When you are eager to start homeschooling …

When you just really want to start homeschooling

For someone who never anticipated being a homeschool mom, I sure did jump in face-first.

I decided that if I was going to do, I was going to do it well.

Having left a not-so-great pre-school situation, I was overwhelmed with a desire to do better, do more – to really get it right.

And so, I got a little ambitious.

Ambition isn’t a bad thing, of course, but my level of enthusiasm with a 4- and 1-year-old soon left me burned-out, frustrated and doubting myself.

So this week I’m at Simple Homeschool, sharing my experience and encouraging eager parents to keep it simple as they begin homeschooling their kids.

From my post:

You don’t have to force things. You don’t have to push. You don’t have to decide or declare anything yet.

Just enjoy these years with your kids. Get to know them; their hearts; their passions and their questions.

And then wake up tomorrow and do it again.

Read the rest here.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend!

Love, Kara

How good books save me, time and again

How good books save me, time and again

It’s one of those funny things that sticks with you – I still remember the exact layout of my grade school library.

I remember the feeling of the carpeting, and the way we would sit in a cozy half-circle surrounded by picture books as the librarian, Mrs. Laudicina read to us.

I remember the way she held the books so we could all see the pictures – her long, manicured, brightly colored, pointy 80s nails. I would take books home and practice holding them while reading to my sister or my stuffed animals or the cat.

I remember that it was always warm in that little library, and the windows faced my grandparents house. I couldn’t see their house through the trees, but I knew it was there, and so it was one of my favorite places. So tiny and safe.

I tried to read every book on the shelves, even though we were only allowed to check out one per week.

One per week!

I guffaw at that thought now because I try to limit our family to one card’s worth – 50 books – and that’s only because balancing multiple accounts gets tricky. We end up with monster fines,  and I have to deep-breathe in line as I mentally calculate the cost of all the books if we had to buy them.

I just saved $270 to $300, I think to myself. And suddenly handing over $12 doesn’t seem so bad.

Because books save me, again and again as we homeschool.

I turn to them when everything is working, of course, but I also turn to them when it’s all a mess.

I’ll put books on hold when things are going well – books on topics my kids ask about, and big, colorful books to strew. I am surrounded by books in my daily life and book suggestions, and so we’re almost never at a loss for new ideas.

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Except when things get out of whack, and it always takes me a few days until it hits me that I know exactly what to do.

So we load up and head to the library, and we fill first bags and then the hatchback. The kids read the whole way home, they read all afternoon, walking around the house with books held to their faces, and then when the house gets quiet at night, I pull a book from my own stack and I read way past bedtime, which shouldn’t help matters, but does, somehow.

I think books feel like a safe place to me – cozy and familiar, like my little grade school library, which is probably why I turn to them to solve my problems.

We’ve tried math workbooks and math on the computer, and “living math,” which for us meant me backing off until a true math problem would arise in our life, but that made me too crazy, so we settled on Bedtime Math and Life of Fred, you know, books.

I felt like a genius when I stumbled upon, entirely by accident mind you, a way to make history irresistible by picking the right stories and corresponding books. (More on that very soon!)

And of course there are the memories, made up of reading together, and then watching the movie, baking a treat, or otherwise celebrating a book that we can’t let go … The Invention of Hugo Cabret, The Mysterious Benedict Society, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire, and Harry Potters 1-5. (So far.)

Good books help me feel like I am doing something right – surrounding us with books, showing my kids my love for books, reading alongside them, and making them a part of our world.

My son will read to us in the back seat as we drive to and from errands, and it will feel like a little victory, and homeschooling doesn’t always give you those; not every day.

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And so books bring peace to a place of worry for me, and I wonder what I would do if we could each only check out one a week.

Certainly I would buy them and borrow them and trade them and we would share the ones we had – I would hold them up with non-manicured hands and we would still enjoy them together, while we lived on noodles in cups and stale bread.

(Not really.)

But we’d be lost without our stacks and shelves, our favorites and our new discoveries.

It’s who we are, those kids and their mom at the library, filling our bags and flopping them on high counters.

“Like clowns out of a Volvo,” our library friend recently remarked.

Yup. Just like that.

I wanted to let you know that I am chatting picture books today with two of my very favorite book-loving ladies. I hope you’ll listen!:)

 

La Vie: Or pardon my French homeschooling.

I was reading a French book last week.

It doesn’t matter which one.

It’s really not relevant and will only distract from my point.

OK.

It was this one.

I got it because Amazon kept telling me I would like it, because I keep ordering Rainbow Rowell books.

