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. 😉

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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.

What’s working right now

It feels like most stuff isn’t working right now.  Both my girls have had varying degrees of sickness, ongoing, since February 4th.  I finally consented to doctor visits for both, and we now have two bottles of antibiotic in the fridge.  My youngest is especially temperamental when she doesn’t feel well, so random, surprise tears have been added to the mix.  The weather is less than cooperative here (especially according to the public school folk, who have just logged their 57th snow day…..approximately 😉 ).  We are full of snowed in, iced over, sick, cranky people in this house.

I thought I’d spend at least a little time focusing on what is working.  In no particular order:

Walks and talks with my oldest.  I don’t know if this will actually become a habit or not, but right now it looks promising.  The two of us, who hate anything even remotely close to exercise, are actually willing to leave the house after dinner and walk around the neighborhood for awhile.  We can’t possibly be burning calories, but it’s given him some much needed sister-free time and it’s also helped me realize how full his brain is of wonderful and amazing things.

Christmas lights in almost-March.  This is the second year where, after taking down the tree in mid-January, I kept out two strands of lights to hang over the curtain rod on our living room bay.  Two strands of tiny, multicolored lights are exactly the right amount of light to be cozy (and, surprisingly, functional–it’s enough to read by).  I keep them on the same timer I had for our Christmas tree, so every morning when I come downstairs they’re there to greet me.

My youngest and almost-reading.  My five-year-old isn’t reading yet, but she’s suddenly starting to make huge leaps in connections and understanding.  She spends large portions of her day thinking out loud:  “There’s Koda.  K-K-K-Koda starts with K.  She’s furry.  F-F-F-Furry.  F.  F is furry.  Hey, Mama, I can spell ‘run!’  R-U-N.”  I suspect it’s making her siblings crazy, but I love it.

My big kids reading.  My oldest–who will still insist that he doesn’t like to read–has been devouring books over here.  Apparently, the kid who sees absolutely no need or purpose for algebra has no similar concerns with the classic canon of literature, and has polished off The Grapes of Wrath and Brave New World for school while also reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and No Country for Old Men just for fun.  (Um….fun?!?)  That’s only a bit of the list that I’ve been keeping track of over these past six weeks.  After requesting to not have specific “reading for school,” my daughter has been polishing off books at the rate of one per day; some, yes, pretty light reading, but others not so much (she’s knocking out the Mary Poppins series right now).

Snow days on our side.  With both my daughters alternating between “just a cold” and “flattened” simultaneously, there’s been the potential for a lot of missed extracurriculars.  Somehow, the weather that everyone else has been cursing has come to our rescue almost every time, and classes have been cancelled on days (or nights) when my girls would have been too sick to attend.

And, finally….

My husband quitting his job.  Because when you’ve been planning something for six months, it feels good to finally pull it off.  The countdown to “last day” has begun.

 

It’s funny how if I just keep my eyes on the good, the bad stuff tends to fade into the background.

But….math

When we started school back up after winter break, I talked to both my older kids about what they really wanted school to look like.

This is different than what I’ve always done before, which has consistently been some form of “what would you like to study for [insert subject here]?”  We’ve had a very check-the-box kind of school, and they’ve had lots of freedom inside that framework.  The framework has always existed, though.  For this round, I told both of them we were approaching our next six weeks like a zero-based budget:  if we started over, completely from scratch….what do YOU want school to look like?

My 15-year-old son’s response was immediate:  NO MATH.  All caps, at the top of the blank sheet of paper I’d set in front of him.

My daughter was less passionate as she spoke to me separately…..but sounded a bit defeated.  Well, I don’t like math, but I guess nobody likes math, right?  

So we dropped math for this six weeks.

Writing it sounds so simple, but this was hard, people.  It’s terrifying, even if I’m telling myself it’s only for this next little bit, reassuring myself we’re not necessarily committing for the long haul.

My son is currently glorying in his freedom and writing with pretty much every new spare moment he has (not that math took that much time, but still….).  Ironically, he uses math regularly as he compiles his rankings of all the things he ranks and reviews, but I’m not about to point that out.  (If I did, he’d just point out it’s not algebra.)

But my daughter…..

The 13-year-old lasted exactly one-and-a-half weeks before she looked at me and said, “I need to be doing math.”  Much to my relief, it turns out I have one kiddo who isn’t ready to buck the system quite so strongly.  We talked it over and came to a few conclusions:  No more Teaching Textbooks.  No video math curriculum.  Somehow, a book, with maybe a parent going through it with her if necessary.  I got online and looked at the Kansas math standards for 7th grade (yes, I know Common Core is the enemy, but sometimes you just need a list of “stuff they’re doing in X grade”).  Then I got on our library’s website and Amazon and just looked around awhile.

And now Winnie Cooper might be teaching my daughter math.

When she first looked at Danica McKellar’s Math Doesn’t Suck she literally made a face.  “It looks like a magazine!” she announced with disdain.  (A hardback, inch thick magazine, but…..you know.  Cover styling and such.)

I asked her to read just the intro and FAQ pages, and she was hooked.  Actually, I think she might have been hooked reading the chapter titles (“How to Entertain Yourself While Babysitting a Devil Child”).  But a few days in and this seems to be a very real possibility for getting us over the middle-school math hump.  And I am SO grateful.  It’d be nice to have at least one kiddo staying contentedly in a “check that box” mentality for high school.  It’s a heck of a lot easier.

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.

Do the hard thing

I feel like I’m hearing a strange mix of frustration and apathy from people lately.  We seem to want to fuss and complain, but then just shrug our shoulders and mutter something like “meh–what’re ya gonna do?”

How about, do something?  Anything?

But it’s hard.

My kids’ sports schedule is out of control–the six-year-old doesn’t need to be on the ball field at 10:00 at night!  Do the hard thing.  Pull him.

My five-year-old still isn’t sleeping through the night…. Do the hard thing.  Start actively trying to solve the problem.  Baby steps.

I never get to see my kids anymore….their schedules are so booked!  Do the hard thing.  Say no.  Claim some margin for your family.

My phone is a constant distraction.  So turn it off.  Find an hour (or fifteen minutes!) that you can live without it, and live without it.

Last year at this time we were struggling with staying at our church or finding a new one.  That was a hard thing, people–leaving what we’d known for nearly ten years to start over somewhere new.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (right up there with pulling my son from school mid-year to homeschool).  Seeing a connection between the two, a well-meaning friend reminded me that “You can’t just leave every time you don’t like something.”

Well, no, but life is too short to be miserable at church.  (And my kids are too important to be fed to the lions.)  And that idea is what I keep coming back to, when people hem and haw and fuss and complain about what they oughtta and what they shoulda…. Life is too short. 

Life is too short not to do what you can to fix a problem.

Life’s too short not to take a stand for your true priorities.

Even when it’s hard–and it IS HARD, y’all, I get it–life’s too short to live full of regrets.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Courage, friends.

 

 

 

 

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?