better homes than yours · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · waxing philosophical · whine and cheese

Day 670: I Give Up

Once upon a time, my living room looked like a living room: couches, shelves for board games, hammocks, an ottoman. The only adornments on the wall were a few framed paintings done by the kids. The wall unit had open shelves where we displayed some beautiful Judaica pieces, vases, and other items that were both pretty and practical.

Then we started homeschooling, and Mr. December wanted to clear some of the open shelving to make room for the kids’ binders. I resisted, relenting only because the kids’ binders are all colour coded and their colours are all part of the colour scheme in our house.

The binders slowly encroached on more shelves. Mr. December asked for his own space to store his books and papers. Still, it was just one wall unit. The rest of my living room was still school-free (when we cleaned up.)

One day I decided it would be great to have a timeline on the wall that we could add to when learning about historical events and people. It had to go somewhere; I mounted it just below the window that separates the living room from the kitchen, rationalizing that at least I wouldn’t have to look at school stuff when relaxing on the couch, which faces the opposite direction.

A wipeable map of the world joined the timeline. Then a map of Canada. By this point that wall was full, so when I made the kids’ magnetic schedule boards, I had to hang them between the dining room table and the stairs. At least they weren’t in the dining room, I told myself.


I used to harbour dreams of moving all our homeschool stuff down to the basement, so that we could have our classroom next to the Makery and not have to look at all the school stuff all the time. But somehow we always end up at the dining room table or on the living room couches, and so our stuff has migrated there too.

I’ve given up. I’m letting go of how I thought my house should look. I’m trying to, anyway, because I think it’s healthier to accept and work with what is rather than “should-ing” all over myself and my family.


Last week I wanted wall space to hang some of my Hebrew materials: the days-of-the-week chart, the months of the year, and the weather poster. Heaving a sigh of surrender, I pinned them up on the wall at the head of the dining room table.

“It looks like a Grade One classroom in here,” K said.

“Maybe because it is a Grade One classroom?” I shot back defensively.

“No, no, it’s okay,” she soothed, “at least you chose nice colours.”

I put the final nail in the coffin today: remember that wall I said was completely full? Yeah, it was only full below the timeline. There was plenty of space above. It took less than ten minutes to put up some 3M hooks for the kids’ clipboards that hold their “to-do” lists and music practice charts. I also hung up the giant Post-It chart paper, because I couldn’t think of any other way to store it without it getting folded or bunched up.

“I love that you have school stuff all over your walls,” K’s bestie told me earlier this week. “My mom won’t even let us put up a wall calendar. She says it ruins the aesthetic.”

“She’s right, it does.” I responded. “But I’ve decided to stop fighting it and embrace that my house is a school.”

When my kids were babies, I only bought wooden toys and toys in solid colours—no plastic, no characters, no flashing lights. It wasn’t for health or environmental reasons, I just didn’t want my living room to look like Toys R Us had just thrown up in there. Nowadays it looks like Staples threw up in my house… and I’m trying to figure out whether that’s any better than Toys R Us.

family fun · Homeschool · Kids

Day 669: Snow Day II

We’re snowed in over here. Even after digging our car out of snowdrifts up to the windows, there’s a giant pile of snow at the bottom of our driveway that the snowplows kindly left for us. Much of our school day today was spent in “gym class”—in other words, shoveling. K worked for an especially long time; she was quick to point out that she expected to be excused from our family workouts for the rest of the week.

We gathered by the fireplace, hot chocolate in hand, to read Beaumont’s Beauty and the Beast from 1756. The kids acknowledged that the original story is far closer to the myth of Psyche and Eros than any of the other versions they’re familiar with.

I sat down with R for her first fashion design class on Outschool. Today’s lesson was about necklines and how to sketch them on a croquis form. R was completely absorbed in it and in the follow-up assignment, which was to search our closets for examples of as many different necklines as possible. She found nine and photographed them to post to her class chat board.

