Life in the Mundane, Katie Waalkes, homeschool encouragement and tips, homeschool conversations podcast interview

Life in the Mundane: tips and encouragement from a second-generation homeschool mom of 6 (with Katie Waalkes)

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It’s always fun to meet and chat with another second-generation homeschooler! Katie Waalkes brought so many practical and encouraging tips for thriving in the midst of Life in the Mundane in today’s episode.

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

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Life in the Mundane, Katie Waalkes, homeschool encouragement and tips, homeschool conversations podcast interview

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Who is Katie Waalkes?

 Katie Waalkes is a wife of 12 years, mother to 6 kids, and runs the youtube channel “Life in the Mundane”. She is passionate about encouraging parents in their biblical parenting and helping homeschool moms in their journey. Katie has a unique perspective on homeschooling as both she and her husband grew up homeschooled. As a second generation homeschooler, she has been both the student and teacher and has much to offer on the topic. She hopes to be able to help you start making the most of the little moments in life as the mundane moments are often the most impactful.  You can find Katie at lifeinthemundane.com or on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook as “Life in the Mundane.” 

Watch my conversation with Katie Waalkes

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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends. Today I am joined by Katie Waalkes. Katie is a wife of 12 years, mother to six kids, and she runs the YouTube channel Life in the Mundane. She is passionate about encouraging parents in their biblical parenting and helping homeschool moms in their journey. Katie has a unique perspective on homeschooling as both she and her husband grew up homeschooled, like me and my husband. As a second-generation homeschooler, she has been both the student and the teacher and so she has much to offer on the topic. She hopes to be able to help you start making the most of the little moments in life as the mundane moments are often the most impactful.

You can find Katie at lifeinthemundane.com or on YouTube, Instagram, or Facebook as Life in the Mundane.

I am so excited to get to talk to you today, Katie, as I have enjoyed watching your YouTube videos over the past year, and now it’s a good excuse to get to talk to you in-person.

The Waalkes family

Well, Katie, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family and why you got started homeschooling.

Katie Waalkes: Like you said, I’m a second-generation homeschool mom. My husband and I are high school sweethearts; we met in high school and married just a year after and started a family right away. Our kids are very close in age, the first four and then the last two. There’s two different separate sets. We have an 11, 10, 9, and 8-year-olds, and then a three and two-year-old. Our life is always crazy, there’s never a dull moment whatsoever, but we roll with the punches, and we go with it. Then I was homeschooled most of my time, not all, but I was homeschooled most of the years growing up. I’m the oldest of seven kids.

My husband was homeschooled all the way through, and he is the middle of eight kids. Lots of fun experience with homeschooling.

Just as far as how we got started with homeschooling, honestly, it was just the way we had always planned to do it till we grew up. We loved the experience from it. We had very different experiences, mine is probably more positive than his, but I think what we both saw from it was that that there was a lot to be gained just from that love of learning and the process. Not so much focusing on just the academics or the outcome of having a perfect child but really just getting to get to know your child, have that relationship with them.

Amy: Oh, I’m excited to dive into that with you in a little bit. I remember having some of the same conversations with my husband before we were married. We just both had had pretty positive experiences homeschooling for different reasons. I think both of our families of origin had different strengths and different weaknesses, and so to be able to talk about that and then come up with our own way of wanting to do things, and of course, our children then will remember our own strengths and weaknesses too.

To be able to, I guess, apply the things we learned in our own way has been one of the great privileges I think of second-generation homeschooling for sure.

Second Generation Homeschooling

Well, how has your approach to homeschooling or your philosophy of education changed or developed over the years? How does that aspect of both of you being second-generation homeschoolers, how does that impact your perspective as parents?

