Letting Go: A Homeschool Story

I’ve been putting off this blog post for a while. Not because I feel any shame or am questioning our decision to place our three oldest children in school this year – no, it’s just that for some reason, any time I write about  MY own decisions regarding how I raise my kids, what I feed them, how I educate them, how I choose to discipline and raise them or even how I choose to birth them, I offend people. Which is the furthest thing from what I am trying to accomplish. I know a lot of our family’s decisions are not main stream, which is actually one of the reasons I like to write about them. I know I’m grateful other moms who took a more unconventional route in their lives took the time to share their experiences.

If you do find yourself feeling defensive or offended as you read this, please remember, this is not an attack on your or your decisions. I am not pro-homeschooling or anti-public school, I just want everyone to know what their options are, take time to research and think and move in the direction God leads them.

Ok, let’s get to it – the elephant in the room: I, Vanessa Fernandez, a STRONG and passionate promoter of homeschooling, have decided to place my children into ….THE SYSTEM (aka a local charter school)…. DUN DUN DUUUNNNNNNNNN!

First of all, there was not ONE solitary reason why we chose to educate our children this way, it was a very hard decisions we made, based on SEVERAL factors and we are taking it one year at a time.

I guess I’ll begin with my son.

I have been very open and honest with my struggles to educate my oldest son. He is a brilliant, amazing, articulate, sweet and beautiful soul. However, once I began more formally instructing him, I was not prepared for the battle royal that I would face each and every day.

I wrote more specifically about this in an earlier blog post – you can read it here.

I went into homeschooling our first year just wanting to have fun and figure out my children’s learning style so I could adapt my approach to them (which is one of my favorite things about homeschooling) I didn’t know what I was doing, to be quite honest, but as a child who LOVED school and learning I was surprised when my son gave me such push back and seemed not to be able to focus or progress in reading and phonics specifically.

Year two I kept trying different things (all in all we went through six different reading/phonics curriculums) but I also had a clingy-needy baby and two other children to juggle and the battle to teach my son was exhausting me. I felt like 100% of our school time was spend calming tantrums and working through character issues. I was fine with this, because I believe that building character is a HUGE component of a well-rounded education. And if I’ve being honest, we did a ton of great stuff in year two! We upped our memory work, our bare bones curriculum was getting a boost from science, latin, doing a co-op that was heavily math/logic focused, our read-aloud time was amazing and we dove into some great classics.

Reading was our achilles heel. (I more recently found out he has an eye convergence and brain integration issue that we have been doing daily therapy to try and correct and that was probably a big issue as to why he was so resistant to reading)

What saddened me the most however, because I was fine with my son being 8 or 9 or even 10 until he learned to read, was my daughter. My sweet second born, the most gentle, beautiful, kind creature you ever met. She LOVED school. She was EAGER to learn. She was almost at my son’s same reading level – with practically zero instruction. And that is what broke my heart. I was not able to invest time with her, because my son was taking all my time, energy and focus.

So, all this is brewing…now enter factor #2: Beachbody

I am a Beachbody coach and I started about four and a half years ago – before we started homeschooling, before my fourth child was born (more on her later!) and over time it has grown tremendously! It is a large part of our family’s income, we rely on it to pay bills, get out of debt, etc. I LOVE it, and my team is growing and my clients are some of my favorite people.

As homeschooling, and raising four kids and my business were all GROWING UP together, they were ALL needing more and more of my time and focus.

I was actually 100% ok with quitting my job to focus on my children and their education. In order for that to be financially possible, we were going to have to move to a city with lower cost of living (we currently live in Miami, FL). So, my husband tried, for TWO YEARS, to find employment in another city. Countless interviews, flying all over the country, our hopes would get up and then, something wouldn’t be right and we’d be back to the drawing board.

As each month and each year would pass, we kept feeling like something had to give, it was an extremely difficult time. (there’s so much I could write….but this post is already long enough!)

The third factor, and this is going to sound SO WRONG, but it’s just the truth, our fourth child. She is magic. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you see how much I am obsessed with her. I will shamelessly tell anyone that she is the CUTEST child ever created, and yet….how do I put this nicely….she is FIRE.

