A Day in the Life of an Expat Homeschooling Student Mom

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There are tons of posts out on the Google about a day in the life of a homeschool family.  I thought about writing one because I find it so fascinating to read about how other people spend their days.  There are as many ways to approach family learning as there are families, and it can be super inspiring and even liberating to read people’s different schedules.  And since this is my personal blog, and not a family blog, I decided to approach it by giving you a glimpse of my own daily routine. Because I’m a mother, my life is intricately woven into my children’s lives, so my schedule will inadvertently show you how school works for them.

8:00am    Wake Up
I know, right?  Reason #1 why I love homeschooling.

8:00-9:30    Workout and Devotions
Because if I don’t do these first, before I leave my room, they won’t happen later.  This time also involves daily What’s App’ing with my friends and family who are just going to bed back in Canada.  In general, this hour and a half to myself is my sanity saver for a mom who never saw herself homeschooling and spending all day, every day with her kids.

9:30-2:00    Kids School Hours
The kids usually wake up around the same time as me.  They have their own morning routine which they take care of at their own pace, without me.  Get dressed, brush hair, make bed, eat breakfast, take vitamins.  When their list is complete, they can watch Netflix or play Minecraft, or whatever suits their fancy until 9:30.

We start by reading the Bible together.  Right now we’re working our way through the book of Romans.  We chat about it and pray together.

Most school days we move right from Bible into History.  We are in year two of The Story of the World, which is all about the Middle Ages.  There is a reading we do together, usually map work, maybe coloring for Abby, sometimes a short video, occasionally a related read-aloud, or other supplemental activities.  Josiah often has additional reading and writing work to go with the topic of the week.

20150212_2443We usually wrap these 2 subjects up by 10:00 or 10:30, and the rest of their school day is free to structure as they wish.  J & A each have a weekly checklist including each of their school subjects and how many times they must work on that subject each week.  It’s color-coded.  Red for subjects that must be done every day, like math, independent reading, chores, and writing.  Black for subjects that only need to be tended to 1-3 times a week.  Josiah’s black subjects include typing, logic, coding, and Arabic.  Abby’s include spelling, grammar, geography, and handwriting.  And green for subjects we do together or at least with mom or dad’s lead, in varying amounts throughout the week.  These are things like history, science, art, and family read aloud.

20150224_2709Josiah does much of his daily work independently, so I basically just check in now and then, or answer his questions as they come up.  We come together for green subjects, which I’m grateful for, since it’s nice to still do some work with him.  Abby needs more of my assistance in getting started on certain subjects, or even leading her in them.  She asks a lot more questions throughout the day, and regularly interrupts her brother for social time.  This is an obvious personality difference..  At some point in the day, they will usually decide together that it’s time for recess, and head outside to play or just do something loud and boisterous in the house.  And at lunch time we go over whatever memory verses we’re working on for the week.

One day a week we get together with our homeschool co-op for various activities, like yoga, art, or whatever one parent has become inspired to organize.  The kids only do their red subjects on co-op day.  There is also a homeschool swim day at the Hilton every Thursday morning, so if we reach the end of our week and decide we need play and social time more than work time, we scrap our checklists and head to the pool.

During the chunks of time the kids are working independently, I do housecleaning stuff and take care of the couple of things on my daily to-do list.  Occasionally I’m doing planning for the next day during these blocks of time. Because the kids also do chores at some point in their school hours, they are completely done housework and school work by 2:00, just as Dwayne arrives home from work.  There is no more expected of the kids after this, other than dinnertime help.  They’re free to enjoy their childhood.

