My oldest daughter just turned 18 last month and is in her final week of her very first semester as a Game Art and Design Major at our local art college. I will never forget that first day after college orientation when she came home absolutely glowing saying that she knew when lunch rolled around and everyone pulled out their sketchbooks that she had finally found her tribe. She belonged. Over the past few months I have watched in amazement as my formerly unschooled daughter navigated being in classes, having homework and learning to be a student all over again for the first time in many many years. She had to get herself up in the mornings and drive herself to class, complete assignments and take tests and manage her time And she has thrived.
It wasn't always this way.
My oldest daughter spent her years in school from kindergarten until middle school feeling misunderstood, unchallenged and like she really did not belong. She had begged to homeschool for quite some time but we had 4 kids, I owned a coaching business and my husband worked full time outside of the home. I just didn't see how that would work. How would I get her to do her work? Would we get along? Spending long hours in charge of my daughters education when our days were already filled with so much conflict and strife just didn't sound like my idea of fun. I couldn't even get her to complete her homework or take a shower with ease - how could I possibly teach her? So I said no. That is one of my biggest regrets.
To our credit, my husband and I really did our best to advocate for her. We consistently requested meetings with the teachers and principal, visited therapists, did our best at home to stimulate her and read countless books on giftedness. But for a child who was considered bright, unmotivated and underachieving the message we consistently heard was that unless she was falling behind there was really nothing the school could do. A kid who could easily ace the test was not a priority despite the fact that she consistently didn't complete assignments and was slipping through the cracks.
In the end we would try 3 schools in 3 years. Public, Private and Gifted. We tried them all and all of them failed her. Failed us. We felt overwhelmed, isolated and heartbroken.
So finally in the middle of 7th grade despite our best efforts to find a school to meet her needs and in spite of our doing our very best to advocate for her, our daughter was emotionally a mess- angry, defiant, and incredibly depressed and literally failing every class. No amount of bribery, coercion or manipulation could get her to do the work. In desperation to save our daughter we decided enough was enough and pulled her out of school. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing but we knew that we could not continue to put our child through even one more day of this misery.
Making the decision to homeschool 6 years ago would prove to be the single best decision we had made as parents and would change the course of our children's lives forever. In that moment we would come to realize that as parents we had handed over our responsibility in educating our children to society and had become powerless victims in the process. We watched our kids suffer for years and stood by feeling powerless as if we had no choice in the matter. By choosing to homeschool we were taking back ownership over our family and choosing our child's health and happiness as our ultimate goal - not test scores and grades or even fitting in with the mainstream. It was an amazing feeling of freedom that I still cannot put into words.
So began our journey towards unschooling.
In the beginning we spent many hours discussing what our homeschool family would look like. We talked about what education meant to us and what lessons we ultimately wanted to send our kids off into the world with. It was a time of complete liberation. For our oldest it was as if a giant weight was lifted off of her shoulders and for the first time in so long she seemed happy.
In the end I would come to realize that I had different goals for each of my children and for her it was internal motivation. She has spent so many years trying to fit into a system that did not fit her and to take our home and do the same thing just didn't seem right. I had a deep knowing that freedom to learn and explore life on her own terms and in her own way was what was needed here.
In those early days of homeschooling she spent countless hours playing video games and watching tv. She stayed in her room most of the day and slept past noon. It was so hard for me to let go of control but I did my best to give her time to find her way and always I kept the mantra- INTERNAL MOTIVATION. What good would it do for me to turn home into school only to have her go out into the world eventually and not have a fire in her belly to pursue her dreams? I had to have faith and trust the process but for this TYPE A mom with an advanced degree who had done well in traditional school- it was not easy.
I read the book "Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewelyn and the works of John Holt. I devoured "Free to Learn" by Peter Gray and read so many blog articles that I have lost count. I listened to the podcasts at www.unschoolingsupport.com and slowly the words of those homeschool pioneers who walked the path ahead of me - my heart and mind began to open up.
As I was learning and growing it seemed only logical to bring all of my children home and we spent those next 2 years building a homeschool community and rebuilding our relationships at home with each other. It was a beautiful and treasured time. In my deepest self, I felt confident and inspired.
As high school loomed we began to discuss what that would look like. In truth, it was scary and overwhelming at first!! I thought I knew what I was doing but this, this was different. Luckily, those feelings didn't last long and I remembered my mantra- internal motivation was the goal.
My oldest entertained the thought of going back to school for high school but it became clear for us that that would just mean more of the same she had already experienced during her years in school. At this point we had a taste of what was possible and we just wanted so much more for her than a traditional high school could have provided.
We looked at homeschooling high school as a collaboration where she was in the drivers seat and we were here to help facilitate. So began long hours of discussion and uncovering possibilities. She knew that she wanted to go to college and that she wanted a full 4 year university experience so my previous assumptions that she would graduate early and go to community college first went out the window.
