Send Your Perfectionist Packing

BeaIMG_5276I heard a rather bizarre story the other day. A young mom was telling me about another new mom she’d met at an event. They talked about how much of an adventure raising children was. The other mom then proceeded to explain her parenting strategies. She said that she didn’t allow her child who was crawling, to pull up to furniture because she was afraid he’d fall. She didn’t want him to get hurt. She wanted to wait until he learned to balance before she was going to let him begin to pull up and stand on his own.

I tried not to laugh… but my first reaction was “how in the world is he ever going to learn balance if he isn’t allowed to fall?”

Sometimes as parents, and especially as homeschool parents, I think we want out children to learn without having to experience loss, or error or failure. We want them to somehow just absorb what they need to know and then do it perfectly the first time they try. Imagine your  child trying to learn to ride a bike without experiencing a tumble or two.

It doesn’t work that way.

Learning is a process of successes AND failures. The famous quote attributed to Thomas Edison says it well. He said, “I did not fail, I found 2000 ways not to make a light bulb.”  If he’d have been a perfectionist he might have stopped after one failure or he might have looked at his odds of succeeding and never tried at all.

I believe that our homeschool environment is the safest place in the world for our children to learn. It is the perfect place for our children to try things out, to fail and to try again. At least it is if we don’t allow our own perfectionism to interfere.

As homeschooling parents, part of our job is to encourage our children to use their curiosity and imagination to learn. But it’s like that new walker we talked about at the beginning. If we keep them in a padded room with no furniture to pull up on, how are they going to ever learn to walk? If we control our child’s homeschooling experience so that they don’t experience failure, how are they going to learn?

I think every parent at one time or another watches their child struggle with a concept and is tempted to step in and say, “no, here is how it is done.” When instead, we should step back, be patient and watch to see how they figure it out. And it’s the same way with teaching them to do their chores. Yes, the floor would be much cleaner if you swept it yourself but is that your primary goal in teaching your kids to help around the house? If it is, you are missing the point. The goal should be more about them learning to do their best and about not giving up when they don’t do it perfectly the first time. Problem solving skills come from having a problem. If everything is perfect and there are no problems, how will they learn to problem solve?

The only way for this to work, is for us to intentionally tell our perfectionistic selves to take a hike.

And this perfectionistic point of view not only squelches your students, it can also paralyze you! You can end up trying so hard to give your child that perfect education that you cram their days so full of structured activities they never have time to discover things on their own. And you and your student are both exhausted.

The key for all of us is to relax and enjoy the learning that happens every day, usually in spite of us! Relax a little and watch them accomplish more than you ever imagined!

Here are a couple of links that you might find helpful.

http://homeschoolencouragement.com/6-ways-perfectionism-sinks-homeschool-stay-afloat/

http://www.homeschool-your-boys.com/homeschooling-moms.html

 

Ways to Get Dad Involved in Your Homeschool

IMG_5308My husband was all for homeschooling when we started in 1991. He was also trying to get his own business started and trying to help me deal with my mother’s terminal illness. He had his hands full. Very full.

I was the primary teacher from the beginning, partly because I had a degree in education and my husband felt like I would be more qualified to teach than he was. But mostly because of the time constraints already on him. He was interested, but not really participating. I wanted the boys to see that Dad was a part of what we were doing so I found ways that included him when he was able.

Here are some ways you can get Dad involved without overloading him with teaching responsibilities.

 

Show and Tell. Conversation at the dinner table about what was learned is always a great place to start. My boys were excited to talk about what they were learning. Dad was good at asking leading questions to get them talking. And when
Dad traveled, the older ones could send him emails telling him what they were doing. Email was a good tool since my husband traveled a lot for quite a few years. He was able to read and respond when he could focus and the conversations were very rewarding. And today, kids can use things like Skype to make it even more personal.

Involve Dad in well planned projects.  I was always looking for ways to get the boys some hands-on time with Dad. Since they were all in 4-H it was a great place to get Dad involved in helping with their projects. We also did projects connected to our science and social studies that worked well as a “dad-time” activity. One year we did a unit on architecture and took pictures of different styles and even build some models of homes. Dad helped with this and then we made a big display of all we had learned and invited the grandparents over to take a “tour” of our homes.