2:00-4:00ish  My school work
20150331_3024Once Dwayne is home and school is done, I usually take anywhere from 1-3 hours to work on my classes for my Natural Nutrition diploma.  This is a big undertaking, so I’m chipping away at it every day.  I also aim to do some writing during this time, as well as my Arabic work on Rosetta Stone, if I have any mental energy left.  Dwayne and the kids usually play together and have down time during these hours.  A couple of days a week J & A have activities during this time, like ballet, drama, DI, and basketball, so I take my school books along and do my work there instead.  Or some days I skip this work section entirely and I head out to do errands or we go out as a family to do something fun.  These days though, we hunker down with the a/c and wait for the temperature to drop below 40 before going out.

After 4:00ish  Dinner and free time
At this point we figure out dinner, and then the evenings are our own.  We have a few evening commitments through church and Dwayne has played volleyball, flag football, and soon dodge ball, so sometimes the kids tag along to play with other kids there.  But for the most part, after dinner, our work is done and our evenings are free for relationships and relaxing.

I love my daily life.  It’s seriously dreamy for me.  I wouldn’t change anything about this routine, even if I could.  Some people would say to me, “Well you’re lucky that you have time for such and such because your daily routine allows for it.”  But, it’s important to note that we made certain intentional life choices to create this sort of life.  We chose to homeschool, in part, so that life wouldn’t be so hectic and that we’d have more control over how to direct our learning energy.  And I am very blessed to be able to work on a diploma right now, without having to work outside the home, but that was a benefit that came from this whole big package of choosing to move overseas for a season.

All of these good daily things came along after very difficult decisions, loss, and surrender.  We sacrificed good things for better things.  It wasn’t easy to pull our kids out of a great public school.  It wasn’t easy to walk away from a job I loved.  It wasn’t easy to sell our dream home and leave our family and friends behind.  To be honest, we did not see why God was asking us to make some of these decisions at the time.  But, in hindsight, we can see that he had a very different life in store for us.  And as hard as those experiences were, and still are in some ways, we wouldn’t trade the people we are now for the people we were then.

So, for this season, this is what a day in my life looks like.  I have learned that our life is anything but stagnant, so I don’t know how long this particular routine will last.  But for now, I am spending my days investing in the people and tasks that are most important to me.  And although I have moments of insecurity about how our kids are being affected by our decisions, I am convinced that they are getting an amazing life education and are firmly grounded in God and the love of family.  That’s the best kind of school I could hope for right now.


Finding Joy At The Tombs

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We find ourselves smack dab in the middle of one awesome new homeschool co-op here in Al Ain.  A handful of families who believe in homeschooling and also know the benefit of pooling resources, ideas, and efforts.  In the short time we’ve been here, I’ve found great solace in the weekly company of these moms.  But more than just time for the moms, we’re also building community as families.  Today, one of these dear families arranged a field trip to the Hafeet tombs.  This UNESCO world heritage site is home to burial tombs that are almost 5000 years old.  And since our field trip started at 3:00, the dads got to join in too.

I must confess, my morning was pretty rough today.  A few emotional blows that left me crying in bed instead of homeschooling my kiddos.  But I picked up and dusted off, and found these 7 blessings this afternoon:

1. Seeing things built 5000 years ago.  This is not a common occurrence in North America.  It’s hard to fathom, but so cool to see.

20141201_05022. The tombs are nestled in the shadow of Jebel Hafeet mountain, which is sparse, jagged, and stunning.  Climbing, exploring, and photographing- all soothing to my soul.

20141201_04683. I discovered that I can take a selfie with an SLR camera.  Abby asked me where the button was to turn the screen around for selfies.  Oh, 21st century.  You’re hilarious.  Look what you’ve created. 20141201_04814. Josiah is practically moving out soon.  I see glimpses of graduation photos in the near future, but feel like I was just capturing his chubby toddler cheeks last week.  Thank you Lord, that I can be with him every day right now, because I can’t soak this up enough.

