Letter 22 Striving

With my youngest child approaching her final year of homeschooling, I find myself once again reflecting on my thoughts, attitudes, ideas and approaches of the past 20+ years of homeschooling, writing letters to my younger self.   I hope that these letters will also be an encouragement to you in your homeschooling journey. So, picking up from where I last left off, here’s the next letter in my “Letter To My Younger Self” series

Letter 22 ~ Striving

Dear younger Nadene,

Striving is defined as “an attempt, to compete, to contend, an endeavour, to exert, to fight, to struggle and toil and try.” 

Who would want any of this in your homeschooling?  Striving is exhausting and a very debilitating approach to homeschooling, parenting and life in general.

When you started your homeschooling, you had an idealistic school-at-home approach and you worked strictly according to the schedule and tried to meet other people’s standards.  This approach put unnecessary pressure on you and you inevitably ended up desperate and stressed.

Your own personal attempts to do-it-all and “get it right” caused you sleepless nights and butterflies in your stomach when things were new, or different, or when things were not meeting your expectations.  Your massive focus and grand efforts may have given you some success, but your striving negatively affected your children.  They picked up your stress like they picked up chickenpox!  This invisible tension oppressed your home and their learning.

You will know when you are striving — it will look like busyness and stress, sound like shouting & yelling.  It will be cajoling, urging, insisting, forcing, punishing, withdrawing, manipulating, dominating … or simply doing it in a life-draining way.  

Let me encourage you to let go of your ideals, lower your expectations and work according to your family’s own rhythm and lifestyle.  Most importantly, let go of the timetable on the schedule and use it as your guideline or even as just a suggestion.  Add more time to your schedule — 6 months more time at least! 

You will never fall behind!  Not ever!  Not even when your kids miss a couple of days every week, or are sick, or when you go travelling around the country for 18 months.  Not even when your highschooler drops subjects or gives up a curriculum halfway through her Grade 10 course.  You will not even fall behind when you start a new family business and your days are interrupted dozens of times.  Relax, darling.  It will all work out in the end.

If you feel helpless, afraid or stressed about a child, or a curriculum, or a disciplinary or character issue, step back and press pause and be curious.  Be compassionate.  Ask yourself and the Lord. “What is the most loving way we can do this?”  and then be still and listen to the still, small voice in your heart.  Follow your heart. Please follow your heart.

Be kind to yourself and extend grace to yourself.  You will figure this out and you will eventually have lovely days of happy homeschooling.  It will turn out fine, trust me.

With gracious, compassionate love from your older self, Love Nadene

I’d love to hear your views and thoughts on this topic!  Please, would you share yours in the comments?

In case you missed any of my previous “Letters To Me” in this series:

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Rewards of Following Rabbit Trails

Recently I asked my 17-year-old daughter, now in her final year of homeschooling, what fun things she loved and remembered most in her homeschooling and this is what she said ~

“I loved learning to count in Japanese!” and she proceeded to count out loud in Japanese!

I was stunned!  This memorable little lesson was learnt while watching a  3-minute YouTube song we found “by chance” in an online search over 12 years ago.  My children loved this hip-hip counting song and it stuck with my daughter all this time.

But more importantly, her reply emphasized again how important it is to plan a wide margin of time to allow the freedom to follow “rabbit trails” or to allow your family to “take the scenic tours” in your themes and topics.

Back then, I was re-using our Sonlight World History core and I had discovered the joy of allowing the schedule to suggest and guide us, and not necessarily feel that I had to stick to their time-frame.  If I can remember correctly, their schedule allocated a mere 2 weeks to the Japan study, but we spent over a month covering all the aspects we found on our delight-directed studies.

Not only did my daughters learn to count in Japanese, but they enjoyed their free time and dressed up in kimonos, complete with make-up and hair accessories, and acted out stories.  They cooked and ate Japanese foods using chopsticks and our Chinese dinner service,  and they practised a tea ceremony.  We all learnt origami and my daughters still make origami in their creative projects to this day.  We tried our hand at ikebana (flower arranging), made fans, wrote haiku poetry and so on.

