Homeschooling: It's not what we do, it's how we live.

Advocacy

Happy New Year 2017

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So it’s that time of year again; when everyone posts their resolutions and goals for the new year. I’m not immune to the appeal of ‘starting fresh’ and making a grand effort to improve myself and my life – the changing of the calendar from one year to the next is a natural transition, and it feels good and productive to have goals. Last year, rather than making ‘resolutions’ for 2016, I went with an overall theme for the year. It was trendy a few years back, but I really liked that idea, and it worked better for me than having ultra-specific resolutions.

My theme for 2016, so you don’t have to go back and find that post, was ‘mindfulness’, which is basically the practice of living in the present moment (hard to do when anxiety disorder is part of your life, which is why it felt like something I needed to work on). That’s still one of my favorite words, and I find that it will continually be on my list of ‘things to work on’. It wasn’t a total success, but, as my music teacher is often saying, ‘progress, not perfection!”. In that light, I do think that having an overall theme was easier to maintain than a list of ‘rules’ to have to follow.

Here’s a re-cap of my goals in that theme from last year:

meditation – I practice on my own, but I really would like to make it part of my week to go to the group sit at St. Mark’s. They meet twice a week; I want to make at least one of them.

simplify – KonMari! I want to clear out things that don’t make me happy, from possessions to wardrobe to household goods

health – movement and community – walking with playgroup; with the kids; family health; focus on cleaner eating

relationships – tend those I care about and cut loose those I don’t

I didn’t actually make it to St. Marks for meditation with the group, well … ever. The timing wasn’t something I could ever work into my schedule. After giving it some thought, and making my personal meditation practice a priority, I didn’t feel the need to practice with a group as much. Now, I’m content to continue my personal practice in private. As for simplifying… well, that didn’t work out either; at least not in the KonMari way. I did do some downsizing and re-organizing, but nothing that could be categorized as a clean sweep in the KonMari way. We finally got our storage building moved into our backyard, so that alleviated a lot of the clutter inside the house, but there’s more (always) to be done. It’s a process, so while I didn’t exactly meet my original goal, I don’t feel like that was a total failure, either. Health/Nutrition/Fitness are always going to be a focus – more so in the coming year with the decline in my parents’ health, but that’s a long story best told over coffee. I went walking with the group once, and tried to go with another group, but that didn’t work out according to the original plan, either. I did purchase a new bicycle a few months ago, so that’s what I’ve been doing, because I enjoy biking more than walking. The kids have their bikes, too and we ride together – another bonus. This year, I want to get a bike rack so we can take our bikes to local biking trails and ride (or maybe we can just work on increasing our distance and ride to a park that’s not too awful far away). As for relationships, I feel like I’ve been stretched too thin to effectively be a friend to some of the people I actually do care about. There are definitely a few friends who have become long-distance friends that I need to make more of an effort to connect with.

This year, I am going to go with the same one-word theme, but more action-oriented. Mindfulness can be an action word, but it feels more passive to me. Now, at the end of the year, I’m feeling antsy – like I need to move and ‘do’. To satisfy that need, I’ve chosen ‘create’ as my theme. Here are some things I want to create this year:

  • space – both in a physical and metaphysical sense. In the real world, I want to create peaceful, relaxing spaces in my home. This means taking charge of clutter and possessions that no longer serve me or my family, or our purpose. I have really been drawn to the idea of minimalism over the past couple of years, and while I won’t say I am ready to go all in just yet, I feel the need to free up space in my home and my head, and I feel like downsizing all the things might be a step in the right direction. This aspect also includes clearing away obligations and activities that no longer fit my needs or bring me joy or relaxation, or free up time so that I can spend more of it with my kids and Loverly Husband. A relatively inflexible rule I’ve established over the last couple of months has been to say no to things I don’t truly, deeply enjoy or that put money in my family’s budget. I’m spread very thin, and I need to take back some of that time.
  • memories – this is something that is so very important to me; that my children have a rich childhood filled with memorable experiences and traditions to carry with them throughout their lives and one day pass on to their own kids. We’ve made an effort to have game nights and do things as a family that do just that: create a memory. We only have a few years of ‘childhood’ left; I want to make the most of them. I’d like 2017 to have an emphasis on ‘creating memories’  – simple things like rock painting, cooking together, game nights, traveling and other fun (inexpensive, low-key) stuff.
  • art – creating art is something I always come back to. This takes many forms: art journaling, writing, painting, crafting… I like them all. Some of the time I take from other things needs to be focused on creating more of the thing my soul craves.
  • music – I started playing cello this past year, and began piano lessons earlier in December. I used to play flute and clarinet in school, but dropped it after I graduated. I’d forgotten how much I loved it; playing music occupies my entire body – mind, hands, attention, eyes – it’s a full-body experience. For someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, having something that’s so all-consuming to drown in has been an amazing relief. Since my kids are also taking music lessons (both on violin), it’s also something we can do together, which I love.
  • change – activism has been a part of my life for years now, in small ways. As my kids get older and demand less of my time, I feel the need to get involved with larger efforts to affect positive change. I’m not sure exactly what route this path will lead me on just yet, but it’s something I am motivated to accomplish.

 

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So… that’s my word for this year. What’s yours?
Happy New Year!
Warmly,
~h


Bridging the Gaps: Is Homeschooling Enough?

bridging-the-gap-1aI’ve written about gaps in education before, but it’s been a while, so I thought I’d address it again; specifically the idea that public schools (or ‘brick and mortar’ schools, which include any style of schooling that involves a ‘school teacher’) provide a ‘better’ education, or a ‘more complete’ education than homeschooling can.

