Thursday, December 18, 2014

Valuing Stay-At-Home-Parenthood

So let me get this straight:

If I send my children to daycare or school, I am helping the nation to create jobs and fuel the economy, but if I stay-at-home and raise and teach my children I am not contributing.

Got it.

Jobs! GDP! Economic growth! Consumption!

Really? Is this really where we are at now as a nation?

I am emboldened by the fascinating comments on my previous post about Choosing Home. I think we need to actively and ambitiously shift the cultural conversation toward valuing stay-at-home-parenthood. I think we should look at data suggesting a decline in American women's workforce participation and consider that a positive trend and not a warning. I think we should offer support, respect, gratitude, and reverence for parents choosing to stay-at-home. I think we should reconsider our national priorities.

If we are willing to fund billions of dollars to enroll six million more children in government preschool by the end of the decade, then we should at least be willing to have a conversation about funding parents who choose to forego that preschool and raise their own children. Student loan forgiveness. Tax breaks. Social Security accruals. There are a whole host of strategies we could consider for demonstrating how much we value stay-at-home-parenthood.

But do we?

Have we instead been swept away by the rhetoric convincing us that jobs, economic growth, career investment, GDP are what really matter? Have we become convinced that "experts" know more than parents: that doctors know better how to heal, that giant food conglomerates know better how to feed, that daycare workers know better how to play, that teachers know better how to teach? Have we become impotent in our own homes, no longer sure how to position home as the center of a family's life, as a bustling core of production? Have we lost our way?

I think we have.

I think that we are at a critical moment in our nation's history when we can decide the direction in which to go. I think we can decide if we want to fund families or fund institutions. Remember what Margaret Thatcher said: "Let us never forget this fundamental truth: the State has no source of money other than money which people earn themselves." We give that money. We can decide how that money is spent and ensure that it is aligned with the national values we hold most dear.

I think we do value people over things. I think we can reconnect with our true American ideals of family, and home, and community. I think we can start believing in ourselves again and trusting that, as parents, we are most qualified to know what is best for our children, for our family. I think we can elevate the important role of stay-at-home-parents, with our words and our actions, and appreciate their essential work in nurturing children, cultivating sustainable neighborhoods, and shaping the direction of this country.

I think now is the time.

So, great news! The percentage of stay-at-home-moms has increased to 29%, up from 23% in 1999! There are now two million stay-at-home-dads in this country, double what it was in 1989! What a gift these parents are giving to their children, to their community! What important work they are doing!

Let us give these parents our greatest support, our deepest appreciation, for choosing to care for their own children. And let us be more committed to finding more ways to help more parents make that same important choice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Choosing Home

I realize that I speak from a mountain of privilege. I reaped the full benefits of the feminist movement that gave me the choice to work or be a stay-at-home-mom, the choice to give up a successful six-figure corporate training business to instead be at home breastfeeding my baby. I realize that I am an "opt-out mother," according to a recent Pew Research Study, which groups me in a relatively small pool of educated moms who have the choice to stay-at-home while our husbands support our families financially.

I realize this privilege, this choice, and am immensely grateful.

But I also think that we need to look critically at current policies, social trends, and cultural conversations that seem to greet with disdain the recent decline in women's workforce participation (down to 69% from 74% within the past 15 years), and the corresponding rise in stay-at-home-moms to 29% in 2012. Even our President chimed in on this topic earlier this fall in a speech touting the need to enroll six million more children in government preschool by the end of the decade, so that their parents can work and maintain current earnings. And then there is last week's New York Times article indicating that American women are leaving the workforce at higher rates than our European counterparts, presumably due to lack of government support for working mothers in the form of government-subsidized daycare, preschool and the like.

What irks me most about this array of articles and findings is the implication that we should be supporting government policies that encourage work--that encourage a sizzling, consumption-driven economy--instead of supporting parents who want to stay home and raise their own children. What kind of country are we when we look at a headline about "Stay-At-Home Moms on the Rise," and think that is a bad thing? Where are our priorities?

