Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why We Homeschool: Part Four

Finally, today we have the last installment of this series!
If you're interested read parts one, two, and three.

As we neared the end of Camilla's preschool years and Kindergarten approached, Todd and I agreed that Christian School would be better for her than public. It was easy to settle on THE school—one that would provide a classical Christian education from Kindergarten through eighth grade. (We still think this is a spectacular school, by the way!) 

In the Fall of 2012, she started. It was a bit of an adjustment, getting up earlier, the morning rush to the bus, having lunch packed and uniform ready every day . . . but she loved school and was learning. I made the most of the little time we had together at the end of every day. She had to go to bed earlier, so we could get up and start all over the next day.

I found out I was pregnant. And then, a few weeks later, I wasn’t anymore.

My world crumbled and I saw the precious faces of my children—their lives whizzing by so quickly that I just wanted to stop them. Stop time and enjoy life and not rush through it. I wanted them to have time to play and work and relax with our family. I wanted Camilla and Adrian to have time to play together and know each other. I knew I wouldn’t get another chance to spend this time with my six-year-old. The time was now. As November turned to December, I found that I would do a little dance of joy whenever school was cancelled. I just wanted her home.

So, that’s the emotion of it. Here’s my bullet list:
  • ·      Young children, in grade school, do not need to spend most of every day in a structured learning environment in order to learn.
  • ·      Young children need uninterrupted time to play, use their imaginations and interact freely with one another.
  • ·      I want my children to learn to contribute to the family by doing household chores. Camilla didn’t have much time to do this when she was in school.
  • ·      I want my children to spend time together, to know and love each other and to feel connected as a family unit with us as their parents.
  • ·      The flexibility afforded us by homeschooling is important to our family culture and gives us the ability to set our own schedule.

I love having them home with me, but I’ll be the first to admit that it's no easy task. It is great to see Camilla interact with her brother and sister all day long. And wonderful to see her learning and growing academically and as a whole person. We have our stressful days, though. Days when I think it would be easier to outsource this. And days when I wonder if I'm providing everything she needs. We’ll decide how to educate the kids on a yearly basis. It's looking like Camilla will be home again next year for second grade. Adrian went to preschool two mornings a week this year and even if he does the three-day program at preschool next year, he'll still be home most of the time and learning with us as well.
Learning is exhausting!
I realized something recently as I was listening to a podcast during which Tsh Oxenreider interviewed Susan Wise Bauer. Bauer was amazing and brilliant and she said something about homeschooling that stuck with me. “You don’t have any responsibility to defend your choice. You just have a responsibility to live it out productively and for the good of your kids.” I love that. It’s refreshing and freeing and makes me think maybe I wasted my time on this series. Or perhaps my purpose has changed.

You all don’t really need to know or understand our decision regarding educating our children. We do what works for us right now. But rehashing some of our thinking regarding these decisions (which we’re constantly making and changing) may have helped some of you if you’re considering alternative education. Or maybe it opened your eyes to see something you hadn’t thought of before.

Bauer said in the same podcast, “There’s no such thing as a perfect educational experience.”

We’re all just making the best choices we can about this, hoping and praying that in the long run our kids will reap the benefits of our blood, sweat, tears . . . and prayers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Why We Homeschool: Part Three

Read part one here and part two here.

In my first post about homeschooling, I mentioned that before I had children, I thought I would send them to school.

After I met my kids, however, I discovered that I loved being a mom. I loved being with my kids (most of the time) and I loved watching them learn. But I still didn’t plan to homeschool. I really enjoyed the carefree days of pre-school, with play dates in the mornings and naptime in the afternoons. I wasn’t looking forward to Camilla starting Kindergarten, but I also wanted to stick to my plan. I wanted to start contributing to the household income through my writing by the time all the kids were in school, so that I wouldn’t have to consider going back to a traditional job.

People who homeschooled, or considered homeschooling, often asked me for my story. Since I was home schooled myself, they wondered why I wasn't planning to homeschool my kids. I had so many reasons. But I did see the value in homeschooling. I appreciated many things about my years of learning at home. I agreed with homeschooling as a philosophy. As I looked ahead to Camilla starting Kindergarten, I hated the idea of tight schedules and less-sleep and homework during elementary school.
A visit to the farm up the road
My second reason for homeschooling is this: Young children, in the early grades, do not need to be in a structured learning environment for most of the day.

Not only do they not need it, I don’t think it’s good for them. That ties into my first reason in the previous post, the flexibility afforded by homeschooling. But it’s different, really. 

