The Heart of the Matter

Photo by Mike Mitchell on Unsplash

The other day, a broken blind brought me to tears.

Sometimes, what is bothering us is not obvious. This is true in all aspects of our life.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that we have recently sold our house and are living in an apartment half its size. We do plan on buying a house again, but this place is home for now.

And then I cry over the ugliness of blinds and complain that I want curtains. Go figure.

What is the heart of the matter?

If you’ve been homeschooling, even for a few months, you know that there are days that are not perfect. In fact, real life rarely is and homeschooling is real life.

Is there something currently that seems not right? Perhaps in the curriculum or your schedule? Something that might be bothering you and leaving you irritable and feeling like it could be better or that there’s something missing. Or just making you feel annoyed?

Don’t ignore it. But don’t be eager to give it a superficial name either.

In my case, I attributed it to change. After all, moving is one of the most stressful things one can do – especially with children. I blamed the apartment for not being as perfect as our house had been.

But then I realized it hadn’t bothered me in the first or the second month. All those little things had been embraced in the past as part of the adventure.

The heart of the matter was something else – it was not the blinds. It wasn’t even “ugliness.” It was a loss of enthusiasm.

Protect What Matters

Remember what matters.

Enthusiasm is not the same as motivation.

I’m not standing in front of the mirror every morning and talking up our day. But I am enthusiastic about homeschooling because it means sharing our lives with our children.

Somewhere along the way in this move, my focus shifted and I became more concerned with “staying on track.” It became less about sharing our lives and more about making the kids “do school.”

Ugh. The heart of the matter was that I forgot the heart of the matter.

This is a good time of year to remember what’s most important. When your homeschool falls off track, when there are “emergency” baking sessions, when all you want to do is put your feet up and watch movies or relatives arrive, remember this.

Remember the heart of the matter.

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First Year Homeschoolers: Practice Being Uncomfortable

It’s almost time. No, I’m not talking about Christmas – or even the new year. I’m talking about January. It’s coming, you know!

All that pressure to start anew, make amends, create resolutions.

What will you plan on doing this year? Spend time wisely? Lose weight? Be organized? Even be happier? Or thrifty?

While these are all worthy goals – and worth pursuing – beware of jumping into them too easily. Especially if you’re a new homeschooler.

Life Changes are Hard

We recently moved into a tiny – and I do mean tiny – apartment from a small house. Our house is on the market and we intend to move into a different house pretty soon. So as you can tell, there have been many changes.

My daughter hasn’t responded well to them. One night, after being grumpy and difficult, she burst into tears with the words, “Everything is different!”

Homeschooling can be like that. It is a big change – it’s a change in lifestyle, after all. It demands a change in your schedule, your attitude. And precisely because of that it demands a change in your thinking. 

And that is hard.

The Problem

But the problem isn’t that homeschooling or any other life changes are hard. The concern – as my daughter found out – was that we strain against them and make them harder.

Instead of accepting that this is how it’s going to be and it’s not going to feel normal for a while (because it’s not) we beat our heads against it. We try to ripen buds, to make it new things feel normal.

And when they don’t, we assume something must be wrong and try to change them.

If this is your first year homeschooling, avoid that trap. Resist setting resolutions for yourself that are not realistic. Instead, work toward this idea – practice being comfortable with the discomfort.

Practice saying to yourself what I told my daughter, what I’m repeating to myself like a mantra: This is how it’s going to feel for a while – and that’s okay. 

Because nothing is really wrong. It’s just different.

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Use a Checklist for your Homeschool

I recently had the unfortunate experience of running into someone who functions in the world in an “Oh by the way” manner. You know the kind I’m talking about. Oh, I just need one more thing from you. And, oh by the way I just noticed you need this. And this.

The good news is our interaction taught me about the best tool for scheduling no one talks about: the humble checklist.

I have written about how to schedule an effective homeschooling day. I have also in the past written about a time budget and even putting together your own customized homeschooling curriculum.

However, if we are not careful, these same tools we use to customize education for our children can hurt. I don’t like being told (in what I see an arbitrary manner) what to do in an endless stream. And neither do children.

