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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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.

The Year of Uncertainty: Looking back on 2015

The year of 2015 is coming to a close and as I sit and reflect over everything that has happened over the past twelve months I have come to the realization that this past year has been one of never ending tests on my faith and an excruciatingly large amount of unknown.  So much uncertainty has plagued the past year and in turn so much change has occurred over such a short year and in that same time so much growth has happened unbeknownst to those of us in the midst of the trials .

As a family we are a tiny bit stronger than we were last December and as a woman I am a tiny bit braver than I was this time last year.

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Going into 2015 we still had no confirmation as to our ongoing position with the Marine Corps. There was still every possibility that they would reject our request for early retirement. We had no idea whether we would be retiring in the area or whether we would be given orders to move to a new area.

We had five months left on our apartment lease but only two months to decide if we were going to stay in that tiny (for our family) apartment or leave. If we stayed it would be another year long lease and rent was rising by several hundred dollars per month. If we left we could find a better deal but how long would we be there? Orders could show up and require us to move out at any time, and while we always sign a military clause I would never want to subject a family to an unexpected loss of renters. We could buy if we knew that the Corps was releasing us but we had absolutely no savings for a deposit and no idea what was affordable because there still wasn’t a job lined up.

Oh yeah, then there was the whole job issue. There were possibilities of jobs, there were companies offering contract positions that sounded great but none of them would start an official hiring process without an official retirement date. See the circularness of this situation?

2015 was already full of uncertainty and it had only just begun.

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In mid February we returned that intention to move out slip to the apartment complex before we received the yes on our retirement. We had no backup plan, unless you count moving back on base and spending more than we could afford a month on housing just to have a place to live as backup. By the end of February we received the yes for the Retirement. We had to move out of our apartment by May 1 and we still had no job lined up. After talking to co-workers who had been in similar situations, the consensus was that buying a house on active duty is infinitely easier than buying one when you’re just starting out at a new job. So the look for a house began and surprisingly we were pre-approved for enough to actually get a decent, if not older home in our area. Still, everything was up in the air and nothing in our lives had any sense of certainty.

School took on the same air of uncertainty. The children knew we were living in limbo. We were all stressed out. We unschooled more than anything else, and it worked far more than I honestly thought it would. The girls started showing more of their giftedness. Little Miss became more inquisitive than ever before, Curly Que picked up everything at light speed and there was never enough information. Itty Bitty demanded even more constant attention and information but her usually great sleeping habits stopped being great. She stopped napping most days, even though her mood needed it, and she would not go to sleep at night, not of her own free will. She would move until she literally dropped, and that was rarely ever in her bed.

I couldn’t stand being in the apartment any longer and we spent almost everyday out and about. We lived out school. We went to the free DC museums several times a month. We went to every $8 performance I could get my hands on just so that we would have an activity to get us out of the cramped apartment. The snow and freezing temperatures didn’t matter, I just couldn’t stand the uncertainty that I associated with the apartment any longer.

We spent whole days going from one wildlife refuge to another, warming up in the library or over fast food. Our diet was as all over the place as our life. The children and I were always just trying to get from one day to the next, all of us were just trying to get from one day to the next.

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Then in May everything fell into place. First the house, then the job and we felt a sense of relief. We thought the rest of the year would be a breeze after that but we never even considered that I could be the one to break down next. My headaches were debilitating and I could not focus my eyes when the sun was up. I went to the optometrist because I had only ever had migraines related to needing a new prescription. Nothing was wrong with my prescription but the double vision worried the ancient man in the lab coat who smelled of moth balls and peppermint. He gave me a referral for an ophthalmologist, which I took to the base clinic and set up a referral.

If your acquainted with military healthcare than you know that a referral can take anywhere from a week to several months to set up. My referral was sent to Bethesda/Walter Reed, the busiest hospital in the military healthcare system. The referral process took a month and it was another month after that when the first available appointment was set up. As I waited the double vision began to go away and the headaches came and went with the weather. I almost cancelled the appointment but the urging of close friends nudged me ahead. Im glad I didn’t since that appointment landed me in the hospital for a week of testing and an ongoing relationship with the neurology department.

