Who Are You?

I don’t recognize the woman I have become. I am not complaining, but I don’t know where this woman in the mirror came from.

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Early Mornings. Choosing to wake up before my children and doing it so often that I no longer need an alarm, even if I’m in bed at 1am.

Exercise…What?!

Choosing not to listen to Music or watch TV, and when I do it has become documentaries and musicals. I mean I have my list of things to watch but it is woefully out of date.

Reading historical documents, political theory, articles on International Relations theory, Philosophy, Psychology, Theology, and pre-1900 classics instead of Parenting Articles, fractured pieces of books I’ve wanted to read that still sit in piles all over my house, Manga (my serialized manga backload is in the hundreds of chapters), Webtoons, and Children’s Novels (well I still read these, but they are outloud and to a captivated audience, with voices).

None of this is a part of how I have framed myself over the years. In my own mind I have spent years searching for who I am and where I am going. Never quite knowing if I was there yet. Loving and accepting some parts of myself but knowing that other parts needed to grow up some more with no idea of how to get to that place of “grown up” me. I had peace in my Faith. I had peace in my Father’s plan, or rather that there was a plan for me but I didn’t know what the plan was and so I was always on the move. Always searching. For, me.

I knew who I was and could define who I was and what I stood for at any given moment, but I knew I wasn’t “there” yet. There was this picture in my mind of this mom that I wanted to be, this woman that I wanted to be and I wasn’t there yet. I am still not there yet. But the woman now, who tells her kids to do their independent reading for the next twenty minutes together so that mommy can read this piece of Plato, is a whole lot closer to that mental image than I ever was before.

After we received our diagnoses, and after I started working, things shifted in a way that I could have never imagined. I never imagined that adding more to my plate would make me a better mom, but it does.

Getting a chance to study big ideas, share the thoughts of great thinkers and challenge minds to a wider world than they could have imagined makes me feel alive, and purposed. I knew that I was doing all of that for my children as well, but it is different and it has nothing to do with the paycheck. Working with my children is being with and spreading my love for them but they are still young, so the ideas that we get to discuss and play with are not at the same level as the ideas that I bring to my classrooms. At home we study the American Revolution and we talk about freedom as an abstract idea. We talk about the founding fathers and they are people from story books and in museums or volunteers dressed up at events. At work we talk about The American Revolution and we discuss the idea of tyranny. Of a voice being unheard and injustice that is so rampant that men are willing to undergo frostbite and hunger to fight it. It is the look in an adults face as they begin to understand an argument that is so different from what they believe from a purely openminded place. When a 19 year old student reads a quote from a 400 year old author and says “damn, thats deep” and you know you just hit them with something that they will internalize into the fabric of their very personality that they may not have even heard otherwise.

Knowing that my work has this kind of greater purpose pushes me to make sure that not only my work is done, but it pushes me to make sure that my children are getting even more of me than my students do. I spend less time on my phone. Not being home two mornings a week and having several times during the week when I must work from home forces me to be really present when I am home. I bake more. I read more. I play with them more. Loosing two school days to teaching and driving means that the rest of our days are more purposeful in their actions. I have become a much better homeschooler and a much better mom because I don’t have the ability to just do it later- there is no later in this fast paced world, well, at least not until the term is over.

I have a confession to make. This new woman staring back at me is no good with multi-tasking. I can’t grade papers and listen to the made up stories of my five year old. I can’t keep up with the dishes/laundry and keep our records up to date. I cannot drive 2.5 hours two times a week to teach and do math every single day- if I do it all traditionally. I am not Superwoman. I don’t do it all, all the time. I take turns. I have off days. I stick to a sort of a schedule (GASP!) – ok, maybe I went to far there, its not a schedule, its a rhythm based on days…so it’s like a loose schedule…but if you’ve read my past posts, can you believe it? ME? A SCHEDULE of any sort?

So, lady staring back at me, who looks like me, but doesn’t act, like me… I don’t know who you are. I don’t know where you came from. I don’t know if these early mornings are good or bad yet, but I like you. I’ll make you a cup of Tea, why don’t you stay a while? Help me get to point where we actually fold the laundry and catch up on all of that manga too… after all, I’m growing up, not changing who I really am.

 

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Finding a Fit

Well hello again, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Thanksgiving feels like a lifetime ago yet here I sit at my keyboard only now realizing that it’s been that long since I put my thoughts out there. So much has happened in such a short time. The curriculum that worked fabulously stopped working fabulously after the newness wore off, I started a job and then finished it, we’ve had some sickness, some weather craziness, a birthday and a diagnosis – but that will have to wait for its very own post.

findingthefitTo say that things have changed again feels so repetitive and yet it has… perhaps I should name this blog the House Change called Home. Maybe Change and I are just too familiar with each other and so he feels comfortable being himself in my life. I envision Change as a five-year-old boy with a temper tantrum problem. He wears overalls and tracks mud everywhere but sometimes he smiles a crooked missing tooth smile, and in that moment he is the most welcomed face possible. He must live nearby because he always seems to dump all of his issues on me…maybe he just always visits near his bedtime and this is how he responds, I am his brain dump.

Well anyway, he came, he saw, he conquered and I was left standing with towers made of china precariously balancing in my clumsy hands while trying to dance the tango.

