Scheduling: Something’s Gotta Give

Some days are easier than others. As I write this, it is six in the morning and I have no desire to do any school. We have been trying to sell our house and move and, so far, we have not managed it.

I don’t take well to transitions. If anything, this attempt has shown me my weaknesses: inflexibility, a certain lack of being able to tolerate hardship and a tendency toward depression.

Add in the holidays and it is a fatal combination for getting anything done.

The One Rule of Scheduling

One thing that has helped me is knowing this: we have limited time. And thus, we must have priorities. This one rule of scheduling has saved me hours of heartache.

Sure, I don’t always want to do what needs to get done. I’d much rather procrastinate or chase the shiny new thing that grabs my (current) interest.

But then I remember that I can’t do it all. I must choose.

The Good News

I know, I know. All that sounds awfully serious. Limited time, priorities – I might as well be your mom.

So here’s the good news: the fact that we don’t have all the time in the world means that when it’s time to have fun, we literally stay away from all work! 

If something’s gotta give, when it’s time to play, it’s time to give up on work. The fact that you have already allotted a time slot for work means you are now free to spend your leisure time as you would like.

I have to remind myself of this often.

In the evenings and during my down time, I sometimes catch myself acting what I call “lazy.” I might be lazily thumbing through Instagram or Facebook.

“Get up and do something!” I hear my internal voice command.

But I tell it to shut up. Because this is what scheduling means. As long as I stay on task through the day, my leisure time can be indulged in guilt-free.

And so my weaknesses do not hold me back. Even through this difficult time.

Sometimes, inflexibility can be a good thing.
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How We Teach Math in the Elementary Ages

There’s been a lot of talk about math anxiety lately. Apparently, parents have it and the fear is that we pass it on to our children. So say the Common Core pushers, anyway.

I found the opposite in a small but significant survey of my readers.

How I Started

I was one of those homeschooling moms who started too early. I remember poring over early curricula and then getting one for my daughter who was two at the time. Yes, two. Go ahead, add me to the homeschooling hall of shame.

I will readily admit now that it was a mistake. It was also incredibly frustrating. Even today, I find those counting bears in the couch cushions. And, no, they didn’t help at all.

Our System of Teaching Math – What It Was

When I finally gave up decided to wait a while, I decided to go with a curriculum. It was fine at first and my daughter liked worksheets so it worked for a while.

The problem came when the curriculum required things to be done a certain way and that way only. And transitions from one kind of calculation to another, from addition to subtraction, for instance, had its own logic. Also, there was an attempt at moving toward algebra – algebra! – early.

Even if understood the logic behind it, the children found math confusing and confusion was the last thing I wanted my children to get from the learning of math.

Our System of Teaching Math – What It Became

Even then, I tried to make it work. I rearranged the curriculum worksheets so they were more intuitive.

Eventually, however, I gave up trying.

I tried some alternatives. We used Khan Academy for a while, but I was bothered by the lack of rigor in their early years and the push to read graphs. The children did fine with those but stumbled over basic math facts.

So we entered a time when we would do math without a curriculum. I thought I would be scared. Instead, I felt an immense sense of freedom.

Finally, I was able to transition the children from addition to subtraction to multiplication to division in a way that was more intuitive to them. When I needed worksheets, I printed them out online for free. There were even a few websites I could have them practice math facts online.

I made my own flashcards. I put real world problems to them in a meaningful way. And it worked! It still works!

There is a logic – a flow if you will – to math. It builds on itself from simple to complex. You already know this. If your curriculum doesn’t seem to follow it, you’re better off without it.

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Homeschooling is Both a Sprint and a Marathon

If you have goals you plan to bring into focus in the upcoming weeks and months, don’t forget homeschooling. The very nature of it makes it difficult to have goals, but don’t let that dissuade you.

When making goals remember that homeschooling is both – a spring and a marathon. 

That will make it much easier to plan for.

Planning For a Sprint

Homeschooling is a sprint because each day requires new muscles – stronger ones and quick, decisive action. On any given day, a thousand little decisions come into play.

The success or failure of your day hinges on whether you can make these decisions, do these tasks, quickly and win.

Much like in a sprint, the end goal of every homeschool day is in sight, but needs to be reached for and worked toward. And the sense of accomplishment when it is achieved is palpable. But there is a rhythm to it – a speed, a motion – and it is a quick one. Lose the speed and lose the race.

Knowing this, plan for every homeschool day with speed and efficiency as your focus. Use a checklist. Write down in precise terms what needs to be accomplished for it to be labeled a win.

Planning For a Marathon

While every day is a sprint, the years of homeschooling are a marathon. And much like in a marathon, it’s a mental game as well as a physical one.

