Archive for the ‘Julie’s Life’ Category

Remember to pause

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Santa Cruz at night Capitola Beach Dec 2014
Santa Cruz at night. Capitola Beach. December 2014.

December catches me off guard every year, as though I don’t know it’s coming. As though I have never shopped for presents before, or haven’t had a busy calendar in the last month of any other year.

I confess to just wanting it to be over sometimes. The hassle and hustle of the season triggers my guilt, too. Why do I rarely succeed in getting lights up on the house? How could I let my college kids come home for winter break to an empty home (I was away traveling to see extended family members who are sick)? I even found myself wondering how necessary a decorated tree is to our over-all well-being.

Some years I’ve had every gift purchased and shipped by the start of December. Other years, I’m paying the extra fees for one day shipping. And still others, I’ve had to box and wrap a receipt, letting the teen know the gift would arrive within a day or two of Christmas.

So it was with great curiosity and interest that I listened to a friend share with me a strategy for being in the present moment—something I need to remember to do for myself. Maybe it will be helpful to you too.

She told me that when she finds herself whipped up into a frenetic energy, or guilt, or anxiety—she deliberately pauses, for a moment. She checks in with her thoughts, her feelings, and her body—to see what’s really there, so that she’s not just operating from a script of past holiday seasons or past expectations.

The pause.

I had forgotten about the pause! It helps to re-center myself and ask the basic questions: Where is my mind (what am I thinking about, or obsessing over)? How do I feel (am I churned up? am I excited? am I distracted and edgy)? What’s going on in my body (clenched jaw—I grind my teeth so a clenched jaw does tell me a lot about how much I’m holding inside; upset stomach, headache, short breath)?

Once I’ve paused to see what’s going on with me, I can then accept it and honor it. I don’t have to sweep it away or pretend it’s not there or overcome it. I can allow myself to embrace that moment, and the next, and the next one too.

From this place of checking in with myself, I can then make choices that take me and how I’m doing into account. Usually when I blow or lose it, it’s because I am checked out—I’m attempting to fill expectations or am moving really fast or have decided that this moment is annoying and I just want to get past it. When I’m in that mindset, I lose the moment and my choices.

Maybe today we can all pause—simply stop long enough to be present to ourselves and to our families; to let 2014 be its own unique holiday season, not a remix of all holidays past.

I paused this morning. I noticed a lot of agitation and urgency inside. A dismissiveness toward the demands of the season. A resentment brewing.

Time for a run, a cup of tea, and a hot shower. Then I’ll rouse Noah out of his well earned slumber, and we’ll go get that tree I keep putting off. I want to enjoy it with him, not rush through it (or even skip it!). That’s what I discovered when I paused this morning.

Thanks for your emails and posts. It is wonderful to hear from you. What are you discovering when you pause?

Cross-posted on facebook.

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My family culture

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014-blogCaitrin, Liam, Jacob, Johannah, Noah

This weekend, my five adult kids were home for Thanksgiving. This is remarkable to me as it is the first time the entire family has celebrated Thanksgiving together since 2008. Yes, 2008!! They are such travelers that too often someone has been out of the country or off in another state when the holiday rolled around. This year, we did not expect Jacob to be home, but thanks to a scholarship interview, he was flown to the states from Bangkok in time for the the big day.

Much hilarity ensued. And ensued. And ensued.

Oh my goodness, I had forgotten how LOUD these five people are! It was a long weekend fest of traded inside jokes taken from pop culture, song lyrics, books read, movies we’ve all memorized, favorite Shakespeare quotes, and Seinfeld.

There was much SINGING at the tops of their lungs (or rapping, or some hybrid of the two), paired with dancing.

We played endless (I do mean endless) games from Ticket to Ride Europe expansion set to card games like Sushi-Go, a Moroccan version of “I Doubt It” (aka B. S.), Nertz, and Rummy, and Settlers of Catan, ping-pong, and Spoons.

We had too many cooks in my kitchen which was AWESOME. We had more than enough help with the dishes (I even got a text from the one kid who lives with me saying, “Don’t touch the dishes; I’ll do them when I get home from work”). (Yes, there’s hope that they will all one day be GLAD to help you in the kitchen.) Recipes were vegan and not vegan. Noah used his bartending skills to introduce us to new festive drinks.

