Memory Masters: An Unexpected Journey

Well, we’ve done it.  We have evaluated with a certified teacher, and our 2014-2015 school year has officially drawn to a close! 

I’ve debated on how to write about our school year because, well, I have four kids and that’s a lot to write about.  I’ve finally decided to make an individual blog post about each child’s journey this year, because they are all so unique and have had different challenges to overcome.  (Although I’m not great at math, I do realize that means I’ll have to write three more blog posts before the end of the summer.  That’s probably a good level of commitment for me.)

SO, I’m going to start with Ava, my original homeschooler!  Her post is going to be a little different, because it’s actually going to cover TWO years…seeing how I never actually wrote a review of her first year of homeschooling.  Don’t worry, I have a terrible memory, so the details will be spotty at best.  But I do want to write a little about our experience last year, because I feel like our story can be useful to new homeschooling families who are trying to figure this thing out just like we were.

Just as a refresher so people know where we’re coming from, we sent Ava to kindergarten at a public school just around the corner.  It wasn’t a bad situation, but about halfway through the year, I started to feel like this may not be the best fit for us.  I asked Josh to pray with me about it, and through a serious of events I believe that God orchestrated, we made the decision to bring Ava home for first grade right as her kindergarten school year was ending.  You can read a MUCH more detailed account here.

Our first six weeks of homeschooling were golden – truly a honeymoon period.  Ava was highly motivated and seemed to love being at home.  At the beginning of October, she began saying little things indicating that she wasn’t happy.  That she missed seeing her friends at school and that she was lonely.  We started to have some behavior issues.

The day before Fall Break, it really hit the fan.  She had had a meltdown and I had sent her to her room.  When I went to her room to deal with it, she basically made the ultimatum that she was miserable and wasn’t learning and wanted to go back to “real school.”  Not trusting myself in her presence, I ran to my bathroom, shut the door, and sat down in the floor and cried.

After a few minutes, I heard a terrified, “Mommy?” on the other side of the door.  Ava’s not used to me crying, and I think it really scared her.  Her behavior improved after that, but I think she was really afraid that I would cry again.

I felt like such a failure.  I had poured my heart and soul for the past 4+ months learning how to homeschool, and all that work had put me in the bathroom floor, thinking I had ruined my child’s life.

I wish I could say that the drama runs deep in my family, but they are actually a pretty stoic people.  This was all me.

It took me a while to get the opportunity to talk to Josh about it (there are little ears EVERYWHERE,) but once I did, he was able to start putting things into perspective for me.  He encouraged me to keep trying and not to let a 6 year old’s opinion on a good education interfere.

I also e-mailed my homeschool sounding board, Debbie, who is such a saint for making it through my insecure e-mails that year.  I knew that her son had been in a traditional school setting, so I asked her if they had gone through something similar when she brought him home.  She assured me that these were normal emotions, and said something I will never forget: “For every year that they are in school, it takes a year to get the school out of them.”

I wish I could say that I rallied after that and became a peppy, 5 star homeschool mom again.  Truth be told, the rest of the year was really a struggle.  Ava had one or two meltdowns a week. She would completely shut down so that I wouldn’t be able to work with her.  I liked to call them “Math Meltdowns,” because most of the time they were first thing in the morning, which is when we were doing math.  Math is our least favorite subject to do together (SO THANKFUL that she’s been doing it on the computer this year!), so when you combine that with all the emotional stuff we were going through…well, you can see how Math Meltdowns were a thing.  She also declared that she hated our co-op, she hated memory work (which is the basis of classical education,) she didn’t have any friends…according to her, life was terrible.

Around February, I told Josh we had to decide once and for all whether Ava would pursue Memory Masters.  In our co-op, Classical Conversations, the children spend the entire year memorizing facts.  They memorize facts in 7 subjects every week, and there are 24 weeks of material.  For a child to reach Memory Master status, they have to be able to recite ALL of these facts to their tutor.  It take about an hour and a half to cover all the material.

Memory Masters is completely optional, and Josh and I decided that we weren’t going to worry about doing all of the subjects for the first year.  I had REALLY struggled working with her on the math facts (remember the Meltdowns?), and there were several other subjects that were not going well.  We called her into the room with the intention of telling her that she would be held accountable to history, science, and geography at home, but that we would not be attempting Memory Masters that year.

That’s when Ava surprised us.  She declared that she WANTED to do Memory Masters.  I stared at the child, the one who had said she hated memory work, in disbelief.  We ended up telling her that we would give her a day or two to think about it, because once she decided to do it, we weren’t going to let her quit.  We asked her again after a few days, and she was still sure that that was what she wanted to do.

The problem was, I had not worked with her all along on memory work like I should have if she was going to do Memory Masters.  We had kept up with science and history, but there were whole subjects we had not worked on AT ALL at home.  She had about six weeks to learn everything.  This meant, not only working on it during the school day, but also working on it for an hour after the boys went to bed every night.  (Josh handled most of the evening sessions, including via Skype when he was working late.  If you guessed that he was the one to teach her the math, you are correct!)

But I will say, once she started drilling for Memory Masters, it was like she was a different student.  Her behavior improved dramatically, and her motivation with it.  All the hard work paid off, and she achieved Memory Masters without a problem!  Because she was my only student and is able to work at a fast pace, we had some time after co-op ended to do some extra field trips and work on things that we enjoyed more, like poetry.  The not-so-awesome first year of homeschooling ended on a pretty positive note!

My babies last year.  Sniff!

