Before the Crazy Starts

Happy Thanksgiving Y’All!

I hope your Thanksgiving Holiday was full of joy and relaxation. I am so thankful for the blessings of a somewhat normal year thus far (or at least what I imagine a normal year to be) that I’m actually a bit overwhelmed by it all and having a really hard time expressing myself adequately. So I’ll just get into it then. Ok? Good, here we go.

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Below are five thoughts that I’ve had over and over since this school year began. Nothing novel, but they have been so important to me this year that I thought I would start by listing them before the busy holiday season really gets going. I hope you find them as comforting as I have, just little reminders (to myself) of the top five most important things to remember for a smoother homeschool life.

  1. EAT! Food is delicious. Your children are fun to be around when they are well fed and their table conversations are hilarious! So don’t forget or minimize just how important meal times are. They form the backbone of our rhythm. Our whole day runs the most smoothly when it is scheduled around food breaks. These monkeys will actually keep still long enough to listen if there is food in front of them, and it is the one time of day when I don’t feel like ripping my hair out. Also, mealtimes around here happen as often as a Hobbits! Every two hours food is involved whether I am ready for it or not…so to be easier on me, just be ready for it. Oh yeah and don’t ignore the alarm on your phone that reminds you that a mealtime is coming up. Using the Snooze button also gives the kids an instant five minute warning, use it as a transition more often.
  2. PUT THE PHONE DOWN! My phone is my best friend and worst enemy…we are frenimes. On great days my phone is our booklist, audiobook player, random question answerer, or library. My phone is also my camera, and darn it these kids are just too cute, but seriously that quick photo can easily turn into my biggest distraction. On most days it distracts me from my greatest work and I know it. I am too easily swayed by those pesky red notifications. I am far too sensitive and my mood is instantly killed by the confrontational nature of so many social media responses or bad news. Each quick look can feel like a romp with lotus eaters. I miss too much, I get agitated too easily, and I waste too much time. Let the phone die at night. Leave it upstairs charging during the mornings. Out of sight out of mind works, remember…that’s why you own three glue guns!
  3. LET IT GO! No not the Frozen song…stop singing it- ugh, now I’ll have that song stuck in my head all day. I’m my own worst enemy. Back to the point- Relationships are stronger than any curriculum. Usually when things aren’t going well or when emotions are running high and everyone is feeling overwhelmed it is because the focus has somehow returned to a to do list mentality. Stop that. Just stop with the to do lists that you write down, forget about, find and then get angry about not finishing. Squirrels happen. When I am trying to check things off and I feel like we have somehow fallen behind I get crabby and a crabby mom ends up with crabby kids and nothing gets learned. Doesn’t matter if assignments are read or work is completed, there is no comprehension and anything we may have learned will be forgotten by tomorrow. When I try to buckle down and push through things get worse. But if I let go we naturally find our way back. This isn’t some magic spell, it is just the result of years worth of habit training. When we let go and just let loose we tend to gravitate towards learning activities, just not the ones we had planned and thats where the magic does happen. When I stop trying to force them into my plan I see the forrest instead of just trees. The learning is there, it is always happening I just have to remind myself how to see it and then I have to focus on what is not working and fix that.
  4. EDUCATION IS A DISCIPLINE. I don’t do discipline well but I am learning just how important that is for me. Especially self discipline, but also helping the kids build their own stamina and confidence. Gifted doesn’t mean easy and hard doesn’t mean impossible. My dad used to always say “hard work beats talent” and now I find myself telling my children this as well. For the first time in his five years of schooling your little boy is actually being challenged. Do you know what this means…let me remind you… it means a cycle of crying followed by silence when asked why, because things are hard and he doesn’t know how to break down hard. He doesn’t know how to work hard and it is kicking his rear! He is fully capable of doing the work. He gets crazy excited once it actually clicks but for the first time in his life he cannot just skim the reading and tell me what it is about. He is learning how to do close readings. He is learning how to look up word definitions. He hates it, and I hate seeing him feel like that but I know that feeling. Don’t you remember feeling that in college…just before changing majors because “I’m just not good at it”. Remember, he is not being lazy. He is building discipline. Just don’t make him do it for too long at any one interval, endurance is built over time.
  5. JOURNAL! Don’t forget. Make it a priority. Keeping Track of our days is worth the effort. Journalling what we do everyday (I use a bullet journal) really helps keep us on track, so just do it! Whether I am trying to accomplish something specific or it is a break week, knowing that I am writing everything down helps me to be intentional with our time. Whether that means doing a little something on Saturday because we needed a full stop on Tuesday or just remembering which books we actually read at the library, having every thing written down daily will help down the line. Don’t forget.

