Homeschool Fruits: Joy

Tell me this. Does homeschooling bring you joy? Should it? After all, educating our children is pretty serious business.

This is one of my favorite Bible texts: “You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever,” Psalm 16:11 GNT.

What this tells me is that God’s presence fills me with joy. It doesn’t say my path will be easy, that I’ll never have any stress, that I won’t agonize a little more than I should over which math program to use — but it does tell me that the overall tenor of His presence in my life and my activities should be joy.

January is an excellent time to think about this because we’re starting a fresh, new year. It’s not a new school year, but there is still something very encouraging about knowing a new calendar year has been birthed — a year where you can fix things that didn’t work so well in 2016, and look for ways to claim God’s promise of joy.

If you haven’t done it yet, reevaluate your fall semester of 2016. What worked really well? Were there subjects in which your child flourished? Did anything not flow as smoothly as you had wished? Was there a subject that caused you both lots of stress? Or, are either of you just plain bored with something?

The new year is such a good tweaking time. Spelling, Bible, math, and history were awesome at our house last semester. Full speed ahead! Science had lost its verve, though, so we’re starting 2017 with a new plan. We totally tossed cells, and have embraced physics. (It’s okay. You can do that as a homeschooler, you know. LOL.) Grammar was going okay, but my son really is tired of it. I, as an editor, feel a strangling sensation to throw it out, even though I know it’s not a typical stand alone subject after elementary school. So, compromise: We’re both good with two days of grammar and two days of cursive writing practice. This kind of reevaluation is so important to keep joy alive in your homeschooling. Both parent and child should feel like they are doing something fulfilling.

And, what about the unschoolers? Yes, unschoolers, you’re completely aware that shades of this apply to you too. We started out as unschoolers and loved it, and I can assure you I’ve never seen an unschooling mom or dad who is not involved in their kids’ education. The approach is just different. So, maybe 2017 is the time to add a zoo membership, or to encourage your child to research backyard chickens with you. Is your kid one of those (like mine) that wants more parental guidance? Time to adjust. Or, maybe you’ve been peeking over their shoulders too much, and you need to let them explore music or gardening on their own. Aim for educational joy.

What about your home life? When you are a homeschooler, home life is an even more consuming part of your daily existence than with typical families. What does yours look like? Here are a few watchwords: order, schedules, flexibility, cleaning, noise, time alone, time with kids, time with spouse, errands, rest. This is a good time to think about your needs and those of your spouse and children.

Home should be a haven, not a nest of stress. I’m a pretty “wing it” type of person. My child, on the other hand, really appreciates knowing the day’s agenda. I have minimal domestic desires, but my husband thrives on a relatively orderly house. In both areas, I’ve found ways to extend out of my comfort zone in order to help my family be more happy. Conversely, one of my greatest desires is quiet. Husband and child can make a lot of noise when they’re together, but they make an effort to give me periods of respite — silence, peace, ahhhhh.

I believe joy at home often relies heavily on one quality: being considerate. Being considerate to my family means taxing myself somewhat to help achieve their happiness. Being considerate to myself means asking children and spouse to bend some for me. Peter tells husbands to “be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…so that nothing will hinder your prayers,” I Peter 3:7, NIV. No doubt this counsel extends to wives and children as well.

January is a great time to decide where your homeschooling and your home life excels and where they could use a little improvement, and to work with your family to seize the fruit of joy.

“You will expand the nation and increase its happiness [joy]. It will be happy in your presence like those who celebrate the harvest…” Isaiah 9:3 GWT.

Planting Seeds of Joy

It’s that time of year again. For many of you the presents have been opened, Christmas dinner preparations are old news, family have returned to their homes, New Year’s resolutions have been made (or at least considered, right?), and life is starting to get back to the “pre-holiday” routine. This can be a relief for some, a letdown for others. So, what now? We often idealize the holidays as the stuff dreams are made of, and we regularly go to great lengths to make sure our family members and friends feel that extra bit of love. How can we continue to encourage our families to live the joy, thanksgiving, and dream-like utopia that we aimed for only days ago, throughout the rest of this year?

seedlings

Today, I have a few suggestions for helping to maintain the “Christmas spirit,” and plant those seeds of joy for the other 11 months of the year. Because, really, whether you celebrate Christmas officially or not, it’s the spirit of giving, goodwill, and hope that makes this world a better place, and I strongly believe those are concepts that come directly from the heart of God.

