Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschooling: Embracing the Uniqueness

We've been back in Texas for 18 months now.  It hasn't been at all what I expected.  Don't get me wrong: I LOVE TEXAS!  I'm a Texas girl through to my backbone.  I could write a whole blog post on this blessed renegade state.  Hmmm...maybe I will....  But, these 18 months have been some of the most difficult of my life.  Again, a whole blog post could be dedicated to that subject too...but I'll spare you...for now anyway.

One small part of the bigger difficulties has been that for this season of life, we have not had another homeschool family to walk alongside.  It's not that we aren't living in the very best homeschooling state (thank you, Lone Star State, for your amazing homeschool laws!  I love you!), and it's not that we aren't involved in a homeschool group (because we are).  But, for some reason, God has not yet opened the door for us to do life with another homeschool family in that one-on-one, messy but wonderful sort of way.

And I miss that.  WE miss that.

I'm not at all advocating that we only stay with "our kind."  Lord knows that the homeschooling community is sometimes accused of this, and it's time to move out of that.  Whether it's about race or socio-economic status or education...we truly need to intermingle more with those who are different than we are.  It stretches us and makes us grow in ways we'd never be able to grow if we only stayed in our comfortable box.  But, just as a person who speaks English as a second language sometimes needs to speak to another person who shares their first language (their heart language), so I have found that as a homeschool mom, I need to speak my educational heart language with those who share that bond (which is what I'm doing here in this blog post...hello, homeschool community!).  There's just something about doing life with people who truly understand your beliefs, goals, parenting, education, family dynamics.  We had such a great circle of homeschooling friends in Georgia, and I suppose I took it for granted.  I don't even think I realized how supportive that circle was for me as a person and for my children as homeschoolers.  There's something very nice in being surrounded by people who "get" you. 

And a good homeschooling community can provide immense support in a world that otherwise may not quite get us.  I mean, we homeschoolers are well aware of the general public's views about us, and I haven't met a homeschooling family yet who doesn't take it with a grain of salt.  We once saw a bumper sticker on a van that said, "Warning: Unsocialized Homeschool Kids On Board!!!"  We all laughed the we-so-get-you laughs and made plans to find one of those bumper stickers for our own van someday.  Come's tongue-in-cheek hysterically funny!  Because we know the truth (as we drive our brood home from the umpteenth social event of the month).  We can laugh at ourselves, and we can laugh at the outsiders' ignorance of who we are and what we're really all about.  

Homeschoolers are the first to admit that we can be a bit....ummmm, what's the word??               ODD.  
Yep...absolutely...and we love every single second of it (okay, not EVERY when the baby throws up right in the middle of the 5th grader's math lesson...nope, not enjoying that...but you get my point).  We have chosen this crazy lifestyle, and it's super wonderful when others who have also chosen that lifestyle come alongside us and share in this very unique walk.

Of all the things I miss about being plugged into our homeschooling community in Georgia, the thing I most miss are the random moments when 2 or more homeschooling families would come together for a meal or a book club or a parade or whatever "unsocialized" <grin> event we had planned.  And all the children, like interlocking fingers, would all mesh together...everyone having at least one other child to play with or talk to.  Girls, boys, big, little, teenagers, toddlers...all meshing together...sometimes as a whole group, other times breaking off into little pods...all "getting" each other, because they were part of the same community of imperfect homeschoolers who were comfortable with their own quirks.  I suppose I never thought about it then, but because we haven't had that in 18 months, I see now how very special it is.  

God's plans for us are good.  He moved us out of our comfort zone, which is never...well, comfortable.  The antonyms of comfortable are "tense, vulnerable."  Our move came with losing our bearings, as well as all things familiar...friends, landmarks, culture, foods, home.  And yes, "vulnerable" is an accurate description of how I have felt.

And THAT is exactly the place God has wanted me in this season.  Why?  Perhaps so that I can identify with the marginalized, the misunderstood, the hurt, the broken, the vulnerable.  To embrace this DIScomfort is sometimes like hugging a cactus, but in order to compassionately minister to others, sometimes we have to sit where they sit and walk in their feel what they feel and find ourselves desperate to be heard and understood.

