Evolutionary Homeschooling

Changing each day as we live and learn together.


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Modeling, so important and so difficult

One of the hardest parts of parenting I’ve experienced lately is to trying to avoid hipocrisy. It’s easy for me to tell the kids to get off the screens and do something productive, but convincing them to actually do it is tough. I’m sure that it’s tough for many reasons, but for me I think the main reason is that I’m not a great model of discipline and balance right now. I’ve been burying myself in my work in order to meet tough deadlines and help start our new cooperative, but also to avoid my own grief over my father’s unexpected death.

So, I’ve been in full-out control-freak mode, barking orders like a crazed dictator. It’s worked about as well as you’d expect, which is to say, not at all. When I take a moment to reflect, I remember what good little mimics my children are, especially my eldest. I wake up and log onto my computer almost immediately. Then when he gets up and ‘needs’ to check his game immediately, I am irritated. I am distracted and uninterested in his discussion of the finer points of dinosaur anatomy or lego starship construction, so later when I want him to listen to me, he doesn’t hear a word I say. Children are adaptable little creatures and this hasn’t happened overnight. It’s happened over several months of busy work schedules and turbulent family life. I can see a pattern developing that I don’t like. The good news is that I have the power to influence it. The bad news is that I have to do the work.

Learning is as natural as breathing to children. In our family, we do much of our learning through play and modeling. In better days, I’ve patiently modeled how to count money, measure flour, use a microscope, and work through tough emotions. Modeling can be active and mindful, but passive and unintentional modeling is equally, if not more important. The reasons for this are biological. All kinds of animals are successful species because they teach their offspring how to survive through modeling. A mother duck leads her ducklings to water. Juveniles see adult chimpanzees use tools to get termites to eat. Throughout the history of humanity, we have shown our children how to survive by modeling the behaviors that have been useful to our own survival. So today’s children need us to model the behaviors that will help them not only survive, but thrive as happy and productive individuals.

We need to model
– logic and reason . . . to encourage critical thinking
– compassion and empathy . . . to promote peace
– curiosity and attentiveness . . . to improve understanding
– laughter and light-hearted fun . . . to spark humor and happiness
– reflective thoughtfulness and vulnerability . . . to nurture emotional and spiritual health

I am slowly getting back to the place where I feel capable of doing this hard work of parenting with better skill. I know that it is worth it for our daily sanity, but also for the lasting memories and connections that we are building with one another and the world around us. I also know that this hard work was something my own father and mother did carefully and consciously for me. For that, I am so grateful.


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The Beauty of the Unexpected

We recently celebrated our son’s birthday. He’s our eldest, so it’s always a time that my husband and I reflect on becoming parents. My husband created a scavenger hunt for my son to find his presents that was lots of fun for everyone. Then I made pancakes and we sat down to breakfast with fancy goblets of orange juice.

As we finished eating, my son noticed that his glass was a little different than ours – he had the leaded crystal one that has lost its family over the years. My husband pointed out the different ‘clink’ that the leaded crystal made, compared to our standard glass flutes. My son had a great time driving us crazy clinking the crystal over and over. To distract him, my husband tried to get the glass to ‘sing’ by running a wet finger along the rim. It was only a mild success.

To show the kids that it really does work, I went to my standard source lately – YouTube. There we found dry physics videos that gave us some more information, but made the kids complain about the pedagogy (my word, not theirs).  Then we happened upon videos of Robert Tiso’s glass harp recordings. We played several of those and then moved on to some street artists. After a while, my son was finished and ran off to work on some projects involving his birthday presents. My daughter kept watching Robert Tiso playing classical pieces on his glass harp, some with other instruments, such as the musical saw, accompaning him. Certain pieces even featured replicated Mr. Tisos, each playing a different part of the piece with the recordings overlaid.

Our daughter is five. She doesn’t take any formal music lessons yet, but she plays around on various instruments we own. Ever since she was very little, music has fascinated her. She has never banged on a piano. She listens intently as she plays. We know this about her and have used this understanding to continuously expose her to various forms of music and instruments. Still, there was something magical in those moments, as she became completely engrossed in a new instrument that produced beautiful music, yet was so different from other instruments. She understood how the little glasses produced higher pitch sounds than the bigger ones. There was a sparkle in her eyes and a determined look on her face.

