Archive for the ‘Homeschool Advice’ Category

No defense needed

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015


Try not to defend your life to others. It’s tempting to explain your choices, to provide evidence that you did the best you could, or that your convictions are pure and your motives are selfless.

We’re all a bundle of needs, making decisions that are both selfless and self-interested. The only criteria that matters in evaluating how you spent today is the one you’ve chosen to live by––today.

That criteria shifts and changes. Some years you have more energy for self-sacrifice and understanding, and others, you find you need someone to give you a break, to make up for what you don’t have, to be the strength you lack. Some years you find resources and help, and others, it seems no one “gets” what you’re going through and it’s entirely up to you to figure out the way forward.

Some years you’re blindsided by facts you never imagined would be the substance of your life, of your family.

We have our ideals (they matter) and we have our limits (they matter too). One person (you, me) can change the entire dynamic in a home by making better, more emotionally supportive, empathetic choices; but it’s also true that one person can wreck the peace, by not cooperating, asserting a will that is unresponsive to the best care and kindness you can give.

A family is an interdependent system—no one person can carry it alone. There must be give and take, support and nurture for each person, even if in uneven doses at times.

All you can do is become the most healthy version of you that you can be—taking care of your welfare so that you don’t wake up one day and “flip out.”

You’ll be given good advice: Be generous. Give. Share. Listen. Pay attention. Make adjustments. Become a partner to your kids, to your spouse. Forgive. Find the good, the true, the pure. Let go of petty resentments and high expectations.

But you also need to take care of yourself. Be sure that you, the caregiver, receives care too—by someone, somehow, somewhere. It’s how you keep going. You deserve to have someone tell you that you’re doing a great job, or that your emotional breakdown is justified, or that your worries are legitimate.

When you hit your limits, you’ll get advice to give more. You’ll be told what the ideals are. You’ll be reminded of your original goals. You’ll try harder. We women are especially likely to take this advice to heart.

Just remember: in the trying (which is right and noble and good), stand up for yourself too. You matter as much to the whole system, as all the people you love and serve freely every day.

Be good to yourself, no matter what that looks like. You get one life, too. It needs to be a good, peace-filled, lovely one. No Joan of Abeccas here. No Teresa of Calculadders allowed.

Stay connected to your well being while you give to the ones you love. That’s it. That’s what it looks like to do it right.

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It’s okay to take it easy

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015


Today’s “while you sip your coffee” thought:

You know that day where everything is going along swimmingly?

This one:

  • The older kids are quietly finishing pages of math and handwriting.
  • The toddler is happily covered in dress-up clothes.
  • The baby is napping.
  • The pre-reader is sounding out the words easily, conquering Frog and Toad.
  • The right library books for the unit study arrived!
  • The most exciting chapter in the read aloud is next.
  • Bodies are healthy and fed. Showers and baths may have been taken in the last week.
  • All the machines and various household systems work: cars, AC, dishwasher, washer and dryer, ceiling fans, refrigerator and ice maker, all four computers, the DVR, the TV, your lawn mower, plumbing, and gaming consoles.
  • No one’s fighting. No one’s complaining. Maybe dinner is already planned.
  • You and your Significant Other are getting along—good conversation, good sex.

Sit in this vision for a moment. The vision of well-being—of the stars, planets, and Cheerios aligned. Can you see it? Feel it?

When it comes, when your life hits that magical moment—what do you do?

Here’s what some of us do:

We toss a homemade hand grenade into the center of the living room. We reject our ordinary happiness. Why?

Because some of us are under the impression that things of value only happen when we’re working hard.
So, when everyone is happily completing pages, reading, and skip counting, when the home is humming and our relationship is peaceful, some of us experience an involuntary panic.

  • This material is too easy. She must not be learning.
  • He whipped through that passage too quickly. He must not be challenged.
  • This book is fun, so it must not be that educational.
  • I better take in the car.
  • I’m going to ask ________ about why (he or she) doesn’t _________ more often.

We move into “anticipate the next crisis” mode. To avoid the surprise attack of the next crisis, we create one—one we can control!

Instead of staying home enjoying this (surely temporary) peace, we take the show on the road—adding the challenge of managing lots of kids out in the world.

