Let go of the reins and trust your kids.

I often feel spent. I am overwhelmed and exhausted. I am alone. Most days I spin in a cloud of guilt and disappointment. Sometimes, I am truly so tired it makes me weep, even if only for a brief moment. The truth however, is that I am not alone. I am a member of a phenomenal tribe, albeit an odd one. Some people in this club stumbled upon it, fell accidentally into a dark and scary pit only to claw their way back to a new sense of normal. Others were guilted into joining, manipulated you might even say. Some ached, yearned and begged to get here; trying for years just to join this regular, mundane, and common community of people. At some point, nevertheless, we all became parents and this simple moment changed us all forever.

As a mother that homeschools two bright boys, I am consumed with doing the best I can to make them whole, make them successful (whatever that ends up looking like in the end). I don’t have the luxury of sending them off to school and having the ability to blame a collective of teachers for the things they didn’t teach them, or taught them too well. I am judged every, single, goddamn day. Yes, even by you. Now this judgement is not always negative, sometimes the praise that’s equally hard to take. We have good days and we have many poor ones, like every other poor bastard in this club – it’s rough in here.

Some days I want to curl up like a 80’s mom and watch daytime soaps, eating bonbons all day – that’s what you guys did right? Oh right, you still live with the same judgement even though your kids are grown. You are STILL the one looked at as either a failure or a success when people assess your grown children. Even as adults doing our own stumbling, our own parenting or heaven forbid those of us choosing not to be parents – you’re getting judged. This systemic judgement can dictate our lives and ultimately it’s our children that it affects. Let’s lay off a bit.

You’re probably reading this thinking this is an attack on a judgmental society and perhaps that’s where it stems from, but this is a calling to all parents: Go a little easier on yourself. Take a breath. Regroup. Don’t try so hard to be on your A-game every day. In the end, your kids – they’ve got this.

I’m a very lucky woman; I likely have the hardest working man ever made. He doesn’t take sick days, he doesn’t laze around and most of all he never, ever, ever complains! Now I understand this is what a million and one mothers would kill for, but I’m telling you there are moments when that is hard to match. There are days when I feel broke down, tired, spent and so exhausted I could cry – but in the back of my head I know my other half (my better half) is out there working in the snow, sleet, mud and 45 degree weather and when he gets home he’s not going to complain for a single moment. So I look at our children, pull up my socks and I trudge through. With little effort and zero love and attention to what we’re working on – we continue. We persevere.

Now here my friends is the kicker, and I learned this today. We try so hard to get as much done in a day as we can. We compete with those imaginary Jones’. You know, the ones that are struggling just like us? I worry about what to say at the grocery store when someone hears our children homeschool and proceed to ask my six year old “What is 12X11?” (P.S. don’t do that shit). But the worst part is, we judge ourselves the most – at least I do. I worry more about how I’m teaching, how I’m parenting and how my children move through life more than anyone else could. Maybe that stems from an icky society but either way it’s time to move past it. Time to loosen the reins and give our kids the credit they deserve.

This week has been a nightmare homeschooling my kids – like send them away on the bus tomorrow and be done with it, that kinda hard. My husband, my rock, Mr. Strong and Steady, he’s been away at work this week and that’s very hard on the boys. Truth be told, it’s always hard on them and I knew this, but I still didn’t alter expectations. I have been fighting with my kids everyday to get school work done and they’ve been willing to fight me until we’re almost in tears. It’s been the week of groundings, threats and a lot of separation. I am having a hard time without him near, I always do, but I forgot to think about the boys struggle this week. I pushed and pushed when really they needed to be given the space to mourn, to long for, and to learn on their own terms – instead I pushed. So today we’re hitting the 7-day mark, which is always the turn around. The time where our new rhythm takes over and we’re OK knowing that he’ll be back when he can. So what happened today? Well, my kids got back into their rhythm, got their feet back under them and they took the reins. They didn’t want to do book work today and that’s OK (it’s also a Sunday, so you can see I have moments of sitting on the throne of Helga’s House of Pain), but instead they wanted to “adult”. They wanted to research things on their own, wanted to make a full dinner (I can smell the amazing moose stew and fresh apple pies from here) and they wanted to learn things like “how much soap to use in a laundry swap.”

Some days those battles you’re having need to be tossed to the side, it’s not worth it and it doesn’t matter. Go for a walk, get some fresh air, and if all you have in you is the effort to boil water – them make a pot of tea and watch TV. You won’t find any judgement here. We have a hard time in this club. The expectations are high, the judgement runs thick and our own obsession with “making” the next amazing person is gross. Let’s be kind to our kids, kind to each other and give ourselves a little slack. There isn’t a child in this world that doesn’t’ want to learn, so if they’re having an off day – give it to them! We all have those days and they’re hard. Push through mommies and daddies, cause these amazing little beasts are growing every day. Give them the benefit of the doubt and trust that they know when they need a day off. Everyone needs that sometimes, even Mr. Strong and Steady.