There are a couple of things wrong with this assumption – first and foremost is the idea that all b&m schools have the same educational goals and model and structure. It’s true that basically all b&m schools function very similarly, in that the children go to school and are taught by someone who (presumably) has extensive education in classroom management and state standards. But as far as the curriculum and even models of teaching and goals… those can be quite different, even within a single city or state. Even if the curriculum itself was standardized, the execution of the material is often left up to the individual teacher. What one teacher may consider ‘core’ might seem frivolous to another, and your opinion on the matter may still be different again. They may skip over things you consider to be vitally important in favor of information that you vaguely remember covering in school but ultimately had no use for at all as an adult and therefore consider useless.

Teachers are human and have their own areas of interest that may bias them; mine, for example, is ancient Egypt. I’m fascinated with the culture and religion of the time and we’ve spent a lot of time studying it! I could do a whole year of history/geography and social studies in Egypt alone. But while it’s extremely interesting (to me), it’s not the most practical thing to have a deep knowledge of unless your plan is to go into Egyptology (which neither of my children have expressed an interest in doing). This bias can play a positive role as well as a negative one. On the plus side, I’d rather my kids spend a year learning about a subject that their teacher is deeply interested in and knowledgeable about than just ‘cover’ a wider range of materials. There’s something engaging about learning from someone who is passionate about their topic that makes you more interested in it, too. And that interest could lead to various science and history related fields of further study…. but I digress.

Secondly is the mistaken idea that students in a b&m school are afforded more opportunities than homeschool students. When struggling with a lack of confidence in our teaching ability, homeschooling parents sometimes forget that a classroom teacher’s ability to teach is very often stifled by classroom management and school/state/federal policies that end up meaning that the lessons are taught to the weakest student’s ability. That means that if your child is among the more advanced in the class, or even if he or she is ‘at grade level’, she is more or less left to her own devices to advance her studies because the teacher is otherwise engaged with students who are struggling to get to ‘grade level’ and can’t work with your student individually. In fact, that’s a huge advantage that homeschooling has over any other type of schooling – personalized attention. If your student is at the other end of the spectrum, then all kinds of other issues start creeping in – from dealing with potential learning disabilities, potential behavioural issues to possible bullying and self-esteem issues. No one is inspired to learn when they ‘feel’ like they’re dumb. This is, in part, one of my major issues with the way schools are structured – students aren’t robots and they don’t all learn in the same way, at the same time or on the same level in each subject. Homeschooling addresses all of those issues, because you’re typically mastery-focused and not dependent on grades to get by.

My oldest starts high school this fall, and I admit I am struggling a bit with the idea. Well, that’s not entirely true; one minute, I struggle with doubt and anxiety, the next I can HOMESCHOOL FOREVER!!! I’m not sure if my wildly fluctuating confidence and lack thereof is a good thing, or a normal thing or what… but there you have it. On one hand, I know it’s a thing I can do. We’re mostly at ‘grade level’ except for spelling, and some things I feel like we’ve covered more than he would have gotten in b&m school. Still other things he’s gotten to do that ‘count’ are opportunities he never could have had stuck behind a desk for 9 months out of the year.

I think that for me, that’s the main goal: give my kids a good foundation and teach them HOW to learn. Teach them that learning is a lifestyle, and that ‘school’ isn’t the only way or place to learn. Another facet of my goal is to expose them to as many things as I can to prod their interest in learning more. They need the basics to understand the world around them and to know how to function within it, but that love of learning and being engaged in finding out more is something that will never be ‘taught’ from a textbook. Hands-on learning, getting out into the world and experiencing how the knowledge affects and enriches their day-to-day life – that’s what I want for them.

If you’re new to homeschooling, and struggling with a lot of these kinds of doubts – can I do this? will it be enough? am I depriving my child of a decent education? can he still go to college? what if this doesn’t work out? – and whatever other questions you have… remember: nothing is permanent. If you try homeschooling (or if you’re a homeschooler considering heading back to b&m school) and it doesn’t fit, you can change it. If you’re worried about doing it all yourself, take heart – you don’t have to! There’s a whole WORLD of support for homeschooling parents out there, from groups and forums online, to local tutors and programs your child can enroll in, homeschool co-ops, online high schools and more. It’s not always ‘all’ up to you.

Whether your child is college bound or not, and there’s a whole world out there that doesn’t depend on a 4 year college program to ‘make it’, if you strive to give your kids a good foundation, you’ll do fine even if there are gaps.

Warmly,
~h

 


How To Be KIND to Yourself When You Clearly Fail At Life

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One of the things I have heard over and over again as a mom is ‘be kind to yourself’. For a while, I truly hated hearing it, because no matter how hard I tried, there were literally  hundred times a day that I thought I have somehow failed at life. I say ‘were’ like something has changed – and something has, but it’s definitely not that part; I still fail at pretty much all the things on a daily basis, and self-care has been my focus over the past few weeks (months? years??) because I am honestly that bad at it. Let’s not even talk about how many times every day I fail at being an adult… a mom… a wife… a daughter… and what does that even mean, ‘be kind to yourself‘? I mean, honestly. I live inside my head; I know what goes on in here and it’s often not deserving of kindness. I think uncharitable thoughts, I yell at my kids, I lose my temper far too often, I have no patience, I suck at keeping in touch with friends, I don’t call my parents as often as I should, I suck at housekeeping and hate cooking… the list of my faults is long and, because I am a writer at heart, very, very detailed.

