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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On Remembering and Not Forgetting

I’ve been reading a very interesting book called Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison. It’s a memoir about a woman dealing with her son’s hyperactivity and oppositional defiant disorder. The book is also a meditation on paying attention as an adult. The author weaves the two narratives together.

The thing that struck me most about the book was this: one of the therapists Ellison has been dealing with tells her to put a picture of her “problem child” as a baby on the fridge. It is a reminder, he says, to her of who she is dealing with – this is her baby.

It made me wonder about the nature of remembering.

We are often told to pay attention to the present moment. I don’t want to miss anything as the children grow. This season of motherhood has long days and short years. But, but, but… in the midst of that I find that something gets lost.

Sometimes, when I am so focused on the current moment and getting to that next step, I forget where we came from. I forget that this is my baby. And as such, that reminder to put the child’s photograph as a baby on the fridge seemed to me very good advice indeed.

When did you last think of the first rush of motherhood? Of homeschooling?

I’ll confess: it’s been way too long for me. There is a reason we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries. The reason is that we shouldn’t forget, but often do. In the everyday craziness of routines and schedules and curricula, I must remind myself of the first few steps we took toward living like this. The first time my children read a word, the first time they wrote, first times – which too soon become the last times.

So remember. Throw a not-back-to-school party and take time to remember. It’s important.

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I Ignore My Children

I have a question for you: as a parent, are you aloof? Do you ignore your children? If someone were to peep into your home at various times through the day, would they see you cuddling your children? Or would they notice how everyone was in different rooms doing different things?

Now, wait. Don’t be too quick to answer. And be slower even to assign guilt. That last one is harder to do than it looks.

I Ignore my Children

I do. They wake up in the morning and make their own breakfast. They clean up, do the dishes while I get ready for the day. Only then do we meet at the dining room table to go over what they have done for their sit down work. Only then do we cover history and science and maybe a readaloud.

What I’m trying to get at is this: Do I love my children? Fiercely so. But do I think that love needs to be expressed in terms of constant supervision and physical proximity? That gets an absolute resounding no.

But then Again…

You see, we say this and we even half believe it. I know you’re agreeing with me right now, but I bet the next bit of parenting advice you read on the internet is going to ask you to cherish your children. And you’re going to be back to blaming yourself for not watching their every move.

Remember the mom who posted on Facebook that her children looked at her and sought her smile and her approval something like 48 times in 15 minutes or something? And she concluded from this “experiment” that if she had been looking at her phone, she would have missed “all that.”

Well, okay, but she would have missed all that if she had been doing the dishes or cooking or cleaning as well.

Here’s the thing: good mothering does not equal constant attention. You cannot tell if someone is being a good mom or not by peeking in their homes and checking to see how many times the children and the mother are in close physical proximity – or, as in this case – the mom is dotingly watching her children play.

Somehow I think I would be hard pressed to find mothers at any time in history as concerned with how much time they are spending staring into their children’s doe eyes.

Huge Ramifications for Homeschooling

The reason I get so riled up about this is because in a lot of ways this kind of thinking can break your homeschooling. If you think that the only way to be a good mother is to be a constantly attentive mother, you will burn out.

Leave them alone for a bit! They might just surprise you. You might have to work with them a little to steer them in the right direction, but this is just like training them to read or do math.

This is the part that my friends who don’t homeschool don’t get. And this – in a nutshell – is the devil in the details. This, my friends, is the beauty of homeschooling. And the fact that we leave them alone for a while – to do things on their own, to learn and struggle – is precisely the reason why homeschoolers outperform public schoolers in almost every statistic you can throw at them.

Love your kids, yes, but ignore them sometimes. It’s okay to be aloof. It’s okay to be in the other room, for goodness’ sake! It’s okay to leave a toddler with a few toys and tell him to play by himself for a while. And yes, it’s okay to take a shower! What in the world are we thinking?!