So this is how it all breaks down, two weeks before Christmas I get an email offering the diamond of all opportunities… the chance to possibly be hired as an Adjunct teaching  Western Civilization at a community college. My dream job being lobbed gently right into my glove. Well, as long as I could get my resume and application turned in by the close of business tomorrow because the whole school was being shut down for winter break. The last teacher couldn’t take the position, they needed someone now and I was recommended.

I, by the grace of God, pulled it off.

Holidays come, Holidays go. Schedule, school…what’s that? Craziness ensues.

Job offered, job accepted, official transcripts ordered, materials handed off and class starts…all in one week. Well, class was also supposed to be happening for my four little hooligans but it did not because said job, at said community college was taking place near grandma and grandpa’s house…two and a half hours away. So my week looked like this: prep for class, write quiz, pack for trip with children, drive two and a half hours to grandparent’s house, teach class, pick up kids, drive home, go to OT, fit in volunteer work, try to get the kids to any nature center possible, go to Piano lessons, go to AWANA, and try to fit five days worth of homeschool scheduling into three days. Well, all of that structure that worked so well for us in the fall made me feel like a failure every single week.

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We were always behind in something. Sure we found ways of learning every day but none of it was on my schedule! All of those science and math podcasts, the audio books we listened to, all of those great books Grandpa read to them on his day off, all of the comic books they created or the sentences they copied or the documentaries that they watched…all of the unschooly type stuff that I know is great learning, not a single part of it made me feel better about the fact that we were three weeks behind on our scheduled readings and falling more behind every day. I knew that it was a problem with me. Apparently, I just have the kind of personality that turns any recommendation into a checklist of requirements. So while I still love Ambleside, I cannot use it as it was intended.

Enter good friends and homeschool retreats.  I am so thankful that I have found a group of like-minded homeschooling friends who just get it. I opened up about my issues to a few of them and they reminded me of the atmosphere part of CM homeschooling. I had lost it in my busy-ness. I lost my fit, again. I allowed that beautiful environment that I had created in the beginning of the fall to erode into a lifestyle ruled by a timetable and just as I was feeling at my worst about it all I attended a local CM retreat.

IMG_0546I am not exaggerating when I say that three days of pure CM goodness being poured into me changed not only how I felt about schooling at that moment but it also really helped me focus my overall plan for schooling the littles. Not that I even know what’s happening next year but I feel better about the blips and bumps along the way because I can see how the whole picture fits together. I can see how life is a part of the process and part of what makes things fit overall. So that documentary on life in the Galapagos ended up fitting in nicely when a family member went to the Galapagos Islands and flooded my Instagram feed with the most beautiful pictures imaginable, and that ended up fitting in even more nicely with the geography book that I picked up and just so happened to start with Archipelagos.

Best of all was that I didn’t need to make any of those connections. The science of relations worked on its own and the children pulled it all together by themselves. Also, it didn’t matter that I was still reading the first chapter of Robinson Crusoe to Little Man. Turns out he had kept up with the reading schedule but barely understood his own narrations and needed me there to help him break down the language. So we started over and worked on it together. On the positive side, I finally found a book that was challenging to him!

I still use a lot of the resources from the Ambleside curriculum, they are good, solid books and I don’t want to completely reinvent the wheel but I also figured out that the Schedule Cards put out by Sabbath Mood are far more helpful to us in this phase of life. Right now, I need the flexibility of movable cards based on a set amount of time more than a week by week list of chapters to be read. But just two months ago that weekly breakdown worked so perfectly, what happened to me? Am I that flighty?

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Maybe, the problem isn’t me?  I know that the problem isn’t the curriculum because I know so many who thrive while using it. Maybe, the problem is with how I’m trying to view the problem itself. I keep trying to find a fit like I’m a puzzle piece trying to find my spot in the jigsaw, but what if I am not a part of a puzzle at all. What if I belong to Jenga instead? What if I am not a piece at all but rather the whole game?

What if, I don’t fit right now because my tower is growing and as it grows it becomes unstable, requiring me to move one piece at a time as I get closer to the end? If I stay as is my tower may crumble, but if I move things around I will get just a little bit closer to my goal. Eventually, everything will fall down just to start over again. My role in my children’s lives will get rebuilt. They will start building their own towers, leaving me with a whole new tower to build, a whole new purpose. The awesome thing about Jenga is that every piece is me. Every piece fits in one way or another but how I arrange those pieces decides what kind of game I get to play and how long I get to play the game but in the end, the result is always the same. The tower always falls.

The class was a short one and its over now but it was an amazing experience. My role as teacher to someone other than my own children fueled me. For the first time since I moved to the East Coast, I did not have a real winter depression. I was starting to feel the effects of winter but just when it usually hits the hardest everything changed. In the end, I was a better mom for it, a better wife and a better homeschooler. There is no saying how long this solution will last. With each new problem, there is a new solution. I don’t know what that next problem will be but based on the Change that I know, it is time to prepare because bedtime is coming.

Before the Crazy Starts

Happy Thanksgiving Y’All!

I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday was full of joy and relaxation. I am so thankful for the blessings of a somewhat normal year thus far (or at least what I imagine a normal year to be) that I’m actually a bit overwhelmed by it all and having a really hard time expressing myself adequately. So I’ll just get into it then. Ok? Good, here we go.

