Homeschooling: The Materials of Education

In my last post, I outlined some general information about how I organize our homeschool. Now, I’ll get into some of the specifics–the materials of our home education and what each child will be assigned for this school year.

This year, I will have a 2nd, 4th, and 6th grader, as well as a preschooler.

A note about preschool: I have no formal work for the preschooler, but I do keep some simple letter recognition activities and number games on hand so I can give him “school work” when he wants it. (My experience says that most younger siblings like playing along with school, so it’s good to have a few tricks in your bag.) One good goal for preschool siblings is to include them in as much of the group lessons as possible, even just in proximity and within ears reach, so they will more easily transition into full participation at some point. My three year-old will even fake his way through narrations during tea time, which is kind of hilarious.

Now–what do I actually teach?

I’ve uploaded a very detailed materials list for reference if that would be helpful. You can find a good digital version (to view online) here and a good printable version here. This list will change throughout the year. I consider it a map, not a rule.

To make it easier to understanding how this all fits into our school day, you can refer to my last post.

MORNING BASKET-
In the mornings, after the kids have finished breakfast and prepared for the day (and I have had a moment to myself for Mother Culture), we sit together at the table for our Morning Basket. This is a great way to begin the day by praying together, reciting Scripture, and singing songs.

I usually trade off days between Bible/Hymns and Folks Songs/German lessons. I usually have one designated Bible passage for memorization/recitation, a hymn, and a folk song per school term with some holiday-appropriate things thrown in, as well. I try to do a weekly Bible study with the kids but keep it short and simple.

(Sidebar: I don’t really know German beyond very remedial things so we do a lot of basic greetings and vocabulary, plus songs and rhymes and German culture, picture books, and history lessons. When the kids move up into about 8th grade, they can choose their own foreign language study and we will buy a language program for them to use.)

Includes:

MORNING PRAYERS

BIBLE-
– Recitation and memorization of long portions of scripture. (The same passages will be used for copywork and spelling/dictation exercises throughout the term.)
– Weekly group Bible lesson

HYMNS-
– Three or more hymns per year, one per term, memorized for morning worship and used for copywork throughout the term.

FOLK SONGS-
– Three or more folk songs per year, one per term, memorized and used for copywork throughout the term.

GERMAN LESSON AND SONGS-
– Remedial German lessons with picture books, vocabulary flashcards, coloring sheets, songs, and nursery rhymes.

INDEPENDENT WORK-
We jump into our most difficult work first. In addition to being the hardest mind-work, this is the work that might require my full attention with only one child. So, this is the time of day when the big kids bounce back and forth between working independently, sitting with me for tutoring, and helping with the preschooler. If all goes well, they can be done with this in one or two hours.

Includes:

READING
– Daily assigned reading- kids choose from a few options. These are often “stretching books” for them. They are sometimes more difficult than the books they’d normally choose for themselves.

COPYWORK
– Daily copywork- kids alternate between workbooks, scripture, poetry, hymns, letter-writing, etc. We begin cursive in 3rd or 4th grade.

GRAMMAR
– Izzy and Elsa do one or two lessons a week in Grammar, usually alternating between dictation exercises, spelling quizes, basic language lessons and sentence diagramming. Content for these lessons is taken directly from their reading assignments. We literally open whichever book they’ve been reading and discuss the grammar or use an excerpt for dictation/spelling.

LATIN
– Izzy does two Latin lessons a week.

PLUTARCH
– This is a once weekly independent reading for Izzy, a good hard lesson in classical literature.

FREE READS
– Each of the kids has a list of mom-approved “free reads” that they can read anytime and anywhere (when not otherwise engaged). I will often use these books as a calming measure if things are tense or as a distraction from twaddle books I’m not as excited to see them reading.

MATH
– Daily math lessons. I have never used a textbook or work book for early elementary. We have transitioned into a formal curriculum around 2nd – 4th grade. It’s been different for every child.

GROUP LESSONS-
I usually alternate days, with two days a week for Science & Nature Study and two days for History and Geography. This year, we’ll be focusing our first two terms on a “hard science” and then we’ll try to spend as much of the Spring term as possible outdoors, studying birds and conservation.

These lessons are done together, usually around the table or outdoors, in a very conversational style. We narrate our lessons orally as we go and then each kid responds with age-appropriate work. (After a history lesson, for example, Izzy might do a three sentence written narration in response. Elsa might write a sentence about what we read and draw a picture to illustrate. Edith might draw a picture and dictate a short narration for me to write in her notebook.)

Includes:

SCIENCE & NATURE STUDY-
– We have two science lessons a week, alternating between one “hard science” curriculum and a more nature-based study. We also consider any nature study done while hiking and nature journaling as a part of our science work.

IMG_2626

HISTORY & GEOGRAPHY-
– We have two history and geography lessons a week, alternating between a story-based world history curriculum and history-relevant geography lessons, and things like map drills, US states and capitals, and understanding landforms and topography.
– Starting in 4th grade, the kids begin their own Book of Centuries, which is their own record of world history.

A note about the book Pagoo: This is the third book we’ve used by this author, Holling C. Holling. His books tell a long-form story and work as a history, geography, and science book all in one. They have lovely detailed illustrations and diagrams. We use these books in addition to a formal science study. We usually draw the book out for most of the year, reading a chapter every other week or so, and doing appropriate science observations and mapwork/geograpy lessons as we go. Pagoo is about a hermit crab and tidepools, so we’ll use it to study the ecosystem of tidepools, crustaceans, the history and geography of coastal regions, etc.

RICHES and OCCUPATIONS-

Includes:

RICHES-
These are the really beautiful parts of education–art, music, poetry, etc. Sometimes we sit down to study these outdoors. Sometimes we sit at the piano or the record player. Sometimes we do it over tea or while learning something else like how to crochet. A lot of this is fluid. In a normal year, we would add as many live performances and museum visits as possible.

I choose one artist and one composer per term to study, plus a poet per child. And I choose a list of family read-aloud books for the year, but the list is very fluid and we don’t always keep to the list.

