Feb 222013

My son confidently explains an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York.

My son confidently explains an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in New York.

Socialization has been on my heart lately, as my oldest child nears adulthood. I worry that he will not believe in himself, having lacked the opportunity to prove himself in daily interactions with a large group of peers. I wonder if he knows he has what it takes to succeed.

We’ve by no means been isolated. From church youth groups to classes to summer camps, visits with family and friends, travels, and regular life about town, my children have had many opportunities to interact with people of all ages in various situations.

They enjoy participating in activities away from home. The separation anxiety that can trouble younger children was entirely absent from my children in years past. On the contrary, they barely remembered to wave goodbye! (One of them did experience intense separation anxiety as a toddler, but that was shortly after his father had left the family. It was entirely mitigated, I assume by a stable home life.)

As they progress through their teens, this carefree, almost lackadaisical attitude to exploring the world is translating to bigger experiences, such as camps away from home or short vacations with friends, and the upcoming job search. My son’s annual two weeks at Camp Hammer, beginning the summer he turned 16, have provided a great “test flight.” Significantly, he reported absolutely no homesickness.

“Homesickness and Growth in Children,” an article published by Psychology Today, reports “Most cases of homesickness seem… to be associated with a child’s fear that he/she does not ‘have what it takes’ to survive without family.” The absence of homesickness suggests that, contrary to my fears, homeschooling has taught my children they have what it takes.

While waiting in the Express Service lobby for my van recently, I was questioned by a polite young man in his 20’s. “You homeschool? I noticed the sign on your van.”

“Yes, I’ve homeschooled since the beginning, and my oldest is almost 18.”

“I was homeschooled.”

Shocker! I was waiting to give advice to a young parent. I asked him how it had turned out for him. “Academically,” he explained, “It worked. But I felt very unsure of myself when I left home.”

Obviously, this exacerbated my current worries. “Did you come through that OK?” I asked. Now, what was he going to say? “No, I’m still really insecure and that’s why I exude confidence and respect while talking to complete strangers”?

“Oh yes, I’m fine now!” I think this young man was realizing something important, as was I. He explained how he had gone on to college, lived with his grandparents for a while, and now worked successfully – from home. Apparently, the years his parents had invested at home had somehow built a strength into him that had carried him through that difficult, but temporary, adjustment to life as an adult.

I think we both left the conversation with a deeper understanding that quietly, through the years, homeschooling imbues kids with the social confidence needed for life.

By Columba Lisa Smith

Dec 052012

If holiday stress is leaving your homeschool a little frayed around the edges, I have a handy trick for you. D.E.A.R. stands for “drop everything and read.”

The wandering, whimsical learning styles of some children can conflict with the increased schedule pressures we tend to put on ourselves at this time of year. Especially when my children were younger, if our stress level was rising during the school day I would reach for our latest book. Reading time was like a “reset” button for our home’s atmosphere. It gave us a mental vacation from the routine, and diffused our stress.

During the very early years, my children loved The Story of Ping, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Good Night Moon, The Runaway Bunny, Love You Forever, and too many more to list!

Longer books we’ve enjoyed included Black Beauty, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, the Little House series, the Narnia series, The Yearling, Call of the Wild, Pride and Prejudice, and many more. Alone, my children have explored the Redwall series, many horse stories, a plethora of science fiction, and some of the G.A. Henty historical fiction adventure stories.

I used to think, because reading was so fun, it might be a waste of school time. How silly is that! Dropping everything and reading was a great investment in my children’s education. Even as teenagers, they are captivated by stories. We’re currently loving Great Expectations, and it’s neat to hear their analytical comments and insights. They’ve learned to read between the lines and notice metaphors and hidden messages.

What books has your family enjoyed?

By Columba Lisa Smith

Nov 252012

When I was a young girl, I was a Brownie. I was an indifferent Brownie, with no interest in amassing the yellow project badges that other girls wore regally on their brown uniforms. But I did earn one badge: Housekeeping.

The ironies in my life are endless.

I remember a determined English housewife inviting us girls into her neat, stone cottage, and closely scrutinizing our bed-making efforts.

“Smooth out the sheet! My husband and I don’t want to sleep on that crease!”

It’s a funny thing: to this day, I have smoothed out creases on every bed I’ve made. Her words followed me, whispering their domestic instruction to my inner Brownie, decade after decade. Smooth out the sheet! Heaven forbid that anyone be tormented by a crease under my roof!

Never underestimate the power of an English housewife. And don’t underestimate the power of the important lessons you’re teaching your children.

They remember.

What childhood instructions have stayed with you over the years?

By Columba Lisa Smith

Nov 102012

I’ve been rethinking schedules. I’m getting really tired of them, actually. However, to be balanced I admit that they can be very helpful. I’ve lived it: My homeschool has sometimes hummed along the tracks of a well-planned schedule like the German Regional Express, allowing us to explore the hidden “villages” of science and literature, take field trips, eat a healthful diet, and even clean the house.

A well-planned schedule can take a homeschool through pleasant scenary at a peaceful pace.

On the other hand, a schedule can be a tyrant. All it takes is the desire to help our children reach their potential, with a little self-doubt and guilt thrown in. I’ve lived that, too.

Too busy!

Our culture promotes time management and good organization like a saving religion. The highest virtues, it seems, are over-activity and achievement. Both demand a rigid schedule. In addition, we homeschoolers often hear about the dazzling accomplishments of other homeschooled children. These stories are intended to encourage and inspire, and they certainly can; but taken as a standard, they can sow stress. They have at times compelled me to build ambitious schedules that drained the creativity from our homeschool.

A schedule is supposed to serve the family, not the reverse. When it blinds us to the creativity and freedom of real life, it has become a runaway train, endangering our relationships. We feel its relentless condemnation when we can’t keep up; or, if we do miraculously stay on track, we become smug and difficult to live with. We awake seeing only the schedule, not the day before us with all its opportunities and creative twists and turns.

Let the day unfold as it will. They’re only young once!

If your schedule is creating stress, I suggest hopping off the train for a while. Walk some interesting trails through the landscape of your children’s interests. Allow the days to unfold as they will. The results may be richer than anything you’ll reap from a demanding schedule.

Off the beaten trail – and the schedule!

By Columba Lisa Smith