The catching up on each other’s lives was expansive from learning about the properties of Hindi to the strange lives of the people of ancient Sparta, how ancient Greek compares with modern languages, what it’s like to live in Thailand, how the “system” is rarely fair to under-resourced kids in Brooklyn, and how to become a better and better programmer without going to school at all.

Books were traded, book titles were entered into phones to look up to read to discuss with a sibling via Skype later this year.

Many travel plans were laid so that much intersecting could continue.

Some poignant discussions surfaced in one-on-one times as there were moments available to probe a little deeper, to reflect on past painful interactions that had found their way back to the surface and needed some support or care or understanding that hadn’t been available back when X happened.

It was this weekend where I watched my adults be more of who they are—I recognized them, I was surprised by them, I was proud of them, I was humbled by them.

Kinda cool, actually. All of it. The next step in the parenting journey. We may never have one like this again—no one is married yet so it was just “them.” Love those big kids.

Thanksgiving 2014-blog_2

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Inhabit your happiness

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Julie Flowers - surprise of happy quote

A strange thing happened to me. Two of my adult kids shared essentially the same thought with me. Liam shared that he appreciates college and that he has to remind himself to “inhabit this happiness” rather than continuing to feel as though he is still working to arrive somewhere happier. He’s arrived. Time to be happy.

Then just this morning Johannah talked about how she’s considering the truth of the idea that there is no other moment to get to. What we need to feel content exists already within us. What prevents us from feeling the happiness is our belief that there is some other space to go to before we can allow ourselves the feeling of contentment.

I was struck by the similarity of these ideas. We all have objectives and goals. We all want to see evidence of growth in our children. We are looking for signs of happiness and beauty in our children.

What if today we simply chose to be glad about where we all are? What if it were okay to not know the times tables and to have to do visual processing therapies with the middle child and to skip naps and to make sandwiches for dinner?

What if we could exercise the “happy muscle” for a few minutes today? Not gratitude necessarily (though gratitude can be a good place to start). More like this:

“I’m going to choose to find genuine happiness in a moment today. I’m going to let that moment surprise me. I am hereby on alert for a surprise of happy.”

During the darkest year of my life, this is one of the ways I got through each day. I couldn’t feel happy, but I chose to stay open to a surprise of happy and then to inhabit it, even for a moment.

Let me know how it goes for you!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Today is a gift

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

I know you know. I know everyone keeps telling you that.

Yet it’s true. Heartbreakingly so.

Family members living with cancer, random bullets shot at optimistic college students in Santa Barbara, martial law in Bangkok, a missing 22 year old in Cincinnati, never-planned car accidents, aging parents losing their words and memories, births with unexpected complications…

The assault on living by the dangerous and dying is relentless.

The best we can do is to make cakes for birthday parties, to have friends stop by to grill on holiday weekends, to root for our teams in the playoffs, to stand in the sunshine and feel its warmth, today.

I spent the other day decluttering more than a decade’s worth of stuff bought with real dollars earned through hard work that brought various levels of comfort, pleasure, and distraction. 20 bags destined for trash.

Nothing lasts, no matter how precious.

Today’s a good day to let go of a grudge, to eat ice cream, to sit a little longer with the needy child, to not take “it” personally, to reach out to the far away suffering person, to share a meaningful memory with the person closest to you.

Homeschooling is merely one way to wander through the years—a rich, layered, intimate way.

I don’t like it when people tell me to be grateful or urge me to be happy on days when I’m on the verge of tears.

Occasionally, though, when I’m going through the motions, it’s good to remember the bargain we’ve all made in life—there is no promised length to our days. Today is it.

So if you are in that place today—doing the routine without much thought, I hope you find a pocket of time to pause and remember. Remember the ones who died and have afforded us this life. Remember the ones who are yet alive and love you.

May today be a good day in the string of days that are your life.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Memories from a good public school

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Julie school IDs

I grew up in southern California in the 1970s. My junior high school was located in Malibu Canyon—literally in the canyon. It backed up to a creek and stood quite alone on a long stretch of windy road between mountains.

