5 Ways to Bust Up Homeschool Blues

Some days, homeschooling is a total joy. Other days are pure hair-pulling frustration. Tears. Giggles. Broken pencils. 100s. Red marks. Some days I feel like supermom. Most of the time, though, I feel like I’m groping my way through a fog, praying I’m not scarring my children for life. (By the way, have you ever wondered why there aren’t many home schooling atheists? My theory for this anomaly is because after a few weeks of home schooling, most of us are crying out to God for deliverance.)

homeschool comic

After closing in on our second full year of taking the plunge, we have finally found our sweet spot. My kids and I have discovered our individual learning and teaching styles. I know my children’s fears, their dreams, what motivates them, and they, in turn, know me. Despite the ups and downs, it’s a rewarding endeavor. Incredibly rewarding, even if we had to learn some things the hard way. Homeschooling, just like anything else, is a cycle of successes and failures until you learn what techniques work best for each individual child.

Something that has been crucial for my own children is this: they need variety.

Routine is very important for success, but there are a number of things we’ve employed within our schedule that keeps each week exciting, our days more vibrant than sitting in front of a computer or writing in yet another workbook.

We started off with the normal routine breakers: taking our lessons outside on pleasant days, planning fun field trips to science museums, caverns and plays. We scheduled pottery classes, and my kiddos favorite—I enrolled them one day a week at the 4-H center’s all day science class for homeschoolers called SEEK.

The problem is, these big activities only account for a handful of days within our school year. What about the rest of the year? What about things we can do within our daily schedule to mix up the monotony?

Here are five of my kids’ favorite boredom-busters.

  1. Attitude of Gratitude Board attitude of gratitude board

Every month, I pick a theme for our large dry-erase board. Sometimes the month’s theme is “Things that Make Me Giggle”. Other times, it’s “I feel loved when…”. We’ve done “What makes me afraid…”, “Today I’m thankful for…”, and “Today I will pray for…”. Each day, the girls write their answers on a post it note and stick it to the board. After we have collected thirty answers, they get to pull a card from the reward jar.

Our reward jar is full cards that say, “Trip to Menchie’s frozen yogurt”, “Mom will buy you a new book”, “shopping trip”, “movie night”, etc. My kids love it, and it’s a great way to have them identify both their blessings and their own emotional make up.

  1. Cooking Night

Every other month, I give my girls twenty dollars and they know what to do…cooking night! They must work together to plan a healthy meal menu that covers the basic food groups (and a meal they can personally prepare). I drive them to Walmart and they purchase all the needed items to create their fabulous meal. kids cooking

That night, they are in charge of the meal creation and clean up. They love it! Then, their Dad gives them a grade based on taste, staying within their budget, and nutritional value. (For a job well done, we reward them with frozen yogurt.) It teaches them how to plan and prepare healthy meals, how to stay within a budget, how to cook, and more importantly, they have  to work together. (A significant feat for any siblings.)

Raising children is all about teaching them how to be independent, functioning, loving, God-fearing adults, right? What better way than an exercise in practical living.

  1. Random Act of Kindness day

Once a month, we pick a random act of kindness for some unsuspecting person. We’ve done things like visiting someone at the hospital, or decorating and mailing cards to shut-ins. I’m excited about this coming month’s act of kindness: the girls are going to meet our mailman and trash pick-ups workers outside and give them candy and thank you notes for their service.

Here’s the most important rule: they are not allowed to tell anyone about it. No self exultation allowed. (And each time, I remind them of Proverbs 27:2. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”)

  1. Surprise Pick

Every Friday I announce a “surprise pick” for the day. Some Fridays they get to skip a dreaded subject and trade it out to play mine craft. Other days we make cookies, or the girls receive a much desired computer game or book. Sometimes it’s something as simple as renting a Redbox movie they’ve been dying to see. It’s their reward for a week of hard work.

  1. Theme Days and Dance Parties

My kiddos love theme days. Just like spirit week at public and private schools, I let them schedule in themes. Sometimes it’s girly-girl day, crazy hair day, or their favorite…nerd day. And my kiddos stay in character. All. Day. Long.

beth nerd daycallie nerd day

And never underestimate the joy of an old-fashioned dance party. Drop everything and dance! Our family’s favorites are Toby Mac, Mandisa, Britt Nicole, LeCrae and Hollyn. dancingWhether we take five minutes to get out the wiggles, or spend an hour sweating through our jumps of joy, what better way to get refocused than praising our Savior?

