The Easy Way Out


Once in a while I write about things that help get me through difficult seasons, that remind me easier days are (most likely) coming.  Today I realized that I don’t often write about tools that make educating my kids easier, and this is weird because helping them learn is such a huge part of my life.  I’m correcting that now.

Books/reading material we love:

Solid Joys daily devotional (online);  I love these thought-provoking snippets.  They’re easy to access and take about 10 minutes to read through.  They help the kids and me focus our minds and hearts on God and have become an essential part of our day.

101 Famous Poems, by Roy J. Cook;  Anyone who knows us well can tell you that we’re all a little crazy for poetry–yes, even the boys.  This book is a one-stop shop for many of the great poems and it’s helping us to sample words widely and well before starting more formal studies in the morning.

The Chronicles of Narnia;  You know how sometimes you just need to reread books that bring back good memories and make you feel safe?  We know that feeling.  This winter I’ve been rereading the entire Narnia series aloud, book by book, to my giant teenaged kids, not because they can’t read for themselves, but because doing so both reinforces positive feelings in all of us and doesn’t take much effort on my part.  We need these good vibrations because Algebra.

Educational tools that are transforming everything:

Pimsleur Spanish CD’s;  I’ve mentioned before that I was a German major in college and lived in Vienna, Austria for a time.  Later I moved to India and learned to speak Hindi both through hours in a classroom and with informal conversation practice.  But nothing has helped me or my kids learn to speak a language faster or more easily than this set of audio CD’s.  By following the program’s (somewhat intense) thirty-minutes-a-day speaking practice we’re netting huge language gains in this house.

Code Academy;  My middle son wanted to learn to code.  My idea of awesome computer skills was learning how to insert links in my blog posts.  This free website is serving both of us well.  He can teach himself (easy!), and I can remain a semi-Luddite.  Win/win.

Pandora Radio;  I talk about Pandora a lot, I just realized.  Whatever.  I’m a cellist so, naturally, music is important to me.  But I want my kids to learn to appreciate a wide variety of musical styles and artists without my having to work hard at it.  Almost nothing is easier than creating a variety of genre stations on Pandora and playing them while we go about our day.  I don’t have to create big “music appreciation” moments.  If my kids have questions about a piece, they look at the TV (where we play our stations) and read the provided information.  If they want to know more, I help them find it.  They know so much about music these days–and I haven’t broken a sweat.

The longer I homeschool my kids, the more convinced I am that not everything has to be so darn hard.  Sometimes easier is better.


Snow Day


It’s Monday and my teacher husband is home because of the snow.  It’s tempting to take a break from everything and just veg, but the problem is, this isn’t the first, second, or even third snow day he’s had this winter.  If we were to continue to take days off whenever he was out of school, the kids and I would be doing work well into the summer, and nobody–but nobody–wants that around here.

So we’ll carry on, albeit a little languidly, and perhaps in our pajama pants.  I admit I secretly love when nature ruins our carefully laid plans, not on a grand scale where there’s devastation and permanent damage, but on a small one.

I look out in the yard and the dogs are bouncing high through cold powder, and everything is so white it hurts my eyes.  And here we are inside, slow, our stomachs full of Cheerios.  The snow will not allow us to hurry, and I’m grateful.

Rest on Labor Day


It’s Labor Day.  We’re a homeschool family, so technically we don’t have to take this day off.  But you know what?

We are.

Some things we love to do around here when we aren’t working are

  • singing karaoke to the laptop (YouTube)
  • watching television shows from the seventies (Netflix)
  • shooting basketballs in the driveway (OK, I don’t do this one but the kids and husband do)
  • eating pancakes any time during the day we want (just add peanut butter!).

Breaks from the norm are important, as everyone knows, but sometimes we don’t take them seriously enough or set aside down time with intention.  I plan to help our family do that today.  Hopefully you can do something fun today, too, even if it’s just hitting Sonic at Happy Hour.

Labor is important, but so is rest.  How do you make time to switch gears?

A Homeschool Day in the Life (with a 13, 12, and 10.5-year old)

I’ve thought about doing a homeschool ‘day in the life’ post for a while, but I wanted to wait until I knew what an average day actually looked like this semester.  Since, after a long break, we’re finally back in the swing of things I thought it might be a good time to offer a glimpse into our daily routine.  Then our middle son got sick.  I decided to record today anyway, however, because this is how it goes sometimes.  No point in waiting for the perfect day because that day doesn’t exist.

