A Psychologist’s Response to the Turpin Case: Homeschooling and Child Abuse

A Psychologist’s Response to the Turpin Case: Homeschooling and Child Abuse

I normally don’t address current events or controversial issues on this blog. But news of the torture, captivity, and severe abuse and neglect of the Turpin’s homeschooled children is prompting me to speak out. I don’t have answers for how to prevent every case of child abuse, unfortunately. But I do have information that I think must inform our discussion about the issue and even prompt our action.

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The Turpin case, or child abuse and homeschooling

No doubt you’ve heard some of the horrifying details about the Turpin family in California. This mother and father of 13 children ranging in age from 29 to 2 are accused of starving, abusing, and holding them captive in deplorable conditions. Honestly, the case has given me nightmares. I want to say in no uncertain terms that I am mortified that their registration as a homeschooling family may have been used to allow them to continue abusing their minor and adult children. I am praying for the children and also praying that we can prevent the abuse of more than 600,000 children in the U.S.

I want to share my background with you before I launch into the topic. I am a clinical psychologist, not currently practicing. As a mandated reporter of abuse, I am familiar with the definition and signs of abuse. What I am also familiar with in this case is how to evaluate research and statistics. I have the added experience of having homeschooled my children for 19 years.

An estimated 3% of school-age children are being homeschooled in the United States for a total of about two million students. These are not exact numbers because not all homeschoolers are required to register themselves as such.

Is child abuse among homeschoolers a “widespread problem”?

In the L.A. Times, Rachel Coleman and Kathryn Brightbill wrote that the Turpin case is indicative of a widespread problem of abuse in homeschooling families. They list several examples of not just abuse but torture by families who claimed to be homeschooling. Ms. Coleman and Brightbill, as staff members for the website ResponsibleHomeschooling.org, are privy to a database they have created of examples of severe child abuse occurring in families who again, claim to be homeschooling. They admit that they have no statistically signifcant data that suggests homeschooling families abuse children at higher rates than non-homeschooling families.

However, I understand their perception that the problem is widespread. The details of these cases are disturbing and heart-rending. It’s their passion to protect these children that fuels their mission. Even one incidence of this type of severe abuse of a homeschooled child feels like too many.  That being said, I still object to their use of the phrase “widespread problem.” It implies that it’s commonplace for homeschoolers to torture their children when there’s no evidence of that.

To protect homeschooled children from potential abuse, Coleman and Brightbill argue that states should require academic assessments and medical exams. They insist that lack of contact with mandated reporters is what creates the possibility for families like the Turpins to torture and severely abuse. When considering their recommendation, these are the concerns I have.

First, would this increased supervision of all homeschooling families prevent child abuse?

I recently read a description of one of the Turpins’ daughters attending school in the third grade. The filth of her clothes, the body odor she had, and her use of a candy bar wrapper as a hair band suggest that she was being neglected at the very least while attending school. Details are emerging, but I have read nothing which suggests the Turpins were previously investigated for child abuse while at least one of their children was in school. The LA Times further reports that none of the children had seen a doctor in four years. Were any of the children seen by a physician four years ago and yet not reported as being victims of abuse? My point is that mandated testing and physicals may not have protected the Turpins and may not protect other children. Couldn’t these families also move as the Turpins did and avoid mandatory evaluations?

I can imagine Coleman and Brightbill arguing that if more cases of child abuse were reported, their suggested legal requirements are worth it. But is that true? In 2012, 30 states reported that 8.5% of child abuse fatalities occurred in families who had received family services. Here is an example of one such child. These are child deaths and not data on continuing abuse. We can imagine continued abuse in reported families occurs frequently.

There is no guarantee that had the Turpins been reported that their children would have been protected. That’s especially true given the current state of the foster care system. Caseworkers are typically overwhelmed by the number of children under their supervision. There is also alarming evidence of high rates of child abuse within foster care homes. The stress of being removed from one’s home can further traumatize a child. The Turpin children and others subject to severe abuse have to be removed for their own safety, regardless of the added challenge of adjusting to a new home and potentially being separated from some siblings. But it’s important to understand that removing children from an abusive home doesn’t always have a happy ending.

I don’t think we have an answer to the question of whether increased supervision of all homeschooling families would prevent child abuse.

My second question is whether the potential benefit of required supervision offsets the infringement of all homeschooling families’ rights.

It’s possible that mandated testing and medical exams could create a new category of victims — children inappropriately forced to attend public school or removed from their homes and put into a foster care system that could truly victimize them.

