What Works for Me

I’ve always been like this, as long as I can remember.

I am a flibbertigibbet. A dillydallier. A loafer.

If I have something to do, something I really need to do, I put it off.

Pathological procrastination.

I had it beat a few years ago but it’s definitely a rut I can fall into if I’m not careful.

This August I find myself doing it again. I think it’s because I graduated my first homeschooled kid and my load feels lighter. It could be that we  took the whole summer off enjoying days of empty schedules.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off and Marcella on Netflix. Perhaps it’s because I have been spending so much time planning a family trip to Ireland. I’m determined to stay in a cottage in Dingle. It may take us three years, but we’ll get there.

I feel so much better when I do what needs to be done in my life, but it’s so haaaaaaard to do it. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an ENFP or because I have ADD or what, but getting stuff done can be difficult for me. 

Whenever I finally give in and start rolling with it, though, all is good. It’s all about taking that first step without focusing on perfection.

There are a couple of go-to’s for me when my brain is having a hard time helping me get done what I need to get done.

I love, love  FlyLady.  I borrowed her book, Sink Reflections,  from Mom a number of years ago and felt like her no-nonsense approach to house cleaning was awesome. One of the phrases she often repeats is “Start where you’re at.”  As the mom of young kids I needed to remember  that. As a chronic procrastinator that was the most freeing thing I’d ever heard.

Now, I’m going to tell you it can be overwhelming. I can’t handle her e-mails, they just make me feel like a failure, and I already have 1,000+ in my inbox.  FlyLady suggests you start here, and I do too. Just remember to do what works for you. For me, the Baby Steps and Control Journal were a game changer. I have a plan, and when I work the plan we stay on track with house cleaning. If we aren’t able to work the plan because of schedules or sickness I don’t freak out because the plan is there and I can get back to it. 

Ours looks like this:

Mondays: bedroom day; Tuesdays: bathroom, hallway, stairs; Wednesdays: living room, dining room, back porch; Thursdays: kitchen and grocery shopping; Friday: basement, laundry room, car; Saturday: yard work; Sunday: house blessing.

This doesn’t mean that our house is perfectly clean;  that’s not the goal. It just means I don’t freak out when people stop by unexpectedly or we have people over. 

Photo by Kiley Shepherd.
Photo by Kiley Shepherd.

One of FlyLady’s principles is that you can do anything for 15 minutes which is nothing but the truth.  This little revelation led to my next game changing discovery: The Pomodoro Technique.

 

Photo by Kiley Shepherd
Photo by Kiley Shepherd

This technique suggests setting a timer for 25 minutes and working really hard until it goes off. Then you get a 5 minutes break – better set that timer to 5.  🙂  For your break you can step outside for fresh air, do some quick exercises to get your blood pumping, organize a drawer, whatever floats your boat.  Basically anything that puts your mind somewhere besides the task at hand. After 5 minutes you go back to your task for another 25. I never work on a task for more than three 25 minute segments.

This has revolutionized our homeschool life, especially for the subjects that my kids hate. Especially for the subjects that I hate. When you know that there is an end in sight, that you won’t be doing algebra for eternity, you can work harder knowing you’ll get a break. I never have the kids work for more than two 25 minute segments at a time. After their two 25 minute sessions they get a 25 minute break to do whatever they would like. They know that even if a task isn’t finished we will come back to it the next day.

My goal in homeschooling is not to finish a book but to teach a love of learning.

Again, this method isn’t perfect and doesn’t make everything in our homeschool go smooth as a Little House on the Prairie episode but it sure helps. As with anything new there is a learning curve to using this method. For Spencer I had to set the timer for 15 minutes at a time when he was younger, and that’s like what I’ll do for Liam ( who is 6) when he starts doing tasks on his own. We’ve worked up to 25 minutes now that Spencer is 12. I probably need to revisit this method with Laurel, who is 16, and pushes herself a little too hard for my taste. Those 5 minute breaks are important, but so are the 25 minute ones.

