The Spice of Life

By now I imagine you’ve amassed quite a pile of books and curriculum as you get ready for another great year of homeschooling. There’s nothing like the sight of all those new materials to get the enthusiasm going.

But the books that look so inviting in August are often less loved by November. The fact is that for both kids and parents, homeschooling can become boring if you just rely on a set curriculum.

It took me a while to figure that out. As I said in The Imperfect Homeschooler’s Guide to Homeschooling,

Like many people, I began homeschooling by imitating the schools of my youth. I bought a boxful of curriculum, divided it into daily assignments, and taught my kids right out of those books.

And there wasn’t anything especially bad about that, except that after the initial excitement wore off, my kids started to get bored. Instead of being excited about doing school, they ranked it right down there with making their beds and setting the table-something we have to do, so let’s get it over with.

That was not in my game plan. I didn’t want them to be bored. I was bored in school, and I still recalled how bad that felt. I wanted my kids to enjoy school.

What I soon realized was that while they might have been bored with school, my kids still loved learning. They enjoyed visiting museums. My daughter read through stacks of books without my telling her to do so. And my son drew beautiful, detailed pictures that were not assigned by me.

I even became bored by the assignments I was teaching the kids, and it must have been around that time that I came up with the idea of playing store. I labeled some items in our pantry (using prices written on sticky notes), then dug up all the spare change I could find.

I became the storekeeper, and the kids became the shoppers. They’d choose an item from the pantry and pay me for it. Often I had to make change for them. Soon they were buying more than one item at a time and figuring out how much they owed me. Before long, they started taking turns being the store-keeper. This became a game they enjoyed for a long time, but I think I probably learned the most from that experience, because I saw that homeschooling didn’t have to be boring, like formal school was for me as a child.

This success led me to become more creative with our homeschooling…..(read the rest of the chapter HERE)

The moral of the story? Enjoy those books, and take advantage of that carefully crafted curriculum. But make sure you don’t spend the whole day with them. Provide your kids with plenty of time for creative learning, independent learning and free play. As the old saying goes, “Variety is the spice of life.” Keep that in mind, and your children will learn more, and have fun at the same time.

A Great Way to Spend a Summer Afternoon

A Mother and Her Baby Boy Take a Nap Together by Joel Sartore
A Mother and Her Baby Boy Take a Nap Together

When I was a child, I spent a lot of summer days at my grandmother’s house. One of her unbreakable rules was that everyone had to take a nap after lunch. I remember saying, “Someday my kids won’t have to take naps!” I imagine I usually muttered that shortly before drifting off.

But once I had children, I found that I loved naps more than I could ever have imagined. After a morning of playing out in the summer sun and heat, the kids were tired, I was tired, and everybody enjoyed a siesta in the cool house during the heat of the early afternoon. After naptime, all of us felt good!

It was Dorothy Moore who helped me get my kids into the nap habit from the time they were tiny. Here’s what she had to say in the book that introduced me to homeschooling, Home-Grown Kids:

There is both research and clinical evidence that children who do not either nap or have at least an hour of very quiet rest time during the day are not able to get to sleep as well at night. Because they are overtired, they do not sleep as well when they do get to sleep. They are restless and more susceptible to bad dreams. This poor quality of nighttime sleep makes them vulnerable to fatigue again the next day. A vicious cycle is established, and then parents wonder why the children are excitable, irritable, hyperactive, and difficult to handle.

One benefit she didn’t mention is what it does for moms! Either you get a chance to renew your energy with a lovely nap, or you get a bit of time alone for reading, exercising, or doing something else you want to do. I believe naps were a huge factor in my being able to raise and homeschool four lively kids for many years without losing my marbles.

As the kids got older, we changed the name from naptime to peace-and-quiet time. The rule for the older kids became, “You don’t have to sleep, but you have to do something quietly in your room.” It was good for everyone to either sleep or have some alone time. Afterwards, they’d have a snack and run out to play, refreshed and ready for fun.

So if naps aren’t already a part of your family’s summer routine, try snuggling with your toddler on the bed in the heat of the afternoon for a little while. Suggest that your older child lie down for a bit with a good book. It’s a great way to keep cool, and to renew your energy for the rest of the day. We don’t have any napping kids in our house anymore, but I’m known for occasionally flaming out for a while in my favorite chair. Unlike the four-year-old me, I think naps are awesome!

Finding Ideas, Not Discouragement

With the renaissance of homeschooling in the early 1980s came a trickle, and then a flood, of books and magazines about homeschooling.

