Homeschooling From Rest

This year, I wanted to quit homeschooling. There was no more joy, I was inadequate and my son deserved more.
Yet, I didn’t want to enroll him in a brick-and-mortar school out of fear or as a way out of something.
I knew there was something amiss with the teacher and I wanted to get myself sorted out first before I wanted to make some serious decisions on my son’s schooling.
I got to the bottom of things and realized I was stressed because I was frustrated. I was frustrated because we couldn’t keep up with our routines. I envied the homeschooling families who started their morning routines at breakfast and by a certain hour in the morning, all kids are seated ready for some tablework. Meanwhile, I struggle to have us start on time all the time. Im constantly reminding for our son to finish his food, do bathroom routine and by the time he’s ready, his toddler sister needs to go to the bathroom and the baby needs to nap. We’re lucky if we could do four days of school work in a week. In fact, we are just at week 15 of 33 weeks of lessons in our curriculum and were already starting a new school year in a few weeks.
For someone who likes getting things done on time (I mean, that was my job as an editorial manager and a video producer!), I felt so helpless that what I knew I could easily do…I now couldn’t.
In my search for answers (mostly on homeschooling sites and books on the subject), I stumbled across Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie.
From the first page to the last, this book felt like a soothing balm whilst giving me the feeling that I was looking at a mirror. I could relate to practically every point and there were some truths that I needed to read.
As a homeschooling mom to a highly creative, intelligent boy (with two more students coming!), I felt like the task to keep him stimulated and interested was on my shoulders, that I had to keep up all the time with his inquisitive mind and that if his interest waned or if he failed at any point, it would be all on me.
Homeschooling became a task. An arduous task that I had to do and keep on doing for the years to come not only with our son, but with our girls too. I felt overwhelmed and I was ready to throw in the towel. I couldn’t see the blessing that it was. This book reminded me why we chose to homeschool in the first place.
“We must drop the self-inflated view that we are the end-all and be-all of whether the education we offer our children is going to work out…He asks us to faithfully commit every day to Him and then to do that day’s tasks well. He’s in charge of the results.” (page 10, Teaching From Rest)
This book drilled into me that the daily grind is holy ground. Faithfulness in the tasks are little seeds we plant everyday…every bit as important as the grand sunshine or the richness of the soil they grow from.
And that in this whole homeschooling enterprise, the most important aspect is not the curriculum, the timetable,  or the checkmarks in the to-do lists. It is, always have been, and always will be the children. I have lost sight of this. And I’ve only been homeschooling for three years!
“Put relationships above everything else.” (page 37, Teaching From Rest)
No wonder there was no more time to just cuddle up and read a book. Everyday was just nag-time to keep up with the schedule. No wonder there was no more joy and I couldn’t bring myself to get more creative in teaching. It was because I was teaching from a place of fear and frustration.
Besides the teaching perspective, this book also helped me realize another thing–that our feelings, though not to be used as basis of decisions, can be very good indicators of something amiss. I learned to listen to myself again and respect where I was and who I am. That translates well to teaching well.
It’s been about three weeks since I’ve started reading this and so far, I’ve been more at peace at home. Not just in homeschooling, but in parenting as a whole. I’ve learned to see the kids more than the tasks. To be quick to listen and to sit down with them to play. To prioritize reading books again and to not fret when things aren’t going as planned. More importantly, I have come to be thankful that I am here at home with them, to be the one to take care of them and to teach them.
I’m grateful for having stumbled across this book. I’m a fairly thrifty Momma but this book–I’m glad we bought this and this one is staying right on my work table. I know it’ll be handy for those moments when I’m way over my head again and need a good reminder of what teaching, and parenting from rest looks and feel like 🙂

