Authenticity · Vulnerability

Grieving what we’ve Lost

We’ve lost some difficult things.

Today was the day we were supposed to wake up our kids in an hour and pull them mysteriously into the van. They would blink their eyes in confusion at the suitcases and surprise packages around them. We would then tell them the news:

We are going on a SURPRISE family trip!

There were packages to open along the way: a new iPad. Blank comic books. Candy and travel games.

They would scream in excitement and awe that we had surprised them. The next six days would be driving, restaurant meals, family visits, and water park rides.

BUT… today I mourn because instead, I wake up to a completely different day: Ryan’s alarm going off for work. I will wake up and make breakfast, homeschool the kids and then try to keep them joyful for the rest of the day. Surprise travel gifts and the iPad were opened a week ago, now used for school work.

My kids don’t know about the trip, thank goodness we decided to surprise them. It’s just one less disappointment they have to face.

Still, my daughter was discouraged yesterday. Deeply discouraged. As an optimist at heart, I did what I could to be upbeat and see the blessings. But mainly, I just listened because there wasn’t much to say: I am sad too.

I shared what I was sad about… I’m mourning the normalcy of life, as we all are.

I was sad, because I did my hair and makeup to go get the groceries this week. I cry, because I’m sick of people on screens. I cry, because there’s no hopeful message… just experts repeatedly saying: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

I long for an end date. We all do.

I’m mourning family gatherings, church events, and meeting with people. I’m mourning date nights with my husband and visiting my grandparents.

I shared as we put together a puzzle.

We went on a walk, the air was crisp. She shared her heart, her tears. As we walked, she visibly brightened. The sun started setting. The fields were beautiful with the spring water glistening in them. Then we came back home and gathered the family for a drive. Picking up some drive thru iced cream and drove around until dark, looking at some of the beautiful homes people live in.

My youngest pipes up from the back: “When I grow up I will find the biggest house and choose that one.”

We laughed at the innocent comment and came home FULL. The grieving had allowed small glimpses of joy to set in. The grieving allowed us to move on.

So friends: grieve. Then keep going.

Education · Homeschooling

Helpful Tips to Homeschool Your Public School Child

The situation we are in right now is completely shocking to me. Never in a million years would I have believed you if you had told me that all of Manitobans would be homeschooling their kids in 2020.

Never.

From people who have been adamantly against the idea, to people who have hesitatingly accepted it in my life, I have been getting emails, calls, and texts asking me the question everyone is asking:

HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU HOMESCHOOL?!?

How am I going to stay sane?

How am I going to keep track of all the stacks of schoolwork we are receiving?

WILL I SURVIVE?!?

So, this is my blog response to anyone who finds themselves feeling quite overwhelmed, panicking, devastated, and afraid: You are not alone. Everyone is in this situation together. Take a deep breath, you will get through this!

Here are the tips I’ve been giving for keys to being successful in your child’s education.

1) Homeschool is not like public schooling. I think the public school system is about to find that out. Feeling overwhelmed by five different subjects for five different kids, and the expectations that are being put on to parents right about now?? I sure am! And I’ve done this before!!

Again, take a deep breath, you do NOT have to do it their way. This is new territory! Teachers are feeling pressured to give loads of work assignments to their students to help them complete their public school curriculum guide. And they are giving instructions the only way they know how! So let’s have a lot of grace for them. Ok that being said, the amount of things I’m expected to do (listening to morning announcements, band practise charts, thirty minute recorded gym times??) Yeah… not happening. Sure, I’ll go on a walk or a bike ride with my kids once it warms up, but homeschooling moms have long realized that we can’t be everything to our kids. We tell them to play outside. Or help with chores! Gym time done.

I set up a room in the basement full of instruments to play with when their bored. Practice done.

Don’t you see? Boredom begets creativity and fitness. Not schedule.

