Saturday, February 4, 2012

This is just what I needed to read this week:   Why I am No Homeschool Superstar

I too struggle with comparing myself and my homeschooling to that of others, which can be very depressing when I read the wonderful colorful cheery and abundant posts on any number of blogs.  There are times I am confident and optimistic, but then (usually after hearing or reading about how others are homeschooling) I start to question myself.  Mostly it is a matter of my pride.  I want to be able to brag about how wonderful/advanced/smart my kids are compared to others.  I want to be able to say that my kids are obviously smart and talented, but I know it doesn't have anything to do with them.  It is all about me.  I want to say those things because it makes me feel like I made my kids successful which is a lie both because I cannot make them successful and because success in our Western society is not real lasting success.  I suppose I should say it is only part of me that wants to be filled with pride, the other part of me wants to surrender to God completely and humble myself and teach my children to do the same.  It is not about me, it is not about them, it is all about Him.  He has a plan for them and if I am successful as a parent and teacher, then I will facilitate their discovery of that plan, and I know they will only be truly happy once they have found the path God intends for them.  That plan may look nothing like what society call success, but that is what I pray for them.

Several years ago I had a wonderful mom tell me that I should listen for and write down messages God is sending me in places like Mass.  I have heard these messages loudly and repeatedly, though only sometimes in Mass.  These messages are snipets here and there, a radio program I tuned in to for a few minutes for no reason or a speech I heard or something I read in a book or an email.  These touched me and have stayed with me.  It has become a bit of a mantra for me as these messages fit together so beautifully I cannot help but put them together.

"There will always be others who have MORE than I do.  More money, time, patience, space in their homes, cooperation in their families, things they can articulate clearly, intelligence, humbleness and holiness than I do.  But I have to show up anyway.  Despite my shortcomings, despite my trials and pain, I need to DO IT ANYWAY.  God provides for me all I need to follow the path he intends for my life.  All I have to do is surrender and trust that he has me and will not let me fall.  All I can do is to Fill-the-Jars with the meager "water" I have and He will turn it into wine - not for my glory but for His."

Fill-the-Jars is a story told to me a few months ago by Suzie Andres (author of the fantastic Little Way of Homeschooling which I highly recommend for anyone interested in homeschooling).  The story hearkens back to the Wedding at Cana where Jesus told the servants to fill the jars with water.  They did as they were told and Jesus turned the water into wine.  They didn't have to do anything other than follow His direction and a miracle occurred.  And so, in my life if I go where God directs and humble myself to His will, then He will take my meager efforts and turn them into something that glorifies Him. 

I just keep having to tell myself this every time I feel unworthy of all the responsibilities that have been entrusted to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Favorite Memories from the Coast Trip

I'm not quite sure how I feel about Blogger's new interface for pics. I may need to brush up on my HTML if I am going to find a way to make the picture layout look nice. Or maybe they will manage to update it again to make it more user friendly. The memories are far more important than the layout, so here they are

Raining as we headed out.  Yes it was summer, no NW weather doesn't care

How Elora (5) sees me

Corbin loved the stairs at the house

I had to keep moving to prevent Corbin from running into the ocean - he has always been a water baby

Elora and Serenity enjoyed chasing the waves

Ariana, Vivian and Zachery however just let the waves come

Daddy and his Minion (or as Elora points out, Daddy is her minion)

Typical Damien.  He was the only one who noticed the caterpillar trying to cross the road, so he had to stop and rescue it

Corbin loved the fish.  It gave the older kids a great excuse to get down on the ground too

I love these tunnels at our aquarium



In the piranha tank bubble

I treasure all these moments where Ariana can still be a kid

Finally we found a stream where Corbin could just go in the water with both hands free

These two were determined to finish their sandcastle even after everyone else went back to the van.



We could actually see stars!

My morning view from the porch

The aspiring architect

Zachery being Zachery

Zoomed in you can see the dark humps of the whales' backs.  There were quite a few of them!

To quote Jeff, "There be whales here!"

