The questions have started coming. The Trader Joe's cashier. Extended family members. The dental hygenist (while she was cleaning my teeth.) People are curious when they see a five-year-old out on a Tuesday morning or when they hear I'm about to have four kids and they're unsure how my children's education will work out logistically. They've heard the homeschool horror stories of neglected kids or overly-sheltered kids, or the unbelievable success stories of families who sent six kids to college before the age of 12. But what does homeschooling for normal people look like?
Different for everybody! As for me, a super-disorganized ENFP with imaginative, strong-willed children who like to think abstractly? At the preschool and kindergarten level, I take a 95% "unschooling"/"carschooling"/"lifeschooling" approach. I see all of life as education. We do a ton of field trips, we involve our kids in as much real-life stuff as we can, and we strongly encourage question-asking. I've checked the "things my preschooler/kindergartener is supposed to know" lists and, aside from some reading-skill expectations that I find unhelpful for 5-year-olds anyway, my kids can do anything they're supposed to be able to do in school...and it's not even possible to calculate everything else they're learning from playing in dirt and starting their own business and reading all our books and simply living real life.
The other 5%, our formal homeschool time, is what I want to share here. If you feel like homeschooling is impossible for you, come to my house and see what a mess I am, and you might be convinced that you can make it work for you too. We don't use desks and we almost never use worksheets. I generally don't do any prep beforehand. Doable is more important to me right now than desirable. I might want to do a lot more for my homeschool, but what's most important is what we actually end up accomplishing with consistency!
I try to initiate formal homeschool four times a week. It takes about an hour. I've bought, researched, and even made my own curricula, but I've found an eclectic approach to be much more effective for our family.
I included links and prices for everything because homeschooling doesn't have to break the bank, but I didn't use affiliate links because I want you all to know my recommendations are genuine!
Now let's talk about the subjects!
I let my three-year-old ring a service bell to start school. Then I set up the one-year-old with some Legos and we jump into their least favorite subject to get it out of the way!
My son and I suffered through about 40 lessons into the top recommended teach-your-child-to-read book, but it made him hate reading. My main goal is for him to love reading, not for him to be able to read by a certain age. So reading books together is really the best thing I can do for him. But in our formal homeschool time, we typically use My First Banagrams tiles ($15.) My three-year-old's job is to find the letters I ask of her (I often let her pick which word we're trying to spell.) I then give my five-year-old a word, and his job is to sound it out slowly and figure out what letters he needs. Then I'll switch out individual letters (pool/cool/tool/fool/drool) and he learns how to read them.
To help their handwriting, occasionally I'll get a sheet of paper and use a highlighter to write the words I want them to practice. They can trace over my words with their pens before they try them on their own. I've been amazed at how well they can do this after we take long breaks from practicing. Ditching the books to develop fine motor skills in other ways (like playing in dirt or doing art) is surprisingly helpful!
The one-year-old usually ends up wandering around the house, so I just try to make sure the doors are closed. Homeschool always goes best when the littlest is napping, but that only happens if I'm willing to sacrifice my midday alone-time. I'm usually not ;)
Next is the kids' favorite subject: American sign language! I taught myself some sign language and spent consistent time in the deaf community for a couple years when I was single, so I have a bit of an advantage in passing along the signs to my little people. But ASL is so easy because most of the signs make sense, so really anyone can do this.
I use signing primer cards I found at a yard sale ($5.90 on B&N.) The kids learn three new signs a day and we review about twenty. The kids absolutely love it. Every few days I ditch the cards and the kids and I work on sign language to a song. They struggle a little bit with getting their tiny fingers to cooperate, but they amaze me with their focus, recollection, and accuracy. We'll figure out grammar at some point (and hopefully we can make some deaf friends!) but till then we can build, build, build our vocab!