Then we found out that everything was changing with our extended family as well. My brother and his family started the process for becoming missionaries. My grandparents moved out of the house they had lived in since I was in high school, and bought a condo in a senior community. My father changed jobs and is still trying to sell his house. My brother in law moved cross country and the other brother in law started a whole new career.

Everything in our life was changing so drastically, and so quickly. Unschooling wasn’t working anymore. By the time that the new school year started my kiddos just couldn’t handle the unknown anymore. My son, especially, just shut down. He couldn’t remember why he walked into a room anymore. He forgot simple tasks. He forgot things that had always been routine before, because the routine had disappeared. Unschooling wasn’t working because we had no constant framework to work within any longer. Too much had changed. We all needed to have some consistency, especially this guy.

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I wasn’t doing well either. My headaches still came regularly. My vision was better but now I could/can predict the weather based on the level of my headaches. Staying inside because of headaches was fueling my yearly depression. I felt a new story erupting from somewhere in my head and I desperately wanted to get it on paper before it disappeared again. My need to paint grew stronger and my desire to read conflicted daily with my heads aching protests to the small print. Usually this is when we take a fall break from school, but we couldn’t this year. We needed the structure. We needed the consistency so I forced my creativity to work in the sidelines.

I tried my best to be more intentional about our schooling. I planned ahead, I read out loud daily, I bought a math curriculum and looked into reading ones. I just didn’t have the ability to continue doing everything from scratch when my head was bouncing between splitting and pounding headaches every few days.  We still only schooled for half of the day, the rest was left open for masterly inactivity and pursuing of passions, but it still feels foreign to me. The children are thriving under the structure, I’m barely keeping my head above water but I’m not drowning. I’m getting better with each new day.

I am exhausted. From it all. From the year. Exhausted, but stronger and happier, even after everything that has happened.

This last week of December is my vacation. The children are watching more television that I would normally be ok with. They are playing amongst themselves and I have retreated to worlds of fantasy. I have read more books this past week than I have all year. I’ve allowed myself time to recuperate. This year I gave the children a real winter break and we are relishing every moment of it. 

I wish I could say that I know what will happen in 2016, but I don’t. Im still being held in the grasp of the Year of Uncertainty. 2016 is a mystery to me.   I don’t know whats lying ahead. I’m still trying to break free of our day to day existence. I am still looking for the joy in every moment, still finding the blessings in the every day but I couldn’t even begin to tell you what to expect from us in the next month- let alone a whole year.

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Itty Bitty has been hinting towards a desire to learn how to read. Curly Que wants to learn how to build things. Little Miss has grown into dolls and sewing. Little Man has lost himself, he’s the oldest and understood the most of what’s going on and needs gentle guidance to find his way back. My husband has expressed an interest in possibly going back to school. I am just trying to learn how to deal with near constant headaches as a part of my normal. We now have family living in Spain and an itch to travel… but nothing is certain. If anything, this past year has taught us how to roll with the punches, keep the faith and like Dory says in Finding Nemo, “Just Keep Swimming!”

Goodbye 2015, Bring it on 2016!

The Importance of a Lazy Day

Do you recognize the importance of lazy days? Do you savor the existence of an empty calendar day with no chores, expectations or social responsibilities? Do you intentionally plan for these days and then respect the need to keep them free?

importance of lazy daysI don’t know if you’ve been sucked into societies problem of over scheduling or if you’ve fallen prey to the wondrous lure of possibly fun or educational activities to the point where your family feels as though it’s being pulled in every which direction, but I have.

I have been a slave to the schedule of extra-curricular activities. I have stretched myself too thin between multiple social responsibilities that I just couldn’t say no to. I have been a chauffeur that eats multiple meals out of our van while spending way too much on gas money to get people from here to there.gardengirls There have been months where I wondered if we would be home often enough to ever get around to paper school work because there were so many activities and appointments scheduled. I’ve been there.I’ve been there and I was miserable. My family was rarely ever together the whole time, even though we homeschool and the stress was wearing us down.

Things needed to change, and so we changed them.