From the day I found I was unexpectedly pregnant, to the pregnancy-long, debilitating “morning sickness” (that I got mostly at night), to her newborn stage where she practically LIVED in her Solly Wrap, to her ability to get into and create chaos in ways her three older siblings never even considered.

I thought adding one more would be no big deal, I felt like a pretty seasoned, bad-ass, mom of three – boy, was I wrong. The tantrums, the spirit, the sass – is like no other. I truly feel that THIS factor, beyond all the others, has been the biggest determinant for our decision. This sweet baby has broken me down and made it virtually impossible for me to fulfill all of the things that were asked of me as a homeschooling mom, Beachbody coach, wife, friend, keeper of the home, and all the rest.

I know that God brought her into our family for MANY reasons (she is pure SUNSHINE you guys, If you are around her, you feel it – her smile is brilliant, and her energy is pure gold) but I believe one of them was truly to humble me.

Now that you have a lay of the land, the issues with educating my son, the eagerness of my second oldest daughter to learn, the increasing demands of my wonderful coaching business, the handful of my fourth child and the inability to leave our high cost city in south florida, here’s what happened next:

The ONLY school that we would ever consider sending our children to in Miami was a small charter classical school in South Miami (about an hour drive from where we lived), but the wait list to get in was enormous and we had tried once a few years ago, but weren’t selected.

After having applied to SO MANY different jobs all around the country, my husband noticed this school had a job opening for a History teacher. “Should I apply for it?” He asked me.

“Sure, why not?! Nothing else has worked out, I doubt it will, but go for it.” (so much faith I had!)

It was amazing how quickly the interview was set up, the job offer came within two weeks, it was a raise from his previous position and the kids would be allowed to attend. Not only that, moving closer to the school would allow us to rent out the home we owned and increase our monthly income.

All of the puzzle pieces that weren’t fitting, seemed to find resolution in THIS opportunity.

My son would get a little distance from me (all of these learning battles had been good and not so good for our relationship) and some dedicated tutoring in reading (one that wouldn’t be interrupted by little miss sunshine every fourth word).

My daughter would get to learn to her little heart’s content.

I would have a few kid-free hours each day to dedicate to my growing business.

My husband would be teaching in a school where he aligned with the teaching philosophy and methodology (His work situation previous to this was abysmal, but that’s a WHOLE other story)

So, we prayed about it and felt like this was where God was leading us and our family.

Have there been growing pains? Yes.

Do I miss homeschooling? Absolutely, cried my eyes out for a whole day last week.

Is this an answer to prayer and a great solution for us during this year? Absolutely.

Will I return to homeschooling one day? I wouldn’t be surprised at all!

I am actually working on a guide that will help families who appreciate and desire some of the perks of homeschooling but aren’t able to traditionally homeschool. I’ve actually been able to implement a lot of the rhythms, read-alouds, narration, nature walks and socratic conversations into our day and still feel like that heart of a homeschooler can be expressed whether you homeschool exclusively or do a hybrid or have them full time in school. It’s been fun to explore and I can’t wait to share more.

I hope this post is helpful, not just to satisfy any curiosity you may have had about our situation, but also to encourage you that there can be beauty in submitting to God’s will – even if it’s not what you always envisioned it would be.

I know a HUGE lesson for me through this time has been surrender. I did NOT want to have to give up homeschooling. I thought I could just muscle through – I could do it all, I just needed better systems, curriculum, etc. When in the end, God pushed me to my limit, encouraged me to let go, and has been walking with me through each step.

Letting go some of my control over my kids, over our finances, over my schedule and day is not my favorite lesson, but I guess it’s not just the kids who are learning new things this year.

 

How to Thrive in a Foreign Land

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Growth.
Change.
New experiences.
New flavors.
A new way of life.

How does any of this happen? How do we go from things being COMPLETELY foreign and uncomfortable and strange and scary – to normal(ish) and a rhythm we can keep up with and start to feel apart of?

It happens one day at a time.
One taste at at time.
One experience at a time.

