Featured

Undaunted

 

adjective

1.

undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort:

undaunted by failure.

2.

undiminished in courage or valor; not giving way to fear; intrepid:

Although outnumbered, he was undaunted.

Adj. brave, bold

Syn. fearless, indomitable, steadfast, undeterred, courageous

Ant. cowardly, shrinking

 

Homeschooling is my one thing. It’s the one thing I have always been sure of. Not that I was ‘doing it right’ but that it was the right thing to do for my children.

When we started out, if you looked at the situation, you wouldn’t think so.

I didn’t have many resources, suffer chronic illness, and there is autism in the house. Finances and support have been sparse.

People always assume I went to college. I didn’t. I graduated from high school with honors and a profound lack of abilities. I could barely do basic math, had no clue how to organize and write a research paper, and  could not have analyzed literature to save my life.

While I loved reading popular fiction, a great deal of literature was beyond me. I distinctly remember trying to read The Scarlet Letter while pregnant with my third child and giving up in tears. It was hopeless. A lifetime of being told I was stupid should have deterred me, but I happen to be blessed with perseverance, or plain old hardheaded stubbornness, if you prefer.

In case you are wondering, all my children can do math and have gone on to higher education. They most certainly can analyze literature and can write. Even the ones with learning challenges.

Through this journey, it has become obvious that I most likely have learning disabilities myself.

It didn’t stop me from teaching my own. I knew I wasn’t prepared, and that gave me an advantage. It made me study and ask for help. I also knew enough to trust my instincts and I understood my options, which were few. No one was as invested in my children’s success as I was.

My methods are eclectic, with a strong bent towards unschooling, and my kids tell me I am the toughest teacher they ever had. No one gets out of my ‘school’ without a strong dose of logic, critical thinking, and philosophy. If that sounds impressive, I should remind you there are books for teaching that. This blog is not about products or methods. It’s about finding the courage to build strong relationships and empower through education. It’s about what that looked like for us.

Side Note: By the time we got to The Scarlet Letter, to my total shock, it was easy peasy. Math? It’s still hard.

Please note I said homeschooling was right for my children. I am a strong advocate for school choice, whatever that is for your family.

Advertisements

Raising a Thinking Homeschooler

I missed posting last weekend. Sorry about that! I have been working hard on my novel in progress and trying to get my youngest son situated. He may or may not be going back to school. We’re debating.

Raising thinking homeschoolers is a topic near to my heart. I feel it is imperative that our kids know how to think logically and are able to articulate what they believe. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. 

********

I always had a plan, but involving other humans in your well thought out course of action has a tendency to produce a bit of unraveling. And then there are my own issues and shortcomings. I vacillate between being supremely confident in my approach, and all out panic at the things we didn’t get to, the stuff they don’t know.

Living close to your own vulnerabilities provides clarity in a way that nothing else can.

I remind myself that you have to do the first things first. What the world tells us is of utmost importance is usually not so.

There are plenty of lists, scope and sequence charts, and suggested high school courses neatly laid out as a map for your typical course of study. You can find them on the internet or request them from curriculum providers.

None of these got to the core of what subjects I wanted my children to really, truly, down-in-their-core understand before they went to college or entered the workforce.

Choosing to put the first things first may cause perceived gaps. You have to make a choice. What is the most important? If this was the last day that you drew breath, what would you teach your child today?

Do that thing.

To my turn of mind, the goal of education is to be able to think, communicate, and contribute to society.

I wanted my children to be able to navigate the world, know what they believe, and to be able to think and reason for themselves. I wanted them to have an opinion and have the ability to logically argue that opinion.

I emphasized the skills I deemed important over the typical academic subjects. We did the regular courses, but there are more important things to learn sometimes. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, tests you aced, or how many facts are stuffed you’re your head if you can’t actually think for yourself.

Some people find debate easy. None of the members in our family enjoy that particular discipline. Don’t get me wrong. They have opinions, but being able to support an opinion and argue effectively is a world apart from simply being able to argue. Regular run-of-the-mill arguing is not something you have to teach your children, but a logical argument is a skill that must be developed.

I’ve pretty much ruined every movie I’ve ever watched with my kids by dissecting it. This started when they were very young. I think my oldest was probably around four. Before you think I’m some kind of brainiac who had the ability to analyze story in some special way, let me clear that up for you. I was not. I just like to question things. Once I realized that every story is written from a certain perspective, I wanted to know what that perspective was.

