Homeschooling: Five Things that make Us Successful

In a few weeks we will begin our 7th year of homeschooling! Seven–I can hardly believe it! I remember thinking our first year was doomed. Crew was 5, Ayla, 2, and I was due to deliver Asher—a surprise baby—in the middle of the school year, right after we had spontaneously decided to move cross country. Not exactly a recipe for success!

Be it public, private, or homeschool, people everywhere are dealing with the back-to-school worries, wins, and woes, and even after seven years, I’m afraid I am still no different. This year I’m homeschooling for 6th grade, 3rd grade, and Kindergarten with a toddler in tow. Just re-reading that line that makes me question my sanity.

With all the back to school buzz, I always get a lot of inquires about our homeschool as well. People are curious:

  • Do we school all summer or take a break?
  • Do we plan for days off or just do school when we feel like it?
  • What curriculum do we use?
  • Do we ever do school in our pjs? (No, for the love, we don’t!)
  • What about socialization? (Seriously people, it’s time to stop asking that question!)

Many people assume I have it all together or that I’m some kind of homeschool supermom. How I project this image I will never understand. I feel like I’m running around like a madwoman most days! While I normally reserve this blog for the more philosophical or theological implications of life and motherhood, I wanted to step away from that voice and platform for a moment, and offer an honest, real look at our homeschool.

The truth is that I don’t actually feel like I’m doing it. Like everyone else, I’m figuring it out as we go! But I’ve learned a lot over the years. So when it’s time for us to start back up with school, I remind myself that homeschooling does not start with a fancy curriculum or a box of books delivered to our door. It starts with our intention.

The reason our homeschool and, by extension, our life runs as smoothly as it does is because I set it up to do that. I’ve figured out what my must-do’s are and what kind of support I need to accomplish them. I’ve also created a vision for our homeschool that directs our priorities and gives us a bigger reason for home education. And in all of this I’ve learned to be careful to account for my own personal needs and weaknesses.

A while back I wrote a post similar to this, but I’ve updated this one to include some new insights. So here it is: five things I do that make our homeschool a success.

1) Maintain the Core Vision— Seven year ago, before we even began homeschooling, I outlined in my own mind our reasons for homeschooling. This wasn’t about choosing an educational modality (like Classical, Unschooling, Montessori, etc.). It was more about the over-arching reasons for keeping my kids at home.

One was that we want to raise life-long, independent learners and we felt the home environment was best suited for that. We also wanted to have the flexibility to incorporate a wide variety of educational experiences into our family culture and provide an academically rigorous but also more flexible foundation for our kids than what traditional schooling options allow for.

As my kids have gotten older, keeping this vision in mind has been really helpful. It’s allowed me to direct their education in fruitful ways and given me courage when we have a string of bad days (or weeks!) and I’m wondering “why are we even doing this? This vision drives us forward and helps sort out many of the doubts or struggles that arise.

2) Make a Plan–Around mid-winter, I begin my academic planning for the next school year. Yep–mid-winter! I used to do it over the summer, but with older kids I realized needed more time to pull a plan together. Plus, I got tired of stressing about school during the summer, which should be my time “off” too. Mid-winter works perfectly. It’s a low-key time of year, and by then I also have a good idea of what’s working well, what we need to adjust, and can start looking for ways to do that.

My plan starts by spending a lot of time thinking about what milestones I want each child to reach and how I plan to help guide them.

  • I ask the question: in a year from now, where do I want this child to be?

Personally, it works best for me to keep it to 3-4 broad goals per child, usually that have to do with helping my kids achieve growing levels of independence that propel us into future years.