When I was in school I knew how to test well and get good grades, but science is one of those subjects that I never really understood. The textbooks just didn't click with me. As an adult, sitting on the dirt outside or listening to my husband describe his mechanical endeavors---seeing science actually happen---is the most beneficial way to learn. However, we need to learn from books too, so I've found Usborne books to be extremely helpful. Unfortunately, they're expensive ($12-15 each), but I consider them quite a worthy investment and I've been able to find many of the books used and cheap on ThriftBooks. The information is presented clearly, accessibly, and beautifully, with helpful diagrams and lift-the-flaps and all kinds of ways to interact with the material. And remember, these are not textbooks that are thrown away after one child uses them; we reuse these books again and again for many different ages.
Doing experiments is, of course, hugely helpful in teaching your kids about science. Pinterest is an overwhelming resource for that. But I prefer experiments that add no extra stress or cleanup to my day; when explaining the digestive system, I can feed them corn and we can discuss the path it takes through their body, then watch how long it takes to, you know, digest it. When discussing chemical and physical change, we can make cookies. When studying insect biology, we can grab our magnifying glass and look at a bug.
But for the book-reading, we just pick a topic that interests us and read as much about it as we can for awhile.
We use an abacus ($11) primarily. I take turns with the kids asking them math equations, and they move the beads to solve them. I can ask my 5-year-old, "What's eight divided by two?" and in an instant he can figure out for himself why the answer is "four." It works great for their ages.
This is my favorite subject, and the kids really love it too. I bought the Tapestry of Grace primer curriculum a couple years ago (it's about $100 for the curriculum itself---most of it is reusable for multiple kids---and it took $200+ more to buy all the books they recommend; most of them were used from Thriftbooks. You can get most of them for free from the library, but I like to be able to access them all the time. The kids often choose a book about Abraham Lincoln or ancient Egyptians for their bedtime story!)
Though Tapestry of Grace curriculum was great, my diligence was not, so I ended up shedding most of the prep work and just reading the recommended books...and more. We read non-fiction and historical fiction, encyclopedias, atlases, and picture books. Building our family library is one of the best investments we could make, especially since these books are not for particular grade levels but to be benefited from by everyone. They're diverse in content, length, artwork, and format, and we can always expand our topical database temporarily through the library.
So we just walk through world history and geography and soak up as much information as we can. A couple years ago my son pointed to somewhere random on the globe and said "What wars happened here?" and that taught me so much about capitalizing on curiosity! (I also need to learn these things for myself so I can teach them, ha!)
(This is separate from family devotions or scripture memory time; I can talk about that in another post.)
I like to finish the homeschool session by opening up a Bible storying cloth ($10) that I bought a decade ago from the International Mission Board. Missionaries sometimes use storying cloths to teach the Bible, especially to illiterate people, so it's extremely helpful for children. From Genesis to Revelation, simple pictures offer us glimpses into the story of God. I give each of the kids a turn to choose a picture and tell me the story that happened there. My 5-year-old, ever a theologian, likes to add his own commentary and ask his sister follow-up questions (which she doesn't exactly appreciate.) I then let them choose a picture story for me to tell them, and I try to tell them every detail I can remember along with some commentary on how that story points to Jesus and how it affects us today.
This is really great for their listening skills and teaching skills. When they share the story, they're learning to be more effective communicators.
And that's it for our formal time! Outside of our designated "homeschool time", we do art (SO much art), read a lot of books, develop life skills as they help me with my tasks or observe my husband, play outside, etc. It's messy and frustrating and I oftentimes have to take a break in the middle of school to discipline a child or just because something else comes up...but that's okay! Real life is messy and imperfect and God gives grace upon grace upon grace.
So that's how we do homeschool, for now. I'm sure more formal time and bookwork will come as my kids get older, but for now it's as interactive and extremely easy for me to implement :)
You've probably been there: everyone in your small group is sharing prayer requests and they're all going through heavy stuff, but you don't know what to say because you had a really good week. You've certainly had hard times before, but right now things are actually going quite well. You are heartbroken for your friends, so you feel almost guilty for not suffering. Historically, Christians have endured lots of suffering---Jesus being the prime example---so you might feel like maybe you're doing something wrong if you're feeling pretty good.
Several friends have expressed feeling this way lately, and I've felt this way too, so I want to offer a few quick points of encouragement if this is you.
1) It's not helpful to compare suffering.
