What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part Three: Boundaries and Ourselves

Boundaries With Ourselves

I previously shared with you some of the lessons I have been learning about how setting boundaries with our children and with others can help us homeschool more effectively.   However, sometimes the biggest boundary conflict does not come from without; it comes from within.

Have you ever felt like your homeschool day just “gets away from you”?  You have a plan of everything you were going to accomplish, but at the end of the day, you have only been able to do a fraction of it.  How do other moms manage to get it all done?

Are you a good starter but not a good finisher?  You love coming up with cool homeschool ideas but have trouble following them through to completion.  Are you easily distracted by new, exciting curriculum instead of finishing up with what you already began?  Are you unable to say “no” to other pressures that take time away from school?

Do you lose your temper and say things that are discouraging instead of encouraging?  Are you financially strapped because you can’t seem to live within your means?  You keep trying to get your act together, but nothing seems to work.

If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you might have a problem with internal boundaries.

We are often our own worst enemy.  Although setting boundaries with others can be challenging, in the end, we are only responsible to others, but not for them.  We are responsible for ourselves, though, making internal problems harder to deal with than external ones.  In addition, the strategies we gravitate toward to solve these conflicts may be ineffective.  In the book, “Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life,” authors Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend point out that those with poor internal boundaries may withdraw from relationships when they most need the support of others because of the shame they feel about their personal failures.  Instead, they try to use their willpower to solve their boundary problems, thinking that they can just muscle through them.

As I re-read this chapter in preparation for writing this article, I felt convicted.  I absolutely do this.  Of course, the difficulty of reaching out is that it has to be to someone who will have empathy and respond with love and support.  If one already has weak boundaries that developed as a result of a dysfunctional or abusive childhood, it can be hard to know who to trust.

However, making an idol of our own will is not the solution.  Be honest with yourself about where you are struggling.  Take time to examine what the root causes of those struggles are.  Identify the specific boundary conflict and pray for insight into the underlying need that it is masking.  Then, admit that you cannot heal yourself, and lay it at the feet of Jesus instead.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” – James 5:16

If you are interested in reading more about boundaries, you can find part one here and part two here.  As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

 

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What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part Two

Boundaries With Others

Last month, I wrote about the challenge of setting boundaries with my children and how important that is to homeschooling effectively.  Another area where it is helpful to learn and apply appropriate boundaries is with other adults in your life.

One of the ways that many homeschoolers face an invasion of boundaries is unsolicited opinions.  It can be frustrating dealing with people who criticize your choice to homeschool, ask leading questions like “Don’t you need to be certified to homeschool?” or give your child pop quizzes to test how much they’ve learned.  This can be particularly difficult if it comes from close family or friends.

Initially, I did not know how to handle these intrusions.  Over time, I’ve discovered that the motivation can range from simple curiosity, to ignorance of something out of the norm that they have no experience with, to jealousy, and sometimes, the assumption that you must be judging them if you made a different educational choice for your children than they did.  I’ve found that these conversations seem to go better if:

  1. I’m careful to show that I’m accepting of their parenting choices. Respect breeds respect.
  2. Rather than immediately getting defensive, I consider where their skepticism is coming from. I had a medical professional ask me, “Isn’t homeschooling lax?” only to discover later that one of her neighbors is a homeschooler that doesn’t do any formal lessons with her children at all.  I responded by telling her, that “Homeschoolers are like anyone else.  There are all kinds.”
  3. Answer questions based in curiosity matter-of-factly.
  4. Have a canned response for critics – one that puts a stop to the discussion without inviting argument.
  5. Stay focused on the fact that no matter what others think, the decision to homeschool belongs to you and your spouse, in conjunction with God. Whether others approve isn’t really relevant and you can choose not to let it affect you.

Another boundary that I’ve learned to set is with people who try to interrupt the flow of our school day.  It could be a friend who wants to schedule a play date, someone who calls during the day expecting that you are able to chat, or the friend who always expects you to babysit her child when they have off from school because you are home during the day.  Before you let others interfere with your schedule, consider:

  1. Whether it is important enough to make an exception or how disruptive it will be to your day.
  2. If it’s easier to call or text someone back when you finish your school day (or take a lunch break) or to get your children back on task once there’s been a disruption. This is the main reason that I still use an answering machine that I can screen calls on rather than voicemail.
  3. Could you be setting a precedent of being available when you don’t really want to be? It’s generally easier to set a boundary of “These are days/hours that I am available” than to make exceptions and give a friend or family member the impression that your schedule is more flexible than it really is.  This sets up the potential for frustration in the future for you and hurt feelings for your friend.  Avoid this situation from the start.

