Onward!

It’s been a while since I last wrote and honestly the only reason why I’ve taken a step back from blogging is because I’ve been elbow deep in living the life.

onward

I have spent more time reading up on a philosophy I thought I knew while trying to concurrently implement elements that I have always cast aside in favor for other styles than I thought would be necessary. I knew I was going to have to change things up when I started the switch from mixing unschooling and Charlotte Mason to full on CM and I guess I was a bit naive regarding just how much unschooling I had taken on. I dropped Unschooling because I noticed that my children needed the structure more but I didn’t want to lose the atmosphere that we had created in the process.

When something’s not broken you don’t go trying to fix it and the one thing we had really accomplished with unschooling was that the children loved learning! The last thing I wanted to do was make them feel like they must do this checklist worth of subjects and to reduce learning to a chore when we had spent so much time building an atmosphere of learning. After thumbing through multiple free sites, I built my own curriculum for all three of the school aged children mixing sources from multiple grade levels to reach each child where they were at… or so I thought.

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After one six week term with my own CM styled curriculum I realized that mixing them just wasn’t challenging my oldest at all and my younger two really needed to be separated, so I switched things up again. For the first time ever, I moved towards using someone else’s curriculum. At this point I needed something that I could pull together within one week but that also didn’t micromanage my time with too many instructions and so I decided to stick with Ambleside Online‘s free curriculum. I knew that most of the books could be found in the public domain so I didn’t have to spend a fortune pulling together my resources and many of the ones that are not free I could find in one of the three counties that I have a library card for.

We have been at this now for 6 weeks- we should be taking a break this week but using someone else’s curriculum has been a HUGE adjustment for us and instead of being ready for a break, we are two weeks behind. It’s not that this curriculum is hard for us, instead its exactly the kind of challenge we needed, but trying to juggle the items listed on the weekly syllabus (which I LOVE the format of!) with the things that used to be considered electives has been a bit of a challenge.

I used to focus on Math, Phonics, and Reading and everything else just kind of fell into place and because we are always on the move everything fell into place easily. Now I am trying to read 35, 15 minute long, readings a week (years 1,2 and 4- the on demand non-structured preschool readings are not included in this number), regularly make sure we are adding in Nature Study, Hymn Study, Composer Study, Folksongs, Handicrafts, Geography, Mapwork, Plutarch, Shakespeare and Poetry all while continuing Piano Lessons, Science Classes, regular Field Trips and while adding in an engineering class, doctors appointments and our own fun readings every night.

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Dude, I can’t even express how stressed out I was getting over it all during the first two weeks. I read so many blogs and listened to quite a few podcasts trying to figure out how families larger than mine manage to keep this all together!  I was trying so hard to keep the atmosphere that we had created while trying to add in all of this structure because I could see the value in every single part. I knew that together we could have something pretty awesome but I also knew that how things worked for other people wasn’t going to work for me. I don’t have the energy to keep house along with all of this other stuff and keep up with friends or volunteering- all of which are important to me and I don’t want to cut back on- but something had to change. The kids loved school but I was getting too stressed.

So I looked at it from another angle.

Mornings don’t work well for us- at least not for readings. Mommy reading everything out loud, doesn’t work well for me. Schedules, well, I still can’t keep them, so I work with my own version. Routine…not my cuppa tea. So how do I fit it all in without making a schedule or routine, without me reading everything out loud and without bombarding our mornings with lessons?

scheduling

While daily checklists and scheduled routines do not work for us, loose weekly requirements do. What does work is making a big list of everything I want to do across all three years during the week on our big blackboard, choosing a handful from each year and fitting those in everyday. Somedays don’t work as planned, either stuff comes up that is just too awesome to miss out (like free children’s day at the Aquarium) or we are so out of it that school just cannot go on, but the system still works for us. All in all, it has allowed us to keep the atmosphere, find a rhythm, and it keeps the boredom from settling in. On the downside, we don’t always get everything to fit into one week, but we are doing so much regularly that it no longer bothers me.

I do not read everything out loud anymore- Man was this killing my voice and my daily productivity! Not enough tea or coffee to keep me from getting sleepy while reading out loud for hours on end. Only one of my four is a strong enough reader to read on their own but too much reading assigned to even him meant that his reading for fun habits were disappearing and I didn’t want that either. Instead we started finding audiobooks through our library (who uses hoopla) or Librivox  and we now listen in the car or they listen during quiet time on their own. If we are not listening together then I’ll read ahead on my own so that I know what they are learning too and narrations are always done with me so we haven’t lost the one on one time in the process.

