Perhaps the most uncomfortable truth of homeschooling is this: there is no track. There are various guidelines or expectations provided by the state government, but other than that, the studies and choices in what to do with a day or a year are left to the family. This idea is liberating and, at times, paralyzing. Considering most parents are new to homeschooling when they begin with their own children, it’s natural to look around for the handrails to show us where to begin.

Mark and I have always wanted to foster the enjoyment of learning, even for its own sake. As two idealists with degrees in English Literature, Writing, Philosophy, and European History between us (as well as plenty of foreign language studies), we love ideas and language, cultural arts and people. This seems important for context, in the same way that it is helpful to know when a parent enjoys discussing Euclidean geometry, music, business finance, farming practices, tech development, or home economics. As parents, we set the context and environments for our home, meaning there will be things we naturally impart to our children because of our own interests and experiences. These may take a little intention with books or discussion or experiences to develop, but they happen more organically within the home as an extension of who we are. The contrasting part to that truth is that we each have underdeveloped parts of us and entire bodies of studies that we know very little about––or as a good friend a few years ahead of me once consisely noted, “there will always be holes.” Part of this journey is accepting that I am not responsible for teaching my children everything they need to know about the world. I couldn’t possibly. The greater task is teaching them how to learn (basic fundementals–reading, asking questions, number functions, personal care, etc.) so that when they step into new arenas or interests in life–because they will–they will feel confident in how to start learning.

I mention all of this because I have always wanted the enjoyment of learning to usurp the task of learning. Both are required of course. I have often researched curriculum or books that best suit our famiy goals or the child’s interests. I have created plans and checklists not because everyone should use them but because it is the way I think and lead others, including my children. We set high expectations that our children will work hard at whatever they do, including their school work, but it is my theory that most children or adults fall out of interest with the rigor of learning something new at the point where they stopped understanding and forming connections. When frustration or discouragement are clouding our learning (collectively or with one child in particular), it has always been more fruitful in our home to put aside the plan and find the source of discouragement. Sometimes it has little to do with the task itself. Sometimes that has meant pausing for a day and starting fresh the next day; other times, that has meant tossing a curriculm or plan altogether and beginning with a new path. Sometimes it has looked like perseverance.

For me, keeping “on track,” requires a great deal of intuition, conversations with my children and observations of them. The “track” is always shifting and swerving in direction, but isn’t that true in life, too? We ask them about their interests and challenge them in areas they have natural aptitudes. If they struggle, we come alongside them with support. Our holes have always been in the maths and sciences, so I’ve always looked for stronger, clearer supports in those areas. In maths, we have always followed a curriculum, often looking for tutoring supports as they have gotten older. We complete the curriculum and move on to another level. With science, history, and literature in the grammar school years, we have relied more on literature, discussion, copywork or hands-on projects (illustration, experiments, etc) to learn. Sometimes we’ve used a curriculum to help guide us and other times we’ve simply followed our interests. As my children have entered the high school years, they have followed a science curriculum, but at that point, their own goals are beginning to take clearer shape, too.

There is an ancient story in the New Testament where Jesus takes two fish and five loaves and feeds thousands. I find parenting to be that sort of miracle, whereby we offer what little we have and watch God multiply it again and again. While certain family rhythms and routines have remained constant here this Fall, homeschooling and family living seem uncharted again. The pace of living has quickened and become more individualized. The conversations are deeper and sometimes more vulnerable. Although the hours in a day are the same as ever, they feel shorter somehow at the moment, more precious. Perhaps it is all the talk about changing bodies and SATs and adulthood, but I find myself whispering the words of the Psalmist with fresh humility, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

The short answer to those wondering where I have been the last few months is this: life requires pivots. This new stage of parenting and writing required fresh vision, and although it is business-sabbotauge to be silent for four months, seeing what our home needs and how to best lead our children as young adults meant temporarily putting aside writing here or in the social medias attached to it; it meant saying no to brand partnerships and a few other wonderful opportunities the last few months; it meant reading more books, studying the Scriptures, writing with pen and paper. Instead of trying to compare or cling to our homeschool rhythms and lifestyle in the years passed, I have been watching and listening and praying for wisdom in our small everyday happenings, curious about what our home needs right now.

We are a household coming of age–my children in one way and myself in another. The transformation is palpable, their bodies and minds and relational dynamics stretching into new places. My own growth is less noticeable than theirs, inward and more abstract, but I sense a new person forming, softer and stronger, better anchored in life’s currents.

In more practical homeschool notes, last Fall, we continued with the Classical Conversations curriculum as a guide in our home. While it’s not a perfect fit for us in all ways–which curriculum is?–it suits our home’s needs right now. We did make intentional shifts to create more room for peer-based learning, like opening our home table for study sessions with friends or weekly study groups at a local coffee shop. We added a weekly a la carte Chemistry or Algebra class for the older ones to give them a different classroom experience from their familiar CC Challenge classrooms and for added support. We still prioritze a simple, unhurried family routine, although admittedly, it’s far more challenging as the kids grow older. There are a few weekly lessons for piano, cermics, and basketball, but otherwise, we keep our extras fairly slim and simple. We visited an educational farm to learn about beekeeping and sustainable farming practices. We also took a trip to NASA in Houston to complement Olive and Blythe’s Astromony studies this fall. In the event you are curious about some of what each of the children’s learning has looked like the last few months, here are a few highlights––

For Olive, still in the late years of childhood, I am more intentionally digging in with her, tutoring her Classical Conversations class, allowing more unstructured time for play, giving her more time for independent making and project-style learning rather than limiting her routine to book work (which is tiresome for her dyslexic mind and kinesthetic learning style). She is doing far less copywork and dication than her siblings did at her age, but she is memorizing, writing and illustrating stories, recording heaps of personal voice memos, listening to audiobooks, and is often busy making something.