Learning to fold laundry!
I do think learning needs to happen, and in a structured way some of the time. But kids thrive if they’re able to play and use their imaginations.

Adults are so encumbered by time limits. Have you ever noticed how unconcerned children are about time? It doesn’t matter how much I prod and push and nag Adrian when we’re running late. He cannot be rushed. He doesn’t know how to care about the time. Of course, we need some time constraints as adults, but there’s a lot to be learned by observing children and how fully involved they are in what they are doing. They can throw themselves completely into their play—or their work—without thinking about all the other tasks that need to be accomplished before their heads hit the pillow.

We spoil some of that spontaneity and zest when we force children into a rigidly scheduled life. Now, of course I follow a loose routine in our home. Otherwise we’d get to 8 o’clock every night and we would still be in our pajamas. (Come to think of it, Evangeline is still in her pajamas and it’s 3:15.) Most of the time we do schooling in the morning after breakfast, starting around 9. Just this morning, I actually raised my voice at Camilla because she wanted to do everything EXCEPT get dressed when she got up. I can be too rigid myself. But most days my kids end up with plenty of unstructured downtime to play by themselves or together—or with friends.

That’s something I felt Camilla was missing out on when she was in school all day. The few hours she was home, she was tired, had chores to do (something else I think is important), and then it was time to get ready for bed. She didn’t have much playtime on school days.

Plenty of time to play with baby sister now!

Next week I’ll wrap up this series, explaining the emotions behind my decision to homeschool.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why We Homeschool: Part Two

Wasn’t I writing a series or something? 

Yeah. I guess I’d better get on that. (Read the first installment here.)

Two Three weeks ago, after I posted the first installment of my so-called series, I was talking to some friends. I expressed such doubt about my own path regarding homeschooling that one of the friends collapsed in gales of laughter imagining this series ending with a picture of Camilla with a backpack getting on the bus.

Camilla heading off to Kindergarten in 2012
There are days when that scenario has its appeal. I am pretty sure that we will take the path of traditional schooling again some day. I’m just not sure when it will happen. I have thoughts about how nice it would be to put some of the kids on a bus and have a quiet house for a little while, to let somebody else fight with Camilla over math problems (because she probably wouldn’t fight with anybody else), to actually clean up the kitchen and read books just to the little kids for a change, to not collapse into bed completely exhausted at night . . . And then I think that I’m trying too hard, and doing too much. These are selfish things to want maybe. Perhaps if I got more organized and Eva started sleeping through the night . . . and then I take a moment and see the beauty in the chaos.

Last week I had one of those days. I had chosen an “unschooling” activity for the first hour of “school.” We made a double batch of dinner so that it would be ready for that night and I could take a meal to a new mom. After that, Eva was fussy and I went to put her down for a nap, asking Camilla to practice the piano. It took forever to settle the babe, and she promptly woke up after I left her anyway. Every bit of school “work” we tried to do seemed futile. The kids were ornery. I was ornery. I went outside into the sunshine by myself to breathe for a moment and thought about the rain and snow forecasted for the next day. I cleared my head enough to realize the struggle wasn’t worth it just then. So I went back inside and sent the kids out to play. I sat down to nurse Eva for the umpteenth time and listened to myself think for a change. It was the right choice.
When we’re “on” we have a great time learning together. So I knew that we could easily make up for lost time later that week. And this scenario, surprisingly, demonstrates one of my reasons for homeschooling.

We have the freedom to be flexible. We take time off without getting special permission. We follow the rhythm that works for our children throughout the day and throughout the year. We walk in the woods when it's convenient for us. We go skiing on a week morning after a snowstorm. We can go to the beach for a whole week in September if we want to. We don’t have to write an excuse and explain it to somebody.

My first reason for homeschooling is flexibility. It’s a beautiful thing when I wield it. And it brings peace to my rebellious, non-conformist side. (I could write a whole post about that side!)

Freedom is wonderful. And I take it for granted far too often.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why We Homeschool: Part One

When we came to the decision to pull Camilla out of her wonderful little Christian school halfway through Kindergarten last year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of the people in my circle were very supportive of our decision. Even the teachers at Camilla’s school were understanding. Several had homeschooled their children for a portion of their education. A lot of my friends already homeschooled or were considering it, and if they weren’t doing it themselves they appreciated the sentiments which led us to the decision. But once in a while, I’m rudely awakened by incredulity from one person or another. I suddenly realize that, while I like to think of myself as someone who can be friends with people from all walks of life, I must be surrounding myself with like-minded people to a great degree. So, here on my blog, let me share our reasons for homeschooling. I need to be honest and admit that it was mostly my decision. Todd and I have a rather egalitarian relationship. I would never dream of making a big life decision for myself, let alone our children, without his approval. But this homeschooling idea was my baby from the get-go.

