Back-To-School

It’s mid-August, which means that the Back-to-School season is upon us. Some of your kids have been back in the classroom for a couple of weeks already, some will be returning in the next few weeks, and others have children who are in school year-round.

Whatever Back-To-School looks like for your family, welcome to the season!

For the first 32 years of my life, I operated entirely around the school calendar. My parents were teachers, I attended public school for 13 years, went to college for 4 years to earn a degree in education and subsequently began teaching for the next 5 years at a private school. When our second daughter was born, I left my 7:00-4:00 job as an educator and began providing childcare to other families during the school year. Then my husband began teaching, our oldest began her elementary school career at the same private school, and the rhythm of the school calendar pulsed deeply through our family’s veins.

Then last year we broke the cycle. We launched full-time into life on the road and began homeschooling. At first we tried to follow a typical school schedule, but found it was just not the right fit for our family (more on that another time), and began to create our own rhythms. Over the past year, “school” has become so interwoven into our lives that our children can rarely differentiate between what is “school” and what is “life”. Admittedly, sometimes it’s hard for us as parents to differentiate too, which is one of my favorite parts of our journey toward whole life education.

So, when Back-To-School time rolled around again this past July (REALLY?!), it was a non-event for the first time in my life. While our family formally began our new school year on July 1, the day came and went without new notebooks and backpacks and shoes and haircuts and ice cream socials and photos at sunrise. There was not even new curriculum on that day. We simply continued life as usual, picking up where we had left off in the prior days.
And it was good.
It’s what feels most right for our family right now.

However, each of us need to be resolved to find what is right for our own families for right now. That can change from year to year, or even mid-year.

Some of you have also found the path of homeschooling to be the right fit for your family, and I know that even within the realm of homeschooling you have had to make so many decisions as to what that should look like for your family right now. And when you’ve found your sweet spot, be confident in your decision and boldly move forward on the path that you’ve chosen; whether that’s following a formal curriculum such as Abeka or Calvert, a more classical approach to education, a hybrid school or homeschool co-op, an eclectic mix or radical unschooling. Have a wonderful year learning together with your child(ren)!

Some of you have found a private school or a charter school to be the best fit for your child(ren). I know that this decision requires some huge sacrifices on your family’s part, whether financially or significant time sacrifices or both, and this is a choice that you have not made lightly. If you know that your children are where they need to be in the private or charter school of your choice to partner with you as you educate your children, be confident in that decision. I trust that you will also have a fantastic year together with your child(ren), their teacher(s) and their schoolmates!

Many of you have chosen for your child to attend a public school or public magnet school within your district. Again, this is not a decision that you have taken lightly. When you chose to purchase or rent your home, you did so with the knowledge of which school district your home lies within. You may have paid a premium for your home simply for the privilege of being able to send your child to a premier elementary of high school. Alternately, perhaps the school district that you live in has a lack-luster reputation, but you are confident that it is still the best educational choice for your family. You understand that this might mean providing supplemental tutoring, remedial or enrichment assistance and more to give your child the education that they deserve. You, my friend, are a rock star, and anyone who ever insinuates that choosing public education for your family is the “easy choice” has no idea what they are talking about. I hope that this year is the best one yet for your family!

Some of us begin the countdown to school starting when the last bus drops the kids off at home in the spring. We cannot fathom how teachers do this day in and day out 180 days each year.  We love our children, but we love when they aren’t with us 24/7 too. If that’s you–enjoy your “First Day of School” brunch with your girlfriends, pedicure, or simply a peaceful drive in solitude to work. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad or like less of a mother for enjoying this time.

Some of us count down to the first day of school in much the same manner as an inmate on Death Row counts down until it’s his day in “The Chair”. We cannot bear to send our kids off to someone else for seven hours a day. If that’s you, first–have you considered homeschooling? 🙂
Secondly, let the tears flow. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad or less of a mother for struggling to send your child(ren) to school. However, if you have teenagers, you might want to wait until you’ve pulled out of the drop-off line before letting the tears flow. They might not think it’s cool that Mom’s crying in the carpool lane. Even so, they’ll one day understand that the tears that were uncool as a teen were tears of love for them.

Some of us don’t count down to school starting at all. School is so interwoven into life that arbitrarily announcing “The First Day of School” feels more than a little odd. If this is you, enjoy “The First Day of School” today. Or tomorrow. Or next Thursday. Or some arbitrary day in November that just feels right to your family. 🙂

To all of my fellow mothers out there, whatever Back-To-School looks like to your family, have a great one!

