Sunday, March 26, 2017

Our Homeschooling Journey

Right now we are homeschooling our 3rd grader, our 5th grader, and of course my toddler is home. He goes to part-time pre-school at our friend's house, but it's mostly for socializing and for fun, and he loves it. Our first grader goes to public school. It's a mixed variety over here but there's purpose behind all things. 
People often ask me,"So why homeschooling?" 
My short answer is,"We as parents try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of each of our children and sometimes homeschooling is the right answer at the time."

The long answer lies in this post ahead, so read on if you're curious.

To remind myself and to get things straightened out in this story, here's the low-down on who and when we have homeschooled.
First-born: Homeschooled for K, 1st, 2nd, end of 4th grade and most part of 5th grade. Public schooled for 3rd grade, half of fourth grade and 2 months of 5th grade.
Second-born: Homeschooled for 3rd grade, public schooled for (second half) of K, 1st, and 2nd grades.
Third-born: No Homeschool. Public schooled for K and 1st grade. 
Fourth-born: Hangs out with mama, fun-pre-school on occasion.

When our firstborn turned five and was eligible to register for Kindergarten, it wasn't the right path for us. I had already decided when he was 2 years old that I wanted to try homeschooling. I'd read all the John Taylor Gatto books, some John Holt books, followed  blogs like Astra Taylor's, joined all the homeschooling Yahoo groups (yes this was before facebook), and basically devoured anything that would inspire me in the direction of unschooling.  However, the surprise came when one day I realized that we didn't have a choice either way because our son couldn't be away from us. He had a bright and curious personality, and he loved learning and exploring and playing, but his extreme social anxiety didn't allow him to be two feet away from his parents at all times. He not only clung to us like barnacles on a ship, but he panicked and worried at the mere mention of doing anything extracurricular. We couldn't sign him up for sports, or community-fun-type classes, or even go to library story time without panic ensuing.  At church on Sundays he couldn't attend his classes without a parent by his side at all times.

I tried to take all these things in stride because I loved and adored my first-born baby boy so very much and wanted to be the best mother I could be, but it was also very difficult for me. At times it felt suffocating to be smothered in his large vacuum of constant needs and wants. I was basically the only one who could meet those needs as the soul nurturer of the household while my husband worked full time away from home, and it very often sucked the living daylights outta me!
 I started to realize halfway through his Kindergarten year that I needed and craved a village of supporters to help me raise my child, but my child only wanted and needed ME.
So although I loved spending all this time with my boy I also needed to find solutions so I wouldn't go crazy expending all my time and energy on his constant neediness and anxiety, plus taking care of his two younger brothers at the same time. I quickly realized that if homeschooling proved to not provide the village I needed then I would have to search out other options in the future.

It was June 2011 and we had just moved to Puna, Hawaii and were trying to adjust to our new lives there-- socially, culturally, and financially. It was hard at first, but the blessings came through constant prayer, as they do.
I have wonderful and fond memories of homeschooling our Kindergartner in Hawaii. We would wake up and read library books for hours in bed. I remember the warm, tropical, breezes flowing through the open windows as we lay snuggled up in bed. My eldest would be on one side, my toddler on the other, and the baby would lay sleeping or nursing in the middle. I loved these snugly, happy moments with my three little boys in the jungles of Puna. 
We'd do fun crafts, art projects, baking, gardening, and puppet shows at home. We also spent a lot of time at the library, at the local museums, and at the beaches. We'd play at the little tide pools near 4 mile beach and discover sand crabs, Opihi, eels and fishes, and giant Honu that were stuck in the pools, waiting for the tide to rise so they could escape to the open ocean. 
These were my favorite parts about homeschooling-watching my three boys run and play together as best friends. Overall I still craved some type of community and pretty soon I discovered Ke'iki Steps, a part-time pre-school program for our second-born child and third-born child to attend. This was a huge life-saver for me, and allowed us to have that small village around us that I craved. 
We also got more involved with the homeschool community. I started Tuesday Kickball Club, where every Tuesday we met at Kea'au park for kickball and socializing. This became the highlight of our week where we got to meet new friends, and I got to socialize with other parents! I started a Homeschool Blog, to help unite our little East Hawaii Community. I planned potlucks and posted events and tried hard to build a village of helpers around us. This became my heart and soul. Many of these faces here saved me from desperation and loneliness plus became good friends to my children! They will be forever dear to my heart.

However, even after all my efforts to keep him busy and happy, our son still struggled with anxiety issues. Some days we couldn't even leave the house because of his resistance to any type of social situations, even if it involved our friends. That's when I started truly praying for answers and that's when Patricia appeared into our lives, the child-play therapist we found in Hilo. You can read all about the experiences that led up to this, here.  
Patricia helped me to see that I didn't have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore (because basically I would get crushed and die eventually). I couldn't be the only one trying to fix everyone in my family, and be the mother and wife I needed to be. She helped me let go of the things I couldn't fix and focus on loving myself.

