Posts Tagged ‘Homeschooling’

Three weeks until the public schools are back in session in my part of the world, but parents around us are already beginning to say it…even practically shouting it out to the world according to some of my homeschooling friends…They can’t wait for their children to be back in school and OUT of their homes. How does one respond to such a proclamation? Sympathy? Dismay? Pity?  Yeah, I’ve been in that situation too. If their children are present, I feel especially bad. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that not all parents are as naturally enlightened as I am  angel smiley #5118 , and not all parents choose or can conceive of homeschooling their children…it’s a societal thing. But celebrating? Really? What’s that about. I’ve always held my tongue. Usually these people really aren’t interested in my thoughts on the matter anyway. But I think that these moms are not only missing something really important, but even worse, they don’t even know it.

I’ve often wondered…why? Why do otherwise sane mothers who waited anxiously for each child to come into their home, who were…and are…loving and attentive to their children…Why do they suddenly feel such eagerness (even joy and celebration) to get them OUT of their homes…and so young. Perhaps I could understand it if the child were 30. But no, these are practically their babies they can’t wait to be rid of for the best hours of the day.

As I’ve thought about it, I have come up with my own theory of how this happens in our society today. I think that there are basically three developments which get short-circuited in families today. But first a little side note. I recently read an article written by an un-schooling mom, Sandra Dodd. I loved her graph! I agree, the amount of time that we generally need to spend with our children is directly related to their age…well, sort of. As they get older, guess what?!…Yes, they need less of our time. Not less of our love, not less of our concern for them, not less of a lot of things…but certainly less of our time. And this is true even if they are homeschooled. In fact, I think that this sort of age/time spent-with-them progression seems to have the best potential of development and happens most naturally in the home educated atmosphere.

Here is what I see happening. You finally come to that long awaited moment…the birth of your child. You gaze lovingly into the eyes of that sweet child and the world revolves around the two of you…well, your world revolves around your child…the rest of the world revolves (for a time) around the two of you. That sweet baby takes up practically every moment of your day…requiring your constant attention. Yes, mothers, we are exhausted, but for the most part, we really don’t mind…after all we have oxytocin helping us out (particularly if we are breastfeeding), and frankly, we are head over heels in love with our own child! Then the child becomes a toddler and life really seems to explode! Now you have a mobile child who really does need your eye on him at every moment…and usually by this time you have less and less of that precious oxytocin to help out…but by then you are hooked, you are fully in love with this child and really, you love his developing “independence” …though exhausting to you.

But what happens about the time that this child starts to need less one on one time? He can feed himself, he’s out of diapers, and there are even moments when he really can entertain himself…what happens? We send him off to school…or even pre-school. There he is entertained all day, each moment filled by directed activity. Just when life with your child is getting easier, just when you have some time to breathe, just at the point when children are able to start self directing some of their activity, we ship them off to have each moment directed by a system. They are short-circuited in their developing ability to self direct. Evenings are also filled with soccer practice, homework, music lessons…so much so that many families find it difficult just to have a quiet un-rushed dinner together. And then when school is out for the summer…what happens then? Suddenly the child goes from having every hour of the day directed to pretty much having zero hours of the day directed…but they have not learned to self direct their activities or make choices, and they have lost what ever ability had begun to develop. They are suddenly “bored”…not that they weren’t often bored in school, but this is different. So mom fills the summer with day camp, soccer camp, swim lessons, outings, etc. By the end of the summer (before the end of the summer…maybe 3 weeks before the end of the summer), she is exhausted…and so are the children. No wonder she can’t wait for the children to go back to school.

Another thing happens. The child, removed from the home, begins to lose the attachment to…and ability to get along with…his own siblings. So along with being a summer of running helter skelter trying to keep the kids entertained, moms have children who don’t quite get along most of the time. Yeah…recipe for disaster. I guess I can see why they can’t wait for school to start. But that brings us to the third thing that seems to get short-circuited. Mom never sees that her children really are old enough to self direct their own activities and worse, in her hurry to direct every minute of the child’s day, the best moments are lost.

Yeah, you homeschooling moms know what I’m talking about…those moments when you are just “doing nothing” together; those moments when you really tune in to the wonder and miracle of your child and the person she is becoming. Those un-rushed moments curled up on the couch with a good book together…or even the ones where everyone is busy doing their own thing and there is a sweet feeling of both quiet (…or not so quiet) industry and peace in the home. You watch the seasons come and go together. You feel and settle into the unspoken rhythm of your days…your own natural and peculiar family rhythms.

I think that Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin say it best:

Christopher Robin: I like that, too. But what I like most of all is just doing nothing.

Winnie the Pooh: How do you do just nothing?

Christopher Robin: Well, it’s when grown-ups ask, “What are you going to do?” and you say, “Nothing,” and then you go and do it.

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.

“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

Winnie the Pooh: I like that. Let’s do it all the time.

(from The House At Pooh Corner)

Sadly, it so often just these moments which are missed or just too infrequent when we send our children away for 8 (or more) of the best hours of the day and bring them home stressed and tired…and with homework to be done. If you haven’t read this sweet little book, I highly recommend it. What follows this little interchange between Christopher Robin and Pooh is such a parallel to what happens in our society when public school systems take over and over-scheduling of our children and families begins.

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out, “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m — when — Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not much. They won’t let you.”

