A Letter to Myself,

Dear Me,

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

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

Well don’t wait around anymore!

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

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

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

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

Great!

I knew you could!

With Love,

Me

a-letter-to-myself

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Beautifully Sensitive

There are four of them living in my house. Four beautiful, creative, curious, and extremely sensitive children who live under our roof. It really is a blessing, most of the time.

Most of the time, I love that they are able to empathize with others. Most of the time, I love how sweet they are to each other. Most of the time… But then there are the other times, times when their sensitivities are just too much for my sensitivities and we have a clash of sensitivities.

I am sensitive to loud noises, so are Little Man, Curly Que and Itty Bitty. Curly Que and Itty Bitty are also sensitive to touch. All four of them are emotionally sensitive…like a trigger that is bound to go off at any moment.

beautifullysensitive

Here is how the three clash:

“Itty Bitty, why are you wearing that swimsuit? You can’t wear a swimsuit to the grocery store, lets put on pants”

-I apparently grabbed the wrong pair of pants because Itty Bitty is now howling.

Curly Que enters the room, “Why is she screaming? It hurts my ears”

Me, “Because the pants are the wrong ones…”

Curly Que is now also screaming because Itty Bitty’s screaming hurts her ears which in turn hurts my ears and so I loose it and yell at the both of them to go to their rooms to quiet down while I head to the floor farthest away.

Meanwhile, Little Miss and Little Man are fighting over who gets to comfort mommy, who is obviously upset, and are now both crying and hitting each other because the other one is hurting their feelings by trying to help me with mine. I yell at them to go to their room too and I hide in the basement and unpack boxes for a while.

Eventually we all calm down and talk it out but that’s just one of the many occasions that could occur on any given day.flower2

Here is another, more emotionally based, example:

“Mommy, can we watch a movie about France?”Little Miss asks politely.

“Ok, which one do you want to watch?”

Little Man joins the conversation, “We’ve never seen The Hunchback of Notre Dame!”

Me, “I’m not too sure about that one, it might be too scary for you guys, there are bad guys who try to act like good guys and lots of hurting of other people just because they are different.”

“Mom! We can handle it, we are not babies.” The two cry in unison.

Me, “oh alright but if it starts to get too scary we can turn it off and watch The Aristocats instead.”

Now all four are on the couch, comfortably smothered with giant, soft blankets as we search through Netflix to find the requested movie.

We find it, we start it, and they ooh and ahhh over the opening music. Then enters Quasimodo’s parents and all of a sudden they leap forward. The blankets are tossed to the floor as all three lean into each other for support…and the questions start.

“Why is she running? She didn’t do anything wrong?”

“What’s sanctuary? Why does he want to hurt her?

“That’s just a baby, why is he calling it a monster?”

Then they all stop breathing for a moment and stare at me, even Itty Bitty is in shock.

“Why would anyone want to kill a baby?”

The movie continues but they are still stuck on that last question, until Quasimodo goes through the alphabet.

“Why is he treating him so badly?”

“Why can’t he go to the festival too”

This continues with me trying to answer each question along the way, until we get to the festival. By the time Quasimodo meets Esmerelda, they are done.

They can’t handle the idea that the bad guy is also supposed to be in charge of Justice. They can’t handle the way Quasimodo is treated. They can’t handle the way Esmerelda is treated by the guards, the very people who are supposed to protect others. They still can’t get over the concept that anyone would hurt a baby just because of how he looks. It’s all just too much for them so we switch movies and watch The Aristocats. Everything is better, for now, but those questions will keep popping up over the next week.

What always confuses others, is that these same children will watch Avengers three times in a row, that is not scary to them, its entertaining. The concepts are great but good clearly has an advantage the whole time…The Hulk is good, the Captain is good, Iron Man is good – arrogant and self centered but still good and that is the difference for them. Corruption, injustice, Racism…evil that hides under the guise of good gets them every, single, time. They already know that stuff is real but they don’t want to, they reacted to The Hunchback in the same way that they respond to the news, so much so that we have stopped watching the news when they are awake. We only listen to NPR in the car when its a show, we switch stations during the news, because the news is too much for them at this age…they just understand too much.

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My kids are just sensitive, beautifully and annoyingly sensitive. They know it too. They know that not everyone sees and feels the world the way they do, but they know that they are not alone in it either, mostly because everyone in our house is like that. They may need extra blankets at night, they may refuse to wear socks unless there is snow on the ground… they may refuse to use automatic toilets in public and cry when there are no paper towels. The may come crying to me because a sister said they don’t care about me anymore… but they will also spend an hour giggling and kissing each others arm “just in case there is a booboo” and that is when its beautiful. They care deeply about other people. They care deeply about each other. They want to save the world and cure all the sicknesses. They want to save all the animals, even the poisonous ones.

