Taking Care of Everyone…But you?

As we begin a new homeschool chapter, I have been chewing on what my first blog post of the year should focus on. I have many ideas for the future, but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is this — how is mom holding up?

Some of us are “seasoned” homeschoolers, whatever that means. Some of us are just starting out. I think I am in the “half-baked” stage — not done yet, and so I still need some more seasoning. So much to learn, and at times I feel like I need to unlearn some things so that I can have more flavor in our school. Life would be pretty boring if every family school consisted of the same ingredients. It’s something to chew on.

But, as we begin a new year, I am reminded of mom. Most likely, you are the principal teacher in your homeschool. I realize there are exceptions, and I’m not trying to exclude anyone; if this applies to you as dad, grandma, or whomever, then take it to heart. I know it applies to moms.

As teaching moms, we get excited about new projects, new curriculum, methods of teaching, craft supplies, fun field trips, and the list goes on and on, doesn’t it? We drive our troops to music lessons, practices, clubs, counseling sessions, play dates, Bible studies, birthday parties, service opportunities, jobs, and Grandma’s, not to mention the hours at the table, in the garden, reading on the sofa, or in the woods taking nature walks. And then, there’s often a husband who has needs and expectations too! But, what about you, homeschooling mom? How do you meet your needs? How do you avoid burning the midnight oil to get everything done? How do you avoid burning out because you’re so busy doing good for everyone else that you forget about your own needs?

As I sit here on a Friday afternoon, reminding myself to guzzle more water to battle a nagging UTI, I just want to encourage you — not because I have it all together as a home educator, but because I see a genuine need in all mothers who tend to take on too much. My words to you are these: It is not selfish to take care of your own physical needs. Your family needs you, and you are very much aware of that. But, they need you healthy. They need you cheerful, and that’s very difficult to pull off when you’ve stayed up until midnight again. How do I know this? Well, because I’m living it! We are instructed to teach our children cause-effect relationships. But, we have to be real with ourselves and realize that bedtime is not just for babies; our bodies need water; and a little exercise and fresh air will do wonders for our attitudes as moms, just as much as for our children.

Home educating is no joke! It’s not a tea party, and despite what some will think, we do much more than just sit around and do crafts with our children! We have real stresses. We worry about our children’s attitudes and characters — a LOT! We wonder about their futures, and wonder if we are doing it all right, because we don’t have a second chance. Often as we take on all of those unknowns, we find ourselves running around to grab at any perceived learning opportunity, maybe even to the detriment of our peace of mind.

So, what is the answer?

I can only share with you what I am learning myself on this enjoyable, yet, exhausting road. These tips are not in any particular order, except for the first one.

  1. We as home educators absolutely need our time with God! I find that I can get so edgy and driven with my children if I don’t have the softening influence of the Holy Spirit for myself! And, praying for my family particularly helps me to look at them differently. Sometimes I wake up late, in a rush, and find that mid-morning, or sooner, I have to go close myself in my closet with the Lord to regain my perspective, and to just cry out to Him for help. Satan will capitalize on any chink in our armor, so putting on the full armor is so important! This is truly the best gift we can give to our children and husbands — a heart that has met with Jesus and surrendered, so that when we deal with them, we will treat them with grace.
  2. Sleep. I can’t say how much you need, but I know when I need more of it! That’s when I get irritable about little things, feel like weeping over trifles, and start to feel fuzzy in my head the next day. I have gone through times when literally every time I sit down to read with my kiddos, I knock out. A little more sleep is needed! For me, practically, this means putting school away in the evenings; logging off of Facebook, even when I am reading helpful, school-related information; and heading to the bed around a half an hour before I need to be in bed. This is because, inevitably, there will be distractions along the path, such as clothes that I need to put away, something I needed to write down, or catch-up with my husband that needs to happen. This is a real struggle for me, but little by little I am seeing that I gain much more than I lose when I get to bed on time. Even Jesus as our Creator didn’t keep going — He rested after creating our world, and He took time away, even though all of the work was not done while He was on Earth!
  3. Water—don’t forget it! That’s pretty self-explanatory, but overlooked. When our brains get dehydrated, they don’t think well, and irritation also pops out! Consider this article on dehydration and mood swings, and this one too. This is one good reason for us to drink water ourselves, and to strongly encourage our students to drink theirs regularly! We drink water before breakfast, and I have to stop and remind everyone to take drinks throughout the day! One thing that works for us is to fill up a large jar with the minimum ounces that I want them to drink; then they have until bedtime to drink it. This helps them to see how much they’ve had so far, and how much more they need to drink.
  4. Time for You!  I don’t mean time away all of the time, because who really can do that, but just little snatches of time that serve to refresh your tired mind. I have a little shelf in our bathroom that I keep a small Bible and two encouraging books. My refresher often takes place behind that closed door! Even just a few verses or half a page during the midst of a busy day means a lot to me. I try to keep a book there that is specifically for me, such as another homeschooling mom telling her journey. It’s a reminder to me that I am not alone, and that there is help for every emergency!
  5. A walk out in nature can also be a great way to refresh, and this is a great way to break up the school day!  We often just stop mid-morning to jog/walk out to the mailbox or pond, and we come back more energized. Sometimes I or my Type A son resist this intrusion into our “plan” of getting something done, but we both need it and are never sorry that we choose to take a nature break.
  6. Pick and choose! No one can do it all! There is no way we can attend every church function, field trip, play date, birthday party, hobby, or music opportunity — or even, dare I say it, every service opportunity! If we are pursuing that quiet, simple life which will do so much for our children’s characters, we are told me must be much at home! This, frankly, is overwhelming to me, and yet freeing!  Overwhelming, because I want to provide many good things for my children; freeing, because I see that the best thing that they need is my love, attention, and time! A weakness in our family is believing that we can do too many things for others, and forgetting that we need to say no to even good things so that we may do our first task by our own fireside. So, we need to pray that God will show us our first priorities, and then add other things as they do not take away from those.

