Place and Space

In my high school journals, I often wrote about where I wanted to be when I grew up. Looking back on these entries with the distance of a decade, and the knowledge of what I’ve pursued in life, I am in awe that my essential self is still the same. It’s comforting, but it’s also empowering. It means that the person I became at 17 is still the person I am proud to be – just with more experience and more tools for how to accomplish the things I used to dream about from inside the decorated, forest green (my favorite color, then and now) walls of my high school bedroom.

From my high school journal: “When I think about ‘what I want to do’ when I graduate, I think of these things: I want to be the most approachable English teacher at an independent high school for unconventional young people, and I want to have a cabin on a lake with bookshelves everywhere filled with books, and I want to wake up every morning and find the passages I underlined in all my favorite books and remember what it felt like to be that age and read those words for the first time.”

Today, I live beside a river in a cottage full of books. I teach English at an independent high school for pretty cool young people (that’s you guys), and every morning, I wake up and flip through the passages I underlined ten years ago in my favorite books. I think about what it felt like to be 17 and reading those words for the first time.

In college, I learned about the concepts of Place and Space. Place was a physical location, while Space was an ambiance that could be evoked in a building or room. In a Place, one performed their public persona; in a Space, one could be their most private, interior self.

This reminded me of my high school bedroom – that place where I had engaged in journaling, daydreaming, painting, drawing, writing, singing, dancing – activities and rituals that gave the place a certain ambiance; that made it into a space.

I am writing these words in my office, the front room in my cottage. My desk faces the yard; the trees; the mountain. This is the room in which I design curriculum for the courses I teach through Oak Meadow; chat with students; communicate with my faculty peers; read submissions for my poetry journal; write these blog posts, and a hundred other outward-facing things.

Photo by Naomi Washer

On the ceiling of my office is a drop-down ladder that leads to a secret loft; intimate, with slanted walls. I can stand upright in the center, but otherwise have to crawl. Pillows and cushions line the floor. One wall is a balcony, overlooking the living room below. Against the railing are my bookshelves. Photographs of places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known line the slanted walls. On the exterior wall is a tiny square window looking out to the mountain and the yard, just above where I sit at my desk in my office below. Up here, I am curled into a nest; I am closer to the mountain; I have my books and mementos and journals scattered around me. Below, the office is light, bright, and open, inviting all the work I do that connects to the outside world. Above, I enter the interior space of my mind – the space where I dream up creative projects and muse over the big questions of life and the world, my beliefs, my values, and who I feel myself to be.

Photo by Naomi Washer

The place of my office and the space of my loft are both necessary for the work that I do as a teacher and a writer. But I have to wonder if I would have ever discovered that these were the best places and spaces for me if I hadn’t dreamed about them in high school.

High school is not only the time when you begin to state your goals and ambitions – it is also a crucial time to dream. It is the most important time in your life to ask essential questions about who you are, what you believe, and what kind of path you see yourself pursuing in life.

By “path,” I don’t just mean career. Careers are your public persona – your exterior self. You will accomplish great things in the public places of your careers – I’m sure of it. But if you allow yourself the space of interior dreaming, musing, and questioning, then you will also become a person you’ll be proud to be – someone who lives by the virtues you believe in.

Photo by Naomi Washer

You can’t know where you will be ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. If you did, that would take away half the fun of the discovery. But what you can do is think about the kind of place you want to be in; where you can be productive by offering your skills and knowledge to your community.

And you can think about the space you want to have around you: what kind of weather and landscape make you feel grounded and at home? Do you want trees and mountains around you, or skyscrapers? Do you want to live on the road, in a tiny house, an apartment building in a big city, or a rambling old country house on a farm? If you ask yourself these questions now, you’ll find out what kind of person you are, and the kind of person you’ll be down the road, when the dust has settled, and the air has cleared, and you open your eyes: what do you see?

14 Tips for Working from Home and Homeschooling

Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:

  1. Maximize flexibility in your work situation. When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.
  2. Photo Credit: Litteken Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Embrace a relaxed homeschooling style. Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.

  3. Expect the unexpected. Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.
  4. Manage interruptions proactively. How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!
  5. Photo Credit: Adam Hall
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Offer your attention and presence whenever you can. When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.

  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate! Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.
  7. Give your child tools to use when they must wait for your attention. Be clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.
  8. Photo Credit: Kate Bowen
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Help children learn how to help themselves. As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.

  9. Divide household responsibilities in a predictable, easy-to-follow way. Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.
  10. Keep craft materials, games, books, and toys within easy reach as much as you feel your children can handle without supervision. Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.
  11. Photo Credit: Henderson Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Work smart! Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.

  12. Lean on others. Negotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.
  13. Take good care of yourself. Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!
  14. Remember why you are doing this. You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.

Do you have experience with working at home while homeschooling? What would you add to this list?

