schedule- that’s when your anxiety finally started to relent and your mind and imagination were finally unlocked.
- Learn to recognize the Fire Drill Alarm and follow procedures. The first time my volume begins to change you might want to look at my facial expression and body language to determine if it is just a warning or an actual fire-drill is in order. In case of a drill quickly and quietly go outside or retreat to your separate bedrooms. I will lock all doors and reopen them once my heartrate, breathing, volume, and mind return to normal.
- Peer tutoring is encouraged! If you need help with anything (including staying sane), please feel free to ask a sibling or even face-time a friend just as readily as you seek out help from me. In fact- maybe start with a sibling or friend as a way to help me stay sane! While the rules about no screens in bedrooms and screens turned in at night still apply, I am no longer limiting screen time as long as responsibilities are getting done. And while we are on the subject, no one is allowed to ask me about my own screen time.
- Pop Quizzes come in all forms. In a classroom full of students there is really only one way to show you are learning or what you already know, and that is by putting something on paper. At home there are a million ways to show what you are learning or what you already know- debates around the dinner table, conversations after readalouds, writing a song or short-story to share, playing an instrument or preforming a play you’ve created. Drawing a picture or retelling a good book. Going on a nature walk and identifying the flower or the bird you noticed. Helping cook dinner, mow the yard, or fix the car. Flying a kite, doing a puzzle, playing a board game, helping a sibling, playing pretend, or doing a craft. After-all when all is said and done the goal of education really should not be to get a good grade or raise your test scores, but rather to be able to think, to solve problems and to create. And all that with the ultimate goal of knowing our Creator and His creation more fully, while seeing ourselves and our unique purposes on this earth more clearly.
- Grace is the key! I know I said only ten things, but we are going to have to be flexible with each other. We are going to have to have grace- lots and lots and lots of grace. Everything keeps changing on a dime and the only thing in the world that is certain today is uncertainty. We all have more questions than answers and we all have no idea what to expect in the days, weeks or even months to come. While in isolation together for this undetermined amount of time, I’m sure there will be days when dad will be irritable, I will lose my temper, Kori will make us all feel stupid with her dirty looks, and Cade will talk too much about something that we don’t understand. Hallie will say things she does not mean and then pretend she never said them, and Lacey your anxiety will get the best of you. We must have grace on ourselves, our neighbors and friends, and especially on each other- even as we have received grace from our Creator.
And Lacey when all else fails, let us remind one another once again that I may now be your teacher for this season, but I am your mother first and forever.
In anticipation of tomorrow, my prayers are slightly different than previous first day of school prayers- “Lord, thank you that we get to be Hallie’s people and that I get to be her teacher for this season. Thank you that she has a teacher that loves her more than she could ever know. I pray that she feels like her home and her family are right where she belongs even as she navigates the internal and external muddy middle school waters. Lord, thank you that Cade can’t fall through the cracks in this home school- Let him know that he is noticed, understood, and loved, and that he has been fearfully and wonderfully created with a purpose. Thank you that Kori Jane has a break from the onslaught of all the confusing and conflicting voices telling her what to love, value, and build her life upon. Thank you for the gift of time you have given me to pour into her even as she is almost grown and ready to fly. And Lord, take away Lacey’s anxiety, and use this crisis and the extended time we have together as a family to quiet the voices in her head that tell her that she is not good enough. Let Your voice be louder, clearer, and sweeter than all the other voices around her.
Thank you Lord for not only the privilege to pray for my children, but that for this season I can watch from up close as they grow stronger, shine brighter, think deeper, create beauty, and love more fully despite all the uncertainty and change that this year has already brought.