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Dear mother,

I’ve been thinking lately about the looming school year and also about this oppressive heat, how every living thing seems to wither under it. “And consider, always, every day, the determination of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles,” my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Evidence poem. And I can relate, as a woman, as a parent, as a homeschooling mother. In August, the air will buzz with talk of school supplies and routines again. Beautifully organized school rooms and books and curriculum will appear everywhere again––in our texts, emails, social medias, and blog feeds. Perhaps at this point, you know which books and methods your own family will be working through, or how you will schedule (or un-schedule) your days. Perhaps you feel incredibly confident in your decision to keep you children home and confident in how you want to learn together. Or perhaps you haven’t a clue what lies beyond August or even how you’re going to do it all. Perhaps you doubt your decision and question your ability to teach them at home altogether. Where ever you find yourself on that line, it’s okay. I’ve been there, too. Take a deep breath and be encouraged: you are not alone.

I’ve learned over the years that after surveying what others are doing it is possible to feel at once both inspired and insufficient. I can admire someone else’s space and ideas, while also picking apart my own, wondering what I need to do differently or better. I can feel excitement about our own choices, and yet also question it in the context of other options. So before you open your Pinterest boards or favorite Instagram accounts or talk with friends, do this: make it a quest this month to be gentle with yourself. It is after all something new, and should be treated as such. Regardless of how much previous experience you’ve had on this journey of parenting or homeschooling, you have yet experienced this new one. Some parts will feel familiar, and some will be entirely different. Your circumstances will change, and what wisdom you hold from the past will shift you a little. Your children will also be in a new place, whether practicing school at  home for the first time or learning/experiencing new material or even physical growth and change. But first, before opening your inspirations, open your eyes and heart to see yourself and your home in a fresh way. Open your planner and books, not with someone else’s home in mind, but first with your own. For a moment, close your eyes and imagine your family, your home, your current resources at hand, and give thanks for all of it. What is best for them? What great adventure awaits you this year?

I will repeat again to you what I have to regularly tell myself: it is impossible to do everything, but it is possible to do a few things really well. Like most everything else, this is simpler written on paper than it is practiced. I spent my first few years of homeschooling trying to do everything, organizing elaborate lesson plans and fully scheduled days, and I can assure you it left me exhausted and buried with the feeling of not measuring up. I felt inconsistent, because I tried to have a school experience at home. It took me a few years to realize although order and some structure is really good for our home, I needed some time untethered. So I encourage you, regardless of your curriculum choice or love of schedules: leave some blank space in your day, or as stated again in Evidence, “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” If you are a planner and prefer to label different hours in your day (raises hand), reserve and label one part of each day as “the unimaginable” and everyone in your home might be happier.

I know there are more things to say to you on these topics, more that I have also been processing about this new year that are still forming. But I will give you a hint of my educational philosophy here in a simple list, not because yours should be the same, but to share the ways that homeschooling (and planning) ought to be simplified and allowed room to breathe:

pray and read together

read, write, and draw/paint a little something everyday

practice with numbers

play outside

work with your hands

talk about ideas and happenings in the world

leave some room for the unimaginable

When I feel overwhelmed or like our week or plans are too full, I will return here to this list, and to these words that although written to you are also written to myself. Perhaps you will remember this letter, too, not for the list above, but simply to remember you’re not alone, to remember to be gentle with yourself and your children, to remember the freedom of unwritten scripts on this journey is joy, not enslavement. I will leave you with one final thought from this same poem, “I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by this adventure–your life–what would do for you?” The year is fresh, and there is still so much enchantment in this adventure. How will this one look for you?

Warmest wishes,

Bethany

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We didn’t plant a spring garden this year, minus a few yukon gold potato plants (which we’ve already harvested) and a handful of herbs. The spring felt heavy with projects around our home, and I felt the need to let the soil and my management of it rest for a season. In reality, I’m a novice gardener, learning most often though trial and error (more of the latter, I’m afraid), tons of internet research, and the simple practice again and again. I hope bringing my children into the learning process will teach them something practical about botany and science. More abstractly, I want them to learn how to patiently wait and tend small beginnings, and also to cultivate life.

After opting to rest our garden space this season, my sister mentioned letting our autumn garden go to seed, a new process for our home. The children are generally familiar with the work of seeds at this point and the assortment of sizes we find at our local farm store, but we’ve never seen them grow from the vegetable plant itself. This was the perfect year to try.

