Living by the Moon

Have you been up early at all this Spring? I swing back and forth, as some of you know, from rising at 4:45 A.M. and sleeping until one of the children wakes me. I greatly prefer to have the quiet of the morning to myself, but if the teeny girl has been up three or more times in the night it’s really just too hard to wake up early and to be a good person. For the last ten days or so, I have been out of my bed before the children though. Waking in the silence and the dark of my house, sitting with a cuppa and my Bible or my journal tracking all of the goodness that fills my days. I love this. I have missed it.

The early morning has brought the moon back into focus for me as well. Have you seen the moon in this present cycle? It has been so clear in the early morning that it lights up our yard, Venus always following hard after. If I end up taking a drive East I can sometimes spot Mars, low and glowing a bit red above the horizon. The predawn hours are my favorite time to stargaze and moon-watch. Never is this more true than in early Spring when it is still dark until the littles wake up, and yet not too frigid to step outside in stocking feet. This morning I went out in my bare-feet onto the deck to breathe the cold air and watch the waning moon shine out over us all. It was so peaceful, even in town.

While I have never been one of those girls who believes that the moon controls the behaviors of school children or criminals, I can’t help but feel it’s pull on me. Since I dug my first garden in 2002 my daddy has sent me an “Old Farmer’s Almanac” for my birthday. I was always thankful for the inclusion of full moon dates and the guide to planting by the lunar cycle that this publication included. I have followed lunar cycles for planting for most of my gardening years, trusting the best time to plant based on not just warmer days, but the full moon. I have looked to the night sky, tracing the path of the moon as curiously as I have done many a thing in nature, to say this is just one more thing is possibly, yet not quite entirely, true.

This year in our homeschool is an Astronomy year. While we unschool pretty exclusively I do follow the trivium model of classical education if only in concept more so than practice. Are you familiar? The trivium divides the schooling years into three segments; Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. The classical model then further breaks these groups down into four repeating themes; Ancients, Middle Ages, Renaissance and Reformation, and Modern which you explore once in each of the three phases. So each year our kids are free to learn what they please, knowing that mom will bring home all of the books about whatever stage we are in. That I will insist we take part in certain activities that tie in to the phase we are focusing on and that I will plan some activities to interrupt their free time but that fit with this more classical model. (For a jumping-off-point, please take a look here; https://welltrainedmind.com/a/classical-education/ if you’d like to know more about classical education as I am by no means anywhere close to an expert on this!)

I had always thought I’d classically homeschool my kids, until I tried to school Mady that way and realized I had birthed three stubborn driven babies who have their own ideas and interests. We got stuck on Greek mythology in the Grammar stage; I mean, we were knee deep in myths for most of that year, not just the Greeks; Egyptian, Norse, Roman. I didn’t want that learning or excitement to stop simply because we “should” be moving on. We are basically lost in mythology again now that my oldest little is in the beginning of the Logic stage. My kids just love it and I love it because: the moon. Ancient history ties in with the study of the night sky and makes perfect sense in how it does. It is easier for me to get my kids to study the sky because so much of what we see up there is linked to mythology. They have heard the names for the constellations, they are familiar with how different ancient people began knowing and understanding the stars and the planets. I guess I’m just saying that it works for us. Perhaps this is one of those homeschool momma ramblings where I am merely trying to convince myself that they are learning something…

The moon in Spring is easily my favorite, how can one not love the Spring full moons with names like; Worm Moon, Pink Moon, Flower Moon? Even pushing into June with the Strawberry Moon! This year the Worm Moon coincided with Spring solstice and was a Super Moon just to add to the fun. All of these things were added together in our homeschool as each of my children drew and created what they believed would burn this knowledge into their brains and deeper subconscious. They seem to enjoy it and the teeny loves it most of all. Honestly she loves that she is a part of these lessons, but the moon is something in her environment that she can see and interact with from afar. Being able to tell her daddy that the moon is waning shows her that she can know “bigger” things. Seeing the Super Moon fall on her birthday last year she has remembered how bright and big the moon was as it rose and she will carry that with her for as long as she chooses.

As an aside; don’t judge my lunar photography skills too harshly friends!

I was wondering recently if teaching the phases of the moon mattered anymore. If knowing the names of each of the full moons was even an important element for us to be considering. I’ve decided that it is. In our studies (and I use that term pretty loosely here friends) of ancient cultures we’ve seen how so many people have taken the time to label the moon and stars. How primitive societies have lived and learned by the cycles of the moon and it’s affect on the seasons and their activities. I feel like in giving my children this knowledge, it is a readying of the soil of their minds. They can add more information on top of this understanding as so many peoples have done before them, but that perhaps by skipping over this, some of the lessons we learn later won’t take root.