We certainly plan learning experiences for our children. We have expectations when we take them to museums and zoos, parks and classes. But my favorite type of learning is the sneaky, unexpected kind. I do my best to nurture unexpected learning because it is the most magical kind. My plans and expectations are a good starting point for us, but if I didn’t allow for the unexpected moments, we would miss out on so much joy and meaning in our lives.

Unexpected learning is the foundation for life-long learning. It shows us that we can learn something new and fascinating every day, in any location. It pulls us into a singular moment. Soaking in that moment, we understand more about the world in a meaningful way, rich in context and connections. It can be hard to let go and structure your learning in this way. There are days when you feel uninspired and don’t find ready sources. It actually takes planning to expose yourself and your children to a variety of opportunities for unexpected learning. Above all, it requires curiousity and being open to following the thread of interest to see where it leads. But when we cultivate our learning this way, it leads to beautiful rewards.


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It’s Not Supposed to be Easy

We’ve had a busy month. December always is, but this past one was the first that I’ve ever completely felt out of sorts over the holidays. I had tons of things going on at work before the end-of-year, all our normal activities and committments, and then we added the holiday icing to our crazy cake. Then, because I took time off over the holidays, I decided it was high time to move everyone’s bedrooms and give us all our own organized spaces. Now that it’s all over, I wonder what I was thinking, but I am enjoying the fact that it’s all done.

The point of all this is that I have been wondering why I even try to do it all. I definitely make more work for myself and I could certainly simplify our lives with some different choices. The problem hasn’t really been the busyness and household insanity – the main problem has been my attitude. I have been acting reactively instead of proactively. I have been overwhelmed, impatient, and frustrated instead of sensitive and understanding. For the first time ever, I barely enjoyed the holiday traditions we keep. I know that I’ve been creating my own misery, but I’ve gotten into the habit of being miserable and taking it out on others.

I’ve been pushing myself out of the funk, but then I found an unexpected source of inspiration yesterday. We’re all battling some kind of crud, probably a strain of flu, so we laid around yesterday, resting and watching Netflix. We turned on a few nature documentaries from the Untamed Americas series. We started with Coasts and then moved on to Deserts. Watching the Deserts episode, we saw how spadefoot toads come out of underground dormancy when it finally rains. Their offspring must develop without parental assistance in dwindling puddles and even face cannibalism from their brothers and sisters. One in 500 tadpoles reach adulthood. Spadefoot toads and many other organisms are r-selected species and use their high biotic potential to dictate their reproductive strategy. They produce lots of offspring that develop rapidly, usually with little parental oversight. For the conditions in which they live, this strategy works great.

Humans, and other K-selected species use a much different reproductive strategy. We produce fewer offspring and lavish care on them to improve their chances of surviving and reproducing. During the same episode, we watched how Humbolt penguins march through the driest desert on Earth and dig guano nests on cliffs in large groups. The parents must take a path down their cliff and through a beach full of sea lions every day just to hunt enough food to feed their single offspring. Being a parent as a K-selected species is hard work. It’s not supposed to be easy. If it were easy, we’d be less likely to get our children into adulthood and we’d need to produce more of them.

Strangely, I was comforted by the struggles of the Humbolt penguins and the statistics of the spadefoot toads. It’s okay that I’m struggling. It’s okay that I’m tired. Parenthood as a K-selected species isn’t a walk in the park. To do it right, we need to work hard. We have to put forth the effort required to give our children the best chances in surviving and flourishing. We have to change our lives and our focus when we have children and that often means self-sacrifice.

My struggles and exhaustion are something I can do something about. I have a network of social support. I have the ability to buy the food we need and simply walk into my kitchen to prepare it. I have the ability to craft connected relationships with my husband, children, family, and friends. I can evaluate my priorties and take it easier on myself and my family. When you put it all in the scheme of life on Earth, our daily struggles are part of a bigger picture. With that context, we can realize that although it isn’t easy, we are not alone – in our homes, our communities, or even our ecosystems.


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My Favorite Part of Homeschooling – The “Home” Part

We’ve had a busy week, filled with activities, some of them lasting until late in the evenings. We’ve finally been home all day today. As much as I want to dispell the myth that homeschoolers never leave their houses, I still value our unstructured time at home.

Being home together on a regular basis is a key to our family’s happiness. We certainly like to go on field trips and meet up to play with friends, but being at home gives us a chance to center ourselves and relax. It also gives us the time we need to reflect on our fun experiences and nurture our creativity and imaginations.

