bad days

Joy Should Be a Priority in Our Homeschool Lives

Great read: Homeschooling should be fun, and when it's not, maybe it's time to take a step back and rethink what we're doing.

I’m so happy to introduce you to Cate Olson, the newest blogger to join the home | school | life team. Cate will be writing about her experiences homeschooling her four kids, the oldest of whom is now in high school and the youngest of whom is 6. I bet you’re going to love getting to know her as much as I have!

 

If you happen upon these words after the sort of day in which each and every last excruciating diphthong and consonant blend had to be coaxed out of your emerging reader or the sort of day in which your young teen spent the better part of his day dawdling through an impossibly short lesson on multiplying exponents, demanding unnecessary hand-holding, I have something radical to say: 

Homeschooling is not supposed to be like this.

Please, indulge me a moment. Think back to when you first made the decision to homeschool. Remind yourself of how you might have naïvely imagined every day spent under the warm sun, plopped on a picnic blanket atop lush green grass with attentive, well-groomed children itching to read the works of Aristotle by age five and with a functioning understanding of trigonometry by grade six.

Well, okay, homeschooling isn’t supposed to be exactly like that either, but behind our wide-eyed, simple daydreams were two kernels of truth: First, we understood that the learning process itself could— and should!— be extraordinary, and, second, we wanted to experience those almost transcendent moments of comprehension and understanding alongside our children. We guessed what we now know to be true, that learning something new is an astonishing feeling, and practically the only other feeling that comes close to beating it is being the curator of that moment for your child.

Now, of course we are going to have bad days, even no good, very bad days where we have online enrollment forms filled out for local schools and we are one mere whine, catastrophe or dropped pencil away from clicking submit. Being imperfect beings, these days are inevitable, but in my experience, they happen with diminished frequency when we focus less on the nuts-and-bolts of how we homeschool and give ourselves more freedom to daydream boldly and recapture whatever it was that initially inspired us to homeschool.

We guessed what we now know to be true, that learning something new is an astonishing feeling, and practically the only other feeling that comes close to beating it is being the curator of that moment for your child.

Example. The sun is out and the temperature is above fifty. You live in the Midwest where, if you are lucky, you might string together two spring-like days in a row before the next blizzard rolls in. It’s late morning and you’ve spent the past thirty minutes (has it really been only thirty minutes!?) on the cusp of a mental breakdown while your child continues to struggle to sound out the word d-o-g for the eight hundred and seventy-fifth time of the day, a word she read fluidly just yesterday, and you have already started wondering if lunchtime is too early to crack open the Merlot that you were saving for cocktail hour.

This is the moment where you need to harken back to your doe-eyed homeschooling daydreams and just quit for the day already. Do you see the sun out your grimy, fingerprint-covered windows? Do you hear those birds chirping over the din of the dog barking? The best cure for a bad day at the homeschool table is to put away the workbooks. Go for a hike.  Dig in the garden for some worms. Go build a snowman, or even make some tea and read a book to yourself while your children tie pillows to their stomachs and pretend to be sumo wrestlers. 

The curriculum will be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and one day soon— and this is a promise— your child will have the breakthrough that you were earlier trying to force. 

Anecdotal evidence: One of my daughters was struggling to learn long division. Divide, multiply, subtract, and bring down; she could recite the process in her sleep, but she just couldn’t remember what to divide, multiply, subtract, or bring down. We let math go for a day or so, or we worked on multiplication fact worksheets when we did do math. As she seemed receptive, we practiced a long division problem together here and there.  She can do long division now with the best of them, and all this was achieved with no tears or fighting, and, most importantly, she does not hate long division.

I think that the farther away we get from our homeschool daydreams of yesteryear the easier it is to forget that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Children don’t learn math because they finish the math text; they learn math because they understood the concepts the math text taught, and it’s up to us to be able to discern the difference therein. 

The curriculum will be there tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, and one day soon— and this is a promise— your child will have the breakthrough that you were earlier trying to force.

