Homeschoolers are enough

It’s August.  Homeschool mamas, I know what some of you are thinking.

You are wondering if you are enough.  Are you smart enough to own your children’s educations rather than delegate them to professionals?  Are you organized enough to juggle all the curricula, the competing demands of multiple ages, and the laundry?  Are you dedicated enough to keep up with the other homeschool moms with their co-ops, field trips, basketball teams, and robotics tournaments? Are you patient enough to deal with the immature emotions and incomplete communication skills of your kids day in and day out?  Are you brave enough to face down the judgements of skeptical relatives and random challenging strangers at Wal Mart?  Are you strong enough, have you researched enough, do you have enough money?

Let me be the voice from the other end of the path.  You are enough.

You don’t need to be a professional educator.  Your kids need the love and encouragement of mom, and you are enough for that.

You don’t need to be a time management guru.  Life is messy, and it doesn’t always follow schedules.  You are enough to handle those daily pressures. You will adapt and flex, as needed.

You don’t need to “keep up” with anyone, whether it’s that person’s reality or just their public projection.  Each family is unique, and your own set of personalities and challenges and needs won’t match anyone else’s.  You are enough being just who you are, and letting your kids be who they are.

Some days, your toddlers crying or your preteens crying will wear down your patience.  You will be frustrated and will need support or time to calm yourself.  You are enough anyway, even when your patience pulls a bit too thin and gives way like soft caramel.

Some days, sideways comments or disdainful sniffs will bounce off your armor, and some days they’ll arrow through the chinks and leave you bleeding.  On some days, kind words and unexpected praise will pick you back up.  You are enough, regardless of whether outsiders recognize it or not.  Their perceptions do not define you.

What if in an honest evaluation of what your kids need and what you can provide, you realize that you need outside help?  A professional writing instructor?  A math tutor?  A housekeeper or babysitter? A therapist to help you deal with anger or discipline issues? A specialist to help your child learn strategies to cope with disabilities or disorders? A doctor to prescribe proper medications? A nutritionist to tweak your eating plan?  Then you will hire or barter, and you will triangle in the support you need.  Sometimes, someone will hold your hand the way you held up your daughter’s bike when she learned to ride, and together you will be enough.  Enough doesn’t always mean alone.

This journey will challenge you.  Will surprise you.  Will bless you.  Will uncover strength and creativity you didn’t suspect.  Keep pouring yourself into your family, your children.  Keep searching for ways to improve and people who will empower you.  Embrace the journey, learning right alongside your children.  Embrace the moments with the people that matter most.  Embrace the connections. Come as you are to this homeschooling adventure, and know that whatever happens, you are enough.


The Communication Game

In the basic writing course I used to teach for homeschoolers, we used a game called The Communication Game where students learn that sometimes the reader understands the words differently than what the writer meant. The kids would describe a picture to a person who couldn’t see the picture, and the listener would draw what he heard.  Inevitably, the drawers drew things the speaker didn’t intend.  They interpreted the words differently.

It’s difficult to have an open conversation when participants don’t understand the terms, when they hear something different than is meant. When I first heard the phrase “Black lives matter” my reaction was to question.  To defend.  I thought of course they matter, but no more than anyone else’s.  My inner response (even when silent) was “all lives matter.”

The most common reaction I see to a statement about institutionalized racism is, “I’m not a racist!” which shows that the listeners are feeling personally attacked, even though Individuals do not have to be racist for a system to be set up in a way that benefits one group more than another.  

It’s tough to move past defending ourselves and move into listening to what the other person is experiencing.

In the Communication Game, we teach the kids that it is the writer/speaker’s responsibility to choose words that will be understood. The speaker (in the class, it was the writer) was taught to choose words accurately and specifically.  To give context.  To use objective words rather than subjective ones. To figure out what is being heard and make sure to be understood.  Ultimately, of course, the listener has to be willing to listen rather than to assume.  Communication is a two way street.

Miscommunication in writing is definitely a bigger issue because of missing out on all the nonverbal cues. In our internet based society, people communicate through writing more than ever. Compounding the problem is communicating with people you don’t know well face to face, so you can’t interpret with personality, plus communicating in tiny bits so it’s harder to interpret in context. We start taking shortcuts like hashtags and slogans, but if those mean something different to the recipient than the speaker…communication drops through a black hole.

I’m working on trying to hear what people are really saying on this issue rather than filtering it through my experiences. I’ve not witnessed a LOT of racism (some, not a lot). And I’ve never been stopped by the police except when I was actually doing something wrong, like expired stickers or speeding, and all of those incidents ended peacefully. Others have different experiences.  This photo is helpful to me in understanding what is being said.