Comparison in general is not a beneficial way to think, because you'll always find someone doing better than you and you'll always find someone doing worse than you. Don't feel guilty that you're sad about your stressful job when your friend has been unemployed for a year. Don't condemn yourself for crying about not getting pregnant after four months just because you know people who have been trying to get pregnant for four years. God cares about both trials, He meets both of you wherever you are, and He makes joy available to both of you. Suffering shouldn't be isolating, but our natural bent is to make it that way. Though we must be sensitive to our sisters in pain, drifting away from friendships is usually not what suffering people need. We should be pursuing unity and closeness all the more!
2) God gives seasons.
It's good for our hearts to revisit Ecclesiastes 3 regularly.
There is a time to break down, and a time to build up.
A time to tear, and a time to sew.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
Sometimes your life will feel like everything is being broken down and torn. If you haven't experienced that yet, it's only because you haven't lived long enough. Sin has ravaged this once-beautiful world so pervasively that you will surely feel the effects of it at some point.
However, "weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning" (Psalm 30:5.) You will most likely also experience times in your life when God restores you on some level and you can feel like you have some stability again. If you're reading this, you are probably in that condition right now. Receive it as a gift from Him and don't waste it (more on that in a second.) God writes the perfect prescriptions every single time.
3) Right now you are freed up to bear the burdens of others.
When your own difficulties are beating you down, it's possible to still care for others in your pain, like when Jesus was literally on the cross but He made sure His mother would be taken care of. But when you aren't experiencing much pain yourself, your heart has so much more capacity for compassion. When your free time is not spent weeping and enduring, you are free to encourage, to give little gifts, to make meals, to listen to friends cry on the phone, to serve. When you have fewer troubles on your plate, there's room for scooping some on from others. When a friend or acquaintance shares awful news with you, you have the emotional bandwidth to process it and genuinely be sad with them. You also might have the clarity of mind to see past the pain and offer hope when it's needed. That is a huge privilege, and eventually you will really need someone to be there for you in the same way.
Don't assume that you will drift into bearing the burdens of others. Our drift is always toward selfishness. But if you want a rich and meaningful life, you will follow Jesus onto the self-sacrificing path of love.
4) Right now you can prepare your heart and mind for rougher times.
When the waters are calm, you can get ready for the storms. In between battles, there's a time to rest and recover, but there's also a time to sharpen your weapons and practice your archery. Cliche metaphors aside, take this time seriously to fill your mind with truth. Store up God's Word in your heart. While you can still think clearly, etch onto your heart things that you'll need to know when you're in the middle of a fog or a panic attack. My friend's grandma has Alzheimer's, and it's amazing that she can't remember my name and she'll probably forget what I told her thirty seconds ago, but she can remind me of "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Years and years of knowing Jesus and memorizing His Word have stuck with her even when almost nothing else has.
There's no way you can know exactly what you'll need in the future, but God's Word is quite sufficient. Study every part of the Bible so you can be swept away by God's character again and again and become ever more deeply convinced of Christ's love for you. You need truth now, but you'll also need it later.
Whether you're going through something really hard or you're struggling emotionally but you're not sure why or your heart just feels really happy and light, God sees and He knows. The numerous examples in the Bible of weak people in all kinds of weird situations should testify to God's all-encompassing grace that meets us wherever we are. Take heart, friend, and don't waste this season :)
I would love to put my kids in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but for several reasons (time commitments being the primary one) I don't see those being viable options for our family anytime soon. So, well, I made my own program and badges.
I haven't thought of a good name yet, but I made a handbook that lays the groundwork for earning ten badges, and it's been so cool to see my kids get excited about learning new skills. (By "kids" I mean mostly only my 5-year-old son, but I'm hoping my daughters show interest soon!)
I sorted the badges into four categories: Compassion & Mercy, Caring For My Soul, Mental Knowledge, and Physical Abilities. This way they will hopefully become well-rounded and find meaning in all their pursuits.
I took a couple hours one night while talking to a friend and drew some simple images with puffy paint onto an old white shirt. I then cut them out and hot glued them to felt. Then (classy seamstress that I am) I hot-glue the badges onto a sweater vest I bought my kids from Target. We're talking extremely minimal investment of time and money here, folks.