Pace yourself – isn’t that what they repeat constantly? You can’t go all out on mile 1 because there are 25.2 more. When it comes to homeschooling, don’t start too early.

Just as in a marathon, the mental battle is most of the work.

You can do this, but you might need to convince yourself more than once. Include a steady stream of inspiration, but don’t get overwhelmed.

Above all, include regular time to dream, plan and simply to think.

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How to Win if You Worry

Worry is ubiquitous. It is also entirely normal and can sometimes be helpful.

It’s okay to worry.

The Worriers and the Warriors

According to writers Bronson and Merriman, the world is divided into two types of people.

There are worriers and then there are warriors.

Some of us enjoy competition, like taking risks and perform better when challenged. These are the warriors.

People who worry, on the other hand, tend to perform worse when circumstances require them to compete against each other or even themselves.

They don’t like challenges and prefer to remain in the safe, solid areas of existence.

By now, you already know which category you fall into. So in the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I tend to be a worrier.

How the Worriers Can Beat the Warriors

Now that the bad news is out of the way, here’s the good news: because worriers tend to be focused on small details and anything that can go wrong, they have an advantage warriors miss.

But this advantage only comes to play when the challenge is repeated more than once.

This means that if you tend to be more of a worrier than a warrior, you are likely to hang back a little and watch. While watching, you notice the things that could be hazards. You try, you fail. You try again, you fail again.

Here’s the thing: each time you try and fail, you literally fail better. 

What Does This Have to do with Homeschooling?

Quite a bit, actually. If you are a worrier, now you know what to do. You can do something enough times in order to succeed.

If your child is a warrior, give him some competition and watch him blossom. If he’s a worrier, give him measured challenges and make them repetitive.

Worriers and warriors can both win, just in vastly different ways.

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If You Think You’re Not Doing Enough, Write It Down

Pssst… hey you! Yes, you homeschooling mom! I’m looking at you. Want to know a secret?

You’re doing enough.

You’re doing more than you think you are.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a challenge. For the next entire week, write down everything you think your child is learning. If you read to him, write it down. Did you cook or do laundry together? Note it.

Maybe he figured out a map of your neighborhood and told you where to turn the car. If you read a book together or just listened to an audiobook, remember to include it.

Great conversations or any teachable moment you have spent, even the difficult ones – write them down.

Oh, and of course don’t forget the overt sit down work you do with your child. All the written work, all the hear-tearing math, everything that required pens and paper and the ubiquitous worksheet.

And then, only then – add it up.

See, you’re teaching enough – you’re doing far more than you think.

Schools rest on the idea that information can be institutionalized and they have it all. And to get it, we have to be enrolled in a formal course.

But of course, today we know this is not true. Teaching isn’t something you switch on or off. You don’t go from being a mother to a teacher back to being a mother. And that’s precisely the point.

Your work is specialized in the best way possible – it’s unique to you and your child.

It doesn’t matter if you’re still learning patience. Or organization, or frugality, or whatever virtue you think you need to do this successfully. It doesn’t matter that inside you feel like you’re not doing enough.

It doesn’t matter that you’re not teaching like a school would.

The fact that you cannot teach like a school – far from being a weakness – is a strength of unfathomable depth.

You are already teaching. You are always teaching. Homeschooling is just another word for it.

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That Socialization Question (Again)

I have to consider myself a lucky homeschooler. I’ve never been asked the dreaded socialization question.

Perhaps it’s just as well, because I wouldn’t know where to begin my answer. Shocked by the ignorance and sheer arrogance of such an interrogation, I would just lose my mind.

However, I did share such an article about socialization on my Facebook page to give homeschoolers a chance to respond.

And respond they did.

The writer’s premise was that homeschoolers score higher in tests, but that they are not properly socialized to be able to deal “with people who have a different opinion and challenging preconceived notions.”

“It’s about having to do a group project with people who don’t necessarily work the same way as you do, to collaborate on ideas and grow as a thinker.”

These were some of the best responses:

“I was a public school teacher. Group work is rarely managed well, and is mostly used as a way to get a larger group busy. I also disagree, that in general, in the workplace, IF required to work in teams, the dynamic is different than in school. People are united because they have the same goal and most likely CHOSE that job and profession, and are motivated by interest and pay. The author also fails to bring up private school, where the population is generally more homogeneous than public. Parents invest a lot of money in a private education, and according to this article, fail to provide the socialization necessary to be employed well.” – Rebekah S.

“So my question for the author is … is socialization when kids “consistently work with people they’re not used to working with”, or when they are working with “consistent peers ” “day in and day out”… these are contradicting statements of what she says they need to be properly socialized .” – Amy R.

