3 Quick Tips from a Seasoned Homeschooler: Simple Ideas for Learning at Home

It was a dark and stormy night (true). After a long day of battling her miniature t-Rex/ empress (toddler), the exhausted superhero (mom) got her to sleep and disappeared to her fancy office (the kitchen table) to write exquisite literature (a blog post).

Well, isolation isn’t really that isolating when you have 7 kids. It’s actually tricky to find a moment alone, so I haven’t found much time to blog. My luxurious hour and a half I used to have each Thursday to write at a cafe is obviously over. So, like everyone else…re-adjusting.

But as a homeschooler, I’ve been really wanting to reach out and share tips on learning at home with your kids, because so many people have been unexpectedly thrown into having their kids home all day, instead of in school. You might be feeling a lot of pressure and stress, but really, you don’t need to. Kids are amazingly creative and resourceful, and are actually able to learn a lot on their own. Here are a few tips and ideas:

Homeschool Tip # 1: You’re not a babysitter or a clown.

In other words, you don’t need to entertain them all day. They are home with you, but you don’t need your eye on them every second. They might make a mess building a fort or a giant LEGO tower, but that’s ok. Creative, unstructured play is great for learning.

Two of my girls made a Coronavirus vs the good bugs board game with play dough and thumbtacks.

Homeschool Tip #2: Boredom is a good thing.

Say what?? Really, many of the most interesting things my kids have done happened because they were at loose ends and needed to find something to do. So while educational shows and documentaries are awesome and helpful, there comes a time to turn them off, and let your kids figure out what to do next. For example, here’s a few things my kids have been up to lately, while I stocked the cupboards and cooked meals:

1. Putting on simple plays. The other evening, the kids put on a hilarious version of Little Red Riding Hood, complete with costumes and make-up. It was so funny that my hand was shaking from laughter while to tried to film it. It was great to see all their personalities coming out in acting.

2. Practicing music. My 9 year old daughter loves to play piano and spends lots of time composing new songs and practicing her lessons. My 11 year old took ukulele lessons for a few months, and taught her 13 year old sister to play. Now they learn new songs together and do duets.

3. Creative writing. Two of my daughters have been working hard on kids chapter books (their own idea). One is on chapter 6 of her island adventure story, and the other just finished her ballet story, which is 9 chapters. After we comb through and do some editing, we are planning to get some copies printed with Blurb, which is a great self-publishing company. The nice thing is, you can just order as many copies as you like; there’s no need to buy 1000.

4. Mini-Marketplace. The other day the kids came up with a fun game: gathering up things to make little stores for their siblings to shop at, using old postage stamps as currency. They had a great time doing it and kept busy for hours. My friend’s daughters spent a morning making a restaurant at home, complete with menus and meal plans.

5. Creating Cartoons. My kids love to do art, and one fun project is to fold a paper into little squares, unfold it again, then use each one to tell a piece of a story in cartoon. Maybe this seems like fooling around, rather than learning, but actually, literacy skills like planning ahead, creating a cohesive story, and self-expression though different mediums are all there.

6. Making an animal habitat. The kids love to make toys and tunnels for their hamster, so he can have a gorgeous home, and the other day used their interior decorating skills to set up a terrarium for a caterpillar we found outside.

7. Dance and move. We are huge fans of living room dance parties, and with two girls in ballet, they like to practice a lot. We also do exercise videos together, even the toddler. It’s adorable to see her trying to do the plank, with her tiny bottom in the air. Another daughter does Tae Kwon Do, so we practice her latest moves, too.

Homeschool Tip #3: Fill their minds with greatness. Read aloud together.

Filling your kids heads with great ideas might seem like a tall order, but the method is actually simple: read great books aloud to your kids and talk about them together. Think about your favourite childhood books, how much those characters stuck with you, how you changed because of participating in their adventures through your imagination. Lucky you! Now you get to experience them again, through the eyes of your kids.

This shared experience helps build family culture and closeness, and gives a frame of reference when discussing life’s problems. For example, “Remember when Frodo was struggling to carry his burden, but Sam really helped him? Your brother is really stressed…I need you to be his Sam right now.”

You might think reading aloud is only something for little kids, but no; it’s beneficial for everyone, even your teens. Reading aloud gives your kids a chance to hear words used and pronounced properly, to develop more complex speech patterns and vocabulary and to work on concentration skills. Books are not Twitter or Snapchat. They require slowing down, focussing and being quiet. These are good life skills.

You might think it’s too hard when you have little kids who won’t sit still, but try to not get hung up on that. Your baby and toddler might be rolling around on the carpet, but as long as the others can hear, it’s ok. We got through “The Hobbit,” a few months ago and my four year old loved it. He’s super tough so he was ready to take on orcs with his imaginary sword.

