To All Parents Who Found Themselves Homeschooling

It’s not every day that our kids come home from school for March Break and never return. With the swift arrival of COVID-19, our collective worlds were turned upside down. Teachers and parents quickly pivoted to learning at home. Now, three months, untold meltdowns, countless tears, and numerous naggings later, we’ve crossed the finish line! It wasn’t easy, but we did it! Or at least we survived!

Looking back on my prayer journals from 2010-2011, I came across several prayers I had written as a homeschool mom. Between reading the entries and recent chats with other moms, I realized that we could all use a little encouragement. At the end of this post, I’ve included an entry from my prayer journal and a link to a video where my daughters and I offer a few tips to both parents and kids about homeschooling.

Whether you’re a full-time homeschooling parent, or you were thrown into it this spring and are dreading the possibility of potential part-time homeschooling for the fall, here are a few thoughts from our eighteen years of homeschooling to quiet any fears of inadequacy or worries of how you might cope.

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On a hike with our three eldest, Kurtis, Konnor, and Elanna circa 2003.

The following is some practical advice that I hope proves helpful. I wanted to tear down some beliefs and dispel fears that may surround homeschooling and offer some benefits to the process. Yes, boundaries need to be in place, and I’ll highlight a few, but much beauty can occur as a result of schooling at home.

Beliefs

During the years we homeschooled, I often struggled with fearful thoughts about the process which had the propensity overshadow our experience. I often felt inadequate, like I could never quite do enough (as you’ll see in the excerpt from my journal below). I had vague thoughts that I was failing my kids in some way or another. Did all the other mom’s really have it all together?

Many nights I fell into bed exhausted from doing too many things. Running the day over in my mind, instead of celebrating what we had accomplished, I bemoaned the ways I felt I had fallen short that day or the things that remained incomplete. I worried my kids wouldn’t know all they needed to know.

Years later, I see that I didn’t need to worry, and you don’t either. It is unlikely your kids will fall behind learning at home. Their education isn’t composed merely of the things they learn during this time. Learning is a life-long endeavor. You have the unique opportunity to model learning and curiosity not just for now—or for grades—but for their lifetime.

During the years we homeschooled, I was often asked about the socialization of my kids. Wasn’t I worried they wouldn’t be adequately socialized? If my idea of the socialization of a person was based solely on peer socialization, I should have been concerned. But homeschooling afforded my kids the opportunity to engage more fully with all different types of people and all different age levels.

Occasionally, I was asked if I had a teaching degree. I did not, but I do have a university degree—not to say that you need one to teach your children. If you are committed to the process and foster and facilitate a healthy learning environment, they will learn. You have strengths, gifts, and skills to extend to your child’s education regardless of whether you have a Bachelor of Education.

Don’t expect perfection. Go easy on yourself and your kids. Be patient both with them and yourself. Allow for bumps and bruises. Talk about what you can do better when you or they make a mistake. Alter your mindset or attitude, if needed, and your kids will take your cue and rise to your expectations.

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Discovering a snake.

Boundaries

While learning at home allows for fun and flexibility, it also requires some structure, routine, and boundaries. It’s helpful to start school at a set time each day, structuring in time for breaks and lunch, and an assigned ending time. Consider designating an area where most of the schooling takes place and remove as many distractions as possible. Setting clear expectations and an agreed-upon consequence for failing to meet those expectations is invaluable. Equally important is follow-through. This will prevent untold hours of infuriation and nagging.

Once you have clearly stated your expectations (consider making timelines for the completion of schoolwork), expect your child to deliver. If they don’t finish their work, first uncover why they haven’t. Were you unavailable for a time, or does your child’s schoolteacher have yet to reply to a question to finish? If they could have completed the work but chose not to, consider how to address that behavior.

Resist nagging. If you were clear on your instructions and expectations, and they could have completed the work, calmly inform them of the consequence. Consider asking your child’s opinion ahead of time what you should do if their work isn’t completed. Often their choices are harsher than you’d pick! If they don’t finish, when it comes time for play with friends or screen time, you can calmly say, “I’m sorry, I’d love to let you play but you chose not to finish your work.”

This works well for teens too but be sure to pick something that offers enough of an ouch-factor for that child. Then, whatever you do, don’t give in to begging! In this way, you help your kids learn the concept of reaping what they sow. In addition, you’ll be encouraging them to grow in self-discipline and gain responsibility for their choices.

Remain positive and hopeful. Avoid scolding or belittling, and gently correct undesirable behavior. You want to reach your child’s heart instead of training them to be a mere rule-follower. Whenever possible, use positive, encouraging words and praise your child when you notice a job well done or work completed in a timely manner. Celebrate mastery and milestones. Use sticker charts to track achievements, or rewards such as a special treat, a trip, or a party from time to time.

