Homeschooling isn’t always easy, but you’re probably doing a better job than you give yourself credit for.
Loneliness isn’t something we talk about, but maybe it should be. If you’re feeling isolated, depressed, irritable, or just plain sad, loneliness might be to blame. Here’s how to understand why you feel so alone sometimes — and how to make the slow-but-steady connections that can help end your solitary confinement.
As kids get older, the structure and scope of your homeschool changes with them. On the whole, that’s pretty wonderful.
Over the past eleven years, I've encountered many moments when my kids would not do what I wanted them to do. *insert laugh track* Does that sound familiar? Parenting can be wonderful, but it's also an endlessly bumpy road fraught with wondering and second-guessing.
Fortunately, I've picked up on a few observations about my kids that have helped me. I still face challenges sometimes, but since I have two awesome boys, either these things have helped, or I'm just very lucky.
Every child and family is different, so maybe these tips won't help everybody, but I offer them in case they will. I hope you’ll leave your own tips in the comments area.
I've learned that to get my boys to do the things I would like for them to do, I first need to:
- Examine my agenda. Is this for me and my ego, or is it really necessary for them to live a good life?
- Be explicit. I always have a good reason why I want them to behave a certain way, and I try to explain myself in language they can understand. However, very young kids don’t always understand reason, so I try not to over-explain either. Sometimes I just need to use a firm no. (See last point.)
- If it’s safe, non-destructive, and not bothering other people, let them do what they want to do. Usually, what they want to do is harmless and won't wreck my day. I find that the kids respect my wishes more, if I give them as much freedom as possible.
- Include them in planning. When it comes to the simple daily routine and planning, I seek their input and respect their opinion on what they want to do. This doesn’t mean I’ll always do what they want, but occasionally I’ve been known to go with their ideas instead of mine.
- Keep a regular routine. Until I had kids, I never knew how important a routine could be. My kids know what to expect and when. They complain less about the things they dislike because they know it lasts only so long, and they also know that their “fun time” will be coming regularly. They don’t need to ask for more because their day is filled with a variety of activities, and they always know it’ll be coming around again the next day.
- Do it myself. If it's something like cleaning the house or being polite to other people, then I have to be a role model before I ask them to help or explain why it’s a good idea. If it's something like getting my child to paint, or sew, or learn any new skill, then I should sit down and try doing it myself without worrying about whether they will join me. Kids often want to do what their parents are doing, but if they don't, I know this might not be for them, and that’s okay. They are still benefitting by watching me struggle to improve my skills.
- If it's something like learning math, then again, I should be willing to do it with them, and I need to pay close attention to them. Are they not developmentally ready for it, or are they capable, but they don't like it? Waiting a year or two can make a big difference. And if they don't like it, letting them know that they only have to do, say, 15 minutes a day works wonders.
- If it's something like getting them to take medicine that will save their life, then if I have done all the above, my child will know that when I'm non-negotiating, it's for a good reason, and they better obey me.
- Be firm. Similarly, when I say NO, I should mean no. (This takes practice.) I also need to watch my voice. A deeper, authoritative voice works much better than a soft, sing-songy voice. I can almost always tell when a mom is going to cave in on her “no” by the voice she is using — kids know, too!
What have you learned about your kids that make a big difference in your day?
My husband asked me to go to the bike shop with him the other day to try out some mountain bikes. This was one week after he asked me to go on a trail ride with him and deemed my twenty year old mountain bike unfit and unsafe.
“You need a new bike so we can ride more trails,” he said.
“But I’d rather buy an unlimited membership at the yoga studio,” I said. For the price of the bikes he is looking at, I could buy several years worth of unlimited yoga classes and a car for our daughter. Today’s bikes cost as much as my first two cars combined. Two wheels for the price of eight.
I must admit that the new bike felt great, and I was tempted to let him plop down our credit card so I could ride the bike home. Ultimately we decided to think about it and shop around a bit more.
