Our Playroom Tour

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When we first moved into this house about 15 months ago, I had NO CLUE what to do with the ginormous living/dining/family area that was basically one giant loft sized room. When I first put down our rug from our old house that used to take up the entire living room, it looked comically sad, like someone had put a doormat on the ground. Even the AT&T guy who came to install our internet laughed at it!

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I had NO idea what I was doing, decor wise, and for the first couple months I was terribly homesick! While I appreciated how new this house was (built just 4 years ago, so the insulation is fantastic!), I missed the quaint homey character of our little 1940s house. This new giant room, in particular, felt like it was actively trying to swallow our stuff. I felt really lost and like I couldn’t even get comfortable.

Over the past year, we’ve played with things and moved things around to no end trying to find what “fits”. We’ve sold off a lot of our cheap dwarfishly sized Ikea stuff, and opted for only real wood and jute fibers (I have done wayyyy to much reading about formaldehyde and off-gassing to knowingly buy stuff that was going to pollute our indoor air!).

This area by the front door started out as our dining room, mostly because that seemed to be how the house builder intended it (there’s a coffered ceiling and a chandelier here).

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It only took hosting ONE time before we decided to pull the plug on this location for the dining room. Basically, the dining room table and the kitchen were on opposite end of the house, haha! And carrying stuff back and forth was awkward and weird. So we moved the dining table behind the couches/living area, and used our old living room rug to section off the space. There was no chandelier, but I got this easy conversion light kit from Home Depot, and a pendant light from World Market (similar one here, ours was a return without any hardware, and we got it for a fraction of the original price!). As far as curtains go, there are a billion windows in this house and so we bought wood dowels and brackets from Home Depot and made our own curtain rods using this tutorial! Paired with these sheer curtains from Ikea, we were able to do each set of windows for under $30, vs what I calculated to be around $60-75 for normal curtain rods plus curtains. It might not seem like much, until you’re multiplying it by 10-15 different window sets!

 

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But enough about the dining room. We weren’t sure what to do with this front corner after moving the table, since it was clearly designated as a dining area with the ceiling and chandelier. Rather than un-install the chandelier, we simply moved it higher so that it wasn’t as visible. We decided on making it a play area for the boys, especially since Thomas had his cute closet bedroom for a while, so we slowly started filling out the space.

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I started getting rid of most of our particleboard furniture, and the puppet show got moved into the older boys’ room. A bit of patience on Craigslist can get you some nice homemade wooden bookshelves, I’ve found!

Right as you walk in the front door, you see the reading nook in front of the play area. I try to keep the rattan bookshelf organized so I can find what we need. The top shelf is all of our Waldorf fairy tales and poetry, the second shelf is full of easy readers for the older boys, and the last two shelves are Thomas’ board books. I have a whole other bookshelf of books stored away behind that white door to the right, so these are all on rotation.

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This is the other side of the bookshelf behind the rocking chairs! We don’t have many toys here yet, and I’m find if the shelf basically stays this empty 🙂 Mostly puzzles, duplos and wood trains! These toys all used to be in Thomas’ room, but he always brought them out here anyways, so now his bedroom has ZERO toys in it and I can keep all the toys in the house consolidated into one spot!

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I also love our Waldorf playstand, and love watching Thomas use his play kitchen (he’s the funniest imitator!).

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To the left of the playstand is one of the wooden bookshelves, as you look into the dining area. These are literally the extent of 75% of Thomas’ toys. I rotate a few others in every now and then and he has a few at Grandma’s house, but I hate clutter and try to only keep what he plays with, haha!

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Behind this bookshelf is our homemade block creation area. Thomas’ godmother does woodworking, and she brought us HUNDREDS of these wood blocks, made with the softest birch and pine. Word has it her husband is currently make castle turrets too!

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Last but not least is our piano! This windowsill is also where we keep our wooden element stackers and our potted plants. I used to be a piano teacher full-time (you can read my overview of piano curriculums here, it’s still one of my most widely read posts!), and I’m just now starting to teach the boys.

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For a little while, we had an indoor red slide that took up residence in the middle of this room! But since Thomas was hurtling himself down this thing and bumping himself on the wood floors, I moved it into his carpeted bedroom 🙂 It’s literally the only toy in there right now! We were planning on moving him in with his older brothers, but last night was a disaster so we’ll see.

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Thanks for reading through our playroom tour!

Why We Homeschool Part 2

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Thanks to all of you who read and loved my last post about why we homeschool! I’ve received an outpouring of comments and questions, and it’s honestly been really refreshing to see that so many others desire the same type of living.

This second part of why we homeschool is even more difficult to write about, because not everyone will agree with what I have to say about these things, primarily education. However, if you keep an open mind there might be something you see that sparks an interest in you, something you want to implement in your own home life with your children, even if you don’t homeschool! I also want to mention that what I have to say is only a crude overview, focusing just on what matters the most to me, because there is no way to sum up 100s and 100s of years of educational philosophy in one blog post.

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Perhaps I’ll start with few of my favorite educational quotes:

Look on education as something between the child’s soul and God. Modern Education tends to look on it as something between the child’s brain and the standardized test.” — Charlotte Mason

“But what are schools for if not to make children fall so deeply in love with the world that they really want to learn about it?”– Marjorie Spock

“Let parents bequeath to their children not riches, but the spirit of reverence.”— Plato’s Meno

 

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Although we have settled on a Waldorf/Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum, there are many methods out there! I am a firm believer that all parents should observe their kids and their own family situation closely, and then choose what works for them without worrying about what others think. Parents know their children better than anyone else, and what works for one child may not work for a sibling in the same family. For us, we are sticking strictly with Waldorf for one child, whilst adding in more classical/Charlotte Mason curriculum for the other, because it’s what they need. Educators who strictly adhere to Waldorf teaching know that the greatest curriculum is your child. You should be studying/learning them and making an informed decision based on that, while adding in family needs/circumstances.

I’ll start with my own educational journey.

Why?

Because this is the internet, and people are mean.

HAHA, but seriously.