Our broccoli plants were hearty this year and produced well, so we opted to begin there. For weeks the stalks extended, shooting a stray broccoli floret that if left untouched would flower with the gentlest yellow blooms. Sometimes we would eat them anyway and find them just as tender. Nibbling vegetables straight from the garden is a simple life pleasure. After a while, the plant began to make slim bean pods, like a miniature sugar snap pea or green bean. We left them on the stem to dry out right on the plant. This process took a few weeks. When we noticed the pods turn a golden straw color, it was time to collect the seeds. The boys were away that afternoon, so the girls and I enjoyed the easy task of plucking pods and emptying seeds into a bowl on our own. It was a simple task for a child of any age to enjoy. The dried pods easily pried open to release the minuscule black seeds. For simplicity, we used a bowl, and afterward I funneled the seeds into a small, air-tight glass jar which I’ll store in our pantry until the autumn planting season. Although it’s still early in the summer growing season for running to seed, I thought I’d share a few tips for any of you wanting to save your seeds later.

Collect heirloom seeds only. / Apparently, hybrid plants are often genetically programmed to be sterile after one season, so the harvested seeds may not sprout next season. If you generally plant hybrid seeds, consider trying one heirloom plant to collect seeds from next season.

Allow seeds to dry on the plant. / It can take longer for seeds to dry out after plucking, so allow the sun and air to do the work for you. Let them dry before you pick them.

Plan ahead for seed saving. / Not all plants produce seeds the first growing season. Also if I had planted a spring garden, the broccoli wouldn’t have gone to seed quick enough for us to collect. According to this article, beans, peas, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers are the best plants for beginning seed savers. Since tomatoes are commonly grown in this season, here’s a helpful page on saving tomato seeds.

Be patient. / This part of the process takes just as much patience as waiting for the first fruits. I will note: it didn’t require quite as much work in the waiting.

 

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One of the greatest gifts in my thirteen years of motherhood has been friendship, having other women in my life to hash out the hard questions and celebrate the victories of this beautiful, complicated journey. I also appreciate hearing thoughts and perspectives from mothers, even when we are approaching motherhood in a different manner. It’s nice to be reminded there’s no one set path. We all have something to learn from the other. On that note, I’m glad to be joining a few other mothers each month to write and share thoughts around a single topic. The series is called Real Talk, Real Moms and today I’m joining them to discuss thoughts on education, more specifically preschool–a topic dear to me.

It may surprise some to know I never planned to homeschool. My two oldest went to a sweet preschool two times a week, and it was in my oldest son’s last preschool year, we decided to homeschool instead of sending him to kindergarten. Perhaps I feel endeared to these years because of the sharp turn in trajectory it took for our family. Or perhaps it is that we are now closing this chapter of life for our family that allows me to see the beauty and simplicity of those years. Children learn so much in those years. Their imaginations and ideas literally gape open to the world around them. Still the preschool years can be busy and overwhelming, too. The changing brain causes shifting emotions and behaviors, too. When it comes to deciding how to best prepare young ones for the grammar school years, it can be intimidating to take the responsibility on at home. Where do I begin? How do I know if they’ll be prepared to leave for school? Will this mean I homeschool forever? Will they have enough interactions with other kids? Can I really do this? Thoughts can easily spiral. It’s normal, especially for your oldest child(ren).

Yet preschool at home doesn’t mean recreating a classroom experience at home. The home and world outside it IS the classroom. As Charlotte Mason famously noted, “education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Homeschooling the little years isn’t simply about finding the right curriculum or creating all the right folder games or even making sure they know a certain amount of information before age five. It doesn’t mean you even need to know what to do the following year or how long you will homeschool. It simply requires you to be attentive, to be willing to step into something new alongside your child. As Mary Oliver wrote, “to pay attention, this is our greatest work.” Homeschooling in general is in many ways simply learning to pay attention. For those of you who are considering homeschooling your preschooler or kindergartener next year, here’s a few helpful lessons I’ve learned along the way, often times the hard way.

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TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLING THE PRESCHOOL YEARS

start small / Begin with something familiar, with what you know and already naturally do in your home. Do you love making food or being outdoors or painting? Use those processes to introduce letters/sounds and numbers.

focus on your home / Social media can be inspiring and paralyzing. Don’t work to live according to other home principles, but instead open your heart and eyes to see your own. Work to establish an atmosphere of curiosity and conversation. Children want to learn in the early years. They want to satisfy curiosities and discover causal relationships. And for the most part, they love being with you.

read books often / Reading aloud to your children will not necessarily mean they will learn to read earlier, but it will develop a love for stories and expand their vocabulary. Developing a reading culture at home will create an appetite for a lifelong love of words.

play with various art materials / Purchase a variety of quality art materials for your children to use and explore mediums. Make collages from different types of paper or magazines. Draw with pastels as well as crayons and pencils.

keep a basket for busy bees / If you have multiple children or small children who love to be busy, keep a special basket for them to play with at certain times of the day. Consider wood blocks, stamps, play-dough, doodle books, needling board, a lap loom, and so on. Pull it out during read-a-loud or when you’re needing to make dinner or spend one-on-one time with another child.

