• My affiliate links won't hurt you, but they might help feed my kids. See my full disclosure policy in the main menu.

Breaking… Bad

Have I ever told you about the time my glasses broke?  No?  You’re going to laugh at me.

That’s ok.  Go ahead.

Notice how the arms are two different colors

Notice how the arms are two different colors

See, I haven’t worn glasses for very long.  Well, I take that back.  I’ve always had astigmatism and needed glasses for it, but it never affected my ability to read so I Didn’t Wear my glasses.  But about 3 years ago I received a magazine in the daily mail.  I cuddled up on the couch to read it cover to cover.  I opened the magazine to the first article.  I couldn’t see the words.  I moved the magazine closer to my face.  It got worse.  I held it at arm’s length.  That was a little better, but have you ever seen how small the font is in a magazine article?  Yeah, I noticed it that day.

So back to the eye doctor I went.  Turns out I had become far-sighted.  Like, bad.  I had been compensating for I don’t know how long by holding books at arm-length, making the font bigger on my Kindle… If it hadn’t been for that magazine that wouldn’t come into focus no matter what I did, I might never have realized something was wrong with my eyes.  But I did, and I got the glasses.  They were a miracle.  Of course, I can’t walk 10 steps in them but I Can Read Again.  So since I only needed them for reading, I bought a cute little chain and wore them around my neck like any good librarian would.  And I cuddled up on the couch to read again.  And I didn’t have to guess what the words were again.  And I Loved My Glasses.

Until they broke.

I learned something about myself that day.  You’re about to be let it on it.

I was sitting in a chair in the living room.  My beautiful husband was in the chair next to me.  My littles were playing loudly in another part of the house.  I was working on the computer, planning school work.  I looked up, and removed my glasses from my face, intending to let them dangle on their cute little chain.  Dangle they did.  From one arm.  Because the other had broken.  Off.  It was on one side, the rest of my glasses on the other.  Dangling.

When the main part of my glasses hit my chest, I looked down and gaped like a fish.  I swear, I wouldn’t have been more shocked if one of my fingers had spontaneously fallen off.  I just stared for several seconds with a completely shut down brain.  My internal feed went something like this:

That doesn’t look right.  (I think my glasses just broke.)

Um, what do I do now?  (I think my glasses just broke.)

What the hell just happened? (I think my glasses just broke.)

I can’t see.  I can’t see without those.  (I think my glasses just broke.)

Oh. my. god.

My glasses just broke and without them

I CAN’T READ.

At some point during this inner diatribe I had jumped to my feet, a piece of my glasses in each hand.  I faced my beautiful husband.  I must have looked like a mad banshee.  My mouth moved but no sound came out.  I held out the broken pieces and…

Burst into wild, wracking sobs.  I am not kidding.  I am not exaggerating.  I bawled.  Martin did not know what to do with me.  “What is it?” he asked.

“I can’t read without them,” I wailed.  I honestly had to run to our bedroom, close the door, and have a few minutes to myself to get under control.  And as I took those deep breaths and pinched the bridge of my nose to stop the tears, I had to also face the truth I had just told myself.  It wasn’t about broken glasses.  It was about the importance of books.

I wondered if it wasn’t a little bit psycho, this reaction to losing my ability to read.  I can drive down the street without my glasses.  I can read facial expressions and body language without them.  I can fish a pond, watch a sunset, enjoy a picnic, all without my glasses.  I just can’t read without them.  And when they broke, you might as well have locked me in a dark room for the rest of my life for all the good my eyes would do me.

Franken-glasses

Franken-glasses

It’s kind of a deep thing to learn about yourself.  A life-flashing-before-your-glasses kind of a thing.  Because before that crazy moment in time I knew reading was important to me but I had no idea it was That Important.  Life or Death Important.  Crazy Obsessed Important.

But I’m not ashamed. haha  In fact, I hope I am encouraging others (especially my littles) to be as insane about reading as I am.  And I’m grateful to my beautiful husband for taking apart another pair of glasses and temporarily fixing mine until I could replace them.  Because apparently the idea of not being able to read, even for an evening, is too much for me.  I hope it’s too much for you.  I hope reading is that important to everybody.

Otherwise, I’m not sure what it says about me.

Love wins,

KT

Why Your Littles Should Love Lit

Just in case you didn't believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur...

Just in case you didn’t believe I have over 100 books about King Arthur…

It is a breathtaking, sunny morning here.  The meadow is lit up golden, the birds are singing a symphony, the morning light is reflecting on the pond.  A sense of quiet calm drapes the countryside.  It’s got me doing a little reflecting myself.

I’m always telling you that you should engender a lifelong love of learning in your littles and giving you tips on how to go about doing that.  But maybe you should explain to your littles Why it is So Important for them to read.  And maybe you can’t articulate it so well.  It is a fact and you just know it, and putting the reasons into words eludes you. If so, let me try to do it for you. Maybe you don’t really understand why or maybe you’re one of those people who feels books aren’t really that important. If so, let me try to change your mind.