It’s easy to get criticized when you write down ANYTHING parenting-related, especially if you are doing something counter-cultural. Tensions around education are high in this country, and I think it necessary to spell out that I am no stranger to academics. I don’t claim to be an expert on classical education, but I have years of experience in it, both as a student and as a teacher. I was never a Montessori certified teacher, but I’ve spent 100s of hours observing it across a few different states and read countless books, so I feel I at least have a large sampling size. I am probably weakest in my knowledge of public school education, as I was only homeschooled through it (aka, we used their textbooks and went on field trips with them), but I have plenty of friends who teach in the public schools and I make a point to pick their brains about what they’ve seen, observed, etc.

I started my education at a small christian school for K and 1st. At my Kindergarten entrance exam I read the teacher’s instructions back to her upside down from across the table. This wasn’t a surprise to my parents, since I’d already finished “Little House in the Big Woods” on the preschool playground instead of playing with the other kids (I was already an introvert loner who loved books more than people!). I wrote my first chapter book when I was 6.

In 1st grade, they bumped me up to 3rd and 4th grade for most of the day so that I could be challenged, which made my parents decide I was ready for something different. I was then homeschooled through the public school curriculum for grades 2-5 and had 4 of the happiest years of my education. I ran the creeks/woods with abandon, did art projects constantly, learned violin and piano, and wrote thousands of pages of short stories.

6th-8th grade were spent at a small (read: less than 20 people) classical school where I learned Latin, Greek, Spencerian Penmanship, Shakespeare, archery, wood working, art, etc. I skipped 9th grade altogether (tested out) and went straight to 10th-12th at the very same Christian school I had done K-1st at. I graduated at the age of just barely 17, and headed off to the Torrey Honors program at Biola University, where I graduated in 3.5 years. I was married at the beginning of my senior year.1928944_504785429477_9995_n

From there, I taught high school and middle school English, along with 2 years of 3-5th grade for a small online school. Along the way I also taught music in over 30 different Montessori schools in both CA and TX, and got a MA in English/classics at the University of Dallas. My husband is currently getting his PhD in Philosophy, while also working at one of the largest and most prestigious classical schools in the entire nation.

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The day I graduated Biola in 2007, right before we moved to TX to start grad school!

 

SO to summarize: I am not an expert, but I’m not a novice. I would categorize myself somewhere in the “well read academic with 100s of observational hours” category. WHEW. So that’s out of the way. Meanies can criticize away!

When I was young, I always assumed I would be working at the same school where my kids attended. As the date drew near, however, something wasn’t sitting right with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I decided to try homeschooling. I had almost no idea what I was doing, what I was in for, but I observed my kids and realized that school was not right for them at the time. My 7 year old is an extreme introvert– if he has more than 1 hour of interaction in a day, he then goes into his room and plays by himself for the rest of the day. My 6 year old has a completely different way of learning, and it challenged me early on to look “outside the box” for different educational solutions.

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I’m so glad I did, because what I found has completely revolutionized the way we operate. Our homeschooling journey has now become one of my deepest joys in life!

Every year, as I have wrestled with decisions back and forth, Jesse has asked me, “Don’t start with what you DON’T want. Start with what you DO want. What do you want our kids to turn out like?” I love this question, and think it’s an excellent one for any family to consider. We can’t control the outcome, but it sure increases your odds if you know what you’re aiming for. Once you know what you’re saying “YES” to, the “No’s” become less difficult, and decisions become less perplexing (the same goes for schools who need to decide on an academic vision, but I digress).

Here was my wishlist for my kids at the age of 18 when they graduate high school:

  • A deep love of learning, not an accumulation of facts/skills
  • An investigative spirit that is trained to think outside the box
  • A deep love for Christ and His church.
  • A desire to serve others over themselves.
  • An ability to interact with children and adults of all shapes and sizes
  • A love for goodness, truth and beauty that brings about true joy and contentment with their lives
  • An ability to work hard, even when they don’t feel like it

I was familiar with the Montessori method at this point, and as you know from my blog posts, I spent the first year of homeschooling trying to replicate it within our home. But I saw things I wasn’t pleased with in the Montessori method, one of which is that it is difficult to implement in a homeschooling manner. About midway through our first year of homeschooling, I started supplementing with a Charlotte mason curriculum I found online. It was difficult to pin down what we were supposed to be doing each day, however, and I found myself frustrated. At the end of the year, we got accepted to a sweet little Montessori school down the road, and even got a hefty scholarship to go with it. And yet, something didn’t feel right, so I kept them home and kept searching.

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Year 2, we found Classical Conversations, mostly because we were searching for in person community. I can see how the method would be very helpful to those who have never homeschooled and think the step by step instructions are great for those who are unfamiliar with classical education. My children did not learn well through the method, however– my 6 year old really really struggled, and was fighting any sort of schooling by the end of the year. I realized we were failing at the first goal on my list– they were accumulating lots of facts (they can sing that entire 17 minute timeline song, creation to 9-11, verbatim!) but my six year old already hated school. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

I started digging deep and investigating, right at the time a friend of mine mentioned Waldorf Education. I was intrigued, but entirely unfamiliar. My only brief experience had been years prior with a student of mine in my online classroom. I remember getting an email from her mom on the first day of school, saying her daughter had never done any formal reading/writing/worksheets, and they were “Waldorf” educated (to which I thought, what, they eat grape salad?!). She also said something about the fact that they made their own quill pens and that it might be difficult to read the writing since it was from an ink well!

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Given that I was teaching a 3-5th grade class, I was, quite honestly, expecting an absolute train wreck of a student. My mind could not fathom a curriculum that didn’t include any sort of formal instruction until the 3rd grade!!! But as the year went on, my “unschooled” student surpassed everyone else in the class. She learned how to write sentence for the first time, and then went straight to writing full essays without so much as a problem. Her vocabulary, spelling and mastery of the English language was that of what I would expect from a high school or college student. What impressed me most was her imagination and ability to think outside the box in discussion– she was ASTOUNDING. I had never seen anything like it. And then I had her younger brother a few years later, and even though I knew what to expect from this “Waldorf” family, I wasn’t prepared for the level of curiosity and intuition I was seeing. When I had the children do a craft project, this child came back with an entire beeswax model that had taken him hours, and that he had done all on his own initiative. His ability to talk about what we were reading was also that of a much older, wiser student beyond his years.

