What to do when homeschooling gets hard.

My husband and I have been talking about homeschooling a lot more lately.

We generally do that thing that I think a lot of homeschool families do, where he puts complete faith in me that I have read all the things, and listened to all the podcasts, and so he just assumes that I spin some kind of magic here while he is at work all day, like Mary Poppins in a ponytail and skinny jeans.

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And sometimes, that works, and other times, I approach him in a tizzy, and he helps, and it buys us all a little time until my next “come apart.”

(Don’t you love that phrase? My sister introduced me to it and I think it perfectly evokes the sort of gaspy ugly-crying that happens when PMS meets the utter terror of failing your children completely.)

Our most recent conversation was about math.

Last summer, I identified math as a BIG PRIORITY in our homeschool.

My kids were doing fine, but I felt like it was something I had yet to get a good grasp on as a homeschool mama. We had tried Fred. We had tried various workbooks and manipulatives. I tried telling them a story about greedy and generous gnomes, and they questioned how the tiny creatures were getting their hands on so many jewels, the authenticity of said jewels, and the approximate value.

(I love Waldorf, but like all methods, it has its short-comings.)

And I tried to relax.

But I had heard so many good things about Teaching Textbooks, that at the end of the summer, we made the investment.

And it was good. Game-changing. I talked about it a lot. I promised to send them a muffin basket.

It felt like it was working. Yeah homeschool!

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And then, right after Christmas, it got hard.

Or rather, it got harder for my kids to see the relevance in the lessons. It had slowly transitioned to memorization of facts, and almost simultaneously, the kids threw their hands in the air and declared that they hated math.

And so I brought this up to my husband — that math has become a struggle around here lately.

I thought we were having a conversation about math, but it turned into a conversation about how we want our kids to deal with struggle.

“What does it say if we let them give up?” we asked. “What does that teach them?”

And then, finally … is it really “giving up” at all?

What if we simply switch gears?

What if we look for a way to make math learning feel relevant again?

If we work from our Bedtime Math book, instead of doing computerized lessons, that isn’t quitting — it’s learning to find a creative solution.

And we want our kids to learn that.

We don’t want them to stand paralyzed in the face of difficulty, but we do want them to find new ways of facing difficulty.

As adults, we do this all the time.

Let me give you an example:

When I wanted to learn to knit, I bought a book.

When the book overwhelmed me, I tried Youtube videos.

When I still wasn’t really getting it, I took a class.

And through the class, I found a mentor.

I continued to challenge myself with knew patterns, stitch combinations and socks (oh.my.), and when I would hit a roadblock, I would visit my mentor and ask for a hand.

Now technically, you could say that I quit my knitting book, I gave up on Youtube videos, and I didn’t get everything I needed from my class.

Or, you could say that I kept looking for ways to make learning work for me.

I like looking at it that way a lot more.

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We haven’t decided what we are doing about math just yet.

I have pulled the Bedtime Math book out of our bin, though, and I’m going to use it today.

In fact, I might just use it until the end of the year. (They have second and third ones now too.)

Or if it stops working, then we’ll look for what to do next. We’ll probably keep writing on the windows.

Because learning can happen in so many ways.

Why lock ourselves in and make our kids miserable?

Why not instead teach them that there’s always a way to work past the tricky spots; and that finding creative ways to overcome challenge is a wonderful tool to help them become lifelong learners.

What do you think? I’m really curious if you’ve run into these types of issues and how you handled them!
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You can’t fix it all at once.

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One of the hardest things, when we find ourselves in a parenting or homeschooling pickle, I think, is to not try to fix it all at once.

And I think many mamas are BIG PICTURE people, which makes it hard to not spin every problem right into the poo-tornado.

That’s where I found myself Friday night when my husband got home from work:

“I want to crush the Wii U with a hammer.”

My kids received our family’s very first video game system this Christmas as a gift from a very generous grandparent who had asked what they really wanted.

What they really wanted was the game system all their friends have — the one they play at other people’s houses.

But what it didn’t advertise anywhere on the box was that the system came with the constant question, “Can we play on the Wii U, Mama? Pleeeeease?”

It has become our anthem; our theme for the past month and a half, and I finally brought my husband into the fold because I was starting to feel very all-or-nothing about the thing, mostly nothing.

“I can’t compete,” I told him.

Pretty much no book I suggest, no game with pieces, no art project, no free puppy, no cupcake, no bucket of cash, is going to be as cool right now as driving race cars.

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But because I was feeling super defeated as a homeschooling mama, here are a couple of other worries I threw in, just for good measure:

  1. I really need to make us a new meal plan. I spend so much time on this every week. Would it be so terrible to only eat 7 things for forever?
  2. My cleaning routine needs a tune-up.
  3. Speaking of which, the kids have pretty much stopped doing chores.
  4. That’s my fault, because our rhythm is so off.
  5. We need a new rhythm!

I was spinning.

Spinning.

Talking to my husband helped.

Taking a deep breath helped.

Doing a brain dump helped. (Do you know about brain dumps? Mine involve writing everything down on a massive sheet of paper, just to get everything OUT OF MY HEAD.)

And when I did that, I realized that my biggest problem was not a new game system — it was that I was trying to get everything under control at once.

AND. For the 75 millionth time, I needed to look at our rhythm.

Because all those things I listed? All of them — they are all rhythm things.

So knowing that I had just one big thing to fix, helped me to put the other stuff in perspective.

A meal plan could wait.

Who needs a tidy house?

But school before video games — that’s an absolute big deal, and worth throwing all of my energy into.

And so that’s what we did.

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It’s been a couple of weeks since I started this post. (See? You really can’t fix it all at once!)