My teachers were hip—straight out of college, and half of them home from the first batch of Peace Corps tours of duty. They wore bell bottoms and presented us slide shows from India, Uruguay, and the Andes Mountains.

In the 1970s, education underwent a genuine overhaul. Teachers were free to use their creativity to create classrooms unlike any my parents had experienced. On short supply were textbook, quiz, test, assessment structures. Sure, math still used a book, mostly, but every other class busted out of the brick and mortar into the world!

Our entire 7th grade, for instance, held a Renaissance Faire at the end of the school year during a full-fledged school day. It took us months to prepare. Kids worked in candle making shops and leather curing stands, there were jesters and gymnasts (me), food booths with grog and buns, and more! We had to barter our goods and skills to enjoy the labors/gifts/skills of others. We dressed up too. Such a memorable experience of the Renaissance era—I’ve never forgotten it.

Butterfly and Bee Sharing a MealMy science teacher took our class to the creek and wilderness behind the school every day for six weeks so we could observe nature, learn to identify everything in a 10 foot square, and then draw it representationally with accurate names for bugs, plants, fish, birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, oak trees, nettles (ouch!), and tadpoles. She also required us to catch and euthanize butterflies for our own butterfly displays. I remember running around the hills with my own handmade net catching them, and then putting them in a jar with nail polish remover, then sticking them with pins, and mounting them on Styrofoam.

My language arts instructor taught us how to write songs from existing tunes to create original lyrics, and then we performed them. We made collages of our bodies on butcher paper and decorated them with clipped images and words, markers and stickers. We had an open classroom with another teacher and her students, and freely moved between the two each day. I actually learned more from the teacher who wasn’t my “official” teacher, as it turned out. She created a magazine to “publish” our poetry and short stories.

One social studies instructor taught us how to make Inca pottery. We made the pots, painted them according to the traditional designs, fired them, and then! And then!! We got to smash them with hammers into broken pieces.

The next night, that instructor buried our pots in a field in the back of the school, with sheets of cardboard to represent sedimentary layers, buried between the various eras of pottery. The next day at school, we divided into archaeological dig parties and dug up our pots, then dating them according to the layers. I’ll never forget being the last person to find our particular “dig site.” It was so frustrating to see other kids “find” their pots immediately.

I complained to Ms. Fagan: “Our pots are lost! They’re not where you said they’d be.”

She responded, “You are having the most authentic experience in the class. This is what it is actually like for archaeologists. They don’t know where the pots are buried.”

That comment stuck with me. I was having a real experience! Sure enough, we did find the spot where our pottery was buried after several more attempts, and how elated I felt then! We took the broken pieces back to class, reassembled them with special glue, labeled them, and displayed them the way a museum would. What an experience!

In high school, I had a teacher who taught us yoga, one instructor who had spent time in China taught us how to take “cooperative tests” (“Friendship first, competition second” hung as a banner in our classroom), another who introduced us to Beowulf and Grendel (the spoof on Beowulf) and gave us a chance to write our own spoofs or revisions.

My friends and I caught a vision for poetry through this English teacher and one day decided we wanted to make “tea and crumples” (I didn’t know the word was “crumpets”!) to celebrate British poetry. We invited our teacher and another English teacher as a treat. (The original teatime!) I wound up making corn muffins with diced apple in them to create our own unique “crumples.”

Playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz

Our high school had a robust theater department that not only made the sets from scratch, but all the costume design and costume construction were done by students as well. Students ran everything: light and sound boards, stage management, props, make-up, costumes. The director/teacher sat in the audience to watch our shows, leaving us to run everything. To this day, I feel such pride when I remember the theater productions.

I share all this because something got lost in education in the last 30 years. It’s become a system of assessment and targeted information goals (rather than multi-faceted exploration and immersion).

Home education offers you the chance to be that 1970s teacher who uses creativity and imagination to create an education. It really is better to have a medieval feast with your kids and their friends, for all of you to dress up in clothes you sewed yourselves, to eat traditional foods you prepared in your kitchen, to hold a pretend jousting competition in the living room…than to read about it and write a single paragraph narration.

It is worth taking the time to make a replica of the various styles of teepees and wigwams of Native American tribes in America than to simply look at pictures in a book.