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2) Stick to a schedule, but feel free to stop when it’s not working. Yes, the most successful homeschoolers must schedule in time for schoolwork. Preferably when the kids have the most energy, and when everyone’s feeling motivated. For us, this is mornings. I also prefer teaching in the mornings because then they have something to look forward to when they’re done their work (free time in the afternoon) or they have a consequence if they don’t work… an afternoon of more work 🙂

Most of the time, I start our day with prayer and devotions and reading a good chapter book to them. This draws them in and connects us in a fun way. Afterwards, we try to do subject by subject together. Some kids work ahead, that’s ok too! They can finish early as a reward for their hard work! I try to have a snack time or a 10 minute play break in the morning… again, something to look forward to or a consequence to lose. So make a schedule, try to stick to it, scrap it when needed. And don’t be afraid to try something new if it’s not working out anymore! Homeschooling works best when it’s not the same old thing everyday. Kids like a change once in a while!

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3) Remember the Important things! In the younger years (grades 1-4) this is math, reading (you to them and them to you) and lots and lots of writing! Seriously, don’t sweat the other stuff… it will mostly be forgotten. (Sorry teachers!) Feel free to put some of the work aside. Just get them writing, as the goal isn’t to have them remember how many buses long a blue whale is, the goal is for them to learn measurement and writing! Keep this in mind. You don’t have to do it all!

In the middle school years or older, science, history and geography do become more important, but by this time your child should be quite independent. If they need help you can’t give, I have one secret for you… YOUTUBE. It will quite literally teach your kid how to build a rocket. Or how to do open heart surgery… and hopefully the assignments they’re getting won’t be that complex!

4) Make a homeschooling room or corner! Seriously, nothing is more frustrating than having homework, laptops and kids learning in every single room in the house. Find a common area to work. Store all the work, binders, textbook and supplies in the same place: A bin, a bookshelf, a desk or a drawer. It doesn’t matter what you use, the key is to be able to have one place to store everything. This will keep you organized.

5) See the blessings. I admit, I had more than one day that my husband came home to find me discouraged and crying. It’s difficult teaching and getting all the kids to get along, while trying to keep up with housework, meal prep, laundry and work! At times it feels impossible. But it does get better with time. And there are SO many benefits to homeschooling! Remember that many people actually choose to do this!

The blessings I’ve experienced with homeschooling:

  • Feeling closer to my kids and understanding them/the way they learn.
  • Less negative influences.
  • More opportunities to teach important life skills… like sorting laundry, doing a cooking class, teaching them how to budget by letting them watch you add up the bills!
  • Closer sibling connections.
  • Learning to listen and parent instead of pushing them away and surviving until they go to school. These children are in your care for a reason, because YOU care about them more than anyone else!!
  • Children learning to understand you are human too! This is a really good thing! They need to know you have emotions, you get overwhelmed and sad too. This doesn’t cause them to feel unsafe, just the opposite! They can finally relate to you!
  • Calmer, less rushed mornings.
  • More free time/less driving around and chaotic schedule. Ok some of us thrive on busyness… but most of us actually should have slowed down LONG ago. Make the most of this time! Don’t squander it on devices. Spend time together. Let the kids become bored enough to get creative. Once they get over being told what to do every hour of every day, they will come up with fascinating games and ideas!!
  • More creativity.
  • Housework helpers… because kids as young as three CAN sort their own laundry and clean their room. Now YOU have more free time 🙂

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There you have it! The best of my advice. Now… just to store up your favourite secret stash of chocolate or snacks! Trust me, you’ll need it!

 

Education · Family · Homeschooling · public school

Homeschooling vs. Public School – from a Mom who Loves Both.

Autumn has come and gone and we’re already two full weeks into March! I have now had my all five of my children in school for a little more than six months. After 13 years of having non-stop chaos in my home, I used to wonder how these days would feel… No kids at home for half of the day. Only one around for the other half (he’s in kindergarten).

I had dreams of what this would look like.

Heavenly dreams of slow mornings, hot coffee, settling down with a good book in hand and a bowl of chocolate covered almonds in the other… Or maybe I would go on a run each morning.

Or strike off a few more books on my never-ending “to read” list.

