Tag Archives: challenges

NGHS Journal: Lessons from the meeting my schedule forgot

19 Sep

Gotcher Family Homeschool — Day 13 — September 18, 2012

We’ve been “back to school” for several weeks now — we did schoolwork three days a week those last two weeks in August as a warm-up and review for the girls (and to test out my new school organization systems), and then we went on a 10-day family road trip that is becoming a tradition for our family. Needless to say, getting back into the swing of things after that vacation was like starting school all over again, and I’ve been hesitant to “journal” any of our days because I’ve felt like I’m flying by the seat of my pants still… even after all that planning and organizing!

For the past four years, my husband has been running a world-famous race over Imogene Pass, from the town of Ouray to Telluride, on the weekend after Labor Day. When he first attempted this race with his best friend, we lived in Durango (not too far from Telluride) and many of our Durangoan friends also ran the race. Since moving to Castle Rock two years ago, it’s a bit more of an effort for our family to drive to Telluride from the Denver metropolitan area for this race.

Last year we decided to make a family road trip out of it: Spending Labor Day weekend in Beaver Creek with my sister (who now lives in Eagle), camping near Crested Butte during the week after Labor Day (still warm enough to camp, but the summer crowds are gone!), and ending up in Telluride by Friday for the Saturday race. It’s a whirlwind 10 days of traveling through some of the most beautiful parts of Colorado, seeing close friends and family, and spending plenty of time “unplugged” from our normal life, enjoying God’s creation.

However, I have to admit it’s a little tough to “hit the street running” when we get home on Sunday night and the week that follows includes not just getting back into our own homeschool routine, but starting all of our supplemental programs and homeschool co-ops at the same time. This year, that includes ballet lessons for Audrey (11 1/2) on Monday nights, Worship Dance for Claire (10) and Elise (5) on Tuesday afternoons, our new Girls Book Club Co-op (which I’m hosting & coordinating) on Wednesday afternoons, PE Plus on Thursday afternoons, and AWANA on Sunday afternoons.

This past week, we also had a slumber party for my new 10-year-old Claire, the annual homeschooling family BBQ with our local support group, a visit from my in-laws (who leave tomorrow) and an upcoming visit from my dad this Friday (who’s staying for a week)!

So you’ll understand how a Type A personality like me, with all my appointments in my iPhone (reminder alarms set) as well as on a color-coded calendar on my refrigerator, could still manage to have a day like yesterday.

It started out with promise: I had printed out all the girls’ sheet work the night before and placed it in their “to do” folders in the school area. I had the necessary DVDs out and books checked out from the library. The girls woke up, ate breakfast, and started on their independent work. We did our family devotions around the table before my five-year-old Elise woke up to distract us. My in-laws (who live in a remote part of Kansas), wanted to get their Costco shopping done while in town, so because things were going so smoothly and Audrey’s ballet lesson wasn’t until 5:30pm, I offered to take them so my husband (who works from home) could stay home and work.

About 10 minutes into our trip to Costco, an iPhone alarm went off in my back pocket. I quickly discovered that I had a homeschool support group board meeting this afternoon — not part of the normal weekly routine — and it was starting in 15 minutes! (I was at least 20 minutes away from the meeting at this point in time). After searching for my in-laws to find out if they wanted to stay or rush out (they opted to stay and continue leisurely shopping), I left my cart in the middle of Costco and took off to the forgotten board meeting.

Right away, I realized my error: Although I had entered the meeting into my iPhone calendar, I had forgotten to put it on the refrigerator calendar – my visual cue that I see constantly, every day — so when asked if I could run the errand, I thought I was obligation free for the afternoon. But that wasn’t the case, and today I was especially thankful for the calendar alarm on my iPhone! I could tell it was going to be one of those days after all.

I arrived about 15 minutes late to the meeting. It figures that the new home of the board member hosting this meeting wasn’t recognized by Google maps, so I had to wing it and find her home by driving around the general vicinity — praise the Lord I found it! This was to be a “short” board meeting, but about 2 hours later, my iPhone was buzzing again because my in-laws were done shopping at Costco, waiting for me. And then there was Audrey’s ballet lesson, which was going to start in 45 minutes. I left the meeting at 4:45pm — Castle Rock rush hour — so traffic to and from Costco was unusually heavy, of course. Because it was one of those days.