988268_10151538159251951_1037776178_nPart of my crew last week in our “classroom” at our little house on the prairie.

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Taking a Detour To Where We’re Supposed To Be

We’ve been on the road a lot lately.

Our lifestyle involves a lot of hurry up and wait, then settling into a new routine. The past few weeks have involved a lot of the former and we’re just now getting to the latter.

Our family took a week of vacation near family in the Midwest, leaving a job that my husband had been working on for a couple of months in the Deep South. After a week of camping with family and some of the dearest of friends, his contractor informed us that we were needed in the Rockies ASAP for the next job. No more Southern hospitality for us, it was time to move West!

Well, logistically, we couldn’t make the first Monday start date, so our schedule was loosened, ever so slightly, for a start date of the following Monday. We took our time and traveled through our hometown, visiting our home church and a handful of friends and old neighbors before pushing westward.

Our extended vacation then led us to the Amana Colonies in central Iowa. This quaint little German settlement was just the transition that we needed from a busy week-and-a-half of trying to visit with so many people that we love. Amana is quiet, and lovely, and out-of-the-way, and quiet, and slow-paced, and quaint, and quiet. Some of my very favorite things.

About a week ago we were planning to continue our trek across the prairie toward the Rockies when my husband got another message from his contractor. There was an immediate need in Nebraska. Can he report to this job site ASAP?

Without pause, the answer was “YES”. Our plans suddenly slowed down significantly. No longer did we have 700 miles ahead of us, but we now had 4 days to drive 350 miles. Excellent! We spent a long weekend exploring Omaha before making our final push to middle-of-the-ethanol-fields, NE where we’re calling “Home” for the time being.

Our heart was set on the mountains. The mountains will always be where we are truly at home. Anywhere that we visit is always compared to the mountains, yet we turned down an immediate ticket into the mountains by taking a detour to the prairie first.

We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be right now.

The mountains will be there when we get to them. They’ve been there for thousands of years, they’re not going anywhere this week or this month.

In the meantime, we’re learning to love the prairie. This “drive-thru” state that we’ve always tried to bypass has become our destination and we’re learning to see the beauty in the smallness and in the vastness that surrounds us.

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This morning’s breathtaking sunrise over the Nebraska cornfields.

And to think we nearly missed this.

Fairy Godmothers and Fairly Good Mothers

I am raising three daughters. Yes, I’m also raising a son, but today I would like to focus on a lesson that I’m learning from those three sweet girls that I’ve been entrusted with raising.

Namely, it’s my youngest gal who has brought this to the forefront.

Peanut is 2.5 and has become fully engulfed in the princess phase. While spending much of this past winter and spring at Walt Disney World (roadschooling has many perks and making the “Happiest Place on Earth” our family’s classroom for the better part of 5 months is certainly one of them!) might have been a catalyst to propel her there a bit sooner than our older daughters, it’s a natural phase for little girls to go through. We read many fairy tales and fables together and the theme of princesses is woven throughout these story books.

Not a day goes by that Peanut does not dress herself in play silks, place a tiara on her head, grab the nearest stick or other wand-like object and prance about the RV announcing, “I’m a princess! I’m a beautiful princess!” Then she proceeds to frolic away to meet her imaginary price, Prince Frog, of course, or asks me to be her Fairy Godmother and join her in play.

It was one day last week, while I was acting the part of the Fairy Godmother, that I started to realize that I often forget that my role in Peanut’s life is not to be her Fairy Godmother. While we are in her land of make-believe, re-enacting Cinderella’s story together, that’s totally fine (and if you ask Peanut, expected of me) to play the role of the Fairy Godmother. However, when the scene ends and play has moved onto the next act, I return to life as Peanut’s mother. I need to take off the Fairy Godmother hat and remember that my role in her life is not to give her a charmed existence, nor is it my place to solve every one of her problems and challenges that comes her way.

While it is my desire to give her (and her sisters and brother as well) the best life that I am able, that does not mean catering to their every whim. While Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother had the best of intentions by giving Cinderella a quick fix to her problems, when the clock struck midnight, Cinderella found herself scrambling and unsure of what to do next.

Instead of acting as my children’s Fairy Godmother, my hope is that I might simply be a Fairly Good Mother.

I’m not trying for perfection, because that’s a recipe for failure. I’m not trying to give my children a charmed existence, nor a quick fix to all of the problems that come their way. Instead, it is my role to walk with them, gently guide them along the best path for them to walk. My role is to prepare them, as best as I know how, for what lies ahead and help them back onto their feet when they stumble.
Because they will stumble. We all do.
And they need someone who will be there throughout the journey, not someone who sends them off in a golden carriage into the unknown, only to find a pumpkin in its place and confusion at every turn when the clock strikes midnight and reality stares them in the face.