So there you have it. Five thoughts that remind me of the things that help to make life easier before this season runs off with my brain.

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What are your personal thoughts? You don’t have to write them here, although I am always curious about what other mamas do to keep the peace. I just know that reminding myself in writing helps me to act so I want to also challenge you to take a moment to jot down your top five as well. As the holiday season approaches I hope that you can find the time to remember to find grace, peace and quiet as often as it is needed because hidden blessings are everywhere.

-Tabitha

“Making Magic”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning is Magic.

Magic happens whether I plan it or not.

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

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

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

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

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

Making room for magic made all the difference.

It always makes the difference…

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

A Do Nothing Day

Everyone needs down time.

Everyone.

As an Unschooling Mom of Gifted Kids who usually drive learning of their own accord, I sometimes forget this. I worry that I’m not doing enough. I worry that I’m not challenging them enough. I worry that I am holding them back.

I forget that just because my 7 year old can read The Hobbit (and enjoys when I read it to him) doesn’t mean that he always wants to be reading at that level. Sometimes the only thing he wants to pick up is Click Clack Moo.

Just because my 5 year old enjoys learning about ancient peoples and is usually entranced with their lives doesn’t mean that sometimes she just wants to play Minecraft and watch Peep in the Big Wide World or Pokemon.

We Unschool so our days are very relaxed compared to those of others but in our house teachable moments and learning is an everyday activity. It’s how we live our lives. Not just Monday through Friday, not just during certain hours. Holidays, weekends… every single day is a school day. Yet even then there are periods of intense learning followed with periods of completely random acts.

Gifted Kids, Gifted adults… We enjoy learning. It’s an obsession. It’s a part of who we are and yet even for us there are times when we want to do nothing and learn nothing. There are times when no one cares if the moment is “teachable” and no one wants to ask or answer why.  Sometimes we just need to watch TV and not analyze the character development or the interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we want to play video games for the pure sake of playing video games, or play outside just to have fun. We need to do things that do not require any thinking.

I know this because I need it too. There are times when I don’t want to read college textbooks for fun and instead I find a handful of young adult Sci-fi/Fantasy novels and I loose myself to other worlds. I will read manga from the time my kids fall asleep to the moment they wake up. I know this and do this for myself but I often forget that my kids need this too, because we learn through everyday life and actions I forget that they need breaks too.

Of course not everyone looses themselves in the same way but there is always something. Something that a person does that is mindless, unorganized, and would otherwise be considered a waste of time and yet they love it.

I think we all need these activities.

We need these breaks from ourselves. Little breaks from our own inner dialogue to help us clear our mind.

Before the advent of modern technology human beings had the ability to do nothing. To sit in silence. To think without thinking about thinking. I believe that many of us have lost that ability. We have lost the ability to do nothing and in exchange we have found activities that become mindless. We need that time of nothingness, of mindlessness. I believe that it is an integral part of the learning and growth process.

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take the course this is all just my own personal way of looking at things, but I have discovered that during these cycles of nothingness or mindlessness our brains are subconsciously processing the vast amounts of information that we bombard ourselves with regularly. Once fully processed and organized internally we then transform the information into a part of ourselves. Usually this all happens completely unconsciously. We don’t think about how we internalize information and ideas unless they radically challenge us to think differently. So how do we internalize our everyday lives if we are not consciously thinking about our everyday lives and actions? I believe that we do this through down time.

I discovered this while watching my children play.

