Wednesday, December 10, 2014

One Smallish- But Big- Change This School Year

What a school year it has been already.  I honestly don't even know how many days we've got on the books. What is happening to me????  I love marking my days, checking my boxes, and keeping that running tally, for several reasons. First, so we stay on track. I mean, we have got to stay on track! We can't be falling behind our average 20 days per month of school so we can definitely finish by the end of May!  Secondly, I feel like we're accomplishing something.  That number tells me that my days truly count.  Thirdly, I'm just super-organized that way.

But here we are in December and I really don't know how far into our year we are based on the number of required days. I have been keeping track, I am keeping good notes in my Well Planned Day, but it's not my priority this year to count days.

This year is going so much better than last year.  Remember last year? The Year I Wanted to Quit. Like really quit.  I couldn't bear to think of homeschooling anymore.  Though I still had a passion for it, it was just one hard year that I didn't want to repeat itself.

Thankfully it is not.

And here's why. Or at least, what I think is why.

I. Have. Relaxed.

Deep breath.  Cause part of me actually thinks that is a lie. Because I am so not a relaxed person.  My husband, he is relaxed. He is laid back big time.  Me? Not. So. Much.

But really.  Based on the typical me, I have relaxed.

We get up in the morning and I am training all three of my kiddos to have their morning stuff done by 8:30. We are early risers and I have found that starting at 8:30 is doable and better for us than last year's 9:30.  That extra hour seemed to make my kids think the whole day was theirs and that when I rang the school bell, so to speak,  I was interrupting their lives.  So 8:30 is our new time to start our school day.

But it doesn't always start with school work.

Today we worked on chores all morning.  A big storm was blowing in, with the possibility of a power outage, so we had Emergency Preparedness 101.  We found all the flashlights. Filled buckets and tubs with water.  Filled the woodbox for the stove.  We worked on laundry so we'd have plenty of clean clothes.  We cleaned the bathrooms.  Showered.  Swept.  I vacuumed like crazy.

And I didn't feel one bit guilty that we weren't hitting the school books.  We were being productive and getting other important things done.  After lunch, we had school. It wasn't a day with all the books open, but as a whole, it counted.

This is what I mean by relaxed. I'm not trying to cram school in. I'm not forcing things to go on a particular schedule each day.  I'm not expecting to be finished by a certain time.  Most days we start out with math and typical schoolish things, but sometimes we work on other important things.  Like life skills.  I don't feel bad or rushed if we have to finish some school work after lunch. Or after dinner.  I'm not so stressed if all my boxes don't get checked in my planner.  I'm keeping notes on more than just progress in reading and math and handwriting. I'm noting good discussions we have.  Subtle changes in attitude that are for the better.  Things we do together that weren't planned or scheduled and never could have been.

I'm not worried about if we finish the entire schedule for the year.  I chucked a book I thought  I would love but that we all hated.  I went back to my favorite history resource, The Story of the World, even though it's not in the teacher's guide.  I planned on December being a "nontraditional" month because of all the excitement for  Christmas and all the holiday activities we would like to do.  I've been teaching the oldest two the same math and grammar on the white board this month instead of their individual programs.  And I think they are still learning just fine.

I don't plan my whole week out in every single subject. Most days I start with math and fill in the blanks for English.  We don't do writing every day. Or grammar. Or spelling.  We do each of them sometimes according to what fits.

I realized that all my high ideals are unrealistic.  So I've given myself a break and have my son using a computer based math program and Brown-Eyed Girl is using Rosetta Stone reading for extra help.  Because I can't do it all.  And trying to just stressed me out.

I'm not worried about Petite's handwriting right now.  She is a giant sponge of excitement and learning and begs for her school, but she writes everything backwards (but with so much pride!).  And I have decided not to worry about it.  And not to push it.  And just wait a bit.  Because eventually she'll be ready to write correctly.

I don't care what the experts say.  I don't care if I should take her pencil away so she doesn't learn bad habits. I don't care if I should work on it more often.  She loves to learn and she loves to do work right now so I am not messing with it.

See? I am relaxed.

Not every moment of every day.  I've had times of panic.  Times of fear.  But then I go back to what I decided about this year:

My children's education will not be just academics.  It will be relationships. It will be the school of work.

It will be okay.

And there it is.  The one small- but huge!- change I've made this school year.  It's actually a series of small changes, but it's made a big difference.

