Using the Arts as a Foundation for Unschooling

In today’s society, especially within the school system, there are strict guidelines, rules and regulations…

A cookie cutter pattern in which our children are forced to conform.

the problem with this is that these children are individuals, but in passing through the system are forced to edit themselves, cut their unique edges, and Frankenstein themselves into something which isn’t them at all.

To provide a bit of backstory.

My children have special needs.

Both are gifted, but have mental and physical health problems which labeled them “difficult” “liability” “falling behind”…

My CHILDREN were blamed, as was I.

This led to a painstakingly difficult decision, one I grappled with for the better part of a year, to pull both of my children from conventional schooling.

For awhile, we floated.

None of us really knew what to do, or how to respond.

A form of withdrawal and detox took place.

I’ll admit, there were many times we ALL wanted to cave and revert back to the old ways; the accepted ways.

I knew we couldn’t.

You can’t look back to move forward in life…

So, I started with what made my children happy, and what my children needed.

The arts and therapy.

I patch worked this strange, unattractive, and haphazardly stitched quilt together…

But, despite appearances, it was STRONG…

And, eventually, it started working.

Both fine, and performing arts built the foundation, with music as the cornerstone.

We ALL needed to be uplifted.

Some sort of positive, if not happy, atmosphere in which to exist.

As our family became stronger, community involvement was integrated, a movement propelled by our UCC Church Open Table.

Fast forward to now.

Through this unconventional construct, alongside proper medication and therapy, my family has grown by leaps and bounds, as has their knowledge of PEOPLE and LIFE.

Through the people they have met in the Arts/activism community, they can converse eloquently and efficiently, with confidence I’ve yet to attain.

I speak to my children CONSTANTLY, and remind them, daily, that their are lessons in everything, not just within and edifice, or certain dates and times of the week or year.

Without the pressure of numerical ratings or time limits, they thrive and have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

I put no pressure on either of my children to meet milestones imposed by governmental requirements or educational prerequisites…

Because I know they WILL get there. In their own time.

All of the creative endeavors on which my children embark count toward numerous subjects at once…

Math is in drawing, in geometric form. Math is in music, due to its rhythmic expression (my eldest despises this fact.)

English is within music and poetry.

Writing papers on historical figures count toward English and history… Sometimes art and music too, depending on the subject.

There is such beauty in unschooling,

An organic growth.

And, sometimes, a healing of family…

The text below shows the capacity unschooling has to produce a well-rounded, incredibly wise child…

And, through my 15 year old Eva, my 5 year old Phoebe is developing the same perception of the world I’m still attempting to develop at 35.

For, what greater joy is there for a parent than to watch your child become the best version of themselves… And teach you a thing or two?

THE POWER OF A WORD

Have you ever had a moment in time where you KNEW God himself just told you something and that you had better pay attention? 

Maybe it was over a specific issue or something in your prayer life or maybe just a feeling… you just KNEW you had to listen and obey!  

I’ve had that happen several times over the course of my life, but never so clearly as when God gave me my first word of the Year.  Before that time, I never really understood the whole idea of a “Theme Word” or “Word of the Year”. I admit that I sometimes thought it silly and overused in Christian circles.  Other times I thought I just wasn’t “Godly Enough” for Him to actually give me something so particular. Looking back now, I chuckle at myself and shake my head at my attitude (and thank God for his loving patience with me).  

 

My first theme word was given to me in late December 2014 as I sat in a hospital emergency room with my daughter with what would later be diagnosed as Ehlers-Danlos, Mast-Cell Activation Disorder and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.  At the time it was a bunch of random weirdness and we were being sent to the rare disease specialist. As I am sitting there and praying for my child, God tells me

“FORWARD”.

At that time, I thought that was the silliest thing I had heard and questioned if that was even from God.  By February of 2015, as my daughter was 2 weeks into a hospital stay and I was so incredibly exhausted, I KNEW that was my word from the Lord and that it didn’t have to make sense to me. I had to press FORWARD and look FORWARD and learn to guide my kids FORWARD through some deep dark waters.  My first word was a learning experience for me in obedience, trust, and faith. Through it, we saw so many blessings and truths given and received that year.  

 

When 2016 rolled around, I had learned my lesson – Listen to the word the Lord gives. That year’s word was

JOY.