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good plan for each and every day…homeschooling or not.

I would love to hear from you. Are you a homeschooling family? What tips or tricks have you applied to keep the homeschool routine fresh and fun?

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Homeschooling: The Good, the Bad & the Funny…5 Things No One Told Me

When we started on this home school journey two years ago, I was a nervous wreck but incredibly excited. I had visions of ripe little minds growing into mature little models of exemplary citizens. I envisioned smiles, serene contentment, and—okay, I’ll just say it—I pictured the school from Little House on the Prairie. You know, the one room school house where all the kids behaved and the teacher was always pretty and sweet.

little house

I’m currently teaching a twelve year old girl, a ten year old girl, and a very rambunctious three year old boy. Little House on the Prairie we’re not. If anything, our home school days resemble a show called Math Stinks, Mom is Spiraling and the Kids Have Taken Over in the Suburbs.

I second guess myself a lot. Daily. Multiple times a day. Some days are almost perfection. Others are like trying to dig fingernails through concrete. Most of them are exhausting. Quite a few of them are amusing. None of them are dull.

On a side note, I’ve learned that you can declare any odd task is part of Home Ec and your home schooled kids won’t question it.

“Vacuum the floors. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

“Make spaghetti. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

“Change your brother’s dirty diaper. Don’t even think of complaining. It’s for your Home Ec grade.”

You’re welcome.

Before taking on the enormous task, I read every book I could get my hands on…how to pick curriculum, how to schedule your day, how to organize the house, how to teach multiplication tables, how to know your child’s learning style, etc. But there are a few things you can’t pick up in a book. Here is my list of five things no one told me about home schooling.

  1. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. stressed out 2

I’ve seen educational snobs who look down their noses at home schoolers. Annoying.

I’ve also seen home schoolers who look down their noses at traditional education. Also annoying.

I was chatting one afternoon with a die-hard home school mom. After lamenting the current problems plaguing a certain public school in our community, she shook her head sadly, disgusted with the state of affairs.

“It’s like these parents don’t even care about their kids. I don’t why everyone doesn’t home school.”

My response was, “Uh, because some people like to eat.”

Not everyone can afford the luxury of having a stay-at-home parent. Some families need both parents working, and even at that, still live pay check to pay check. Home schooling is a privilege and one we shouldn’t take for granted. Yes, there may be some sacrifice along the way (actually, a lot of sacrifice) but God forgive me if I ever look down on someone who doesn’t home school because they can’t afford it. Praise the Lord for good teachers and excellent public schools. We need them all.

And let’s be honest. Some parents aren’t designed to be academic teachers. They’re just not. God gifts each person individually. He leads each family according to what He has planned for them. I had some excellent teachers growing up. I also had some that shouldn’t have even been allowed to step inside the school. Children with special needs often need help beyond what a home school parent can provide.

The journey is different for everyone and God tells each family what is right and beneficial for their children. Finger pointing needs to stop on both sides of the educational spectrum.

  1. Home schooling your children does not ensure that they won’t rebelrebellious kids

I’ve seen it over and over again. A well-meaning mom or dad insists their children will be home schooled, stating the reason with stout conviction: they want their child to follow God and not have to learn the hard way.

Admirable. But homeschooling does not ensure a heart that pursues God.

Just as there are a wide spectrum of children in public schools, the same is true for home schooled children. Some are over-achievers. Some battle depression. Some are hyper creative. Some are class clowns. Some excel at math. Others shine when weaving stories that tug the heart. Some are leaders. Some are followers.

Here’s the deal: humans are humans. We mess up. Pain and adversity break some. In others, those same hurts mold them into someone stronger than they were before.

Do I believe homeschooling is important in helping my children be as strong and resilient as they can be in a broken, hurting world? Yes. I want them to be warriors for Jesus, rooted and grounded in truth. But I also know homeschooling doesn’t guarantee it.

