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.

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Excuses, and Other Drudgery

Of course, one year has past since I last posted here, and what a year it’s been! I haven’t written anything for so long, and I’ve missed it dearly. So, naturally, blogging is the first step. Besides, my desire to talk and discuss the subject of home education has far from dwindled, and what better place to drone on about it? One reason for this blog’s abandonment was a lack of vision for what I really wanted to blog about. Yes, homeschooling, of course, but there are really different types of homeschooling blogs, and I needed a focus. Instructional? Philosophical? A diary? Also, even though I have paid some monies to WordPress, I discovered they still run ads at the bottom of this page, which irks me to no end, specially due to the fact I have no control over them. Or maybe I do, but I don’t think I do; but, that is a headache for another day, one I wash my hands of for the moment. So never mind that.

First things first, last year, George was born.

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Rather than delving into the details of his first eleven months, I will remark on how homeschooling with a baby isn’t that hard. At least not when the baby’s asleep. When he’s awake, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and other such hyphenated adjectives, well, that’s a whole different kind of story. And yet, when George graces our lessons with interruptions, I can’t help but be reminded of how all teachers, at home or inside institutions, are all gifted with such opportunities for practicing and acquiring patience. God is there, in the interruptions, too, perhaps even more so than during the most perfectly smooth of lessons. He is there, reminding you of Him, through these delightful, little crawling people. What a gift.

And I shall say this, we are reading a lot of classic Winnie-the-Pooh these days, so I am writing this entire post in my A.A. Milne narrative voice: British, a little upper crust of sorts, and quite cheekily, if I may say so.

The Baby Is the Lesson

Lovely layer puzzle by Beleduc may be found

Lovely layer puzzle by Beleduc may be found here.

This blog has been neglected due to the fact that I’m massively pregnant. I have seven more weeks to go. Charles and John were both winter babies; this is my first summer baby, and things aren’t very pretty to say the least. I’ve been extra sensitive to heat, and my legs are quite swollen by the end of the day. As much as I don’t look forward to the absolutely sleepless nights, I am eager to have our third boy exit the womb (when he’s full-term, of course.)

We’ve been spending a lot of time away from the house, which has been exhausting, but necessary, and sadly, I haven’t been documenting our adventures very well. I am putting forth a bare bones effort right now: 1) grow a baby, and 2) keep the other two happy and fed. You won’t find me doing much else. Our house is a disaster; meals are a sad affair; I haven’t pulled a single weed all summer; and a couple of people aren’t getting their daily baths anymore (I won’t name names). Needless to say, the boys are thriving. On the homeschool front, they are always learning, and I try to incorporate a few lessons here and there. We’ve been attending a weekly science workshop for preschoolers at the city library in Salt Lake, and lots and lots of time is spent outdoors. Our co-op is in summer mode, meaning we have park days, but no classes, so we still meet up with friends at least once or twice a week. I have also started doing lessons from this wonderful little book I picked up at a homeschool conference I attended in May. The boys enjoy it, and the activities are easy to prepare.

Charles is so excited for baby brother to get here; John is a little more apprehensive, I believe. They often incorporate a pregnancy storyline in their play, and they love to hug my belly.


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Loose Parts

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John (age 2) spent nearly an hour playing with Keva blocks, and small wood slices, or “tree cookies” as they are often called. He said he was making a train, then a truck pulling a trailer—the tree cookies were the wheels.

“Loose parts possess infinite play possibilities. They offer multiple rather than single outcomes: no specific set of directions accompanies them; no single result is inevitable.” -From the book, Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children.

One of my objectives for our play room has been to allow ample opportunity for loose parts play. The book mentioned above is chock-full of inspiration, providing many brightly colored photographs on loose parts play. It has made me think about creating loose parts invitations with intention, to consider aspects of line, design, color, and to seek out sensorial opportunities rather than just making it a free for all. Lately, when it’s time for a change, I’ve been grabbing whatever first comes to mind, switching out materials on a weekly basis. (I hope to put more thought into soon; however, even when it’s been so haphazard, there’s been some wonderful play happening.)

Loose parts play sounds so cheerful, in theory, but I will admit, the one issue I have with loose parts play is this: there can be a lot of clean up involved. So be selective about what materials are available at one time, unless you’re willing and ready to track down a lot of pieces (mostly if a two-year-old is involved). And yet, with long periods of self-directed play, a lot of learning is happening; sometimes you have to embrace the mess, especially when the child is so creatively invested.

More on loose parts can be found here, from one of my favorite blogs.

