Monday, November 16, 2015

Presents or Presence?

I slipped into a local discount store early this morning before coming to work (7:30 am is the best time to frequent that type of establishment) and was greeted by an enormous twinkling evergreen in the entry way.  The store displays have completely shifted to red and green.  The message is clear. Buy stuff.

Honestly, amid the 60 degree weather we have been experiencing here in the midwest, I find it a little jolting.  First, because I want to enjoy the season now.  Fall.  Thanksgiving.  Secondly, because I start to panic a little.  December is so short.  And, (here is comes) How will I ever get it all done!  How will I manage creating a perfect, Pinterest quality Christmas experience for my family!  I don't have enough hours.  I don't have enough imagination.  I can't even think of ONE THING that (insert name here) needs or wants!  HELP!

I know in my heart that I want to simplify, keep the true meaning of Christmas and not get caught up in a rat-race that is devoid of real meaning and full of consumerism.  That is my heart's desire, but I am still learning.  And, I still see myself as the "keeper of Christmas" and the one responsible for creating the MAGIC that I still secretly long for.

I am guessing that you may struggle with similar thoughts and attitudes.  You want to create a magical and wonderful season.  You need to get through curriculum with your kiddos.  You want to create magical experiences.  You have gifts to buy and make.  Shopping trips to take.  Meals to plan.  Decorations to put in place...

I am here to say that NOW is the time to decide how this December will be different.  Today is the day to sit down and make a different type of list and give yourself permission to cut a few things out and make December less chaotic and more meaningful.


If you have fallen into the trap of thinking that your kids want lots of presents.  Watch this IKEA commercial from Spain.  Looks to me like what kids really want is presence. 

And that goes for the others on your list.  What if we gave more presence and took the money we saved and used it to help others.  What if we spent more time focusing on acts of kindness in December and took the focus off of self.  This blog post is a few years old, but Courtney DeFeo  has some great ideas for ways to involve your kids in reaching out to others.  But here is the key.  Read it and put it through the filter of your life and then use the information in a way that makes your life better, not more chaotic.

Your time with young kiddos is short.  You are teaching them lifelong lessons every day.  Be intentional about the lessons you want to teach.  Be intentional about giving your children your  presence.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Back in the Saddle

I'm back in the saddle this week, ladies.  I have just come through one of those spells when life creeps in on all sides and does a real number on our home school.  Have you ever been through that?

I have had a late night trip the ER with one child who had a sky high fever, which was followed up with two other children taken out with a completely separate illness which involved sleeping with a 5-gallon bucket by your bed.  Ugh.  Now, I'm a pretty seasoned home school mom and it takes more than a few sick children to stop school at my house.  I persevered.

But then. . .plumbing problems required the family to clear out of the house while they were repaired.  Several time sensitive errands pressed in with things that could only be done during business hours and before I knew what happened I had lost nearly two weeks!

At this point a slight panic set in.  I began playing the familiar old recordings in my brain, "We'll never get done with school before summer, I'm ruining my children's education, If only I were more organized we could continue to have school through this situation,  Other home school moms could handle this, etc." I told my husband about how school had jumped the tracks and he offered kind reassurance that this short season of demands would soon pass.  Husbands are so good that way.  So rational and compassionate at the same time.

I'm thankful to say that this week I have found myself back in the saddle and it sure does feel good.

So, how are things going in your home school right now?  Are you off the tracks because life side swiped you?  Are things going along swimmingly?  Or is it simply slow and steady wins the race?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

National Homeschool Burnout Month

Hey, Moms!

Did you know that it's National Homeschool Burnout Month?  Ok. . .well, actually it isn't, but it might be feeling that way.  All homeschooling moms struggle with it at some time and the gap between Christmas break and Spring break seems to be a popular time for burnout to strike.

It's my opinion that burnout hits this time of year because Christmas demands a lot of time and energy from you, Mom.  Let's face it, much of that Christmas "magic" that takes place. . .think cookies, Christmas dinner, decorating the house and tree, shopping and wrapping gifts and CLEANING UP AFTER ALL OF THESE THINGS comes from you.  This leaves your reserves of time and energy on low.  When we bravely start school in January we think we can push through until that precious Spring Break in mid-March.  It doesn't usually take me very long to realize that I've made a dreadful miscalculation as the tired, cranky, self-doubting, "I'm not good at homeschooling and am ruining my children" feelings begin to emanate from me.

Before you allow yourself to fall completely to the bottom of the pit of despair, let me offer you some encouragement.  This burnout feeling is NORMAL.  You are doing an extremely demanding job when you homeschool and it is quite normal to feel this way once in a while.    But, it doesn't feel good to live this way.  What can you do about it?

Here are some suggestions to combat burnout:

Chat with another homeschool mom:  It's good to talk to someone who is also homeschooling.  I have a couple of gals that I can when I need some encouragement and I always feel better at the end of our conversation.  If you have never called another homeschool mom when you need some reassurance or encouragement I strongly urge you to work up the courage and do it.  I'm pretty sure she'll treat you kindly because odds are she has been through whatever you're struggling with.

