Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Homeschooling with an Iron Fist

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NC Wyeth - By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NC Wyeth – By Unidentified photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why are you homeschooling – really? Be very honest with yourself.

I have the utmost admiration for the hard work and dedication of the homeschooling parents I have met, and despite all of our different methods, the one thing we share in common is a passion to do what is best for our kids. This is not to say that non-homeschooling parents are less dedicated – of course they are. But I will be the first to admit that homeschooling parents tend to have strong opinions about how things ought to be – and this is also one of our weaknesses.

I recently read a fine article by Josh Harris called “Homeschool Blindspots,” which is a very honest appraisal of what went wrong in his own family’s homeschooling experience. He shares very important insights about how his own high expectations and need for control really only served to alienate his son. As a pastor, he related his vision of an ideal upbringing for his children, based on Biblical values, but realized later that he was more concerned with outward appearances than with building genuine loving relationships. His children had become “projects;” a reflection of his own worth as a fatherly role model.

Many parents are guilty of this, myself included. We have visions of our perfect family, of our perfect kids, and how the outside world will perceive us. It’s understandable really, when you think about all the work you do everyday: what do you have to show for it? Your only “result” is your children, and what will people say about you if they turn out badly? We want to be proud of our kids – to hold them up and say “Look what I did!” The temptation to tweak and mold our children to fit our preconceived notions is always there, like an artist working on a sculpture.

N.C. Wyeth, the famous American illustrator and father of painter Andrew Wyeth, homeschooled his children with an iron fist. He was not motivated by religious ideology, but rather a romantic Renaissance vision of perfect childhood. He controlled everything his children did, yet his aim was to make them more creative and original than the other children in public schools. Only the “best” books, poetry, music, toys, art and art supplies were allowed. He even controlled their play, much to the annoyance of all the children. Andrew later wrote, “Pa kept me almost in a jail, just kept me to himself in my own world, and he wouldn’t let anybody in on it. I was almost made to stay in Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels.” Fortunately, since Andrew was the youngest child, his father had either given up or grown tired of controlling everything, so Andrew had a bit more freedom than his harassed siblings.

The point is, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for homeschooling, if the reason is getting in the way of building genuine loving relationships with your kids. And genuine relationships are based on trust, not control. Now, I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t have any control, because kids actually like to have some structure. Sometimes it is comforting to have boundaries – and different kids will crave different levels of freedom. But here are some clues to let you know when your personal vision has taken over, at the expense of all else:

  • Do your kids feel comfortable talking to you? Are they ready to share their feelings with you?     (If so, that means they are not afraid of your judgement.)
  • Do you have a vision of what your child could be? Can you let it go?      (If so, that means that whatever your child becomes is up to her, and that is OK)
  • Do you have any hobbies or interests, or a life that does not revolve around your kids?    (If so, that means you are not living your life through them)
  • When was the last time you really laughed?    (It’s best not to take ourselves too seriously – a light heart loves best!)

Probably the best way to tell if you are over-controlling is if your kids are rebelling, and then it is time to do some serious soul-searching. Try to understand your motivations. How much are you influenced by other people’s opinions? By your own upbringing? By idealized visions of perfection? The thing is, it never works to try to “fix” someone else. We can only fix ourselves, or try, and spend the rest of our time loving our fellow imperfect beings the best we can. Unconditional love* for our children is more powerful than any form of discipline or training program, because it will help them stand on their own, with full faith and confidence in their own worth – not forever looking to us for approval.

*Side Note: Lest I forget to mention it, unconditional love is not the same as “smothering,” because those parents that smother their kids are really living through them, in an attempt to fulfill their own complicated needs. This is a good way to raise military leaders or dictators though, such as Hitler, Stalin, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, FDR, Nietzsche, and others. The authors of Cradles of Eminence, a study of the childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women, found that “When the mother-dominated and mother-smothered are considered as one unit, they include 64 percent of the military men, adventurers, and dictators . . . These children described their parents variously as adamant, bossy, strong-willed, overanxious, overprotective, overpossessive, interfering, and especially as dominating.” (p. 131 of 2nd Edition)


We Never Have Any Fun

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Playing Bananagrams with friends in a house with no furniture.

Playing Bananagrams with friends in a house with no furniture.

We made it safe and sound to our new hometown in Oregon, but it was an ordeal that I’m not anxious to repeat again. You’d think that after 24 years in the military, moving would get easier, but it doesn’t. It only gets more familiar.

