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Tuesday
Mar262013

The Magic Trick to Working, Schooling and Having It All

***I just came back to this blog to get it ramped up for a new school year, and found THIS POST waiting in my drafts, unpublished!  Guess I'll just post it now as a reminder (to myself!) as we head into the new school year***

In my last post, I confessed to our family's latest insane endeavor, homeschooling.  I got a comment (always thrilling!), and it reminded me of how crucial it was for me in the beginning (actually, it still is) to read and learn from other homeschooling parents' experiences.  The idea of breaking away from an institution as rock-solid in our upbringing as public education was intruiguing and tempted me in a very sunshine-and-roses kind of way, but, in reality, it just seemed like pure madness.

Well, that's because it is.  Every single day is complete insanity--the kind that leaves my brain realing as I try to fall asleep at night.  I spend most evenings scouring the internet for a magic potion, a special incantation of motherly wisdom that will render my wee ones speechless and compliant, yet inspired and motivated to be enriched, educated, and productive.  I fantasize that I will stumble upon the perfect combination of curriculum and disciplinary voodoo--surely, if I read enough blogs, someone will have the answer, right?!  Once my children are entranced in this idyllic learning bliss, I will then turn the magic of the internet over to my household responsibilities.  I will be organized, methodical, tidy.  I will do yoga with them, have clean folded laundry (in our drawers even, not just strewn about in piles on the coffee table!), and have dinner simmering in a crockpot while we hang adorable Pinterest-inspired artwork to dry in our spotless and nice-smelling kitchen.  Then I will become a master of time and space, and I will wiggle my nose at my business, adding several extra hours to the day for marketing, merchandising and paperwork...I'll even apply make-up before 3pm, at home and not ducked down behind the counter, hoping no customers will come in and laugh at the faces I make when I put on mascara...  

Any day now, I'm just positive that I will find the trick.  There isn't anything Google can't teach me, right?  Right?!!

Alas, I haven't found any such spells.  There are blogs with pretty pictures out there that make it look like their might be--but I've been on the interwebs long enough to know what's lurking in the corners just outside of the camera lens. Eventually, even the most perfect-seeming homeschool blog posts about a day when they wonder what could have ever possessed them to be doing this in the first place.

What I have learned from reading (obsessively) about other families' experiences is that homeschooling is messy, disorganized, and full of second-guessing and do-overs.  There is no uniform experience, no can't-fail trick, no step-by-step formula for success.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that it is exactly like every other aspect of parenting that I've encountered.  There is only one magic trick to making it all work: Love, and lots of it.

 

Friday
Mar222013

Bringing our children home : a new journey in education

We homeschool.

A year ago, I had no idea that we would be doing this.  My son was struggling through first grade, and my daughter was sliding through seventh, good grades and lots of friends, but no real passion for learning.  

DS (that's "DEAR SON" in interweb-ese) was the crisis for us.  Bright, superbly creative and imaginative, full of energy and enthusiasm--sounds awesome, right?  Well, not in public school, apparently.  Starting in preschool, we began our uphill battle of reconciling his rambunctious (then happy) personality with the "sit still and pay attention" environment of formal learning.  He had two separate classes at a well-loved preschool, one MWF and one T-TH, with two different teachers, two different learning styles, and two VERY different outcomes.  The MWF was the more traditional class--learning letters and some reading and writing, sit at a desk, raise your hand, about 15-20 kids, etc.  The T-TH class was much smaller (only about 6-8 kids), with stations and lots of freedom to explore, with hands-on activities, learning about different countries and cultures in a more unit-based style.  The MWF teacher often kept me after class, to let me know about how DS needed to work on controlling himself better, waiting for his turn to share, stay focused on the lesson, keep with the group.  As time went on and he continued to be reprimanded, he also became defiant, stubborn to give in, reactionery.  Never in an extreme way--nothing too alarming, but enough for a conference. It was his first "school" experience, and it was so emotionally overwhelming to find out that, at such an early stage, DS was already "that kid."  I approached his T-TH teacher to see if she had any feedback, and she was actually stunned to hear that DS was having problems, as he had never displayed any of these behaviors in her class.  He was excited about each country they studied, retained a ton of what he was taught, happily persued the activities he enjoyed and skipped the ones he didn't, got along well with everyone and was a joy to teach.  Was he still a "character" in the T-TH class?  Of course.  But it was considered part of his charm, not part of the problem.

