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.

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“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.

Making the Jones’ Sigh

Never fails, ever. I take the children out and about during the day to run errands between piano lessons and Library visits or for whatever reason and the sheer size of my brood brings at least one comment. The comments themselves are not always negative, nor are they always condescending. Sometimes it’s the sigh of recognition from a grandma who misses the days that have long gone by, sometimes its the unfulfilled wish from a woman who wants children but cannot have them for whatever reason and every once in a while it’s an exclamation of joy from an adult who grew up in a large family and sees a younger version of themselves in us as we pass by. I don’t mind the comments, even the rude ones.  Having a larger family was always one of my dreams. I planned to have four children and I planned them all to be less than two years apart, it’s what I wanted and so I take the comments as a part of this chosen lifestyle.

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However, what always surprises me is the sigh that comes along with the mention of homeschooling. Our area has a huge community of homeschoolers. There are homeschoolers from every walk of life in this area,  if you can name them, I’m sure we can find at least a few of them somewhere around here. I am so close to both Washington DC and Baltimore that we end up being in a mixing pot, culturally, socially, religiously… and I love it, yet homeschoolers still get sighs while out and about. Again this isn’t a positive or negative sigh. This is very much along the lines of the large family sigh with one exception. Everyone feels bad for me.

“Don’t you ever just need a break?” Is a question I am asked repeatedly. “With such a large family and homeschooling, when do you get time for you?” is usually the runner up followed by, “I just don’t have that kind of patience.”

To answer the most asked question, yes, yes I do need a break and yes I do make the time for me, just like any other mom- homeschooler or not and I do not have a patience super power. My patience runs thin, and often, but here’s the really weird thing. The more time I spend with my kids, the more I like them.

Don’t get me wrong, they know how to push every single button. They know which nerves are frazzled and exactly how to push me over the edge, but they also have a pretty hilarious sense of humor. We have inside jokes that pop up in the most inconvenient of times. They like the same things I like, probably because of some healthy geek conditioning, but still, it’s there.

I get them and they get me; over excitabilities, quirks, oddities and all. Patience running out or not, I still enjoy being with the little ones who who make me yell, cry and laugh until my sides hurt every day. We built a lifestyle that we love and we love sharing it with each other, even if that means spending bad days separated in bedrooms surrounded by books.

Being with my children everyday is an adventure. One minute my kids are helpful and kind, the next minute they are running in twenty different directions while screaming at each other and then they have a moment of curious exploration filled with intense discussion followed by a completely boneheaded decision that leaves me questioning their genetics (it must come from their father…or their uncle…but never me, right?). Being with them all day everyday makes me want to simultaneously spend everyday out of my house doing fun things and everyday hiding under my blankets.

Somedays I do wish for that break in the day that would allow me to run to the grocery store with only one child. Sometimes. Most times though, I don’t even compare. I don’t even consider the other option because I love the bonds and life we have created.

I love that I can take my kids to the aquarium in the middle of the day when no one else is there. I love that we can spend two hours in a library reading aloud from a myriad of genres in the most comfortable chairs because no one else is there. I love that I can take them into Washington DC and let them run ahead of me in a large museum because its the middle of January, freezing outside, and very few people are walking around. I love that we can do neat indoor field trips (like museums, galleries, plays, aquariums or orchestra shows) all winter, spend hours (3-5) outside in wild nature when the average temp is in the 60’s, take summer break while our friends and family are off in June and then spend the unbearably hot/humid summer/fall doing school inside. I love how easily I can change our schedule to fit the needs of our family, either because the stress is just too much and we need a brain break or because their cousin is moving and we want to spend extra time with them before they leave.

Being the person that helps them through the frustration and gets them to that a-ha moment is totally worth being the person that hears them cry about not getting it. Hours a day of repeating the same thing over and over is worth it that first time they finally do it on their own (clear off the table when you leave!) and seeing them understand something that I’ve never even discussed with them before always blows my mind. “Leave your (fill in the blank) alone!” might as well be recorded since I am a repeat repeater, and it makes me feel batty but it gets easier the longer you do it, or at least it did with me. What was excruciatingly difficult when my oldest was three is only mildly annoying to me now.

I don’t need a break from that, and when I do, I claim my vacation days and we veg out and watch way too much tv, or at least they do while I get lost in a book. Another thing I’ve learned to just accept.

