Connections

Sometimes I think we make things too hard.

That statement covers a lot of ground; it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so focused on simplifying things in our home.  What I’m specifically thinking about right now, though, is finding connection with our kids.

All parents want to connect with their children, but I think homeschool parents have this added dose of…..something.  Maybe because we’re with them all the time, but are aware that time together does not necessarily equal true togetherness.  Maybe it’s the extra responsibility we feel that other parents don’t have, as we’ve committed to this whole “school” thing in addition to parenting.  Everywhere I turn, I’m being reminded that it’s all about the relationships.  

I think there’s this vague idea of what we want connection to look like–what it “should” look like.

  • Bonding over a read-aloud.
  • Discovering something new and unknown in the world around you, together.
  • Deep conversations over cocoa on a cold day (or over ice cream when it’s hot).

Something about all these ideas seems very serious and….I don’t know….intense.

What if it really was as simple as watching a movie?

What if you and your spouse pulled out the weirdest movie you both loved from years ago, warned the (big) kids repeatedly that they might not like it, explained that it really took a special sort of person to enjoy it…..and what if they loved it?

What if the 13-year-old “I don’t really ever laugh at movies, I just smile” couldn’t stop laughing?

What if the 15-year-old cynic laughed just as hard?

(Y’all….there was audible gasping.)

What to make of the ensuing conversation post-movie of the sheer ridiculousness of it all?

          Daughter, at the final, final scene:  What was that??

          Me:  That was the Space Shuttle built from household appliances taking off!

          Daughter:  NO!  Not that--I know what that was.  What was THAT?  That entire                                         movie? (Begins laughing uncontrollably)

What if you get up the next morning and discover the teens have usurped the six-year-old’s magnetic letters?  (This, by the way, was the inspiration for this post.)

What if, when they finally stumble out of bed the next morning, we are all still laughing?  Together?

It’s June, people, and I’m tired.  I”m tired of trying to evaluate every. single. thing my kids are doing to try and figure out if there’s some kind of educational value in it.  I’m tired of thinking about school and what school should look like and how much school is enough.  All I want, right now, is to simply connect with my kids.  To enjoy them.  To enjoy things together.

To laugh.  A lot.

 

 

*The movie in question is “Better off Dead.”  No need to go watch it….truly…..you might not like it.  It really takes a special sort of person to enjoy it. 😉

Reading

I’m watching our youngest begin to learn to read.  And I want to capture every. single. moment.

This has been so different from my older two.  My son…..well, I’m not sure I remember a time when he wasn’t reading.  He just read.  And I know there must have been a process and it must have been at least slightly gradual, but it was pretty much all internal.  At some point during those two-mornings-of-preschool a week, he could read.  I still remember nearly driving off the road as we passed the exit for “New Horizons Parkway” and his little voice piped up from the backseat:  “Is that word ‘horizon?'”

It didn’t come quite that easily for my daughter.  I remember her curled up with Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Perfect Pet, and practicing, practicing, practicing the page about the hutch Annie’s dad built for her bunny.  It took a lot of work.  It wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been for her brother.  But by five, she was reading.

And now I have my littlest.  While the older kids went to a church preschool (two years), half-day kindergarten and first grade in public school, my youngest has traveled a very different path.  She’s attended a play-based preschool/kindergarten two mornings a week these past two years.  We are playing around with All About Reading’s Pre-Reading level (by “playing around” I mean we started in early December and are still on capital W).  That’s the extent of her “school.”  Mostly what we do for reading is, snuggle up and read together.  A lot.

And at six, she’s starting to read.

I feel like we had a few months of “she needs to learn more letters/ letter sounds;” the desire to read was there, but she was lacking an ability to sound anything out because she didn’t know quite enough.  Suddenly, she knows her letters, she knows their sounds, and she knows it’s weird that “knows” starts with a “k.”

The babysteps started when we were reading the Sophie Mouse series.  Each chapter title was written in such a nice, large, simple font, she wanted to sound out the words.  So we did that together.  Book after book.

