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.

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Pursuing enough….school?

December 13, 2013

I messaged two other homeschool moms recently, trying to figure out if I was doing enough.  It doesn’t ever feel like enough.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m not pushing my kids hard enough and school is too easy, or if the amount of our coursework over the days is too light, or if it’s simply that homeschool is different and it’s totally normal to be done at lunch time.  (It does help to have an early riser.)

Tied very closely to that is the fact that while both my older kids are bright, my oldest was officially tagged with a gifted label during his last year in public school.  Gifted does not necessarily translate into a love of learning, however, and he daily does the bare minimum required.  Is that enough?  How much more should I be challenging him, since he clearly could be challenged?

And the “s” word….socialization.  How hard do I push this high-anxiety, borderline social anxiety disorder kiddo into social situations?  Having watched his entire demeanor change once he started this homeschool process, seeing him go from a tightly-wound ball of stress to a laughing kid…..Knowing that he hates large groups, knowing the anxiety they cause; how do I encourage my introvert to be social?  Our local homeschool group has a Park Day every Friday; we went for awhile but the reality is, he views it as punishment.  He has no real friends in the group yet, and the size of the group means he’s very unlikely to make any.  He thrives in small group situations.  (I was thrilled to hear him comment recently that a boy his age in his gymnastics class was “becoming a friend.”  This was after an hour a week, for three months.)

Interesting….I just realized that after almost two years focusing on simplifying and paring down, this would be the one area in my life where I feel like it’s not enough.  Not really sure it ever will be.

Transitions

April 11, 2013

This has been a season of transitions.

In February, we started homeschooling my son, while my daughter continues to attend our neighborhood school.  Over the past two weeks, my husband’s workplace has been prepped and he officially has his first full-day work-from-home today.  The baby has been considerate enough to wait until the work move was complete, but she’s due to show up any day.  (Hint, hint, baby girl……ANY DAY NOW.)

The basement has transitioned from a nice place to hang out to a room full of cardboard and packing trash alongside the sleek computer equipment.  We’re still figuring out what to get rid of and how to arrange what we keep….it will probably take awhile.  I have to recognize that this shift is huge and that it’s not going to be a showplace tomorrow.

The nursery has transitioned from being worthy of an episode of “Hoarders,” to being cute and ready to welcome a new arrival, back to–well, it’s still nothing like it was.  The sudden overwhelming urge to paint (surely we can get the room painted before the baby shows up!), though, has turned it back into a space clearly not ready for habitation.  Half the room is taped, half is not; I’ve spackled the walls and they’re now sporting a delightful calamine-lotion-on-chicken-pox look, and all the furniture is pushed to the middle of the room.  Again:  it’s not going to be a showplace tomorrow.  And it doesn’t matter; the baby will be sleeping in the bassinet in the master bedroom for weeks anyway.

I have to laugh as I look back on how I started this blog focused on simplifying my family’s life…..things have only gotten exponentially more complicated.  It’s hard to be faithful to writing and posting when I’m doing so much reading and researching on homeschool stuff, never mind the normal, day-to-day getting ready for baby.  (At nine-and-3/4-months pregnant, all I really want to do is sit down.)  I’m realizing, though, that even through all this, my ideas of “enough” and “simplifying” are continuing to be defined and clarified.  (A perfect example is when my daughter looked in the nursery and asked, “Is this all that’s going to be in here?”)

I have all sorts of posts swimming about in my head….maybe, as this time of transition starts to settle down just a little, I’ll be able to start writing more.  I realize that it will probably get worse before it gets better.  🙂

Dealing with “stuff”

February 25, 2013

I realize that it’s been over a month since I’ve written anything.  Because I’ve been dealing with “stuff.”  Literally.  It’s everywhere.

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She seems perfectly harmless, right?