Our Favourite Everyday Curriculum: Exploring Nature With Children

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We spend an incredible amount of time outdoors, so it’s no surprise that I continually try to find ways to incorporate our adventure and exploration into our everyday school work. For the last year and a half, we have guided our home study around a fantastic curriculum called Exploring Nature With Children.  It gives children the opportunity to fall in love and connect with nature through a variety of mediums.    There are works of art work to look up, a themed poem and suggested reading supplements that you can add in order to explore the topics even further.  It’s perfect when teaching a variety of ages because everything can be simplified or expanded as needed.

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One of my favourite attributes of the Exploring Nature curriculum is the additional readings.  These you can find your own, however having a list of titles and authors allows for an easy lesson when you’re having a rough week and could use a little extra support.  Who doesn’t have one of those now and then, right?

Once a month we go to the library and take out the supplemental readings for the following few weeks.  Most of the artwork we look up online, but occasionally we take out a book for further study.

We each started a Nature Journal which we keep in our adventure packs.  We use this journal to document and draw different things that we learn about and examine each week.  As a family that spends a lot of time in the bush, I found the nature journal was a light and compact way to continue learning on the go.

Last year, while hiking the mountain with fellow homeschool friends we started a nature journal game.  The kids varied in age from 5 to 12, so we needed to find something flexible.  We separated (in a meadow, where we could still control safety) and found something to draw.  Afterwards we came back together, lay our sketches out and worked as a group to try and find the plants that others had done, using only the sketch as a hint.  Then we discussed the plants we couldn’t identify, looked them up and labelled them all.  When I look back through the last year of doodles, sketches and paintings that we’ve done in our books, those pages always make me smile.

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First fish caught solo and cooking for dinner.

NJ - Crabapples

I find this a very flexible curriculum, one that I can morph easily and change expectations based on age and ability of learner.  Sometimes the journal entries take over and become the kids favourite part, other times they find a strong connection within the examination of the subject or the themed  poem.  No matter which part they connect with in any given week, it’s never dull and the boys always look forward to it.

Although we used this last year, I find we don’t learn enough in a single week of study that doing it again the following year is repetitive.  Change it up, add more depth, a new set of eyes and get the family outside – that’s all it’s really about after all.

If this sounds like something you’d like to try, pop over to Lynn’s site http://www.raisinglittleshoots.com and download it from there.  There is also a great Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/exploringnaturewithchildren with some of her stunning journal entries, a great community of like-minded adults and other Charlotte Mason style ideas to add to your week of study.  I hope you enjoy this as much as we do!

 

A Game of Lost and Found

Empowering Children to conquer more and believe in themselves.

 

It has been cold here the last little while, hovering around -20 for over a week.  It’s hard to get out and get motivated in the winter sometimes, but I strongly believe that it’s more important in the winter.  It’s easy to sit inside and cuddle up with a book or binge watch Netflix and our modern day luxuries don’t force us outside like they did decades ago.  As a result, children and adults alike have far less winter skills that we used to – so we’ve decided to change that as a family.

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The beginning of our hike with Dad in the lead.

We find way to engage the kids outdoors and teach them skills without them realising it isn’t just a game.  My husband and I wanted to get them out for some fresh air and exercise, and the kids were in the mood to act like zombies, so like the good little mountain parents we occasionally are – we invented a game.  We played this amazing game a couple of weeks ago and it’s sure to be repeated many times even during the summer months. A game of  survival, critical thinking and adventure!

We drove up our mountain as far as we could get in 4 feet of snow, then proceeded to unloaded the kids and the snowshoes.  Once everyone was strapped in we went for a bit of a hike asking the kids to pay CLOSE attention to their surroundings as we walked.

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Five and Fearless

Once we’d gone a ways (with a clear snowshoe path leading back to the truck), we asked them to lead the way to the truck but they couldn’t take us on the same route.  They needed to think about it and find an alternate route that would take us to the same spot – cut their own trail, if you will. They looked slightly forlorn, as the forest canopy rose 60 feet above them and a deep quilt of snow covered the ground.

We talked about the surroundings, the details, the things they may not have noticed on their own.  We asked them to study the trail we had left in the snow and think about where the truck was.  Could they point in the direction it was parked?  We asked them to look at the sun and compare it to the position of their body while they faced the direction they intended to walk.  When facing the truck it was slightly passed their right shoulder.  We were less than 20 minutes from the truck so the sun would move very little before we returned.

We didn’t give them the compass, so the boys (aged 5 and 7) had to get us back on sheer brain power.  They looked around for a minute, talked about it between themselves, made a plan and off they went with dad and I in tow.

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Taking turns leading the way

They chose a pretty route that followed an active set of coyote tracks over a hillside and into the forest.  The ground was alive with animal activity.  They looked at the tracks and the different sizes, trying to guess how many were in the family.  It hadn’t snowed in several days, so it was possible that this was days worth of activity from the same family members, therefore increasing track numbers.  My husband tracks for a living so he was teaching them different ways to analyse them and to tell how fresh or old they were.

At one point our path started to shift a little north and we had to remind the boys to notice the sun and turn their bodies back to the body/sun position they had started with.  We climbed over boulders and logs, we dipped down below fallen trees and we trudged though snow as deep as the boys.  Just as they were getting a little frustrated and feeling the shadow of defeat creep up our truck appeared over the bank. Huge smiles of pride and success washed over their tiny faces.

It was a day of triumph.