Thursday, May 28, 2020

GUEST POST: "I Never Went to School in My Pajamas: The Story of a Homeschooled Author" by Kristiana Sfirlea

Hi, everyone! My name is Kristiana Sfirlea, and I am the author of Legend of the Storm Sneezer, a middle grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. Oh, and I was homeschooled.

Once upon a time, that statement would’ve drawn out the usual reactions: 1) The dubious, “How did you socialize?” 2) The horror-struck, “Did you go crazy spending that much time with your family?” and—my personal favorite—3) The secretly wistful, “Did you get to do school in your jammies?”

Reactions such as these were once pinnacles of the homeschooling experience. Amazing what a world-wide pandemic can do to even the longest-standing traditions. What was originally thought of as a peculiar subgroup of students across the U.S. is now, for the moment, the majority. (That maniacal laughter you hear in the background? That isn’t the sound of a thousand vindicated homeschoolers. Honest!) But in all seriousness, homeschooling is no walk in the park.

Actually, I take that back. My mom took us on many walks in the park to explore science lessons with our own hands, and it was the best!

My point is, homeschooling is hard work and a big responsibility. So, to all the homeschoolers out there—parents and kids—who are experiencing this form of teaching for the first time, I’d like to encourage you. I’d like to share how homeschooling helped make me the author that I am.

The Guidance of Personal Attention

My siblings and I have very different interests. My sister is a hairdresser and a mom of three. My brother manages a storage facility and has crazy good—and much sought after—skills in tech support. I’m a full-time writer. We’re all proud of what we do, and we knew early on what we wanted to be when we grew up. How? Because our amazing mom (and incredibly supportive dad) worked with us daily, paid attention to our strengths and growing interests, and helped us focus and excel in those areas.

No, that doesn’t mean my mom let me skip Math lessons just because I liked English ten zillion times better. It means she made sure I learned the basics of all my subjects but encouraged me specially in my writing.

The power of a parent’s personal attention cannot be overstated. By helping me discover my passions and talents, my homeschooling mom helped shape the course of my life at an age where most kids aren’t thinking any further than what’s for lunch that day.

Love of Reading

Reading changes lives. It wakes up the brain to imagination and creativity. It enables you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from another perspective. It opens the door to compassion and empathy. It challenges you to form opinions and support them with a sound mind.

Reading. Is. Important.

And reading is often forgotten about.

But not by my mom. She read books out loud to us during lunch every day. We read books out loud at night as a family. We checked out so many books at the library that we had our own dedicated box in the back. She made reading fun.

But more than that, she made reading essential. And in doing so, she armed her kids with one of life’s greatest weapons: the ability to pursue knowledge.

My love of reading, which grew its roots during my homeschooling years, has blossomed into a love for creating books aimed at reminding readers why reading is so important. And it’s a calling I thank God for every day.

Thinking Outside the Box

Homeschoolers are oddballs.

You can say it. We really don’t mind! The truth is, homeschoolers do come across as different. We’re known for branching out from mainstream ideas and accepted structures. Independent thinking comes more easily when you aren’t part of a system or lunchroom clique or the expectations of stereotypes.

I think deep down every person wants the world to know that they are their own unique self with their own unique thoughts and their own unique gifts to benefit the lives of those around them. But not everyone grows up in an environment that encourages such thinking. I was blessed to grow up in such an environment through homeschooling.

As a writer, this independent mindset gave me the joy and freedom to spill my imagination across the page as wildly and as passionately as I could without fear of rejection because I had always been encouraged to be myself and nothing less. Of course, the reality of an adult is that I was rejected many times while querying my manuscript on the very basis of my story’s imagination (“too quirky” was a phrase that came up all too often during my years in the query trenches). But because as a child, my mother—my teacher—embraced my imagination, nurturing and encouraging it, teaching me through her faith in the God who gave it to me that it was something good, I was able to persevere through every rejection. My confidence shook and my heart broke over and over, but I kept going.

And the amazing agent and amazing publisher I found along the way were worth every blow to my ego. With their support, I hope to produce all sorts of quirky, imaginative stories that will help kids unlock their own imaginations and dare to think differently.