Let’s start at the beginning, though . . . before I had children I did not think I would homeschool them. Todd went to public school and he turned out fine. (Better than fine, actually!) I wanted to write. I didn’t see how I could possibly be a writer if I was homeschooling our children. I had seen my mother homeschool me and my younger siblings, and it is a job, with a capital J. Not only that, I had also watched a lot of my homeschooled friends stray from their faith—or give it up entirely—once they reached adulthood. Many homeschooling parents choose to homeschool because they think it will make their children turn out the way they want them to. Yet, it didn’t work. I had a front row seat to that reality. So, why would I homeschool? All that work with no results!

Point number one: We do not homeschool for “religious reasons.”

God doesn’t ever say in His word that Christians need to teach their kids at home. Some people will come to the conclusion that God wants them to homeschool and that’s fine. What is not fine is coming to the conclusion that everybody needs to homeschool. Homeschooling your children will not save them or protect them from the world. Choosing to homeschool in order to control your children and their future is, at best, a questionable motive. Lots of italics here. My apologies.

C.S. Lewis said something wonderfully freeing in his book Mere Christianity:

“An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”

I believe this applies quite well to homeschoolers. We’ve given up (for a time, or forever) outsourcing education for our children. We have many good reasons for this. But the moment we start saying school, in and of itself, is bad, or looking down on people who send their children to school, we have taken a wrong turn. We get all caught up in the morality of home education, when it’s actually one of several perfectly moral choices.

After much prayer, last January, I came to the conclusion that God was okay with me using whatever methods I chose to educate our children at the present time.

Next time I’ll delve into what are my reasons for homeschooling.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day!

I've looked forward to today all week. I love snow! It's beautiful. It makes for great skiing. The kids get to play in it (and so do I--sometimes). AND I have a good excuse to stay home. There's nothing like a good snow day for snuggling with my kids, baking, and drinking some kind of hot beverage while watching the white stuff pile up outside.

Somehow, though, now that the snowstorm is actually here, I'm restless . . . I'm distracted. I can't focus. My to-do list is way too long. I haven't been outside yet. I've already eaten too much chocolate. And had two cups of coffee. The house is getting messier by the hour. And we still haven't finished our Valentine's Day projects.

Oh, did I mention a local newspaper published this article today? Super stoked about that! But also really distracted by it, posting links, checking for feedback, responding to feedback. I can't think about anything else for more than ten minutes. It may be time to shut down the computer, put away the phone, and enjoy my snow day. You should do the same. But not until you read and share that article!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Day in the Life

This week Tsh Oxenreider of The Art of Simple (formerly Simple Mom) released her latest book, Notes from a Blue Bike. The more I hear about this book, the more excited I am to read it, especially as I have embarked in the past few years on a quest to simplify, to take time to smell the roses, to just live slower. So when I saw that Tsh was hosting a linky this week, I knew I wanted to link up. I just wasn’t sure what my topic ought to be, until I thought about how crazy and not-slow my life has been lately.

I’ve thought about doing a “Day in the Life” post for a while. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to bare my soul and confess how busy life is and perhaps look for suggestions on how to slow down a bit. Please keep in mind, every day is not as crazy as the one I’m going to share. But I do try to accomplish more than I can every day. Here is this past Monday . . .

4 am—I wake up to Evangeline fussing next to me. Yes, I brought her into our bed again. I am trying to transition her to sleeping the whole night in her crib, but that only works when she doesn’t wake up every two hours to nurse. I am just too exhausted to sit in the rocker and nurse her every two hours all night long. This has been going on for a week straight. I thought when those first two teeth popped through, she’d start sleeping longer stretches again, but not so far. I’m not sure what’s going on with her, but obviously I’m not ignoring my hungry baby, so into our bed she came around 2 am—maybe, the memory is kind of foggy. 
I nurse her and put her back in her crib for the rest of the night (morning?). She’s babbling to herself, but happy. I’m planning to get up early, work out, have a quiet time, in spite of the fact that Adrian vomited all over his sheets around midnight last night. I was nursing (naturally) when that happened, so Todd had to deal with the bulk of it. I love my husband. I slip back into sleep, expecting to get up when my alarm goes off at 5:45, and also expecting to face a long day with a four-year-old vomiting. (Camilla had a 24-hour bug on Friday, so . . .)

