Books that Changed My View of Education

 

 

Books have always been a huge part of my life. Not too long ago I wrote post about books that had a lasting impact on my life, which got me thinking about books that have affected change on the way I homeschool. Sometimes I read a book and immediately know that its story has impacted my core values. Other times it takes a while for the value of the narrative to sink in.

I’ve shared a lot about how my educational philosophy has changed over the last 15 years. Looking back, I can see some books that convinced me that a lot of what I learned in college was wrong.

 

The Trumpet of the Swan

by E.B. White

When my two oldest were little we read a lot. I think we were doing a unit study and discovered this darling book by E.B. White. I had somehow escaped childhood without reading it, so it was new to me as well. When you’re discovering new things right along with you children, learning is always a little more fun.

Louis is a trumpeter swan who cannot trumpet, and has no way of telling the swan he loves of his feelings. This story is a journey through Louis’s self-discovery. It’s a book about finding your way and about belonging.

Here’s what I loved: the story is great, but the discussions that my kids and had while reading it showed me what deep thinkers they were. Louis became like a friend that we discussed even when we weren’t reading. We started to make up stories of our own. We researched trumpeter swans, their habitat, and dreamed of seeing some in real life. The Trumpet of the Swan taught me how a book can spark an interest and open the door to  history, science, geography, math, art, and much more.

 

The Secret Garden

by Frances Hodgson Burnett

 

There were quite a few books between The Trumpet of the Swan and The Secret Garden – too many to name here. Around that time I had fallen into the trap of trying to replicate school at home. I had three children who were miserable doing worksheets and timed quizzes but I didn’t know any other way.  I thought crying meant that things were going the way they should. Again, I can’t remember why we started reading it, but we became entranced in the world that Frances Hodgson Burnett created.

Mary Lennox is an orphan sent to live with a mysterious uncle in a mansion in Yorkshire. The story revolves around Mary’s discovery of a secret garden, and eventually two friends, Colin and Dickon. We delved into each of the characters, and even though Spencer was only around 4, we knew he would be just like Dickon -and he is. We talked at length about why Mary was the way that she was, and reveled in her journey. The adults in the story confounded us and I vowed to never be like them.

The book unleashed the idea that had been prowling in my head, the idea that children needed to be outside as much as possible in order to learn. The idea that children are natural learners who, when given the space and time, will learn more than I could ever teach them. This is the book I credit with helping me to stop fighting with my kids about worksheets and allowing them to explore their interests. The children in this story were each different, had their own life experiences, but each benefited from the same thing: being on their own in the garden.

I actually think I loved this book more than my children did.

 

The Sign of the Beaver

by Elizabeth George Spears

We re-visit this one every few years. In fact we’ll be reading it this winter. This book, by Elizabeth George Spears, is about a 13 year old boy, Matt, who’s father leaves him to guard their cabin while he brings his mother and siblings. So, it’s a survival story – and a story of self-discovery.

See the theme yet?

Matt quickly learns that he is out of his element and is befriended by a Native American. Now, I’m going to tell you there are some issues with this book. It’s not perfect. I’m not sure how accurately the Native Americans are portrayed, and some of the dialogue is not as smooth as it could be. What I latched onto was how capable the children in this book were. I know that it’s a work of fiction but it got me thinking about all the things kids are capable of. We keep them from doing anything not deemed ‘safe’, and I’m not sure that’s doing them any good.

After we read this book I made the conscious decision to let them do things that scared me. I did not want to force them to live under a roof my fears, so if they were game so was I. The girls climbed trees higher than I was comfortable with, and one of them was badly hurt. Spencer was ten when we let him buy his first knife. He cut himself right away. I found him bleeding in the laundry room. He was ashamed of his mistake and sure that I would take away his new tool. I laughed and told him no one would ever eat if we took knives away from people who cut themselves. Everything has a risk. We learn from our mistakes. We keep moving forward.

This book also encouraged the kids and I to delve into true Native American history, something we really enjoy learning about. We asked questions about how realistic this story is. It sparked some great discussions and again let us down the road happy road of unschooling.

 

Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series

by Charlotte Mason

My husband’s family was fairly anti-homescooling. A few would corner the children to quiz them, while one or two were bold enough to actually give me literature on why homeschooling was wrong for the world. That’s how a pamphlet called The Homeschool Conspiracy fell into my hands. This in-law didn’t read the book, though, so they didn’t know that it written to encourage people to homeschool. Hehe.

Anyway, a more benign in-law was cleaning out the church library when she came across these Charlotte Mason books. The series was complete minus one volume and she gave the set to me. I started reading and found myself thinking, “This is me! This is my homeschool philosophy!”

I felt myself relaxing as I read Charlotte Mason’s encouraging words.

Mason encourages gentle rhythms, lots of time in nature, short lessons, and lots of time discussing. Jamie Martin at Simple Homeschool wrote a great post on the characteristics of a CM education here. Find Charlotte Mason help here, and Ambleside’s free CM curriculum here.

Here at the Shepherd Abode we are not always Charlotte Mason. However, whenever I read her books or philosophy I always find myself going back.  The CM philosophy helps me to relax and enjoy education – and my children.

How Children Learn

by John Holt

So, to be truthful, until recently I had only read John Holt quotes. Last year I picked up a copy of How Children Learn. I didn’t read it cover to cover. I picked through different sections and found myself intrigued. The John Holt GWS website has some great information. The short of it is this: I believe that children absolutely learn best when self directed.

My only regret is that I didn’t find this out sooner.

The system that we are taught in, especially in the U.S., says that we have to meet benchmarks at very specific ages. To make sure that happens we force knowledge onto children. The strange thing is, children are natural learners; there is no need to force them. My youngest has never done a  ‘formal’ math curriculum but is at grade level for his age. We use Right Start Math – mainly the games. We talk about math always. He learned to count to 100 on his own. He learned to count by 5 and 10 on his own – because he was interested. 

In college everything I learned about education contradicted what I learned in child development classes.

