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Adventures in Homeschooling - Weeks 3-4

Okay, so already I am slacking on my homeschool posts, ha! I have a good reason, though. I have been working on several projects at church, and there was a significant amount of work to be done the past two weeks. As a result of this, school has been pretty flexible lately. There has been lots of reading, some curriculum work, piano lessons, etc. We also started library story time one afternoon a week, Sunday school resumed at church, and Aiden earned a new belt at taekwondo. Learning has definitely been happening... just not always in a very organized fashion. And? I am pretty okay with that.

I am learning to trust myself more, and when I need to change the way we do things I know what will work for us. I still crave structure and routine, so I am not about to throw everything out the window. Matt and I talked about it and it seems to be kind of a natural pattern for us that we will "do school" for a couple of weeks and then "unschool" for a week or so and then repeat. Being year-long learners, it will work for us even when we are "official" next year (Aiden is an unofficial homeschooler this year because in our state they don't recognize student until they are 6 as they are not yet legally required to attend school.)

Learning to trust our natural rhythm is definitely helping my stress level. It helps that I know it has worked really well for our family so far. Aiden is reading so well lately, and his math skills continue to surprise me. Honestly, he probably teaches himself as much as I teach him. This is not to brag at all... I am just realizing that what I believe about the benefits of education being more natural and built into everyday life does seem evident. Instead of teaching Aiden "stuff" I am teaching him to learn. And he is indeed learning.

So anyway, that is where we are at as we close the books on week 4. Things are good, and we are enjoying our days together. I am so thankful for this opportunity... I think about it often. What a blessing it is to have the freedom to live the way we feel is best for our little family.

Adventures in Homeschooling - Week 2

Week 2 was a lesson in flexibility for us. I admit I am not feeling super wordy about things today (strange, I know) and that kind of fits where my head is at right now. It was a good week for homeschool... but it was, in many ways, a tough week for life in general. So here are a few items of note and a few phone pics. Mostly I just wanted to make sure to post because I am determined this weekly recap thing is going to stick. I just need to fake it until I make it, right? Ha!

  • Library day has regained its spark after getting a bit burned out by the reading challenge this summer. I found some cute printables for reading logs (one to record titles and one to color) and Aiden is recording only the books he reads to us. I cannot even express in words how much I love listening to him read. I also still can't fathom how he learned to read because it seemed like just yesterday I was thinking a lot about how I wasn't sure how to teach him. Once again, trusting my guy and "winging it" seems to have worked well, ha!
  • I shared on instagram how poetry has never really been my thing (at least not as an adult... although sitting here just now I remembered that I had my happy little poem published in a Young Authors volume in first or second grade so I guess I loved it then, hahaha!) but this week's poetry lesson was probably my favorite homeschool moment so far... except for nature studies, of course! I loved how it was a time when we just slowed down and really learned together. (I am thankful for the guidance of a printable I found to get me comfortable with poetry for young learners as well!)
  • Aiden and his schoolwork came along to a meeting I had in a local coffee shop this week. 90 minutes at a table while PR and I discussed youth ministry and other church stuff was a LONG time to sit for my active kiddo. He did pretty good, though, and got a little school work done as well. I definitely won't be making it a habit to make him sit through my meetings, but it was good to find out that it is possible when needed.
  • Aiden's best friend and his closest cousin started kindergarten at an actual school this week. They sat by each other the first day, and I wondered what Aiden would say when I showed him. I am still waiting for that day when he asks why he can't go to school like they do. When I showed him the picture he just said "cool" and went about his business though.
  • Matt came home from work early one day this week and got to take over a couple lessons for me. I absolutely loved that he got to see focused Aiden really excited about learning. As a typical 5-year-old these times of focus are short and mixed with lots of needing to run off energy and goof around, and often when Matt comes home during school time Aiden will get so distracted we don't get much done. We are all working together to figure this whole homeschool thing out, and I enjoy having Matt as my co-educator in this! 

The more things change...

Sometimes I feel like a broken record. It is both frustrating and fascinating to see God work in my life in the same way over and over. Frustrating, because I feel like I should have learned my lesson and moved on by now. Fascinating, because each time I see things a little differently and (if I stop complaining long enough to really see things clearly) can see evidence of growth. I guess it makes sense that He would use the same way of getting my attention time and again. He know me well, and knows where I need to be broken down so that I can be reminded to truly seek Him first.

