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Non-Negotiables. Part two

We had a great Sunday at home yesterday. It was very productive yet very normal for us.

It was a slow wake-up morning for the house. I was probably up two hours before #4 and #5 woke up and asked if they could do “Wake up and Watch.”

“Wake up and Watch” is our weekend ritual where they can watch an episode of a show before coming downstairs.

The bigger kids trickled down the stairs to cuddle on the couch and get their breakfast ready. And by breakfast, I mean lunch. It was already noon at this point. It was a little overcast and asked if they could watch an episode of a show together as they ate. As they snuggled on the couch, I read and took a power nap in the hammock. Chris did the same in his arm chair.

After the nap, at around 1:00pm, the sky cleared a little and I jumped out of the hammock to make my Sunday declaration.

“Chore time!! Who’s going to help me with the new compost area? Who’s going to help Dad with the buckets? Who can clean up the front area? Let’s go!” They all slowly got up off the couch, with a bit of an eyeroll and maybe a little bit of a stomp. I think someone whispered “Dictator” under their breath. I put up my hair in a ponytail and we all got to work.

By 5:00pm, we were done.

How we all divided and conquered:

-#2 deep cleaned the kitchen and cleaned the bathrooms repeating our “towel” system to those who cared to pay attention, “People! Green towels are for shelves and blue towels are for drying!!!”
-#1 swept and mopped the floors, screaming every two seconds as she saw a random bug and with #3, cleaned up the front of the house where the dogs take garbage and rip things up to shreds
-#3 sorted through our shoe rack area and cleaned it up including making sure none of the rain boots had scorpions or other surprises
-#4 and Chris did the poo buckets (remember, we have no flushing toilets)
-Chris also put fencing up on another part of the house so the dogs couldn’t get out and chase animals; he also checked the water tanks to make sure there were no leaks; he also relocated a red-eyed tree frog that was making his home on our chair

-#5 and I spent time setting up a new compost area, planting some cuttings and some more pineapple, and I also helped him set up a small area on the side of the house for his seedlings; l also relocated a baby snake we found underneath a tarp

Our house is open to the jungle so it does take a village to keep it relatively de-junglefied. As we sat down eating our Sunday dinner of leftovers, we felt accomplished. I congratulated the family on the hard work and expressed my gratitude for the team effort. We started discussing creative ways to play Tetris with the space again and how to organize certain areas to best suit our changing needs.

Here is the daily chore chart that the kids need to check each morning. “Stations” are washing stations that we fill and use to wash dishes to conserve water. “Washing” is washing all dishes that aren’t personally used so any dishes used for cooking, this particular person helps to wash those dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher so our dish rack is always full and the person on dish rack needs to empty it several times a day. There are the pets to feed. I normally do the sweeping daily because I enjoy it. Chris does most of the cooking unless the kids decide they want to do it themselves which is half the time. In addition to this chore chart, the kids have to keep their rooms tidy, deep cleaning every couple of weeks.

Everyone has to get their daily chores done. We can all lounge on Sundays for a bit in the morning, taking our time to greet the day but in the end, chores have to get done and we do them together.

Today is another unsexy tip for homeschooling but is also one of my main non-negotiables being home with my kids: chores. Chores are one of the key components of homeschooling. I never expected how establishing this part of our rhythm would have so many beneficial side effects.

Sometimes we think our kids can’t do it or they won’t do it to our standards. Of course they won’t. At first. It takes practice and we need the patience to allow them to practice.

The secret to chores is consistency and adaptability:

  1. The same time of day everyone is doing chores.
  2. There is a system in place that everyone agrees to.
  3. The chores are developmentally appropriate.
  4. Everyone participates.
  5. There are consequences for unfinished chores.

Advice for Parents with Littles

We started early by buying mini brooms, mini dustpans and spray bottles. One of their favourite chores was cleaning the large mirror we had. They would have their little rag and spray bottle and clean that mirror – well half of it, only as far as they reached. There were really no consequences because they would do them when I was doing them and some normally stopped after ten minutes while others would finish when I finished.

Our rhythm has always allowed for eating together in the morning and clean up afterwards to signal that morning lessons were going to begin. Also eating together at dinner and clean up afterwards, ESPECIALLY making sure the French press is ready for early morning coffee. It’s the little things that make or break your time at home.

I started my kids early with doing chores. It was inadvertent. There was just so many of them that I needed their help. For an idea of what those early days were like, read about one of the wars I waged here. I needed to find a way they could help on a consistent basis. I didn’t want to nag or begrudge anyone in our house. There is always a lot of patience involved when setting up a system and tweaking it as they grow.

Advice for Parents with Older Children

Sometimes we don’t realize what are children are actually capable of doing because we have been doing things for them for so long. For example, I remember how I had been tying my son’s shoes without thinking and he finally said, “Mom, I can tie my own shoes…For about a year.”

When our kids were little, maybe around seven or eight years ago, we were having dinner at a friend’s house. She has three boys roughly the same age as our kids and when we lived in Toronto, we homeschooled our children together. I remember how after dinner we were going to help clean up the dinner table and our friends told us not to worry, the boys would clean. In fact, they cleaned the kitchen every night and still clean the kitchen every night now that they are 13, 15, and 18. It was amazing to me because I thought my kids were too young but they had a system in place that they consistently practiced with the kids until they were able to do it on their own. I quickly adopted the system in our family – putting leftovers away, washing cooking pans and pots, loading the dishwasher, wiping down the counter and table, and sweeping the floor.
(Shout out to Lara and Dan.)