As the sky turns pink this morning and we begin another beautiful Spring day I will continue to lift my children’s eyes, my own eyes, to the sky. Contemplating the moon in all of it’s cycles and phases. Yearning to understand my connectedness to it, while also being grateful that I know I am connected to it at all. The final thought for this post is a reminder of sorts to myself. Once we know something we can’t un-know it. That knowledge will forever be deep inside of us. Perhaps mythology, perhaps the moon, perhaps a vague understanding of the how and why of the universe won’t inspire careers for my kids. It is enough for me to know that I have passed on some tiny piece of ancient wisdom to them. Some element that man has wondered over for millennia. That’s what schooling is for us really; the hope that we can inspire wonder.

The Seeking of Quiet in the Midst of Loud

Quiet is important to me. Having my own space to be alone so that I can think, holds value to me. I also really love being surrounded by my people. Having them near me, in the same room, while they do their own thing helps me feel the love we have for each other. As I was making dinner last night it struck me how independent my kids are, yet how much they want to be together. These three are still young. I know their desire for space and privacy will increase in the coming years, but I am very grateful for how much time we spend together.

The two of them, always right here.
Ignoring the world.
What we do while momma reads aloud.

If you’re new here you should know that we unschool our youngest three kids; this means that I spend every waking hour (and a lot of the ones when we should be sleeping too) with my kids. I read this stat recently that sort of blew my mind. In the article I’ve linked from the Washington Post they are discussing how quality time with your kids is better than the quantity of time spent with your kids. The fact that jumped out at me though was that the average mother spends 13.7 hours per week with her child. That’s not even two hours per day!

I know that some of you who read here don’t homeschool your kids and I know that the opinions I throw out here randomly have a tendency to irritate. This is just one chart after all, is there any truth behind it? A simple Google search will answer that question for you, probably in the exact way that you’d like the question answered too. The data field is filled with so much information that it is overwhelming. I am certain that there are a lot of parents who work outside of the home and who traditionally school their children who spend more than two hours per day with their kids. I’m not here judging any individual, rather America as a whole. Why is raising up children in the way they should go so seemingly, unimportant? Do we simply believe that someone else can do a better job growing our kids? Do we lack trust in ourselves? This is such a mystery to me.

The number got me wondering though. My kids are home, in my care all of the time. So I tried to add it all up and here’s my number of hours spent with at least one of my children per day: 13.5 . While I didn’t subtract out the occasional Sunday afternoon where I sneak out to write or read a book in complete,utter, and blessed silence. Or the hour I get on Monday mornings when I head over to pick up my girl. I also didn’t add in the multiple middle of the night wakings, the mornings when my teeny is awake at five AM or the evenings when I read to my kids until 9:30. So in case you didn’t see that number, I spend the average American mother’s weekly amount of time caring for her children in one day. That means I spend 94.5 hours with my kids every week.

As my boy used to say, Holy Maca-Roni!

I would argue that stat again here, stating that there is no way that the amount of time I spend with my kids does not influence them at least as much as the quality of our time together. When you give all of your waking hours to your little people there are going to be great, enriching, educational times. They are going to learn who they are and who they want to grow into. They will learn your values, morals, standards and decide if they want to internalize those same ideals or not simply because they are in your presence. They will also be bored. They will feel that things are not fair. They will always want more even when you believe you have poured out every, single last drop from your own pitcher.

Even now, before six AM, my teeny has come to snuggle in next to me. Stealing my time with her sweet little wants and needs. Of course, you’d be right in arguing that all of those 94 hours are not spent specifically on the caring-for of children. At least you’d not be entirely wrong. I have a friend who says; “It doesn’t matter that the kids are off playing on their own and I’m washing the dishes. I’m still “on”, still listening to them play, noticing the cues, realizing they’ll want a snack soon…”. I would describe my mothering as exactly this; giving my kids the freedom to seek God’s will for their lives while I am “on” at a distance. I’m here, all of the times they need or want me, but I send them out to be themselves as much as possible. It’s important to me to note that I have also spent a lot of hours guiding my kids in being independent, or, maybe, allowing independence to be the result of our activities, is a better way of putting it.

In this intense amount of time that I spend with my kids I have worked hard to teach them to be quiet. Not just for my own sanity, but for theirs. I feel like so many kids in this time really have no idea how to be alone with their own thoughts, how to sit with their own boredom and search out their own hearts. I spent a lot of mornings teaching my little boy that first thing in the morning we grab a blanket and a water bottle and snuggle into a chair with a good book. Now he does this throughout the day as he recognizes his own need for a little down time. I am grateful for the time I sacrificed to teach him this skill.

My oldest little frequently slips headphones over her ears and tears through the pages of a novel. She has discovered the need of silence on her own. Living in the middle of bigs and littles I suppose one should expect that. Now that my teeny is four I have been working to lead her to the want of quiet. She is currently resisting in a way only she can. She starts talking three minutes after she wakes and she is loud and opinionated for all of the minutes after that, right up until falls asleep next to me. If she is not vocally loud, she is desiring of all of my attention in other ways that cause me to be constantly aware of her presence. This is not a quiet child. Not yet.

