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Homeschooling through the Tough Times

image provide by contextualfeed.com

image provide by contextualfeed.com

A parent loses a job.  Someone close to the family passes away.  Love strikes a family member like lightning–a flash that is gone quicker than it came, leaving heartache and tears in its wake.  Wind blows the roof off the house.  Illness sneaks in.

Things happen.  Bad things.  But when we choose to homeschool our children, sometimes it is necessary to soldier on.  It is difficult.  Sometimes it feels impossible.  We just want to give up, give in, lay down, and let the world roll over us.  It’s hard to concentrate on teaching a lesson, which makes it hard for the littles to soak that lesson in.  Suddenly, your entire learning experience is in upheaval.  How do you handle it?

Prioritize

The first thing you should do, after an appropriate amount of time off to grieve, handle the stress, or get the job completed, is think about what is most important when you get back to the classroom (or dining table or blanket outside).  If your state has laws about what has to be done throughout your school day, figure out the bare minimum you can get by with and stick to that schedule for a few weeks or even months until you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Adding a bit of structure to your littles’ days will help them deal with the stress, too.  So none of you may be up to 4-8 hours of education right now.  Try to set aside 2 hours of a lighter load.  I’m a firm believer that littles should practice math daily.  Writing practice is also essential.  So if you are just too stressed or sad to teach in-depth lessons, print out some math worksheets for them to work on by themselves.  Find some copywork or notebooking pages for them to do.  Grab a list of writing prompts and give them their head.  Then read together.  Read Anything.  Fiction, nonfiction, comedy, adventure.  A lighter load can make such a difference in your healing process.  It can also take one less stress off your mind.  And remember, you can turn any moment into a teachable moment, so count those as part of your school day, too.  As long as your littles are still learning something, you are doing a fine job.

Here are some great sites to find those things:

Math worksheets

Reading comprehension

Writing prompts

Notebooking

Be Flexible

Especially if you’re grieving, it can be hard to make yourself get out of bed and do things.  On those days, take the day off.  If you have a bad Wednesday, make up for it on Saturday.  If you have a bad morning, make it up in the evening.  If you have a bad week, tack a week on to the end of your scheduled year.  I have actually done this, and it worked out just fine.  Sometimes life gets in the way.  We work around it.  The glorious thing about homeschooling is that we don’t have to do it from 8-3, Monday through Friday, August through June.  We can do it whenever we want.  Be flexible With Yourself.  Allow yourself to work through the crisis without adding more to it.

But Be Consistent

Your littles, as I said before, need a sense of normalcy and a certain amount of structure will help with that.  If you let things drift too much or for too long, you are leaving your littles without an anchor.  Math every day.  Not too hard to accomplish.  Even when your patience is at an end, you can put together a basket of busywork and tell them to get to work.  Explain to them how you’re feeling (don’t try to hide it; kids are so much smarter than we think they are, and they See Everything), let them know it’s going to be a work-by-yourself day, whatever you have to do.  Just don’t leave them dangling for too long, wondering if they will ever have ‘school’ again.

Practice Patience

And I do mean practice.  Especially when we’re dealing with financial crises, our patience seems to have run out before we wake in the mornings.  It becomes easier to snap at people who have done nothing wrong.  Everything makes us angry.  This is the time when we have to learn to leave the room before we use our voices.  Walk away, take a breath, allow yourself a minute to think about what’s really bothering you.  Then take another breath.  Decide if what just made your temper snap really deserved the tongue-lashing that wanted to leap from your mouth.  Remember, they’re just little.  They have no intention of trying your patience during this difficult time.  Also, be patient with yourself.  We are so hard on ourselves.  We want to hurry up and get over this so we can move on.  But it doesn’t work that way.  Hard times have their own timetable and our desire to make them end sooner doesn’t change it one whit.  So don’t be disappointed when you are still sad after a couple of weeks, still stressed even after the roof has been fixed, still wondering where you’re going to come up with the money.  Be patient.  As my neighbor says, they can’t eat you.  It really will work out in its own time.