Moving has also become more complicated as my kids get older. They’ve always been sad to leave friends, but it’s been especially hard on my daughter this time because she had to leave halfway through high school, with the prospect of making all new friends at her new school. She’s also tired of cleaning, packing, painting, unpacking, and not being able to go anywhere or do anything “fun” because we’re all too busy at the moment. Facebook doesn’t help matters because she sees all of her friends’ posts about service trips to South America, rock climbing trips to Canada, and other adventures.

She’s had plenty of adventures in her life, and we will surely find some outdoor fun before the summer is over, but it’s hard to convince her of this when she’s in the mood to wallow. Like many of us I suppose, she has to indulge in a little self-pity before allowing herself to be cheered up. And she will cheer up. She always does – especially after a good 4 hour climbing workout and a Pinterest session.

As for myself, I would cheer up if little designer elves came in the night to unpack all my boxes and put everything away.

Getting Things Done When Everything Keeps Getting Undone

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Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Photo from Photopin, Creative Commons License

Here we are in 2013. This is the time of year when we all look back to take stock of what we have accomplished and renew our plans for the future, right? Does this make you feel giddy or defeated?

Does it feel like you got anything done last year?

This is particularly hard to answer when you have children, no maid, and forgo a fulfilling career to be a homeschooling parent. Life seems to move forward in a blur of activity from morning till night, but it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing to say “Here’s What I Did!”

Let me help you with that.

Here are my top 5 antidotes for homemakers frustrated with perpetual lack of accomplishment:

Reframe your noble purpose

One of the things that really stuck in my memory back in physics class was the concept of entropy, or the way that nature tends to move from order to disorder in an isolated system. I’ve always thought this concept applied spectacularly well to a household, particularly one with children in it. As a “home maker,” it was always hard to really say what I did or accomplished during the day, other than hold back the forces of entropy. This sounds much more majestic than: washing dishes, folding clothes, cleaning up messes, pulling weeds, changing diapers, cooking meals that are immediately eaten, or any of the other things homemakers routinely do. The problem with housework is that you spend a lot of time re-doing things that keep getting undone. It’s demoralizing.

That’s why you have to reframe the idea of housework in your mind. It is not an exercise in futility – but a vital force weaving order from the void of chaos! How’s THAT for purpose? Looking at it this way helps to put your work in perspective. What you do is valuable and would certainly be noticed if you stopped doing it. Nature depends on us to keep humanity humming along.  I write more about this here.

Do something every day that cannot be undone.

I heard this tip a long time ago and it is so true. Of course, everything will become undone in time, but some things last longer. Create one scrapbook page, organize a drawer, write a page in your journal, draw a picture, purge your children’s outgrown clothes, read a book, plant a tree . . . you get the idea. Give yourself the gift of progress, however small it may be.

Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.

One of the most enduring principles of learning, time management, and eating elephants is to break something big into little parts. You may not have time to clean out your whole refrigerator, but perhaps you can just manage the produce drawers. Maybe the next day you’ll have time for one shelf. Don’t keep putting off a job until you have time to do the whole thing, just break it into chunks that fit the time you have. [Note: I do not condone eating elephants – it’s just a metaphor.]

Keep a journal.

You do way more than you think, even if it seems mundane. There are moments of beauty and grace sprinkled throughout your days, and keeping a journal will force you to notice them. You may be driving your kids to baseball practice for the 100th time but today the kids invented a new game in the car of telling stories backwards. Or maybe you struck up a conversation with someone new at the playground or rescued a stray cat or made four jars of sauerkraut. These little things add up to a full life, but if you don’t add them up, you’ll forget where they all went.

Keep learning.

Washing dishes is repetitive, but learning is cumulative. It builds upon itself, broadens your perspective, and engages your curiosity all at the same time. You may be wondering how on earth you would have time to learn anything when you have so much else to do, but this falls under the same category of “Never underestimate the value of 10 minutes.” Pick something that interests you, but is challenging – something that will make you grow. If it is a book, read a few pages a day. If it is a musical instrument, practice for 10 minutes a day. If it is a foreign language CD, listen for 10 minutes on the way to the grocery store. Then, make a note of what you learned in your journal each day. At the end of the year, you really will have the satisfaction of a particular accomplishment.

