Summer School Goals

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A few years back, we switched to doing school year round.  I really, really like taking the month of December off.  I like having us just work on our handmade gifts, and do lots of baking that month without the stress of trying to fit it all in around concerts and parties too.  I like not having super bored kids in the summer.  It’s ended up being a win-win.

So people ask me how I count my days.  Do we do a few weeks on, a few weeks off or what exactly?

So here’s my fancy, smansy equation: we do school when we are at home and it makes sense.  We don’t do school when we are not at home, or we are too busy at home doing other things.

That’s it.

Simple, right?

It’s so ridiculously simple it works.  So let’s say we are in the middle of gardening season, or canning season, and we need to spend 4 hours a day outside at least, working hard in the sun or over a stove.  Do we do school later?  No.  I’m tired.  Take a nap, read a book, leave me alone.  Our “school” that day was gardening or preserving.  We’ll hang out and eat popcorn.  We’ll shell peas and talk about current events as a part of natural conversation.  But we don’t “do school.”

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Ideas on Hard Work and How You Can’t "Make Them Learn"

As funny as I find it, people seem to think of me as an experienced homeschooler.  They must because they ask my advice all the time, especially this time of year, when people are starting to make plans and decisions for this fall.  I still consider myself a newbie because I’m still figuring out the level my oldest is at.  However, I have read a bunch, and have some experience with the early education age.  That is the stage I have now done repetitively.  I write this because I have friends who have talked to me about a dilemma in their homeschool.  More friends than I can count on my hands, in fact.

The issue I find parents running into when starting to homeschool is how to approach the issue of teaching your kid to push through, work hard, and just learn it.  Very often in these conversations, one parent (very often the dad, but not always) wants the kids to just push through and learn the material.  They assume that obviously an issue of effort, if something isn’t going right.  I say it’s often the dad pushing the hard work, and I think there’s a reason for this.  I know this isn’t true across the board, but I know for Knut and I, Knut is always pushing the kids.  He pushes them to adventure, explore and experiment.  I am always telling them to be careful and don’t do anything stupid.  (I push them too, and he protects them too, but it’s a matter of our first reaction and goal/mindset.)  I think kids need both kinds of parents.  They need the one telling them to push hard, and another one telling them to be cautious.  It gives them balance.  I think a lot of dads especially, can think of a defining moment in their life when hard work paid off.  When they dug deep and it made a difference.  They want that for their kids.  That’s a good thing.

So here’s the story I hear over and over.  It’s the classic story of parents who were never homeschooled, trying to homeschool their kids.  All they have ever known is conventional schooling, and at least one parent is set on making school at home look just like that, as some means of a compromise.  (I lived this story too to an extent, except Silje started out in a public school.  I find this story more common with those who are starting out from home.)  A family decides to start homeschooling.  They start in kindergarten as a trial.  After all, kindergarten can be skipped.  You can’t screw up your kid too bad in kindergarten, so it’s “safe” to experiment that year.  You buy a curriculum.  You set goals.  You have a schedule.  You want to be smart.  The goal is to prove to every nay-sayer that you actually know what you are doing.  This will be the year that all future years of homeschooling will rest.  If this year doesn’t work according to plan, then you are convinced homeschooling is not for you.

And your child resists.  He/she doesn’t even care about the curriculum, schedule, or your goals.  So the natural reaction is to push through.  Make them do it.  Get it done.  School isn’t just unicorns and ice cream, it’s about work.

I’m not mocking this idea of pushing through.  I agree with it to a large extent.  The problem often found is there is a learning curve on when to push, and when to pull back.  I’m learning a lot of it has to do with age and context, which I’ll talk about below.  If I were to list the top 3 things I wish my kids knew well, “how to work hard” would be on it.  So this goal of working hard is good.  However, the way you approach this lesson is key.  It’s so key.

So here are some things to think about as you brainstorm how to teach your child to push through and work hard.  This isn’t a guide by any means.  It’s just some things to try out or consider if this is something you struggle with.  Perfect homeschool moms need not read further.

Kids Are People…Unique People


Of course they are not autonomous.  They don’t make their own rules.  We are not raising a flock of hippies.  I am a fan of order.  But let’s first acknowledge at least that your child will have certain God-given interests and gifts. There are things that will spark their imagination and things that will ruffle their feathers.  Concentrating on what they are bad at is a bad way to teach.  Especially in early elementary, the readiness of each child for each subject will vary, and pushing is the last thing you could do.  It will destroy your child’s will to learn anything.  That doesn’t mean you ignore the things they are uninterested in, it means that you introduce them very strategically.  You don’t make it the center of your homeschool.  Make their least favorite subject the school elective.  That’s likely the role that subject will be in their life long term anyway.  It’s how you customize their education.

Attach Hard Work to Things they Love


So often, we attach hard work to things kids hate.  Hate handwriting?  Well, don’t ever be afraid of hard work.  Hate spelling?  Well, work at it.  I’ve learned this makes my kids despise the word “work” like some sort of gag reflex.  Instead, I’ve learned to attach “hard work” to things that they love.