Katie: I think one big thing was that we kind of had a good foundation that we both– we had to talk through, like you said, because our parents handled things very, very differently, and like you said, strengths and weaknesses. We talked through a lot of that before we even had kids, let alone before kids were old enough for school. We had a lot of that basic philosophy, I feel like, down before we got started, that was a huge pro. I didn’t have to sit there as a new homeschool mom and be like, “What are all these curriculums? What are the options?” Because I was the oldest, so I was the guinea pig. My mom tried all of them on me. [laughs]

I had a lot of experiences with that, but his parents were more like, “We pick one curriculum, and we stick with it, and it’s just going to work.” It was really different approaches to things. We laid down that foundation of philosophy of like we want to make sure that we do instill that love of learning and that we really put those relationships first within the family.

However, I would say my approach has definitely changed as you get into it because it’s all nice and philosophical upfront, you’re like, “I know exactly how I want to do this.” Then you get into it and you’re like, “That didn’t work the way I thought it was going to work.” [laughs]

Amy: I actually have real human beings.

Katie: A reality for every parent, right?

Amy: Yes, my children are actual human beings who have their own minds about things, who would have thought?

Katie: They don’t care what was in my head beforehand, they just do their own thing. I think that’s been one of those things where it’s been a lot of trial and error and figuring out what works. I think in the beginning I was really caught up on researching all of the different methods — Charlotte Mason and classical, am I a textbook person or unit study person —  and I tried to put myself in one box as a whole. I realized that there are very few people out there that are hardcore just one thing or another. Most of us are eclectic and take a little bit more of a fluid approach to it. I found a lot of freedom when I finally came across that and realized that I didn’t have to be one or the other.

Amy: I think being an eclectic homeschooler, or just being a homeschooler who isn’t ruled by your label, I think that we can learn a lot from a philosophy that fits well with our family or that we’re aligned with in the principles. The principles can guide us but not to so be boxed in by the labels that we can’t actually enjoy the living thing that is education and that is in our own family.

Life in the Mundane, Katie Waalkes, homeschool encouragement and tips, homeschool conversations podcast interview

Katie Waalkes’s favorite parts of homeschooling

Well, Katie, what have been some of your favorite parts of homeschooling?

Katie: Oh, that’s hard, there’s a lot. I think, for me and my own kids, it’s been getting to read aloud with them, like getting to explore things through new books and just getting to see those lightbulb moments. We have a lot of struggling learners in our home, we have some kids with some severe dyslexia as well as some other medical complications and things.

I once heard a mom explain it this way and it was so helpful to me, she was like, “In order to enjoy those lightbulb moments, you have to stumble around in the dark for a while. You have to go through some struggle to enjoy it. If they just picked it up the first time, you wouldn’t recognize it as a beautiful thing.” That really helps my perspective of going, “Okay,” there were some days where I was like, “Are you ever going to get this?” Like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t even know.” Then they did get it. We both took ownership in that and celebrated that. Those are those lessons, the ones we wrestle with as adults, as kids, are the ones that really stick with us the longest.

Amy: Oh, I love that. That’s such a good reminder, to think about how you don’t actually appreciate those light bulb moments until you’ve had the contrast. It’s actually the contrast, it’s the hard work you’ve put in, the grit and determination, the perseverance, by God’s grace, and sometimes those really hard, hard homeschool days where you just feel like they’re never going to learn. That when they do learn, it just makes the joy so much greater. I know for me, it helps me remember. When I’ve had those moments, it helps me remember, “This isn’t really about me as a homeschool mom.” It always reminds me to give thanks to the Lord for His grace in those homeschool moments. I always want to think it’s me and really it’s not.

Katie: Yes, so true.

Life in the Mundane, Katie Waalkes, homeschool encouragement and tips, homeschool conversations podcast interview

Challenges of Homeschooling

Amy: Well, what have been some of the challenges of homeschooling that you have faced thus far, and how do you seek to overcome those challenges?

Katie: I think there’s been two major ones, and one is just realizing that I’m not my mom. My mom did an excellent job, an excellent job homeschooling. When I started, I really wanted to mimic– I wanted to get the same results she got, but I had to recognize we’re different people. We teach differently, but more importantly, we have different kids. [laughs] There are different human beings in front of us with different strengths and weaknesses, and I was definitely trying to force something at the beginning.

