October 22, 2008

What makes a good home schooling parent?

Marci over at Homeschooling--A Life had a quote from John Holt on her blog recently. It so struck me with its succinctness and truthfulness that I had to spend some time myself writing about it. John Holt is talking about what makes a successful homeschooling parent in his book Teach Your Own:

"First of all, [parents] have to like [their children], enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children's wonder, curiosity and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children's learning."

I can't say I've lived up to this description every day on my homeschooling journey. There have been many times when I fully sympathized with moms who can't wait to get their kids on the school bus so they could have some peace or time for a job. My intuitive husband could always tell when I needed time off, so he'd take the kids to the park or to the grocery store, or even for a whole day out somewhere. During those moments to myself I would take a nap or pull out my journal and reflect on why it's a good thing to have a house full of energetic little ones around TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY. I laughed when I ran across this verse in the Bible: "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people," (Romans 10:21). Yep, that's me! And boy am I tired.

I have to say, I've had few, if any lapses in the "respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously" department. I deeply admire and appreciate each of my children for their God-given gifts and abilities. I am always in awe of how their minds work and how they view the world. When they were very young I saw myself as a shelter, allowing that tender little plant to grow. As they've gotten older, I've became more of a cheerleader, reminding them they could do ANYTHING they really want to do.

And to the last part of Holt's quote, yes, I'm a rebel. Even though I was a quiet little girl getting straight A's all through school, my motivation was freedom. I got the best grades possible so I would have few obstacles in pursuing any course in life. I learned the game and I played to win. So I went to college and got straight A's there too. I'm not bragging here, because we home schoolers know that A's are meaningless. All it means is I'm good at reading teachers and what they want on tests. Living like that from the age of six to twenty-two meant I was not going to put my kids on the same treadmill. So yes, I'm a rebel, and I'm not afraid to do what I think is right, especially when it comes to my children.

So, even during the difficult times of sheer exhaustion, I could not let go of the idea that I was building toward the day when I would see emotionally healthy adults named Peter, Meg, and Melissa, pursuing their dreams in life. We are still on that journey, and there have been bumps and fears along the way, but I see them realizing their potential, and that makes me glad for the freedom we've had to home school.


Anonymous said...

That little bit of scripture is priceless. You could make some cash selling banners with that one it for people to hang in their kitchens. Oh, tea towels.... The possibilities are endless.

But I think he's right. You have to like your kids. Not every minute but most of the time.

Heather said...

Amen!!! So often people say to me at the beginnning of the school year, "I bet you are glad they are starting school again." My response is, " Nope we home school and I LOVE their company. I would miss them if they were at school all day." Of course then people pull the patience card. It amazes me how many people can't stand their own children, and of course they don't realize that part of it is because they are giving them over to other people to raise them as they see fit. When I was working in a daycare we had 3 year olds who got dropped off at 6am and picked up at 6pm and the parents wondered why the kids didn't listen to them and misbehaved at home. (One was such a sad situation, the poor kids was born late to parents with already established careers. Neither wanted to stop working so they dropped him off at daycare all day everyday. Even if they were just going grocery shopping. Then they wondered what was wrong with him--he was a wreck--the biter, hitter, screamer, you name it he did it, kid.)

Marci Rae Johnson said...

Yes Heather, I'm also amazed at how many people can't stand their own children. Most every parent I know seems to want nothing more than for their kids to leave them alone. I wonder why? Someone should do a study and write a book about that! It seems so pervasive in our society. We homeschoolers are truly radical because we enjoying the company of our kids.

Unknown said...

We can't be perfect 100% of the time, can we? Last night I was in a bad mood and didn't seem to fit any of John Holt's descriptions of what makes a good homeschooling parent. However, my children and I know know that most days, I do happily fit in each of the categories.
I love my kids! I love hearing what goes on in their minds. I love participating in their learning adventures. I enjoy including them in our family decisions, I get excited learning about the new things they are learning about and I love including them in the things I am learning about. That is one of the wonders about homeschooling you don't often hear about. You, as the parent, become fascinated with life again! You find a new excitement to learn and figure out the ways that you learn best. You find a strenth to be different and find that people like that and want to follow you. Never could I have imagined when my oldest was three years old and we made the decision to homeschool, that life would be this great! With all the books out there on happiness, it is all summed up in one little paragraph by John Holt. Cathy

G.Dowell said...