What if a homeschooled child has special needs and is actually doing well in a homeschool setting but doesn’t test at an average or above level on standardized tests? Will these children be required to enroll in public school? If so, will they be released to their homes if their scores decline? I think we know the answer to that. Will the same policy be applied to private school students who aren’t scoring as well as the government deems acceptable? If not, why not? There are many small, private schools where educational neglect could be hidden.

The Atlantic reports: “Since 2008, the number of referrals to child protective service agencies…has increased by 8.3 percent, even as overall rates of actual child victimization declined by 3.3 percent during the same period. There is no system that can totally avoid putting parents who don’t deserve it through investigations, despite the fact that even the best moms and dads would regard the ordeal as nightmarish. Over time, however, the number of undeserving parents so burdened seems to be increasing–and the number is large.”

There are a number of horror stories about parents apparently innocent of abuse having their children taken from them without cause. Do we want to put the parents of two million homeschooled children through an evaluative process every year to make them prove that they are not abusing their children? Will we also do the same to parents of all young children being reared at home? The highest rate of child abuse is among infants with over 1/4 of abused children being under age three. If this would be a requirement of homeschoolers only, what justification is there for that? The biggest risk factors for child abuse are alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence. These risk factors are not correlated with homeschooling.

And who would evaluate homeschooling parents? Might they be anti-homeschooling or of the opinion that a religious upbringing or conservative political views constitute abuse in and of themselves? Such opinions are not rare. In fact, a fundamental belief of all homeschoolers is that their children are theirs to raise and not the State’s. Wouldn’t mandated supervision suggest that we have to qualify as homeschoolers to raise the State’s children?

I’m concerned about legally required oversight of homeschoolers and I don’t think my concerns are unfounded.

The third issue I want to discuss with respect to child abuse and homeschooling is children’s safety at school.

The assumption of Coleman and Brightbill appears to be that homeschooled children have a better chance of avoiding abuse if they can be exposed to mandated reporters of abuse, teachers being one class of them. I understand this view. Parents who torture their children want to isolate them. Teachers could recognize signs of abuse and neglect and could contact Child Protective Services.

But does the risk of the school environment offset this potential benefit? More than one out of every five school children is bullied. In fact, the Turpin girl was reportedly bullied in third grade. We are all familiar with high-profile cases of bullied students committing suicide and even responding to their bullying by shooting their fellow students at school. There have been a reported 11 school shootings in the U.S. in the last three-and-a-half weeks, though that statistic has been disputed. Regardless of the dispute, one might even refer to school shootings as a widespread problem.

Bullying and school shootings aren’t the only abuse school kids are subject to. A frightening 1 in 10 students has been the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of school personnel. Using the rationale of Coleman and Brightbill, we ought to require mental health evaluations of all students and staff to prevent this type of abuse. I haven’t heard any calls for this kind of monitoring, however.

How I think we should respond to the Turpin case and child abuse.

I don’t want any child to be abused or bullied. Like Coleman and Brightbill, I want to protect children. I believe they are precious to Jesus. The challenge is how to do that without victimizing even more people.

These are some steps I feel confident in advocating:

Get to know at-risk families and extend kindness to them. Experts tell us that most child abuse is neglect and neglect is highly associated with low income. Many families don’t have the education they need to parent effectively. They also don’t know the resources available to them. A mom has no idea where to get affordable childcare so she leaves her 9-year-old in the park near her workplace. You can offer encouragement and help in talking with neighbors or you can serve at-risk families through a ministry. In my area, Nurses for Newborns provides education and baby supplies during home visits that have been shown to be very effective in preventing abuse. Support organizations like this in your area with your time and money.

If you believe a child is in danger, make a report to Child Protective Services. You will not be held responsible if your report is determined to be unfounded. Professionals like psychologists are mandated reporters, but we should all consider ourselves mandated reporters when a child is at risk of serious harm. Here are signs to look for.

Get to know your neighbors as a homeschooler. In the aftermath of the Turpin case, people who don’t know us well may be suspicious of homeschoolers who are very private. If you are a Christian as I am, you are to be serving your neighbors anyway. People need to see that our kids are healthy and well-adjusted. Talk about what you’re doing in your homeschool. Many still don’t understand that most homeschoolers have a great deal of social contact through various activities and classes. We want to advocate for homeschooling instead of living in fear of being reported for doing so. Joining HSLDA is a good step to protect yourself from unwarranted reports of neglect. You can relax and be open about your family’s educational choice.

