Last Saturday, my two boys and I packed the car, left at 6am, drove 850 miles, and arrived at 6:30 pm at my parents’ house, in time for dinner, and a few days before my siblings and families were scheduled to arrive for Thanksgiving.
We had a long car ride (I was the only driver) and they had books and movies to keep them busy. My youngest had only packed 2 books, that although large, were fairly easy reads, and I knew he’d finish them fast. He was re-reading the first two books in the Redwall series for a book club he is part of, composed of 7th and 8th grade boys. He had read the entire series a few years ago, and he was enjoying a second read-through, and going through them fast.
I did not know this, but as I learned during the car ride, the Redwall series, written by Brian Jacques, was originally written in Braille for a school for blind children. Jacques’ goal was to write very detailed descriptions and a compelling story for these Braille readers to enjoy. As it turns out, the books were so good they were published for the general public.
Since we were on the subject of books, I asked my boys what their favorite books were. Here is what they said.
My 13 year-old’s top two books are: The Last Days of Socrates (by Plato) and The Best Things in Life (by Peter Kreeft; it is a collection of short Socratic dialogues which explores questions like: What is the purpose of education? What good is money? Can computers think like people? What is the greatest good? Is belief in God like belief in Santa Claus?)
Perhaps you are as surprised as I was to hear those two titles. I certainly was not expecting to hear those, especially nonfiction. The Last Days of Socrates? Those two books were part of his reading list for a class he took last year called “Great Conversations”. Interesting, huh?
My 15 year-old said he could not choose because there are too many. But here are the ones that came to his mind: The Man Who Was Thursday (by G.K. Chesterton), The Once and Future King (by T. H. White), and the Lord of the Rings series, among others. One of the funniest books he has read is Three Men in a Boat (by Jerome K. Jerome).
It was a rewarding moment for me as a parent, and as a home-educator. One of the things I hope for my kids is they would enjoy reading and enjoy learning. My eldest (in college now) is a reader, and I can see the younger two are also good readers.
I have not read any of the books they mention above. In fact, I did not read nearly as much when I was their age as they do, and certainly not as many good and interesting books, but I am happy my kids are doing way better than I ever did. I have been trying as an adult to catch up on good books I have never read.
It was also a humbling moment. A few years ago, due to some difficult circumstances, I would end up spending hours alone in my room. My kids were younger, but not so young that I had to be watching over them every second. After getting them settled, I’d tell them I’m going to my room for a while. I needed time alone, time to think, pray, process, cry, and I did not have the physical or emotional energy to home educate and even parent all day. So at that time, the only option I had available was to close myself off for hours each day, alone in my room. It was what I needed to do. And during that time, I prayed and actually asked God to come in and teach my kids and do what I could not do when I was absent. I do not know what my kids may remember of that year (it was a whole school year), and it’s all a blur to me. But somehow, we made it through. God did it; he redeemed what I could not do. I am extremely thankful for that.
I have had other people notice my kids’ love of reading and they have asked me: how did it happen that my kids like to read? I always struggle with how to answer, because I do not have a formula or plan. I can only say that I followed others’ advice I had read and hoped it would work: go to the library often and check out lots of books. I got each child a library card as soon as they were old enough to get one. We went regularly to the library, and among the four of us, myself included, checked out 30-40 books at once. I had them check out all kinds of books: science, history, fiction, historical fiction, biography, nonfiction, you name it; they were required to pick out a variety. It was like going to the candy store. My daughter and I would joke about moving in to the library. While in high school, she would beg me to take her to the big downtown public library, too. If she had her way, we’d go every week, but I just didn’t make it there that often.
The other advice I read from others was to have good books available. So I bought books. I invested in books and had them available. We also listened to books on CD while in the car and driving from here to there and extra-curricular activities. When they were younger, I had them listen to audio books. Now that I look back, reading and listening to books was a natural part of our life. I would also make it a point to read books in front of them. We read books aloud. They have also participated in book clubs with other kids.
Occasionally we’d go to the nearby Barnes and Noble bookstore, and browse and gawk over all the books there. Going to a bookstore is important too, and it’s different from the library. There are new books and all kinds of books, on every topic imaginable. Occasionally we’d buy a new book – and it’s fun to buy a new book. It should be as much fun as a new toy. Mostly it was just for the fun of looking. We buy books from Amazon usually, but sometimes it’s helpful to peruse a book first, then decide if we want to buy it. The other thing that a bookstore has is people: lots of people are shopping for books, especially at holiday time. It sends a message to kids that many people like to read and shop for books.
Because I know the back story, and all of the imperfect days and hard days and struggles and not knowing where we would end up, I don’t have a formula or a plan to offer people. I cannot say “it was my plan” that did it. I was trusting and walking in faith for so many things.
In fact, I did not have home educating on my radar. I had not even heard of it until my eldest was about 3 years old. During her year in kindergarten at a very good private school, I began to sense God was calling me to do something different. I fought it. For months. I even attended a home school conference in May that year, and walked out of it overwhelmed, and afterwards, told everyone (and God), there is NO WAY I could do it. By the end of the summer though, in August, I had pulled her out of school and knew this is what I was being asked to do. No, my spouse was not interested in home schooling either, but he went along with it. (Lesson: don’t say “no way” or “never” to God… it doesn’t work!) 🙂
I am also often asked why I home school. What led me to do this? Why deliberately socially outcast myself? (lol)
Here is an answer I do have and it is what I sensed God was telling me: I am the first believer in my family. I made a decision at 13 that was different; I have generations of Hindus behind me. For whatever reason, here I am… and thankful that God pursued me. And He was clearly telling me He was doing something new: grafting a new branch on his family tree. That is exactly the picture He gave me. These kids I am trusted with would have a different way to grow up, and by golly, not just that I was a believer, and that would be different, but He also wanted me to home school them. Let’s just have this Indian born person who grew up in the South but now lives in the Midwest who is a Christian now home school. (How different can you get?)
From my perspective, it was the worst possible time for me to home school. I look back and realize if it had not been for God (if it had been MY idea), I would not have done it.
My youngest son (one year old at the time) was hospitalized that summer because of severe vomiting and had become dehydrated. His growth was in negative territory because he had been vomiting on a regular basis for months, and he also had very severe eczema. I learned that summer after he was released from the hospital, and had allergy testing, that he had severe and multiple food allergies. That summer, I had to implement a tedious food rotation diet which involved not repeating the same foods or food families for 4 days in a row, in addition to making a homemade probiotic kefir suggested by the holistic nutritionist. It was A LOT.
My middle son was 3 and was just diagnosed with asthma – he had been sick for months and misdiagnosed by his pediatrician, until I finally got a second opinion. (How does a pediatrician miss this?? Yet it happened.)
My 6 year-old daughter was still in physical, speech, and occupational therapy due to a birth issue which caused developmental delays. The therapists, when they found out my decision, were not happy with my choice, because once I started home educating, my local school system decided that I could not go there for therapy anymore.
I was handling all of these appointments, problems, issues, medical decisions, largely on my own. WAS I CRAZY TO HOME SCHOOL with all of that going on? (And that was just my kids’ stuff).
Yes, often I felt like I was diving into the deep end. It was certainly not a time I would have chosen. Over the years, my mom would jokingly tell me I had too many pots boiling at once, too many frying pans on the fire.
13 years later, here I am, and seeing the end is not that far off. And I can tell you: all worth it. I could not see the place today back then.
Even something as simple as a list of favorite books reminds me of this thing I have to be thankful for.