Category Archives: homeschool

If I’d Only Known Then: Some Thoughts on Flexibility

You’ve heard this before right?
“If only I’d known then what I know now. I would do so many things differently.”
 
And if you are anything like me you may have smiled politely while thinking to yourself, “I know, I know. But that doesn’t really apply to me.”
 
I’ve been homeschooling for three short years, but there is one thing I know for sure. If I could go back in time three years? I would relax. A lot.  I couldn’t imagine how swiftly time would move with my children.  How quickly my then five year old would be done with counting bears and phonics and moving on to borrowing(I will continue to call it borrowing even if Saxon insists it’s called trading) and reading chapter books.  I couldn’t imagine my fifth grader would ever reach  Challenge A. For some reason I did not anticipate him learning to draw and label the world from memory, or work out petrifying algebraic equations that force me to break out in a cold sweat. All while physically beginning to tower over me and speak to me in the voice of a grown man. It’s quite astonishing. I could go on if only my agenda today included a nervous breakdown.
 
So this is my plea to all you beautiful and tired moms of little ones. And by little, I’m talking birth to sixth grade. I adore this definition of “little” because it allows me to remain in this category.
Be flexible. 


I can hear some of you now screaming at the screen. “What does that mean?!”

 

Allow me to make a feeble attempt at adding some concreteness.
 
If you arise one morning with the desire to visit a museum, ride bikes at the park, or work on watercolor art until the sun sets? Do it.

Create memories and experiences for and with your children. I find it strangely amusing this piece of advice is the most difficult for homeschooling moms to wrap our minds around. I’m still wrapping MY mind around it. I have yet to be in conversation with a mom and felt the urge to remind her of the importance of math, reading, or language arts. We’ve got that down. It’s never perfect, but it is getting done. It may often be stressful, but it is always scheduled, and placed as the pinnacle of our homeschool days. I’m beginning to think no one would bat an eyelash if I said, “You really should do more math every day.” or “Only one hour of reading a day? That’s not nearly enough.”  I say this in jest but what I’m getting at, truly, is that any responsible mom knows these skills are important. We are all working on these subjects are we not? I think what we forget is we will never teach them everything, nor is it our job to do so. What gets lost is the ability to enjoy each other, enjoy the world our Creator gave us, and the time to fill our children’s hearts with beautiful moments.  I’m convinced when my time with them is up there will be laughter and fond memories over our camping trips and baking days, not math lessons and sentence diagramming.
I have been forced to face the urgency of this because I have now entered the world of Jr. High. And while I am convinced the program my son does is 100% fantastic, it definitely hinders our ability to be as flexible as we can be with our children in grammar school.  I’m determined however, that his every waking moment will not be filled with a school checklist.
 
For those who do have older students, here are a couple of ways I’m trying to keep the beauty of homeschool flexibility.

A trip taking us away from home for a substantial amount of time would require some re-working. While my younger kids can simply bring whatever book they are currently reading and their Classical Conversations memory work(honestly, I’d be ok with them bringing nothing but why waste hours in the car?), my oldest son will require a bit more.  We decided on any memory work he needs to keep up on during our absence. So he will be working on latin, geography, catechisms, and current literature. I won’t require him to write the science research and literature papers usually expected. He can do all of this during down time while we travel. 
If we know we have a day of hiking or a movie making date with friends coming? We plan ahead. What work does he feel comfortable doubling up on in order to allow an off day? As his mom, is there an an assignment I can postpone or eliminate so he can fully enjoy a day with friends and family? The truth of homeschooling older kids is that they CAN fall behind. They don’t have the luxury of skipping too many days or putting one subject on hold for too long. There is a pace to things. A pace my son doesn’t feel comfortable falling too far out of. 
So I am determined in this stage to give him days. To give him days and moments he can tuck into his heart and draw upon when he is weary. I pray when the drudgery comes, as it does at times, he will have these small treasures from the past and some future treasures to anticipate.
 
 


It is all a gift. These days with our children. I implore you. Take full advantage of the years when the pace is yours to set.

Are You a Life Long Learner?

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” -Albert Einstein

While I have always been a voracious reader, I have not always considered myself a life long learner. This is one of many reasons I will forever be grateful to the Lord for calling me into homeschooling. Somewhere in the prayer for guidance and the frenzy to find the topics and resources to ignite wonder in my children, my own curiosities were awakened. I’ve always had one foot (ok, more like every fiber of my being) in the realm of politics, government and American history. I never dreamt I’d find an interest in botany, latin, ancient history and much more. It is crystal clear. God created us with a desire to learn. But lets face it, I have a husband, four children, two dogs, and four chickens. I’m tired. When am I going to carve out time to “learn” anything? After much thought I think the answer is, I won’t. Oh maybe, when my kids are grown and gone and my husband retires I’ll be able to carve out hours a day to read and ponder all the ideas and information I could ever imagine. But right now? Life long learning simply has to be a way of life. A ritual I participate in daily. A habit my children see woven into each experience in our day.

