I'm a weird mix. I'm super creative and want to fly by the seat of my pants. It's hard to pin me down on details and I much prefer to change my mind every day on what I'm doing and where I'm focusing.
However, I'm also extremely organized and hate clutter. It messes with my mind and makes me anxious. So homeschooling has been a challenge for sure! I want my kids to learn at their own pace, be curious and explore new topics, but I also want clean surfaces and organized shelves. I would prefer to use A Beka and plan out the whole year, but I know that next week I'll change my mind so we don't lesson plan at all (that's for another blog). Plus, to be able to run a business AND homeschool, organization is absolutely essential!
Many of you have asked me HOW I organize our homeschooling space, so I took some pictures and thought I could show you best on a blog post.
This is an actual picture of our homeschool room.
Yes, it looks like our kitchen table. Because it is! We have found over the years that the kitchen is the heart of our homeschool and it works best for all of us to center around this table. Granted, I took this picture before any of the kids woke up, but it's still the main place we hang out.
Because I LOVE books but I also like to HIDE them, we have this big piece of furniture (from Hom Furniture) just across from our kitchen. Behind the doors are all the books I'm encouraging my kids to check out this year. We have lots of games for easy access, because a lot of learning happens while we play games and hang out together!
Notice the OLD encyclopedia's on the shelf. I got them cheap off of Facebook marketplace. Grab a set because it's like having a printed set of Google in your living room for your kids to flip through. (My youngest spontaneously started writing a paper from her research--a rare sighting, but it does happen, my friends! Just give them the tools.)
The big blue yoga ball is #reallife because the 11 year old likes to hang upside down and bounce while reading or learning or hanging out. Here's what is inside all the cupboards. Yes, we have Friends DVDs. That's for parental sanity.
Please notice the giant "SIMPLIFY" sign on the top of the bookshelves. I'm always reminding myself to slow down and simplify my life.
Also notice the globe. Essential for geography and seeing the big picture of the world while we read or explore movies! I have learned so much myself, just from keeping a globe in our family room!
In our home office (which was the dining room, but we added doors and two desks for me and the hubby) we have a wonderful red armoire, which was gifted to me for free from one of my piano students! I LOVE this piece of furniture because I can hide all of our schoolbooks out of sight. When the kids were younger, my house looked like a preschool or elementary classroom with fun posters on the wall, but now that they are older, I prefer to hide everything, unless we are using it.
Here's the other side of the office, so you can see my desk and my husband hard at work. This office is super close to my kitchen table, so everything is easily accessible. We have a printer and a copier (so needed for homeschooling) and a paper shredder in the corner. Below, you can see the barn door closed and how close the office is to the kitchen table.
I love teaching my kids how to use computers, create websites, design graphics, and Lydia (pictured here) loves the website www.alwaysicecream.com for some of her school! I sneak in some of my own work while helping them, and then I have separate times for working when I'm in the office doing coaching calls or time at my music school when I'm meeting with my staff.
Homeschooling has allowed us so much freedom to learn and work from home. I love that my kids can learn at their own pace and pursue what interests them! And I LOVE that I can grow my company beside them!
I'd love to hear about YOUR homeschool. What works for you? And how has it all evolved over the years?
(If you notice the paper chain in the last picture, we are counting down the days until my oldest moves away to college. On the one hand, I'm so proud that he is flying on his own, on the other hand, I can't believe I'll only have three at home this fall! Homeschooling is sneaky. Just when you figure things out, they graduate!)
I'd love to know how old your kids are. Comment below!
Do you have big dreams in your heart? Do you have a goal that feels impossible to reach, and yet so close that you could reach out and touch it?
Maybe life has interrupted your plans and dreams. Kids came along and now life responsibilities weigh heavily upon your heart. There’s not much time for dreaming when the laundry pile never stops growing and hungry mouths are begging to be fed again and again and again. (Seriously, how many times a day do they need to eat?!)
And yet. Deep in your soul there is a longing. A pull. A quiet desperation that you were made for more than this. More than the dishes and the cleaning and the calendar-managing.
I understand. For the last 18 years, I’ve been raising (and homeschooling) kids while valiantly trying to grow my music school into a stable company that can support my family and four kids. And yet there’s still more in my heart. More dreams that sometimes crawl up my throat and threaten to choke me. I know God created me to do more than just be a taxi driver and schedule coordinator for my family. I know I have gifts and talents and abilities that He can use for His glory and to help other people. And yet I want to be there for my kids. I want to be the best mom I can be. The pull and the tug of war within me is not small. It’s there every day and how do we reconcile that? How do we keep going and keep our dreams alive and, at the same time, keep our kids, plants, and husband fed and watered and alive?