You see, Christopher Robin is going away to school. His days of “doing-nothing” are pretty much at an end. I guess that it is this that makes me so sad when I see parents celebrating a little too loudly that their children are going to school. My heart aches for the moments that they are obviously missing (both the mom and the child).

So homeschooling moms, my advice in those moments when you hear someone celebrating just a little too loudly for comfort about their children going away to school…is to just be glad that yours are not. Take joy in what you have with your children around you (even on those hectic days when you almost understand the public school mother’s celebration). Sit back and breathe a sigh of relief that you have not entered your child and family into the rat race we call “school”. In our family, we like to have a “NOT back to school” celebration each fall. So celebrate. And then take joy in the “doing nothing” moments.

And if you are one of those moms who can’t wait for her children to go back to school, then I guess my advice would be to try hard not to let go of every “doing nothing” moment with your children. See if you can at least “schedule” your days so that those precious “doing nothing” moments don’t completely pass you by. And please…don’t celebrate so loudly…at least not in front of the children.


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This is the third in a series of blogs on what I would define as ““Principles of Happy Home Educating Families.”” Find the first blog here.

“I admire you…but I could never teach my own child.”

I think that every home educating parent hears this at one time or another. It’s probably among the top 3 most often heard statements that I hear from people whenever homeschooling comes up in conversation. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard this statement from otherwise sane parents and friends. After all these years, I have yet to come up with a polite response to such a statement…so I usually just smile or nod, say nothing, and change the subject. “…ummm nice weather we’re having aren’t we?”

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t understand the underlying fears behind this statement, it’s just that to a thoughtful home educating parent, such a statement is as ridiculous as…and even akin to saying “I could never parent my own child.” There…I’ve said it…the thing that I’ve wanted to say so many times but was just too polite to say out loud.

What parents really mean when they say this.

I think that usually there are one or both of two things that parents are thinking when they make this statement. Sometimes these are even voiced by the parents who think that they could never teach their own children. The first is that their child would never listen to them. They already struggle with getting the child to do his/her chores and can’t stand the slog of trying to help them with the homework that the teachers send home as it is. The second is that they lack the confidence or the knowledge to teach their child particular subjects…usually high school subjects like algebra, but often even elementary subjects.

If you can parent your own child, then you can teach your own child.

But think about it…think what such a parent is really saying. “I don’t think I can discipline or teach my own child”…? Of course you can! You’ve been doing so from the day your child was born. You’ve been building a relationship with this child. You know this child better than anyone else. You are, may I say it, divinely positioned to teach your own child. And frankly, it’s a lot more fun than helping your child to complete homework assignments and worksheets sent home by a teacher who is worried about test scores and keeping everyone busy. It’s so much fun to home educate your own children. And frankly, it’s also easier once you get the middle men out of the way and you and your child start directing his education. There are so many options out there…so much to choose from. If you find that something isn’t working for your child, you have the freedom to change it up…make if more interesting, more fun, more relevant to his/her life! I never could understand “I could never teach my own child.” “I don’t want to teach my own child”…maybe, but not “I can’t.”

What about Algebra? What if my child wants or needs to learn something that I don’t know?

As for the fear that you lack the knowledge to teach them certain subjects…two thoughts. First thought: if you lack the confidence to pass on to your child the very things you were supposed to have “learned” in your own schooling, what does that tell you about the system you were schooled in? Does it really teach confidence or competence in the subjects taught?  And if you really think that these “subjects” are important for your child to have learned to succeed and be happy in life, then perhaps you ought to set the example and learn along with them.

Second thought: If there truly is a subject that your child needs to learn…and you don’t have the knowledge and understanding of that particular skill or subject…and don’t desire to, then can you not still point them in the right direction, help them find a mentor, or the materials or classes to meet that particular need? Of course you can…you do it all the time with piano lessons, soccer, karate… The formal school “subjects” are no different. There are so many resources out there for learning today. Just google any subject you’re concerned about and see what you find. See what your local library has to offer. Network.

“Expert” mentality.

We live in a society of “experts”. We go to an expert for everything from repairing appliances in our homes to…well, teaching our own children. Somewhere along the line, we have been taught and/or bought into the assumption that our competence is limited, that only those who have been “professionally trained” have the right and capacity to engage in certain tasks. This mindset results in dependence for myriads of families as they outsource nearly everything…including the education of their own children. This expert mentality is also the thinking that is at the root of myriads of systems and “programs” to take care of (seemingly) our every need.

Sometimes even homeschooling families get caught in this mentality and end up simply duplicating the public school system in their own homes, or they think that they must buy into detailed programs…one size fits all, boxed up and ready to go…just like the drive through. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with some of these programs, just be sure that you are choosing based on your individual child’s needs and not cropping the child to fit the curriculum.


So the third “habit” that I would stress for a new or veteran homeschooling family is Trust.

Trust yourself. You are the parent of your child. You have intimate information about your children that no one else has. Trust that you are able to provide for their needs better than anyone else. You can teach your own child. You already do. I like to say that all good parents home educate their children…homeschoolers just do more of it…they do it full time. And whether you home educate your child or not, you are not off the hook for their education. Your child is still and always your responsibility. You are their advocate. Trust yourself to know and meet their learning needs.

