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

Parenting

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


Co-op and Field Trips and Fall, oh my!

co-opfieldtrip-fallsept2016I know I always say this, but holy Toledo – I cannot believe how quickly this month has passed! We’re officially into #allthethings now, and somehow that makes time pass even faster. On the one hand, I guess it’s good that we’ve been busy living life, but blogging helps me focus on the positive and awesome stuff that happened, so I have missed not posting regularly. I see a lot of bloggers get accused of glossing over the bad stuff, and that’s fair. I tend to focus on the positive because I am prone to depression and having a place to ‘store’ the memory of what we’ve been doing fixes that in my mind instead of all the other, stressful and negative stuff that’s been going on. So if that’s been something you’ve wondered about, please know that it’s not that it’s not my intent to misrepresent what my life looks like, but more that I want to keep my brain occupied with things that make me happy, which at this point is still pretty focused on the kids and homeschooling and all the associated business of being a mom.

In the interests of ‘keeping it real’, the past month has been filled with stress related to my aging and infirm grandmother and parents (all of whom live next door to me); anxiety over work and finances and the direction of my career; existential anxiety over realizing that with the progression to ‘high school’, my days and identity as a ‘homeschooling mom’ are coming to an end in a mere 4 or 5 years, with the associated “what does that mean? What do I do? Who am I, if not that?” types of thought processes; frustration over getting the kids to do their freaking work and all the worry that goes with ‘am I doing enough to prepare them for the real world and life as an adult?’; and a host of other things, many of which involve negative thought-spirals that I’d rather not dwell on. Despite those issues, life moves on, and now that we’re (mostly) fully settled into this school year, I can breathe a bit and play a bit of catch-up here to remind myself that in between pockets of ‘bad’ are a hell of a lot of ‘good’.

The biggest new thing we were anticipating was the start of our homeschool group’s high school cooperative group. We’re now 4 weeks in, and it’s *so amazing*.  Classes for this semester are: Life Skills, (which covers practical math skills like paying bills, balancing a bank account, planning for large purchases and managing credit, in addition to finding an apartment, buying a car, and things like that). Debate (Lincoln Douglas, which I freely admit I know nothing about and am thrilled to have someone offer this to my kids); Literature (Shakespeare; Romeo & Juliet and something else I haven’t decided yet, because I am teaching this one); and, of course, Orchestra. The boys are both playing violin, and I am playing cello. We have 10 students and 4 parents taking lessons along with the kids. Never too old to start a new hobby, right? The spring semester will have a couple of different classes, including a mental health for teen course that I am very excited about.

Overall, I am super happy with how co-op is organized and how things are progressing this time. The co-op we were part of last time had a wider age range of kids, and it was chaotic and stressful. Though this is tiring, it’s not ‘stressful’ in that way. I am really enjoying this smaller age group, and that it’s teens in particular. We’ve made a couple of changes to our original plan and moved some things around, but I really couldn’t ask for it to be better. The kids all seem to mesh well, and the class is small enough to feel intimate, but large enough for them to bounce idea off of each other and appreciate their classmate’s insights. Though it’s not ‘competitive’ in the way of classroom education, they do bring out the best in each other, and that healthy competition is really nice to see emerging.
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For everyone freaking out over posture and form, worry not – we’ve since moved to proper seating and standing for the violins. These pictures were from our first day when everyone was just getting acquainted with their instruments. We’ve also moved to a different room, with cellos seated in front and violins and viola standing in the back. We’ve progressed from pizzicato to bowing now, and about a third of the class has moved up from ‘baby bow’ to ‘teen bow’ as of today. We still sound like cats dying when we play, but there’s definite progress! Exciting!