Some state parks offer badges for $1.25, so if my kids conquer the trails there I let them earn those legit badges as well. (Again, it'd be great if I sewed or ironed them on, but I use hot glue. We're just not going to wash this vest too many times, ha!)
Below are some of the guidebook pages:
It was really cool to see my son grow a garden and eat food from it. That whole process took a couple months, but he was so excited about that first tomato he ate because he knew I would give him a badge for it. Many of the badges are easier to learn; for example, he made a 4-course meal for my mother-in-law (which included a peanut butter-and-animal-cracker-sandwich with peanuts on the side, ha!) and composed a song. I keep adding more badges as he earns more, and I'll make a Guidebook Vol. 2 when I find the time. He loves looking through it and figuring out what he's going to do to earn more badges.
So anyway, if you want to do this yourself, feel free. Here's the PDF for the guidebook I made, but you can make your own really easily.
Click here to download the PDF.
Have fun with it! The more ceremonious you are with "meetings" and badge-earning, the more your kids are likely to get into it :)
My first post on this website was from September 21, 2012. I've written regularly since then, but the site still only gets about thirteen hits a day. As far as "platform" and growth and blah blah blah, that's a tad pathetic.
Each article takes me at least 2-3+ hours to write and edit, and it requires a lot more time than that to ponder, research, and develop my ideas. I try to write the most thoughtful, articulate, and honest pieces I can muster without ignoring my other responsibilities too much. Various articles on the internet make it sound like generating traffic to your blog and growing your platform is easy, and a couple times I even entertained hope that I could monetize this site enough to justify hiring a cleaning lady. However, I haven't made a penny, and Recovering Womanhood is still a completely unknown entity as far as the blogosphere is concerned. As a result, I often wonder if all this work is even worth it if only a couple people who agree with me anyway are the only eyes that will really see it.
But lately something surprising has happened in my heart.
I've been filled with so much gratefulness for how unsuccessful this blog is.
I'm really not being sarcastic.
Here's the reason: I'm believing more and more in God's sovereignty.
I believe that He is in control of my skills, my ideas, and my schedule. Every single well-crafted sentence (if there are any) is a result of His sovereign orchestration. Every time I can't put my words together (which happens far more often than I can) He is sovereign over that too. Every time I write a post, He is completely sovereign over who will see it, who will read it, who will share it, and who will be impacted by it. If my articles haven't been picked up by any influential bloggers, God has good reason for that...even if He's choosing not to prosper my blog simply because I'm not yet creating content that is good enough to reach a wider audience.
Yes, God grants good writing through the means of hard work (in particular, reading and writing!), but it's all from Him. Yes, readers come to websites through the means of SEO or clever titles or whatnot, but it's from Him. So I trust Him with what He's given me (and what He hasn't.)
Even though I dream of it, the reality is I'm not being asked to travel around giving talks on femininity or theology. God knows that wouldn't be good for me (at least right now.) My first ministry is to my family, my church, and my neighbors, and at this point if I was given an opportunity with a broader audience, my other priorities would suffer. I really believe I'm at the peak of my career right now with this motherhood thing, and I'm really grateful I get to devote my 20's and 30's to teaching four young people about Jesus, day and night. That's not to say He won't give me different opportunities at different times, but for now I'm seeing that I can try the hardest I can with what He has given me, and I can trust Him with the fruitfulness in that.
I recently heard Francis Chan share that after spending some time living in Asia, his biggest takeaway was this: the most important Christian leaders were the most hidden. For security reasons, those who had the biggest shaping influence in the church had to conceal their identities. This is so opposite of how we view the church and platform today. But it also seems consistent with all Jesus said about being "last of all and servant of all" and what John 3:29 says about rejoicing in people following Jesus instead of people following me.
So, well, here we go. I've poured hours and hours and hours into this website over the past five years, and I don't have anything tangible to show for it, but I'm totally fine with that. Writing helps me process all that God is showing me, and if others benefit from what I'm learning, praise God! But if I write for the rest of my life and there's never any tangible reward for my writing, that's fine too. I think humility is the best attribute for which I could strive, and having a mostly-unread blog makes it a lot easier to meet that goal.
