Refreshing Community

I have an embarrassing secret…

I don’t co-op!

Because we don’t co-op, I’ve had to hunt for friendship and support. What I have found to be wonderful about it all, is that my homeschooling group of friends includes families in all different stages and styles of homeschooling. I have friends who have graduated adults, kids about to graduate, kids who are the same age as mine, kids that are right behind mine, and a few who are about to have their first and hope to someday homeschool. I also have friends who use different methods and curriculums. Some are classical, some are literature based like us, and some are undecided and still figuring it out. I love this kind of diversity! Our conversations are so rich and refreshing. We may not agree on everything, but we all agree on what matters and we share generously with each other from our resources and experiences.

One of my sweet friends shared a podcast by Durenda Wilson with the rest of us and I want to share it with you, my Friend. In this podcast, Durenda Wilson tells us three things she has learned in her 24 years of homeschooling that are incredibly practical, inspiring and so simple. I’m sharing this podcast with you in hopes that you find it helpful regardless of what stage you are in or method you use. Maybe you have veteran homeschool parents sharing wisdom with you regularly (count your blessings and tell them how much you appreciate them! Their knowledge was hard earned). Maybe you don’t have anyone and feel like the Lone Ranger. I encourage you to find community where you can, whether that’s face-to-face or online. Community can make all the difference in your journey. 

I am cheering you on!

Hugs!

Listen to Durenda’s podcast here!



Distractions and Stuff...

In the beginning…

…of my homeschool journey that is, I didn’t know what I was doing. Anyone else been there? Full-discloser…I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I know a bit more now than I did six years ago.

At first, since I didn’t know what I was doing, I just did what I knew. I did school. I bought cute little desks and lots of charts to put up on the wall. I bought all the adorable little teacher supply stuff. It was so fun. Then about two weeks in I realized…I didn’t need any of it and I had wasted all of my education budget on colorful posters and accessories. Ugh!!!

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I had also spent a pretty penny on a box of very demanding curriculum that had dozens of pages of written work that had to be done each day. In an attempt to be faithful to the demand of that curriculum, I dutifully created this very detailed (like, to the minute) schedule. I had recess and lunch time scheduled. We would start with phonics, then Math and then writing and so on. My schedule was so organized in a cute binder… I was basically the Leslie Knope of homeschooling - or so I thought.

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The only problem was…the 1-year-old would demand her snacks and diaper changes in the middle of our math lesson…and the dog refused to puke on the couch during a time convenient for me, like recess…and the phone would ring…and the dryer would buzz…and the neighbor would come to the door, and, and, and,…and the schedule went flying out the window in pieces. As a result, we would get behind on our paperwork that day, and then had double to do the next day, which also wouldn’t get done and then by the end of the week I was curled up in the corner in tears because we were so far behind, the kids hated homeschooling, and I basically figured I was a failure as a teacher, a mom, and possibly also as a human being…deeeeeeep breath…

So, I decided I had to come up with a better plan, because a home does not, and should not, function like a traditional school. Why not? (Get ready for a major epiphany!) Home is not school!! Did I just blow your mind? Probably not. But when I came to this realization, it was a very wonderful aha! moment for me.

Home is a place where everyone feels comfortable being themselves, so it’s hard to remember manners, it’s easy to get distracted with household chores, and there are all kinds of other people (and mammals, reptiles, fish, etc.) hanging around needing attention. 

It can be very tempting to try to compartmentalize home and school, because traditionally these two environments have had their own compartment. However, when you homeschool, these two environments have to share a space (and become a compound word) so it can take some time for them to learn how to get along with each other. 

I found peace when I stopped trying to separate them so much. When home interrupts school, or vice versa, I do my best to roll with it. Flexibility is what I’m really talking about here, and that can be very hard to learn. It can feel like failing when lessons keep getting interrupted, especially when a child is trying to learn hard concepts. We can do our best to keep the interruptions minimal, but the truth we all know is that you cannot eliminate them completely. 

Here are some simple things you can do to try to minimize interruptions or at least to control your own personal freak-out when interruptions are endless.

