This Spring marks 14 years since I felt the soul-stirring to bring my oldest home from a transitional kindergarten into learning at home. My homeschool journey has not been a neat and tidy trip down an educational highway, but more like a spontaneous trip out West without a map or money on back roads in a beat-up VW bus. I have no perfect, prescribed plan to offer.
There are however some ideas I have learned along the way that have helped, guided, and shaped me and my children. Some of them I live unconsciously and don’t even know how to put into words, but many are ever before me, like gentle guideposts along this bumpy learning adventure. These thoughts apply to mothers whether they home educate or not.
Children are born persons. I read this thought so many years ago and it is what I always come back to. Children deserve respect and dignity, made in the image of God. When we view them as persons, we know that they have their own personalities, ideas, and ways of seeing the world, and as a mother, we get curious and seek to understand them. We humble ourselves to serve these valuable souls. We don’t treat or educate all of our children in the same way with identical methods because each child is unique. My oldest son needed a different path of education than my oldest daughter did. My second and third son have totally different personalities, interests, and styles of learning. It is my job to take notes, listen, and find the ways of learning that will connect with each. I stumble through this but I try, try again. Never try to fit a child into a philosophy of education that suits you but not them. Serve the child, not an ideal.
Wear out your library card. Keep lots of books around. In baskets in the living room and bedrooms. Download audiobooks regularly. Buy used books. Keep a bucket of books in the car. Read aloud. Read alone. Ask friends for recommendations. Be in a Book Club. Read challenging books, differing viewpoints, a variety of genres. Create a reading and listening culture. A child can learn anything they need to through a great book.
Get outside. Fresh air, walks, nature study, riding bikes, camping, hiking, botanical gardens, the beach, parks, new cities, lakes, rivers. Cultivate a connection and appreciation of God’s splendor with a regular diet of sunshine and exploration. All of my kids love being outside and live their best lives when unplugged and breathing deep. Create a home culture that values creation, that cares for it, and finds God there. Healing happens there. Art and writing and thoughts take shape. Curiosity and questions come to the surface. Awe is inspired.
Add beauty. The center of a home education is home. Home is where we spend our time. It is here that we have chosen to learn, to eat, to make art, to listen, to read, to connect, to rest. Adding beauty to the dailiness nourishes our hearts, minds, and souls. It delights us! Beauty leads us to worship, reminds us of our value (we are not robots), and stimulates our senses to wake up and engage. Beauty can arrive in a million little ways. Fresh flowers. Candles. Music. A comfy colorful quilt. A framed piece of art. A handmade craft. Pretty dishes. Plants. Soft rugs. A geometric print pillow. A branch in a vase. A morning fire. A colorful salad. A plate of warm cookies.
Find your rhythm. You can’t be like her. You are different, and so are your children. Your rhythm may share components of others that you admire and respect, but when your eyes open each morning, you are you. And that’s enough. Find the ways you can be grounded and rooted every morning, and that is not dependent on whether you are an early bird or not. As the mother, build a foundation of living well. Know yourself, your great strengths, and real limits. Find the rhythm of living that gives you energy, consistency, and renewal. Be committed to surrender, personal growth, and learning. Get enough sleep. Treat yourself like a professional. Take retreats. Go to conferences. Plan. Get better at your roles.
Simplify. Everything. Your home, first and foremost. A well-run home is a strong foundation towards achieving a sustainable home education. Get rid of the superfluous decor, toys, kitchen items, clothes, meals, calendar, curriculum. Keeping home basic and easy-to-clean reduces stress and frees us up for greater joy and creativity! Add systems and routines into your life that get the daily basics done. The calendar must remain doable and life-giving. Be vigilant over clutter, physical, emotional, and spiritual. Get rid of it! Trust God that you have enough. Simplification is a worthy journey that yields solid long-term fruit.
Be flexible. God loves to keep us listening to Him and not to our ideals. Change keeps us humble. When we hold tightly to a way of seeing and doing, claiming that it is THE way, God has a way of gently prying that loose from our hands and opening our minds and hearts to greater freedom. All the ways you judged other moms? You might end up walking a mile in those shoes. Listen to Him. Did He say one way and now another? Has the calling changed? A calling once isn’t necessarily a calling forever. Be dependent on the Holy Spirit. Surrender and acceptance will be the foundations of a healthy spirit, home, and education.