It may drive others nuts, it may confuse them… but to me they are like flowers, beautifully sensitive flowers.

This post is a part of the GHF May Blog Hop about Perfectionism and other Gifted/2E Quirks.ghf blog hop pic may 2015

The Curse of Perfect

There exists in my house a parasite. A tiny vampire that feeds off of the insecurities that hide below the surface and infects the inhabitants with an obsessive need for perfection.

He rears his ugly head in different ways for different family members but his existence plagues us all.

The curse of perfect

Sometimes, it’s the fear of failure that stops me in my tracks. Others, the tears and frustration that flow when Little Man realizes that he didn’t say what he meant to say. The most vicious is the fear that stops Little Miss from writing anything without help.

I have struggled with this little monster for most of my life. He claws at my brain telling me “you can’t do anything right so why should you even try.” For a long time I gave up drawing, my most favorite thing in the world, because I felt that if I couldn’t make the images in my head come alive on the page in the same way that I saw them in my minds eye then I just wasn’t an artist and I should give up. I watched my father and grandfather draw beautifully intricate doodles, I saw my younger brother growing quickly in his talent (which he hid from most, while he was young) and I knew I just couldn’t compare. I loved art so much that I would look at the amazing drawings of my favorite artists and convince myself that I could never be that good. In truth I never tried. I never once took a class, I never once read a tutorial book. I never once spent time practicing a technique. This is just one example of many, many instances where I allowed the monster to stop me from trying something that could have been fun or a great experience all because I was sure that I couldn’t do it perfectly… I wasn’t afraid of failure, I knew it wouldn’t be abject failure but I also knew I couldn’t do it perfectly and so I quit while I was a ahead.

For Little Man, two years in speech for stuttering when excited were more harmful than helpful. Both of his speech teachers were amazingly kind and helpful, encouraging him with love and working with him to become more fluent. Both agreed that his brain simply moved too fast for his mouth and that this was a sign of his intelligence. He saw it differently. He instantly realized that his repetition of syllables, as he formulated his thoughts into words, wasn’t normal. He began stuttering more often, as a result of his own self induced pressure which caused even more frustration and tears. When we started homeschooling there was the option to procure speech services on our own but not only could we not afford them, we didn’t think they were a good fit for him. We consciously chose to stop doing speech and instead encouraged him to take his time to sort through his thoughts on his own. He still stutters when he gets excited and at times, depending on where we are, he gets visibly saddened. It is an instant reminder to him that he can’t do something the way he thinks he should.

Little Miss refuses to write. Little Man used to hate writing too but for him it was physical, his fine motor skills were weak and so it hurt to write very much, but Little Miss is very different. Tears well up in her eyes and anger lashes out at the mere mention of writing down any of her own thoughts. She loves workbooks. She loves copywork. She loves to draw and has the fine motor skills to do so for hours. The problem occurs when she has to figure out how to spell a word she hasn’t memorized yet. I have tried introducing her to phonetic spelling as is normal for kindergarteners and the thought of purposefully writing something that is wrong gets her angry. Throwing the paper across the room angry. Breaking pencils angry. Crying and yelling at the possibility of being so wrong. A conversation might go like this:

“Jo thats such an amazing story, why don’t you write it down for your journal?”

“Ok but can I draw all the pictures for the story?”

“Absolutely”

Three minutes later

“Mommy how do you spell farm?”

“Why don’t you try sounding it out? I think you can figure this one out because there is only one blend.”

“But then it might be wrong! I can’t do it! JUST TELL ME!”

“Alright lets do it together, Fff-AaaRrr-mmm, what letters did I use”

“F-R-M”

“Close but your missing a vowel, you did great, lets try once more ok”

“I told you I couldn’t do it! I can never do it! It will NEVER be right” followed by the ripping of her page or the throwing of her pencil.

It seems like such a mundane issue, something that I have never made a big deal of, something her brother used to struggle with too (and is completely developmentally appropriate for her age) and yet she demands absolute perfect the very first time, every single time. It makes it worse that this is the only area where she struggles. In general it boils down to anything that has to do with phonics but it is most prominent in her writing. She has no problem with getting a math problem wrong because the second I have her look at the problem she immediately sees her own mistake and fixes it without me saying anything. Writing, is an entirely other story.

There are a few things that we have done as a family to help everyone fend off the little bugger.

For Little Man, We have made it a point to tell him that he is not alone. His Grandfather and great grandfather also struggled with stuttering and they have both taken the time to tell him their stories. I let him listen to a TED talk with Megan Washington, an Australian singer who can separate her stutter from her professional voice. But above all, we have encouraged him to own his own voice. No matter how it comes out, no matter what he thinks it should sound like, own what it is, as it is. The result is that he is more confident in his own skin, more often. He still struggles, and he gets defensive but in comparison to what used to be… night and day!