So even if you have a vision, it is important to convey it to your children via a checklist.

It’s been more than a few months now since I’ve read it, but perhaps the best book on how important it is to use a checklist has been written by Atul Gawande.

While it tends to focus on life-saving situations like those of airline pilots, nurses and surgeons, the checklist can nevertheless make your homeschool a better place as well.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • With a checklist, your children are never in doubt whether they’re done or not with their work. They don’t need to check in with you constantly. It gives them autonomy over their work.
  • It helps you organize your homeschooling
  • It creates mental space. Once you’ve put something down on paper, you can “forget” about it.
  • It smooths whatever friction you might be facing with your child. When expectations are written and set out in the outset, you remove the tension out of the situation.

Preferably, put the checklist in a public place where the children as well as you can see it. For my personal use, I like the ColorNote App, but that remains on my phone, so in this case, it is useless.

For more ideas on time management and scheduling, go here.

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Is Hygge Homeschooling For You?

I’ve been coming across hygge homeschooling quite a bit lately in my Facebook feed. Come to think of it, it’s also something I think about often, now that the weather is colder. Candles, warmth and comfort sound enticing.

What is Hygge Homeschooling?

Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) is a Danish word that refers to a feeling of cozy contentment through enjoying the simple things in life. If you’ve ever enjoyed reading a book indoors on a rainy day you’ve experienced hygge.

In his book, The Little Book of HyggeMeik Wiking lists a few core concepts in hygge living. These include good, soft lighting, warmth, comfort, candles, small groups and good food amongst others.

I have to admit, it sounds wonderful! Who doesn’t like the idea of coziness and simplicity? Now, think of that concept and apply it to homeschooling. Sound good?

But, wait!

I know people who live the hygge lifestyle. Simplicity is the essence of their lives. Their homes are well lit, warm and cozy. They know exactly the right number of people to have over. Items in their home are well selected and there is always good food.

We all know homeschoolers like that as well, don’t we? Only, you may not be one of them.

While hygge homeschooling sounds good to me (on paper!) I know I am too eclectic and to some degree even disorganized to handle it well. Keeping an atmosphere of simplicity takes work and planning. The right food, the right books, pools of light… let’s face it. It’s not possible to have this for an extended time in my house.

If Hygge Homeschooling Appeals to You…

So what do you do if you are like me and love the idea of hygge homeschooling but are a bad combination of brilliantly eclectic, creatively disorganized and a control freak?

Here’s what you do:

  1. Keep hygge homeschooling days instead of weeks or months. Do up those days. Bake and read.
  2. Plan for spontaneous hygge days. I like planning and I also like spontaneity. If there’s rain in the forecast, keep some emergency hygge supplies and let your heart dictate how the day will go when it does rain.
  3. Don’t try too hard. Kids will bicker. Something will go wrong. The hygge warmth may be short lived. Trying too hard to make it perfect will only ruin it. So ease up.
  4. Read aloud. If nothing else, lighting some candles and reading aloud always works. Especially if you follow my rules for reading aloud.
  5. Finally, be yourself and let the kids be themselves. Where I go wrong often is that I try to copy someone else’s lifestyle and impose it on our homeschool. That’s never going to work. If hygge homeschooling is not for you, just admit it, move on and be thrilled with what you do have – a happy homeschooling family!

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A Capsule Wardrobe for the Homeschooling Mom

You have probably come across the phrase “capsule wardrobe” by now. It’s hard to miss. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is a collection of a few essential items of clothing that don’t go out of fashion.

These can include skirts, trousers and jackets / cardigans, to which we then add other seasonal pieces.

I use the term rather loosely, though, as do others.

A cursory look at Pinterest will show you how much you can customize it to fit your life.

Homeschooling Capsule Wardrobe Essentials

Clearly, a homeschooling mom’s capsule wardrobe will be different from someone else’s with a desk job. It will have to be more versatile. We go from lounging around reading aloud to the children to cooking to cleaning up messes to field trips in a span of an hour.

Your wardrobe works as hard as you do.

So here are some suggestions. Obviously, these will have to be tweaked depending on the season, your own preferences and where you live.

