by Raye Pearson
My first year as a home schooling grandma was full of delightful surprises. My biggest fears were smothered by the unconditional love of my grandchildren for me, and I enjoyed the experience more than I ever dreamed.
The rationale for my decision to help home school three of my seven grandchildren was embraced nearly thirty years ago when I first learned about home schooling from a missionary friend who taught her own children at home. I would have loved to home school my daughters, but the best I could do was to eventually send them to Christian schools. Later, as a Christian bookstore owner, I offered home school curricula and resources to my customers. With very few exceptions, the home schooling families that patronized my store were the best salespeople for home schooling. Their children were courteous and articulate, and they loved to read. I enjoyed talking with their parents about their experiences.
Last year when my elder daughter, Kimberley, asked me to help her home school her daughter, Chelsey (8), along with her single sister’s Nikolas (7-1/2) and Leiah (6-1/2), I was primed for the opportunity. After all, the “Elder” (as she occasionally calls herself) was making a great offer to her sister, Tammi to educate her children at less-than-public-school-prices (considering all the weekly $2 here and $3 there for pizza and ice cream plus ubiquitous fundraisers), not to mention after-school care at no additional expense. Kimberly’s husband, Craig, and my own husband were both supportive but set limits on each of us because of other responsibilities.
I worried that if I became one of my grandchildren’s teachers, I would lose favor as an affectionate, fun-loving grandparent and that it would no longer be fun to come to Grandma’s house. I was also apprehensive that the rather freewheeling atmosphere of going to Grandma’s house the kids were accustomed to would not be conducive to settling down for schoolwork. In order to avoid this issue, when my students arrive in the morning, they must walk halfway around the house to come in the front door by the dining room/schoolroom. I greet them at the door with hugs and kisses; they put up their backpacks; then we have breakfast in the breakfast room, saving the dining room for class. At all other times, they come in through the garage to the back door. Given a choice, they still want to spend the night at Grandma’s house. Chelsey goes home with Nikolas and Leiah one night a week or spends it at my house. After some time had passed, Leiah said, “Grandma, you’re my favorite grandma.” Another fear was cast into outer darkness.
One of my big concerns was the children’s relationships with each other. Each of the three has a distinctly different personality and learning style. Chelsey is an only child, accustomed to a quiet environment. She has her own room; Nikolas and Leiah share a small one. Chelsey easily entertains herself; Nikolas and Leiah, only a year apart in age, are accustomed to playing together. Nikolas is closer in age and grade to Chelsey, but he and his sister both vie for her attention and mine. Chelsey can become overwhelmed with all this sensory and emotional input and, depending on her mood of the day, gets bossy or cranky. Leiah works hard to keep up with the older kids, academically and in every other respect, and is easily frustrated. Nikolas is a rambunctious boy who needs to be doing stuff. I envisioned free-for-alls with me right in the middle.
To my delight, however, these three are a case study in democracy. With the strongly Christ-centered character guidance fostered by home schooling, they manage to work things out among themselves. For example, if they draw a chore they do not like, they try to swap; that usually works. If they cannot agree on some issue, they figure out a system for settling it and then they stick with it. Oh sure, they negotiate, but they seem to have a big surprise agreement to abide by the decision-making process. Problems among them have been few and far between, and they are learning to enjoy helping each other.
They cooperate in other ways too. When it is time for recess, they cannot wait to get outside to their current project. Last year, they built Noah’s ark. They painted it too, but that is their grandpa’s story. They created a house in a corner of our one-acre yard under the branches of some overgrown photinia. This is a terrific place for feet-off-the-floor time or listening to our Bible lesson. They continually amaze me with their creativity and resourcefulness. When President Bush asked our nation’s children to send $1 each for children in Afghanistan, our kids set up a cold drink stand on the corner to earn some money. Like many other families, we used this opportunity for math, spelling, geography, planning, marketing, and character-building lessons. In just two afternoons, this enterprise earned about $15. We were all thrilled.
One thing I did not worry about was the academic challenge of home schooling. Kimberley did a great deal of research before choosing the classical approach to education, which I totally supported and knew I could teach based on my own foundation. Both of my daughters excel in language arts, but neither is fond of math. Sure, Grandma loved everything BUT language and would teach math, history, science, Bible, and music arts. I was happy to do so and to find ways to integrate it all and make it fun in the process. (Do you know the maximum time you can expand a marshmallow in the microwave before it starts to shrink and harden?) We modify our format as needed to meet the growing needs of our students, and each of them is doing remarkably well.
A totally unexpected benefit of our home schooling experience has been the lack of illness among us. Last year the kids shared a cold picked up from another child at church, but they only missed about a day each, remarkable considering that Chelsey has asthma. When they were in public school, I was the sick-day babysitter. It is a joy to be able to teach them in such a healthy environment.
Another unexpected occurrence has been the encouragement I have received from several quarters. One set of the kids’ great-grandparents is solidly in favor of our endeavor and has provided valuable resources, not the least of which is their presence at some of our events. We are blessed to have four generations involved in this effort. Kimberley and Craig’s church is very supportive of their numerous home schooling families, and more than a dozen children on Craig’s side of the family are home schooled. My Bible Study Fellowship leaders both last year and this are former educators and have been marvelously affirming, keeping me in their prayers. There is another set of grandparents in my church who occasionally assists with their home schooled grandchildren, and my pastor thinks of projects for the kids every now and then. They love to show off their Greek to him. My sister-in-law, who has taught in a classical Christian school, sent us a whole box of materials. Her daughter spent some of her vacation with us helping me teach, and she now helps with the transportation, too. This is truly an extended family home school.
The bottom line for home schoolers may not always be as easily defined as for those who endure all the standardized testing and the teaching thereto. I am constantly wondering if I am getting through to the kids. Are they really learning the most important lessons? That question was answered for our whole family by an incident at the end of school last spring. Nikolas bounded through the front door of his home in a hurry to find his Bible. “What’s the rush?” his mother asked. “Caleb doesn’t know much about God,” he said, “I’m going to help him learn some more.” Once Nikolas was back out the door, Tammi moved to the window where she could see and hear what was happening on the front steps. Nikolas sat down beside his friend, opened the Bible to Genesis 1:1, and said, “Let’s start at the beginning.” After a couple of quick, teary phone calls later to her sister and me, we were all rejoicing.
There is no room left in my heart or mind for fear or apprehension. Almost through our second year now, I am filled with the joy of being a part of my grandchildren’s lives as one of their home school teachers.