I will continue to coax her toward her own space, her own time. I will invest in this because I see the value of it. When my older kids sit down alone with books or games or Legos in the afternoon, I know they are resetting for the rest of the day. They are giving themselves a bit of peace in a world that has devalued this. We try not to use the quiet time up with screens, though it does happen occasionally, because the nearly 100 awake hours in our week offer up plenty of time for that. I try to remind myself that in teaching them to be still and quiet I am giving them a gift to carry with them always. Because we practice this regularly, I trust that they will feel the value of silence even after they have followed their own paths away from me. They will seek it out, fight for it.

There are times I feel like my house is so loud. That I must escape the constant clamoring for my attention. When I am aware though, and not completely overwhelmed, I see each of them sit quietly for a few minutes throughout the day. I see the peace wash over them as they do this. I am able to soak a little of that peace up myself and I am glad. For them and for me. After all, let’s be honest here; Momma’s really do just need the quiet.

Peace to each of you this day. May you seek it out. May it make it’s home in you.

A Deeper Sense of Community

I write about community quite often. About how children can not thrive without a group of supportive people, how each of us needs a tribe to call our own. Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed how much the women in my own circle have grown closer. I feel like I am a little on the outside because we are off adventuring so much, and while this makes me a teensy bit sad, I can still feel the shift and it brings me so much joy. Some of us need it more than we would even care to admit.

I have frequently felt like the group of women that I’ve come to call mine through homeschooling is special, we are not a bunch of moms who get together regularly so that our kids have normal-ish friendships and educational opportunities. Well, we are that. More than that though the women I homeschool with are friends, helpers, sisters…some of them are like silly aunties to my kids. Others are trusted adults who can be relied upon in difficult circumstances. To me though, the women in this group are simply what keep me going on days when it’s hard to do so.

Over the few years that I’ve known them, these friends of mine have gone through a lot. There has been so much life lived and when one (or more) of these women has struggled, I’ve seen them lifted up again and again. As a group we have cleaned each others houses, we have sat with tears, we have pulled weeds, we have welcomed babies, we have brought meals and watched each others kids. Most of the time these things have been done without anyone asking, for some reason I am surrounded by this group of women who simply want to do life together. They are such an answer to prayer.

Recently I was feeling like I couldn’t do this thing-that-needed-doing in my life. In the past I would have talked to God, talked to my husband, probably not have done the thing. This time though, I did something else. I still brought it to God first. My husband and I did talk it over and he encouraged me to move forward, I was still afraid. I was afraid of angry words coming back to me, of a harshly worded “no”. So, I reached out to my circle. I told a few friends what I needed to do and what my fear was and they all spoke words of support and encouragement to me. I did the thing-that-needed-doing and the answer that I received was not nearly as scary as I had anticipated it being. There is still a road to walk there, but my point is that I would not have confidently taken that first step if not for these wonderful friends.

In reaching out a couple of other things happened too, other needs were exposed. Other hurts touched on. Conversations were had that maybe otherwise wouldn’t have happened. In other circles of women we worry. We worry about being judged. We worry that we are not enough and that we are too much and that we can never, ever, in a million years live up to the invisible standard of the group. I am blessed by the opposite of that. I’m not exactly sure how I came to know these moms, these teachers, these women, but I am oh-so-glad that I have them in my life.

I wonder how I will give this to my kids. I wonder if I even can give it to them. Will they hold tight to the friends that they have now? Growing together in their friendships as they grow in size. Will I instill in them a deep need to not do life alone, will they feel it in the very soul of themselves and seek out this same sort of circle as they move out into the world? I hope so. I want it for them, not only because I don’t want them to be lonely, but because life is so much better lived in this community! It is so freeing to know that I don’t have to keep all of the plates spinning, that I have friends who will come along and give one a spin if it starts to wobble. Better? When a plate falls they’ll be there to help me clean it up, help me to realize that I’m still me without that one. I want my littles to know this, now and as they interact more with the wider world.

This morning I went back and forth with a few friends, it’s funny how much we all struggle the same as mommas. Same frustrations over kids not listening and then our own yelling. Same doubt; whether over a mom we feel does this gig better than us or if our schooling choice is the right one. Same worry; sometimes our kids are hard to understand or we don’t feel like we’re good enough to parent them. This is normal, I have these conversations often. More than these though, in this circle of mine we go deep.

There have been conversations over death. Broken hearts and broken marriages. Sickness. Jobs lost and gained. Our inability to do this SAHM life for one more minute without a change….More even than this these women don’t just talk about these things together we have silently made the pact that we will walk these struggles together. We will be there when the times are good and when they really couldn’t get much worse.