Some of us buy brand new curricula so that everyone is suddenly thrust into the learning curve of “new” rather than enjoying comfy and familiar.

We can’t appreciate the joy of mastery—we only esteem struggle to learn the next step/process.

Some of us look around at our friends (in person or online heroes) and decide that what they are doing is better, and judge our happy peace as undisciplined or, conversely, not free enough.

We refuse to allow the feeling of happiness to “settle in,” because it might mean we are not being conscientious enough about educating our young.

What if we were to while away the hours without diligence and pain and struggle and effort? Would that mean we were irresponsible parents/partners/home educators?

Time for a sip of coffee.

That peace you hear? That’s the sound of your life working. That happy completion of pages, the successful reading, the repetition of skills learned and now mastered? That’s the sound of education taking root.

No one wants to struggle with a new challenge every day. Some of the joy of learning is getting to use the skills cultivated. It feels great to copy a passage without any struggle whatsoever. It’s awesome to rip through a set of math problems, knowing you’ve got it! You get it! You can bury that page with accurate answers and even show your work.

Kids who find their daily groove and rhythm—knowing what is expected and then being able to live up to that expectation—are happy kids.

Don’t wreck it!

Enjoy it! This is the life you are shooting for! Problems will find you again, without you even trying. So for now, celebrate the modest joy of ordinary happiness and success. Let yourself off the hook. It’s wonderful if everyone likes the curricula, finds it a bit “too easy,” and successfully moves through their work with skill. Even professional athletes repeat the same drills at age 30 that they learned in Little League. Mastery relies on practice and practice is all about repetition of skills, not struggling to learn new ones all the time.

You are doing something profoundly right when you feel that whoosh of peace in your home. Pause to notice. Inhale. Then . . . exhale and smile.

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Startle your kids!

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015


One way to bring energy into your family life is for you, the homeschooling parent, to embark on your own adventure. Pick an adventure that is yours alone (not bound to your kids in any way). That adventure can be grand (like planning a trip to Europe by yourself—I mean it!) or it can be homespun (like refurbishing dolls or growing organic vegetables in your front yard).

We want our kids to pursue their interests with commitment and heart. We certainly homeschool them with that energy (after all, home education is our grand adventure—truly). Yet because the homeschool adventure is bound up in them, it is somewhat invisible to them (they don’t realize it is an adventure for you), unlike, say, learning to surf, or painting with oils, or writing a novel in a month, or going back to grad school, or running a half marathon, or horse-back riding in Montana, or getting your real estate license.

Take it in baby steps. Perhaps you will simply take yourself to an art museum sans children for the sake of pure pleasure. I did that once. I met a friend from the Internet (we had not yet met in person) in Chicago to go to the Art Institute together over a weekend. It was a rare escape and it took me some time to save the money for the flight. That commitment to art, though, carried me and my kids a long ways in our homeschool. It was a natural part of our lives because it had become a passion of mine—one I nurtured without them around all the time.

You might start running each day—short half mile lengths, alternating with walks, until you build up to a 10K or a half marathon. Your kids will then say about you, “Yeah, my mom’s a runner.” It will mean something to them—the commitment, the willingness to make time for it, the sheer joy at having achieved your goal. It’s a meta-lesson in learning and passion, determination and practice. They get to root for you and celebrate your achievements—a lesson in valuing you, the way you value them.

I have a friend who has a dream book. In it, she puts pictures of her aspirations for different years of her life. As we paged through it together one time, I noticed that she had a photo of a trip to learn to surf in Mexico. She had taken that trip in time for her 50th birthday. I looked at that beautiful blue image. I grew up next to the ocean yet had never learned to surf. I made that my goal for my 50th birthday…and went! She surprised me and met me there. It was a magical week, one I’ll never forget.

Of course, when my kids were younger, my adventures were of a smaller, less expensive, scale. I learned to quilt, I wrote articles for magazines, I got interested in birding, I became passionate about Shakespeare, poetry, and art, and I took guitar lessons.