These years when your kids are at home will be gone sooner than you can imagine, and then you will have time to accomplish some of the other goals lingering in the back of your mind. But right now you are doing a very important job. Don’t beat yourself up over days lost to seemingly meaningless logistics. And don’t beat yourself up if your house is a mess either. You are in the midst of a long-term project, nurturing people that will change the world . . . and THAT is an accomplishment to be proud of!


photo credit: Bill Stickers -c via photopin cc

A Christmas Present for Extended Family and Friends

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As a military family, we have moved around a lot, making it difficult to visit our relatives on a regular basis. One of the things I liked to do, starting the last week of November is make a year-in-review DVD to send to everybody. This used to be a HUGE project with the software I had available to me over the years, but modern technology has made the process so much easier.

The idea is to go through all your home videos from the year and capture the best segments using video editing software. You can then add transitions, effects, captions, still photos and music. I have to admit that my first videos were overly long and boring, with WAY too much grainy footage of babies laying on their backs blowing raspberries, or babies in the bouncer, or babies in the swing, etc. These are the types of videos that only the most doting of grandparents can tolerate. Since then, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s my top tips:

Top Ten Tips for Year-in-Review Videos:

1. Take good footage in the first place! Most cameras these days are pretty good, but take the time to look over the manual and learn how to use the various features. The improved video and sound quality (yeah for “Wind Reduction!) will make your job so much easier.

2. Don’t just take video of the kids. People want to see the adults in the family too, and someday your kids will want to remember what you looked like. Also try to get video of family friends (if they’ll let you) and various gatherings. This will give you a variety of material to mix in with the kid footage.

3. When filming, remember to change angles and use the zoom occasionally, but don’t make everyone seasick by walking around and panning the camera from side-to-side. Just use the pause button before switching to a new vantage point.

4. When editing, the key word is EDIT  . . . ruthlessly. Extended family and friends do want to see your kids, but not as much as you do (grandmothers excepted). You’ll have to decide how many seconds of a scene to include, depending on what’s going on in the scene. You can also edit out dead time to include only the most exciting bits of a birthday party or a trip to the zoo. Aim for a video length of about 20 – 40 min depending on how much action you have to work with.

5. While editing, alternate segments of different angles (if you have them) of the same scene. For example, if you’re editing your family’s Thanksgiving gathering, alternate between a broad view of the dining room, to action shots of the cooks in the kitchen, close-ups of the food, low angle of the kids playing on the floor, etc… If possible, try to alternate outdoor events with indoor events so that viewers don’t get tired of the same lighting.

6. Add a transition with a caption between events in your video. This helps viewers understand what is going on, where you are, when it happened, etc. My favorite transition is the “Ken Burns,” which is very understated and effective.

7. If you have a lot of great pictures, consider creating one or more separate slideshows that can be included on your DVD. Then on the DVD menu, list your slideshows and video/s titles with duration times for each so that viewers can choose what to watch based on how much time they have. 4 minute slideshow or 40 min video? Breaking up your content also helps viewers if they really want to see the pictures of your Yosemite vacation again, without necessarily seeing all the soccer team photos.

8. Quick – learn to play the guitar! For music to accompany your slideshows, it’s best to create your own, or search for “Royalty Free Music.” I’m no lawyer, but even if you have purchased music and only plan to make four copies of your slideshow, I believe copyright law only allows you to make one spare copy for yourself.

9. Use “Youtube” videos to teach yourself how to use whatever software you are using. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you are stuck, and really need to figure out how to do something.

10. This would be an excellent project for older kids and teens. They might need your help uploading all the raw video into the computer, and some overall editorial guidance, but then step back and see what they come up with. It will probably be hilarious. Plus, if they are at all computer savvy, they’ll probably figure out how to do it quicker than you will!

After burning your DVDs, label them and place them in jewel cases before packaging up in bubble mailers. Add a card and any gift cards and you’ll have a great present to connect with faraway loved ones!

Domestic Inspiration

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When my first child was born, I was still in the Coast Guard and got to experience the role of “working mother” (although we know of course that all mothers are working mothers). It was hard being away from my baby all day, and even with my husband’s help it was hard to find time to do anything but the bare necessities around the house. Then, when I got pregnant with baby #2, my nesting instinct kicked in to overdrive. I really wanted to stay home with those kids, make real dinners, clean the house, decorate for holidays, bake bread, and all those other domestic things. Thankfully, my husband was willing and able to support us, and my Coast Guard career ended shortly after my second son was born.

