Readers Ask

This may be my shortest "review" post ever and I'll tell you straight up, it's a hearty product endorsement.

I get a lot of emails, facebook messages, blog comments (maybe even instagram comments? can't recall) asking me about this light. The most recent arrived in my inbox yesterday.

So I just need to bite the bullet and put up a small post on the blog I can refer back to instead of re-typing the same response over and over.

My phototherapy light, which I also call my Happy Light because it's written on the lamp, is made by Verilux. Damien did the research on different brands and models and we chose this one (from what was available at the time) for its high intensity, fast session times, and large surface area.

You can find this model at or I'm sure you can buy phototherapy lamps at Best Buy and similar stores, I've seen smaller Verilux brand models at the Costco I frequent. If you're in Canada you may be interested in Northern Light Technologies.

Before making the investment to buy this light a few years ago, I did all kinds of research on what the light did, how it worked, etc. I read enough to be convinced to try it. Here are two short reviews on phototherapy from WebMD and Dr. Andrew Weil.

This is my third winter using a therapy light. The first winter I used it, there seemed to be a noticeable difference for me. But that was also the winter we were prepping for our thru-hike, a lot was different that winter, there was no control, in the scientific sense.

Last year I also experienced an improvement in my mental health. However, my winter wellness strategy is multi-faceted and involves supplements, outdoor exercise/skiing, enjoying the season, burning candles - the whole works. So it's really hard to separate the light from everything else, it's a holistic approach to health.

I use the light almost every morning for 1- 1.5 hours. I start in November and continue as long as I feel I need it. I think I packed it up in April last year.

Here's how I'd summarize my experience with my Happy Light:

  • I use it religiously.
  • I recommend it heartily.
  • It's part of a holistic winter wellness strategy.
  • Practical note: I store it during the day and take it out for my morning "therapy".
  • I bought mine at At the time I bought it, it cost me $190, not including tax.
  • It's not pretty, it's doesn't photograph well like a soft candle, but it works.

If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or intense winter blahs, these other posts on the blog (listed in order of publication) may be of interest/helpful to you:

This post has affiliate links.

It's been a long time since I've written anything substantial about homeschooling and I'd like to do something about that.

Since I've been quiet on the subject it could be inferred I've lost some of my passion for homeschooling or that it's not going well. (My kids are teenagers after all.) Thankfully, neither is true.

These are some of our best homeschool years yet. I still LOVE homeschooling my kids. And our kids (mostly) still want to be schooled at home. The energy and tenacity of older students, when they are working toward their own goals is a real beauty to behold. (I just gave you a real big hint as to why homeschooling is still working in our home.)

A significant area of contention in our homeschool life is that we have limited community resources at our disposal to support our anglophone childrens' growth, development, and interests. (We live in rural Quebec.)

For two years we went without good library service. We finally solved that problem by joining the library system in New Brunswick, which is the province next to us. Thankfully, our nearest library is only one hour away.

The most difficult thing though, is that we've gone nearly four years without a homeschool support group or homeschool community. We have two teenagers and a social, extroverted twelve year old who want to connect with kids like them and so the situation has to change. And it will, very soon. (That's code-speak for "we're moving" but I'll get to that announcement soon enough.)

Although I haven't written much about homeschooling on the blog, homeschooling is as near and dear to my heart as ever it was. To be sure, my long term sights are on what comes after this first vocation of mine (what kind of career do I want after my kids aren't the center of my universe?) but finishing well is where my focus is right now and for the next three to five years.

I spend a lot more time now, than I did when the kids were little, investing my energies into the "homeschool" part of my job description. When the kids were young I invested a lot of energy into establishing our homemaking systems and teaching the kids likewise. I was banking on the belief that if I laid that foundation well I would have more physical and mental energy to help guide their studies in the intense middle to high school years. At that point I could only hope that my efforts would yield the fruit I see today. I have not been disappointed.

I have a lot to say about homeschooling in these years and I want to spend some time in March, all of March actually, writing about homeschooling, and I want to do it as openly as possible.

I've got a little side project going on called The Kitchen Table, many of you have joined me there. I am blown away but what's happening around the table. And I'm getting glimpses of the work I want to do post-homeschooling but mostly I am simply hanging out and sharing my heart, as you share yours.

I have been given so much already in the short time I've been facilitating that group, but what strikes me the most is seeing FIMBY readers, who I've always considered friends, for who they are: real people.

You are a real person and it's likely you're a real homeschooler. You have real kids in a real home. Real-ness means we are beautiful but at times feel wretched. It means we love our kids to death (and we would die for them) but God help us if they don't drive us to drinking some days. Real-ness means we have our spectacular homeschooling days but also days, months, seasons where we wonder if we're not failing our children, crippling them for life.