When they play they act out the things they have learned. I listen to their conversations and hear them using a lesson taught earlier in the week or month. It is how I know they are learning without the use of assessments.This happens all the time, it’s part of our “school” but I have also noticed that during times of nothingness the play changes. They no longer pretend using facts and learned ideas. Instead their play becomes more subdued. Less imagination, less action, less talking all while having more messes, more fights, and more relational subject matter.

After a good week or two we all slowly go back to wanting to learn, wanting to think and do. We return to our naturally intense state and as if a switch has been flipped understanding flows naturally. It’s like we are cleaning the slate and preparing ourselves for new learning…like defraging a computer.

We need this time. It’s not a waste of time. We need to embrace this, regardless of our lifestyles. Regardless of if you homeschool or do traditional school. Regardless of if you stay at home or work. Regardless of if you are insanely busy or not. We all need to do nothing once in a while.

Embrace it.

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The Failure Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

The answer scares me and challenges me.

We Fail.

All of us, openly and proudly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you brave enough to Fail publicly?

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

If so join me!

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The Birth, Death and Rebirth of a Writer

The awakening began at a young age. Entranced by words of all kinds. Emboldened by images that frolicked in the fields of her mind. Unaware of the weirdness that lie beneath.

Imaginary worlds were grown in the free play between siblings and neighborhood friends. Intricate story lines involving evil sorcerers and heroic princess’ being directed by a five year old to a group of children just wanting to play.

Never ending poems and songs being sung for HOURS while climbing trees and arranging Barbie dolls. Using the blocks to create a mall for the Barbies to shop in with their fabulous accessories while terrorist Gi Joes infiltrated the encampments searching for stolen jewelry to fund their campaigns. Always commanded by her little brother who was happy to play along if it meant warfare was immanent.

A world where anything could happen was fostered by her loving family. She was told she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. So she followed her passions, desperately trying to find enough information to quench her thirst. Her days filled with exciting explorations and action packed adventures, even if the only thing they did that day was go to the grocery store.

The heart of an artist was born when that tiny baby entered the world. The mind of an artist was cultivated in that dorm apartment of a young early childhood education major and her young seminary student husband. They read to calm her insatiable hunger for more. They sang to her and introduced her to their own passions. They raised a creative soul.

Then like all great parents of the time they enrolled her in a local school when the time was appropriate. They were active parents. A room mom and a supportive dad always there to help with homework and stand by as cheerleaders.

But there was something they didn’t notice. You see the other children and the teachers had expectations and she was so bright that she noticed what those expectations were. She knew what they wanted from her. Their actions and reactions spoke louder than any words.

They were quick to silence her questioning, her talking, her daydreaming. This was a place for learning. Pay attention. Stop talking. Don’t doodle on your homework. You’re such a bright child but you need to stop talking. Why don’t you apply yourself. If you’d just apply yourself you would be a success.

Sometimes through actions, others when they thought she wasn’t listening (but she was always listening) and other times straight to her face.

She liked being the good girl and so she conformed to their expectations. She stood in line when she wanted to dance. She wrote in sentences even though she thought a picture would describe it better. She tried to stop talking but her mind was racing so fast that she needed to let the ideas escape and so she found herself talking to anyone who would listen. She saw patterns in everything and when she pointed them out the teacher rejected it, saying that she wasn’t paying attention to the lesson. She would look out of the windows and imagine dragons and knights battling on the playground equipment only to be admonished for daydreaming.

The other children called her weird and bossy. Every year was a new school, a new system to figure out and new rules to adapt to. The imagination was always there but never vocalized, not any more. By the time she reached fifth grade she had killed off the writer inside. Buried her under all of the expectations she felt needed to be met in order to be a good girl.

She was praised for getting right answers, praised for doing as she was told and praise was good, so she did more. She was teachers pet but at the same time she was painfully aware that if she acted too smart then the other kids would turn on her and so she walked that delicate balance. Trying to please everyone, always.

After a decade of pretending, she was a broken shell of herself. Unable to cope with the expectations any longer.

She tried to find herself again. She followed her interests and battled the need for acceptance. For 15 years she fought the need to please everyone else. She fought the need to live up to others expectations and actually do what SHE wanted.

She was broken and trying to find an answer. In the darkness and solitude of the crowded world surrounding her she quietly picked up a pencil. No one saw her. No one noticed. But she felt alive.

