words and images: Jessica Sowards
On the first day of school, I thought we might sleep in. There was no bus to miss and no bell to be late for. Three color-coded plastic crates lined the walls by the kitchen table. In each one, brand new crayons and pencils filled color-coded art boxes, and unlearned curriculums stood in proud stacks, waiting to be explored.

Jackson and Asher would have been happy to sleep in. Sure, they enjoyed browsing Mardel’s and helping me piece together their homeschool books over the summer. They are excited about this year’s music lessons. Jackson is eager to do fifth-grade science experiments, and Asher is deciding on what book series he’ll embark on for his fourth-grade year. Still, they would have been happy to roll out of bed with just enough time to scarf down some cereal and help me wipe the table at nine in the morning, our usual start of the school day.

That is not what happened, though. Because Tobias (Toby) started Pre-K this year.

IMG_0029-2Oh, Toby. We call him enthusiastic which is a woeful understatement. Unlike his older brothers, he has no memory of the public school system. Jackson and Asher attended a wonderful elementary before we moved to the country and started our farm. I never fancied myself a homeschooler. I loved their teachers and the programs. But when we found our dream house and dove in, we were surprised to learn we were zoned for a school over thirty minutes away from our house. So just like that, for no reason but logistics, we became homeschoolers.

Toby was only two then. In the last two school years since we accidentally became homeschoolers, when Jackson and Asher did art and worked in their workbooks, Toby would beg for his own school work. So I would print off matching sheets and coloring pages from the Internet, and he would patiently grasp a crayon at the table, waiting to be validated as a student. While we read books like Charlotte’s Web and Because of Winn Dixie, Toby would sit and listen. Before I knew it, he could recite colors and recognize letters. He could animatedly recount stories and spit off facts about sharks or bees or whatever we’d been recently discussing.

Then this year, when Toby knew there was finally a box of supplies just for him, he woke up extra early on the first official day of the school year. He crawled into my bed and said, at six a.m., “Mom, I’m so ready to start homeschool now.” So I got up early and made breakfast while Toby woke up the other boys, then he came and sat at the table with so much pride he could have just burst.

It’s hard sometimes. It feels a lot like a juggling act with five boys, homeschooling, a farm and ministry. Thankfully, I have a lot of help but I still occasionally have a breakdown and feel like I can’t possibly be able to give these brilliant boys what they need. It never fails, though, when I feel the most overwhelmed, they will do something that completely surprises me.

Usually, it’s something small, like when we are driving down the road, and they spout off the name of the farm equipment we just passed or ask me a question about atmospheric pressure because “they were just wondering.” Sometimes, it’s when I see their hunger, like when Jackson watched someone on the drums at church, touched my arm and leaned over without breaking his gaze from the rhythmic beating, and said, “Hey, can I learn that?”

This year, I involved them in picking a curriculum. They again surpassed my expectations. I thought they might go into the store

and just pick the first set of books that caught their eye. But they didn’t. They paused thoughtfully at different subjects, flipping through the pages and making comments like, “It might be kind of cool to learn Spanish.”

Homeschool woke something up in my sons. It has helped them to realize it’s OK to be different from one another. And that it’s OK to have strengths we play to and weakness we forgive. Even when I’ve struggled, I’ve come to realize they have actually learned to teach by watching me figure it out. Sometimes I find all the boys piled up on Asher’s lower bunk bed with one of the older brothers reading picture books to the little boys. Or I’ll catch a glimpse of them in play, and see one of the bigger boys crouching down next to one of their younger brothers explaining directions or answering the constant question of “Why?”

It’s taken two years for me to have the confidence to begin to branch out in what they learn. I was so afraid to mess up and fail them, for a long time I was a stickler to the workbook schedule and the written instructions. Then I started to see their curiosity grow. I love curiosity. So I want to nurture it the best I can. I am quick to say, “I don’t know, let’s figure it out.” And we do. We often turn to the Internet in random places like the grocery store or during ministry meetings because in that moment, we absolutely must know the gestational period of a cow.

See, homeschooling woke something up in me, too. Just like they have learned to teach, I’ve learned to be a student. Our life changed so much all at once, and I’ve embarked on many new endeavors with the farm and schooling my boys. But in nurturing theirs, my curiosity has grown as well. This year we are doing a science unit on the development of an egg, and they will have full responsibility for operating the incubator and bringing chickens to life. Then we raise them on our farm, and I’ll let them choose to keep them in our flock or sell them to earn money.

IMG_0021-2I’ve started bringing them to the grocery store with me with a list and a calculator. I’ve started pulling them into the kitchen and giving them responsibilities that used to make me nervous. Because I want them to learn. It has become my priority, teaching these brilliant boys whatever I can.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes. If you had asked me a few years ago what I imagined life would look like now, I would have never said this.

I would have never imagined mornings being so beautifully laid-back and days being so full of wonder and curiosity. And even though it is very hard sometimes and I have to look fear in the face and say “I am enough” on a regular basis, even though many people don’t understand this walk we’ve chosen, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Oh, and cows are pregnant for 283 days. Just in case you were wondering.

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