At home in your homeschool

At home in homeschool

I’ve been in the homeschool community for nearly thirty years. While I don’t pretend to know all the answers or to be an authority, I do know a lot of homeschooled graduates (I am one), a lot of homeschool families. And I know that no one’s story is the same.

Some unschooled, some loved unit studies, some traveled, some started late, some began early, some homeschooled to graduation, some returned to public school in high school, some went to college, some didn’t, some loved it, some hated it. Everyone has a different story.

Your story is going to be different, too, unlike anyone else’s. It won’t be like mine. And that mom on Facebook or in your co-op, it won’t be like her’s either. So, as a friend, I want to share that you have permission to be you, to create a custom fit for your homeschool, and to not worry about what someone else may be doing differently.

You have permission to take that grace week or month while the kids are sick and you adjust to the new baby or the move or the other dramatic life-change.

You have permission to call a redo, take time off to research, and try again.

You have permission to take a month off for Christmas or an early summer vacation.

You have permission to go back and redo that unit in math and add some manipulatives and not worry about finishing the book at the end of the year.

You have permission to spend an extra week on Egypt because your kids are loving it and learning and asking questions.

You have permission to let Wild Kratts be your go-to science curriculum for right now.

You have permission to try something and fail and try something different.

You have permission to move up a grade in a subject or back a grade in another (I often call it levels when my kids freak out about the number. “I’m not in fourth grade!” “It just refers to a level, honey, don’t worry.”)

You have permission to let your kids sleep in and do school after lunch or even after dinner.

You have permission to get up early and finish before 9 a.m. (bless you! I don’t know how you do it.)

You have permission to be you, the parent of your child, who knows and loves your child. You have permission to be the family God made you to be, with the interests and eccentricities that make you all unique. You have permission to pursue what you all love and what you are gifted at. You have permission to follow the script that God has crafted for you, and not worry that the lines are different from someone else’s script.

Yes, follow the state requirements. Yes, teach your child to learn and to read; prepare them well. But in the end, embrace homeschooling for all that it is—the opportunity to be at home in your school.

Embracing Essentials (& 4 questions for finding yours)

essentials | finding essentials | feeling overwhelmed | feeling stressed | back to basics

“Deadful,” that’s my four year old’s word. “When you feel dead but you’re not,” he says as he sprawls out on our floor.

While I’m not sure what his realm of experience is with feeling “deadful,” it’s a great word. I can relate. Maybe you can, too. When you are pulled in a thousand directions, when today’s trouble and tasks and to-do’s spill over into tomorrow—not an empty tomorrow, mind you, but a brimming full no-room-to-breathe tomorrow—when you dread going to sleep because it means you’ll have to wake up to the mess and do it all over again, when you dread everything on your calendar and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, no margin for error, no end in sight, no time or space or opportunity for a nervous breakdown (but you know it’s coming), you feel— “deadful.”

But that’s not the life God has given us to live. God has called us to thrive, to be fruitful, to have abundant life—not to go around feeling “deadful.” So how do you find and live a life that doesn’t feel like it’s unraveling at the seams?

Concentrate on the ESSENTIALS. Find those things that are the “essence” of who we are, not just what is urgent or screaming for our attention.

What is essential to who I am? What is my essence?

4 questions to help you find your essentials:

  • what is the single goal of my life?
  • what kinds of things help me to keep this goal in mind?
  • what kinds of things energize and “feed my soul’ so that I am ready to meet my goal?
  • what helps me to remember that my daily tasks are not obstacles but part of my goal?

In many ways, determining our essentials is a matter of perspective as much as it is a matter of priority. For me, this year began with asking myself what my single, central goal is for my life. My answer: I want my life to be kingdom-focused. I want to seek Him first in all that I do. I want to make every act an act of worship. Does making meals and vacuuming and grocery shopping feel like kingdom-work? Rarely. But can it be? Absolutely!

Rather than feeling as though each task was pulling me in a separate direction, I began seeing each task as pointing me in the same direction. Every task, every responsibility was an opportunity to seek Him first and to live for His kingdom.