20141201_04605. I think Abby might be the bravest person in our family.  She navigated this scary looking peak like it was nothing.  I was shaking in my boots.  Or rather my sandals, because I was clearly not properly outfitted for this field trip.20141201_04886. That little group of cars down there is what I like to call our Al Ain homeschool parking lot.  4×4 recommended.  Location subject to change.  Seriously.  Have I mentioned recently that I am so grateful to educate my children this way?20141201_0496

7. These four, all together.  My favorite. 20141201_0486



Foreign Field Trips

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I have really fallen in love with homeschooling.  It’s only been 14 months, but it has given me such joy, and been such a great fit for our family.  How we all choose to educate our children is such a personal family decision, and is all wrapped up in different personalities and needs and circumstances.  I’m grateful that we have choices, and I’m grateful that we found our way, down this very unexpected path, to home educating.

I have also, surprisingly, started to fall in love with the expat life.  With being a foreigner.  Despite the most obvious difficulty of missing loved ones back at home, there is a lot to love about moving to another culture.  It’s such a privilege to learn about different people and lifestyles and values.  And these two pieces- homeschooling and life in a foreign land- really came together this weekend.

In history, the kids and I are studying the middle ages this year, having worked through ancient history last year.  This past week brought us to the rise and spread of Islam in the 6th and 7th centuries.  All of us have been so interested in learning more about Islam and the Muslim faith since we’ve been here.  No one more than Josiah- he is so full of questions all the time about this country, the countries surrounding us, and the faith and ways of the different people groups we’ve encountered.  It’s been so good for my heart to see his curiosity rise again.  And even more than that, it’s been amazing to talk about what our faith in Jesus really means.  The conversations that we’ve had about spiritual matters as a result of our time here have been so real.  The similarities and differences between Muslims and Christians.  The different expressions of Christianity world wide, and what really lies at the heart of the gospel.  The principles true Muslims strive to live out, versus those portrayed in western media.  It’s been so fantastic for deepening the kids understanding and personal commitment.

So, we’ve decided to park ourselves here in this part of history for a few weeks longer than the curriculum calls for, in order to really soak up and study more about the UAE and the Muslim people.  We were given some really helpful resources from the Zayed House of Islamic Culture here in Al Ain, and I often catch Josiah reading ahead because he can’t wait until we get back to our family reading.

20141107_0303For further enrichment, I asked myself the other day, “I wonder if there is a mosque nearby that would allow us in and give us a tour….”  …..?  Seriously?  I temporarily forgot that we live an hour away from one of the most beautiful mosques and significant tourist attractions in the world: The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  I’ve actually been dying to see it up close since we arrived, but in the week we were in Abu Dhabi, we were adjusting to the time change, dealing with a puking little girl, and generally trying to figure out heads from tails.  Being tourists took a back seat to figuring out how to be residents.  But now!  Now we are residents, and we have the privilege of combining the joys of homeschooling with the joys of discovery in a new land.  So off we went to Abu Dhabi.  We started with some time at Corniche Beach, since the mosque doesn’t open to the public until late afternoon on Fridays.  And also…. I love the beach.  Any time we’re in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it’s pretty much a given that I’d like to spend some time listening to the waves and dipping my toes in the gulf.

But then, we were off to enjoy the beauty of this place of worship for so many.  We missed the guided tour, and didn’t find the self-guided tour supplies until we were almost done our time, so we still have plenty more to learn about this mosque.  But, I’m sure we’ll be back, as we plan on bringing all our family and friends for a tour when they come and visit.  It’s so amazing, and so close, with so much to study- it will likely become sort of a given that we take a field trip there every year.  Kind of like the Chilliwack Corn Maze.  Only not so muddy.

mosque front family

mosque front20141107_031420141107_031620141107_0326b20141107_032920141107_033320141107_033620141107_035520141107_0370

Why is a square a rectangle?

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It’s possible that I am the mother of the world’s most literal thinker.  Or at least a boy who is still firmly grounded in the concrete thinking stage.

One of the questions in Josiah’s math book this week said this:square a rectangle

“Why is a square a rectangle?”

