Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Permission to Fail

As I look back over 2015 and ahead into 2016, I'm looking for ways to improve our homeschool. Not really resolutions, since I don't set New Year's resolutions. But, it is a prime time to reflect on what I want to fill my children's life with. There are two areas I plan to focus on this year: failure and curiosity. 

I noticed some of my children avoid situations where failure is a possibility. They put themselves in a box, never branching out beyond their comfort zones. They want to master a task before they've even delved into the task. We all like a sure thing. But, I want my children to fail. Failure is a wonderful learning opportunity. It reveals more about who we are and what we're made of than succeeding. I want my children to learn the art of failure. It took me a long time to understand the concept of there's more to learn from a hard earned "C" than an easy "A."

 I often ask my children if they're watching TV the dumb way. Are you taking in whatever is thrown at you without analyzing the  intent? Or are you asking questions, looking for the message?Just like you can watch TV the smart way, you can fail the smart way. Listen to the message failure is telling you.

Experiencing failure helps us set realistic goals. Maybe your initial goal was too big. Can you break your goal into manageable steps? Instead of chucking your career, withdrawing all your money from the bank, and plunging into a new restaurant, could you start by catering or having a lunch truck in the business district? Rarely is it all or nothing. Do I really need to quit my full-time day job or can I consult in the evenings or weekends, slowly building my clientele? This way failure is manageable and you're able to regroup for the next move. You don't have to dramatically lose your home or go bankruptcy to learn from failure. Stepping out always involves the risk of failure, but don't risk more than you or your family can afford to lose.

Experiencing failure keeps perfectionism at bay. Perfectionism is often a cover for fear of failure. I  am a perfectionist. I keep working on an idea or project, trying to reach some unattainable standard, until ultimately it's deemed unacceptable. So, I choose not to participate at all. Perfection is an illusion. I want my children to know perfection is not the goal, you can't play if you're not even in the game. Surprisingly, Kobe Bryant has set records for both career field goal misses and points scored. So, keep taking those shots. To make a lot, you have to shoot a lot. Check out Karl Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan. You'll find the same thing.

Experiencing failure helps us find our interests. Once many moons ago I decided to praise dance. Just so we're clear, I'm pretty rhythm challenged. Practices went well. I had every move until the night of the performance. I was hoping for some supernatural, out of body experience. But, alas, it was just me up there. I missed the opening and from that point I was like a deer in headlights. I never did sync up with the group.  I learned that dancing is not something I enjoy doing in front of people, nor is singing. I tried singing on the choir and the person standing next to me asked if she could move somewhere else. In all honesty, it was necessary. It doesn't mean I quit singing, but maybe I just need to keep in the shower and not in front of an audience. I can focus my attention on areas that bring me joy.

Experiencing failure builds resiliency. The life well lived is a life of engagement. We have to jump into the fray and get dirty. When we fail we know we've taken a risk. We learn to adapt, and hopefully come away wiser and stronger. Failure doesn't equal defeat. As the song says, we fall down, but we get up again. More than just getting back up, we get back into the action. We're able to face bigger and bigger obstacles.

Experiencing failure lets you know you're challenging yourself. My son asked in a surprised voice, "You mean you want us to fail?" I explained failure lets him know he's challenged himself. It tells him his limits, his strengths, and areas to improve. It tells him he's human. Yeah, he wants everything to come easily, but that's not real life. I'm not saying fail all the time, but we can't succeed all the time either.

I want my children to fail often. Take chances, but do it responsibly and wisely. The best innovations have resulted from periods of failing. Failing teaches us what doesn't work, or it just might lead to new creations. Test out that idea. Learn a new sport or instrument. Failure is not the end of a task, but an opportunity for a brand new beginning. You have my permission to fail. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Friend Indeed

I've written about finding your tribe, those group of likeminded people to encourage and walk with you through this homeschool journey. If you're having difficulty finding a group, think smaller. I encourage you to find at least one friend you can share the ups and downs of homeschooling. Life is joyous. Share those accomplishments, trophies, gifts, and talents. Life is hard. Relocation, unemployment, financial troubles, divorce, death, and sickness hit all of us.
 "Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." Helen Keller (
Since moving to Virginia almost four years ago, we've really connected with two families in particular. These two moms keep me grounded when I lose focus of our homeschool goals. Their children provide my children with hours of playing and talking. I feel reenergized and ready to tackle the day after speaking or hanging out with them. One mom is better than google. She knows a bit about every resource, local activities, and can connect you with the appropriate people. The other, I call the "child whisperer." She has such an inspiring, patient manner with children that one has to simply stand back in wide-eyed wonder. They're the ones I talked to when I realized I needed to change our homeschool style. They're the ones who were upbeat and positive, telling me it might be good to change things up a bit. I waffle back and forth a lot, but they just listen. Plus, I'll make the trek into DC for them, and that doesn't happen for just anyone.

With friends like this, it seems natural that I've started to walk in the role of encouragement with new homeschoolers I'm meeting. I realize that I'm not accumulating all this knowledge and experience to sit on it. I want to share, so someone realizes homeschooling is doable and doesn't need to be complicated. Keeping it simple is my main objective.

 I recommend having three people in our lives when it comes to homeschooling. First, someone we admire, a mentor. She* has been where you are on your journey and openly shares her wisdom. You're not trying to duplicate this person's life, but she inspires you to step outside your comfort style or implement a great idea into your day. Also, you need someone you can just sit back and share your day to day homeschool experiences. You don't have to pretend that everything is okay, nor do you have to hide your child's exceptionalities. Surprisingly, not everyone understands when your three year is reading or if your ten year old isn't. Finally, consider mentoring someone else. More than likely, there's someone out there who can benefit for your experience and knowledge regardless of how limited you think it is.

Friends are especially critical for homeschoolers lacking family support, whether due to distance or philosophical differences. Consider,
"Friends are the siblings God never gave us." Mencius (brainy
We all desire a place to fit.
"One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood." Lucius Annaeus Seneca (brainy
So, reach out to someone today in friendship.

* Substitute he/him if that's more appropriate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Putting Things in Perspective

This Thanksgiving break has forced me to reevaluate my idea of what it means to unschool, as well as the trust I place in my children to in some way understand their educational needs. Basically, my children informed that they're languishing and want more structured, outlined work. They have no problems with textbooks or curriculum. My children are pretty easy to plan for in this sense. My husband noted the kids seemed to need more than what was being provided. Note, we have internet, kits, crayons, games, books, musical instruments, video games, and art supplies. We have dance, football, swimming, the library, and field trips. But, they wanted more educational stimulus. My daughter told me it got a little old just focusing on her "likes"- reading and writing. Initially, math involved so much tension that we just needed to stop. Now, she's asking about finishing pre-algebra. Maybe this is the result of just letting her be. Her siblings display the same tendencies lately. A desire to push further ahead. She, along with her siblings, are on the path to recognizing their need for increased challenges. Guess, I needed to back off and give a little growing space.

 So, this is literally where the rubber meets the road. How much do I value their opinions, even when it opposes what I want to happen? My first thought, " I've failed them."  It felt as if I was giving up on the entire process. But, then I realized that was the old paradigm talking. Unschooling is not a goal or objective to be accomplished, but a philosophy. People repeatedly call it a lifestyle. It says learning never stops. My children learn what feels natural to them, whether the Pythagorean Theory or coding, when it make sense to them, thus it is not based on whether we use textbooks or curriculum. They have a desire to learn and actively seek out ways to increase their knowledge base. 

