Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Homeschool Hike: Grand Canyon Edition

The Grand Canyon looms large on many a bucket-list. We’ve scratched it off now, but felt like we almost kicked the bucket while doing it!

The Grand Canyon
As a family, we like to travel and our flexible homeschool schedule (and a generous mother-in-law) has helped us take many adventures. We have stood atop the Great Wall in China, climbed the gazillion stairs at St. Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, and dipped our toes in Israel’s Jordan River. Each trip has had its challenges -- new types of adventures or language barriers -- but I knew right up-front that this newest one was going to be perhaps the most difficult of all. My husband the Eagle Scout spewed optimism; I had my doubts.

Our homeschool journey started pretty much the same way. My husband heard about it, thought it was a great idea, and never wavered. I read The How and Why of Homeschooling by Ray E. Ballmann, whole-heartedly agreeing with the “why” but overwhelmed by the “how.” I resisted. But, at Holly’s private-school kindergarten interview, God stabbed me in the heart with His plan and I gave in.

We left the Grand Canyon decision to the National Park system. I had read that 30,000 people apply annually for the mandatory back-country camping permit and only one-third gets in. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t get in. But, the park called my bluff, giving us an immediate acceptance. We went into over-drive trying to figure out all we needed to do to get ready in a short amount of time. A lot hinged on weather conditions which were surprisingly unpredictable. Before this, I always thought “desert” would be easy -- dry and hot. I learned a life lesson. I made sure the kids had both snow pants and swimsuits; we purchased hiking sticks and searched for the lightest tent, a lantern, and butane stoves. My husband researched and we came up with our itinerary. We flew out the last week of April.

Once we decided to homeschool, I did a lot of research. My daughter was attending kindergarten while I read The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell and Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days by Nancy Lande. Knowing how my daughter was enjoying school, we started on a public relations drive as well. We pulled Holly out at Christmas time and, thankfully, the school gave us all her leftover A Beka curriculum which turned out to be the perfect starting point for us.

Overview of Bright Angel Trail
The starting point for our Grand Canyon hike was a day at the South Rim trail on the bus loop. We didn’t know if it would snow that day, but we had prepared just in case. As the sun cleared the sky a bit, we were able to look down on the path we would be taking, noting how steep it would be and locating what seemed like a tiny oasis of trees that would be our camping spot. Our plan was to hike five miles down, camp at Indian Gardens, hike another ten miles to Phantom Ranch and back, camp again at Indian Garden, and then, on the third day, hike the last five miles out. Getting that overview was a great idea. We gained some confidence laced with a healthy dose of fear.

Reading books had given me some insight into the path ahead for homeschooling, but even better was talking with other moms who had gone down this road already. I am thankful even for those moms who were only a few steps ahead who gave great advice like:

Unexpectedly Heavy Snow at the Top
Wear your PJs, have fun, and take breaks when you want.
Do a lot of read-alouds.
Don’t try to do public school at home; treat homeschooling more like a tutoring situation.
Make your own decisions about what is important to teach.
Academics are less important than teaching God’s principles and showing love.
Do what is right for your family.

But, some parts of the path were hidden. We didn’t know our son, Elijah, would get in a Dyslexia Rut for a while and take longer to get back on track. We didn’t know the truth that not all curricula works for all kids; some work better than others and some would be better jettisoned over the side. Fear and worry are heavy like the tent and poles; we must get rid of them and keep marching.

Taking a load off at the Resthouse
Trust me, once we started hiking Bright Angel Trail, I would have loved to have thrown my backpack into the grand Grand Canyon and listen to it thud at the bottom! But, since that is probably a federal offense, we were obliged to carry them all the way down and all the way back out. They were so heavy! On the way down, they were somewhat troublesome, but gravity and the encouraging words of other hikers helped pull us along. A five mile walk in flatlander Florida would have been a hot and sweaty 2½ hours without any problems. We know because we trained that way. But, in Arizona, with almost a mile change in elevation, my legs got wobbly and I was glad for each stop. Rest-houses are available at the 1½ and 3 mile markers. No water was available at this time of year, but decent toilets and a shady spot to eat were very welcome. The wind blew our sweaty shirts dry in no time.