My husband had to intervene and drive all three girls to drop off Audrey at ballet. And I had to rush back to Costco, rush back home to unload all the food from Costco, and rush back out to pick up Audrey from ballet. On the way there, I’d planned to make a quick return to Kohl’s. Turns out that would not be easy, either. If I made the return, I would lose the value of the “Kohl’s cash” I used on the original purchase. Unless I could find an item of exact retail value, which I could then evenly exchange for my returned item. Of course, a quick scan of the aisles and nothing I actually needed right now was exactly $34.99. And now I was 10 minutes late to pick up Audrey. So I left without accomplishing anything. Because it was one of those days.

What does any of this have to do with homeschooling? Maybe, nothing. Or maybe, everything — at least for me. Don’t they say that school is never out for the pro? I have a better version of that saying: Growth is never out for the child of God.

Because hours earlier, before the “planned” school day began — and the afternoon’s chaos ensued — I read this:

“It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries you build around your life. Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one presents a unique set of circumstances. Don’t try to force-fit today into yesterday’s mold. Instead, ask Me to open your eyes, so you can find all I have prepared for you in this precious day of life.”Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young

It was one of those days that could have ended in tears, anger, frustration, self-defeat. The thoughts that used to haunt me on days like this included things like, “How can you be the teacher when you can’t even get organized?” Or even better, “You aren’t the parent who’s working, so why can’t you manage to stay on top of things?” Lies that took my focus away from God and back to myself.

But as the day unfolded, the words from the morning’s devotional reading came back to me again and again. Yes, it was my calendar mishap that set off a chain reaction of chaos. But God knew what would happen before I woke up that morning. In fact, He knew what my day would look like before I was born.

Have you ever stopped and really thought long and hard about what that means? “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.Psalm 139:13-16

My loving Heavenly Father knew that I would blunder up this day — with so many people depending on me — and He planned to be there for me through all of it. He wanted me to grow, to draw ever closer into His presence, and He knows what He is doing! “When you cling to old ways and sameness, you resist My work within you,” writes Sarah Young, as she captures the words the Lord has placed on her heart. “I want you to embrace all that I am doing in your life, finding your security in Me alone.

My homeschooling journey has been as much about my growth and my education — with my Heavenly Father as my teacher — as it has been about what I can teach my girls. Maybe even more. Sometime soon, I hope to share more about my personal struggles and journey with the Lord this past school year that have transformed my perspective on what homeschooling means to me. Another story for another day.

Today, I am very thankful that my Heavenly Father not only knew I would have this crazy day, but walked with me through it every step of the way. He prepared me with a very specific devotional entry and accompanying scriptures. He prepared me with a peaceful morning of (almost) everything I had planned being accomplished around the school table with minimal fuss from the girls. And then when things started to fall apart, He reminded me of the fact that nothing I could have done or should have done mattered now — it was time to walk through it, knowing that He was by my side and it was part of His plan.

I was able to be completely focused at that board meeting, and completely present for my family that evening when we shared a late dinner with my in-laws. And I was able to go to sleep in peace — thankful for another homeschooling day!

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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Because there will be days that challenge us…

28 Aug

By Rosanna Ward

I have been homeschooling since the fall of 2004, so this is the beginning of my 8th year. I was also homeschooled as a jr. high and high school student. I believe wholeheartedly in the idea of homeschooling and all of the reasons parents do it. I realize the importance of imparting a Biblical worldview into my children on a day-to-day basis. I enjoy being with my kids when they are learning something new, and I get to see the “light bulb” moments I would otherwise miss if they were in school all day.

