Intentional Breaks in the Homeschool Routine

“A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY”
― Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World

Blue Bird
Slowing down provides time to create, to play. This is a picture I painted on such an occasion.

 

For a long time, I have been intrigued with the idea of scheduling one’s homeschool year six weeks on, one week off, providing intentional breaks. Unfortunately, I’ve almost always been stressing about what we’re not getting done that I feel as though I can’t take a break. Truly, a sign I needed a break. For a long time, I was trying to help a student who was struggling, I felt like I had to keep pressing forward, only to cause myself extra stress.

This year our routine is different because my one of my children is in school in a brick-and-mortar school. He is thriving. His confidence is growing. So many good things are happening for him.

I drop him off most days. I’ve fit in one month of working out consistently to see if it would help improve my health in the areas of sleep and headaches. It feels like it eats a chunk out of our school day, but I am resolved to try it. We get home and begin our school (academic) block between then and the school’s pick up time.

I told my other two who are still being homeschooled that we will do school on all the days that child is in school, and the days he has off, we will have off as well.

Today was the first day he has had off since we started.

Throughout the day, I have felt the sense of relief that today was a day off. I had some ideas in my mind of things we could do–an art project with chalk and egg tempura paint–if the day went that way. I held the idea loosely.

Instead we visited with grandma. We watched Minecraft idea videos, they played Minecraft, we watched episodes of Fixer Upper, and I knitted the final stitches on a boot cuff, only to have to rip out ten rows.

At the same time, it was still relaxing. I wasn’t worrying about spelling, math, writing, or anything else.

I made a nutritious supper, and sat down and ate it with my kiddos.

I swept a couple floors, wiped down a bathroom and gave the youngest a bath, then I told the chores that it’s not their turn.

I think it helped that I listened to a podcast about this topic just yesterday, and the ideas were fresh in my mind.

I played three games with my kids on the floor and read a story book we had never read before: The Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Diane Arnold.

We enjoyed each other’s company.

I wasn’t stressing over the must do’s.

That’s just it! That’s what intentional breaks do for us. Like any homeschooling parent, I am carrying the wellbeing of my children, the housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, addressing any health concerns, all the errands and appointments—as well as my children’s education.

Where does my wellbeing fit into it? Where does it fit in that my children experience mom having fun with them without the stress of having to finish all the lessons? Yes, homeschooling is fun at many moments, but not without me carrying the checklist on my shoulders.  My wellbeing suffers. Our relationships can suffer.

I picked up a book for a few minutes that I have been trying to read for my own health benefits by Dr. John R. Lee. Chapter 9 is called Tried Adrenals Equals a Tired Woman. The action points at the end of the chapter say, “Get enough sleep and play time.” Get enough play time. What a revolutionary idea! Yet our kids know how to play!

I know that I forget to play. I say, “I will do it when I’m done with___. “ And it never happens. Unless I schedule it in, or just stop what I’m doing. Our children even beg us at times to stop and do—fill-in-the-blank. So often, in following our child’s lead we can keep from being too stodgy. This evening it was my son asking me to go outside with him while he selected twigs for a craft project. Those were some of the best moments of the day with him.

The intentional breaks build in a space to address things that aren’t school related, which translates to lessened stress. Even more, it gives me down time.

It gives my children and me time to just be us, enjoying each other’s company. It gives us space for activities that are just for the sake of spending time together and being interested in each other and our interests. It builds morale. It fills our emotional buckets.

Even on school days, building in pieces of this is important. One day this week we took our school work to a local coffee shop. We sat on the coffee shop patio for most of our visit because the weather was warm and sunny. This one gesture—and the hot chocolate—gave my daughter the boost to try and to keep working when she would have felt like shutting down. She just needed something to look forward to.

I see myself growing and making progress as a mom, as a person. I’m learning so much from my children. They are, in so many ways, my greatest teachers. Having the one child in school and offloading the dynamics of his education into the capable hands of his teacher has given me perspective to see when I need to step back, or approach him differently. And now, this added bonus of build in days off.

I would like to say that I will take the break weeks we need for the rest of this year. It will take a little strategy since I’m juggling two at home and one in school. I know my tendency is to power though when I need to slow down. Yet, I am thankful for today. I’m grateful for the tangible evidence that a true break day provided.