Driven against the wall

13620726_10153941912796888_1568557063833364784_nGod is described in Isaiah as being “a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert.”

Do you want to be Godly? Then give refuge. Look around and see who is needy and offer help. See who is suffering in the heat and offer shade. See who is battered by the storm and offer protection.

You don’t have to agree with them about who is to blame for any tragedy or share politic solutions. You don’t have to vote for the same candidate, or even post the same hashtag. Give them refuge, because they are driven against the wall by the ruthless.

Whatever you do, don’t be the ruthless one. Please don’t be ruthless. There’s enough of that already.

And my homeschooling friends, please talk to you children about this.  Let them see your grief, your compassion.  When you do an act of kindness or speak a word of encouragement or defense, include your children in that.  Tell them why you did it.  While it’s true that kids observe and absorb, they don’t always understand what they observe (especially younger ones), and they might draw wrong conclusions or miss important points.

18 Things I’m Glad I Did in 18 Years of Homeschooling

When new homechoolers pop up online or in support groups, the first question they usually ask is about what curriculum they should use.  It doesn’t seem to matter if they have a pre-schooler or high schooler, they want advice in picking a curriculum.  A certain logic dictates that since they’re doing something new and are uncertain, that they want something formal, approved and proven, to guide them. In the void, a curriculum looks like a lifeboat that will keep you afloat. It will tell you what to do.  

Yet, that’s not the most helpful question to guide your experience in homeschooling.  As I look back over my 18 year career home educating my children, I can only think of 2-3 curriculums I wouldn’t have wanted to do without.  Only a few that truly guided and shaped us, that I can say, “I’m so glad I picked that.” The rest of the time, I think dozens of choices would’ve served us as well.

If curriculum didn’t make or break us, what did make the difference?  Real life choices.  Engagement with people and nature and organizations around us. Priorities. Habits. Attitudes.  Adventures. Philosophies.  Discussion.  In hindsight, I can identify plenty of choices and experiences that contributed in a meaningful way to our success.  And it was a success.  Above all else, I can say without doubt, “I’m glad we homeschooled.”

My children are now confident adults, excitedly chasing dreams, tackling challenges, and learning new skills.  They aren’t perfect (they never were).  They are real.  Maybe their lists would look a bit different than mine, but I think they’d overlap considerably.  After homechooling for 18 years, here are 18 things I’m glad we did.