If you homeschool, I hope you're having a great year.  And if you're not, if it feels like The Year You Want to Quit... hang tight.  Pray.  Things can get better.

Monday, September 8, 2014

School is in the House! We're Back for 2014.

We are back-to-school!  And can I say, take no offense please, that I kinda don't like the "Not Back-to-School" phrase.   I get it, I do, us buck-the-system homeschoolers.  But truthfully, we are back!  Back from lazy days of summer when the TV got to go on early and stay on late.  Back from being off schedule. Back to the books daily. I like it. Mostly.

My eighth year of home teaching, ALL by God's grace!

First of all, let me say I am so proud of my children! We have had a great first week. Transition is never easy, school only holds so many delights, and we are definitely expecting more of them this year.  Especially when it comes to  helping out with household work.  Mister has been mowing the lawn all summer. He's helping to put in the wood for winter.  Each child has a daily checklist to get them in the habit of accomplishing certain tasks by the time we start school around 8:30, and with daily chores as well.  I am no longer the resident dishwasher unloader, I no longer do my children's laundry (except Petite's), and I am no longer relied on to make every breakfast and lunch.  Dinner is still my department.

But we are growing.  And it is good.  For all of us.

You can't gauge how the year is going to go by the first day, or week, but it's gone so much better than I anticipated.  Maybe because...

I am trying, really hard, to be more relaxed.  To leave more margin in our day.  To undo the noose I put around my own neck, the one that squeezed tighter and tighter when we didn't do spelling and grammar every day.  Or check off all the other boxes every day.  I am trying to take the time to really look at my children, see what their needs are, and their desires, and let those things determine more of what we do each day.
Petite is in kindergarten!  We are using My Father's World for this very special year.

I'll be honest.  I've got a slow-to-warm-up reader.  I've tried everything, but we make very slow progress. But this is my number one focus this year for this child.  So I invested in the new Rosetta Stone reading program (Lexia 5).  Because when I prayed about it, I just didn't feel I was giving consistent and effective enough teaching.  It hurts my pride to say this, but it's true.

I've also got my son doing a computerized math program, Teaching Textbooks. Not what I had originally planned for the year, but what is working for this year.  I am having him use the JUMP Math ( my favorite math ever!!!) to reinforce his TT lessons. But this hurts my pride too. I want to be able to do it all.

Be a dynamic math teacher.

Have readers far above grade level.

Brown-Eyed Girl is in fourth grade.  She loves to draw, sew, and, most recently, talk on the phone!
Do art, music, PE consistently.

But why? And for who?  Yes, for them, but often I make it more about me.  My need to feel like a good teacher and a good mom who is doing it all and doing it all just right.


It feels good to relax.  It's such fun to be teaching kindergarten again.  It's a relief to take a deep breath and let contractions wait til tomorrow because today Daddy is home and it's a great day to go fishing.

It's wonderful to have hope that this year will be better than last year.  And that, by God's grace, I can keep on doing this.

Mister is in the fifth grade this year.  He has the makings of a great writer, and his current passions are fishing and gearing up for deer hunting season.  So, he's a little bit of me and a little bit of Daddy.
The older kids are studying MFW's  Rome to the Reformation and Apologia Astronomy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Summer- So Far- In Pictures

There is no greater place to be in the summertime than Maine!  

There are plenty of lakes to enjoy swimming and fishing with the cousins and friends.

Parades are in abundance.

And all three kiddos have birthdays!

And summer is never complete without a wedding to go to!  Gabe and Heather's was a super-special one!

Two of my favorite people!

New life abounds! Babies love arriving in summer!

Our best friends were visiting for many weeks from Florida!

My kiddos loved visiting with their buds from "back home".

Saturday, May 31, 2014

School's Out 2014

There it is. Our homeschool year is done.  We have, at least, fulfilled the legal requirements of what makes up a school year (175 days, instruction in various subjects, four progress notes).  Though it is a welcome thing to check off the list, to wipe my brow and sigh in relief, really, this thing called home education never ends. Most of the books will be put away, the paperwork completed, but now a different kind of learning gets to take precedence.  Summer is a whole semester of education, don’t you think? Swimming, sunscreen, fishing, camping, social BBQs and, my favorite, summer reading. 