Confession: Of course I do not always remember to take my own advice. Just last week I locked horns with my six-year-old over a phonics lesson that, in all likelihood, was reinforcing a concept she had already mastered. I persevered. There were raised voices, a thrown pencil, and no thoughts on my part of doing anything other than winning the battle of wills in that moment. 

Yes, I ultimately “won,” but what was gained in that episode with my six-year-old? Certainly she did not gain an increased understanding of words starting with “th” and “sh,” but she did learn that maybe she didn’t much want to see her phonics workbook for another few days.

It is precisely in these darker homeschool moments where I think we need to allow ourselves more daydreams about backyard hammocks and lazy grammar lessons going hand-in-hand. We need more stargazing and less navel gazing. We must remind ourselves that homeschooling is a way of life, and not just something we do for a few hours every day. In short, it is essential to rediscover the joy and the beauty of learning that brought our kids home in the first place. Once the joy of learning is rightly realigned at the top of our homeschool priority list, abundant, deep, and real learning will—nay, must—necessarily follow. 

I’d love to hear about it. If you’d like to reach me, I’ll be cuddled up in bed with a messy-haired, dirty-kneed, disheveled kid who is, inevitably, teaching me as they learn.


Mindful Homeschool: Navigating Life's Bumps

Mindful Homeschool: Navigating Life's Bumps

So far 2015 has been challenging for my husband and me. We have had, shall we say, a series of bad luck that began just before the New Year. Thankfully, nothing has turned out to be life threatening, but dealing with it all at once has been stressful. Without going into too much detail, I can tell you that in less than two months we have been to the ER twice, have had numerous doctor appointments, switched health insurance, are dealing with major workplace changes, and had an ac/heating unit break. That costs a mint to replace! Other smaller-but-still-stressful things happened too, so we have been in a constant state of problem solving.

Whenever bad things happen, my motto has been, “This too shall pass.” With so much happening at once, that started to change to, “What’s gonna be next?!” Seriously, I’m still a little paranoid. I cannot help thinking that all of this is preparing us for some major trauma.

But that hasn’t happened, and most likely, it won’t.

It has also reminded me of some lessons I have learned through the ritual of storytelling. Our bad luck is exactly why, Chase Collins said, we should tell our children stories that have likeable characters who overcome threats and have a happy ending. By doing this, we are telling them that life is full of struggles, but we know that they have the ability to face them and overcome them. Furthermore, she says, by giving them happy endings, we are telling them that life is worth living.

Before now I never had so many random things happen at once, but I have dealt with life’s ups and downs. There has almost always been a problem I’m working through. Some were long-term and some were short-term. Some seemed more insurmountable than others, but I always had a sense that I would get through it. Having problems pile up on us so quickly started to feel overwhelming, but when I stepped back to look at the bigger picture, I could see that these are still just episodes—bumps in life—that we have to overcome. Perhaps all those stories I’ve been telling my son have actually been teaching me something too.

drift-wood-1.jpg

I have been able to work out my “psychic muscle,” as Emily Dickinson said. I have been taking the time to recognize the positive things that have happened so that I’m not so focused on the negative. Here’s a few good things that has happened since the New Year, and much of it has to do with our homeschooling lifestyle.

  • Because we homeschool and work at home, it has been easier to take care of our emergencies. There is no added stress about having to take time off from work or worry about the boys missing school.
  • Though sometimes I wish we had someone nearby who could help us out in a pinch, we don’t have that. Our boys have accompanied us to doctor appointments and to the emergency room twice—once we had to wake them up well before daylight. They are the best boys in the world during these emergencies. (We do let them play games on a tablet during long waits.) They transition well, do what we say and are quiet. It’s not lost on me that they are learning about the wider world through our ordeals. They are learning how to navigate life’s bumps too.
  • During an ice storm, we were one of the few homes in Georgia who didn’t lose electricity. But I feel extra lucky that my husband makes sure we are well prepared for those kinds of emergencies.
  • I have seen my boys progressing in academics and self-directed learning, and this has made me joyful. The cold winter days have been perfect for doing creative projects.
  • I have been grateful for good friends who care about my well-being and that of my family.