Biking is my husband’s thing, yoga is my thing, and when I think about it, each of our preferred activities is suited to our different lifestyles. As the sole financial provider for our family, my husband is get up and go go go. Flying down mountains and climbing back up them is the training he needs for, and the relief he needs from, his physically demanding job.
As the sole care provider for our family, I am get up and stay stay stay. Struggling to stay on my yoga mat, balancing on my hands and feet, and listening is the training I need to be present for my demanding job as mom/counselor/nutritionist/home-economist/emergency-responder. An hour of not talking and just moving in a hot studio keeps me from being a hot mess at home.
You know as well as I do how much work it is to stay in one place and focus on the task at hand. There are days when the idea of getting up and leaving the house to go to work seems like the ideal vacation. More than once I have wished for a performance review and a bonus check as an indicator that I am doing a good job. As homeschooling parents, we don’t even get the little validation from a satisfactory report card and a written comment from the teacher about what a good little student we have. Teaching our own is a way of living, but certainly not a way to make a living, and while our labor is unpaid, it is certainly not without benefits.
Trail riding is fun, and there will be a day when I will say yes to a bike. If do my job well and my kids learn to take care of their future selves, my current job will become obsolete and I will have the time to hit the trails on two wheels. For now I’m going to stick to two hands and two feet, or no hands and one foot, on my yoga mat. It takes a lot of work to stay in one place, but the place I’ve chosen to be is the best place for me, for my family, for now.
In her 1992 book The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron touts the creative benefits of regular “artist’s dates” to feed your spirit and spark your imagination. In late July, I took a doozy of an artist’s date and headed to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ annual summer conference, held this year at the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown L.A.
The Society, known by the acronym SCBWI, is one of the most amazing resources out there for people who write books for children (I joined SCBWI not long after beginning a nonfiction book about Charlie Chaplin for teens back in late 2012). Among many other helpful services, SCBWI sponsors two big annual conferences in New York and L.A. which draw children’s book writers, editors, agents, art directors, and illustrators from across the country.
Knowing that we homeschoolers are a book-loving bunch, I thought it might be fun to share some of the insights and inspiration I gleaned at the conference—and to give you a preview of some forthcoming books I heard mentioned there.
Pam Munoz Ryan, author of Esperanza Rising, was one of the conference’s first keynote speakers. She noted that interviewers sometimes ask her what she wishes people would ask her more often.
“I wish they’d ask me about failure as much as they ask me about getting an agent,” she admitted with a wry smile. She spoke of how often she finds herself thinking she’s on the right track with a book, only to discover she’s not.
“If you are not struggling,” she urged attendees, “if nothing is a challenge. . . then you’re setting your goals too low.”
In another keynote, publisher and editor Justin Chanda spoke of how important it was not to get caught up in writing to trends, telling the audience, “Erase ‘trend’ from your thinking. . . By the time you finish your manuscript, a new trend might be starting.” Instead, he encouraged writers to focus on writing the stories close to their hearts and telling those stories in the distinctive ways that only they can tell them.
Illustrator John Parra echoed Chanda’s sentiments in a later panel, telling the audience, “You don’t want to be a second-rate someone else. You want to be a first-rate you.”
Chanda also addressed the subject of diversity in children’s literature.
“Diversity is not a trend. Diversity is not the new vampires. Diversity is real life,” he asserted. He added, “Celebrating diversity. . . needs to be the norm.” Chanda is definitely practicing what he preaches: he recently launched Salaam Reads, a Simon and Schuster imprint devoted to depicting nuanced, realistic Muslim characters and themes.
For me, one of the must-attend panels at the conference was a presentation on Nonfiction/Fiction Mash-Ups by writers Elizabeth Partridge, Linda Sue Park, and Susan Campbell Bartoletti and agent Steven Malk. As the presenters shared their perspectives on when nonfiction veers into the realm of fiction, I found myself challenged to look harder at my own nonfiction project to make sure it really is just the facts, ma’am.
Linda Sue Park shared a particularly thought-provoking point about nonfiction, noting that almost all nonfiction eventually loses authority over time because of new research and new interpretations of the truth. Nonetheless, she said, it’s still important for writers to attempt nonfiction so that new information and perspectives can be discovered—even as nonfiction writers have to understand that they’re doomed to be found inaccurate on some points eventually.