If you can relate to this, I want to encourage you to see where you can fit in the down time you need, or to find help if you have a struggling student. It doesn’t mean that a brick-and-mortar school will be the solution, although it could be. Or it could just be taking break time, on purpose. Time for spending with your kids just as mom or dad. Time for you to take a step back in whatever way you need, even for a few days. Time to tackle a project that has been stressing you that will clear some mental space—as long as you don’t crowd out the relationships.

I want to encourage you to enjoy your children without putting an agenda on them. Spend time with them. See where their interests can lead, even for a day. What games would they enjoy playing with you? What book is waiting to be discovered together? What hiking path is begging for the patter of feet taking a respite from the humdrum of check boxes? Take time to breath, the rejuvenate, to bask in each other’s companionship!

How to Get Your Ducks Across the Road (or, The Best Money I Spent on Science)

ducks.jpg

 

“Where’s your younger brother?!?” I asked my two oldest kids.

“I don’t know.”

“I bet he’s in the spare bathroom with the ducks!”

We race down the basement stairs, and sure enough, the kindergartner is holding a Mallard duckling and cuddling it.

Having never had pets before, we were all a little apprehensive of picking up and cuddling the ducklings.

We had four of them. We got them from a local feed mill, and purchased all the things we would need: a drinker, feeder, duckling feed, pine shavings, and a heat lamp. We put them in the spare bathroom in a Sterilite bin.

Every morning and evening we changed the bedding, filled the drinker, checked the feeder.

In the middle of the night, I would go down and check that the ducklings weren’t too warm–panting and out of breath–or too cold–shivering.
Sometimes we’d hear them peeping loudly, and went to check on them. Sure enough, they were thirsty. How these little creatures could drink so much water was incredibly fascinating!

These darling little creatures would huddle up together and bury their beaks under their wings. They were not yet feathered, and so they were unable to regulate their temperatures.

Each week they got a little bigger. They drank so much water. They ate through their food. On warm days we let them outside and walked around the yard with them.

One day when we took them outside, we could see color coming into their wings. Their feathers were slowly emerging, and color with it.

When we took a trip out of town, we recruited a neighbor to take care of them.

When we returned, they were bigger.

By this time they were jumping out fo the bin at night and we had to get a taller bin. Not long after, we started to keep them outside at night in the coop.

By day we let them wander, free-range, around the yard. Before dusk fell, they would come waddling up to the cage, or we’d have to round them up. We filled their water and their food, and tucked them in for the night.

In the morning, whomever was up first went outside and opened the coop door. We kept a wading pool filled with water. The ducks came waddling out of the cage. They puffed out their fronts and flapped their wings, and took a dive in the pool.

Observing these ducks up close, every day from the day we got them at ten days old until they matured gave us a completely different perspective on ducks.

We would read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, or as the five-year-old called it, “How to Get Your Ducks Across the Road.”

“Funny,” we mused, “the author says the ducklings said ‘quack,’ but they don’t quack until they are much older. They say ‘peep’ when they are little.”

Spoiler alert, this paragraph is a little sad. As they grew older, they sometimes exerted their own opinions. One night they did not want to go back in the coop. The next morning there was one fewer. We were diligent to put them in at night, but the reality is that there are predators in the area, unlike the modern movies that portray all animals getting along superbly. We lost two more ducks later. It was heartbreaking. We had conversations about this being the way the animal kingdom really is.

The weeks went on. We played with duck and took him on our adventures around the yard. Soon he was taking off on adventures of his own. Some days he was gone all day, and came back only at bedtime. Sometimes we went out to put him in the coop and he showed us he wasn’t done flying around–yet.

We taught him to eat from our hand, We sat outside and read to him. The youngest child chased him. If we were careful, he would let us come up close and talk to us in quacks. We watched him eyeing insects and stick his neck out to catch the bug in his beak. We had fewer ticks and mosquitoes than we ever did.

This duck was probably the one that had hypothermia once as a duckling. We nursed it back to health and warmed and cuddled it until it was well. I think it made a difference on making it to adulthood.

One evening, when it was time to take duck to the coop, we noticed that he had not returned, and there was still daylight. Ducks don’t come and say good-byes. The robins were leaving and heading South for the winter, and now it was Duck’s turn.

In the future, we hope to raise ducks again. This time we will know how to cuddle them when they are small. We learned from the ducks how to care for the ducks. Now we know how.

Amazingly, it is possible to be in love with a few ducks! And, it was the best money on science I ever spent!