When I really started to look at what my teaching style was and my kid’s learning style was and really take more of the principles they taught me and apply them rather than the exact methods, that helped a lot.

Then the second one would definitely be, just because we have struggling learners, has been realizing the beauty of just one more step forward. To stop measuring against certain standards or comparing to other kids or other parents and really just seeing the beauty. We say all the time, like the whole Dory, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” Just one more step in front of the other and that is something we can celebrate.

Mindset shifts and other resources for parents of struggling learners

Amy: Oh, Katie, I didn’t put this on our list of questions, so we can cut this out if we need to. That makes me wonder, especially with your struggling learners, was that something that you’ve just– That attitude and that mindset change, was that something that you’ve just grown in over the years, or there’re any particular resources that you would recommend to my audience for their encouragement?

Katie: Yes, definitely. I feel like that’s definitely been something I have grown in for sure. Some of my siblings were struggling a little bit but not to the level that my kids have and so that wasn’t something I saw modeled exactly. My parents did a good job of modeling that very specific, really tailoring things to our specific strengths and weaknesses. I was like, “Okay, I’m familiar with that.”

It took a long time to figure out that a lot of my kids have different curriculums, which at times can be challenging, but there are ways that you can incorporate that. That’s a lot of what I talk about on my channel is how to incorporate all these different– personalizing it for each kid but having six kids and how I make that work.

One book that was super helpful to me was Homeschool Bravely by Jamie Erickson. It’s not on working with your special learners, but it deals with those fears that homeschool moms face, including having special learners; she has a whole section on it.

That was just really, really encouraging to me to see a very successful mom who has done amazing things but who has really just broken down, “How can we gauge our progress with our struggling learners? How can we stop comparing it but making sure we’re continuing to push?” Because this is always the challenge with struggling learners, especially special needs kids, it’s making sure that you’re giving them not too much to squelch their love of learning but giving them enough to push them to that next level where we don’t become compliant. She had a lot of great resources and great things to say in that book.

Amy: I have seen that book and heard it recommended so many times but have not yet read it myself. I’ll have to add this. Every time I talk to one of you wonderful podcast guests, I always end up with like 10 more books to go buy or put on my library hold list.

Katie: It’s a very good audiobook. I actually have it on audio, and I listen to it every year during the summer. I listen to that one and Teaching from Rest every year to just reset me before going into the new school year.

Amy: Oh, that is a great idea, just getting your mindset in the right place before you get down to the nitty-gritty. I’m a very big picture person, so I have to start with big picture ideas, let’s start up here, and then the details of the day seems to go more smoothly. I will include that book in the show notes for sure.

Finding Joy and Beauty in the Middle of Life in the Mundane

Well, Katie, one of the things I love, of course, is just the name of your channel, Life in the Mundane, definitely caught my eye because so many of these moments of motherhood and especially as homeschool moms can just feel so ordinary, so hard not because necessarily they’re challenging, although sometimes they are but just because they’re so very mundane.

It can be so easy to think, “Oh, let me just get to this next stage, things will be easier and be better. If we can just say get through today or get through this year or whatever,” and we then end up neglecting the beauty that’s in this very day that God’s called us to. How do you encourage moms to switch their perspective in the midst of life in the mundane?

Katie: Well, I think that there’s a couple of different ways. We always want to deal with the heart issue and decide why is this a point of discontentment? Is this the point of discontentment? I think that’s a big factor. What are we consuming? Are we consuming tons of Pinterest posts and Instagram posts and things that are causing us to compare ourselves to someone else’s stage of life or their finances or how their children are acting or how well they’re doing academically?