Tap into Dad’s favorite activities. My husband is a woodworker. You can be sure that he was always glad to have a young helper in his shop. He spent many hours teaching woodworking skills to our boys. Whether your husband’s interest is car repair, electronics, motorcycles, cooking, or something else, it is a perfect place to involve your children and create a learning environment with their dad.

Involve Dad in the actual teaching. If your husband really enjoys writing or history, look for ways to include him in those subjects. He could read essays and comment. He could take the kids to a history museum and share his knowledge. He could also take on a particular subject and teach that on a regular  basis. Maybe he’s the mathematician and you aren’t. Let math class be Dad’s domain, even if it’s just a couple times a week as he is able. You can fill in when he is unable to teach.IMG_3239

I know there are families where mom and dad can share the teaching responsibilities. The fact is though, that most homeschool families have one parent working and the other home with the responsibility to manage the education for the family. It is primarily, but not always, the mom who is home. But most dads are open and even excited to be involved in the learning process. Sometimes as moms, we try to manage it all alone and Dad feels excluded or even clueless about what goes on everyday while he’s at work. Why not find ways to get Dad involved and make it a family adventure? You’ll all be glad you did.

 

Christmas Gift Ideas for Middle Schoolers

gift17I’ve found a few interesting gift ideas for the middle school crowd that don’t involve electronics. They might actually encourage family time as well! So many families are not in a position to afford the many expensive new gadgets advertised. If you are looking for something a little different and easier on the budget, look no further. Here are just a few ideas that might get your kids playing again. Why encourage them to play? because playing is still learning, even for middle school kids.

Ivan’s Hinge

 

 

Ivan’s Hinge -A great compact puzzle that can go in a pocket or backpack. Encourages problem solving in a creative, fun way for ages 8 and up.

PrismaColor Colored Pencils

PrismaColor colored pencils and Dover Coloring Books – These pencils and coloring books take coloring to a new level. Not the simple pictures you used to color with crayons. These drawings are detailed and beautiful.  And PrismaColor pencils are high quality and work well for this type of coloring. Coloring is for any age!

Dover Coloring Books

There are dozens of coloring books to choose ranging from geometric shape designs to nature and history. Something for everyone.  The Victorian House  is my favorite.

 

 

 

Chronology Board Game

 

 

 

 

Chronology Board Game – This game covers 2000 years of history that players organize into timelines. Each game is a new learning experience. A great family game for two or more players that reinforces the timeline of history. For ages 14 and up, but younger kids can work on a team with an adult or older sibling.

 

Morphology

 

 

 

 

Morphology – Think Pictionary with a twist. In this game you use a combination of everyday items to create models of objects which team members must guess. Sometimes players are asked to create with one hand, or with their eyes closed adding a hilarious dimension to the game. For ages 13 and up.

 

 

 

 

 

The Science Chef

 

 

The Science Chef Travels Around the World  Fun food experiments and recipes for kids. Combines science, cooking, and cultural studies in one resource that brings fun and learning right into your kitchen. For ages 10 and up.

 

 

Do you have other suggestions that you could share? If so, leave a comment telling us about them.

 

Homeschooling During the Holiday Season

How does your family manage your schooling schedule around the holidays? We’ve tried different methods over the years. Here are some of them.

Keep the same schedule as the public schools. Take just the few days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day off and keep to a normal schedule the rest of December. It works okay, I guess. But there always seemed to be way more activities that we wanted to experience but just didn’t have time for.

Take the days from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day off. While that sounded great at the time, it really was hard to do. We had to work harder the rest of the year in order to pull it off and we had a hard time getting back to work in January after such a long break with little structure.

Use a more relaxed learning style for the holiday season. This is our current plan and what we have done for many years now. We put the school books aside and instead, use the many seasonal opportunities available as our curriculum. Here are some ideas that have worked well for us.

Math – We get plenty of practice with fractions during all the holiday baking we do. One year we made 140 dozen cookies in 26 varieties to give away as gifts. Lots of math practice there! We also have talked about averages and probability when it comes to whether we’d have a white Christmas. And we’ve worked with budgeting our money as we plan to purchase gifts for friends and family.

Reading51388TDMZWL__SL500_AA300_ There are so many wonderful holiday books available for all ages. We have our favorites that we revisit every year but we’ve always kept our eyes open for new books too. We make time each day to read together and enjoy all the special stories that bring the Christmas season to life.