I definitely thought I’d finish editing my book by now. And that it would be published already…

I had grand plans of organizing every single room in the house; touching up the worst of the nicked-up walls with a fresh coat of paint. Plus it was going to look clean all the time as there are no kiddos around to mess it up…am I right??

Even now I’m chuckling to myself because what was I even THINKING?!? Did I actually believe that the moment my kids got on that bus, time would just magically multiply for me? My ideas that moms with kids in public school must have nothing to do… yeah, those are quickly getting squashed.

If anything, this year has been a good reminder about the reasons I decided to homeschool in the first place.

So now that I’ve had a fair chunk of time with my kids in each, I want to give an honest look at homeschooling and public school. Hopefully, with taking a deeper look, the large wall that seems to hang between homeschoolers and those who go to public school will come down.

And we’ll realize how similar we really are. Our differences aren’t so bad either. My hope is that we begin to see that the “other side” isn’t crazy.

Or lazy.

Or bad for your kids.

One isn’t necessarily easier than the other. And honestly, both can be impossibly difficult but amazingly rewarding if done well.

Oh, and I almost forgotaren’t most Canadian’s going to be homeschoolers now for the next three weeks or more?

I had to chuckle to myself about this, because now all the people who have told me they could never homeschool… will actually get the opportunity to test that theory out. I’m willing to pay money, that at the end of the next three weeks, the children in their care will have learnt more under their intentional direction than in a public school setting. 

A Typical Homeschool Day… was not at all what my dream homeschool days looked like.

I had visions creating a curriculum a where science, social studies, ELA projects all worked hand in hand together. I also thought it would look more like the public school setting that I was raised in. And to some point I was able to achieve a bit of this. Don’t see what I mean?

To homeschool, erase much of what you know of public school. Set time schedules, hand raising for help, line ups, waiting for the kids that are ruining it for the rest of the class and subjects that follow a little bit of everything. Only to repeat and go more in depth year after year.

Homeschooling is actually much more freeing then this. And I found that it took considerably less time. Teaching my kids took a third of the time then a school day actually takes. This means I was able to pack more information into my kids before lunch then public school is able to do all day. This isn’t bragging about my teaching abilities, this is just honestly how much faster teaching goes with students who get real discipline when they misbehave and who would rather spend the afternoon playing outside with siblings, then sitting at the table alone working on unfinished assignments.

The most difficult thing was that I actually had to work out character clashes between me and the kids. This not only helped shape them and gave them opportunity to find their place in our family, it sharpened me as well! Impatience and outbursts of anger had to be worked on. It could no longer stay tucked safely away.

What I mean is this… when you only have to “behave” for a couple hours each evening it’s easy to never deal with character issues at all, rather go from “break” to “break”, merely surviving in between. But when you’re always with five children who are testing your patience ALL day long, you actually have to come up with a solution in order to function well.

Pros of homeschooling:

-Students learn at their own pace

-Less distractions

-More one on one teaching

-Flexible Hours

-Flexible curriculum

-Less wasted time

-Closer family connections

-Better values being taught

-Limited exposure to negative influences

-More affordable (You bet, more affordable! At least, it is for having five kids! Even when I spend $500 a year on curriculum, it saves me unnecessary school supplies, indoor/outdoor shoes, School fees, instruments, field trips, mandatory gift exchanges, teacher gifts, lunches, book fairs, etc). Public school is expensive!

Cons of homeschooling:

-Negative sigma- feeling isolated or discouraged from other friends and/or family members

-Lack of support

-Extra sensitive kids with uncontrolled outbursts (Which can also be a positive thing, when children are taught to properly express their emotions.)

-Some children struggle to respect other authority

-Narrow perspective

-Lack of Independence or ability to solve relational problems on their own.

-Difficulty with clashing personalities

-Very little down time or quiet moments

-Bored children

**Notice what ISN’T on this list? Socialization. Quite simply, this is a NON issue. In fact, in this day and age I would argue that most homeschoolers are more socialized than public schoolers. They are able to talk with a variety of ages… (adults, peers AND younger children) most of them aren’t glued to their personal devices, unlike most public school children. Especially those with siblings and support groups, in my opinion are FAR ahead socially. The real argument is do they “fit in”? And my response to that would be… do you want them to? Do you want them to gossip? Show disrespect to teachers? Mock those who are weaker than them? Look up inappropriate YouTube videos?