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The Case For Reading Children’s Books

I will never understand people who like to argue on Goodreads with me about how much I loved or hated a recently read book. See, reading is an intensely personal experience. It’s a bit like saying, “I didn’t sleep well last night.” Jumping in to say, “But I heard you snore!” just doesn’t help matters.

With that said, however, I will admit to feeling a bit snarky lately. And not just annoyed in general, but positively in a rut.

April is the Cruelest Month

This happens every year without fail come spring. Some say it has something to do with the fact that Daylight Savings Time kicks in, allergies are at an all time high which can lead to seasonal depression and it’s tax filing time.

Add to all this the fact that we are so close to summer, we can taste it and yet, it’s not here. Talk about a perfect storm.

Looking for an Escape

So I find myself then constantly looking for an escape, a distraction, something to change it up a bit. Unfortunately, I also homeschool and children if nothing else are creatures of habit.

Most days, we follow a good template. I like our lives, I really do. We stay on track, we get done what we need to and we have lots of fun along the way.

And yet there are stretches of time like lately when there is a distinct sense of feeling overwhelmed that no amount of dreaming, planning or otherwise checking things off my list can overcome.

Enter Children’s Books

When did life get so serious anyway? When did books become about more about wanting to learn something and less about just having fun? Perhaps it’s just me, I told myself. And promised to make reading a throwback to “how it used to be when I was just reading for pure enjoyment.”

It was hard to say what quality I was looking for in a book, really, but if I had to pin it down I would have to say I was going for something akin to what my four year old feels when he opens a book.

I was trying to find a children’s book that I could read that would evoke in me an emotion that would be a cross between Gruffalo and The Tale of Custard the Dragon

I wanted something whimsical and fun, but also something that would hold my interest and just be fun to read.

I’m Not Alone

I’m certainly not alone in reading children’s books. Gretchen Rubin has mentioned in her books that she actually belongs to a book club that reads children’s books. She realized it made her happier.

C.S. Lewis famously states at the beginning of The Chronicles of Narnia that “someday [one] will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Indeed, there are countless writers out there whose work can only be described as something between children’s and adult writing or both. Neil Gaiman comes immediately to mind.

Dreaming With Eyes Open

One thing I think children’s books do very well is keep things simple. Without plots that are too complicated, including characters with not too much nuance and with just a basic understanding of the world, they create situations that can be not just entertaining but also interesting.

They help me dream with my eyes open.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate is that they often tell the story from the perspective of someone who truly notices things as a child. As a mom – and a homeschooling mom in particular – I find this perspective invaluable.

We say we want to teach as our children will learn. We say we want to learn right along with our children. I say to do so there’s no better introduction to their world than through children’s books.
And no better time to begin reading one than now.

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The Latest Victim of Sound Bites is Parenting

My daughter recently bought a necklace with two broken hearts that fit together – you know the kind. One person wears one side of the heart and the other wears the other. The words “BEST FRIENDS” were written on it.

She wore her half and started going through her list of friends wondering whom she could give the other half to.

Suddenly a pang of – what, jealousy? Love? Motherhood? – overtook me. If anyone was going to be best friends with my daughter, I wanted that person to be me.

“I’ll wear it,” I ventured. “If you want.”

“YES!!!” she screamed. “I was going to give it to you but I didn’t know if you’d like it because you have your style of dressing.”

I’ve been wearing it proudly around my neck. Our two little pieces of hearts that come together and fit.

But consider this line: “I’m your mother, not your friend. You don’t have to like me.”

Say you’re a friend to your children is now akin to saying you’re a bad parent.

Remember this meme that gets shared so often on social media? “I am not your friend!” it blares. “I am your parent. I will stalk you, I will flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare, hunt you down when needed. Because I love you.”

Really? Is that what we really want to be? Our child’s worst nightmare? But, but… it makes a great soundbite.

We can’t talk about parenting any more. We certainly can’t talk about it in any meaningful way, especially on social media. Opinions are already formed and all nuance scrubbed clean out of them.