Park also mentioned Fatal Throne, an intriguing new collaborative novel about Henry VIII and his six wives helmed by award-winning writer Candace Fleming. The novel will feature history-based stories from the point-of-view of Henry VIII and his wives, written by such noted authors as M. T. Anderson, Deborah Hopkinson, and Park herself. It’s due in Fall 2017.
At another break-out session, author Bonnie Bader offered tips for writing engaging biographies. Bader knows what she’s talking about—she’s written several biographies in Penguin Random House’s popular Who Was. . .? series (your kids might know them as “The Big Head Books”). Among her pointers: Try focusing on one particularly illuminating part of a person’s story instead of trying to cover a person’s entire life. She cited Martha Brenner’s Abe Lincoln’s Hat as a model of that approach. She also encouraged writers to steer clear of beginning biographies with the person’s birth, but to instead draw readers in with an attention-getting anecdote. As an example, she read the opening of her forthcoming biography Who Was Jacqueline Kennedy?, which showed Jackie taking Paris by storm in 1961.
For me, one of the most encouraging parts of the conference was hearing celebrated writers and illustrators admit just how humbling this business can be. Carole Boston Weatherford, the author of Moses: The Story of Harriet Tubman and Freedom on the Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins, noted that when writers are first starting out, people always ask, “Have you published anything?” Once a writer has been published, she laughed, the question becomes, “Have you published anything I would have heard of?”
Author-illustrator Sophie Blackall also emphasized the humbling nature of publishing: “I don’t know anyone in this industry who says, ‘Oh, I’ve totally got this now.’”
Repeatedly, I heard from authors I admire that no matter how far you advance, you are still going to experience setbacks and self-doubt. But if you commit to the work and persist, you can find joy and growth through the struggles. Good advice for writing—and life.
Another conference highlight for me was meeting fellow nonfiction writer (and longtime homeschooling parent) Sarah Jane Marsh, whose debut picture book Thomas Paine and The Dangerous Word is due out in 2017. Sarah was incredibly generous about sharing what she wished she would have known when she was at the career stage that I am now. My takeaway? If I’m lucky enough to land a book deal, I shouldn’t be afraid to ask my agent and my editor questions and bring up concerns, even if I feel a bit awkward about it.
One of the last presentations I saw was by author Margarita Engle, whose memoir-in-poems Enchanted Air has been winning awards and rave reviews this year. In her book, Engle writes of feeling torn between her childhood in Los Angeles and her summers in Cuba with her mother’s family. Her inner conflict was heightened by the Communist revolution in Cuba, the Cuban missile crisis, and the eventual ban on travel to Cuba, a ban that created a painful divide between Engle and the family and the island she loved.
Engle noted that she consciously used present tense for Enchanted Air because she didn’t want her memoir to come across to kids as an old person’s reminiscences, as she self-deprecatingly put it.
“I wanted to take a young reader on a time traveling experience,” she explained.
She pointed out that her memoir came out not long after Jacqueline Woodson’s acclaimed 2014 memoir-in-poems Brown Girl Dreaming, also written in present tense and also showing a girl grappling with the intersection between the personal and the political.
“Maybe it’s a point in history where poetry is needed,” Engle mused.
This point in history often feels frighteningly tumultuous, especially with the current Presidential race stirring up so much discord. The writers, artists, and editors speaking at this year’s SCBWI conference couldn’t help acknowledging some of the difficulties our country is facing. But again and again, the conference’s speakers emphasized the power of stories to spread hope and change kids’ lives for the better.
As author-illustrator Drew Daywalt said in a Tweet sent from the conference, “Dear hurting America, take heart. Even as we struggle, know the people making stories for our children are some of the kindest people alive.”
After hanging out with some of those people all weekend, that was definitely my takeaway, too.
For more information on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, visit the SCBWI website at www.scbwi.org.
