Slowing Down


                 As we became a homeschooling family we dove headfirst and completely submerged ourselves in our new lifestyle.  We joined all kinds of groups and signed up for extracurricular activities.  I didn’t want my children to miss the social aspects of public school or be left out of opportunities to develop their talents.  We soon found ourselves involved in dance lessons, play groups, book club, science classes, art classes, sports teams, guitar lessons, and the like.  Just typing this list makes my head spin.  Somehow we managed to keep our heads just above water.

                 One night my husband made a startling comment as we sat down to family dinner, “This is a novelty,” he remarked.  I quickly realized that he was right.  Family dinners had become few and far between, family home evening was even going by the wayside as I made justifications that we were getting plenty of family time, after all, we homeschool!  Our weekends were filled with all kinds of activities and I was really starting to wear out. 

                My littlest kids were spending hours in the car each week as we sat in traffic to drop kids of at their “enriching” activities.  After the third or fourth week in a row of relentless activity I had finally had enough.  I now longer cared about looking like a flake or a quitter.  I started weeding things out left and right to clear some space into our schedule.  One by one I cancelled activities and I began to feel lighter.  That next week, I had carved four free days into our schedule. 

              Suddenly, we had the gift of time!  I made a point to have family dinner.  I read an article posted recently on The Sentinel about making family home evening a priority.  We held family home evening that week.  Guess what?  I was starting to find my center.  I was amazed at how many enriching activities we could actually do at home when we were not sitting in traffic trying to get from one activity to another.  I can’t believe I was almost robbed of one of the most precious gifts of homeschooling, simplicity. 

                The adversary wants us to be completely distracted.  He wants us to be rushing from one activity to another so that we cannot hear the one resounding truth that we are enough.   Our young children especially need their Mothers and they need family time at home to learn and to play and explore.  Our children need us to really SEE and HEAR them.  While I believe that it is important for kids to be involved in extracurricular activities so that they can socialize and develop their talents, these activities cannot replace that crucial time spent in the home.  As homeschoolers, we are blessed to create our own schedules and choose our priorities for the most part.  I am grateful for the wise counsel of former General Relief Society President, Julie B. Beck in the following quote:

Mothers Who Know Do Less

                "Mothers who know do less. They permit less of what will not bear good fruit eternally. They allow less media in their homes, less distraction, less activity that draws their children away from their home. Mothers who know are willing to live on less and consume less of the world’s goods in order to spend more time with their children—more time eating together, more time working together, more time reading together, more time talking, laughing, singing, and exemplifying. These mothers choose carefully and do not try to choose it all. Their goal is to prepare a rising generation of children who will take the gospel of Jesus Christ into the entire world. Their goal is to prepare future fathers and mothers who will be builders of the Lord’s kingdom for the next 50 years. That is influence; that is power."

                  I hope to be able to guard and protect our most precious commodity – time.  I hope to have the discipline to choose only the best things and the confidence that I am making the right decision not to choose it all.   

Tips and Tricks from an old Dog

A Message from the archives. Originally posted Tuesday August 2, 2011.

by Doreen Blanding

     There are a few things I’ve learned over the past two decades of homeschooling six very different children.  I would love to pass some of this knowledge along to other homeschooling moms and dads.

You’re not very smart

     I’m no longer insulted when my junior high student says, “Mom, I have a math question, I’ll go get the answer book,” or worse yet, “I can’t finish my math because I have a question that you can’t answer. I’ll just wait for dad.” But the worst is when they say that and end it with, “I’ll just wait for Jason.” Jason is my math genius.  He didn’t get that from me, but from his dad.  He is still living at home and going to a local college where he is setting the curve in his math classes.  I wish I could take credit for that, but I can’t. That boy sure did teach me a few things and one of them is not to be insulted because I don’t understand something. I still remember when he took his geometry test book (in which he was behind a couple of days) and took the test in five minutes and didn’t miss a problem. I knew then that he was way beyond me.

Drummers drum

     Jason also taught me that kids march to the beat of their own drum and sometimes that’s literal.  When he was a little kid he couldn’t spell the simplest of words and it was driving me crazy.  He would have a word memorized one minute and then ten minutes later not know how to spell it.  One day while drilling him, I saw his foot tapping the ground in perfect rhythm.  I told him to stop it, it was driving me crazy.  How could he concentrate on spelling if he was tapping his foot? He stopped only to start tapping his finger on the table. I told him to stop and so he switched to the other hand.  I almost left the room screaming, but instead I took a breath and said a silent prayer, “Dear Lord, help me not to beat this child.” My answer was, “This child needs to move in order to learn.”  That was the beginning for him. He took off like leaps and bounds because I let him move his body while he was studying.  He would jump on the rebounder (a little trampoline), or skip rope, or tap his foot or his fingers.  A few years later we bought him a drum set and he loved it. He still drives me crazy when he taps his finger or pencil while studying, but I just bite my tongue and remember that he is processing something very important. I learned that sometimes a quick prayer gives us the right answer. Sometimes we have to let our children learn in unorthodox ways.