Because that’s just how time works.
Midnight will eventually strike for my Peanut.
Reality and adulthood will one day stare her in the face.
While 15-16 years seems as far away now as the strike of midnight seemed to Cinderella when she set off for the ball, it’s coming.

When that day comes, a Fairy Godmother will have proven inadequate for Peanut and the rest of my crew.
However, my hope is that she’ll be able to look to me and see that a Fairly Good Mother helped prepare her for that day, and that instead of waving my wand and disappearing, as a Fairy Godmother does, I’ll still be right by her side, walking the same path that we’ve always walked together.

Peanut, my littlest princess.

Peanut, my littlest princess.

Why I Kicked the Bucket (List)

Coming off of the 4th of July holiday, Summer is officially in full swing.

Long, hot days spent outdoors and cool evenings of catching fireflies or sitting around the campfire define this season for our family.
Ice cream is never in short supply in our home–even with a freezer that is smaller than a breadbox.
Swimming pools and swimming holes are a sweet respite on these dog days.
Bicycling together to explore what’s a little further down the road is one of our favorite pastimes.

Truly, these are some of the very best of days.

Now there’s this little thing called Pinterest, maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s an online pinboard, of sorts, that’s a virtual Mecca of organization and ideas for those with either Type A or Creative Project Focused tendencies.

Or it’s like crack for those of us who suffer from are blessed with both.

So Pinterest comes along and all of a sudden this great idea of a “Summer Bucket List” starts floating around. The general idea is to make a list of things that you want to make sure that you do with your family over the course of the summer. The purpose is to provide a focus to the activities that you choose to do together during the precious few days of summertime, before the air becomes crisp and the leaves begin to change. Clever enough idea, right?

Maybe you even have a Summer Bucket List of your own that your family is working through. Perhaps yours is even an actual cute little bucket that you keep on the kitchen table to remind you of the things that you’d still like to accomplish together this season.
If this is you, let me tell you that right now I am giving you a virtual high-five and am in awe of your steadfastness and your self-control. Seriously.

Because here’s what the process of creating and working through a Summer Bucket List looked like for me:

  1. Write a list of approximately 25 things that I’d like to do with my kids throughout the summer.
  2. Decide that we’ll begin immediately, so we start with one item on the list.
  3. Well, that was fun. Let’s try something else. So we do another item on the list the same day.
  4. Cool! What else is on the list? Let’s do something else! So we do.
  5. At the end of Day 1 I feel super accomplished that we’d crossed 3 items off our Summer Bucket List. I wonder how many we can knock out tomorrow?
  6. Day 2, I see that eat ice cream, ride bicycles and play hopscotch have not been crossed off yet. So we do all three and I feel ultra-accomplished that we’ve knocked the list down to only 19 things left to do and we’re only two days into this. Sweet!
  7. Day 3, I want to cross a few more items off the list, but the kids want to have a low-key day of playing Legos and trains and My Little Ponies and reading stories at home. What?! We can do that any day. Don’t you see that we have a Summer Bucket List here? Time’s a wastin’, folks! There’s fun to be had!

And that’s when I realize that the Summer Bucket List is just not a great idea for me. So I scrap the list and we return to our regularly scheduled, unscheduled lives.

I love lists!
I love the sense of accomplishment that I feel in crossing an item off of my list!
I’m one of those people that adds tasks that I’ve already to my list just so that I can cross the item off.

However, the time spent with my family is not one of those things that I wish to cross off my list.
When I realized that my focus on accomplishing a task (AKA, doing something that was supposed to be fun that was on my list) instead of being present where I was and enjoying the time spent together, that’s when I knew that something had to change.

So, I kicked the bucket list.

I think that I remember a lot of the things on it. And we’ll probably still do them all at some point this summer. If we don’t, that’s okay. We’ll have accomplished the primary goal, either way. The primary goal is not to see how much we can cram into one summer. My primary goal is to spend meaningful time with each of my children, and with them together as a whole crew. My primary goal is to enjoy the precious time that I get to spend with my husband during his busy season at work, and to cherish our time spent together as an entire family.

That’s where the memories will come from. Not from seeing how quickly we can complete an arbitrary list of fun–to the point where it is no longer any fun.

We cannot plan how and when memories will be made. Memories are created along the way.

Even, and especially, in the low-key days of simply playing Legos and trains and My Little Ponies, and while snuggled together sharing a story.