I tend to see things in black and white, fortunately, life is not that cut and dry. They still have their interests I outlined in a previous post, plus they literally asked for more work. This time has given them a chance to delve deeply into subjects, discover new hobbies, and time to just chill. Time is the key component here. They've had time to let information marinate, make connections, and initiated the process of defining what education looks like for each of them. Given time, I'm learning my children know when they are ready for more information. Also, they know when they're just breezing through everything.

Remember, there's no one way to unschool. This is what I keep getting caught up in. They'll still delve into topics of interest. They still have input on book choices. They have the ability to go as fast or slow as needed when covering material. There is no strict sequence, learning happens haphazardly at times. Plus, my eighth grader is starting the road to NCAA eligibility. He's set his goals high-Division I. I want all my ducks are in a row. It's not that we're giving unschooling up, but broadening our perspective of what it means to be an unschooler. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In ? I Trust

Have you ever met those parents who proudly push their young children to sing the presidents or multiplication song? Did you look on with envy, or like me, privately think what's the point of knowledge without understanding? Is it to impress other people or make one feel as if he/she has done outstanding teaching? Knowledge is a wonderful thing, whether it's for pure enjoyment on the child's part or essential to completing an immediate task, it serves a purpose. Yes, it should be shared, but not necessarily as a circus act. One of my children from an early age detested songs that attempted to teach him facts in silly songs. He always felt it was trickery, as well as the long way around to filling his knowledge pail. Of course, he does not represent all children, and many children love learning this way. Schoolhouse Rock has a special place in my childhood. It's just funny how he and my youngest son, more so than their siblings, reject anything wrapped up in a pretty educational bow. One son said, "Adults can figure out a way to ruin anything," when describing a site using Minecraft to teach history. Left to their own devices, I believe children would naturally incorporate such information into their play. Although, I'm speaking across the board, I'm well aware not all children will do this. Even strewing has to be done very carefully around here. My children can sniff out manipulation a mile away. Whatever I do has to be for them, and not some underhanded way to sneak in what I think they need to know right now, right this minute. I trust my children to identify over time, with our guidance and example, the tools they require to accomplish their goals. If it turns out singing is required, I'll warm up the old vocal cords.

In the early years, I did not trust myself to identify what my children needed. With a background in educational psychology and work with children in school and daycare settings, I turned to the home school experts to lead the way. There's nothing wrong with learning from others, but it's almost a matter of whose material you read first. In my case, I became acquainted with classical home schooling first, so that's the method I initially followed. Over time I relaxed exponentially, until I realized I was making this way too hard. Unless you lived in a box, humans can't get away from learning. If our house is a place of knowledge and we're involved in the community we can't get away from learning. But, if my husband or my lives are dry and dull, then problems might arise. It's all about living rich, full lives. I'm a heavy reader, so are my children. My husband is loves computer technology and sports, so do my children. I love to cook, so do my children. We're musical, I can't comment on the quality, but still musical. Guess who are as well? We volunteer as a family. Go to church. These are not things we deliberately set out with a plan to teach, but are just parts of our lives we naturally share. I trust my husband's and my abilities to provide my children with what they need. 

Grandfather's 90th Birthday
We can't take all the credit. I look at them and see the talents our families display showing up in my children. Regardless of the job titles, I am thankful for the work ethic, knowledge, and skills they willingly share with us. My grandfather is the smartest man I have ever known, his value of education, math skills, ability to master/repair any piece of machinery, grow any vegetable, and love of the news is legendary. I love to hear about his youth, and how he excelled in school to the extent he skipped several grades, eventually being extended an offer for a teacher to send him to Tuskegee Institute. I guess that's a biggie, since they normally only went to eighth grade. He didn't get to attend, but he passed his values and skills to his children. He even returned from WWII with the ability to help his children with their French homework. Naturally, my mom was a woman in a class by herself. She never failed to give wisdom or have an answer for my many questions, even as an adult.  I trust in the legacy of learning established by our families.
DS 2013

In the early days, my hidden thoughts ran along the line of if they read early enough, conjugated Latin verbs in third grade, or  mastered this or that curriculum before everyone else, then I could protect them from all the -isms they will one day face. Their way would be easier by virtue of the education we provided. Yes, education opens doors, but I can't even guarantee what I'm teaching them today will be necessary tomorrow. Now, I can honestly admit, this is not why I home school. I mistakenly put my trust in curriculum. Since one of my super powers doesn't include foretelling the future, all we can show them is where to put their trust and how to gain the knowledge needed to live life fully and productively. Most importantly, I trust as Jewish author Harold Kushner describes in To Life! "that anything that should be one day will be-not always and not immediately, but ultimately things will turn out as they should."(p.175). I

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Growing Where You're Planted

I mentioned in an earlier post the need to build your own tribe when you don't quite fit in anywhere or feel comfortable. Well, I decided to put out feelers for other families looking for:  casual, consistent, non-academic get togethers. Bring on the LEGO, hikes, Dr. Who, Star Wars, and hanging out. Today, we're meeting a new family, maybe two, at the local swimming pool.

I'm not naive enough to think that just because we meet other home schoolers or unschoolers that there's an automatic connection. I suggested a neutral place, so that if the kids didn't hit it off or if the moms don't mesh everyone could go their merry way with no discomfort. I can see it now, all the kids in separate corners of the pool playing with their own siblings. Normally, as I've mentioned before, we meet our closest friends accidentally. Planned gatherings never really work like intended for us. At the very least, they'll get in some swim time and fun.

Right now, we're driving 45-60 minutes to meet with friends in another community. But, I'm trying to build ties locally. Since we've been here I've had the longing to go back home. My refrain has been this is not my home, I still own a house back home, my friends aren't here, my family aren't here, and this is only temporary. My life is in SC. But, at this point, we've been here 3 or 4 years, so I really need to get over it.

Actually, I was briefly excited. Our last lease ended October 31st, and we decided the children and I would go home. YAY! My husband would stay here until a transfer or other employment was arranged. That is until the storm hit SC, and our home flooded. Literally, we discussed returning on Friday, and early Sunday morning my husband's cousin called to let us know the situation. My plans dashed in one long, continuous rainstorm. I can't complain though, unlike many others still recovering, our home isn't our primary residence, and we didn't lose anything that's not easily replaceable. I don't take the flooding lightly at all. But, we still needed a place to go and quickly. It wasn't an option to stay in our last rental property. Long story short, we met with a real estate agent, viewed three houses, and picked the one I'm typing this blog from. Still in the same town.

Through all of this, I concluded that I needed to stop saying this isn't my home and grow where we've been planted. Honestly, I don't want to grow where I'm planted. I'd love to be transplanted. But, for my peace, I need to let this mentality go. I understand location doesn't determine home, but our being together. I can choose to commiserate all I think we've lost or build community here. For too long, I've been resentful and discontent over our move here. I haven't given my best and have probably been a bit of a killjoy. If we moved to this specific place, at this time, I do believe it has a purpose.

Truthfully, I've been feeling stifled, as if the world is passing by, and I'm viewing it from the outside in. Is it the people around me or my attitude towards the people around me? We volunteered this past year at an educational farm. We visit a local nursing home with my church monthly. My children are part of the teen advisory group at the library. Two of my boys will play on a rec league basketball team. My oldest just finished his first year of competitive football as quarterback. I'm learning activities can't replace community. These activities in and of themselves don't build friendships. Extending myself, moving outside of my comfort zone does. I finally admitted to myself that I have intentionally maintained a distance on the premise of why bother, I'm not going to be here long enough to make friends.

My husband and children have been total opposites, actually desiring to stay here, and wanting to establish ties to the community. They're teaching me a few things about accepting change and adjusting. I'm learning to take things as they come, enjoy the moment, and the people that enter and exit my life regardless of the time frame. Above all, I'm learning to be content in whatever situation I find myself.