Trust your child.  Trust that each of your children will grow and learn in the way that is right for them. Trust their hopes, their dreams, their preferences, and their time tables for growth and learning. Know…and trust…that the answers for you child will probably be a bit different than the answers for every other child. 

Humans are internally hard wired for learning! We really do want to learn. We’re geniuses at it! We often even do it unconsciously. Your job is to provide the environment…just as you did when they were small…just show them the way.

And finally, Trust in God…or in a higher power, the universe…whatever you choose to call that source of knowledge and inspiration. Trust that you will find or be given the answers for each child as you need them. Trust that you will be inspired as to what is right for your child at any given time. And when the answers come…trust it and move forward.

Trust…my third habit for effective home educating families.

Next habit…Lead out.

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Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine. We are both home educated moms. We’ve both been home educating our children for quite a number of years now. My oldest child is 20 and her oldest is 16. We’ve both home educated our children from day one. In our conversation, we talked about some of the things we’ve learned along the way…some of the things we learned the hard way…some of the things we would go back and change if we could, and also those things that we did or are now doing that we have found effective or important. During the course of our conversation, my friend wondered what a “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers” would look like. (A concept inspired of course by Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. You may also be familiar with Oliver DeMille’s Seven Keys of Great Teaching.)

The “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Homeschoolers”….hmmm….what would be on such a list? We recognized immediately that this list would look different for each thoughtful home educating parent, but that these different lists would likely be of some use to families who were just beginning the journey.

As I considered this concept, my mind immediately took me on a thought journey of epic proportions as I considered the years behind and the years ahead and thought about what I would put on my personal list of “Seven Habits for Highly Effective Homeschoolers”. This conversation with my friend took place while I was waiting for my daughter at her piano lesson, and as soon as I was off the phone with this friend, I started writing and quickly had a list of seven habits…the last one came later. Yes…my list went just a bit over and has become the “Eight Habits of Highly Effective Home Educating Parents”…or maybe nine, but who’s counting? Here is my list. Thank you Christy for getting me started. I plan to publish each “habit” in a separate blog over the next days/weeks. Enjoy! And other home educating families, please add to my list by commenting. What would you put on your list?


The First Habit: Simplify

Anyone who knows me very well at all will not be at all surprised that this was the first thing to come to my mind and the first to go on my personal list. There are some good reasons for this…the first of which is probably that this is one of the premiere lessons that I’ve had to learn myself.

So often we try to do things in grandiose ways…the bigger, the better, we seem to think….or the more the better. But bigger is not always better. In fact, sometimes bigger is nothing more than pomp and circumstance with no real substance. And more is sometimes simply more…and usually it translates to less of something else. More time running from music lessons, to soccer practice, to karate, to church activities will ultimately translate to less quality time together as a family, less time to sit around the dinner table laughing together and discussing whatever comes up, less time for family read-alouds with everyone sprawled comfortably together in the living room. More is so often less of what matters most.

It seems to be only when we simplify that we find the real essence of life and of happiness. So my first habit is to simply simplify. Simplify your life. Simplify your schedule. Simplify your goals. Get rid of all the “stuff” that gets in the way of your true happiness and family success.

Are you really happy when you are running 10 directions at once…or even two? Are your children? Is your family? No? Then what can you let drop out of your life? Yes, I know that a lot of the things on your list are “good” things to do, but they are ultimately keeping you from enjoying the “best” things, are they not? Then let them go and feel the joy and peace which ultimately comes with a real focus on the things that matter most.

And how about all the physical “stuff” in your life? All of our stuff not only takes up space, but it also uses up our energy as we spend time organizing and caring for the material stuff in our lives. The question to ask is not how much, but how little can you get by with? What things do you spend a lot of time maintaining that you could do without? I used to have carpet in the heavily traveled areas and in the dining area of my home. I spent hours and hours each week keeping that carpet clean. The area that went from the front door to the back looked like traffic went directly from one point the other…and often times it literally did. I vacuumed daily (sometimes more than once daily) and the carpet cleaner was an intimate companion…no, I won’t say “friend”. When we built an addition to our home, I determined that we should place hardwood floors in the kitchen, dining area, and the heavily traveled areas of our home. It is no longer such a disaster when the children come in with muddy feet. This is something that can be much more easily managed…and usually by the child herself…or himself as the case may be. That one thing has made a huge difference in how I spend my time each week. We still have carpet in the family areas, but vacuuming has become a weekly affair and carpet cleaning a yearly one at most. I can now spend all that time that I used to spend vacuuming on the things that matter most in my life and in the lives of my husband and children.

How many goals have you set for yourself and your children? Pull them out and take a good hard look at them. Put them to the “perspective test”. Are these the goals that will matter most in one year? Five, ten, fifty years, a hundred? Ultimately, what is really going to matter? Stick with those goals that will really matter over time and consider what goals can be tossed or drastically modified. Focus on the goals that really matter. And while you are considering those goals, take a look at the less tangible things that you’d like to accomplish. Hint: Usually it is the less tangible goals that are going to matter most when put to the perspective test.