Also I don’t do all of the readings in the mornings anymore. I spread them out throughout the day in between our other activities. What used to be scheduled from 830 am to 1230 pm now is broken up on the way to science or piano, in the morning before math/ copywork / nature study/ handicrafts or in the evening after dinner. This way we keep the fun feeling of reading with mommy but it doesn’t turn into a chore. Sometimes it’s outside under a tree, sometimes on the couch, sometimes while we eat breakfast… but most of the time we read when I know it will keep their interests.

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I was overthinking it all. I was guilty of overthinking again. I do this a lot. I compare what I’m doing with what I read and I wonder if I am doing it wrong or if I need to add such and such… in a matter of 2 weeks I lost my focus. I went into this school year with a relaxed attitude. I wasn’t stressed, I wasn’t over burdened…but then when I adapted to someone else curriculum I fell into the curriculum trap. It is a guideline, it is a philosophy, it is a lifestyle, it is not a how to. I needed to go back to how I viewed the curriculum; looking at it more like a booklist/unit and less like a manual. I am too literal to look at it like a manual. I stress out too easily. I overthink it too much and I forget that education is an atmosphere, a discipline and a life.

This is one of the greatest things about homeschooling and in an effort to create more structure I momentarily forgot that structure does not have to look like school to be effective. I don’t need to have blocks of subjects. I don’t need to have to do lists written out for each child. I don’t need to do it all. The children still need to be responsible for their own education and they need to work with me like they always have if we want to pull this off. I can homeschool in an organic way without being an unschooler and I can find freedom in a rhythm that is full of discipline.

I am, I can, I ought, I will.

This is our life.

This is not school.

We are individuals who were created in the image of the Almighty, we are each unique and in that uniqueness we are different from others so our school may not look like others do. We may have aspects that are similar. We may follow the same philosophy. We may even have many of the same struggles but what works for one does not necessarily work for another.

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So onward we move down this road, focusing on enjoying this journey because the destination leaves me with an empty nest, a thought I am not ready to rush into.

Change the Story

 2015 has been a year of change. Anytime this much change occurs in such a short amount of time there will be effects that could last a lifetime, but that’s not a bad thing either. Sometimes things that we love or things that used to work for us just stop working positively in our lives and in those moments we need to take charge and change the story.

Over the past few years we have created a lovely learning environment that was child led, interest led, and very much passion driven. It was (and still is for three of my four children) the perfect introduction to lifelong learning. We had just enough structure to get us from curiosity to exploration, just enough balance between masterly inactivity and living books all while staying true to our child led and interest led passions. For our family it was perfection, but perfection is momentary and does not last, nor should it last because as we grow so too do our needs, and that is where we find ourselves right now.

We have, for a very long time combined our favorite philosophies (as noted here) while leaning most heavily on the unschooling side of things, because that is what worked for us. Lately however, Little Man has begun struggling. He struggles with executive functioning, focus, and attentiveness in a manor that can be best described as being “an absent minded professor.” With him now at 8 years old and in what would be 3rd grade at the public school, we feel like we need to address these habits before they get any worse. We are also well aware that if he were in a more traditional setting, his behavior might be flagged as either a disorder or a disruption. We have no plans of going down the path of diagnosis unless he himself tells us that the issues are hindering him, but both his father and I feel as though we do need to do something to help him learn how to cope.

So here we are, in the midst of a major lifestyle change once again. The philosophies which we have still hold true, but right now we are experimenting with how much of each method is needed to best help him while also experimenting with diet, to see if that helps. All while trying to keep things as similar as possible for the younger three who do very well in the current environment. It may work for us to become a little more CM based as he gets older, or it may work better for us to regiment our time more often, rather than the subjects within them. I can’t say where we will be in a week, let alone months down the line or years but I trust that we will find a way that works for us and so we head into the unknown…again.

If anything, I have learned through all of this, that the first step to changing the status quo is recognizing that it doesn’t work. In this age of blogs, pinterest and youtube tutorials it is easy to see that there are a million ways to do the same thing but so often we get stuck in our pride or the ease of that which is familiar and we don’t want to admit to ourselves that things no longer work under that paradigm. We do it all the time, especially when it comes to education.

I’ve seen it first hand on a large scale, when a failing public school system refuses to allow a new option in, even if the new option will help the students.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to start a Charter school in some states?

After years of planing out a vigorous curriculum using all of the newest information about how students learn best, after months of recruiting the best teachers (who you can’t actually hire until the school has been accepted by the multiple school boards), creating a budget based on possible figures and estimates that will be scrutinized down to the penny by multiple boards, finding a building thats just right but you can’t yet lease, choosing all of the needed furniture or supplies but being unable to buy anything without funding… only to put years worth of work and collaboration before a school board, that is possibly corrupt or at the least doesn’t want to lose money from their own budgets (not every state works this way but some do) but has been labeled as a failure by the DOE. Let’s just say there is a reason why there is a lack of choice when it comes to schools in many districts. The bureaucracy is maddening and often reminds me of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Even when change is needed, even when change is the only option, we stare it in the face and ward it off as if it is some superstitious evil.

