A Mid-year Review of Year 2

It’s that time of year again. Homeschooling mothers walk around with stars in their eyes, drool decorating their chins, and empty bank accounts staring them in the face as money flows into the Great Amazon Abyss.

School planning! Isn’t it dreamy, isn’t it fun? Hours spent coveting, desperately wanting, greedy hearts poring over pictures and videos of beautiful homeschool rooms, pining for pretty planners filled with wishes and hopes, reading the testimonials of a perfect curriculum and a perfect education, and perfection personified! Next year will be perfect, y’all! You’ll see. I bought these baskets that will solve all my problems.

I feel it too, lest you think I am better than you. The organization! The pretty pictures! The labels on shelves and boxes. It’s all part of the job, I tell you, this desire for pretty plans and pretty rooms. And yet how better off we would all be if instead of focusing on aesthetics and proving our homeschool to be prettier than hers via glimpses on Instagram, we focus on the small and simple things. We focus on the things that are often unseen. For all the time and money spent on crafting perfection—IN THE NAME OF EDUCATION, I MUST HAVE THOSE SHELVES—I hope we may take time to account for those other victories, the ones that involve real makeovers, real transformations in the hearts of our children and within ourselves.

Where’s the old joke? I made all these perfect plans… and then the kids had to show up. Wah wah waaaaah.

I like plans too. And we all need one. We all need to know what the heck we are doing each day, and we need to know where all the stuff is, so when life throws a wrench in your face you won’t go crumbling all to pieces. But one thing I do know: looking at what other people are doing all the time—when I honestly don’t need to, because God has already made my path clear enough for now—fills my heart with discontent. And that is when I sour. That is not where my heart needs to be. Even if I had all the money in the world, we all have the same amount of time, at least, the same amount of hours in a day. I can’t have all the things, and I can’t do all the things. So here is my strategy for warding off discontent: Pray. Figure out what needs to happen in your homeschool. Figure out what doesn’t need to happen. Print what needs to be printed, collect your books, have fresh notebooks ready, buy those super cool erasable pens, get it all in fair shape, and then don’t bother looking at what your friend has, or what the lady with the perfect room is doing with her space. Be content with what you have, accept that you don’t have all the things, and find something small and simple that brings you joy, for comparison will not. Then after a while when it becomes apparent that you need help, or something needs tweaking, take off your blinders and seek out ways to improve those subjects or habits that need a lifeline thrown their way. Then get back to work, friend! NOSE TO THE GRINDSTONE! And other such italics.

That all said, I am not really planning next year yet. Instead we are halfway through this one since we follow the calendar year. C-age7 started Week 18 of Year 2 of Ambleside Online this week. And here I am ready to evaluate our year thus far, in hopes of improving our step (peeking out from those blinders), and finishing with a bang.

We started our school year a month after we had our fourth son. It may seem odd that I haven’t mentioned him here, but I probably won’t ever. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It’s not a matter for public discussion. But I will say that last year before we knew something was wrong, before we knew our son was going to die, I had read on a homeschool forum how homeschooling itself is one of the best things for a bereaved mother. God wanted me to read that, and what a tender mercy it was. I tucked that thought in the back of my mind for safe-keeping, thinking I might have to remember it someday. What a gentle forecast of things to come. So we began our year in bereavement. And I can honestly say if I hadn’t had the new year of homeschooling to look forward to and to form my days, I would be a much bigger mess than I currently am. Like, much bigger mess.

Here are some highs and lows of 2018’s school year thus far using Ambleside Online’s Year 2. I hope I am following copyright laws. All books he is required to narrate except for free reads.

Bible

Probably one of the hardest things to narrate, but he’s doing well for himself. We follow AO as written however I have added in a little more from the book of Matthew, since it seemed odd to skip a few things. Like Chapter 14. I get why it was skipped, what with the horrid death of John the Baptist and all, maybe? But I wanted to read about Jesus walking on the water, and feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, even though C will be reading it again later. But this is going well; I love reading from both the Old Testament and the New Testament simultaneously. We also read daily from the Book of Mormon (also something C is required to narrate), and in Morning Time we always read a Psalm and the Proverb chapter that corresponds with the date. I will have to make a slot one of these days for Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. Perhaps an FHE slot? Eh, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

History and Tales

We love our history books. I have failed with having him keep up on a timeline, so it is something to correct for the rest of the year, especially as we are dealing with more and more kings and archbishops and wars and such.

Little Duke is a magnificent book, and I just found a map someone had made to go with the book. So with three chapters (spread over the next six weeks) left, we will use that map. So again, another correction to be made, but better late than never. Besides, this is my first go around for Year 2. I get to do this two more times!

Natural History

Have you ever had to study a star-nosed mole? Seriously had to keep the curse words from spilling out of my mouth it is so disgusting. I think we have been managing the Burgess Animal book well. I read, he narrates, we look at images of the animal, and then watch video of it. I had some lovely little drawings that someone had collected up until Chapter 15, but we have managed without in the following chapters. Would be nice to make notebook entries though, especially since C-age7 without any prompting has drawn pictures of different animals he is learning about.

Tree in the Trail is supplemented with a Beautiful Feet Books map, but after reading about what Celeste Cruz has her children do in their notebooks on her blog, and after having read The Living Page, I feel this is more of the direction I need to go. (There, I took off my blinders to find help.) So we will finish the map, and I will let C color in and fill out the map when we start Seabird in a couple weeks. But I feel like my eyes have been opened to the beauties of consistent notebooking, and truly I am so grateful for Celeste on her blog to share what her children are doing. What a beautiful showcase of their work. Just lovely. The Beautiful Feet map is kind of fun, but huge. And I would like the student to draw their own maps, not just color and label one.