Planning for Success: Using a Weekly Planner to Find the Rhythm in Your Homeschooling Life

by DeeDee Hughes, Director of Curriculum Development at Oak Meadow

How many times have you planned your day in your head, only to forget half of what you wanted to do? Or maybe, like me, you make lists—leaving notes here and there all over the house—and then lose track of the lists. Or maybe you have your list but you lose track of the time. For whatever reason, you just simply can’t seem to get it all done. That pile of tasks that seemed doable early in the morning looks like an impossible uphill climb by lunch time and morphs into Mt. Everest by dinner time. Sigh. Another day slips by with a vague feeling of incompletion.

Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow Archives)

When you add homeschooling to the daily mix, the to-do list just grows longer while the pressure to do it all expands until it fills your little corner of the universe. As you juggle science experiments, spelling lists, math practice, research reports, art projects, and all the rest, the responsibility to get it all done can wear you down. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes even just opening up a curriculum book can feel daunting. If you like to have everything organized and planned in advance, it’s exciting to see all your upcoming lessons in one place. You might tell yourself, “It’s all right here. This is all we have to do!” On the other hand, the little voice in your head might panic at the thought of how much work lies ahead: “We have to do all of this??”  Or perhaps you prefer spontaneity and like to create your own learning path. If so, a curriculum book can feel like a big, scary reminder of all you might be leaving out or forgetting to do while you are off on your spontaneous adventures.

At some point, most homeschoolers wonder, “How can I get it all done?”

Let the planner do the remembering

Photo Credit: Witman Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

No matter which end of the organized/spontaneous spectrum you identify with, you can find support and a sense of ease by using a weekly planner. Once you get in the habit of spending a bit of time each week planning and setting a schedule, the weight of all that responsibility is lightened. You don’t have to worry about forgetting something important because you’ve already made a plan to include everything you want to get done.

Naturally, despite your best planning, life will intervene with its wonderfully chaotic beauty, and some things will fall by the wayside, but that’s okay. Here’s the real attraction in using a planner: anything you don’t get to in a particular week is simply moved to the top of the list for the following week. No need to feel a sense of failure or guilt or judgement—just turn over a fresh page and write it down again. Voilá!

Making the planner work for you

So what’s the best way to use a planner? That will vary with each person, but here are some tips for getting the most out of your planner.

  1. Begin by getting a sense of the week’s goals. Look over what you would like to accomplish in the coming week in each subject. If you are using a curriculum that is designed in a weekly lesson format, this is pretty easy (for instance, you want to do lesson 5 in each subject this week). If you aren’t working with a weekly format curriculum or you are using many sources, make a list of next steps for each subject.
  2. Prioritize the assignments, activities, and projects for the week. Write down the top priority tasks first, dividing them up according to subject and spacing them over the days of the week. By putting the high priority tasks at the top of the list, they are most likely to get done. Let’s say there’s a book report in English that must be done this week because your student will be beginning a new book next week. The book report will go at the top of the list for English and be scheduled early in the week. This gives some wiggle room if it takes longer than expected. The book report will get done before the grammar exercises or spelling quiz. That’s not to say spelling and grammar aren’t important—they are—but the book report will get done first to make sure it is completed before moving onto the next book.
  3. Use the planner to chunk up larger projects into smaller tasks. Maybe an animal research paper is on the science list this week. Day 1 can be for locating research materials; Day 2 can be for reading research and taking notes; Day 3 is for organizing the notes and creating a detailed outline with topic sentences for each main idea; Day 4 is for the rough draft; and Day 5 is for revising, editing, and proofing the final version of the report. Each of these tasks will take about the same amount of time, making a big, daunting project suddenly feel doable.
  4. Let your planner help you take an unscheduled day off or take advantage of an unexpected opportunity. If something comes up, or if you and your kids just really need a day without expectations, go for it! That’s one of the greatest joys and benefits of homeschooling. Your planner makes it easy for you to go off and enjoy yourselves, and then get back on track afterwards. Everything is still there. You haven’t “forgotten” anything; you just shift the tasks over one day. Who cares which days you homeschool and which ones are free days? Do what you can in the days remaining; any leftover tasks are moved to the top of the list for the following week.
  5. If you are homeschooling more than one child, use colored pens to easily track each student’s study plan. This lets you see at a glance who will be doing what on a particular day. Seeing everyone’s schedule at once helps you coordinate weekly goals so that visits to the library, nature walks, or one-on-one time with your children all fit together.
Photo Credit: Brandie Lujan
(Oak Meadow Archives)

More reasons to love your planner

Feel free to enlist your children’s help in creating the weekly plan. In fact, it’s a good idea. Not only does it give them a sense of ownership and encourage autonomy, it teaches students time management skills. They learn to become aware of how much time is needed for certain activities. They can be involved in breaking tasks into smaller increments, prioritizing what needs doing, and (here’s the fun part) checking off items as each task is completed.

Photo Credit: Oak Meadow.

The planner can be a great tool for long range planning. Let’s say you are doing a project on decomposition, and your student has just buried a variety of items in the back yard which will decompose at different rates. In six weeks, your student is supposed to dig them up and observe what happened. Flip forward six weeks in your planner and jot down a note. Now it’s out of your head and you don’t have to think about it until it’s time to dig up the rotting mess (er…I mean, the partially decomposed items).

