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There’s a saying about homeschooling: “The hardest part of homeschooling is staying home”. It’s true! Especially when you’re plugged into a local homeschool support group as big as ours. We belong to Living Water Home Educators (www.lwhe.org) which currently has 175 member families with well over 300 kids. Between the co-ops & classes, sports, field trips, clubs, parties, gatherings, competitions and fellowship opportunities, add to that some non-homeschool related activities from church and other extra-curricular activities, and then pile on some library visits and various doctor appointments, we find ourselves hard-pressed to find any time for schooling at home! That statement assumes that we sign up for ALL of it which, of course, is an impossibility as much as we’d like to be able to do it all.

I discovered early on that it was waaaaaaay to easy to sign up for things as they became known. I use my computer for just about everything including keeping my calendar so I would check my online calendar (I use Microsoft Outlook’s Calendar feature which also syncs with my iPhone nicely) and if there was an opening that day I’d sign us up for it! That was all well and good until I realized that week after week we were signed up for something just about every day of the week and sometimes even two events per day if there was a doctor or therapy appointment. It got so bad that my kids would whine “Again??? Do we have to?!?!” whenever I excitedly announced our plans for the day. So the first challenge quickly became how to maintain some of the “white space” in our busy calendar so we could get some of the basics covered in our homeschool as well as temper our schedule so that we could enjoy some much needed down time.

The second challenge was keeping my husband informed on where we were on any given day. Since he runs his business right next door to us, he has the flexibility to pop in at any given time, hang out for a bit, or take the kids to lunch, bowling or to a movie, as his erratic business schedule permits. Often times he would come home and not know where on earth we were!

The solution to both challenges turned out to be a really simple idea that a fellow homeschool mom shared with me in scheduling her weeks: a large desk pad calendar hung prominently on a wall that is easily seen by everyone. For us, that prominent wall happens to be our coat closet door next to our home’s entrance. I hang it with a series of four velcro dots lined at both the top and bottom edges of the backside of the calendar.

The desk pad calendar we use is BIG: about 22″ wide by 17″ tall. You can get them from any office supply store for $5-$6, although this year we’re using one that was given to our business by one of our vendors. Each page covers the entire month so the squares for each of the days is sufficiently large enough to write multiple appointments in them. For each month, I pencil in (it’s important to use a pencil – NOT A PEN) all of our existing recurring activities (eg. the kid’s program at church on Wednesday night) as well as any known doctor appointments and birthday parties. Then, before I would commit to participating in any other activities, I FIRST consult my computer’s daily calendar to see if the timeslot is available and, if it was, I would THEN consult my prominently hung desk pad calendar to see if there is adequate “white space” left in that week. If there is, then I sign us up for the activity but if there isn’t, then I don’t commit to the activity and the balance of our homeschool universe is preserved.

My husband loves consulting the calendar on his way out the door in the morning to give him a better idea of what our homeschool day is going to look like…and when he forgets to consult it and unexpectedly pops in during the day to find no one is at home, the calendar reminds him of where we are.

This method of keeping everyone in the know and balancing weekly schedules isn’t just for homeschooling families; it can be used for public- or private-schooled families as well. For those families, the crunch time begins immediately AFTER school lets out in trying to fit in all those appointments and extra-curricular activities before the kids have to get to bed. It’s equally important for EVERY family to maintain a healthy balance of down-time and keep everyone on the same page, as it were.

Wishing you and yours adequate white space!

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I have always owned hundreds of books…never wishing to part with a single one. Not even an old college textbook. Now that I have children, my book inventory has exponentially exploded to THOUSANDS of books. It’s a disease, I think. More so when you’re a home educator. It had gotten to the point where I would be browsing books in a store or yard sale and couldn’t remember if a particular title was already a part of our home inventory. It got bad…really bad.  I found myself buying books I had already purchased before!

I needed a system to help me list and organize all my books. At first I considered building my own database from scratch but then I somehow got clued into http://www.LibraryThing.com. It’s a FREE online database that allows you to create and organize an inventory of all your books. All you need to do is enter in the book’s unique ISBN (International Standard Book Number…that 10 or 13 digit number over the bar code on the back of the book) and…Voila!…it’s part of your online library with a photo of the book cover, pre-assigned categories, publisher, publication date and a whole bunch of assorted goodies.

Doing a unit study on volcanos? Simply search your LibraryThing.com library with the keyword “volcano” and it lists all the titles that include it!  Or do a search on a specific category such as “American Revolution” and any title in your library that is related to that topic will be listed for you!

Found some Hardy Boys books at a store or yard sale but can’t remember which ones you already have? Use your LibraryThing mobile (available on smart phones) to search your library real quick to be sure before you purchase any duplicates.