With views like this, who can complain?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Books, Boardgames, and Kits

AHS 2015
While in the midst of packing for a move, I find myself wondering how and why do we accumulate so many things. We are a family of six, so that explains some of it. Seriously, we own a million boardgames, but only play two or three consistently. I can't bring myself to part with them, because one day we might want to learn to play them. Some of them were quite expensive, so I've been holding on. That's when I was in the buy games of European origin phase, because they're higher quality. Since we're homes much, I guess we need more to get through the day. I have free STEM kits and materials from Civil Air Patrol stored in bins. I don't even have room on the shelves. The upside of moving is letting go of so many items that are just taking up precious space. Or just rediscovering useful and interesting items that have been hidden away for the last year. More doodads, more objects to dust.

AHS 2015
My downfall is books. I look books. My suppliers assume many faces: public libraries, church libraries, used bookstores, Amazon, thrift stores, friends, co-op book swaps, and meet ups with strangers to collect books. There's no greater high than finding that favorite book for a few cents, or even as a freebie. My friend just purchased a $16.99 book marked down to $.80 for me. How can you even turn that down? Unfortunately, I don't have time to go by the store holding the closeout sale.  I stop at the book sale cart at my local library every single time I step into the building. At each move (3) in the last 3 years, I have donated anywhere from 100 to 200 books to lighten the load. This time I've only donated around 20-30. The simplicity part of me wants to give half of them away. It's the addicted half that's holding me back. Most of our moving boxes contain books.

But, we do tend to read our favorites over and over. At some point in time, I have gone to the shelf to locate most of the books I've donated and needed right at that moment to highlight or research a point. Physical books are my preferred method of reading. I've just gotten into highlighting poignant statements and quotes. I mean it's my book, right? Even the kids have gotten where they hold on to their favorites. My nine year old refuses to entertain the thought of giving up his Christopher books. My daughter will forever own Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gable, and Little House on the Prairie. I mean, she still adds Nancy Drew books to her collection. Somehow, she managed to part with some of the American Girl books. And we still manage to have literally hundreds of library books checked out from the library. We need separate shelf space to reign them in. In the last year, I curtailed our Amazon buying. There's a sound even sweeter than a TARDIS or a light saber: a UPS truck pulling into the driveway with fresh purchases.

So, consider these options:

1. Public Library. Our regional libraries have reciprocal agreements. So, we're card holders at four
    libraries right now. It is often a hassle keeping track of books, but we limit our checkouts at every
    library, except our local library. The online resources available through the libraries are
    phenomenal. One library loans video games as well. Also, I can preview books first, then
    determine if it's something I really want to add to my home library.

2. Home School or church resource libraries. Our co-op in SC had a resource library where you could
    preview curriculum, borrow a microscope, or kits. A few churches have libraries as well as
    computer labs open to the public.

3. 4-H. They often have kits and curriculum available for public school use, which means home
    schoolers have access as well. The electricity kit is awesome. Plus, many lessons plans are
    available online.

4. Borrow and trade books, curriculum, even games, puzzles, etc., with other families.

5. Kindles, tablets, oh my. This is a great way to read books you don't necessarily want to own.  
    Think Librovox,, Overdrive, Project Gutenberg, or Baldwin Project.

6. Order curriculum in pdf format for easy download.

When you are ready to pass it on support a good cause. It became easier to let go of certain books when I found a cause I loved. For  quick donations, I typically donate to Goodwill. If I'm not feeling rushed, I love to support an organization that supplies books to build libraries in Africa. Some towns have book donation bins located in strategic spots just like the clothing bins. You don't even need to think so globally. I have a friend who's always ready to pass along her son's books and games as he outgrows them. Many of the home school families in our area will just as soon leave a free box of books on the front steps as sell it. Think of that family who might benefit from the items you no longer need.

I keep telling myself I can't own every book I see, or can I?

Friday, October 23, 2015

One Direction

*Courtesy of Sun Ladder-Creative Commons
Yesterday,  my daughter shared a One Direction cd with me. We were discussing the draw of this music to the teen girls and what messages certain songs send. That's an entire post it itself. I kept reminding myself I was once a New Kids on the Block fan. Naturally, this led to my thinking about time. Whether it's linear or circular and how it relates to life. Pretty interesting stuff. This led to a conversation about Greek philosophers, Einstein, Neitzshe, and then there's my nine year old son.   He noted that "scientists say in seven billion years the sun will expand and destroy the Earth." Time is serious business. We started at a certain point and will end at a certain point.

Western thought says time is linear; there is a beginning and an ending. Trends circle around, but we're moving towards an end. Physicists talk about the one second before the big bang and the universe expanding to an ultimate end. The Bible discusses the world coming into existence and ultimately the end of it all. In a linear path of home schooling, we're hoping to reach an end goal. We're essentially biding our time until it ends. There are mile markers along the way, kindergarten, middle school, culminating with high school graduation.

But, other ideologies consider time circular, an endless cycle of creation and destruction. Now, I'm not into rebirth and past lives, but it's funny how many cultures view time like a clock as opposed to a timeline. How does this relate to home schooling you ask? It doesn't really, but it raised some questions. What if I had to repeat an endless cycle of what we're doing right now in our home? Would I keep doing it? What areas would I change? What would I keep the same?

It's an interesting line of thought. In reality, we are hoping this home school journey continues beyond the end. Maybe in our children passing this form of education along to their children. Or maybe, in the way they choose to live their lives through lifelong learning and sharing their gifts and talents with the world around them. Hopefully, they're constantly creating, affecting, and changing the world around them. I want them to destroy the soul crushing limits society will attempt to place on them. There is a constant cycle of evaluating our lives and choosing life.

Obviously, these are not quantum level musings, but more of a mom's response to One Direction. Oh, the places our minds take us. Or delivers us from (boy bands).

* Image By Sun Ladder (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

When Less is More

Math Update:

I have finally been able to leave the children alone about their levels in math. One child afraid of possibly enrolling in school, because in the past I mentioned his being behind in math. I keep reminding myself time takes care of most things. The problem is I sometimes have a fast food mentality when I'm healthier and better off having a home cooked meal. I'm focusing on slow learning.

With my easing up, I've noticed them gravitating towards math on their own. More than likely it's been there all along, but without the pressure to perform they're more relaxed. The 13 and 10 year olds enjoy Khan Academy, so they choose to do this on their own. They're able to move as fast or slow as needed. The 10 year ild is trying teach himself Python. He's the html guy, future app and video game builder. I'm planning to design something unique for him to strengthen these interests. The 13 year old wants to get into the stock market, so we'll look into investing soon.

For my youngest, I'm simply reading the Number Devil  by Hans Enzenberger. He has started making the connection between multiplication and addition. At random points during the day, he'll just blurt out a multiplication fact or speak aloud some piece of mental math he's doing. Usually because he's calculating how much he needs to save to buy a certain Lego set. My daughter started asking questions about who came up with certain mathematical operations. She firmly believes these people had too much time on their hands.By observing, I realized her problem is not an inability to perform isolated operations, but she finds multiple step problems tedious. No textbook is really working with her right now, so we're going to leave that format alone right now. Maybe focus on the history of math, patterns, and brain teasers. History is her thing.

So, I've had to change my speech and approach. I never really believed people when they advised leaving the kids alone and allowing math to come naturally. I could see every subject except math. I'm realizing that if we're active and involved in projects math is unavoidable. But, it's on me to provide opportunities. Programming, robotics, sewing, art, baking, building, and financial matters are all areas that interest one or more of the children. These are all areas that involve a wide array of mathematical concepts. I'm learning I can't rush them, but they need time and opportunity to wrestle with ideas on their own. Most of the learning that sticks doesn't really happen in the classroom or living room, but in the downtime and quiet spaces of our lives.

