Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: homeschooling
Showing posts with label homeschooling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homeschooling. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Gilbert Gottfried, Myotonic Dystrophy and the Unplanned Homeschooler

Gilbert Gottfried, well-known comedian and actor with the unmistakable voice, died from complications of myotonic dystrophy type 2. According to his publicist, his death was caused by ventricular tachycardia, an arrhythmia associated with myotonic dystrophy. This rare disease, which affects only about 1 in 10,000 people, is a form of muscular dystrophy which, according to the Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation causes a host of "varied and complex symptoms, including skeletal muscle problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, early cataracts and heart, breathing, digestive, hormonal, speech, swallowing, diabetic, immune, vision, and cognitive difficulties." 

This week may be the first time you've heard of myotonic dystrophy. To my knowledge, no other celebrity or well-known person has been diagnosed with the disease. Because it is so rare, you may never even meet anyone who has it. But I know it well, because my husband and at least two of our three kids are afflicted. 

I first learned about myotonic dystrophy a few years ago, when my husband's brother called to let him know he had been diagnosed. My husband had been showing symptoms for some time, too, but we didn't know what was going on. Both of my husband's parents died relatively young, but we're pretty sure that the disease came from his mother, who had mobility issues and a lot of other health problems in the decade before she passed. 

My kids tested positive

Around this same time my older daughter was going through a barrage of medical tests, because of pain, fatigue, hypermobility and a myriad of other symptoms she had been dealing with practically since birth. She had already been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, a connective tissue disorder, but that didn't explain all her symptoms, so we were traveling the state visiting specialists in genetics, neurology, rheumatology, cardiology and more. I mentioned to the geneticist that her uncle had tested positive for myotonic dystrophy, so they ran another test looking specifically for the mutation. Just before she turned 18, my daughter was officially diagnosed with the same disease.

The geneticist suggested we test my son, even though he did not have all the same symptoms as his twin sister. We knew that because myotonic dystrophy is caused by what is called an autosomal dominant mutation, there was a 50 percent chance of him having the disease, too, but we were hopeful. A week later his test came back positive, too.

My youngest has not yet been tested, as the geneticist insists it is better to wait until she is close to 18 and can decide for herself if she wants to know. But she and her brother were both also diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome, so it is impossible to tell if her pain and fatigue are due to that or if she is also showing early signs of myotonic dystrophy. She, too, has a 50 percent chance of having myotonic dystrophy so it is just a matter of waiting to see how the test turns out. 

There is no treatment for this disease. There is no cure. It is a chronic disease that slowly robs you of your mobility and puts you at high risk for many other complications, some of which can be life threatening and many of which contribute to daily pain. There is some new hope in the form of CRISPR gene editing trials which have shown some promise with similar disease, at least in mice. 

Homeschooling with myotonic dystrophy

My twins are 20 now, and are finishing their first year as full-time college students. They've been living with their diagnoses for a couple of years. It hasn't been easy. Myotonic dystrophy wuld be tricky enough on its own, but combining a muscular disorder with a hypermobile connective tissue disorder in the form of Ehlers Danlos syndrome is just awful. Faulty muscles and faulty joints combine to cause tremendous pain and require enormous energy. 

Living with this pair of rare diseases means looking at life differently. As we wrapped up the twins' final year of high school, we worked closely with the Disability Services office on the university campus to make sure they were able to succeed in their concurrent classes. We spent a considerable amount of time considering potential majors and what sort of careers they could maintain long term, even if they are in a wheelchair full time well before retirement age. 

My twins can't party like average college students. They've been warned not to drink alcohol or even consume energy drinks because elevated liver enzymes can be a problem with myotonic dystophy. They've had to be extra careful during the pandemic because their disease can cause respiratory and cardiac complications. And they have to work extra hard to maintain good grades because they are on scholarships, they both intend to pursue graduate school and if they blow their academic standing they would have an extremely hard time finding work they could physically do while trying to finish school.

I may not be homeschooling my twins anymore, but supporting them through college is still important. They decided to stay home and attend the local state university because the campus is smaller and easier to navigate, and because they would not have to live in the dorms. Parking is still an issue sometimes, though, especially when the weather is bad, and their schedules don't always match up so I spend a lot of time helping one or both of them get to class. 

Looking to the future

The cardiac complication that Gilbert Gottfried died from can often be addressed with a pacemaker. It is recommended that people with mytonic dystrophy get evaluated regularly for complications with their hearts. They also have to stay on top of other health issues. Young adults can be resistant to making their own appointments and taking care of their medical needs, but the only way to live a full life with myotonic dystrophy is to be very proactive in your care. I am working to encourage this with my twins, and even with their dad. 

I am scared of what the future holds for my kids, but I am oddly encouraged by the life of Gilbert Gottfried. His career evolved as he got older, and presumably lost a lot of his strength and mobility. He pivoted to more voice work and less stand up, but he lived his whole life as an entertainer, doing what he loved in one way or another. 

I am still doing everything I can to help all three of my kids open doors to opportunities to pursue what they love. Their paths may be limited due to their disabilities, but there are always ways to find what you want and need in life if you stay open to the possibilities.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

How is virtual school going?