May I encourage any mom who is battling with a child or children don’t want to learn or participate, to get creative and look for other ways to find your fit.  Not only will your reluctant child rarely learn anything when she is nagged, urged, bribed, cajoled, or even punished, (and, yes, I did all this in my first few years of homeschooling when I was ignorant and idealistic), but this negative energy and relational conflict will rub off onto everything else.  If your children show signs of boredom or flat-out refusal, don’t force the issue.  If the lesson doesn’t work, then mom, please, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s happiness and their learning joys, look for something similar that might work.

Try a different approach.  Look for a video or song or hands-on activity instead of plodding on through a book and tailor-make their learning experience.  Remind yourself that homeschooling is actually like offering a learning buffet and you should allow your children to decide what and when they want to eat something.

I have learnt never to underestimate the value of those wonderful, almost magical rabbit-hole learning moments.  Sometimes, these happy discoveries may forge a lifelong fascination and enthusiasm for learning.  They are the whole reason we homeschool and it may be the one thing that they will remember for a lifetime!  I know that this is what works!

Blessings as you give yourselves extra time to follow those rabbit trails, Nadene

All the photos featured are the origami gifts that my daughters have made.

Routine versus Schedule

Homeschooling  works better when you have a plan, and most new homeschool moms feel more secure when they have a detailed schedule.  But in my first year of homeschooling, I was almost a slave to a very detailed schedule, and this approach produced a lot of stress and anxiety.  May I offer you another option?
First, let’s look at the difference between schedule  versus routine ~
schedule (noun) ~ a list of planned activities or things to be done showing the times or dates when they are intended to happen or be done or timetable or  list of the times when events are planned to happen.

versus

routine (noun) ~ a sequence of actions regularly followed or  a usual or fixed way of doing things.

A schedule tells you what to do and when to do it.  It is usually filled with times, lists, blocks, and boxes to tick off.

A routine is a pattern by which you live. It gives structure and order to your day, but it doesn’t dictate exactly when things should be done. It allows you to find a flow that works for you on the day you happen to be living.

By now you have realized that it may be better to follow a routine rather than a schedule as Mary shared at Parnips & Paisley, but when one starts a new educational program or curriculum, a schedule is often necessary to ensure that the work is covered in the allotted time.

If the schedule has you constantly looking at the clock and rushing from one task to the next, and feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you could easily fall into striving and performance instead of enjoying the learning journey, especially if you suffer from perfectionist tendencies,

I tried to schedule everything. I often became discouraged and felt like a failure.  When I decided to ignore the times listed on the schedule and follow the schedule as a suggestion or proposed outline, I immediately felt relieved and revived.  I gained confidence as we gradually found our own basic routine, and I freed myself from the self-inflicted torture that each failed schedule brought.

So, how does one set up a routine?

  1. Decide what is really important such as – building faith, making and eating meals together, working together as a family in caring for home and animals, reading good books, and learning about ___.
  2. Find the time-flow for your family – who is an early riser or who needs more time to wake? When does your family get their best work done? When are their creative times? Homeschooling allows the freedom to set suggested starting times for the different elements of the day.  With young children, it is often best to start early and work until tea-time, lunch and nap times.  Teenagers often move into a very different time flow and this is when it is best to give them the liberty to sleep longer and work later in the day.  Moms, remember to consider your own energy levels!
  3. Identify your important daily events which form pillars in your home such as mealtimes – where activities fit before and after breakfasts, lunches and dinners at more or less the same time each day. We are farmers, and so daily milking forms an important daily event. Create your routine around these times.
  4. Create habits – start with your important daily events and add the most important activities  around those; such as morning chores before breakfast, school seat-work before lunch, creative hobbies after lunch, pack away before dinner, etc.  Keep it simple and don’t throw everything in it at once. Once your family find their flow in those elements, you have space to add more things in. Stick to it to create habit.
  5. Be flexible. This may seem to be contradictory, but if your routine isn’t clicking and something feels off, adapt or change it. You are the ruler of the routine, it shouldn’t rule you. If one day you feel like straying completely from the norm, by all means, do it. Those days make life memorable. You are in charge. You don’t need to worry that you’ve blown it, the set routine will be back tomorrow.
  6. Daily themes 2015Offer options and extras such as different themes for each day.  This was a wonderful way to fit in all the extra subjects in our homeschooling without feeling overwhelmed.
  7. Add freedom and create space for your children to explore their gifts, passions, interests and talents.  Let them be bored.  Offer them the materials and some inspiration and see what they create!