Needless to say, it had left a good impression on me. When my friend mentioned Waldorf, I decided it might be something to look into. One of the first things I did was call up this “Waldorf mom” from years past. She told me her children had just been accepted to some of the most prestigious high schools in the nation on full merit scholarships, so clearly their delayed academic schooling didn’t hold them back, haha! This mom (also Orthodox, turns out!) gave me a wonderful reading list to start with and offered to mentor me!

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The more I read, the more I fell in love. It was as if something I had been trying to put a finger on while groping around in the dark suddenly had a HUGE SPOTLIGHT all over it. I was moved to tears as I read through the curriculum, which is something that has never come close to happening before when I’ve studied education. Something was alive in me in a way that I had never experienced. One particularly moving moment was this promotional video for a Waldorf school in Pasadena.


So many dots were starting to connect in my brain about why I’d seen certain things succeed and fail over my years in education, and I realized I was onto something.

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What did I find so appealing about Waldorf education?

There are a few things that I think set Waldorf education apart and make it special and distinct, even from methods like Montessori that also hold a high reputation amongst parents who are looking for something different.

The first is the focus on the imagination above all else. The ability to imagine comes built in to a child, but our culture does not teach them how to foster it. Quite the opposite. The imagination is a muscle, and we must exercise it or it will die. This realization tied in perfectly with what I think to be the reason children hate school. Instead of learning how to grow their imaginations at the time when it would suit them the best, they are taught to sit still and learn real world practical skills that would best be reserved for later. Instead of listening to stories, they are fed them through TV, even “good” TV. Think about it– remember your favorite book as a child? Remember the discomfort you felt watching it put into a movie for the first time? “That’s not how I imagined it”. The imagination is where the spark and the love of learning will reside, and if you don’t have this, you have children who only go to school because they have to, not because it is feeding their soul in any way. Children who have been taught to imagine will find it easy to adapt and handle many situations later in life, even if they have to “catch up” in practical ways.

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Once you understand the Waldorf emphasis on Imagination, you start to understand why their toys are open ended. There is more work required on the part of the child, where they are exercising that muscle, than if the toy was super specific and talked for them. Waldorf dolls have no faces– the child’s imagination has to supply the face and the expression. Illustrated books are mostly avoided, unless the art is impressionistic (vague/blurry) to require more work on the part of the child’s imagination.

0691DFF5-B7EC-4CDE-BC4E-4D7C434DC2CDChildren will always initially “prefer” the toys that talk, because it requires less work and it stimulates, but this doesn’t mean it’s what best for them. “In thinking of the young child’s free creative play materials, a fitting motto we can keep in mind is ‘anything can be anything’…Children need play materials that are open-ended enough to meet new needs each day, to fill the demands of their imagination. A toy needs to be unformed enough to reasonably used as many things, in many circumstances. For instance, a red fire truck with a remote control will always be destined to be just that. But a simple, open-bed wooden truck can be a fire truck, a farm vehicle, a bus, a lumber wagon, or even a truck that floats on water! Or better yet, an open basket can be a bed, a suitcase, a grocery bag, a hat, or, when turned upside down, a mountain, a prison, a cave, a hiding place…anything can be anything!” (Heaven on Earth pg. 82). Human nature gravitates towards easy, and it’s our job as parents to teach them resilience and the value in work, even in their play at the earliest ages, for their play IS what will for their minds. If they see endless possibilities in their toys, how will they view problem solving as adults? But if we teach them to go with what easily stimulates, what comes naturally, what entertains instead of requiring work, they are be drawn towards this in later life.

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My boys used chunks of wax to make this today while I was typing all of these thoughts out. They tell me it’s a house, tree and human, but they’ve already destroyed it and remade it into something else entirely.

EVERY subject is done with the imagination in mind, even things like math. Take this quote from one of my favorite books:

“Through stories, music, verse, movement and art, a child first experiences information physically and soulfully…When teaching multiplication, you can tell a story about a gnome who is saving apples for winter. Each of his storage sheds holds four apples, so our gnome will need four storage sheds for his 16 apples…It’s important that the imagery we’re teaching inspires the imagination and sparks the joy and adventure in learning. Static imagery produces static thinking.” (Waldorf Homeschool, pg. 20).

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Photo Credit to Ancient Hearth

The second is the focus on Art/Music as a way of learning. Instead of the arts being an elective, added on through an after school program if you’re lucky enough to go to a school with one, they are the means by which all the other subjects are accessed. In the early grades, you don’t learn your letters without illustrating them or molding them from beeswax or clay.

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Photo Credit Wikipedia

In the later grades, every book report or essay is fully illustrated. Instead of math worksheets, children learn to skip count through knitting or geometric drawings, even as early as the 1st grade. The drawing below is done with children as early as age 5 as they learn to skip count.

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Photo Credit to Childplay

Photo Credit

 

Consider these quotes from some of my favorite books on the subject:

“The Beauty of the Waldorf School is that it is designed entirely to keep children intact until they are ready to move out into the world as whole individuals”. — Joseph Chilton Pearce.

“Waldorf Education enables young people to be in love with the world as the world should be loved.”– Marjorie Spock

“Educating the Mind without educating the Heart is no education at all.”– Waldorf Homechool

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“Waldorf Education honors the whole child– body, mind and spirit– through arts, music, handwork, sculpture and movement. It educates the child’s mind, nourishes their soul and meets their spirit at developmentally appropriate stages. Waldorf honors the child by allowing them to have a true childhood through nature and playing. It protects childhood and simplicity through a rhythmic relationship with the seasons, nature and by celebrating seasonal festivals. It also honors the child by waiting to teach academics until the child has completed their job of mastering movement and their bodies.” (Waldorf Homeschool pg. 9-10)

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A couple other things I loved about Waldorf Education, from a practical standpoint, was the emphasis on the seasons and holidays that I just LOVE– our Orthodox calendar is exactly the same way. In fact, the Waldorf Education correlates perfectly with what we’re teaching our kids about our faith (for an example– the entire 2nd grade year is focused on stories of the Saints, alongside other moral instruction). The emphasis on a liturgical rhythm to one’s day was another huge “aha!” moment for me. Tradtional Waldorf schools practice festivals like Michaelmas, Martinmas, St. Lucia’s Day, MayDay, St. George and the dragon….the list goes on. All I had to do was add in our church calendar festivals/celebrations, and our school year was mapped out beautifully in a way that integrated our school/church life.