Consider the news story about the physician, who also happens to be a writer, scolding parents, “You’re doing it wrong.” It’s not a question, it’s a sentence is the overwhelming tone of the story, giving overbearing parents everywhere permission to demand perfect obedience.

But that’s not what he’s saying, you argue.

No he isn’t, but every person who comments under the story on Facebook every time it is shared is. Later, these commenters will give themselves permission to be brusque and brash and issue “sentences, not questions” at their children in an attempt at better parenting.

And they will look critically at others who don’t.

Last year, when a gorilla had to be put down because a child fell into the pit at the zoo, the video from one news page alone was shared 164,394 times, viewed 22 million times, with 54,000 comments all pointing their finger at the mother, unilaterally deciding that she must have had her head stuck in her phone.

“Turn off your phones and pay attention to your kids!” became the drumbeat.

The world has taken on proportions of one big witchhunt out for the blood of parents.

Here’s another example. Did you hear how consistently both politicians referred to my children and yours as “our children” this last election cycle? Whose children? Excuse me, but I don’t remember voting that into law. Did you?

The Pew Research Center recently discovered that 75% – that’s 3 out of 4 parents – got parenting advice and support from their friends and other news stories from social media. 3 out of 4!

That’s 3 out of 4 parents being told day in and day out that they’re doing it wrong, that their children are just plain rude, that the children don’t really belong to them, it takes a village and a government and oh, by the way, they should get their heads out of their phones and start paying attention to the kids.

Forget Elf on the Shelf, we’re turning into a nation of Krampuses.

Everyone has an opinion – an extreme one – and it’s shared. This is not support; this is bullying. Over and over and over again, until it’s a sound bite in a mother’s tired, befuddled head.

Is it any wonder people don’t want to have children?

Is it possible that in this age of entertainment and information, parenting has become just another option for infotainment? Has it become the new way to bond?

Stop it. Just stop. Stop telling us how to raise our kids. If you get on Facebook, talk about the weather or take a picture of your food. If it takes a village to raise a child today, please, just leave my kids out of it.

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Juggling Well

I recently came across some fantastic time management advice in Michael Gelb’s book More Balls Than Hands that I thought I’d share with you. Even though it refers to juggling (and he’s not kidding – there’s an actual section at the end about how to learn real juggling) the author has some great advice for homeschoolers.

In fact, this advice can be applied to your life no matter what you do and especially if you’re a busy mom.

Read this.

James Clawson says that there are two types of people in their work styles: Project Finishers and Time Allocaters. Project Finishers can only handle one ball at a time. They’re good doers, but bad managers. Time Allocaters don’t organize their work by projects but by allotments of time spread across a wise variety of tasks.

The Time Allocation approach to work seems very much like juggling. How does one keep multiple balls in the air? And how do we discover the optimum number that can be successfully managed? If there are too many balls, they all fall. If there are too few, not much gets done. The principles of juggling seem to help. Develop a stable, reliable process for handling one project or item and then apply that process to other projects…

Develop a rhythm, an inner sense of how much time it takes to keep a project from falling to the floor. Handle projects lightly but firmly and with a familiar repetition.

Now I don’t know about you, but this sounds a lot like homeschooling. It also sounds very similar to advice I have given about developing a side income while homeschooling as well as advice I have received about the real schedules of real homeschooling families and how they make it all work.

If you’re a homeschooling mom, you’re a manager. And if you have any interest in juggling well, you ought to read this book.

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Rhymes and Songs for Disciplining

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I tend to be more of an unschooler with classical tendencies (or a homeschooler with unschooling tendencies, depending on how you see it.) I have written before of how it took us a long time to get to where my daughter began to enjoy read aloud time. We spent most of our early preschool days on doing craft activities and some math because she seemed to like that. My son did not mind being read to but they have both had a desire to be taught to read for themselves. 

My youngest is nothing like that. He is my first child that loves being read to. Seriously, people, what a joy it is when a child wants to be read to and will sit while you read and at the end of the book, say, “Again! Read again. One more time.” Oh, my heart. (And my voice, but that’s another matter. Haha!)