Over the past two years we have experimented with varying responsibilities, learning to say no, and learning to spread things out but more importantly we have learned to respect and hold fast to the importance of regularly scheduled lazy days. More than saying no, more than spreading out activities or field trips, it has been the regular lazy day that brings us together the most. gardening with dad

We try to fit in one day a week but realistically it looks more like two a month. A lazy day doesn’t need to be spent siting down. It doesn’t require lounging in front of a TV. Although both are valid options. A truly restful and healing lazy day means that you spend time at home, together, without outsiders or deadlines looming. Our best lazy days are scheduled after our busiest weeks or just before. Sometimes we garden together, sometimes we visit our neighborhood park (as in we go for a walk or bike ride) and on other days we play indoor games together (usually Dominoes or cards). It is on these days that I craft or cook their favorite meals and snacks, because I want to and we have the time, while the children play or my husband reads.

These are the days that we treasure most. These are the days where our family bonds grow. These are sacred days. They are important. They are necessary and we will never go back to a life without them.dominoes

A Week in the Life

Not long ago I posted what our schedule looked like. I loved it and we got out of the house everyday, giving us purpose and direction. Well that lasted about a month. So here is an updated look into how we roll.

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My favorite thing about homeschooling has got to be, hands down, the flexibility.

We had a schedule that was working well for us because it allowed us to meet the needs of our whole family. We were still getting used to Apartment living and still needed to get out of the apartment every single day in order to keep from going crazy. It was pretty expensive in terms of gas but it was doable because we had two cars. That did not last long. Our second car is now an unmovable hunk of metal in the Apartment parking lot…ok thats an exaggeration. It can move but not in reverse unless your pushing it and not for a long period of time without having to restart it. We are still paying off the car so getting another is just not possible right now (it was a rookie car buying mistake and we are kicking ourselves thoroughly for it). So, for the foreseeable future we are a one car family and that meant changes needed to happen.

Enter the new schedule!

We spend much more time at home than ever before and that requires a whole lot more of a focus on life skills. I’ll be honest 4/5 weekdays inside means a very messy house. Very, messy. This new schedule needed to incorporate time for independence, time for cleaning and cooking as well as time for active learning but I am not a big schedule person so I also ended something that could change easily.

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Mellow Mondays are our weekend recovery days. We all clean little by little, together, all week long but the weekends are fun and free of stress and I demand to be let in on that freedom so monday morning usually leaves us with a huge mess. Its actually not that huge but in a small space a small mess looks gigantic. We clean together, organize, open up the windows (not always sometimes the weather sucks!), turn up the music (I completely consider this music appreciation time because we read off the names of the composers and jump through a multitude of genres) and dance while cleaning. Sometimes, sometimes I clean and yell at children, over the music, who are playing when they are supposed to be cleaning. Either way the house gets put back in order. We make lunch together and then it is a technology free for all. Everybody grabs a spot with a device (iPads, PSP, PS Vita, Nintendo DS, Playstation or Netflix) and the kids have free reign until nap time (this is when I work on my blog posts). Nap time is really a mandatory down time that is electronic free (about an hour from 2-3), we don’t always nap but we all have independent time with our thoughts, books, building materials or notebooks (I work on my novel). Afterwards its teatime (close to 4) with a very light snack and a poem or two (Shel Silverstien is a favorite) before I make dinner and the children again get free electronics time.

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I need a mellow monday. It is part of me working towards a healthy balance of me & family. For this introvert weekends are draining. We use saturdays to run errands as a family or go on field trips and Sunday morning is church (where I teach Sunday school to a class of 2-3 year olds) and both days are filled with people, noises and touching. I need more than just an afternoon at home (which works well for my extroverted husband). I need a full day of being lost in thought. A full day of creativity, world building and writing. The only way I get that is if my children are allowed to have free reign of the electronics. The funny thing is that even though they get almost a whole day of unrestricted electronic usage, they only choose to use half of it. I find them drawing and pretending more than playing or watching! Also we don’t restrict the other days of the week…we just make other activities look way more interesting.