I really do love Rainbow Rowell, but I am not 17,  so I thought just referencing it as “a French book,” sounded a lot more sophisticated.

Goodness knows I couldn’t have held on to that charade long anyway, so yes, last week I was reading a YA novel about kissing.

I’m sorry. 

In the book, Anna, a 17-year-old high school senior is sent to France for a year of boarding school. This is problematic mainly because she doesn’t speak French, and is unfamiliar with the culture and the curriculum at her new school, which includes a class called La Vie.

She and her friend speculate what La Vie (which translates to: “the life”) could include.

Spoiler alert: It’s mostly life skills stuff.51PuHnxv67L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_

Doing the absolutely minimum amount of acceptable research on this, I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily a French thing, but it is sort of a boarding school thing.

{I guess the thought is that not all kids who are sent away to school have a Hagrid to show them them how to buy a wand and where their massive pile of gold is stored.}

So instead, kids can take classes to teach them things they should know, like how to fill out a job application and call a plumber.

This whole thing got me thinking that many of us were never formally “taught,” this types of things, because life skills are not valued as an important part of a standard education.

We are too busy memorizing country capitals and square roots, things that don’t really come up a lot on a daily basis, to learn why we shouldn’t sign up for every credit card that comes with a free T-shirt.

So as homeschoolers, I think it’s good to remember once in a while, that what is taught in schools isn’t universal. Our world’s educational system is not so fine-tuned that we have all managed to get on the same, always-succesful page.

And in the U.S.?

We’re kind of a mess, scrambling to get it right with Common Core, but only because the last thing we tried (a couple of years ago) wasn’t working.

According to U.S News and World Report, funds for art have been cut in more than 80 percent of U.S. schools since 2008.
According to U.S News and World Report, funds for art have been cut in more than 80 percent of U.S. schools since 2008.

In the U.S., subjects like art and music are pushed aside in public schooling in favor of math and science, despite arts and music education being mandatory in counties like Japan, Hungary and the Netherlands, which consistently rank among the highest for math and science test scores. (source)

Our nation’s schools cut recess, or even take away recess away as a form of punishment, despite organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control telling us it’s really important for kids to have unstructured time outside every day. (source, source)

Time in nature has been proven to lower stress levels and helps with concentration. 'Never before in our history have children been so separated from nature,' says Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.
Time in nature has been proven to lower stress levels and helps with concentration, but ‘never before in our history have children been so separated from nature,’ says Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.

(And in fact, our whole darn system was actually based on an agrarian calendar and preparing kids to enter an assembly-line type workforce.)

Schools aren’t necessarily getting it right.

That’s part of the reason so many of use chose an alternative path in the first place, right?

We have an awesome opportunity then as homeschoolers, to shake off the public school mindset that tells us what we are supposed to value.

Instead, we can consider what is important to our own families, and especially to each of our children.51zc+MjcDuL._AC_US160_

We have so much freedom, but only if we’re able to step away from the standard model of American education and ask, “Who says?”

It’s scary, I know. We want that guarantee. We want to know that we aren’t screwing up our kids, that we aren’t leaving them with educational deficits.

We might not worry about them “competing” in the real world, but we certainly want them to be able to navigate it — thrive in it.

So then perhaps life skills should be a priority.

And perhaps the subjects we study together should be the ones we feel will benefit our kids most as they pursue their individual, non-agrarian society, non-assembly line dreams.

That could be math and science; it could also be cake decorating or guitar.

Certainly they should know how to boil pasta and call for Roadside Assistance.

So here’s your friendly reminder today that as much as homeschooling has it’s challenges, it also gives us an amazing opportunity to set our kids up for individual success.

So let’s embrace that business, OK?

Au revoir, oui, and stinky cheese forever,

Kara

 

When you’re tired of trying and waiting.

when you're tired of trying and waiting

I haven’t talked to you all about my dog in a while, and I think that’s at least in part because we haven’t been feeling like very good dog owners as of late.

We have a dog who barks and howls – it’s a bit like living with a beginner trumpet lesson – he tugs and tears apart things of value; never the cheap things that need replacing anyway, and he seems to have a particular love for Apple products.

It feels like a failure almost every day.

And it’s been a year now – a real “college try,” as my grandpa used to say.

Our dog is now 2, if you do it the way we do and count the day you got him as his birthday.

I know it’s bad math, but I have other things to worry about.

And so, after a year, it seems his neuroses have only grown, and mine right along with him.

I would say that the amount of stress he causes in our household is more than an infant but probably less than a really rebellious teen, but I am only speculating because I’ve only experienced life with one of those – the other one just haunts my nightmares.