With Little Miss we backed off. This is one of the reasons we choose to use child-led learning. We value the relationship over the concept. She will get it when she’s ready and as she gets more used to Phonics in general she will be more comfortable with how they work…in both reading and writing. We started the reading process because she wanted to read so badly, we have been following her lead this whole time and to me this shows that she is just not ready yet. There are other ways to write, there are other ways to get her stories written down and we have used those instead. Sometimes she dictates the story and watches me write it out underneath her drawings, other times I write what she says in highlighter and let her write it out on top in pen, still other times we write things on one sheet and she copies it on another. We find what works with minimal tears and focus on building relationships.

Then there are the more general ways we deal with perfectionism in our house.

– We listen to/watch Improvisational Jazz on youtube : The amazing thing about improv in any form is that there are no mistakes, or if you put it another way, the entire perfection of the show rests on your ability to make your mistakes in the grandest way possible.

– We look at professional art: Jackson Pollack, Dali, Picasso…even whole movements like Impressionism, cubism and pointillism are great ways of looking at how little mistakes can create beautiful masterpieces as long as you take a step back.

– We always watch the gag reel at the end of movies: because not only are they hilarious but I love how the actors always laugh at their own mistakes.

– When we are having a particularly rough time with perfectionism I always go to science: Science is filled with mistakes, even the scientific method is built upon the idea of failure. In science you learn nothing if your always right. The best inventions were born after years of failure or from complete accidents…hello penicillin.

-Our faith: It’s comforting to me to have a faith based on the concept that all humans have been screwing things up for Millenia…even when things are spelled out in front of us, humans still find a way to mess it up for everyone else.

Mistakes and failures help us to grow, teach us life lessons and make us stronger. Over my lifetime I’ve learned this to the extent that I can ironically write a post about Perfectionism, while dealing with perfectionism regarding this post and post it anyway. I am not perfect, I will never be able to claim that I have finished something to the extent that I believe I possibly should. My expectations are usually higher than my ability, and I know that my children have inherited this as well, but we are working on that…daily.

ninja

That little bugger still hangs out around here. The vampire that enjoys torturing us in such horrid ways will probably never be something I can completely get rid of, so instead we will learn how to repel it, fight it and remove it as quickly and painlessly as possible…like a tick.

This post is a part of the GHF Blog Hop on Perfectionism and other Gifted/2E Quirks

ghf blog hop pic may 2015

Dancing with Reality

I love to read. I absolutely, love to read. Over the course of the last six years it has greatly saddened me to find that my brain cannot keep up with my interests. I dream of a day when I can lay beneath a Willow tree, upon a soft blanket, lost in the pages of a challenging book. The reality however, is that I sit on my sofa or bed with a challenging selection, read the first three pages and then flip back to page one because I cannot remember what I just read…I will probably repeat this four times before giving up entirely. My mind is lost in a fog of inabilty, one that appeared out of nowhere and has destroyed the hope of once again realizing my ideal.

Whether the fog be attributed to my Fibromyalgia, Depression or just Motherhood, I will never really know but I do know that I am starting to cross that bridge…at least for now, and I relish in the thought. My newest attempt at reading has been the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which my mother lent me along with some advice “It’s a great book but I really want you to read the first chapter where they talk about his childhood, early education and the atmosphere that his mother created.”

I’ll admit thats exactly what I planned to do, just read the beginning and hand the book back…and in a way I might still. I’m only on chapter two after all and I’m not sure my sensitive nature can handle the subject matter right now (huzzah, I was able to remember everything I read, the first time!) but I didn’t just read the first chapter, I read all the way to the end of the second- in one sitting and again a second time because I wanted to. I poured over it repeatedly.

Immediately, I knew why my mother wanted me to read that section. Bonheoffer’s mother had created my ideal and over the last few years I have attempted to create a very similar environment for my children. Overall achieving varying degrees of success.

The picture painted is that of an atmosphere of freedom and learning with a growing focus as a child grows in maturity and age. A place where animals are welcomed, natural collections gathered and displayed prominently, and imaginations fostered beside strict guidelines in proper or logical speech. Their Mother, Paula Bonhoeffer, held a distrust of the Prussian school system’s ability to handle the sensitive nature of her young children and opted to teach all 8 of them (all born within a decade of each other) at home until they were eight years old. Music was strongly encouraged, readings from the Bible occurred daily (her father, brother and grandfather were all theologians), and scientific thought was expected from all (their father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a leading scholar and professor). Twaddle, as Charlotte Mason calls non-healthy mind food (otherwise known as ideas), was not permitted and all of the children grew into intelligent, humble yet confident adults with a great deal of compassion and a great sense of justice.

I read this in awe the first time. Nodding my head along as I saw the same kinds of bents and leanings of my own educational philosophy. I found myself thinking that if Paula could do this with 8 children and less education than myself, then there is no excuse for me not to also do this with my four and the Internet.