On Twitter the other day, someone posted a series of photographs of parents who were jumping for joy while their children stood by, looking forlorn and ready for their first day of school. While I believe all these images were probably staged, and the children were probably told to look sad while the parents looked overly happy, I know that many parents do feel elated when it’s time to send the kids back to school.
As a homeschooling parent, I don’t get this at all. Sure, sometimes I dream of having a day here and there sans children, which I never, ever get. (Sigh.) But if I had to send my kids away from me every day? All day? I know I’d cry, and I’d never feel happy about it. Of course, I know that there are many, many parents who are not happy because they have to send their children away each day while they have to go to work. I am very sorry for these parents, and I wish our society was more pro-family.
Some parents may have a career they care deeply about, and I understand that. Other parents may not have the temperament to spend all day with children. For many, it may be that they get used to having their weekdays free without any children around, so when the kids come back from school, it’s a striking difference. And I’ve heard that kids tend to unleash their pent-up energy once they get home, so maybe they aren’t as well behaved with their parents as they are with their teachers. I don’t know for sure, but I think many parents have no idea the difference that homeschooling could make in their children.
For me, however, I am used to seeing my boys everyday, I get to watch them learn and grow, and I can’t imagine any other way of life. I get to teach them! What’s more is that we have time to rest and be flexible with our schedule. We have time to go interesting places, and we get to spend quality time together as a family, and we are very close because of that. That is priceless to me, and it’s worth the sacrifices we have to make to live this lifestyle.
Every day I get to hear my boys’ questions, and I get to help them search for their answers. I hear their excitement when they see something new and interesting on the Internet. “Mommy, you have to come see this!” my son will yell to me. “Okay! Just a minute!” I’ll say, and when I can I’ll go look at the weird animal, usually a sea creature, and I’ll act like I think it’s just as cool as they do even though what I really think is cool is their interest and enthusiasm for looking up the creature in the first place.
I am jumping for joy that we homeschool. I’m jumping for joy that I have two well-behaved boys who are each other’s best friend. I’m jumping for joy that we get to spend our days reading good books, watching documentaries, playing and working on things that we’re interested in.
This September we’ll be beginning our new school year, which is just a continuation of last year with a little bit of new stuff thrown in. We’ll start our weekly appointments again, dig in a little more into our books, and we’ll continue to learn and grow. The growing part is going very fast, and for me, I’m jumping for joy that I’m not missing any of it.
This morning I met some long-time, female friends for breakfast at a quaint bakery-café in town. This was a luxury for me — both meeting friends and getting to eat at a quaint bakery-café.
I have been meeting with these women off and on for fifteen years. I met them when I was single, in my late twenties, and I taught a journal writing class for the adult community education programs at the university. Basically, for the four of us, the class never ended, but over the years, the group morphed from a writing group to a book discussion group to a woman's group. We just talk about anything! But the glorious thing is that it's an intelligent conversation, and it's not always about children's needs or the ups and downs of homeschooling. If the conversation does go in that direction, then it's me talking because all three of these beautiful women are older than me, and none of them have children.
For several years, we met every month, but then I had my boys. For a while, I tried to bring my eldest to the meetings, but that didn’t last long, and it was impossible after I had two boys. For a few years, we didn't meet at all, and I feared I had lost touch with these creative, insightful women. Then, when my eldest son was old enough to go to summer camp by himself, I asked my husband if he'd keep our youngest for the day so that I could arrange a meeting with my friends. He did. So for the last three years, we have met once a year during summer camp. Yes, only once a year, but that was better than not meeting at all!
This year I realized meeting during the week was a burden to one of the women who works full-time, so I decided to schedule a meeting on Saturday. And then it occurred to me…Saturdays would be good for me too since my husband is off and the boys are more self-sufficient. Hey, maybe I can do this more often.
I always tell parents of very young children that it'll get easier as they get older. I say that even when some things are still hard for me. Although my husband helps a lot, I'm still the major caregiver for the children, and for a long time, I was the only parent my youngest son wanted anything to do with. He is still a mama's boy, but finally he is okay with daddy taking over for part of the day. And my nine-year-old... well, he prefers his dad now. Mama is starting to get boring.