Zachery in a man-made tidepool

The group of seals that was right behind him

View from the bedroom

Out the living room window on our last day

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Healing Power of Water

I rediscovered how much I love the coast over this last weekend.  I have always loved being out of the city/suburbs and before gas prices soared I used to just get in the car with the kids and drive anywhere to be away from buildings and manicured lawns.  Other than the annual homeschool camping trip that we look forward to every year, we have stayed close to home for a while now.  After Jonathan's death my sister, Melinda, would hike almost every weekend and found that it was very healing for her.  I think she may be onto something.  I've spent the last year mostly at home and not really interested in being around people, but I'm beginning to think that something needs to change.  Going out to the coast reminded me how connected I feel to God through the water.  I don't know what it is or why, but being near a natural source of water has always brought me peace.  Whether it is going to one of the waterfalls, the river or the beach I just need to be near it.  I sleep a lot better when I can hear the steady drumming of rain, the crashing of waves or the flowing of a stream or river.  I suppose that is one reason why the Pacific Northwest has always felt like home to me.

The only thing I wish we had done differently on the trip was to have more quiet time.  We saw some amazing things and did a lot more than I thought we would manage to squeeze in, but I wish we had more down time.  I had my mornings with a cup of coffee just sitting watching and listening to the waves and birds, but more would have been good.  Next time.

I do have to admit that I like the comforts of society.  I grew up camping the "real way" with my parents that involved driving out to the middle of nowhere (as in no roads in addition to no buildings, running water, electricity, etc), digging our own pit toilet and surviving off only the things we brought for as much as a week.  They liked to find the most out of the way places...I really should ask how they found the places they did.  I was not a fan of it by the time I reached about 10 years old and we stopped going soon after that.  I like having a bed to sleep in, electricity, a heater when it is cold, running water and hot water for a shower.  So while our trip included all the standard comforts of home and more, it was still awesome and healing to be able to step outside and be so close to the water.  It is something I need to do more often.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Year Later

    July 20th at a little after 2:30pm, one year ago my life changed in a profound way.  Those who know me well know that I over-think everything.  That means this post will be rewritten too many times before I finally post it.  Writing/talking things out helps me work through what I am thinking, but getting it down in a coherent way that I am willing to make public is harder.

     Jeff was unemployed at the time and therefore at home.  We were snuggling and talking with the little kids when I got the call.  I couldn't believe the words Deborah, my brother's ex-wife, was saying.  She told me that she just wanted me to know that Jonathan had died that day.  She then went on and on in her usual way of filling the silence talking about a police detective who wouldn't talk to her about the details and therefore wouldn't talk to me (so don't bother calling), about how she would take care of everything because she was the beneficiary, I think she started talking about the details of how/where she would have my brother's remains cared for, then she asked if I heard that she and Jonathan were reconciling.  That snapped me out of my fog because Jonathan and I had discussed the "reconciliation" and it was not what she was describing.  He needed a place to stay because he was going to lose his house (because of her actions that cost him his security clearance and a good chunk of his salary - something I learned of later) and figured since he was paying for the house she lived in he might as well move in there.  He had no intention of reconciling with her, but wanted to be there for his son.  When he told me he was going to talk to her I encouraged him to make it clear he was not 'getting back together' but needed to live in the house - their marriage ended after 3 years because of her viscous verbal abuse which continued after the divorce.  I may have started arguing with her, but ended up ignoring the tangent she was on and insisted on getting the detective's name and phone number from her.  She begrudgingly complied warning me the detective would not speak with me.

     The detective did not answer, so I left a message.  Then I sent an email asking for prayers for my brother's soul.  In between my short bouts of writing or talking I was crying.  While I waited for the police detective to call me back I searched desperately online hoping to find news about a car crash or fire, something anything but what I knew had happened.

      Jonathan always had a very hard time in social situations.  He could not read body language and didn't understand empathy.  In talking with him he would go off on tangents for hours about topics that interested him without any prompting - or interest sometimes - from his listeners.  He was so very smart when it came to matters of book knowledge and so very lost when you had to add in the human factor.  He told me once that even the thought of having to make small talk with others caused him physical pain.  It wasn't that he didn't like people, on the contrary he needed that connection with others, it was just that his way of connecting was so different than the norm that it was off-putting for most people.  I'm sure there is some kind of fancy label that could have been applied to him, but it doesn't really make a difference now.

