Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Your Homeschooling Stories: Looking Back

Today I have Michelle from Cotton Tree Homestead sharing with us today. I am so grateful for her wisdom and for her story.

As I sit in the quietness of my room and the darkness around me, I remember back to when my kids were young.  When they ran through the house, chasing each other or the dogs, laughing at the moment.  I remember when I was SO anger the doors were slammed, words were screamed, and my kids were afraid.  So many memories, so much time.  You might say if the walls could talk what would they say.

Would the walls say I am a angry mean mom?  Would they say I have loved passionately?  My kids are older now.  They are adults preparing to launch out on their own.  As I watch them prepare and plan there are thoughts, memories you might say, flood my mind.  What will my kids remember?

I remember back to one year right after we started homeschooling, it was probably my third year of homeschooling.  Jacob, my second to oldest, wanted to see the Harry Potter movies.  Well, that was not going to happen at his age, especially for the younger two.  But then I had an idea.  Why not read the books?  We have the time, and why not?!  For almost a full year the kids and I would sat for hours in our family room reading the Harry Potter books.  Actually I read to them, and they listened.  After each book we would make a huge deal about it and buy the movie.  It was an event!  We would all sit around the tv with our popcorn and drinks to enjoy the climax of reading the book… Seeing it in live action.  It was memories in the making.

I also remember, unfortunately, the days I would get frustrated and angry.  There were times I did not have the patience my kids needed from me.  I was overwhelmed, tired and just plain done.  I did not want to find, or could not find, the release I needed to do the job well.  There are moments I walk through my house remembering yelling because one did not do their homework, instead watched tv or just plain out did not want to do it.   Yet I continued on, and we survived.  My family learned to survive.

At one point I started to develop migraines.  At the time I did not know why.  All I knew was  there were days I could do nothing.  My kids being the survivors they are and were, did what needed to be done.  Jacob, my ever leader, would make lunch.  Grace, my planner, found the shows to watch.  And well, Micheal has always been my youngest and just followed along.  They did and still do call those days Discovery channel days.  Those were days my kids would spend hours, unfortunately, watching shows like Shark week or Planet Earth.  It was a definite moment.

I guess as I look back that’s what I can say.  We had moments.  No they were not all good.  No they were not all bad.  But the one thing I can take away from this is I loved and do love my kids.  I wanted to create a bond with them so they would feel like they could come to me.  I wanted to create a home they felt loved in and welcomed in at all times.  Did I do that?  I hope so… Actually I pray so.  

Someone asked me the other day, would I do it all over again?  Homeschool my kids?  Yes, I would in a heartbeat.  Would I do things differently?  Of course, as we live and grow we learn how to do things differently.  But the one thing stays the same I would want to have the lasting memories of laughing, loving, and crying together.  Of learning to live together, sharing moments whether good or bad together.  

Our life was interesting to say the least, you might even say it was hard.  But the one thing stands for sure I love my kids, I would not change a moment of it, and I am grateful every day that my kids honored me in teaching them and myself about life.

My name is Michelle.  I am first and foremost a child of God.  I am a wife of 20+ years.  I am a mother of    4  adultish children.  Most of all I am a person who wants to learn and grow in God's word. Come visit us at Cotton Tree Homestead.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Your Homeschooling Stories: One Family's Unschooling Journey

I am so thankful that Mary Kate has shared her story. I truly appreciate her honesty, as I often feel the same way!

Our Unschooling Journey

We began this homeschooling odyssey when my sons were 5 and 4. Before having kids I assumed they would go to the public school, as did my husband, and I would return to work. That was the nebulous “plan”. After enduring intense emotional and physical experiences to even have our first child, I approached parenting from an attachment perspective. A dear friend had two years earlier introduced me to extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, and gentle discipline as ways of parenting. It made complete sense! I found once I had our son, our miracle baby, that I wanted and needed like-minded moms around me, to learn from, to befriend. We joined an Attachment Parenting group, and it was in this atmosphere of nurturing that more new ideas presented themselves, among them homeschooling. The image of NOT dumping my kid off with strangers for the majority of his day – after what I went through to finally HAVE a child – resonated with me. Another deciding factor was that both my nephew and much-younger brother-in-law were in the public school system, and I realized education had changed dramatically since my youth. I didn't want my children negatively impacted by mainstream culture.
This is a picture of my husband, Lou, and I with our 8-month-old miracle baby
After some research – just some, as I am not an avid researcher – I chose a curriculum that seemed perfect for a kindergartner and his 4-year-old brother. By that time I also had a 7-month-old baby girl. We began Five in a Row, and my sons loved it, as did I. We moved shortly after beginning FIAR, however, and that derailed the project. I could not recapture the momentum I'd attained once we began living with my mother. Perhaps it was that our daughter's needs changed. It was also intensely challenging for me to school two little boys while caring for a baby. I did try, though. I tried different things. I knew in my heart that God was calling me to homeschool, and that belief gave me the strength to continue the journey. The following year we dove into a Catholic-based approach, while augmenting our experiences with playgroups with the attachment parents, and with another homeschooling group. I diversified! While I loved being around parents who are conservative, for the most part, the atmosphere was too rigid. After a year of that particular curriculum, which was boring, we were done, and done with the religious homeschooling group. As a faithful Catholic, I was astonished at the poor fit these groups were for us. They found me too liberal, while the secular groups thought me too conservative.