Ultimately she decided that she would continue to unschool high school by combining some traditional classes to meet specific college application requirements along with lots of freedom to learn what she wanted to learn and in the way she wanted to learn it for subjects that were easier to learn in a more flexible way. All of this was always her own choice . Always. For her high school was a rich and rewarding experience and full of freedom and self directed learning.
While friends around us would share heartbreaking stories of how their highschoolers were incredibly stressed, sleep deprived and struggling with mental health issues as a result of school - we would privately count our blessings that our children would not have to experience that. When we felt uncertainty or fear- and we did at times - we would just look at our peaceful, content, and curiously engaged children and know we were on the right path.
I know how valuable it is to read real life stories of those with older homeschooled teens so I wanted to share what this actually looked like in our everyday life. The beauty in high schooling in this way is that it is going to look completely different for every single person. For high school my oldest kept records of every class she took online (Coursera, Sign Language for example) or in person (we occasionally hired teachers for things she could not easily learn on her own and was interested in (Biology Lab, Creative Writing, Digital Art, Piano for example), or purchased curriculum when needed (Geometry, Algebra, Chemistry for example) and she detailed every book she read or movie she watched- these lists were massive!! , field trips taken ( hundreds!!) or trips both local and abroad that contributed to her learning in a deep and rewarding way.
I want to mention that she was the one who kept these records - not me - and that I did not check assignments or track her progress in anyway. I felt that if I forced her to sit down and turn in assignments that sort of defeated the entire point of this whole thing which was internal motivation and freedom to learn . We would talk often about how things were going and she would share if she was feeling stuck or needing additional support through a mentor or tutor but for the most part she did her own thing.
Ultimately, I wanted her to have complete autonomy and to help to build independence over those last years with her at home. Unschooling high school can mean different things to different people and I am sure there are some who would say that using curriculum is not unschooling but I disagree. For us unschooling means not doing school at home and really complete freedom to learn in whatever way you wish to learn even if that is occasionally a class or textbook. It meant a wonderful open and loving relationship with a teenage highschooler who never had the need to rebel because there was nothing to rebel against. It meant respect and openness.
As I look now at my daughter who is thriving with great grades and a passion for her art that amazes me daily, I feel so much gratitude that I was able to gift her those years at home and look forward to the future with hopeful anticipation of what is to come.
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What would happen if you started treating this entire homeschool journey a whole lot differently? What if I told you it could be amazing and beautiful and the very best thing that ever happened to you and your family but that perhaps you have been going about it all wrong?
Imagine for a moment that you could give yourself permission to just take a BIG break from everything that wasn't fueling you or lighting you up? Maybe this would mean deschooling, dropping a few committments or plans. Or maybe it would be letting go of feeling stuck or overwhelmed. Or letting go of being unhappy or a schooly mindset. Or???
Imagine that you were in a place to recognize that that in order for this entire gig to really flow - you, yes you mama - have to be feeling awesome and inspired about this lifestyle and that is not going to ever happen when you just keeping on moving forward trying to force things to work- when so clearly they are not.
Something needs to change and you are not going to get there by finding a magic curriculum or classes. I promise.
I once read that one of the differences with today's homeschoolers is that most of us started homeschooling because of a need not because of the philosophy of homeschooling. This absolutely fascinated me because it makes so much sense then why most of us start off by buying a bunch of curriculum and signing up for loads of classes. We start off doing this in desperation and the only way to make ourselves feel better is to start filling our time. Most of us didn't have time to do the soul searching that mamas who always knew they would homeschool did.
No wonder... we are driving all over town trying to meet each of our kids needs, barely surviving our responsibilities at home and wondering if this is really all there is?
So often what I hear and see online and in person are families that are miserable and struggling. They are wavering between threatening the kids to go back to school or mama falling apart from the demands of homeschooling in this way. Honestly, even those who tell me how much their kids dig classes and worksheets, eventually share how they aren't really sure how much their kids are really getting out of it all.
Homeschooling this way - feels so very very heavy to me.
A Spacious Life feels so much different. It feels , well...spacious!!
These days I feel pretty much on fire about homeschooling and want to share how much I love it with anyone who will listen.
Once I started spending hours and hours devouring everything I could not about classes and curriculum but about the philosophy BEHIND the actual lifestyle I just couldn't get enough and wanted more and more and more.
Mama's, I spend hours everyday listening to inspiring podcasts, reading homeschool books, and talking with mamas online and in person about the philosophy behind what we do and you know what? It makes me a way better homeschool mama. I don't feel weighed down by my choices because I know that everything we choose to do is going to be because it enriches our lives in one way or another. If it doesn't it gets tossed out. My kids see me being engaged and constantly learning and suddenly our home has this contagious atmosphere of growth.
What I am trying to say is this. If homeschooling isn't working so well for you perhaps it is time to take a step back and get really really clear on your WHY. Imagine that your kids are still toddlers and you are looking ahead to their school years with wonder and anticipation. Give yourself the space and time to learn from those mama's in this homeschool community who have walked the path ahead of you and listen to their wisdom. Really listen. Let their words sink in. Listen to their podcasts, read their books, talk about these ideas with your homeschool friends.
