Friday, October 2, 2015

First Day of School: Morning Time

Yesterday was our first day of school, and we made it.  :)  And: it was all that I had prayed it would be: peaceful, relaxed, and enjoyable.  (Thank you so much, God!)  I was up early, made some cinnamon rolls, hot cocoa, and cooked up some sausage, and then just pulled out the books/things I'd put in a basket to accompany us at the breakfast table, called the kids to eat, and we began our day.

We're easing into our school year with Morning Time only-- which is basically all the stuff we do at the breakfast table.  I feel like God gave me such a great system for this over the summer as I read a few of Cindy Rollins' Morning Time (MT) posts and-- honestly, even MORE importantly, for me: saw a MT schedule of hers.  I just really need a visual for things to gel in my brain, and I am so so thankful she provided that because it gave me an organizational structure to all we've already been doing.  :)

Here is our little Morning Time schedule for October:
(Note: Pretty much everything on the above schedule will change as we move in to other months in the school year (new hymn, new memory verses, new poems, new electives, etc.), but this has given me the needed format for plugging it all in.) I anticipate printing a new schedule for each month, and working from it.

The only change I made to our existing routine was to shift the kids' morning chore time, which had been after breakfast, to now be BEFORE breakfast. This means we can settle in together, first at the table over breakfast, then shifting into the living room (for the Ambleside selections, electives and our read-aloud) without interruption.

As I moved through our morning, I checked things off and made notes on my printed schedule with a colored pen.  (See photo below).  I know there will be mornings we don't get to all of these things, and I'm okay with that.  [For example, when my kids are sick, I always let them sleep in, and we start late those mornings.  Sometimes we have interruptions due to sibling squabbling or disobedience, and it can throw our whole morning.]  I think it will be so helpful for me to have this sheet I've been checking off throughout the week to have a visual of what's been done, so that I can think: "Okay, we've done our hymn 4x this week already.  We can skip that today to save time.


We moved away from the breakfast table after poetry and resumed in the living room-- all sprawled out on couches and the floor-- for some Shakespeare:


And then we ended with our read-aloud and finally some outside time. :) [Which is when I get time to make myself a latte!  ;)]

That's our plan for our mornings.  Next week sometime we'll add in independent work (math, history, copywork) for the older kids, more narrations, and my time with the little girls.  But I'm STILL planning all of that, so we'll get to that when it's ready.  ;)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Prequel to our first day

This year Ella is in eighth grade, Isaac is in sixth grade, Isaias is in fifth, and the girls are both in first grade.  The little girls are doing Ambleside Year 1, Isaias is doing Ambleside Year 4, and the older two are doing Ambleside Year 7.  

That's a whole lot of kids and a whole lot of lesson plans, and it was enough to make me feel pretty overwhelmed (read: lots of tears) when I told Mark two nights ago: "I don't even know how I'm going do this...") 

Because, I just know how this goes.  I know that when we start school, my plate goes from very full to HEAPING.  Everyone needs something from me at the exact same time (or just two seconds later), and on it goes and it can just feel like too much.  And then I still sort of need to be mommy and get meals on the table and the laundry done and the house relatively clean and it's just a lot.

Going into this year, I fear that my older kids' books are too challenging, and that they won't enjoy their reading.  I worry that I will not be able to keep up with all the reading and all the narrations and the correcting.  I fear that I'll be stressed and overwhelmed and tired.  Oh, wait.  I will.  ;)

Mark listened and prayed for me.  I got some sleep, woke up the next morning and prayed and journalled.  I really just needed to talk to God about it all, and then I felt so much better.  I told Him that my desire is that we would learn in an environment of togetherness and interest and pleasure in whatever we're reading and learning; that there would be joy as we *get* to learn about other people and places and times and concepts.  I asked Him to teach me how to be a better teacher this year, and to be a better learner myself.  I asked Him to give me a spirit of joy, and that it would be contagious to the kids.  I asked him to help me to keep up with their readings and to ask good narration questions. I asked for wisdom with what direction I should take with the girls (individual time with each of them or together?  What to use for phonics/reading?  What time of day?)  I asked Him to cause all the pieces to fall into place and I asked for peace to reign in our home.  I asked Him to help me to use my time wisely (less Facebook, less computer time altogether, less shows that we watch too late when we should be sleeping).  I asked Him to help me not to live in a state of exasperation/stress, but to slow me down, give me a restful spirit and a joyful one, and to give me a "let's tackle this together" approach.  I asked Him to create discussions and connections.  Ultimately, I asked Him to lead us, because He knows us and He knows which books we will sink into and learn well from.  He knows our frames, our needs, our lives and interactions and challenges.  And after I'd unloaded all of that, I wasn't an emotional wreck anymore.  I trust Him to lead us faithfully as He always has.  And I'm truly looking forward to it all. 

