“ Tricks of the Trade: Practical Advise for Homeschooling in the Garden of Life”
By: Kristi Kronz
Homeschooling is akin to gardening. I've been doing both for well over a decade and a half now and I can attest to the similarities. They both require a sacrifice of time; they both teach you a great many things about yourself, humanity, and the Lord; and they both bear fruit – if done well. Over the years I've been privileged to acquire several tricks of the trade which apply to both of these passions in my life and which I thought I would share with you now as you approach the finishing line for yet another academic year.
Crop Rotation and Companion Gardening
In my gardens I have learned the value of movement. I purposefully try to place various plants in different areas of the garden each year. This rotation of crops ensures that I have not depleted my soil of the nutrients needed to keep my gardens healthy. Similarly, I have studied and now am purposeful to place certain plants side by side because of the benefit they give to each other in providing a natural pest control as well as providing nutrients the other might need within the soil. These two concepts of crop rotation and companion gardening are applicable in my homeschooling as well.
It has been vitally important and highly valued in our homeschool day to keep moving. I have always sought to provide a mental/physical continuum throughout our academic schedule. We “rotate” often, keeping our bodies active in between periods of quiet study. For our little homeschool, this means that daily walks or bike rides, instrument practices, academic games, logic-building activities such a puzzles or engineering-oriented building toys, or chores are scattered in between the harder academic subjects of our day. This involves some creative scheduling on my part, but has always been worth it as it not only increases my children's abilities to learn, but has also aided in keeping our day joy-filled and relatively free from monotony.
In addition to “rotating my crops”, I have learned the value of using the concept of companion gardening in our homeschooling as well as in my garden. I treasure and actively take advantage of the various giftings my children can bring to our homeschool. Each of them can benefit one another by using his or her various strengths and talents for the purpose of teaching or playing or simply encouraging one another. My oldest son, after 2 ½ years of receiving private tutoring in Spanish, now serves as Spanish tutor to my middle school-aged child (for free!). My middle child, gifted in all things athletic, serves as a wonderful coach and mentor to inspire his siblings in daily physical activity. My youngest child's burning desire to learn well beyond her grade level is inspiring and contagious to her less academically-oriented brother. Her creativity and imagination have served our family well as she takes her sometimes overly-cerebral brother into her make believe world, helping him to laugh and have fun in the midst of serious study. Using the personalities and strengths of each member of the family can create an incredibly fruitful garden of compassion and character as well as providing each member with opportunities to share God-given strengths for the benefit of all.
Only Plant What You'll Use
I will confess that this is a hard one for me. Anyone who knows me knows my tendency toward planting too much. And I do have this undying curiosity to try growing some unique combinations just to see if I can! The diversity of plants growing on my property gives me tremendous satisfaction and is one of the reasons I love gardening. However, this can have its down side when I am loaded with vegetables that I know my family will not consume. I may have wasted many summer hours caring for plants which will never produce fruit because they were not uniquely suited for our climate of extremes. Likewise, in homeschooling it is important to “plant” just what you'll use.
People in my life who are curious about homeschooling often ask me, “How do you know what to teach them??” My reply is simple – I teach my children what my husband and I believe is important for them to know. Of course this looks different for every family. What I might find valuable for my children to learn, another family may never even consider teaching in their years of homeschooling. This is where we need to embrace each other's differences rather than seeking to compare. You are uniquely suited to meet your child's educational needs. Be mindful, prayerful, and sober as you evaluate where the Lord is leading with each child's education. Keep your focus on facilitating an education for your children based on what you believe they will need to know. Using this focus, teach what will be useful for them in their future endeavors. You don't need to add materials or courses that won't be of value simply because you see others around you doing so. Be content to keep your eyes on and follow the individual convictions of your own family. Avoid becoming a slave to your curriculum. It is to serve as a tool for you, not the other way around. If your life has become stress-filled and joy-deficient in your efforts to maintain the expectations set in your curriculum, it is time to reevaluate its use. Be purposeful and diligent to plant only what you'll use within your unique homeschool garden.
Simplify and prioritize
The garden is a priority in my life. From its fruit, my family is nourished and sustained. Through the blessing of abundance, we are able to gift many others through the seasons. From its labor, I receive joy and satisfaction, peace of mind, and purpose for my days. It can be very easy for me to be distracted from this purpose. There are always many other equally valuable activities for me to take part in. However, if I don't keep this as a priority, I will not have the yield in all of those aforementioned areas. If I fill my life with too much noise and too many obligations, I can no longer bear the fruit in my garden which I feel called to grow. Of course, this principle is even more obvious within our homeschooling. Each year, I am more convicted to stay the course and finish this race well which God has given me to run. This season involves daily sacrifice as I set aside my own fleshly desires for companionship and learning and fun in order to keep my husband, children, and home as the irreplaceable priorities in my life.
