August?! Wait, I am Not Ready!!!

How is it possibly already August? I don’t know about you, but it feels like this very important month snuck up on me this year.

We just returned from our annual trek to New Mexico and Colorado

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This year we drove straight from Tennessee from New Mexico. 21 hours, and yet we were still smiling! These kids are seriously great road trip kids.

We went to one of my favorite places in the world.

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A little place tucked into the South West corner of Durango, where I have been romping since the mid-1970’s.  It is amazing to see my kids now romping here, excited to come back each year. The Eldest is getting pretty great at taking pictures of the clouds. Which were amazing.

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I snapped a few as well.

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This year Little Miss was pretty intent on riding a horse. Thankfully her Aunt has some great horses, including Tess. The brothers quickly wanted a ride as well. Well, most of the brothers.

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Lots of laughter, lots of hanging out and relaxing. We went later this year than normal, and it was good.

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Now, it is suddenly August. Like on a Monday morning, slap-you-in-the-face-with-reality, August. Around here public schools are trickling back into session. We are trickling back in as well. A bit like dipping your toe in the pool to check the water. We are getting some work done this week, but our routine is not established yet.

Normally I take a day or two at a hotel and plan out the year. Not sure that will happen this year, since, um, school has begun. I feel a little like I am scrambling, although much is already in place. We have the benefit of some great tutorials, and The Eldest is taking most of his classes through a fantastic place. The middle boy…who I think I’ll refer to as Mr. Creative from here on…is joining that tutorial this year and will catch Math and Science, an English class and Drama.

I still have the Youngest Boy and Little Miss. They are taking a couple classes at another tutorial, but for the most part are being taught by me. Bible, History, Reading, English…yep.

So. My many homeschool friends, what did you learn last year that is helping you tweak this year? What did you learn that was grand, and what did you learn to set aside or change completely?

I think the thing I am setting aside is feeling the need to tackle every subject every day. I think it wears the kids out a bit, and it means shorter time spent on each subject, but spread out. This year we are going to try a longer chunk of time, but just a couple times a week, for Bible and History.

The thing that went well last year…morning reading time and color / relax time. We started the day with me reading something. We worked through the Harry Potter series and are now working through Andrew Peterson’s fantastic series, The Wingfeather Saga.

Now as I figure out final details of our homeschool year, I thought I would share a few blogs which help inspire and encourage me. Hopefully you’ll find something that sparks your ideas for this coming year:

Homeschool Mom had a good article today about planning your homeschool year, with some good tips.

This is an older post from Ginny at Small Things, but so worth the read.

Another older post, from Ann Voskamp this time, is a great view about why to homeschool.

I just came across this blog, Blog, She Wrote. Tons of helpful ideas here.

Erica’s site has loads of tips, printables and ideas. Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time here.

For those with older kids, you might check out Tina’s Dynamic Homeschool Plus. Lots of ideas here!

Add any blogs you enjoy in the comments. The main thing, especially if you are new to homeschool, is to not stress. Be disciplined, think ahead, plan…and enjoy. Some days the dishes will absolutely pile up and the laundry will look like Mount Everest. Some days you will eat cereal for dinner. Some days you will get caught up in a discussion and forget something else.

Some days will be absolutely crazy.

Some days will be perfect.

Just like life…maybe that is one of the biggest lessons of homeschool. Our kids learn that life happens and we have to learn to adjust.

And…just to add some encouragement…you might end up with kids like these:

Just A Little Lack, Please!

I said at the very beginning of this year that this was going to be the year of reading, and that is proving to be true. This has been a year of reading more than of writing, and that has been a good thing. A year of listening more than of speaking.

 

I have things stirring within that I want to talk about, and yet I feel the need to let them simmer. The need to keep them close and not to expose them yet. The need to allow them the space for pondering and being stored up rather than for for rapid exposure.

 

This is unlike me.

 

I like to get my thoughts out there quickly. I tend to jump around. A lot. I tend to not follow through on thoughts to their finality.

 

I am not very patient.

 

This is not the best trait in a home school parent.

