Don't let your kids have all the fun! Shelli puts her project-based learning skills to work learning something she's always wanted to know how to do, and it's just as amazing as she hoped it would be.
As homeschoolers, we spend a huge chunk of time preparing our kids to be independent, competent people setting off on their own adventures. But what happens to us when our homeschool days are behind us? With a little forethought and some strategic dreaming, we can plan a next chapter for ourselves as exciting as the one we’re busy preparing for our offspring. Here’s how.
IT SHOULDN'T COME AS a shock, but often, it does: After years of learning at home with our kids, they’re ready to head off on their own to their next adventure, and we’re left not totally sure what to do with ourselves now that this all-encompassing period of life is finished.
Homeschooling defines our kids’ educational experience, but it also defines us and our sense of who we are. We spend a lot of time thinking about our child’s educational and social development, but the truth is that homeschooling changes us as much as it changes our kids. When we sign off on that last high school transcript and see our child off to college or work or whatever next step he’s chosen for his life, we are not the same people we were when we first Googled “benefits of homeschooling.”
“When we started homeschooling, I was this shy, anxious person with a degree in computer science,” says Laura*, whose son left for college in 2010 after a decade of homeschooling. “When we finished, I had started and organized three homeschool groups, ran a local homeschool blog, and discovered that I liked history a lot more than computer science.”
Laura, who went back to college for her M.A. at the same time her son started his sophomore year, now teaches history at a private school. “It’s my dream job, but I never would have known that if I hadn’t homeschooled,” she says. “I loved being a homeschool mom, but I love this new chapter of my life, too.”
Letting go of our lives as homeschool parents is a major transition, and it’s fine to mourn those halcyon days of readalouds and backyard science experiments. But the transition from homeschooling doesn’t have to mean losing yourself—in fact, as Laura and other graduated homeschool parents have discovered, your post-homeschool life can be about finding yourself again.
“For nearly two decades, homeschooling was all I thought about—all my goals were goals for my kids not for myself,” says Janet*, who sent the last of four always-homeschooled children off to college in 1999.
Deci, who started yoga classes when her youngest was in high school, went on to become a trained yoga instructor and now teaches yoga at her own studio. “I thought my life was over when my youngest moved out, but it was really just another beginning.”
TO MAKE THIS TRANSITION as graceful and gradual as possible, start laying the groundwork for your future adventures now. These simple exercises will help you point a path toward your future, whether you’re in your first weeks of kindergarten or prepping college applications.
Give yourself room to explore. Jump in now to join your kids in constructing salt-dough maps of the world or learning how to crochet or studying astronomy. You’ll never have a more welcoming environment for your intellectual curiosity than your homeschool days, so don’t miss the opportunity to flex your own learning muscles now. The happiest and most successful second-lifers are the ones who are willing to invest in their own skills and education—something that homeschool parents may be uniquely positioned to do, says Pamela Mitchell, a reinvention coach. If you’re not sure where to start, try a little bit of everything, and keep a journal to write down your emotional reactions to your efforts. Over time, you’ll start to recognize patterns that identify your interests.
Don’t be afraid to think small. A lot of people hang onto the idea that transitions don’t count unless they are dramatic, but you don’t have to backpack across Asia or become a YouTube celebrity to have a satisfying post-homeschool life. Something as simple as a part-time job at your favorite bookstore or signing up for a watercolor class can be a great first step toward redefining yourself, says life coach Marc Astwell. “Imagining a whole new life can feel really intimidating, but a new life is just a series of small steps,” he says. Your great new adventure can look a lot like your homeschool life did—just shift the focus to yourself and your interests rather than keeping your energies focused on your kids.
Keep a dream board. Whether it’s a real-life cork board or a private Pinterest board, start a collection of images, quotes, ideas, and other inspiration for your life after homeschool. Maybe you’ll find your board filling up with books you want to read or home improvement projects you want to try; maybe you’ll accumulate novel writing tips or travel destinations. Don’t be persnickety about what goes on your board—if something inspires you, add it to the mix. Later, you may want to look for patterns and cull your board to reflect your plans, but for now, let your mind run wild. You may discover that your board changes over time—that’s perfectly fine. You can remove items if they no longer speak to your interests, but treat this board like a visual brain dump where lots of different possibilities can exist together.
Be a quitter. Many people hang onto volunteer positions long after our passion for a project has faded into a sense of obligations, but this is a sure-fire way to close yourself off to other opportunities, says Mitchell. This doesn’t mean you have to drop volunteer projects that make your kids’ lives better (like coordinating the weekly park day they love even though it’s not your favorite thing on your to-do list), but it does mean that you should start thinking about transition plans for letting go of these projects as your kids outgrow them. “It’s tough because sometimes there’s no one to pick up your slack,” says Laura*, who was sad to see one of the homeschool groups she founded fold when she stepped away from her leadership role. “But at some point you have to drop the rope—and the earlier you start laying the groundwork for that, the fewer stresses and hurt feelings you’ll have to deal with.” Mitchell recommends making a list of your volunteer commitments every fall and circling the ones that you absolutely love. “Look for ways to cut back the time you spend on the ones that don’t feed your soul,” she says.
