I often pride myself on the flexibility homeschooling brings, the freedom to bend our home’s learning, to do things differently. Go to a park in the middle of the day? Yes! Read books in our pajamas? Of course! School in the summertime or on the road or in a field with binoculars? Works for me. For all the freedom allowed us––a true privilege and point of gratitude––there are many details to keep tabs on as well. In the US, each state holds different expectations and requirements of homeschoolers, and if you are new to homeschooling or considering it, I recommend doing some research in your own area. Some states require attendance, lesson plans, portfolios, or state testing, and, if like us, you are approaching the university years, keeping tabs on a transcript is important, too. Regardless of the size of your home or your affinity for organizational systems, it is important that you create one that fits your home.

Last year, I felt myself swimming in loose ends and paper trails, too often asking or answering the question, “Have you seen ___?” There were too many bits and pieces that went unchecked last year simply because of the lack of organization. This year, I wanted a central, permanent spot for my children to hand-off their finished work on their time table, and for me to pick it up to read and check on my timetable. Naturally, there’s some amount of joyful chaos during any day juggling so many agendas, but I love knowing where our resources and work are right when I need it; you too?  

That said, you do not need a lot of space to create an office for your homeschool.  Books and guides can reside on any bookshelf in the home, and notebooks pre-filled with cardstock, page-protectors, and folders can be a wonderful way to keep tabs on learning in the younger years. For those of you gathering artwork, workbook pages, writing assignments, or tests from your children, keeping a single spot to receive them will be a gift for all of you. This is the first year we are using this system, and already I can see the benefits.

When I partnered with Staples this month, I knew I needed some help. As a homeschooler, I love shopping online for specific needs, but walking through the store is helpful for feeling products and pulling together ideas, whether supplies, resources, or organization tools. In fact, according to a recent survey commissioned by Staples and Fatherly, 85% of parents prefer to do their back-to-school in stores. Surprising, right? The Staples associates were so helpful and directive, going out of their way to answer questions and help me find the right things for our home, from folders with metallic unicorns for my daughter to art supplies, calculators, clipboards, and now file folders that would look nice on my kitchen counter. Maybe I decided the final part about the kitchen counter, but having Staples associates available to answer any and all questions was a game changer, especially as a homeschooler when I do not have a schoolteacher to share their additional expertise.

I wanted to create a small homeschool office in our kitchen, one that fit functionally and aesthetically with the rest of our home, and I needed a system that was simple enough for each of us to follow and lovely enough to not want to move it to a closet. I immediately loved these folders and file sorter for our space, and they’re exactly what we needed! But Staples had so many other lovely choices, too, like these bright Poppin’ paper trays. I even picked up a planning notebook to keep ideas, questions, books, and grading for all of the children in one place this year. (But if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than a Moleskine planner or simple spiral, the Day Designer definitely caught my eye.)

To set up our new system, I labeled each of the files with one of my children’s names for the front sorter. Anytime they finish something that they need me to read, revise, or grade, they simply drop it in their file. This allows them the freedom to hand-off their completed work while saving me from collecting random papers throughout the day. High-five! I check their files as I have time and record grades for the older ones in the back of the planning notebook, then hand them back for final drafts or to go in their page protectors inside their notebooks. In the back section of the file sorter, I keep a large envelope to hold any important papers I might need to keep track of during the year, along with the planning notebook and curriculum guides for the elder ones. The kids each have folders in their notebooks for their random papers, and I have a system for my own. There is a printer and laptop we use nearby and fresh paper in the cabinet below. Everything has a place this year, and I’m thrilled!  It’s incredible how a square foot of well-used space can create an office for our homeschool, but it is exactly what I needed. How do you keep all of the papers ordered and in place? Also, to see our larger supply list and how we create our notebooks, read here.

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This post is sponsored by Staples. All opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

This time of year always feels a bit like Christmas. New books arrive in the mail and fresh paper and pencils fill our shelves. Although our routines and studies flex each year, these late summer months always cultivate expectation for us. We flip through books and organize notebooks and consider how best to arrange our spaces, excited (and sometimes a bit nervous) for what lies ahead.

As a homeschooler, I aim to keep our supply list simple and neatly divided into three general categories: books, notebooks, writing and art supplies. I find it helps me better organize our needs during my planning and also prioritize simplicity of time, space, and budget when purchasing new things for the homeschool.  

That said, I do love gathering fresh school supplies with my children. It is a small pleasure among the other hours spent planning, and the joy shows in them too! We partnered with Staples this year and enjoyed browsing the variety of supplies there to use in our own home and work. Plus their back-to-school sale and in-store expertise was a wonderful bonus! They were so attentive.Keep reading to hear more about the supplies we purchased and how we’re using them to build our notebooks for the year.