Take the day off (or two or three):  Take a day or a few days to break the routine.  Take your kids to a museum, the park for a nature walk, or just to Chuck E. Cheese to burn off some of that excess "been cooped up all winter" energy.  If you're feeling burned out, guess what. . .your kids probably are too!

Plan a monthly "Teacher's Day":  Use this day to catch up on all the homeschool tasks that have been pushed to the back burner.  Check papers, figure grades, make lessons plans for the upcoming month or whatever you need to do so that you can feel like you have "handles" on your homeschool.

Spend some quality time with your husband:  This guy is pretty great.  He loves you and he loves the same kids you do.  Get some time alone with him and ask for his perspective on how things are going.  Share the things that you are feeling as well as seeing in your homeschool and ask him for suggestions on how to make things run more smoothly and efficiently.  Try some of the things he suggests.  He might be so flattered that he'll take you out for dinner.  Win-Win, ladies.

Find a homeschool convention:  Iowa has a pretty amazing one this coming June 11-13 in Des Moines at the Airport Holiday Inn.  My husband and I have gone every year for 12 years and it is a non-negotiable for us.  We both get encouraged and spend time talking about what we think is going well in our homeschool and what we think we could improve on.  The speakers they get are amazing every year.  You can learn more here.

This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few of my ideas to help you survive homeschool burnout.  We all experience it.  I've been homeschooling for 12 years and the only difference between now and my first year is that I have learned to recognize when burnout tries to creep in on me.  Be encouraged, be strong, and don't forget that it's only 31 more days until Spring Break!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Do I Have To?

How many times have you heard those words?  “Do I have to?”  “Do I have to make my bed?”  "Do I have to shovel the snow?”  “Do I have to write a whole page?”  “Do I have to write it in cursive?”  “Can’t I just tell you the answer?”  
And let’s be honest, we do it too.  We procrastinate paying the bills, doing the dishes, answering an email, or making an important phone call.  Our reasons and our excuses, well, we could fill books couldn’t we?  Or am I alone on this?  So, when Johnny wants to just tell you his answer instead of writing a summarizing paragraph (complete with proper capitalization, punctuation, spelling, higher order thinking and neat penmanship) it’s tempting to say, “Sure. just tell me what you think.”  After all, it’s easier than fighting with him.
     Here’s the thing though.  As parents and teachers of our children, what are we teaching them when we lower expectations and protect them from doing things that are hard?  What is at the heart of the situation?  It could be that your child just likes to avoid hard work (that would make him human) and take the easy road.  I need to ask myself whether laziness is the quality I am trying to teach that day.  
Or maybe the child has a fear of failure.  Don’t we all?  But what are we teaching our children about failure?  Is failure always a bad thing?  Actually, failure can be a good thing.  It teaches us where we struggle and where we need to grow.  We can guide our children to see that we learn from failure if we take the experience and do something differently next time.  If we never let our children fail, we set them up for a lifetime of avoidance of hard things, which is a breeding ground for never reaching our potential.  
     Through doing hard things, academically, physically, emotionally or any other “ally”, we learn so much about our capabilities and our strengths.  Every time I do something hard, I grow.  I learn.  I gain confidence.  I see that failure isn’t my goal, but it doesn’t kill me.  
     Here is a recent example from my life.  My son is a wrestler.  His coach makes sure he gets challenging competition.  If he didn’t have challenging competition, he could win all of his matches and have an impressive record.  He is not undefeated.  He has met up with some really tough competition and has lost some hard matches.  At a tournament in Council Bluffs he made it to the finals and was pinned in the first period.  He had two choices.  He could stomp off and be mad about losing.  Or, he could watch video of the match.  Listen to his coach.  See where he made his mistakes and learn from them.  He faced the same opponent later in the season and the second time around, he won.  What did he learn?  While he still hates to lose, he knows that it can make him stronger.
     Setting high expectations for our children is loving our children.  We need to teach them to persevere and see what they are made of.  We need to have the wisdom to see when to press them and when to give them grace.  Research shows that we all learn the best when we are challenged enough to struggle some but not so much that we throw up our hands in despair.  It is our responsibility to teach them to do hard things while we are still able to shepherd them through it, cheer them on and help them pick up the pieces when they fail.  
     Here are some great posts that will encourage you in this area.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Service Learning Project

Students in the Atlantic Home School Assistance Program has been working together on a service learning project during our latest session of enrichment classes.  So what exactly does that mean?

During week one, Tina and I lead the students through an exercise called Blue Sky, which culminated in  the students recording their dreams for our world on a cloud.

In the coming weeks, students identified one local area they wanted to work in and one further reaching area.  They discussed everything from clean water in Africa, and education for girls in Pakistan to our local food pantry and the Friday Friends backpack program.  In the end they decided to do something to help the animal shelter locally, and on a bigger scale, they wanted to do something to come along side the adults in our community who reach out to the homeless in Omaha each Friday.

Our next step was to form teams to work on each project.  In those teams, the students came up with a plan and took the responsibility to execute that plan.  They made phone calls and met in person with people here in our community.

