IS THIS JUST IN MY HEAD?

When I received my diagnosis for Fibromyalgia the first emotion that hit me was sheer relief. I wasn’t crazy. The pain wasn’t in my head. I hadn’t imagined that life was getting harder. It actually was. Shower’s hurt. I still need to sit and rebuild my stamina before getting dressed after a warm shower, especially in the winter. Reading Political Science Theory (one of my favorite subjects) exhausts me, physically. There were and are real physical ramifications to my condition that pushed my family to start asking questions about my health. My husband was worried. My children noticed that I was slowing down. My mother was asking me to research why and find out what was going on. But it was about me. So therefore, I did nothing. For a long time I just dealt with the pain. When I finally went to the doctor to ask about my issues they ran tests… and nothing came back positive. They sent me to specialists and they ran more tests… and it was more of nothing. Finally, after about a year, (and that’s a short time frame for this process) of my husband forcing me to continue making appointments, I found a Rheumatologist who knew what was going on with me. He said I had a classic case of Fibromyalgia. The trigger points that were highly sensitive, the sensitivity to touch, the brain fog…it all fit. I was relieved. I wasn’t crazy.

It’s been over a year since I’ve last written. A lot has changed. I’ve come to acknowledge my health issues and I’m learning to live with them. I’ve been learning to say no. I’ve been trying to be purposeful in our homeschool. I’ve been actively working towards making my life cozy, not just in appearance but in a way where we actually love living everyday – even the hard days. Half of the year I teach, half of the year I volunteer but all year long I try to work on building my own interests. Yet even with all of this the one thing that I was adamant about this year was advocating for my children.

Is this all just in my head?

I knew they were gifted. I knew they were struggling. I knew that they needed something that the average homeschooling blog and a stack of education books just wasn’t giving me. I had no proof other than my own research skills but I knew that everything led to the same conclusion. In the same way that I knew that Little Man was more than just a bright, active little boy who needed more exercise, I knew there was more going on. He was speeding through information as if it was water and yet struggling to remember anything that wasn’t absolutely fascinating to him. Just like I knew that Little Miss was having a harder time with reading than she should be, even if she was technically too young to tell, there was more there and I knew it. She was arguing complex concepts or dissecting literary concepts I had never explained to her but she could not separate phonemes or even recognize the same letters out of context. I also knew that Curly Que was having a really difficult time with math. Sure she was consistently working ahead of grade level or at grade level in every subject, but she was working too hard to understand the Math when compared to how quickly she picked up every other subject. For an embarrassingly long time I wondered if she wasn’t just a happy, bright but normal child, but I thought that too when Little Miss was still in the “normal age” of learning to read. I know that Little Bitty is gifted, just like I knew Little Man was, no test to prove it but anyone who knows her questions how so much is contained in that small body. She is consistently keeping up with her two sisters (who do everything together) and even outpacing them from time to time in some places- when she wants to. So far she isn’t showing signs of distractedness or impulse control issues or EF problems like the others did (or at least not to the extent that the others did) and she doesn’t have a specific area that seems to slow her down, yet… but at 6 neither did Little Man. Where he was a sensory avoider, she is a sensory seeker. Where he jumped ahead in language acquisition, she jumps ahead in mathematics. They are so alike and yet so completely opposite that I just figure there’s nothing to be done with her but to wait and see. All of this I know, I knew. Before testing, before an assessment, I knew.

This wasn’t some desire to be a part of some elite club. I wasn’t identified as gifted as a kid. I wasn’t in one school long enough, I was a girl, I was Latina, I was military, it was the 80’s/90’s that didn’t exist… who know’s why, but I slid under the radar and was forever the weird kid. Sure I was the nice weird kid. Sure I made some friends…kind of.  I had skated by, possibly 2E me had somehow made it all the way to high school without being noticed. So when I started researching what was going on with my kids, I thought this was all in my head. Others insinuated that it was all in my head. That I was one of those parents trying to push my children to do more, faster, than was developmentally appropriate… but I wasn’t. I was just trying to meet my child where my child was already at. I remember how boring most situations and places were. I remember analyzing how people acted and how their facial features contorted in order to figure out how smart I needed to be that day. I remember teachers commenting on my potential. I remember daydreaming, a lot. I remembering forgetting what the teacher was talking about while she was talking. I remember struggling with math concepts and being much slower than everyone else but my grades were too high for anyone to notice while still being the lowest of all of my grades. I remembered all of this and I wanted better for my children. Don’t we all? Isn’t that the universal cry of parents everywhere?

You see I knew my children were different, and I homeschooled them to help, but it wasn’t enough because I didn’t know how different they were. I needed help understanding exactly what I was dealing with. So I went to the Doctor. Again. and Again. and Again. and Again. If I could have afforded the cost, with hindsight, I would have just paid the money for an out of pocket full assessment. But we didn’t have that kind of money. We were forced to go the death by referral route within our insurance. For us the struggles were interfering with daily life and we needed answers. For each of my three oldest children.

After three years of advocacy, this is what I’ve learned.

Not every doctor can tell the difference between severe ADHD + Giftedness and a completely normal child.

Not every doctor can tell the difference between a child who is just slightly behind in reading and a child with severe Dyslexia + Giftedness.

Not every doctor can tell the difference between a child with Dyslexia and Dyscalculia + Giftedness and a neurotypical child.

Not every doctor will be professional and keep their opinions about homeschooling out of the testing process.

Not every Doctor will even understand what a Neuropsychological Evaluation even is and this makes the process longer.

Some will have never heard of sensory processing disorder and will tell you, without listening to why you are in their office, that your children do not have autism because they can look the doctor in the eye.