observe + study your children / Become a student of your children. Watch them. How do they respond to large groups versus alone time? Do they tend to move to learn or sit still and focus? Do they have trouble holding writing utensils? Understanding who your children are and how they learn will help you parent them, whether homeschooling or not.

consider hiring help / No one said you need to do everything to be a good mother. Prioritize what’s most important and look for ways to delegate other tasks. Do you have room in your budget to hire help with cleaning or a babysitter to help run errands or play with the kids for a few hours a week? If your budget is small, consider swapping children with a close friend or asking a close relative for help.

play, play, play / Children discover so much on their own by simply playing. Allow them time to create their own play, checking in on them occasionally for safety.

choose simple materials / When I began homeschooling during these early years, all of the materials we used fit into a small antique cabinet in our dining area (maybe one square foot of interior space). I kept a stack of drawing paper, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, a reading guide, and pre-k materials from Handwriting Without Tears. We made weekly trips to the library and our local children’s museum, and I met weekly with a couple of friends to do a few simple activities, have lunch, and play.

MORE I’VE WRITTEN ON PRESCHOOL AT HOME

Other contributors to this series:

AVE Styles

Design for Mankind

The Effortless Chic

The Refined Woman

Sarah Sherman Samuel

 

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Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. 
― Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

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studying the characteristics of tree leaves

practicing reading and spelling with the moveable alphabet and Reading Lessons Through Literature

welcoming April’s bluebonnets

enjoying the negative space in our routine

washing dishes during afternoon kitchen clean-up

reading a vintage comic book, using a pile of laundry for a pillow (hashtag: real life)

discovering a wren’s nest in her rain boot

sifting It’s All Good and Chop, Chop, helping with the weekly meal plan

reading interesting facts from The 50 States

making their own recipe for fresh lemonade

sculpting a human heart for his rhetoric project

making a personal salad from our garden lettuce

reading picture books, napping on the lawn

our one-room schoolhouse

 our first garden cabbage

illustrating heliocentric (sun) and geocentric (earth) theories from history in Along Came Galileo

working in the garden, standing in a strong spring breeze

illustrating weather after experiencing local tornadoes, thunderstorms, and floods

(weather source books: Nature Anatomy, Oh Say Can You Say What’s the Weather Today, and Joe Kauffman’s Big Book about Earth and Space)

more images: #cloisteredaway_homeschooling

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I wonder sometimes if slowness is more a state of the mind than the body, as our days never seem to be as slow I imagine them. April and May followed suit with March, eclectic and busy. But then again, spring is always a time for activity. April was cool, cloudy, and full of wildflowers, and we spent as much time as possible outdoors, in the yard, at the park, going for walks in nature or just around our neighborhood. We only planted garden herbs this year, instead of a large vegetable garden. With all of the home projects and changes around here, I needed to simplify what we’re managing this summer. Now that summer is here, I do miss watching the fruit appear on the vine. Next spring.

Like parenting, there is no script for the homeschool life, and I’m learning more confidently each year how to adapt our learning to life’s changing circumstances, instead of feeling paralyzed or guilty about never measuring up to a straight-forward plan. The home is alive, a breathing organism, and so is education. Although we had not planned a major lull in academic studies in May, the children spent the month unusually sick with viral high fevers, bronchitis, strep throat, and so on. While April was beautiful and lived mostly outdoors, May, with rotating sickness and terrible weather, was lived mostly indoors. We used the time to read more, to play, to live more unstructured. I’m grateful for the June sunshine this week.

I left for the Wild+Free conference right in the middle of May, and my mother graciously cared for my sick children and treated them with movie marathons and dress-up and library trips. Thank you again, Mom. Also, for those interested, you can now find the audio from the conference by subscribing here.

As we quickly swing into our summer rhythm, I’m also reflecting on this last year: what I learned, what I loved most, and what to keep and toss for next year. I plan to save that for another post though, as it seems too loaded for this one. As for April and May, here are the books we read. Some of the read-alouds are still in progress.

APRIL + MAY BOOKS

Liam | Aesop’s Fables | The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring | Treasure Island

Burke | The Hobbit | Warriors, book 1-3 | Along Came Galileo | Treasure Island  | The Molehill, Vol. 3

Blythe | The Secret Garden | Caddie Woodlawn | How To Train Your Dragon

Olive | Frog and Toad All Year | The Burgess Bird Book for Children (RA) | beginning readers

Picture Books We Loved | The Hundred Dresses | The Family Under the Bridge | Make Way for Ducklings | Carl Larsson’s A Farm: Paintings from a Bygone Age (out of print, but consider this one as an alternative) | On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstien

Family Read-Alouds | Redwall | The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (on audio) | North! Or Be Eaten | WildwoodHudson Taylor: The Man Who Believed God

Myself | Brainstorm: The Purpose and Power of the Teenage Brain | Girl on a Train | The Thirteeth Tale | All the Light We Cannot See (finally finished!) | When Breath Become Air