This year’s selections:

ARTIST STUDY- Titian, Leonardo, Rembrandt

COMPOSER STUDY– Wagner, Handel (Messiah), Mozart

SHAKESPEARE– A Midsommer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing

POETRY-
– Izzy Poetry Study- Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes
– Elsa Poetry Study- Alfred Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth
– Edith Poetry Study- Walter De La Mare, Eugene Field, Christina Rossetti

FAMILY READ-ALOUDS-
(Our Family Read-Alouds are often done either over tea or at bedtime.)
– The Wingfeather Saga III and IV, Heidi, Understood Betsy, Five Little Peppers and    How They Grew, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: Book I, At the Back of the North Wind, The Vanderbeeks of 141st Street

OCCUPATIONS-
Three days a week, the kids are basically on their own to occupy their afternoons. This is the time for their individual lessons or skill-building. They can engage in reading, games, build something, or learning something new on their own. The goal is to put their education to life. If they need to, they can take a nap. If they want to, they can help me prepare dinner or (sometimes) do an extra chore for pay. Sometimes I let them listen to an audiobook or play an iPad game.

Izzy- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, Karate, art & handicrafts (carpentry, carving, sketching/drafting, book-binding), nature journaling, creative writing

Elsa- can choose from things like Typing 1, piano lessons, American Heritage Girls badges, handicrafts (painting, sketching/drafting, claywork, gardening), nature journaling, creative writing

Edith- can choose from things like piano lessons, ballet, handicrafts (bracelet making, claywork, painting, baking), nature journaling, creative writing

 

I do not run our homeschool on a tight regimen.

In some ways, the flexible nature of our school day reflects my own struggles with personal discipline and we would benefit from tightening things up a bit. In another sense, my ability to pivot in a moment and reorient our days is necessary and has kept us relatively at peace in the home and happily learning together.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about how this all works its way out.

What would you like to hear more about?

Considering homeschooling?

With the COVID pandemic threatening to make traditional classroom education untenable this fall, a handful of my friends have recently asked for help navigating the world of homeschooling, just in case.

Instead of addressing them all individually, I thought it might helpful to publish a few things publicly here on my blog so they’ll be easier to share.

I anticipate publishing this content in 3-4 parts over the next few days.

For this first post, let me address some of my friends’ most pressing questions (And please forgive me if I didn’t do a great job proofreading this. I’ve been staying up super late the past few nights and I’m seeing double) —

“Where do I start?!”

When you start homeschooling, it’s really normal to obsess about “the stuff” of school. The material. “What will I teach!!?” you ask yourself. But, honestly, why you’re teaching and your goals for education are far more important than the materials you use. If you can pin down your “why,” it will be easier to choose your “what.”

If you have your “why” in line, you’ll be able to adapt any materials to your use. (Though some materials are obviously better than others!) Your materials and methods may very well change over time anyway, even with every child. These should change in response to the refining of your goals and your guiding philosophy. So don’t get too hung up on the materials of school first or you’ll miss the whole point of education—“missing the forest for the trees,” as they say.

Speaking personally, my methods of schooling have changed over the past few years as I’ve developed a more refined philosophy of education. I usually tell people I prescribe to a loose Charlotte Mason (CM) philosophy. (I say “loose” because I’m certainly not a purist.) If you’re interested in learning about Mason and her pedagogy, you can read some of her books here but there are some great books about her philosophy that are a little easier to digest, like this one. (And there’s a good primer here, too, if you just want to read something quick online.)

“But how will I know what to teach for science or math, for example? What curriculum should I buy?”

Many of the resources I use here at our home are what you’d consider “the Classics” together with what Mason called “living books.” I do use some modern Classical Christian homeschool materials, as well. But I apply these with a CM method.

I am a bit of a minimalist in regards to schoolwork and materials. Our school days are very book-heavy, with a lot of reading together and we do very little paperwork and very few worksheets, especially in early grades. The kids’ school “work” is mostly accomplished through conversation, in oral or drawn/written narration, which is a hallmark of the Charlotte Mason method. (I’d be happy to explain this concept further.)

And I try to give my kids ample time to work out their education and develop their own unique skills and interests in their unscheduled time. To that end, lessons are short and we don’t clutter our days with unnecessary busy-work.

For now, all of the lesson are done here at home with me (with John teaching most fine art technique and handling the bedtime reading). But now that Izzy is in 6th grade, his independent work is becoming increasingly more demanding and I may eventually have to outsource more of his lessons (like Latin, for example) with tutors, outside classes, or online classes.

I gravitate toward using older “Classics” but I’m not afraid of new materials. And I definitely avoid dry text books and picture encyclopedia types of books, opting instead for beautiful living books that are more humane and memorable. For early grades—prek through about 4th—you can truly teach an entire school year with little more than a collection of picture books and ample time spent outdoors. (Honestly, there are entire websites dedicated to it!)

Some of my favorite homeschool materials/resources.

Many of the books I use—as well as the subject matter I choose for art, poetry, and music, for example–are recommendations found on Ambleside Online, which is an online Charlotte Mason curriculum. I also love to steal recommendations from the book lists published by Read-Aloud Revival for my kids’ independent reading.

We use Singapore Math for our math curriculum. The Primary Mathematics series works best for us, but they do have a Common Core series that might work best for you if your kids will transition back into traditional school. (I don’t bother buying the textbooks until about 5th grade level but if you’re weak in math, go ahead and buy them.) In early years, I find it helpful to teach math conversationally, without workbooks or paperwork. I have never used a curriculum for k or 1st grade math. Edith has asked to “move faster,” so she will be starting a 2nd grade workbook this year so she can work independently.

If you’re looking for a packaged curriculum, I highly recommend The Good and The Beautiful. This will be our second year using one of their Science curricula, as well as a typing curriculum, and they have many more subjects. (We used their Anatomy curriculum last year.)

We use Learning Without Tears for copywork and penmanship/cursive.

Simply Charlotte Mason publishes some really lovely packaged curriculum, especially for artist and composer studies. They have a great elementary arithmetic program.

