Why Deschooling Was Important For Our Homeschool

I was told by more than one homeschool expert we were supposed to “deschool” after starting our homeschool. To me, this concept was a little scary.
What exactly is deschooling, and what is the point?

What We Learned From Deschooling- Why Deschooling helped our homeschool

At first I found deschooling was a surprisingly difficult process. Everything I knew about education came from traditional schools; the idea that we weren’t supposed to be formally learning anything just felt… wrong. Even though I felt like the general idea of deschooling made sense, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was supposed to discover at the end of it… and perhaps more perplexing… how would we know when “deschooling” was over?

But I told myself to trust “the process” and from June to January, we embarked on what I called “The Longest Summer Ever“. We took trips, visited a few parks and museums, listened to audio books, gazed at stars, took long walks on the beach, and did a little soul searching until we came to a point where we got a little restless.

It was time.

Sometime in October, I really started to understand why deschooling was important.

I also understood why people had a hard time articulating exactly deschooling was so important.

Deschooling allowed me to take a step back and observe our new family dynamic, see they way they learned and what they were interested in.  It is only after school really, truly, isn’t a factor anymore that everyone settles into their more natural tendencies and the family dynamic starts to shift.  After deschooling for a few months, I could really step back and see how to fit a homeschool around my child, rather than a child around my homeschool.  I was pleased that some of my ideas about how I wanted our school to go were confirmed, but I was also a little bit surprised.

Here are deschooling taught us about what we need in our homeschool:

We need fresh air. 

Surprisingly, the boys don’t always agree with me on this, but getting outside has been essential to keeping the peace in the house. I can always tell if we haven’t had enough outdoor time when people get lazy and start bickering.  EVERYONE, even the reluctant ones, feel better once we’re out and about, and that feeling extends long after we get home.  Our homeschool must incorporate plenty of time outside and exploring.

Mornings set the tone.

After trying a few different ways of doing mornings, I realized it was the morning that set the tone for the day. We’re a group that loves to sleep in and stay in our pjs so the temptation is to start late. But I found that if we aren’t up, dressed and fed by at least 9 we never seem to get our day back.

We need a schedule.

I am not a person who naturally falls into a schedule on my own and neither are the kids, so we need to make a conscious effort to implement one.  Nothing strict, but having some kind of schedule adds predictability to our day, which keeps everyone happier.

STEM is everywhere; the humanities resources are harder to find.

There are thousands of resources out there: local events, books, games, toys, and programs, but the humanities are not nearly as emphasized.  I get why STEM is so important, but the humanities are as well. With STEM enrichment resources being so plentiful, we’ll be working extra hard to balance them out with heavy doses of art, history and English.

Unschooling is not for (all of) us.

When I decided to homeschool, I promised myself to be flexible… after all, that’s one of the huge advantages to homeschooling in the first place.  I promised that if something didn’t work, I’d do my best to recognize that and throw it out.

The homeschool I envisioned was more child-led. I wanted the kids to take ownership of their education and run with it. I would be involved of course, but more in the role of supporter than teacher. Finally, my oldest son came up to me and said, “I need you to just tell me what to learn and I’ll learn it.”  Oops.

After I thought about it, I understood why.
Sometimes, when I find myself with a few hours alone, I am absolutely frozen with indecision on what to do, often I waste the time simply because I can’t choose between all the possibilities. The kids felt the same way.  There’s a whole wide world out there with a lot to learn; there are hundreds and thousands of things to discover and it caused the kids to feel like a deer in headlights.

While I still love the idea of a child-led education, we’ve moved to much more of a parent-led education than I expected.  I call it “teacher-led, child-influenced.”

 

Of course, we would have come to these conclusions eventually anyway, but deschooling gave us an unhurried, pressure free opportunity to figure out exactly what we wanted. To my surprise, after deschooling the transition to our more “formal” schooling (which I’ll share more about soon) was surprisingly smooth.

And so our homeschool journey has been a little bit of a winding road; I imagine that it will do quite a bit more winding before we’re through. Now, we’re all feeling refreshed and looking forward to what this school year will bring us.

 

Raising Helpers.

raising helpers

Raising children to be helpful

Most days we have a morning meeting over breakfast.