Finally, you can use the weekly planner to have a strategy session at the beginning of each week. Depending on the ages of your children, you can do this after you’ve already created the schedule for the week, or this strategy session can be when the schedule is created. Going over the schedule at the start of the week helps everyone involved know the game plan and start the week with purpose.

Using a planner doesn’t have to be another dreaded thing you have to find time to do. Once you get comfortable and find a pattern that works for you, the planner will help you prepare for success so you have more free time to enjoy your homeschooling life.

____________________________________________________

DeeDee Hughes is the Director of Curriculum Development for Oak Meadow, a distance learning school and publisher of homeschooling curriculum for grades K-12. Oak Meadow offers two planners: a planner for homeschooling parents and a student planner, both of which feature 40 double-page weekly schedules and are not date specific, so they can be started anytime. The Oak Meadow Homeschool Parent Planner includes teaching tips and inspiration from Oak Meadow teachers and learning targets by grades for K-4. The Oak Meadow Student Planner contains handy resources for students such as parts of speech, how to cite sources, and U.S./metric conversion charts, as well as learning targets by subject.

This article originally appeared as a guest post at Only Passionate Curiosity.

12 Ways to Help Your Child Adapt to Learning at Home

Have you recently made the switch from schooling to homeschooling? It can take some time for your child (and you!) to adjust to this new way of learning and being in the world. Some students adapt quickly, but others need a longer transition period.  

Photo Credit: The Anderson Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: The Anderson Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Sometimes, even if a previous situation was intolerable and changing gears was essential to your child’s health or well-being, it can take awhile to heal from any trauma that may have occurred. Some students come to associate education with discomfort and need to start from scratch in developing new enthusiasm for learning.

What are the reasons why you brought learning home? Were there specific things that felt unhealthy or unhappy about your child’s previous school situation? What changes have you observed in your child since making the switch? Start there to assess whether things are changing in the direction that you had hoped.

If your child is still struggling or needs help navigating the transition, here are some suggestions that may help:

  1. Take it slow. Things may need to slow down for awhile as you switch gears, but you’ll build up momentum in time. It takes time to settle into a new way of doing things, especially when the change is a big one. Follow your child’s lead for awhile.
  2. Photo Credit: The Hoag Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: The Hoag Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Celebrate every day! Each day moves you to new possibilities, greater health and healing, and a stronger sense of togetherness as a family. Be thankful together for these wonderful opportunities.

  3. Be flexible in your expectations. Home learning almost never looks the way you might have imagined. Each day might be very different from the one before. In trying out new things, you can eliminate what doesn’t work while finding what does. Roll with the unexpected and see where it takes you.
  4. Ask your child what matters most to them. Honor the differences and similarities that feel most important to your child as you define a new approach to learning. Ask them what they disliked about their previous situation, and create a more comfortable way of doing things as you move forward.
  5. Remember the reasons you opted for home learning. Together with your child, make a list of all of the things that led you to take this journey. On days when you feel at odds with your decision, look at this list to remember and affirm why you made this choice. Some days will undoubtedly be challenging; consider how they compare to the challenges you left behind. Give yourselves tremendous credit for moving in this new direction.

    Photo Credit: Nell Flanagan (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Nell Flanagan
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  6. Allow your child to help drive the change. Give them as much ownership as possible. Invite your child to list the things that are most important to them to have as a part of their homeschooling experience. Maybe they want to be allowed to sleep as late as they need to each day, or study on the floor instead of at a desk, or choose the order of their subjects each day. Let them help in differentiating this new adventure from their previous experiences.
  7. Make comfort a priority. Change is hard! Help buffer that stress with comfort measures. Make room for plenty of rest and relaxation. Comfort may mean something different for each family member, so talk openly about what you need and how you can support each other in getting it.
  8. Offer safe space for your child’s feelings. Allow your child to talk frankly about their fears/worries/frustrations. They may be grieving the things they liked about school even as they are relieved to leave behind the things they didn’t like. Listen supportively as they process their feelings.
  9. Get support for yourself. Find someone to lean on and process your own feelings with, preferably someone who is open-minded about educational choices and who is not in your household. If you need help finding likeminded support, look on social media for homeschooling groups and lists.

    Photo Credit: Nio Hirano (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Nio Hirano
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  10. Keep your sense of humor! Laugh together as a family. Laugh at your mistakes and misunderstandings. Acknowledge limitations with a wink and a smile. Keep your attitude light and positive, and chances are good that your child will follow your example.
  11. Acknowledge all kinds of progress. Celebrate your child’s good effort and positive attitude just as much as a correct answer or a passing test score. Even a more open curiosity about the world and a greater willingness to ask questions is worth celebrating! As your family adjusts and embraces a new rhythm, give yourselves a pat on the back for making it happen.
  12. You are the expert on your own child! Even if you’ve never done this sort of thing before, you can trust your instincts about what your child needs. You might consult with others who are experienced and encouraging, and you might seek support in areas where you have more to learn. But you know your child better than anyone else, so let your heart guide you!