This season of not having a supportive circle of homeschooling friends has also made me look with new eyes on this lifestyle.  I've been a homeschooling mom for 12 years, and I've never questioned it...ever.  God led us to this lifestyle, and that was that.  Plus the fact that we thoroughly ENJOY it and cannot imagine learning in any other format.  But with the human props pulled out from under us and with the occasional well-meaning comment or question about our educational choices, I did stop to think it through.  I'm not sure why we do this as humans.  I mean, if God says to do something, we should just step onto the water and do the thing, never mind the wind and waves.  Or maybe it is good from time to time to discover again the very reason we do the things we do.  This is what I have done, and as I emerge out the other side of that time of reevaluating, I find myself more passionate about this homeschooling lifestyle than ever before.

I find myself embracing this uniqueness.   

Take our breakfast routine, for instance...  Each day as we eat breakfast, I read a series of books with my children.  We start with the Bible (we're reading one Psalm each day right now), then the children's Bible story book, then a different blessing that I read over them each day, and then a chapter from a Christian Heroes biography.  When they finish eating, they push their dishes aside, and the table starts to fill up with interesting projects that each child is working on while they listen to me read.  The other day, I looked up to see all their interesting activities and had to snap these photos...because I really do love that there's probably not another breakfast table on the planet that is looking exactly like this one right now.  Unique children, unique pursuits. 

And lunch?  Well, here was our oldest daughter making lunch one day last week.  She had sewn this replica of a dress from the movie Last of the Mohicans, complete with corset.  So, she spent the day seeing what it felt like to actually live and work in time-period-accurate clothing.  Unusual, right?  Oh how I love the fact that she would think to do this in the first place!  (Not to mention being in awe at the sweet gift God has given her to be able to design and sew complicated clothing and costumes without using patterns).  This is so refreshingly far outside the box!   And none of it was my idea.  This is where things gel for me...  If she were not on this very customized, individual educational path, she would have likely no interest and definitely no time to explore things like this.  How could I not embrace the shear loveliness of this? 

Yes, homeschooling can be downright weird at least in our home.  Even among homeschoolers, we tend to be really weird odd crazy unique.  Case in point...  Just yesterday when I headed up to the loft to pull out the books that we were going to read together (currently a historical fiction book about D.L. Moody that we are all enjoying), I see what looks like the gnarled fur of some unfortunate animal spread out on the table in front of HB.  Now, in a home where education is given wide and vast boundaries, I'm never surprised to see that at least one child (and often ALL of them) have some intriguing project going on.  But this one did cause me to do a double-take.  There she sat with intense concentration on this black, furry, unidentified thing in front of her.  And her supplies lay out: scissors, hair conditioner, brush.  I didn't even have to ask...I just stared with eyebrows lifted.  And she explains, "This is a wig that my friend wants to use in the Mohican movie we are making.  It's tangled, and I'm going to untangle it."  Oh, okay.  So, the rest of us take this in stride and move into our reading if everyone in the world straightens tangled wig hair while they listen to a book about D.L. if everyone on the planet attempts to make movies out of books they have if this is NORMAL.  Because this crazy, odd, unusual stuff really IS normal for us.  It's learning at its most unadulterated, unedited form.  And we all embrace it like the first butterfly of spring...awed again and again while we push into the vastness of learning for the pure joy of learning.

And when she asks her brother to please put the wig on so that she can trim it, we again act as if this is normal, and we miss only a small beat as we continue to read.  (What a good brother to put up with this, I might add!)

The brother who is not involved in the Native American wig undertaking is busy with his own project.  He spreads out an old moving blanket on the floor and begins cutting and sewing and trying his hand at creating his own costume.  These vibrant minds who do not yet know that some things are "impossible" continue each day to venture into areas that intrigue and amaze me.  And the delight inside them is evident.  I could write a blog post about all the brain stuff going on here, but that would start to sound way too much like education <shhhh!> I'll just leave you with some photos...  