Trust me when I tell you that this will be a total game changer in how your days look and where you choose to put your energy with your kids. Things will become fun again and you won't believe how lucky you are to be able to teach your kids in this way. You'll start to find cool resources to share with your kids, interesting movies to watch together, books that ignite their little hearts and create openings for deep conversations. You'll search out communities of mamas who explore wild places in nature and create all sorts of possibilities for independent exploration too giving you time just for you as well . You will begin to see that this is homeschooling not just something that happens AFTER the curriculum or on the side. It is all of it. Homeschooling is not separate from living - it's all the same.
Words like freedom, curiosity, adventure, engagement and creativity will become your mantra. Learning to trust yourself and your children will become so natural to you that you won't believe there was a time when you did not feel this way. You can do it mama's.
Imagine living.... A Spacious Life
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I want to share something with you mamas. This time is fleeting. These days where you feel so exhausted and pulled in every direction will fly by. Soon you will be watching your children go off on their own and spread their wings and you will wish for these carefree days so much. You will long for just a little more time with them.
I pulled my oldest out of school in the middle of 7th grade. Our relationship at the time was pretty rocky. There was lots of crying and arguing and trying to get her to do what I wanted. To comply. To get her school work done, clean her room, take a shower, be nice to her sisters. Obey. All of it. She wasn't the most agreeable kid ( not by a longshot) and I wasn't a very enlightened mama- not yet anyway.
Mamas, I so wish I could go back and do those years all over again.
By the grace of God, somehow I woke up. That moment I pulled her out of school it was as if the blinds had been lifted from my eyes and for the first time in forever- I saw her, truly saw her and let go.
I realized then that she was her own person and my trying to control her to get her to do life my way- was killing her. It was literally sucking the life out of her.
What she needed was a sense of autonomy and control over her own life and the freedom to learn on her own terms. I learned to talk less and listen more. I became more of a resource and guide and less of an authoritative parent. Our focus became internal motivation and I stopped forcing anything.
I challenged every belief I had about the way I thought things should be- and when I could not come up with a good answer- I shifted. I gave in.
And she thrived. She thrived mamas.
I feel so blessed that I woke up and had this realization. Because of it I was able to create some amazing memories over the past 6 years with my oldest daughter and today just a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday- have an incredibly close and loving relationship with her.
I may have lost a lot of time but no one can take that away from us.
Homeschooling is not just about academics mamas. It is about relationships. With ourselves and with our children. Let go.
Finding true friends for gifted kids can be a real challenge. Often times they may feel like they don't quite fit in which can leave a deep feeling of loneliness. They may wonder if there is something wrong with them or if they will ever find someone who truly gets them. What is a homeschool mom to do?
When I started homeschooling I took my daughter to quite a few park days to try to find community. We had come to this journey quite suddenly and unexpectedly and we were feeling pretty isolated. To be honest, it was awkward and uncomfortable. The other moms were generally warm and welcoming but somehow we just didn't quite fit. My daughter would spend the time with her headphones on and a sketchbook in hand and pretty much ignored the other kids attempt to engage her. I tried hard to make small talk something just wasn't quite right. It was so frustrating! Imagine being at a park day with tons of other families and feeling utterly different and alone.
About 5 years ago I decided to start my own group. It was pretty obvious that we were not going to find what we were looking for without creating it ourselves. So OC Gifted Group was born.
OC Gifted Group is a community for families who are homeschooling emotionally intense, creative, neurodiverse kids. I will never forget that day when we arrived at our first park day. My introverted daughter who had refused to interact at all those other groups park days.... happily walked off with a girl her age. This girl had a ukulele and had taught herself to play. Those two spent the entire afternoon together talking, laughing and sharing. It was beautiful and I could sense something wonderful was about to happen. When we got into the car my daughter told me she had made a new friend. Listening beneath her words and seeing the emotions flowing from them, I felt deeply what she really meant.
We all need to feel seen, heard and understood to thrive and gifted kids are no different.
These days our group has grown into a thriving community with over 100 members. Families come and go. Kids go back to school. People move. As is the transient nature of homeschooling. But something so wonderful has remained. Our group is a place where kids who have refused to go back to other park days- beg to return. It's a place where gifted and twice exceptional kids find true peers who finally get them. A place where they belong- often for the first time in their young lives. We have parents who drive an hour each week to be with us. It is that worth it they say.
Our group has weekly park days and field trips, we go hiking together and have bookclubs. We have parent workshops and moms night out. We go on trips and have campouts. Our kids take classes together and learn from one another. We have become a family. When conflicts arise we are not quick to judge- we have all been there once or twice. We support each other during the challenging times and cheer each other on for our successes and for that I am so grateful.