I suppose all that I am really saying here is “Thank you.”.

And so I will take a moment and a paragraph of your time to thank the women who have accepted me in spite of all of my flaws.

Friends, this group is something I have prayed for since I was in my early twenties. I have wanted to have friends who felt like sisters since I moved away from my actual sisters. Thank you for welcoming me in and making me one of yours. Thank you for bringing out the best in me over and over again. Thank you for listening to my worry, for talking through schooling options and sensory concerns and hearing me when the anxiety has gotten the best of my heart. Thank you for opening up your homes and your hearts and for sharing your deepest, truest selves. I love you all and I am so thankful to have you to do this life with. Thank you for never letting me feel judged in any way. I was once afraid to share details of my previous life, I know now that there is very little I could do or say to cause you women to leave my side. You are a blessing to me, a gift, an anchor when the seas get high. Thank you seems not enough, but it is what I have, and so I will say it again, “Thank you”.

If you do not have a group of women who welcome you into safe, uplifting, life-giving relationships please let me know. I will pray with you over your circle, you are not meant to walk this life alone. If you’re in my circle and you don’t feel this way, please reach out. I want little more than for you to know the peace and joy that is this type of friendship.

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Throwing Sand

So there’s this kid in the sandbox with my kids right now. He’s chucking sand all over the place. His mother has come by to yell at him several times, but he keeps on. I don’t really care. My kids have voices to tell the kid to stop if they don’t like it and feet to walk away if he won’t stop. Here’s what I’m wondering; why do we tell them to stop?

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There is always a parent telling a child “don’t throw sand!”, “don’t splash in the pool!”, “don’t climb up the slide!!”. Why? Why can’t they do those things? There are opportunities to teach respect here. If someone wants to come down the slide, make way for them. Wearing new tennies? Take them off before you stomp in the mud for heavens sake! Don’t throw sand at other people-especially if they ask you not to. It’s the unthought-out “don’t…” that gets me.

Do we even have a reason? It seems like some momma somewhere in 1972 uttered these statements and we’ve all latched on to them. How many of us actually care if our kids run up the slide? Who decided that slides were only for going down? Maybe they’re actually ramps for going up? Why do the parents get to say? Didn’t we all do these same things as kids?

Or at least, didn’t we want to?

I think I might go tell that kids mom that it’s okay. If my people take issue, they know how to handle it. Let’s just let the kids be already.

I wonder how many unnecessary boundaries we’re building for these kids. I wonder how all of our “no’s” and “don’t do that’s” negatively affect these kids. By telling them no all of the time are we teaching them that they can’t do things? Or that they can’t do things by themselves? By limiting a slides purpose are we narrowing their creative minds? I catch myself a lot. I use “does that feel safe to you?” now, instead of a frantically shouted, “don’t climb so high!!”

We were walking together the other evening and my husband told our kids to stay out of the muddy puddles. I giggled to myself because I’d been thinking so much about the “NO!”. I could understand that he didn’t want them to get muddy because we’re living in our camper and it’s new and he doesn’t want it to be destroyed. To be fair, these are realistic concerns, my littles and I wreck stuff, we just do. It’s in our nature it would seem. Through our experiences and our play and our learning; things just break. His concern over muddy feet is justified.

I mentioned that we have a hose and can rinse the people before we let them in. While he may have still felt that they should stay out of the mud, he did relax about it and was playing along with them.

At the lake with friends recently, someone threw a handful of soppy-wet sand at my teeny. She didn’t like it at all. I almost told the kid to stop throwing sand, but I caught myself. Instead I asked if she was okay and helped her tell the boy that she didn’t want sand thrown at her. Then the two of them sat and tossed handfuls of sand into the water for several minutes laughing happily together. She might have missed out on the fun if I had simply yelled at the boy.

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I am working on giving these kids more independence, more freedom. It’s one of my biggest learning goals for them this Summer. I want them to trust that they can do stuff-hard stuff. Biking without training wheels, talking with the lady at the counter to check out the paddle-boats without mom, telling that kid that you were next…by doing these things that end in fun I can see that they are learning to trust their abilities. They are learning that they really are able.

With luck, and some effort, these people will go into their Autumn activities a bit more confident. They will trust that they can do some of the more difficult math problems, spell longer words, read thicker books! Because they take these months to practice out there in real life-without me constantly telling them “NO!!”-I think they’ll have bigger successes.

I ended up not talking to that mom, she walked away though. She went over to make some lunch and our kids played together for half of an hour or more. No one got sand in their eyes, no one cried. After a little while they took their bodies over to the monkey bars and worked together to get across. It was hard, they had to use team-work, and be patient. It was fun and they were learning, and we didn’t even break anything!