The Animal Shelter team originally wanted to volunteer time to walk dogs, play with cats and maybe clean out kennels.  After talking to personnel at the shelter, they found out that the animal shelter's insurance plan doesn't allow for volunteers younger than 18 years of age.  We discussed how our plan made us feel good, but we needed to do what would help the shelter.  So they went back to the drawing board, asked the shelter what their needs were and came up with a new plan.  They searched Pinterest and found many ideas for making toys for dogs and cats from items that we could collect without raising money.  Some of the ideas worked and others did not.  Through trial and error, the students came up with several designs that worked.

They also designed a cat house to donate.

Dakota even put a plea on Facebook for donations.  
She came in with a box of donated items as well as a case of cat food.

Students also called a local business to see if they could donate pet food that has passed it's expiration date.  They found out that there are laws that won't allow that.

Next week, we plan to deliver our donations to the local shelter.

Our other team had some personal connections to people who go to Omaha each Friday to reach out to the homeless there.  That team started with a long list of ideas to help out.  Could we make peanut butter sandwiches to donate?  Did they need pancake mix?  What about coats, gloves or hats?  

They had a meeting with the adults involved and found out that there really wasn't a need for sandwiches.  They could use pancake mix, but our students didn't have a budget to work with for purchasing that.  They found out that there is a huge need for blankets, hats and gloves.  The boys went to work seeking donations for these items.  They contacted a local thrift store.  They put out a plea within our group.  They also contacted our local middle school and high school to see about collecting donations from other students in our school district.  They are still working on collecting those donations, but have a large pile of blankets and sleeping bags already.  They also have some books that will be donated to the homeless.  We plan on delivering items to a local church next week, where they will then be taken to Omaha and distributed.  

It has been a wonderful learning experience and students of all ages have worked together to make this project happen.  We plan to try this process again in the spring.  At that time we hope to let the students take even more ownership and responsibility in creating another plan to reach out and make our world a little bit better place.  It is our hope that our students will see that they can do big things!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Boston Tea Party in Iowa? Yes!

On a crisp fall day in Iowa the Atlantic Homeschool Assistance Program students took part in a reenactment of the December 16, 1773, Boston Tea Party as part of our Citizenship unit.

We went back in time and gathered for "afternoon tea time" with iced tea and Nilla Wafers served and  we discussed the growing feelings of resentment toward England for the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Quartering Act, Tea Act, etc.  While we ate and discussed these injustices, we hatched a plan.  We determined that we would show the King our displeasure with his numerous taxes by dressing like natives and dumping a shipload of tea into Boston Harbor.

The excitement began by disguising ourselves as natives.

Next we had to sneak from our meeting place out to the East India Company ship in Boston Harbor that held the tea.  It was important to stay very, very quiet so that we didn't draw attention to ourselves.

Once we found the ship we dumped the crates of tea (dried leaves) directly into the harbor.
Finally, we returned to our classroom to discuss King George's reaction to our act of rebellion.  Needless to say, he wasn't very pleased.  He closed Boston Harbor until the city of Boston repayed the East India Company for the tea that was dumped and restricted the ability of the colonists to meet freely.  They were restricted to only one town meeting per year.

In the coming few weeks we'll learn more about how our country was founded and the structure the of our current form of government as we wrap up our unit on Citizenship.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

We are off to a good start this fall in the home school assistance program!  Tina and I have been having great visits with families and our first session of enrichment classes is half way done already! We have a new Apple TV in the room which is pretty exciting.  We now have the technology to play on the TV what is on our computer screen or on an iPad.  There are so many ways we can apply this in our teaching.  Of course, this hasn't come without a few technical difficulties, but we are learning.

Tina has been using the Excellence in Writing curriculum with our older students on Tuesday mornings.  I will let her tell you more about this at another time, but kids are writing and they are learning new skills!

I have been doing Visual Phonics with younger students and their moms on Tuesday mornings.  I took a training in early August and am just so excited to pass on what I learned.  Visual Phonics is a multi-sensory strategy that connects sound to print with hand shapes and movement.  I can't believe how fast the children are learning the hand shapes!  Their little brains are like sponges and we are already putting sounds together to make words.  We have been singing songs and playing games to reinforce the sounds and hand shapes and also to work on our phonemic awareness.

One of the beauties of Visual Phonics is that beyond it's success in helping students learn to read, it is also very useful with older students to help them with irregular spellings, and those hard to read words in our language that break all of the rules.

I am also excited to have moms learning along with the kids and giving them opportunities to practice using Visual Phonics in their own teaching at home.

Tina and I have been teaching another enrichment class called, I Want To Be Responsible.  We will be doing six different classes this year that focus on character traits.  So far in this class we have focused on being responsible for ourselves and also money.  Older students spent some time making collages showing ways to be responsible for their bodies while younger students used some paper dolls and dressed them appropriately for different types of weather.  We have also had some fun with money using an online game for the older students and doing some dramatic play with younger students.  In weeks to come we will cover being responsible for others and our world and end with a project to reflect our learning.

As always, let us know if you have questions or concerns.  We are here to help you be a better teacher!

Happy Learning,