I’m Not Patient…

Angry, Frustrated Woman

Before all of this started, the most common objection I would hear about homeschooling was “Oh, I’m not patient enough to do that.” Right. Neither am I, actually. I can pretty much guarantee that you’re not either, nor is anyone who has ever homeschooled. If Jesus had kids and He homeschooled them, then He would be patient enough. But He’s the only one.

On a normal day in normal circumstances, we who have chosen homeschooling get impatient with our kids. We lose our temper, we bark, we feel like pulling our hair out, we think we can’t do this and that yellow bus looks mighty attractive. Don’t get me wrong, we do generally enjoy teaching our kids, but we absolutely get frustrated and impatient, too.

Those of you who have had homeschooling dumped on your laps – THESE ARE NOT NORMAL DAYS OR NORMAL CIRCUMSTANCES! We homeschoolers-by-choice had the opportunity to plan, research, choose curriculum we liked and that worked for our kids, we had the library to get materials from, co ops, field trips and support groups to attend, and we could get together with our friends. All those things helped us maintain some level of sanity while homeschooling.

You guys have none of that. (And now we homeschoolers-by-choice don’t have all those outlets either!) On top of that, we’re living in a very stressful, ever changing, unprecedented time in our history. I don’t know of anyone who becomes more patient as life gets more stressful. Parents are stressed, kids are stressed and no one has anywhere to go.

[For the record, I just had to pause from writing this to bark at my 9 year old who was bugging my 17 year old… the struggle is real!]

So don’t feel like you suck at this homeschooling thing because you’re having a hard time making this all work while providing a picture perfect happy homeschooling home. (And some of you are trying to work from home at the same time!) You’re human. This is all really crazy. It’s going to be messy. That’s OK.

Take time to enjoy your kids. Play board games with them, have laundry folding contests, take walks. Broaden your definition of education. They can help you cook, learn about car maintenance, help you plan meals, learn a new hobby, etc.

Pray.

Breathe.

Get exercise.

Limit your (and their) exposure to the news and media.

Nap.

Make things. 

Above all, give yourself grace. Let up on the pressure. Do the best you can in this wacky, unexpected situation.

If you have questions about what the Bible teaches about having a personal relationship with Jesus, see my page called religion or relationship.

Homeschool Tips: Structure and Schedules

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Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

We are living in interesting times! When we started our own homeschool journey 12 years ago, I never would have thought that homeschooling would become mandatory for a everyone for a time! I think back on all the hard won lessons I learned when we first started – mostly learned the hard way. I don’t envy all of you who have suddenly been thrust into homeschooling against your choice.

When I started, I had time to plan, check out curriculum, research styles, and go to the library. All these years we’ve had access to parks, museums, support groups and fun field trips. You all have had no chance to plan or research and all the museums and libraries (!!!) are closed.

For every homeschooler out there, there is a different way of making it work. I thought I’d share some periodic tips of things I’ve learned the hard way. They might work for your family, or they may not. There’s no one “right” way to do this. Every family is unique and every child is unique.

Tip 1: Structure and Routine over Schedule

Some sort of structure is helpful for everyone – kids and parents! It helps everyone to know what’s happening when. It also creates a sense of normalcy and predictability, especially in a time as this where everything feels very uncertain and unpredictable.

Although coming up with a clock-governed schedule is appealing in theory, I’ve found it very difficult to implement at home, especially with younger kids. Sometimes projects or subjects take longer or shorter than we had planned on, or kid questions lead to wonderful rabbit trails we hadn’t predicted.

A routine is structure that’s not governed strictly by the clock. Maybe after getting up in the morning, everyone gets ready for the day and does some morning chores (more on chores in a future tip). Then maybe a couple school subjects happen in a consistent order in the morning. When those are done, there’s a break for a snack and some time outside. Then some subjects after the break until lunch.

It’s also helpful to have certain landmarks or mile markers throughout the day. A mid morning break (around 10am?) is a good landmark. Lunch is also a natural landmark. An entire day looming in front of us can be quite intimidating! Placing those landmarks at intervals throughout the day makes it feel much more doable.

Many families, even after the days of afternoon naps are long gone, still implement an after lunch quiet time. It could be a video, independent reading, or just some quiet play in a bedroom. Parents need a break and some quiet time themselves!