 Hey there! I see you, parents of newly virtual schooling kids. I know a whole lot of you, maybe most of you, would have never chosen this option for your children's education if not for the pandemic. Maybe you are doing virtual school because that is all that is offered right now in your district, or maybe because your family has one or more high risk members you want to protect. Perhaps you are out of work, or working from home, and you just wanted to give this whole school-at-home thing a try. Or maybe you've been toying with the idea of homeschooling for a while, and this seemed like a good way to see if it might be a fit for you and your kids without committing to doing everything on your own.

Whatever the reason you've chosen virtual school, I hope you and your kids have a fantastic school year!

Our family has never done virtual school, although believe me, I was tempted by the idea of it when we first decided to homeschool. One of the main reasons I decided to do traditional homeschooling instead of virtual public school was that my older two kids were still quite young. I didn't think teaching first grade to my twins would be so tough, and at that time I really only expected to homeschool for a couple of years, until my youngest could start pre-K. 

Another factor was our slow and unreliable internet at that time. Rural areas and small towns really are so far behind when it comes to internet service, and that is a huge hurdle, I think, to providing a quality virtual school experience to students across the board. 

Anyway, we made the decision to homeschool instead, so I have never actually had the experience of virtual school. I have a good friend who is an experienced virtual school teacher, and know many families who have been happily virtual schooling for years, so I know it can work well. I've also known families who had poor experiences with different virtual school platforms, so I realize it doesn't always work well for every student.

If you have chosen virtual school for your kids, I really do hope that you have a great experience. If it is not what you had hoped, I do have a couple of suggestions, having worked with hundreds of homeschooling and virtual schooling families over the years. 


It is extremely important that you communicate regularly with your virtual instructors, and that you communicate well. Be specific about issues you are having, and don't wait until the last minte to reach out. If you are not able to form a cooperative relationship with your child's instructor, and you feel that your child's education is at risk, please reach out to someone higher up the chain. You may be able to switch instructors, or even enroll in a different virtual school or switch to homeschooling if problems cannot be resolved.

Define your goals

It is important, when deciding which path to take, that you carefully define your goals. I am, obviously, very much in favor of homeschooling. But it is not the right path for every family. If your goal is to get back into the neighborhood school classroom as soon as possible, particularly if your child will be in high school in the coming year, homeschooling may actually throw them behind, because many high schools refuse to accept homeschool credits from students who are transferring.

If your goal is to preserve your child's eligibility to participate in their local school's extracurricular activities, you may want to carefully look at whether switching to a different virtual school would take away those opportunities. Be aware, though, that there are often homeschool sports, music and other extracurricular options available if you should decide to leave the virtual school, and in some states, homeschooled kids must still be allowed to participate in extracurriculars at their local public school. 

Your goal may be to simply provide the best education possible for your child, regardless of the format. In this case, homeschooling may be an awesome option for your family if you find that virtual school is too limited or too demanding of screen time, or just isn't a good fit for whatever reason.

Virtual school isn't homeschool

Be aware that in most cases, virtual public school is not considered homeschool, even though it is done in the same place and may use many of the same resources. This is true regardless of whether you are doing virtual school through your local school district or through an online public charter school. Both virtual public school and homeschool are valid educational alternatives, but families have very different rights and responsibilities depending on which they choose.

For those who are embarking on your first semester of virtual school, I wish you the best. I hope your children have skilled teachers who are able to adapt to the format easily, and that they are able to enjoy each and every one of their classes. 

If that is not the case, and you do find yourself considering homeschooling, either for the year or forever, please reach out to experienced homeschoolers online or in your community for support. And check out my book, The Unplanned Homeschooler: My Disorganized Path to Homeschooling Success, available free for a limited time on Amazon. You do not have to take on this venture alone.   

Monday, August 31, 2020

Raising up resilience

It has been a while since I've written anything for my blog. The stories I wanted to write didn't seem like all mine to tell. Such is often the case when you are writing about the lives and experiences of your children, especially if your childen have disabilities. Although the things my kids were going through affected me as well, it still didn't feel right to talk about publicly unless and until they seemed ready to share. But like many homeschooling moms, I've discovered that in spite of challenges, I have been raising amazing, resilient young people and they are excited to pursue their goals in whatever manner they can.

I have three children. My twins, 18, and their little sister, who will be 13 this month. Yes, I am about to be a mom of three teens! This is an exciting time in our lives. The twins are seniors this year. They started concurrent enrollment classes at the local university last semester, and are taking more classes there this fall as we concentrate on applying for admission and scholarships for their freshman year. My son is leaning toward a career in the medical field, and my daughter is interested in finding her niche in the entertainment industry. My youngest is entering middle school and has interests as varied as any you might imagine. 

Dealing with the pandemic

This year has not been too difficult for us, as far as dealing with the pandemic is concerned. Homeschooling had already prepared us well for learning successfully at home, and although we all missed some of the social aspects of our routine, at least the educational components of our lives weren't thrown suddenly into chaos. 

Actually, taking the extra precautions we've needed to take, primarily due to my younger daughter's heart condition, has given us something of a season of rest. You see, before Covid-19 arrived on the scene, we were exceedingly busy. We had appointments scheduled multiple days each week, many of which were more than an hour away because we live in a small town. Some appointments took us hours away from home, and all had to be scheduled around the twins' college classes. 