It’s only been in recent years that I have even begun to start understanding and working through my issues to even understand the concept of ‘being kind’ to myself, much less apply it. I’ve written before about homeschooling with depression and anxiety, but as I said in that post, I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard. Despite all of my best-laid plans, self-care is one of the things I have a hard time managing, and even though I know how important it is to my overall health and mood, I still have to fight (with myself) to make me do the things I need to do. When I can’t even remember to eat regularly, or drink water when I am thirsty, it’s really hard to be ‘kind’ to the person who is actively doing the opposite of taking care of me. But I’m working on it, and here are some things I’ve learned:

1. Recognize that you’re doing your best in this moment.

Here’s a visualization exercise for you: Think about the most recent thing you did that you gave yourself a tongue-lashing for. Now take a look inside and find your inner child – that cute, mischievous 5-year-old you that still likes to pop bubble wrap and is still tempted to write on bathroom walls in public. Pretend like she did the thing that you did. Now talk to her like you talk to yourself. Now pretend that she is your sweet baby child, and someone else is talking to her like that. Did Mama Bear come out to kick ass and take names? If so, then you probably need to work on your inner voice.

Here’s the deal – just like we try to remember when dealing with our kids, we’re doing the best we can with the tools we have available to us in this moment. As you learn new and better tools, your inner critic is easier to hush up. I won’t say ‘silence’, because my inner critic will not be silenced even when all is well (which is why I ply her with wine and decent chocolate on occasion), but as you change the atmosphere inside your head, there’s less for your inner critic to latch on to. The learning of new tools isn’t a fast process, so don’t expect all of your changes to take place at one time. Simply recognizing that there are tools out there, even if you don’t yet know what they are, is a huge step in the right direction… which brings me to my next point:

2. You’re an ever-evolving work of art.

You know what? It’s okay not to have your shit together. We’re all learning new skills and tools all the time, and it’s okay to not know them all, or not know how to implement them, or not be sure that they’re the right tools for you. Even if you decide to implement some new things, it’s okay to struggle with getting it going well. Every day is a new day. You have the opportunity to begin again every. single. day. There isn’t a guarantee that every new thing you learn will be implemented forevermore and always. What’s the saying? ‘When you stop learning, you stop living‘. Being ‘in progress’ means that you’re not a static being. Some days will be better than others. Some days will be absolutely dreadful, but others will be phenomenal. Most of them will be somewhere between ‘really good’ and ‘not so great’, but there is opportunity and change in each of them. Some days, you’re going to cope better with the highs or lows than others, and that’s okay, too. It’s not ‘all or nothing’; like a great work of art, it’s a process – the (better, happier, more capable, adultier, better adjusted, successful) person you’re becoming is a work-in-progress. The important thing is that you keep making progress. It can be one step forward, two steps back… but even the Texas Two Step is going to take you all around the dance floor sooner or later. The direction you thought you were going may not be the direction you truly need to move in. As you learn more and make changes, your path will become clearer. It’s okay to resist that process, too! Eventually, you’ll get where you’re supposed to end up.

 3. No one else has their shit together either; some of them just fake it better.

 Don’t believe me? Text your BFF right now and ask her to show you Mt. Laundry, or her kitchen sink full of dishes, or whatever her secret housekeeping shame is. Or maybe it’s not housekeeping that is her (or your) downfall, maybe it’s something else… whatever it is, we all have one (or more) areas of our lives that just don’t ever manage to flow correctly. But, there’s probably an area in your life where you do feel competent and successful and put together, and you can bet that someone out there has seen you do The Thing and assumed from your obvious competence at The Thing that the rest of your life was similarly in order. My ‘thing’ is making it look good on paper. In practice, it’s a hot mess, but damn if I can’t make it spiffy in written format! It’s my gift.

‘Comparison is the thief of joy’, or something like that… whatever the actual quote, comparing yourself to someone else is never going to end well (unless you’re the obvious winner, in which case, <highfive>). But you know who I’m talking about; the person(s) that you always compare yourself to where you’re not the winner. It’s easy to make comparisons when you only have the visual and not a front row seat to the three-ring circus inside her head. Everybody is struggling; it’s not just you. Even the most zen mama you know has issues (and if she’s that zen, she’d probably be genuinely open to talking with you about hers and yours if you asked her). The point here is don’t let unfair comparisons be another bat that you use to beat yourself up. Use your inner voice for good, not evil… which feeds directly into the next point:

4. Start small… today; Right Now. 

Say something nice to yourself. I mean it – do it even if you think it’s hokey or whatever. If the only thing you hear in your head is negative commentary, then you’re never going to get out of the place you’re in right now. Being KIND to yourself means changing your thought patterns. The change starts with you, with your inner commentary. If you need tools, make affirmation cards – they don’t have to be fancy, they just have to say things that you need to hear. I made my deck in index cards with markers and glitter glue. I looked online and found things I liked and copied them, then printed them out and pasted them on my cards. Simple and effective.

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If affirmation cards are too ‘woo-woo’ for you, then enlist help to focus on the positive things you bring to the table. Make a pact with your best friend where you can only say positive things about each other to each other for the next week, or start a Secret Sisters gift circle in your group of friends that celebrates each others talents and mad skillz. Chances are, she needs it, too.

Whatever your preferred method of getting some positive thoughts knocking around inside your noggin, do it, and make it a daily priority. Self-care is so, so important to your general well-being. Carve out space for you to tend to YOU, and make that time sacrosanct. Be a little bit selfish; you’re worth it. Small steps add up to bigger ones. Taking even 5 minutes to meditate or commune with Nature or whatever your Thing is and making it part of your daily routine – even to the point of helping your children and family to understand that this is ‘Mommy Time’ and to respect it lays the groundwork for you to take bigger self-care steps in the future.