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I also love how they teach lessons in “blocks”, meaning, you stay on one subject for an entire month! Kids get to explore one interest thoroughly before being rushed to another subject. Then again, the subjects are integrated so seamlessly, it’s often difficult to realize you’re doing multiple “subjects” at the same time. Take this example from one of our lesson books:

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Each of these lessons has the language arts (learning not just to draw letters, but learning their quality), science (creating a waterway, seeing what works), math (the story of the seven swans has word problems in it), and narration in the retelling of the stories each day.

Q. But why delayed academics? Won’t this mean that your kids are behind and won’t get into a good highschool/college someday? 

First of all– the idea that preschool and even Kindergarten are supposed to teach academics is a relatively new idea. We keep rushing earlier and earlier academic starts, and I think the burden of proof should be on our failing educational system, not on the way childhood development has been seen for hundreds of years. Full stop.

In addition, education used to be about cultivating faculties within the individual student, about awakening the soul to a love of the world, not about downloading a set of skills preparing them for another grade. Instead, K-12 is now seen as a way to either get into a good college/get a scholarship, or to prepare you for the workforce. I agree that children should be prepared for the world, but if that’s ALL we’re aiming at, we’re setting our children up for a lifetime of being cogs in a machine. Being good at school just to get a good job does not honor the soul or the individual child. So, again, if what we’re after is a proficient student, earlier academics is the answer, because hey! More years to download skills! If what we’re after is whole souls, then we need to consider the damage we could be doing through early academics. Here’s an article that talks about how early academics produces long term harm.

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Secondly, a clarification should be made. Waldorf Education isn’t against academics– it’s against EARLY academics. Once a child reaches the 3rd grade, the curriculum speeds up greatly. Studies have shown that Waldorf students catch up and surpass their peers (who were doing things like formal math and reading the entire time) within months. Not only that, but if you take a look at the type of math problems 1st grade Waldorf students are tackling (without knowing they are doing math), you would think you were in a High School geometry class. The fact that Waldorf students learn how to use art/geometry to derive the formula for the circumference of a circle before ever being taught a formula or “proof” flies in the face of every math book I’ve seen. Take these examples of ELEMENTARY math. (And yes, math was my weakest subject throughout my school years, and so I’m looking forward to going back and relearning everything!).

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Delayed reading lessons seems to be the hardest part about Waldorf Education for many. This article on delaying formal reading instruction was especially helpful, and rings true for my experience. I don’t remember learning how to read. I remember that one day, it made sense, much like learning to talk. Anyone who’s ever tried to force a child to learn before he’s developmentally ready knows what a painful struggle it is! It was eye opening to learn that there is NOTHING wrong with a child learning to read at the age of 7 or 8!

“One of the hardest tasks for a parent involved in helping a child to learn to read in the Waldorf way is divesting yourself from the ingrown attitudes about reading prevalent in our culture, and then defending your method from well-meaning but critical relatives and neighbors. Children learn to read in the same way they learn to potty train or talk. Children learn these things when they are ready and the age of success varies greatly with the child…We are fooling ourselves when we think we are teaching a child to read. The child cracks the code, and does a lot of memory work, just as he did when he was learning to speak. If you watch a child who is at the stage where he is ready and wants to learn to read, you will see him repeating words and sounds to himself, memorizing books that are read to him, and suddenly he goes from memorizing to really reading, seemingly overnight! Then he can read everything, including newspapers, and big chapter books. All this will not happen until the child is ready, and forcing it may make him avoid reading for life.

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Q. What’s the difference between Waldorf and Montessori?

Many others have addressed this better than I could. I think the two philosophies share a lot of common ground, but diverge on a few key points. For us, personally, I think Montessori is too heavy on self-reliance and self-lead learning. I think that learning to submit to the rhythms and seasons of life is essential, and that if the child decides HE gets to decide when bedtime starts, as is the case with a true Montessori bedroom set up, he is not learning to submit to wisdom from outside sources. A respect and reverence for authority is absolutely essential for me to instill in our kids, and when I’ve talked with other piano teachers who have acquired Montessori students, it’s very difficult for them to respect authority and follow instruction. For me, that’s always been the deal breaker, and puts a finger on why I used to internally struggle so much with truly integrating Montessori into our home life.

One of the ways Montessori is a winner is that it is more common in the US. You won’t finding anyone object to sending your kid to a Montessori school, because it’s a known quantity. You would also be hard pressed nowadays NOT to find a Montessori school near you, and in Dallas, we have several Montessori charter schools that are part of the public school system and open to everyone. In contrast, it is much harder to find an actual Waldorf school, and as such, it leaves parents with only the option of homeschooling if they want to pursue Waldorf Education for their children. That is not a doable situation for many! Luckily there are many public schools that are seeing great results when they’ve integrated Waldorf into their curriculum! Take this public school in Sacramento, for example!

Q. You mentioned Charlotte Mason– how do you plan on integrating the two?
I LOVE Charlotte Mason’s philosophies on education, and plan on implementing a lot. Here’s a great article that addresses it (this lady’s blog is a fantastic resource I return to time and time again!).

 

Before we go, a few more resources!

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This is my Waldorf Pinterest board, which I’m continuously adding to. Feel free to follow/borrow.

This is my Amazon Waldorf Shopping List, which I’m also continuously updating. Again, feel free to follow/borrow.

Thomas’ Modern Boho Baby Room

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We’ve been living in our new house for almost exactly a year now, so I think it’s time to actually take pictures of the boys’ rooms! Perhaps I’ll even get around to writing a post about the whys and whats of our move? Too far, too far, haha!