It may take some time to do the chore with them in order to show them how it should be done. If they do it quickly without deliberate care and thought, you can go back and do it with them again and again. It will soon become a habit that they will eventually be able to do on their own. It is a game of wills and persistence. I can normally outlast anyone.

Advice for Parents with Teens

How do you get them to do chores? I imagine that it may take a little more patience and consistency on your part if you are starting chore commitments later in their lives. It takes time to change patterns and habits. I would suggest starting with a discussion. I used to tell my kids that I am not their personal housekeeper.

What chores do you need help with? Ask your teens how they think they could help and if they designed the chore chart, what would be fair for them? Start with dailies before giving weekly deep clean duties and set the parameters around when they need to have them done or give them options that they can choose from.

For example, our chore chart was created by the kids. I gave them the list of chores and they negotiated the days and frequency. I simply gave the parameter that I need someone to do these chores daily – in the morning and in the evening and sometimes throughout the day if we are using the kitchen a lot. Then they had a team meeting and negotiated their days. Some wanted to load their days with all the chores and have some days off and others wanted to spread them across the week. This type of negotiation works well if you have more than one child and they are old enough. Keep in mind that they didn’t negotiate with me or Chris. They negotiated with each other how to get what we needed them to do.

Be honest with them with what you need from them and create appropriate consequences. Maybe no one is allowed any screen time unless the chores are done. This is our rule for weekdays. Before they go to their room after dinner, we all have chores to tidy and clean the downstairs. “Independent time” is only allowed if chores are done. If you, the parent, does a lot of the cooking, your teenagers can be in the kitchen to help clean as you cook and then you can all enjoy dinner together with a clean kitchen.

Before including them in the discussion, answer these key questions for yourself:

What are your non-negotiables with chores? What chores do you absolutely need help with at the moment?

Dishes and the kitchen have always been my non-negotiable. I need help with that. Sweeping, floors, and bathrooms, even poo buckets when Chris needs help or is away – that’s my jam. On the other hand, Chris doesn’t mind cleaning up the dog vomit, the occasional dog accident in the house and disposing of the animal carcasses that the cats bring home.

My kids have learned what their own non-negotiables are as well. My second born that spent a year being a cleaner/server/barista in a restaurant has developed her own system of “kitchen clean“ and definitely wants the kitchen restaurant-grade clean. That’s her thing. Her room is another story.

Why Chores are a BIG part of our “Homeschool Curriculum”

At first, delegating chores were necessary to help me keep sane in a house with seven people. As the years went by, I realized how important chores were in contributing to practical life skills.

Work and Discipline

Here’s the kicker with chores, they don’t end. I mean you can choose not to do them and pay the consequences like a messy house or actually pay someone. You can hire a cleaning service which we have done before. With littles, it was worth it for me to hire someone once a month for a deep clean and most houses we rented here came with a cleaning service.

There are always daily things that the kids can still do – wash their dishes, tidy their stuff, and cook and clean the kitchen, clean mirrors, clean the bathroom counter and sink, sweep floors.

But they have to show up every day to maintain the house. They are also expected to do the work well. Maybe not restaurant-grade every time but enough to show they put some consideration into doing it right. And nothing feels better than accomplishing a chore you have been delaying – like sorting that drawer that people dump stuff in or the toilet or even their own room.


Cultivates Appreciation

Taking care of house and the stuff in it cultivates an appreciation for the time and money spent on it. No one dirties up the kitchen and walks away because they know that they appreciate when their siblings try to keep it tidy when it’s not their day to wash all the dishes. Rotating chores also helps them appreciate the work involved in keeping each component of the house functioning and tidy. They also appreciate what it feels like to live in a tidy room or living space or kitchen. Our house isn’t always the cleanest meaning we often have a layer of dirt or dust because of the dogs. But it certainly is very tidy.


Mindfulness Practice

I have mentioned before how much I love sweeping. It’s in the mundane that we find peace of mind and Beauty. Mopping, scrubbing, rinsing poo buckets. Repeat.


Prepares them for being an Adult

There is nothing more embarrassing as a parent when you send your child off into the world and they don’t know how to do their own laundry. (That was me. Sorry Mom.) These are skills that will make them an excellent roommate or partner. My eldest had a shock when she lived with roommates for the first time. None of them knew how to clean or keep tidy.

Team Work

There is a camaraderie that exists between siblings and parents when everyone plays Cinderella and not just one unlucky child. Working together toward a common goal – care of the house – motivates everyone to get it done instead of succumbing to laziness or feeling overwhelmed. They often help each other completing the bigger chores.

Last piece of advice: Be patient. (What else?) Be consistent and adaptable. And gold stars couldn’t hurt.

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Re-post Sunday.

As many of you know, we have no internet at home and Sunday is our home day. I pre-scheduled this post. Below is a link to a favourite post of mine from 2009 when I tore the ligaments in my ankle playing soccer and was couch-ridden for six weeks.

Oh and at the time I had a 19 month old, 3 year old, 5 Year old, and 10 year old. The ten year old was in school. And the five year old, well she was technically in kindergarten which we largely ignored during this time. And the fifth was not even a thought yet but was born LATER that year.

Do the math.

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Non-negotiables. Part One.

This morning resembled most of my mornings for the last half a dozen years.

