Six, almost seven years ago a nurse handed me a tiny baby girl. I put her into the crook of my arm, and that wrinkled baby raised the back of her hand to her forehead, let out the most pitiful cry I’ve ever heard and turned her face into my chest. Oh, the drama. Gabriella- more often referred to as Ella- has lived up to her first introduction to the world.
Meet, Ella. Our sassy, soft-spoken, sensitive, shy, sweetheart. (Did Y’all catch my unintentional use of alliteration? Save your applause for later, folks.) She loves books, babies, hot tea, cooking, and baking. She’s wise beyond her years and the worrier of the family. She’s the “mother hen” of our crew; always making sure her siblings are well cared for and listening… especially to her. She’s the best kind of challenge when it comes to homeschooling.
Ella attended Pre-K at the local public school for only a few months. There was never any indication she wasn’t succeeding in school, nor did she have any serious issues with being there each day. She had excellent, attentive teachers, and enjoyed her time at school for the most part. She would occasionally tell me she didn’t benefit from the amount of time she spent at school, that it “took too long” for her to come home each day. That would pull at my heart-strings. My girl missed me!
I’m not a public school “hater.” Herman and I both had somewhat enjoyable experiences in school. I’m also very much aware of the necessity of public education for some families, because of work or just Mama’s sanity. Public school teachers are real-life superheroes who deserve a cape, a large cup of coffee, and an endless supply of dark chocolate. But, once again I found myself thinking there had to be a better way. Who guides us? The social norm, or God?
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Ella has always been quiet. She enjoys playing alone and is the exact definition of an introvert. She got that from Herman, which is evident if you know anything about me. Until recently, when she would speak to me while driving, I would have to pull over and turn off the ignition just to hear her! In a crowded place? Forget hearing anything she may have to say. After starting Pre-K, these things became much more apparent. Almost like she was exhausting all of her energy at school, and when she came home, there was nothing left. She’s still pretty shy in social settings but has come a long way.
She was only a month past four when she started Pre-K. She was not ready. Hindsight is always 20/20, right? Ella is an unhurried learner. I won’t use the word slowly because learning isn’t a race. If she’s not ready to learn something, it just won’t stick no matter how many times you go over it, and that’s okay. When I started homeschooling the kids, I immediately made the decision we wouldn’t push for any type of structured learning for her or the younger children until six. You would be amazed at the information children pick up just through play!
Unfortunately, after we were home for a while, I kept falling into the trap of comparison. What if she’s behind? This question always led to me trying to teach her things she just wasn’t ready for and frustration from us both. So of course when she turned six I started her on the DVD-led curriculum right away, and she learned NOTHING! It was discouraging, and I began praying for answers. Even though I was initially on the right track with helping her learn, I was again allowing the world to influence a situation I had already given to God.
Something I continue to cling to is advice given in the book Homeschooling: what to do when you want to quit. Michelle Cannon writes: “When someone calls me to say they feel behind, the first thing I ask is, ‘behind what, or whom?’ …” (Follow the link to take a look, or grab a copy!) The title of the book almost kept me from reading, but it’s a book full of encouragement for all situations, not just for those who feel like quitting. Once we dropped the academy-style learning, she began to flourish.
Currently, we’re putting emphasis on reading. Within the last few months, she has picked up the ability to recognize all of the letters in the alphabet, and the sounds they make. This is a tremendous feat for her, and the pride in her eyes when she can recognize something makes my heart happy and helps me remember this is not a race. For a while, I was concerned that she may be Dyslexic and starting therapy would be necessary. Seeking outside help is always an option in our family, but for now, we’re just taking our time, and it seems to be working for her.
Here’s a sample of what a typical day at home looks like for Ella:
- Wake up and eat breakfast, usually, watch cartoons
- Complete any chores
- Letters and sounds instruction for 15-20 minutes then complete work ~1 hour total
- Play/free time
- Quiet time (This is time spent alone in a room for approximately 1 1/2-2 hours. She usually does self-guided penmanship practice and workbook pages to fill the time.)
- Math instruction 15-20 minutes then complete work ~1 hour total
- Play/free time
There are things we don’t limit in our home that fall under the category of her play/free time. We don’t restrict the use of puzzles, making easy-reader books, workbooks, crafting and art projects, spending time exploring nature, and reading books. This means my house is usually covered in glue, glitter, and scraps of paper. If you’ve ever been over to my house, there’s a chance you’ve witnessed the endless crafting first hand. She will occasionally use some of her free time to practice math, watch science, history, and art videos on Khanacademy.org, or play on abcmouse.com. Our adventure days, as Hayden refers to them, are days spent learning organically, usually outdoors somewhere. Science and art are easily explored on these days. Her current fascination is learning how to sew. Project Runway, here she comes!
Reading to her, I think, has been the most helpful part of her early learning. It’s taught her that reading and writing are always left to right, something she’s struggled with and that there is always at least one vowel in every word. She has started to recognize simple words as they repeat in a book, which shows me she’s able to follow along. Most of all, the stories give her the drive to want to learn. Which is the number one goal in our home.
Our style of learning is definitely not for everyone, but it’s what works best for us. I’ve had to let go of a lot of unnecessary worries, and pride to get where we are today. It’s easy to quiet the voice that tells you to follow your own path when the world is loudly screaming you’re doing it wrong. That’s always a struggle anytime you go against the grain.
Ella needs a lot of breaks, and to always be hands on. Out of everything she has taught me since we’ve started our homeschooling journey, the most important thing I have to remember, is her need to always take her time. It’s a humbling lesson in such a fast-paced world.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heavens…” Ecclesiastes 3:1