Self-motivation and Discipline

I never went to school in my pajamas.

Disclaimer: There is nothing wrong with homeschooling in your pajamas. But for me, personally, whenever someone who went to “regular” school asked me if I did school in my jammies, the righteous indignation that flared inside me made me feel like a ten-foot bonfire. What did they think homeschooling was? An excuse to laze around the house in our PJs, watching TV and doing our schoolwork whenever we “felt” like it? Like weekdays were one big extension of Saturday mornings? “We have structure!” I wanted to scream. “My mom gives us chores and schedules and goals everyday—that’s how you get stuff done!” I was furious that my friends thought my schooling experience was inferior…and madder still that they seemed to want this “pajama schooling” lifestyle themselves.

Yes, I learned all the basics of Math, Science, English, Social Studies, History, and Geography through homeschooling. But my mom didn’t just teach us school skills. She taught us life skills. She taught us all about self-motivation, discipline, and setting goals. Her dream as a homeschooling mom wasn’t to simply build our minds. She wanted to build our character and our faith so that her well-loved and well-taught children could step into the world as thoughtful, purpose-driven adults.

Her lessons led to me receiving my first offer of publication for Legend of the Storm Sneezer at age 17. Those same lessons helped me see that it wasn’t the right fit for me, that there was something even better if I had patience and the perseverance to work for it. And many years later, what my mom taught me during homeschool would help me recognize the right offer of publication when it came along.

So, if you’re out there trying homeschooling for the first time and you feel overwhelmed, don’t quit! Keep at it. If I could redo my schooling experience a hundred times, I would choose homeschooling every time. And remember, it isn’t about keeping a perfect schedule. It’s about learning—and learning to love learning in every moment.

And if you love learning in your pajamas, go for it! No judgement here. ;)

Teacher Guide

Some of my best memories from being homeschooled are of the teacher guides and Unit Studies my mom put together for the books we were reading. So of course I had to construct one for my MG fantasy novel,Legend of the Storm Sneezer!My sincerest hope is that this guide will be a tool in helping families experience the same joy of homeschooling that I had all my school years with my own family.

Legend Seeker. Part-time Ghost Hunter. Time Traveler.

Thirteen-year-old Rose Skylar sneezed a magical storm cloud at birth, and it’s followed her around ever since. But when "Stormy" causes one too many public disasters, Rose is taken to Heartstone, an asylum for unstable magic. Its location? The heart of a haunted forest whose trees have mysteriously turned to stone.

They say the ghosts are bound to the woods … then why does Rose see them drifting outside the windows at night? And why is there a graveyard on the grounds filled with empty graves? Guided by her future selves via time traveling letters, Rose and Marek—best friend and potential figment of her imagination—must solve the mystery of the specters and the stone trees before the ghosts unleash a legendary enemy that will make their own spooks look like a couple of holey bed sheets and destroy Heartstone Asylum.

Letters from the future are piling up. Rose can’t save Heartstone herself. However, five of herselves, a magical storm cloud, and a guardian angel who might very well be imaginary? Now that’s a silver lining.

But will they find what killed the ghosts before what killed the ghosts finds them? -

Barnes & Noble -

As an author, Kristiana Sfirlea knows what it means to get in character. She spent five years volunteering as a historical reenactor and trying her best not to catch her skirts on fire as a colonial girl from the 1700s (leading cause of death at the time next to childbirth). Working at a haunted house attraction, she played a jumping werewolf statue, a goblin in a two-way mirror, and a wall-scratcher—so if she’s standing very still, growling, checking her reflection, or filing her nails on your wall, be alarmed. Those are hard habits to break.

Kristiana's speculative flash fiction has been published by Havok, and her debut novel Legend of the Storm Sneezer is a whimsical Middle Grade fantasy involving time travel and things that go bump in the night. She dreams of the day she can run her own mobile bookstore. Or haunted house attraction. Or both. Look out, world—here comes a haunted bookmobile! (And this is precisely why writers should never become Uber drivers.) She loves Jesus, her family, and imaginary life with her characters.

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