It is amazing to me that it has already been 5 years since I first felt the sting of loneliness so sharply that I wasn't sure I could ever be happy here. As a new stay-at-home mom living in a community I hadn't really put down any roots in I was so lost. Sometimes, I actually remember that time with a sort of fondness. Don't get me wrong... it was a painful time. Yet I felt such a deep connection with my Lord and Savior and there was also a sense of peace in that solitude. I am sure if my husband reads this he will think I have lost my mind, because I was so often in tears and frustrated... how could that be a time I treasure? But it is. 

Like any part of life, my relationships here seem to move in cycles. Sometimes I feel like I have found an amazing community and finally "fit in" here. Then there are times when I still struggle with feeling like an outsider. I can remember a particular point in time when my frustration and longing had given way to anger instead. I would see a photo on Instagram of a group of women with great spiritual relationships and support and it would make me mad. I remember once commenting on a post admitting that I wondered if relationships like that truly exist. It wasn't that I was questioning the honesty or integrity of the person who posted about their awesome girls' retreat (and, for the record, she understood that and encouraged me and prayed for me along the way)... it was just that I had worked so hard to try to build this kind of relationship that I had hit a point where it just didn't seem fair. I started questioning what it was about me that kept me from building these relationships. And I was angry at myself for not being good enough. 

I have had these times of frustration and despair, but I have also continued to push forward and keep trying to do things my way. I have yet to let myself sink into the solitude and accept it. Partly because I know that I do indeed have relationships that are treasures to be appreciated. Mostly because it is a scary thought. I worry that I am going to lose ground. That the work I have done will all be lost. As much as I love growing in my relationship with God, no one really jumps in to uncomfortable situations by choice... right? 

I feel God tugging at my heart over and over lately. I listen... very hesitantly... but usually by the time my quiet time for the morning is over and the day rushes forward I have lost my focus again. When my word for this year was "fellowship" I thought it meant I would be once again struggling to build relationships and gain ground. Now, however, I find myself wondering if that is true. I am starting to think that instead God intends for me to focus more on fellowship with HIM right now. 

I am not talking about becoming a monk (can women be monks?) or running away to be a recluse in the woods (although the thought is occasionally appealing!) but instead I am feeling like maybe I just need to stop trying so hard. That is kind of the story of my faith life. God is often having to remind me to stop trying so hard. Stop trying to earn the gift I have been freely given. Stop trying to be better so He (and everyone else) will love me more. No matter how much things change, this message remains a constant in one form or another. And so here I am again... this time feeling it in how I handle earthly relationships and what that means for my relationship with my Heavenly Father. 

I am (still) studying 1 Peter, and I was so convicted by this passage in a commentary I read recently:

"Persecution and suffering can have the beneficial effect of stripping away sinful distractions from our lives and strengthening our trust in Christ. Suffering can be a harsh but effective cure for materialism." 

I feel like it is entirely possible that this desperate desire for community has become a sinful distraction. What started as a genuine longing for Christ-centered fellowship has become more of a stumbling block as I spend so much time worrying about what is wrong with me and why I can't find the relationships I crave. I also see how this is something that has become an issue of trust for me as I transition into being an "official" homeschooler in a circle of friends where I am the only one. I am realizing that I have let myself feel pressured to find new relationships to fill the space that will inevitably appear in our lives during this season. And I know for a fact that when I start feeling pressured to fill space things quickly fall apart. Matt and I have chosen this path for our family because we believe in God's design for families and our ability to give Aiden a solid foundation at home. One of the very reasons we believe in this homeschool journey is that it will create space and time that we would not otherwise have. We desire a slower pace for our family, and so why am I trying to fill that space (or better yet I should use my favorite word: margin) with other things? 

I feel a definite calling to trust in God's plan and stop trying to "fix" things that aren't really broken. Margin is unnatural in our hectic world. Silence can be scary, because it removes the distractions that keep us from tackling the tough questions of what we believe and how we live those beliefs in our everyday life. But, as I learned during that time when I first entered this SAHM world, quiet is also beautiful as we learn to draw near to God for fellowship and love instead of constantly seeking it from earthly sources. 

Yes, this will be a time of transition, which means figuring out a new way of living and a new way of thinking. Yet even as relationships change, I am blessed with a very dear local best friend who was clearly sent by God into my life (through 2-year-old Sunday school and our boys' shared desire to move more than listen, ha!) and that is such a huge change from where I was 5 years ago that I know I won't go back to that intense solitude. I also have learned how to study the Word and connect with women online through my Instagram studies. While I still desire face-to-face fellowship with a group like this, God is definitely reminding me that His plans are better than mine and He has sent me these incredible women to learn and grow with. My group there has been strained this summer, and I can't help but think that it is partly because I have failed to truly appreciate it. I keep getting so focused on what I think I want that I lose sight of what God knows I need. 