I’m so grateful that I had the chance to stay home with my kids because I know that there are a lot of families who can’t afford this option. I also know there are a lot of families who don’t want that option! That’s OK; maybe it’s a personality type thing. But for those families who don’t have at least one person (whether Dad, Grandma, Auntie, Mom or whoever) taking on the daily details of home and family, that means someone is still doing it after work, or that various jobs are being hired out (daycare, dinners via take-out, maid service, yard service, etc.), or unfortunately, it could mean that nothing is being done at all.

The Women’s Rights Movement did a wonderful job freeing women from traditional expectations that kept them from fulfilling their true potential, but along the way, domesticity got a bad name. When asked at parties, “What do you do?”, no one wanted to answer “Oh – I’m a housewife,” because the querent would immediately smile politely and say, “Good for you!” while their eyes looked around for someone else to talk to. It would be much better to say, “I grow mushrooms and worm compost in the basement,” or “I up-cycle menswear into designer slipcovers,” or even “I bake bread.”

It’s true that a lot of work around the house can be repetitive, grungy, and boring – usually the jobs that everyone hates the most – like matching socks, changing diapers, scrubbing the shower tiles, and filing the household paperwork. There will always be work that just has to get done, but I’m so happy to see a growing movement of women and men who are rescuing the reputation of housework and elevating it to a creative artform, as well as recognizing the true value of household economics within society. You’ve probably noticed the shift. There are thousands of blogs dedicated to cooking, health, decorating, household tips, do-it-yourselfers, green cleaning, gardening, food preservation, homesteading, frugality, parenting, homeschooling, and all the other possible manifestations of house work. And just look at how many boards on Pinterest are dedicated to these topics!

Homemaking is really about lifestyle, no matter what kind of lifestyle that may be. The way to elevate homemaking from drudgery to artform is to keep asking just one question: “How can I do this better?” When things become routine and boring in any job, the solution is usually a challenge to become more efficient, more elegant, more personal, more creative, more valuable . . . more something.

I was reminded of this recently while reading one of my new favorite sites: Wisteria and Sunshine. The author, Lesley, was describing, with pictures, her recent refrigerator makeover, and my world shifted. No really. Since my kids turned into teens, and I started working on the book and software and everything else, my nesting instinct had disappeared. It seemed like the only reason to keep up with housework was to avoid embarrassment when people came over. I usually make an effort to cook healthy meals, but everything else has been in a holding pattern, waiting for someone to care. Then I saw Lesley’s refrigerator, which wasn’t just clean (I hate cleaning the refrigerator), but thoughtfully planned out with a place for everything, arranged in the most attractive way possible. She had her cheese displayed in a glass domed tray instead of stuffed in plastic baggies wherever they would fit. Her apples and oranges were ready to grab in a special glass fruit drawer. Her nuts and grains were tidy in their own drawer. Veggies were removed from their plastic bags, laid neatly on tea towels inside the crisper. It was a revelation! Suddenly I was inspired to finally clean my refrigerator, because it wasn’t just the same old routine of purge, dump and wipe, but a challenge to make my refrigerator (and food storage) work better than it ever has before.

It’s a small thing, I know. But small things make a difference, and many small things make a big difference. I’m starting to look around my house with renewed interest. My kids are not babies anymore, but it’s still nice to live in a space that feels comforting.

Could you use some creative motivation? Here’s a few sites that I particularly like, although I’m sure I will discover more favorites: Passionate Homemaking, The Pioneer Woman, Cherry Menlove, Flylady, Alice Cantrell, and Wisteria and Sunshine. I think Pinterest is a particularly good way to find someone with the same style as you, and with any luck, that person will have a blog to gift you with inspiration!

Ten Great Things to Do with Kids Outside

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Autumn is really the perfect time of year to spend outside. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and the air smells crisp and inviting. Don’t waste these days sitting inside. Your kids NEED to be outside!

Here’s a list of ten fun things for younger kids to do outside:

1. Make fairy houses. Use sticks, stones, leaves and other natural materials to create miniature dwellings at the base of trees or other inviting nooks.

2. Play “Pooh Sticks.” Borrow from Winnie the Pooh’s idea to simultaneously drop sticks on one side of a bridge and look on the other side to see whose stick comes out first.