1. Continue the tradition of saying what you are thankful for at mealtimes, family worships, or bedtimes. Thanks begets more thanks. Let your family know what blessings you have experienced during the day, even if it’s as simple as finding a toy that has been misplaced, or making it to a doctor’s appointment on time (in my home, these are actually huge). “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth,” Isaiah 12:4-5.

2. Look for ways to reach out to others. It may take extra effort, but making someone smile always brings one to my face. Drawing pictures, writing encouraging notes, delivering homemade goodies — it may sound clichéd, but it works! “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed,” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

3. Spend time connecting with your spouse. One of my favorite memories with Josh is sitting on the couch sipping hot chocolate, and looking at the lights on our tree, while he read stories from a book we both enjoyed. It was spontaneous and simple. A date doesn’t have to mean going somewhere expensive. Talk about what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

4. Take time to make your children feel extra special, whether it’s a “date” night once a month, or a surprise “break” day to go do something fun. Tell them what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The world will not end if the toys are not picked up, or laundry isn’t folded and put away. I say this to myself as much as to you. Order and cleanliness are near the top of my list, because I generally feel more relaxed looking at a clean house, but there are times when it’s ok to let that stuff go. In general, your family is not going to remember you for your spotless livingroom, perfect kitchen, or whether your children’s rooms look like something out of Good Homes Magazine. They’re going to remember you for your warmth, interest, and caring; it’s the memories of being together that will leave warm fuzzies in their hearts.

6. Last, and most important on this list, take time out to restore your soul. We as parents don’t always do a good job of taking care of ourselves. With 948 other things calling our names (along with the children and spouse of course), the struggle to take care of our hearts is real. I, for one, need a lot more time to recharge than my husband does. It is crucial that recharging time happens because without it, the energy to do the other five things on this list won’t be there. When the primary caretaker (whether husband or wife) is running on empty, the whole family suffers.

My prayer, as usual, is that you will continue to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), that you will lack no good thing (Psalms 34:9), and that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Many blessings and blossoms of joy for the new year ahead!

~Kirsten

Homeschool Fruits: Flexibility

Micah is reading in the airport: "The Bronze Bow," is a children's literature book set in Roman-occupied Israel during the time of Jesus. (http://www.enotes.com/topics/bronze-bow)

Micah is reading in the airport: The Bronze Bow is a children’s literature book set in Roman-occupied Israel during the time of Jesus. (http://www.enotes.com/topics/bronze-bow)

I’m writing this while sitting in the airport, waiting on our flight home with my seventh-grader. (If it’s a little short, they probably called us to board. LOL.) We’ve been in Atlanta — during a non-vacation, regular-school time — for more than two weeks, armed only with a grammar workbook and a historical storybook set during the Roman empire. And, the grammar book wasn’t cracked once in the last two weeks. Yeah, it was definitely overly optimistic to take it.

Am I stressed about this? No, because we’re homeschoolers. This is not news to anyone reading a homeschooling blog, but it may be a needed reminder for some of us when we get stressed about schedules. Was any part of your decision to homeschool based on dictating your own schedule? We purposely chose a flexible method of education that would mesh with our flexible lifestyle. Taking two weeks “off” in the middle of a semester is not a worry, because we’re not subject to someone else’s timeline. What a relief!

What does your school schedule look like? Do you feel pressured to finish a prescribed curriculum, and within a certain time period? Do you get nervous if you didn’t get to math or language arts today? How old is your child? Is he already eight, but not reading? Is she in third grade, but she might have been in fourth or fifth if she had gone to school? Or, maybe it’s the opposite. You have a 10-year-old who has a flair for math, and is already studying algebra and geometry.