Then I read it again and paid more attention to the details. Yes she ran the house, taught the children and created a loving environment rich with experiences but she had help. Lots of help! She had a governess, a nursemaid, a housemaid, a parlor maid and a cook. They even had a vacation home where the children went ahead of their parents under the guidance of the governess and nursemaid.

WOW! What I could get done with all that help!

I quickly, realized that I tend to assume an idealistic picture of others based on the superficial picture that is presented to the world without actually knowing how they get it all together. Based on my second assessment, I must be doing an amazing job if I can get though homeschooling, with a decently tidied home and some sort of meal prepared at the end of the day…even if that meal is a frozen pizza. Creating a realistic view of what is attainable within the confines of my expectations is just as important as planning out my day, week, or year. This is especially important for me as I plan out next year and try to meld together the idealistic idea of how I want my home to run with the reality of what we as a family love to do.

For me this means that yes, I can start traditions and build habits that lead to a healthy and wonder filled childhood for my littles while also allowing for their love of junk. I can successfully combine a child-led education with a thoroughly varied selection classical ideals. I don’t need to outlaw things or censor because I think the best way to go about it is to use the dieting adage of 80-20…80 percent healthy 20 percent fun. 80 percent of focusing on habit trainings, reading great books, asking deep questions and searching for answers through play while still allowing for 20 percent of My Little Pony/Ninjago/Lego Avengers binge marathons and Captain Underpants.

This is how child led works in a house that values traditional parenting structures. I say yes more than most traditional Christian parents, I rarely say no to activities unless they are dangerous or lead to unacceptable behavior, but I am still firm in my expectations and will often offer alternatives that sound like more fun (leaving the choice with the children). We don’t allow baby talk unless it is part of a make believe scenario, we expect our children to express themselves verbally and have taught them how to do so… we have also taught them that not everyone is capable of such expression. We havebuilt a foundation where they know that their ideas and thoughts are welcomed here and that they have a safe space for expression and explorations of all kinds. We have blended what works and what we believe to be healthy and it works for us, just as others blend things in other ways that work for them.

There are times when I read things written by Pure CM’ers or Radical Unschoolers and I think “Wow, that sounds so amazing” and then I romantically imagine how I could implement such a thing in my own home only to feel dejected when it doesn’t work because I didn’t take into account the reality of our lifestyle.

I’ve come to realize through excerpts in books like Bonhoeffer and blogs that make it a point to show the behind the scenes view occasionally, that balance is a delicate dance that every one learns over time. Some are talented enough to figure it out on the first try, while others take years of practice. Some can gracefully incorporate the two seamlessly and others fake it till they make it. I am beginning to find my way through the song. Things I once thought were fantasy are starting to become traditions, like reading as a family before bedtime instead of being so completely exhausted that we collapse in front of the TV, and my reality is starting to resemble my ideal…but it took years to get here.

The same thing goes for my Reading… I remember the idealistic times of my youth where I could lay about for days at a time completely immersed in my newest selection. That’s not possible for me anymore. I don’t have the freedom to get lost in a book nor the mental capacity because I don’t have cooks and housemaids to help me along this journey. I do however, have an hour in the afternoon of mandatory quiet time where I can get partially lost or at least begin to challenge myself once again and another hour or two after the children go to bed. It has taken me years to find the my way but I am finally joining in the dance.

I am a happier person because of it.

 How about you? Are there times when you’ve been able to find the harmony between your ideal and reality?

Dancing with reality

Building the Foundation: Education in the Early Years

An amazing early education does not need to be expensive, confusing or require tons of prep work. There are entire websites dedicated to educational projects to do with young children and while these are very helpful sometimes they can overwhelm. I see the evidence of this every time I spend any amount of time on a homeschooling facebook page as I scroll past the multiple posts of young moms who are desperately trying to give their children the best.

building the foundation

I get that. I totally and completely understand that drive to create the most amazing preschool program possible. The drive to create that picture perfect private school education (that you wish you could afford but just can’t) at home fills moms around the globe with crafters jealousy and Pinterest fury. From the dyed pasta noodles to the homemade play dough, we all want the best.

The problem with this line of thought is that we often bite off more than we can chew. Instead of doing one or two planned crafts a week (you know those kinds that require obscure materials or recycled pieces that need to be collected) we delude ourselves into thinking that we need to have one or two everyday. I used to work in one of those fancy preschools and we left those crazy awesome, but oh so time consuming, projects for once a month! The other problem is that there has been talk in multiple circles  (here, here, here, and here) where the idea that this model is the best has been questioned and that younger children (under 7) need less school and more play. Moms are busy enough, children need open ended play, they need time to pretend, play with blocks, time to be outside, etc… so where do we start? How do we create a foundation for learning that spans the years regardless of how we end up educating them down the line?

