Tuesday, February 28, 2017


You've seen the pictures in the homeschooling journals and blogs.

You know the ones I'm talking about.

The ones with the beautiful homeschool classrooms. The ones with the kids feeding the family chickens, digging in the garden. The ones with boys and girls all dressed in adorable anoraks and wellies tromping through the forest of their backyard or neighborhood woods.

Maybe you, like me, look at those pictures and feel...inadequate.

Maybe you live in an apartment with beige walls and carpet. Maybe you can't paint one entire wall with chalkboard paint. You can't wallpaper with maps. Perhaps you don't have room for a dedicated homeschool space and your school spills out into the dining room, the living room, the bedrooms.

Perhaps you don't have a huge and lovely farmhouse table at which to do all your work. Or perfectly coordinated individual desks for each one of your students, all lined up and tidy with just the right amount of papers and pencils to be picturesque and organized.

It's possible that your kitchen is hardly an example of those warm and inviting spaces for entertaining you see every time you turn on HGTV. It could be small and cramped with room for one, possibly two, but is hardly set up to serve as an extension of your classroom. Your counter space might make it difficult to spread out in a way that includes your kids, despite the fact that you long to invite them in and learn to cook some of their favorites and yours.

Maybe you don't have a garden. Or chickens. Or even a dog or a cat. Maybe because you don't want them. Maybe because you can't have them for one reason or another...no matter how much you'd like to give that experience to your kids. Maybe you can't even make a container garden on your patio because it's surrounded by brick and faces south so everything you put out there dies.

Perhaps you don't live near a park. Or a pond. Or trees. Or green space. Or the beach. Or a stream. Maybe as much as you'd love to let your kids learn to be wild and free in nature, there's just not much space to explore it where you are.

It's so easy to fall into the trap of comparing ourselves with others. Especially when there are so many pretty, pretty pictures floating around out there on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and all the other ways that we are able to share and compare. Judge and be judged. Feel superior. Feel less than.

I'm here to tell you, mama, that you are doing just fine. Whether you've got chickens or not. Whether people are telling you that your family, your home, your homeschool could be in a magazine or not.

I'm here right now to do what I'm best at: keeping. it. real.

We've been on this crazy homeschool ride for 4 years now, in 3 different houses in 2 states. And I think we are doing okay. More than okay. I think my crew is pretty freaking awesome. And they are pretty awesome despite the fact that not a single photojournalist is knocking on my door asking to chronicle the aesthetic beauty that is our homeschool.

But I think there's beauty in it anyway.

On top of the toy chest in the boys' bedroom there is a clutter of art supplies and images because long after I want him to be in bed, Shorty is up writing books and illustrating them with mixed-media collages. The mess of his creation is everywhere because, when there is no room for a proper desk in the bedroom, he improvises. And when he wants the Hot Wheels tracks out of that toy chest, his mess moves to the floor. Naturally.
Nobody's going to put this in a magazine of how to organize your kids' crap, keep a tidy house, or even how to inspire creativity in your little one. Nevertheless, he's inspired. Constantly. And often against my wishes.

Our adorable crib-turned-craft-table is usually so cluttered with projects that we can't actually do the crafts at it. Honestly, it has become a collecting place for projects. Why? Because I don't think there's possibly space enough in the whole world to keep the enormous stack of books written by the boys. Not to mention the games they have created (and prefer to the store-bought variety) and the bird feeders they are enjoying hammering away on, despite the fact that we don't actually have a yard.
I used to insist that this table to clean and available to use, but they can't even keep up with themselves and their imaginations. How can I? Now we just periodically try to sort through what belongs to whom and file away projects that I didn't realize were finished.

Our classroom is cluttered, and our table is a mess of acrylic paint stains. And I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful space for school work. It's not anything you'd ever see and think, "Yes! THAT is exactly what I want my room to look like!" However, it allows me to not be uptight and control how they are permitted to create.
 And that Red the Angry Bird pencil holder (along with his counterpart the Hulk, who is likely buried in a pile somewhere). Not my choice. It's certainly not the adorable mason jar idea that I pinned several years ago when I thought I might try to decorate. But the boys picked it. They painted it. And it makes them happy. And, really, that's more important than pretty things.

We have more books than our shelves can hold. And I love it. There is no room in this little apartment to add more shelves, so we make due with what we have. That includes this hand-me-down shelf that my dad built for my room when I was a girl. It's chipped and scuffed and drawn on. But it holds a ton of books.
So I'm unwilling to "upgrade" or even "upcycle" and try to make it fit in with some fleeting idea of what is fashionable. I'd rather read a book with the boys.

Or play a game:
We have plenty. And we play them all. Even if they aren't stored in cute matching baskets, but are instead stacked (perhaps a bit precariously) on ugly plastic shelves in the closet. Right next to an even more dangerous shelf of arts and crafts supplies.

Our little kitchen is always cluttered. It's half food prep area and half science lab, with a little bit of dumping ground thrown in for good measure.
My coffee may be next to the butterfly habitat, and there may not be much room for helping hands in the kitchen, but we do what we can. And so far, nobody has eaten a chrysalis by mistake.

We have no yard. No garden. There are never any wild critters roaming by our window. The view is pretty dismal, actually. There's no way to play soccer, ride bikes, fly a kite, take a hike, or really much of anything without packing up in the car and making a day of it. So that doesn't happen daily.
But we make it work. We get outside. We are active. We are adventurous. We just have to be deliberate about it.

Sure, sometimes I daydream about having a homeschool space that looks like this:

Or this:

Or easy access to experiences like this:

and this:

But I am coming to learn that it is not the room, the location, the decorations, or even the natural habitat that make this whole homeschooling gig worthwhile. It is giving my children the space to discover who they are and the equipping them to thrive during these precious, fleeting years...even if that space looks like this:
I promise you, they will grow.

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