I think this is the same reason God didn't give me blue eyes or the ability to sing...I would be totally prideful if I had either! But I know people with both of those attributes who manage to be quite humble indeed. Different people have different needs, and the Great Physician writes the perfect prescriptions every time!
So, for now, I'll keep writing on this website. I want to keep finding my voice as a writer and I hope to always be learning how to create better content using words more beautifully. So feel free to stick around and let me know what you want to hear about and how I can improve as a writer...or just as a person. I'm obviously in the midst of trying to figure out how to be a woman, a wife, a mom, a daughter, a church member, a neighbor, and, well, a human being. This "quest" is why I started this website in the first place.
And as for those who do read here regularly and give me feedback---I'm looking at you Mom, Joyce, April, Rachel, Lauren, Sarah, Mrs. Viana, Jessi, Mrs. Wallace, and others---thank you so much for your faithful love and encouragement. And Becca, my sister from the opposite side of the country who found my blog somehow and occasionally sends me sweet emails, thanks for telling me to keep writing, and I hope we get to be friends in real life someday (we've got all of eternity!)
Love you all!
Imagine with me, if you will, this scenario:
It's May of 2012. You've been married for a year, and a month ago you had a baby...an extremely fussy baby. You just turned twenty, and most of your friends are finishing up their second year of college. You are involved in your church as much as you can be, but college group starts at 9:15 pm and your baby does not like staying up late. No one in your college group has kids, none of your close friends are married.
You visit the "Young Married Couples" group at church---and they're so kind and welcoming---but you soon notice that every person in the room is probably ten years older than you and they are way more mature. They share recipes and know how to cook. You just learned how to make scrambled eggs a few months ago. Their husbands have their own interns and employees. Your husband makes about $11 an hour.
You're a clueless, sleep-deprived zombie, and it doesn't take long to realize that you don't know anyone whose life resembles yours.
You're an extrovert, former homecoming queen, and acquaintance to many, but you are having a lot of trouble finding friends.
You don't just feel alone in your life stage; you are alone.
That sounds like a super-sad story, and in a moment I'll tell you why it's not, but first let me add that I'm still alone in my life stage. People my age are starting to get married and maybe have their first child, but I'm in my seventh year of marriage and trying to navigate how I'll parent (and homeschool) four kids. I have other mom-friends, but the age/maturity gap is real (I'm on the immature end of the spectrum, obviously.) My life isn't harder than anyone else's---it's just different. That can feel isolating at times.
But this feeling of isolation that I began experiencing several years ago is one of the best things that could've happened to me, because I learned that life stage matters so little.
Later in 2012 when we joined a different church, I still didn't know any 20-year-olds with kids. But in the community groups I realized something beautiful: "life stage" isn't everything. We all have different stories. The people I rubbed shoulders with were empty-nesters, unmarrieds, and 30-somethings with multiple kids. A year later I found two of my closest friends to be a single, new-to-Christianity Apple employee and a recently-widowed woman whose kids are my age or older. Our day-to-day struggles? Completely different. But our hope and joy? Absolutely the same.
We couldn't spend all our time talking about our babies' sleep schedules and favorite toys, because we didn't have those things in common. We cared about each other's day-to-day, and we talked about it, but it wasn't the main dish. Whatever Jesus was doing in our hearts was. Issues of the heart aren't quite so circumstantial. Neither is the gift of laughing together, which my friends and I do a lot. (Plus, my friends who don't have kids have more flexible schedules and free hands to help me with my kids! Major perk!)
The more I talk to people, the more I realize that most people feel alone in their life stage. Working moms feel like everyone else is a stay-at-home mom; homeschool moms think the majority have chosen public school. Single women feel like everyone else is married; married women feel like no one could relate to their marital issues. Women struggling with infertility feel like everyone else has babies effortlessly; mothers of large families feel like no one can empathize with their insane schedule. Younger women feel like everyone's older; older women feel like everyone's younger.
We're all in the same boat of feeling alone...so we're not really alone at all.