I worry about him running away, which he tries to do regularly.

I worry about him getting really scared and biting someone.

I worry about him worrying so much.

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He recently scraped his cheek while escaping from his crate. I had only put him in his crate because the last time we had left him alone, he ate an entire pack of his anti-anxiety treats.

The vet had us give him hydrogen peroxide in the back yard, and he vomited profusely, making eye contact the whole time.

“You did this,” he seemed to say, and I felt like I did.

I shouldn’t have left him alone.

I should have put the treats in a smell-proof container.

I should find this dog a better home.

And so, this is how it has gone for months on end now. We’ve wondered if we will ever be able to do right by this dog – if we will ever be able to give him what he needs, and if that list will ever stop changing long enough for us to get some kind of foothold.

“He might just have something off in his brain chemistry,” a good friend who knows about dogs told me. “There might just not be anything you can do.”

Well sure there is, I think. We can just keep going.

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I know I worry about my dog too much, and I talk about him too often.

He comes up almost every time I see my friends, as we sit and sip tea and eat treats and talk about our actual children. I find myself rabbit-trailing to my dog, and they listen so kindly.

Recently I got to meet a newer friend’s two dogs, and it was an eye-opener of sorts – as hard as I think I’ve been trying, I’ve still been doing my dog a disservice with my assumptions and expectations.

I have been comparing myself for a year now to who I was with our previous dog, who seemed to come out of the shelter ready to finally settle down and take some really nice naps.

He was an”easy” dog, and I now know there is such a thing, just as there are “easy babies,” and “easy kids” and “easy teens,” and probably “easy 40-year-olds.”

But in my mind, I’ve been beating myself up a bit about the things we can’t do with our new dog – we can’t take him for walks or to the dog park. We can’t take him to agility classes or Thanksgiving at other people’s houses.

He is not the same kind of companion our other dog was, and he might never be.

It’s taken me a year to get to that realization; but maybe that realization has also given me a bit of hope again.

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This is a homeschool blog, and I am a homeschool mom, so it’s hard for me not to tie things together mentally to homeschooling, so here we go:

It occurs to me that our expectations for our kids are so often unfair, and we might have a tendency to compare our kids sometimes – or at least I do.

Jamie writes that all kids have special needs, and I tend to agree. I can’t raise my kids the exact same way; and even if I tried, they would certainly not turn out the exact same way.

I think sometimes in the trying, we can make ourselves miserable.

I am re-reading this book right now. The subtitle is “letting go of the try-hard life,” and those words pop into my head now and again, “the try-hard life …”

“The exhausting, frustrating, try-hard, damn life.”

Because I have been trying (trying really, really, incredibly hard) for a year to give this dog the life I believe he deserves. My stubborn Taurus side has seen me through, but all that trying hasn’t brought me peace or comfort, because I’ve also been secretly waiting …

I’ve been waiting for the day when I can walk with this dog on a leash, or take him to the adorable dog bakery for a treat.

And maybe that just isn’t what he needs.

There are real issues (health and safety), and there are inconveniences (as I write this, I have to keep shooing him off the couch and back on to his fancy dog bed), and then there is just literal icing on the cake: dogs have evolved just fine for thousands and thousands of years without gluten-free pupcakes, so maybe it’s time to let that one go.

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So many markers for success (whether we’re talking about dogs or kids or life in general), are made-up, self-imposed, comparison-based or just our mother-in-law’s voice.

Sometimes we must ask ourselves how little we are OK with, and what do we need to do to get there.

Can we be OK with being a good mom to our own kids, letting them eat the frozen dinners they love?

Can we be OK with a dog who rests by our side when we are ill, but runs away sometimes twice in one day, so overtaken by spring fever that he forgets, for a minute, that he has a warm and loving home?

Can we stop trying quite so hard, and can we accept? Can we challenge ourselves to let go almost completely and to stop waiting for things to change?

It’s hard.

But it’s the work of loving, I think.

Imperfect. Frustrating.

Honest and ugly.

Giveaway Time! Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Round Curriculum

naturewithchildren

Note: This giveaway is now closed, but the resources listed are still available and the coupon code below is valid through May 21.

Once upon a time, when I was a very young mother to two outstanding people under 7, I heard about a book that I wanted very, very much.

We had just started homeschooling, and I read the book Pocketful of Pinecones (which if you haven’t read it, is as delightful as the title indicates.)

