We make an effort to learn hymns in our home: good, solid hymns that will carry our children (and us!) from the cradle to the grave. Our hymnal is full of little sticky notes marking the pages of hymns we have memorized together. But it wasn’t always. It started with just one sticky note, just one hymn. We spent weeks learning that one hymn. So much time and effort for one little sticky note in so large a volume of hymnody; like drops in a bucket. Such a small, slow beginning. But eventually we learned that hymn and we moved on to a second one. And then a third. As insignificant as each individual morning of practice may feel, after a couple of years of mornings there are over a dozen sticky notes in our hymnal. Each marks a hymn written on our hearts that helps us to praise our God and confess the doctrines of our faith.
The beginning of homeschooling feels kind of like that first lonely sticky note. On your shoulders rests the weight of EVERYTHING YOUR CHILD NEEDS TO KNOW. But the lessons that you work through with your six or seven-year-old are brief. Attention spans are short at such a young age. Fingers are still finding coordination and tire quickly; brains are growing and need more rest and play than focused desk work. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to meet the developmental needs of our children and not push too much too soon. And yet, sometimes in our fear and self-doubt we get in our own way. How will we ever accomplish IT ALL when each day is just a drop in a bucket? Such a small, slow beginning.
As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nothing great is. Your child’s education will be the accumulation of the learning of many hundreds of days. You have time – plenty of it. Trust that small, slow beginning. This is the special challenge of the early years. You will be tempted to pile on more than is sustainable, but resist that urge. Trust the small increments of progress made each day. Step by baby step, you are establishing a foundation that you can build upon. Together, you are developing the habits that will carry you through – you as teacher and your child as learner. Soon enough your child’s attention span will lengthen. His fingers will gain dexterity and strength; her brain will understand increasingly complex ideas. Your days will fill with more substantial lessons as your child’s endurance and proficiency take flight.
It can be easier to feel confident when you are a few years into homeschooling, when there is some evidence that this really is working after all. Even so, seasoned homeschooling moms can still fall into the trap of feeling like we. are. getting. nowhere (especially in February). You have traveled quite a ways down the road, but even with your older student, the pace of your progress is still just one step at a time. Stay the course, and don’t be troubled that learning is slow. It is the small tasks done consistently that add up to large progress over time.
We have had a beginning piano student in our house this year. For twenty minutes every day, we hear the labored plunking of notes, often not quite right the first time, rhythm punctuated by fingers searching for the correct keys. Then his brother, who has several years of lessons under his belt, takes his turn, and the flowing phrases of “Fur Elise” roll over us. It’s a striking juxtaposition: the small, slow beginning held side by side with the product of several years’ work. And so it is with math and reading as well. One day you will look up and be astonished by the distance you and your child have traveled, bit by bit, one day at a time.
Amanda Moldstad is a co-founder of the Lutheran Homeschool Association. She and her husband, John, homeschool their five children in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.