In many ways, homeschooling my little first-born was the first-step on our family's path towards healing from the hurt and pain of unanswered questions. First-born's unique needs were the catalyst that launched our family into recognizing that we had very personal and difficult issues as a couple beyond our understanding, which needed to be fixed. Our marriage needed to be fixed before it was overcome by too many unanswered problems. 
Homeschooling our son helped us find those answers and helped us to start healing.

I keep thinking, what if we had been the kind of parents to force our son to be "normal"-to go to school, to take lessons, to attend social events, or to go to his classes at church? It would've been met with so much anger, resentment, and confusion that we never would've gotten past the superficial emotions on the very top of the giant, emotional ice burg underneath. Our entire focus would've been on trying to "get him" to go to school, trying to "get him" to make friends, trying to "get him" to act normal, instead of focusing on all the underlying issues beneath the surface: social anxiety, fear, worry, genetic conditions in the family, mirroring behaviours found at home, etc. These were the real issues at hand, not the fact that he didn't want to go to Kindergarten. 

I don't think we would've ever found the right answers we needed nor started on our path toward healing had first-born not been our son. I believe with all my heart that first-born's sweet, innocent, and anxious soul was meant to help us realize our own giant potentials.
I am also so grateful for the strong mothering instincts within me and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help me find the answers to our problems. At this time in our lives, homeschooling was the right answer. I will never regret our choice.

Upon moving back from Hawaii to Utah, I wasn't really sure what we were going to do for school. We moved back in August of 2013. First-born would've been starting 2nd grade and second-born would've been starting Kindergarten that month. After all the chaos of moving and relocating overseas again, I remember arriving in Utah and needing a break from any major life-decisions. We felt really good about the move and felt really good that we were on the right path. Our marriage was doing much, much, better and our little children were happy and looking forward to our lives here.
Deciding whether or not to go to school didn't seem like the biggest deal at the time, so, naturally we kept homeschooling. And of course, once again, my favorite thing about homeschooling was watching my three little boys play so wonderfully together on all our little adventures. We'd spend hours in the creeks, at the parks, working at home on little projects and reading lots of library books. First-born was making leaps and bounds with his anxiety issues. He was opening up more socially and becoming less fearful and shy about everything. He signed up for a Lego Robotics class and a tumbling class and started attending his church classes without a parent. He started participating in cub scout activities.(This was HUGE!! We were so proud of him!) Him and his little second-born brother continued to be best friends, doing everything together.

Third-born was a busy and active toddler who was also still nursing at 3 years old, though he didn't have the same attachment issues first-born had. He just really liked my milk. 
Then I got pregnant with our fourth child in early November 2013. It was going to be another boy! It was an exciting time, yet pretty soon I could feel myself breaking down emotionally and physically. I got tired and cranky way too often, as my pregnancies do. 
 I started having strong feelings about signing second-born up for school.  The gentle nudging of the spirit was telling me that second-born needed something more than homeschool. And I needed help during another hard pregnancy.

Second-born didn't have anxiety about anything! He was spunky, social, outgoing, and very extroverted. I could see that his needs were becoming very different than first-born's and we needed to respect his personality traits and his personal need to grow differently than his big brother.  I could see him copying and mirroring everything his big brother did, which was healthy up to a point because they were best buddies, but I could also see second-born holding back when first-born held back, and not doing things he would normally do because first-born wasn't doing them. He was also really busy! I felt that second-born going to Kindergarten would also help relieve this tired, pregnant, worn out mama from trying to keep those hands busy from sun-up to sundown. It was time to expand our village!

In February 2014 we signed second-born up for Kindergarten. It was already halfway through the school year, and I had the hardest time going through with it, but we did it! And he loved it! Just like I knew he would! He would come home so happy and excited about all the fun activities he did at school. Here's a blurb about that experience here. Then him and his big brother would pick up right where they left off and play, play, play all the rest of the day. First-born was still homeschooling at this point as I could tell he wasn't quite ready to take on any new challenges. And neither was I. Sending second-born to Kindergarten with all my fears and doubts and worries was all I could handle at the moment. After all, this was our first public school experience!
 However, It was a time for me to trust God and trust in this path for second-born while also letting go of all my strong biases and opinions about public education. The truth was, I really struggled with trying to balance my own personal philosophies and ideals with homeschooling versus not minding one bit if my child loved going to public school. I had to un-homeschool my brain and debunk many of the beliefs I had to make room for this new journey in the public school system. 

On that note, here's a few thoughts on homeschool versus brick and mortar school: On one hand I love the principles behind homeschooling and believe that homeschooling is the ideal educational experience.  I think that homeschooling, if done correctly, can have the ability to give kids powerful confidence, fierce independence, a passion for learning and knowledge that isn't forced or mundane, and a chance to build strong family bonds within their home. I love that homeschool allows children the freedom to learn and follow their passions completely untethered by classroom rules and restrictions, and the constant management of the other children in the class. Homeschooling can give kids a chance to pursue educational goals without being distracted or bored within the confinement of an institution. Especially for kids who might excel faster than the other kids in the class, homeschool can relieve a lot of boredom. And for kids who are falling behind the other kids in the class, homeschooling can allow them to go at their own pace while still boosting their self-confidence.