When we first moved in, this room was the dumping ground for all of Thomas’ furniture from the old house. We just needed his bed/changing table/toys set up right away so he could play while we unpacked. The school year started just a few weeks after we moved in, so it was actually a few months before we realized that this room wasn’t a good fit for him at the time (I was walking back and forth across the house to nurse him 2-3x/night, and since the boys’ room is next door, his light-sleeping tendencies were a problem during the day).

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So for a time, this room was my office and our huge master closet was Thomas’s bedroom! It was such a cozy little set up and I’ll miss it for sure 🙂 He was right next to our bed for all his night time nursings, and he was able to become a much better sleeper due to the quiet and lack of light.

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But alas, all good things come to an end eventually. When we got back from our long road trip this summer, Thomas was weaning and also sleeping through the night, so we decided it was time to regain our closet and give Thomas back his room! We also noticed he was outgrowing his mini crib/bassinet, which was somewhat emotional for me. I painstakingly hand painted this crib with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint when I was 6 months pregnant, and it was a definite labor of love! But he was definitely bumping up against the sides and so it was time. I decided to create his own modern boho baby room, since that description basically sums up my entire house, haha 😉

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We kept the same dresser/changing table as before because I love how the drawers fit all of his things! I have plans to stain the natural wood to match the crib….when I get the time 😉 We have a sample of Ecos wood stain on its way, so we’ll see if it’s a match!

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Every little guy needs his diffuser and saltwater sandals. <3

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We moved all of Thomas’ toys near the window because he absolutely loves the sunshine.

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And then of course his rocking chair and Sandra Boyton books! All three of my kids have loved her books and the boys are getting such a kick out of reading these same stories to Thomas now!

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Last but not least, the final view from the doorway:

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Source List:

Oeuf Classic (green guard certified)

Davinci Rocking crib (made of New Zealand pine wood, non toxic painting process)

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Paris Gray

Rug: Pottery barn 5×8 (similar)

Dresser: Ikea Tarva 6 Drawer

Knobs: Hobby Lobby

Owl Lamp

Elephant Hamper

Ubbi Diaper Pail

Sheepskin baby blanket

Comforter (handmade by me)

Pillow covers (handmade by me)

Curtains (handmade by me)

Organic toddler pillow

Sheets– Birch

Rocking chair, rocking horse and toy shelf: Vintage

Baby Jackets: Mini Boden and Carters

Why We Homeschool Part 1

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It’s been 3 years since my first post about homeschooling, and I’ve had a lot of people ask me what we’re doing and why. One of the biggest questions I get is about why the boys aren’t enrolled at the school Jesse teaches at, and I’ll be honest, we’ve really struggled with the decision. His school is, in my opinion, one of the best (if not THE best) schools in all of Dallas and they definitely teach a child-centered, soul filled classical approach, with tiny class sizes. Every year we go back and forth, re-evaluating whether homeschooling is still the direction we want to go in, and so I thought I would write the reasons for our decision down and answer the question fully, in two parts.

But before we get started, I want to first and foremost express a disclaimer. The views I express here are my own, after lots of thoughtful deliberation about my family and the personalties contained therein. This does not mean that I think this is how EVERY family should operate, although I do think that families should be intentional about what it is they decide for their own situation. No one should orient their family and the lives therein around fear or peer pressure. But I truly believe that every family unit is sacred and should be treated with reverence, and I would never desecrate your own family culture by “inserting” my own values and judgments onto yours.

In addition, if what you want is a post saying, “It’s all good, it’s a mess, we’re all doing our best and failing” to make you feel better about a current situation, I have a lot of moms and bloggers I can point you to! We all need a healthy dose of perspective like that every now and then. One of my favorite posts I’ve ever written was when I talked about why I don’t care about opinions on the internet. I still love to re-read my words from 4 years ago, even though I’ve grown and healed in a lot of ways since then (we were currently in the middle of our foster care situation, and I was receiving all sorts of ugly unsolicited parenting “advice” from all corners of the globe. It was fun. Not.).

This is not going to be one of those posts. I’ve learned a lot about my personality over the years (I’m a hardcore Ennegram 1, Reformer, if you’ve taken that test) and the last thing I am is docile or easy going. When I care about something, I tackle it head on and give it 100%. It’s taken me a long time to learn that there is nothing “broken” about the way I operate on this regard, and that the world needs those of us who can lead the way on certain issues, just like the world also needs the 7s and the 9s to have fun, keep the peace and keep us all in harmony.

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I’ve done a few social media posts about our current lifestyle and education choices, and have had quite the outpouring of questions and comments. It got me thinking that there must be other moms out there who think like I do, or would feel inspired with what we’re doing. Perhaps some of this will resonate with you. I hope it does. Maybe you’ll think we’re a bit crazy. Spoiler alert: we are. 😉

But what I truly hope is that no one sees this post as an indictment on their own choices, because that is never my intention. There is always a tendency for moms to read everything someone writes (especially if we know them personally) as a criticism of our own parenting choices, as we insert ourselves into the story-line. Rest assured, this post is doing nothing of the sort. We are all doing our best, and we are all here for each other.

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Let’s dive in.

The first part I want to explore is the lifestyle behind academic homeschooling. I firmly believe that in everything we do, our lives have to reflect the academic teaching, otherwise it won’t stick. Children learn best through story and example, and what story or example is stronger than our own day to day lives as parents? I once heard the quote, “Don’t be worried that they ‘never listen’, be worried that they’re always watching.” This quote has impacted me greatly, and made me realize that if I want to impart anything to my kids, it’s going to have to start with me. My lifestyle. My choices. If I want them to grow up peaceful, respectful of authority,against the grain of a materialistic fast paced culture, then it starts with my own example. Out of all the things I strive to succeed in as a parent, this is the most important to me.

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Because here’s the honest truth. Deep down, I don’t care if my kids are the smartest, most advanced, or if they get into lots of great colleges (I actually believe that most of academia will be restructured and that the landscape will look entirely different by then anyways, but that’s a whole other story!). I know this is weird to hear from us, with my MA in English, and Jesse more than halfway done with his PhD in philosophy. But seriously, I don’t care very much about academic achievement when it comes to my kids. My identity and success as a parent isn’t built around it anymore, and I don’t need that kind of pressure or negativity in my life, where every grade or accomplishment of my children seems like a direct reflection of me as their parent (magnified x10 because of our decision to homeschool!). That being said, I believe that the kind of thing we have in mind academically, will get them where they need to go, and that they will shine and excel if/when we ever transfer them into school. But their academic “honors” or prestige are not where my desire is focused.

