Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Confessions: Failing to Work the Plan

I think this is probably my last confession - for a while.  I have lots of other things I am reading, listening to and thinking about right now.  We'll see how all these things come together.

I loved planning.  Sitting down and considering curriculum, thinking about the possibilities, organizing our time and always developing a neat and tidy spreadsheet.  It was very exciting and it gave me hope.  I laugh as I look at my NUMEROUS spreadsheets.  Many planning was flawed for some basic reasons.

Entertaining too many options 

I mentioned this a little bit when I shared all the coops we participated in as a family.  That honestly was just a fraction of the programs I explored and used (if you look at the Meaningful Minutes you will see some of the resources I found - in one season).  They were all great and offered something a little different.  At times I would run two or three math programs, along with a few English/ Language Arts programs simultaneously.  Then I wondered why it didn't fit into our schedule or my kids felt a bit overworked.  It was simply too much.  It also meant that if I was bored with something or felt like it wasn't working (after maybe 3 tries) I always had the "next" thing ready to try.  I agree that you need to use something for AT LEAST six weeks to get a feel for it - but sometimes I would switch much sooner than that.

Planning too far ahead 

I can't tell you how many "plans" I have that lay out our curriculum until the kids all graduate. Countless hours comparing options, skimming programs and looking for new ideas.  Well, one of my kids made it to kindergarten in my home.  I think it is good to know where you are going and have a sense of the options.  However, I shouldn't have been picking middle school readings when my oldest was 6.  I have no idea what his strengths, weaknesses and needs will be in 6 years.  I should have invested in him where he was instead.  I should have invested in my own great books or ideas education as well.  Both of those things would have paid better dividends.

Not implementing the plan 

I have already discussed this a bit, but I often would create the schedule and then expect my kids and life to conform to it seamlessly. Well, that's just not reality.  First off, with a toddler at home chaos is always just around the corner.  Plus, kids will find excuses and reasons not to do what they are supposed to be doing all the time.  I was hoping that by merely inventing a workable plan it would work - on its own.  My misguided expectations often translated into frustration.  My kids are kids and it is my job to help them stay on task - I wasn't always willing to do the work to keep everyone on task. 

I used planning to help me feel in control.  I wanted to know all of my options so that I could be ready for any potential issue.  If there was a problem I had a curriculum for it.  In fact, I often was telling the next person how a curriculum could solve their problems as well.  Together we could feel in control of our circumstances. It fed my pride to be the person who was in the know and helpful.  That's not the goal of homeschooling though.  I missed the mark.

Thinking too far ahead was an effort to shape and control our future.  Knowing where you are going is important but having a specific curriculum for years down the road is unhelpful at best. Know the general path and faithfully stay on it.  Deal with the bends in the road as they come.  I hoped that by mapping everything out I could avoid the bends - with enough research and effort we could stay on the straight path to success.  Spoiler Alert - there is no straight path and often the bends are where the real education happens. 

So it's a bit crazy that I was planning as a control technique and then didn't implement them well.  It flustered and upset me that we couldn't just do what worked out so wonderfully in my head.  Instead of meeting us where we were, I would retreat to create a new plan. I was on the crazy cycle because the next plan failed for the same reason - they were based on ideals, not reality.  I also lost my wonder in the work of the ordinary day and my bad attitude rubbed off on my kids.  I started off well when my oldest kids were young, but somewhere along the way I lost the vision. 

In many ways my plans were breeding discontent in my own life and in our home life.  Always looking for the next thing, the newest schedule, down the line was safe and "helpful" escapism.  Whose going to blame you for trying to improve.  Faithfulness is what was needed and I wasn't always up to the task. I failed to live in the moment and recognize what was enough.  Andrew Kern talks about how at the end of each day of creation God reflected that "It was good" and encourages us to do likewise. Despite all my planning and trying I rarely reflected and felt that it was good. It strained the whole system.

