Tuesday, February 18, 2014

It will be ok.

Lately, I've noticed that my reading habits have changed. Not the novels I choose, but the articles I save and read in the cracks of my days. When we started homeschooling, three and a half years ago, I filled my feed reader with homeschooling blogs. I couldn't get enough. I never really searched for the "right" way to do anything, but I loved seeing other perspectives, taking bits that seem to work for other people and sewing them into the seams of our own lives. I still enjoy that, but I have far fewer blogs in my reader these days. I'm no longer looking for The Answer.

I am FAR from having figured everything out. (I don't believe there is such a thing anyway.) We still struggle with routines, and I still struggle with documenting/journaling. Among other things. But I have made a major shift after three and a half years of muppet-flailing through this homeschooling adventure. You see, we've figured out what we like and what works for us. We still try new things. Sometimes they work. Sometimes we fail miserably. The difference now is that I worry less about those problems. Of course, we work on making things better. Always. But now I focus more energy on our successes and building on them than on those failures.

My mindset has shifted from What did I do wrong? or What can I do next? to simply doing. Being. Bird watching. Or whatever else is working.

Only saw a hawk, but still a good afternoon.

Sure, some days still suck. In fact, I had to stop writing this post last week because, as I explained to my husband via text: Worst. Day. Ever. Of course, it wasn't actually the worst day, but, like I said, some days suck. Some days will always suck, no matter if we homeschool or not. The great thing that I've come to appreciate is that we can make those sucky days (or weeks) better.
Together.
Because we're a team.
And I like my team.

While my mind isn't preoccupied with the search for the next great homeschool resource, I do still follow a few favorite blogs, and I read interesting homeschooling articles or posts when I see someone else pointing them out. But I'm choosier now, and I don't have quite such a voracious appetite for those posts. I try to engage in discussions about homeschooling when I can, but more often now I find my attention pulled in other directions: great books/movies, writing/publishing, my community, and what the world might look like when my girls step out into it on their own. I still want to read and write and talk about homeschooling, but less.

What's the takeaway of all of this? Well, for one, I'm posting here less, but I'll still be around from time to time. Second, while I still like to read and keep an eye open for ideas, I know that The Answer for us is not Out There. It's here. With us. I might find clues out there (oh, yes, I am SO grateful for some of the clues to our successes that I've found in the corners of the internet), but ultimately our success and happiness depend on our choices and attitudes. Ours. Not someone else's.

Finally, if you're new to homeschooling or you're feeling the mid-year slump, remember that it's going to be ok. We all make mistakes. We all get tired. We all need to shift gears at some point. Trust your gut, change directions, try something new, or just do something better. It will be ok. Three and a half years doesn't sound like a lot of time, but it feels like a much different place. I have a relaxed confidence now that I didn't have before. Even on that "Worst Day Ever," I believed that things would work out, either on their own or with a little tweaking. After three and a half years, I truly believe, It will be ok.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

DIY Moleskine Planner

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a tiny Amazon credit to feed my book habit.  I was not asked to review any of these products, and all opinions expressed are my own.

***


Is there anyone out there who doesn't love a good notebook/journal/planner? Especially when it's a pages-like-butter-Moleskine? I'm pretty sure I have an unhealthy relationship with mine. For good reason. I've been searching for eons for The Perfect Planner. I've tried pre-made ones, a binder with printed sheets, pocket calendars, and everything else. I came close with a homemade spiral bound one I put together with my own printed sheets, including planning pages I designed specifically for my own needs. It was close, but not exactly what I wanted, because I couldn't throw that in my purse. Back to the drawing board . . .

Last year, I gave up the search. I bought a Yellow Moleskine Grid Notebook, and I am never looking back.

Isn't she lovely?


Let me take you on a little tour of my beautiful planner-baby, and show you step by step how easy it is to make your own perfect planner.  Whatever that looks like for YOU.  Because, ultimately, your planner will be a reflection of your brain, so if you want one of your own, take ideas from what I've done and make something that works for you.  If you recreate mine exactly, you'll be carrying my brain around, and that would just be weird.

Ok, where do we start?  Oh, yes.  At the beginning . . .


I printed a yearly calendar and shrank it to fit.  Boom.  Year at a glance.

Now comes the fun part.  Monthly pages.  I only do one or two months at a time, because I never know how many pages I'll need for notes in between months.  Plus, I like the ritual of sitting down at the end of a month and looking ahead at the next by creating a new set of pages.  Here's a look at the page I started for February. I couldn't in good conscience show you a current/past month filled out, because, well, there are lots of kooky folks floating around that I probably don't want knowing our schedule.  So for that reason and because I love you all, I set up next month a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.


As you can see, I use 6x6 blocks for the days (except for Thursday and Friday, which fall in the crease, and are bigger to accommodate that), which leaves me plenty of room each month no matter how the days and weeks fall.  This also gives me a full column on the right to use for weekly tasks/goals/notes I don't want to forget, and space to list monthly goals at the bottom.