We are just coming to the end of our second week here in Merida, Mexico and it’s CRAZY how things that once seemed completely overwhelming and complex (like a traffic roundabout near our rental) now seem completely normal and we are driving through and navigating it like a local.

Grocery shopping at the market was disorienting and panic inducing – not only was I trying to convert Mexican pesos to US dollars, I was also trying to convert Kilos to Pounds. Now, I go to the store already knowing what I’m going to get – where it’s located and whether or not 18 pesos for 1 kilo of bananas is a good deal or not (it’s not).

Everything is unfamiliar until it isn’t.
Everything is hard until it’s easy.

It’s true for living in another country.
It’s true for changing health and fitness habits.
It’s true for running a business.

I find a few things helpful in making these transitions – no matter what your “new life situation” is or looks like, you can apply these tips to help make things just a little bit easier!

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#1) Realize it’s going to be a bumpy road at first, and don’t get down on yourself when it is.

The first time I went to the MASSIVE market in el centro (downtown), I went alone. I knew that it was going to be a MAD HOUSE and there was going to be bartering, and lots of people and noises and vendors all vying for my attention. I knew I had a limited budget and could only buy as much as I could cary. I knew it was going to be a shock the first time I went, so I embraced it, and decided NOT to add four crazy kids in the mix.

I probably didn’t get the BEST deals that first time, and I probably missed several of the “right” vendors, but I did it. I got that first experience done and I didn’t expect to be market navigator extraordinaire on day one. Adjusting to something new always takes time, be ok with that, and you’ll find it much more enjoyable.

#2) Have someone to laugh with when you sometimes feel like crying

I mean, honestly, our transition here hasn’t been THAT bad – I don’t know that I’ve ever felt like crying, but we’ve had those moments, when we feel like we are Alice who has fallen down the rabbit hole. Nothing is familiar, we aren’t sure 100% what’s going on and if we are doing the “right thing”. But through it all, having my husband with me here, to laugh together through the awkward, has been EVERYTHING.

We aren’t letting each other run away from the hard, but we are there for each other – in every situation or disorienting adventure we can look at each other, shrug and laugh. Community is KEY to making it through a life change – having someone you can be candid with to share the burden of these new experiences makes it 100% better.

#3) Ask help from an expert

One of the best things about Merida is how friendly everyone is. We ask the locals about EVERYTHING – no shame. We ask them the best neighborhoods for kid’s playgrounds, or vegetarian restaurants. We ask them where to shop and how to get around. We ask them what these strange vegetables in the grocery store are and they are more than happy to share what they know.

Sometimes in a new environment we don’t want to stick out or show how ignorant we are, but there is freedom and SO much to be gained when we just open up and say: “Hey! I’m new here, do you have any advice?” Most people are not only glad to help, but have such VALUABLE information that can make the difference between a wonderful experience and a less than wonderful one.

#4) If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again!

I am LITERALLY the most impatient person on the planet! I want to make ONE maybe two mistakes and then…come on, it’s time to be an expert already guys, this is ridiculous.

In things like grocery shopping and making healthy meals for our family, I feel like I’m STILL struggling even after two weeks – I mean, two whole weeks guys…how am I not a Mexican culinary expert by now?

But one thing I do know, every time I get a little bit better. I learn a little bit more. I discover something new, I make a NEW mistake.

For example, the stove we have is a gas stove, and I’m used to electric – also I don’t have all my regular pots and pans or ingredients, so I tried to make fried rice – a staple that I am quite comfortable making at home. I totally over cooked the rice into a sticky, mushy porridge, under seasoned the vegetables and over cooked the scrambled eggs. Needless to say, we ate it, but didn’t enjoy it much.

The next day I tried to make “bacon” for breakfast, but ended up buying what I thought was bacon, only it wasn’t really, and I’m not 100% sure I cooked it enough, some parts were scorched and other parts were flabby. You guys….I’m not the BEST cook, but I’m ok, and I definitely know how to make BACON! Not in Mexico apparently.

So I try and I try and I try again. I don’t give up (because we would starve) and I don’t decide that living in Mexico just isn’t for us because I can’t cook bacon here! Turning what is new and foreign and uncomfortable into a new skill and comfort zone takes a little bit of grit – the ability to try and try and try again.

