Why I am not a Minimalist

Chances are, if you’ve even thought of decluttering in the last few months of years, you’ve heard of minimalism.

There seem to be some differences between what people would consider to be a minimalist. However, this is the best definition I could find.

When you call a person a minimalist, you’re describing their interest in keeping things very simple. A minimalist prefers the minimal amount or degree of something.

And while you could argue various other definitions, the central idea of minimalism includes some degree of freedom based on fewer material possessions.

What’s Wrong With That?

So far, so good. We already live a fairly uncluttered lifestyle. We live in a small house, I tend to be fairly frugal and we hate clutter, regularly purging the home of stuff we are not using. I am not sentimental about baby clothes, broken items, things we no longer use.

But I am not a minimalist.

While there is much I agree with, I part ways with minimalism when the focus shifts from creating and adding meaning to our lives to simply owning less.

The change in the focus is what bothers me. There is a starkness in the minimalist lifestyle I just cannot wrap my self around. Sure, starkness can be beautiful in a winter landscape kind of way, but that’s hardly how I want my life to be.

Embracing Life

Some recent changes in our lives have caused me to reconsider my habits. I tend to be frugal, which is a good thing, but to be perfectly honest, I also tend to be cheap.

I tend to be an underbuyer.

As someone who forgoes or delays buying what is necessary until the very last moment and then does it only grudgingly, I tend to lose enjoyment with my loved ones because of my focus on spending less.

Sometimes, life just costs money. This is especially true when raising children. I have had to admit this.

Especially when you have been blessed with having enough, it seems almost ridiculous to attach myself to a minimalist ideal. While being a hoarder is clearly an indication of having crossed a line, there is much room in the middle.

So this is it. This is where minimalism and I must part ways.

So as we enter a time when there will clearly be some excess, I want to not think of the budget and how much everything costs. I mean, let’s face it. I know I will know. I manage the family’s finances and I always know what’s where and how much.

What I mean is I don’t want that to be the focus.

Instead, I will think about showering my children with good gifts, with time and experiences we love. Even when they cost more than I think they should.

Because time is in smaller supply than money.
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Our Current History Schedule and Curriculum

“But how do you teach history?”

“Do you mean you don’t use a curriculum at all?”

These are common questions I get when I call myself an unschooler. But, but, but… I have to remind the people asking – I’m a classical unschooler. There’s a difference.

The difference is I see the benefit in some memorization. I let my children explore and learn things that interest them on their own. They are not bogged down with busy work. I let them be bored. A lot.

But perhaps nowhere else is our style more obvious than when it comes to the study of history.

This is how.

I insist that we get a good framework established. This means learning – yes, memorizing – a good timeline. As Susan Wise Bauer writes in The Well Trained Mindit means beginning at the beginning of written history, not in the middle. History is a narrative, after all.

In the elementary years, we spend time singing and memorizing key historical events. I’ve found the Classical Conversations CD indispensable for this. We simply listen to it in the car in bits and chunks. For those of my children (hi, middle child!) who do not like to sing, we use the flashcards.

Once the timeline is established, we color it in.

It took us about a year to memorize the entire timeline. The next year, we broke it up into chunks. It was time to delve deep into it now. So we began reading A Little History of the World by E. M. Gombrich.

While reading a few pages at a time, I pull out world maps and a paper timeline we have as well. The more connections the children make, the more mental hooks they have to remember and to make sense of the world.

And after this? I leave them alone.

They can explore whatever they want in the library. Because no matter what period they pick up, they know where it fits. They can make sense of the narrative.

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Does Your Suffering Have Meaning?

Yours. Yes, yours.

I know, it’s relatively light suffering, perhaps. But there’s no reason to brush it off as non-existent.

I’ll admit it. As a new homeschooler, I suffered.

Although my children had never been in public school, it took me some time to develop my convictions.

I suffered when other parents rejoiced when school started back up in the fall. On days that the children did not do as they were told, on days when school work was just too hard, I suffered.

There were days when we all cried.

Suffering in anything is a given. Suffering in anything worth doing is also a given.

The point is this: does it have meaning and do you know what that meaning is?

David Brooks, in The Road to Characterputs it quite succinctly.

