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Dear Discouraged Homeschooling Mama:

Dear Discouraged Homeschooling Mama,

Oh mama … I know. The weight of it is heavy and your shoulders are tired from packing around that heavy load. It isn’t an easy path you have chosen. It isn’t the idyllic fantasy you perhaps hoped it would be. Those pictures you saw on all those homeschooling sites of happy, clean, obedient children smiling over their grammar sheets … have misled you, instilled a false vision of what this homeschooling life can look like. Those amazing and inspiring home school blogs with all the hands-on science experiments and beautiful art projects –they are not real life. Try to remember those blog share the best moments chosen from within a life of many, many, many other moments which are much less glamorous, and more full of piles of laundry, obstinate children, and dirty dishes.

Learning this, you may feel dismayed, and a little lost … and then there is still the weight. The weight of knowing they are depending on you; knowing you are depending on you to provide these most precious people a promising future, skills to navigate the unknown, and the confidence to walk a different path. I know, it can feel like an almost impossible prospect. But …

But it isn’t all bad – you were led here somehow, you wanted to bring your children in closer, wanting to educate them at your elbow, and to have them grow alongside you. You had a reason – it may have been a little naïve (there is no shame in that, we all need a little naivety) but you had a reason and that is part of your story, it is still yours to hold on to, or perhaps it was and now it needs to be reviewed. Regardless, you are not doomed. More importantly, they are not doomed.

In 10 years, I don’t think I have ever had a perfect homeschooling day, let alone a whole week. Life happens in all the nooks and crannies – and we learn around them. Appointments, illness, phone calls come in and schedules get diverted and it can feel like everything is falling by the wayside. And yet…

The kids still learned to read. They learned to add and make lunches and do their own laundry. They learn despite it all. They are built to learn. They may also have learned that sometimes life takes precedent, helping others is a priority, and being of service is important. My kids have gotten a rather good education in the ways of life alongside their math and grammar lessons.

If I have any pieces of advice regarding those moments when discouragement sets in they would be these:

  • Stop doing what isn’t working – regardless of its inherent value.
  • Take photos of the moments that make you happy, that buoy your heart.
  • Try a gratitude journal – write three positive things that have happened each day, no matter how small.
  • Play “hooky” and go do something you love with your kids.
  • Talk to someone who knows what this life is like, really talk to them.
  • Trust that today is only a small piece of a much bigger picture, one you are much too close to in order to see clearly, but one you might get a glimpse of in time.
  • Write down why you chose to home school. Remember why you wanted to do this – or look for the reasons beneath the original ones.
  • Ask yourself, if these reasons still stand true in your heart.

Finally, I would encourage you to remember that you are not obliged to home school. At the end of the day, the final decision is yours. What is best for you and your family is what matters. There is no failure in moving on and making new decisions.

You are not alone in your discouragement. Every year, there is a season when I want to throw my hands up in the air and send my brood up the street to public school. Every year. I know lovely, wonderful people who have made that decision and are all the happier for it. We all walk our walk according to our own convictions. There is always help to be found, regardless of our decision.

Yours truly, another sometimes discouraged homeschooling mama

  Canadian Homeschooling Bloggers, October 2015 Theme: “Dear {–} Homeschooling Mom”

A Photo to Remember


In April of this year, a photographer friend of mine ask if she could come over to “capture” a typical “schooling” day at my house so she could practice her skills at photo storytelling. I was immediately honoured she would ask and then instantly terrified.

Yes, I loved the idea of capturing the essence of these days I spend with my children. I knew she would do it in an artistic and loving way. I knew she would look for and capture the things I see daily but often fail to take note of; I knew I would treasure these photos for all my days and that my children would look back at them and see the love we shared together while we whittled away our time learning about poetry. There was little doubt I wanted these photos done. 

Who wouldn’t want these pictures, they are amazing
 

But … there still existed a great deal of personal conflict.

“Come into my house – where my things are – where I have stuffed the nooks and crannies full of learning materials and literal material and art supplies and books – the piles and stacks and shelves of books. Come into my house where we live with my mess –where my “eclectic” home décor is on display and will be photographed. Like evidence of my weakness as a – home maker.”

 
“Come into my house – where my children live – where they fight and bicker and carry on like half civilized creatures – where they leave dirty underwear on the floor and just step over it rather than pick it up and at least hide it from guests. Like evidence of my weakness as a – parent.” “Come into my house and witness my lack of a “typical” system of educating my children – the lack of structure and scope and sequence. The lack of correct spelling, correct multiplication, the messy handwriting and reluctant students who abhor all the writing – when they need only to add their names to the paper in front of them. Like evidence of my weakness as an educator.”  But mostly – the real heart of the problem was much – much closer to home.