So tell me, what does ‘being kind to yourself’ look like for you?

Warmly,
~h


Thoughts on “I can’t Homeschool”

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Basically, yes, you can.

Ultimately, that’s the end result of my thoughts on ‘I can’t homeschool because…’. Whatever your objection, it can be overcome if the need is there. When it comes down to it, most of us homeschool because it is what’s right for our kids at the time. Or maybe what we were doing with/for them wasn’t working and we needed a change, and homeschooling is a step towards an as-yet-undefined ‘something different’; but either way, it’s usually because we want something better for our kids than what they were getting before. So yes; if the need is there, you absolutely can homeschool your kid(s).

But just for funsies, I thought I’d break it down into specific objections.

THOUGHTS ON ‘PATIENCE’

‘Girl… I don’t know how you do it. I have zero patience; I’d lose my mind if I had to be cooped up with my kids all day, every day!’

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten some variation of that comment. It’s frustrating to me, because I also have zero patience, and frequently wonder if I am, in fact, losing my mind. It’s also annoying to me, and probably to other homeschooling parents as well, because it implies that we have some kind of handle on things that other people don’t – and that assumption/implication is SO FAR from the truth that I just #literallycanteven.

I am not a patient person. I am, in fact, the living embodiment of Impatience. I am easily frustrated and frequently have to take ‘mommy time outs’ for all of our sanity. Having no patience is not a ‘reason’ that homeschooling can’t work for you. Knowing your limits, getting into better touch with who you are as a person and what you need, and incorporating that into your week is key. I say ‘week’, because ‘day’ isn’t always possible. Balance over the course of a week is much easier to gauge and maintain than it is to try to balance every day, and most of us can take a couple of hard days (even in a row) as long as we get some down time after that. Same in homeschooling.

Personally, I need time away from my family quite frequently. Even my Loverly Husband, whom I’ve dedicated my life to, bugs the crap out of me if we’re forced to spend too much time together – that’s human nature, and children are the very embodiment of ‘human’: selfish, compassionate, irritating, kind, argumentative, adorable littles copies of the person I see in the mirror every morning. I love them so much I could squish them into itty-bitty pieces and put them in my pockets… but they make me insane and I just need to escape them, and that’s okay. Headphones are a staple in our homeschooling day – for me, and for the boys. Headphones let us all be absorbed in the work we’re doing without distraction. It gives us ‘privacy’ in the presence of the others in the room. The kids have the entire house to school in; they don’t need to be under my feet to get their work done. They check in with me when they need help, or we work together if we’re covering new territory.

I also take needed ‘me’ time – writing group on Monday evenings, Mom’s Night Out and/or Brunch once a month or so with my friends, and even a lunch date most weeks. Involvement with our homeschool group is another way I pepper my day with conversation from other adults – both online and at weekly events. I volunteer/work, so I also have obligations that get me out of the house that aren’t related to my kids; so that helps, too. Which leads me to another objection:

THOUGHTS ON ‘I CAN’T BECAUSE I WORK’

I get it. Working a full-time job (or even a part-time job) makes homeschooling a little more difficult, especially with littles.  Working parents often feel like the task of homeschooling seems impossible or impractical for their family. If that’s how you feel, then you might be right for your particular situation. But it may surprise you to know that a lot of parents who homeschool also have 8-5 jobs outside the home. Most would say that it’s not the ideal scenario, but it’s far from impossible, even if both parents work.

If you want to homeschool, or need to homeschool for your kids’ sake, there are strategies that you can employ to make it work. Flex-schooling is one. Basically, flex-schooling is school that isn’t done in the traditional ‘school day’ hours. Evenings, weekends, holidays – that’s where a lot of school gets done. Depending on your childcare situation, you can send work with them to be accomplished during the day and review it with them in the evenings. If the kids are older, then some combination of that might work. Organization and planning are key when your time is limited. Better organization and better planning means that your time with the kids is well spent. Talking with your kids about what to expect and what is expected of them is also key. If they’re older, then they might need to step their game up a bit and be able to work independently or help younger siblings with their work.

Another alternative is to drop to one income. For many families, this isn’t feasible, but for some it will be. Do the math – many find that whoever brings in the lesser income if often only paying for the things necessary to maintain the second parent’s job – a second car/insurance/gas, childcare and food expenses. Eliminating those expenses often means that one parents can stay home, making homeschooling a more viable/less stressful option.

We’ve done various combinations of these things. We have only one income, and one car. I work, but it’s on a volunteer basis even though it’s a ‘real job’. Flexible school days and hours work well for us; even into weekends and the wee hours of the night, since I am not a ‘morning person’. My kids get their work for the week on Mondays, and turn it all in on Fridays (ideally). It doesn’t always happen like clockwork, but that’s the plan, anyway. We’ve tried other things, and will try new things in the future, I’m sure. We make it work!

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T MATH’ OR OTHER PERCEIVED PARENTAL EDUCATIONAL DEFICIENCIES

Basically, if you have a high school education, then you are well qualified to tackle homeschooling K-8th. Some might extend that through high school; I say at least through 8th grade. That’s where all your basics are – reading, writing, and arithmetic, and we all do those things every day. So we don’t all have training on how to teach a 6 year old how to read – that’s okay, because we have THE INTERNET, with literally all of the knowledge of mankind at our very fingertips, including myriad videos posted by school teachers with strategies they use in their classrooms that you can adapt for use with your child.

