How Do I Inspire Them?

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Photo Credit: seabright hoffman Flickr via Compfight cc

 

I’ve always loved to read. To me, reading was like magic. It opened the world to me. When we decided we were going to home school our children, I was ecstatic about sharing my love of reading with them. But it hasn’t always worked out that way.

There is a saying in certain home school circles, “Inspire not require.” As a natural born student and a life long learner, this made perfect sense to me. But no one explained to me how to do it. When my daughter would rather draw or play outside than do math, I feel torn. Because my brain says “She can’t just go through life only doing what she wants.” and my heart dies a little at ever telling a child they can’t create or explore.

I keep hoping that we’ll find the right book and suddenly the light will come on and she will love the written word. So far she loves audio books and graphic novels. So I read articles about which books are the best for reluctant readers. I find every decent graphic novel adaptation of classic books.

How do you inspire someone? The people who have inspired me most were mostly just being themselves and doing what they love most. So I will read to her, talk to her about reading and let her see me reading. Hopefully she’ll get the message.

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It’s Only The First Day

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Photo Credit: brodieguy Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Today was our first official day of school. As year round homeschoolers there is always learning going on around here. But we took the first part of the summer off from formal school like stuff to help us reset while the kids did VBS, swim lessons and we look a trip to see friends and family. But I knew we needed to get back into a routine and get started.

 

I had all kinds of grand plans about being full prepared and a lovely day spent covering all the subjects. Fortunately I talked myself out of the extravaganza I had originally wanted and decided to phase in our subjects over the next three months. These last two weeks of July will be spent on the basics and then we’ll start phasing in new subjects (like formal spelling, American history and science) and special subjects (like art and music) over the next few months. Our co-op doesn’t start back up until September so I thought this would be a good time to get our bearings.

 

Except my planning day on Saturday turned into a clean out the garage day because we realized there was standing water due to all the recent rain. (Did I mention that our garage is still full of boxes left from our move 6 months ago?) I spent most of Sunday night desperately trying to clean up the living room so that it wouldn’t be a mess tomorrow when we started school and all the while feeling overwhelmed by all there was to do.

 

We started the day with French toast for breakfast, which the kids loved. Then we started with a family devotional I’ve been wanting to try. (The kids were less than fans, unfortunately). We read two new poems from this children’s season poetry treasury that I love. Then we continued on with reading lessons, language lessons, and our book of the week from Five in a Row. I began reading aloud Mary Poppins during snack time and then we moved on to math and copy work.

 

That may all sound really impressive. Except it also involved:

 

A stop for a diaper change of the toddler and trying to keep him from writing all over the house with the pencils.

 

Dealing with whining from my 8 year old who refused to do her reading lesson and proceeded to do a rushed and poor quality job with copy work.

 

I was hoping to do an audiobook during lunch but my children were so disappointed that I didn’t have Mary Poppins as an audiobook (apparently they don’t like the way I read it) that they refused to listen to anything at all.

 

The kids fought, the toddler disrupted

Some how laundry was also done, though I’m not exactly sure how and before I knew it, it was time to start dinner. I still had to cram in a workout before dinner was actually ready and I had to run to a meeting at church.

 

Not an auspicious first day. But I had to keep reminding myself it was just the first day. There are many days ahead. Some will be better, often they will be about the same as this. Yet there is room for growth and improvement. First days tend to built up as some kind of symbol of how the year will be. But really it’s just a day.

 

There are so many other times I let one day define me. The day my workout goes terribly. The day my children won’t behave at the store. (Ok, that’s most days, but still). When my husband and I fight. When unexpected bills arrive and it feels like we’ll never get ahead financially. But it’s not about that one day, it’s the decision to get up each and every day, and continue with the mantra “I need thee every hour.”

 

Tomorrow I will get up, start a load of laundry, and remind the kids to brush their teeth and empty the dishwasher. Make a less impressive breakfast than today and we will begin again, all the while praying for the strength and provision I need for the day and the hour, believing that the strength will arise as I need it.

I’m Never Ready: Five Minute Friday

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This week’s prompt is ready.

I thought I was ready. I read the books, did the research. I found ways to pinch pennies and compromise when the budget wouldn’t allow me to do what I wanted. But the reality is harder. My five year old and two year old at home with me all day. Trying to get the housework done while trying to make sure we do something of educational value while keeping up with the steady demand for food and snacks. Adventures in Odyssey plays in the background as I finish my cold eggs at 10:30. We are already past breakfast and morning snack but still they cry for more. More raisins, another muffin, more of me. That’s all they really want. More of me. To play with them and be with them. We read, we work on writing. Read aloud is interrupted by my shouts for my son to get down of a high perch or put back the items he swipes from the kitchen counter.