Blythe turned 13 this fall and is taking more leadership in her own studies and interests this year. Like Burke, she enjoys organizing her time and working independently toward her goals, and I am learning ways to support her through coversations and feedback rather than working through all the details with her. Logic and Latin lessons in Challenge B will grow more complex for her in the Spring, so Mark and I will intentionally work with her as much as possible in those areas. She is also taking an Algebra class through a local a la carte homeschool program, which has been helpful for consitency on my part (wink). Otherwise, she enjoys working through her academic work early and quickly each day so that she has more time for reading, writing letters to friends, illustrating, and a newer interest in ceramics (one of her creations pictured above). Blythe easily reads 2-3 books a week, and several of you have asked if and how I moderate her reading list. Since she is learning to read and write critically through her Challege B course, I allow her to read to her own whim in her free time. I use Common Sense Media to preview the ratings and content of what she chooses and try to intentionally ask her more about the ones she seems to love the most.

Burke, age 14, began high school courses with Challenge 1 curriculum this year, and he is thriving! I love seeing his creative and analytical mind come to life, but I’m also so grateful for a weekly seminar with peers where he is learning stronger interpersonal skills, how to listen to others and love them well. This semester he memorized several portions of important American Documents, researched and prepared for his first team policy debate about the death penalty, read several American novels and is learning to think and write more critically about them. He also loves the independence in his academic work to organize his time each week and work at his own pace. Burke has an affection for comedy and wit, and naturally studies the art of language and delivery, whether in writing or speech. He also still loves to illustrate and is learning how to transform his illustrations digitally, which is pretty fun to see!

Liam turned 16 this fall, learned to drive, took his first SAT, and successfully completed (and enjoyed!) his first two dual-credit university courses in Philosophy and History. Do you feel the increased pace? Wink. To help support him more in his interest to apply to universities next summer, he also enrolled in a local Chemistry class and has had a weekly tutor in PreCalculus. This year, he is reading five of Shakespeare’s plays and some of Caesar’s orginal works in Latin. He is memorizing 30 lines from each play and reciting them with dramatic intepretation. As someone who does not particularly love performance arts, this has been stretching for him, but his playfulness with the project has been so fun to see. He also has a kindred group of friends in the throes with him, making all the difference. He and Burke also wrapped up the third seasonal year of their lawn business, and Liam is currently exploring other creative entreprenurnial projects/interests.

As we begin our Spring term here this week, time feels energetic, hopeful, and unknown. We are scripting plans into the calendar, blocking dates or counting days until birthdays or other expectanct happenings. In my heart, they are numbered differently altogether, not by an accumulation of events or happenings or things, but the accumulation of days by which each of us under this roof unfolds and becomes.

1. Picnic Basket 2. Bees: A Honeyed History 3. Straw Hat 4. Bee Smart Pollinator Gardener App 5. Honeycombs 6. Vintage Hexapod Chart 7. Kid’s Neckerchief 8. Wrap-tie Jumpsuit 9. The Secret Life of Bees 10. 3-D Wooden Bee Puzzle 11. Plant These, Save the Trees T-Shirt 12. The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook 13. Bee House 14. Kid’s Rainboots

Connection is a new monthly series here, featuring simple ideas to spark connection points with our children and the world around us each month. In it, I will include books, activities, and style (for fun) that ideally become a bit of a rabbit hole in each of our homes.

A few years ago, we took our first visit to a local apiary. Bees are complex and fascinating creatures, and my children and I learned so much about their importance in the earth and the ways they benefit our lives. We also learned how to not to fear them and which plants and flowers help sustain them. The drone bees crawled on the children’s arms, and the guides showed us gentle ways to waft away honey bees when we encounter them in nature. An apiary visit can be a tasty experience as well as informative, a delightful way to begin outdoor adventures again this Spring.

There were so many years where our home lives and learning looked more concrete—seeing, listening, doing. I worried: Am I doing enough, will they have enough? Have we made the right choices in their education? In those years, our school table sprawled with colorful illustrations, imaginative stories, math or language manipulatives. Our sofa housed long hours of read-aloud with Legos or other handwork and hot cocoa or tea. They sound romantic now, but they were hard—my plans often wandering away to take their own form. I was learning patience in one way or another, again and again. But the funny thing is: I miss those days. I am savoring my youngest’s childhood all the more. 

Our days now feel more abstract, conversations piled one upon the other. Minus Olive’s daily practice, our work together is far less colorful and picturesque—who wants to see images of Logic proofs or Latin translations or Algebra equations—but it’s beautiful in its own way and I feel more present somehow, working out these pages with them, making cheesy jokes, seeing glimpses of the incredible humans they are becoming. 