Here’s to you finding your rhythm and flow in your homeschool days!  May you homeschool in grace.  Feel free to share your family’s routines and schedules in the comments below.

Blessings, Nadene

Mix Structure with Freedom

What Works! 

Homeschooling, like all things in family life, requires balance.

Some folks love the carefree and loosey-goosey approach to homeschooling, while others perfect a strict routine and discipline with a school-at-home approach. Some folk wake and start school early, while others flow lazily into a relaxed, informal day.  Some families work in a classroom environment, while others love to learn everywhere, anytime.

Whatever your homeschooling approach is right now, it should fit your family lifestyle. I encourage you to find the way that works for you and your children in this season of your life.

If you’re a mom with lots of young children, then I encourage you to create a simple  predictable routine for their day.  Mix in free time for unstructured play and exploration.

Here are some of the main family events that should follow some form of predictable routine ~

  • Morning wake up, washing & dressing
  • Making beds
  • Breakfast
  • Start homeschool time – circle time or Bible story, songs & prayer
  • Short, sweet seat work lessons
  • Tea time and short outdoors play time
  • Core and read alouds and other schooling or learning
  • Lunch time
  • After lunch nap or quiet play
  • Free afternoons
  • Clean up & pack away toys from the day’s play
  • Bath time
  • Supper
  • Bedtime

Habit-training is a vital part of creating an easy, stress-free day.  Work on your routine, focusing on one aspect at a time for several weeks until this is established. (Start with the routine that causes you the most stress and frustration in your family.)  Once your children can cope with that routine, move on to focus on the next area that causes you the most stress.

Many new homeschool moms have very high ideals and expectations.  Most new homeschool moms struggle to maintain a formal, strict regimen every day, and they can easily burnout.  May I suggest that your homeschooling plays a minor role in your day when you are teaching young toddlers, pre-schoolers.  If you are working with multiple ages, focus on the most needy first and then focus on the rest.

Truth be told, you can’t do everything with every child every day!

Especially when children seem bored, frustrated or aimless, look to switching the rhythm and approach of your homeschooling.

  • Change the routine and start with subjects that you normally do later in the day.
  • Change your homeschool room or learn somewhere new/ outside/ at a library
  • Change your approach and make things fun
  • Switch to a new activity such as a lapbook or project instead of reading a read aloud that just doesn’t “fit” you or your kids.
  • Do drills or physical movements instead of seat work.  This works really well if a child is struggling with a subject like maths or spelling!  Rather do jumping or skipping or ball tossing or jump on a rebounder while doing skip-counting or times tables, spelling,  etc.
  • Leave the workbooks and find hands-on activities instead.

Charlotte Mason perfected this switch of rhythm with her principles ~

Structure and discipline (Seat work lessons)

  • Short, sweet lessons
  • Perfect / excellent quality work
  • Attentiveness and discipline
  • Memory work and copywork

Informal and unstructured approach (while still requiring focus and attention)

  • Narrations
  • Fine Arts
  • Poetry
  • Nature Study

I found that having one FREE DAY worked for our family.  Although I say “Free” it was rather an INFORMAL day where we focused on Fabulous Fine Arts Fridays.  These days made the rest of the week feel better and help prevent burnout and stress.