On the flip side, I also think that public schooling, if done correctly, can inspire and empower kids to learn and grow from their leaders and peers and become innovative thinkers. They can learn leadership skills and positive behaviours from the awesome examples of their teachers, be exposed to new opportunities like specialized classes and diverse student bodies, build on social connections, learn to conquer modern-day tasks, and get exclusive help with special-needs challenges. I also think that the love and care of a child's teacher has the greatest impact for good on a child's entire school experience. I know from personal experience, as well as seeing  my children's experiences at school, that if they don't connect well with their teacher, then they don't have the best experience overall.

All in all, I've seen homeschool families who totally rock at this, who provide amazing opportunities for their children to learn and grow, but then I've also seen homeschooling families that truly struggle, giving their kids poor opportunities to learn and develop both mentally, physically, and socially. I've also seen public school families who are raising amazing children, who are becoming amazing people, and who are contributing to society in amazing ways. I look up to many of these families in our community! Then there's the public school kids that are a living nightmare and make everything hard for everyone at school-- the bullies, the teasers, the trouble makers. These kids most likely have it rough at home, which is obviously very sad. These are the kids I teach my kids to stay away from. The kind of kids that give homeschoolers a good reason to keep on homeschooling.

I truly believe that no matter what educational path you choose as a parent, the most important principle is to make your family the first priority. Parents should be involved in every important aspect of their children's lives, and home should be a place where good morals are taught, where children feel safe, and where love abounds. 
We also try not to put a huge emphasis on checking off check lists and completing things just to get them done. Those things usually don't display the marks of learning, they just show that you checked it off a list. I always tell my kids that you can't know everything in life, but you can try hard to know a lot of cool things that will help you be a well-rounded and happy person. I like to see education is a journey, not a destination you check off. 
 Since my boys have been in public education, I've found that we don't really care if they complete their homework, or memorize their spelling lists, but we do care that they are making an effort to learn, that they are keeping up with the pace of the curriculum being taught, and that they can read and write well.  And of course that they are doing well emotionally, getting along with others, and making friends. I also don't hesitate to keep my children home for fun family trips, vacations, or outings because wholesome family activites are the bedrock of our lives! 
I truly believe that when a child is being lovingly nurtured, cared for, and the emotional needs are met, learning becomes an organic process that can't help but happen naturally. It's like those studies on babies who are left to cry it out versus babies that are held and cuddled when sad. The babies who are left to cry have been shown to have increased stress and anxiety which slows down their growth rate and their ability to pass major milestones. I mean, who wants to learn and grow when you're too busy worrying if someone is going to take care of you or not? I certainly wouldn't! I think it's the same thing with children and education. Love the child and the child will learn naturally.

 Okay, back to my story:
Second-born finished up his year of Kindergarten and baby Fourth-born was born that summer. WHOA. I have four kids now. Four busy, rambunctious, exciting, fun-loving little boys who need and want so much of my attention. I love it!

Now, since secon-born had such a great experience in half time Kindergarten we decided to send him back for full-time first grade the following year. First-born would remain homeschooling for as long as we felt it was right. Third-born was four and would stay home with me and the baby.

I forgot to mention that while second-born was busy in Kindergarten last year, wtried to get more involved with the local homeschoolers in the area. We helped run a weekly reading group and advertised for weekly park days. We even tried to start up a weekly kickball club here like the one we had in Hawaii. However, first-born didn't like going to the reading group, barely anyone showed up to the park days, and the kickball club just wasn't the same as Hawaii, so we stopped. 
This year we decided not to put energy in those areas and went back to doing our own thing, which mostly consisted of me chasing a four year old, nursing a baby, and trying to keep up on all the dishes and laundry. 
However, I also really wanted to make sure he had stuff to do, so we signed up for K-12, an online homeschool program. I was hoping it would provide a stimulating learning experience, but that didn't work out, either! K-12 sent us a free home computer and boxes and boxes of curriculum and all we had to do was wake up and follow their system of learning, yet it was really overwhelming for the both of us! They had him doing school work for 6-8 hours a day! What a nightmare! With the new baby, I didn't have time to sit down to explain things, and he didn't want to sit at a computer for 6 hours a day, and I didn't have the energy or brain power to check in each day and make sure he completed every, little assignment, and he didn't have the least bit of interest in some of the subject material, and I couldn't make him do it, and it was stressing both of us out! We were better off doing our own thing.

Oh well. Moving on. My fondest memory at this time was nursing baby Fourth-born to sleep while watching Merlin episodes on Netflix with First-born. We seriously loved that show and it gave us lots to talk about throughout the day about all things wizards, dragons, sorcery, and magic.
Then right before Halloween I suddenly started feeling like first-born needed to try going to public school for the first time. I felt that he needed to be challenged and stimulated in new ways that I couldn't offer him at home nor through K-12. I felt like his anxiety was getting so much more manageable and he could handle being away from home. In fact, he needed to for his own personal growth.
 I was also discovering new things about myself. For instance, my capacity for taking care of small children had a cut-off limit of two. Yep-two small kids at a time was about all I could manage before I started losing all hope of sanity. I realized that If I was going to remain a calm, patient, and loving mother, I needed to send first-born to school a this time. Once again, I had to trust God and be brave that this was the right path for my child.