What Makes Up Our Homeschool

I’ve been asked many times why I homeschool and being an independent homeschooler, what materials we use. I’ll answer question number one first: We homeschool because we love being the first ones to witness each of our child’s milestones. We relished hearing him sound out his letters for the first time, or when he discovered numbers or when he first said, “Tapeyoyd” to refer to the shape “trapezoid”. I still remember the first time he read and how his smile told me he was immensely enjoying knowing what to do with those letters and how to put them together. More than that, we homeschool because we felt this is God’s design–for parents not just to be caregivers of their children, but to ultimately be there their teachers. We teach them how to eat, talk, walk, say “please” and “thank you”, how to share…the academics are just natural extensions of the day-to-day lessons we already feel compelled to teach them. Values are integral to parenting, and when you have taken pains in instilling that in your family’s (take note: not just in your child) culture, teaching them academic lessons feels almost inevitable. We teach because we parent them. Or more accurately, we parent slash teach them. They go hand-in-hand. And lastly, and just as important, we homeschool because we love spending time with him. I cannot imagine our child being away from us for more than half a day, everyday 🙁 huhu. We check often with our son though, if he would like to try out a brick-and-mortar school since he’s increasingly enjoyed playtimes with friends. And he said that he prefers still prefers homeschool. We have enrolled him in music and theater arts classes, and bring him to playgroups as often as we could instead.

To answer number two, we use Five in a Row (FIAR), a literature-based curriculum that has brought us more than just academic excellence, it has given us a love for good books and reading. When we started with Before Five in a Row (BFIAR), I was completely taken with how it has made “homeschool” so natural for us. My son would get the book for the week from the bookshelf, bring it to me and cuddle to me (even now at five years old). Then, we’d read together and discuss the remarkable parts of the story-what made him laugh, and what he can relate with,  then he’d ask questions and before we know it, we’re making our own books with it, or making an experiment, or looking something up on YouTube. Learning doesn’t feel contrived at all. And what I appreciate are the books that are just so easy to love. The stories are timeless, beautiful tales that impart unforgettable characters and character-building conflicts and values.

Our FIAR materials – manual and some of the books

Now, we are halfway done with FIAR Volume 1. We like to take our time with each book-always extending beyond the five days prescribed in reading and learning it. We have supplemented our program with Language and Math workbooks, simply because our son enjoys doing workbooks (thank God as I’m not a very crafty mommy).

We supplement with these workbooks and the Usborne Atlas book, which helps us pinpoint the different countries each of the books take us to.

I’m happy with this program we’ve put together because it helped instill in my son a love for learning and good storytelling. He has been making his own books since he was three years old. And he’s a natural at developing characters on his own. FIAR’s characters have also helped us in our discipline methods as there are complex characters that go through a wide range of emotions, illustrating to my child better how to face a myriad of feelings and how to conquer them, when necessary. He learned how not to fear discipline through Ping in “A Story about Ping”, how uneasiness can be a sign that we’re doing something wrong in “A Pair of Red Clogs”, and how a person’s freedom is a God-given right in “Who Owns the Sun?”

BOur son discovered the different parts of a book, as well as the realities of human life and relationships, through a program that aimed at promoting and nurturing quality time between parent and child with the aid of good literature. Love is the seed from which this program will grow and succeed, and love is also the fruit.

While we may consider other curriculum as our son grows, I have already started to plastic-wrap our BFIAR and FIAR materials, because I know we will use these again for our second child, and any other child God will put under our care.

My pupil has made hundreds of handmade books on his own, with content inspired by whatever captured his interest at the moment (which as you can see, is Star Wars most of the time).

National “Thank You, Fellow Parents” Day

In honor of the first-ever National Homeschooling Day being celebrated today in the Philippines, I am writing a short tribute to homeschooling and to the generous parents who have set out to develop such wonderful curricula that our family have been so fortunate make use of. These parents have given their hearts to the lessons they developed (because they used them on their own children first) and have shared it to the world for free or for a minimal cost. This post is for you.

We’ve been “officially” homeschooling–meaning, we’ve been utilizing lesson plans and curricula–when our son was two years old. It doesn’t mean that I necessarily recommend starting this early, but I just wanted a more “organized” approach back then (more for me, really, just so I can keep track of what we’re learning and what else to learn) so I searched and researched for a simple curriculum.

The internet offered plenty of FREE resources that I really had to set aside time to choose and even try out some before I decided on any one. These were mostly made by homeschooling moms and they generously shared them on their blog sites. One curriculum we used was God’s Little Explorers by Stacie Ann Nelson. It had a good coverage, and it was colorful and sufficient for my then-two year old. They were fun to do and learning was more memorable. You can download her lesson plans week-by-week for free, or you can download it in one single, and much improved, package for $20. That’s just P1,000, folks for a whole year of lesson plans. Thank you, Momma Stacie!

godsexplorerv2size2

We also used ABC Jesus Loves Me, which like God’s Little Explorers, also offer free ABCJLMdownloads of their weekly lesson plans. It offers lots of Bible-related activities that were age-appropriate. I loved how they included songs in their plans to make the lessons more fun and meaningful for the student. Download weekly for free or you can also choose to download it in one single, organized package for $30 (P1,500) for two years’ worth of lesson plans. Aren’t these Mommas amazing?! Thank you, Momma Heidi! And these are just two of many! The internet has really made homeschooling accessible and doable, like never before!

