Full Circle


I used to have a battered cardboard box that contained the evidence of my youth. A period that not only seems a lifetime ago but a span of years that as an adult I have tried hard, with limited success, to distance myself from.

bury my heart
Seemed like a good idea at the time.

In this box were dogeared photos of youth wearing unfashionably outdated clothing that were complimented with similarly unforgiving hairdos. There were report cards tattooed with the red ink of numerous teachers swift pens. Awkward drawings of dinosaurs and athletes as well as the scattered seeds of a future poet written on double lined paper. There was video footage of my father in Thailand during the Vietnam war and a much younger version of myself in diapers on the Air Force base back in the States just to name a few of the items.

Just before discarding the artifacts I took one last look through the box. I discovered a graduation card from my father that I had overlooked upon first glance.  By the time the card had been written my parents had been separated for nearly six years.

“You’re the man of the house now,” he told me one sunny afternoon while my siblings and I cried and pleaded. From our perspective it came out of the blue but in hindsight it was a rather obvious destination for my young parents marriage.

I opened the card and read it.

My advice to you is to find a job you enjoy doing because you will be working for the rest of your life.

Sage advice from a man who spent the better part of his life working in factories in Sidney and Harrisburg.

I realized today while folding laundry that I have in fact taken his advice. For the last five years I have been a stay at-home father. It is similar to other occupations in that there are good days and bad days. But it is different from most occupations in regards to a number of aspects.

034To begin with I love the people I work for. I mean that more than words can express. It’s perfectly alright that my 10 year finds it necessary to thread chewing gum around her fingers which are dangerously close to her long curly hair while I write this. That does not diminish my love. Nor does my screaming 1 year old who is hollering simply to see how much volume her little body can produce. I swear I saw a potted plant start to vibrate off a book shelf when she started yelling.

Another thing that may be a bit different is that I spend my sick days and vacation time with the people I work for. They see me early in the morning with sleep still in my eyes and late at night when even a cup of coffee can not prop open my drooping eye lids.

They see me twist like a pretzel and breath while I do my morning yoga routine. They hear me exhale loudly when my favorite team loses, again. They see the twinkle in my eye when I flirt with their mother and I can’t help but chuckle when I see them want to melt from embarrassment.

I chase the people I work for with a vacuum cleaner during chores because I think their reactions are funny. I recoil at the amount of earwax that is harpooned from their ears after a bath. I teach them how to cook and how to stand in the batters box and face a fastball. I tell them jokes that sounded funnier in my head and laugh at their jokes though at times they lack a good punch line. I give them advice they don’t want when they need it least and simply hug them when they need it most. 040

I have begun to realize of late that I have been very fortunate in this journey through existence. I met and married an amazing woman who values having a parent at home while our children grow up. As an individual who has never enjoyed clocking in for an orthodox 8 hours I have been very lucky to have the ability to be on call 24/7 instead.

It has not been an easy path, but then again, what road is not filled with obstacles at some point? The true blessing I suppose is that this is a route of my own design.

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Homeschooling and Money


Five years ago we made the conscious decision to homeschool our children. It was altogether exciting and frightening not to mention a bit overwhelming. Now that we have some experience under our belts it is difficult to imagine living any other way.

There are countless positives to our lifestyle. There are also some obstacles. One of those would be living in a two income world on a single income. My wife works extremely hard to make ends meet but as we all know inflation and day to day living expenses have little foundation or consistency in relation to ones income. In fact when curious families approach us in regards to potentially becoming homeschoolers they express concern over being able to afford the lifestyle more than anything else, even more than the mythology of socialization.

In general, homeschooling lends itself to creativity. My first piece of advice would be to embrace that aspect in order to successfully live the homeschooling lifestyle. There are a number of ways to make ends meet. By exploring the less beaten path there is opportunity. Maybe not endless wealth but the potential to pay the bills and put food on the table. Lets explore some of the things our family of 6 has done to accomplish our goals.

Curriculum:  Initially we used a canned curriculum and it was very helpful. It was also a few hundred dollars and with experience we now realize unnecessary. Though it is a nice safety net for beginners there are a number of free and inexpensive resources available.At the Library

First of all make friends with your local librarians. Aside from the obvious assets a library provides in the form of books, periodicals, dvd’s and cd’s there are also a number of social/educational experiences available.  Everything from technology club to lego club, author meet and greets to local political debates can be found at your local library. Most importantly, for free! Our librarians are on a first name basis with our children and are very receptive to program ideas. They have been so warm that my oldest daughter currently wants to be a librarian when she is older.

We have found websites like amazon.com to be a great place to buy used books and learning materials. With a little research you can easily find books for a penny. The shipping tends to be about $4.99 but $5 dollars for a “school” book is perfect for the tight budget.