  1. Played board games. My babies learned to match colors with Bert’s Bottlecaps, learned to count with Chutes and Ladders, learned to add and subtract with Monopoly, Jr, and learned to read tables with Battleship.  Somehow, we never stopped playing board games.  Rummy Roots to Settlers of Catan to Imagine If (and my youngest son recently aced a few high pressure scholarship interview questions which felt directly lifted from “Imagine If,” so I know that’s a plus!) We still have a closet full, and I credit them with so much mental development, from creativity to problem solving to critical analysis to teamwork to sportsmanship.
  2. Summer camps.  I’m not talking about sending my kids off for 2 weeks (although I did some of that). I’m talking about creating summer camps with my kids.  Some as short as 2 days, some as long as 2 weeks.  Every one of them grew out of some activity or book or experience my kids loved doing and we wanted to do more of.  Turns out you can just arrange a place, invite people to do fun stuff with you, and plan your own camps! Camp Halfblood (based on the Rick Riordan books) will forever reign as a cherished family memory.  Lego Camp?  Wow – yeah! I would do that again.  I’ve helped run 7 camps, and pitched in (or my kids pitched in) with several more.  Perfect way to create the magic you want and be deeply engaged in what your kids are doing.  I don’t mind the perk of my kids thinking I’m awesome.
  3. Let me kids change my mind. My oldest son wrote his first persuasive paragraph on why I should let him change his daily routine to do writing first and math last – and I let him do it.  It turned out to be more efficient for him. A few weeks ago, the same child (can we call 20-somethings children??) persuaded me to listen to a soundtrack that was almost all rap, which he knows I don’t care for.  I listened, and I cried because it was so powerful.  In between, I’ve let the kids talk me into all manner of crazy projects that would “never work” and things that I would “never do.” You know what? Kids have good ideas.  They know what they want and need and enjoy.  If I don’t listen to them, how will they ever learn to listen to themselves or expect others to listen to them? Where will they get the confidence to lead others if they never have the experience of making good decisions and influencing others?
  4. Take risks. This dovetails with #3. Sure, homeschooling itself was a big risk since I didn’t know anyone at the time who’d done it successfully.  Once I jumped that hurdle, other risks seemed more do-able.  Ms. Frizzle is my hero, and I hear her voice saying, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” It was a huge risk when I tried to start a robotics team with no robotics experience. While that project never grew to be all that I envisioned it to be, it was totally worthwhile.  We learned a lot (both about robotics and about organizing group projects), we made memories, and we launched from there into other opportunities.  From another homeschool mom, I picked up the habit of calling anything with an uncertain ending an adventure (including losing car keys on top of a mountain or taking a wrong turn on a road trip). Some risks worked out fabulously.  Others, not so much.  But every one was not only a learning experience, but it was real life modelling of the person that I wanted my kids to be as adults.  Risk takers for whom life is an adventure to tackle wholeheartedly, not a danger to be survived by huddling in the corner.
  5. Compete. Do you see a theme developing? Every contest is a risk.  We’ve been on the volleyball team that lost every game and got eliminated from the tournament first.  We’ve placed last in the field.  We also won a fair share, and pretty much placed everywhere in between.  Contests add the pragmatic benefit of rounding out resumes (yes, I credit them greatly for helping my kids all land college scholarships), but more importantly, they offer intrinsic value.  Every contest was a motivation to improve; a challenge with a deadline to kick us in the butt to tackle a project; an avenue to meeting new people and witnessing how differently other people attempt the reach the same goal; a chance to practice grace while learning to deal with unfairness; and a chance to practice grace while learning to deal with victory.  My kids did not handle every contest maturely, and let’s face it, neither did I.  But we grew through those moments.
  6. Take tons of pictures. The days go slow, but the years go fast. I am so happy to have digital mountains of photos – of momentous occasions and holidays, of ordinary moments and drudgery.  Of taking trips and of days lying upside on the couch re-reading Harry Potter.  Of hugging the dogs and of making silly faces at the restaurant.  I wouldn’t sell those pictures for anything. Looking back at pictures spurs me to share stories with the kids of moments they might’ve forgotten, and sometimes it spurs them to tell me stories of the experience from their perspective, and I learn something new.
  7. Get outside. We aren’t a naturally rugged family –  but being in the sunshine was usually a good idea. When the kids were younger, this meant anything from providing plenty of unstructured play time to run off energy to impromptu trips to feed the ducks at the park.  Through the  elementary and middle school years, nature walks (with or without nature journals) and circling the neighborhood on bikes or rollerblades helped break up the day. After splurging physical energy outdoors, it was easier to sit down with refreshed minds and tackle mental challenges.
  8. Trust my kids.  I let my kids do hard and sometimes “dangerous” things. I trusted them physically to climb trees or rock walls. I trusted their characters enough to try challenges I thought had a valid chance of failing. Two of them tested my trust the most in high school by wanting to travel without parents.  It took a load of parental courage to drop off my 16-year-old daughter at a shuttle to the Dallas Fort Worth airport on a trip to Washington, DC, and that trip was an absolute highlight of her schooling.  When my youngest told me he wanted to plan a cross country trip with friends to ride a roller coaster, I told him yes.  Planning and organizing are incredible learning experiences, and I knew the memories would be amazing.  A few of the friends he asked were denied by moms who weren’t ready for that kind of independence, but I knew there was one friend whose parents would say yes.  Remember the mom who taught me to use the word adventure?  Yep.  She not only said her son could go, she encouraged them to think bigger and make the trip longer, then helped them find friends to stay with along the route. She knows the value of trusting the “kids” to take on “adult” experiences.