Get help. If you are having trouble disciplining your children without being harsh or your mental or physical health is keeping you from educating your children, reach out for help. Yes, you may have to make a different educational choice while you are getting help, but it’s worth the sacrifice for your kids’ sake. There are many options available to you and it doesn’t mean you can’t resume homeschooling in the future.

A potential legal change to consider

Coleman and Brightbill report that some abusive parents remove their children from school to “homeschool” them. The result, according to victims’ reports, is intensified abuse. This is likely the case for the Turpins. Abusive parents realize they can avoid detection by claiming to homeschool. Coleman and Brightbill argue that parents who have been reported for child abuse should have to be evaluated when they choose to homeschool.

These abusive parents often are not homeschooling but they claim to be, creating an association with homeschoolers that is a problem for genuine, caring homeschooling parents. While I can see the potential for a teacher making an unfounded report of abuse that then makes homeschooling onerous for a good family, I believe the benefits for children and even the homeschool community may outweigh that risk.

What’s your response to the Turpin case? Let me know in the comments.

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How to Teach Foreign Language in Your Homeschool

How to Teach Foreign Language in Your Homeschool

I was sure my kids would be speaking a foreign language at early ages, but it didn’t happen. I learned German in school but wanted my kids to learn Spanish. I was thrilled when I met Anne Guarnera of Language Learning at Home, who not only has a Ph.D. in Spanish, but homeschools and helps homeschoolers teach their kids foreign language.

How to Teach Foreign Language in Your Homeschool #foreignlanguage #homeschool

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Anne graciously agreed to an interview for The Homeschool Sanity show and answered these questions.

Why teach your kids a foreign language?

It allows us to serve others. A huge 75% of people in the world do not speak or understand English. We can serve people internationally or the large number of non-English speakers in our own communities.

Maximizes verbal skills. Learning a second language doesn’t impede the development of your child’s first language. The more languages you speak, the faster your brain functions. Kids who study foreign language improves processing speed for all subjects.

Teaches the importance of habits. Regular practice is the foundation of language learning, just as practice of a musical instrument is to music learning. Habit formation serves our students well in the study of all subjects.

What age do you recommend starting the study of foreign language?

As soon as possible. This isn’t to discourage students who haven’t started until middle or high school. I learned foreign languages when I was older. Older students have the advantage of understanding grammar and can learn more quickly.

Starting early is a real advantage for homeschoolers. You can make the decision to incorporate foreign language into preschooling. Formal study isn’t required, however. Picture books, CDs, and apps are a great place to start.

What are some tools parents can use to support their language learners even if they don’t speak the language their children are studying?

There are three types of resources I recommend. There are language learning apps. For younger students, the Little Pim app. For older students, I recommend Duolingo and Mango Languages that is often available through your public library.

A second type of resource I recommend is audiobooks in foreign language. The audiobooks teach accents. They can be paused and words looked up or used along with a print book.

A third type of resource is other people. I encourage parents to be creative about finding real-life opportunities to connect with foreign language speakers. That might be something like volunteering places where there are foreign languages spoken. Your child might join a Skype group to speak with native speakers with your supervision.

How can parents help motivate their kids who might not see the point of language learning?

Know your child. Help your child make the connection between what they’re doing and a larger goal. Because it requires so much deliberate practice, it can be hard to see the end goal. Introduce real-life scenarios in which they can use the language. Again, interacting in a community activity where the language is useful can be motivating. Or connect language learning to a future career plan or mission trip.

Even parents who are raising their children bilingually struggle with motivation. My own son recently told me he wanted to be a normal kid who just “talked English.”

I give other ideas for motivating your students at Language Learning at Home.

Where can we connect with you for more help with teaching foreign language?

I will send a list of the best resources for teaching foreign language to subscribers to Language Learning at Home. We also have a Facebook group and homeschoolers can connect with me on Twitter @LangsatHome.

What challenges have you had in teaching foreign language in your homeschool?

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Six Reasons Your Homeschool Still Isn’t Organized

Six Reasons Your Homeschool Still Isn’t Organized

Getting organized is one of the most popular goals for the new year. I’ve met many wannabe organized homeschoolers at conferences. Yet I suspect that no matter how great my intentions, many of the homeschoolers who have heard me speak or own my book, The Organized Homeschool Life, still aren’t organized. I’d like to discuss six reasons I think that’s the case.

Six Reasons Your Homeschool Still Isn't Organized

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#1 You decided to get organized

The first reason you’re still not organized is you’ve decided to get organized. What? You might think it’s true what they say about psychologists — that we’re all a bit crazy. But I mean it. Sometimes deciding to get organized destroys your motivation. Psychological research has demonstrated that the anxiety we feel about goals like getting organized dissipates as soon as we decide to do something about it. So, buying an organizing book, joining an organizing Facebook group, or even setting a goal of getting organized can make you feel like the battle is half won. You can relax because you’ve already started getting organized.