Give ‘em a minute

     I just love it when my kids say, “Mom, how come you marked number 15 wrong? It can’t be wrong; I went over it and over it.”  I remind them that I correct a lot of different papers throughout the day and I don’t recall what “number 15” is.  They usually catch me while I’m making dinner or busy with something else and yet they want me to stop and help them.  Instead of dropping everything, I have them verbally walk me through the problem.  Nine times out of ten, they stop mid sentence and say, “Oh, I see what I did wrong.” That tenth time, I will walk over and say, “Show me.” It is while showing me that they usually discover where they went wrong. Sometimes all it takes is for them to take a minute and try to explain their problem to someone else.

The teacher always learns the most.

     Another trick I have found is to answer their questions with this: “Teach me.”  The teacher always learns the most. This works very well with kids of all ages.  I’m a busy mom and sometimes I’m very pressed for time so I will have my kids read a chapter of a science book and then teach us what they learned.  I also use this trick when the math problem they are asking me to solve is something I would need to brush up on. I have them teach me how to multiply fractions or how to solve a geometry proof.  The other response I have is “Prove it.”

Show and Tell

     There is nothing wrong with show and tell.  When my children were very little we did a show and tell almost nightly for dad. First I did it to prove to him that I was teaching his children, but later I had them do it to see what they learned and what they missed from the day’s lessons.  My college son told me one day that he wished I would have given him more tests and grades.  I told him that I tested him almost daily. “Remember how I had you tell dad each night what you learned? That was a pop quiz.” I did give the kid tests and grades. He just didn’t ever see them.  My children are a bit old for show and tell, but I love listening to them discuss some pretty heavy topics around the dinner table.
Family Home Evening

     I had been homeschooling for only a few years when a fellow homeschooling mom confessed to me that they didn’t do Family Home Evening on Monday night.  She said, “I feel like I’ve done family night all day long and I’m just so worn out that I can’t do one more lesson.”  I thought a lot about that statement.  She was right; I spent a lot of time doing Family Home Evening type stuff all day long and doing it one more time when everyone is cranky was a chore.  But then I thought of the blessings the Prophets had promised us when we hold Family Home Evening.  I couldn’t leave blessings on the table so I did “one more lesson” every week. I soon noticed that the kids looked forward to it as much as I did.  I also noticed that this was the one lesson where dad was with us and if we planned ahead he would even teach the lessons.

     It has been about fifteen years since that conversation and I look at what weekly Family Home Evening has done for my family. We are a stronger family because we did that “one more lesson.” My kids know the gospel and if they have questions, the know where to find answers. They know how to teach a lesson because we take turns.  I honestly don’t know where that other mom is or how her kids are turning out. I’m no saint, but darn if I’m not seeing the blessing of holding “one more lesson”.

     Finally, I have time for one more tip: be willing to let the Spirit guide you. Every one of the tips I’ve shared here, I learned because I was taught because I was flexible in the teaching moment and willing to let the Spirit take me somewhere different. If you remain open to promptings then I’m sure you will discover many tips of your own.

- Doreen

The Children's Songbook - A Homeschool Handbook


I have the best calling in the whole church. I get to have all the enjoyment of being with the cute primary kids without the responsibility of keeping little bodies reverent during the painful third hour of church. I am the primary pianist. 

My favorite part of this calling is listening to the kids sing from the Children's Songbook. In my life I have felt the love of God and received messages from his Holy Spirit more clearly through those simple songs than in any other way.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me as I sat behind the piano last Sunday when a homeschool problem I needed divine help with was answered through a simple children’s song. I've been thinking since then about the messages that the Children’s Songbook has for homeschoolers, and I have found so many! Let me share some of my favorites.

Teach Me to Walk in the Light (#177)

This song has plenty that applies to teaching our children, but the second verse popped out to me this time. “Come little child and together we’ll learn.” A common reason parents are afraid to homeschool is they don’t think they know enough or don’t feel qualified to teach. But homeschooling (and Earth life) is not about becoming an expert before you begin. It is about learning and growing as a family. I think my oldest was smarter than me before he was five, but that doesn't mean I can’t be his teacher. It doesn't matter if you never learned to diagram a sentence or completely failed algebra. When you homeschool you learn and grow together (and find yourself motivated like never before to conquer algebra).

