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Monday Musings: Working from home: the good, the bad and the crazy

27 Mar

When I saw this, from perceptionvsfact.com, I thought it was a perfect comedic addition to today’s post, as I am a work-at-home-mom.

Recently a video went viral. It was a hilarious video of a professor being interviewed by the BBC. Although the professor looked to be dressed very professionally and in a professional setting, with maps and books and other workplace-type items, he was actually working from home and as you’ll see in the video, right before the eyes of the public, all hell breaks loose as his young children realize the door to his home office is actually unlocked, and they proceed to steal the show. His wife quickly realizes the error and saves the day, rescuing him from the situation as best she can, and leaving him to try to recover. You can watch that video here.

As soon as the video went viral, the world began to respond in all sorts of ways. Some people were supportive, some critical. As with anything, there are always a variety of responses. My favorite response however, was the parody video which came soon afterwards where Professor Kelly is replaced with a work-at-home mother, and she deals with similar issues, and then some, as she tries to conduct her interview from home. You can watch that video here.

I appreciated both videos very much. I have worked primarily from home for the past 16 years. I started with a home-based, direct sales business in 2000. I began that business while I was still teaching part-time, with a one year-old toddler in tow, and as the years went on, I gave up the teaching, two more children followed, for a total of three (now 17, 14 and 12). Through the 11 years of running the business, a new job opportunity landed in my lap in 2008, and I took on freelance writing in addition to the home-based business. In 2011 I closed down the business and the writing became my sole career, 50% of which is done from home. I blog, often for profit, although not always, and I am an award-winning journalist, writing for several newspapers across our state.

I appreciated the videos because I could sympathize with Professor Kelly. Working from home while raising children at the same time is unpredictable. You never know what will take place in the time that you’re on the phone, teaching a class, taking a class, running a meeting, or when trying to conduct a live video interview for the BBC. I am lucky too, that just like Professor Kelly, I have a partner in crime as well, and he was often there to help me in those early days when I was working from home, keeping the kids corralled downstairs while I taught a class or ran a meeting, dealing with some of the fallout that often takes place, despite the best-laid plans.

I also could appreciate the parody. Although it was clearly a spoof, it definitely brought back memories for me of the days of having a newborn, a preschooler and a toddler, in the time that I was managing it all on my own, taking orders over the phone while feeding a newborn baby just home from the hospital, or of cooking dinner while nursing, closing the oven door with my foot while on the phone with one hand, holding the feeding baby with the other, and conducting business at the same time. I can remember my class participants or team members holding my newborn while I taught or ran a meeting at home, I can remember working through dealing with stomach bugs, running kids to doctors appointments during the work day, and the like.

One of my favorite stories that I can now laugh at, was of having been up all night with  two suddenly-sick kids after a family birthday party which had taken place here the night before. I was desperately drinking coffee after coffee, and later realized that my coffee was laced with candle wax which had melted and dripped down into the pot, the white and confetti “number 6” birthday candle having sat on top of the coffee pot once removed from the cake during cleanup the previous night. I’m not sure which was worse: dealing with two kids who had come down with the stomach bug simultaneously at 2 am, realizing we now needed a new coffee pot, or realizing I’d been drinking the melted number six candle in my coffee all day, trying to survive the hours until my husband came home again.

I think I might’ve taken that day “off” from work, although I can’t remember now. Some of it might be permanently blocked from my memory. Either way, I had the flexibility to do what I needed to do, no matter what it was at the time, thanks to my work-from-home career.

Some of those sorts of things like illnesses and doctor appointments happen still to this day, this week and last, next week and the week after, although thankfully the candle incident was a one-time thing.

It’s life as a working parent and when you work from home, you’re in the thick of it 24/7.

Working from home is not for the faint of heart and I am sure that it is not for everyone. However, for our family, and for me as a professional, it has saved us. It has allowed me to pursue careers that I love, to put my family first and foremost, and to be able to contribute financially to our family, providing my children not just with many opportunities to try out new things by financially supporting them with my income, but also with the physical means to try them out because my schedule is one that is self-designed and I can get them to and from many, many things that take place during the Monday through Friday 2-6pm time-frame.

