Days With Kids and Toad

The toad was in the window well when my children found it. Thinking that it was stuck down there, they rescued it by letting it loose in the backyard. I watched my four year old chase it around for a while before he grabbed a stick. Worried for the safety of the toad I inquired why he had the stick. “Because I want it to fetch!” he replied. To M’s disappointment, the toad did not fetch.

The next day the toad was back in the window well. The kids rescued it again. The next day it was back. So we decided the toad lives in our window well and likes it down there. The kids named it Greg, and they check on it every day and play with it a while. I’ve begun to think the toad likes their visits because he’s stopped trying to jump out of their hands, and he doesn’t find a home in a different location.

Greg’s house, complete with toadstool sculpture, a couch, and a tent with a big leaf “tarp”.

Life has been more or less quiet in our house, but the toad seems to be providing some wholesome entertainment for all the children. As the news, the pandemic, and, ahem, presidential debates seem to be getting uglier every day, I find myself relishing the simple joys of home and family life ever the more, and, I must say, I’m enjoying the children’s daily reports on the toad much more than the news reports.

The children report on whether the toad is home or not, and they’ve all begun embellishing the toad’s window-well home. The fourteen year old added a sculpted toadstool and a small, homemade felt tent. She also dug a toad-sized hole in the dirt. The children must have filled the hole with water because later in the day eight-year-old N came running into the house to excitedly report that Greg was in his “pool”. Another day I noticed the children added a fresh pile of leaves to the well for Greg to sit under. N added a large black stone to the well. I think it is a little warmer than the other rocks down there and I see the toad warming himself on it sometimes.

One day eleven-year-old E was slowly walking her scooter around the driveway. I asked her to help me with the lunch dishes, and she replied she would just as soon as Greg was finished with his scooter ride! I looked down and sure enough, there sat Greg on the scooter being driven around the driveway. I’m not an expert on toad behavior, but the toad didn’t jump off, so I concluded he didn’t mind the ride.

We’ve also begun doing some research on toads. We found out that Greg is an American Toad, which is the only toad found in our area. Then we watched some videos and looked up a few sites to figure out Greg’s sex. We determined that Greg is female. Oops. The children now call the toad Greggy as they think that sounds a little more feminine.

N with Greggy

We’ve also learned that American Toads are slightly venomous. Their skin can secrete a substance that is harmful if swallowed, so the children know to wash their hands well if they’ve been touching Greggy.  We’ve also researched about what she likes to eat (prompting F to give her a worm to eat), and we’ve learned about what the toad will do in the winter. It turns out toads are facinating creatures. Greggy will dig beneath some loose soil and bury herself. As it gets colder, she will hibernate the winter away having buried herself below the freeze line. Cold climate toads and frogs basically make their own antifreeze to keep their blood and organs from freezing. Some ice will form on the skin of frogs and toads. Partially frozen, their heart and breathing will stop, but once spring comes and the ice melts, they “spring” to life again, and eat and hop and mate for another season. Frogs and toads do have a limit to the amount of cold they can survive, for some it is as low as 8° F. So I am not sure if Greggy will decide to winter in our window well or not,  but if so, we’ll probably add a thick layer of leaves to help insulate her against getting too cold.

I’m hoping Greggy will hibernate right next to our window so we can see her through the winter, but I’ll trust her to find the best spot. Until then, I’ll be enjoying watching the children lavish kindness on a toad, and I’ll continue hoping that more adults could show such kindness to one another, toadish or not.

Stepping Out in Faith

Stepping Out in Faith

I didn’t exactly hear Jesus’ voice saying to me, “Homeschool all your children.” Instead, I heard my husband’s voice saying to me, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year.” And the man never has opinions. He is the most laid-back, no pressure husband on the face of the earth. If I decide I want to homeschool the children, fine.  Raise the kids Catholic and do a bunch of crazy Catholic stuff at home? Fine. Load up the van and go on a 24-day roadschooling adventure? Fine.  He’s cool with it all. So if he actually has an opinion about something, I think I better listen and respect his desires.

Today is the first day of school. Like many people, I thought that this year would look differently than it does. I had planned to send two of our four children to school. My middle girl would be at school all day, and my four-year-old son would be at 4K for the mornings to give me time to focus on his two other sisters who would be eagerly homeschooling.