 

We have begun our third year of homeschool and I find myself with those mornings of agitation; those mornings of not having all my ideas in order and all the plans completely in place. The agitation that the kids are two steps ahead of me and will be asking what is next before I can tell them.

 

The agitation of being unprepared.

 

I hate that.  Kind of the opposite of patience.

 

Part of my lack of preparation is because I am trying to keep up with reading for my own sanity…reading to fulfill my own refreshment and deepening as well as for educating the chi’dren.  I am still finding the balance.

 

This morning, our third Monday into our third year of home school, something truly wonderful happened. There was just that moment of “Ahhh…..yes.”

 

It was not a brilliant moment of insight or of imagination or of grasping a deep truth. It was not a moment of the boys hanging on truths of history. No, it was laughter during prayer and prayer that rambled and was sincere in its humor and transparency.

 

Prayer that ended with “I pray that Mom doesn’t ground me for this prayer.”

 

A morning of lingering breakfast, of reading a novel out loud over cereal and chocolate milks,  leading into prayer and Bible reading without rush. An awareness that patience is growing in myself even when I am not completely prepared, and even more importantly, that friendship is growing among three young men. Awareness that home school is right for this moment, and that history is being learned, along with math and science and English…but that they are in this moment not the most important.

 

See…the thing is, I cannot force these three boys to enjoy each other and to grow in affection toward one another. I cannot force the atmosphere that happened this morning. When I rush the day and have all the plans worked out to the minute, often what I want the most is simply impossible.

 

Sometimes what I need is my lack.

 

This morning was that glimpse I needed.  The awareness that my insufficiency will not overwhelm this endeavor.  The awareness that I do not have to lay everything out all at once. I can hold back and ponder and be patient. I do not have to rush. There are moments which call for some lingering.

 

Did you hear that? Our insufficiency will not overwhelm the endeavor called life. In our weaknesses….God’s power is made perfect.

 

Everything moves so incredibly fast, it seems.

 

Lingering and pondering…these seem like old-fashioned ideas. And yet….they are so vital. It is hard to be agitated when you are lingering and pondering.  Sometimes it is good to sit with our insufficiency a little, sometimes it gives us the space to ponder and to linger and to find that God has done something we could not do ourselves.

 

The rest of the day we turned our attention to our tasks with a diligence that was engaged with humor and friendship.

 

So, I tuck my thoughts back in close and let them simmer a little longer. I’m thankful for those of you who keep popping in to read. I’m thankful to have a place to write…and I know there are more things stirring….

 

 

 

 

Tests Do Not Tell All…

Next week the boys will go to their umbrella school (the school where we report our grades and attendance) to take part in the standardized testing. They are familiar with the process, especially the older boys who have been through it many times. The boys attended this school until we began home school two years ago, so they know the drill.

 

For the most part they are not intimidated by the testing. We have talked about the need for the testing, but also that we are not defined by these tests. Last year I wrote a bit more about testing, and as I read through the post again this morning I thought it was worth sharing again:

 

The boys are testing this week. Testing to see not only what they know, but how well they have been taught. Those in the schools…well, the teachers are being tested as well. I know in some areas these tests bring stress and anxiety and frustration; there is pressure to do well.

I told the boys not to worry and to have fun. I told them I’m not worried a bit…I know they are bright and I know they are learning, and I know this year will be a bit different since we began homeschool. We are using a different curriculum, and I know that will show, especially in math.

They are relaxed and they are not worried about the results, although they know I expect them to do their best.

Yesterday I saw a video and it has been on my mind since. See, I know there are loads of opinions on education, and I know that not one way is necessarily the correct way for everyone. We’ve chosen homeschool for this season, and we have done so for a number of reasons. I am excited about this venture, and I am hopeful. I truly think this is the best option for us, and I think there are some opportunities in the homeschool arena that simply can’t happen in the classroom.  Opportunities to pause the syllabus and explore.