“The family circle is the school in which the child receives its first and most enduring lessons. Hence parents should be much at home. By precept and example, they should teach their children the love and the fear of God; teach them to be intelligent, social, affectionate, to cultivate habits of industry, economy, and self-denial. By giving their children love, sympathy, and encouragement at home, parents may provide for them a safe and welcome retreat from many of the world’s temptations,” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 65.2.

We have a high calling. We yearn for much as we think of our children and their futures! And, we have the promise that God will lead us in every endeavor. With this knowledge, let us as mothers step back a bit and let God do what He has promised He would do!

My favorite Bible text is this one:

“And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children,” Isaiah 54:13.

Be kind to yourselves, mothers, so that you can keep doing the great work that you are called to do!

Fall Semester: Building Blocks

When I began homeschooling my seven-year-old last year, it was a slow start. We attempted a few methods before finally landing on what worked well. At the end of winter, Mickey should have been completing kindergarten. Instead of reading like a first-grader, he read at a .03 reading level. For those who may not know, that number means he was reading as if in the third month of kindergarten. Now, I’m no stranger to changes mid-game, and this was another time when I had to stop, assess, and reroute our homeschooling journey.

New Plan
We planned to school year-round, but as my son still struggled so with letters, phonics, and penmanship, my husband and I discussed our upcoming plans. Since Mickey was excelling in math and science, we decided to only work on reading for the summer. He has been working on his daily challenges and assigned lessons three days per week through the summer, and he has exploded with excitement, reading road signs, subtitles, and books (unassigned). As his excitement has grown, so has mine. I saw him experience a whole new world that I remember discovering, and still love: the world of reading.

Progress Report
I haven’t kept a close eye on Mickey’s grades this summer, mainly because teaching my kids to read has always been a point of serious anxiety for me. I know Philippians 4:13, though — and I claim it, and I think it, and sometimes I may shout it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Because of my anxiety over it, we didn’t monitor his progress through the summer. When I began to plan for Mickey to begin first grade, I had him take the reading assessment offered by the academic program we use. He tested at a 1.08 reading level (almost second grade). This was a shock to me. Even though we read together, even though he reads everything, and even though he writes stories and letters and cards, it was a shock that he improved so much so fast. It was a shock, even though I’ve prayed over it and fretted over it, and God has given me the tools to teach my children.

Building Blocks
It turns out that since Mickey’s reading has improved, he is able to excel in the other subjects. He doesn’t have to ask me to read the questions every two minutes. He doesn’t have to click on the little microphone that prompts the computer to read to him. He can read, sound out, and understand everything I put in front of him!

It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t teach my son to read, when I love to read and have always been a reader. Reading is the the first building block for the rest of first grade in our house. Now that he can read, the possibilities seem endless.

And, now that I remember that God answers prayers, the possibilities are endless.

Square One

 

There’s a reason that trial-and-error has long been a system of experimentation. It works in science, math, multiple choice. We’ve found that it works on the farm. Which end of the garden is the best soil for tomatoes? How much water do the plants need during the hottest month? What food helps the chickens lay the best? What kind of boxes do they like to roost in? If we make this fence higher, will the goat stay in the pen? No. If we add barbed wire? No. I think trial-and-error is exactly how some goat farmer long ago figured out that only electric fences will keep goats in the pen 100 percent of the time.

It’s all well and good when we’re talking about farm animals. We have the time to make adjustments. We have the resources to build, maintain, and redirect our animals. We have time to replant, time next year to try again, a grocery store to buy produce in the meantime. Trial-and-error is helpful on the farm. It works. Square One isn’t a huge threat on the farm.