Wake up at 5:00am.
Enjoy the stillness of dawn.
Coffee with Chris.
Read.
Write.
(And I am in our outside living room.)
Chris takes the dogs for some hill running and I pour my second cup of coffee.

There are slight variations in this routine. For example, on weekdays, I prep for lessons as well and on the weekend, I read and listen to podcasts instead. Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I also exercise for no more than 20 minutes. Some days call for meditation with my eyes open and other days call for the traditional sitting with eyes closed.

We found what works for us at this stage in our lives is the early morning. I have written about my mornings before here and how they represented a new beginning ritual for me. I loved sitting at the window staring out at the neighbor’s house across the street as the last streetlight flicker off, a signal of possibility for a fresh start.

My days seemed ordinary with five children but only if I saw them as that. Mornings gave me an opportunity to set the intention for paying attention to the simple extraordinaries that perhaps I would be the only person in the entire world to see them as extraordinary like this moment with a brother and sister in 2009 when he was first born:

This moment returned a few months ago but I would have missed it had I been moving too fast in the morning and missed the life that was around me. This is the same brother and the same sister ten years later:

Now waking up in our jungle home and sitting in our outside living room, I regard my mornings in an almost religious sense. The word sacred even falls short. They are my tiny miracles. My secret salves. My reminders to slow down and look.

The hummingbird and the Morpho make their way in front of me every single morning. I have never noted the actual time, only that when the sun comes over my left shoulder, I should look up from my book or my writing and watch. The Jungle turns a green I can only describe as electric, almost neon; a green that when I close my eyes, I can feel the green. And then, as if on cue from the change in vibrancy, the bright blue of the Morpho flies from right to left, followed by the hummingbird who feasts on the redhead bush in front of me.

Even though this seems like a routine, I sometimes miss the moment or like last week, there are three Morphos that fly left to right together.

Here is a picture of my sacred items for my morning ritual from 2014:

And I took this picture this morning:

(Mason jar of lemon water is nearby.)

My mornings are a non-negotiable part of my daily life. When I decided to wake up early and greet the day with genuine reverence and gratitude, my life changed. A baptism by light every day. Washed and purified clean ready to try again.

One of my favourite writers, Diane Ackerman, wrote this poem:

SCHOOL PRAYER

In the name of daybreak
and the eyelids of morning
and the wayfaring moon
and the night when it departs,

I swear I will not dishonor
my soul with hatred
but offer myself humbly
as a guardian of nature,
as a healer of misery,
as a messenger of wonder
as an architect of peace.

In the name of the sun and its minors
and the day that embraces it
and the cloud veils drawn over it
and the uttermost night
and the male and the female
and the plants bursting with seed
and the crowning seasons of the firefly
and the apple, I will honor all life

—wherever and in whatever form
it may dwell—on Earth my home,
and in the mansions of the stars.

You will make mistakes when you are with your kids every day. You will be impatient and exhausted. They will get in the way. You will lose focus. You will yell. They will yell. The house will get disorganized. You will not be able to have that phone call or zoom meeting that you needed to do. You will not have everything go according to plan – no matter what homeschool curriculum or online homeschool schedule suggests. There are days when it will all fall apart.

And on those days, you can remember your morning ritual. It may just look like one sip of coffee you can savour with your eyes closed right before the toddler wakes up. It may look like writing down the mess of voices in your head for ten minutes before you have to check email and get sh*it done. It may look like cuddling in bed with the littles or your partner before you begin again. Whatever it looks like, do it again and again.

Show up the next day and stick to it.

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Rome, Star Wars, and a Family Activity.

I am about to talk about the most unsexiest thing about homeschooling.

But first, a story.

This month the kids have been studying United States history (the teens), Ancient Rome (the middles schooler), and stories and myths related to local culture (the grade schooler) including the life of plants outside our door which can’t get anymore local than that.

(Why U.S. History? My high school class has nine teenagers from ages fourteen to seventeen. We study one subject in depth per month and the class gives me suggestions on what they want. More on high school homeschool in another post and how it has evolved since my eldest was in high school. For now, you can read this post and this post. and this post. )

I began my first Rome lesson as a combined class with both my middle school-aged class and my high school class. After that class, they were separated again – the high schoolers studying U.S. History and the other class immersed themselves in Ancient Rome.

I scheduled these blocks purposefully knowing that each block was related to the other which helps me teach.

The first sentence of my introduction to Ancient Rome:

Rome was founded on murder.

(Yes it’s a bit dramatic but remember I was presenting to teenagers who enjoy a little flair of the dramatic.)

As we study the history of a place, we look at its beginnings. How did its story begin? How was the civilization or country or town founded? Who was there already? How did its culture develop? How did its culture develop based on its shared values? What were these shared values? How did the environment play a role?

Later we see that the foundation and early decisions made according to what was important to these communities and subsequently, the civilization, formed its identity and its relationship to the rest of the world, often impacting larger themes like economics, politics, and social issues.

If you are new to homeschooling, you are halfway into this post and wondering, what in the world does this have to do with homeschooling?

Enter the unsexy part plus our family in Star Wars costumes (which is also quite unsexy unless you like side buns).

Hans Solo: Chris, Me: Princess Leia, J: Stormtrooper, F: A Jedi, M: Ray, Q: Jedi, and AJ: Day of the Dead celebrant (obviously exhibiting her teenage defiance and repulsion of family costumes)

It has everything to do with homeschooling, at least the way I homeschool. Family identity and culture including what you value as a family complete informs the way in which you homeschool. I know shopping for materials, books, and even curriculum can feel exciting but it’s like putting up the interior walls before you even set the foundation.