Re-define where you are going
I do the only thing I know how to do. I keep re-evaluating my priorities every month, every semester, every year. I make small tweaks and changes when necessary, and I keep straining my eyes down the path, wondering if we are headed in the right direction. Sometimes I make wide-sweeping changes, scrapping what we have been doing, and grabbing the wheel of life to make a hard turn. And sometimes, it’s just a quarter-inch turn adjustment, hardly noticeable. Adding one small habit to my day, eliminating another one. Picking up the phone, making that appointment, getting on my knees and praying. Journaling. Seeking out the wisdom of friends. Or simply hanging on to make it through another day.
Eliminate soul-suckers and time-wasters
Life is exhausting, yes? Going to the grocery story can be a three-hour event. And how many times do I really need to touch each item? Pull it off the shelf, examine ingredients, add to cart. Place on the conveyer belt, now pack into the grocery bag. Place the bag in my cart, then my trunk. At home, grab as many bags as humanly possible (or summon the teenaged boy away from his XBox to help), place on the counter. Take out of the bag. Finally put it away where it belongs in the fridge or pantry. I mean, c’mon! If I think about it too much, I’ll lose my mind! There are orphans and starving children in the world and my day is consumed with the grocery run and all it entails? Sometimes the dichotomy of it all makes me silently scream in my head. And then my kids quietly grumble that the meal that isn’t their favorite? And am I a terrible mom if I let my voice roar and remind them about the starving kids in Haiti? Or am I to keep silent and command them to set the table with a stern look that says, “Don’t bring this up today. Eat what you are given.” It’s all enough to kill the noblest of dreams for dreams are far away and tucked away in my heart—and my kids are right in front of me, needing new socks and shoes because their toe poked right out of the top at camp last week. I sigh. I pray for patience. And when the house is quiet and I’m finally alone, I journal about my dreams and I wonder if anything more is actually possible while these kids need me so desperately.
I order groceries online now, to save myself the trauma from the trip to the store, except when I forget to place that order and back I go, stumbling through the aisles, trying to make the healthiest choice while simultaneously being conscious of the price and all my kids’ preferences of which lunch meat they prefer. My head threatens to explode while I smile nicely at the lady in the deli, wondering if I should ask her why she looks so sad and is she okay?
I try as much as possible to stay in my “sweet spot”—I don’t fix the vacuum cleaner anymore or even attempt to reset the internet router. I know which kids are good at fixing electronics and I try to do what I do best—keeping the schedule on course and hugging the nine-year-old and scheduling playdates and keeping the pantry stocked. But when life threatens to suck your passion and drive right out of you? When you just can’t automate the late-night talks with your teenager? You do what you have to do. You say, “Come here” and you hold that child that once kicked inside of your body and who is now is bigger than you are. You pray silently for wisdom and desperately hope your words will heal and not scar and will bring comfort somehow, instead of bringing a wedge of silence and teenaged eyes that glare, “You just don’t understand, do you?”
Automate everything you can
I love Amazon. (If only the cardboard that stacks up in my garage could be used to heat or cool our house—that would be more efficient.) I order everything humanly possible to be delivered right to my door and I hold back from hugging the delivery man, because he has saved me a trip to Target and for that I am so grateful. But when I’m on my phone all the time, making lists and ordering things and adjusting the calendar? Do my kids know I’m not playing Candy Crush? Or will they grow up and say, “My mom was always glued to her phone”? These are the things I worry about when I’m driving them all over town, remembering the email I need to reply to, the coffee date I said I would reschedule and then completely forgot about. When I leave the house for a meeting, an interview, or a conference, I worry that maybe I shouldn’t be both a stay-at-home-mom and working mom and maybe I should have chosen a different path. Maybe I’m screwing this all up and maybe there just isn’t one way to do this, so why do we judge each other so harshly and why are moms pitted against each other? I know we are all fiercely devoted to our choices, but can’t we just all love and support one another?
I love the reminder feature on my phone and I beg it to remind me to take my vitamins and exercise and change the cat litter. I know I shouldn’t think of Siri as a friend, but sometimes it happens because she is on my side—she’ll read emails and texts to me, tell my kids how to spell a word, and even ask if I need anything when I just accidentally press down the home button too hard. It’s kind of rude when she accidentally talks to me during church, but she is so helpful the rest of the time, and who can really fault her?