When you do find a group of people who are all in the same life stage, it's difficult not to sense a sort of stagnancy. The comfort level is so fiercely protected that it's uncomfortable! There's nobody ahead of you who can offer you wisdom, nobody behind you that is benefiting from your wisdom. There's nobody different than you who can point out flaws in your perspective that you never would've noticed. You're trying to find solutions by talking to people who have a couple months more experience than you do! And who is to say that the problems that feel so important to you are truly the most important?
I'm not saying all Moms Groups are evil or that you're stuck in a stagnant quagmire if you're a single person who hangs out with other single people. I'm super grateful for my other mom-friends and my 25-year-old friends, and it's important to talk about those matters such as homeschooling or millennial issues sometimes. But even moreso, there is a richness about forcing yourself to find deep grounds for unity.
If you hate small talk, put yourself in situations where small talk doesn't work. Lack of relatability can be fertile soil for the most meaningful connections. You don't have to understand everything your friend is going through to understand her. To know and to be known are some of the most basic human needs, and they can be met in the most unlikely places.
So, friend, if you feel alone in your life stage, remember that 1) most people feel alone in their life stage, 2) your life stage is not your identity, and 3) rich friendships are to be found when they are deeply rooted.
Take heart, lonely friend, and seek out friends who can talk with you about the things that matter. Your feelings of isolation might be what propel you towards the best relationships of your life.
That said, if anyone out there is also 25 with four kids, I would really like to meet you, and I would love to know if you are as irresponsible with keeping your house clean as I am :)
Well, the most feared superstorm Florida has encountered in the past century, maybe ever, has passed us. The storm that was aimed directly for our city. The storm that our mayor said was going to "punch [us] in the face."
Then all of a sudden a hurricane that was expected to be category three or four turned into category one. Even then, what hit us was more like a tropical storm. Some leaves and twigs fell around our house, but our friends down the street never even lost electricity. The meteorologists were wrong, the models were wrong, everyone was wrong. We were almost promised it would be catastrophic, but Irma took such an odd and unexpected path that the damage to our state was by no means the worst we’ve ever seen.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said we were “very, very lucky” but I think that is a cheap explanation for the phenomenon that happened. Nobody was offering real hope before the storm hit, and nobody can offer a real explanation for why the hit was so gentle. You can’t maintain a naturalistic mindset when you’re looking at events like this. What happened was God had mercy.
We don’t like feeling like we need "mercy," but this storm has reminded me how much we do. Yesterday, the six families from our church who were “hunkering down” in Riverview (four of them evacuees from Tampa) gathered to sing, pray, and read scripture. It was so sweet and much-needed. The surprising thing that happened in my heart was I felt the weight of my sin. The reality is, I deserve to be destroyed. We all do. The Creator has shown us so much love and kindness, offering Himself to us, and we go our own way.
We think we know best, we think we’re the ones who get to call the shots, but we are frail. We need food, we need sleep, we get old, we die. Whether we are rich or poor, young or old, our natural bent is to place ourselves on our puny little thrones and declare “There is no need for the God who made me. I do things how I see best.” If you don’t believe me, try parenting little kids. Your one-year-old, no matter how adorable, will be able to convince you right away that his or her tendency is to do the wrong thing.
What we deserve for a lifetime of flailing against our Maker is destruction. Destruction forever. Destruction way worse than a hurricane superstorm. The doctrine of hell is difficult to accept because we love to overestimate our goodness and underestimate God’s holiness, but we can’t ignore it. This God of great power and perfection cannot call a bad thing good. We don’t want Him to! We would never dare to dismiss the evil of ISIS—or of greedy businesspeople—but if we care about being consistent, we can’t dismiss the evil in our own hearts either. There must be destruction.
But praise God that He became man and was destroyed for us. The pain of crucifixion was minimal compared to the spiritual punishment poured out on Jesus. The wickedness of all those who would believe in Him was reckoned with once and for all. Being flooded in a storm is nothing compared to what Jesus endured. We did nothing to deserve it, but we were spared. God had mercy.
And we certainly didn’t expect to be spared by hurricane Irma, but we were. I’m grateful. God had mercy.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today