So, we took a break from curriculum. My son, almost 7, was not yet reading, and at the time I was still in the schooly mode of home learning. Our two boys have different interests and personalities, and reconciling the two in order to study the same subject was frustrating. Then our second daughter arrived, and I found myself less available to explore a variety of interests with my kids. But I heard about de-schooling, and that’s what we did, for a long time. After some months, a dear friend and unschooler introduced me to A Little Way of Homeschooling, and I was hooked. It seemed the answer to the challenges we'd undergone up to that point. We spent two years learning how to take care of the baby!! At the end of two years, all momentum was lost for me. I enrolled us in co-ops and subject-based courses in an effort to DO SOMETHING. 

Our homeschool journey continues to be one of exploring what fits for our family, from the method of religious education classes we choose to how we play. I say we are unschoolers, but I still struggle to embrace that philosophy completely. I struggle a lot. I believe it is right for us, but I wonder if I am the mom to make it succeed. I realize how much of a product of the educational system I am by how difficult it is for me to be imaginative, creative, and energetic for my kids' sake. My oldest is 10, and with a reading tutor, maybe finally on his way to learning to read. The other children -- 9, 6 and 3 -- pursue interests such as art and video games. All of my kids have a lot of knowledge in different areas, but aren't at "grade level". They are, however, extremely physically fit! They love to swim, jump on the trampoline, and play freeze tag with their friends. I try different things hoping to strike a chord with them. We've tried gymnastics, karate, archery, piano, Tinker Crate, and dropped all of those. Our newest experiment is an online program which utilizes Minecraft. Co-ops rock for me because we learn with other kids, socialize, and I have the opportunity to speak to adults. Or people come to our home. Thanks to another great book, Haystack Full of Needles, I have hosted an annual summer co-op for the last 5 years. There is a different theme every year for six weeks. Here in Phoenix it is my answer to continuing to see friends during the Southwest's version of inclement weather.

I continually juggle taking care of the home, the kids, working part-time away from home, attempting to pursue the children's passions, and relaxing. Diversifying our lives still seems the answer for me. We combine different experiences, and I throw in things I enjoy -- reading, cooking, traveling, hiking, camping, watching nature shows -- to shape our days.

The kids have never asked to go to school; I am glad of that. Sometimes I wish they were in school, so I could feel better about them learning, because I still assume they WOULD be learning. Then I talk with another unschooler, and reassess, regroup. My core belief reasserts itself. I hope to attend my local unschoolers' conference in the fall to further enhance our journey and my commitment to it, 

to, ironically, learn how to do it better!

MaryKate Lofredo

We are an unschooling family of 6: 2 boys and 2 girls, plus my husband and I. 
We live in Glendale, AZ.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Our Week: Early April

I was looking back at photos today and thought I'd share what we've been up to.

MJ found his old sleep sack and it still fit!  So of course TJ wanted one too.  We had some fun sewing this up for him.  Now all the boys match!

MJ taught himself to ride a two wheeler.  He was very determined and wanted to try it all alone.  This week he wants to try out a larger bike.

Baby JJ is 8months old!  He loves exploring outside.

MJ is so in love with his little brother. A little too much some times, but they have lots of fun together.

We've been working on establishing a good rhythm.  The boys are learning so many new skills and great at keeping the house clean.

JJ is so curious.  He is cruising, and getting into everything!  No where in the house is safe.

This spring weather is crazy.  It swings from snow and cold days, to rain, and then warmer days each week.  

We went to an Early Years Centre in town.  JJ loved checking himself out in the mirror.