Transplanting copycat ideas or even standard curriculum gives a very low return if you are measuring general happiness and enthusiasm for learning at home, and I would argue also the general development of skills like creativity and critical thinking. (Let’s be real, a lot of why the kids love going to school is hanging with their friends at recess or if they have an amazing teacher who is able to deliver the material with context in an innovative way.)

***I could potentially just give you a list of ideas and links and send you on your way OR I can show you how to sift through all the ideas quickly to see what works for your family. I am opting for the latter with these posts. ***

The definition of culture according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary:

a :the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group
also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time
popular culture
Southern culture
b : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
a corporate culture focused on the bottom line
c : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic
studying the effect of computers on print culture
d : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations

2a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training
b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills
a person of culture

3 : the act or process of cultivating living material (such as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media
also : a product of such cultivation

4 : CULTIVATION, TILLAGE
We ought to blame the culture, not the soil.
— Alexander Pope

5 : the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education

6 : expert care and training

(For an even more nuanced discussion, check out this New Yorker article. I got a little lost in it as it made my mind start turning regarding potential discussion topics for my teens…Ok getting distracted…)

There is so much in that definition that applies to what we are facing today. With culture, everything that takes place in it feels natural and generally practiced. There is less resistance or confusion. It’s customary and everyone “buys in” because it’s a shared belief.

Cultivating a garden is a great example. You cultivate the soil first before planting the seeds. When you plant them, you try to place them in the perfect conditions to grow – a “culture.” When it comes to human beings, we are all dealing with our own ideas of cultural identity which are diverse and varied and whether we were intentional or not, we have a family culture in our home we have created as well.

When Chris and I began homeschooling, he was beginning to shift careers and work more at home. When we made these decisions, we were creating a different foundation for a family – a deliberate one. When we had our first daughter, we were improvising along the way and made so many missteps without the information overload that we have today. We had never sat down and talked about what we wanted, let alone what we value.

Once we started to make decisions that were more unconventional, we had found that our values had changed after our fifth child was born. We no longer felt we were functioning together as a family that was optimal. It was a life of getting to the next moment, milestone, commitment, program, school day. We were stuck on a loop that I couldn’t break unless we did something radical to completely shift our reality.

THE NUMBER ONE obvious gauge to know life is not functioning optimally at home? When you are screaming and irritable all the time and you start asking yourself, “How did I get here?” That’s where we were when we decided to shift gears.

In 2010, we sat down and wrote our family mission statement. It had five things on it:


We are committed to lifelong learning.
We are committed to a healthy and active lifestyle.
We are committed to celebrating art and creativity.
We are committed to travel and new experiences.
We are committed to our relationships.

We slowly began to build a life around these principles. It was like we were about to “found” a new city. We torched the old one full of words like “busy” and “stressed” and “if only.”

We were setting intentions for a different way of life and all of our decisions would be reflected in these values. It became easier to sieve through all the opportunities and seldom feel FOMO.

How was your family culture founded? How did your family story begin? Where are you at in the story? Are you in the early stages of the republic when fairness and equality are tantamount with individual rights as the prominent value? Or have you built a large central government already, or even an imperialistic one, that needs to be dismantled and built again? Is there a Darth Vader that strikes fear in the citizenry when the dishes aren’t done? (There is one in my house. Sometimes she dresses like Princess Leia to disguise her dark side.)

How do you balance both individual needs and the collective? (Ah, the most asked question in all of human history including in Rome, Early America, Star Wars and my house of seven).

Every family is different with many factors to take into account: size, composition, economic factors, personal philosophy, etc. But in the end you also have to decide on your standards of measurement.

How does one measure “successful” family life?

Also understand that this all changes over time. The family grows older and developmental, physical, economic, and even philosophical changes take place because of experience. Children grow up and leave to explore the world on their own. And sometimes they come back.

Do you have a family culture that can adapt easily and effortlessly do these changes? Even if the definition of success changes.

I guess this post isn’t just for parents who have kids at home but for all types of families trying to figure out how to be together at home.

Some tips to help you get starting defining and/or creating your family culture. I would suggest that each member in the house do this activity separately. (For little people under the age of seven, you can simply ask them what they love to do together as a family and what else they would love to do.)

  1. Take this weekend to write down all the things you love about your family identity and culture and all the things you would like to change or improve upon. Maybe write your family story and project out into the future a little and how you want to see your family in a few years or even next month.
  2. What top 5 values do you want to put up on your wall that you want to base all your decisions on including how to homeschool, how to experience this self-isolation and social distancing time in history, how to evaluate information, how to use screen time and the internet, and how to communicate with each other? E.g. Love, Respect, Creativity, Connection, and Compassion.
  3. What activities help you thrive? In our house, we have a lot of books, a lot of space, a lot of art materials, a large island in the kitchen for group cooking, a lot of volleyballs, and a lot of kettlebells.
  4. What activities make you feel worse? For example, we have no internet which is inconvenient but allows us to use it efficiently when we do have access to it. Too much random social media scrolling also makes us all feel a little icky as opposed to targeting the people we want to see.
  5. Define the following with examples:
    – Happiness
    – Success
    – Love
    – Joy
    – Fear
    – Family
    – Learning
  6. What does your ideal day look like?
  7. How do you feel about doing chores? The chores that are assigned to you? Do you want a change in the system? How would you suggest you take care of the house?
  8. If you could create (or borrow) a motto for your family, what would it be. I think I have mentioned this before but I have stolen our three mottoes from others:

Be here now. (Ram Dass)

Follow your bliss. (Joseph Campbell)

Mucho take it easy. (Nacho Libre)

I posted this Rumi quote on Instagram the other day:

“When will you begin that long journey to yourself?”