Every homeschooling parent (and honestly, everyone who wants to know something, period) I know uses YouTube as their go-to resource for learning how to do a thing. From learning Klingon or Elvish to diagramming sentences to building a primitive shelter from mud and bamboo to explaining string theory…. it’s all there. Just because you are their ‘teacher’ doesn’t mean that YOU have to do all the teaching. Combine internet resources with the knowledge and skills and abilities of other homeschooling parents in your area, and you may be able to establish a cooperative learning group where each parent teaches to their strengths.

Last but not least, there are guided textbooks and curriculum. If you can read it, you can teach it. With ‘say this’ guides to just plain reading and learning along with your child – just because you don’t know a thing doesn’t mean that you can’t facilitate your child learning how to do it.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T HAVE SPACE’

If you have a kitchen table (or even a TV tray), and a bookshelf, then you have space to homeschool; and besides – who said homeschool has to take place ‘at home’. It can be ‘yard-schooling’, ‘car-schooling’, ”grandma’s house-schooling’, ‘park-schooling’, ‘library-schooling’ – wherever you are, your kid can learn. Yes, it’s nice to have 15 acres of property and an old barn that’s been converted into your own personal little school house, but if space is your limiting factor, then you need to think outside the 4 walls of your hacienda.

Honestly, we don’t even ‘school’ at the table or desks even though we have a ‘school room’. Mostly, it’s sprawled on the bed, or couch or in the car on the go, or in the yard when it’s nice out.

THOUGHTS ON ‘I DON’T WANT MY KIDS TO BE WEIRD’

NEWSFLASH: Your kids are already weird.

Next!

Srsly though… yes, there are some people who are isolated and lack social skills. But you’ll find those people in public schools, too. That’s often more of a personality issue than an issue of where/how they were educated. Most homeschoolers are active in extra-curricular activities (sports, dance, martial arts), local community service activities, volunteering, and participating in classes offered during the day when most kids are stuck in school. Because homeschooled students are often interacting with the people in their communities, they’re not shy about walking up and striking a conversation with people of all ages. I don’t usually see the kind of uncomfortableness around the elderly, or scorn for younger kids among most homeschooled students that I know. High schoolers play with 5th graders and they’ll all talk with the janitor about his job and offer to help the lady put her bags in her car from the grocery store. Maybe they are weird – but this is the kind of weird I am totally okay with.

Socialization is always a ‘hot-button’ topic, but the rule comes down to this: If you don’t want your kids to be isolated hermits, then don’t BE an isolated hermit.

THOUGHTS ON ‘COLLEGE’

Did you know that colleges actively recruit homeschooled students? We’ve been doing this for 6 years now, and now that LBB is about to start high school, I have been getting emails from colleges all over the US, and even a couple in Germany who want my kids to enroll with them for dual credit courses. Many of them give preference to high school graduates who have gone through their programs when it comes to college admissions. Why? Because homeschooled students generally are interested in learning. They’re self-starters; motivated; driven; goal-oriented. Not every student, but the majority are. They’re not burned out on classroom activities; for many it’s a totally new experience. Because they’re used to working independently, they don’t have issues with getting their assignments done, and are more likely to actually read the material assigned and engage with the professor. Don’t take my word for it: Penelope Trunk,  Online College, Stanford Alumni, Alpha Omega, Tech Insider, MIT Admissions… the list goes on.

CONCLUSION

 

Here’s the deal – we all do what we think is best for our kids, within the abilities we have and what circumstances allow. All of us, which includes you and me and the neighbor down the street. My situation is different from yours, and the neighbor’s situation is probably vastly different from either of ours… and we’re all just doing the best we can. The choice to homeschool everything to do what what you think is best for your kids/family at this time and within what your current circumstances allow. I say ‘at this time’ because I know a great many homeschoolers who either went into homeschooling with the plan to put their kids back in a brick-and-mortar school at some point, or whose kids eventually decided that they’d like to return to school (or try it out if they’ve never been). I know others who have had to make some shifts in their family dynamic and plans due to circumstances beyond their control, and others who gave it a try and found that it wasn’t a thing they wanted to do… and all of that is both fine and totally normal, and completely within the norm of ‘homeschooling culture’, because it’s not ‘about’ homeschooling – it’s about doing the best you can, in any given moment, for your children and family as circumstances allow.

Homeschooling isn’t ‘for’ everyone. It’s not possible for everyone, or even desirable. But if you want to do it, then there’s very likely a way to make it happen. Don’t let the ‘I can’ts because…’ stop you!

Warmly,
~h


March Into Spring 2016

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Spring has well and truly sprung in our little corner of Texas. It’s warm; the trees are blooming (which means pollen absolutely everywhere) and I’m sneezing my head off. Good times! Despite the respiratory distress, the weather has been incredible. We don’t get many days that make you savor being outside, so when they come, we try to take full advantage. This month has been no exception to that goal.

We wrapped up February with a trip out to the Big Thicket. That’s a pretty big place, if you’re not familiar with it. The Big Thicket National Preserve covers over a hundred thousand acres, and features nine different ecosystems, making it one of the most diverse national parks in the US. Currently, they’re on a mission to restore some of the native flora to the forests, and one of the big projects they’re working on is Centennial Forest. The long-leaf pine is a slow-growing pine tree that once dominated the Big Thicket, and forests from Texas all the way to Virginia. Over the years, the logging industry has decimated the population on long-leaf pines. The effects on the forests here have been interesting. Something I’ve always noticed is that in SETX, we don’t really have ‘forests’ – we have ‘woods’ – densely packed trees, with tons of underbrush – you can’t just wander through the woods like you see people do through forests in the movies. I always wondered why that is, and one of the park rangers explained it in a way I’d never heard.

