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Monday, November 22, 2010

We've Moved!

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Us!

When I shared my new time-management strategies in Homeschooling and the 4-Hour Workweek, I had no idea that it would be my last post for 9 months. I guess I took myself way too seriously!

I have really missed blogging, and I have crafted at least 100 posts that I never had time to transfer from my brain to Blogger, but I have a good excuse. Someone has been keeping me really busy. I mean, seriously, who can resist a face like this:

Yes, he's in a bucket. At my house, there's nothing more fun than activities that make mom simultaneously freak out and run for the camera. And no, my 3-year-old wasn't frightened. That scary face always happens to appear whenever mom grabs the camera and says "smile!"

I can hardly believe my baby is already 10-months-old.

And my little baby website, Successful-Homeschooling, is 3-years-old as of Sunday!

Thankfully, my website continued growing without me, and it now features one of the largest online collections of homeschool curriculum reviews written by parents just like you. What's even more amazing is that our 375 pages of original content are now being viewed by over 1,000 unique visitors per day! (Thank you SBI!)

Now that little Elijah is literally jumping out of my lap to go play with his older siblings, I plan to return to providing you with information, ideas and inspiration via my blog and website.

But today, I just want to thank you for understanding my need to put family first. May God bless you and your family during this wonderful season of Thanksgiving!

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Homeschooling and The 4-Hour Workweek

In my last post, I promised to share more about how the The 4-Hour Workweek revolutionized my approach to time management. Instead of finding ways to cram more into my day, I now look for ways to simply do less using the following principles:

1. I Make Myself Unavailable

I only check e-mail twice a day, and I do not read any jokes, political forwards, warnings about potential calamity or encouraging e-mails that must be forwarded to 10 people lest I succumb to calamity.

I do not answer my telephone without checking caller ID. I generally only answer the phone when it's my husband. Otherwise, I let the call go to voice mail. I respond to most messages that aren't from family members or very close friends via e-mail.

I lost my cell phone six months ago, and I never purchased a new one. In the six months I've been without a phone (even while out during labor with my 4th child), I've only needed to make a phone call twice. Both times, I've simply asked store clerks if I could use their phones, and they were happy to let me do so.

I do not go to meetings. Period.

As a result of these changes, I now have time to answer e-mail from visitors to my website. I can sit on the couch and read to my children without interruption. I can listen to music and pay attention while I drive instead of fumbling with a cell phone. I can invite friends over for dinner instead of sitting in meetings arguing about every little detail of the next church ladies' luncheon.

2. I'm on a Low-Information Diet

I no longer watch the news or listen to talk radio, and I've unsubscribed to most blogs, newsletters, e-mail lists and RSS feeds I used to follow. Despite the low-information diet, I've still managed to learn everything I need to know about current events, although with much less stress and heartache.

For example, I heard more than enough about the recent earthquake in Haiti without watching any news coverage, and I didn't have to process any of the disturbing images I've had to process during other tragedies.

The low-information diet has not only provided me with more time, but also with more peace.

3. I Delegate

A few years ago, my husband told me that if I was having trouble accomplishing all that I needed to accomplish, I should pay someone to help me. I was highly insulted!

Now, before I take on a task, I ask myself, "Am I the best person to do this? Is this the best use of my time?"

Do I really need to spend time searching for and printing my own handwriting pages, or can I just purchase a workbook? Do I really need to create my own menus and grocery lists or can I just print the ones from this blog?

Another question I ask myself is, "Is this activity worth the time and energy it requires?"

As a result of having asked myself this question, I gave myself permission to stop clipping coupons and washing my husband's dress shirts at home. (Or, more honestly, to stop feeling guilty about not clipping coupons and washing my husband's dress shirts.)

At this point in our lives, the extra savings just aren't worth the effort. My husband would rather spend an extra $100-200 and have a relaxed, happy wife.

4. I Give Myself Time Limits

The amount of time it takes to complete a task will expand to fill whatever time period we allot for it, so I set time limits on specific tasks to keep them from taking over our days.

For example, I could get on my computer to check e-mail, and easily spend half a day crafting responses, checking stats on my website, reading blogs, chatting on forums, etc.

However, if I allow myself only one hour per day of free time on the computer, I am much more efficient about managing e-mail, and I don't have time to get into the time-wasting, energy-draining debates that can come from excess blog and forum involvement.

Flylady is also a big fan of setting time limits. A main tenet of her program is using a timer to clean in 5 to 15 minute increments so you don't get overwhelmed or carried away, and end up cleaning all day.