Here’s a big tip: All you have to do to get people to think many times is to ask them, What do you think? Did you notice what that character did? Why do you think he did it? When they said X what do you think they meant? Why do you think they said it? Why do you think they’re doing what they’re doing?

I have discovered that most people are quite willing to tell you what they think on practically any subject.

I encouraged all my children to question everything. The exception was when my second son frustrated me by his constant asking of why.

When I told him just stop asking me, he said, “But you told me to always ask why, otherwise how will I know things?”

I replied, “This is true. But you have to be quiet long enough to hear the answer!”

When I pointed out that to learn you have to listen, my son accepted my argument. This is good advice for the teacher as well. Your student won’t contribute to a conversation if you don’t listen and respect their opinions.

I did use a worldview curriculum and logic courses, but I think the biggest impact was the time we scheduled to talk about issues, movies, and books. According to the kids, none of them got this level of training in college. They find it perturbing, this lack of thinking going on out there in the “real world”.

My children each have their own unique take on world events. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that they each have a different view on many political and societal issues. Maybe I’m the odd man out, but I have a strange pride in their ability to disagree, even if that means they disagree with me. They can make their point respectfully, discuss, and then go to watch Avengers together for the billionth time.

******

So, I’m going to ask the question.

What did you think?

Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment!

When You’re Not Enough

I have never been enough.

I try. I really do.

From the beginning, I studied and worked with all my might. Most of the time I am adequate, but there are things beyond my abilities that bring me to despair.

No matter how much I try or what I do, this one is more than I can handle. The hours I spend learning and searching increase my knowledge to the swelling point, earning me the label of amateur expert. Yet there he is, impervious. My carefully chosen words are so many flimsy soap bubbles, the noise a mere whisper before expiring with a quiet ‘pop’ more sensed than heard.

He wants to hear me, but the walls between us are thick and wide. He turns his head. The vibrations reach him. I will him to touch it, grasp it. Sometimes he does reach. It is a flimsy thing, not easily held. The fragmented traces it leaves, when it does find him, are like bits of melody, a song in separate pieces.

We begin again, with a slight adjustment and renewed persistence.

In all the long, long nights of bitter tears and angry, screaming prayers, failure has taught me this hard lesson well.

I can never be enough. Because perfect doesn’t exist in this world.

I am always enough. Because I will never give up on him.

There is a reason that mothers and fathers who face extraordinary challenges are referred to as parents in the trenches. The challenges in and of themselves are not the enemy. Those things that destroy your soul wear many masks. A few of their names are comparison, fear, and doubt. And they have a whole heap of nasty cousins.

Progress can be a messy business. Things don’t happen in a straight line. Who am I kidding? This is trailblazing work, walking a person through their own uncharted territory with scant signposts along the way. Even when you are certain sure you are going the right direction, there is a constant nagging doubt. Maybe this is not the right way after all.

When circumstances are particularly challenging, different, or unique, companions along the way are few and far between. It is a terrifying moment when you realize that even the advising experts often have no clue what they’re talking about.

I don’t know if I’m always doing the right thing. What I do know is that I have hope that I am not doing the wrong thing. Hope. A thing both fragile and strong, a whisper and a shout.

A wise man told me, “You can only do what you can do.”

This is a phrase I have repeated to myself more time than I can count. In my heart of hearts, I know I have given as much as I can. Not perfect parenting, by any means, but the best I could do at the moment.

You can only do what you can do.

After that, you have to have faith that things will work out. The distance between hope and faith isn’t so far. Perhaps it’s the final step in all the striving, the ending place of when you have poured it all out and nothing is left but faith.

Doubts are always there, but in the shadow of faith, doubts shrink down to manageable size.

Sometimes the best we can do is to focus on the next step. The next small goal. Celebrate those moments. For some of us, when our children learn to tie their shoes it is a much larger accomplishment then it is for your typical child. Every child is unique. Some are more unique than others. Averages and typical growth charts are nothing but scribbles on paper, not applicable.

Comparison destroys progress. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell myself to not play the comparison game, I fall into the trap. Often. We have to have a measuring stick to go by, otherwise we don’t know where we’re going. The problem is, the measurements keep changing.

The things you thought you knew no longer apply. These are the times when you have to dig deep, and get close to what is deep, deep, true. It is amazing how much preconceptions are worthless when it comes down to it. Throw almost everything out the window. Walking through life with someone who sees and experiences every moment a little bit left of center, a slightly different shade of blue, it helps a person find the pared down, close to the bone truth of the way things really are.