I just didn’t see it until I tried to force my kids to learn.

On a side note, I’m not judging if you’re not here with me, if unschooling and Charlotte Mason freak you out. I do want to share the things that have helped home education work for my family, though, and encourage anyone  who keeps thinking, “This can’t be the only way.”  I do not believe that crying is part of learning.

 


 

I’m so thankful that these books found their way into my lap. I think my kids are even more thankful. Just talking about these books has calmed the anxiety that can rise up in my heart over multiplication and prepositional phrases. 

 

Are there any books that have re-shaped your educational philosophy? I’d love to know what encourages and inspires you.

 

Be brave, misfits.

 

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An Honest Assessment

I shared over on Instagram that it’s Laurel’s assessment day. Meaning, she has to complete a series of tests highlighting her abilities as well as her disabilities.

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It’s pretty stressful.

It requires about four hours of sitting and doing.  For a homeschooled student who does not do standardized testing it’s a lot. A whole lot.

I spend the time in the waiting room. It’s not bad, really. They have wifi, I’ve caught up on writing and reading. I don’t hate it.

I also reflect on our road to saying ‘learning disability’ out loud. It took some time, for sure.

When my husband and I were dating I remember teasing him that perhaps he had dyslexia. We were in college and writing papers was tricky for him. He basically wrote eight pages of run on sentences. Punctuation, capitalization, spelling – none of it was there. What was there was content. He was a great writer, and still is, but something wasn’t right. It was as if he didn’t even see what was missing.

He shared one of his most memorable moments from school, which involved not being able to memorize his multiplication tables. His parents and teachers often told him that if he would only try harder his work would improve. It boggles my mind that no one every noticed how his intelligence didn’t match up with his level of work.

Lee was left with the notion that he was lazy, didn’t apply himself, and was probably a little stupid.

That is the story of so many adults who have undiagnosed learning disabilities.

I don’t understand the shame that surrounds learning differences. The first time I asked Lee’s mom if she thought he could be dyslexic she blasted me. She angrily told me that he had a very high IQ, that he had been tested by several people, that there was nothing ‘wrong’ with him.

I quietly replied that dyslexia has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. We never broached the subject again, but the shame card had been laid on me.

When our first child showed signs of struggling to read the first person I called was Lee’s sister. She was a teacher, and I knew that teaching reading was a passion of hers.

Dyslexia is tricky, though, and many teachers are not trained to see its symptoms. Many times the symptoms are seen as stubbornness or an unwillingness to learn.  Lee’s sister suggested I call the local school and ask them. It was not a homeschool friendly area, though, so I opted to just figure it out on my own.

Man, was it rough.

I was so young and so new to homeschooling that I was overwhelmed by all of the choices. I tried to stick it out with a reading curriculum that came highly recommended. It was tear stained and tattered within the first three months of using it. Kiley and I both came to hate that book.

We were not like the homeschool families I read about or the ones who were highlighted in the news. I was not raising a future Scripps Spelling Bee Winner or someone who would be ready for college by 6th grade.

Which meant we were failing.


I don’t know why people do this, but when you homeschool friends and family think it’s fun to quiz your kids. Holidays and birthday parties became dreaded events because you never knew who was going to say, “What have you been learning?” or “Come read this book to me.”

Nobody likes that.

My oldest girls were in second grade and kindergarten, and both struggled mightily with reading and spelling. They went to stay with my husband’s family for a weekend.  After they’d been home for a couple of hours my oldest one told me they played school with a relative all weekend.

I felt the pit in my stomach and asked her to tell me more.

“We practiced spelling and writing,” Kiley said.

I smiled and asked if she had fun while inside I was fuming.

That’s the day I became an advocate for my children.

Perhaps there had been no malice behind the relative’s actions. When you homeschool there is often a feeling of suspicion behind questions about school, family or not. I’d way rather someone ask me, “How do you know what to teach your children?” than sneak them off and quiz them.

That incident taught me a valuable lesson, though. I learned that my children had no voice. They did not have the vocabulary to say to someone, “I have a learning disability.” or “I don’t want to do that.” “Mom makes me do that stuff every day. Please don’t you do it, too.” 

I became their first voice, teaching them to self-advocate.

Up until that point I’d been hesitant to share our struggles in traditional school. I felt like I was scamming people when  I said  my kids had dyslexia because I didn’t have an ‘official’ diagnosis from a psychologist. I also struggled with how hard to push them.  There were times when I allowed outside pressures (real or imagined) to influence our homeschool. I became the enforcer and said horrible things like, “If it’s hard we try harder.”  There was a lot of sitting at the table, and a lot of crying.

There were other times that I declared we would only read aloud and do art. I have tried to forgive myself for those early days when I was uncertain of what was going on. I was truly doing my best.

I see that shame had a huge role in my behavior. I was ashamed that I wasn’t a better teacher, that I didn’t homeschool hard enough.

I am so grateful I’m not in that place any more.

After that I decided to become an expert in dyslexia. I read as many books as I could find about dyslexia. Pro-tip: only read the most current material, otherwise you’ll end up even more confused. I told my kids they had dyslexia, and maybe some other issues that we would figure out.

Then I studied how they learned. I paid attention to what gave my girls a spark, what caused them to dive deeper, what made them ask questions. Then I did more of all of those things. Gradually we all began to relax about school.* When number three got to school age I didn’t panic when he began to show the same symptoms.

Also, there was never anymore ‘playing school’ while they were with relatives. If well meaning friends asked if they would read to them I gently informed them that reading wasn’t their thing, that it required a lot of work for them and that they just wanted to relax and have fun.

The only thing that exploded was my shame. It was gone the minute I said ‘dyslexia’  out loud to the first person outside of our family. It gave me permission to ask Sunday school teachers and co-op teachers to skip over my children when reading out lout in class. 

The amazing thing that happened was that people began telling me about their children’s struggle with learning, or there own struggles. Me sharing my stuff invited others to share theirs, which led to more exploding shame.

