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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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Everyone relates to planning differently. Some depend on it. Others despise it. I’m definitely in the “I love plans” group, but I also love change and spontaneity–go figure. I enjoy re-creating old ideas and nurturing self-directed learning in my children within a little structure, so in our homeschool days, it’s best for me to have structure with flexibility, days or blocks of time that can be shifted around when necessary without throwing everything into chaos. Plans may give you chills and cause paralysis. If that’s the case, please know that the greatest gift you can give your children and family is to understand your own family style and pace. Be challenged and stretched and inspired by others, but always understand what your own family and children need, and build your own style around it. That’s my disclaimer, otherwise, I hope this inspires you. It’s long, but fairly thorough so grab a cup of coffee. Also feel free to ask questions in the comments if you feel they might be helpful to other readers, or you can of course email.

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As I mentioned here, last year was a harder year for us.  I felt burned out and tired by what we had been doing (even though they were good and worthy things) the previous years. We had also moved twice within one year, which I know added a bit of hardship, too. We decided to rest from the local Classical Conversations group we helped start and enjoy a little time experimenting with other interests we have as a family, namely the arts. As Lilian kindly commented in that post last May, I should refer to last year as a sabbatical year, and honestly, that’s exactly what it was. We had an unset routine with little scheduling (or screen time) and worked in some way each day reading, exploring, and building. By the end of the year, I had a better idea of what my children needed in our learning and how we moved through our days in our new home. I also knew we needed more structure and sharper boundaries between work and rest.

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This summer, I’ve been gathering notes and reflections from our years of home education. I loved the way art and creativity was again a norm in our days last year and wanted that to remain an integral part to our learning. I decided to save money for better quality art supplies and tools. I had also been cleaning out and ordering our home last spring after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It was such a valuable resource concerning our homeschooling materials. I knew there were a lot of things and books on our shelves taking up space physically and emotionally that we no longer used–or worse had never used at all. So I took the room apart and went through each bit Marie Kondo style, asking myself what really brings value/joy to our learning versus what feels burdensome or even a haunting reminder of what I’m NOT doing. This took me two weeks, but was so worthwhile. As I put the book and tools on our shelves, it helped give me a clear picture of learning together, of organizing our academic year around these specific tools and ideas. Below I’ve included our own family’s ideal plan for this year, followed by the resources we’ll be using. I’m sharing them in hope they inspire and somehow compliment your own planning this year.

Some of you have asked how I have time to write or photograph or blog, so I’ll add a bit of that here, too. I generally wake up at 5am, sometimes a little earlier, during the week. I often write or edit photos or answer emails during this time. This year, I’ll be alternating those morning wake-ups with running or meditative yoga, as a way to take care of myself and nurture my own time with Jesus. I’m not a morning person, but I am more introverted, which simply means having time alone before my children wake up sets my spirit and mind in a good place to begin another day. I usually leave my big camera nearby us so I can grab a quick shot when the moments present themselves. My phone is usually in my back pocket, and this summer I’ve been practicing leaving it there more. I love the connections I’ve made and inspiration online, but sometimes I can lose important time there. So there’s that.

7:00 am | MEET AT THE TABLE

7:30 am | MEMORY WORK

8:oo am | READING, SPELLING, HANDWRITING

9:00am | MATH

10am | NATURE

10:30 am | ENGLISH LANGUAGE

11am (on TR) | HAND WORK

NOON | LUNCH

1:30 am | SCIENCE or HISTORY [alternate days M-R]

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TABLE MEETING

I know, I know. 7 am feels too early to formally begin a day, and honestly, I would prefer to begin sometime between 8 and 9. But my husband has to leave  for work around 7:15/20, and I discovered during our Spring semester, our days go smoother when we all begin together. Plus it’s a small way to connect him with the rest of our day since he works full-time outside of our home. During these first 30 minutes, the kids arrive to the table dressed, teeth brushed, and beds made. We eat a simple breakfast together, read a portion of the Bible together, and pray. This is short and sweet, but still meaningful way to begin. The children will each be in charge of making one breakfast/week, but I will share that in a different post.