Five Ways to Keep Your Balance in an Unbalanced World

by Lawrence Williams and DeeDee Hughes
reprinted from Living Education (Fall 2014) 
adapted from Living Education (Jan/Feb 2001)

I once admitted to a wise friend that, as a parent, I honestly didn’t know if I was being too strict or too lenient. She said, “That’s normal. That’s what finding the balance is all about. There is no static balance point. You are always tipping a little too far in one direction and righting yourself, or tipping too far in the other direction and righting yourself.” I found great comfort in this at the time, and I still do today.

Finding the balance in parenting and in life is an ongoing process. Am I working too much and forgetting to play? Am I being an overinvolved parent and not respecting my children’s abilities and independence? Am I trying to keep them from making mistakes? Am I letting them make enough mistakes? Am I investing enough time in my friendships but forgetting my self-care? Life can feel like doing yoga on a stand-up paddleboard while being rocked by waves. We’re constantly shifting and making adjustments, and there are lots of near-misses for getting dunked, but we’re doing it!

As a homeschooler, seeking balance is essential. If we’re out of balance and we try to teach our children, we diminish our effectiveness as teachers. We might miss the subtle cues in the learning process that enable us to be good teachers, or we might cause our children to become more imbalanced also, which reduces their ability to learn effectively.

Here are some tips to help you maintain a sense of balance in the midst of your busy, messy, wonderful life.

1. Reconnect with your source daily

What energizes you? What helps you feel centered and creates harmony within you? You might reconnect through prayer, hiking, yoga, meditation, journaling, gardening, running, art, or some other activity. Find something that works for you and do it every day. Even thought it may seem impossible, the most effective time is first thing in the the morning. Reconnecting with our personal power source first thing in the morning enables us to embrace the day with greater purpose and clarity.

2. Recognize your role as co-creator

Through our thoughts, feelings, and actions, we all create our lives moment by moment. When we work in conjunction with our children, with our partners, with our friends and neighbors, we become co-creators of the world around us. When unexpected events arise, we have a choice of how we respond. If we respond from an inner sense of balance, we can turn difficult circumstances into new possibilities for ourselves and our children. When we take responsibility for creating our world, we enter into a fascinating dance, an on-going improvisation that is one part strength, one part grace, one part compromise, and all heart. When we live with a sense of actively creating the life we want, we feel more content and centered.

3. Pay attention to your internal GPS

Envision a see-saw with mental activity on one end, physical activity on the other end, and feelings in the middle as the balance point. We all know how easy it is to overemphasize or ignore one or more of these aspects, and we know what happens to the see-saw when we lean too far in one direction. Check in with your internal GPS every now and then to figure out where you are. For example, if you’ve been engaged for long hours on a computer, you probably need to be active physically. If you have been running errands all over town with your children, you may need to sit for a bit and read a book. The same holds true for kids – remember to check in with where they are and strive for balance in the rhythm of their day. Being able to adapt to the needs of our children this way is one of the great benefits of homeschooling.

4. Allow yourself to feel

Our innate capacity to feel is one of our greatest tools in parenting and in teaching. It helps us to clearly perceive what is going on in ourselves and others, and to communicate effectively. When you are talking with your children, don’t just focus on the words they’re saying. Open yourself to what they are feeling and address that with as much attention as you give to their word.s If you are walking down the street, look at the trees, the plants, and the sky around you and appreciate their natural beauty. Soak it in on a feeling level. By opening your heart to simple acts of feeling as you experience the events of each day, you will find that your mind becomes quieter and you feel more stable and poised.

5. Recognize your triggers

It’s no surprise that life often feels unbalanced. Consider how we are bombarded by external stimuli: masses of information, constant sounds, demands of email and phone, social media updates. Sure, all parents have eyes in the back of our heads and three arms, but we can still become overwhelmed. By learning to recognize what triggers that sense of stress, we can help restore balance. If you feel you can never get anything done because you have to respond to every email as it comes in, maybe you’ll want to switch to checking email just two or three times a day. If you start to feel scattered after a morning of noisy activity, institute a one-hour noise-free zone in your house, or get outside where the only sounds you’ll hear are nature sounds. Give yourself a break by leaving your phone behind when you take a walk or work in the garden, or (if that’s too uncomfortable) just turn it off. Allow yourself to disengage from the hectic demands of global connection.

By following these guidelines, you can regain your innate balance, which will foster the expression of your natural intelligence. Many schools seek to develop intellect, so they spend their time focusing on mental activity. At Oak Meadow, we are interested in developing intelligence, and this arises from physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. Intellect alone will never enable your children to be fulfilled, self-directed learners, and it will never enable them to become dynamic individuals who can have a positive impact upon the world. Find your own balance and you’ll be able to help your children find theirs.

___________________________________________________________

Lawrence Williams is the co-founder and owner of Oak Meadow, and the author of Oak Meadow’s original curriculum. He and DeeDee Hughes have collaborated on a number of articles and curriculum materials, including the new 40th Anniversary edition of The Heart of Learning.