 

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Homeschool Worry

I had a conversation with a mom the other day, she was questioning if she was doing the right thing for her daughter. I never, ever claim to have all of the answers so I tried to just listen and let her know what has worked for us. I thought about it a lot though after we left and I’m still there this morning. The thing that gets me is how universally mothers doubt. We doubt our very ability to be the mom our kids need, we don’t believe that we can make the best choices for them while they’re little or lead them well as they grow. We feel as though some cosmic mistake must’ve been made for these people to have become entrusted to us. At least, sometimes I feel this way.

I have to put my own personal spin on this of course and so I’ll stick with the schooling choices here. I know that moms in all walks of life question, they wonder, they worry over their choices the same as I do, but for this moment I’ll focus on these moms I know who make the choice to do school at home. I see this nearly every time I gather with other homeschool moms. Someone always asks about a curriculum choice or what you’re doing for extra curriculars or if you’re joining the co-op of the moment. It seems innocent enough, just making conversation right? The follow up is often laced with doubt though, should I enroll my kid in violin lessons? Should I be using Spelling Without Tears? Should I let them run through the woods behind our house in their underwear? Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. All of the “shoulds”. As if I, the mother, the one who birthed and grew these tiny people, couldn’t know them well enough to help them get what they need out of life in my chosen environment?

It is exasperating, all of the choices I mean. Once we begin homeschooling the questions from those on the outside only increase. A person learns how to manage those well meaning concerns, but the internal questions are harder to put to rest. Here’s my internal conversation after I left my friend the other day; “She is doing really great, thinking of her daughter and trying to incorporate who she truly is into her schooling choice…I wonder will my kid ever learn to spell well enough for auto-correct to know what she’s trying to say?…Should I push my kid into this club, because I know he’d enjoy the activity even though he speaks the words “I don’t want to.”?…Should I try to squeeze in more math fact memorization when we get home?…How will I incorporate the baby into our lessons so that she doesn’t get left behind…”.

Can we please STOP!?!

This is how it goes though, isn’t it? You only want what is best for your children and so you beat yourself endlessly, telling yourself that you can not possibly give them the best. You know your options and so you weigh them endlessly trying to figure out what will be best for this kid. What if -just for this moment, only while you’re reading this blog- you believed that you, totally, got this? I mean, we tell our kids some variation of this most of the day right? “Yes, you CAN do the long division!, Yes, you really can sound out that big word!, Yes!!! You can climb higher in that tree!” We are great cheer leaders for our children, for the next few moments let’s be them for ourselves and for each other. I’ll start.

When you are the mom of many you wonder how you will give each child the attention they crave, you also realize that each child is an individual and the schooling or curriculum choice for one is not necessarily the right choice for the others. This is a huge place of doubting. By simply devoting mental time to these things you are proving that you really (like really, really, really!!!) know your own child and will do whatever is needed to help the child grow. No other educational opportunity gives you the ability to design exactly the right “school day” for your kids. Do you know they need to go run at 8:45 every day? Guess what? They couldn’t just get up from a desk and go do that, are there learning opportunities if they have to sit through that time? Sure, but is there something to listening to a child’s inner urging that holds value to you? Letting him get up and run is a piece of who that child is today, something he will likely outgrow, but for now you are allowing him some small piece of control in a world where he has very little. You offer him this piece of himself momma-you.

You may often wonder how you will provide all of the educational and extra-curricular activities to enrich your child. After all, every single thing is so expensive, how do you make the most fulfilling choice for your specific child without going broke? I don’t honestly know that answer. I know we have schooled for basically zero dollars per year, and I know where we are now. Both options worked, both choices turned out a kid who learned and had fun. Do we want our kids to learn to play sports and build a robot and perform ballet and build a camp fire? Of course! Some seasons of life require us to be more creative is all. My kid wanted to play piano when there were no funds for lessons, we found a free online course and practiced it daily. It worked in that season. You don’t have to provide every activity, every opportunity for your child. Sometimes, growing in your own family is what is most valuable. Sometimes a child will check out every book from the library to learn about building robots or the positions in ballet, this is a good option and should not be overlooked. You are offering creative skills here momma, you are showing them that they may not always get what they want the very minute they want it. Life skills lady, stay strong!

You’ll no doubt wonder if they are getting enough social interaction. Even if you leave your home for children’s activities four days each week you’ll still likely worry about the other three days. The life of a homeschooler is so full of activity that there is really no way your kids can’t get enough interaction. They might be the weird kid, but they may have been that if they went to public or private school anyway. Still, I know moms who worry about this, they want their kid to fit the mold that their schooled peers create. The desire to fit in and be included is strong. For me, the answer to this one is simply to find the kids who are as individual as my own. Seek out the kids with similar interests and invite those people over to play. Ask around, even if you haven’t put your child in a specific activity you could still find out who participates and see if they want to get together. Your child will have friends and they will (if you’re lucky) be as awesome and cool as your own kid. They will also be able to order at a restaurant, ask for help in a store, or make a friend at a park. Much like walking, these skills will come through repetition more than in any other way. You helped your kid learn to walk, you can help them learn to interact socially in the world as well.