When things are terrifying, and they are, you can’t be afraid. You are the anchor, the place they call home. Fear is a luxury you cannot afford.

If you pay homage to fear, it will never be satisfied. It will eat you alive, you and your babies with you.

Trust your own good sense, do the best you can, and refuse to lose hope.

You can only do what you can do.

You are enough.

**********

I was so hesitant to post today. I hope it conveyed what is on my heart and that this post is an encouragement.

If it encouraged you today, please leave a comment, like, or share.

All my best,

Donna Jo

 

Lessons That Matter

This essay first appeared on my site at donnajostone.com. Still gives me that little heart squeeze. 

*********

Lessons That Matter

My highschooler comes home from her new part time job, Tuesday through Thursday, at lunchtime. The chatter is non-stop for a while. I love to watch her as she talks.

She works as a pair of extra hands at a private school.

A helper was needed for two special needs kids, teenagers. When the job posting came up, I thought it might be of interest to her. Patience with certain children is one of her attributes, and she is not scared of different. I asked her if she was interested and she said yes.

Our homeschool schedule had to be adjusted, but that is fine. We can well afford to be flexible with the hours.

Important lessons take precedence, and some things need to be experienced.

I felt this would be an excellent opportunity for her.

After the first week she says to me, “I’m really surprised by how much I like it.”

“I knew you would.”

I am too smug. She wrinkles her nose at me, then rolls her eyes. I pretend to be affronted, and defend myself.

“Well,” I say, hands on hips and trying not to grin,“at least I didn’t say, ‘Told you so.’ ”

This earns me a skeptical sideways glance and a lifted eyebrow.

“OK,” I admit. “It’s kind of the same thing.”

“Kind of exactly.”

We laugh.

Over the following days I learn that The Wiggles and Minions are her students’ favorites, about words missed and corrected, and many other things.

I listen to it all.

We are in my room after she gets home one day and conversation goes as usual. She pauses for breath, hesitating.

“Do I talk about my kids too much?”

My kids.

I shake my head no. “I want to hear,” I tell her.

She smiles and speaks of how much her boy student likes to color all the pictures in, not just the right number to get the answer, of gentle tugs on her sleeve and sweet laughter finally earned. She isn’t looking at me as she describes the laughter. There is a particular light in her eyes.

When she still rested in the womb I placed my palms on my naked, swollen belly. With fingers splayed out across the roundness, I wept and promised her she could be who she was, not knowing what future would come.

Here it is. I watch an unfolding woman’s soul begin to enter into being.

My kids,” she said.

Just when I thought she couldn’t get any more beautiful.

*******

Working at the school helped my girl decide what she wanted to do with her life. She is currently pursuing a degree in Occupational Therapy and wants to work with children. When time allows she volunteers at a church that has a program for special needs kids. Occasionally, she is blessed to be able to see her “first kids”. 

Power Struggles in Homeschool

Who’s in Charge Here? Power Struggles in Homeschool

I believe children want to be obedient. I do not believe children are naturally good by any means. Human beings are deceitful, selfish, and a whole heap of other negative personality traits. But I have noticed in my years of taking care of children they do tend to want to please their parents.

When we were part of a homeschool co-op, there was a period time when we sat the children down. The leading mother asked the children what would be some good rules of conduct. The impact on the children’s behavior was immediate and impressive. They came up with good rules. And they followed them. This was one of the most important lessons I learned by watching other homeschool families.

Everybody loves to be heard, and investing ourselves always makes any activity more worthwhile and valuable to us. Children and adults both share the desire to be heard and respected.

I always expected my children to do their assignments. I didn’t leave them alone without support, but I did always have faith they could figure things out. I gave them plenty of room to do their own projects, to figure out what worked and what didn’t. We needed a lot of tools and a lot of electronics to break. Contraption was one of my kids’ favorite words.

I would ask, “What are you doing?”

And they would say, “We’re making a contraption.”

This was my cue to stay out of the way, trust in them, and give them space.

I am a mom who learned that building forts out of logs and staying up late to read books can be the best use of time. Our days were made up of learning moments more often than textbook study sessions.

I also believe that we are wired to learn, and if we don’t kill the natural curiosity, teaching becomes a whole lot easier. We are part time unschoolers.

I gave my children a tremendous amount of choice and freedom. They had as much input as possible, choosing their own curriculum, within certain guidelines. By around fourth grade, they had a pretty good idea of what worked for them. Some of the time they didn’t have a preference. There were occasions when I did all the planning myself, but this was rare.