The Arrival of Fall (From the Archive)

by Lawrence Williams, EdD
excerpted from Living Education (October 1981) 

As the Fall of the year arrives, we experience once again the familiar contraction of Mother Nature, reminding us that all things must pass, and even the beautiful expansiveness of Summer must recede to allow Winter to work its magic.

Children often experience this contraction as a desire to focus their energies, after a long summer of either relaxation or unharnessed exuberance. For those who have been homeschooling for a while, the seasonal extremes are usually not as pronounced. However, for those exploring home study for the first time, the Fall can be a time of difficult adjustments to a new situation.

Often our instinct is to establish firm schedules of “schoolwork” within the home, as a natural response to the seasonal contraction which we feel. However, though it is true that children seem to appreciate more of a focus at this time of year, we should look for ways to integrate this focus as naturally and warmly as possible, to avoid the inevitable reactions that arise from trying to maintain a strict form.

Use this time to seek a deeper understanding of your children’s changing needs — this understanding will be a tremendous asset as you progress through the course of the year.

____________________________________________________________

This article first appeared in its original form in Living Education: The Monthly Journal of Oak Meadow School in October 1981. The early incarnation of Living Ed (as we fondly refer to it) provided a then-rare space for homeschooling parents and Oak Meadow staff to explore and share their thoughts about learning, parenting, and related topics.

What do you think of Oak Meadow founder Lawrence Williams’ thoughts in this article from years past? Do you agree with his recommendations? How do you approach the transition to Fall in your own family’s homeschooling rhythm?

As parents and educators, reading others’ thoughts, asking challenging questions, and considering new ideas will open up different opportunities for ourselves and our children. Our ideas continue to evolve as we move along our journey. How have your own thoughts grown and changed since your homeschooling adventure began?

10 Ways to Create and Maintain Balance as a Homeschooling Parent

  1. Know your priorities. Be clear with yourself about what is most important. Make sure everyone in the family knows what those things are. Talk regularly about the reasons why your family does things the way you do. Be open with each other when it feels like it’s time to revisit or reaffirm your family’s priorities.
  1. Photo Credit: Litteken Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Litteken Family
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Always start with a plan, and be flexible enough to change the plan as needed. If you need help with planning for the younger grades, our parent planners can be a big help. Planning ahead really helps the family’s rhythm stay steady and keeps each member on track academically.

  1. Don’t try to do too much. Keep things simple! Avoid overcommitting and let people know when you need to dial back. If you feel self-conscious when plans need to shift, remember that your commitment to your family’s needs may be an inspiration for others who are struggling with the same challenge.
  1. Photo Credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Ruby Enge
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Help your children establish roots and grow wings. Balance the two by first giving them a strong, supportive foundation, then give them some room to practice flying on their own. It’s quite a thrill to see your child take off independently when they are ready, and it’s reassuring to know that you have prepared them well.

  1. Take very good care of yourself. Spending all day, every day, in the company of even the most wonderful homeschooling children is a challenge. Eat well, exercise, and make sleep a priority. Also make time for the hobbies and passions that boost your energy and enthusiasm. Keep your reserves full by taking regular time off for yourself where you are able to turn off your parental radar and relax.  By making your own well-being a priority, you model an important and lifelong habit for your children, who may grow up to parent homeschoolers themselves.
  1. Find a friend who will listen when you need to get things off your chest, someone who will also help you celebrate those homeschooling triumphs that the rest of the world has a hard time grasping. Talk about your joys and challenges regularly. If you’ve struggled to find  likeminded friends, read this article on finding community as a homeschooler and keep reaching out.
  1. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rafferty (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo Credit: Elizabeth Rafferty
    (Oak Meadow Archives)

    Offer and accept help. Ask when you need it, and give to others when you can. Build a network of homeschooling friends who support each other. Take turns so that you can each get a break sometimes. Offer wisdom and support to those who are newer to parenting or homeschooling than you are. Ask family, friends, and neighbors to engage with your children’s learning, especially if they have experience in areas that you do not. Be clear about your needs and gracious when others help meet them.

  1. Keep the fires burning in your marriage. Tend your marital partnership, if you have one. It can be all too easy to let those needs be superseded by the needs of your homeschoolers, so do whatever is needed to keep your primary adult relationship healthy.
  1. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Even if it doesn’t happen often, it is still an important thing to do once in awhile. Let this be a time when they can check in about how things are going for them and talk freely with you about their wishes, dreams, and interests, regardless of what the rest of the family needs. Let your child help plan how to spend that time so that it has meaning for both of you. When the needs of other family members take priority, both of you will have the memory of these one-on-one times to carry you through until the next time.
  1. Laugh together! Have fun as a family that is at least equal to the amount of hard work you do together. Eat meals together regularly and tell funny jokes at the table. If you start feeling stressed during the day, have an on-the-spot dance party. Go on spontaneous adventures sometimes. Find things to do that you can all enjoy. Stay connected with each other in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with educational expectations.

What other ways have you found to seek and maintain balance in your homeschooling life?

14 Tips for Surviving the Summer with Kids (from Homeschooling Parents)

School’s out! The kids are home for the summer, and suddenly your world has been turned upside down. How will you survive ten weeks with children home all day?

