Like so many people, I struggle with finding a balance for my social media usage. I love the friendships that have been strengthened through Facebook and Instagram. On the other hand, it's so easy to mindlessly scroll.
I've been on Facebook long enough to remember a time before the Newsfeed. You had to visit people’s profiles to see their status. And yes, I can remember AOL chat rooms and instant messenger too. Recently, I talked to someone about the time we spent crafting our away messages. Now, there is no “away.” We are constantly available, with the internet in our pockets. It's a blessing and a curse.
It's so easy to passively connect in the Digital Age. To be fair, I wasn't a good correspondent before digital connection made things easier. Now I can scroll voyeuristically, clicking like as I go by. And then I feel like I know what's going on in the lives of the people I know.
But I don't.
Don't get me wrong. I love family photos, little snapshots of text, and even commentary on current events. But it's not a whole picture. It's a public face.
Last night, I had an authentic conversation on Messenger with a friend. It felt good. It's hard to talk on the phone with small children around. (And I have a lot of social anxiety around picking up the phone to make a phone call….always have but it's probably something I should work on). But one on one connection is such an improvement.
Awhile ago, I took my friends list down to under 150 people because I researched to find the number of people one person can actually keep up with, and that's the number. It was hard. And yet I still found myself mindlessly scrolling and not feeling any more intimately connected.
I'm friends with many family members on Facebook. While I love seeing their posts, Facebook is not a replacement for actual connection with them. Yet it's easy to fall into the trap of using Facebook in that way.
On top of that, the state of our world is anxiety inducing. I read the newspaper almost every day, so I'm informed. Watching everyone on Facebook share their reactions to the news just increases my nervous system reactions.
I've been relatively open about my experience with postpartum mental health issues. What I realized was that it was part of a longer history of struggles with anxiety. (I had a panic attack that sent me to the emergency room because I felt like I couldn't breathe and somehow thought it was an isolated incident. I was 16.) As I become more reflective and self-aware, I am better at recognizing triggers for anxiety.
Facebook is a huge source of anxiety for me. Yet I value the people it has given me...acquaintances from high school that have become friends in adulthood, connections to people in my community that I would not have met otherwise, maintaining relationships in the living history world in the months between events. Deleting Facebook, or even deactivating my account for a shorter period, would deprive me of many of those people.
I've tried Facebook fasts. They go ok. But it's hard to stick to. I've tried limiting my amount of FB time each day. But it's hard to monitor if I get on the computer.
So here's my new idea: I'm going to use Facebook for connection. I'm going to visit pages. I'm going to try to comment and not just like. I'm going to private message folks and hear the real deal about what's going on in their lives.
(I could say I'm going to write letters and call people, but I’m going to be realistic here. I can’t do that for 150 people).
Want in? Message me! Tell me what’s going on in your life. Tell me what you’re reading or watching. What are you dreaming? (Not Facebook friends? You can still message me through FB, or text me. Email me even).
Many many many people have written about different homeschool styles. It can be dizzying for the new home educator: Montessori, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Classical, Traditional, Unschool. I'm not going to go into a full explanation, but you can find one here.
So what are we?
Well, I have a background in Montessori and traditional school (obviously). I was an assistant teacher at Montessori preschool for a year, teaching 3-6 year olds. I'm not officially Montessori trained but I know the basics about how things go. While I like some of the lessons, known as "works," there are elements of the philosophy I disagree with. Initially, I thought I'd be more Montessori influenced, but I'm not at all.
How about traditional schooling, such as what happens in a public school classroom? I tend to teach reading and math in a more traditional format. I have more choice in my tools for teaching, but it's still more teacher-led than child-led. I'm using formal curriculum for reading, and I've started using Moby Max for math because the kids like it. Moby Max is very traditional and clearly prepares kids for testing. But you know, it's easy for me and the kids like it.
For science and social studies, I loosely follow the themes from AYOPS or the kindergarten standards for Virginia. But this is the area where we are much more child-led. I'm happy for them to just get basic ideas from our read-alouds, while we go deeper into the topics that interest them. You'd probably call us unschoolers in this category. Unschooling doesn't mean not teaching--it means that you are led by child interests. Some radical unschoolers don't do any formal instruction, but it's a spectrum. I like the nature study aspect of Charlotte Mason.
