The past few years the kids and I have followed Ambleside Online’s scheduled homeschool curriculum, with great enjoyment and success. So when we came into this deployment year I weighed a few schooling options, and ultimately decided to stick with Ambleside despite its heavy reading load. After all, we knew the rhythm, we liked the program, and I figured it would seamlessly lend order to our days.
And so, two months pregnant with our sixth child, newly absent from a war-sent husband, freshly displaced from our Army home and squeezed in with my parents, we dove right in.
And it nearly killed me. Well, it didn’t nearly kill me, but the absolute stress of having to cow to a book schedule mingled with the sudden onslaught of a million other stressors, and before I knew it my body was under such duress that I wound up quite ill. I knew I had to let something go.
But the only thing of which I could let go was school.
The toll of pregnancy wasn’t going anywhere. The amount of housework, meals, laundry, none of that was going anywhere. Learning how to live as an adult in my childhood home? Not going anywhere. The solo parenting of five kids; the missing of and worry for my husband; the lack of alone time and the intensity of mothering around the clock without break; the displacement from my own home, kitchen, bed… none of these very stressful aspects of an upheaved life could be changed. But I could let go of school. Or at least, I could lighten my expectations of what school needed to look like, this year.
It took the firm admonishment by a couple of friends, and the austere counsel of my husband, but I finally lifted my hands off the reigns and we let ourselves take a good six or seven weeks to breathe. Those seven weeks coincided with both the holidays and family visiting from China, which turned out to be exactly where we needed to focus our attention for the time being. The kids were happier, and I had the time I needed to catch my stride and put new habits into play. When we came back to school, we began a much lighter schedule…and now we’re all the better for it.
This past week I was reading (I think I must come back to this book once a year) “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. When I landed on these two sentences, I exhaled a long, slow breath of release:
If education can mean different things in different places or times, are there any common denominators? Charlotte Mason suggested three “instruments” of education: the atmosphere of environment, the discipline of habit, and the presentation of living ideas. (For the Children’s Sake, pg. 70)
I sighed my relief because this is what we’re doing. It may not look the way I wanted, but we’re managing to pull it off. The children are enveloped by a good, stimulating atmosphere of environment. They are utilizing and learning and are grounded by disciplines of habit. They are surrounded by the presentation of vibrant, living ideas.
I really did have to grieve the loss of the school year I expected, and the loss of all the books I hoped to get through. But I already can see the fruit of a lighter load. My children and I have had hard lessons in the school of life this year. In order to glean from these lessons all that we could, regular “school” had to be restructured, and I’m so thankful for the voices in my life who had the wisdom to tell me so.