Home and Family, Homeschooling

Just keep going!

It’s official.  Cold season is upon us.  One daughter’s family had just kicked their coughs and sniffles, and now at our house the 5 month-old has been coughing for a few days, and it is spreading to the other kids. We went into the doc to verify it wasn’t anything more concerning than a normal cold, and he told us not to worry….but to be aware that everyone seems to be catching it.  (Translation-if you’re lucky enough to still be healthy, don’t go anywhere, meet with anyone, or leave your house.  Goody.)  Time to make sure each family has what they need from the store, and revamp school plans (slightly).

The plan:

Mom has been up for a few nights with the baby who isn’t sleeping, but the other five children are awake at their normal time to begin the day.  Hmmmm. Time to simplify. What does school look like with one eye open in between yawns?  Group time will involve less reading aloud (Mom is getting a sore throat), but more art and hands-on activity.  Individual work will utilize more learning/tutoring DVDs and less individualized verbal instruction.  Snacks now include spiced cider (for everyone’s sore throats), less dairy, and more fruits/veggies.  Breaks may happen at unusual times; if the baby goes to sleep, so does Mom.  Naps are allowed for whomever needs one.  But the basics get covered.  Outside time is still fun.  And we press onward.

Even if things turn for the worst (flu, bronchitis, etc.), we can continue to do something.  Charts of who had which med when, graphs tracking hours of sleep or fluid intake, learning about the science of the human body and infection fighting, and history/science/art/Schoolhouse Rock videos are waiting in the wings.

Life is a school, and when life changes, we may need to adjust.  We keep going as best we can.  And we do it with a smile and as a family.  If our children can learn that, everything else may be simply icing on the cake!


Let’s DO school!

It’s that time again.  Homeschool conventions, curriculum fairs, and planning.  Lots of planning.  I remember worrying as a young homeschool mom that I wasn’t doing the right thing, or enough (or too much?), or that I didn’t have everything I needed in order to truly teach my children the things that would best serve them for their future.  Now I watch as my daughters and friends do the same thing.  When I began our homeschooling journey in 1991, there were few resources available.  Scraping curriculum together took time and hunting.  Fast forward 24 years. There are so many options available now, it is enough to make your head spin!  Two thoughts I have had in the last few weeks as I watch this dance happening around me:

First-There is no such thing as a perfect curriculum.  Often we think we have failed, when the failure is in the book…or box…or file.  There are very few prepackaged kits that I would regard as safe bets for just about anyone, and often those will still need tweaking a bit depending on the child.  Stop looking for perfection; consistency is what can make the difference!

As plans are made for the upcoming year, take time to DO things.  Math often makes more sense with manipulative use.  Grammar seems plainer with diagramming if you have a visual learner.  Science is more easily remembered, and more enjoyable, if you get out there and experience it rather than expecting facts to be absorbed by simply reading a book. Go to the zoo.  Dig for rocks.  Lie on the ground and observe the night sky.  Experiment in the kitchen.  Go on field trips to make your studies come alive.  Take regular breaks and get the whole gang moving.  Run up and down the stairs as you drill math facts.  Take a walk and practice observational skills.  OUr children need to learn to cook and do laundry as well as diving into academic studies. Jump on a mini-tramp between subjects for a quick brain break. Role-play or act out history lessons. Duck walk as you review spelling lists or phonics rules.    Doing wakes up the brain, increases retention, and the ensuing giggles aren’t bad either.

As you spend time exploring the world and all its wonders, remember to keep active verbs in the mix.  Do. Try. Experiment. Observe. Move. Fail. Laugh. Create things: messes, meals, and memories for a lifetime.  And cut yourself some slack.  It’s not up to you to find the perfect books, or be the perfect parent, or have the perfect family.  The only perfection we will ever attain will not come from us.  It comes from He who wants us to succeed.  Lean on Him, and go DO something!

Home and Family

Get ready!

Every now and then, something happens which focuses my efforts as “keeper of the hearth” on something which I may not have been focused on.  This weekend it happened again.  Unexpectedly heavy rains caused flooding and mud slides in a number of communities around us.  One such community is removing mud with back hoes; another is boiling water before it can be used.  All from a few hours of rain.