Felt balls, wooden cubes, glass stones, and translucent Geometric Solids. It's so pretty; who wouldn't want to explore?

Felt balls, wooden cubes, glass stones, and translucent Geometric Solids. It’s so pretty, who wouldn’t want to explore?

Pirates, tree cookies, sea shells, Magnatiles, and aquarium gems.

Pirates, tree cookies, sea shells, Magnatiles, and aquarium gems.


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This Week: Making Room for Spontaneous Learning

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This week we went to the zoo, attended the Tulip Festival, and of course, had our weekly art and gym co-op. A lot of our time was spent outdoors, playing and exploring, climbing and running. It’s easy to assume there wasn’t a lot of learning going on, but funny enough, with little to no effort on my part, a lot of learning still happened.

I failed to take very many pictures, but here are some highlights:

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Fractions.

Charles built some towers with our cardboard blocks, and he started a conversation about how four blue blocks equal one red block, and how two green blocks are the same as one red.

Learning place value.

I had a moment of intuition: I planned on doing a certain activity, but felt it wasn’t right. We did some spontaneous math instead. While doing this work, Charles said, “I really like this.” Typically when he gets excited about something, he jumps up and down, or his voice increases in volume with enthusiasm—behavior that sometimes distracts from the work at hand. So when he just grinned at me, and simply verbalized his enjoyment by saying, “I really like this,” it made my day.

First, we grabbed our math blocks and some number cards. I made a number with the cards, and asked him to show with the blocks how many ones, tens, and hundreds were in that number. Then, he built the numbers himself, and read the numbers to me.

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He didn’t want to bother with the math blocks after doing that a few times; instead he read the numbers and explained how many thousands, hundreds, tens, and ones were in the numbers. Over and over again. The bigger the better. It surprised me how quickly he caught on. And he absolutely loved it.

Let’s not forget about John.

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I have been allowing John to handle more materials usually kept out of his reach. He loves doing this version of The Silence Game, and I find it helpful with teaching patience, concentration, and mindfulness.

The boys have had some beautiful interactions this week; they feed off of one another’s imaginations, and have great conversations. I am grateful they are such good friends. John is always eager to learn more from Charlie, and Charlie is a kind and patient teacher. Most of the time.

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This Week: Homeschooling With Intention

We have always been learning, but I finally took the plunge where I feel like we’re actually homeschooling. By that I mean, I plan our days with intention, rather than just winging it all the time. It’s not that results can’t come from winging it, but there’s something steadfast and satiable when our rhythm of learning is more deliberate, at least, on my end as a facilitator of learning. Besides, I have accumulated a lot of materials in the last few years—when I don’t plan, materials and ideas are left alone, forgotten. And if I’m being absolutely honest, I tend to be lazy if I don’t have a plan for the day (especially when massively pregnant). If anything, homeschooling pushes me to improve myself, to stretch out of my comfort zone, and to explore all the things I want to do with my kids. It makes me feel brave.

Play is everything. I have seen more come out of play than any other method. So most of our intentional learning is play-based. Unintentional learning is also play-based, obviously. Here is what we are working on right now.

This is the summer of bilateral coordination. And midline crossing. All of that fun “brain gym” stuff. Charles has taken a long time to show a hand preference, so we will be working hard to get the hemispheres of his brain communicating with one another, to fine tune motor skills, and to bring out the dominant hand. I find myself eager to establish hand preference because this kid spends hours writing letters and numbers. Like this, he did all on his own, without any sort of prompting from me:

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The issue is, he’s definitely interested in writing, but his lack of hand preference and his immature grip make me hesitate to give any proper instruction. Last week, if you asked me I would have said he was left-handed. Today, he was writing all day with his right hand. Typing this, I remember now how I need to return to tracing sandpaper letters, because those things aren’t an issue with that type of work. I tend to over-think these things.

Anyway, so this past week we made playdough together. Then we practiced rolling a lot of playdough snakes and balls, doing some bilateral coordinative work.

We also explored different art media and materials, both in and outdoors.

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There was some impromptu counter work, using sandpaper numbers and color chart blocks.

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The boys began setting this up in the play room by themselves. I stepped in to slide my finger down the middle to differentiate between odd and even numbers, which Charlie picked up on immediately—another testament to the beauty of Montessori work.