And let's not forget the princess.  She's the baby caboose that is bringing up our train of little learners.  After 12 years of homeschooling her older siblings, I am giving her the cream that has risen to the top.  Look at this fun alphabet board...way more fun than the sheets of lined paper that her older sister and brothers had to endure when they began to learn how to write their letters!  Each letter has little metallic balls that are pulled up as she traces the letters with the magnetic pen.  Super fun, right?  Unique with a metallic capital "U."  

And all this weirdness is completely, imperfectly beautiful to me.  It's a lifestyle that can so often be misunderstood by outsiders, but to my heart in tune with all that God has unfolded in all these layers, there's something divine at its very core.  Perhaps that is because the way a person learns is tied directly to how he/she was created in the very image of God.  This outside-the-box lifestyle echoes what my sweet friend shared with me recently:  We have to realize that there really is NO BOX.  How freeing is that??!  God created each child uniquely, and in this lifestyle of homeschooling, we are free to follow Him in custom-making each child's box necessary.  HE becomes our curriculum advisory board.  If I had it to do over, I'd do it all again (except I'd skip those boring letter worksheets altogether and go for the metallic letter board from the get go).

Friday, October 9, 2015


When I first heard of notebooking, a skeptical friend told me that it was simply an educational fad that would soon pass.  But 9 years later, I'm still using this method with my children, and each year I am more convinced that multitudes of school children would awaken from their boredom if they could trash their fill-in-the-blank sheets and begin to "notebook" instead. Well, they'd also need some interesting "living books" and lots of free time to explore interests...but you get my point.

What exactly is notebooking?  My spell check tells me that it isn't even a word, so if you're new to the term, you're in the majority.  

Notebooking is simply recording what you've learned in a notebook in a fun, interesting way.  We've found that 3-ring binders are great for this, so I buy them in bulk at the beginning of every school year when they are on sale.  

Sometimes the children want to make a "lap book" instead, which is what the boys chose to do today when they were reviewing in their minds what they had read in Rifles for Watie (one of our very favorite books in our study of American history). Lap books are different in look but the same in concept as other "notebooking."  Instead of using a 3-ring binder, a lap book is made from a manilla folder.

Today the boys opted to begin making lap books, and they love the process so much that they continued making them long past the time we usually wrap up our history learning.  Whether it's a lap book or a 3-ring binder style of notebooking, the concept is the same: draw and record what you know from what you read.  This requires them to produce something of their own, and when they do that, they own it.  Fill-in-the-blanks, true-and-false, boring exercises in textbooks all lack the substance and sticking power that notebooking has.

Think of the traditional worksheet/busy work as a small bowl of prepackaged crackers.  It's quick, easy, and gets an immediate result of "filling" a little tummy.  Thirty minutes later, it's forgotten and hunger is not satiated.  Notebooking, in comparison, is more like a Thanksgiving meal.  It takes more time to make and eat, but it's fulfilling and bursting with multiple flavors that are savored.  One child may shun the green beans but may pile on 3 helpings of mashed potatoes, while another wants an equal spread of all foods present.  And everyone leaves the table stuffed and with sweet memories of the experience.  

THAT is notebooking.
Here D is making a picture that includes a home during Civil War era, so he pulls out books to reference

 Lap books are often folded inward toward the center fold, making it open like a door.

Sometimes we pull out our old lap books and notebooks, and it's a lot of fun to remember what we learned in days gone by.  Here are some examples of lap books they made in the past.  (Forgive the photos that are on their sides.  Blogger will not allow me to flip them, and I'm not going to retake them!).  :)

Here was a lap book made during the Bejing Olympics.  

Inside, there are SO many things you can do with lap books and notebooks.  My children always love making pockets and flip-a-flaps, so often they will incorporate things they learned in these fun ways.  

A pocket containing "postcards" made by one child.  Each postcard has a fact or aspect of China.

News stories that they liked were pasted inside.  A medals count was made on a chart on our wall and then photographed for the lap book.  They included information about Eric Liddell, a missionary to China, because they remembered that he had won an Olympic medal in the past.