 

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Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.
― A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

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spring herbs + tales of Benjamin Bunny

a small lesson about finding God in the ordinariness

the medicinal properties of garlic and honey

Burke, bathed in light on his 11th birthday

a brief study in early sports medicine, illustration and copywork

busy hands, doodling and practicing cursive

Olive, at sunset on her 7th birthday

 The Martian and a welcome break from Latin

endless amounts of time scraping paint

afternoon read-a-loud, led by Burke

focused, independent math work

an owlet resting just over our shoulders during dinner

Olive’s introduction to Jenny Wren and The Burgess Bird Book for Children

practicing compound probability

sleepy morning reading practice

regular fires in the backyard again

more images #cloisteredaway_homeschooling

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The quietness of this space and the fact that I am writing about March in mid-April speaks loudly to the busyness here the last several weeks. March is rarely quiet in our home, as Spring’s arrival brings much energy and many TO DOs. We celebrated our two March babies at the beginning of the month with simple family dinners, desserts, and balloons. On a whim, we opted to stay home for spring break this year and re-paint the house instead. With combined efforts, we estimated the scraping, repairing, and painting to take an upwards of two or three weeks–ha! Four weeks later, we’re still in the scraping phase. The lesson? Don’t underestimate the time it takes to scrape paint. The children are helping with the work (when appropriate), and since this project stretches beyond their typical responsibilities, we decided to pay them for a bit of it, offering them a different sort of education in business, budget, and economy. We hope to empower each of them with entrepreneurial spirit and also the wisdom how to manage such things.

In terms of our studies, I have felt the need for more focus and steadfastness in light of all the chaos of our environment, part of the other reason for quietness here. These sort of large home projects tend to distract me, diverting my attention and sending our school days spinning in disorder. For now, I’m learning how not to chase rabbits. March is a climatic point in our academic year. Enthusiasm begins to wane and the lessons somehow become more concentrated with newness and complexity. It’s easy to look for distractions, whether in home projects or online work. Instead, I have sensed this clear need to nurture order and routine with the kids, holding firmer boundaries of time. Looking back, I’m grateful for the levels of peace and focus it brought to our home, even in so much undone-ness.

The kids and I have been reading journey narratives aloud together: Pilgrim’s Progressfirst thing in the morning with poems just after breakfast, and The Wingfeather Saga, at the end of the day just before bedtime. Although this wasn’t initially intentional, I love that we are experiencing the journey of an individual in one and the journey of a family in the other. They’ve offered such great fodder and rhetoric for our daily living about choosing the difficult and straight path, about individual and family identity, about purpose. I highly recommend both for older children (and adults). Although these beginning/closing reading periods do require a discipline of sorts, they are so grounding for our routine, a soft beginning and end to the day together. On a side-note, when my children seem more quarrelsome or nit-picky with one another, reading aloud can also be a balm of sorts, a practical way of calming and bonding them. So can play time outdoors.

As for specific studies in March, Olive and I still mostly focused on her reading fluency. Each week, she had one practice story or nursery rhyme, which we used for spelling and reading often taken from Reading Lessons Through Literature. She also practiced a bit of math daily, which seems almost intuitive for her, and she’s quickly moved ahead. She loves numbers. We also began The Burgess Bird Book together at the end of the month, aiming to read a chapter a few times a week. She copies a sentence from it or from another picture book we’ve read aloud 2-3 times a week. The rest of the time she plays, mostly pretend and often outdoors in a fort she a Blythe made in our bamboo.

Blythe and Burke finished their study of Galen (a physician to four Roman emperors) and the beginnings of Western medicine this month, and we loved learning so many new things about the origins of medicine, from how travel and education impacted Galen’s learning, to how he studied the body in an era before autopsies were permissible, and so much more. We’ve been loosely using Beautiful Feet’s History of Science study for their science/history this year, and although we’re moving slowly through it, we love it! They’re also both practicing grammar and writing with their independent reading three-four time a week (My Side of the Mountain and Heidi for Burke in March; The Secret Garden for Blythe in March and April), which I feel more disciplined about for them as I’m walking through Latin studies with Liam now. As a short encouragement, a firmer grasp of language early on opens so many more doors to understanding language later.

Liam, Burke, and Blythe are both closing another level in math, and I’m beginning to take a bit of time for quick review a couple of times a week, feeling out for soft spots or holes in concepts. We use Saxon books, which although admittedly a bit boring, thoroughly spiral through concepts again and again to build a stronger foundation. Math is an area in which I feel the least intuitive and I wanted to make sure they really know it well.  At the back of levels 5/4 and up is a “supplemental practice” which is great for the purpose of review. On a side note, unless you have a child who loves worksheets, I recommend a different curriculum for the little years (grade 3 and younger), something more playful and artistic like Waldorf or Montessori methods. By levels 5/4 (4th grade math), my children have been ready to transition and learn more discipline about book work.