I stayed up late a few nights to reorganize and purge our play room. I have yet to take a decent picture of the space, but already the room feels fresh and inviting. I removed a lot of the excess, and pared things down. The idea is to make the space ideal for block exploration, to bring to focus science, mathematics, art, geography, language, and physical development, primarily through block play. I prefer a more austere look to the room, to wheedle out distractions; however, I bought some posters of famous buildings to inspire; I printed and taped pictures to the walls of previous structures the boys had made; I scattered some books about the room for browsing. I have been reading up on block play, and I hope to save my pennies to buy a nice set of unit blocks soon. We already have a variety of blocks, but a set of unit blocks is necessary for this kind of work.

One goal we have with Charles, is to help him with his expressive language.

A treehouse.

A treehouse.

He tends to be the strong silent type, it’s true, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Even so, at times he has difficulty communicating and expressing full thoughts verbally. I’m hoping to encourage active dialogue about his block play, not only to help point out new discoveries, but also as a means to help his expressive language skills flourish.

Charles is describing the ladder that goes up to his treehouse.

Charles describes his drawing: a ladder going up to his treehouse.

"Big boys" live in these houses. He uses the triangular prisms for "roofs" and the cylinders for "chimneys." (Note the terrible bruising on his face from a horrid mouth injury. Ouch!)

“Big boys” live in these houses. He uses the triangular blocks for “roofs” and the cylinders for “chimneys.” (Notice the terrible bruising on his face from a horrid mouth injury. Ouch!)

The boys also enjoyed a snow day, in the middle of April. Typical Spring weather around here. We’ve had a sparse winter, so it was nice to put those shovels to good use. Charles was ecstatic to build a snowman. And finally, we used those little espresso mugs I got for Christmas to drink some hot cocoa!

Let's be honest: watching a two year old waddling about in a snow clothes doesn't ever get old.

Let’s be honest: watching a two year old waddle about in snow clothes doesn’t get old. Although getting him in and out of said snow clothes several times in one day gets old pretty fast.

Waiting for Papa to launch a bean bag via catapult to knock down the tower.

Waiting for Papa to launch a bean bag via catapult to knock down the tower.

Homeschooling with a Two Year Old

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of certain fears, particular doubts.

John, age two, is an absolute joy to have around. He’s the perfect little sponge, too. Since Charles took his time speaking, it’s been a fun (and funny!) experience having a two year old who speaks exceptionally well. He’ll basically repeat anything said to him (I need to get a recording of him singing The Seven Continents Song, because it’s just beyond adorable); he has learned the alphabet song and is counting pretty well, all from hearing it, mostly from his older brother. I think this is rather typical, but since Charles had no interest in talking for the longest time (and then when he would speak to me, a lot of times he would just whisper), it is different and new to us.

That being said, Charles was doing jigsaw puzzles before he was two. He has always had an ability to focus deeply, calmly, and with an immediate respect for the materials we might be using. For example, I introduced a movable alphabet to Charles at a very young age: he returned letters back to their proper places; he kept the material in the intended space (never carried a letter or two into another room); he never threw or broke or played with it inappropriately. This, at age two (or even before age two). I didn’t teach him this, it’s just his personality. This may sound silly, but I really didn’t understand how unique this was until I had another child.

John is learning to be more respectful with our learning materials, but he has a long way to go before scattering pieces all over the house, and throwing things occasionally when he’s tired of it (or just to get some attention). I bring all of this up because like any other mom, I’m dealing with two very different personalities, learning styles, and levels, and I’ve had to adjust my expectations. A lesson on place value with Charles can go quite smoothly—if John isn’t around.

Now when I’ve asked some homeschooling friends what they do with their littles during lessons, they give them something like a coloring page, and tell them it’s their lesson, etc. My problem is, we favor more Montessori type lessons (when doing something more “formal” and not entirely play-based), with different materials and manipulatives. I’m not just handing out a worksheet. John wants to be doing whatever Charles is doing, and sometimes that also goes vice versa as well. If I gave John something separate to do while we do a lesson, Charles may want to do what John is doing (Charles being just two years older). My point is, no kid wants to be stuck coloring while his brother gets to play with math blocks.

Anyway, I’ve been struggling with how to approach this. John will still take a nap, mostly, but it’s starting to phase out a bit, so I can’t always count on naptime for more “formal” lessons. (The other issue at hand, I’m in my third trimester at the moment, and by the afternoon, I’m ready for a nap, too! But I am guilty of not getting to bed on time, so I’m shooting myself in the foot there; I need to correct my bad habits.)

My solution for now is to just do it. I will limit my expectations, drink a big cup of patience, modify our play, and try to take advantage of naptime more. I suppose if anything, I’m learning an important lesson not to rush things, to take our time. To respect a careful, steady, slow pace.

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