“Come into my house – where I live. Where you will see how tight this shirt is on me despite it fitting just a month ago. Where the defining lines of my face looks like they have been erased and smeared and blended into my neck and ears. You want to come here and take photos of me … me … but I don’t look at me, I don’t look in the mirror anymore, no, not in a long time. I jump into the shower before I even glimpse a shred of skin – I haven’t looked for me in a very long time. The photos will only capture a woman hiding under a mask of denial and preserve forever that woman … that was going to be hard to accept. Like evidence of my weakness … and my resignation.

These were not pretty feelings … I could clean my house up, tune the kids up, hide the underwear, and I could come up with a simple lesson plan which would fill the morning and the need to be seen doing “learning.” But I would never be able to find myself under the weight in time– I knew I would have to look and see and be seen as I was. Yet despite the pain this might bring about – I needed to let the photos be taken, for me, for them, and for all the right reasons I knew to be true because that was what mattered and would matter most in the long run.

Afterward, I was unable to return to my cozy bed of denial. Because I became anxiously obsessed with what I would see in the final photos. The waiting, however, had a peculiar effect on me. I began to get tired of my own self-criticism; of my own tired thinking about my body. It was just too much to “carry” around. I needed to stop and get off the endless ride of shame.

I could hide my head and live forever in my denial or I could confront what I knew to be true despite every effort to ignore it and then make a change. It wasn’t easy.

New ImageThese photos were taken 5 months ago – and I have since been making efforts to find my “happy” body. I am pleased to say that I have had some success. I am seeing hints of myself again and it feels good. I am not expecting to turn back the clock and become some young whipper snapper version of myself again but I do want to see my natural smile again, to see my jaw line again – even with its pokey chin. I don’t envision a sleek body, just one which is healthier, because I can garauntee that when I do see it in the mirror, I will see reflected a happier inner me.

 
The photos are everything I hoped they would be – they are a beautiful story of my life here with these extraordinary people. I will treasure them always – look over them often and I am certain my family will value them forever.

I am not surprised by how I appear in them but I can look at them and know that if not for these photos, I might still feel trapped in someone else’s body. These photos have been my crucible, my catalyst – I will look on them and remember. These photos have made all the difference.

Many thanks, much sincere gratitude and all photo credits to my talented friend, Peggy Knaak, at Sunbeams and Freckles

A Challenge: #BlogAhead2015

blog ahead 2015

I am planning to participate in a challenge this October – I will be writing 31 posts behind the scenes which will be scheduled to be revealed on my blog over a stretch of time beginning after November 1st.

I have a few ideas I am working on as regards topics but you will just have to wait for those.  For the time being – I will be keeping track of my progress here on this post.

 My writing goals:  Some ideas for future blog series’
1- 10 for 10:  My favourite 10 Homeschool Moments  Goal: 11  Tally: 4
2- Growing my mindset – Changing what is fixed Goal: 10  Tally: 0
3- Continuation of my ThenandAgain series Goal: 10 Tally: 0 …I have selected 10 blogs to re-address as part of this series – but I have not written them yet.

If you are a blogger and want to build up a stash of post to be posted at a later date – join   #BlogAhead2015

When your homeschooled kid is curious about public school …


So while I have her captive during her goodnight snuggle – I ask my eldest daughter:

“So, we are 10 years into this homeschooling gig, what do you think so far?

Standard reply of shoulder shakes and giggles.

“When you are 30, am I going to find out you resented being homeschooled?”

“No,” with firm head shake.

“So, there are some good things about it?”

Strong affirmative nod.

“But you are still curious?”

“Yah, still curious.”

(Sigh)

This is not an unexpected answer. Of my four children, she is the most curious about public schooling despite her rather strong inclinations for solitude and introversion. She is an avid reader, and an avid imaginer of other worlds and places. I suppose this reveals many of the reasons why she is the most curious.  My other three children are appalled by the idea of spending so many hours of their day in a building, other than their home. They like social activities, co-operative learning days, but they love being home where their things are, where they have autonomy over much of their time and learning.