51B56Y9JSZL._AC_US160_Reading it in my daughter’s room at night as I waited for her to fall asleep, I got a little obsessed with the Charlotte Mason style of Nature Study, and even more obsessed with a certain book that almost ensured that my children would get a wide and expansive education about local flora, fauna, herbs, trees, bugs, birds, and other things that I knew very little about.

That book was called The Handbook of Nature Study By Anna Botsford Comstock , and I wanted it.

Needed it.

But at the time, it was out of print, and used copies were about 30 bucks.

And so, I waited and scrimped and saved.

The day it came, I was so excited, that I ripped open the padded envelope, SO PUMPED to begin our Nature Study. We would take so many walks, and my children would avoid the gaps I had in my own outdoors education, because this book was what so many of us long for as homeschoolers – a guarantee.

Except.

Except it wasn’t, of course.

Or else this story wouldn’t be very exciting.

Instead, it was sort of an encyclopedia.

It was filled with useful information and observations, but it didn’t give me what I had hoped for — an outline for doing my own nature study with my kids.

So it sat on my shelf for years. And we faked it.

We went to a local state park reguarly, and would spend afternoons getting slightly lost (because I’m kind of bad at nature, remember.)

We floated boats in the creek. We brought buckets and scoops and notebooks and crayons, and we made things up, but my kids were 6 and 3, so I pretty much got away with it.

But in the back of my mind, I’ve always kind of wanted a guide for out nature studies — someone to give me some ideas, to bring some order to the whole thing, and to make it fun.

So I was really excited when I heard from Lynn Seddon.

Lynn is a homeschool mom and the amazing author of Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Round Curriculum.

Yes. Complete. Year-Round.

You read that right.

And it’s awesome.

And do you want to know my favorite part? It pairs up with Handbook of Nature Study!**

In fact each week, it  references a specific section. It also provides a themed nature walk idea, a reading list, a piece of art to study, a poem and ideas for extension activities.

I am so excited about it, that I’ve decided we’re going to start right away, instead of waiting for a new school year. The weather is so gorgeous, and finally, I have a guide for implementing nature study with my kids.

(An important note: Lynn is from England, so you know – total Charlotte Mason street cred.)

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So if like me, you would like to get your hands on this awesome curriculum, I have some super good news!

Lynn has generously agreed to give away one copy of Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Round Curriculum to a lucky Quill and Camera reader.

To enter to win, please leave a comment below before 6 a.m., CST Tuesday, April 26.

You can also use the code QUILL25 to get 25 percent off your copy of the book until May 21st.

I am so excited to share this fantastic resource with you all – almost as excited as I am to share it with my kids!

Thanks for entering and best of luck!

** Note: Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete, Year-Round Curriculum is completely self-contained – you do not need Handbook of Nature Study in order to use it. But references are included in case you wish to dig deeper, or are trying to justify a 6 year-old purchase.😉

Disclosure and legal things: I received my own copy of Exploring Nature with Children: A Complete Year-Long Curriculum at no cost. My opinions are my own. This giveaway is open until 6 a.m. CST April 26th. Please comment below. Comments left elsewhere do not count as entries. Thank you!

 

Moonlighting.

moonlighting2

A lot of the time I was in college, I worked at least two jobs.

I worked a job for money, to pay my rent and make sure I could buy bagels and frozen dinners, and I worked a newspaper job for the experience and because I loved it.

I got my first real newspaper job when I was 20, and it was thrilling. I was a copyeditor at a tiny newspaper that still came out in the afternoons.

I met my friend Lauri there and we all knew she was too talented to be working for a folksy little paper that ran 4-H winners and a local gossip column.

She left the paper and her next step was Stanford Law School.

Really.

Still, it was fun while we where there, and it was a nice change of pace to have one job that combined both hands-on experience and enough money to get by.

{And the day Frank Sinatra died, they had me get local reactions and write a story. It was a very “put me in coach” kind of moment.}

After that I had one job for a while, but I was still going to school full-time, so I wasn’t exactly bored.

That came later when I graduated and really only had one job, and I loved it so much that I could have stayed there all day and all night, but there were rules about those things, so I would go home to an empty apartment and wait for the guy who would become my husband to get off work so that we could watch movies and eat popcorn.

I took cooking classes for fun and worked out a lot.

I planned a wedding and a honeymoon, and then hoped for a baby, but didn’t worry too much because my days were full and exciting, and I had found a place where I belonged.

***

I was laid off from my newspaper job the day I turned 9 months pregnant. My pink slip came with a wink; a new company had bought the paper and they couldn’t give me any maternity leave. I was welcome back once I wasn’t quite so full of a person.

