When your kids are babies and toddlers life naturally adjusts to their schedule. You slow your pace because small children cannot be rushed. Projects and personal interests may be put on the back burner - waiting for a time when your kids are older. Somehow you just learn to be in the moment and enjoy the now.. When your kids are suddenly home all day after having once been in school, it is easy to become overwhelmed and wonder if there will ever be time for you again. You may wonder how you will ever get your errands done, clean your house, go for a walk alone, or sheez ...have coffee with a friend.
One day early in this journey, I remember thinking that it would be 17 years before all my kids would be off to college!! As excited as I was to start this new homeschooling adventure, I wasn't sure who I was anymore. Honestly, picking curriculum is the easy part-finding a new sense of identity and balance trumps that part any day.
I could post all the pretty pictures of our days , share the cool science experiments and show you all the learning that is going on around here. Make it look all easy and perfect. And I will, eventually. Promise. But for now, that would't be fair. You need me to tell the whole truth if you are going to be successful in this spacious living GIG. You need to see behind the curtains in all it's imperfection so you can learn from my mistakes..
The truth is, for a short time after brought my kids all home, I struggled to find my way, develop a routine, and feel balanced. I was lonely. I found it difficult to think because I could not get any space. At the time the kids ranged in age from 18 months to 12 and were with me the entire day from the moment I woke until practically the moment I went to bed. I would literally fall into bed each night wondering how I was going to survive and get these kids through high school.
I am not one to stay in a stuck place long. I am a professional coach afterall. So ...I started to think about what lessons I would give myself if I were my own coach. What would I tell my clients? How would I work with them to adjust to this new way of living so that they were not just surviving but actually felt alive and free?
Here's what I came up with-
1. Don't Be a Martyr:
Your kids need you to be rested, fulfilled and healthy. Realize that in order to do this job well, you have to take care of yourself first,
2. Hire Help:
This one is tough for me because I have a tendency to try and do everything myself. I couldn't. Not possible. I hired a mother's helper 10 hours a week so I could focus on the older kids and not go insane. It was only temporary until I got my feet under me but made all the difference.. If money is tight- consider swapping with a friend, finding a teen after school, or giving up something else while you work on getting into a groove.
3. Put the Big Rocks in First:
Have you ever heard the lesson about putting in the most important items in your schedule first? Look it up if you haven't as it is so powerful. Spend some time thinking about what you need to have in your days to feel inspired and alive. If you are like me, more than likely it looks something like this: exercise, time alone, quality time with your spouse, personal development, a peaceful/clean home. Next would come reading aloud with kids, crafting, baking and playing games, cultivating curiosity and learning, connecting with friends, having a sense of community, being in nature. etc, Then fill in with the smaller and less important items. If all else fails you will have gotten to what matters most.
4. Figure Out Your Homeschool Philospohy:
At the beginning don't worry so much about finding curriculum and buying a bunch of stuff. Trust me, you'll thank me later. Give yourself time to adjust and explore what your homeschool philosophy will be. Get a good book on homeschooling or research online. Take time to think about how your kids learn best without rushing the process even if this takes months.
5 Join a Community and Attend Regularly. :
I cannot emphasize this enough. There is no way I would have survived those early days if I didn't have other parents who walked this path ahead of me to lean on, ask questions of and commiserate with. There are awesome spaces online for gifted families who homeschool but nothing can replace a thriving in person community of like minded friends. Consider joining both. These groups abound on meet up, facebook and yahoo or consider starting your own like I did. Don't just drop in occasionally- commit to showing up every week no matter what.
6. Avoid Decision Making Out of Fear or Worry
Living life spaciously takes conscious effort and a clear decision to not act out of fear and worry by rushing into anything. Everything is done thoughtfully and only after careful consideration. In the early days, I see many new homeschool parents of gifted kiddos signing up for a bunch of classes at homeschool campuses, buying loads of curriculum, or sucking the joy right out of the homeschool by fighting with their kids over learning when they have not taken the time to do the above steps first. Lay the foundation first and the rest will follow.