With our teens, they also have a consistent routine, but theirs is more time based. They’re ready for school by 8am, work on math for an hour, then history for an hour, etc. Our goal is to prepare our kids for life as adults, where they’ll be expected to get to work on time, attend meetings at a particular time, etc. Sticking to a timed schedule to a point is a life skill.

If you are new to all this and have any questions you’d like answered, post them in the comments. What are you finding most challenging so far?

Letting Go

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

I came across a great quote the other day in a book I’m reading, Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life by Jessica Abel.

“When [your kids] are older, one gift you can give them is to be passionately absorbed in something that is not them.”

I so agree!!! So here I sit, writing a blog post while my oldest is taking the PSAT. Otherwise, I’d be wasting time on Facebook or Candy Crush feeling stressed out about how it’s going for him.

I’ve only ever homeschooled my kids, so I don’t know how my experience compares to those who send their kids to school, but this whole parenting thing at this stage is just WEIRD. Their education has always been totally up to me (with hubby support) and I’ve always been completely involved in everything they’ve done. Now my first born is a junior in high school (still homeschooled). The SAT and ACT are up to him. He runs his own landscaping business with now no input from me. He’s looking at colleges, getting his drivers’ license… WHOA! SLOW DOWN!

I feel like one of the biggest challenges for me at this stage is to emotionally hand over the reins to him. The ownership, the burden of his future, the responsibility to make it all work… It’s his future, not mine. Besides, God has plans for him. He belongs to the Lord, not to me! I have to trust God with him.

I still have 2 more kids at home, but the more independent they get, the more time I have during the day to develop my own interests and passions. I won’t always be homeschooling (even if it feels like that some days!) and I don’t want to have nothing left but to twiddle my thumbs once they’re gone.

So I write and play guitar and invest in ministry through church and day to day life. Next month I’ll tackle NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated). And my kids and myself will be the better for it!

Why did I write ‘Trouble the Water’?

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Since the publication of my new book, Trouble the Water, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why I decided to write it. It’s geared primarily toward middle grade readers (roughly ages 10-14) but I have had adults tell me they have enjoyed it as well. It takes place in the pre-Civil War south and tackles the issue of slavery. The deeper issue the main character wrestles with is, “Just because my society says something is OK, does that mean that God approves of it?” My hope is that kids (and adults) will apply that question to the issues of our own modern society.

So why did I write it? I originally started with the question, “How could a Bible believing Christian in the 1800s condone and participate in enslaving other human beings, made in God’s image? How could a true follower of Jesus justify that with their faith?

I did a lot of research, but wasn’t really able to answer that question. I suppose only God knows what went on in believers’ hearts who owned slaves. Some denominations tried to refuse communion to slaveholders, but the outcry of the southern members of those denominations was so great that the leadership gave in. The issue of slavery eventually split the Baptist denomination and the Southern Baptist denomination (which supported slavery saying that the races were meant to be separate) became a distinct group.

The Methodists in the north also condemned slavery but ended up splitting over the issue because the southern members supported it.

The Quakers were really the only denomination as a whole that denounced slavery from the start and remained united in that belief as a group. They were actively involved with the Underground Railroad and helped many slaves escape to freedom.

In spite of the general consensus within southern churches that slavery was ok with God, I believe God kept a remnant of believers who rebelled against this evil institution and sought to do what they could to help the slaves. There were many individual churches and Christians who were an active part of the Underground Railroad, risking their lives to help slaves to freedom. Hence my story of a boy who just couldn’t believe that God who loves all people would accept one group of people enslaving another.

Is Violence in Christian Fiction OK?

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One writing project I’ve been working on over the years is a middle grade historical fiction novel that takes place in the antebellum south. A white boy befriends a slave while they both work on a plantation. In the story, the boy hears the slave being whipped. I don’t believe I was overly graphic about it – the character (and therefore the reader) doesn’t even see the event happening. He only hears it.

I had my 12 year old son read the book to get his feedback on it. He enjoyed the story very much and had no problem with the whipping scene. My 10 year old daughter read it, got to that scene in the book, and came to me in tears asking why I had written it. Yikes!