Take Asher (5) for example. This year I simply want to 1) get him used to doing a short amount of more “formal school time” with me, one on one, each day, 2) introduce him to basic phonics, and 3) get him working with numbers and basic math on a regular basis. Everything else is a bonus, and believe me, we’ll have a LOT of bonuses! Why? Because my plan is manageable and set us up to succeed. At the end of the year what really matters most for Asher? Is it that we did art projects every week, took field trips, learned another language, kept a nature journal, reenacted Washington’s crossing the Delaware in full costume, read 100+ books, AND ALSO finished our math/reading/history/science/handwriting curriculums? No! He’s 5. The three goals I set are what will lay the foundation for the next school year, when I will expect more from him and he will need to pick up the pace.

For Crew (11) and Ayla (8), my plans are a lot different. They’re older, have mastered the foundations, and are ready to be challenged in new ways. But the goals I have for them function the same way; they’re always paving the way to another benchmark that leads to greater independent learning.

3) Define Priorities–Once my “plan” is in place for each kid, then I can start figuring out the ins-and-outs of how we’re actually gonna pull it off. I ask questions like…

  • What are my must-do’s each day? Each week? And how am I going to ensure that those things get done? (We’re talking both school and non-school stuff here.)
  • What curriculum choices will best support my priorities? (A highly rated math that requires 45 minutes of prep just isn’t going to work for me.)
  • What expectations do I need to communicate to my kids ahead of time so they can work towards our goals too? Are there any non-academic goals I need to consider planning for?
  • Are there any special opportunities, interests, or activities I want to bring into our learning environment this year? Maybe it’s a geography fair, an educational trip, a volunteering opportunity, or extra-curricular activity we haven’t tried.

Because I am a busy mom trying to homeschool middle school, elementary, and kindergarten with a very active toddler underfoot all day, priorities are a BIG deal.

  • My mantra is this: I can’t do it all, so I have to choose the right things.

Priorities look different for every family, but what I have noticed over the years is that priorities are very hard to meet when you are not available to meet them. In other words, if I’m disorganized, trying to do too much, or just not disciplined enough to stay home and see that things get done, then they won’t get done.

I’ve found it helpful to build the rhythm of our day around what’s most important. Most weeks follow a pretty strict pattern, and that usually involves me staying home to ensure that the top priorities get accomplished. It’s also super helpful when my husband is traveling. We flex a little, but the rhythm keeps the kids focused and calm, knowing what to expect even on a stretch when Dad’s gone.

For us, mornings are school time. We are early risers, and the big kids are often working away at math by 7:45am. This means by lunchtime, they’ve clocked nearly 4 hours of solid learning time. Our afternoons are marked by quiet time for the younger kids (and mom!) and continued independent work for Crew, and then we are free for play, work, extra-curriculars, or whatever else is left in a very flexible and often unstructured afternoon. Learning happens all day, every day, and for the most part, my must-do’s get done because the rhythm of our day supports my priorities. It’s been a helpful lesson to learn and eased my stress levels when I don’t feel like I have to do “all the things.”

4) Find Support–I am not ashamed to admit that I am incapable of accomplishing the vision for our homeschool without support. No one can successfully homeschool, effectively parent multiple children, and also maintain a house, a life, a spouse, a healthy diet, and their sanity without support. I’m sorry, but they just can’t. Support is paramount for moms in general, and an absolute necessity for homeschooling moms. Moms can’t to it all!

Over the years, I’ve figured out what support looks like and also done the emotional work necessary to be ok with advocating for myself. This is a tough thing for many moms to admit, and especially difficult for people-pleasing personalities like me. But behind every woman who looks like she’s got it all together is a killer support system that she has cultivated and, more than likely, had a hard time accepting.

For me in this season of life, support looks like help with my younger two boys. Two mornings a week Huck (3) will leave the house for a few hours. This year my parents are helping out on those days, but in the past childcare has been part of our homeschool budget. Without a little one interrupting us constantly, I can plow through the critical things with the older kids and if I’m lucky, sneak in a few chores as well. On weeks when my husband isn’t traveling or too slammed with work, he also pitches in and will sometimes take the two younger boys out to run errands for a bit. It’s good Dad time for them, and gives me yet another block of focused time. I won’t need this kind of help forever, but I am unbelievably grateful for it right now.