I agree with Cindy Rollins in Mere Motherhood, "often our planning keeps us from living."  That's essentially what it came down to for me.  I preferred my perfect plans and dreams to the messy reality of living with four kids.  You need to have goals, a direction and an outline but you can't choose the dream over the reality. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Confessions: Not inviting Dad

Throughout this series I have gotten many encouragements from friends and family.  I appreciate that.  I know that our time was a sowing season and that it won't come back void.  However, I have spent many years showing off the roses and daises (or at least my ponderings on such things) and not always talked about the hard stuff.  God has been gracious and gently led me into this new season.  I felt it was only honest to share about the reason for the transition in the hopes that it would help others. 

As I continue to reflect on "what should have been" in our homeschool I regret my attitude towards my husband.  Often I sent out a "don't even question me" vibe that made it difficult for us to really partner together in our children's education.  He was always supportive and wanted to help but I wasn't receptive or aware of how to include him well. 

My husband often deferred to me in curriculum decisions because of the inordinate amount of time I spent researching it.  His vote of confidence was encouraging, but it also quickly ended our educational conversations. He trusted me - but I wanted him to be involved - sort of.   Often, if he did offer an opinion I quickly explained how hard that was or how it wasn't in keeping with our philosophy or some other excuse. He learned that I wasn't really going to listen anyway.  In some ways, I unconsciously felt like his questioning and wondering was a personal attack on my abilities as a teacher and mom.  It wasn't.  However, when you start confusing your identity with your activity - trouble ensues.  So, he just let me do what I wanted and on occasion would read aloud to the kids.  As my oldest got older I asked his dad to get more involved.  He tried to help but I still micromanaged.  It wasn't helpful.  I needed to give him space to interact and share who he is and what he knows with our kids.

I was asking my husband to participate in the wrong way. I may have know quite a bit about curriculum, but my husband knows much more about boys.  I have three of them.  I should have asked him more about what he saw in the boys and how they were acting.  How much of this is normal boy behavior and where should we draw the line?  What are the skills and strengths that he sees in them?  They are also his children and he had opinions but I often didn't seek them.  When I did ask, it was a precursor to me airing my own opinions and concerns.  I wasn't listening and so he didn't really speak.  Now that the boys are in school he is going to their teacher conferences and we won't get the homework done without his help!  There is a clear role for him to play. 

Instead of talking with my husband about educational ideas I would talk with friends, write on the blog or generally skip him.  I shouldn't have bored him with the details, but I should have shared the highlights.  My conversations helped me grow deeper with my friends, get their insights and find support.  I cut off this opportunity with my husband and it was both of our loss.  It's fine to chat with friends but in ADDITION to talking with my husband.  He would ask, but I would dismiss his interest. 

I failed to invite my husband into our homeschool life and make him feel welcome.  Instead of building a full family culture, I created a bit of a wedge.  It wasn't his fault, it was mine.  I couldn't handle the questions and the possibility I was doing it wrong - pride and confusion.  He probably could have grounded me and helped me prioritize - if I would have allowed it. Thankfully, he is patient and kind and willing to try again. 

Here are my other confessions

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Confessions: Curriculum Wanderlust

Last time I talked about how information isn't the same as formation for our children.  If you look through this blog I think that you will see JUST HOW MUCH information I took in.  Of studying and learning there is no end! 

I was in search of the perfect curriculum combination that would magically meet all of our needs.  Here is a list of the programs we have done in our 12 years of schooling:

- Created our own homebased Montessori-ish coop (when my oldest was 1 yo)
- That coop morphed into a church based Montessori, music, play coop (did that on and off for 4 years)
- Bible Study Fellowship for a year
- Attended a week long training for the AMO program led by the lady who wrote the history part of the Principle Approach 
-  I dabbled with Ambleside for a year (or more - it all blends together)
- Spent a year as a Montessori teaching assistant (under the tutelage of a couple who had done Christian Montessori for 30 years)
- My oldest spent 1 1/2 years at a local preschool - morning 2 days a week
- My second spent 1 year as a 4 yo at a local preschool - 2 days a week
-  Speech therapy (2 hours a week for a year)
Classical Conversations - Foundations - 3 years - I always helped in the littlest class
-  The CommonPlace - the coop my friends and I put together for ourselves - leaned CMish - 2 years
- Artios - an integrated history, English, drama, music and art program. I have taught history there 3 out of the last 4 years
Community Bible Study - Not exactly an academic coop but it served as a great homeschool community for us - 1 year
- I also taught Christian Education at our church for about 5 years