Now’s the time. And I would add it’s also time to journey with the people you love most.

Take your time with this because you have the opportunity to do it. Once you have an idea of who you are as a family, you can better navigate what you need and what you want in terms of learning at home.

And in the words of another wise sage:

“Patience you must have my young Padawan.” — Yoda

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Welcome to the Homeschool Club.

Dear Parent,

Welcome to Homeschooling.

It maybe was never going to be an option for you or that you would never consider keeping your kids at home but here you are. I wanted to write you an official welcome to the club type of letter. We are normally a crafty bunch so if I could meet you, I would probably give you a badge, cross-stitched or wool felted.

Funny how things change, what once was a fringe decision is now the norm. Our homeschool population – if I could describe numbers with human characteristics – was a ‘quiet’ and ‘reserved’ little number and has now exponentially grown. (And we are all getting a lesson in exponential growth these days.)

I have to admit that when self-isolation and social distancing was strongly encouraged, it affected us more than the average homeschooler. This year I started to teach other children and Chris started programs for the youth in the community. Homeschool became a hybrid notion as I started to teach in a classroom that felt like a home. I taught all of the children like my own children because some of them are actually my own children. But at the same time, it didn’t take my children long to find a rhythm at home and together as a family once we shifted back into ‘at home’ mode. Although we aren’t ‘home’ that much. More on that later.

Welcome.

Welcome to a life at home. Step one to homeschooling: LOVE YOUR HOME. Your home and how you feel about it plays a crucial role in this journey because you will be spending all your time there. It is the nth member of the family. In my case, it is the beloved 8th member. There is the least bickering and annoyance with this member because she (of course it’s a “she”) is patient and kind as she puts up with a considerable amount of abuse and neglect on most days unless you have to be with her all the time. If this is the case, as most homeschoolers are, then you tend to care more about the space.

When you are at home for the majority of your time, you tend to treat her differently. Things that you can stuff in a corner or ignore are the only things you see when you are at home all day. This is a perfect time for spring cleaning; a perfect time to involve the kids in caring for the house, i.e. chores. If chores have a negative association, change it to “house-care” or “household love notes.” Whatever it is, this would be my first priority if I could go back in time.

When we became minimalists, it changed our home life – a layer of weight was shed so we could focus on the important stuff. Being at home, you may be tempted to stock up on craft material, books, toys, “educational”games, etc. This also applies to online apps and curriculum – cluttered doesn’t just mean ‘physical’ clutter. Don’t do it. Wait. Be patient. You’ll hear this a lot from me. This is a LONG game – an infinite game really. I’ll talk about this more later.

Welcome.

Welcome to the integration of home/school/education/learning. As you do this, depending on the set-up of your home and the amount of kids you have and their ages, you may want a separate space for their “focused work.” Some of you will still be following lessons from your school curriculum or guidelines from teachers so the kids will have to devote some time daily to finishing this work.

Some children need a physical separation of work and play like adults having a separate office space at home. Some kids can do focused work in their room or on the sofa or the dining table. We did not have the space to have a completely separate space but I felt my kids needed to have the separation as they got older simply because they wanted and were capable of focusing for more than 10 minutes. My family, who didn’t have enough space, and how my good friend Brooke who also with five children used to say, you end up playing house-Tetris a few times before finding the perfect set-up for your family.


Be patient. Take your time understanding the need before you knock walls down or rearrange bedrooms. Observe and consult the family for a little while. Are you starting to see the pattern in my advice?

Welcome.

Welcome to a crash course in relationships. When people ask me now what my favourite thing is about homeschooling, I say the relationships that we have spent time nurturing and building between each other. Parent to child, sibling to sibling, husband to wife, me to myself, and themselves to themselves. We are social animals and how we relate to one another is a skill we undervalue. I have looked back over blog posts to find the right ones to link to and I am astonished at the amount time we spent with each other – at home, in cars, and on trips around our local community and trips abroad.

I am proud to say that the seven of us are still close. All five children are here, hanging out together, and honestly, it feels easy and normal. They disagree and often get annoyed with each other but most of the time, they are cuddling in someone’s room doing homework or listening to music together or watching a movie on the sofa. Our house in the jungle is a lot bigger than our old home in Toronto but they haven’t seemed to adjust their physical proximity to each other or to me and Chris. They are always in arm’s length of another family member unless they need time to themselves which they normally take in the morning before getting up or as they wind down at bed time.

If you don’t have a big family, make sure you use technology like Zoom or Skype to keep your kids in contact with friends and family members. I can’t stress how social interaction with people other than you, dear parent, will preserve your sanity and give you and your child something to talk about too.

During the weekday, I have managed to continue our classes and teach through Zoom so the kids can interact with their friends and so I can also interact and be a point of support for other parents. I am an anchor point for these kids during the week – meeting for one, two, or three hours and talking and sharing. Living in a house with no internet poses a challenge which is why I am grateful for our empty little school that feel like home but has internet. Confusing? Well of course. When everyone zigs or starts to homeschool, Chris and I zag and find a way to continue to have our kids in “school” online.

But I digress.