Here is an example from among my own experience as a home educating mom: In the early years, we used the Saxon math program and I had my children do every…single…exercise. Why? Because the program stated that all that repetition was important to mastery. As a result, math dominated the curriculum in our home and most of my children learned to hate it. I had always liked the subject, but I didn’t love the way it dominated our curriculum any more than my children did. My children would get so burned out that they would end up not finishing the course by the end of the year. In the fall, I would have them take the placement tests again. Year after year, they would place in the next textbook anyway. I figured out that the first lessons in the book were primarily review, so I had the children either skip those chapters or just take the chapter tests each day until they reached a point where they obviously needed to begin to do the exercises. I also stopped having them do every single problem. Instead, they did odd number problems on odd days and even numbered problems on other days. Sometimes we skipped the problem sets altogether and just did the practice sets. I purchased alternate math curriculum for some of my children. I let them choose what math programs they wanted to use. There are even periods of time when one or more children (gasp) leaves math off of the daily “to do” list altogether. Originally it had been my goal that my children would complete the Saxon Math series in its entirety. Over the years, I recognized that this goal was not meaningful to some of my children. Some of them didn’t need Physics and Calculus in their home education years. Some of them might never need it and would only need basic math skills.  Their passions and interests are in other areas and they need their time for activities relating to those passions. Not only that, but if the time comes that they need those courses, they can take them when they are ready to do so. Home education in our family improved greatly when I stepped back and began to simplify the goals that I had for my children. We now have a lot more time for the things that really matter most.

When it comes to home education and family life, look for the small and simple way.

My first habit…simply simplify.

Next habit…balance.


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I love going for walks with my children. When they were small, I used to snuggle them into a front pack infant carrier and off we would go. Later, I would put the oldest children into a stroller–but whoever was the infant at time was always in the front pack. They were too small then to keep up with me on our long walks, and so I snuggled them securely next to my heart or pushed them along in front of me in the stroller. Sometimes, I would put them into a wagon that I would pull behind me. Either way, they could enjoy the journey without what would for them be a long and tiring walk–an impossible walk.

On shorter walks–like the one down the lane to the mailbox–my toddlers and very young children would walk for themselves. I would walk more slowly and shorten my stride so that they could keep up. And on longer walks around the neighborhood, we always brought along the stroller or the wagon. Sometimes they would walk part of the way and then ride when they got tired.

Now my children are much older. Going for a walk with them is a whole new experience. I don’t know just when it started to happen, but there came a time when they would run ahead of me. As soon as they knew the direction we were headed, they would run ahead in their excitement to see whatever new thing lay ahead. Oh, they would double back and check in with me whenever they got too far ahead, or sometimes I had to call them back for safety (or “mom security”) reasons; but most of the time on any given walk or hike, a number of my children will be up ahead of me. The older they’ve grown, the further out in front I feel comfortable with them being, but even still, protective mom that I am, I ask that they stay within sight and calling distance on most of our walks or hikes.

On some hikes–the ones that are new to me–I don’t know what is up ahead, and so I insist that the children stay closer and don’t allow as much freedom to run ahead. Other times, I’ve already been to the destination. I know what they are about to discover, and so I simply sit back and watch their eagerness and joy as they run ahead, I know what they are about to discover. I can’t wait to share it with them.

How like home education this is to me! (You knew that was coming, didn’t you.) But seriously–there is such a strong analogy here to what happens in our home with learning.

I think I noticed it first when I would read to my children. Sometimes they would be so eager for the next page (and yet not knowing that the words to the story corresponded with the pages) that they would turn the pages before I was finished reading them. With one particular child, I had to learn to read fast and I deliberately chose stories with only small amounts of narration on any given page so that I would actually be able to get through the text before she turned the page. It didn’t matter if I read every word on the page though. She cared more about the pictures and the joy of simply sitting in mother’s lap than she did about the story. To me this stage is reminiscent of the child snuggled into the front pack on our walks. It was simply the security of being close to mom that mattered for my children then.

Then came the days that might be compared to the stroller or wagon days of our walks. Much like our shorter walks, my children began to read some small books for themselves. Or they would “pretend” to read…which means they would tell the story the way they remembered it…an important step on the road to learning to read independently. And like our longer neighborhood walks, they were not yet able to read novels and longer stories for themselves and so I would read those to them while helping them along with occasional parts of the story, or words here and there, that they could manage on their own.

The time quickly came, much like our daily walks, when they would run ahead of me even with the novels. We would begin a read-aloud with the family and if I or their dad stopped before we were finished with the book, one or two of them would pick it up and race ahead to get the rest of the story. I only needed to get them started and spark their interest. Once they caught on to where we were going, they wanted to be way out ahead. And just like our walks, sometimes I would insist that they stay with the family and I wouldn’t let them read ahead. I must admit that was a little painful for them at times, but it sure kept the interest high. They would plead for one more chapter and, more often than not, we would joyfully give in.

The time quickly came when they could navigate even those trails, and books, alone–without my or their dad’s help. But even then, I still led them as I suggested and inspired interest in books that I knew that they would enjoy…ones whose trails I had already been on many times myself.

And now the days have  come when they will pick up my books…the ones that I intended for myself. They will sometimes read them before I do. Or they will read wonderful books that I haven’t yet discovered and they will share them with me. Now that I think about it, we have arrived at those days with hiking as well. My sons and daughters have gone on hikes and trails that I have never been on–and they’ve come back to tell me about them.