Facing tough diagnoses

The last couple of years were spent in what seemed like a rolling snowball of of doctors and tests. My kids, all three of them, were preemies and had been dealing with mysterious issues since they were born. The twins qualified for speech, occupational and physical therapy in preschool, but we didn't know the underlying reason for their challenges. I've spent their whole lives looking for answers, but it wasn't until they were in their teens that things started to come together. Without going too much into their diagnoses, I will simply say after seeing two geneticists and multiple other specialists, we finally had definitive answers, and they were discouraging. 

It is not easy to receive life-altering diagnoses, not as the patient and not as their parent. I think having an imposed break in all the appointments, due to the pandemic, gave us all time to catch our breath. The kids' medical conditions aren't going to go away, and whatever poking and prodding and physical therapy and other work needs to be done will still be waiting when we're ready to resume. But for now, it is good to have time to focus on other things, like their college applications and dreams for the future.

Still chasing their dreams

Homeschooling has helped me to raise overcomers. My older daughter has spent a lot of time researching different jobs in the film industry, and various paths to the type of career she wants. She's spent time thinking about the limitations she might face, whether due to her mobility or tolerance of heat or cold, for instance. The flexibility she has experienced as a homeschooler has given her the ability to envision different ways to accomplish her goals.

My son's diagnoses seemed to light a fire under him. I'd done my best to open as many doors as possible throughout his education, making sure that he learned the basics and had plenty of opportunities to study subjects of interest, but he'd been pretty committed to "Undeclared" as his major until this year. Recently he has started to take a hard look at the type of career he really wants, and what sort of labor he will be able to physically do over the long haul, and he's working hard to make a plan and go for it.

My little one, who was born with a heart defect and has dealt with overcoming disability her entire life, is watching her older siblings as they deal with the challenges they face now and those that will come. She won't be tested for the same disorder until she is older and can consent on her own. Part of me just wants to know now, but I understand that it needs to be her decision. Whatever happens, she's one of the most resilient people I have ever known, and I have no doubt she will find her way.

Homeschooling made a difference

I'm not sure if my kids would have been as ready to face their challenges if I had left them in public school. By the time they finished kindergarten, the twins were already dealing with setbacks. My daughter felt like a failure on the playground, and was going hungry from the limited time she had to eat lunch. My son was drowning in a classroom that was so mismatched to his learning style he seemed doomed to fall through the cracks. Homeschooling allowed them to learn in ways that suited them, and to succeed in ways that they might never have discovered in an overcrowded school.

If you are reading this, you are probably already considering homeschooling. I encourage you to give it some serious thought, especially if you are dealing with a medically complex child. Every child has dreams, even if some of them may come with limitations. Homeschooling may be just the thing to help your child build a legacy of success and gain the courage to explore all the possibilities that await them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Don't overload yourself this year

In the weeks leading up to a new school year, many homeschooling parents become anxious about how much their kids will accomplish. Will their little ones learn enough to stay on track with their peers? Will their teens earn enough credits to graduate as planned?

It's so easy to get overwhelmed, not just in the planning of it all, but in the day to day execution of the school year itself. How can you keep from getting buried under a stressful mountain of schoolwork and administration this year?

Believe me, this is something you'll want to avoid, not just this year, but in the years to come, as subjects get tougher and the lessons get longer. I've seen what homeschool burnout can do to a mom, I've even felt it a time or two, and it's no good for you or any of your family.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

If I can do it, you can, too... or maybe not

"If I can do it, you can, too." It's a message we hear repeated over and over. It's an attractive and affirming sentiment that I'd never thought about much until one of my kids casually said, "Nuh uh," at the end of a television commercial.

It got my attention, such that I actually hit pause on the TV remote and asked what he meant.

"I can't balance on a soccer ball," he replied, noting the stunt the actor on the commercial had performed. "I don't know how they can do those things, but I can't. And don't even say I could if I practiced really hard. I know what you're thinking."

He was right. I have always had a strong tendency to believe that you can do anything you put your mind to, and that with enough hard work and practice comes success. And even though I know that there are exceptions, I've always really come down firmly on the side of, "If I can do it, you can, too."

It seems like such a positive affirmation, but is there a problem with the idea of, "If I can do it, you can, too," especially when it comes to homeschooling? What if you or your child genuinely can't?

Here's the thing. I was the type of student to whom most subjects always came pretty easily. With the exception of foreign languages, which were difficult because of a hearing impairment, learning things in school was as simple as paying attention and reading the required material. It just sunk in. And learning things as an adult has been just about the same.

But the problem is that if learning comes too easily, you might assume that it should be easy for others, too. If you can do it, they should be able to, too, right? Well, maybe or maybe not.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Where is this road taking me?

After one of the hardest years of my life, I thought the road was finally straightening out, but just like that it took another twist. Where are we headed now?

I don't know of anything that makes you feel more like a powerless backseat passenger of life's journey than dealing with the prolonged illness of a loved one. That's exactly the road I've been traveling with my mom for the past year.