      In 2001 my entire family had to move from the large house in the South Bay Area in California, so my sister went to Oregon for college, Jeff and I and the kids followed (it was my idea first!), my parents stayed with friends to get back on their feet, my uncle moved into his own apt and Jonathan headed out to Virginia.  Even with 3,000 miles between us I remember spending hours on the phone with Jonathan even in those first few months when he was staying with our aunt out in VA.  As my family grew over the years, it became harder to have hours available to talk with him.  In 2004 Jonathan decided it was time to get married because he was lonely in Maryland (where he had bought a house), so he joined a match-making company hoping it would work out.  He wanted a Catholic woman who was loyal to Church teaching esp on things like contraception and abortion because he was so very pro-life.  That one thing cut his list down to nothing.  They kept setting him up on dates anyway, probably to justify their paycheck, and nothing was working out.  Jonathan was frustrated and added in young adult gatherings that a local Catholic parish had.  That is where he met Deborah.  He was so excited when she called him back.  That was his reason for marrying her - she had to be interested in him because she called him back.  He had been rejected by so many people throughout his life that he couldn't believe she was interested in him after one conversation (that included his annual income as a networking engineer with a high security clearance and current business/get-rich-quick scheme).  I was happy for him because he was happy.  Jonathan felt things very deeply, but he wasn't very good about sharing those emotions with others.  He also wasn't the most patient of people.  On the one hand he used his incredible mind to plot and plan every detail of various schemes and ideas he had but on the other hand he wanted things done immediately when he decided it was time to move.  Getting kids ready to go or the time to put them in carseats when we went somewhere with him would make him crazy.  Anyway, after about 6 months of dating, Jonathan proposed to Deborah.  The description he gave me of her was that she clipped coupons and was very careful with money, she called him regularly, she cared about her 11 year old son and was a good single mom and she was Catholic.  She might not be as good a Catholic as he was hoping for, but he had no luck finding a good Catholic anyway.  The other thing he said that sticks out in memory was that he could "save" her and her son by providing and caring for them.  I think all men want to be the knight in shining armor, and my brother was no different.  Our father left our mom with 3 small children and my step-dad had a lot of issues, so I think Jonathan wanted to try and make up for our crappy childhood.  During their marriage prep a few warning signs started popping up, and they started fighting over those things.  I spoke with her a few times and realized very quickly that they were not a good match.  My mom realized the same thing and we tried warning Jonathan, but he had made up his mind to go forward.  A few weeks before the wedding, Jonathan told me the honeymoon period was over.  I tried warning him of how hard the marriage would be if everything he thought about her was wrong and they were already unhappy, but he was not willing to stop things.  They got married in 2005 and problems arose almost immediately.  Deborah had lived at her parents house and worked full time throughout her parenting experience, and as someone who did the same thing for a while, it is a hard adjustment to suddenly be a nuclear family.  Poor Michael did not adjust well and Deborah disagreed with my brother on how to parent Michael.  Once Michael made a few mistakes and ended up in the juvenile system, everything got worse.  Through a difficult pregnancy, the housing market collapse, a disastrous attempt at being landlords, out of control spending and very different approaches to life and Catholicism, the marriage failed.  Jonathan moved out in Jan 2009 after a particularly bad argument that caused him to call 911 to have the police there to protect him as he gathered his things and left.  He continued to pay the bills and gave Deborah a few hundred dollars every month for things for David (their 2 year old son), but told her she would need to get a job to cover the rest (something they had been fighting over for months).  Jonathan was devastated.  He didn't understand why things got so bad, so just before leaving his marriage he left the Church.  He told me it wasn't that he thought the Church was wrong, it was that he just didn't care about doing the "right" thing anymore.  He had lived his entire life doing the "right" thing, and he had nothing good to show for it.  The therapist he had been seeing for about a year had put him on anti-depressants and that definitely changed his personality and outlook on life.  His phone calls came farther and farther apart, and were more cryptic.  He told me that he had his faith in God restored, but didn't want to talk about what had happened.  Then in Sept 2009 our grandma died rather suddenly and no one could get in touch with Jonathan.  I began to worry, but continued living life.  Then in January Jonathan called me.  We had never been out of touch for so long.  He told me that he had had a mental break and that he had ended up committing himself back in Sept because he was afraid he would hurt himself.  He was there for a few weeks and felt like he was doing ok now.  I encouraged him to get in touch with his closest friend from before his marriage who was a priest to talk about the demonic aspect of what he was describing.  The way my brother described what was going on with him reminded me of Screwtape Letters.  It was as if he could actually hear the angel and demon whispering in his ear.  It sounded a lot like demonic obsession (as opposed to demonic possession).  Whether there is a scientific/medical explanation for it or not, it doesn't change that it could have been happening.  He had been taking anti-psychotic medication and was seeing his therapist regularly, which is why I suggested adding the spiritual to that routine.  I spent hours everyday in the beginning talking to Jonathan because he said the voices didn't bother him as much when we talked.  As time went on, the conversations would happen every few days and as he spent more and more time at our Aunt and Uncle's house there would be longer gaps between calls.  During all of this, Jonathan did his best to keep Deborah out of the loop because he knew she would use it against him - he would have me listen to the angry, mean calls that would come in when we were on the phone (he called through his computer to avoid paying long distance charges) for hours.  He started going to Mass again and became close to the pastor at the Benedictine church he could walk to from his house.  He had been doing day trading for about a year or so to support both households and was doing pretty well with it.  Things were looking up.  Then somehow Deborah got enough details of his mental state to call his work and inform them that he had mental problems.  Since his job required a high security clearance, they revoked his clearance until an investigation could be done.  He was moved to another building and his pay was cut.  He was also switched to a day shift, so he was working around a lot of people which has always caused him problems.  After another stint in the hospital (one where he could call and let me know what was going on), he was moving forward.  He gave the investigators all they needed and they were sure that his clearance would be reinstated since his issues were not going to affect national security.