Parenting in every stage requires our attention.  Not our hovering. Not our control. And sometimes, not even our plans. Our attention, more than the books we read or the curriculum we follow, informs them the most. It changes us. It allows us to see beyond the tantrums and scribbled walls and grumbling mornings, to see them—human, soul, developing person. Grace flows from those humble places. And by some miracle, we can look in the mirror and receive the grace for that person, too.

Some stages and phases will feel more like sweet spots for us than others. But don’t give up on the hard ones. The days or weeks or years that seem to take every part of our mind, will, and emotions—well, quite honestly, they are the ones when you and they grow the most. 

There are a million and two reasons to keep your phone tucked away and out of reach during the day, but an audiobook is not one of them. Like many of you, we listen to audiobooks in the car, in the kitchen, on the sofa or our beds, through our headphones on-the-go, and so on. They have been salvation for me during the little years, when my children would play Legos for hours on their bedroom floor or when they were too old for naps but needed rest time. They have been a gift for me too when I want to enjoy my own books on a run or while bustling about the house or while traveling. I find myself in the same place with audiobooks that I do with the books I read––there are so many good ones, it’s difficult to know which to choose.

There are so many decisions when deciding a book to read. I tend to agree with Kathleen Kelly’s character in You’ve Got Mail when she says, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” That said, I can argue countless ways that books change and inform me now. Written and spoken words are powerful. So how do we know which are worth our time? Often, I ask a friend.

On Instagram last week, I asked followers to share their favorite audiobooks. Here’s a list of their responses, linked for the curious, separated only by stories that seemed more suited for older listeners versus younger ones. The asterisks mark books or series that were mentioned more than once. I only added Pride and Prejudice read by Rosamund Pike since it’s my most recent one to finish and enjoy. It’s perfect for older children and teen listeners, too!  I have read or listened to several books listed but now have fresh ideas for both the kids and myself. I hope you will, too.


 

FOR YOU

Eleanor Oliphant is Fine**

Becoming**

The Book of Joy

The Girl of the Limberlost

The Gown

These is My Words

Jayber Crow

The Help**

Big Magic**

Bossypants**

Still Alice

Dare to Lead**

East of Eden

Anything by David Sedaris

Brave Learner

All the Light We Cannot See**

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Bad Blood

The Social Animal 

Love Does

The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society

The Power of a Habit

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn**

A Gentleman in Moscow

Anything by Timothy Keller

The Conscious Parent

Educated**

Anything by Ruta Sepetys

Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year

Bread and Wine**

The Winter Sea

A Praying Life

The Gospel Comes with a House Key

anything by Malcolm Gladwell**

Sherlock Holmes

God’s Smuggler

The Joy of Less

For the Love

The More of Less

Laurus

The Gift of Being Yourself 

Vinyl Cafe 

Better Than Before

12 Rules for Life

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

The Night Circus

All Creatures Great and Small

The Boys in the Boat

To Kill a Mockingbird

Pride and Prejudice 

 

FOR THE FAMILY

Echo**

Farmer Boy

Winnie-the-Pooh

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series

The Hobbit

Mary Poppins series**

The Wingfeather Saga**

The Roald Dahl Collection

Julia Donaldson books (for littles)

Chronicles of Narnia–Radio Theatre**

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy**

Little Britches series**

anything by GA Henty

Anne of Green Gables** 

The Saturdays

The Penderwicks series**

Paddignton Bear

Biographies by Janet + Geoff Benge**

Little Women (also the BBC Radio version)

Young Fredle

Ballet Shoes series

Green Ember series

Robinson Crusoe (also BBC Children’s Classics)

There is a modern, cultural pressure that we do everything, even that we do everything well. It has taken most of my adult life to learn there is a difference between doing all things well and doing well at all I do. The first emphasizes quantity––how much I am doing––while the second emphasizes the quality of the work itself. Although the language is nuanced, the second statement implies that not all things are done; in fact, some things are not done at all.

When I first began homeschooling––and several times since––I often wondered, how will I do it all? How will I handle multiple ages and stages at once? How will they each get everything they need in education, experience, character, and life? How will I teach in my weak areas or in subjects I have never studied at all? Here is the short answer that stands true even now: One day at a time. One thing at a time. One request for help at a time.

Over a decade into this journey, we have yet to “do it all.” We have accomplished and learned so much together! Still, our homeschool––and I imagine many homeschools––have been more like a Bob Ross painting than a color-by-number project. We began with a blank slate and vision, but the early years look more like seemingly random white or green or blue formless blobs on the canvas than anything else. Although we kept to formal reading and math lessons, these lessons often seemed inconsistent juggling so many young children and needs. I looked at lesson plans (and created them!) with their tidy lines and congruent messaging, welcoming the path toward redeeming their education, but the reality never seemed as tidy as planned. One child might have been able to detail every type of dinosaur or shark but could not recite math facts––green blob. Another child might have regularly eschewed reading lessons for experimental baking or drawing or climbing trees and building elaborate imaginary worlds and forts––blue blob. Another child might write poems and letters and short stories but also droop shoulders at the study of grammar or spelling––white blob. I have story after story about the seemingly random blobs of paint on our educational canvas.