Speaking of Geography

So here’s where a mid-year evaluation comes in awful handy. Besides Tree in the Trail, and the occasional geography song here and there, and my kids doing their own mapwork for fun, I looked at my AO grid, and realized I had forgotten to really do Geography. Whoops. Another place to correct. And happily too, since we all love Geography. (I did buy atlases to go along with our history recently, so wahoo!) I had messed Geography up in Term 1 as well, and was made aware because of the exam questions for that term (which C did quite well on), but then sort of let it slip my mind.

Literature and Tales

Shakespeare remains a great favorite here. Who knew Romeo and Juliet seen from the eyes of a seven year old could be so refreshing? And also reading it as a parent, and thinking about the priest, and how it was a great lesson in how you may go to an authority figure, even an ecclesiastical one, and be given very, very bad advice. That we can’t just blindly follow whomever. Oh, that Shakespeare.

We have loved all the books thus far. We have been listening to the Orion’s Gate (?) audiodrama of Pilgrim’s Progress every day in Morning Time. Since my kids are quite familiar with most of Pilgrim’s Progress through Dangerous Journey, I made the call to listen to the highly recommended audiodrama. At first some of the acting was comical in a way that was unintentional, and I had to stifle a giggle, but it really is wonderfully done. And listening to it together, I feel such power in some of the allegory. It is such a great way to introduce heavy topics to children, such as injustice, suicide, despair, and flattery. We are all getting a lot out of it.

Poetry

We read a ton of poetry at breakfast every morning, seven days a week. I cannot stress enough how powerful this alone has been. J-age5 asked me just yesterday if he could be a poet. More on poetry later, but we have loved all the poets for Year 2. I will be sad to move on from them, our new dead friends. We also read from other collections and Mother Goose as well. Generally I try to read a poem for everyone at the table, and keep to the AO poet schedule at the same time. I probably over-do poetry, but I don’t care.

Math

I keep math lessons short, and we do math in both Morning Time (group learning), and our one on one time. In addition to our free curriculum, MEP, we use Xtra Math to work on math facts. This has been such a good thing. Lately in MT we just read Life of Fred, and then play with pattern blocks and do math wrap-ups. I intend to go back to a math loop, but for now the stuff is already in my cart ready to go. We are going slowly with math, but I feel this is how we should proceed for now.

Handwriting/Copywork

So handwriting is something we have been very behind on. C-age7 loves to form letters and draw, but it took so long for him to have a dominant hand (after doing all these “crossing the midline” exercises, who knows if they really helped), and to not have a terrible grip, so we are still doing letter formation. I also began with cursive instead of print which may have not been the best thing, since it has happened so slowly and his printing needs a lot of work. He will be working on both from here on out. But I will say this, his cursive is suddenly coming along! I had days where he did like three letters, and now he can finish a whole page of cursive practice well and happily so. So forward we plod, and I am confident to see giant improvements by the end of this year alone.

Phonics/Reading

C seems to be doing well enough here. We use All About Reading for phonics lessons. He reads aloud to me everyday, and he also has to read two verses of The Book of Mormon out loud everyday (with some help). In all honesty I thought he’d be miles ahead in his reading by now, and I think if I took out the phonics he would be, since he would much rather I just say what a word is and let him memorize it. But phonics we must! I don’t think much has to change here other than maybe throw some more games into the mix to liven it up a bit.

Foreign Language

French! We love French. We use the ULAT (about five to ten minutes of a video and then about five to ten minutes of an exercise), Talkbox (we learn a new phrase to use around the house each week), a nursery rhyme book with a CD that we memorize from, French songs that we have mostly picked up from MamaLisa.com, and then of course my brilliant idea of watching a short French cartoon and telling them what word to listen for—when they hear that word, they raise their hand and get a chocolate chip. G-age2 loves this game! Mostly because I give him chocolate chips just for participating. But it really entices them to listen ever so carefully to the video (as much as I am against rewards and bribery). Before they enjoyed watching the cartoon because they are deprived children that don’t ever watch TV or play video games, so a five minute French cartoon is always a treat, but they weren’t always listening very carefully. Now they are picking up stuff before I do. I saw on Celeste’s blog that they play Simon Says in their foreign language and go over a calendar each day. I think those will be great additions.

Nature Study

Probably my biggest failure at the moment. The heat mixed in with having too many activities made Nature Study fall by the wayside. Although, we went on a nature walk this week, and again, I am looking at Celeste for inspiration. But since we left our co-op we will have more time for this.

Timeline

Fail. I have to refer back to The Living Page again even if I think Form 1 just requires a personal timeline, I would like to do both.

Recitation

This could use improvement. My student isn’t an eager “performer,” shall we say. But he recites scripture and poetry and parables daily. So we’re working on it.

Picture Study

It has a pulse. Could be better. Room for correction.

Drawing

Fail. Haven’t done a drawing lesson in a while. Student draws a lot on his own. And we did start drawing narrations with our Picture Study. That was a fun exercise.

Handicrafts

Probably where I need most improvement (read: we have done nothing). This is something I hope to finish with strong for the year though with some paper sloyd and some soap carving. And I will throw in some cooking and count that as well.

Piano

Meh. Could be more intentional. I need to find a different time of day to do it. We use Hoffman Academy. C loves it, but I need to be better at making it happen.

Composer Study

Needs improvement. We are stuck on Beethoven, which honestly, not a shabby place to be. I will have to rethink things here for next year. There was that year when we spent the whole year listening to Bach. I tried to move on, but I kept coming back to Bach. In fact right now, I wish I were listening to Bach. I always want to listen to Bach.