Let’s start with dog “stuff:”  no, not that kind of dog stuff.  I’m thinking of the afternoon I got back from picking up the kids from school and discovered that, in the twenty minutes I’d been gone, the dog had ripped the under-the-kitchen-sink cabinet door off its hinges and gotten into a full bag of trash.  That’s a full bag of trash, all over the kitchen floor, with a cabinet door laying on top of the mess like a fancy embellishment.  I tend to operate under the theory of “if you’re going to look back on this and laugh, you might as well laugh now,” but I’m pregnant and hormonal and I didn’t laugh.  I cried.  (Bending over to clean up an entire bag of trash is becoming not only uncomfortable but downright impractical.  Thank goodness for helpful children.)  That story, though, was only a lead-in for more “stuff.”  Thankfully, the rest of the stuff isn’t as nasty as a full bag of trash.

Baby “stuff:”  We’ve been extraordinarily blessed with a huge amount of things for the baby.  We’ve gone from “we have a nine- and a seven-year-old–we have nothing for a baby” to “I think all we have to buy now is a baby monitor.”  It’s been absolutely unbelievable, and I’m so grateful.  It’s also been all over the house, because, since we’ve never had babies in this house, I have no idea where to put any of it.  The big stuff, in a way, is easier to handle than the little things: while loading a swing and a playpen in the car I was actively thinking about where to unload them when we got home.  It’s the bags of things like baby bottles and sippy cups that are wearing me down; I’m going to have to clean out an entire kitchen cabinet to fit all this stuff.

So yes, baby “stuff:”  a laundry basket FULL of baby toys sat in our garage until I got tired of tripping over it (our garage is not THAT big), and then I brought it in and it sat on our kitchen counter.  For days.  Along with baby clothes passed on from my sister, which sat piled up on top of the dryer.  Also for days. Which then met with….

Car “stuff:”  We got a new car!  (Well, a new-to-us car.)  We found a great deal on my “I’ve wanted one for six years” seven-seater CX-9, which then leads to cleaning out your old car so you can trade it in.  Which means another bag of “stuff” culled from my old car, sitting on the kitchen counter.  Next to the laundry basket of baby toys.  (Feeling crowded yet?)

I finally, finally went through the bags and bins (and yes, an especially supportive friend came over and helped, because there comes a point where you don’t have the wherewithal to do it alone) and had a clean counter for a matter of days.  That’s about the time where our decision to homeschool one of our kiddos kicked in, and we ended up with…..

Homeschooling “stuff:”  math manipulatives and library books all over said counter.  (Again….where am I going to put all this stuff???)

This doesn’t count all the normal “stuff” of everyday life; school papers and newspapers and toys and shoes and books.  (I joked with my husband that when my son leaves stuff laying around, it’s in a big pile on the side table in the kitchen.  When my daughter leaves stuff laying around, she seems to dribble it everywhere.) Now, with two winter storms in less than a week, we also have snow-related “stuff:”  that giant pile of wet laundry and shoes that ends up next to the back door. (One point for me:  yesterday I had everyone just throw it all in the washer.  Immediately.)

To top it off, throughout the background of all this physical “stuff,” I’ve got ongoing mental “stuff.”  The phone call from the doctor’s office:  Your glucose test came back fine, but you’re anemic.  The phone call from the principal:  About your son….   The announcement from my husband:  You know those work from home positions?  I scored one.  (YAY!!  But….where will all THAT “stuff” go?!?)  All the “stuff” that rolls around in your head, 24/7, and makes you want to crawl back under the covers until it just goes away.  (Maybe that’s the anemia talking.  Or maybe it’s just that it’s February.)

So, bit by bit, we’re piecing things together over here.  Very slowly, things are finding homes.  I’ve had a clean counter for, I think, three days now….maybe I’m on a roll.  Hopefully, little by little, we’ll get new things put away in their new homes and we’ll start in on new routines and maybe I’ll even be able to write about it a little more.  Maybe, hopefully, in a more positive, not-so-whiny way.  Thanks for letting me vent.