There are rest stops in homeschooling too. Usually, each summer we stop and re-evaluate and then again over the winter break. Our support group and our state convention give us refreshment and encouragement. We think and we pray. Are we going to continue? What are our options? Why are we doing this in the first place? We are called back and calmed by the words of Jesus:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Setting up camp at Indian Gardens
As we strode into our campground, there was some relief knowing the walk was over for a bit. But, there was fear too. The first day was five miles, the next would be ten. I have to be honest, I had to make a hard decision. I decided not to do the second day’s hike. I stayed in camp while my husband and kids continued on. In one way, it felt like a failure. But, in another, I knew great peace that I had made the right decision. I needed to be at my best for the final hike out. As the park puts it: “Hiking in is optional, hiking out is mandatory.”

How can I relate that to homeschooling? Well, over the years, we’ve had to make lots of decisions. We’ve decided to stay in and not bail out, decided on starting or stopping curriculum, decided to listen to nay-sayers – or not. Our methods for teaching have changed. When my son wanted to study physics, I decided to “stay in camp” and my husband took him down that particular path – a path I had no desire to go down. Other times, we have relied on co-ops, or intensives, or self-study to keep the kids on track without dragging us parents down.

On the trail to Phantom Ranch -
at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!
Letting my kids go off without me – even though they are at or nearing adulthood, and even though their dad was with them – wasn’t easy. The Grand Canyon is a life or death situation. There are dangerous animals (not that we encountered any, by God’s grace) out there. There is also the danger of spraining an ankle or getting another injury that would make it harder or impossible to hike out. Seeing my crew hike back into camp, a prayerful eight hours later, filled me with great joy. My husband made it! My kids had successfully met the challenge!

This feeling comes and goes during different phases of homeschooling. It comes when you see your child acting more and more grown up, taking on new challenges like dance, Sea Cadets, a job, a CLEP exam or college courses. We moms fear, but we also rejoice!

The night before the hike out, it began to rain. In the tent, huddled and freezing even in long johns and sleeping bag, I worried about it. How could we pack and carry out wet things? But, as a native Floridian, I didn’t understand something about the desert. By the time we woke up, the ground was dry. D-R-Y. The tent dried easily with just a little poking to make the water run. Our camp packed up easily, if not lightly, and we started moving out of our comfort zone.

Few things take you out of your comfort zone more than kids starting their high school years. You have fear and doubt your abilities to teach “higher” subjects. But, we forget the nature of homeschooling when we do that. We forget that:

The kids have made it to high school! They can read and write and problem-solve. They should be able to do a lot of learning on their own and the parents become facilitators more than teachers.
You have been re-learning with your kids for a while now and you can do this too (if needed)!
And there are options like tutors, co-ops, and online programs that can come to your rescue.

I was looking for a rescue on that final hiking day, for sure. Even my intrepid husband urged, “If you see the Park Ranger, see if they can helicopter us out. We’ll pay!” But, the rule at the Grand Canyon is: you go out the way you came in. We were stuck. The steep change in elevation made me short of breath almost immediately. Remember, we were going back up almost a mile! My pack felt impossibly heavier than it had on the way down and the weight was not well-distributed. Eventually, the sleeping bag got unstrapped and my husband, then my son, and then my daughter lugged it up for me. My hiking pole helped me keep my balance on the uneven natural steps as we weaved around switchbacks, stepped over rocks, and avoided fresh mule poop. Hours stretched into forever. Then, at the 3-mile rest-house (going in reverse order now), the rain whooshed down. We huddled in the open-air shelter house with a dozen or so strangers. We felt God’s provision on the one hand as the rain didn’t last long and it came when we had cover. But, we also feared lest it start again or rain harder. We covered wet shirts with soggy sweaters and then ponchos which resulted in a sweltering sauna effect.

