What I Love About Homeschooling

It’s been a year since we pulled our daughter out of school and decided to homeschool.

She needed to be at home with me; to find a safe haven in the storm of a life that had been constantly changing for the past six years.

I needed her here, too.

I needed to see her.

To know her in the way that mothers know their children from the constancy of life.

To watch her grow and discover and pour out oil on her broken places.

To search out what it feels like to walk in her tender footsteps and breathe in the world around us through her little heart.

The past year has had it’s ups and downs, but there are many things I have learned to love about homeschooling.

It is a year I will never regret.

Now, on the brink of reintegrating her back to school…every day feels a bit bittersweet.

I love these days I have with her, even while I feel tied down, exhausted and claustrophobic!

Here are some reasons why I have loved homeschooling:

1.Flexibility –  It has been so nice coming home from a busy weekend and knowing that I can let my daughter sleep as long as she likes on Monday morning and let her ease back into the routine slowly.  There are days we accomplish tons of work…and there are days we accomplish very little.  The beauty of this, especially with a special needs child, is that when one of those days come along where you just know that learning is going to be a constant challenge…you can just NOT.  Some days we go for a walk instead, or spend our morning running errands.  Some days we visit friends, snuggle on the couch or take a nap.  I will miss this when I have to make sure she’s ready to go out the door every morning promptly, ready or not.

2. Integrated Learning –  I love that because I know exactly what my daughter is learning at all times, I can incorporate it into anything we may be doing.  If we are learning about money, for instance, we notice prices at the grocery store and talk about coin values when we count out allowance money.  She notices anything from spelling patterns to colours to story themes that we’ve been learning about all around her and I love that I know exactly what she is talking about when she mentions them.  I believe this is the most powerful way for a child to learn, when all of life becomes integrated.

3. Growth –  So, so much growth!  There is a huge, indescribable feeling that wells up in my soul when I hear her voice lacing out words and stories and poems as her eyes scan a page.  That was us!  Not me, not her, but us!  Together we have learned that she can read.  Together we have explored the sea and memorized the 7 continents of the world.  We have counted to 100 and explored the relativity of one number to the next.  Building blocks of tens and hundreds.  We can add them together or take them away.  We can write them and say them and see them and feel them.  Together we have bent our heads over books and papers and tiny little bugs.  We have run through the breeze and lifted our eyes to the sky, taking in the big wide world above us.  I have listened and listened and listened to her chatter.  Day after day after day until I thought my ears could take no more!  But in all the words and chatter and stories, she has given me her heart, offering it up to me in each little refrain.  Each and every small moment; put them in a box and you would see that we have learned!  We have grown.  I missed the first five tender years of my little A’s life…so when I look in this box I see a little bit of redemption.  A little bit of grace poured out that we could spend these moments together.

4. Play – Childhood is so short, and in an age where we are constantly measuring our children by charts and graphs and statistics from the minute their eyes first open, I want my children to have the chance to enjoy being a child.  I want to make sure that even while they are learning and growing, they are being given space to be children.  To laugh, to be silly, to explore, to create and to pretend.  Play in a child’s life is an essential part of their development as person.  Children use play to learn, comprehend life’s experiences and to communicate.   It took a long time for my daughter to be able to relax enough to really play, so when I see her carting her babies around, creating sculptures in the snow, setting up a house or building a fort…I cherish it.  It is a sign of the healing of her heart.

5. Sibling Bonds – When we chose to teach our daughter at home, we did not realize we were offering her an opportunity  to build a bond with her little brother that she wouldn’t have had the opportunity for otherwise.  With her older, more capable sister gone, she got a chance to form her own unique relationship with him.  Now, at age 14 months and 8 years, they spend every day together.  She is his favourite person to follow around and the games and stories she makes up for him keep him delightfully entertained.  Together they play cars, dolls, read stories and colour pictures.  Whatever she is doing, that’s what he wants to do, too.  Having the chance to be so adored, despite the many squabbles and struggles of siblings, has given her such a boost in confidence and self esteem.  Every day he proves to her by his little pattering feet following her around the house that she is worthy, she is loved, she is wanted.