Basically, when the old growth is cut down, it allows faster growing trees and shrubs room and sunlight to flourish. The addition of houses, settlements and roads has also changed the way that natural fires helped clear the forest floor, and let slower-growing trees mature properly. Once those slow-growers matured, the canopy they create prevents the underbrush from choking out the forest. By using controlled burns, herbicides and volunteers to come in and plant long leaf pines and other slow-growing native trees, they’re helping to restore what will eventually become a more balanced natural forest here. I won’t live to see it, but my grandchildren and great-grandchildren might. It’s neat to think that we will have had a hand in that.

Our homeschool group went out with 19 people (kids and adults), and joined a group of Park Rangers and other volunteers to plant 800 trees. Afterwards, we had lunch, then went for a short hike through an area of the forest where they are testing different methods of underbrush control, from fire clearing, to herbicides and clear-cutting. It was interesting to see how much work and actual science is involved in the restoration process.

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We collect badges and patches from all over the place, and we got a special one for participating in the Centennial Forest replanting effort:
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One of the things we look forward to each year is Texas Independence Day. I know other states don’t take the whole ‘state pride’ thing to the level that Texans do, and it’s funny to hear about it from non-natives; when you’re born here, it’s just a thing you do, I guess. Because we live so close, we usually head out to La Porte to visit the San Jacinto Monument, which stands on the battleground where the Texas Army fought General Santa Anna and won the battle for Texas Independence. It’s interesting to hear the story every year – I always pick up new details (even though I’ve heard the story many times).

After the monument, we lunch at the park grounds in front of Battleship TEXAS, which is where the Texas Army encampment is memorialized. There are stone markers all over the battlegrounds, with key positions or events marked. One day, we’ll get around to attending a re-enactment of the battle.

The Battleship wasn’t part of the fight for independence; rather, it is retired from service after both World Wars. Since it’s on the grounds though, that makes it a logical second half of the day’s trip. The kids always get a blast out of messing with the ship’s guns – they’re massive, and surprisingly easy to maneuver. The gears and cranks are all exposed, so it makes the physics of movement a highlight of the conversation. After climbing the insanely steep ladders and steps to get to the higher decks, we went below, and below, and below – they’ve opened up several of the lower decks since we were here last time, so we got to see a lot of the engines and piping down in the belly of the ship that we’d never seen before. There are some really tight spaces – I don’t think I’d like to actually be a sailor if I had to be down there all the time.

 

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In other news, LBB got glasses! Since both Loverly Husband and I both wear them (and have for basically ever), it was surprising to me that neither of the boys needed them. He’s been complaining about things being blurry for a few weeks though, so we got him checked out and sure enough, he’s joining the club. PeaGreen decided to make a drastic change to his look, too, with bleaching and dyeing his hair. The bleaching process was pretty dramatic, but once we dyed it (purple), it’s pretty subtle until he goes in the sun; then it’s really bright!

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We’re wrapping up this week with our homeschool group’s Teen Social, which we affectionately called, ‘Mix Tape and Chill’. We had each of the kids send in a list of 5 songs, and one of the moms made a playlist on YouTube to play during the event. She made a list of all the songs, and gave a paper to each of the kids so they could guess which kid picked which songs. They competed for a GameStop gift card. Both my boys opted out of the contest; I have no idea why – that’s one of their favorite stores. Kids?

The theme for the day was ‘games people play’, and they spent the afternoon doing just that, from video games, to ‘lines and blobs‘, to the pantyhose bowling game, and wrapping up with LARP style sword-fighting, which ended up paving the way to planning a LARP-based homeschool PE discussion in our group’s discussion list for later this month.

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How’s your spring going?
Warmly,
~h


Attachment Parenting Tweens and Teens

ap tweens and teensPlease tell me that I am not the only one who has a child (two of them) who can go from perfectly happy and satisfied in every way, to profoundly miserable in 60 seconds flat! Since the boys have gotten older, we’ve been dealing a lot with the confusion of rapid mood swings while simultaneously trying to ‘use my tools’ to pinpoint the catalyst and resolve the issue – which is nearly impossible when you’re blindsided with it out of the blue.

When they were little, it was easier, I think.  I was used to thinking ahead – planning for meals, knowing that teething and asymptomatic/un-diagnosed illnesses might be suspect. As they get older, I think I’ve been taking it for granted that they can communicate well, and figuring that since they have a pretty wide range of vocabulary at their disposal, they will be able to articulate what they need.

Oh, silly Mommy.

I can’t verbalize my feelings half the time, and I have a hard time expressing what I need from someone. I guess I thought that this was a nature vs. nurture thing and was putting a lot of stock in ‘nurture’ and not enough understanding of ‘nature’. There are times when we’re in the middle of one of those ‘moments’ and I can’t help but laugh in sympathy – it’s like talking to myself. In any case, for a while there, we got into really good patterns of communication. Things were going to be smooth sailing from here on out, right?

But then come the hormones… and they throw everything out of whack. In a way, it’s like they’re pre-verbal again; they don’t have the vocabulary to articulate what they’re feeling, or the experience to recognize why they’re feeling like they are. And, of course, no one understands. I get frustrated with that claim, but honestly, even though I have been through it and have an inkling of the feelings of disconnection that those pre-teen years can bring, my own angsty teenage years are so long ago now that I don’t really remember how it felt to be right in the middle of it (except for the huge book of horrible, horrible poetry. I do have that embarrassing reminder).

So how to you cope with those moments where you’re running through your mental list of ‘fix-its’ and nothing is working?