  9. Partner up. I never could’ve arranged and coordinated all the experiences for my kids on my own.  In most big ventures (summer camps, leadership training, speech classes, drama club, robot team), I found a collaborator.  I’ve worked with many homeschool moms and learned something from each of them from their style of leadership. Some partnerships blossomed into friendships and a few ended on a sour note.  I’m glad I took the chances, though, to make the big things happen.
  10. Keep 4-H recordbooks. I stink at record keeping.  Honestly. Details need to be recorded? I’m usually not your girl. One of the few I was consistent with were 4-H recordbooks.  Although the kids balked every year at the chore of collecting and articulating so many details, the end result was a priceless record of their accomplishments.  We used them to preserve memories.  We used them for self-accountability to make course adjustments.  We used them as informational treasure chests when it was time to apply for college scholarships. Since I wasn’t great at motivating myself to keep records, the yearly deadline of the recordbooks spurred me on.
  11. Keep pets. They’re messy.  They’re destructive. They shed, pee, and chew on valuables, and they demand attention at inconvenient times.  I’m glad for every furry family member who has snuggled up or played fetch. Lots of experts will tell you how keeping pets teachers responsibility and compassion, and they do.  But the overarching factor for me is love.  If you can have more love in your life, why would you not?
  12. Volunteer. Spending time helping others takes us out of our own lives, above our own troubles.  We dabbled with single afternoons for a lot of different charities and causes, and settled slowly into a few that truly connected with us.  A few that helped with something that meant a lot to us.  For us, it felt good and helped us learn some extra skills (my oldest learned to use power tools building sets for the community theatre), but those are bonuses.  The big benefit, of course, is that they helped others, and they developed a habit of which will (hopefully) lead them to continue to do so throughout adulthood.
  13. Write a novel. Not me, silly.  My kid. I made a bargain with one son that if he would spend one year focused on academic writing, mastering essays without complaining, I’d allow him a full year to write a novel, with no other English class assignments.  Win-win.  He wrote a novel.  Besides being a most amazing learning experience for understanding how literature is constructed and how to use language effectively, it is also a major confidence builder to complete a novel.  Someday, I hope to be as accomplished as he was at 16.
  14. Made relationships and interaction with the real world a priority. Building strong relationships with family members and learning to navigate tricky relationships with friends and coworkers took priority over completing written assignments. When Granny broke her hip and couldn’t take care of herself, she moved in with us.  For 5 years, we traded a cramped lifestyle and curtailed freedom for the joy of sharing the end of her life.  Our kids know without a doubt how important people are in life.  I watch them now as adults choosing to spend their free time together, and driving for hours to show up to support a sibling or friend for a big moment, and I know those priorities are well placed.  I see how they handle outside relationships with respect and dignity, and I have no regrets there.
  15. Senior projects. Before each child’s senior year, we had “the big discussion.” The “you’ve got one more year…what do you want to accomplish?” discussion.  That talk didn’t come from nowhere. It was built on a foundation of years of listening to their ideas and giving them permission to follow their interests.  But this discussion was license to think big and a commission to use their time wisely.  Every one of them challenged me.  Produce a serious drama when I’d never been in charge of live theater? Travel the country when caring for an invalid family member meant the whole family couldn’t leave the house together for more than an hour? I treated their requests with not just respect but enthusiasm.  I’d taken to heart advice from another homeschool mom that the world will tell the children “no” enough times.  It was my job and my privilege to say “yes” as often as possible. We dedicated large amounts of time to those projects, trusting that the learning experiences coming from real life planning and organizing and fundraising would be educational.  We built precious memories, and my children built personalities full of confidence that they capable human beings.
  16. Tea parties. Sadly, I let tea parties fade into the background when the kids were older, but when they were young, it was a pause in a busy day.  A chance to breathe and enjoy each other’s company.  A chance to trust them with fragile cups and treat them to yummy snacks so they felt valued.  Sometimes we read poetry.  Sometimes we told jokes. Sometimes we just drank koolaid (real tea seldom graced out teapots).
  17. Kept the “dress-up” box full. When I chased a house full of toddlers, we kept one plastic tub full of random wild pieces of clothing, some real and discarded, some fantastic, most free or from garage sales.  A bridal dress. A Dalmatian puppy (or a cow…depending on your mood). A green dinosaur. A cowboy hat.  A gray wig.  I wasn’t training the kids for a life in the theater, just offering them space to see their own imaginations in color. As we read books, it was common to see the books reinvented later through the magic of the dress-up box, sometimes with supporting actors from the stuffed animal collection. Over time, the box morphed into a costume closet.  The kids design the most amazing Halloween costumes.  And sometimes they design costumes for “real” plays rather than the impromptu ones that used to fill the living room. One favorite memory: taking the family to Comic Con to celebrate two spring birthdays.  Yes, the cosplays were amazing.  I don’t imagine that it will ever stop.
  18. Went to homeschool conventions – and then stopped going to conventions. When my oldest was 4, an older homeschooling mama drove me to Arlington for my first homeschool convention.  I was overwhelmed by the energy and inspired by the sheer number of other people on the same journey as me.  Listening to speakers filled me with ideas, and actually putting my hands on books helped me understand them and make better purchases.  I faithfully attended conventions every year, eagerly recommending them to other new-ish homeschoolers.  Sometimes I travelled with friends.  A few times, I helped work a booth and gave out advice.  Then, somewhere along the way, I realized I wasn’t counting the days to convention season anymore.  I just didn’t need them anymore.  I had plenty of real life support in my own community.  I knew curriculum well enough to (usually) judge by descriptions and recommendations if it would fit.  And I found plenty of speakers online to listen to when I sought out specific advice.  I’m glad for all the conventions I went to.  And I’m glad I stopped when I did.