    July 20th, 2010.  It had been about 3 weeks since I had heard from Jonathan.  Our last conversation had been about money.  The stock market was not doing well, so he had lost a lot of money.  He could no longer afford to support both houses, was looking at having to declare bankruptcy and he wanted to spend more time with his son David, so he figured he could move back into the house since he was paying for it anyway.  I cautioned him to be careful since the mean phone calls had continued and he had been so miserable when he was there before.  He assured me he would be cautious. 
    As I waited for the detective to call me back, I knew.  I knew he had killed himself.  My brother who had spent almost his entire life doing the right thing.  He had been a good Catholic, even when it was hard (other than the 1 year).  He got it.  He understood Faith even when there were so many things in life he didn't get.  He knew so much - most of my Catholic education had been from him.  If it weren't for his influence I don't know if I would be Catholic today.  How, how could the Devil win with someone like Jonathan?  It wasn't fair, more than that, the thought was unbearable.
      The detective called me back as soon as she finished talking to my mom.  She apologized for Deborah calling me.  She had called Deborah (even though the divorce was finalized) to get phone numbers for our family and Deborah had been uncooperative.  She had asked Deborah not to call anyone, and that she would handle things.  The detective had to search my brother's things to find the phone numbers which sadly gave Deborah enough time to start calling people.  Since Deborah had never liked my mom much (or maybe it was because she knew how much time Jonathan and I spent talking), she called me first so thankfully the detective was able to be the one to call my mom.  Not only had Jonathan killed himself, he had done it very publicly at work - something way out of character.  He was such a private person, he handled things on his own as much as possible.  It just didn't make any sense.  There was no evidence that he had planned to kill himself, and the detective was at a loss as to what pushed him over the edge.  She felt in her gut there was more to it, but she could not prove anything.  The next few months were spent sorting out Jonathan's affairs as much as possible.  My mom as next of kin flew out and stayed with my aunt and uncle while dealing with everything.  Since she is disabled, they had to do a lot to help her.  If it weren't for their support I don't think my mom would have been able to function.  There were little things we discovered that gave us hope for his soul - there was absolutely no sign of planning suicide, he had even just gone grocery shopping and ordered something from Amazon before he died.  My mom found and talked to the priest Jonathan had been to regularly.  He said Jonathan had been working to get better and that he had been to Confession regularly.  The list goes on.
     Since Jonathan had talked to me about wanting to move out to Oregon to be closer to family (once he got a more favorable custody arrangement and got his finances sorted out), we decided to bury him out here.  Throughout all of this, Deborah was livid.  She felt she should be in charge of everything and was not happy that as an ex-wife she had no claim.  She had recently been named the sole beneficiary on all Jonathan's insurance policies, and we were not fighting that.  We just wanted to bury Jonathan out here close to family who loved him.  Deborah refused to be helpful in any way and would not let my mom see her grandson whom she had never met.  My mom did her best while mourning her son, getting nasty calls from Deborah and resistance from my brother's bank and work to settle his estate.  There wasn't much because of how much debt Jonathan had, but she did the best she could.  Deborah ended up suing my mom to take over as administrator, so my mom came back out here to Oregon (my dad had moved up here the summer before and my mom had been taking care of her dad after my grandma died) and we buried Jonathan before the court date.  Deborah won the case and was appointed administrator.  She started calling every place we paid (for the cremation, burial, the church where the Funeral Mass was said, shipping his personal affects, etc) to harass them about how much money was spent and how she was not happy that nothing could be done.  From the bank accounts that were pay-on-death and therefore not part of the estate and the insurance, Deborah should have gotten about $350,000.  Jonathan's estate was about $8,000 which barely covered administrative costs, burial expenses and shipping.  Every now and then I hear rumors that Deborah plans to sue my mom over the $8,000, but so far nothing has happened.
      The last year has been a roller coaster.  I feel like I lost a year.  I can think of all the things I did, but it doesn't feel like I was living those memories, just going from thing to thing.  I think I am doing better now.  I still have off days, but overall I feel like I am starting to live again.  I pray for Jonathan's soul regularly and hope that someday I can ask him what happened.  In the meantime I plan to thwart the devil in any way I can, and maybe I can help get a few more souls out of his clutches along the way - just the way Jonathan would have wanted it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I realized last night how much I have gotten done around the house this week.  One of the things I let go last summer after Jonathan died was the backyard.  I didn't touch it, so the last time it was mowed or weeded was summer of 09.  That is a lot of growth - some of the grass and weeds were 3-4' tall and the weeds I had previously been pulling out spread happily under my neglect.  It took another 4 hours to dig up blackberries, gather sticks (we have a 40' willow tree on our small lot, so there are many, many sticks) and rocks and mow one corner of the yard.  Then another 4 hours to finish mowing and hand weed a bit around the raspberries that are coming out farther into the yard than I planned for.  It is amazing the difference a little care makes!  The yard seems quite a bit larger now that it has been cleaned up some.  There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but at least I can go outside and not feel like there is one more pressing item on my To Do list.

