Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Enjoying the Homeschool Harvest

Harvest....the end of the growing season....clearly signaled by bright orange pumpkins piled high at roadside stands, the spicy tart smell of apple butter cooking at local orchards, and the excitement of local fall harvest festivals. At the festivals, you can see the county's largest sunflowers, the prettiest canned tomatoes you've ever seen, and the artwork so painstakingly created by children of all ages. It is a season of reflection, gathering in, and enjoying the fruits of your labor. I'm writing this today to share some of the lessons I've learned over the past years of homeschooling -- the importance of enjoying each moment of harvest in our lives, whether it is the accomplishment of a child finally learning to tie their own shoes, the excitement of reading their first book all by themselves, the time "they" point out how pretty the trees look, and many other times where the end product slowly but surely peeks out in the midst of daily life.

As some of you know, we have had our share of challenging years following two car accidents and many repair surgeries during our homeschooling adventures. Through it all, we've homeschooled and I'm not sure who has learned more, the parents or the children! Before these accidents, we were driven by a goal of homeschooling them through high school, keeping our eye on the "finished product" goal, instead of the daily accomplishments or "moments of harvest." It is these moments of harvest that I wanted to make you aware of -- that they should be recognized, savored, and remembered. Our "harvest" is not seasonal like a farmer's crop -- our harvest is lifelong, as we love, nurture and encourage our family each and every day. And yes, there are days when this is a TALL order, and it is those days that we can recall the good "harvest moments", days when goals were reached, or thanks was given, or smiles and laughter rippled around the dinner table.

But before we go on, let me take a moment to share the definition of "harvest" with you, taken from Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: harvest -- to gather in (a crop). A farmer plans for his crop all through the winter, then prepares (cultivates) the soil in spring, and finally plants the seeds of a new crop as the spring ends. Throughout the summer, he works on maintaining and protecting his crop, from drought, insects, and weeds. And then at the end of the summer, he finally begins his harvest, gathering in this precious crop that he has worked so hard to grow. Can you see the similarities to our efforts as parents? We plan, plant, grow, nurture, and somewhere along the way, the "harvest" concept kind of gets lost in the search for both shoes, the car keys, the "right" curriculum, and on and on.

Just like raising a stand of fruit trees (or maple trees, pecan trees, etc.), so goes the way of raising a child, in a way:

  • A season to prune and maintain the plants themselves (the physical needs as well as the emotional needs).

  • A season to fertilize to invigorate the plant's production of fruit (talking, reading, sharing, putting information and caring into their lives).

  • A season to tend the fruits as they develop (keeping an eye on their interests, activities, etc.).

  • A season of harvest, when the fruit is enjoyed and preserved, keeping an eye towards the future for the next season of growth (protecting them from harm during tough times and planning the next season of growth).

  • And then, of course, the cycle begins anew, as the cycle of life thankfully continues.

Given some time for reflection, you can "see" back through this past year and remember some prime "harvest moments", both educational as well as emotional and spiritual. There are also some moments or events that strengthened and united your family, as well. I've made myself keep a small journal of these kinds of harvest insights, both for encouragement and so that I can realize the progress being made for our efforts. I know it is hard to find time to write down these kinds of things, and I am one of the worst when it comes to finding time for extra efforts like this. BUT, I  MADE myself do this with a journal -- for all of us. Here are some ideas in each harvest moment category that I mentioned above, to help you "see" what I record:

        Breakthroughs in their education:

  • First word read all by themselves

  • First book read independently

  • First time they read a book with interest "without" having it assigned

  • Mastery of multiplication tables...FINALLY!

  • Breakthrough on long division

  • Moments of realization when they really "understand" a concept -- like gravity!

  • They begin to connect the things that they are learning with the world around us.

    Breakthroughs in their emotional development:

  • They slow down to help younger siblings voluntarily

  • Refusal to "follow the crowd" based on principle or belief

  • Doing the "right" thing even when you are not around!

  • Helping others without being asked

  • Appreciating grandparents and other family members

  • Welcoming guests wholeheartedly and caring for their needs

  • Asking if you can "all" go do something together...amazing!

    And last, but not least -- moments that strengthen and unite your family:

  • When one parent is ill or injured, and they all work together to share the burden

  • A death in the family or extended family, where they learn the real value of love and family, as well as the role of faith in assurance

  • When times are financially strained, everyone comes together to conserve, plan, and help ease the struggle.

  • Projects for the family tend to provide long memories as well -- working together to add a room to the house, helping a neighbor, etc.

These kinds of things are all what I call those "harvest moments". Golden, reflective and rewarding of our efforts. They may be brief, like a shooting star, but they are just as joyous when we take time from our hectic schedules and plans to see them and realize that progress is being made and our efforts are bringing on a "good" harvest.

This season of harvest is bright and fruitful, both in our lives as parents and as we approach the season of Thanksgiving. Not only have I learned to see the harvest moments in our lives, but I've also learned to really count our blessings, naming them one by one in my journal. The list is growing, right along with my faith. And do you know what else? I'm watching the importance of this blessing counting grow in our children. What an amazing offshoot of my own lessons -- that they, too, are really "seeing" the important things in life. As I sit and reflect on this now, perhaps that IS the most important lesson from all of this -- that they see what really is important, instead of material things and day to day trials.

This "enjoying the harvest" does not just apply to our children's growth and education, by the way. Try to take time to take a walk -- really walking, not just speeding through another task. Notice the color of the sky, and the birds that you see -- can you identify them? And when you are making that apple butter in a slow-cooker this year, don't forget to add some savory spices and then enjoy the taste on hot buttered biscuits! Put on some classical music and really listen to how lifting Mozart can be with your morning coffee...a much better way to start the day than the morning news, too. In other words, YOU have got to slow down and "smell the roses" too. As they say around my house, "when mama ain't happy, ain't NOBODY happy!" :-) And I'm trying to remedy that, working on it on a daily basis.

It is my prayer that this article has helped you see that the fruits of our labors are ongoing and lifelong. The harvest is never-ending, and we need to enjoy the harvest moments, right in the midst of the chores and labors of love in teaching and learning and sharing in our family lives. Live, really live, each day that God gives you. I have a saying that I keep on my dresser that reads "Today is a precious gift from God. Say thank you -- and tear into it!", and I try to do just that.

May you have a bountiful and joyous harvest season, and may you find peace in the quiet moments that you can catch in the mayhem and noise of family life! Happy Thanksgiving, and don't forget to count those blessings!

Amanda B.

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