As a homeschool coach and gifted advocate, I am often referred parents who have just had their child identified as gifted. They may have known for years that their child was different but the understanding of giftedness with all that that entails is often completely new. Words such as asynchronous development, heightened emotional intensity, Debrowski's Overexcitabilities and more are often times all brand new and it is so overwhelming. Just spend some time googling those terms and you will see what I mean. Much of the time families are coming to me because they have decided to pull their child out of a traditional school setting that just isn't working - their child is bored, having behavioral problems, struggling from serious anxiety or experiencing social issues and it is clear that a change is needed and very soon.
I remember being in that space not so long ago. My oldest ( now almost 18) was in the middle of 7th grade at the time and she had already been through 3 schools in 3 years. From 1st Grade - 5th Grade she had been in our local public school where from the very beginning she struggled. She had a few close friends and was involved in the local Girlscout Troop but overall school was not a place of joy and happy learning . ( It is supposed to be you know)
She was so very bright but in school and at home , school became a huge burden. She would twirl in her chair, drop her pencil a thousand times, complain endlessly. Homework often took hours and would end with both of us in tears.
Our time together at home was anything but pleasant.
Her teacher back then would come to try any number of behavioral techniques designed to get her to "comply" and get her work done in a timely fashion. Timers would be set, smiley face/frowney face daily report cards sent home, rewards and consequences given. Nothing seemed to work. Parent teacher conferences led to a barrage of negative feedback and me being told that my daughter probably had ADD ( she does not) . Teachers would keep her in from recess and lunch to "punish" her for incomplete assignments, she failed the school's gate placement test because she thought it was boring and the teacher refused to have her retested because she said she was an expert in giftedness and my daughter was most certainly not gifted (she is)
Eventually she was bullied for 6 months without us knowing- all for being different. Some years were better than others as we tried our best to advocate for our child but despite our best efforts - slowly her self esteem started to whither away. I asked the principal what he would do if he was in my shoes and he told me to homeschool or send her to a school for the gifted.
I really did not want to homeschool. My company , Women4Success was thriving and our family was growing. I could not see how having my daughter home would be good for any of us given how unhappy she was. How little I knew back then how homeschooling would solve all of our problems and give us back the happy curious child we had once had. So... of course we decided to try the gifted school. It was so clear that the teachers loved what they did and it seemed my child would finally get the intellectual stimulation she so craved. But alas, it didn't quite work out that way. She loved the way they taught but the workload was ridiculous. Homework took 3 or more hours a night and she had no time for anything else including weekends. Sports and extracurricular classes had to go and there was little time for fun. Then the health problems started. Nausea and vomiting. Headaches. She was missing 2-3 days of school despite desperately wanting to go- the pressure proved to be just too much for her 11 year old self.
Eventually we moved her in 7th grade to a Catholic school with her best friend. At first she had a big smile on her face and seemed genuinely happy. Homework took so little time that we knew she wasn't being challenged but we didn't care. She played on the volleyball team and had a few nice friends. If we could only get her through to high school we thought all would be well.
Except that it wasn't. 2 weeks before Christmas - in the middle of 7th grade we got a phone call from the teacher that our bright and sensitive daughter was failing every class. All F's. Work that was clearly too easy for her. Her teacher said that when given time to do work in class, our child had nothing to show for it. She was emotionally volatile, angry, sad, depressed and just completely done. They wanted consequences , we wanted answers. Why wasn't our child thriving? What were we doing wrong? Why didn't anyone seem to know how to help?
We finally had her formally tested by a psychologist and received the information we had been waiting for to give us the courage to say enough. Enough to the fighting, enough to the stress, enough to the trying to make it work. In February of 7th grade we took the plunge and finally pulled her out to homeschool. That was the single best decision I have made as a mother. Ever.
You see my daughter is gifted. I won't shy away from the word because there just might be one parent out there who needs to hear it. I did not understand that gifted doesn't just mean you are smart or that you learn quickly. Yes it means all of those things but it means so much more. Being gifted may mean that you learn differently, often almost as if by osmosis. It may mean that you are emotionally sensitive, struggle with existential depression, or struggle to find intellectual peers. Being gifted may mean that you relate more to adults than kids your own age but at times you act years younger than you actually are. It can mean that you are a perfectionist and give up just so you do not have to fail. It may mean that you are made fun of for always correcting your teacher , even though often times you are right.
Being gifted doesn't look the same in any two people and as such it can be very difficult to identify. Gifted kids are not just the high achievers and are often times misdiagnosed. And there is the stigma of being gifted. People are just afraid to use the word for fear of offending someone but you know what, I believe we need to use it and this is why.
I will never forget the day that my oldest got the test results. She was standing in the entryway to our home and my parents were over. My mom asked her- how do you feel now that you know you are gifted. She said , " Now I know I am not stupid". All those years of negative feedback from teachers, of constantly having them tell her to stop daydreaming, of feeling like she did not fit in- had actually caused my exceptionally gifted child to think she was dumb. Heartbreak.