As grateful as I am to be able to choose to be a stay-at-home-mom, rather than it being the default position it was not too long ago, I can't help but think this choice--this quest for equality--was not without consequence. Our homes have become often-vacant frames in which to store our products of consumption and entertainment, instead of the robust centers of production they once were. Our neighborhoods have become fractured and distant and increasingly sterile, as children spend their days away with their same-age peers, parents spend their days with their same-age peers, and the elderly spend their days with their same-age peers. Our families have become increasingly disconnected. Our children have become increasingly over-structured and over-strained.

Rather than categorizing the decline in American mothers' labor force participation as a negative, how about if we instead rally our support for those parents who choose to stay-at-home and raise their children? How about if we express our deepest gratitude for the choice they are making and for the positive impact it has on our neighborhoods, on our nation? How about if we find ways to give mothers a real choice--to support policies and programs that help parents to stay-at-home and raise their own children should they choose, regardless of economic privilege?

How about if we support home and family, parents and children?

What a choice that would be.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Making Community

Whether homeschooling or not, community is important. Connecting with like-minded families, sharing joys and challenges, learning from and with each other -- all of it can make our parenting journey more fulfilling and enriching.

Several weeks ago, we had a robust dialogue on the blog's Facebook page about community, prompted by a reader out west who was wondering how to connect more deeply with the homeschooling community. Many great ideas flowed from that dialogue, but the one that resonated with me is this: make community.

Send an email. Host a class. Gather together with people who share common interests and ideals--whether homeschoolers or not. Work at it. Sometimes the answer to finding community is making community.

In the spirit of community, I decided last week to send an email to some local homeschooling-mom friends to see if anyone was interested and available to come to my house for Saturday morning coffee. Given this often hectic time of the year, I was pleasantly surprised when most of the moms said yes. It seems we are all craving community and time to share together as moms who are all finding our way on the homeschooling path.

And the dads joined in, too. While we moms chatted, the dads and a gaggle of kids descended on Harvard Square to play at the park and sip hot cocoa. They were able to connect as well, to make community and enjoy time together. The moms and dads had such a nice time this weekend that we plan on making this a regular gathering.

Sometimes, making community can be simple. Send an email. Open your home. Create the time and space to be together with others who share similar values and experiences. Nothing fancy or complicated. Just being together, sharing together. Making community.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spreading Good Cheer

It has been a very wet week here in the city. When I called an elderly neighbor who lives a couple blocks away to invite her over for rainy afternoon tea, she was feeling down about all the water that flooded her basement and how increasingly difficult it is for her to manage the upkeep on her old home.

I told the children about our neighbor's ordeal and decided that we would bake molasses cookies and make some homemade gifts to bring to her and cheer her up. The kids were delighted, and as we dodged rain drops on our way to our neighbor's home--handmade card, sewed bag, and still-warm cookies in hand--we talked about what it means to "spread good cheer" and how that is something to be especially aware of at this time of year.

It got me thinking about how special the homeschooling life can be. We can build our entire day around a spontaneous plan to spread good cheer, to perk someone up who is feeling down. When we talk about wanting to teach our children empathy and kindness, we need only to go about our ordinary days together, spotting those everyday moments to connect more fully with those around us.

When children's lives--indeed adults' lives too-- are overly scheduled, overly burdened with commitments and to-dos, we can miss these special moments to connect and share. We can miss the chance to spend an entire day spreading good cheer.

We don't need to teach our children empathy and kindness and concern for others--if it's even possible to "teach" those things. We simply need to be with our children, to include them in the everyday process of living within a diverse community, to share with them the ups and downs of the human experience, and prioritize those moments when together we can make a small difference in the lives of others.

Spreading good cheer is an important lesson in an increasingly disconnected and fractured society.