For the most part, you will have a TON of together time. Be patient. This is a transition period. My best advice for transition periods – musicals of course. My second best advice? Patience. Lots of patience.

Welcome.

Welcome to homeschooling. Welcome to this blog of homeschooling. Kind of. That’s what homeschooling is by the way. A “kind of” thing as you will come to find out. I know you might have wanted links or ideas or suggestions but I thought I would start with the basics, the kind of things that we wanted to reset or change anyway and how after this is all said and done, what kind of life do we want? I will eventually post my kids top 10 stuff to do en casa and other favourite places online and lists of books and activities to do for different age groups, different size families, and ways to help parents maintain their own relationship. But like I said, be patient…and go watch The Sound of Music.

Sincerely,

Rozanne

Social Distancing.

P.S. Daily posts on the way! Glad to be back.

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Homeschool resources…coming soon…

After the amazing FB Live talk today, I realized that I want to share more of what has helped us along the way over the past 10 years. I will post here this week!!!

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MayBE: an ending and a beginning.

The Journey

It takes a special energy, over and above one’s creative potential, a special audacity or subversiveness, to strike out in a new direction once one is settled. It is a gamble as all creative projects must be, for the new direction may not turn out to be productive at all. ― Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness

Although it would be nice to settle and enjoy the fruits of my creative labours in May, including establishing a daily writing practice that I have continued, I feel compelled again to “strike out in a new direction” as Oliver Sacks writes. Like my daughter in the above pic at a recent river excursion, it’s time to take another leap.

I love the word audacity. The Latin root is audacisboldness.

Bold, daring, and courageous are the words used to describe the root word.

The words “foolhardy” and “rash” come later in the etymology. I wonder who has drawn that line when being bold, daring, and courageous become a fool’s effort?

A week ago, when the month of May came to a close, my mayBE project ended.

For every journey, we often begin with a destination in mind and a map of how to get there. On the more rare occasions, we just get up and go with a rough outline of the direction where we want to head with a small backpack.

MayBE was an audacious journey there was no destination or map. All I knew is that I wanted to pay closer attention and in doing so, follow any creative impulse.

I loved using the word MayBE.

It became a mantra in our house which annoyed some members of the family.

But the best part of it all for me was the commitment I made to myself. My commitment to create every day. I was less harsh on myself this time around when I couldn’t both paint and write. I committed to the writing and was able to write every damn day which was huge for me. I loved documenting what I was doing and reflecting on how this opened up doors of possibility.

I am a lover of the unanswered and open-ended question. The dot-dot-dot…

(Even though that is a huge writing pet peeve for some.) With the biggest of bear hugs, I embraced the fantastical whims of my imagination – something that I had been chastised for in my childhood. (I made up a lot of stories.) I dove into the unknown and was content with the unsolvable mystery.

I left myself open to inspiration daily: every conversation, every unidentifiable and familiar sound from nature and from my neighbourhood; every discernible colour of the sky and sea; every snapshot of the mundane; and every snippet of everything I could read. All of these were both seeds and compost and fertilizer. Everything was a jumping off point, a start of a thought, a spark that set my wonder ablaze.

The best side effect of this project that I did to nourish my creative life was that my children bore witness and it was fodder for their own creations. I wondered out loud a lot while sitting and writing. I had many books on my table from different disciplines – poetry, botany, art, neuroscience, physics, plotless fiction, reference, picture books, nature writing.

My intention for mayBE was to start and see where it would lead, to embody the spirit of “maybe.” Where would another month of mayBE and intentional creation lead? I didn’t know. My parameters were simple yet open: a daily commitment of a single creative habit. My writing evolved through the month and so did my paintings. I started to live the questions each day which would lead to inspiration for the following day.

At the very least, my gaze was filtered through the lenses of appreciation and curiosity – often alternating throughout the day. Choosing to lean into beauty and/or optimism over and over again was uncomfortable in the beginning but over the course of the month, it became my default – How could I not see the beauty?There is beauty even in conflict and hurt and disagreeable situations. It is an opportunity to take responsibility, to reflect, and to re-evaluate our own assumptions. It is an opportunity to mend and do better.

I talked about the theme of “Balance” in one of my mayBE prompts. I talked about homeostasis. As soon as I finished May, my body screamed, “Hello! Remember me!?!” And so did the beach and the rivers. And community projects. And the kids. As if on cue, the kids initiated new projects which inspired me to write some interesting lesson blocks to support their hunger for new stories.

We spent a lot of time by the river and at the beach. (Exhale.)

Instead of writing this closing post to publish on June 1, I promptly started a new training program, worked on our #notmyplastic community project, planned a beautiful rite of passage ceremony for my daughter who turned fourteen this past week, and started a book club for two with my twenty-one year old.

The book club topic that came up last week was BODY.

(Notice my audacious caps and bold letters.)

We had one of the most honest conversations I have ever had about body image, body love/hate, body inheritance, body colour and form, and body aging. It inspired other conversations with other women that prompted a further examination into how we all see each other and how vulnerable we become when we talk about our bodies.

Over the course of the month, I will share my thoughts on the body and how we discuss this with our daughters and our son and share my own efforts to stay active and how it has changed through the years. More journal prompts, more drawings (when necessary), more unfiltered photos, and fun activity prompts to move more.

How do we see and feel our body? Can we reduce it to a machine or a vehicle carrying the true essence of ourselves? Where does it hurt? How does it hurt? Where are the visible and invisible wounds? How do we heal?