That is a touchy issue because some people feel judged just by my saying that…my choice for our family can frustrate others who have not made the same choice. Some think that I am making a statement about public education or private education…and I am,  to some degree. Still, because I have found our niche and am celebrating that does not mean that another’s choice is worse. I have friends who have children flourishing in public school and friends with children flourishing in private school.

Here is the real thrust of my thinking, though, and here is where this video comes into the discussion.

My kids, all boys at this point for the discussion of education, get bored easily. They are not avid readers or avid ‘learners’ and there are many days in the classroom or at home where they just want to get through the material so they can get on to something fun.

That bothers me.

I love to learn, and I love education. I know I didn’t always…but I have found that I love learning about people and about places…I love reading and I love learning new things.

I want them to catch that. I want them to see learning as something vital and alive and filled with wonder and imagination and truth…and not drudgery.  It can be drudgery in the classroom, in the home, wherever. The same education can be exciting and grab our attention…in the home or in the classroom.

I am not completely sure how this will play out, but I know that something is stirring in me about how I approach teaching the children. There are still facts they have to learn, and sometimes those facts are drudgery. There will, however, be things that will grab their attention and spark something…and those things need to be given the room to grow and the space to breathe.

When something makes them sit up and makes their eyes sparkle and makes them talk excitedly, I need to pay attention. I need to be listening for that moment, and I need to breathe life into that spark. 

That doesn’t happen in testing. That doesn’t happen in drudgery. That requires attention and the flexibility to give room to that interest. The hope is that as that interest sparks learning, the enjoyment of learning will spread to the other subjects.

There has to be room for imagination and for experiments.

And for failure.

And for play.

Space to find out that actually, I don’t care at all about this subject.

Testing doesn’t make that room.  I am not saying that testing is meaningless; we do need to know that our kids are learning the necessities. I am saying that our kids are so much more than the testing reveals.  I love this video because the young man is obviously bright and intelligent and creative and passionate. He is not saying education is meaningless…he is saying to pay attention to that spark and not just learn because you have to learn a set of facts.

Give room for that love of learning without suffocating it with facts that become drudgery.  

I am not good at this yet…I still make it drudgery sometimes. I can remember my teachers who were able to grab my attention and I can remember when the realization began to take hold that learning is really amazing. This is an amazing world filled with some pretty incredibly stories and people and facts and wonders…that is what I want to convey.

 Here is the real kicker…I can lose sight of that wonder just as easily in the home school setting as the teacher can in the classroom. I need this reminder as we near testing. 

Check out this video, and thanks to my friend Tina Hunter for posting it, and then watch the one after as well. I want my boys to think like this…I want them to think and to challenge and to explore, not just to prepare for tests.

 

Update: I have to add something, as I’ve been thinking about this through the day. I have to add that I have so much respect for my friends who are teachers…who are able to create an atmosphere of creativity and individuality in the classroom. Those teachers who make our children feel special, who truly care about the children they teach…those are some special teachers! I know that there are many who have made an impact on my kids…and on our family as a result. There are many teachers who are simply tired, and many who are restricted and find themselves in a difficult position to try and create a unique environment. So, I wanted to add that I know there are not simple answers to how we inspire our children…and whether we homeschool or have kids in school, we have to continue the learning throughout our family life.

Stake it out – This is a ‘Quiet Zone’

“Honey, I realized today that it has been 12 days in a row we have had to get in the car and go somewhere. I’m so glad today we don’t have to go anywhere.”

“Sarah, we leave for Biblestudy in an hour.”

“Crap.”

Okay. I love Biblestudy, love our home group, and was very happy to be there last night. I was actually in the midst of cooking enchiladas and cupcakes to take to the home group with us, I just had not connected the concept that I had to leave the house.

Not so happy that the string of days is continuing. I looked at the calendar…the string will go to 18 days before we have a day without the requirement of loading up and heading out the door. I know for most of you that seems rather obvious; everyone goes somewhere pretty much every day, right?  Well, with home school my goal is to stay put as much as we can, and this year it just seems that we cannot achieve that simple goal.

Dentist appointments, car registration renewal with the mandatory emissions test, tutorials, practices, church, doctors appointments, etc, etc….ugh.

