Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Heart Controls the Mouth

As a homeschooling parent, one of my greatest hopes is that my children flourish.  By this I mean that I want them to grow in Christ and find fulfillment in learning about His creation. I learned early on that the only way that could happen is if their teacher wasn’t a big, lazy, sour puss. If I’m not growing in Christ, if I don’t find fulfillment in learning and teaching about His creation, that will infect our homeschool and make our efforts fruitless. My heart has to be right or there will be a slurry of bilge that comes from my mouth.

This must be a common problem among homeschoolers because I recently read a blog post over at Heart of the Matter.  The author believes you should never say three things as a homeschooler: “I’m behind”; “I can’t do this”; and “I’m not doing enough”. 

This got me to thinking about the source of this language.  She seems to believe that these phrases are lies that we believe and if we remove this language from our vocabulary, that it will change our state of mind and thereby improve our homeschool experience. That starts with a premise that the mouth controls the heart. But is that really true?  Do I only have to remove a few phrases to accomplish my goal of children who flourish in my homeschool? Does my mouth control my actions?

Jesus says in Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.”  He clearly identifies the heart as the source of what comes from our mouth, not our mouth as the source of the condition of our heart.  If I stopped saying, “I’m behind,” would that somehow take my guilt away about being behind? Not according to Jesus.

It’s our heart that tells us we should feel guilty, that we can’t, that we should do better. So if we start with that premise, that our heart controls the mouth, it is clear that our heart needs to be examined, not our mouth.  

As a homeschooling parent, I can specifically relate to falling behind. It seems that every time I turn around I’m adjusting our schedule for one reason or another. I don’t see anything inherently wrong about saying “I’m behind” if that is the truth. Public school teachers fall behind in their plans all the time.  Daddies fall behind at work.  Everyone falls behind sometimes. We are really good at making plans and then not following them or thinking that we are in control of them in the first place.  So what is the big deal about me saying, “I’m behind”? It’s a common human condition.  I believe that what is important is that we allow God to expose why we fell behind and determine if that is a legitimate reason or if it is rooted in sin.

Before we examine our heart we need to first acknowledge another truth.  Grace is a gift of God, not something that you can earn or provide to yourself.  Even in this situation, you are seeking mercy, forgiveness, and freedom from guilt. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Unfortunately, the author is pointing to herself as the source of authority and grace. She judges that the statement “I’m behind”, or the others, are lies which affect her state of mind. She can stop believing those lies if she stops repeating them. In other words, if she changes her words, she will change herself, and have nothing to feel guilty about. That is not logical at all! First, it isn’t a lie to say you are behind. If are following a schedule and you don’t keep up with it, then you are behind. It doesn’t mean it was wrong for you to fall behind; it simply means you fell behind. What we won’t know without examination is if those reasons for falling behind were legitimate or sinful. If all we do is stop saying a phrase it’s just avoiding the examination. By following this process, she is actually not only avoiding the examination, but also avoiding the opportunity to receive grace.  She thinks she is giving herself grace by just not speaking lies, but that isn’t real grace. That isn’t real freedom from guilt. Even if for a time she feels better, guilt will surly raise its ugly head again.

It is GOD who is the source of all grace, all mercy, and all that is good.  It is He who will change you! That gives me great comfort.  I’m terrible at changing myself. I can’t stay on a diet for more than a month, why would I think I could stop speaking 3 phrases? But thankfully, God is faithful to keep His promises for eternity.

So now that we understand that it is the heart that controls the mouth and that it is God who can free us from guilt our next step is to ask God to create that clean heart. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” We can pray that exact verse and apply it to any situation in our life.  Ask Him to examine and change your heart. Then trust Him to do so through His Word, His Body, and His Spirit.

Let God reveal whether your excuses are legitimate. There will be times when you will fall behind and then need to adjust your plans. There will be times when you can’t do something yourself and need to seek help.  There are times when you won’t have done enough and maybe need to adjust plans to do more. Agreeing to never say “I’m behind” or “I can’t” or “I’m not doing enough” can lead to unaddressed sin because it avoids the truth.

You might be thinking that this seems pretty spiritually heavy for just trying to improve our outlook on our homeschooling efforts.  Let me assure you that Satan enjoys nothing more than separating you from God, even on the small stuff.  He will find the chink in your armor and exploit it.  What seemed like a small thing can turn into a huge problem if not addressed. In this case, the chink is that you are trading His grace for your law in an attempt to be freed from guilt.  Thankfully, in Christ, yes, we can even be freed of guilt from falling behind in homeschooling!