#1: Let them play.

For moms with only one child or with a large age gaps between children this means finding outside playmates or becoming the playmate and it does make it harder but it is so necessary. Let them explore their world, inside and out. Let them get dirty and make messes. Let them climb sofas or cabinetry. Let them empty the pantry and stack your canned goods while you cook. Let them bang on pots and pans as they discover things around them. Let them build with Legos for hours at a time. Let them wear clothes from your closet and walk around in your heels. Let them tinker with electronics, sticks, rocks, dirt, or teach them a skill like sewing, woodworking or yarn crafts (like knitting or crochet).

letthemplay

Give them hours of unstructured, unfettered playtime. They are not wasting that time. They will build their core muscles allowing them to have better concentration, as they grow older. They will learn how to focus, problem solve, and they will process things they learn as they play. Allowing children time to create imaginary worlds has actually been found to help them with creativity in STEM skills later on, so encourage that World building!

Here is the other side of letting them play…let them play with words, letters, numbers and other more schooly subjects. It doesn’t have to be a workbook or curriculum and it doesn’t have to be forced either. Playing with magnetic letters, drawing pictures and writing stories together. Playing with chalkboards, white boards or boogie boards to develop writing skills. Counting M&Ms, playing dominoes or Uno, baking…there are so many ways to incorporate learning into play without making it a chore for mom.

#2 Go Outside

Whether your child is six months old or 15, being outside in nature is necessary. Whether it’s a local park, the beach, lake,  river, pond, wildlife refuge or a nearby farm, being out in the world regularly allows your children to see the world as it’s meant to be. It allows them to see cycles naturally occurring and helps them to place themselves in the wider context of reality. Watching life cycles happen on a screen is vastly different from catching and releasing or actively observing nature in real life.

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Even if you don’t know the names of the plants, animals or insects that you see, there is so much you can learn on a twenty-minute walk. Don’t just wait for the weather to be good either, proper clothing makes all the difference and the coolest things to see are happening on rainy days, windy days, just after thunderstorms, early in the morning and in the late afternoon. Visiting the same pond you always visit in the summer can be like a whole new world in the dead of winter.

Journals are great, whether you draw them or just let your kids take pictures with your phone. Smash books can be a fun alternative to a nature journal with printed copies of photos, collected leaves or sticks, and little notes or feathers found along your journey all smashed inside. No matter how you record your time out there the point is to do it and observe the untouched world around you. If your not used to being outside for long periods, then gradually build up until you find yourselves enjoying the outdoors for hours at a time or driving thirty minutes just to go hiking down a forest or mountain path. Even a small amount of regular unstructured time spent in wilderness can help build a scientifically curious mind and open doors to other kinds of STEM learning activities.

#3 Read, all the time… or as much as your voice can handle

Reading to children builds emotional attachments, language, reasoning, logic and widens their worlds with every page. Reading out loud to children regularly can also help to create a sense of warmth within a family, providing a safe place to explore a million wonders. From birth onwards being read to can be an amazing experience and just because a child can read doesn’t mean that they still can’t get a lot out of being read to, even teenagers. Board books like Goodnight Moon, fairy tales and folklore, fantasy, scientific articles and exploratory encyclopedias all have their place developmentally, even if the child is not sitting still while being read to.

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Also, don’t limit what your reading. Lately there has been such a huge focus on STEM related activities that some have started to doubt the importance of the humanities in the process, but we cannot forget that science and technology do not exist in a bubble! STEM is the how, Humanities are the why and both are necessary to change the world. The greatest scientists are also great lovers of the arts and having a balanced education leads to a well-rounded adult. Three year olds love poetry, five year olds love math books, and twelve year olds love picture books, expand your literary horizons and explore the world through books. If you feel like there needs to be more that’s fine but keep it simple, children don’t need lots of extra work sheets to go along with books, usually conversations are good markers of depth and understanding.

#4 Go Places

Take your children places. Teach them about the world that they live in, introduce them to science, languages, cultures, art and music by taking them to places that have them. Go to museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers, fire houses, police stations, Post Offices, grocery stores, restaurants, book stores, small shops to talk to local business owners, art galleries, plays, concerts… the possibilities are endless. Finances shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you plan out when your going where because even for museums, galleries and concert halls (think orchestras) there are programs in most cities that offer free days or homeschool options.goplaces

If you are too far away from a city to take advantage of these kinds of things then get in touch with the art, music and theater departments of your local high schools or colleges and plan a yearly big trip over a long weekend to your nearest city for a museum, zoo or aquarium visit. If a trip is just not in the budget or within driving distance than get online and take a look at the worlds most amazing museums virtually, many have wonderfully detailed websites. If there are local landmarks or historical places nearby get familiar with the places and stories that make them memorable. Don’t be afraid of doing things alone, don’t be afraid of misbehaving children or that your children are too young. If you get into the habit early of exploring the world then your children will learn how to act under various circumstances and they will learn how to cope with new things.