3. Micro hike. Lay three 3-5 ft long strings around an area to study. Flop down on your bellies to observe the tiny details.

4. Go on a night hike. Pick a night when the moon is bright and don’t use flashlights. Try to identify sounds.

5. Find the rock. This was my Dad’s favorite way of keeping us kids busy on camping trips. Have your kids find a small distinctive looking rock. Throw it about 20 ft away (make sure the area is clear and safe first) and let the kids race to find it.

6. Meet the neighbors. Spend time getting to know the individual birds, insects, and other animals around your  home. Find out where they live, how they eat, social habits, etc. Maybe draw pictures of them. Maybe name them so that your family can differentiate between one squirrel and another.

7. Scavenger hunt. Prepare a hunt in advance by creating a sheet of things to look for on an outing. Consider what trees, insects, animals, feathers, droppings, rocks, plants, or other features your kids might actually see in the intended area. Here’s a website with lovely ideas/photos.

8. Miniature hide and seek. Choose a small area (say 15 X 15′) and take turns hiding a small 1 inch tall toy. The others try to find the toy. Your children might discover that other things are already hiding in certain places, or they might decide that the game needs to be moved to a bushier area with more hiding spots.

9. Build easy tree forts. Rather than hauling out the ladder and toolbox, use fallen branches and sticks to prop up and around the base of trees. With the right materials, you might even be able to weave sticks and grasses in and around each other. Blankets and beach towels are always useful for tenting materials.

10. Imagination games. The best games are the ones your kids invent on the spot. Give them plenty of unstructured, kid-directed time to do this. While you’re gardening, reading a book, or working on your own project, let them have time to just play.

If your kids want to learn more about the things they see outside, but you are not an expert, I highly recommend the “Crinkleroot’s Guide to . . .” books by Jim Arnosky. Unfortunately, I think most of them are out of print, but you might be able to find them in your library. My kids loved Crinkleroot!

Getting Older Kids Outside:

If your kids are already teenagers and have no interest in the above activities, there’s still plenty of ways to get them outside. First consider their personalities. If your kids love to socialize, then find opportunities for group outings, classes, or volunteer work. If they are athletic, give them a challenge. They might enjoy classes in mountain biking, kayaking, climbing, backpacking, fishing, etc. If they are more the quiet type, they might prefer time alone outside, keeping a nature journal, or learning from a local naturalist.

Another thing to look for is a kid’s outdoor program in your area. My daughter did a year of a program called “Homeschool Dirt Time” which changed her life. She had so much fun and grew to appreciate the outdoors in new ways. She would have loved to do more, but school and gymnastics got in the way (for now). She hopes to go back as a counselor in the future.



Photo Credits:

Fairy house is from

Pooh Sticks is originally from “The House at Pooh Corner” by A. A. Milne, but I found it at this website:

Sappy Reminiscing

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Well, I did it. I dropped my beloved boys off at their respective colleges last week, and the house seems so empty without them!

I’ve been homeschooling those two from the very beginning, and it hardly seems possible that it’s all over. Since I can’t very well think of anything else lately, I felt compelled to brainstorm a list of memories we’ve shared over the last 20 years:

  • Reading Mother Goose rhymes in the rocking chair
  • Rides around the living room in the laundry basket
  • Playing pirate at the playground

  • Toy trains, “There Goes a Train!” video
  • Reading countless picture books on the couch
  • Dancing to “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy”
  • Catching slugs to feed the ducks
  • Climbing the plum tree to feast on plums
  • “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”
  • Pokemon cards
  • Bonfires by the pond
  • Reading books outside on a blanket
  • Building a cardboard model of a Viking ship.
  • Homeschool playgroup
  • Playing “Twenty Questions”
  • Making waffles
  • Whole family in one 3-seat kayak
  • Making Halloween costumes: koala bear, dragon, computer, robot, pokemon, alien
  • Endless books about snakes
  • Playing “Pooh Sticks” on the foot bridge
  • Goosebumps and Berenstein Bears
  • Sculpey dinosaur and monster creations

  • Falling asleep to Jim Weiss story tapes
  • Highland dancing
  • Collecting pond muck to feed the tadpoles
  • Lego Star Wars
  • Reader Rabbit, Freddie Fish, Pajama Sam
  • Planting giant sunflowers, gourds, and pole bean teepees