“Wow, you really like to tinker with tools don’t you?  I’ll bet if you work hard, you could create something really fun!”

“I can tell you love reading.  You know if you work hard, I bet you could read 100 books this year.”

When you think about it, if you hating ice skating, and your parents made you take figure skating lessons, and they kept telling you to work harder and harder, you might think it’s dumber and dumber.  You may begin to enjoy it too.  But there will be days of dread, that’s for sure.  But lets say you wanted to play soccer and your parents put you in soccer.  The drills and conditioning were harder than you thought they’d be, and your coach and parents push you anyway.  You feel inspired because something you wanted to do seems out of reach and all these adults around you say that no, it’s not out of reach.  You can do it.  That’s when you learn how to work hard.

One thing I learned when trying to teach David self control is that I was consistently doing it from the standpoint of not moving.  Sit still.  Sit down.  Stop kicking.  Control yourself.  When his doctor suggested putting him in Tae Kwon Do, she specifically said, “because likely his brain needs to learn self control through the means of action or movement.”  Let me tell you, the boy loves self control now.  He can even keep still sometimes… for short periods.  It’s like a light switched in his brain.

When you think about it, one of the most tedious things in the world are working hard at things you really don’t care about.  If you were an adult, stuck in a dead end job, and everyone around you said to just work harder, you would get angrier and angrier.  However, if you were stuck in a dead end job, doing stuff you hated, and someone said, “Hey, let’s get you a job you do love.” You would probably kiss that person.

Be that person for your kids.  You will build trust, and pretty soon, when you say “It’s time for school” they will anticipate learning, not recoil from it.

Inspriation is Key


Your kids won’t always like every subject, and every project.  That’s a given.  I think that every family has that one heckling kid too, who says that every project is “stupid.”  So how do you deal with that?  Well, that’s where the beauty of homeschooling kicks in.  You have more tools in your toolbox in dealing with this, and it would be foolish to leave those tools unused.  Here are some common techniques I use to introduce school stuff to the kids that sometimes work.

  • Stop school.  I mean, just stop doing it.  But take away all screens in the house too.  Just let them get good and bored.  This may take a few days.  Create an atmosphere of learning, where every option in front of them is equally educational and inciting.  Let them rediscover that curiosity is fun.  Let them remember imagination.  After awhile, they’ll be begging you for grammar activities.  Or they’ll be up to their ears in a project that is stimulating their brains and pushing themselves further than you could imagine.  Both are pretty good outcomes.  
Because, here’s the deal.  Kids are designed to learn and strive.  Yes, they are born imperfect, but their core design is figuring stuff out and creating.  You want to see hard work?  Watch a baby learn to walk.  They know all about sore muscles, teeth pushing through, studying the use of a spoon…they are wired to learn.  They will get satisfaction from learning and working and sometimes they need pushing, but more often we just need to get out of the way.  They may not work on the things that we want them to work on, or on the subjects we prescribe.  But allow them time to develop the joy of working hard at something they love.  Give them the time to let curiosity overtake them.  Their brains come pre-primed for this.
  • Read them inspiring stories about people involved in the areas that you are trying to introduce. Make this subject “live” a bit so they see the purpose behind it.  Stories are powerful.  Never ever underestimate them.  There’s a reason Jesus used stories all the time.
  • Use the skill in front of them.  Trying to work on multiplication table?  Figure something out, out loud, about how many ounces of something you will need to buy for a certain meal.  Do a quilting project with them.  Bake some cookies.  When they see the application, the desire will start to flicker.  This means that “school time” might look like following you around in your day to day life.  Sometimes that’s exactly what a child needs to see the point in mastering a skill.
  • Bribe them with “recess”.  Make it a race.  Set timers.  Bring humor into it.  Be silly.  Lighten up.  I know you feel the pressure to homeschool with excellence but take it down a notch.  These are kids.  They love to have fun.  It’s part of their design, and the more you work with their design, the more you will accomplish.  In fact, studies show that humor brings information from the short term to the long term section of a child’s brain.  If you really want them to know it, be funny.  If you really want them to black it out, make it torturous.  It’s basic science.  
  • Feed them.  My kids will do nearly any schoolwork if there are cookies on the table.
  • Use music often.  I learned this trick from my mom.  Work is so much easier with music.  You can manage the mood of your house, either wild and energetic, or calm and meditative based off of the background noise.  This is a completely underused resource.  
  • OK, make them, but choose your battles.  I mean, make it really worth it.  Don’t be a pushover.  I’m certainly not saying let them run the show.  There are sometimes you just have to do stuff you don’t like to do.  That’s a fact of life.  You cannot avoid this step throughout childhood.  Ha…especially with some kids.  But this should not be step 1.  You will use this occasionally, but this is not the foundation of your school day.  If it is, then you have a perfect recipe for mutual misery.  Personally?  The battles I pick are for chores more than schoolwork.  There are a few reasons for that, the first being that they don’t fight me much in schoolwork anymore.  If I can push them to service, to doing the dishes well, to sweeping the floor well, reading to a younger sibling even if they don’t want to, they learn more skills and learn compassion and teamwork in the process.


