Monday, August 6, 2007

Learning as a Family

Here are some characteristics of our family. We are a family of nine with seven children ages 2 to 18; we live in the Sierra National Forest about 50 miles away from a Costco or hospital; my husband works at home as a freelance computer game programmer; our sixth child has multiple disabilities and medical issues. Also, we have a couple of thousand books of all types in our home, but probably the majority are Catholic books!

These things have all affected our homeschool. Some of them could be disadvantages, but we have learned there is always a flip side to every attribute. Positives have a negative side, usually, and negatives have a positive side. If that sounds too general, I will try to give some examples.

Our large and diverse family size means that I as homeschool mom have comparatively little time to spend with each child on academics. However, on the flip side it has taught my children independent habits and has also provided a diverse social home environment where the big kids help the little ones and the little ones learn from the big ones. We also notice that there is a watershed learning effect where the different children with their different interests and different skills influence the whole family in different ways. We have all learned about Californian natural history from one son's interest in that subject, and become more physically active because of our athletic son's intense interest in sports. Music is playing a bigger part in our life because of our daughter's gift for music, and our collection of Irish folk CDs is getting lots of use again. The examples could go on and on.

Our isolated location makes it difficult and expensive to take advantage of homeschool support groups and classes, but on the other side, we daily soak in the beauty of God's creation, the air we breathe is bracing and pure, and we have all kinds of room to explore and observe. There is a richness in the quiet rhythms of nature that fosters contemplation and awareness of God's presence, which is sometimes lacking in the more active and frenetic enrichment opportunities a city environment provides.

My husband's work at home has meant unpredictable levels of income and no package benefits but it has also given our six sons and one daughter a day to day view life of a working husband and father and constant access to his influence and presence.

Our 5 year old's medical problems and developmental delays have made our life and homeschooling a quite rough and perilous journey at times as we have kept vigils at intensive care units several times already with no doubt more to come. On the bright side, this has given us a chance to suffer out of love and thus participate in Our Savior's sufferings. The older kids have naturally learned to give up comfort, time and preoccupation with self in helping their two younger brothers who were both born sick. In turn, these little ones have brought joy and laughter and an appreciation for the largeness of the human spirit into our lives.

Oh, and the books?? they're hard to dust and organize and can be hard on the budget but are wonderful to have around ! Scott Hahn says there is no sacrament of osmosis but I do believe that good books have an environmental effect. My older kids are quite well-informed in their faith and in other areas, much better informed than they should be if you counted only our conscious teaching! Access to the best books has been a major factor in their education.

In general, I think almost every circumstance God gives us in life gives us a chance to be blessed and strengthened. I can't say I've never complained or worried but at the same time, I realize that God is a potter and the way He molds us is not always the way I would predict or wish for. I am thankful that He, not I, am in charge here because His road map is much more adventurous and rich than mine would have been.

contributed by Willa from California

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