Panning for fool’s gold yourself in a makeshift creek is better than watching a movie about panning for gold in 1849.

You can’t do these extravagant experiences every day. But if you do a few of them per year, your children will never forget them. I can’t tell you what textbooks I read in junior high, but I have never forgotten the teachers who brought learning to life for me, and I’ve never forgotten the experience of learning that they gave me. I have a fondness for ancient pottery even today because I experienced the value of design, the dig, and the rescue firsthand. I developed an affinity; I didn’t simply master a subject.

Go forth and be creative. Take time. Immerse. Plan. Prepare. Do! Execute and enjoy! Give your children a true, groovy education.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Also, Spring Semester starts today! It’s not too late to enroll for some classes, but hurry!

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I’m so glad I homeschooled my kids…and didn’t build my business

Monday, February 24th, 2014


Photo taken in Lucca Italy 2005 (family trip)

Not too infrequently, a parent will virtually back me against a wall and say, “But why haven’t I heard of Brave Writer before? Where have you been all these years?”

It’s a fair question. Usually a company of our longevity would have had its coming out party by now. Instead, I crept along, slowly adding staff and products in the by-ways of the Internet, content to grow organically rather than through a big media campaign or annual trudge to all the state conventions or by advertising and spending a lot of money.

There’s a reason I didn’t make a big splash into the homeschool curriculum world over the last decade: I was homeschooling.

I thought about that today. I homeschooled my kids. I wrote writing books on the side. I answered emails after I sang lullabies at bedtime or before the toddler pounced on my chest first thing in the morning. I didn’t go to conventions lest I miss a soccer game or ballet performance. I didn’t ask for speaking opportunities. I let them come to me and many times, turned them down. I haven’t been available. I didn’t want to BE available.

I wanted to write materials and teach classes, but I wanted to be able to do it without interrupting my time with my kids. I certainly didn’t do it perfectly. There are days I remember where I got stuck at the computer all morning and other days where I had a deadline and would hole up in my office to meet it while everyone “unschooled” for a week. The kids have a joke that sometimes they needed to “double click” on mom to “wake me up” from my computer-stare.

But I am happy to say that on the whole, my work didn’t interfere with my kids having a genuine parent-led homeschool experience. I spent hours upon hours with them, being a part of their lives, struggling to teach reading, math, grammar, writing, and history, just like you. I had to figure out how to balance our lives, and incorporate art, music, and nature, too.

Even more, the projects we did together have formed the basis for the products and classes Brave Writer offers. In fact, Liam said to me once that it is odd to read Brave Writer materials; it’s like reading a journal of his childhood. My family loves it, for instance, when we see your families create fairytale and homonym books, because we still have ours and we get a kick out of seeing how you do them, too. I email them to my adult children or show them your projects when they come home for a visit.

It’s just what I wanted to do, is all.

Some of the most well known curriculum creators have never homeschooled their kids. For those who are homeschooling, it is often the husbands who build the companies and travel to conventions while their wives provide the children’s education. I met one writing company owner who told me he had been to 26 conventions in a year (that’s one convention-one city!-every other weekend). Another well-known curriculum writer hires a tutor to homeschool her children so she can be free to write books for her homeschooling business.

I do understand this.

My friend and I used to joke. She ran our homeschool co-op, and I ran Brave Writer. She would say, “Our work would be so much easier if we just didn’t homeschool.” True!

But I did homeschool. For 17 years.

I’m glad I did. It helps me be a better homeschooling business owner, even if our growth has been slower than it might have been. I hope you will always share your struggles and experiences with me. They help Brave Writer be more responsive to you.

I look forward to meeting a slew of you over the next several years (particularly this year at our first ever Brave Writer Retreat in June!) now that I have time to travel because my kids are grown.

I just thought you might like to know how I made my decisions and how Brave Writer evolved. But I’m here now, all dressed up and ready to come out and play with you!

Hope I see/meet/hug many of you soon!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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You are smart enough!

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Afraid of MathImage by Jimmie

I remember when Noah was in the 4th grade, his math text had a lesson about fractions: dividing them, multiplying them, adding and subtracting them. I looked at the page and panicked. I couldn’t remember a single thing about fractions—except they had confused me as a girl, and I resented the United States of America for not going on the sane metric system like they had promised back in 1975!