There are of course cheaper options. Library book sales, garage sales and thrift stores are great places to find learning materials.

We have also borrowed material and traded with other homeschoolers as well.

Clothes: I know that along with the lack of socialization myth there is an idea that most homeschoolers walk around in homemade denim dresses. Though they do exist they are not the norm. There are a number of frugal options for homeschooling families in regards to clothing.

Locally we have a number of really nice thrift stores and consignment shops. If name brands are important to you there is a good chance you can find something nice on the shelves way below retail cost. If sturdy, clean, wearable clothing is more important than name brands you can find that as well. Last year my wife bought an entire years worth of clothing for our family at a consignment store “bag sale” for less than .20 cents per article of clothing.

As with a number of these subjects garage sales are another option.

There is also the hand-me-down circuit. Our family has never been too proud to accept other peoples used clothing. 99% of it has been in great shape and very stylish. When we outgrow it we in turn pass it along thus helping the next family in line.

042Food: This can be a tough one. We all eat so we all experience the outrageous prices in the supermarket. There are ways to eat healthy and ways to do it frugally.

If you are fortunate enough to have a little land a garden is a great way to go. We have taken it to the next step and on 1/16th of an acre have an urban homestead. If you are interested in knowing more about it you can check out my blog for Grit magazine at  http://www.grit.com/blogs/whitaker-gardens-and-micro-farm.aspx or my long running gardening blog at  http://seedtoharvest.blogspot.com/

The point I am making is that you can grow food for a fraction of the cost of what you would end up paying for it in a market. You can eat it fresh or store it by freezing it, canning it or drying it to eat later. We have vegetable gardens, fruit and berry patches, edible flowers and herbs and also raise chickens for eggs.

Another option are farmers markets. In our experience you can get healthy food for a reasonable price. Plus if you buy when it is in season you can get bulk and then can or freeze some of it for down the road.

Bulk stores also have their benefit but be careful not to get carried away.  We tend to stick to things like rice and baby products.

leeExtra Income: Extra income is always helpful. Be creative. Watching other peoples children is an option. I know some people who have “shops” on ebay who have made some money. Going back to our discussion on consignment shops that is another option for some additional income. We have raised and sold rabbits for a few dollars at farm stands, sold excess vegetables from our gardens and had garage sales.

Though all of these suggestions are rather brief and barely scratch the surface the point is this, it is difficult to homeschool and to do so on one income. It is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that we are committed to and with a little creativity anyone can do it. On some level you just need to reevaluate what it is that is important to you. We can always find ways to make ends meet we will never get this time in our lives back.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Home Is Where The Heart Is


051Nearly three weeks ago my wife gave birth to our fourth child, a lovely, healthy baby girl. We decided early on that we were interested in having a homebirth. The reaction has been varied but none the less interesting. In fact it created a dialogue between my wife and me in regards to family and home in general. Not only did we have a homebirth but we homeschool and have a modest homestead as well so as you can image we have been exposed to a number of stereotypes over the years.

My goal is not to call into question the lifestyle of those who may read this piece, because honestly I am comfortable with the choices of others (for the most part). Rather it is an attempt to shed some light on some good old fashioned family values that somewhere along the line have become clouded with fear and simply put a lack of knowledge on the subject.

As a country we often speak of the importance of family yet our day to day values and experience speak otherwise. Family is regularly put aside in an effort to gain a financial or social foothold. The truth is we live in a two income world for the most part. Very few families are able to live comfortably otherwise. I would suggest the cost goes far beyond our bank accounts though.

My oldest child is nine. She did attend pre-school at one point but has been homeschooled, along with her siblings ever since. Financially speaking it was and at times continues to be a very trying experience. In fact homeschooling is what lead us to homesteading. In the beginning the goal was not necessarily even healthy meals but simply providing meals on a regular basis. By taking part in the homeschooling lifestyle it has provided an avenue for our family to grow significantly stronger as a unit and to come up with some very creative and satisfying solutions. 044

We shop at consignment shops for clothing. We use the internet to purchase used curriculum and other educational materials. We are on a first name basis with our local librarians. We grow vegetables, fruits and berries and recently started raising rabbits and chickens. We can, freeze and dehydrate summer crops and farmers market purchases. In other words we are attempting to be responsible for our own well-being as far as circumstances will allow. This of course does not imply that we can do this alone because we cannot. In fact it is only possible by being part of a wonderful and supportive community. We have amazing neighbors and have been fortunate enough to find other like-minded families in our neck of the woods. Just like everyone else we have needed assistance from time to time.