For most of us, there is nothing noble about suffering. When it is not connected to some larger purpose beyond itself, suffering shrinks or annihilates people. When it is not understood as a piece of a larger process, it leads to doubt, nihilism, and despair.

But some people can connect their suffering to some greater design. It is not the suffering itself that makes all the difference, but the way it is experienced.

So as a homeschooler, even an experienced one, do you know why you suffer? Can you see the good that comes from it?

Those hard days, those days when nothing goes right, or even the days when everything seems fine but there is that nagging feeling, do you know why you do what you do?

If you don’t, it’s time you thought about it and developed some convictions. It is in these that you will be able to see the long term picture.

It is your convictions that will give you the strength to go on.

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10 Ways Our Homeschool Is Like Medieval Warfare

I love history. I especially love Medieval history. It’s my favorite time period. Now, don’t get me wrong – I do not wish I had been born in that time period. I wouldn’t last very long. But, I do love reading about the time and especially about medieval warfare. So here’s my way of connecting to that time period – through our homeschool. Sound far-fetched? Not really.

1. Our home is our castle and we protect it.

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Okay, so we don’t have high walls and a tower. Um, or even knights. Or rolling boulders, although those would be cool. But we do protect our time at home.

2. The kids wear this expression often.

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Need I say more? While working. While reading. And writing. In play. Let’s not forget while doing math. Whatever. That expression is as familiar as the back of my hand in our homeschool.

3. We confer medals and titles whenever we want.

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What? I’ve already established that I am the queen, my husband is the king and the children are… well, subjects. We confer rewards and dispense justice. And stickers. Don’t forget stickers. And certificates.

4. Half the time, it looks quite chaotic.

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… but we know what we’re doing. Even with adrenaline pumping. Yes. Yes, we do.

5. We kill English.

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This is an unfortunate fact. I mean, I try to save it. But alas! Murder and woe befalls it every single day. *sigh*

6. There is lots of time for free play and, more often than not, it ends up looking a lot like this.

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I don’t know how a nice quiet game of charades or Scrabble ends up looking like this, but that’s how it goes.

7. Clothes are often optional and fashion choices questionable.

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Sorry, kids. But you know it’s true. It’s great to homeschool, but not look like a homeschooler. You know what I mean. And you’ve been told far too often not to mix stripes with plaid. What’s next? Buttoning the top button and center parting your hair? Kilts?

8. Our books/pages are covered with sheet protectors

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Extreme measures are required when multiple children handle books, so I’m not apologizing. What’s next? Chaining them to the shelves? Hey, now that you mention it…

9. We start ’em young on life skills.

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See, it’s all about survival. So yes, Medieval soldiers learned to fight. We learn to fry eggs and make toast. Same difference.

10. We love our technology, too.

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Edward I refused to let his enemies surrender until he had launched 300 pound projectiles at them with his brand new trebuchet. If only he had an X-Box. Or a Kindle Fire.

So I’m just saying – if you’re a knight time traveling from the past or something, we’re just like you. We have this medieval thing down. And… about that trebuchet. Know where we could get one? There are totally people I want to throw 300 lb projectiles on.

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Time Linking – A Technique to Stay on Track

I write much about schedules, templates and other ways I use to stay on track, not just with homeschooling but also with blogging. I have many fingers in many pies, it seems. But if there is one thing that has helped me to stay on task with these various activities I undertake, it is this: time linking.

It works because it uses associations.

Associations are powerful drivers of action and memory. Ever feel compelled to eat or cook just because you smell food? Who can’t recall an exact memory from years ago because of finding oneself in a childhood home?

This happens because that place, that time has developed strong connections in our mind with a specific thing. We can use that same strategy to stay on track in our homeschooling.

How to Use Time Linking

If you think about your day, chances are you are doing certain things at specific times. For me, I have to write in the mornings. I work best that way. I can’t, for instance, pick up a book and read at five in the morning and I cannot write at seven in the evening. In my mind, each of those time blocks are linked with specific actions.

It’s the same with homeschooling. The hours between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. are the hours when we deal with difficulties the children might be facing and move on to more involved work in science or history.

We don’t do anything else during those hours. If we want to watch something that is related to those subjects, I still prefer that we wait until after 11 a.m. to get it done. It doesn’t “feel” right to turn on the television before noon. In my mind (and in my children’s minds) that time block is linked strongly with sit down work.