Pants

I love jeans. You can wear them anywhere, dress them down or up. You can wear almost any kind of shoes with them – and they are endlessly versatile. Be sure to pick out a dark wash. Also, I wear boot cut jeans as a rule. (Yes, I know the skinny jeans are in fashion, but they are not a classic piece and, besides, do horrible things to your body shape and only work with certain shoes. I avoid them.)

If you like dress pants, go for it! Why not? Enjoy your clothes. I find that dress pants are a little more roomy which makes them more comfortable to wear around the home than jeans. It might feel a little odd lounging in them while checking your child’s math, but after a while, it might become second nature. You won’t know if you don’t try. (However, if you have very young children and are cleaning up spills all day long, these might be a bad idea.)


Shirts/Blouses/Tops

Choose only a handful of tops that work with both your pants and skirts. This is important. Your tops should be able to do double duty. If your top only work with one piece in your wardrobe, you then have to make the important decision of whether to keep it or not.

If you do decide to keep it, make sure it is one that is reserved for special occasions – like weddings or, I don’t know, fundraisers – or not-back-to-school parties. You get my drift.


Skirts/Shorts

I love skirts in the summer. But I also live in California. I’ve tried working with shorts and I hate them. There’s just something about my body shape that makes them never sit quite right. So make sure you try on your clothes. Be brutal about getting rid of the ones you don’t like.

Again, remember that the tops you wear should be able to work with these as well. So use those as a reference point in deciding what to keep and what to throw, if you need to.


Dresses

Dresses are perhaps the least versatile of your clothes because they just are themselves. You can’t quite make them work with other pieces and either you wear them or you don’t. As such, unless you really are a dress person, treat them carefully. 

I have a few dresses I wear to church, so I keep those in the special occasions category in my capsule wardrobe. But otherwise, unless it’s summer and I absolutely love a dress, I prefer to swap it out for a more hardworking blouse and skirt instead.


Jackets/Sweaters/Cardigans/Coats

Okay, so I’m slightly jealous of you people who get to wear lovely coats on the East coast. The closest we get to those are blazers and jackets. But to think in terms of versatility, a cardigan is probably your best best for homeschooling. I wear one almost all the time.

In the summer, I like that I feel covered even though I’m wearing a sleeveless camisole underneath with a skirt. In the winter, a slightly heavier cardigan with jeans keeps me warm. It helps me move freely whether I’m on the floor wrestling with my children, on the couch reading to them or washing dishes with my sleeves pushed up to my elbows.

Also, cardigans usually come in pretty colors and help keep the drab look out of the wardrobe. They are an essential in your capsule wardrobe.

Keep structured jackets on hand for when you want to leave the house at a moment’s notice. Nothing pulls at outfit together like a good jacket or blazer.


Accessories

Obviously, I don’t wear accessories when I’m at home, but I do love having them on hand. Scarves, earrings, necklaces, hats add depth and texture to an outfit when stepping out of the house. If you do decide to have an impromptu lunch or dinner or just happily get a few hours to yourself (because you’ve hired a mother’s helper or a sitter – hey, it can happen!) nothing will left your mood as much as being able to throw on a few pieces of jewelry and a scarf and head out.

Comfort Clothing/Nightwear/Pajamas

So I imagine it’s pretty obvious by now that no, I don’t wear pajamas or sweats all day. I’m sorry, but… no, I’m going to say this without apology: Pajamas have become the denim jumpers of homeschooling today and it’s a sad trend. Your children should not ask you where you are going if you put on pants. Just because you can homeschool in your pajamas doesn’t mean you should. 

Keep some comfort clothing in your capsule but reserve it for days when you literally do nothing. Because we work and study and learn and relax in the same environment, it helps to have clothes to compartmentalize our life. When I am dressed for work, it’s easier to focus on work.

I hope this helps you, homeschooling mom! You’re doing an important job – getting dressed in the morning is where you prepare for it. Don’t sell yourself short!

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Teaching Kids about Money

I recently came across this blog post about children and money. And it’s not just him saying it. I find this fascinating because I find that my children talk about money more than anything else – with the exception of God.