Here’s a few tips to get started:

  1. If you’ve got a large inventory of books all over the house already, entering them all in will take some time.   Do a little each day or hire cheap labor (i.e. a teenager) like I did to plow through them in one fell swoop (or multiple swoops). 
  2. After the books have been added, now is also a good time to physically organize them (back) into a fitting bookshelf somewhere in the house where it makes sense and will be easy to hunt down.  You can even add a location in the Comments section of the online book entry such as “Geography shelf” (if, in fact, you have one) or “Kid’s Bedroom”.
  3. The process will go by quicker if the inputter is an expert in the use of the numeric keypad on the keyboard.
  4. Some book’s ISBNs just can’t be located in the LibaryThing database sources.  No worries, there’s a way to input the book and its information manually.  Fortunately, this is a rare occurance.
  5. I also use LibaryThing to manually enter other titles that are not of the printed type, such as DVDs (documentaries, movies, etc.) and even Unit Studies that I’ve save to PDF on my computer.  Just be sure to add an appropriate category or keyword to help locate that title during a search.
  6. Get into the habit of adding any new books that come into your house AS SOON as they enter the house.  If you are a member of BookMooch.com, they provide a nifty little interface to immediately link over to LibraryThing during the process in which you acknowledge receipt of one of their books.

LibaryThing is more than just listing and organizing your books.  You can create reading lists, post reviews, have  discussion chats with other users, as well as share your library with others.  Personally, I just use it for listing and organizing books right now because that’s my greatest need at that moment (and, quite frankly, any other spare time I have is sucked up by Facebook). 

LibraryThing.  You’ll love it.   Happy book organizing, folks!

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rfdb logo“MOM!!! I finished the entire book!!!” exclaimed our 8-year-old son as he bounded down the stairs at 9:30pm…a full hour after it should have been “lights out”.  He was waving his chapter book in his hand as evidence.  At first I wasn’t sure if I should reprimand him for not being asleep or congratulate him on the completion of his first chapter book.  Quickly, my common sense took over and I hugged the excited boy and congratulated him on his accomplishment.

This may not seem like a big deal to most people but our son is a struggling reader, as is his older half-brother and father.  I, on the other hand, learned to love to read at an early age and had a voracious appetite for reading throughout both childhood and adulthood.  To learn that the reason our son was a struggling reader was a result of being dyslexic just broke my heart.  I had awful visions of him preferring to hang by his fingernails rather than read a book, just as my husband and step-son do today, because it was such an unpleasant activity.  To deprive himself of all the wonderful journeys that books could take him on was incomprehensible to me.  And so began my own personal journey into how to make sure that our son didn’t become part of the “I hate to read” group and instead foster the “I love to read” attitude in him that I had grown up with.

In the past year, that journey has taken many diverse paths to help our son become a better reader, from vision correction to occupational therapy and everything in-between, and it is far from over.  But I would like to share one tool that has really helped our son improve his reading, and more importantly, foster the love of reading that all children should have.

It all started last summer, when a fellow homeschool mom shared with me a wonderful tool she uses with her children to help them become better readers.  She visits the local library and borrows books on CD (or tape) along with the corresponding book.  Each day she has her children read one chapter out of the book with the CD playing along – TWICE.  After they’ve read the chapter twice they then read the chapter back to her without the aid of the CD.  This method offered her children the ability to practice reading with limited assistance from mom!   What a great idea!  I can’t wait to get started!

The problem with this method for our child, however, was that he was not yet able to read chapter books and the local library had a limited supply of audio CDs and tapes for early readers.  Additionally, our child had difficulty following along with the narrator either because the pace was too fast, or he simply was unable to keep track of where he was on the page (a common symptom of dyslexia).  For us, it was a frustrating process of trying to rewind, or go forward, to find his place over and over again.  It was anything but enjoyable and before we knew it we had exhausted all the few easy reader titles available at the library anyway.

Then one day while sharing a waiting room at the occupational therapist’s office, another mom shared with me about a non-profit organization called Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RFBD) (www.rfbd.org).  She had an 11-year old daughter who was profoundly dyslexic and whose reading greatly improved as a result of using RFBD’s services and in conjunction with other remediation methods.  I was intrigued and needed to know more.

RFBD has an online catalog of over 53,000 books, including text books, available on Audio CD.  All a member has to do is place an order for the Audio CD(s) they want, then borrow the corresponding edition of the book from the local library so the child can follow along in the book while listening to the Audio CD.