I also dragged myself away from my computer and opened up an escape-room-in-a-box that’s been on our shelf for a year. The kids have never been keen to do these with me, so I decided to stop making it a family activity and just do the puzzles by myself. N came over while I was doing the first puzzle—a number puzzle requiring algebra—and insisted on working it out by himself… so I got some kid participation. Maybe next time I should work on the puzzles with a bowl of Skittles next to me, and when the kids ask if they can have some I’ll just say, “These are my thinking Skittles. If you want to work on the puzzles, you can have some while you think.”

I’m sleepy. Last night around 10:30, Mr. December looked over at me (we were both reading in bed) and asked, “Ready to go to sleep now? Or would you rather read for another two hours?” He knows me so well. I turned out the light at midnight, which is two hours later than I should have. My goal for tonight is to only read until eleven.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 668: Snow Day

The doorbell rang. I groaned, rolled over, and looked at my phone. 8:00.

I hope someone gets that, I thought as I closed my eyes again.

The doorbell rang again.

We have a similar problem with the phone. Nobody picks up—I guess everyone assumes it’s for someone else. Or it might be the duct cleaning companies calling again. Either way, a lot of phone calls go unanswered because the people closest to the phone can’t be bothered to pick up. Either that, or one of the kids has taken the phone from its base at my desk and I’m sitting here yelling, “Who the heck took my phone?”

Anyway, back to this morning.

When I eventually went downstairs, I learned that we had a guest: K’s bestie from down the street, whose parents said, “Snow like this is magical, and it’s criminal to make you sit at a desk all day doing online school. Go to K’s house.”

I guess they didn’t think about how homeschoolers might not have snow days because the snow is no obstacle to our daily routine. K’s friend became our first ever “exchange student”; she participated in Mr. December’s science class this morning. Two hours of equations later, she was still smiling.

We didn’t do any more school today—the kids were shooed outside to play in the snow, which according to our metre stick was about 47cm deep (that’s around 18.5 inches, for those of you still mired in the Imperial system.)

They spent hours trudging up a hill so they could zoom down it; they came home sweaty and flushed (and that was after a rest at K’s friend’s house a mere block away. It’s that hard to walk in snow this deep.)

I just found out that tomorrow has been declared a real snow day for the local school boards. Will our kids get the day off as well? Maybe, if they actually go outside and take advantage of the snow. Otherwise they’ll be doing school—with or without exchange students.

Homeschool · Keepin' it real · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 664: Still alive, still here.

Today we all woke up grumpy and exhausted, so instead of our usual lessons we opted for watching educational videos. Mr. December and K watched some math stuff (I really can’t be any more specific than that—I wasn’t there) and I watched Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. The kids learned about the origins of the universe, the history of the cosmos, DNA, and evolution. Not bad for a morning of school, right?

Mr. December and I got our COVID boosters yesterday. The pop-up clinic was so empty we decided to return today with the three younger kids. Two out of the three have now had their shots. I don’t want to name and shame the child involved, so I’m not telling the story of how our afternoon went south; I’m mentioning it by way of telling you that by the time dinner rolled around, I was irrationally angry at said child, as well as at anyone else who dared ask me anything. I spent the rest of the evening alone in my room.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Kids

Day 663: Cinderella, you slut.

E has been on a “finishing workbooks” kick lately. Last week she completed her cursive writing book. Today she worked for four hours (or so) on finishing her Kumon math book. I didn’t interrupt her for other things like reading or social studies; just like you should not wake a sleeping baby (unless you have to for specific medical reasons, obviously,) you should not interrupt a kid who’s intently focussed on working towards a goal. There’s something magical about letting kids finish what they started instead of switching subjects every forty minutes.

Long story short: she finished her Grade 2: Measurement and Geometry workbook today.

Math workbook opened to a page titled, "Counting money". Next to it on the table, there are Canadian coins with a child's hand pointing to one of them.

Actually, we did sneak in some social studies: when E’s book got to the “counting money” section it was all in American currency. I pointed that out to her, then went to dig up some change and a few bills so I could show E what Canadian money looks like (and the denominations for the coins.) After looking at the bills, we watched “Heritage Minute” videos related to the subject of each bill. So E learned a bit about Viola Davis, Vimy Ridge, Canadarm, and the invention of insulin; we also watched a video about all the neat features of our banknotes.