Later that morning I stumbled upon a blog post that brought encouragement to my heart-- just that reminder that no matter what I've planned, if it's too much, we can pare it down until we get to a place of peace.  And that it's not about checking off the boxes and doing a certain number of books but about choosing a few, and doing them well

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


A friend of mine is hosting a Garage & Bake Sale this weekend.  ALL proceeds are going toward the refugee crisis.  ( Isn't that wonderful?)  So when I found out she was doing that, I immediately offered to make signs, because that's my favorite thing ever, pretty much.

I've said before here that if you give me some paper and a Sharpie marker I'm a happy girl-- for hours.  So last night after the kids were in bed I sat down with my pens and some poster board and went to work.  Here are (some of) the results:


I seriously had so much fun.

My sweet Ella is going to bake some treats for the bake sale, too, which just makes me so happy.  When I initially asked her if she'd like to bake anything, she said, "YES, mommy. Especially for that cause. I've been *wanting* to do something to help, so I would love to."  (Is she not the cutest?)

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Confessions of a Second-Rate Charlotte Mason Educator

When people ask me what type of homeschooling we do, I generally ask them if they're familiar with Charlotte  Mason.  Usually no one knows who that is or has only a hazy recollection of hearing her name before.  So I end up briefly describing what a living book is, and just say that we do a lot of reading.  :)  Charlotte Mason simplified. 

While I identify with a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, and I feel a kindredness with her approach, I feel like I am a looooong way from educating the Charlotte-Mason way.  So here are some of my "confessions", if you will:

I love Dictation and it truly works, but I think we did it all of four times last year.  For reals.

We didn't do any Shakespeare last year.  At all.

We aren't learning Latin or any other foreign language.  And- gasp!- I don't have any plans to do so.

We barely did Composer Study last year.  Occasionally I played some classical music while the kids were drawing, but truly that was probably only a handful of times. 

We do Nature Study, but we've never looked up or written down a Latin name for anything.  We just look.  And draw or paint.  And appreciate what we see.

I always feel like I'm cheating somehow when we do narrations.  I'm sure it's *supposed* to be more structured than it is, or more official, somehow.  And certainly it's supposed to happen more regularly than it does.

* * *

I read a few homeschooling blogs, and I sort of marvel at how organized and how "together" these moms are, how they have such great CM systems; how intentional they are about implementing Charlotte Mason's methods, and how they put out such coherent, regular, thoughtful homeschooling posts.  And I conclude that they are doing this Charlotte Mason thing The Right Way, whereas apparently I am only dabbling, because what I do doesn't resemble what they do, or at least it doesn't seem quite as polished. 

But you know what?  I'm actually okay with that.  That is them, and that is not me.  I don't fret about it like I used to.  The longer I homeschool, the less anxious I am about those things.

Some things we do well some years. 

For two years straight we did do Shakespeare.  Six plays.  And we enjoyed it.  We plan to cover some more plays this year.  Regardless, when all is said and done, I have introduced my children to Shakespeare, and I think that's a good thing.

Some things will always be a struggle.  I don't think we'll ever learn a foreign language, and I'm okay with that.  Would I love it if my kids knew a second language?  Um, YES.  But it's not really in my wheelhouse or in our budget and I trust that if God wants them to learn one someday, He will make it happen. 

I'm okay with the way we do Nature Study.  Of course I have lofty visions of beautifully drawn flowers and plants and trees and insects and animals, with corresponding Latin names calligraphied perfectly beside my drawings, but it's just not going to happen.  And that's okay.  Overall, I know that my children notice things around them when they are outside.  They have gained an appreciation and a curiosity of nature.  They notice what blooms and when, and they want to draw a picture.  They  take the time to watch bugs and spiders and examine their behavior.  They delight in what they see; and in what God has made and in how He has created.  That's a great thing.

I may not do narrations right, but my kids remember well and love to tell us about what they've read.  So they are taking in the information, processing it, and retelling it.  That's enough.

I say all that because I began this post with the idea to tell you about an inspiring book I'm reading about educating the Charlotte Mason way.  (I try to read at least one homeschool-related book each summer for the purpose of fresh inspiration.)  And as I began writing about it, I recalled the book I'd read last summer-- The Living Page.  I realize that as inspired as I was after reading that book, as many notes I took and plans I had, our homeschool really didn't change a whole lot as a result.  (I think it changed me in that I paid more attention to what I was reading and have been more faithful to write things down in my journal and label them "commonplace".  And I created a Word Book for the girls and we used that throughout the year.)

But with all my lofty plans of wonderful historical timelines and a firsts notebook and all the other notebooks we were going to start, and maintain?  None of that materialized.  I think some of that is due to my lack of planning.  Or more accurately, my lack of follow-through.   I can be visionary and get easily excited about things and begin well, but I don't always finish.