I’m sure the author of this article intends well.  She seems like a person who has a passion for supporting homeschoolers.  I really appreciate that about her.  There are many times in my life when I have had similar thoughts.  If I take control, I can fix it. Through the Gospel I've been made aware that no matter how hard I work, grace isn't mine to give, change isn't mine to make.  God is in control of these things and he wants me to acknowledge his control of these things so that I can be drawn closer to Him. Being aware of what is coming out of our mouths is very helpful though, but you must dig deeper.  You must ask God to reveal sin in your heart and change your heart if you want your homeschool to flourish in the future.  That's what you can do. Just changing the way you speak won’t get the job done.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Curriculum Review - Exploring America by Notgrass Publishing

Last year at a curriculum review I was exposed to America the Beautiful from Notgrass Publishing.  I was very impressed with this curriculum.  I debated about whether I should start my 8th grader on it or move on to Exploring America.  I decided to go with Exploring America because it was so rich in literature and Bible.  I fell in love with American Voices.  My 8th grader loves to read, so I thought that would be a good way to approach history. I also didn't see the point in starting a US history course for 8th grade only to start another US history course for 9th grade. My thought was, how much difference could there be between the two levels? This was a mistake.

Our Co-op Experience

I also decided to use this curriculum at co-op.  We had a group of families who were also going to be using the curriculum so it made sense to work together.  We split the course up into 2 classes, history and literature/comp.  On reflection we should have made it a two hour course. I made the lesson plans for the year for both classes; I taught literature/comp and another teacher taught history.  We left it to the parents to teach the Bible lessons at home. 

Notgrass suggests that a high school student can make it through this course in one year and if complete can earn 3 credits (history, English, and Bible).  Halfway into the first semester we realized that there was no way we could do a Unit a week as they suggest.  consistently, we had students not turning in homework or being unprepared for tests.  We spoke to the parents about their struggles and they simply said there was too much work.  We were following the suggested assignments for each Unit. We decided to adjusted our plan to only do one book (up through the Civil War) in one year. We didn't want to sacrifice all the richness of the course so that we could squeeze it into one year.  We decided we could offer the course again next year to cover Reconstruction to current history  This helped tremendously in the history class, but in our lit/comp class I still was having students not turn in work on time and not prepared for class reviews of the novels. It is unclear to me that this was just the lack of dedication on the students part or if it was just too much work.  After our own personal experiences, I am more inclined to believe that these students, like mine own were just not ready to take such a difficult course.

Our Personal Experience

I decided to pull my daughter out all together from the co-op classes. Over Christmas break I pondered just dropping the curriculum because she seemed to really be struggling with the adjusted plan too.  I decided to stick with it though, but I had to do some major adjustments for her. After the following adjustments she is making regular progress, which is a relief.

1.       I decided to let her just work through the course at her own pace and not try to squeeze it into a time frame at all. I didn’t want to sacrifice many of the assignments that I think bring depth to this curriculum in favor of squishing it into one year.  I do give her a weekly lesson plan, but if I see that she is making an honest effort and not getting the work done for the week, I will adjust the lesson plan.

2.       I dropped the novels, but kept the American Voices readings.  We might use the book list for a summer reading list.  It is a fantastic list of literature.  The AV readings were something I wouldn't compromise.  If not for the AV readings, this would just be an average Christian based history curriculum. The fact that they use so many origin sources makes this course outstanding.

3.       I added Bible.  I had originally attempted the Bible credit with her, but after the first couple of weeks I saw that there was too much work.  It was one of the selling points on the curriculum for me and something so many courses lack.   And to my point about original sources, how more original can you get?

4.       I narrate the history text.  I found out the hard way this year, although she loves to read fiction for fun, she struggles reading history and science texts. I found that her vocabulary just wasn't where it needed to be to ease through this course.  She can read and pronounce most words, but she doesn't always know what they mean in context.  I think this course was just above her reading level in a lot of ways.  That is actually ok with me generally speaking.  I think the only way to expand ones reading level is to start reading above it, but it would have been nice to understand that that was the case.  That isn't Notgrass's fault by any means, but I think they could do a better job at honing in on what grade level this course should actually be fore.  More on that in a minute.

