“When do your kids ‘do School’?”

fPKXI05LSCiE+8B33YActQAsk me again when my children ‘do school’? (Don’t go there on the socialisation question though, OK?).

This week my eldest child – who at 16 is studying for the South Australian SACE stage 1 – (Maths Specialist, Maths Methods, Physics, Chemistry and English) was up at 6.45am on Monday morning to travel for a maths specialist test, and back home in time for his online chemistry lesson. The night before he had to start work at 8pm to make final preparations for his test after family activities took away his Sunday afternoon studying time. 

Eldest chose this academic path himself. We looked at alternatives, but he has made his mind up that this is what he wants to do for Australian year 11 and 12. It limits his classical education options with our US provider but we have had 2 great years doing that – which I am excited to be rolling out in the earlier years now with the younger ones for some subjects.

He had to do work on his other subjects (US courses in Logic and History / Literature) later that day. Other children were working on Logic, History / Literature, maths, Language arts. 

Tuesday, eldest had Maths Specialist lesson and finalisation and submitting of an English assignment before the English lesson after his 30 min lunch break. He ate lunch at his computer. More prep for the US subjects in the afternoon. Again other children studying English and Maths in the same room.

Wednesday involved an early morning (husband got up at 4am for a US Language Arts lesson with Mr 12 (a special privilege to be allowed to join the lesson as it happens-  when the clocks change we will be back to fitting these archives and the resulting work into our already full week). I got up at 5 and swapped with my husband as I had promised the eldest 2 I would get up with them for their Logic debate at 0530. They manage the early mornings better than me. I went back to bed and slept through their next lesson (currently studying Henry V) and they were back to work on other things, and piano practice, after their second snack / breakfast. I spent the day clearing and sorting school supplies in the study to make all this stuff feel easier. Kids worked around me / helped me as necessary. In the afternoon I asked mr 16 to take a break from his studies at 5pm and cook dinner to help me out. I’ve not been asking him to help recently due to his workload. Wednesday night we went to the Ash Wednesday service at church. Some kids helped with the data projection. The little ones coloured and listened and sang. (Saying this to prove we have commitments outside the house, though I wrote a particularly long piece on what I like to call ‘the socialisation myth’).

Thursday mr 16 had a ‘pupil free day’ with the online SACE college so he was able to watch a recorded physics lesson at a time of his preference. He chose to practice piano at 0830 (after asking me if that was ok the day before) and start his lesson earlier than its normal 1.30pm time slot. He then completed a practice test paper, for the next test that is coming up in physics. He submitted that a day early. While he worked all the other kids were working on writing projects in the study area, even Miss 5. After a super productive morning I planned to ‘take the rest of the day off’ and have a rare trip to the shopping centre for some promised and needed items – and a rare ‘long’ visit to the library for the 2 eldest. Even though I don’t take advantage much any more of daytime shopping availability – I felt good about going ‘after lunch’. The naughty feeling didn’t last long when I realised it was actually nearly 3.30pm and school days had finished for brick and mortar schooled kids anyway. Mr 16 spent most of the library visit working on homework. Good job the shopping took ages. Which I REALLY enjoyed. I just found out he was actually revising in the library completing a practice test for the maths test today. See? I’m not even checking up on him that closely to be on his back about work. Occasional check ins, but he usually tells me how he’s going and how the workload is going.

Today (Friday): more 4 and 5am lessons. This time I did the 4am stint and my husband observed the rest of the debate at 5am to support the eldest 2. After 3 hrs of school they went to the reserve on bikes. After a sleep Mr 12 did more work on his language arts. Again all practising the piano and writing work for the youngest 3. Now they are using Osmo programs for a treat. Sort of school, sort of not: definitely educational. Eldest? Had a short break after early morning lessons, went o the reserve on his bike: then came home to get his maths test prep sorted and out again for another hour long maths test. Exam. Whatever it is. On the way home he’s watched chemistry videos for homework to utilise the journey time. Oh and I promised not to get into this but WE HAVE PEOPLE COMING OVER THIS AFTERNOON.

Clearly the hardest worker with the biggest workload is mr 16 right now (excluding parents). I haven’t mentioned the Latin exam the eldest 2 are meant to be studying for, for next week. 

Last year a congregation member saw me in the city in the middle of the day, on an errand with all the kids. They asked me the following Sunday what I was “doing in the City”. It didn’t quite strike me how this was an odd question, a bit nosey, but ??? I later realised they thought my kids were supposed to be sitting at desks. So what if we had an orthodontist appointment? None of anyone’s business, just as it would have been equally as fine for me to say to the kids we ought to have a fun day in the City. We can. We do. These days – very rarely. I must put that in my diary else it won’t happen.

I’ve also been asked what hours my children ‘do school’. Where do I start? This was 1 crazy full week. Probably the only extra activities were the 2 tests. Next week they will be replaced by Latin co-op and Latin exam. I am SO glad we had those early years of eclectic, sometimes formal, sometimes not, sometimes ‘just fun’ sometimes just housework. I know, sitting here now, how it ends. If we choose – I jit can end in just as an amazing work ethic (perhaps better) than if I’d chained them to a desk or kept eldest in the system that nearly broke him. I tell myself this now, when his younger sibs’ days look quite like his did in the early years. On / off, fun / not. Messy / outstanding.

With all this: I choose relationship. I choose together. I choose messy. I choose academic excellence too, actually. How it happens is a mystery combined with hard work. During hours of our choosing. I choose not to give rude answers to questions that can’t even be answered.

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Even more support

Exodus 17:11-13

New International Version

11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

It’s tiring being the eldest child. It’s tiring being the parents! No matter how many children we have, we are all tired sometimes. Not everyone has a ‘village’ behind them, or surrounding them.

One of the criticisms or painful recollections I read or hear about large families, is that too much is expected of the older children, they are expected to ‘parent’ the younger ones, and that they were not allowed to just be children.

There’s a lot in this to break down, and discussing children and chores is definitely on the menu! But how about the pressures on our eldest children to be leaders, set an example, always do better so that the younger ones can follow?

My husband and I are both eldest children. We have also taken a different road from each of our families of origin. We are in that place where we will either be tempted to overload the eldests (because in a family of 8 the dynamic of who is the eldest is a flexible one)…. Or we will be accused of it. Probably already have been.

We see leadership qualities in all of our children. Our mission statement as a family includes what we see as a call to raise the leaders of the next generation. Leaders wherever they are, whatever they are doing, and whether they are assertive and ‘out there’ or quiet, gentle leaders.

Moses was a leader who grew tired. We had read the story in a morning devotion on a day we were struggling. My eldest was struggling in particular. A late night, stresses that were upsetting him… I realised that even leaders need their arms holding up now and again. That includes us as parents, and it includes all of our children, even the eldests!

I explained to my son the significance and the meaning of the Aaron, Moses and Hur story to me that day. I assured him that it was ok that he needed his arms to be held up. We are a team. We can each hold up one another’s arms when we are weary and need help. It’s ok to be tired. It’s ok to need help to do something that we can normally do, or that is within our control or power.

Yesterday that same eldest child stepped up to his leadership qualities and held up his Daddy’s arms with the gift of a beautiful letter of encouragement and scriptures. The leader of our household needed, and had his arms held up by his eldest son, his wife, and other of his children. In fact all of the children contributed silently and without needing to be asked, in different ways. Maybe just taking the pressure off, amusing themselves, playing quietly and allowing their Daddy to study.

Today: eldest needs holding up and that’s ok. We are a team. There are even more of us to support each other. We can go with the natural ebb and flow of energy and stress levels and emotional capacity.

We all need our arms to be held up sometimes.

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