So what are we?
Technically, we are eclectic homeschoolers. That just means that we don't fit into any neat homeschool labels. That works for me.
September has been an exciting month. On September 7, AW finally learned to sound out and read words. It was a fantastic day! She also turned five this month :)
We started off the month with a visit to the Virginia Scottish Games. We are reenactors, and we set up a camp to demonstrate 18th century Scottish life. AW is starting to understand the difference between the 18th century and the present. Understanding past and present is a kindergarten standard, so we can check that one off the list ;)
The Time Capsule kit contains a booklet for children to write about themselves, so I asked the questions and had both kids dictate their answers. There is a family tree kit (still in progress), a coloring page introducing subscribers to the time traveling kids that tell the story, and a timeline for us to track our travels through history. Each month we will get a sticker representing our visit. There are also colored pencils and picture hooks to change out the picture for each month. (The comic is especially for subscribers aged 5-10, while older subscribers get a coloring page of a single scene). I'm looking forward to jumping into the history study next month!
We did a few activities from A Year of Playing Skillfully's September plans. We pulled out the pond play set (water beads and a frog life cycle set). We explored color mixing with our Kinder Club friends (through our homeschool group) and spent the afternoon doing a big painting activity. Afterwards, the kiddos washed off their paint supplies using a bin of water. It worked pretty well!
Another AYOPS September topic is hot air balloons. We read some books and saw the hot air balloon exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. When we were at the Mount Vernon Market Fair (an 18th century craft fair), we met the curator of that very exhibit. He was demonstrating the hot air balloons of the 18th century, with the help of his grandchildren! While we were there, AW practiced writing with a quill, thanks to a good friend.
The biggest highlight of the month was our trip to Colonial Williamsburg for Homeschool Days. During those times, homeschoolers get in for a heavily discounted rate of about $10/day for an adult ticket. That's 1/4 price. They also have special activities going on. Last year, AW met the joinery apprentice named Miss Doggett, and spent about 45 minutes learning from her. We had to go back and visit her this year, and fortunately Miss Doggett remembered AW. We spent two days there. I wish I'd taken more pictures. There's a new Native delegation, representing Native American trade and political negotiation. I hadn't realized that was a regular occurrence in Williamsburg, which is where all such negotiations took place under the English crown. The kids watched a cow milking and practiced on a mechanical cow (having milked a living cow, I can attest that it was surprisingly realistic). They learned how to play 18th century games. We helped process flax to prepare it to weave into linen. The farmer also gave us a cotton boll.
Our Ivy Kids kit for the month was apples, which dovetails nicely into October's AYOPS theme, which includes apples.
It's been awhile since I posted a book list! The current booklist started with our second term's beginning last month, so it's not exactly a calendar month of books. We have been learning about Africa (we are going to work our way through the continents), money, hot air balloons, and frogs.
My favorite book from this library haul is Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter. Wangari Maathi was a Kenyan woman who returned home from studying biology in America to devastating deforestation. She started a movement to grow trees by planting nine seedlings in her backyard. I love this book for so many reasons: one woman working to make a difference, taking care of the earth (the 7th Unitarian Universalist principle), and helping other people improve their lives.
Here are our other books:
We All Went On Safari: A Counting Journey Through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs
Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock retold by Eric A. Kimmel
Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book by Muriel Feelings
Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings
Papa Do You Love Me by Barbara Joosse
Where are you going, Manyoni by Catherine Stock
Lala Salama: A Tanzanian Lullaby by Patricia MacLachlan
Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema
My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel (Bonus for overlapping with the idea of saving money and being the only book by an African author)
(Note: I find that our list here is lacking in books by African authors. I plan on doing this continent cycle again in the future and plan on remedying that oversight).