Each time you branch out for yourself, you are investing in your family. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s the truth. Because you are such a zealot for home-everythingness, I trust you to not overdo it (you won’t let yourself!). Rather, what I’m suggesting is that you not let your own adult life—these healthy years—scroll by in service exclusively of your children, thinking that a later date will come when you can go to grad school or visit a full service spa in the Red Rocks of Arizona.

You grew up to this age so that you could use your full adult powers for good—for your family, for your community, and also, just as importantly, for yourself. When you take that time and initiative to create a good happy life for yourself, as much as you do for your kids, you give your family energy—energy that rebounds into home education. The world becomes alive with possibility for all of you.

Most importantly, your kids can look ahead to adulthood and SEE that it is worth growing up and learning all kinds of things because that’s when you get to DO COOL STUFF! Like Mom! Like Dad!

Startle your children! Be the model of adulthood to which you hope they aspire.

Last thing: If you find yourself frustrated that your kids aren’t into learning as much as you are, forget them for a bit. Dive deep. Learn all you want. The more you indulge your cravings, rather than foisting them on your kids, the more likely it is they will want to “get involved” eventually, in some aspect of your current passion because passion is contagious.

Surprise your family; surprise yourself! Set a goal today and go after it, right in the middle of all the muddle.

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Reboot your day

Monday, March 30th, 2015

6 ways to start

It doesn’t matter if it is 10:00 in the morning, or 2:00 in the afternoon, or five minutes before bedtime. You can start a day over at any point in the day. When it’s all going wrong—from sibling pokes to spilled orange juice to “Where is the math book?” to the dog peeing on the carpet AGAIN—you don’t have to wave the white flag and collapse into a quivering heap (though you TOTALLY have my permission to do that now and then—it’s cathartic!).

You can declare that the day is in reboot and begin again. Here are six ways to reset the temperature in the home.

Let’s count down to the most effective reboot practice.

6. Change rooms.
Move homeschool to your bedroom and do everything on the big bed. Toss pillows and blankets to everyone and put workbooks on clipboards. Cuddle the baby.

5. Get outside.
Bundle up and go for a walk with everyone. Or send the most rambunctious kiddos outside to find a pine cone or gather a bucket of snow to bring home to boil (for no good reason except to have a task) or to run six laps around the backyard.

4. Brownies.
They fix everything. (Keep a mix on hand for those days and resort to it.)

3. Have a shouting fest.
Everyone gets to scream for 2 whole minutes (set a timer) at the top of his or her lungs while jumping up and down and punching the air. Repeat. Until exhaustion.

2. Play music.
Dance. Sing. Wiggle. Involve stuffed animals. FaceTime mom/dad at work so s/he can see you.

And the number one reboot:

1. Poetry teatime.
Any time of day. Stop the math books, wipe up the orange juice, throw a few mugs on the table, grab the poetry books, and settle down. It changes everything. Promise! Every time. And you will feel like you did school, which counts for something.

Good luck!

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Is it confusing? Is it difficult? Are you worried?

Monday, March 23rd, 2015


Good. Means you’re doing it right. Means you want to do it right. Means you’re evaluating and considering, caring and revising.

How can you possibly find the right program and not ever reconsider?

How can you teach high school math when you found it impossible yourself?

Why wouldn’t you worry about your socially awkward tween or your dyslexic 2nd grader or your moody 16 year old?

Of course you’re tired—anxious, weary, feeling alone.

You have assigned yourself an enormous task—the complete education of your precious children, without having done any training, without any certainty that you can do it. You live in a petri dish of your own making—hoping that if you bring together the right ingredients with your children, an educated person will emerge and contribute to the world.

Even more—there are no guarantees your children will thank you for the herculean effort you are making on their behalf. They may grow up, go to college, marry, and say, “Heck no! I’m putting my own kids in school.” What then? Will that feel like you somehow failed them?

So, yes. You worry. Some days you feel overwhelmed and sad—wondering if this is how homeschool is supposed to feel. You want joy, natural learning, enthusiasm to explore the wide open world. You hope to see ties form between bickering children, and you want to feel close to your teens as they move away from you into their inevitable independence.

Will you do a good enough job? Will your kids agree?