Before I get all choked up and sad and oh — pooh! *sniff sniff* — I have to remind myself that I actually kind of enjoy having a little more freedom.
But it comes very slowly, and it takes some getting used to. On the rare days I find myself leaving the house alone, I have that heavy feeling of having forgotten something. But it’s really that part of me that wants to stay right here next to my boys. Will they need something that only I can give them? What am I missing if I’m not here?
Then I start driving away from the house, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, and I sigh with relief that no one will interrupt it! It's then that I realize I can and will get used to doing things alone again.
I will start slowly because I am in no hurry for my boys to become completely independent of me. For now, I will begin to get my women’s group together more often. None of our schedules will allow us to meet once a month anymore, but I'm going to try to get us together once every season.
And maybe, with these intelligent, kind, inspiring women’s help, I will start to find my way again in the world...sans children.
A decade ago, I began homeschooling my children for selfish reasons. Sure, I thought homeschooling would be good for them too, and I read a stack of books about childhood development, learning styles, and homeschooling methods to back up that belief, but ultimately my reasons to homeschool were selfish. I wanted my children to learn free of negative social influences, gold star grading systems, and hours of pointless homework, but mostly I didn’t want to wake up early every day to rouse my sleeping children, pack brown bag lunches, and hurry them out the door. Waking up naturally and snuggling on the couch to read books before we began our day of curiosity driven learning was my romanticized fantasy of homeschool life.
There were many days that we lived out my fantasy, but many more days that I lost myself in the service of parenting and homeschooling. When mothers with more experience than I had counseled me to take some “me time”, I didn’t even know what they meant. All the hours not devoted to the enrichment of my children were spent cleaning up from said enrichment, planning for the next day’s enrichment, and recovering from all the enrichment, plus the usual business of running a household. When exactly was this “me time” supposed to happen, and what was I supposed to be doing for myself?
I recently listened to an interview with a 107 year woman and when asked for the secret of her longevity her answer was to eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress - four of my favorite things to do now, but not my priorities during those early years of homeschooling. Hearing it from a woman with a tremendous amount of life experience affirmed that taking care of myself is my definition of “me time”, and hopefully it will buy me even more time.
As the new school year approaches, and you thoughtfully select and prepare curriculum for your children, consider the enrichment of yourself as well. Schedule “me time” in your daily planner, and keep the lesson plan simple: eat well, exercise, sleep, and avoid stress.
Here are a few sample assignments:
- Eat vegetables with your breakfast, because at the end of a long day when the idea of making a salad seems as monumental a task as teaching Latin to a preschooler, and you wonder if the marinara sauce on your pasta counts as a vegetable, at least it won’t be your only vegetable that day.
- Station your kids on the front porch with a timer and have them record how long it takes you to walk (or run!) around the block multiple times. Find the mean, median, and mode of your times and call it a math lesson. Extra credit if they cheer you on.
- Schedule a twenty minute power nap for that particularly stressful time of day when you begin to consider packing a lunch for your children and dropping them off at the nearest public school.
- Replace a “should” with a “want”: I should (insert an activity that stresses you out), but I want to (insert an activity that feeds your sense of self). You can’t avoid all shoulds in life, but if you’re not careful you may successfully avoid all of your wants.
- One of the greatest lessons I learned and passed on to my children is the importance of taking care of oneself. If you don’t make yourself a priority, who will? A bonus to this lesson is that others often benefit from your acts of selfishness. My selfish desire to homeschool was a selfless act of service to my children, and an inspiration for friends to choose alternative educational paths.
Families make great sacrifices of time, energy and resources in order to homeschool, but caring for yourself does not have to be part of that sacrifice. This school year, make “me time” a mandatory subject. What is good for you is also good for your children.
A friend recently joked, “I’m living the dream! It’s not my dream, but it’s somebody’s dream!”