Look back. For many people, mid-life transformation isn’t as much about discovering a new passion as it is about rediscovering an old one. “Think about the things that you loved in childhood or adolescence, the ones that you put aside for a more practical career,” says Astwell. “For many people, those early passions are still the ones that make us come alive.” So if your garage is full of short stories you wrote before you decided to study accounting or you used to spend every spare minute in the woods behind yourself, a clue to your future passion may lie in your past. “I wanted to be an actress growing up, but I wasn’t a great actress, and my parents convinced me I’d be better off putting my acting skills to work in business,” says Gwen*, who homeschooled her two daughters for nine years. “When my youngest got involved in community theater in high school, so did I—and I still act and work behind the scenes for our local troupe all these years later.”
Give yourself permission to fall apart—for a little while. However you prepare, the actuality of life after homeschooling can hit you hard. You've been extreme parenting for years, using every ounce of your time and energy in a specific direction. To have that pulled away from you, even for the happy reason that your child is now your adult, can be emotionally wrenching, says Jett Parriss, an Oakland, Calif., therapist. You may suddenly notice lots of things you’ve been too busy to pay attention to: health problems, work dissatisfaction, life imbalances. It can be scary and overwhelming, so let yourself be scared and overwhelmed for a short time. In the long run, falling apart and putting yourself back together will serve you better than pretending you’ve got it all under control.
* We use first names only when we reprint articles on the website to protect the privacy of the people nice enough to share their stories with us.
This is a portion of an article originally published in the winter 2016 issue of home/school/life.
I once walked into the house after a two-week holiday and immediately thought, “The neighbors must have had a party in here! We couldn’t possibly live like this!” But alas, we do live “like this,” and the grime in the sink and the Lego blocks on the floor were wholly of our own making.
Before I had children, when my husband and I both worked outside he home all day, the house was always clean and tidy. We hardly owned anything and our home only really consisted of a few small rooms. As our family grew, so did our possessions. I had less and less time to clean, dwindling enthusiasm for tidying up toys that would just get dragged out again, and I wanted to spend my time with my babies, not with my clutter.
It used to really bother me that my house was untidy. It bothered me a lot. I used to think to myself that I wanted people to walk into my house and feel relaxed, not stressed by having to move toy train tracks or Spiderman magazines off the seat before they could sit down. I didn’t want people to have to step over big bags of outgrown clothes in the hallway, waiting patiently to be given away to charity. I wanted people to feel at home here.
Back on that day we’d just returned from our holiday, when my house was in such a state it looked as though it had been ransacked by burglars, I noticed how my children reacted when we walked in. The six-year-old put his pjs on then went straight into the living room, lay on the sofa and started looking at his Spiderman magazines. My 10-year-old stepped over those charity cast-offs and went upstairs to listen to an audiobook. My 13-year-old went to the kitchen and started baking cookies. They felt at home.
Noticing all of this inspired me to look again at my goals for my home. I wanted people to feel relaxed and comfortable here. Which people? Visitors who hardly ever come? People who might raise their eyebrows at my clutter or criticize me for having a messy house? Naysayers who question my life choices and shrink from the chaos of my life? No. The people who I want to feel relaxed and at home here are the only people that matter: my family.
I’ve taken to saying that my home is a “working home.” When you visit a “working farm,” you’d expect rather a lot of mud and straw and dust and mess, because it is a place of work. Similarly, when you come to my home, expect mess because this is a place of work and creativity and imperfection. And we embrace all of that.
When you visit us you may have to cleave a path to the sofa, but I can always guarantee excellent reading material (particularly if you are a Spiderman fan) and excellent home baking.
During those idle moments when I’m too tired to think, I start surfing the web. Without fail, I’ll usually come across some kind of article warning parents about the perils of screen time for their children. I’ve read that screen time can hurt children’s social skills, can cause obesity, or it hurts children’s brain development. I’m not arguing that these points are completely false. Too much screen time isn’t good for anybody, but I’m growing wary of these articles. How about an article telling parents to trust their instincts when it comes to screen time? How about an article saying that if your life is well balanced with many different activities throughout the day, including screen time, you don’t have to worry so much?
If your child begins to misbehave, or you notice other negative consequences from letting your child play digital games or watch television, then by all means, create the boundaries you feel they need. For me, I believe screen time should complement an already busy day. We watch a lot of documentaries and entertaining shows together as a family (about 30 minutes each at lunch and dinner), and as we watch, we laugh, pose questions, and sometimes get inspired to try new things. You might be surprised that we allow this during mealtimes, but my husband and I very much consider our program-watching part of our home education. It’s yielded too many good things to consider it otherwise.