Frogs and Ponds:
Too Many Frogs by Ann and John Hassett (fun fiction book)
Tad and Dad by David Ezra Stein (fun fiction book that illustrates the frog life cycle with a sense of humor)
Lizards, Frogs, and Polliwogs by Douglas Florian (a beautifully illustrated book of poetry about different reptiles and amphibians)
Growing Frogs by Vivian French (A mother and daughter bring home tadpoles, raise them, and release the little frogs--includes tips on how to do the same)
Tadpole's Promise by Jeanne Willis (one of my favorite picture books of all time, about a tadpole who promises a caterpillar that he will never change)
Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner (Beautifully illustrated series including Over and Under the Snow)
Frogs by Gail Gibbons (Gail Gibbons is always a non-fiction winner)
From Tadpole to Frog by Wendy Pfeffer (I loved the narrative style of this nonfiction text. It gave a lot of information but was never boring).
Money, Money, Honey Bunny! by Marilyn Sadler
One Proud Penny by Randy Siegel
Sorting Money by Jennifer L. Marks
The Money We'll Save by Brock Cole
Lemonade in Winter by Emily Jenkins
The Coin Counting Book by Rozanne Williams
You Can't Buy a Dinosaur With a Dime by Harriet Ziefert
Alexander, Who Use to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
Just Saving My Money by Mercer Meyer
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
The Money Tree by Sarah Stewart
Hot Air Balloons:
Hot air: The Mostly True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman
Mouton's Impossible Dream by Anik McGrory
(Both of these are stories of the first hot air balloon ride from the perspective of the three animals aboard: a duck, a sheep, and a rooster)
A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan
Hot-Air Henry by Mary Calhoun
Altoona Baboona by Janie Bynum
We also enjoyed:
Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation. The family in the story is from Haiti. A little girl's mother is detained for being an undocumented immigrant.
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp. Madeline does not like to read. It's hard and the other kids in her class laugh at her. One day she meets Bonnie, a dog at the library, who is always a patient listener. This is a perfect fit for us because AW is a perfectionist and struggles with taking on challenges. Our library has a similar program for young readers to read to dogs, and I think it's a good motivator.
Carmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet. I think I'm going to have to add this one to our own collection at some point. It's a little bit vocabulary, a little bit art and nature study, and a little bit of fun all wrapped up in a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story. There are so elements to return to upon re-readings.
Confession #1: I'm not a minimalist.
I'm just going to get that out of the way. I absolutely see the appeal of a minimalist lifestyle. I know people who rock it. It's not me. So keep that in mind while reading.
The minimalist blog Becoming Minimalist published a post responding to the popular decluttering manual The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The title of the post: "'Does it Spark Joy' is the Wrong Decluttering Question." Joshua Becker writes, "Yet I can’t help but bristle at the phrasing because the question “Does it spark joy?” may actually rob tidying up of its fullest potential in our lives."
Confession #2: I starting reading Marie Kondo's book, which outlines the "Konmari" decluttering strategy, including the iconic question Becker rejects. I could not finish it. I felt like it was redundant and I couldn't stand her writing style. So I'm really writing from my own interpretation here.
It is ok for possessions to spark joy. Becker worries that we will continue to define our happiness through our possessions if we ask ourselves this question. I do have possessions that spark joy. The perfect sweater, the one that feels like it's giving me a hug. My Dad's ragged old copy of Joy of Cooking with his handwritten annotations. My great-grandmother's egg basket. The rows of antique books on our bookshelves. A minimalist would allow me the sweater and the egg basket, because they both get used regularly. But I have my own copy of Joy of Cooking that isn't falling apart, and I know that I will never read all the books on my shelves. But it's not the consumerist act of possession that gives me joy. In some cases, it's sentimentality. Certainly, we need to be selective in how much we hold onto for sentimental value. I keep sentimental objects either because they are useful (the egg basket), decorative (antique teacups), or because they have strong representation or connection (the cookbook).
I find happiness in all kinds of ways besides my possessions: reading with my children (library books our own books bring equal joy), nature walks, delicious food, laughing with loved ones, and so on. These joys are not less because a worn cookbook or the perfect sweater brings me joy.
Confession #3: I do not have a capsule or minimalist wardrobe.