I remember the Friday I went in and talked with the principle to see if first-born could try taking some classes part time at the local STEM school. "Maybe he could start off slowly with computer and science and work his way up from there?" I asked nervously.
 I was worried and nervous about the whole thing but the principle was calm and loving and assured me first-born would be fine. 
The next Monday first-born started his first day of part-time classes. And guess what? He loved it! He liked his teacher, he liked his classes, and he wanted to start going to school full time the next day.
WHOA. This was HUGE! My 9 year old was going to 3rd grade! My shy, anxious, fretful, mother-clinging 9 year old was going to be away from me for 6 whole hours a day! I didn't know how to feel about all of this, but the overall emotion was JOY, so I went with that one. Joy, and gratitude for the guidance of the Spirit to help me lead these little ones on their own path to personal growth and happiness. And joy that my husband and I could pray and make these decisions together.
*I don't always mention my husband in all this decision making because it is usually me that comes up with a plan and then we pray about it together. He's always told me from the beginning that since I am the one home, who would be in charge of all the homeschooling, then I needed to decide what works best for me and my situation. He is not home. He works full time and thus feels he has little control over what happens here during the day. Of course he wants what is best for each of our kids and will help me decide what we should do, together, but initially he leaves the first decision making up to me. Ideally he would love it if all our kids homeschooled, yet ideally he would also like a happy and sane wife. 

It's October 2015 and I now had first-born and second-born attending the same school full time for 3rd and 1st grades, and me at home with our four year old and the new baby. Two kids at a time. I could do it!
And I loved it. 
I loved spending all this time with my two little ones while also knowing my two big ones were happy at school, doing fun activities, going on field trips, and getting an age-appropriate education they needed and enjoyed. Meanwhile I was home making play dough, reading silly books, doing pre-school crafts, and taking care of all the little kid stuff like changing diapers and deescalating tantrums. 
As the school-year wrapped up  there was not a doubt in my mind that next year my third-born would be attending Kindergarten, and my two older boys would be going back for 4th and 2nd grade.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, as the poem goes. The following year third-born went to Kindergarten half-time, second-born went to 2nd grade as planned, and first-born went to 4th grade as planned, but partway through the year first-born started having a really rough time. 
A few things that were hard for him: 
1. He was getting bored in the classroom, especially with math. He is a fast learner and would finish his work before all the other kids, yet he'd have to wait before he could move on. He'd often be sitting there doing nothing for long periods of time. 
2. He had a lot of trouble-makers in his class who made things hard for the rest of them. His teacher would often hold everyone in for recess when just a few of them had been acting up. (p.s. holding kids inside for recess is not an acceptable way to punish, FYI.) Many times first-born would call from the office phone for me to pick him up because the kids in his class were being too annoying. I'd be there in a heartbeat. 
3. He didn't love his teacher like the year before. She was okay, but not as friendly, warm, or inviting as his first experience. I could tell he was disappointed about that. We thought about switching teachers, but the other classes were full to capacity. 
And 4. There was a kid who was picking on him during recess. I don't know what this kid's problem was but he decided that he didn't like first-born and would often push past him in the halls or call him names. I spoke with the principle and he said they'd try to work with him. It did get better, but the whole experience gave first-born anxiety.
 So between the boredom, the bad kids, the teacher, and this awful kid, we decided to pull him back out of school. He never actually asked if he could quit, but he was so happy when he did.

Now I've got first-born and the baby home and my two other kids happily at school. Third-born is loving Kindergarten and I'm loving the break I get from his non-stoppedness (is that a word, well it should be.) My third-born had always been a huge challenge for me in his toddler years and I was grateful for the village to step in and help. I can't really pinpoint the exact challenges I had with him but it was an odd mixture of him needing my constant attention yet also being fiercely independent and not wanting me to intervene on his play time. Sending Jonah to Kindergarten gave him just the right balance of the entertainment mixed with the independence, of which he so craved. 
 At this time I'm still doing okay because two kids at a time, but also feeling disappointed that things didn't work out for first-born this year. 
We spent the rest of fourth grade doing our own thing. No homeschool groups, no online curriculum, but lots of reading, research, computers, hiking, baking, documentaries, and soccer. And a little Merlin here and there. 
Both older boys played soccer this year for the first time and liked it a lot. I'm the Cub Master now and we're busy with Cub Scouts. I had my hands full with the baby who is now walking, talking, eating, zooming, and keeping me on my toes. The fondest memory I have of homeschooling first-born at this time was doing errands with him during the day. I don't remember specifically, but he was always making me laugh in the car. Many times I remember feeling so grateful for this special time we had at home together, his 4th grade year.