Our world is screaming at us with a vast myriad of distractions. We need not even leave the home anymore and we can still struggle to be truly present with our children. Computer screens and cell phones for texting have replaced eye contact. Large quantities of activities outside the home distract us from the obvious needs within it. Our eyes and ears are engaged in short-lived relationships with others (many of whom we may never meet), while our spouses and our children are awaiting their turn to have our joy-filled, undivided attention. This is a burden of my heart. If we call ourselves gardeners, then we need to be in the garden. A wise older homeschooling mom of six recently shared with me on our long walk together that she has never regretted choosing to stay at home and say “no” to many, if not most, of the wonderful out-of-the-home opportunities available to her and her children. If she had not made this a priority, she feels certain that she and her children would have missed out on building the relationships they currently have today because of this sacrifice. I encourage you, my fellow homeschooler, to be careful not to add more to your days than what you can do well. Simplify your schedule and prioritize your time, being ever-vigilant to run your “race” with perseverance.
Don't forget to stop and smell the lavender
As any gardener will tell you, it can become fairly easy to be consumed with your garden. There is always one more weed to pull, another bush to prune, a tree to stake, or fruit to be harvested and preserved. If I didn't seek earnestly to live a balanced life, I could happily spend from morning till night engrossed in the labor of gardening itself. Homeschooling can conjure up similar images – with nary a moment to spare between planning, nurturing, discipling, teaching, shuttling, grading, and disciplining. Just as we must occasionally be still and relish in the beauty of our gardens, so we also need to take time to fully live out those praiseworthy moments of learning and companionship alongside our families.
It is vitally important to your health, your marriage, and your relationships with your children that you take a break when (or ideally before) you need one. Sometimes this will involve a simple change of schedule for the day, a longer walk than usual, or a spontaneous field trip or play date with friends. At other times, it may involve taking a whole day or week (or month!) off from the daily routine of homeschooling. Obviously, consistency is very important in order to reap the many educational and behavioral rewards of homeschooling, but not at the cost of losing your health, your marriage, or the hearts of your children. Take time each day to be still before the Lord. Make time for fun. Be purposeful to tuck joy-filled moments into your days. Stop for milkshakes on the way home from lessons. Make an impromptu trip to the bookstore or library or park. Go on dates with your children individually and with your husband regularly. Sneak in times of service for others which invariably result in tremendous blessings for you and your family. Have a regular game night or invite friends to sit around the campfire. Make memories away from the workbooks. Find joy in the little things and be purposeful to take breaks before the Lord forces them on you. Embrace the work involved Gardening can be hard work. Each spring, my body goes through painful reminders that bending and squatting and hauling and hoeing uses muscles not regularly strengthened through daily effort. To gain the results and fruit I am seeking, I must spend many hours on a regular basis tending my plants. I must also set aside time to regularly plan and evaluate. When needed, I remove plants or add new ones. Most importantly, I am constantly seeking input and wisdom so that I can learn more each year and grow in my knowledge base of gardening. I read, I glean, and seek out continuing educational opportunities to grow in wisdom.
While homeschooling might not involve as many physical muscles, it certainly requires a daily expenditure of mental, emotional, and spiritual muscles. Choosing to homeschool well requires much effort and will take an incredible toll on your health if not done with sober awareness and daily prayer. It should not be done lightly nor without a tremendous amount of thought, prayer, planning, and sacrifice on your part. While our children are young, this will not seem so intense. There is much flexibility allowed during the grade school years; however, entering into the middle and high school years, although amazingly rewarding, requires a renewed level of commitment and sacrifice on your part. It is not for the faint of heart! I believe passionately that we have an obligation in taking on this God-given task to complete it with excellence. A Biblical mandate which has been influential in my life and my homeschooling has been Colossians 3:23-24 which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Italics mine.)
I encourage you right now to look at your homeschool with clarified vision. Confess the areas of selfishness you might still be struggling with and leave them at the feet of Christ who is so willing to forgive and renew our strength for the tasks at hand. Challenge yourself to fully embrace the actual work of homeschooling your children. To do so with excellence requires a daily commitment on your part to fully participate and/or facilitate your child's learning. You are an invaluable and necessary part of the equation. Although students with growing maturity should be allowed greater freedom to complete their academic work on their own, it behooves you to stay in the game as much as you can. This will facilitate a deeper relationship with your children as well as enable them to communicate with you along the way all that they (and you) are learning.
Dear friend, let go of those things which entangle you and keep you from homeschooling with excellence. If needed, set aside commitments, selfish desires, hobbies and pastimes which distract you, and possibly even some relationships which are not beneficial to you in this season. Embrace the road you have chosen and the work it entails. True and joy-filled learning requires sacrifice on your part. Trust God with the details as you put forth the effort needed to continue homeschooling in the garden of life.
Kristi Kronz is a mother of 3 working to finish well her 12th year of homeschooling. She cherishes all of her “plants” and lives south of Nampa, Idaho.