The Knitting Thrill

On a lovely afternoon in September, we head to the park. School has let out for the day. After driving to the school and picking up my oldest, we went home. The boys started wrestling in the living room and begging for screen time. “Forget this,” I thought. I rounded up the kids and went to the closest park.
Here the sun is shining, the temperature is warm but mild, and there is a light breeze.
As the kids head to the play equipment, I make myself comfortable on a bench. I brought a few books to read, one for fun, others that are part of my job. I should read the curricula manuals for tomorrow’s lessons, but instead, I pull out a zippered bag and take out my knitting.
A year ago, I had not picked up knitting needles in ages. My daughter said she wanted to make a finger-knit scarf. I explained to her that it would take a long time to finger-knit a scarf scarf, so I pulled out the needles again–actually, I just bought a new pair–and began working on a scarf.
Three scarves later, I decided I would make one for myself. I began exploring cable knit scarves, and patterns. Patterns were a thing I had always shied away from. It seemed like it would be hard to follow one. But in the process of making three scarves, some of the techniques became clear in my mind, and now I felt ready for the challenge. I came across a pattern for boot cuffs, and I began on a journey I didn’t know I could take.
If you are not somebody who knits, this next litte part might not make much sense, but bear with me.
In order to make the boot cuffs I had to make ribbing for the base of the cuff. When the ribbing was finished, I had to increase the row ten stitches before beginning on the design, so I had to learn how to knit front and back on a a single stitch to increase a stitch. For the desigh, I had to follow a set of stitches that were set out in specific order. Keeping track of which row was which proved tricky for the first three cuffs. By the time I began a fourth cuff for a third pair, the pattern was much clearer in my mind. The next three cuffs were a lot less difficult and came out a lot neater.
Overcoming the challenge of seeing what I was knitting in my mind’s eye, and the way the pattern flowed in my mind gave me a sense of exhilaration.
Then it happened again. Before I finished one pair, I knew what the next pair would be. I was at the yarn shop near the school, when a button caught my eye. I was here for a wooden button as the finishing touch for the third pair, and this button was close by. It was an etched metal button with a swan. “Emma,” I thought, and just like that, instead of spending One dollar and seventy five cents on two wooden button, I spent almost seven dollars so that I could have a pair of etched metal buttons with swans on them for a pair of boot cuffs for a dear sister. Before I had the finishing touches on a pair I was wrapping up, I had the next project lined up.
It must be this last element that makes knitting so addicting. In an age where handicrafts have become a hidden talent in a world where these skills have all but disappeared, there is a thrill that comes with making something by hand, giving it to a person who can see the beauty, and feeling the delight that someone is walking around wearing an accent that brightens up their wardrobe–and I mde it!
As I head into Autumn, I anticipate sitting by the fireplace, listneing to a good audiobook and knitting boot cuffs that will spread a little love and cheer to the dear people who receive them!Boot cuffs

Inspired by Wyoming

 

The summer morning air was cold. I climbed out of my sleeping bag, unzipped the tent and stepped out into the brisk air, and as I did, I watched my breath. One would not have guessed it was August. I settled into feeling awake with a blanket around my shoulders and made my way to the campfire shared by our tent neighbors, medical students who came out to observe the eclipse and climb the Tetons. The first thing we did was to make coffee, and snuggle by the fire with our warm drinks in hand, and the glowing light of the morning sun on the buttes beyond Wind River.

Waking up at a KOA, one in DuBois, Wyoming, (said Doo-boyce) and the other in West Yellowstone Montana, I experienced that wonderful sensation that although it was summer, the morning felt like a cold fall day. The weather warmed up as the day went on, of course, but each day began with cold morning air.

We returned home after our trip. August turned to September, our school year began, and before I knew it, January came with its sub-zero temperatures. Most of the time I stay in the house on those cold days. But as they say in Denmark, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. So I took my kids out sledding even on the coldest days.

Now it is nearly a year later, and when I step out into the cold December air, and look at the light, my thoughts sound something like this: There is still more light that we are soaking in outside on an overcast day than there is sitting inside in a well-lit room. There is more vitamin D to take in outside and sunlight in the morning helps reset our circadian rhythm. It may be cold, but even if it is only twenty minutes, sitting outside in the cold with a hot cup of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, there are benefits to be had. It’s a chance to slow down, to take in the beauty of today, and to catch up with my thoughts before I step back in to the demands in my life.

So take the time to go outside with your hot drink, soak in the sunshine—even if it is overcast, and enjoy happy thoughts in the middle of the business of your life!