Not this one, although she doesn’t “hate” being homeschooled, she does have a healthy, persistent curiosity about public school. So how do I balance this curiosity with our choosing to homeschool her? There is a bit of me which is saddened by her curiosity, a small part which wants to say “Aren’t I enough?” But I know full well, I’m not and that is how it should be. I understand that it is normal to wonder about how the other “90%” live, especially after reading so much about it. I am also aware that reading about it and reality are different things.

I am not convinced that curiosity is enough of a reason to enroll her in public school – but what is a good enough reason? I don’t want to end up being the parent who “forced” her child to be homeschooled. I will exercise my right to make the choice – but how can I recognize if my choice is harming one of my kids?

Funny, I’m sure not as many parents of public schooled kids have this conversation with themselves. Granted there are some, and I have met many who have made a change and taken their children out of the public system and begun homeschooling. But those numbers are small compared to the overall majority of public schooling families is the essence of what I am saying. However, I think nearly every parent who homeschools considers these questions many times over throughout their journey. Being in the minority makes it hard to avoid the flow of the majority. This is not a political statement but rather an observation.

Back to my kid and her curiosity – should it affect our choice to homeschool her? For now, I say yes but no. Yes, I need to keep in mind the motivation behind the curiosity – is it the learning or the social aspect she is curious about? But no, I don’t think, at this time, it is enough to consider enrolling her in a public school. She currently can’t articulate why she is curious – and “I don’t know – I think it looks fun” is not enough of a reason. I am not closed to the discussion either should her reasons become more tangible. For now, I ruminate on the subject, it is good to check in and ask questions and see if the answers still match up and make sense.

But, for the time being, she gets to be curious and I get to snuggle her and ask her questions and get shoulder shakes and giggles in reply.

What I have learned from playing Minecraft with my family

I am not what you call a tech-momma – but I do live in a tech rich home due to the influence and interests of my husband. I never had a computer until I was in University, I didn’t play video games while I was growing up. My childhood home was book rich and anti-television. My generation was one step before the big boom in technology and computers, I remember rotary dial phones, having to use a nickel to use the payphone, and what it sounds like to use a manual typewriter.

I am what is called a “technology immigrant” while my children are fully immersed members of this new culture.

So how and where do the twain meet … well we definitely enjoy books and music and silliness and even dancing around together but there are times when I hear them talking about things I don’t have a clue about. I understand that this will happen, I don’t need to know everything they know, or like everything they like, or be involved in everything they do.

But there are times when they really love something, love like they “can’t stop talking about it” love it – and with these “loves” comes a lingo, and humour, and sense of community which I feel I am missing out on it. Playing Minecraft is one of these universal loves in my home. My kids all play, my husband plays … he has even set up a server for our kids, their cousins, and their friends to all play on together. It is a big deal around here. And as much as I listened to them, I couldn’t wrap my head around why this particular game was so interesting to all of them.

So I decided to try it out.

What I have learned playing Minecraft:

  1. I am a chicken. True fact. Virtual, make believe, baddies – scare me. I have a very over developed sense of self-preservation which I have learned extends to my virtual self.
  2. My kids are bold, brave, and wildly creative people who leap to defend each other and help each other out. This mother could not be more proud of her Minecraft warriors.
  3. Their bravery is encouraging – it emboldens me to face my fears and try new things.
  4. I like being their neighbour.
  5. Building whatever you want, out of materials you had to gather yourself, while fighting off baddies, and remembering to feed yourself is pretty rewarding. I take pride in my “work” – I admire what others are doing. I “get” the creative end, the planning, and thinking that goes on in this game. Yes, it is like Lego but you live amongst your creations. Who, as a kid, didn’t want to walk into the front door of their Lego home and sit on their Lego chair? … And then to have the capacity to make actual functioning items … it is brilliant.
  6. My kids teach me things and encourage me to do more. They are patient teachers who revel in their knowledge and share it generously.
  7. I like being the student – it is like turning a full circle in our home learning journey – opening up opportunities and it puts us on a more equal “playing” field.
  8. My brain dislikes disruptive visual information – it likes to believe I have been poisoned and thinks I am having hallucinations which results in some pretty terrible nausea. But once I learned to change my screen views – step one in the learning curve, I was able to manage playing for short periods of time and then eventually longer periods of time (…perhaps even really long periods of time)
  9. I get how “addictive” it can become – there is a great deal of investment of both time and thought, it can be hard to stop working toward a goal or investigating a new place. We all need to learn to manage our “screen” time.
  10. My husband thinks it is “hot” that I play – ah, bonus 🙂

I know there are lots of kids playing Minecraft and a lot of parents who don’t know what Minecraft is all about. I don’t think everyone should play it – I would encourage all parents (yes, even you Mum) to try it out, or watch your kids while they play, and ask them questions. It is more than you think it is.