It really made me stop and think. As a writer, how much violence and what kind is OK? What I wrote about was the type of thing that really happened. Far worse happened to those slaves that I didn’t include. The last thing I want to do with my writing is to reduce little girls to tears! But does that mean I should shield them from the truth of that time period?

Around the same time, I read Joel Rosenberg’s trilogy “The Twelfth Imam”. I found it all fascinating, and in many ways it reminded me that God’s Word is true and His story of history is unfolding in the news each day. There is some pretty heavy violence in the book and some very disturbing scenes. I almost put it down several times because I wasn’t sure if I should be filling my mind with the images the book created. And yet they were all true things. Those disturbing things described really do happen in the Middle East. (I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read it.) It’s true and should cause me to pray for those involved in the real Middle East (not Rosenberg’s fictional Middle East, although they’re not far apart!). But should I fill my mind with that kind of violence?

I also started reading a book by Ted Dekker, another Christian author. This book partially took place in the Middle East as well and included some very disturbing violence. That one I decided to set aside and not finish. Again, the violence was something that truly happens in that part of the world, but do I need to know about it? If I don’t know about it, am I just sheltering myself in my cozy, safe suburb and turning a blind eye to the evils in the world? That can’t be right, either…

So both as a writer and a reader, I struggle with this. In my fiction, I enjoy writing about redemption. How does God change people from being against Him to for Him? Many times, that transformation is messy. The situations that He redeems us out of are messy, ugly, and disturbing. Should Christian authors write about that? But it really happens…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

But what if that which is true isn’t lovely?

I don’t have an answer to this one. I would welcome your thoughts!

Help for the Highly Distractable Homeschool Mom

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“Mom, I need help on my math,” my daughter calls from the other room.

I stop folding the laundry and go in to help her. After reviewing fractions with her for a couple minutes, the 4 year old’s timer goes off, signalling the end of his screen time for the morning. I enforce that and deal with the resulting behavioral issues.

“Mom, what do I need to do for English?” my older son asks from his desk. While giving him directions, the notification alarm whistles on my phone. I see it’s an email from hubby asking me to take care of something for him.

In the middle of doing that, the mail truck drives up and I want to see if that magazine finally paid me for my article.

When I come back inside from getting the mail, I walk past the laundry room and remember that I need to finish folding the laundry.

Then my daughter needs help again. In the middle of that, the 4 year old says he’s hungry and announces that the “leg bone is connected to the butt bone” which disrupts any quiet we may have had as the older two laugh at the little one’s silliness…

I’m left with half a dozen tasks half completed and my brain in a fog, not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing next. The above scenario really isn’t an exaggeration, either! This is an area that I’m really struggling with lately and am trying to change. I certainly don’t have it figured out, but here are some things I’ve been trying…

1. Mute the smart phone notifications. I have found that I’m particularly thrown off course by auditory distractions and that little whistle on my phone is a huge one! I like knowing when hubby emails me from work, but I really don’t need to know the very second the email comes in. I also don’t need to know when something else horrible happens on the news or when some other ad appears in my email inbox. Texts and facebook notifications definitely fall into that category as well. It’s so tempting to see if there’s something fun or interesting going on, but it throws me off track big time. If I mute the phone at least during our main academic time, I do much better.

2. Teach the kids not to interrupt. We’re still working on this (and probably will be for a while), but I’m trying to teach my older kids (ages 10 and 12) that when I’m teaching (or correcting) the 4 year old, they need to wait for my help until I’m done. Many times the “I need help!” turns into a “Never mind – I figured it out” five minutes later. I’m trying to train them that if they’re really stuck, to move on to something else until I’m available to help them. The same thing goes for the 4 year old. If he’s supposed to be playing independently, he can’t interrupt my working with the older kids every five minutes to ask for a snack or just be silly to demand attention.

I’m also trying to train my kids to get up and come to  where I am to ask for help rather than always calling for me to come to them. If I’m folding laundry and they have a math question, they can come to the laundry room with their math book and usually I can answer the question while still folding laundry. That way I’m helping them without physically leaving (and therefore forgetting) what I was doing.

