Monday, October 19, 2015

How Do They Do It? {A Home Schooling Blog Series}

Hello and welcome back to:

If you've missed the first 2 installments, head HERE for the first with Kendra of Catholic All Year and HERE for the second with Lindsay of My Child, I love you

Today's guest is not only a friend from the interwebs, but a friend I've met for real, in real life. And she is just as amazing in person as she is online: sweet, wonderfully funny Dwija of House Unseen. I have loved to read everything Dwija writes since the beginning of my blog perusing years ago, and part of this is because I can really identify with her personality, and go figure, we got long great when we met a couple years ago. She immediately came to mind as I was thinking of woman to beg to let me pick their brains about home schooling. Each woman I have asked about how they do their schooling at home has had their own flavor and I especially love Dwija's approach because in some ways I feel like it is exactly what I will be saying in 5 years, I also love how light hearted and funny she can be when talking about it, it makes it all much less daunting. Without further ado, I give you Dwija on home schooling:

1: How do you keep some structure in your days while still tending to unpredictable little ones? 

This is a tricky question, or rather a tricky question to answer, because I think there is something deeper here than just a how-to. I think for some of us (meaning me!) the idea of structure and routine and schedule and predictability is so appealing that in the back of our minds we are constantly striving and wishing for that. If only these children would cooperate, I could get so much ACCOMPLISHED! And for people like us (me) I'm starting to think that maybe the task God has set before us isn't to keep searching for that perfect structure formula despite the little children surrounding us, but perhaps instead He is asking us to let go of that imagined ideal and allow them to BE the project during this season. Because maybe I'm already good at controlling stuff but not so good at leeeeeeetting goooooo, leeeeeeeting gooooooo....

BUT! But an easier, more direct answer is that I try to have a general timeline in my mind of what comes first and what comes next during a day, and what must be done today vs what would be nice to do today and then I just sort of go from one necessary thing to the next with all the interruptions in between and do my best to hit the "musts" while trying, trying not to get discouraged if we don't get to any of the "nice to dos."

 2: How do you handle the push back of "I don't want to do _______" during school time?

     With the checklist method that I use, there are certain things that need to be done during the week and none of them is any more or less important than any other. So we are brushing our teeth before bed and saying our prayers before meals and reading a story out loud and helping our sister when she can't do the buckle on her shoe and all of these things are necessary and expected. So we can deal with the arguments in the same way for each of them- that these things are things God calls us to do, that they make us stronger and healthier and better, and so let's do them so we can be the best version of ourselves that we can! So basically I think it's important for us to redefine the entire idea of "school time" vs "non-school time."  We are really conditioned to think of "doing school" as a separate and probably tedious necessity of life and we expect complaints and just try to get through it to the fun parts of life, and I wonder if there's a way to assume learning as a regular part of every day as opposed to having a clear separation between boring school time and fun non-school time. 

BUT! But the short version, in a pinch, is bribery. Hah! Not kidding. Because that's what I use for all other undesired tasks, so why not with our bookwork when we're not quite in the mood?

3: What are your top 3 favorite resources of all time for home schooling?

Ah. This changes so frequently I'm almost not able to answer it! This is only our fifth year of homeschooling so I'm guessing in another 5 years I will look back and be like "oh silly, baby Dwija. You were so clueless" or somesuch, but I will do my best. First of all, you gotta have a globe. A flat wall map is nice but really the globe is where it's at. We use it for geography (duh) but when talking about history and science as well. Even in our reading selections different cities and countries will be mentioned and we keep the globe handy so we can see where those places are. We also use it when we're talking about our Saint of the week to see where he or she was born, where they traveled, which countries they are the patron of, etc. I am a huge proponent of holistic learning, where all things that are intertwined remain intertwined and are learned intertwined so that those connections help their little brains, and mine, to make sense of and retain that information. 

Okay, that makes one. Hah! I talk too much. 

My second fave resource are any and all of the books by Dr. Stanley Schmidt, more commonly known as the Life of Fred books. He started by writing highly accessible upper level math books because he loves and understands math as it relates to the world and knew that so many kids were still saying "but why? When would a person EVER use this in real life?"  So the math books are set as stories where Fred is using all this math in real life and then there are practice questions that allow the kids to try the math themselves in "real life" scenarios. 