It clearly takes more than one conversation for them to learn everything to want to about money. Even simple things need repetition to sink in.

Recently I made an offhand comment about something being too expensive. So my youngest piped up that if he was president he would make things cost less.

Aha, I said, but how will you do that without taking money from the people?

I will never take money from people, mom, says my daughter who hates the very idea of taxes.

Ever the practical one, my middle son then wanted to know how much dad makes and how. Also, why does the business he works for pay him that amount and not less?

Conversation, not Textbooks

I bring this up because in this conversation, I can safely say we covered finance, ethics, economics and even some civics by the time we were done. Oh, and frugality. I ended up explaining to my youngest that my words had not been well chosen and it wasn’t that whatever we were talking about was too expensive. It was rather that I was not willing to pay so much for it because it didn’t hold the same value for me.

While we can bemoan that there isn’t the perfect curriculum in schools or even for homeschooling that teaches about money (there are – read on for suggestions) I think much of what our children learn about it is through conversation, not curriculum.


Of course there are the basics – the grammar, if you will, to cover with them. But it isn’t much.

Learning about money falls more significantly within the area of logic and rhetoric than grammar, which is perhaps why there aren’t enough “textbooks” or “curricula” about it and why they are more likely to be “skewed” in one direction or another.

Whatever your convictions about money, make sure you talk to your kids about them and talk often.

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I’m Only Happy When I’m ____________

Here’s a fill in the blank for my favorite homeschooling moms.

When I posted this article about why moms don’t manage time well, a reader wrote to me. She wanted to know if I had any suggestions for things she could so that would eliminate boredom.

Here’s my idea: fill in the blank in the title.

What makes you happy? What is it that you do that makes you happy?

There are only two criteria here:

  1. It has to be something you do, not someone else; and
  2. It has to make you come alive.

It must make you excited, like a child on Christmas morning.

You should have a visceral and noticeable reaction when you think of that thing that you would like to do.

For me, that one thing is learning. It doesn’t matter what it is that I’m learning, I feel the need for ideas swimming in my head at all times. If I don’t have that, I get bored.

For others, it might be reading or crafting or sewing. Or blogging.

Maybe for others, it’s organizing. Entertaining. Keeping a home running smoothly can also be a passion.

I have spent enough time on Pinterest to see that people are interested in different things, even ones that are not common.

You don’t have to worry about others, or even if what makes you happy is “productive.” Just find a way to indulge yourself in it every single day.

You might be amazed how at some point these discrete, various interests can come together. As an example, my love of learning and words comes together in my blogging and also helps me in our actual homeschooling.

If you’re great at organizing, you might find that it will help you organize your space and time better with your children.

If nothing else, it will help rid you of boredom, perhaps give you a side profession and improve your daily quality of life.

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Creatively Homeschooling When Your State Requires Testing

A question I often get after people read my blog concerns testing. It goes something like this:

I love the idea of being creative in our homeschooling. I like the concept of classical unschooling. But what if the state I live in requires testing? How can I still do what I want while living here?

So I thought I’d write this blog post to answer this specific question. I have by the way written about it in my book, so if you want more details, pick up a copy.

Here’s the straight answer: teach to the test.

If you live in a state that requires your child to be tested to ensure that you can continue to homeschool, teach to the test for a fraction of the week. There is nothing wrong with this.

Think about it this way. You have time on your side. You don’t have a huge bureaucracy micromanaging how you spend your days. It is not hard to come up with a schedule or a template that allows you to spend most of your days doing as little or as much as works for your family. You can be as creative and as eclectic as you would like.

Just make sure that you leave some time each week to teach to the test.

How to Teach to the Test

First, look up the laws for your state. Chances are, if you’re asking this question, you already know. But make sure you comply in that regard.

Then, get a general idea of how the test will look. Will you need someone else to administer it? Is the testing done in a public setting like a school or an exam hall?

And, lastly, what will we be testing? What is actually on the test? If you can buy sample tests like these SATs, you are all set.

Remember that the test will not be the sum total of your child’s education. You are still in control. You have the upper hand. But short of moving, if you want to make creative homeschooling work in such a situation, this is your best bet.

