Archive for the ‘Family Notes’ Category

Homeschool in paper form

notebooks2Image by Muffet

Yesterday I dug through all the old homeschool notebooks in my basement. I paged through copywork, dictation, freewrites, lists, illustrations with written narrations, nature journals, reproductions of paintings, charcoal drawings of African violets, topics for poems (like, “How loud my dad snores”), pages filled with revision notes, math and science pages (I found evidence that we did, in fact, study the scientific method, no matter what my kids say), journal entries, an original script for Gilgamesh, a novella modeled after Emma, handwriting pages, lap books, posters…

It’s all there—our homeschool in paper form.

I even found my journal pages from the months when I began Brave Writer and was writing The Writer’s Jungle. I was fascinated to read my thoughts—worried that I might not have the right angle, wanting to be sure that what I wrote would be useful and a fresh take on writing/coaching, really engaged in examining what it feels like on the inside to be a writer.

In the middle of all these paging-throughs, I read the following in my journal:

“Better tub and scrub the little guys. They played endlessly in the creek the last two days and came home gloriously muddied. Just what a mother loves to see. Caitrin kept putting a muddy hand to her 24/7 headband and had to suffer separation anxiety last night while it sat out to dry after a thorough soaking. Back glued to her head today though.

“Liam is all boy about these things. I told him it was okay to get dirty. He took me fully at my word and brought home feet so thick with mud that I couldn’t see shoes underneath. Then he dribbled bits all over my house. Jacob made “Indian clay pots” that he left to dry… on my computer desk. I revel in this stuff, though. It’s far superior to TV and makes me feel that they are having a real childhood after all.” (February 25, 2000)

It heartened me to read that in the midst of everything else I was doing/thinking about (starting a business, writing a book, homeschooling every day), the highlight of one of those days was mud everywhere—head to toe, in my office, all over the house, up and down my kids’ bodies, wrecking shoes and clothes, requiring baths in the afternoon.

That’s parenting, that’s the whole reason we signed up to have children!

In our eagerness as parents to be dutiful, to foster learning, to make a difference in the world, to be “good parents” raising “good children,” I want to remind you: keep your eye on the ball.

Ball = kids.

Ball = happy.

Ball = mess.

Ball = wet.

Ball = serendipity.

Ball = living in this moment, today.

Ball = celebrating childishness.

Ball = gifts of mud pots on your computer desk.

Ball = smiling back at smiling children.

Ball = noticing, remembering, valuing, honoring.

Today: value your children as children.

  • Choose not to take anything they say personally.
  • Put your house last.
  • Forget “training” or “obedience” or “discipline.”
  • Cherish this chance to connect… and then connect, and connect again.
  • Relish the person your child is today because today becomes tomorrow and that child changes and grows up.
  • Be happy when your child is happy.

Then write “today” somewhere, and tuck it away… and like a time capsule, your preserved memory in words will come back to keep you company years from now, when you need it, when you’ve forgotten about today, when the house is all tidy and empty and silent and obedient and no longer muddy.

Cross-posted on facebook.

Where no one is an adversary


I remember when I was pregnant with Johannah (second child), friends threw a baby shower for me and another pregnant friend. The main gift from the party organizers was a wooden spoon to each of us. Instead of party games, two women gave “talks” to us about the importance of spanking, discipline, and “instant obedience” (what I later came to call “spanking on command”).

As a young woman (only 27 at the time), I smiled a lot, laughed at their jokes (which made me inwardly cringe), and pretended that stories of spankings and childishness framed as rebellion were entertaining. I also wondered if I might be wrong—that nurturing, co-sleeping, responding to a baby’s needs, expending physical energy to restrain a toddler—were naive choices. After all, these moms were more experienced and they seemed convinced that children needed training to become civilized people.

I gave spoon-spankings a shot. Results: I saw no behavioral improvements. Time outs were a joke for Noah—I’d put him in a bathroom and he’d follow me out of it. What then?

It didn’t take long to see that this approach—this requirement that my children cooperate with my version of how life should be lived—would change how I saw my children. I became aware that the more I felt “disobeyed” or “disrespected” or “ignored,” the less I could enjoy my kids as they were. I was evaluating them all the time, trying to shape and control how they behaved toward me and others. I found myself inwardly resenting them for making me spank them!

I had thoughts like, “How can you disobey me when you know you’ll get spanked and you know that I don’t want to spank you?” It became ridiculous—these layers of resentment that expanded as I became exhausted and disillusioned.

I gave up spanking. Obviously.

My children are adults now (all but one). I’m struck by the fact that they are basically the same people they were as toddlers. A requirement of “obedience” doesn’t fundamentally alter the temperament, the personality, the perspective of a person. It makes all those things go underground, in many cases, which is unhealthy.