And it's not something found in any textbook or evaluated on any test.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Lean In to Unschooling

The holiday music blares 'round-the-clock these December days. Each time "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," comes on I find myself startled at the line: "And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again." Half-listening to the carols in the background, this line always makes me jump. Many homeschooling parents will agree that the more we're together with our children, the easier it is to be together, to learn together as a family.

Still, I have been getting emails lately from new-to-homeschooling parents who are frustrated by how their fall has gone. They are struggling to get their children to do their lessons, to follow their curriculum. They are feeling overwhelmed and defeated. They are wondering how they will make it through the cold, dark winter days ahead. They are seriously considering sending their children back to school. The holiday song resonates with them.

Here's my advice:

Lean in to unschooling.

Straddling two worlds--school and school-at-home--with the idea that a child may return to school and needs to "keep up" with curriculum, can be frustrating and exhausting.

Lean in to unschooling. 

Lose the curriculum. Shed your fears about keeping up with an arbitrary curriculum and instead embrace the idea that there are many ways to learn, to grow, to live, to be educated. Trust your children and yourself.

Spend the winter--when homeschooling can be challenging for even the most intrepid of us--following your child's interests. Go to the library. Go to the museum. Go to the bookstore. Go to the woods. Go sledding and stomp through the snow with your child. Read, read, read some more. Listen to audio books and stories. Bake cookies and make art. Create together. Gather with friends and family members. Take advantage of classes and activities shared by your local homeschooling network. Host a class yourself, based on your child's passions.

Tell yourself that you will ignore any curriculum for the next three months, and see how it goes. If, come spring, you want to re-visit a curriculum, you can decide then. But for now:

Lean in to unschooling.

If you are one of those parents who "can hardly wait for school to start again," give unschooling a try. Watch how self-directed learning can lead to more curious, enthusiastic children, calmer parents, and a more peaceful home. It may take a bit of "de-schooling" time for your child (and you!) to adjust from a top-down curriculum to a bottom-up philosophy of natural learning. Allow this time. Once a child realizes he is fully in control of his own learning, of his own doing, his natural curiosity and innate desire to discover his world will re-emerge. And with it will come a greater appreciation for how children really learn and how much more rewarding learning together as a family can be.

Lean in to unschooling.

Watch what happens.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

City Mouse, Country Mouse

One of my favorite things about the homeschooling life is the ability to be completely in control of our schedule. Not tied to arbitrary, predetermined-from-somewhere-else schedules that dictate when to learn, when to play, when to go, when to stay, we homeschoolers are free to choose our own rhythms and routines. 

At this time of year, as our fall city classes end, we spend much of our time soaking in the snowy season at our Vermont getaway. We take most of the winter off from scheduled classes and activities and instead jump into winter, enjoying mid-week skiing on empty trails, off-peak inside hours in the library or museum, and lots of time in the white woods.

Like summer, our winter rhythms are slow, simple and structure-free, allowing the children to freely and unhurriedly explore nature and their winter surroundings. 

It's no wonder, then, that I hear more frequently about city homeschoolers buying or building country getaway spots to enjoy year-round. We value unstructured time for children, connection to nature, exploration of the world around us, and we are not tied to rigid schedules that mandate our movements. 

Every time I read the "City Mouse, Country Mouse" fable, I can relate to both mouse characters. I love the vibrancy of the city, its diversity, energy and immense resources. I also love the country, with its wide open spaces, quiet simplicity, and greater connection to nature and earth. We chose our country spot a couple of years ago to give us a bit of both.

What about you? Are you a city mouse and a country mouse? Thinking about it? How does it influence your homeschooling life?

Monday, December 8, 2014

7 Tips for a Happier Holiday

The holiday season can be stressful and overwhelming for parents and children alike.

Here are seven simple tips that I have found helpful to limit holiday pressures and enjoy a more peaceful and authentic holiday season:

1. Ditch adult gifts.

Keep the focus on the children. What do we adults really need anyway? If gift-giving is important to you, keep it simple with a book or a batch of cookies or handmade card telling your loved ones how special they are to you.