We need to make sure that we are being mindful of– It doesn’t mean you have to cut out those things, but we just need to be mindful of how much of a diet we’re taking it. Just like your kids with candy, you wouldn’t let them sit there and just chalk back a full bag full of candy. It’s not bad for them to have one after dinner, but not every day. I think it’s the same thing with this stuff, we have to be careful with the content we consume. Make sure we’re putting a healthy diet before us of being in God’s word and having good encouragement of biblical women who can lift us up and help us to realize that those mundane moments matter.

Then every once in a while have a little treat of maybe something on social media or whatever. That’s a lot easier said than done, I’m not going to pretend like that’s a piece of cake. [laughs]

I think the other factor, or along with that I guess, would be finding ways to be thankful in the moment that you’re in. One way practically that can look like that we do in our family is we just go around the table every single night and we share something we’re thankful for. We write it down on a notecard. I just write it down for everybody. We have a box hanging on our wall in our dining room, that is our thankfulness box, and we just drop it in there at the end of the night.

I find something really beautiful in writing it versus just saying it because it’s something you can go back and reference. Also, you give a little more thought to it I think, but we also make the rule that we cannot– that nobody in the family can repeat something they’ve already said ever. Now some parents ask me and they say, “Katie, you have six kids. How do you keep track of that?” The answer is I don’t. Trick of the trade here.

Life in the Mundane, Katie Waalkes, homeschool encouragement and tips, homeschool conversations podcast interview

I do my best. I’m like, “I think you’ve already said that,” and they’ll be like, “Okay, I did.” They usually admit it themselves and we go on. The whole point is to really push and encourage them and push encourage us to think of things beyond the Thanksgiving things of like, “I’m thankful for my family and my house.” That’s great, what else? Give me more. I found that, one, cultivating that attitude of thankfulness all along will help starve off the discontentment.

In those moments when you’re really struggling, for instance, when you have four kids, three and under, who are painting your wall with a Sam’s Club size of peanut butter and are painting their wall and each other, it’s in their hair, it’s all over your couch, all over your carpet, and you come downstairs after a really rough day to discover this, you might be struggling to find the thankfulness in that moment, let’s just be honest.

If you can’t pull up something to be thankful for in that moment, you can go back to that box, reach in and grab a handful of cards, and see how God has been good and how He has provided all along. That encouragement can keep you going in those hard moments when you physically can’t think any more about anything else positive. That’s an encouragement. Then one other thing, and I’m sorry, this is something I’m passionate about, I’m a talker with this.

Amy: Please, keep going.

Katie: I think the other factor here is to look at and say, “If we are struggling with being in the moment, is it because it’s discontentment or is it because something’s just not working?” I think this is a good thing to balance out. What are the areas where you’re struggling to be in the moment? Where are the areas where you are struggling to function? Is there a system or something that needs to change, maybe something needs to go in your life that you have too many things on your plate? Maybe it is such that you need to just work on how you can approach something better, maybe you need some help. That’s definitely a valid thing, in needing some outside help.

I just think it’s good to look at the whole part of it. Look at the heart issue for sure first. Then once that is done, if you’ve dealt with that and you’re like, “I feel content, Katie. I’m overwhelmed.” Then we look at the real practical and say, “What can we do to make those little moments easier?” Which is, again, what I do a lot on my channel is focusing on helping you just through those little everyday moments so that, hopefully, maybe we can give you a system or a resource that’ll just help make that a little bit easier.

Amy: That is also very encouraging. I love how you make the distinction of is it a heart issue? Is this something you need to repent about? Sometimes it is, and sometimes we want to ignore that, but sometimes it’s like, “No, actually, you’ve repented, okay,” and then you actually still need help.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It doesn’t mean you have failed. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means, literally, there’s too many things for you to do, and you need some help.

I love your idea about writing down the thankfulness things. That has been a longtime practice in our family to go around and say things we’re thankful for. In fact, we’ve been known to break up fights like in the car or at the dinner table by just like, “Everybody has to stop talking.” We go around the circle, and you have to say something you’re thankful for about the people at the table. We’ve done that verbally, but I’m thinking that writing it down, which is something we do often around Thanksgiving, but just having that as a common practice might really be transformative. It would certainly make a good memory to look back at later.