Getting ready for the final hike OUT!
With 30+ pounds on my back, each step was an accomplishment. Sometimes, there were only a few minutes between breaks. We had to sit and take the loads off. Why did we bring so much stuff? The wonder of it all was how the family pulled together as a team. Elijah, reminded me to sing praise songs to God to keep my mind off the hard labor. He repeatedly helped us all pull off or put back on loaded backpacks. Holly kept marching, offering help wherever needed and dragging my sleeping bag with her. Neither complained or whined. We all knew that this was something that HAD to be done. We had to GET OUT and best by nightfall.

Those last five miles took TEN hours! On the way, we not only got rain but momentary tastes of hail, sleet, and snow flurries. We heard rumors of a blizzard at the top of the trail. The track became slippery with mud – just what you want as you climb up a sheer precipice. We feared the coming darkness. But, we kept going. One more step, one more switchback, one more rest.

We made it!
On our homeschool trek, I’ve thought about stopping once or twice. But, I know, for us, we had a mandate from God to “train up our children.” There really was no stopping halfway. So, even when it was tough, seemingly impossible, we plodded on. Twelve and a half years later, my daughter graduated with honors. One more year and my son will join her on the other side. Our journey will be over. We’ll look back at the grand vista that was the homeschool years and be glad that we did it. And we’ll be pleased by how we became a team. And we’ll be amazed at what God has accomplished.

After all that, my family has decided that our best words of advice about the Grand Canyon are: “Rim Trail!” You can see all you need to see from the top! But, our advice for homeschooling? Take it all the way!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The *Updated* New Year

A New Year Cometh

This article originally appeared in the Pitter Patter newsletter of my MOPS group in January 2000. We were facing a new year, a new decade, a new millennium. A few things have changed over the the last 11 years, so I have updated a few spots in [brackets] and in color{Oh boy, now it is 2015 - and times - they are a-changin' again.  I'll note the newest additions in other other {brackets} and another new color.}

It is strange to think that not only were we raised in a different century from our children, but a different millennium. And certainly this is a different “age.” {My kids told me this weekend that they are striving to reach the ages of 104 and 102 so that they can live in 3 different centuries. I think maybe Jesus will come to get us before then, but otherwise, I hope they do it!}

The age of technology is upon us. My three year old has already mastered her “preschool” computer program. She can click her way through the screens as well as mom. Mom never touched a computer before junior high and then it was the one computer in the whole school for “kid use” – a TRS-80. It worked off of cassette tapes somehow. Sounds like ancient history.  [Okay, so this really is ancient history, my now-teenagers are playing games over the internet with friends in other neighborhoods, took their driving test online, use Google instead of a dictionary or an encyclopedia, and rapidly assimilate new physics apps on the iPad.]  {Sometimes I wish we had never introduced the computer, my son has to fight the addiction and, probably, so do I. We've got iPads and smartphones and Kindle and GPS and all that jazz. In our plans for heading to the Grand Canyon, my husband said we could bring the iPad so we can identify the stars. I say, "No way! No electronic devices in the canyon! Let's enjoy God's creation the way He intended!" I really hope I get my way!}

In the “good old days” my brother and I spent Saturday mornings glued to the TV set with such questionable fare as Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Pepe LePew. They [child psychologists and parents] worried at the time about us not understanding why the coyote did not get hurt when he fell into the canyon. My children are not allowed to watch Saturday morning cartoons due to violence, bad language, bad attitudes, poor adult role models, and new age doctrines that are not hidden, but openly displayed. And forget regular daytime/ nighttime TV too. The coarse humor, overt sexual relations, and the “selling” of the homosexual lifestyle have made this hobby a thing of the past for my family. [The main TV show my children have grown up with is Extreme Makeover:  Home Edition which is now about to go off the air!  We were pretty good about keeping TV limited to that one hour a week, with "safe" videos thrown in here and there.  With some new digital TV stations, this year my kids have branched out to Batman (Adam West), Get Smart and Hogan's Heroes.  It has been fun watching them get a kick out of all the oldie goldies.]  {TV is only getting worse, and we don't even own cable! I'm seeing commercials for explicit homosexual movies, cursing is at an all-time high and many things are just not safe. I am so glad that TV has always been restricted in our house! There is only one TV and it is plain view. We sometimes enjoy the new movies when the newness has worn off and we can stream them through VidAngel which bleeps out curse words, gore and even (at times) immodesty. But, even at ages 19 and 17, our kids still love the oldies and I'm grateful!}