Keep in mind as you navigate these situations that, ultimately, your responsibility to your children is greater than your responsibility to your friends or extended family.  God will lead you in handling these moments as you focus on that truth instead of allowing emotions to dominate your decisions.

What I Wish I Would Have Learned Before I Began Homeschooling, Part One

boundaries, fence, homeschooling

When I was preparing to begin homeschooling, I knew that I would need some kind of curriculum, school supplies, a plan and a method.  However, once I was in the thick of it, I realized there was one area where I was desperately unprepared:  setting boundaries.

Years ago, a Christian counselor recommended a book to me, “Boundaries:  When to Say Yes, How to Say No, To Take Control of Your Life.”  I purchased it, but shortly after, began dating my husband and got distracted.  It sat on my bookshelf for a decade before God confronted me with the fact that I still had issues in this area that needed to be addressed.  Once I began reading it, I was surprised to realize how much of my life was being affected by my lack of boundaries.  Having grown up with a mother who struggled with addiction, I was often placed in the position of being the mother instead of the child.  I never learned to say “no” to responsibilities that were not my own or to set limits with others.

This caused me to grow into a parent who did not know how to set the appropriate limits with my children, either.  As a result, the biggest struggle that I have faced while trying to teach my children is simply having them cooperate and obey.  In the summer edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, there was an article by Deborah Wuehler, entitled “The Importance of Obedience and How to Get Your Kids on Board” that outlined some of the steps that she uses to teach her children obedience.  She instills in them as toddlers that she expects them to obey immediately, completely and cheerfully.  That was mind-blowing to me, as my children never respond to any request that I make the first time, which is my biggest pet peeve.

If I would have realized my own weakness in this area sooner, I would have addressed it in counseling long ago and been prepared to lay the groundwork of teaching obedience to my children when they were very young.  Of course, later is better than never.  The challenge of doing it when my children are several years into homeschooling is that habits have been formed that need to be corrected.

If you are having trouble setting limits with your children and find yourself repeating requests ad nauseam before they obey you, I highly recommend reading Deborah’s article and the book, “Boundaries” or “Boundaries with Kids”  by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  Cooperative children are so much easier to teach!  Most importantly, we are not only teaching them reading and writing, but responsibility – understanding what they are responsible for and what they aren’t responsible for, knowing how to say “no” and how to accept a “no.”  By setting external boundaries for them now, our children will eventually develop internal boundaries, which will be invaluable to them in adulthood and ultimately, in parenting their own children one day.

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Fall Nature Study: Saving Seeds

Fall Nature Study_ Saving Seeds

Each spring, my children and I start seeds for nature study.  Eventually, we transplant them to the garden, care for the plants and harvest the fruit.  A few years ago, we decided to allow the process to come full circle by learning how to save the seeds as well.  There are a few different ways to save seeds for your plants and it depends on the type of seed.

Bean plants are easy to save seed from.  You simply leave some of the pods on the plant until the fall, when the skin of the bean in completely dry and papery.  Then, you pick them, remove the beans from the skin and label an envelope to save them in for planting in the spring.

Many other seeds can be saved by fermenting.  The fermentation process can help control seed-borne diseases from affecting your future plants.  We have saved tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and pumpkins/squash this way.  Make sure the fruit is completely ripe first.  Remove some seeds, rinse any pulp off of them, and place them in a jar of water.  Stir the seeds carefully with a spoon once a day for about three days.  You will notice that some of the seeds float to the top and some sink to the bottom of the jar.  The floaters are not viable and can be discarded at the end of the third day.  Next, strain the contents of the jar, saving the seeds that sunk to the bottom.  I pour mine into a tea sock.  Then, I spread them on a plate until they are completely dry, at which point I seal them in a labeled envelope.

You may want to write the year that you saved the seeds along with the name of the plant, in case you do not plant all of them and have some leftover the next year.  I have successfully used seeds a couple of years after saving them, but they do decrease in viability with age.  Another trick for keeping them is to place the envelopes of saved seeds in a container in the back of the refrigerator.  The cold temperature keeps them fresh longer.