Her other favorite way to practice is to hear me read a sentence, and then read it herself.  She’ll listen to the words, then put her finger under each word as she repeats them back to me.  Every book we read, I have to pause frequently, because I know there will be those moments of now it’s my turn.

It’s funny how things begin to click.  Those two simple things have worked together and she’s really starting to get it.

At the library recently, they had an end-cap display with a matching game of farm animal pictures and words.  She sat there, very quietly sounding out the words and matching them with the animals, while my older daughter looked at me in excitement.  “She’s reading!  She’s reading them!”

She was in her room the other afternoon and my husband heard her talking.  “Do you need something?” he called.

“No!” she hollered back.  “I’m just reading my book!”

Honestly, I’m not quite ready for that yet.  I want to keep snuggling up on our bed with a pile of picture books; especially those nights where we have a “Big Read” and bring in a STACK of new books from the library.  Or those times when we read a real chapter book (not an early-reader-knock-it-out-in-one-sitting) and she just doesn’t want to stop reading:  Can we do another chapter of Ramona? first thing in the morning.  I don’t want to miss the excitement on her face–she kept turning around to look at me in her enthusiasm–when Mary found the key to The Secret Garden (or her laughing eyes when Martha demonstrated how to jump rope).  I do not want to give up that together time we have every time we read.  I’m thankful we don’t have to.  But I’m thankful, too, that the door to reading has been unlocked for her and she’s on her way through on her own.

Before I forget…

I want to jot a few things down.*

Awhile back I decided to shift to a much looser style of schooling; enough of a change that we ended up getting labeled as unschoolers at one point.  I still don’t think it was quite enough to merit that name, but I had definitely lightened the load on my kids and was holding my breath to see what might happen.

Three days ago I went in to say goodnight to my twelve-year-old daughter.  She was sitting up in bed, alert and attentive, ready to Talk.  Like, Big Talk.

“So, you know how you asked us a few days ago if there was anything we’d change up in school?  I’m thinking I really want to do Seterra again.  I’m not very good at geography and I really need the practice.  Also, I want to start another typing program, because I’m really slow.”

I tried not to let my mouth hang open in shock as she rattled off a handful of other ideas.  Um, yes….of course, you can add all those things to your school.

Here’s the really funny part.

The next morning, older brother walks by and sees her on the computer.  “Whatcha doin’?”

“Seterra.”

“Fun!”

Now, this is the kid who used to curl up with our Rand McNally Road Atlas for leisure reading when he was seven, so the “fun!” didn’t really surprise me.  But later that morning, he asked me, “Hey–can I play on Seterra?”

Uh, yeah.

And so it goes.

The fourteen-year-old, still crawling out from the black abyss that is depression, has been spending his time writing, planning, and finally recording a podcast with his dad.  He’s diving into editing this thing while still creating plans for the next three they want to do–and sister has been invited as a guest host for one.  He’s actually attending a creative writing class led by another homeschool mom; he went twice (our agreed definition of “trying it out”) and decided he wanted to stay.

Oh, and the US map I bought, thinking it would be fun to mark where the cousins live, now that my sister and her family are back in the States.  Which quickly morphed into, “Let’s mark all the places we’ve been!,” an event that was so turbo-charged I couldn’t even get any good photos.  Then my son asked to play a game of Scrambled States of America, “to celebrate the new map.”  The next step was him mapping out his dream roller coaster road trip, drawing lines all over the eastern half of the states, hitting all the parks I’ve never heard of.

Yes, we’re still doing some “real” school in here, too.  But right now this is a pretty fun ride.

 

*I wrote this post back in January, when the bigs were still 14- and 12-years old.  I stumbled across it today, thankful for the reminder and grateful that I took the time to write this note to myself.  Because I DID forget.

Rainy Mondays

This is the second Monday in a row I woke to pouring rain.  (So thankful!)

As I got ready I was thinking about how much I love mornings like this.  Downstairs, I found my two daughters snuggled together on the sofa, wrapped up in a comforter, giggling; it hit me again how much we would miss out on if my kids were in public school.  That snuggle time couldn’t have happened at 7:30 in the morning–my older daughter would have been on a bus, headed to a school that starts at 7:50.