Ironically, I also spent time with friends whose kids “ran amuck.” It was as though the parents weren’t present or were afraid to interfere in any way with their kids’ choices. I remember a mom friend who kept a big box of junk food in her child’s bedroom because the child asked for it. 10 cavities later…

My perspective on mothering is this: the key factor in relating to your kids is building trust.

The key factor in relating to your kids is building trust.

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Your children have to know if they have a need, desire, concern, perspective, fantasy, wish, fear, or difficult to manage mood, they will have a receptive, loving partner in you. They need to believe that most of the time, you will help them get what they need/want… and that when you can’t or don’t, you aren’t judging them as bad or shaming them for admitting what it is they crave or taking things personally, just because their ideas of “good” don’t match yours.

If you build trust, it’s possible to say “no” occasionally. Your kids know that you are for them, and that you want them to have what’s good for them, but also what feels good to them. The occasional “no” will come from the perspective of maturity, not a reaction of offense (you are disobeying! you aren’t trustworthy! your values are scary to me!).

Will your kids always agree with your “no”? Of course not. But a relationship that has goodwill in it, that is able to hear all the words and feelings about the “no” without disrupting the loving connection, can withstand parental direction. Your children do expect you to say “no” sometimes. You just have to spend the currency of trust carefully, wisely. You can’t “run things” all the time, without accounting for your child’s needs/wants, or you will go into “trust-debt.”

That’s when the family feels strained and stressed, and you can’t figure out how to get back to happy and peaceful and cooperative. To recover from that strain, go back to listening and facilitating what your kids envision for their happiness.

Bottom line: Live in such a way that your kids know you want them to have a happy, free, filled-with-good-things life.

Give to them freely, generously, selflessly.

Save your “no’s” for danger, impossibility, harming someone else.

Help your kids get what they want, even when it seems messy or absurd or off-task or silly.

Listen to the reasoning your child presents with curiosity and open-mindedness.

Everyone: get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, hug each other lots every day, make eye-contact, declare pride in your child, ask for help and give help, remove the concepts of punishment and “obedience” from your vocabulary.

Get to know the people you live with; become fascinated by them; learn from them; protect them.

Everything falls into place when you genuinely like each other and no one is seen as an adversary.

What are they doing now: Caitrin

April 25, 2013.  My youngest, Caitrin, is 16 and finishing her junior year of high school. She had the least formal home instruction of any of our children. She read late (9+) but she’s an avid reader now, she didn’t like workbooks much, she followed her interests with zeal (took violin, took sewing classes, read the Harry Potter series over a dozen times, watched her favorite movies over and over, became vegan and a well educated one—who can cook!, studied New Testament Greek, studied fashion and created a 365 daily fashion blog for a year, read feminist non-fiction titles all through junior high and is a well-versed feminist now, learned to ski, played soccer, painted, did copywork every single day, avoided math, never did science…).

She’s our wordiest child (started speaking so young, I forgot to write down her first word, for which she has not yet forgiven me).

Today, she’s in high school. She attended fulltime high school as a freshman—we tossed her into the local public school. That decision was fabulous for her, though intimidating at first. She was ready for the structure of school, loved the challenge of homework (she’s still the only kid I know who does extra math problems for homework, gets her papers written days ahead so she can revise them before the due dates), and was keen to be a part of a group—some kind of extracurricular activity with peers.

She found it. The biggest benefit to high school for Caitrin has been participating in the Guard (Sabers, Rifles, and Flags). She’s loved being a part of a team, and working toward a goal. I’ve seen her thrive.

Just a couple days ago, Caitrin made a great comment about homeschooling. She said she’s realized that the main thing she got from her home education is a craving to learn. She told me that she measures herself by how much she’s learned, not by grades, not by meeting requirements. She knows that’s different than many of her peers and she credits homeschool with that quality.

Her goal is to go to Ohio State University to double major in French and Korean, with a minor in linguistics.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being Caitrin’s mother during her high school years. We’re having a great time. (And I still get to edit all her papers.)

The Quest for Tea


I’m forever in search of the perfect cup of tea.

I woke up thinking about how when we were poor, living in a cramped condo with two babies and three kids, I bought Lipton tea bags. They were inexpensive and I drank pots of tea each day, even though I had already experienced *real tea* and sadly, Lipton was not it.

My British midwife introduced me to tea during my first pregnancy. I lived in Morocco at the time. Each month, I drove an hour and a half to visit my midwife in the country’s capital for my check up. On the second visit, she offered me a cup of tea.

I gave her a quizzical look and said, “Ann, you know I can’t drink caffeine. I’m pregnant!”

Ann countered in her clipped English accent: “Julie, you don’t really think that British women give up tea, just because they’re pregnant! Sit down. Have a biscuit.” Then she poured the best tasting cup I had ever had.