I’m not suggesting that you don’t decide to get organized. I’m saying that you can’t stop there. You’ll understand what I mean as I share more reasons you’re still not organized.

The Organized Homeschool Life Planner

#2 You haven’t made organization a habit

We think organizing is an event — that weekend in August when we may or may not get our school room set up, the day when our husband has all the kids out of the house and we’re going to set up our shiny new record keeping system, the spring day dedicated to cleaning out the garage. There are so many problems with an event approach to organization. First, we’re always running behind. If you’ve waited until August to set up your school space and that’s when you’re starting school, you feel behind. You feel like a failure. You’re understandably stressed.

If we count on the golden time when all the kids are out of the house, you just know something is going to happen to prevent that from happening. Your husband will have another commitment, one of the kids will be sick, or something urgent will come up. Even if your day goes as planned, you’ll discover that there is more to do in your space than you thought or you’ll be frustrated that you can’t do more. When my husband has had the kids out of the house for a period of time, it always, always seems too short.

Organization is not an event, but a habit. If you read my article on mini habits, you know that habits are best established with daily practice. It’s what you do every day that determines how organized you are. If you’re still pinning your hopes on an organizing event, you’re going to remain disorganized.

#3 You’re taking on too much

Those of you who are event organizers are also taking on too much. You want to organize your whole school space, including lesson plans in a weekend, a day, or an hour. But even those of you who are trying to organize on a daily basis are also likely taking on too much. Our eyes are almost always bigger than our schedules. We can’t accomplish what we imagine we can in our fantasy world. So here’s what happens. We don’t do what we planned and we feel like failures. We give up. The organizing book goes back on the shelf or more likely in a messy pile. Another thing that didn’t work. We imagine that we are a hopeless case. Strategies that work for other people won’t work for us. I have been there. The truth is we are taking on too much and no normal homeschool mom can accomplish what we dreamed we could.

#4 You lose track of your why

About the time you give up because it’s all too much, you’ve also forgotten why it was so important to get organized in the first place. Maybe you’re fine just the way you are! You’re certainly better than that disastrous homeschool mom you know. You’re not that bad, so maybe you should just relax. If you kept feeling good about your homeschool life after giving up the quest for organization, I would tell you that was a good decision. There are a number of you who are organized enough to do all that God has called you to do. Hyper-focus on organization isn’t good for you.

But the rest of you? You know you’ll be right back in that place of rushing, being crabby at the kids, embarrassed by your home or your lateness, and wishing things were different. You need to reconnect with your why. Why DO you want to get organized? Think about your worst recent organizational day — the day where you got up late, forgot something important, had nothing planned for dinner, got next to no school finished, didn’t do chores, and wasted too much time online, and stayed up late trying to finish something you should have done a long time ago. Really picture it in your mind. How do you feel? Do you want to continue to feel this way in the future? How does your lack of organization affect your spouse? Your kids? Your finances? Your friends? Your witness? Be honest. Now imagine that you are as organized as you need to be to accomplish all God has planned for you. How does that feel? How does that affect your spouse? Your kids? Your finances? Your friends? Your witness? Now you should have your why. You need to hold onto it in order to finally get organized.

#5 You aren’t considering your time

I have shared why the most important area of your homeschool life to organize is your time. Unfortunately, we tend to focus our organizing efforts on our physical space. We want our books, art supplies, and science materials to look good. We want beautiful bookshelves, smart-looking bins, and creative spaces. I do think that an attractive, organized space is important. But organizing and planning time to maintain an organized space is even more important.

The primary way we fail to properly organize time is not anticipating the obstacles that may get in our way each day. The obstacles include our own temptations and struggles, like the hard time we have not answering the phone or responding to text messages. We ignore the likelihood that our child will be crabby, resistant, or slow to learn. We forget about the possibility of surprises — the guest who drops by, the furnace that konks out, the neighbor’s emergency. We can’t exactly plan for these, but neither should we expect the ideal. What we can do is ask ourselves what may get in the way of our week. And we can plan plenty of margin to accommodate the unexpected.