Everyone is different, and we’re a bit more introverted than other families, but being home with my favorite people is a necessary part of every week. Some of our favorite home-day activities:
– Turning on music and having a dance party
– Wearing pajamas all day and watching movies
– Constructing play houses from cardboard and recyclables
– Setting up a play pet store with our furry family members
– Baking bread or cooking special treats
– Catching up on housecleaning and other work to ease the stress of busy days
– Taking long walks or biking around the neighborhood

Our days at home help us learn more about ourselves and each other. Homeschooling and working from home allow us to carve out days like this, even when our weekends get busy.

Still, there are so many opportunties and temptations to leave the house and join our friends. We love to take advantage of these, but also work to keep our lives balanced by ‘scheduling’ days with no schedules. This way, we can remember that being together is the main goal of homeschooling in our family.


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A Beautiful Mess

A day in the life of our family might seem strange to other people. I’m the first one up, with the kids and husband waking up well after the beginning of school and business hours.  We tend to eat a big breakfast at the dining room table together and then go our separate ways for a while. On certain days, this means that my husband gets ready to teach day class at the martial arts school, taking our son with him while my daughter plays, works on projects, or watches her favorite tv shows. On other days, my husband or I take the kids to a homeschool event or field trips with friends. Of course, there are also many days where our homeschooling actually happens at home for most of the day. Throughout all that, I’m also busy with work on the computer, tablet, or my phone and my husband is busy with his work at the school.

Most of what people expect we do in homeschooling actually takes place in the evenings. Both kids have their own agendas, projects, and interests that keep them fairly busy during the day when we’re home. In the evenings, we play games, watch documentaries, or research and discuss things we observed earlier. We also snuggle in the bed and read books, often for well over an hour. The kids stay up later than most and are usually up as late as I am.

It’s a messy life – in lots of different ways. Housecleaning has to happen more often when you are home together throughout the week. Dishes pile up faster when you eat most meals at home. We can justify more pets because we spend time with them and enjoy them, but they add to the chaos as well. Relationships are a bit messier, too. We are all with each other more often than not, so we know each other well, for better or worse. We get along really well, but it’s not without challenges. I also have to work hard to avoid overscheduling us. We seek to simplify our lives, but we have the same challenges of more opportunities than time. We have to make decisions and prioritize the events that are most important to us.

Still, I know that we struggle with the same challenges that other families do. And we embrace the beautiful mess that is our lives together.

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Treasure Hunting

Nothing like some free fun! A few days ago, we were out on our nightly walk. My daughter noticed that a neighbor had put a perfectly nice cardboard packing box on the curb for the trash. She and her brother orchestrated the transport of the box back to our house, where they promptly unpacked any leftover styrofoam and began transforming the box into a fort/house/Optimus Prime truck. The box gave them a full evening of creative work together and now several days of play.

It’s not the first time that the recycling has given us such fun. We regularly use our recyclables (and those of our unsuspecting neighbors!) to fuel our craft projects. I do my best to keep our tape, glue, and other supplies stocked and ready for our construction projects, but it’s not always an easy task. Still, this is an inexpensive way to inspire young engineers or artists. It doesn’t have to be a Pinterest-worthy project – in fact, I think it’s much better if the end product isn’t something you rush to photograph as much as something that the kids have created by themselves with little input or parent-inspiration. My kids have learned to use a variety of materials and ‘trash’ to construct furniture for their stuffed animals, a ‘city’ for our pet cats, and forts for themselves. They have learned the fun and value of being resourceful through creating these treasures.

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Keeping a Diary, Just for Me

When I was a kid, maybe about 9 or 10 years old, I kept a diary. I seem to remember that it had a Precious Moments design on the outside. While I used it to capture my thoughts and feelings, I also remember using it to write down the weather – just overall high and low temperatures and description of conditions. I figured it was important data. A few years later, I found the diary. My teenage self was embarassed by the little kid entries and tossed it. I still regret that.

For the first time as an adult, I’ve started writing in a diary again. I’ve written various things about my thoughts and feelings over the years, but never on a daily basis. I keep a journal of letters to each child, writing in it every few months, ever since I was pregnant with each of them. And I do keep a daily journal for homeschooling, but that ends up being all about the kids, as I guess it should be. No, this new diary is for me. It’s mine to jot down things daily, about me.