It’s important for a person to own their education.

Valuing my students input and allowing them to decide what they wanted to learn and how they wanted to learn it produced responsible young people. One of the saddest things I could ever hear during my childrens’ school years was, “I can’t go play right now mama. I have to do my school.”

You can’t always be as flexible with the requirements and schedule as you would like. But when you can be, why not encourage the spark of imagination?

Many parents think that if you don’t force children to do schoolwork, then they will do nothing all day but play video games. The solution to that problem is to limit access to overindulgences. It sounds simple, but this is one of the toughest challenges you will have, this self-discipline thing. They will copy your behavior. Model what you want them to emulate.

Couple that with finding where their interests lie. Enjoy the journey and the company as you discover your child’s passion together. Who’s in charge? You both are. It’s a team effort.

There are enough obstacles in life. I will not be the one to douse the flame. I will fan the spark.

Unschooling Boy Adventures

I wrote this essay in an attempt to capture the essence of unschooling, or child-led learning. I cry every time I read it. This is a loooong essay for a blog post.

This one is for all the mamas of wiggly, adventurous boys.

*******

He thinks I am the one who taught him that life is an adventure.

He is a talker. Always has been. Made me batty. One long, errand-filled day our final stop was the grocery store. He was riding in my shopping cart and his chatter was driving me to distraction. I gently captured his plump toddler cheeks between my two palms and leaned in close until my forehead touched his. Little boy heat radiated into my skin. I counted silently; one, two, three.

“Hush,” I said.

His big blue eyes blinked at me.

“Okay,” he said.

I knew better than to fall for this trick. I did not release him just yet.

“Be quiet.” I firmly restated my request.

A finger crept up to cover his pursed lips before he made an exceptionally loud “SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH”.

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

“Please don’t make any more noise until we are out of the store.”

He nodded solemnly.

We did not travel the short distance to the end of that aisle before it began.

“I will be quiet.”

I ignored his self-talk, hoping.

“I will be sooooo quiet.”

I picked up a can of peas, scrutinizing the label.

“Quiet like a little mouse.”

I placed the can of peas into my buggy.

“A teeny, tiny, little mouse.”

A muffled snort drew my attention to a fellow shopper. I suspected she had been privy to my attempts to contain my verbal offspring’s self-expression. The woman was actually bent over, one arm clutching her stomach. Her face twitched as she attempted to press her lips together. She managed to duck out of sight and into the next aisle over before laughter escaped her, dancing over to reach my ears.

We found each other later, that shopper and I, bumping into each other the way people in the same store do as they go about gathering their purchases. By then he was singing to himself, or to an imaginary playmate, or perhaps to the bottle of ketchup.

She tried to reign in a grin and dampen the sparkle in her eyes, rearranging her expression to one of contriteness.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

But then the giggles overtook us both.

After she went her way I wiped my eyes, thankful I had given up mascara.

At the register, I lifted him out and managed to sneak in a hug before he pushed away and wriggled down. After he had a quick look around, he grabbed my leg and hung on, my prattling limpet.

This is how it was.

On days at home he would demand an experiment.

“Do the colors,” he would say, then give me a flirty smile and bat his eyelashes. “Please.”

I would get down clear glass tumblers and food coloring. We filled the glasses with tap water and lined them up. Drop by drop, he watched the magic of clear turning red, then purple or orange, depending on the tipped out drops. His hands would reach, so eager and grabby, the fingers always itchy to touch.

“Can I drink it?” He asked every time.

Colors tasted better then, before we knew they were bad for you.

When he was five, I bought him new folders, pens and crayons. The flash cards came out, but phonics wasn’t his thing. I know how to teach someone to read. I’d done it before, with his brother, but this boy wasn’t just someone. He pushed me to learn from Raymond Moore and Cynthia Tobias and myself, trusting in my own good sense.

My boy was a hands-on, auditory, wiggly creature.

So we kept watching sing-alongs and he followed the bouncing ball with his gaze and his entire body, bouncing right along with the music and words.

Shaving cream filled Ziploc bags with a drop of color were his slate. I guided his finger to trace D’Nealian letters until the game got old and the color was over mixed. The next day we made a new tracing bag with a new color.

Rich in books, our inventory of printed treasure overflowed several bookcases and decorated every room. Still, we borrowed more, twenty a week. We read together. I did not insult him by tracking the words with my finger, or ruin the story with silly, demanding questions.