Liam moved into a weekly Challenge A class with Classical Conversations in January, an unplanned move for our family, one which merits a blog post all of its own. This spring he’s been working through sketching and memorizing systems of the body, memorizing and sketching the geography of the Eastern hemisphere, learning logical fallacies, writing persuasive papers, translating Latin verbs and nouns, and beginning pre-Algebra. It’s a lot of work, but he loves it–even though sometimes he doesn’t want to do it. He is still twelve after all. Wink.

Here’s the books we read in March. I included a list of our favorite picture books (mostly Blythe and Olive) we read aloud too.

MARCH BOOKS

Liam| Crispin: The Cross of Lead | The Wingfeather Saga: The Warden and the Wolf King | The Martian | The Fallacy Detective 

Burke | My Side of the Mountain | Galen | Heidi | Calvin and Hobbes

Blythe Galen | The Secret Garden | Ivy and Bean #6Aesop’s Fables | The Picture History of Great Inventors

Olive | Little Bear stories | Burgess Bird Book for Children (RA) | various beginning readers  

Picture Books We Loved | Ike’s Incredible Ink | Sorry! | Good dog, Carl | The Curious Garden | Miss Rumphius | Island Boy 

Family Read-a-loud | Prince Caspian (audiobook) | The Wingfeather Saga: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness | Pilgrim’s Progress 

Myself | All the Light We Cannot See | Teaching From Rest | New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 | Simple Matters

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I don’t often write about specific curriculum here, mostly because I believe children and parents can thrive together in learning at home regardless of the specific tools they choose. Some homes prefer guides that offer specific directives and concrete helps, while others will find the same guides stifling or unfit. There is room for both on this journey, and there is certainly not a right or wrong way to approach learning. I hope the tools I share here are always understood in this context: do what works for your home and forget the rest.

I also love sharing with other parents that for all the writing I do now, I wasn’t very good at grammar or writing as a child. I always loved reading, but I never really unpacked the structure of language or how to write clear, concise sentences until university. In those years, and later while working at a junior college, I learned to seek out the answers I needed in books or colleagues or the Internet. I hope this is an encouragement to lighten the load as parents: our children don’t have to know everything to become who they will. They simply need the desire to seek it out.

That said, I’ve had several people ask me about our language studies, about the materials we use in our home. Naturally, they’ve changed over the years, based on the kids’ ages or what styles best fit us, but I’ve generally looked for materials that introduce and build grammatical concepts in a beautiful way. Language studies, like maths, can leave a bad taste in ones mouth if reduced to worksheets. I wanted my children to enjoy dimension and color in our studies, the practice of structured skills balanced with art. This year, we have used Kathy Jo DeVore’s English Lessons Through Literature as a foundation for our learning, a curriculum that describes itself as a balance between the thoroughness of classical education and the gentleness of Charlotte Mason. I honestly think it could be applied even more broadly, depending on the home.

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Currently, there are five levels of ELTL, loosely corresponding to grade equivalents, although not restrictive in any way. I’ve used three different levels this year: level one for Olive, level three for Blythe, and level four for Burke. Liam’s language studies evolved this year into Latin studies, but that is a different topic for another day. Each level’s lesson builds around a brief book list, which is used for grammar and writing practice. Each level includes poetry, folk tales or fables, and picture narration around famous artists, but everything loops in a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The lessons are substantial but only three per week, so I typically spread them out over 4-5 days, omitting things that might not work or be necessary for us at the time. Grammar studies begin in level two and diagramming in level three. Both are introduced slowly and gently. Although grammar terms were a part of my children’s copywork this year, I think I may have them create memory cards instead for review of terms, like the parts of speech or the various roles of noun. I’ve realized that long gaps between using new terms in any subject area makes it harder for them to recall in practice.

This year, we’ve created notebooks for our language and history/science studies, a simple three-ring binder that contains each child’s writing and illustrations from the their reading. I began this when my children were little but became discouraged at various points in the follow-through and then eventually stopped altogether. After longing for more art work and color in our school work again, we began building little books sporadically last year and more intentionally this academic year. I’m loving flipping back through their work this year, and I imagine they will one day, too. Jodi Mockabee, an online friend and inspiring homeschool mother, shared more specifics about notebooking in Wild+Free this month. We use many of the same tools and practices. My favorite thing that she does is type and print her children’s narrations for them to hand copy. Genius! For years, I’ve been handwriting their narrations, and this is so much easier.

english_language_through_literature_homeschool-4english_language_literature_homeschool-2OUR CURRENT ROUTINE