 

ART + WRITING SUPPLIES

In my philosophy, if children have access to high-quality art and writing supplies, they will naturally want to use them. In that thought, I always make sure we are stocked with the basics. For us this includes: Staedtler graphite pencils, Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor pencils (we love Lyra, too), Sharpie pens, Staples wood rulers, white cardstock, lined notebook paper (college and wide-ruled), lined Stickies, Post-It tabs, and non-toxic Crayola Air-Dry Clay and chalk. I may at times purchase drawing notebooks or watercolor paper, but since the cost can add up quickly, I find a weighty cardstock suits well enough for our use.  

NOTEBOOKS

Notebooking is a favorite way for us to keep track of our learning and reading during the year, and also practice writing and illustration regularly. I’ve noticed in years past, if the supplies are not in place, we can quickly lose papers and interest altogether. Setting everything in its place at the front of the year is key.

During the early years of homeschooling, my children have kept three notebooks: Literature/History, Science, and Poetry/Bible. As my older three children are bridging into upper school years, they each have six notebooks, one to match each seminar in their Classical Conversations classes: Exposition, Logic, Reasoning, Research, Debate, and Grammar.  

Regardless of age and different studies, each notebook is composed the same way: heavy or medium weight page protectors, a two-pocket folder, and pre-loaded paper (lined or cardstock, depending). Each of the children picked out their own folders for their notebooks, each suiting their personalities––from solid colors to bicycle-riding bananas and metallic unicorns! They’re helpful for holding handouts and helpful learning tools to reference, like algebra laws, diagrams, or vocab lists, during their studies. The folder’s primary job is to keep loose papers in place.

The page protectors become a storehouse for finished essays, paintings or illustrations, copywork or narrations. As the notebook becomes full, I can slide out the pages to store away on the shelf until the year’s end, when they each have a catalogue of their learning. I have learned the hard way that all of the writing and artwork can easily pile up during the year if it does not have a home.

How do you like to organize your work during the year? Do you keep notebooks or another system?

 

#BackToSchoolSpecialists


This post is sponsored by Staples, but all images and opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

I often receive messages this time of year asking about our routine during the summer. Primarily, do we continue homeschooling or not? How do we structure our days? Or do we at all? In the homeschooling home, where boundaries of time and space ebb and flow, it can be difficult to discern transitions. There are no closing bells or good-bye parties for summertime. There may be an end to a study or co-op or music lesson or team sport, but not always. For the most part, homeschooling is an extension of the home, cyclically beginning and ending, flexing in content and activity to the needs and curiosities of the people who inhabit it. So how does our home look in the summertime? Different every year.

For the first several years of homeschooling, my husband was an educator, so we dropped all formal, structured learning in these months for home projects and travel together as a family. The single thread through them all has been reading. We always read, regardless of location and activity and season. You will find books in our car, in our purses and travel bags, and in every room of our home, minus the bathroom (because gross––wink). In more recent summers, the pattern has continued with home projects and travel, with more added structure in our days again by the end of July or the start of August. I have found too much willy-nilly-ness in our days stirs the pot of bickering around here, and sometimes all the travel and lack of routine works against us.

This year feels very different. Three of our four children will be in orthodontic braces this summer (insert: empty wallet emoji), meaning we will be enjoying more time at home, with a few inexpensive tweaks and repairs to our home spaces. Minus a few weekend trips to friends and family, we have an open calendar at home, and even more surprisingly, it feels good. Really good. Empty space, whether in our physical spaces or in the more abstract ones of time can feel uncomfortable, like we’re missing something, or needing something to fill it. But space can be one of the greatest sources of creativity and freedom, too. I love for my children to feel a sense of boredom, to enjoy an idle moment and follow where it might lead them, to wrestle with the tension of doing and being, of receiving and creating. It feels like a mini-resistance in a world of constant entertainment.

For our home this summer, we will have a mixture of structure and unstructured time in our day. Like many homes, we plan to settle into the relaxed days of summer, taking a break from new lessons and longer academically-driven days. While I am planning to keep firm boundaries of time, the space within those abstract walls is wide and vacant for their own pleasure, an invitation to re-create and enjoy time.

I know all of our homes are unique, with various goals and needs, so I am sharing this from our own. Read through it with grace and measure, gleaning what might be of value to you, and skipping the rest. Keep in mind, our children are 9-14 in age, meaning the concepts might look very different in homes with younger children. Wherever you are, enjoy it! It will change.

Summer Intensive / This list will make some of you yawn or roll your eyes, but I developed this particular list of things, based on needs and desires I noticed in my children and the conversations within our home. This is the most structured part of our week, 2-3 hours / 4 days a week. It includes:

30 Minutes of Quiet in Scripture / We’re using the She/He/Kids Read Truth as a guide through 1 and 2 Corinthians this summer, reading basically a chapter or two a day. Although we’ve read the Bible aloud together over the years, I’m ready to begin encouraging my older ones in their own spiritual disciplines, namely how to read, learn, and listen on their own. I plan to write more on this in a separate post.