#5 Technology is a tool, use it

We live in an amazing time where all of the world’s information is easily accessible with a few flicks of your fingers. Unfortunately as adults we are afraid of the technology and we allow that fear to dictate how we live and learn. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to help them build healthy relationships with technology. I don’t believe that you can do that by limiting and censoring technology but you can do that by modeling healthy technology use.techuseit

We practice screen free days and we have days that are filled with multiple uses of screen technology each one depending on the day. Some days we are so busy living life that we just don’t get around to screens, we don’t specifically call them screen free days, or weeks, they just happen naturally. On the other hand when a question is asked we find a way to answer that question using any method available. Whether that be videos found on You Tube, Netflix or Amazon or a quick Google search on a computer or tablet, all of these options are just as viable as picking up a book, although usually faster. We supplement many of our screen free activities with a visual or hands on enrichment activity that can only be used via modern technology (apps, games, internet, videos, documentaries, etc…) and often times they challenge further and deeper thought in ways that I could never have planned for. Especially for a gifted child who craves more and more information at levels that often go over my head, knowing how to use technology is an absolute!

That’s it.

These five are the basic building blocks to an amazing foundation, sure you can add in more like montessori manipulatives or mixed media arts and crafts but thats just extra. Regardless of the educational philosophy, intensity, schooling difficulties, or family income, any one can create a world-class education at home during the early years. Love immeasurably, keep it simple, learn from the Masters, and let your child teach you how to teach them. Everything else is icing on the cake.

Home, Sweet, Home

“Do you like your new house?” Grandmama asked him as he showed her the deck that extends from the Master Bedroom.

“Yes and the best thing is that its OURS!” Little Man responded with a huge smile.

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This right here cut straight to the core of my being and I had to struggle not to cry a little when my Grandmother told me what he said. At only 7 years old he has perfectly captioned what this move has meant to us all. My first home, My husbands first home, the place where we will raise our children and watch them grow. This is all new to us, to all of us, even to my parents. The concept of a home that is not temporary or owned by someone else is so foreign to us that my mother’s first question when we showed her the still empty possibility was, “What wall are you going to use to measure your children against?” She didn’t ask where my furniture was going or what colors I would paint until later, the first thing she thought of was that we could permanently measure our children’s growth on a wall and they would see it for years to come.

Just one of many quaint little ideas in my head that have been shaped by years of societal conditioning regarding exactly what a home should be, and honestly, this house has it all. The backyard that backs up to trees and a creek. The finished basement with playroom and workbenches. A red brick fireplace. Garden beds. I am seriously in heaven after a year in that tiny little apartment and so are the kids. There has been this almost magical transformation in our household but there has also been a realization brewing in my head. All of those pictures of successful, happy families living in a clean and orderly houses that have fueled years of perfectionism struggles and keeping up with the Jones’ mentalities are pushed onto people who are not yet ready or not able to have that lifestyle. It did for me and it kept me from enjoying where we were for a very long time.

Example #1: The sparkling clean kitchen.

You know what bugs me about this? The idea that magazines and HGTV make it look like even in a small kitchen it is completely possible to have surfaces that are so clean that your reflection shines off of them and if your kitchen doesn’t look like this well then you must be a lazy slob. Let’s be honest though,even if you do keep your kitchen immaculate it doesn’t sparkle. At least not for any family that is scraping by or living on a budget and actually uses their kitchen regularly. Most families can’t afford shiny, new countertops and so they have the laminate that collects every stain from splattered spaghetti sauce ( that was made in a hurry on a weeknight before rushing off in a hurry), has lost its shininess from constant scrubbing or is barely visible because with only two or three square feet of countertop space between the stove and refrigerator it has to be covered up by the coffee maker and toaster that are used every morning and don’t fit in your already filled cabinets.

Most families with small children are not living in their dream home, especially ones who are trying to make a single income work in this economy and are trying to make what they have beautiful. We have had some places where the sink and countertops were so small it looked like I hadn’t washed the dishes in weeks after one Saturday morning breakfast at home. That’s all it took to make my kitchen look like a disaster but you know what, my family was happy. The children still crowded around me and tried to help out, we still baked cookies (using every square inch of open space between the kitchen and table just to let the cookies cool), made healthy dinners and worked together. It was harder to clean, it didn’t look as pretty and there were times where I thought “i’ll be a better mom, once we have more space.” and the me now who has that extra space does exactly the same things I did then and I wonder why I ever thought I wasn’t already a good mom.

Example #2 the Renovation craze.