5. I Don't Work for Work's Sake

I don't create work for myself just for the sake of keeping myself busy, and I don't give my children assignments just for the sake of giving them schoolwork.

When I hear someone say they clean for 6 hours per day, I think, "What on earth are you cleaning?"

When I hear someone say they teach kindergarten for 6 hours per day, I think, "What on earth are you teaching?"

When I hear someone say they fill 12 workboxes for each of their 4 kids every night, I can't help but think they are doing school for school's sake (aka busy work). I'm glad the workbox system has been helpful for so many. However, it saddens me to see moms beating themselves up about not having filled their boxes every night. And if they need to actively search for ideas on how to fill up the workboxes, perhaps 12 boxes are unnecessary.

Anyway, now that I am no longer doing things I don't value, I have more time to do the things I think are important in life. I get to sit down and eat with my children instead of standing over the counter stuffing food into my mouth. I get to color with my daughter. I get to take naps with my preschooler. I get to spend time making faces at my baby until he smiles, and I get to look at him. Really look at him. And even then, he still grows too quickly.

I don't want you to think I execute all of this perfectly, because I do not. But the changes I've made are serving us well, and I wanted to share them with you.

I loosely follow Tim Ferris' 4-Hour Workweek blog, and on it I found this video from homeschooler Chuck Holton in which he mentions using 4HWW principles in his home school:

I e-mailed Chuck for more information, and he gave me permission to share the following:

"We try to include lessons from the 4hww in our holistic approach to homeschooling. I'm trying to raise creators and owners, not worker bees. Plus, the concept of maintaining 'margin' is very important - we teach our kids that work will expand to fill whatever timespace it is given - therefore it's important to compress timeframes by setting deadlines, even in their daily schooling. As such, they usually try to finish with school by lunch time, which gives them lots of time to pursue other activities and just be kids..."

"We use a computerized curriculum called 'Switched on Schoolhouse.' Quite possibly the worst written code on the planet, but it works once you invest about 100 hours on the phone with tech support. I wish there were another computerized curriculum that would work for us, but so far we haven't found one.

We went to the computerized model after my wife realized she was spending 4+ hours per day correcting papers. Now it's much less of her time - automate, delegate, eliminate!"

Follow this link to learn more about The 4-Hour Workweek.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

How Do You Do It All?

A question I've been asked quite frequently as a blogger is, "How do you do it all?" While I'd love to live up to the image of being a supermom, the truth is - I can't do it all and doing it all is not the goal. Here's how I overcame supermom syndrome:

I learned to be really selective about how I spend my time.

I don't teach my children for 6 hours per day. We use a simple workbook curriculum and focus on reading, writing and arithmetic. We don't do any formal art, science or history at the moment, other than what we study for co-op. And since we're in a co-op, we're not doing play dates and park days and field trips and church activities.

Because I can't do it all, my children won't learn it all and they can't do it all. I prioritize and I make choices knowing that something, somewhere has to give.

I've learned that I don't have to do everything to the best of my ability.

Sometimes good enough is enough. All of my meals aren't made from scratch, but they're nutritious enough. My house isn't spotless, but it's clean enough. My kids aren't doing schoolwork all day, but they know enough.

I recently posted tips for homeschooling with a newborn, but I want to make it clear that if I am ever too tired or overwhelmed to teach, we take the day off. I'd rather skip a day of school then force myself to teach and yell at or frustrate my children.

As an aside, I am always shocked when I hear someone ask if it would be okay to take a birthday or holiday off from homeschooling.

I'm the teacher and my husband is the principal, and we take days off whenever we feel the need. One of the benefits of homeschooling is being in control of our schedule. I'm not afraid to take advantage of the freedom and flexibility it provides.

I've learned not to compare myself to others.

I love reading about what other families are doing, and I also love knowing that I don't have to do things the way other families do things. I love learning about fun projects, ideas and activities, and I also love knowing that I can choose to try them or not try them.

I know myself. There are things I'm not good at and things I don't enjoy, and that's okay. I focus on my strengths, and I teach my children from my areas of strength.

I probably won't ever teach my children to identify 20 different types of trees, leaves and flowers, and that's okay. They can learn it on their own if they find it to be something of value.

My mom didn't teach me to use the internet, but she always encouraged me to pursue my interests and try new things. Sometimes being a cheerleader is good enough.