6. Individualized Learning – While teaching a child with learning disabilities at home is not for the faint of heart, it is also incredibly relieving to  be able to step outside of the box and teach your child on his/her level with no pressure of ‘grade’ performance.  Most homeschooling families follow their child’s lead as to what they are interested in and then use that as a platform to build upon their learning.  It’s ok to be working at multiple grade levels.  Every child has strengths and weaknesses.  If math is going great and reading is a struggle, it’s ok to be working at a substantially more difficult level for math than for reading.  If your child conquers long division in just a few short lessons, it’s ok to move on to something new without doing the whole unit.  If your child has a short attention span, or learns more kinesthetically you can build breaks into their day that will help them thrive.  Math facts can be memorized while jumping rope.  Stories can be read at the park.  Spelling words can be created with paint and glue and soap bubbles.  If your child can spell orally but not with paper and pencil, it’s ok to test them that way.  If tests make your child anxious and he or she performs less than their best, it’s ok to toss tests out the window.  As his or her teacher, you will have a very good idea of what they are comprehending, so choosing to do tests will only be a formality of what you already both know.  If your child needs a  nap or some quiet time, it’s easily accessible.  If you decide to go on vacation in the middle of October that is perfectly ok!  I have loved being so involved in my child’s learning and being able to make decisions based on her best interests academically.  It has also given us more freedom as a family.

7. Life Skills – By choosing homeschooling you give yourself and your child a great opportunity to get involved in everyday activities that will teach them valuable life skills.  By bringing their learning home, you will be able to involve them in all your daily tasks.  Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, making a budget, the arts and music all become intertwined into their daily lives.  A child who has spent 8 hours a day at school will most likely not have the energy to enjoy baking cookies or doing the grocery shopping with you after school, but a child who has more space and free time will be more apt to learn these skills well as they have time to enjoy it.

Homeschooling has many challenges, and like most thing there are pros and cons no matter how you choose to educate your children.

 The past year has opened my eyes to the reality that homeschooling is not only possible but a really good option for many families.

 It is a great way for children to grow and learn and it is ideal for families who are craving connection and freedom from schedules and regulations.  It is ideal for adoptive families who are struggling with attachment issues, learning disabilities and trauma.  We were able to connect with a great homeschooling group locally that offered us support, diversity and fun, which was an added bonus.

We may or may not return to homeschooling in the future but either way I have enjoyed this year in ways I never imagined and I will never regret it!  If you have thought about homeschooling but feel it is too challenging, too complicated or too boring, hear this:

It was easier, more fun and more rewarding than I ever expected!

AF

Gratitude

For months now I’ve been trying to find my way to words.

Words to share the feelings that have been pulsing through my veins and the journey that’s been reorienting my heart.

Try as I might I couldn’t find the clarity to scrawl it out.

Then this morning…

blonde ponytail flopping as she trotted along behind me,

it came.

And I hear it, clear as a bell.

We were cleaning, because we have a house showing at noon.  Oh and how that’s been woven through this story as well…our home, our little love nest, for sale.  Where we’ve laughed, where we’ve cried, where we’ve become a family.  Evidence of calloused hands’ careful work all around me.  Memories written…sometimes literally…on the bright, oh so bright, walls.

She’s singing as she tidies books, folds the big orange Daddy shirts, sucks up all the little rocks with the vacuum.

Show us, show us your glory, Lord!

I pause.

To breathe.

To take it in,

the sight of my Little busy with her helping hands to make Mommy smile while she warbles out the worship song she heard earlier.

Show us, show us your glory, Lord!

She sings it over and over again.

I hear her now, still, as she’s putting on her shoes and running out to play.

Show us, show us your glory, Lord!

And I realize…

He has.

He has shown me his glory.

He has come to this messy life of mine and shown me the glory that He wants me to see.  In Him, in this life, and yes, even in me.