It took me a minute to figure it out myself, but I was greatly assisted by the printed definition of every quadrilateral listed on the top of the page.  So, the definition of a rectangle is “a parallelogram with 4 right angles.”  One can see that a square actually fits within this definition.  Now, a square does have an added feature, in that it has 4 sides of equal length, but nonetheless, it does in fact fit the rectangle criteria.  I can’t say I ever remember learning this little fact myself, but since I could easily see the explanation in the workbook, I accepted it within a few seconds.

For Josiah, however, this was completely unacceptable.  I think those six words completely blew his mind.  As if it revealed that the world was not round or that he was not actually human.

This is the gist of the conversation that ensued: Can you read the definition of a rectangle at the top of the page?  Can you see how a square would fit that broad definition?  No.  Well, it can be further classified, it’s true, but the reality is that a square is both a square and a rectangle, by definition.  No, it isn’t.  Okaaay, let’s use another illustration.  You were born in Saskatchewan, so that makes you a Saskatchewanite. (?? Does it ?? Is that what we’re called ??  I ran with that.)  If your whole life I only ever told you that you were a Saskatchewanite, and then all of a sudden, when you turned 10 I told you that you were also Canadian, that might seem confusing.  You’d say, no I’m a Saskatchewanite.  I’d say, yes you are, but you are also a Canadian.  You fit both definitions.  You were born in Saskatchewan, but you were also born in a broader country called Canada.  See what I mean?  Yeah, but a square is not a rectangle.  But it is, actually.  No, it isn’t.  It’s a square.  Mmhmm. …  I’ll just leave you to ponder this for a while.

Now the truth is, I LOVED this conversation!  I love to expand my child’s understanding.  I love blowing his mind now and then.  I love seeing him stretch his young thinking muscles beyond what was once expected of them- actually experiencing his brain develop and hit new stages.  It gives me great pleasure.  I think it’s exciting!  Josiah, however, may have wanted to burn me at the stake for false teaching.  It took him close to 20 minutes to bring himself to write the answer in his notebook, and I think that even as he did so, he believed it was heresy.

He begrudgingly finished the questions and packed up for an outside break, without any further comment.  I know him well enough to know that these ‘out of the box’ moments take some time for him to digest, but eventually he fully embraces them.  In the near future, I won’t be surprised if he pulls this question out in a social situation: “So, why is a square a rectangle?”  He will love that it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  It won’t take long for him to accept this new definition, but for now, please don’t mention this conversation if you see him.  I think he’s still a little raw from the stretching. 😉

Big Hairy Doubts

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Yesterday when I dropped my daughter off at a new activity, I found myself inside a wonderful private school in our community at the end of the school day.  It was bustling with activity and I ran into several wonderful families I know.  There were laughing kids and adorable uniforms and groups of friends.  The result of this little encounter , for me, was a series of big, hairy doubts that crept into my mind.

“Are my kids missing something better?”

“Am I robbing them of the quintessential cultural experience of a daily school environment?”

“Am I giving them a sub-par education?”

I know, firsthand, the benefits of choosing to home school, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.  There are many excellent reasons why we’re making this choice. (click here to read about those)  And I know our big picture goals in the educating of our children.  (click here to read about those)  And I have answers in my head to those fleeting doubts that crept into my mind.  But I guess I think it’s important to mention that I still have times of questioning.  As great as I think this whole gig is, I have moments that make me pause.

Maybe it’s because this is my first year?  Perhaps families who have been doing this for years have fewer doubts…or none at all?

Or maybe it’s because we started our journey in a traditional school setting and made the switch to home school?  Perhaps families who have home schooled all along don’t question like I do.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve grown to be very analytical.  Perhaps people with different personalities don’t have moments of second guessing their choices.

doubt psalmOr maybe it simply because I’m a mother.  If my choices only affected me, I think I’d roll along much more confidently.  But our decision affects our kids and don’t we all long to get those choices right?  Home school, public school, private school- we’re all making these choices because we believe they’re the best ones for our families.  We really want to nail this one.  The good news is, I truly believe these are all good choices.  Obviously, I lean one way in this matter, but I have seen the good in all the options.  I’ve seen wonderful, godly young adults come from every manner of education.