Next, I looked for those activities that helped me to refuel for that work, for that goal. I considered my extra-curriculars as it were, those commitments that were not daily tasks or responsibilities but things I could potentially say “no” to. I’m an introvert. And I have to be aware of where my energy is going and how to refuel, or I easily get overwhelmed and burnt out. I spent sometime defining for myself what those key things were for me. An afternoon of shopping is not restful for me (though it might be for you). Exercising puts me in a foul mood. Going to a party or “game night” is often draining and stressful. But painting, calligraphy, writing, a long nap, sitting in silence (in a dimly lit room)—these are life-giving to me. I need to say “yes” to these more often without the guilt of all that I’m not getting accomplished. And sometimes it also may mean silencing the little voices that think they need me; teaching my kids to honor my needs is just as important as meeting theirs. Asking others for help so that I can have that space is not selfish; it’s essential.

Beautiful, life-giving, kingdom-focused: those were my essentials for this year. As I approached each task, each opportunity, each commitment, I filtered it through those three criteria. Some things didn’t make the cut. And the things that did were exactly what I needed to do and exactly where I needed to be.

Ladies, we can’t do it all. And we have to stop putting that expectation on ourselves. It’s literally draining the life out of us. Instead, we need to choose what is essential, and that’s different for each of us. It means somethings will be left undone, and other things will not be done in instagram-worthy fashion. For some of us, it may mean we leave that sink full of dishes for a bit and focus on journaling the Word. For others, it may mean you say “yes” to that shopping trip with friends even though it means asking someone else to watch the kids for a bit. For all of us, it means focusing our lives on seeking Him first, worshipping the Author of Life instead of serving our to-do list. It means nurturing relationships and taking opportunity for conversation. It means sending the kids to play so that we can sit in silence with the Lord and have our spirits revived and our perspective realigned.

It means choosing life instead of settling for “deadful.” It means finding those essentials.

What Standardized Learning Isn’t (& A Homeschool Trajectory for Success)

Standardized learning | Homeschool learning trajectory

There is a fear that I think every homeschool parent faces—the fear of missing something, of forgetting to teach some vital element to our child’s education. And while standardized learning can sometimes help us set expectation and what could be covered, I think many times educational standards also play to our fears. We look at a list like Common Core or a book like What Your Kindergartener Ought to Know, and we panic. “My child doesn’t know this yet. I don’t think I even have that in my lesson plans this year. What else are we missing? I’m failing and ruining everything!”

I’m all for having smaller goals that help us attain the larger goal (i.e. graduation), but I think many times we lose the human element in our attempts to get everyone meeting those standards. We forget that no person has the same life trajectory as someone else. AND THAT’S OKAY!

For the first time, we are enrolled in a charter school alongside our homeschool, and there are a lot of assessments. Sometimes, the activities we are asked to complete cover things my kids don’t know yet, things I didn’t plan to cover until later in the year or a year from now or even two years from now. My kids aren’t worried about it. They play the assigned learning game, miss the questions, read the tutorial, answer the questions again, and move right along. And I don’t worry about it either. For one, I know that as classical homeschoolers, our trajectory already looks quite a bit different from everyone else’s. But I also know, we are making progress.

Think about when you go to the pediatrician and your doctor charts your child’s growth on the chart. We don’t panic when our kids don’t register average for height or weight. My kids have always been on the small side. I remember one appointment a few months after Littlest was born. He was my largest baby in every measurement. But as the doctor tracked his growth trajectory, she laughed, “He was looking so good, and then it looks like genetic potential took over.” My husband and I are short, and it looks like our kids will be, too. No one has been worried about that trajectory as long as it progresses consistently.

We understand the variations in physical growth trajectories. We know there will be growth spurts and plateaus. We know that while there are averages and an overall picture of health for each age, no kid grows the same. But I think we often lose that when we step into the realm of academics. We somehow think there should be this steady climb from kindergarten to graduation, hitting all the milestones at approximately the same time as every other child. But the reality is, some trajectories look more like an etch-a-sketch. There are dips and curves and 360s. There are growth spurts and plateaus in learning, too.

So what if you didn’t cover the election process and the branches of government this year? There will be other elections while your child is still school-age. So what if you haven’t learned the parts of a cell yet? So what if your child can’t recite all the steps to the scientific method? Are these important? Yes! But I’m pretty sure you’ll get to them in the next 7-10 years or so. Keep the big picture in mind. You have twelve years to cover all of this. And at college, they won’t care if your kid practiced the states song each year or knew the animal classifications by the third grade. Yes, we need to cover these things, but not necessarily this year.

Relax, brew some coffee, and jot some ideas in your planner. And enjoy this roller coaster ride of learning trajectory. It’s going to take you all over the charts before you get off. And next year, fractions and borrowing and carrying will not be as hard.