Perhaps you’re reading this and are in the middle of a storm with your grown child. They may have rebelled fast and strong from what you’ve taught them, whether that be through home school, church, public school, private school or anything else. It’s easy to berate yourself as a parent and wonder “Where did I go wrong?” running from god

God is a perfect father and his kids rebel all the time. If you’ve done all you can to teach, guide and love, lay that child and his or her future at God’s feet. Pray and trust. Love and wait.

  1. The name of the game is consistent flexibility.

The greatest advantage of home schooling is being able to arrange things according to your child’s needs. Some take this to an unhealthy level and have no organization at all. Without goals, people tend to drift. You need both.

What my children need from me, from others, from their schooling will oscillate and change as they grow and change. Undisciplined kids need structure. Rigid children need to learn to release their need for control (unless it’s due to a condition like autism).

Personally, I’m a very routine oriented person. I like schedules and consistency. Home schooling has stretched me in this area. And although I’m loathe to admit it, part of my problem has to do with the need for control. Learning that I can’t always accomplish something in the way and manner I prefer has been good for me. It reminds me that I’m not the end all and be all. I’m learning the blessings of having a life interrupted…a lesson that’s incredible important if I want to embrace being interrupted by God and His ultimate plan.

  1. It’s normal to be afraid.

I’m constantly evaluating, wondering if my children are getting what they need. Are they too sheltered? Not sheltered enough? Too busy? Too much down-time? Are they having fun in their learning? Bored to tears? Are they ahead? Behind? More sports? Less sports?

Maybe I should just enroll them back in school. You know, more socialization and all that. Then I remember school attendance is forced socialization which works against the whole building-relationships thing. More tests? Less tests? What about the future? ACT/SAT readiness versus getting away from the teaching-to-test mentality.

It always comes back to What if I’m doing something wrong?

What if, what if, what if…stressed out

As I reach for my chocolate and a copy of anything by James Dobson to assuage my parenting guilt of not being enough, I think they would benefit from a better teacher and all these worries would be solved.

Then I realize most of these questions are the same ones asked over and over by public school and private school teachers too. Are my students learning? Is it fun for them or torture? Are they ready for those benchmark tests? Ahead? Behind? Why can’t I get little Johnny to focus? Why is little Susie so difficult to reach?

The worry, the what ifs, the feelings of inadequacy have very little to do with being a homeschooling mom and everything to do with being a teacher, no matter the venue.

Fear is normal. Embrace it, learn from it, give it your best effort and trust God with the outcome.

  1. My relationship with my kids is more solid than it’s ever been…despite the bad days.

Tears over calculating the volume of triangular prisms.

“I need help.”

Hormones.

Sibling squabbles.

“I need help.”

“Mom, I don’t get it.”

“Nate scribbled on my language work.”

“I don’t want to learn this today.”

“I need help.”

“Math is from the devil.”

“I write better with mechanical pencils.”

“I need help!”

“Nate just stole my Civil War test!”

“Mom, I need help!”

Some days I look for a dark closet where I can eat sugar in private and pray for Jesus to come back. It’s rough. My frustration has peaked, my kids woke up in the mood to argue and my toddler son has spiraled into a hyperactive state that gives me heart palpitations.

I sit in my, uh, ‘devotional time’ and wonder if it’s worth it. chocolate 2

Then I hear my girls giggling as they write some hilarious essay about their views on life, or see the gears of their little minds clicking when a difficult concept is finally grasped and a ribbon of satisfaction unfurls through me.

Teaching those memory verses that don’t want to stick is worth it. Teaching them to persevere through the hard subjects when they want to quit is worth it. Encouraging their individuality is worth it.

I know them so well now. I’m learning every day what their dreams are. How God has woven their personalities together. The best way each of them learn and what each of them fears. And I bet they would say the same of me.

Teaching is so much more than just solving for x or being able to quote the Gettysburg Address. It’s showing my kids how to function through the hard days. How to lean on God for strength when I’m exhausted. How to keep trying when I fail. How to find the creativity in my mistakes. How to love others even when it’s difficult.

Home school is more than learning reading, writing and arithmetic. It’s learning to live a life that pleases God.

And that is definitely worth it.

I want to hear from you! Are you a home schooling parent? What challenges have you faced? What frustrates you? What are the joys in teaching your children? 