       I purchased a MP3 recording and multimedia CD for her science text, which helped a lot! I hoped to find that for this course as well, but Notgrass doesn’t offer those options. It was up to me to provide that to her.  I actually really enjoy it. Every couple of weeks or so I record myself reading all the history text in a Unit on my phone. It helps me to prepare so that I can then instruct her better.   She can then read and listen to the text on her own and at her own pace.  She claims this has made all the difference in the world to her.  Her grades have improved and the pace has sped up.  I also provide her with links for the American Voice s reading assignments.  I can usually find someone reading them on Youtube. I would also like to be able to direct her to other websites that discuss the topics she is studying, but at this time I don't have time for that extra layer of work.  This is why it would be so helpful if Notgrass would provide it; it would save me huge amounts of time.

My Review

Notgrass says Exploring America will fulfill 1 high school credit for history, English and Bible. I felt a great amount of pressure to meet those standards.  I transferred that pressure to my daughter.  That is not why we homeschool; to meet some standardized notion of what a student should learn in a given time period.  We homeschool so that each of our children can receive a customized education based in Biblical truth.  So once I grounded myself again in that truth, the curriculum became much more useful to us. 

Because of the experience we've had in co-op, not just based on our personal experience with the course, I think that Notgrass has been too general in their identification of the curriculum as "high school".  There are too many varied notions among homeschoolers to label a curriculum as general as "high school".  I'm calking that up to a rooky mistake on my part, bu I just would have appreciated not wasting nearly a semester struggling through this course at home or at co-op to figure that out.  I look to the publisher to help me with that.   

The English work is heavy. The credit is supposed to cover composition and literature. There is a novel about every 2-3 weeks which has a set of questions to answer at the end of each novel, a writing assignment for each Unit (each week), and another English assignment for each lesson. In the quiz and exam book there are also questions for each literature assignment, and a test at the end of every 5 units. Often the English assignments for the lessons are nearly as big as the weekly writing assignment.  My students found it hard to get through all the writing in one week, especially considering that one of the days was spent in class.  They really only have 4 days to get the work done unless they were to cut into their weekend.  Even now that my daughter is not taking this course at co-op, 5 days wasn't enough, hence why we don't try to squeeze it into a week now. 

This curriculum is reading intensive which makes sense.  You have to transfer the knowledge in some way or another, and reading is there method.  The main issue is that because it uses so many original documents, if your student doesn't have a vast vocabulary, they are going to be slowed down by that. If you are trying to meet the 1 unit a week standard, then this will be a problem.  

There is a daily history reading assignment, most days there is an additional American Voices reading assignment, and over the course of 2 or 3 Units there is a novel assigned.  The history reading takes about 20 minutes for me to narrate. Slower readers will likely take double that time.  Those who don't have an adequate vocabulary will also need extra time to expand their vocabulary by asking questions or looking up words.  Make sure your student understands that it is important to stop and ask questions about words or concepts they don't understand.  Otherwise when they get to the questions they will be very frustrated.

The AV reading can be a lot or a little.  It's not evenly spread out.  It seems like the first couple of Units were reading intensive. Again, vocabulary will be a stumbling block.  If your student has read out of the King James Bible their whole lives, this will probably be easy hat, but if not, you will find when they are reading letters and speeches, they will struggle with the style of writing and vocabulary.  I wouldn't let that deter you in using it.  Just like learning to read and write in cursive, we need to understand that as a civilization that our history doesn't start with us.  We must learn where we came from and to learn that we need to be able to speak their langue, so to speak.  It's a skill that needs to be learned so that our heritage isn't lost. 

The novel reading doesn't have any specific time table to meet except by the end of a certain unit when they would take a test, but I found that I had to break it up into regular chunks for my class so they wouldn't end up having to read the whole book in one week.  That was just poor study habits. Make sure your student has a plan for completing the book, not just a general deadline.  Discuss what they have read with them at least once a week. If you need supplemental questions, the quiz and test books doesn't really have very many, you can easily find questions by doing an Internet search. 