You might say she's had one the worst years of her life, or the best, depending on how you choose to look at things. It's been a solid string of events that, one after another, it was a miracle she even survived. For that, we are immensely grateful.

When things went downhill

This time last fall, my mom started to feel bad, and it kept getting worse. Her blood pressure kept climbing, no matter what her doctors did to adjust her medication. Finally, after changing her cardiologist, a blockage was discovered in a renal artery, but not before her blood pressure had reached such high and sustained levels that she had multiple small strokes and ended up hospitalized right before Christmas.

Surgery was scheduled for her kidney, and one problem was fixed. But open heart surgery was on the horizon. Less than two months down the road, she was under the knife again. Within just a couple of weeks after the bypass, it was clear she was not out of the woods.

Another surgery to correct more arterial blockages followed, after weeks of excruciating pain. Apparently when you unkink a hose up the line, any blockages downstream scream out in agony from the new pressure.

Things were looking up

The third round of vascular surgery stopped the pain, and soon my mom appeared to be truly on the road to recovery. We said so many prayers of thanksgiving, knowing beyond a doubt that she had narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions this year.

It looked like clear road ahead. We started our new school year and got a few chapters into Algebra 2 and Geometry, signed my youngest up for co-op and started preparing for driver's ed with the twins. Things were going smoothly enough we even scheduled my older daughter's tonsillectomy, for just about the time the water park closed for the summer. I even started to revive my blog.

My mom, at age 70, was getting better, albeit slowly, and we all started to feel like we could take a deep breath and put this difficult season behind us. But the late summer cold she caught kept holding on, with a cough that refused to go away and shortness of breath that seemed to be a harbinger of trouble to come.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Homeschooling when Mom is away

Last month I had to prepare my husband and my kids for a week without me, as I planned to spend my days at the hospital with my mom while she recovered from open heart surgery. Like most of the homeschooling moms I know, I spend the majority of my time with my kids, rarely getting away for more than an afternoon or evening at a time. And even if I do leave town for a couple of days, perhaps to attend a convention or fulfill a speaking obligation, I typically don't worry about keeping the kids' school schedule on track during my absence.

But knowing that I would be gone for nearly a week, or maybe more, and not wanting to burn time off that I would rather spend doing fun things this spring, I decided to keep my chindren homeschooling all throughout my time away.

Whether you have to be away for just a couple of days or an extended period, here are a few good ideas that may help you keep your homeschooling routine on track while you are gone. They helped me, and I was glad to come back from my week away and not find the kids a week behind in school.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Sometimes I just can't...

I think this post has been a long time coming. It's not easy to let your guard down and write something like this. I'd so much rather just maintain the illusion of being a successful, happy homeschool blogger and mom! Yeah, I know, I totally had you buying into the myth of my awesomeness, right? But I feel like I need to write this, if not for my own cathartic release then for the other homeschooling moms who are going through similar circumstances right now.

Here's the thing. Sometimes I just can't.


I talked to a couple of my best friends yesterday, after nearly two weeks of no contact. It's not like me to go so long without talking to my friends. I usually need contact and communication. One of them had asked the other whether she'd heard from me, but she hadn't. I had not even been on Facebook for more than a few minutes each day. It was like I had fallen in a hole.

And in a way, I had. I was in an emotional black hole, and it was one of those times I just couldn't. I couldn't deal with e-mails or messages on social media. I couldn't deal with talking on the phone. I didn't even want to think about going out around people. I managed to keep feeding my kids and providing them with assignments, so they wouldn't fall behind on their lessons, but I was worn out.
Maybe it was hormones. Or the Benadryl I was taking everyday to survive the ragweed in the summer air. Maybe it was the hot, sticky, 95 degree September days that felt more like 110. Or perhaps it was the blahs that seem to set in every year about a month and a half after we start back on our regular school schedule. I don't know.

All I know is that for a while, all I really wanted to do was crank up the air conditioner and hide under a blanket. And a part of me wondered why celebrities are able to retreat to a cushy hospital suite for a week to be treated for "exhaustion" and that option isn't available to moms.

We're the ones who really need that!

No break for you!

Even though I couldn't run off to a spa, I did try to take care of myself during this time. You might notice there is a gap in my blog. I took a little break from writing and played Plants vs. Zombies instead. I've been leading our local homeschool group for more than seven years, but I basically took the last couple of weeks off from managing that, too. I gave myself permission to stay in my cave and rest, as much as I could,

Homeschooling is a full time, year-round commitment that sometimes lasts decades. I think we're kidding ourselves if we think there won't be times that we run out of gas and need to take a break to recharge. Whether this is your first year as a homeschooler or your fifteenth, you've got to allow yourself to float through those occasional times that you are just mentally, emotionally and maybe even physically spent.

Brighter days ahead

I went out yesterday, to my youngest daughter's monthly co-op day. And I spent the afternoon painting at the library with my friends and our kids. I feel like I have made it through another slump, and I am excited for the activities we have coming up over the next few weeks.