The first prompt starts tomorrow – Body as a Poem.”

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MayBE 2019: Day Thirty-One

mayBE 2019: day 31

THE MORE LOVING ONE

by W.H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

I was talking to a young person yesterday. She asked me “Why bother?

This question came on the heels of starting an astronomy block. Before I could jump into astronomy, she asked me where we get most of our oxygen from. I told her about the tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton filling our oceans. She asked if people know this. I said that maybe not everyone knows about the phytoplankton but everyone knows that plants give us oxygen. Then she asked, “So how can we still cut down our forests and pollute our ocean?”

I couldn’t give her an answer.

I could have said money, miseducation, apathy, politics. But I just shrugged because I too couldn’t understand it.

She asked me, “Why bother?” This is a dangerous question. But here I am anyway introducing astronomy. I am asking her to copy a Vincent Van Gogh quote about the stars while she is coming to terms with the fact that we are consciously killing our air supply.

She wanted to know all about the planets and now she wants to know why no one understands our interconnection with plants, the ocean, and the earth.

I tell her to copy the quote. We look at pictures of the life cycles of stars. I tell her that our world and life itself wouldn’t exist without the death of stars. She looks at me and says, “Why?” I tell her that when a star dies, all of the elements are born – including carbon, the building block of life. She sketches a supernova with pastel and asks more questions.

The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

Earlier today, some of my kids and I went to a magical river spot with friends. The only way to get there is swimming up the river. The kids swung from jungle vines into the river. There was a huge tree that stood on the banks, its roots hugging the sides, holding the land almost with a tender affection. They swim and explore and as the sun starts to get lower, we make our way up the river to go home. No one wants to leave and we are already planning a return visit.

And this is why we bother. This nature connection starts with a love of a best friend, a recognition of self within the surrounding land, waters, and living things. And then we share the wonder of our universe and our perfect place in it all – not too hot, not too cold, not too far, not too close, not too big, not too small.

We not only have the privilege but the responsibility to stand in amazement of existence. When we fill our space with this feeling intentionally and pass it on, we have no room for despair. We only have room to love it all with wonder and gratitude.

And after thirty-one days of maybe’s, of possibilities, of what-if’s, I have more questions and even less answers. I am inspired by the thought that my life is both the blank page and the poem. This month I have learned in embracing both the spaciousness of being and the densest singularity of potentiality – where things begin and end again and again.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • What inspired you this month?
    • Copy the poem above.
    • What did you create or imagine?
    • Make a list of possibility. (Have you imagined six things before breakfast?)
    • Draw or paint.

Creative Autobiography below.

Your Creative Autobiography 1. What is the first creative moment you remember? 2. Was anyone there to witness or appreciate it? 3. What is the best idea you’ve ever had? 4. What made it great in your mind? 5. What is the dumbest idea? 6. What made it stupid? 7. Can you connect the dots that led you to this idea? 8. What is your creative ambition? 9. What are the obstacles to this ambition? 10. What are the vital steps to achieving this ambition? 11. How do you begin your day? 12. What are your habits? What patterns do you repeat? 13. Describe your first successful creative act. 14. Describe your second successful creative act. 15. Compare them. 16. What are your attitudes toward: money, power, praise, rivals, work, play? 17. Which artists do you admire most? 18. Why are they your role models? 19. What do you and your role models have in common? 20. Does anyone in your life regularly inspire you? 21. Who is your muse? 22. Define muse. 23. When confronted with superior intelligence or talent, how do you respond? 24. When faced with stupidity, hostility, intransigence, laziness, or indifference in others, how do you respond? 25. When faced with impending success or the threat of failure, how do you respond? 26. When you work, do you love the process or the result? 27. At what moments do you feel your reach exceeds your grasp? 28. What is your ideal creative activity? 29. What is your greatest fear? 30. What is the likelihood of either of the answers to the previous two questions happening? 31. Which of your answers would you most like to change? 32. What is your idea of mastery? 33. What is your greatest dream?

― Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life

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MayBE 2019: Day Thirty

MayBE 2019: May 30

We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or ‘human flourishing’.”

― Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Age of Exploration.

What is the difference between an explorer and a colonizer?

This is what we look at in our class when we discuss this “Age of Exploration” that connected world zones that previously were isolated from each other.

Was there a difference between how Marco Polo and how Christopher Columbus saw the world?

We talk about this because our teens are ready to explore the world. In fact, a few in my class are getting ready for travel across the Atlantic very shortly. I teach about travel adventure historically so they can prepare themselves for their own explorations.

What does it mean to see the world, different cultures, different peoples through the lens of an explorer versus an exploiter?

What does the word “explore” mean? What attitudes and characteristics do you embody when you are an explorer?

Curiosity and learning.

Giving and sharing the experience. Not taking and controlling the experience.

We love to celebrate our differences but what about celebrating our similarities? Being human together.

Let’s talk about the colonization and be aware of its modern manifestations so that we can explore the world more responsibly. We talked about how one of the seven pillars of colonization is the “killing of a culture.” What is culture? Why is it necessary to kill it to colonize?

Culture is tied to the land, the language, and the beliefs of a community. We brainstorm to answer this question of culture and how it relates to traditions and to existing beliefs. We ask if it based on “artificial instincts” as culture is defined in one of the books we reference for our class, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.

We have two guests in class who had to the discussion – Christiano, who always manages to inspire more questions, and Gloriana, one of the moms of the teens who offers insights from her own travels and observations of the world. They aren’t quick to answer but push the questions so that we all examine our existing beliefs.