Hooray for exploding shame!!


I am still sitting in the waiting room, which means Laurel is still working. One of the things I hate about the assessment is the feedback. That’s when we sit down with the psychologist and review the test results.

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I’m not going to lie. The first time we did this I sat in the car and cried for a good thirty minutes, and that was after crying in the psychologist’s office. It’s one thing to know your child’s struggle. It’s another to see it written down in black and white, to see numbers attached to your child, numbers that cause that shame thing to rise back up.

I will push it down, though, because I have the secret.

I know that my children are more than numbers. I know that those tests cannot calculate their potential, cannot know that they were each handmade for a life only they can live.

Those tests cannot tell us what they were created for.

I know those things, but I also know my girl will be hurting this evening when she reflects on the parts that were especially difficult. I think I’ve heard it compared to asking a person confined to a wheel chair to show someone how hard it is to get up a flight of stairs. Alone. With no help.

These assessments, while necessary for now, are not the whole truth.

I will be content with paper telling us part truth, but my heart will know the whole.

 

My heart will give the honest assessment to anyone who will listen until my children can.

 

Be brave, misfits. Be a voice for anyone in your life who needs it.

 

 

*Mostly. I think when you have a learning disability ‘school’ automatically conjures up all kinds of weird, uncomfortable feelings. We can talk more later about anxiety and how kids with learning disabilities are more likely to deal with it.

When to Push

I try to remember the first time I thought that my kids might have learning issues. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the light bulb went off.

That’s the beauty of homeschooling. You figure out how your kids learn and you keep moving forward. At first it was hard for me because I’m a rule follower. If the instructions say to do it a certain way I tend to believe that’s how it must be done. I have figured out that instruction manuals are not always right.

I’m guessing it was around seven or eight years ago that it dawned on me that my teaching wasn’t the problem.  Well, I should say it wasn’t the only problem.

 

I’m a paper and pencil girl. I love to write. I think in words; short and sweet words, or long and lively ones. I learned to read before entering kindergarten. I any free time I had reading throughout my growing up years. I loved to practice handwriting for fun. Math and I have always had a tumultuous relationship, though. 

Reading made all of my children cry. All of them. It caused them great anxiety. For two of my kids writing is possible but laborious and not quite worth the amount of effort they have to put in. 

Dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia. We’ve got it all.

So how do you teach when learning is really, really hard? How do you know when to push, and when to back off?

First, observe how your child learns.

I was so surprised that my second daughter actually finds it distracting to be read aloud to, especially if she doesn’t have something to do with her hands. Her younger brother is the same way. We do read aloud with play dough, drawing books, and Legos. That’s also where audiobooks come in handy. They can do other things, and so can I, while listening to great books.

Another miracle came in the form of YouTube. There is total trash to be had there, for sure, but there are also some awesome learning channels. Spencer, my third child, takes in information best from videos or hands on learning. Then he dictates information back to me in a journal because writing is his mortal enemy. (We’re working on keyboarding and speech to text but this is a great way for me to see what info he’s taking in.)

If a certain curriculum that you bought because it was the best, or worked really well for someone else, doesn’t work for you DON’T USE IT. Or feel free to modify so that it does work for you. Ask your child how they think they could learn this thing.

Second, observe what your child is curious about.

 

My boy always has a frog or a lizard somewhere.

 

For kids with learning disabilities passion about a subject will always drive them over the speed bumps. It’s worth doing the hard thing if there’s a reward at the end. Plus, research shows that interest led learning is the way to go for children who learn differently.  My kids have taught themselves knitting, sculpting, chemistry, herbology, herpetoculture, drawing, cake decorating, ukulele…I could go on and on. I imagine that this goes for kids who don’t have learning issues, too. 

Don’t we all learn best when we’re excited about a subject?

Find what they’re interested and allow them to pursue it. Start with books at the library then try and find real life resources in your community. YouTube is an excellent source for this kind of stuff as well.

Build on their interests to teach them other subjects. Geography is not fun when you’re just memorizing things. However, when you’re learning where your favorite scientist or composer lived it suddenly becomes interesting. I tend to teach grammar through editing but we don’t get bogged down in too many details. If we’re feeling curious Purdue has an awesome website for that.

Thirdly, don’t feel sorry for them.

Frankly, this one was hard for me in the beginning. I still struggle with it a little now. Feeling sorry for kids who struggle with learning won’t do them any good. In fact, I look back I can see where I made some mistakes by parenting through guilt rather than compassion. There were times when I inadvertently gave my kids the impression that they were not capable of something hard. Then I had to do the  work of undoing that message.

The best thing I ever did was stumble upon Marianne Sunderland’s site Homeschooling with Dyslexia. I read a post about struggling versus stubbornness and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Knowing I was not alone, that I was not the only person in the world who had multiple children with learning challenges gave me courage. I re-evaluated how we had been doing school and I changed some things.

I’m still learning about education with my number 3 and 4 kids. I tease mine all the time about how it would be much easier for me if all their learning differences were the same. I do know now that to prepare them for the world I’ve got to teach them to work around their learning issues. We are realistic about what’s difficult but choose to focus on their strengths.

When my children were really little I used to say, “When things are hard we just try harder.” I DO NOT say that any more, partly because of this article. I have no understanding of how hard it is to learn to read and write with their issuesNow I ask them how we can work around it, what I can do to help. By allowing them to part of the solution I give their power back which helps negate the learning disability’s power in their lives. 

There are sometimes, though, that we take breaks from certain subjects. I do think that the brain needs time to process information. We don’t do spelling every day because 15-20 minutes three days a week is a lot of spelling for someone with dyslexia.  I’m using game schooling for math because paper and pencil just don’t work for Spencer.

To tell you the truth I quit doing spelling with my oldest two kids when they were in middle school. I didn’t know about All About Spelling back then, which is the best thing ever in my opinion. Every week the spelling list left them defeated because no matter how much time they spent trying to memorize their words it just didn’t happen.