#6 You don’t have help

About the time we decide that we’re going to get organized, we also decide that WE are going to get organized. On top of everything else we are doing, we imagine that through our own strength, or force of will, we’re going to tackle the organizing problem. Take it from someone whose god has been her own strength for many, many years. That endeavor is destined to fail for a believer. God is not going to let you succeed in your own strength. Not only will you move further from Him and become convinced you can make it on your own, but your pride will grow. You’ll be telling everyone how you did it — how YOU did it with your organizing genius or your superior willpower or this program you found with your keen research skills. Why would God let us do this? He won’t. If you hear nothing else in this episode, I hope you’ll hear this: you can’t get organized if organizing is a struggle without God. You shouldn’t even try. I wrote about homeschooling without striving and I highly recommend that article to you.

The other way we try to get organized without help is creating our own approach. I believe in tailoring every approach or system to your personal needs, but reinventing the wheel isn’t a wise use of our time. Organizing books used to be written by born-organized people. They weren’t very useful for born-messy people like you and me. It isn’t that we’ve never heard of everything in its place. It’s that we need that broken down for us. Fortunately, there are people like FLYLady who have made organizing simple. We can adopt others’ grace-based approaches that recognize our natural tendencies — like if we have the opportunity to avoid putting something away, we’ll take it if we haven’t created habits for that.

Finally, we don’t get help getting organized by going through the process alone. It’s embarrassing to be disorganized. You feel foolish and weak. It feels so good to imagine getting your act together on your own and then pretending as though you’ve always been the same as your born-organized friends. I’ve had born-organized people who haven’t known me long tell me that I’m just like them. I laugh out loud. I’m not. Born-organized people have struggles that aren’t necessarily as visible as messies’ are. As I’ve shared the truth about me with other messies, I find myself loving them to pieces. There’s something so moving about being able to be real with people and their honesty in return. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s possible to get organized alone. God can get our lives in order, now matter how isolated we are. It’s that it’s not nearly as fun.

The tool that can help you finally organize your homeschool

There are people who have bought my book, The Organized Homeschool Life, who still aren’t organized. I can’t make people read the book or do the missions, even though some women wish I could. But I realized I could do something that would address these reasons some still aren’t organized. I’ve created a tool that will take my own organization to the next level. I used everything I’ve learned in years of experimenting with my productivity. I created a complete toolkit for Christian homeschool moms who want to organize their homeschool lives. It’s the Organized Homeschool Life Planner.

The Organized Homeschool Life Planner Launch Pricing

It allows homeschool moms to not just decide to get organized, but to take action daily. It allows them to create and track habits as well as each step of the challenges included in The Organized Homeschool Life. The planner encourages moms to choose one focus for the day by naming their day. Huge task lists are reduced to three priorities for the day and just a few others. You can finally finish your list and feel in control. The Organized Homeschool Life planner also has moms schedule their time — something that has been demonstrated to produce results. The weekly planning page prompts moms to write their why and anticipate obstacles to their goals. Finally, the planner prompts homeschooling moms to focus on where their help comes from. The daily page begins with a gratitude list, a place for a Scripture that spoke to you in your quiet time, and your response to God. I like to give any worries I have to God in this space. You could write a short prayer as well. Each month, there is also a devotion that will help focus your organizing efforts on what really matters. To encourage you to connect with other homeschool moms becoming organized, I’ve created The Organized Homeschool Life Facebook group.

The planner I’ve created addresses the major reasons homeschool moms struggle to get organized. It comes in two formats for your preference — a full-year, undated, digital planner or a two-book, undated, printed, spiral-bound planner set. The digital version has daily, weekly, and monthly pages that can be edited on your computer and kept there or printed out. It’s the most economical by far because you can use it year after year. If you’d like to print some or all of the 8.5×11 pages, you can.

The print version comes in a January to June version and a July to December version. Print orders will be shipped free in the US and when ordered direct, include stickers designed exclusively for The Organized Homeschool Life planner. At the time of this podcast, for a very limited time, take advantage of discounted launch pricing that also includes discounts on the book, The Organized Homeschool Life. To learn more and finally get your homeschool life organized, grab your copy today!

See The Organized Homeschool Life Planner

You’ll be able to download sample pages in the product notes or join me on Facebook Live for an inside look and coaching on how to organize your time and your homeschool life.

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The Most Important Area to Organize in Your Homeschool

The Most Important Area to Organize in Your Homeschool

Would you like to get more organized in your homeschooling this year? Many homeschoolers would. But where should you start? Should you start with your bookshelves? The schoolroom? Maybe the kitchen because you spend so much time there?

The Most Important Area to Organize in Your Homeschool

Organizing these spaces is a good idea.  But the most important area in your homeschool to organize isn’t a space at all; it’s your time. I’ve written before about the importance of your calendar in organizing, but now I want to take a closer look at why organizing time usage should be a top priority for you this year.