We set apart a 90 minute block of time at the back part of our morning for independent language studies. It’s not necessary to take 90 minutes (or even 30 per child), but I like not feeling rushed and making time for read-a-loud with each of them. On lighter days, we don’t require as much time, and that feels like a bonus. No one ever complains about extra free time. Wink. I begin with Olive, since she requires the most help from me, and send the other two off to do their reading and begin their writing for the day. Liam is working on his own independent work during this time. I read aloud to Olive, typically a poem or a fable and a chapter of a book we’re reading together. I may have her narrate to me or she’ll pick out a favorite part/line from the story to copy and illustrate. I move on to time with Blythe and Burke. Depending on the day, I sometimes combine their grammar lessons since they’re close in age, introducing something new and giving them each a chance to write a sentence from their individual reading on one of our chalk walls. We label and diagram together. At different points they’ll each narrate to me their independent reading that day. Sometimes that’s their writing practice, other times we just leave it as an oral narration (a test for comprehension). Sometimes I work through building a brief summary or literary analysis with them individually. Although we have a daily block for language, M/W/F tend to be our heavier days, and significantly lighter on T/R. This is helpful for spreading out work over the course of the week. If we don’t get to all of a lesson on one day, or even skip language altogether in a day. We always have space to make for it elsewhere in the week.

OTHER RESOURCES WE’VE LOVED

Punctuation | Eats, Shoots and Leaves:Why Commas Really do Make a Difference by Lynn Truss | A hilarious picture book for children about the purpose of commas. She illustrates the same sentence side-by-side with different comma usage, a helpful visual for adults, too. She also has written a this book for adults or teens about punctuation. Truly, she makes it light and fun to learn about the proper place for all punctuation. Also love: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts! | The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes

Parts of Speech | Any picture book by Brian P. Cleary. They’re silly and simple, and so helpful for clearly recognizing words in their roles, over and over again. I especially appreciate the Adjective and Adverb books, as those two always seem to get jumbled.

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“Why else do any of this if not to become who we want to be?”
― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

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planting potatoes, the first of our spring garden

handmade valentines

journaling about expectation; working through Latin and spelling

nature play and the discovery of sticky grasses

illustrating the life cycle of a frog

new buds, spring’s early arrival this year

an afternoon of painting outdoors

more nature walks, a space for thoughtful observation

the most telling image of our days: a mixture of focus and blurry movement

a moss wig, more nature play

reading in the trees

a math lesson with her older brother

Sometimes I don’t notice the patterns to our days until I begin piecing them together like a puzzle. The big picture can be lost in the details. While I planned this monthly practice to be a gift for the children in years to come, I can see it’s a gift to me right now, helping me connect random details in a broader way, to see the larger story of our month together. What a joy. In a brief way, I’ve reflected on this month and am re-setting for the coming one. Here’s February, the good and the hard.

Spring arrived early this year, flecking our February days with green and our hands with dirt. I accidentally formatted a memory card with several images of our outdoor work and learning before I had uploaded them to my computer, a frustration I’m hoping will release as I write it here. Some moments prefer to be treasured in our hearts, I suppose. February felt atypically energetic, busy, and emotional over here. Much of my heart felt consumed by prayer for a family of friends fighting cancer, and then more intense pangs of heartache and prayer when he passed away. In the simplest of ways, I am grateful for all of the early Spring growth, for busy hands, and warm light. It’s such a fitting complement to the intense emotion and prayers of the heart.

We took a class on growing potatoes this month and then planted Yukon Golds in our garden. We’ve also been transplanting sod–preparing for a larger backyard project this year–and weeding or harvesting garden beds right alongside our more academic lessons. Language lessons and maths seemed fairly basic this month with little art and few projects, something I’m writing here so that you know in between the lines nothing is perfect and sometimes steadfastness trumps ideals on this journey. I also noticed we all read fewer books this month and only a brief bit of science and history, something that requires the stillness and focus expended in other ways the last few weeks. I hope March will teach us a better balance between the various activities in our days, and as such I’ve decided to jot a list of books for the month for my oldest children to work through, with attainable deadlines, too. They have a large capacity for stories and reading comprehension, and I realize part of my mother role is to present goals and hard stops so they can test their capacity. Although it’s not necessary for everyone to do the same, I’m “talking out loud” so that I record the ways we stumble on this journey, and also how we learn and try again.

BOOKS IN FEBRUARY

Liam | A Gathering of Days | Treasure Island | The Adventures of TinTin

Burke | Treasure Island | Ozma of Oz

Blythe | Beautiful Stories From Shakespeare | Holes

Olive | Five Children and It (read-a-loud) | many picture books, most from Kevin Henkes

Read-a-Loud | The Horse and His Boy

Myself | All the Light We Cannot See | Rising Strong | Teaching from Rest | Raising Burning Hearts | Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening

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My mother has frequently told me, “We will often do for our children that which we won’t do for ourselves. Sometimes that’s how we learn.” I’ve witnessed that wisdom in my years of mothering again and again. When I share little instructional bits with my kids in how to listen to their bodies or emotions, how to relate with others, how to take care of themselves, others, and the spaces we inhabit, oftentimes I need to hear those same lessons. The same truths apply to me.