7. Find Your Rythym and Have Fun!
Choose to fill your days with joy and laughter. Give yourself and your kids time to adjust to this new way of living. Allow them to rediscover a joy of learning. Stimulate their curiosity. Be engaged and present. Go on field trips, get out in nature, join a group of like minded friends, read books, watch educational television, visit a museum, explore life. Don't rush into doing school around the table. There are as many ways to homeschool as there are homeschoolers. First find your way.
8. Still Overwhelmed, Hire a Coach or Mentor
I had no idea that there were homeschool coaches out there for parents of gifted kids when I started this crazy journey. Who knew that there was someone who understands that raising gifted kids is both a joy and an immense challenge? A parent who gets that our lives are filled with balancing our kids emotional intensity, asynchronous development, perfectionism, etc. . I wish I would have known when I started. If you read the above post and are feeling overwhelmed at going it alone, reach out, okay?
Sometimes the very best thing is to have the personal support of a professional that is focused solely on you and your unique situation. Message me if you want to set up a consultation, I would be delighted to help.
( Homeschool Field Trip Olvera Street and Union Station 2014)
I was one of those students who just did well in school. It wasn't particularly hard for me, I was a Type A personality, extremely organized and very driven. My teachers liked me and for the most part I had a good group of friends.
As you can imagine, nothing could have prepared me for having kids who hated school, resisted the status quo and frankly just learned differently.. As we stepped out of the mainstream and began our education at home, I had no idea that "school" was only a small part of this lifestyle and that I would soon be questioning everything I had ever believed about how we live our lives, how we parent and especially about how we learn.
I have to be honest, in the beginning I made every mistake in the book! Oh my gosh, you would get a kick out of what a mess I made. I really had no idea what I was doing. I bought all the books, talked to anyone who would listen, and spent countless hours researching curriculum. I was in full-on manic mode and spinning out of control. I made lists and lists of books to read, prepared our daily "school" schedule, and planned to get started. I see new homeschooling parents deep in the throes of this phase all the time now and wonder if it must just be a required part of the process.
Can you imagine, that those first few weeks I had all my kids at home, my carefully crafted plan completely blew up in my face? The kids squirmed in their chairs, they refused to do my pretty worksheets and cried that this was so unfair!! The toddler climbed all over the table, the dog was barking and loud, the dishes and laundry were piling up. I might have threatened to send them back to school. I fell into bed that night feeling like a complete failure and wondering how I was ever going to survive this, let alone actually teach my kids. . It was painfully clear...something had to change and it has better be quick.
If one thing was obvious to me as my husband and I discussed in those early days, it was that for our kids - following a schooly mindset was missing the entire point of homeschooling. The kids were miserable and so were we. Worksheets, quizzes, and rote learning were seriously not going to work anyway so we needed a new philosophy- one that met our kids exactly where they are right now and focused on them as an individual.. We needed a way to feel engaged as parents and to have our kids get a fire in their belly to learn. This was going to require an out of the box approach to learning.
We are in our 5th year of homeschooling now and our lives are so different. I really had no idea how much I would love this , how much fun it is to watch my kids bloom! Friends stop me all the time to tell me that they see my kids smiling faces and know that we must be doing something right, something that is working for them. Not only are the kids happy, but so are we. We get to be different and do things in a way that works just perfectly for our family! This is where the beauty of homeschooling lies and where the amazing adventure begins!
You see, we have found that when kids are allowed to pursue their own interests, in a way that engages them, for as long or as deep as they want to learn about that thing - they thrive. We've learned that when kids are not being forced to learn - they are naturally curious and and engaged, When they are given the ability to go deep in the areas they are passionate about, beautiful things start to happen and learning is suddenly fun again, and after all, isn't that how it is supposed to be?
A lot of times friends tell me that they could never homeschool as if what I am doing seems utterly impossible to comprehend. In the beginning this would make me feel badly but I have come to appreciate why they may feel this way. Either their kids are happy in school or they can't imagine being with their kids all day. I get it, I used to feel that way too.