Yes, home education is so much like hiking with children.  Oh the joys of journeys with children…both in the daily walks, hikes, and trails…and in the life long journey that we take together. And just like the daily walk, these journeys are full of so many wonderful sights and sweet moments along the trail. May we always remember to enjoy the small moments of these precious journeys with our children…

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I think that what first drew me in to the desire to find the magic was watching my daughter at the beach. Oh, she took her drawing materials with her to many places, but it was at the beach where I really began to take notice of the magic. She would sit for hours silently drawing…and looking…and drawing some more. There was something about her peace and total enjoyment which reflected back to me…invited me…made me want to feel that same joy.

I have never considered myself an artist. I remember teaching my first graders. Every year, one of them would comment that they could draw better than I could. Yes. I knew that. My drawing was developmentally below the level of most first graders. I wonder what arrested that development for me…oh well, it doesn’t matter now.

Most of my children draw very well. I didn’t teach them. Like I said, I couldn’t draw. I did provide them with lots of art supplies, encouragement, and …this is important… blank paper. Somewhere along the line, I had determined that coloring books were bad. Oh, my children still had coloring books sometimes, it’s not like they were forbidden, but I didn’t encourage them. I didn’t want my children growing up coloring in someone else’s lines. So I gave them blank paper and encouraged them to draw. And I oohed and ahhed over their finished products. That part wasn’t hard, I was always impressed with their drawings and paintings… after all, it was much better than I could do.

I have always believed that one can learn anything if he or she is willing to put in the time and effort. I’ve taught myself many things. But somehow, I had never really applied that belief to art and to drawing. I never believed that I could draw. You either could or you couldn’t, I thought, and I couldn’t. Oh, I’d had a couple of glimpses; like the “Teaching Art” class that I took in college to prepare for my teaching degree. I remember a moment during the lesson on basic shapes in drawing when I drew a bird (okay, it was really just the outline of a bird) which somehow looked much better than I expected.

And then there was the evening that Yvonne Marshall taught us to paint a sunset in oils at our monthly church women’s meeting. Carefully following her instructions…and on a canvas which she had outlined for me…I was able to create (love that word)…I was able to create something which I was happy with. If you don’t count the muddy smudge in the sky, it’s almost perfect. And I can imagine that the muddy part is a rain cloud…well, sort of…so it’s all okay. The thing that I remember most about that experience was the ridiculous way that I could not stop smiling for the entire time that I was painting! I remember how Yvonne had insisted that I take the leftover paint brushes, tubes of paint and the one extra canvas home with me afterward. Looking back I wonder, did she know something then which I had yet to discover about myself?

Even so, even with these glimpses, I persisted in my belief that I could never learn to draw…until that day on the beach watching my daughter.

I had purchased a book for my children called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. When we got back from our trip to the beach, I picked it up and began to look through it in earnest. I was amazed at the before and after drawings in this book, and it gave me a glimmer of hope…just a glimmer. Maybe I could do that too.

On our next camping trip, I began to do the exercises in this book; drawing the lines on my hand and upside down drawings. The author explains that these exercises are to aid you in getting out of the left brain mode of thinking and into the right brain. Since you are drawing something that the left brain does not recognize or make sense of, the right brain takes over and you end up drawing just what you see…not what you think you see…or something like that. I had a little success, but it just…wasn’t fun. Where was the magic? What I felt as I was drawing was not at all what I had seen in my daughter that day at the beach. I gave up…or at least I put it on the shelf for a few more months. I picked it up again just before Christmas to try in earnest again…only to feel frustrated again. Maybe you did have to already have some sort of “talent” in order to succeed in learning to draw. I was almost ready to give it up for good this time.

It was at this point that my daughter came to the rescue. As I was expressing my frustration with the exercises in the book, she said the simplest thing. “Mom”, she said,” just pick something that you really like and draw that.” I thought about it. I didn’t really like the things which I was drawing. I wasn’t relating to those things. They gave me no joy. And furthermore, I found it very tedious working through the exercises one at a time, chapter by chapter in the order given in the book. As a good friend later pointed out to me, I was approaching a right brain activity in a very left brain sort of way.

So I thought about it…what did I like. Birds, I decided. I really like birds. I would draw birds. (Did my subconscious remember that bird outline drawn back in my college days?) So for Christmas, when I bought my children each a really nice set of drawing pencils, I gave

myself a set too, and a brand new sketchpad. Then I went looking for pictures of birds. I ended up buying a couple of field guides with some very nice pictures in them, and I started drawing. I drew a new bird each day. I inspired myself with a favorite quote: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do is increased.” These words have been attributed to one of my heroes, Heber J. Grant. I’m not sure if they were his words, or if he was quoting someone else when he said them, but I do know that he lived by those words. He is an example to me of someone who never stops learning and will persist at doing hard things until he has mastered the thing he has set out to learn.

So, each day, I drew a bird. I went through the field guides and picked out my favorite ones to draw. In a very, very short time, the magic began to happen and my drawings were…not bad at all. In fact, I was more and more thrilled with each new drawing. I began to share them with my family and friends with almost childish joy…”Look what I can do!” (I’m so blessed to have such patient and encouraging family and friends! I wish that Yvonne Marshall were still here so that I could share my new found joy with her as well.) I know that compared to great artists, my humble drawings are not much. I’m still beginning. I still have so much to learn. But compared to what I originally thought I could do; compared to my expectations of myself, I was amazing! I was amazed, delighted, joyful, just plain tickled pink! Each latest drawing was my new favorite. I would set them up on my desk and just stare at them…totally amazed that I had drawn that!