But I have to be totally honest here: There are days (and weeks) when I totally want to be selfish and put my child back in public school — for several reasons:

  1. I miss having time to myself. I sometimes daydream about having a day where Joel is in public school, Leif is in a mother’s day out program, and I can do things alone. I can schedule my day the way I want. Even though I know it’s is unrealistic, I see it as being calmer and more peaceful.
  2. I’d like to spend some time on myself. I need time to go to the gym. I’d even like to take a shower by myself and fix my hair without worrying that my house is getting torn apart by my two-year-old and that my seven-year-old is watching cartoons when I told him not to.
  3. I have a book in my head that I would really like to have the time to write. I want to spend more time researching genealogy, canning jelly, painting my house, reading, etc.  I look at other parents that have their kids in public schools, good Christian parents that love their children, and I wonder: “Why can’t I be like them?”

But I’ve been there — I have been like them. When the girls were in elementary school, I had time to myself — and I remember that it wasn’t perfect like it seems in my daydreams. I felt lost, bored, restless, and selfish. In fact, I ended up going back to school and getting a job to fill the void their absence left. I enjoyed my job and all the things I learned, but I always felt torn between being at work and taking care of my family.

My days and my life are much more fulfilled now, even though they are harder. I also remember the drop off and pick up lines, the lunch runs when things were forgotten, and the constant school activities. And worst of all, my girls came home with attitudes that didn’t fit into our family values. I watched as they slowly lost their love and hunger for learning.

Lastly, it is a lot of pressure to have the educational future of your child resting solely on your shoulders — and sometimes, the burden feels like too much. It’s just plain scary. I mean really, what if I totally mess this kid up? Or barring that, (because I don’t think a loving parent really can totally mess a kid up), more practically speaking, what if I don’t provide every opportunity for my child to be the very best that God made him to be? What if in my own selfish, sinful, imperfect way, I screw things up for him?

I have to tell you, I have been really dealing with all of these issues lately. And I don’t know if Joel senses this, or if his attitude has really pushed my buttons lately, but Friday and today really started out tough. Joel had a bad attitude, and I was unsure of the best way to deal with it. I question my own thoughts, attitudes, abilities, and consistency on a daily basis, and I am sure that comes through to Joel. I worry that I am not providing every opportunity that he needs to succeed. I worry that if I slack — even for just one week — Joel will have this huge learning gap that will impair his future.

And this is totally silly, I know, I know! I lived this homeschool lifestyle as a student. In fact, I know my parents left me with learning gaps, and kids in public school definitely have learning gaps too. But I had no problems in college. If there were things I didn’t know at all, I knew how to learn about them. I still love learning new things, and there is always going to be more to learn. The whole point of school is to learn how to learn.

Plus, I have two daughters that have successfully graduated from homeschool, scored well on their ACT tests, have great work attitudes, and are God-loving, well-rounded young ladies. I know that I can do this with God’s help — because I have already done it. This is just the first time I am starting from the beginning, and it seems like a very long climb.

This homeschool lifestyle is a sacrifice as well as a blessing. Sometimes we feel the sacrifice more than the blessing, and sometimes we feel like we aren’t sacrificing enough. But the times when we feel the pressure and the terror of what we are doing are the times that God is reminding us to keep Him in the center of what we are doing.

God knows exactly what your children need. He gave them to you to parent because He wanted you to shepherd them through their growing years. If you allow God to lead you — and remember to put Him in His correct position at the head of your family and your school each day — then the things your child needs to learn will get learned. And you will have peace.

Rosanna Ward is a devoted wife of 19 years and mother of four children, two of which are homeschool graduates. She currently homeschools her 7-year-old son Joel and her youngest son is a toddler. Rosanna is a homeschool graduate and has been homeschooling for seven years. Rosanna loves to study History and Genealogy: Her genealogy blog is called “Rosanna’s Genealogical Thoughts.” She and her family reside in Sand Springs, Oklahoma.

Gearing up for back-to-school: Gotcher family

20 Aug

By Renée Gotcher

This past week — per my three girls’ eager request — we started school a few weeks earlier than I had planned. I’m sure the fact that their neighborhood friends had already started back to the local public school had something to do with it. But whatever the reason, I was glad to see they were so excited to start — even if I wasn’t.

Truth be told, I’m still in the process of purchasing curriculum, gathering books and lining up homeschool co-ops and extracurricular activities for us to participate in. However, I thought this could be a good opportunity to do some core skills review and test out the new systems I have set up to keep us running more smoothly this year — and hopefully, keep the school area from becoming a dysfunctional chaotic mess as well.