There is a comfort in knowing that you are gifted. Talk to your kids about it. Tell them how it means that they are not better but different. That it means they are wired differently. But mostly let them know that in being gifted - there is absolutely nothing wrong with them at all!
Please leave me a comment below or send a message if you would like to connect. The more we get this dialogue going, the more we can help all gifted kids thrive.
Asilomar Beach , Pacific Grove, Ca.
I've been silent from this space for a long time , mostly because I have so much to say and am not sure how to say it. This happens sometimes when I am shifting and growing a lot. I get lost in my head and have to talk things through to figure them out.
I have been wanting to share on the blog my thoughts and aha's from our recent big adventure but I guess aha's sometimes come over time not all at once. You see, last month I was blessed enough to take my girls on a 21 day road trip. It had started off as a simple enough vacation with a friend and her boys and before you knew it we had this grand adventure planned. I was thrilled. I have been feeling that ever present heaviness that comes from knowing my oldest is going off to college in one year and I want to soak up every last bit of connection and memories with her that I can and boy did we!
The thing was that I had not been on a trip this long since I was 16 years old so this was a big deal. Over the weeks leading up to our roadtrip I felt my excitement rising. Trips to REI were filled with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm I have not felt in a very long time. I am pretty sure my kids thought I was nuts to get so revved up about new camping utensils and collapsible pots and pans but I have to admit even in those early weeks I could feel the magic brewing.
After all our dreaming, weeks of packing and careful planning, the trip did not disappoint.
I recall sitting on the beach the first morning with my coffee for a few minutes of alone time and feeling this enormous amount of peace wash over me. In that moment I realized that over the years since becoming a mama , I had lost my inner adventurer - and now she was back!! She had been such a strong presence in my life when I was younger from the time I was 16 and went on a 3 week Outward Bound White Water Rafting/ Mountaineering Trip, to my time at UC Santa Barbara as a Adventure Staff Volunteer leading canoe trips on the Colorado River, and even into the beginnings of my relationship with my husband on our many camping trips and hikes. My inner adventurer was about more than being active though, it was an overall mental state, a feeling of wonder and excitement about life and the world. Anything was possible and I was filled with hope and wonder. The world was my oyster and I wanted to explore it all.
Then I had kids and as those of you with gifted munchkins ( and teens!!) know, raising intense, out of the box, beyond mainstream kids can probably relate: life suddenly got very very hard. We don't just learn differently, we are wired differently and experience the world differently .
Looking back now I realize that we had been in a state of crisis for so very long that I had completely lost any sense of fun. Everything was about managing my kids. In the beginning I became focused on just getting through the day because of course my kids didn't just magically sleep through the night. Later my relationships were strained ( or at least I felt they were) because my kids didn't fit in socially and sometimes didn't behave in public the way they were supposed to. The stories are many but I can remember one occasion when my now 9 year old started preschool that she kept running out of the classroom.and crying at drop off. Every time I drove away I felt awful but this was what was expected right? Of course, they had no idea what to do and would call me daily to report her "misbehavior". All the other kids. weren't crying and carrying on for week and weeks. I must be a bad parent. I must be doing something terribly wrong. How could I share this with friends and expect any support? They weren't dealing with this. They would look at me sympathetically but beyond that, couldn't relate.
Yes, in those early years my days were filled with managing problems at school, trying to force kids to "comply" at home", and trying to fit in when we so clearly did not. I had friends through my kids girlscout troop or sports team but I really had no tribe. I had friends but felt outside the circle even though I probably was not.
So, it is no wonder that I lost my way. I have been slowly making my way back over the past years since I started homeschooling and it feels so so good.
Meadow House, Willow Witt Ranch Oregon
I have been home from the 21 day Road Trip for a little over a month now and the aha's keep coming in. I have ideas to share and inspiration and hope to spread. For all parents but especially those of you raising unique, spirited kids I know one thing for sure: life doesn't have to be so hard...
We spend so much time focusing on our kids problems. This comes from a place of fear and worry. We want so badly for them to be successful in life, to have opportunities available to them so we think this is what we need to do in order to make sure that happens. Don't get me wrong, I understand that some kids need scaffolding or professional help when the challenges they experience make it difficult to manage life in a joyful way. I've been there too. But I believe we are taking it too far. I think as a community we spend too much time looking at what's wrong instead of looking for what is right.
I wonder what if we focus more on our own joy, our own happiness and peace. What if we look within to how we can be more organized, more inspired, more alive. What would happen if we rediscover our inner adventurer? How would our kids react? Our spouses, our friends? I think something amazing would occur in our children and our families.
I have been reading this book and the author shares this new way of looking at parenting that I have been feeling for so long. She says that our job as parents is to support our kids in becoming more of who they really are instead of focusing on what we feel are their faults or flaws.