The other big project I worked on this week was cleaning up the garage.  Our house is 1000sq ft with a full, mostly unfinished basement and a 1-car garage.  The only access to the basement is through the garage.  Since we are not moving any time soon (and are a family of 9), I have to utilize as much space as I can so that we don't kill each other during the long wet seasons.  My current plan is to finish the garage, so that we can have a family room in addition to the living room - which will also make the basement more accessible.  I am just beginning this project and figure it will take about 2 years to get it done, but it will be so nice to have it!  I spent yesterday working on clearing out junk, moving things we are keeping and cleaning items so they can be used.  The garage looks a lot better, though now I have to clean up, organize and condense (and possibly move) my workbench.  Then I can start on the wiring, insulation, etc.

When I add in making 3 meals a day, taking a day to clean the house (that was neglected last week while the kids were in soccer camp), changing diapers, feeding the baby, taking care of the kids, spelling countless words for Elora, taking breaks to look at or research various bugs Damien caught, listen to Zachery talk about so many, many things, get Ariana a tetanus booster when she stepped on a nail (I read her the pros and cons of the vaccine our ND recommended and let her decide), go in for the follow-up ultrasound of my thyroid (still waiting for the results) and spending evenings with Jeff, I suddenly feel like my days were a bit more productive than I originally thought.  We even managed to pray the rosary yesterday. 

Next week we have Zachery's 10th birthday, family coming for 4th of July (which will be bittersweet because the last visit with Jonathan was for 4th of July 2 years ago and it was one of the few holidays we loved as kids growing up), grocery shopping for a good chunk of July including our big homeschool camping trip and planning for and starting to pack for that camping trip.

Sadly the only project around the house for the next week or so will be cleaning and maintaining...and eating all the perishable food. 

Thursday, June 30, 2011

There is Never Enough Time

I have started several blog posts, but there is just not enough time to finish them before I get pulled in a new direction.  It isn't just blog posts either, but all computer time.  While it is good to be so involved in life that I don't have time for the computer, it is frustrating to feel like I am still not accomplishing much.

Several years ago I asked God to show me all the moments during the day when I could work on writing projects because I felt so overwhelmed, and he showed me so many that I finally had to ask him to stop!  I keep meaning to ask to be shown those moments again, but then I get distracted.