I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with homeschooling and all your other mom duties, you can take some time, even just a day or two, to regroup. Don't be ashamed to ask for help from your spouse, family or friends. And remember that it happens to most, if not all of us. It doesn't mean you are failing, and things will definitely get better if you can just get some rest and then reconnect with people who make you happy.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

I have so much more to learn about history

Tonight I watched a video called "The Fallen of World War II" that has been going viral on Facebook. It explains in great detail how many people were killed, both military and civilians, in every country involved in the war. It shows the deaths in relation to one another, and spread along a timeline, and even has links where you can interact with the data to learn more.

As I watched the video, I was stunned at the sheer number of deaths, and more than that, at how little I knew about various aspects of the war. I have so much to learn.

Public Domain,

I studied history in high school and college, and was an excellent student. But when I started homeschooling my own children, and learning alongside them, I was ashamed and embarrassed by how little I had even been exposed to in the classes I took. To say that the depth of knowledge presented was shallow would be an understatement. My classes barely skimmed the surfaces of the topics that were covered, and so many topics were left as untouched as pristine, shimmering, newly fallen snow.

In recent years, I have dived into long documentaries by Ken Burns and other filmmakers. I have read biographies, autobiographies, and historical accounts of Marines who faced unthinkable horrors in the Pacific, a bomber crew that was shot down behind enemy lines and then beaten to death by a German civilian mob, children who lived through the war on both sides, and more. But I have so much yet to learn.

Watching the video tonight, I realized that I know next to nothing about the war on the eastern European front, where the vast majority of casualties occurred. Is it because I grew up in the Cold War, during which any sympathetic reference to the Russians would have been taboo? I don't know. But I want to know. I want to know more about the siege of Leningrad and the mass casualties in the Battle of Stalingrad. I want to know what effect the loss of so many millions of young fighting men and civilians had on the Russian people, and what that means for them and for us today.

I feel blessed to be a homeschooling mom. This summer, my kids will be reading both "The Diary of Anne Frank" and "On Hitler's Mountain" - the first written by a young Jewish girl who died during the war and the other written by a woman who spent her childhood just down the hill from Hitler's compound, living in a Nazi family with limited access to any news unapproved by the Nazi regime, but still silently questioning why things were happening the way they were. We'll be watching the Ken Burns documentary, "The War."
We've visited our local World War II memorial, dedicated to the men who perished on submarines, and were privileged to meet and talk with a veteran of the war. We've also recently seen FiFi, the last flying B-29 bomber. I don't know what else we might do to study World War II, but I think it is important that we continue to learn, and that my kids realize at a much younger age than I did how much there is to learn about this war that truly changed the world.

You can watch the video here, and hopefully be inspired to learn more, too.

The Fallen of World War II from Neil Halloran on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to plan the perfect co-op class

If you've been a homeschooler for very long, you might find yourself in the position to teach a class in your local homeschool group or co-op. Although some folks come by this skill naturally, for others, teaching a group of students can be a daunting prospect.

Teaching a homeschool co-op class can be an extremely rewarding and enriching experience, though, and seeing you take on the challenge can inspire your children to tackle opportunities of their own as they get older. So, here are a few simple and easy tips to help you plan the perfect co-op class, your way!

Friday, November 27, 2015

I'm a homeschooler, I can do anything!

I wasn't planning on going out shopping on Black Friday, but thankfully there weren't any lines at Locke Supply when they opened at 7:30 this morning.

I had to run down there first thing to get a part to fix my furnace. The furnace quit working in the wee hours of the morning the night before Thanksgiving. I was still in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the baklava I had decided to make for the first time this year when my daughter tiptoed in and said, "I think there is something wrong with the furnace. It made weird noises and now it won't turn on."

I checked the breakers, but they were fine, so I flipped the power switch off and back on, to reset the unit. I could hear the blower start and the gas come on, but there was no familiar whoosh of ignition.

I took the cover off the unit, but couldn't see an obvious problem, and never having worked on a furnace, I took the safest route and turned off the gas and the power supply until I could figure out a solution.

It wasn't just the middle of the night, it was Thanksgiving! Even if I could somehow find a repair person to come out on Thanksgiving in a small town, I worried about how much that would cost.

So, I wrote down the model number of the furnace and set to work, trying to figure out what might be wrong with it, to minimize the cost if I could. At least if I narrowed down the problem, it might help save a little time, and when you're calling for HVAC repair on Thanksgiving, time is money.

As I researched the issue, educating myself about furnace parts and how they work, I learned that the most likely source of this particular problem was the ignitor. But I didn't know where mine was, or how to change it.

Enter YouTube! You can learn anything on YouTube. So far this year, I have fixed a toilet, replaced a keyboard on a laptop, fixed a refrigerator, and now, repaired a furnace using tutorials from YouTube. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I pulled an all-nighter, reading everything I could find and watching tutorials, but by mid morning, armed with knowledge, and confident that I could find the ignitor and at least check to see if it was cracked or damaged in some way, I returned to the furnace. While my sweet potato casserole was baking, I found the ignitor and managed to carefully release it's bracket from the frame so I could see if it was indeed the culprit.

As you can see here, the old ignitor, on the right, was clearly damaged. It was cracked so badly that once I had it fully removed, it virtually crumbled in my hand. But the good news was, I knew without a doubt that this was the source of the problem, so I put off calling a repair person and decided to hope the temperatures outside wouldn't drop too much by the next morning.