This post sums up my heart this morning.

Originally published April 2016

These are my favorite mornings to be a homeschooling family.

No one wants to move very quickly anyway:  first off, it’s Monday, and secondly, it’s gray and dreary and drizzly……

And guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  We don’t have to Go.  We don’t have to Rush and Get Out the Door.  I can sit in the chair in our bedroom and snuggle the almost-not-two-year-old-anymore and spend a good long time reading.  (Mr. Putter.  Again.)  The older kids can stumble out of bed terribly close to the start of our school day and eat their breakfast, groggy, in their pajamas, while we begin our morning together.  Slowly.

 

Isn’t that part of pursuing “enough?”  Knowing when to be slow?

 

 

A homeschool day in the life

I’m eyeing this slightly apprehensively…..is there really a “typical” day around here?  Regardless, here is the lay of the land for a random Monday in January, when I decided to join the linkup at Simple Homeschool…..  

I’m up at 6:00, as always….I’ve been up at 6:00 for so long my brain has acclimated and I don’t even need an alarm clock.  I love this time of day; the entire house still asleep and dark and quiet; just me with coffee and my Bible.  I open the living room curtains and peek out to see if I can see the moon, then spend my hour–by far, the quietest hour of my day–alone with God.

At 7:00 I reluctantly drag myself away from my cozy corner, grab my water from the fridge, and head upstairs to get ready.  It’s a full morning, so I can’t move quite as slowly as I sometimes do.

7:20 brings a smiling four-year-old and “Mun” (her faithful Blanket) to my door, while I’m still attempting to put myself together.  “It’s a preschool day!” she announces with a smile, and she hangs out on the floor of my closet, singing and playing with my jewelry, while I finish getting ready, stepping around the pajama-clad little one.

We head downstairs together.  I start a load of laundry, feed the dogs, and she and I have our first “just Mommy and me” time of the day:  breakfast.  The “just us” doesn’t last as long as usual since her 14-year-old brother comes down early this morning; he’s heading out with us because of a doctor’s appointment today.  My twelve-year-old daughter is still asleep and will probably stay asleep for awhile longer.  I pull our school books from the cabinet, arrange things on the kitchen counter, and write a note encouraging her to enjoy her quiet morning.  (While I am the type who loves quiet mornings, the lone  extrovert in this house tends not to be a fan.)  My work-from-home pharmacist husband is downstairs, clocking in at 7:00 in the basement; no one is ever really alone in this house.  I flip the laundry that I put in before breakfast while my youngest gets dressed, and then we’re off.

My son packed all his school books for the day in a bag and starts working during the drive to preschool.  My youngest attends a Reggio-inspired, home-based preschool run by another homeschooling mom for a few hours twice a week; to say she loves it would be an understatement.  I drop her off with hugs, and my son and I make a quick run to the library before his doctor’s appointment, where I pick up holds and he discovers a new Rick Riordan book on the Hot Picks shelf.  Back in the car and off to the doctor.

Today’s appointment was doctor initiated; she wanted to check in on how the new dose of antidepressants was working for my kiddo.  I sat and listened to him answer her inquiries, question after question, praying a silent thank you, Jesus, over and over as each item got checked off her list.

Any thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide in the past two weeks?

Nope!

Thank you, Jesus.  THANK YOU.

They chat about school and she asks what he does with his free time, if he usually manages to get his school done mid-morning.  “I write,” he tells her.  “Write?” she asks.  “About what?”

And then I watch him light up as he explains to her how he writes about music, how he loves music--so many different kinds of music–and he writes reviews and critiques of albums and songs and rankings….

I cannot put into words my sense of relief as I watch this kid get excited about something again.  Get excited about life again.