I want to write about homeschooling in our home with all this in mind. I try to be honest in my writing but when I don't hear the voices of who I'm writing to it's hard to be open. Not because I don't want to, but because without knowing who you are (dear reader and friend) I'm writing into a void. And in that emptiness I wonder, who the heck cares about these particular details, this triumph or this struggle.

As it turns out, you care and you want to know. You may not contribute to comments, nor do I expect you to, but you're reading and you want to know what it really looks like to homeschool older kids. And I want to share that with you.

I started this blog eleven years ago. Brienne, our youngest, was a toddler. You can read my first homeschooling-related post here. It's about hiking, what else?

You might also like this blast from the past post about our early school days, published ten years ago, almost to the day.

I didn't start to post regularly to this blog, which wasn't even called FIMBY at the time, till Brienne was five.

Our kids are now 12, 14 and 15. What does it look like to homeschool kids these ages? Does it look how I thought it would as a starry-eyed, interest-led, newbie homeschooler?

Do our kids still want to be homeschooled? Are they still eager to learn (like they were as adorable eight year olds)?

Will they go to highschool? (If you've been reading my blog for a long time you'll already have a clue to the answer.)

What are we doing to prepare for university? Will our kids go to university?

How do we (attempt to) meet the needs of three diverse kids? Are our kids weird homeschooled teenagers? (My oldest daughter and her friends like to be weird so this is a tricky question to answer.)

I've got a good chunk of these posts already written. I've been plugging away on a "homeschooling through high school" series since last fall. That should answer all the high school related questions. But I'm guessing you may have other questions. (Or maybe you have a very specific high school question you'd like to see answered in the high school series.)

I'd love to hear your homeschooling questions. Feel free to post them in comments below or email them to me.

I can't promise to get to each one, but as much as possible I want to try to work my answers into the posts I have planned for the month of March.

I'm not a homeschool guru but after ten years at this vocation I'm still happily doing it and the kids haven't mutinied yet. In truth, we all really enjoy each other, there's a flow of learning through our days and excited plans for the future, so I probably have something of value to add to the conversation.

A civil discourse disclaimer and why I write our story, in spite of the risk.

A dear blogging friend of mine was recently attacked on a blog post she wrote about her daughter's homeschooled high school experience. The comment was offensive and mean-spirited (I didn't read it) and my friend felt compelled to un-publish the post as well as change her plans to publish follow-up posts related to high school, record keeping, transcripts and the like.

In all my years of blogging I have received one spiteful comment on a homeschool post. I deleted it and I updated my comments policy, which I'm certain no one reads. I've had less than a handful of mean comments at FIMBY and only one that was about my kids.

I have a zero tolerance policy for attacks on my kids on the blog, or mean stuff in general, regardless of who it's directed at. I don't mind honest discourse, thoughtful questions and questioning, but kindness is the rule, just as it is in our home.

(We've had very few "rules" for our kids. I'm sometimes inconsistent with the ones we do have. All those parenting books that stress consistency make me feel like a failure, so I don't read them. And the kids, Brienne especially, know they can negotiate their way around most "rules". But kindness is non-negotiable, it is the rule we enforce.)

All of this to say, homeschoolers and people who blog about parenting and family life in general go out on a limb sometimes in sharing their experiences. And so you might wonder why I share publicly at all?

In my case I do it because it's what I want to read.

I want to read about healthy, vibrant, loving, and real family life. I want to know how to homeschool my kids through high school. I want to know how to have close relationship with them through their growing years and into adulthood.

I want to read about families who live with hope and kindness, joy and vitality. I want to know how to raise amazing kids who will bring the light of Christ into the world and affect positive change in their own circles of influence.

talk about breaking the rules, or in this case the law: there is a great (scary at the time) story behind this not-so-stealth campsite in Harriman State Park, NY

I want to know how to hold on and then let go. I want to know how I can build community with my children so we might live communally as adults and experience third, and fourth (with my parents) generation family life. I want all of this in a culture and society that seems to tear families apart and isolate us from one another.

I want nothing short of an amazing family life and it's sometimes hard to find models for this, in the context of our current culture. I don't identify as much with books written by parents who's kids are grown and gone, raised before the internet and iPads.

Also, most of the current books available (and a lot of healthy family life blogs) seem to be about farming, homesteading families, and we are definitely not that.