As third-born's Kindergarten and second-born's 2nd grade year wrapped up, I knew that I was a much happier, calmer, more patient, loving, less insane, less anxious, less depressive mother when I didn't have all my kids home with me at one time. Although this was a hard concept to grasp, it was the truth. 
I guess I didn't really know what kind of mom I was  going to be until I had four kids. Four kids was a game-changer for sure! I'd look back on all my ideals and ideas about child-rearing and education and realize that many of them would work just great with one or two kids. Maybe three. But with four kids, I had to start honoring my own limitations as a person and respect the skills and abilities I did or didn't have to raise these little people. 
 When I don't get adequate time to myself I start feeling suffocated and burnt out. I can't find any space inside my head to think. I can't find any space inside the house to collect my thoughts and feel peace and quiet. I can't focus on staying organized because my mind feels chaotic with too many little voices inside my head. Sending kids to school, even if it was only half of them, really saved my sanity and made me a better mom overall. 
When I sent little third-born to Kindergarten I kept telling myself that it was only temporary. "As soon as the baby gets older and I feel less insane, I will pull everyone out and we'll homeschool again with all of us. As soon as I can grasp life with four kids I will homeschool everyone again," I'd say.
I convinced myself that sending kids to school was only a temporary solution but now I know that it was the better solution for me as a person. At least right now. I don't like to say EVER or NEVER or ALWAYS because things always change.

Okay so first-born finished up his 4th grade year at home. It's now August 2016 and the plan is for third-born to go to 1st grade, second-born to 3rd grade, and first-born to 5th grade, and little fourth-born will attend a friend's pre-school 3 days a week for 2 hours a day. This year, however, we decided to try first-born at the Montessori school and see if that was a better fit for him. At the Montessori school we were told he could go at his own pace, thus eliminating the boredom factor. If he wanted to shoot ahead, he could do so in his own timing. We felt really good about it. 
Meanwhile, I would use this time to finish up my college degree that I had abandoned twelve years ago. It was all online so I could work it into my morning schedule easily and still be available for everyone and everything later on. 

Pfffffft. That plan lasted about a month. This was turning out to be a harder challenge than I thought!
First of all, getting everyone to school in the morning took all the energy I could muster! First I had to have everyone fed, dressed, with shoes on, lunches made, and ready to go by 8am to drive first-born across town in one direction to get him to school by 8:15am, only to turn around and zoom across town the other direction to drop the others to school by 8:45am. Of course third-born always wanted me to walk him in so I had to find a parking spot in the busy, morning, school-traffic-jam, and park, then quickly walk him in. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays I had to quickly jump back in the car to get fourth-born to pre-school by 9am! Then I would rush home so I could get on the computer and hack out some college course-work before it was time to pick fourth-born back up.

Geez this was exhausting! I wanted to cry every morning, and many days I did. One morning I was zooming so fast that I got a $200 speeding citation. I was going 55 in a 25 zone. That speeding ticket was actually a huge wake-up call to how hectic our lives were in trying to get everyone to school. 
To add to the chaos I almost always had to wake up fourth-born each day from his afternoon nap to pick the boys back up from school. This was hard on the both of us and resulted in more tears from both of us. However, I was determined that once we all got in the right rhythm then things would start falling into place and go a lot more smoothly.

Then one day, after a month into the school year, I got a call from second-born in the school office. He was crying and wanting to come home. He said he didn't want to go to school anymore. I gave him a few days at home to relax and breathe and deescalate from whatever was troubling him, then brought him back to school thinking he would probably be okay. Within a couple hours I got another call right away that he wanted to come home. 
My poor second-born. This was so unlike him. He's usually my happy, bubbly, guy who skips off to school with a smile on his face. 
We took a few more days to figure things out then decided that maybe he just needed a break from that particular school. He personally didn't really know what he wanted, so we tried signing him up at the Montessori school with first-born. He went for two days but was again upset and didn't want to return. Although I felt disappointed that my perfect plan wasn't working out, I also felt that we needed to honor second-born's feelings. He was obviously going through something new and needed time to sort it out. 

Second-born started homeschooling at the end of September, and gosh, since second-born was homeschooling we figured It would probably be a better experience if first-born was homeschooling, too. First-born was having a petty good year so far at the Montessori school, but wasn't at all opposed to homeschooling again. It felt good to have both of my boys home together again. 

As far as his anxiety, firstborn has made leaps and bounds with his anxiety issues. To me, he is a whole new person. First of all, he's not shy at all. He'll talk to anyone, anywhere, about whatever he needs to talk about. He's also hilarious, and witty, and makes everyone laugh all the time, including himself. He started playing Lacrosse with no hesitations. He plays RPG with grown-ups on game night at a local shop. He contributes to discussions in his class at church, sharing meaningful and mature insights. He smiles a lot, instead that permanent scowl he used to wear. He's still shy in some situations and some people think he's mad or upset when he's overly quiet, but overall he's completely broken out of his shell. 
I am so proud of him and the huge progress he has made.