After our son has gotten his ABCs, numbers, colors and shapes down pat, I felt a yearning for more. We really enjoyed reading books together, and storytelling was our special time together. So, when I stumbled across Before Five in a Row, described as a “gentle curriculum” where learning happens during snuggle times under a cover with a good book, my heart was just captivated.

BFIAR

Before Five in a Row is a literature-based curriculum that derives and mines its lessons from great quality, meaningful, really wonderful children’s books. It will require you to sit and read to your child many times in a week. But it is the curiosity and interest of your child that will be the one to propel those storytelling sessions and after-story discussions to something even beyond our imagination. Our son’s vocabulary exploded, his writing skills soared, and he developed the skill of storytelling and book-making. He remembered details and insights, and he related life lessons he read about to our own family.

This one is not free, and I actually got my manual, and about eight out of the 21 titles second-hand from Amazon for much cheaper. However, since most of the titles are classics, and some are out-of-print already, I realized I should have just bought the complete, brand-new set. $30 for the manual, and $130 for the entire literature package. That would amount to about P8,000 today. Still affordable considering you can use this for one to two years. Founders are parents, Steve and Jane Clair Lambert, who curated these wonderful titles and put together these curricula. Thank you!

Now, our son is five years old, and we have been using Five in a Row Volume 1 since last year.  We sourced them locally through www.thelearningbasket.com.The stories have been nothing short of amazing, sometimes bringing me to tears as I prepare the lesson plan. Our family is definitely a fan of the FIAR series!

BFIAR and FIAR packages can be bought from Rainbow Resource in the US or sourced from The Learning Basket in the Philippines.

BFIAR and FIAR packages can be bought from Rainbow Resource in the US or sourced from The Learning Basket in the Philippines.

Well, needless to say, we love homeschooling. Not just for the freedom to customize, to follow our child’s interest and pace, and our lifestyle, but because we get to partake in some of the world’s best lesson plans, prepared by no less than parents themselves who have given themselves to teaching and educating their children, and ours. It showed me the community of homeschooling, as one that is inherently generous and graceful towards our children, and to fellow parents.

Happy National Homeschooling Day, Philippines! And happy homeschooling to all homeschoolers the world over!

Non-Linear Schooling

File493

My then-2-year-old student playing with and scooping colored ice as an intro to science, and to practice motor skills.

We’ve been homeschooling for about three years now. We started early, when our son was just two. I guess it’s by the same reason that schools now open a toddler program and parents have been eagerly flocking to enroll their chubby tots in them. It’s exciting to watch them learn and do new things. Not to mention cute.

We considered homeschooling because we loved spending time together as a family. Plus the preschool years are a lot of playing and answering curious questions, more than anything. And we do that already everyday.

However, it’s another thing altogether to plan lessons. My first job was as a preschool teacher and the worst thing about it for me was lesson-planning. Only because I had to cough up some activities everyday for a child to do.

My eager student

My eager student

Now with homeschooling, since it’s a natural extension of parenting for us, we find that the lessons are integrated in our daily lifestyle and implemented proactively  with our student. And one of the many, many things we appreciate about homeschooling is that it, absolutely does NOT need to be straightforward and linear. We study whatever interests us at any given time. We learn as life deals with us, and as we deal with life.

For example, we first learned about numbers as Gabbie started to walk up the stairs as a toddler. We simply counted as he went up and down. We naturally had to learn about how tadpoles grow into frogs, and caterpillars to butterflies when our friend lent us the book, “The Tadpole’s Promise”. We tackled the “tricky” lesson of getting pregnant, pregnancy and birthing when else? When we got pregnant and did our water birth! We delved into the solar system when Gabbie devoured anything Star Wars.  All of these were child-initiated, and the lessons imprinted themselves onto Gabbie’s brain simply because he was interested.