***Please note the wonky lines, especially down around the end of the month. Can you believe I used a ruler and still managed that? Probably had something to do with writing on my lap or on the dog. THIS IS OK. I promise. This is a Just Get It Done kind of system.  Perfection is unnecessary, and, frankly, unwelcome here. Ahem. Moving on. ***

I try to use colored pens whenever I can, because (and this is very important) I love color and I'm visual and I like coding things that way. You might be a strictly black pen kind of person.  It's all good.

Moving on to weekly pages . . .

I only set up one week at a time. You might feel the urge to count out all the pages in your notebook and draw all your monthly calendars and set up every week so you'll know exactly where to put everything and you're going to want to yell at me because you want to know these things ahead of time and how can you live like this?! Resist this urge.  You can still keep future appointments and birthdays and such on your phone or on an online calendar. With this book, you don't need to have everything planned  and marked ahead of time. The beauty of this system is that it is fluid. Flow, baby. Flow.


Again, I would love to show you a page all filled out, but . . . kooks. So, this is a new week half set up. If you've seen anything about Bullet Journaling, this is sort of like that. But different. I didn't even realize that was a thing until recently. Major differences are that I'm visual so I like to see my month drawn out (instead of a list, but that's quicker, so it that works for you do that) and I like to block things and I have set places for my days and notes.

In the photo above you'll see that I have each day written out on the left-hand page. Each week, I refer to my monthly calendar and write down any appointments or tasks that are date-specific.  I use square check boxes, but I like the bullet journaling idea of using boxes for tasks and circles for events. I might start doing that.  I usually make two columns of tasks for each day (except Sat & Sun, as you can see they're smaller), putting household stuff and appointments on the left side and writing related work or personal projects on the right side. Quiet, sit-down tasks. It doesn't always work out this way, but it gives me another visual organization option.

The right-hand page is where the magic happens.  This is my weekly brain dump. Here I keep a list of weekly goals (with check boxes!), a running to-do list, writing tasks, shopping lists, or whatever else I'm working on that week.

Every once in a while, I add in a page set of just notes.  Blogging ideas, story notes, homeschool ideas, writing prompts (which I then forget to use, doh!), project lists, etc.



But WAIT! You might be panicking wondering how I ever go back and find these lists and notes. The bullet system suggests making an index page in the front of your journal. I am way too careless/inconsistent/scatter-brained to keep up with that.  Plus, I want to SEE my bookmarks.  Enter Washi Masking Tape. This stuff is brilliant, it won't tear your pages, and it's super cute and colorful. Also? It makes excellent bookmarking tabs.  Fold it over a page, leaving a little stick out, and BOOM. Tabs. You could even let them hang out far enough to write labels on them, if you are so inclined.


*** Once again, notice the ragged tape edges. I promise you, I am surviving JUST FINE like this. I don't have time to find scissors or measure the length of my tape pieces. I just rip a piece as needed. If you do have that kind of time for unnecessary perfection, I don't know what to say to you. Congrats? Oh, and we can't be friends. Just kidding. Maybe. ***

I like to put tabs along the side for my monthly calendars, and I put tabs at the top to mark important note pages. You can also use different color tapes to mark different types of notes.

So, that's my planner-journal-brain-baby. Have I mentioned how much I LOVE it?  I do. I really, really do. We are besties.

Do you make your own planner or do you have any planner-making tips you'd like to share?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 13 Posts from 2013

Howdy! I hope you're enjoying the last few moments of 2013. It's been pretty quiet in this space, as I'm in a bit of transition again. Something's gotta give sometimes, and lately the thing that got cut has been this blog. I'm working on my word for 2014 at the moment. Lots of personal growth for me, so while I still have many thoughts and projects I want to share here, I need to focus on myself.  I may share some of that here. Or in some other space. I'll let you know. I'm not abandoning this site, so if you want to catch the updates (as random as they might be in the year to come), you might want to subscribe to my feed or by email in the sidebar.


For now I'm closing out the year with an "In Case You Missed It" post.  These are some of my favorite and the most popular posts from this past year.  I've been lamenting the fact that this has been a pretty craptastic year, but in assembling this list, I realized that we had some pretty good times, too.  Here's to more good times next year.

Happy New Year!

Top 13 Posts from 2013

November - Learning to Love an Interest You Hate 

September - Projects with the Five Year Old

August - Our Curriculum 2013-2014

July - Fox Encyclopedia Project

July - Project-Based Homeschooling: Finishing

May - Preschool Science: Learning by Doing  and  Cleaning Pennies

April - Advice Fail

April - Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Documenting & Forward Motion

April - Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Supplies & Environment

April - Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Getting Started

March - Momentum Magic

March - Paving the Way for Projects

February - Planning Less, Doing More


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Learning to Love an Interest You Hate

I don't know if I've mentioned it on here before, but I loathe Pokémon.  I understand that the game might be fun and the videos seem to present valuable lessons.  Still . . . blech.  My children morph into screeching, flailing wildlings after they watch an episode or play the Wii game.  If you haven't seen one of the videos, let me fill you in on something: Pikachu has the most annoying battle cry EVER.  Hands down.