I tell my kids this all the time because it’s true:  our brains need time to process information that we’re taking in. We need to be able to gaze at the sky and consider what we’ve read or watched on a video. I love Charlotte Mason and her theories on why small batches of really great information is much more effective than long (boring) periods of mediocre information.

My next step is to get a website blocker so that I cannot visit Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram until certain times of day. I’m looking at this one, called SelfControl. We shall see. In the hour I’ve been editing this post I’ve checked Twitter 42 times and opened up 5 other tabs. HELP!

Just writing this post has motivated to me to start where we are! I’m actually feeling excited about our day.  I can do budgeting, meal planning, house cleaning, homeschooling, web surfing, etc., for 25 minutes at a time and get everything on my list, and then some, done.

Also, here are three blogs that I love for helping motivate me,  great self care tips, and just general awesome information:

  • The Art of Simple – Tsh Oxednrider and her writer friends are awesome.
  • Goins, Writer – Jeff is super motivational for anyone pursuing a dream.
  • The ADHD Nerd – Ryan has become is a new favorite. He’s real and helpful.

 

Do you have any pro-tips useful to combat procrastination? I’d love to hear!

Advice to New Homeschoolers…and Old

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So, you’ve made the decision to homeschool this year.

Maybe you’ve only got a kindergartner, maybe you’ve decided to pull out your middle-school kid, maybe you decided at the end of the school year last year that you wanted to homeschool and now that THE TIME HAS COME you’re wondering if you lost your mind.

Take a deep breath, everything is going to be fine.

When I first started homeschooling 14 years ago (WHAT?!)  I was like a deer in headlights. I so badly didn’t want to mess things up, and I only knew one other person who was homeschooling. Here’s a few things I wish someone had told me.

1. Advice is just opinion…

There is so much out there on the internet, in the library, and among friends on the subject of homeschooling.  Don’t even get me started on what family can have to say on the subject. 😀

Really, though, it’s important to remember that no matter where you’re getting advice, from the beautifully bound book that cost a lot of money to the woman you run into at the library, it is simply someone else’s opinion on the matter of homeschooling. You’ve already got your own opinion on the issue or you wouldn’t be homeschooling.

Advice is not the gospel – you can take or leave it, and if you leave it you can always come back to it.

I’ve said it before and I’m certain to say it again: every homeschool is unique. What works for one may not work for another and that’s okay.

2. Your homeschool won’t look like the picture in your head..

I had Little House on the Prairie as the picture in my head, the t.v. series not the books. I imagined my students (a.k.a. my children) sitting at their individual desks just learning their little hearts out.

It didn’t look like that. I think they only kept snacks and toys in the desks that I scoured the city for.

Turns out, my kids liked to sit with me on the couch while I read aloud. They liked working puzzles and playing games at the kitchen table. They loved being able to explore in the back yard, going to the library, and visiting with friends at the playground.

Staying home, sitting at a desk, and being quiet; turns out those are NOT ways my kids (or any kid) learns.

So, take that picture in your head and tear it up. Have a white canvas,  or better yet a dry erase board,  in your imagination because there will be a lot of changes made in the course of your homeschool year. Or in the course of your homeschool day.

It’s just not going to look the way you thought it would. Also, this might be a good time to memorize Proverbs 16:9 if this is making you breathe funny.

3. Focus on what you get done in a day, not what you don’t…

Confession: I think I may have been more excited about getting a teacher’s planner than I was about starting to homeschool. I filled that sucker up, man! I spent a lot of time planning out kindergarten and preschool with colors for each child. I would admire all the stuff that we were going to get done in a week and then be utterly defeated when only half the list was accomplished. Suddenly my planner didn’t look like awesomeness but more like a mean lady wagging her finger at me saying, “You’ll miss recess for this!” in a mean lady voice.

Ugh.