Through the frustrating, disappointing real estate ventures.  The complete exhaustion of the dreary winter months as I tread water desperately to stay afloat.  Homeschooling, night feedings, dishes and laundry piles and always always the hands and hearts grasping for my time and attention.

Through the disillusionment, despair and drowning weight of sin.  Written all over my heart, my family, my home and my words.  Oh, my words.  Biting, begging, sharp as nails words that cut us all apart and leave the blood marks.

Through the silence, the unknown, the black hours of waiting and wondering and hoping.

Show us, show us your glory, Lord!

Begging, pleading I came to Him.  Show me your glory, Lord!

And He did.

He really did.

As we studied a book on gratitude at church with the women’s group,

as I picked up Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts

as I opened up my heart to vulnerability and trust and faith.

Faith.

The glory shone in.

And now, I’m seeing it and breathing it and smiling it each day.

Choosing gratitude as I follow Ann’s lead and start my list of 1000 Gifts.

Chubby baby cheeks, smooth and soft.  

Quiet Time – my sweet reprieve.

Bagels with cream cheese and butter melting on my tongue.

Early Spring tree buds – bright green and fresh

Birds singing before dawn

Rainy mornings

Clean, white sheets – peaceful and cool on my skin

A change of plans

A gentle finger, tucking stray hair behind my ear.  My girl made all of care.

A chance encounter

My husband’s smile – melting me to my soul

Fresh eggs

Lilacs in full bloom

Sleepy morning eyes coming down the stairs and shuffling slipper feet

Free education

New pajama pants

Worship music in the morning

Novels

An encouraging, fun home school group

Two becoming one flesh

A truly remarkable social worker

Sparkling eyes that brim joy contagious

Steady baby milestone achievements

Backyard BBQ’s

My sweet neighbour in her pajamas in the early morning dew

Suddenly, I can see.

And His glory is all around us.

And she’s still singing.

Show us, show us your glory, Lord!

I realize how great and vast He is and I have to bow and adore.

So much glory, in all the mundane.

So much beauty in all the sacrifice.

Gratitude.

AF

 

Cry It Out?

 

IMG_9407-1I remember the first time I cared for an infant.

As a “new mom” to our first foster child, a baby, I was reporting in detail every little quirk in his sleeping habits to our social worker.  What sticks out in my mind is her kind eyes looking at me with a hint of amusement as she said gently, “You know you may eventually just need to let him cry it out!”

Fast forward four years and I’m dragging myself out of bed to go comfort my five month old for the fourth time in one night.

Not hungry.

No fever or signs of pain.

No diaper change needed.

Just wanting to be snuggled and preferably offered a breast for extra comfort!

As much as I absolutely adore
my baby, and have learned sometimes it’s not worth the battle, sleep is something I know I need and this particular night I knew I needed to put on my big girl pants and get him back to sleep without my help.  This was becoming a pattern.

So…

After attempts to rock him, cuddle him and sing him back to sleep I tucked him back in his crib, turned on the singing seahorse and stood beside his crib watching him cry in the warm glow of the night light.  I thought of leaving, but couldn’t bear to leave the room and instead propped my head on the rail inches from him and tried to calm him with my whispered words of comfort.

His poor little eyes filled with big tears and he cried his little heart out.  He’d never experienced anything like this before!  Being such a content little guy, at the slightest whimper he is used to being scooped up.  I thought to myself that this was probably one of the first big moments of stress in his life!

He cried and cried, big shuddering sobs.

Just when I’d think he was almost calm again, he’d start all over again.

At these moments it is really unfortunate to be an adoptive parent who has spent the last three years focusing on attachment, brain development and healing kids from trauma.  As I stroked his cheeks and listened to his mournful cries my heart broke and I felt my chest tighten with anxiety.

All the stories I’d read of babies left screaming for hours on end and the resulting brain trauma flew through my mind.  I was sure he was going to think I was abandoning him and all I could picture was the diagram of the brain in attachment classes with the prefontal cortex all lit up in bright red!