In addition to music instruction during co-op, their music teacher also offers a bumper lesson every Monday (see? Standing!). Currently, they’re practicing with a rolled up tee shirt under their arm and a shoulder rest to correct posture and hold. It’s been a long time since I took any sort of music lessons, but it’s amazing how quickly things come back, and how important PRACTICE is. When I was in school, I was a lackadaisical student – practice was definitely not a priority (but I also had band every school day, so many it balances out?)…  however, because we’re only getting actual instruction time twice a week, an hour-long practice is part of the daily school plan, which means that I can actually see their improvement from week to week. cam04653

Our homeschool group hosts a public speaking class every 6 weeks. We started doing this last school year, and this year, we changed the format a bit so that it’s less ‘presentation only’ and more actual development and skill in presenting. During our most recent class, we focused on developing and delivering a persuasive speech, and the kids had to use an outline and note cards to help with delivery. They did fairly well, but there was a lot of room for improvement, so our next class will stay on persuasive speeches, but focus on Presidential candidates’ speeches and their considerable powers of persuasion. It’s been interesting listening to the kids talk with each other, especially after the Presidential Debates the other night – I never thought my kids would engage in thoughtful political dialogue, but I am both glad they are, and proud that they can do so somewhat intelligently. How this will translate to their speech class presentation remains to be seen, but at least they’re not as blind to the world as I was at their age.

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I have no idea what this face is about…

 

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we call this the ‘anime grin’

We’re also still participating in our homeschool group’s Art Guild, which is based on the book Discovering Great Artists. We meet every 6 weeks, and both learn about an artist and create a work of our own in that style. This month was Georgia O’Keefe in watercolor. For those of you inexperienced at watercolor, let me just say that it’s a hard thing to master, especially with 15 kids in the room! They made a valiant attempt, but we may need to refine our technique a bit more.
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Another addition to our schedule this year has been an Aquatic Science class, taught by one of the moms in our group who is a former science teacher. She’s using a really cool project-based approach which is giving the kids a lot of hands-on exposure that I am just in love with. This is the kids of thing that I have wanted to do as a homeschooling mom and always seemed to fall short of it. Their teacher is amazingly patient, and keeps them focused during class time and sends them home with follow-up work. This was from a couple of weeks ago – they were using an orange to map a globe, continent and island, and transfer the ‘globe’ onto a flat surface. Last week, they worked on land-forms, and made a contour map from construction paper and an elevation map from cardboard stacked and painted. We’ve been having classes every week, and in tomorrow’s class they’ll be using their models to work on ‘sounding’ the ocean floor.

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With all of these additional classes and clubs, we’ve had to put actual field trips on the back burner this year! Our most recent was this week’s trip to Galveston to Seawolf Park. They have a battleship and a submarine open to tour, so we spent the afternoon on a lovely day trip. Ferry rides are always the highlight of our trip; there are dolphins in the bay and fat seagulls that follow the ferry looking for food offered by the passengers. You can see Seawolf from the ferry and it looks like it’s fairly close by, but it’s a 20 minute drive that I wasn’t expecting. Hurricane Ike destroyed the building that used to be the park’s eye-catching landmark; it’s still there, but disconnected from patrons by a huge fence. Apparently, there’s a proposal for renovation of the park, but it’s not underway yet. In any case, we still had a good time. LBB is somewhat afraid of heights, so he and I spent the majority of the time working on getting over that (without success this time), which was at times funny and others frustrating, for both of us. Afterwards, we spent the latter part of the evening on Crystal Beach, soaking up some sun before heading home (to practice our instruments, of course).

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In other news, FALL IS HERE – finally! The weather is forecasting 60’s most mornings this week and I am over the moon about it. We left for co-op this morning and it was cooler outside than it was inside (with the AC on). I am so beyond ready for sweaters and boots! Speaking of ‘favorite things’, we have gotten some awesome mail this week – our PhysicsQuest science kit, and the kids’ homeschool yearbooks arrived! This is our first experience with both of these companies, and I am thrilled with both. I’m not an affiliate; these are resources we’re actually using by choice with my very own monies. The PhysicsQuest kit (which was free), I learned about in a homeschool group. They sent a kit for each kid, with the book and most of the materials (everything except household things like water and paper) to work through the problems presented in the story (comic book). We haven’t started on it yet, so I’ll get around to updating that when we do.2016-09-26_10-10-12