We are a technology family who's members love gaming, sci-fi movies, design, fashion, and computer programming, as well as having fun in the outdoors together (and we can be pretty hard core about that.) I am the natural-living inspired mom and spouse to this tech savvy crew. I figure my earthiness keeps us grounded whereas Damien's geeky engineering bent keeps us technologically "in-the-game". Something I especially appreciate with teenagers in the house. I may be clueless about the latest and greatest, but their dad isn't!

I love to read blogs about families (homeschooling families since that's what I identify with) finding their way into into healthy, fulfilling, and vibrant lives.

Our family is not the model. But we're doing stuff that works for us (and sometimes trying stuff that doesn't), and I want my voice, our story, to be part of the collective "this is how families do it" narrative that is being written on the web. Not because we're perfect parents, perfect spouses, or perfect kids. But because we love each other, and we love life, and we love Jesus, and we love our neighbors and the world needs love, period.

It's a love story, and you may question and ask "what about...?" but hurtful comments directed to our family, or each other will not be tolerated. It's a house rule.

(A note about the photos in this post. I don't take many photos of us "doing school" so I don't have a lot "visuals to illustrate" this post, or the posts coming this month. This seems like a perfect opportunity to start publishing trail photos. Already, the kids have grown so much since these were taken last spring and summer on the Appalachian Trail.)

This is my concluding post in a three post series entitled Discipline in a Love of Learning, Freedom Based, Interest-led Homeschool. You can read my first two posts here and here. Or you can jump down to the summary for a quick overview.

Discipline series FIMBY

In my last post I talked about drudgery and discipline. I didn't set forth a plan for teaching your kids to apply themselves to drudgery. Instead I asked a bunch of questions that challenged the assumptions people have about children who are given large amounts of freedom in their learning and education.

On one level people are ok with kids "being kids", having time to play, discovering their interests and all that. Many people even question much of what is taught in schools. But the "real world" looms large and scary, and because most adults can't answer, with any honesty, the question "why do I have to learn this?" from their children, they take comfort in the belief that, compulsory education, if nothing else, at least teaches kids self-discipline, something they are unlikely to learn on their own.

My belief, and personal experience, is that children absolutely can learn self-discipline in a love of learning, freedom based, and interest-led homeschool. And I believe you can raise children, without compulsory schooling, who will grow into adults capable of fitting into the real world where not all work is interesting or inherently motivating.

(Please note: A lot of homeschoolers have a compulsory schooling mindset, they take the subjects and requirements of schools and apply that to learning at home. This post is not about learning-at-home vs. learning in a school. This is a post about a freedom based education.)

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Point one is easy enough to see.

Involving children in home life, not just involving them but depending on them, at age appropriate levels for pet and animal care, cleaning, laundry, chopping wood, cooking meals - good old-fashioned chores - develops self-discipline.

Chores are things that have to be done, yes, but you can grow a family culture of meaning, purpose and even fun around these activities. It's within your power to do that. We require our children to participate in home life, but we can also inspire them to serve (or not) by our own attitudes towards service. (I am so convicted about that right now.)

Training children to take care of their personal health and wellbeing also develops self-discipline. Personal hygiene, exercising every day, eating well, hiking together on the weekends are a few examples from our life.

In our family, there are a lot of activities our children do that develop discipline. They do these activities because they are a part of the Tougas family and the Tougas family does these things.

This is character training and habit formation. And although it is not "academic" it teaches the skills that transcend subject and circumstance. That's the goal.

family hiking in the snow

The goal is not the knowledge acquired in grade three or grade four but the skills you learn acquiring those facts.

And my argument is you can acquire those skills other ways.

You can acquire those habits and character traits in the context of a robust, intentional family life.

Most people will not quibble with this point. It's somewhat intuitive because family life is thousands and thousands of years old, whereas mandatory education is only a couple hundred years old.

To see this principle illustrated, all you have to do is look back through history at all the people groups worldwide who have lived without formal schooling, and learned to apply themselves, largely through the means I just explained, to the hard work of adult living.

You learn to do by doing. And children have been learning how to be disciplined by observing the adults in their tribes and societies and by participating in family life for millennia.

The point people quibble about is number two because most people have no grid for that. It was never offered to them.

A brief reminder, point number two is this:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

Here are two reasons (I seem to like two's this discipline series) why people have a hard time with this premise:

1. When children are young "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of play and childhood exploration.

Because of the structures and standards of modern day schooling many people are uncomfortable with school-age children spending most of their time "playing". They should be learning. They should be "on the track" preparing for adulthood.