2. Focus on the homemade.

I have learned from my children that homemade gifts are always better. They love spending these days making and crafting and creating holiday masterpieces. Consider giving more homemade gifts this season. For instance, I am filing half-gallon, beribboned mason jars with homemade granola, while the children sew small pillows and bags to give away.

3. Choose fewer, better toys.

I find my children can get overwhelmed with too many gifts--and I get overwhelmed with too much manufactured plastic! We decided a while back to limit gifts to one per child from each family member who likes to give. And Santa only gives one gift per child, too! When family members ask for suggestions, I send them to Nova Natural, Bella Luna Toys, Imagine Childhood, or Magic Cabin for high-quality toys and gifts.

4. Let stuff go.

One of the most stressful parts of the holidays is the feeling that we have so much to do, so much to buy, so many expectations to meet. I have learned to let things go, to lower my expectations, to buy less and be together more. Maybe you're getting anxious about when to bake those Christmas cookies you give away every year. Let it go. Maybe this year you're not going to bake those cookies and it will be just fine. Your children and other family members want most to have a peaceful, relaxed mom, not a harried, stressed-out mom with the world's best cookies.

This year, as I selected the perfect photo of the kids for a holiday card and was about to check-out of the online store, I stopped and said: is this really a good use of money and resources? I have always sent holiday cards. It seemed like a traditional part of this season. But when I thought about it some more, I realized it really isn't that necessary or important. I can celebrate the holidays in-person with the friends and family I love, and send a little note or free e-card to others.

5. Embrace new traditions.

While you are letting some things go, you may decide to introduce new, simple traditions into your days at this time of year. For instance, we decided to do a simple advent calendar this year for the days leading up to Christmas. Some of the daily notes have included: croissants at the coffee shop, hot chocolate with breakfast, holiday movie-watching, Christmas tree decoration-making, visit to the craft store for more supplies, adventure with Daddy, and so on. New, simple family traditions can be a wonderful way to celebrate these special days more mindfully, while letting go of traditions and practices that may be overly-stressful, outdated, or just not appropriate for this year, this moment.

6. Focus on priorities.

When we think about our most important priorities for this time of year, few of us would likely say "shopping" or "wrapping" or "spending." The holidays are a time to gather, to connect, to share, to mark the passing of time and welcome a new year together with those we love. If these are our priorities, then we should be spending our precious time gathering, connecting, sharing, being fully present with those we love. Presence trumps presents.

7. Just say no.

So many good things come into our lives at this time of year that schedules can get quickly jammed, little ones can get quickly overwhelmed, and our true priorities can get silenced and ignored. Be mindful of these special days and say no to many of the opportunities, invitations, and commitments that can easily overload us and our children during this holiday season.

What about you? What have you found helpful in your home for lowering holiday stress and creating a slower, simpler holiday season?

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Christmas Homebirth

Christmas Day 2013
I love any opportunity to talk about homebirth and this month I have two. First, we are coming up on a first birthday for my littlest one who was born at home on Christmas Day. Second, I am deeply in awe of the latest report this week out of the UK in which the National Institute for Health now states that for healthy women it is safer to have their babies at home, or in a birth center with midwives, than in a hospital. Wow. According to The New York Times: "Hospital births were more likely to end in cesarean sections or involve episiotomies, a government financed 2011 study carried out by researchers at Oxford University showed. Women were more likely to be given epidurals, which numb the pain of labor but also increase the risk of a protracted birth that required forceps and damaged the perineum."

Did I just write that? Did the The New York Times just report that?

This is a defining moment.

But it's also not that surprising, as many European countries have always embraced the midwife-supported model of birth--including homebirths. While the majority of babies born in the United States are born with doctors in hospitals, the majority in the United Kingdom are born with midwives. This fact also makes it no surprise that the UK has far better maternal and infant outcomes than we do in the US. According to an in-depth study by Consumer Reports, the number of c-sections performed in the United States is up 500 percent since 1970, to about one-third of all deliveries. And we have among the worst outcomes in terms of maternal mortality and morbidity in the world.