Get Them on Your Team, or in other words, Be on Their Team 


You know that amazing teacher that you had in school?  The one who made an impact on you that you still carry with you?  I bet that teacher made you feel like you were a part of something bigger than yourself.  I bet that teacher brought information to you that changed you.  From what I can see, that happens with a foundation of mutual trust, and the ability to inspire.  I bet she taught with passion and a silly hat.  I bet she expected a lot from you.  I bet the standard was high.  A great teacher is not one that makes silly multiple choice question and checking off boxes primary.  Its inspiration and mutual trust.  Mutual trust is extraordinarily difficult to build in a classroom setting I imagine.  You have a bit of an advantage at home.
You can make your child do a worksheet, if that is your goal in life.  You can condition them to take tests.  But you cannot teach them without being on the same team.  You can’t make them learn.  You can make them parrot.  It’s not like straining to get off the lid to a jar and then shoving stuff in.  You can make their hands do stuff, and to say the right things.  But to think?  To explore?  To inquire?  That has to start inside your child.  Your child will excel if they own it.  If they don’t own it, it’s not education.  It’s merely entertainment.  In all reality the excellence and depth of their education will effect them more than anyone else, and the sooner they know that the better.  The power to learn anything is in their hands.  You can introduce it to them, but how far that information takes them is up to them.  
This is totally anti-school systems, where legislators believe that teachers have these magic wands they hand out in college that you can wave over students and “make them learn.”  Talk to any teacher out there, and they feel exhausted under that weight and pressure to control things that are not within their control.  They get annoyed when the whole responsibility to excel lies with them, and no responsibility lies with the child.  They understand it’s a two way street.  The government thinks that if they put pressure on teachers they will get better results but I’m telling you, the teachers can only do so much.  They are humans, not wizard-like puppeteers.  (Though I have met a few who have made me question whether or not they are magical.  Some are incredible motivators.)

Excellence has to come from the child.  If you can lay a foundation for your child that they have the world at their fingertips, that they can figure anything out if they work at it enough, that it’s ultimately up to them…they will step up.  Kids love responsibility, and they love being apart of something important.  The age in which they step up to the plate will vary from child to child.  It cannot be controlled.  It can be encouraged and inspired.  Believe me, the sooner you get your child on board with owning their educational experience, the better…for both of you.  This does require giving up some control.  It will take wisdom to see or sense that the time is right, because sometimes we as parents do need to come in and take over.  But this goal should take center stage, and the sooner the better.

One of the best things you can do in the early years of homeschooling is lay that foundation of mutual  trust, and inspiration.  This is especially true if you have a strong willed child.  Working with them is so much less exhausting than working against them.  The goal during these years is to entice them on this educational journey.  These are not the push-them years.  These are the show them the possibilities years.

The Curriculum is a Tool


I’m kinda a curriculum junkie.  I love getting a fresh teacher’s manual and fresh inspiration to introduce poetry, reading, music, or science to my kids.  Curriculum is fun.  But it is essential to understand the curriculum is not the boss.  It does not rule you.  You bought it, it did not buy you.  You are not the slave.  In fact, I’ll tell you a little secret.  You can spend the whole first couple of years just on character development if you want.  You can study topics like loyalty, patience, service, courage, love, perseverance.  You know, things that can be foundational for your child’s whole life.  Can you imagine what the rest of your child’s education would look like if they had a foundation of patience and hard work and compassion?  What great tools!  You don’t have to do anything else. I know stepping away from the yoke of a curriculum feels like you are letting go of a lifeboat, but let me assure you…you can swim.  Keep the main thing the main thing.  The goal is to have your child learning something every day.  That is a super easy way to insure that your child is learning what they are ready for.  Most kids want to learn to read.  If they’re getting it, great!  They will be excited.  If it is just not clicking, take a step back from that for a month or two and study something else.  (Don’t forget to keep reading to them, though!) That way the momentum is in the spot where they are always learning something.  You don’t want to equate learning with feeling stuck and stupid in the early years.  The key to the early years is momentum.

With my son with some learning disabilities, we did a little bit of OT exercises for his reading every day so his brain would start developing in the way that was necessary.  But then we’d put it aside and he’d do a month’s worth of math in one day.  Because he loved math.  He just couldn’t get enough of it.  This route was much less fight, and he didn’t lose his learning momentum.  He’s now not only at the point where he’s reading for fun, he’s reading and I don’t even know about it.  Yesterday he was telling me about the burden on Christian’s shoulders from Pilgrim’s Progress, and how there was so much more to that story.  (Actually, it was a abridged and extraordinarily illustrated version called The Dangerous Journey. ) “Bud, when did you read The Dangerous Journey?  I read you like a chapter out loud 3 months ago, and then I decided to do a different book instead.”  I said.