We’re done at the doctor early enough that I have some time at home before I need to get my little.  I seize the time to knock out the laundry that’s been waiting in the dryer, then (finally) hang up the platform swing my twelve-year-old got for Christmas.  It’s warming up to almost 50 degrees today, and tomorrow looks even better.  (It is winter.  You take what you can get. 😉 )

The twelve-year-old has had a productive morning at home, knocking out her school while we were away and now curled up reading the Missy Piggle-Wiggle books we stumbled across while looking for Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle to read aloud.  She jumps in the car with me as I head out to pick up my youngest, wanting to be the first to tell her sister that the swing is up and ready in the backyard.

We’re home in time to visit with Daddy during his 11:30 lunch break; the sisters head to the swing in the backyard for only a little bit (it’s still cold!) while I fix lunch for the little and me.  The bigs make their lunches, too, and today we eat together around the kitchen table (oldest son has been known to eat in the dining room….apparently teens need their space).  My son is laughing uncontrollably as he explains his idea to create an entire album “recorded” by the dog, and starts writing lyrics to the kind of songs that Kina would sing while I remind him to at least keep it appropriate while we eat.

Once lunch is cleaned up and the dishwasher started (around 1:00), my youngest and I head upstairs for her second (and most favorite) “just Mommy and me” time:  reading before her quiet time.  We have outgrown the rocker in her room and now just curl up on the bed in the master bedroom, today getting to choose from fresh library books I got on our trip this morning.  We read and snuggle and I admit this is my favorite time, too.

Big hugs as I leave her in her bedroom for some quiet time….and I go downstairs to get my quiet time.  The bigs are knee-deep in their own things; my daughter has started the second Missy Piggle-Wiggle book she brought home, while my son is creating cover art for the dog’s album.  (It’s actually pretty stinkin’ funny.)

At about 1:30 my husband’s music is oozing up through the floorboards and the older kids are around, but this is as quiet as it gets when everyone is awake.  This is my recharge time; I’m going over any written schoolwork from the morning, and reading or writing or thinking and planning, and while there are occasional days I don’t get it, this highly-sensitive introvert makes sure this time happens as often as possible.

At 3:00 I realize I’ve stumbled into bonus time:  the four-year-old actually fell asleep. Regular naps are a distant memory, but she does still sleep once or twice a week, and today is apparently one of those days.  I take the extra time to get some housework done and remind my son we leave for math at 3:30.

Finding a tutor for math has been a huge blessing for us.  Once the words “algebra” start appearing in curriculum, I’m officially in over my head, and this math teacher has been wonderful for my son.  He needs someone as confident and competent as her, and I love seeing him through a different set of eyes (namely, less worried eyes).  It turns out that in spite of his dread of math, it “comes really naturally” to him and he’s doing quite well.

I spend his hour-long math lesson roaming the library where we meet up, and come home with more library books for everyone.  (Yes….I might have a problem.)  When his session ends I text my husband that we’re finished, and he (ahem) calls in an order to Planet Sub that I’ll pick up on our way home.  Kids eat free night conveniently falls on math night.  While this was not planned, I will happily take advantage of the situation; so much so that the cashier calls, “See you next week!” as we walk out the door.  (Blush.)

Math does knock the day out of whack.  My usual snuggle-with-my-little and watch something after quiet time doesn’t happen, and my bigs don’t get the “up in their room alone time” they seem to crave by late afternoon.  Instead, my son and I come in with bags of warm sub sandwiches, and we gather in the kitchen to eat and talk about our day.  Once dinner is over and the kitchen cleaned up, the girls take off to play in the basement, which is finally free now that Daddy’s off work.  I’m frequently invited to watch “shows” they perform together, always interesting mash-ups of whatever my older daughter happens to be listening to incessantly (this week, The Greatest Showman) and liberal doses of My Little Pony music.  “The boys” enjoy some (relative) quiet until I bring the little one up at 7:00 and start bedtime rounds.

