Written by Colleen Kessler
“Mom! Mommmmmmmmy! I want to show you what I did!”
Come on, Mom! I have a cool story to show you.”
Logan (8) and Isaac (5), my two early birds, are snuggling up to me in my nice warm, cozy bed. And I sigh, “don’t you guys want to cuddle for a little bit?” I pull them closer and try to go back to sleep.
I’m not a morning person. At all.
The truth is that mornings are my biggest homeschool struggle. Everywhere I look… every blog I read, book I refer to, podcast I listen to, or video I watch is telling me that, in order to have the best homeschool day ever, I need to get up before my kids.
And I just can’t.
Most of the time we’re all okay with it, but sometimes the little ones just want me to hang out with them. And so I drag myself to the kitchen to pour myself some of the coffee that Brian made for me before he left for work (God bless my husband). And I step into a beautiful mess.
Logan and Isaac have probably been up for an hour or two by this time. They’ve gotten themselves breakfast — leftover smoothies I froze in popsicle molds and oat/peanut butter energy balls I had in the refrigerator for them — and then went to town on the materials I’d “strewn” for them the night before.
On the day about which I’m writing, I’d set out their straws and connectors, colored pencils and markers, and blank books. I put letters on my little light up marquee (a Christmas gift to myself) that spelled out “Build a Story.” And they did.
(Want some ideas, tips, and strategies for incorporating more child-led learning through the art of strewing? I’m hosting Strew to Learn | Five Days of Inspiration and Support and would love to have you join in!)
There were tunnels, buildings, a jail, Shopkins, and small animal figurines all over, and they’d drawn out their stories in several blank books — Book One, Book Two, and Book Three.
And, while I sipped hot coffee at the table, they “read” aloud to me and acted out their stories.
After celebrating them, helping them clean up, and getting them settled on a game together, I took a fresh cup of coffee into the shower with me. Yep — into the shower.
I need my caffeine in the morning, more to center all the thoughts swirling around my ADHD brain than to wake up, and as I have a teen who enjoys mental chess matches and circular conversations right now, I need my brain clicking before I wake him up. Life with an asynchronous profoundly gifted teen can be exhausting.
The water on my head clears away the remaining cobwebs, and I’ve dragged my 10-year-old daughter out of bed and issued the first (of many) wake up orders to my teen. Who grumbled and rolled over.
My daughter is heavily involved in musical theater and is currently in two productions, and so she has rehearsals until 9 or 10 p.m. every night Sundays—Thursdays and all morning and afternoon on Saturdays. That, coupled with regular lessons, voice coaching, and her many, many hobbies keeps her pretty busy, so I try to let her sleep in a little when I can.
She gets up, splashes some water on her face, makes herself a cup of tea and scrambled eggs, praises her little siblings for their stories (I secretly think she’s a 30-year-old trapped in a 10-year-old body), and begins to work on her “must-dos.”
Whenever anyone asks me about our homeschool curriculum, style, or schedule, I panic a little. We are kind of an eclectic mix of classical, Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, unit study, play-based, child-led learners with a very unschooly bent.
It’s just super-tough to quantify because it all ebbs and flows depending on the season, day of the week, and therapy and show schedules.
My kids all have “must-dos” each day. And they’re very minimal. They need to do math — preferably more than one lesson if it’s a day we’re mostly home, like we are today. It’s a Tuesday and we don’t have to be anywhere until early evening.
They also need to read a bit, journal, and do some language arts work specific to their levels. My high schooler also does some biology, video editing, novel study, government, world history, and various electives and projects. He, too, is a theater kid, though he prefers plays to musicals.
Right now, his schedule is much like his sister’s. He’s in a production of Holes as one of the boys interred at Camp Green Lake with a similar rehearsal schedule (Sundays-Thursdays until 10 p.m.), takes private flute lessons, takes self-paced online street magic lessons, and does field research to study the distribution of reptiles and amphibians in the Northeast Ohio Watershed with a group of other high schoolers and field scientists from Case Western Reserve University in a program called Environmental Heroes.
(And he’s still not out of bed.)
I have tried — and succeeded until this year — to keep lots of white space on our calendars. Over the past year, though, since my two oldest have found their passions, and my 8-year-old has increased her therapy to 2-3 hours a week, we’ve had to adjust.
So we take days like this to do extra math lessons (the only subject I tend to follow a scope and sequence for) and reconnect with each other through strewn prompts, read-alouds, science experiments, family projects (like the book I released last year), hikes, and lots of games and other play.
Trevor is out of the shower, drinking his mandated cup of coffee (he definitely takes after his mama in his sleeping habits and brain wiring), and going through the schedule for the day again and again with me while I make lunch.
Incidentally, our lessons, rehearsals, and appointments are all color-coded on a large whiteboard calendar two months out in the family room for all to see. I also write the daily schedule on the whiteboard in the kitchen. But, Trevor’s anxiety tends to drive his need to ask constantly where we need to be and when. So I breathe and answer again. And again. And again.
Finally he’s caffeinated, focused and satisfied.
He knocks out two Algebra II lessons while I finish making lunch, and then joins us at the table where Alexa plays an audiobook from our Audible library.