I fell for this hook, line, and sinker. Pinterest, HGTV, Better Home and Gardens and all of those other DIY/How to marketers tricked me into thinking that stuff was easy and inexpensive. I couldn’t wait to live in a house that I could change to perfectly fit me and within days of walking through our dream house I already had plans for half of the rooms in the house. I had paint colors chosen, new floor ideas for some of the rooms, possible kitchen demolition plans forming…I hadn’t even received the keys and I was already trying to change it. It was also the same thing that had me so unhappy in all of our other places. It wasn’t mine so I couldn’t paint. Why spend that money or put in that kind of effort for a place that belonged to other people? It just didn’t make sense, but I had bought into the idea, I dove head first into “I love You, Your perfect, now Change.”

Now that we live in the house, that wall color that absolutely had to go, yeah, it’s still there. The floors that needed to be changed are not so bad, I still want to change them but it is not an urgent need. The kitchen counter will probably be laminate next year too. Why? Because, none of these details are what make this our home. You know what does make it our home? The fact that it belongs to us. That’s enough. The garden beds are over grown with weeds, the play set could use some TLC, the grass is almost as tall as Itty Bitty and not one of those things changes how happy we are to live in this house. All those things that I thought would make me a better housekeeper or mother are nothing compared to the attitude of joy that has come naturally with home ownership…but why couldn’t I look at our other houses the same way? How do you make a house your home?

#1 a sense of responsibility.

Not once did I ever consider those other houses mine. They were temporary and I knew it. I treated the houses as temporary too and my attitude towards a temporary home lacked any sense of responsibility. If something went wrong we just call the landlord/maintenance, we rarely even took the time to know the manufacturers names of appliances let alone specifics. This was our game changer and I had no idea how important this was. We always treated the houses we lived in with respect but because they weren’t ours we didn’t allow our selves to gain any responsibility or even build any real connections.

#2 Routine/ Rhythm

This was actually the one thing we always did have and it made our transition into the new house go so much more smoothly than expected. We still have boxes everywhere but the books are unpacked and we had poetry tea on Tuesday just because it was Tuesday. We homeschooled all the way through the move, not because I wanted to look like super mom or because the state required it, but because it’s what we always do. We still went to piano practice and the library, we still read ten books (albiet on an empty floor with boxes piled around) just because. Keeping a rhythm has helped us transition.

#3 The Stuff

This is number 3 because it actually is important. People always talk about how unnecessary all our stuff is but you know what, when we moved into the house (before all our stuff was delivered) the first thing Itty Bitty did was ask to go home to her “tiny, little bed.” She loved the house and hated the apartment but she wanted to go back to the apartment because that is where the stuff was (in her mind, in reality we had already turned in the keys). We all loved the empty house too but it still felt like an empty shell until the stuff was delivered.

So whether your living the quintessential dream, building a home or borrowing one, home doesn’t have to be so far away. Home could be tiny or grand, near to family or in the far reaches of the world. Home could be a planned out and well executed investment or a happy accident… all so long as you decide to be home. Bloom where you are planted. Not just in your community or through your activities/ actions but also in creating your home, sweet home.

Methods vs. Philosophy: Inspiring Purpose for your Homeschool

Some people find an educational method that is so in line with their personal philosophy of education that it perfectly describes how they want to teach their children. Others are more complex and don’t quite fit into any one box.

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There are so many posts out there about educational methods that I won’t take the time going through all of them. Instead I am going to write about finding what works for me.

Some call this the eclectic approach. For us that sums it up but I prefer to call it Unschooling Charlotte Mason because the two methods that best describe our learning environment are unschooling and Charlotte Mason. In reality the truth of the matter is that no matter which method you choose there will always be purists or radicals that stick almost dogmatically to the tenants as written about by the original authors. I have no ill will towards these people, I am simply not one of them. I will never ask what Charlotte Mason would say about xyz and I will never be called a radical unschooler. Like pretty much everything, there is a scale, and I am a centrist.

Philosophically, I identify with unschooling more than any other and use unschooling as the foundation of our schooling style. We are entirely child-led and we strongly believe in respecting the child as an autonomous entity that is capable of understanding and communication at developmentally appropriate levels. There are some misconceptions about unschooling out there that bother me, such as the idea that parents who practice unschooling don’t parent at all or that it is a lazy way to school. Neither are true, at all, even the most radical unschoolers are parents to their children who are teaching and imparting wisdom in very deliberate ways, it just looks different. When it comes to parenting we are more traditional than most unschoolers but that doesn’t mean that we respect our child less than others, it is simply a construct of our family dynamic. We personally do not reject social constructs but rather strive to build an understanding regarding the necessities of certain social constructs and to logically and respectfully decline the necessity of others.