I tried. But you know what? I like my clothes. I love the idea of doing laundry every day, but I'm not always able to achieve that goal. So I really do need at least a week's worth of clothes. I've stuck to the idea that if I'm not wearing something, I give it away. That means that although I have a fair amount of clothes, they get worn. I have pared down my shoes to keep them more basic. I don't buy as many clothes as I used to--but I'm not going to give away things I like and wear just to get to a magic number or make my closet look streamlined.
As cheap things wear out, I am replacing them with quality items, within a budget. Becker's argument is that if we ask ourselves while we are shopping if something sparks joy, we do not curb our consumeristic tendencies. "Retail therapy" certainly has contributed to the average $16,000 of credit card debt carried by Americans. But it's actually the act of swiping a credit card and walking away with a bag that gives a temporary mood boost--it's not what's actually in the bag. When I do shop now, such as shopping for a pair of dress shoes, I think about how I will feel when I am using the item. Will I feel joy every time I use or wear this item? How often will I be able to use this item? I bought a pair of shoes to fulfill the need, but they didn't spark joy. I returned them and found something I loved and would wear more regularly. Before becoming a mindful consumer, I probably would have just kept the first pair as a pair of dress shoes and bought another pair of shoes to meet the unfilled gap. I did buy a pair of slippers--after ten months of dithering. And I can tell you...putting on a comfortable pair of slippers after months of walking barefoot on hardwood--that sparked serious joy.
Confession #4: I do not have a minimalist kitchen
While I try to avoid single task kitchen tools, sometimes I find it enormously satisfying to have just the right tool for the job. I have a cake tester. I use it every single time I bake. I could use a toothpick...but the cake tester is less wasteful and works better. We have quite a few measuring cups, spatulas, and spoons. And there are days where we use every single one. I know I could wash and reuse, but I'm often doing so many things at once that stopping to do dishes and dry them would throw me off my game. We have worked on paring down the things we don't use, but we use a lot. We definitely still have more than we need. We entertain on a relatively large scale several times a year. At Thanksgiving, I always host, and I pull out all the stops. We usually have anywhere between 10 and 20 people. And I have enough china and silver for everyone. I love pulling out the china. Two sets are inherited, and I feel warm and fuzzy eating off of those plates.
Confession #5: I'm a halfway minimalist mom.
Right now, if you walk into our basement playroom, you will see a play tent, a train table, a couple of ride on toys, and a single bin of smaller toys. It's way less than most houses we go into. The difference is that we keep toys in storage and do a toy rotation. A minimalist would just get rid of everything. But I like doing a rotation. It keeps things fresh while keeping clean-up to a minimum. Plus, we keep having kids, so outgrowing toys isn't something that's happened to us yet.
I don't buy huge amounts of clothing for my kids. My general rule for them is a week's worth of clothing. But I never say no to hand-me downs either. I haven't bought more than a couple of items in the past couple of sizes, but they do not have minimalist wardrobes.
I'm realizing this post comes off as a little defensive about why I'm not a minimalist. It may even sound like I'm attacking minimalism. I'm not. I think it's just right for some people. Here's the point I'm really trying to make: non-minimalism does not mean high consumerism. I'm not a minimalist, I'm a mindful consumer. It's a new position for me, but it does feel good. I am getting rid of things I don't use or need, but not to fit an arbitrary number. I am buying less than I bring into the house, and thinking over most purchases before we get them. I had a $25 Target gift card for the baby, and it took me a reallllly long time walking around the baby section before I picked something out, just because we needed hardly anything at all.
I used to be a huge impulse shopper. I used to feel like the need for something justified the expense, even when we couldn't really afford it. I used to feel like cheap was value. That kind of thinking has changed.
I've also noticed that finding ways to cut down on clutter and keeping things tidy makes me happy. I'm not the greatest at it because I'm still working on establishing good habits, like putting things back in their place when I'm done. I am, however, very aware of what it does to me when the house is in disarray. I doubt I'll ever live in a pristine house. It's just not who I am. But at least there's not an enormous jumble of cheap shoes all over the bottom of my closet anymore.