As I watch the news and pray for those affected by the crazy weather, I am reminded that such things are happening all over and to varying degrees of seriousness.  What is my job in all this?  Well, prayer is necessary.  A helping hand when possible is also good.  Making sure that my family has what we would need in a similar situation is vital.  Praying for help if I haven’t done my part will be so much less effective!  We live where storms, floods, earthquakes, and other natural calamities are well with-in the range of possibilities.

How to prepare?  There are so many unknowns, that it is impossible to be truly “ready for anything,”  but there are a number of things I can do so that we are better prepared for many of them.

  • Have a few months supply of food in my home.  (Even if I only need it for a week or two, I am surrounded by people in my neighborhood that may need my help.)
  • Have water stored.  Empty 2-liter or juice bottles make easy and inexpensive storage containers.  Be sure to treat the water so that it will be usable when it is needed.  (Check with your local university extension or government office for recommended treatment instructions.)
  • Have a portable 72-hour emergency kit in case of evacuation.
  • Get to know your neighbors.  Having a good relationship with those around you can help during hard days, even if all you need is a chat over the fence.  During times of real challenge, knowing you can count on each other is worth the world!
  • Have a plan for waste disposal.  If you don’t have running water, you may not have a toilet that works, or garbage pick-up for a while.  Ick.
  • Have a source for cooking or heating.  I have a wood-burning stove and camp stoves that can double as heating and/or food preparation stations if necessary.  (DO NOT use camp stoves in an area that is not well-ventilated!)
  • Keep candles, matches, working flashlights (with extra batteries), and lanterns where you can get to them.  When the power goes out, the adventure begins!
  • Keep a supply of working tools so that if you are helping clear debris or mud, you have what you need to assist.
  • Learn to smile when things are less-than-ideal.  If things around you are tough, bring a sunny disposition and maybe even a song to the party!  Help calm the children with fingerplays and stories.  Help provide faith, and a positive attitude so that the challenge can be less-miserable.

There are a myriad of books, websites, and classes dedicated to emergency preparedness.  This list is not to be comprehensive, or to take the place of those lists which have been compiled by experts.  (If you truly want a complete list refer to them.)  It simply contains the items which came to mind this weekend as I watched the news.  While I can’t control what happens around me, I am responsible for my preparedness level so that I can be helpful rather than a hindrance when the unexpected happens.

So…where are the flashlights….?


Real-life is school too.

This week has involved (thus far) a zoo trip, library day, two unrelated doctor visits, lots of phone calls to various doctors and pharmacies, unscheduled but necessary errands, as well as efforts to keep life moving along in a good direction.  When things like this happen, keeping on track with academics can be a challenge.  What’s to be done?

Take a deep breath and prioritize.  While alphabet games for the three-year-old may fall by the wayside for a few days, math for the older children should not.  It helps to take advantage of where ever you find yourself and identify ways to tie things into your academic plan (or re-write it slightly to encompass them).  Here are some examples of what I mean.

  • At the zoo, reading the signs and maps assists with creating a mental picture of who lives where, and how life in each biome works together.  Take advantage of any activities or animal shows to increase not just a knowledge base about God’s creations, but appreciation for the myriad of questions they may not have thought to ask.  Sketching the animals and their habitats encourages focus and study.  Look for the differences in textures, colors, size, etc.  If you can find out when the animals are fed, follow the zoo-keepers around and observe how and what each animal eats.  What precautions, if any, the zoo-keepers need to take for the various species.  Why or why not?  The zoo is a unit study just waiting to happen.
  • When dealing with medical surprises, ask your doctor for any child-friendly information sheets they may have concerning the issue at hand.  Our pediatric cardiologist gave us coloring and game pages, information sheets, and allowed my children to examine heart models and ask questions.  Often you can find child friendly information online to supplement whatever you are handed.  Chicken pox can be a days’ detour from the goals for the month.  (And then a few days off for baths and naps.)  If you are dealing with more serious issues, it may become it’s own unit study for a week or more.
  • Our children’s librarian is transferring and this week is the last story time he will be doing for us.  This gives us the opportunity to make thank-you cards, and to discuss accepting life’s changes.  And to look forward to the good that will come.
  • Unseasonably hot summer weather has hit, and the garden is suffering a bit.  Here comes a botany lesson.  Peas don’t take 100 degree weather well; the tomatoes love it.  Time to pull the peas and any weeds taking advantage of the warm weather, water the tomatoes and melons, and thin the corn that is beginning to form tassels.  Look for signs of seed pods forming, fruit and flower formation, and learn to spot pests and disease.  Summer is here!