Spelling / I’ve noticed slippery spelling in each of my children during this last year of writing, and wanted to be intentional about practicing this skill.  I’m using All About Spelling and began all four of them at level one, listing words via the index, to target specific words and spelling rules they may need to revisit. I plan to work the older three through the words in all seven levels this summer and pause Olive wherever I notice she needs work along the way.

Latin / The boys have been studying Henle Latin I with their CC Challenge course during the year. We’re using Latin with Andy tutorials and exercises briefly each day to keep content fresh and fill in weaker spots, especially for Liam who will move to Latin II next year. Blythe is doing a little Latin memory work before she begins her first year of study this year, and Olive is working through All About Reading level 4 with me during this time to strengthen her reading skills.

Math Facts + Laws /  All of the kids have finished their math for the year, and instead of moving into new lessons or concepts, they’re practicing math facts for a bit each day. The older ones are also reviewing Algebraic and Geometric Laws to strengthen their speed and work during the year. This is only 15 minutes or so each day.

Fun Fridays / Since we aren’t traveling this summer, I’m trying to be more intentional about day-trips and excursions this summer. We are planning Summer Intensive Monday through Thursday and leaving Fridays strictly for fun experiences together (with friends when possible) and our family Shabbat dinner in the evening. The children and I created a list of fun things we’d like to do this summer, everything from our annual The Lord of the Rings film marathon to sleepovers with friends to swim days to s’mores and campfires to hiking. Some of the things on the list can be wiggled into our weekday afternoons, while others will be special for the three day weekend each week.

Free Time / Even having 2-3 hours of structured Summer Intensive leaves many unstructured hours in our summer days. I need personal time to be able to write and work, and the kids need time to feel that sense of boredom, of creation. In order to avoid the “can I watch a show?” or “Can I play on the ipad?” thirty-two times a day, I created a list of potential activities for them when they feel stuck. Some activities are intuitive for our kids, reading, drawing, crafting, and although those things are on the list, I wrote less intuitive things, too, for the other times when they need gentle nudges, such as: create a scavenger hunt, write a letter to a friend, build an obstacle course in the yard, make a fort, watch the clouds and name the shapes. For those of you with younger children, consider building craft boxes now that they can only access during certain parts of the day.

Entrepreneurship + Internships / This technically falls under the same part of day as free time, but it seemed worth noting separately. Liam and Burke began their own lawn business three summers ago. Last year, they brought on two more friends and their younger cousin as a bagger. Three days a week, they work this business together, and two afternoons a week Liam is interning with his father and uncle. Liam’s hours are the most full, but he is also entering his second year of high school, learning more about making the most of his hours in rest, work, and play, such an exciting time for him.

Screen Time / Yes, our kids have screen time in the summer, but it is limited to a strategic time in the week and more often reserved for two hours on the weekend.  Sometimes we opt to watch a movie on a weeknight, or I let the boys play video games during a sleepover, or I let the kids watch a movie on a rainy afternoon, but these are exceptions. Or at least I want them to be. iPad included. The iPad is used for facts practice with the app, Xtra Math, where they each race their own times, for tutorials, and for texting friends at certain times of the day. This practice isn’t perfect in our home, but managing screens––both the time and content––is something we feel very strongly about in our home. We work hard to set clear boundaries and have plenty of conversation with our children. Basically, I’ve made peace with being the “bad guy” when it comes to this topic, especially in light of what friends can and cannot do.

Summer Reading / Although reading is always apart of our routine. Summer reading is particularly rewarding because of all the programs available through the local library and bookstores. We’re all in, and the library is apart of our weekly routine. Liam has a list of 19 British Lit novels he’ll be reading next year, so most of his reading will begin there, currently Beowulf and The Screwtape Letters. Burke will mostly be reading short stories next year, so we’ve worked with him to create a list of books we think he’d enjoy (and that we’d enjoy talking about with him), beginning with My Antonia and Fahrenheit 451. Blythe is working on her list of novels for the fall, currently The Magician’s Nephew, as well as fun pieces of modern fiction. Do you know the 8-12 range of children’s literature is my absolute favorite? And Olive is steadily working through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and shorter read-alouds to me to work on her comprehension and fluency.

Flowers are one of my favorite ways to infuse life and beauty into our home. While I hope to grow a picking garden of my own some day, more practically in this part of life, I set aside a bit of our grocery budget each week and pick up a few simple blooms for our table or nightstands or kitchen sink. Flowers make my heart hum and help cultivate my sense of home and emotional well-being, but when it comes to arranging flowers, it always feels a bit more like trial and error. My arrangements often appear hopelessly amateur. In honor of Mother’s Day this weekend in the US, I asked my talented friend Jessica Jill of Ivy Florals to share some of her secrets for creating a beautiful bouquet with market blooms. You can also find her gorgeous work on Instagram.