In the late afternoon, the boys have about 1-1.5 hour to play digital games. After this, they either go outside to play if the weather is nice, or they watch some television, if the weather isn’t nice. At night right before bed, they also watch a couple of programs.
When I talk to other mothers and learn about their screen time allowances, I realize we let our kids watch and play more than most parents allow. But I also hear a lot about children’s misbehavior…or perceived misbehavior. They cry and fight because they want more television. They get lost in a video game and won’t stop, etc. I don’t know if it’s my boy’s personalities or the way we deal with screen time, but my boys never ask for more screen time or give us other trouble about it. At the most, I sometimes have a hard time getting them to quit a game, but it rarely escalates. I always allow them to reach a natural stopping point, which seems fair to me, so they are usually fine when it’s quitting time.
Speaking of quitting time, we’ve kept the same schedule, which evolved naturally when my eldest was very young, for all these years. Our mornings and early afternoons are steeped in activity…lessons, playtime, time to create or run around outside. The late afternoons and evenings contain most of the screen time, though we often go outside for a while during this time too, and my eldest practices piano after dinner as well. Children crave routine, and I think this schedule has made it easier for them. They know exactly when it’s time to watch a little TV or play their games. They also know when it’s time to work on lessons, play outside or inside, make some art, practice piano, eat a meal, clean up, cuddle with mom, visit with a friend, take a family day trip, or do some other activity.
One thing I have noticed with my boys is that the time they get to play a game or watch TV is extremely important to them. It’s the thing they look forward to most in their day. I think a lot of parents (including myself) can feel disappointed when a child values screen time over, say, playing outdoors, reading a book, or any other number of activities we like to consider “productive.” But I’ve come to see that my boy’s screen time is very productive. Not only are they learning skills through the games they are playing (or the programming we allow them to watch), they are interacting, collaborating, and having discussions with one another. When they aren’t playing, they often discuss their games with each other, planning strategy ahead of time.
As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time. Also as their mom, I want to make sure they are participating in a variety of activities, so I consider it my job to facilitate time for reading, playing outside, going hiking, going on a field trip, time with friends, or even science experiments… all things my boys love to do, but they aren’t necessarily going to make plans to do these things like they would plan on building a zoo in Minecraft together.
Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children. Don’t let the media (or even me) make you feel bad for what works for your family.
Sometimes in the middle of a busy homeschool life, silence is the most beautiful sound. Lisa celebrates the magic of a moment of silence.
An online quiz may not be the bedrock to base all your life choices on—but these five tests can be surprisingly revealing when it comes to illuminating your post-homeschool life. (And hey, quizzes are fun, right?)
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator :: The MBTI can tell you all kinds of cool things about yourself: how you like to learn, where you get your energy, how you make decisions, what kind of structure you prefer. (The detailed feedback in the official online version may be worth the $50 price tag, but this free online version is a good option, too.)
Career Strengths Test :: The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation developed this series of tests for Oprah to measure specific skills, including inductive reasoning and foresight.
Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator :: A friend’s mom swears by this personality test, which tells you whether you’re a reformer, helper, achiever, individualist, investigator, loyalist, enthusiast, challenger, or peacemaker.
Pymetrics :: Play a series of games to test your cognitive and social know-how, and get a summary of your strengths and weaknesses. (The results may surprise you in a good way.)
My Next Move o-net Interest Profiler :: This U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored tool helps you identify possible career paths and clues you into opportunities along those paths that match your level of experience.
Read the rest of our "Writing Your Next Chapter" feature in the winter issue of home/school/life.
This week I took my daughter to an appointment where we happened to run into a family from her old school. The mother was always someone I could chat to in the playground, but I haven’t seen her in a long time because my kids are no longer there. As she was leaving, she said, “Lisa, I’ve hardly spoken to you! And how aaaaarrrrrreee yoooooouuuu?” She said it in such a pitying sort of way, I realized that she assumed that the everyday life of a homeschooling mother must be a truly terrible and exhausting thing.
Homeschooling is an every day choice. If we wanted to, we could sign our children up for school tomorrow. But we don’t choose that. We actually CHOSE home education because, when you scrape away the arguments and irritations of daily family life, we LOVE it as a way of learning and as a lifestyle.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some drawbacks. Dealing with those takes a little more care and consideration. Prioritizing my own wellness has been one of our greatest challenges. A letter for a routine medical test came in the post and all I needed to do was make one phone call. But who makes phone calls when there’s home education to be done? It took me over a week to deal with that letter and make that appointment.
I’ve had a sore throat this week, and really wished I could have a duvet day, snuggled in bed with a good book. But I can’t do that either. I’ve tried, but eventually find that the needs of the family draw me back and demand attention.