I think Notgrass could appeal to a much larger audience if they would do these things:
  1. Offer a 1 and a 2 year plan.  Certainly  offer the option of earning those 3 credits in a year, but for those of us who aren't trying to meet those standards, offer suggestions for a longer plan.   
  2. Be more focused in suggestions for grade levels. Instead of saying "high school", help me the parent to understand how I can best use this curriculum for a student who isn't going to fall perfectly into your ideal student.
  3.  Offer some multimedia additions like MP3 narration for auditory learners, and links to websites or suggestions for videos for visual learners.  I think this could add another layer of depth to an already rich course.
I’m not sure what I will do next year, if I will let my daughter finish the course or switch to something else.  She really isn’t officially in high school yet, so I could start her on something completely different and not loose any ground.  I think she would do better with a DVD based curriculum or at least a DVD supplement, but there are very few out there that cover all of American history.  I really want her to love history, and right now she is just being obedient.  I will probably keep using American Voices though as a supplement regardless of what we use.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Laundry Routine

I’ve tried just about every laundry schedule or routine in the book.  Our needs are ever changing when it comes to doing laundry.   So, in another effort to do away with schedules in favor of routines, I am implementing a new laundry routine. 

Now that the children are a little older, I think it is time to start training them to do their own laundry.  D is already capable, and K just needs a bit more training before I set her off on her own.  J is just 8 and a boy.  I make excuses for him, but honestly the boy is quite capable of learning to use these machines.  He could probably repair them in a pinch. The sorting on the other hand…well he will need supervision for a long time. Let’s just leave it at that.

I have decided to implement a by room system for this season.  We have 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, and kitchen.  Kitchen rags need to be done more than once a week, so that will get worked into our routine every other day or so.   I’m thinking it will look something like this:

Master Bed
D’s Bed/ Kitchen/
K’s Bed
J’s Bed/

We don’t wash our sheets every week.  I know, some people are cringing, but we just don’t.  About every other week is what I would like to maintain. I’m not trying to make any huge leaps in bounds here in establishing new routines, just trying to be more consistent in what we tend to already do. I will likely rotate rooms each week.  Week 1 and 3 will be Master and K; week 2 and 4 will be D and J. That would be one large bed and one small bed each week.

I tend to get 2 loads done a day, but not as regularly as I would like.  I feel like if we make it each person’s responsibility to wash their own clothes, with the exception of my husband, people may be a little more motivated to help.  A week's worth of clothes for one person should take about 2 loads. I think that is pretty reasonable amount of laundry once a week for a kid to do.  I’ll do the rest for the time being, but part of the girls training will be to do the household laundry eventually too.  

Like with kitchen rags, I will need to do whites a little more often. Don’t know if 3 times a week will be needed; we have a lot of those types of things, but we also have the occasional accident that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.  

The other part of the laundry routine is deciding when this will happen during the day.  I think the best plan is to hit it in the morning before school, at lunchtime, and before bed, but we can be flexible with that because this is a routine, not a schedule.   Once laundry line season starts, it might need to look a little different. To get the clothes dried before the sun goes behind the trees you have to get washing done before 10am.

Mondays will be hard because we are in co-op all day.  That is why I have only put towels on Monday.  I think I can get Hubs to switch them at lunch time for me if I am sweet about it and I don't use the clothes line for towels.  

One of my pitfalls is that I have these great plans and then I don’t communicate them, but once.  I have a fantasy that I should only have to tell someone to do things once.  

Since I don't have a chore chart picked yet I'm not completely sure how this will be communicated, but for now I'll just add it to their lesson plan for the day under Keepers of the Faith. 

UPDATE 12/15/15

This routine worked for a little while.  Eventually, I handed off all laundry chores to D, now 16.  Her system is to do a couple loads a day if she remembers or is reminded.  This has slowed things down and increased the pile.  Also, she is not that motivated to bring clean clothes upstairs very often.  Maybe more training is in order.

I'm going to rethink things while we are on Christmas break and see if we can't get back to a steady system.

Thursday, February 27, 2014


The biggest issue we have in this family, related to cleaning, is not putting away things when we are done with them.  This includes dishes, food, clothes, trash, games, books, DVDs, and a host of other personal belongs.  We can take a clean and orderly house and trash it in less than 24 hours.  No joke.

The best solution to this problem would be to train people to put things away when they are done, but would you believe that is harder than it sounds?  I just don’t think I have the time or the energy to do that for myself right now, let alone 3 kids and 1 husband.