  1. Have a routine, but not necessarily a schedule. 

It can help to have an order of how the day goes (for instance we start everyday with our binder work and breakfast. Then after that we do read-aloud, scripture memory, and so on). There is no set time to start or finish (though I aim for a 9:30 start time to our day, but that varies and I’m ok with that), we just work on each task until it is done or until I sense that everyone has reached their limit and productive work is no longer being accomplished. That means it’s time to move on to something else. Sometimes that means we leave pages unfinished and come back to them the next day and guess what? Not only is that a-okay, it also keeps my kids from getting overly discouraged. You may ask “but won’t you get behind?” First, I would ask, behind what? It’s not a race, it’s an education and there is no finish line. Not really. I’m still pursuing education. It’s a life-long pursuit, so it’s ok to slow down and enjoy the process. Second, we finished this year 3 weeks earlier than I had intended, so…apparently slow consistency trumps speed? I think it was the tortoise that taught us that lesson.


2. Have children use earbuds and listen to quiet/classical music while they work. 

My most easily distracted kid suddenly gets laser-focused when she’s listening to her iPod. She is suddenly able to do an entire page of math problems like it’s nothing. Trial and error is the way we figure out this homeschool thing, so try it and see if it works. If you can trust your kid to do his work in his room, that’s fine, too! We do our work wherever it is quiet and comfortable which leads to the next point…


3. Go outside.

I’m a huge fan of doing school outside. Outside there are things to distract, but usually they are the natural things like birds and leaves rustling in the wind. After a few minutes everyone seems to settle in and their moods always seem to lift as well. Fussy toddlers are preoccupied, and dogs can do whatever they need to with no threat to your couch. Our hearts and minds tend to relax a bit when we are outdoors and then everyone has a much better attitude about getting work done. 


4. Break up with your curriculum. 

I understand that if you just spent all your money on curriculum you don’t want to ditch it. I did not ditch my first curriculum I bought because I’d spent that semester’s budget on it. If you can return it, great. If not, then forget the schedule that came with the curriculum and just divide the pages the way you want. You are the boss of the school work. Tell the curriculum how things are going to be done. It is your servant, not the other way around. If that means you do half the lesson that day, great! No one can tell you what pace you need to set. It is up to you to decide what works for your family and what you all can handle in a day. If your curriculum cannot tolerate any distractions (meaning, one little distraction completely sets you behind and snowballs into you curled up in the corner crying again) then ditch it. Break up with your curriculum. Just use the pages the way you want in order to teach the concept or find a curriculum that fits better with your family’s rhythm of life. If you can’t get it done, that’s not your fault, that’s the curriculum publisher’s fault for creating something that is so incompatible with real home life. Find the curriculum that leaves time for toddlers who put toys in toilets or piles of dishes that need to be washed. Click here to read about what curriculum I use and why.

5. Embrace the distraction. 

Just embrace it and go with it. Put the books away and try again tomorrow. Go for a nature walk instead, or invite the kids into the distraction by saying “Hey! We are all going to learn how to change diapers now” or “fold laundry” or “clean up dog puke” or whatever the interruption is. 

The beauty of homeschooling is every moment of everyday is an opportunity to learn. Your kids are not at the mercy of schedules, curriculum or fill in the blank work, but rather are free to learn all kinds of real life things that they will need to know as adults! That is so important! School is happening all the time for your kids as you unclog toilets, balance the checkbook, go to the bank, the grocery store, as they listen to how you have conversations with other adults and handle real life situations. They wouldn’t get that level of education in a traditional classroom where everything is so controlled and no one is allowed to deviate from the schedule. Problem solving happens naturally at home, because that is how it is in real life.

Train your brain to see interruptions as a leg up in real life for your kids. Remember that you are not teaching to a test, or a workbook, you are teaching to children - who are real people, not objects to be measured and evaluated - for the purpose of producing well-educated adults who can function with competence in real life. Yes, part of the goal is for them to learn things like reading, writing and math, but it is also learn character, time management, wisdom with money, and so much more! 

Once they have mastered a concept, don’t stress about filling in every single blank and checking off every little box. Celebrate it and move on! Or if they are struggling, slow down and give them a chance to figure it out. You will feel much less frustrated (notice I did not say you will feel no frustration-lol) and your kids will be less stressed out.

Most importantly, do not beat yourself up at the end of the day over what did not get done. IT WILL BE OK! Everyone needs some grace and that includes you! Be kind to yourself and remember that tomorrow is another day.

