One of the most frequent questions I receive lately is, “How do you do it all?” 

I always think how it’s a “God thing,” as there is no doubt He equips me and provides me with what I need to get through each day’s activities–be it routine animal care, housecleaning, homeschooling, social functions, medical appointments, or all the above.  Lately, however, I realized there is another factor that has also come into play.  Homeschooling is becoming our lifestyle.

When I first started homeschooling, I dare say I was like many homeschool moms just starting out.  I liked the idea of routine, schedules, specific school times and activities, and so forth.  I allowed the pressure of the modern, government-school model to dictate my day far too much.  I didn’t agree with the model, but I didn’t know any other way.  Sure, I had read about “unschooling,” “montessori,” “Charlotte Mason,” and the countless other methods, but since I grew up mostly attending schools, I couldn’t bring myself to experiment with any of those things.  About as far as I got was using montessori activities for the little guys, to introduce them to school times at the table. 

To my dismay, I found that the more I encouraged my children down the path of a typical school day, the more resistance I received.  We never got to the point of major problems like I have heard from others, however, JR shed tears of frustration almost daily at one point, while M was begging for reading times.  I was determined, though, as it was critical that JR learn that math, and M had to read TO ME for the lessons to be effective.  Right?  It was my job to teach my children.  I was the homeschool mom/teacher.  There just wasn’t any other way I knew. 

Then, last spring, a wonderful thing happened.  We moved to a little farm, got a bunch of animals, and life as we knew it changed entirely.  After struggling for quite a few weeks to maintain a schedule, I gave up.  I accepted the fact that my oldest child was only 6 at the time, was far ahead of most of his public school peers, and that it was OK if we started summer a little early.  Over the summer, I figured I would be ready for my preferred more formal school day by August.  However, turning the foreclosure into a nice home and creating all the animal facilities wound up taking far more time than we had anticipated.  Then A started having a lot of his problems and R became mobile, which added a bit more activity and distraction to my day.  As if that wasn’t enough pressure, I started planning our 2011/2012 school year, and realized I needed to register JR, add art, and a more formal science and history curriculum to the mix.  The pressure was mounting. 

Determined to start school on time, I had purchased all the basic curriculums I had decided to use.  I have always enjoyed Abeka for the pre-made worksheets that keep this dis-organized momma on track.  So, as usual, I bought the math, writing, phonics, spelling, and reading materials from Abeka.  I decided to branch out a little with science and ordered some Apologia topical books for science.  I also decided to use some great history books we already had.  So, the first day, I tried my best to be prepared.  I let the 2 older kids do a couple of their worksheets, then we all sat down together to do history.  Before I got through the first page, I realized the book was evolution based and would therefore be useless to our studies at this time.  I needed a new plan for history. 

As the weeks and months went by, and other pressures took equal or greater priority to my physcially sitting with the schooling children while they worked, I began to realize that JR and M were still learning!  Maybe you are laughing at me, but it really was a pivotal, light-bulb moment for me, realizing that I didn’t have to be a hovering homeschool teacher in order for them to learn.  So, I allowed them, on a trial basis, to slip into a less formal routine.  We often experienced “science” outside in the mornings, as the kids learned about animals breeding, preparing and feeding pregnant or lactating goats, adapting our hens for winter laying, and so forth.  When JR would learn fractions during his independent seatwork, we would then go bake some cookies so he could use fractions for measuring.  We had already decided we wanted to start our history as far back in time as we could, so I decided to utilize our daily family-worship time for the basis of our history, and then use daily dicussions on other topics that arose.  I began to use videos and documentaries to help give them a visual image of a topic they had questions about, and then we would discuss it over the next week or so.  After lunch, when the younger children went down for a nap, JR and M would go downstairs and do their worksheets by themselves.  I noticed that, when they did their seatwork, M sat nicely on either her desk chair or her rocking horse, and was all business.  JR, on the other hand, hated sitting in a chair, and tended to squirm and fiddle with something while schooling.  When I used to sit with him, this drove me nuts, and I was always on his case to be still and focus.  During our trial, since I wasn’t sitting there, I wasn’t pressured to keep him still.  He sat on the floor instead of a chair, by choice, and he squirmed and fiddled and shifted his weight around, but amazingly, he got every bit of his work done!  He did focus, in his own boyish way, and the work actually got done faster without my nagging him!

To my surprise, I found that our day became much more relaxed.  JR’s negative attitudes completely disappeared without my hovering.  Granted, he had spells where he would get lazy.  He was supposed to skip things that were very difficult, and I would help him with all the difficult aspects later.  For a while, he found a lot of difficulties.  However, when he discovered there was no playing outside or with friends until all the seatwork was finished and corrected, suddenly, he began to overcome the difficulties on his own, so our correction times became much shorter.  So, not only was he learning addition, subtraction, time, dates, spelling, etc., he was also learning self-discipline and stick-to-it-iveness–skills we consider to be far more valuable in overall life.  M, with her love of reading, quickly became content to just go curl up with a school reading book after her worksheets.  I periodically sit and listen, but many times, she reads aloud just to herself, and I simply overhear and make mental notes regarding her skill level when I pass by.  Yet, even in my absence, she is reading astoundingly well for a 5 year old.  In fact, she is also writing full sentences and letters to people, based solely on the spelling and sounding she learns through reading.  I took an extra step and decided to set JR up with an e-mail account.  Not only would it give him another way to communicate with long-distance family, but it would help him improve on his writing and creativity.  (Just for the record, it was working great until all our family members stopped writing to him…HINT, HINT!!)  For his birthday and Christmas, JR received an art kit and a bunch of art books.  Thanks to the hours upon hours he and M now spend being creative in their own, personally-designed “art” class every day, I have decided art kits will be a staple around here! 

Since we moved out here, we went from being a family who homeschools to a homeschool family.  I finally understand the difference.  There is always room for improvement, but it has been absolutely fascinating to me to see my children learn, staying totally caught up with their materials, despite the fact I am not following every step recommended in the teacher’s manuals, or pysically sitting at the table with them for 4-5 hours each day.  I have learned that it is OK to dictate a sentence out of the Bible for JR to write down, instead of using only the materials in the manuals.  I learn more every day how to take advantage of my children’s interests to allow them to learn.  Recently, JR was asking questions about stars, so we went outside one night, and I showed them falling stars as we discussed meteorites, using light from stars, and the solar system.  M became very interested in queens and princesses, so we watched a documentary on monarchies.  Sure it was intended for adults, and was therefore not entirely captivating for a 5 and 7 year old, but they still got a visual image of 4 different modern-day monarchies.  Afterward, we discussed how all the rulers dressed differently (the first thing M noticed) and had differing responsibilities and roles in their governments.  JR is learning what the Bible means in Proverbs 27:23 when it discusses knowing the state of your flocks and herds, as he helps me keep a close eye on the overall health of our animals.  A friend recently told me, “JR says you can just look at a goat and see if it has a copper deficiency!”  We have had many family discussions over the dinner table regarding new laws, our government, and our freedoms slipping away–which allows the children to see a direct corolation between government (and the man in that big, white house in our nation’s capital) and its impact on individual citizen’s lives.  And no science book or movie is as educational as camping out in the garage watching a goat progress through labor, then watching a kid be stillborn (likely due a to kinked umbilical cord), then watching 2 more enter the world as healthy as can be.  While JR still doesn’t understand the full act of conception (we have intentionally avoided full description so far), he can explain almost every aspect afterward.  We have visited and scrolled through week-by-week images of fetal development.  When he was still puzzled regarding the female anatomy that keeps and protects babies, I got to stop what I was doing and draw out a diagram of a doe with a couple kids inside to show him how it worked.  In less than 5 minutes, he probably learned far more than a full session of sitting on the couch reading a science book about it–because he was interested at the time, and because I am learning to take advantage of that interest when it occurs.  More importantly, I can rest assured that my children will never view unborn babies as “warts,” “growths,” or “inanimanate objects” that are OK to dispose of however we see fit.  They have felt unborn babies move in the womb, and they have seen the videos and photos that explain how life forms.  Watching their father harvest a bull, a goat, a rabbit, or a chicken is far more educational than reading about animal anatomy in a book. 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I still think there is a valuable place for the text books.  I rely on them to keep me on track, fill in the “holes,” and ensure all bases are covered as much as possible.  I am just starting to realize that the books will likely be far more beneficial when they have visual images and life experiences to base the information on, which, in turn, will allow the books to be far more enjoyable.  In addition, I am learning that I don’t have to cover all those topics, or fill in all those holes this year.  It is OK to focus on simply creating a love and passion for learning about the world around us, and to create a solid foundation in my childrens’ character, which will benefit them tremendously in their later years.  I am seeing that it should also make those later homeschool years much easier to handle by allowing them to learn skills like self-discipline, trustworthiness, honesty, independence, etc. now, while they are still young and moldable. 

Homeschooling is becoming our daily lifestyle.  Learning doesn’t have to be limited to Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Rather, we school in some manner 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  These children are like sponges, and to take full advantage of their absorbent little minds, I don’t have to just sit at the school table with them for hours on end.  They are learning so much more, and we are all enjoying it so much more, by allowing them to simply ask questions, use technology and media (with supervision), learn the hard facts of life, learn self-discipline, practice creativity and freedom of thought and expression without a hovering guidance, and taking advantage of all that nature and real-life experience can teach them.  They love learning, and I love watching them learn and seeing all those light-bulb moments when they finally “get” something that has been weighing on their little minds.  I am even seeing the world in a whole new way, as there are so many educational opportunities that might otherwise pass right by.  For example, just this morning, the children were having a little “PE” jumping on the trampoline and enjoying the gorgeous weather today.  I decided to join them, and as I began jumping, I noticed what appeared to be little rocks bouncing all over the mat.  I asked who threw rocks on the tramp, and JR told me nobody–they were falling out of the trees.  So, I knelt down to have a closer look, and sure enough, our trampoline was covered in pine tree seeds!  I picked one up and began to explain them, and JR interrupted, “I know, Mom.  They come out of the pine cones and fall to create new trees.”  (Or something to that effect).  Obviously, he was listening last summer when we dissected a few pine cones just for fun, and discussed them.  It’s absolutely fascinating to me!

Now I totally get why so many experienced homeschool families discourage new homeschoolers from doing school-at-home.  Sure, it works.  But it can be soooo much better than that!  After almost 4 years, I think we are finally getting to that point!