Big deal, you say.  I can get a book on CD or tape from the bookstore or library.  That’s true, but here’s what makes these RFBD Audio CDs unique:

The Audio CDs themselves are produced on proprietary media with unique navigational features.  They look like ordinary Audio CDs but they won’t play in ordinary CD players. They will only play in special players offered by RFBD. These special players have key navigational features that ordinary CD players do not have. Most notably:

  • The ability to go to a specific page or heading simply by pressing the “Go To Page” button on the player.  This is a key feature for our son. No more guessing in how far to rewind or move forward the CD!  He could get to where he needed to be at the push of a button!
  • The ability to slow down or speed up the cadence of the narrator.  This, too, was critical for our son’s reading success.  The CDs are recorded by volunteers at normal talking speed but a struggling reader can’t keep up with reading print at that pace.  By pushing either the Speed Up or Down buttons, the child can select the pace of the narrator that is just right for him.  Now, not only can he can read the words and not have to stress about trying to keep up and miss the meaning of the words but he’s no longer limited to readers; he can read and follow along in chapter books, too!
  • The ability to tell my son where he left off in his book.  Often times, the bookmark falls out of my son’s book and because he can rarely remember what page he was last on, it’s quite the challenge to find the right page by resuming play on a player.  However, by simply pressing the “Where Am I” button on the player, it tells him exactly what page he’s on!
  • The ability to bookmark pages…up to 10,000 if desired (although I’m not sure who would ever use that many).

RFBD has a comprehensive catalog of over 53,000 available books, including textbooks, on Audio CD.  That’s far more than any local library will have available on hand! Once the order is placed via their website, the Audio CD usually arrives within 1-2 weeks (sent via Free Matter).  And if you’re looking for a certain book that isn’t part of their 53,000 book catalog, then you can request for them to record one for you.

The Audio CDs are FREE to qualifying members. That’s right…FREE!  You are not charged for the Audio CD and are not even required to return it.  It’s yours to reuse as often as you keep it in your possession.  There is a one-time registration fee of $65 and an annual membership fee of $35.  There’s also the one-time cost of the proprietary CD player which costs from $259 – $895. To qualify as a member, your child’s disability must be certified by an acceptable professional such as a physician, ophthalmologist, optometrist, vocational rehabilitation counselor, neurologist, learning disability specialist, or a psychologist with a background in learning disabilities.

Initially, I had our son using RFBD’s Audio CDs twice a day.  In the morning, I had him take an easy to read/follow-along book (eg. Frog and Toad) and had him read a chapter twice before reading it back to me without the use of the Audio CD (these sessions were independent of his bible reading time and my read-aloud times with him).  At bedtime, he would take a more difficult chapter book (eg. Boxcar Children) and read for 20 minutes using a timer.  Except that, to my complete surprise, the 20 minutes never took!  Of his own volition, his reading sessions at bedtime lasted from 60-90 minutes!  In the three months that we have been using RFBD, he has become a much better reader, expanding his vocabulary, and improving his fluency AND comprehension.  The real payoff, however, is the absolute JOY that exudes from him after reading several chapters or finishing a book and begging me for the next one.  Begging me!!! For him to have that wonderful, joy of reading is exactly what I had been hoping and praying for!

Our precious son was born a dyslexic and will die a dyslexic.  He will continue to learn to become a better reader as we continue on this journey but it will never come easy for him.  With tools like RFBD, however, he has already won half the battle because he has learned to love to read despite those difficulties!

Happy Reading!

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UPDATE 10/24/2008:  Bill A3123 was withdrawn from the Education Assembly Committee until further notice!!!

I’m upset, enraged, perplexed, and alarmed at the latest attack on NJ home educators by certain government officials who have recently proposed a NJ Homeschool Bailout Plan (otherwise known as the very egregious NJ Bill A3123).   This plan proposes to take NJ homeschool regulation from it’s present day of virtual freedom to one of virtually NO freedoms at a significant cost to tax payers, home educators and the homeschooled children.   Unlike our country’s recent mortgage bailout plan, this plan is proposing to “fix” problems in a program that is NOT BROKEN.  These authorities are apparently of the belief that our government has done such an OUTSTANDING job in regulating and the public school system with their No Child Left Behind Joke (er, Act), that they now are capable of acting as governing authority over how parents choose to educate their children at home.  Homeschool parents have already decided that their child will absolutely, positively NOT be left behind emotionally, physically, spiritually, morally, socially, or academically which is WHY they made the choice to homeschool to begin with. 

As my good friend pointed out the other day, regardless of whether you choose to homeschool or not, or have children or not, the real issue here is to defend freedom…ANY FREEDOM…that we as American citizens currently enjoy.  Freedom is a GOOD thing…not a BAD thing and deserves to be fought tooth and nail in order to preserve it.

Here’s the NJ homeschool regulation as it exists today (taken directly from the NJ Dept of Education website):

The following New Jersey statutes apply to compulsory education:

N.J.S.A. 18A:38-25 requires that “every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between six and 16 to ensure that such child regularly attends the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.”

Note:  The provision, “to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school” in N.J.S.A. 18A:38-25, permits a parent/guardian to educate the child at home.