   This doesn't include the 1 or 2 park days we had a week.  Most years we were in at least two coop settings.  CRAZY!! 

Although we were enrolled in these programs and many of them provided a curriculum, that didn't stop me from researching and trying to implement more.  Beyond curriculum I also spent hours (weeks, months) reading and listening to podcasts about education and philosophy of education.  One friend commented I was the least stay at home mom that he knew.  Another claims I have a self taught PhD in curriculum and education design.  With all these resources and knowledge - why did we drop out? 

Even though I would explain to you that the curriculum was not the main thing, my life told a different story.  I was expecting a curriculum to teach itself and fix all the problems. It can't.

Once I had personally studied a topic I felt like we had "learned" it.  I am NOT the primary student though - my kids are.  I needed to actually TEACH them the subject matter.  The early grades involve a lot of skill building - handwriting, reading, adding, etc.  This requires time and repetition.  I am not the best coach and I didn't realize just how much my kids needed consistent short practice and clear models.  In the end, the early years (5 through 8ish) are primarily about being a great coach or tutor to your child (pick a math and reading curriculum and DO IT daily bit by bit).   I was encouraged to read a book by many older homeschool moms that advocated this method in 2011 (the 3Rs).  I read it and dismissed it as too simple, I was homeschooling so we could do more.  I wanted to move on to ideas and discussions and the "fun stuff" of teaching.  Instead of tutoring my kids in skills, I hoped they would pick them up along the way so that we could do the stuff that I enjoy.  I was selfish.  I didn't help build a ladder of success for them rung by rung - I hoped they would just jump up the ladder and join me at the top.  They are doing fine - but I could have been much more helpful in the process.  They do need the "riches", but at that age they also need practice and skill building.

I also lived with the fear that I was missing out on another method, idea or plan that would be just a little bit better (did I mention the file cabinet of Latin curriculum I own) and offer more security.  I love to research and that's what I did  to no end (pretty much literally).  I wanted a plan that would ensure success and so I kept looking.

So, while I was desperately looking for something outside to fix me and them on the right path; I wasn't tuning into the guide and the one who knows THE WAY - the Holy Spirit.  Here's the deal, God who made and loves my children and made me their mom knows what they need.  Yes, it is important to have quality curriculum guides and support and materials- but in the end - if you are open to it - He will reveal exactly what your child your needs.  I was still acting like a teacher in a group setting trying to create a plan for the "average" and "potential" child - while ignoring the clear needs of the specific child in front of me.  I had a gazillion methods but I only needed one chosen to meet a particular child's needs.  My kids didn't care how much I knew about curriculum development and design - they wanted to know how much I cared about them. Am I seeing them? Am I helping them?  I was trying to teach to an imaginary child - who they should be, when I should have tutored and parented the one sitting in front of me. 

The primary redeeming factor of this mess is that God has given me amazing relationships with people from very different perspectives. I never found the "perfect" curriculum but I did find some incredible people to do life with.  I was also willing to take a chance on something new so we helped found 5 of those programs listed above.  Some of them we built ground up, others we just brought to our area.  What an amazing privilege and opportunity. Some of them are going strong and others were for just a season.

We probably could have survived the many waves of trial and error and philosophy changes if I had anchored myself in studying my kids and meeting their needs.  Homeschooling is NOT classroom teaching and you can't just bring school home and expect success.  I had trouble marrying my philosophy with the children I loved in a way that made sense. In the end, I too often chose the philosophy, curriculum and plan over the needs of the child in the moment.  I made the wrong choice.