Despite these data, and the new recommendation by our friends across the pond, Americans and their doctors continue to believe that hospitals are the safest place for birth. As The New York Times article states: "'We believe that hospitals and birthing centers are the safest places for birth, safer than home,' said Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, the chairman of the committee on obstetrics practice for American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists." The trouble is that doctors see all the things that could wrong in birth and the ways in which hospitals can cope with these complications without recognizing that, all too often, these complications are a direct result of the hospital birth itself.

I should know. I was one of those statistics. Induced with my first baby, I had a potentially life-threatening reaction to penicillin, which was given prophylactically for Group B Strep, a test and treatment that are routine in the United States, but, ironically, not in the UK. I later learned from reading the Summer 2013 issue of Midwifery Today in the article, "The Microbiota Battle," that "the risk of life-threatening anaphylactic shock [from penicillin] in the mother is much higher than the risk of a baby dying of GBS infection." 

My second birth was worse. Immediately after the hospital-induced birth of my second baby, I was rushed to the operating room with a complete uterine inversion, an extremely life-threatening complication in which, upon delivering the placenta, the uterus flips inside out causing massive hemorrhaging. Coming out of my post-operative stupor, and thankful to still have my uterus, I recall being so grateful to the doctors and hospital, saying: "Oh, what might have happened if I wasn't here?!" 

I'll tell you what might have happened. Nothing. This wouldn't have happened because I later learned, from talking with a wide assortment of midwives and obstetricians, that this complication only occurred because my obstetrician pulled too soon, too fast on the cord. When we mothers believe that hospitals "saved" us and our babies, we are very often fooling ourselves. I know I was fooled. I delivered my last two babies at home, with experienced midwives and no complications.

As I near my son's Christmas Day birthday, I realize what a gift it really is. Not only are so few American babies born these days on holidays, according to the Consumer Reports study, few get to choose their birthday at all. 

Let us learn from our enlightened neighbors overseas and take back birth. Let us stop fooling ourselves into believing that hospitals and birth interventions are always necessary and life-saving, and gain a healthy skepticism of America's current birth conventions.

Friday, December 5, 2014

From Mother's House To Mine

This post first appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Rhythm of the Home magazine.

I never thought the day would come. I knew, theoretically, that traditions are often passed down from one generation to the next, and altered and enhanced with each new bearer. I knew that this was the cycle of family rhythms, but still I never thought the day would come when the decades-long tradition of hosting our family’s annual Christmas Eve celebration would pass from my mother’s house to mine.

My mother knew otherwise. She knew that when she was my age, 30-something with a young family, she had assumed this tradition from her mother. Like me, she had also quietly argued that Christmas Eve belonged at her mother’s home, where it had been celebrated since she was a baby, where it stood as the singular day upon which to mark the changes of the year. Her mother had gently told her that someday, when she had her own home and her own family, she would wish to host this holiday tradition, gathering together beloved family members and friends old and new.

“Someday,” my mother calmy and knowingly told me when my now five-year-old was a baby, “someday soon you won’t want to come here for Christmas Eve anymore.”

I laughed at my mother’s comment, knowing that my lifelong memories of Christmas Eve and its party were inseparable from my mother’s home. Years passed and I continued to savor the Christmas Eve gathering at her home, now using it to mark my daughter’s, and later my son’s, growth as well as my own.

And then it happened. Subtly, unexpectedly, it happened. Last year, with a preschooler, a toddler, and a new baby due any day, our family stayed home on Christmas Eve.

We were surrounded by many of the family members and old friends who migrated, some distance, to our home to continue this long-held holiday tradition in a new venue with a new generation of children. We were joined by streams of new friends, who also decided to stay close to home to celebrate the holiday with their young and growing families.