Years ago, when my children were still in elementary school, I dreamed about moving my family to Central America for a year. Complete and total immersion. We’d all become fluent in Spanish. We’d see flora and fauna we’d never before seen. We’d eventually make friends with the suspicious locals. I would wear embroidered tunics and learn to cook in a whole new way. Never mind that our family has never traveled outside of the United States, or even east of the Rocky Mountains, we could become, at least temporarily, expatriates!
“But what about my job?” asked my husband.
“But what about our friends?” asked my children.
“But what about my dream?” I responded.
My dream never made it further than a stack of books from the library and a mini lesson on the geography and culture of Central America. I only have one embroidered tunic, which I found at a thrift store and never wear. It’s not really my style. Travel isn’t really my style either. I’m a homebody. Vacations longer than three or four days make me a bit panicky. My solution to seeing more of the world without vacationing was to make a home somewhere else.
When I ran into an old acquaintance at yoga, my dream to live abroad came rushing back as she told me about her family’s adventure. They had lived in South America for six months, during which time they homeschooled their three children, and exchanged work for a place to live. Her eyes lit up as she told me about the incredible places they visited, the experiences they had, and the people they met. “You lived my dream!” I told her.
I have a saying that helps me to live a more minimal lifestyle: Be happy that it exists without needing to possess it. “It” being whatever that thing is I find myself wanting - usually a material item - but squatting on the floor of the yoga studio, hearing about living and learning in South America, I realized “it” can also be an experience. In my sweat drenched, post yoga euphoria, I truly felt happy for the family who experienced what sounded a lot like my dream. If I didn’t have the experience, at least somebody else did.
As homeschoolers, it doesn’t always feel like we’re living the dream - our children may balk at our carefully crafted lesson plans; the dining room table is always a cluttered mess; we wake up in the middle of the night worrying that we’re doing it all wrong. Chances are, however, that we’re living someone else’s dream. There is a mom at work right now who wishes she was home with her children. There’s a dad teaching a room full of students who dreams of staying home to teach his own kids. There might even be a family in Central America wishing they could live and learn in California for a year. If you know them, I’d love their contact information. Maybe they’re interested in a house swap. Some dreams don’t disappear, they just take longer to become reality.
One of the hardest things about homeschooling is that there’s no report card at the end of year telling you how you’re doing. We tend to chalk up our successes to good luck or fortuitous timing and to take all the blame for every challenge we run into. But chances are, you’re doing better with this whole homeschool thing than you think you are. These six signs are all indicators that you’re on the right track—and we think that’s something you should celebrate with pride.
You’re happy to start your day.
One of the best signs that you’re doing just fine as a homeschooler is that you like doing it. Sure, there are bad days—but if for the most part, you’re upbeat, energetic, and excited about the prospect of a new homeschool day, there’s a good chance your homeschooling reflects that.
You’re always surprised by lunchtime.
Time drags when things are hard, but the hours seem to fly by when everything is going well. If lunchtime manages to get the jump on your and your kids most days, that’s a sign that you’re all really engaged in what you’re doing—which is a sign that your homeschool is a productive, positive place.
You’ve gotten comfortable with moving past mistakes, wrong turns, and things that just aren’t working.
You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to try curriculum materials that don’t work, classes that feel like curses, and being too strict about something that turns out to be not all that important. When you’ve hit your stride as a homeschooler, you’ll be able to recognize your mistakes, own them, and move on, a little wiser.
You find yourself taking a new homeschooler under your wing.
A sure sign you feel confident about how you’re doing as a homeschooler: You’re willing to share your experiences and insight with other people. When this happens, you’ve become an expert—maybe not in homeschooling in general but certainly in your particular homeschool.
It’s sometimes hard to plan your days—not because you don’t know what to do but because there are so many things you want to do that you don’t know where to start.
When your to-do list is so exciting that it’s actually a pleasure, you know you’ve figured out a system that’s really working for you. Yes, it may turn out that you can’t actually do all the things you’d like to—but that’s a much happier challenge than feeling like there’s nothing you want to do.
You don’t feel the need to defend homeschooling every time someone makes a rude comment about it.