Working in Arizona during our five week Cross Country Adventure in 2015

When I speak at Career Day fairs and events, as I did just last week, I always speak to the opportunities that we have now to work from home, much of which is possible thanks to technology. It brings the world closer to us without us having to leave the comfort of our homes much of the time. I have had the chance to work both with and for people around the world and around the country, and I have worked from all over the country, supporting my family and building quite a resume at the same time. It’s something that if you can be disciplined enough, can be very profitable and can allow you to self-design a schedule that works best for you and your family. You can work as much or as little as works for your family situation.

Oftentimes people will ask about tips for working from home. If I had to think off the top of my head, I’d say this:

1) Treat your job as you would an out-of-the-home job. I get all my kids out the door each morning, and once they’re on the buses and the coast is clear, if I am working at home I sit down as I would in an office and I work. Most of the time I shower and dress first-thing, unless I have to have a very early start time for some reason, and then I have to just work in my pajamas, but that is not my norm.

2) I work without distractions unless I have sick kids at home. On a typical day working from home, the TV isn’t on, the radio isn’t on, and I don’t take social phone calls. I take breaks to eat my breakfast and my lunch throughout the day, sometimes working and eating at the same time, just as I would if I were in an office setting, but they’re not hours-long breaks. The dishes everyone has left for me (or for our non-existent maid, I can’t figure out who they think is taking care of them during the day) which are on the kitchen counter and in the sink sit there all day, untouched. The dishwasher we ran before bed the night before, and now needing to be emptied, stays full until after 4 o’clock. Sometimes, it stays full until 6 o’clock if I have work that needs to be done first. The laundry sits until the weekend or after hours. Otherwise, work would not get done during my working hours if dishes and laundry and house-cleaning did. I look at it this way: if my husband is not sitting at work folding our laundry and doing our family’s dishes, then neither am I. If I worked from the newspaper offices, I would not bring my laundry and dishes along with me to work. If I have to stop working at 2pm to get someone somewhere after school, and not sit down to work again until after they’re in bed, I need to capitalize on the uninterrupted hours I have during the day when I have them.

2) No one with you at home to tell you to do your work. Be self-motivated. Set your deadlines and get your work in on time. I have a very difficult time staying focused, which is why I work in total silence, but I do know that it’s my sole responsibility to make sure the work I am being paid to do is done, and I know that I am paid by the assignments I am submitting, so I am driven to do it, to do it on time, and to do it well.

There are always pros and cons to every situation, and working from home is no different. I am lucky in that I have health insurance coverage from my husband’s job, or that would be a consideration. Financially, we have been sure to make the appropriate preparations for savings and retirement because I do not have a traditional opportunity for a 401K or a pension. I do not get paid sick days ever, or paid vacation days, but yet I can set my own schedule and I work from home, and I can essentially work from anywhere that I have an internet connection, so although it means I generally work when we are on vacation, and I don’t ever really get a true vacation, it means I can work without interruption and not lose my income if we are away. It also means that I can set my own hours and when my kids are home in the summer or if we have family visiting and staying with us, I can wake up very early and work before they are up, and I can work late at night after they are in bed, if I want to, so that I can enjoy the daytime hours with them while I have them. I also can just work when they’re all here and awake, if I want to. I can decide and I can do what works best for us. If anyone is sick, myself included, I can work from home if possible. If not possible, if I am too sick or they are too sick, then I can work around it in off-hours and still be paid, or not work at all, and therefore, not get paid.

When we first started our family and made our decisions for our jobs, we decided as a couple that we wanted our family to come first, we wanted to raise them ourselves, and we never wanted to say our kids could not do something because of our jobs, or that we could not be there for important events or appointments because of our jobs. My working from home has allowed us to keep to to our goals, and to allow our kids to try out new and different things thanks to our dual income, and thanks to my self-designed, flexible schedule.