Or, “Pursuing Enough” pursues more than enough….

 

It’s been awhile.  It’s been so long and I’m still so off-kilter that I’m not even sure I’m quite ready to start writing again…but I felt the need to check in after such a long absence.  Our family got back Monday night from an eleven-day (road) trip to Disneyworld and Legoland, sponsored very generously by my parents.  Six people in a twelve-passenger van; three days down, two days home (you know it’s a long trip when driving through five states is a good day).  Monday through Saturday we spent at all the different parks.

Overwhelming?  Yes.  Wonderful?  Absolutely.

The drive didn’t go nearly as badly as I anticipated; portable DVD players are beautiful things…and bringing along all the kids schoolwork they were missing out on helped, too.  (Full disclosure:  due to our school district’s quirky calendar, we were able to take an eleven day trip with the kids only missing three days of school.  We were NOT the only people to jump on that opportunity.)  My dad and husband sat up front and took turns driving, continually arguing with the GPS system and making her angry (“Recalculating!”).  The rest of us spread out in back, switching places when needed, since siblings can only sit together for so long.

Our time in the parks was great…my daughter met everyone she wanted to meet, including Tinkerbell, and my son rode all the coasters he wanted to ride.  My husband quickly learned how to work the Fast-Pass system (and I mean really work it), which meant that we didn’t have to wait in line more than twenty minutes for any ride we did.  (It also meant blisters for my poor husband as he ran the parks to collect the things…)

And then….Monday night at 7:30 home, Tuesday morning at 8:00 back to school.  There’s a nice jolt of reality for you.

I think, three days later, I’m just now starting to feel like things are getting a little back to normal; although with my son’s birthday plans this weekend (9 years old today!  Happy birthday, sweet boy!) and the relentless talk of getting a new dog now that we’re home, I’m still not quite feeling settled.  October is one of my favorite months of the year.  I think it’s time I slowed down a minute and tried to enjoy it.

One last thought on vacations and returning home:  I know that technically, what we come “home” to is just a bunch of wood and siding and insulation and metal, etc.  I know that really, it’s just a bunch of “stuff” that shouldn’t really matter all that much.  But after you’ve been gone for eleven days, it becomes much more than that.  It’s what it represents:  home base, safety, the comfort of the familiar, the “normal,” Home.  Night after night of sleeping in hotel beds gives you a new appreciation for your own bed; night after night of sleeping in hotel rooms gives you a new appreciation for your own room, which my children disappeared into the moment they got home, introducing their new stuffed animals to their old ones.  Right now I’m so grateful for this house, this home, and for the comfort of (slowly) getting back into a routine.

It’s good to be back.

Back to school…

August 20, 2012

So…that’s where I’ve been for the past week.

Doing the last bit of shopping for what the kiddos need, while trying to not duplicate what we already have.

Savoring the last two days of summer break.

Labeling school supplies and loading backpacks.

Squeezing in one last big trip to the library.

Meeting teachers, student teachers (for both kids!), and checking in with past teachers.

Consoling my tearful daughter, often, about going to “all-day” school, aka first grade.  (“Why can’t we just go half-day?  I liked half-day!  I’ll miss you!”)

Settling the kids in their classrooms and then spending an entire day with my mom; coffee, lunch, shopping….

Doing my normal, day-to-day housekeeping things….with an added benefit of kid-free grocery shopping.

Praying for my little ones, as they start this new year.

Tucking notes in lunch boxes, hoping they give at least a bit of encouragement (especially for “all-day” daughter).

And fending off question after question after question, all phrased a bit differently, but all asking the same thing:  “What are you going to do with all your time?”

Truth:  I’m not 100% sure.  Day Three of no-kids and I haven’t approached anything like a “normal” day yet; the year is still too new to have established any true routines.  Even my normal morning routine has been upended this year; forced into something different and still not truly set.  What will my days look like?  What will I be doing with this time?

I’m fairly sure He will show me.