Anyway, the books were so well received that he wrote more and more so that now you can do an entire first grade through honors high school math program using Fred stories. My kids love them and so do I. Sometimes if I feel someone needs more drill or a change of pace, we hop onto Kahn Academy online or a site called xtramath (both free!) and they spend some time there as well. But overall, Fred is where it's at for me again because of the holistic, intertwined with real life approach. 

Incidentally, there is now a set of Fred early readers called the Eden series which are quirky and weird just like the math books, and I wasn't even going to try them but Paul saw a pdf sample of one of the books online and was so dang excited that I had to see what they were like. You guys- he read every single book cover to cover the first day they arrived. It was such an encouragement for him AND for me. He has excellent reading skills but little motivation and those silly stories with crazy illustrations were just what he needed. 

Alright, what is my number three resource? Right now I would say the suggested book and reading lists on a site called Mater Amabilis, which is devoted to Charlotte Mason style Catholic homeschooling. It is my jam. The only downside is that our bank account has suffered since I discovered all these books that we simply MUST have, but it is so nice to have suggestions like that all in one place rather than scouring a hundred sites and trying to weed through all the junk that's marketed to kids these days. I just got so tired of reading kids books that were boring or didn't even make sense, you know? No more, my friend. No more!

4: What is one thing (or many things) you wish you hadn't done in your first years of home schooling? 

In a way, I think I am still in my first years of homeschooling- God bless my eldest guinea pig children- so I will just focus on our very first year. In our first year, I wanted so badly to do it right and make it good and show the world how excellent homeschooling was for us that I tried too hard to create a school-at-home atmosphere. I wanted us to all start schooling at the exact same time in the morning, all together, all having finished xyz tasks, all working quietly until the first break at a specific time, etc etc etc. Now I know this method works for some families but it absolutely did not work for ours. One of the reasons that homeschooling is so good for my kids is that they have VASTLY different temperaments and learning styles. Why would I take them out of a one size fits all environment only to try to create my own one size fits all environment? It was honestly really silly. So once I started to meditate on and understand this notion of an integrated life, where all things are interconnected and different people thrive under different circumstances, the kids really started to blossom. 

5: With all of the craziness of homeschooling and how much demand there is on moms physically, mentally and emotionally during the day, what are some tips for making sure your spouse and your marriage isn't getting overlooked?

Oh boy, this is so important and so difficult for me! Especially being in the first trimester right now, it is extremely hard, basically impossible, to find a balance. This is what many people like to call a survival season, where I just have to let go of thriving and focus on just getting everyone through each day alive. I try to thank my husband a LOT these days, apologize profusely when I go off the deep end, and pray that God gives me the grace to be merciful to myself. The expectation on women to be all things all the time is a little ridiculous I think because sometimes we are physically totally on top of things and sometimes we are barfing 6 times a day. Does it really make sense for us to create peace and perfection and accomplish all the same things under all those circumstances? I don't believe so. But it's hard for a results oriented, people pleaser with perfectionist tendencies (me!) to admit that. But I guess this is one of the ways that God is helping me to learn to rely and trust in him and that my own human efforts are just not enough to make all this work. 

Thank you so much, Dwija!


  1. Excellent advice, Dwija! My last scholars graduated last summer, bringing 30 years of homeschooling to a close for us. I think my final "style" was "unschooling". To new homeschoolers: Do NOT rush out and buy the full year curriculum packet, just because it saves you $20. If you hate it, if your kids hate it... you have wasted your money, not saved it. I love the checklist idea! Where was that when I needed it? Our children learn differently... what worked for Kid #1 may not work for #2 and #3. I am enjoying watching my daughter teach her children now- and I wish I were closer to be able to lend a hand- if only to watch the littles while she works with the olders.

    1. Thank you so much for the encouragement, Tammy! I should be asking YOU all these questions and taking copious notes. One of the many things I love about homeschooling for us is that it's a constant process of learning, growing, adjusting, improving. It's a constant new adventure!

  2. Loved the write up dwija!! It's so encouraging to hear other moms on the same page and to be reassured I am not truly messing up my kids for life. My main goal for schooling is for them to "learn to love to learn". Thanks for sharing!

  3. Loved the write up dwija!! It's so encouraging to hear other moms on the same page and to be reassured I am not truly messing up my kids for life. My main goal for schooling is for them to "learn to love to learn". Thanks for sharing!

  4. I loved this. And we thank you heartily for all three of those recs, which were game hangers for us.