Yes, this is how it is supposed to feel. Lean into it. As long as you homeschool, some doubt will ride sidecar to all the good you do every day. Not every decision will pan out, not every day will show fruit, not every effort will be worthwhile.

Yet if you stick with it, if you make adjustments that are considerate of your children as they are (as they show themselves to you), over time (cumulatively), your children will receive an education that suits them to adult life.

Doubt, worry, confusion, anxiety—as long as these are not swamping you (preventing you from doing the work of home education), they are simply conditions that go with the territory.

Keep going. Keep trying. Keep expanding your options.

Once in a while pause—admire how far you’ve come, how many things you’ve learned, how much you know now about education that you didn’t know when you started. Remind yourself that you are still learning and will know even more in another year! How grand is that!?

You’re okay now. Just as you are. Breathe.

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Why journaling helps people

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Journaling Quote

When I lived in France as an exchange student, I wrote over 1000 pages in my journal. When I lived in Morocco, I wrote dozens of journals. I’ve kept some semblance of a journal since 4th grade—writing more some years than others. I always know when I’m “going through something.” Journaling pops back to the forefront of my life.

This study is fascinating to me. It clarifies why journaling helps people. Writing helps us tell our story back to ourselves. It helps us put the emotions and experiences into a meaningful context.

You might try this with your own children. I remember how Noah struggled with big emotions after particularly meaningful experiences in his life (sleep away camp, performing in a play, a great vacation). He’d get swamped by the feelings and didn’t know what to do with them.

I suggested he keep a “special occasions” journal. He could write his memories while they were fresh and then reread them any time he wanted to revisit those precious experiences. It worked…and he still has that journal to this day.

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You have time to prepare

Thursday, February 26th, 2015


Do you remember how to divide fractions? I didn’t. I had a 4th grade math book whose page I turned and discovered, “Oops! We are up to division of fractions. I can’t remember how to do that.”

I whisked myself away to the garage to teach myself. My kids made messes in the living room.

I returned ready to show Noah how to divide fractions. He performed the task easily. At the end of the page, he commented, “So I don’t have to really remember this? I won’t need fractions as an adult? I only need to know them for today, right?”

Ha! He took a different lesson than the one I meant to impart. My inability to remember how to divide fractions stood out, naked and then ashamed. I countered that my handicaps in math were just that—skills I didn’t get to use when I needed them. I hoped for better for him, and I told him that I would do a better job of preparing to be his teacher in the future.

It’s with this experience in mind that I make the following recommendation. It is wise to prepare. In fact, it is essential to learn how to home educate your kids. It is entirely on task to read blogs, Facebook groups, books, and the directions that precede any lesson you expect your kids to complete.

In fact, it is so on task, may I make a bold statement? I know you don’t have time to study “learning” by yourself, in some ideal context of private, quiet, peaceful hours in the day. I know this.

So, here’s my advice: just do it—right in the middle of the day with kids all around you, “off-task” in dress up clothes, acting out Frozen one more time. Tuck your feet under you, snuggle up to the corner of the sectional, and read, scroll, page. Use headphones if you need to. Highlighter in hand, read. Take notes. Absorb.

It is so much better to let go of today’s and tomorrow’s lessons in order to drill down to the essential ingredients of math or writing, or to understand a period in history, or to get a glimpse of how the science experiment should go and what its objective is, than to muddle forward with doubt and your child’s resistance.

Prepare quoteIt is not better to just “get it done” and hope for the best. There is no “automatic” method for any learning. It just doesn’t happen that way. Depth, immersion, exploration, and guidance are the core values of education.

We are concerned with completion of pages or curricula, and then we worry that our kids aren’t making progress, and we hope for a quick fix—some solution that won’t require us to take valuable time to understand before implementation.

But this approach is backwards. You didn’t go to college (most of you) to get a teaching credential. You’re becoming educators on the fly (even unschoolers are embarking on a huge new project of how to be that parent who facilitates learning or invests deeply in a child’s passions). These choices necessitate information that informs how you spend time with your kids, and what you impart.

You will feel so much better if you have a handle on the contours of a subject area, than if you plod through a book hoping for magic (that the lesson leaps from the page without you knowing why or how it works).