It’s a strange thing. Last year I had discerned that school was a better fit for one of our children, but I believe that the will of God can be discerned in the ordinary (or extraordinary) events of life, including in the input of those around us. So when I physically heard my husband say, “I’m not comfortable sending the children to school this year” what I really heard, like the apostles when faced with 5000 hungry people,  was Jesus voice saying, “Feed them yourself.” So here I am, stepping out in faith, to give my best, and believing that the grace of God will make up for what I lack.

Making pizza

Despite some stress, there is also peace, because I believe that God always wills what is best for us — for all of us. So if it is God’s will that E be homeschooled, then it must also be the best thing for me to homeschool her, and the best thing for each member of the family. And when I say “the best thing”, I always mean that it is the best thing for our spirtual health and eternal welfare. Sometimes God’s will is definitely not the easiest, most relaxing, or the most comfortable. Sometimes God’s will brings us to our breaking point, but I believe that the cross transforms us, and we are better in the Resurrection than we ever could be before the cross, in life.

So, here I am, stepping out in faith and trust. I’m looking forward to the joys of this year and happy to have the whole family at home together, and I’m praying for the grace to be transformed through the struggles (like the stuggle of homeschooling a strong-willed child). Perhaps you will say a prayer for me as we begin this path for another year? And let me know if I can say a prayer for you.

“God leads us in the path of life eternal: let us give thanks and praise!” (“Morning Prayer”, Magnificat 22, no. 5, (July 2020)

School’s Out For Summer

Well,  my family made it through our first ever year of school! My children in 7th, 5th, and 1st grade finished school in early June. We all learned a lot, and believe me, we are all ready for summer. We’ve also decided on our plans for next school year.

As I mentioned in a post earlier in the year, we chose a school with a blended learning environment. The girls went to school two days a week, and they did school at home three days.  Once Covid-19 hit my husband told me that I sure picked a good year to send the kids to school, haha. So then obviously we were schooling at home full time, which I was grateful the kids’ school was already set up for home learning, but what many homeschoolers were saying was true. Covid-schooling and homeschooling were definitely not the same thing.  Even with the strangeness of this year however, our first foray into schooling was largely positive.

I’m really really grateful that the school we chose exists in the first place.  Previously we had encountered some challenges in our homeschooling, but I didn’t see myself ever making the leap from unschooling to traditional, 5-days-a-week, 7-hours-a-day school. Traditional schooling just seemed so opposite of everything we were doing and such a radical lifestyle change for us that I’m not sure we would have ever made that leap. Thankfully though, this blended school is nearby and we could take advantage of open enrollment, which allowed us to try something somewhere between our usual approach and full-time schooling.

We learned surprisingly/not surprisingly that school is a good fit for our middle daughter. She was the one that we made go to school, and she was not happy about it, but she ended up really liking school. Although it makes me eat some humble pie, I see that she is just more motivated to push herself and learn more from a teacher who is not me. The only thing that wasn’t a fit for her was that at this school we still had to do school at home three days a week (and at the end, every day). She told me her ideal would be to go to school four days a week. Unfortunately her ideal four days isn’t possible, but for next year we enrolled her in our parish’s Classical, Catholic school. A number of little things seemed to confirm that this was the school for her, like the fact that all 6th-graders get ukulele lessons, and E already owns a ukulele and has had some lessons (and she’ll be in 6th grade next year). As a Catholic, I love that as part of school she’ll have adoration and mass every week, and Morning Prayer (or matins) every morning. In regards to one of her personality traits, E is also a natural arguer. It’s always been a part of her and I see that she just can’t help herself sometimes. It’s like she got two dominant, super-active logomachy genes. Hyperactive Logomachy Disorder. Is that a thing? Because if so, E has it. Luckily for her, she has a mother who has many fond memories of being on the Speech and Debate Team in high school and college, and so I’ve been counting down the days when she is old enough to be on a debate team, hoping it could help direct and refine that natural arguing streak. So I really love that when she’s in 7th grade at the Catholic school, she’ll begin taking formal logic. Next year’s school seemed to just have a number of things specifically for E, so between the Catholic school and my prayers to Saint Catherine of Alexandria to help me mother this strong-willed, choleric (but oh-so affectionate) child of mine, hopefully she’ll have what she needs to grow into the person she is meant to be.