So, I guess I am kind of giving myself permission here to stop trying so hard. I need to stop chasing ideas and focus on what is in front of me. I need to trust in God's plan for my life as a homeschool mom, and let go of the pressures I feel to do things in a way that makes sense to the world. I need to thank God every day for the friendships that have thrived, and spend some time pouring into those relationships. And I need to keep praying about my role in our current congregation and figure out how all of this applies there. Because I can't even go there today...

That is enough "blogging therapy" for one day. Can't use up all my margin for the day at a desk after all! Off to enjoy some of that quiet time while Aiden is at Tae Kwon Do. 

Adventures in Homeschooling - Week One

Earlier this week I shared a bit about our first couple of days of the homeschool year. My goal going forward is to post a weekly recap (and I have a couple of friends who will be joining me to host a linkup each week for anyone who wants to join in!) so that I can record memories, see how we are progressing, and keep track of ideas and lessons learned. I left off here on Tuesday, and while we had a wonderful time in the garden Tuesday... so did the chiggers. This led to some pretty significant discomfort for Aiden, a doctor's visit, and several days of not being totally focused on school. Overall, we still got quite a bit done, but I am now wondering how people possible plan their full year out at once because I am already having to redo next week's plans. Thankfully, I only planned two weeks initially, so now I know that for our family it will probably be a weekly process. 

Starting (hopefully) next week I want to keep these wrap-up posts kind of uniform so that I can collect my thoughts in an organized way. However, today I am more focused on preparing for the coming week, so I will just share some thoughts mixed with photos of our second nature study outing. 

Since hearing an episode of Adventures in Odyssey (one of our favorite free resources, although now used with more caution) that covered the topic of hunger Aiden has been really concerned about people who don't have enough to eat. This week we went and purchased some groceries for our church's food pantry and then went and toured it and learned about how it works. Aiden helped shelve the items we had brought, and was excited to offer up a box of fruit snacks (his favorite treat at the moment) to share. I love that his tender little heart is reminding me how important it is to be God's hands and feet to the people He has placed around us!

We started using the Hoffman Academy video piano lessons this week. I had no idea going in if it would work, but I am (unfortunately) not very musically inclined and wanted something to provide a bit of theory as well as a more intentional way for him to use our jazz organ. I have to say... I was thrilled with how lesson one went. He did it on two different days, and it is delightful to see him playing his "Hot Cross Buns" and enjoying the accomplishment so much. I look forward to seeing how the lessons go as we move forward. I don't think they will be a replacement for in-person lessons, but on our very tight budget they will be a blessing for sure!

I was interested to see that doing a bit of learning time before bed has been really successful. It wasn't an intentional thing, but just having gotten behind a bit and wanting to stay flexible it worked out that evening was the only time to get some things done. He was focused and inquisitive each time we tried this, and I might very well plan on doing some things in the evening intentionally. We are definitely still learning what works best for us... and I imagine that will change depending on circumstances. 

My exercise this week was a horrible flop. I could blame the transition, or the stress of his medical concerns, or a variety of other things... but the truth is that I just failed to make it a priority. I need to really focus on how to fix this going forward. I think the biggest thing will be doing more intentional and higher-intensity workouts. The past month I have done great on steps, but I was able to do it pretty naturally just by moving more. Now that I am at a table or computer more often, I am going to have to have a new plan of attack. 

One thing that was better this week was my ability to focus on things like snail mail. I love being able to send smiles through notes and cards, and sitting with Aiden while he works gives me the perfect opportunity to do this! As we move forward, he will be writing a lot more snail mail as well. I keep reminding myself that as he practices his writing he will naturally increase his speed... I have to practically chant that in my head sometimes when he is working at a snail's pace, ha! I know a lot of people choose to focus on non-written communication in these early years, and we also do a lot of narration, but Aiden has had a natural interest in writing since early on so we continue to encourage that while patiently try to help him improve his technique. It isn't always easy, but I do love seeing him grow in this area!

I hesitate to even type this... not that I truly believe in jinxes... but the whole sleep schedule thing really seems to be working slowly but surely. He has been falling asleep earlier, and has even been waking up on his own before 8 occasionally. It is always better when he wakes up on his own... partly because he is happier and partly because it eliminates the temptation to let him sleep a little longer. I admit it has been tough a couple of times to wake him up when I haven't had the amount of quiet time I am used to, but now I guess I need to work harder on MY schedule so I am just getting up earlier. 