The status quo makes things comfortable, I get that, but comfortable people never affect real change in the world. Recognizing that something does not or no longer works is a positive thing. It is proof of growth. It is proof of a life being lived. Worn out shoes mean the owner is well traveled. Pants that are too short mean that a child is healthy. New jobs, new homes, new cities…new adventures… all are a part of growth. Without growth a story is boring to read.

Change the story. Add a plot twist. Take charge as the author of your life and change that which no longer works, even if you don’t know what is going to replace it.

changethe story

To be or Not to be… Content

Disneyland at Night

How do you teach a kid to be content? This is a world filled with people misusing the word “need” when the word “want” is supposed to be used and when feelings of entitlement are more common than grass. I struggle with this because it makes me wonder, how am I supposed to teach my kids to be content with what they have when I find myself dealing with the same inclinations?

For example, last summer as a “welcome home daddy” gift, my husband and I bought a set of annual passes to Disneyland. However, todays trip was different from the previous ones. My four-year old whined and pouted for the first 15 minutes ,I will mention that it was right after preschool and he hadn’t had lunch yet so I gave him until after lunch to stop or the trip was going to be nixed entirely which would have been unfair to my two-year old who had behaved wonderfully and was getting so excited, but really whining about Disneyland? Once his food was safely in his tummy his entire attitude changed to one of gratefulness but the entire experience started a conversation between my husband and I as we drove home this evening, is the act of being content a lost art?

My husband grew up in poverty (like a combo of third world country and inner city ghetto) whereas I grew up somewhere between suburbia and military housing, no matter how you look at it I was not in poverty, just middle class. Part of that middle class American background is to overuse the word “need.” Over the years he has often voiced disdain when I mention that we “need “to pick up xyz at the store when in reality I would just like to have that item in my house. It is something that I do unconsciously, I seriously don’t realize most of the time that I am being an ingrate. Yet it is so much more than just vocabulary, it’s an entire part of our culture that seeps into all aspects of life from a very young age.

When someone in our society meets a child over the age of five one of the first questions asked is “what do you want to be when you grow up,” have you ever thought about the significance of that question? You are asking a five-year old to put aside the playthings of childhood today in order to embrace the concept of work and adulthood. Yet despite this common quarry, we as a society get angry when childhood is forgotten too quickly . We tell children to keep trying and to keep working until a better outcome is apparent. Always encouraging them to aim higher. Somehow we are inevitably teaching our children to always want more out of life, yet at what point do we draw the line between healthy ambition and gluttony? How do we teach a child to aim higher while also displaying thankfulness for the life that they have?

I cannot claim to know the answer to these questions. After all it takes a lifetime to raise I child and I have only been doing it for four years. However, my husband did bring up some distinct differences between his childhood and mine that may have contributed to his inclination to be content.

The first is that there was no other option. Growing up with so little most of the time and being the oldest and therefore the one responsible for his younger brothers (from as young as 5ish) meant that not only was he just excited to get something that would be classified as a want but that he also understood what kind of sacrifice that gift was and in turn knew not to question anything. For example, my husband can eat white rice, a banana and an egg for breakfast, lunch or dinner several days in a row. I roll my eyes in protest at leftovers that have been served more than twice in one week. I don’t think about the effort or sacrifice of an option, I would just like to make sure there are lots of them. The differences in these points of view are clear with this anecdote: while driving my husband to work one day my son asked why daddy had to work so much. My response was “because daddy is a Marine and they protect people” whereas my husband responded “because when I work I make money and money is what gets you food and clothes and toys”…daddy’s answer was better and even a (then) three-year old could tell. Which was obvious in that his response to me was “why” but his response to daddy was “oh, ok I love you and I will see you later.” It’s amazing how well he understood the concept!

Not long ago I read in a yahoo article (concerning saving money because who doesn’t want to save?) and one of the topics raised was how people who use credit and debit cards for transactions tend to spend more money than those who use cash. However what totally blindsided me was a comment (which I am pretty sure I have heard from both Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman but it wasn’t stated as bluntly) that when paraphrased comes out as “when you use a card you are showing a kid that he can fill up an entire cart with groceries, hand over a card and then get the card back, as if you’re not even giving something up in order to get your food.” How amazing is that for perspective! Maybe one way that we allow our kids and ourselves to be ungrateful is that we don’t feel the pain of purchases/choices? In fact I don’t think that I have ever forced my children to work for what they get, they barely even do chores (its one of those progressive things I am implementing in my house but im only about 2 months into it) let alone raise money or use it! Yet it may be time to start…however kids and money deserves its own post so back to contentedness!