You have to learn the stuff of elementary school, to be prepared for high school. Then you have to get good grades so you can graduate high school with honors, so you get into a good college, get a degree which will give you a good job, which will pay you well, and allow you to retire... to do the thing you really want to do with your life.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this is not the track to success it once was but people live and educate as if it still was the reality. Or maybe it was always just a myth?

homemade fairy dolls

If allowing children time to play is hard the next point will be even more difficult to swallow.

2. When children become a young adults, after a childhood of creativity, exploration, and play, "applying themselves" looks like a whole lot of intense study into things adults might question as valuable or worthy.

You've got to kind of expect this, especially after you've given young children time to develop interests, and don't box them into subjects. School subjects are constructs, "real" in name only.

Adults don't go through life thinking of their days and activities in terms of "now I'm doing math, now I'm studying history, now I'm having phys ed." No, they balance the checkbook, read for the pleasure of it and to learn about something they're interested in, and work out because it feels good.

Even so, when well meaning adults see young adult students spending heaps of self-directed time on things that don't easily quantify as "American History, Chemistry, or English" they get a little panicky. What about the success track as laid out above?

(Perhaps at this point I could direct you to a different success track. Let's say the story of Steve Jobs who spent heaps of his young adulthood "playing" with electronics.)

Here's the rub. It's hard for people to understand when another person, child or adult, is invested in and personally driven to do something they themselves don't value, or can't see as valuable in society.

And yet these outliers, these people who pour energies into solving problems other people didn't even know existed or make art that modern day sensibilities don't get, these are the very people, all through history, who are society's movers and shakers.

Even if people question the assumption that the conveyer belt education system is "the track to success" (success by who's standards? by what measures?) they assauge that cognitive dissonance with the belief that by conforming to the system you at least learn self-discipline.

My question is: Do you learn self discipline with compulsory education?

Children, teenagers, and adults of all ages are self-motivated to learn the things they want to know, or need to know, to reach their goals. And when you give children the environment and permission to actually do this they learn to be disciplined. They learn that discipline helps them accomplish what they want to do.

The real problem then is not the lack of discipline but the lack of self-knowing and inspiration.


I want to illustrate this but I'm not good at hypothetical examples. I tried writing some and they fell flat, so I'll tell you what this self-discipline, arising from self-directed learning, looks like in my home.

  • Designing and sewing a skirt. Making progress every week even when it's difficult to do all that pinning and stitching. Ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Training for a 5k running race.
  • Crying, yes crying, through the final stages of a project. Tears that tug at my heart strings, but tears I am nonetheless unable to do anything about. I did not assign this project, nor can I remove its burden (though I can do a few extra chores to buy a child more time). In our experience, as young adults and emerging young adults see ideas through to completion there will be blood (ok, so there hasn't been a lot of blood), sweat, and tears. This is the time for that.
  • Establishing a taekwondo practice routine.
  • Sewing a birthday gift for a sibling (with an obvious deadline). Again, ideas are wonderful but then the work must be done and the work requires discipline.
  • Learning to read, even when it's hard. Being allowed to come to your own conclusion that this skill matters to you (not because of school shame) and then working at it.
  • Structuring your own school time, as a young adult, and sticking to it. "Showing up" day after day to do work that is tedious because you value it. Which brings the word tedious into question. (The work appears tedious to me because I can't imagine sitting down and doing it.)
  • Finishing what you start, even through difficult and uninspiring spots. Motivated by a commitment you made and payment upon completion. This applies to art commissions, doll commissions, and other obligations our kids choose.
  • Learning Japanese. Finding a language program, preparing your own study material, following through because you want to.
  • Programming with your Dad for a few hours a week not because "you love programming" but because computer programming fits with your strengths and interests and is an accessible way for you to earn the money you need to purchase an iPad. It's a skill that helps you meet a goal, and when you have goals you are driven.

My role in these scenarios is to offer encouragement and support. To secure resources, find mentors, accommodate the schedule (sometimes I do extra chores if the kids are under a deadline), bring fresh perspectives, and offer a lot of "you can do it" messages in the difficult spots.

The student designs and chooses their own "assignments", or projects. I don't have to convince them of its value, they chose it. The motivation to do the work is intrinsic. Self-discipline.

Our children, your children, are scientists, writers, readers, sewists, tinkers, do-ers, makers, artists, and athletes. They have ideas and inspiration all the time. They learn self-discipline by following through on some of these ideas (you can't make every idea a reality).

Children learn self-discipline through the perspiration of interest-led learning and living.

An important note about ages and stages.

I've mentioned this already but I must return to it again. A child's work doesn't look like work. It looks like play.

Crayola coloring set

They will be having fun and you will wonder, "how will they learn to apply themselves when they are enjoying themselves so much?" (Perhaps if you find yourself asking these types of questions you need re-evaluate your assumptions and beliefs and work, discipline, and joy.)