PJ’s, teeth brushing, and another slew of books spread out on our bed for one last “just Mommy and me” time. Once I tuck her in and pray with her, I move to my 12-year-old’s room, where we have about thirty minutes of what she calls “talk time,” before I pray with her and say good-night (though she’ll read for at least another hour before she actually goes to sleep).  Downstairs for about thirty minutes of sibling-free time for my son, who loves this opportunity to have the parents all to himself.  Once he’s off to bed (I’ll pray with him and say goodnight before I turn in, myself), it’s finally just my husband and me and we can talk in peace without interruptions.  (Finally.)

Typical?  Well, yes, I guess I see glimpses of typical in there…..

Rethinking our Homeschool: Two Questions

An interesting thing happened when I stopped reading other people’s homeschooling blogs.

I started asking myself what I really wanted OUR SCHOOL to look like.

I was doing a lot of “I love that! I wish we did that;” set to repeat.  So many beautiful things and lovely ideas, endlessly scrolling past and scolding me with shoulds and oughts.  Or, worse, those moments of “I wish we’d done that,” because I really did come to this homeschooling thing a little late.  There are a dozen things I wish I’d done differently in my children’s first few years of school.  (For starters, how about not sending them?)  But since there’s no way to change the past, camping out in regret is not really very effective.  (Aw…..camping out!  I wish we’d done that!  Wait….)img_8148

 

The book Gaston is a new favorite in our house.  One line sums up perfectly how I feel in any attempts I make to manufacture a perfect homeschool:  “There.  That looked right….it just didn’t feel right.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I sat down one day, in the midst of “that’s not us….what is us?” and came up with three statement starters:

Our family is…..

Our family loves…..

Our family believes….

I then asked every single family member to give me three endings to each sentence.  (I finally stopped asking the four-year-old.  Even though she seems incredibly old for her age, she didn’t quite get this concept.)

It seemed really simple and basic, and I absolutely got some flippant answers (twelve and fourteen are the perfect ages for that).  But honestly, when I was studying the responses later, I realized “Our family loves….the library app” is a pretty succinct summation of one facet of our family.

I spent some time really thinking about this first question:  What does a homeschool look like for this family?  There are a thousand ways to “do homeschool,” but what fits us?

This family that is “bookish,” “quiet,” and “loves the library app” is probably going to be heavy on reading and maybe not so crazy about a ton of events and co-ops.

This family that is “weird” and “different” might need time to chase all their interests….Star Wars and music and Ponies and music and writing and music….and outside time when no one else wants outside time lol.  (We’re the ones at the park when it’s 45 degrees and cloudy; once it’s above about 83 and sticky, forget it.  We’re hibernating.)

Can I add that the “weird” and “different” was a unanimous verdict?  I’m kind of thrilled to pieces that we own it that proudly.

The idea that our family–again, unanimously–believes in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, working in the world and our lives, tells me that memorizing Scripture needs to be in the heart of our home somewhere.  We might not even call that “school.”

As I dug through their responses, I could feel our school starting to take shape.

The second question I asked myself was, What do my kids need?  Not “need” in a “needs work” way, but what do they really need?

My son’s response of “Our family is….exhausting” tells me I need to find a way to create another spot of quiet in our home.  With everyone here, all the time, it’s incredibly difficult to find quiet.

Both big kids need more outings; some adventures in their “school” experience.  I need to plan those adventures for mornings, because my energy is shot by afternoon (and because I need my quiet time, too).

My daughter needs more beauty in her school.  Just because her brother doesn’t like read-alouds and poetry tea-times doesn’t mean she has to miss out….and there’s the little one, too, to pull in for the fun stuff.  (And let’s be real.  He can turn up his nose at the idea but if there’s treats on a table, who wants to miss out on that?)

My son needs as much freedom as possible in his learning.  Key words: as possible.  It’s an interesting balance, me calling some shots and allowing him a voice within that structure.

All kids, always, need some uninterrupted alone-with-parent time.  Always.

Sitting with these two questions has begun to allow me the freedom to own this homeschool.  This is what we do.  “That looked right,” for us, “and it felt right, too.”

In defense of a label-less homeschool

I picked up my phone one morning to find I’d been tagged in a Facebook comment in a homeschool group.