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MEMORY WORK

Although what we memorize changes, memory work has and will always be a part of our learning. There’s plenty of research about the value of memorizing during early years, and the funny part is CHILDREN NATURALLY LOVE TO MEMORIZE and feel accomplished when they can recite for others. We currently have three parts to our family’s memory work: Bible, poetry, and historical timeline. When possible, I try to find a song or a rhythm to help make this time more engaging or easier for them to recall. We’ll begin with memorizing Proverbs 3 this fall. Each of the children will work on their own poetry. Liam most recently memorized “If” by Rudyard Kipling (a poem each of our children will be required to memorize) and is now working on Psalm 1. Burke is currently working on “If,” and the girls will begin with shorter works from Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti, both included in their language studies. We’ll be using Classical Conversation’s historical timeline, which includes 161 major events and dates, set to music. They also have timeline cards, which have the historical event, time period, and a painting/sculpture from a famous artist representing the event. I’m not sure if this resource is available to people not involved in a CC community, and if not Veritas Press offers something similar.

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READING | SPELLING | HANDWRITING

My three oldest are excellent, fluent readers, a huge milestone in our home education journey. Olive is a beginning reader and should be moving into early chapter books sometime this year. I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys, which was wonderful for reading but seemed to leave a gaping hole in their spelling. For the girls, I wanted to move back into memorizing phonograms and learned of the Spalding method. However, I was so intimidated by the methodology, texts, and workshops introducing it. Instead, I used All About Reading for my girls, which felt like a slower, but more methodical path to reading. They both have a better understanding of word segmenting (sounding out words) and spelling. I used All About Spelling for my oldest three and loved it for the same reason. They’re both a solid, multi-sensorial introduction to building and decoding words. That said, I’ve struggled with how time consuming both programs are, especially with four children at different levels needing their own lessons. It took forever, which also makes it difficult for consistency. This year we’ll be using Reading Lessons Through Literature for all of my children, expecting to consolidate time between reading, spelling, and writing practice. It is a spelling introduction to reading, which I also expect will give my readers a stronger foundation in spelling. The older children will quickly review all of the phonograms and word lists, while Olive will move more slowly at her own pace. For handwriting, we’ll continue using Handwriting Without Tears methods, a program I highly esteem and wrote about for an upcoming article in Wild+Free, but will practice writing using sandpaper letters, chalkboards, and our own primary composition notebooks. The older three will review print letters and practice cursive more intently.

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MATH

We have and still use Saxon math. It is a non-frilly, but thorough math program that we use because it’s what I know at this point. Olive is finishing up Math 1 and will be moving to Math 2 sometime this year. The younger ages provide worksheets for them to use, which I enjoy as she’s still learning to write. For the older three, using Math 5/4 and up, they each have a large, quad-ruled composition notebook, where they write out their daily work. Over the last year, I’ve tried to add more application and play into our maths, inspired by Montessori and Waldorf methodology. After reading books and researching on Pinterest this summer, I plan to add more projects for my non-worksheet loving children, which I’m excited about.

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NATURE

This will be a more fluid rest period after a more focused morning of work. We’ll always be outside during this time, running, playing, collecting, building, painting, etc with nature. Essentially, I wanted a time for the children (and myself) to interact with nature in a way that we need for that day. Sometimes this might evolve into its own study, but more often I imagine observation, play, and enjoyment of the seasons.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Last year, we used Michael Clay Thompson’s Island series for our language study, a more gentle and story-filled approach to language, diagramming, and writing. This year, I’ll be using English Lessons Through Literaturesomething I’m very excited about again for its consolidation. The lessons are only three days a week, the reason our language block will be longer on MWF mornings. On TR, each child will complete their reading for the next lesson, practice their memory work, and do a bit of copywork or dictation. We will study works of art, read classical children’s literature, memorize and read poetry, and also learn (or review, for the boys) the parts of speech and sentence diagramming. Most of their writing will be kept in a large composition notebook. However, every book they read and poem they memorize will be copied/narrated and illustrated on single paper with watercolor, crayons, or pencils for them to keep. These will be kept in a separate binder. Although we used notebooks for this last year, the kids were frustrated when their paintings or illustrations bled onto the next page. Ideally, this will curb that problem. Wink.