Sledding with Hot Cup of Coffee

Yes, you read that right! This morning I went sledding with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. And it was marvelous!

Don’t do this if you’re a kid.

Don’t do this if you feel it is unsafe, because it basically is.

But I tried it.

I think I’m intrigued by the thrill of taking outdoor winter sports and turning it into another kind of adventure.

I held my cup between two fingers so that the cup could swing with the motion and  not spill. I was alone on the sled. I held the cup away from me over the snow. And the hill isn’t super big, and I’m an adult and can navigate the sled well.

It was fun being out in the cold with the cool air on my face and snow all around me (the meager dusting that we got, if you can say that is “all around me.”) and it is nice having a warm cup in my hands in the cold.

I went down twice. I drank a sip at the bottom of the hill as the sled slowed down.

It was really fun!

At the top of the hill, I sat down on the sled, my coffee in hand. The tree branches overhead creating a lacy shade. The dusting of snow   before me all down the hill.

With my other hand I pushed off, and away I went down the hill, the breeze in my face, the exhilaration of adventure, cold air and cold snow around me, warm coffee in my hand, the steam rising.

The speed of the sled on the snow, the thrill of experiencing the morning: coffee, pajamas, “baked potato” jacket, warm boots, winter around me. Down the hill I went, then sliding to a stop. Sip of coffee. Yum.

Happiness envelops me, a smile spreads across my face. Fun. Beautiful, exhilarating fun. Let’s do that again! And I do.

If only I could keep the coffee hot longer out in the cold. If only a little more snow. I could do this for another hour or two.

My boys are sledding down the hill too, not with coffee. The sound of their laughter warms my soul. I still feel like a kid inside when I’m out here sledding. And Coffee is cozy. Two cozy things, coffee and sledding, and it makes for an experience of its own!

 

 

All in the spirit of being cozy in cold weather!

A Good Summer Day

Sandwich 1.JPGToday I got up at quarter to six and took my daughter out for coffee.

We ate muffins and sandwiches. We drank coffee and hot cocoa. We played with Lego.

 

We asked “what would you do if…?” questions.

Where would you live if you could live anywhere?

If you could live in any kind of house, what would it be like? ]

If you could drive any kind of car, what would it be?

What historical landmark would you most like to visit?

If you could go to any country, which country would it be?

 

I am happy the coffee shop has the set of cards with questions like this. It opens up conversation.

I love that my daughter’s answer to the car question was a Limousine!

 

I came home and had another cup of coffee with my husband before he headed off to work.

I took a little time to think about some curricula options for the coming school year—one of my cousin’s kids are starting school today! That’s too soon for me!—so I put a little thought into it.

And moved on.

 

I took two kids to a summer activity.

I spent the rest of the morning with my oldest. We went to the Post Office, the grocery store for tuna, and to the Library. We had a nice time.

 

I picked up the kids. They watched a Boxcar Children movie while I made lunch.

 

We had tuna sandwiches and fruit.

 

To me, this is a very nice summer day.

 

If only it was just these nice things!
There is still the child who refuses to eat the sandwich because it’s tuna.
There’s the siblings picking on each other. “He’s looking at me.”
There’s feeling like maybe I want to not have to think about school ever.

These things are real. If you live life with real people there are always things.

But despite that, today is a good day.

Summer isn’t Over!

IMG_3590.JPGAugust has hit. Everybody is talking about going back to school. And every time they do, I want to cringe.

I am not ready to start back into school. I don’t have a plan this year by now, like I usually do.

We have always had a structure in place that has given us some context. “Ancient history this year, and astronomy,” for instance. This year that structure is in our rearview mirror and we are moving into a different context. And it has a lot of wiggle room.

On top of that, as summer was just beginning we were hit with a bunch of expenses. A boatload of car repairs all at once. An emergency room visit. Learning therapy for one of the kids. We already have two kids in braces.

It happens that this year is our tenth wedding anniversary and this year we have been anticipating going to California to celebrate.

So, I have spent the summer finding every way I can think of to pinch more and more pennies so we can go to California.

Then I remember the school year. I want to buy things for the school year that all added up would be quite expensive. I could easily spend all the vacation money on school supplies. Maybe I don’t need all those things. But they would be really

Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you don’t feel ready for the school year to start. Despite the enthusiasm that seems to be crawling out of cyberspace saying it’s time to start, maybe you feel like summer isn’t over and there is more to enjoy.

So for now, I’m going to shove the school planning back across the desk, get up, walk outside with a good book and go read for fun.