Simple things add up to what feels like a fractured and distracted life. Mostly because I have never been the best at organization. I have always been the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type, always been the procrastinator, and now that I am mom and homeschool teacher I am realizing more and more how much I need to change. I have matured and become better at not trying to become Suzy Homemaker (which I will never be), but at trying to create an environment where family and faith can happen…or at least where there is the opportunity.  A place where there is the space to understand each other and to be heard; a place where life can happen in all its messiness, but where there is a sense of calm and sanctuary.

That’s why the last 12 days, and the next 6, frustrate me. I don’t like feeling scattered and I want to have days at home to linger over the school work and to get the house in order. To cook good meals and to enjoy the process of being together and learning. Rather than rushing and marking off the to-do-list.

I do not respond well to the scattered feeling. I become agitated and frustrated and the spiral goes downward. The kids respond in kind. 

Then I read this simple line in an article (the whole article is good, but this line caught me)

Staking Out & Creating Quiet Zones

Yes.  It was one of those moments where everything just eased and I was able to focus. I have said before how there is this ache for silence and for quiet, especially in the midst of a household that is increasingly attracted to technology. We gave in whole hog to Twitter and Instagram and FaceBook leading up to Nate’s birthday in the hopes of catching Taylor Swift’s attention…and really just for the fun of the experience. It was fun, for a very short season.

Now, I want to stake out and create a quiet zone.

More than that, I want to teach my kids to do the same. I am continually convinced that this next generation is not going to understand how to handle distractions and noise. They are not going to know how to turn it off. That is one of my goals, and I think this may become one of my mantras.

“With the people I love most I can sit in silence indefinitely. We need both for our full development; the joy of the sense of sound; and the equally great joy of its absence.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

Stake it out. Protect that quiet zone and that space of silence. The author of the above article was addressing professional writing, but when we think of this in view of our walk in faith, it takes on even richer application.

Stake it out and protect that quiet zone and that space of silence that allows us the opportunity and the framework where we turn our attention toward God.

Wholly. 

I’m hanging on for another six days and cannot wait for those three days in a row when we will not have to leave the house!!! Woohoo!! Today, however, I am eyeing the zones. I think this is one of the most difficult things about home school for me…finding the space to handle the usual household duties, the space to deal with personal things, and the space for educating, the space for parenting. Those things can be juggled and they happen somewhat organically…but the space and the zone for quiet is something different. We have to stake it out and protect it, or it simply gets run over.

Off to set some stakes…

The Perfect Day…

Oh I had such plans for Monday. Zach, the Eldest, was off to his new tutorial for this year. He was to be immersed in Treasure Island and General Science.

The others, well, we were headed to this wonderful branch of the local library where there is a walking a trail a beautiful children’s area with loads of light and windows and colors…and story time for the Princess.

There would be time for our joint activities; time to discuss Bible and history, time to read the books we would find.

There would be a visit to the coffee shop and time to grab a bite before we picked Zach up and skipped our way home rejoicing in our stories of the day.

“MOM! Maddie just puked all over the iPad!!”

That was the announcement almost half way to the tutorial.

Yep.  The rest of the drive, if you had caught a glimpse of us, was spent with three boys hanging their heads out the windows to avoid gagging themselves.

Rather than traipsing through the trails around the library followed by hearing a story accompanied by violin music (seriously!), well, we visited the doctor with Maddie in a diaper, Crocs and vomit in her hair.

Yep. I was that mom.

Tuesday morning we redeemed the day. This is our second tutorial day. Seriously, I do homeschool…I just have some help. We had a great start to the day. Maddie was feeling wonderful, everyone was cheerful and we were actually on time for this first day of tutorial. Zach would be done early and we would spend the afternoon catching up on what I had studied with the other boys the day before. We would read and study at a hip coffee shop while Maddie stayed with a friend.

We jumped in the car….to find the battery dead.

Yep. It is better than the previous day. I was able to get the car jump started from our portable charger and got us to the tutorial on time. Still, it was not the day I had planned.