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Below are five thoughts that I’ve had over and over since this school year began. Nothing novel, but they have been so important to me this year that I thought I would start by listing them before the busy holiday season really gets going. I hope you find them as comforting as I have, just little reminders (to myself) of the top five most important things to remember for a smoother homeschool life.

  1. EAT! Food is delicious. Your children are fun to be around when they are well fed and their table conversations are hilarious! So don’t forget or minimize just how important meal times are. They form the backbone of our rhythm. Our whole day runs the most smoothly when it is scheduled around food breaks. These monkeys will actually keep still long enough to listen if there is food in front of them, and it is the one time of day when I don’t feel like ripping my hair out. Also, mealtimes around here happen as often as a Hobbits! Every two hours food is involved whether I am ready for it or not…so to be easier on me, just be ready for it. Oh yeah and don’t ignore the alarm on your phone that reminds you that a mealtime is coming up. Using the Snooze button also gives the kids an instant five minute warning, use it as a transition more often.
  2. PUT THE PHONE DOWN! My phone is my best friend and worst enemy…we are frenimes. On great days my phone is our booklist, audiobook player, random question answerer, or library. My phone is also my camera, and darn it these kids are just too cute, but seriously that quick photo can easily turn into my biggest distraction. On most days it distracts me from my greatest work and I know it. I am too easily swayed by those pesky red notifications. I am far too sensitive and my mood is instantly killed by the confrontational nature of so many social media responses or bad news. Each quick look can feel like a romp with lotus eaters. I miss too much, I get agitated too easily, and I waste too much time. Let the phone die at night. Leave it upstairs charging during the mornings. Out of sight out of mind works, remember…that’s why you own three glue guns!
  3. LET IT GO! No not the Frozen song…stop singing it- ugh, now I’ll have that song stuck in my head all day. I’m my own worst enemy. Back to the point- Relationships are stronger than any curriculum. Usually when things aren’t going well or when emotions are running high and everyone is feeling overwhelmed it is because the focus has somehow returned to a to do list mentality. Stop that. Just stop with the to do lists that you write down, forget about, find and then get angry about not finishing. Squirrels happen. When I am trying to check things off and I feel like we have somehow fallen behind I get crabby and a crabby mom ends up with crabby kids and nothing gets learned. Doesn’t matter if assignments are read or work is completed, there is no comprehension and anything we may have learned will be forgotten by tomorrow. When I try to buckle down and push through things get worse. But if I let go we naturally find our way back. This isn’t some magic spell, it is just the result of years worth of habit training. When we let go and just let loose we tend to gravitate towards learning activities, just not the ones we had planned and thats where the magic does happen. When I stop trying to force them into my plan I see the forrest instead of just trees. The learning is there, it is always happening I just have to remind myself how to see it and then I have to focus on what is not working and fix that.
  4. EDUCATION IS A DISCIPLINE. I don’t do discipline well but I am learning just how important that is for me. Especially self discipline, but also helping the kids build their own stamina and confidence. Gifted doesn’t mean easy and hard doesn’t mean impossible. My dad used to always say “hard work beats talent” and now I find myself telling my children this as well. For the first time in his five years of schooling your little boy is actually being challenged. Do you know what this means…let me remind you… it means a cycle of crying followed by silence when asked why, because things are hard and he doesn’t know how to break down hard. He doesn’t know how to work hard and it is kicking his rear! He is fully capable of doing the work. He gets crazy excited once it actually clicks but for the first time in his life he cannot just skim the reading and tell me what it is about. He is learning how to do close readings. He is learning how to look up word definitions. He hates it, and I hate seeing him feel like that but I know that feeling. Don’t you remember feeling that in college…just before changing majors because “I’m just not good at it”. Remember, he is not being lazy. He is building discipline. Just don’t make him do it for too long at any one interval, endurance is built over time.
  5. JOURNAL! Don’t forget. Make it a priority. Keeping Track of our days is worth the effort. Journalling what we do everyday (I use a bullet journal) really helps keep us on track, so just do it! Whether I am trying to accomplish something specific or it is a break week, knowing that I am writing everything down helps me to be intentional with our time. Whether that means doing a little something on Saturday because we needed a full stop on Tuesday or just remembering which books we actually read at the library, having every thing written down daily will help down the line. Don’t forget.

So there you have it. Five thoughts that remind me of the things that help to make life easier before this season runs off with my brain.

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What are your personal thoughts? You don’t have to write them here, although I am always curious about what other mamas do to keep the peace. I just know that reminding myself in writing helps me to act so I want to also challenge you to take a moment to jot down your top five as well. As the holiday season approaches I hope that you can find the time to remember to find grace, peace and quiet as often as it is needed because hidden blessings are everywhere.

-Tabitha

Onward!

It’s been a while since I last wrote and honestly the only reason why I’ve taken a step back from blogging is because I’ve been elbow deep in living the life.

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I have spent more time reading up on a philosophy I thought I knew while trying to concurrently implement elements that I have always cast aside in favor for other styles than I thought would be necessary. I knew I was going to have to change things up when I started the switch from mixing unschooling and Charlotte Mason to full on CM and I guess I was a bit naive regarding just how much unschooling I had taken on. I dropped Unschooling because I noticed that my children needed the structure more but I didn’t want to lose the atmosphere that we had created in the process.