Some will still claim that ADHD and Dyslexia do not exist. Still.

After meeting each of these kinds of doctors and leaving in tears or with formal complaints in hand, it was a relief to meet a series of professionals who listen to the children they test (and their mothers), who are up to date regarding the research, and who generally treat every person who walks through their door with respect.

Looking back know I should have known which ones were going to be helpful and which ones were not. The unhelpful doctors looked at me like I was crazy. Like this was all in my head. The helpful doctors listened to what I was saying, took the time to talk to my children and often asked me why I was there and what I thought. They sought my input.

Finally, after three years of fighting to get answers, I feel that same relief as before. I am not crazy. I was not making things up. I have the paperwork to prove it. But more importantly, I am armed with a better understanding of my children and that helps me to be a better mom and teacher.

IMG_0726 2I knew that Little Man had ADHD but I didn’t KNOW. I didn’t want to give him excuses so sometimes I was strict when I should have been understanding. I knew he had issues with executive functioning but that didn’t meant that I was regularly on top of giving him lists for things because there was a chance that he just needed to try harder. I know how hard I’m always trying and yet my executive functioning issues get in my way but I was afraid of making excuses for him and as a result I only sometimes approached things as teachable moments and sometimes as frustrated mom who just can’t do this anymore. It’s been two years since his diagnosis (he was first) and it has made a huge difference in how I parent him. I pick my battles. I make extra time for forgetfulness. Yet even with knowing that he had ADHD I had no idea how bad it was until he was fully assessed. Why would I get him fully assessed even though I already know he’s super smart and has ADHD? Because puberty is almost here and his memory has gotten worse. It has become so bad that I was wondering if there was a case of stealth dyscalculia going on (especially after his sister was diagnosed and that runs in families) but it wasn’t. No learning disabilities at all for him, just one of the lowest possible working memory scores based on the test he had taken. NO WONDER! Suddenly all of my biggest school issues made perfect sense. It looked like he was slowing down, that little boy who consumed new information like water was now refusing information or fighting it. That kind of a major personality change made sense with this new information. As he had slowed down, so had I. Rather than continuing on with information that was fascinating and interesting and moving at the speed he had always thrived at, I had slowed down to remedial work to keep up with his output. I’ve since stopped that. The memory work is still there but its a very tiny part of a much bigger selection that actually interests him and because he’s interested in the other parts that challenge him, he works well on the remedial parts that are necessary. I would have never figured that out without the assessments and I am so glad that I know that now. It has also helped his relationship with his father. Now that it’s not just me saying this is what’s going on, his father is able to be more understanding when it seems like he’s ignoring directions- he’s not, he’s just still focused on the first one you gave him. The evaluation helped us, both of us, to understand him and our relationships are better because of it.

Curly Que’s assessment was a huge surprise. I knew that she was struggling in math. I had no idea that she was struggling with reading. What I thought was distractibility and impulsiveness was frustration and anxiety. My girl has stealth Dyslexia (no they don’t call it that but it is what best describes her) and Dyscalculia. I had no clue how hard she was working every single day. She is so smart that it looked like she was at or above grade level in everything and yet she was struggling this whole time and holding it all in. I am a better parent to her because of this. I know that I have to give her more breaks. She is also in OT for sensory issues but some of those sensory issues were anxiety reactions to the sheer frustration that she felt regarding school. Gameschooling is so good for her. So is baking. I have had to be more open about what I accept as school work and I have to be more purposeful about the atmosphere that we’ve created to meet her where she is. She needs both. She still wants to be an engineer but now she wants to travel the world helping small communities and she still loves math, even if its hard.

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The insurance didn’t see a need to give Little Miss a full evaluation, and frankly neither did I because her SLP was an amazing woman who really gave us a thorough understanding of just how hard she’s working every single day.  It is a very real struggle for Little Miss in ways that Curly Que hasn’t let on. Phonics lessons are becoming more of a mainstay in my curriculum, regardless of how advanced her literature books are becoming. So are Audiobooks. So many Audiobooks and Podcasts… too many to listen to in a week. She still loves Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Robert Louis Stevenson. She still loves to write even if she is just now remembering to add vowels to her phonetic spelling. She hasn’t lost the love of language that she was born with, which in its own way is a beautiful thing.

Little Bitty tearfully exclaimed in the doctors office that she wants Dyslexia too, its not fair that her siblings all get their own cool superpowers and she does not. I warned her to be careful what she wished for. She has her own superpowers, she just hasn’t figured out how they work yet.IMG_0723

I’m proud of my superheroes. They are learning to wield their super powers for good. I use to joke that they would either save the world or destroy it, only time can tell which. Now I’m leaning more towards saving it. They are growing into such compassionate children and their struggles don’t define them but they have helped shape them into passionate and determined children with a wicked sense of truth and justice all backed with an ability to preserver that I could not have fostered alone. I’m excited to be on this journey with them, to see what they grow to be.

In any case, I called it. That duality that I saw in them that screamed there was more beneath the surface… I told you so. the assessments proved me right, but even before they occurred, I knew it all along.

It was never just in my head.

I should have trusted myself.

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Finding a Fit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make Way for Breaks: Scheduling around Chronic Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our school year looks like this:

Term 1: July &August

Term 2: Sept &Oct

Term 3: Nov &Dec- Holiday term

Term 4: Jan & Feb

Term 5: Mar &Apr

Term 6: May & June – Summer Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

For this year these are the options for my days.

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

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

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

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

Just Like… Me!?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now I face a new challenge.

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

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

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

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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.

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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

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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

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?