Thankfully, I continue to release my expectations and meet each one where she or he is individually.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The 4 R's

Is it really possible to have a home school based upon peace and simplicity? Some days it seems that we do so much ripping and running we're barely home. In many cases, we're typical 21st century parents, spending an inordinate amount of hours shuttling our kids from one activity to another. Yet, we're often overcommitted and tired of the nonstop activity. Do we really allow enough time for relaxation and daydreaming? Are we allowing our children to progress at their pace or is there just a hint of a push? I know many parents who try to fill every educational gap and offer every extracurricular activity under the sun. I wonder if much of the struggle for balance comes from trying to prove the naysayers wrong. Yes, we're socialized look all the classes and playdates we have scheduled. Yes, home schooling is the best educational choice, see little Mary reading at 3 and Johnny calculating differential equations at 5. The time with our children is too short to constantly operate from someone else's agenda for your family.

First Steps

Remember the scene in Independence Day where the president asks the alien if peace is an option. The alien responds, "No peace." Fortunately for us, peace is a possibility.

Reduce your emphasis on educational deficits: yours and your children. Don't try to make up for every educational deficit you have identified in yourself by trying to beat knowledge into your child's head. I hyper focus on math because it is my weakness, therefore I obsess over my children's abilities in this area. I had to let my lifelong struggles with Math go. Literally, I was stressing them out. Accept your shortcomings, and if it's your desire, do something about it. Otherwise, learn to go with your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses. Likewise, learn to operate from your child's strengths and move beyond seeing only their weaknesses. They're more than just one part.

Realize peace is not the absence of conflict. Life is not always easy. Life is not always pretty. But, we can respond from a place of peace knowing this too shall pass. There are days that home schooling is a hot mess. There are tears over math. Someone hates every idea he/she comes up with for a story. All the crayon are broken, and that right shade of red is no where to be found. What someone knew yesterday draws a blank stare today. How you choose to respond makes all the difference. Do you see it as a calculated assault against your best laid plans or an opportunity to show understanding? Maybe, today is better served at the park or snuggling cozily on the couch.

Refuse to allow the naysayers to control your home. Everyone, home schoolers and non-home schoolers, has an opinion on the best educational choices for your children. If you don't want advice don't even open the door of conversation. If necessary, refuse to discuss home schooling with certain people. In my strongest southern accent protect your family from "anyone who don't mean you no

Resolve. Spend more time designing your family's home school and less time duplicating what you read in books and blogs. Anybody can look good on paper. Trust yourself to know what works for your family. Most importantly, don't be afraid to discard whatever doesn't work, even if it's touted as the holy grail of home schooling.

I'm definitely don't meet these 100% of the time, but I'm trying. Pernicious voices get inside my head sometimes, and I have to take a stance against freaking out when I think of the future or buying that hit curriculum. All I can concern myself with is doing the best possible right now.

* This post is very similar to my dechooling plan post, which means it's an area that keeps popping up in my area. Sometimes we just need a reminder of things most important in life.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A Position of Strength

Why do we focus so intently on building areas of weakness? I decided to  apply certain aspects of Valorie Burton's Successful Women Think Differently: 9 Habits to Make You Happier, Healthier, & More Resilient (2012) to my home school. Some of my children have developed negative speech. I know it's because I focus on building their weaknesses as opposed to encouraging them to build their strengths. Burton describes this as "making a shift from weakness-based personal improvement to strengths-based personal improvement"(p. 74). She gives the following quote by Peter Drucker (p.75):
"The ageless essence of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that makes a system's weaknesses irrelevant." 
This is exactly what I want to do when my children are learning. I have a tendency to focus on their weaknesses, so they spend time on those areas, maybe playing a related a related computer game or completing additional problems. What do you do when every math lesson becomes a battle and the default response is "I'm just not good at math"? Essentially, they're not where I think they should be in math (mistake number one). Instead of focusing on their inability to do well on the SAT if Algebra is not reached within a certain time period or difficulty with college admission, I've realized there has to be a better way. (Yes, I'm projecting  2-3 years.) My older children are pretty certain college is definitely in their plans. At this point, both have shown interest in science and math heavy fields. One hopes to play college sports, so there are definite requirements to meet. Yet, I still can't force the knowledge.

My biggest fear has been what does it say about our home school and my dedication if they are
"behind." Does it make me slack? Or do my children accept responsibility at some point. Obviously, I
can't really make a high school student learn anything. It really is up to them in the end whether they choose to learn certain material now or later. Many athletes have had to attend junior colleges in order to play at a four year college. Many a student has attended community college first to build a foundation before obtaining a four year degree. No, I'm not advocating giving up on them. But, I plan to think hard about their current abilities, and whether it's best to let time take care of development process.

Personally, Algebra never even began to click until I entered college. I have never been strong in math, but when I need to find solutions I know how to read and get the answers. Basic formulas don't stick in my mind. I could correctly find solutions to word problems through my own devices, but was always penalized because I couldn't show the work. I had no clue how to use the formulas. I could have a page of ten identical problems, and each problem was like I was doing it for the first time. I remember the embarrassment of being called to the board. My mind literally blanked out whenever I faced math. It was so bad I avoided even basic math situations.

In elementary and middle school, I hated for people to ask the time using an analog watch, ask me to count change, or even estimate distances. Instant deer in headlights look. I never learned to read the tick marks on a ruler until older. My entire school career was spent focusing on my math deficit. I chose my college major based on the amount of math classes involved. I wanted to be a medical doctor, but I wanted straight A's in math. Now, I know this was a mistake, but then Psychology seemed such a wise and easy choice. Upon graduating, I took another look at attending medical school somewhere that looked favorably on liberal arts majors and helped them make the transition, but I took the easy way out again by getting a master's in Criminal Justice. This is what happens when there is a weakness-based assessment of abilities.

Now, I realize I had other strengths that would have compensated for a little bit of struggle. Sadly, I found myself discouraging one of my children from a science career because of a math weakness. So, in the future, I hope to highlight their strengths and try a different approach to help them achieve their stated goals. Burton suggests "rather than focusing on everything that is wrong in a situation, pinpoint the steps that would lead to success"(p.76). I look forward to identifying my children's strengths and devaluing the weaknesses, thereby helping them improve wherever needed.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lifting the Veil of Ignorance

We're in the midst of packing for a move. I was trying to figure out how to continue out with our daily routine while boxing everything up. To keep it simple, we're going to focus on reading, writing,  and finishing some read alouds. One in particular, Watership Down, has been a never-ending read aloud, even though we're enjoying it.

We finally finished Elijah of Buxton and look forward to reading more of Christopher Paul Curtis. Hopefully, Bud, Not Buddy is next on our list. We have been reading a chapter a day of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery (free on Gutenberg Press), writing responses, and jotting down interesting quotes in a commonplace book.  It's funny to hear them sum up Washington's thoughts in terse, one sentence responses as only the young can. I want them to understand their education should extend beyond them. Also, education cannot be isolated from work. There is no sin in hard work or manual labor.

Nor do we eschew a college degree, but at the completion of any type of degree or certificate it should leave the holder with skills and the ability to earn a living and contribute to society. A degree is not for the purpose of getting out of hard work. During his time, Washington viewed some African-Americans as gaining an education to get out of manual labor. They depended on the government to create positions, focused on Greek and Latin, and thought manual labor was beneath them. Thus, some were unable to make a living for themselves. I think of my uncles, some who have degrees, some with certificates, and some with only high school degrees. What they all have in common are skills outside of their regular jobs that if they lost main employment they'd still have the ability to earn a living. My uncles, regardless of education level, can do electrical/mechanical work, plant and grow gardens, construction, and carpentry. Some of my aunts can garden, can, and sew. It reminds me of John Taylor Gatto who describes such an education in A Different Kind of Teacher. He says an education should leave you with the skills to do something, such as build a house. My uncles could build a house if needed.