But once I met said person I knew I couldn’t go back. Being a mom was the only thing I felt more called to than being a newspaper woman, and so the person and I stayed home and settled into a routine for 6 months before I started freelancing.

Freelancing was lovely for a while, because I worked very little – just enough that I could tell people I was “still writing,” when they looked at me with sad faces.

But eventually it picked up, and by then there was a second person who needed me. I tried a few other jobs instead – jobs that took me out of the house – and that was when it occurred to me that I was back to having two jobs – a job I did for money and a job I loved, mothering.

Because it is a job – raising people. It’s full-time. It’s chaotic.

It’s a lot like a newsroom on Sept. 11, 2001, except it’s every day, and as hard as it is to put a newspaper to bed, it’s 8,000 times as hard to put kids there.

We mothers certainly have jobs. And we homeschooling mothers have extra work – we have two jobs or at least we’re moonlighting.

{We forget that because we can spend our days in our PJs if we want. And HR never sends our paychecks.}

Old friends might still look at us with sad faces. “Still homeschooling?” they’ll ask, and then they’ll update their summer Facebook status to say:

“Four more weeks until the kids are back in school. I hate them so much it hurts.”

Not that we are better mothers, but we’ve chosen a life with our kids which baffles some – especially if we once had paying jobs we loved, or are still making monthly payments to Sallie Mae.

The thing is, homeschooling is a vocation, albeit a sometimes thankless one. But it’s worth it, and I can’t help but think we are learning things too during these years at home.

***

Sometimes I ask myself what I’ll do when the kids head off to college to pursue their own careers.

Newspapers aren’t what they once were; but perhaps a bigger consideration is that I’m not who I once was.

I simply can’t see myself fulfilled sitting at a desk all day after all these years at home learning with my kids.

I think about being a teacher – maybe teaching writing. I think more about mentoring young kids just starting out in college; maybe helping them to discover their own paths.

I know that I can’t simply be one thing ever again, because that would be denying the part of me that’s a mom, now and forever.

So I’m back to two jobs, and probably will be for the rest of my life.

But I couldn’t be happier.

It’s where I belong.

 

When you need a morning kick in the pants.

morningkick3My grandparents were morning people.

When I think of overnights spent at their house, I actually think of the mornings — the smell of coffee and grapefruit, soft boiled eggs and burned toast and Pall Mall cigarettes and Ivory soap.

My grandpa had a home gym he created himself, and it included an orange exercise bike and a mini trampoline and a bench-press bar and giant free weights that he would lift over his head.

He could still beat me in a foot-race when he was in his 70s. Of course, that was before 5th-grade, when I won the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.

Actually, maybe it wasn’t.

The point is, my grandparents had really great morning routines: my grandpa working out and then creating a big breakfast, my grandmother rising a little more slowly, eating her toast standing up at the counter, sipping mugs full of coffee that my grandpa always started for her.

Both would leave for work by 7 a.m.

I feel like I should be a morning person.

I want to be.

I’m an introvert, which means I need alone time, and mornings are the best time of day to get it, especially because we are basically a family of natural night owls.

And so, I work and work and work at a good morning routine.

Sometimes, I get really good at it and find myself for months and months rising early on my own, feeling refreshed – spending time reading and writing and pushing the cat off my keyboard.

Sometimes, I fall out of my morning routine so drastically, that I wake up in a panic day after day, knowing I’ve lost out on valuable time already — a little afraid to take on a world that is already warm and shouting.

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My best mornings involve time for things like meditation and morning pages, yoga, work, warm lemon water and then tea, quiet, comforting reading, contemplation and just enough time to feel like my feet are solid under me, that my head isn’t too cluttered. I need time to make lists and consult my meal plan, and even to make sure that the kitchen isn’t disgusting and the cat is fed.

And so I have been starting again this past week, trying to build up my mornings; trying to tamp down the stress that comes with too many days of waking up feeling frazzled.

I bought this little organizer which is for diapers, but is working well as a place to organize my Happy Morning Stuff: stone paper notebooks for smooth and easy writing, a new bullet journal, my favorite pens and markers, and of course, my many morning books — Mary Oliver and Shauna Niequist Julie Bogart on my Kindle.

{I just finished Wild and I loved it.}

It helps to have this basket to grab and go — to make sure the night before that I have a mug, lemon slices, my tea diffuser and my yoga mat ready …

***

It’s easy for me to spend my days feeling like I am just trying to catch up. It’s harder to set my alarm unbelievable early for a few days, and to power through starting over in order to get back to where I need to be.

But it’s good and important and worth it, I think.

So do you have tips? What do you like to do to make mornings your own?