—————-

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We’re only half way through our time here and I really am encouraged by how much better we are at navigating things, making friends, improving in our Spanish and adjusting to a new, slower rhythm of life. What used to be WILDLY out of our comfort zone is not slowly becoming the new normal.

It’s a beautiful thing, it means we are stretching and growing.

You don’t have to go to Mexico to do this though – where do YOU want to grow? Where do you feel like a foreigner? Is it in the area of eating healthy? Working out? Starting a business? Making new friends? Growing in your spiritual walk?

Everything is hard before it is easy.

Push in – be ok with being uncomfortable – get a community around you – ask experts for help and dig in and keep trying, even if at first you don’t succeed.

If You Get Lost You Can Always Be Found

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A major focus of my blog is an appeal that the “hard” things we shrink back from, are actually the GOOD things that in the end will make our lives better. Daily workouts, clean eating, natural child birth, homeschooling, building a business from home….and now, living abroad.

These things aren’t for everyone, but I feel like most of the time people focus on how DIFFICULT they all are, when in reality, when you push INTO the hard, they can be INCREDIBLY rewarding and beautiful.

But in order to do that I have to acknowledge the hard.

Yesterday was our first full day in Merida, Mexico and it was hard. We are on full sensory overload, everything looks different, smells different, sounds different. Simple things like grocery shopping are confusing and overwhelming. Add to that, four crazy kids who are constantly running all around and more than a few miscommunications between the hubby and I (oh, and NO ONE napped yesterday – no one.) and ya, it was a hard day.

Here’s the thing. IT’S OK. It’s ok to have hard days. It’s ok to try things that don’t always work. A lot of times trying things that don’t work is the only way to know it doesn’t work. Miscommunications help you communicate better. Naps missed are always terrible, sorry, no way to sugar coat that one.

So, here’s the story:

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EVERYONE wakes up at 5am, because it’s one hour different and everyone is in new, strange beds and bedrooms. Mama didn’t get her early morning time and half the bags were still yet to be unpacked. Daddy was anxious to get out and see the city and the sights, but mama wanted to settle in, organize the house and get her bearings.

Daddy’s pressure made Mama stressed, finally out in the neighborhood we go, only to be completely overwhelmed at the grocery store – kids are knocking down large, perfectly stacked mountains of fruit and asking for every new and exciting sweet treat that we don’t have in the states. Daddy and Mama are trying to convert Kilos to Pounds and Pesos to Dollars, baby is hungry and cranky.

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Finally we make it home (walking half a mile in 90 degree heat each way) and try to put everyone down for naps. SURELY they are tired. Nope, after several attempts, tantrums and desperate pleas, we give up and decide to go to the local park. Only now, it’s the HOTTEST (and I mean HOTTEST) time of the day. Which is the reason we were trying to get the kids to rest, so we could stay out later and enjoy the COOL evening. But kids don’t understand things like that.

So we are melting into the pavement, but make it to the local park, which has a small playground made entire out of METAL. The kids tried their best, they even used some of my baby wipes to place on the see saw seats so they could play one it without burning their little bottoms.

We didn’t last long, but saw on google maps that there was an dessert place just a few blocks away. We were promising our kids something sweet and delicious if they would just keep walking a few more steps!! Only, as we got to the spot, there was no dessert place. Nothing, just a house. We almost had a mutiny on our hands.

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Finally as we walked back, we found the cutest little food truck with agua fresca, kombucha and smoothies. The kids got their sweet treat, and a respite in the shade and we learned our lesson – no going out in the heat of the day.

Dinner finally got done at 8:30pm (and I literally just made fried potatoes and onions….I don’t even know what happened) and we all collapsed into bed.

There you have it. Day one. I won’t detail EVERY day for you over this next month – but day one was all sorts of challenging, overwhelming and hot as heck and still good, and learning and stretching and moving outside of our comfort zone is never easy, but when we do it we grow.

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Here’s to much more growth (and naps!) over the next four weeks!