Language Arts –  Writing Christmas letters, thank you notes and Christmas cards provide practice with handwriting, spelling and grammar. We’ve written our own holiday stories, some based on actual experiences and others completely from our imaginations. There are many new words to add to our vocabulary that we only use during the holidays. And cooking and making crafts is a great way to practice following directions.

Social Studies – The study of the history of traditions as well as investigating how other cultures celebrate is an ongoing part of our homeschooling. During the Christmas season, we try to take time to consider how others choose to celebrate. It often involves research skills, map reading, and even crafts and good things to eat.

Science – There is a lot of sIMG_1762cience that can be learned in the kitchen and we spend a lot of time there during the holidays. We also take time to see what we can learn from winter weather. And nature studies focusing on how the animals and plants survive the cold can be a fun part of our school time.

Those are the core subjects, but we can’t forget art and music.   With all these opportunities during the holiday season, we just don’t have time for textbooks and spelling tests. We have so much to learn and only a few weeks each year to take advantage of it. We love our more relaxed holiday season. We never know just what we’re going to learn but we do it as a family, all learning together.

How does your family combine homeschooling with the holidays?

 

Are You Too Busy?

Several years IMG_9588ago I began reading on a topic that I would call “life priorities.” I was raising a houseful of boys and there seemed to be an endless to-do list that plagued me no matter how hard I tried to check off the items. I also had another list, mostly in my head. That list consisted of activities that all started with the phrase, “someday I’d like to…” Those things were rarely checked off.  In fact, they were rarely even considered because the other list was more urgent.

Charles Hummel’s booklet, Tyranny of the Urgent,  helped me see how warped my priorities had become.  He talks about how we get caught up in what is urgent at the expense of what is important. The booklet was written in 1994 and now, nearly twenty years later, the urgent is even more intense than ever before. Now we are not only fighting the urgent but also the instant. I also read several other books that were helpful as well. One was Margin by Richard Swenson and another was First Things First by Stephen R Covey. All of these authors confirmed what I had been feeling. If I wasn’t intentional, life could get way out of hand.

Now remember, this was years ago, before Facebook, Twitter, smart phones or ipads. How did we manage? An even better question is, why is it that the addition of all our modern conveniences has made our lives more stressful instead of less?

I can’t help but ponder the irony that a century ago, when just managing the tasks of everyday living took so much more time and energy, people seemed to have more time. Folks managed to get everything done and still have time for the people who were important to them. How is it that in our modern era when we have all the most time-saving conveniences imaginable, things that should make life easier, we have calendars jammed with all kinds of urgent activities, and no time for anything?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was bringing my first little boy home from the hospital. That little boy turned thirty this year. I am so thankful that I learned long ago to be intentional about choosing the important over the urgent or instant. My boys haven’t been involved in every activity available and I’ve said no to many opportunities over the years. I have no regrets, we have so many wonderful memories of just being a family. We try to take time for the little surprises in life that might go unnoticed if we are so focused on our to-do lists. We try to be intentional about how we spend our time.  Most evenings you will find us home.

If you find yourself longing for a less stressful lifestyle perhaps it’s time to reassess your priorities. Each choice we make shows clearly what we perceive as important. Are you choosing God and family over everything else or do other things push their way into first place?

More Reasons to Visit Your Local Library

At the LibraryWhen my boys were young we had a weekly outing that we always looked forward to. Sometimes we enjoyed it so much we went twice a week. Where did we go? To our local public library. We spent hours in the library. We left each time with bags overflowing with books, CDs, videos and DVDs, and sometimes puzzles.

Maybe it was because the library has always been one of my personal favorite places that I felt the need to make my sons comfortable there. I remember when I was in the trenches with seven boys at home 24/7 and my husband would come home and offer me the chance to get away by myself for a while. I usually went to the library. It was quiet and filled with fresh ideas everywhere I looked. I could spend hours looking at quilt books or gardening books or genealogy books. It was just what I needed to regain my perspective.