Katie: Exactly. It’s funny, we have the two-year-old, she shares what she’s thankful for, and she’s like, “I’m thankful for macaroni.” Then later we’re able to laugh about that as we look back at that. It is definitely a fun way. You can do it in a journal or with a notecard. It’s very much up to people’s personal style. I think the practice has just been really transformative to our family.

Amy: I love that. I’m going to have to move on here for our podcast, but I’m going to be thinking about this and figuring out how I’m going to apply this in my family for sure.

Katie’s strategies for staying organized with a large homeschool family

Well, I have five children from 5 to 15. I have a feeling we’ve had a common experience; you’re out and about or someone finds out how many children you have, and they say some variation of like, “You must have your hands full,” or, “How do you do it all?”

If somebody ever asked me the question, like, “Oh, just how do you do it all?” Sometimes I literally will look at them and just say, “I don’t,” because that’s just true.

Jokes aside, what are some of your strategies for staying organized as a homeschool family of many?

Katie: I definitely don’t do at all by any stretch of the imagination. There’s no homemade fresh bread being made here, there is no garden being planted. There’s a lot that doesn’t get done that a lot of people do. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but I think a big factor for us has been putting systems in place that can kind of run on autopilot. There’s a lot of flexibility. It’s just a framework to kind of set your family on track.

Daily Buddies

Two systems in particular that we use in our house is, one, having a buddy each day. There is one child that buddies up with mom who helps me prepare the lunches for the day. For that particular day, we have the same thing. Every Monday for lunch, we have the same thing. Every Tuesday for lunch, we have the same thing. Because those kids stay on those days, they get to master that particular meal. Once they’ve mastered it, then we might switch up the meals a little bit. Now it’s to the point where my kids are able– the four older ones are able to cook lunch one day a week, each day, which is usually helpful in your homeschooling day because it gives you a minute to recoup or spend some time with the littles. That’s been really helpful.

Ownership over independent work

Then another one has definitely been with our independent work, giving your kids some ownership over their work. We have just made little charts, you can use pictures you get online, you could draw something, you can write it depending on their age, but just giving them two to three tasks at least that they can do independently.

For little kids, I know this is hard, I remember thinking, “There’s nothing they can do independently,” but it can be as simple as like playing with your counting bears. You don’t have to direct their play. “Play with your counting bears.”

Take some time to go create. That could be painting something, drawing something, coloring something, writing a book, performing a play, whatever; take some time to create.

Take some time to listen to a podcast. We love podcasts in our house, we’re addicts. Listen to a podcast, watch a LeapFrog movie, whatever it is. For young or for older kids, there’s usually something that we can do to help them take a little bit of ownership over that.

Recently my husband and I had COVID, which was not fun, and we had it at the same time. Our kids, I really expected to come downstairs to a nightmare of disaster of epic proportion. Really, it was neat to see that some of those systems that we had in place that they follow along. I’m not going to say they did it perfectly or that it was done the same way it would be done if I had been well, but they were able to jump in and help with a meal here or there. They were able to not do all their schoolwork, but they were able to do all their independent work. That was hugely helpful that we had those systems in place for emergencies like that so that the house can just run a little bit smoother during those times.

Amy: That’s awesome. I’ll make sure to get you to send me some links to some of the videos where you lay out some of those systems and we’ll include those in the show notes too.

What Katie Waalkes is reading lately

I am asking the same questions to each of my guests here in season three. The first question is just what are you reading lately?

Katie: With my kids, I’m reading Wonder right now which has been really good. We’re enjoying that. Then, personally, I am working through it slowly because there’s so many nuggets of truth in there, but Risen Motherhood, which is all about taking those mundane moments and presenting the gospel in those mundane moments. I thought it was super fitting and it’s been so good, I’m like rereading chapters. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to the book because there’s so much in here. [laughs]

Amy: My sister-in-law highly recommends the Risen Motherhood podcast and I’ve listened to a few. My podcast feed gets so full, so I just cannot keep up with all of the wonderful podcasts, but the episodes I have listened to from their podcast are wonderful. I saw on social media when they published, I guess relatively recently, the book is within the last year or so, is that right?