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What I want my kids to be is WHOLE people. I want them to be lovers of the kind of beauty that resonates deep within their souls, and awakens them to the truths built into the world around us. I want them to be compassionate, reasonable and sound, not swayed by everything society says or does. I want them to feel a deep sense of joy and peace when they think about the coming day. I want them to know their own backyard, the dirt, the air, the grass, as well as they know their own hand. I want them to know responsibility. I want them to speak kindly and comfortably with others not just their age or economic/sociological background.

I also want them to love the church just as much as Jesse and I do. Statistically speaking, the only way this latter part is going to happen is if we, as parents, show our own commitment to our faith in everything we say or do. I cannot expect my children to think church is important if I don’t make it important, which is one of the reasons we pray as a family, have icons in every room of our house, and attend church at least 2x/week. It’s not just healthy for us, I believe church is their HOME, and as such, it should feel as familiar as home, which only comes through regularity and integration of the two.

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I digress, because this post is not actually about our views on religion or church, but in a way, the analogy works. If we want our kids to value their faith, we need to model that in every aspect of our lives, as it’s what goes on in their home life that will primarily determine what they believe and think. Likewise, if I want my kids to leave us at 18 with the ability to be WHOLE people, it needs to start now, in the home, consistently, with the right things emphasized day in and out.

I will start with perhaps the most controversial, or the one that makes parents feel the worst when I say it. But it’s also the one I’ve gotten the most questions about! People really want to know how and why! So I’ll get it out of the way first, since I think it sets the stage for the other decisions. Our kids don’t watch TV. Period. To be clear– this doesn’t mean that I want the TV off when we go to someone’s house, far from it! This doesn’t mean I judge other parents who use TV. This doesn’t mean that my kids are superhuman idyllic angels. >>>And this DEFINITELY does not mean I find the time and energy to entertain them all day! I work many hours (4-5/day) from home and run a business that includes thousands of people all across the globe.

But here’s the thing– we had to be all or nothing about it, and set tight knit parameters, because it actually makes my kids MORE independent, and takes a HUGE parenting burden off of me! Doesn’t that seem backwards, that without that show once or twice a day, I wouldn’t get anything done? No, far from it. After the detox period, we realized our kids needed us LESS and played longer without any intervention on our part. Whatever hour I would gain from having peace and quiet during that show, I would lose through their nagging and neediness afterwards. So when people ask, “how do you get anything done without TV for them?” I always want to say, “How do YOU get anything done with it?” I could never work from home and do what I do if I had to re-introduce TV to my kids! Honest! And to those of you who CAN handle a more balanced approach to TV, I salute you!

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For us, we happened upon this revelation by accident. A few years ago, when I was teaching school online, I would put on a show for my then 4 and 3 year olds. It amounted to 1 hour a day. We only did the educational stuff, the Daniel Tiger (still LOVE this show, if I had to pick), Little Einsteins, Thomas, Octonauts. But it opened the door, just a crack, and whenever they got “bored”, they would come to me and whine about a show. I tried to only use TV as an incentive for behavior for a while, or as an opportunity to make dinner, but once again, it opened the door to nagging, and they “needed” me more often for their play. I thought all of this was a normal part of raising kids, until one day my Roku app stopped working and syncing with the TV. When the kids got bored that day and asked for their one show, I said, “Guys, momma can’t turn it on! It doesn’t work!” And they believed me, because they could hear it in my voice! (Either that, or they’re used to momma not being able to fix electronic things 😉 ). As the days went on, I kept forgetting to have Jesse fix it, and eventually, the kids stopped asking. They started playing longer. They forgot what it meant to have TV as a backup for boredom. Eventually, we were just watching “Dadda shows” with Jesse on the weekends, superhero and transformer stuff, but even that faded away.

As it stands, the only time the TV is on is if Jesse has a Dodger game on (the boys are REALLY getting into it! They are only 6 and 7, but have amazing attention spans now when it comes to TV, even slow TV like a baseball game!), or if we choose to have an intentional family movie night. Even then, when we’ve done a family movie night (I can count on one hand the amount of times where we’ve actually done it), we’ve chosen older films like Sound of Music or Mary Poppins, since I do believe that frames-per-minute affect the brain and behavior as much or more than the “educational” content. And, because they never get to watch TV, their attention spans are off the charts when it comes to longer, older films.

As of now, they’ve been screen free (yes, even video games or iPads) for close to 2 years, and I can’t imagine us going back. Jesse and I still watch a show after the kids go to bed, but the TV is never ever on during the day. We didn’t even unpack our DVD player for close to a year! There have been a couple happy side effects of having no TV in the house besides just the time freedom it gives me to work my business. They definitely fight a lot less. They whine a lot less. They talk much more respectfully (I didn’t realize how much their language patterns were based on the behavior they saw from the characters on TV!). Their imaginative abilities are a sight to see (I’ve actually seen Gregory play for over an hour with just a stick). We only realize the huge difference it makes when we go on a plane that has movies, or happen to use our DVD player on a road trip (on our last road trip through 5 states and over 40 hours of combined driving, we only used it twice!). Every time, our kids revert back and we are both reminded of our decision all over again. In addition, we are able to better practice minimalism, because our kids don’t need every new character they see on TV. Back when our kids watched Transformers, Thomas, and Octonauts, ALLLLLL they could talk about was obtaining the new toys that went with the story line. And don’t even get me started on how hard it was to walk through Target! Now? They ask about legos, but they don’t know who any of the characters are, haha! Problem solved!