I wonder if some parents do not like being with their kids because they are not with them enough. How can you grow in a love relationship with another person if you are not taking the time to truly get to know that person. I have to say that I love my kids more now than I did when they were in public school. Homeschooling has brought us closer, and I wouldn't trade that for the world.

My Journey so Far... said...

I started a women's bible study in September and the leader asked us to tell what we like about fall. One young mom said, "school's back in!" And another young mom sitting next to her said, "spoken like a true mom."
It made me so sad, but that's how most parents feel when summer is over. They just can't take being around their kids anymore and are ready for them to go back to school.
I love being with my boys and just couldn't imagine them being gone all day, 5 days a week.
I like their company and I do think that's what sets us apart in other groups like church, I actually enjoy my kids. I don't talk down to them, I treat them with respect and we actualy have a relationship.

Jena said...

I think we've all hit on something here. Maybe it's not homeschooling that works but that parenting works. If parents are allowed/encouraged to get know their kids (like you've already said) and carefully tend to their needs and allow them to follow their dreams, how can they NOT succeed in life? Traditional schooling herds kids in just a few directions and doesn't depend on a parent's involvement.

When Peter took the PSAT as a junior, he had to take it at the high school. As we drove into the parking lot I told him we had to go to the guidance counselor's office. He asked what a guidance counselor was. I said, "She's like a mom for the kids at the school, except she doesn't know you as well or love you as much." :)

Jena said...

I love all your comments. I'm reminded of a friend who sent her son away to college one year before I did. I asked her how she felt about it. She said, "Good riddance!" I stared at her like she was from another planet. Talk about awkward!

Jena said...

I just can't seem to get all my comments in one post. I hit "publish" then think of something else I want to say.

"A little about me" said she actually has a relationship with her children. That is the key, I think. If we have a relationship based on mutual love and respect, we can weather so many storms that break families apart. The teen years are a great example. As your child wants more independence he's less likely to completely rebel against you if you have a history of a good relationship. If you've always listened to each other and taken each other seriously, that naturally flows into the teen years. It's like putting cash in the bank you can draw on later.

Anonymous said...

It is possible to love your kids and send the to daycare or school. It is what you do before and after. I think some folks feel guilty and then overcompensate and don't set any limits (because they feel bad saying "no") and then have out of control kids that they don't want to be around or don't know how to be around in a good way.

Also, when my daughter was in school, she was really frustrated. But she took all that frustration out on me at home. We fought a lot. It wasn't because I didn't love her or didn't want to be with her but when I first considered homeschooling, I said to her right up front "I can't do this if we fight all the time."

What I learned is that when you take away the frustration of school, the fighting goes way down. Sure we still fight sometimes but mostly we really enjoy each other's company. And we have time to sort things out when we are frustrated with each other. We aren't having to get it sorted in 5 minutes because we have to be out the door to be somewhere.

And that is good to remember when you meet someone who thinks they couldn't homeschool because even if they don't feel like they have all those qualities NOW, they might if they were living a more relaxed life.

Jena said...

Jove, that's a really good point. Just the fact that we have time with our kids makes it possible to work through things and find solutions. Even with Missa in public school this year, I find myself saving kitchen work so I can be in there with her while she does homework. And at bedtime, I make sure she gets a back rub or extra time to talk. And I'm up with her to make breakfast and take her to school--I try to get as much time with her as I can so we can stay connected and I know what's up in her life. Those previous years of homeschooling laid a strong foundation, I think.

Jena said...

Cathy, I love what you said about becoming fascinated with life again. It's so true! It's almost like a second childhood as you join in with your kids.

Letitia said...

I just started that book. It's great so far.
I love being with my children, and can't imagine them being gone all the time. Yes, I enjoy my weekly 2 1/2 hour break, and having other quiet moments in the day, but love it when they're back home.
Since I have become an unschooler, our relationships have become even stronger. When I was stressed about subjects and getting on grade level, there was no joy in our learning time.
All of that is not to say that I don't have my frustrated moments, and I DO have a talker and asker of questions~ Oh, my! And, 2 gigantic mess makers!