When people gave me that pity sigh I used to sigh in commiseration, but something switched inside of me. I now realize that this isn’t a “poor you” situation. I recognize that my choice is different, but I don’t feel like I’m loosing anything. I think we are building a pretty awesome childhood for our children. In fact there are times where I don’t think I’ve come far enough. I wonder if I should let them roam free in the woods, or go to town with real tools but talk myself out of that because of social conventions that are still drilled into me. I would love to get off the grid a bit more and give the children even more freedom out of doors but we are too suburban for that. Our county doesn’t even allow for goats or lambs in the back yard, a fact that I hope to find a loop hole around…and maybe then we will make the Jones’ sigh some more.

 

Behold the Power of Subtitles!

I am a geek.

I am a nerd.

I am a borderline otaku.

I love to escape reality and I love to challenge ideas and conceptions via fantastic scenarios. I love building worlds, I love realistic romance, I love watching/ reading characters develop slowly.

I raise my children in this manner as well, because it’s Awesome!

My seven year old son loves RPG video games. My five year old daughter could spend all her time with Legos or Minecraft. My four year old daughters favorite movie character is Darth Vader. My two year old daughter is in love with Dr. Who and recognizes the TARDIS instantly. … All because we, their parents love it too. My husband is an avid Gamer, manga reader, and computer tinkerer. I will watch a sci fi action packed cult classic over a trendy romantic comedy any day of the week and I often spend entire weekend evenings binge watching Anime in Japanese with English Subtitles.

It’s how we roll.

We don’t speak Japanese and I’ve never tried watching a show that wasn’t subtitled so Imagine my surprise, when visiting Washington DC last week, at my sudden understanding of a language that I have never tried to learn.

I have been actively trying to learn Spanish for almost 20 years. I think I have a mental block based on a combination of perfectionism and heritage. I’ve often been told (by native speakers) that I should be able to speak Spanish and that I have no excuse not to, which in turn makes speaking it badly socially unacceptable. I also tried to actively learn Latin and Ancient Greek in college. I was pretty decent with Latin but forgot most of it as soon as I stopped using it regularly. Ancient Greek… Let’s just say I never could remember that alphabet and u was lucky to scrape by with a D! This background made me think that I was just linguisticly challenged.

I thought that I would never be one of those people who could pick up another language. I also thought that the only way to learn a language was with a book and grammar lessons. However, my ideas are changing. I am beginning to realize that there are stages to learning a language.

1. You have to be able to recognize the language when it’s spoken. Even if you don’t understand what’s being said, the first step is to recognize what language your hearing. I can now sit in a room and pick out the differences between Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian. I can not fully understand what’s being said in those last three but I can tell which language is which.

2. Grasping the gist. The second phase of learning a new language is just being able to roughly understand a conversation. To understand the main idea even if you don’t know the meaning of every single word. I sometimes am at this level even when others are speaking English from another region or with a thick accent and I can do this with Japanese.

3. Understanding the spoken word. This is where I am with Spanish. You are able to roughly translate, understand complex conversations in a variety of dialects or accents and you feel comfortable with your comprehension.

4. Speaking in another language. At this point you are learning how to string together the words you have learned and put together coherent conversation (this can be as simple as my “name is” or as complex as describing how a refrigerator works). For some people 3 & 4 are interchangeable or happen at the same time. To each their own.

5. Writing. Once you have gotten comfortable to understand and speak casually then comes the task of learning actual grammar, rules, and proper constructs. I think this is why I’ve always had such a hard time with language classes. The writing and grammar portion is being taught alongside the introductions but there is no actual foundation in the language itself.

Unlike a child learning a first language (who spends a year just listening!) we expect a new learner to go from never having heard the language to speaking reading and writing simultaneously within three months. We do not look at breaking down the language, we do not try to introduce it, and we rarely hear other languages actually spoken.

That is why I felt like a failure when learning foreign languages. Yet here I am, eavesdropping on a family from Japan as they encourage and guide their children through a hands on craft project at a Museum in Washington DC. Sitting here, understanding the main gist of their conversation even though I have never taken a class or read a book with the intention of learning Japanese.

I lived in Japan for one year, I watch Anime in Japanese with English subtitles, and without realizing it, I have been learning Japanese, just like I learned Spanish and English as a kid.

I am in no way saying that lessons, software, or books are unnecessary. I believe that they are absolutely necessary for certain learners who want to be completely fluent eventually but they are not required to begin learning and they are not required for all learners. I would even go so far as to say they are not the most important thing you need to start learning a language.

I am not the first to say this either. Immersion language learning is well known as the most effective way to learn a new language but for some reason I never considered watching something with subtitles as a part of the immersion process. I never once considered that my fun, mindless activity would be my gateway to something as awesome as learning a new language and I certainly never believed that I could learn so much. I want to encourage others out there who may have believed the lie that they too couldn’t learn other languages because they couldn’t afford the classes or because they were not good at studying. Sometimes we just have to have fun and allow learning to happen naturally!