Folksong

Not bad here. My kids have loved all the folksongs we have learned. G-age2 loves his folksongs, and how cute to hear him ask for, “Howdy Dowdy.”

Hymn Study

We sing hymns everyday. Probably could read up on the history of some of the hymns, but honestly singing them is what is best.

Free Reads

Ah! Free reads! We have loved them all. Well, I tired of Five Little Peppers about halfway through, but I understand why it’s on the AO list: 1) my kids LOVED it, 2) it introduces some really heavy topics in a gentle way, such as: poverty, single mothers, childhood diseases, strange creepy men that will kidnap you, Santa doesn’t visit every house, sacrifice, etc. We are just about halfway through the free reads for the year, so on target for that. We have about a third left of Heidi right now.

So a lot of things going well, but still room for improvement here and there. I hope to establish some notebooking or “keeping” habits through the rest of the year, so it will be an easy habit to carry into next. I also hope to have J-age5 follow a bit of a Year 0.5 schedule for twelve weeks or so, to fine-tune our daily routine,and to prepare myself for having another AO student when he turns six.

No time to waste on pretty pictures, you see! I’ve got subjects to improve, and exams to prepare for, and I also hope to prepare a sort of year-end review for my students to get a chance to recite and show their work for the year. I do need some serious organization though. And to buy stuff from Amazon. However I will try, like Cindy Rollins says, to look at what I have instead of what I have not.

 

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Unclutter Your Life or Build Your Own Cathedral

We are embarking on a new chapter in homeschooling. We left our wonderful co-op after having it be a major part of our lives for the last four years. This decision was a strange occurrence, for I did not plan it nor see it coming. It was sudden and abrupt, and now we will march through uncharted territory, having faith that God will bless us in His way. Something for the co-op changed and I was impressed by the Holy Spirit that I could not go along with this change. It was a complete shock to me that I received this prompting. The idea that I would have to leave an entire community I had worked for and loved deeply over this one thing was a slight smack in the face, a kick in the gut. But I understood what it meant, and it was this: God was telling me to leave, and ah, man. I was going to have to obey. Even so, at first I tucked this information safely in the back of mind since the change still needed to be voted on, and I had hope that the change would be blocked. When the overwhelming majority voted for it, I was devastated, but I tucked the impression I had received further inside my head thinking perhaps I could take certain precautions to make the change palatable; however, I could not. It was still there, this personal warning that my family could not move forward with this change, and I would be an utter fool to ignore it.

When I realized we would have to leave it forced me to reflect and weigh the pros and cons of it all. Regardless of The Impending Change of Doom, how had the co-op enriched our lives, and how had it not? I remembered what I had hoped it would do for my kids when I originally joined. And then, what did I have to gain for leaving this sort of second family we had been a part of? God closes a door, then opens another, right? I had to consider the blessings of this decision, for surely I could find some. I noticed things I had either been ignoring or had forgotten or didn’t want to see. Different pieces merged together creating a clearer picture, obvious and lucid, and there it was: a rich tableau, a map detailing what we should be doing and where we should go. Fear blinds us, but faith sharpens our resolve and fine-tunes our focus. It was time to stop listening to my fears, and trust the Lord.

Cindy Rollins said the reason she didn’t involve her nine children in a co-op is because she believed a co-op generally only benefited one or two members of a family. My kids had fun most days at co-op; they had some opportunity to play with other kids, and my oldest had a wonderful experience playing Christopher Robin in a darling, little Winnie-the-Pooh play. They tried new things and enjoyed themselves most of the time, yet now I see clearly the person who had benefited most was me.

I wanted to not feel like the lone, weirdo homeschooler. I wanted friends. I wanted to feel like I was socializing my children, so no one could possibly accuse me of not doing so. I wanted community and connection, and I wanted to feel like an important member of said community. It had been for me.

Being a part of a co-op those first scary years of homeschooling was most likely the right thing, just what I needed to boost my confidence, and it provided a security net. Yes, it quelled my fears, but in return it made me dependent and a mother of discontent. I became mired in selfishness and greed for here was a group that could be molded and formed to create a perfect village for my children to grow up in, a pretty utopia worth bragging about as a way to quiet the commonplace and uninformed naysayers. But like any utopic illusion it was full of faults and disappointments, flaws and politics, alongside all its joys and fun parties. It was full of human beings, which means no utopia it could ever be.

This sounds harsh and critical, though I do not mean it as a critique of the co-op itself, rather I am criticizing how I had personally viewed the co-op, and whether or not the purpose it served was a worthy one. Most of my friends in the co-op have other needs, desires, and visions for what the co-op means and does for their family. Eventually I understood my reasons for wanting to stay were the ones I stated above. Co-op was a way to soothe my vanity and my pride; it made me look good. This is not the best of motives, and certainly not the best use of our time as homeschoolers. Our best use of our time was learning in the home. So I thought, do I dare to stand alone instead? Am I brave enough to forge on without the crutch of a co-op, to stand taller on my own feet and educate my children without distractions, without being over-scheduled, and without the constant anxiety of missing out if we didn’t do all the things? What if I stop using my most precious resources—my time and my energy—to teach other people’s children and instead pour them into teaching my own? What if I unclutter our time? What if I prioritize and protect our time at home, and only seek outside opportunities when necessary and convenient?