With Ava representing El Salvador at the homeschool geography fair last year.

Which brings us to this school year.  Throughout first grade, I really had to stay right with Ava for her to do her work, even though she read well enough to do work independently if she wanted to.  I was a little worried that that would be her expectation this year, because I would have more children at home and less time to devote to individual children.  By God’s grace, she was SO much more mature this year, that I really feel like she did 80% of her work independently, and with a happy heart!  We had plenty of behavior issues with her this year, but very few of those occurred during the time we were doing school.

I am so proud of the student that she became this year!  Last year she hated journaling.  This year she wrote in her journal three times a week without being asked and admitted that she enjoyed it.  She taught herself cursive, pretty much completely independently.  She stopped complaining about writing (last year it hurt her hand so badly to write a paragraph!) and wrote a lot of meaningful pieces.  She wrote 8 book reports and 2 research papers with minimal assistance.

But Ava hasn’t just grown academically.  After a meltdown on the first day of school (we were off to a roaring start!), she didn’t have another one that interfered with the school day until November.  NOVEMBER.  One glance at her tells you that she’s tall for her age and an early developer.  Well, I’m not an endocrinologist, but if she’s going through physical changes, I figure she’s going through hormonal changes, too.  Which helps to explain why us changing where we keep the toilet paper might RUIN HER LIFE!

However, even with all these things going on inside of her, I noticed about halfway through the year a maturity blossom that wasn’t there before.  She started to actually be helpful.  She started picking up after herself and taking care of the baby.  She can now (most of the time) have a conversation with someone outside of our family without making me cringe or feel embarrassed.  She’s started being kind and helpful with younger children instead of ignoring them and going off to find an older child to play with.  (I’m still working on the table manners.  My apologies to anyone who eats with my family.)

Although we still have a long, bumpy road ahead of us, I feel like we’re starting to get glimpses of the woman that she might become.  And after a year of Math Meltdowns?  YES.  THANK YOU, JESUS!

And yes, Ava did achieve Memory Masters again this year.  But I feel like she’s achieved so much more in her heart.

And how does she feel about homeschooling now?  WELL, I no longer cringe when we drive by her old elementary school or see a school bus, because I no longer have to hear a commentary about it.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I heard her refer to “real school.”  And in her paragraph reviewing the school year?  She said, and I quote: “My second grade year has been my best school year yet.”

SO, here are some things that I learned in the first year of homeschooling my oldest guinea pig, I mean, child.

  • A six year old should not be given the power to choose how he/she will be educated. 
    I’m not saying you can’t take their opinion into consideration.  But in the end, you have to realize that you are the parent.  You are doing the very best that you can for your child.  You have thought about it, researched it, and prayed about it.  Not to mention you have years of experience and maturity that they lack.  They may not be happy with their situation, at least not at first, but if you have the child where you feel like is the best for your child AND your family, don’t let their opinion change your mind.  Ride out the tantrums, Mama, they won’t last forever.
  • It is normal for a child to grieve leaving school, and it is OK to grieve with them.
    At first, when Ava showed she was grieving her change in situation, I took it personally and allowed it to hurt me.  It took me a while to realize that this was not a personal attack on me.  What helped me to put it into perspective is when I realized this: If we had kept her in public school, but we had made a necessary move and had to put her in a different school (which happens ALL THE TIME,) she would have felt loss.  It is normal for a child (or an adult!) to grieve a change in situation, even if it is a good and/or necessary change.  I had to get to a point that I could allow her to grieve the change without immediately interpreting it to be an attack on homeschooling.  Eventually, I was able to join her in her grief.  Change is hard.
  • DO NOT USE COMPARISON TO SCHOOL AS A TOOL OF DISCIPLINE.
    I had to use caps AND bold lettering on that because I learned that the hard way.  I caught myself saying, “If you were in public school, THIS would be expected of you, you have it so much better here,” or, “I’m so glad I’m not sending you to school, because if you behaved this way to a teacher, things would NOT go well for you.”  I finally realized that if I wanted my child to stop comparing public school to homeschooling, I would have to stop, too.
  • Group-Think Mentality is real, and it lingers.
    Do
    you remember how I said that Ava claimed to be lonely?  What I didn’t mention in that paragraph was HOW MANY PEOPLE she was around all the time!  At the time, we were spending one day a week at co-op, going to gymnastics, and church twice a week. Not to mention homeschool day at the park.  I honestly think we’ve gotten out and met WAY more people since we started homeschooling than before.  However, what Ava was expressing was, she felt like she needed to be constantly around people in order to be able to learn.  She missed seeing the same people day-in and day-out.  This was very frustrating for me, because, although she was having plenty of social opportunities, I simply could not give her the environment that she was looking for.  I am thankful to say that, this year, she seemed very content to do school with her brother, and she’s finally warmed up to the people in our co-op…it has just taken her a while!
  • You have to learn what makes them tick. 
    Why did Memory Masters seem like a magical fix for Ava?  Because she is HIGHLY MOTIVATED by people seeing her achievements.  She spent the first half of the school year thinking that no one was seeing the work that she put into school but me.  When she realized that homeschooling didn’t just mean your parents seeing your work?  When she realized other people outside of our house would still see how smart she is?  She might as well have said, “YES.  Sign me up for THAT!”  (Israel, on the other hand, could care less about accolades.  But I will save that for the next post!)
  • Homeschooling is sanctifying.  And I don’t mean for the student.
    H
    allelujah, amen.
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