Navigating life’s bumps can be challenging, but doing it together with a loving family makes it bearable. Someday we’ll look back and say, “Remember 2015? That year started off terrible! But we got through it.”

How do you navigate life's bumps?


Homeschooling Isn't Always Easy—So Why Do We Do It?

why, exactly, am I doing this?

Today has been one of those days when I feel like a tragic hero. Nothing I’ve laid my hands to seems to come out right. I open my mouth and the wrong words come out. I lift my hand and I break a glass. My children resist all of my suggestions; I’m at odds with everyone. I put a dishwasher tablet into my mug instead of a teabag. We’re having one of those days. And it’s not even a Monday.

Some days as a home educator are absolutely fantastic. We are going with the flow, bouncing off each other, getting our projects done, learning from one another, finding new things out together. On those days I’m striding along with confidence and feeling on top of the world. What’s more, I feel at one with my children, like we are flowing in the same direction. They’re enthusiastic and excited about what we’re doing, I can see their progress and we are all having fun. If you could make a commercial about home schooling, we’d have a starring role, but my hair would be a bit tidier and my clothes would be ironed. (You’ll have to imagine that.)

But today, like “those” days when things don’t seem to be going my way, has been hard. It started with arguments and bad feeling, moved onto irritation and resistance, and finished up with some yelling, resignation, and my head firmly resting in my hands. Ugh.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon? Then I could apply myself to pursuits where people actually value (and pay!) me.

When I feel the resentment building and I’m feeling bad more than I’m feeling good, I know I need to change something. I either need to make a change in what I’m doing or in what I am thinking. Or both. Let me explain.

On days like this I wonder whether we are doing the right thing. Would they be better off in school? Wouldn’t my life be easier if they went off in the morning and returned in the afternoon?

At the end of the day I will sit down and evaluate how it went. I’ll write in my journal, note down what I am grateful for and consider what could have made things better for all of us. The most common causes of difficult days in my house are too little sleep, too little nourishment, too little quiet time, and too much rushing around. Oh, and I’ll be honest: one of the things that really consigns our day to the dustbin is if I get into a bad mood at the start of the day, wallow in victim thoughts and can’t snap out of it. There, I said it.

What could I be doing differently? Could I rush less and make more space in our day for connection, snuggles on the sofa, read aloud stories, art? Could I commit myself to ten minutes (or possibly—hopefully—more) of quiet time after lunch in which I could journal, read a book, sit in meditation or simply lie down? Could we all go to bed a little earlier?

How could I be thinking differently? When things aren’t going very well, it’s so easy to feel like a victim (“Why am I doing this?” “This isn’t what I expected.” “Why are they doing this to me?” “How did we end up like this?”). It’s tempting to let the grey cloud expand, to let The Nothing absorb us and give in to desolation. For me, it helps so much to step back and find my agency in each day. I remind myself that I made these choices. I recall that they are good choices and that we are just stuck in a moment, but we will find a way out, as we always do. I practice compassion and try to see life through my children’s eyes. I meditate and allow unhelpful debris in the mind to dissipate.

I remember when my children were in school several years ago. We’d start the day on the wrong foot, then I’d wave them into the school and that would be it. For the whole day. There would be no opportunity until the end of the school day to rebuild connection, to try again, to say sorry, to hug. I try to recall how bad that felt, how I couldn’t wait to see them in the afternoon and start over, how hard it was to focus on anything in the day with that pall of bad feeling hanging over me. Now I’m lucky, because when life is dishing out moldy leftovers at 7 a.m., I have a chance at 7.01 to chuck it all in the bin and start over. I can say sorry NOW. I can hug my child NOW. We can start over NOW.

Why am I doing this? I’m doing it because I love it and believe in it. And even things we love can be challenging. That’s actually part of their allure.

But take it from me, tea made with dishwasher tablets is definitely to be avoided.