The longer I parent, the more I need Christ. My oldest child moves into his 20s this year, and I feel now more than ever that my mothering journey will never end. I will serve and nurture and offer guidance until my last breath. My daughter graduates from high school in one month and my baby will graduate from kindergarten. And so I begin again. More than ever, I know that this path requires grounding in Him, stretching my roots deeper and deeper to draw up more of His life through me. My will needs strengthening. My soul needs focus + fortitude. More than ever, I know that my strength is small, and His is big. To run this mothering marathon well, ground yourself in Him. Rest in Him. And also? Make sure to take a nap.
What could be more fun in February than sharing with each other what is saving our lives right now? Modern Mrs. Darcy is hosting this lovely gathering of people sharing the current things that are giving us life these days. As I sit tucked in a wingback recliner in the corner of my room, surround by tissues, a Yeti filled with ice water, blankets, and books, recovering from the flu, I will offer my favorite life-saving things too.
I shared with you that I am a slow morning person. And that means using tools that help me ease into my day gently, don’t require much brain power, and lessen my morning decision-making. I decided to take a chance on a journal that already marked out a prompt for some gratitude, offered a Scripture for me to read and jot down, space to journal a little, and pick a “word” for the day. This is a template deep enough to be meaningful but light enough to engage a foggy morning brain. I actually look forward to my time opening the Word and reflecting because this journal puts boundaries to it and keeps me from being overly idealistic or neglecting that time altogether.
2. Contoured Sleep Mask
For $6, this little bit of magic gives me an amazing nap. Adjustable straps like a bra around the back of the head. My eyes aren’t pressed down but given room to blink. Add a pair of earplugs, and I take the nap of a lifetime!
3. Stainless Steel Straws
I struggled with water intake and low-level dehydration for years. I tried so many different ways to track and increase the cups of water I had, but nothing seemed to work. For me, I realized that I felt a bit suffocated every time I drank from a glass. Straws were the answer! But plastic tasted like PLASTIC. I ordered these straws and never looked back. The water tastes cold and clean coming through stainless and it made all the difference! And when you have a cold or the flu, there is nothing like having that water come through cool and refreshing.
4. New Running Shoes
I’ve logged hundreds of miles walking on the dirt roads near my home wearing the same pair of shoes for four years. It was past time for a new pair. For the first time ever, I went to a local running shoe store to get my feet properly sized and fitted for good shoes. I wear a size 7 1/2 regular shoe, but when they fitted me, they told me that I need to be wearing an 8 1/2 wide running shoe! Turns out you need a lot more room in the toe box of your running shoes than you think you do. It felt so good to invest in my feet and into a shoe that is going to serve me well.
5. Taking Daily Time to Study and Take Notes
Todd Henry, the Accidental Creative, says that creative people need time every day to study, to ruminate, to take in other’s work to make connections with their own work. Two weeks ago, I took a personal retreat to a local hotel and had hours to read, take notes, and think about how habits of high-performing professionals can influence the lives of mothers in the home. As Kendra says, self-care is doing what makes you come alive, what makes you feel like a person. Studying makes me come alive, and I feel like my best self when I read, take notes, and share it with others.
6. Plan to Eat
My friend Kitty tried to convince me for years to use the Plan to Eat website to make meal planning + shopping easier. I did not believe her because digital planning has never worked for me. But come November, I realized that meal planning wasn’t the issue that I was struggling with. I made my meal plan every Sunday night, but wasn’t following through because I NEVER MADE THE SHOPPING LIST! Getting up during my planning time to check the pantry and make the list would break up my focused flow, so I never got around to doing it. So I didn’t have a meal planning problem, but instead, a Shopping List Problem. I decided to try Plan to Eat because they auto-generate your shopping list for the meals you pick for the week. I can open the app and see the shopping list already made for me and add in any staples that I need to! I have used it consistently since Black Friday, and it has literally saved my meal planning and shopping.