My boys learned to love the library too. They were allowed to take home as many books as they could carry on any subject that interested them as long as it was in good taste and appropriate for their ages. Once in a while I had to veto a selection but most of the time they were pretty good at choosing appropriate books and movies. We tried having everyone use their own card but it got quite complicated keeping track of due dates. The fines began to pile up so we finally decided to have all the books checked out on my card so I could keep track of everything in one place. We took home tons of books. Our library had no limits on how many items could be checked out and our all-time record is 175 items signed out at one time. I often wondered if I should have an insurance rider on our homeowner’s policy. Would insurance cover all those books if something happened to them in our home?

With all the electronic gadgets available to kids now, it is harder to get them interested in reading. I know my boys aren’t interested in going to the library with me anymore. Yes, I still go regularly! I think it’s important to support the public library in this age of rapidly changing technology. We need to continue to have access to books in whatever form they take but for me, there’s still nothing that compares to curling up with a physical book, one that I can hold in my hand and savor. I do have a Kindle and I have hundreds of books stored on it. I take it with me and enjoy the ease with which I can read at any moment. But I still love the books I get from the library, that I lug home in my well-worn book bag.

Special programs and events. My boys took advantage of special events and storytime activities at the library. We were on a first name basis with all of the children’s librarians. Once the boys were even asked to be in a publicity photograph that was used to kick off the summer reading program. We participated in the summer reading program every year for more than two decades.

Digital and online resources. Libraries are trying hard to keep up with the times. Most libraries have digital books available and our library has just announced that you can sign out e-readers if you don’t own one. You can still get the latest movie on DVD and some on Blue-Ray as well. You can use the library’s computers and access their databases from there or even from your home computer. I regularly log into our library’s genealogy databases. My boys are using the Mango language program this year to learn Japanese and German.

Libraries need your support. There has been much talk in the news about the decline of library patronage. I think it’s important that we send the message that libraries still serve an important function in our society. Some places to become more informed include the following:

Keys to the Whole World: American Public Libraries – NPR series about the value of libraries.

Why Aren’t There More eBooks? – a local library’s take on why eBooks are so difficult to acquire.

Geek the Library – an organization who’s mission is to keep the public library as a valuable asset to American society.

The Future of the Library– Seth Godin explains why librarians are more important now than they ever were.

 

Do you call yourself a library patron? How do you use your public library? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Homeschooling When Life Refuses to Cooperate

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I was excited. This school year looked to be starting out just right.  About the only thing we do that could be considered traditional is our start and end dates. We “traditionally” begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. It just works easiest that way. We feel like we’ve had a full summer and can get down to business.

So we started this year on Tuesday after the long holiday weekend. We were ready. I felt the boys were taking their learning seriously and just knew that attitude would carry us well into the year, if not through the whole school year. Yeah, wishful thinking, I know.

Our first week was pure joy. Each day we accomplished more than I had expected.  It was a short week, we only do school Monday through Thursday anyway and we’d already missed Monday so we had three really good school days. The first week was a success. And I went into the weekend thinking about how to build on our momentum.

Then I got a phone call. On Sunday afternoon, I was informed that my grandfather had fallen and I was the only one able to drop what I was doing and head to Florida to take charge.  So that’s what I did. I dropped everything, including our school schedule, and spent the next two days driving from Iowa to Florida. I took one adult son to help with the driving and my youngest to keep him company while I spent unpredictable hours at the hospital. The two of them would be fine together.

I brought school work for my student to do on the trip and left instructions for my other high school student who would be staying home because of his part time job. I tried to imagine that our perfect start to the school year would continue seamlessly over this hump in the road. Of course, that was more of that wishful thinking. While they made an attempt to do some of their work, very little was actually accomplished.

So, what do you do when your well-laid plans for school don’t go as smoothly as you would like? Well, after twenty two years, I can say that it happens every year. Our very first year included my mother’s death from cancer. After that there were babies being born, job changes, illness, surgeries, vacations, houseguests, financial setbacks and  a cross-country move. You name it and we’ve homeschooled through it and around it.

I used to panic that my boys wouldn’t be well educated because of all the interruptions. How could we possible do a good job with all the distractions? But year after year I dealt with the issues as they came and we seemed to do just fine. I remember thinking that we’d just had a bad day and things simply had to get better. Then there were times when we had a bad week, or month. A couple of years I realized that we’d just had a bad year and that was all I could say.