It can be a sacrifice to make support a reality in your life but it’s super important for the longevity of your mental health and overall quality of your home. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m getting more comfortable accepting the help I need and planning for it to happen.

5) Play Up Strengths. Know the Weaknesses.–There’s a lot of wonderful ways to homeschool and many inspiring families out there who are accomplishing those things. I am not them. I’ve got to do what works for us, no matter how awesome another family makes it look. A few examples…

  • An Anne of Green Gables day? I love that idea–I would be a stressed out wreck trying to make it happen.
  • Reading aloud as a family? Sign me up! Except that I have a 3 year old who would rather launch himself off the sofa or climb the refrigerator than listen to me read.
  • Lapbooking and printables? Seriously, I could spend 40 hours a week scouring the web and cutting stuff out (ugh!) for my kindergartner to glue into a folder that he will forget about in 5 minutes.

Other things that are my weaknesses: I’m not the best teacher for math, I’m quick to shrug off science in favor of discussing a great book, and I know that if I don’t get a little down time each day, I will lose it and turn into Momzilla.

To combat this, I am a big fan of “farming it out.” Homeschooling means that we have educational flexibility; it does not mean I have to teach all the things. If there is something I am not good at, don’t enjoy, or simply don’t have the time to teach well, I look for an alternative.

Our math curriculum is a good example. It’s taken some trial and error, but I have finally found something the kids can be somewhat independent with. I still do math with Ayla and Asher, but Ayla especially can handle it with minimal time on my end. Crew does math completely online–I provide oversight and check in occasionally, but he gets to learn math in a live class with other kids, from a teacher who loves teaching math online to 6th graders. Win/win!

I also “farm out” certain things I just can’t fit into our day. Writing is my wheelhouse and while I love teaching it, my hands are full and I knew I couldn’t do it justice for Crew this year. So he’ll be taking a writing class from a fantastic teacher who also happens to be an old colleague of mine. This way, I know he’ll be well prepared for the rigors of 7th grade English come next fall (see how I’m going back to point #2 “Make a Plan” here).

By knowing my weak areas, I can better plan for them and free up my energy for the things that get me excited about homeschooling. I’ve loved teaching my kids how to read, and am so excited for middle school writing and literature analysis. I also enjoy history and social studies, and I find it easy to incorporate these things into our everyday life. My Dad also enjoys this, so we’ve brought him into the equation to guide the kids here as well. It’s taken a load off me while giving the kids a multi-generational learning experience they wouldn’t otherwise have in a traditional school environment. Bottom line: I’ve learned to play up my strengths and find creative alternatives to teach the things that I’m not good at or that simply don’t excite me.

To sum it all up, homeschooling is a wonderful privilege, but it’s also an alternative lifestyle. Most people think of homeschool moms squarely as teachers, but in reality, I spend more time curating the educational experience we’re after. I didn’t start out knowing all this and we’ve made some big sacrifices and significant life changes to make it work. But when the long day finally comes to an end and another day of school is in the books, it’s these things continually guide us onward. Seven years and we’re still going strong!

Next month I plan to post a follow up to this post that gets more practical. It’s a Day-in-the-Life style post for a behind the scenes look at how an average day actually plays out. Stay tuned!

Prophetess

“Brianna, the Spirit of the Lord says ‘Daughter, I’ve put within you a Miriam anointing. I’ve made you as a young woman that is going to carry authority, a young woman that will lead. I’ve made you as a young woman that will prophesy, and a young woman that will dance and sing . . . I’m going to hook others to your left and to your right. Daughter, I’m going to bless you, just because I love you’ says the Lord.