She says... " I know how extremely difficult it is for parents to trust that if we simply usher our children into their own self realization, rather than pressuring them to comply with our idea of who they should be , they will flourish, " " We feel that if we aren't trying to control or effect a desired outcome , we are not doing what we are supposed to do. Parents become obsessed with activity as an imagined antidote to fear. We treat our children like chattel , pushing them toward a future we imagine for them. Only when we stop listening to the voice in our head and stop obsessing and regard our children as sovereign beings who are fully capable of rising to the challenge of becoming the author of their own life will they embody the vigor and courage that is their natural state. " - Shefali Tsabary
I have noticed a trend on gifted and parenting blogs and groups of focusing on everything that is going wrong. We look for the problems and want support with that. I understand it because some days are really really hard. What I wonder though is what would happen if we took Shefali's approach and worked instead on finding our own inner adventurer, looked into ourselves for how we need to evolve and be better human beings for our children, what would happen?
For me, I know this is what I need. I want to create a childhood filled with wonder and curiosity. I wish for a peace filled home with connection and strong relationships. I want a circle of friends and a tribe of women who believe this to be true. This conscious parenting approach is going to require awareness and thoughtfulness because it is not how most of us were raised but for asynchronous kids and mamas- it may just the thing that saves us all.
Last weekend I was blessed to attend my very first Wild and Free Homeschool Conference on board the beautiful and majestic Queen Mary in Long Beach. The timing wasn't perfect since I am planning a 3 week road trip and we leave next weekend ( Shh....so many surprises there! I will be posting photos as we go so be sure to follow this page on facebook)
My girlfriend and I decided to make an entire day of it and started off with lunch, lots of catching up and a little shopping. By the time I checked in , I was feeling pretty relaxed and ready to see how the weekend unfolded. Let me tell you it did not disappoint!
As I looked around the room and took in all the attendees- I wondered who these ladies were. There were so many younger mamas, baby wearing mamas, nature loving adventuring, homesteader mamas. 450 homeschooling mamas who came together to be inspired, rejuvenate, and relish in this slow intentional living that we are so proud of. And you know what, they were happy and excited and so ready to have some fun.
I have been to a lot of conferences in my coaching career and as a homeschooler but none of them started like this. First there were these giant balls tossed around- we were giggling like little kids. It felt so good to just let go and be free. I joked to my friend about how I needed to lighten up, raising these intense kiddos I can forget just how much they need me to give in to a childlike sense of wonder and just let go and be in the moment. What a way to remember this little nugget!
Next up was the band Branches from Portland Oregon. So much fun! I cannot recall any conference I have ever attended that opened with a hip funky band! All at once these amazing group of women felt united and one. It was a very special and awe-inspiring moment.
Later that evening there was an opening where the women who started Wild and Free shared this little piece she had written in her latest publication of Wild and Free. I have to share it with you here because it really spoke to me. I was practically in tears when I read this because it spoke to my heart.
(Be sure to check out the Wild and Free website link at the end. )
We are not just homeschoolers. We are a community like no other.
We are not the norm. We go against the grain, flowing crosscurrent to mainstream culture. We are weird, unsocialized. And We love it. We embrace it. We're proud of it, in fact. Because we know this way of learning doesn't give our children a disadvantage in the world, but a leg up.
The path we're on is the right one even though it is less travelled. We believe that when kids are free to be themselves and that makes them a little "weird" , they possess what most adults are still striving to achieve, individualism. Purpose. Passion.
And when mamas are wild enough to walk their own way, raising up kidss in the way they should go, something amazing happens in their young hearts and minds.
We embrace nature and esteem good books. We love learning and strive for slow, intentional living. Webelieve mud pies trump memorization. And hikes beat homework any day of the week. We choose connection over curriculum,. And we beleive learning can be beautiful when it happens naturally. We call this "living" life.
Yes, we are passionate. And maybe a little crazy. But we are in this together.
We are Wild and Free.
By Ainsley Arment
Founder Wild and Free
( From Collection 2 of the new Wild and Free Print Magazine)
The entire weekend just flowed from this. This. This is how I feel and as a mom of gifted kiddos sometimes I can forget to live a slow intentional life. I can get caught up in the intensity of our days or even more likely my own emotional highs and lows and forget what I am seeking. I can start comparing my life to others or feel pressure to sign up for classes and camps or activities that don't hold our vision sacred. Our days can become so full that there is no room for exploration, connection and rest.
Sometimes, I forget the life I am trying to create for myself and my family.
A few of you may have heard me say that I have decided that this is my year of the Hell Yes!! I wish to live fully and in the present moment. I wish to go after my dreams and leave behind the pieces that don't serve me. I want to let go of the doubts and the fears that keep me stuck. I want to show up and live life full out. My kids need this. My husband needs this. I need this.
I suppose that this is what A Spacious Life is all about.
Honestly, life doesn't have to be so hard. Yes, there will be challenging times and not everything is roses. But in the end , we get to decide how we show up for the party and I think that makes all the difference.