Why Do You Homeschool?

Why do you homeschool? 

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This is another question that gets asked of me, sometimes with trepidation. I think people are expecting to hear a story of deeply held conviction laced with some anger and legalism. While I have developed some deep conviction over the years about why I homeschool, and legalism and anger are dragons I have to slay every now and then when they rear their nasty little heads, those really aren’t my why. The short answer is simply that I love the freedom we have to really learn outside of classrooms, textbooks, and standardized test. Our learning is joy-filled and life-giving. But, I’ll include the long answer if you are one who wants to know the full story.

It all started with me simply recognizing that my daughter was ready to learn academically but she wasn’t quite old enough to really start school. So, I started to teach her at home. 

When baby #4 came along, I was overwhelmed with trying to do a formal method of teaching at home, so we sent our oldest and her sister to public school. My oldest did great! She had a phenomenal teacher and she really enjoyed it. Child #2 hated it. She cried every morning when I woke her up. So after 10 weeks of gutting it out, I had an incredibly helpful conversation with her very kind teacher and decided to bring her home and try home education again. She loved it and so did I. 

Then the following school year, my oldest started having major anxiety. She would not eat her breakfast or lunch. The joy of learning left her eyes and were surrounded instead with dark circles of stress and boredom. She was in second grade. How could she be only 7 and already disinterested in learning? She would call me from her teacher’s phone almost every day upset and scared. She would go the nurse several times a week with a stomach ache. We asked her over and over what was happening at school. She always said nothing. No one was bullying. No one was hurting her. We were lost as to what was going on. We met with her teacher, the school counselor, and I talked to any mom who would listen in hopes they would have insight to share. Nothing changed. 

At the Christmas break, we pulled her out. She was thrilled. Within a month, the circles around her eyes were gone, the joy of learning returned, and she was eating all of her meals, snacks, and then some! 

Best. Decision. Made.

Much of our school work is done outdoors when the weather is nice. Why not? That is one of our joys in home educating!

Much of our school work is done outdoors when the weather is nice. Why not? That is one of our joys in home educating!

But if we were going to really educate our children at our home, it had to be manageable. I had to find a method that worked for our family dynamic and that fit into our lifestyle and schedule. 

I reevaluated everything I had been doing before in order to find a way to manage the burden better.

I tried a lot of different routines and methods, and after several years (good things rarely happen overnight) I found what works for us. We are so happy home educating. The kids are happy, I am happy and my husband is happy. We do take it year by year, because I am fully aware that life can change in an instant, so I don’t want to have a clenched fist when it comes to our plans and methods of education. Also, high school is on the horizon, so…that should be an interesting shake up.

For now, we have a very laid back and restful rhythm in our day. I am able to read-aloud to my kids and have meaningful conversations with them about what we are learning. I am able to really listen to their thoughts, ideas and hopes for the future. They are able to find creative ways to explain what they have learned through narration, art and of course the occasional mundane fill in the blank (but we keep that paperwork to a minimum at this point. They’ll have plenty of time to learn how to fill in the blanks in the upper grades.) I am getting to know them more and more as real people with real ideas and it is beautiful. 

Yes, we have hard days, but they are only days. New days let us start fresh and try again. We slow down when a subject ignites our interests. The stuff we don’t enjoy (hello long division, I’m talking about you) we are able to slow down on that as well and take our time learning. If we don’t get it figured out today, that’s ok. Tomorrow we get to try again. And again the next day, and next week, and at times, even next month - because mastery trumps speed in our house. I’d rather hold a child back and let her build her confidence in an area than frantically push her through a subject with panic and threats just to meet a deadline. Yes, there is a time to learn how to meet deadlines, but childhood isn’t the time. Not for us. Not right now.

The result? My children love to learn. All children do until it becomes a mundane, rote, pointless practice as it so often does with traditional methods. How sad it is to see the joy of learning leave a child’s eyes! It broke my heart when I saw it leave my daughter’s eyes.

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We are all born with a love of learning, because our Creator wants to be known by His creation. So, He made us curious. He designed our brain to ask questions and make connections so that we would seek, and in our seeking discover Him. This kind of learning takes time. It is slow. It takes a different shape with different personalities and temperaments. These commodities are scarce in a classroom of 25-30 where everyone has to learn the same thing at the same time, but in my homeroom of 4, we have the luxury to explore deeply in our own time. We can ask questions and follow trains of thoughts to new ideas. We can put our paperwork away and pursue passions for a few hours. I am so grateful that we have so much freedom to learn! And learn we do. 