His drawings and activity sheets

His drawings and activity sheets

The curriculum that we use supports this way of learning for us. We’ve been using Five in a Row for almost a year now, and the memory of my son cuddling next to me as we read wonderful stories is my best takeaway. As for my son, he’s learned so much and more importantly, he said he enjoys homeschooling! Among many memorable lessons, we’ve discovered many different countries and culture, the complex emotions we deal with, the different characteristics of people, the important values we want to imbibe as well as the various parts of a book and a story, simple machines, steam shovels, nutrition and the different kinds of food and quilting.

Now, to a traditionally-schooled and “type A” gal like me, this kind of seemingly “random” learning is too chaotic and unpredictable. It seemed so disconnected, and I didn’t want my child to be lacking by the usual standards. But, it soon became pretty clear to me that my son was learning, and learning well. There was a thirst and he had the initiative to quench it. Whatever it was, whatever we were doing, as a mother and teacher, I am extremely contented and excited with his learning process and journey. It may seem that if I looked at Deped’s milestones, our four-year old may be lacking in some areas (he doesn’t know how to count by 2’s or 5’s yet), but completely off the charts in another (he can put together a book on his own with title, table of contents, page numbers, copyright, dedication with a complete and interesting storyline and detailed pictures).

What I’m saying is that learning does not need to be confined. It can, and should be continuous and unbound. I say this even as I am sometimes delayed in implementing lesson plans from our curriculum. “School” does not really end because Gabbie does not stop asking questions, and we don’t stop answering either. He does not halt creating, as proven by the books, Lego structures and Play-Doh figures he makes everyday. And what makes homeschooling extra special in my mind is that he (and we!) is learning parallel to life and the current season we’re in.

And this is why I am so excited for another season in our family journey which is also our homeschooling journey. We are set to go on a long trip very soon, and I am so excited for our son who will surely enjoy learning about so many things. I’m excited for him that the places we’ve only read about will finally come to life. Or that he will be exposed to a different culture, to a different music scene, and go on another adventure with his family.

And we might be able to purchase the curriculum we’ve been wanting to try for so long–Sonlight. My heart skips a beat just reading through their full-grade package. We can’t wait for our next school year.

School. It’s never looked this interesting in my whole life. Whatever, and however we should learn–I’ve thrown out practically all notions I’ve had out the window. I don’t need to confine my son to a desk all day, five days a week, nor does he need to go through textbooks for a given school year. In fact, he does not have to have a “school year”. We can just keep going and going while he’s interested, and move on the next that piques his curiosity. We love homeschooling! And it is a privilege to be able to do this with my son, and hopefully with our daughter too.

Patiently looking for the flag of Canada.

Patiently looking for the flag of Canada.

As their teacher, I just have to make sure I don’t stay confined or boxed too. We learned a new word today, “flexibility” from the book, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel”, and I am reminded that I need exactly that to maximize and enjoy homeschooling to the hilt!

 

How We Used Star Wars As A Homeschool Lesson

One of the great things we enjoy about homeschooling is the flexibility to make a lesson out of anything. And by anything, I mean, any topic that my son latches on.

Since December of last year, after watching Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my son has been enamored with Star Wars. His dad was a huge influence as he encouraged it and we watched the seven episodes together. My husband’s family loves the franchise and it was easy for him to get fascinated with it.

Incidentally, our homeschool was also progressing very slowly, with the new pregnancy and a busy season at work. Admittedly, there were many instances when we had to let Star Wars do babysitting for us—plop him down in front of the movie in the room, and we enjoyed at least two hours of quiet time.

But, praise God, our son Gabbie translated what he watched into many handmade storybooks, which enhanced his writing. And we bought him a Star Wars book which he read constantly. That, in turn, enhanced his reading skills.

A good investment from National Book Store. Just a bit over P500.

A good investment from National Book Store. Just a bit over P500.

Perhaps nowhere is Star Wars more beneficial to us than in developing our son’s character. When he began expressing his interest in the Dark Side’s Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, we discouraged him at first (because, you know, they’re the bad guys!). But after conceding to his increasing interest, we thought why not just teach him through it? So, his dad taught him that we can pray for people and that’s just what we’ve done with Kylo Ren and Darth Vader. Once, I heard him talk to his action figure Kylo Ren telling him that it’s not good to be a bad guy, and then he asked me to pray for Kylo Ren. And so we did.

Snuggling with Kylo Ren

Snuggling with Kylo Ren

So now, we “teach” Kylo Ren who “lives with us” to show respect and obey. It’s so much fun watching him “discipline” Kylo Ren as he plays with him.