I like The Well-Trained Mind Classical curriculum offerings but have never used them as scripted. We use their history curriculum–Story of the World–and Grammar–First Language Lessons. (I use these books more a guide for what to teach, not how to teach it. I don’t follow the rules.)

Brave Writer is awesome, too, for developing writing and reading comprehension skills.

Khan Academy is probably the best free secular resource available online. It’s great for educational videos. And I love the math tutorials for times when I need extra help teaching something. (IXL is great for this, too.)

There are as many homeschool curricula available as there are stars in the sky. It can get overwhelming really quickly. Just focus on your goals and philosophy and choose something that you can imagine wanting to take off the shelf every morning.


What about testing and assessments?

We do not do formal testing. Instead, we do oral exams at the end of each term. These exams just walk each child through a few of the things we’ve learned throughout the term to gauge comprehension. I record the conversations and make detailed notes. And it helps me know what’s working and what’s not so I know how to move forward.

I will likely have the kids suffer through two or three standardized tests prior to HS graduation, just to familiarize themselves with the process, but we have not done it yet.

In the state of Ohio you can choose, instead of standardized testing, to submit an assessment of your year’s work. You just need a liscenced Ohio educator to assess the work–sometimes called a portfolio–and verify that your child has done “an adequate amount of work for their ability.” Every assessor is different, but we hire a woman who is a former homeschool mom. We create our portfolio of samples of the year’s work and she talks through it with us and asks a few questions and then signs off on it. She also offers any advice or suggestions we might need for the next year, if we want it. The school system itself will never even see your child’s actual work.

(We would usually submit this assessment to the Superintendent when we submit our official “Intent to Homeschool” paperwork to withdraw for the following year. But, for 2020, due to COVID, assessments are being waived.)

So how do we organize our days so we get everything done?

I’ll run through the basics of our day now and then my next post will have more info about the elements of our school day and what we study, specifically. (So if something doesn’t make sense yet or a concept is completely foreign, stay tuned.)

Click here to see a basic outline of our daily schedule.

Our days begin with rising and preparing for the day. After feeding the kids, I “excuse myself” from responsibilities for about 30-45 minutes so I can focus on what Charlotte Mason called Mother Culture. This is my time for feeding my own body, mind, and soul.

Our school time starts with a Morning Basket.

Then we move into Independent Work.

Then, there is hopefully a nice break before lunch for tidying/chores and resting or outdoor play.

After lunch, we do our Group Lessons, which we can all do together (and is best done when the 3 yr-old is sleeping).

Then we alternate days between Riches–which are often done during a shared tea time or outdoors–and Occupations, which the kids work on independently.

One day a week, we try to hike and do a nature study outdoors. (This is usually our co-op day.) To make this possible, we leave most Fridays pretty wide open but can adjust the day as necessary.

Also–we organize our school year in 3 12-week terms, roughly Labor Day until Memorial Day, with about two weeks’ wiggle room for holidays.

How To Survive At Home With Your Kids During the Pandemic

Congratulations!

The COVID-19 virus has officially been declared a “pandemic” and that means you’re now officially a stay-at-home parent.

Welcome to the party.

Let’s be clear about something here at the start–
Being with your kids around the clock is hard. Super hard. So hard that the next few weeks will make you wonder, at times, why you ever decided to have kids at all. They will annoy you. You will annoy them. There may be screaming involved.

But your kids are actually pretty awesome. And you are going to do a great job. (God gave you these kids; you were made for this.)

And this won’t last forever. (Repeat that as many times as you need to so you can sleep at night.)

Now I understand that some of you are in really tricky situations at this point. Maybe you are unable to work from home–or to work well from home–or you will have to take unpaid leave to tend to your kids. Maybe you are a single parent with no childcare options.

I don’t want to make light of your situation but I also want you to understand that, once you find a solution that works, this disruption could be an immense blessing for both you and your kids .

I hope you find a way to be home together.
I believe that “home together” is a great place to be, even if it doesn’t last forever.

So, whether you’ll be rearranging work schedules so you can stay home with your kids or are already home but not used to having the kids around, let’s talk about how to make the most of the next few weeks.

First, you can use this time to establish healthy family rhythms that the busy-ness of your normal lives don’t allow.

You can begin your days together around the breakfast table and share dinner together without rush and hurry. You can spend more time sharing things you love–things like reading, praying, playing, or hiking. If you’d like, you can share poetry or fairy-tales over tea or hot cocoa in the afternoon like we do.

You can incorporate your children into the daily responsibilities of home life.

They can take on more chores and household projects during the day. They can help prepare meals. They can help care for siblings. They can help you care for neighbors in need. In so doing, they will develop a better understanding for all the work that happens “behind the scenes” while they are usually at school or at play or doing homework.

You can give your children space to explore interests that are usually only afforded a fraction of their time.

They can deep dive into subjects they’ve only skimmed the surface of at school or research something they’d love to know more about. They can spend three weeks learning about whatever makes them excited to learn, whether it’s WWII airplanes or the plumage of waterfowl. Or, if they need to, they can use the time to catch up on math skills or reading assignments they’ve fallen behind on in their regular classes. 

And you can let them play hard.

Without “school tomorrow” looming over their heads, your kids can immerse themselves in a favorite toy or game that usually takes too much time to play or set up (or take down). It might be playing a game of RISK, building a Lego city, writing a short story, or sewing a skirt. Maybe it’s writing a new song or organizing a game of Capture the Flag with neighbors. You child now has time to learn a new skill like embroidery or carpentry. They can read in a tree all morning; they can paint on the back porch all afternoon.

Basically, for those of you who are now on an extended Spring Break, this is your chance to experience the best parts of homeschooling without the actual “schooling.”

It sounds awesome, right? Enjoy it.

And for those whose kids have formal academic work to complete at home during this time–via digital lessons or take-home work–this is going to be a hard couple of weeks. I won’t lie. Homeschooling is hard. (Especially if you will be working at the same time, as well.)

But homeschooling is also awesome.