As you set boundaries, consider how your child will fill their free time, especially the amount you allot for screens and phones. It’s so easy to allow the extra time to be swallowed up on devices. Instead, schedule intentional pockets of screen time, such as during a break or for a limited time after school.

Benefits

Homeschooling holds the potential to create valuable memories and close family connections. By virtue of being together, you have the opportunity to connect and speak into your kids’ lives in a way you might not have otherwise had. Be intentional about how you use this gift of time and the things on which you choose to focus the most attention.

Time spent learning at home allows space to adjust to your kids’ needs and learning styles. In the elementary years, I found I could squeeze more out of our school day when I changed locations for different subjects. They sat at a desk for subjects such as Math, Writing, and Spelling. For Bible, History, and Reading, we would move to the couch. Science would happen at the kitchen counter, and crafts might take place on the floor or at a different table.

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Ralph reading to the kids at bedtime in 2003.

In the early years, during read-aloud, the kids would often sit on the couch snuggled beside me. If they wanted to play Lego while listening, I allowed for that, occasionally checking in for comprehension. I let them choose books of their choice for free-time reading, even if they were above or below their reading level. If a certain curriculum or method of teaching wasn’t working, I changed course and tried something new.

Since schoolwork can usually be completed more quickly at home than in a classroom, the extra time affords your kids room to deeply explore an interest. If you notice curiosity toward a subject, you might consider providing materials or equipment to further engage their intrigue.

Avoid taking over or forcing the continuation of a natural bent or interest. Doing so may cause them to reject their natural curiosity. The extra time at home offers a spacious environment to independently sample various interests for the sheer joy of learning without any pressure to succeed.

Don’t feel you must fill your kids’ schedule with countless activities or endless amounts of work. Boredom fuels creativity and allows quiet space to process and refuel. There’s no need to stimulate your child’s learning at every turn, which can exhaust them or make them anxious with the never-ending flow of work. Instead, make space for free time, independent decision making, creative projects, play, reading, and relaxing.

Take opportunities to learn on the go. Hands-on experience is priceless. Get outside. Go for a walk or hike in nature. Take field trips or have a picnic in the park. Our kids loved our family trips and dedicated time apart from structured study.

Beauty

The beauty of homeschooling is the ability to be flexible, the joy of learning together, the increased time as a family, simpler moments, and the capacity to a deep dive into interests.

When our kids were little, for our morning break I used to spread our teddy bear blanket on the floor and sit on it with them to enjoy milk and cookies. I loved the hours we spent cuddled up beside each other while reading picture books and then classic literature. Sometimes I played classical music or an audiobook during art. There was ample time for extra reading and creativity.

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My son Konnor’s 16th birthday party included his homeschool and public school friends, and his siblings. The fake cigarette my son, Kurtis, is holding was a prop from their homeschool co-op play!

To make life easier, I tried to choose activities that the three eldest kids could participate in at the same time such as swimming, skating, gymnastics, and music lessons. We met with a local homeschool group for soccer, baseball, cross-country running, and field trips. We joined a homeschool co-op and for many years enjoyed learning with other homeschoolers one day per week. We played learning games, made crafts, or cooked together. We also cleaned together each week and each child was responsible for a level of the house.

Once the three big kids graduated from homeschooling, our youngest and I continued homeschooling for one more year until she enrolled in a Christian private school. During that one-on-one time, we enjoyed lunchtime picnics at the park and occasionally set up a fort in the backyard where we read together. Another homeschool mom and took turns teaching a subject to one another’s child for a semester.

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Our family – Easter 2020.

What did I hope our kids would glean from our homeschooling journey? Apart from academics, I hoped to inspire intrinsic motivation, self-confidence, compassion for others, and a life-long love of learning. If they, in addition, carried fond memories of our time together, an understanding of God, and a secure knowledge of how entirely we love them, I had fulfilled what I set out to accomplish.

Whether you are a full-time homeschooler or schooling at home is temporary, there are untold ways to make this time as joyful and memorable as possible. Even though homeschooling requires much hard work and dedication, you will never regret the time you intentionally spent on your kids and the relationships that were strengthened as a result.

Click here to watch a video of my daughters and I offering tips and encouragement for homeschooling.

Prayer Journal Entry – May 2020

I see all the years of teaching, of asking them to write (even though they disliked it for so long and often moaned), of having them read great literature and reading aloud to them so much has definitely had an impact. I praise you Lord, because it is a joy for me to see what you have done in spite of all my inadequacies, and often lack of faith, that I was doing a good job—though always feeling it was never enough, good enough, or long enough. 