A story needs to breathe.

With his paper and pens he drew pictures, and with the crayons he colored this world. He brought the pages to me and put the pen in my hand.

“Write this,” he would say, and then tell me his stories.

The pages we produced made up many books, and some we even bound. Most were works of artistic imagination held together by staples.

Sometimes string.

On a dry erase board I wrote out passages from other books, leaving blanks along the way. Mad Libs booklets were not in stores around here then, and could only be found in my memories, so we made up our own. He loved those nouns and verbs and adverbs.

In between the music, experiments and days at the park, he dictated stories to me. He followed me around with a notebook.

“Put the first letters,” I told him, juggling the baby on my hip, “or draw a picture and we can put the words in later.”

He got tired of waiting and began writing himself. Pictures become letters, letters become words, and words become story. Once he got some of his own stories out, it was easier for him to sit still long enough to puzzle out someone else’s.

He made copies of his best books and donated them to his favorite library, where he had been allowed to laugh and the librarian understood the gift of a live cricket. And, after all, a long time ago, when he was only a little kid, she had let him take home her own books with nothing more than a youngster’s promise to take care of them. My raised eyebrows and his grubby hands did not dissuade her from trusting my boy. She simply told him to wash his hands and be careful.

He did and he was.

She also shared with him the strawberry candy kept in her desk every time he came to get fresh library books.

When he brought her his own stories, bound and illustrated, he left strict instructions they were to be checked out to anyone who had a card. The librarian wanted to put them on a shelf to display. In her pleasure at receiving an original, one-of-a-kind edition, she had forgotten what the heart of a story is for, to be shared. It was a momentary lapse.

She had been the one to tell me, “You must always read to a child, every time they ask.”

I told her that would be a hard row to hoe. To illustrate my point, I gave him permission to ask her to read extra books to him when story time was over.

It wasn’t long before she said, “I see what you mean.”

There was always music. He learned to play the piano and performed for anyone who cared to listen. At a church meeting he sat on the bench, the piano arranged so that none of us in the rows of the audience could see more than the crown of his blonde head. Halfway through the piece he stumbled, then stopped. Silence reigned for the space of two heartbeats before his head popped up over the top of the piano. He grinned at us.

“I messed up,” he said. “I hafta start over.”

Seated once again, he pounded out My Country Tis of Thee from beginning to end. When he finished, he got up, and walked to center stage. Attired in jeans and striped T-shirt, he could not have been more solemn as he swept into an extravagant bow than if he had been decked out in a tux with tails. Everyone smiled and clapped. He dimpled and bounded over to me, shoestrings flying.

Bugs caught his interest and became a fascination for him. At one time, it was his goal to be an entomologist when he grew up, even though he could not actually pronounce the technical name of this chosen profession.

He would say, “I want to be a real bug guy.”

At a friend’s house we gathered with some other homeschoolers to have a class with an entomologist from the university. He demonstrated the proper way to mount insects and talked of many other interesting things. After listening politely, my boy brought the man a bug net and asked him to fix it. I hung back, impressed into reticence by the doctor’s books and letters while the two of them ran in the grass along the edge of the woods, chasing after things that flew and hopped.

The boy was a builder and knew what a hammer was for from the time he was a little guy tagging along behind the church custodian. However, instruction on the safety of tools does not guarantee application. Even repeated instruction. Well into his teens he was still not convinced of the need for an overabundance of precaution.

Late one evening the kitchen door opened. He didn’t enter, but only stuck his head in.

“Mom,” he yelled, “When’s the last time I had a tetanus shot?”

Since he was upright and neither covered in blood nor displaying any signs of visible injury, I quelled the urge to jump up and rush to his aid. Instead, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

”What did you do.”

It was said as a statement, not a question. My voice was calm, if a bit gravelly.

“Nothing.”

He shifted his weight from foot to foot and closed the door a bit.

“But could you bring me a towel?”

If you ask him, he will show you the scar on his palm and advise you that it is not smart to hold things in your hand while you drill into them with an electric power tool. His favorite part of the telling is describing, complete with sound effects and contorting facial grimaces, how he had to “back the bit up” to get it out of his hand where the drill had snagged the skin.

No stitches were required.

By the way, he has never been overdue for a tetanus shot. I did not take away his tools, at least not permanently. I did assign many research papers related to the proper use and safety of tools, recreational related equipment, and vehicles of all sorts.