It’s very human to feel defensive when you’re still figuring things out—and some comments deserve a reasoned rebuttal. But as you grow more confident as a homeschooler, you’ll realize that you don’t have to engage with every misinformed stranger you meet. Sometimes, you just smile and walk away.
We often write about the cool things our kids are doing as they receive a home education — an education fueled by their passions and interests yet curated by the adults who know them best. As a parent who loves learning, I have my own ideas for what makes a great education, so while I give my children's interests a priority, I do not "unschool."
Perhaps part of the reason I don't unschool is a bit selfish. Not only are there topics (besides reading and math) that I believe every student should have a basic knowledge of — history, world religion, a foreign language, and art, just to name a few — but I want to learn more about these important topics, too. In my traditional public school education, I only skimmed the surface of some of these subjects, and others were not part of a traditional school curriculum. Now that I’m homeschooling my kids, I can give them the education I think they should have, and I can benefit from it, too.
I should note, however, that if I introduce a topic to my kids, and they moan and groan, we just skim it too. I'm not going torture them. But I feel as we link these bits together, it will someday complete a strong chain of knowledge that will enhance their lives and personal endeavors, and they may come back to it at a later date.
There are also times I introduce something to my kids, and they want more, so we dive in! This happened when I introduced space exploration and weather science to my eldest son when he was little. We have the time and flexibility to spend as much or as little time as we want on a subject, which I treasure about homeschooling.
Whether or not my kids want to learn more about a subject, I have learned that I can have my own projects! Even if they don't join me, I can keep reading, exploring, and creating. In fact, this is a crucial part of homeschooling... I should be modeling the behavior I want them to have, right? This has been a very liberating aspect of home education that I didn't realize would happen when I started.
Perhaps even more delightful are the subjects that my children have brought me to. In them, I have found some of my passions. I think these passions were always there, but they were not fully realized. My sons were the keys who opened these doors for me.
For example, when my eldest son was four I discovered that nature brought him alive. I accompanied him to several nature and science classes at our local nature center, and his shyness fell by the wayside as he hiked on the nature trails and listened to the naturalists. As for me, I fell in love with the whole atmosphere. I fell in love with science!
Science was my most dreaded class in school. (Perhaps second to P.E.) I never understood it. My teachers were horrible. As a result, I had huge misconceptions about science. And worst of all, I thought I was bad at it. But seeing science through my son's eyes, and being reintroduced to it through the nature center programs, I am hooked. I even developed a deep appreciation for snakes and amphibians through my son's first love.
Without my kids, I now read science articles, nature memoirs, and I began my Year of Citizen Science projects. I share these things with them, if I think they would be interested in them, but I consider these endeavors part of my own education that I'm pursuing while also home educating my children.
Here are some more examples of the endeavors I have started since I began homeschooling:
- My eldest son spent a long time learning about carnivorous plants when he was seven. Now he grows them, and I help him. I think they are so pretty that I'm sure I'll be cultivating these plants long after he moves out of the house.
- My younger son has a great passion for birds, and this has been contagious for the whole family. In fact, I have a little morning ritual of observing birds out my window before my boys even wake up! (And now I have this book on my wish list.)
- Through my younger son's love of drawing, I started a sketchbook habit that I hope I'll continue the rest of my life.
- Recently, I began a project all of my own. That is, no one else in the house started this interest, though they’re all reaping the benefits. I am on a mission to learn how to bake bread with natural yeast, and I’m taking it little by little as I have time.
I think more than anything, homeschooling has taught me that if I want to do or learn about something, I can do it slowly and in increments. A little bit goes a long way! Reading for 15 minutes... finding a few minutes to sketch every week or month... finding a new YouTube video about bread baking every once in a while... I don't have to accomplish my goals this week or this month.
It's about giving my interests attention on a regular basis.
I never realized that this is what it looks like to have discipline. While I was capable of finishing what was required of me when I was younger, I rarely finished those things that I wanted to do... those personal goals that no one was making me do.