Homeschooling was the first step. It made us reevaluate the way we looked at the world and our role in it. That is the catch; homeschooling is about being active in your community. In fact it is only successful if you are fully engaged in the day to day activities of your town. My children and the other homeschoolers I know are very happy, motivated children who thrive in social situations. Recently I heard it put best when it was said to me, “Just because my kid does not act like an asshole does not mean they are not socialized.” So I politely put the “socialization myth” to rest.

043As mentioned beforehand homeschooling led to homesteading. Homesteading has created numerous financial benefits, educational opportunities and has ensured that our children will benefit from the knowledge of good stewardship. In essence you cannot separate one from the other.

Homeschooling and homesteading eventually led to us exploring a home-birth. Our second child was born via emergency C-section so we are very aware of the value of a hospital in the role of childbirth. But with that said we were fortunate enough to have one of the most empowering and beautiful experiences of our adult life. An experience that could not have happened without a knowledgeable and nurturing midwife and a patient and caring doula.

None of the above mentioned lifestyle choices were made hastily or blindly. In fact you can rest assured most people who take part in such activities are far more knowledgeable on the subjects at hand than those who simply respond out of fear and ignorance. I realize how condescending this may sound but this is the truth of the matter. In order to be successful you have to be educated. In the process of educating yourself you are in turn setting the example for your children in regards to the value of knowledge and providing the work ethic to obtain it.

Homeschooling, homesteading and even a homebirth take a c090ertain level of sacrifice. I realize not everyone can make these sacrifices; there are a lot of variables in life. There are also those simply not willing to make these sacrifices. But with that said, walk away from this article knowing there is another choice out there. Leave knowing that your spouse and your children will be the most important opportunity to express love that will come into your life. Life is far too short. Someday we will all unfortunately realize this. Do not let it pass you by while pursuing false notions of happiness.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

 

Being Present


Jack Frost
Jack Frost

All is full of love. All around you.” ~Bjork~

Jack Frost paid a visit this morning. It is cold here. Near 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The trees, naked for lack of leaves, moan in protest as they sway in the winter wind. Aside from an occasional crow or vehicle sputtering by they are the only ones willing to break winters loud silence. The cold takes your breath away. My beard has frost in it and my fingers are red and numb after taking care of the animals with my oldest daughter. She is bright and beautiful as the morning sun. In truth she shines brighter than the sun who rarely shows itself during the long northern winters.

At night when it is time to lock the chickens in their coop I venture out by myself. I stop every night after they are safe behind their walls and I search the sky for the stars and moon while breathing in the cold winter air. Trying my hardest to be present and thankful for my life. By all accounts it is a beautiful existence.

My little sunshine
My little sunshine

The past year has been trying. A number of deaths, some close , some distant, all very painful. Chasms in the family tree that seem like the mouth of a great canyon opening to swallow logic. Bills to pay or more appropriately juggle and still through the rapids of life I find myself searching for the calm waters rather than enjoying where I am at. In fact as I write it reminds me of a Wendell Berry quote, a man and poet whom I respect very much, he said,”the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home.”

Tomorrow is a reality for some yet an illusion for others and to think that we ourselves dictate the pace is purely the mythology of ego. I say this not as someone who is more enlightened than you the reader, because I am not. I say this as someone who is making a concerted effort to exist in the moment. I can see the great migration taking place all around me. Pushing onward toward the time clock to pay the bills, rushing in a frenzy from here to there, in all truth no where. Nose down we plow ahead forgetting the beauty that surrounds us every waking moment.

023 That is one of the things I find interesting about homeschooling and being a parent. It is also one of the things I find most difficult. I am speaking of providing a healthy day to day existence when stress and anxiety are at its peak. I have no real answer or solution I suppose. I find people rarely want to discuss this side of life. So, in an attempt to find a remedy, I am making an effort to be present. It is the best I can do for myself and my family.

I am trying to eat healthier to respect my fragile vehicle. I am focusing on my yoga routine and breathing. Just breathing. I am allowing myself to be vulnerable and wrapping myself in the warmth of my children’s laughter. It will pass me by far too quickly. It already has. I am sincerely trying to find the pleasure in their childish arguments and tantrums because someday I will miss those moments dearly. I meditate on their filtered voices as I hear them telling off color jokes to one another upstairs while I am downstairs, what I imagine must be the child’s equivalent of a Richard Pryor joke because someone dared to use the word “turd” out of ear shot of old Dad.