And I saw where the Spirit of the Lord has put creativity into you, on the inside. I even saw a pen or a pencil in your hand that you have an ability to display, an ability to bring a reflection of other things. The Spirit of the Lord says ‘I have made your life like that for me . . . Daughter I am bringing forth my dreams in you. I am bringing forth my ideas on the inside of you. You are going to be a woman where the creativity is going to flow, but at the same time you’re going to be a woman that is going to be able to stand.‘”

I was ten years old, a shy, small girl, the day these words were spoken over me. At the front of a little church, my parents next to me, a woman named Sharon Stone shared with my family what was given to her by the Holy Spirit. We had never met her before, and at the time, I had no idea what to make of what she said. I’m still not sure I do. I listened politely, and as most young children do, promptly forgot the things said that night.

But God didn’t. He brought them to pass. A few years later, living in a different state in a different house with a different world around us, God began to give me songs. At twelve or thirteen years old, I would write little ballads. Prayers set to music, mostly. I’d sing them to myself, write down the words, spend hours plunking out a few chords on the keyboard. Pure and tenderhearted psalms, the offerings of a child innocent of the world and all the things it would bring to my life.

And then one day, as quickly as they came, the songs stopped. I grew up, got a driver’s license and a job, and turned my attention to things like good grades and college essays. And I set aside my little songs, girlhood fading as I stepped forward to fill the shoes in front of me.

Adulthood came like a flash flood, and I grew up fast. A teaching job and college degree just after my 20th birthday, married a few months later, baby at 23, and three more to follow in the years to come. I was so busy teaching classes, raising littles, and trying to be a good wife to notice all that God was doing in my heart.

By 29, I had another new baby in my arms; life in yet another new house after yet another move. Three kids, homeschooling, and a husband who’s business was precariously adjusting to our new life circumstances. That’s when God woke me up–grabbed ahold of that heart He’d hemmed to Himself and opened my eyes to see His word in new ways.

Truth upon truth, line upon line. I devoured His word like never before. With righteous greed, I read the Bible straight though, cover to cover, in a month. I inhaled any text or commentary or book I could get my hands on. I took every class I could manage, listened to every lecture and podcast out there, and spent hours and hours studying, learning, digesting what He was revealing to me. How I managed to learn what I did in the all-consuming season of small children, pregnancies, and multiple moves I will never know. All I know is that when the Spirit speaks, you’re compelled to respond.

The apcoloyspe of my faith went on for years. Truth told, it is still going on. I am still up to my eyeballs in the Scriptures, studying, learning, praying, teaching, leading. Still mystified and in love with my God, with His son, with the story He’s working in this world. He has burdened my heart with so much that it overwhelms me. There is so much to share, to teach, and give to others. And even though I usually feel inadequate and underprepared, somehow He gives me the words when I need them. He guides me, humbles me, and teaches me what to say to inspire goodness around me.

So, when I began writing The Family Prophecies project, I had no lack of truth to proclaim over the beautiful family God has blessed me with. Their individual poems and prayers, their ballads and blessings all flowed from my fingertips with ease, line after line falling into place. But as I considered the collection, I realized it wouldn’t be complete without including a prophecy for myself. And that has been the hardest piece to write.

I stared at blank screens for hours, praying the words to come. But they didn’t. Nothing, for weeks. Then months. I was lost. How do you forecast your own heart, speak truth over the person have yet to become? The person you’re not sure you can become? I asked for His imagination to see myself as He does, but I came up empty every time. As usual, I seem to be able to see the needs and read the hearts of everyone but me.

But God is faithful. In the deep hours of the night, I woke up and the words were there. As they always are. And I realized they were words He gave me long ago, recalled from the corners of my mind and from a 25 year old transcript my mom had saved. I had long forgotten them, the prophecies He gave to me through the songs of my youth and the words of Ms. Stone.

In the stillness of my bedroom, all the lyrics, melodies, and meaning suddenly made perfect sense. And I should have known they would. Because long ago His servant spoke truth over my life. She told me what goodness lay inside of me and how God would use it for His glory. Even though I may have forgotten her words until recently, He didn’t forget His plans for that dark haired, dark eyed little girl. He nurtured that tender heart, cultivated that Miriam spirit, gifted that young woman, and taught me the lessons I would need to be the wife, mother, teacher, mentor, daughter, sister, and leader He is raising up within me.