You can see my other confessions here. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Confessions: Lacking in Formation

I know kids need repetition and predictability, but I really didn't want to do it.  I started out decently with a simple rhythm because my friends recommended The Baby Whisperer, even I could keep that going (the jury is still out on some of her sleep advice).  Too early, I allowed content, information and experience to be more important than being with my kids and embodying a thoughtful rhythm and pace of life.  

I should have intentionally established a family rhythm.  I had hints of this (or whole books on the topic), but to me it sounded boring and mundane and hard.  Well, it is.  It requires discipline and wisdom. I didn't fully grasp how the ordinary creates order and peace and security for kids to thrive.  That's why they love Mr. Roger's Neighborhood - right?  It is possible that some of my kids' craziness is because they were missing the grounding that predictability provides.  I had read this quote and even underlined it - but not fully grasped the depth of what it was saying.

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
― G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
My kids needed me to be "boring" with them and delight in that.  The adult thing to do is to set and keep an easy, comfortable pattern to our day for their sake.  I glossed over rhythms and routines for the more "important" information and experience opportunities.  I didn't slow down enough to give them time to practice these habits and make them their own.  In my rush, we missed so much.  They need days when "hurry up" is not the primary phrase they hear.  They need time to be still, be bored, be kids.  I had more margin than many, but still wasn't considering their little people needs first.

A bit of this difficulty is personality - I am an extrovert and I need people.  I am also a person who likes to leave things open and try different ways - routine is HARD for me.  Honestly though, most of it was a restlessness in me.  A sense of me not being enough for them, so I need to expose them to more, do more, be more.  On the flip side, I also wanted to be seen in the world and continue to make an impact and be somebody.  I wanted to keep using my skills and talents in ways that seemed more "important" than just being at home.  I was double minded and it caused confusion for everyone.  I should have given my kids the gift of dying to myself and laying down what I wanted for what they needed - for a season.  If I was going to do it I needed to commit to it.  They needed formative patterns and I was focused on the head knowledge, external busyness and curriculum. 

There is a balance to be struck in all of this - of course. I am trying to really enjoy the everydayness of "the wiping stage" (as one friend calls it - she has 8 kids) with my youngest.  I am much more aware that my sense of pace, urgency, fretfulness and restlessness is being caught.  My kids feel the discord when my words and actions aren't aligning.  I know I was thrown off by real life - moves, job changes, babies, sickness and all the rest.  For each new season, I should have made creating a workable rhythm a top priority.  Often instead of choosing what was best for us, I let other's schedules and needs dictate our pace.  I see now that creating our rhythm first provides a steadiness and reduces stress and decision fatigue.  I undermined the whole education process by focusing on information, experience, busyness and people pleasing instead of formation and the needs of my own kids. How you do it, the form, really does count.

My other confessions can be found here. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Confessions: Wishy Washy Mama

When I started homeschooling all the veteran moms talked to me about obedience and consistency.  I thought that obedience - that "do what I say now" - was probably a bit old fashioned.  I wanted my kids to be independent thinkers - to give them choices.  Consistency was tough - I wasn't always sure what the right way was so being consistent was hard (plus I couldn't remember what I said - more about that later).  I am sure that while I explained about choices and emotional needs of children, they were nodding their heads and thinking "bless her heart" and "I hope that works for you". 

In the end, obedience is primarily about listening and discerning.  We think of it as slavish and unthinking, which to our modern ears, seems naive and possibly dangerous.  However, if you are under a good and right authority being obedient is the most restful and comfortable place to be.  In the end, that's what I want for my kids while they are in my home.  I want them (especially when they are little) to rest in the fact that mom and dad are doing what is best for them.  I want them to obey because they trust that we have their best interests at heart.  As the adult, that means I need to know, do and expect the good for my children.  Honestly, the only way to truly work this out in your life is through prayer, the Word and community.  I didn't do this well; I was wishy washy and it made it harder for my kids to find "green pastures" and follow my lead.  Too often I was hoping that the next hill over would solve our problems. 