“Oh, I finished it later Mom.  I just had to find out what happened. It’s a great story!” (Take note this book was 2 grade levels above where he’s at.  But he wanted to find out how it ended, and that’s the point.)

When you have a strong willed child, the most powerful thing you can do for their education is give it to them.  Introduce, inspire.  They will take it further than you could have possibly imagined.

This will REQUIRE, (and this is the hard part) it will require that you limit “twaddle.”  In those early years it’s especially important that you limit the stupid commercial cartoon books from the library, hours of television, and computer games.  I’m not saying get rid of them, I’m saying limit them.  You want to develop their tastes during this time.  Don’t feed them sugar all day.  Just like you don’t feed babies fruit baby food before the vegetables, you don’t let your kids free on twaddle, and expect them to sit down to great pieces of literature.  We got rid of all Disney books, My Little Pony books, and Star Wars books from our home bookshelves.  They’re words on paper pages, yes, but they’re not literature.    I’m not saying you should get rid of “sugar” things completely, but we have had to go through seasons of fasting from these things in order to retrain their brains to think and play, because they get so obsessed.  Right now my kids are allowed to take home 1 “twaddle” book from the library, but the rest are quality literature.  They work from a list.  When they argue with me about it, they get a fast from twaddle so they can remember there are better books out there.  If they don’t ever pick up any of the “quality” books the whole week, then they get a break from the twaddle too.  I want to teach them moderation.  A child who is fed cookies all day will resist the juicy meat.  Put your kids in a position where everything in front of them is delightfully educational.  It’s all about the home environment, and what you make available.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. We want them learning deeply, and learning things that matter.  We don’t want them just doing stuff everyday, we want them learning stuff everyday.  If your curriculum is not helping you achieve that, then skip that part.  It’s dragging you down.  Teach your kids to prioritize which things stay in your lives and which things don’t.  Set something aside for the next year, or wait a month or two.  Years can be wasted just spinning wheels.  

Teaching your child to spin wheels, and teaching them to work hard are two different things.
…the main difference being purpose and inspiration.
Don’t teach them to spin their wheels like a hamster.  Unless they need to burn off some energy, then go ahead and build them a hamster wheel.  I’ve thought of doing that several times with our long winters.  
Spinning wheels work feels like work, and it is, but it’s purposeless work.  It’s a distraction.  It’s straight out of Screwtape Letters which is a book that isn’t on homeschooling at all, but I still highly recommend.  Don’t teach your kids to have the illusion of work.  The real thing is just so much better.  
I’ve realized that we as adults, sometimes have a history of doing purposeless work in our own schooling, and we feel as though it’s a right of passage.
But maybe, and I’m just putting this thought out there: maybe if we don’t claim that it’s a right of passage, and we don’t claim this spinning wheels work as important then the only alternative is to admit that we wasted weeks, months, or even years of our life.  And that’s not a fun thing to admit.
My point is if you think children will only learn their history lesson by filling in a bunch of blanks on an educator approved worksheet, you are a bureaucrat.  But if you take the view that you will teach a child history by any means possible, even a worksheet, book, play, or movie, you are a teacher.  Don’t be a slave to the system you purchased.  It is a tool, not your ruler.  I love reading John Taylor Gatto, who was an extremely well accomplished public school teacher in New York, and one the New York and National teacher award.  He attributes all his success to these exact things: bringing the kids out of the classroom and into the real world, making the child’s interest/needs a higher priority than the curriculum/schedule, and having high standards.  He said in order to teach children, he had to basically break every rule.
Of course, swinging to the other side is dangerous too.  Doing only things your child loves, and making it all about your child desires and aspirations can yield a sense of selfishness, and entitlement.  It’s wonderful to do something menial.  Please don’t misunderstand this message.  But make it have purpose.  Have them call out numbers for Bingo at a retirement home.  Pick up leaves outside as a present to surprise Daddy.  Sweep the kitchen floor and fold laundry.  Put some love and purpose into it.  Don’t let the whole school day be about “getting stuff done.”  Because when it gets to be that, you really aren’t getting anything done at all.

I hope this helps those of you who are in the early years.  Also, since it’s that time of year when I start to get all sorts of inquiries about homeschooling, so for those who want more details on my advice for those who are in that place, here is last year’s post for those considering it.

How Much Longer?

There has been a question that has gradually becoming one of the most asked questions that people ask us:

When do you plan to put Silje back in school?

It’s a question that preadolescent homeschoolers get asked as much as pregnant women get asked “When are you due?”  I was kind of expecting this conversation to come up outside our home.  I’m just surprised how often, and how early it’s being asked by people. Also, it’s a question that states a big assumption…that we plan to put her back.