Making time for wellness practices has been integral to maintaining a sense of groundedness and joy in our homeschool day. We homeschooling mothers can be experts at putting our own needs last. I have found that, when I put myself last, I feel last and that eventually turns into resentment. Instead, giving myself small but significant wellness breaks throughout the day makes a bigger overall difference than handing the kids over to my husband for a day and heading out on my own (although I wouldn’t say no to that, now and then).
My tiny wellness practices are simple but meaningful. Every morning I pour myself a big glass of water before the children and I sit down to read together. When they have screen time I make a point of ignoring the chores for a time. Instead I sit on the sofa and read my book for a while. Sometimes I go out to the garage and ride the exercise bike for a quarter of an hour. First thing in the morning I try to get up at least 15-30 minutes before my husband has to leave for work and practice some Yoga and meditation in my room (sometimes alone, sometimes with the other four members of my family milling around looking for socks). I add little inexpensive treats for myself to the shopping list: a chocolate bar, cut-price flowers, a new box of pencils (Yes: geek. Guilty as charged.). I spend three or four extra minutes in the shower when I’m doing nothing but enjoying it.
We all need to feel valued and nurtured. My children don’t necessarily know how to give me that, and to some extent it’s not really their role. As an adult I have to look after my own needs. It doesn’t have to be something time-consuming or expensive, just something for me. What do you do to nurture yourself? How do you prioritize a wellness practice amongst the busyness of homeschool life?
Moms, we know how hard you work all year long. Your efforts truly make the world a better place. So, with the holiday season upon us, I’ve decided to do something different this month. Instead of bringing you my latest, greatest curriculum discoveries, I went digging for resources intended especially for you—and I think I’ve found just the thing!
Amy Bowers blogs beautifully about “creative family living” at mamascouts.blogspot.com. She is also the host of periodic online learning labs. This month, for the fourth year in a row, Amy looks forward to helping folks gear up for the season with her online resource, Holiday Lab. The primary aim of this lab is to inspire a calm, restorative holiday season and help readers find ways to be truly present to the beauty of the season.
In a letter to subscribers Amy explains, “Holiday Lab is a process (your process). A yearly reflection and meditation about tradition, creation and the shadow and light in our lives. This is not a to do list, a manifesto, or a guide book. It is an invitation and permission to carve out a tiny bit of quiet and to reclaim ownership of a season whose success and magic is often borne on the shoulders of moms and women.”
Sound good? I thought so, too! Here’s how it works. As a subscriber, you receive a lab in your inbox ten days in a row—weekdays only. As each lab is yours to keep, you can work at your own pace throughout the season.Each lab opens with an inspiring quote followed by a lovely essay written by Amy. In past years these pieces have been reflections on such themes as maintaining health, making space—both physical and mental, the value of simplifying the holidays as well as her thoughts on family traditions.
Do you journal? Is this a practice you’ve been meaning to establish forever? Get started by using Holiday Lab’s thoughtful journal prompts. Each prompt is a question inspired by Amy’s essays and will get you thinking about the way that you approach the holiday season.
The creative projects portion of each lab is great fun. Here Amy provides ideas to try with your family or, if you prefer, to do all on your own. Previous project ideas include vision boards, making ornaments and surprising someone in your community with a special handcrafted treat. Each idea nicely complements featured essays and journal prompts.
I love the recipe ideas that Amy provides in a section she calls “Soul Food.” Each looks nourishing and delicious, but also simple and straightforward—just what we need this time of the year.
A very special Holiday Lab feature is the private Facebook group Amy moderates for participants. Here members offer one another additional support and ideas to infuse the holidays with meaning and mindfulness.
Holiday Lab celebrates Christmas as a cultural tradition and is secular in its approach. Amy notes that everyone is welcome; the themes explored are “broad enough to serve any religion or ideological framework.”
In the upcoming months of homeschooling, holiday magic-making for family and friends, pause for a second and give yourself a gift. Holiday Lab starts November 30th. The cost for the lab is $30. To register, go here.
In the festive days ahead, you’ll probably find your days are especially full. Throughout this time, give yourself extra self-care. Make time for creativity, reflection and good food. Dance and laugh with friends. Drink cocoa! Make many moments to pause with your little ones and just absorb the simple beauty of the season. Happy holidays, everyone.
There was a time when I believed that I could do it all. I could work and be a mother and wife and also have my own interests—and importantly, I’d do it all dazzlingly well and my hair would look good, to boot. Way back, before I’d even had children, I think I imagined my future self as doing all of these things because that’s the yarn the 1970s and 80s spun for its daughters and sons: women can do it all, have it all, without smudging their blue eye shadow or putting a feathered hair out of place.
Imagine my shock when I actually had a baby in my arms: my own baby who needed and wanted me 24/7, who made rational thought seemingly-impossible, who made punctuality a thing of the past. Have it all? For goodness sake, I couldn’t even have a shower.