#1 Organizing takes time

How many times have you said (or at least thought), I need time to get organized? However often you’ve had the thought, you were right. Organizing anything does indeed take time. Of course, we all have the same 24 hours in a day, so what we really mean when we say this is we need to take time for organizing tasks.The key is how much time and can we afford to dedicate it to organizing? We may also ask if we can afford not to take time for organizing.

#2 Homeschooling is time

In my state, I’m required to keep track of hours spent homeschooling. Transcripts for high school and college are an accounting of credit hours. And while we can accomplish more educationally in less time than traditional schools, homeschooling is still about time spent. Success in most subjects for most students will correlate with how much time has been devoted to it. Statistics comparing students who read 20 minutes a day to students who read just 5 or 1 minute a day is astounding. When it comes to homeschooling success, organizing your homeschool time will be far more important than how you organize your art supplies. We know this, yet the results of organizing our homeschool spaces are more Instagram-worthy, so we can get off track.

#3 Our time is our life

My kids don’t remember my system for organizing their toys and frankly, neither do I. (I just remember a lot of weeping when small pieces to things were strewn everywhere). My children didn’t even express awe over the binders and bins I used to keep their school materials organized. But they remember the medieval feast, the states and regions field trips, and the holiday parties. They remember time well spent. And so do we.

How to Organize Time

If we recognize that time is the most important area of our homeschool lives to organize, how do we go about it? Frankly, it can be challenging. I have spent years studying time-management approaches (better known as productivity these days). I can’t distill what I’ve learned into one blog post, but I can give you strategies that have made a huge difference in how I organize my time.

#1 Start with God

I think we have heard this so often, that it begins to be an obligation. “Oh, I have to begin my day with God because that’s the right thing. I won’t be a good Christian mom if I don’t do that. God will be mad at me if I don’t.” That sense of obligation and guilt actually works against us having time with the Lord.

Instead, time with God is for us. Time in the Word and in prayer encourages, reduces anxiety, gives wisdom, and saves time. I have had many days that were headed for disaster before my time with the Lord. I was anxious, despairing, and ready to give up teaching for the day. Then I read God’s Word and He spoke to my heart through it. Some days I found what I needed through my regular reading. Other days it came from looking for specific verses. In praying with thankfulness, in humility, and for the needs of others, I found that whatever was troubling me was small in His eyes. In praying about my overwhelm, I found God using my husband to help, tasks taking less time, and scheduled events being canceled. Beginning the day with God isn’t an obligation, but an honor and a privilege. I couldn’t organize my time without Him. For some homeschool moms, beginning the day with God means the night before or even afternoon. Early morning is not an obligation.

#2 Keep a short list

Have you ever noticed that God’s to-do lists were always short? Even in creation (an undertaking so enormous, we can’t fathom it), God’s task list was short for each day. The list of commandments is just 10 items and Jesus simplified them to just two. Jesus never gave His disciples a list of 30 things they had to do. And believers’ action list is just one item long: “Go and make disciples.” We are the ones who complicate matters. And believe me, I understand why. The Bible was written before email, Pinterest, and blogs like this one. You can come away with a list of to-do’s from everything you read or see. But here’s the thing. God hasn’t asked us to do all these things. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s so often because we’re taking on a load He hasn’t given us. Keeping a short list each day requires us to trim those unnecessary tasks, leaving just the essentials.

But I can hear you now. “That’s all I can do? Just the essentials?” Or maybe that’s my voice I hear in my head. I want to do more than the essentials. When we limit our list to essentials, we prevent overwhelm, and are likely to get these tasks done faster than if we were working from a list of 100 things. With the time left over, we can choose to do any nonessential tasks we’d like. And if we have no extra time? We have the satisfaction of knowing we finished everything that had to be done, without the guilt of frittering time away on nonessentials.

#3 Schedule time

Francis Wade’s guest post is one of the most popular on this blog. He argues for the power of scheduling when organizing our time. He won me over. I didn’t like schedules at all. They felt too restrictive. I’m a homeschooler after all! I shouldn’t have to be on a schedule (It was like a dirty word to me at one time). But scheduling allows us to make time for God, for homeschooling, and for that short list of essentials. A schedule is like a budget for your time.

I used to spend money until I got an overdraft notice. I didn’t have a budget because it was too depressing. I would see that I couldn’t get fast food because I couldn’t afford it and my rent too. We can be like that with our time. We don’t want a schedule because then we will see that we can’t sign up for ten field trips next month plus have our kids in the musical and start a podcast, while still homeschooling our kids. So we just do it all and complain that we’re overwhelmed, as though some maniac is in charge of our time. I know a maniac has been in charge of my time!