On that note:

6:00 a.m.  My husband’s iPhone alarm goes off and he asks me if I want to get up.  I mutter that I don’t, but that I have to.  He switches on the light and goes to make coffee.  I sit up so that I don’t fall back asleep.  He returns with a steaming mug of hope and, after a few sips, I open my Bible to read and pray.  At some point I check email and read a couple of blogs I love.

7:00 a.m. I start my writing routine.  I get in two hours of (mostly) uninterrupted time to work on various projects I have going.

7:30 a.m. The kids’ alarms go off.  The boys have accidentally set theirs to a fuzzy radio station, and it blares cruelly, causing my middle son to rage-whine.  He’s battling some type of stomach bug, and this kind of reveille does not help.

8:00 a.m.  The kids are awake and have tidied up their rooms (I think) but they don’t want to eat yet.  None of them are feeling great and they ask if they can watch a cartoon.  This is not the norm at our house, but I tell them they may if they finish the Ken Burns Civil War episode they’re working through, first.  With only twenty minutes left until the end, they readily agree.  When they’ve finished it, I hear Batman.

9:00 a.m.  My writing time is over.  I close the laptop and go see what the kids are up to.  They’re moving slowly today.  Only two of them have eaten but they’ve cleared the dining room table of dishes and my oldest has taken a shower.  They check their notebooks for the assignments I’ve written down for today.

10:00 a.m.  My middle son is doing his work from the couch.  He looks miserable and I don’t push him.  All three of the kids are old enough to diagram sentences, work through vocabulary lists, grammar charts, read Bible passages, etc. on their own.  They do these things at their own pace and check them off in their notebooks as they finish.  I look over their completed assignments later in the day.

11:00 a.m.  I ask the kids how they’re doing with time management.  There’s been some running and slamming doors from the non-sickies, and I question if they’re staying on task.  They remind me that we’re starting a new math lesson today and I promise to work through the material with them with lots of hands on help.  After watching an explanatory lecture on the new concept they bring their workbooks to my bedroom.  We pile on my bed and work through each question as a group.

12:00 a.m.  We break for lunch.  The kids eat cheese, fruit, peanut butter, and hard-boiled eggs.  The middle boy sips water.  I manage to convince him that a piece of toast might be OK.  He eats a few bites, then wants to stop.  After lunch, the other two help me clear the table and tidy up around the house.

1:00 p.m.  The kids come to me, one by one, to test their weekly memory work.  We call this “proofing.”  If they can recite all of the information we’ve committed to memorize over the week, without lots of help or starting over, they’re able to move on to new material.  They all manage to ace it this week, even the kid with the gurgling belly.

2:00 p.m.  We haven’t finished everything.  The kids need to rework a written assignment on Thomas Jefferson but we decide to finish it tomorrow.  We’re all schooled out.  They read Harry Potter in their bedrooms for a while.  It’s too cold to play outside.

At this point in the day, if there were no sickness, we’d have also completed what we call Morning Time, an hour when we sit together and read poetry, the Bible, and a chapter of a novel.  Sometimes, if we don’t get to it in the morning, we do it in the afternoon or even before bed.  Because today was meh (with a dash of misery), we decide to save it for just before going to sleep.

And that’s that.  Some days we get a lot done; others, like today, not so much.  But it all balances out in the end.

Better Than The Book

A quickie post for those of you who a). homeschool your kids, b). like history, or c). want your kids to know some history, for crying out loud. I commend to you Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.  We’re watching it now on Netflix and it’s amazing.  I know this is like saying M.A.S.H. is amazing since it’s been around long enough that one of the featured scholars said, “In this, the twentieth century…”

Still, we hadn’t seen it before, and we’re finding it much better than a textbook for conveying facts and stories about the War Between the States.  My advice?  Skip the movie about Lincoln and watch this, instead.  You won’t get Sally Fields, but you will get a Morgan Freeman voice-over, and who doesn’t love that?  Fair warning: parts of the documentary are graphic and unsuitable for young kids.


I yelled at my oldest son during our Bible reading today because he wasn’t paying attention–again.  It had been building, my frustration at his vacancy, and it finally bubbled over into a scalding lecture on listening and respect and responsibility.  My words multiplied, crowding each other over the sharp cliff of my anger.  Lemmings, all of them, dead on arrival.

My son’s face grew cloudy, then distant.  I was losing it during Bible time.  The irony was not lost on me.