School was a safe place for children to go and learn when I was growing up. Our children will find that a laughable statement. A teacher could hug you and love you like a surrogate parent. Now they are afraid to brush against a child for fear of lawsuits.  [This year alone, I have heard of 8 kids hit by cars at their bus stops, 2 bus drivers who went to battle with students on their buses, a bus driver that wouldn't let a parent board, teachers and principal who fell into the pits of pornography, sexual abuse, and cheating with and for their students.  Bullying continues to sky-rocket even with all this "tolerance training."  We opted instead for the last 10 years to homeschool.  Our homeschool isn't perfect:  we are behind in some things.  But, my children know the Lord, they tend toward kind and respectful, and we know each other.]  {The last two years have seen the rise of Common Core in the classroom, as well as indoctrination into Islam, many more teachers-turned-criminals, and more removal of God, even from football games. In the meantime, our homeschool has churned out its first graduate; Holly walked across the stage with honors at the 2015 FPEA ceremony. She has collected 27 college credits and is working on 6 more without leaving the house, saving us about a ton of money. Elijah is starting to receive his first wave of college letters (thanks PSAT)!  Homeschool continues to be a blessing. Strange to think it will be ending so soon -- graduation seemed so far away when I originally wrote this article.}

[I wrote this article BEFORE the events of 9/11...just think of how that one event affected our lives. Airport security; field trip tours to the dairy, the newspaper, and other interesting places; bag checks at theme parks, and so much more!]  {Now, ISIS is threatening lives right here in America and the presidential race (Trump v. them all) is the most heated I've known. The economy changes up and down.}  

Doctors used to know you and your family and your history. [Uh, let me know if you can find one of those near me.] {Oh my, my oldest is now an adult and needs to find an "adult" doctor soon. Thankfully, we're all pretty healthy and haven't had to worry about it. My son recently visited the asthma doctor and we were chastised for not coming in for 2 1/2 years. But, he has been symptom free for over 3 years! He only went because we want a "just in case" rescue inhaler for the Grand Canyon trip.} Restaurant and grocery store employees used to be friendly and competent.  [Not to be rude, but if the power goes out, nobody knows what to do.  There is no way for a cashier to tally up your groceries (they are not visibly marked anymore) even if she is able to do the math.  I have noticed with the recent recession that workers are tending to be happier in having a job and working harder to keep them.] {I've seen a pleasant upswing here. I think employees are more friendly. I think the economy downturn has made people more grateful just to have a job and their service is better because of it.}

This new society begs the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer, however old-fashioned, is still “By keeping it according to Thy word.” (Psalm 119:9)

{I've been teaching 5th to 8th grade Sunday school classes off and on since I was 17 years old. The last 2 years, I have seen a huge swing downward in the number of kids who know their Bible. The noteable exceptions are usually homeschoolers. Kids who go to public school often have no idea what I'm talking about or only have a little bit of knowledge in this area. They are kept so busy that they feel too tied up or stressed to even read for pleasure, let alone read God's Word. This is a sad state of affairs. If they way to keep pure is keeping it according to God's Word, and they don't know the Word...}

How can we best help our children in the New Millennium? By teaching them God’s Word from the Bible and giving them God’s standards for living. Maybe they won’t fit in with their generation. I pray they will not.