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As so many of my friends send their kids off to school and crow with excitement at having moments to themselves again, I find that my world is fuller than even. To care for and teach them. To manage my household. Engage with my husband. Somehow find moments for myself. One can be certain you’ve made the right choice and still wish that it wasn’t.

I’m never ready. But life keeps changing and I’m needed more, not less as time goes on. I need to learn to be OK with that.

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Simple Summer Homeschooling: How We Manage

 

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Summer is more than half over and my grand plans to start kindergarten instruction haven’t exactly flourished. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been learning. We took a family trip to the beach and visited an aquarium. It was a small aquarium with several touch tanks, and we spent a long time working our way through several exhibits. Thea did a week of VBS and then two weeks of swim lessons. Formal school hasn’t gotten much attention. I’m still feeling torn about what curriculum I’m going to use in the fall. I’ve been waffling between Five in a Row and My Father’s World. Both have advantages and disadvantages. It may simply come down to which of the recommended books our library has more of. But until then we’ve decided to keep things simple. I finally dragged out our two “learn to read” books that I purchased earlier this year.

100 easy lessons

Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons

Ordinary Parent's Guide

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Child to Read

Neither was of any interest to my daughter and who can blame her, they are really boring to look at. But we started with an Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Child to Read because I thought the lessons seemed interesting and I like the poem used to help learn vowels. Plus, the premise of 100 Easy Lessons is to teach the child the sounds the letters make before the letters themselves. Well, silly me. We just spent the last two years learning letters. So I didn’t know how well that one would work for us anyway.

We’re only a few lessons in and while my daughter doesn’t love it, she will listen. My son will sit and listen to anything new for a least a little while, so he tries to learn the letter sounds which makes my competitive daughter more engaged.

Games for Math

Games for Math: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn Math, From Kindergarten to Third Grade

We’ve also been using Games for Math. I know that this isn’t a formal math curriculum, but it’s a way of trying to make math more fun. I honestly wish I could find a curriculum that focuses mostly on the practicality of math. I loved story problems when I was in school, because they made sense. They were based on real life. I think that if we made math as practical as possible kids would be more interested in it, but until it’s applied, it feels so abstract. (Fortunately my daughter is still too young for the “When will I need this anyway?” argument).

We’ve also been trying some new read aloud books. After we finished The Wind in the Willows I gave my daughter the choice of going back to the Little House on the Prairie Series, The Secret Garden, Heidi or All of a Kind Family. She chose All of a Kind Family.

All of a Kind Family

This book is an old favorite of mine. I’ve reread it and the others in the series more times than I can count. I vividly remembered when I was standing at the shelf of the Emmaus Library and I realized that this book, which my teacher had read to us in school, was one of a series. I was so excited and took out the other four books and was done with them in less than two weeks.

I love that through this book my daughter and I are exploring a different time in history and different culture. All of a Kind Family tells the story of working class Jewish Family living in New York City before World War I. It is filled with beautiful Jewish traditions and holidays and the fun filled and tender interactions of the family; mother, father and five daughters.

So that’s our simple homeschooling summer so far. I’d love to hear how you spend the summer with our kids, whether you homeschool or not.

What If She Doesn’t Want to Learn? The One Where I Share My Homeschooling Fears

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It has been crazy around here lately. My toddler is into everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) and is apparently about to drop his morning nap.  I seem to live every day in damage control mode. Amid all of this I’m trying to provide my four year old with learning opportunities. I read wonderful articles about how self-motivated homeschool children can be, but I harbor a secret fear–what if my daughter doesn’t want to learn?

IMG_2269We don’t employ a lot of TV in our house, mostly because I don’t think it’s healthy and also because the more TV my daughter watches the worse her behavior gets. Sometimes it’s just easier to say no. And I do. Pretty much every day. Each morning begins with two questions: What’s for dinner? and Can I watch something on TV? (The answer usually being, I don’t know and no, we don’t watch TV in the morning.) I read a great article about the homeschooling the other day that made me feel so inspired. But the problem is, that isn’t my daughter. She used to be like that. After her brother was born I let her watch too much TV in an effort to maintain my sanity during the exhaustion and feeding issues that went on for months after his birth. But now she seems to have forgotten how to be creative and entertain herself and spends most the day nagging me about what should she do next.