And with a family rhythm that works for you and your kids, a lot of patience with each other, and a little more intentional time management, you might find that it’s much easier than you feared and you’ll be surprised to see how each day affords plenty of time for both the work and the fun.

Heck, you might actually enjoy it a little bit.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are interested in some tangible resources that can help you order your day so it moves along without too much fruitless boredom or frustration, the internet is a wealth of resources. And there are as many homeschool family schedules as there are homeschool families because everyone’s needs are different.

I’d be happy to help you find what you’re looking for if you reach out to me. I’m certainly not an expert, but I’ve done enough research and have enough experience at this point to at least know where to find the real experts.

 

Rescuing My Kids’ Childhood From My Fear

My eleven year-old carries a pocket knife.

He cooks his own eggs. He rides a bike without a helmet. He hangs out on the front porch alone and digs through his dad’s woodworking tools without supervision.

After 11 years of parenting and four kids, I have never “baby-proofed” my home. No outlet covers, no table corner pads, no baby gates. No hiding the kitchen knives. No carrying hand sanitizer on my keychain.

We are a bumps and bruises, trial and error kind of family.

This sometimes gives people the impression that my husband and I are careless with our children or negligent. But the truth is that I welcome a healthy dose of vulnerability to danger in my home because I need to, not because I want to. In fact, I want none of this.

Sometimes it sounds like a dream to have quiet, calm, safe children who think nothing of setting fires in the backyard or being left home alone before they’re 16.

But “safe” is not what most children are. Nor what they should be.

Left to their own devices, children are small madmen, conjuring experiments and fairytales while dressed in their father’s work coat. They are con-artists. They are magicians. They are storytellers and thieves and tightrope walkers. They dream big and believe everything and sometimes really do think they could fly if they tried.

And the more alive they are in their child-ness, the more vulnerable to danger they become and the more their safety falls outside my control.

I want control.
I want power.

So none of this “free range kids” stuff feels good to me, at least not at first, because it is a daily reminder of the frailty of life and the powerlesness of parenting.

It doesn’t matter how smart and competent my kid is or how well my toddler can climb the stairs. The truth is: I cannot protect them from all the dangers of the world. I obviously know this. But every time they make a small mistake that leads to a small consequence–they cut their finger, they trip running down the sidewalk, etc.–it’s like a reminder that they may one day make a big mistake with a big consequence. And then the reality hits me that, one day, they might get hurt. Hurt bad. Or hurt someone else. (Or both.)

The anxiety can sometimes feel crippling.

I worry for my kids all the time. I worry about both rational and irrational things. I worry about them being bit by angry dogs, being abused by a friend, or getting stuck on an elevator alone.

House fires, flash floods, bee stings, hiking accidents, infectious diseases, accidental poisoning. I worry about all of it.

“Then put a lock on the medicine cabinet, you idiot!”

Right?
Maybe. But probably not.

(Don’t take it personally; It’s okay if you lock your medicine cabinet.)

The lengths to which we’ll go to protect our children vary at different times, at different ages, and with different kids. Hard and fast rules don’t apply to most of this stuff. Every parent has to exercise wisdom and weigh which risks are work the benefits of taking the risk and which are not.

But, trying to ensure the absolute safety of your child with more elbow pads or a larger carseat is an exercise in futility if you haven’t first done the hard work of accepting that your children live in a world that simply not safe.

Safety–as least so far as it depends on you–is a bit of an illusion. You can wash your kids’ hands a million times and they’ll still end up sick eventually.

We often exact our control over our children in immediate ways as a way of coping with our fears about all of the things that are possible and yet completely outside our control–things like being in the wrong place at the wrong time, needing the one thing missing from the first aid kit, a freak accident, or a random act of violence.

But, the irony of making our kids “safe” and under our control is that, in these kinds of unforeseen and scary scenarios, our children’s best chance of overcoming is to conjure that mad scientist to life. (The mad scientist that some of us killed long ago with our “Be careful!” and “Slow down!” and “Stop taking my garlic powder into the backyard!”)

Our kids need to have a survival instinct as they grow. They need to be able to think on their feet, to come up with creative solutions, and to be confident enough to actually try them. Most kids start with those gifts. We need to make sure they keep and develop them.

How do we do this?

Well, it has less to do with how long their carseat faces backwards and more to do with our posture toward them and their desire to exercise their freedom.

It means training ourselves to replace the words “be careful” with “think about what might happen if you do that.”

It means no longer insisting on doing for them the things they are capable of doing themselves, whether it’s packing their lunch or putting on their mittens or leading the way to the library.

It means no longer interpreting their confidence and independence as an assault on my authority.

It means cultivating strength into benevolent leadership, pride into confidence, and strong-will into tenacity.

It means teaching them the difference between being willing to take a risk and being reckless.

It means letting them experience the power of cause and effect.

It means giving them many opportunities to solve a problem on their own.

The specifics of how you do this with your kids will look different from mine because every kid is different. (And their natural ability to navigate danger will be different, too.)

Just start somewhere and let it grow from the ground up.

What’s the pay off? Well, they grow up. And it’s awesome.

Case in point:

Last Summer, when we were at the pool, my son took my keys and ran home to grab something we’d forgotten.

Meaning: I didn’t need to pack up the four kids and all of our crap and walk back home.

Often, I’ll send my kids down the road for a loaf of bread from the bakery.

Meaning: It doesn’t ruin soup night anymore if I forget the milk.

Lately, my daughter (who is 8), has been asking if she can go spend time at the coffeeshop alone. (“When you’re ten,” I told her. And I meant it.)

Meaning: My daughter feels confident and brave and is excited to exercise those gifts.

When my kids are in a really lousy mood, I send the three oldest for a run around the block.

Meaning: They get exercise and I don’t have to deal with them when they’re acting like monsters.

Recently, I was neck deep into cooking dinner when I realized I didn’t have any milk for the recipe. So, I gave my kids $5 (which I borrowed from my son who always has more cash than me because he’s like that) and sent them down the road for a carton of milk. They were $.50 short (organic milk, dang), so my son left his sister there with the milk and he hightailed it home for the two quarters he needed.