When it comes to our oldest child, it was confirmed that F is a complete autodidact. F loves to study in-depth the subjects of her choosing and she often pushes herself to learn and grow in more skills. She just naturally sets goals for herself and pushes herself to achieve them. In the past, she’s had goals such as writing a book, designing and programming a video game, and learning the medium of water color and ink. Although being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder comes with its challenges, I think her drive, focus, and creativity are areas where ASD gives her an advantage. She wants to be homeschooled again next year, and so that is what we will do. This child complained a lot that she would learn better on her own and that memorizing things for tests only to quickly forget them and move on to the next thing isn’t education. (We heard this complaint ALL year.) While I agree with her, and she articulated a major reason why we never sent our children to school before this year, at the same time, I think it was good for her to try school and to have that experience. Although ahead in some subjects, she was “behind” in math, and so I’m grateful that we were able to close some of those gaps. Although I don’t believe that all kids have to learn the same things at the same time, if F chooses to go to college I think it will be helpful for her to not have the challenge of trying to catch up in this area. So I’m feeling more positive about where we are with math and that we are in a good place moving forward. Also, I think it was good for her to learn some non-academic things, like making friends and working in groups at school, and also that in life, sometimes there’s just some hoops to jump through to achieve one’s goals. If she chooses to go to Design school to be an interior designer, there will be classes she likes and classes she doesn’t. Likely for any career-path she chooses, she’ll need to do the fun, creative parts of it, and maybe some businessy, red-tape parts of it too. She chose for herself to go to school this last year and she is choosing to be homeschooled next year, and we are supportive.

For my sunny, easy-going youngest daughter, school was fine. There were no major loves or dislikes, but she would prefer to stay home next year, so that’s fine with us. It did get tedious trying to get N to do all her computer work at times, however, and so it’ll be nice to be able to choose work and tasks that makes learning fun for her, rather than having to do the tasks that the school gives us to do. I’m happy there will be more freedom in our homeschool next year with the ability to tailor schoolwork to her.

Also, our son M turns four next month and so, for the first time ever, we are sending a child to 4K. It is in the mornings Monday through Friday, and I think he’ll enjoy it. He’ll basically have story time, play time, and snack time, and learn songs about the weather and days of the week, and then come home,  and he’ll go to the same Catholic school that his older sister E is going to.

For myself, I’m glad that we’ve found a solution that works for our family. A few years ago I never saw myself sending my children to school, but never say never they say (especially when it comes to how one will parent). Today I see education with more fluidity and I’m so grateful that we live in a country and an area where there are lots of education options and that we are able to choose the best option for each child’s personality and needs and also the needs of our family as a whole. So here’s to a relaxing summer and hopefully another positive school year!

We Made It Through the First Semester of School!

Thus far in my husband’s and my parenting journey, every August when everyone jumped in to their back-to-school frenzy, we completely ignored it all. Back-to-school clothes shopping, school supplies, curriculum purchases, changing schedules, early bedtimes, and all the rest of it just passed us by. Being unschoolers, who believe that the world is an inherently fascinating place for us to freely explore, we mostly eschewed curriculum, school-like schedules and lesson plans and simply lived our lives, and tried to make that life interesting and supportive of our children’s interests and curiosities.

This August, however, I found myself taking my daughters shopping for school clothes and being in the most crowded Target school supply aisle with most every other parent because in early September, my daughters started going to school — a real brick and mortar school. And oh it has been an adjustment for us all.

Visiting a butterfly house in one of our unschooling adventures

Last year, I just found myself needing a change. It seemed that I always had these great intentions of everything we would explore and do, but I so often found myself too busy with other things to do them. And despite the fact that some people think “unschooling” means “uneducating” it’s not. Unschooling parents put a lot of time and effort into exposing their children to a variety of experiences and topics and helping their children follow the rabbit holes of their interests. As my family grew and some outside commitments grew as well, unschooling was getting harder for me, so last Spring I decided to look into the school we ultimately chose as I thought it could be a good fit for our family.

The school itself is a public school but it is not a traditional type of school. The school values family time and so does not expect homework to be done in the evening. Also, it is a hybrid between homeschooling and school, as the kids have three home days a week where they are expected to do their online learning and school projects at home, and two days a week where they are at school from about 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. So we still get to sleep in on mornings! The school also does not have traditional grades and report cards. The school is big into developing growth mindset and they say that wherever a child begins is fine, they just want the child to improve, so I love that when we get this school’s version of report cards we will see where our child started and how far they’ve come, rather than seeing that they get an A in this and a C in that. For myself, I remember that when I was in school, math took so much effort for me, and I would work my tail off and get a C. English, however, was easy and I knew that I could whip out an essay the period before it was due and get an A, so why try my best, when my minimal effort would get an A anyway? So I love that whether a child has a natural affinity or talent in a particular area or not, wherever they start, they can get better.