So, there's my secret.  I hate Pokémon.
Unfortunately, my children love it.  The card game.  The characters.  The videos.
Everything.

I'm sure you have some annoying interests running rampant in your house, too. Believe me, I understand the urge to draw the imaginary line and say, "No more!"  I know the feeling of ENOUGH.
Hang in there.  
Really, you can bear it just a little longer.  
And if you do . . . well, I can tell you firsthand that there's gold at the end of that rainbow.

Wooper

Instead of banning what I feel is The Most Annoying Interest Ever, I gritted my teeth, plugged my ears, and let it ride.  Good thing.  If I had given in to my annoyance and instituted a household Pokémon ban, or even if I had placed severe limits on it, I would have missed out on some really amazing stuff.

First, the kids got binders and card sleeves and spent hours sorting, examining, organizing, and trading the playing cards with their friends.  That alone was incentive enough for me to stick with it a while and let them have their annoying interest.

Then, things got really interesting.  My oldest also had an interest in learning how to sew.  She had just learned a couple of basic stitches and liked sewing simple stuffies, mostly little muslin pillows with creatures drawn on them.  After my mother gave her a huge box of felt sheets, she decided she wanted to make a Pokémon stuffie out of felt.  She looked up a favorite character, and *poof* she made a replica.  No instructions, no pattern.  Just desire, time, and creativity.


There are tons of these little guys now.  I mean, this photo doesn't even scratch the surface.  My favorite is Wooper up there in the first photo.  Isn't he adorable?   I love seeing all of those stuffies and seeing how her skills have improved with no instruction.  She self-taught, through trial and error.  Adjusting based on her own mistakes and successes.  I love that.

Of course, it didn't stop there.  Next came the colorful interpretation of a Minecraft ghast.  In this one she figured out (again, on her own) how to make a pocket for the mouth.  She made it big enough to store her Pokémon stuffies in there.  Ingenuity, I tell you.

New Version of Minecraft Ghast

It was hard for me, but somehow I resisted pointing out sloppy stitches or explaining how she can make those seams line up better.  I do love that she barrels through these projects, but part of me worries that she rushes and doesn't care about getting things *right*.  Then, I remind myself that everything doesn't have to be final draft quality.  She can leave her projects in a sloppy first-draft state if she wants to.  They're her projects.  Of course, I would like her to have a little more attention to detail sometimes, right?

Enter the dragon.
Oh, this dragon is amazing, but for some reason I don't have a decent photograph of the completed project.  Just some of the pieces in progress.  It's huge.  It's amazing.  And, of course, detailed.  Because it was important to her.



Then, she broke out the D&D Monster Manual.  I walked into the room one day and found her working on a kobold.  This one actually required a pattern.  Normally she doesn't use patterns, but as her work gets more complex, she's learned to plan ahead a bit.  Again, not a lesson she was learning from me, try as I might to pound that into her brain.  No, she had to figure that out for herself.  Which, of course, she did.  Once I stepped out of her way and let her learn it on her own.


Don't forget the trickle-down effect.  If one kid's doing something, guess what the next kid's going to want to do eventually?


When I think about all the skills that Ella has learned and all the projects she's worked on since she first became enamored with Pokémon, I can't help but feel a little warm and fuzzy about all the inspiration my kids have gotten from it.  I certainly can't say I hate it anymore.  Am I going to sit down and watch an episode with my girls?  Heck, no!  But those weird little things are welcome here any day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Foxes, Foxes, and More Foxes

Remember back when I talked about "finishing" and how projects don't really have clear beginnings and endings sometimes?  Well, you didn't really think the fox encyclopedia was going to be the end of all things fox here, did you?  Trust me, foxes still rule this house.  Unfortunately, I'm not permitted to share all the drawings, comics, and other creations the ten year old is making.  Some of them are tucked away in this folder:


Of course, I had to make her the perfect fox shirt for her birthday a couple of months ago.  It wasn't a surprise, because I wanted her to have a say in the colors and selecting fabric.  Still, it was much appreciated.


But what I REALLY wanted to show you is Ella's Halloween costume.  Designed and made almost entirely by her.


Super simple, worn with an orange shirt and black pants.  Love it.  I only helped with machine sewing the tail, because it needed to survive a rowdy outdoor event before the big day.  I would have loved to teach her how to do that part herself, but we both lacked patience last week and . . . well, deadline.

So, as you can see, we haven't quite moved on from foxes here.  There are other interests and projects floating around as well, but foxes still rule.  We're even talking about getting some foxtail ferns, because how do we not have those yet???

I hope all of you who celebrate have a fun and safe Halloween!