In response to the certain sections from the book, my children had the following to say:
"I think it's really cool how Booker was so determined to get an education. I should use Booker's example to help me to get more serious about my work."
"You don't work you don't eat." 
"If you help someone you'll be happy." 
"Even though you get an education you should still be able to work."
"Try to do something with your education."  
No, we don't agree with everything Washington and often find ourselves wondering if he honestly looked at the race relations of his day. But, the kids are convinced he wasn't vocal about the real state of affairs so as not to offend the patrons of what is now Tuskegee University. After Up From Slavery, we'll read Du Bois to compare their ideas. It's amazing how many people belittle Washington and elevate Du Bois. Their backgrounds were so different as it's impossible to understand their ideologies without taking this fact into consideration.

This book has led to discussions of: Reconstruction, lynching, the Ku Klux Klan, and the13th-15th Amendments. All of this before we really jump into the ideas of the Harlem Renaissance and Du Bois' influence.

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Last Thursday, I could really commiserate with those Baudelaire kids. It appeared as if my day was going to be plagued by one misfortune after another. My daughter's figure skating coach recommended taking her takes to an ice rink an hour away to get them sharpened and get a recommendation for her next pair. First, I left two hours later than planned. Since we've never skated there before I plugged it into my GPS. We're driving along when I begin wondering why it's taking longer than anticipated. I check my GPS again, there's the name and address, but we're passing all the exits with the town we're driving to. Finally, we exit the interstate, and I'm thinking wow, we're in a larger city than I expected. I didn't think the rink was in the city.

Now, I'm panicking a little, because I mentally prepare myself before driving into the city. Can you tell I'm small town type of gal. I have to know I'm not going to need street parking, but a parking garage. My destination has to be exact. I plan my route out ahead. My biggest fears are driving the wrong way on a one way street and attempting to parallel park the mini van. So, I throw my phone in my son's hand, yell what's up next, and don't tell me at the last minute, apparently I want to know the turns before the map even calculates it.

We find a garage, and pass the first garage because I'm thinking how do I even enter, the clearance bar looks way too low. So, we circle around, take the risk, and lol and behold the van fits (sarcastic voice). We circle around and around to the top floor, park, and go into the iceplex. The circling makes me quest. When we exit the top, in big letters I read "Kettler Capitals Iceplex." It's beautiful. After being suitably impressed, we take her skates to the pro shop, ask for the person the coach recommended. The guy at the counter promptly responds, "O works at Skatequest, but I'm the O of this shop." Yes, I followed my GPS to Arlington. Sometimes I think I'm going to follow the GPS off a cliff. One simple, incorrect word took me to Kettler. The odd thing is, I knew I was going the wrong way and still continued on. Did you know people travel from as far as Richmond to have their skates sharpened here? Well, they do. Thanks B for trying to make me feel less stupid. Anyway, he sharpens the skates, fits her, and we head home.

Naturally, I'm obsessing about the traffic and getting out of here back to the interstate. It goes without saying I miss a turn, get a little nervous. My son, who is his daddy's child, calmly  says, "You're always so worried." And here  I thought I was hiding it so well. Does he care about my turmoil, no  he goes back to a game on his tablet without a worry in the world. Oh, to be a child. Apparently, he realised we'd get home at some point.

Long story short, the kids declare I almost drove on the sidewalk. All I'll say is the area was built exactly like the drive up places located at hotels and other places where lots of drop offs and pick ups occur. I might have contemplated it, but never initiated. I'll never tell. My daughter suggested when I was arrested by the police that I deepen my southern accent even more and play the dumb, hick card. In her best southern accent, "Officer, I just didn't know what to do, all the caaars, liiiights, and buildings, I'm not use to the city." No offense intended, I'm as southern as they come accent and all. I certainly was driving as if I'd never been in the city. By the way, I relayed all of this to her coach, hoping against hope Kettler would suffice. But, alas, I get to do this all again another day at the correct facility.

On the way home, I took the wrong exit, getting home via the outer belt loop. Such a crazy day, but I managed to laugh throughout the ordeal. I am reminded this morning of the futility of worrying, because "who by worrying can add one whit to his/her life." When I am able to recognise the worry and stop it, I am closer to  peace. In the midst of impatience, frustration, and confusion, I can slow down, take a deep breathe, and choose to be anxious for nothing. Just enjoy the journey, literally in this cause, going where the highway takes me.

Disclaimer: At no time did I drive on the sidewalk, enter a one way street, parallel park, or otherwise endanger pedestrians, even the jaywalkers, or passengers. No traffic violations were committed in the making of this story. But, my children did agree to hire me a driver when they hit the big times.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


I awoke this morning with a need to encourage my children and let them know they're "fearfully and wonderfully made." They get so many things "right" during the day, but I often I fail to adequately recognize it. One of my sons left a mini grammar session feeling dumb and stupid because I asked, "Why does it seem you never know anything." I had noticed, while he was writing a story, he wasn't properly punctuating dialogue. So, instead of just pointing out the error and simply showing him how to write it correctly, I launched into diatribe of how he doesn't seem to remember whatever I teach him. Definitely, not the best move. I left him feeling defeated. As any good preacher (or motivational speaker) knows, you never leave the people feeling hopeless. Mind you, I'm not speaking about false praise, but true encouragement, support, and building up.

When I woke up, my children's future weighed, and still weighs, heavily on my mind. I thought about the brevity and troubles of life, and how we don't even know if we'll take our next breathe. I can't even say with certainty we'll be together 2, 5, or 10 years from now. We only have the present. My mom was killed in a car accident in 2007 on the way back from visiting family for Thanksgiving. Who could have anticipated that would be the last time we saw her? But, I remember her for the way she encouraged us, always having a positive and constructive word to share. Even more, her extreme patience in the face of my asking a million questions a day. Her faith, even in the midst of eventually becoming a single parent when I was around 11, allowed her a joy and confidence I find difficult to duplicate. I want my children to have the memories of me that I have of her. She was a safe place in a chaotic world. Although, I didn't share with her as much I probably could have in my middle school years.

As a Black parent, I can spend more time in defensive mode versus offensive mode. We make a conscious effort to prepare them for the REAL world, discussing how to engage with police or store owners. Often being a little harder because as folks in my church community might say, "The world don't care nothing about you." But, we can also miss the boat with showing affection, grace, and mercy. I'm not talking about abuse or neglect. But, that hardness that naturally infuses our parenting while trying to prepare for the realities of the world they'll encounter.  I'm not advocating lack of discipline or active, concerned parenting. I'm just not so sure we don't burden our children earlier than they can mentally bear. My children don't really get the whole you're representing the Black race when you go. I know I grew up with this mentality. They don't understand why character alone is not enough. I don't want them ignorant, but do I need to lay the entire history of the Black experience on them in one fell swoop? I'm learning to tread carefully, mindful of the hope they have. I tell them what they might potentially encounter, but I don't want them to expect discrimination. I want them to recognize injustices, but expect to be treated fairly, if that makes sense. I want them understand our history, but not become buried under the If my mom, born in 1955 in the rural south, managed to find a balance between hope and awareness surely I can do the same.

I want to be my children's safe place. A person they willingly share their thoughts and struggles with when they have issues. I want to hug more. Laugh more. I want them know, until they're ready to stand on their own I will fight for them.