Amanda said...

This is SUCH a great reminder of what the focus of homeschooling should be -- just enjoying each other!

I think it's hard sometimes, though, to like your kids when you don't really like yourself. Or when you didn't feel liked or likable as a kid. Or when you buy into the idea that kids are just a pain in the butt and we're not really SUPPOSED to like them because we're grown-ups. *sigh*

Mindy said...

I agree completely. I too am floored by how many people can't stand their kids and we see the effects of the drop them at daycare mentality all over our society today.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Jena! It has been too many years since I've read through Holt's books. I need to go back and revisit all the great quotes like the one you highlighted. I feel exactly like you...I truly enjoy my kids company and I love watching them learn and discover new things. And we've got the different part down pat!

Jena said...

Crunchy, (love that name), that's a good observation. Why do a lot of parents have that negative attitude toward kids? I think you've hit on it.

Unknown said...

Jena - I have just found your blog so I'm jumping in a little late in the game on some of these posts. I found you through Simplemom.net which has been a huge guiding light to me in the early years of parenting/homeschooling and I can see your website becoming the same.

Let's jump right in...

I love the quote by Holt but what do you do when you find that you don't love and enjoy your child as much as you should and as much as you want to. Wow, it feels horrible to even type that. My Daughter is 4 going on 16. She's so very smart, has the heart of a servant and she's always been that kid that "everybody likes". She's also very "Type A" in her personality. She has to control as much as possible or she just can't handle it. It really makes playtime less enjoyable because she can't just play. She has to control the WORLD! For instance... If she asks you if you want the blue plate or the green plate and you say green she will say "Well, you have to have the blue one because...". Anyway, I just find that day in and day out I do not meet MOST of the traits listed in Holt's quote. It truly saddens me that I can't figure out how to have fun and love and enjoy her. She's got a little brother at home (13 months ALL boy with his climbing and strong couriosity. Also very "Type A") and "suprise" baby sister due in 8 weeks.

I just feel like if things are already this tough now it's only going to get worse.

She used to go to a moms morning out program 2 or 3 days a week and it was really good for her until she turned 3 and started becoming less of a leader and more of a follower of all of the other kids. I didn't like her coming home and being able to tell by the way she acted who she played with that day.

I was homeschooled and so was my husband and we both feel homeschooling is important. I don't want to send her off to be raised by somebody else or schooled in a way of thinking that isn't our own.

I'm just don't know how to stop butting heads (I'm a bit of perfectionist myself) and really just love her for who she is?

Jena said...

Hi Jeana,

Such a great question. Some kids can really drive us crazy, and maybe I haven't been clear enough that Meg was this way for a long time. We still tease her that Meg is in charge! Maybe if you search my posts about Meg, it might help. When she was real little, someone made her a t-shirt that said "Meg Monster." Yes, it's true.

Tell her that people won't want to play with her if she's bossy. Help her to put herself in someone else's shoes (this is hard for young kids, but as she gets older, she may understand better).

You could role play a situation like you described with the plates. You be her and refuse to give her the one she wants for the types of reasons she gives. Ask her how that makes her feel and how she could do differently. Then give her a chance to redo the situation and choose different words and different responses. Have her practice ways to deal with people who have opposing ideas, etc.

Tell her it's OK to not be in charge. That's mommy and daddy's job. :)

We memorized Bible verses a lot, and one that might help here is Philippians 2:3-4 "...in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." And verses about love and explaining what real love is--it's not selfish or demanding.

She will learn a lot from natural consequenses with her friends, and you could use that as an example of what you've been trying to teach her, but do it in a gentle way, of course!

Being a strong willed leader is a good trait, but a good leader is not selfish or unreasonable. So that's what I would work on. And she's only 4. :)

Don't worry about not enjoying her. Believe me, I had my seasons. But you sound like a person who does love your child and sees the good in her, so I would press on.

Try not to get your own feelings hurt by her strong personality. You are the parent and you can steer her in the right direction. Try not to see her behavior as a personal attack or threat to you. Our own emotions in that area can cause stress. You are still the parent and able to see things much more clearly than she can.

Please feel free to email me anytime. I didn't have your email, so I put this long response here!


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