Our eldest is finishing up “5th grade” and at this point, people assume we are looking ahead to her junior high and high school years, and trying to get her ready for them.  However we didn’t just buy a 5th grade program.  We just keep teaching her wherever she’s at in a subject, taking the next step into a deeper knowledge, whatever that may be… and she happens to be a 5th grade age.  She’s learned that when people ask what grade she is in, they really want to know how old she is, and don’t want to know her level in each subject.

Oh my, are we getting ready for the upcoming years!  Knut and I have had several discussions on this topic.  Brainstorming sessions, actually.  Silje and I have had many discussions too.  I want to know what she’s hoping for, and what her thoughts are on this topic too.  While I don’t try to lay down promises, or “we will never/always” statements because I feel like I’m prepping myself for a big dose of humble pie when I say those things.

But I can say, that as of now, we don’t plan on putting Silje in junior or senior high, public or Christian.  I went to public schools for the majority of my schooling, and went to a private Christian school for my last 2 years of high school.  This particular private school has a ton of family history.  My siblings, parents, aunts and uncles went there.  I met Knut there.  My grandparents went to the seminary and Bible school there when they were connected to the high school.  It’s a boarding school for about 1/2 of their students, and has a huge international student representation too.  I loved this school as a student.  I still would like to consider myself somewhat of an involved and contributing alumnus.

And yet…I don’t think it’s going to be a good fit for Silje.  I have looked into getting her involved part time, but the school is starting to limit some of the activities that town homeschoolers can do, and I completely understand the reasoning behind it, therefore it seems silly to fight it.  When some kids are paying thousands of dollars of tuition, it’s only right that they are first in line to do some of the big things like band tours etc.

But where does that leave us?  I feel like it is God gently closing a door for us.  The fact of the matter is academically, she will easily be ready for college classes by the time she reaches her junior year of high school.  Let’s be honest…she’ll likely be ready earlier if we choose that path.  We just haven’t decided when that will be.  Our state requires a yearly standardized test, and this year’s test the assessor said she’s performing somewhere around a 10-11th grade level now, higher in some subjects, except in her nemesis subject: math, where she’s at grade level.  This was just an assessment, it’s not like the college entrance exams.  We just needed a ballpark for where she is.  Plus, it’s limited in what it tests her.  It doesn’t test her maturity, or street smarts, or creativity or depths of friendships.  There are more things to consider when assessing where she is at.

I can’t argue, though, that girl just loves to learn, and is so relieved when I finish “school” with her so she can read 3 hours of her choice books.  Seriously, she’s the easiest student ever.  The only difficulty I have with her is making sure she’s not being ignored in her studies with younger siblings who can be higher maintenance.  She just devours information naturally and always has.

I remember spending 45 minutes with her when she was 3 years old on basic phonics because she asked.  Just once.  She basically took reading from there, with very little effort from me.  For awhile I thought that was just normal.  I didn’t know anything else.  That became such a stark contrast to her 9 year old younger sibling who didn’t learn to read until 7, and is just now starting to get some traction in that area, or her 6 year old brother who has been needing lots of help for over a year, and is now getting a few 3 letter words sounded out.  Each one is just so different.  Each brain is so uniquely beautiful.  For Silje, if I have a question about what species of bird or fish or butterfly I see, I can look it up, or just ask Silje.  She’s like a human encyclopedia.  I think she would be bored “going back” to school.

But the social aspect is tempting.  I’ll be honest.  I’m still friends with my friends from high school.  Lifelong friends isn’t anything to snub.  Along with other homeschooling moms, I abhor the stereotype that homeschoolers don’t get proper socialization.  It has been proven wrong over and over.

And yet…I have my moments of doubt when it comes to high school.

I hate to admit it, but the school social setting is what I know from my own experience.  Silje is the social butterfly in our family, and gets together with friends all the time.  In fact, she is much more social than I ever was at that age. She is in Sunday School and 4H and a community choir, her volunteering, and speech class, and we normally do a co-op (we took this year off for a bit of personal sanity but we are back at it) and we are a part of the YMCA now…

It’s not the same.

Then I remind myself:  we didn’t want the same.

And conventional schools don’t hold the monopoly on lifelong friendships and memorable experiences.

I’m a big believer in customized education, not standardized education.  Each child has unique gifts, unique challenges, and a unique purpose.  Every family has different reasons for homeschooling, but when we started looking at the option of homeschooling we realized we’d have to latch onto some kind of educational philosophy.  There is the traditional model like public school but at home, the classical model, the unschooling model, the Montessori model, etc.  We’d have to decide what school would look like for our kids.

We wanted our kids to not just learn in depth, but learn with passion.  I wanted them to get an education that excited them…developing their own interests and gifts.  We wanted to have the time to disciple them, and with long bus rides out to our country home and long school days, the opportunities for that were slim.  It wasn’t as much about sheltering them from the world, but insuring that they were discipled enough to go into the world.  Surely the time we had with her from birth to age 5, and a couple of busy days on the weekend weren’t all I was expected to devote to her discipleship.  That was too big of a job with too little time.