N.J.S.A. 18A:38-31 states that “a parent or guardian or other person having charge and control of a child between the ages of 6 and 16 years, who shall fail to comply with any of the provisions of the article (N.J.S.A. 18A:38-25) relating to his/her duties, shall be deemed to be a disorderly person and shall be subject to a fine of not more than $25.00 for the first offense and not more than $100.00 for each subsequent offense, in the discretion of the court.”

Admittedly, NJ is one of the most relaxed states in terms of homeschool regulation (and we quite like it that way).  Now here is a list of the newly proposed regulations in Bill A3123 which you may want to deliberately read all the way through despite its length to really understand just how ridiculous this bill is (or if in a hurry just simply skip to the end to read my conclusion):

1. Prior to the establishment of a home education program and annually thereafter, on or before August 1, a parent or guardian shall submit to the superintendent of the resident school district a notarized letter registering his child in a home education program. The letter shall include:

a. the name and age of each student participating in the home education program;
b. the name of the supervisor of the home education program responsible for the provision of instruction;
c. the address and telephone number of the home education program site;
d. evidence that such subjects as required by law will be offered, including an outline of proposed education objectives by subject area;
e. evidence that each student being registered has been immunized in accordance with the provisions of the State Sanitary Code adopted pursuant to section 7 of P.L.1947, c.177 (C.26:1A-7) and that the student has received the health and medical services required by State law for students of the child’s age; and
f. a certification to be signed by the supervisor that the supervisor, all adults living in the home, and persons having legal custody of a child in a home education program have not been convicted of the criminal offenses enumerated in section 1 of P.L.1986, c.116 (C.18A:6-7.1) within the preceding five years.

2. a. A home education program shall provide instruction to each registered student for a minimum of 180 days each year.
b. A home education program shall include courses in such areas as determined by the Commissioner of Education pursuant to section 3 of this act and such other areas as determined by the supervisor of the home education program.

3. The Commissioner of Education shall develop guidelines for home education programs that provide for a sequential course of study for each grade, K-12.

4. The resident school district shall, at the request of the parent or guardian of a student registered in a home education program, lend copies of the school district’s planned curriculum, textbooks, and other instructional materials appropriate to the student’s age and grade level. The parent or guardian may be charged for the cost of copying documents in accordance wi 1 th the rates established pursuant to section 6 of P.L.2001, c.404 (C.47:1A-5).

5. a. The resident school district shall permit a student registered in a home education program to participate in the district’s extracurricular activities, including interscholastic athletics, provided that the student:
(1) meets the eligibility criteria or their equivalent for participation in the activity that apply to a student enrolled in the school district;
(2) meets the tryout criteria or their equivalent for participation in the activity that apply to a student enrolled in the school district; and
(3) complies with all policies, rules, and regulations of the governing organization of the activity.
b. In the event that the school district requires a student to complete a medical or physical examination as a condition of participation in the activity, and the school district offers the medical or physical examination to its enrolled students, the school district shall permit a student registered in a home education program to access the examination. The school district shall provide written notification to supervisors of home education programs in the district of the dates and times of the examination.

6. A supervisor of a home education program shall maintain on file for each student enrolled in the home education program a portfolio of records and materials including, but not limited to:

a. a student record that lists reading materials used, samples of writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used or developed by the student;
b. for students in grade levels three, five, and eight, the results of nationally normed standardized achievement tests in reading/language arts and mathematics administered by the supervisor or the results of Statewide tests administered by the resident school district. The test administrator shall not be the student’s parent or guardian; and
c. an annual written evaluation of the student’s educational progress as determined by a qualified evaluator, who may be a licensed psychologist or a certified school psychologist, a teacher or administrator of a public or nonpublic school in the State, or any other individual approved by the superintendent of the resident school district. The evaluator shall not be the supervisor or his spouse or the student’s parent or guardian. The evaluation shall be based on an interview with the child and a review of the materials collected pursuant to subsections a. and b. of this section and shall certify whether or not an appropriate education is occurring in the home education program.

7. a. The supervisor of a home education program shall annually submit the portfolio required pursuant to section 6 of this act to the resident school district on or before June 30th.
b. At such other times throughout the school year as is necessary, the superintendent of the resident school district may submit a written request to the supervisor of a home education program to review all or part of a home schooled child’s portfolio, if the superintendent has reason to believe that an appropriate education is not occurring. Within 30 days of receipt of the written request, the supervisor of the home education program shall submit the requested documentation to the superintendent of the resident school district.
c. In the event that the supervisor of a home education program fails to submit the documentation required pursuant to this section, the home education program shall be deemed unsatisfactory in providing an appropriate education and children in the home education program between the ages of six and 16 shall be promptly enrolled in the resident school district or a nonpublic school.