My crush on books started long before I could read.  My brother (who is almost 3 years my senior), my mother, and my father were all readers.  They set an example that I appreciate now more than I can put into words.  When I was 4, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked my brother to teach me to read.  The rest of this lifelong marriage is history.  I can still remember the first time I picked up a Raggedy Ann and Andy book in the library.  The second grade when I met Nancy Drew.  The very first book I read about the Arthurian legends in 6th grade. (In fact, I purchased that book–and the rest of the trilogy–when I reached adulthood and have read it many times since.  It is a magical tale called Guinevere by Sharan Newman.)  Ah… finding a dusty, cloth-bound copy of The Count of Monte Cristo in the middle school library.  My first Dickens (if you’ve been visiting this site long, you already know it was Great Expectations).

fairy and waterfall book

So I’ll give you your first reason for teaching a love of literature to your littles.  Clearly, judging by the paragraph above, books have lifelong impacts on us.  When I first started reading, it was the stories.  I was very young, with no experience in the world outside the walls of my own home.  Hearing and reading stories taught me what was going on Out There.  They taught me the possibilities of what Could Be going on Out There, and that I might see them if I squint my eyes and avert my gaze in just the right way.  I learned of fairies, elves, dolls that come to life, elephants, bears, squirrels, lions… You get it.  If you have any fond memories of a book you read as a child–or of hundreds like I do–then you know what that impact can do for a person.

Reading also provides us an escape from reality when things are tough.  And it doesn’t harm us by giving us that escape.  When things are going wrong and you know you can stop thinking about them for a while just by grabbing a good book and reading, you’re not destroying brain cells or inviting epilepsy.  It may sound odd, but reading can keep your littles from becoming screen addicts or worse.  In my humble opinion, who needs mind-altering drugs or alcohol when it’s so much more fun to read a book?  Maybe, just maybe, if you teach them to love reading, you are teaching them a truly healthy form of escapism.  And maybe they’ll never need anything to take its place.  So reading might just save their lives.  A stretch?  Hmm.  I don’t really think so.

Grimm fairy tales cutout book

Reading teaches us about places we might never get to see.  When the Littles and I read Oliver Twist last year, they learned so much about 19th century British politics, the geography of London, the history of Britain.  They may never get to see Britain, but reading books about it can help them not feel like they’re missing it.  If you encourage your littles to read books about other lands or written by authors from those lands, you are encouraging geography.  You’re making the world smaller for them in a way the interweb really can’t.  You’re putting it at their fingertips and in their minds.  Literature touches our brains differently than images do.  So send them to foreign countries.  Often.  Through the eyes of all different kinds of characters.  They will appreciate you for it all their lives.

My love of books has grown with me.  As I said, it began with the stories, then it became an escape, then I realized how much I was learning by reading… But I’ve discovered something new recently.  (Just like any good marriage, I’m constantly discovering new things to love.)  As we grow older, this love of books comes with us.  And you know, admit it, the more years there are behind us, the less we notice things.  We’ve seen them before.  A Lot.  Think of how often you pay attention to the landscape when you’re driving to work or to the same grocery store, department store, post office.  Life kind of gets like that too, doesn’t it?  It might be a beautiful morning, but you’ve seen them before and you’re pretty sure you’ll see one again, and you’re just too busy to really stop and appreciate it.  Right?  It happens.

ballet cutout bookBut books–they remind me to pay attention.  Ever notice how a really good description puts a picture in your mind?  You can see it, smell it, taste it, even if all the author has given you is a visual.  Well, when that happens, I want to experience that place again in real life, or something as close to it as I can get.  So I start to pay attention.  Simply put, if an author describes a country lane to me in full detail–the periwinkle of the roadside flowers, the heat of the asphalt, the shade of the overhanging trees–the next time I leave my driveway, I’m going to look at my country lane as I drive down it, not think about the dozens of things I have to accomplish that day.  Books bring me back to my senses, literally.

I am reminded to look at the fields, the flowers, the sunlight, the gloaming and its fireflies.  I’m reminded to breathe in the scent of fresh-mown hay, the honeysuckle, the sharp scent of snow, the dew-covered grass.  I remember to appreciate the feel of cool water against my skin, the precious brush of a loving hand, the grass under my feet, and even the stinging slap of an Arctic wind.  Books make me listen.   They remind me how much I love the sound of cicadas, birds singing, spring peepers, airplanes, and the voices of my loved ones.  Especially fantasy novels with a good quest remind me to appreciate the flavor a good stew, roasted meat, tender vegetables.  Just as importantly, books remind me to understand other people’s motivations, to find my empathy.  To remember that every story is told from multiple points of view and every character I meet in real life is seeing that story in a different way.  Think of the differences between The Wizard of Oz and Wicked.  Of course the wicked witch had her own side of the story.  Everyone does.  Books remind us of that.  And  that is a Very Important Thing.

Reading also helps combat the whole ‘instant gratification’ problem that technology is causing.  It helps kids learn to appreciate anticipation.  You can’t cheat your way through a book or you’ll miss something.  In fact, in this era, that may be the most important reason to read.  It teaches patience.  You can’t get from this page to that page without reading every paragraph.  Kinda rocks, doesn’t it?  They can get instant gratification later.  For now, let them slow down.

So if your little ever whines about reading time and asks, “Mom (or Dad), why is this so important?  It’s boring,” you now have some decent answers to give.  They may not be very scientific, but they are real.  Teach them to love it and that love will get them through the next 80 years or so.  You know it will, because

Love wins,

KT

 

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