We learned quickly into homeschooling that “school” does not equal “the world” and that “the world” is so much, much larger than any school system.  Our kids have gradually been doing a lot in the world.  They have friends of a few faiths.  Actually, their friends range widely in ages too.  One thing I’ve noticed about my kids is that when they tell us about one of their friends, their friend could very well be 70 years old.  I’ve had to adjust my thinking to that vocabulary.

There won’t be a time that we return Silje to civilization/friends/peers.  She never left.  We changed the model of educating her; we didn’t remove her from the world.

I have seen some of my friends mother their children in the public/ private school system and they are discipling them, and reaching their hearts, and doing great things there.  I’m in awe.  Bless them.  I want to applaud them because I know what they are doing is hard.  In my honest opinion I think it’s harder, but that’s because I’m thinking of my personality and our situation.  Each family needs to figure out their puzzle, according to the needs and issues within that family, and covered with lots of prayer.  I wish more families had more choices.  I think that for more people to get a customized education, we need more choices, less standardization.

For us?  Homeschooling has really been working for us.  It’s not always pretty, but I see the fruits.  Not only do we not want to stop, we are starting to dream of what it’s going to look like for jr. and sr. high.  Really, the sky is the limit and that’s exciting.  The very idea of stopping makes me sad.  That’s right.  As hard as some years are, and I want to quit, the reality that this will not go on forever makes me sad.  We moms are weird like that.  We are a walking paradox.  I’m really getting excited about the coming years.

I have been reading a lot about what other homeschoolers are doing.  I’ve read that upon completing their credits, some students take college classes early, either locally or online.  Still others just study the usual subjects, and graduate on time.  Other families decide to spend a year or two doing internships, and exploring hands on what field they want to get into before hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on college.  Still other families do big projects, like their senior in high school will write and self-publish a book, or start a business or charity, or build a robot.  (I doubt Silje is picking a robot option, but she has a big interest in writing something.  She’s already writing a fantasy story involving girls that turn into animals that’s pretty cool.)

Educational options are changing in our culture.  If you look at what big universities are looking for in students now, a good report card doesn’t cut it.  They want to know what the student has done in depth.  They want to see a student with vision.  It’s not important to me for Silje to get into the best colleges, though.  What’s important to me is that she has options. I’m thinking high school for Silje will look something like one of those 4 listed above, or a combination thereof.   Honestly, if she wants to travel the world when she turns 18, great.  If she wants to go to an ivy league school and get her doctorate, we’ll support her.  If she wants to get married and settle down, I’d love that too.  To me, the only formula for success that I know of that I’m willing to preach to my kids is: fix your eyes on Jesus.  If I can help train her in that, I will know success.  It’s the only advice I have for those thinking about homeschooling, or stressing about public school or whatever.  Fix your eyes on Jesus. That’s the only answer I have that’s worth repeating.

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On our vacation to Arizona and California recently, I had Silje, David, and Elias spend a half a day at the school in which my sister and brother-in-law teach.  Silje and David were in my sister’s class, and Elias was in his cousin Jack’s class.  This school was a Classical Christian school, which is very similar to what we do at home.  It’s an amazing school, and my sister is one of the best teachers there.  (I may be biased, but not really.)

Some of you may remember that when we started homeschooling, Silje was less than thrilled with our decision.  There were some years when I was nervous about her going to a school just for visits because I didn’t want her to have discontentment growing in her heart.  She had this “woe is me” look on her face for awhile.  She longed to go back.  She longed to fit in, and be “normal.”  That was part of the issue when she was there.  She so quickly cast aside things that used to be important to her, and did only what she viewed as “cool.”  She started hating books, because she thought they were nerdy and hard.  Everything Knut or I said was stupid, even if when we agreed with the teacher.  She wanted to make sure to tell us that we were wrong and her teacher was right.  And we knew and were friends with her teacher, so I know it wasn’t coming from there.  I honestly don’t know where it came from.  She wanted to cut her hair, change her clothes, and rearrange every interest based on what other girls in her class were doing.  By the end of the year she was so different, and it took awhile when we took her out to get her back to thinking for herself.

But having her spend some time in a classroom setting this time seemed like an interesting thing to do this year.  After all, I wasn’t setting her up in an inner-city school in Los Angeles, with an overworked teacher, surrounded by bullies and drugs, for her to come back crying just so I could tell her “See?  Do you see now why we don’t send you to school?”  Haha!!  No, we set her up with the best.  She had so much fun that day.  The small classes allowed her to meet some new friends, and she really enjoyed playing games during recess.

A few days after her visit, I saw her sitting on my parent’s porch swing, and I just snuggled up next to her, and started picking her brain.  How did she like that school?

Her thoughts warmed my heart.  She said she had fun.  She said it wasn’t like the school she goes to for choir practice, which as “anti-bullying” posters ever few feet which really creeps her out.  “What kind of school needs to remind the kids to be nice every 5 feet?” She says. (I didn’t tell her I’ve considered doing the same thing in our house at times. Haha.)  She said everyone was nice.