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HAND WORK

We added more hand work and home skills into our learning last year, and we all loved it! But there are so many skills I don’t know myself, so this year I wanted to build in a more formal time for learning new skills together. This fall, we plan to begin with sewing, pottery, and candle-making. For Christmas, we plan to give each of the children their own straight knife (yikes, I know!) and to introduce wood carving and weaving in the spring. Although hand work will be apart of the children’s routine everyday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings will be a more focused time to learn together.

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SCIENCE

Most of our studies in science have been through experience, nature walks, and books. We’ll definitely be continuing that this year using Nature Anatomy, Farm Anatomy, and Animalium. Gardening is a large part of our scientific learning, and this year I hope to include more of their own artwork and learning in its own binder (much like the language binder). They won’t carry around the binder, only add to it when they finish their artwork or writing. This will work both as a record of our personal garden space and their own reference for the future. The older children will also be reading biographies and doing small experiments about several pivotal scientists in history. The History of Science as a guide for this, learning about the ancients such as Archimedes, Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Galen to Galileo and Di Vinci and more modern inventors like Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, and Benjamin Franklin. Some of this reading we will do together, and some they will read on their own. Narrating/summarizing and painting/illustrating will be a part of this process, too. Mostly, I hope this study will help them understand the connection of thought and scientific breakthrough in a bigger picture, to see how one idea builds off of another.

HISTORY

We still love The Story of the World and will continue with Early Modern history two afternoons a week this year. We will keep track of our history readings as well, but I’m still waiting to see in which way works for us. I do know we’ll create some sort of project around our studies for the week, making sure our hands stay as busy as our minds.

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PUTTING IT ON PAPER

I’ve written before about planning on paper. It’s a simple way for me to gather ideas and for the children to see what they’re doing in a day. If and when we don’t finish an area of work, I either let it go or begin there the next day. I created this sheet really quickly using a table in Google docs and made one for each day of the week.

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TOOLS + SUPPLIES

In terms of art supplies, we’re using Lyra Rembrandt pencils, Stockmar watercolor paint and crayons, cardstock and watercolor paper. My oldest will use charcoal sticks a bit more to work on form drawing. Each of the kids have their own set of watercolor paint jars and will eventually have their own carving knives, but they will share the pottery wheel, weaving looms, and general art supplies.

OTHER RESOURCES

Here are some of my favorite helpful references for practical homeschooling and home ideas. I write monthly for Wild+Free and Babiekins Magazine’s blog right alongside several other inspiring parents. There are a plethora of creative homeschoolers on Instagram and you can find several following links connected to the print and blogs below. I hope these offer you much as you prepare for another academic year. Happy planning, friends!

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Wild+Free | Babiekins “schoolkins” features | Taproot magazine | The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Shafer

BLOGS

If you haven’t read Jodi Mockabee’s last blog post, you should. She’s a long-time online friend and homeschooling powerhouse. You’ll notice several of our resources happen to overlap, which I love. She steered me toward the language lesson books, which I’m thrilled to be using this year. (Thanks Jodi!)  I also highly recommend Kirsten Rickert’s blog (another brilliant online friend turned real friend) who always draws attention to the earth and art in learning. More recently Kirsten has been including a variety of contributors around specific themes, such as honey and water.

Happy planning, friends!

 

Q+A-homeschooling

How do you manage four different children’s educations when they are all at different levels?

Truly? Tons of grace and flexibility. Since I wasn’t homeschooled myself, much of this I’m learning by trial and error as I go. I ask tons of questions of friends, especially those who homeschool older children and I plan ahead as much as possible. However, to be more specific, much of how I order our day’s plans has evolved with the ages of my kids. When my kids were young, I planned most of our formal lesson time (math and reading mostly) during baby/toddler nap times and used the majority of our day for playing and reading and creating. As my kids have grown, the amount and complexity of the skills they’re learning have as well. I found myself getting overwhelmed keeping track of what each was suppose to be doing, or how to distribute the morning so that I could work alone with one while the others worked independently. It always seemed to swirl together in the midst of our mornings–mostly due to how young and close together they are in age. As a result, a couple of years ago I implemented a clipboard system–terribly unromantic, I know. But it works.