What happens when our homeschool hits Square One? I never expected our homeschool to be a trial-and-error experiment, and even now, I am dissatisfied with the view from where we sit at square one.

It all started when my son’s disinterest in reading began to manifest into him not reading, refusing to sit quietly to learn, and conveniently forgetting his sight words just minutes after going over them and over them. Instead of yelling at him, making him sit longer, and more often, or starting over with the curriculum I knew was not working, we went back to square one.

The important first step? Assessing our child.

The program we were using was reading-only for the first year! When your kid isn’t interested in the reading, this can be a problem. So, I wanted a curriculum that included more than reading at his age. Although he wasn’t too interested in reading from a book or going over sight words on flashcards, he did love the computer. Games, typing letters, drawing, and more, he loved the computer, so I went to work finding a curriculum that was computer-based. I’m largely unorganized with recording homeschool hours, scheduling homeschool hours, and saving examples of work, so I searched for a program that had a built-in record-keeping system. 

When it was all said and done, I chose a program that my son loves. It is 100 percent online, but offers printable worksheets. It tracks time, grade level, and progress, as well as offering incentives and games. It’s exactly what I wanted and what he needed.

So, what’s the problem? 

I don’t like surveying the “race” around me and standing at the starting line with my kid. I feel like picking him up and carrying him through the race, when I should teach him to run it on his own. I want to skip through the alphabet and phonics, and buy him chapter books. I cannot remember not being able to read. As a five-year-old I would read my Granny books at bedtime until she fell asleep. I read and followed hymns in church. I don’t remember a time when I looked at a word and sounded it out. Ever. It’s hard for me to walk along with my son hand-in-hand, waiting patiently for something to click the way you’d expect a runner to find his stride just before he goes on to win the race. I’m not satisfied with waiting.

We have been in our little cabin in the country for exactly a year and a month now, and it seems I am just as impatient with farm life as I am with homeschooling. If I start the hens on layer feed, I want them to start laying right away. If I plant a seed, following the specified instructions, I want it to produce a plant at the very least, but would love to also have it bear some kind of fruit or vegetable. But, life doesn’t happen that way.

Everything we do seems to be some kind of trial and error, and only one thing is certain. King Jesus. If I teach my kid that Jesus is his Savior, and teach him to love, and to have a loving relationship with God and others, but never succeed with reading, do I succeed?

I wish I could come up with an answer to these tough questions. I’m praying that I can.

Christmas Peace for the Homeschool Mom

As Christmas approaches, our house becomes alive with excitement. It’s as if even the logs in our little cabin vibrate with delight. Our little family is one that celebrates Christmas. We open presents, read books about Santa, and bake brownies for the police and fire departments, among other things, but we also have friends who don’t celebrate Christmas. We have friends that just use the holiday season to spend time with family, and we think that is also a fantastic use of holiday time.

Despite someone’s holiday traditions, Christmas beliefs, plans, or none at all, it seems that it still ends up being a stressful time for a lot of families. This can be especially true of homeschool families.

While school teachers are busying themselves meeting goals and completing tasks before the end of the semester, homeschool parents are busy trying to squeeze units in before the holidays, or trying to make them stretch until the holidays. The holidays bring other stressors for our little homesteading family—weather changes, food prep, winterizing the house, preparing shelters for the animals, maintenancing the cars, planning for spring, extra costs for travel, and more. At a time when things should be calm and enjoyable, time seems to speed up, and this homesteading, homeschool mama starts to lose the race before it even begins.

Christmas Peace

This November I began reading a book written by a local friend called Christmas Peace for Busy Moms, and it has been a wonderful experience. It’s a five-week study that brings God into our daily life, to offer the peace we long for during the holidays: a peaceful heart, a peaceful day, peaceful relationships, peaceful surroundings, and a peaceful holiday. This is important stuff!

I spoke at church this week on the topic of prayer, and during the course of the sermon, I realized myself that prayer is the means by which I can find peace. It’s not just by reading a book, doing a Bible study, or even fellowshipping with other Christians. Prayer.

Prayer is how we bring God to us. He wants to be with us, and we often do a lot of things to stand in the way. During this holiday season I’m going to try my best to bring God into our homeschool experience through prayer. Yes, we do other things. We try to participate in the Adventurers program, and we go to Sabbath School and church. We also try to read the Bible at home (which ends up being Bible stories from books), and we like to learn memory verses.

To be completely honest, though, a lot of these things add to my stress. Planning adds to my stress. Driving 50+ miles to church three times a week adds to my stress, even finding time to sit down with a book every day adds to my stress, and I want peace.

Christmas Prayer

Because I want the peace that only Jesus can offer, I am prepared to begin a new holiday tradition this year. I’ve tried advent calendars and other fun traditions like unwrapping and reading a Christmas book every night for 25 days. These things are fun, but again, they add to my stress. This year I’ll try something different, something with less work, and abundant rewards.