Interestingly, I found that the seeds that we planted this year that had been saved from our own garden actually grew much more robust plants than our store-bought seeds.  I am not sure if they were more acclimated to our particular soil, but I think it will make an interesting nature study experiment next spring, to compare our own seeds to the purchased ones and chart their progress.

Another fun activity that my children did was to set up a stand in our front yard and sell packets of saved seeds, sort of like a lemonade stand.

There’s something really special about planting seeds that you’ve saved from your own plants.  It gives children a visual of the way God provides for us and helps them to see the whole circle happening first-hand.

“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24

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FREE Michelangelo Study Resources

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In this post, I explained how we did our Renaissance artist study last spring.  It turns out that one of the resources that we used to study the life of Michelangelo is currently available as a free download here.  There is also a free supplement available about two of his masterpieces – The Pieta and The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  You will see the price reduce to $0.00 after you add them to your cart.

If you are planning to do more art history study in the future, you may also be interested in a bundle by the same publisher that is on sale right now, called The Masters and Their Masterpieces.  Do yourself a favor and download the two free items first.  It will give you credit towards your purchase, bringing your total purchase price down to $8.58 for 24 separate lessons, including Da Vinci, Cassatt, Renoir, Degas, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Monet and more!  Since I already own several of the titles that are included, I ended up only paying $4.

Back-to-school sales are awesome, aren’t they?

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Growing Your Child’s Vocabulary Organically

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Recently, as we were en route to a camping trip, my six-year-old wondered how much longer the ride would take.  Instead of asking, “Are we there yet?” she said, “How much more time until we reach our destination?”

My husband and I chuckled at her choice of words but we weren’t surprised.  My eight-year-old son was recently evaluated by a speech language pathologist.  We discovered that the stroke that he suffered at birth has impacted how his mind processes the written word.  However, she was surprised to find that his vocabulary and grammar skills, and his ability to understand language and express it verbally, was very advanced for his age.

I have no question how this came about.  My husband and I followed two steps, which set the stage so this process could happen organically – no vocab tests or drills needed.

  1. We make a point to fill our children’s bookshelves with books that have withstood the test of time. There may be new releases that will become classics one day.  However, the books that are generally considered as classics are looked upon that way for a reason.  We didn’t assume that our children couldn’t understand something that was written in old-fashioned or challenging language, either.  If we weren’t sure that the child would understand a word, we’d simply pause and explain what it meant.  Most of the time, we found that they could intuit the meaning through context.
  2. My husband and I read aloud daily to our children. In “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” Jim Trelease encourages parents to read aloud daily to their children, even past the age that they are able to read independently.  He states, “Kids can usually listen on a higher level than that on which they read.  Therefore, children can hear and understand stories that are more complicated and more interesting than anything they could read on their own.”  He also explains how words that are attained by the “listening vocabulary” then get transmitted to the speaking vocabulary, reading vocabulary and writing vocabulary.  Reading aloud is a bedtime ritual in our home.  As our six-year-old’s attention span isn’t the same as her brother’s, they each get to choose their own story.  This is a precious bonding time for our family, where we can share our love of reading and introduce stories to our children that were beloved from our own childhoods.
    1. Another thing that we’ve found to be helpful is putting audio books on in the car for our children to listen to. They can usually be borrowed from your local library.

There is no need to be legalistic about this approach.  When we go to the library, my daughter often picks picture books that are aesthetically appealing to her but are not very challenging.  That’s fine; I simply add some classic books that I know she’ll like as well.  In the end, she usually prefers what I picked for her.

Although we began this process with our children when they were very young, I think it would be beneficial to begin family read-aloud time with good books at any age.  I believe that the learning challenges that my son may face will be offset by the advantages that his exposure to quality literature has given him.  Most importantly, my children have learned that reading is a pleasurable experience, one that you never outgrow.

 

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Grow an Avocado Tree from a Pit

pit in avocado

Last fall, after making some guacamole, I decided to grow an avocado tree from the pit that I’d removed from the avocado.  I mentioned in this post that it took until March to get a root.  I also mistakenly told you that the pointy end of the pit gets submerged in water.  Maybe that’s why it took so long to root!