Thanksgiving in northeastern Oklahoma was mild this year. It was rainy, but unseasonably warm, and the cloud cover helped to keep temperatures up through the night. By morning on Black Friday, it was starting to get cool outside, but inside the house was still comfortable, and for that, I am so thankful. I might not have been able to put the repair off until the store opened this morning if not for the nice weather.

At 7:30, when the doors opened, there I was, perhaps the only early bird shopper that particular store would see. But I got my new ignitor and headed home to make the repair.

I handled the new part carefully, making sure not to get any oils from my skin on it, because the tutorials said that could increase its chance of failure.

Installing the ignitor was challenging, because of the tight fit, but I took my time and put in in place gently. Once I replaced the screw that held the bracket in place and hooked up the wires, I turned back on the power and the gas.

The ignitor glowed bright red before igniting the gas. You can still see it faintly glowing in the photo above.

And then, whoosh, all the burners were lit and there were beautiful blue flames once more! I did it! For just over $33.00, tax included, I fixed my own furnace and didn't have to call a repair person at all. I'm not going to lie, I'm so proud of myself I still can't stop smiling!

But here's the best part. While teaching myself how to fix a furnace, I couldn't help thinking this is exactly what homeschooling is all about. My kids watched me tackle this repair, and they were proud when I told them I could fix it, but I'm going to teach them how I learned what I did, from finding the model number on the unit to researching parts. I'm going to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that we can do anything as long as we are willing to put in the time and effort to learn, and of course, take the appropriate safety measures to do the job right.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

This weekend I made barbecued pulled pork for the first time ever. Although I am a serious bacon enthusiast, I never liked pork roast and I figured the folks who made the barbecued pork I loved had some secret method I could probably never master at home.

But after having some at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago, my youngest asked me if I couldn't make it for her, so I said I would try. I asked one of my friends for instructions, bought a good sized pork butt, some onions and barbecue sauce, set my slow cooker and went to bed.

I woke up hungry the next day, after smelling that delicious pork cooking all night long. By lunch time, I could barely stand it. We had plenty of food for our family, my parents, and lots of leftovers, and all for less than we would have spent on pizzas.

Sometimes you have a moment when you can't help but wonder, why, oh why haven't I been doing this my whole life?

It occurred to me later that homeschooling is sort of like that for a lot of people. You see other people doing it, it looks good, you're kids want you to try it, but you figure that's not something you could ever master at home. Those other families must have some secret method you could never learn.

But the truth is, like barbecue, there are a million paths to homeschooling, and each one can turn out wonderfully in its own way.

What's the best way to learn how to homeschool? Ask around. Homeschoolers are eager to share their secrets, and happy to encourage you along the way to success.

When it comes to trying something new, too often we let our fear of failure keep us from experiencing something truly amazing.

I didn't know if I could homeschool, either, until I tried it. And although getting started wasn't quite as easy as making some phenomenal pulled pork, it was every bit as satisfying. By the time my first year as a homeschooler was over, I had to ask myself, why hadn't I been doing that from the beginning?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

When did all my friends become homeschoolers?

I first noticed it when a few of the moms in my homeschool group started hosting parties for things like Usborne Books, Thirty-One Gifts and Mary Kay. Several offered me a chance to host my own party, at home or online, and earn free gifts. But nearly all the people I might invite to a party had already been invited, because we were all in the same circle. All my friends were homeschoolers!

Had I managed to sleep through a social revolution, whereby homeschoolers had taken over the planet? Sadly, no, but just think about how much fun that would be. Alas, I knew that homeschoolers were still a small but growing minority in our society, so I had to ask myself, when did all my friends, at least the ones I see on a regular basis, become homeschoolers?

The ever changing friends list

If you are like me, you've probably noticed that your friendships have changed as your life has evolved. In college, your friends seemed like they'd be a part of your life forever. But graduation came, you got jobs, everyone moved off in different directions. I still have a few close friends from college who I really love, but it's hard to stay close when you're literally hundreds of miles apart.

Sometimes it's hard to stay close even when you're living right in the same small town. But as marriage, parenthood, work and other commitments take up time, you end up choosing who you'll spend your time with, often based on how much you have in common.

Homeschooling is a major lifestyle choice. It tends to put families on a different schedule than their public schooling peers. It shines a light on those who are critical and disapproving of your choices, and challenges those who feel threatened or judged by the fact that you chose something different for your children than they chose for theirs.

As shallow friendships fall to the wayside, the door is opened to new friendships, often with other homeschoolers who share much in common with you. You may miss the friends who've gone their own way, or you may even be relieved to be rid of some of them, because you've changed so much you just aren't compatible with one another anymore.

The change is gradual, but one day you look around and notice, like me, that you are surrounded by other homeschoolers... and you like it!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

An open letter to neighbors of homeschoolers in the wake of tragedy

This summer, in a quiet neighborhood populated mainly by older residents, the unthinkable happened. Two teenage brothers, Robert and Michael Bever, allegedly murdered their parents and three siblings, ages 12, 7 and 5, and critically injured their 13-year-old sister fleeing the family home. The police found the youngest member of the family, a two-year-old girl, unharmed.