The stage was a prime venue for his particular talents and energy. My boy’s ardent portrayal of his first Shakespearean role caused the young female co-actors to giggle and turn red. Years later he realized why and was embarrassed. At the time he was simply Lysander the Lover. It was his first Shakespearean play, but not his last. His finale was in High School. He entered stage left with his cohort, whom we shall name only as Grumio, who had, unbeknownst to me or the director, provided my son with a prop cigar.

This particular prop had not been present at any of the rehearsals, dress or otherwise. I am pretty sure the guys knew it would not have been approved. But now, on opening night, there he stood, feet solidly planted and a haughty gaze surveying his domain. One hand was firmly fisted on his hip while the other hand brought the cigar to his lips for an exaggerated puff-puff-puff.

I cut my eyes left and right, wondering what all these fine visiting mamas and daddies with their tender young families in tow thought of the young man taking center stage while pretending to smoke.

His voice boomed out the lines as he swaggered, and lights caught the glint of his eyes. He was Petruchio. After he spoke, he stuck the cigar into his mouth and dared us to tell him otherwise.

I decided to laugh.

After a few more adventures, he went on to college and got a degree. Shortly after he started putting that degree to use working at the news station, a new job position opened there. His co-workers told him he should apply. They were teasing. They didn’t know him yet.

“Should I go for it?” he asked me.

I answered, “Why not?”

So he went from teleprompter to producer in a leap. He never has learned to stay within reasonable limits.

A few weeks ago he asked me what I would think if he went back to school to pursue engineering. He has always been interested in the field. I told him he would be a wonderful engineer. Because I am still the mom, even if he is grown, he also received unsolicited advice on saving his money and avoiding student debt.

Today he came to visit me. He settled himself into the big brown recliner before he spoke.

“You know Mom,” he said, “I think the best thing you ever taught me was that life is an adventure.”

The statement made me smile. He thinks I taught him that.

********

Since I wrote this, my son acquired a few more occupations and is currently working as a software developer. He is the proud owner of an affordable mortgage on a house too large for him situated on five acres. He claims it’s perfect for him. The property has a creek.

If this story encouraged you, please comment and/or share.

All my best,

Donna Jo

Teach Them To Follow Their Dreams

Hi Everyone,

This was meant to be chapter one of nonfiction book about homeschooling that I wrote a couple of years ago. The idea of editing an entire book is overwhelming me, so I will post it bit by bit. I would love to know what you think.  I will still be working on my novels, but wanted to be an encouragement to parents going through some of the same things we did. I want you to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it is worth all the effort and sacrifice we put in.

You are doing important work.

****************

Be a dream encourager.

Teach them to follow their dreams.

I had dreams for her. I had dreams for all my children, but for my little girl I had cotton candy, white-lace-curtain-dreams. I knew exactly what I wanted her room to look like. We would wear beautiful, hand sewn, matching dresses. In this magical world, the days would be filled to the top with joyful moments. We would cook together, sew together, and take nature walks. She would have long, beautiful hair and I would spend hours and hours brushing and curling it. Demure and lady-like, she would sit quietly by my side when I suggested, in a calm and gentle manner, that she do so. Like I said, it was a dream.

By the time I had proof positive that I a little girl was actually on the way, I had birthed enough boys to realize many of these ideas would probably not come true. Still, I never even considered a girl child of mine would not like to sew and cook. After all, my boys all learned to quilt and are well acquainted with the sewing machine. Two of them can cook reasonably well, and one excels in the kitchen. Maybe this is why my daughter sees absolutely no reason to spend her time over a hot stove.

There was a period of time when she became interested in sewing, but she didn’t want my help. She was in a club that sometimes did sewing projects, and these she did with her brother’s assistance, because she would rather sew with him than with me.

I bought plenty of hair bows and barrettes. She never liked me messing with her hair, and hid in the closet to hack it off. She’s not a big fan of brushing her hair either. Saying that here will probably get me in dutch with her, but it’s true.

She doesn’t love the same things I love. She needs to go her own way. My dreams are not hers. She needs her own.

Each of my children has their passions. This is how it should be. While there is a sorrow in not being able to share things that delight me with my most favorite young lady in the world, we share enough. It would be a terrible disservice to cripple a person by smothering their gifts, either by superimposing our own or otherwise.

They have to have room to grow, to find their true self. They need time and space. Every person is born with natural inclinations, and the wise teacher will be able to discern the areas in which a person will naturally bloom by observing them. We live in a world full of limitless possibilities; as long as we don’t limit ourselves by spending too much of our time and energy trying to conform to someone else’s idea of what our lives should look like.

