How Encouragement Can Go A Long Way

Written by: Barbara Johnson

Written by: Barbara Johnson

This has been a year. 

After waiting 7 months with baited breath for a passport so our son could exit Congo, we were suddenly flying to bring him home with only 5 days notice. At the time I was also elbow deep into lesson planning for our oldest 3 children to launch our 8th year of homeschooling. 

We came home with Raphael in early September 2019. My plan was to homeschool all 4 children while bonding and cocooning, like some kind of saint fueled by love, stubbornness, and any kind of supplement from the crunchy pharmacy that promised a calming effect. Well, even with a very, very scaled down version of school it quickly became obvious that homeschooling all 4 children was not working. I waved the white flag! Two kids went to a kind, Christian private school which responded to my SOS call. My oldest became more independent and his drive to keep up with his peers in homeschool co-op made home learning still workable for him. At the suggestion of two social workers, I stopped trying to educate Raphael and just focused on bonding. He didn’t like the dual role of mom plus teacher. Upmost importance was mom, so teacher had to go. 

I waited until late November to start Raphael at public elementary school part-time because they had the English Language Learner (ELL) resources. Because of his age Raphael was placed in first grade. He was most excited to get to ride a school bus, and school went well enough that he started full-time right before Christmas break. All these changes and transitions were packed into 3.5 months. 

I battled feeling like a failure for not figuring out how to keep schooling them all at home. I worried that Raphael would like his teachers too much and that it would effect our bonding. I battled guilt watching my 6th grade daughter struggle and stress figuring out deadlines, popularity, and multiple teachers. I felt stung when my 3rd grader happily announced that he never wanted me to be his teacher again (#nofilterkid). The homeschool chapter for most of our family closed…until Covid-19.

You know how difficult it is to go back to something that you royally failed at in attempt number one? It’s terrifying! Within two weeks of Quarantine School, the oldest 3 kids found a rhythm and the private school and the homeschool co-op helped the kids keep pace and moving forward. But, our public school was very behind. They mailed us a packet full of material that was miles above Raphael’s head. I had been in talks with the school for months about school work not being scaled to where Raphael was at academically. I tossed the packet aside and brought out homeschool kindergarten curriculum. When a gap is revealed, I stop and we focus on that skill. Some skills I don’t ever remember teaching my oldest three, but when you don’t grow up in a traditional setting and English is your second language, you miss a lot of things that are unfairly considered common knowledge. Quarantine School is helping to fill in these gaps. 

Teaching Raphael is completely consuming. I can’t do anything else while I am knees to nose sitting at a small table coaching him along in his learning. It takes two hours of work, but can easily be stretched longer if we are interrupted a lot or one of us is unfocused on the task at hand (yep, it’s me sometimes). The school has now sent a laptop and we do a few of the assignments posted for virtual learning. When I see what his classmates are posting, I see the huge gap. I am advocating hard for Raphael to be allowed to repeat first grade. He barely had any of it! I don’t want him just passed along to get further and further behind. My hope and prayer during our time in Quarantine School is to lay a solid foundation for future learning. We are working on the very basics. Seeing Raphael’s confidence build encourages me to keep going. 

These are things I have to keep in mind during Quarantine School…

  1. We can do hard things. Parents of children of trauma and our children themselves have records that show we/they have perseverance and stamina. Yes, this is a completely new kind of hard season, but your boat has been weather tested for storms before. You’re not a rookie. 

  2. Everyone is worried that they are screwing this up. It’s a weird form of solidarity, but it comforts me to remember that the whole world is winging it right now trying to parent and educate and foster connection while living through isolation and uncertainty. It’s not some unique weakness in me/you that makes this difficult. 

  3. Managing my frustration well is paramount. Yesterday I was trying to teach addition and all I got were blank stares, random number guesses, and groans. I explained it again and again. Each time I added volume and more staccato snuck into my voice, you know, both things that you love to hear when you are having difficulty understanding something. I saw him start to shut down, and I had to shut myself down instead. This is not a hill to die on today. We can circle back on a new skill. As a parent working on bonding and connecting with your children remember that it’s not worth trading connection for a completed lesson.

  4. Encouragement goes a long way! Kids know when they are behind their peers. The lie creeps in pretty quickly that they are less than and not good enough, and this can cause a lack of desire to keep trying. While connection isn’t worth trading for a completed lesson, I won’t let my child not try. Celebrate the smallest effort and watch the efforts and confidence grow. I see his eyes light up when I whoop and clap to celebrate a new skill mastered. We’ve got some lies to undo and this unique opportunity in Quarantine School is time to bomb our kids with encouragement. My favorite thing to hear him say is, “I’m good at that!” 

We can do this mamas and papas! We’re all learning a lot of new things right now. I hope I get good at this, too. You are better at this than you think you are. Love hard and keep going because that is what we do. See you on the other side. God bless!

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