When something’s not broken you don’t go trying to fix it and the one thing we had really accomplished with unschooling was that the children loved learning! The last thing I wanted to do was make them feel like they must do this checklist worth of subjects and to reduce learning to a chore when we had spent so much time building an atmosphere of learning. After thumbing through multiple free sites, I built my own curriculum for all three of the school aged children mixing sources from multiple grade levels to reach each child where they were at… or so I thought.

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After one six week term with my own CM styled curriculum I realized that mixing them just wasn’t challenging my oldest at all and my younger two really needed to be separated, so I switched things up again. For the first time ever, I moved towards using someone else’s curriculum. At this point I needed something that I could pull together within one week but that also didn’t micromanage my time with too many instructions and so I decided to stick with Ambleside Online‘s free curriculum. I knew that most of the books could be found in the public domain so I didn’t have to spend a fortune pulling together my resources and many of the ones that are not free I could find in one of the three counties that I have a library card for.

We have been at this now for 6 weeks- we should be taking a break this week but using someone else’s curriculum has been a HUGE adjustment for us and instead of being ready for a break, we are two weeks behind. It’s not that this curriculum is hard for us, instead its exactly the kind of challenge we needed, but trying to juggle the items listed on the weekly syllabus (which I LOVE the format of!) with the things that used to be considered electives has been a bit of a challenge.

I used to focus on Math, Phonics, and Reading and everything else just kind of fell into place and because we are always on the move everything fell into place easily. Now I am trying to read 35, 15 minute long, readings a week (years 1,2 and 4- the on demand non-structured preschool readings are not included in this number), regularly make sure we are adding in Nature Study, Hymn Study, Composer Study, Folksongs, Handicrafts, Geography, Mapwork, Plutarch, Shakespeare and Poetry all while continuing Piano Lessons, Science Classes, regular Field Trips and while adding in an engineering class, doctors appointments and our own fun readings every night.

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Dude, I can’t even express how stressed out I was getting over it all during the first two weeks. I read so many blogs and listened to quite a few podcasts trying to figure out how families larger than mine manage to keep this all together!  I was trying so hard to keep the atmosphere that we had created while trying to add in all of this structure because I could see the value in every single part. I knew that together we could have something pretty awesome but I also knew that how things worked for other people wasn’t going to work for me. I don’t have the energy to keep house along with all of this other stuff and keep up with friends or volunteering- all of which are important to me and I don’t want to cut back on- but something had to change. The kids loved school but I was getting too stressed.

So I looked at it from another angle.

Mornings don’t work well for us- at least not for readings. Mommy reading everything out loud, doesn’t work well for me. Schedules, well, I still can’t keep them, so I work with my own version. Routine…not my cuppa tea. So how do I fit it all in without making a schedule or routine, without me reading everything out loud and without bombarding our mornings with lessons?

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While daily checklists and scheduled routines do not work for us, loose weekly requirements do. What does work is making a big list of everything I want to do across all three years during the week on our big blackboard, choosing a handful from each year and fitting those in everyday. Somedays don’t work as planned, either stuff comes up that is just too awesome to miss out (like free children’s day at the Aquarium) or we are so out of it that school just cannot go on, but the system still works for us. All in all, it has allowed us to keep the atmosphere, find a rhythm, and it keeps the boredom from settling in. On the downside, we don’t always get everything to fit into one week, but we are doing so much regularly that it no longer bothers me.

I do not read everything out loud anymore- Man was this killing my voice and my daily productivity! Not enough tea or coffee to keep me from getting sleepy while reading out loud for hours on end. Only one of my four is a strong enough reader to read on their own but too much reading assigned to even him meant that his reading for fun habits were disappearing and I didn’t want that either. Instead we started finding audiobooks through our library (who uses hoopla) or Librivox  and we now listen in the car or they listen during quiet time on their own. If we are not listening together then I’ll read ahead on my own so that I know what they are learning too and narrations are always done with me so we haven’t lost the one on one time in the process.

Also I don’t do all of the readings in the mornings anymore. I spread them out throughout the day in between our other activities. What used to be scheduled from 830 am to 1230 pm now is broken up on the way to science or piano, in the morning before math/ copywork / nature study/ handicrafts or in the evening after dinner. This way we keep the fun feeling of reading with mommy but it doesn’t turn into a chore. Sometimes it’s outside under a tree, sometimes on the couch, sometimes while we eat breakfast… but most of the time we read when I know it will keep their interests.

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I was overthinking it all. I was guilty of overthinking again. I do this a lot. I compare what I’m doing with what I read and I wonder if I am doing it wrong or if I need to add such and such… in a matter of 2 weeks I lost my focus. I went into this school year with a relaxed attitude. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t over burdened…but then when I adapted to someone else curriculum I fell into the curriculum trap. It is a guideline, it is a philosophy, it is a lifestyle, it is not a how to. I needed to go back to how I viewed the curriculum; looking at it more like a booklist/unit and less like a manual. I am too literal to look at it like a manual. I stress out too easily. I overthink it too much and I forget that education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.