Every job has its challenges, no matter what the setting, and working from home is no different. I am glad it’s something that we have pursued and that it has worked so well for us. Any of the challenges or bumps in the road that come with working from home have been far outweighed by the successes and rewards we have seen with its benefits.

Hats off to Professor Kelly and to all the working parents out there, whether moms or dads, because it’s definitely not easy, and it’s always an adventure!

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Marching Every Day

23 Jan

This past Saturday was one of the largest peaceful protests in US history. Men, women and children showed up all across the globe, in every state and on every continent by the thousands, by the millions, to demonstrate their desire for women’s rights for equal treatment, for equal pay, for equal opportunity for jobs, for their reproductive and healthcare rights, and for so much more.  They marched against the election of a president who speaks sexually in on-camera interviews about his own daughter, who speaks out about sexually assaulting women and being proud of it, and who in my own personal opinion, has many more issues than I could possibly ever list here.

We couldn’t march Saturday. We were five people split in about eight directions that day, and when I originally saw the date and saw the conflicts, I knew we couldn’t be there. At the time of the actual demonstrations, I couldn’t even really watch because we were in and out all day, although I caught snip-its of the marches that were taking places all over the world, and I was so pleased, so proud of what I saw.

However, I didn’t really think twice about the fact that we couldn’t march with the others on this one day, because I know for a fact, that we in our house, march every day. Every single day we as adults and our children are marching for equal treatment, equal rights and equal opportunity for girls and for women.

“Hey sweetheart….are you a good girl? If you are, you’ll go get me a coffee. I like it black.”

“I really wish you were a boy. Things would be so much less complicated.”

“You can’t use that logo on your project. Most girls won’t know a sports logo when they see it.”

We’re marching every single day against treatment like that, happening right now to our kids, statements like that, requests like that that they’ve all heard spoken directly to them.

We’re marching to make sure our daughters know that it’s unacceptable to be treated like that and to make sure that they know that we could never cast a vote for someone who condones such treatment either; we could never do that to our daughters or to anyone else’s daughters either. We march every day to protect them all.

Every. Single. Day.

We are marching for other people’s daughters that haven’t heard those things yet, and our daughters are standing up to those requests and statements, advocating for themselves and for others who will come after them.

“You can’t speak that way to our daughter. Ever. It’s not okay.”

“I marched up there and I told him that I can too use that logo, that girls understand sports just as much as boys do.”

Our girls are taking risks others are afraid to take, or will only take if they are surrounded by other girls. They want to excel in a world that contains both women and men.

“There are only two other girls in my computer science class. I’m trying to get some more to take the class next year.”

“There’s only one girl in my friend’s engineering class. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it, she really loves it.”

“I’m the only girl in this robotics class. I don’t care, I love it.”

“Only one girl took the six week technology class, all of the other students were boys.”

Marching day in and day out.

“Why do you want to do that kind of class? That’s for girls.”

“The girls will have to choose between the dance and the sporting event. We’ll give them a shirt from the game though, if they choose to go to the dance.”

Each day we, all five of us, get up, we show up, we fight the fights some people know about, and we fight fights no one knows about. We make a difference for those who don’t think a difference needs to be made, because we know better. We live the life. We march and every battle we fight and win is a battle that hopefully no one else will have to fight.

We do it for our girls.

We do it for yours.

We do it for the ones who are coming after ours, paving the way for them, even though they don’t realize it.

We march for those who can’t.

We march for those who won’t.

We march for those who think they don’t have to.

We march for those who came before us.

And, we march so that some day those girls who come after us, won’t have to.

It's a long road ahead, and there will be bumps for sure, but we will keep marching, day in and day out.

It’s a long road ahead, and there will be bumps for sure, but we will keep marching, day in and day out.

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Thumbprints

22 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2011

I first posted this recipe on my FB page on December 5, 2008!! It’s a cookie recipe my mom and I make every year, and if I had to pick a top favorite, this would be in my top two. I LOVE these cookies. They’re easy to make and easy to just POP into your mouth!! And, they’re chocolate on chocolate. I mean really…how much better can you get than that?