Homeschooling parents do it year-round. But when you’re not used to having kids home all day, it can certainly feel like a shock to the system. Here are fourteen strategies from homeschoolers to help you get through the summer:

Photo Credit: Melanie Yang (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Melanie Yang
(Oak Meadow Archives)

1. Free your children from boredom by encouraging independence. At the start of the summer, ask them to brainstorm a list of things they could try if they get bored. Post it in a handy place. When they complain of boredom, refer them to their list. Create a dog agility course in the backyard! Make a kitty condo by taping boxes together! Set up a cozy reading nook (indoors or out). Build a fort. Learn about ants, find an anthill, and watch them at work. If all else fails, suggest that they lie flat on their backs, look up at the sky or the ceiling, and wait there until a more interesting option comes to them — something always does.

2. Find a new rhythm during the day. If you live where summers are hot, the sun’s pattern may shape your daily rhythm. Spend time outdoors in the morning and late afternoon. During the middle of the day when the temperature is at its peak, do restful activities in the shade or the cool indoors. Evening can be a lovely time for a daily family walk.

3. Let your children follow their own bodies’ individual patterns for sleeping, waking, being active, or resting. Encourage them to listen to how they feel after a late night or an early morning. Challenge them to figure out their own most comfortable daily rhythm and follow it during the summer months, even if the schedule will be less flexible come September.

Photo Credit: Bolyard Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Bolyard Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

4. Balance outings with unstructured time at home. During the summer, day camps and other activities can have a big impact on the shape of your days. If your family is extra busy, be sure to make room in your schedule for regular unscheduled time at home as well. If you’re usually at home without much structure, consider designating one or two regular days each week for outings.

5. Lean on the village. Connect with other compatible families and plan regular playdates where one parent gets a break while the other supervises children from both (or multiple) families.

6. Make regular time to play together as a family. Plan a set time in your day or week when everyone sets aside work responsibilities and obligations, and do something fun that you can agree on. If agreement is hard to come by, take turns choosing a family activity. Make a habit of being present with each other without distractions or multitasking.

7. Set things up so everyone in the family can be as independent as possible with meals and snacks. It’s nice to have one meal a day together as a family, but perhaps breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks can be a help-yourself venture. If your children are capable in the kitchen, ask them to regularly take a turn making dinner for the family during the summer. Or make dinner prep a family project once in awhile so the primary cook isn’t doing it all alone.

8. Keep bags or bins of interesting things handy for children to play with and explore. Stock up on puzzles of different kinds; Mad Libs, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku books; and interesting materials for experiments and crafts. Check the public library to find out if they have a “busy box” collection to lend out. Save these items and pull them out as a last resort when you need a few quiet moments to yourself.

9. Gather plenty of basic craft supplies, and set up an area in your home or yard for artistic exploration where children can be as independent as possible and clean-up is relatively easy. For craft ideas, visit our Pinterest boards.

Photo Credit: Joy Cranker (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Joy Cranker
(Oak Meadow Archives)

10. Take midweek field trips! Enjoy local museums, historical sites, libraries, parks, hiking trails, and beaches. Go on a weekday morning when crowds are most manageable. Your local library may have free or discount passes that families can borrow.

11. Give your children extra responsibilities – and extra benefits, too. A child who is around more can help out more. Use this opportunity to help them learn how to do useful, routine tasks around the house. Those who prove capable of cleaning up the kitchen might be allowed to experiment on their own with new recipes or culinary inventions. Turn wood-stacking into a fun race, and end with a bonfire when the stacking is all done. Have the kids speed-clean the common areas of the house before sitting down to watch a family movie. Make a post-lawnmowing swim a routine perk of the job. Give your children the opportunity to feel useful, develop skills, and then celebrate a task well done.

12. Limit screen time. Send your kids outside to play creatively in nature every day if you can. If they’re reluctant or it feels challenging to you, read this article for some ideas on how to get kids outdoors.

13. Take breaks from each other. Adults and caregivers need time “off the clock” where they can turn off their parental radar and recharge. Children benefit from relationships with different adults. If your child’s needs do not allow for separation, invite other adults to come and share the load.

Photo Credit: Kara Maynard (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo Credit: Kara Maynard
(Oak Meadow Archives)

14. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of opportunities to connect throughout the day. Those moments may happen unexpectedly, so be on the lookout and make the most of them. If your children are more independent, putter around the house or yard occasionally just to find and say hello to them. If they are at an age where they want to be with you every moment, give in to their need and keep them close. September will be here all too quickly, and these moments do not last forever (even if it sometimes feels that way).

Happy summer!

What other suggestions can you add for an enjoyable summer at home with children?

Setting Up Your Homeschool Space

Many new homeschoolers wonder how best to set up their at-home learning space. The possibilities can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips as you envision and establish a practical spot in your home where homeschooling can be comfortable and productive.