No, in this sense, my kids do not fit in. And I’m 100% happy with that.

A Typical Public School Day:

So let me just clarify a few things:

– There are no leisurely mornings… I run around like a crazy woman making sure everyone has clean clothes, lunches packed, homework done, books to return for library, gym clothes for class, flute or trumpet for band, clean shoes, washed faces, clipped finger nails, breakfast eaten, and on and on and ON!! My neighbours can probably hear me yelling through the walls, “HURRY UP! YOU’RE GOING TO MISS THE BUS!!”

– There is no extra time….After the kids are gone it looks like all my possessions were thrown into a topless blender and vomited all over the house.

– My days are more chaotic than ever.

So yes, you probably understand the chaos in the mornings and the homework/ extra curricular schedules in the evenings. But what do Mom’s really do between those 7 hours from 9-4pm. That’s a lot of time!!!

First I clean up. Dishes, lunch meats still sitting on the table, breakfast items, socks thrown around on the ground in a panic. Forgotten papers for me to sign.

An hour or two later, the house is finally tidy (not clean, tidy, there’s a HUGE difference).

Then the phone begins to ring…

“Mrs. Bergen, I have your son here in the office with chest pains..”

“Mrs. Bergen, your boy really injured his foot today at recesss…”

“Mom I forgot my…” click.

It is now 10:30 and I have approximately 1 hour left before my youngest son comes home on the kindergarten bus. And yes it’s only one kid, but can we just acknowledge that one child is often harder than having five??? I am his only entertainer ALL afternoon!!

Anyways usually, it’s halfway through the morning before I can even start my “to do” list.

Where is this “Glorious Freedom” I was told about? I have come to realize, it is there. I really just have to stop and notice it.

It’s in the peaceful silence as I work and clean.

It’s in the mornings I decide to push off the cleaning and go for a run.

It’s in the cup of coffee I drank that stayed hot.

It’s in the muffin I did not have to share.

There is a difference to being alone, and it is most refreshing!

I established early on that if I was staying at home while my kids were in school I would not waste my time. The temptation for moms to “Netflix binge” is all too real. To safeguard myself, I established firm rules for the days I do find myself with extra time:

1) I do not watch Netflix while my kids are at school and my husband is at work. I do not turn on the T.V. Period. I do not spend time on social media while they are at school. (WordPress is the only social media that I’m currently on). Wasting time on my phone or other devices would be incredibly unfair to my family.

2) Only one social outing a week while the family is at school/work. Again, how is it fair if my children are working all day and my husband is providing all day for our family and I am lounging around?

3) I get all the housework/cooking done while the family is away so that we can make the most of our family time together in the evenings. Yes I make most of our meals and lunch snacks from scratch. It’s healthier and it saves us A TON of money. The secret to living off of one income: Budget well and eat at home. Seriously.

4) The only shopping I do during the day is for necessities. Therefore, I do not waste time browsing stores for my enjoyment.

You may wonder, why all the rules? Quite simply, because our society sees stay at home moms as lazy, particularly once kids are in school. I know this can be true. But I also know, that if done well, stay at home moms are vital to the family unit and to society.

Who else has the time to volunteer in the school system and help struggling children learn to read?

Who else has the time to visit the sick, give meals to the weary or babysit for those who desperately need?

How about public schooling on the students side of things?

The first thing my kids noticed about public school was the noise. It was so loud and distracting! The kids were constantly interrupting the teacher and showing disrespect. My kids honestly felt terrible for the teacher and found it hard to work.

They did enjoy having weekly activities that we did not get to do at home (for instance: music class, phys ed, science labs, after school sports, track and field, etc.) I just simply could not fit all these things in for them, but the school system can!

They also enjoyed making new friendships, hearing new perspectives on life, having recess and lunch with kids their own age, being able to have friends their ages to relate to their struggles on a new level! This was all very wonderful to see!

