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So… ya… our kids are going to school…

Can you believe it? A lot of times when I stop to think about it, I can’t!

Those of you who know me know what a strong advocate I have been of homeschooling all these years, and our original plan was to continue homeschooling after coming to Japan as well. I have been very quiet publicly about the fact that our children are currently in school, because people have such differing opinions and we have in fact been a part of encouraging the wonderful homeschool movement beginning in Brazil.

So … what happened??

I want to begin by stating clearly that we firmly believe that the Lord led us to this decision, for this season, and He has confirmed it in various ways. So in saying that, I want to encourage you, whether you homeschool or not, to not lock yourself into any formula, whether in the school area or any other area, but rather be led by the Holy Spirit in every area of your life. I think we put ourselves in a dangerous position when we adamantly state that “this is THE way”… and this has been a huge lesson for me, too. I tend to like formulas….

So, first it was Joshua. He started saying last year that he wanted to go to school in Japan. He had never said he wanted to go to school before, but he said that he thought he would enjoy the challenge… At first I thought, “NO WAY!” – not so much because I was so adamantly opposed to him going to school, but just because I didn’t think THAT kind of a challenge would be such a good thing, as in, I didn’t think he would be able to handle high school level work in Japanese!

But the more we thought about it, over months, the more I began to think it would be good for him. For one thing, he was floundering a bit with homeschooling. He is highly intelligent, but not always highly motivated to study. :/ This had become difficult for me to deal with, because at his age I wanted him to be more independent and not have to ride him all the time just to get his basic schoolwork done, especially since I had five younger ones that I had to manage. I did not enjoy the conflict it was creating in our relationship, and I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t mind “outsourcing” that bit of my role to a third party that Joshua could answer to. Smile.

But the other children we would continue to homeschool.

But then… as time drew nearer, I began to have other thoughts. We began to look into options for language lessons for them, and realized that although there are Japanese lessons geared for foreign children, they are only for about an hour, once or twice a week, because supposedly children are in school, right? I had already been trying to teach them Japanese for over two years, but they just had a hard time advancing past a (very basic) level, because they didn’t have the chance to use it. And since they didn’t need to use it, they didn’t really feel the NEED to study it and really apply themselves. I knew that if they were at home with me all day every day, speaking English, they would not become proficient in Japanese. Japanese is not a language like Spanish or Portuguese that they would be able to just pick up from being at church on Sunday and talking occasionally to the neighbors! What better method than total immersion?? Of course, everyone knows that is the best method, particularly for children. We are planning to live in Japan for the long haul. And if they are unable to communicate effectively… well let’s just say life will get pretty tricky. And so… I began to feel open to this course of action, at least for this first year of living in Japan. We prayed, discussed it with each other and sought counsel from several people, and we prayed some more. And I began to feel peace about it.

The main reason we began to consider this was for language immersion. But I will also be very honest here. The past 2-3 years have been rather taxing on me as a mother with all of the “everything” that has gone on. It’s not the mothering part that has felt overwhelming – it’s all the other stuff that makes the mothering part hard to manage! Ministry travels, albeit as a family, were taking a huge chunk of our time, and then with counseling, ministry to our home groups, people in and out of our home all the time, book writing, etc, etc… well, it was difficult to keep on track with homeschooling. I did the best I could, and I was constantly reminding myself that “education” is not merely bookwork! That the children were getting an education in other areas and in other ways, and that we were doing the most important thing of discipling them… which is all true and I don’t regret any of it! So I didn’t feel that they were terribly deprived, but it was challenging. We would have a couple of months of school going really well (as in, being in a good routine and fitting all subjects in pretty well)…. and then life would get in the way and we would be in a “less good” way with school, just striving to get the three R’s done, if that. And then… we made TWO international moves in the space of one year, which as you can imagine threw any semblance of “normal” out the window and pretty much messed up any and all systems we had in place for every different aspect of life.

So anyway, I felt that they needed a little more “umph” in the academic department, even just for the discipline of it, and I didn’t feel like I was in a good place to be able to provide that for them. It was just quite overwhelming trying to settle in here, SO MUCH paperwork and documentation that we had to muddle through, plus just a million other things that are hard to describe, but it was a taxing and time-consuming process. As we began planning for them to go to school, I began to also see that it would be good for the children (and therefore us as a family) to be constrained to stay on a good schedule of getting to bed early, up early, studying well each day without such a plethora of idle time in the day.

AND… I must admit that I began to feel like I could REALLY use some time to get my head screwed on straight. I don’t think it’s quite been that way for a little too long…

And thus we began taking the necessary steps for it to happen, only a few weeks before our departure. Except for Dominique.

She was the one of our children that had the hardest time emotionally with our transition out of Brazil. Maybe it was just because it was at a hard age? Anyway, she was SO dead set against the school idea in Japan that we thought it best not to force the issue, and just let her continue to do school at home. And Olivia and Annaliese were not yet school age, so they were home too.

So it was just the three boys that started school here on February 13th.

The Japanese school system is quite different on many levels, which I might talk about in a future post, but for now I will just explain that they have three years of middle school, and then three years of high school. So middle school here is equivalent to our 7th, 8th, 9th grades, and high school here is equivalent to our 10th, 11th and 12th grades. The school year begins in April and ends the following March. And, high school is not mandatory, although some 95% of Japanese children do go to high school. However, because it is not mandatory, it is also not free, and the student must pass an entrance exam to get in.

So according to his age, Joshua should have started Japanese high school in April, but we arrived in Japan on January 31st, and all of the entrance exams were already over. PLUS, he would never have been able to pass anyway, because of the Japanese language barrier. So, at the secretary of education, they suggested we hold him back a year, and we were fine with that. So he began in February as a 2nd year middle school student.

Israel entered as a 5th grader.

Johann entered as a 3rd grader.

So how did it go? What was their reaction to school life in Japan? What about now?

Well… since this post is getting rather long, I will talk about that in a different post. 🙂

BUT before I close, I want to just focus on this, as a reminder for our own family, and for yours as well. We must keep our eyes on the GOAL, seeking earnestly His wisdom to know the right means for each season and for the dynamics of each individual family. Not with preconceived notions, but keeping our hearts open to His thoughts and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So what is the main goal? Our main goal is to raise children that are disciples of Jesus Christ. That must remain our focus, in any and every circumstance. And if our eyes are fixed on HIM, He will guide our every step as we sojourn on this earth.

This is what we continue to learn: just when we think we’re doing pretty good in the “trusting God fully” department, He comes up with another area to teach us.

How about you? Which areas has the Lord been challenging you to learn to trust him more? We would love to hear from you too!

These are pictures of their first day of school:

Joshua in his uniform, all ready to go, and below that, walking there with Fabio and Pastor Ogawa, who both went with him the first day. I couldn’t, since I was going to the elementary school with the other boys.

This is the teacher Johann had for the first month and a half, while he finished up the third grade, Oikawa-sensei. This is the teacher Israel had for the first month and a half, while he finished 5th grade, Satou-sensei. So on the very first morning, they had an assembly, and Israel and Johann had to go to the front of the entire school to introduce themselves! They had to say their grade and name, in Japanese, and I was so proud of them! 

Edited to add: I just published another post about how it went for the boys in the beginning of school in Japan, here.