One thing I do that helps this issues is to grab a laundry basket and go room to room, on one floor (we have 3) picking up personal belongings.  Once I’m done I call for deliveries to be made.  I either give the chore to one child or I will have them pick out their own belongings and take them away to their rooms. 

If I do this consistently every day, we have a much easier time of it.  It makes it easier to see what actually needs to be cleaned and makes it easier to clean.

I recently moved a toy chest/bench from my son’s room down to our living room near the entry.  It has helped with this issue.  That area is a catch all area anyway. It’s a main kid entry form coming in/going from playing and where the stairs lead up to the bedrooms. This has helped us have a place to tuck things out of sight which has helped us keep our common rooms more orderly.  YAY for order!

The second biggest issue we have is that we own too many things that we don’t need.  The last few months, since my mom’s death, I have been trying to purge our belongings of unnecessary things because we have so many of her things that we need to bring into the house.  She had a lot of really nice belongings, much nicer than most of the stuff we own, so we are upgrading I guess you could say. I have a pile on the front porch ready to go to Goodwill, but our front yard is too wet to pull the truck up or even to walk items out to the car. We could haul them through the house, but really…I’m too lazy. I’ll just wait for some dry ground.  Until then, call us the Sanfords.

Honestly, the purge has been good for us.  I have spoken to the kids many times about getting rid of things they don’t love to make room for the things from Grandma that they do. We’ve also talked about how my mom had so many things and it has really left us with quite a burden.  I’ll post on that sometime soon.  We discuss how material possession can’t go with you.  You don’t store material treasure for yourself in Heaven.  Your treasure in heaven is righteousness.  Better to build relationships and share the Gospel than to spend your time maintaining your personal belongings. 

I know I am going to look back on this post in a couple of years and wonder how I could have even written those words right now. I’m certainly putting far more time into maintaining possessions than I should; and since I know God is doing a work in me right now, I am certain he will have brought me a long way in 2 years.  Something to look forward to.  But for now, we’re in training.

The two best tips I can think of in the area of declutter are:

Lazy Girl Tip #1: Purge things you don’t use and don’t love. You can’t take them with you.
Lazy Girl Tip #2: Declutter every day, even if it’s just one room.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dishwashing Routine

Like in other areas of my life right now, I’m tossing out schedules and replacing them with routines, so it seems timely to finally update my post about our dishwashing schedule. After we bought our dishwashers and for about a year after, our system of getting the dishes washed was a basic rotation of the job.  One washes, the other unloads the dishwasher, and the third had the day off.  This switched every day. Every time I got off of the posted schedule for whatever reason, I would hear MAJOR complaints. 

“I did it last time.”

“It’s her turn.”

“Why doesn’t he ever have to wash?”

“Blah, blah blah!”

The kids were obviously becoming too legalistic about the schedule and it wasn’t accomplishing what I had hoped it would so…I tore it up in a fit of rage!

Lazy Girl Tip #1: Don’t keep doing things that don’t work just for the sake of doing them.
Lazy Girl Tip #2: Don't have fits of rage.

For the last few months I have been just choosing who would do the task.  In my head I try to keep it fair and rotate through equally, but honestly, I don’t like this system.  It leaves it to me to micromanage them, always telling them when to do the chore, and they still complain if they think I'm not keeping it fair.  It doesn’t build any ownership, a sense of responsibility, or teamwork.  It's just the chore that everyone hopes they don’t get stuck with.

I’ve been looking for a good chore system for our family for some time now.  I haven’t found one that I’m ready to settle down with. Until I find one, I've started a new routine that I hope will help maintain peace and an orderly kitchen.  It’s so simple, it’s stupid.

Lazy Girl Tip: Keep it simply, stupid.

I have someone, sometimes me, unload the dishwasher in the morning and start it before bed. Usually this means that we don’t have dishes to do in the morning, or if we do, very few.   I also call one dishwashing session during the day where we wash pans, plastic, and other things that we don’t put into the dishwasher. That's it.  Like I said: simple.

As a side note, the girls pointed out to me the other day that I will say, “do the dishes,” or ,“start the dishwasher,” and I mean different things.  When I say, “start the dishwasher,” I only mean load and start the dishwasher.  When I said, “do the dishes,” I mean all the dishes, pots, and pans, use the dishwasher, and wash by hand. HA! Who knew? There had been confusion about that for a while.  I don't really think it was all that confusing; I think they were just looking for excuse to avoid washing the pots and pans, but WHATEVER!

