I had a moment of clarity about homeschooling my kids while I was out trimming my grapevine this afternoon, and I’d like to share it with you.
Now, you might be wondering why I was trimming my grapevine in the summertime. After all, don’t you usually you trim and prune perennials in either late fall or just before spring? Yes, that’s true. And that’s when we prune the vines themselves so they don’t take over our entire yard.
But we also have to trim them in the summer. Not the vines, unless they work themselves behind our siding or our downspouts (this has happened) and we need to cut them so they don’t rip stuff off our house. No, we have to trim off a lot of the leaves once the grapes get to be good-sized. It’ll be a couple months before those grapes ripen yet, but they’re already getting to their full sizes. And in order to ripen, those grapes need two things: light and air circulation.
By the time the grapes get this big, the vines are burdened down with a thick layer of leaves. There can be three or four layers of leaves between those bunches of grapes and the free air! If you leave them that way, the grapes will not ripen properly, and many of them will simply go from green to rotten. You have to trim away about three-quarters of the leaves covering the grapes so that light can get through and air can circulate. Also, if there are leaves growing all tangled up with the grapes, you have to cut those out too or they can cause the grapes to rot or mold. But you can’t cut away all the leaves, because then the grapes will have too much sunshine, especially in the upcoming fierce summer heat we’re staring down. They’ll wither. They need shade and a little protection, but they can’t be smothered.
So I cut away hundreds of leaves from each grapevine and toss them on the lawn for my husband to mulch with his lawnmower. Are those leaves bad? No. Leaves are good — they’re important for performing photosynthesis and feeding the whole grapevine, including the grapes. In and of themselves, leaves are good. But grapes are better. We don’t grow grapes so we can have bushy, leafy vines decorating our yard, we grow them so we can have fruit! By the end of summer, I’ll be making so much jam, I’ll be trying to give jars to strangers. We’ll make grape pie. Grape popsicles. My kids will run out to pick some grapes any time they want a little snack, and sit on the deck railing spitting seeds out into the yard. We will even get tired of grapes, eventually.
Now, because I’m a homeschooling mom, I was thinking about my plans for our upcoming school year while I snipped away at grape leaves. I’ve ordered my curriculum. I know what I’m going to be teaching my own kids. But I’m not sure yet what I want to teach for our church’s homeschool co-op. I’ve been thinking about that, praying about it, talking it over with other co-op leaders… and I still can’t decide. I want it to be something that our students wouldn’t get a lot of at home, or that could augment their studies at home. Something useful to fill in a gap, as it were. And, of course, I want it to be something fun.
It suddenly struck me that maybe my problem is that I have too many ideas. Maybe I need to trim away some of them, even some of the really good ones, to find the ones that will help our kids bear fruit. And I realized that the same is true for a lot of decisions when it comes to homeschooling. I usually know what math, and grammar courses I want to do, but there are so many options for everything else! History programs, social studies books, spelling courses, literature books, science courses… it can be overwhelming, even when you’re planning out your ninth year of homeschooling and feel like you generally know what you like. And don’t get me started on the prolific number of extracurriculars that are available, even to homeschoolers — swimming, gymnastics, fencing, art lessons, martial arts, music lessons, every sport you can think of! How can you choose what’s right for each child?
But I realized, there’s a good way to sort through those options. To trim away some of the extra things that are getting in the way for the fruit. Because I don’t know about you, but my main aim for homeschooling my children is to teach them to ever walk with Jesus. A strong Christian faith full of grace and truth, that’s the fruit I’m raising them to bear. All these other things are just leaves!
Are the leaves important to the vine? Absolutely! It is good and right to teach my kids the math, science, spelling, history, civics, literature, and so on that they need. This helps them grow and mature, just as the leaves on my grapevines provide food for the plants. But it is not good if I pile on extracurriculars and electives that will block the light from the fruit of the spirit. If I get overwhelmed by trying to choose what to teach and end up choosing everything, how much more will they be overwhelmed by having everything piled on them? It’s my job as teacher to be selective and discerning — to focus on quality over quantity and trim away the things that are getting between my children and learning about their Lord and Savior.
Have I figured out what to teach for our homeschool co-op this fall? Not yet. But I’ve narrowed my list of ideas down a lot today, and I feel certain that the options I have left are all things that will be useful and God-pleasing, whichever I end up choosing to teach.
Rachel Kovaciny was homeschooled K-12, graduated from Bethany Lutheran College with a BA in Liberal Arts, and promptly married her college sweetheart. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. Rachel writes a monthly history column for the newspaper Prairie Times and bi-monthly articles for the online magazine Femnista. She also blogs about books at The Edge of the Precipice and about movies, writing, and life at Hamlette’s Soliloquy. Rachel is writing a series of fairy tales retold as non-magical westerns, and the first three books are now available in paperback and e-book. To learn more about Rachel and her writing, visit www.rachelkovaciny.com.