But mostly, I would encourage parents to learn more about whatever it is that their children “love” – join their world, try out something they like, or have them teach you something you don’t know how to do. It is pretty great to be part of their “community” for a change.

How to “Not” Go Back to School

This September marks the beginning of my 11th year of “not” going back to school. In all honesty, my kids never started “going” to school so technically they have never had the opportunity to go back to anything. But I digress.

Over these years, we have tried different “re-entries” into our most structured season of home learning:

IMG_3888

  • We have taken “not” back to school photos.
  • I have surprised them with special “back to learning” baskets. They loved that – but how many more pencils and erasers do we really need around here?
  • We have tried shopping for new clothes with nobody in the store – except the entire store had been so badly picked over already by the public schoolers, we ended up buying little and going home disappointed.
  • We have made bird feeders and enjoyed fun and messy science activities.
  • I have even had “school” conferences with each kid to discuss their goals and ambitions for the year – best conducted over hot chocolate and coffee at a local shop.
  • We have enjoyed “not” back to school picnics in the park with fellow homeschoolers – which are actually a ton of fun and as the chairperson of a local support group, we’ll do this again this year.

School Fairy Surprise :)
School Fairy Surprise 🙂
But none of these things have really made the start of my year better or worse.

They are simply things to do.

What truly makes a difference to our “re-entry” into the learning season – is mindset. It is perspective and patience. I have spent many Septembers racing out of the gate and burning out in October.

My thoughts on how to “not” go back to school.

  1. Think of September as a month of curriculum “tasting” – try out new books and approaches, but don’t marry them. Chuck out what doesn’t fit for you or your kids. If you don’t like it, you won’t use it no matter how much your friend loves it.
  2. Take yourselves outside for as long as possible – the seasonal change will come regardless and you will miss the fresh air when the cold comes. (A truly Canadian home school tip)
  3. Find something you love to do with your kids – and do it, regardless of schedule, make it a priority. Which means it doesn’t come after math, or spelling, or (insert various should item here) – make it happen. Read that book aloud, go for your walk, paint something, and build Legos – place value on your family and its culture above “schooling.”
  4. Give the kids some choices – there is plenty the kids don’t get a say in, so if there is room for a choice, let them have input. Remember how they won’t eat certain foods until they started helping make dinner? Same principle, different objective.
  5. Protect “uninterrupted” home time – I get so eager at the beginning of the year, I over-extend before the year even starts, I usually resent the busyness before the snow flies.
  6. Find your “monkeys” – your support, your fellow home educating buddies.
  7. Lastly, don’t let your mind go “back” to school. As a publically schooled child, then public teacher, I am quite familiar with the way school works in a public setting. I have been known to compare our “schooling” to my knowledge of public schooling, and to feel like I am failing the comparison. But if I stop, breath, and look around me – I see that this isn’t “school” but rather my family learning together, through all these seasons. I see that our choice to follow this lifestyle is working for us – and for them. It is apples and oranges – both are food but delivered via different sources.

Every family should have their traditions and by all means go do something you enjoy before you begin another season of learning in your home. Make memories and then move slow into your September, and learn about what makes your days “not” school.

I am joining other Canadian Homeschool bloggers today on the topic of “not” Back to School and other ways to kick off a new year.

Then and Again: Making Their Choices


Then: October 13, 2006

“I have to take a break. My eyes are swimming, my head is aching, and I just can’t look through another homeschool resource curriculum catalogue related piece of material right now. The onus of choosing is too stressful for me at this moment.”

“Which is the best program, which is the best deal for the dollars I have, which will work best with my children?”

“I want so much for my kids. Basically, I want to be the perfect parent, which I already know is “slightly” unrealistic … ah yes … but that doesn’t stop me from agonizing about these choices I make.”

Excerpts from:  Making their choices

Again: August 24, 2015

Some things don’t change much in 9 years.

This September, my eldest, the child I was fretfully choosing curriculum for above, is beginning a new journey. She is venturing into online schooling for her Grade 10 year.

And my heart still agonizes about the choices we make regarding the schooling of these children. I feel that same parental anxiousness about their future preparedness, their journey forward. I have never carried this load lightly. But unlike above, I acknowledge that grace covers a great multitude of imperfection and failure.