It’s pretty simple: we start with what day it is and how everyone is feeling; we’ll each talk about what we have on our mind and what we would like to accomplish during the day or week.

Monday morning, I gave the kids a challenge for the week ahead:

The kids had to find a time during each day to ask the question, “How can I help?”
They could ask  me or Jeff this question about something around the house; or our babysitter, their Nana, a stranger, or anyone. They could open it up beyond that, too. If they hear of anything on the news or in discussion, they could ask themselves, “how can I help?”
It didn’t matter so much who or how; what was important was to ask the question (and then actually help) daily.

I wasn’t sure how well it would catch on, but I didn’t want to harp on it, so I decided to change the way I ask them to do things around the house throughout the day.  Instead of saying, “Max, can you watch Langston for a minute while I fix your brother a snack,” I would start with, “Max I need your help.”  Instead of asking Marlowe to pick the books up off the floor, I started saying, “Marlowe, can you please help me”.

Raising helpful children.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but the boys have  been absolutely amazing. So amazing, actually, that I’ve decided to give myself the same challenge.

For the past week, I’ve been overwhelmed with many different calls to action, both on a political and a community level…so many things to get involved with, so many organizations doing great work in need of help.  What if I just asked this question once a day? It doesn’t have to be a big.  Can I devote 10 minutes a day to doing something that makes a difference? Can I make a phone call to my representatives? Can I attend a meeting? Can I volunteer? Can I make a donation to an organization? Can I offer someone help? Can I add canned food to my grocery list? Can I assemble a care package? Or maybe I can spend 10 minutes informing myself about a local candidate or cause?

Hopefully, this is a new habit for our whole family, myself included.

Raising children who help out

Putting Black Lives Matter into Perspective: Our Study of American History.

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Note to reader: I don’t think Black Lives Matter is political per se, although I do understand that the movement itself has political consequences as well they should.  I hope that this is about as political as I’ll get on the blog but also felt it was important to share how or homeschool allows us and encourages us to dig a little deeper into current events and learn about how our history shapes our current political and social landscape. 

I’ve never been good at memorising facts or dates, but history has always been important to me. History is the context by which we make incredibly important decisions and history is a window to understanding other cultures. This is why history will a very significant part of our homeschool.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel that raising young men is a great responsibility. Raising any child there is responsibility of course, but raising boys that become white male allies is important, and the privilege that comes with being white and male creates it’s own hurdles. One of those hurdles is that it is still too easy to learn history through a white male perspective provided in many of our history books.

I also found that as I was answering questions about Black Lives Matter they had little historical context… What they had learned went something like “Slavery, Abe Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr has a dream, everything is great because black and white kids can be friends.” I think this lack of context is why (white) people seem so surprised by the Black Lives Matter movement… as if it came from nowhere.

This is why we’ve decided that we will be studying American history from the first slaves landing in Jamestown in 1619 to the current #BlackLivesMatter movement. We’ll end our period of study with at trip to the National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington DC.

I know, my timing is off because it’s not black history month. Why start in November and not February? Because I intend for this study to take much longer than 28 (or 29) days. In fact, I have no end date for this particular theme. We’ll spend as long as we need in order to make it through. When we study African American History, we study American History so we’ll learn about a few notable white men along the way too.

Of course, we’ll still be taking hikes and playing in nature, that never stops, but if you are following our adventures on the blog and on Instagram you’ll likely see many trips and activities related to this subject as well.

Current events have informed our study and our recent trip to Jamestown was a perfect jumping off point. I feel very fortunate that we have the freedom to learn history this way.

 

Here’s what we’ve checked out from the library to begin our study:
(Amazon affiliate links below if you don’t find these at the library or cannot find a local bookstore which carries them. If you cannot buy locally, please consider purchasing through my link to help support this blog.)

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Chains (The Seeds of America Trilogy)  by Laurie Halse Anderson
The Underground Abductor An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman – Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales
Frederick’s Journey The Life of Frederick Douglass  by Doreen Rappaport
Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Dear Benjamin Banneker  by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate
Phillis’s Big Test By Catherine Clinton

I’ll keep an updated list of books in posts every so often as we go along.

