Don’t Despair in the Middle Years

I looked across the kitchen table yesterday at my 12, 10, four and two-year-olds and thought what a delightful stage we are in with homeschooling.  So delightful that I had almost forgotten about the middle years.

We began homeschooling eight years ago with an eager four-year-old and an even-more-eager new-to-homeschooling mama.  That kindergarten year was an exciting combination of challenge, discovery and accomplishment.  I experienced for the first time the wonder of guiding a child through the steps of learning to read.  The curriculum that we used (My Father’s World) was so gentle and creative that he never even realized he was learning to read.  We explored aspects of God’s creation connected with each letter–leaves, sun, moon, water, butterflies, colors…practicing the letters little-by-little along the way, and, suddenly, we had a simple, phonetic reader.

Buoyed by this kindergarten success, I strode confidently into first grade with my now five-year-old.  I was soon disheartened by his resistance and frustration.  The work that had been a joy now brought tears.  Since five is young for first grade, I decided to slow down and let him finish the curriculum over a two-year period.  That helped, though by the end of the second year he was thoroughly bored by the material.

I chalked that up to “mommy error” and moved on, but the next three years felt like an uphill climb.  My expectations were often met with complaints.  My math lovers turned into math haters.  I frequently second-guessed myself.  Was I expecting too much, using the wrong curriculum, giving in too much…?  We definitely still experienced moments of wonder and built strong family memories, but I was not at all convinced that my children loved to learn–and wasn’t that one of the reasons that we had chosen to homeschool?

Looking back it makes so much sense.  From first through fourth grade learning is hard.  The child can read and is expected to read, but reading is is still hard work.  The mechanics of writing still take great effort.  Basic math computations still tax the young brain.  In retrospect it is no surprise that art projects, acting things out and being read to were the only things that seemed to excite them.  At the time I found it distressing.

I wish I could go back and encourage my struggling self and children with the knowledge that the “middle years” are a temporary state.  My older children have now come out the other side.  The oldest, with excitement reminiscent of his four-year-old brother can’t stop telling me about pulleys and mechanical advantage, while his sister amazes us at the dinner table with facts about a bower bird that makes its nest from anything blue.  I listen to detailed accounts of books that I may never read, watch them take pride in carefully organizing their notebooks and realize with joy and relief–they do love to learn!

Even though my experience is limited, I am fairly certain that these “middle years” are not an anomaly unique to our family or to my two oldest children.  I expect to pass through the same struggles with the bright four-year-old who is now so proud that he can make an “S,” with his younger sister and any other children that we are blessed to receive.  This time I think I will be more relaxed and more confident when I encourage them that, though the door they are working to open is heavy, it leads to worlds of exultation and adventure that are worth every minute of the effort.




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