Books don’t have to be long to be good. Poetry, short stories and picture books can be wonderful, too. There’s lots of beauty, truth and wisdom to be found in all of those. My kids and I love the Gregor the Overlander Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. It’s fast-paced and easy to read, but full of interesting content to discuss, from loyalty and betrayal to discrimination and what is just in war. One of the best ways to help kids develop critical thinking skills is to discuss things with them…and since we don’t only want to talk about the news and current events, literature is a great spring board for discussion.

Well, that’s plenty for one day! Soon I hope to make a list of some of my most recommended read-alouds, and talk more about the importance of story in helping our kids learn. Take care everyone, and all the best!

The Case of the Missing Mom

It’s been kinda quiet on the blog lately and you might be wondering…where’s my mother? Didn’t she come back from summer vacation?

Is she off having a wild toga party??

Did she shrink into a fairy and get lost in the wild chives in our garden?

Is she a total basket case who forgot she loves writing??

No, she’s homeschooling us! She misses you all and hopes to appear again soon!

We’re working really hard…see? Look at the floor!

Decluttering and making a house a home: a family effort!

It is a blessing to have someone on your life who loves you enough to kindly tell you how you could do better…some one who loves you enough–as you already are–to help you grow even better. My big stepsister Dymphny is like that. Totally accepting, yet boldly courageous in proclaiming the truth with love.

She flew down to help me reorganize my home, because we have been fortunate enough to be able to rent the suite below us, and now have the whole house! Instead of 3 bedrooms for 9 people, we have 5 and a den, besides an extra little kitchen and bathroom. One of the most exciting parts is the large living room, which will be our new homeschool room, instead of the tiny, narrow dining room we’ve used for school till now.

Things have been rather quiet on my blog because they’ve been so packed here! The kids and I, with some help from Grandpa, my brother and my lovely landlord Joe, repainted the downstairs…transforming the pale, depressing, hospital-gown green suite into cute Bubblegum Pink bedrooms, a Thai Teal bedroom, and a English Daisy yellow schoolroom! 🙂

Everybody helped…

It was quite the fun project…home renovation and interior decorating 101! My 12 year daughter became an overnight IKEA expert and made a massive list of everything we needed to make our new space beautiful. Since I never usually buy many new things for our home, the list was huge, and we had a rather epic expedition involving a 5 hour shop and a U-Haul. Happily my sister and brother were there to help!

Of course my productivity manager came along as well…

We survived!! IKEA soft ice cream was a definite must in our way out the door.

But besides buying new things to make our space lovely…we had an even more important job to do: purging everything unnecessary, ugly, extra, etc, that was currently making our home cluttered, chaotic and well, rather resembling a ramshackle thrift store instead of a beautiful, intentional space. No more!

My daughter’s new bedroom

This is where having a loving big sister with an objective eye for crap came in so handy. She wasn’t going to let me hang on to anything that didn’t make my life better. Rather, she helped me dig out the precious things hiding under the clutter so I can display and enjoy them instead of having them tucked away and forgotten, like the fancy tea pot I bought for my birthday on my last IKEA trip last Advent…and still haven’t used, less than a month till my next birthday!

It’s a gift to have someone affirm that you’re better than some kind of recycling bin, and that you don’t need to hold on to everything that comes your way. Sometimes when trying to sort stuff alone it’s hard to cut the invisible strings of guilt that make you keep stuff for “one day” or because it’s from “so and so”…or because getting rid of stuff feels wasteful.

Sorting books

The minimalist mom Allie Casazza says that whatever takes up your space, takes up your time. You don’t need to lose time shuffling around odds and ends you don’t need. I’ve done this for years. And what’s really wasteful is harming your relationships because of unnecessary stress….not being able to find things, arriving late, not wanting to have people over because of mess, etc.

It’s so freeing to let go. Chuck those old shampoo bottles and extra creams into the recycling. Take pictures of all those kids drawings and then let them go. Let someone else enjoy those books and clothes you don’t need. Live with a lighter heart and be able to find things. A clear beautiful space is so calming. A study quoted on a Gretchen Rubin’s podcast Happier found that women’s cortisol levels, indicative of stress, were directly related to the amount of clutter in her home. No wonder I’ve been on edge!

I was so grateful to have Big Brothers to pick up our porch full of donations, and Half Price Rubbish Removal to come the next day. Seeing what we don’t need has opened our eyes to see how we could enjoy our home even better. Having space to do so more peacefully and enjoying the presence of family, including our IKEA expert building expert Opa, has been the best gift so far this season!

My (Wonderfully) Clueless Husband

My husband is clueless. He has absolutely no idea how wonderful he is. He works day and night (literally) to support our family, and even though he is exhausted, makes a point of spending time with me…even if it’s just watching a stupid show in the wee hours so we can laugh together. Relationships matter to him. There’s nothing more precious than his family (ok, his books come a close second, but still).