The details are clarifying as my older children grow older into young adults. I now catch glimmers of specific shapes in our metaphorical painting––perhaps the fortitude to practice difficult maths as an avenue to other ventures or understanding the community books can create with friends or the application of Logic or other critical skills to the movies they watch and the games they play. My favorite details have been the ones I didn’t imagine in that early vision, the gifts and endeavors that have sprung from their own design or personal vision.

The rub is always that I want to know the end from the beginning––in my life and in theirs––but for all our vision and observation and planning, I will never truly know how we each will become. This journey is simply a commitment to walk out the unknowns together. I have been aware of my weaknesses. In fact, those shortcomings can be the first voice within me to rise up and convince me not to do something, not to try something. Maybe you, too? Here’s a marvelous reality: our weaknesses do not disqualify us from teaching our own. If anything, they give us an opportunity to share a primary life lesson with our children at their earliest ages––we are all humble learners; we also need others.

Perhaps you are in a stage of days that feel like paint blobs. Perhaps you are frustrated by your own shortcomings or theirs. Perhaps you feel like you are drowning in it all. Let me whisper a small piece of hope: you do not need to do it all. Are there lessons or extras you can let go of for a time to create margin, to create room to breathe? Are there methods that are not working for your child/ren or for you any longer? Are there people around you to ask for help? I have hired tutoring help and home help at various points on this journey. I have bartered for help in times when our budget was slight. I have tossed our plans in the air and allowed each of us space to be inspired again and remember why we enjoy homeschooling or why we enjoy one another. I have shared my frustrations or tears with people who support me and tucked myself in bed early with books to strengthen my soul. I am not perfect and neither are my children, but more than a perfect experience, homeschooling is a commitment to one another, to each of us becoming. So we begin again: One thing at a time. One day at a time.

For growing bookworms and movie aficionados, a library card can save oodles in the family budget. Add homeschooling to the equation and a library card becomes a lifeline, and quite possibly a rite of passage. As soon as each of our children was old enough to write his/her name (and responsible enough with books), I gave them a bookbag and took them to receive a library card. Childhood is full of such simple pleasures. 

In their early years, we relished our local library’s Storytime, pretend play, and puppet theater. In the preschool and grammar school years, we often brought along snacks and lingered a full morning a week while each of us browsed shelves and ideas, from fiction and graphic novels to biographies and recipe books. In more recent years, the library has become a place for us to discover new writers and learn more formal styles of research, especially in science and history. The elder ones are now learning how to build arguments, connect ideas from multiple sources, and construct bibliographies on different topics. The library has an ever-evolving role in our home, a treasured one at that, yet ironically, as the years of speedy reading and academic research have arrived in our home––giving us more reason to be at the library––it is becoming more difficult to consistently get there.

I was recently introduced to hoopla digital, a service that partners with thousands of libraries across North America to offer free digital content to library patrons. When hoopla offered our family the opportunity to try out their services, clearly, I was interested in how it might serve our home’s diverse learning needs. I quickly learned that with hoopla, patrons have access to thousands of e-books, audiobooks, comics, music, and movies via their computer, tablet, or phone. For more tech-savvy homes, the app can even connect with Alexa and smart TVs. And did you catch that it is free?

Like the library itself, we have used the hoopla app and website to borrow books for a limited time, yet unlike the library, hoopla will automatically return the content on the appointed due date, meaning no late fees or lost books! I also particularly love the “kids mode” option in the account settings for my younger children to browse books and audiobooks that are appropriate for their ages and curiosities.

Over the last few weeks, we have enjoyed the simplicity of having hoopla in our routine. It is as though the library has come to us! Earlier this week, Olive found a caterpillar among the leaves and, as most children do, suddenly had the utmost interest in learning about it. By typing moth or butterfly or caterpillar into the hoopla search bar on my phone, she and her cousin instantly borrowed science books and began flipping through them, learning about the moth caterpillar in their hand. There have been dozens of moments like that over the years, and although we have a wonderful home library collected, I was keen on them having more independence in their young research.

Blythe, on the other hand, who has been recently frustrated with using a drawing compass, was inspired to use one to draw a Fibonacci spiral after flipping through a STEAM project book for kids on the hoopla app. Although her work did not turn out quite as she hoped, I loved her playful willingness to respond with a pencil and paper right at that moment. The boys have appreciated the large inventory of STEAM content for their science research just as much as they have relished access to an assortment of comics. Wink.  That said, not every activity with hoopla has been strictly academic. We have also borrowed movies and audiobooks.

Although hoopla will not replace the library experience for us, it has been a gift of time for our busy household and homeschool. In years where I am bridging many learning interests and topics, it could be the learning tool I need most to help me keep up with it all. To see if your own local library partners with hoopla digital, you can check this map here. You only need an email address and your library card number to register. Some libraries may offer you a pin to use as well. If you do not notice hoopla services in your local library, reach out to you librarians to request hoopla. I already have in our own library.