A Homeschooling Story

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“Ok Vanessa, you can do this!
You were homeschooled, sure it was like 20+years ago when you were in 1st grade and you were a kid so you weren’t taking notes from your mom, and you had no idea how much pressure you’d feel being completely responsible for the intellectual formation of one of the human beings you love most in the entire world, but it’s 1st grade…how hard can it be?”

Just a little pep talk I gave myself at the beginning of the year.

When we started this year of homeschooling I felt like it was my first “real” year. I had to officially send in our letter of intent to the State of Florida, letting them know – we are DOING this. I will be taking FULL responsibility of the education of my son this year, thank you very much.

Fhew! Totally scary. Not going to lie.

I had a newborn at the beginning of the year, so I kept thing VERY simple. We would do Phonics, Math, History and Bible. No frills, no co-ops, no involved science experiments, no Latin or science fairs. I know other moms who did all of the above (and more) and some even gave birth and had newborns during this school year – I just knew my capacity and went with that.

I was anticipating a crazy year of homeschooling (in addition to my newborn, I also had a VERY energetic and attention needing three year old, a sweet five year old and then my first grader) but what I was not anticipating, was a child who did not want to learn to read.

Nope. He was not having it. We tried several different approaches, four reading curriculums, prizes, songs, games, threats, rewards – anything I could think of and yet – to no avail.FullSizeRender

Apparently, if a child does not WANT to learn, you cannot MAKE them learn! What a concept!

And I was faced with a very difficult inner dialogue.

“What if this isn’t the best way to educate? What if I’m not a good teacher? We keep butting heads. This isn’t working. I thought education at this age is supposed to be fun. I must be doing this wrong.”

Yup, one year in and this girl who LOVES school, was homeschooled herself, has been looking forward to this for YEARS, was ready to throw in the towel.

Thankfully I have been surrounded by an amazing community of more seasoned moms – moms who remind me that the goal of homeschooling isn’t for the child to master a certain skill set by a certain date. We are creating LIFE-LONG learners. We are investing in character as well as intellect and it is as much MY character that is being built as his.

Throughout the year I have seen a change in my heart – from one of despair, discouragement and failure, to one of hope, trust in God and patience.

I am called to be faithful, to teach daily, to model hard work and a love for learning. (Now if only I can remember that at the end of every lesson gone wrong!)

I have seen myself changing from the mom sitting two inches from my child’s face, pointing at each word saying “what’s this word, sound it out, sound it out, what is that letter? Common, you know this, read the word.” Veins popping out, stressed, striving. To the mom who prays before EVERY lesson, encourages every small victory, has set aside the reading curriculum for now, and simply enjoys reading stories aloud IMG_5328together, focusing more on the areas he DOES love to learn in – math and history. Spending lots of time outside, exploring the world and talking about what we observe.

For a goal-oriented, book loving, first time, “am I doing this right?!” mom, this has been my biggest victory. My homeschooling story is a humbling story. It’s certainly not the story I thought I would have, but it’s OUR story and I’m thankful for it.

Congratulations to my sweet children for enduring their crazy mama this year!
Congratulations to my son for completing the first grade and my daughter for gracefully completing kindergarten.
Congratulations to my three year old for always needing to poop RIGHT when we are at the most crucial moment in our lesson.
Congratulations to my sweet 10 month old baby, for nursing and sleeping anywhere and everywhere this year.
Congratulations to my husband for supporting me EVERY day, listening to my fears and wiping my tears.

One year down. 18(ish) to go!

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Homeschooling: a Different Objective

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I have been asked to share a little bit about my homeschool routine. I find this humorous because I am JUST finishing up our Kindergarten year with my 5 year old and the other two are just absorbing whatever they can (which, surprisingly is a lot!).

However, before I begin sharing WHAT I am doing I think it’s important for me to share my objective as a homeschooling mom, because it is significantly different than a public school system’s objective and once it is clear what my objective is in homeschooling, my methods will make much more sense!

I am in no way critiquing the public school system with this post (or any of my homeschooling posts), my husband is a public school teacher and we live in a city where MANY children are children of immigrants and without an English speaking public education system, they would never have the opportunities and experiences as they do. But I think it goes without saying that there are definite flaws in our countries education system.