They both returned a few minutes later.

And it felt totally normal.

This freedom should be normal for kids. I know it has been a real game-changer for us.

And, suddenly, this free-range kid thing starts to make a lot more sense.

 

Submitting to the Work of Motherhood

There is a recurrent theme in many of the blogs and articles my female peers share online: I’m a mom and I’m tired.

I like these articles. They speak to my own experience and I find them refreshingly honest. But, ladies, are we really surprised? Why is it that my generation of women is so disenchanted by the amount of investment and the physical, mental, and emotional work required of motherhood, especially of the stay-at-home variety?

Part of our problem is that, somewhere along the line, the popular narrative of womanhood starting painting motherhood as a side gig, something we could do in our spare time. Parenting and educating our kids–even our newborns–became something we could outsource to a professional while we pursued other work.

Can we outsource our mothering? Sure. For the right price. (I mean, the wealthy have done it for generations.) But it’s a price many of us are not willing pay–even if we could.

I, for one, like seeing the increase in public acknowledgement of the work of motherhood. It validates what we all know: motherhood is work. It’s damn hard work. The women I know who do it full-time (in place of working outside the home) are exhausted. And the women I know who are mothers on top of another career are exhausted in maybe a more profound way. And it’s good that we’re admitting it.

For my part, I strongly affirm a woman’s decision to stay home full-time with her children. In fact, I strongly encourage it as the “Plan A” for all mothers of young children for many reasons–economic, spiritual, emotional, etc.. I know that, by saying this, I run the risk of offending some of my friends who have chosen another plan or feel like Plan A just didn’t work for them. But my goal is not to shame those women. (In fact, it took me 7.5 years of motherhood to finally stay home full-time and, even now, I still take freelance work on the side.) My goal, instead, is to validate the work of motherhood and affirm those who have submitted to it as such.

All blogs and op ed articles aside, we don’t do a good job of encouraging women in the work of motherhood. Instead, among my peers, we praise young women for pursuing professional degrees that will take 5-10 years of their child-bearing lives before they then commit to another 5-10 years of career building. And conversely, even if we claim otherwise, we perceive stay-at-home motherhood as a pit stop for women, something they do only while their children are very young, before they get to the fulfilling work they will do outside of the home once their children are in school (as if the work ends when our children turn 6).

Now, obviously, no good mother “turns off” her mothering. I know many fantastic mothers who are trying to balance both a career and home life and even a woman who works 50 hours a week outside of the home is never not a mother. Motherhood is a 24/7 job and the nuclear family is the single-most influential institution in a child’s life. This is only more affirmation that we need to respect the work of motherhood as not only hard work in and of itself, but an entirely different kind of work than all other work that a woman could choose. And we need to treat it as not equal but actually paramount to whatever other work she does.

Do I mean to say that women cannot or should not pursue professions that require investment outside their home? Maybe. Maybe not. Asserting either would be beside my point. I’m more interested in exposing our double-standard in the way we affirm other work above motherhood so that women who do choose motherhood to be their work feel validated in that decision.

And then I’d like to encourage mothers to submit to motherhood as work the same way they would any other career or vocation.

To illustrate my point: A medical student knows that she is going to have to invest the next 7-10 years of her life in pursuing her career. The road is long and will require many sacrifices. Her social life, her financial security, her 8 required hours of sleep, her diet, even her sex life. They will all take the back seat at some point to her pursuit. But is it worth it? To her, yes. There is a goal at the end: a medical career and the professional, ideological, personal, and social perks it brings.

But what about a woman’s 7-10 (or 20+) year investment in motherhood? What does she have to look forward to at the end of the road other than a ten year void on her professional resume and weird looks from the other people at dinner parties when she says she’s “just a mom?”

Motherhood supplies no PhD. No paycheck (though we could argue the financial benefits of staying home vs. working). There is no guaranteed social capital or respect among peers.

But there are the children.
Are they not enough?

Is it not enough to invest our lives in producing a handful of mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy kids? Kids who have been disciplined and educated consistently by people who know them and love them? Kids who are emotionally secure and attached so they can go into the world and continue to produce likewise healthy and secure children on and on into the future?

And what about the personal benefits of motherhood?

What about the way it pushes us physically, mentally, and emotionally? What about the things it teaches us about our own limits and capacity to grow and change? What about the way it exposes our best and worst selves and sanctifies us over and over again? What about the way it brings a part of us to life that doesn’t really exist when exercised any other way? What about the way motherhood binds women together across cultures and generations?

Is that not worth “taking a few years off?”
Isn’t that a kind of work worth submitting yourself to for a while?

Let me clarify what “submitting to the work of motherhood” does not mean:

It does not mean you will only be a mother. It does not mean that you stop being a wife or a friend or a teacher or a marathoner or a bird watcher. It does not mean that, when introduced in public, you have to always list your role as “mom” first. This does not need to be the only thing people know about you.

It does not mean you cannot find work on the side to help pay your family’s bills. It does not mean you should never get paid to write or to babysit someone else’s children or to sell beauty products. It does not mean saying “no” to offers to consult professionally if you have the capacity to do so.

It does not mean your husband should never help clean the house or that you can’t pay a babysitter to watch the kids. It does not mean you have to homeschool the kids or bake your own bread or knit them all winter hats. It does not mean you may no longer order pizza on Friday nights after a long week.

It does not mean you have to have six to eight kids. And it does not mean you have to have them when you’re a newlywed 22. And, it does not mean you’re less of a mother if it takes until you’re 45 and become a foster parent instead.

Lastly–submitting to the work of motherhood does not require you idolize motherhood. You need not obsess over your children. You need not talk about them constantly. And you need not lose sleep over how frequently you fail and screw it up. (Because, yes, you will surely screw it up. No one is good at all motherhood requires. I humbly submit myself as evidence of this.)