 


This post is sponsored by hoopla digital. All thoughts and images are my own. To learn more about hoopla, visit their Facebook and Twitter pages. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

I look forward to the Thanksgiving/Advent season all year long, welcoming the shorter days, the candlelight and handmade crafts and food, the warm drinks and countdown to Christmas. When it comes to gift-giving, I am one-part intentional, one-part pragmatic, meaning my favorite gifts are both meaningful and useful. The thought of gifts that might easily break or quickly pass with a trend or carelessly add to the clutter of our spaces ties my stomach in knots. So Mark and I hold to a simple process for support: we set a specific budget, make notes of needs, curiosities, and interests growing within our children that we want to support, and begin planning. It is incredible how quickly gift ideas rise to the surface with this approach, but also how many goods are quickly disqualified, too. Of course, because they are human, our children sometimes have their own wishlists to share with us, perhaps roller blades or a sewing machine, which we always consider, too. Wink. If you’re curious to read more about our gift giving philosophy, I encourage you to read through the older guides linked below as I share more in them.

This is the fourth year for me to share this gift guide, something I really enjoy sharing in this space and one that is often requested throughout the year. Although it is labeled for the homeschool, the ideas are clearly not restricted to homeschoolers but are a collection of books and goods to support creativity and ingenuity, just like our homeschool. I’m quite certain this is not the first or last gift guide to wander across your screen this weekend, but I hope this one inspires you just the same. For those of you who are new to space, I encourage you to sift back through the previous three guides for ideas, too, as each list builds upon the other. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

Volume One / Volume Two / Volume Three 


YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES

1 A Child’s Introduction to Art   2 Natural Charcoal Pencils  3 Waxed Canvas Scribblers Case   4 Singer Beginner Sewing Machine  5 Paint Brush Set + Case  6 Table Easel with Drawer  7 642 Things to Draw  8 Natural Indigo Dye Kit   9 OMY Paper Beads Kit   10 Animal Friends of Pica Pau  11 Cut Paper Pictures  12 Ring Toss Game  13 Ride-On Sanddigger  14 Nikon Coolpix Waterproof Camera 15 13 Artists Children Should Know

Gifts of Experience / Art Lessons, Parent-Child Pottery or Painting Class,  Children’s Museum Membership


YOUNG NATURALISTS + ADVENTURERS

16 Pocket Map Atlas  17 Mountaineering Lightweight Cot 18 Organic Terrarium Kit or Fairy Garden  19 The Wonderous Working of Planet Earth 20 Watercolor with Me in the Forest  21 Go Find It Nature Scavenger Hunt Cards 22  A Year of Forest School 23 Stellarscope  24 Organic Heirloom Vegetable Garden Kit 25 Butterfly Garden Growing Kit 26 The Stick Book 27 The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs 28 Sunography Solar Powered Photography  29 Lost Hiker Wallet Kit 30 Nature Exploration Games 31 What We See in the Stars 32 Mini Adventurer Exploration Kit 

Gifts of Experience / Rock Climbing Passes, Camping Trip, Rent an RV, Canoe or Kayak Daytrip, Backpacking


YOUNG SCIENTISTS, ENGINEERS, + TECHIES

33 Steam Lab for Kids 34 Bacteria Science Kit 35 Crystal Growing Experiment 36 Date Navigator Wooden Mechanical Model  37 ArchiTECH Electronic Smart House 38 Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists  39  What Do You Do With an Idea?  40 Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World 41 Children’s Lab Coat  42 Newton’s Laws Construction Kit  43 Geometry Strategy Boardgame  44 Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst STEM Kit 45 Solar Rover Kit  46 Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments  47  The Girl With a Mind for Math  48  The LEGO Architect 49  Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science

Gifts of Experience / space camp, summer science or engineering camp, art lessons, weekly project/experiment hour together


YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS

50 Alice in Wonderland Zipper Pouch 51 Stripe Denim Apron 52 Blackout Poetry Journal  53 Handlettering 201: Intermediate Lettering and Design Basics 54 Superhero Book Ends 55 LuminoLite Book Light 56 Field Notes Memo Books  57 642 Big Things to Write About: Young Writer’s Edition 58 Paisley Rolling Pin 59  The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook  60 Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story 61 Babycakes Mini Cake Pop Maker 62 Fruit + Veggies Cutting Molds 63 Joseph Joseph Nesting Bowls 64 Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen 65 Library Tote 66 Bear Oven Mitts 67 The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs 68 Kid Chef 

Gifts of Experience / book club, book subscription, cooking class, weekly baking hour, parent-child date to a favorite restaurant or bookstore


Thank you Hannah Walls for your research help on this post. This post contains some affiliate links. Cloistered Away might receive a small commision on the goods purchased through those links. 

In an ideal world I would be able to keep up with all of the things my heart wants to do at the present, including writing here more often, and in an ideal world, you would not just peek through my life on a screen, or message/email questions about our days, but instead walk through our door and experience life in our home, most likely with something to eat or drink. You would find heaps of books everywhere––table surfaces, nightstands, bookshelves, and beds––but unlike a library where members read or work in quiet, steady noise and energy abound here. The conversations turn with the wind: a Latin translation, a comment about the weather or a recent movie, a favorite part in a book, a need for the dog to go outside, a grumble about Algebra, an encouragement about Algebra––who is responsible for dishes?––a reading lesson, an illustration, a child skateboarding through the room, a read aloud with the youngest, a nostalgic read-aloud moment for one of the eldest, a side-conversation born, a question about Logic, a blank look in response, a revisit to the lesson, a clay project––have you started your laundry? what about the clothes on your floor?––puppy snuggles, writing struggles, a study group, a walk outside––do you remember the book we read on Copernicus? You get the idea.