Having my two older boys start homeschooling  7 months ago was a big adjustment for me, but only because I wasn't planning on it. I had piled so much other stuff on my plate that I hadn't made room for homeschooling. In my mind I was already so busy with my college work, my busy toddler, my church calling, the non-profit I volunteered for, and all the ins and outs of managing our home (cleaning, cooking, organizing, scheduling, and all the many, many details of family life.) 
To me, homeschooling my kids was the last thing I wanted to do. In fact, I told my husband and children that if these boys were going to homeschool, they had to do it themselves. Not because I didn't want to teach, encourage, and provide learning opportunities, but because I felt like I couldn't.
I really fought against it and struggled with feeling like this was the right thing to do, even though I knew deep down it was. After I finally stopped fighting and started being proactive, I began to see all the blessings coming from it. Oh the blessings!

First of all, mornings became a lot more calmer. Getting one child to school and a part-time pre-schooler was nothing compared to the four. My anxiety settled down. I stopped crying every morning. I wasn't rushing everywhere all morning and could think more clearly and calmly. 
Second, my eleven year old started babysitting for me during the day while our toddler napped so I could get important errands done. This was so amazing! I also didn't have to wake him up anymore to go pick up third-born from school. This eliminated long, cranky battles with a tired toddler. 
I also started to see the blessings in having my boys home together. These boys have been best friends since the moment second-born was born. They currently have no problem playing together and keeping each other entertained. My husband gives them a list of tasks to accomplish each day and they help each other reach their goals. They encourage each other when one falls behind. They go on bike rides together.  They love to read and are both reading either The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. They take breaks to watch Studio C and laugh their little heads off. They are happy and thriving at home. They are learning, growing, and happy, even without my 100% attentiveness to their homeschooling.

Third-born is still happy in first grade. We'll leave him there for now. He woke me up from a nap today to tell me he had three crushes on three different girls in his class. Freaking hilarious! He is losing all his teeth at once and will soon have a big, gaping hole where four front teeth used to be. He is cute and lovable and doesn't really enjoy playing with his older brothers as much as he loves his stuffed animal collection. He sleeps with all his animals snuggled up close to him and begs me to bring them all to school each day (sorry, kid). He has a a play date with a girl in his class on Monday. 
Fourth-born has a very social and spunky personality. He loves being active and being around other toddlers his age, although he'll talk to just about anyone. He surprises us with his ability to memorize songs and tell tall tales. He enjoys his pre-school for now, although it's very loose leaf and often gets cancelled.

And that's the end  of our homeschooling journey thus far! To make a long story short the answer is still yes: "We as parents try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of each of our children and sometimes homeschooling is the right answer at the time." 
But also, "We as parents also try to meet the constantly changing and unique needs of the mother and the family as a whole, and sometimes public schooling is the right answer at the time."

I honestly don't know what everyone is going to do next school year. I was considering sending everyone to school, but that could change. Second-born might not be emotionally ready to go back. Perhaps third-born might need a break. I know we'll need to decide pretty soon as registration is coming up. Or not.
What I do know is that I'll be praying for guidance and listening to my motherly intuition on what needs to be done for each person in our family. I love and adore each one of our children and know that God will guide us towards the path they each need to be on. To me there's no black and white or cookie cutter answer to whether or not my children should attend school. One of the big reasons I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom is so I could be available for any changing needs in our family. I realize this is a luxury for a lot of people and I am grateful everyday for the choice I have to be home with my kids. Or not. 

Next school year we'll have a middle schooler, a fourth grader, a second grader, and a three year old! My how time flies when you're busy raising little people!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Our mountain trail

We recently discovered this really fun trail in the hills near our home. Since I realized that we could go up there and explore, we've been going at least once a week. It was a trail I would walk past almost every time I went running, yet just assumed it went to nowhere. One day I got brave and followed it and quickly realized it was going to be the latest and coolest thing for our family to do. If you know us, you know we like having our special nature spots to call our own.
This particular trail has all the elements I look for in an awesomely awesome, nature-friendly hang out for my family:
1. It's out of the way and not many people go on it. In fact, we haven't seen another soul on the mountain in the past 3 months.
2. It has wild life! We've spotted deer, jack rabbits, hawks and crows, and I even saw a red fox darting through the bushes the other day.
3. It has a steep incline for exercise purposes. My glutes love it when I hike up this trail.
4. It has cool rocks to climb onto and enjoy the view from the top. (We can see the Temple!)
5. It's close to our house so we can walk or drive there, whatever we are feeling up to.
6. It's close enough to society that I feel safe whilst alone with the kids up there.
7. It has interesting rocks, old animal bones, and lots of sticks and mud--all things little boys love to pick up and collect.
8. We can bring the dogs and let them run free. (although Thunder chases the deer away.)
9. My boys love it.

There are also many other fun trails near our home that we like to frequent, but this one is winning my heart for all the above reasons. One of my favorite things about living here is that it takes just a few mere minutes before you are immersed in nature. If you need to get away and breathe some fresh air and have a moment to yourself, all you have to do is head for the hills!