This weekend, I put together a quick bouquet for Mother’s Day, something simple, yet lovely, like my mother herself. As a wedding/event florist, I often use wholesalers for flowers, but to create small or single arrangements, I often run to the nearby grocery store. Luxe brand grocers will often have a larger variety, but markets of every sort have started carrying more and more varieties of flowers to meet the growing demand, such as those little pale pink, nodding heads shown above, Scabiosa. Grocers are also beginning to put together little bouquets called “designer bunches” that have everything you need to make a dynamic arrangement on your own. But don’t be afraid to use a mixture of market flowers and foliage straight from your own yard! 

When purchasing flowers from the grocery store, there are five vital things to consider for your design to have structure & character. I learned these from The Flower Recipe Book by Studio Choo.

Base Foliage | Greenery, get something that fills space easily & something else that adds form. In my arrangement, I used Cherry Laurel (snipped from a tree by my house) and a Grapevine (also snipped by my house)!

Base Flowers | Hydrangeas, Roses, something that fills spaces with color!

Focal Flowers | Lilies, or something that draws the eye, has interesting form, and is just nice to look at. 

Secondary Flowers | Carnations, Scabiosa, usually a flower with longer stems that can encourage shape in the arrangement

Bits| Fern, smaller flowers or greenery that fill space with a softer texture

As far as picking the color of your flowers goes, get what makes you smile. You’ll be surprised how well your eye naturally picks colors that look good together.

Once you get home from the store, processing the flowers is very important! For processing, you will need some snips or floral scissors. Once you have your stems, snip snip snip those stems at a 45 degree angle, remove any foliage that might end up in the water when you begin to arrange & get them in some warm water ASAP. Also make sure to pull off any decaying leaves/petals to help the flowers last longer & look their best!

An outlier is roses, I usually dehydrate my roses for a couple hours before I start designing. This makes their petals more apt to open up to a big bloom with a little help from you. This helps turn the roses from tight, traditional-looking blooms, to fresh from the garden-looking blooms with gorgeous heads.

Having good floral product is only the start of how to DIY your own arrangements. In this post, I’m going to run you through some design tips on how to turn a bag full of flowers into something like you see above!

Find a beautiful vase | To start yourself off well, find a super cool vase. Be creative. My vase is really a dessert bowl I transformed by adding my little frog.

Place a floral pin frog | Honestly, with a little  help from floral pin frogs, you can turn any watertight object into a home for your blooms. You can get floral pin frogs online or from a craft store. They’re reusable and invaluable for arrangements. I usually just place my frog in the vase without any sort of adhesive but if you have heavier blooms, it might be a good idea to use some floral clay to stick it to the inside of the vase.

Add warm water | After you add your frog, add a little warm water to the mix & you’re got a solid base for your arrangement! When adding flowers to the arrangement, a pin frog is easy to use. You simply press the stem into the pins until the flower or greenery stands the way you want it to. Next, you get to start the fun part! DESIGNING!

Start with Your Greens | And don’t be afraid to add a lot. You want to use your greens to both establish a shape for your design but also cover your mechanics ie your pin frog. I usually evaluate the form of the greens & place more upright greens on one end of the design & more “droopy” greens on the other. This “S” shape helps draws the eye through your entire design. Keep this thought in mind during your entire time designing, even when you start adding your flowers. Upright on one side, droopier on the other. After you add your greens & get an established shape, you can start adding in flowers.

Add focal flowers | Focal flowers first because their placement is very important. You want them front & center. The lily in my arrangement is my focal flower. Note how it is the first thing your eye is drawn to when you look at the photo. When adding in focal flowers, I usually take three nice, open blooms and place them strategically in the arrangement. I usually keep some closed blooms off to the side to add in later. This adds a story to your design where you can include more than one life cycle of the flower in the arrangement. Also – in a couple days, those closed blooms will open & add some second day zest to your gift! I place one in the very front close to the rim of the vase, facing me, almost looking me in the face. I then place another focal flower, one that is a little droopier on one side of the arrangement. If you don’t have a droopy bloom, you can angle the flower to where it looks droopy by pinning it at an angle in the pin frog. Lastly, I place the third focal flower upright on the other side of the arrangement.

Add base flowers | Once you have your 3 focal flowers added, you can move on to adding your base flowers. I usually mimic the placement of base flowers, close to or behind the focal flowers to keep with the shape of the arrangement. I used the roses & hydrangeas as my base flowers in this design. Base flowers are also used to cover mechanics that you can still see even after foliage & focal flowers have been added. They’re very helpful in filling out the inside center of the arrangement so that when the design is looked at from above, It is not empty-looking.

Dehydrate Roses | This step is where rose processing I wrote about above, comes in. In my arrangement, I dehydrated my roses for 2 hours, then began to pull back the petals, softly bending them until I felt a soft pop from the center of the rose and the petal stayed splayed out.

Add in secondary flowers | After that, add in your secondary flowers. I used Scabiosa & Carnation as mine. Use these to enhance the shape that you’ve created. Again, droopier ones on one side, upright on the other!