This happened in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa less than an hour from my home town. News of the tragedy jarred the community, the state, and thanks to extensive media coverage, the world. But one of the groups of people who were most shaken - excluding the family and friends of the victims, of course - were homeschoolers. 

What did homeschooling have to do with it?

The fact that the Bever family homeschooled their kids was featured prominently in every report, some including quotes from neighbors who blamed homeschooling for isolating the kids. Comments from every corner of the internet vilified the parents and cast suspicions about abuse and neglect, largely because they chose to homeschool their children.

But no one can know for sure why the Bevers' oldest sons committed this heinous crime. Millions of students in America are currently homeschooling without incident. It's not right to blame homeschooling for an isolated crime among millions of successful students, any more than it would be right to blame public schooling every time a public schooled teen commits a violent act.

What really shook me up the most, though, was the thought that my own neighbors might not answer any differently than the folks in the Broken Arrow neighborhood if, God forbid, anything awful ever happened in our home. So I wanted to address some of their potential concerns, and those of other neighbors of homeschooling families, right now.

Just because you don't see us, doesn't mean we're not out

A while back, my elderly next door neighbor caught my dad and asked if we had moved, "Because I never see them." Part of me wanted to laugh, but I was also upset because the kids spent time outdoors almost every day, and that conversation seemed accusatory and threatening to me.

I wanted to tell her that most of the time when the kids go out in the yard during the summer, they usually stick to the back yard, not the front, and often wait until the evening when it is cooler and they don't have to put on sunscreen. During the day, when the neighbors occasionally come outside, we are usually inside where it is cool or out at the pool with friends or splashing in the creek at Grandma and Grandpa's. 

Our schedule doesn't match public school

When my neighbors happen to notice my kids out playing in our yard during the day, they probably think we should be doing school. But if we're spending a weekday afternoon at play, it's because we take advantage of pretty days when it is not too hot or too cold, to just enjoy the weather. 

And that's okay, because we homeschool year round, on our own schedule, and we complete more than the 180 days required of public school kids. Sometimes we're doing school on Saturday, or in the evening, or even on the 4th of July. Maintaining our own schedule is totally legal and very common among homeschoolers.

My kids have lots of friends

My neighbors probably haven't seen other kids hanging around our house, so they might naturally think my kids don't have any friends. But the real reason they seldom see other kids hanging around is because we have so many friends it's much easier to meet at the park, or at the library, or to rent a space big enough to hold us all. 

More than 90 people showed up at our last Halloween party, and our normal park day averages more than 20 kids. I wonder if the neighbors would really want all our friends parked up and down the street every week, because that's how often we meet on average.

We're not crazy, but we are weird

Yes, we are Christian and we are homeschoolers, but we're not crazy fanatics hiding in a bunker downstairs waiting for the end of the world. We chose to homeschool, like many families regardless of faith, because we feel that it is the best educational option for our children.

Our kids, like most homeschoolers according to recent standardized test data, are working at or above grade level. They're learning all the same subjects that kids in public school study, although with lots more hands on learning opportunities and field trips.

We are different, though, and some may even say weird. We're okay with that. My kids are a little old-fashioned in their values, a little out of touch with the hottest fashion trends, a little uncomfortable with typical junior high social behaviors like bullying, and a little behind the times in their musical preferences. But they're masters of kindness and the ability to get along with people of all ages.

Don't judge homeschooling by its worst examples

Please don't look at a tragedy like the one that happened in Broken Arrow and judge all homeschoolers just because that family happened to be homeschooling. No one knows that homeschooling had anything at all to do with the motives of those young men, and even if it did, that doesn't mean that all homeschooling is bad.

If you have homeschooling neighbors, and you are really concerned about how often you see the kids playing outdoors, why not take the step to introduce yourself and get to know the family. Chances are, the mom or dad who stays home with the kids would welcome a friendly chat, especially if you come bearing a plate of brownies, and you might discover that the family is a lot more socially active than they first appear.

Please remember the millions of homeschoolers, like my family, who are happily educating their kids the best way they know how, and who are perfectly content with their friends and activities, even if you don't notice them hanging out in their front yards and playing with the neighbors.      

Thursday, July 2, 2015

What inspires your kids?

As homeschoolers, we have a unique opportunity not given to other educators. We get to spend time with our students, around the clock and for years on end, getting to know them as no one else can.

We're not like ordinary classroom teachers. We don't have a new class full of students every year, all coming from widely varied backgrounds, about whose home lives we can only guess. Our time with them is not limited to a scant nine months, a veritable blink of an eye in which to make an impression.

We're not like ordinary parents, either. We generally don't have to rely on a muttered, "Fine," or "I don't know," to glean a bit of information about our children's day in the few hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime. Our days are largely spent with our kids, learning together and socializing with families we are able to get to know one on one.

So, as homeschoolers, we might expect to have a better insight into our own kids than most, if only because of the gift of time we're able to spend with them, both on a daily basis and over the years of their childhood. But still, many of us wrestle with the question of how to effectively inspire our children to learn.

The magical key to learning

Wouldn't it be nice if we could find the magical key to learning and just unlock every bit of potential in our kids? If only we could hone in on that one amazing thing that inspires them like no other.