There are a couple of ways to grow a tree from an avocado pit, but the one I’ve used is the toothpick method.  The steps are:

  • After carefully removing your pit from a ripe avocado, rinse it off and figure out which end of the pit is the top and which is the bottom.  The narrower end is the top and the broader end is the bottom.

pit

  • Insert 3 to 4 toothpicks into the seed, preferably on an angle.  Fill a jar with water and suspend the toothpicks on the mouth of the jar, with the bottom half of the pit submerged.

toothpicks

  • Place the jar in a sunny spot and refill as needed to keep the bottom half under water.  You can see the plant beginning to emerge from the top of the pit in this photo.

early april

  • As your tap root grows, you may need to move your pit to a taller jar or vase to allow it more room.  Mine had a huge tap root.

late april

  • When the roots have emerged and are well established, plant the pit in a pot with soil.  The top half of the seed should be exposed above the dirt.  I used a large enough pot to allow room for growth, so I would not have to re-pot it later.

May

  • Keep the pot in a sunny spot.  You can keep it outside, but if temperatures will drop below 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you should bring your avocado tree indoors.  Also, keep in mind that they do not like to become too moist.  I only water mine about once a week, unless the leaves look droopy and the soil seems too dry.

One mistake that I made was not to trim my plant back.  I read the recommendation to do this after it was way over 6 inches tall, and I as afraid to do it at that point.  This page has information on trimming your plant, which will encourage your tree to be bushy, rather than leggy, like mine.  It also explains how to plant your tree outdoors if you live in a warm enough climate.  We do not, so I am going to keep mine as a houseplant.

June

I keep mine in the front window of my house next to the front door and people are often curious about it, since you can clearly see the pit sitting above the soil at the base of the plant.  I’ve read that if an avocado houseplant bears fruit, it will take about 20 years.  My 22-year-old son joked that he is going to eat the first avocado that it produces, when he is 42!

August avocado

So, the next time you slice open an avocado, consider growing your own avocado tree.

 

Finding Time for Art

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Did you ever begin your homeschool year with grandiose plans for all of the art enrichment that you were going to include on top of your basic subjects?  I have, only to become overwhelmed and then discouraged, feeling that there was no way to fit it all in.  In the early elementary years, you are laying the foundation for skills in reading, math, etc. that you will build upon later.  Taking time away from those areas can make you feel guilty at times.  How can you find time for one without sacrificing the other?

pinkk flowers

  1. Farm it out. My children have taken inexpensive (and free) art classes at co-op, museums and our local library.  Some of these activities fall outside of school hours.  The ones that interfere with our typical school day don’t feel like interference when I know that there is the added benefit of getting my kids out of the house to spend time with other children.  If you don’t want to sign up for a long-term commitment where you will be obligated to be there every week, consider classes at your library, which can often be signed up for one session at a time, when it fits into your schedule that week.
  2. Link it to another subject that you are studying. The history curriculum that we use suggests art projects to go along with the chapter that we are studying that week.  This year, we reached a chapter on the Renaissance, and decided it was the perfect time to pause in our book and dedicate some time to learning about some great Renaissance-period artists.  I have some artist biographies, art cards and fine art pages that I have been hoarding for the day that I had time to use them, and I went through and found what was applicable to the time period.  We chose one artist per week, read a biography, viewed examples of their art, and watched YouTube videos about the artist.  When we finished studying all of the artists that we had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and enjoyed doing it.
  3. Take a field trip to a museum. Field trips are a great way to add fine art appreciation to your homeschool.  I feel this works best if you have already learned something about the artist whose work you are viewing or the subject matter of the art.  On the other hand, it can also be the jumping off point to spend some time studying the artist when you return home from your trip.
  4. Take advantage of weeks that tend to be less productive. A great time for fine art study is the week before a major holiday or the last week of school, when your children tend to be distracted or you have a lot of your plate.  One year, I found a free Kindle download of a picture study curriculum.  Paintings were provided to observe, discuss and answer questions about.  It kept them engaged while I did some holiday preparations and rounded out what otherwise would have been a short school day.

Don’t give up on those special subjects that you’d like to include in your day.  Be creative about it and you can make it happen!

 

Fine Art Study – The Renaissance

artist study 2

I have been hoarding artist study materials for a while, as this is something I really want to go over with my children, but often find that it gets put on the back burner.  They really enjoy it when we are able to make time for it, though, so I was glad to find an opportunity to utilize them recently.

We use The Story of the World as our history curriculum for our homeschool.  We are currently on Volume 2:  The Middle Ages.  When we reached the chapter about the Renaissance, I decided this would be the perfect time to incorporate some fine art study into our school year.