Photo credit: The Marino Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Marino Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep an open mind. Your homeschooling area doesn’t need to look like a classroom! You will need a work area with a flat surface, comfortable seating, good lighting, and space for storage. Ideally it should be located near wherever the parent or home teacher will be so that they can be available for questions when they are not directly involved in the student’s work. In larger homes, there might be an entire room dedicated to homeschooling. In a smaller home or apartment, the homeschooling space might be a tabletop in the kitchen or dining room.

If possible, dedicate a table or large desk where work can be spread out, left undisturbed, and returned to as needed. If the work surface must meet more than one family need, consider using a table that is only used occasionally or for just one other purpose. With a shared surface, make it a priority to always keep it clean and uncluttered, and develop a family habit to clean up thoroughly between uses.

Make sure your workspace is comfortable. Choose a chair that you don’t mind sitting in for a long period of time. Uncomfortable seats make for fidgety students – and parents! Make sure you have enough space and comfortable seating for each student as well as the adult(s) who will be helping them. Consider seating for additional collaborators, too.

Your home learning space will need good lighting. Can you position it near a window? Natural lighting is ideal, supplemented with general lighting and focused task lighting. If your homeschool work surface doubles as a dining table, consider bringing a desk lamp to the table for homeschool use and moving it off the table and out of the way at mealtime.

Locate shelves and organizational units nearby so that materials can be kept easily at hand. You’ll want some combination of shelves, drawers, and other storage options to keep supplies organized. You will also need a place to store curriculum, reference books, and library books. An inbox and outbox or a set of dividers can be helpful for sorting work in progress. Lesson books, desk supplies, art supplies, science tools, math manipulatives, and other materials also need storage space.

If there are small children or younger siblings in the home, try locking storage tubs and/or high shelves for anything that is not safe for little fingers. Label everything! (Use symbols or pictures for those who aren’t fluent readers.) Lower shelves can be stocked with “help yourself” materials that can be used by all ages without supervision.

Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: Lindsey Obliskey
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Place a trash container and a recycling bin near the workspace to simplify cleanup. A washable plastic tablecloth can be helpful in quickly transforming an academic workspace into an arts-and-crafts space and back again. If budget allows, a prep sink can be a helpful addition for messy experiments and art cleanup.

A single centrally located work space will be enough to meet the needs of most younger homeschoolers. Older students will need an area that is quiet and free from distractions. In families with siblings, this might be need to be a separate space where students can go to study and work on projects that do not require adult support.

It can also be very helpful to have a comfortable reading nook somewhere in the house where children can relax as they read or study. In families with multiple homeschoolers, some will need to get away from the center of things to recharge, and a designated out-of-the-way corner will help to fill that need.

Aesthetics are also very important to consider when preparing your homeschooling space. Are the colors pleasing to those who will be using the room most? If you have the option of repainting the walls, choose a restful, peaceful color such as pale green, light blue, or muted lavender. You might find it useful to paint part of one wall with chalkboard paint.

Peace and quiet may be a very important priority for a distractible student or parent. If designating a completely distraction-free area is impossible, consider protecting the “sound space” by limiting loud activities during certain times of the day, asking other family members to use headphones if listening to audio devices, or providing earplugs for those who might need them.

Create a visible homemade art gallery to display current academic work and artistic creations. If possible, choose a wall that is not directly in the learning space, to keep the learning area simple and uncluttered. You might use a large bulletin board or a series of cork wall tiles to define your gallery, or simply choose a wall to decorate and let it declare itself!

Photo credit: The Park Family (Oak Meadow Archives)
Photo credit: The Park Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Keep your homeschooling workspace as free of clutter as possible. If clutter is unavoidable, find ways to trick the eye by hiding it in baskets, wooden crates, or cabinets, behind doors or curtains, or beyond a folding screen. A fabric “skirt” around a side table can hide many things while storing them nearby until they are needed.

Don’t forget to consider the spaces that are available outdoors! Perhaps there is a porch, gazebo, patio, or garden table that could be used in warm weather. Some of the same principles apply to outdoor learning spaces: comfortable furniture, shelter from the bright sun, and a flat space to work on. A large, flat board can be used as a workspace on grass or inside a tent. A hammock can be the perfect cozy spot for reading and studying. A large basket can be used to store materials and carry them to/from the house. Older homeschoolers might expand their horizons and study at the park, the library, or a local cafe.

As you consider how to set up your homeschooling space, ask the student who will be using it what they would find most helpful. Be flexible and allow your learning setup to evolve as you discover what works best. Reassess your space periodically, and make changes and improvements with the input of those who use it most.

Is writing neatly a challenge? Perhaps the desk or chair aren’t the right height, or the writing space is too cramped to support the forearm. Does your student have trouble staying on task? Perhaps decluttering the walls and space and creating a more distraction-free zone will help. Do library books keep getting lost? Make sure to have a handy basket next to the reading area so that all books are returned to one place.

Above all, don’t worry if you don’t have the perfect space! Let your heart, creativity, and experience guide you. Homeschooling, like life, is a work in progress.

How is your homeschool space set up? What do you wish you had done differently from the start? What helpful tips do you have for someone who would like to make better use of their homeschool space? 