The solution is to schedule our time — not to the minute, but loosely. We must include not just time for God and homeschooling, but our relationships, homemaking, organizing, and time for things that renew us. Because I’m a rebel at heart, once I get my schedule written out, I find I don’t want to use it. I want to switch things up and I have to accommodate the unexpected. That’s fine. Simply the process of creating a schedule helps to limit our focus and serves as a reality check for our time.

The Easy Way to Organize Your Time

I’ve created a system that will help homeschool moms like you organize the most important area of their lives–their time. It will allow you to organize your time with God, develop a short list of what’s most important, and schedule time for everything God has called you to do — even the fun stuff!

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What do you struggle with most? Time with God, keeping a short list, or scheduling everything?

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Sanity Savers for Home and Homeschool

Sanity Savers for Home and Homeschool

This week I have a mishmash of sanity savers for home and homeschool. Remember that if you want all the time-sensitive sanity savers too, you’ll need to subscribe.

Sanity Savers for Home and Homeschool

#1 Release of Skedpal

I’ve written about my enthusiasm for Skedpal, an automatic scheduler for busy people, before. But now it’s out of beta. It’s gone through significant changes and it is how I make sure none of my to-do’s fall through the cracks. I love it. Check it out here.

#2 Bible Project Videos

If you’re looking for a way to add multimedia to your Bible time, Bible Project videos are just the thing. They’re free!

#3 This Is My Home, This Is My School

It can be disappointing when you’re a homeschooled child not to see your lifestyle depicted in books. This book title comes to the rescue and helps preschoolers to first graders identify with another homeschooler.

#4 Reusable Wrap

I find the old-fashioned cling-type wraps fairly useless, but somehow that’s all I can find when I want to put something away. I found this reusable wrap (it can last a year) very intriguing. It can be used on anything and reduces waste.

#5 Amazon Echo

I resisted the urge to buy an Amazon Echo because I have bluetooth speakers and Siri on my iPhone. I didn’t need it, I thought. I bought one for my husband and a Dot for my mother for Christmas and they have turned out to be real sanity savers. My husband struggles to get the music he likes to play in the mornings. Now he can request any music he likes — no computer wrestling required. When the music is on and the phone rings or a visitor arrives, it’s fast to ask Alexa to reduce the volume.

My mother has found her Dot to be a fun device that can give her the weather, leave messages for her granddaughter (my daughter also received a Dot), and even play interactive games. If you haven’t seen this Saturday Night Live spoof of the Echo for seniors, you’ll get a kick out of it.

#6 Waveapp

I believe I have mentioned this free accounting software before, but because I have recently recommended it to friends, I’m naming it a sanity saver again. Instead of entering expenses and income by hand, Waveapp is connected to your PayPal, checking, or credit card accounts to tabulate this info for you automatically. You only have to tweak the categories for each expense. This Excel novice is a happy camper!

Which of these sanity savers are you most interested in?

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Change Your Habits; Change Your Homeschool

Change Your Habits; Change Your Homeschool

What didn’t get done in your homeschool this year? What things do you routinely put off? What things do your children put off? The solution to accomplishing important tasks or projects in your homeschool is to make them a habit. I’m excited to tell you how.

Change Your Habits: Change Your Homeschool

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Our tendency is to want to develop habits by sheer force of will, whether that’s our own or our children’s habits. This method is exhausting and is destined to fail with time.

How Mini Habits Can Change Your Homeschool

I recently read the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise and rediscovered a powerful tool for accomplishing important things. I chose three mini habits to develop.

The wonderful thing about mini habits is they are so small, and require so little effort, that you can work on developing more than one.

In the past when I have accomplished big things, I have done so by having a singular focus. But as homeschoolers we have many changes we want to make, even if that means having more than one child who needs to make a change. My three mini habits are to write 50 words of Grammar Galaxy curriculum, to declutter one item, and to read one page of a paper book.

The exciting thing about these three mini habits for me is that I have done them every day for more than three weeks. Many times I have gotten to the end of the day and realized I had to do them before I went to bed. These habits are so small that I can finish them in just a few minutes, even at bedtime.