A cluttered life is a life that you do not have control of. It is a life in which the things you have surrounded yourself with, and allow to use up your time, are controlling you and negatively influencing your happiness and eternal progress.*

In my analysis of how the co-op had served our family, I was unable to distinguish anything that made it worth ignoring a spiritual prompting over. Truly nothing trumps a prompting. Besides, I had wanted my children to make good, close friends, but that didn’t really happen, at least not in the way I was expecting. Part of that had to do with age, for they are still very young, and another part had to do with personality. I was putting forth many hours mentally, physically, and emotionally towards a social construct that was not providing what I wanted most out of it. I felt obligated to the community, and yet was ignoring the true needs of my family. It was cluttering our lives, and as much as I have been disappointed in The Big Change of Impending Doom, I now have a great feeling of gratitude for it; it made me reevaluate and recenter where our focus should be. This sudden understanding that we would have to be ‘without’ something I had seen as being so important to us, and realizing that God was trusting me to go on and move forward without it, gave me courage and lifted my spirits. My crutch now appeared unnecessary and crippling even, and I didn’t need it anymore nor did I want it. It was very freeing; I felt inspired and light. And best of all, we will have a five day school week—more time! More time! Isn’t it what every parent wants, more time? More time to do the things at home that are of highest priority, like restful learning and habit-training, and giving the children time to think. There will be more notebooking, more Nature Study, real handicrafts, more drawing, more cleaning, more physical decluttering and purging of too much stuff. Not to mention more time for things like teaching children how to read and such.

Nothing suits the devil better than to become a silent partner with us. He knows that we have agency and are at liberty to make choices for ourselves. He also knows that while in mortality we are subject to time. If by his subtle means he can become our silent partner, he can then influence us to make wrong choices that use up our time unwisely and prevent us from doing that which we should.

We give our lives to that which we give our time. As I have said, while here in mortality we are subject to time. We also have agency and may do what we will with our time. Let me repeat: We give our lives to that which we give our time.*

We have plenty of outside classes that the boys can utilize, like swimming and other sports. We will have to work harder to strengthen friendships in playtime with smaller groups and individuals, and not a structured community day. (My boys are more likely to make solid friendships this way, and myself, too.) The idea of being friends with a group as a whole bred a social slothfulness in me, and instead of focusing on individual women and how I should improve my friendships with them, I was more concerned with my own place within the group. I needed to be a better friend, and model it for my children. Now I feel open to making new friends outside of co-op, and outside of homeschooling. I had been so socially tapped out that those weren’t even on my list of priorities. 

This season of motherhood is fleeting, I must take the greatest of care in budgeting our time. I have been called to teach my own children, not shuffle them off to extracurricular classes while I teach other people’s children, even for one day a week. I am ready to advance my vocation so to speak, in the home. 

When the boys are older, we may rethink a co-op. But for now, we will be doing what is best: staying home. It’s where the real magic happens.

All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time;
Some with massive deeds and great,
Some with ornaments of rhyme

Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

For the structure that we raise,
Time is with materials filled;
Our to-days and yesterdays
Are the blocks with which we build.

Truly shape and fashion these;
Leave no yawning gaps between;
Think not, because no man sees,
Such things will remain unseen.

In the elder days of Art,
Builders wrought with greatest care
Each minute and unseen part;
For the gods see everywhere.

Let us do our work as well,
Both the unseen and the seen;
Make the house, where gods may dwell,
Beautiful, entire, and clean.

Else our lives are incomplete,
Standing in these walls of Time,
Broken stairways, where the feet
Stumble as they seek to climb.

Build to-day, then, strong and sure,
With a firm and ample base;
And ascending and secure
Shall to-morrow find its place.

Thus alone can we attain
To those turrets, where the eye
Sees the world as one vast plain,
And one boundless reach of sky.

“The Builders,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

 

*Quotes are from Elder William R. Bradford’s, “Unclutter Your Life.”

Repetition in Nature May Not Be a Mere Recurrence

Here I return to this dusty thing, another recurrence of blogging. I have felt inspired to share in more detail about our home education journey. One of the reasons I haven’t wanted to blog for some time is simply I have nothing of importance to add to the great mosaic of ideas on homeschooling other than our own experience. (I also still take issue with ads being on this blog, so I hope your Adblocker is on.)

I questioned why? If I wanted to simply keep a journal, why make it a blog? Why not keep it private, handwritten? A blog allows me to use images more readily and ways to link to pertinent resources. People ask questions all the time, though I am no veteran. At first I loved talking about everything I have learned and discovered (and continue to learn and discover); I still enjoy those conversations, but I don’t always have the time for them. Through a blog I am able to direct people to my thoughts on a particular topic if they are that interested in my opinion. I do write down what we do everyday in a spiral notebook, so I am keeping a record, a checklist/scratch paper kind of thing which happens to be more of a celebratory “hurrah, we finished the things!”

I enjoy homeschool checklists so much more than cleaning checklists because once I have read a chapter of a certain book to a certain child I don’t have to do it again! As opposed to cleaning out a drawer or wiping pee out of the bathtub. Those things require a different kind of obedience and it is one of my greatest failings and an easy spot in my character that begs serious repentance. (I also do everything with my kids. Reading to my children is much less stressful than trying to get a five year old to clean a toilet properly with a faucet-obsessed toddler nearby.) But as handy as a checklist is it does not well portray the experience; check-marks fail to connote the beauty, the awe, and seeing a notebook full of them conveys not the gentle art of tending to a child’s mind.

My last and final wish for this blog is to dust off a few writing skills, and unload those things that no on in my life wants to hear. Not private thoughts reserved for a professional therapist, but mostly everything else. It was made quite apparent to me how tedious and unwelcome my conversation is, so my new habit is to write more and say very little—a lofty goal, if I ever set one. Still perhaps if I can cultivate such a habit I will in the end become a better listener.

So there it is, my own assurance to myself for why I would do such a thing as put effort and time into a blog such as this.

On Repentance

Here is a post without any pictures. The battery on my camera died weeks ago, my cell phone only works half the time, and my computer with all my pictures no longer connects to the internet.