There are some simple things I should have done differently:

1.  Stick with the plan  So many times I said "we are leaving in five minutes" and it turned into 20 or 30 or more.  I wanted to be with my friends but I should have stuck to my word.  I was teaching my kids that my word isn't sure. I love to explore and try new things (I'll do a whole post on that) but to my kids that looks like changing my mind and uncertainty.  Last school year, my oldest would tease me that if he just waited a few weeks, things would change. At times, this went beyond a joke and became straight up disobedience. I had taught him that the directions would change so he didn't REALLY have to follow them. UGH!

2.  Talk less.  I had heard that you should only give directions that you mean to enforce.  I ignored this advice.  I verbally process and think aloud often and so my kids were used to a barrage of words.  They realized that half the things I said, were half heartedly said and never followed up on.  In the end I was teaching them that sometimes I meant it and sometimes I didn't.  It became a guessing game for them.  They knew I meant it when I started raising my voice, repeating it often enough or otherwise showing them who is boss.  Nobody enjoyed that. I know consistency is super difficult when you have littles.  I should have done less more faithfully.   I should only have given directions if I meant what I said.  In the midst of my many words I would forget what I said.  I should save my words so that we can all remember them!

3.  Give them fewer decisions.  I thought young children should practice making decisions to become better at it.   Charlotte Mason gives the opposite directive and I should have listened.  Decision making  is one of the most difficult things to do and we shouldn't burden our children with it.  Decision fatigue is a real thing - for all of us.  In my quest to help them learn how to "make choices" - I provided too many for myself and for them.  I went with the more is better principle.  It was the wrong path.  They don't need more breakfast choices, clothing choices or options in their studies.  What they need is a few "curated" decisions.  I pick two outfits and they pick the final one.  I make them breakfast and they choose to eat it or not eat it.  I don't give them a box of books (or tons of toys) to choose from - I pick three and we go from there.  I wanted my kids to have tons of options and enjoy them.  In the end, we had too much stuff and no peace.  I needed to be the adult and make more decisions for them.  This is only for a short season.  Once they hit nine or ten - they will need to start making more decisions for themselves. 

4.  Look them in the eye and tell them what you want.  Too often I was yelling directions from somewhere and expecting them to follow them.  When they didn't, I would get frustrated - didn't you hear me?  Sometimes they did, sometimes they didn't, but by now we were both frustrated. I needed to have the discipline to get myself ready and then focus on them and be with them as I gave directions.  I should have slowed down, been near them and clearly helped them with what needed to be done. I made excuses but essentially it boils down to being too busy and not being disciplined to get myself ready first. 

5.  Always give the same answer.  My husband and I are pretty good about backing each other up when it comes to kids asking one and then the other.  We probably should have been a bit more strict when they even tried this little tactic (often right in front of the other parent, after they didn't get the "right" answer).  It is essential that we present a united front - even if we didn't always fully agree with the decision.  They tried this just yesterday - it still doesn't work. 

6.  Act under authority.  One reason we keep our kids home is because we want to build relationships and believe that education is more of a life. This allows for tons of freedom.  If we aren't careful this can begin to look like we just do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.  However, it can be overwhelming because it also requires self discipline.  No one is guiding you and checking in on you. You have to walk that difficult balance of freedom and responsibility.  If you focus too much on the freedom your kids begin to think that life is all about what they want to do.  If you just choose the fun parts and leave out the hard parts - your kids will follow suit. You need to model being under authority. 

For a while I had trouble singing or teaching my kids the song "Trust and Obey" - that seemed very limiting and unwise.  I was the foolish one.  As Parker J. Palmer says, "to teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced."  We, as parents, are teaching all the time.  We are always worshiping and obeying something and our kids are following suit.  Too often, I was just following my own whim or the most recent book I read.  Instead of leading them to the sure foundation, I was building on shifting sands. They couldn't discern and listen and follow the truth because I wasn't doing that.  Then I wondered where their attitudes, confusion and willfulness came from. 