Having Matt join us for nature studies has been such a treat! Partly because it is screen-free family time that we all enjoy, but also because it is good to see Matt using his artistic abilities for fun again. He is so talented, and I am sure seeing him create lovely sketches will continue to inspire and motivate Aiden to learn as well! It is darling to watch Aiden sketch what he sees. Matt and I have both been impressed with his drawings. Of course, I am impressed with Matt's drawings as well!

I kind of assumed nature study would be our favorite part of homeschool and I think that is definitely proving to be true. Matt and I loved nothing more than getting out in nature together back before we were parents, so it is fun to include Aiden in that now. Of course it is a little different... I used to have all the time in the world to explore and take photos... now I get a few minutes if I am lucky while Aiden is shouting "Come on, Mama!" from the trail. 

So there is a long, rambling recap of some week 1 thoughts. Do you do a weekly (or monthly) homeschooling recap? Do you have suggestions for some questions I can answer each week to keep things uniform? I want to keep a good record, I am just not entirely sure yet what all I want to keep track of. Maybe I am overthinking it? Hmmm... time to go prep for week 2!

Homeschooling in Progress!

Well, I went back and forth several times about when we would start our school year. I kept trying to figure out if I wanted to wait until the local schools here started, or just jump in. Eventually, my excitement (with a dash of impatience mixed in) won out and we started this week. August 3, 2015 was the official start of Aiden's kindergarten year! Overall, I am glad we started. No more anticipation and feeling like I should be doing something while I waited for the year to start. No more lazy, hazy days of summer to try to fill. However... I would be lying if I said the thought "WHY did I want to start so soon?!" never crossed my mind!

We actually started preparing for the new school year last week, by transitioning Aiden's bedtime. Well, actually we just started waking him up earlier and praying bedtime would follow the earlier pattern (sleep has been an issue here since the day he was born). It was a long week. Really long. I also started adding some "school work" back into his days. Honestly, we have been doing plenty of learning activities year-round for years now. Aiden is naturally curious, and learning just happens with him. I believe that it is also good for him to learn to sit down and be intentional for short periods of time, though, and both of us have better days when there is some structure. So he had desk time, and we both just pushed through the slightly crazy days of waiting for sleep to even out. By the end of the weekend it kind of had, and we were more-or-less ready for Monday.

I thought about taking the traditional "First Day of Kindergarten" photo... but it didn't happen. Maybe I will take a "first week" photo tomorrow. Day one for us was good, overall. There were some bumps, we were both frustrated on occasion as we got used to things again, and by mid-afternoon there was an epic meltdown. Truth be told, he had been running on a sleep deficit for enough days that I was surprised it took that long. While there were plenty of play breaks on our first day, it was also a lot to take in and we were both just done. So we had some serious quiet time and I thought we would pick up again on Tuesday.

After a good dinner and bath time, Aiden asked if we could do science before bed. Matt is actually going to be (hopefully) teaching him this subject in the afternoon two days a week, partly because he is better at science and partly because we want him to be part of this journey with us. The epic meltdown had taken science off the table Monday afternoon, though, and Matt had gone to his brother's place for the evening so it was up to me. I thought about saying "tomorrow" but then I realized that this is what it is all about for us... encouraging his love of learning and enjoying the fact that we get to be the ones to teach him. So, we did science in our PJs before bed. And... it was the best lesson of the day.

When I woke up today, day two, I wondered how things would go. Aiden had finally gone to sleep earlier (after that day, who wouldn't!) and he even woke up on his own before 8 for the first time since we have started waking him that early. I know sleeping til 8 actually sounds late to some, but this kid would seriously sleep til 10:30 or even 11 if we let him before. He woke up all smiles, and we had a great morning of learning. Matt came home from work early, so we definitely played with the schedule after that to allow for more Daddy time, but we managed to get everything done from the plans for the day.

We concluded day 2 with a trip to the local garden to do some nature study time. Aiden was excited to have both mama and daddy along for this little outing, and we had a great time watching him explore and draw his observations. It reminded me more of what our days looked like last spring. It was HOT in the sunny garden with the crazy humidity, but it was wonderful to just be out together learning and enjoying each other's company. I am definitely looking forward to some cooler temps this fall for our nature studies in particular, but being out there in the heat teaches us a lot too!

Overall, we are off to a good start, and I am excited to see where this year takes us!