This is one of the greatest things about homeschooling and in an effort to create more structure I momentarily forgot that structure does not have to look like school to be effective. I don’t need to have blocks of subjects. I don’t need to have to do lists written out for each child. I don’t need to do it all. The children still need to be responsible for their own education and they need to work with me like they always have if we want to pull this off. I can homeschool in an organic way without being an unschooler and I can find freedom in a rhythm that is full of discipline.

I am, I can, I ought, I will.

This is our life.

This is not school.

We are individuals who were created in the image of the Almighty, we are each unique and in that uniqueness we are different from others so our school may not look like others do. We may have aspects that are similar. We may follow the same philosophy. We may even have many of the same struggles but what works for one does not necessarily work for another.

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So onward we move down this road, focusing on enjoying this journey because the destination leaves me with an empty nest, a thought I am not ready to rush into.

A Letter to Myself,

Dear Me,

I know you feel like a failure. You’ve gained too much weight, eaten too much sugar, spent more time on your phone than was necessary and cleaned far too little. You’re overwhelmed by the clutter that has accumulated do to exhaustion and I’ll get to it tomorrow’s. Tomorrow has come and gone and you’re still getting the junk food that you know makes you feel crummy because its easier. That box of un-filed paperwork still sits in your shrinking basement. That toy room is still filled with broken toys and those closets still have clothes that are too small hanging up nicely inside.  It’s a good thing that you didn’t make any New Year’s Resolutions, they would have all failed, and then you would feel even worse.

It’s a good thing that you promised yourself to just be there more. Its a good thing that you promised yourself to just “be” this year. That’s really all you needed. This year has been tough for you. Handling chronic pain and chronic fatigue is no fun and your biggest nemesis is the preconceived ideas of what you should be doing rather than looking back on the wonderful things you’ve actually done.

Well don’t wait around anymore!

You’ve made it through to September and while you sometimes over schedule yourself, for the most part you’ve allowed yourself time to focus on the important things. So lets get to that huh?

  1. You’ve cooked more than you have in recent years, even if its not paleo or keto or even clean, you’ve gotten to the first step and actually cooked most nights of the week. That’s a big step forward!
  2. You’ve started drinking water. The person who had to get IV’s during each pregnancy for dehydration has been drinking water regularly. Huzzah!
  3. The Laundry has made it from the washing machine to the dryer without needing to go through a second cycle. Go you!
  4. The main floor of your house, including your kitchen (yay!), has been kept visitor friendly most of the time. Someone could just drop by and you wouldn’t have to stand at the door hiding your embarrassingly dirty front room!
  5. You have actually followed through when it comes to the kids and their responsibilities! You didn’t allow exhaustion to keep you from following through and as a result your kids have actually kept on top of their basic chores.
  6. You’re reading again! You have actually made that extra effort to say no to Netflix from time to time and get back into what used to be your favorite activity!
  7. You are actually waking up before your children (and husband) most days of the week! The night owl inside is begging for more sleep but you’ve nailed this morning quiet time thing.
  8. All those girly things your mom used to get on your case about are actually getting done. Like face moisturizers, masks and nail polish… your 16 year old self would call you a traitor but your 60 year old self will thank you.
  9. Intentional Creativity has become an everyday activity for you!
  10. Homeschooling has a real day to day plan and you are executing it beautifully, probably even more beautifully than ever before!

I’m sure that you would look at this list and say “but, what about all of the other things that I haven’t done yet?” or “some of these are things that are the bare minimum” but I am going to stop you right there. No. Don’t go there. You always end up focusing on the negative and completely forget the positive blessings that are surrounding you every day. Isn’t that why you started this blog in the first place? Hellooo, you named it Random Everyday Blessing specifically for this purpose…so get back to that! You are a realist and in your realism you forget to count your blessings and be thankful. So stop it. Just take a bit of time and relish in the fact that you’ve made positive changes that are moving your family towards a better tomorrow. They may be small steps but at least they are in the right direction. Build these habits now. Take the time to hear the silly stories or the wild imaginations. Make time to enjoy that homemade peach cobbler that your husbands coworkers are begging you to make again. Read when it’s raining and don’t worry so much about all of the stuff that isn’t getting done. Encourage your children to appreciate both the rest and the hard work. Allow your children to see you loving life so that they to can grow up loving life too.

Don’t give up on the other stuff but remember that as long as your moving forward it’s all good! You’ve got this. Overthinking it is your specialty but let’s try to tone it down a bit, ok? Can you do that?

Great!

I knew you could!

With Love,

Me

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Make Way for Breaks: Scheduling around Chronic Illness

Ah the beloved break. Spring Break, Winter Break…Summer vacation. Many of my favorite childhood memories are inextricably linked with the nostalgia of school breaks. A nostalgia that I do not want my children to miss out on even though we have the freedom to break away from the school schedules that accompany them. I love the idea of traditions that make their home within a specific break. The feeling of adventure as you look forward to days or weeks of unscheduled freedom, which is why I schedule my entire year around such breaks.

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I absolutely love that as a homeschooler I can control how we set up those breaks and how often we get to have them. I love being able to plan special breaks around family birthdays or events happening in our life. The children love knowing that if one week has been especially hard on us, there is always the option of having a slower week soon after. However, there’s another reason I love being able to schedule breaks whenever I need them at this season of my life. Quite frankly, my health demands it.