This is a rolled cookie, so your kids can help you if you’d like them to. They can also use their thumbs to make the indentation in the cookies for the filling.

***As of 2013, I’ve added some modifications to the recipe to go with our dietary restrictions. You can either stick to the original recipe or try the healthified version.***

Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies
Makes six dozen
Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Thumbprints before baking

Almost ready to go in the oven!

Alex making thumbprint batter

Alex did almost all the measuring and mixing for the thumbprints herself, with very little help from me.

INGREDIENTS FOR COOKIES

1 cup margarine or butter, soft (We now use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 oz (2 sq.) unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
1 egg
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour (you can sneak in some wheat flour, mixing half wheat and half white)

DIRECTIONS FOR COOKIES

In large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
Blend in vanilla, chocolate and egg.
Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup, level off. Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, mix well.
Chill dough 30 minutes for easier handling.

Shape dough into 1″ balls, place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets or parchment lined sheets. With thumb, make imprint in center of each cookie.

Bake at 375 degrees 8-10 minutes. Let cool one minute before removing from cookie sheets. Fill with chocolate cream filling.

Thumbprints ready to fill

Thumbprints are ready to be filled!

INGREDIENTS FOR CHOCOLATE CREAM FILLING

6 oz. (1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons corn syrup
1 Tablespoon water
1 Tablespoon margarine or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In small saucepan melt chocoalte chips with corn syup, water and margarine over low heat, stirring constantly. Stir in vanilla.
Spoon 1 tsp into each cookie.

Your Tray or Mine Recipe of the Day: Brown Eyed Susans, a Family Favorite

21 Dec

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 7, 2011

When I posted my first recipe last week for Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies, I mentioned that it was one of my top two favorite cookies on our trays each year (I’ll let you know what my other favorite is when I post it.) However, the thing about cookie trays is that everyone has their own favorites. Mine tend to be all the ones that are heavily chocolate chip based, but not everyone’s are.

Brown Eyed Susans for Christmas Cookie Trays

I had a near meltdown when I realized we were totally out of any sprinkles for the tops of the cookies. I recovered when I found red and green stars instead.

Today’s recipe is for Brown Eyed Susans, which are my brother’s favorites. I might have one each year, but he *loves* them. They’re good and easy to make. I hope you’ll try them!

BROWN EYED SUSANS

INGREDIENTS

Cream together the following:

1 cup butter

3 TBL. sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp. salt

CHILL FOR TWO HOURS.

Rolled and flattened cookie dough

Here’s what the cookies look like as they are rolled and then as they are flattened.

DIRECTIONS

Roll into about 1 level tablespoon ball and place on greased cookie sheet.

Flatten slightly using your fingers. (This is a good place to have your kids help out.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Frost while warm. (You can make these ahead, freeze cookies and then frost them when thawed.)

I find that if you fill all your baking sheets with the rolled and flattened cookies first, you can use the baking time to make up the frosting so that it’s ready for you to frost them while they’re warm.

Brown Eyed Susans

These look pretty with any sort of decorations on top, but we normally use sprinkes as shown here.

FROSTING INGEDIENTS

1 cup Confectioner’s Sugar

2 TBL Baking Cocoa

2 TBL hot water

1/2 tsp vanilla

Use about 1/2 tsp on top of each cookie (yes the frosting does drip off the cookies, so put wax paper underneath.)
**I found that the 1/2 tsp measure on top of each cookie is important. If you use just any spoon to frost them you run out of frosting because too much goes onto the cookies and then drips off the cookies onto the wax paper and then you have to make another batch of frosting.

Sprinkle colored sprinkles or chocolate sprinkles (or place an almond, or whatever you’d like,) on top. This is also a good “job” for kids to do, decorating the tops of the frosted cookies, that and running their fingers all over the waxed paper where the chocolate has dripped once the cookies are safely removed!