What this does mean:

Submitting to the work of motherhood means walking into the job expecting it to be hard and committing to do it well the same way–or more than–you would any other job. It means letting motherhood be the kind of work that your children are worthy of. And it means letting motherhood make you a better woman for it.

It means that, when you meet a woman who is a stay-at-home mom, you should not pity her as if this is all she could have done and you should not shame her for not having a profitable career. Instead, you should validate her decision the same way you would validate any woman engaged in valuable work–like a woman who you can learn something from.

Husbands, it means validating your wives for the hard work they do and how much easier it makes your life. Your wife lives a world that is still waiting for her to find a “real job” and she needs to know what these sacrifices mean to you and your kids. It means reminding her that her work will bear fruit (because she won’t always believe it). Practically-speaking, it means helping her find solutions that streamline and ease the labor especially since, out of necessity, most of the daily maintenance of a home will probably rest on her. (This also means ensuring she gets a legit Sabbath when–or before–she needs it.)

I hope that, if you are a mom (or wish to be), you will stop selling yourself short. The work is hard and the value of motherhood is immeasurable. It’s okay to be tired.

Mothers, do not be ashamed to commit a long, hard 5 or 10 or 20 years to working at this like it’s your job. Because it is.

How I’m Surviving This Year Of Homeschooling

Have you heard the joke about cleaning with kids in the house?

It goes like this: Cleaning with young kids under foot is like brushing your teeth with oreos in your mouth.

Well if that’s true, then homeschooling with young kids around is like brushing your teeth with oreos in your mouth while holding a baby and reciting poetry.

Translation: it ain’t easy.

If you count the year I “started preschool” with my eldest child, then this is my fifth year homeschooling. I’m currently teaching third grade, first grade, and something akin to preschool with a one year old baby along for the ride.

In some ways, this year has been far easier than years past. I know my kids a lot better, I’ve learned a lot of teaching tricks, have an ever-growing inventory of tools and books at my disposal, and I’m more confident in what I’m trying to do (even if I’m still learning as I go).

Logistically and emotionally, though, this year has been rough. At the most base level, I’m struggling with the 24/7 presence of four children in my home (though that struggle is nothing new for me). And, with a young toddler in the house, the chaos is over the top. It seems like as soon as we get started with a lesson, the baby falls off a chair. (Literally, he falls about a dozen times a day.)

Some days I can take the chaos with good humor, but other days leave me exhausted and overwhelmed. These past few months, there has been a lot of (both me and them) crying and hiding in the bathroom, counting down the minutes until I can get the baby to sleep so we can focus or the hours until my husband comes home.

Not all days are that hard. Most weeks, we have about one or two awesome school days that make me feel like a superhero teacher/mom/housekeeper/wife and make me want to shower my kids with candy and cupcakes all day and then publish a book about how awesome my family is. We also have one or two days a weeks that feel only marginally successful but (thankfully) go along without too much drama. And then there are always the one or two days that seem absolutely impossible until the day is finally over and I take a deep breath and honestly can’t believe we survived.

But we do survive.
We’ve survived 22 weeks of the school year, in fact. And I’m certain we’ll survive the next 14.

For anyone else in a similar overwhelmed-but-hopeful situation with homeschooling, I’d like to share how I’m surviving.

I’m slowing things down and doing less. I am saying “no” to invitations I’d really rather accept. I am ignoring cool events around town that I would normally love to bring my kids to. We are staying home more and not feeling bad about it and, while at home, I am keeping lessons quick, simple, and not forcing things that aren’t working. I’m not letting myself feel guilty for not enrolling the kids in sports or swimming lessons or art classes. I’ve also been taking one morning a week (like today!) to get away from the house, work on some writing, take care of personal/family business, run errands, etc. Even three hours a week makes a huge difference in my mental stability. I leave two or three easy, independent tasks for the two school-aged kids to do while I’m gone so they don’t completely waste the time and so we can jump back into “school” when I get back. It’s a life saver.

I’m adjusting my daily expectations for my kids and myself. The bulk of my school planning is done at the end of the previous year when I assess the work we’ve done and make lists of goals and attainments for the next year. The specifics come together over the summer as I research and purchase new materials and then it’s all re-calibrated as we near the end of each term. My planning documents for each term are not organized by day. Instead, I have a subject-based lesson checklist for each week. This means I have a lot of wiggle room on a daily basis to adjust my schedule and our content based on the needs of the day. In a season like ours, this is the only way to keep on track without getting constantly discouraged about not meeting goals like how many chapters we’ve read today or how many math facts my kid has memorized this week.

I’m learning to turn on a dime. Thriving in a season like ours requires being able to change course quickly. If something is not working, if the baby never fell asleep, if the weather is suddenly sunny, sometimes the best thing we can do is change the plan for the day. With so much to do and so many moving parts in a big family, I don’t waste time making myself or my kids miserable. Instead, I’m learning to stop the train before it derails and redirect quickly.

I’m trying not to compare my family to any other homeschooling families or myself to other homeschool moms. Maybe it’s a symptom of the social media age or maybe just a symptom of womanhood, but I’m constantly looking over my shoulder at how we compare to other families. It’s unhealthly and emotionally taxing. It’s a distraction. And I’m learning to stop it before it steals the joy from homeschooling and parenting. So what if my school room isn’t as beautiful as yours? Who cares if I don’t look photo-ready while taking my kids on a walk to the library? And is it really a big deal if my 6 year-old is still working to differentiate between “b,” “d,” and “p?” No. It’s not.

I’m putting the kids to work. This is admittedly one of the hardest parts of parenting for me but something I’m working on. Teaching kids to clean and cook and take care of themselves takes patience that I don’t always have to spare. But the investment in teaching my kids now will pay off in a huge way as they grow. One of my favorite new things to remind the kids, when telling them for the fifth time (or sixth time or seventh time) to clean up after themselves is: “This is not a punishment; this is your responsibility.” Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all, as adults, understood this for ourselves?

