Monday, August 4, 2014


I spent many hours in our school room last week, cleaning out the closet, rearranging the furniture, and updating the work on the shelves for the start of the school year - our second, homeschooling.  As I boxed up some of the work C has outgrown (already?) to pass on to one of my closest friends, I couldn't help thinking about how different this year feels from last.  

The boys are a year older, yes.  

The room is laid out a little differently, it's true.  

But the biggest change, I hope, has been in me.  

The lessons I learned about myself, my kids, and our homeschool helped me become a better mom, a better teacher, and even a better wife.  (Weird, huh?)

The problem is, I've far from mastered them.  I know me, and I know I'm going to struggle with the same issues (plus others I haven't even thought of) this year...and probably every year we homeschool.  

But when I run into one of those, ahem, "learning opportunities", I hope I will re-read this list, and remember...

to loosen up a little on the work plan.

You know, I like lists.  They fit in quite nicely with my Type A personality.  And when I was a teacher in the traditional classroom, you'd better believe I was spot on with that pacing guide.  No question about it. It was a strength of mine. But with Montessori…and homeschooling…there's a little more flexibility.  Strike that.  For our experience with both to be great, I have to be flexible.  

And I do want it to be great. 

But it can be sooooooo hard for me to loosen up on that list.  

I started off last school year panicking the last week of every month because E hadn't covered all the concepts on his Work Plan*.  I would direct him on which activities to choose - this one, then this one, now that one - not because he was standing around lazily or distracting his brothers, but because I was intent on checking off the last few lines.  

I mean, the Work Plan said!  

Right.  The Work Plan, which was technically for 1st graders, when he was a Kindergartener.  The Work Plan, of which there are only six per grade level, with the specific reasoning that children will keep working on concepts throughout the school year.  

Nuts.  I was acting totally nuts.  

I knew it, but I had given the list a power over me, and it made both E and me miserable the last week of every month.  Or it did until the day in December when I told that frenzied rule-follower inside myself to HUSH.  

There was absolutely no reason E had to complete the entire Work Plan by the end of the month.  

I continued to plan big for the rest of the school year, and E continued to learn a ton, but whatever he didn't get to one month, I just copied and pasted onto the next month's plan.  Easy peasy.  And you know what?  By the end of the year, we got it all done.  

The boys' work plans are important to me.  They help me know what work to put on the shelves each month and keep me on track with our curriculum.  But if I can remember to be flexible with them, it will be a much better year.  For all of us.

to make time for myself.

Notice I used the word "make," not "find."  There is no time to "find" for myself.  It's not hiding at the bottom of the laundry basket.  It's not under the bed.  It's not even at the end of that book.  No matter how many mommy things or homeschool things I do, there will always be more to do.  That's just how it is with young children.  

And while I started off last year ignoring the fact that I need a little time in the middle of the day for myself, I eventually learned that I have to make that time…for the health and sanity of all of us.  

Now that C is no longer napping, all three boys can go to their rooms for rest time at the same time.  While they're building with Legos or working with Snap Circuits, listening to music or playing cars (or - my favorite - reading!), I put aside the to-do list, ignore my household chores, and focus on what I want to do for 30 or 45 minutes.  Sometimes it's working out, other times it's reading or catching up on Facebook and emails.  When that time is up, I'm back to full-on mom-mode, and I feel so much better having taken it.

The interesting thing is, they seem to feel much better after a little alone time, too.  It was definitely a transition, especially for C, but I think the ability to be content by yourself is a great skill to have up your sleeve.

In the words of Michael Scott, making time for myself is win-win-win.

to schedule extra-curriculars carefully and sparingly.

There are so many amazing opportunities out there, that even if you aren't worried about socialization (and I was - completely unnecessarily, I might add), it's easy to over-schedule.

Last year E took an art class, piano lessons, Tae Kwon Do, soccer, baseball, and golf (although not all at the same time).  W had preschool three mornings a week, and speech therapy once a week.  We did play dates with our neighborhood homeschool group and field trips with the larger homeschool group we belong to.

And it was exhausting.

It wasn't all bad, though.  We met some of the nicest people through our homeschool group play dates and field trips.  E's class with a local artist was wonderful, and I cannot say enough good things about his music teacher.  (W recently started violin with her.)  W had a great experience with the church preschool he attended.  That, combined with his speech class, gave him such confidence that just thinking about it makes my heart soar.

So we will continue with art and music.  C will attend the church preschool 2 mornings a week.  W will go to speech a little longer.  We will join the 4-H group our homeschool group has started and go on field trips - but not too many!  We will attend Sunday School and church.  And we will limit ourselves to one or two organized sports this year.

It's going to be hard for me.  As much as I dislike weeknight practices and messed up bedtime schedules (and I really do), I absolutely love watching my kids play sports.  

I just have to remind myself that our kids NEED a lot of down time at home just to play and explore.  Without it, they get irritable, and to be honest, I do too.  That is just how our family works.  And when I pay more attention to our needs than our wants, we're all a lot happier.

to surround myself with positive people.

The cheerleaders and encouragers are where it's at.  These are the people who can empathize with a terrible day, and make me laugh at the end.  The people who challenge me to be a better person, and the people who help me grow.  The people who are kind.  

Whether they are from homeschool families or traditional school families, whether we have lots in common or only a few things, these are the people I want to be with.

to enjoy this.

I like our children.  I really do.  They're funny and bright and thoughtful and interesting.  The desire to spend more time with them and experience their excitement in learning first-hand is one of the reasons we chose to homeschool.  If the last seven years is any indicator, they'll all three be out in the big world before we can blink. 

But it's so easy to get bogged down with all the little things that can make me forget to enjoy this homeschooling thing with them.  Bickering.  Work plans.  Annoying behaviors.  Being in the car again.  Cooking again.  All the non-mommy, non-homeschool things that I want to do...but am not.  

Not every moment is going to be blissful.  Some of them are going to make me want to pull my hair out.  That's just real life.  

But when I notice a general dark cloud hanging overhead, that's when I need to stop, take a breath, and focus on…the smell of C's hair and the weight of his body as he sits in my lap for a story...E's eyes dancing as he details his latest idea for an invention...W's sweet voice asking for one more "last" hug…the three of them gathered around the dinner table, cracking up over the worst jokes I've ever heard.  

Once I see those things clearly, I remember, I'm doing this because I want to.  

And most of those other things - the annoying stuff and the problems - I can solve them in one way or another, if I put my mind to it.  At least for a time, anyway.

But this opportunity with my kids?  It's short.  And I'm going to enjoy it. 

What did you learn last year that you want to remember?

*I modify the Montessori for Everyone Work Plans, include the extra bits and pieces we use, then use them as pacing guides. 

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