Teaching Tuesdays sound like a day where the kids all sit at a table and I give them lectures. That couldn’t be further from reality. It is however our day for focusing on the 3 R’s. We start after breakfast, around 9 am usually because momma is a night owl and doesn’t function well before that (although they eat yogurt, granola or fruit when they first wake up), with story time. Story time is basically literature, if you were to put it into subject break ups, and right now we are reading through The Neverending Story. They all lay on the floor with pillows and blankets and get comfy while I read aloud.

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We have a stack of puzzle books, logic books, crosswords, word finds, workbooks (from stores that they children have chosen to work through) and journals that the children pull out to work on. I don’t assign these. I just ask them what they are going to work on, pull out my own journal, turn on the music and then start working. They know that I expect them to do some sort of work and every activity needs to be based on Reading, Writing or Arithmetic. The younger two break out the lincoln logs, blocks, Mancala, dominoes and puzzles and quietly play with them nearby. The music is the volume control, everyone should be able to hear it and if you can’t then you are too loud. The electronics equipment is all out of sight and so I am not even asked if they can use them (occasionally they have tried and I have offered other options instead…not really saying no but making it clear that I would prefer another choice). After we have worked on everything together, they proudly show off their work and we have a sort of show and tell period.

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We then make lunch and watch a documentary or cartoon that relates to something that was brought up in discussions (usually in relation to the days journal entry or copy work). That is followed by Nap time and then tea, where we read a poem (the classics like Stevenson) and a short story (usually from a fairy book/folktale or myth). We end our day with free play (pretending, painting, legos, etc) before the nights activities.

World Wednesdays are almost exactly like Teaching Tuesdays except the focus is on the whole world. We read stories about people from different places, we work on filling in maps, we watch documentaries and we build replicas. We practice our Bible verses, talk about theology and spend almost all day in pj’s talking to each other about how the world works. Did I mention we watch documentaries? Wednesdays are not so schoolish, it loos a lot like a family watching tv. It looks a lot like pretend. It looks like cartoons and international food! It is entirely based on relationships and learning together. It is one of my favorite days of the week.

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Exploration Thursday is our one day out and about. We wake up with daddy, grab a to go breakfast as we are leaving the house and don’t come home until after we pick daddy up from work. We mix it up each Thursday, one week we may go to three libraries, the next two nature preserves or the farm and the fourth thumbing through used bookstores. We get groceries for the week, get in our PE and Music (piano lessons) and make art along the way. We have picnic lunches and read on the grass while watching clouds and birds. My next post will be entirely based on how we do Nature Study but its safe to say that Thursdays are their favorite day… it’s a tie with Wednesday for me!

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Free Friday is exactly that: a free for all. We paint, do science experiments, build, pretend, watch cartoons, practice needle craft, search for new youtube videos or watch favorites. We read books galore, bake together (I measure/they watch, they dump & we take turns mixing), work on puzzles and play battleship. It is an anything goes kinds of day and we enjoy each others company.

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We are still trying to figure out how to keep things reasonably clean around these parts and we are trying to get more outside time in but for now I am loving the concentrated blocks of time! I don’t have to worry about being grumpy because we all work on our schedule and we are saving money in the process. Less eating out means healthier options and over all it has been a great change for us. Who knows how long it will last but for now we have a new groove.

The Failure Challenge

I go through phases and lately I have been very introspective, as I’m sure you have noticed but I wanted to break up all that seriousness and write something fun and helpful. I really like reading and for right now education is my obsession. Maybe because I’m elbow deep in it with my children and I really don’t want to mess them up. Whatever the reason, the obsession lead me to a whole new topic, The “Growth Mindset”.

Thanks to Salman Khan (the founder of Khan Academy) there has been a lot of focus on the “Growth Mindset” and treating your brain like a muscle. Originally coined by Carol Dweck, the term refers to how we think about intelligence. Dweck has literally written the book on this and I cannot wait to get my hands on the entire thing, Mindset is already fascinating me and I have only read small bits and pieces online via her articles.