Since we pray as a family each evening already, I’m going to start a Christmas tradition that will take little planning. It’ll be focused directly on Jesus and only on Jesus, and it’ll bring Him closer to us. Since I’m sure you’re dying to hear it, here is the plan:

  1. Prepare 25 prayer cards surrounding a topic of your choice (emergency services, our country, our church, our pets, our mailman, sick friends, the sky is the limit).
  2. Connect the 25 prayer topics in some way with the Christmas story (compare public servants with shepherds, pets=animals in the stable, mailman=angel/messenger, the church=the stable, etc.).
  3. Connect the 25 prayer topics with Jesus! (Finding a verse is a good idea. For instance, portions of Psalm 91 would connect with emergency services/protection, and various verses in Genesis would connect with pets. You can also decide to just use verses from the Christmas story here).
  4. Write down your children’s prayer requests and place them into a request basket (or homemade manger). Read them each night and celebrate and thank God when they are answered.
  5. Print a coloring sheet off for each day. Make 25 sheets times the number of kids you have. Easy peasy. I’m starting with a simple coloring sheet this year, and may do a craft next year. Time will tell!
  6. Make notes and put into your envelopes at the end of the day to remind yourself what worked and what didn’t! Adjust next year, or scrap it altogether.

Do you have to have special traditions to make Christmas special? No.

Just like Jesus makes Sabbath special, He makes Christmas special. He makes every day special. Let’s invite Him back into the festivities. After all, He’s the Reason for the Season!

Asking For Help — and Knowing Whom to Ask

cabin-209171_1920

In a month it will mark one year we’ve been in our cabin in the woods. This place we affectionately call Hickory Homestead most days — and some days call other, less affectionate things — is a job! We, right along with our boys, are learning things daily: cutting firewood, maintaining a chimney system, clipping chicken wings, planting a garden (and watching it die), and more. What type of tree is best for firewood? What will keep us warm this winter? How do we tell if our goat is pregnant, and what do we do if she is?

When it comes to life on the farm, I am not shy about asking for help. I ask my neighbors and friends, my dad and mom, even the local feed store employee. This is something we know nothing about, and the boys get to see that Mom and Dad don’t have it all together, almost daily, or at least weekly.

I ask for help when it comes to homesteading, so why don’t I know when to ask help for homeschooling? People ask me for help with homeschooling. This baffles me, because some days I stand in my kitchen and cry, and mentally calculate how far my son would be held back if he went into public school today. I just don’t ask for help.

This week I did.

Praying for Rescue

When attempting to educate our own kids, it’s important to remember Who gave us this ability and this job. God did. He entrusted some rough-and-tumble boys to me, who have different learning styles, attention spans, and needs. God didn’t only create them, but He created me, and He knew what He was doing when He did. He created me with abilities that far exceed my earthly expectations. The worldly view of family dynamics, gender roles, education, and more often cloud our view of God’s creation — us. God gave you and me everything we need to get this job done, and done RIGHT. He hopes we’ll lean on Him, and when we struggle He also puts people into our lives that we can lean on for help.

Go Ahead and Send that Desperate Text

My moment was the first Monday of the month. We were starting day three of the same sight words, because my seven-year-old just couldn’t get them, and I was ready to haul him to the local elementary school. Instead of taking strides backward with my family, and setting him back (not just physically and grade-wise, but also emotionally by putting him in a room full of five-year-olds), I desperately typed out a text to a friend and hit send before I could delete. I sent the text to a friend who had spent two good years listening to me lament and worry over teaching reading. It was a stressor for me.

We’ve talked about this many, many times. She remembered.

She immediately asked when we could talk, and we got together on the phone before the end of the day.

Talking to her didn’t fix my problems with my lack of routine, or my not-reading-seven-year-old. But, it did help me formulate a plan. It lifted some of the burden off my heart, and it allowed her experience to help me. I asked for help. That made the difference.

I met Desi (my friend) while my husband served as youth mentor to a church in Wyoming for almost two years. I can think of several people who were touched by our being there, but more than that, I met Desi while I was there. That short experience in Wyoming put me in touch with someone who could help me on one very bad day of homeschooling. God planned this for me.

Do you believe He plans things for you? When we don’t plan, He does.

My favorite prayer, which I believe the Holy Spirit gave me recently, is something like this:

“Don’t let me be selfish. I don’t know the plans you have for all the people and things involved in this issue. Your plans supersede my wants. Help my plans to become Yours. Help the outcome to be Yours.”

When I make homeschooling plans for my homesteading bunch of boys, I have to remember that the outcome belongs to Jesus. My plans are secondary to His outcome. Without tirelessly praying, studying His Word, and surrounding myself with like-minded mamas, I might lose sight of this fact.