I’m reminding myself the “why” and keeping it in the front of my mind. People homeschool for many different reasons. Some, for example, have children with special needs or gifted children who require special attention or direction. I wrote a post a few years ago, when my son was in the first grade, about why I’m choosing to homeschool our kids and I re-read it every so often to keep myself focused. (While some of that post is outdated, it’s still mostly true. Check it out if you’re interested.) Keeping the reasons why I’m doing this in the front of my mind help me keep my priorities straight and make better value judgments about the work we’re doing (or not doing, as the case may be).

I’m keeping my head in the game. I keep reading, researching, and refining my beliefs about child development, parenting, and education. I don’t want to follow a method of schooling blindly or without thoughtfulness. Part of my responsibility as a mother and educator is working at it like a job, like it matters as much as any other career or vocation. That requires focus and energy in developing my skills so I can serve my family well. As I adopt an educational philosophy and method that excites me to teach, it makes walking through a difficult season a lot easier.

I’m leaning on community. Making “girlfriends” is not easy for me, but I’m trying to stretch myself. Some of this involves presence on social media and using it be inspired and encouraged by other homeschooling families. Some of this involves inviting myself into the lives of other women who are further along in the journey than I am. And some of this involves making time for friendships with women of all ages and life stages that hold me up through a difficult season and vice versa.

(Sidebar: Please, if you know me in real life and feel like we should be friends, let’s make it happen.)

And, lastly, I’m reminding myself that this is just a season. Kids grow fast and the one year-old who is driving me crazy today will be talking tomorrow and then riding a bike and, someday, driving a car. (WHAT!?)

This year is hard. But this too shall pass. And I’d rather make the most of the luxury of keeping these kids around the house all day than wish them gone.

What a Children’s Library is Good For

Earlier this summer, it was announced that the Cincinnati Public Library is pursuing selling off a part of their downtown branch’s facility and consolidating services into their main building. Under normal circumstances, consolidating services sounds like a grand idea. Save space. Save time. Save resources. Right?

The situation at the library is a bit more complicated than that for two reasons.

First, the word on the street is that the library’s facility could be sold off to a private developer, transferring an entire city block of beloved public amenities into private investors’ hands. Our community (OTR) is already burdened under the heavy hand of big investments from people who seem to think they know what we need better than we know ourselves and we’re tired of it. So this is not a welcome option.

Second, most of the services that will need to be moved and consolidated are geared toward youth: the children’s library and garden, the teenspace, etc. (plus the makerspace!). The threat of losing the entire building is scary for parents (and kids) like us who make frequent use of it and its kid-friendly services.

So what can we do about it?

Well, we’ve seen how these things work. By the time the public hears rumors of this sort of thing, backroom dealings have already occurred. So I understand that it’s probably too late to do anything at all.

Plus, maybe the experts are right. Maybe the library can consolidate and still offer the same quality of service. So maybe it doesn’t even make sense to fight it.

But, for those willing to hear, there’s a lot that needs to be said in favor of the library as it is. And there are certainly a few words left to be spoken about the Children’s library, in particular.

 

Here goes:

  • The public library is one of the only free, indoor public spaces downtown. It provides public restrooms, comfortable chairs, internet access, water fountains, shelter from the rain and cold, etc. It is impossible to quantify the public good a library does by its very presence, in addition to any actual literary contribution to society. Losing any square footage, honestly, is a huge loss.
  • Because it is a completely free public amenity, it attracts a diverse group of patrons. So long as you follow the rules (which are few), all are welcome. This kind of inclusive space exists almost nowhere. It is worth protecting. While attending storytime, public programs, or just browsing for books, my kids and I have felt part of a truly diverse community. This is one of my favorite things about living downtown and one of the best things about the library.
  • The children’s garden is one of the city’s only public, enclosed outdoor spaces for kids. Washington Park’s playground is fenced in, as well, but the library’s garden is different. It feels like a natural escape in an otherwise concrete jungle. We’ve had picnics in the garden, school lessons, played tag, practiced bird watching, and more. There is another, very nice, walled garden at the library’s south building, but it is open to all patrons. Adding the natural chaos of children to such a dignified garden may be tricky for both parties.
  • The children’s library is heavy on books and lite on media. There are a handful of computers and iPads available for use (and, yes, my kids use them and love them), but the majority of the space is still occupied by books. Real books. The kind of books many libraries don’t even keep on public floors anymore. Consolidating the children’s library, I fear, means hiding all those lovely books behind closed doors. Which means we’ll now have to request a book from a librarian at the desk. Which means fewer children experiencing the pleasure of browsing through shelves of unfamiliar books to find literary treasure which is, honestly, one of the greatest joys of reading.
  • Because of the way the building is currently laid out, the children’s library seems isolated from the rest of the library. I understand how it’s likely a logistical nightmare for staff and management because, I will admit, I don’t often make my way over to “my books” anymore because it’s so inconvenient. But this kind of set-apart “kid space” is a dream for my kids. We walk into the building and they instantly feel at home. They roam within the confines of their own library without me hovering over. And it’s not really about “safety”; it’s about ownership and comfort. They can wander and browse and enjoy their pint-sized library world with their own librarians, their own kids-sized bathrooms, their own computers to use, their own garden, their own public events and summers camps and storytimes. Babies even have their own toys. My fear is that moving the children’s library to the other building means surrendering their domain and being grandfathered into a building where–like everywhere else in their world–everything is made for adults. This is nowhere more evident than the computer labs in the south building where most of the adults are busy watching music videos, playing video games, and (I’m sure) some are watching porn. What adults do with their free time is their decision, but that’s not exactly the cultural experience I’m hoping to provide for my children when I visit the library. So, it’s nice to let kids have their own space to be kids.

 

A few weeks ago, I thought I might gather some friends to stage a “read-in” in solidarity for the Children’s library and garden. In my mind, I was going to be a big hero and I was going to save the library and we’d all live happily ever after in our safe, spacious, kid-sized literary wonderland. But, like I said, I think it’s probably too late to actually do anything about this. So, I am relegated to writing instead so I can at least feel like “I said something.”

My hope is that, no matter what decision is made about the fate of our library, those in power are able to design the new children’s space to be as beneficial to the community as the current one is.