My oldest daughter will turn 17 years old in a couple of days. It seems like just yesterday that I was bringing her home from the hospital so filled with wonder and joy at this new life we had created. I was so young then and my life as a mom was just beginning. So often people say to enjoy this time because they grow up so fast and now here I am and I understand deep within that this is true.
Our journey as mother and daughter has not always been an easy one. During her time in school my oldest was often very unhappy and as a result so was our relationship. I didn't know how to relate to her and there were miles and miles between us. There was lots of yelling, fighting and tears.
So , so, so many tears.
To be honest my oldest daughter is the sole reason that I decided to homeschool. I give her all the credit for giving me the insight and courage to take the leap from the mainstream. I once told her thank you for helping me be a rebel ( after spending most of my life as a rule follower) and she said- you aren't the rebel mom- we are. LOL!!
For those of you have been following along with this blog you know that traditional school was a disaster for her. We tried it all from public, to gifted , and even private school. There were so many years of parent teacher meetings, ongoing conversations with the principal and school psychologist about how to engage her in learning. There were a gazillion behavior programs implemented and failed , rules and rules and I am ashamed to say bribes. Pretty much all of these efforts only served to re-enforce my daughters feelings of low self worth and not fitting in. and making us feel as complete failures in parenting.
I remember a time in 5th grade when she refused to go with me to a parent teacher conference - (the teacher had wanted the kids to join in on the discussion.). I arrived at the conference ready to hear once again about how she was not performing up to her potential, I braced myself for hearing the words about what was wrong with her, how she wasn't doing the work and let me tell you the teacher did not disappoint. Her teacher shared about how my bright kid who could score a 99% on state testing was not doing well in school. And despite the lack of clear solutions, I sat through an hour of the teacher telling me how my daughter needed to step up, that she couldn't get away with this, how someone had to send her a message that this was not acceptable and how she would fail middle school at this rate.
I was told of 12 missing assignments, 10 missing assignments and tales of lost homework and incomplete work.. The teacher expressed how perhaps what I needed to do was to take away my daughter's art- the one thing she truly loved- until she shaped up. My blood boiled at that idea! The nerve. It was clear that as much as we had no idea how to change things- neither did the teacher or the school.
When I got home from that conference, I found my then 11 year old daughter curled up in the fetal position on top of the dresser in her closet.. She had clearly been crying and nervously asked me what the teacher said. She told me that she could never go back there, that the teachers hated her and she would never fit in.
That was the moment that we decided to homeschool though it would take 2 more years for us to finally pull the trigger. We were scared of the unknown but knew in our hearts that something needed to change for fear we would lose our daughter.
Looking back I do have regrets like we all do. I wish I would have listened a little more, done a bit more research into what gifted really meant especially when it came to underachieving and emotional intensity. Surely I could have read all the books on giftedness my mom gave me but sat unread waiting for me to have a little more "time". I wish I could have had the guts to be a rebel a little bit sooner and perhaps I would have saved us some of the struggles we had to go through those next few years before we were ready to let go of the fight of staying in school.
Mostly though, as I sit here thinking about the fact that in 3 days I will have a 17 year old young adult in my home, my lovely daughter growing up before my eyes, I am filled with a wonderful sense of gratitude and peace.
You see, I am so very very lucky. I am filled with comfort in knowing that we saved our relationship and have had the past 5 years to get to know each other all over again. Yes, I am sad that we lost all of those years and I definitely wish I could get them back. Still, I try and focus on what we do have and hope that sharing my story saves a few other parents and kids from following in our painful steps. .
What I want other parents of gifted kids who are struggling in school and are wondering about how they will handle homeschooling high school to know is this, Today instead of teenage strife and rebellion, we have had time spent together. Instead of anger, yelling, and tears we have had long conversations and hours and hours of learning and adventuring. Instead of worrying and fear we have comfort in knowing we are lovingly supporting our daughter into following her passions and blossoming into who she truly is.
Together with her sisters we have built beautiful memories from our weekly field trips (we have gone on over 200!!!) , enjoyed leisurely park days with no where to rush to, we have watched endless movies, and gone camping with our friends when everyone else was at school. I have loved watching the relationships between her and her 3 sisters grow as well in ways that would not have been possible if she had stayed miserable in school.
The title of this post was homeschooling high school and I suppose this is what it means to me. For us, high school has been less about academics and more about life. It has looked like helping my oldest figure out what her goals are for her future and facilitating finding the resources to make that possible. It has meant honoring her as a whole person, who just happens to be a teenager. Our focus has been on helping to light a fire in her belly by helping her strive for internal motivation and not forcing her to complete work or assignments only because it makes us feel better or reduce our own fear.
She wants to go to college and wishes for a full 4 year experience so while she tried out a community college class once, she knows she doesn't want to start there and transfer in to a larger university as a junior. We have allowed her the freedom to meet high school standards in her own way.
Watch history movies and read books for history- YES!!, Take that online sign language to fulfill your foreign language requirement- go for it, dabble or dive deep in Coursera classes just because you are interested- you have plenty of time. I cracked up when she signed up for the history of extraterrestrials. I mean, if you can't take a class like that when you are 16- when can you?
