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!

Outdoor {Home}School

This is officially our third year of homeschooling. Our time has consisted of many trials and errors, mostly ending up in living life at home and bringing the kids along for the ride, instead of “schooling” as it is traditionally defined. While it may sound good in theory, I realize we need a better routine for smoother days and to have a more Heaven-like experience. Like probably all home educating parents, I’ve studied a lot of theories and philosophies, and while I have my ideal of what a true biblically-based education should be, it has been much more difficult putting that into practice.

Recently I listened to a podcast about an outdoor school in which the kids are outside for the entire day, rain or shine, year-round. It started me thinking about doing our learning outside all day long. Why not? Didn’t God create the first classroom in a garden?

Although I know we’ve probably read these quotes many times, they took on a new meaning to me as I re-read the wisdom from the Spirit of Prophecy in light of considering schooling in a different environment than before. From the pen of inspiration:

“The system of education instituted at the beginning of the world was to be a model for man throughout all after time. As an illustration of its principles a model school was established in Eden, the home of our first parents. The Garden of Eden was the schoolroom, nature was the lesson book, the Creator Himself was the instructor,” Child Guidance, p.294.

To me that means that not only should we pursue an outdoor schoolroom as was modeled in Eden, but that God Himself will be our Master Instructor when we use His book of nature. Praise God for taking the pressure off this mama!!!

“The fields and hills-nature’s audience chamber- should be the schoolroom for little children. Her treasures should be their textbook….Parents may do much to connect their children with God by encouraging them to love the things of nature which He has given them, and to recognize the hand of the Giver in all they receive. The soil of the heart may thus early be prepared for casting in the precious seeds of truth, which in due time will spring up and bear a rich harvest,” Child Guidance, p.48.

Doesn’t it sound like the hearts of our children will be more reachable and prepared to hear God’s voice through the love of nature? Sign me up for that too please!  Not to mention the numerous Bible characters who spent their time learning in nature … Jesus, David, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Abel, and Adam, to name a few.

Of course nature has many physical health benefits as well. Have you seen the articles proclaiming, “sitting is the new smoking,” based in part on this research? Basically science is catching up with the Spirit of Prophecy, and showing that exercise for a relatively short time each day does not offset the effects of sitting for hour upon hour. Makes sense doesn’t it?

Here’s what Ellen White was inspired to write about it:

“The human body may be compared to nicely adjusted machinery …. One part should not be subjected to constant wear and pressure, while another part is rusting from inaction. While the mind is tasked, the muscles also should have their proportion of exercise,” Fundamentals of Christian Education p.72.

“The benefits of physical labor in the open air have the advantage tenfold to that obtained within doors,” The Health Reformer, September 1, 1873, Par.5.

To put this into practice, my plan is to include time for the physical exercise as much or more than the mental, depending on the age of our children. More to come on our daily schedule in a later post …

Another area of health I’m keenly aware of is eye health and vision development. This one is more personal to me as I have very poor eyesight due in large part, I believe, to intemperate habits of reading and studying early on. I still struggle with turning off the research part of my brain and letting my eyes and mind rest.

My understanding is that our eyes were created in such a way that the muscles are at their optimal length (not too long, not too short) when we are looking at objects about seven feet away. When we are reading, our muscles shorten to enable a sharp near focus, and over time the muscles can no longer lengthen properly, hence creating a need to look through “corrective lenses” that allow the eyes to see at longer distances while the muscles stay in a shortened position. Unfortunately, it doesn’t fix the problem of the shortened muscles, but rather encourages them to stay short.

Beautifully, God created our world with an abundance of nature scenery to enjoy both up close and afar to achieve that perfect balance. It’s not at all like reading a book for hours on end. In contrast, the scenery of the great outdoors is always demanding our eyes adapt to focus at varying distances. I hope to teach my children that reading is great in moderation, but nature is to be our living textbook.

These are just a few of my top reasons for having an outdoor-based learning environment over the coming school year and hopefully for many years to come. While there are many nature activities and things to study about nature that we will include, my aim is more on how to utilize a living outdoor classroom and purposefully move more often — not just for an occasional nature walk, study, activity, or outing, but as a lifestyle.

After digging for information on how to put this into practice, I came up with very little, and what I did find was heavily influenced by non-Christian themes. So, although I’m no expert in either outdoor living or homeschooling, I will share our experience over this school year in hopes of encouraging others’ love of nature and of nature’s Creator. This will be our attempt at educating with an outdoor lifestyle in an indoor society.

Here are some things we did over the summer to begin shifting our homeschool to an outdoor-based environment. So far we haven’t bought anything extra, so it is budget-friendly, though I do have a mental list of things I’d like to buy when we can.

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

What looked like an area of relaxation to me looked like a ship with masts to climb to them!

One of our first orders of business was to encourage more outdoor time even in the summer heat by setting up resting and play spots in the shade to entice the kids to enjoy the simplicity of being outside. We also put up a mesh tent over our picnic table to remedy being bothered by mosquitoes and bees while eating.

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Outdoor Classroom1Though we don’t have a very large porch, we cleared off an area and spread a comforter on the ground for a more comfortable learning nook. We also put up curtains made from sheets to block the hot morning sun that shines on the porch mid-morning to early afternoon. We try to wear light cotton clothing, as that helps us stay cool and well-ventilated in the heat and humidity.

Is this type of schooling even possible in this day and age? I believe it is, and I’m bound and determined by God’s wisdom and inspiration to figure out how to immerse ourselves in God’s nature lesson book to keep our hearts receptive to the gentle voice of the Creator and Savior so we can be ready for His soon coming! I hope you’ll join me on the learning journey in this world to prepare our hearts for the glorious new world to come.