In addition to what I've shared above, I've also learned quite a bit from the book, The 4-Hour Work Week. I know I've mentioned the book before, and on the surface it can appear to be about being lazy and getting rich. But the book was life-changing for me in terms of my approach to time management, and I plan to share more about how I use 4HWW principles in my home in coming weeks.

In the meantime, you can read more of my thoughts about doing it all and comparing ourselves to others in my article on homeschool encouragement.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Homeschooling with a Newborn

I can't believe our new baby is 6 weeks old already! Between taking care of him, teaching the older children, washing clothes, washing dishes, keeping everyone fed and getting back to our outside activities, it seems like time has just flown by.

Here are my tips for homeschooling with a newborn:

1. Bouncy Seat and Sling - I absolutely love holding my babies, but there are times I need two hands to get things done. My babies always seemed to startle when placed in a swing, but I love using the bouncy seat for short periods of time, and my Maya Wrap sling really comes in handy when we're out and I need to keep my hands free.

2. Older Siblings - My oldest two children are 9 and almost 6, and they love holding and entertaining the baby. They thankfully also like helping me with chores, so I have them do things like make their beds, fold and put away their own clothes, clean the playroom/schoolroom, clear the table, unload the dishwasher, take out the trash, etc. We haven't implemented a system of rewards or allowance at this point. Right now, we just focus on working as a team.

3. Quiet Time - Every day, I give myself the gift of one to two hours of quiet time. During the baby's afternoon nap, my 3-year-old and I also nap, and my older two children can either read or draw quietly. This little break gives me something to look forward to if we're having a rough morning, and the boost of energy I need to make it through the evening.

4. Simple Routines - In addition to our daily quiet time, I have simple daily routines that help me stay on top of household tasks. The routines keep me running on autopilot if we've had a rough night, and they also prevent me from being overwhelmed because I know exactly what I need to accomplish in any given day. Flylady's simple system of routines saved us from CHAOS over 6 years ago, and we've been flying ever since. You can learn more about Flylady here.

5. Meal Plan - Before the baby was born, I froze a few of our favorite casseroles and made a 3 month menu. I also ordered a few pre-made mixes from Homemade Gourmet that I can use when we're in a pinch. Once we're out of meals, I plan to go back to using pre-made meal plans that come with recipes and grocery lists. I found the Eat at Home Cooks blog a few months ago, and we've absolutely loved Tiffany's recipes.

Here's the menu I made that we're using for January thru March. (I'm sorry it took me so long to post this.) I made a six week plan, then repeated it for another six weeks. Most of the soups and casseroles were made and frozen during the weeks before Elijah was born, and the other meals are made in the crock pot or are really simple to prepare.

I'm normally a big fan of taking a break from school when you have a new baby in the house, but my oldest is not as far along as I'd like him to be, and I wanted to keep going. Here's a video with tips for Homeschooling with Little Ones.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Choosing Yes!

Last week, I planned to follow up my blog post about laying down our lives for our children with a post about saying yes to our children. The bad news is, I was just too sleepy to write that post. The good news is, somebody forwarded me The Year of Yes, and it was exactly what I had in mind.

This year, two women on one of my favorite forums passed away. Several more were diagnosed with illness and are fighting for their lives. Watching their struggle reminds me of what my mother-in-law said when my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer, "We all have to go that way one day."

How will I spend my years here before I go that way? Will I grumpily get up and feed the baby or treasure the quiet moments I have alone with him? Will I nurture past hurts or nurture budding relationships? Will I focus on what's wrong in my life or on what's right about it?

What will my children remember about me when I go that way? Will they remember me saying no, hold on, wait or will they remember me saying yes? Will they remember a mom who had to homeschool, cook and clean all day or a mom got to spend all day caring for those who meant the most to her?

Last fall, I had the pleasure of interviewing unschooler Sandra Dodd for my e-book, 7 Secrets to Finding the Best Homeschool Curriculum.

She also mailed me a copy of her book, Sandra Dodd's Big Book of Unschooling, a collection of mindful parenting and unschooling articles based on her popular website. I put the book in my bathroom which is where I get most of my reading time, and I have to admit it has been nothing short of life-changing.

Here are some of Sandra's thought on Have To.

As we enter the new year, many of us make resolutions that involve can'ts, don'ts and have tos. This year, I want to embrace the choice I have to say yes to that which I value and no to that which I don't. I want to embrace the choice I made to marry, have children, homeschool and care for my home without grumbling, without complaining and without fear.

Several years ago, I listened to a sermon from Focus on the Family called Choosing to Cheat. The premise of the sermon was that we can be and do many great things in life, but we may not be able to do them all at once.