 

The Performance Bug and Stinky Oysters

We did it. We took the plunge. We are homeschooling and I’ve got to say, it’s been rewarding. Exhausting, fun and challenging but rewarding. There were a few tears, a few “I don’t understand…”s and brief moments of meltdown, but I’m feeling better now. The girls are doing great too, by the way.

In the homeschooling world, I keep hearing about theoverwhelming stress of picking out curriculums. The anxiety of finding the perfect learning style for each child. The expense, the juggling, the exhaustion…I’ve recently realized that although it took me months to find a plan that was best for my little family, I had stressed very little over it. Why had it been easy to come up a diverse set of activities for them? Fun activities that challenge them but yet are ‘out of the box’? (For example, in the spring they will be given some cash, taken to Walmart and must shop within their budget, purchase what they need to prepare a nutritious dinner and then prepare said dinner for the family. They’ll be graded on nutritional balance, staying within their budget, presentation and taste.) Sure, we do our fractions, diagram sentences and go through all the normal work that goes into school. Some days are easier than others but all of them have been an adventure. So despite the occasional bump in the road, why do I feel like everything is ‘on track’?

I finally realized it’s because I wasn’t picking curriculum or teaching to win the highest achievement in benchmark testing. I’m not in it to push my kids to do their best so I can plaster that ‘honor roll’ sticker on the bumper of my car. Neither I nor my kids have felt the typical testing pressure. You want to know why? Because I’m not homeschooling them for any other reason than to equip them for life. And every decision I make in the day to day details should be with the intention of leading them towards that goal.

I know some young adults who can pass the Iowa tests with flying colors yet can’t manage their money. Some high schoolers have mastered the complex web of common core yet live with a daily sense of entitlement with no perception of reality. Some adults are book smart yet sadly lacking in critical thinking. And, dare I voice it out loud? There are some Christians who can smoke an opponent in Bible Trivia, know everything about Jesus but withhold forgiveness, engage in gossip and fall for any smooth-talking manipulator our culture shoves our way.

We can get so focused on performance, so focused on achieving a worldly mark of success that we often completely miss the bigger picture. Do I want my girls to be able to identify the parts of a cell? Absolutely. But I also want them to know how to wash their clothes and care for a sick shut-in. Do I want my kids to be able to play piano or name the three branches of government? Of course, but this does little good if they can’t learn to take ownership of their mistakes or show compassion to others.

I guess you could say I know my goal. As my kids grow into adulthood, I have two wishes for them: that they would be independent and follow God regardless of cultural influence.

But some days this is just plain hard. Our society, even our own Christian culture, has been infected with a germ…a germ that is growing and mutating into a monster that will overshadow every aspect of our lives if we don’t learn to kill it. It’s called the Performance Bug.

The Performance Bug makes us feel better because it’s measurable. It’s easy to see so therefore easy to control. It allows a human to assign value to another human based on achievement, a marker much different than value measured through God’s eyes, I might add.

The Performance Bug strokes our pride and egos when we do well but decreases the perception of our worth when we fail. It teaches us to strive for the praise of man but doesn’t reveal how ultimately bankrupting this pattern of living can be. The Performance Bug tells us our children have to hit a certain mark of acceptance on a standardized test or they will be doomed for a life of failure and low-paying jobs. The Performance Bug tells women that if they just lose a few more pounds or dress more provocatively, they’ll snag Mr. Right’s attention. (FYI, ladies, if you have to go to extreme measures to get Mr. Right, Mr. Right is Mr. Wrong.) The Performance Bug says we need to sell this many books, win this award or achieve this recognition and we’ll have everything our soul longs for.

So we kill ourselves to achieve, slap a blue ribbon on it when we do, pat ourselves on the back and learn to think the world is our oyster.

Not to offend my friends in the marine biology community but oysters are slimy. And stinky.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do our best or refuse to celebrate a friend when they’ve accomplished a great feat. Those are good things. The problem is when we let our achievements define us.

The Performance Bug is the opposite of grace. It says you have to jump so high, run so fast or receive this size pay check to be valued and worthy. But Grace says that you’re a broken mess yet more precious than gold in the eyes of the Creator.

Life, homeschooling, relationships and everything in between is much easier, and less stressful, when we learn to squash the Performance Bug and instead focus on the goal. Choose each day to live with the intention of growing closer to God and each other. Everything else is noise.