Homeschooling comes with a unique set of fears and insecurities. Face down your fears with these posts.

Embracing Limits (and finding freedom)

limits | accepting limitations | finding freedom

We don’t like limits. In fact, most of us either push the limits or pretend they don’t exist. And if we are honest, we are made to feel ashamed if we actually accept them without a fight. So when someone makes a statement about children or family or homeschool or Christianity limiting us, there’s often a surge of emotion. It’s not even that the statement is false; it’s that we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that limitations are evil.

The fact that children change our lives is a pretty established and accepted fact. It is a fact that there are things I am no longer able to do while my kids are young. It is a fact that kids determine to a large extent when I sleep, when I get up, how much sleep I get, and when and what I eat. And for many of us, our kids determine how long we have in the bathroom and whether or not we get a shower. 

But this principle also holds true in so many other areas of our lives. Marriage limits us and rearranges our lives. Career choices limit us and rearrange our lives. Money, or the lack of it, limits us and rearranges our lives. Homeschooling and sports and drama club limit us and rearrange our lives. Even God limits us and rearranges our lives. And that’s not a bad thing, is it?

You see, limitations are not the evil. But if I live in denial and try to arrange my life as though those boundaries aren’t there, I’m miserable. And if I stand with my nose pushed against the fence, wholly focused on it, then I miss the freedom within the space I’ve been given. Limits are not the evil; living beyond our limits is what brings dissatisfaction, exhaustion, and burn out.

Any commitment, any relationship brings with it certain boundaries and certain upheaval and change. Freedom is not trying to find a way out of this reality. Freedom is acknowledging and embracing that reality. Because a life without limits, a life where we are totally free to arrange our lives to meet our every whim, is truly an empty life. It’s a life of no investment, no sacrifice, no commitment, no relationship, no fulfillment, and no satisfaction.

Whatever the specific parameters of your life may be, understand that they are not bad. They simply give shape and structure and definition to your life. Your limits are not keeping you from doing something more important or robbing you of your identity or preventing you from being you. God sets our boundaries, and He has placed you exactly where He wanted you to be and given you exactly what He felt was most important for you to do.

Instead of denying that our limits exist or feeling shame every time we have to say “no” to something because of our limitations, let’s embrace them! Because pushing those limits distorts the mold and shape of the very things we love most.

Embracing my limits is also embracing the freedom to love and invest whole-heartedly in what God has given me.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing imperfections: we can’t do it all.

Keeping Up with Homeschool Grading: the Grading Center

Homeschool Grading: Grading Center

One of the things I noticed last year, when I started evaluating how my time was spent, was that a huge portion of my “teacher time” involved tediously grading daily assignments. Personally, I felt that this wasn’t the best use of my time and opportunity with the kids; I wanted to be doing more actual teaching.

Since my kids are 3rd and 5th grade, I figured they were old enough to learn some self-checking and self-correcting in a few areas. So we instituted what we called “Grading Center,” and this year we added a little flair at the kids’ request: a sign, some stickers, and colored pens.

What Grading Center Is

  1. At a certain time of day, one of us sets up the Grading Center at our dining table. This is a location that is out in the open and in clear view. The answer keys are set out during this time, as well as our sign, stickers, and pens; after assignments are graded, everything is put away again.
  2. The kids grade only daily assignments: math lessons, map work, Latin worksheets, etc. I grade all tests and quizzes.
  3. No pencils are allowed at the grading center, only our colored pens.
  4. This is a time for them to notice what they’ve done wrong and attempt to understand the corrections themselves.
  5. This is also time for them to build integrity and character. It’s a lesson in honesty, and doing the right thing. It’s a testing ground in a controlled situation.

What Grading Center Isn’t

  1. It isn’t at any time unsupervised. No answer key ever leaves the designated location. And while I am not looking over their shoulders, I am close enough to see and notice things.
  2. It isn’t without accountability. During our time to together, I quickly look over everything they’ve graded. First, I scan for errors. Their work is still easy enough at this stage that, at a glance, I can tell if they’ve done a decent job and can still easily catch any errors. Second, I ask if they’ve understood all of the corrections. Most of the time, they do. But sometimes there are some new math concepts or a confusing map skills question that requires a bit of explaining.
  3. It isn’t encouraging temptation. I stress honesty and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Nothing they grade counts for an actual grade; I grade all quizzes and tests.  Also, I’ve talked with them about telling me if they feel any temptation to cheat, that there is nothing shameful in struggling, but that I would want to know so that I could help them to avoid actually cheating. If at any time I felt one of my kids was being tempted in this way, we would make other arrangements.
  4. It isn’t encouraging laziness. As a matter of fact, in many cases, I think it has encouraged careful work. It makes a much bigger impact for them to circle and mark their own careless mistakes than for me to mark it and merely tell them it was careless.