The lesson for 2016 was Joy – in the suffering – as it was the year my marriage fell apart, and life changed forever.  That’s a story for another day, but suffice to say that by the end of 2016 I knew where my Joy came from and I had learned to protect it and fight for it.  I had also learned to PURSUE it. After the difficult year of hard-fought JOY, I was equal parts excited and nervous about what word would be next (as you can imagine)

 

ABIDE

would be for 2017 and it was a year I had to learn to walk one step at a time and never know where my footsteps were going to land.  It was a year I learned just how much I can trust and lean on God and expect him to carry my family safely through the darkest, murkiest waters I had ever been in.  It was also the year my daughter would be put on hospice and told she would be lucky to make it to 18, 4 of us would be diagnosed with trauma-induced PTSD, we would lose our home and we would move (again) to try and save my daughter’s life – the year that would bring me to Mobile, AL as a single mom trusting long-time friends to house us indefinitely. 

 

I learned that year how to be obedient in my responses to Christ as I allowed God’s word to fill my mind, will, and feelings.  

 

By the end of 2017 and into 2018, God had provided safety, a rental home of our own, work for me, counseling for the kids and healing for my daughter (who was released from hospice by February 2018).  That year’s word was slow in forming, though the definition of the word was pouring out abundantly. 2018’s word was

THANKFUL.

It became a year of rest, physical healing for my daughter who made it to 18 thriving, emotional healing and rebuilding for us.  It also became a year of hard work, forgiving unforgivable things, and an internal battle within myself on trusting others and letting people in. On top of that, it was a year of catching up with our academics as life had been our teacher for the year prior.  By the end of 2018, I honestly didn’t know if I was ever going to be thankful for what had come before… I was really struggling.

 

Last year, when God told me my word would be

HOPE,

I argued with him.  I told him that I didn’t understand how on earth I could go forward with joy abiding in him with a thankful spirit of HOPE if I never finished working through the thankful part!!!  Do you know what he said to me? He said –

That is exactly why your word is HOPE… trust me

I still wrestled, but said ok and wrote the word down and then pouted for a few months.  Yes, it’s silly and foolish – you would think I had learned not to do this. By late April/ early May of 2019, I learned my oldest 2 were going to graduate! We thought they had 1 more year to go since we had taken a year off for hardship and I was NOT prepared for my first babies to take that big step!!  We had two weeks to adjust to the idea and then I got to watch my first babies step into their new life as they walked across that stage and took their High School Diplomas. Shortly after that, God opened the door for us to buy a house and put down roots (I am still not sure HOW that happened), one daughter got an amazing scholarship to a local school for college, and things just suddenly became “normal”.  I have learned over this year that BECAUSE of my HOPE in Christ I am able to ABIDE with JOY as I move FORWARD with a heart that is now overflowing with THANKFULNESS towards those that have walked through the trenches, those that have persecuted us, and those that God placed for a season. I have finally started to understand the lessons in THANKFULNESS, though not all in the traditional sense of the word.

 

That leads us to 2020, the start of a new decade, the next new beginning and what seems to be an annual cycle of just adding more to every word I’ve had since 2015.  This word will be

FOCUS.

It will be interesting to see how God uses that word to build and grow my family and me personally in the year to come. I’ll try to keep you posted.

 

For me, words have been pretty powerful and have shaped some of the hardest years of my life – they have shown me the power of my God, His love for me, and His care!  Some of you may not have a word of the year, or a decade, or a season – and that’s OK. Maybe that isn’t how God has chosen to speak to you and to teach you. NEVER compare yourself to someone else but, please,

 

ALWAYS keep your hearts open to hear God’s voice.  

 

 If you DO have a word of the year, I would love to know what your words have been and hear how God has used those words in your life! 

 

Let us encourage one another as we walk this journey!!!

Heather

Homeschooling Mama Friends 


One of the most often repeated worries that a veteran homeschooling mama hears is “socialization.” 
 It comes from every imaginable source. Concerned family & friends, strangers at the supermarket and the new questioning mama who desires to homeschool. 
I have often been guilty of snickering when I hear it. I shouldn’t. 
But, seriously. Have you seen my calendar. The challenge is staying home! 
In this day & age of extracurricular possibilities, it never has to be an issue. 
What I don’t hear asked often enough is where is the Mama going to find friends & support. 
 In fact, I think the mama’s support system is more important than her children’s friendships.
Your support system provides education in your chosen profession as a homeschooling mama, support for the hard times & laughter when you need it.
Simply put. Women need women. 
So what are you looking for when you begin to build your homeschooling tribe? 
There are three types of friends: 
1) those ahead of you in the journey. These are your mentors. The Success stories. The ones who have been there in the trenches for several years.
2) those who walk with you. These are the ones with children in your children’s peer group. I’m not talking age or grade here. Think stage. The amount of time they have been homeschooling isn’t a deciding factor here. 
3) those who are new to the journey. The newbie. This is when you realize you’ve survived the beginning of your journey. You have something to give back. It’s a dazzling moment.
You need all three to be balanced. They are important. You are important. 
Ecclesiastes 4:12
So, where do you find them? 
1) Social Media is a great place to start. 
Most cities will have groups to answer questions & share information. A really great group will plan extracurricular activities & give you the opportunity to meet others
But don’t stay here. It’s a starting place.
2) Local museums. Call & ask if there are homeschooling classes. 
3) Local Library. Church. Park. Co-op, 4-H.
4) AND  If you can’t find a group, start one. I am serious. If you are lonely someone else is too! Put a sign up in the library. Start a Facebook group. It can all start with a simple monthly park day.
Praying for you today, Mama! 
Choose who walks with you wisely. 

