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.

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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.

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.”

“Making Magic”

“Momma, close your eyes. I’m going to make Magic”

Itty Bitty stood on the grassy hill that gently sloped down from the library’s brick wall. She had just grasped an entire Dandelion puff in her tiny hand and was squeezing her teeny fist as tightly as possible.

“Ok, can I open them now?” I asked, playing along to see where this would go.

“Now Momma! Look I made Magic!” she giggled.

I opened my eyes and saw her standing there surrounded by soft lilting Dandelion seeds wishing in the slight breeze with a huge gaping grin, awestruck by the magic she had created.

At that moment an elderly gentleman passed by leaning heavily on his cane. I saw him chuckling with a gleam in his eye, entranced by my daughter.

She did it. She really did make magic. In that moment she was a master magician, bewitching the adults who happened upon her spell.

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I stood there smiling at her, after he passed by, watching the seeds float on. After a moment she skipped off to the next flower and did it again, repeating the script and game over and over.

At one point she told me that she was a pollinator. In another she bent down and hugged the ground telling me that she was hugging her shadow like Peter Pan before telling me that she is a sunshine stopper. She scoured the landscaped for fallen Dogwood flower petals telling me that she needs to explore the differences among the fallen pieces.

I had my phone in my hand the whole time. At some moments I stood there capturing the scene through the photo lens and at other not really paying attention as I texted a friend back.

I giggled when she giggled. I watched her skip and frolic over to the adjoining grassy field speckled with yellow and white Dandelion blossoms, knowing that she is my last baby to play like this out in the field.

As I watch my baby grow up,  I’ve noticed this one truth…

Learning is Magic.

Magic happens whether I plan it or not.

Magic happens when I let go and allow them to explore.

Magic happens when I step back and take MY hands off.

Learning can, and does, happen when I’m leading or introducing new things but that learning isn’t really magical. Fun yes. Joy filled yes. But magical, no.

This moment didn’t happen because I orchestrated the timing or set things up beforehand. We were in the in between. We were moving between her one on one time at the public library and picking up her siblings at piano lessons. We just happened to have a handful of extra minutes because I got cold under the AC indoors and wanted a moment to bask in the sun before rushing to the next event.

In that moment, under those circumstances, I gave her absolute freedom and in that freedom she made magic.

Making room for magic made all the difference.

It always makes the difference…

as long as I get out of the way long enough to allow it.

Just Like… Me!?

This past fall we made the decision to let go of our Unschooling ways in favor for a more structured Charlotte Mason routine and now, half a year later, I am taking a second look at our decision. This is not what I was planning. I had glorious visions of days filled with us out in nature, surrounded by classical literature, art, and music. I had so many dreams and visions. I expected my children to love the extra reading time too but that hasn’t happened. Instead everyday has been a challenge, every assignment a battle.

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Here’s the thing, I am not convinced its the change of style causing all the havoc. I’ve been noticing a trend with my two oldest over the years that has nagged at me but not really worried me. I thought it was a phase. Maybe it still is a phase, but this new style has highlighted the issue. The issue? Underachievement!

I’m sure that part of the problem began with their perfectionism and the need to get things done right but now its morphed into a need for things to be easy. Easy things don’t present a challenge, easy things can be done without really thinking, planing or having to fail repeatedly. After all, failing is not the greatest feeling in the world … I should know, I hate failing.

 I hate failing so much that I dropped honors classes in high school because it was easier to be the smartest kid in the class in a regular class getting straight A’s without trying than it was to actually have to pay attention in class, take notes and …*gasp* study (!) to make B’s in honors! That trend followed me all the way through my undergrad years and is the dirty secret behind my 5 major changes in one semester. Actually, I didn’t learn how to study until grad school and even then it wasn’t out of necessity but rather out of intrigue for the subject matter. 

I get it, I really do. Finding out that my kids are gifted opened my eyes to my own undiagnosed giftedness. My kids are just like me! I study best when I’m fascinated by the materials. I have sensory sensitivities, I displayed asynchronous development in my younger years, I felt at ease academically in every level …all of the oddities that I struggled with in myself made so much sense when I saw them in my children through the lens of Giftedness, but this is a bit different. This is like a gifted fault that I have passed on to my children…a fault that I still struggle with!

 I still choose the easy way out. I still shoot down hard options that could be very rewarding because I’ve allowed underachievement to control some of my major life decisions in really unhealthy ways. I still am an underachiever. 

I have so many ideas that constantly flow through my mind:

-possible websites that could help homeschoolers search through the millions of free and cheap resources that are already online (I’ve had this one for the past four years!),

– creating a History curriculum that looks at interactions world wide through a billiard ball effect over time (this one I’ve had festering since my teaching days back in 2005!)…

 I’ve had these ideas and the means to make them possible for years but I just haven’t even started one of them. Part of it is fear of failure, part of it is wondering if I have the credentials to be taken seriously once they are finished, part of it is wondering if they are just crazy ideas that don’t matter, and part of it is just laziness because all of them require determination and effort. 

Finding giftedness in yourself after noticing it in your children can be a wonderful link bonding the two generations in a special way. Knowing that your children’s quirks are just like yours adds to the level of understanding and compassion that as a parent is really necessary for your everyday peace, but not every quirk is one you wanted to pass down.

So now I face a new challenge.

 How do I face underachievement in its beginning stages with my young children when I have spent years running from it in myself? 

A challenge of this magnitude is usually one that I would try to avoid. I know this is going to be tough. I know that I may not succeed with my first idea. I know that the stakes are high. I know all of this, but if I am going to help any of them face their own underachievement, then I need to face my own. I don’t know if I need to tweak our style again. I don’t know if I need to put more of an emphasis on the child led aspects that we used to hold to with only some subjects being mandated by Mom. I don’t know what I need to do!

 I didn’t write this post with the intention of tackling how to fix underachievement among gifted students. This post is a part of the GHF Blog Hop: Recognizing Giftedness in Our Children and Ourselves because  sometimes recognizing giftedness is recognizing the sides of giftedness that we may not want to admit to, especially in ourselves. After all, the first step towards fixing anything is admitting that there is something that needs to be fixed. It is sometimes realizing that I can’t say “your child…” to my husband jokingly because this time, they are Just Like …Me!?

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