As for our 2013-2014 school year, I am not sad to see it end. It was one of the more challenging. The worst year was probably the year we moved, but this year takes a close second.  It was The Year I Wanted to Quit.  I knew the day would come. I just thought I had a few more good years left before then.  Now that it’s coming to an end, and things have improved somewhat, I thankfully do not remember all the reasons I threatened to put these children into a brick and mortar school.  And yes, I did say it aloud, numerous times, to my children, my husband, all the while knowing I could not really do this.  It is not time, not yet, maybe not ever.  But I began to dream of how wonderful it might be not have to do this anymore.  To take sole responsibility for their minds, bodies, spirits.  To pass the baton off to someone else.

But even thinking this way made me uneasy, as this responsibility belongs to no one else.  But also, paradoxically,  not entirely to me.  Perhaps this has been my Grand Lesson of the year.
Homeschooling has been a very lonely experience for me the past three years.  I am no longer surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” who can testify that this venture is going to pay off- or at least commiserate with the unique difficulties of not just motherhood, but home-educating motherhood.  I have so few to sit and have coffee with, who truly get both the passion I have for home education, but also understand the fragility of a mom who undertakes this.  My children, likewise, have a much smaller circle of friends here.  We’re all lonely and it makes the days difficult.

Chief among my worries is not my ability to educate my children.  They are getting the kind of education I most desire for them (literature based, delight-directed, thought-provoking). It is, rather, my inability to be enough for them, or to do enough for them.  But, then, I have learned the truth and I am trying to embrace it: I am not enough for them; I cannot do enough for them.  Children need not only a mother who loves them, but a father, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, coaches, teachers, Church, nature, books, and mostly, Christ.  My children need to embrace this too- mom cannot do everything for them.  They must learn to do for themselves.  The world is more than mom, more than her fears, more than her passions and her beliefs.  Mom is not enough, but there is one Who Is.

Through this very difficult year, He has been enough for me.  In the loneliness, He has been here for me. In the worrying, He has spoken Peace.  In the tears, He has whispered “I will use this.”  I am beyond grateful.  I often think that the purpose in all of this is to break me and in that process, make me whole.  Well-educated kids are the bonus.

I do want to share something I am incredibly proud of, this 2013-14 school year.  And it’s not me boasting that I am better.  I think I’ve made it clear that I am no better at this than anyone else.  But one of my passions is reading to my children, and with it the hope that they become voracious readers.  One of my core educational beliefs is that reading is enough. And this was a banner year for reading.  Allow me to share the list of books we listened to (via read-aloud or audio) this year:

Gooney Bird Green and the Room Mother- Lois Lowry
The Golden Goblet- Eloise Jarvis McGraw
Lost on a Mountain in Maine- Don Fendler
Charlotte’s Web- EB White
Ramona and Beezus; Ramona and Her Father- Beverly Cleary
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle; Hello Mrs. Piggle Wiggle- Betty McDonald
The Tanglewood’s Secret; Star of Light; Treasures of the Snow- Patricia St. John
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever- Barbara Robinson
Eric Liddell- Janet and Geoff Benge
The Moffats- Eleanor Estes
Misty of Chincoteague- Margeurite Henry
Understood Betsy- Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Gooney Bird is So Absurd- Lois Lowry
The Little Princess- Frances Hodgeson Burnett
Mountain Born- Elizabeth Yates
In Grandma’s Attic- Arleta Richardson
The Children’s Homer- Padraic Column
The Secret of Pheasant Cottage- Patricia St. John
The Hobbit- JRR  Tolkien (currently reading)
Archimedes and the Door of Science- Jeanne Bendick

That’s 24 books, I believe, and these are just the chapter books we dug our noses into.

This was also the year that Mister really began to read chapter books for pleasure.  He has begun devouring, not all, but many of the books he’s read.

This is the year that Brown-Eyed-Girl’s reading has taken off, finally able to read more independently, and higher level readers.

My greatest joys in homeschool involve us being wrapped up in books.  I am not a science experiment mom; this year was short on that.  I am not all that dedicated to teaching my children practical things like tying their shoes (my philosophy: It will come). But I do love reading aloud from the Bible and from other good books and discussing them. I love when my children ask the thought-provoking questions.  Two-plus-two is so easy (in theory, of course), but I just love a good “Why do we believe this?” question.