There’s so much to juggle, and although every day I crawl into bed with undone tasks and projects still begging for attention, I lovingly caress my remote and thank Jesus for Netflix, so my brain can relax for just twenty minutes before the parade of kids enters my room, wanting hugs and kisses and advice, and who remind me that they need a blue shirt tomorrow and “Mom, I really haven’t seen my best friend in awhile so can we schedule that?” I smile and hug and kiss and desperately hope my face looks genuine and they can’t read my thoughts which consist of “I really want to watch my show so please leave now and go to bed, please, so I can be alone just for a tiny little bit.”
I don’t struggle with insomnia—I know some people do, but my head hits the pillow and the next thing I know it’s 2:00 a.m. and I’m stumbling to the bathroom because after birthing four babies, I rarely go all night without peeing. I’m sorry for the over-sharing, but it’s true, and frankly, I love knowing the night isn’t over and I still have at least 3 hours and 45 minutes left of sleep. I don’t know why my body wakes me up at 5:45 a.m. every morning. I suspect it’s been trained by the toddlers who thought 6 a.m. was a perfect time for cartoons and cereal and even though I hadn’t even had coffee yet, they were ready to do math worksheets and crafts. So, I gratefully wake at 5:45 a.m., because no one is awake and my brain is finally clear, and I can steal a few hours completely alone, just me and the cat (don’t you dare meow loudly and wake up those kids) and my computer. Facebook is a nice companion in the morning, too, and I know we are all logged on too much and what must my mother and grandmother think? But it’s so much more convenient to message two or three of my loving, caring, encouraging friends every morning than to try to schedule lunch dates and coffee dates and I’m-so-sorry-but-I-have-to-reschedule events. And time zones and continents don’t really matter on Facebook, and so I thank the founder Mark Zuckerberg and enjoy my quiet time, make another cup of coffee, scan my calendar and my to do list, and when the house awakens from its slumber, I start another day of juggling and balancing and work and home and meetings and appointments, and oh, yes, the emails that never end.
Love what you do. Do what you love.
There are mom tasks and life tasks that don’t care if they belong in your sweet spot or if you have a talent for them, they just must be done. Everyone knows this and pushes on and just gets it done (or gets left undone, either way). We smile when needed, and cry when no one is looking. We keep re-evaluating choices of school and work and vacations and budgets and we wonder when we’ll get a little time for that hobby or passion that was such a strong presence in high school or college.
I glance longingly at my piano or that novel I’ve been meaning to read and promise them both that I’ll be back. But for now, I’m up to my eyeballs in running my little company and encouraging my staff. I’m trying to interview more people to ease the burden, and don’t forget the husband that probably feels neglected. We steal away for a quick date night (thank you Lord that our kids can be home alone for a little while now) and we smile across the table and I seriously think, “Weren’t we just 16? Where did all the time go?” You make me laugh and I remember why I fell for you in the first place—you were the only one that could make my stress vanish with your corny jokes and clever sarcasm. I knew no one would ever love me as much as you do and I knew you brought some sanity to my crazy. So now when I resent you for being steady and unwavering and wanting to reduce risk? Aren’t I despising the very thing that drew me to you in the first place? I sigh. I’m sorry. I need you and I love you and I’m so thankful that you balance out my crazy dreams and big ambitions.
Every day I try to do one thing that makes me smile and remember that I’m more than “Mama” and “Boss.” I try to squeeze in one little pocket of joy in the midst of all the duties and unquestionable obligations that fill my days to the brim. Maybe it’s just sniffing my Essential Oils or reading a sappy story on the internet. Sometimes I grab a quick phone call with my dear friend, or I drive through Starbucks and order a mocha—spend too much and curse the prices while gladly handing over my money for just a sip of happiness. I blast my favorite music in my minivan and when the Grandpa next to me at the stoplight smiles knowingly, I sheepishly turn it down. . .a little. These are my moments of oasis and only by lifting myself out of the tangible and into my dreams do I continue to put one foot in front of the other.
I listen to my soul and when it’s screaming “I don’t want to do this! I hate this! I’m not good at this!” I delegate and ask for assistance. It helps. A little. I try to do more of what energizes me and less of what drains me. I try. There are pockets of time during my day when my soul soars and sings and I think, “This is me. This is what I was made for” and then I go into the kitchen and see the crumbs and the dishes and I sigh. And this is real life and this is not worth grumbling over, so I turn on the music, call the kids to help, and get the job done.
Life is filled with the tasks of life and motherhood and while we try to pursue our dreams, we still anchor ourselves to this life we signed up for—raising kids and nurturing hearts and smiling at neighbors and attending church, just to reconnect with our community. We all do the best we can and isn’t that all we can do?
We may have one foot in each world, but this is the life we have been called to.
Those dreams are still tucked in my heart. They whisper to me and I whisper back, "Some day. Some day."