We love the children’s library. And, if/when it’s gone some day soon, we will damn sure miss it.

Even if we love the new one, too.

 

 

“The most common and the monstrous defect in the education of the day is that children fail to acquire the habit of reading.” – Charlotte Mason

The Season of Perpetual Motherhood

My oldest child will turn 8 next month (!!). I had a daughter 2.5 years later. Another daughter 2 years after that. And I’m due to have another son any day (any moment) now.

In all, I’ve spent about 8.5 years pregnant and breastfeeding, physically connected in one way or another to children who are dependent on me as their primary caregiver. Yes, I’ve worked part-time during most of those years and I have spent a few hours away from them a few days a week. But, practically speaking, motherhood and its demands and responsibilities have been my primary vocation for 8.5 years. With my new baby’s arrival imminent, I can count on at least 2 more years of the same.

I am 34 years old and this is my season of (what sometimes seems like) perpetual motherhood.

Definition time: By “perpetual motherhood,” I mean the willingness to continue in a constant state of pregnancy and child-rearing as one’s primary role and responsibility, in contrast with women who “take a few years off” from their lives and careers to have one or two kids before returning to other responsibilities.

Life update: A few months ago, I quit my “day job.”

As a matter of principal, I’ve never worked full-time since my first child was born. But, the economics of our family situation being what they were, I was blessed (100x blessed) to already be in a job with an organization that valued me enough to allow me the flexibility to transition into a super part-time role. Once I got pregnant with Baby #4, I knew that the logistics of my job were going to be impossible to juggle and I finally took the leap into official unemployment. (Which isn’t even honestly true since I work as a freelance writer from home.)

Specifics aside, the past few months since my transition out of work have forced a lot of difficult soul-searching about this season of life and about how it has grown and challenged me. It’s still new to me and I haven’t finished processing it all, but I’m 40+ weeks pregnant and feeling bold enough to share.

The truth about perpetual motherhood is that

It’s isolating.

In the 21st Century, I don’t have all that many peers. I don’t blame other women for not wanting to choose this road with me, but I sometimes feel like I’m an island in a sea of moms who paid their full-time mothering dues for a few years, but have moved past this season into more interesting and exciting things–even if that’s just more time alone or with others, without their kids. I, conversely, spend almost 100% of my time in the company of young children. And it’s surprisingly lonely.

It’s hard to make and keep friends.

I may talk up being an introvert an awful lot, but being an introvert means less about “liking people” and more about desiring close, meaningful relationships rather than casual ones. Being an introverted mother means sometimes feeling physically smothered by children who you truly enjoy and love desperately but who simply cannot (and should not) meet your mental and emotional needs. But it means not having the social energy to pursue the relationships you desire with other women, especially those in a different season of life than you.

And it’s hard to connect with your husband.

Parenting together is the most amazing and frustrating task a couple can undertake. Watching the man you love become a father is like watching a new part of him come to life. And it’s fantastic. But it’s not enough. My husband and I have spent nearly all of our married life with children. And those first few years were rough in ways we never acknowledged until recently. Learning to connect as “us” before “us with kids” is really, really important and, if you never really have enough time to make it happen before you’re “with kids,” then it’s even harder to make it happen after the fact. Especially when you keep adding kids to the picture and you have to start all over again with each new baby.

Choosing motherhood requires much more personal sacrifice than I anticipated.

The world of business executive husbands and nannies aside, most of the perpetual mothers I know have given up an awful lot for their decisions. They sacrifice careers (along with their income potential and financial independence). They give up their bodily autonomy and self-care for the sake of carrying and caring for babies. They lay aside creative aspirations, life goals, and dreams of worldly success. They give up time with their husbands who often work longer and harder and more so their wives won’t need to. They give up yearly vacations and extravagant gifts and $75 steaks because they’ve re-negotiated wants vs. needs. And, whether these children come by birth or by fostering or adopting, these parents have already reconciled one fact: this is not a temporary situation. This is the life we’ve chosen.

And it’s impossible to ask for, or expect, sympathy.

No one forced me to do this. It was our decision to have kids right away. To have four of them. My decision to breastfeed them for what seems like forever. To homeschool. To quit my job. To live an urban lifestyle we can’t really afford. To support my husband’s decision to work for a non-profit rather than make big bucks elsewhere. (Etc.)

I chose this life because I believe it is good for my kids and valuable work for me and the best for our family. I never expected it to be easy. (Geez, can you imagine the disappointment that would have caused!?)

I am not a victim and I don’t need sympathy.

But I also wish I didn’t feel so alone in my decision. Invalidated by a culture that sees motherhood as a job you take on the side. Left behind by my peers. Isolated from other moms who are living similar lives, like islands, alone with their gaggles of children.

 

 

I know a lot of awesome moms who have made very different decisions than me for very good reasons. And, here in the thick of things, I can understand why they would. I may not agree with a woman’s decision to be a “career mom,” but I know for a fact that it is a hard decision and carries a lot of difficult implications, as well.

All good moms see themselves as “full-time moms” even when they have other roles and responsibilities. Child-rearing is hard work, whether it’s with two or twelve kids, whether it’s your full-time “job” or something you share with a babysitter or their father or their elementary school. So, there’s just simply no way to compare our lives equitably. At least not in a way that truly validates the role of motherhood in the way it deserves to be validated for all moms.

(Career moms are not victims, either, and they don’t need my sympathy.)

 

 

Some days of constant mothering leave me wondering when I’ll get back a little bit of what I gave up for this life and hoping there are some “golden years” awaiting me once my kids are grown that will help make up for the years I’ve given. But, at the end of the day, and at the end of my life, I don’t believe I could ever regret this decision.

These children in my home are more than projects to take up a few years’ of my time until I move on to bigger things. They are little people, after all. Little people with all the hopes and dreams and potential in the world. If training them up is not the most important job in the world, I can’t imagine what would be. (Thankless, exhausting, and isolating as that job may sometimes be.)

Cheer up, perpetual moms.
Even if this season is lonely, you are not alone.