You Don't Have to Push a Handcart (#218)

The song says, “You don’t have to push a handcart to be a pioneer...You DO have to have great courage, and faith to conquer fear. And work with might for a cause that’s right, to be a pioneer.” Although, in recent years homeschooling seems to be more widely accepted and less “weird”, many of us are exploring a completely new lifestyle with homeschooling. It can be difficult and there may be family or social opposition. I receive the most opposition from my own self doubts. But pioneering through the tough spots is homeschool at its best. I can’t count the times that things have gotten hard and I have wanted to give up on this crazy idea of teaching my own kids. But it never fails, after the rocky parts come the beautiful vistas of success and I am glad I didn't give up. I’m hoping that my children will be able to learn from my mistakes and can be better teachers to their children because of the path I've paved for them as a homeschool pioneer.

Search Ponder and Pray (#109)

The first thing every homeschooler does after deciding to homeschool is fret about what curriculum to use. There are thousands of options, which is what I love (and hate) about homeschooling. Sorting through the endless possibilities can be daunting. A homeschool mentor of mine asked me (after I had read every book I could find on choosing curriculum) if I had prayed for help yet. Embarrassed I said, “I hadn't thought of that!” I think I was worried about coming to the Lord with small decisions. But I’ve since learned that the Lord can guide us to help his children. He does care about the little details that are important to us, because teaching His children is important to Him. It’s good to read and study and search curriculum and philosophy so the Lord can guide us to the materials that will help our kids. “The Spirit will guide.”

Every Star is Different (#142)

This sweet primary song reminds us that everyone is unique. It says “Everyone is needed for just what he can do. You’re the only person who ever can be you.” There is no one way to homeschool. There are as many different ways as there are families who do it. Homeschool is constant trial and error. Learning what works for you and your children will take time. I often stress because I am not as consistent and structured as some successful mom’s I know. But one friend said to me she wished she could be spontaneous like me. We all have our strengths. Homeschooling brings out our weaknesses, to be sure, but it also helps us grow. Co-ops are a great way to team up with other homeschoolers and benefit from one another’s strengths and interests.

I'm Trying to be Like Jesus (#78)

Jesus loved the little children. He made time for them. He blessed them. And he taught them. We can try to be like Jesus by following in His ways. We can learn from Jesus, the master teacher, as we embark on our journey of becoming educators to our families. We can study the lessons he taught and learn to teach with love and simplicity as he did. We can learn from his example how to teach to multiple levels at once through the use of stories and questioning. Best of all we can learn to be “gentle and loving in deed and in thought” and prepare as a family for the “day of gladness when Jesus comes again.”

I’m SO Glad When Daddy Comes Home! (#210)

Thankfully I have a spouse who is able to provide so that I can be home to teach my kids. But there are days when I have had just a little TOO much togetherness and “I’m so glad when daddy comes home” so I can hide in the closet and rock in the fetal position while the little darlings suck the life out of a fresh adult. Phew! If you don’t have a spouse to share the load, be extra careful about arranging time for yourself to regroup. Trading babysitting with a friend, asking a visiting teacher for help, or finding a hobby you can use to “escape” are great ways to renew yourself so you do not burn out.

I’m all Made of Hinges (#277)

“But we have to have hinges or else we will, crack!” Homeschoolers have to learn to be flexible. Don’t stress if things don’t work out as planned. I think as a general rule things don’t work out as planned in our homeschool. Certain times and phases of life will require different kinds of schooling. People get sick, appointments come up, life happens. It’s okay to coast when you need to and roll with life’s punches when family trials throw off your groove.

Saturday is a Special Day (#196)

I can have a clean house or be a nice mom. But not both. It has taken me several years of reconditioning to learn to “close one eye” to messes. By lowering my expectations for the daily state of the house, my homeschool efforts are much more successful. We pick up a bit throughout the week, but we save the big chores for Saturday mornings and put our house back together. Then we can have a peaceful Sunday and are ready to tear it up again Monday. (Visit us on a Friday at your own risk!)

If You Chance to Meet a Frown (#267)

Even though homeschool is the most fun, and you will have the time of your life, some days just stink. And homeschooling can get intense. There is wisdom in the words “If you chance to meet a frown, do not let it stay. Quickly turn it upside down and smile that frown away.” The only attitude we can change is our own, but smiles are contagious and bring light and happiness; and where there is light, darkness cannot exist. Even if we don’t feel like smiling we can turn a bad day right by finding the humor in it and counting our blessings. We will “make the world a better place by smiling all the while.”

I am a Child of God (#2)

Despite my best efforts I always fall short of what I think my family needs or deserves. I find comfort in the very first song in the Children’s Songbook. It says, “I am a child of God, and he has sent me here. Has given me an earthly home...” God is my father and he gave me the chance to come to earth and have a family. He will lead me and guide me. He will walk beside and me and help me find the way to teach the special Spirits He has entrusted to my care.