We clean up the kitchen together and I pull out the light table and magformers for Isaac.
I read a little with Logan, who is struggling. She’s not been diagnosed yet, but we suspect that she has dyslexia or a processing disorder, as reading is something she’s just not clicking with. Her OT and PT have both seen such tremendous improvements with her strength, balance, and other issues related to her sensory processing disorder and anxiety, but we still can’t figure out her processing.
She’s the happiest, sweetest, most creative kiddo you’d ever meet, so she’s not too bothered by it. When she wants to write a story (which is pretty much daily), she draws it out first, then sits by the Amazon Echo Dot and asks Alexa to spell words for her.
The kids take quiet time to do whatever they want on Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. so I can do a Facebook Live each week to tackle an issue or topic related to parenting and homeschooling gifted, twice-exceptional, and intense kiddos.
Though, if you’ve ever watched, you know that someone always wanders on camera to say hi, show a magic trick, plug a favorite author, or answer questions. My kids are not shy. At all.
When the live broadcast is over, I head upstairs to pack dinner and get the kiddos moving.
They finish up anything they’ve started, put away their math, journals, books, stories, games, and playthings, and pack up their Kindles, activity books, a snack, water bottle, a few small toys, and whatever else they’ll need for the night. Sometimes a math or biology book gets thrown in too. Vanschooling is a common occurrence around here.
I put the cooler (cheese cubes, salami rolls, whole grain crackers, cut up fruit, veggie sticks, Kind bars, and Greek yogurt) in the van with the kids’ backpacks, water bottles, and my laptop, iPad, and bag. They load in and we head off to the music school for Molly’s voice lesson and Trevor’s flute lesson.
Logan and Isaac have friends to play with in the lobby while we wait for the big kids’ lessons to end and I usually read a book on my iPad. I’m currently rereading Free to Learn as I’ll be teaching for a week this summer at the Chautauqua Institution in New York and Peter Gray is one of the visiting lecturers who will be there. I’m kind of geeking out over getting to hear him talk in person.
My husband walks into the lobby of the music school and listens to the feedback and progress report from both Molly’s and Trevor’s instructors, and we touch base about the day. I hand the cooler, backpacks, and Logan, Isaac, and Molly over to Brian. Molly’s rehearsal ends the earliest tonight, so Brian is taking the littles with him to wait with their dinner, Kindles, and toys in the lobby of the fine arts center.
Trevor won’t finish up until 10:30, so I’m taking him and going to a nearby coffee shop to work for a few hours.
We head our separate ways and Trevor and I grab a quick bite and play a game of cards at a restaurant near the theater. I get him there a few minutes early so he can hang out with the assistant director who loves magic, too. They exchange secrets and tricks and bond over snacks and bad coffee in the theater’s green room.
Trev and I are on our way home and he’s talking. And talking. And talking. I don’t actually know if he’s taking a breath between stories, but he’s definitely animated, and I know that this means he’s not going to bed anytime soon.
Parenting a teen is about being there and knowing when to listen and when to reign them in. He’s talking and thinking about big things right now. His future. His past. His habits — good and bad.
And tonight, with me, his captive sounding board, he’s unloading.
We get home and he’s still talking, so I ask him to stop, go inside and put things away quietly so he doesn’t wake the others who have been home for two hours and are asleep, and that I’ll meet him in the kitchen with a snack.
I strew some rocks, gems, rock guides, science journals, magnifying glasses, and a pocket microscope on the light table for the littles to discover tomorrow.
Trevor comes in and joins me, and we snack and talk for awhile, and then I’m too tired to be coherent anymore. He’s not, and his anxiety will prevent him from sleeping if he’s the last one up, so I make a deal with him … we’ll watch an episode of Merlin on Netflix — our current series — and then he will go to his own bed (not my floor) and will try to stay there all night.
He agrees, though I’ll probably wake to find him there anyway — we have a family rule that anyone can come in the room at night and make a bed on our floor without waking us (unless it’s an emergency, of course), but if they do wake us, we’ll take them back to their rooms.
I try to watch while tuning Trevor out as he shares all of the liberties that the series creators have taken with the original legend of King Arthur. He loves analyzing and picking things apart — even television shows.
And he goes to bed.
I sit on the couch for the next half hour and revel in the silence. My husband often asks why I don’t go to bed earlier, but I know that these days with my kids at home and wanting to show and tell me all the things are numbered. Trevor will be out and on his own in a few short years, and while this introvert is exhausted all day, every day, it’s a beautiful, messy, character-filled exhaustion.
And so I take the half hour or so and sit on the couch in the wee hours under my newly-designated “year-round twinkle lights,” and enjoy the silence.
And then I go to bed knowing that the 5-year-old will be up a few times in the night, the 8-year-old will have at least one nightmare, and that they’ll both be bouncing on me by 7 or 8 tomorrow morning, and we’ll do this all over again.
It’s a beautifully crazy adventure-filled life full of unexpected twists, turns, and so much delightful quirkiness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything … well, maybe I’d loan it out for a little more sleep.
Does your day start and end later too?