To be successful, your mini habits should take a minute or less.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? These mini habits are so small that they don’t seem to matter. Fifty words, one item, and one page aren’t much. Yet over the course of a year those 50 words add up to more than 18,000. A total of 365 items would have been decluttered and 365 pages would be read. I realize those numbers aren’t likely to motivate you. That isn’t the real gold behind mini habits. The value in establishing mini habits in yourself and your kids is that often we and up doing more than the minimum we have established as our mini habit. I have written curriculum for two hours, have decluttered entire closets, and have read 20 pages in a sitting. So why not make the daily habits bigger, you may ask? To require myself and require yourself to do more on a daily basis will mean we develop resistance. Psychologically, we don’t want to spend two hours writing, cleaning, or even reading. So the big expectation, even if it’s unstated, can interfere with motivation.

Mini Habits to Adopt to Change Your Homeschool

Now that you understand a bit about why we need to make habits that are so small that we feel no resistance, let’s talk about the kinds of habits we can develop to change our homeschools.

Exercise. If you don’t exercise, I believe that a mini exercise habit can change your homeschool. You and your children can develop an exercise habit that will increase your energy, improve attention, and your health. The author of Mini Habits started by doing one push-up a day. Alternatively, you and the kids could use the Move app which provides one small exercise for you to complete. It can be set for the timeframe you prefer (like once an hour), but you would only be requiring yourself to do one exercise per day. If you want to exercise longer, you can. I have used this approach to exercise for many years. On the days when I haven’t wanted to exercise, I only require myself to start.

Is there a subject that your child resists? It’s perfect for mini habits. You may understandably balk at asking your child to do one math problem per day. Math requires more time. But if your child is math phobic, requiring just one problem a day would be a good place to start. You could also establish a mini habit of your child practicing math facts via flashcards or a game for one minute a day. Anything that your child resists and has not developed a habit for is fair game for mini habits. Your child could practice foreign language using the DuoLingo app or could practice a musical instrument for one minute. Some other ideas for your child include reading for pleasure, handwriting, writing 50 words, typing, studying for tests like the ACT with the Magoosh app, and picking up.

It’s important to explain to your child that the only requirement in those instances is the one-minute practice. However, if they are enjoying themselves, they should feel free to spend as much time as they wish. Mini habits should not be used for behaviors that are already habitual. I do not have an exercise habit of doing one push-up a day because I already have the exercise habit. Anywhere you or your child struggles to establish a habit, however, is a great area to use mini habits.

What about mini homeschool habits for you? How about checking work, record keeping, and filing?

The key to making mini habits stick is to track them daily. Do them every day. I did mine over Christmas too. The traditional way of tracking habits is to mark them off on a paper calendar. You can mark off family mini habits on the calendar together. Be sure that your child marks off her own mini habits. The goal is not to break the chain. You want to do the mini habit every day for as many days in a row as possible. Creating a long chain is motivating in and of itself. No other rewards are required. However, depending on the age of your child, you may want to promise a reward like getting a frozen yogurt after a week of mini habits. The younger the child, the fewer mini habits should be established and the limit for everyone should be three. There is an app I love that is very useful for tracking mini habits called Productive. As I slide to mark my mini habit complete, I am given an encouraging statement and I’m told how many days in a row I’ve completed my habit.

Establishing mini habits changes our homeschools.

As we continue to record our mini habits, our way of thinking changes. For example, I constantly find myself looking for things to declutter. I have realized how easy it is to keep my home decluttered if I am always doing a little bit. I have come to appreciate my print books and how enjoyable reading them is. I have rediscovered the value of doing something like writing every single day. Resistance disappears.

As you work on habits in yourself and in your children, you will also discover the value of completing your habits early in the day. Even though it is possible for me to finish my three mini habits before I go to bed, it’s not optimal. Make it a game with you and your kids to finish your mini habits as early as possible to get to the reward of marking them off.

Eventually, you will have the habits established. You won’t even have to think about them and you can work on establishing new habits. But definitely don’t rush this process. If even doing your mini habits is a struggle, your habits are likely too big. They need to be incredibly simple. Doing even a 10-minute workout every day is too long. A better mini habit might be going outside to walk for one minute or driving to the gym. They sound ridiculously small, but they work to establish positive behaviors with our rebellious psyches. In the effort to establish mini habits in yourself, you’ll come to understand your children’s resistance to certain things much better. You will learn to keep requirements of less rewarding tasks small.

And remember: a mini habit completed is better than nothing.

The momentum and self-confidence you and the kids create by completing mini habits will pay dividends for life. You aren’t just teaching your child to complete tasks; you are teaching your child how to make life changes.


I’m excited to get my kids started on mini habits of musical practice, foreign language practice, and ACT study. I would love to hear what mini habits you choose and how it’s going for you.

You can change your homeschool one mini habit at a time!

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