8. a. In the event that the superintendent of the resident school district determines, based on his review of the portfolio submitted pursuant to section 6 of this act, that the home education program is unsatisfactory in providing an adequate education, he shall provide written notification of his determination, specifying what aspects of the program are inadequate, to the supervisor of the home education program.
b. Upon receipt of the written notification, the supervisor of the home education program shall have 20 days to submit additional documentation demonstrating that an appropriate education is taking place for the child in the home education program.

9. a. In the event that the supervisor of a home education program fails to submit additional documentation pursuant to subsection b. of section 8 of this act, the home education program shall be deemed unsatisfactory in providing an appropriate education and children in the home education program between the ages of six and 16 shall be promptly enrolled in the resident school district or a nonpublic school.
b. In the event that the supervisor of a home education program submits additional documentation pursuant to subsection b. of section 8 of this act, the superintendent shall review the additional materials and issue a new determination on the adequacy of the program. If the superintendent again finds the home education program to be unsatisfactory in providing an appropriate education, the matter shall be referred to the local board of education to consider termination of the program. The board shall have a hearing no later than 30 calendar days following the day on which the superintendent issued his final determination. The decision of the board shall be made within five 1 days after the close of the hearing. If the board finds the home education program to be unsatisfactory in providing an appropriate education, children in the home education program between the ages of six and 16 shall be promptly enrolled in the resident school district or a nonpublic school. Any appeal of the board’s decision shall be made to the Commissioner of Education within 90 days of the decision.

10. This act shall take effect immediately and shall first apply to the 2009-2010 school year.

Anyone with half a brain (with the exception of our governing authorities) can see how heinously biased and ill-thought out this bill is:

  • Who do they think is going to fund the salaries or carry the workload of the people who are now called upon to administer all the regulations in this bill (the commissioner, superintendents, teachers, licensed psychologists, administrators, test administrators, etc.)?
  • What makes them think that they know my child’s physical condition better than I do and just blindly require me to administer a potentially dangerous vaccine to his potentially compromised immune system?
  • Why can public schooled children live with adults who have committed certain crimes but not homeschooled children?
  • Why would I have to bear the cost of reproducing curriculum materials when I’ve already paid for them in the first place as a tax payer?
  • Why would you have me jump through one administrative hoop after another taking away precious educational time from my child (have you not learned from those mistakes made in the public school system)?
  • With all due respect to NJ Assemblypersons Sheila Oliver and Harvey Smith, who sponsored this bill, and with all due respect to the service they have provided to their constituents, rather than cut and paste homeschool regulations from neighboring states, why haven’t they performed due diligence and actually conferred with their district’s own homeschooling constituents on the freedoms and protections they seek (much less conferred with homeschooling families outside their own districts)?
  • Why not survey the success of the homeschool majority instead of focusing on the failures of the homeschool minority? And then…
  • Why not use the homeschool success as a model (teaching to the child instead of to the test) and apply it to the flagrantly broken, inefficient, inflexible and failing public school system?

The most appalling thought in all of this is if NJ is successful in taking their homeschool regulations from the most relaxed homeschooling state to the most restricted homeschooling state in less than 60 seconds, and to have it governed by philosophies that none of us like, much less asked for, think about what could happen to other states that already have a subset of these regulations already in place.  Scary.  The invasiveness of our government has to stop.

Note that in my gamut of emotions described in my opening paragraph that fear was not one of them.  That’s because God doesn’t fill us with a spirit of fear.  NJ home educators need all the support they can get right now to keep doing what they have been able to do:  teach our children safely in the comfort of our own homes.   So please pray for a giant hedge of protection for us from this bill. 

And pray, too, for our governing authority figures because they are in need of much wisdom and discernment which they are sorely lacking at the moment.

Temporarily stepping away from my soapbox…

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Our homeschool support group had their September kickoff meeting last night which was prefaced by a Newbie Workshop. The ladies on the Newbie Team were asked to introduce themselves and follow up with a “word of wisdom” for the newbies in the audience. Their golden nuggets were all great (from “stay teachable” to “keep it simple”). I started to think of what my “word of wisdom” would be (had I been asked) being a newbie myself as I am only starting my 3rd year of homeschooling. The answer immediately popped into my mind. Probably the most important thing I had learned during my second year of homeschooling was how NOT to keep up with the homeschool “Joneses”.

Being a part of a large homeschool support group (113 families and growing), the support, the encouragement, the wealth of information shared, and the social opportunities available have far exceeded any expectations I may have had. It has been an incredibly enriching experience for me and my kids. However, I quickly learned that there is a double edge to that sword. In the process of establishing relationships and gleaning information, I had a tendency to pull out the invisible benchmark to measure our homeschool and my child’s progress against those of other homeschools and their children (as well as non-homeschooled children; perhaps the better title of this post should be “Keeping Up with the ACADEMIC Joneses”.)