“I have 4 young adults in the work force. And an 18yo who just started his first full time job. None of them have had trouble working with others, doing group projects, etc.

“Here’s an important part: none of them have had trouble working independently, either. They know how to work without someone constantly having to tell them what to do all the time. That’s something employers have all commented on in a positive way about my kids.

“In our family, we have a large variety of personalities, some not as easy to deal with as others. So my kids get plenty of practice dealing with people with different opinions, and learn to get along with others. Seriously, if you can deal with a sibling who is in your face and in your space every single day, you can get along with just about anyone. ” – Sandie G.

Also, consider that children do indeed learn to get along with others on the playground. This happens in free play – not organized sports where adults are telling them what to do. Peter Gray writes extensively about it.

All the writer in the article was arguing for was socialization her way. I find this typical of people who bring up that old socialization topic.

It’s a dead horse, teachers. Homeschoolers have already proven that point. Beating it won’t do anything. Let it go.

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Why We Begin Our School Year in January

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

January can be a rough month. It’s cold and rainy or snowy; children are typically inside. The Christmas festivities have come and gone and there are resolutions to make. Family has usually come and gone and there’s cleaning to do.

In the middle of this, picking ourselves up by our snow-soggy bootstraps is just not fun. Who wants to homeschool when the end of the school year is so far away and the beginning was so long ago?

But this is exactly why we begin our year in January.

Along with the rest of the world, we make our resolutions. We just have the smell of new books to go along with them.

You see, continuing something is incredibly difficult this time of year, but starting something new is just plain fun.

We’re Motivated in January

There’s something about the prospect of no-holidays-no-disruptions in the air this time of year. I love it. It helps us settle into a good, strong routine.

As I’ve already mentioned, the weather creates a insular environment. We are looking for things to do at home.

This doesn’t mean we can’t play. Creating a new curriculum, picking new books to read, learning new things can include the element of play – inside – that often seems to be missing when back-to-school routines are mentioned in September.

We Have Children with Fall Birthdays

I have children with birthdays in the latter half of the year: August, September and December. It makes little sense to us to follow the established school year.

For the most part, I stay apace of their development and their interests anyway, but even with my eclectic style, I like to know which grade they are most likely to fall into – if only to know when to stop pushing. The problem with eclectic schooling is that it is easy to push the children with extra work just because they can do it.

It makes far more sense to me to begin in January and sometimes (often!) be done by Thanksgiving.

Record Keeping and Other Concerns

Sometimes, I think that homeschoolers forget how much freedom we have. With the lack of boundaries and laws and rules, we tend to cling to what we have learned or what we see around us.

A question I often get when I mention we begin in January is how do we keep records?

My answer is always the same way. 

I simply write what we intend to do in the year – any year – and file the necessary paperwork. Even though we file when the state requires us to do so (October, in our case) it makes no difference to our curriculum or our homeschool.

Have you found a way to beat the January doldrums? When do you begin your school year?

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Homeschool New Year’s Resolutions I Will NOT be Making (or Keeping)

Homeschool New Year's Resolutions I Will Not Be Making (or Keeping)
Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

If you’re making some new year’s resolutions for 2018, chances are you have some homeschool ones. Last year, I posted five books to boost motivation. The books were mainly about making and keeping new habits and working with the personality you have.

And while I love the fresh start January offers every year, there are some homeschool resolutions I will certainly not be making.

This is especially for our homeschool, but applies in a general way to other areas as well. Here are three of my biggest ones.

I will not be reading books that don’t matter

I have already written about our read aloud rules, but I’m going to extend that to all books in 2018. I will not be reading books in our homeschool that bore us or ones we have to plod to get through.

I believe firmly that we have to learn to quit – to stop doing things that don’t work and teach our children to do the same.

So I will no longer read books that don’t matter or guilt myself into reading something just because I “should.”

I will not use a curriculum/style/workbook beginning to end

Anyone who has read my books The Classical Unschooler and Create Your Own Homeschooling Curriculum knows that I tend to be fairly eclectic, pulling things from various places.

This year, I intend to use conversation as a main driving tool for our homeschool and rely more on rabbit trails, online searches and possibly even current affairs, bad history and yes, even “fake news” to steer our homeschool journey.

I will absolutely not depend on a specific workbook, curriculum or feel bad for not doing something the “right way.” If it gets us learning, searching and talking about it, it’s done its job.

I will not fit in

For all the FOMO that the social media age seems to have supposedly brought on, I have realized that it has also given us incredible freedom. Not everyone is driven by the need to be where things are happening, because, let’s face it, things aren’t all happening in one place.