So before you spend hundreds of dollars on a language system, get on YouTube or Google and get used to hearing the language you want to learn. Then find movies or tv shows with subtitles in that language (they really exist in most languages!) and have fun. Listen to the music, watch a play and do things that get you comfortable with regularly hearing… Then start the formal work. After you can pick it out of a crowd.

Maybe this is just my unschooling philosophy at play but the truth is that it works. That is why we watch movies that we have memorized in Spanish as a family…even my non-readers know what words come next and then begin to associate Spanish words for the words they already know. This is why we list to Spanish music in the house. It is my fault that my children are not already fluent in Spanish but I plan on remedying that problem. I want them to speak the language of our heritage proudly and so my children are learning more and more all the time. Then one day, once they get comfortable with the two languages, we will add a third and they too will start watching Anime with subtitles.

Why?

Because subtitles can be totally awesome!beholdthepowerofsubtitiles.jpg

“Go Outside and Get into Nature”

Have you ever watched an episode of PBS’ Dinosaur Train?

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Its a favorite around here. We all love it and watch it fairly regularly. The title even came from the Scott Sampson, the Paleontologist who ends every episode. Much like Mr. Roger on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood used to say “Won’t you be my neighbor” with every single episode , Scott Sampson ends every episode with a challenging children to get to know nature. I love this so very much and after watching the show a few hundred times I realized that maybe the reason that I loved the whole thing so much was because Mr. & Mrs. Pteranadon are unschoolers and they practice regular Nature Studies!

How cool is that! With the exception of an adopted T-Rex…and that whole being dinosaurs thing, they are just like us. Ok maybe not, although they certainly reinforce our educational philosophies in fun ways.

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As a part of our weekly schedule we make sure to add in at least some time actively being in Nature as a way to implement an understanding of the natural world in a way that books and movies just can not do. Like the Pteranadon family we believe in thinking like scientists, exploring our world and building relationships. We do this through actively and inactively studying the world we live in.

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1) Think like scientists.

We teach our children to question everything around them. Not just look at the changing leaves of autumn and say “oh they are so pretty” but to question why are they changing? What is causing the changes. What does that mean for the wildlife that lives in these trees? Everything is a question and each child is taught to make a hypothesis to go along with their questions. We want them to know that they can find answers too, that they can create theories, collect data and answer questions…or create new questions. I do not give my children answers…I do not ask them leading questions. I ask real questions and help them find real answers through observing the natural world around them, regularly.

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2) Explore our World

I do not assign or create activities for my children during Nature Study. I bought a Nature Study Handbook once and never used it. We have Nature journals where they can catalogue what they see but I do not restrict what goes into it. We ALWAYS have a pocket microscope available so that we can take a closer look at anything we find. I sit (or stroll) around a central location and let my children roam free. They know to keep me in sights at all times and have basic safety rules to comply with (two feet from water unless mommy is with you) while they are off exploring. We don’t limit ourselves in exploration abilities. Some weeks we explore the parking lot at the Library, others a wildlife refuge (to include hiking trails), while other times it’s a day at a Zoo or Aquarium. The point is to go often, observe constantly and have fun.

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3) Building Relationships

We build relationships everywhere we go. We sit under a tree at the lake with books and art supplies talking to each other and reading stories aloud. At the Wildlife Refuge we have lengthy chats with the volunteers and Park Rangers about the wildlife and local sights. We build relationships with the plants we see and the wild animals we encounter. We are actively fostering a love of the environment and all who live within it. IT’s not just about the people to people relationships that we build but also the people to Earth relationships. We learn the names of the trees, birds and reptiles that we pass by on our walks. We practice healthy habits for a healthy environment, like recycling and reusing as well as reducing our footprint. We learn about natural cycles that affect every inhabitant on the planet.

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We don’t use curriculums or lesson plans, we just live outside as much as possible. We don’t have a backyard, we aren’t able to go out very often but we make the outdoors interesting. We stay up late to watch the stars. We pull over on the side of the road to see the deer crossing. We sit on our balcony and watch the squirrels hoard their nuts. We lay on the grass and try to name the birds singing or soaring above. In the winter we watch the squirrels. We test to see how fast water turns into ice. We watch the world from behind warm windows. We still look at the stars.

The goal is to get into nature. To make it an irresistible wonderland waiting to be explored.

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To build memories and instill a love of the World that needs our love.

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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.