I was constantly bombarded with moms who were just GLOWING about their latest curriculum choice which was “SO terrific…you just HAVE to buy it!!!” making me question my own curriculum choices.

Then there were the moms who had their kids up, dressed, fed and chores done before 8am, with their kindergartener’s latin, algebra and chemistry lessons finished by noon.  Jeez…on my best day I’m lucky if I’M up, dressed & fed by 10am…much less my kids. And on a really good day our lessons start by 11am and rarely get finished before I’m ready for the nap I never get.  Why don’t I have it together like those other moms?

Those same moms also have enough organization and resources to schedule every possible outside activity, interest or event for the remainder of their day, get dinner on the table, get their kids bathed and in bed by 7:30pm, have quiet time with their husbands, AND spend a few hours on the computer before going to bed. Most days I don’t even THINK about dinner until 5pm at which point I either start to frantically defrost stale bread for PB&J sandwiches…or find an available takeout menu and order dinner in.  And bedtime?  Please.  I stand a greater chance of getting voted for US President than getting my kids in bed and asleep by 7:30pm.

Now for good measure, throw in the mom who, with the sweetest and best of intentions, SWEARS she can teach my struggling reader how to read with HER fabulous curriculum…without ever having had a conversation with him.  Or the mom who gently and kindly suggests there may be a learning disability and encourages me to get my child evaluated.  Talk about a punch in the gut.

And let’s not forget the nay-saying, skeptical family members who keep a vigil watch over our homeschool under that proverbial microscope and who secretly (and sometimes not-so-secretly) believe that my child is doomed by getting homeschooled.  Zing!

Or the benign Christmas letter from Cousins Prudence & Reginald proudly sharing that their same aged, private-schooled child is on his third Harry Potter book this year.  Ouch!

So how DOES one resist the temptation to keep up with the Jones’s? For me, it all came down to this: I pulled back, shut the doors, closed the windows and pulled down the shades (figuratively speaking) for about a month only to realize the real golden nugget: Enjoy the Joneses music; just ignore the NOISE.  Not one of those well-meaning people meant to make me doubt myself or my abilities; they were simply acting out of concern, enthusiasm or just being who they are.

But they do not have (or even know) MY child, his DNA or his associated strengths and weaknesses.  They do not have OUR struggles, OUR resources, OUR responsibilities, OUR family dynamic, OUR temperment, OUR style, OUR goals, OUR desires….OUR life. They have THEIRS.  And as theirs works for them and their family so does ours work for me and my family.  Once I got that…really got that…I was able to roll back the shades, open up the windows and doors…and re-engage once again with confidence in the knowledge that only God and I know my child and our personal circumstances best…and what works best for US in that context.

So newbies…don’t learn this lesson the hard way like I did. Engage, participate, share, listen, and enjoy the Jonesesjust filter out their noise.  And, for the love of Riley, break that invisible, inaccurate and indiscriminate measuring stick in two and toss it out of your homeschool!   Your reward will be to enjoy an attitude of calm and peace about YOUR decisions. 

Many blessings from our homeschool to yours!

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Old DogAs the end of the traditional school year is coming to an end for most families, it won’t be for ours since I am in pursuit of the Meanest Mom Award and have decided that we WILL be homeschooling throughout the summer months.  Nevertheless, I found myself reflecting on the past 9 months of our homeschool.  However, rather than reflecting on what my DS had learned this year, I was more interested in what I had learned!  After all, I’m the “Old Dog” that supposedly can’t be taught new tricks, right?

Well, I’ve gotta tell you, this old dog learned PLENTY.  Too much to write all about it in one post so I’ll break it down into pieces.  This post will deal strictly with how I learned to GRANT PERMISSIONS.  Not just to others but to myself.  I never realized how liberating it is to grant permission!  I mean, being on the receiving side of a permission (i.e. being the GRANTEE) is always pleasant and gratifying!  Just think about the toothy grins and elated squeals of delight of your children when you give them permission to snack on some cookies…or (gasp!) to drink a can of soda!  Never did I imagine that being the GRANTOR could be just as pleasant and gratifying.  Let me share with you some of the ways in which I granted permissions and how, in doing so, I became transformed:

  1. I gave myself permission to let God interrupt my day…every day.  This little golden nugget of advice was gleaned from the inspiring article “We Now Interrupt This School Day” written by Melanie Hexter in the March/April 2008 Issue of Home School Enrichment magazine (while I was unable to find the article online at www.homeschoolenrichment.com I was able to find the article published at http://www.crosswalk.com/homeschool/11573105/).  By granting myself  permission to let God interrupt our day as I prayed in the morning or with the children at breakfast, I was, in turn, granted more of a peaceful mind and heart throughout the course of the day…especially when my plans were drastically deviated and was forced to cope with unsolicited and unwanted distractions.  Being fully armed with the knowledge that my plans may not be His plans, as well as having the desire follow His plan, I was able to deal with the interruptions with much more grace and less stress than I could have ever imagined!  Interrupt away, Lord!
  2. I gave permission to my friends and family to be themselves.  Now, this doesn’t mean that I called everyone I knew and gave them the “good news” that I was giving them permission to be who they are.  No.  What I was really doing was silently accepting that my friends and family may be like me or…they may NOT be like me.  Honoring those similarities and differences was a very freeing experience for me.  It not only allowed me to appreciate each person all the more but really assisted me in my always difficult quest to not judge others. 
  3. I gave permission to my husband to (gulp) LEAD our family.  Like many women, I have secretly AND outwardly wished, hoped and prayed for my husband to step up and assume his God-given responsibility as leader of our family…not giving more than a fleeting thought to what would happen if he actually did (because let’s face it…for some of us the answer to this prayer was akin to raising Lazarus from the dead).  This year my spirit was particularly nudged (okay, nagged) to relinquish 27 adult years of control over to my DH so that he could fulfill his role.  And I did so knowing full well that there would be not-so-pretty growing pains that our family may suffer as a result (not the least of which was my DH’s passive resistance leading to our potentially declining financial credit rating).  The source of my courage was the insightful book “Husbands Who Won’t Lead and Wives Who Won’t Follow” by James Walker written for both husbands and wives.
  4. I gave myself permission to FOLLOW my husband.  Oh, and by the way, my DH’s ability to lead successfully is completely contingent on my ability to follow.  And I gotta be honest, since I began supporting myself at the age of 18 (and I didn’t marry until I was 36), I was NOT conditioned to follow anyone’s lead other than my own!  This one is by far the hardest permission for me to grant. 
  5. I gave myself permission to go against the homeschool mainstream.  I had already given myself permission to go against the educational mainstream by deciding to homeschool.  But once immersed in the homeschool culture…boy, oh boy, is it EVER hard to break free from that mainstream and do what’s best for your own personal situation.  I’m talking about the curriculum that “everybody” uses, the activities that “everybody” is involved in, the method that “everybody” employs, the schedule that “everybody” keeps, the people that “everybody” hangs with…you get the idea.  It’s really, really hard as a first time homeschooler to (first) become indoctrinated in the ways of homeschooling then to realize that the fight to stay mainstream may, in fact, really equate to a fight to swim upstream.  Understanding and recognizing the unique qualities, attributes and dynamics of my own personal homeschool  really helped to propel me to take action that appeared to be a departure from the homeschooling norm.  I have to say that while daunting in the beginning, it eventually became a situation of relief to my homeschool soul.  I still have immense affection for “everybody” and a complete respect for their choices.  But now I also have a complete respect for my own choices, too.  And it’s a beautiful thing!
  6. I gave myself permission to say “NO” more often.  This actually started out as more of a directive from my DH (in his valiant attempt to lead our family) to reduce the amount of time I dedicate to volunteer on activities for homeschool, church, friends and extended family so that I would be freed up to attend to the needs of my immediate family, namely my DH and kids.  However, his directive quickly developed into a need to give myself permission to “say NO” without emotional angst.  As both a people-pleaser and a Type A personality who thinks she can do it all, I really struggled with the thought of disappointing people and coming to grips with the fact that I simply CAN’T do it all.  So not only am I honoring the wishes of my DH (See?  I’m following…), but I’m also giving myself much needed emotional relief and, as a result, reaping more time with the people that mean most to me…my DH and kids.
  7. I gave myself permission to fail.  Oooooh…big one.  Growing up in a household where straight A’s were not good enough (“Why weren’t they A+’s?”), failing was “not an option”.  But over time I’ve slowly learned that to never fail means to never grow.  This revelation became crystal clear to me after we had children and, moreover, began to homeschool them.  In trying to teach my DS that it was perfectly acceptable to make mistakes in order to achieve growth, the very same message was being ingrained in my lifelong conditioned, quest-to-be-perfect brain.  Other than a specific period in my late twenties, I can’t remember another time of experiencing a “growth spurt” of myself as I have this past year.  And all in the name of failing.  Yeah, baby!
  8. I gave myself permission to carve time out for quiet time with God each day.  We’ve all read, heard, and watched about it on TV on the benefits of quiet time with God.  And most of us even have the desire.  I had the knowledge and the desire, but for me the trick was practical implementation.  With all that is required of me during the course of the day, how could I possibly carve out meaningful, quiet time with God when I don’t even have time to sit down while I eat?  What it came down to was really giving myself permission to NOT get other things done.  As the pastor of our church recently said in one of his sermons, you cannot “make” the time to have quiet time with God…you have to “take” it from other things that are also meaningful.  So as a result of carving out quiet time with God,  for the first time in my life I am actually reading the bible in a year, getting serious with my prayer journal and prayer life, and leaning more on Him than on me.  The rewards have been simply abundant!
  9.  I gave myself permission to lean on others.  Let’s face it.  We moms have the hardest jobs on the planet.  And as homeschooling moms, it’s even harder.  We just can’t do it all on our own.  God desires that we lean on Him but in his infinite grace and wisdom has also blessed us with friends, family, and outside resources to help us along.   Accepting help when it’s offered is hard enough…but when it’s not offered, going the extra mile and asking for help when you need it is even harder.  At least for me.  But once that sinful pride is squashed and thrown into the compost pile (of course we compost…we’re hobby farmers!) asking for help is rather easy.  And liberating!  Yahoo!!!
  10. I gave myself permission to have lunch with my husband.  I saved my favorite for last.  It’s my favorite because I love my DH dearly even though I usually do a lousy job of showing him.  He’s a sweet, kind, loving, affectionate man who regularly calls me to ask me out for lunch (he manages his own construction company next door to where we live).  And I almost always turn him down because I’m either running behind, or committed elsewhere, or just too tired.  Bad, bad wife.  The errors of my ways were revealed to me through some lovely women who blessed me with their encouragement to seek out time with my husband (in the same way we should seek time with God).   So I began seeking DH out with lunches once a week…and scheduled date nights every one to two weeks.  It remains a challenge to line up our respective schedules week after week but it’s so worth it.  It doesn’t sound like much, but those 60-90 minutes are really the only uninterrupted time we have alone together…at least at this stage of our lives.  It’s amazing how these brief meetings can bridge so much of a gap in our marriage.  And to actually SIT while eating…Ah! <scream of delight>  A true blessing, indeed!