The first “iteration” of the cubby shelving idea, which got messy but just needed some tweaking to fix.

In the past, I have organized and reorganized several times throughout the school year. So far nothing has stuck with us: Not a single curriculum package, filing system or “cubby” shelving strategy, daily planner or homeschool tracking system. We live and we learn, especially in a homeschool environment. Although I’ve pinned many colorful, quaint schoolroom photos and snappy organizational tools and tips to my Pinterest dreamboard, I had yet to come up with something both beautiful and functional for our family.

This summer, my goal was to take what was actually working for us and improve upon it in a more organized way. Not a radical revamp, but a refinement — and beautification — of our homeschooling area and systems. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to the past two months to “gear up” for back-to-school time…

Shopping for deals

One of the most important factors I believe most homeschoolers face when planning for the new school year is a budget: We’ve all got one, and for some (myself included), it can be pretty tight. Over the past two years, I’ve learned to dismiss past memories of the long and “necessary” school supplies lists provided by classroom teachers and create a list of the tools we do actually use throughout the school year. This step in and of itself saves you money, as well as the fact you’re not limited to certain brands when you are the teacher making that judgement call.

Personally, I’m not brand loyal when it comes to consumable school items like pens, pencils, crayons, paper, notebooks, folders, glue, etc. I know my girls, and I don’t expect things like a subject binder to last more than one school year: Whether the favorite color changes, the scribbles on the front cover are no longer cool, or they’re no longer into Hello Kitty, they will probably need and/or want some new things. So I stay alert to the weekly deals at each local store and gradually compile the new year’s supplies when things are super cheap — and by super cheap, I mean 50 cents, a penny and even free at times!

Only $2.15 net expense at OfficeMax after rebate on the printer paper – all 10 file folders were free with $5 purchase!

The consumables I mentioned above always go on sale somewhere at some point for as little as a penny or free. This year, I have purchased all of the above for 10 cents or less. I’ve even filled up a box of items we can use for our Operation Christmas Child boxes this fall. OfficeMax has consistently offered free items every week since July when you spend $5 or more on “non-Max-value” items. To make the most of this, I have purchased a $5 item that also qualifies for a full in-store rebate, so that eventually I’ll get that $5 back too.

For anything more expensive, like a new backpack, lunchbox, or advanced art supplies, I wait for clearance and/or steep discount coupons. With this strategy, I’ve been able to assemble a great art toolbox that includes acrylic paints, pastels, charcoals, canvases, glue guns, fabric glue, etc., as well as update the backpacks and lunchboxes every couple of years.

I believe you can stock up your homeschool area with all the supplies you’ll need for a productive year very inexpensively. Curriculum, on the other hand, isn’t as easy to come by for free or at a discount unless you’re willing to spend some time researching your options — and be patient. For more advice on curriculum savings, see our recent “Ask a NextGen Homeschooler” column on this topic.

Refining an almost-functional system

While I was filling the top shelf of the pantry with boxes of this year’s school supplies, I did my best to keep the girls from impulsively putting new items into the existing school area. I knew that we would continue to use the “formal” dining area for school (fully visible from our front door), and that new furniture to reorganize (or just hide) the overflowing cubby bins and teetering stacks of books and folders was not in the budget. So refining — and hopefully beautifying — our existing space was my best option. Until that was accomplished, I wanted nothing new to be buried in the existing clutter.

I figured out one thing that was working for the girls and had the potential of keeping our school area pretty clean and pristine: The cubby bins. However, the fabric bins I purchased last year got stretched out by the weight of heavy workbooks, and the handles became shabby and weak from constant use. That was an easy fix: I purchased new, more sturdy, fabric bins with leather handles. They fit our existing shelves perfectly and look great.

This was my one “splurge” in the prep process (about $9 per bin). I debated repurposing baskets I already had in use elsewhere or purchasing less expensive options, but the bottom line was that they had to be the right size for the shelves (so they didn’t stick out) and sturdy enough for daily use. Since this shelf can literally be seen from our front door, I also wanted them to match and fit into the color scheme of the rest of the decor for that room — something that didn’t scream “kid zone” as loudly as before.