Or maybe it just wasn't our year to excel in notebooks and timelines.  :) 

Part of the reason, too, is that there is just not time to do it all.  There are five children in this house (!!!!)  Things can be quite crazy around here.  (Just ask my friends who were here recently when my daughter was having a tantrum on her bed.  Screaming and kicking the wall.)  These things happen in our regular life.  There are days we skip whole subjects entirely because we just cannot even.

And yet, the school year happened and we learned.  We grew in knowledge alongside each other and we lived the firsts together and we marveled over connections made through our different readings and we are doing just fine.

This year we will grow and learn alongside each other, too.  And I will delight in my kids' learning.  I will pray and ask God to lead us in our learning endeavors.  And He will.  I will be thankful for the relationship I have with each of my kids, and for the privilege of getting to teach them. 

ps: I may yet tell you about that book, but before doing so I felt I should tell you how imperfectly we'll live out any inspiration I may derive from said book.  :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Road Trip ideas!

I know everyone has school on the brain right now, and actually, so do I!  But we're not actually starting until October so I'm not doing schoolish posts quite yet.

We just returned from a 10-day family road trip and it was great.  We drove from Washington to California, along the coast, into the Redwoods, and as far as Monterey Bay- and then back home through Yosemite.  We camped, stayed in vacation houses, and spent a couple of nights in hotels.  We logged over 2500 miles on our van, and the kids were amazing.  I thought I'd post some of my road trip ideas here so that I can remember and in case it's helpful for anyone else.  :)

First tip: Make your kids pack their own stuff.  :)  This is our system for any trip, and it works- even for the little kids.  Our olders can either help with the younger kids or the younger kids can pack what they see in the pictures and you can check their work.  Either way, it saves a TON of time.


(Right after I copied these, my kids pointed out that I'd forgotten to put pajamas on here!  Whoops!  I told them they could add it to the "Other items" list on the top left-hand corner.  :))

One of my favorite things is equipping our kids for all those hours in the van, and since we don't rely on technology because I'm old-fashioned that way, here is what we do instead:

Gift bag of goodies: Each of the kids gets a gift bag of goodies.  I choose a different color bag for each child and write their name on it.  AND: I keep this a secret until the morning of, so when they get to the van they it on their seats and spend the first several minutes rifling through them.  They love this.
The kids climbing into our van right before we hit the road.  Isaias has spotted his bag on his seat.
In the bag: Gum, lollipops, snacks (goldfish crackers, gummy bears, swedish fish, fruit snacks, granola bars, cookies, plus coupons for drinks from the ice chest*), packages of tissue, a couple of mechanical pencils, a pen, word search/suduko/coloring/maze books I picked up at the dollar store, a blank composition book or notebook for writing or coloring, and their Road Trip Journal (more on that later). Also, there are no rules for the treats in their bags: they are theirs to eat whenever they want.  :)

*This is the first time I've done the coupon thing, and it worked great.  Each of the kids had coupons in their bags- just slips of paper that said, "Good for one soda" or "Good for one juice box", and when they wanted a drink they got to hand in their coupon and get a drink. 

Road Trip Journal: I made a journal for each of the kids to take along.  I bought some inexpensive folders with the brads in them and three-hole punched the pages and tucked them in the folders.

In their journals:
Map of the United States.  I printed the B&W copy, because we colored them in as we saw the license plates from each state.  This was a fun activity that lasted throughout the whole trip, and kept us all looking out the window!

Journal pages (Days 1-10): I've made the first page larger for you to see and the other pages small, but if you click on them you'll be able to see them larger.

Vacation wrap-up:
Also included in the journal were these battleship pages and some blank graph paper (for their own lists or mazes or whatever games they wanted to play).

I printed off journals for Mark and myself, too, and we all spent time filling them in each day, either on the road or when we settled for the night.

Snacks: I also packed lots of general snacks up front between Mark and I (bags of chips, carrot sticks, crackers, string cheese, nuts, dried fruit, etc) and occasionally I'd pass those around. 

Games: We play lots of games while we're on the road.  Here are some of our favorites:
ABC game
License plate game (see above map)
License plate game #2: Call out the letters of a license plate and everyone races to try to think of a word with the letters in that same order.  (Example: HDG might be hedge or handbag).
Color game: Call out a color and everyone calls out what they see outside the window that is that color.
I Spy (in the van)

We also brought some trivia books and some Brain Quest flip books to quiz the kids.

Music: We made a road trip playlist and listened to it a whole lot.  :)  Mark and I sang loudly and tried to get the kids on board with all of our favorite music.  :)  

Maps: We had maps for each state and showed the kids each day where we were starting from, and where our destination was that day.  They loved this, especially our six-year old.  She kept asking us to pull the map out so that she could see our progress along the way!  

Quiet: There were a few times we called out, "Ten (or twenty!) minutes of quiet!"  And everyone had to be quiet.  We only did this two or three times but it helped for our sanity.  :)

I posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook throughout our trip but I'll try to post a few here, too, within the next couple of days.