But in truth, most kids don't seem to work that way. They're remarkable individuals whose interests and fascinations change continually. It's okay if for a while they seem obsessed with one thing, be it dinosaurs or Barbie, Minecraft or bugs. And it's okay if suddenly, they're completely over that interest and on to something else.

Whatever excites your children's imagination, whatever gets them motivated to play, explore, practice and learn, those things are our keys to more inspirational learning experiences.

Building on inspiration

I've used lots of my kids' interests to enhance our homeschool experience. A few years ago, when my twins were raising a pair of fancy mice, Cocoa and Fluffy were frequent features in their art and writing samples. More recently, when I realized that they were filled with passion for Minecraft, we enrolled in a few sessions of Minecraft Homeschool to incorporate their love of the game into studies of creative writing and ancient history. And when my son discovered an enthusiasm for roller coasters, we used that to study physics and descriptive writing techniques.

My youngest is seven, and her greatest inspiration at the moment is our puppy, Loki. Loki makes her happy, and like many homeschoolers, she enjoys school more with her dog by her side.

He even inspires her school work. Take for instance the haiku she wrote last week.


Loki is a dog
He won't give me his red ball
Because he loves it

As a homeschooler, you have the gift of time with your kids; time to see what truly inspires them and encourage them to follow those inspirations and learn more. Don't overdo it by painting their whole world the color of their current passion, but build on their inspirations, in simple ways, as if you were adding splashes of their favorite colors to a room. Look for ways to incorporate what they love into their learning experience, and you will make homeschooling that much more memorable and exciting for them. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When your husband is not on board with homeschooling

Lately I have been seeing so many posts online from distraught moms whose husbands either don't want them to start homeschooling or want them to put their kids back in public school. They are begging for encouragement and advice on how to move their husbands' hearts.

This has to be one of the hardest situations to find yourself in as a wife and mother. You're torn between wanting to stand united with your husband in one of the most important parenting decisions you can make, and needing to address your child's physical, emotional and academic needs. Frankly, there aren't any easy answers. But there are some important factors to consider.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Are you a lonely mom?

How do you meet people and make new friends?

That was the question I kept asking myself. For years I was a very lonely mom, wondering how I could make friends and develop relationships when all the other moms I met were either too busy to hang out or seemed to already have all the friends they needed.

I loved being a mom, and was thrilled to be able to stay home with my kids, but I felt so isolated without friends to hang out with. My college friends had all gone in different directions over the years, and my closest mom friend was hours away. Although we talked on the phone just about every day, it didn't make up for the loneliness I felt.

Isolated by circumstance

My twins were preemies, born during RSV and flu season, and their doctor insisted that I keep them home, away from germs as much as possible. So I didn't get out of the house much when they were babies. By the time they were active toddlers, it felt like I was outnumbered by far more than two to one whenever I tried to take them out anywhere without my husband or another adult. Besides, it was hard to find mommy and me type activities that were welcoming to mothers of multiples.

I thought that when they started preschool, I would meet other moms, schedule play dates and build some lasting friendships. But it didn't happen.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How to start a local homeschool group

Around five years ago, I decided to start a homeschool group in my community. There was a co-op that met nearby, but I wanted more of an a la carte style group, where people could participate in the activities that interested them and skip the ones they didn't without making a year long commitment.

The response was slow, but we soon grew to several families. Over time, dozens of families joined us, some staying and others moving on, until eventually we grew to a thriving group with nearly 100 families with no sign of slowing down.

Just a small fraction of the families in our group today.

Homeschooling is steadily growing all across the United States, with well over 2 million estimated homeschooled students today and continued growth expected. There are homeschool groups in most large communities across the country, and many areas offer more than one. Even rural areas often have at least one local homeschool group within an easy drive.

If you live in an area without a homeschool group, or the selection of nearby groups is simply not a good fit, you may be considering starting your own. Starting a homeschool group is not so hard, but it will take some patience and dedication. Here are some things to consider.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yes, you can teach science at home

Let's talk science! I've noticed that one of the subjects parents are most nervous about teaching at home is science. Whether it is because of the equipment needed to do laboratory science or the fact that many people had limited exposure to math and science in their own education, parents are often nervous about taking on the STEM subjects on their own.

But you don't have to be afraid to tackle science. In fact, homeschooling can be an incredibly effective way to explore the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math. 

Exploring, discovering, solving problems

According to Dr. Patricia Fioriello, “STEM education attempts to transform the typical teacher-centered classroom by encouraging a curriculum that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and require students to actively engage a situation in order to find its solution.”  

This type of exploratory learning is what kids do naturally when they are allowed to seek knowledge on their own.  Clearly, the engaged learning that is the goal of STEM education is possible to achieve at home, you just have to give your child access to the tools they need to learn.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Creating a cozy reading space for your child

I can't really say enough about the importance of reading. There are so many benefits that kids can reap, either by reading on their own or by being read to by a parent or loved one. Not only does reading help build cognitive and communication skills, it can also increase self-esteem and creativity, according to the Family Literacy Foundation

But how can you encourage your own kids to read more, especially if reading just isn't their favorite activity? One great way is to create a cozy reading space especially for your child. Here's how to do it right.