And things are better. Easier.

And the best part might be, that the meal plan and the chores and all that business seem much more manageable now. Sure — they might need updating … eventually.

So I want to remind you today that sometimes, it all comes crashing in. It really does happen to all of us, I think.

But when you find yourself spinning, take a deep breath, friends.

Focus on the biggest issue first. (Write everything else down for later. You’ve got to get that business out of your head. You’ve been carrying it around for weeks.)

It’s kind of amazing how a lot of those little things that are driving you nuts start to slip away when you focus on the big thing.

And when you can bravely face the biggest monster, suddenly a new cleaning routine seems a lot less scary.

I hope you find yourself a moment of peace and calm today, amidst the chaos of the beautiful life you’ve chosen.

Much love,

Kara

Feeling judged?

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This is a repost from last year. I’m working hard to get you some new stuff up soon, but in the mean time, feel good about being you today.
Much love,
Kara

I’m a lucky person, in that I don’t have a lot of big regrets. I don’t have any unfortunate tattoos (or even regular tattoos in unfortunate places).

I didn’t skip the office lottery pool the one night everyone else put in a dollar and won a million.

But I do sometimes get struck with regret — a momentary feeling that always fades — but for a second can leave me absolutely suspended in time.

I wish, for instance, that I would have let my daughter go out in public that one day with three ponytails.

My little girl has always been a spirited, spunky little monkey. She was born with a certain set of decisions already made. Her life rules were pre-determined, and she’s just now letting us in on the joke.

And one day, about 3 years ago now, she decided that she really, really wanted 3 ponytails.

“Like this,” she said exasperated, grabbing her hair and showing me — one pigtail on each side, and another random one in the back.

“I don’t know,” I remember saying. Weren’t the 13 plastic animal barettes enough? Or the rainbow striped sweater over the butterfly print dress under the giant tutu over the pink and brown polka dot tights?

Weren’t we good?

But she wasn’t, and instead of giving in to that need (I believe at the time, it felt like a need to her, as much as she needed milk in a sippy cup and chocolate chip pancakes and 2-hour naps, she needed that third ponytail), here I was, the constant killjoy, always scared of what people might think.

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I’ve lived my life like that for a very long time — pretty much since I can remember, and the fear only got stronger when I had children.

My list of horrible infractions that would warrant a DCFS call grew each day — it started with putting a diaper on backwards and not realizing it until my infant son peed up the front of his Hungry Caterpillar pjs, and became FOR REAL when he had his first public meltdown.

“I am never, ever, no matter how long I do this going to have it together,” I remember thinking as I threw the limes back into the shopping cart. Nope. I need to get used to people judging me.

Because … they do. They just do. It’s how it is, and it isn’t fair.

We’ve experienced it when my son used to wear his cape everywhere. We experienced it last year when my little girl, who had been playing dress-up decided at the last minute to join me at the grocery store sporting her glittery made-up face.

“She’s too young,” a woman snarked as we rolled by.

Really, Mrs. Oleson? Really? She’s too young to imagine she’s a MAGICAL CHEETAH?

It’s stupid really — most people have plenty going on — why do they need to stare at you while you try to nurse your hungry baby, who is so worked up that she really, really wants to pull your shirt up over your head or put her foot in your mouth?

They should be focused on their own business when your child collapses at the park after a long day, and declares that they don’t want to leave unless they get ice cream on the way home.

“Actually, ice cream sounds really good,” you think — but you can’t say that out loud now because the Judgy McJudge-a-Lots will judge:

“You should bop that child about the head!” one will think, while another will know in her heart that if you just got down on your child’s level and made direct eye contact and explained that this behavior isn’t acceptable …

But oops, now your child has bopped you about the head and getting on the ground to meet his eyes means that half your diaper bag just dumped on the ground, and do you think any of those judgy jerks is going to stop to help you collect your rolling tampons?

No. That would get in the way of them making up stories about you.

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I wish I could say that this had gotten easier for me as my children grow older. It has in that they no longer behave like toddlers. (Because they aren’t toddlers.)

No one has thrown a lime in years.

No one even throws a fit when it’s time to leave the park. They have learned their mother’s many weaknesses — “Mom, you want to get some Rocky Road on the way home?” they’ll ask now.

(Of course. Always. That’s why they put the ice cream place two feet from the park, right?)

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But still, they will show up dressed for a going-out day wearing jeans with the knees blown out.

(What do you do all day? Are you in a fight club? How does this happen to every pair of pants? As a terrible stereotyper, I guess I expected this from the male child, but now I am just wondering if we have an awful undiagnosed moth issue.)

“Guys,” I ‘ll say slowly … But then I’ll stop. What is this really about? Is it about comfort? How cold is it?

Or is it about fearing what people will think — that they’ll think I don’t care. That they’ll think we don’t have money for jeans and then their minds will start to wander to what else we can’t give our children …

That they’ll think I’m a failure.

That’s it, isn’t it? The pigtails?  The flying limes? The jeans?

It’s not about my kids. It’s about me.

It’s about me, caring about what strangers think, and it’s about time to stop now, isn’t it?

Because here’s the truth: I’m a pretty darn okay mom. I don’t do it all right, but sometimes, I rock the heck out of it. And the rest of the time, I try really, really hard.

I love these kids  — and at any given moment, I’m doing the best I can.

And you know what?

I know that you are too.

That might not mean much, unless we run into each other at the grocery store or park one of these days.

Because I promise not to judge.

In fact, I promise I’ll be the one who gives you a little smile and nod of understanding.

And I’ll be the one sending you peace and love as you collect the limes and tampons and a Rocky Road cone on the way home.