So here I type on my husband’s computer, while he sleeps. But not a single picture to keep things interesting.

I hope to write every seven weeks. Kind of mind-blowing, right? But here is what’s going on:

C, now being six, is old enough to start Year 1 of AmblesideOnline. I wish I had kept track of when I realized that this was the curriculum for us (it might even be right here on this blog). I know it was during the summertime—last summer, probably—after we had done a “trial run” of six weeks. Nearly all the texts for Year 1 are on the free domain, so I was able to use the texts, try them out for free before buying any books. Even though, looking back, I was “doing it wrong,” it was confirmed to me that this is the path to be taking. The problem was, he was still five, and it is practically a sin to start the child earlier. I won’t go into the preciseness, and rules of such a thing, only that if you know me well, you know this fits into my personality. I am trusting AO, mainly because I am learning to trust Charlotte Mason. It is God I put my faith and trust in first, and I am learning that in terms of educational philosophy, CM was truly inspired by Him.

So, C is six, and he was six at the start of the year. So we dived into Ambleside. Granted, we had been doing school before, so it didn’t seem that different, at least, I don’t think it felt too different to him, except more was required of him, especially in getting him started with narration. It is a learning process for both him and myself, his learning to narrate, and my learning to set it up correctly. And we got to return to reading the glorious books. I read these books and sometimes I weep, because I wish they had been a part of my own childhood. (And by weep, I mean tear up, and lament to my homeschool friends.)

The “big deal” in all of this? Now that he’s in Year 1, it’s technically first grade, in a sense. No more namby-pamby kindergarten. And I had decided to plan the year with a “Sabbath” schedule, of six weeks on and the seventh week off. There are many reasons for this, of which, I won’t go into here. But this meant no more halfsies. Before I figured he either was ahead in some areas or right on track with kindergarten, so last year we averaged on a three day school week. Now, it’s the big guns, right? And it was time to habit-train ourselves (both teacher and student) to do school everyday. So these first six weeks we did not have a single day off, and sometimes even had school on Saturdays.

It was a real push for me. And I also was habit-training myself with a few things. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning, trying to be asleep by 9 PM. I stopped watching any TV; I read more books; I wasn’t eating buckets of ice cream at midnight.

I was being stretched. I have acquired some pretty bad habits over the years, or rather my entire life. So this was new, and it felt like a momentous inertia, a beautiful constant. School happened everyday, even when there were bad attitudes, or a disastrous messy house, or a teething toddler. Come hell or high water, I was rocking my homeschool, doggone it!

Still, I kept eyeing my “Sabbath” week. It would give me time to evaluate and think on improvements for areas that needed it. I thought of all the prep work I could get done, I thought of all the housework that could be accomplished, and I thought of the break. Just having a break.

So. This week was the absolute worst. It did not feel restful. I caught a cold, the baby has been nothing short of demanding, and everything. just. fell. apart. I’ve been sleeping in, I’ve been staying up late, and last night for the first time in nearly seven weeks, I binge-watched a show on Netflix. It was awful. And I am tired.

Yesterday, I began to reevaluate this kind of schedule. Maybe I have it all wrong? Maybe I should be doing a traditional school year, or maybe I shouldn’t space our breaks like this?

I was feeling desperate, because here’s the solid truth: I love to homeschool. Oh, the joy! Learning together with my kids! It’s the best thing. It’s my favorite part! (Teaching phonics is not my favorite.) Nearly everything about it is my favorite part of this whole gig. And without it, I seriously start to fall apart. I need it to be good, I need it to be a better person, to improve myself.

But, before I threw my hands up and gave up with this Sabbath scheduling, the line from a T.S. Eliot poem that Cindy Rollins has quoted popped into my head,

By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.

I realized that the system, our practice of homeschooling, was keeping me in check, which sounds good in theory, but when the system wasn’t currently in process, I was no longer being “good.” I threw my new sleep habits out the window, I just plain forgot to do my personal prayer and scripture study, and I failed to keep doing the good things because I was taking my precious “break.”

It has made me think about repentance. And that age-old issue of pride, thinking we can be perfect, that if we have the perfect system, we won’t need to be good anymore, we won’t need God anymore.

So now this week has become less about taking a break, and more about practicing repentance. Things will fall apart regardless of even the most perfect of systems, because we are not perfect beings. (And I realized, that if I didn’t have this break from school this week, things probably would have fallen apart anyway—why not just plan on it? Plan on letting things go a little bit, to remember, to remember, to remember how to be good.)

Not to mention, I am filled with a rush to gear up and get back on the horse on Monday. Back in the saddle! Crack that whip! These little trips and stumbles might be just what we need to remember our Savior, and to be better, to be better and to repent. Repent, and put my faith back in God, and not in the system.

 

 

 

One-on-one and Habit Training

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One-on-one Time has been rough lately. I love Morning Time, and the boys do, too. But One-on-one Time is a struggle. Even so, there is room for grace here. And I’m going to tap into that.

First, the most important thing I have learned about how to homeschool, is a lesson I wish I could have learned a long time ago to apply to my life in general. Again, Charlotte Mason’s ghost comes and taps me on the shoulder, saying:

The mother devotes herself to the formation of one habit at a time, doing no more than keep watch over those already formed.

One habit at a time. My days are filled to the brim with bad habits. I’m trying to break them with good ones, but it’s so easy to be overwhelmed, and to not know what to focus on. And to think, here I am, this imperfect person, trying to instill good habits into my children? How is that supposed to work? Here I am with all of my own faults and bad habits, and yet it’s my job to teach good habits to these magnificent human beings? Where do I even start? (Well, going to bed at a decent hour would be a great place!)

I start with one thing at a time. One bite of that enormous, gargantuan elephant at a time.