Math has been a bit harder because she doesn't love it but she has gotten there in her own way, in her own time. We don't force or push. I don't collect assignments or grade her work. We believe in developing independence and self motivated learners but of course help in finding the tools they need to be successful. She has a tutor and has been studying for the ACT. She treated it like a full time job and with the luxury of no homework she has been able to do so with focused attention but not stress and overwhelm.
We have watched her passion in art grow into areas we didn't even know existed from painting and sketching to game design and digital 3-d art and even jewelry making, crafting and pottery. For the past few years she has worked as an assistant art teacher and gained so much life experience in working with parents, organizing kids , and deepening her understanding of the business side of being a professional artist.
Mostly, homeschooling highschool for us has been a journey of amazement and awe in watching our child unfold into a warm, caring, and beautiful young lady. She has helped us to to let go of what we believed was true and be open to learning and growing- outside the box. With her gently (and sometimes not so gentle- HA!!) pushing we have changed and shifted ourselves and that is truly a gift.
I have come to learn that for us homeschooling highschool is not really about academics, It is certainly not about curriculum even if that is part of the experience if it is needed to reach our kids goals. Instead I believe that homeschooling high school it is about the relationships. With ourselves, our families and our teens and if we stay focused on that, everything will turn out just as it should be.
Today I celebrate my daughter on her birthday and I take pride in the mother she has helped me to become.
Enjoying Europe with Dehesa Charter School Fall 2015
A few days ago I had the pleasure of facilitating a local workshop for parents who are considering homeschooling this next school year. As the parents arrived I could tell that they were filled with a mixture of ......curiosity and excitement sure but to be honest.....yes- more than a little bit of fear.
Could they do this?
What would others think?
Could they get their spouse on board?
Would their kids fall behind their peers?
What about college and transcripts,
and well being a success in life?
As our evening unfolded they shared with me their stories about why they felt that leaving mainstream school was the best choice for their families.
There were 2 moms who said that they had always thought about homeschooling ( but had not yet done so) and 1 who had homeschooled on and off but for the rest of the 15 other families- this was something entirely new and unexpected.
They told stories of kids who were not getting challenged in school, of kids crying everyday- not wanting to go, of tummy aches and and constant worries. They shared about the bright light of curiosity starting to dim and of happy kids starting to seem well.....not so happy. They shared stories about kids with reading challenges that were falling behind despite support from the school and other kids who were extremely bored and not engaged.
A couple of parents shared how homeschooling was the only option for their kids with health issues which made school a potentially unsafe place to be and while homeschooling wasn't their first choice- they were willing do it for the sake of their child's needs.
After I left the workshop- I felt inspired to continue to support others on this journey, to offer a safe space to share the struggles and the accomplishments along the way.
I know firsthand that it can feel like a very lonely place to be at times especially when everyone in your local area is doing the school thing and you suddenly find yourself outside that circle staring in. You may feel isolated when others don't understand or seem to care.
It is a strange experience when your neighbors are talking about homework, parent teacher conferences or school issues and you are planning what curriculum to use next year, or your next field trip or learning adventure.
I promise you are not alone. Most of the parents in our community didn't come to homeschooling because it was what we always wanted to do. We didn't question that school was the logical next step for our kids, in fact if anything we tried to ignore the signs that maybe it wasn't going to work because we wanted so badly to believe that it would.
We love our kids desperately but we also looked forward to the break that school would provide us to catch our breath or explore our own interests.
Listen, our kids are intense, asynchronous, emotional little beings. They push us to our limits and force us to find a strength we didn't know we had. I need to make something clear for fear that you may misunderstand..
For those of us raising emotionally intense, creative souls -
homeschooling isn't really something we CHOOSE....in fact , I think it is
pretty safe to say that homeschooling CHOSE US. It is what we do because it is what our kids need and somehow by a miracle almost we are able to rise to the occasion.
Sometimes parents tell me that they could never homeschool their kids because they are too intense, they'll never listen to them. They question how they would they ever get their kids to learn if they were the teacher when homework is already such a battle. I understand since I have been blessed with 4 of these strong willed driven little fireballs.
I promise you , you can do this. You are stronger than you think you are. Let go of the fear, the doubt and the uncertainty.
You have a community of other parents who get it waiting on the other side ready to lift you up and guide you-just when you need it.
You got this!
Upcoming Local Event:
Sunday April 17th 6-9pm
Newport Coast, California
Homeschooling 101 Workshop
Cost: $20 OC Gifted Meet Up Members
Join me as I share about my journey through public, private and eventually homeschooling with my own gifted children ages 5, 8, 13, and 16. I will be providing tons of valuable information on getting started homeschooling in California as well as answering your individual questions. Each participant will receive a workbook with everything you need to begin the journey.
email me at email@example.com or join our local meet up group to RSVP- link at www.ocgifted.com .