If frustration levels are too high learning isn’t going to take place anyway.

Once we took the source of frustration away their spelling improved on its own. Texting, keyboarding, and speech to text apps were a huge part of that advancement. Some things you figure out along the way.

Asking my kids to explain to me what they’re learning about helps them, too. It’s called multimodal learning. Taking in information is important but so is relaying knowledge. 

Legos are an essential part of our homeschool.

 

Ultimately, figuring out when to push and when not to is about knowing your child.

I have to trust my kids when they say, “I cannot do this right now, Mom.” This requires me to take a step back from shoulds and have-to’s. I have to evaluate WHY I feel it’s important they learn this thing I’m pushing on them. Occasionally I’ve caught myself pushing because  I want to impress people with our homeschool powers.  I may have to remind myself (again) that education is not an emergency.

I don’t believe tears should ever be part of learning.*

I’ve learned that if I’m always pushing my kid they don’t learn to enjoy pushing themselves. I want them to enjoy learning for the pure joy of it, not because they have to. I’ve found thinking of myself as a guide helps. I’m not here to force them to learn things they don’t want to. Rather, I’m here to guide them toward the things they’re interested in.

Allowing my kids to be in control of what they learn has made them brave. They’re more willing to take risks knowing that ‘passing’ a class isn’t the goal. Although my second born loves to get A’s and complete assignments and make sure her grades are recorded. Still, she knows that’s not the most important thing in life, she knows that’s not what’s expected.

I think my kids are the biggest, best Brave Misfits ever.

I’m amazed that when I quit pushing they began to excel in certain areas. Sometimes I still have to nudge them along, and sometimes I have to say, “This is really important to me.” and we figure it out together. Overall, though, I’ve quit pushing. I’ve quit forcing, and we rarely have tears. I’m good with that.

 

Are there any areas you’re struggling with? Do you find it hard to know when to push and when not to?

 

*I am talking pre-school to third grade here. Sometimes as kids get older tears may be part of the process of finishing a project or a assignment. Tears may happen when you put down boundaries with them. I do not believe, though, that tears should be part of acquiring new information. That part should be fun and if it’s not I do think it’s important to take a step back and figure out the why of the tears.

Education is Not an Emergency

I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a fellow homeschooler where the conversation doesn’t fall into our curriculum choices, where we’re at, and what we’re working on. It’s to be expected. I mean, we’re somewhat isolated, no one taught us how to homeschool, unless you count the school system you were educated in.

The best thing that ever happened in my homeschool life was meet homeschoolers who would tell me the truth. They didn’t give me the jive that you learn to give strangers in public. They were honest with me about how much time they spent doing seat work, what they struggled with, what they did well.

These other mothers choosing to be transparent with me made a huge difference in how I homeschooled. They all echoed the same thing: “It will come when it comes.”

Meaning, sure you can push your kids to read, write, memorize, etc., but they’re not going to grasp the information until they’re developmentally ready.

It took me a while but I finally figured out that education is not an emergency.

At the beginning of our homeschool journey 14 or 15 years ago I had the kind of confidence anyone who has done a lot of reading on a subject has. I was armed with books that told me what my child needed to know when and was prepared to stuff my little kindergartner full to the brim. By second grade she and I both felt confused about the whole ‘school’ thing.

For me, her education was not going the way the books said it was. For her, her education was not going the way her brain said it should go.

I suspected dyslexia was part of the problem, but my intuition also told me that there was something else at play. My little one had things to explore, things to do, and I was holding her back with seat work and hand writing. I was impeding her development.

So I let her go. She and her little sister spent most of their waking hours outside, creating an imaginary world, learning about how nature worked on their own, and climbing trees. I started reading Charlotte Mason and John Holt, but also just watching them. I answered questions as they came up. We learned to identify birds and trees together. We attempted to garden.

In fact we attempted a lot.

I have a headful of unfinished projects, and a handful of favorites that stuck.

I found that I was learning right along with them, and by the time our number 3 child was school age playing was a huge part of our homeschool lifestyle.

I wish I could say that it was easy, or idyllic.

It wasn’t.

I still struggled with shoulds and have-tos in my own life and I pushed that onto my kids.

Some of my favorite memories of learning at home with my children revolves around read alouds, impromptu puppet shows, tea parties, and breakdancing. Those times were punctuated, though, with moments where I forced things on them because I thought I should, or felt we had to have a certain subject mastered. There were tears, from me and them, and more than a little reluctance about school.

Some friends thought that tears were a normal part of learning. I wasn’t convinced.

Of course, sometimes you have to do things that you do not want to do. That’s part of life. Kids are natural learners, though. They are instinctually curious about the world around them, how things work, and want to get to the bottom of the great ‘Why?’ They also want to please their parents. Those are their two main drives. So why make them compete with each other?

On a side note, I was also coming to the realization that my kids had a learning issue that was keeping them  from moving forward the way the books said that they should. I had thought that perhaps my teaching was wrong, that I just needed to do it harder.

I learned the hard way that gentler was the way to go.

All of my kids have dyslexia, just like their Dad, and some struggle with dysgraphia and dyscalculia, too. Sometimes sounding words, decoding, came easily, and other times it was like they had never encountered the word before. Copying was possible but tedious. Painfully tedious. Memorization was impossible. My husband’s sad story of being the only child in his 3rd grade class to miss the ice cream party for not memorizing the multiplication tables breaks my heart.

I refused to be the one breaking my children’s hearts.

A friend said to me, “If they haven’t memorized the multiplication tables by fourth grade, they’re not going to. Just let them use the multiplication chart.”

In other words, give them the tools to succeed.

Over the last 14 years my whole educational philosophy has shifted. I rarely think of ‘school’ as sitting down at a table and doing worksheets. I’m not afraid to change things midstream or research other ways of doing something. This year chemistry has thrown my daughter for loop, something that I cannot really offer a lot of help on. I can encourage her, though, and enjoy listening to her excitedly tell me about a different way she learned of doing things.