3. Have paper or an electronic version ready for “squirrel!” moments. You’re teaching a child a history lesson and suddenly remember that you need to add apples to the grocery list, you forgot to pay a bill, or a brilliant idea for something pops into your head. Keep paper and pen handy, or the electronic equivalent. I like using Evernote, Toodledo, and Out of Milk for my notes, to do lists, and grocery lists. It’s handy to have everything in one place. There are plenty of other options as well.

4. Everything has its time. Just as the “a place for everything and everything in its place” is so handy for keeping track of physical things, the same idea helps me when managing my time. If I know that I plan to do my writing during the kids’ silent reading time, then I don’t have to worry about when I’m going to fit it in. It already has a place. If I plan to do housecleaning chores during our mid morning break at 9:30, then I can put it out of my mind other times of day because I know it has its time to get done.

How about you? What tricks have you developed to keep from becoming too scatter-brained during your school day?

I Finally Found the Perfect Homeschool Schedule!

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Just kidding. Sorry. Trust me, I’ve searched high and low to find the perfect schedule and it still eludes me. I keep refining it and I find some things that work, but then other things don’t work.

Since the first of the year, we start school earlier (8:30am) and have the big kids (ages 10 and 12) do an hour of schoolwork independently while I work with the 4 year old. Then we break at 9:30 and do our chores, Bible time and read aloud while the 4 year old does some electronic school with ABC Mouse or other similar programs. At 10:30 we’re back to doing academics before lunch, etc.

I thought we had found the perfect schedule. I love getting some academics done right away and then having dedicated time for chores, Bible and read aloud where I don’t feel rushed. I also enjoy having the (relatively) uninterrupted time working with my youngest.

The problem that has surfaced is that the older two are a bit too independent. There have been some struggles in certain subjects because I haven’t taken enough time to sit down with them and make sure they understand their material. There’s a fine line between encouraging student independence and Mom laziness. 🙂 It was nice having them do their work on their own with me only having to correct their work, until tests and quizzes came back with an obvious lack of understanding.

The other problem is that I need more definite ending times for the little guy’s screen time or it gets out of hand. He loves playing on his tablet or watching videos and I like it when he’s quietly occupied, but too much isn’t a good thing. He’s such an active child that he needs to be constantly occupied with something specific or he’s getting into trouble. I need that planned out ahead of time or the day descends into chaos.

So, we’re back to the schedule drawing board. We’ll keep the parts we like and try to tweak the areas that need work. I’ll have the big kids take turns reading to their brother while I teach the other, then switch. I’ll have definite ending times for the little one’s screens and plan specific types of activities (puzzles, art, outside play, etc) for the time slots that need it.

That will work for a while, and then we’ll need to tweak some more. Oh well! There is no perfect schedule – at least not one that works for every family at every point in life. I’m sure the sooner we realize that, the less stressed we’ll be. 🙂

Have you found the perfect schedule?

Fun Ways to Use Bananagrams to Teach Reading

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There are tons of websites out there about how to teach our kids, so I don’t generally try to compete with them, but this will be one exception. My four year old is on the brink of reading. Seeing that light bulb go on is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling. 🙂 This little guy is by far my most active one yet, and I seem to need to switch things up on a regular basis. The more different games and materials I can use to teach the same thing, the better. He gets bored too easily with one thing over and over.

I’m a very tactile person, and I just love Bananagrams. It’s silly, but I love how they feel and how they clink together… Anyway, I found several ways to use them as another tool to teach my little ball of energy to read. He seems to like them, too.

1. Identifying letters. OK, so that’s pretty obvious, but I had to start somewhere…

2. Letter sounds. I like shuffling them up and quizzing him to see which ones he knows the sounds for. Then I can put them into a “knows it” pile and a “needs more work” pile.

3. Putting letters in order. Pretty self explanatory, but they’re just the right size to scoot around a table and work on singing the alphabet song while putting them in the right order.

4. Play ‘what’s missing?’ Put the letters in alphabetical order then take some out and have your child tell you what’s missing.

5. Sound out simple words. It’s easy with the tiles to form simple words and switch out letters to alter them. You can also have the letters separated from each other, sound them out, then gradually move them closer together to get your child to blend the sounds together into a word. B—-A—-G, B–A–G, BAG. For me, it’s always tricky to make that transition from them saying “buh, ahhh, guh” to “bag”.