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Which leads me to my next portion of lifestyle. Minimalism. Full confession here: Jesse and I have NEVER been able to tolerate most children’s toys. Even before Gregory was first born, Jesse told me that he absolutely refused to have anything battery operated in our house. If we were given a toy at a baby shower, the first thing Jesse would do was either remove the batteries or dunk it in water so it couldn’t make noise (I wish I was joking). All the bright and garish colors have always bothered me from an aesthetic standpoint, so I knew that we were going to be faced with some hard decisions eventually– either I would have to learn to put up with seeing the toys all over my house every day for the next 18 years, or I would have to become super strict on where the toys were. We tried having their toys ONLY in their bedroom for a couple years, but every parent knows that kids want to be where the family is, and it’s a fool’s errand. 😉 Seriously, show me the parent that can successfully keep their kids toys in one room, and I’ll send them a medal.

So I realized that if the toys were going to be an everyday part of my lifestyle, I wanted to like how they looked. I LOVE wooden toys, muted colors, and things that border on antique or vintage. Little by little over the years we have only purchased toys with this aesthetic in mind, regardless of homeschooling philosophy (although later I came to find that there is a psychological reason I, and most children, find these more appealing!). Wooden toys are, generally, about 3-5x more expensive than their plastic counterparts, but the goal is quality over quantity which actually saves money. And I’ve gotten some fabulous steals at thrift stores, since wooden toys are generally discarded as not very valuable! Take for example these wooden horses I picked up at the thrift store for 25 cents each. Thomas absolutely LOVES his “neigh-neighs”, as he calls them, since they are real wood and handle well. I later discovered that I could sell them for $30+ on eBay since they are a special German brand called Ostheimer!? I absolutely love them and wish we could buy every animal (but that would defeat the purpose of my next point).

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We’ve also greatly reduced the number of toys. This was something I started doing way back when we had foster children. I realized that if I couldn’t pick up their toys in 5 minutes, we had too many out. I refuse to spend my days looking at chaos, because I know it isn’t good for me, and can’t be good for them, but I also know that I can’t spend my entire day cleaning it all up.

The answer was to have fewer things. This has been a slow but steady process, and definitely didn’t happen overnight. We have moved a lot in our 12 years of being married, and Jesse and I have used each move to take stock of what we own, and what we can purge, because we know that holding onto things we won’t use is actually depriving someone else in the world who might not be able to afford it, and why let it deteriorate in storage if someone else can use it? In the picture below, you see the extent of Thomas’ baby toys. We don’t have any in storage or on rotation, this is it. I even feel like it may be too many, but he really likes the duplos because they are so much like the “bro-bros” legos. I took a few of our other plastic toys and sent them to live at my mom’s house so that the boys could have them as a special treat when they spend time there (plus, no packing toys for going back and forth).

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How do we answer the boys when they ask for more toys on Christmas or birthdays? We are definitely still working on this area, because gift giving is my love language and if I wasn’t after a greater good, I would probably spoil my kids rotten. They also have super generous sets of grandparents and aunts and uncles, but I feel very lucky that all of them ask what we choose for our home and even offer to buy passes or art supplies instead of more “things”. And when it comes to toys at the store, we’ve started a tradition of being able to “pick” out one toy at the store for birthdays.

When they ask to buy other things, I’ve tried to be conscious about my language, and have actually stopped saying things like, “we don’t have the money”, because I believe I am passing on a poverty mindset to my kids when I use that phrase. I don’t want to be passing on the idea that “money doesn’t grow on trees”, and that someday, when they get money, they need to be afraid of losing it, or spend it right away since it won’t always be there. Plus, kids are always confused about that statement, “we don’t have the money”, because they know grownups spend lots of money, and so they think that what they need is to grow up and make lots of money to spend on things they want, because the determining factor is lack, not deliberate choice.

INSTEAD, I’ve been trying to say things like, “I don’t think there’s value there. We are going to value other things with our money instead.” I want to teach them that there will always be more money, that with the right mindset, anyone can make money in this country if they really want to and that we actually need a lot less than they think. I want them to know that the real work is in discovering what value is, and why they should assign it appropriately. I try to show them this in our own lives, where we shop at thrift stores even though we’re making more money than we’ve ever made before. I try to show them that we clean out our toys and clothes regularly, that keeping mountains of things because “you never know” is a poverty mindset that preaches lack and fear, and that we should only buy things that will last and were made with quality in mind. It isn’t about the price tag, it’s about the value we assign, and the value it will add to our lives.

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This brings me to our clothing. It may come as a shock, but we’ve gone super minimalistic on our clothing 😉 Once again, I took stock of how I was spending my days, and decided that for me, personally, I refuse to spend my days doing laundry. I am even lucky that my mother comes over once or twice a week during the school year to watch the kids while I tidy, or even help me fold the laundry herself, but I would prefer to keep this minimal, both for her sake and ours. My kids have just begun to argue with me about what they want to wear and why, so I’ve decided to only keep their drawers stocked with seasonally appropriate things that we can both agree on 😉 Fewer fights? Fine by me!

I’ve also become convinced that kids prefer the peace of mind that comes with less stuff, less clutter, and fewer choices they have to make on a daily basis. When they have to pull a shirt out of a drawer that is stuffed to the brim and doesn’t close all the way, they won’t value their clothing and the work that went into making/buying it.

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For this reason, everything the boys have out can be contained in a single wash basket for a single load of laundry. Down below is everything they have in their drawers, spread out into two baskets because I was trying to organize it. The reason for this is that I only want to do ONE load of boys laundry per week.

Not only that, but I’ve taught them to actually do it themselves! Gregory is now able to throw the entire load in, AJ helps switch it to the dryer, and then I’ve taught them both to fold. It’s rudimentary at times, but I want to teach them that to value something is to take care of it. I could never hope to teach this if they were having to fold mountains of laundry. We only buy ONE kind of sock, so that matching them or replacing them isn’t a hassle, since they all match up to each other. They do each have a separate drawer in another room filled with off season items like sweatshirts and long sleeve shirts, and they have nicer church clothes hanging in their closet, but other than this and 3 pairs of shoes each (1. sandals, 2. rainboots, 3. easy to put on all purpose shoes), this is IT. And I can’t tell you how freeing it!