I feel like I’m giving a bit of an award speech, and honestly, every homeschooling mom deserves an award at the end of the year, but I do need to thank my greatest encourager in the whole wide world, my husband.  I honestly could not do this without his 100% (and more) support and wisdom and words of encouragement every day.  He is proud of what I do here at home and he doesn’t want it any other way.  I also must thank the grandparents for being so supportive of our endeavors and for all the practical help, too, like watching kiddos for date nights, getaways, and doctor’s appointments.  And much thanks to the moms who started this before me and who show me that this can be done and turn out all right. You may not even know you are my heros, but you are, so I’m just going to go ahead and drop names: Holly, Aleyne, Wendy, Jesse, Sarah, and Sandra.  And to all the moms in the trenches with me: I’m so so glad you’re here with me and please, let’s have coffee soon!  And to my young mommy friends who think this is something they want or feel called to do: You will never regret it.  Not in the end, anyway.

I’ve promised myself not to think about next school year- at least for a week.  And though there is a lot I want to accomplish this summer- teaching cursive, math facts memory work, Spanish, typing- I’ve decided to just take a breather for a bit.  Trust. Rest.  Taking time off from school work and taking that time to build stronger relationships with the my children.  Breathe.  Chill.

There it is.  The end.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Remembering Why I Love This

I'm not going to do it.

Apologize for not posting in three months, I mean.

But please forgive me anyway.

We are here. I have just been too busy to take the time to post anything.  I am often writing, often thinking of things to write, but seldom publishing, for many, many reasons.-
One of the main reasons is that I am a wimp. I'm afraid I might  write something that unwittingly enlists me in the Mommy Wars.

Or that by posting pictures of my kids hard at work and actually engaged in what they are learning, someone will think homeschool is all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows in the Mathews home and that it's all thunderstorms, chicken gizzards, and smog at their home.

Nothing could be further than the truth.  I try to be as real as real can be when I share what's going on around here.  When I share some of the highlights of our life, that is what they are.  Highlights. The good stuff.  Family- and our journey of home education- has many highlights.  But don't think we know what we're doing any more than you do.

I sat down to write this post a week ago and had to erase most of it.  I was so excited to share a few highlights about homeschooling.  Some reasons why I love it so much.  But then, as expected but still unexpectedly, the tides turned and I found myself frustrated with many aspects of this homeschooling lifestyle.

My kids are always HERE!  Always in my face. Always asking me questions. I cannot sit down to upload a few pictures and write a post without continually being assaulted with interruptions.  Interruptions are my pet peeve.  So I start these posts and never finish them because it's just not worth the frustration.

But I'm thankful for the reminders of why I love this way of life.  Like bounce houses on a school day.

 My nephew lives in Texas with his mom, but came to visit during his school vacation, which fell on a different week than school vacations here in Maine.  Because we have the perk of a flexible schedule, we were able to drop regular schooling to go on a field trip to the bounce house to spend time with him.

I call this PE.  And I count it as a school day.  I have the wonderful freedom to determine what an education is and to share it with my children.  School is a building.  Education is all around us.  Even in the mouth of a plastic crocodile.

I call this recess.  And socialization.  And family bonding. (And gambling for minors, too)

Homeschoolers are rebels in many ways.  Even amongst ourselves, we are nonconformists (the brave ones, that is!).  The reasons why we homeschool vary, as well as how we order our day, what we choose to teach our children, and how we choose to teach it.  We love different things about this way of life.

The introvert in me loves that when we go on field trips, the places we go are quieter and far less busy. Because we tend to go when public school is in session.  You will not catch us on many field trips when the public schools are on vacation.  Not that I'm trying to keep my children from those children. Not at all!  It's just kind of nice having a place mostly to yourself.

I love the learning that takes place even when we are travelling. We are big fans of audiobooks and audio dramas like Adventures in Odyssey.  We utilize our CD version of The Story of  the World Volume 1 which compliments what we are learning from books at home.  We listen to biographies of composers that came with our core curriculum.

I love that these children are with me all day, when I pause from my own agenda and disregard the interruptions. I can't believe the questions they ask and that I get to answer them.

Should we be afraid of death?

Why would someone kill their baby?

What's dating?

Do all children go to heaven?

I wouldn't want anyone else answering these questions for them but Josh and I.

So yes, it's hard most days.  It's mundane, especially in the long cold winter.  But I'm so glad I get to do this.