Finish with bits | Lastly, add your bits. Use intuition & your eye to know where to place these. Areas that seem empty or boring to your eye are ideal places for these. I used fern as my bits. The soft texture of ferns is ideal for bits! Other things that could be bits or “fillers” as some grocery stores call them are chamomile, baby’s breath, daisy mums etc. Be mindful when caring for bits, that their stems need to be fully submerged in water. They’re delicate & usually need good water intake so that they don’t wilt.

Finishing touchesNow, you’re done! Take a look at your design. If you see any holes or places where your eye stops, use those leftover closed or less open blooms to fill in that space. You can also add leftover base flowers if you think you need it. Remember to trust your eyes. If you like the way something is looking, go with it! Something I love about being a florist is the freedom that comes with working with beautiful product. The flowers speak for themselves, so no matter what you create, it will hold beauty. Your design is there to enhance what already makes the heart soar.

Maintain freshness | To keep your arrangement fresh for longer, check the water daily to make sure all stems are submerged & the water is clean. If flowers start to decay, remove them. Some flowers will stay fresh longer than others so it is important to check on your design, making sure shorter vase-life flowers are not causing other flowers with longer vase-life to die quickly as well. If you leave decaying flowers in the vase with fresh ones, a hormone is release from the decaying flowers that causes decay to speed up in the rest of the flowers as well! Best of luck to you in your designing endeavors. 

When I first began this homeschooling journey, I was amazed how many people would ask, “Do you plan to homeschool the entire way? Through high school?” There always seemed to be an emphasis on that last part with a little bit of judgement in the mix, implying this is all nice while your kids are young, but do you really think you can handle high school? Will your kids be socialized? Will they be able to get into university? Will they want to be at home with you instead of with friends? What about prom? What about team sports?  See how much can be heard in just a simple question? Who knew. Most of the time I just smiled and shrugged.

Some days––especially in those first few years juggling new babies and toddlers in the mix––I didn’t know if I would homeschool next week let alone in another decade. Maybe I seemed too confident, too certain of my path. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to say. But I’ll let you in on a secret––more of this journey has been about listening and observing the needs in our home, and adapting as we go. For the most part, I have not taught our children based on what I know. Instead, I have become a student with them, learning so many things right alongside them, chucking some plans, gathering others. I’ve learned that just as my kids need space to breathe outdoors. So do I. Just as their minds begin to feel flooded with too many ideas at once, so does mine. If I am excited about something we are reading, generally, so are they. Homeschooling has created empathy and discipline in all of us, although none of it in the way I expected. I thought it would be tidier, more organized and straight-forward somehow. Sigh.

Fast-forward a decade and we’re here. In just a few weeks, Liam will be wrapping up his first homeschool year of high school, and Burke his first homeschool year of middle school. They have both been in a local Challenge class through Classical Conversations, a one day/week program for discussion and tutoring in six different seminars they work through the other 3-4 days at home. Liam is finishing Challenge 1 and Burke is finishing Challenge A. The year has been a joy for them both, and difficult for me in all the ways I didn’t anticipate. I have no idea what I fully expected, but in our conversations last Summer, we primarily focused on the subjects and thoughts that would fill transcripts and personal essays on college applications. I looked forward to connecting with them in more dynamic, rich ways. We discussed ways they would carrying more ownership and responsibility in their education. My lens was shifting toward their individual gifts and how Mark and I might help them grow into them. In so many ways, each of those things are happening, and as a parent, it’s both beautiful and affirming to watch each child unfurl.

Still, last fall was painfully difficult for me emotionally, although I couldn’t quite articulate why. I kept trying to find our rhythm, our groove for the new year. Instead, I felt like a spinning top. The days and the rhythm within them felt so foreign somehow. In addition to the Challenge program, Liam was playing on a traveling basketball team; the girls were taking a weekly art class; Burke was newly (and happily) carving out his own days academically. I was grieving. It seems overly sensitive and a bit ridiculous to write it out, but I was grieving! The landscape of our life was evolving, and I felt a bit lost. In the little years of mothering, so much time is spent corralling. We connect with our children in such pragmatic ways by taking care of their needs, by holding them, by including them in our work at home, by leading them in new skills. What should seem obvious is how that changes. Didn’t I want my children to take initiative and ownership in their education? Absolutely.

In Kim John Payne’s book The Soul of Discipline, he describes the transitioning parent roles of Governor, Gardener, and Guide over the course of parenthood. It was one of the more helpful parenting books I read last year, considering I am in all three stages currently. What the book offered me was language for my evolving role, not just as a mother, but as a homeschooling mother, too. I realized my educational role with my boys is quickly moving toward being their Guide, allowing them to take ownership and lead their own path with me alongside them asking probing questions, checking in on them, rather than simply directing them. Again, this may seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet after years of homeschooling together, I didn’t expect the loss I would feel when that changed. I should also clarify that just because I feel a sense of grief over a season of their childhood that is passing, that it is the wrong move. These guys are thriving.