So could you, Lord, level the path before us and make your way clear [concerning homeschooling for highschool]. We need you. I desperately need your wisdom to do this. Show us the way. Help me to trust you (not look too far ahead), and go your way, not mine. I am very thankful for what you have done and are doing in their lives and mine. May they be a blessing to you (as you love them so much). May they know this intimately, deeply, thoroughly. 

Amen

Best Canadian New Author of the Year!

This past weekend, we watched the Word Awards Celebration where Christian writers are recognized and celebrated. Originally, I had thought that if I could be nominated in just one category I would be thrilled. So, you can imagine how ecstatic I felt when, between my novel One More Tomorrow, my devotional Soul Focus – Trials, and my blog site, my work was nominated for five categories!

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The spark that prompted One More Tomorrow arrived unexpectedly one evening while waiting for a flight home in Milwaukie Airport with my husband. A scene sprung into my head, and I reached for my hubby’s laptop (I didn’t have my own back then) and wrote, what is to this day, the first page of One More Tomorrow. 

We were in the thick of raising and homeschooling our three small children, and I hardly need to explain that time was at a premium. Monday nights became my writing night. I would make a run to a local coffee shop and grab a giant latte and sandwich. Returning home, I would steal away to my little office at the back of our house and shut the door in preparation for several blissful, uninterrupted hours of writing. My husband would make or take the kids out for dinner and some sort of activity and then return home to quietly put them to bed so that I could continue writing.

Those nights were magical. Ideas and words filled my mind and flowed through my fingers with such fluidity that my meager keyboard skills hardly kept up. Since ideas are such slippery things, I often wrote into the early hours of the morning to ensure all of them were captured. One morning, my second-born son peeked his head in the door of my office at 6 AM, wide-eyed in disbelief, and exclaimed, “Mom, are you still up?” It was already morning, and I hadn’t made it to bed.

I finished the novel within a year but had no idea what I would do next. Like most moms with young children, my life was already stuffed full. I decided that I couldn’t possibly publish and homeschool well, so I set the novel aside… for about fifteen years. Over those years, my firstborn son, Kurtis, would ask, “So, Mom, when are you going to publish your book?” He wouldn’t let me forget it or give up on my dream.

I recall going to a few writer’s conferences over the years—feeling anything but a writer—and listening to published authors talk about the craft. As they spoke about the writing and publishing process, I recall feeling bewildered and overwhelmed. I once sat at a table with an author who had just won a Word Award for her work and marveled at her accolades. Little did I know, just a few years later she would be my editor! But at that time, I still wasn’t able to even begin thinking about publishing. Though it was a huge goal of mine, at times I wondered if I would ever reach it.

In the fall of 2018, my youngest daughter went off to a “real” school. That same fall, my oldest son got married. The year prior, my second-born son had left home to attend post-secondary school, and my third born had completed high-school. After eighteen years of homeschooling and non-stop shuttling my kids to numerous activities, suddenly several unclaimed hours stretched out before me. For the first time ever, I had seven hours each day entirely to myself! I immediately set to work.

By the fall of 2019, I had two books to present to the world. One More Tomorrow launched in September, and Soul Focus – Trails was published just two months later. We held two glorious book launch celebrations with family and friends that I will always hold dear. I had reached my goal and felt that my “Part Two”, the bit after the years dedicated to homeschooling, was well underway.

Click here to purchase a copy of my books!

Fast forward to this past Saturday—the 32nd Word Awards and our 28th wedding anniversary!  Under normal circumstances, the awards celebration would be a formal gala complete with dinner and an awards presentation. Due to COVID-19, I instead sat in casual attire on our couch surrounded by a small group of friends and family to watch the awards broadcasted live. Though I wasn’t draped in an evening gown, I was wrapped in the love, excitement, and support of those dear ones in the room.

To learn that One More Tomorrow, the book I had begun in Milwaukie Airport all those years ago, won the Romance category was a marvel to me. To hear that I had also won Best Canadian New Author of the Year was truly overwhelming! When I learned of the news, I couldn’t help but cry. I cried from the shock and wonder that I was receiving an award at all.

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The awards represent so many things. The obvious is they are the first awards I’ve received for my writing. They represent time and much-needed discipline dedicated to the process, and the often-unpopular choice of saying no to other pursuits to make room for this worthy goal. They also stand for overcoming obstacles, scaling numerous hardships and desert places, but refusing to give up until completion.