Lessons in Literature; Purging with a Purpose

I live in a 350 square foot home with five other people.

By choice.

And it’s awesome!

However, because the total living space of our fifth wheel is approximately the size of the average American living room, we are naturally quite limited with what we carry onboard with us.

This past week I have been in the process of culling our children’s book collection in order to make space for our new literature and history books as we roll into our second year of homeschooling on the road. Besides taking up a lot of space, books are also rather heavy, and we have a weight limit for our truck and trailer to safely travel down the highways and byways of our nation that we need to remain mindful of.

To make a long story short(er), we have a lot of books.

“Hi, I’m Stephanie, and I’m a book hoarder.” (Because the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem.)

Mostly we have really good books, as I’ve been collecting children’s books for nearly 15 years, since the early days of my elementary education studies. Books that I am rather attached to, because I loved reading them to my former students and look forward to reading them with my own kids, or books that I know my daughters and son will one day enjoy reading.

However, there are other books that have crept onto our shelves that are of lesser literary value. Charlotte Mason, whom we loosely model our education methods after, referred to these books as “twaddle”.

Today I tackled the twaddle on our shelves.

Those books that are simply filling our shelves, but aren’t nourishing our children’s imaginations, nor are they bringing much to the table beyond adding to the kids’ page count for free reading time. While such classics as “Little Red Riding Hood” permeate a child’s imagination, captivate them with an engaging plot line, and challenge them to raise questions, the dumbed-down twaddle of “Minnie Red Riding Hood” needed to be plucked from our shelves to make space for stories with greater literary value. The fairy-series-come-lately books were taking up valuable bookshelf real estate that meant that “Anne of Green Gables”, “Little House on the Prairie” and “Charlotte’s Web” had been relegated to a milk crate in a storage bay. No longer is that the case!

After just over an hour of sorting and purging books, I walked out of the kids’ room with two grocery bags full of books that were simply taking up space on our shelves, and replaced them with books that had been in the storage bay. Books that had been awaiting space for them to rest on the children’s bookshelves and make their way into the kids’ hands.

After removing the twaddle from their bookshelves, the kids' have more great literature selections to choose from.

After removing the twaddle from their bookshelves, the kids have more great literature selections from which to choose.

So what will become of the culled books?
About half of them will be donated to either the next campground that we visit that has a lending library, or to a local ministry or shelter. The other half will become our bag of travel day books that we’ll keep in our truck for those days when we are moving from “here” to “there”. These are the books that the kids are more attached to, or that are in such poor condition already that their next stop is fuel for a campfire. Those are the books that someone took a crayon to half of the pages, or practiced their scissors skills on page 9; the ones that we simply cannot pass on to an unsuspecting ministry, with a good conscience.
While they aren’t the high quality literature that I want to see my kids reading on a regular basis, sometimes on travel days you do whatever you have to do to talk a preschooler on the verge of a tantrum down from the ledge of making everyone in the truck lose their minds. And if that means reading a few Mickey Mouse books, I’m okay with that.

And that’s the bigger picture.

I desire for the bulk of my kids’ literary choices to be of a higher quality. Books that will fuel their imaginations and books that will give them a deeper understanding of the world in which they live. However, the occasional “Pinkalicious” in their literary diet isn’t going to strike a nail in the coffin of their creativity. By being exposed to, read to, and independently reading quality literature, that is what they will continue to come back to and what they will choose, when given free reign of their reading selections.

We’re raising readers, but we’re also raising thinkers, and we’re raising people of action.

All of these things are largely inspired by literature. That’s one reason that we choose a literature-based education for our family.

If you’d like to read further about Charlotte Mason’s perspective on the importance of what children read, this essay is what inspired today’s purge and renewed focus on keeping only quality literature in our limited bookshelf space.

Never Say Never (Or How I Became A Homeschool Mom)

Isn’t life funny in that you sometimes find yourself doing–and often loving–the exact things that you once swore that you’d never do?

If there’s one thing that I never wanted to do, it was homeschool.
I had a long list of reasons why it was just not something that would ever work for our family.

Among these reasons:

  1. I could never be a full-time stay-at-home mom. Of course I’d have to give up outside employment altogether in order to homeschool.
  2. Our child(ren) would do much better to have a teacher who is not their mother. We would butt heads way too often.
  3. We are committed to education from a Biblical worldview and had the perfect Christian school for our children to attend. It’s where I was a former teacher and my husband taught for several years as well.
  4. How on earth could I teach four children at different ages and stages at the same time?
  5. I’m a former classroom teacher. Homeschooling is for people who balk at formal education, not for teaching professionals.