5:15—The baby is crying. I go to her room and nurse her back to sleep. She is nestled in her crib again. I say goodbye to Todd as he’s leaving for work and then I turn off my alarm, deciding to sleep until the big kids wake me up.

7:00—Camilla slips into bed beside me. I drift off for a bit longer before I make myself get up and hit the shower. While I’m showering, Adrian bounces into the bathroom. I ask him how he’s feeling and he is fine! I was sure we’d be down for the day, but I guess I need to buck up. We have some schoolwork to accomplish this morning, then haircuts at 1pm and a chiropractor appointment for Adrian and myself at 3:00. I also want to hit the grocery store after that, before rushing home to get Camilla to AWANA at 6:00. Perhaps I’m trying to squeeze in too much? This week is going to be so busy, though, I don’t know when I will get food in the house if not today. I dress myself and Adrian. I notice it is snowing! The dilemma today will be whether we actually go to our appointments or not! And I really need groceries! But the snow is so pretty . . .

8:00 or so—Eva is awake for the day. She usually wakes up happy once morning comes. I get her dressed and nurse her. Then I put all the dirty towels in the washer and strip the beds. We have breakfast, finally. I’m making eggs for myself, but can’t coax the big kids to eat some. They just want toast. Todd finished the homemade granola this morning, I forgot to bake bread yesterday, and we don’t have a lot of variety in the pantry, so I let them eat grocery store toast, while I drink my coffee.

9:00—I warn Camilla we’ll be starting school soon. Also, I make up a meal plan and my grocery list, while watching the snow fall outside the window. It’s 9:30 before we actually sit down to start working on math. We always start with prayer, so I ask Camilla to pray for our day. I guess I should respect the fact that she is not writing this and leave the next 15 minutes to your imagination. It was close to 10 before she actually prayed and we really started working on math. Perhaps sometime soon I will write a post on why we are homeschooling. (Then I’ll read it to remind myself why on days like this one!)

12 pm—We finish up most of the schoolwork I had planned for the day. It has been snowing steadily, so I get online to see what I can find out about the road conditions. Not much. But there’s an inch or two on the ground and it’s still snowing. I call our stylist. She’s not too happy that she drove into town and had two people cancel appointments today, but I can’t see dragging three kids out in this just to get our hair done. We reschedule. Eva has taken a nap and is up again, so I nurse her and make lunch for myself and the big kids (Chicken Salad and PB&J). I put the towels in the dryer and start a load of sheets.

1:00—I discover a new weather alert online, telling me it’s supposed to keep snowing until 4pm. I decide to cancel the chiropractor, too. Maybe we can fit it in tomorrow before Adrian’s ENT appointment. Maybe. I leave them a message. Camilla has been asking to make a Valentine’s Day gift for Daddy, so she helps me clean up from lunch (sort of) and I tape newspapers all over the counter so we don’t get paint on them. She paints the gift with my real acrylic paints while Adrian paints a picture for Daddy with his washable paints.

2:00—I decide we’re going for a walk. I look around the kitchen and at the floor, wishing I had time to clean up and vacuum. Maybe after the walk, I can put Eva down for a nap and clean up while the big kids stay outside in the snow. We all get our snowpants and coats on. I receive a text message that Awana is cancelled due to the snow. I put the Moby Wrap on and put Eva in her snowsuit. The big kids head outside while I finish getting myself and Eva ready. The phone rings. It’s the chiropractor. They can’t adjust Adrian tomorrow. The snow is tapering off. How about 5 o’clock today? I agree. I really want to go to the grocery store afterwards, anyway. On my way out the door, I text Todd wondering if he carpooled. I don’t know what we’re going to do for dinner if I’m going to the chiropractor and the grocery store starting at 5pm.

3:15—I cut my walk short, but tell the big kids to stay outside and play, thinking I will put sleeping Eva down, put clean sheets on the beds, clean up the kitchen and vacuum all before we need to leave at 4:30. Todd calls me first and says he did carpool, but he can come to the chiropractor and at least get Camilla and Eva so I don’t have to deal with so many kids at the grocery store. We’ll switch vehicles since he still doesn’t have a base for Eva’s seat in the truck. Todd’s coworker will rider home with all of them. I breathe a mental sigh of relief that I cleaned out the car on Saturday, reminding myself that things really do get accomplished when they need to be. Camilla comes in from outside. I tell her to make sure she puts away her snow gear and I head upstairs to put Eva down.