The same notion applies to that of running a successful homeschool: if you try to begin everything all at once, it might explode in your face—all of it, splat!—and then you are left thinking you’re incapable, that your children’s lives are going to be ruined, and there it is: complete and utter failure, a sticky mess that seems impossible to mop up.

Coming back to what Charlotte said, forming one habit at a time, the simplicity of it is almost maddening. And yet, it’s the most logical way of approaching pretty much everything in life. Start doing one thing at a time, just one thing. When that thing becomes a habit, when it no longer seems unnatural, then you start working on the next thing.

Morning Time is successful because it’s a habit now. We started with Morning Time, and we keep at it (most days), and it’s simply habit. (And we have our own little rituals within Morning Time, which help solidify the habit, but that’s a different post.) Granted, as the children’s needs grow, Morning Time will evolve, but for now my confidence in Morning Time is soaring, and our daily feast has a high success rate. Even on the days when people need to be reminded to be cheerful, or the baby doesn’t take a nap, or due to a rough morning we put it off—so it ends up being more of an Afternoon Time instead—the feast is still a bright and glorious spot of our day. (And let’s not ignore that it’s brimming with riches, that doesn’t hurt either. There is much joy to be found in the riches; teaching phonics on the other hand, and waiting for a child to just finish reading that last half of a sentence in a BOB book, well, not as chock-full of joy.)

We are not there yet with One-on-one Time yet, it still feels like going uphill a bit, but we’re getting there.

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I’m recognizing my mistakes. The lack of solid preparation (the house is still in chaos, and homeschool supplies are everywhere!), the rhythm and routine, and most importantly, trying to teach one child to do something else while the other child is having their individual lessons with mom. They are so little, and learning to do things separate from each other is stretching them. And yet, I’m hoping to lay down the rails for this aspect of our homeschool, to make it another habit that comes naturally.

The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days; while she who lets their habits take care of themselves has a weary life of endless friction with the children.

I adore that quote. It takes pains to endow children with good habits; it’s not meant to be easy.

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This past week we started doing One-on-one Time before Morning Time. The lessons are incredibly short, and since a lot of the lessons are simple games or activities that are setting the children up for independent work, we can accomplish them easily (most of the time), even when George is roaming about. I’d like to say that we’re done with everything before noon, and are spending the afternoons outdoors, doing our Nature Study. But we’re not there yet, and with naps still being highly important with the baby, this “ideal” is not a reality. This is a slow motion season in my life, and I’m learning to be content with the pace. Soon enough the pace will quicken; it’ll feel like I’m watching my kids on fast-forward, and I’ll be begging to return back to slow motion.

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Anyway, with temperatures cooling down, I am much more inclined to try to spend copious amounts of time outside. This is the next educational habit on the docket: to grow our love and appreciation of nature.

Our Daily Feast

Here, in this tiny blog corner, technology conspires against me, and it tempts me to wash my hands of all my efforts. I have no idea why my photos aren’t showing up on this page; it vexes me since a lot of effort was spent in posting those pictures, and now, there they are, sad empty squares on a screen, devoid of color, and life!

How utterly dismal, indeed. But I shan’t bore my future self by lodging all my technological woes here. Instead I shall bolster my blogging spirits, and buttress myself with the idea that it will not be for naught! Soldier on, friend! If I have learned anything from this summer of despair, this summer of tempestuous destruction, this summer of hard living, it is lessons of insuppressible endurance! Lessons of change, and hope, and empowerment! Step back, foul fiend, of Internet hurdles! I shall rise up and blog again! Pictures or no pictures!

(In terms of documentation, I feel inclined to note this week’s homeschooling hiatus, a necessary break while I try to muster up some sort of livable situation in our nearly unlivable house. Many a box has been purged, many a room has been upturned, but all for the hope of a brighter future of organization, and for the reducing of time spent searching for resources showered about the house. When I come up for air, I will share photos here, on this very blog that refuses to approbate my photos. And, I add a bright note, that our kitchen countertops were installed today, so we are now moving in the right direction!)

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I read somewhere, someone describing Morning Time as their daily feast. An apt way to describe Morning Time, for it is truly a hearty feast of ideas. I want to detail what our Morning Time currently looks like, but I confess I tend to overwhelm even myself with wordy descriptions, so in the style of some old school Cindy Rollins blogging, I will proceed with a list of some of the things we have been feasting upon this summer. I aim for brevity, for conciseness, though we all know well enough this to be a fool’s paradise.

Indeed.

(Keep in mind I intend on using Ambleside Online as a sort of overall spine when my oldest is six—with our own tweaks and adaptations here and there. Right now we are doing our own modified Year 0, and it mostly happens during Our Daily Feast, altogether. Each little lesson is short and brief to train the children’s attention, as Charlotte Mason taught. Short lessons requiring active, focused, and engaged effort trains the habit of attention, while a laborious hour of drudgery trains a mind to wander, to dawdle. As a child ages, the lessons grow in length.)

Forgive lazy formatting and structure, future self.

Hymns.

Praise to the Man (this is being taught during Sharing Time at church, and it’s a great one, so we’ve chosen to practice it at home, and oh boy, has it had some sweet practice! And some additional made up verses!)

America the Beautiful (during the month of July)

I Stand All Amazed

I intend to start reviewing past hymns as well, but the boys have a tendency to sing ALL THE HYMNS THEY KNOW if I am not careful. And although it helps bring in the Holy Spirit, the purpose of Morning Time isn’t to sing hymns for the duration.

Scripture Memory Work.

Articles of Faith 1:4 (They already know this one, but we are also trying to sync scripture memory work with the scripture of the month in Sharing Time, and this was the scripture for June.)