  • Trips to every art, science, or history museum we could find
  • Weekly trips to the library
  • Books-on-tape in the car
  • Writing thank-you letters
  • Valentines Day riddle hunts
  • Our family’s “Almost Peak” club (hiking and letterboxing)
  • Reenacting the story of Perseus, complete with Medusa mask
  • Exploring tidepools
  • Playing barefoot with neighborhood kids
  • Skateboarding
  • Yu-Gi-Oh cards
  • Swim team and tennis lessons
  • Night snorkeling in Hanauma Bay
  • Reading aloud history and economics books
  • Paper mache African masks
  • Computer games

  • Chess club
  • Standup paddleboarding in Kailua Bay
  • Kajukenbo
  • Weight-lifting at the Marine Corps Base
  • Jr. Golf Tournaments
  • Surfing with dad
  • Shakespeare obsession
  • Memorizing poetry
  • Theatre and fiddle lessons

  • “Myth and the Movies” study group
  • Wild West mystery party
  • Computer programming
  • Manga and Anime
  • Community College chemistry and English
  • Rock climbing followed by sunset appreciation with friends on the beach

  • Learning German
  • Trip to Grand Canyon and Zion
  • Studying for SAT
  • Playing “Apples to Apples,” “Risk,” “Take-Off,” “Mad Dash,” “Blokus,” and “Mastermind”
  • Driving lessons
  • Full time community college
  • Work
  • Voice and drumming lessons
  • Pirates of Penzance, Hairspray, A Christmas Carol
  • Halloween corn maze

  • Lots of conversation about politics, ethics, world-view, energy policy, technology, science, and current events
  • Putting together college applications
  • Writing essays
  • Independent projects (writing and programming)
  • Building web sites
  • Work, work, work
  • Watching Stargate Atlantis, Merlin, and Jericho
  • Following Reddit, Lifehacker, Wired magazine
  • Guild Wars, Minecraft, and League of Legends
  • Making YouTube videos
  • Setting up personal finances
  • Frisbee golf
  • Opera singing and drum riffs at all hours

It’s been a good time. Though I’m feeling a little sad and nostalgic, I know that all is as it should be. Fortunately, I have a ton of stuff to keep me busy, so I’m not wandering around wondering what to do with myself. Life is good.

Transition into Summer

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The last two weeks have been crazy busy for me. Doesn’t it seem like May is always busy with end-of-school-year events?

For me it started with organizing the end-of-year ArtFest at my daughter’s high school, then traveling to the Homeschool Conference in Long Beach with my boys, then the gymnastics team banquet, and now I’m cleaning out my closets for a neighborhood yard sale this Saturday. Soon I have to finish up my son’s transcript, and make travel arrangements to visit both the boys’ colleges this summer. And then there is work.

One of the problems with working from home is I am tempted to work all the time. There are so many things to do and projects to finish, that I have to force myself to stop. This is perhaps my last summer with all my kids at home and I really want to spend time with them having fun!

We want to go on a few paloozas into San Francisco, go hiking and mountain biking, and perhaps camping in the back yard. My oldest son and I like to stand-up paddleboard, and we all want to go floating on the Russian River. The big thing is to just step away from the computer and get outside more!

Wish me luck 🙂

On another note, I’m  so happy to announce that Pat Farenga has reviewed my book Legendary Learning on his May 18th blog entry! Pat Farenga is the President of Holt Associates Inc. and publisher of the now retired “Growing Without Schooling” magazine. I was a devoted reader of that magazine when my kids were young, and I’m even more dedicated to the principles of child-directed learning after doing all the research for my book. If you are interested, please check out his blog.

A Typical Day of Homeschooling – 13 Years Ago

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Since writing about how great journaling is for remembering our homeschool days, I went back through some of my old binders and found this piece about “My Typical Day,” which I wrote for my local homeschool newsletter in 1998. Jesse was seven, Aengus was five and Emma was two.

I have been trying to decide what a “typical” day is like at my house but it seems that just about every day is different. So I’m just going to tell you about a single day in my house – yesterday.

I woke up at my usual time of 8 am and tiptoed out of the bedroom leaving Emma still snoozing in my bed (my husband Pat is long gone – he leaves at 5 am for work). Jesse is still asleep. Aengus, usually the first to rise, is playing a computer game called “Reader Rabbit’s Kindergarten.” As soon as he hears me moving around he smiles, says “Hi Mommy!” and follows me upstairs. The kitchen is still a mess from the night before, so I make an effort to clean up while my tea brews. I’m not really very productive until I’ve had my morning tea and toast. Aengus fixes himself a waffle that we have made ahead and frozen. Later, he makes Emma a waffle too.