Despite all this he often feels inadequate, because he can’t be the magical dad who is home at 5 pm helping cook dinner and then wrangling all the kids into bed. His work to-do list never ever ends, but without it, I couldn’t be home with the kids. I couldn’t be there for all the first steps and first words, for my five year old’s funny science questions (What if tongues didn’t stop growing?), for the impromptu ballet performances and puppet shows, for the discussions about novels and movies and what life is all about. All these things, my husband primarily has to miss so I can be there for them.

Thank you, honey. It’s crazy hard….your work, my work…but it’s a gift. Our family is a gift. I’m so grateful.

Right now, on the midst of all this business, you’ve taken a week off so I can have a break. So I can go on workshop to feed my mind and recharge my soul. Because even imperfect moms deserve a break. That means we all do. It’s hard to go away when I feel like there’s a million things I should be doing at home, but with your love and support I’m going. Sailing off to be a kid in school again for a week and study philosophical anthropology–what it is to be human and live a fulfilling life–and honestly, I can’t wait! 😉 As a homeschooling mom, it’s nice to take a turn being the student!

While there’s always so much to do, sometimes the best way to move forward is to step back and let go for a bit. So cheers to that, and thanks, honey for being amazing.

Some long days…

Some long days the baby cries

and the toddler screams

and the 5 year old seems to have

ants in his pants

and a megaphone around his neck.

Some long days

the toddler won’t nap

and the phone rings five times

during the quiet-time movie

and it seems nothing can wait

for you to just chill out and relax

for just an hour…even half an hour!

Some long days

the boys fill your kettle with pencil crayons

and draw on the bathroom door

and the baby wakes up

as soon as you begin the math lesson

and everyone moans and groans

and forgets how to round to the nearest ten.

Some long days you hit dinner time

with a sense of desperation…

“How long till bed?!”

and sing along to “The Muppets” soundtrack

in an attempt to feel that you’ve got

“Everything that I need, right in front of me.”

Some long days

the smartest thing you do

is have a glass of wine with dinner

and veto everything but laughter

as you listen to stories from the Vinyl Cafe

with the kids

who delight in the one

when Dave gets trapped in a sewer

after dropping down his keys

and gets mistaken for a monster by a little boy.

Some long days

the greatest relief is the feeling of your toddler

drooling on your shoulder

as you rock him to sleep early, to prevent any more fits.

Success! The little beast is quiet…

and you can actually read the others

“The Never-Ending Story” about Atreyu and Bastian,

the luck dragon Falcor and the childlike Empress,

until their eyes close and their breath gets deep and even.

Despite all the chaos,

all they’ll probably remember about today is

listening to stories with you

and falling asleep on the warmth of your lap.

Some long days

when the hours drag on,

remember you’re not alone

and try to end them with a smile…

Just keep picturing diving into bed

and sinking into the sweet relief of sleep!

Some long days, mamas,

you gotta keep your eye on the prize!

Lent: on taking it one step at a time

Lent is here. It’s a time when many people choose to spend more time in reflection and prayer. It’s a time to come to grow on the inside. Like a bulb planted underground in the winter struggling through the cold dirt, we can struggle through the reality of our mistakes and imperfections, without losing hope. We can persevere like that little green shoot peeking out through the snow into the frosty air to find the sun. But all this requires patience, something our immediate-gratification-loving world is sorely lacking.

I got to thinking about patience this evening when I was trying to teach my daughter to draw a cube. She was trying again and again to make it look right, but it kept looking lopsided, like a tent.

“It’s all about getting the lines parallel,” I said. “You can’t draw it too fast, you have to go one line at a time focussing only on making it parallel to the one across from it. Then it looks straight.”

So she kept trying and filled pages with these 3-D boxes.

“Why can’t I get it right?” she asked. “I’ve done so many and they’re still not perfect!”

“It’s not about getting it perfect; it’s about practicing–building your drawing muscles so you can get better and better. And that’s why we do it with a pencil, so we can erase our mistakes, and readjust things to make it better.”

Isn’t it the same with our spiritual lives? We get easily frustrated with the time it takes to get things looking straight. We don’t want to be lopsided boxes, we just want to be that perfect cube right now! But that’s not how it works. We need to have the patience to make little strokes with our pencils, realizing we can erase our mistakes and readjust things every day. We can say sorry and begin again with new hope, that’s what Lent is all about.

Our lives are not written in stone, or even permanent ink, so we only need to humbly keep trying, while paying attention to the little things. Ultimately our lives are a picture made up of many tiny images. Every little line adds to this picture. So the only way to improve ourselves is by paying attention to the little things, readjusting day by day to try to make the picture that we want. Shaping our lives a little bit at a time, and trying to do so with patience, humour and love.

Of course, it helps if we know ahead of time what we want that picture to look like. This is where life goals come in, and knowing what kind of person we want to be helps us to take steps to get there. So having an ideal image to strive for—that perfect box, that amazing hero, that inspiring saint—can help us to break down that image into concrete pieces, and discover little positive habits that we can acquire to become not them, but the best version of ourselves.