I stared blankly at the page. Nothing. Not a thing. I had no idea how to find a common denominator, or when to flip the fraction, or how to reduce the overgrown result once you got past the equals sign.

I was 35 years old.

My father’s voice rang in my head: “The only true intelligence is mathematical intelligence” shared with me after I had earned straight A’s in English, Social Studies, Spanish, Science, and Acting.

He didn’t mean any harm. I think he really believes that to this day, though he always approves of my work and was proud of my good grades.

Still, I managed to bungle math so many times, my Algebra 2 instructor suggested I quit at the semester. He bargained, “I’ll give you a B if you drop the class. It’s torturing you and I don’t want you to harm your GPA for college.”

Needless to say: my confidence in teaching math to my kids was low.

I used Cuisinaire Rods in the early years to help them understand multiplication, only to realize with astonishment: “Did everyone know that four groups of four makes sixteen? How had I never learned that?!”

Oh I knew my times tables. I just didn’t understand them.

I had not comprehended multiplication—the basis of it. To me, it was a set of memorized magic—tables of numbers associated with each other for inscrutable reasons. I never quite grasped the fundamentals: multiplication meant multiples of the same thing. Mind Blown!

How had I missed that? With the endless tutoring, teacher help, textbook study, math labs, and a father with an engineering degree, how had I missed the primary structure of multiplication? Why had no one made sure I had got that much? Perhaps because it was so obvious to everyone else, it didn’t seem possible that it was not obvious to me?

I don’t know. But what I do know is the day I had an epiphany about the times tables is the day I began my true math education. In my thirties. With four children and a baby on the way.

So when faced with fractions, I took the book, excused myself to the garage, and sat on the concrete floor playing with the rods and making myself understand fractions. It took me a bit of time, but not that long. After all, I had been baking, cooking, and quilting for a decade and a half. I had familiarity with fractions even if I didn’t understand how to use them in mathematical equations.

Understanding returned; or rather, grew! I saw what had eluded me in my grade school days.

I re-entered the house armed with the information, and now, understanding, that would enable me to teach Noah. He learned it all easily. Then he said, “So basically what you are saying is that I need to learn fractions now because we use them in school, but adults never need to use them, right? Because you didn’t understand them until a few minutes ago…”

Ha! Caught me. Made me laugh. I explained my profound lack of skill in math and how it had hampered me from many possible career options, and had made some of the work I do difficult as a result. But I resolved now that we learn together.

I never did become a fabulous math teacher to my children. Yet they have all surpassed my impoverished skills. I made sure they had tutors or went to classes at the local public school for higher math. Each of them has shown an aptitude far ahead of mine. But then again, they each had individualized help to catch those oversights before they mushroomed. They didn’t live under the wrong impression that true intelligence was only found in mathematics.

There is no subject area you can’t learn along with your children. I had a friend who was bilingual in Spanish and English, but without a good working knowledge of written Spanish or English. She hired a tutor…for herself! And learned. Then taught her kids.

It can be done. You are now an adult, with far more experience, patience, and mental agility than when you were 10, 12, and 16. What you missed before can be learned now. At the very least, you can ensure that your children have the chance to understand what was inscrutable to you. Take the time to find the tools that bring you understanding, not just information or practice sheets.

Then share them with your children and continue to advance your own understanding. You are smart enough. You are committed enough. You love your children enough. There are tools and helps enough.

Enjoy your educational renaissance!

Cross-posted on facebook.

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When it’s working, keep going

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Go this wayImage by Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Are you a tinkerer? As things are moving along in a pattern that flows, do you get itchy fingers? Are you likely to pry and probe, question, and analyze? Do you doubt yourself when all is calm? Do you wonder if you are “doing enough” or if the absence of passion or struggle means the work is too easy or not really teaching?

If you’re the type of person who is stimulated by risk or “trying the new,” you might miss that moment when your homeschool is actually going along as you’d always hoped. You might mistake your boredom for homeschool not working. It’s possible that you will re-insert drama or too much challenge or change into a scenario that is actually satisfactory and healthy as a way to stay stimulated, yourself (to have something for you to work on).