Lazy Girl Tip: Say what you mean.

So until I have found a chore system that I like and that works, this routine will have to do for now. 

1.       Load the dishwasher at night.

2.       Unload it in the morning.

3.       Call one hand washing session per day.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The One With the Most Extracurriculuar Activities Isn't Socialized

When homeschoolers are asked the notorious question, “What about socialization,” they usually have a list of extracurricular activities that their children participate in.  “Johnny plays baseball in the spring, soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, takes piano year round, goes to youth Bible study every Wednesday night, takes co-op classes once a week, and goes on numerous fieldtrips each semester.”  Wow!  That’s an impressive list! It will certainly shut up any doubtful friends or family.  But it leaves me wondering, when does he really have time to socialize? 
Does Johnny get to ever hang out with his friends without an agenda?  Does Johnny ever have time to visit his grandma in the nursing home?  Does he have time to make new friends on his own?  Does he get to spend time with cousins?  How much time does he even get to spend with his mom, dad, or siblings, that doesn’t involve rushing somewhere or stuffy food down his gullet so he can get to the next event? 

Homeschoolers can fall into the same trap as any other family.  We can fall prey to the world of busyness.  We think we are checking off that socialization check box or maybe some academic or extracurricular check box, but as the saying goes, too much of one thing isn’t good.  In this case, too much time spent in extracurricular activities creates a life of superficial relationships. 

We’ve been there, done that.  We experienced that kind of lifestyle while our first daughter was still in public school, and continued that lifestyle after we began homeschooling because we were under pressure to check off the box that said “socialized”.  We tried to balance that kind of life with 3 children.  When we were finally overwhelmed and not able to keep up with the schedule, we wiped the schedule and started fresh.

We did a huge disservice to our daughter by enrolling her in these kinds of activities with the purpose of socialization.  I am not saying extracurricular activities can’t be beneficial, nor am I saying they shouldn’t be a part of your homeschool.  What I am saying is don’t participate in them with the sole purpose of socializing.  
True socialization is a set of skills that helps us build relationships. Without giving a dissertation on the word, let me just point out that there are different kinds of socializing that we need to prepare our children for. When the spot light is on homeschool they seem to mean cooperative skills like what you might learn in a classroom, playing sports, or scouting. However, that is only one spectrum of socialization. 
In our culture we often overlook three very important socialization skill sets: obedience, service, and intimacy (the emotional kind).  These social skills get squeezed out because there is just not enough time in the day to address them when your kids are in school all day and then have a full evening of activities and a weekend full of events.  Many people would say that they can tell a homeschool family from a mile away and that is because generally speaking they are so much more well behaved.  This is simply because parents have time to address these three skill sets, particularly obedience. They often have to out of necessity or they would never get anything done and have a miserable time homeschooling. 
My disclaimer: not all homeschoolers have well behaved children. It just happens to be more true than not.
I really could spend another hour writing on this subject, but what would I have left to write about tomorrow? One last thing I will leave you with...

The most basic socialization skill that everyone should learn to lead a productive life is this
Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31.
Every socialization lesson should be based in this command.  If it isn't, you are teaching your children to manipulate or be manipulated, not to socialize.  God's word will not return void.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Co-op Corner: I love co-op!

I love co-op!

Every Monday we happily trek off to our co-op bright and early (not all that early). We spend the day there.  The kids all take 4 classes and I am the executive director and teach two classes. When I look ahead to those days after my kids graduate, I can hardly bear the thought of not being able to come to co-op.  I’m sure God will provide me with an outlet for this passion or change it when the time comes, but until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute.

The services that our co-op provides to our family is indispensable to us.  I think that co-ops are such a great service for homeschoolers to participate in that I want to devote a part of my blog to talking about them, sharing information that can be helpful to their leaders, and to help inspire creative ideas for activities and classes.

Co-opping (for lack of a better term) can add a depth to your homeschool experience in a way that no other type of educational format can provide. 

It is usually inexpensive compared to cottage schools, and definitely compared to private schools. Of course these are three very different types of institutions.  Co-ops and cottages schools are most similar, whereas private schools and public schools are more closely related.  But for what you get, a homeschool co-op is by far the least expensive option.  It is also relatively inexpensive because usually co-ops are staffed mainly by volunteers. There is just no way to beat the cost of a volunteer.