The first clipboard is for me.

clipboardsAt the beginning of each school year, my husband and I plan out our goals for our family and children. Then I create a plan, usually in table-form (pictured above) and print 100+ copies to keep on hand. Each weekend, I pull out 4 sheets (one per weekday) and write the day, date, and what lessons each of the kids will be doing for that week. I like being able to have a birds-eye view of the day and what each child needs to do. As we work through each morning, I cross off a box as they are completed, usually with a colored pen or marker. That way, I can easily see what we didn’t get to (and if there are parts of our days we are consistently missing and need to adapt). At the end of the week, I hole-punch the sheets and stick them in a binder as a record for myself. (Note: I tried writing in times this year to help pace me through the morning–we are rarely “on schedule.” I’ll omit that part next round.) 

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The second group of clipboards are for the kids. In the past, I have used clip art for any of my non-readers (who wanted to have their own). I didn’t this year.

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Because I don’t need to keep each of their checklists, I laminated their pages to reuse. I created a page per work day: Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday (Wednesday is our homeschool group day). I formatted their pages as a checklist, a simple question: have you done this yet? Their clipboards give them a sense of responsibility in their own education and time management. They can freely move on to another job when they’re ready because they know what’s expected of them. During my weekend planning time, as I fill in my own clipboard, I write notes or fill in specifics for each of them for the upcoming week. This weekly prep time takes about an hour, but saves so much more time in the long run.

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I store our clipboards on the wall near the door to our school/playroom using this magazine rack. When it’s time to begin our school morning, each person grabs their chart to work through the day. Although we take periodic breaks to play throughout our morning, the older kids cannot have free time (doing whatever they want) until they’ve finished their checklist (including chores). This keeps them motivated (and accountable) as well,  as they often remind me, “hey, I need you to finish this lesson” or “we haven’t done ___ yet.” (wink.)

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Is this the only way to manage a homeschool? Of course not. Do we always finish everything like I planned? Of course not. Like parenting in general, homeschooling adapts to your own family’s needs, routines, and style–it’s what makes this education route especially unique. But I find in general that intuition, forethought, and tons of patience go a long way in any home (although a troubleshooting guide would be fantastic, too). I also want to note: I have hard days–weeks even–when nothing seems to go as planned, when I don’t have time to plan before the week begins, when chaos and noise seems relentless, and I feel I am chasing the day rather than ordering it. So it goes. Sometimes we scratch it altogether and enjoy the outdoors or creative time or an event out of the house. But overall, this system truly helps me to track my own consistency and the kids’ work.

Do you have other questions about how we homeschool? I’m sure you’re not the only one. Post it in the comments or send me an email.

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Have I mentioned I’m a daydreamer? I know, a daydreaming homeschooler is such a cliche, but truly, words, pictures, ideas — they stir regularly in the space between my ears in such a way that I often have to will myself to be present, to be all here. And I do, only sometimes better than others. I see how this rich inner-life complements and enriches our home-education journey with the kids, dousing it with spontaneity and creativity and the love of learning, but often I find myself losing blocks of time, unprepared to succinctly move from one location to another. Sigh. When we have to be somewhere, it’s as though twenty minutes seems to vanish altogether — have I not learned anything about how long it takes to load kids [with shoes on and teeth brushed and water bottles or snacks on hand] into a car in almost a decade of parenting? Sigh.

Aware of all of my logistical “blind-spots,” I lean heavily on weekly planning during the weekend, doing my best to prepare for our many daily transitions and pitfalls, but I still have not successfully mastered the exit strategy. Double sigh. And yet, as the kids are getting older, we’re leaving the house more often, taking our work with us on the road, to the park, to the gym, etc. In effort to make our homeschooling more flexible in this way, I’ve reverted to diaper bag mentality. You know, everything you always need waiting for you in a bag neatly by the door so you don’t have to run through a list in the exact moment you try to exit. Only this time, I don’t have to think about diapers or pacifiers or bibs (success!). I’m sure none of you know what I’m talking about, but just in case, I thought I would share some of  the essentials in our homeschooling non-diaper bags:

1. tote or backback for each child ( I love the modern assortment from bagged + loaded) with the below inside

2. giant envelope to insert math or handwriting worksheets or coloring/cutting pages for Olive

3. stickers (non-essential, just fun and inexpensive)

4. water bottle (after it’s cleaned it gets returned to the bag, waiting for the next outing)

5. pencil pouch with pencils

6. colored pencils with sharpener (They won’t melt in the car like crayons or dry up like markers)

7. large sketchbook to double for coloring/sketching or a hard surface for writing. (There’s also a large pocket inside to hold stickers or papers.