18 Things We Didn’t Do in 18 Years of Homeschooling

An imaginary demon whispers doubt into our hearts late at night. It tries to wrap the fear around lives that we aren’t doing things “right.” Homeschoolers tend to love their kids passionately and want the best of everything for them, so the demon has plenty of emotion to draw from. Add to our own doubts that there are plenty of real people around telling us the best or right way to homeschool. The things we must do or our children will suffer, languish and drag themselves through doomed lives blaming their parents and this ludicrous experiment.

How useful is that doubt? Those comparisons to the people who are homeschooling “right,” the “perfect” families who have it all together? Sometimes, successful homeschooling (and successful living) is about letting go, giving yourself grace, and finding your own path.

We may misunderstand what other homeschoolers actually do, and sometimes we overestimate what we NEED to be doing. It’s a natural result of the driving urges to give our kids the best, to prove that we really can parent our own kids, and (above all else) to NOT ruin our kids’ lives.

After 18 years, I am retiring from my homeschooling career. I have successfully navigated 3 human beings into confident adulthood, and I am ready to dump all the guilt and shame for all the things I didn’t do. I’m proud of some of the “failures.” I feel like I successfully avoided traps that weren’t right for our family’s culture. Some of them weren’t deliberate, but just grew from our conglomerate personalities and the busyness of life. A few, I regret…but life turned out good anyway. I don’t share these to tell you not to do them. Some of them might fit your family perfectly. They didn’t fit mine.

What pieces of guilt are you hanging on to? What is it you think you SHOULD be doing that you aren’t? My guess is that it might not be as cataclysmic a disaster as you think. To help you give yourself grace in what you haven’t done, and to understand more realistically what a real life looks like, here are 18 things that I did NOT do in 18 years of homeschooling.