With kindergarten, we were excited for a fresh start.  DS was so happy to ride the school bus, and excited to meet kids and explore the school at orientation.  We hoped that a summer of growth and the wisdom and experience of his new Kindergarten teacher would make for a better school year.  It didn't.  Again, DS was praised for his enthusiasm and his zeal for learning and sharing, but the flipside of these traits was that he couldn't sit still, didn't want to finish busywork, liked to talk too much during class, hated transitions, wasn't compliant.  A very social kid, he was punished by having to sit at the front of the bus without a seatmate for "spitting" (which we found out was actually a "raspberry"--those aren't allowed on busses, apparently).  He was bullied by big kids for being "weird." He had a special desk alone beside the teacher (which he actually really liked, calling it his "office" and requesting to keep it whenever he was moved back into the rest of the class).  He lost his recesses almost every day, had to eat lunch alone, came home with the label "I'm on red" (a reference to the 3-strikes-you're-out discipline program at school) nearly every day.  Eventually he shortened this label, so that, when we greeted him at the bus stop after school, we'd ask him how his day was and he's just frown and answer "Red."  This continued and intensified in 1st grade.  Lots of conferences, never any solutions.  Same story every conference: DS is delightful in so many ways, loves the kids in class, loves to contribute, is getting great grades academically, BUT...

But.

We tried suggesting strategies, but, with 30 kids in a class, even his very well-meaning teachers couldn't provide the type of environment he needed to be happy and successful.  As parents, we wanted to help him but we lacked the tools, and we were too separate from the system.  There were rules there that couldn't be bent, policies that had to be enforced for everyone. DS was an exception in a system of no exceptions.  We were torn between trying to figure out what was wrong with him, while believing deep down that there was, actually, nothing wrong with him.  He was just a very frustrated square peg trying to find his way through a system of round holes.  It was maddening, and I cried the tears that only a mother has--a lot of them.

We had heard of homeschooling.  I follow some parenting blogs where a few of the contributers homeschooled their kids.  Most of them seemed to be doing it for religious reasons, but it piqued my interest nonetheless.  I began to search out other homeschoolers on the internet, and, as I read their varied experiences and reasons for alternative education, I began to wonder if this might be a possibility for DS, too.  I love to research, so I downloaded books by John Holt and others about the education system, how it might be failing a good portion of our kids.  I found comfort and hope in these seemingly "fringe" situations.  I began to dream of a better way.  As time went on, I realized that, even though DS was the crisis, DD's education could be so much more, too.

Last spring was spent researching and analyzing, trying to understand, to believe, to figure out how we could ever make this work.  I own a business--I am not a stay-at-home mom like many homeschoolers.  Were there others like me? Yes, there were!  I did not want to homeschool as a way to keep my kids out of secular education--I believe in science and evolution and exposure to a wide variety of ideas and philosophies.  Were there non-religious homeschoolers?  Yes, there were!  Spring turned to summer, and bit by bit we began to see some light.  Lots of late night talks (oh, how I talked my husband's ear off!), reading, learning, trying to piece a plan together, to figure out if we could make this work.  Could two working parents (one without a college degree, no less) give their kids the seemingly impossible gift of school at home?  Yes, YES, we could!

We took the plunge.  I labored over curriculums and finally settled on one, found used materials online and ordered them.  We filled out the district paperwork, studied up on our record-keeping, and spent the summer gearing up for one of the biggest risks of our life together. Gradually we broke the news to friends and family, weathered their mixed reactions, and, the Monday after Labor Day 2012, officially began a new chapter of learning in our home.  For the first time in 8 years, no one got on the bus.

 

I've wanted to write about our journey since we began it.  It has not been an easy road--in fact, I STILL weep, and often! But it has been amazing, and it is OURS.  Now that the first half of our first year is behind us, I'm ready to share what we've learned, what we're learning, and what we dream together for the future.

We homeschool, and, at the end of our first semester, I can't imagine doing it any other way.

First week of school...Even 8th grade HS'ers get recess!

Saturday
Feb232013

Another year wiser?

If you go back and read through the last five posts like I just did, you'll notice a common theme.  Just about every other post promises a renewed commitment to blogging, followed by a second post that makes it seem almost plausible, and then a LOOOOOONNNG expanse of time before the next post, which is, you guessed it, full of promises again!  I'm like a bad girlfriend when it comes to blogging, apparently--constantly making promises that I clearly can't keep.  Why?  My heart surely means it when I say it, but then I'm back to asking (who?) for forgiveness and a second (fourth) chance.

Ive given it a bit of thought over the years, and I'm finding that what I lack is two-fold:

A Real Reason : Why am I writing?  And to whom?  And FOR whom?

A Routine : Not a schedule per se, but an overall rhythm to my life that allows space and time to gather my thoughts and decide if they are worth sharing, and then the time to do it.  Rinse and repeat.  Form a habit.  Maybe even drop a few bad habits to make some room!

The third, and possibly most important, missing item is, well, personal patience.  Usually when I take a little break, I get overwhelmed that I didn't stick to my plan perfectly.  I do what many overachieving first-borns do: I give up.  Time passes, guilt builds up, until I can't stand it anymore and I recommit myself to "doing it right this time."

I don't even know what "right" is!  I read a lot of productivity blogs, but none of those people show up at my house at 7am to shake me out of bed and light my day on fire.  What I do know is that, occasionally, I have something to say, and nowhere to say it.  Blogging seems to solve that problem.  It doesn't matter that I might be speaking into the ether.  It doesn't have to be perfectly eloquent.  I'm taking this one post at a time for now, to see what happens when I take it easy on myself, plan a little, and ease into a routine that I can actually live with.

So, see you tomorrow.  Or, later tonight.  Or next week, or in June.  Eventually, there will be a post here about something I just couldn't keep to myself any longer.

Saturday
Jun182011

Please and Thank You

 

Please & Thank You print by littleminnowdesigns.etsy.com

 

With Father's day a mere minutes away, I want to reflect on one of the best gifts my parents have given me: manners.  Even in the face of annoyance, changes in plans, dissappointment, and any other social confusion, two simple phrases have never done me wrong: Please and Thank You.

At the shop today, it was our business district's summer festival, Art on the Avenue.  Nothing garners more grumbling than trying to organize a large scale venue, especially one that relies on the temperments of both artists AND retailers, both infamous for their, shall we say, quirky social skills (well, nothing, that is, except trying to herd a gaggle of small children through their day--I'd say the two experiences are pretty similar).

But, throughout the day, in moments where I really just wanted to throw my hands up or dig my heels in like so many of the frustrated folks around me, I found that a smile and a simple "please" make it so much easier to get what you want or need.  Often, we are all working to appease our immediate needs or those of the people relying on us (children, vendors, customers), and it is very easy to feel entitled, self-centered, and anxious.  But you know what?  Often all you have to do is breathe, come up with an idea for a solution, and ASK for help.  Nicely.  It really goes a long way.

And then, to acknowledge that you have been given the gift of someone's time, patience, cooperation, and sometimes generosity, a simple thank you can mean the world, and will keep those doors open for the future.  

So, mom and dad, for all of those trying moments when you could have given up on me but , instead, chose to ask me to PLEASE listen to your words of loving advice (even if they were muttered through clenched teeth): THANK YOU.

Saturday
Jun042011

Five Places I Go to Think Bigger

Print by Please Be Still (available at Hello Bluebird)

I have a lot on my plate--and boy, am I lucky.  Loving husband, two amazingly enchanting kids, a home, pets, and, of course, my shop--all insanely challenging and overwhelmingly rewarding.  Some days, tending all of these blessings feels natural and inviting--other days, I spin my tires like crazy or I seem to face obstacle after obstacle.  Any mompreneurs out there will certainly relate--and many of the rest of you, too.  Managing any ONE of these duties is a huge job--coordinating all of them is just downright ridiculous.

But, of course, I wouldn't have it any other way.

On those "spinning the tires" days, I find there are a few sites I keep coming back to for a good kick in the pants.  We all need food for our thoughts, and these writers just have a way of engaging me in ways that always get my zeal for "living well" renewed, redirected, reset:

 

  • Simple Mom (hands down my favorite blog to start the day.  not a mom?  doesn't matter.)
  • Illuminated Mind (energize your dreams to "live the life you've imagined")
  • Simple Marriage (let's face it, marriage is freaking hard.  this guy makes it easier to navigate.)
  • Kind Over Matter (be kind, every day.  this girl helps you get it done, beautifully.)
  • Scoutie Girl (sometimes this blog gets a little intense, but, some days, that's what it takes.)

Some of these sites help me to slow down, and others kick it up a notch.  Whatever speed you need for your day, these writers will send you off on the right path.

Please feel free to suggest sites, books, or anything else that you turn to when you want to think a little bigger!