Customizing Time Linking

It is best if time linking comes together organically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impose any structure. Take your normal day and see how it unfolds naturally. Then see if you can tweak it a bit.

I will warn you against getting started too soon on this. Toddlers seem to march to the beat of their own drummer, so if you try to impose time linking on a toddler or preschooler, it could be rough. We don’t do formal sit down work until the child is ready, which is much later. Time linking for a toddler works for nap times and lunch/snack times. No more.

Customizing time linking to your schedule will get things done, but keep you from feeling like you have to be the one pushing your children to get things done. Instead, it will begin to feel habitual and incorporated into your lifestyle.

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No, Homeschooling Is Not Elitist

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before:

“It’s bad enough that homeschoolers have removed themselves from society. It’s even worse that they bring their elitist attitude to look down on public schools.”

Well, it’s all find and dandy for you, they seem to say. You’re privileged. You can afford to stay home and homeschool. Not everyone can cloister themselves like you homeschoolers.

I’ve certainly heard it – especially on my Facebook page. So here’s my response to that nonsensical accusation of being elitist.

Many homeschoolers have jobs.

While the best case scenario involves one parent staying home to teach the children, this is not always the case. In my real life schedules post, I mention many different ways people find ways to make homeschooling work.

Some of these people have work outside the home.

Other homeschoolers have made the often difficult choice of lowering their standard of living or even moving to give their children the kind of education they would like.

You can call that a sacrifice, you can call that a decision, albeit a bad one, or you can call it conviction.
But what you certainly can not call it is elitism.

Homeschoolers live in society all day.

I used to be shocked at the accusation that homeschooling is elitist.

Then I realized that it was just the old socialization accusation.

It’s just that now it was somehow turned against homeschoolers to make us seem enviable as opposed to a people who needed to be pitied.

The point is this: how is it that people who send their children to be under lock and key, watched and supervised all day long, their intellect and behavior prodded and poked, call homeschoolers isolated? And worse, isolated by choice and therefore elitist?

Homeschoolers find themselves in society every single day. Just ask my children who are asked by any random number of people, as if they’re shocked to actually see children, “What?! No school today?” As in, what are you doing out here in public? Has no one locked you up yet?

Yeah, thanks for the privilege.

And, by the way, homeschoolers are more involved in meaningful public activities than you’d think.

Homeschoolers surpass public schoolers in tests every single year, but that doesn’t mean we sit around all day testing and memorizing.

We are not ivory tower academics, either, but you’ll find many of those in the very institutions you claim are not elitist.

If homeschoolers criticize public schools, it’s not because we’re elitist. It’s because we have found a way to educate that works – with lesser time and fewer of our neighbor’s dollars spent.

Surely that’s something worth talking about?

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Just Because It’s Different Doesn’t Mean It’s Worse

We have a penchant for the normal, the same. We love talking about the good old days. Often, this works to our advantage. We learn by imitation and we are most at home when things around us are habitual.

However, if we are not careful, the desire for sameness, for things to always be the way they were can be a big stumbling block.

I just got off the phone with a friend who is more than a little skeptical of homeschooling.

“But how will they graduate high school?”

“I will give them a certificate when they’re done with their course work.”

“Really?”

Yes, really.

Homeschooling is just that. Different. It is not worse because it is different and it might just be better.

I mentioned in another blog post that we are currently selling our house. To make it easiest for viewing, we have moved to an apartment.

Living in an apartment sure is different. But it is not worse.

I suppose it is normal to look back at times and places and things and see them as flat. That’s the nature of life. When it is not in front of us in all its topographic loveliness, when it is not great and wonderful and iconoclastic, it is easy to look at it and say it’s good.

But reality, as C. S. Lewis puts it, is always iconoclastic.

Eventually, we put our own thoughts over reality and it comes back to us as our own creation, in our image.

All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. – C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

Homeschooling can be a little like that. New homeschoolers know this. And veteran homeschoolers remember this. It’s just different, not worse because it’s so.

So when you’re trying to tell someone who has no idea what it is, be sure to leave room for their surprise, their incredulous “reallys?” because they’re coming.

Remind them that just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse. Tell them to give it time. They might just get used to it.

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Gamifying Frugality

It is no secret that we’re a gaming family. I write often about what video games do for us and how we do not fear or shun them. But after reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken, I have begun to think of games in a different light. I have realized that I can turn frugality into a game.