I can be a great mom, a loving wife, a successful entrepreneur, a perfect size 6, a gourmet chef, a fun online buddy, an active homeschool group member, volunteer of the year, church member of the year, and keeper of a spotless home, but I may not be able to be all of these things at the same time. Saying yes to my husband and children may mean cheating in the areas of business, socializing or housekeeping.

Where will I choose to cheat?

I think the article by Sandra Dodd that touched me the most is the article in which she answers the question, How many hours should I spend with my child? At the end of the article, she says:

"If you want to measure, measure generously. If you want to give, give generously. If you want to unschool, or be a mindful parent, give, give, give. You'll find after a few years that you still have everything you thought you had given away, and more."

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Would You Lay Down Your Life for Your Children?

Would you lay down your life for your children?

I don't know a single homeschool mom or dad who wouldn't answer "yes," if asked. But how do we answer that question when it crops up in day to day life?

Do we lay down our blogs? Our favorite forums? Our Facebook and Twitter applications?

Do we lay down our books? Our meetings and activities? Our "me" time?

Do we lay down anger, frustration, impatience and irritability?

Will we really lay down our lives for our children? Let's take an honest look at what needs to go...

Our Interests

Many of us have given up careers and other pursuits in order to homeschool our children. We are vibrant, intelligent individuals and we feel entitled to have hobbies and interests of our own.

But how many times will we tell our children to wait so we can read one more blog or answer one more forum post? How often will we tune out our children in order to tune in to talk radio or TV?

Now, I'm not suggesting we give up all of our interests, but I am suggesting that we take an honest look at the amount of time we spend pursuing those interests at our children's expense.

For me, excessive computer use is a major temptation, and I've found LeechBlock to be a useful tool in helping me monitor and limit my time on the computer.

Our Ideals

I'm fairly opinionated, and I entered the world of motherhood and homeschooling with specific goals and expectations of my children. When things didn't go as planned, it was humbling to discover that there was nothing wrong with my children - my goals and expectations were seriously flawed.

While it is great to have a vision for our families, we have to know when to set our ideals aside and embrace the children we have in front of us. What are their needs, wants, talents and dreams?

Instead of becoming frustrated because our children don't fit into our ready-made molds, we can spend time getting to know them and helping them grow into the unique individuals they were created to be.

Our Image

One of the most difficult things I've had to lay down is my desire to please and impress others. Several years ago, I realized that saying yes to those outside our home often meant saying no to those within our home, and I decided to start saying yes to those who mean the most to me.

One of my favorite reads last year was The 4-Hour Workweek, and I recently came across The Best Decline Letter of All-Time on author Tim Ferris' blog.

Yes, the letter is worded rather rudely, but if you focus on the tone of the letter, you miss the overall message. Edmund Wilson decided to say no to those who would use him so he would have time to say yes to the things that really mattered to him.

We would be wise to say no to the users in our lives - even if those users are extended family members, longtime friends, homeschool group members or *gasp* even church leaders.

1 John 3:18 says "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."

John 15:13 says "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

In 2010, let's not just tell our children we love them, let's resolve to lay down our lives for our children.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

This year we received the best Christmas gift ever.

Elijah James was born on December 18th at 8:30 PM. He weighed 7 lbs, 1 oz and was 19 inches long.

We are home and doing well, and having a very Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Judgmental Secular Homeschoolers

I was only (mostly) kidding when I mentioned Christmas at the end of my last post. I do find it mildly irritating that some people are afraid to say the word Christmas, but I've found that the Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays debate plays out mostly online and in the media and not in real life.

I wish I could say the same for the division between Christian and secular homeschoolers.

My husband and I have always had non Christian friends. In fact, his best friend of 15 is years not a Christian. So when I was invited to an "inclusive" homeschool group meeting as a new homeschooler, I did not think twice about attending - especially when I found out they had a weekly ladies night out for dinner without the kids.

After attending several group meetings and events, I found that conversations often veered in the direction of ridiculing creationism, scripture, prayer and curricula that incorporate Bible verses and promote Christian beliefs. I heard a great deal of talk about Christian groups and their "scary" requirements, such as statements of faith. I heard comments that would not have been tolerated were they about Buddhists or Wiccans or any other religious group.

The ladies in the group were smart, kind and funny. But as a Christian, I was also in the group for support and encouragement, and I grew weary of hearing my faith ridiculed week after week. In my opinion, in a group that is truly inclusive, Christian beliefs would receive the same respect as any other belief.