Please feel free to leave us recommendations of places to go or books to read on facebook, instagram or on the blog as we go!

Our First Year of Homeschool: Small Changes in Our First 2 Months.

Hello from the beach!

Homeschool on the beach

My mother in law invited us to join her on a short trip to North Myrtle Beach so we hopped in the car on Monday to join her. I thought for sure 70 degrees would be too cold for the kids to get in the water but I was wrong, and the kids spent the afternoon with their pants and shorts rolled up running in and out of the water with the tide.

Our first year of homeschool

Adjusting to our new homeschool life has certainly had it’s challenges but the freedom to do things like this make it worth it.

In the past few weeks we’ve been to Shenandoah, Northern Virginia, Maryland, Jamestown and now South Carolina.

We’re still in that deschooling phase, adjusting to our new way of life. I’ll admit I was occasionally frustrated that after 2 weeks of “deschooling” nobody suddenly woke up saying “I want to learn calculus” or “I can’t wait to go on a 3 hour hike today!”.

When people talk about deschooling, or unschooling for that matter, the narrative always seems to be “we relaxed and now my child is reading above grade level/is a math genius/designed a rocket that actually went to the moon and back”

But we’re not focused on the product, we’re focused on the process. And lately I’ve noticed some little things that are telling me that we’re on the right track.

Max, who hates learning, is asking more questions. “What kind of bug is that?” “Can I listen to that book while we drive?” “Can I take a picture of that?”

Hudson, who used to cry every time he had reading homework, sleeps with a giant stack of books in his bed. He looks at the pictures every night. He’s sounding words out on his own out of curiosity. And he’ll sit and listen to me read until I have no voice left.

Hudson’s speech therapist remarked that he seems like a “totally different kid” that he walks in more relaxed and ready to work.

The kids are asking to collect things. They are keeping themselves more entertained outside. And I even heard the words “I’ve been on the computer enough today” come from my 10 year old.

We haven’t made actual rockets, nobody has discovered a secret hidden genius. But we’re learning, and that’s what our homeschool is all about.

our process learning about homeschool

Day at Jamestown Settlement

Every once in awhile, usually as we are driving to Virginia Beach or somewhere south, I’d say out loud in the car, “we should really go to Jamestown.”   I hadn’t been in about 25 years, but I did remember Jamestown Settlement capturing my imagination as a kid.

So, finally, we packed in the car and went.

Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum just down the road from Historic Jamestown (the actual historic site).  At Jamestown Settlement, you can walk through a recreation of the Jamestown fort along with a Powhatan Indian village and the three ships which first sailed to Jamestown in 1607: the Susan Constant, Discovery, and Godspeed.

The museum ticket also includes a film which we skipped because 3 out of the 5 of us don’t really sit well for these kinds of things.   We’ve talked about Jamestown at length before we went so we felt okay skipping it; however, I hear that if you are a bit unfamiliar with Jamestown or it’s been a while, the film helps you get more out of your visit.  There is also a gallery indoors which takes you through the history of the settlement… that we also skipped for the sake of time and hungry bellies but I really want to come back and check that part out.

Besides, it was a beautiful day outside and we’d been in the car for an hour, so we headed straight for the outdoor portion of the museum.

Jamestown Settlement is delightfully hands on.  The kids were actively encouraged to touch things and try different activities, allowing them to really learn about the culture and immerse themselves in each place.

Our first stop was the Powhatan Indian village.

Powhatan Village Jamestown Settlement Review

Jamestown Settlement Review Homeschool Field Trip

The kids pounded corn into flour, used oyster shells to take the fur off an animal skin, worked on creating a net and played games.  There were lots of houses to visit and explore, and you can see what a Powhatan Indian home would have looked like (quite cozy). Max studied Native Americans of Virginia quite a bit and was a great tour guide as we explored Powhatan homes.

Jamestown Settlement Review Homeschooling History is Fun

Jamestown Settlement Review A Multifaceted Mama Homeschool field trip

Homeschool Field Trip to Jamestown Settlement

The ships were Hudson’s favorite part of the trip.  I was struck by how small they were and we talked about the challenges of living on such a small boat with so many others. Sadly, I didn’t get a ton of pictures on the boat because once we got on the boat, the kids were immediately running around in all directions. The proximity to water, the challenges of fitting through doorways with a baby on my back and the many levels of the boats made taking pictures a little bit less of a priority.