On a snowy day in the hills:

 On a not-so-snowy day in the hills.
 One day when we went to the hills I told Odin that I was going to run up the steep trail to get my heart-rate pumping and get some good exercise. I told him that it's okay if he can't keep up, "Just go at your own pace and meet me at the top," I said. As I started making my way up the trail I quickly noticed that he was going to do everything in his power to beat me to the top. He started scrambling up the steepest part of the rocky hill-side, knocking through bushes, and scrambling through trees, determined to take short-cuts and get their first.  And he did! He was panting, exhausted, and out-of-breath, but that little Odin made it! And of course, he made me smile. 

Please take us running. Please take us to the hills. Oh please, please, please, please.....

I often take the bigger boys to the hills in the morning after I drop Jonah off at school. On other days, Jonah's favorite place to go is Three Peaks to collect iron ore. He has a huge bag of it that weighs like 40 pounds. He says he's going to become a Blacksmith someday and "smelt it" into really cool things.

Have a beautiful day finding spots of nature to call your own! We will, too!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

To Act for Ourselves

*Excerpt from a lesson I gave in Relief Society. You know....Instead of throwing it in the rubbish, I can read it later and recall the powerful lesson I learned.

To Act For Ourselves.
Several months ago a phrase from the scriptures kept popping into my head:
"Not to be acted upon."

I'd be jogging up the big hill and it would just appear in my mind:
"Not to be acted upon."
I'd be driving my son to school and there it was again:
"Not to be acted upon."
I'd be woken up by my toddler at 3am and once again there it was lingering in the forefront of my mind:
"Not to be acted upon."
I think God was trying to tell me something.....

So I finally sat down and looked up the scripture to make sense of the message I was receiving from my Heavenly father. It's in the Book of Mormon in 2 Nephi 2: 26
"And the Messiah cometh in the fullness of times, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are redeemed from the fall, they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon, save it be by the punishment of the law at the great and last day, according to the commandments which God hath given."

Aha! It all made sense to me now. I knew what God was trying to tell me. I knew immediately the important principle I had to put into practice, even though it was difficult to do.
You see, recently I'd made some big changes in my life, working towards some personal goals and letting go of projects I wouldn't have time for, making room for college. I had a plan in place, my ducks all lined up in a row, everything organized the way I needed to, then BOOM-everything seemed to be falling apart. I struggled immensely with the changes.
I suddenly felt like I had no more control over my decisions, like they were being pulled out from under me. It felt like other people were deciding for me; I was becoming a puppet on a string who couldn't make choices for myself. I began feeling angry towards my family, resentful towards my ward, overly protective of my time, depressed and confused...all over these uncontrollable circumstances thwarting my big life plans.

Then that scripture started popping into my head repeatedly: "Not to be acted upon."
That's when I knew I needed to gain a better understanding and testimony of not only what Lehi was telling Jacob before he passed away in these verses, but what the Lord was telling me during my times of struggles.

First of all, what does it mean to be “acted upon?”
I began to look up references in association with the scripture.
In a General Conference address from the apostle James E. Faust he explains that, being acted upon means somebody else is pulling the strings.”
Another apostle, Robert Hales, explained,”To avoid being acted upon means acting for ourselves to avoid evil. The holy Ghost will prompt us in how to respond. But if we ignore these promptings the light of the spirit will fade. Our agency will be limited or lost, and we will lose the confidence and ability to act.”
Lastly, Elder Bednar said in a Leadership meeting, "I just don’t know an undergirding principle more important than acting and not just sitting and waiting to be acted upon.”

Well, first of all I know that Satan attains a grip on our lives through sin. When we continuously make wrong choices we let the light and spirit fade within ourselves as we ignore promptings from the holy ghost on how to act for ourselves. We allow ourselves to be controlled by our malicious brother as we hand over the reigns of our freedom. Through sins we become victims of our doings, feeling miserable, sad, rejected, downtrodden, unhappy, confused, guilty, and then we so often continue to make poor choices over and again. (I've been in this trap and it's no fun at all.)
However, Satan has no influence on us unless we allow him to. Satan can't pull our strings if we don't let him.
Was I letting Satan pull my strings as I allowed myself to feel angry and resentful and controlled? I was supposed to trust God from the beginning that He would lead and guide my life in the direction it needed to go! Yet here I was not trusting, and not believing, and feeling cheated by everyone around me. I was allowing my light to fade and allowing Satan's misery to take over.

And what about just sitting there and doing nothing? We can't act for ourselves if we just sit there and feel like a victim of everyone else's choices.
It's easy to do nothing as we wait for life to happen, for others to tell us what to do, what to think, how to manage our lives, or how to react to a difficult situation. We all know people like that; people who are quick to blame others for the difficult circumstances of their lives. People who are constantly pointing the finger at others waiting for someone else to claim their problems and fix them.
But God did not create us that way. He created us as divine, spiritual beings, who can act for ourselves and not be acted upon.
In my case I was being acted upon by my inability to accept the changes happening around me. I literally felt like a puppet on a string of my own doing. It took the Spirit to remind me (to prompt me)  that I was truly a spiritual being, a daughter of God, a Goddess in the making, who was designed to act and not be acted upon.
I had forgotten that within me I had the ability to take charge of my situation, adjust to the changes, reform my schedule, stop resenting everyone and everything, and trust that God had a plan for my life. God was telling me very clearly through this scripture to stop being a victim and to start being His proactive daughter!
Here's another quote I found from the Apostle David A. Bednar which goes along with these thoughts:

In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon. As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon—especially as we seek to obtain and apply spiritual knowledge.”