Along with the sweet children’s voices, I will be listening carefully to the Still Small Voice as I sit behind the piano in Primary this SundayI am sure there are many more messages that await in that little blue book for me.

Learn More about Jana.

Lessons and Revelations

It was just about a year ago that I found myself desperately searching for answers to what felt like too many questions, especially considering that I’d already been homeschooling for a dozen years.  As the ages and needs of my children changed, however, and opportunities and promptings had presented themselves over time, I recognized that there were new essentials and that much as I wanted to fight it, adjustments had to be made. Prayer had led me to the “what” requiring attention for the year, but I could not find the formula for “when” or “how.”  I was perplexed and the clock was ticking.

To my way of thinking, my list of questions required answering in the order I asked them. But one night, as I had stared long and hard at the top of my list and could think, listen, and feel no more, I decided to finally go to bed. In that peaceful bliss of time between putting my head to pillow, closing my eyes, and just about relaxing into sleep, the answers to questions numbered 20-25 flashed through my mind.  It was a lesson on revelation, and a revelation on our lessons all at once.  It also proved to be the best and most important component of our homeschool for the school year.

It was simple, really.  Five topics that needed focus for five days of the week.  Over the course of the year, each topic would get ample attention, we’d have a firm framework for beginning each day that the kids could count on, yet by rotating topics daily, there would also be variety which is something I personally need.

The solution:

Manners Monday

Testimony Tuesday

Working Wednesday

Thankful Thursday

Friendship Friday

We began each day singing a hymn or Primary song that was related to that day’s topic, sometimes reading the scriptures listed at the bottom of the page and often reading about the hymn itself in "Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages" by Karen Lynn Davidson.  I purchased a 5-subject spiral notebook with pocket dividers for each child, each day’s lesson having a copy work element, whether it was rules relating to manners, quotes from prophets or scriptures or books read on the topic, a personal reflection on the topic’s discussion, as well as the section for Thankful Thursday also being used as a gratitude journal.  The pockets held things like General Conference addresses on the topic, or the written testimonies of family and friends I requested for Testimony Tuesday.  (The pockets also had to occasionally stash a page accidentally torn out by a younger child.)

This year we’re going to stick to the same format, but change the topics as led by the Spirit.  Following the alliterative pattern, here are just a few of the ideas on my list of possibilities.

Monday – Missionary, Mothering, Marriage, Miracle, Meek, Memory, Mercy, Extra Mile, Mindful, Ministry, Music

Tuesday – Temple, Talent, Temperance, Teachable, Treasure, Trustworthy

Wednesday – Wisdom, Word, Walking with God, Worthy, Worship, Watchful, Willing, Witness, Worth of Souls

Thursday – Theology, Thoughtful, Thirsty (for Living Water)

Friday – Family, Fathering, Follow the Prophet, Faithful, Forgiving, Freedom, Fruits of the Spirit

Of course, you don’t have to be so poetic (I just love alliteration and cannot help myself, and it was the manner it was presented to me), and you can also include Saturdays and Sundays if you’d like

I am indebted to and thankful for a Father in Heaven who knows me, knows my children, knows our needs and desires, and who listens and answers with wisdom I’m not capable of.  I don’t know if the solution He gave me will be of use to you, but it did make all the difference for my family.

A New Day is Calling for You

The wonderful and challenging journey that is homeschooling lends itself to lots of needs to change or do over; I’ve been at it a long time but as children age and mature, as I age and mature, and as new ideas and opportunities present themselves (as well as new children), some aspects of homeschooling are fluid.  The math curriculum that worked wonderfully well for the first four children may not be so helpful for the fifth child.  A new co-op or outside commitment, while wanted and needed, may throw tried and true routines into a tailspin. The easy part is recognizing that something just isn’t working. The hard part is knowing what to do about it and continuing on after a bad day, week, month, or even year, believing that lessons in what doesn’t work are just as valuable as the picture perfect days when everything goes well.

Each and every day is a new day calling for you.  Don’t get stuck in a rut and think you must wait to make a change. Don’t get discouraged and think that because something (or several things) didn’t work this year, you’re not fit to continue on.  Believe in yourself and in every breath you get to take.  The sunrise comes up just for you.

I hope you’ll enjoy the following video.  I made it to accompany the keynote address “Stay the Course” at the Cache Valley Homeschool Conference in February 2012. I’d like to thank Monica P., a lovely homeschooled young lady, who introduced me to “Sway Your Head” by We Shot the Moon.  She used the song for a project in a class I taught and it immediately gained a spot on my pep-talk-playlist.