Encouraged by my new found success, I tried portraits…with the same amazing results! Now I was truly ecstatic! I found that I loved drawing faces even more than I loved drawing birds! I watched some online art lessons. I checked out books on drawing from the library. Christy, my artist friend, encouraged me and gave me tips and pointers. I continued to improve…and continued to be delighted with myself and with the process…and the products…of drawing.

With all of my joy over my new found ability to draw, however, the most delightful thing of all was finally finding the magic…finally discovering and feeling for myself what I saw in my daughter that day at the beach! That timeless feeling of being totally absorbed in the moment and in the act of creating. That feeling when time stands still…hours pass and you don’t even realize it. So this is what it feels like to be in the “right brain”! And the more I felt the magic, I found, the better my drawings became.

I’ve learned so many things from this experience…aside from learning to draw. I’ve learned that you truly can learn anything. I knew that before, but now I know it all over again, and on a deeper level. I learned that anyone can learn to draw. Truly…if I can learn to draw at the age of 46 when I could hardly draw a stick figure correctly before, they anyone can learn if they truly want to and truly try. I learned…again…that home education is not just about what the children are learning. I learned that sometimes the best teachers are much younger than you are…sometimes the best teachers are even your own children. I learned that often the best methods are the most simple and straightforward. We so often make things much more complicated than they really are.

I continue to love to draw. It is still so new to me that I haven’t stopped being surprised and filled with inner delight with each finished drawing. There is always a moment or two as I begin to draw…especially if I haven’t had my drawing pencils out in a while…there is always this uncomfortable moment or two when I think that maybe I won’t be able to do it this time, and I fear that the magic will be all gone, but I simply tell that part of my brain to shut up, I start to draw, and I find the magic all over again.


The following slide show includes some of my drawings. Dates are usually visible on the pages. They are mostly in order by the date that they were drawn, but are not in perfect order. They show my progression from about January to July (or so) of 2010. The last two are more recent. The last one is not finished yet and was drawn last week. Thanks for sharing my joy.

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My husband came home the other day and mentioned a program he had heard on the radio which featured an unschooling family and we had a conversation about it. The concept of “unschooling” was new to him, and he wasn’t really comfortable with the idea. I remember the first time that I was introduced to this concept. I remember how an acquaintance, the mother of an older homeschooling son, mentioned that her family was an “unschooling” family. She didn’t structure her son’s learning at all. She didn’t tell him what to study or when. I listened with mixed horror and intrigue as she explained that when the need arises for him to learn something,  he will willingly put forth the effort and time needed to learn that thing and that it is not her job to dictate to him what to learn or when. As I said, there was a part of me which was very intrigued with the idea of so much freedom in education…but then another part of my brain recoiled in horror at such a thought. This was really early in my homeschooling experience (and yes, I would call it home “schooling” at that time). The concept of so much lack of structure primarily left me feeling quite uncomfortable, and so I continued with my very…not just structured, but rigid way of home “schooling” at that time.

Over the years, and after numerous paradigm shifts, I have come to look upon “unschooling” with a whole new set of eyes and I mentioned to my husband in our conversation that there were even at least periods of time when I would have to define what we do in our home as “unschooling”. I know…shocker, huh! In fact, the title of my blog is decidedly an attempt on my part to get away from the word “schooling”, but perhaps I will get to that later.

“I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I’ve thought about this idea of “unschooling” though. It is not easily defined and most of us who are new to the term have no real idea of what it really means. (I’m thinking of a line in the movie ‘Princess Bride” where Inigo says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”)

What most outsiders to unschooling,  and even some homeschoolers, picture when they hear the term “unschooling” is a family where students are not learning anything. They are perhaps just sitting in front of a TV all day….or (horror) just playing all day. And maybe for some families who unschool, this would be true…it may also be true of some families who public school their children, by the way. But for the vast majority of people who take this term upon themselves, I suspect that this is not the case at all…or at least it is not the whole picture. In fact, unschooling, like homeschooling, doesn’t fit into a single box. It’s more of a continuum, with less or absolutely no structure on one end and increasing structure as you move along the continuum. But notice that I used the word “structure” and not the word “learning”. I’ll bet a lot of you pictured something that looked more like the word “learning” when I said “structure” just now, didn’t you. Yeah. I used to do that too.

Let me explain. How much one learns is not a direct corollary of how structured things are…in fact, at times these two things may even be inversely related. A child who sits in a highly structured classroom may be learning a lot…or that child may be learning almost nothing except the invisible lesson of how to hate “learning”. And, conversely, a child who lives in a very unstructured home education environment (the one who is just watching TV and “playing”) may be learning almost nothing…or that child may be learning and thinking a vast number of things which are not immediately apparent to the outside observer.

Right Brain/Left Brain

Lately, I’ve been studying and thinking about right brain learning. I have at least two children who are very strong right brain learners. I believe that my husband is also strongly a right brain learner. I’ve learned that the left brain (or least that part of our thinking that we call left brain) likes a lot of structure and is most comfortable in very structured environments. Conversely, the right brain portion of us thrives in a much less structured environment. The right brain needs space, time, freedom, and might I add play. The left brain is the information center; it stores, analyzes, compares and values information. On the other hand, the right brain has become known as the creative part of ourselves. I think that in great measure, it is also the processing part of our minds. Fortunately, most of us were born with both sides of our brains and not surprisingly, most of us use both sides, but some of us seem to favor one side or the other. And some of us nurture one side to the exclusion of the other or grow up in systems which do this, when in fact, both sides work together and both sides need nurturing.