Don’t fall for that trap. If the kids are engaged (showing quiet engagement, cooperation, and care), you’ve succeeded. You don’t need to see marvels of creativity or passion every day of the year (or even every week or every month!). It’s okay to make steady or slow progress. It’s okay to be at peace.

As Susan Elliott (friend and therapist) says, “Make peace with the peace. That’s the sound of your life working.”

Allow your family to find its rhythm. If you have an idea that supplements the flow and nicely established calm of your home, you’ll know it. The idea will dovetail—it won’t dominate and upend, it won’t change the tone or feel of your home so dramatically that the kids now aren’t sure what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

I want to give an example of a time in my life when I made a big mistake.

My family was following a routine that I had built from my years of Charlotte Mason study. It was a good routine; a happy one, that held up well in all kinds of circumstances. It felt like a true fit for us (both lifestyle and content). They were happy; I was happy. They were learning; I was able to support and facilitate that learning. I could measure their growth without testing or hand-wringing. That season was my favorite for homeschooling.

However, there came a point one year where my CM support group disbanded, and I looked for another source of inspiration (for me!). I also noticed that a couple of my kids became crabby about some of the history lessons (the way I had them structured or modeled after CM). I went in search of new stimulation.

I found it in the world of unschooling. Given my temperament and habit of parenting, it felt like a wonderful fit for my ideas of what I believed about learning. I read and read, I discussed with my kids’ dad how I felt about this philosophy, I absorbed the advice of the online unschoolers (so much so, I lost a little of myself in the process).

One day, Jon (kids’ dad) and I took the kids out for breakfast and announced that we had a new idea for homeschool. We explained the theory of unschooling with great joy and enthusiasm. “You get to learn whatever you like! You are in charge! We will participate and help and facilitate, but you are no longer bound by a set of criteria to follow!”

Two of the five hooted: “Woo-hoo!” They high-fived.

Two of the five panicked: “How will I learn math? But I liked my vocabulary building book. Does this mean that what I’ve learned so far doesn’t matter?”

One of the five was too young to care one way or the other and went back to eating pancakes.

Over the course of the next two years, I noticed a few things. One, we lost the hub of our homeschool and it took me some time to find it again. While we discovered some truly awesome and inspired passions that developed and grew, for Jacob and Johannah (in particular), the un-measured progress felt like abandonment. They enjoyed setting out a goal and completing it. They enjoyed me giving them a goal to complete. All that freedom felt a little unhinged—rendering hard work meaningless.

Truth be told: we entered an unschooling lifestyle the “wrong” way. I learned later on all those lists that a big announcement can be utterly disorienting for kids. I got ahead of myself—pushing a vision, rather than supporting growth and learning naturally.

We found our way through this unschooling wilderness (more about that another time). But as I look back now, our best homeschooling years were the ones with that balance between routine (with a few well chosen expectations) and freedom, between parent-led learning and child-led passion.

So it is with real experience that I say to you: If it’s working, keep going. Don’t fool or trick yourself. There isn’t always a “better.” Sometimes “better” is already happening in your home. Embrace it.

Make peace with the peace.

Your life is working.

Cross-posted on facebook.

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Keep reading

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

ReadingImage by Tammy Wahl

In all our connectivity, we sometimes think we’ve read all day long, when in fact, we’ve absorbed bites of information as our eyes scroll over screens.

Read aloud time is one way to ensure that you get a dose of literature in your day. It nourishes you and your kids. It may take some work to find a way to fit it in (for me, I started the day with read aloud time—right after breakfast). But it’s worth it. If you have wiggly toddlers or fussy babies, try to read to the older ones while they are napping or at the breast (if the baby tolerates it – some do, some hate it).

In addition to reading to the kids, though, I hope you will read for pleasure yourself. Consider it a part of your “teacher-training.” You are a much better commentator on literature and movies when you, yourself, are reading adult fare. You are also a better human being when you connect to characters and their struggles/hurdles and discover new resources for how to meet your own challenges. You are a happier person when you are taken away from below zero weather, a computer in the shop, and an empty refrigerator to the tropics and a love story.

Reading for pleasure may seem like a chore initially. Who has time for that?