It doesn’t need to look a certain way. Any parent who engages in discovering the world with their children is a life long learner. Every time I read a history or science book to my kids, I discover something new. So maybe it just looks like a normal school day. But maybe it also looks like a late night study session in latin because I want to keep up with my Jr. Higher. Sadly, I am not keeping up. And that’s ok. I know more today about latin then I did last week and next week I’ll know more that I do today. Isn’t that the point? Progress? We will never know everything but we can purpose to use the time we have graciously been given to explore, to inspect, and to wonder.

Maybe it looks like getting together with some of your favorite people to dissect a cray fish. Because if you are going to lead 8 students in a dissection, you want to know what you are doing. And possibly work out some of the heebie jeebies before the big day.

I can promise you I never in my wildest dreams thought I would know the parts of a cray fish. But I do now. I know about the cepholathorax,  abdomen, chyloped, and the swimmerets. I can even tell you whether the cray fish is male or female.  Impressive, I know. I had a blast learning about it. So in the spirit of challenging ourselves I have a few questions to ask you…
Can you find the time to read good literature? I believe beautiful language is good for the soul. To feel a small part of painful and redeeming stories. I need it just as much as my children.
Can you watch a documentary on a subject you may have previously had no interest in? After seeing the movie Everest my husband and I obsessively watched documentaries on mountain climbing. It’s never been an interest of mine, but I found it fascinating. There are documentaries on everything from clean eating to tiny houses. From mountain biking to independent farming. I may or may not be working my way through each of them. Thank you Netflix.
Can you view a lecture on line? My favorite right now are the free classes offered by Hillsdale College. You guys, these classes are free. My oldest and I are about to start the class on Winston Churchill.  Ted talks has fascinating topics. You can listen to podcasts, watch youtube, and utilize literally hundreds of other resources.
Can you do a simple science experiment with your kids or just sketch what you see in nature?
How about learning a new recipe, or reading up on one piece of art or artist? Do you have time to sit, listen to a concerto, and read a short biography on the composer?
I know we are all busy. Our days can be consumed with making snacks, completing reading and math lessons, and folding laundry. All important things that are worthy of our time. But what additional richness could we add to our lives and our children’s if we made sure we didn’t lose our wonder? Wouldn’t it be amazing to show our families there is always more to discover and observe? My goal is to ponder the things of this life while keeping my eyes and heart fixed on the next.
What are some of the ways you keep the spark lit in your learning?

Hope For Those of Us Who DO NOT Enjoy the Library

I suppose its obvious from the title I am not a huge fan of the library.  I have always had visions of my little ducklings following behind me with their personalized tote bags full of wonderful literature. Yet somehow my reality couldn’t have been more different.  Our journeys to the local library mostly consisted of the kids pleading to play the computer games which now take up a good portion of the children’s section, and finding any book displaying Barbie or a monster truck. Not my idea of life changing stories.  This lead to me trying desperately to convince them we should find better stories with better illustrations, which lead to frustration for everyone. Sounds fun, am I right?
After a long period of avoiding the library all together and relying on Amazon for all my book needs, which I assure you are many, my homeschool forced a change. We participate in Classical Conversations and my oldest was entering Challenge A. This meant he would be writing a science paper every week on a new topic and of course would need resources. Even Amazon wasn’t going to be able to keep up with this. And truthfully, I don’t want to buy books about algae and clouds. So back to the library I go.

One huge change solved my dilemma. I began going to the library alone. ALONE. I began making my library trips in the evening or on weekends when my husband was home. I had two missions on these solo trips. One, to find (or try to find) great books for read aloud time. Two, find resources for my son’s reports.

The first mission was significantly easier to accomplish on my own. I could browse a few sections and pretty quickly pull out a collection of great read alouds. My children needed to see what a great story looked like, what it sounded like, and how it made them feel. It’s my job to show them. Without needing to steer them away from the brightest colored book cover, I am able to find stories I know will speak to their souls.

The second mission forced me to investigate my library’s online capabilities. It was a bit painful in the beginning due to my lack of patience. I’m working on it. It did, however,  quickly make my library phobia almost disappear. 
Here’s my routine…
I pull up my city library website and do a book search for the keywords I’m looking for. Once the search list pops up I look at the availability of the books  and request only those that are available at my local branch. This allows me to get the book within two days because I’m not waiting for it to be shipped from some far off location.  A critical timeframe when there is a paper due every friday. Within a couple of days the library texts me that I can pick up my books and I can get them when I have time. 
On those occasions when I don’t see a book available locally that I’m happy with? I jot down the call  numbers for some of the other choices. This way when I get to the library I just head to that section and there are always several choices which were not listed on line.
My last step was teaching my 12 year how to do all of this. Because, he’s 12. He should be getting his own library books. We’re almost there. 
 I do get to carry my own cute tote bag to the library and enjoy my time. I’m sure someday I will take my kids to the library again but for now I’ll be doing what works for me. And I’ll be feeling pretty good about it. 