  1. Write research papers before college. I list this first because people who know me best are most surprised by it. Writing is my thing. We played with language a LOT. But I never saw the value in a full-fledged, formatted research paper. Essays, sure, with research, paraphrasing, and analyzing. Research papers? Uh-uh. So far, one of mine learned to write a research paper in college (yep, he handled it just fine) and one graduated college without ever needing it (lucky girl, one big headache passed by). If that last kid needs it during college, he’ll learn it then.
  2. Make all the kids study 2 years of foreign language, even though “everyone” said they needed to for college. Okay, I put my first poor kid (aka the guinea pig) through this. He check marked it, forgot everything he “learned,” and it was nicely noted on his college admissions. It may have made admissions go a little more smoothly, but I’m not sure it was worth two years of wasted time in which he learned nothing. The second wanted to study sign language, and I decided that totally counted. Her college didn’t care one way or the other. She’s the one now testing for her interpreter certification. The third was so immersed in math and science that foreign languages never showed up on the radar. His college didn’t care.
  3. Join co-ops. It just seemed too big a commitment (and too much like school) – a full day all semester? Shudder.
  4. Go to prom. To be honest, I considered missing prom to be a benefit of homeschooling, so it really wasn’t a hard decision not to sign up for the homeschool version. If it’s a big deal to you, sign your kids up or host a dance yourself, but if it isn’t, then don’t fret it.
  5. Teach high school – at least, not much of it. Let’s face it, my main role in high school was guidance counselor. I taught a few subjects (mostly English and speech), but my kids mostly taught themselves or were taught be other people. I spent a lot of time arranging opportunities and procuring resources. And checking to see that the kids were on track. I can’t tell you how many people tell me in fear, “Oh, I could never teach high school!” Guess what? Neither could I.
  6. Follow a schedule. The more rigid the schedule we attempted, the shorter it lived. Remember that 15-minute increment schedule that was popular for a while? I never completed a single day of it, which means I actually spent more time creating the schedule than using it. Eventually, I decided not to feel guilty about that. I gave away the planning book, and we pretty much ran on routines and rabbit trails.
  7. Follow through with schoolwork over the summer. I often planned to. I often announced my intention to. But we never actually did. We were too busy adventures and doing projects (aka learning) and decompressing to do any kind of bookwork. Summers are full of memories and life.
  8. Stay true to a homeschooling “philosophy.” I loved unit studies. I read up on classical methods. I adored Charlotte Mason. I admired unschooling. I dabbled in many philosophies, and absorbed a something of value from each, but I never committed fully to any label. I still don’t have a name for what we did, but it seemed to work well for us.Cameron lounging with book 10-06
  9. Sit at desks. Just didn’t happen. We had a kitchen table that was sometimes handy. And couches. And floors with pillows. And exercise balls. And whatever else.
  10. Follow a 4-year history plan. There was that one time we spent about 3 years in Ancient Greece. And we all learned US history at some point in high school. For a few years in elementary school, we even kept timeline notebooks to add various books/people/events into their place in history as we learned about them. But we never got on a chronological cycle and covered the whole picture. There are gaps. There are still gaps in my historical knowledge (although the History Channel is helping me with that).
  11. Complete regular copywork/dictation. I know, I know. It’s the most natural way to learn language arts. It’s preached by Charlotte Mason and Brave Writer and Ruth Beechick…pretty much all my heroes. And we did it occasionally. But really not that much.
  12. Use yearly grammar curriculum. Didn’t happen. We covered grammar with a “full curriculum” twice.   Loved the 5 minute reviews of Daily Grams for one year. The rest of the time…come on, grammar is not that complicated. We played Mad Libs. That counts, right? We used words and language all the time. Turns out, my kids are fluent English speakers. One of them wrote a novel and several playscripts, and one is interpreting and learning her 3rd language. They didn’t need yearly grammar textbooks for that.
  13. Teach my youngest child to read. I pretended to. He was my baby, and I cherished time alone with him during phonics lessons. We’d gotten no further than blending c-a-t and m-a-t when he picked up a Kings James Bible, flipped it open at random, sounded out the word, “Deuteronomy” and started reading it out loud. I was thick headed and still made that poor kid sit through the rest of his phonics lessons, but I also made sure to provide tons of real books so that he could read while I wasn’t pretending to teach him how.
  14. Make the kids get up early to prepare for “real life.” A regular early morning schedule never quite materialized. Most of the years, we roused them for a late breakfast which I would linger over, reading aloud chapters of magnificent books while they blearily shoveled in cereal. We got up early when we needed to. And you know what? Once they got in college and/or full time jobs, they were perfectly capable of finding their own rhythms of when to get up and when to go to bed. Growing up, they were all late to bed and late to rise. Those late night hours can be productive.
  15. Write “reports” in elementary school or junior high. We wrote often – but nothing academically formatted. I introduced those formats in 9th grade, and they soaked them in almost immediately.
  16. Give grades. I completed transcripts for high school using a holistic approach which I believe accurately reflected real learning. (No, none of my kids were “straight A” students.) Grades are useful for tracking a whole room full of kids, but I never needed them. I was closely involved in the learning process, and there are less formal ways of understanding how well someone is learning.
  17. Use a homeschool tracker, either a grade book or a computer program. When the kids were younger, I started a few years with an optimistic binder full of planning and tracking forms. After a while, I gave up the pretense and stopped wasting printer ink on them. They looked so sad and empty when I didn’t fill in all the boxes. A few lists (book logs, subject lists, that high school transcript) were all I needed or used. No one ever actually asked to see my records anyway.
  18. Give my kids private music, dance or voice lessons. Music is as natural (and common) as breathing in our house. Someone is always singing – whether for personal enjoyment or preparing for a performance, and we all sing together in church every week. Formal lessons? None for instruments at all. My son joined a choir his senior year which met weekly, so that’s as close to formal training as it gets. You want more than that? Hello, youtube!



A worthy milestone

This is what affirmation feels like.

My oldest son – now a college freshman – voluntarily brings me his essays for rhetoric and comp class to ask for my opinion.  After years of being the essay assigner, it’s lovely to be in the supportive role.  The good guy rather than the bad guy in the whole essay plotline.

I also enjoy reading his thoughts which are articulated for someone else (so I know they aren’t written just for my benefit!).  They feel more honest.

Around midnight (yes, he’s still a procrastinator – college hasn’t cured him of that), he brought me an essay which takes the position that music should be incorporated in all subjects of the school system.  Knowing him the way I do, I wasn’t surprised by his position.  I was pleasantly surprised, though, to see my own name used to surport his point that educators should be willing to try new approaches:

Having spent my childhood as a home educated student, I’ve seen up close what a teacher who is vested in her students can accomplish. My mother would constantly try new ways to interest me in my different subjects.

“My mother.”  That’s me. 🙂  I came up a few other times in the essay, although not by name.  He discussed various creative learning techniques that he’d used to help himself through difficult subjects, and as I read I thought, “I taught him that” or “I remember helping him do that.”