IMG_2302She makes crafts, though we don’t have the most exciting supplies in the world. Occasionally she uses her duplo to build creative towers or buildings. But it’s hard to do complicated crafts and make creative structures with a toddler barreling around. Maybe it’s just an age thing and she will become more self-directed as she gets older, but for now I’m exhausted most days. If I leave the room to use the bathroom I get interrupted by screaming. I worry that somehow by letting her watch TV so much during the first year of her brother’s life, I’ve somehow ruined her.

I watched two little girls for a friend the other day. In the afternoon when my daughter would normally have her quiet time while my son was napping I suggested they watch a Veggie Tales DVD.  These little girls had almost no interest. Let’s just say it wasn’t a quiet time. My daughter spent most of the time asking them to be a little quieter so she could hear the show. I kept asking myself, what was wrong with my kid that she would rather watch TV than play with friends? (Though they had been playing all day.)

IMG_2081You see, my daughter and I argue about almost everything. She is a classic strong willed child. Nothing is done without debate and negotiation. I try not to give in to her demands, but sometimes I just don’t have the strength to keep up.  I am strongly committed to homeschooling for many reasons, including her strong willed personality. I worry that if we only have a few hours a day together that all we will do is argue. At least now we have the time for the sweet moments as well as the difficult. But I also see the potential for school to become a battle ground.

I don’t have any answers in this post. This is just me being real and sharing my fears. I think we all parent with just a little bit of trepidation and a lot of self-doubt.  Anyone with experience in homeschooling strong willed children, I’ll happily take your advice.

What Does School Look Like at Your House? Finding Your Homeschool Philosophy

1428611_89419299When I first started researching homeschooling, I quickly realized that each curriculum seemed to be focused around a philosophy. It was overwhelming. Classical, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori, Unschooling, Interest led/Delight led learning; there were so many. I was drawn to aspects of all of them. The academic in me loved the idea of Classical education with its structure and focus on memorization. I even pursued the idea of signing my daughter up for a local chapter of Classical Conversations, though it was very expensive and we couldn’t really afford it. But when I emailed the organizer she asked if my four year old knew how to read yet. She assured me that it wasn’t required, but that she would get more out of the program if she did. I had been struggling with the very issue of forcing academics too early. I was all for teaching kids to memorize, but my instinct was that facts memorized without any understanding wouldn’t necessarily be helpful. What good is remembering when an event happened if you don’t know why it mattered? I’m not saying that classical education isn’t great and we may pursue it more in the future, but I realized it wasn’t why I was homeschooling. Which led me to ask the question: Why am I homeschooling and what do I want my school to look like? The answer surprised me.

1193228_35828531As a very academic person who thrived in a traditional academic environment, albeit private school rather than public, I assumed that my homeschooling would be more like traditional school at home. Schedules, assignments, perhaps even tests. But then I remembered a big part of why I am choosing to homeschool, I don’t just want to teach my child, I want to help her learn how to learn, teach her to think. In some ways I won’t be her teacher at all, though part of me would prefer that role, I am here to help her develop the ability to self-teach and to become a lifelong learner. I want her to be able to absorb and analyze new information, remember that information but also form conclusions and create her own ideas using that information. This is something that is not taught in most traditional public schools any longer.

Girl drawing back to schoolSo what does our school look like? We are much more unschool or interest led than I ever imagined. I have set days with room for school. It often works around my son’s naps, but not always. We do lots and lots of read aloud, more if my daughter asks for it. She can do creative activities like crafts pretty much whenever she wants. We spend two days a week with our preschool co-op, meeting outside as long as the weather permits. The two things I’ve learned most from Charlotte Mason are that children only have a 15-20 minute attention span, so keep that in mind with planning all lessons. Also, give them as much outside time as possible. We don’t get as much outside time as I’d like, but I notice that my daughter is a happier kid, even if all she does is dig in the dirt or draw with chalk. It’s even better if we go someplace where she has space to run. I can see why previous generations of inventors, entrepreneurs and artists spent their childhoods mostly outdoors rather than in front of the TV or sitting at a desk for eight hours a day.

1356853_39267271 (1)I love many of the aspects of Waldorf education including the focus on music, dance and the arts along with the seasons of the year and cycles of nature. The curriculum we use in Waldorf based and so far it works really well for us. Music is a daily part of our lives. Thanks to Pandora we can transition from classical, to blue grass, to the Beach Boys, or Veggie Tales. We’ve come upon songs like the Water Cycle and the Alphabet of Nations. Music has seamlessly become part of our daily learning without even officially adding it to our education plan.