First, I pulled out our set of Memoria Press art cards, and picked out the ones that were appropriate for the time period.  We looked at the cards, read the information about the pieces, and discussed which we liked best and why.

Next, I chose some prominent Renaissance artists to focus on – Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt and Raphael.  I used this timeline to help me narrow the choices down.  I have biographies from the Great Artists Series by homeschool bits for each one, which also include links to online videos and activities about the artist.  We focused on one artist per class.  We read the biography together, answered the review questions, watched some of the links, and viewed examples of the artist’s work.  We used some of our art cards for this, as well as Enrichment Studies art pages (you can receive free art pages from them each month if you become a subscriber).  We also visited the Google Arts & Culture page.  One caution about the Google page – many of the pieces of art on it contain nudity.  My son is not a fan of Michelangelo as a result.  He said, “I understand him painting Adam and Eve naked, but King David wore clothes!”  Oh, well.

pinkk flowers

Another source that we used was a series on YouTube called Art with Mati and Dada.  We discovered it a while ago and my children really enjoy it.  We found the episode that went along with the artist we were reviewing that day and I let them finish the lesson by watching it.

When we finished studying all of the artists that I had selected, I picked some of the art cards that we had viewed and wrote the last name of each artist on index cards.  I laid both sets of cards out and had the children match the name of the artist to the art that they had created.  I was pleased to discover that they were able to match them up without much difficulty and had fun doing it.  We hung the matched sets up in our classroom afterward so they can continue to observe them.

I found that tying the study of art into our history lessons worked well.  I didn’t feel like I was taking time away another subject, but was enhancing it instead.

Edited to add:  If you will be studying Renaissance artists with your children next year, I just found out that Enrichment Studies will have a new study on that time period that will be available.  Each week will focus on one artist, and each day there will be a video about the artist and/or their work sent by email.  There will be coordinating Fine Art Pages to have on display in your home during that week as well.  It will give a short, daily dose of art appreciation that’s easy to find time for.

 

The Importance of Outdoor Education in a Digital World

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I grew up in a large city.  Swapping childhood stories with my husband, he was appalled when I explained that recess at the schools that I attended meant being released to an enclosed, asphalt yard.  I counted myself lucky that I actually had a backyard at home with trees and flowers.  Most of my friends only had a small square of grass in front of their house.  Needless to say, our exposure to nature was a bit limited.

Luckily, the private school that I went to recognized this need.  We had an environmental education program in grades 4 through 6, where we got to stay at a campground for a few days in the fall and the spring.  I recently asked some old schoolmates about it, and found that they have as many treasured memories of the experience as I do.

Unlike me, my children are growing up in a more rural area.  They have much more experience with nature than I did.  Even so, when we went camping for our family vacation this year, and completely disconnected from electronics (no TV, cell phones, or other devices), my children were even more engaged with the world around them than normal.  Some of the things that we did were:

  • Identified leaves and plants that we found
  • Learned about wildlife that was native to the area
    • Learned the differences between venomous and non-venomous snakes
    • Learned how to identify raptors in flight
  • Collected leaves, ferns, etc. and made charcoal rubbings and sketches in nature journals
  • Observed and felt moss growing
  • Found a bird’s nest
  • Saw the natural growth and decay of the forest
  • Learned how to build a fire and cook over it
  • Practiced carving wood
  • Collected pine resin and learned some uses for it

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My son actually remarked that he thought life was better without TV!  Being outside without the distractions of modern society allows for more intimacy with nature and with each other.  We interact more fully with each other.  It inspires awe.  It demands use of all of the senses and strengthens observation skills.  Navigating on uneven terrain helps to develop core strength and a sense of balance.  Self-directed learning occurs naturally in the outdoors, as children ask questions about the world around them.

In my son’s case, I’ve watched his confidence grow as he is now able to answer some of his younger sister’s questions.  Sometimes, he can even answer mine, when he shares a tidbit that he has learned from his father.

Of course, we can’t camp all the time, but now that it is spring, we often finish up our school day with a walk.  I ask them to point out any signs of spring that they notice and it is fun to witness the progression from day to day.  The exercise, fresh air, and connection with nature is calming and has pretty much the opposite effect on them that screen time does.  Screens have their place in our lives, but they cannot replace time spent outdoors, which meets a need that seems to be instilled in us from our Creator, to recognize our part in His creation.

 

“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;

Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;

And the fish of the sea will explain to you.

Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing,

And the breath of all mankind?”  – Job 12:7-10