It’s a singular joy to hear my son appreciate his education and realize the value of what he’s been given.  There were days (perhaps years) when I wasn’t sure this would happen.

Like the worthy woman of Proverbs 31, my children rise up and call me blessed.

I wish this same moment for every educator who has toiled over a student.

Useless, indispensable plans

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  –Dwight D. Eisenhower

About this time each year, I realize that our school year is turning out completely differently than the way I’d planned it so neatly last summer.  It’s also the time I start pondering and forming vague plans for next year.  Coincidence?   Or just masochism?

I’m thrilled to find this Eisenhower quote which assures me I’m not the only one.  I need to plan each school year.  I need to research and make a schedule and chart a path.  But inevitably, during the year, we’ll discover that some plans don’t work out, and we’ll stumble upon new opportunities that I didn’t know existed.

And we turn a corner.  And another.

I didn’t plan on rifle and handgun practice, but the 4-H shooting sports class was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Not just for target practice, but for self-control and careful discipline.

I didn’t plan for my teen daughter to be a model in a fashion show, but the fundraiser for CASA (a wonderful organization helping abused children) is a worthy cause.

I did plan for her to earn college credit this year through AP and CLEP tests, but she’s failed every test, and we’ve discovered that those tests just don’t play to her strengths.  On the other hand, little brother (now 13) earned his first college credit in American History.  Surprise!

I didn’t plan to have my kids research unintended consequences of political promises, but the John Stossell essay contest offered them highly motivational prizes, and seemed to me a good way to apply both the writing and the government studies they’ve done.

We end up in places that teach my kids great things, create wonderful memories, and shape their characters toward the adults I want them to be.  They just aren’t usually the places I planned to be.

Next year’s plan includes logic, physics, and essay writing for the younger teen, and psychology and drama for the older one.  And of course, I will plan to change my plans!

Field trips – concrete benefits in the real world

My youngest son participates in a co-op biology class.  During a recent module on the respiratory system, one of the moms arranged a field trip to a medical supply company that specializes in oxygen and respiratory care services.  While there, I saw a nebulizer on display that was amazingly improved over the one my husband and daughter use to treat asthma attacks.   I knew our nebulizer was 20 years old, but didn’t realize how much the technology had improved.  Okay, I will be honest: we just hadn’t thought about it at all since our machine “worked.”

We ordered a new one from Lincare, and it arrived yesterday.  Besides being smaller, lighter and quieter than the old one, and having a handy car power chord, it actually works more efficiently (imagine that!).  Both husband and daughter have already used it and have commented that the recovery time from the asthma attack was much faster.  I’m so grateful to see my family spared physical pain.

By the way, it’s called the Mini Elite nebulizer by Respironics.  I give it two thumbs up.

Anyway, just wanted to remind homeschoolers that field trips and seeing “school subjects” in the real world are worthwhile.  Keep taking advantage of our wonderful opportunities to have our children educated in the real world rather than being tied to lengthy hours inside a classroom.  Sometimes the benefit is simply an understanding of how the subject is applied.  Sometimes the benefit is an inspiration for a career.  Sometimes it’s something immediately concrete and useful to your family.

You don’t need a co-op class to take field trips.  Whatever you’re studying, look around and ask, where does this show up in the world around me?  If you can’t think of one, a google search will often turn up new homeschool field trip ideas.  Venture forth, brave learners!

Wading in new water…constantly!

14 years into this homeschooling career, and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing sometimes.

My oldest son graduated without the benefit of a physics class.  It doesn’t seem to have permanently damaged him (for that matter, I graduated public school without the benefit of a physics class and have never suffered from it).

But my children have never been satisfied to be just like a sibling.  I know that’s something worth celebrating, but doggone it makes me tired!  So I find myself in the positition of researching physics curriculums.  Weighing options and feeling highly inadequate to the task.  I’ve been in this position before…pretty frequently actually.  I know in the end we’ll all come out wiser, and that this is part of the commitment I made to homeschool my children.  I will consider and research every option to give them the best possible education.

I expect my children to learn new things each year.  I can expect no less of myself.

My answer to the high school question

Yesterday I shared a question from a homeschooler who is nervous about beginning high school with her 1st child.  She wondered about things like curriculum choices, but more important about character matters.  How to develop self-discipline and Biblical grounding and a servant’s heart in her child-soon-to-be-adult.  Below is how I answered her.

(BTW, we share a common faith, both being members of the church of Christ.  The book I recommend at the end can be read and agreed with by folks of most denominations, but I see several worship practices mentioned which do not conform to the Biblical standards.  It’s not the topic of this post, but I’d be happy to discuss and explain that further if anyone is curious.  I’ve had all 3 of my kids read the book and feel like we benefitted from it.)