Paragraph three of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”

1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Also taking a page from Cindy Rollins, I intend to pick two scriptures from previous memory work every month to review, starting next week.

Scripture Reading.

Right now we are slowing working our way through Exodus in the morning. That Pharaoh has a hard heart, doesn’t he? (We read illustrated Book of Mormon stories at bedtime, and I plan on rotating between the actual scriptures and illustrated versions.) It’s important for the boys to hear the language of the KJV, so in Morning Time I don’t read from a children’s version, but straight from KJV, and will do likewise when the Book of Mormon comes into rotation for Morning Time.

Math.

Math comes next, because it’s fun and engaging, and sometimes reading the scriptures isn’t, at least for a three and five year old. So turning our brains to math is the perfect segue. We always start with a number sense routine, some choral counting of some kind (since John is only three, we mostly are sticking with Classical Conversations skip counting songs, because they are popular around here), and right now we are doing MEP Reception lessons in Morning Time. The Reception lessons are quite below Charlie’s level, and yet I feel it’s still important to start at the beginning. John’s able to keep up with the concepts easily, and they both enjoy it. We also do math during One-on-one time anyway, so this has worked out very well. And even though Reception seems to be too easy, it has brought to my attention a few things both boys didn’t know, things I thought they already knew. Once we are done with MEP Reception, I may or may not continue with using MEP during Morning Time, and just move on to MEP Year 1 during Charlie’s On-on-one math lessons. Either way, math will keep its rightful place during morning time, because it is filled with truth, goodness, and beauty. When we stop using MEP during Morning Time, there will be plenty of math games and activities instead.

History.

Our History Loop this summer has consisted of the following:

Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans by Edward Eggleston

Turn of the Century: Eleven Centuries of Children and Change by Ellen Jackson

The Story of Our Church (an old copy that my grandmother read to my father that has been passed around)

I hope to incorporate personal family history stories, and wall timeline work into this loop. Those things require more effort than opening a book on the shelf though, but I hope to add them in coming weeks. Only time will tell.

Folk Songs.

I haven’t spent a lot of time yet picking out songs, and those listed below may or may not be considered folk songs, but I’m putting them into this category.

Yankee Doodle

I Love You, A Bushel and a Peck

Little Bird, Little Bird

Minstrel Boy

Poetry.

Ooey Gooey

There Was an Old Man with a Beard

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Reading also Robert Louis Stevenson’s, A Child’s Garden of Verses, and A.A. Milne’s poetry. I am working on shuffling through a Poetry review as well for the poems we’ve memorized.

Life Skills.

Cookies: Bite-size Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthral

Jokes from joke books. Lauri Manners cards. Body safety talks. Memorization of address and phone numbers. I have revamped a whole Life Skills Loop schedule that we haven’t started using yet that will include things like excerpts from the SCM habit training books (which are a gold mine! and they’ve been sitting on my shelves untouched for years. As much as I want to be a complete minimalist, and get rid of all the stuff, it’s so wonderful when something that I didn’t find useful before suddenly leaps out at me when I’m ready for it).

Civics.

Every morning time we read through an important document or speech in bits and pieces. Everyone enjoyed The Declaration of Independence, illustrated by Sam Fink. We will read that one at least once a year. How funny it is to hear a five year old ask, with such grief, “King George took away their legislatures?” And then you nod, knowingly, with a, “isn’t that just the worst thing ever?” look on your face.

Nature Study.

The Green Kingdom by Childcraft

I have been lazy about Nature Study in these past few months, and I’m geared up and overjoyed to start up with some great new reads next week.

Literature.

Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (MASSIVE favorite around here. Even the one who is highly sensitive to “scary things” appreciated the illustrations of the creepy giants, and the foul fiend Apollyon, the bones and eyeballs! How fun it is to hear them talk about their playthings carrying great burdens on their backs, and spring up with delight when we read elsewhere how Benjamin Franklin read Pilgrim’s Progress. I’m glad I didn’t hold off on this one since it’s been enjoyed and is referred to often in other media.)

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

We will start Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, illustrated by Roberto Innocenti next week. We read a ton of other stuff outside of morning time, but I won’t go into those here other than to say A.A. Milne and Beatrix Potter anthologies are fought over to sleep with at bedtime.

Geography.

Children Like Me: a Unique Celebration of Children Around the World by Anabel Kindersley (and as I look up the name of the author on Amazon, I see that another volume of Children Like Me is coming out soon!)

Wonderful Houses Around the World by Yoshio Komatsu (such a perfect little gem of a book.)

I’ve been lazy otherwise about geography. There’s so much I want to do here, including incorporating our Pin It maps, but I’m not entirely sure that will be a Morning Time activity. Perhaps it will be tucked in our Extensions Loop which is learning outside of Morning Time and One-on-one time–a loop schedule that hasn’t really found a place in a daily rhythm yet. Anyway, there’s a whole cornucopia of books I hope to bring in on the Geography Loop, and until we start doing Paddle-to-the-Sea, our Morning Time Geography Loop might just be books, and not map work. Oh, and geography songs.

Picture Study.

I Spy: An Alphabet in Art by Lucy Micklethwait

I am gearing up to study one artist at a time more in depth, like suggested by Ambleside. This has been a great little primer though, I feel. And I may just keep to books like this during Morning Time.

Composer Study.

We are absorbing Dvorjak right now. But my kids really just want to listen to Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King over and over again, so I have to sort of sneak other stuff in. (How many dollars would I have for every time the three year old whines something like, “I don’t want to listen to Mozart! PUT ON GRIEG.” A lot of dollars, I tell you.) We don’t really do Composer Study during Morning Time anyway, so I don’t know why I’m bringing it up here. Maybe because starting next week I plan on using Can You Hear it? by William Lach during Morning Time (a book that will tie both music and picture study together, killing birds and stones and what have you), and then just playing certain Dvorjak pieces randomly through the week when our day calls for a bit of music in the background. Exposure breeds taste, right?