TJ got super crafty and made a lot of interesting puppets and creations.  When we got home I was inspired to reorganize a little so that the boys had easier more visible access to the craft supplies.  They also needed some baby safe places to play in the family room since they hate hiding out in their bedrooms to play.

MJ is so curious.  He loves experimenting with colours.  These are transparent coloured blocks.

As part of our weekly rhythm we've been doing some knitting.  MJ just clicked with finger knitting!  He finished a whole ball of yarn.  The boys are also playing the recorder too.

We randomly came across some marbles and the boys remembered the marble run that we gave away.  My creative MJ used wooden blocks to make his own.  He was at it for a long time, trying different designs.

My colour loving guy wanted to dye more Easter eggs.  While TJ and Daddy were out at the hardware store, MJ and I played with food dye.

JJ just keeps popping up all over the house.  

Well that's what we've been up to recently.  I'm feeling much more at peace with things now.  I'm trying to strike a good balance between office work, homeschooling, keeping up on the house and everything else. 

I'd love to know what you have been doing this week!!

Don't forget to stop by our Facebook page for more photos and videos

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Your Homeschool Stories: A day in our life unschooling and my thoughts...

No day in our home is typical.  We don't follow a specific schedule or routine.  We are unschoolers.  This means that we live each day without school or subjects.  We follow the children's interests and our own too.  It woks for us, we love it!  Here is sort of how one day might go on a day we are home (some afternoons we are at the YMCA, or we have playdates and such).

6:50am TJ comes in to my room.  Baby JJ is still nursing/sleeping on me so I whisper for TJ to go play in the other room. He most likely is in his bed listening to his sleepy CD.

7:10am I ninja my way out of the bed.  TJ and I hang out and chat about the day.  We have breakfast, make coffee for Daddy and his lunch. We get daddy up for work.

7:30am Daddy and MJ get up. Daddy gets ready for work while MJ joins us for breakfast.

8:00am Daddy goes to work (we have our own business so daddy is downstairs in the office for a while before heading out for service work).  The boys practice their memory verses for AWANAS (church group) and we read our daily devotional.  Then the boys play playmobile.  Oh Baby JJ woke up.

9:00am I've been nursing, feeding, changing baby.  Dady comes to say good bye as he heads off to work.  The boys are getting antsy and not playing as well with each other.  I suggest they find another activity to do.  I read one of our library books while baby crawls about on the floor and playing.

9:30am We've been sitting around for a while and the boys are arguing.  I know it's time for some physical activity.  How about a dance party?  Everyone agrees.  I put JJ in the carrier and put on some fun music videos on the laptop.

10:00am JJ is ready for a nap. The boys have a snack and play quietly.  Once I'm done putting the baby down the boys play a mixture of educational and fun games on the iPads. Once the baby is down I sneak off to the office to do some paper work for our company.

11:00am Baby is up again. The weather is pretty good so we decide to go for a walk in the forest. The boys explore their favourite part of the trails.  They crack the ice with sticks, build a dam in the creek, and jump off logs.  Once they are thoroughly wet and cold we head home.  Luckily the forest is in our front yard so we aren't far from home.  We decide to have some hot chocolate and lunch.

Noon: Lunch and hot chocolate.  Lots of giggles and talking.  Baby JJ is learning to eat which truly amuses the boys.

12:30pm Baby is ready for another nap.  The boys play with trucks together. Once the baby is down I finish up with my office work.  Next the boys and I spend some time together.  MJ has asked to do experiments.  We do a few from the kit TJ got for his birthday one year, then they have fun doing their own concoctions. Some get frozen, otherwise it is time to clean the kitchen.

1:30pm Chores.  No they don't like to help but we have had a family meeting and the boys agree that everyone should help take care of the house.  I made a cleaning plan so that we do one room a day along with a few daily chores.  Today we vacuum the carpet in the family room, sort clean laundry into piles so it's easier to fold and tidy the toys in the family room.

2:00pm Baby JJ wakes up.  We all have a snack but the boys want something yummy.  We decide to bake cookies.  Of course MJ wanted to make his own thing. TJ helps to read the recipe and double it.  MJ tastes every ingredient and mixes some into a bowl.  We add the main batter to MJ's concoction and bake some delicious chocolate chip cookies.

3:00pm Hmmm what's next... The boys spend some time in their rooms playing with toys and listening to audio stories (they were fighting again. It's been a long winter that way). Then I send them outside to play for a bit.