After the fracas was over (and, so help me, I was more than a little right. He doesn’t pay attention half the time), we hugged each other.  My temper had cooled and things had gotten clearer:  He doesn’t listen and I take it personally.  I think about my life and I wonder if I’m doing a good enough job with these kids.  Are they learning what they need to learn?  Are they growing in character?  Will they like me when when they’re grown?

Will I like them?

My son threw his arm around my shoulders.  He’s already taller than I am and he likes to prove it on occasion.

“I love you, Mom,” he said, his voice high, then popping low.

“I love you, too, babe.  You’re gonna kill me, but I love you.”

And just like that things were OK again, at least until next time.

In the meantime I’m asking God to help me stop yelling at my kids when they act like middle schoolers–and I’m asking him to help my son become a better listener (I’m helping God a bit by threatening to take away the XBox if I don’t see improvement).

Parenting isn’t for cowards.  And homeschooling?  Sheesh.  So while I have lots of things to be thankful for this season, the one that stands out the most is grace.  I’m thankful for grace.  For hundreds of do-overs.  And for sons who throw their lanky arms over my shoulders and say I love you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Real Reason I Homeschool

IMG_00011Look, there are a lot of reasons people have for teaching their own kids.  Many of them are good and compelling.  But, for me, most have faded over time.  I see my kids growing up and I think, They were always going to be OK. 

And, anyway, homeschooling is hard and can suck the life out of a person, especially a person who used to carry a planner.  Our warm educational fuzzies have grown a little threadbare during these middle years, and the tender platitudes that used to spur me on now find me with my fingers in my ears and, you know, maybe rocking in my bathroom.

But, so help me, there is one thing that hasn’t changed–and that is my need to go slow through this life.  It turns out that a poet crawled into my head and, having rattled around there, came back and wrote a poem that exactly describes my Actual Real Reason for doing this life the way I do.

To wit:


by William Henry Davies

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this is if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

That’s my reason, folks.  What’s yours?

Not With a Bang

The summer whizzed past us, compressed like never before by travel to distant continents, house hunting, and, er, fewer weeks.  [The previous winter’s shenanigans made for lots of snow days for Daddy, who’s a teacher.  If Daddy has snow days, so do we.  But snow days, as cozy as they are for three seconds, make for lots of make-up days in the spring.  This, in turn, means a shorter summer break for Daddy.  We take summer break when Daddy does. Hence, our teeny summer.]

I knew we’d be starting school before I was ready for it.  I told the kids that we were going to start up our activities a week after Daddy did because I needed to practice incrementalism in our homeschool this time around or I would surely die.  They were down with it.

Daddy went to school on a Monday.  We went to jujitsu and the library.  We read some and did chores.  The kids bickered with one another.  We went to Sonic.  So far, so good.

Tuesday offered more of the same but with loud thudding noises where the boys slammed one another into walls and hit each other with pillows.  I felt a low grade fever coming on, but, no I didn’t.  That was actually a touch of rage.

Wednesday came and I heard a ginormous crash from upstairs.  Then I heard yelling and a smidge of crying.  I called the kids downstairs and discussed with them the many ways they could practice conflict resolution if they would only try.  We laughed and cried together.


We started school.  I rage-started school.

Now, I’m no fool.  I’ve been homeschooling for going on nine years.  We’ve had our share of joys and sorrows, successes and let’s-not-talk-about-that’s.  I knew better than to think that springing math on the kids instead of taking away the X-Box was going to launch the year the way I’d hoped. I didn’t exactly think it would be like this.


I didn’t mean to start our academic year as a direct result of sibling fighting.  (“Officer, I don’t know what happened.  There was all this noise and when I opened my eyes, the kids were doing math.”)

But the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

So while the kids were dull-eyed when I first announced that our summer was stone-dead, the day unfolded much better than I expected.  So did the next day.  And the next.

I’m telling you this so that you can take heart if you A). homeschool, or B). ever mess up your own plans, and/or C). have ever turned math into a punishment when you told yourself you would never, ever do that because you have math issues yourself and wouldn’t dream of causing your kids to have them, too, because preventing those issues is one of the big reasons you chose to homeschool in the first place.

Life is messy and people are crazy (and by people I mean kids and dogs).  But God is good.  He cares about the little things.  You can trust him with your best laid plans–and their possible demise.

So if your summer ended not with a bang but a whimper, I just wanted to say:  Me too.  It’s still OK.  It’s going to be a great year anyway.