What I’ve learned is vast. I’ve learned that when my kids make huge leaps in learning, like reading or math concepts, they need time to process and reflect. Mastering a concept does not mean it’s time to push them forward. They need to play with the newly acquired information, to feel it out and experiment. They need to learn what they like about it, what they don’t like about it, and where they can apply the information.

It felt scary to let them take the lead on some subjects, especially the ones that are the hardest for them. There are times that I have to force intention into our days. We are all happier with rhythm. That said, kids have an amazing ability to learn if we let them. I need to provide the materials but let them chart the course.

I’m loving history but Spencer, who is 13, was not loving it. After a couple of weeks of frustration I asked him what DOES interest him about history. He immediately answered that he wanted to learn more about inventors and scientists during the colonial period.

Of course that’s what Spencer wants to learn about. He doesn’t care about wars and battles and Kings and Queens. But he’ll learn that stuff as he learns about what he’s interested in because that’s how information is acquired.

All I had to do was ask. He already knew what he wanted to learn about. He didn’t need me to tell him what, he needed me to show him how.

Take some stress out of your life and remove the 911 from your homeschool. I know it’s countercultural, I know it feels like people are breathing down your neck waiting to see what your kid knows. It doesn’t matter what others think of you and your life.

Education is not an emergency.

Write it down, heck tattoo it somewhere if you need to. Know that they will get what they get when they get it.

Be brave, misfits.

Go learn some stuff together.

 

How I Added Hygge to Our Homeschool

Homeschooling in December is my favorite.

I enjoy the holiday routine of staying up late, sleeping in, and eating whatever food is available in the refrigerator. We tend to stay in our jimmies more, read more, and play lots of board games.

There’s a more relaxed feel in the air during December

January and February feel like slogging through wet mud. There is so much resistance, mainly from me, to get back to normal. The truth is I do not like schedules, I do not like lesson plans, and I do not like forcing the kids to do ‘school’ stuff.

During an avoidance session I joined a group committed to hygge, a Danish concept that kind of means cozy, but also lots of other things. It was just what I needed. People from all over the world share pictures of hygge and other sweet things. I could feel the calm rolling in. That’s when I knew our homeschool needed hygge.

Here’s what I did:

~ I added some fire.

Fireplaces and candles are essential to hygge, it appears. Here in KY it”s been too warm of a winter to have a fire going. Thanks to Netflix I can have one, complete with the crackling, right on our television and it won’t overheat the living room. Then the television isn’t for movies; it’s a fireplace and my people quit thinking about what movie to watch.

Win, win.

I can not believe how calm and sweet it has made our morning and afternoons. I sit on the couch and read aloud, Liam builds with his Legos or blocks and Spencer does what 13 year old boys do while their mother reads aloud. Some days it still ends in goofiness (wrestling, arguing, or spilled drinks) but I just close my eyes and remember that for a few minutes it was calm.

You can’t even tell that’s not a real fire!

 

I’ve become a huge Brave Writer fan. In doing so I discovered Julie’s Poetry Teatime philosophy. It has to do with a candle, a table, tea, and poetry. We don’t do poetry every day, but we do journal and read the bible and it’s usually with a candle lit in the center of the table. There’ve been a few times the candle had to be put away because my little pyro’s just couldn’t quit sticking stuff in the flames, but that’s just par for the course around here.

They also make battery operated candles just for families like mine.

I still have some of our Christmas lights hanging around so we plug those in, too. It’s strange how my piles don’t bother me as much with dim lights, a fake fireplace, and a candle.  The kids feel my calm and feed off of that.

~We do ‘projects’ instead of school.

My boys immediately turn into beasts when the word ‘school’ is spoken. They begin all evasion tactics in a full on assault against my desires. So I don’t call it school.

We do projects now.  Liam, who is 7, gets to pick his own goals. I’m encouraging Spencer to do the same but he’d always pick Minecraft so I’ve chosen some things for him to work on. Also he’s almost to the end of his current All About Spelling level and is pretty excited to get to the next one. If I suggest to work on our All About Spelling project, he’s there…if I say, “It’s time for spelling,” he’s in the bathroom for the next 30 minutes.

It was a little change but it’s made a fairly big difference, especially for me. I still struggle with public school mentality. Our projects have helped me not get so bogged down in the details. I’m focusing on the big picture and then figuring what areas need some focus.

 

~ I removed should-ing and have-to-ing.

You know this is an issue in my life. I am not pleased that it’s part of my kids’ lives, but it is. For along time we lived under the weight of shoulds and have-to’s but I’m just not having it anymore. I’m replacing those words with ‘I’d like to’ and ‘would you think about’. This is something I must be diligent about, my friends. It creeps back into my language subtly.

“We should be done with this by now.”

“We have to get this done.”

You get the picture. 

All of my kids have dyslexia. You would think that with the fourth one I would stop the worrying about where they were educationally speaking, but it’s a struggle. My sweet 7 year old still doesn’t know all of the letters of the alphabet. Typing it makes my stomach flutter, and if I’m not careful I can really make our lives miserable. I could get nutty about sitting down every day and forcing his brain to do something it’s just not ready to do.

Instead, I choose to follow his lead. We are doing All About Reading together and he loves it and is proud of his progress and that’s all that matters. As long as I keep the shoulds and have-to’s out of it we have fun figuring it out, and I know that eventually it will come. 

The system tells us otherwise but there is no should with children. They get what they get when they get it. Give them a chance to explore, to grow in their own time and they will excel at the their gifts. I’ve seen it in my others, and I’m seeing it in Liam, too. 

Children are natural learners. They are curious, insatiably so, and if we let that be the lead they are free to enjoy learning. Once I take the worry of where my child should be, according to ‘them’, once I remove the have-to’s from our path there are no more obstacles.

We just go.

That’s totally hygge.

~ I stopped scheduling.