Here’s the deal. It’s okay. It’s all okay…because you homeschool.

One of the most valuable fruits of homeschooling is that each family is free to follow the needs of both their child and their family as a unit. There is no rule that says you must finish high school at age 18. There’s also no rule that keeps your child from pursuing college-level knowledge (and sometimes credit) at 14 or 16.

Likewise, the needs of the family unit follow different dynamics. Some families flourish under structure, and have their year’s activities planned out months in advance. Homeschooling works beautifully for this, because you actually have more control over your schedule than some random school system does. Other families, like ours, may be at a stage in life in the extended family (i.e., elderly parents) to be frequently hit by the need for quick change. Most recently for us, it was the need to help elderly Grandma move and get her house sold. We had to fly out immediately to assist her. This could have caused a lot of consternation for me, especially as I’ve been more organized in lesson plans this semester than I usually am. However, that blessed reminder about the flexibility of homeschooling calmed my mind.

We’ve deliberately chosen to do homeschooling year-round. Our summer schedule and subjects may change a little, but the knowledge that we can drop everything for a couple of weeks for an emergency, or take off the entire span between Thanksgiving and Christmas, or do a quick jaunt to the beach in autumn, etc., and still have plenty of time to carry out our homeschool goals…that’s golden!

The next time you stress over your schedule or your daily accomplishments or your child’s writing ability — STOP — and grant yourself the kindheartedness, gentleness, and patience (see Galatians 5:22,23 below) that you would grant others. Review this awesome fruit of homeschooling, flexibility, and claim it for your family!

~

“I have known both to be abased, and I have known to abound; in everything and in all things I have been initiated, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. For all things I have strength, in Christ’s strengthening me,” Philippians 4:12-13 YLT.

“The Holy Spirit produces a different kind of fruit: unconditional love, joy, peace, patience, kindheartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You won’t find any law opposed to fruit like this,” Galatians 5:22,23 VOICE.

A Different Kind of Superhero

wonder-woman-552109_1920

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,” Isaiah 40:29.

I’m a control freak. There I said it. I like things to be predictable, well-ordered, and consistent in my life. If I could find a way to keep my house spotless, turn the children into skillful masters in their preferred fields, and save the world at the same time, I would. More often than not, though, the living room is a convention center for cars, airplanes, and Legos; my children sometimes struggle with the three R’s; and, to top it off, my Super Mom uniform shrunk three sizes the first time I washed it, and hasn’t fit since.

My shortcomings become even more obvious as I scroll through my Facebook news feed, and see updates telling about how much my friends accomplished that morning. They finished their shopping, home improvement, gardening, and laundry, all in 20 minutes! WOW! (Okay, maybe not 20 minutes, but close, right?) I cast a weary glance at my half wilted plants, while tripping over clothes/toys/shoes on the floor on my way to the pantry (which is still unfinished), just to find shelves full of nothing I want to prepare or eat. Why did I sign up for this job again? My sink is still full of dishes, and it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. Order is hardly reigning in my house.

Of course there are also other days that I can get the kids’ schooling done, dishes washed, laundry run through, house picked up in a couple of hours, AND have a nice meal cooked and waiting when my husband comes through the door. Martha, eat your heart out!* I have even been known to post my accomplishments for the world (all 200-some of my Facebook friends) to see. But, my reasoning, and I’m sure most other mom’s as well, is more to show myself that I am capable and competent — not to make others feel like they have no chance at a “Mom of the Year” award.

Oftentimes there are more important moments and interactions that are not shared publicly. These consist of siblings playing and sharing nicely, an encouraging word said to a family member, or listening to my children sing a favorite song they heard on our Christian radio station. They may not seem as outwardly impressive as having a sparkling bathroom, but they are significant because they reflect the character training that goes on here. The character training that is being blessed, despite my own character still being a work in progress. Praise God for his mercy towards us!