Apart from the character lessons, we’ve also ventured into other learnings that naturally just sprung up from his love for Star Wars:

 

 

 

  • Making books – Staple several pieces of white paper into a nice colored one and let him tell the story many different times over. He has given me different characters, episodes and endings. Sometimes, we do it together. He writes while I illustrate, or vice versa (we both get credit on the cover). Through this, he has explored and extended his imagination, and we’ve expanded his vocabulary, spelling skills, and I taught him how to write the proper way—starting with a capital letter, and then the rest in small letter and ending with a period.

    Some of Gabbie's handmade books

    Some of Gabbie’s handmade books

  • Using colors to express the scenario – Although we started learning about this skill through our lessons with Five in a Row, we used it also with his handmade books. If it’s a fighting scene, he uses blacks and grays. If it’s a happier scene, he uses brighter colors.

 

  • Role-Playing – Thank God for my mom who so generously, and creatively made him a brown Jedi robe (a sewing machine really comes in handy!), and his Daddy who bought (and made) him a light saber, he regularly engages in role-playing.Sometimes, he’s a Jedi, sometimes he’s Kylo Ren, or Darth Vader (but we always remind him to be respectful). He gets plenty of exercise with his Light Saber pretend fights, too. He has also expanded his role-playing to “making movies”. He pretends to be the actor and we watch him as he “acts out” the movie.
  • Writing and Thinking as Inspired by Star Wars – We downloaded some free worksheets to get inspired on our thinking skills. We answered questions like, “If you were to change anything in the movie, what would it be?”
Daddy is so cool he can MAKE Light Sabers!

Daddy is so cool he can MAKE Light Sabers!

Because of this, I’ve been inspired to get crafty and I attempted to make him a light saber, out of toilet paper rolls.

Not very strong, it lasted just for a day with his intense sword-fighting. His dad made one, too made of cartolina and duct tape. It turned out much, much better!

I’m writing this because I truly did not expect to homeschool with Star Wars. But, knowing how homeschooling and unschooling works, it’s really no surprise. Homeschooling is a wonder because it stems from a respect of natural interests and time spent with parents, and not necessarily on a parent’s teaching skills (my handmade Light Saber was so poor, I could not bear to post a photo haha) That’s a recipe for enjoyable and significant learning in my book.

We love homeschooling and the time we spend together as a family. Star Wars turns out to be quite a goldmine of worthwhile lessons to explore together!

Reading with his Kylo Ren mask on

Reading with his Kylo Ren mask on

Getting Back Into the Homeschool Groove

Our work is seasonal. Sometimes, we have chunks of weeks that are extremely busy and others with not much going on. Though there are lots to be grateful for with this kind of work set-up and schedule (like we can go on vacation off-season, and have some family fun mid-week), the hardest thing about it is re-integrating back into the rhythm.

Our homeschool is the most-affected, I would say as momentum is important to learning children. Our Gabbie used to have some semblance of routine but during the last few months where both Mommy and Daddy were busy (not to mention the former is preggy!), we practically stopped doing our lesson plan. I would always say, his lesson for that season is free play and independent learning. He learned how to make his own storybooks and read better.

But still, I feel compelled to get back into the groove. After all, our curriculum, Five in a Row is fantastic and it would be such a waste to halt the learning that so naturally happens with our materials.

Now, for this Momma, the question time and again is HOW?!

Last night, I had a sense of trying to start homeschooling first thing in the morning. I didn’t really take it seriously, but this morning we had the opportunity to do so.

First thing we did, even right before breakfast, we picked up our Filipino book and started learning, pronouncing, spelling, and writing Filipino words. We had fun with it and Gabbie realized how easy it was to spell Filipino words compared to English ones. Indeed!

Working on his Filipino book

Working on his Filipino book

It was just 15 minutes of schoolwork, laughing and eating put together, but it set the stage for us to get back on track. What’s important is we both remember how it felt to be productive and to have fun together when we learn.

For today, that is enough. We will go back to reading our storybooks tonight and slowly get back into the rhythm. That’s part of what I love about homeschooling. No pressure!

As for me, it was good to try doing this major priority in our lives first thing when our minds and attitudes were fresh.

Maybe I can build a schedule around this–starting homeschooling first thing in the morning. Will try and let you know how it works.