Maybe it’s time to update your list. I’ve found that the best way to do that is to go back to basics. There are plenty of articles out there that cover the basics, both the tenets of attachment parenting, and reminders to do a mental run-down of what factors could be influencing a child’s behavior, such as hunger, over-tiredness, personal attention, physical activity, better nutrition – are they just plain bored? – that sort of thing. You’ve also got your unseen factors – pain, stress, on-coming illness – things that maybe even the child is unaware of.

But most AP articles have the same problem – they’re directed towards parents with babies and toddlers. As my kids have gotten older, it’s been increasingly hard to find AP style parenting advice for dealing with older kids. You might think that’s because by the time our kids get older, we’re got this whole parenting thing figured out – let me assure you that is absolutely not true… or maybe I just missed the handouts that day. In either case, here’s what I’ve learned, handing my own tweens & teens: all of those factors, from food to rest and possibility of illness and stress still matter. But it doesn’t end there, because tweens and teens are dealing with the hormones of puberty, and trying to figure out who they are, the world and how they fit into it.

So the question becomes, ‘how does AP translate to tweens and teens’? I found it helpful to re-frame the basic tenets of attachment parenting to fit our changing needs.

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  1. Prepare: When my kids were little, I would see these moms at playdates with the kinds of relationships I wanted with my kids. I talked with them, got book recommendations and asked questions. It’s no different now that my kids are older. I have ‘mommy mentors’ that I can talk with and bounce ideas off of, and get recommendations from that make this whole thing seem less daunting.
  2. Feed with Love and Respect: this is a basic tenet of AP, but I feel like it’s an important one. In January, we seriously cut out/down on processed foods and cut out almost all sugar. It’s been a really good thing for my family, and I am slowly seeing results, healthwise, in all of us. It’s about helping them see and feel the connection between what they put into their bodies and how they feel. Feeding with love and respect extends also to teaching the children to plan meals, go shopping and cooking. It’s not just about health, but simply sitting at the dinner table every night to re-convene as a family is a ritual that’s important to us.
  3. Respond with Sensitivity/Communicate Love: this is another one that I feel like translated very well to the older child. Just as it was hard when they were pre-verbal, if they can’t articulate their feelings or needs now, it’s my job to help them find the words or other means of communication to get their point across.  We use ‘love notes’ journals – a notebook that’s passed back and forth between me and each kiddo that we’ve been using for a long time. It’s a memento, and also an excellent communication tool when talking is just too much. Communication also means talking with them… family is a two-way street, so getting their input is important. I don’t have it all figured out, and they’re intelligent! They’ve often come up with ideas or alternatives that end up working very well.
  4. Positive Discipline: One of my favorite recent articles is from MindBodyGreen, called ‘How I Raised Teenagers Who Tell Me Everything Even When it’s Hard‘. One of the points that she makes that really stood out to me is that discipline at this age isn’t about control or even re-direction – it’s about communication. At this point, I feel like we’ve laid a good foundation; now it’s mostly refining and helping to build critical thinking skills. It’s easy to get frustrated or angry when they make (seemingly stupid) mistakes, but I know first-hand the damage that anger can do to trust; I don’t want that with my kids. My goal is to keep the lines of communication open; that can’t happen if their first thought is how they’ll be punished. She sums it up with 5 steps:

    Allow your children to have separate thoughts and values.

    Be curious.

    Get a life of your own.

    Deal with your own history and trauma.

    Learn to listen actively.

  5. Ensure Safe Space/Consistent and Loving Care: this kind of goes along with the above point, but also stands on its own. I have always felt that ‘home’ should be the touchstone for exploration. No mater where they go in the world, ‘home’ will always be here, me and their dad o matter where we live, ready to welcome them. That extends to helping them gain their independence, and also as a matter of having their own space and privacy within our home. Our home is/We are a safe space where they’re trusted, they’re believed, they’re heard.
  6. Use Nurturing Touch: I am not a ‘touchy feely’ person; when my kids were little and especially when they were breastfeeding, being ‘touched out’ was a constant complaint of mine. And yet I have a child whose primary Love Language is touch. I also found it to be an odd thing when my children no longer ‘feel’ like kids to me – they’re bigger than Loverly Husband at this point – the size of grown men! So making sure that there are plenty of hugs and ‘nurturing touch’ is an important element to their development. Finding the right balance here has proven more difficult than I had anticipated, making communication a big thing in this aspect as well – making my needs known, and listening to theirs is key in finding the right way to meet those needs.
  7. Balance/Focus on Simple Pleasures: I thrive on being ‘busy’. I love the constant buzz of activity. But I also need plenty of down time. So do my kids – maybe even more-so, since they’re still finding their place in the world. Taking time to spend one-on-one time with each of my boys individually has become a high priority in the last few years. Soon enough, they’ll be off to college or perusing their own dreams and plans, and I’ll miss having them underfoot.

So there you have it…. my updated take on AP as your babies get older. It’s not perfect; it will be interesting to see what changes are necessary in the coming years. If there’s one thing parenting isn’t, it’s ‘stagnant’!
What would you add?

Warmly,
~h


The Value in Superheroes

superheroesI actually started this post a while back, but it got lost in the drafts folder as I moved on to other things to write about. With the soon-to-be-released Deadpool movie, and the rise in popularity of other superhero movies targeted at grown-ups over the last couple of years, the topic of ‘superheroes’ and their appropriateness and value have again resurfaced, so I thought I’d revive it.