Human beings are born wired to learn, to explore, and to search out new experiences. A baby grasps at things both familiar and new. This is the way we are made. No one has to force a toddler to reach, test, and try new things. As long as we keep reaching, we will find what we are best suited for. The best thing we can do for our children, and for ourselves, is to get out of the way of natural tendencies allowing our dreams and passions to instruct us.

Growing dreams takes time.

Nurture them the same way you would a tender plant. Give your students opportunity and fertile soil in which to find their rightful place. Allow them to experience plenty of opportunities. My children were shocked to recently meet someone who had never been to an art museum. While peers may often shake heads because my children were not raised on cable TV, mine are surprised and saddened that many of their friends went through their entire childhood without ever building a fort or digging a hole big enough to put your whole body into. A childhood without trees, music, and art, is a childhood of poverty.

We may not have had a great deal of material things, but God blessed us with abundance. Children need time in nature and time in the quiet to use one of the greatest assets at their disposal, their imagination, and they need books. Lots of books. Encourage your children’s interests. Listen patiently to them talk about what they love and they will love you for it. Feeding dreams is an honorable calling. Watching the growth is a blessing. Trust me on this one. It’s not something you want to miss.

There are two sides to this coin. As with everything in life, balance is hard to come by and maintain. Not only do we have to encourage them to strive towards their chosen goals, we need, at times, to give them a reality check. People will lie to you. They might tell you you’re great at something because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Limitations are in place to help guide us to the calling we were intended to pursue. Don’t get in the way by refusing to acknowledge the fact. I am not talking about being critical or actively discouraging children from their true ambition. They will never learn what they’re capable of unless you encourage them to test limits and reach goals higher than they can realistically expect to achieve. More often than not they can and do move beyond what they thought they could do.

But let’s face it, not everyone can be a rocket scientist or a famous singer.

Sometimes your children won’t listen to you, no matter how well delivered the advice. I have found the best thing to do is to get out of the way and let them either succeed or fail.

I used to think that anyone could sing. Then my middle son decided he would like to be a musician. He never did learn to sing, however he did learn to play the guitar, the piano, and produced an album as his senior project. He has a extremely good grasp of music theory and has mad technical skills. He just can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Just because he can’t sing doesn’t mean he’s not a musician, as he has proven.

I suspect he still thinks maybe he could learn to sing if he had a better teacher. Maybe he’s right. There’s nothing quite as delightful as watching your children prove you wrong by succeeding at something. I will always be their biggest cheerleader.

Protect them from dream killers.

Reality may be harsh, but false perceptions can be more destructive and even harsher. There will be always be those who will try to hold people down. Learn to recognize them. Finding the strength of character to break away from those who seek to hold you down can be difficult, and often is, but to succeed and to be pleased with your own life this is something you must do. The world is full of naysayers, both obvious and not, who delight in other’s failures. Be careful of the environment you place your child in. Even if you think you have done the best job and trust implicitly the people who influence your child, do a health check every now and again. Situations can change. Just as you reevaluate your child’s academic progress, reevaluate the situations they are placed in. Home educating is no guarantee against the typical social positioning and conflicts. Talk to your children and listen to them. Be that obnoxious mom. You’ve earned the right.

Everyone has been born with a unique destiny, a purpose for being.

Following our passions enables us to be satisfied. There is much more to life than simple muddling through, surviving day by day. I believe we are part of a much bigger picture, fitted together into the grand and beautiful design. Everyone matters.

As I write this I’m visiting at my middle son’s house.

“I need encouragement,” I tell him.

He ignores me, looking at his phone.

“Pay attention to me,” I demand.

“I’m listening,” he says, “I’m looking up how to be an encouragement.”

“Nice.”

“No really, listen. You’re great, you’re awesome, good job.”

I can’t tell if he’s trying to make me laugh or irritate me. Whatever.

“Thanks,” I say.

The time it is late and I suddenly realize something.

“I forgot to make your lasagna,” I tell him.

Earlier, I had told him if he brought groceries I would make him one.

He shrugs. “You don’t have time to make lasagna. You’re busy changing the world with your writing.”

I swivel my head around to look at him. He is going through his mail, his head bent over the pile of flyers and envelopes. I can’t read his expression.

“What do you mean?”