The truth is that He has multiplied the prophecies of a woman I met only once and never saw again. He has breathed them back to me, because the songs I wrote way back when are the anthem of my life now. I have lived them out, unaware of their power and truth when my little hands first wrote them down.

And that’s how I know His prophecies are real. Because they are not a fortune-telling crystal ball, not a mystical prediction of my future. They are the evidence of His goodness of in life: His mercy, His grace, His plan, woven and spun through my many short-comings and mistakes; my many failures to be the covenant partner He desires. I have failed, but He has not. He has materialized the words He spoke through His servant, Ms. Stone, and answered prayers I sung over myself as a child. He has blessed me without merit, multiplying His goodness in me when poor choices and a hard heart were all I had to offer.

So today on my birthday, I don’t know that I have ever been more grateful for His grace. Because He could have let me go. He could have hidden His face from the simple faith of my child’s heart and handed me over to what I deserved when I came of age. Because boy do I ever deserve it. But instead, He looked at me with imagination.

And I think that may be the hardest part to accept. I never asked for the gifts He’s given me, and sometimes on the hard days, I wish I never had them at all. It’s easier when you don’t see the truth; easier when you just don’t care. It’s easier to be normal, to be satisfied with average, easier to blend in when His story doesn’t stand out in every blooming detail of your life. It’s easier to sleep when the words are not staring back at you in the dark.

But He never promised it would be easy. It’s no accident that a prophetess handed down His blessing to me when I was barely old enough to comprehend it. It’s no accident that He woke me up to remember. And it’s no an accident that the words just come. They always come. They remind me why He woke me up and why He’ll wake me up again.

Now more than ever I am convinced that The Family Prophecies is a story He began and left me to finish. And so when I sat up in the dark a few weeks back, I knew it was time to write the final stanza of a song I started as a child, but left unfinished. He gave me the words then, and He gives me the words today. And I only hope that I can live up to the gifts Ms. Stone saw me in all those years ago. That I can be blameless, humble, and brave enough to live out the future He is calling me into. Like I said, He’s always been faithful to me.

          Sing me a sweet melody
          with words that have wings
          to carry me through each day.
         Compose me a symphony
         of Your great plans for me.
         Make me a singer of Your song.
         And when the last note is played through
         start up again with a prelude.

        Plant me a garden
        with soil unhardened, but rich and brimming with truth.
       Teach me to till it, help me to fill it
       with the grace and justice of You.
       And when the harvest is not it's best
       water me with Your righteousness.

       Make me a tree planted by a stream
       with waters cold, and deep, and true.
       A source of life for all who seek You.
       And all around me, let seeds surround me.
      May they grow tall and point straight to you.
      And when my season is over and done
      May they be the ones who carry it on.

      Because You were the One who gave me the song.

The Song of Sweet Ayla Rae

The Song of Sweet Ayla Rae.
Lyrics by Brianna Tittel set to the melody of The Old Therebefore by Maiah Wayne.
La, la la la
La la la
la la laaa la la
La la la.

You came in the summer
Brought beauty and wonder, 
two sides of a coin, the same.
And the oak in the meadow
smiled at the willow
when they heard the sound of your name.

Fairies will dance
when they catch a glance,
when they spot your love
your tender, a dove.
‘Cause myths or real creatures
you love all their features.
They cheer at the sound of your name.
Singing songs, my sweet, Ayla Rae.
You’re strong and your brave.
Mighty, leading the way.
You’re kind and you’re good,
try to do what you should.
And you see every part,
you’re a work of ART.
Magnificent, the sound of your name.
Bright songs of my sweet Ayla Rae.
But one day it will fade,
all the magic you’ve made
and you’ll be run down.
Your head on the ground.
And you’ll sink in the shade
when tears burn your face.
When you can’t hear the sound of your name.
Lost songs of my sweet Ayla Rae.