What does it look like?

As I’ve observed my own learning, I’ve found that there are times when it is “information in”. Times when I am reading and studying a lot…I’m acquiring, storing, and analyzing the information I’m taking in. And then there are times when I am just sort of “incubating”. I’m thinking about, playing with, and mulling over the information I’ve taken in. And do you know what it looks like from the outside when I am in my “right mind”? Yep, it looks a whole lot like I’m just sitting in my hammock chair gazing at the trees in my backyard. It looks like I am “doing nothing”…a very socially unacceptable thing to be “doing”…especially if you are supposed to be home “schooling”.

I grew up in the public school system. I did very well, but I don’t think I learned…or retained…very much. On the other hand, my more right-brained husband did a lot more poorly in school and yet I am so amazed at his vast store of knowledge of so many different things. As I’ve pondered on why this is, I think that it is in great measure because our public school system focuses pretty exclusively on left brain sorts of activities and learning. While I was able to “make the grade” but learned or retained little, my husband did more poorly in school, but has a brain like a sponge which soaks up all kinds of relevant information in all kinds of situations which may or may not be classified as “learning environments.” The interesting thing is that the education we received served neither one of us very well.  It’s pretty obvious that a highly structured left-brain focused school system would not be best for a primarily right brain learner, but it was also less than ideal for the primarily left-brain learner. Both sides of the brain must work together.

My education was pretty much exclusively “information in” and no real processing of the information occurred for me, so less of it has been useful to me. Using Charlotte Mason’s terms, I never really made a “relation” to the things that I was supposedly learning. Information which does not connect, or relate, to anything in your life or experience is usually not very well retained.

Right brain learning so often looks like “doing nothing”, and in our scientific measure-everything world, the sorts of activities that nourish the right brain are just not considered valid. The results cannot be seen, or touched, or measured. And yet, it is precisely those types of activities which are so important for any real learning to take place. It’s also critical for any real problem solving or creativity to occur. In fact, I think it is only in a culture which has learned to nurture the right brain part of ourselves that we have art…in the truest sense of the word. It’s also only in these environments that we have the innovation which is sorely needed in our world today.


I’ve heard many homeschoolers use the term “detox” to describe the necessary period of time when a student is transitioning from the very structured public school environment to the ideally less structured home education environment. The recommended activities are usually to let the child simple explore whatever interests them, make sure that they have time for play, and give them the time and materials to be creative. Don’t structure heavily. Usually, what needs to happen is for the child to regain their innate curiosity, their questioning mind, and their zest for learning new things. It’s usually a really difficult concept for parents to grasp and it’s even harder for them to let go and stay out of the way. I know…I’ve been that parent.

I’ve experienced this need to detox after a very structured learning environment myself. I’ve always loved to read. In fact, I think that this is in great measure how I got through the mind numbing public education which I was given. Not much was expected of me, and so I took a book with me to each class. At every moment when there was nothing left for me to do, I read. In college, though, I was very busy reading a great number of books for information. After three somewhat intensive years of this, I was finished and again had the freedom to read whatever I wanted. But I found I had become unable to really enjoy reading. I had to re-learn how to sit back and just read for the pleasure of reading without trying to extract every bit of information that I could find and catalog it in my brain so that I could regurgitate it for the test. I had lost touch with my right brain part of myself.

The thing that I’ve found so wonderful about home education is that it is so much easier to nurture and value both sides of the brain. My own experience with learning is much more natural as I move back and forth between the two modes of thought on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. I’m still making the paradigm shift from my total left brain upbringing. I still get nervous when I see my son wandering through the trees in the backyard during “school hours”, but I’m learning to value those un-schooling “doing nothing” moments more and more as time goes on.

Unschooling Summer and Holidays

A few years ago, I attended an annual used curriculum sale at the end of the “school” year. At this sale, home educating families bring in their used curriculum and materials to sell and at the same time purchase materials from other families. In this way, these materials get “recycled” and families can spend less on some wonderful items for their upcoming year. This particular year, I came home with a few boxes of things for the upcoming year. My children were so excited and wanted to delve right in and start discovering what was in the boxes right away. My first instinct was “No, this is for next year, if I let you have it all now, what will we do in the fall”, but I quickly recovered my sanity and plopped the boxes in the middle of the living room floor and let them at it. They were each soon busy with something that I had brought home in those boxes. After they were finished going through it and claiming what they wanted, I left the remaining items in a box in the living room all summer long. And as I watched them I discovered something wonderful…when the pressure is off and you’ve supplied a rich environment of things to interest your children, learning happens whether you intend it to or not. To me, this is what unschooling is. The parent provides a rich environment and then gets out of the way.