Seek Inspiration

Whether it be spiritual or just support from other homeschoolers.  Connect with peers, with blogs you love, your pastor, whoever will make you feel that spark again that got you homeschooling in the first place.  When I’m feeling blah, I like to go to my favorite craft sites and find something new to try with the Littles.  Whatever works for you, find that inspiration and soak it up.  You don’t even have to do anything with it.  Just reading about it might help you be better prepared to face tomorrow.  For spiritual inspiration, try Alive to Grace.  For spiritual homeschool inspiration, try A Homeschool Mom. To remember why you love being a parent, check out Mom Life Now. For a good belly laugh about parenting and homeschooling, go to Stories of Our Boys.  For really awesome craft ideas, look at The Crafty Classroom.  Come here.  Email me.  I promise to be here for you.  You never know when I might need you in return.

Take a break

At a homeschooling seminar I spoke at this year, a lovely young woman approached me and asked what to do about her preschool-age daughter, who seemed to balk at all of her lessons.  After sitting down with her for a while, I learned they had lost two very close loved ones that year, and there had been an inordinate amount of upheaval in their lives.  My advice to her was to stop pushing.  Her daughter was grieving.  She was grieving.  She needed to give them space to do that.  No one would expect that sweet little girl to care about learning her ABCs or handwriting just them.  The mother was worried she was failing in some way.  I told her to take a break.  Don’t push her daughter to do ‘schoolwork.’ Read with her, sing the alphabet with her, buy some of those great bath paints and let her make letters with her fingers.  I told her she would be surprised at the end of a couple of months how much her daughter had learned without scheduled, paper schoolwork.  If you have older littles and you decide to take a break, set some parameters.  Tell your kids you’re going to take a break, when you will be picking back up, and what you expect from them during the break.  That way they still have that sense of consistency.

Sometimes whatever the tough times are, they are just too tough.  Don’t push yourself or your littles to achieve a grand school year during those times.  Do what you can.  Give your family a break.  But do soldier on.  Don’t give up.  Don’t let the world roll over you.  There will be sunshine again, and you will be glad you didn’t send your kids back to school or shut down completely.  Because

Love wins,

KT

P.S.  My series 25 Days of Lit in Your Homeschool will pick up Monday with Day Four: Insects. 🙂

Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”

index

I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.

IMG_20150421_092923295

We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.

IMG_20150421_093022454

We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.

IMG_20150421_093033634

As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,

KT

Missing Out on Mythology

While perusing my many homeschool sources the other day, I read an article that disturbed me.  The author was listing some books she was using in her homeschool and she wrote that she had left one out (she didn’t mention the title) because it was a mythology book that wasn’t Christian-friendly.

I admit, I was a bit confused by this.  What book on mythology could possibly be Christian-friendly? was my first thought.  By definition, mythology books aren’t about Christianity.  They’re about the myths of other religions.  And at one time, the stories in them were considered as factual as we consider the Bible.  I understand completely that some parents might choose to leave certain things out of their curriculum because they are at odds with the family religion. What I don’tgreek arch understand is leaving out such a big chunk of human history because people no longer believe in it.  How is it possible to learn about Greek architecture without learning who all those statues and temples and relief sculptures represent?  How do we learn about Roman sculpture without learning about the religion that often inspired it?

Just as important, we shouldn’t keep our children from knowing these amazing stories.  The reason they have been passed down through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years are the same as for any good story.  They touch us, they teach us about human nature and human existence, they make us remember we are not alone.  Mythology is a rich part of our past.  Without it, to what can we compare Christianity or any modern religion?  When we don’t know where we have been, our path to where we are going is harder to navigate.  I have said this many times about all types of history, and really, at this point, that’s all mythology is.  History.  It doesn’t have to have a Christian bent.  It just has to teach us something.