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I read another article today on the Huffington Post which made me think about how we train our brain and our children’s brains. The article talks about how we praise our children and Khan also has a video based on the same thing. This whole concept makes me think about what I say to my kids and how we as a family approach learning. We already do so much to help them develop independency in their learning and to promote a healthy view of learning so imagine my surprise when I found myself in the static intelligence camp! I am totally guilty of saying “wow, you did such a great job!” instead of “wow, you worked so hard on that” or at jumping in when I see them getting physically agitated and asking if they would like my help. I wasn’t jumping in and taking over, I was offering assistance… but looking back, yeah I really could have let them keep trying and instead encourage the process. In this photo my big boy is riding a dirt bike for the first time. I wasn’t praising him, his father and uncle ran along side him shouting encouragement…right up until he lost control and crashed into a bush. His yellow sweatshirt leaped out of the bushes and with pride he removed his helmet and screamed with excitement “That was AWESOME! Can I do it again?” He did. He got back on that bike again and again. Little Miss did too, even after getting burned on the leg when the bike fell on top of her. We treated the burn and within 10 minutes she was back on the bike, refusing help because she knew she could do it.

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I will admit, if given the choice between an easy option that ensures success and a harder option that I might fail, I will always choose the easy option. I don’t like failure. I despise it. Every perfectionist tendency screams at the thought of failure. I will also admit that because the early years of mothering were so demanding, exhausting and downright hard, I have lost my ability to read hard books. Before the both of my younger two I read The Prince and The Leviathan for fun. I picked up Einstien, Darwin and Plato…for fun. Often out loud to my son because I didn’t like talking about nonsense to a baby playing with blocks, I felt silly giving a running commentary on the state of blocks and so I just read out loud so that he would still hear language being spoken around him when it was just the two of us. I read them because I wanted to know why they were considered classics. I also read Farenheit 451, Brave New World, Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar (again) just because I could. I tried, and tried, and tried after the younger two were born and I couldn’t get past page 3 of ANY book above a tween/teen reading level. Now I can focus better but I have to build it all back up to my previous ability and its hard, so often I really did not even try. It actually saddened me and for a while there I was convinced that it is just how things worked. It is not how things work. I can change.

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This newer way of looking at intelligence though doesn’t say that your born with innate intelligence and once you met that cap you must give up all hope of rising above. Your not smart or dumb. Instead you learn and grow through failure. Novel concept isn’t it? I am fairly certain that this isn’t a new way of thinking. In fact, I am positive that this is not new. There is nothing new about it because it is the very foundation of the scientific method! It is not new but it has been renamed and re-marketed to the current generation of parents. A response, if I may be so bold as to make a generalization, to the growing resentment our generation has with the whole instant gratification concept that we have been duped by. This idea is probably gaining so much steam because it is a kernel of wisdom that has been lost with the rise of instant gratification and labeling. My question is how do I actively instill this in my own gremlins so that they do not fall prey to thoughts of inability?

The answer scares me and challenges me.

We Fail.

All of us, openly and proudly.

We fail, we analyze and we try again until we find a way that works.

The whole thing actually reminds me of Disney’s Meet the Robinson’s and the “Keep Moving Forward” catch phrase that came with it. I loved that movie, my son LOVED that movie…so much so that he destroyed the disc by watching it too many times. My favorite scene in the whole movie is when the family has a party to celebrate the main characters failure. How cool is that? A Failure Party.

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I am going to create a challenge, a Failure Challenge, to celebrate learning through failure.

There are a couple of ways to join in the fun, choose one or do both:

1) Choose a day, once a week to celebrate your failures as a family or keep. If your a Tea Party kind of family then have a Failure Tea where you celebrate each others failures and the learning that grew from it. It doesn’t have to be a Tea Party, it can be any kind of party that fits your family.

2) Keep a Failure Journal: its like a thankfulness journal or a blessings journal, only we are going to chronicle our failures and the lessons we are learning from them. This is not a bashing exercise of everything we are doing wrong. This is an active way to change how we view failures. Do not look down or feel ashamed of these failures, each one is teaching us or preparing us.

The point of this challenge is to celebrate growth. To teach our children and ourselves not to fear failure but to expect it, grow from it and preserver.

Are you brave enough to Fail publicly?

To appear fallible in front of your children, family or peers?

If so join me!

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