I listen. I love. I care.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Weekly Wrap Up

AHS 2015
What Didn't Work

Sometimes I'm a little slow. I'm still following the path of recreating school at home to a certain extent. It's not even intentional, but more of a habit. Fortunately, I don't often need to get hit repeatedly over the head to listen and learn.

AHS 2015
My children uninterested in creating vision boards. They did add words for the thought bubble. I took out the supplies and completed mine, hoping to entice them into starting theirs. No takers, and it was ok. I'm at the point that I'm okay with them not jumping on board with my ideas. The vision board really energized and helped me define my mission. So, it's all good.

We're on a much needed break this week. It's a chance for us to rest, but also review what's working and not working in our day. First, I realized studying Geology and Marine Geology are not exactly the same things. My daughter wants to study Marine Geology, but she's not finding tons of resources. The only resource we found, I deemed too difficult to understand and dry. She started an online, self-paced Geology course, but it definitely isn't her passion. Two days ago, passing a display in the library, we found a Marine Geology book. Instead of discouraging her, I let her know if she needs help reading or understanding I'll help. She decided to stop the Geology course.  
AHS 2015

About a week ago, I set up a Geology center with a mineral and rock kit. No takers on this either, yet. But, I did have ulterior motives. My daughter needed the kits for her class, and since she showed little enthusiasm I figured someone better make use of them.

All of our recent curriculum choices have been a dud for two of my children. Two of my children actually enjoy math and it's intuitive for them like their dad. The other two take after dear old mom. So, I'm stopping. They are surrounded by math, but now is not the time for formal study. I've decided to back off with the curriculum and let it come naturally. As Elijah says in the book Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, "But classroom learning just don't work the same as when something happens to you personal"(p.92). 

What's Working

We're enjoying the Harlem Renaissance. A little poetry, historical fiction, art work, music, and old movies featuring some of the people of this time, such as Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Fats Waller, and Duke Ellington have been a hit. A World War I audiobook has been really interesting as well. We just pop it in while running errands and talk about whatever we hear. It's a simple way for my oldest to learn about the war. Our family reading has been awesome. We just finished Harlem Summer by Walter Dean Myers, and now we're reading Elijah of Buxton by Curtis and The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. Incorporating more Netflix and other video resources has been fun this week, from documentaries to the Sarah Jane Adventures, they love it all.

My daughter started back playing her sax and wants to continue with band. Unfortunately, our band is debating whether to continue this year. She continues to write Dr. Who fan fiction and read voraciously.

My youngest two constantly build with Lego and create Keynote presentation after presentation about Marvel superheroes. One son actually sits and argues out loud with whatever Marvel guide he's reading when he finds information that disagrees with the official guide. It's hilarious. He also continues to look forward to tap lessons. My youngest started swim lessons.

Most of our evening hours are filled with my son's football practices, the occasional Thursday night game, and afternoon Saturday games. My other children are having fun hanging out at 
practice and games with their new friends.

Zooniverse's newest Citizen Science Project, Wildcam Gorongosa, has been a great addition for the animal lover in our house. I also found a whale identification project great for the dolphin lover in the house.

We're one week into practicing and working out for figure skating, fun times, REALLY! Okay, actually, I'm having way more fun than she is, but she's hanging in there.

Funtime Fridays with friends playing Minecraft and just hanging out. Even more fun for the parents.

Going to any number of libraries, we frequent four, is always a winner.

Free rein in the kitchen, creating new recipes, and cleaning up afterwards is always fun.

Watching the Republican debates were a big hit. I grew tired of hearing the kids repeating hearsay about candidates, so encouraging them to listen for themselves. The kids seemed very concerned with their views on immigration. They were also interested in the fact checking that we did concerning the candidates' statements. We're looking forward to the Democratic debates.

My 10 year old just discovered Gamestar Mechanics, a platform designed to teach video game design in a fun way. Special thanks to lilhomeschoolmama. I met her on FaceBook, plus she has an awesome youtube channel.

What's Upcoming

My daughter is waiting for her metal spinner to work on spin moves and figure skating pants.

A free one day drawing class at Michael's.

I'm going to look for interesting items to strew. Um, things that they actually like. Maybe, throw in some new places and websites as well. The raspberry pi remains on my husband's Amazon wish list.

I'm trying to start doing more field trips, so I'm coming up with a list of local trip ideas.

Football, Tap, Swim, and Figure Skating

Possibly starting our literary magazine to showcase their work. We're hoping to get their friends in on it by creating a digital magazine that everyone can access. My learning curve has been a little slow. I'd do better asking my 10 year old how to do it.

Working on simplifying our home school and daily life.

I'm hoping to get my children's thoughts on my renewed vision for our home school and how they want to see it manifested.

This week I'm going to observe more, taking a backseat, and really discover those things that light up their eyes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Whose Commitment?

AHS 2015
What I Thought was the Problem

Initially, I had composed an entire post about how my daughter lacks focus and commitment to her figure skating. In a nutshell, her coach asked me to talk to her about her commitment level and determine whether she's recreational or not. According to her coach, at her freestyle level, she needs practice more and complete off ice workouts. She recommended private lessons if she's more than a recreational skater. Until a friend's injury, we were splitting lessons. But, not to spend the extra money if she's not serious about getting through the freestyle levels. We threw the entire weight of deciding on her shoulders alone.

The Decision

She decided to quit. Initially, I was fine with her decision, until I thought about how much she loves figure skating. It was weird she was willing to quit so easily. So, I decided to dig a little deeper. In short, I found out she was overwhelmed with having to make the decision and needed help.

The Solution

First, we discussed the short and long term goals she had set when she started. Which had she met? Had her goals changed? She met her goal to pass the basic levels. And yes, freestyle 6 is still a goal. She still hopes to meet her long term goal of either pairs or theatre on ice. Either way, she must complete Freestyle 6. She stated she's not ready to compete. But, she will participate in a Christmas ice show. No problem. After days of agonizing, her decision was obvious. She's signed up to start private lessons, and I helped her find an off ice workout. And I agreed to work out with her as long as she wants a partner. We're gradually implementing the exercises and her coach's tips. She was under the misconception she had to incorporate every tip, the workouts, and increased practices all at once.

As for her focus, I advised her to let her coach know if she's giving her too much information at once. Make eye contact, repeat her instructions back to her, write things down, and admit when you aren't following along. I have watched my daughter take a fall and jump back into it. She's practiced moves over and over, skated in the rink by herself. If that's not commitment, I don't know what is. Plus, I've found her coach sometimes overwhelms me with all the info she has about figure skating. I've had to say, okay could you just tell me what I need to focus on first. If she's uncomfortable speaking up, I offered to do it for her.

The Real Problem and the Real Answer

More importantly, I searched myself for my commitment level. Let's face it, unless I'm consistent and diligent about getting her to the rink, she can't practice. I took responsibility for this with her coach. This is where the rubber meets the road about whether I'm really willing to support her. Am I willing to sacrifice time and money necessary? Do I really show an interest in figure skating? I've mentioned before I hate cold weather sports, so I usually wait outside while she skates. Also, I thought it would be less performance anxiety. But, she actually wants me to watch. Occasionally, she wants me to skate with her. In the end, it's my commitment and focus to her figure skating. She'd probably skate everyday if I took her.