Perhaps the largest misconception of motherhood or homeschooling is its tidiness of time, experience, and learning. We ask one another what is the curriculum? Or how will you teach Chemistry? Or how do you know you have done enough? How do you know your children are learning? And so often my honest inward reply is I don’t know. I know some skills are learned best when repeated in small ways over a long period of time. I also know I grow bored of repeating small skills over a long period of time, so mindfulness and self-discipline apply to me just as much as my children, as do breaks in routine and the need for the outdoors. I know as modern learners, we have access to millions of books through bookstores, libraries, and apps, and as an undercurrent to all of these years of learning together, I want my children to experience books not just as something to consume, but also as tools that help shape us, our ideas, our curiosities, and talents. I know my children do not learn in the exact way I do, and some days that’s truly difficult. But it’s also a tremendous gift, a way to learn one another, to practice empathy and compassion first within our home and next outside of it.

Still, the hours of our days feel chaotic and symbiotic at once, a smattering of random conversations and stories and moments that all seem to connect together. I do not plan the hours in the same manner I did when they were younger. In previous years, it was helpful for me to block hours of our days for specific activities or studies: morning hour, math + reading, nature study, read aloud, outdoor play, quiet hours, etc. In those years, all of the children worked through similar blocks together and this made sense. I still do this for my youngest, but as my eldest children have entered the upper school years, they are organizing their hours more on their own. During the week, I loop through time with each, helping on their hardest lessons or the ones needing conversation, mostly Latin, Logic, Algebra, and writing/Literature, while reserving time for brief structured lessons with my youngest. With the elder ones, sometimes I work through lessons alongside them, most often in Logic and Latin. Sometimes I simply ask probing questions checking their understanding or dialoguing about something they’re reading. Sometimes I’m clueless and simply check their work with the answer key (always with math).


planning

Planning looks different now too. The eldest three, in middle or high school, each follow their own curriculum with a weekly seminar-style class day through Classical Conversations. I meet with each of them following their weekly seminar to talk through their plan for the week. The eldest, Liam, now in 10th grade, is responsible to chart his own path through his weekly work, whereas my 7th-grade daughter, Blythe, still has her work broken up with a weekly plan from her seminar tutor. My 8th-grade son, Burke, is right in between, planning much of his work on his own with my oversight. I still plan Olive’s lessons (4th grade) in 4-6 week increments, making book-lists and keeping a basket of books for her, and working slowly through lessons in math and reading and handwork projects.



vision

In August, Mark and I went away to California for a time of rest and vision for our home. (I have more details on that trip finally coming soon.) I had been praying, searching for a word or theme to guide this upcoming year. I wanted something to cling to in the ebb and flow of learning, a light for the path ahead juggling so many different needs and micro-paths under one roof. I heard the word on a seven-mile hike that wove through the coastal hills into a canyon. It was magnificent. We paused for lunch among the Redwoods after a somewhat steep descent into a canyon. We wandered off-trail for a while afterward, only to realize we had to turn around and climb the canyon path again to return to the original path. There, in that moment of hiking upward, with my legs and lungs burning, I heard the word ASCEND. All at once I could envision a picture of our stage of parenting and homeschooling and the parallel to what I was feeling physically in that moment. Honestly, I feel the burn in our homeschooling right now, in motherhood, in my personal work. We are figuratively breathing hard, as our path grows more strenuous and steep, as our home grows into maturity. Some days, I want to throw in the towel.

Although each of my children are older and far more independent in their work, the way I need to parent/lead/nurture them requires so much rigorous attention. Not smothering. Not control. Not making their decisions for them. But watchful care as they carry more of their own weight, as they make more of their own decisions, as they come of age and climb into their adult years away from home. In that moment ascending, I could see that while everything feels harder and somehow more difficult, this is not the time to stop. We have always taken our decision to homeschool one year at a time, and this year is the same. We are moving forward, each of us climbing upward together. We pause and take care of ourselves. We slow our pace when needed and pay attention to our stamina, but our home is ascending just the same. I’m adapting as a mother to a different pace, stretched now between the high school years and grammar school years. This isn’t anything new. I am not the first. But it is a first for me. And holding all of these things, I have needed to shift my attention inward at home. I have needed to change our rhythm, to pull back from online spaces for a time, to recover hours that are needed elsewhere right now.

I write all of that to offer perspective, to offer a visual of your own path. Some of you have babies and preschoolers. Your figurative hiking should accommodate your home’s needs of short distances, flat, steady grounds, and sweeping vistas as often as possible for perspective. Like hiking with a young child, you may not go far, but you’ll have more time to notice the details, the grass, the flowers, the sky. Soak it up. There is such sweetness in the slower pace of the early years. Many of you will find yourself somewhere in between. I encourage you to take a moment  to envision your parenting/homeschool journey as a hiking path. What would the terrain look like for you right now? How can you adjust your pace and intention accordingly? 