I am trying to capture photographs in my mind of each of my children at this very stage in life. My oldest daughter who is creative and forgetful. Possesses a humor far beyond her years and an empathy I would be proud to display. My son whom I wake with before the sun rises so that we can spend our weekends at hockey practice together. Both of us members of the gym rat clergy. Still, he is one of the gentlest young men I know and that makes me proud. My youngest daughter who speaks for all of us with her wide smile and sensitive eyes, her eternal youth and tiny hands, her desire to drink straight from the source of love. My wife, my lovely wife, eight months pregnant with our fourth child. On occasion through the chaos of life we are able to find a quiet space and look into each others eyes, her fluid and alluring brown eyes, and we hold one another hands. In this silence, this silence of winter, I am reminded of how much I love them all and that life is cyclical. All the pain of those around me will pass but so will the pleasure so I must try harder than ever to be present and inhale deeply the sweet scent of my beautiful life.

Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!
Kellen Thomas or Eloise Fey? We shall soon see!

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Defining Family


Exif JPEGMy parents separated when I was 12 years old. Eventually as my father drifted out of my life so did his relatives. In turn my mothers side of the family was reasonably involved in my day to day life. They were and still are a rather eccentric bunch but I can proudly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know.

They do however have problems just like any other family. Though it is unfair to solely focus on their negatives as they do have a number of positive traits it is those negatives that tend to have the deepest claws and seem to take forever to remove from deep within ourselves as maturing adults.

The extended family reminded me of the clans from the old country. Constantly at war with one another. Creating alliances out of a mutual dislike rather than genuine friendship and then when illness or serious cause for alarm would arise everyone would rally against the common enemy only to fall back into rituals of bad behavior as soon as the storm had passed.

I remember very vividly sitting around a campfire with my cousins and my own brother and sister discussing the sad state of affairs within our family and finding it difficult to relate to such behavior. Fast forward twenty years and here I am in the same turbulent waters.

My goal with this piece is not to specifically call anyone out because truth is I am far from perfect myself. But rather to define what family truly is and how I am attempting to remedy this situation.

“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under one roof.” Richard Bach ~Illusions~  

As a single person I was far more willingly to put up with the bad behavior of others. As a parent of three young children I am far less willingly to do so. The delicate balance, that which Somerset referred to as the “razors edge”, is the ability to discern ones own prejudice in comparison with that which is truly harmful. We all have conflict or arguments among family members. Overreacting to naturally arising frustrations is a negative in and of itself. But eventually when bad habits are displayed for years, decades even, and they begin to affect the mental health of ones household it is time to put the false notion of family aside.

The difficulty that I am experiencing is that as a homeschooling family the family structure is extremely important. I have lost count of all the homeschooling books that I have read that speak of having a grandparent share a hobby or an aunt spend a day with your children. For some of us that is simply not a reality.

Though children should not be involved in the direct confrontation of adults for any reason they do recognize something is wrong when Grandma or Grandpa no longer stops by. When aunts and uncles no longer visit. When their birthday is ignored while other children in the family have very public celebrations. They quickly catch on when conversation is cut short in regards to missing relatives. They recognize the awkward hostility when relatives meet in public places. They are sensitive to the sadness that develops when adults feel the need to remove toxic relationships from their own lives.

So how do we define family when our family is broken? If we continue to nurture negative relationships we are teaching our own children a very unhealthy lesson, are we not? We are teaching them that abuse and disrespect are acceptable ways for family to treat one another when resurrecting the notion that blood outweighs all else. This is simply not true.

It is painful and even frightening to admit that ones family does not provide a solid foundation in their own lives. But when one begins to recognize the bond that exist among families with similar values a level of strength, understanding and true appreciation begins to bloom.

Within family structures there is a tendency for familiarity to breed contempt. I would hope that it is obvious that I am not addressing the trivial frustrations that exist within every family structure but rather the deep rooted multi-generational behaviors that destroy trust and most importantly love. Your family , your children , are at the mercy of your decisions to a certain extent. When it comes to creating a supportive , nurturing , caring and loving network one must make the right decision, not the easy one.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

 

An Often Overlooked Solution


Social networks are ablaze with conversation revolving around “Common Core Curriculum” especially since testing took place yesterday. My goal is not to negotiate the pros and cons of the newest canned educational format but rather to talk about parents following their instincts. Admittedly I may slip and give an example or two dealing with the cons from my perspective if only to make a point.

I think that it is obviously very important to gather as much information as humanly possible in regards to subjects that have a direct impact on your life or the lives of those you care about. With that said I tend to be a person who allows my instincts to merge with knowledge and in turn set the pace for decision making. I am an elected official (please don’t hold that against me). After taking into account the “facts” I attempt to blend my decision with what my gut is telling me to do. I am a passionate gardener. When working in the dirt I allow instinct to direct my decision making. The point being it is a voice that speaks not only to me but to all of us if only we are willing to listen.