Sadly, I don’t think traditional school teaches children how to have self-motivated discipline. Because kids are having to work so hard to accomplish goals set by other people, they don’t have the time or energy to explore and develop their own interests. At least, I didn’t.
But in homeschooling my own children, I have learned that real learning happens slowly. I have learned to manage my time better (because I have to!), and I have learned that I can have many projects going at once. While I try to focus on just one or two at a time so that I can make progress, it is liberating to have no deadlines. Those things we do for ourselves should be joyful and stress-free, though certainly a steady progression forward is what brings happiness and fulfillment.
Watching my children work on their interests in a slow and deliberate manner — and how they do more as their capability increases — has taught me these things. I feel extremely lucky for the education I’m receiving while homeschooling my kids!
Read more from Shelli
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.
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.
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.
You need a little me-time — and with some strategic planning, you can get it.
For the parent who homeschools, finding a little time to be alone can be harder than getting the pickiest of eaters to eat his broccoli. But self-care is essential, and if you want to be your best, you need and deserve a little break. Here are a few ideas to think about as you decide how you are going to make me-time part of your family’s routine.
If your child is young and still napping, try to transition naptime to “quiet time.” This will look different for every child. You may start with 10 minutes of quiet time and slowly stretch that to longer increments. You may want to designate an area of the house for each child to play in, or allow kids to play together quietly. You don’t want your child to think of it as a punishment, so allow them to move around the house or do something fun as long as it is “quiet,” safe, and doesn’t involve you.
Beth Gulley, homeschooling mom to two children who are well passed the napping age, decided to introduce “siestas” to her day after getting the idea from another mom. Right after lunch everyone spends 20 minutes in bed. The kids are allowed to read, and she says her son has read quite a few books this way. Her daughter prefers to just rest, and sometimes she even falls asleep. She rewards them with a piece of candy after the siesta, though she is working on finding other rewards and stretching the time to 30 to 45 minutes.
Try storing half your child’s toys in a box or boxes in the closet and rotating in a new box when you need some down time. The toys from the “new” box will seem like new to your kids, and they should keep them occupied for a while.
If you are feeling creative, you can make sensory boxes for younger children. These are full of things that will be fun to touch, feel, and rearrange like dried pasta and beans with some spoons, pots, and pans. Other boxes could have sand and toys, beads and toy trucks, or items from nature such as pinecones, leaves and sticks. (Google sensory box for hundreds of ideas.) Children need to be supervised while using a sensory box, but you will at least get a few minutes to sit back while they play.
Don’t feel guilty about encouraging your children to play alone. This is a skill that will serve them well on into adulthood. To encourage them to play alone, be sure to keep your open-ended toys, craft supplies, books, and anything else that interests them accessible.
Make a point of spending at least half an hour of one-on-one time with your child each day. This should be time that your child directs, not you. That way, when you need a break, you can rest assured that you have given your child quality time.
Sometimes a firm but gentle, “Go play now,” may be helpful. Or, “You play with that while I get this done, okay?” Making your children feel like they are helping you by leaving you alone for a while can go a long way. If it works for you, let them play near you. It may only work for five minutes at first, but getting them used to the idea of playing alone for longer increments can take time.
There is nothing wrong with letting children watch some educational television or play games on their Kindle while you sneak into the other room for some quiet time either. Television is not bad for our children, especially when you make a point to fill your day with a variety of activities.
Make a deal with friends, family members, or your partner to trade time off with each other so that you have a break built into your schedule.
Be sure to tell your children why you need quiet time to rest or work. They might insist that they don’t need quiet time, but if you tell them that you need quiet time or else you might get cranky, they may agree with you! Tell your kids you are going to spend half an hour alone in your room, and when the clock turns to a designated hour, they can come get you. Better yet, plan to play a game or do another fun activity at that time as a way to reward them for good behavior. If none of these methods seem like they will work for your kids, don’t feel discouraged. All children are different, and it may require some creative planning on your part to find what makes your child more comfortable being alone or quiet for a while. What doesn’t work now may work well in six months, so keep trying.