As for beginning this current semester, I have felt calmer and more emotionally prepared. I pulled the girls out of art this semester to help simplify our family routine for the time, to enjoy more quality time with them at home and less time in the car. The boys still happily plop down with me and the girls at times when I’m reading aloud or when we’re talking about something they’ve read before or a topic they want to be apart of, and they share their presentations and work with us. I suppose these are the perks of living in small-ish spaces together. We’re always still aware of what the other is doing.

I realize there are hundreds of options and opportunities now for students wanting to homeschool during the upper school years, and we have chosen only one. It has been a humbling reminder that even now in the quite familiar journey of motherhood and homeschooling, I am still learning.

[I]t’s a mighty act of human love to remind somebody that they can accomplish things by themselves, and that the world does not automatically owe them any reward, and that they are not as weak and hobbled as they may believe. 
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear


narration + copywork about Jamestown

icy window panes

early breakfast routines begin again

an illustrated title for their collaborative newspaper

simmering bone broth

steadfast morning math + Latin lessons

light breaking through moody skies

Algebra practice on the wall

signs of green

outlining ideas on William Bradford

handmade spoon dolls

ukulele practice

read aloud with a cauliflower soup lunch

drawing practice

sculpting clay canoes + sailing ships

narration + copywork about Jamestown

cozy reading in bed

more images : #cloisteredaway_homeschooling

 


JANUARY IN BOOKS

• Liam •

The Lord of the Rings (again) / To Kill a Mockingbird / Born Again

• Burke •

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (again) / The Mysterious Benedict Society series / The Secret Garden / The Door in the Wall

• Blythe •

The Way to Bea / Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire / Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix / William Bradford / Blackthorn Winter / Whatever After, books 5-9

• Olive •

The Penderwicks series (on audiobook) / Finding Providence / The True Story of Pocahontas / Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie /

• Read Aloud •

Tales from Shakespeare / The New Americans / Pocahontas / A History of the US: Making Thirteen Colonies / Three Ships Come Sailing / Three Young Pilgrims / Samuel de Champlain / Pilgrim Stories / 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving / People of the Breaking Day


In effort to pick up my camera more often and record our days together, I am bringing back this series again this year, a few small snippets of our homeschool journey each month, shared with the books we’re reading independently and together. Enjoy the glimpse!

Gift giving is my love language. Whether it’s something handmade, something gently loved and no longer needed, something you can experience, or something new, I love gifting things that would mean something to the one receiving. I think we all do on some level. But I confess, I get easily overwhelmed this time of year inventorying what my children (or other people we gift to) need or what they might enjoy after a trend has passed. We do not purchase much for our children during the holidays, but what I gift them, I want to be special.

I began this gift guide two years ago as a way to share gifts that I discover in the search for meaningful and high-quality gifts for our own home. Many years, we have gifted experiences to our children, which you’ll find in the very first gift guide. These guides are not sponsored, although I do use some affiliate links to favorite businesses we support. But ultimately, these guides are a gift to you, dear readers––a gift of time on my part to ideally save some time on yours. I hope you find something or some idea that fits just right. I should also note, these gift guides build upon one another. Because I select things our home will enjoy for years (and multiple children), the gifts in my guide two years ago apply just the same today. You can find my first gift guide and my second gift guide here.  Happy holidays, friends. xx


GIFTS FOR YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES 

1. Kinderfeets Bamboo Balance Bike  2. eeboo Learn to Draw books  3. Oragami Chic  4. Owl Cross-stitch Kit  5. Everyday Watercolor  6. Windsor & Newton Water Colour Pocket Sketch Box  7. Grimm’s Wooden Rainbow Bell Tower  8. Derwent Graphite Drawing Pencils 9. Making Waldorf Dolls  10. Woodstock Chimalong 11. Bamboozler Wooden Puzzle 12. Lino Cutting Set  13. Basket Making Kit  14. Melissa & Doug Wood Work and Project Bench  15. Seedling Create Your Own Dolly  16. Uncle Goose American Sign Language Blocks  17. Little Diggers Garden Tool Sets

GIFTS FOR YOUNG NATURALISTS + ADVENTURERS 

18. Birds of Prey 48″ Kite  19. Original Audubon Bird Call  20. The Pocket Scavenger  21. Mini Fairy Garden  22. Women Who Dared  23. Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain 24. National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler  25. Estwing Rock Pick  26. Swurfer Tree Swing  27. Rosie Research Solar System Bracelet Kit  28. Opinel Pocket Knife and Brown Leather Sheath  29. Animal Camouflauge  30. Knot Tying Kits  31. Treasure Hunter’s Game  32. Carson BugLoupe Magnifier  33. Flower Families: A Go-Fish Game  34. Large Moon Lamp  35. Botanicum  36. Uncle Goose Constellation Blocks  37. Children Rustic Walking Stick 

