COVID-19 · Education · Homeschooling

Are you Homeschooling?

I’m hearing this particular question often these days. Whether from friends, family or mere acquaintances (who used to ask the question with a hint of judgement in their voice), now suddenly are interested, and inquiring as they make decisions for their own family.

“Yes, some of my kids.” Is the usual reply before I get barraged by a host of questions about curriculum, how I made my decision and where to even start with planning a school year.

I relax. Take a deep breath. And then reply that after 7 years of homeschooling, I have realized that I am not ever prepared to homeschool.

Yes, I’ve chosen my curriculum.

Yes, I’ve made a schedule.

Yes, I even have a special room.

But with kids, things rarely go as we imagine them to.

I have five kids and each one is unique. The have all been a blessing to teach, but every single one of them have had their struggles, in different areas. I can pick the perfect curriculum for one child, while the next child absolutely hates it. Then I switch things up for the next year and the other child loves the rigid teaching style, while the other four struggle to thrive. And then I face the problem with missing important things because I’m switching curriculum year to year. It’s never simple, but we’ve always made it work.

For those new to homeschooling, here’s a little secret: You simply will not achieve the perfect school year… BUT, you can definitely achieve a productive and rewarding one.

This year is different for everyone.

There are so many uncertainties each person has to face. Many, who would’ve never previously considered homeschooling before, are now delving into it.

I’ve also had some thinking to do.

I’ve homeschooled each of my kids through their elementary years. I always planned to send them back in middle school. The purpose of this was to make the transition to public school easier and for the opportunity for friendships to be formed before they entered a high school where one rarely has two classes with the same people.

Still, this didn’t stop me from reconsidering for this year.

I have never wanted to teach high school, and truthfully, I looked into it this year for my oldest son, but felt a tad overwhelmed. The stakes are higher with the older grades and questions that are pretty irrelevant for the younger years, are sobering now. What if I miss something and he falls behind? What if I miss the courses he needs for getting into college? What if the university/college he applies for doesn’t recognize a homeschool graduation diploma? And finally… these are his final years to form healthy friendships as an adolescent, how can I keep him home? So finally, I made the decision… he will be entering grade nine this fall in a local private school.

I was less sure about my middle schoolers, especially my son who struggles with asthma and can barely stand a mask on his face for five minutes before he starts flailing his hands, begging me to take it off. I offered both my daughter in grade seven, and my son in grade six that they could homeschool this year. I even ordered curriculum for them, but they both would really like to try out public school with their friends this fall. So, I agreed to let them try it out. If huge issues arise, we will simply take them back home.

As for my youngest two, they will be at home with me. They are in grades 1 and 3 and are the best of friends. Both enjoy being taught at home. They love the extra time they have in the afternoons to play and enjoy the slower pace of homeschool life.

I sit here and write, knowing full well I should be working and lesson planning because… well… school’s now just two weeks away, it’s canning season, and we are in the middle of basement renovations.

Each room is stacked with boxes and tables and furniture that should really be downstairs. I know some people fly through life with stuff thrown everywhere and don’t seem to mind. But as for me, when things aren’t in their rightful place, it leaves me feeling scatter-brained and frustrated.

Not a great way to start off the school year.

However, I know from experience that I can have the most organized classroom, but if my heart is not ready to teach, it will be a difficult year.

I have to be ready for a messy house some days, while I ignore the clutter and teach when I want to clean.

I have to be ready to adjust my plans when things aren’t working out.

I have to be ready to put away my phone during the teaching hours so that my children have their mother’s undivided attention.

I have to let some things be less than perfect.

I have to be ready for bad attitudes, sick days, children who are out of sorts ,and fighting siblings… I have to be ready for a lot of patience and selflessness.

I have to be ready to put of finishing my book for just one more year.

This year, my room doesn’t look ready… but my heart definitely is.

How about you? Are you sending your kids to school? Homeschooling for the first time? Are you ready? Let me know in the comments!

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!

Family · Parenting

Keep them Close

I really need to let out some frustration here…but first, look at my family! Most of it anyways (Isaiah was on the other couch with me.) Aww!! Aren’t they sweet? Aren’t they precious?

My blog is usually not a place for me to vent. I’ve tried to keep my blog a neutral place. Uplifting. Encouraging. Hopeful. Hopefully I’ll be able to come to that in the end.

Right now, I’m in transition.

Man, I hate transition.

Can’t anything ever be predictable? Can’t anything ever stay the same?

We’re taking a year off from homeschooling and sending our kids to public school next year. And the school system has really good things going for it. Really it does! But boy, does it ever have its flaws.

I have a love-hate relationship with public school.

As I social kid, I LOVED school. As someone who loves opportunities and creativity, I love public school. In fact, let’s be honest here, I would’ve been horrified if my mom would’ve suggested homeschooling me!