Katie: Yes.

Amy: We’ll definitely include a link to that; it’s a wonderful gospel-centered podcast. I’m sure the book, if it’s anything like their podcast, is going to be fantastic.

Katie’s tips for the homeschool day going off the rails

Well, Katie, what tips would you have for a homeschool mom whose day seems to just be going completely off the tracks?

Katie: First of all, I would say there’s nothing wrong with sometimes taking a day off and that’s an important factor. For those days where you really, for whatever reason, need to just kind of push through it but you’re struggling, we actually have a bad day box. It’s just a box of a few educational activities. I have a list in there, I have a video coming–

Amy: The magic of the podcast world, when you hear this, the video will already be public.

Katie: I have a video out on this specifically with some printables if you guys want to check it out. Basically, we have a list of podcasts and YouTube channels and fun educational videos to watch on different streaming services in that box. We have some Usborne fun books that we don’t normally have out, some educational games. Just kind of a box for when we’re having a rough day and we need to go off track, we can go to that and pull from some fun educational resources and just mix it up in our family, and that’s been a lifesaver.

Amy: I love that idea. I’m going to create like a mom bad day box. Do you think we could put some chocolate in there too?

Katie: Yes. In my bad day box, I actually have– for mom, I have some M&M’s in there because I love M&M’s, and I have a ring of Bible verses that has different cards in there of just encouragement to a mom’s heart. For me, I pull out the M&M and the Bible verses, I go over those first and get my heart and my mind right, and then we drop into the fun with the kids.

Amy: That’s fantastic. My old pastor is retired now, but he and his wife one time gave me– I think it’s called something like Faith’s Checkbook, maybe it’s Spurgeon, I don’t know. I would have to look for it on my shelf. I remember there was a time where I would go to it often. It was just like, kind of you think about a checkbook or a bank where you go and you can get them the money that you’ve put in and that you’ve deposited. In a sense, it was reminding you that these are these truths, these promises of the Lord, and you can go to them. He said this in His word.

When you’re feeling afraid or worried or whatever it is, you can go and remember, “This belongs to me. This is mine because Jesus is mine.” That was an encouraging book. I think that the best thing we can do on a bad day is remember what’s true. I may, in fact, need to go pull that book out and read it myself today. It might be one of those days for me, just saying.

Find Katie Waalkes Online

Katie, where can people find you all around the internet?

Katie: I’m pretty easy to find on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, it’s all Life in the Mundane, really simple. Then I also have a website called lifeinthemundane.com. I’m working on some special projects right now. I am working on a book, Lord willing, all about growing up homeschooled. Part of it is getting to share the experience with other people who grew up homeschooled as well and sharing what lessons do we wish our parents would have known or what were the most impactful lessons our parents taught us.

My hope with that is to survey as many people as I can to share with homeschool moms now to give them encouragement and to help them know where to invest their time and energy and what really matters, like what actually sticks with their kids after the fact. It’s been a fun project to be a part of. Hopefully, that will be coming sometime in 2021.

Amy: That is really exciting. Do you have a place where people can go to share their stories?

Katie: Yes. If anybody grew up homeschooled for any period of time, whether it was a couple of years or all throughout, I’d love to get your input. It’s just a 10 question survey. In reality, it’s like three questions actually, most of it is demographic stuff. I will send a link so that can be included because I think that it would be great to hear from as many people as possible.

Amy: Fantastic. Well, I will link up to all those things in the show notes for this episode at humilityanddoxology.com. I look forward to reading that book as well. Katie, thank you so much for coming and chatting with us today. I know this will be an encouragement to many mamas.

Katie: Thank you for having me.

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