First of all, our committee gave the mothers instructions to complete the survey on their own before the Day of Reflection, which meant we had to complete it, as well. This was more daunting of a task than I had originally imagined when I typed it! Fortunately, we distributed the survey over a month before the Day of Reflection, so I had time.
The first two weeks, I read the questions over and over. I could not bring myself to write anything down. Even after creating the questions myself, I really felt the need to process them as they apply to my life before putting pen to paper. To me, this seemed odd, since my most natural form of thinking and communicating is writing, but... I took the questions to my Holy Hour; I pulled them out during my morning quiet hour (or half hour) and looked them over a few other times.
Just after Easter, exactly two weeks before the Day of Reflection, I finally started writing answers. The first section was pretty simple; I had been working on my prayer life during Lent a lot, so my answers were clear. The section on struggles was also easy, for the most part. It was nice to actually write down the issues we have, almost like a Confession of sorts, the first step in "the program" or admitting I have a problem!
The third section on successes was really the hardest for me. While I did not feel I had many big successes or even little ones, I was able to recognize that the core elements of my homeschool are a success, even if the details sometimes get lost. I am a planner, so the goal-setting section was my favorite.
Those of you who know/use a Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling will find humor, as I did, in my responses to "What do I not like and/or is not working with my current homeschooling philosophy/approach/curriculum?" and "What do I like and/or is working well with my...?" For both, I put something about not having anyone tell me what to do. :)
The day itself was easy to do. Our committee only had two planning meetings and several phone conversations to pull it all together. During introductions, I wrote down which curriculum/philosophy the mothers use for future reference. We are going to try to do some sort of Planning Day to give mothers time to share resources and give tips to actually plan for next year (beyond what was done at the Day of Reflection).
Since the mothers had completed the survey, except two or three of them who signed up late, writing on the notecards was relatively easy. The mothers chose one of their greatest successes/blessings to write on a blue notecard, one of their greatest challenges/struggles to write on a yellow notecard, and one question they need answered to help them plan for next year on a red notecard.
We had asked one of the seasoned homeschooling mothers, known for her wisdom and Christ-centered homeschooling lifestyle, to give a personal testimony on how personal spirituality affects our homeschool, focusing on the point that if our spiritual life is not in order, our homeschooling will not be successful, no matter what we do. I did not actually get to hear her talk, because another committee member and I spent the entire time sorting the notecards, but I hear it was well done and well received.Sorting the cards was interesting. We saw some duplicate issues and tried to group some of the cards into categories and address a few cards at one time. There were some cards that were so specific that we could not address them that day, but we saved them for future reference. After coming back from the talk and sorting cards, I did a demonstration that I have seen on retreats before and is based on one done by Dr. Stephen Covey of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I modified Dr. Covey's visual to better fit the spiritual life and added a component I saw on retreat once. You may recognize this, as I did it at a Little Flowers meeting not too long ago!
First, I put a bunch of gravel into a clear vase, explaining the gravel are all the little things we do every day - math, vacuuming, changing diapers, cooking, laundry, spelling, etc... Then, I put in a bunch of rocks about the size of the palm of my hand, explaining they are all the more important things we do for God - being true to our vocation, going to Mass, setting aside prayer time, etc... Purposefully, all of the rocks I had did not fit in the vase, and I expressed frustration at this, saying "daily Mass will have to go".
Then, I poured everything out into a large bowl. I explained we needed to start over and try it a different way. First, I put in the rocks. Then, I poured in the gravel, and it all fit perfectly level to the top of the vase, demonstrating that if we put God first, most other things will fit. It was funny that as I was pouring the gravel, some of it bounced out of the vase onto the table and floor. We chuckled, saying "there goes laundry; there goes spelling!"
Anyway, to close the illustration, I told the mothers that when we put God first, more will fit into our lives than we thought possible, and I poured in some sand (not a lot, but enough for effect). Finally, I said that God might even surprise us by filling our lives with extra graces, and I poured in some water. I was mostly silent at the end.
I LOVE this illustration! Can you tell? But, moving on...