Lost on the Journey

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the map that you get lost and almost miss out on the journey? Of course I am speaking metaphorically, but seriously, I am so there! So overwhelmed by where I am that I feel completely lost and the thought of what might be coming ahead scares me so much that I just stop and stare. How do I facilitate this? How do I inspire them to dig further? How do I get them to recognize all the steps between a and z? How do I find resources for this?

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I am lost. At the point of freaking out. I listen to these interests and wonder how on earth do I facilitate this?

Little Man wants to know everything about chemistry…last year it was astronomy. I finally got to a place where I understood the questions he was asking and found him resources (entirely online because the curriculum that we found wasn’t deep enough for him and the encyclopedias all held the same superficial answers). We watched lectures from Princeton, watched youtube videos, NOVA episodes, listened to lectures and topics via podcasts and I finally felt like we had gotten into a grove of things when one of the lectures mentioned the chemical diversity of the universe. Well thanks mister professor man, now I have to find all new resources for chemistry. We have science encyclopedias that go into the periodic table, acids/bases, metals/gases, atomic structure and all that jazz. We went through all of that, the elementary aged sites and covered it all in three weeks. Well guess what, know he wants to know how to combine elements into chemical equations. He wants to know how to balance chemical equations. He wants to know how scientists use chemistry in real labs…he wants to blow stuff up. I live in an apartment, we are on a limited income…how do I even find all the stuff needed to help him without homeland security thinking we are building a bomb? He also recently decided that he needs to build a computer from scratch and understand how they work… Where do I even start?

…and thats just one kid.

Little Miss want to learn photography (we don’t even own a camera…just a smartphone), how to play the guitar (we have youtube and a used guitar but I have no idea how to help with that) and she wants to paint…several paintings, daily. She wants to know about people from other cultures, she wants to know everything she can about our family. She wants to write stories about people and she wants to learn how to swim (its almost winter!). While each of these are relatively easier to facilitate they still require funds and time. How do I help them both when they both require so much from me?

Add to this:

Curly Q is learning to read, she wants to know everything about the human body and how animals live in habitats, what their life cycles are and how predators find food. She wants to store every leaf,twig and “treasure” in the house while also having fossils and skeletons in our house…our tiny house. She is also obsessed with Pokemon, Ninjago and Digimon…I don’t even know how to begin.

Itty Bitty is obsessed with dinosaurs and marine wildlife. She wants me to hold her and read to her ALL THE TIME!

Honestly, I’m failing at balancing all four them. I can’t hold Itty Bitty and set up a chemistry experiment. I can’t help Little Miss write her stories and help Curly Q learn to read.

I get so overwhelmed that I sometimes shut down. I can’t do it all. We can’t afford to get tutors/lessons. Curriculums don’t work in our house. The energy levels are too high to expect them all to sit and listen to audiobooks.

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So how do we get anything done?

I have to turn the questions back on the questioner. I can not find every resources. I can not answer every question. They have to be independent learners. They have to find their own answers too.

I help them find their own resources, they are still young and need help with search functions. I can not find the resources myself but I can hold itty bitty, answer Curly Q’s question and oversee a web search while Little Miss is painting on the balcony. We go to the library weekly, often checking out 20 books or more, but I don’t read every book. I don’t have the time, neither do they. Little bitty sometimes just looks at the pages (we get her ones filled with illustrations). We look up videos for some of them to watch while I work with another on something else. I have art supplies out for daily use and then special supplies intermittently. I ask daddy to tackle some of the subjects…like computers, I know nothing about computers. We go to zoos, museums and aquariums regularly, 2 -3 times a month. However, the biggest thing I have to do is let go. I just cannot do it all as well as I would like, but you know what…neither would a traditional school environment.

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They are not loosing anything if they cannot answer every question right now. They have a lifetime of learning ahead of them. These questions will keep coming up. We will continue to find every resource we can afford, we will find every material that is possible. We will try our best to meet their needs and eventually we will have to outsource…maybe sooner than I would like to think.

For now, we let them ask the questions.

We google, youtube and library ourselves crazy trying to find answers.

And I freak out. Daily. It is now part of our rhythm.

I still feel like a failure, I am still overwhelmed by it all. I often feel completely alone. Lost and alone.

But I am not alone, I am not the only one trying desperately to meet the needs of my children. Others needs may not be the same as ours but every mother is struggling to find a way to meet the needs of their child. The online community has helped me to realize that I am not the only one freaking out. I am not the only one that feels like a failure even though the proof suggests otherwise.

I am not lost…I am just following the GPS in unfamiliar territory.

I don’t know what directions will come next, or when they will come.

I don’t know the area or the destination so I feel like I am lost, even though I am right on track.

It’s the journey that’s important though, right?

It’s the stops and sights along the way that make it great?

Right?

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