Homeschooling Baby

Homeschooling before Kindergarten is really my favorite. I consider anything below kindergarten as “baby.”

Seriously, Mamas. They are still babies.

Our homeschooling journey began because we couldn’t afford daycare. I  fell in love with seeing that light bulb turn on. I was hooked.

Regardless of your family’s future educational choices, you ARE your babies’ first teacher. Mamas are so very important.

So here’s a few tips to make homeschooling baby easier.

1) Less is more. Littles really do not need curriculum. They have an attention span of about 1 minute X their age. 

2) play IS learning. 

As my babies were growing, we had  “creative play” boxes: Art box, block box, Lego box, dress up box, book box, sewing box, science box. 

 Pull a box out as needed. 

Not all boxes are appropriate at every age or stage. Use wisdom.

Here are some great links for Creative Learning Boxes

Treasure Basket Pattern

1st Sewing Basket for Kids

Embroidery with Children

Babies 1st Art Supplies

Science Box

Matryoshka Lacing Cards

3) Books. We read a lot. Use your library. Know your librarian.

4) Conversation. We talk a lot. About everything we see. All day long. LOL!

5) When you feel the need for socialization, look for free or cheap mommy & me play dates: story times, MOPS, park Day & play dates 

So I hope this helps!
 I’m in the process of building new creative play boxes for our surprise baby.

I think my big kids as excited than I am!

I love this age!

Advice for the New Homeschooling Parent

Do you ever wish you could go back in time & advise yourself during a decision making event? 

I do! As I look at my 15 yo son who is moving toward graduation as if he travels by light speed. I wish I could go back in time.
What would I tell myself if I could?
Relax. Breath. Smile. Laugh. Dance. Play. Grace. Mercy.


1) Don’t take it all so seriously. 

He’s only 3 years old (or 4, or 10 or 13) for one year! Enjoy him at the stage he is. Don’t push him to another stage before he’s ready.

Yes. Learning IS important. But not at the expense of a little heart. Lead gently.

2) Don’t feel guilty when life happens. 

So, you had another baby & didn’t start Schooling until October. You’ve been caring for a dying grandparent & science wasn’t what you planned. 

This is life skills, mama. It’s important learning. 

Our children learn how to walk through life by walking with us. It’s going to be ok. Give yourself grace.

3) Do the best you can with what you have. 

No we can’t always afford the newest  curriculum, co-ops or extracurricular activities. 

BUT, we can love our children. And isn’t that really what’s important?

4) The goal is a well-adjusted, successful HAPPY adult.    

3 John 1:4
If I can accomplish this, I will be very well pleased.

And finally wonderful mamas, it all comes back to this: 

Relax. Breath. Smile. Laugh. Dance. Play. Grace. Mercy.

How to Homeschool (with links)

It’s that wonderful, exciting time of year! Nervous new mamas begin to ask questions. 
This is an important question. You are all important mamas. Praying for you today! 
1) Pray. God has a plan. He always has a plan. He never deserts us. 

Find more information on praying for your homeschooling here.

2) Give yourself grace for not knowing everything. No one does in the beginning of anything worth while. 

List of Prayers for your Homeschool

Give Yourself Grace
3) Know your laws. This is the most important research you will do in the beginning. It is important to know what your state requires. It is also important to know what it does not require. 

Find your State Law’s Here

4) Take your time researching curriculum, planning & scheduling. You don’t have to know every thing today. You can change things that don’t work. You are not stuck. 

Reviews by Cathy Duffy are found here.
5) Enjoy your children. They are only in this stage, age or phase right now. Enjoy the journey. Relax. Don’t Stress. 
More on taking it slow can be found here.
6) Gather your tribe. You need homeschooling mamas to encourage you. Choose carefully. Friends bring sweetness to life.
Find more here
7) Socialization is a non-issue. As long as you are interacting with others, outside of your house, your children will be fine. I promise. 
More on socialization found here.