Oddly enough, I'm the flitter, easily bored, looking for the next best activity. I admire her sustained interest. Don't you love it when it's not really about your children and their perceived shortcomings, but yours? They constantly teach us so much if we're willing to learn.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Hold Fast

Langston Hughes asked, "What happens to a dream deferred?" Years ago, when we first started home schooling, we wrote a mission statement reflecting the future we wanted for our children. I can't even put my hands on it or remember the exact wording. But, it mentioned something to the effect of growing mentally, spiritually, physically, and socially as Jesus did. We started off thinking certain curriculum would support this. Over the years, I realized I don't like much of the Christain-based curriculums, and am simply not comfortable teaching or using them. Plus, I'm having my own internal struggles, questioning many things I once thought were truth. Hopefully, we can all work together creating an updated mission statement, and help the children establish individual steps to fulfilling it.

I recognize that as my children mature they have their own plans, 
visions, and ways to meet their goals. Is our home school supporting their dreams and goals? If not, how can we better support them? Are they really free to be who they were created to be in this life? Are they free to do things in their own ways? Or think their own thoughts? Free to question? This is a biggie for me.

There's something inside all of us that desires to be at peace, free, 
and accepted within our surroundings. If they are constantly working to meet my goals, then they're not free. I admit I've allowed the school mind of levels/grades overshadow my home as opposed to meeting each child where he/she is. I want our home to reflect their particular dreams, bents, passions, and gifts. With that in mind, we're creating vision boards. This should have been our first step in arranging our year. Hughes also wrote "hold fast to dreams/for if dreams die/life is a broken-winged bird/that can not fly."

I've mentioned in a previous post my past aversion to sports and athletes. I wanted by children to choose goals that reflected my priorities. In my mind, every Black male desires to be a basketball or football player. Tell me doctor, plumber, teacher, etc. To me, football player is not a career goal, it's a stereotype. Mind you, my husband, sister, and various cousins have played high school and college sports. So, I insult them and my children by looking down on athletes. A large part of who my children are involves sports. Every time I lecture against sports, I deny part of who they are. It's my job to support who they are right now. Who am I to tell them their dreams are not good enough.

Actually, I'm fostering stereotypes when I only see them as only athletes, failing to realize there's so much more to them.  Maybe, we fail athletes in general by not taking time to see deeper. Any dream that "dries up like a raisin in the sun" has no value. We've all seen people weighed down with the remnants of unfulfilled dreams. Dreams have to come out, or the effects are detrimental. My children should not give up their dreams for me or anyone else. Unless you're an emu, penguin or ostrich, birds are meant to fly and they're not living to their full potential if they can't.

I want to take things a step further than the kids choosing topics to study for the year, but give them the ability to really determine what fits them.  It's exciting to think I'm a part of their present, and moving along with them into their futures. I look forward to sharing in their hopes and dreams.

What are some of your children's dreams, and how do you support?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Our Year at a Glance

Home School blogs at this time of year naturally give either detailed plans or glimpses of what children will cover during the year. Well, here's a quick view of what my children have decided to focus on this year.

Odyssey Learning Academy 2015-2016

DS 13: World War I and II, Architectural History, Hands on Architecture, Civil Air Patrol, football, weightlifting, and possibly basketball, and independent reading.

DD 12: Whales, Imperial Russia, French, Geology (hoping to focus on Marine Geology), operatic/musical singing, figure skating, fan fiction, stories, saxophone, photography, blogging, and lots of reading.

Picture Courtesy of AHS 2015
DS 10:  Rainforest, all things Lego, Civil War, Tap, Spanish, Latin, drawing comic figures, Minecraft, Photography, and Computer Technology.

DS 9: Dr. Who (build a tardis and sonic screwdriver), fan fiction, all things Lego, Spanish, drawing comic figures, computer technology, swimming, basketball, Minecraft, blogging, photography, and independent reading.

Family: Harlem Renaissance, butterflies, read alouds, library, volunteer activities, and field trips, etc

Per my husband's and my compromise, the three older children demoed Math Help and gave us feedback. So, we'll decide whether to use this or  Khan Academy. They seem very similar.
Also, the kids will incorporate Editor-in-Chief into their day. A couple of them are writing to outside audiences with blogging and fan fiction, so they want to firm up some skills. 

During an online home school conference we heard a speaker describe something called the power of an hour. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the author or the facilitator. I'll update if I come across this information. But, with power of an hour, I take one hour and work on anything that involves the entire family, such as read alouds, artists, and poetry. This year our hour will include Harlem Renaissance artists, poets, writers, and political leaders. I might throw in brainteasers, puzzles, or whatever I think they might find interesting.

We're incorporating project based learning, which is evolving naturally because of their interests. Based on the above, in depth projects include butterflies, whales, the rainforest, Dr. Who, and hands on architecture. Each child journals as well.

This truly is just a glimpse and is subject to change based on interest level. We're hoping to create a literary magazine to showcase our Harlem Renaissance writings to give to family and friends.

What are some of your plans for the upcoming year?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Dads Welcome Too

What do you do when you and your spouse's home school styles differ? Things have been a little strained around home schooling, because my husband and I have two different views about should happen.

As you glean from earlier posts, I lean more towards "give the children free reign to learn what they will." My way is loud and messy. I want to make way for natural learning in math, English, etc.
Picture Courtesy of AHS 2015

He believes there are certain things that should be formally taught, such as math and writing. He also doesn't believe in labeling what we do, but suggests we're just living, learning, and doing what's best for our family. Although, I still think his ideal day is the kids sitting at desks, quietly progressing through the day's work schedule, and being actively engaged for a certain amount of time a day. I assumed he just wanted to recreate formal schooling. Or this was my initial impression of the situation. But, this was incomplete.

I see now it's not so much he wants to recreate public school. First, let me say, I initially wanted him to leave me to my domain and let me do my thing. We use to home school in a classically structured way. It created a quiet, peaceful day and learning was definitely observable. I grew into a more relaxed style, struggling to fully embrace unschooling. Now, the kids and I discuss specific interests, learning objectives, and goals. I assist them in locating resources, classes, and field trips. Formal math instruction time has always been required even though I really wanted to let it go. Based on their interest, we meet our educational requirements for the state. If they need help, I make suggestions or use resources I think they'll enjoy. Each child also chooses year long or short term projects to complete.

Today, I realized his views are a result of what he experiences when he comes home. Lately, our environment has been chaotic and filled with constant sibling arguing. On a whole, we are not honoring and respecting one another as we should. In the past year he's probably heard more complaints about the failure and difficulty of home schooling that ever before. More structure is his answer to my complaints. He's all about "slow" learning, not comparing our children to others, and supporting their interests. I finally realized he's suggesting what he believes creates less stress for us,
 it's not about home school methodology.

I haven't been valuing his opinion about how our children are educated. Maybe, I've set myself up as the Queen of Home Schooling, and he's just a peasant with no input. He doesn't read home school books, blogs, or articles, so he can't possibly know what his children need (said with much sarcasm). I have made light of his suggestions and have a counter for every recommendation. So, I haven't respected and honored him. Many times, he's been on the outside looking into home school, not quite getting jokes or conversations.

We've compromised. He still has certain things he wants to happen in our home school, just like I do. I've made the decision to listen. It's just possible I don't know everything. Math is now his domain. He has chosen a new math program, after listening to the kids say they're tired of Life of Fred. They only want to use them as readers. They're testing the new program out this week and will give him
feedback. He wants to strengthen writing for the children who need it. So, we've gotten new resources. He's willing to use whatever works for each child. He actually suggested not using the writing resource I wanted for all the children because in truth only one child would love it. I'll organize more using Evernote and calendars to help the kids manage their time and document their days.

I plan lots of free time and give space for creativity. At every turn, we incorporate real activities into our lives, and try not to create assignments for no reason. The kids control how fast or slow they  move through material. They are able to say this resource or activity no longer works for me.