I hope you, my dear readers, are secure enough in your beliefs to acknowledge that mythology does indeed have something to teach your children.  Otherwise, they are going to miss out on a lot of really engaging stories that will give you a starting point to teach them so many different things.  I mean, where else will you get the opportunity to say, “This is not what we believe, and here’s why,” without sounding like your arguing Against something instead For something?

Plus, it makesgreen myth teaching about the Greeks and Romans (and even the Celts) so much more fun.  Not for you.  For your littles.  Who just might learn a lesson better from a story than in any other way.

What are your thoughts on teaching mythology in your homeschool?  If you don’t do so for religious reasons, I would love to hear your rationale.  If you do, regardless of your belief system, let me know what made you decide to include it.  Either way, I will continue to include mythology in the Lit Mama Homeschool curricula.  Remember, the world wouldn’t be the same without it.

Love wins,

KT

My Other Obsession

Have I ever told you about my complete enthrallment with binders?  For any type of paper organization, I am a binder girl.  With the help of a good three-hole punch, nothing ever gets lost.  I keep track of my blog with a binder.  I keep track of my diet with a binder.  I keep track of my bills in a binder.

As a homeschooling mama, I utilize binders in lots of ways.  It can get expensive, but I’ve found that in this instance, garage sales are my friend.  I can usually find them for about 25 cents.  I once picked up a whole box of binders (had about 20 in it) for $2.  That’s the cost of One in the store!  I can’t tell you how I happy-danced back to the car.  Here’s why:

chemistry binder front chemistry binder inside

   We use binders to keep track of our worksheets, to do notebooking and lapbooking, to write vocabulary words and take notes, for everything from science to writing to reading to history.  It’s like having the whole class in one convenient place.

When we begin each class, the Littles just pull out their binders and turn to the next blank page or worksheet.  They don’t lose any information to the bottomless pits that can become of their book boxes.  If we have to refer back to something for some reason, we can easily find it.  If I decide to test their memories with a quiz, they know where to look to study.

twist binder front

This is a pic of our Oliver Twist study guide binder.  The book is long and there is a lot to be gleaned from it, so the study guide is over 200 pages.  It’s packed with vocab and study questions and directions for activities, such as crafts, art projects, geography studies, and even some health and social studies projects.  It’s wonderful to just be able to open it to the next chapter and have it sitting in front of them while they read the book.

little twist binderOf course, we finished Oliver Twist today (a little early; we read three chapters.  None of us could wait till next week to read the end!), so this binder will be filed away with the others we’ve filled over the years, on a shelf in their bedroom where all that knowledge is at their fingertips and in their own handwriting!  That’s my favorite part about using a binder–once you’re done, everything you’ve learned stays protected in one ‘handy-dandy notebook.’ (A Blue’s Clues reference they are still somehow young enough to appreciate! haha)

I can’t sing the praises of binders for homeschool families enough.  If you’re like me and you love the use of worksheets AND notebooking AND lapbooking, you can keep it all in one convenient place.  We hole-punch construction paper for lapbooking and just add it to the binder.  A little different from the file folders we started out in, but actually neater, too.

If you can’t afford binders, or have a class that just doesn’t require all that space, the next best thing is a 3-prong folder.

art history binder insideYou know, those folders you can get at Walmart for 15 cents during the back-to-school sales.  We’re using this one for art history this year.  As you can see, we even use lapbook elements in the middle of our notes sometimes.

It took me about a year to realize I could incorporate my binder obsession into our homeschool, and another year until it became the way I keep Everything organized.  Even my school calendars and curriculum plans.  The only thing we don’t use binders for these days is math, which we do in plain old notebooks.  I wish I would have used binders sooner.  So I’m hoping you’ll like the idea and use it as well.  Because if I can help make things easier for you, then I’m a happy binder-lady.

Do you have a tool that seems obvious but that most people might not think about implementing?  If so, share it with me.  I like my life to be made easier too!

Love wins,

KT

P.S.  If you’re wondering about the little scraps of paper on the binders in the pics, well, they’re covering up a name of course!  They come off for school work. 🙂