To get back to the point I’m trying to make though… I’ve discovered that it doesn’t hurt to wait. Now my daughter – yes, that same one who wanted nothing to do with being read to – has not only read every fairy tale, easy reader and short chapter book I can get her for herself, but insists on me reading to her as well. She loves good audio books. We’ve read countless read alouds. And we memorize. What do we memorize, you ask? Poetry, songs, history timelines, hymns, church creeds, you name it.

Putting what I know now about my children together, I recently hit upon a way to get my children involved in disciplining themselves. It went something like this: I got tired of repeating the same instructions which they seemed to forget, so I thought they should spend some time repeating them, not me.

Repetition, I thought. Repetition… aha! That’s what we did every single day when we memorized. That was the answer!

So  I made some rhymes that I’m posting here. Feel free to use them with your own children. People, these work! When the kids start acting up now at the grocery store or before bed, I ask them to sing the song I taught them. And they do so. And in saying it, they repeat my instructions without me having to say them. This is like some serious magic. 

Here are the two rhymes I’ve made so far. (And I know there are more coming. Because, well, kids.)

The Grocery Store Song

(Sung to the tune of Jingle Bells)

When we are in the store
We walk and do not run.

We will not climb or fight,
We’ll play when we are done.

We will stay with the cart,
We will help find things,

We will not block the aisles,
We’ll act like human beings.

Time For Bed

(Sung to the tune of Hot Cross Buns)

Time for bed, time for bed,

Half past seven, almost eight, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Brush my teeth, change my clothes, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

Get some books, what’s in my head, time for bed!

Time for bed, time for bed,

One last pee and a prayer, time for bed!

So there you have it. I love that these little rhymes work like a checklist, give the children something to memorize and develop habits without me having to nag them. It makes the day that much smoother.

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Two Words Your Children Should Learn to Say

“You’re right.”

I can remember the first time someone said those two words to me. I was 23, halfway around the world, young, wanting to learn, not trusting myself to be all I wanted so desperately to be. The person saying those words to me was my then to-be husband, but I remember thinking to myself, No one has ever said that to me before. 

I find that hard to believe, but I must. If I trust my memory, no one had ever said to me before these two simple words.

You’re right.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t ever right. There were plenty of occasions when I knew I was and certainly, if we’re talking about school, I was pretty close to a straight A student. So it’s pretty clear to me that I had been “right” at least on occasions that mattered.

But in an argument? When my opinion was asked in general? When something I had predicted came to pass, I never heard the verbal acknowledgment.

There are cultural issues here, of course, that cannot be ignored. People from India, in general, at least in the area I come from, are not given to open praise, so I’m not blaming my parents. And I’m certainly not saying that my life was ruined because of it. My parents did their best and I know it.

But I must admit that there is much power in words. And in these two words, there is more than meets the eye. Each and every time I have told my daughter that she was right, there has come over her the most curious look – a look I can only describe as self-worth.

Then one day, I heard her say to me, “You were right, mom.” And then another day, she told her brother, “You’re right.” And then my husband.

Apparently, we were doing a lot right and she was on a rampage to tell us so.

With those 2 words, something between us shifted. There was an acknowledgement of the awareness of another’s wisdom – no small feat in a world where everyone wants to be right but no one wants to listen to anyone else’s point of view. It changed my perception of her.

With those two words, she grew up a little and was no longer my baby.

Then I heard it among the children – that same quiet reminder of the other’s wisdom, an awareness of it, even in the midst of strife, a camaraderie that could come from nowhere else.

And I thought about my husband and the first time he had said those words to me and I thought, “Look what you started.”

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A Homeschooling Mom’s Burnout Journal

I have been defeated, beaten by the clock.

I have been to bed the past few days out of exhaustion. Sleep has been quick and almost dreamless. The night passes like a flash and then the alarm sounds its four notes. My phone buzzes, the smell of coffee is filling the house. It’s time to be awake again.