What kind of mother just stands there and lets her child cry?!

At the same time the logical side of me knew this was an age old, tried-and-true method that most mothers use at some point with most babies.  I also knew that tomorrow would not be forgiving of me after a night of fitful, interrupted sleep.  Thirty minutes, an hour, forty-five minutes, or two hours at a time is not a way to feel rested and energetic the next morning!  I would still have to get up and take care of my baby.  I would still need to home school my daughter.  I would still need to get to the grocery store with my two children and do the shopping.  I would still need to get to the appointments and make dinner for my family.  I would still need to do the laundry so my girls had clean clothes for the weekend.  Life would still be there, and I would be a much better mother with a little more sleep.

Sigh.

This pattern needed to stop.

I realize there are all kinds of ideas surrounding babies and sleep.

Sleep schedules.

Sleep training.

Sleep cycles.

But every baby is different, and every mother is different.

At the end of the day you have to find whatever works for you.

After almost 45 minutes of on and off, broken-hearted crying my baby gripped the finger I offered and drifted off to sleep, still sniffling as his tears dried on his pink cheeks.

The funny thing is, as I felt his body relax and go off to blissful dreamland,

instead of heading back to my bed,

I stayed.

I stayed and stroked his soft head.

I whispered to him all my dreams for him,

My prayers for him,

And my apologies for being only mortal when I wish to be so much more.

My arms ached to hold him,

now still and quiet in sleep.

I desperately wanted to cuddle him close and let him feel my skin against his.

I wanted him to know just how very much he is adored.

But of course I couldn’t.

I told my husband later that the worst part was not watching him cry and have his eyes beg mine pleadingly, though that was torturous.

No.

The worst part was that eventually he was okay.

Without me.

Eventually he gave up.

And that broke me.

I don’t know if I’ll do it again.

I probably should, and probably will.

It really does work most times from what I hear.

But I hate it.

I’m designed to be his everything, and that is what I thrive on.

Interrupted nights,

frustrated minutes pacing the floor,

those are really just par for the course.

I’m a mother, after all.

 

AF

 

Switch it Up!

I am in love with Pinterest.

When it first entered the scene, I was somewhat curious but a little annoyed at the whole “pinning”, “sharing”, etc stuff going on.  Most of what I found there seemed to plunge me into a pit of envy and discontentment.  On Pinterest, everyone’s homes, children, birthday parties, dinners, photo shoots, clothes and entire lives seemed perfect!  I really didn’t find myself benefiting from most of what I found.  Not to mention all that DIY stuff.  That may work for some people, but for me?  Well, when I DIY it really looks like I did it myself!!  Enough said.

But in the last three months I have become a home school mom.

And now?

Well…

I am in love with Pinterest!

There are so many incredible ideas on Pinterest to help me teach my little A.  Right now I have no curriculum, only a Wal-Mart activity book, Pinterest and my Mommy instincts to teach my child…and it is great!  I understand that in some situations a curriculum is a huge blessing, but for our situation it would only add extra pressure and unrealistic expectations.  Why spend hundreds of dollars on a curriculum when you can use Pinterest!?  This way we can pick and choose our content and expand where needed with whatever grade level is required.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the really great ideas we’ve used around here to make our learning fun.  I specifically picked out things that many of you moms can use for your children coming home from school every night with homework, as well, just to keep it relevant.  🙂

Word Work – We are combining spelling and reading by using a list of ten sight words every two weeks as our spelling list.  To practise these words and their spellings we use: finger paint, rainbow letters, scrabble tiles, white board or chalk board, say them aloud and clap for the auditory effect, type them on the computer, make flashcards, or make up little jingles and rhymes to help memorize spelling patterns.  For added fun, make videos of these to play back to use for practising as well!

Math facts -We haven’t gotten hugely creative with this yet, but there are tons of apps you can use on a tablet or smart phone to help your kids drill.  We play “War” with playing cards but require the child to figure out the sum, difference, product, etc of the two numbers flipped up.  Speed drills are easy to find on Pinterest and always fun to do.