This system was originally designed to create more educated workers for the country. Factories were popping up all over the place, the “work force” was moving from small scale, family-based businesses to larger companies and industry. We as a country needed an employable workforce who could read and write and understand basic math skills. And so the public school system was created.

My objective as a home educator however, is not to create an employable factory worker (or office worker), my objective is to create a free-thinking, independent citizen who LOVES to learn and never stops in their pursuit of personal and educational growth. My objective is to create individuals who can understand logic, craft intelligent arguments and have a moral compass to guide their every decision. I don’t want to tell my kids what to think, I want to teach them HOW to think. I don’t want my kids to graduate high school with a uniform set of facts but with the tools and work ethic and passion to learn ANYTHING they want to.

Because of this objective I am not really worried about “keeping up with the class”. I think many times homeschooling moms are so nervous that because they aren’t trained teachers, that they aren’t going to do a good job, and because of that we are constantly looking to societal norms to make us feel better (at least, that’s how it was for me!). The problem with this is that if I am trying to teach my kindergartener how to tell time for example (because I saw it on some list) and it’s just not clicking for him, I can be tempted (and trust me, I’ve done this!!) to go over it and over it and try to FORCE him to learn it and we’re not stopping until he gets at least one right! Before you know it, I’m frustrated, he’s in tears and “school” is something that he dreads.

It has been SO helpful for me to see education as a marathon and not a sprint. If I am able to give my child a LOVE of learning, tap into that natural curiosity and excitement that children already have, then my child will NEVER stop learning. I will gladly sacrifice his/her ability to tell time for another year if that means that school keeps it’s joy and enjoyment, because if my child loves learning, they will eventually learn how to tell time. If I get anal about checking every single “subject” or topic off a list and because of that turn school into a nightmare, as soon as school is over or graduation day comes, my child will stop learning, or even worse, they will see “education” and information as something you only hold on to to get a certain number on a test to please mom and dad. <— This is my greatest fear and what I am TRYING to avoid, but this is exactly what public schools are trying to achieve.

I believe that if I make it a habit to expose my children to an academically rich environment and let their curiosity lead the way, and have FUN learning and make it a natural part of our every day lives, they will be very well educated.IMG_6357

This doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan, or curriculum or I’m not ever going to give my kids tests. All it means is that if we are doing something and they are having trouble understanding the concept (ESPECIALLY in kindergarten – or before) I am not going to stress out or push the subject. I will stop and move on to something else, and then bring it back a few days later and re-explain and try again, and be patient with my child, because I KNOW sometimes I don’t always get things the first time and I appreciate others having patience with me.

Knowing what my objective is helps me to not feel pressure to PACK our day with school work from morning until night, but instead leave plenty of empty pockets in our day and just listen and be attentive to my children and seize every opportunity to satisfy and pique their curiosity.

For example, going to the park and having play time and one of my kids trips over a tree root. After consoling him I ask him if he knows what these are. He says no. I tell him they are roots and they bring water and nutrients into the tree, all the way up the trunk, out through the branches and to the leaves. We pick a leaf and look closely at the little veins in the leaf where the water and nutrients get exposed to light and photosynthesis occurs. He is completely in AWE and captured by our little lesson. Later, on the way home I stop by the store to grab some celery and we fill a glass with food colored water and in a few hours we can see the water traveling up the veins of the celery and into the leaves.

He didn’t even realize it, but we just did “school” and I didn’t plan for it but I took advantage of the moment, of their natural curiosity and explained in far more detail that he probably understood, but I’m exposing him to it. The concepts, the words. In a few years, when we study it “for real” it won’t be the very first time he is hearing these words or being introduced to this concept.

IMG_6087To me, homeschooling in Kindergarten is all about having a simple plan, not letting another person’s “schedule” dictate what my child ‘SHOULD’ know, making space for play and imagination and being present and intentional with every moment, having deep conversations and asking the second and third question to make learning an ongoing activity and a natural part of life.

If you’d like to read more on this theory and approach of education I highly recommend reading A Thomas Jefferson Education. Stay tuned for my next installment where I will show you what a typical day looks like for us and how I keep things simple and fun with our kindergarten education.