I’m fibro-flaring again, possibly because I had a couple of late nights in a row. So I wasn’t as quick to fill the children’s time as I might have been otherwise. In the absence of instructions, N sat down with his sheet music and figured out all the notes to Waving Through a Window, then went and practiced playing it. He also helped E with her math work.

In the afternoon I read them two versions of Cinderella: the first written version by Perrault (published in 1697) and then a version by The Brothers Grimm. R was most displeased that at the end of both versions, Cinderella forgives her stepsisters wholeheartedly. K was amused that the eighteenth-century translation used the phrased “decked out” to describe the stepsisters all dressed up for the ball. We also encountered the archaic use of the word “slut” as in, “A slut like you can’t go to a ball!”

I preemptively explained that “slut” used to mean “messy” or “dirty.”

“Okay,” Rebecca said, “but what does it mean now?”

(I guess my explanation hadn’t preempted anything after all; sometimes I forget how young my kids are.)

“A sexually promiscuous woman,” I told her.

“Which means…?” she pressed.

This sort of exchange is probably why my kids have such expansive vocabularies.

Homeschool · Kids

Day 662: A Fairy Tale Lesson

We discussed fairy tales today, specifically the elements of the stories. I started by reading the kids this summary of every fairy tale ever:

“Once upon a time, there was a character who lived in a setting. The character had a problem, but magic intervened and everyone learned a theme.”

We spent a while discussing archetypal characters, fairy tale settings, conflicts, magic, and themes. Then K started a lively debate about what elements have to be the same for two stories to be versions of the same story. I pushed them to get specific by reading a book that contained four “Cinderella Stories”; the kids all agreed that the setting doesn’t much matter, but you definitely have to have the same archetypal character with the same conflict, and the same type of magical assistance to resolve it.

The kids participated so enthusiastically, it felt like I was living the happy resolution to a fairy tale.

I’m not sure what exactly made this lesson good, but I know how I’m going to keep their interest going forward: dramatic readings of fairy tales—the gory Grimm versions. They can’t wait.

crafty · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · The COVID files

Day 660: I like my stuff.

It was dark this morning when we woke up—which would have been fine if it was 6:00 a.m., but it was already 10:00. It was truly dark, not just cloudy. Even Mr. December noticed.

I think I’ve seen the sun a total of three days out of the last three weeks. That is clearly not enough. Since my SAD was a major reason for us wanting to travel this winter, it seems obvious that we should go somewhere to get some sun. There’s just one problem, though: stuff.

I’m a minimalist when it comes to things like clothes (I own one pair of jeans, one leggings, and a pair of sweatpants,) shoes (we only took two pairs on our trip and that might have been one too many,) and makeup (none.) But when it comes to things, Mr. December and I tend to be maximalists (if that’s even a word. Is it? Who knows?). In our opinion, you can’t have too many books or musical instruments. It’s just not possible.

I’ve just finished rereading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home, in which she suggests “making a shrine” to things you enjoy. If I understand her correctly, we’ve already done so: our library is a shrine to books and musical instruments, the makery is a shrine to arts and crafts of all sorts, and our attic is a shrine to swings and gymnastic apparatus.

(N was reading this over my shoulder and reminded me of the parchment paper shrine that is a running joke between K and Mr. December. No, I will not elaborate.)

These are things we use and enjoy every single day. Some people say things don’t make you happier; I think they’re wrong. I’m definitely happier when I can wander into the library and pick up an instrument without having to haul it out of the case; Mr. December gets happier just sitting in the library and looking at all the books; K, R, and the entire family are all happier because of the swings in the attic.

That’s why I’m having difficulty deciding to travel again. I loved our trip. Really. We packed minimal stuff, and it was fine for a while; but now that I’m here enjoying my home again, I’m loath to leave it.