This is something that happens whether we are home school moms or public school or private school…or no kids or kids out of school. Life happens. The only difference with home school is the kids have to learn to adjust to the schedule and figure out how to get the work done around the obstacles; I think that is going to turn out to be a decent life lesson.

Zach and I still ended up at a pretty cool coffee shop able to study.

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While we were there a man came in I knew, someone who is involved in Christian circles. He had someone else with him I didn’t know, and this other person told me he felt strongly he was to encourage me.

He said he had this image of me juggling many things and the encouragement he wanted to share was simply that I was doing it well. Not to stress.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been in circles that talked that way. It’s not that my friends don’t encourage each other…we do. It’s not that my friends don’t share when something is on their heart…we do.

But I do not very often speak to strangers when something impresses on my heart about them. Maybe I’ll do so a little more often after this strangers kind words.

We came home to a meal that had cooked all day…chugging along through all the distractions and disturbances of the day. Life is like that. Bumps, distractions and disturbances, but there will be that underlying current of comfort and consistencies we cling to.

Our faith. Our focus. Our disciplines. We can roll with the frustrations and we can even laugh and adjust when the foundation is stable and we can still come around the table knowing who we are and knowing as well that there is One who knows our name and knows just when we need that word of encouragement.

We are remembered. We are known.

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Inspired by….Monday?!

So today is the first Monday attempting to dig in a little more, to think a little more deeply and to avoid distractions. I had FaceBook off most off last week, but I think I did so in the middle of the week, and Mondays are just different. So today, not logging on and spending my time with my cup of coffee looking at the latest on FB just feels, well, different.

Mondays get our attention. They make us wake up earlier and sit a little straighter and have to be a little more responsible.

Mondays are frustrating.

They mean real life is back upon us…the weekend is over. Ugh.

My boys are not fans of Mondays.  I never really have been either, but actually…don’t tell anyone…I am beginning to like them.

I cannot believe I am saying that.

I am beginning to rely on the rhythm that Monday calls me to. Monday tells me it is okay to sleep in a little sometimes, but now it is time to get back to work. Today, that means it is time to listen. That is what this whole paying attention business is about.

Time to listen to the voices who have listened themselves…time to listen to those who have something to say. Sometimes it is work to listen. Sometimes it is work just to quiet myself long enough to listen, long enough to really hear.

The goal is not just to listen, but to have something to give as well.

I am listening to learn, to be changed and to be filled so that I have something for my boys as I teach them.

Because I know just in myself I don’t have a lot.

There is more though…I want to listen to my kids as well.

Monday reminds me that another week has gone by.

Time to sit up straight and pay attention…time keeps on marching on and these little ones will not be so little for long.

In fact, my oldest grew over an inch since June. He needs to stop that. Maddie is speaking in sentences. She seriously needs to stop that. All of them are changing so quickly, and all of them have so much they want me to see. I need to pay attention.

I need to listen and I need to hear. I need to hear and I need to think about what I’ve heard, and then I need to give that back to the kids.  Reading books feeds my soul. I know that doesn’t happen for everyone. For some people listening to music has the same impact, and for some it is the interaction with others. We have to find what it is that feeds our soul in a way that brings life.

We have to find what it is that feeds our soul and in a way that makes us sit up on Monday with a hint of inspiration and an inclination that we are ready for another week to pay attention to life that week.

Part of it for me is reading, a large part is also fellowship on Sundays and worshiping together with others. There is great encouragement there and inspiration. Usually a healthy dose of thinking and challenge.

So…on this Monday….what inspires us? What feeds our souls in a way that brings life. Not just a chuckle and a diversion, but life. What pours into our souls in a way that gives us the patience and strength to pour back into the lives of those God has placed around us for us to care for, for us to inspire, for us to love?

Me?  Reading. Music. Fellowship. These things are my focus right now…with a little sprinkling of diversion.

Get ready….get set…..GO!

I love this time of year. I loved it when I was a kid because it meant I was able to buy new notebooks and pens and paper. New backpacks. I can get in lots of trouble at office supply stores.

I love school.