And just like that my family’s Christmas Eve tradition shifted from my childhood home to my children’s home. It was so simple, so natural really, for this holiday treasure to be passed along from my mother to me, just as it had been passed along from my grandmother to my mother in much the same way so many years before.

This year, as I prepare my home for our annual Christmas Eve celebration, I am more mindful of the important tradition I have inherited, and I am more deliberate in involving my children in the planning and preparation. As they help me to decorate our home, draft invitations, and determine the party’s essentials, I tell them how this family tradition has evolved from my grandmother to their grandmother and now to me. I share with them that someday it will be their turn to carry on this holiday tradition in their own home, should they choose, and tailor it to their own family’s rhythm of the season.

“No mama,” my five-year-old objects. “I want Christmas Eve to always be here at this house.” I nod.

Our mothers know, long before we realize it, that babies and little ones change us. They draw us home, connect us more deeply with family and tradition, guide us to create new seasonal celebrations, and, very often, remind us of our mother’s wisdom.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Rengo Case and Parental Rights

image from

The case of the young parents in Washington who had their three babies taken away from them by CPS has been weighing heavily on me since I first heard about it last week. I have tried to forget about it, to stop seeking updates, to trust that the judicial system will make everything turn out okay in the end. But I can't.

The case is so heart-wrenching, so egregious, that, as a mom and natural parenting advocate, it is impossible for me to ignore. A mom who had an unassisted twin homebirth, breastfed her newborns and 11-month-old son, and treated eczema with holistic remedies instead of steroidal creams had her babies literally ripped from her arms and placed in state custody for almost a month now--where the now one-year-old screams for his mom and his milk and one of the newborns has come down with pneumonia since being in state care and away from mama's milk. Outrageous.

Certainly we don't know all of the facts, but as the case now gains mainstream media attention and elected officials also take notice, it seems to confirm how outrageous the state's claims and actions were.

Maybe this case hits me so hard because I had two homebirths. Maybe it's because I also have an almost one-year-old and can't imagine what it would be like to have him ripped from my breast, where I know he would scream incessantly for me and his milk. Maybe it's because I am also leery of western medicine and pharmaceuticals and prefer to treat my babies holistically and homeopathically. Maybe it's because I am a mom and this case literally makes me sick to my stomach.

Maybe this case hits me hard because it is an ominous signal of the precarious state of parental rights in this country. Have your babies in hospitals, give them pharmaceuticals, feed them processed food, put them to sleep in cribs, send them to school and you're a good parent. Have your babies at home, treat them holistically, breastfeed them on-demand, co-sleep and home-school and your "non-traditional" parenting approach (which, by the way, has been the parenting norm for thousands of years), can be questioned and judged.

Without clear and present proof of abuse--abuse that is already illegal and would result in a person's arrest if identified--parents' rights should always trump a state's expectations on "proper" parenting. Beyond all the facts, this case signals a slippery slope, an Orwellian condition that threatens the rights of free people to exercise their own judgment even when--especially when--that judgment may conflict with convention.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” - Benjamin Franklin

UPDATED 12/5/2014: The court has ordered that the babies be returned to their parents!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Gift of Books

One of my favorite things to do when in Vermont is browse through the collection of books that were left for us by the previous owners when we bought this getaway spot a couple of years ago. An older couple who was downsizing to an assisted living community, they left most of their library for us to enjoy. Being gifted someone's home library is a priceless treasure, particularly when that library is filled with the variety and quality of theirs.

Sleeping babe in arms this weekend, I browsed through the titles on our bookshelves and found one I hadn't noticed before: The Lifetime Reading Plan, by Clifton Fadiman. Published several decades ago, it describes at length the classic titles of Western literature that, according to the author, should be read by everyone over a lifetime. Fadiman writes in the Introduction that the book "is designed to fill our minds, slowly, gradually, under no compulsion, with what the greatest writers of our Western tradition have thought, felt, and imagined. Even after we have shared these thoughts, feelings, and images, we will still have much to learn: all men die uneducated. But at least we will not feel quite so lost, so bewildered."