What works for your family?  Please share in the comments below.

Blessings as you find what works for your family, Nadene

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Adapt Alter or Add

No plan is perfect.  20140318_115016

And for many new homeschool moms, a packaged curriculum or program promises some certainty to your child’s education.  The sad reality is that these products often needs to be adapted, altered, added or abandoned to “fit” your child’s learning style and stage, or your teaching style and approach.

Please don’t feel condemned if your purchase doesn’t ‘work’.

Adapt

  • You can still use your books or curriculum, but rather follow your child’s time schedule and pace rather than the prescribed schedule.
  • I have o.f.t.e.n urged parents to  make time for tangents  and spread a 1-year schedule over 18 months.  I have never regretted taking longer on a curriculum in all my years of homeschooling with all my children, as I shared with my re-using our Sonlight curriculum.
  • Use lapbooks or minibooks, but allow your children to use them in their own personal way.

Add

  • Add hands-on activities wherever possible, especially for younger children.
  • Go on outings and field trips.
  • Visit masters and real artisans, factories and manufacturing companies.
  • For teens, find a student teacher or tutor, or friend or another parent to teach difficult subjects.

Abandon

Yikes!  Really?

  • When your child refuses to learn, hates the lessons or the content, please, please don’t force them to continue.
  • Put the books away and maybe try again in 6 months.
  • I have very seldom made a disaster-purchase, but I have had to abandon a year-plan and reschedule work.
  • My teenagers refused to continue Charlotte Mason subjects, much to my dismay, and I let it go, but some years later, they returned to enjoy the very lessons I had been to forceful on.  I learnt to offer these lessons in a  really informal way.
  • Sadly, many moms have bookshelves filled with unused books and curriculums.  Wasted money and lots of guilt.  If you cannot use these abandoned books, try find a co-op or group and sell your 2nd hand materials.
  • May I quietly add that even as a professional school teacher, some lessons just never worked, and I abandoned them!

With all my encouragement and blessings,

Refreshed Daily Themes

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you will have read how we fit in all the rich and rewarding extra Charlotte Mason subjects using a Theme of the Day.

This year, as my 12-year-old daughter and I sat and discussed what and how she would like to learn (tailor-making homeschool is an absolute winner), we reviewed our daily themes and come up with a fresh version ~

Daily themes 2015 Here’s your free download with both our 2014 and new 2015 versions ~ Daily Themes 2015

Fun alliteration makes it easy for us to remember!

How do we fit in our daily themes?

I planned all these activities to follow our normal daily disciplinary studies (Bible, Maths, Spelling, English Language Arts & 2nd language studies.)   If we work well and don’t have too many interruptions, then we may complete our daily theme before lunch.  But I have scheduled this for the “1 more thing after lunch“.  Also, realistically, because we take one day off to travel to town for our weekly shopping, we will combine 2 days’ themes on one afternoon or fit it the next morning schedule.  Flexibility is essential in our homeschool schedule.

  • Masterly Monday = “Meet the Masters” in Fine Art!  Study famous artists’ masterpieces and listen to classical music from famous musicians.  We will also do our own arts and crafts and handiwork.  This year we will continue to follow Patti’s blog “All Things Bright and Beautiful” Charlotte Mason approach to art, music and poetry.  She has truly done all the hard work for us!
  • Tea & Poetry Thursday = Read our Poet of the month or follow Patti’s blog for her poet studies.  Having tea should include some fresh cookies or cake!  This is the afternoon for baking together.  We will also add Shakespeare to our afternoons.  This year we may add monthly prepared reading aloud, presentation of speeches or recitations.
  • Finally, Fabulous Fridays = For fun creative writing and journaling.  This may be a good opportunity to complete any other written narrations or projects for the week.

So there ~ a rich and rewarding education made possible by scheduling short extras and finding a way to fit it in our schedule.  Please feel free to share your schedule ideas in the comments below!

Blessings