The homeschool group that I'm now a part of is full of smart, kind and funny women who are also mostly Christian. In order to join, I was required to sign a statement saying I understood the group's beliefs and standards for behavior. Though we pray at meetings and openly discuss Christianity, I do not recall ever hearing other religions mocked or ridiculed.

Which group sounds more inclusive?

Please know that I am not basing my statements here on my experience with one group. I've seen Christian homeschoolers mocked and ridiculed just as frequently in the many discussion groups I've participated in online.

I know that some in the secular homeschool community have been hurt by Christians, and as a result, feel defensive. I think it's important to remember that Christians are imperfect people who make mistakes and hurt people. I have been hurt by Christians. As a Christian, I have hurt others.

I can also imagine that some secular homeschoolers find it difficult to be minorities among minorities, without access to a wide variety of support groups, legal organizations and curriculum providers. However, I feel the venom toward Christian organizations and companies is misplaced.

Yes, a Christian curriculum may contain Bible verses and *gasp* even teach creationism. Yes, a Christian support group may ask members to affirm their understanding of the group's practices and beliefs. Christian curriculum providers, home school groups and legal organizations do not exist to condemn, nor persecute secular homeschoolers - they exist to meet the needs of Christians. As secular homeschoolers grow in number, more resources will arise to meet their needs.

My advice to judgmental secular homeschoolers - forgive the Christians who have hurt you, and extend Christians the same respect you extend members of other faiths. Remember that Christian homeschoolers once had little access to support groups and quality curricula, but they formed companies and organizations to meet those needs, and you can do the same.

I honestly find it ridiculous that there is so much division between two groups who have so many common interests and goals.

Can't we all just get along?

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Judgmental Christian Homeschoolers

Last weekend I went with my family to see The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It's a really fun story about an unchurched family - The Herdman's - who shows up at Sunday School for the free food, takes over the annual Christmas play (which everyone is sure will be ruined), and ends up learning the true meaning of Christmas and making the play the best one ever.

The play really helped me think through some of the feelings I have about the division between Christian and secular homeschoolers. There is a reason we Christians have somewhat of a poor reputation. Some of us are just plain judgmental!

Instead of focusing on ways we can share Christ's love with others, we focus on condemning lifestyles we've deemed ungodly. Instead of spending our time ministering to those in need, we spend our time debating subjects like modest clothing, sheltering, Halloween, Santa, Harry Potter, Twilight, and the list goes on and on.

Now I am not saying it's wrong to have opinions about those things, but are these debates the best use of our time? Could that hour you spent crafting a blog post about biblical discipline have been spent praying for or mentoring a struggling homeschool mom?

Although I love even the most conservative among my fellow Christian homeschoolers, I've had to pull myself back from the brink. In the name of sheltering my children from ungodliness, I was beginning to find a reason not to fellowship with nearly every family we encountered.

Yes, every family we encountered was sinning. My family is also full of sinners. In fact, it is a sin for me to spend time looking for the splinter in my brother's eye while neglecting the log in my own.

My neighbors went through a messy divorce over the past year, and when my neighbor called and asked me to babysit her kids for a few months, it was honestly the last thing I wanted to do. But I prayed about it and sought wise counsel, and although my flesh wanted nothing more than to send her away with a little cash and a promise that I would pray, I knew this woman badly needed a safe haven for her children that I was in a position to provide. Instead of simply praying for her, I could be an answer to her prayer.

So instead of continuing to shelter my children from the messiness of life, we brought the mess right into our shelter. We had some difficult, yet honest conversations about the realities of marriage and divorce, and the ways divorce hurts children. We had some difficult, yet honest conversations about the consequences of sin. And we had the difficult, yet humbling experience of walking through tough times with a family who needed us, realizing that one day we may also be in need.

During the process, my children lost some of their innocence, but they learned a tangible lesson about sharing the love of Christ.

Are you teaching your children to simply pray for others or showing them how to be an answer to prayer? Are you teaching your children to avoid the lost or minister to the lost? Are you teaching your children that others are unworthy to be in their presence or that they are worthy of being loved?

Consider Mark 2:15-17:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

As we enter the Christmas season, let us remember to love on, not avoid and condemn, The Herdman's in our lives.

Don't miss my post next week about judgmental secular homeschoolers.

Yes, my curriculum contains Bible verses and I like it that way, thankyouverymuch. And by the way, Merry Christmas! Yes, I said Christmas. That's the actual name of the holiday! (smile)

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