As we worry and fret over our kids all day, we forget that we have done well with them this far. We lose sight of the fact that we know these kids better than anyone else does. We spend our days helping them with projects, teaching them lessons, learning who they are…We devote our days and years and lives to helping these children grow, it really is time that we see that devotion as what is best for them. No other person could educate our children better. While we may not be able to give them every extra-curricular opportunity or buy them all of the educational toys or take them to every event that they want to attend, but we know (like, really, really know) our kids. Being known and loved is one of the best things we can give our children. Providing this safe place to grow and mess up and learn is vital to any success they may achieve in this world. You are vital to them momma. You provide just what your littles need.

I read “The Gospel Centered Mom” this past summer and it spoke into my mothering soul, it is a great place to be reminded whose your children really are. To be reminded that we will never be, nor could we ever do enough. That is not who or what we were created to be. I am not enough, only God can be that. Only through trusting Him do I know that I will do what is right for my kids. I’m reminded of Jeremiah here, you know the verse? Chapter 1, verse 5; “For I knew you before I formed you in your mothers womb…” I think about this verse for my kids sometimes, it leaves me awestruck at how God loved and formed my babies. Today I want you to know that He loved and formed you. Yes, He knew your babies before they were born, but He also knew you before you were born. He knew exactly the woman you would become, He has given you the exact experiences you needed to become the momma that He wanted you to be.

There should be no doubt that we are loved by our Heavenly Father and that He will certainly be the “enough” that we can never be for our kids. As we listen to His leading we are doing the exact right thing for our children and for ourselves. By remembering that we are children of God along with our own babies we can perhaps begin to extend the same grace to ourselves that we give to our children. We don’t expect our little ones to be perfect and God does not expect us to be either. Leading our children down God’s path, showing them the way they should go is ultimately more important than all of those worries I listed before. If we follow that call enough, it is possible that our children will recognize their worth far earlier than we ever will. Saving them a lifetime of worry and wondering. That would be a truly wonderful lesson indeed.

 

 

 

 

Evaluations

My daughter completed her annual testing this week. As a homeschooling family the state requires us to evaluate our children each year to ensure they are “on track”. This was a stressful thing for me. Yes, for me. Not for my child, she was not worried about anything aside from spelling. She appeared confident and unconcerned about being asked random questions about topics we may or may not have even discussed over the past twelve months. I, on the other hand, felt as though the results of her test were really evaluating me. Am I providing the right learning opportunities? Am I doing enough to help her learn to divide? Am I putting enough emphasis on the right subjects?

The days leading up to her test were stressful for me. I couldn’t exactly get my head around it, why was I placing such value on the results of her test? It was ridiculous, after all we are unschoolers. A manner of leading children in a more hands-off approach, allowing them to learn the things they are interested in and trusting that they will learn all of what they need to grow into exactly who they are meant to be. As an unschooler, why on earth was I giving this test such a place of importance? I could not answer that question and so I sat with it.

It wasn’t until the testing had come and gone and I was having a conversation with my husband that the reason came out. I was telling him the results of her test and talking through what she excelled in and where there was room to improve. I rambled on about curriculum I could use to help her with this or that. I wondered aloud if we should evaluate for dyslexia. I talked about opportunities to start earning college credits…have I mentioned she’s nine years old? I had been sucked into the system. One test! One hour, once a year in a friendly, non-threatening environment with a kind woman who tells my kid the test is a “game”! And I was now concerned with college credits, spelling workbooks, sixth grade level math… How the heck did that happen?

My husband and I continued our conversation and good came of it. In my head I have been going over what I want for my kids, Nowhere on that list is “going to a prestigious university” or “getting their doctorate”. I know how important it is to be able to use the English language, to write well, to be well spoken, but is mastering it more important than instilling a love of nature? I realize they will need to understand basic (and complex) math concepts to use their creative minds to the fullest, but is long-division more important than guiding a heart of service? Can I say out loud, in front of everyone that I believe letting my kids simply play for more hours than they school, is teaching them greater life skills than they could ever learn if I tried to sit them down and teach them these things? I think I just did…

It is scary to go against the norm. It is intimidating to know that I am doing life with my littles differently than most people. It can be stressful to to go against commonly held beliefs. Though, when you have found your people and you exist in a group of families learning in similar ways, trusting this natural desire and ability to learn, it is easier to go about your business. Day to day I don’t feel the anxiety because I have women who lift me up and trust that I am doing what is best for my kids. I see these same women doing these types of things with their families, maybe they even unschool more or better than I do, I can see that it is working in the brilliance of the littles around me when we get together. Having the people makes all of the difference, it rights my perspective. When we are alone in our weirdness we feel it more strongly, but when we have friends in our crazy we find peace there.