After my breakfast I tackle the kitchen and Jesse staggers in to watch me. Eventually he gets himself some yogurt. When Emma wakes up she needs to be cuddled before she can eat her waffle. She takes exactly 3 bites then asks to watch our “Barney” video, which is her 2-year-old equivalent of tea. I let her watch it while I shower and get dressed. Finally, at around 9:30 we’re ready to start “school.” I call the kids to the dining table and we all write in our journals for about 15 minutes. Aengus can’t write much yet, but he draws pictures and writes the date at the top of the page. Jesse doesn’t like to write, so he usually draws and labels pictures. Emma prefers to water-paint.

Next we pull out the Cuisenaire Rods since this is math day. I’m following along with the Cuisenaire curriculum index cards and today they’re making staircases. The boys are absorbed with this for about 45 minutes. Emma is tired of watercolors and wants better paint so I reluctantly give her some acrylics since I’m all out of kid paint. She paints squiggles and lines and spirals all over each page of her notebook.

I leave them to it while I finish the kitchen and put my daily load of laundry in the washing machine. I hit “touch-up” on the dryer to get rid of the wrinkles that have settled overnight in the load I should have folded yesterday. Then Emma calls for more paint and I see that she has painted her whole naked body and hair with green paint, and is smearing her fingers on the highchair. I rush her into the bathtub and clean up the mess.

The boys are done so we head outside in the garden. Jesse looks for snakes, Aengus and Emma play on the slide while I pull weeds and pound in stakes to support my sagging tomato plants. Jesse and I then fill a paper bag with pears to finish ripening them inside. We pick more zucchini to make zucchini bread. By this time, everyone is hot and thirsty but we first give our ducks more food and change the water in their swimming pool. The kids check the mama duck on her nest to see if her eggs have hatched – not yet. We should be getting ducklings any day now!

Time for lunch. Jesse helps me make a Boboli pizza and we all play “Rhyme Out,” where we each think of words that rhyme until the last person runs out of words (this is the kids’ idea – not mine).

After lunch, we head for the porch to read books. Today we’re reading Dorling Kindersley’s book about eggs because Aengus wants to know how they get in the mama duck’s tummy. Then we read “Horton Hatches an Egg” by Dr. Seuss and “The Halloween House” by Erica Silverman because Jesse likes spooky stories. Right about this time, I have to attend to some emergency potty training with Emma. While I’m gone, Jesse reads our book about koala bears to Aengus, who adores koala bears.

Afterwards, it’s naptime. Aengus trots off to bed and promptly falls asleep. I lay down and nurse Emma to sleep on my bed while I read a book. When she finally conks out, I sneak out and find Jesse playing with his Star Wars Legos. My only goal before dinnertime is to fold the clean laundry that has been accumulating in baskets all week long. But first I have to find a certain receipt. I hit the “touch-up” button on the dryer again and head to my desk. I can’t find the receipt anywhere and I waste a whole half hour digging through the garbage for it. How frustrating! I only have time to pull out the dry clothes and put in the wet ones before I start dinner at 5 pm.

I ask Jesse to vacuum the living room before Dad gets home and I rush back and forth folding clothes and cooking dinner. When Pat walks in at 5:25 pm, there is laundry piled all over the dining room table and dinner is still not ready. He only sighs and pours himself a bowl of cereal. I clear off the table, finish dinner and leave them to it while I go to the Navy Base to exercise. When I get back at 7:30pm, Pat is playing chess with Jesse while Aengus watches. Emma is leaping off the footstool over and over. After the game, Pat heads to bed and I read to the boys a chapter from “The Fallen Spaceman.” Aengus goes to bed, Jesse goes back to his Legos and I go back to the kitchen for more clean up. Emma keeps bothering Jesse, so I fill her little pink bucket with water, give her a clean sponge and tell her to wash. She loves this, and “washes” everything 3 ft and under – walls, piano, chairs, floor, dog, everything!