My inspiration for this new diary is three-fold. First, I came across a neat journal with a Salvador Dali design on the cover that I bought myself years ago, yet I had never written the first word. Second, I know that I have many positive things in my life, but like so many people, I often focus too much energy on the negative or challenging aspects of my life. I also am prone to thinking more about the future than living in the present. (That’s probably an understatement and a good starting point for another day.) Third, I have worked to be totally in the moment for at least a part of every day ever since I read Glennon Mellon’s Don’t Carpe Diem post a few years ago. I’ve gotten better at it, but I thought it would be neat to be able to keep track of some of what captured me in the moment each day, since it changes all the time.

So my new diary is a collection of moments. Everyday moments when I was completely in the moment. Some days the moments are with my kids, but not always. Because they are moments, there isn’t the same pressure to have a thorough and thought-out entry. The entries aren’t even usually complete sentences (gasp!). My recent moments have included obvious entries, such as a hike in the gorgeous fall woods with my family, and those that might have otherwise passed without remembrance, such as swinging my sweet daughter so high that she was over my head and out of my reach. One moment was an uninterupted conversation with my husband, while another was actually taking time for an afternoon nap on a Sunday afternoon. I want to give myself a reason to notice moments, savor them, and remember them. After all, isn’t that the point of writing – to consider the human experience, appreciate it, and leave something behind when our time is over.


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The Need to Write

Tonight I was finally out on my walk with the dogs. The kids weren’t with me. Usually, this is one of my favorite times of day with them. It’s summer in the South, so we often take our walks at dusk these days. There’s a hint of coolness in the air compared to the day’s heat as the buzz of cicadas and Morse-code twinkling of fireflies announce the impending arrival of night. Because the kids weren’t with me, I was lost in thought. It had been a deadline day at work, so I needed the time to daydream.

Three-fourths through our route, I slowed to let one of the dogs pee and looked down on the ground. A cicada caught my eye. Not one of the adults buzzing away in the trees, but a soil-dwelling juvenile making its way laboriously across the sidewalk. I wished my son was there. Since he was four, my son and I have collected the exoskeletons of cicadas and the occasional live or dead adult. We’ve compared the differences in the two and talked about how such a large insect could fit inside such a small exoskeleton. The transformation of juvenile to adult isn’t as dramatic in the cicada as it is in butterflies, but it’s fascinating anyway. I took this rare opportunity to observe the tight exoskeleton of the insect and consider how it would climb a nearby tree and burst out of its confining shell as darkness took hold of day.

Standing up, my eyes caught another unexpected sight in the yard right beside the sidewalk – earthstar puff balls. This made me miss my daughter. I’ve been teaching her the joys of fungi, like any good biologist, and lately she’s become as obsessed as I am. She finds mushrooms and shelf fungi, picks them like daisies and brings them home to shrivel and mold on my coffee table. She and the boy would love to poke the puff balls, have them emit tiny clouds of spores, and pick the fattest ones to bring home.

As I left these finds reluctantly behind, knowing that tomorrow night might not yield the same discoveries, my mind began to wander again. It came to the email that I’d received last week, telling me that my blog would be automatically renewed and I’d be charged for the year’s site fee. I had considered resigning the name and saving myself the fee and embarrassment of another year without a single post. I don’t really have time for this. I homeschool my children, work full time and then some, and have a house to help take care of. There’s a sink full of dishes right now. I don’t want to boot the computer up without accomplishing something. When do I have time to write a post that no one may even read? As I continued walking, I realized it didn’t matter. I don’t need to write for anyone else. Writing shouldn’t take a back seat to everything. Writing matters. I need to write.

I need to write because for me, to write is to create. I have few other creative outlets in my current life. My watercolors are drying out and gathering dust, despite my purchase of new materials last year to share with the kids. I do crafts with the kids, but lately they’ve included more of me providing the materials and turning away to work and less of my participation. Sure, my days are filled with busyness and work as I keep this family and house running. It’s just that there’s too little creation these days. I need to do something just to do it. Not because it accomplishes anything. At this point, I’ve relegated all of my creating to the kitchen, where we can at least eat the fruits of my labors. I want to prioritize creating right up there with time with the kids and accomplishment of work goals. I want my children to see the focus and satisfaction in my eyes as I search for and recognize the passion and joy in my life. Writing allows me that creative outlet and it makes me appreciate the beauty of my days. It documents our lives and the too-fleeting years of childhood and parenthood. It gives voice to an ordinary evening of watching cicadas and contemplating fungi. It captures a moment before it slips through my fingers. It captures a present thought and transforms it into a meditation. Because of these and other reasons, I will write.