4:30pm The boys play Wii while I start dinner. Baby JJ is getting tired so he's in the carrier.

5:00pm I put baby JJ down for another nap and then get back to making dinner.

5:30pm Dinner and then cleaning the kitchen together

6:00pm The boys climb all over daddy and hang out together.

6:30pm Baby is up.

6:45pm Evening routine starts.  Tonight the boys are watching The Incredibles and have a snack.

7:30pm We pause the movie.  Boys get ready for bed.  We read some stories together.

8:15pm Daddy goes to do prayers and tuck in TJ.  They chat for a while. Baby JJ and I tuck in MJ with a load of toys in his bed.

9:30pm I've been playing with baby JJ and tidying around the house. He is now ready for bed. MJ's popped up a few times looking for lego pieces to build a tractor in bed.

So I'm speaking from my heart here and pouring it all out. I'm not completely satisfied with how things are going.  It has been a long winter/spring with lots of fighting.  I feel like we need a stronger rhythm with more physical activity.  The boys seem to have lots the sparkle and curiosity they used to have. We are all adjusting to having a new family member, especially now that he is on the move.

We have been trying out some of our Waldorf curriculum again here and there.  The boys enjoy the stories and TJ's writing is improving quickly.  I feel so torn.  I am not fully unschooling, nor and I fully Waldorf.  I know I've written often about dropping labels and being confident in your own plans (you can read those posts HERE and HERE).  But since I don't fit in anywhere it can be a bit unnerving.  So we are swinging back and forth a bit trying to find a balance of what works for us.  As the seasons change, so too will our days.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.  
Please share about your day and how you balance different methods!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Your Homeschool Stories: Learning That I’m Not My Kid’s Savior

I am so pleased that Amy Fritz from Amy Writes is sharing her story with us today.  Thank you so much for your words of wisdom.  It is a great reminder for me and all of us.

Learning That I’m Not My Kid’s Savior

I never completely bought the lie, but I’ve been seeing it more and more lately. Sometimes the homeschooling world communicates a message that we can somehow, if we work hard enough, ensure a certain outcome for our children. It’s a lot to carry. I know because I’ve tried.

Create a warm, learning environment.

Foster a love of reading by providing good literature.

Feed them the perfect, natural food.

Let them study things that interest them.

Go on family trips together and make it a learning experience.

(my lovely family and I on our way to Thanksgiving last year)

There are more things I could add to the “list of things homeschool moms should do so their kids grow up to be world-changers.” All of those are good things, but what about the seasons where we can’t do all these things? What if we miss something?

If our child’s success in life is dependant on the things we do, what does it mean when we struggle?

A few months ago, my kids and I were spending the afternoon with some friends. I had coached my oldest through a tricky relationship in preparation for the play date. Everything went great until about an hour into our time with the group. That’s when the boys decided they were going to play football.

Guess what my husband and I had never taught our kids? Yep. Football.

Ethan wasn’t sure how to join in and ended up on the outside making up his own thing to do by himself. How could I have not taught him how to play football? I had spent lots of time teaching him any number of other things. None of those things were helpful in that moment. I felt like a failure.

I sent a text to my husband including him in the shame. He assured me we could still teach Ethan to play if he really was interested. All was not lost. I knew he was right, deep down. That one thing wasn’t a huge deal, but in that moment the homeschool mom guilt overwhelmed me.

After I had given it a little time and space. I realized why it bothered me so much. Homeschooling is wonderful in lots of ways, but there were some lies I was telling myself that were making this season of schooling our kids feel heavy.

I was believing the lie that I was responsible for every single thing my kids need in life. All the schooling. All the relationship opportunities and skills. All the spiritual development. It was a load that was crushing me.

The burden was too much for me and it’s too much for you.

This is what rescued me. It’s a simple truth I now tell every mom: God is no more or less able to accomplish His will in your kids based on your performance as a parent.

I will do my best and not be surprised when I mess up or miss something. God is bigger than my imperfections. He gets to be the Savior and I get to be the mom. I can live with that. That’s the load I’m meant to carry.

Are you curious about how the whole football issue turned out? Well, just two weeks ago my brother came to visit and had taken it upon himself to bring some nerf footballs and we had some football lessons!


Amy is a homeschooling mom to three fabulous kids ages 10, 9, and 6. She loves to read, write and tends to over-share when she’s nervous. Their family moved to the Nashville, TN area several years ago when her husband took a job working for Dave Ramsey’s company. You can find her writing at or find her on Twitter: @amyfritz.