Good luck, and happy outings to you!

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My sister and mother are wonders in the kitchen. Of course I can select and follow great recipes, but creating my own like they do? Not on your life. So you can imagine my disappointment when I went to make lunch for the kids and myself today and confronted an otherwise bare fridge and pantry. (Sigh.) No nut butters. No lunch meat. No cheese. Just a bit of sporadic vegetables and a package of sausage my husband had intended for his lunch. Immediately I consider my options: 1. try to create something from “nothing” 2. pick something up for lunch (meaning one less dinner eat out this month — much too valuable). Because I’d always rather resign dinner-making, I went with option 1 using my husband’s sausage (sorry, Love). It was fast, simple, and not needing a precise measurement. Just perfect for my novice skills.

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SMOKED SAUSAGE +  RED POTATO + KALE    (serves 4)

3-4 Tbsp. olive oil

2 – 3 red potatoes, washed and cut

1 medium onion, chopped

2 handfuls of kale (washed and torn to bite-size pieces)

1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced

flour or corn tortillas (optional)

 

Saute the sausage. I like it a little crispy on the edges. In a different pan, heat the olive oil and potatoes. When the potatoes begin to soften, add the onion. Let the onion brown a little. You may need to add more oil. Lastly, add the kale. Saute all together until the kale is bright green (you don’t want it to brown). Mix the veggies together with the sausage. Eat as is, or place on the tortillas  or a bed of fresh greens. Enjoy!

In preparation for our school year, Mark and I sit down for an annual planning meeting. Not a date. A meeting. You know, pens, planners, calendars, coffee. We usually get a sitter or swap kid-free days with another family (as was the case this year) and use the time (about 2 hours or so) to discuss and set our goals for the school year: the framework for how we’ll parent, teach, disciple, manage our children and home. It sort of sounds ridiculous, not to mention a terribly boring and unromantic way to spend kid-free time, but these meetings chart the course for our family’s year, affording me and Mark more time during the school year to do the things we love (including NON-logistical conversation). It also helps us to manage our time and money more efficiently: two commodities always easily wasted.

So after praying for wisdom and discernment from the Lord, that’s just where we start: money and time. We discuss goals in both areas, reviewing our budget and un/planned expenses, rehearsing the various ways we are using our [alone, couple, family, friend, community] time, and any ways we may choose/need to plan that time differently. Although it may seem strange to include this as a part of our “get ready for school” plan, our aim in these two areas greatly contextualizes our parenting goals and homeschool. Not to mention, it provides the foundation for the mini-conversations we have throughout the year. (I’m wooing you, right?)

Eventually our conversation comes around to the kids, where we discuss each one in roughly three different areas: spiritually, academically, and their home responsibility (chores). These areas are artificially separated for the point of conversation; in our daily life, all three areas regularly intertwine with the other (although how well depends on the day). Because Mark works full-time outside of our home, I am the one who plans the specifics of my day with the kids and sorts through/researches various curriculums, but during this meeting, he helps me identify the aim of those days and to refocus me during the year when I’m frittered away with details of home-life. Each child obviously requires something a little different from the other, so we spend time on each one deciding what they might need and how to lead them in the next year. I take notes during this time, pocketing our decisions for my personal (and more specific) planning for the school year — I’ll save that for another post though.

Planning always makes things sounds easier than the reality ever is. Even as I write this now, I can’t help but smirk at the idyllic nature of it all. I know, just as you, things won’t always go as imagined — no matter how good the plan. I have to beware of the false sense of peace it can bring me, trusting my plan and strategies instead of the Lord. Mark stenciled “menō” the Greek word meaning “abide” on his planner, and I suppose, more than all of this, that word sums up the true nature of our parenting and plans: simply learning how to abide.