Looking again to the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus told Martha that some things could wait, and others couldn’t. When I see my house as a disaster area, it’s usually because I took extra time to read to the children, go over a difficult lesson, or fix them a nutritious meal. And, by spending time with my children, educating them, doing social activities, and providing moral, and spiritual guidance, I am a “superhero” saving the world — their world. No, I can’t control their decisions or the ultimate outcome of their lives, but I can give them a solid platform from which to launch. I can infuse their hearts and minds with the building blocks to lead fulfilling, God-centered lives. I can’t guarantee that my life will be predictable, well-ordered, or even consistent, but when I put my trust in God to provide the strength and grace I overwhelmingly lack, He gives it ever so abundantly. That’s exactly the kind of superhero I need.

*Luke 10:38-41

shopping with Mom

Questions Homeschoolers Must Answer

Years ago when we began our homeschool journey, I was careful to keep our children home during normal school hours. The fear that others would judge us as non-schoolers and report us was real at that time, even though we had plenty of proof to the contrary.

shopping with MomToday we are more adventuresome. With more homeschoolers in our community, we are now “one of those” rather than a unique oddity. Our lifestyle is still strange, but its legality is questioned less frequently.

Now we face other questions. The socialization question still comes into play and we smile as the kids themselves explain all they do with other people. Fewer formal school hours and no bus ride time gives ample time to pursue those extra-curricular activities that usually provide socialization.

A recent trip to the grocery store brought the usual questions by a new cashier. “What grade are you in?” My daughters giggled a bit. While we do use grade levels loosely, the fact is that they are never in one grade. One daughter is working in subjects that would be considered three different grade levels. Even our twins differ in levels. One is more accelerated in math, the other in language. How do you respond to the “what grade” question?

Sometimes they choose to give a grade level, choosing whatever one is age appropriate. That keeps the conversation limited on that topic. On this occasion, as with some others, they choose to explain that they homeschool, so are at different grades in different subjects. The confused cashier accepts the answer and jumps to another subject quickly. A senior in high school herself, she obviously was not sure how to respond. We chatted about the upcoming weekend, a topic with which she felt more comfortable.

Summer vacation is now upon us and I expect more questions regarding that. Like an increasing number of homeschool families, we use a flexible year-round schooling approach. If we need a week off, any time of the year, we take it. Family visiting from afar? Vacation time! Relative needing help? Vacation time! Just needing a break for a couple of days? We are free to take that, too. Year-round schooling gives us that flexibility with the added bonus that learning is continual; we don’t need to review last year’s material before continuing on. Weeks are saved in each subject in this manner and I’ve noticed that our children have always preferred it.

But what do homeschoolers say when asked if they are excited about summer vacation? When they were younger, I would smile and say, “shhh…they don’t know about that. We homeschool year-round” and laugh. The children would laugh along with me, sometimes with a cute comment of their own.

Now that they are older, I let them manage the question on their own. Often it’s a simple response of “Oh, we homeschool year-round so we get breaks when we need them, not all summer.” Sometimes it’s a little more of a discussion; occasionally they will joke about how they don’t get vacations, then continue, explaining.

I’ve learned to relax with these homeschool-unique questions over the years. We do have a different lifestyle. Our kids are with us most of the time, by our own choice. We are free to set our daily and annual schedules the way that works best for our families. If we need to shop at 9 am, then do school at 6 pm, it’s not a problem. Work at 3 different grade levels or even more? Whatever is best for the child at that time.

While it’s true that we don’t owe others an explanation on any of these topics, we find it’s an excellent time to educate other people about homeschooling. We aren’t looking to convert them, but we do strive to show glimpses of our lifestyle, to bring some understanding. No doubt some will look into the option themselves, but if we can just help them understand a little of why we choose to homeschool, we’ve accomplished a goal. I try to impress upon my children the necessity of being respectful and kind as we respond to the questions, just as they wish that others were always kind when asking.

Many years ago I feared those questions, concerned that we were being unfairly judged. Now I welcome them as a way to reach out and tell others how happy we are as homeschoolers!