Now when you take that into consideration and you read direct comments from parents, teachers, school board members and state level officials who express great reserve over common core you begin to question why so few of them look toward legitimate alternatives. People , as we all know, get very touchy when you address their politics or their religion. Since education in some unique fashion actually serves both of those notions it is no wonder folks get so bent out of shape when it is discussed. It has now become bad etiquette to bring up education with guest at the dinner table.

001So I tread lightly. Knowing most people already have their guard up. But I feel it is important to tell parents, trust your instincts. If you feel there is something wrong with public education, maybe there is. This does not mean there is something wrong with teachers but rather the system they are being swept up in just like the students. I will use my local school district as an example (told you I would slip up and give you one). My local school does not teach social studies or science to early elementary aged children. This is done to focus on math and language in preparation for the test that will occur. That is startling and concerning to say the least. We all know the statistics in relation to the U.S. when compared to the global community. That is the sort of thing that should bother parents and it does. But just as important is the reality that school is not a place of interest and learning but instead seems to foster a number of unhealthy physical and mental responses to the institution and its core curriculum. How many of you know a parent who has commented on the horrible stomach aches or anxiety their young child is experiencing attempting to prep for exams? It is creating a culture in which we are signaling to our youth it acceptable for you to feel that way and if you do simply take medication to alleviate it. I suppose that is another topic for another day though.

My children are 3, 5 and 8 years old. Today for “school” we did not test, let me say that first. We started the day off writing fan letters to our favorite MLB teams (language and handwriting/computer skills). We walked in an old cemetery looking specifically for Civil War veterans (social studies/history). This lead to dialogue dealing with economic classes, “Why does that person have a larger headstone than that person?”. We then played at a public playground (recess!). We to the grocery store saw the friendly clerk who always greets the kids and bought items for lunch (math/health/economics). We then came home and prepared a chicken noodle soup with artisan bread (home ec. remember that archaic class?). We will be listening to PJ Harvey and Brown Bird on vinyl while finger painting in a few minutes because art is important contrary to what they say! There will be reading time and play time and so on and so forth. You get the picture. On occasion we are far more structured. Sometimes we use a curriculum of our own and use workbooks for reading, writing and arithmetic. The point I am trying to make is that homeschooling allows you to follow your gut instinct. It is flexible. Not always easy but geared for individual learning. That is why I find it a bit sad and curious as I watch from the side as families express utter frustration with the public education system and then try to bend the machine to fit their individual need. Public education is not about individual need. The answer exist beyond the scope of public education. It is homeschooling.

This is a solution that is often overlooked. People have been conditioned to believe that they lack the ability or time to educate their own children and that is simply not the case, for the most part. Homeschooling is a sacrifice, without a doubt. We live in a society that has a crippled economy which in turn has forced most families at the very least to rely on dual incomes. Financially speaking homeschooling has been a burden on our bank account, but as we all know somethings are worth way more than money. I am aware of and sensitive to a variety of reasons that cause people to hesitate when considering homeschooling. For some people it is simply not a reality. I do believe it is far more obtainable than most people would admit though. It is a lot of work. It requires a hands on investment in regards to your time as well as your children’s but that feeling deep in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong eventually disappears and is replaced by. . . .get ready for it! Learning!

I am friends with a number of public ed. teachers. I am friends with University professors who are educating the next crop of teachers. I’m friends with school board members. I have immense respect for them. They all went into the profession to touch lives and open minds and now are being faced with every obstacle imaginable. I sincerely hope that one day they are able to focus on their primary purpose rather than the distractions of test scores. But I am not willing to sacrifice my children’s education in the process. Truthfully you do not need to either. There are far more options available than taking the test or not taking the test but then spending the rest of the year preparing for it. Homeschooling is an umbrella term that in turn has as many options as there are families. But don’t take my word for it investigate it! Because that’s what homeschooling is all about, education!

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Co-Sleeping


liam and the bearA few years ago my family was on the Today Show. They had published a question online in regards to co-sleeping and my wife had responded to it. Within 48 hours there was a camera crew at our house doing an interview. If you do happen to watch the video that is indeed my family. It was a few years before I began staying home full time.

I decided to dig up this little family gem because every so often someone I know will ask me about the pros and cons of co-sleeping. It has been nearly three years since the interview so we have had the opportunity on some level to see how it has played out, at least in the short term.

For us personally it was never a conscious decision. To be honest I think that it initially was the result of our oldest baby having colic. Pure exhaustion set in and thus the baby slept with us. Deep down it never really seemed like an issue in our household and we were rather surprised to find that it was such a hot topic with people at large. At one point my wife worked for Public Health while they were waging their propaganda against co-sleeping and a number of the nurses contacted her privately after viewing our interview telling her they in fact did the same thing and admired us for speaking about the subject.