Young children need to trust that their parents have a plan and it is a good one. They need to trust that I know what was is best and they should follow me. Too often I allowed them to present an argument, make an excuse or not follow through.  I second guessed myself and forgot where my authority came from.  I was teaching them obedience is optional and that truth is hard to grasp. 

As I Christian, I trust that the best life is the one where you submit and follow Jesus.  However, I have to model that daily.  They need to know that I am under authority and obey and they should do likewise.  Often, out of fear, we shy away from the authority we are entrusted with and the obedience it requires.  Just because it has and can be abused and used poorly does not mean that it is inherently bad. Parenting requires you to choose rightly and exercise your authority so that it is a refuge and strength for your children.  This is a tall task and even more so when your children are around you ALL THE TIME.  Extend yourself grace, allow yourself to repent and keep yourself under submission to the God who knows their souls (and yours) and can lead you in paths of life. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Confessions: Prayer (or lack thereof)

This is part of the series Confessions of a Homeschool Dropout. If you follow my blog you know it is mostly about education practice and theory. This year, our life changed and my older kids are in school.  I don't know if this is a permanent change or not. This series is about what I would have done differently if I could start over again.

I was prideful.  I thought my college education, my classroom experiences, my prior jobs, my resume would be enough to carry me through this parenting and homeschooling deal.  If there were holes- I read a book or blog (or 4), listened to a podcast or tried a new coop.  At first, I didn't even see the holes or thought that they were just small issues - time would fix it or I would.  My lips proclaimed Christian education ideals, with God at the center.  However, my private life wasn't prayerful - at all.  I didn't live like God had to show up for us to make it. I didn't actually intercede for my kids; I complained and read.  I didn't listen for God's voice; I sought the expert opinion (witness my blog).  I didn't consider how my children were uniquely made; I tried to fit them in a mold (either mine or the world's).  I lectured my children instead of lifting their hearts and needs to the author and perfecter of their faith. I worked out of my own strength most of the time and I was tired.  It also didn't help my children - at all.  The experts didn't know my children, the mold didn't fit them well and all of that trying wore us out!

If I could do it again I would be MUCH more prayerful.  I would not open a book or blog until I had at least asked God about the subject.  I would recognize problems as an opportunity for God to step in and trust that he would - in his time.  I wouldn't take it all so personally, but I would address it prayerfully. I would see the solitude of being at home as an opportunity to learn more about prayer - to do it, enjoy it and realize that is probably the best impact I could be making most days.  His work in the world is enough. I would see that I can participate with him around the world by being mindful of my world and joyfully join him in it.  Instead I often saw being home as limiting, a trap - I was trying to find ways out to be important and useful.  I missed the opportunity that being home provided me - there was no one and nothing stopping me from seeking God and growing in my faith - except me.  I didn't do it.  I didn't do everything as onto Jesus.  I didn't take the time to be still, to listen, to learn to be faithful in the small things. I missed the blessing and so did my kids. 

I am praying more now.  If you are just starting the journey I encourage you to be prayerful.  It truly is the only thing that can change you or your children.  There is a time for books, experts, lectures and norms - but AFTER you have sought His face first.  I am getting better at seeking him first.  I am a slow learner though. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Crazy Busy . . Time Flies. . Guest Post

Well friends.  I didn't realize it had been THIS long!  Yikes.  I have had lots of things happening but haven't really thought to post anything.  I am thankful for my friend Taylor Phillips from Fortify who asked me to write something on radical trust.  Joseph certainly fits into that category.

Our Vacation Bible School has been studying the life of Joseph. This story is taking hold of me. Joseph’s life is all about radical trust (and brokenness). Often, I think we hope that radical trust means that once we are “all in” we will have a smooth path towards our goal and life plan. We think if we just caught the vision we could withstand anything. Well, let’s review Joseph’s life.

to read the rest click on over to Fortify.  

I hope that you are enjoying your summer.