Ariana asked that we pray together as a family again regularly, and we really need to.  I know the time is there somewhere in my day, I just need to carve it out and make it a routine so that we don't forget...or get distracted.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Unschooling Speech

On Tuesday I had the chance to talk a little about Unschooling at a homeschool meeting - the topic was on different methods of Catholic homeschooling. We were told to plan a 5-10 minute talk about the strengths, weaknesses and why our homeschool method works for our family. I planned the below talk, then the speakers before me talked about their method and how it fit in their family without any kind of speech. I decided last minute to ditch my talk and just wing it (pulling bits of my printed talk in), and it worked out well I think - at least I had a few compliments at the end. I didn't want all my hard work to go to waste, so here is my little speech that I may yet get to give someday:
The term Unschooling brings to mind different images for different people. Some see it as unparenting: allowing kids to do whatever they want whenever they want while parents are uninvolved or stand helplessly on the side. Others see it as a retaliation against any kind of learning or education. Many worry that kids can never learn what they will need to know or will never learn the discipline needed to succeed in life unless they are forced to “Do school.” When John Holt coined the phrase in the 70s he called it unschooling because it was exactly that: the opposite of school. Now “school” is not education, nor learning, nor it is discipline. School is an institution where children are sent for 6 hour a day, 180 days a year to be taught by a professional, not based upon their abilities or needs, but based upon what a group of professional educators have decided all kids born in the same year “should” know. Whereas Unschooling is learning everywhere, all the time by everyone a child meets based upon their abilities, needs and interests. God created us to be curious about the world and to learn from every experience. This is most evident in babies and toddlers who are fascinated by everything and gain new abilities almost daily as they imitate what they see around them, however it is also true for the 40 year old who finds a new faster way to work or the 70 year old who just started using a computer. We are always learning because that is what God made us to do – whether we like it or not.
How does a parent fit into unschooling? First, by observing and talking with each child to see what their needs and interests are and then by finding resources, whether that be modeling an example, discussion, books, classes, tutoring, and so on to meet those needs and interests. How exactly Unschooling looks in any family differs day to day, year to year and child to child. I have heard it called Organic Learning and in many ways that is a great description. One day it may be breaking out a textbook, watching a documentary or having a three hour discussion; another day it may be playing Risk or other computer or board games, or going on a field trip to the zoo or OMSI. There is learning to be had in all these activities and unschooling allows the freedom to do whatever works best for that particular moment.
One of the wonders of homeschooling is we can pick and choose what works for our families. With all homeschool methods, including unschooling, it is never all or nothing. You can unschool, but do Math or use a curriculum but unschool science or history or various electives your kids are interested in. We do what works best and change as we need to, so that we can keep going.
First a few weaknesses of Unschooling. Choosing to unschool is so different from what people are familiar with, it is hard to deal with the assumptions, concerns and accusations that people make about unschooling. Homeschooling is becoming better accepted in the main stream, but you will still get comments, funny looks and outright shock or indignation at choosing to “unschool” or at least admitting that you unschool, for all the reasons I already mentioned.
Also, since unschoolers focus more on mastery of a subject rather than grades, it can be hard to prove where a child is academically – which just gives fuel to those who believe academic progress is the way to discern success or failure in one’s education.
Since Unschooling parents don’t have worksheets or grades to discern where their kids are, they have to use other methods to gauge progress. This means observing what a child does with their day, having regular discussions and trying to provide resources for interests that can last anywhere from a few minutes to years. From experience I can tell you, it is frustrating to have one of the kids express interest in a topic which leads to hours finding the best resources or information and then have them spend 5 minutes looking at what was put together and never touch it again. Being available to observe without interfering and time to have discussions as well as find resources can also be hard with all the other responsibilities around the house, but it is critical to successful unschooling.
As a parent it is hard to see your child’s academic weaknesses and yet allow them to continue to steer their own course. I don’t mean to stand back and do nothing, but to have discussions on the value of the skill, set an example using that skill, lay out resources that offer different approaches to the skill and then back off and Let Go. My experience is eventually unschooled children recognize their weaknesses (though it may take years) and they will develop all the skills they need to be successful. God made us inquisitive creatures who learn throughout our entire lives for a reason.