I have always wanted to foster creativity in our home, not just for my children but for my husband and myself, too. It’s one of the reasons I continue this space and put effort toward creative endeavors, even when it’s hard. If it’s true (and I think it is) that children learn more through what they experience than what is spoken to them, the reality is this: teaching my children about the creative process means I must be working through it, too.

That said, I thought I’d share a few favorites podcasts on the topic of creativity. They are each incredible food for thought and spirit regardless of whether you consider yourself a creative or not. Frankly, I appreciate this topic most when I’m doing work that generally feels un-creative, like folding laundry or tidying the house. Whenever you make time, I think they will inspire you. Please note: not all of the podcasts I share here will be appropriate for children. Just the same, I discuss many of the ideas I’ve learned through them with our children regularly. I hope you enjoy. And happy weekend!

On Being | “Creativity and the Everyday Brain” with Rex Jung | I’m fascinated by the science of thought and process, and although I was unfamiliar with many of the terms Jung uses early on, I loved this interview. I especially appreciated how he discussed the myth of brainstorming in creative work and the importance of unstructured idleness in conjunction with structured learning in our days.

TED Radio Hour | “The Source of Creativity”  with Sting, Charles Limb, Sir Ken Robinson, and Elizabeth Gilbert | I adore each of these voices and TED talks, so naturally I gravitated here. Examining the mystery of creativity between the four, I loved the hearing the side conversation and details behind them, also how the ideas overlap and connect. In connection with what I wrote about the space for quiet in the home,  I especially appreciate how Sting attributes creativity to his quiet rides with his father as a child, a sweet reminder that even for people who write words, having time to hear their thoughts is important.

Magic Lessons  | “Big Strong Magic” with Elizabeth Gilbert and Brené Brown | Of course these two would be on this list. Whether you consider yourself to be creative or not, if you haven’t read Big Magic or Rising Strong, add it to your list. Both address fear, shame, vulnerability in the creative process and as people. This conversation is light-hearted and brief, but such a great taste of their voice and message.

Bethel Church  | “Overnight Success Isn’t True”  with Eric Johnson | This is a teaching, not an interview, and shared from a Christian perspective. In a culture driven by the longing for instant success, I loved being reminded of the need for deep conviction and purpose in my work, also for patience.

TED Radio Hour“What is Original?” with Mark Ronson, Kirby Ferguson, Johanna Blakely, and Steven Johnson | Four voices exploring the idea of originality, or rather that nothing is original. This interview relieved the pressure to try and think of new in terms of never-been-done, but instead how do we make what has already been done our own? It’s also addresses copying and thievery, which is always a fitting topic in the somewhat nebulous online world.

“I’m Possible.” by Jeremy Cowart | This is NOT a podcast, but a 30 minute video. I watched Jeremy present this at a design conference last fall, where he received a standing ovation for his humanitarian work. As a creative, I was inspired. As a parent, I was humbled, realizing how important his parents’ encouragements were over his lifetime. It is a moving, must-watch video.

What about you? Do you have a favorite you want to share?

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When children are very young, they have natural curiosities about the world and explore them, trying diligently to figure out what is real. As they become “producers ” they fall away from exploration and start fishing for the right answers with little thought. They believe they must always be right, so they quickly forget mistakes and how these mistakes were made. They believe that the only good response from the teacher is “yes,” and that a “no” is defeat. ― John Holt, How Children Fail

I often receive questions from parents, wondering if we will homeschool our children in high school, or how I will teach them more complex maths or sciences. I truly don’t know the answer to either of those questions right now. Yet my years of experience thus far have taught me this: teaching my children from home doesn’t require that I know everything or even be everything for them; it simply requires a willing heart, one that will learn with them, try new things, and adapt when something isn’t working. Generally speaking, I must live in a way that models I am learning, and mistakes and struggle are a part of my process, too.

Still, this can be the most uncomfortable part of this journey for me, as I learned very young how to be what Holt refers to as an academic “producer.” I learned unconsciously how to diminish the value of process and uphold the end result instead. Right? Good. Wrong? Bad. Yes? Good. No? Bad. Inwardly and almost intuitively, I labeled mistakes as failures and naturally leaned toward the successes, often avoiding the embarrassing words “I don’t know” or “I can’t do that.” I simply wouldn’t. I like knowing. Maybe it’s due to being a first-born. Maybe it’s tied to temperament. Maybe it’s more deeply tied to my humanity, to that fruit Adam and Eve tasted so long ago. I don’t know. What I do know is the slow work of parenting and homeschooling are teaching me about the beauty of process. There are no short-cuts to the end result on this journey. There are adaptations and amendments. There are different styles and ideas to share and learn. There are endless amounts of resources and tools. Yet regardless of one’s personal family ethos or pedagogy, there is no way around the slow, unfolding work of raising and educating a child. It is the hardest, most beautiful process, but it is still a process. In a very practical way, I must choose to step forward without knowing where exactly this road ends.