Later, when I began homeschooling my children, it became apparent that whatever career or other aspirations I had would need to take a back seat for a while longer than I’d originally envisioned. I felt excited about making homeschooling my full-time job, but also somewhat despondent that the ideas and enthusiasm I had for my work couldn’t come to fruition at the pace I’d envisioned. I love homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t also love my work, my interests, my hobbies, my passions.
I look back and think of what I’ve had to release in order to be at home with my children. You might call them “sacrifices.” But I choose to frame them differently. Instead of thinking of what I gave up to be with my children, I am filling my frame with all that I have received. Instead of dwelling on what I could have been, I rejoice in what I am.
Since beginning this journey of parenthood I have learned so many things. I’ve taught myself how to cook, to knit, to crochet. I’ve learned how to communicate with compassion, to respect others’ needs and appreciate my own. I’ve learned to look myself in the mirror and accept myself regardless of what I look like or how much sleep I’ve had. I’ve come to measure my worth against my own balance sheet rather than my employer’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. I’ve learned that I have instincts and I’ve adjusted my antennae so I’m tuned into them.
I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I opened my hands and released all that I held, and into those empty hands fell different, unexpected gifts. I do have it all. It’s just not the “all” that you might expect.
Fear is a normal part of life; and can certainly be a part of homeschooling. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Are we out of the house too often? Are my children learning all they need to be learning? Is my teen going to be ready to move out and live on his own? You get the idea.
Most of us have these moments of uncertainty and fear. Right? They’re especially common when you first step onto the homeschooling path, but, to be honest, mine still pop up from time to time, even though I’ve been at this for 18 years. While I’m confident in our decision to homeschool, and love the life we’ve created around our homeschooling journey, I still have to be mindful and notice when fear starts creeping in.
The funny thing about these homeschooling fears, is that most of them aren’t based on the “truth of what is” in this moment, but instead are worries about the future – things that haven’t happened yet; things that might never happen. So why do we put energy towards that?
Now, when I talk about fears here, I don’t mean the very real fears that come from living in a crazy, sometimes dangerous world. I’m talking about fears and anxiety directly related to the homeschooling path. These fears, I believe, come from a space of “not enough.” These fears come from comparison.
When we look at our children and ourselves where we are in each moment, with clear eyes, and open heart, we can accept where we are without fear. But when we start comparing our homeschooling, and our kids, with others—either schooled-kids or other homeschoolers or even to ourselves when we were their age—we open ourselves up to fear.
During my own moments of deep anxiety, I’ve found myself awake at 3 in the morning, heart pounding, mind racing, not really worried about where my boys are right now, but worried about where they’ll be in the future. What if my little one never learns to read? (His brother was reading by this age.) What if he hates learning new things and he goes through life barely able to have an intelligent conversation? What if my teen never becomes a good driver or never wants to cook for himself? What if he never learns to balance his checkbook and pay bills? (When I was his age I was already working and had a car payment, and made most of my own meals.)
I know, in my rational mind, that these particular fears are self-created, and stem from my own insecurities about my role as homeschooling mom, and my own expectations around who I want my children to be. They are based on what-ifs, not what-is. Fortunately, I’ve gotten better over the years at recognizing this and learning how to move past the anxiety. I’ve even started to figure out how to use my worries and fears for good, instead of letting them keep me awake at night.
What I’ve come to realize is that, in certain situations, fear can be useful. It tells us to run or fight when danger is near. It can prompt us to stop what we’re doing and try something new. Unfortunately, most of the time our fears just keep us stuck. Fear keeps us in our head and out of the present moment. And it can be damaging to our relationships with our children, who most definitely pick up on our fears and anxiety, even if we never talk about it with them. In fact, research has shown that parents with high levels of anxiety tend to have children with high levels of fear and anxiety. And none of us want that.
So what can we do, and teach our children to do, to let go of these fears when they arise? Here is what works for me:
- Bring focus to the fear. Don’t fight it or try to distract yourself from it. Instead, take a moment to stop what you’re doing and really look at it.
- Trace the fear back to its source. What is the fear really about? Do you really believe your child will not be reading when he’s an adult? Are you truly worried that you’ve made the wrong choice? Or is it something else? Where does the fear originate?
- Look at it without attachment. Once you stop and examine the fear, and trace it to its source, try to sit with it without attachment. Say to yourself, “I am feeling fear,” not “I am afraid.” Notice the feeling in your body. But don’t judge the feeling or identify with it. See it as a temporary state.
- Turn to the breath. Following the breath can calm the nervous system. First, notice the breath flowing in, and notice the breath flowing out. If you’d like to take it further, you can do a four-count breath: breath in, deeply, for a count of four; hold the breath in for a count of four; exhale, deeply, for a count of four; and hold the breath out for a count of four. Repeat as needed.