All three of our children slept in our bed as infants and toddlers. All three of our children now sleep in their own bedroom. None of our children made a fuss over the transition to their own bed. And though the “expert” on the interview would like you to believe otherwise my wife and I enjoyed all the perks of a loving relationship. . . . did (do) we ever!

Our two youngest who are 3 and 5 years old still occasionally stumble into our room at the most obscene hour of the morning but once again it really is not an issue. Sometimes we do not sleep comfortably due to it but our children are seeking us out for a reason. Whether bad dream or simply wanting to snuggle we are there for them and I believe that it is important for a child to know their parent is available for them.

I can only imagine that the whole issue is rooted in some sort of long forgotten puritan past. Why else would it seem logical to anyone to put an infant or toddler in a lonely crib so that they can cry themselves to sleep? There is a bizarre notion in our cultures fabric that affection and massive amounts of love are in some way harmful. I do not think that one would need to read a report or study to come to the conclusion that it may be setting the early foundation for many of society’s ills. It may not be farfetched to acknowledge that the apathy we have toward our own children may in turn be visited upon us a country when they reach adulthood.

It is important to love and hug. To take naps together. We are mammals and it is normal as a species to sleep in close vicinity to one another. Our children are all healthy independent types and yet are never afraid to seek us out if needed.

I look back on that time period and realize that I had some fantastic moments with my children as the crickets chirped outside of our window. My son and I developed an ongoing story about a young boy and his flying lawnmower. This young child, who happened to have my sons first name, and his flying mower visited a giant in the sky, a massive bear in a blueberry patche and my son was always the hero of the story. (See the amazing art attached to this article, wink wink).

It also seemed that all the big questions arose as we settled down to sleep.

“Why does bigfoot sound like a woman screaming?”

“How does Santa get in the house if we don’t have a chimney?”

“I can smell ice cream on your breath, how come I didn’t get any?”

That is not to say that we did not have a scary moment or two. With my oldest daughter I did think that I had rolled over onto her one night but it turned out she was just a really heavy sleeper. She still is. Good luck moving her from the couch to her top bunk. Personally I find that when one becomes a parent you experience a different type of sleep anyway. In some peculiar way you are completely aware of your surroundings even though you are tip toeing through the daisies.

My desire is not to convert you one way or another but simply point out that social norms come and go but deep inside you know whether or not you are doing the right thing for your child. For your family.

Here is the interview. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21134540/vp/43984891#43984891

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Change of Direction


Parenting is not easy. Everyone from comedians to psychologist have covered the topic. When you add homeschooling to the mixture you increase the oddity of child rearing a hundred fold. There is little time away from one another and you are exposed to the positives and negatives of each other’s personalities on a regular basis.

Just like parenting there are as many methods of homeschooling as there are families. What works for one family, scratch that, what works for one child does not necessarily work for another. I have slowly come around to the fact that there are going to be failures just as there will be success and that one can only exist along side the other.

In my attempt to break the unhealthy cycles that have plagued my own family tree for a few generations I attempt to digest each and every situation in an effort to do the least amount of harm as a parent so that in turn my children feel loved and safe in their youth. In turn this will hopefully lay the foundation for happy and responsible adults. I have always found it odd that so much of youth is spent preparing for adulthood in the sense that happiness is overlooked for long term character. Being happy in ones youth is far more important than our culture is willing to acknowledge.

I have to admit that even in my own home I have dealt with my childrens feelings through humor rather than facing it head on. Recently we purchased a bunk bed. While putting the bed together I found some graffiti on the wall. “Bad Dad” it said. Actually my mother found it while helping and in some bizarre fashion she took great satisfaction in seeing me struggle to gain full credit with my kids. Of course we all had a good laugh over it. In fact my oldest daughter blamed it on my son who cannot write yet. This resulted in a deep belly laugh from everyone in the room.

I shared the story of when my oldest daughter was just learning to write and I found the word “Sophia” scribbled on our living room window sill. When confronted with the evidence she blamed it on her younger brother. Looking at the infant lying on the floor in his diaper I had a hard time buying the story. The next morning I found “Liam” written on the same sill. Turned out according to my daughter her brother had written that as well. I began to think I should try a different approach. I would meet fire with fire. I did what any other responsible father would do.  I wrote the word “Dad” on the window sill. My daughter found it and immediately ran into the kitchen and told my wife what I had done. Epic fail.