In the time talking with my husband he said some really awesome things to me. He had even sent me a text earlier in the day which I saved because his words were perfect and gave me rest. While spelling and being able to memorize math facts are actually pretty important to him, he placed no value on the results of her test. He didn’t tell me we should be doing more spelling words or ask why I don’t have an actual life science text book. Instead he reminded me that the children are creative, that they are inventive, that they are kind. He pointed out their goodness and brought up their abilities. More than this, he reminded me why we choose to homeschool, and probably without meaning to he reminded me why I unschool.

I suppose this testing problem extends past me, I know public school families who opt out of the annual standardized testing at their school because they realize that one day out of the year can not fully show all the knowledge their child has. I had never looked at it from the teachers perspective though. Do those public school teachers feel like I did on test day? Do they know how amazing the children are but question if they themselves have done justice in teaching them the information that the powers-that-be say the kids should know? Do the educators feel as though it is more so an evaluation of their ability to teach, than of the students ability to learn? I wonder if that is where the “teaching to the test” mentality came from. Now, I know there’s more to it than that, but could it be an original piece of the puzzle?

A few days have passed since our test was taken, my daughter has completely forgotten the test and has already asked how long we’ll be working in this cursive/spelling workbook, (insert pre-teen eye-roll here). I honestly don’t know, I get distracted by projects around the house too easily; letting them make salt-dough, helping them learn to cook dinner, reading them endless chapters of fantasy novels… While these things are definitely not school, there is a lot of learning going on. I suppose I’ll work to find that ever-elusive balance. Just the right amount of textbook, just the right amount of playing in the snow. They are little after all, and I don’t long for them to be normal or average.

In creating the life we now live, I realize that my children will know a lot of things that their schooled peers may not. As an example; my three year old asked if we could “have a conversation about doin’ math” the other day. She’s trying out a new word and wants to sit at the table for school time with her siblings. It was pretty adorable. But I also know that they won’t know the exact things that those public schoolers know either. There is no self-driven interest in learning about the specific states in the U.S. in my kids, though this is a common third/fourth grade activity. I have given them multiple books, activities, and puzzles on the topic. They only do those activities when I remind them and because they “have to” to be “done” They are not going to remember that Kansas’ state flower is the sunflower, because they could care less. Additionally I know that my kids may never learn some things that their peers do, but that doesn’t matter. If they become interested in the way a light bulb works we can deconstruct a few, check out some books at the library, watch some Youtube videos. Information is only a Google search away.

We don’t have to force uninterested learning, even if that means they don’t pass a test. Can’t we look at the whole child and their development as a person over the past year? I think we should, I think it is in fact better to do so. This morning I sit in peace with where my kids are at with their learning. I’m thankful to have had this week to reflect on how things are going, both with my leading and with their learning, it’s been time well spent. I can look ahead with new ideas to share with my little people, and a fresh perspective on where we are on our journey. Knowing that they are exceptional, that they have great capacity to learn, and that they are always learning is what I will take away from that hour of testing. Not a score, or a mark of failing or succeeding-for myself or my child. We are learning well, and I am very thankful to be able to learn together with them.

 

 

Over-Scheduled

I do not understand. The busyness culture I mean. Why do we do it? Why do we run this race? Why have we bought the lie that more equals better? Why do we feel guilt if we aren’t doing all of the activities, all of the classes, all of the things? I’m going to take this from a slightly different vantage point; one of a stay at home mom who homeschools three of her five children.

I have long ago decided to walk a different path than most. I am not average nor do I strive to be. I am weird, I am different, I stand out a bit from the modern-American norm. It’s who I am and I am comfortable enough in my identity in Christ to trust that this is who I was designed to be. This person who I am? She sees all of these moms, frazzled and crazed, and she wonders why they do this to themselves. She thinks, these are great women, women who are brilliant, and kind, and beautiful, what are they running so hard and fast toward? It happens every year in the Autumn, my Facebook feed fills up with adorable back to school photos. Then the mommas are all writing sappy, teary-eyed posts about how they are so sad that their babies had to leave. Some moms post about how difficult it was for their kindergartner to ride the bus or be left in that big classroom. They post about their second grader’s exhaustion, falling asleep at the dinner table. They post about their middle schooler’s extra-sassy behavior as they cart her to yet another extra-curricular activity. They wonder when they’ll ever see their teen because of all the activities the child is involved in. Are these moms serious?