This is why I homeschool.

Why do you homeschool? I really want to know! Share your why in the comments below (with kindness and grace, please slay your dragons before you post). 

Why Read?

Reading. For many parents, when they bring it up to their kids, the response is usually dread or indifference. Why?

  1. Reading is hard for them, which leads to lot of pressure from teachers and parents to do it more, which leads to a deep hatred for reading. 

  2. Reading is easy for them, so they can get through it quickly and get on to the other things they’d rather be doing.

The reason we get these responses from our kids is for one simple reason. We have taught them how to read, but we have failed to teach them why to read. 

Throughout the decades, reading has become the educational mantra of a myriad of political figures, and is recognized as one of the most important educational movements. So, while much attention, energy and money, money, and more money has been committed to developing reading programs, this one concept has been tragically overlooked. 

As a result, very few adults have read a book since graduating high-school. Yes, millions have been taught how to read - that’s great! Success! But what does it matter if we teach millions how to read who will not then use that skill in a real and meaningful way as adults?

Yes, we need to be able to read in order to apply for jobs and get around town. But that is just the basic necessity of being able to read. 

Being able to read offers those who can an opportunity to learn and think about ideas, concepts, philosophies and theology written by the greatest thinkers that have ever lived. Not to mention the incredible gift of the Word of God, that is living and active! Yet, how many evangelical adults read their Bible? How many more are intimidated because, while they know how to read technically, they do not know how to read in a way that enriches their lives. 

We have only partially solved the illiteracy problem. Until we have taught our children, not just how to read, but why, we will not have fully educated them.

So what do we do?

I like the way Sarah Clarkson (a homeschool graduate, mother and author currently studying her Master’s at Oxford) says it in her book Read for the Heart:

Reading is a habit…a huge part of this habit is to establish family read-aloud times. Hearing a parent read books aloud is one of the central forces that will shape a young child into an active reader.  

You may be thinking, “Ok, sounds good. Where do I start?”

A simple start would be to download the free age recommended book list at the bottom of this page and pick a book that fits for your family at this stage. If you can afford to buy it, great! Start building your home library a book at a time. If you are on a tight budget, GO TO THE LIBRARY! It seems we have forgotten our local libraries which is tragic because that place is like a sunken treasure chest FULL of literary wealth. 

You can also find some really good books on audio both at the library and online. Our family has listened to entire books in the car as we run errands. I always be sure to grab one or two when we are headed out on a road-trip vacation. 

Our family is currently listening to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in the afternoons and then I am reading aloud in the evenings from The Long Winter  by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Wintertime is my favorite time to do read aloud in the evenings with the fire, and the cozy blankets and hot chocolate. The kids love it, too! 

I am also reading aloud one-on-one with each daughter. The 12-year-old and I are reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Borrowers by Mary Norton for the 10-year-old. The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter for the 8-year-old and The Complete Tales Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne for the 5-year-old. I don’t read to all of them individually everyday, just once a week we have special one-on-one time with our tea and books.

Daddy reads aloud from Scripture before bedtime. This year for Advent we are reading through (and memorizing) the first 18 verses of John 1.

This is what works for us. Your family has different dynamics and challenges which may require you to get more creative. But, I bet you could do something. 

Two words of caution:

1.  Start simple. Save War and Peace for later and pick one really good book that is somewhere in the middle of the age range if you have several children. 

2. Don’t assume your big kids (even high-school big kids who roll their eyes) don’t want to listen and don’t assume your little ones are incapable of listening. I am continually surprised at how much my 5-year-old understands the story, because when I’m reading it seems like she’s not even hearing me. She is. And she repeats it back and tells me what’s happening - not 100% of the time, but more than I expect. 

The mechanics are necessary, but only for the purpose of being able to read good books that develop in our children the courage to live fully with purpose and integrity as great writing inspires us to do. 

I’m in your corner cheering you on! You can do this! Even if you try today and it goes terribly, don’t give up! Your children can be, not just skilled at reading, but lovers of reading! And what a  priceless gift to give them! 