Discovering this book was timely for me, as I have been thinking how few of the true classics I have actually read and how I would like to delve into these books, hopefully alongside my children. One of the greatest tragedies of compulsory schooling, I feel, is the way in which schooling works to erode a child's love of reading. We are told what to read, when to read, how much to read (remember, don't read ahead!), and what to think of what we read. As I glanced through the titles in The Lifetime Reading Plan, I recognized books that we read piecemeal in school, taking weeks to get through limited titles and stamping out any natural love of good literature. Dickens's Great Expectations? It seemed like it took most of eighth-grade honors English to get through that one. Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter? Most of ninth. Then there are the brilliant titles that I never read in public school: the works of Austen and the Brontë sisters, Twain and Tolstoy, Emerson and Thoreau.

I enjoy delving into the books I never knew when I was in school. My children, as the imitators they are, know of these books, see me enjoying them, spot them in our home library, listen to them with me on, and want to know more. So together we "fill our minds…under no compulsion," of these great works. My children's natural love of reading is preserved and allowed to flourish. We read when we want, for as long as we want, and share our thoughts freely.

I have said before that I don't want my children to learn to read; I want them to love to read. They sustain this love, that is so apparent in small children, when they are surrounded by books and people who love books, and when they are given the time and space to read these books freely, without compulsion, as a natural part of their daily living and learning.

Books are a gift. Our appreciation for them is something we can give freely and abundantly to our children to cultivate and preserve a lifetime love of literature.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

:: Grateful ::

This week I am grateful for…

* The sights and smells of a busy holiday kitchen
* Gatherings with family
* Recipes from generations past
* Crafts made by small hands for the Thanksgiving dinner table
* Farm and food and the gifts of the harvest
* Slow and simple days to soak in all of this goodness together
* Books celebrating the season
* Flurries in the forecast
* The warmth of home
* Festive music while cooking and baking
* Holiday decorations to come
* The beginning of a most wonderful time of the year

Wishing you and your families a joyful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Power of Home

It's said that homeschooling changes everything. Most obviously, we homeschoolers experience a stunning paradigm-shift in how we think about learning and what it means to be educated. 

But homeschooling also changes how we think about home.

I have contemplated at various times throughout the life of this blog changing the title from "homeschooling" to "unschooling" or "learning" because we are not school-at-homers. But each time I have thought this I resist. Because even though so much of our learning comes from the people, places, and things in our community, home is the linchpin. Home holds everything together.

Our homes are powerful places. They nurture and nourish our families. They grow our dreams and "protect our dreamers." They cultivate creativity and invention. They warm us, shelter us, and gather us together.

At this time of year, as the indoor days of late-fall and winter take hold, I take comfort in home and grow increasingly awed at what we are able to produce, to accomplish, within these walls, as a family. Our homes can be extraordinary places of production. We can transform flour into bread, yarn into clothing, paper into masterpieces.

At times I can find myself growing overwhelmed by bellies that are always hungry, laundry that always piles up, floors that always get messy. I can feel pulled in many directions, as someone wants me to read a book, while someone else needs help spelling a word, and someone else wants a sliced apple, and someone else needs a fresh diaper. "You should be a squid," my five-year-old says to me, acknowledging that it would take 10 limbs to meet all these needs.

It's at these times that I try--as best I can--to take a deep breath, pause, and remind myself that this is all important work. The most important work. For in our homes, we are caring and tending, nourishing and nesting, creating and guiding. We are turning our homes into places of production, and not merely consumption. We are raising children, building a family, making a home.

In our homes, we are protecting dreams and dreamers.

The most important work.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Celebrate Eight

My oldest turned eight today. Eight! How did that happen?

I was thinking about how she is the trendsetter, in every aspect of the word. When she was merely two-years-old and most of her same-age friends were heading off to the city's private preschools, it never seemed right to me. She was only two after all. As I would field questions throughout that fall, at the playground or in the market, about where she went to school, I simply replied that she was two and home with me. "Oh, so you're homeschooling," was a common response. "No, she's just two," I would say.