I also appreciated that there were areas I never taught because I didn’t know how like French and art. Our kids have grown to love these subjects, and I’m so glad that they’ve had the opportunity to study them!

Pros of public school:

Consistent routine and schedule

-Close friendships

-Unique opportunities

-A larger worldview/different perspective

-Space away from parents (Yes I listed this as a good thing! There are some homeschooled children who are smothered by their parents in an unhealthy way.) They do need space to make their own choices and freedom to grow!

-The variety of subjects/courses

-Independence

Cons of public school:

-Homework

-Less Free time

-Overly busy schedule

-Negative influences

-Costs and pressure to do more outings

-Distractions and noise

-Disrespect to teachers

-Lack of individuality in teaching that is often needed for students, especially ones with minor learning disabilities (Although to be fair I think the school system has improved tons in the last few years in this area).

-Lack of supervision

So there you have it! I know I’ve missed some of the pros and cons and there’s so much more I could write. But this is a starting point to better understanding both sides. I’ve learned to appreciate both public/private school and homeschool and I’m so thankful that I live in a country that allows me to choose!

Canada · Vulnerability

A Fragile World

Coronavirus. I don’t even need to blog about it, because everyone else has.

Schools are shut down for three weeks.

Sport events are too.

Church is cancelled.

Lineups pile outside of doors before the local grocery stores even open.

Isles are packed with people, void of food…

The world pretends to panic, I sit here and write. It seems surreal. I’m in a book; a doomsday movie.

I run… from the insanity. Breathe in the cool country air.

Real panic is still low, I believe.

Why? Because most people are smiling, letting others ahead in line. Shaking their heads in wonder while they make jokes. Texting pictures of line ups and empty shelves. Kindness is still abundant, violence and aggression are low. This tells me it’s not so bad. We are still a people who have plenty, we don’t know what it’s like to go with out. So far we haven’t seen the desperation of Venezuela.

Real fear is at bay.

I’ve succumbed to the pressure of preparing for something… not sure what. Other crazy shoppers emptying the shelves?? We have food to last us a while. We’re fine. I’m fine. I’m not worried.

Should I be worried?

I feel amused and calm.

Calm because it’s not the end. I think we all know it.

Amused because it’s like we’re all rehearsing for the real thing. We’re not so much afraid of the virus, of halting our lives. But we’re afraid of being helpless. Unprepared. So we prepare ourselves for something much bigger, something completely out of our control.

An illusion of control, in a very fragile world. The world hangs in a balance that we don’t even notice from day today. Movement of small, intricate parts:

Work and school.

The stock markets.

Our health.

Border crossings.

Truckers bringing in supplies.

Smallest changes that tip the scale.

We know this isn’t the end. Yet we live in a fragile world which holds on by a thread. What will be the final tug that pulls this civilization apart?

History doesn’t lie: no “kingdom” lasts forever. All eventually come to an end.

And I think instinctively we know this. So we hold on and rehearse just a little while longer. Each year becoming just a little more paranoid. Live as if death stalks behind us.

As I sit here and watch the desperate gain their illusion of power and control, I wonder, if the end finally does come… will we know it?

Or will we casually laugh at another false alarm?

Faith · Purpose · Wisdom

A Forgotten Grave

I sit at my desk, once again, tapping the keys on my laptop. Trying to form another post. I must’ve started fifty in the past months. Fifty posts unseen to the world. 

There is a largely unseen aspect to my life right now, and for the first time, I’m okay with it. I mean truly okay.

I wake up. Journal. Read. Pray.

Connect with my family. Send them to school.

Clean. Bake. Cook. Shop. Volunteer.

Kids come home. I make supper. Connect with my family some more. And then go to bed so I can repeat it all over again in the morning.

And I feel full.

I think it’s because I’ve finally come to the point where I’m no longer trying to move to the next stage and the next. I’ve become content with the journey itself.

We do that a lot in life, don’t we?

Wake up Monday and just try to make it till the weekend.

 

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Start a job and go through the motions… just surviving until the next holiday.