- Write it out. Once you have examined the fear and calmed your mind, you may find it useful to create a list of possible actions, scenarios, and outcomes, related to your fear. For example, if you’re worried that your teen will never learn to drive well, make a list of ways he can get more practice. What can he do on his own? And what are ways you can help? And then make a list of options related to the idea that he may never be a good driver or even want to drive. Uber. Taxis. Public transportation. Walking. Biking. These are all viable options that can be included. Whatever your parenting or homeschooling fear is at the moment, coming up with an action plan and also seeing alternate outcomes to your expectations can be tremendously helpful.
- Finally, focus on the great things about your homeschooling and your children. What are the things you are doing right? What are the things your children love? Find the joy in your relationships. Find the joy in your homeschooling. This could make a wonderful list too. Maybe you can add to it every day to help keep the fears at bay.
A teacher once told me that the opposite of fear is love. I like to think of it as joy. While fear keeps us stuck in our comfort zones, limiting our views of the world, joy opens us up to new possibilities. Joy helps us see the awesomeness in our every day activities and relationships. It creates flow in our lives and homes.
Becoming fearless doesn’t mean never being afraid. It just means being able to move beyond our fears into a space of openness. It means showing our children that it’s ok to risk, and fail, and try again. That it’s OK to change course. Learning to navigate our own fears and anxieties in our homeschooling, and in our lives, helps us build connections with our children and the world around us. And that’s why we homeschool, isn’t it?
So what are you afraid of? And how do you work through those fears?
There are emails in my inbox from my children this morning. My son has sent a link titled, “Best Worst Game Trailer Ever,” and my daughter, the middle kid, has sent an email titled, “How Utah Solved Homelessness,” and “TV Return Dates.” My latest email exchange with the oldest is titled “21 Things you can do in London that are Free.”
This habit of emailing each other throughout our day has grown, I think, from something my husband started. He sat down a couple of years ago and made a list of things he heard the kids bring up in conversation often. He created a list of Google Alerts for himself with keywords based on those topics and the alerts became fodder for email exchanges with the kids (and me — he outlined my interests, as well). At first I was perhaps a little skeptical of his motives, but I soon saw how often those exchanges started spilling into our conversations, sparking exchanges we might not have otherwise had, and how many times an idea or concept picked up in this manner turned into a whole family dialogue.
Even better, the kids began responding in a similar fashion. When they came across something they found amusing, enlightening, or curious, they’d send an email titled, “What do you think of this?” or “Something we should consider.”
It’s become another way for me to peek inside their universe at an age where kids are often accused of being less accessible. I may not know every detail, but in this small way I think I am gaining a greater understanding of what captures their interest and imagination. I don’t always understand what draws them to the things they are drawn to, but these glimpses have opened my eyes to things I might not have noticed on my own. I learn a little something with each note and what evolves into conversation helps me understand where a topic ranks in importance.
Many of these exchanges burn out quickly, while others have become subject of daily conversation between a few of us and sometimes all. I like the point of contact that fits between schedules that are increasingly filled with job and school obligations, something our lives were free of for so long.
These email exchanges are indicative of our changing roles. We serve as the primary resources for our children less and less with each passing day. More and more, they are teaching us, showing us the things we need to learn to keep up with this ever-changing world.
Sometimes, the perfect life looks a little messier than you might have expected. Shelli explores the surprising beauty of a messy house.
There are four baskets of unfolded laundry at the foot of your bed. The afternoon light streaming through the window is shining a spotlight on dusty floors. It’s almost time for dinner, and you haven’t even thought about it yet.
Other mothers are so much better at all this stuff. They plan meals, keep their houses clean, play with their children and watch prime time T.V. while snuggling with their husbands after the children go to bed. Maybe that is an unrealistic image, but other moms seem so much better at this.
You were never a neat freak by any means, but before the children came along, the house was at least tidy. Now the clutter, oh, the clutter that comes with children and—especially— homeschooling.
A new neighbor stops by with her son, and you look over your dining room before you answer the door. Only, it’s a not a dining room anymore. It’s been converted into the “school room,” and it is cluttered with all your homeschooling books, games, projects, and more. The mess is not pretty like the messes you see in parenting magazines. It is cardboard-dust, glue-stains, puzzle-boxes-dangerously-stacked, broken-crafts-crammed-onto-the- shelves messy,
You wish you didn’t always feel the need to apologize for the mess, but you can’t help it. You do it anyway, and you expect your neighbor to give the routine reply. “Oh, don’t worry about it! I completely understand.” (That’s what you always say.)
Instead, she stands there quietly, look- ing around, and she says slowly, “Do you know what this says to me?”
You shake your head. Messes can speak?
She says, “This tells me that you spend a lot of time doing activities with your children. I would like to do more of that.”
You feel something akin to light shining around your head. It’s more than a light bulb. It’s a new perspective. You would like to kiss your new neighbor, but you control yourself.
No mother is perfect, and every mother has her own talents. Some are good at cooking. Some are good at organizing. Others are good at being spontaneous. Some are good at creating structure. Some encourage messes because they know their kids are creating and using their imaginations.