Co-ops can give you opportunities to satisfy that all important question (not really all that important) of how to socialize your children.  Each week your children get to visit with their friends and interact in a classroom setting.  And the best part, so do you! Plus, there are always additional actives going on like mom’s night out and play groups. The vast majority of my kids’ friends came from our relationships at co-op.

Belonging to a co-op can give you an opportunity to put many of your activities under one umbrella. Depending on how your homeschool co-op is set up, you may be able to use it like a one stop shop for all those classes you may run to each week like art, music, scouts, academic classes and PE.  Your co-op may also provide opportunities for field trips, sports, or other similar clubs and activities.  This saves gas, time, and money.

Co-ops can also provide needed academic classes that you may either not feel comfortable with teaching or provide you with an opportunity to have access to a teacher that knows a bit more, or maybe even a lot more about a subject than you do.  Often parents bring their strongest skill to the table, so the variety of classes is as varied as the members of your homeschool co-op. 

Of course not all co-ops are built the same and not all families enjoy them as much as I do, but the possibilities are endless with co-ops because they are so dependent on the members’ needs and personalities.  If you don't find what you like at one, you are likely to find it at another, and if you don't find it there, you can always start one up yourself. 

When I signed up to be a founding member of our homeschool co-op I had no experience with co-ops at all, nor did the other two ladies who co-founded with me.  We had absolutely no idea what to do or how to do it, we just knew that we wanted to be a part of a co-op.  From what we had read and heard from friends it sounded like fun.  Unfortunately, there was not a co-op that was convenient to our homes.  We knew that we could make it happen if we had a little help, but as I searched the blogosphere, I didn’t really find a whole lot.  There was a plethora of information on homeschooling, but not very much out there for co-ops specifically.  Now that I have some experience under my belt, I want to share what I have learned.

I invite you to share your experiences, advice, and ideas about co-opping with my readers.  Post your thoughts below in the comment section.  I may not use every idea that crosses my email.  I will send you a response if I decide to use your submission in a blog post so that you can link to it if you so choose.

Happy Co-opping!


Friday, February 21, 2014

2014 Routine

“If you fail to plan you plan to fail.”

I love to plan.  I love to create schedules.  I love fantasizing about how they will improve our lives.  I just don’t love implementing them.  Reality never seems to match my fantasy.  So when I began planning the spring semester in our home I made a change from my typical way of making a schedule. 

“Start with the end in mind.”

To me, the end was my making my fantasy reality. I start with my fantasy what I think we should accomplish in our school year, then I build schedules and lesson plans to fit that fantasy.  This time I started with reality and built a routine around that reality. 
Maybe that sounds like cheating.  I mean, couldn’t that look like us watching TV all day long? That is so contrary to my understanding of what the purpose of a schedule is. I have always viewed schedules as what I needed to live up to, or a tool to help me live up to an expectation.  However, that just didn’t work no matter how many times I applied that logic or how many times I made really cool schedules.  I know it works for bus schedules. It just didn’t work for our homeschool. 

 “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

I can’t put off school every day.  School is a priority for us.  As Steven Covey puts it, this activity is something that is important, but not urgent.  I want to spend time the bulk of my time in this category. During our first semester we put off school a lot.  We had good reason which I will blog about sometime soon, but when we started this semester I knew I needed to get back on track.  So the question that entered my mind was, “How can I provide structure to our reality so that we can make regular and reasonable progress?” 
Reality is that I have children who don’t always meet my expectations.  They can’t always process the amount of information that I want them to process.  They don’t always behave as I expect them to behave.  I also have a life that doesn’t always fall perfectly into my fantasy would.  Sometimes there is illness, friends in need, emergencies, or overflowing toilets.  There’s some reality for you.  
This reality has to be taken into consideration when planning our days.  Instead of specific items, I block out times and have a variety of items we may address.  The main thing is that it gives me the next step in our day.  It keeps me focused on what needs to be addressed next so that I don’t drop the ball.  It’s not so ridged that if we drop one of our routine items that it messes us up for the rest of the year, but it is not so liberal that we never accomplish anything.

“It takes 6 weeks to form a habit.”

 We are now past the 6 week mark using what I hope will remain our 2014 Routing. 