Jamestown Settlement Discovery ship review

James Fort recreated what the homes were like around 1610 – 1614.  The kids could hear the musket fire throughout our trip and were excited to finally see a demonstration.  They also got a chance to try it out themselves with their own wooden muskets which was… entertaining.  Let’s just say ADD and Colonial warfare make a really bad combination.

Jamestown Settlement Review day trip homeschool

They tried on some 17th century armor and toured the Governor’s house, an Anglican Church, and smaller homes. The Fort was filled with the smell of smoke and gunpowder which helped create the atmosphere.

Jamestown Settlement review Homeschool

Homeschool Field trip to Jamestown Virginia Settlement review

Hands on Field Trip to Jamestown Virginia review

Jamestown Settlement Review

Jamestown Settlement Review Jamestown Virginia Homeschool field trip

We spent a little over 3 hours at Jamestown Settlement, but definitely could have spent more if we had stayed for the movie and to check out the galleries.  There are a couple areas that make good spots to stop and have some lunch; if you plan to visit, be sure to pack some snacks. There is a cafe at the entrance which seemed to have pretty standard museum-cafe fare. After 3 hours in any particular place and certain members of our group start slowly falling apart.

We’ll definitely be heading back to Jamestown Settlement and checking out the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.  If you’re interested in checking it out yourself you can find out more information here.

Jamestown settlement review Jamestown Virginia

Homeschool Adventures: Slowing Down

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In some ways the past couple weeks have flown by; in some ways they’ve crawled by.

Several people have asked me how homeschool is going and I haven’t really had the ability to answer that question.

Two weeks ago, everyone went back to school. I had been meaning to write a post about it, but the day sort of came and went.  We spent what would have been our “first day of school” wandering the woods of a local park, spotting mushrooms and turtles.  Since then, the days have passed doing much the same thing.

One of the many reasons I wanted to homeschool was because I wanted things to slow down.

It’s not that the kids are growing up too fast (they are) or that I felt we never had time for any extra stuff during the school year (we didn’t).  It’s that childhood is an amazing time in our lives and I don’t want to rush that. We feel pressure to focus so much on results as parents and not so much on the process… the childhood part. That part we never get back.

The problem with the rushing is that it never ends. Forget about the discovery; it’s about getting good grades. It’s not about grades, it’s about college. It’s not about college, it’s about your Masters. It’s not about your Masters, it’s about your job. It’s not about your job, it’s about the job title, or the pay raise. It’s about the big house. It’s about your kids’ grades. It’s about your kids’ schools…

There’s always a next step.  But really, those next steps come all the same whether we rush through our daily life or walk slowly. And so I wanted us to let ourselves walk slowly and just be in the present for a little while.

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Explore a little more. Try something new. Make time for failure.

But what has been surprising over the course of these two weeks is that, regardless of how much I wanted it, slowing down isn’t easy.  At least it hasn’t been for me.

It feels weird. We’ve felt a little out of sync with the world around us. I’m sure the kids have felt out of sync with their friends.

Over the summer, the rest of the world slowed down, so we felt in pace with our peers… but when Fall comes and things start picking back up for everyone else it’s hard to maintain that steady pace. It’s hard not to rush.

And so, occasionally, the panic sets in.

We aren’t doing anything. The kids aren’t learning… not enough… not the right things.

There’s so much knowledge out there and I’m not CRAMMING IT INTO THEIR BRAINS, testing them and moving on to the next thing.

They’ll never go to college if I don’t make them do workbooks.

They’ll be woefully unprepared for life if I don’t make them write essays right now.

And then I try to remember to breathe…

And trust my kids, myself, and this slowing down process.

And soak up the long walks, and seize the opportunities to try new things.

As firm as I feel in our decision to homeschool, and even though so far the situation has been pretty idyllic so far… I didn’t anticipate how difficult the adjustment would be.

So I apologize for being a little slow to post.  Time is moving a little differently than it was before.