What they don't understand is that homeschooling offers the promise of a spacious life. One with freedom and flexibility. One where relationships come first and everyone has a voice. One where kids are happy and at peace. One with what I call flow.
When your kids are in school, especially if you have multiple children, you spend your days in a rush. You start with dragging sleepy bodies out of bed in the morning, quickly gobble some breakfast, deal with your kids whining and fighting and rush out the door to the bus or drop off line. Your days pass quickly whether you work or stay home and before you know it all starts all over again. You may even spend hours in the car at various pick up times.
Once your kids get home there is homework to complete, dinner to make, practices and lessons to attend. If you have intense kids like mine, more than likely your days are stressful and chaotic. Oh my, how people do not know what goes on behind closed doors in a family with gifted and sensitive souls!
One of my kids had stomach aches every morning and would cry that she did not want to go to school. We missed the bus often as I struggled to get her out the door and almost every day I dropped a crying child off at the steps of school.- all the way until 4th grade. Another preschool child would cling to me at drop off begging not to go, for months and months. Another older daughter wouldn't complete her work in school and teachers were constantly telling me that she lacked focus and motivation. Life was not meant to be lived this way.
Somehow inside I knew something needed to change but I was scared. Every day of school - I would pull away feeling wracked with guilt and worry- was I doing the right thing? Were the professionals right that letting her stay home was harmful? If they were right, why did every part of me feel so awful. Why was my mother's intuition screaming for me to listen and bring her home under her mothers wing- if school was just what you did?
Learning to trust my own intuition wasn't easy. I had no guide. No friend to lead the way. I had to give myself the space and freedom to think differently. To understand that inside I truly knew what was best for my kids.
I had to learn that there is no one way to do things that works perfectly for every family and that no professional could possibly know what was best for mine.
By trusting myself, I have learned that life is a grand adventure just waiting to be explored! Our kids are naturally curious and if we honor their needs and listen to their wants, they will reward us with more peace and fulfillment than we could ever have imagined. I have learned there is no need for worry or fear, and by living this way, my kids are growing and developing at their own pace and in their own way.
In those first days since we decided to homeschool , it was obvious that a giant weight had been lifted off of my oldest's shoulders. Learning she was gifted helped her understand that there was nothing wrong with her. She even told me - now I know I am not stupid. Still, it was the actual pulling her out of school that gave her back to us. I could feel the energy in our house shifting already. We all felt a surge of freedom and independence despite the fact that we had no clue what we were doing or what this homeschooling thing really was anyway. Finally after all of her years in school, she would be able to pursue her own interests and explore the world at her own pace.
I can remember a day in that first week where we went to the beach in the middle of the day while all the schooled kids were still in school.. We just sat there together and enjoyed the quietness. and marveled at the fact that we could do that- go to the beach in the middle of the day. We could do whatever we wanted. It was so cool. I felt a bit like a rebel- to which my daughter reminded me that she was the one who was the rebel. Sigh....
Once the novelty of being a rebel wears off though- and it will- stay calm. You may have moments where you feel completely freaked out and unsure if you are ruining your child's life and have made a huge mistake. It is completely normal for those of us who are suddenly, unexpectedly homeschooling to feel a range of emotions. Lots of parents share with me how utterly overwhelmed and unsure they are of themselves. In the beginning it can feel like your entire foundation has been pulled out from under you. and that you have no one to turn to.
Rest assured you are on the right path!! It's not like we knew we would do this from the time our kids were born after all. Homeschooling for us was a choice of last resort and we are thrust into this new territory without the clarity of a homeschooling philosophy or a community of support..
I have two words of advice for this first phase of homeschooling : read books and join an in person group. The internet can be a dangerous black hole and if we are not careful we can find ourselves spinning out of control. Get offline- read and talk to actual live people who understand because they once were new to this way of living too.