Recesses were shorter than what she had imagined them to be.  She remembered a lot more time to play when she was in kindergarten.  She thought there would be more time hanging out with friends, but they just had little bits of that, but mostly learning and studying.  She also complained there wasn’t a lot of free time for deep thinking.  She thought they just went from one thing to the next and she really wanted to ponder some more about some things.  She wished there was more processing time.

I told her about my struggle on whether or not to send her to my alma mater back home.  I told her that we would decide because we were the parents, and we would be the ones paying for it, but that her opinion held a lot of weight.  I asked her again what she thought about going there.

I’ll paraphrase (pretty closely) to what she said:

“I think going there would be a lot of fun.  I’m sure I’d make friends there.  But I’m starting to think about my future in more ways than just fun.  When I’m thinking about my future, there’s a few things I know I want to do.  I want to work out at summer camp as a counselor.  [This is where I interjected how hard it was when I worked at camp, but did concede it was about the funnest summer of my life.]  I want to go to that school in Montana [a Bible School Knut went to, and the kids and I all got to visit a few years ago].  I want to go on a mission trip to that orphanage in Bangladesh.  Is it weird I want to go so many places that are so far from home?”

I assured her it was not weird at all.

“It’s just…grown ups ask me all the time if I’m having fun, and if I have friends.  I do have fun, and I do have friends, but I’m realizing that the most important thing is that I need to walk in God’s steps.  Why don’t people ask me that?  I want to go where God can use me the most.  I want to go where I can make the biggest impact.  I want to do the stuff he has set out for me to do.  I don’t want to just go someplace because it will be fun, or because I’ll experience what teenagers are supposed to experience.  Who made those rules anyway?  This school costs money.  Is that the best way we can be spending it?  I think that in some cases that would be yes.  God obviously leads a lot of kids to that school.  But I think he has some different kind of preparing for me, though I’m not sure what that is yet.  I don’t want to base my decision only on ‘what’s fun.’  I don’t want to do something just because everyone else did it.  Maybe that will mean lonely times.  I hope not.  But I want to just follow where God leads me as the most important thing.”

Well if that doesn’t knock the wind out of you…
It did for me.

Don’t get me wrong.  Silje is a total preteen with major mood swings and can be a distracted dreamer when working, and wants to be independent, but totally isn’t ready.  Believe me when I say that I’m really struggling with this kid lately because I’m watching her struggle through the emotional/hormonal flood I went through at her age, and she knows how to push my buttons more than any other kid.  It’s been unexpectedly rocky for such a normally steady kid.  Sometimes she’s exactly like me, which is hard because I’m really stubborn and insist on having the last word, but more so she’s just like my sister…eerily like my big sister, and let’s just say my sister and I didn’t live together very peaceably when we were kids.  (Though we are very close now.)  Then sometimes I get used to her deep thoughts and insight, and then get caught aback when she acts, you know, like a kid.  This age is so new to me, and I’m still not quite used to it.

We are figuring out a lot as we go.  But she is completely my “old soul” child who thinks deep thoughts.  Her response to my question just blew me away, like so many other thoughts of hers.  I don’t think anyone in our family thinks that the schools near us are “just fun” although the culture there may be it’s greatest feature.  I guess that’s just the aspect that draws us the most.  We don’t think it doesn’t do any training or doesn’t prepare students in ways besides social.  It’s just that as we discuss it, none of us feel lead in that direction.

To be honest, a part of me is sad about that.  In all types of life decisions, there are pros and cons.  The alumnus in me is sad.  But the mom part of me is excited to see what else is in store.  That’s why we are headed in that direction.

So right now, we’re not saying we will “always/never” do anything.  We just don’t see far enough ahead to make statements like that.  But between Knut, Silje, and I, we are all leaning away from sending her back to school.  We are not sure exactly what it’s going to look like yet, as we are still thick in the dreaming stage, but step by step I’m sure we’ll get to wherever we are going.

Organizing the School Books

It’s that time of year again, when I’m ordering my curriculum for the next year, so I have a few months to go over it and make some unrealistic, idyllic plans for the coming Fall.  Springtime is like a second Christmas around here, with the UPS man delivering books quite often, as I order from a variety of sources now.  We have always been a whole-book type school.  We all prefer reading whole books and discussing them rather than excerpts and workbooks and problems.  This classical method of teaching is very non-consumable, so everything gets passed down to the next kid.  Workbooks entered the school system when curriculum publishers needed to raise their stock value, by adding workbooks that needed to be purchased every year.  Honestly, a good book will do for a variety of things by itself.  We don’t buys stacks of workbooks, though we go through our fair share of paper.  We do some workbooks in math, but that’s pretty much it.  With this book-heavy method, the bookshelves become a pretty big monster to tame.