485097_60890254The amazing thing is, my daughter is learning. In her own time, in her own way, without me standing over her telling her how to do it. Her counting skills and letter recognition skills seem to be materializing practically before my eyes, without much formal attention. This gives me great confidence in the human ability to learn through environment. Life is learning and I realize now that if I pass nothing else on to my daughter in the way of education that is what I want her to realize.

947375_31536446I want my children to realize that learning occurs anytime and anywhere, and most of the time it will be fun and even when it’s hard it can still be satisfying. Talent is important but hard work will get you a long way and many skills can be taught if you are willing. We are each unique and have something special about us, but there will always be someone who is better than you, smarter than you or more attractive than you. That’s life but it in no way diminished who you are and what makes you unique. If you want to be exceptional, work harder than everyone else, and treat others with respect. Be a gracious loser and a polite winner.

If I can impart any or all of those things, my children will be more prepared for life than if they get a perfect score on the SAT’s, ACT’s or PSSA’s.

So what does your homeschool look like? What philosophies have influenced you and what are your primary goals?

Our Homeschooling Year So Far

1418382_75461860This is my first year keeping to any kind of homeschool schedule. Last year when my daughter was 3 we tried it, but when my son developed food issues (both weight gain and food allergies) that took precedence so we just did what we were already doing, lots of free play, read-alouds, and the occasion circle time. I first discovered the Wee Folk Art curriculum almost two years ago. It looked like so much fun. I was especially excited because it was a loosely Waldorf based curriculum, which at the time was what I thought I wanted. (more on that in a later post, but for now just let me say, homeschooling is not looking at all like I expected it would).

I began slowly, the first year just doing the read aloud’s and not much else. Then last summer, shortly after my daughter turned four, I decided to try again, this time trying out the summer curriculum Ponds and Puddles. We did some of the crafts this time and a couple of field trips. But when fall came, I wanted to be a little more structured.

We typically homeschool two or three days a week, more if my daughter wants to. We mostly focus on doing the suggested read-alouds, both the fiction and non-fiction. We’ve mostly been able to make do with the library as our book source, which occasionally requires substitutions. We’ve begun working in the activities and field trips as we are able.

The big additions to our year have been adding Get Ready for the Code books, Games for Math and Come Look With Me: World of Play for art appreciation. My daughter’s interest is entirely unpredictable. She seems to hate math games, so I don’t push them. She goes in spurts with Get Ready for the Code. Some days she loves it, but she seems to struggle with her fine motor skills so I think writing is a long way off yet, so while I will suggest that we work on her writing, I let her decide if we are going to do it, at least for now. But I’ve discovered that just through reading aloud some alphabet themed books (with have a set with a book for each letter) and playing with fridge magnets, she now seems to recognize most of her letters and some of her numbers. I will give some credit for that to the kids Pandora station and They Might Be Giants. Their number album, Here Come the 123’s has made numbers so much fun for Thea and we sing the songs often. I may have to put it on my supply list for later this year.

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She loved the weaving activity as part of last week’s theme of sheep and wool.
She loves Come Look With Me, which surprises me because I thought that it seemed to mature for her. She asks dozens of questions about the pictures, most of which I can’t answer, but she is fascinated. The curriculum includes a poem or long rhyme to memorize each month. The first one she seemed to like and knew within days. But she is fighting the second one. I think she actually knows it, but doesn’t want to recite for me for some reason. She has a great memory, she just has to care enough to use it. (Can I just tell you how much other flotsam she has memorized including ridiculous songs off of Pandora and common phrases I use, both flattering and unflattering)

Our co-op started out with a curriculum we liked, only to discover after we purchased some of the materials, that they are public access only for individual families, not groups. While I realize that we are five families working in virtual isolation, we felt that the ethical thing to do would be to either stop using the curriculum or buy a license. The co-op license costs more than any of us are willing to spend, so we have decided to start using the Wee Folk Art Harvest Time curriculum with our co-op as well. This will actually produce less work for me, and I’m hoping make my daughter more excited by some aspects of the curriculum, like memorization.

So far so good, I’ve enjoying the journey and my daughter seems to love learning, as long as I don’t make it a chore for her. She also seems to have realized that learning and school can go on anywhere, from the car (we do some narration and reading comprehension questions while en route places), to our kitchen and living room or the local park. I love that she is realizing so early on in life that learning isn’t and shouldn’t be confined to a desk in a classroom.

So homeschoolers out there, how is your year going so far? What is your favorite part? What is your children’s favorite part?