Focusing on the Why

Why are you homeschooling your children?

What is it at the end of this adventure with them that you wish to accomplish?

When I first set out on this homeschooling journey it was because of one simple thing obedience. I knew the Lord was asking me to bring my kids home but I had no idea what it would look like. The thing about obedience is, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. I was sure homeschooling was going to be a disaster and my family would somehow end up on the evening news with a headline something like “Mother Bores Her Children to Death.”  Truthfully, there may be days where this headline would be accurate. What keeps me going on those days is my answer to those two questions.

Why am I doing this? What do I want to accomplish?

I want my children to leave our home loving Jesus.  I want that love to overflow to their communities and beyond. I want them to hear His voice and follow it.

And if these are my goals, how does my homeschool reflect that?
What am I doing every day to point them to the one who suffered and died for their salvation?

Cultivating our family relationships, discipling our children, and living sacrificial lives is the most difficult and most important endeavor we can undertake. And it is worth it.

No amount of time I’ve laid in bed worrying about their education and future can stand against the times I’ve prayed over them, studied scripture with them, or worked on their character.
No amount of time I spend scouring through curriculum can replace the moments we’ve lounged on the couch reading aloud from The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe.
No penmanship worksheet will do for their hearts what packing bags of food for hungry people around the world will do.

I write this as a mom who has cried over a reading lesson.
Yelled over a math assignment.
A mom who has lost her temper with her husband for wanting to have a conversation with her while she is prepping for tomorrow’s school day.
Yuck.
Of course, my kids must learn to read, write, and work out math equations. What they don’t need is to learn those things from a mother consumed more by those lessons than capturing their hearts. A mother exhausted by her fear of not being enough or not doing enough. I am not enough. But He is.

Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

Oh that this would be true in all our homes. I’m praying for it to be so in mine.

Encounters with Art

It was our first year of homeschooling. I had no idea what I was doing. Did any of us really? It’s mostly a blur. What I do remember is feeling quite stressed about all the subjects and projects I “should” be doing. How will I have time to cover the basics and build that detailed diorama of ancient Egypt with the kids? We did build a medieval castle made of cereal and melted marshmallows. It was time consuming, and messy, and I think I cried a little.
I’m just not that lady. I have dear friends who excel at elaborate science experiments and art projects and it’s one of the things I admire about them. I have learned to embrace, however, the fact that those things are not going to happen in my house. I’ve learned to embrace it, and in fact love it.
There are a million resources out there and it took me some time to find the ones that didn’t point me to the cake made to look like a plant cell (I’m also not a great baker) or the life sized dough skeleton. I finally found some simple yet wonderful resources and today I’ll share just one.

I knew I wanted my kids to have a better understanding of and appreciation of art. But I was not sure how to fit that into our day or how I would teach it. Enter Enrichment Studies.  If I ever meet Erica in person I may hug her and weep. I hope she won’t find that too weird.  She offers the most amazing fine arts pages and my whole family loves them.  I first joined when she was giving away a freebie. Women artists of the Renassaince.  I downloaded the file and thought to myself, “Now what? I still don’t know how to teach this.” Then, I read her instructions. For some reason I never seem to tackle that step first. Here comes the brilliant part…

I don’t teach it. I just stick it up on the wall. It sounds too easy, I know. But it works. Erica said to do it, so I gave it a try. And it works.

I put the artwork in a page protector and put it up on the kids bathroom cabinet. So every day they have an encounter with a piece of art. I leave each artwork up for one week. My kids are in the bathroom no less than 100 times a day so they are getting a ton of exposure to different artists and their work. It’s perfection. When the kids first saw the picture on the wall I was met with confusion and possibly some eye rolling from my 12 year old. But as time went on, I heard groans when it was time to rotate a piece out that someone loved, I received reminders anytime I forgot to put in new artwork, and there began to be lots of unprompted sharing about who the artist was, the materials used, and where a particular piece could be seen.

And this was all without me doing a thing.

Every lesson does not need to be an hour long to have impact. There are so many things I want my kids to encounter in my home. Art, poetry, science. Some days we will dive in and go deep, but not every day. Every day they will get a bite of something. Enough to chew on. And it will be enough.

Enrichment Studies has so many great packages. It doesn’t end with art. You can learn about composers, inventors and scientists, jazz, presidents and so much more. Go do it. You’ll thank me. Or you’ll thank Erica. You’re welcome.