We’ve Got Work to Do.

Finding time to blog has been particularly difficult lately, but posting a picture with a little caption is a bit easier. If you want to keep up to date on what we’re doing in between blog posts please follow me on Instagram for more regular updates.

"I hate learning" homeschool challenge

One of the parenting moments I cherish the most are my talks with Max. I’ve been inviting Max out on a beach walk each day of our vacation and sometimes he takes me up on it.

“Mom, I’m never going to like learning.”

Silence.

“I mean, it’s nice to know stuff and I like the benefits of knowing things but I am never going to like actual learning.”

This is the kid that has basically every Pokemon memorized.  Who while at the aquarium, impressed strangers who overheard him telling me about parrotfish. The kid who enjoys reading and watching shows about trivia, and when I find something out to impress him usually responds with, “I know,” and gives me a fact I didn’t know back. Who tested into a center based gifted program at school and we didn’t even realize he was being tested for it…

… this person hates learning.

If learning is miserable to a kid like this, we’re basically all screwed.

This is my challenge for our homeschool year. After years of school I feel like now we have to go backwards in some ways instead of forward.  Back to the playing, the experimenting, back to the joyful and fun part of learning. And it makes me worry… is it possible to reframe our idea of learning and to find the joy in it?

Maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but it’s scary to hear that your child hates learning when you are about to be the one responsible for their education. I realized that switching gears from learning by demand to learning out of joy is a little bit of a delicate process.  I don’t want to find myself being just another person who pushes them to the point that they completely lose interest and yet, trusting the process and allowing them to “learn nothing” while exploring their interests is mildly terrifying.

Since summer is winding down and the regular school year is approaching, I am curious to see how the kids will feel when they don’t go back to school with everyone else.
And as my husband is planning his year of teaching ahead, I am thinking about mine.

For the kids, I have two overarching goals for our first homeschool year:

  1. Redefine learning as something enjoyable that never stops.
  2. Reconnect with the outdoors (it’s not just a place you go to get from one building to another).

For myself I have a number of other goals:

  1. Learn to follow their lead.
  2. Manage my expectations.
  3. Learn when to give them a gentle push and when I’m pushing too far.
  4. Create an environment that gives them opportunities to discover new things.
  5. Make time to let them teach me about the things they love (this will involve many Pokemon lessons).
  6. Not go completely insane panic (too often).
  7. Slow down and enjoy our time together.

So while the school year is gearing up, we’re still winding down.

 

 

A Week of Science, Nature, Poetry and Activism.

I had so much to share and theeeeeeennn the power went out.

We’ve just gotten the lights back on after a nasty storm on Tuesday.  A large branch came through our backyard, but luckily no one was hurt and there was no major damage.

So here’s a little catch up:

We kept ourselves pretty busy last week with a couple trips to the river, the park and the Science Museum of Virginia.

Getting the kids more in touch with nature is one of the primary reasons that we’re homeschooling next year; I’ll definitely write about our nature walks in the future but there’s so much to talk about I’ll have to skip over that for now.

Review of the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond, VA
Speed at the Science Museum of Virginia

The Science Museum of Virginia has a special Science After Dark event on the third Friday of every month. While we used to be members of the Science Museum, we had not been since they opened their newest exhibit, Speed. Speed is all about… well… speed and it takes place under the sprawling fuselage of an SR-71 Blackbird. We had been skipping over the old exhibit in that space on our last visits, so it was pretty exciting to see how they had revamped the space, somehow jamming the jet into the museum as though it were a ship inside a bottle.

 

Science Museum of Virginia review 2016
Selfie with winds going 80 miles an hour.

At the exhibit, we compared rates of plant growth, watched high speed videos in slow motion, played air hockey against a robot, watched the traffic of the city on timelapse (and saw ourselves enter the museum), raced down a track to clock our own speed and even withstood hurricane winds… and we definitely didn’t check out everything.

Speed exhibit at the Science Museum of Virginia

The Science Museum of Virginia Richmond 2016 Review

In addition to Speed, there was a new (to us) play area for younger kids that all the boys loved.