GIFTS FOR YOUNG ENGINEERS + SCIENTISTS 

38. Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects  39. Crystal Radio Kit  40. Wooden Wonders Dr. Maple Medical Kit  41. LEGO Women of Nasa Set  42. STEAM Kids  43. Science Experiments You Can Eat  44. Leatherman Multi-Tool for Kids  45. Compounded Chemistry Board Game  46. Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers  47. Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power Experiment Kit  48. Hape Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run  49. Seedling Design Your Own Marble Maze   50. Young Architect City Planner Set  51. Grimm’s Wooden Fraction Circles  52. Prime Climb: The Beautiful, Colorful Mathematical Game  53. The Curious Kid’s Science Book  54. 11 Experiments That Failed

GIFTS FOR YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS

55. Piper Computer Kit  56. Wright Flyer Model  57. Tegu Magbot  58. Make: Paper Inventions  59. Tech Will Save Us Micro:Bot Pack  60. Kamigami DIY Lina Robot  61. Cozmo Programmable Robot  62. BOSEBuild Build-It Yourself Bluetooth Speaker for Kids  63. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code  64. Smithsonian Maker Lab  65. Make Your Own Mud Clock  66. Tot Tube Playset  67. Ukranian Bridge Wood Puzzle  68. Castle Logix Game  69. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids  70. Thing Explainer 

GIFT FOR YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS

71. Tombow Beginning Lettering Marker Set  72. Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly  73. A Year in the Woods  74. Organic Cotton Hanging Nest  75. Star Wars Death Star Ice Mold  76. Mini Alphabet Stamps  77. Children’s Kitchen Tool Set in an Herb Pot  78. Start Where You Are: A Journal of Self-Exploration  79. Large Moleskine Cahier Journal in Pastels 80. Tovla Training Chopsticks for Kids  81. How to Cook in 10 Easy Lessons   82. Toysmith Deluxe Root Viewer  83. Plays Children Love 84A Child of Books  85. Crayon Rocks  86. Harry Potter Kids Aprons  87. MasterChef Junior Cookbook  88. Curious Chef Nylon Knife Set

This space has been so quiet lately, allowing some much needed room to sort out bits of my heart and home. Time feels so tenuous, doesn’t it––the practical substance of our days, yet impossible to grasp. Yet I have been grasping still.

It seems our home is always moving these day, balls bouncing, doors swinging, water boiling. Our home rhythms have shifted drastically in the last few months, and honestly, I have felt generally overwhelmed accommodating it all. Perhaps it’s the weight of all Mark and I are trying to accomplish raising and educating children. Maybe it’s the context of building our own businesses from home or the lingering home projects waiting to be finished. Maybe it’s more simply that delicate crossroad of self-preservation and self-sacrifice. Most likely, it’s a bit of everything, but the fight for a peaceful spirit in the midst of it is real.

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, crying, my chest heavy and cheeks wet. I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, so when tears come, I know they are a little note delivered from deep within me whispering, pay attention. For all I understand about our human need to pause and listen to those around us, I find it sometimes hardest to prioritize this sort of nurturing for my own person. My heart is prone to hiding beneath accomplishment and TO DOs, so when I wake up in the night, heavy with emotion, I know my heart is searching for connection, searching to be heard.

Bluntly put, I haven’t felt happy with this school year from the start. In spite of much prayer and thought on the front end, I didn’t really have clear vision for the year ahead. So many factors have changed for our home, leaving our routine hurried and task-oriented this fall, a constant shifting of roles, expectations, and places to be. I love lists, but I don’t love when life feels reduced to one. Sometimes when I am unhappy with life circumstances, I need to intentionally iterate gratitudes to shift my heart/thought focus. Other times, I need to shift the circumstance altogether. This moment required the latter.

That night, I left my warm bed and headed for the sofa, a pen and paper in hand. I flipped on a lamp, folded the paper in half, and titled two single columns: What I Love in our Homeschool Day and What is Needed in our Homeschool Day. I needed to see our day in simpler terms, written more concretely on paper. I reserved the first column for activities, moments, and studies that connect me with our children and our experience at home together. It’s vital for me to preserve those things. The second list are needs I’ve noticed in our home or in my children, activities necessary to our day regardless of my affection for them. This list acknowledges the parts of this journey that are less fun for me (or them); it doesn’t mean they’re not important.

Looking at the two lists side-by-side, I began to see more clearly ways to simplify our days again, even if just temporarily. I noticed there were tasks or studies or activities occupying our time that weren’t on either list at all. I immediately made notes to eliminate those things. I also realized there were too many things from our days on the need to do list consuming the things I love list. So I began to reevaluate the opportunity-cost, adjusting or removing again. My heart began lifting.

The next morning, the boys went to their weekly class, and the girls and I made tea together. We read aloud and sketched maps and looked at books of art. The girls spoke in their best British accents as we discussed our day and what we read. I was gaining simple vision for our home, and likewise, connection to it.