I had a Mother who read me the things

That wholesome life to the boy heart brings-

Stories that stir with an upward touch.

Oh, that each mother of boys were such!

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be-

I had a Mother who read to me. 

The Reading Mother” by Strickland Gillilan

1864-1954

How We Home Educate and Why We Choose To Do It This Way

The first question just about everybody asks me when I tell them I homeschool is…

“What curriculum do you use?”

I’m never irritated or annoyed because I did the same thing when I first started home educating. Basically, I was saying, “I have NO idea what I am doing, and I need somebody to tell me the silver bullet that it is going to make this crazy new adventure turn out well!!!!” in other words…

HELP!!!

Bad news…there is no silver bullet. You have to find what works for you and your kiddos. But I am always happy to share what I’m using in hopes that it will help others think through what they want to do before they flush…uh, I mean spend all their money trying different curriculums. So, to answer your question, here is what I do:

Short answer: I use good books. I am a reader. I want my kids to be readers. Readers are thinkers. I use good books.

Long answer because I am aware that the short answer is not good enough for most of us:

Arithmetic: Math U See

Why?: Because I love the manipulatives. One of the frustrating aspects of public school math was that my daughter was having to draw her little squares to do the math problems. So, as she was adding 387 to 254, she would mis-draw and therefore mis-count and then we were both in tears (and of course all of this was after she had already put in 7 hours at school!)

So far: We’ve used it for 5 years and all enjoy it! The above mentioned child is currently in the Epsilon book (fractions and such) and is still enjoying it. I have three younger ones who all use it and so far so good!

Language Arts: Learning Language Arts Through Literature

Why?: Because I LOVE good literature!!! And I don’t want to have to buy a writing curriculum, grammar curriculum, spelling curriculum and literature curriculum separately (because, hello! I have to feed these children food and put clothes on them as well so I can’t spend ALL of my money on curriculum!). These books have all of the necessary aspects of language arts in one book as well as narration and discussion points that guide you through talking about ideas, beliefs and concepts being taught.

So far: I just love it and it works for us.

Social Studies: Story of the World

Why?: Because once again, I LOVE good literature! I have found that when I present facts to my kids in a story format, they remember them so much better than just doing a fill in the blank method. We create time lines as we go along and I hunt down historical storybooks to go along with the time period that we are reading through.

So far: We have almost finished going through this four volume series for the first time, and I plan to do just start back over at volume 1 and go through it again. This series does offer a workbook to go along which I will be looking into getting for my 6th grader. As for the younger grades, I just let them enjoy the stories! They are filing all of that info away and I trust that when the time comes, they will be well-informed on historical and political events.

Science: Nature Study

Why:? Because kids are naturally curious and ask better questions than most fill in the blank textbooks. We go outside and explore with nature journals, sketching what we see, writing down observations and questions that come to mind. Then we take it home and research (like scientists do). We search online, we check out books at the library, we have a collection of field guides and several beautifully written nature books that also contain lovely drawings for reference.

So far: We enjoy learning about the world this way. Will we do a formal science in upper grades? Of course! But we aren’t quite there yet, and as we discover what works for that age, I will be sharing my discoveries here. (Sorry, Mommas of high-schoolers! Hang in there!)

The Arts: We study the arts as we study history. Also, most of our literature read alouds coincide with our history study. So for example, as we were learning about the Civil War, we studied artists and composers from that time period, and I read aloud from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott which is set during the Civil War.

Why?: This allows us to have discussions on how art and music have influenced and been influenced by the events of history and also to observe the evolution of the arts throughout centuries. There are great FREE resources on YouTube that teach about different artists and musicians. One of our favorites is FREE SCHOOL. You can also find instructional art and music videos on YouTube and Pinterest that teach actual techniques. Also, don’t forget about your local library! I always try to pick up some books from the kids section about art, music, famous inventions and whatever else my kids are showing an interest in!

So far: We draw, paint, learn art and music history, take music lessons and just have lots of fun with all of it by allowing our passions and inspirations to guide us along the way.

Not every curriculum or method works for every family - this is what is working for ours and I hope this helps you think about what your goals for home educating are and how to structure your curriculum and methods accordingly. I would love to know what you are using and why! Sharing is caring so share in the comments below!