Only in recent years, as our children moved through the ages of 11, 12 and 13 has self-discipline been applied to anything that looks "schoolish". And even then it starts small.

Celine reaching her high school years, what we also call the scholar phase, was not an arbitrary age decision, "you're 14, you're in high school". Celine has reached this stage because, after a childhood of love of learning, she is choosing to go deeper, to be much more disciplined in reaching her goals.

There are days when I say "we don't have to do school today" because our schedule is crazy or whatever and she continues with her studies anyway. Regardless of whether her parents say it must be done or not. That is what is called self-discipline.

Trusting, through the childhood years, that interest-led learners will one day apply themselves to difficult study can be a nail-biting experience. Though I bet your children are already applying themselves to study, it just might be a certain skill set or knowledge you don't value.

Just remember, the development of self-discipline when a child is young looks like a meaningful contribution to family life and concentrated play, exploration, and discovery.

You have to give it time to unfold. You can't rush these things.

Tips & Strategies

Maybe you are worried that you don't see self-discipline developing in your children. Or maybe you just want to "do something" to make sure it's happening.

I understand that concern. That's a good concern. We want to raise children who will become independent adults, self-sufficient in the context of community and family.

  1. Open your mind up to possibilities, don't be hemmed in by "subjects". Are you looking for your child to develop a discipline around say, writing, while ignoring the other self-initiated work they do?

  2. Teach your kids, through example, how to be self-disciplined. What are you doing right now to model the self-discipline you want them to grow into?

  3. Make sure family life has meaningful and hands-on responsibilities for children. Your child's contribution should be needed, respected, and encouraged.

  4. Build a family culture of identifying interests and talents, cultivating ideas and projects, and then doing the hard work (the perspiration) required to make those ideas reality.

Jump start the process

Do something amazing as a family. An activity or project that teaches sacrifice, discipline, hard work, service to other, overcoming obstacles, etc. Do something together that teaches the character traits you want to instill in your kids. Choose a concrete goal and then go for it - as a family.

Series Summary

I started this series with two myths.

Myth One: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, you must not have a very disciplined home and family life. It must be chaos after all to let your kids "do their own thing".

Myth Two: If you are self-directed learners, and let your children largely pursue their own interests as their education, your children won't learn self-discipline. They don't learn to apply themselves to less-than-pleasant tasks. In short, they are not equipped for real life drudgery.

I addressed myth one in my first post, in which I explained what early years discipline looked like in our home.

When our children were little we established firm boundaries, in the context of unconditional love. Now we all experience a great deal of freedom within those boundaries. And as our children get older, while still living in our home, they get to set their own boundaries.

creative messy counter

I addressed myth two in posts two and three. In post two I shared a pervasive belief that school is the training ground that prepares you for a life you don't necessarily want to live and forced academics is a great opportunity, and main vehicle, for character development.

I then asked a bunch of questions best summarized by this:

Or would these children-become-adults be empowered by years of personal decision making and experience - growing up in an atmosphere of unconditional support, clear boundaries, and positive role models - learn to seek after and make happen those things they want to accomplish in life?

In this third and last post of this series I started with a two-fold premise:

Children can learn to apply themselves to difficult tasks, and become self-disciplined adults by:

  1. participating in normal family life. The comings, goings and doings of a family require discipline, and eventually self-discipline.
  2. investing large amounts of time, energy, and effort in designing their own studies and self-directing their learning.

I explained both points but went into detail with the second, illustrating what this looks like in both childhood and young adulthood.

And finally I concluded with tips, strategies and a challenge to help you develop self-discipline in an interest-led, freedom based homeschooling environment.

These tips can be applied to families in any schooling situation but I believe are most effective when children truly do have a large degree of freedom in their learning.

kids cooking in the kitchen

Let's Talk

I spent hours and hours writing and editing this series for you. I've attempted to answer, in depth, a common misconception I encounter (in coaching, conversations and educational practices, both at home and in schools) about interest-led homeschooling - that children don't develop self-discipline when given the freedom to study their own interests.

I hope this will help you in your homeschooling and give you more confidence in your methods in the face of questions or outright criticism from well-meaning (or otherwise) family and friends.

Please feel free to add any of your own observations in comments. I know your students apply themselves to what they love. Tell us about it!

What did I miss? Do you have more questions? Feel free to ask and if I have time I will answer them today in comments or build them into future posts.

Can't comment?

My sincere apologies if you have problems commenting here. Feel free to shoot me an email or engage at Facebook.