Huh….What’s up?  That’s weird.

It got weirder.

The original poster had questioned, Anyone unschool older kids?

My daughter’s preschool teacher had promptly tagged me.

I just about dropped my teeth.

Unexpected milestones in life: getting tagged in an unschooling post.

Which is exactly what I replied to her teacher.  (Her response:  “Well, I know your kids are awesome, so you’re doing something right!”)

As I thought about it, it struck me:  what are we, exactly?  We are absolutely not open-and-go, curriculum-in-a-box, structured schedules with desks in a corner.  We are not School At Home.  But as I explained in my comment, we really don’t fall into the “full-fledged, hard-core unschooling tribe,” with everyone doing their own thing and following their interests 24/7.  We are VERY….relaxed and eclectic.  But we are not Unschoolers.

Do we really need these labels to define us?  Honestly, are they helpful?  Maybe, possibly, for some truly dedicated people.  (I now have the phrase “die-hard Charlotte Mason” running through my head, which I think is hilarious.)  And it does make perfect sense to say, “We use ‘Sonlight,'” or “We use ‘My Father’s World.'”

But surely there are more of us wandering around in the middle?

In label-less homeschools?

Our own homeschool has had a very gradual shift over the past five years.  This year, each of my older kids has a spiral notebook, and every Monday there’s a note inside for that week of school, telling them what their “must-do’s” are. We start slowly and ease in to the school year, but a normal, average week involves a few constants; I think of it as the “spine” that everything else hangs from, or the foundation everything else builds on. Each child reads everyday from their “book for school” (I have a book list for each child, but they choose from it what they want to read).  They each have daily math (my 11-year-old daughter is in Teaching Textbooks 6, and my 13-year-old son is working on Horizons Pre-Algebra with a tutor). Science is also daily; this is effortless with my daughter, so she’s on her own with library books/an astronomy textbook; this is NOT effortless with my son, so he’s working through Apologia Physical Science bit by bit.  They also write at least once a week (this is effortless with my son, but even my daughter is willing to do a Friday Free-Write with a good attitude).  We do other things, of course, but this is our base.  Over the course of the week I jot down anything else school-related in a long list under Monday’s note.

And that makes us…..(what kind of ?) schoolers?

Our days look different for each child.  My son is very structured. He gets up between 7-8, starts his personal morning routine, and then jumps straight into school, to “knock it out” and “get it out of the way,” so he can do what HE wants to do. (Definitely no full-on unschooling here.)  What he “wants to do” is write.  A lot.  One of his current obsessions is The Ranking of Music….he’ll listen to every album by (insert band name here) and then do mini-reviews, ranking them, best to worst. We’ve got the Beatles albums ranked, the Muse albums ranked; right now he’s working through U2.  I’ve seen him knock out a 3000+ word essay reviewing every movie in the Marvel cinematic universe (that he’s seen).  The dude loves to write.

My daughter’s day looks (ahem) a little less focused.  She’ll wander down, eventually (I let my kids sleep as late as they want–no demanding a schedule here, either); and she’ll curl up with her math book over breakfast; then take off and go play with her preschool sister for an hour and a half; then suddenly get serious and say, “No, I HAVE to do my reading now,” and work on her reading….get lunch, play piano, rearrange her room, throw in a load of laundry, read a book, and suddenly say, “OH! I forgot about science!” and go attack something science-y with a vengeance….you get the idea.

What label do I apply to all this?

We have our routines.  We also have a huge amount of freedom, and I admit that each time I hear a school bus rumble down our street, I’m a little more thankful everyday.  I’m thrilled that my girls get a chance to play and get to know each other, and not be separated for over eight hours a day.  I love that my kids can get the sleep they need, and not leave the house at the crack of dawn.  I love that they can spend so much time doing what they love, while still learning what they need, and can do it in the comfort of our own home.  My “school pictures” tend to be kids curled up in nests of blankets reading, or sitting in the large swing in the backyard with a notebook, or cuddled with a dog while they work on their math…..

There’s really no label for all that.