Those of us who homeschool know that there is no line between being a parent and being a teacher. It is a lifestyle that consumes every moment of our lives. When everyone is happy things run smoothly. When people are upset this is not necessarily the case. When people are distracted it can turn into a circus. As the parent it is our role to find what works best over the long haul. Though I initially made jokes about the “Bad Dad” graffiti I knew why it was there. I was not engaging my children in a manner that they were receptive to. I was allowing the imagined deadlines of curriculum to create tension in my relationship with my children. My deadlines with our local school system created a level of anxiety that I was in turn allowing to spill over onto them. My fears became their fears. My temper was short because I was blinded by my own fear. In short I was a bad dad.

The turning point came when I overheard my children saying that they were going to “fire” me. They wanted a dad who laughed more. I tried to laugh this off but realized all the issues were on my end. My children are perfect in their approach to life. I was falling short and needed to make a change. I went in and apologized to my kids. I explained why I had been acting the way that I had. Needless to say I was able to keep my job.  Though it turns out I won’t be getting a raise.

Since homeschooling is so intertwined with our daily approach to life I decided that I needed to change my method of instruction. For years we used a canned curriculum inspired by the Waldorf method. I still think Waldorf has so much to offer and that it is a beautiful and empathetic approach to life but I have known deep down inside for some time that it is causing more stress than it is worth. It is simply not for us. For a number of years I have been slowly incorporating elements of unschooling into our day to day learning and have found that this really seems to be when our entire family shines. The impromptu opportunities that arise tend to be the moments of enlightenment. I can only liken unschooling to jazz music. You rarely know which direction you are going but somehow you end up creating something lasting, something memorable.

It is a bit overwhelming to change direction mid-stream and to admit that as a parent that you may have had it wrong. But that is one of the most amazing aspects of homeschooling, the ability to slam on the breaks and make corrections. Homeschooling allows the privilege of putting your family first. Our entire family is involved in this journey and should have a voice in which avenues we pursue.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

When Dad Homeschools


I was recently asked to write about being a father who homeschools his children. I have been rolling it over in my mind for days now. On some level there is little difference between myself and homeschooling mothers in regards to the daily struggle and success involved. We probably both find ourselves staring in bewilderment at the organized chaos taking place around us. All evidence would suggest we both survive on coffee and pray for the occasional opportunity to use the restroom without a child pleading their case with the door wide open. How is it that the bathroom in our home has turned into a Federal courtroom where accused toy and candy thieves try to stack the jury in their favor?

Most likely we both stare at the dark ceiling of our bedroom in the early morning hours wondering where the immediate energy of youth comes from as we hear distant sounds of children leaping from one piece of furniture to another in the yawning light of dawn. I feel pretty confident that we both find crayon murals on our window sills, balance dishes and laundry between mathematics and wonder where the time went as we stare at the aftermath of a long day cleverly disguised as piles of toys, pencils and socks.

On the other hand I do believe there may be some slight differences worth writing about. Just as homeschooling mothers face obstacles I lack the experience to address there are circumstances unique to my situation. Truthfully they may even be results of a homeschooling father living in a rural area because I do wonder if fathers teaching their children at home who happen to live in a city have the same experiences as I do.

There are positives and negatives. Let us start with one of the perceived negatives though so that we can end on a good note. For me personally the feeling of isolation is a major obstacle both creatively and emotionally. Now the interesting thing is that my isolation has not really had an impact on my kids socialization and I say this for those of you considering homeschooling or who are new to it and still buy into that myth.  I will give you a recent example. My two oldest children recently started taking ice-skating lessons. I took my kids to the first two lessons. Though I smiled and attempted to engage the mothers who would approach my kids I was largely ignored. On the third lesson my wife took the morning off of work and joined us. She was in turn approached by other mothers wanting to know which child was hers. Conversation was easy. Interaction was safe. Now of course these were the same children I had been showing up with for two weeks but there is some sort of social taboo in my neck of the woods that does not allow married male/female interaction to take place as readily. Now I realize that that may seem like a very small and insignificant situation to some but when you multiply this by every social situation whether the library, kids sporting events, dance classes, or any number of organized homeschool field trips it leaves one feeling isolated. That is not to say no one speaks to me or avoids me altogether  but there are no real relationships being developed. Luckily my children do just fine. They laugh and play and learn but I spend a lot of time alone.

The really interesting thing is that some of my strongest relationships and most trusted support networks have developed over the internet. In an attempt to find pen pals for my two oldest children I eventually found a wonderful family from southern Australia whom we interact with somewhat regularly. The friend who asked me to write this is from the U.K. I have even had the good fortune to interact with a homeschooling author who really inspires me. Although not in my immediate vicinity these are very important relationships to me. A network of support is important in any aspect of life especially when it comes to the education of ones children. I suppose the positive twist is that those relationships really expose the true value of homeschooling not only for the children but for the parent as well. Though barriers exist in my own community globally speaking I have been able to find individuals and families who are more interested in the pursuit of truth than social taboos. Further I realize those same minds must exist locally it is just a matter of locating them.