You see, she was successful, she had become what everyone else had molded her to be. She had successfully created an image that others would approve of. Others were envious of her ability to do so much. She was happily (truly happily) married, she had intelligent and fun children, a Masters degree and an ability to make it look like she juggled it all.

It took her 25 years to come to the realization that she was a writer and perhaps an artist. That she needed to let those stories escape the prison her mind had become. She needed to express the incessant chattering and imagery that had always filled her mind.

It took motherhood to break her free.

It took seeing herself in her rambunctious, knowledge thirsty children with wild imaginations to realize that this was an integral part of her that could not be killed off.

It took playing with words at 2 am, nightly.

It took walking away from a night at home to a night at a coffee shop, surrounded by the peaceful silence of strangers chatter, with only her mind and a pen as company.

A writer was born.

A creative soul was created by an almighty creator.

Who are we to tell her that she needs to die?

Read some of Tabitha’s projects at Under the Fig Tree

Pirates, Faeries and Tea

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Want to know the secret to how things work for us? The answer is a simple, tea!

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I do not like fighting for attention. I do not like yelling and forcing my children to sit down and listen. It is one of the main reasons that I started Unschooling. However, just letting the kids do their own thing all the time scares me. It feels like I’m not doing enough to ensure that they are learning at appropriate levels, which is why I have incorporated some Charlotte Mason philosophies to our child led day. The most important of which, is living books.

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I start each unit with requests made by the kiddos. They choose two subjects that they want to know more about and then we hit up the library. We find movies that fit in, documentaries and cartoons as well and make a list of them together.

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Everyday we choose a few of the books…

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We choose our tea…

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And we get comfy!

The kids drink their tea, eat their snack and I use the moment of silence to read books and start discussions. When tea is done the get free play time, which almost always ends up being based entirely on the topics we just read. They naturally “narrate” in their own words through pretend play and usually they ask to make props that fit in with the topics as well. Most times those props require writing or research and often our discussions explore the less obvious sides of the topic. Then in the evening with daddy our TV time is focused on one of our listed shows.

The learning is so organic that they think “doing school” is just tea time!

For math we are switching things up and introducing a real curriculum because I feel that it is too important to be whatever about, but that’s another post entirely!

In the meantime their concept of school will stay at less than an hour of sitting and paying attention, because that is what they can handle and what I can handle. So back to the world of Pirate stories and Faerie Tales, our newest units of study!

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One block, two blocks, three blocks… Fall down

It is official! Homeschooling take two! Ever since we enrolled our son in kindergarten and gave up the homeschool experience for anything other than preschool I’ve dealt with a smorgasbord of emotions! Guilt for not sticking through with it, joy at the ability to let go and regain my sanity, anxiousness over whether or not his needs were being met and more than anything else an underlying whisper of apprehension about what was coming next

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I love watching my kids learn. I love answering the never ending line of questions, even if the answer is above their heads. It’s an integral part of parenting, it’s just part of the job description and I am more than ok with that. Its part of why we want to homeschool. Do I hate the public school system? No. Absolutely not. Some districts are better than others, some teachers are better than others, some students thrive in that environment, some don’t have a choice. I have that choice.

I want to raise my children in a way where they can be prepared for a world that disagrees with our beliefs. I want to raise children with a strong moral compass. I want to raise children who know how to debate, think, make a logical argument and who know where they stand in a world filled with relativity. I want them to enjoy learning. To dissect problems with tenacity and creativity. To think, read, write and create.

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As I write this my four year old princess is creating a tower. She has built and rebuilt the tower nine times because each time it falls. While I write this I have been challenging her to think about why the tower is falling. We’ve talked about gravity, perseverance, anger management, architecture, physics, geometry, measurement and aesthetics. It’s been a work in progress and worth every minute. I don’t want to give this up. I don’t need to. I can provide this kind of learning environment for them. I can give them individual attention. I can, but not alone.
It takes a village, and I plan on using everything that God places before us to live out what God has placed on our plate.

Psalms 127:4
Like arrows in the hands of the warrior are the children born to a man in his youth.

May our arrows fly free and straight until they find their God given mark.

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