This led me to recall a time over 12 years ago when I was engaged to my husband. I was starting to get cold feet about our upcoming marriage. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to go through with it! I started doubting our relationship and doubting all of my feelings. I broke up with him twice in the weeks following up to our wedding. I was terrified of getting married and unbeknownst to me, I was starting to become acted upon by my own fears and doubts.
Just as I was feeling confused and lost again, I finally prayed really hard about it, asking God to please give me the answers I needed about whether or not I should marry him.
I remember the answer as clear as day: I heard the Spirit tell me in a very gentle but powerful way,"Sally, you are a daughter of God and you are entitled to the revelation you need to make this decision.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I needed to act as a spiritual being and make a choice based on the promptings I felt from the Holy Ghost, not to sit there and freak out and wait for life to happen to me. I needed to act on the revelation God gives us freely when we sincerely ask with a true and open heart.
I was capable of making big choices for myself and capable of making the right choices, I just needed a reminder to do it. (Twelve years later I am still married to the love of my life and my best friend in the world, thank goodness.)

To act for ourselves is a principle of faith which can be applied to both our temporal choices as well as to spiritual sins.
For example, if you overspend and go deeply into debt, you allow the chains of debt to control you. You no longer have any money for the things you need, or for emergencies, or for savings. You might start bickering with your spouse, feeling stressed in your daily life, and overwhelmed at all the things you need to spend for your family. You have been acted upon by your bad choices at managing your finances and now your bad choices are acting upon you!
Another example is how you choose to spend your time and energy. If you choose to give in to the temptations of constantly checking social media, you are choosing to form an addiction where now you are being held hostage by the overwhelming need for sensations of instant gratification and approval through the constant need to "check in."
Of course these temporal choices affect our spirits in a very real way as they two go hand-in-hand. You can't be temporally strapped down without it affecting the state of your soul.

One story in the scriptures that I love is the story of the sick woman in Mark 5:24-34 who had so much faith that all she did was touch the hem of Jesus' garment and she became healed. I think hers is a beautiful example of how she acted on her desire to get well instead of sitting around waiting for life to get better on it's own. She actively sought out Jesus, followed him, and then took the first chance she could get at healing herself. Through the power of Christ her faith and determination made her whole immediately.

Sometimes we wait around for something to happen when we are the ones to make it happen for ourselves! I learned this principle early on as a young(er) mother. I have 4 kids now, but back when I had just 2 little ones I had so many desires in my heart to teach them the gospel and create a loving home for them that I felt like I couldn't do it all!
It was too much for me to think about all at once, that I wanted to give up before I even started.
First of all I wanted to get up and pray with them each morning, have a devotional, and then get started on our important things like breakfast, teeth, getting dressed, and daily chores. In my mind this task seemed insurmountable because there were too many factors blocking our way...i.e. I woke up too grumpy, I never got a good night's sleep, my kids were either too hyper or too whiny in the mornings, I had to clean the house first thing because it was too messy from the day before, and on and on... til suddenly it seemed my desires were just far off dreams that would never happen, until that fateful day when I finally realized that my desires would never happen unless I absolutely made them happen, and I was the only one who could make them happen because I was the mom of the house and nobody else was going to do it but me. (my husband gets up and goes to work every day.)

I had to stop letting everything else act upon me as I took control and acted for myself.
I started by creating an ideal routine and schedule for the mornings. (I say ideal because sometimes no matter how much effort you put in you still have to be flexible with little ones and their little changeable needs.) But, I also found that as I stuck to my ideal schedule and routine it slowly started forming into something permanent, constant, and real.

Although this was years ago, it has come full circle. I am actually in this similar state right now- creating and implementing a morning schedule that works for our growing family. Now that I am homeschooling again it's not just me doing what I want and need all morning, I am also making sure my boys are staying on track. We wake up, eat breakfast, drop J off at school, take M to his little pre-school 3 days a week, then focus on reading our scriptures, saying our prayers, and taking care of our important things. I am trying to wake up earlier so I have time to work on college math. I am trying to night wean M (again!) so I won't be woken up so much at night and lose precious sleep. I am trying to be not so grumpy and tired in the mornings so we can have morning scripture study as a family. All these things I have to make happen in order to act for myself and accomplish the things I feel are most important, even when it feels like everyone and everything is against me. (I struggle, but I'm trying...!)

I am so grateful for the revelation God gives us to make good choices for ourselves. It is a right and a blessing and a gift from Him, to ensure that I always have the assurance I need to move forward in my life. I am also so grateful for my free agency to make choices on my own--to have the light from the spirit, to know in my heart good from evil, to decide for myself, and to feel the freedom within my heart to make those good choices.
I know I will always have the light of Christ within me. I know it shines brighter and brighter as I make these realizations in my life for the better. I know that by acting for myself and not being acted upon I am living true to the divinity within myself as a daughter of God.