But someday when I’m gone 
you’ll sing on this song—
recall all the truths,
the things you once knew.
When you’ve found every part,
when you given your heart,
you’ll praise the sound of His name.
Sing on, my sweet Ayla Rae.

Can you hear it now?
Trees dance with their boughs
when they hear the sound of her name.
It’s the song of my sweet Ayla Rae.

The Dream You have Become

On the day you were born I held you,
baby filling up my little arms.
Grin so wide my jawline swelled, pride bursting through my cheeks.
I couldn’t wait to tell the whole world
that my baby sister, she’s pink as a whisper
and gold as the summer's dawn.
We’ll be lifelong
friends.

Cause this life, it’s a treat. And this world is rosy.
She’s lovely and sweet, so tender and cozy.
One day she’ll know how much I love her so.

You grew strong and tall,
found words and a song.
Caught the magic hidden in life’s mundane,
and only poetry soothed when it couldn't be explained.
Stained glass cathedrals in the littlest things--
calling you forward, drawing you outward.

But this world, it’s cruel. And this life is scary.
You’ve taken some hits. No wonder you’re wary.
But one day you’ll see, you’re the work of art.

Shadows creep in. You squirm in your skin.
Doubt filling up all your safe spaces and corners.
Do you have what it takes to offer something that’s yours?
To leave a mark that opens some doors to the light?
Dust on your mantle and broken chair pokes your back,
yet the light seeps in through the tiniest crack.
Soaked right down through your skin, flooded your heart deep within.
Gave you strength to stop the swirling and get back on track.
Like water to ice cubes and flour to cake
The work of soul-building, it’s not for the faint.
One day you’ll find, the doubt is all in your mind.

Cause this world, it’s rough. And this life takes grit.
You’ve weighed the hard things. Had to fight for all of it
But today you’ll show up, and you’ll be the best self you’ve got.

Crystal from dust, and sparkles from rubble.
A jeweled montage from all of life’s troubles.
You sought out the divine
and found your own design.
Like a tapestry woven in you
His love and abundant life.
A gift to your family, your glorious ways.
Magnificence staring you back in the face
when the mirror shows you, a reflection of grace.

Tomorrow brings joy 
and trials aplenty
You ask for a reason, 
I’ll give you twenty
For why you must know…

That this world, it’s rich, and this life’s a journey.
To choices and truths, you’ve yet to face many—
Enchanting milestones, broken heartbones, 
Sundrop dune rays, cracked mirror displays,
Life in the minor key. Joy more than you thought it could be.

But I hope that in this great maze, 
through the seasons and doubts and the haze,
I hope that one day you’ll see, 
you’re already who you dream to be.

The Wedding Blessing

He made you and formed you from the flecks of the earth,

dust and divine together, pressing.
And He chose her for you,
and for you, God picked him.
Together to live out His blessing.

Each of you grew tall in wisdom and stature.
But apart, never knowing the other.
Until He said, “Now it’s time,”
and He brought you to find
a love that stirred your hearts for each other.

Because Hallie, He knew who you needed.
He knew how you waited and pleaded.
And He blessed your faith, and walked you with grace
to the man who will love you for life.
It’s a gift to be his wife.

And Kent, he’s prepared you for her.
Shaped and refined every part.
She’ll give you her all,
and stand firm by your side,
so that you can hold her heart.

The journey together will test you.
It will sting and strip bare your spirits.
And when those tests come,
may you remember to run,
to the One who will see you straight through it.

Because together is the place
where His plans have no end.
A place where life’s meaning is clear:
to have and to hold, and yet lay it all down,
to know and be known without fear.

So today as you vow
and today as you say
“it’s you forever, my love,”
may His favor shine on your beautiful story,
and may someday your children reflect all His glory.
Because today, the two become one.