A number of years ago my friend, Karen, shared with me her secret. She had a notebook for each of her children where she wrote their weekly assignments down. The kids chose when to get their work done, it just had to be done by Monday of the following week. Simple. So I said goodbye to expensive planners and hello to $1 notebooks.

Sometimes, though, even that is too hard for me. During moving transitions or times of sickness, or just utter overwhelmingness, sometimes things slip. It happens. Homeschoolers don’t have substitute teachers. Life continues on.

Recently,  I read somewhere on the great Interwebs that you could just write down what you get done in day, that way you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished. I use a hodgepodge of curriculum, including  Tapestry of Grace, and all of it has it planned out, so I just log our work, or the kids log their work, and it’s no big deal. I find that writing down what we’ve gotten done helps me see that we’re not ‘behind’.

In homeschool, there’s no such thing as behind.

Write that down on 15 sticky notes and put them all over the house. Write it on your hand, or your forehead. Write it on the kids bathroom mirror. I’m serious. It’s that important. 

4. Plan on learning more than ever…

No one ever need worry that they aren’t capable of teaching their own child. No matter what your education level, income, or residence everyone is suited to educate their offspring. Thanks to the public library, internet, and homeschooling communities no subject is off limits to the homeschooler.

By far, my favorite aspect of home education is the joy of learning right alongside my kids.

We *typically have history/literature discussions every week, and there have been times that I realized my kids were staring at me as though I were a hydra because I was having an  ‘Aha!’ moment out loud. It is so stinking exciting to share a light bulb moment with your kids. I think it’s also important for them to see that you don’t have to learn EVERYTHING before you graduate high school. So have those aha moments in big and bad ways!

 


There’s a ton more I could add to my list but I think these four are the essentials.

Homeschooling is an awesome opportunity to develop a unique family culture. Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

It’s only school.

Hehe.

 

Be brave, misfits! Go learn some stuff!

 

 

P.S.

I am passionate about education, especially home education. If you’re just starting out and you have questions, please feel free to ask me.  Or if you’ve been at it for a while and need refreshing reach out here…people will pitch in.

 

Looking back…looking forward

Now that I have graduated one homeschooled kid and successfully gotten her to college, I feel like I can breathe a little easier. Suddenly all the things I worried about are diminished and all the ‘mistakes’ I thought I made look like they were meant to happen.

 

Thanks to the awesome Izzie Montgomery for Kiley's senior photos.
Thanks to the awesome Izzie Montgomery for Kiley’s senior photos.

 

The last few weeks have given me some time to look back on Kiley’s homeschooling and reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, and where I’d like to go with the remaining three.

Here’s what I think worked:

Allowing her passions to lead the way.

Kiley has always been a creative thinker, enjoying hours of pretend play and art work. She’s always enjoyed music and reading.  I picked up on the fact that if Kiley was passionate about something she would absorb the information better.

I know, duh.

Still, that’s not how we’re taught, and that’s not how I thought. I believed that if the manual had instructions it was because the instructions must be followed, always. It took some serious trials and more than a few errors before I realized I could do things my own way, or better yet, that my kid could do things her own way

When Kiley was ten or so she fell in love with YouTube. We bought her a camera and she had her own channel. She taught herself to film, edit, and add music to her videos. Kiley taught herself how to do stop motion film. She learned more about computers than I was able to teach her, and now she’s heading off to college to study film. So all that ‘wasting time’ was actually her honing in on her passion.

Kiley has taught herself to sew, Laurel taught herself ukulele, and Spencer became a gardener because they each found joy in learning those things, not because I thought it would be a good idea.

I learned if it’s important to them it needs to be important to me, too.

Letting her decide when she would work.

This one was hard for this first born mama. I like to be in charge, and when we started school I had certain ideas of what I thought education would look like. My strong-willed first born was much the same, so her kindergarten year sometimes looked more like a round of Family Feud gone wrong.  One day I got the bright idea to ask her what she would like to do first and was shocked that she had an opinion. She was never a morning person, ever. She’s always done her best work after being allowed to create and play and roam around outside. Kiley wanted to play first and work later. So we tried that and it worked. Getting out her creative energy gave her the room she needed to do seat work later in the day.