But, in hindsight, public school hardened me to my morals, made me value peers over family, taught me that immorality was funny, showed me that disrespect was popular, that stuff was more important than people, that God was irrelevant and quite honestly, it brought me to my teenage rebellion.

A hard heart doesn’t happen overnight. My soft, sensitive character was horrified at many of the things I heard and experienced my first tender years in school. I remember lying awake and feeling guilty just for the things I overheard. Oh, to have that sweet innocence, that childlike concern for all that is evil.

But over the years I choked back my feelings. To speak out was to be mocked. To tell an adult was to be a tattletale. To cry was to be a wimp.

Children shouldn’t have to harden their hearts to survive in this world. They shouldn’t have to accept evil as normal to adapt to their environment. But I did. In fact, if more adults had the softness of children, this world would be a better place!

Now here’s my rant. I have accepted and overlooked many many ignorant and insensitive comments about homeschooling over the years, but if I point out anything negative about the public school I am seen as judgemental, self-righteous and narrow minded for believing that home is actually the best environment for children to learn in. People today act as if children randomly turn out good or bad. Like it all depends on each character and us parents have little to no say in the outcome.

As if raising good kids is like buying a lottery ticket.

Like rolling a die.

Of course deep down they know better. We all know better.

Good kids are the result of good parenting.

Now, I know it’s also true that good parents can have a child that rebels…just as bad parents can birth a child with good morals! There are pastors who have done everything right whose child suddenly turns wrong crowds and drugs, just as there are druggies who have done everything wrong, whose child decides to end the cycle and make something of themselves!

BUT mostly, good parents raise good children. If that didn’t have at least a hint of truth, then none of us would bother trying to do our best.

And the crazy thing, the thing that really blows my mind is that when I talk like this people get shifty eyed and act uncomfortable. Maybe this kind of talk will offend someone. Maybe someone will feel judged. Maybe they’ll feel guilty.

Who are we scared of offending? The millions of parents out there who are doing it wrong?

Let me put it down plainly:

Kids shoved into daycares all day from day one, and dragged from sitter to sitter every evening and weekend, then thrown into the school system to be taught and mentored by random adults will feel disconnected from their parents and find belonging elsewhere.

Is that what we want?

It’s what we’re breeding.

I see kids who only care about what their immature peers think, because all the adults in their life who should be caring for them are too busy to give a rip.

I see children put in front of endless screens because actually training them to get along, sit quietly in a restaurant and use table manners takes too much effort. It’s just too hard. Isn’t it?

Telling a kid to go play is much easier than inviting them to take part in our world, much easier than teaching them how to work, how to cook, how to be creative.

These days, getting a sitter so we can go to bible study or prayer meeting is the new norm, why bother go to church if it’s too distracting right?!? What if…what if, it’s not just about my relationship with God?

What if it’s about theirs as well? What if them witnessing us model a good bible study, good devos, and hearing our prayers has more value than just me and a bunch of other adults going deeper on our own, free from distraction?

But if my kids are respectful and well behaved, that’s just chance, isn’t it? If they listen to their parents over their friends, if they love God, do personal devos and know how to pray in groups, that must just be something special they magically inherited, right?

People, it’s not just chance!

You want good kids? Then keep them close! Love them! Spend time with them. Teach them about what matters. Show them that they are the most important thing you can invest your life into!

The best piece of advice I ever got as a young mom was to learn to live off one income. “Whatever you do,” I was told, “sacrifice what you have to to stay at home with your children. It will be worth it.”

I wholeheartedly agree. It was worth it.

And I understand this isn’t possible for absolutely everyone. If you must work, then do, but for goodness sakes, keep your evenings open at least!

However, for the majority of us, we can make it work, we just don’t want to. We’ve believed the lie that raising a family has no value. That a stay at home mom is an unsuccessful one.

That a career brings value.

That a salary defines me.

That my family needs me to bring in more money.

They don’t need the money, they need me.

I don’t know what hardships public school will bring to my kids. But I do know that I have every intention of pouring in just as much time and care into their hearts as I ever did.

Social Media, you will not hold my kids hearts.

Drugs and Alcohol, you will not take hold of them.

Popularity and Vanity, you will not control their actions.

I can’t keep them home for forever, that would be terrible for them! I am willing to let them go, yes. It is good to allow them freedom to roam!

But every time they come home that’s what it will be: HOME. Where love and laughter and warmth awaits. Where we do things together – as loud, as crazy and as messy as it may be! Where they have freedom to cry and make mistakes. Freedom to be weird. Freedom to tease. Freedom to grow and learn at their own pace. And my arms will not push them away just for another break. I will not tell them to go away so I can enjoy a bit of silence.

I’ll get more than enough of that in the nursing home someday!

As long as they’re willing, I’m keeping them close.