It’s time to do the same things I did yesterday, in pretty much the same way and not get them all done. Again.

Who said “insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?” Because, you know what, on some days, I actually like the results I get. Some days, my schedule is just perfect. Things hum along, check marks abound on my little notepad where the to-do list sits.

It’s those in-between days that have the power to devastate me.

It’s those days when I forget to set out the meat to thaw in the morning as I had hoped to do, those days when my child seems to have forgotten her math tables and we have to go over them one more time for review; it’s the days I burn dinner, the days when no matter what I do, the toddler refuses to obey and it feels like all day long I’ve done nothing but correct and discipline and does that count as school?

Those days.

Those are the days I have run into lately. And I am exhausted.

Now please don’t get me wrong. We’ve have a wonderful January. I certainly do not need advice. We are actually doing really well in our homeschool. The children are learning far more than I ever teach, they are independent, self-assured learners, they are curious, creative creatures, everything I want them to be at this stage. So, no, we are not struggling homeschoolers.

It’s just this small string of days we’ve had with no sun, heavy gray clouds oppressing the horizon. They too shall pass but for now they’re here.

Do not jump in with advice.

The worst thing you can do right now is give me offhand advice. Because I know, I know – in my bones – that this is temporary, that it doesn’t require an overhaul of my time budget and it certainly doesn’t need to call my teaching or mothering skills into question. 

The best thing you can say is this: “Sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.”

Because you know it’s true. And I know you’ve been where I am.

It’s a truth every homeschooling mom has to admit at some point in her life. She’s not failing and neither is she asking for sympathy. She has just hit a rough spot. It will be different a week, a month from today. 

Ask her to see farther down the road; don’t ask her to pull over and check her map. Don’t tell her to put her kid in public school. She’s on the right track. Remind her that she’s working hard enough. That sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.

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Reading Challenges For 2016 From Around the Web

One of the better things I have started doing toward the tail end of this year is keeping a journal.

It’s been a habit I’ve been quite enjoying and it’s a habit that helps me. It bookends my day and makes it easier for me to stay focused on what’s important as well as what I should be grateful for. It keeps my goals for the day, the week and the year in front of my eyes at all times.

My favorite goal (we can have favorites, right?) is to read 100 books this year.

In 2015 I read about 60 and in 2014 I read 51.

But lately everywhere I go online it seems reading challenges are popping up. So here’s a post about the various challenges. Pick one and get to reading! Join your local library. It’s free.

The Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge

Arguably my favorite and least fussy challenge. It asks you to pick a number of books and log them as you read them, mark them as done and review them for your friends. It doesn’t tell you what genre or what length. I like Goodreads as a place to log what I’m reading and get recommendations based on what I like. Plus, if I want to get really nerdy, there are discussion groups of every kind.

The Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

A friend introduced me to this one. It has a list with 24 tasks and a completed list qualifies you for a discount at the Book Riot store that sells some pretty great stuff for readers. I like it because it forces me to read books I wouldn’t usually read.

The Challies’ 2016 Reading Challenge

If you’re more theologically minded and interested in a reading challenge, this one fits the bill. It gives you four different levels of commitment. You can pick between light, avid, committed and obsessed. Head on over and download the list!

The Redeemed Reader’s Reading Challenge for Kids

Loosely based on Tim Challies’ reading challenge, The Redeemed Reader has put together a challenge for the children. Find the list (in Google Docs format) here.

Hey, wait a minute… is there only ONE for kids? Unfortunately so. There are various local ones put together by public libraries, so be sure to check with your own. Summer seems to be the time when these challenges are presented to children because the majority of people still believe that children are too busy during the year to read.

So you know what? I made one.

The Classical Unschooler’s 2016 Reading Challenge for Kids of All Ages

Save the list, print it and stick it up on your fridge – one for each person who is participating. The next time you’re wondering what to read next, pick a category that looks good, find a book that fits and read it!

When you finish, check off the task and write the title of the book and its author in the blank. Finish the 12 tasks and email me the completed list!

Now, go read a good book!


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