I’m spending time organizing all of the school books, which is becoming a massive task.  Each year I modify my organizational system at least a little bit, but luckily this year not a lot of rearranging needed to be done.  I love how I have it set up now, and I thought I’d share.

Back when we started homeschooling, Silje was in 1st grade.  I planned to have a 1st grade bookshelf, a 2nd grade bookshelf, and so on.  It sounded so simple.  I like simple.  Silje is a bottomless pit for books.  She craves books more than food, I think, so her reading selection is quite large.  We pick a small handful of books to discuss each year, but for the most part, I just set her loose on them.  I used to require that she read a chapter a day of a book of my choice, but she quickly got bored with that and now I assign her a book for every week, or what makes sense for that particular book.

It was a beautiful organizational system until I realized that my other kids aren’t exactly like Silje. David struggled learning to read, and while he likes books now, there’s no way I could convince him to read as much as Silje.  When every book was a struggle, I didn’t want to make his entire education a struggle.  I’m really fine with that, because he learns very differently.  He does more building and inventing while listening to audio books, or in the quiet.  Now we have a third different kid in Elias, who is loving his new book time, but is really shy about it.  He’s in that tender time where the love of books is still being kindled, and while he likes it now, he’s not nearly ready to be “set loose” to the bookshelf.

My organizational system by grade level hit a snafu when it I realized that David wouldn’t read as many or the same books as his big sister.  I couldn’t just work down the line on the shelf.  We started studying the typical classical trivium, studying history on a 4 year cycle.  1st grade was ancient history.  Well, when David was in 1st grade, we were onto the Renaissance as a family, and the old books of Silje’s didn’t apply.  Not only that, but I had purchased 3rd grade level books for her when she was in 1st grade, and David read at a 1st grade level in 1st grade.  You could see how confusing this was.  Nothing was matching up at all.  I didn’t want to teach 2-3 different history classes.  I wanted to teach 1 in a 1-room-schoolhouse fashion.  Like I said, I like things simple.

So I changed my bookshelf to reflect subjects rather than grade levels.  Now when we are studying ancient history, I look through the shelf and just pull of books that each kid might get excited about in regard to Egypt or Rome.  I can customize our learning that way.  The series The Story of the World keeps us on a main track altogether for what basic story or people group we are studying, and I pull of supplement books from the shelf that fits the level and interest for that child.

Poetry and arts are now grouped together.  Math and science are grouped together.  All of the biographies are next to history.  As far as readers, I have them organized according to who has read them, and very loosely by subject if they are historical based readers.  (I have a tough time knowing where historical fiction belongs, but I put them in the reader section for now.)  I have started marking to remind me who has read what.  When Silje finishes a book, I put a little “S” on the inside cover.  If David reads it, it gets an “D” and so on.  There are now a few read-alouds that have an “E” on them as Elias participated in that one.  I have two “S” names in our family, so when Solveig starts school she will probably be a “J” for her middle name, or “So” if she prefers.

Now when I’m picking out a read aloud book, I can quickly reference who has heard it before.  Sometimes if the older kids have read it, they really pump up the smaller kids with anticipation to how fun it will be.  I have a shelf of books that I want Elias to work through, a shelf I want David to work through, and several shelves for Silje.  Actually she reads from pretty much any shelf.  I no longer have them organized as read-alouds or independent readers.  I decide which it will be off the cuff, depending on the day, season, and child…and of course depending on the book.  This ability to be flexible has been life-giving.  I love that freedom, and it’s really when homeschooling started clicking, both for me and for my kids.

Really, what has happened in this whole process these last 2 years, is that I have let go of the “box curriculum” of so many books that need to be read on certain dates throughout the year.  They are great to start with because they feel “safe.”  When I started homeschooling, the very idea of leaving the teaching schedule would have terrified me, as though I were “messing up” somehow.  It’s taken me a few years (I’m a slow learner) to realize that my goals are bigger, yet simpler than that.  Those box curriculum schedules began feeling like unnecessary red-tape.  I want my kids to love books, and I want learning to be a constant.  So as long as they are learning, I don’t care how many books they “x” off their list.  This was a huge paradigm shift from when I would keep a strict schedule of their reading, and push hard when their interest was low.  We sure crossed off a lot of books back then…books they don’t remember at all.  Reading is required everyday.  How much reading depends on the day…and how good the book is.  When I stock the shelves with only great stories, it makes it easier.

Now, even my initially reluctant reader gets excited when headed to the bookshelf.  “What sort of adventure do I want to go on today?” he thinks.  Usually I pull off 2-3 choices that I recommend try.  We’ve built up a trust enough that he knows that if I pick it, it must be good.  I usually give Silje a choice between 2 books as well, but if she continually rejects a book, it becomes a read aloud that I will read to her for our special time together.  That nearly always redeems prejudgments on a book.

As our kids get older, and new books are added to our shelves, I’m sure I’ll have to modify this system further, but for now, it’s been working beautifully.