Could I travel again but pack more stuff? Sure. I’ve done it before, when I took a sewing machine and a suitcase full of fabric to Barbados for a month-long stay. But do I want to? I don’t even know which stuff I’d choose. My viola, probably, and then some craft stuff—maybe the new markers, my drawing pencils, sketchbooks and paper… and then all the homeschooling stuff, which right now involves a lot of books that I can’t get on a Kobo. Oh, and a guitar.

My prediction: I’ll dither about this for long enough that it’s too late to go, either because of new COVID restrictions or because it’s started getting sunny again.

What do you predict?

blogging · crafty · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · whine and cheese

Day 658: Same Day Two Ways

It was lunchtime, and I was sitting at my desk researching art markers for R. It was taking me forever—not because of the sheer number of choices (although that was staggering,) but because kids kept coming over and making demands:

N: “Eema, can you please do my Hebrew reading with me now so I can finish all my work sooner?”

K: “Eema, I want to do more viola practice… and I need you to help me.”

R: “Eema, tune my guitar?”

I kept begging them to leave me alone and let me think my own thoughts for five consecutive minutes. Eventually I just snapped.

“GO AWAY!”


OR


It was lunchtime, and I was sitting at my desk researching art markers for R. It was taking me forever—not because of the sheer number of choices (although that was staggering,) but because each of the kids was eager to do something semi-independently, and they needed me to help them get started.

N had a goal: to finish school early today. To that end, he took the initiative to find the Hebrew reading book and bring it to me, asking me to please listen to his reading now.

R wanted to learn a new song on her guitar, and she needed me to tune it first. Then she went off happily with the chord sheet in one hand and the guitar in the other.

K was feeling inspired to do some extra viola practice (she already did one session with me in the morning.) She invited me to come and help her.

I was still in the middle of purchasing R’s art markers, so I encouraged them to work independently for a while. Next thing I knew, all four kids were in the library, taking turns helping each other with their music practice.


AND THEN…


We got almost no work done this afternoon. Writing got pushed aside because the kids were hyperfocused on their music; Hebrew didn’t happen, either. When I joined them in the library and started explaining some of the music theory that would make N’s piece easier for him, they complained about it being too complicated or too useless. In art, N flatly refused to work, and E cried about how she needed me to draw the picture she wanted so she could colour it in.


OR


Our afternoon took an unexpected turn: when I joined the kids in the library, they asked me to help N figure out the chords for Twinkle. Some debate about which key it should be in led to me explaining some music theory, with N demonstrating on the piano. In art, N didn’t want to draw at first. He couldn’t resist just trying out the oil pastels when I unboxed them for the first time, though. He experimented with blending and shading and ended up drawing a very credible likeness of his new octopus stuffie. K really got into it too, staying at the table long past our usual ending time so that she could perfect the colours in her sketch.


It’s all true, you know. My day was a little chaotic and I had to be flexible and follow the children’s lead. I also had a chance to relax my expectation and use some of my expert knowledge (I do have a degree in music, after all) to help them with something they were trying to do together. They exasperated me with their repeated interruptions; they sought my help and guidance to further their own learning goals. The day’s events were simultaneously frustrating and exciting, so much so that I couldn’t decide which angle I wanted to write for this post… so I wrote you both.

Darn Tootin' · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 657: Don’t Fight It

“The kids begged me for more algebra sheets.”

Eyebrows raised, I just looked at Mr. December.

“Sorry, honey. I know I said you could have the morning for your subjects after a quick math drill… but they begged me. Seriously.”


“Eema,” E said earnestly, “Can I forget about my other work and just finish my cursive writing book? There are only fourteen pages left and I think I can do it!”

Of course I said yes. Why wouldn’t I?


Remember when I bought some highly structured curricula and decided we’d follow those lesson plans? Well, we’ve ditched the older kids’ history curriculum and I’m picking and choosing from the biology curriculum. Most importantly, I’m not fighting about schoolwork. I have some firm boundaries—the subjects aren’t optional, but how and when we do them is open for negotiation.

Take E, for example. She worked intently on her cursive writing for two hours this morning. I could have told her “let’s stop here and do something else,” but why would I do that? When a child is motivated and focused, why on earth would I go and break that focus? To enforce some abstract ideal of “balanced” subjects? Or to assert my power by imposing the schedule that I gave them on Monday?