I turn National Public Radio on low and listen to the news while I do the dishes. Afterwards, I get ready for bed and remind Jesse to turn off the lights before he goes to bed. Emma and I head downstairs and I read her the same four picture books that I read to her every night (at her insistence). Then she nurses to sleep while I read my book. This is my quiet time and I relish every minute of it! I finish the book at midnight and turn the light off.


Looking back on this day in my life, I found so many things that I had forgotten. My poor husband didn’t have much time at home because he had a long commute to work, so most of our time together was on the weekends. We didn’t have any family in the area and not much money for babysitters, so the only time I could get a break from the kids was when he was home. They were good times though – I wish I had written more journal entries with this much detail. In fact, I wish I had more detail in this one! Like, what did I make for dinner that night? I’ve gone through a lot of phases in my cooking and I’m sometimes surprised to stumble across old recipes I used to make all the time but somehow forgot about. It’s amazing how the most mundane details can trigger so many memories!


Is Homeschooling Good or Bad for Introverts?

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Lighthouse Keeper's Cottage, Cape Florida Lighthouse (Wikimedia Commons)

In 2nd grade, I used to fantasize about having a wooden shed about the size of an outhouse around my school desk, with a window facing the teacher and walls all around me. I thought all the children should have their own little sheds – wouldn’t that be great? We could even have our own mini refrigerators and bookshelves and comfy seats, all tucked away in the privacy of our personal little classrooms. It never occurred to me that the other kids might not like this.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have friends or sat lonely on the sidelines during recess. It wasn’t that I had horrible classmates or any traumatic experiences. It’s just that I felt really comfortable being alone. I’m a classic introvert. Being alone recharges my batteries, while socializing gradually drains me. I like to hang out with friends and family, but after too long I feel exhausted and have to be alone again.

I worried about that when I made the decision to homeschool my kids. Was I overlaying my introverted preferences on to my kids? My oldest and youngest are most definitely extroverts like their father. They THRIVE on attention and socializing.  Was I going to cramp their style by keeping them at home?

I made a dedicated effort to get them out of the house, playing with other kids, but we also played together a lot as a family. I always gave them the choice to go to school if they wanted to, and they both tried it, but found that the social advantages didn’t make up for the boredom (although my youngest is now enjoying her charter high school for the arts). As teenagers, they found friends through sports and extracurricular activities.

I wonder how many homeschooling parents are introverts? I would have loved homeschooling as a child if there had been a choice. Maybe that is one of the reasons it appealed to me as a parent (but it’s certainly not the only reason).

I also wonder if it would have bad for me to have been homeschooled – maybe I wouldn’t have ever gotten used to be around a lot of people.  It’s hard to know for sure, because you can never go back and live it both ways. But introverts aren’t anti-social, they just prefer smaller groups of people and more alone time than extroverts do.

My middle son is somewhat introverted. He likes to be around people, but stays on the edges where he can watch and listen. He doesn’t need to be the center of attention. I remember bringing him to a preschool once for a visit when he was three. He had been used to a toddler playgroup, but this preschool class was crowded with boisterous kids running around having a great time. My son was horrified. I watched his eyes and knew exactly how he felt. So he has chosen to homeschool his whole life and has never once been in a regular classroom until Community College. He played with neighborhood kids and had regular sports and other activities, but he really prefers conversations with small groups or one-on-one. I don’t think homeschooling has hurt his social skills, but it made it harder to find people with similar interests. Not many kids (or adults for that matter) want to talk about economics, math or programming languages, so he had to stick to video game and media topics. He can hardly wait to go off to a four year college this Fall to meet more kindred spirits.

Maybe those folks who worry most about socialization are extroverts. To them, it must seem like torture to be at home all day instead of being surrounded by other children. Or maybe they are introverts who always wished they were extroverts like the popular kids at their schools. But as long as homeschooled kids are not isolated, and have opportunities to make close friendships and acquaintances, there’s a lot to be gained from the time and space to be themselves. Instead of worrying so much about fitting in or pleasing other people, kids can think their own thoughts and do their own thing.

Homeschooling offers introverts a better balance of alone time with together time, kind of like my imaginary little classroom shack. True extroverts will probably need a lot more social opportunities, not just with other kids, but adults too. It’s not hard to find homeschool groups these days to fill up your schedule with field trips, park days, special classes and other activities. If anything, it’s easy to over schedule our kids. We just need to pay attention to how their batteries are charged and keep things balanced out.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How does that affect your thoughts about homeschooling?