Writing practise – Journal!  Let them pick their topic!  Don’t dictate what they are to write about and you might be surprised what they all write and find them looking forward to it!  Also, don’t fix their spelling mistakes in their journal and ‘pleasure writing’ activities unless they ask.  Just appreciate the quality they produce!  There’s lots of time to fix spelling and grammar later when you’re working on more dictated writing prompts.  At first glance, appreciate the content!  Other ways to practise writing are to make cards, write out grocery lists, label pictures and artwork, etc.  I bought a manuscript printing practise book that Little A does every day.  Even though she has almost all the letter formations accurate it’s good practise and keeps it fresh.  It also gives us an opportunity to practise writing in the lines, figuring out letter positioning and to practise neatness and accuracy.  Take every opportunity to write and make sure it’s not always difficult!

Grocery Shopping – There are so many ways to have fun at the store with your littles..and big kids, too!  Again, Pinterest has lots of fun activities and printables.  You can explore weights, check off lists, do a scavenger hunt for items or letters, practise money management, observe jobs and so much more!  Again, this may make your shopping trip take a bit longer, but you’re much more likely to have involved, occupied, well behaved children than if you’re just dragging them through the store as fast as possible!

Other things we’ve done include playing board games, card games and made up games of our own.  We’ve played store to practise counting money, and used fun YouTube videos to link to our learning for a fun spin.  For example Alexa loves Pete the Cat so we got Pete to help us with subtraction one week.  The video/book “Pete the Cat’s Groovy Buttons” is about subtraction so we watched that together and then made our own Pete the Cat word problems to practise subtraction.  She loved it and it added a fun element to a pretty standard activity.  There are all kinds of educational TV shows you can access as well to iad your child’s learning and spin lessons off of!  The Magic School Bus has been around for ages but is full of great ideas and learning as well as Sid the Science Kid.

There are so many ways you can spice up your child’s learning.  I am a firm believer that a child really willlove to learn if you give them the opportunity to learn in a way that’s fun and interesting to them!  Admittedly this takes work and effort, and you can’t do it all.  There are aspects I know I should be finding more creative ways to teach and I just don’t have the time, resources or energy to do it.  That’s ok.  Pick a few things that you can fit into your time and do those!  You and your child will both have more fun and I guarantee you it will be worth it to see the light in your child’s eyes!

AF

 

 

 

 

We Are Home Schooling!

Yes, you read that right.

Me and my littlest A are homeschooling!  It’s been 2 weeks and maybe we are just honeymooning but it has been AWESOME!   I love it!

Now I can just about see some of you rolling your eyes, making that skeptical face and going…yeah whatever.

I get it.

I never wanted to home school, either.

In fact, until I read through my daughters’ adoption files I always said that I would never do it because I would have hated it as a child, myself!  I thought that home schooling was for really large families who like to hide away from the world or display their family on TV shows!  I thought children who were home schooled were all really smart, a little socially impaired and just not normal!  As you can see, I really hadn’t spent much time thinking about it or taking a look at people who actually did home school!  These were just my misguided perceptions, which I am thoroughly embarrassed of now.

But when special needs walks into the picture, everything changes.  Suddenly I could see that even though I loved school and it would have made me miserable to be at home, for some children it may be the exact opposite!

For some kids, school causes so much stress that they spend all their time just trying to cope!  This may be a result of trauma, attachment issues, learning disabilities or any number of other special needs.

There are tons of supports available, but you have to fight for them and it’ll take time.  I certainly don’t recommend that every parent experiencing difficulties with their child at school should just pull them out without exploring their options, but sometimes all the support and time in the world won’t meet the real needs of your child.   This is especially true in adoption.

For months, I had been saying…we’ll just give it some more time.  Or, I’m not ready yet so that’s just where she needs to be.