While this definitely isn’t a “one size fits all” solution, having a little help with the grading has made a huge difference in my day. It frees me up to be able to do more teaching than correcting. And it’s one step closer to making them independent learners. Just like having them help me clean the house teaches them character and responsibility, having them help with the grading has been a great training ground, too.

Are they always excited about doing it? Of course not, let’s not fool ourselves. But the stickers and neon pens do help.

Embracing Imperfection

Embracing Imperfection

I had a bizarre dream the other night. My husband was being forced to walk the plank, and I was responsible for his rescue. Me alone. Just me. As in Pirates of the Caribbean style, with me starring as Elizabeth. Everything was ready for the rescue to take place when suddenly my four year old showed up. “Hello, momma!” he chirped cheerfully, just as I was supposed to swing in and save the day. And right before I woke up, I remember thinking, “Great! Now, how am I going to pull this off?” (Think Elizabeth with a four year old on her hip.)

I woke up, and thankfully my husband’s life did not depend upon me. But the reality of the dream made me chuckle. Is this not our life, moms? Here we are in the midst of life’s demands, juggling multiple worthy tasks, maybe even attempting heroic rescues, with our kids riding piggy-back. 

It’s the storyline of every day:

  • I’m making dinner (or trying to eat dinner) with three kids and a dog all over me.
  • I’m trying to give my Oldest instructions while my Littlest is interrupting every 30 seconds to ask me for a piece of paper, his yellow crayon, and am I listening to his art show.
  • I’m completing a project for our church while Littlest begs for every snack in the pantry.
  • I’m on the phone with my mom making holiday plans and stop in the middle to tell “someone” to please stop playing in the dishwasher soap; no, you can’t squeeze the bottle; please don’t wipe that on your jammies because it has bleach in it—Agh!

I’m confident you get the picture, and could add another 1,000 “you know you’re a mom if” scenarios. And honestly, in the grind of it all, the whole “oh, you’ll miss it one day” comments only go so far. I need perspective. I need hope. I need to know that my husband will not be executed and the world will not fall apart because someone CAN’T FIND THEIR SHOES. (Oh, my poor husband.)

The answer is that we cannot operate as a One Mom Show. We can’t do it all, and we can’t do it alone. There is no guilt in admitting that. There is no shame in asking for help and calling in reinforcements, even if you think you don’t have any. The truth is that most of us usually do have someone, but we are too busy ruling them out. “Oh, no—I couldn’t ask her; she’d think this about me. And not her, I can’t bear to think of what she’d say about the house if she saw it right now. And So-and-So, do you know what he fed the kids last time? And I can’t ask her; she’s just getting over the sniffles. And I couldn’t possibly ask So-and-So, knowing how busy they’ve been. And she probably wouldn’t be free anyway. I wouldn’t want to impose…” On down the list we go until we’ve convinced ourselves there’s no one left. It’s time to reach out, even if the situation is less than perfect.

Because, my friends, we can survive and even thrive on far less than perfect. Ugly meals still get the kids fed. Dirty socks that have to be reworn are not the end of the world (there, I said it.) And running a few minutes late all the time to everything says more about my stage in life than it does about my character.

All that before I’ve even added God to the equation, ‘cause we know He can still make the world go round while we take a 15 second record-breaking potty break. He doesn’t need my perfection, and all He asks for is my willingness (Some days, I don’t have much more than that to offer.)

Bless him, when it comes down to it, my husband is cunning and resourceful enough to save himself or to at least force a delay, until I can extricate myself from my four year old’s peanut-butter hug.  Though dear hubby has said that he does appreciate my intent.

Bottom line, our lives will be so much easier when we accept that interruptions will make some things in life impossible, that children do limit us and rearrange our life and that’s not a bad thing, that we will need other adults in our life to do this parenting thing, and that an imperfect solution may be exactly the solution God is offering to us. So let’s embrace imperfection and shout praise to a God who regularly delivers His perfect amazing grace through imperfect vessels.

Need more Monday morning encouragement? Read about embracing an imperfect home.