Literacy.

Logic of English lessons. Slowly. Like half a lesson, and completely ignoring the handwriting part for now, since again we work on that skill individually. Again, we do individual phonics work during One-on-one lessons, so I have discovered that this is the place to teach mini LOE lessons, kind of like how I’m using MEP. I plan on scheduling more games as part of a literacy loop altogether that correspond with the lessons.

Foreign Language.

Haven’t really bothered with it this summer. Next week, we will start our Latin chants again, and I hope to start learning and teaching some songs in both Spanish and French. This is one of those things I have yet to find a trustworthy resource for yet, since my own experience is lacking, so it’s more work in preparation. Because parlez-vous français? Non. Not at all.

So that’s it with Morning Time. I will try posting about One-on-one time next week.

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Courage Take

I’ll let you in on a secret about teaching: there is no place in the world where it rolls along smoothly without problems. Only in articles and books can that happen.

-Ruth Beechick

The new school year began in June for our family. One of the best perks of homeschooling is picking your own schedule. Schooling year-round makes the most sense for us, with the general idea being tied to the Sabbath scheduling plan: six weeks on, and the seventh week off. This allots for more weeks off during December–a month to be devoted to Christmas traditions, celebrations, and seasonal studies–and a few extra weeks off in the month of May, preceding the beginning of the next school year. This is how it is all mapped out, quite prettily, I daresay, and then everything is roses and butterflies, tulips and ladybugs, and other such pleasant things.

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But then, oh yes, but then. The crisis hits. In truth our crisis began before our new school year did. Our crisis started the first week of May when I discovered water had been pouring through the kitchen floor, down, down, into our basement below. Subsequently after viewing such a disaster, I witnessed the water damage’s aftereffects in the form of sweaty mitigation men, wreaking havoc upon our home. It was quite horrific, seeing these strangers arrive somewhat uninvited, to crack off granite counter-tops, to tug and pull and drag cabinets out of sorts. They sledgehammered the sodden sheet rock, and tore back the carpet. They hacked, cut, then removed a large rectangle from our hardwood floor. The stench of burnt oak saturated our nostrils. It was an ugly, ugly sight.

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Only to get uglier. Now, over two months later, nearly all kitchen appliances reside in our living room, we have no working kitchen sink, and our house excretes the tenacious odor of floor varnish. Needless to say, we are living in chaos. Every room is a topsy-turvy disaster, an absolute sinking ship. And, to add insult to injury, our street has simultaneously been under construction. The baby is lulled to sleep by jackhammers, dump trucks, and other machinery. We often have early morning callers, pounding upon our door, ordering us to park our cars half a block away unless we wish to be confined, jailed in our own homes for that particular day. Imagine, carrying much needed groceries with two small children and an infant in a baby carrier, while weaving in and out of cement mixers and backhoes, grouchy construction workers, etc., a street away from your home, in 100 degree heat. It feels like some sort of grueling choreography: you are on stage, dancing around shifting obstacles, unaware of what steps should be coming next. And the audience doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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I almost wish I could have said, Enough. We are not homeschooling through this crisis. But here are the facts: homeschooling is the only thing keeping me sane. It yields the brightest fruits of my day. It provides full, restful joy, collaborative awe and wonder. And that’s the secret, isn’t it? To find rest and joy, awe and wonder despite all of life’s trials and tribulations. To acknowledge, to absorb, to drink in the beauties and blessings God grants us, despite the ugliness of an evil world.
This, this crisis, has been the greatest of gifts. I know now my own ability to homeschool during a crisis. The days aren’t exactly pretty; certain duties and tasks have fallen by the wayside. It is all so gloriously imperfect, and yet it’s given me a greater resolve to press on with courage, to pick myself up, accept my failures, and see them as opportunities for growth. This has been a lesson in hope.
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And really, as far as crises go, this is a relatively small one in the grand scheme of life. We are healthy; my husband has a job; we have support. But it would have been so easy to just call it quits and give up, nevertheless.
I can’t help but be reminded of the best kept secret I’ve learned during my homeschool journey:

Parenting is difficult no matter how your children are educated. It’s the teaching and learning together–that is what is truly enjoyable; it is one of the best things about parenting. Why rob myself of the best parts? The teaching and the learning? Every parent has to do it to some extent, but homeschooling permits parents to experience at great length the best kind of leisure with their children: the riches. What Charlotte Mason refers to as the riches. All the riches of an education, and we have the time to do them altogether. Everyday. The nature study, the picture study, the composer study, the literature, the art, the creation of handicrafts, the histories! Even science and math! How I love being the one to prepare a rich feast of ideas before the hungry minds and hearts of my own children. Even when they need baths, and haircuts. Even when there’s a dirty kitchen sink on the living room floor. Even when the poor middle child gets bit by a dog, or stung by a wasp. Even when the firemen show up at your house to tell you to evacuate due to a broken gas line. Even when preparing meals without a working kitchen feels two parts adventure, one part violating, we are in it together, learning and growing.

I’m not saying to not allow yourself breaks. That is another post in itself, how homeschooling is a lesson in mercy. And we have taken days off when necessary, never mind the perfect Sabbath schedule. But there’s something rather glorious about the battle, about soldiering on, about fighting the good fight despite the flesh wounds, despite the broken shields and dented swords. How effulgent and majestic it feels to persevere, to forge ahead through the trenches. And to do it side by side, with the people you love the very most. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

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Pre-disaster.