Because practicals are still wonderful, here is a glimpse of our routines and rhythms right now, as best as I can write them. I have included first a weekly rhythm of how we sort out cleaning, meals, and the structure of learning (projects for the youngest, library trips, etc). This rhythm would be in addition to the regular daily work of home I hope it’s a helpful glimpse, but as with everything, keep only what might fit for your own home. 



OUR AUTUMN RHYTHM + ROUTINE

weekly rhythm

Sunday | planning day:  write lists and questions, gather books + materials, grocery shop; dinner: something simple (BLTA sandwiches, rotisserie chicken with salad; crockpot; soup)

Monday | laundry (girls); weekly afternoon library trip, copywork/narration/illustration and presentation prep for youngest; writing final drafts, weekly assessments, project completion for eldest three; dinner: vegetarian (curry, soup, pasta, stir-fry, etc)

Tuesday | weekly campus day; eldest three map out their week’s coursework after class and share their plan with me; dinner: community tacos 

Wednesday | project/ handwork for youngest; laundry (boys); weekly study group for eldest; dinner: poultry (grilled, roasted, or pan-seared) + vegetables

Thursday | copywork/narration and project/handwork for youngest; laundry (mom); deep clean bathroom, wash floors, launder bath mats; dinner: random (leftovers, combine meals with friends/sister, etc)

Friday | bi-weekly math tutoring; monthly field trip; laundry (linens); dinner: Shabbat meal (fish, grilled or roast meat)

Saturday | family and individual rest/play/day-trip day; no work or school work; dinner: eat out/date night


daily rhythm

5am  My Quiet Hours | quiet attention and intention toward my own person; meditation and prayer, reading, writing, and work (blogging, editing images, emailing, social media, etc)

7am  Morning Wake-up | Mark wakes-up children (more challenging feat these days) while I go for a run or do a home workout and shower; breakfast, kitchen responsibilities, make bed, pick up clothes, wipe down bathroom

8am  Morning Hour | gentle, intentional hour together to frame our mindset for the day, Scripture, read aloud, prayer, encouragement

9am  Morning Block | My lesson-time with the girls.

Blythe and the boys begins their independent work, while I begin lesson work with Olive—reading lesson and practice, read aloud, and copywork/ narration or hand project. Mid to late morning, we swap. I often check-in with the boys to make sure they’re on task. Wink. Olive begins her independent work in math and memory work and I work through Latin with Blythe and talk through whatever she needs help with in other studies, often revising her writing or science research with her.   

NOON  Lunch | eat, check texts + social media, go for a walk, etc. 

1pm  Afternoon Block | My lesson-time with the boys.

Blythe finishes her afternoon work independently, and Olive plays. I check in with both boys about their morning work and how they’re doing with their day. They each take breaks to play or go outside as needed. I work through Latin and Logic lessons with Burke, or possibly help him find news articles for his current event topic, resources for his science research, or writing. With Liam, our time is often more discussion. He really is doing more self-instruction and research, and so my role is shifting toward asking more questions about his readings, helping guide his writing and analysis, listening to what he’s learning about the artists and composers he’s studying and his Biology modules, and being a place of accountability for the quality of his work. Our time each afternoon is really more my searching out his understanding of what he’s doing on his own. He takes weekly/bi-weekly assessments in Algebra, Biology, and Logic which help me find areas we need to work on together, too.

4pm Clean Up | We put away our work and clear tables. They play outdoors or catch up with friends, and I catch up on whatever I need to online, or listen to a podcast or music, often with a celebratory glass of wine. 

5pm Dinner Hours | Prep and eat together. These are the hours I begin to slow down again and turn inward, so I’m happy to send the kids out and chop or prep on my own, when possible.    

7pm Evening Routine | Mark and I often take the dog for a walk together to connect. The kids finish kitchen clean-up, begin showers, and hang out together. 

9pm Bedtime | The girls have lights out at 9pm, and the boys at 10pm. Ideally, I’m in bed with a book at 9p, but that doesn’t always happen. I’m often happily asleep by 10pm.



grammar school resources (Olive)

reading | Olive is still growing as a reader, and we are pursuing some testing this Autumn for extra help and clarity. In the meantime, we are working through level four of All About Reading, a wonderful resource, especially for students who are busy-bees or who struggle with letter recognition and pulling together sounds.  

history | Olive and I are studying Ancient History this year, using The Story of the World as our spine text, adding in many read-aloud books and hand projects from this activity guide. I strongly considered using Beautiful Feet Books Ancient History, since I love their studies and book choices so much, but ultimately decided she might not be quite ready for that yet. I’ve gathered read aloud ideas from various places: online searches, the library, the activity guide, Tapestry of Grace’s Year 1 reading list, Beautiful Feet Books.