My body physically demands some kind of reprieve from the responsibilities that go along with being a homeschooler. I just cannot do it all, all of the time. It is too much for me. Trying to homeschool, keep house, volunteer, be a wife, a writer, feed my creative hungers and intellectual curiosities all while fighting my own body and it’s limitations absolutely requires that I prioritize my time. For me it is a constant battle between the chronic fatigue and body pains of fibromyalgia, the eye fatigue, headaches and migraines of IIH and the debilitating effects of seasonal depression that absolutely demand that I listen to my body and be proactive rather than reactive.

Reactions mean days in bed with no ability to meet the needs of myself, let alone my children. Which  I feel is not fair to them or my husband, who is wonderful enough to pick up my share as well as his own during those rough patches. That is not the kind of mother or wife I want to be, my own personal expectations are far too high for that. So instead of reacting to piss poor planning, I actively schedule and prioritize my time, knowing my limits and abiding by them. Knowing that I need a certain number of down days per week and not over scheduling my time. Knowing that certain situations, lightings or atmospheres trigger headaches. Knowing all of these things and above all, planning for them- which is especially hard when you also enjoy being spontaneous and adventurous.

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First things first. My first step in planning out my time is to plan out a rough yearly schedule based on the times of year that work with me and not against me. We choose to school year round in order to best accommodate my needs in this regards.

For us this looks like a year round schedule that is broken up into six terms. These terms are very loosely based and can last anywhere from six to eight weeks. At around six weeks I evaluate our current mood and condition; if all is well we go ahead for two more weeks, if not then we stop and take a week off. This way we don’t overdo things trying to just push through. However, unlike most term based schedules I make one slight distinction – we have what I call our Holiday Term and Summer Vacation built into the term system.

Our school year looks like this:

Term 1: July &August

Term 2: Sept &Oct

Term 3: Nov &Dec- Holiday term

Term 4: Jan & Feb

Term 5: Mar &Apr

Term 6: May & June – Summer Vacation

During the four regular terms we do the vast majority of our studying, we take field trips, go to plays or performances and take part in local classes. The short breaks between terms allow for little reprieves that are just right for clearing our minds from time to time. On the other hand, the two  middle terms are our big breaks. Rather than me preparing everything and laying everything out we go with what feels interesting. We follow passions and build our independent study ability because my children love learning so much that they just don’t stop, even if I tell them that we are on vacation. I still record our progress during this time but I don’t set up any requirements. I don’t ask the children to do math or copy work, we don’t read off of our scheduled readings. We do check out science books at the library (usually because someone wants to know how something works), we do go to museums, create art, watch documentaries…all things that I record through pictures, receipts and end products but any thing that happens during this time is occurring spontaneously and is done out of pure curiosity or desire.

As much as the kids love all these breaks, the best part about this schedule is that it allows me time during my hardest months to move into survival mode without affecting our overall year.

November and December are very hard months for me. My mind has a horrible time adjusting to the light changes, and the weather changes affect how my body moves as well. During these months I just cannot keep up with everything so instead I plan for my focus to shift away from schooling to things like dishes, laundry, and meals. I know that I can spend the time with my children baking and reading without worrying that I have enough written down for the reviews. The children also love the freedom to enjoy the first snows and the changes of the seasons outside without worrying about written math lessons. In addition, because it coincides with Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and Three Kings Day this break allows us to focus on traditions and joyful holiday fun rather than finishing up a test.

On the flip side of this May and June are my best months. The weather is perfect for spending the entire day outside. Gardens can be planted. Nearby nature preserves are full of life waiting to be explored. Most schools aren’t out yet so it is also a perfect time for a family vacation or special outings. We love having the freedom to use these months (and my extra energy) doing the things that are harder to do the rest of the year without thought to school. It also works out nicely that our last few weeks of summer vacation perfectly coincide with the schools release so that we can have fun with cousins as well.

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Now that my year is planned out (roughly), I move my focus on to my weeks and terms. Before this year my terms were based entirely on our interests at that time. I would ask the children what they were interested in and then we would explore those things together- taking every rabbit trail along the way. However, because this year is so different I’ll keep it short and sweet. First of all, because I am following a Charlotte Mason education this year, this part of my planning process is very specific to this style. I have my list of subjects and my topics within each subject for each child that I want to complete over the year. I then break that list into the four terms that I have going on during the year. Because I know that each term can last from six to eight weeks I plan for eight weeks from the get go knowing ahead of time that we may be starting the next term picking up at the unfinished end of the last one. As for subject matter…well that is a whole other post and one that relies heavily on mixing and matching what works for us based on established resources like Ambleside Online, Simply Charlotte Mason, Charlotte Mason Help, A Modern Charlotte Mason, Sabbath Mood, A Delectable Education, and AfterThoughts. This year I spent about a month preparing for our upcoming year but even then I only prepared down to the weekly level of each term. I stop my lesson plans at the week level specifically because I know that each week will require a different rhythm to best fit my health at that time.