Start parenthood, just waiting until the baby is sleeping through the night… then till they’re potty trained… then just till they’re in school…. finally until they’re out of the house.

And then we still wait! Until retirement. And even then. Fill the schedule so full of social outings and volunteering that we just long until we can go south for the winter.

Is this really what life is about? Waiting for the next good moment?

Now just a caveat: I’ve seen many take this idea to unhealthy places, where people start feeling guilty for even enjoying anything in life. Breaks are fine. Holiday’s are good. Rest is good.

Let’s not get weird.

Yet what I’m saying is this: What if, we actually saw the journey as the purpose; the moment we live in, as the joy of life? And the breaks as just that: A short pause; a rest before the next stanza in the symphony.

Not the only thing to look forward to.

And most certainly not the meaning of it all! For what would a symphony be with no sound?

I’ve decided to homeschool my younger two boys again next year. To finish what I’ve started. Why? Because I’m happy with the results of the older three kids, with the time I’ve put into their lives, with the good relationship we have and I want to provide my younger two children with the same opportunities.

I think, our culture at large has no idea how much time it takes to raise children. To create loving and close bonds with the next generation. That’s why I often chuckle at younger moms or others who are just waiting until the next stage.

Guess what? A teenager needs the same amount of time as a toddler.

HA! I bet you didn’t know THAT! (As most people reading this gasp and shake their heads. Now they know I’m off my rocker!)

How can I make this bold claim? A teenager can do almost everything for themselves!! Yet… Most teens feel so unconnected to their families that they are known to cause trouble, run off, steal, do drugs, engage in risky sexual behaviour. It’s why people dread those teenage years.

My older two are just entering these years now. And I am LOVING it. I love my teens. They are SO much fun! They understand so much. They have a spark that I’ve lost. They are losing that lame elementary school humour and becoming hilarious to be around (sorry to my younger kiddos, it’s just true!!). We spend most evenings together. Chatting. Eating supper. Cleaning up together. Laughing. Playing games.

And my question is this? Where are the other parents of this generation?

At work. Rushing to unimportant outings. And hiding behind screens.

I get asked a lot about my relationship with my children. Why they like church? Why they like our family cell group? How I get them to share their struggles openly with me? How do I manage to have our teens enjoy family times together?

The answer is quite simple, but it isn’t easy: It is quite literally laying down my life daily for my family.

I have no career.

I do not travel.

I have no outside hobbies: my hobbies happen at home. I run at home. I read at home. I bake at home. I write at home.

I have no fame.

I have no degree.

I am nothing, No one to the world.

HA! Feminists HATE this kind of talk. Why am I not doing something for me??

Oh, but I am.

I have no importance to the world, yet I am filled with a profound sense of purpose: I am raising the next generation.

Do you understand the importance of that statement??

I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR THE NEXT GENERATION!

Unseen. Unheard. Probably will never be known or famous. One day, a century or two from now, my graveside will be long forgotten.

But there will be five kids who will live on… and build five more legacies, and their legacies will multiply and their children will have children. And on and on. And perhaps the most profound thing will be this: they will have a legacy of love.

They belonged and they were loved. So they too will love and invite others to belong.

If I could have one wish, it’s that every single person, every single parent, every single mother could see this.

Our purpose isn’t to provide a fancy house, car and clothes for our children. It’s not to give them that dream vacation. It’s not to give them every opportunity with career or extra curricular event. These are usually just our dreams for them anyway.

Our purpose is to be there and listen. To love and connect.

To build a strong legacy, which may never be recorded in the Guinness World Records or history books, but will be written on the hearts of our children and grandchildren.

Our purpose is to let this love overflow to the world. Because the more I love and take time for my family, the more I find myself caring about those around me. Instead of judging, wondering, do they have a place of belonging? Do they have someone to care?Often, the answer is no. So we invite them in: Come, join our family.

No, maybe I won’t end up in the Hall of Fame, and there’s a good chance that my grave will one day be forgotten, like the millions of heroes and saints that have gone before me. People pass away. Memories are forgotten.

But you know what doesn’t pass away? The fruit that comes from a labour of love.