Within each cubby are conveniently camouflaged workbooks, 3×5 card file boxes, library books, journals, spiral notebooks, and anything else that would not easily stack on a visible shelf. Next to each girl’s cubby is an exposed shelf that holds her curriculum books (which usually stack quite neatly), her bible, and her new personal school supplies box (more on that later). The girls love it, and it’s easier on the eye than last year’s stacks and stacks of books and folders falling from the shelves.

Next step was keeping tools like pens, crayons, highlighters, and such in an easily accessible place that could also be easily cleaned up at the end of the day. For this, I purchased two types of clear bins: One per child with tools that are specific to them (and that they can take with them to other areas of the house or outside to work with), and another that is “all purpose” and divided by tool type (crayons, colored pencils, highlighters, markers, etc.) This — hopefully — solves two previous problems: They now have both a portable solution where their personal tools are self-contained, as well as school “area” tools that are easy to clean up and don’t belong to anyone (preventing constant “that’s mine!” arguments).

To complete this task, I enlisted the girls to help me sort through boxes and Ziploc bags full of crayons, markers, etc. We tossed out every dried-up marker, chewed-up crayon, and nub of a pencil, and aggregated all the “worth using” implements into their specific boxes. When we were done, the girls were thrilled. “I am so glad we did this Mom,” one shared. “Now when I want to work on something, I won’t waste any time with junk that doesn’t work!”

Mission accomplished.

So far, this new system of splitting up the school supplies is working as planned. When someone is in the mood to color or work on a school project at the dining/school table, they can pull down whatever supplies are necessary  — share with whomever has decided to join them — and put the supplies back quickly when finished. On the other hand, someone who wishes to work alone outside on the patio table or in their bedrooms can take their personal toolbox and do so easily, as long as they return the toolbox to the school area shelf. We’ll see how this holds up, but so far it seems to be efficient and keeping our school area clean.

The last area that needed work was the student/teacher “in-out” box. This year, I took a leveled file folder stand from my personal desk and gave each girl a “to do” folder: In the evening, I put print-outs and any independent work for the next day in their folders, and when they’ve completed them and I am done checking them, I’ll put them back in the folder so they can be added to their individual binders later.

My goal with this system is to have independent work ready so the girls can start whenever they are ready in the morning and go back to it during times of the day when I am not working with them directly. Plus I can find their finished work easily when it’s time for me to review it.

This has been one of the easiest fixes to make a big impact: This Saturday, my 5-year-old (Kindergartener) Elise noticed that she already had sheets in her “to do” folder for Monday, and asked if she could just work on them right now. Why not? She ended up completing Monday’s work in about 30 minutes and starting on a new creative art project, which is also almost done. Now instead of catching up next week because we had friends in town visiting for two days, she is actually ahead of the lesson plan. I love this new system!

One other previously troublesome issue was the easy accessibility of extra “supplies” that the girls or I might need during the school day — everything from refill staples and tape to scratch paper and ink for the printer. To meet this need, I brought down a nice set of portable drawers from my home office to use for everything extra that I wanted tucked away neatly.

This has also turned out to make a huge difference right off the bat. The girls know exactly where the extras can be found and aren’t wandering up to my office for tape or paper clips, and there are no longer stacks of extra everything sitting on the dining room table waiting to be put away at some later time. Everyone was able to get their school work done without having to wander around for supplies, and the area was returned to a relatively clean state at the end of each work period. Victory, as far as I’m concerned!

Although I wasn’t expecting to get “started” with school in mid-August, I am thankful that this week of review and test-run of our refined school area has been both successful and fun — re-energizing my daughters and giving me some peace of mind that this year we might be able to maintain an active — and attractive — school area. I am really looking forward to implementing our new curriculum and other exciting plans for this new year in September (more on that later). Until then, I hope you’re off to an inspired start as well — and if not, that you’ve received some helpful info from my sisters and I to get yourself and your family ready for a great start very soon!

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Jesus Christ.” — Col. 3:23

— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.

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