Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discipline is the Key to Homeschool Success

Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there, whom the father doth not correct? -Hebrews 12:7

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.  -Proverbs 13:24

The parental control on the TV is not for the kids. The parental control is for the parents! -Caribbean Priest (2005)

The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry. -Robert Burns (1785)

Homeschool poetry memorization
Thing #2 working on memorizing Psalm 11. It has bows and arrows in it.
Wife and I were discussing our new homeschool curriculum earlier this afternoon. We had planned to do so much - map work, journaling on different virtues, big history projects, art lessons, music lessons, Latin, poetry, scientific exploration, and so on, on top of the 4 R's - reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and religion.

Well, despite the curriculum's early success (which in retrospect may have due to the initial excitement), things are not going as swimmingly as we would like. We have great success getting through the morning - we have lists, we have a routine, we have the most important and foundational subjects up first, and we have the energy of a new day. It goes great. There is discipline. There are clear expectations. There are consequences for failure to execute. Incorrect work is corrected. Correct work is praised for the good effort.

They finish up by lunch, and much gets accomplished.

Then we take a break, and it all goes downhill.

Practicing the recorder is a great introduction to musical instruction.
Thing #1 practicing the recorder. The piano is unplayable, so this is the next best option for us.
After lunch, everyone loses focus. The kids eat and start playing, which is good. They finish before Wife and I. I work at home during the day, and lunchtime often involves some animal care, phone calls, or other tasks in addition to, ya know, eating. Wife also gets involved in other activities, such as beginning to prep dinner, getting phone calls, blog reading, and the like.

In the post-lunch shuffle, we all lose focus. We all lose steam. We focus on other priorities. We get distracted. We this. We that.

Call it what you will. Ultimately, it's a time when discipline deteriorates.

The trouble is, this is not always the children's discipline that is the problem. Staying focused on, say, a math page IS a discipline issue of the child. But failing to begin History class, like at all that day, is a discipline issue of the parents.

Two year old playing with alphabet flash cards.
"G is for GUITAR!" says Thing #3. He does school, too. His flash cards are cute
One great key to establishing and maintaining discipline for the "morning things" was the creation and subsequent refining of the homeschool morning checklist. This has been instrumental in automating the morning routine so we can get up, get stuff done, and get started on time.

We do not have such a system in place for our afternoon work.

Now, I should pause here to mention that we DO get them a full, 4-hour, high-quality, daily education. Every morning, they do math, religion, grammar, phonics, reading, writing, vocabulary, spelling, handwriting, reading comprehension, and the like. It is the extra things, like art, music, Latin, fun projects like dioramas and puppet shows, lapbooks, and so forth that get lost in the post-lunch shuffle. The result is that we usually spend one or two days a week doing school for about 10 hours. We cram science and history and Latin and music and poetry memorization and art into a long afternoon/evening jam session. We're all wiped by bedtime, and not necessarily eager to repeat it the next day. Disciplining ourselves to do smaller chunks every single day will lead ultimately to more productivity and peace, and we know this. It's the doing it that is where the breakdown lies.

Maybe this is the cause of feeling like, sometimes, our new curriculum is failing. Maybe it's why we're tempted to abandon all of the benefits of it and go back to a cookie cutter approach. It IS easier to just do a week #/ day #/ page # approach.

What is easy, though, is rarely what is best.

The key to the success of any program is discipline. As parents and teachers, Wife and I need to discipline ourselves to maintain focus and energy. We must learn to regroup and refocus our energies in the afternoon. We must learn to master our own distractions first. Only then can we adequately keep the children on task.

Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy, but sorrow: but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice. -Hebrews 12:11

This is so the issue we have. It seems like a monumental struggle to simply restart after lunch - a chastisement of sorts. The days we do this, things are great. We reap the fruits of justice, of peace in the family, of learning, accomplishment, and joy. The days we don't we feel behind, we feel chaotic since the kids run around like wild things, and we feel like we are not doing what we should - a sorrow in the home of opportunities missed and time lost. We have a plan mapped out on paper in terms of a weekly curriculum sheet. It is simply the discipline that we lack to execute it.

So now the million dollar question: how do parents discipline themselves to homeschool?

I don't believe there's an easy answer. I think that, just as NFP imparts graces through its virtuous practice, so does conscientious daily discipline in the practice of good habits imparts virtue of its own. Like the discipline of arising early, the discipline of sticking to a plan carries its own development of grace with it.

Denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world. -Titus 2:12

So, I suppose in conclusion, keeping homeschool running smoothly requires discipline on the parents' part to do so. As a parent and my kids' teacher, I have been slacking off too much and failing to restart, so to speak, at the second half, leading to a "sorrow" in my quest after "worldly desires." As a parent and my kids' teacher, I need to focus on "persevering" in my efforts in the "sober" pursuit of "the peaceable fruit of justice" in our family, "chastising" myself at first until I am properly "exercised" in the virtue to the point where it is a habit.

I think that type of discipline the key to success in a homeschooling environment.

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