 

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So, moving onto the how. How do I plan ahead regarding my day to day when I also know that I am no good at keeping schedules and when I have to plan ahead for any possible unknown flare ups? For me, it means multiple open plans. I never have just one schedule or routine, instead I have a cycle of options that fit together making up the perfect week or term or year.

For this year these are the options for my days.

  1. The out of the house day, Full Day: Basically these are the days when we leave the house. We wake up earlier than usual, we need to have planned meals for the day, outing bags need to be packed the night before, weather needs to be checked… this also means that no other schooling will occur, dinner needs to be easy and tomorrow needs to be at home because this kind of day is exhausting, for all of us.
  2. The out of the house day, part day: These are the days that include some kind of outing that is close to home and less than 3 hours long, including driving time. Piano lessons, Art class, Science class, Playdates, Nature Study, Library trips… all of these options are part of our school day and the rest of our day flows around them. Readings, math and copy work still happen although when they happen depends greatly on the schedules required by outside forces such as other people, open/close times, weather issues, etc…
  3. The home school day: This is a typical homeschool day and normally only lasts 3 hours. We wake up when we wake up and follow a basic routine, which often look like this: breakfast, readings together, math and copy work, lunch, tea time, outside time, free afternoons, tidy up, dinner and family time.
  4. The home chore day: These are the days when I just can’t stand the mess any longer and I need to deep clean. We still do math, copy work and about half of our regular readings but the focus is on our house… these days usually precede house guests and are the reason my children ask who is coming to visit when they see me pull out the cleaning supplies.
  5. The lazy day (I name this with a warm, fuzzy attachment to the term lazy, not at all a negative one): When we have had a particularly harrowing week or weekend we throw one of these days in (usually on Monday or Friday) just to help us refresh. These are usually an anything goes kind of day and we rarely get dressed on them. You will often find mommy in yoga pants, the middle girls in tee’s n shorts (regardless of the weather outside), Itty bitty running through the halls in underwear (her preferred mode of dress) and Little Man is usually in pj bottoms with a tank top (he would also prefer to be in underwear alone but alas being the only boy in a house full of girls requires that he be clothed at lest marginally). You will almost always see a slew of art supplies scattered across our living room, a stack of books beside a crumb filled tea set and more than one electronic device huddled with a blanket. Mommy’s nose is most likely firmly stuck in the pages of a book for a good portion of the day. These are our favorite days.

Mixing and matching these different kinds of days into a week , month or term allow us to focus on the atmosphere of our learning. The flow we had as unschoolers stays intact even if I now have readings or assignments that we want to finish within a specific week. I try to have at least two #3 days and no more than one #1 or #5 days per week. Most weeks we have three #2 days and two #3 days and occasionally we will have a full week of #3 days, these, though not often enough, are often what I feel are my most productive weeks.

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While certain aspects of this plan are specific to CM, it has not always been. This is the same plan that I used when I unschooled. The only difference between this schedule and our unschooling one was that our homeschool days were entirely child led and sometimes looked similar to our lazy days. I didn’t come by way of this over night either. Over the years I found our rhythm. There were seasons where I pushed too hard and crashed shortly after. There were times when I over scheduled our weeks and sometimes months, leading to an in ability to get out of bed. If you look through my past posts its easy to see where depression took over, where fatigue left me empty, where I just couldn’t handle the day to day of life. Every one of those hard or dark times was taken into consideration when I built this schedule over the last three years.

Last year was my first full year without a complete burnout. For me that means I found what worked. What worked was this. As of now this is the way that I can schedule things in the most productive way while also being aware of my own limitations. This is how I get everything to fit without burning myself out. I have to create blank spaces in our year. I have to schedule in room for wiggling. To put it in a nutshell, scheduling for me, is all about how I Make Way for Breaks.

Dropping the Un from our SCHOOL

Over the years I have transitioned, tweaked, mixed and done whatever was necessary to find a system that works for us. I mixed together what I loved and created a Philosophy of Education that works for us and that philosophy hasn’t changed but my methods of implementing it has.

In the beginning I tried so hard to make classical work. It was just too much all at once with kiddos that were just too young for that kind of style. I then rebounded into public school which is far more of a traditional style (or what most of us see as traditional) and that was a miserably failed experiment as well. That was when I found Unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Thomas Jefferson Ed and Montessori.

I read everything I could find on these. I immersed myself into the theories, methodologies and implementations of each one using our deschooling period as my research time. I fell in love with so many aspects of each one that I ended up even more confused than when I began; but the two that spoke the most to my fancy were Unschooling and Charlotte Mason.

  I think that’s the trap for all new homeschoolers. Overload you with information and send you on your way with a simple phrase like “you’ll find what works for your family” and leave them contemplating each and every aspect as if their child’s entire future hinges on this one decision.

Unschool your children and you’ll either have these amazingly self-directed teens that know exactly who they are and where they’re going or you’ll have a lazy, entitled brat who can’t read. Use Charlotte Mason and you’ll have a well read, nature lover with a wicked dry brush who is ready for anything college will throw at them or a burnt out teen who can’t stand the idea of one more dusty old book and doesn’t know what they want from life. Maybe I should memorize more like the classical style or spend more time outdoors like Waldorf or …

Dude, this train of thought is exhausting and debilitating!