6. Child forms words. Let your child build his own words.

7. Child builds sentences. Self explanatory.

Now that I’m on my third child learning to read, I have all these different resources to use. Good thing this is the kid who is going to need me to use all of them to keep him engaged!

Any other ideas??

The Struggle to be More Mature than My Kids…

Family Fighting

I’m 40. It shouldn’t be difficult to for me to behave with more maturity than my 4, 10, and 12 year olds. But, alas, some days my biggest challenge is to do just that.

I caught myself the other day telling one child not to yell at the other just because one was cranky and yelled first. That was right after the cranky child was cranky with me and I yelled at her. Ugh. It’s not exactly fair to ask the kids to do what I’m not doing myself.

Parenting these days definitely isn’t as physically draining as it was when I was chasing toddlers all over trying to keep them from tearing the house, the library, or a friend’s house, to pieces. This Mom thing is way more emotionally draining now than it was before! My sister in law, who has two grown boys, likes to tell me “Little kids = little problems. Big kids = big problems.” We don’t have any big problems at this point, but parenting is definitely getting more complicated.

What seems to be most complicated at the moment is my keeping my own emotions and reactions in check. It’s so hard not to ride the tween mood roller coaster along with them! I find myself really struggling to not get upset and cranky attitudes.

As for so much of this homeschooling stuff, it provides more and more opportunities to go deeper walking with God. I learned all about walking in the power of the Holy Spirit back in college when I was involved with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) but applying it all seems to be quite an ongoing lesson. Ask for forgiveness, surrender the situation to God, ask Him to take the reins again. Repeat.

How do you avoid reacting poorly to the poor attitudes and moods of your kids?

Is Homeschooling an Idol?

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I was listening to a podcast recently from Homeschooling in Real Life that I found very convicting. It was about a homeschool mom who had fallen into the trap of legalism and what it did to her and her family. I highly recommend listening yourself. Here is one of the thoughts it raised in me and how I found it convicting…

Is homeschooling an idol? An idol is something that replaces God. Something that we put our faith in instead of trusting God alone. I homeschool because of God – how could it become an idol?

We all want our kids to walk with God. For many of us, that’s a big reason why we chose to homeschool to begin with – to remove them from the negative influences of public school until they’re mature enough to handle it, thereby increasing the likelihood of them walking with God.

That’s all true and good. We’re making the best decision we know how and following God’s lead in our lives. However, I think the problem can arise when we start to put our faith in homeschooling to save our kids. If I just homeschool them, they’ll turn out OK and be vibrant Christ followers as adults. I catch myself in this lie regularly!

Homeschooling may prove to be a vital thing in their lives that God uses to lead them to Christ and then grow them into mature Christians. But the point is that Jesus saves our kids. Not us. Not our homeschooling.

Some homeschooling kids turn out great, and some make a mess of their lives. Plenty of kids who grew up in horrible homes and went to public school end up as faithful Christians and plenty of them makes messes of their lives. Homeschooling is a great option, but it’s not a magic answer.

Jesus is the only answer.

I foresee at least two problems (although there are probably more) that could arise from trusting in homeschooling to save our kids. (In addition to the obvious that it’s sin to trust anything over God.)

1. If, at some point, homeschooling becomes not the best learning environment for our kids, for whatever reason, the tendency would be to feel as if we’re ruining our kids, disobeying God, destining them for disaster, etc. Every child is unique and every situation is unique. While I see homeschooling as a great option for all our kids right now, it may not always be. There could be many good reasons why a traditional school environment might be God’s will for a child for a time or permanently. We shouldn’t refuse to pray about that option because we believe that homeschooling is the only way our kids will turn out to be followers of Christ. We must obey God in all things, including our kids’ learning environment. Even if it may mean not homeschooling.

2. If we get too comfortable with the idea that homeschooling will get and keep our kids on the right track, it can be easier to neglect their spiritual formation. “I’m already homeschooling, so it will be OK.” We still need to be diligent to study God’s Word with them and more importantly (conviction here for me) model a Christ centered life to them. Spend time in worship, service, and showing them what it means to daily walk with God. They still need to make a personal decision to accept Jesus as their Savior and follow Him. I find myself busy filling their heads with knowledge about God, but I also need to show them how to follow Him.

Do you ever struggle with making homeschooling into an idol in your life?