There was a day when I hated my life. The credit cards were maxed out and the bank account was zero. I didn’t know if my marriage would survive, and eerily, there was another baby on the way. I dreamed of escaping and starting over and maybe I married the wrong man? Maybe this wasn’t supposed to be my life.
I drove and I prayed and blasted the music and surrendered. Maybe this was all wrong, but it was mine. And what could I do? What could I control? What little did I possess in my hands that I could turn around for good? I did the only thing I knew how—I grew my little side business. I poured my heart and soul into creating classes and lessons that people would love. I focused on giving them value and meeting a need. And it worked. And slowly we climbed out of our pit of debt and despair and the light broke through the clouds and the sun began to shine. I never took my eyes off the goal—the mountaintop that seemed so far away. I only looked down to find the next foothold, the next step in front of me. I kept pressing on, even when my foot slipped and I was face down in the mud and the mire. I pushed myself up, forced myself to enjoy the view while still pressing on forward. This is real life and this is hard. But it’s not worth lying down and surrendering. I won’t give up. What good would that do? What then?
The tears squeeze out of the sides of my eyes. This life is hard. It just is. But I have so much to be grateful for. I can always find a little glimmer of thankfulness. And my God is my rock and my anchor. He is the one to whom I run and find shelter. He leads me on my path and lights the way. He hands me a flashlight and says, “Go that way,” and I do.
I’ll never fit in anywhere I go. I remember one business conference I attended. I presented a short segment about advertising using social media, won an award, and was walking to dinner with some friends. I casually mentioned that I homeschool my four kids and my friend beside me halted at a dead stop. People behind her almost crashed into her. “What?!” she said, incredulously. “You do what?!?” I downplayed it, brushed it aside, and went changed the subject to more common ground: marketing and hiring and liability insurance. I’m fluent in that language, too, and it’s like I’m from both countries: the stay-at-home-mom world and the working mom world and yet I’m not at home in either.
Both my roommates in college, ironically, were missionary kids. They struggled with fitting back into the American culture, asked me about which socks were appropriate with which shoes, asked how to pronounce words they had only read in books, and couldn’t laugh at pop culture references from our childhood (they didn’t have the same cartoons that we did growing up). They belonged to both countries, and yet neither. And that’s how I feel.
When I’m at the pool party with the other stay-at-home moms I can laugh and contribute to the jokes about potty training and nursing and getting teens to do their chores. When we talk about homeschooling, I know all the various curriculum choices and exactly what to say to encourage a new mom starting out. But when my phone rings and I step away to take the call, what do they think? When I check my email on my phone every hour, do they glance sideways and wonder why I’m being rude? When I arrive at the park day dressed up more than they are, do I make them feel badly about their yoga pants and messy ponytail? Do I explain that I have a meeting after this or just let it slide and commiserate about Band-Aids and making dinner? I’m fully versed in both worlds, yet a foreigner as well.
I was driving down the freeway when I asked my girls, “Would you rather I hire a nanny to take you to the pool? And when I’m off work, I’m done working?”
“No!” they exclaimed. We want you.”
“Even when I’m busy and distracted and doing a phone call right before we go swim?”
“Yes!” they chimed.
It was unanimous.
They like their mama home, even though she is a bit frazzled and has a computer on her lap a lot. Granted, they don’t know life any other way, but I like to think we picked the perfect blend of our life for our family.
And I’m not asking for approval or understanding—I don’t need anyone to give me permission to live this life we’ve crafted and I won’t judge you for sending your kids to daycare or public school or going back to work. You do you, and I’ll do me, and although I feel that I have my feet in both worlds, I’ll figure it out and walk it out, because I love both worlds.
When I feel like I have multiple personalities, living multiple lives, I console myself that I’m just “multi-passionate” and I’ll let my soul soar because I get to be both business-owner-Jen and homeschool-mama-Jen.
I truly love both lives.
And when awards get handed to me and I don’t feel quite worthy?
When people clap for my accomplishments and I think to myself, “I’ve only just begun, please stop clapping” I smile anyway and look ahead.
There’s another mountain to climb and I’ll never quit.
I’ll keep pressing on. And if my journey inspires anyone at all to climb their own mountain and keep pressing on, I’ll consider that a little pebble in my pocket—a little souvenir that made this journey a little more worth it.
I don’t feel inspirational and I don’t feel worthy of any titles or prestige. I’m just me, climbing this mountain, making the climb. I’ll accept the challenge because it was what I was put on this earth to do. It’s my purpose. It’s just who I am.
I don’t pray for an easier path—I pray only for just enough strength to keep climbing.
Hi, I'm Jen Hickle!