As Kiley got older I was able to turn more and more over to her. She learned to schedule herself and work on what she wanted to when she wanted to. Some years we had a homeschool schedule, but by the time she was in 6th grade it was up to her how and when she got her weekly work done. There were bumps in the road (like the time I discovered she had been watching Stargate Atlantis rather than doing her online math work), but we both learned what the other needed.

Allowing her to move on when something wasn’t working.

That’s not the same as failing. It’s knowing your strengths and weaknesses and deciding not to waste time with something that’s just filler. If it’s not something she’s going to use for the work God intends her to do it’s probably not a skill she’ll need to master.

That’s not to say if your kid doesn’t like doing basic math, grammar, or reading that you should just give up. Basics are important, but I do think that a lot of time can be wasted in an attempt to get kids to master every subject.  I feel like the word average has obtained a wrongful bad rap. What is wrong with average? You can’t be awesome at everything, but you can be really, really good at some things. Why do we want kids to learn so much before age 18, seriously? Unless they want to know everything, then it’s fine.

It will come when it comes, even if they’re 42 when they decide biology isn’t horrible.

 


 

There’s only a few things I would change if I could turn back time…

Quality over quantity…

I wish that I had understood earlier that what they learn is way more important than the amount of time that they spend learning.  I was educated in public school so I had this idea that ‘school’ had to happen between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., a notion that has been VERY hard for me to walk away from. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty that my kids played outside so much during their elementary years and only a couple of hours doing seat work. Looking back I don’t regret that at all!

What I do regret is that I felt like something  was wrong with my children playing outside for hours, exploring nature, figuring each other out, and making outhouses.

Yes, they made outhouses.

They also learned about nouns and verbs, but I think the outhouse was more practical. 😉

Comparing our home educating journey to…anything else.

There is no comparing public school and home school. They are two completely different beasts. Things could have been easier in my earlier years if I had recognized that there is no comparing two homeschools, either. Just like each person is uniquely made, each family is unique. What works for us may not work for someone else.

We did a certain math program for two years (two very long years) even though it did not work for us. I  thought that I had to because it was the best. It said so in the reviews, my friends loved it. Never mind that there was three pages of reading before the 100 math problems and after the timed math facts review, and that the pages were soaked with their tears 5 minutes in to the eight hour lesson. It was the best, darn it, so it must work.

It took my brother, Erik, cleaning my homeschool room, leading to us losing our math books for months, for me to realize that homeschooling without tears was possible. We got rid of that math and did other things and guess what? We were fine. Better than fine, in fact.

Our best homeschool years happened when I asked the kids what they wanted to learn about and combined that with what I thought was important for them to know.

Not making my mental health a priority.

Homeschooling is hard, there’s no way around it. It’s never ending, there are no days off, and you will be giving a lot of yourself. You’ll be student and teacher all at once, you still have to be a partner to your spouse, keep up with family relationships, friendships, make sure you’re growing spiritually, feed the dog, take the kids to the doctor, and don’t forget the dental checkups, and cooking balanced meals, and…

You see how important mental health is?

Seriously, though, I wish I had checked in with a counselor sooner. You can always find free  Christian counseling or one that uses a sliding scale for fees. At the very least check out some self-helps books, take quiet time every day to meditate and pray, and talk to Jesus frequently, and by frequently I mean constantly.


Whew, that was way longer than I meant for it to be. Thanks for sticking it out to the end.

One of my favorite things to do is to do look back at the work the kids have done over the years, especially on days when I feel like I haven’t accomplished my goals. It makes me feel proud of the past and invigorated for the future.  Is it the same for you, too?

Happy Thursday, Misfits. Hope it’s been a good one.