These awards also represent all the people who cheered for me and helped me throughout the entire process—all the ones who believed I could and told me so. They represent the readers who bought and enjoyed the book and cared enough to give me that feedback. They represent the countless writers who went before me and those who continue to give of their time because they believe the craft should be celebrated. They represent my relationship with God, His gift of words, and His power to overcome and love.

Since Saturday night, I have been immensely humbled by the countless well-wishes. Moments like this shine brighter when shared. My son and daughter-in-law called after the awards show to congratulate me. It was no surprise when, near the end of the call, Kurtis asked, “So, Mom, when are you going to publish your next book?” I guess I better get started!

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Click here to watch The Word Guild Awards Celebration

 

Becoming Clean

I no longer recognize myself. I’ve succumbed to wall washing.

wall washing

About two weeks ago, I bought a two-pack of Magic Erasers. I thought I’d simply touch up a couple of high-traffic areas in our home, but once I began I soon realized two sponges would in no way suffice. Since Ralph was going on a Costco run for his quarantined mom and stepfather who had recently returned from Spain, I asked him to source some Magic Erasers. He valiantly returned home with two jumbo packs. I was in business!

Allow me a moment to explain how I came to this precipitous place.

For years, I prided myself by saying such things as, “An impeccable home is a sign of a wasted life.” If you’re one of those people, I’m afraid we cannot be besties. During the years we homeschooled, I sometimes bemoaned my girlfriends’ perfect homes. There wasn’t going to be that level of perfection around here. What with a Science project on the kitchen counter, an entire paper village dominating the kitchen floor, a homemade board game under construction (and its assorted pieces) littering the schoolroom floor, a tray of sand on the schoolroom table for letter formation practice, and books covering multiple surfaces (to mention a few examples), I was lucky to find an open area to dust.

Don’t worry, we didn’t exist in total squalor, but I did cling to the sentiment that had I spent my time cleaning ’til it was gleaming, I would have missed the point. We did clean as a family, all pitching in for regular maintenance such as vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and bathrooms, but I can assure you that I was not disposed to washing walls—or any manner of spring cleaning—until now. Continue reading “Becoming Clean”

Sacred Motherhood

It may not feel like it, but what you’re doing is sacred.

It doesn’t feel like it during the 3 AM feedings, or when you’re changing the seventh diaper before noon, or when you’re comforting a wailing baby while wailing yourself.

Kurtis, Konnor, and Elanna – 2003.

Motherhood doesn’t feel sacred when your two-year-old is asserting their freedom of speech at the grocery counter, when your three-year-old just completed a crayon masterpiece on the living room wall, or when your five-year-old just bit your best friend’s daughter’s arm.

It doesn’t feel sacred when the teacher calls home about misbehavior twice in one week, when you lose count of the times you’ve corrected for this misbehavior, or when you’re completely at a loss on how to fix it. 

It doesn’t feel sacred when your teenager is distant, when they impart that they just backed the truck into your neighbor’s Porche, or when you happen to notice cut marks on their wrists.

Mostly motherhood feels messy and raw. Like you’re wearing your heart outside your chest while walking in the wilderness without a compass. But it’s also brilliant, beautiful, and sacred.

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Our Family – 2010

Because mothers change the atmosphere. They change it with their love, their laughter, their prayers, their protection, and their presence. The countless times you walked through ordinary, produced extraordinary. All your unseen and uncelebrated actions piled one on top of the other, day after day, bumped into eternity.

The times you wiped a nose, a bottom, or wiped away tears. The times you got on your knees and played even though the house looked like a tsunami passed through, or later got on your knees to pray for the strength to clean up said tsunami. The times you administered hugs, Bandaids, advice, desserts, medicine, money, drives, and driving lessons—all selfless, sacred acts that had a profound impact.

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My kids and I – 2019

Because right now, right beside you, these little humans are becoming big humans. All you do for them and choose not to do (for their own good), is helping them grow into the person God envisioned from the beginning of time. The same child you helped learn how to walk, will one day run headlong into their own future and, eventually, into eternity.

Make no mistake, this is sacred work.

The way you love them, serve them, speak to them, look at them, and the time you spend with them has a profound impact. God chose you for the task. He has entrusted you with these little people, and when you trust him, he gives you all you need to accomplish this sacred work.

It won’t be easy—you already know that—but it will be worth it.

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Our first year homeschooling. Kurtis (JK) & Konnor along for the ride. I apparently didn’t know how to spell tomorrow back then!