Despite poor choices in curriculum, scads of unused textbooks, workbooks, and science kits; despite children who reject even good curriculum because of their own perspectives on what is good and useful; despite years of lackadaisical planning and scheduling – these children have grown and become readers, problem solvers, builders, story tellers, and questioners.

They got there by a different path then the one I idealistically thought I could build for them – thank goodness. We also have plenty of things to work on – spelling continues to prove itself difficult- but we’ll get there. They will continue to make paths forward despite anything and everything that came before.

This journey began with me trying to white knuckle everything they did – today I hold with a lighter touch, watching instead where they might lead, in anticipation and … a little less apprehension.

I am a parent. I want much for my children. I always will.

10 Reasons I am not ready for September


1. It is August 20 – which means I have weeks left of summer and I do not want to whittle away this precious and limited time with thoughts of after summer

2. It is warm and pleasant and wonderful out here on my deck overlooking the neighbourhood and nearby hills – my eyes have not gazed about long enough yet…not nearly long enough.

3. My daughter turns 15 in September and I don’t have a present for her or the emotional capacity to deal with my mummy feelings about this multiple of 5 birthday.

4. My birthday is in September and 43 sounds worse than 42 – I like even numbered years better.

5. Change is coming … (insert shiver) … change …

6. Once September comes – October follows and October is a tough month for me.

7. September heralds the end of this summer of mum.

8. I haven’t gone kayaking with my friend yet – despite her many efforts to get me out in her boats

9. My grand plans for a better learning/working space have stalled.

10. It is August 20th … do I really need to have any other reason?

So September –with your siren call for new pencils and fresh paper, your promises of new beginnings, and fun birthday celebrations, your temptation of cool weather for pots of tea and bowls of soup –wait your turn!

I am still lazing about here in August, in summer’s company. Oh, I know you are “technically” still summer – but I know your cunning ways, I know you want to lull me back into the rhythms of fall.

Stay back …back I say. I will get there … all in good time.

Home Education and the Non-Scheduler


I know it is time to plan for another season of learning when I wake up in the early hours of the morning worrying about my kids and their futures.

You may as well know, I am not an uber-planner. If it felt more comfortable and invoked less worry in my life, I would just embrace my unschooling tendencies and go with it. But I’m not fully comfortable with it and my children actually prefer some structure in their lives. I think it is a gene they inherited from my husband’s family – it is most certainly not from me. Regardless, I know I must construct a plan for everyone’s ease of mind.

But as I said above, I am not an uber-planner. I once bought a homeschool planner which segmented days into half-hour blocks and I broke out in hives. Seriously, hives are my go-to stress response. Nothing made me want to run screaming out the front door faster than looking at those little blocks like little barred cells trying to lock me in. Scary stuff.

I understand scheduling works for many families and I admire those who are able to do it. I have often wished to be more like them however scheduling does not work for me and thus for our family. Consequentially, there have been a few(many) very loosely organized years (back to those unschooling tendencies) – and admittedly there has been plenty of self-criticism regarding my “inability” to establish and follow an organized system of learning in my home.

So how does a confessed non-scheduler handle home educating four kids?

I choose a variety of self-directed curriculum and group learning activities.

I chose to be a registered homeschooler (which in British Columbia means I don’t have to fulfill government regulated learning requirements, or report to a teacher), I do this so I don’t have to schedule different learning objectives for four different grades simultaneously.

I create lists for each child which outline daily independent learning requirements, each child can then choose when and sometimes how they fulfill those requirement. Examples:  Task: 30 minutes of physical activity – How: their choice, Requirement: s/he must break a sweat or Task: Math Assignment, When: their choice, Requirement: Get it checked and complete corrections before moving on.

For group learning, I like to use Interactive Notebooks, which are multi-grade appropriate, and build knowledge and skills.  We rejoice in our gluey fingers and the copious paper scraps. I have had success finding these on Teachers-Pay-Teachers.  I like to supplement the topics, and follow rabbit trails but the notebook outline helps me return to center and allows for completion which my kids appreciate.

When everything is done, the kids get free time, including screens (and we have many different screens), they love their screens. This is currency in my house and I, unashamed, use it as a carrot.

My approach to learning may not look like one you might follow – but isn’t that a great thing about home education, this fact that it is tailored to the home in which it is conducted. May our homes and our style of education be a reflection of our unique gifts.

A new season approaches, embrace your ‘style,” ready yourself accordingly and, sleep well (I plan to 🙂 )

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