Originally, I was exploring the school as an option for my two youngest daughters, and figured my oldest daughter would continue to stay home. Being older, she simply requires less time on my part to help her explore her passions. Also, being on the Autism spectrum and having some anxiety in social situations, I thought she would fare better continuing to homeschool, but as I told her sisters about the school, my oldest piped up that she maybe wanted to go. “If you want to go, you can go,” I replied. So she did.

Exploring the Lake Michigan coastline

Now, we are a semester in and doing school has definitely been an adjustment for all of us. This school is a definite fit for one of my daughters. Ironically the one of the three who didn’t want to go to school loves it (and she is the whole reason I explored school to begin with). The other two? Right now they are saying they want to be homeschooled next year. For my first-grader, it’s a lot of computer work. While she’s happy to do projects and one-on-one lessons with me, she has a hard time sitting and staying focused on all her computer lessons. For my 13-year-old, who has always been unschooled, I think just the concept of being given assignment after assignment that she must do with not much opportunity so far for her to explore her own interests freely is a shock to her system. The idea of dividing the world into “subjects”, having to listen to a lecture, do an assignment, take a quiz, then on to the next topic is foreign to her. She’s actually begun studying (on her own) educational models and has decided that the best education should be primarily self-driven; allow time for the information to really be processed, absorbed, and applied — rather than moving through material at bullet speed then to the next thing. Of course, as an unschooling parent, I’m glad that she now approves of the method of education that we have picked for her all these years.

I’m still a bit of an educational renegade though. The school encourages sight-reading, but that violates my conscience so we still learn phonics at home. 😉

Nevertheless, I’m glad we also chose this school for this year. One of my hopes was that my girls would make friends, and that is something that school helps with, I think. Although we got out of the house and did stuff with other homeschoolers, my introverted kids never found anyone that they just clicked with. At school they have. Also, I think it’s been great for them to get a taste of school to see what it’s like for themselves and see what they like and what they don’t like. For my middle daughter, I hadn’t really seen her be self-motivated to explore lots of things at home, but at school with the positive peer-pressure of all the other kids doing the same thing, a great teacher who can motivate her, (and the simple fact that for her strong-willed temperament it’s not her mom telling her to do these things) she is more self-motivated and is enjoying school.

Anyway, despite the ups and downs of this first semester of schooling, the biggest thing I’ve experienced is that everything is a trade-off. There are benefits and drawbacks to unschooling. There are benefits and drawbacks to sending kids to school, and I’m sure there are benefits and drawbacks to every possible way of educating a child. I think schools in this country typically choose breadth, wanting kids to learn about so many possible things as quickly as possible and they try to cram in so many topics. With unschooling, we’ve typically chosen depth, wanting our children to explore deeply the things they are most passionate about. As parents, I know we agonize about how each child is doing and we ask ourselves if we are doing the best thing for them, and on and on. My takeaway is this. Nothing is perfect. Families aren’t perfect, you the homeschooling mom aren’t perfect and you never will be, and schools definitely aren’t perfect. Also, each child is so different that what works for one might not work for another.

So I guess the lesson I’ve learned this first semester is one I think I already knew, but needed to learn again – that nothing is perfect and it will all be okay in the end. So choose a path, then be at peace. Agonizing homeschooling/unschooling or regular schooling moms, just do your best. Pick what you think is the best option for your family in your circumstances right now and trust. Whatever form of education we choose, there will be gaps (because it’s impossible to learn all there is to learn in this world) but do what you can and it will be enough. Place the rest in God’s hands, and let go.

 

God is there in these moments of rest and can give us in a single instant exactly what we need. Then the rest of the day can take its course, under the same effort and strain, perhaps, but in peace. And when night comes, and you look back over the day and see how fragmentary everything has been, and how much you planned that has gone undone, and all the reasons you have to be embarrassed and ashamed: just take everything exactly as it is, put it in God’s hands and leave it with him. Then you will be able to rest in him-really rest-and start the next day as a new life. – Edith Stein