So this old dog was able to learn a few tricks this year after all!  Who knew?  At least one gal did.  One of the best nuggets of advice I received this year was from a seasoned homeschooling mom of a gazillion children (to protect her identity I’ll refer to her as “AW” or “Awefully Wise”).  She very simply said “Stay teachable.  No matter where you are in your homeschool journey (new or seasoned), stay teachable.”  I love that advice.  Not just because it is solid gold advice that will help me be the best homeschool mom I can be…but because that advice transcends every other area of our lives, not just homeschool.  Thank you, AW!  You are a precious blessing to this old dog!

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“Mom…I just love homeschool!” <sound of car brakes screeching to a halt>.   These were the words my 7-year-old DS suddenly blurted out this past Wednesday afternoon, while in the midst of playing a home made math board game to reinforce his math facts.

“You WHAT?”  I replied, not completely sure that the waxectomy one of my homeschool friends so kindly performed on my clogged ear a few weeks ago actually cleared out ALL of the wax.

“I love homeschool!” he repeated with a huge, dimpled grin.

“You DO????” I asked, quite incredulously.

“Yeah…and when I have kids I want them to homeschool, too!”, he added.  Ah! <joyful scream>  Music to my homeschool ears! 

Why in the world he decided to make those feelings known to me at this point in his life, at that moment of the day, is a mystery to me.  I mean…HE’S SEVEN YEARS OLD!  He HAS no other point of reference except this life which he lives!  He has no idea what it’s like NOT to be homeschooled, to get on the bus everyday, to spend all day away from his family.  And to be honest, it has not been the most pleasant around here this past school year for we’ve certainly had our share of challenges:  reading difficulties, curriculums that don’t work, uncooperative spirits from both parent and child, mom being overcommitted with volunteer efforts, kids being overcommitted with their activities, messy house, messy finances, grumpy mom…you get the idea.

So why the sudden declaration?  And why at that moment?  Perhaps he was enjoying winning the math game we were playing (for which he gets a prize every time he wins).  Or perhaps he was well rested and in an exceptionally good mood.  Perhaps even because mommy seemed to be enjoying herself while playing the game with him.  Or maybe because it was a day without tears.   Or maybe it was God revealing His perfect grace in His own perfect time.

The truth is…I have no earthly idea why my DS uttered those words.  But I sure would love to keep repeating that situation time and time again!  <sigh>  But alas, the moment came…and left…with no indication on when it would ever return.

In the meantime, however, I remain simply over-the-moon, deliriously grateful to have shared that moment with my DS.  And it’s my intent to keep replaying that beautiful, precious, encouraging, happy music in my mind over and over and over again with the hope that I will continue to recall it during those moments of frustration, exasperation and desperation that I know are inevitably in our homeschool future.

“Mom…I just love homeschool”.  Yes…sweet, sweet music to my ears indeed!

 

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