Some mothers and fathers work full-time or part-time, and some of them do that while also homeschooling their children. Some spouses help out more than other spouses. Every household has its own way of splitting up the duties of making a living, keeping the house clean, and giving the children an education.
But listen to this: No matter how you slice it up, something has to give. You are either giving up time with the children, or you are giving up time to take care of yourself. Absolutely nobody can do it all.
Make a list of your priorities. What do you want to accomplish? What are the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy quality of life for yourself and family? Put those at the top. (You better put self-care up there. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of your family?) Now, what’s the least important stuff?
Think about this. What’s the least important thing that you can let go of? One of these things is surely keeping a clean house. If you are always worrying about the clutter in your house, then you have too much clutter in your brain. Let it go.
Make your goal more reasonable. Think “sanitary and livable” but not perfect. Dust bunnies, clutter, and glitter in the carpet can wait. You have more important things to do.
On the crazy days when you feel most overwhelmed, go back to your list of priorities. Have you maintained that top one? If yes, pat yourself on the back. When life gets the most harried, that’s what is most important.
This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine.
The jet lag is tough. Four days ago we flew home to Great Britain, after a long holiday in North America where we visited friends and family. We’ve unpacked the suitcases, thrown several loads of laundry into the washing machine, been to the supermarket, and are now trying to get back into the groove. Well, almost.
Taking a holiday has always been an opportunity for my family to reevaluate our rhythms and routines. Stepping away from our various projects and commitments, leaving behind the pile of homeschool books and resources, is a chance to think about what we want for our family. Usually we don’t discover new goals, we simply come back to our family’s core values. Time together. A love of learning. Curiosity. Discovery. Fresh air. A concern for nature and our fellow human beings. Helping others. Love.
It’s not so much that we stray from these values and need to come back them; more that I forget that they’re there, and they become buried beneath the making-breakfast-practice-the-piano-where-did-you-put-my-shoes-ness of daily life. I like it that I get wrapped up in the everyday, because to me that means I am present to my family. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose sight of what we as a family believe because I want everything in our lives to draw us closer to our core values.
To that effect, I apply my mind every summer to thinking about what we do and how we do it. Do we still want to have family games night on a Wednesday? Do our agreements about screen time still make sense? What direction do our projects seem to be taking, and how could I tweak things to better support the children in their work? Are we socializing enough, or perhaps too much? And the question of questions: are we happy?
Family life changes over time: babies become children who learn to read. Those children become teenagers: all limbs and mobile phones. Husbands turn grey and take up home brewing. For me, life seems too busy and I find myself hatching plans for how I can retreat to my rocking chair with my crochet. It all sounds like a slightly skewed Norman Rockwell painting, but you get the point: what worked for my family last year may not ring true for us now. Though most of us hold in our heads the idea that things are static, in fact they are in a constant state of flux.
The idea is to embrace change. I work at seeing it as my friend. I ask myself what I can change to lead us toward a greater experience of happiness. I attempt to make those changes. Sometimes they work. Other times we go back to the way things were and chalk it up to experience. Change can be hard to swallow and for the change-averse needs to be gradual and ever so gentle. But if the alternative is to be stuck in a rut, I know what I’d choose. Right now, we are figuring out where our ruts are.
One of the moms at our regular park day wants to turn every learning-related conversation into a competition where her kids are smarter and better than everyone else. How can I politely shut her down?
If you started homeschooling to get away from competitive education, you may be out of luck. For every chill, laidback homeschooler who’s never looked at her child’s test scores, there’s a homeschooling mom who watches her — and your — child’s academic progress like a hawk. Your son loves Harry Potter? Her daughter just finished War and Peace. Your daughter is finishing up her math workbook? Her son found that particular curriculum way too easy. Your son loves his new art class? Her son is repainting the Sistine Chapel. Whatever you’re talking about, the conversation always seems to veer to how smart/talented/superior her child is.
Before you get grumpy, consider the fact that this mom may be facing criticism from her family or insecurity about her own abilities to be a successful homeschool parent. She may be aggressive because she feels like she has to convince other people that her child is doing well. While that knowledge won’t make her behavior any less irritating, it can help you deal with it politely, says Maralee McKee, an Orlando homeschool mom and author of the book Manners That Matter for Moms. For starters, resist getting drawn into specifics: The more details you give, the more ammunition she has for comparison. Be vague: “Oh, we’re always reading, but I don’t know what’s on the list off the top of my head,” or “We’re doing pretty well in math right now, but I’m afraid if I talk about it too much, I’ll jinx it.”
If she keeps pushing, it’s perfectly acceptable to let her know you’re not interested in the conversation: “All we’ve done is talk about school stuff! I’d love to know more about that farmers market you were talking to Susan about” or “Jordan’s reading list is under control, but I’m looking for something to read myself. Have you read any good books lately?” And if your polite diversions don’t have any effect, you’re well within your mannerly rights to excuse yourself and relocate your blanket to another part of the playground.