We have to give ourselves the time and space to figure out what education really means to us and I promise this is not going to happen overnight. Most of us have a very schooly mindset and spacious living is so much more than that. I believe learning is way more than just sitting around the table working through curriculum and filling out worksheets. If we want to do this differently- and we do right? ....or we would have just kept our kids in school- we have to dig deep and ask the hard questions not just follow along with the status quo because it feels safe and certain. .
In order to break free and learn to think differently- we have to give ourselves time . We have to have powerful conversations with ourselves and others so that we really understand our philosophy of education and learning.. In doing this, we are laying the foundation for homeschooling and spacious living.
One of the first books I read when I started this journey was Quinn Cummings "The Year of Learning Dangerously". In this often hilarious read, Quinn talks about her first days of homeschooling and reveals that in order to get through this she needed to find her tribe. She decided to visit a bunch of homeschool conferences such as the Fundamental Christian and Radical Unschoolers Conferences and see where she fits. This is a must read for anyone who wants a behinds the scenes view to the life of a homeschooler and is starting to explore just where they belong .
Living a Spacious Life is meant to be done in community with like minded others. It is normal at the beginning to go through a period of mania- desperately trying to find the answers to all your questions and to make sure that you are doing things so you won't mess up your kid.. Find other parents who have walked this path ahead of you and know that there is peace and calm on the other side. Check on Yahoo Groups, Facebook, and Meet Up. Join Our Group Here at a Spacious Life. You are not alone.
The honest truth is it was not easy deciding to homeschool. No matter how awful school was for my kids, it provided me structure, support and a false sense of security that everything was going to be okay. School was just what you did, right? I mean, every time I tried to share my struggles with friends they would get this glazed look in their eyes and share with me how their kids "loved" school - so I stopped sharing. . Homework battles- they had no clue. Stomach Issues and anxiety - not them. They would try to offer support and advice but mostly they could not relate and I would leave our chats feeling hollow and lost.
It seemed like everyone else's kids were thriving in sports, enjoying school and basically succeeding at playing the game, but not us. No, my kids were miserable and so were we.
I knew from the time my oldest was very young that she was bright. You can't not know that when people tell you that they just had an adult conversation with your 3 year old, or when your kid starts reading super early, or when your kid just seems to pick things up like sponge. These things are obvious. Things get more fuzzy when your bright child starts under-performing in school . When homework leaves both of you in tears because you KNOW she knows the answers but it takes hours to complete. When teachers are lost because she is so bright but she just won't do the work and are keeping your child in at recess to do work that she learned how to do months ago. When years and years of parent- teacher meetings are a complete and utter waste of time, when each and every time all your advocating for your child needs falls on deaf ears and when,,,,, finally the principal tells you his hands are tied and you realize something needs to change because YOU just can't live this way anymore.
After years of everything being so uncertain, everything got super clear the moment that the psychologist handed me the report and told us that our daughter was gifted. Understanding that gifted is not about achievement but that it is about how you are wired - made all the difference for me. Getting my daughter tested and doing my own research answered so many questions and helped me see that there is nothing wrong with my kids or us for that matter. It's just that the way that traditional school works doesn't accommodate gifted kids well and that is okay. Knowing this gave me the guts to listen to that deep inner knowing that is a mother's intuition and to leave the mainstream to homeschool. And so my Spacious Life begins.....
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It's not that we had never talked about homeschooling before. In fact, my oldest had been begging for it for years. My hubby had suggested it many times. Even her elementary school principal had told me during one of our many thousands of meetings that he thought homeschooling might be her place to shine. It was just that I wasn't ready. School was like day care for me. It allowed me to work and was a welcome reprieve from the stress of raising a child who was strong willed, independent and seemingly unmotivated. Even after I closed my business, I still wasn't on board.. My oldest and I just didn't get along that well and I couldn't imagine that homeschooling with me at the helm could work. I had no idea how to get through to her. Despite my training as a therapist, I was lost.