Science Museum of Virginia Richmond Review

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There’s always a ton going on at the Science Museum of Virginia but Science after Dark offered a few additional activities like making marble mazes and floating bubbles.  Langston loved the giant lite brite.

Review of Science After Dark at the Science Museum of Virginia

Activities at Science After Dark at the Science Museum of Virginia

The Science Museum of Virginia has been making some major changes in the past few years and if you haven’t been, it’s definitely worth the trip.

On Sunday we had an opportunity to participate in a really cool event: Haikus for Change. McLean Jesse and Liz Blake White, the two wonderful women behind this project, wanted a creative and unique way of reaching out to our legislators – through haiku.

Haikus for Change

Participants were encouraged to boil down their thoughts, hopes, and concerns about recent events into just 17 syllables, which would then be copied and mailed off to our local representatives.   Max participated by working with me  to collaboratively write his very first haiku (which he has asked for me not to share, but will be mailed).

 

Thinking about homeschool next year has definitely given me a different perspective on how we’ve spent our days.  While I still find the concept of homeschool mildly terrifying, it has been encouraging  to find that opportunities to learn about the natural world, physics, civics and poetry came so readily in our daily lives.  Not all weeks will be this way of course, but this was a good one and has helped me personally in my effort to change how I think about education.

 

 

The Longest Summer Ever Begins.

 

The first official day of our Longest Summer Ever fell on the longest day of the year.

I mentioned in my last post about how we would not be returning to school in the fall and we’re spending the next 6 months or so exploring our interests and getting out to see some cool stuff.

Without the anchor of the school day, things turn into a free-for-all pretty quickly.  And while I normally don’t mind what I call “summer chaos”, I’m very aware that I won’t be packing up that chaos and shipping it off to school in September.

For one thing, electronics are a real problem in our house.  For everyone, not just for the kids. I originally didn’t want to set any strict limits on “screen time”; I don’t really mind the kids being on the computer so long as there’s a bit of balance.

After thinking about how to deal with our electronics issue, I decided that we’d build a loose schedule to follow on the weekdays (and a separate one for weekends).  Having internet “black out” times works better for us than earning time on the computer or even having a set amount of time they’re allowed on the computer.  In the past, those structures caused the kids to be preoccupied with whether or not they’d get to be on the computer and for how long.  This way, they know they’ll get their time and have multiple opportunities to play video games so there’s no need to bargain/discuss/think about it/talk about it. It’s not about punishment or reward; it’s just a thing we do sometimes and not others.

The focus is on creating a few new habits to last us into the fall when Jeff goes back to school but the kids do not.

Since the kids wake up at various times, we decided we’d start our day at 9am. Before that, if the kids would like to be on electronics or play outside in their pjs or lay around in bed a little, that’s fine.

So our “structure” looks a little bit like this:
9:00 begins our unplugged time with breakfast/getting dressed/chores
10-4 is unplugged free time. This is when we’re likely to take a trip out anyway.
4-6 is computer/tv time
6:00 is  dinner
Followed by 1 hour of reading for the entire family
A little more free time if we have time for it and the bedtime routine begins at 8:30.
9:30 lights out.

How’d we do on day 1?

Well, the unplugged time went better than I expected.  Usually, once the electronics are ripped from their white-knuckled-grip the kids do pretty well. The house is exponentially louder… and messier, but the kids do pretty well.

Today we took Marlowe out to see Finding Dory for his first ever movie experience and despite spilling his popcorn and getting folded up in the seat a few times, it was a success.

First movie finding dory

We did ditch the hour of free time (and our bedtimes) to head out with a telescope to a nearby field to see the strawberry moon.

We didn’t get a chance to see the moon until the ride home because the trees were too high, but it didn’t really matter.  We saw Mars and Jupiter, watched bats feast above our heads, chased some fireflies and lay around in the grass looking up at the stars.

Star gazing kids A multifaceted Mama

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We used the Sky Guide app to help us identify a few planets and stars. Marlowe kept yelling “Mars is coming! Mars is coming!”

Sometimes, you gotta bend the schedule even on day one.

longest summer ever a multifaceted mama

I’m trying to keep my expectations in check, but it was a nice start to our Longest Summer Ever.