First of all, I’m not realistic in scheduling. I always try to do entirely too much. For a few years now I’ve broken up our day into 25 minute chunks of time, which is so helpful. Last week I was trying to figure out how to solve my time problem (again), which is that I enjoy being spontaneous but I also need a small amount of structure to help me focus.

In thinking about my day there are four major sections that I can break down:

6 a.m.- 10a.m.

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

6 p.m. -10 p.m.

Once I broke those down I wrote down the things that need to be done in each quadrant; meals, appointments, etc. In other words, events with a fixed time. I’ve been keeping a running list of the things I want to do daily for our school  projects. It doesn’t matter which quadrant those go in, we can fit them where they’re more convenient.

I was happy to discover that our day already has a pretty solid routine built in. Morning is when my boys like to be busy outside, or inside just playing, or fighting and arguing. Spencer does better working a little before lunch, then a little afterwards. He needs frequent breaks and lots of physical activity.  Laurel, my 11th grader, likes to have slow breakfast and then hit her bookwork hard. She’s pretty driven academically, whereas the boys…well, they don’t have that focus right now.

Breaking our day up into quadrants has really helped me re-evaluate all that we get done in a day. A lot happens outside the traditional 8-3 school time.

 

~ I quit beating myself up.

Okay, that’s a constant work in progress, but it’s a priority. It feels like there is so much resting on my shoulders. Homeschooling is a huge responsibility. There is no time off. Mistakes will be made by teacher and student, parent and child. It is a completely different lifestyle. While it’s becoming more mainstream it’s still countercultural and can be a little lonely.

I can beat myself up over all of the things I didn’t know in the beginning. I didn’t know you didn’t have to do everything the books said. I didn’t know tears didn’t have to be part of learning. I didn’t know my kids had learning disabilities. I didn’t know I could talk to other parents about my struggles.

Now I do know all of those things and I can share my journey with other homeschooling parents. I will always believe that sharing the hard stuff is essential to life on Earth. There’s still plenty I don’t know, though, so beating myself up is pointless.

I do promise myself to the best I can every day.

Sometimes my best looks amazing, and sometimes it looks like day three without a shower, gray sweatpants and dark circles. Some days my best is not amazing…and that is just fine.

~ I added music, outside time, and tickling.

Good music, different music. I had forgotten how much we love spontaneous dance parties. I found a station on Spotify called Concentration that is very calming for us. I search for music from the period we’re studying in history. Music is important. It gives you space to think, a place where your creative mind can wander.

The boys have introduced me to some ridiculous YouTube music as well. All I can say is Lord help us all.

When I was in college working in the university’s early childhood lab one of the big take-away’s was outside time. The little ones went outside every single day, no matter what the weather was, for two 20 minute recesses. I think it benefited the teachers as much as the children. 

Walking, hiking, and being outside have always been a big part of our homeschool but I can get lazy. Sometimes I get tired of the arguing, sometimes it takes so long to find shoes and socks that I don’t want to deal with it. What I know is this: we’re all happier and healthier when we go on daily walks. 

Walking together gives us time to talk, or be quiet, to process information we’ve been gathering, and releases pent up energy. The weather has been amazingly, strangely warm here so we’ve been taking advantage of that. Even on cold, rainy days though it’s important for us to get out. 

Lastly, and I know this seems silly, but I am being more intentional about tickling my boys. They still need to be played with and loved on in that way. There’s nothing like a good tickle fight to break down a bad mood, and when I hear them giggling in glee I can’t help but relax a little bit, too. Playing together reminds all of us that homeschooling is not serious business.

 

That’s how I’ve added hygge to our homeschool.

I’m curious if you’ve heard of hygge and if it’s something that you think about. Maybe this has always been a part of your life, maybe this is (somehow) the first you’ve heard of this.

Either way, let me know what you think. I’d love to hear other tips on keeping homeschool relaxed.

As always, be brave.

And weird. Weird is important, too.

 

What Works for Me

I’ve always been like this, as long as I can remember.

I am a flibbertigibbet. A dillydallier. A loafer.

If I have something to do, something I really need to do, I put it off.

Pathological procrastination.

I had it beat a few years ago but it’s definitely a rut I can fall into if I’m not careful.

This August I find myself doing it again. I think it’s because I graduated my first homeschooled kid and my load feels lighter. It could be that we  took the whole summer off enjoying days of empty schedules.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off and Marcella on Netflix. Perhaps it’s because I have been spending so much time planning a family trip to Ireland. I’m determined to stay in a cottage in Dingle. It may take us three years, but we’ll get there.

I feel so much better when I do what needs to be done in my life, but it’s so haaaaaaard to do it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an ENFP or because I have ADD or what, but getting stuff done can be difficult for me. 

Whenever I finally give in and start rolling with it, though, all is good. It’s all about taking that first step without focusing on perfection.

There are a couple of go-to’s for me when my brain is having a hard time helping me get done what I need to get done.

I love, love  FlyLady.  I borrowed her book, Sink Reflections,  from Mom a number of years ago and felt like her no-nonsense approach to house cleaning was awesome. One of the phrases she often repeats is “Start where you’re at.”  As the mom of young kids I needed to remember  that. As a chronic procrastinator that was the most freeing thing I’d ever heard.

Now, I’m going to tell you it can be overwhelming. I can’t handle her e-mails, they just make me feel like a failure, and I already have 1,000+ in my inbox.  FlyLady suggests you start here, and I do too. Just remember to do what works for you. For me, the Baby Steps and Control Journal were a game changer. I have a plan, and when I work the plan we stay on track with house cleaning. If we aren’t able to work the plan because of schedules or sickness I don’t freak out because the plan is there and I can get back to it. 

Ours looks like this:

Mondays: bedroom day; Tuesdays: bathroom, hallway, stairs; Wednesdays: living room, dining room, back porch; Thursdays: kitchen and grocery shopping; Friday: basement, laundry room, car; Saturday: yard work; Sunday: house blessing.

This doesn’t mean that our house is perfectly clean;  that’s not the goal. It just means I don’t freak out when people stop by unexpectedly or we have people over. 