Even as we broadcast our perfect moments on Facebook and Twitter, we admit that this is what matters to us as of now. This group, this family, this party, this hike, these friends, this um, well, questionable choice in food photography.

So I will make no attempt to fit in this year. I will not make my children fit in to anything. I will not worry that they are not in lock step with their grade levels or their peers. I will not let peer pressure drive me.

These then are some resolutions I refuse to make in 2018. Are there any resolutions you particularly shun? Let’s hear them!

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This Year, I Will Make More Mistakes

My daughter and I tend to have this in common: she does not like to make mistakes.

I can recall countless times sitting down at the table with her, doing math.

“Come on, what do you think is the answer?”

A pained expression on her face. “I don’t know.”

“Okay, I know you don’t know. Just try.”

“I don’t know.”

She sits there frozen in time, unwilling to answer, unwilling to do something because her best guess could be the wrong answer.

And I realize I tend to be a lot like her. I realize she gets this aversion to making mistakes from me.

Earlier this year, we moved to an apartment to be able to sell our house. Thinking that an empty house is easier to be shown and seems more inviting to buyers, we downsized for a few months into an apartment half the size.

It was a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong – it wasn’t earth shattering and it definitely wasn’t something we couldn’t recover from, but it was a mistake. (We could have just as easily chosen to remain in the house and show it.) And that mistake did cost us some money.

Why Make Mistakes

They tend to do that, however.

Mistakes end up costing you something, otherwise you wouldn’t recognize them as such. The problem comes when you decide you want to stop making them.

While not wanting to make too many mistakes is a good idea, the desire to completely stop making mistakes can cause you to become immobile.

As I tell my daughter, you can either get no points for leaving the answer blank or give yourself the possibility of getting the right answer.

Not choosing is also a choice.

Attempt it. At least try something. The biggest danger in making mistakes is the fear of making another.

Overcoming the Fear of Making Mistakes

Every time I am afraid of making a mistake, I have learned to engage in an exercise. It’s a mental exercise of sorts, but I can also use paper.

I quickly write down some of my biggest life decisions – the ones that matter, the ones that I see all around me.

I conclude that of those decisions, some have been mistakes, sure, but most of them – by God’s grace – have worked out just fine. And if those have worked out fine, my track record for making decisions is not that bad.

It might seem a little goofy to do things this way, but it works.

It works because it removes the dread of the unknown.

Where otherwise there was only overwhelming fear and an aversion of getting it wrong, I now have some assurance of the possibility of perhaps getting it right. Or making it right.

So this year, not only will I be making more mistakes, I will be teaching my children to make more mistakes.

It is the only way to remove the sting of fear from them.

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How to Wait Well

I don’t know about you but I hate waiting. And fortunately for me I’ve been doing a lot of it.

Yes, you read that right.

Waiting Well

The life of a homeschooling parent involves much waiting.

First you wait for the child to be old enough to be able to homeschool him. Then you wait for him to “get it” as you’re teaching something or develop an interest in something.

And then of course there are those long days (and short years!) when you’re waiting to get to the next stage, the next step, the next homeschooling year.

But here’s the thing: pretty soon, it’s over. No matter how long homeschooling days seem, they will end. There will be a time when the children move out. It’s important to remember that.

The happiest, most content people I know are those who know this; they know how to wait well.

Some Practical Ideas

I have written an earlier post about how most moms don’t manage time well because of boredom. And it was suggested to me that I write another post with some suggestions of how we might do better, so we’re not bored.

First, I’d suggest reading this post about why homeschooling moms are happier followed by this one about ten things to do when homeschooling gets lonely.

Second, I will share what I do. I play. While this can mean video games, I’m using the word “play” in a much bigger sense of the word. I turn much of what I do into a game in my head.

The easiest game in the world is a checklist – write things down and see how many you can cross out in an hour. Attach a reward to it. I create endless games like that. Frugality is a big one for me – something I have written about elsewhere.

Learning to wait well is a skill – one that we need as desperately as our children. Watching you wait teaches them far more than you think.

One of my dreams is since I wrote The Classical Unschooler is to create a curriculum for the entire family. This is would include books for the parents to read that are related to what the children are learning. I think such a curriculum would eliminate boredom and deepen learning.

But you don’t need to wait for my curriculum. You can start on your own. Just pick out a book written for grown ups related to something your child is studying. Read it. Discuss it. Go deeper into the topic if it interests you. Join a book club. See if it sparks a passion. Find ways to feed that passion and share it. Start a blog.

Just try it. It might just be the ticket.

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