It’s definitely easy to be flexible when the child is eager to learn and work on an area that interests them; less so when the child doesn’t want to do any work at all. Yesterday N didn’t do his writing or his Hebrew, and today he was still reluctant to do the assignments I’d given him. We compromised: he wrote about a topic of his choice, in the structure of my choice. I’ve decided to go for quantity over quality with him, on the theory that he needs to be able to get his ideas down on paper quickly; editing can be done later and with the assistance of someone else.

I’m also trying to remember the purpose behind the assignments I give. The writing assignment I originally gave all three big kids was to take a picture from our trip and write about it. Part of my goal with that assignment was for them to recall things they saw and learned during our travels. I think with N that’s not so essential, not because he doesn’t need to remember what we learned, but because I’m certain he already does. The kid soaks in everything and makes connections to what he already knows. Why should I belabour the point?

R’s writing assignment evolved differently, too: she’s writing a fictional story based on a series of photos from our volcano hike. I agreed to this on two grounds—first, that she’s in Grade Five and maybe doesn’t need to spend quite so much time on essay-writing; and second, that she’s a strong writer who really wants to hone her craft. Why fight her natural inclination?

I feel validated by this week’s experience with K and viola practice. Since Monday, she has worked diligently every day to learn a new piece. She does scales and practices trouble spots ten times in a row, all without complaint—in fact, she was eager to do it. I tried forcing her to practice for years. Years. Is her diligent practice now a result of my dogged persistence? No. No way. She’s practicing because she wants to play viola better.

That’s why I’m not being especially forceful with E and her flute practice. I’m not letting her give up flute, but I’m also not insisting on serious practice right now. It’s not worth the fight; when she’s a bit more mature and wants to play better, we won’t have to fight about it anyway. Right now my goal is to keep her immersed in music, have instruments available to explore, and try to keep it light and enjoyable. If she’s naturally drawn to it (I personally think she is,) she’ll play music no matter what I do.

This all feels very Montessori. Long periods where the child can do work of their choice? Check. Having all the resources available, introducing the child to the work and then allowing them to do it in their own time? Check. Stepping back and watching the child’s innate drive to learn? Check.

A happier homeschool environment and a more relaxed mom? Check and check.

Apathy · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Resorting to Violins · whine and cheese

Day 656: Three out of Four Ain’t Bad…

We’re getting back into a homeschooling routine, and a good one at that. I don’t want to jinx anything, but K has been practicing viola every day this week—yes, I know it’s Wednesday, and it’s a three-day streak… but it’s actually a long daily practice streak for her. Even better, she’s motivated to learn and improve; gone are the days of me forcing her to practice. I’m so enjoying practice time with her.

E has been going into the library when nobody’s there and practicing her violin. I’m not sure what happened to flute, but it’s really exciting that she’s going in and exploring the instrument on her own. I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t sell off all the kid-sized violins when I wanted to last year.

We’ve even been doing Hebrew, which is something that often went by the wayside last year. E is happily soaking it all up and demanding more; R is happy to be spoken to in Hebrew in the mornings, when her brain is rested enough to process things.

Speaking of R, she’s been practicing her guitar this week and it’s really starting to pay off.

And N? Well… he practices his piano happily and is doing incredible work in math; he helped E with her music theory work today. But in Hebrew he refused to speak and then he left the table. When I gave him the writing assignment for the day, he looked away and then left the room. I offered assistance, but he wouldn’t tell me what the problem was; he just went mute and walked away.

On a side note, guess who has no screen privileges right now?

By 3:30 p.m. my brain was fried and I needed a break, but R wanted me to help her flesh out ideas for her writing assignment. “It’s your DUTY as a teacher to help your students!” she admonished me when I asked if we could do it later. So I helped her, which I actually enjoyed despite the descending brain fog.

And then I went down the rabbit hole of Air BnBs in sunny locales. I want to stick to this successful routine we’re establishing; I also want to see the sun. I can probably do both, if I can overcome my apathy to plan and pack and travel again.