Photo by Kiley Shepherd.
Photo by Kiley Shepherd.

One of FlyLady’s principles is that you can do anything for 15 minutes which is nothing but the truth.  This little revelation led to my next game changing discovery: The Pomodoro Technique.

 

Photo by Kiley Shepherd
Photo by Kiley Shepherd

This technique suggests setting a timer for 25 minutes and working really hard until it goes off. Then you get a 5 minutes break – better set that timer to 5.  🙂  For your break you can step outside for fresh air, do some quick exercises to get your blood pumping, organize a drawer, whatever floats your boat.  Basically anything that puts your mind somewhere besides the task at hand. After 5 minutes you go back to your task for another 25. I never work on a task for more than three 25 minute segments.

This has revolutionized our homeschool life, especially for the subjects that my kids hate. Especially for the subjects that I hate. When you know that there is an end in sight, that you won’t be doing algebra for eternity, you can work harder knowing you’ll get a break. I never have the kids work for more than two 25 minute segments at a time. After their two 25 minute sessions they get a 25 minute break to do whatever they would like. They know that even if a task isn’t finished we will come back to it the next day.

My goal in homeschooling is not to finish a book but to teach a love of learning.

Again, this method isn’t perfect and doesn’t make everything in our homeschool go smooth as a Little House on the Prairie episode but it sure helps. As with anything new there is a learning curve to using this method. For Spencer I had to set the timer for 15 minutes at a time when he was younger, and that’s like what I’ll do for Liam ( who is 6) when he starts doing tasks on his own. We’ve worked up to 25 minutes now that Spencer is 12. I probably need to revisit this method with Laurel, who is 16, and pushes herself a little too hard for my taste. Those 5 minute breaks are important, but so are the 25 minute ones.

I tell my kids this all the time because it’s true:  our brains need time to process information that we’re taking in. We need to be able to gaze at the sky and consider what we’ve read or watched on a video. I love Charlotte Mason and her theories on why small batches of really great information is much more effective than long (boring) periods of mediocre information.

My next step is to get a website blocker so that I cannot visit Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until certain times of day. I’m looking at this one, called SelfControl. We shall see. In the hour I’ve been editing this post I’ve checked Twitter 42 times and opened up 5 other tabs. HELP!

Just writing this post has motivated to me to start where we are! I’m actually feeling excited about our day.  I can do budgeting, meal planning, house cleaning, homeschooling, web surfing, etc., for 25 minutes at a time and get everything on my list, and then some, done.

Also, here are three blogs that I love for helping motivate me,  great self care tips, and just general awesome information:

  • The Art of Simple – Tsh Oxednrider and her writer friends are awesome.
  • Goins, Writer – Jeff is super motivational for anyone pursuing a dream.
  • The ADHD Nerd – Ryan has become is a new favorite. He’s real and helpful.

 

Do you have any pro-tips useful to combat procrastination? I’d love to hear!

Looking back…looking forward

Now that I have graduated one homeschooled kid and successfully gotten her to college, I feel like I can breathe a little easier. Suddenly all the things I worried about are diminished and all the ‘mistakes’ I thought I made look like they were meant to happen.

 

Thanks to the awesome Izzie Montgomery for Kiley's senior photos.
Thanks to the awesome Izzie Montgomery for Kiley’s senior photos.

 

The last few weeks have given me some time to look back on Kiley’s homeschooling and reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, and where I’d like to go with the remaining three.

Here’s what I think worked:

Allowing her passions to lead the way.

Kiley has always been a creative thinker, enjoying hours of pretend play and art work. She’s always enjoyed music and reading.  I picked up on the fact that if Kiley was passionate about something she would absorb the information better.

I know, duh.

Still, that’s not how we’re taught, and that’s not how I thought. I believed that if the manual had instructions it was because the instructions must be followed, always. It took some serious trials and more than a few errors before I realized I could do things my own way, or better yet, that my kid could do things her own way

When Kiley was ten or so she fell in love with YouTube. We bought her a camera and she had her own channel. She taught herself to film, edit, and add music to her videos. Kiley taught herself how to do stop motion film. She learned more about computers than I was able to teach her, and now she’s heading off to college to study film. So all that ‘wasting time’ was actually her honing in on her passion.

Kiley has taught herself to sew, Laurel taught herself ukulele, and Spencer became a gardener because they each found joy in learning those things, not because I thought it would be a good idea.

I learned if it’s important to them it needs to be important to me, too.

Letting her decide when she would work.

This one was hard for this first born mama. I like to be in charge, and when we started school I had certain ideas of what I thought education would look like. My strong-willed first born was much the same, so her kindergarten year sometimes looked more like a round of Family Feud gone wrong.  One day I got the bright idea to ask her what she would like to do first and was shocked that she had an opinion. She was never a morning person, ever. She’s always done her best work after being allowed to create and play and roam around outside. Kiley wanted to play first and work later. So we tried that and it worked. Getting out her creative energy gave her the room she needed to do seat work later in the day.

As Kiley got older I was able to turn more and more over to her. She learned to schedule herself and work on what she wanted to when she wanted to. Some years we had a homeschool schedule, but by the time she was in 6th grade it was up to her how and when she got her weekly work done. There were bumps in the road (like the time I discovered she had been watching Stargate Atlantis rather than doing her online math work), but we both learned what the other needed.

Allowing her to move on when something wasn’t working.

That’s not the same as failing. It’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses and deciding not to waste time with something that’s just filler. If it’s not something she’s going to use for the work God intends her to do it’s probably not a skill she’ll need to master.

That’s not to say if your kid doesn’t like doing basic math, grammar, or reading that you should just give up. Basics are important, but I do think that a lot of time can be wasted in an attempt to get kids to master every subject.  I feel like the word average has obtained a wrongful bad rap. What is wrong with average? You can’t be awesome at everything, but you can be really, really good at some things. Why do we want kids to learn so much before age 18, seriously? Unless they want to know everything, then it’s fine.