You do have time. For all the hours you don’t spend in preparation, you will find yourself frustrated with basic problems. Why isn’t my child of 10 spelling well? This is answered quickly in a book that explains the natural stages of growth in writing. 10 year olds don’t spell well. Here’s why, here’s how to foster the continued growth.

Without that bit of knowledge, you will be tempted to push your child or to shame him for not spelling well. I know. I’ve done all of that. I’ve pushed, I’ve shamed, I’ve blamed, I’ve plowed forward in a curriculum expecting it to teach and finding out it did not.

Then a new day dawned. I saw that my home life was fluid—we didn’t have set school hours, we didn’t have a teacher’s lounge for me. We had the mixed up mess of living and learning and all my insecurities about parenting and educating—together in one living room, at one kitchen table. It finally occurred to me: If I was unsure about how to impart a specific skill set for them or share about an area of passion for me, I could spend daytime looking into it. Right when I wanted to.

I wanted my kids to have an art education, but had no idea how to go about it. We spent time in the library where they read books they wanted, and I checked out books about art. I read them. I bought some. I started hanging prints on the wall. Finally, I ordered the 6 video set of Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting. I put them on every day for a couple of weeks, right after breakfast. My kids were free to come and go, but I took notes. They remember this period of our homeschool.

The foundation from that season was laid in me. I couldn’t wait to go to museums with the kids. They were excited to see paintings we’d already viewed in the video series.

I didn’t set out to make this a lesson for them. It was a lesson for me. I didn’t “go to another room” to understand it and then come back with the pretense of “Aha! Here’s the lesson you have to learn now.” Rather, I learned, in front of them.

Did our Sister Wendy odyssey take time away from math? Yes, yes it did.

It also showed me the value of taking time to prepare the feast of ideas I hoped would be my children’s education.

The benefits were life-changing:

  •  To understand—to be prepared.
  • To get behind the lessons to why the lessons.
  • To discover the germ of value in the material.
  • To grow as an educator.
  • To fuel my creativity.
  • To spark my enthusiasm.
  • To feel competent.
  • To hold realistic expectations for each age and subject area.

These are the benefits of preparation. You deserve these benefits. Take the time to get them.


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Five Magic Words

Monday, February 23rd, 2015


Get a dose of at least one of these per day and see if your home environment doesn’t improve.

I’ve provided two possible examples of each one to get your creative juices going. Build from these! Please post your own ideas for how to apply these to your homeschool in the comments section.

1. Surprise

  • A margin note in the math book
  • Cake for breakfast

2. Chance

  • Roll of the dice—numbers represent “how many” of whatever work for the day (number of math problems, number of letters traced, number of pages or sentences or words read…)
  • Flip a coin—heads means working independently for ten minutes; tails means working with a partner for ten minutes (child chooses which subject for independence or partnership)

3. Mystery

  • Handwritten clues leading to a new board game or snack or treat
  • Invisible ink to reveal a new copywork or dictation passage

4. Secret

  • Provide a lock n key diary for secret entries
  • Tell a child a secret plan to spend time with them (that day, later in the week…)

5. Discovery

  • Walk, bike, kayak somewhere new
  • Explore little known works of authors or poets you love

Good luck!

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Conversations in the car count

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

So much good education

You’re driving along discussing how far the sun is from the earth when one of your kids wants to know if the song on the radio is by One Republic, another one then asks if you can stop by the store to get a starfruit because she heard about it from a book she’s reading, and then another one declares that he knows a shortcut home. The toddler then throws his pacifier to the floor and the 9 year old steps on it while trying to pick it up. Of course.

In the span of fifteen minutes, you’ve covered all kinds of interesting information, as well as have heard snippets of what is filling your kids’ heads all day, in addition to the inevitable interruptions of life with kids.

Count it all.

Write it down.

It’s okay that you have incomplete discussions. You’ll circle back to them over time. Remind yourself that conversation is the homeschool equivalent of classroom lecture. These conversations are often best had in a car, anyway. It’s when you’re all trapped in one space and talking is the main thing that can be done in that space. Use it well! Ask a provocative question: “How many whole chickens could we fit in that semi? How might we figure it out?” Brainstorm ideas, take guesses, figure it out when you get home.