Well, when our dream of living a lifestyle of full-time travel started to develop into a reality, our oldest daughter was 6 and in Kindergarten at the awesome private Christian school that we’d envisioned her attending since infancy. We slowly realized that on the road, homeschooling would be our only educational option for our children. Back to the drawing board and time to address our arguments against homeschooling if this traveling dream was ever going to come to fruition.

  1. Yeah, that whole “I could never be a stay-at-home mom” thing? While I was employed anywhere between full-time, to 3 part-time jobs, to one job that was intermittent yet had full-time hours, to one part-time job with minimal hours in my first seven years of motherhood, I never lasted more than three months as a stay-at-home mom before seeking outside employment.
    Until last June. I have been a full-time stay-at-home mom for over a year now.
    (Well, if you don’t count the fact that my home doesn’t even “stay” anywhere!)
    And I’m happy to report that being without gainful employment of my own hasn’t killed me yet!
  2. The child that I was certain that I would butt heads with in a teacher/pupil relationship? She’s a joy to teach! She’s bright, inquisitive and eager to learn. She begs for more books to read and we often discuss the themes together of the stories that she is reading. As much as I try not to use worksheets and paper/pencil work in our homeschool, she asks to do these and excels at her copywork without complaint. This same child that I had to hover over to complete her homework in Kindergarten has become a self-starter.
  3. We are still committed to teaching from a Biblical worldview. We have found a literature-based curriculum company, Sonlight Curriculum, that fits well with both our desire to teach our children with a Biblical perspective, while utilizing real, living books to teach from instead of textbooks, and without the over-the-top Biblical integrations that are sometimes a bit of a stretch. We are still able to teach our children in the same manner that they would have been taught at our private Christian school.
  4. One reason that we initially chose Sonlight as our framework for homeschooling is because it is easily adaptable for multiple ages and ability levels of children. This year, we have an 8, 6.5 and nearly 5-year-old (and nearly 3-year-old) who are all using the same curriculum, with individualized reading and language arts for each child and slightly modified math activities for our younger children from our older girls. It feels an awful lot like teaching in a first grade classroom with some children who are more advanced and working at a second or third grade level and others who are working at a young Kindergarten level. I suppose if our children were a broader age range, then it might pose more challenges, but learning together with our crew is much simpler than I expected that it would be.
  5. While I struggled to break the mold of “doing school at home” in our first couple of months of homeschooling, I’ve come to see that my philosophy of education lends itself well to homeschooling. Life is all about learning, and by de-compartmentalizing school from life, our educational opportunities as a family have become exponentially greater.

I’m reminded of a conversation that I had with my former principal whom I loved and respected greatly. When our oldest was a baby and I contemplated if and when I might return to the classroom to teach and what the future might hold for our family, she told me, “Christian school is great, but homeschooling is the best, if it works for your family.” Coming from a woman with 50 years of professional educational experience, I’ve always taken that statement to heart.

So, here I am. Doing one of those things that I swore I’d never do…

…And loving it!

I’d dare say that I think that I’ve stumbled upon one of my true passions and callings in life. While I loved teaching in the classroom, and have always been an avid lifelong learner, teaching and learning full-time alongside my own children is where I’ve hit my stride.
I hope that as you journey down the road with us–even if you are committed to “Never, ever be a homeschool mom”–that perhaps you’ll be able to use some of the ideas that I share with your own children, or other kids that you love in your life.
And be careful about what you say you’ll never do. You might have to eat a slice of humble pie one day when you find yourself doing just that thing.

Which reminds me, someday I’ll have to tell y’all about the time that I swore that I’d never, ever, EVER sew again…

Roadstead? Roadstead Mom?

Roadstead: (noun) A place less enclosed than a harbor where ships can ride at anchor. A place of shelter during stormy weather.

RoadsteadMom: (noun) A roadschooling, homesteading mother of four who is creating space for her crew to find shelter without sheltering them, and mothering on the road less traveled.

I’m Stephanie, a small town girl who found herself living in suburbia for nearly a decade, simply because “that’s what you do” as a newlywed 20-something starting a family.
Right???
While there’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, my husband and I dreamed of something different.

After years of planning our escape from the American Dream, now we, along with our four young children, are living the life that we’ve always dreamed for our family.

Our family of six is slow traveling in our RV across the USA, seeking the beauty and wonder that each community that we encounter has to offer. We choose to live simply, lightly, and joyfully; and we’re learning a lot as we homeschool–or rather, roadschool–along the way.

Won’t you join me on this journey of motherhood on the road less traveled?