Where unschooling is our foundation, Charlotte Mason provides our tools. Philosophically, I also identify with many of the concepts and reasonings behind the Charlotte Mason Method but what I use the most are the methods. I love the focus on literature, the arts and nature. I find that the short lessons fit well with our sense of respect for the developmentally appropriate needs of curious children and that copywork is a light introduction to a lifestyle that incorporates literacy in communication. I am not a fan of the schedules or rote memorization as they are used in some of the more strict CM households but I understand why that works for other families, this is where our foundation in unschooling is most apparent. followtheleader.jpg

The following are other influences on our educational philosophy that I don’t often mention but are equally important in understanding where I come from.

The Waldorf method uses natural or nature based materials as well as focusing on handicrafts as an important part of understanding your role in the greater world around you. We really like this aspect as it speaks to our more simple outlook on life. I love that it focuses more on creating than our more materialistic society with its need for more stuff.

Maria Montessori espoused the idea of allowing children to do everything adults did but at their own scale, which I think really aids in developing a self sufficient and confident child.

The Thomas Jefferson method has the seven keys of education, and I honestly agree with every one of them. They just seem like practical nuggets that make sense and they fit well with most of these other philosophies.

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My husband laughs and says that I am a hippy, with love of course, but I don’t feel like I fit into that category. Each of these aspects speaks to my desire for a more simple life. I prefer to follow in the footsteps of my great grandmothers who raised families almost a century ago. The raisers of the “great generation” to me did something right, something I wish to recreate in my own children. There is a sense of entrepreneurial spirit, strength in faith, respect and self discipline that I see in my grandparents and admire.

I can sense my own materialism, I can see my own self indulgent lack of discipline and my Vitamin D deficiency is proof of my need for more time in nature (which surprisingly, has lately been far more relaxing to me than a pedicure) and I want more for my children. I am not naive enough to think that I can return to that time or that I would even want to, I’m too much of a feminist for that. As a Puerto Rican Woman there is no way that I could have the kinds of opportunities that I have now, then, nor would my daughters. I do, however, want to take the aspects of that simple life, the freedom, the simplicity, the focus on respect and use them to balance out the indulgences of our hyper technology driven (automatic) present, while keeping in tact some of the more progressive improvements.

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I enjoy taking the time to make our food from scratch, even if I don’t do it that often, because I want to eat real food and I want my children to see the effects of hard work. I enjoy spending three hours out in the woods because it allows my children to organically learn in a way that just doesn’t compare to reading a book (that almost feels like sacrilege to write!). I want to teach my son and daughters how to sew because it is a valuable lesson that can be used later in life. I want them to be able to see art from around the world because it is culturally relevant and creatively fulfilling. I want them to have a deep love for great books but I refuse to force them into reading monstrosities they are not interested in, which is why reading aloud works so well for us.

I will not force my children to study history chronologically but I will offer them a timeline when they want to see how things line up. I will not force my children to practice piano but I will show them inspirational videos of famous pianists who talk about the importance of practicing. I will not tell my child that they must finish that book, but I won’t buy them a new one in the mean time and I won’t let them ruin the ending by watching the movie version.

I may not look like a CM’er and I may not look like an unschooler either, because I’m both with bits and pieces of others mixed in. On some days I may sway more towards the side of CM, with my focus on living books and narration (usually in the Spring when we have the most energy), whereas others are purely unschooled with the children entirely leading the way (mostly in late autumn when it is darker out but the weather is still decent). Even on those days I’m still practicing both methods, in fact I am always practicing my own special mix of all of these because the method in which we homeschool is based on my philosophical understanding of life, the universe and everything. (42?)

I am influenced by my faith, my relationships with my family, my relationships with traditional schools and school teachers…everything that I am is a combination of experiences and ideas that have solidified themselves as a part of my personality. I am me today because of it and I should expect that it will influence my parenting, my community association and yes, the way I feel about education. As will everyone else’s experiences shape how they approach education (as teachers, supporters or homeschoolers). I would go so far as to venture that most homeschoolers are eclectic which, I will define as being educationally influenced by multiple educational methods. Yes, there are the purists who hold true to a single view point out there but I think that people are probably more inclined to pick and choose aspects from multiple sources, even if they only claim their main method.

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If you know someone who is struggling with homeschooling but doesn’t want to throw in the towel, or can’t, remind them that the stylistic options are as numerous as the sun. Keep what works and tryout something new for those things that don’t. No two homeschool families will look exactly the same because no two families are exactly the same. Whether you are going to pick up curriculum or not, how you approach learning as a family will be directly linked to your families philosophy of education.

When your in those beginning phases of planing for next year (or if your just reassessing this year) make sure that your asking yourself the following questions.

What is my purpose, why do I homeschool?

Why do we school this way?

How is this helping our family grow academically, spiritually, and socially?

What am I expecting out of our homeschooling experience?

Is this realistic?

Who am I doing this for?

Where do you find your purpose and inspiration?

Are you inspired or are you just trudging along?