The years I raised and taught our four kids at home took more than I had. Some days it felt anything but sacred. But I believe that you too will one day look back and marvel at the impact of your selfless, sometimes mundane, day-to-day, imperfect, accumulated acts. That you too will see that every strand of your love wove a rich, strong, safe nest for those babies who are now, sooner than you imagined possible, ready to fly and soar on their own.

We get one crack at this thing called parenting. Let’s slow down, be present, and love them ridiculously well. Not one second of that time will be wasted! xo

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

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Our kids and first grandson – Jan 2020.

Click here to purchase my 31-Day Devotional Soul Focus – Trials

Click here to purchase my novel One More Tomorrow

52 Things I learned During our Home Schooling Journey

 

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Elanna’s Graduation – June 2018

Eighteen years ago, I embarked on an unlikely journey of teaching my children at home. I only planned to continue until they reached high school, but the three oldest chose to home school through grade 12.

We learned a lot of things during those years, but what sticks with me the most isn’t the multitude of things we gleaned from books, but the things we discovered about life and ourselves. Those years weren’t always easy. Life still happened. And though I was far from a perfect teacher or mother, we came out the other side loving and respecting each other. Today, I am humbled and blessed by the close relationships we share.

Below is a random list of some things I learned. I’m sure I can’t think of everything, but these are a few that easily came to mind. Although it refers to our home schooling journey, I have a feeling you’ll be able to relate, or, at the very least, may find it an encouragement!

52 Things I Learned From Home Schooling:

1. Show up, even when you don’t feel like it.
2. Any effort is better than none. It all compiles.
3. Bear with one another.
4. Patience is necessary – it grows when exercised.
5. If it’s not working, try harder. If it’s still not working, try a different approach.
6. Meant to and actually doing the job are two very different things.
7. It’s hard, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
8. Quitting isn’t an option. Redirecting your effort is.
9. There’s no such thing as perfection, but hard work, perseverance, and a good attitude are a close second.
10. Don’t compare yourself to others or you risk feeling both inadequate and missing what you were created for.
11. Laugh. Cry. Start again.
12. Speak truth when needed.
13. Don’t worry about what others think.
14. Character, integrity, and wisdom are more valuable than all the knowledge in the world. There are plenty of intelligent jerks.
15. Figure out what your passions are and build on those.
16. Nothing is wasted. No effort, trial, or experience.
17. Put down the books, leave the work, and go outside.
18. Play often.
19. Be kind. Speak gently. Smile freely.
20. Not everyone will agree with you. That’s okay. Accept your differences.
21. Make your encouragements more prolific than your critiques.
22. Those entrusted to you rise to your expectations. Set the bar achievably high.
23. Forgive yourself and keep moving forward.
24. Even if it’s difficult, monotonous, or thankless, you are still making headway.
25. Nothing stays the same forever. Cherish now.
26. Life has seasons. Learn what you can from each one.
27. Read beautiful stories out loud to your kids.
28. Besides God, be your child’s biggest cheerleader.
29. Expect the best in others.
30. Catch your kids doing good.
31. Tell your kids what you like about them, and about the good you see in them.
32. Keep hugging your children even if they appear to no longer appreciate it.
33. A little mess won’t kill you.
34. Say sorry when you’re wrong, then ask for forgiveness.

35. What you do speaks louder than what you say.

36. Talk your kids openly about your faith and failures.
37. Let them work alongside you so they learn from you.
38. Help your children see the beauty in nature and in other human beings.
39. If possible, travel with your children. These experiences offer priceless bonding and provide hands-on experience they won’t get from books.
40. Teach them to serve others so they won’t be self-serving, but compassionate.
41. Guide, don’t control.
42. They aren’t you. Don’t try to make them be. Give them ample space to be who they were created to be. Celebrate their individuality.
43. Take each child out on one-on-ones. You get to know them better this way.
44. Love your spouse.
45. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
46. Help them form strong habits to achieve their goals.
47. Champion their dreams.
48. Let them make mistakes.
49. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves.
50. Pray.
51. Let your children go and be the miraculous humans God made them to be. It was always the end goal.
52. Choose love first, always.
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.”
~ Colossians 3:14

 

Konnor and Kurtis’ graduation – 2014 & 2016

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1. What could you add to this list?
2. IS there one you could work on this week?

Letting Go With Open Arms

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Last weekend, our first born got married to his perfect match. As if this weren’t enough emotion for this momma’s heart, on Monday of the same week we crammed the contents of our second born’s room into our van and moved him into his own apartment to continue his college education. On Tuesday, our littlest started school for the first time. I homeschooled our kids for the past eighteen years, and she is the first to go to “real” school. The same week, my third born left for New York City for a big audition. Continue reading “Letting Go With Open Arms”