As absurd as these exchanges seem to me now, I was grateful for them. They led me to revisit the research on homeschooling and education alternatives that I did while in college and graduate school, and, more importantly, led me to join some local homeschooling message boards. I saw a notice for a nearby weekly "young homeschooler park day," and contacted the organizer directly so that I might know someone when I showed up with my daughter and her baby brother. I still remember that first park day. Some of the friends we met that day continue to be our dearest, as our children grow up together.

In those early days, as we connected with friends and I read everything I could about homeschooling and natural learning, I knew with certainty that this was the right education choice for our children, for our family. It seemed the natural extension of our Attachment Parenting philosophy, and the best way to allow our children the freedom to learn in their own way, following their own interests.

I still wasn't sure about that whole "unschooling" idea back then. Truthfully, that seemed a bit outrageous to me. I felt sure that we would be following some type of curriculum as the children aged. But then I saw my daughter teach herself to read without any direct instruction. I saw her work through the complexities of mathematics and fall in love with math, to the point that today she had her second annual "math birthday" with her beloved math instructor and math friends. I saw her learn things, try things, discover things, become passionate about things that I would never have thought to teach her--and that perhaps if I had taught her would not have resulted in the same level of enthusiasm and mastery. 

I saw, through the fascinating lens of parenthood, my child learning, doing, growing, flourishing by following her innate curiosity and her instinctual drive to discover her world. I saw that my role was really to provide the time and space--the freedom and opportunity--for her learning to occur naturally, without coercion, without adult-driven expectations. I saw the extraordinary power of natural learning--something so regrettably rare nowadays that we almost can't imagine it to be so. 

This newly-minted eight-year-old proves it to be true each and every day, along with her brothers and sister who eagerly follow in her natural learning footsteps, each on his or her own distinct path.

What may have seemed outrageous to me back when she was two seems only ordinary to me now. Children learn. That's what they do. 

We simply watch, and guide, and marvel. And celebrate.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bad Days Happen


I've been getting a lot of emails lately from blog readers curious about all sorts of things. It's been a delight to connect more closely with homeschoolers and those interested in homeschooling. It makes me realize that as I sit here at this little box something I say may actually help or inspire someone somewhere. Talk about gratifying.

Right now there is a great discussion on the blog's Facebook page prompted by an email I received from a blog reader out west who is struggling with homeschool loneliness and is wondering how to connect more deeply with the homeschooling community. It turns out, based on the thoughtful online discussion, that she is far from alone in feeling this way. Finding or creating community, whether through one's homeschooling network or through neighborhood or interest-based connections, is so vital to personal and family well-being and is not always easy or straightforward. It's been nice to see this small example of how social media can connect and comfort.

Another email I got this week also stands out. "So yesterday was so dreary and horrible…." it begins. The reader goes on to say that it was the first day since she started homeschooling this fall that the day felt forced and unbalanced: too much curriculum, not a lot of enthusiasm, loneliness, malaise.

I was going to reply to her directly but thought it was important to write about this here.

Because you know what?

Bad days happen.

A lot.

There will be "those days" when nothing seems to go right and everyone is cranky and it's rainy and cold and it all just stinks.

And you know what else?

We would have those bad days whether we homeschool or not. It's par for the parenting course.

I certainly have my fair share of those bad days. I try as much as possible to pull us out of them if I can. We go outside. I light some candles. I turn on some dance music. We have tea. We bake something chocolatey. We call some friends to play. We go to the library or the bookstore or the cafe for a change of scenery and a connection with others.

But sometimes I just let the day be what it will be and know that tomorrow will be better. The rain will stop. The sun will shine. We'll get our rhythm back. We'll delight in our friendships and seek new ways to build community and connection.

And we'll give ourselves a break.

Because we all have bad days.