Originally published in the summer 2014 issue of home/school/life magazine. Subscribe to get great homeschool content every season. Do you have a question about homeschooling? Email us, and we’ll try to help you find an answer. Questions may be published in future issues of home/school/life.
So you want to make storytelling part of your homeschool life, but you’re not sure where to start? No worries: These five story-generating ideas will give you the inspiration you need to be spinning stories in no time.
Folk and Fairy Tales
Remember, these stories you know by heart are fresh and new to your child. If you feel blocked by the prospect of coming up with an original idea, retell classic stories in your own words. You’ll find the narratives quickly take on a life of their own.
Your family history may prove fertile ground for storytelling, whether you’re rattling off tales you remember about your mischievous grandmother, sharing what life was like for your family during the Great Depression, or telling stories about life on the old family farm.
Things you remember from your own youth — the day you learned to ride a bike, what it was like selling Girl Scout cookies in the neighborhood, when you lost your first tooth — can provide surprisingly rich fodder for storytelling sessions.
You may not think there’s much material in everyday activities, but stories about making a loaf of bread, tending the kitchen garden, or taking the dog for a walk can make ideal tales, whether you keep it simple or add your own embellishments.
What plans are those squirrels lurking around the birdfeeder making? How does the moon spend the night when everyone else is asleep? How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? Nature has plenty of stories to inspire your tales.
This excerpt is reprinted from Shelli’s “What’s in a story?” feature in the spring 2014 issue of home/school/life. To read the full story, check out the issue.
It can be tempting to fill up every hour, but the real magic often happens in the spaces in-between.
One of the biggest practical challenges of homeschool life is feeding everybody all the time. And lunch — right smack in the middle of your day — can be the biggest challenge of all. These four strategies won’t make lunchtime hassle-free, but they will free up your brain enough to worry about what you're going to do for dinner instead.
Solution 1: Lunchboxes
- Pros: lunch is ready to go whenever you are
- Cons: requires night-time prep; not always the most budget-friendly option
Take a cue from the school set, and simplify lunchtime by packing it up the night before. Stick with the classics — we like hummus, quinoa, cucumber, and grated carrots on a spinach tortilla or peanut butter, honey, and banana on oatmeal bread for easy sandwiches, with little containers of yogurt, fruit, veggie chips, and a cookie for dessert. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can steal some cute bento box ideas, but kids who don’t pack a lunch every day are likely to be just as excited about a plain sandwich and apple combo. (I get all my best sandwich ideas from the Saltie cookbook.) Make a lunchbox or brown bag for each kid, stash it in the fridge, and lunch is ready to go even before you start your morning coffee.
Solution 2: Freezer Meals
- Pros: easy on the budget
- Cons: gets boring; does require some advance planning
Once-a-month freezer stocking ensures that you’ll always have a hot lunch at the ready. Our freezer faves include macaroni-and-cheese bowls; black bean and butternut squash burritos; soups and chili; and chicken potpies. There are lots of freezer meal cookbooks out there, but I’ve splattered and dog-eared Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook enough to recommend it. Freeze meals in individual portions (so you don’t have to listen to a 10-minute argument about whether you should heat up spinach lasagna or kale, sweet potato, and lentil hand pies), pop them in the fridge at bedtime, and they should be ready to heat up for the lunchtime rush.
Solution 3: Snack Plates
- Pros: great for picky eaters, no cooking needed
- Cons: assembly required; can be expensive
The beauty of this cheese plates-inspired lunch is that you can assemble it with all the random bits and pieces in your fridge and cupboards. Presentation is what makes a snack plate like this feel like lunch, so take the time to arrange small wedges of cheese, little stacks of chopped vegetables or fruits, cured or smoked meats, leftover tuna salad, and other hearty nibbles. Add crackers or vegetable chips — homemade or store-bought — and spoonfuls of mustard, jam, chutney, and purees to the plate. Set it out, and the kids can assemble their own lunches from the ingredients. It’s nice to give each kid her own plate, but you can also set up a fancy spread on a serving plate or cutting board for everyone to share.
Solution 4: Emergency Pizza
- Pros: versatile; easy to customize for picky eaters
- Cons: requires last-minute stove time
Until a genius friend introduced me to tortilla pizzas, I always thought pizza was too much hassle for lunchtime. But using a tortilla for a base makes a quick pizza as easy as a grilled cheese sandwich. The usual tomato-mozzarella-mushroom combo is great, but you can get adventurous with pesto topped with leftover grilled chicken, veggies, and fontina cheese; butternut squash puree topped with goat cheese and bacon; or even hummus with crispy chickpeas, avocados, and roasted garlic. Lay your tortilla flat in a cast-iron skillet, layer on toppings and cheese, and let it bake in a 375-degree oven for about 13 to 14 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned and crispy.
This article is reprinted from the fall 2014 issue of home/school/life.