Classical Conversations Foundations Program | This year, we opted to return to CC as an entire family, instead of just dropping off for the Challenge class. The younger programs require the parent to remain on campus, which has been a huge shift for me. The Foundations program is only 24 weeks and leads the children through playful songs and activities to help them memorize facts in six subject areas, with an art/music block and science experiment. Olive loves it! And I enjoy that she’s having regular science experiments again (my weakness!) and review of math facts and other building blocks of learning. Of course, her favorite part is being with people in her own weekly class–it fills her extroverted spirit right up.

grammar, science, and other things | Both science and grammar are organic subjects for her right now. We talk about it in her application or curiosity or during discussions with the elder kids. She’s memorizing terms and practicing experiments with CC, and that helps for keeping things simple for now. She’s curious about writing stories, so I’m going with her interest and building some mechanical and grammatical discussion into her own work. I am focusing on small details of quality penmanship and am hoping to begin spelling again with her later this fall. We love All About Spelling and English Lessons Through Literature and highly recommend both for those of you looking for more spelling or grammar instruction. 

hands-on learning | I imagine all children enjoy hands-on learning, but some children seem to learn best by experimentation, by trial and error, by doing. This is true of Olive. So I’m giving plenty of room for her to be in the kitchen, toying with her own recipes, experimenting. I also offer her old worn-out clothing to cut up for sewing or making, as well as art materials for building and creating. 



upper school resources 

Classical Conversations Challenge Curriculum | As I’ve mentioned before, the three eldest are in the Challenge program with CC, a complete 30-week faith-based classical curriculum for grades 7-12. It is intense and has required an adjustment for me as a parent, but a worthy one since my children love it so much. They each have a weekly seminar class, and for the most part, this directs their reading and studies for the academic year. The other 22 weeks in the year are used for self-directed reading and projects, holidays, play, entrepreneurship, etc.

math | We have always used and still use Saxon Math, adding the DIVE Math videos at Math 5/4 and up. There have been times I’ve used other curriculum or workbooks to support or reinforce a year. I know Saxon Math is polarizing. Homeschooling parents generally love or hate it, and that’s okay. I’ve wrestled with it myself and made peace. Haha! Truthfully, there are many wonderful options, but I encourage you to find one and try not bounce around each year. There’s more opportunity for holes since each curriculum builds uniquely in its own style. Other options friends of mine use and love: Math-U-See, Teaching Textbooks (often a semester or entire grade level behind, so expect to level up), Singapore Math, Kahn Academy (it’s free!)

science | Liam is studying Biology this year with Challenge 2 (10th), including eight formal lab reports and weekly science experiments. Burke is studying scientific origins and the history of astronomy this year in Challenge B (8th), researching a new scientist chronologically each week, writing a weekly essay and illustration/model to present to his class.  Blythe is learning skills in scientific research this year in Challenge A (7th), beginning with the natural world this fall–a perfect segue from our nature studies last year–creating citations and scientific drawings. She will participate in science fair later this fall and transition to a study of human anatomy in the Spring.

grammar | The Challenge program uses Henle Latin to introduce students to the grammar of language. We’re learning about the patterns of sentences and the roles of nouns and how to recognize them by their word endings. I know Latin studies can sound a bit pretentious, but we have had so many wonderful conversations from it about history and culture, plus similar vocabulary words in English and Spanish. We’re rolling with it. Blythe is in her first year, so she will work through the first quarter of the Latin I text with me. Burke is working through the first half of the Latin I text, and Liam is working through the Latin II text this year, heading toward translating Caesar in the Spring. 

reasoning | Blythe is learning to identify arguments this year, reading and separating main points from supporting ones, and later this year, she’ll learn about logical fallacies. Burke is studying informal logic and formal logic this year. I am working through this with him and sometimes both of our heads hurt, but he’s enjoying it! Liam is studying formal logic again this semester and reading through Plato’s Gorgias in the Spring.

literature + composition | This, of course, is my personal favorite. Books and writing. The Challenge A + B reading list feels a bit light for avid readers, in my opinion–ten novels for Challenge A and five novels and fifteen to twenty short stories for Challenge B–but reading more slowly allows more opportunity for them to internalize the novel and think more critically about it. Their writing is also quite simple at this point, instructing them in the basic structure of a persuasive essay and thesis in a very simple way using The Lost Tools of Writing ––a program I highly recommend for older writers! They build elements of writing into their work with each novel they read. Blythe is reading through ten Newberry novels this year, some for a second or third time. Burke is also reading other Newberry novels as well as short stories in the Spring, to begin discussing literary elements and gain exposure to more difficult writing. He also will be writing his own short story in the Spring, something I know he will really enjoy! Liam is reading 18 pieces of British literature this year––some of my personal favorites––so I’m enjoying hearing about his experience with these works. His writing is growing up a bit this year, learning to evaluate literary elements more deeply and form analytical comparisons. It’s certainly stretching!

debate | Blythe is memorizing the geography of the world, and the names of every country within it this year. The goal is to be able to draw the entire world from memory, orienting them to the locations of things happening in the world as they begin to pay more attention to politics and cultural current events. Burke is researching current events on major topics prompted by his tutor for their weekly class discussions. My recent favorite was the use of tablets in lieu of textbooks in the classrooms or learning environment. So pertinent! He will write and present a speech to Congress later this Autumn and spend the rest of the year in preparation for his first Mock Trial at the end of the year. Liam will continue with team debate this year, but is also studying Western Cultural History through art and music. This has been an intense strand for us but also a delight, as there’s so much to see and hear and experience.