**In Rhode Island, the sprinkles are called Jimmies. My dad is Jimmy and my mom is Pat so we call our colored ones Patsies. Just a random fact for you…

A single recipe makes about 36 cookies.

Your Tray or Mine? Cookie Tray Recipe of the Day: Chocolate Chip Butterballs

20 Dec

These cookies could be made with nuts instead of chocolate chips if you prefer!

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 5, 2011

Today’s recipe is another one of my favorite cookie recipes, one we’ve made for years and years. Way back when I was a Girl Scout, I used to participate in the Girl Scout Bake Off each year and one of the years I earned second place with these cookies! That’s how long my family has been making them.

We call them Chocolate Chip Butterballs, but they have many other names: Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Balls, Hazelnut Balls and probably other names I don’t even know about.

Traditionally they are made with nuts. I don’t like nuts, my family never baked with nuts growing up and I don’t either We all really love Chocolate Chips though, so my mom has always subbed in the chocolate chips for nuts. You can choose either mini chips or the regular sized chips. Personally, I prefer the big ones, but if you don’t, switch them for the minis instead. If you’re into tasting batter, this one is safe to eat, there are no eggs in this recipe. I’m always pretty sure I’d come out with about six more cookies in each batch if I ate less batter!

This recipe can be made fast and easy if you have extra set(s) of hands to help you roll the batter into balls! This is one I often let my kids help with. I don’t usually have them roll the hot ones in the sugar though, even though I use a spoon for that. Their “part” is the cold batter getting rolled into the balls for baking.

Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what the coordinating kids’ activities are for this recipe!

Enjoy!

Chocolate Chip Butterball Cookies

INGREDIENTS

2 cups flour **for a healthier version, I have used one cup of wheat flour mixed with one cup of white flour**
1 cup butter or margarine  **for a healthier version I have substituted “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” for regular**
4 TBL granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla

one 12 oz. package chocolate chips

Bowl of confectioner’s sugar

DIRECTIONS

Combine flour, butter, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla in bowl of electric mixer. Mix well.

Add in chocolate chips, mix them into the batter.

Refrigerate dough 30 minutes (or longer.)

Form into 1″ balls, place on cookie sheet. These don’t spread, so you can put a lot on a sheet, no need to spread them out a ton.

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes.

Cool only slightly, maybe a minute or so, and then roll each one in a bowl of confectioner’s sugar.

Roll a second time in confectioner’s sugar before serving.

Pumpkin Palooza Recipe of the Day: Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

19 Nov

Done….

Originally posted on November 14, 2011

The recipe I’m sharing today is one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes. Each year this is what we have for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, and we grill it, which is superb! The kids all watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade while they eat their grilled bread. I also usually make mini loaves of this to give the individual teachers as a gift, as well as two loaves to put in the faculty rooms at the kids’ school and my husband’s school as a thank you to everyone. Last year I think I tripled the recipe, if I remember correctly and had to mix it in a huge stock pot. Not sure what my plan of attack will be this year, but I have already stocked up on my cranberries and my pumpkin!

Enjoy!

PUMPKIN CRANBERRY BREAD

INGREDIENTS

2 cups pumpkin puree (1 can of One Pie Pumpkin = 2 cups)
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
4 eggs, large
1/2 cup Canola or Vegetable oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
12 ounce package of fresh or frozen cranberries

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan(s). You can either use two large loaf pans or 3 mini loaf pans.

Beat together pumpkin, sugar, water, eggs and oil.

Sift in remaining ingredients except cranberries. Mix just until smooth.

Gently fold in cranberries.

Pour into loaf pan(s) and spread evenly.

Bake in the center of oven for 60 – 70 minutes for large loaves, less time (40-50 minutes) for smaller loaves or until toothpick or cake tester comes out clean. Do not overbake or bread will be dry.

Cool in pan on a rack for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn bread(s) out onto rack and finish cooling.

Bread may be made in advance, covered and chilled for up to four days.(When I make two loaves for us I often save one to eat and keep one to freeze to eat at a later date.)

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.

****

It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.

 

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