 

Hold up, I don’t even want to talk about those moms here. I homeschool. I stay home and have no side-business that I run from home. I could never judge those moms because I am not in their shoes. No, I want to figure out why I feel all of this pressure to do more, to be more, to have more. I stay home because my husband and I agree that the best person to raise our kids is us. God entrusted these people to our care and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. I homeschool because we agree that no one knows our kids better than me, and no one could walk beside them through their educational journey like I will. We may differ in philosophy, but we agree on why we keep the little ones home.

As these little people have begun to grow, I’ve felt pressured to add activities to our days. The homeschooling community is not the weird, un-socialized cliche that it once was, I am assuming you know this. There are more activities available to my children than I could list here. Once you have found your people, there is really no end to the days you can fill, and because most children are endlessly interested in trying everything you can not rely on them to filter the best choices for themselves. As a mom I have told my daughter “no” to more extra-curriculars than I can count, and she’s only nine years old. I have seen the insanity of a packed schedule and know that it’s not where I want to live.

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So here is my question as each new, good option presents itself; what value does this bring? We added ballet to our schedule this year; my child has been asking for five years for dance or gymnastics and this year we found a safe place for that to happen. When I looked to the value, I could see the discipline, the friendships, the focus, the hard work. I also only saw one hour out of my whole week, add in drive time and getting ready and I thought two hours max. This was something we could do. I didn’t factor in forty minutes of practice every day and now I am praying that the benefit will outweigh the cost in time to our family. Even with practice we aren’t running ragged though. My kids will remember all of the days we stayed home to play. The days spent reading in Dad’s chair and sitting at the kitchen table for math. I won’t wish we had more time together because I am intentional about my time with them. I refuse to give away the “little” years so that they can have all of these opportunities.

The opportunities are many and the pressure is great. If I don’t put my kid in dance and choir, scouts, sports…how will they be enriched? Where will they find themselves? How will they know where their passions lay? If I take a mostly hands-off approach, allowing my kids to simply play, will they not be just as fulfilled as their peers who are scheduled 12 hours each day? I say they will and more so! By allowing my children to “just be” they figure out who they are, what they like, how they want to be treated, what they want to fill their time with. Maybe a thing will stick with them, like dance did, continuing to be on her wish list for multiple years. By following her lead and giving her time to long for it, the class holds more value for her than any number of other opportunities casually tossed her way could have. And that’s the thing, she sees the value in it, so it isn’t a chore or a hassle or one-more-thing-to-do. I don’t use dance as a bargaining tool, but she knows how it must fit into our day and that sacrifices to play time must be made to incorporate practice and rehearsal.

Here is the flip-side, my six year-old is quiet. I don’t mean he is a quiet boy who rarely makes noise, rather he stands back, doesn’t want to be in front of a crowd. He is often afraid of activities though they are the same as they have been for many weeks. He holds back at the beginning of youth group every single Wednesday. He walks with me to co-op instead of running ahead with his sister. He refuses new choices because of a fear of the unknown. I worry over this lack of choosing too. I wanted him to try something new this year and it took weeks of talking about it and offering it to him before he actually went to the group. He needs the security of sameness to feel comfortable at a new activity or class, something that is not possible. This is part of the reason that I know teaching him at home is the best choice for him. He can rely on the stability of our home environment, trust in it’s sameness, be comforted in the relative boredom. New activities can still be a little scary, but they are small pieces of his week. He doesn’t have to live in those places every single day.

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My question holds true for this child as well. What value will he get from this activity that may be perceived as scary or unwanted? Will going to soccer practice once a week make him a professional athlete someday? No, it will not. It may help him find a love of movement, comfort in the camaraderie of team mates. It may make him a teensy bit braver next time. Will my insisting on him trying the next thing help him overcome his fear of trying in the long run? I pray that it will. I don’t want the child to live fearfully, I want him to be bold in his choices and I hope that the environment we have created gives him the chance to grow into that kind of person.

As I struggle with this balance of too many versus too few activities on our calendar, I aim to meet each child in the middle. To teach them that all of these options are good, but that we can not do all of the good things. As they grow I believe this will be an important skill for them, a tool they can use to not lose their inner voice. I hope it helps them learn that no is a good answer if it is true to their heart, while still being willing to say yes even if it may be a bit scary. I also hope that by working through these choices with them now, while they are small, they will find things they are passionate about. That they will carry not just those activities with them into adulthood, but the ability to choose what is right.

As I look ahead, I don’t see the activity load lessening. I will have to work to keep the white-space on my calendar. I hope that in providing down time, offering opportunities, listening to their opinions, that they will see the value in those breaks in the schedule. That they will be thankful for time to just be. That they will learn to appreciate the quiet and the loud, the slow and the busy. Also, that they will more easily work toward that balance in their adult lives, because of these lessons. Of course, this understanding is important for them. Really though, I am so pleased to have learned these things about myself, to know what I need from the quiet hours of my days and from the busy ones as well. To trust my answers to be true to those needs, without fear of either adding too much, or letting others down because I know myself well.