The thing is, there are pros and cons to virtually every life choice.  And with every passing month, I’m increasingly convinced of the pros of homeschooling for our family.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t experience twinges of uncertainty when I pass a gaggle of giggling girls in a school hallway.  It does mean, however, that we need to remain very clear about what we want for our children and keep that vision before us.  And it also means, I need to trust.

I need to trust in the God who called us to this path.  That He will guide and equip us.

I need to trust in the big picture goals we’ve worked out.  That our choices are leading us closer to those goals.

I need to trust in myself.  I may not be an entire school staff, but I know and love my kids enough to lead them to an excellent education.

And I need to trust in my kids.  That they are capable, brilliant, blossoming young people (as all kids are) who will thrive in an environment of love, empowerment, self-discipline, and delight.

Whatever choice you’ve made in your children’s educational journey, I pray you will lean into God, have a clear vision of where you’re going, believe in your ability to teach your children, and see the beautiful young adults you have the privilege of shaping and influencing every day.


5 Tips From a New Homeschooling Mom

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training wheelsIt seems strange to share tips when you’re a rookie.  It would make more sense for someone to seek advice from a traveler who’s walked the road a while.  Had more experience.  Gained long-term perspective.  And yet, I think there’s value in hearing from those who are still pretty fresh to a new venture.  Someone who, only 8 months ago had no idea where to start or what to think.  Someone who could help narrow down the priorities in what seems like a very daunting task.

I’m less than one school year into the adventures of homeschooling, but I have learned some lessons that I think would be helpful to those just getting started or those who are also still finding their way.  These are my top 5 tips for new homeschooling parents:

1. Set your face to the long haul.

If you’ve decided to home school, give it a decent shot.  It’s not always going to be easy, you will face doubts from yourself and others, and it takes time to really settle in to home education.  If you tell yourself that you’re going to give it a few months and see how it goes, your mind will already be preparing to bail.  The first sign of difficulty will affirm what your brain was already expecting.  Particularly if you are pulling your kids from traditional school, this will be a big adjustment for everyone.  Give it time.  Find the things that work and ditch the things that don’t, but don’t throw in the towel until you’ve given it a chance to blossom into a beautiful new way of life.

2. Start with a few key routines and build on those.

There is a lot to tackle in educating our kids.  So many subjects to cover, so many activities to sign up for, so many field trips and outings, so many dreams and possibilities.  Don’t try everything at once.  Choose a few essential subjects and activities, schedule them into your week, and run with that for a while.  Then, as you figure out your family’s rhythms and preferences, you can add a piece at time.  The subjects we started with, that were easiest for me to schedule, were Bible reading, math, language arts, and geography.  We added history, then science, then French, then piano.  Eventually we incorporated silent reading, memory work, typing and read alouds.  If I’d tried to tackle all of that in the first week of September, we would most likely not be still doing this today.

3. Dive into the world of homeschooling resources.

top homeschooling sitesFind blogs that resonate with you and read more about their philosophy.  Search for ideas and activities that fit well with what you’re doing.  There is no need to re-invent the wheel.  There are AMAZING resources out there, and tons of places to be inspired.  Spend a bit of time each week exposing yourself to articles, tips, and ideas so you can refine what you’re doing and add in the necessary pieces.  BUT…and this is a HUGE BUT:

4. Don’t paralyze yourself with overexposure.

It is great to look around at what others are doing and be inspired and even walk away with a new idea or two for your own family, but you need to remember that you can’t do everything!  There are hundreds of methods, styles, curriculums, and activities.  I would have great intentions to go online and look for something specific, like a great book to read aloud to the kids, and end up spending 4 hours, up waaaay too late, experiencing what I call Pinterest Paralysis.  Where all the ideas, suggestions, and possibilities leave me feeling like I’m not doing enough, am failing miserably, and couldn’t possibly find time to learn all I need to know to home school my kids well.  So instead of walking away with a list of 2 or 3 great books to sign out from the library, I’d fall into bed overtired and defeated.  So, by all means, look around.  But limit yourself to maybe once or twice a week, and shut it down when you start to think you can’t do this.  Because you absolutely can.  No single family can follow all the methods out there, so give yourself time, and the most suitable one will rise to the surface and before you know it, you’ll find you’ve all hit your stride.

5. Determine your education goals

Maybe not right at the beginning, but when you find yourself a little way into homeschooling, process or re-process what you really want your kids to learn.  Not just “in school,” but in life.  What do you really want to pass on and teach to your kids in the two decades you have them in your home?  We took some time to do this, and it was really revealing. (Click here to read our 5 goals.)  I was reminded that the subjects I spent the most time stressing over were really only a small part of the picture.  And when I keep the big picture in mind, I worry less about math, science, or the perfect writing curriculum.  I focus more on what kind of people my children are becoming and the joy of witnessing and influencing that process every day.

Our 5 Educational Goals

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A year ago, if you had asked me what my educational goals were for my kids, I would have probably said something really deep like, “Have them graduate from high school.”  Or maybe, “I hope they learn stuff.”  You know, very well thought out priorities like that.  I didn’t honestly think much about our educational goals for our children, because I was never expected to.  That’s why we send our kids to school, right?  Educators have entire conferences and planning sessions on school goals, so I figured I’d just leave that with them.  Actually, I never consciously made that decision.  I just went with the flow of our culture.  I sent my kids to school because that’s what we do.  We send our kids to school so they can graduate and either go on to get more schooling or get a job.  Hopefully they find something they like to do, and then they can have kids and send them to school so they can get jobs too.  That’s what makes the world go ’round.

plant peopleBut then I started to question this cycle.  What did I really want for my kids?  Is my top priority that they graduate from high school and get a job?  I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but is that the main thing?  Because traditional school takes a lot of time.  And if I have other goals or priorities for my children, do I have enough time to devote to those too?  Is there possibly a better way for us to approach raising our kids?  We decided there was.  For us, it started with distilling all our parenting priorities down to one.  What is our top priority in raising our kids?  What is our #1 desire?

That they would truly know who Jesus is and adore him.

That’s what we want most for our kids.  Everything else that we hope for in their lives, stems from that.  And so, based on that, we laid out 5 goals, in order of priority, that we keep before us in this journey.  If we devote our time to these 5 things in the years our kids are at home, we will consider ourselves faithful to the high call God has placed on our lives as their parents.

1. That they would have an intimate relationship with Jesus and a commitment to Christian community.

  • know and apply God’s Word, pray, serve, worship, give
  • model Jesus to the world through Christlike character

2. That they would have meaningful relationships with others.

  • be gracious, merciful, and compassionate
  • be loving, sacrificial, and thoughtful
  • enjoy, laugh, celebrate

3. That they would discover and develop their strengths and passions.

  • explore a variety of interests and pursue what they love
  • be a blessing by using their gifts to their full potential

4. That they would be competent in academic skills to both discover their interests and open doors of possibilities.

  • read, think, write, articulate
  • study history, science, english, math, geography, languages, and fine arts

5. That they would be competent in practical life skills to lay a strong foundation for success.

  • care for their physical selves
  • care for home and life (cooking, budgeting, cleaning, etc.)
  • set goals & establish good habits to reach them

We long to send out into the world, two young adults who love God, love people, and use their gifts, passions, and skills to impact the world for Jesus.  We have 7-10 years left in this phase of life, and I’m happy to use every day I’ve got to this end.