The second thing that my husband pointed out was that his family practiced being thankful, not with cards or prayer but with actual thankfulness.If thankfulness was not obviously apparent immediately the gift or other options were taken away. I laughed at first but he was really quite serious. If his mom (a seamstress) made him an outfit or a meal that he refused to wear or eat than his mother would take away all of his other options leaving only the item given. We have tried this method with our sons picky eating habits and it usually works but I’m not sure if I would use it on gifts, clothes, or toys…I would most likely just send the child to time out and demand an apology and a thank you. Doest it work though…I’m not to sure, after all my son did whine about going to Disneyland…maybe it is time to implement more appropriate consequences. Hmmm…

I’m sure that there is more we could do for the curbing of gratefulness but does teaching a child to be thankful mean you are teaching them to be content? I would postulate that contentedness is a long-term lesson, one that is purposefully taught during times of heartache or unhappiness. One that takes years of conscientious dialogue that we force ourselves to make while we are trying to dispel tears and frustrations. Telling a child it will get better is so vague that it is impossible to know how they are interpreting “better” when what you mean to tell them is that everything is as it is supposed to be. I am in no way advocating that we end all encouragement as mothers, instead I simply encourage a dose of mitigated realism every now and again. After all it’s not just a matter of being thankful for the things we get but it is also being thankful for the things that we have despite what we really wanted. If the Marine Corps has taught me anything it is that what I want means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, it is always about the needs of the Corps. Life works the same way, just because I want my husband home for the birth of our last child does not mean that Baby Eleanor will wait until her due date. I have also found that happiness comes when you accept what you have and you learn to want what you already have. If we consistently tell our children that they can do better without ever preparing them for disappointment are we even preparing them for life at all and if we are not preparing them for life than what are we doing?

Happy New Year

Isa 42:16 "I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, In paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them And rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, And I will not leave them undone."

Its 2012!

With the on set of a new year I have decided to pick up blogging so that I can journal the process through which I am discovering life. We are in a constant state of organized chaos and this blog will help me chronicle the road from newbie stay at home mom to Supermom! Just kidding, I have no interest in being a super mom, I do however want to be a great mom that raises solid, God-fearing, respectful, successful (definition to come) kids without losing my mind or identity. Which is hard to do, especially when you add the Corps into the mix!

My husband calls me indecisive, I prefer to call it high achieving. You see I have always aimed for the stars only to be stopped by the glass ceiling.

As a child I wanted to be an astronaut (until the rocket ride at Disneyland c. 5 yrs old), President, Teacher, Baby Doctor (I didn’t want to deal with sick babies or old women, I just wanted to be the one to deliver newborns), Veterinarian (but I’m not a fan of cats, shots or poop), Lawyer, Archeologist, Literature Professor, Curator, Intelligence analyst, Foreign Aid worker, Lawyer, Intelligence specialist, Political Science Professor, Lawyer…are you seeing a pattern? Yet at the same time I wanted to get married young and have lots of kids.

So I figured hey,why not do both! All those movies and tv shows where super mom runs a fortune 500 company and still makes it to the soccer game and with the previous generations of females telling me that I could do anything I set my mind on all combined to give me this fantasy that I could have a family and a prestigious career right out of college with ease. So you can imagine my joy when I met the man of my dreams at 22 while I was half way through grad school, yep you guessed it! We fell in love, married and I got pregnant on our honeymoon! I was still able to finish an MS. in International Relations before the birth of my second so I continued to live the fantasy that I could have it all…and then I found out how expensive day care is and how small a paycheck is when you only have degrees and no experience.

It was than that I realized that at this stage of life I would have to choose. I am proud of my choice and feel that it was a series of random everyday blessings that brought me to this turning point, and I know deep down that I was made to be a stay at home mom to four children less than five years apart. It is not easy and I often have days filled with “Epic Failures.” Through trial and error I have struggled with balance and the strong will to work outside of the home. However, I have not given up on my dreams and goals, I have simply rearranged my timetables realizing the importance of parenting with a purpose. I now try to live from random moment to random moment, enjoying the antics of the three wee ones that have taken over our lives…even if it’s after bedtime.

Instead of New Year’s resolutions I am going to make this new year one of progress and growth. I will somehow, in all of the chaos and curves that make up my life, look upon my past and not see the random nature I once thought my life was built upon but rather a well laid path filled with unexpected blessings too numerous to count.

The roller coasters await!