My visit has been too long and we are starting to get on each other’s nerves. It’s hard to read people when you’re busy jabbing at each other. He looks up. He wears little boy earnestness, something he’s never quite outgrown. My beautiful intense child.

“You’re sharing wisdom with your writing.”

He says this with utter seriousness. He believes in me. A spare five minutes ago, I was whining, complaining.

Now I say, “That’s what I meant earlier. What you just said is encouraging.”

He furrows his brow. “Really?” He seems honestly surprised. He thinks about it a moment, and then shrugs. “It’s the truth.” He goes back to pawing through his mail, as if he had not just handed me a priceless treasure.

He’s a dream encourager.

I never knew I was growing my own cheerleading section.

*****

Did this post encourage you? Leave a comment and please share with someone.

All my best,

Donna Jo

 

Under the Microscope

When we first started homeschooling, I wasn’t aware of it. I was too busy trying to get all my ducks in a row. Besides, I have never really understood why what I do should be of such intense interest of outside parties.

It was the homeymoon phase and didn’t last very long.

Every mom knows this intrusion on her parenting skills. It starts just about the time your baby bump begins to show, and continues until . . . well, I don’t know when it ends. I haven’t got there yet.

With homeschooling it’s kind of like that, times ten. Your friends, neighbors, relatives, random strangers on the street suddenly turn a critical eye on your life. Everyone has an opinion. And then there are the demands we place on ourselves.

The very first book I read about homeschooling advised me that my house must always be in order. I tried to laugh that off, but it made me nervous. A week or so later, I joined a group. With membership came a list of written rules. The most important thing we were to remember was that we represented something important. Members were severely admonished us to conduct ourselves in a manner befitting this responsibility. At all times. 

Then there are the questions. Most of the time these are fine. An exception would be one of those ambushes when an angry looking adult corners the poor homeschooled kid. Then the adult proceeds to quiz the child on various subjects until the child is caught in a mistake, at which point the angry adult says something like, “Aha! I knew little Johnny’s education was being neglected! He can’t name all of the Kings and Queens of England in chronological order!”

During these inquisitions the homeschooled child will misspell simple words, fail easy arithmetic, and forget the name of the city in which they reside. They will also confess to sleeping until 11:00 because, “Mom said she was never teaching us anything ever again.” and “We like to sleep all day.”

On the other side of the coin, there are the enthusiasts. A truckload of shiny assumptions line the path to the homeschool pedestal of perfection. Myths abound. The idea that mom has endless patience and the children are all little geniuses who always behave perfectly does not really describe what our family looks like. Not that reality ever stopped me from trying to grasp the elusive brass ring of perfection so tantalizingly out of reach as the ride takes me ‘round and ‘round.

This brings me to my own worst critic. Me.

There are lists, scope and sequence charts, and all sorts of assessment tools that are meant to be a guide. Being a mom, however, I can easily and quickly turn those helpful tools into proof of my inadequacy. Although logic dictates that not everyone congregates around the 90th percentile, no one ever brags about being average.

I celebrate all kids who have found there place to shine, and am rightly proud of them. But being average in a world of perceived stars is hard. I forget the truth. Everyone has their own specific gifts and should be encouraged to flourish in them, whether those gifts are the usual ones or not. I have to remind myself that the quiet gifts are as valuable as the loud, trumpeting kind.

Nurturing is my calling, not comparing.

My house is a mess. My yard is a mess. I have allowed poor nutritional choices on occasion. If I am supposed to be wonder woman, I think I was strangled by my cape.

All of this pressure to be perfect can blur the home educating mom’s vision.

Most years January was my typical time of year to panic about school. Mid-year evaluations would reveal how much we had fallen short of my goals. Never mind that I knew full well that these were unrealistic.  I would disregard the fact that at the time I made these plans I never actually expected to complete everything. This need to compete would typically unbalance me for a week or two before I returned to my senses. Sprinkled throughout the journey, in moments of weakness and stress, sporadic fits of ‘pursuing perfectionism’ have plagued me as well.

I’m doing better now. At least so far today.

Seven Things to Remember

We are destined to fail at perfection, because perfection does not exist in this world.

No one can do it all, be it all, or have it all. We were never meant to.

Growing up young men and women is imprecise and not to be measured by man-made standards.

There will be mess. Always.

Critical people are not useful and can really get in the way of your goals. They do not have the right to ruin your destiny.

Trying to live an ideal not your own is life draining and a stumbling block.

Good enough is good enough.

What reminders to you need to tell yourself?