In truth I wasn’t confidant enough that I was ready to commit to this journey or that it was the right path for my daughter.  For some reason I was really afraid that I would pull her out of school and then fall flat on my face!  I was afraid she wouldn’t learn, that it would all be a mess and that we would all hate it!

But somehow God has a way of making things clear and as things got worse at school my mind lingered more and more on the idea of home schooling.  Part of me fought it…simply because I love school!  I love the specific school my daughters were attending, and where my oldest daughter still is.  I love the community.  I love the staff.  I love the atmosphere and all the kids.  I love the special projects and events that are connected to school.  I love the opportunities school brings to experience life alongside others and to have a broader view of the world.  I just love it.  I am a teacher, after all.

However, God began to speak to my heart and show me that my daughter needed something different.  My husband and I had always promised that we would make decisions about our children’s education according to what was best for each child, one year at a time.  We could no longer claim that we were doing that, and that bothered me!  Even worse, I was scared and discouraged as I watched my daughter start to fall back into behaviors and patterns that we hadn’t seen in a long time!  I felt like we were losing ground instead of gaining, and I missed my happy little girl.  Though we had a great team at school and communicated regularly, I realized that my daughter didn’t need a teacher.  She needed her Mommy.  She needed me.

So in some ways I chose to home school out of desperation and because school was not working…but even more I chose to home school because I realized that I wanted to!

I missed the first four and a half years of my daughter’s life.  I want to spend more time with her!  I want to be there all day, every day, even though it truly does drive me crazy sometimes!  I want to know every little thing that happened in her day, and to be the constant that she comes back to.   I want to be the one who laughs with her, gets frustrated with her, explores the world with her and watches her learn and grow.  Because even after 18 months together, I’m still getting to know her.  I’m still trying to figure out who she is and how she thinks.  I’m still learning her challenges, her strengths and her learning styles.  I am still figuring out her love language and her sense of humor.  I am still proving to her little heart that I am her Mommy and I will always love her; that even though others have come and gone I am here to stay.  There is nothing that can replace TIME.

So, here goes nothing!

The next half year is a bit of an experiment, but I am so excited.  I am excited to be able to focus on the things my little girl is good at, and remove some of the things she is not yet ready to handle.  I am excited to use the teaching skills I have to figure out how she learns and to make learning fun for her.  Choosing to home school a special needs child is completely different than choosing to home school a child who is gifted or even just average.  For the special needs child, you need to lay aside curriculum expectations, most typical teaching styles and any methods that conflict with your child’s exceptionalities.  I have to fight against the temptation to follow a book, accomplish too much in one day or copy other’s home school structures.  Home schooling is all about finding what works for your child and your family.  Once you embrace that, there is immense freedom!  It is wide open from there!  You get to decide what you study, how much, how long, where and when.  You get to decide everything.  This can feel scary, but chances are if you set out on this venture your gut will let you know the answers to these questions.

 So far, it has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

I have my little girl back.

I’m seeing peace where I saw frustration and agitation.  I’m seeing happiness where I saw a constant edginess.  I’m seeing success where I saw failure academically.  I’m seeing gentleness where I saw anger.  I’m seeing a glowing pride in her bright blue eyes where I saw confusion.

It’s not all perfect, and I’m still figuring out how we’re going to handle all this.  I don’t know how long we’ll be doing this, but for right now it’s the right thing.  I am sure of that.

I was given some great advice from another home schooling mom.

Pray.

Pray over everything you do.  Pray over the math, the spelling, the reading books and the colouring.  Pray for wisdom, pray for patience, pray for grace and perseverence.  Pray for courage and a sense of humor.  Pray for yourself, your child, your husband and your other children.  Pray blessings over your child and their school work.  Pray blessings over your home and family.

Know that this work you have chosen to do…been called to do…is valuable and important in the eyes of God.  At the end of the day, you are Kingdom building, not just teaching ABC’s.

This is the perspective I want to embrace as we dive into this new venture.  I want to teach my daughter out of a sense of gratitude, and hand all the work of our hands over to the One who can make it beautiful and valuable.