The yearbooks are from Picaboo, and I am ENTIRELY pleased with. If you’re in the market for either a personal yearbook for your kids’ school year, or an option that works for your homeschool group, I HIGHLY recommend Picaboo. The quality and options for the price are incredible. After some tinkering to figure out their site, it’s super user-friendly to create the books, and the free customization option is really cool. My boys both got  their names and pictures on the back/flip cover, with pictures of ‘just them’ in the flip section, in addition to the main book. I am really considering creating a book to cover our entire homeschool journey as part of the boys’ graduation gifts. We’re still a few years away from having to think about that, but wouldn’t that be something?
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To sum up… we’re busier than ever this year. With just math, music and literature, the boys have a minimum of 3 hours of school work per day, not including the rest of their subjects. With clubs, lessons and classes, plus co-op, their time and mine are extremely limited this year. I enjoy being busy for sure, but I am maxed out by the end of the week. To combat that, I’m focused on self-care in a big way. Music practice is part of that for me – learning something new that has to potential for creative expression in such a beautiful way is extremely satisfying. I recently went to a weekend retreat with some very close friends, and spent a lot of time just focusing on my connection to life and nature and it was glorious. I have another retreat in a couple of weeks, and I am so looking forward to it as well. At home, I am nurturing my creativity with art. I always forget how much I need art in my life when I get stressed out. Our homeschool group is hosting a ‘mom’s night in’ every month, and this month, we decided to do a paint-along with The Art Sherpa on Youtube. We did the dragonflies with the Kevin modification, and it was so much fun! I also created my own version of Paint with Jane’s ‘A Walk in the Rain‘ that I am pretty happy with. I didn’t know that painting along with someone was a thing, but I am making it part of my routine now that I do!

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This one lives in my bathroom now.

 

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This is a pretty long post, so if you stuck with me through to the end, thanks for reading! My plan is to get back into updating weekly, so hopefully there won’t be so much to cover at once. So now that we’re all caught up on me, how about you – how’s your year going so far? Doing anything new?

Happy Fall, y’all!
~h

Weekly Wrap-Up

 


June Update

juneThe last week has been a hard one for our family. My Loverly Husband’s grandmother passed away the day before Memorial Day, which pretty much brought our world to a stand-still over the last couple of weeks. Like many deaths, this was both expected, and sudden. She had been on hospice care for the last few months, but her decline went from gradual over the last year or so to a very sudden couple of days, and then she was gone.

This is, in many ways, new territory for my kids, and has been difficult to navigate as a parent, and even more difficult to navigate as a wife. She was the matriarch of my husband’s family, and the touchstone for all of his extended family on weekends and at holidays. I have no idea what the holiday season will look like this year without her there for the family to flock around.

The kids are adjusting well, for the most part. We like to stay busy, so this week has seen a return to relative normalcy, though I know they are still grieving. We’re taking it easy, but back to school again. We finished up our ‘school year’ work and started our ‘summer work’ this week. If you’re a new reader here, welcome! We school all year through rather than the traditional 9-months of school with summers off. Our schedule runs from January-November, with 6 weeks of school, followed by a one-week break. Even though we don’t follow a traditional schedule, the boys still fall into their proper grades (more or less; for convenience sake) beginning in the fall and ending in May. That means that LBB will start high school in the fall – eek! Stay tuned for a post soon about planning for high school and the associated stresses and headaches and anxiety that causes me. Our summer program is lighter than ‘school year’ work, partly because there’s more to do during the summer, and partly because I use summers to let them focus on strengthening whatever is weakest. This summer is all about math and spelling wound in and around trips to the beach, visiting friends who are out for the summer, birthday parties, summer reading club at our library and other goings-on.

The last few weeks have been pretty low-key. We’ve been home a lot, just sort of ‘nesting’ as a family, so this will be a shorter update on what we’ve done. This week has been the first time we’ve really gotten back into our regularly scheduled activities; today we met with our homeschool group’s yearbook committee, then the kids went to a friend’s house to swim – nothing fancy, which is a nice way to ease back into our normally packed routine.

I love this picture, because it shows the integration across ages that’s so great in our group, from pre-school through high school, they all hang out together. In this case, they got out the giant chess set and had a very intense round of games.

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Hope your summer is off to a smooth start!
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