Oh, and don’t worry – homeschoolers handle testing very well indeed.

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The Five Joys of Winter

If you’re anything like me, you get a little thrill every time you hear the phrase Winter is coming. In fact, one of my summer loving friends (Thanks, Tes!) said it to me as I was bemoaning the heat. It lifted my spirits.

I thought I’d pay it forward.

So as we head into December, I thought I’d write a little blog post to raise the spirits of my summer-loving friends. There are joys in winter if you look hard enough.

The lighting is always great for pictures.

As a somewhat so-called amateur photographer (hey, isn’t everyone that nowadays?) I love taking pictures of my children. This is especially true in the winter because with the overcast weather, the lighting is always perfect. There is no harsh sunshine messing up the contrast. And, let’s face it, it’s a great time to get dressed up.

A good book is all the rage.

I don’t know why summer is considered the time to read. Oh wait, I know. It’s because schools are closed. But seriously – there isn’t a worse time to read than the summer. All that talk about lazy days of summer is just that. Talk. Summers are busy and long. And loud. And bright. Winter is the time to curl up with a book. A good cup of coffee (or tea) and a good book – that’s what winter is for. The neighborhood is quiet because people are in their homes, the days are shorter and life is just more peaceful in general.

Options are limited.

Oh, we love our choices. But at some point while choosing between five brands of toothpaste we realize too many choices exhaust us. Now don’t get me wrong. I love capitalism and the creativity it inspires – I have a deep respect for entrepreneurship and the market. However, I have limited time for any given task. So I appreciate the winter for automatically limiting my choices – there are only so many things that we can do when it’s cold outside and gets dark early.

It’s a good time to get back on track with homeschooling.

Apart from Christmas, there are few distractions in the winter. And once that’s over, we have that long, blessed month of January with no celebrations. I love it. It’s also a time of year most people are thinking about starting anew with their resolutions – lose weight, get on a good schedule, eat right, save money – you know what I mean. This atmosphere makes it a wonderful time to get back on track with your homeschool – especially if you’ve been winging it a bit during the holidays. January is like a fresh new week, except it’s a whole month! I look forward to it every year.

All that snuggling!

My kids tend to be all bustle and run in the summer. Even the older ones. Something about all that sunshine drives them a little crazy, I think. And people are – in general, in my anecdotal experience – more pugnacious in the summer. But in the winter, the usual prickliness vanishes and my children are the sweetest things ever. Also, ever since I’ve read this post, I’ve begun to think more about the last times and cherish them as much as the firsts.

So you see? All’s not bleak. There are joys in the winter you can look forward to. What would you add to this list?

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Frugality: What is Well Stocked?

My husband and I had a discussion/argument lately about what it means for the fridge to be “well stocked.”

Just Enough or Enough to Inspire?

My definition of well stocked tends to fall on the side of underbuying and efficiency. Like most people, we grocery shop once a week and I prefer to meal plan.

As a result, that I end up buying just what we need.

A well stocked fridge to me, therefore, is one that has exactly what we need. To my husband, it is something more. It is something that allows and inspires creativity. A well stocked fridge to him would have more than just what is necessary.

Frugal or Cheap? Or Minimalist?

A good discussion of frugality needs a good definition of what constitutes just plain cheap. When does the line get crossed?

There is much talk about minimalism today. But I wonder if some people – like myself – that are relative underbuyers end up shooting themselves in the foot with minimalism.

It is possible to buy just enough to be cheap and just enough to be creative. You have to first figure out where your personality and the culture of your family is happiest.

Implications

This idea of buying just enough has consequences across the board. In terms of learning and homeschooling, for example, are you the kind of person that is happier having a set plan and working through it all the way? Or do you like having more than you need? Does that inspire you? How about your children?

Every week, we pick up a huge stack of books from the local library. Do we read them all? No, but it’s nice to have more just in case.

My wardrobe is not minimalist, either. I don’t have too many pieces, but having just a handful that work is not me either. It feels too restrictive. I’m just beginning to learn that there is no reason why the word “few” has to follow “well chosen.”

We can leave room for inspiration while being frugal. We do not have to cross the line into being cheap.

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