I know most circumstances will vary home to home or that the lifestyle or academic path that overwhelms me will be different for someone else. You may be feeling overwhelmed for different reasons altogether––with little ones or a new baby in the mix. You may be in your first year of homeschooling or dealing with children crying over math problems or reading lessons every day. You may be a single parent or feel like you’re in this journey alone. I hope you will find comfort here somehow in the very least knowing you’re not alone.

I hope you will also find solace that there’s no perfect way or timetable for accomplishment in homeschooling. There’s no magic moment when you arrive and it suddenly becomes easy or without effort. There will be moments of grace, where lessons––of books or the the heart––are delightful and light in spite of difficult circumstances. I am always humbled by how much my children learn even with my own shortcomings. These parts are a gift. But there are also the accompanying days that require effort, fortitude, and so much prayer. They require me to remember promises and speak light into darkness, and even at times to write lists in the middle of the night. Wink. I’m learning, even a decade on this path, to receive all of it as a part of our journey, our story. The sweet parts are savored because of the bitter ones, not in spite of them.

Still I don’t always have that perspective in the moment, and when I find myself weighted by emotion or heaviness in this journey, there are a few practices I return to again and again, practices good for healing broken rhythms and spirits alike, practices that lift an overwhelmed heart.


light a candle and make tea / There’s something about the warmth of a flickering candle and a drink in hand that massages the soul. When our days become frayed or fruitless, making tea (or hot chocolate) is a balm. I pull out art supplies and a book to read aloud. Sometimes we read something silly just to laugh. Either way, it is connecting and healing for broken rhythms and spirits.

head to the outdoors / Sometimes it’s as simple as sitting in the backyard or on the porch. Sometimes we need to move and head toward a local trail, park, or field. Either way, the divine order and beauty of nature always soothes heaviness and helps create perspective.

plan in 6 week increments / Sometimes an entire school year or even a semester can be too much to forecast. Even if you purchase a full-year curriculum, commit to working through just six weeks, and see how it fits within your home. Some homes that school year round, find it helpful to operate in six week blocks of time and take a week off.

make a list / I’m obviously a list maker; it’s how my brain begins to synthesize information. When I feel clouded by too many swirling thoughts or emotions, it helps bring clarity. Perhaps creating a list like the one I mentioned above may help. For those of you who aren’t list-makers, perhaps jotting down 2-3 small goals you have for the day may be enough to help keep you focused, and to let the rest of it go.

create mental space / Sometimes the root of overwhelming emotion for me is simply the way my brain toggles between diverse thoughts so spastically. We are managing so many things right now, between our own businesses and growing children, and at times it causes my brain to function a bit like the puppy in UP–– squirrel! When I recognize this, taking a moment to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and reminding myself to focus on the task at hand is so helpful.

meditate on simple, uplifting thoughts / Having good and noble words accessible is SO helpful. When my mind feels swirly, sometimes it can be hard to remember or change my thinking to uplifting and positive truths. Keeping a few favorite quotes and Scriptures on hand in my journal, on my phone, or around my computer is a helpful tool to read aloud and train my thinking toward good and true things again.

prioritize personal time / When I become overwhelmed, it helps to create so space for myself, specifically to connect with my thoughts. Although this step seems obvious, getting up early in the morning, while the world around me sleeps in quiet, always helps clarify noisy thinking. If you have younger children in bed early, maybe making space at the end of the day works better. Either way, make some time for yourself, to nurture and listen to your thinking patterns, to your emotion. Always remember to speak aloud something simple you know you always need to hear: you’re enough.

I began this blog a decade ago next month, just after Blythe’s first birthday––before Olive, before homeschooling, before any personal financial collapse, before Instagram or sponsorships, before a dramatic family move, before cohabitation with my sister’s family, before the slow and pending DIY renovation of our current home, before cloistered away meant anything else than simply being tucked away in the quiet recesses of motherhood and home life. This blog began as a pragmatic solution, one where I could share the images and updates our families wanted, while also channeling my creative spirit and desire to journal about motherhood. Like Flannery O’Conner, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Over the years, this space has helped me process the emotion and experience of motherhood (or at least the parts I wanted to remember––wink), our journey into homeschooling, and even at times the changes and hardship our family has endured. In many ways, it has helped me become.

Although it wasn’t initially intended, this space has now evolved into a personal business––a joy and gift for our home in financially fragile years and circumstances. It has also become a humble resource guide for thousands of readers, and I’m so immensely grateful. Yet as my readership has grown and evolved, so has the content of this space. I’ve felt more protective of my family, especially my growing children, and their own voices and stories. It can be tricky finding the balance of authenticity and privacy, but I’m always seeking it.

Still, it feels time to do some housekeeping of this space, some clearing out and directing of content again. And I would love your input!What do you love about this space? What would you love to receive here?  Would you do me a HUGE favor and take 2-3 minutes and fill out THIS ANONYMOUS SURVEY? The info is ONLY for my personal use and help in better gauging the needs and readership of this community, and it will be so helpful, whether you are a first-time or long-time reader. Thank you, thank you, thank you.