But in 6th grade a tiny opening in my heart started to grow. My oldest attended a private school for gifted kids that year and it was a complete and heartbreaking disaster. She loved the way they taught but developed severe stomach issues that kept her out of school often- like 2-3 days a week at times. . She had few friends and was struggling physically and emotionally. My heart was breaking for her as I watched her day after day crying that she wanted to go to school but she just couldn't. I felt very isolated and alone. School just wasn't supposed to be like this. My daughter was smart and curious but that bright light in her was fading. Something changed in me after we blew through yet another school. I started to see that school not just as a place to learn but a place where one should be able to live to one's whole potential and I just didn't see how I was going to find that anywhere but home.
So in 7th grade when I got that phone call from her teacher, in our 3rd school in 3 years my hope was beginning to fade. And after the obligatory meeting where the school told me all that was wrong with my child and how she needed to get engaged but offered no real plan for how they were going to help her get there and after we finally had her tested by a psychologist to confirm what we suspected all along- that she was profoundly gifted- I saw that no one was going to be able to fix this for my child but me and if I wasn't up for the task= I had better darn well get ready.
It was 2 weeks before Christmas in December of 2011 the teacher called from the Catholic School to let us know that my oldest- age 13, my kid bright, funny, creative , artistic child was failing out of school. This was the 3rd school in 3 years mind you. The one we hoped would be the answer to our problems. The one that would make her happy. We were not really even looking for her to be academically stimulated at this point. That would have been too much to ask for. No. We just wanted her to be emotionally well and hopefully get through to high school.
I honestly did not see that phone call coming. I mean afterall, my kid who didn't know if she believed in God had a Rosary hanging on her bed, was playing on the school basketball team, and had a nice circle of friends. Heck, she seemed happy.
That day, the teacher called to say that my daughter had 4 F's and would I mind coming in for a meeting. This was so familiar to me and boy was I prepared. I sent a long email explaining underachieving gifted kids. At this point I had read the books, done some research and I had a pretty clear idea that she was bored but I still didn't really GET IT. I didn't get that thing I want to share with you on this blog. The thing that changed everything. You see I understood bored the way most of us do. Surely we have all heard the statement that some things in life are boring and well...you just have to do them.
Yeah, what I really didn't get was just how soul crushing, mind numbing and cruel it was to be sending that poor girl to school day after day to be taught things she already knew, to learn in ways that didn't light her up, by teachers who had no idea how to light a fire in her belly and help her learn. . No, I wasn't there just yet but I would soon be.
It's hard to believe that a little over five years ago I closed my once successful coaching company to be a stay at home mom. It was all I ever dreamed of for over 10 years of juggling motherhood and owning a business. I loved being an entrepreneur and took great pride in helping women business owners learn how to start and build their dream companies. Still, I longed to grow my family and focus on just doing one thing well because really the only thing that felt like it was going well was the business. When I closed the business I truly thought I would never coach again. I was so done. But over the last 5 years I have been growing and shifting in new ways so that I may once again help others reach their dreams. They say that we teach what we most need to learn, well... I have been learning so much... That is the understatement of the year.
5 years ago I had a brand new baby and 3 other daughters - one in preschool, one in 4th grade, and a 7th grader. . We lived in a nice area close to the beach, the girls were in good schools, and I had a lovely community of friends. We seemed to have it all but what not everyone knew is that we were living in a constant state of stress. It's incredible to think how drastically our world has changed and how everything we once believed would be turned upside down. I mean thinking about it now, it really shouldn't have been such a shock. My oldest was already in the 3rd school in 3 years and we had met with enough experts that we should have had it figured out by then, only we didn't. No one really had a clue what to do. Our home was in constant chaos. There was fighting and arguing. My oldest daughter hated school and our relationship was deteriorating and our second child was suffering with severe anxiety. We felt out of control, desperate and afraid.
I am happy to say that this story has a happy ending or beginning depending on how you look at it. Five years ago was the year that we finally had my oldest tested for giftedness and I started to realize everything I thought about parenting kids - especially gifted kids was wrong. This is my blog about our journey. I hope that my story inspires others to live a more spacious life. One where learning and living has no limits.