In the first few days after the storm the decision to pause our homeschool was an easy one, no one that we knew (public, private, or homeschooled) was ‘doing’ school. The public schools were shelters, people were still without power, and many businesses were closed. The entire town was focused on disaster relief. The first week went by and then the second week and then people started asking when we were going to start back to school. I didn’t have an answer because I felt like we needed to start back but I knew in my heart that what we were doing was far more important than any ‘school lesson’ I could teach them.
In those early days I was thinking in terms of days and weeks, but it soon became apparent that I needed to think in terms of months. I certainly didn’t want to neglect our academic subjects for an entire year but I also didn’t want to prioritize them over the very real very immediate needs of our community. In the end, we took several weeks completely off, and then as we could we added reading, math and spelling back into our schedules. Even later, we picked back up history and a few other subjects to finish out our year. We condensed, prioritized, and added a few weeks to the end of our year but in the end we completed the work even with the break and the changes.
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While we were not doing all of our ‘normal’ academic subjects during that time, my children learned more last year than quite possibly any other year. They learned about serving others, they learned about different cultures (Amish, Mennonite, etc), they learned about supply distribution, how to talk to people who are in crisis, how to prepare food for large groups of people, how to rethink menus based on grocery availability and allergies, construction skills, and so much more. I could have spent hundreds of hours lecturing them about these various topics without them learning half of what they did actively participating in the process.
I share our decision making process not because it is the only right way but because looking back I learned a very valuable lesson, it is ok to take a break and press pause on the academics. I have no regrets about the days that we stopped ‘doing school’ and spent helping in our community. It can be easy to become slaves to the curriculum or the calendar, but I am so glad that I took the road less traveled and focused on the opportunities that were in front of us. When we signed up to help I wasn’t thinking about what my children would get from the experience but in hindsight I can see that we gained as much as we gave.
As a Christian, I know that we are called to be servants. We want our children to grow up to be servants for Christ, yet we often forget to give them the opportunity to see and model that behavior. Often people assume that children are too young to help but if we do not teach them to serve along side us then how will they learn. Sometimes you have to be more creative in ways that children can help and sometimes it is about having confidence in them. The summer before the hurricane hit my then twelve-year-old son and I read Do Hard Things together. We both enjoyed the book and agreed that people do not give teenagers enough opportunities. However, neither of us was really sure how we could give him opportunities to ‘Do Hard Things’. God answered that question is a powerful way after Florence. My son was able to help coordinate supply distribution as well as take over setting out and putting away cots for volunteers. These were some big jobs, but he worked hard and did a great job. We did it to help others and meet a need, but in the process he gained leadership and organizational skills. Even my then four-year-old was able to serve. He would help put up cots, tote supplies, and help fill coolers. The baby couldn’t really serve since he was only about six-months-old but his presence and his laugh was often a source of comfort and joy for tired and emotionally exhausted volunteers.
While not everyone is prepared or called to cook hundreds of meals, everyone can do something. I think one of the biggest lessons to learn is that there are ways for everyone to serve even if you have small children, allergies, etc. For safety reasons, I could not take a six-month-old into flooded houses to ‘muck and gut’ them like many of our church members and the volunteers that came to the church. However, I could and did feed people. There were others that couldn’t be at the church for whatever reason that baked desserts to give to volunteers, washed clothes for volunteers and flood victims, drove lunches from the church to the job sites (sometimes with sleeping babies in the car). We are all at different points in life, with different circumstances and abilities, but that shouldn’t’ stop us from serving. With a little creativity there is a job our there for everyone.
When I think about our overall goals for our children, having them be Christ serving, kind and compassionate adults who love the Lord and serve others in at the top of that list. Our time serving and helping certainly helped model those goals and introduced them to dozens of other wonderful adult volunteers who were modeling that behavior. They met a couple who spend six months of their year living in a camper, going to disaster areas, bringing in teams of volunteers, and helping people rebuild their homes. There was the Amish gentleman who came and stayed at our church for two months to help lead teams and rebuild homes. Another retired couple came down three different times for a total of four weeks, bringing friends and working hard. The college students who took their fall break to come and help people they didn’t know rebuild their homes. Those are just a few of the numerous role models that my children were able to meet and work alongside. The academics are important but they can be (and were) learned later.
While I pray that a disaster never strikes your area, if it does I hope this post will help you to be able to use the flexibility of homeschooling to help your community. While our goal in helping is not to be self-serving, know that the lessons learned will serve your children well in their future. I would love to hear how you and your family have served in the community either after a disaster or just meeting the everyday needs of those around you.
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Deals and Freebies
Free 5 Day Learning without Worksheets Challenge: FREE 5-Day Learning Challenge We have done several of her different challenges in the past and they are lots of fun and easy to implement.
Free Makeover Your Morning 5 Day Challenge! This is a great way to help re-focus and get your day off on the right foot.
Harry The Happy Mouse (Free on Kindle)
Illustrated Would You Rather Book (Free on Kindle)
Free Help Your Child’s Memory Book from All About Learning Press!