I am jealous of the kids heading off to college for the first time.  I love the environment and I love the chance to read and to take in new things.

I love what we are doing now with our kids…the chance to learn at home with them and to be part of the education process. I love picking out the curriculum and this year I am enjoying developing our own Bible curriculum. I have learned a few things from our first year of homeschool last year, and I am eager to see what we learn this year.

So, as we are just about to jump back in…it is time to open up the discussion once again. I’d love to hear from friends about what has worked and about what you have learned in the last year. What worked, and what did not work. You can share about big things like curriculum or little things like tweaks you made to your schedule.

A couple things I learned this last year:

1. I’m going to mess up.  There are going to be days I simply am going to be irritated and we are not going to get through the material. There are going to be days where I cannot get all the kids on the same page, and that will be okay. Some times we have to just chalk it up to a bad day and move on; other times we have to pull it together and redeem the day.  Either way we have, myself and the kids, have to learn to have grace for one another and for ourselves.

2. The kids will learn something. We will not get to the end of the year and find out that they didn’t learn anything. They’ll pick up something, and probably a lot. We have to do our best and set the table well, but we also have to not stress too much.  They are getting loads of individual attention, and are getting opportunities to investigate things they are interested in and excited about. Those things are going to sink in. Let them chase those things some. Along those lines, my middle boy is taking conversational Italian on Rosetta. No, we do not know anyone who speaks conversational Italian, but I bet he’ll find someone one of these days!

3. Find people smarter than I am and ask them lots of questions. I do not know everything I need to know to educate my children. I do not know all I need to know to keep Zachary on track for entering Middle School and High School. There are a lot of people who do know. I can find them. I can ask them questions, and they are more than willing to answer my questions. That helps me immensely, and in turn helps my kids out. This also shows my kids I’m willing to learn and not afraid to show that I have areas where I need to learn.

4. When I am excited the kids get excited.  The days when I whipped the books out, was irritated and just wanted to get through the material, everyone was miserable. We griped and we yelled at each other and none of us learned anything. The days when we were interested and when I was excited about what we were learning we laughed and we had a good time and we were relaxed. This usually happened on the days when I was able to get up early enough to have a cup of coffee in silence and spend some time in prayer and in quiet before the day began. I have more to write about this, but that will be in another post.

5. This season will be gone to quickly. We all say it, we all know, but we need to repeat it. Again. And again. It’s a privilege to be around these kids. Every day. Even the crappy days. Spending the day reading together and learning…is a pretty great thing.  I hope I can keep that at the forefront of my thoughts this year.

6. I am not, and probably never will, be crafty. Pinterest does not help this.  I love the stuff I find on Pinterest. I’ll go a week and do a bunch of the stuff. Then I get tired.  Then I feel slightly guilty and life goes back to a bit of a routine of laundry and cleaning up after kids and kittens and dogs and fish. That keeps me busy enough to not get to the painting with salt and baking soda and food coloring. Still..I do hope to do some of the creative things this year…I just won’t get too carried away.

7. Books, and especially novels, are fantastic. Reading aloud to children is one of the best things in the world and can never be rushed.  One of the curriculums we used, Sonlight, is heavy on reading. I love this. We did a lot of reading, and a lot of reading out loud. I love this. The kids love this. It never gets old. This will always be part of our structure.

8. I have to be a little bit mean. I realized this first after coming back from vacation in California. This was the one thing about home school I didn’t realize. Because you are not going away to school there has to be some sense of structure that separates the school day from the play of vacation or weekend (I have some friends who don’t do this and who incorporate school into all of life…I haven’t been able to get there, but that is awesome if you can make that work). So, for us, I have to be a bit mean and a bit structured to get the kids attention and then we can have fun. There’s a spiritual lesson in there somewhere…first discipline, then freedom…..

Okay…those are a few of my ‘lessons’. Tell me yours. Tell me your hints. Tell me your ideas. Tell dreads and your hopes for the coming years. I know I have a few friends diving in for the first time this year…ask questions if you have them. I’d love to hear some discussion here. Or are we all old hats at this with nothing new to say?