When I started writing it, Batman (The Dark Knight Rises) and Brave were just hitting theaters, and I came across a question in a homeschool forum or discussion list about the content and opinions re: ‘would/did you take your kids to see it’. I commented that we had taken PeaGreen and some of his friends to see Brave, all boys, all older than him (ranging from 9 to 11), and that all the boys gave it a big thumbs way up. The discussion on-list was awesome – not ‘judgy’, but informative, for both films; ‘XYZ is what is in the movie; it may disturb sensitive or younger viewers’, and with links to one of the sites that gives factual info about movies, like Kids-in-Mind.com. I thought I was doing OK. I presented my opinion and moved on, thinking nothing of it. Then I got a reply-to comment with ‘FACEPALM’ in all caps, and was confused. I am not sure what that meant, but it felt like disapproval. I couldn’t tell if it was disapproval for taking my boys to see what they thought was an inappropriate movie, or for taking my ‘boys’ to see a ‘girls’ movie… either way, it rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t care if you agree or disagree with my views; just because something is not okay for your family doesn’t mean that we have to go by the same ‘rules’.

That same evening, Loverly Husband and I took our boys to see Batman. I admit, after reading some of the comments, I was a little iffy; I briefly considered talking to LH about leaving the kids and bringing them to see something else later on, but ultimately decided that it was something we could live with and took them anyway. Later, I was thinking about it, and some points came to mind, so I thought I’d share.

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Superhero violence vs. real-world violence:

One of the main objections, oddly for both movies (Brave and Batman) was violence. I’ve read that as a culture, Americans are less ‘sensitive’ to violence than other cultures. I don’t know how true that is, but maybe there’s some validity to that. I do know that however ‘violent’, nothing in that movie was real. I also feel like, for the most part, movie violence serves a purpose. It’s part of the villain’s agenda; a step towards his ultimate goal. It’s never random, or just for funsies. This applies to most of the other ‘superhero’ movies as well. My kids know the difference between fantasy and reality. In fantasy, the bad guys do bad things, but eventually, the good guys always win. Even if it’s through multiple books, comics or movies, good always triumphs in the end. Contrast that with the real world: Good tried really hard, but the reality is that lots of criminals get away with their crimes. Lots of victimized families never get justice, and sometimes, even when we know that the accused is guilty, s/he gets off on a technicality. And not all crime or violence in the real world is ‘for’ something – it’s just random.

Do superhero films glorify violence? While it certainly makes the movie more interesting, glorify? No; I don’t think so. Even with the violence that is prevalent in the superhero genre, I think there is value in reinforcing the idea that ‘good triumphs over evil’… even if it isn’t always possible in real life. The starkness of the contrast between ‘fictional’ evil and real-world evil is evident in the news on a weekly basis. We’ve been watching CNN Student News as part of our curriculum for several years now, and even with the sanitized version of the news presented to children, there’s still a lot of really bad stuff covered – because that’s REALLY what’s happening in the world. Superheroes offer hope for the future – the idea that one person can, indeed, make a difference in the society they live in. Idealised? Sure – why take away the ideal?

Strong female lead characters:

Take Catwoman for example. In both the 1992 and 2012 version (I am totally not counting the Halle Berry version since that wasn’t really a superhero flick), Selina Kyle is/becomes a bad-ass woman who is not to be trifled with. She even saves Batman’s hide in a couple of scenes. She’s not the ideal version of a white-hat, but she isn’t a totally bad guy either, which is closer to how real villains are anyway. No real person, whether current or historical ‘public enemy No. 1’ is every a total bad guy. Even Hitler was an actual, real person with virtues as well as faults, and when we demonize ‘villains’ we forget that they’re real people. When I originally wrote this, Catwoman was on my mind simply because I’d seen her most recently, but now there are so many other strong female superheroes: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Jean Grey, even modern fiction and Disney are getting on board the Lady Train with Brave and Frozen, Rey in Star Wars, Katniss in the Hunger Games and Tris in the Divergent novels. Granted, there’s still a ways to go before female superheroes and main characters get the recognition they’re due, but we’re (mostly) headed in the right direction and having females in positions of power and able to ‘save’ themselves and others without aid from a man is vital to the equality discussion.

Our real life ‘strong female leads’ are there, but they’re not nearly as visible or accessible as male leaders, and they only make up a fraction of the total population of leaders. It’s only in recent years that strong females have been seen as marketable, and therefore ‘allowed’ to be cast as the hero. Take the Jessica Jones TV series, for example (no, my kids haven’t been allowed to watch it). I loved it for one simple reason: men were presented in many ways like women are usually presented in television and movies – as accessories. I would love to see other film an television producers move in that direction. Seeing women as whole people and not merely as add-ons to whatever a man has going on would be just lovely.

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The truth is that we teach our kids about violence from the cradle. ‘Rock-A-Bye, Baby’ features a cradle in the treetops, falling with the baby inside (presumably to its death). ‘The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe’ beat her children soundly and sent them to bed hungry. ‘Ring Around the Rosy’ (if popular myth is to be believed) is a song about falling down dead from the Black Plague. Jack Sprat imprisoned his obese wife inside a gourd (though we’re assured that he kept her ‘very well’). Beloved children’s poet, Shel Siverstein teaches children that there’s a monster inside their nose who will bite off their finger if they stick it in too far or too much, and that it’s okay to sell your parents and order new ones. All of those stories and songs and nursery rhymes have one thing in common with modern day tales: fiction. Fiction, and hopefully parents who are there to help them make sense of the fantastical and separate it from reality.

So… maybe we’ll take our kids to see Deadpool, and maybe we won’t. Probably not. Yet.

Warmly,
~h