We divided into small groups to discuss the talk and visual. I have not had a chance to ask the other leaders how their groups went, but I thought ours was interesting and fruitful. This gave mothers a chance to share and get a little of the tension and emotion off of their chest. A few very practical tips for fitting in prayer and Mass were offered, as well!
Back in the large group (there were 24 moms there altogether), we had just a few minutes of silent prayer time where the mothers were encouraged to turn over their day to the Lord. We began discussing the struggles/challenges cards first. One of the leaders would read a card, and mothers would respond with positive tips or encouragement. We were clear to state that we wanted anything said to be encouraging and uplifting, not commiserating. This went very well! The moms shared lots of great ideas on how to overcome the struggles and resources, as well. The topics we covered were: finding time for yourself, planning, making a schedule and sticking to it, juggling multiple ages, and discipline issues.
Lifting each of our struggles up in prayer was important, and the format we used worked well. We told the mothers to keep their petitions relatively brief, and they did. Going around the circle, each mother said their prayer petitions, and we all responded, "Lord, have mercy." The only awkward bit was we sometimes did not know when a mother was finished with her petition, so perhaps we should have added a closing phrase for the petitioners, as well, to cue us to respond.
Then, we moved on to the blessings. We wanted to end on a high note. This followed the same format. One of the leaders read a card or two, and the mothers shared their encouragement and other successes. This went faster, of course, but it was still very fruitful. The topics covered were: children enjoying learning, a satisfying day, children recalling what they learned, going to daily Mass, knowing what children are learning, and being with our children all day.
These prayers went the same way as the petitions, except we focused on praises and responded, "Blessed be God forever."
I should probably mention that we were mostly running on time. I think we noticed during the blessing discussion that we were ten minutes behind, so we just cut out one of the breaks in the schedule.
Finally, we discussed the red cards, the questions. Some of these issues had already been addressed in the struggle discussion. I felt like this part of the discussion needed to continue, so I hope our Planning Days can address more questions. As mothers, I think we just do not take the time to ask questions of other mothers enough. The answers are out there. The topics we covered were: juggling housework and schooling, quality time, starting on time, keeping children on task, motivating children to love to learn, and fitting everything in each day.
At the end, we decided, somewhat spontaneously, to give the mothers two more notecards, one green and one purple. On the green card, we told them to write down one thing that they learned or thought of today that they can do this week to improve things at home. This was a resolution of sorts, and they took these home. Mine was to make a daily resolution for myself and evaluate it each day.
On the purple card, we had them write down additional questions or topics they feel they want to learn more about in order to better plan for next year. We are using these to figure out what to do on the Planning Days and maybe into the future. Our whole goal all along was to provide for the needs of our homeschooling group of mothers, so this was a way for us to better understand their needs. Topics written down included:
Learning styles & how to teach them
Charlotte Mason & living books
Planning the year in advance
Lesson planning as you go
Teaching a first time reader/phonics
Books your child loved/reading lists
Scheduling the day/time management
Organizing school room/materials
First communion prep
Long summer days
Motivating children to do work/stay on task
Schooling with toddlers/babies
Taking care of mom (prayer, exercise, social, etc…)
Devotions/prayers with children and as a family
Living the liturgical year
Putting it all together (am I teaching enough/everything needed?)
Wow! So, we have our work cut out for us, eh? I do hope we can address these issues in some way, although I just do not know how yet. It sounds like a homeschooling conference!
Seriously, I left that meeting so inspired and convicted, more than ever before, to do my best every day in my home. All of the mothers, even in sharing their struggles, were incredibly positive and encouraging. It was such a realistic discussion, realizing that we all struggle with many of the same things, but also refocusing us to the reason why we homeschool and reminding us that it IS all worth it!
I thought the day went so well that I suggested to the mothers it be done twice a year, once in January when we all hit a slump and once in May or June when we are getting ready for the following year. If you have any questions or reflections on the Day of Reflection or Survey or any of this, feel free to post a comment or email me (see sidebar). My wish in sharing all of this is that you, too, can benefit from our planning and preparations.
Once again, if you missed the original post and are still trying to figure out what all this is, here is the place to start at the beginning.