When I was in high school, it was a thing to have your own wite-out. Why did I forget about this magic? I found myself scratching through things in my planner last year, either canceled plans or misspellings, and I was tired of looking at the mess and precious waste of planner space. Found the classic Wite-Out at Target and it is quite actually saving my planning life.
I was a Creative Memories groupie back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. I made all kinds of scrapbooks until I burned out on Mrs. Grossman stickers and die-cuts. Six children and many years later, I felt that there were too many choices out there to get some albums made. Even in the age of digital photo albums, it all still felt like too much. Someone told me about Chatbooks last fall. I downloaded the app. And in about 30 minutes I had four mini photo albums made of 2017! Chatbooks takes the latest 60 photos from your camera roll (what I did!) or your Instagram feed (there are other options too) and makes them into a hardcover photo album for $15 (free shipping!) They make it super simple to delete photos you don’t want or change the order. It’s crazy simple. My kids absolutely adore these albums and were so grateful that I did this!
What about you? What’s one or two things that are saving your life right now?
I am not a morning person. I have said that for most of my life because it is completely and totally true. I love the idea of mornings and fresh starts, but my mind takes a long time to wake up. After reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, I realized that my night-owl tendencies are hard-wired and aren’t necessarily going anywhere. I got up early for years, determined that self-discipline and time would change me. But it only got me more and more exhausted, and I received a firm exhortation from my husband to sleep later.
I began to honor the way that I am made and the gift that comes with older children who finally sleep later. I received more rest, more health, and felt energized all throughout the day. I learned that getting up early didn’t equal spiritual maturity, super-mom status, or better productivity. I didn’t need to prove myself anymore. And yet I knew that something in my mornings was missing.
My mornings were more reaction, less proactive. The rhythm changed daily according to whatever I deemed the most important when my eyes opened. Sometimes I got dressed, and sometimes I stayed in pajamas for a while. Some days I put on essential oils, but usually, I would forget. Some days I looked at my planner or read a verse, and other days I walked around in a fog for an hour tidying my home. Every morning looked different, and none of it felt centering, grounding, or energizing.
I had given up on my desire for having a meaningful morning because I somehow believed that it could only be accomplished if I got up early. So as a mostly night-owl, I believed that early birds get to have meaningful mornings but the rest of us are relegated to make-it-through mornings. I have learned that whether you get up at 5:30 am or at 9 am, you can have a meaningful morning routine.
Having a meaningful morning is less checklist and more nurture. We are not just a body or a mind, a robot, but a living, breathing, soft soul that needs tending, filling, life. We create morning space for ourselves so that we are filled body, soul, and spirit and from that nurtured self, give to our families, friends, and community. The goal isn’t to check off a morning routine so that you can be more effective or more productive, although those are usually nice by-products. The goal is to be a whole, centered, grounded, and rooted woman who can live and love well. We fill up so we can flow out.
How do we fill?
Breathe deeply, while you are still in bed. In and out, in and out for a minute. Breathe in the love of the Father, the communion with Jesus, and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. We calm and center our bodies and spirits, praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit before we allow the alarm or the list to dictate our day. We begin without screens, without scrolling so that we can be clear-minded, focused, and present.
Sip some water. Have a glass sitting right there by your bed, ready to hydrate you, fill you, even before coffee or tea. We are made of water and need water and the Living Water. Every breath and every sip, these tangible actions that we need mirrors His identity: Rest, Breath, Water.
Rise. Get up. Stretch. Smile. Look towards the new day with resurrected hope. Ask Him for the hope.
These small acts are the beginnings of a small, doable, meaningful morning. None of this takes much time, energy, or a clear mind. Breath, Water, Rise. Small beginnings.
That is where I began. And if you are struggling, you can too. And next Tuesday, I will be sharing on Facebook Live my expanded routine. Where does my morning go from there? How do Post-its save my mornings? What do I do with my kids if they are awake? What resources do I use to help fill me when I have a foggy mind and sluggish energy? How do I connect with Jesus when my brain doesn’t engage well in the mornings?
I no longer say “I am not a morning person.” I have reframed that with, “I am a slow morning person.” I have begun to love mornings as I move at my own pace, according to my own personality, and tweak resources to serve my situation. Everyone can have a meaningful morning routine that fills and nourishes, builds and sends. Isn’t that good news?