Eva wakes up when I take her out of the Moby Wrap and wants to nurse. I sit in the rocker in the nursery while she nurses, surfing the web on my phone and revising my to-do list, trying to figure out how much I can realistically accomplish before 4:30. Adrian comes in.

4:00—Eva is finally sleeping in her crib and I’m wishing I didn’t have to wake her up to drive to the chiropractor in half an hour. I wonder wistfully how to balance everything. It’s the desire to live more naturally that has us running to the chiro three times a week for Adrian, maybe avoiding him having to have surgery to put tubes in his ears. But it’s interfering a little bit with my resolve to live more slowly. I’m trying to keep the slow mindset, though. To look at the dirty floor downstairs and what’s left of Valentine crafting all over the counters and to choose the most important thing. Clean sheets on the beds. Because no one can go to bed until that’s finished and who knows what time I’ll get home from the grocery store. I make Camilla’s bed.  Then I tell Adrian to take off his snowpants (he invariably leaves them on when he comes in) and the raincoat he put on because he’s pretending to be an astronaut, and go potty because we have to leave in ten minutes. Wonder of wonders, he actually does what I asked him to do without more prompting. (Maybe the chiropractor is helping his hearing!) I put his freshly washed and dried waterproof cover on his mattress. So thankful it worked last night! It’s time to go, though. Todd can put the sheets on Adrian’s bed if I don’t get a chance to do it. I get Eva up and by the time we’re all in the car, it’s 4:39. And I’m hoping the roads aren’t bad.

4:40—The roads are just wet. I thank the big kids for their cooperation while we were getting ready to leave, and also for putting most of their snow gear away themselves. That was really helpful to me.

5:00—We pile out of the car and into the chiro’s office, where I learn he doesn’t have time for me (it would be my first appointment, so would take a while), but he adjusts Adrian and we talk for a minute till I see Todd coming in the door. We go out to my car. I say hi to Todd’s coworker, Jeff, and apologize for adding 15 minutes to his commute. I help get the kids and the stroller in the car, laugh at Adrian’s saying to Todd (about Jeff), “Why is he in our car?” Kiss the kids and Todd good bye. Grab four reusable grocery bags (not enough, as it turned out). Then I head to Todd’s truck by myself.
[Cue angelic choir.]

5:20—I’m at the grocery store. Alone. I wander around, getting what we need and run into my friend Mary. I haven’t seen her for two years and she is pregnant with her sixth child! Sixth! Well, now I feel like a loser. Not really. But I am in awe. Not only is this woman about to have her sixth child, she also homeschools and lives off the grid. I think she lives slowly, people. But it also has to be crazy. Probably not quite the type of slow I’m designed for, but I do want more slow in my days.

7:00—I pull into the garage. Todd is in the kitchen holding Eva and warming a bottle for her. He says my mom just called, so I call her back and take Eva to nurse her. (Dang that wasted milk!) She falls asleep by the time I finish talking to my mom. She’s still fully clothed and is not wearing her double duty diaper for the night. I take her upstairs to change her and then decide to give her a bath.

8:00—I nurse Eva, praying she will sleep better tonight. Todd brings the big kids up, makes Adrian’s bed, and is almost finished putting the kids to bed when I finish with Eva and head downstairs to get something to eat.

8:30—I make myself an omelette, blessing my husband who has washed the dishes from earlier in the day and now is going out to plow the driveway. When he comes in, I am eating some ice cream and thinking about preordering Tsh’s new book. We talk of many things while we fold the sheets and towels. I straighten up the house a bit and start a load of diapers. He’s going to work out. I’m going to get ready for bed because I have a scratchy throat.

10pm—I’m ready for bed, but I jot down a few things I need to do in the morning and decide to run downstairs and start the next cycle for the diapers so they’ll be ready to dry first thing in the morning.
Then I check on the kids, all sleeping soundly. Hallelujah!
I drift away, thanking God that nobody is really sick and praying that I get more sleep tonight . . .

Does this sound like slow living to you? What can I do to live more slowly? Is it mostly a mindset or do I need to make decisions to cut out some of the crazy? Is that even possible with three kids?

Addendum—Evangeline only woke up twice that night. Hallelujah!