Adjusting to Homeschooling Mid-Year

Making the decision to switch gears and begin homeschooling partway through the school year takes courage and faith. Whatever you were doing before wasn’t working, and whatever you are beginning hasn’t had time to feel routine yet. Here are ten suggestions to ease the way, whether you’re homeschooling independently or enrolling in Oak Meadow’s distance-learning program:

  1. Different philosophy; different approach. Students who have been in school have likely become accustomed to an institutional approach where work is prescribed to the class as a whole and the teacher’s attention is divided among many students. Shifting to a creative thinking approach can be challenging for a student who just spent last semester trying very hard to figure out how to succeed in an institutional setting. In contrast, Oak Meadow’s approach is flexible and creative, and homeschooling can often allow for one-on-one support between parent and child. Switching gears to this degree is quite an adjustment and might bring stress or frustration. Be understanding and acknowledge those differences as needed.
  1. Commit to riding out the transition. There is a progression in learning as your child adjusts, but it may take a few weeks or more to be able to look back and clearly see the progression. Don’t expect to see results right away. Trust the process and really commit fully to seeing it through for six weeks or so before you assess whether it is working for your child. Learning really does take place, even if it might not feel that way in the moment, and a few weeks’ perspective can make all the difference in understanding.

    Photo credit: Cindie Young (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Cindie Young
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Go easy on yourself and your child. You’ve just left behind an educational environment that wasn’t working for some reason, and now you’ve switched to an entirely different approach. During this adjustment phase, don’t get too caught up in whether every single item was done properly in each lesson. What’s the main concept or what are the key skills being addressed? What is most important for your child to grasp before moving on to the next lesson? Make that your focus, and give everyone points for effort as you navigate this new way of learning. Students beginning mid-year may need to go back to previous lessons if they aren’t understanding something in the current lesson.
  1. Consider downshifting or deschooling. Your child might need to ease into the new model slowly, and some children, particularly those who experienced trauma in their previous school experience, will benefit from a period of “deschooling.” This can be like an extended vacation from school, with plenty of nourishing rest, time to daydream, healthy activities of the child’s choosing, and supported emotional processing. It can be very helpful for some students to have a buffer like this between leaving their old school and beginning homeschooling. Often they will let you know when they are ready to jump back in again.

    Photo credit: Kim Bessent (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Kim Bessent
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Keep good boundaries with those in your life who resist the idea of homeschooling. Even well-meaning loved ones can undermine confidence by demanding evidence or reassurance that your new educational plan is “working.” It is fine to say things are going well without elaborating. Let your child know that you will be keeping his or her educational details private. This allows your child to relax and focus on learning without worrying about what the relatives or neighbors might be thinking.
  1. Structure and support are key. Set up a solid daily and weekly routine as a starting point. You may need to adjust it many times, but begin with a strong plan. It is easy to get sidetracked, so do your best to stick to the plan. Set aside focused time each day for academic work. Find a good place to work with your child where you can both be comfortable. If you are feeling overwhelmed, consider consulting with one of Oak Meadow’s experienced teachers, enrolling in our distance-learning program, using a tutor, or asking an experienced friend for help.
  1. Be resourceful and independent. Reach out to others. Make friends with your local librarian; it’s a great way to find out what resources are available and connect with other homeschooling families or groups in the area. Explore online resources. Oak Meadow’s social media offerings are a good place to start. Our Pinterest boards offer many inspiring hands-on ideas, and Facebook is a great place to connect with other homeschooling parents and find validation for this journey. There are many online groups for homeschooling parents. Seek support from like-minded people wherever you find it.

    Photo credit: Brenda Massei (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Brenda Massei
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Go outside! Oak Meadow’s organic approach to learning encourages families to learn out in the world. This means spending plenty of time outside in nature and interacting with others in your local neighborhood or community. Fresh air and the soothing sights and sounds of nature are a good antidote for stress of any kind, including the positive stress of the important transition from school to homeschool. Schools tend to be very social places, and you will want to be mindful of how your child’s needs for social interaction are met while homeschooling. You might find this benefits you as well as your child.
  1. Be patient. It takes a few weeks or more to settle in. It will be a little while before you get your bearings and find a good rhythm for your homeschooling days and weeks. Don’t panic! It’s okay if things aren’t perfect. There is a lot to be learned from trial and error. Have fun with the process!

    Photo credit: Ruby Enge (Oak Meadow Archives)
    Photo credit: Ruby Enge
    (Oak Meadow Archives)
  1. Trust yourself. Remember that you are the expert on your own child. The decision to begin homeschooling was made in response to something your child or family needed enough to warrant such a significant change. Why did you choose homeschooling? Remind yourself of these reasons often. Continue to nurture your connection with your child, especially during this vulnerable time when he or she is weathering such a big transition. And remember to take good care of yourself as you adapt to your role as home teacher.

Do you have experience with switching to homeschooling mid-year? What was your experience like? What insights and suggestions would have been most helpful to hear during that time? If you’re going through it right now, what do you most want to know? Please comment with your thoughts so that others might benefit!