Honestly, I haven't exactly put out the welcome mat for my husband. We need my husband's experiences, thoughts, and ideas in our lives. His views aren't wrong, they just add a different flavor to our day. So, our process might change, but not the principles of respect, choice, listening, and love of learning.

How do you incorporate your spouse's ideas into your home school?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Choice is Yours

  "May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears,"
Nelson Mandela 

I stopped wavering between two masters: fear and peace. I've been afraid to home school and afraid to stop. On one hand, I'm fearful I'm failing my children by home schooling. On the other, I viewed stopping as failure. So, how did I stop the fear and replace it with peace? Honestly, it's an ongoing process. Peace establishes a foundation of hope and fear destroys everything it touches. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your particular circumstances.

Are you taking responsibility for your decisions? More than likely you didn't make this decision on a whim. You took your time to make an informed decision. When the kids are struggling with mastering some bit of knowledge I have two options. I can choose to look back with the grass is greener mentality or I can persevere through the difficulties. So, stop looking back in regret wishing you'd made a different decision. If appropriate, focus on how to move forward. Every obstacle is not necessarily a sign to quit home schooling. Only you can tell the difference.

Are you home schooling out of fear? This does not include instances in which home schooling occurs because of violence, bullying, or any other type of abuse. Don't home school because you're scared of the public school system, the world, or the future. There are no sure roads to success. Fear taints our very being, keeps us from seeing situations clearly, thus affecting every decision. It limits our dreams and hopes. Fear causes us to teach and approach our children negatively. We'll push for earlier and earlier learning, even when we notice signs of distress or unreadiness. It tells us push or she'll get left behind. Push or he'll be a failure at 30 years old. Fear drains our abilities to accurately assess the present and extinguishes hope for the future. Fear can cause us both to jump into and out of home schooling too soon.

Does the situation still exist that caused us to begin home schooling?  For example, if you decided to home school because of learning difficulties and those have been alleviated, maybe home schooling has served its purpose. In our case, we based our decision to home school on our firsthand knowledge of the increasing emphasis on standardized test prepping, and we wanted something different. We felt that teachers were not given the freedom they needed to aid in educating their students. This has only worsened in my opinion.

Is home schooling still a viable option for my family? I have a friend with medical issues and it's physically impossible for her to continue home schooling at the level she desires. Perhaps economic reasons necessitate a change to public or private school.

Are you following your heartfelt convictions and vision or someone else's agenda (whether religious, political, or philosophical)? On the surface, deciding to home school is as simple as filling out a notice of intent and going to traditional school is as easy as setting up a meeting with the local principal. But, it involves so much more. My goal is not to represent a religious or political leaning. Although, I do believe home schooling definitely speaks to certain philosophical ideas. Just make sure they're your beliefs. Also, I don't think it's a stretch of the imagination to say there are groups where it is almost demanded that a family home school because everyone in that particular group home schools. Do not allow another family, group, or person decide what's best for your family.
Picture Courtesy of AHS 2015

Are your expectations realistic? Home schooling is not a magic pill, panacea, or utopia. Problems won't suddenly disappear, but  often magnify. Recently, my children discovered a Monarch caught in a spider's web. It held the butterfly firmly in his grasp. At times, I have felt entangled, embarrassed, and embittered by a movement I wanted out of. I once pictured the home school community as a safe haven from the realities of racism, sexism, and economic discrimination. Yes, I  admit to some handholding, kumbaya illusions.

Don't expect perfection or understanding from every adult or child. Some people have some weird notion that we all dress, think, and believe the same things. I get tired of being the only face of color on every field trip, play date, and class we take. This community is not always warm, fuzzy, and accepting as often portrayed, but neither is the world. So, remove those rose-colored lenses, recognize the warts and shortcomings, and pledge to do things differently.  If you came looking for total acceptance by everyone you meet, then you're not basing your decision on reality. Fortunately, there does appear to be a group for every family and lifestyle choice. 

Are you trying to go it alone? When you home school it can be more in your face when people don't really accept you or your children. It is more difficult to connect with other home schoolers depending on where you live. In my previous town people were more out and about in the community than where we live now. So, it was pretty easy to meet new people. People were also less cliquish. Now, everything seems to require some great coordination of calendars and minds. We're having a harder time building community. I choose to regularly drive 45 to an hour away to meet our needs. Find your friends where you can. I have made some the greatest friends through simply hanging out at the library or park with my children. Since I am an introvert, I often force myself to attend activities for my children's sake. If you haven't found your tribe yet, it might just take a little time and effort to find the right fit. Start with Facebook, yahoo groups, and other online forums if necessary. I started commenting on other people's blogs. I haven't actually met my virtual friends in person, but it's nice to know there are others who share my concerns and views.  More and more, I am finding that I need those adult friendships to encourage me to continue home schooling.

I maintain a strong hope for a different sort of education and world for my children that keeps us home schooling, thus involved in the home school community. We're a microcosm of  society. I believe the home school community has an opportunity and responsibility to break down barriers, reach out to include the community, and stop perpetuating old stereotypes.

When I answer these questions for my family, I acknowledge we're right where we need to be. Your answers might be different. If you are rethinking your decision, remember choosing another path is not failure, but simply exercising your right to change course. At the end of the day, I just want to make peace with the decisions we've made.

What other questions are helpful in deciding to continue home schooling or return/enter traditional school?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Right Place, the Right Time

Last school year, we participated in the 4-H Embryology program. We examined each egg for cracks, marked them to indicate top and bottom, and rotated them two or three times a day. I think it took around 20 or 21 days for the eggs to hatch. The incubator required the proper amount of water for humidity and correct temperature. Extreme fluctuations in either could result in poor hatching. So, it was important to accurately monitor the environment. Upon hatching, we used a heat lamp to keep the baby chicks warm and fed them. With the right conditions, we had healthy chicks. The optimal environment, watching the conditions, and time was all it took.

Picture Courtesy of Art of Home Schoolery 2015
These are the same requirements for our home schools. Right now, I'm working very hard on setting the right environment. I've done a massive decluttering, but haven't determined how I want things set up. Honestly, I don't want a separate home school room, but project or work spaces would be great. I want everything to flow into one another. Considering I'm the worst decorator, as I don't really have a decor theme going on, I'm not sure how this will work. I plan to get the kids involved in the process.

Our art supplies are in a cabinet, so out of sight, out of mind. I donated 10 sticks of glue, threw away tons of broken pencils and crayons, and found unused clay. The kids are constantly complaining about boredom and I found tons of resources. My goal is to have an area where they can see all that's available, thus making it easier to start and complete projects. Every project that we start usually has to be cleaned up before completion. I won't even pull out the sewing machine for this reason.

Lori Pickert's book Project-Based Homeschooling has been a great help. Although her website and book have been around for a couple years, I need a reminder every now and then on how to support the kids' ideas. The book is easier to manage than the website. Basically, I need to do more observing to enable them to direct their own learning. I constantly find the need to remind myself to take it slowly with them. Honestly, I have a tendency to suggest projects when they are too slow, by my standards, to generate their ideas. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to over involve myself in gathering supplies and conducting research, thereby taking over and denying them the opportunity to take ownership. It's time to take a step back. At some point in the incubation process, we stopped turning the eggs to ensure proper development. We had to literally take our hands off them, while still maintaining optimal circumstances.

Most importantly, I'm making time for their interests to manifest. It's hard to deliberately leave time in our schedule for imagination, thinking, and processing. Sometimes, I get caught up in the ability to spit back facts and the awesome things other children are doing and rush/push for my children to follow. My husband constantly reminds me not to compare them to other children. It amazes me how much I learn when I take a backseat. Just like the chicks, with proper care and attention, my children will develop right on time.