Here are a few ways I found the time when I was either pregnant, nursing, or both, and managing small children.

woman-reading 2

I read while I laid down to nurse a baby. This was my favorite way to read for years. I felt like I was being given the gift of a rest each time I did it. It didn’t work with nursing toddlers, but during the first year it did.

I listened to books on tape while making dinner. I put the TV on—usually Arthur—for the kids. Then I’d go to the kitchen and turn my tape recorder on low and listen while I prepared dinner. Totally changed how I felt about that task and time of day. I listened to so many books that way (I used to have a list).

Long car rides—I’d listen to a book on tape or CD. I had a few of these for conferences and instead of music, I would tackle Hemingway or Hugo or some other difficult to read book. The narration of the book helped me press through some of the difficult passages.

I used to read books aloud to my husband. We’d read a chapter before bed each night. We read some really long ones, including the entire Asia series by James Clavell (Shogun, Noble House, etc.).

I kept a book in my purse. All those visits to the doctor or dentist, sitting in a parked car during soccer or lacrosse practice, waiting for a performance to start for band or ballet—these moments are often crowded by cell phone scrolling now. But if you keep a book on your phone or if you tuck a paperback into your purse, you can use them for reading instead.

The benefits to reading for yourself are enormous. I recommend keeping one book going that is just for you. It’s like giving yourself a big chocolate bar and eating a square of it each day. It’s delicious, and you deserve it. Moreover, it makes you a better home educator and you’ll hardly even realize why.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Image of woman reading by Spirit-Fire

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If you’ve got a passel of kids

Saturday, February 1st, 2014

Big Family 2You might be running yourself ragged trying to teach to four or five grade levels a day! Pulling out workbooks for four subjects times five kids, leads to math I can’t even do! (Well, okay, I can do it, but it’s too many workbooks!)

What I did when I raised my five: I kept us all together as much as possible. Here’s how.

We started our days together every day. We spent one hour of the morning reading.

Devotional literature
Non Fiction (like books about nature or tanks or world religions or geography or the weather or how to make films…)
Aesop’s Fables or Greek myths (we did one of these each day for years)
Read Aloud (whatever novel we were reading as a group)
History book (we used a variety of narrative history texts over the years, not history textbooks)
Poetry (not every day, but many days—this is when we’d memorize poems together)

Kids usually knitted, or played with Legos or blocks while I read.

When we finished what we called Read Aloud Time, we would move to the table for math pages and copywork. These were usually according to level, but we did them all at once so that I could be in “math mind” or “writing mind” and not go back and forth.

Sometimes copywork came first, and usually passages were pulled from the same book, but different lengths per kid. Sometimes they picked their own copywork passages. New-to-writing kids used handwriting books.

Then we’d work on our history all together—same topic, same era. This might include preparing little oral reports or acting out a scene of history. It might include captioning an illustration of the reading of the morning or making maps or artifacts from that era. Sometimes we prepared a party to go with the era of history.

If we were working on a writing project, we all worked on the same topics or same concept for writing (posters – everyone, mini books – everyone, freewriting – everyone). Each child would write naturally at his or her level. It’s not like I had to drum up a brand new idea for each child each week. So exhausting! When we wrote descriptive paragraphs, we were all observing and note-taking and talking about our items at once, with me superintending. I didn’t create a project for each child, unique to that child.

Poetry teatimes were always done as a group, poetry books of all levels available. I brought my adult poetry books to the table so I could share poems I found meaningful, even if above their level. I felt that was the best way to introduce them to some of the more challenging poets.

Then we might take a hike or kick a soccer ball in the yard or watch a movie or go to the store or to an art museum or the library…

The rhythm of our days was not determined by grade level. Rather, it was shaped by topics—each child would naturally perform at his or her level. That’s where “grade level” revealed itself. But I didn’t cater to it or pay it much notice, honestly.

It’s a shift in thinking. You are a one-room school house. You want to make the most of that environment. Create learning opportunities that call all of you together. Your older kids will inspire your younger ones, your younger ones will cheer up your older ones (and make them feel smart). They can work together, helping each other out, and making suggestions. They provide great audiences for one another too.

Hope that helps!

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