Ponder other questions: I wonder how long it would take to ride a horse to the store rather than drive a car. Discuss.

You might discuss the pop star or the lyrics of a song. You might comment on the birds on the telephone wire, wondering which ones they are. You might ask about a game recently played or a book being read.

Talk in the car! Count it. So much good education happens, literally, along the way.

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Are you training your family to NOT help you?

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Don't turn down help

Do you wish you didn’t have to ask your family for help?

  • with the dishes
  • taking out the over-flowing garbage
  • changing the toilet paper tube (why this is difficult, I still don’t understand)
  • clearing a table
  • putting away the dozens of pairs of mis-matched shoes strewn through the halls
  • moving a wet load of laundry to the dryer and a new load into the washer
  • shoveling snow
  • unloading groceries
  • replenishing the food and water bowls for the dog and cats

And so on…

Let me flip this around on you. What do you do when someone offers to help?

Think about it for a moment. Imagine this setting. You’re in the kitchen unloading the dishwasher and preparing to load it. In a surprising instance of charity and awareness, your teenager who is watching TV says, “Do you need help Mom?”

What do you say?

Do you tell the teen that yes, you need help, and that he can turn off his favorite program to take over for you at the sink? Do you do then walk away leaving him to it while you go get a bubble bath or hop back onto the computer?

Or do you think to yourself, “That’s so nice that he asked, I’m going to reward him by saying he doesn’t have to help me and he can go on watching his program”? Some unconscious version of this one—you turn down help because you feel generous when you do.

Another instance: You’re folding laundry and the five year old wants to help. The five year old will offer five year old skills to the job. Do you accept that? Or do you send the child away to play so you can get it done correctly and quickly?

Another time: You’re making dinner and it’s the favorite meal of your 11 year old daughter. She offers to peel or chop and you send her to set the table. She doesn’t particularly want to set the table—she wanted to help by peeling and chopping. You know she will slow you down if she peels and chops so you ask her to do what feels helpful to you: setting the table. She does a poor job with the table and you feel resentful that she isn’t being helpful… perhaps.

If any of these resonate—take a moment to consider this idea.

When you turn down help (whether you do so out of a desire to be generous, or because you are better at it, or because the offer doesn’t match what you thought you needed), you train your family to NOT HELP you.

In other words—if you want helpers in your family, accept the help they offer with enthusiasm, support them in being helpful by teaching them the skill that they want to offer, and if they are capable of doing the task without you, walk away and let them do the whole job so that they see they were helpful (not merely supervised and scolded). Let them see that you are relaxing and enjoying the help they are giving you.

It’s not easy.

It’s a reflex to simply take over, move quickly, do what needs to be done, and leave everyone in the status quo space of not helping.

Then what happens? Resentment builds. We start believing that no one cares about us, when in fact, we may have trained our roommates to let us do everything for them!

How do you get back to offers of help if you’ve already extinguished them? You ask for help! You say things like, “Who wants to help me make dinner? I’ve got sharp knives and electric tools for anyone who wants to hang out in the kitchen with me. I’ll set the table while you frappe and slice.”

You ask for help like this:

“I’m exhausted. Anyone willing to do the dishes for me tonight? I will be eternally grateful. I just need one hour to unwind in a tub? Anyone? Anyone?”

If no one offers, you do them and keep going and ask again another night. Over time, your vulnerability in needing help will reappear on the radar. Someone (one of your kids) will recognize that he or she can actually make you happy by helping (not make you worried or annoyed). And that child will offer, freely, out of the blue.

People want to be helpful. Sometimes we train them to lose that desire.

We can turn it around.


Always accept the help being offered (don’t change the offer to something else).

Help your helpers be helpful—give them lessons, show them how, appreciate their efforts.

Get out of the way—competent helpers should be left to help, not hovered over. You should benefit from the help by not being there, doing something else you enjoy.

Thank them. Not effusively, but genuinely. “Thank you for cleaning up. That was helpful.”

Go forth and be helped!

Image by Paul Ashley (cc cropped, text added)

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