I watched my boys and realized that even with long stretches that seemed to me like wasted time, or marginally productive at best, they kept learning anyway. Sometimes, the most valuable learning took place because of the other issues we were dealing with.

There are several things that I learned through these times. Things that have molded how I view our homeschool efforts and have helped me to relax.

Homeschooling is much more than book learning. We always hear that homeschooling is a lifestyle. This truth is never clearer than when we are going through something that upsets the regular flow of our school day. We learn to adapt and flow with life, using every opportunity to allow learning to happen along the way. Each experience teaches life lessons you can never find in a book. The book learning has to happen at some point, in some way, but it isn’t the most important. Building character and life skills is so much more valuable over the course of a lifetime. On our recent Florida trip, my high school son learned a lot about making sacrifices for others and about life and death. He learned patience and had the opportunity to learn some priceless life lessons from his final conversation with his 96-year-old great grandfather. I’m so glad he wasn’t home reading a textbook.

Students can overcome all sorts of obstacles if they are motivated to learn. The thing that has helped us the most is that I’ve made it a priority to teach my boys how to learn on their own. They don’t need to be spoon-fed, so they can learn large chunks of information in a short time all on their own when they put their minds to it. When we have setbacks of weeks or months when things aren’t going as planned, they find ways to keep learning anyway. I used to think we were so far behind we’d never catch up and then I would remind myself that we aren’t trying to keep up with anyone. We are just moving along at our own pace which is all we should be doing.

You can homeschool anywhere. The idea that we have to be in a schoolroom or at a table or desktop computer for optimal learning to take place is a myth. We have done school in airplanes, in cars, in bed, in the backyard on a blanket, at the park, at the library, at church, in a hotel room, and at other people’s houses while on vacation. Sometimes we use books, sometimes we use laptops and sometimes we just use life.

So when you hit your own detour or delay in your homeschool journey, try to remember that in the grand scheme of things, this is a temporary obstacle. You can recover. You can find ways to continue the learning process in spite of the issues at hand. Remember, homeschooling is a lifestyle and that means it happens while you’re just doing life, no matter what that entails.

 

 

Large Families are a Blessing

It still happens. I still get negative comments about how many kids I have. I still get those raised eyebrows when people hear that I have seven sons. Some just say, “I don’t know how you do it.” But some comments are much more hurtful.

In the early days, when I was still having children, I would get the question “are you still trying for a girl?” I was never  trying for anything but a healthy baby. Actually, I wasn’t really trying for anything at all, just welcoming each little boy as God sent him.  And God was so good to us with the arrival of each son. Some came with complications but nothing we couldn’t handle with the Lord’s help. My oldest turned thirty this year and with each passing year I can tell you that having a large family is still a blessing. And now with grandchildren arriving and the family growing, I can see that our lives will be rich until the end.

Why do some people have so much trouble with large families? Is it that they have bought into the “over population” propaganda? Or is it that they are too self centered to imagine sharing so much of themselves with someone else?  Those could be likely answers.

But I found  this article about the connection between the anti-large family position and the pro-abortion message that made me see a new side to this issue. The article talks about how, as a society, we’ve come to believe that it is a responsibility to limit our family size and not just a personal choice. We’ve been taught to believe that it’s irresponsible to have more than two children. This thinking has only become popular in the last fifty years or so. Strangely, about the same time as the free thinking 60’s began which paved the road to Roe vs. Wade.  Our parent’s and grandparent’s generations didn’t have an opinion about how many kids a family  had unless those kids weren’t being taken care of properly.

There is also something else to consider. In previous generations, there was an understanding that in order for a family to prosper or sometimes even survive, there had to be children. Families depended on their offspring to help with the family farm or business. And the parents also looked to their grown children to help take care of them when they became old and unable to care for themselves.  Now, people are all about self-sufficiency. We don’t need anyone, we can manage all by ourselves.  This doesn’t just effect individual families, it effects our entire society. This article talks about how as the birth rate continues to drop there is concern that there won’t be enough people contributing to the economy to support our country. And it’s not just our country, it’s happening worldwide.  I don’t think that is the way God intended it to be. He said for us to be fruitful and multiply for good reason.

Things have definitely changed as our society as become more about the individual an less about community. But those of us who have experienced the joys of a large family know that there is nothing like a crowd of people to love all at the same time! And we likely won’t be alone in our old age!