Some things require flexibility in the academic plan for a bit.  Other things are simply a bump in the road.  Whichever you run up against, find ways to smile and keep moving.  As our children see us take on the unexpected with composure, they will learn to do the same.

Home and Family, Homeschooling

Routines vs. schedules

“How did you schedule your day?” seems to be a burning question for many people, and is asked often whenever I teach at a convention or support group, or check my email.

Rule #1- I didn’t have a schedule.  I had a routine.  Having a schedule sounds too much like a public school (9:00- math, 9:30-reading, etc.), and set me up for failure.  That didn’t mean my days were a free-for-all.  I chose to be in charge, rather than the clock calling the shots.

Here is how things often looked when I had four kids at home.  This is a very general idea, and does not take into account appointments or classes that did work on a schedule.  You get the idea.

8:00-9:00: Everyone up and tidying bedrooms (Getting dressed was often optional.  I do some of my best work in my pajamas!).

Breakfast together around 9:30.

Group time for the family came next.  This included our morning devotional, pledge, and any academic studies we could do as a group.  This time together might take as few as 30 minutes, or could last for two to three hours.  It varied by the day and was generally influenced by whether or not a great discussion was started.  (Beware of allowing a “need” to keep to a schedule interfere with addressing those things your children are interested in delving into in greater detail.  If you need to adjust some of your curriculum for a new, burning interest-by all means, adjust!)

Individual school lists were started when group time was over.  Anything on their lists not covered during our time as a group needed to be completed by them individually.  Each child had their own list.  Some would finish before lunch, some after-depending on their ages, and how motivated they were that day.  It was also often determined by how long we took during group time.

School time was scheduled four days a week.  (We would study history two days, and science the other two.  Other subjects were done each day.)We found you could cover a great deal of ground in four good solid days of studies.  I could then use the other days to shop, deal with doctor appointments, work on gardening, canning or other food preservation projects, sort, or catch up on whatever else I needed to do.

That was the daily routine-most of the time.  Some days called for something else.  Wednesday mornings were story time at the local library. Friday was our shopping day.  Sunday involved church, family time, and a complete change of pace.

I found that this routine worked well for us because life is full of changes, twists, turns, and unplanned events.  Having a routine helped to allow for those changes without feeling derailed.  On days when the kids were sick, we read more books and watched a bit more educational television. When it was just too lovely outside to remain indoors, we packed a picnic lunch and had a day of nature study, or worked on the garden, or went to the zoo.  First snowfall of the season?  Time to brush off the shovels, build a snowman, and then learn to make cocoa.  Learning to be flexible helped us accomplish the highest priorities, and still retain a bit of sanity.  Too much rigidity can be maddening!

If life threw a major curve-ball, we tried incorporate it into what we are doing.  As I have schooled my own over the last two decades, we faced unemployment, heart surgeries, military deployments, moves, miscarriages, and other real life events.  When they happened, we went through them as a family.  No job?  We all found ways to save money and contribute (economics and life skills).  Child in the hospital?  We studied the heart, and learned about convalescent care (biology and health).  Grandma and Grandpa moving into a new home allowed us to serve, and to work on our organizational skills.  Remember- life’s challenges are opportunities to show your children how to keep going in spite of what is happening around you.  They are not an excuse to fall apart or derail family goals.  Major emergencies (heart attacks, appendicitis, etc.) may require we drop and run, and then regroup in a few days.  If you can view all of these things as learning experiences and preparation for life, it can enhance your time with your children, rather than overwhelming you.

And on those days when it is all just too much, give yourself permission to break out the games,  bake cookies, and enjoy the day!