I haven’t looked back.

I’ve drunk tea through all my pregnancies, while nursing, traveling, moving, working, homeschooling, and each morning of my life since.

I now invest in PG tips (I rationalize the expense, saying that since I don’t smoke, I can afford outrageously priced tea leaves). I get the triangle bags because they ensure better water flow, so I’ve been told.

I’ve owned Brown Bettys (squat clay teapots made in Britain) and I’ve used the Pfaltzgraff Yorktowne crockery teapot and mugs, happily, accidentally discovered and secured for $5.00 at a garage sale. Each purchase—I declare an improved tea experience!

I use a tea cozy to keep the pot warm. I warm the mugs with a swish of hot water to ensure proper heat to receive the tea.

Yet as I’ve lamented before, I never quite replicate the taste of tea I enjoy when I visit an authentic tearoom, or worse, when I sit in the kitchen of a British friend who unfussily pours me perfectly steeped, deep brown tea from an old pot in a cracked mug.

The next step will be investing in an electric kettle, for surely that is the missing element.

I don’t know why I felt like sharing about tea this morning. It’s just here, staring at me, like the old companion it is.

We have snow flurries in Cincinnati on the second day of spring. I’m thinking about my basketball brackets and my son in Paris and my daughter in New York and my three other kids local and busy with their grown-up lives… and remembering when I woke up with a cup of tea and our read aloud book in hand. I’d sit in the rocker and they’d be on the floor or strewn on the couch ready to listen.

Tea and read alouds—that’s how our days together began.

Now they read on their own… and drink tea, too—and share their love of both with the people in their lives. Tea and books—the grand connection point.


Extra-ordinary kids!

DSCN1199.JPG Caitrin and best friend Sarah with handmade lanterns for their Japanese tea party.

Have you read the book about the homeschooled kids who built a canoe in the basement, whittling the wood from felled trees? Or what about the teens who figured out how to cross breed fish in their creek, or built eco-friendly low-cost dwellings in their backyard as practice for working with Habitat for Humanity?

I remember reading about a kid who played with blocks as a child but then went on to write symphonies in college, after mastering the violin, and learning to conduct a symphony. Somehow these were related.

Then there are the kids who’ve read all of the classics and have taught themselves Latin and/or Greek. Others have performed on a Broadway stage, joined a prestigious ballet company, or have tried out to be Olympic athletes. All homeschooled.

Other impressive homeschoolers got into Harvard, or wrote best selling fiction (The Inheritance Series, anyone?), or worked as interns at the state government house!

Meanwhile, you’ve got runny noses, a daughter whose handwriting resembles scrawl, and a son whose main ambition seems to be punching pixels on a screen by thumping a button on a controller. You can’t imagine that your kids, your garden variety kids, will ever be so extraordinary. You feel mildly guilty about that. (I know I did.)

Perhaps your homeschooled children seem “extra” “ordinary” – as in “more ordinary than usual” – to you!

I found myself inspired and discouraged at the same time when I’d read about successful older homeschooled kids. I couldn’t see how my brood would ever get there.

First of all, we were appallingly bad at science (so scratch cross-breeding and habitat building). We had so many kids, I couldn’t imagine being able to afford supporting a lifetime habit of acting or ballet or singing or violin or lacrosse or gymnastics, let alone accommodating all those rehearsal/practice schedules!

And as far as boat-building in basements—I was lucky if we could find the basement floor, let alone make space to build in it.

Yet I plugged away with our books and our homeschool parties, our math pages and our co-op, committed to what I could do—how I could make my home a place where creativity had a chance to flourish, and where ambitions were accommodated as best as we could.

I couldn’t see the seeds being planted. I couldn’t know how they’d take root.

I wasn’t privy to how my children processed our experiences together, and how these memories became anchors of insight that led my kids to aspire to and achieve some of the amazing things they’ve now done. I never saw most of it coming. Truly.

On this side of homeschooling, I want to encourage you not to worry about the outcomes. The smallest acts of enthusiasm, support, and opportunity lead to big choices down the road. Your job isn’t to think of the great things your kids can do or should be doing some day.

Your job is to make sure that today, they have something interesting:

to read,
think about,
and enjoy.

Or as Charlotte Mason says, ” “Something to love, something to do, and something to think about.”

Find that sweet spot each day, no matter how briefly visited. These collect into a childhood of impressions that shape how they will choose to spend their teen years and eventually, their adulthood. They don’t have to “change the world” or impress anyone. All they need is the freedom to keep making choices that enhance their enthusiasm for being contributing people—human beings who want to share who they are with others using their unique constellation of gifts and passions.

That’s it.

You can do that.

You already are.