These were eagerly read by homeschooling parents wanting to know how others were teaching their children, because there weren’t many homeschoolers around to talk with.

Today, reading about how other families homeschool their children is almost too easy. There are more magazines and books than ever, plus countless blogs on the Internet where parents reveal every last detail of their homeschooling journeys, or so it seems.

There’s a very real danger here, however. With so much personal revelation out there, it’s way too easy to compare your family and your homeschooling experience to others. This is not a good thing!

You can always find someone whose homeschooling experience sounds far more successful than your own. It’s way too tempting to think, “We have so many struggles, and after reading about this family, it’s obvious that I’m in over my head in this homeschooling thing. Her kids are doing so many wonderful projects, and I have to fight to get mine away from the video games to do anything. I give up!”

The fact is that every family is different, and no family can imitate another and come up with the same results. It’s not fair to compare another family to yours: different kids, different parents, different financial situations.

When you read about other homeschooling families, try to think about which of their ideas would work for your family instead of imitating everything they do in a misguided attempt to “succeed.”

Besides, homeschooling success is defined in many different ways. For one child, it’s getting to college on a full scholarship. For another, it’s making his or her way in the world on their own. For a few, like my teenage son, it’s functioning to the best of your abilities despite multiple disabilities.

So go ahead, read all the homeschooling books and magazines and surf homeschoolers’ blogs. Visit the Carnival of Homeschooling each week. Glean as many great ideas as you think might work for your family. Discard those that turn out to be wrong for your family. And always keep in mind that there’s no one right way to homeschool. The beauty of homeschooling is that it can be tailored to each family, each child, and each parent.

The Young Teen in Your House

In His Solitude by Charly Palmer
In His Solitude

Little kids love summer. Big kids love summer. But what about teens?

My kids looked forward to every summer until they became teens, and then everything changed. Suddenly, running through the sprinkler just didn’t thrill them anymore.

I was used to them rising early to run out and play with their friends. But once the teen years hit, they’d sleep later and later, completely missing summer mornings and sometimes needing to be called for lunch.

I remember worrying that my older son would suffocate in his room. By 11 am, he was still sound asleep with the window shut tight while the sun heated up that end of the house. My attempts to rouse him were greeted by growls, as though he were a confused bear who thought he was still hibernating through the winter.

Once conscious, he’d stumble downstairs, where the hunger that had built up over 12 or 13 hours of sleep made him eat as though he’d gone days without food. His enormous breakfast would segue into lunch with the rest of us, and he kept on eating. Then he’d head outside to play basketball with friends for the afternoon, come home in time to eat an enormous dinner, and play on the computer before lapsing back into his night-time coma.

I learned from friends with older children that this was actually par for the course for growing teen boys. Looking back, it makes sense to me now. After all, it takes a lot of rest and nourishment to grow to 6″ 4″ and wear a size 16 shoe! But at the time, I was quite mystified.

Do you have a young teen in your house this summer? Are you mystified by some of the things you’re seeing him or her do? As teens’ bodies change, their emotions and behaviors change, too. Learn more about how to live with your teen in my free Special Report, “Ten Tips for Coping with Temperamental Teens.”

Your Friends and Homeschooling

How’s it going with your non-homeschooling friends? Do they get what you’re doing? Do they think you’re crazy? Or are they just drifting away……?

A dear friend of mine and I lost our friendship over homeschooling. It wasn’t that she was mad at me for choosing to homeschool, and I doubt that she felt guilty that she wasn’t doing it. Those are the usual reasons that friends split up over homeschooling, at least from what I’ve heard. No, my friend was thrilled to put her kids in school and go back to a job she loved and missed while staying home while the kids were little. I think we just drifted apart because I was so busy having babies and homeschooling them while she was busy working and going back for more education.

Now we just send Christmas cards to each other. As far as I can tell, her kids have grown up fine, and everyone is doing well. I’m happy for her. But do I miss her?

A little. I guess I’m just more comfortable with the homeschooling crowd. They get me. They get what my life is like. And I get them.

To make things even better, being a homeschool mom means finding new friends all over the place. I meet them at conferences, when I speak to support groups, and online. No matter how they homeschool (Charlotte Mason, traditional, unschooling, etc.), we have the joy of homeschooling our kids in common.

So don’t be blue if homeschooling has put some distance between you and the friend(s) you used to hang out with. You’re in a different season of your life, and that may call for new friends. They’re out there waiting to meet you. Why not find a local support group or an online group* and start making new friends?

* I highly recommend The Homeschool Lounge!