Disclaimer: I’ve written this as an hourly schedule, but I apply it as routine, promise.  If we don’t start until 10:00, we shift everything out and I make adjustments where needed.  Don’t let the time hacks trick you into believing I am anal in anyway about applying this rigidly.  It’s now 9:27am and we haven’t started school yet.  Two are still in bed even though I told them to get up at 8:30.

Sometime before 8:00 My quiet time. I get up anywhere from 5:30 to 7 and do anything from personal Bible study, working on my responsibilities at our homeschool co-op, or catch up with social media. I hate waking up to an alarm and often wake up long before my husband who gets up between 7 and 8.  He works from home so he doesn’t have a commute like other husbands.  Lucky guy.  I like to start a pot of coffee and maybe get some breakfast too. 
8:00 Rise and Shine.  I wake the kids, but they are responsible for getting dressed and getting their own breakfast unless it’s one of those mornings I feel motivated to make breakfast for everyone.  The rule is that they cannot watch TV or play any kind of video game until school is done, so as soon as they are dressed and have eaten we start school.  I do have to remind them of this rule frequently.  They try very hard to forget and I often am not paying close attention.  I’ve considered a lock and once I get motivated to set it up, I’ll be great.

9:00 - 11:00 Group lessons Bible, History, and Science.  I try to do some Bible lesson, but I am inconsistent about this.  This could consist of a 365 day devotional we are using or I might share with them my reading from my read the Bible in a year plan.  After this, my too youngest and I start with Story of the World and then Zoology, which we do together.  My oldest is independent for the most part and so she starts her lesson plan where she likes.  She likes to listen to Story of the World and the Zoology reading so she usually does something that is lighter in nature or just stops while we read.   I love that she still thinks what the younger kids are doing is interesting.

11:00 – 12:00 Math and Language Arts.  We start with Math.  Some days they fly through their lesson, some days it takes longer.  If they get done quickly, they move on to their language arts assignments. 

12:00 Lunch. Sometime in the noon hour my husband comes up from work after a meeting and asks for something to eat for lunch.  This is my queue that I’ve waited too long to make a plan.  The girls usually make lunch while I do some kitchen clean up although this has shifted back to me since we stared this new routine.  I find I’m anxious for them to finish early so I would rather make lunch so they can get to a good stopping point.  We’ll usually take a whole hour for lunch. The kids enjoy eating in the living room while playing a video game or watching TV.  I eat at my computer.  We could take this opportunity to eat together, but we just don’t.

1:00 - 3:00 Wrap up. I call school back to order and everyone fishes up what they have left.  During this time they usually are finishing up independent work so I can do other things.  They also work on any other supplemental or extracurricular course. If I see we aren’t going to be done by 3:00 I will jump in and go full force with helping them finish whatever they have left.  

3:00 Chores, Errands, or Activities.  If we are home I choose the areas in the house that need the most attention.  I am looking for a good chore system. Some days we have band practice, music lessons, meetings, it just varies.

5:00 - 9:00 Dinner or Activities.  After 5:00 our nights look different almost every night of the week. 

9:00 Bedtime for the kids.  My husband puts the kids to bed.  Once he is done we usually watch TV, but I like to also spend time reading, writing, or researching if I’m not too tired.   
There’s always room for improvement. It is my hope that we could be done by 1 or 2 each week so that we could spend the afternoon doing things outside of the house like visiting friends, but that just isn’t happening for us right now. That would also require our friends to be done. HA!   Getting the kids up earlier is not an option.  They need their sleep.  They have been getting quicker at getting homework done.  By consistently apply this routine every day they are starting to understand that I mean business.  They love their free time so it has motivated them to stop wasting so much time.
The other area in our daily routine that needs to be addressed is meal times.  Much more planning needs to take place.  I’ve read a thousand blogs and books on how to meal plan, I just now need to take the time to apply what I have learned.  UGH.

I also wish that I wasn’t so tired by 8:00pm.  By the time bedtime comes around I am ready to collapse in a heap.  I might make it through a half hour of TV, but then I’m out.  Forget about anything productive.  There are so many personal pursuits I have that I am finding it hard to make time for.  But in my pursuit to acknowledge reality, one does need to sleep.  Right now homeschooling is the priority for the bulk of my day.  Maybe when these kids are out of here I’ll have time for things like learning how to plan new instruments.