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Jesse and I have also taken to this same approach. I have probably taken 15 bags of my clothing to the thrift store this summer. It’s a very difficult thing to go through three pregnancies and three postpartum eras. My body changes drastically with each, and as such, I had a separate wardrobe for pregnancy, a separate wardrobe for postpartum, and a separate one for normal (boob shrinkage is a thing, ya’ll.) In addition, although I’ve quickly lost the weight after each of my three pregnancies, it’s all redistributed and the clothes that used to look good, don’t.

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I recently found the Kon Marie Method, and when it comes to clothes, I’m in love. As women, clothing can often have such a negative connotation. We keep stuff we “should” fit into, stuff we bought as impulse, stuff to fit into a certain role. Perhaps all the business stuff in our closet makes us feel sad that we traded in our careers to be stay at home moms. Perhaps the lack of business stuff makes us feel like we aren’t productive, and that we’re frumpy housewives. I decided that I don’t want any of these emotions haunting me each and ever time I fold my laundry, each and every time I walk into my closet. I love fashion to a certain extent, and so my clothing isn’t minimalistic by any stretch, but it’s neat. Organized. Simple. I can find everything quickly, and I’ve given everything away that I don’t “love”. For the past year, we’ve also chosen to only buy things that are of high quality and going to last a long time. I want my kids to see that we value the things we have, and that we take care of them.

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Along this line, I wanted to do a quick run down on how we’ve tried to be more intentional with our home life and environment. I’ve tried to only buy decor and furnishings made with “real” materials, like wool, seagrass, bamboo, wood, and cotton. We’ve replaced almost every single furniture item made with particle board, since I’ve tried to avoid anything made with the kinds of glue that contain formaldehyde (and this was before the EPA admitted that formaldehyde causes leukemia) including poly-blend rugs that include this type of glue as the backing. We’ve tried to pay attention to our indoor pollution, adding plants and diffusers to every single room, and choosing materials that don’t off-gas. Don’t even get me started on avoiding artificial scents in laundry soap/dish soap/air fresheners 😉  I know I can’t protect my kids from everything, and I cannot play God with their universe, but I feel a responsibility to do what I can to minimize their risk for cancer and avoidable childhood illnesses. As of yet, we have yet to be on antibiotics in 8 years or be sick enough to warrant a Dr. sick visit (knock on wood) so I hope that it is making a difference for them.

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Lastly, I want to talk about minimalism when it comes to time management. You would think, being homeschooled in a city like Dallas with every resource at our fingertips, that we would pack our days full of enrichment activities. I am bound and determined not to trade one kind of time bondage for another, however. Many people don’t know that I was, myself, homeschooled for four years between 1st-5th grade. I have incredibly rich and beautiful memories of days spent  reading, writing, and running around in our creek bed behind our house. Nowhere to be, no one to impress, no grades to achieve. My homeschool adviser taught me how to paper mache, knit, weave on a loom, garden, sew quilts, and pretty much any other artistic endeavor I could dream up. Anytime I had a hankering to try my hand at something, whether it be put on a play, publish one of my stories (little known fact– I won a short story contest at age 8!), or play violin, my parents helped create the time and space necessary.

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I recently told my parents how these days of my childhood were by far my favorite and most beautiful, and that when I envision a life for my children, I return to those years in my memory. I ache for children who never get to experience this kind of freedom and simplicity, and the peace that comes with it. I believe that the sense of “self” I discovered during those years are what led me to much of the success I’ve found in my own life. I’ve never been afraid to try something new, because I have always thought outside the box and been okay with defying the norm.

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Time management is the area that I think takes the most discipline for us as parents. If we want to create a peaceful and intentional lifestyle to our kids, it has to start with our own lives. I’ve had to learn that just because an opportunity is a good one, doesn’t mean it’s right for us. It all comes down to what you value, and, just like money, how you choose to spend it. For this reason, it drives me NUTS when people don’t say they “don’t have time” for ___. I’ve had to catch myself and stop using that phrase around my kids. We ALL have the same 24 hours in a day– it’s where we assign the value that will determine the outcome. I’ve instead started subbing in phrases like, “We choose not to have time for that.” or, “I value something else for that time.” Instead of saying “no”, we say “yes” to something we want more. I don’t want them to just see us saying no to certain things, I want them see us saying yes to more time as a family. More time to travel, see the world, more time to pray, more time to read and take things slow.

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For this reason, we have said “no” to most activities that other parents choose, and tried to be very intentional about which things we add in, because we could end up saying “yes” to the wrong things. I would say this is actually our biggest reason for choosing homeschooling, because I want the kind of unstructured freedom that comes with waking up when we want to. Getting dressed when we want to. Eating a home cooked lunch every day, when we want to. Having the freedom to do things with our day that don’t revolve around drop off and pick up times.

I’ve also noticed that in a school environment, the comparison game of “who is doing what activity” really is a struggle. Kids don’t want to be left out, and I don’t blame them. Adults have a hard enough time with fear of missing out, and kids have had even less time to practice controlling their emotions. I could easily envision us slipping into a life of 8-3 school, plus carting kids around to activities all afternoon, until the only time we have together as a family is that precious dinnertime hour when everyone is tired and cranky. I don’t want to take an 18 year break from the life of the church, teaching my kids that the value of their sports game is more important than their own soul. The thought of this happening to us and calling it an 18 year “season” is really depressing to me, which is the main reason we’ve hesitated to put our kids in school as of yet.

I do worry sometimes that my kids are “missing out”, but at every turn God has been faithful to provide. Currently, out of nowhere we somehow became friends with at least FOUR families (for a combined total of 15 boys!!) in our immediate vicinity who are choosing to live life this way, and we can all homeschool and socialize together. We even have talks of forming a small low-commitment type of Waldorf/nature inspired homeschooling group this coming fall. Our kids all get along well, and we are all within a 5-10 minute drive of one another. More on this later!

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To sum Part 1 up, I want to be clear that this is how we’ve chosen to live our life, and it is not an indictment on how others choose to live. I hope that you have found something that inspires you here, and if you have any other questions, I’m an open book!

Part 2 will be more about the Charlotte Mason/Waldorf approach we have chosen, so stay tuned!

For additional reading:

Simplicity Parenting

simplicity parenting

Heaven on Earth

heaven on earth

Parenting Towards the Kingdom

parenting towards the kingdom