For our children, these lessons begin with small, concrete experiences. How to crack an egg. How to draw a line. How to form a stitch. By introducing them to specific tools, whether a needle, a loom, a pottery wheel, or a knife, we also introduce them to the value of process. They have eyes and ears, moving bodies and strong voices, busy hands, imaginative minds and curious spirits. This, I have decided, is enough to begin any endeavor if given the right tools. The same is still true for myself. We try new things. We practice. We make mistakes. We learn something new. We meet a goal. We repeat. In a concrete way we are learning a skill. In an abstract way we are accepting a process.

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Although quite un-fancy, here are some of the ways this practice in hand and work has evolved in our own home. I imagine it will look different in your own, as it should, but sharing these little journeys somehow makes me feel less alone. Be comforted, dear reader, you are not alone.

HOW TO BEGIN

begin with a specific period of daily time | We generally have a block of time in the late morning or early afternoon, depending on the day. In the morning, my younger children work on a handcraft while I work through a Latin lesson with my oldest. In the afternoon, I set aside time to work through a new skill together. I admit, this is hard to practice. My children might carve or weave at the end of the day or during rest, a way to release the tension of the pencil work. It’s important to find when it will work best for you.

begin where you are | In our early years, we explored color beginning with primaries and blending to form secondaries and so on. Color, like numbers, is infinite. We have explored different artists and mediums of wax, various paints, chalk, charcoal, oil pastels, and so on. We used scissors and made collages or 3-D paper structures, like houses or barns for paper animals. Many of these activities I began with a book or art supplies; the children created the project.

begin with something familiar | It is most innate to begin first with what you know. If like me, it simply providing a time of playing with popsicle sticks and paper and color, begin there. If you are a seamstress or a woodworker or a painter or a ceramicist, begin there. The goal in the beginning is to form a habit of practice.

begin with a natural gift or interest  |When in doubt, begin with something small that you might enjoy and can learn alongside them. Enthusiasm is contagious. Watch how your children play or learn. Observation is the best way to begin gently leading your children in any endeavor. Offering them tools that might compliment their natural gifts can open a whole new world for them. For instance, if your child loves building play dough, try a child’s pottery wheel. If your child enjoys clothing or textiles, introduce a weaving loom or how to sew. I have listed many hand-resources we love or plan to use here.

begin with a gentle guide | Handwork is a major component of Waldorf (Rudolph Steiner) pedagogy. Although we are not strictly a Waldorf family, there’s so much to learn from their gentle rhythms of head, heart, and hands. Also, if you have the budget, consider tutors/teachers who can introduce a new skill to your children.

homeschool_handwork_waldorf-14homeschool_handwork_waldorf-5HOW TO PRACTICE

understand your child’s thresholds | Watch your children. If they seem frustrated, pause and see if there’s a way to adjust the work. When my children and I were learning basic sewing stitches last fall, my youngest was frustrated. When I watched her, I realized the details of thread and needle were too small for her yet, so I moved her to a large needle and yarn so she could control it better. I cut paperboard from a cereal box and poked holes in shapes with a large needle. And she loved it.

participate with them | This is hard. I love releasing my children to independent work, but the truth is it takes a bit of practice to learn something independently. Plus, children love working on projects or handwork with their parents. Consider this a different point of connection in your day.

choose quality tools | Choosing a quality knife or loom or paper, let’s your child know you take their work seriously. If it is a tool that belongs to them alone, and not the family, make a big deal of it. Reinforce that the tool is important to their work, and you trust them with it. (This happened when we gave our children knives.)

introduce slowly | When introducing a new skill, I like to take it in a 4-6 week block to allow practice. It also allows space for weeks we’re off routine for any reason. It also also allow enough time for them to learn to enjoy it (at the earliest stages).

discuss the larger picture | I find it helpful, especially when enthusiasm wanes, to talk with my children about the value of handwork, or a specific craft. How does one fold into another? What might be possible to do after much time practicing? How does this teach them about patience? About themselves? About community? About God? I love showing my children photos or videos of woodworkers, musicians, dancers, painters, designers, and so on. It helps them connect what small things they are learning now to a potential practice down the road.

structured independent work | Now that my children can do a few things on their own. I might assign them to choose their own handwork to do 30-60 minutes on their own. Some days, if the kids are bickering or nagging, I might send them outdoors to work with their hands, whittling or sculpting or painting. It builds structure for them to work through their emotions, but also time for them to work alone. What they produce (if anything at all) may not be useful or perfect, but again that’s not entirely the point.