Back to school: On the road

My husband and I have been talking about an extended RV trip for so very long that I can’t remember exactly when or how the idea struck us. I just know that we have been talking to each other about this for a long, long time. We have talked to everyone we have ever met who has either lived on the road or taken a big adventure and asked them many questions about how it works. We’ve read about it. We’ve thought about where we’d want to go and what we’d want to see. We’ve talked about how we’d pull it off. So much talking and researching and thinking and planning!

This summer, everything lined up just right. The opportunity to be away was there. With a little nudge from family to come visit up north, we began planning. My husband and I spent several weekends looking into all the things we could do in the area and made a 5 week plan: three weeks to explore Michigan with a week to visit family and friends on either end of our trip.

And what did I do then? Well, of course I bought books! I found some books related to the places we planned to visit and the things we planned to see and do while we were there. I put them all in a bag and made room for them in our teeny, tiny living space.

Then, as the temperature was getting to be over 100 degrees everyday in TX, we started driving north!

Michigan

Warren Dunes, Sawyer MI

When I was growing up, we went to Indiana to visit family every year. A favorite thing we often did while in the area was to visit Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan. A family tradition I wanted to share with my kids:

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the trek up the dunes,

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the waves,

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and building in the sand.

The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

My daughter who aspires to be a “building wife” when she grows up, loves to watch Innovation Nation. She wanted to see the Henry Ford Museum, especially the Rosa Parks bus and the Wright Flier. We got to see both and so much more! We spent half a day wandering around and could easily have spent several days to see it all.

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USS Edson, Bay City, MI

USS Edson, Bay City, MI

We stopped to visit the USS Edson. When my husband paid for the tickets, he was offered a tour guide. Who could pass that up? Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was retired Naval Reserve. He had so many stories to tell! He told the kids about living quarters, the little lockers for personal items, the timed showers, the food. His stories really helped us imagine life aboard a Navy ship.

Tawas Point State Park, MI

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This may have been my favorite stop for this trip. The little beach at this state park was a lovely, lovely place to pass a few days.

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It was never really warm enough that I would have wanted to get in and swim, but the kids were more than happy to swim, build sand castles and look for treasures on the beach.

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St. Ignace, MI

We stayed at St. Ignace several nights. There are a lot of historical sites to visit. We spent a day at Colonial Michilimackinac. They have people dressed in period clothing available to tell you about each part of the village. About every 15 minutes there was a different demonstration (shooting a cannon, firing a musket, a children’s tour, etc.) in addition to just walking around and seeing the various buildings and exhibits.

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We didn’t think we wanted to go over to Mackinac Island, but we were so impressed with Colonial Michilimackinac that we decided to go to the island to see the fort.

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There were exhibits in each of the buildings, as well as guided tours and demonstrations several times each hour. Also, they had a children’s room with dress up clothes and interactive exhibits. A big hit!

Each afternoon after sightseeing, we went to this little park in St. Ignace right by the water.

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The kids had hoped to swim, but the water was ice cold. Still, an incredible view and a great place for the kids to play (or draw).

Sault Ste. Marie, MI–The Soo Locks

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Well, we made it to the Canadian border! A long way from central Texas! We got to see a ship go through the locks and explore the little visitor center. We had burgers and fries at a little diner by the water.

JB Wells State Park

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We thought we were going to have a few more days on the beach, but the weather got pretty cool and rainy. So we ended up spending a couple days playing at the playground, reading, and drawing. I got to take some long walks with my big kids and hear all the things they are thinking about, while the little kids played at the playground. We could see and hear the water from our campsite. We had a cool breeze and some comfortable camp chairs. It was a relaxing way to end our time in Michigan.

All in all, 5 weeks, 9 states, 4,000 miles! I thought we might be tired of driving, of living in such a tiny space, but we hated to see it end. We are already thinking about a next adventure.

Reading goodies

For the kids:

Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling- a story of a journey through the Great Lakes region

Under Michigan: The Story of Michigan’s Rocks and Fossils, by Charles Ferguson Barker

From the Childhood of Famous Americans series: Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, and Wilbur and Orville Wright

Once on This Island, by Gloria Whelan: historical fiction set on Michilimackinac during the war of 1812

And some favorites from my own reading:

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Backman–Both books were wonderful! I would have a hard time picking a favorite.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

The Giver Quartet, by Lois Lowry

Bullying

When I decided to homeschool, it was not to protect my kids from bullying, or from anything really. I just like sharing life with my kids, and I thought I could handle the job.  However, I did consider it a nice side-effect that they would not have to deal with bullying and other types of school-related unpleasantness. I have to think I wrote it off somewhere along the line as something we would never have to deal with.

However, here we are now, and very unexpectedly we DO have to deal with it. So, it is with great surprise that I am now learning and thinking about bullying. While it is true that much of what is written about bullying describes bullying in the school setting, of course bullying is not limited to schools. Bullying can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. It is possible to find quite a bit of information about bullying in the workplace, which indicates it happens to adults as well as children. However, all of what I found about bullying as it relates to homeschoolers is that it doesn’t happen in the world of homeschooling.

So, when my daughter and my son each had these difficult experiences, I wasn’t sure what to call them, whether “bullying” was even the right word for it. I’ll have to admit, even I was not completely clear on the definition of bullying. When I think of bullying, I picture the big, tough boy who stands on the corner physically threatening smaller kids, calling names, stealing lunch money, etc. Yes, this does describe bullying accurately, but the list of bullying behaviors is longer and broader than I imagined. My mental picture of a bully is more typical of boy bullies. Girls bully too, and they do it very differently than boys. They are more likely to hurt each other through relationships, using backstabbing and gossip to exclude the target from the group. This kind of bullying even has its own name: relational aggression. Girl bullying is more sneaky and less likely to be noticed by grown-ups.

Bullying is a tough thing to talk about, for kids and grown-ups alike. Given all the time I spend with my kids and all the opportunity we have for connecting conversation, I really thought my kids would feel like they could talk to me about anything. And I think they do, but it isn’t as simple as that. They didn’t want to get their friends in trouble. They didn’t want me to have a negative opinion of their friends. They wanted to manage on their own as much as possible. In some cases, even though they felt terrible in the relationship, they weren’t entirely sure they’d been mistreated. Only when they reached their emotional limit was I fully brought into their confidence.

Now we are having open and specific conversations. We are talking about bullying: what it looks like, how to resist pressure to participate in it, and the importance of speaking up for someone who is being mistreated. I found that we couldn’t talk about bullying without also talking about healthy relationships, how to recognize unhealthy people/relationships, and when and how to walk away from someone. We are talking more about kindness, because while my kids seemed very clear about kindness to others, they were less clear about setting good boundaries in relationships and not tolerating unkindness toward themselves.

For more information about bullying and how to talk with kids about it, I found this book to be a good resource. For information geared more toward girls, this is another good resource.

Reading goodies

  • Forgiveness continues to pop up in unexpected places. A friend lent me a book about an immigrant family from Norway. This excerpt from a sermon described in the book really grabbed me. To me, it means Let the hurt stop here. Let go of the story and cause no more harm to yourself or others by letting it live through your internal and external rehashing.

“When you forgive you must destroy the evidence and remember only to love.” (First We Have Coffee, Margaret Jensen)

  • For more on forgiveness, check out this and this, both sent to me by my dear friend.
  • Feeling lots of love this month for all the Waldorf inspired books on my shelf. Sharing saint stories with my third child, and by now all the stories feel like old friends to me. Reading fairy tales with my fourth child, and finally feeling like maybe I could actually tell these stories rather than read them. Trying some new stories with my second child for US History and Geography and have especially enjoyed Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl.
  • When I first made the trip to Taproot for a Waldorf home-educator’s conference, I never dreamed I would walk away with a circle of friends that I would keep up with for years, nor could I have imagined how much my children and I would benefit from the conversations I have with these women. Jean is a mother further along in the homeschooling journey than I, and my children and I benefit tremendously from her ideas. Reading her blog posts is the next best thing to being with her and Barbara at Taproot. I look forward to seeing her posts in my inbox. Always interesting and inspiring.

Reading goodies and the Renaissance

  • My 12 year old and I have been learning about the Renaissance together. We started out looking at what was happening in the world of science. A friend loaned me The Story of Science: Newton at the Center, by Joy Hakim. We liked this enough that I would like to order the study guide that goes along with it to see if we like it as well as we liked the book. We moved from science to art, reading both Michelangelo’s World, by Piero Ventura and Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer, by Robert Byrd. We have several Piero Ventura books in our library and have loved them all. I also happened to have several (what I call) coffee table books lying around that have Renaissance art as well. They turned out to be good resources for us.
  • My girls and I just finished Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. This book really grabbed us. I read myself hoarse more than once.
  • We are revisiting the Inkheart series, by Cornelia Funke. Much as I love to read, there are not too many books I am willing to read more than once. This series is good enough to read repeatedly. So suspenseful!
  • I did not go so far as to take another book vacation, but I did very happily spend some time lost in Mitford through Jan Karon’s Mitford series. Such a sweet, inspirational story!
  • Two recent blog posts that are making the rounds in homeschooling circles that I thought were exceptional: How a homeschooling mindset changes everything and Homeschool This.
  • My mission lately is homemade gluten free bread. I made 7 different recipes last week. I tried recipes with yeast, recipes without yeast, various gluten free flours and flour mixes, and gluten free sourdough. Once, I got to gluten free sourdough, I didn’t feel the need to look any further. It is simple and easy, it rises every time, it’s delicious, it’s light, it has a wonderful flavor and texture, it makes wonderful toast…..the only downside really is that it disappears too quickly.
  • Also, crocheted baskets! I made a small one and a few bigger ones. A good afternoon project and a really cute and useful finished product.

Comparison

In my life before the move, which I now refer to as “homeschooling in a vacuum”, I was the only one I knew that was homeschooling the way I homeschool. I felt lonely about being the odd one on many occasions. That was the BIG and only downside to that situation. Now I am seeing that there are some benefits to that situation too. I knew our journey was going to be different from everyone we knew, so there was no reason to compare our lives to others. Because I was not living among other Waldorf homeschoolers or other Unschoolers, I was not trying to follow any particular philosophy perfectly. I was just doing what felt right for my family.

Now that we have landed in a city just full of homeschoolers, a very diverse group (by accident, if you can believe it), I get some first-hand experience with other homeschooling families. When I first got here, I envisioned that this would be HEAVENLY. I am always happier when I keep my expectations much more reasonable than that. Heavenly was reaching a bit high. I have been experiencing overwhelm instead so I have been thinking a lot about that. WHAT is overwhelming about this?

I think comparison is a big piece of it. A new friend and I were sitting in my living room and she was asking me some questions about how I work with my kids and ultimately shared some worry that what she was doing wasn’t as good as what I was doing. And I had to laugh AT MYSELF because I knew that was just what I have been doing. When I look around I only see what other people are doing that I am NOT. I never see that I am doing so many cool things that all those other people are not doing because they are busy doing whatever cool things they are doing.

It is beautiful that we are all doing different cool things, hopefully the exact cool things that our very own precious children need. None of us can be doing ALL the cool things. Moving forward, I want to be inspired by the cool things I see other parents doing and add those ideas to my bag of tricks in case I should ever need those ideas in the future without feeling pressure to do all the cool things all the time. Again, I am always happier when I keep reasonable expectations.

In case you are someone who also has an occasional freak-out and wonders whether you should change everything about the way you homeschool, read Sheila’s article about homeschool doubts and perhaps bookmark it for future freak-outs.

How doing less can be the hard thing

City living has given me an exposure to the hustle of family life. In the process of making new friends, I keep running into this: many families are so busy with activities, they do not have time to get together with friends. It is not at all uncommon for families to have to schedule a play date out several weeks because their schedules are so packed.

I get a little panicky at that point. So many questions come up for me: When is there time for an ordinary family life? What about family dinners, board games, walks around the neighborhood? Is there ever time to experience the joy of putting the kettle on for an unexpected visitor? What about time to be alone? To read a good book? To get bored and then come up with a fantastic idea for some creative project? What about time to just relax, to NOT be hurried? To just be present with one another? To enjoy slowness? To snuggle and laugh together?

I’m sure people wonder about me too and worry about all the things my kids are missing out on because I don’t make them play one sport and one instrument and take an art class besides. I have my moments when I worry about the same thing. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. I know I probably have something wrong. But I’m not worried about right or wrong here. There is a different right for every family.

What has struck me about all this is that it probably looks like I am doing the easy thing. It might even look like I’m lazy, like I just don’t want to bother with taking my kids all over the place. In fact, I often feel like it is the hard thing. It is going against the crowd. It would be easy to be swept up and do what most people are doing. It would be all too easy to give away our family time, our friend time, our leisure time one little piece at a time. There are so many really cool opportunities for kids these days! For me, the hard thing is to be careful and intentional about what I say “yes” and “no” to, to protect the family life I have created and value so much.

How do you decide what to say “yes” and “no” to? How do you know when your family is doing too much?

Tiny rubberbands and yarn and fabric

The Rainbow Loom made its way to our home this holiday season. My house has been a sea of tiny rubber bands ever since. I thought it was just for bracelet making, but my kids have figured out how to make little dolls, charms, coin purses and other things with it as well. They have been inspired by other kids’ how-to videos and they have made their own how-to videos.

As my oldest daughter began to feel that she had done everything that could be done with the Rainbow Loom, she started researching crochet and found that she could make little hearts or bows much like she could with the rubber bands. And the next thing I know she comes out of her room and has crocheted half a hat. I had a good laugh about that.

For me, this has been the winter of crocheting hats. Most nights this winter I have come out of my room in the evening to model a new hat for the family. Then once or twice a week, my husband takes hats off to the post office to mail to a family member or friend who requested a winter hat. Though I always enjoy yarn work, in the winter especially, I have been a regular hat factory this winter. It has bordered on outrageous.

So my girl could have asked me to show her how to crochet a hat, but instead, she figured it out on her own. What an awesome thing for her that she knew she could figure this out by herself! And she did not stop there.

Next, she started watching videos on how to sew clothing. She asked for the materials, we got them for her, and a couple hours later she comes out with most of a skirt and needs some help with threading the elastic through the waistband. Then she made a shirt for herself and each of her younger sisters. From the time we walk in the house with the materials, it is only a matter of an hour or so before she has her projects completed. I cannot buy materials fast enough to keep up with her creative energy!

It has been incredible to me to watch my girls go from knowing nothing of this Rainbow Loom, to figuring out how to make anything they can imagine, and then to see my daughter’s love of creating with the loom move into a love of creating with yarn and then fabric. But the best part for me has been to watch her develop a confidence that she can figure out how to do the things she wants to do on her own.

 

Finding a new rhythm and giving up on our usual

When we first started talking about moving, I can tell you now that I had very unrealistic ideas about how that would actually unfold. Every step along the way has taken a lot longer than I ever dreamed. Once all the boxes were unpacked, I thought we’d get back to our usual. But I tell you what….moving is a lot of work and I think it took something out of us. We needed some time to rest and recover and then really had to begin at the beginning to establish a new healthy rhythm.

Good sleep Our whole day has shifted about two hours later. I have certainly heard much about the virtues of starting the day early, but surprisingly, the world has kept on turning. I think it started because we were all just tired from the move, but it has continued because it works for us now that my husband is working on Pacific time. We get more family time with him in the evening if we all sleep later, eat later, and stay up later.

Good food I knew we needed to transition back to home cooked healthy meals. Of course, it is all too easy during busy times to eat out or buy something at the store that requires little preparation. I, in particular, feel so much better when I eat at home and stick to whole foods. So I started putting more time and energy toward meal planning and preparation. My two big kids became interested in this and now they are preparing dinner most nights. They search for recipes, make a grocery list, and then do the evening meal preparation with very little assistance.

Exercise We started getting out every morning for exercise. In the past, that had so often not made the list because there were books to read, projects to work on, chores to do, etc. But we put it at the top of the list and we are all so happy with this change! I alternate walking and jogging while the kids ride their bikes. If I tried to run without them while they are still in bed, I would enjoy some time alone, but some of the kids may not get exercise. I would also miss out on their motivating remarks, such as their excited exclamation “OH LOOK! Mom is RUNNING!” and “Mom, your butt jiggles when you run.”

Chores Our approach to chores had always been pretty informal. The kids were asked to pick up after themselves and then I would do the cleaning. Since I injured my shoulder during the move, I wasn’t able to do some of my usual chores. The big kids were very willing to help me out during that time. Now that they have been trained to do certain household chores, they have continued to help out daily. And really, we have hit a point that this makes a lot of sense. The little two still leave a lot of toys out, so it is enough for them to pick up after themselves. But the big two do a lot of projects at their desks, so they have more time, energy and ability to pitch in on general household chores.

Learning Once all these other things had fallen into place, it was easier for all of us to get back to work. I started having weekly meetings on Sunday evening with my older children. During these meetings, I hear what they have been working on the previous week. I write down what I want us to work on for the coming week and what they should be working on on their own. They write down what they want to work on and get better at. All four kids get a main lesson time with me during the day. The big kids have time to work toward their own goals and all four have time for play. We set aside the evening for family time which includes dinner, chores, play, and a read aloud time before bed.

Geology

We found a great book at our library: Geology of the Great Plains and Mountain West, by Cynthia Light Brown. It was an enjoyable read. The information in it was easy to understand and connect to. My son enjoyed reading it with me. It has little experiments at the end of each chapter using very common household items (Warning: Be careful not to spill Epsom salts in the bottom of your oven. That was a BIG mess!). We tried several of them and the rest we just read through.

The best part for us was that we were able to connect some of our experiences from our travels and our time outdoors with the information in the book. We went back through some of our pictures to help us remember.

Waterfall at Devil’s Den State Park, AR
Palo Duro Canyon, TX
Mark Twain Cave, MO
Glacial grooves, Kelleys Island, OH
Visiting the Great Lakes of Erie, Michigan, and Superior.
Rock City at Minneapolis, KS
The plains at Laura Ingalls’ childhood home site, De Smet, SD
The Rocky Mountains, CO
Caves at Meramec State Park, MO
The kids have spent countless hours exploring the land and creek at their grandparents farm.

On the other side of our move: a lengthy update after a lengthy absence

Well, we pulled it off! We sold a house, we bought a house, we packed it all up, we made the drive, and it all went pretty smoothly!

The kids had a blast in our mostly empty house for the few days we were waiting on our furniture to show up. We grown ups did too, just imagining the possibilities. Then the furniture and boxes arrived and the mood shifted noticeably. As we were placing furniture and unpacking boxes, the realities of downsizing by 500 sq ft were fully realized. So although we thinned our belongings before the move, we had more thinning to do once we got here. After enjoying the openness for several days, we knew we didn’t want to be crammed in our home with too much stuff, so we were motivated. Several weeks later we are still unpacking and still figuring out what we can live without and where to put everything else, but we are gaining on it.

I injured my shoulder the week we got here, and was in PAIN for nearly two weeks, so needed to find a doctor sooner than I’d hoped. My first experience was not a good one and I found myself experiencing my first round of homesickness, missing my awesome doctor from home, my friends, my family, etc. Thankfully the night following the day where my pain peaked and my mood bottomed out, my shoulder improved dramatically and I decided not to make a second attempt at finding a doctor for now. I also started taking many time-outs from unpacking and organizing to call home and connect with loved ones and have helped the kids do the same.

The kids and I have been out to our local library and park. I may not have a new driver’s license yet, but I have a library card! 🙂 I’m getting lost sometimes and sometimes getting from one place to another without using navigation. We’re going out to eat, trying new restaurants and sometimes enjoying old favorites. Though we missed our usual holiday traditions with our families, we also truly enjoyed deciding how we might like to celebrate together and just doing whatever we wanted to do.

I have been feeling a bit disappointed about our lives getting derailed. All the plans I made about what the kids and I would do this fall, also completely derailed. I know I said I would be flexible about that, and I have been, but there is a bit of sadness about it. That sadness though has been almost completely overtaken by a sense of awe at what my children (and I) have learned instead over these past months.

No matter how busy things get, I couldn’t do without some daily connection with my kids. So I snuggle up with them and ask about what they did that day. I love to hear what they’re excited about! My son has been making texture packs for Minecraft, learning to use Photoshop, and making videos/art tutorials. My girl who has had a rough time learning to read, found a novel that she fell in love with and became a bookworm. She also has been sewing on the sewing machine by herself and baking with her sisters. My girl who has had almost no patience or tolerance for frustration has made an amazing shift somehow. She is verbalizing her thoughts and feelings and communicating clarity about who she is and what she wants. And my baby is so clearly not a baby anymore. She is more independent in every way. The three girls have become closer friends. I have witnessed much snuggling and tenderness between them.

All of it has made me think about learning. At the beginning of fall, I had ideas about what I wanted the kids to learn, and many of those ideas involved me sharing my knowledge and resources with my kids. But here is how I have grown these past months: I have a new respect for how much learning goes into these big life changes! All of us have had to do a lot of research to find out where to live, where to shop, how to deal with trash removal, what groups to connect with, what bugs are we finding in our shower, what plants are in the yard, and how do we get from one place to another. Besides searching for facts, we’ve had to emotionally and spiritually stretch to meet the challenges of leaving all that was familiar and reaching out to new people, places and situations. We have all had to step it up and be more independent and competent, more flexible and compassionate. During a time when I had very little time to read to them or even answer their questions as I usually would, it is both amazing and humbling to see what they have figured out on their own and how they have grown.