How exciting for you!  I remember the anticipation (and nerves) when my first little boy started high school.  I was so nervous about it that we actually toured a public charter school, but he begged us not to enroll him, and we are so glad that we didn’t. 🙂

My oldest is now in college, with one in the middle of high school, and one in the same place as yours – on the verge of high school.

I think that in high school it’s important to start giving the kids more control, more choices.  Start developing their own vision for their lives, their own passions.  This is a time of transition to when they move out and take complete control, so it’s important that they learn to make decisions and make mistakes, that they learn to deal with consequences of their own choices while still at home with you to guide them and support them.

Have you talked with him yet about what he wants to accomplish during high school?  About what he’ll need to get where he’s going?  If college is in his future, start checking college websites to give him an overview of what he’ll need to study during high school to get there.  If he deams of a particular career, start finding ways to give him a taste of it (field trips, job shadowing, competitions where he competes using those skills).  Once he starts getting a taste, he’ll either develop a deeper interest, or he’ll find a new direction.

When my oldest was entering high school, he thought he wanted to be an engineer.  We helped start a robotics club and he got to help design and build a robot.  I’d never run a club before and knew nothing about robots, but I was able to find mentors and talk enough people into joining us.  Turns out my son hated it.  But in that club, he made a new friend who was interested in drama and, particularly, musical theatre.  So we joined (and eventually ran) a 4-H drama club.  Besides our own small productions, he also ended up spending countless hours at the community theatre, acting, singing, volunteering, building, painting, and using power tools.  We put him with people who were actually doing and producing what he was interested in.  His senior year, he spearheaded a full scale production of Beowulf.  He learned leadership, delegation, how to write grant applications, how to build a sturdy table, how to choreograph a fight scene, how to place each person in the best position for their own strengths and for who they got along with.  Lots of practical skills and lots of interpersonal communication skills.  That real life, in-depth study of how people work together and how personalities mesh (or clash!) led him to choose physchology as a major in college, which is he pursuing right now. 

My point isn’t to brag about what he accomplished – it’s just to demonstrate the benefits of DOING something and ACCOMPLISHING something. Don’t be scared to try new things, to take on big projects, to let your child start taking the lead.  And don’t be scared to ask others to try out a new adventure with you.  Maybe the project that excites him now won’t be what he ends up being excited about later.  That’s okay, too. 🙂  If you try something and don’t like it, it’s not a failure.  It’s an opportunity to learn something about yourself and maybe open a door to something new.  And every project will force him to learn all kinds of related (and maybe seemingly unrelated) skills because real life isn’t separated into neat boxes by subject. 

HIgh school (IMHO) shouldn’t be about just studying books.  My kids, at least, develop self-discipline when they have a goal that they’ve set for themselves and truly, truly desire to reach.  Yes, often that goal include studying books, such as when the goal is to earn college credits early.  But not always. Sometimes it pushes them to do things they aren’t normally comfortable with (like negotiating with strangers, or getting up really early in the morning, or learning to get along with clashing personalities) or that they wouldn’t do unless truly driven by internal motivation (studying and practicing harder).

Also, in our experience, the best way to develop a servant’s heart is by searching for the opportunities to serve within the field of whatever they’re excited about and doing.  For my son, that meant spending volunteer hours assisting at the non-profit community theatre and mentoring younger kids.  For my daughter who loves to bake and loves little children, that has been totally different.  She bakes birthday cakes each month to take to the local homesless shelter and children’s home for kids who normally wouldn’t have a birthday celebration.  I just have to constantly ask, “How can this skill/this talent/this passion be used to serve others?”  The same daughter enjoys photography and shopping.  Those don’t seem like “servants heart” kind of hobbies, do they?  Except that right now we’ve found an event for her to be a part of where she can do just that to help others.  An annual fashion show is held here to raise money for CASA (an organization which helps abused kids).  She gets to do photo shoots and put together outfits as part of the fundraiser, and then she will take some of the money raised to shop for things that the abused children need.  Again, I tell this story simply to illustrate that any interest or hobby can be used as an opportunity to serve others.  And again, these group activities lead to more opportunities to share the gospel.   

I recommend a book called Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris.  I recommend it with reservations – it’s written from a decidedly denominational perspective.  It should be read together with you and your child so you can point out the Biblical error.  But it’s a great book for helping teens develop a vision for actually accomplishing something – for finding a focus and purpose for their studies and for developing self-discipline toward reaching goals.