Now with that said I have always been comfortable with myself. I can spend large amounts of time reading and meditating simply put daydreaming. But it is always nice to know that if you need to interact with someone you can and that has been my biggest obstacle as a homeschooling dad.

My life is far from gloomy though. It is too hectic and too entertaining to be anything but wonderful. Though I go weeks without a haircut or shave and I rarely know what day of the month it is I do have the amazing opportunity to watch my children grow on a daily basis. I am so blessed to see the spark behind their eyes as knowledge from the days lesson takes root. I imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a dinosaur with young minds. I wipe tears and put Band-Aids on cuts too small to see. I dig in muddy creek beds in search of crayfish and salamanders. I comb hair and put in crooked ponytails. I color with crayons and introduce Neil Young on vinyl to my kids. I have barrettes put in my beard while I work on social studies activities. Most importantly I listen when they ask the serious questions in life,

“Where do we go when we die?”

“Why was that man yelling?”

“Why are your teeth so yellow dad? Don’t you brush?”

Though some aspects of a homeschooling father are unique overall I would humbly suggest that it is an extension of parenting which finds its common ground in the bizarre, unscripted situations that can only arise with the developing curiosity of youth. Though my family and I are no different from any other family in that facet we are entirely unique because of that fact.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Homeschooling, A Parents Perspective


At the LibraryHomeschooling. Where to begin? As I prepare to write this I realize that the subject itself cannot be confined to one paragraph, let alone one blog entry. Though I am naturally a cautious and slightly pessimistic person I tend to make an effort to focus on the positive, especially when communicating publicly. With that said I can honestly say that our family initially began homeschooling in an effort to remove our children from the perceived negatives of institutionalized schooling. Now we homeschool for the numerous positives associated with providing an education at home.

As any parent who educates their own children knows there are a number of stereotypes and myths that surround our chosen lifestyle. With most things in life that are misunderstood it usually comes down to education on any particular subject, ironically enough. In regards to homeschooling there are a couple of common questions that seem to come my way. Now of course there are the common “socialization” questions and such but the two I want to focus on for this particular piece are in response to when we homeschool. People seem to want to know if we take a summer vacation and how long our days are. These questions upon first glance seem harmless enough. Usually I respond rather briefly that we enjoy our summers or something along those lines. But as the years pass and I gain more experience in this particular lifestyle I realize the root of the question is buried well below the surface.Frog Pond Farm

Simply put if one is properly homeschooling it forces you to redefine your concept of education. Education is not something that takes place between the morning and afternoon bell. Education is existence. Knowledge, regardless of how subtle or profound, is gathered every moment of our life. Initially I wanted to say every waking moment but dreams are a whole other avenue worth exploring at a later date. Homeschooling shatters the rigid constraints presented by government run education. Which is nothing more than an “education” that prefers conformity, consumerism and competition.

When someone ask these seemingly harmless questions in essence they are asking you when your children stops learning. At what point during the day or season do they just float through life? It is kind of frightening to think that some people see learning as being so laborious. Something in which they simply ignore for hours or months at a time. If one takes a moment to think about it that is not case. Humans , especially children, are sponges. Information is constantly being presented and digested in a number of different ways. Filtering that information through specific time periods and seasons obviously creates more harm than good if ones goal is indeed education..

Once the process of redefining education takes place the world suddenly becomes your classroom. Libraries, grocery stores, fire departments and nature trails become your place of study. Socialization is conversation with the elderly gardener down the street, the other kids in your dance class, the chance meeting of a like mind at a local museum. It suddenly becomes obvious that you are not an isolated individual walking single file down a hallway from class to class but rather a vital part of your community. A community that is alive and breathing and can only function with the constant interaction of its members regardless of age. Barriers of fear and prejudice are taken down. Hands on education allows a level of learning to take place that could never be reproduced in the sterile petri dish of public education. Suddenly learning , education, wisdom, knowledge has no limits. No imaginary boundaries presented to create the illusion of control. Education is then a gift born of curiosity.  Homeschooling, if done properly, places that seed of curiosity in fertile soil and allows the childs mind to bloom and stretch toward the heavens unknown.

The true beauty of homeschooling may be hidden in the fact that it is not only the child who receives an education. Suddenly the parent is face to face with the boundaries presented by their own education as a youth and they must then make the choice of hiding in the shadows or redefining their own concept of education and stepping into the sun light for the benefit of those they love most.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .