September 23, 2010

Starbucks Schooling

Today my older kids were at chemistry class with friends and it ws just Sirah and I. So we headed to Starbucks and read together, homeschooling in public. We must have been quite the sight to the morning coffee shop crowd. Surronding us were morning business meetings, reading retirees, people on their computers, coffee klatches and us. Sirah and I were snuggled together in one of the big overstuffed chairs, reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit on my ereader.

Not one person asked any questions though we did get some of those looks. Any homeschool parent or child knows the look I mean. Donut, Izzy, and a latte on the table beside us, my daughter snuggled in my lap, it was a perfect homeschool moment, and one I am glad the world got to see, looks and all.

She finished reading and discussing the story with me and in that moment I realized these are the moments I will cherish about homeschooling.

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September 20, 2010

You Can Find Me In The Car

Like so many other parents I know you can find me in the car this time of year.  It feels like that is all I do some days.  Tonight from about 4pm until 9pm I was in a car with a few moments running in and out of building to deposit various children at various activities and then to pick up said children at various activities.  Ciaran ran the entire carpool with me despite not having any activities of his own on this particular night.  He was rewarded with an ice cream and brownie Sunday and unlimited DS time for our drive.  I think he wants to run carpools all the time now :)

I am amazed I spend as much time as I do in a car considering how much I actually limit my kids individual activities.  We only have one sport going at a time in order to keep sanity to our schedules.  That is not one sport per child, it is one kid in one sport.  The other kids can be in various activities (scouts, church, etc) but only one sports team to deal with at a time.  Sometimes I wonder if that rule is what led my 11 year old to chose swimming which has by far the longest competitive season even if she does not swim year round.

Still besides being a swim taxi we have enough outside classes and activities to keep us busy, art, gym, science, cooperative (all on different days), plus church and now scouts and regular playdates, museum visits etc.  The time in the car really adds up.  I am trying to maximize that time with my kids.  I find they share so much when we talk during this time especially if I manage to have just one child alone - their hearts and minds seem to open so easily and they expose so much during that time.  Plus we are in a confined location with nowhere to go for extended periods of time.  It is really great for our relationships.

When they were little we always listened to audio books and occasionaly we still will but I am finding more and more I want all that driving time to listen to their hearts and hear all about their activities and days while they are most excited to tell me - immediately after it happened.  I don't want to brush that time aside because I am busy or rushing or not interested because later when I make time the moment has passed for them and the sharing is simply not the same.

If you spend a lot of time in the car with your kids, make the most of it - you are trapped there together anyway - it might as well be pleasant and productive :)  Now I don't mind so much that you can find me in the car all the time.

Free Museum Day - Sept 25th

Be sure to visit the website and print out your free tickets to a local museum.  Thanks to my mom for the tip!

September 18, 2010


Warning - some swearing in the clip.

As moms we can do this to each other, intentionally or not, well meaning or not.  I have never in real life met a mom like the over the top exaggeration of this video.  I have met some parents who have made similar parenting choices, I personally have made some similar choices.  I laughed at the video in parts.  I related to the video in parts.  I cringed in parts as I wondered if that is how people viewed me.

Through the many years of blogging I have gone through multiple phases of self reflection about how I present myself and my family.  If you only know me through this blog you don't really know me, you know glimpses of my family's best moments we choose to make public.  You don't see how scattered I arrive at the homeschool coop where I teach the great classes I write about.  You don't see the mess in my kids room - or my own for that matter.  You don't see me on the days when no one wants to school, everyone has a rotten attitude and we are all picking at each other.  That is a good thing but it can also be a bad thing - I am coming to realize over the years the way we present ourselves in our minds is not always the way people hear us in real life.  Just as we listen to our voices in a recording and wonder how we sound like that when we sound so different in our heads - I sometimes wonder if the same is true in real life.  Well meaning phrases come out sideways in the mind of the listener.  I hope you have never felt judged here as you read,  I have never meant that toward anyone and would be saddened to know if that had occured.

Of course there is the flip side of this.  There are really some moms who want to compete with each other through their kids and their parenting styles.  Them I have met in real life.  I have really never seen anything good come out of these types of competitions.  I have seen hurt, misunderstanding, judgement, superiority, and a myriad of other negative emotions be a result.

I can remember being a young mother with a very compliant first child who was not prone to mischief.  I can remember thinking to myself  "where are the parents that we need all these kid locks?" God gave me my next child who would drink bleach while sitting next to me, require me to lock all chairs away in a separate room because he was using them to climb on everything and it was dangerous, and he loved electric sockets and cabinets.  I realized quickly how wrong headed my thinking was and I became far more understanding and sympathetic.

We all need to think about how we come across in our communication, in what we say and how we say it.  As woman we can build each other up or we can bring each other down through our words and actions.  In the end we are all mothers trying to do the best job we can with the particular situation we find ourselves in.  A little compassion, kindness and understanding can go a long way in loving each other rather than competing with one another.

September 15, 2010

"You're awesome" and "I love you".  Words have power and few have had as much power today as those words said at the end of the day to me by my 11 year old daughter as I was tucking her in.  The past few hours have been emotional and challenging as we worked through a variety of issues and came out the other side.  To know the final resolution was "You're awesome" and as I am walking away "I love you mom"  - I could not ask for more.

Still more is what I got today.  My son rejoiced when he got an A on his spelling test and thanked me for working with him and teaching him.  He told me he loved me and came up just to snuggle with me.  He thanked me for driving him places and for making cookies.

My youngest seemed to spend her entire day wanting to be my helper and sharing her serving heart.  Whether it was making me coffee, helping make a bed, sweep a floor or be cooperative during school, her heart and spirit were just so giving all day.  She was flexible and generous and kind and gentle and loving.  She came to sit in my lap and wrap her arms around me.  Today running errands with me she shared with me how thankful she is that she gets to be home schooled.  Tonight putting her to bed I thanked her and told her how proud of her I was.

My husband worked hard all day and came home and told me how much he loved me.  He kept working on things around the house all night without a complaint.  He ate our take in dinner with the same gratitude as if I had spent all day cooking.  He was engaged with the kids and I at dinner and fully with us all evening.  Now after the evening is all wrapped up he picked up his work that still needs to be done tonight that he put on hold to put the family first all night.

I really am blessed.  I really am loved.  I feel so thankful for my family.  They are all pretty awesome too and I love them so much.  

Nurturing Self

As mother's we can be hard on ourselves, as women we can be hard on ourselves and as home educators we can be hard on ourselves.  It is an easy pattern to fall into and a hard one to get out of.  During those first years of motherhood and then home educating I often felt like I was just winging in (ok I still feel this way) and making my way through life moment by moment figuring it out as I went along.  When something did not meet my expectation or go the way I would have preferred it to I immediately blamed myself and would feel like I had somehow screwed up.  Sometimes mistakes were my fault, often though they were just part of life and I needed to work not on preventing them or living a perfect life but rolling with the waves of life better as they came along.

Life, marriage, parenthood, teaching, and the myriad of other jobs we have in this life are not easy and are not without their pitfalls and waves, we can not control this no matter how hard we try.  Our reactions and the way we move forward in these moments, those are the things we can and should try to manage.  I am learning compassion, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, encouragement, and love are for me too, not just for everyone else.  I know my children need all of the above. I know my family and friends need all of the above. I am learning it is not only okay but essential that I treat myself the same.

When a friend is in need how do we respond?  Most of us with love, gentleness, compassion and kindness.  We meet and love them where they are at with understanding and forgiveness.  But how do we treat ourselves in the same situations?  Maybe you already know to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, good for you and keep up the great work.  Maybe you are more like me and initially react toward yourself with some judgement, harshness, and unforgiveness, feeling you need to hold yourself at a higher standard. I fret, I worry, I feel I need to improve and stop screwing up. I am learning and I am getting better at being gentle with myself.

Gentleness does not mean throwing in the towel, it just means being kinder and more fair to myself.  It means treating myself the way I need to in order to be healthy.  I still have standards that are too high, I still struggle to not compare myself to others and feel I am a failure, I still have a hard time forgiving myself for my mistakes, I am learning to be better.  I am learning to readjust my expectations of myself and the world around me, I am learning to forgive myself, to love myself and to be more fair with myself.   I am still continually striving for excellence, desiring to do more, while also learning to be more patient and understanding toward myself. I am learning to support, nurture and encourage the woman, mother and teacher I am, rather than try to become someone I am not.

I am listening to God tell me He loves me, He made me, He cares for me.  I am leaning on Him and trusting in Him.  I am surrounding myself with healthy people who love, support and encourage me.  I am sheltering myself more from those who drag me down with them.  I am filling my head with the tada's instead of the todo's.  I am letting my husband and children encourage and support me as they can too.  I am learning to be my own cheerleader in a real and positive way.  I am learning to let go and just be.

Be excellent to each other.  Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Love one another.  We have heard these lessons from childhood.  Somehow we lose sight of remembering we deserve and need the same respect, love, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, support and encouragement we share with others.  Love yourself today, buy yourself flowers, stop and have some tea, forgive yourself for a mistake, encourage and support yourself for the woman you are.  Be free to be you today.

A special thanks to my friend Connie:a wise, gentle, loving and encouraging woman who reminds me it is okay and good to be me and to love myself where I am at.  A woman who lives out what she says and is learning to be free herself.

September 14, 2010

My Love Hate Relationship with Audio Books

Audio books.  I have very mixed emotions about them.  My children LOVE audio books and could listen to them all day long if I would let them.  I restrict what they listen to just as much as what they read.  There are some things I love about them and some things that drive me crazy.

When they were little I listened to good children's literature on audio book in the car all the time.  It kept them quite, helped them learn to love being read to and exposed them to great literature for their age.  It also made the car time pass quickly.

As they got older and had radios and mp3 players they wanted to check them out of the library for themselves and began listening to them in their bedrooms or on the go in their mp3 players. I am glad they enjoy being read to, I am glad they are still being exposed to good literature and listening to books over music. I am glad that they use audio books the way some might watch TV.  However, a funny and unexpected thing happened, my younger two decided they did not need to read to themselves but they could listen to someone else reading instead.  I think it delayed their interest in reading and helped resolve some of the boredom that otherwise led my oldest to pick up a book and read.  Maria does not like audio books she prefers to read, my other two love audio books more than reading.

Still on the flip side in some ways it has helped them learn to read.  Right now I am working with Sirah on reading Magic Tree House books and I noticed that having heard the stories previously has helped her confidence as she knew some of the bigger words or names from the audio book.  Ciaran has certain books he wants to listen to on audio and I have told him he has to read the series himself first and then he can listen to them.  He will sometimes burn through a book in order to listen to someone else read it to him over and over again at bedtime.

Every night I go to sleep listening to the cacophony of sounds emanating from my children's rooms as competing audio books play at fairly loud volumes.  In the middle of the night sometimes I wake up to the droning voices of an audio book or a skipping cd that was turned on in the middle of the night by an awakened child trying to fall back asleep.  During the school day I have to remind them that listening to an audio book is not the same as listening to classical music and no they can not listen to it while they are trying to study spelling or read history for comprehension.  At bedtime instead of picking up a book to read to fall asleep they will turn on their cd players and listen to someone else read.

I go back and forth between being glad they love good stories and being concerned that they should be more actively reading them on their own.  I know it is a balance and in moderation it is a good thing.  I remind myself of that every night when I hear Charlotte's Web and The Lightning Thief competing and I try to find the correct volume for both so everyone can hear and no one goes crazy :)


September 13, 2010

My Teacher Wears Pajamas

It is lunchtime now and time to get out of my pj's :)  It was that kind of morning and that is just fine here.  We actually were very productive despite my attire.

The kids were ready to start working early and I had not taken time to get ready myself after a late night of lesson planning and prep work.  I spent the morning at the kitchen table and couch reading out loud to them, teaching, and all the other typical duties of school just in my pj's with coffee cup in hand.  It really was quite comfortable and the kids did not blink an eye or even seem to notice it.  My tween was enjoying the morning in her lounge clothes too.

Of course now it is almost 1pm and I am still wearing pj's, hope the neighbors don't stop by.  Time to get ready and face the real world.  When I was younger I thought how much I wanted to be able to wear comfy clothes at work and dreaded the idea of high heels ever.  Well I got my wish, even when I dress up for the day it is still jeans and a comfy shirt or sweater and those high heels only come out once or twice a year for weddings and special events.

Late Nights...Early Mornings

Morning is going to come too quickly and it is not going to feel great after being up until 1:30am working on the weeks lesson plans, last weeks grading and homeschool cooperative planning.  Why is it that I am most productive after 9pm?  

Here's to hoping I can be up and cheerful in a few hours and have a productive week.  This is just a four day school week for us with cooperative on Friday.  Sports, clubs and other activities are all starting this week as well.  

Think I need to restock my coffee.  

September 10, 2010

A Hard Yet Beautiful Day

My kids had bagels, fruit and a glass of milk for breakfast which was a good thing, since the rest of their diet today has been interesting.  Lunch consisted of candy bars, cookies and brownies.  Dinner was Lucky Charms cereal with a brownie for dessert.  At least I can say they had some protein today as they consumed a fair amount of milk.  Some days are like that.

We spent the day baking and making thank you cards which we will distribute tomorrow.  In the midst of that we just let sugar be our diet for the day :)  I think it was honestly just what the doctor ordered after spending an intense morning discussing such light topics as terrorism, war, 9/11, and all the intense and fairly graphic discussions that went along with that.

Tonight putting Sirah to bed, she said "Today was a lot for my 7 year old brain" and I could not have summed it up any better.  I wanted to respond "It was a lot for my 36 year old brain as well" but I did not think it would help her.  Throughout the course of the day some questions that came up were:

Why would a terrorist want children to die?

How does a fire fighter go back inside a building they know they are likely to never come out of?

How can I pray for the people who might want to do this again?

What really happened inside the plane that crashed and why couldn't they get it back in the air?

Why did this happen and can't it happen again?

How many children died?  What happened to the children who lost their parents?

How can our government make sure this doesn't happen again?

Why didn't this happen on a weekend when no one was there or why not in the middle of the day when more people would have been?

Mom I just can't wrap my mind around it or why anyone would want to do this.  Why would anyone want to die and not care about anyone else or themselves?

We had discussions about the difference between war and terrorism.  We talked about how we can't judge people or make assumptions based on religion, nationality or the like, how there can be extreme people everywhere.  We talked about how the police and FBI were able to learn about the people behind the attacks and all the good that was able to come out of that horrible day.  We watched a video of the events of the day.  We used a lot of personal examples and discussed the ways the day directly affected our family.   Our morning was filled with discussion and prayer.

Our afternoon was filled with baking and artwork.  The kids made thank you cards for the fire department, police department, military and emergency room workers.  We baked cookies and brownies for hours on end.  Tomorrow we will deliver them and say thank you.

Yes my children are still young and some may feel too young to have these discussions with but as I listened to their prayers, their questions and their understanding - they are not too young.  Too young to see images of the jumpers - yes.  Too young to know what happened and the significance - no.  Too young to pray - no.

History is not always kind or pleasant but we can always learn from it.  We can make choices to never forget and to do our part to remember and try to move forward in a more positive way.  My kids spent a day in service and a day they will remember - for several years now this is how we spend 9/11 - serving others and saying thank you to all of those who serve us.

Hold your family close.  Be kind to a stranger.  Be gentle and loving with one another.  Never forget.

September 9, 2010

Learning in Nature

Today we spent the morning at the local arboretum.  It seemed we somehow decided to organize our day around various water exhibits there.  We visited the ponds. waterfalls, and fountains.  Each time we finished in one location the kids wanted to head to the next water destination.  It is not always this way but it was so remarkable yesterday that I noted it to myself.  It was also interesting to me because the water views lasts much longer than the flowers will here, which is what I suppose I wanted to get my fill of :)

Only Sirah seemed to enjoy the flowers as much as I did.  She took several videos of simply walking through the gardens filled with flowers.  The video is simply her camera pointing down and out at the gardens as she walks through them, no narration, no special commentary just a walk through the gardens.  At first I thought that was odd but then I thought how awesome will that feel to watch in about 4 months?

School at the arboretum is not unusual for us.  Often in the springtime I will pack up school bags, blankets and lunch and we will find a nice spot to do all of our subjects there.  Workbooks and textbooks and certainly read alouds are portable and sometimes the change of scenery is all we need to get inspired again.  I used to be afraid it would be distracting for my kids and to an extent it is but the distraction is an overall good one and worth it.

Today we simply went with our sketchbooks and cameras.  We walked through the arboretum at a fairly leisurely pace just taking it all in.  At times we would sit quietly near the waterfall and just be, at other times the kids were exploring and looking for nature and asking questions without any prompting.  Several times we stopped in a particular area to take some photos or to do some nature note booking.

Since my kids were little I have kept nature notebooks of theirs.  Sketches they have drawn in various places like zoos, arboretums, nature preserves, our yard, etc.  I date them and write a description of what they drew and where they were.  It is fun then to look back and compare their work from when they were 4 to when they are 11.  These are somewhat scattered despite my best efforts to keep them in one book - that seemed to not work, a sketchbook would get lost and found years later, another sketchbook would be filled and sometimes they would just draw on random slips of paper.  I am saving as many of these as I can and one day and will try to compile them into one single book for them.  This past summer I bought each of the kids a very nice sketchbook with a nice cover and told them this was for school purposes only and they can't skip around or rip out pages in it.  They are now all old enough to make this work and hopefully this can be the start of a new tradition of keeping them all in one place :)  Yesterday we used those notebooks and each person drew a sketch or two.

Sometimes it is hard to let myself go out during school hours without feeling like I am losing or wasting time.  I need to remind myself that these field trips, excursions and alternate classrooms really do promote their learning in unique ways.  A visit to the arboretum helps them see science at work in a natural way.  The visit piques their curiosity and inspires them to ask interesting and unusual questions and discover answers they may not have thought of otherwise.  A walk through the flowers calms us and prepares our minds, and reminds us of what is beautiful and good.  Drawing nature challenges our artistic ability as well as our scientific minds as we pay attention to details in ways we would not if we just observed a flower or specimen.  These are not wasted but well used moments of my kids education and they are the ones I hope they recall when they remember our years of homeschooling.

After the arboretum we came home and had lunch and went back to our textbooks and workbooks and challenging our minds in the usual ways.  We still got in several hours worth of traditional school work even with our morning excursion.  I felt more refreshed, hope the kids did too.

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September 7, 2010

Today we spent the afternoon at our local science museum. We began the day sleeping in, slow breakfast, playing in their self built fort then some basic book work. Spelling, math, grammar and handwriting, then we headed out for some afternoon fun.

The first day of school is always a great day to visit a museum as there are very few people there. We are able to move from exhibit to exhibit easily and be the only people at a particular location. The kids were in a great mood and took time at each location, actually taking the time to read what was written and even instructions for hands on activities.

Some of the highlights from the day were the brand new hydraulics lab where Ciaran had to try to figure out how to attach hoses and work various pistons etc to make water store up and then release to power lights.

He also really enjoyed the Ac circuit board exhibit where he had to learn to build functioning circuits and provide enough power and wire to keep the electricity flowing.  

Maria could have spent all day at the Science Buzz kiosks.  Everywhere we went she was looking for one of them.  At first I wanted her to get up and participate in some of the more hands on exhibits but I did not say anything.  Later in the day she told me, I love the science buzz can we get it at home?  She went and found a museum volunteer and had them walk her through how she could access it at home, through their website.  She asked me to write down a few concepts she wanted to later research herself.  At one point she told me that if it did not involve a computer or reading it was not fun for her because she realizes she learns best by reading.

Her favorite hands on exhibit was the pendulum harmonograph where she used a pendulum to create this photo.  She then found Ciaran and Sirah and helped them each draw pictures explaining how it worked.

Sirah's favorites were building a transformer and figuring out how to have enough power to provide light for a local area.  She had to try several different combinations and was very proud of herself when she finally found the brightest combination.  She also learned the value of looking at directions at this station. Her second favorite exhibit was the Scope on a Rope.  We sat at this station together for quite awhile comparing what our skin, hair, clothes, cheeks and various other things looked like.  

For me it was lovely to spend a quiet afternoon at the museum with just my kids without school groups.  I alternated between sitting right there with them and helping them at stations and standing back and just watching them figure it out themselves.

At times I probably looked like non-involved parent as I stood in the place near none of my kids where I could watch all three of them trying to figure out different things on their own.  At other times I looked very engaged and helpful to my kids.  In one of those moments where I could see someone looking at Sirah wondering where her parents were I thought to myself we only catch people in the moments we catch them in.  If you saw me yesterday at the museum in certain exhibits I probably looked like a bored disengaged parent on my cell phone.  What you would not have known was I was actually watching each of them and standing back so they could figure it out themselves.  I was also taking photos and some short notes for this blog. At other times I could have looked like I was doing everything for them at a station, not letting them figure it out themselves.  Overall the moment reminded me to not judge in the quick snapshot I catch a particular family and person in.

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September 6, 2010

Return of the School Buses

Tomorrow morning brings the return of the school buses to our neighborhood.  I am contemplating making the kids get up and be ready for their respective counter part buses, so they can further appreciate the ability to sleep in with homeschooling.  Of course that would mean I would need to get up at just before 6am and have the first one ready to go at 6:45.  Not sure my experiment would be worth that.  I think we might just sleep in and get school started when they wake up instead, maybe school in pj's.  Maybe we will take off and go to the beach or a field trip to celebrate back to school.  Yes I think that sounds like a better plan than getting up at 5:45 to wave to the school buses as they go by.  Times like this that I really love homeschooling.

September 1, 2010

Earlier days

It is my goal this year to start our days earlier and so far we are doing well. Three days of starting before 9am is excellent in this household! I know it begins with me getting up earlier as hard as that is for me. This year I am motivated by the outside activites I want to have time for. If we want to be doing outside activites in the afternoon then we need to be done at a reasonable time and that starts with beginning earlier.

This is a hard transition for me as I am not very fond of rigid schedules. I am trying to develop it as my natural habit rather than think of it as a requirement on a schedule. Such semantic gymnastics actually work for me even if they seem contrived. What new habits or routines are you trying differently this year and what are your strategies for staying on task when it gets hard?
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