I was so tired of trying to over analyze every single aspect (which was totally unnecessary!) that I ended up Unschooling with a pocketful of Charlotte Mason tools for when the kids said “I’m bored, what can I do now?” and it WORKED!

Honestly it still works.

It never stopped working. But that’s not why I’m writing this. I am writing this because I decided to change things up. I started last year as we added more structure to our rhythm but instead of fixing things I started to notice some behaviors or aspects that I didn’t like and that is why we are dropping the un from our school.

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I still believe in the power of respect and freedom. I still believe in building a cooperative environment where mom and child work together towards creating the kind of education that is best for the child. I still believe that the child should feel responsible for their own education. I’m also still all about spontaneous trips or rabbit trails.

But,

  1.  I’m a history nerd and I really didn’t like how haphazard their historical knowledge was being introduced. When my 7 year old asked me if Pocahontas came over on the Mayflower too, I knew that I wasn’t doing something right. When we visited Valley Forge two years before learning about George Washington and they couldn’t connect the two on their own- that was a problem for me.
  2. Electronics were playing too big of a role in all of our lives and none of us were able to self regulate- myself included. One of the tenants of unschooling is that if you let them have all that they want they will eventually not want what is bad for them and learn to self regulate. Maybe that works for some people but addictive tendencies run in my family. We have a serious history of drug abuse, alcoholism, being workaholics and generally being unable to self moderate that runs through almost every generation of both my family and my husbands. In our family this was becoming a problem.
  3. As a part of our movement towards facing underachievement I have to require that my children do certain things they don’t want to do. This is completely contrary to unschooling and completely necessary for my family. This isn’t about pushing them to do more but rather about teaching them perseverance and grit. This is something that I wasn’t forced to do and now I struggle with this absolutely necessary part of life- I want better for my children and its far easier to break a habit when your 8 than when your 18 or 28.

This is why I am officially leaving behind the method of unschooling. However, before I completely write all of this off I want also say that unschooling gets a bad rap. Below are what I see most commonly as misconceptions of unschooling:

  1. Unschooling is not UnParenting. Choosing to unschool does not mean that you stop being a child’s parent. There are varying styles of parenting found in all styles of schooling and the same goes for unschooling. It is just as easy to find a parent with bedtimes and house rules who unschools as it is to find a free range, yes parent. That said, it is also just as easy to find a free range, yes parent in classical environment. Parenting style does not dictate schooling methods. The trick here is that if you are an unschooler with rules, usually you have conversations with your child about the reasoning behind the rules and you keep the communication open and flowing. Teaching a child boundaries is just plain safe and unschoolers do this too (even if the methods vary).
  2. Unschooling does not mean that your child does nothing! An unschooled child can take a mathematics course or use a language arts curriculum- or play minecraft, read fantasy for hours, and build forts in the woods. What makes the child unschooled is that they, the child, are the ones who choose that path. If the parent says, “I think you should take this class” or “here choose between these curriculums or this class” then that is not unschooling, but if you’re at the library and your 10 year old sees a poster for a math in minecraft class and then proceeds to tell you “hey that looks fun, can I do that?”- well that is unschooling. On the flip side, if your 6 year old wants to learn french after reading Matilda and you offer a french tutor that is also unschooling.
  3. You can’t unschool part time. You’re either in or out. You can set up Montessori stations in hopes that little fingers will choose to sit and play (and eventually they will). You can lay out great books on table tops or displays silently praying that one of your children will be attracted by the illustrations that graze the front. You can have easels, paints, paper, crayons or tools out and about enticing young eyes with their shiny gleams or colorful rainbows. You can drive to the park with a lunch and watch as your child explores and adventures. You can even lay out that handwriting book and leave it there in the same spot, religiously dusting its cover over the years until the moment when the 8 year old picks it up and uses the instructions to write herself a story. Or you can join in as your child plays their third hour of Minecraft and actually ask questions so that you too understand why they love playing this so much. You can bake or cook or garden or read…but you’re either in or out. Telling your children that they must complete one lesson in each book before free time is not unschooling. Eclectic is a wonderful word, so is interest led, use those instead. You can’t school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and the claim to unschool Tuesday and Thursday. This is akin to someone saying “Oh, I’m a vegan too, well except for eggs and cheese.”- No. Just No. Choosing to unschool is a lifestyle choice. It is choosing to let your child be responsible for their entire education. Not everyone likes it. Not everyone wants to live this way. And unschooling doesn’t have the copyright on freedom of exploration and interest led learning. It’s ok to choose to use curriculum on certain days and learn through life on others, but it is not unschooling.

Unschooling can be an amazing path for some children and some families. I will never regret our years unschooling because out of this stage in our journey my children learned to love asking questions and searching for answers. We will still have a place for this as we move on but things from this point on will be planned out and led more by mom. Their opinions are valued, but I will have the final say. We are all growing and moving in and out of our metamorphosis as we move towards the unknown. Choosing to use certain methods to further your philosophy is great but don’t feel tied down by them. As a wise homeschool mom who has been in the trenches far longer than I told me, “Live what you love and leave what you don’t.”

That is exactly what I am doing. I’m following what works for my family, even if that means changing things again, but as my husband says,

‘It’s all good, kids bounce anyway. They’re flexible like that.”