For me, however the benefits of Unschooling far outweigh the challenges. By allowing a child to explore topics as they are ready and for the length of time they are interested, they retain the knowledge faster and with the same joy that you see in young children. The tangible world is right there, ripe for them to touch, taste, handle and sometimes break. Once a new skill is mastered, it is incredibly gratifying to watch even my 12 year old excitedly share that skill with siblings, family and friends. Because a curriculum is not set out step by step, telling my kids what they ‘should’ be doing, they are free to talk about what interests them and ask for instruction or help when they want to learn something new. Unschooled children know they need to seek knowledge rather than passively wait for topics to be presented to them.
My family life generally is unpredictable between having a new baby every couple years and dealing with crises like unemployment, extended family problems as well as illnesses, allergies, etc. Unschooling allows us to be as flexible as we need to get through year to year. No matter how tired I am, I can always talk to the kids about whatever their current interests are, encourage them to tap into the many resources we have around the house and someone can take them to the library. More importantly, unschooling allows my kids to be aware of and involved in Life. They learned how to cut spending and the importance of a budget when my husband was out of work for 8 months; how to care for my mom who is disabled when she stayed with us; the dangers of addiction and the importance of Faith as we support extended family members who struggle; how to be your own advocate while dealing with the medical community and how to forgive and love unconditionally.
One of my favorite things about unschooling is No Burnout. Every year I try to be supportive as I hear stories of frustration, tears and stress that peak around Spring while it is business as usual in my house. It breaks my heart to hear of families who become so overwhelmed that they put their kids back in school because they can’t keep up or get too burnt out – not because they feel it is the best choice but because they just can’t take any more. I do have homeschool related stress, but it is a different kind of stress and I rarely feel like enrolling my kids in school because of being overwhelmed.
A huge part of not burning out is that there are no academic deadlines. We don’t covet summer break as a time to stop academics and recharge for the new school year, in fact we usually do more academic work in the summer because there is less running around to different classes and activities. Without those deadlines we get to skip out on the guilt associated with meeting school-like benchmarks, and we are free year-round to use classes, co-ops, tutors, etc for specific interests because there isn’t a huge pile of school work to get through daily.
Unschooling works best for my family for many reasons. Between our very limited school budget, several of the kids’ learning disabilities, strong personalities, diverse interests and the unpredictability of our lives, unschooling allows us to explore things at times and in ways that are different than the norm.
For example my oldest has dyslexia and is a perfectionist. By backing off and allowing her to work on reading in her own time, she unlike many dyslexics loves to read and does so regularly. She also discovered a talent for art and a love of literature because she was not forced to work on subjects based upon someone else’s time table. Right now with no pushing from me, she is working her way through history using the Modern Scholar series of college lectures from the library, continuing to explore new mediums of art, is listening to or reading several book series as well as the Taming of the Shrew (her 2nd Shakespeare play) and designed and built a simple wood end table. In Math she loves puzzles and has been working her way through several seek-and-find and puzzle games on the computer and DS, and she has started working through her first text book because she recognizes this is an area of weakness for her. She can also competently care for her 6 younger siblings, wash laundry, clean and plan and cook meals. This is just the tip of the iceberg, she also takes various classes, goes out with friends and is in many ways your average teenager.
I could go on and on through all of my kids’ diverse interests, but there isn’t time.
Through unschooling my kids are constantly observing and exploring the world. As they have gotten older, due to their freedom to explore they know what they like and they have been able to strengthen those skills. They are also able to see where their weaknesses are and through discussion are aware of how those weaknesses affect their lives. It all comes down to remembering why I am homeschooling in the first place. For me, that reason is I want my children to love learning, be able to find any answer they seek and above all get to heaven. I am preparing them first and foremost for Life and I trust that through prayer God will guide us where they need to go whether that is college prep, a life of holy orders, entrepreneurship or something else.
A quote from Suzie Andres’ A Little Way of Homeschooling that wraps my talk up nicely:
“As far as homeschooling goes, I have stopped trying to find the perfect method (there isn't one), and I've stopped thinking I must produce perfect children by the time they reach the age of 18. Can you believe that I thought it was possible to send my children out into the world as adults perfectly educated, perfectly brought up, perfectly ready to do whatever God wants them to do? And here am I many years older than 18 and I am still struggling along that pathway to perfection with a long way to go. I have learnt to be patient and accepting with myself and I am trying to do the same with my children.”

Update: I honestly could not remember where I got the above quote from, and I am happy to correct it as a quote from one of Sue's emails on an unschool forum. That explains why I couldn't find the quote for verification when I went back through A Little Way of Homeschooling!  It is still a beautiful quote and one that all the mom's at the Homeschool meeting liked and agreed with.