I’ve noticed this same wonderful phenomenon in our home on the holidays. I have a secret recipe for my children’s gifts at Christmastime. In retrospect, I think it goes along with and probably originated with Charlotte Mason’s admonition to each day be sure that your children have something or someone to love, something to do, and something to think about. So for Christmas at our house, each child must receive a book (or two) that they will really enjoy, and also something to “do”…something they can build or put together, or a craft, art materials, a musical instrument or music books…you get the idea. I also try to choose one or two things which can help our family to connect with each other; I always try to make sure there is at least one new family game (that’s getting harder each year as the game cupboard fills up) and a puzzle or two. And guess what! I notice the same wonderful thing! For hours each child is busy with something new and “learning” is happening right under our noses, without any real effort or parental structure on our part at all, and on the holidays of all things. As I’ve watched over the years, I’m convinced that some of the very best learning happens in the summer and on the holidays after I’ve provided a rich environment and then backed off.

If you are unsure…as I was…about giving so much educational freedom to your children, then you might just give it a try over the Summer…when you have nothing to lose…and so much to gain. You don’t have to call it “unschooling” if you don’t want to, because no one will know the difference!


For more reading on Right Brain learning, check out these links.






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After a very wet Spring, we finally got the seeds in the ground in our family garden. It was a beautiful evening for planting. My husband had previously rototilled the soil and the children had all hoed up the soil into rows and hills all ready and waiting for the seeds. Today the children put the seeds in the ground and covered them with the soft freshly tilled soil while I kept track of what had been planted in each row and hill; noting in the garden planner the date we planted, the variety of the seeds, and how many days until harvest.

I love this time of year. I love the smell of the freshly tilled soil with its neat little rows and hills. After we got the seeds planted, I sat in the hammock not far from the garden and just gazed contentedly at the little patch of dirt…trying to put my finger on what it is that I love so much about a freshly planted garden. I feel the same feeling when I drive past the freshly plowed farmland near our home. Maybe I missed my calling and I should have been a farmer. I’ve voiced these thoughts to my husband on occasion, but he is always quick to remind me that there are things that I definitely would not love about being a farmer…and he is right. Most years I struggle to keep up with the garden once it is planted; keeping it watered and weeded and then canning vegetables and fruits in the fall; although now that my children are older, it is not so hard as it once was to keep up.

So why, then, do I love the freshly planted garden so very much? Many people would look at my garden right now and think that it is nothing more than a rectangular patch of dirt. And yet this is not just any patch of dirt; this is a patch of dirt which contains a promise…and a hope…a secret…hundreds of little secrets. In a few days or weeks, we will see the telltale signs that these seeds are growing; already the tomatoes we planted a couple weeks ago have blossoms and tiny little tomatoes. In time, this garden full of hope will produce for our family most of the fresh vegetables which will nourish our family this summer; and many that we will continue to enjoy long after the snow has fallen and our little garden has been put to bed.

This year as I watched my children plant our garden, I thought about the parable of the sower; and then I remembered another very short parable which comes after it; also a  parable of a sower, albeit a less well known parable. This parable is found in Mark 4:26-29…four short verses.

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.

For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.

But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.


I certainly see this truth at work in our little garden. We plant the seeds…and then for a while we…do nothing really. We might water the soil, we remove weeds, but when it comes to the plant itself…we have absolutely no control over that…growing is the seed’s job. It is not ours to make the seed grow. The seed grows, as the parable points out, we know not how! And when the growing season is over, we enjoy the harvest.

The process of raising children has often been compared to gardening as well. Though not always my favorite comparison, it does have some very valid analogies. It is not ours to make our children grow. We cannot pour knowledge and understanding into their brains; in fact, we can’t always even know for sure what knowledge and understanding they are developing from the formal and informal lessons in their lives. No, our children also “spring and grow up…we know not how”! Our job is to prepare the environment, very much like we worked to prepare our garden for the seed. Long before planting day, we fertilized and rototilled the garden, providing the most nourishing environment that we could for the seeds we would soon plant. And so it is in our home; we also provide a nourishing environment. I came across a wonderful name for this the other day in another home educating mom’s blog. She called it “strewing”! As we place wonderful books, art supplies, building materials, peaceful music, lovely outdoor experiences and fieldtrips, and other such things in our home and where our children will find them, we are quite literally “strewing their paths” with things that will nourish them in so many ways. I love that word…“strewing”!

As we limit and weed out the influence of media and other unworthy distractions in our homes, we leave room for them to take best advantage of the more nourishing things we’ve placed in their paths. And just consider for a moment how creating order (flexible structure) to our days is much like the way we hoe our garden into rows and hills so that everything doesn’t grow all willy-nilly. Though…as I think about it a little more, I must take a moment to point out that things will still grow in a less well ordered garden. When my children were toddlers, planting the garden was an adventure! We would put the seeds in the ground and the children, heedless of where we had just planted, would barrel through the rows in their excitement to join us in our labors, spreading the seeds who knows where as they did. As the seeds began to grow, we found that our rows and hills were not so perfectly straight as we had planned, but the plants grew strong and healthy just the same, and the vegetables were just as nourishing as they would have been in straighter rows. …I think that this can also be a lesson to us as we seek to structure our days and find that things don’t always go exactly according to plan.

I’m sure that there are many more lessons that we could learn from this little parable. It is certainly something for me to ponder on for a while. As a mom with older children, I can certainly relate to the gardener who “sleeps and rises night and day” and then watches as the “seed” springs forth and grows up “bringing forth fruit of herself”…and I realize that really, I know not how it happened. It seemed to happen when I wasn’t really looking. …nor could I really take credit for the growth of those seeds, for just as the sun shines down on my little garden, there is another who is truly the Lord of the Harvest, and I am only his gardener.

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