For example, Christiano suggests a different perspective. Is there are mix of the explorer and colonizer? Does a colonizer have to be an explorer? What about the “backpacker”?

We didn’t come up with definitive answers but we knew that the attitude of the explorer – freedom, curiosity, quest for knowledge, learning for the sake of learning – was very different than that of the colonizer although it can easily lead to a colonizing of attitude which is motivated by greed and personal gain.

When we began homeschooling the kids ten years ago, I bought a book called the How To Be An Explorer of the World: A Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith.

Here is an excerpt:

How To Be An Explorer Of The World

  1. Always Be LOOKING (notice the ground beneath your feet.)
  2. Consider Everything Alive & Animate
  3. EVERYTHING Is Interesting. Look Closer.
  4. Alter Your Course Often.
  5. Observe For Long Durations (and short ones).
  6. Notice The Stories Going On Around You.
  7. Notice PATTERNS. Make CONNECTIONS.
  8. DOCUMENT Your Findings (field notes) In A VAriety Of Ways.
  9. Incorporate Indeterminacy.
  10. Observe Movement.
  11. Create a Personal DIALOGUE With Your Environment. Talk to it.
  12. Trace Things Back to Their ORIGINS.
  13. Use ALL of the Senses In Your Investigations.

― Keri Smith, How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum

Perhaps this is what we can do in the beginning. To have the eyes of an explorer for the places closest to us. To see the details of the familiar like cultural artifacts as if we were in a museum or an art gallery. To observe and to appreciate the life we curate; born to explore the world around us. This is the advice I give to the explorers in front of me, some who have already left home to explore and to those who are on the cusp, from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets (see below for a bigger excerpt):

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy poem below (or any portion).
    • Copy any of Keri Smith’s advice to explorers. (My daughter’s fave is #3.)
    • Draw a map of places in your home, your neighbourhood, your country, or the world, or the known universe that one day you would like to explore closer.

From Little Gidding (No. 4 of the Four Quartets) by T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one.

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MayBE 2019: Day Twenty-Nine

MayBE 2019: Day 29

Light and Heat.

At dawn, the world rises out of darkness, slowly sense-grain by grain, as if from sleep. Life becomes visible once again. ‘When it is dark, it seems to me as if I were dying and I can’t think anymore,” Claude Monet once lamented.”More light!” Goethe begged from his deathbed. Dawn is the wellspring of more light, the origin of our first to last days as we roll in space, over 6.684 billion of us in one global petri dish, shot through with sunlight, in our cells, in our minds, in myriad of metaphors for rebirth, in all the extensions to our senses that we create to enlighten our days and navigate our nights. – Diane Ackerman, Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day

Every day I sit with my coffee on my deck with my husband and my dogs.

Before I hit the ground writing, I sit and watch the light change. Most days there are sun but I also appreciate the gray. I could do this every day for the rest of my life. This ritual of light observing.

In the evening, we light candles. The last light I see is the flickering flame of our bedroom candle. I end my night with the same ritual – light observing.

Recently, I did a short chemistry block with one of my students. I begin any exploration into chemistry with fire. Why start with fire? Because it is the most active force that produces a chemical change. It has played a huge role in the history of chemistry.

For the first few lessons, we literally play with fire. We make fire, we burn things, and we also put fires out. And then we simply observe. We watch the slow burning stick and the fast burning roots of a plant. We are curious to see what happens to different types of minerals. We begin with questions: What are the elements of fire? For fire, we need a spark, material to burn, and oxygen.

Fire has two phenomena – heat and light. As Richard Feynman’s brilliant talk on fire explains: when we burn a piece of wood, we release the sun’s energy back. The light and heat of the fire originated in the sun. They return to their original states—to their beginnings – carbon dioxide and move upwards. The ash is a dead mineral that falls to the ground. We begin to make this connection between the heavens and the earth, the polarity of upward and downward.

(In later years, we look at fire more with the lens of the scientific – chemical changes expressed in the language of symbols, balancing equations because in a chemical transformation, no energy is gained or lost, simply transferred into another form. But for the early years of adolescence, we focus on the phenomena, and the intuitive and observable qualities of fire.)

We also talk about warmth. A candle has light but not much heat. The sun gives us both light and heat.. There are substances that are mineral-based that are combustible that give us a great flash of light with no heat (phosphorous which means “light-bearer”) or originate from the depths of the earth that give off heat without a bright light (sulphur which means “sun-bearer.”). What gives us warmth? Can we love the light without its warmth?

We talk and paint and sit with the questions that arise after just like the lingering smoke after a candle is extinguished.

TODAY’S PROMPT:

  • Copy a quote or poem on light or heat (see below or above)
  • Draw/paint fire or light
  • When have you felt the transformative power of fire? When has it been out of control?

Self Portrait

It doesn’t interest me if there is one God

Or many gods.

I want to know if you belong — or feel abandoned;

If you know despair

Or can see it in others.

I want to know

If you are prepared to live in the world

With its harsh need to change you;

If you can look back with firm eyes

Saying “this is where I stand.”

I want to know if you know how to melt

Into that fierce heat of living

Falling toward the center of your longing.

I want to know if you are willing

To live day by day

With the consequence of love

And the bitter unwanted passion

Of your sure defeat.

I have been told

In that fierce embrace

Even the gods

Speak of God.

  • David Whyte, Fire in the Earth
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