Games need not be connected to a screen. And they are incredibly helpful in ordinary life. Let me explain.

Anything Can Be a Game – Even Frugality

I wrote a while ago about how my husband and I went out shopping only to come home with a coffee spoon. And that led me to think about frugality in general.

I treat much of my grocery shopping and budgeting in the house as a game. This is how: I begin with a template of our budget. And with the help of a budgeting program, prepare one each month. (We use Every Dollar, but there are countless others.)

Then, the game begins.

The idea is to shave as much off as I can in every category. I will admit that the harder and longer you play this game, the more difficult it gets. Just like in every game, there are easy entry points. When you first start budgeting, you see all the ways money leaks out. But as you begin to tighten it, at some point there are some tough levels to beat.

The Payoff

The caveat here is to set some money aside as fun money. I’m with Dave Ramsey on this. Budgeting does not mean torturing yourself. And it helps to have something you can spend on anything.

The payoff for shaving slivers off other categories can be whatever you decide as rewards for yourself. They will be tied to your unique personality, so remember that. (If you’re a very social person, you might want to play this with a friend or two. Create a Facebook group, maybe?)

My payoff is plugging in numbers into the app. Yeah, I know. But it makes me happy. And then I know I’ve won – or get to try again, as the case may be. If I haven’t saved anything, there’s always next week or next month. In this game, I always have unlimited lives.

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A Meditation on Seeing

The first hint that everyone is getting sick in our family is that the children can’t remember their multiplication tables.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the signs until I have a sore throat myself. I always wonder why they’re suddenly incapable of basic calculations.

I would make a terrible fortune teller.

Seeing What’s There

An odd thing happened while I was lying in bed this morning with my sore throat. I have mentioned before that we are currently in a time of transition.

Our small house is on the market and we are now in our even smaller apartment.

In my cold delirium, looking for my husband, I looked toward the wall of our bedroom. It took me a few minutes to realize it was a wall and not the corridor leading to the bathroom.

At first, I was confused. I stared at it a good three minutes before getting my mental bearings back and realizing my mistake.

I was in the wrong place, I realized. Actually, I was in the right place; it was just that the map in my head was wrong.

This is often true of homeschoolers, especially new homeschoolers.

How often, when we begin homeschooling, do we stop to revise our mental maps? How often do we get them wrong? Do we judge our children by how long they work through the day?

Do we overschedule them because we’re trying to remain true to the idea of public school in our heads?

Do we worry that they are not in lock step with the rest of the children on our block, our community, our cousins and friends?

That’s a bit like staring at a wall and expecting to see the hallway there.

Seeing what truly exists requires constant reexamination, at least in the beginning. It needs all our mental faculties.

See what’s in front of you, not what’s around or before. Change your mental maps. Welcome to homeschooling.

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An App For Language Arts and Logic

I’ve always been a fan of games – video games and otherwise. And I do love technology. So today, I want to tell you about a game my daughter and I have been playing together on my Kindle Fire.

If you do not own a Kindle Fire, I highly recommend getting one. It’s a fairly inexpensive tablet and it’s endlessly adaptable to homeschooling. After watching my children play on their Kindles, I realized I desperately wanted one.

And then I proceeded to add and preview a bunch of games – for them as well as myself. My current game obsession is Mage Gauntlet. It’s just plain fun and helps me destress after long days of homeschooling. (For apps I like for the kids, go here.)

The App

But the app I really want to talk about is called WordBrain. And it’s free. I’ve been playing it everyday with my daughter. It’s a fantastic way for us to bond while growing our brains and solving challenges.

It looks a lot like Boggle, which I loved playing as a child. (Remember Boggle?) But it has the added advantage of making you think logically. When a tile gets used, it disappears and the others slide into place.

Many a time, my daughter and I have to put not just our spelling caps on but also our logic caps. If this word is actually what we think, then it will take these tiles away and then we can solve that one. 

WordBrain promotes that elusive if-then thinking we’ve talked about before. I love it.

The best part? It doesn’t run out. It seems inexhaustible because there are levels built into levels. And we never tire of it. But if we do accidentally finish WordBrain, I guess we can still keep going with WordBrain 2!

Happy playing!

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