We found a China prayer request calendar for the entire month, and they included this in their lap book.

They learned a couple of Chinese words and added these to their lap book.

Here is a lap book one child made years ago when we studied Turkey in Ann Voscamp's  A Child's Geography: Explore the Holy Land, which we enjoyed and hope to return to again next year.

These were all parts of the book that our son (age 5 at the time) remembered and drew.

And now for some examples of notebooking in 3-ring binders...

When the blood moon dazzled us a couple of weeks ago, we brought the telescope out onto the back deck and just watched the eclipse in progress.  This was a big hit, and the next day the boys each drew a blood moon for their notebooks.  (Again, sorry for the sideways photos!)

Sometimes at the end of the school year, when we are cleaning out notebooks, I will keep some of their work in these collective notebooks that span the years.  I wish I would remember to keep more of their things, because these are so much fun for all of us to go through and remember things we learned in the past.  I keep these notebooks on my shelf, and they are collections of past notebooking projects.  

In the science notebook, I have dividers for the different areas of science that we have explored. 

Here's HB's record of what she knew about the sun and moon when she was 9 years old.

One year we studied flying creatures...

 And here's a sweet reminder of our trip to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.  The day after our first visit there, they drew and wrote what they remembered.

Some nature walks were also put into notebooks.  This one reminds us of the beautiful fall in the Georgia mountains where we used to live.  This was done back in 2006, when my children were still young; so I made this in my own nature journal and added a fun fall poem.  Seeing their momma take the time to enjoy nature and create this was motivation to do this sort of thing on their own.  Now that they have been notebooking for many years, I no longer have to provide examples to follow.  In fact, they think of things that I would have never thought to do myself.  

Bible also lends itself well to notebooking, and it's precious to me to look back and see the different Scriptures that have been deposited into their hearts.  Many years ago, we learned Psalm 23, and HB and D illustrated what it meant to them.

One thing I love about notebooking is that it inspires creativity.  The sky is the limit (almost!) to what they can do with the information they have learned.  

Here is a page from the science notebook of yesteryear.  One child had used scrapbooking supplies to make a page about comets.

See the pocket on the lower right corner?

Inside the pocket is this clever "broom" intricately cut at the bottom (cute, right?!)

And on the flip side of the broom is this note of how comets leave behind a trail of dust.  Clever!!
This is a notebooking page about Mars.

To illustrate craters on Mars, a crater was drawn onto paper, and then a tab lifted out a large rock with the description of how craters are formed.

We also keep a notebook for "Living U.S. History."  This is for all the at-the-moment things that we study when they are happening...  Presidential races, inaugurations, Presidents' Day, MLK Jr Day, Thanksgiving, etc.  

Here are some pages from a Presidential race...

And, regardless of our personal opinions on which President is elected <smile>, it is still very interesting to watch the inauguration and to see the schedule of events, the map of the parade route, etc.  This is history that our children are actually experiencing in real time.

At Thanksgiving, we often remember back to the first Thanksgiving.  We have studied the colony (we even made a replica one year!), their way of life, their interactions with the Indians, etc.  Whatever we study and make, we include in our Living U.S. History notebook.

And often our road trips are either put into individual notebooks or are included in the Living History notebook.  This makes a fun record of memories from vacations and road trips.  Along the way, they experience different cultures, geography, foods, onsite history, etc.

And let's keep this real...  Notebooking is not always an orderly, neat process!!  If you're looking for a neat (boring!) process, just stick with the fill-in-the-blank sheets.  Creativity is often messy, so a certain amount of grace must accompany the momma who guides her children into the creative process.  And after the mess is cleaned up, the notebook pages become a treasure for many years to come.  

Anyone remember what they learned from fill-in-the-blanks?  Really...try to recall something you learned from those worksheets that you did for 13 years in school.  Anyone have any fond, beautiful memories from those endless exercises at the ends of the chapters in a textbook that are meant to check what we remember?  

We remember what we form an emotional attachment to.  We remember what we create.