It will come when it comes, even if they’re 42 when they decide biology isn’t horrible.

 


 

There’s only a few things I would change if I could turn back time…

Quality over quantity…

I wish that I had understood earlier that what they learn is way more important than the amount of time that they spend learning.  I was educated in public school so I had this idea that ‘school’ had to happen between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., a notion that has been VERY hard for me to walk away from. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty that my kids played outside so much during their elementary years and only a couple of hours doing seat work. Looking back I don’t regret that at all!

What I do regret is that I felt like something  was wrong with my children playing outside for hours, exploring nature, figuring each other out, and making outhouses.

Yes, they made outhouses.

They also learned about nouns and verbs, but I think the outhouse was more practical. 😉

Comparing our home educating journey to…anything else.

There is no comparing public school and home school. They are two completely different beasts. Things could have been easier in my earlier years if I had recognized that there is no comparing two homeschools, either. Just like each person is uniquely made, each family is unique. What works for us may not work for someone else.

We did a certain math program for two years (two very long years) even though it did not work for us. I  thought that I had to because it was the best. It said so in the reviews, my friends loved it. Never mind that there was three pages of reading before the 100 math problems and after the timed math facts review, and that the pages were soaked with their tears 5 minutes in to the eight hour lesson. It was the best, darn it, so it must work.

It took my brother, Erik, cleaning my homeschool room, leading to us losing our math books for months, for me to realize that homeschooling without tears was possible. We got rid of that math and did other things and guess what? We were fine. Better than fine, in fact.

Our best homeschool years happened when I asked the kids what they wanted to learn about and combined that with what I thought was important for them to know.

Not making my mental health a priority.

Homeschooling is hard, there’s no way around it. It’s never ending, there are no days off, and you will be giving a lot of yourself. You’ll be student and teacher all at once, you still have to be a partner to your spouse, keep up with family relationships, friendships, make sure you’re growing spiritually, feed the dog, take the kids to the doctor, and don’t forget the dental checkups, and cooking balanced meals, and…

You see how important mental health is?

Seriously, though, I wish I had checked in with a counselor sooner. You can always find free  Christian counseling or one that uses a sliding scale for fees. At the very least check out some self-helps books, take quiet time every day to meditate and pray, and talk to Jesus frequently, and by frequently I mean constantly.


Whew, that was way longer than I meant for it to be. Thanks for sticking it out to the end.

One of my favorite things to do is to do look back at the work the kids have done over the years, especially on days when I feel like I haven’t accomplished my goals. It makes me feel proud of the past and invigorated for the future.  Is it the same for you, too?

Happy Thursday, Misfits. Hope it’s been a good one.

When You Think You’re a Pro

Have you ever have one of those moments where you think, ‘I’ve got this figured out.’ Maybe you even pat yourself on the back, congratulating yourself for being so smart.

Isn’t that the worst move ever?

I did that this year with homeschooling. I thought I was a pro. I thought that because I’ve been doing it for so long that I had found the perfect formula and that I could coast through with my younger two.

IMG_3489

Ha! What a silly woman I am.

This kid, my 6th grader, my boy doesn’t fit my formula. I started hearing the dreaded words, ‘I hate school.’ on an extremely regular basis. Daily, often multiple times.

Then there were tears, from both of us, and I knew that something had to change.

The biggest reason that I homeschool is that I want my offspring to love learning, to have a passion for finding out stuff. I never want school to be something that they just want to check off and move on from. I want them to be life long learners and to embrace the awesome stuff int his world.

This kid, though. He’s tough. He learns differently because of dyslexia and dysgraphia and we’re always having to look at things from a different angle. My formula wasn’t working with him so I’ve had to rethink, restructure, and reorder what I think of education.

Again.

I don’t know how it is in other families but around here it is not a one size fits all. Each of my children learns in a slightly different way. Relationship is more important to me than report cards, but I have to remind myself of that every now and then. Honing in on each of the kids’ God-given talents, helping them find their passion and purpose is the goal of our homeschooling life, not mastering standardized tests.

In a culture driven by success it feels really, really weird to not be outcome oriented when it comes to our daily lives.

Confession: I had this moment of feeling really mad that he’s not able to learn in the sit down, get your work done and move on kind of way. I made the mistake (again) of thinking that if I  just taught him to work harder it would come. I was really close to giving out lines, thanks to my 4th grade teacher whose favorite punishment was lines that were actually freaking paragraphs. That’s when I knew we needed to do something very different.

This kid of mine, he needs projects, he needs a goal, he needs to feel that there’s purpose behind his energy.

I can remember feeling like school was a huge waste of time, that there was nothing meaningful in what I was doing. It seemed that it was all busy work. Not many teachers ever took the time to tell me that learning about the world helps us figure out where we fit. that learning about history teaches us about our future.

No one ever conveyed to me that  understanding happens in stages, not during a one hour class.

So why do I expect my kid to learn everything I want him to in a way that’s convenient for me?

This homeschooling life, for me, is all about learning that things don’t always look the way I think they will, that learning is not as straightforward as simply taking in information. This homeschooling life is fluid, full of wonder and excitement and a fair dose of frustration, and that is learning.

Homeschool life won’t look like the list you make in August, neat and tidy with perfect checkmarks to show you’ve done you’re work. Instead that list will be scribbled on, crossed out, erased and re-written. And that’s okay because life isn’t about getting it done neat and tidy.

Life, when it’s happening, can feel messy and maddening and you never realize the lesson you’re in until you look back and say, “Oh, look at what I learned!”

Homeschooling is the same. You and your kids won’t realize how much you’ve learned until you look back. So when you’re in the middle of it don’t be afraid to change course if it’s not working, especially if it’s just fear of what it looks like from the outside that’s holding you back.

Homeschooling life isn’t about what it looks like on the outside; it’s about what’s happening inside. The inside of our kids hearts and minds is always more important than the checklist.

A pro remembers that.