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Childhood art is magnificent, isn’t it? Children have a way of seeing and coloring the world in the early years without the constraints of reality, without the pressure of perfection. I’m not exactly sure why or when the majority of us quit producing personal art, and I’m sure the response will vary. Although I imagine for many of us, we simply decided we were not good enough. This is the primary reason during our academic year, I aim to have the kids paint or draw a little something everyday––not that they become famous artists, but that they develop a habit of making time for creative work.

In those early years, I dreamed of creating keepsake books for each child with their childhood art, and so I kept an archival box for each of them and stored my favorite pieces, labeled with their name, the date, and the title if it had one. But nearing a decade later since beginning this endeavor, I have yet to scan or print one book. Which begs the question: when exactly do busy mothers find the time for scanning, organizing, and printing? Is it after children are grown or is it in the odd hours of the day, wedged between work and meals and books and errands? It’s hard to know sometimes.

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My children have always kept notebooks of some sort during their school years, often in partially lined composition notebooks, where they could easily write and illustrate what we’ve read through the practice of narration or copywork. But they grew frustrated with how paints would bleed through pages, and alternatively when they painted on thicker paper, I grew frustrated trying to keep random pieces of their work together in a cohesive way and off the floor and countertops. So last year, I moved to keeping their notebooks in page protectors in binders. Life. Changing. And I knew at the beginning of the year, I wanted to create a book for each of them of their work. Throughout the year, when they seemed sloppy or disconnected from their art or something they had written, I would remind them, “I’m going to print this at the end of the year, so do your best!” It was a simple way to encourage quality both in their writing and artwork.

In the spring, I began looking for printing options, when I discovered Plum Print, a company that would scan, design, and print for me. I knew I could scan everything and design a book on my own, but I returned to the time factor again and the fact that we already DIY most everything else in our life. For this project to actually happen, I needed to delegate a bit of it, even if it cost a bit more to do so. I wanted my children to see their work as valuable and to inspire them to have a different view of their work for the future. I also love having a simple way for them to share it with friends or family. More practically, I cleared the clutter that these sort of papers create in the home and made room for the new school year. Hello, empty notebooks.

The process was delightful. Since I was ordering four books, I received four different boxes on my doorstep, one for each child. From there, the instructions were simple:

  1. Load the art into the included bag (with the option to include 3-D art and photos)
  2. Fill out the brief instruction card: title for the book, instructions for pagination or selecting the cover, option for captions, etc.
  3. Close and seal the box with enclosed strips.
  4. Place the included pre-paid FedEx label on the box.
  5. Drop off at a FedEx location.

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I did not include every piece my children created this year in their books, but again selected their best work, including at least one sample from each book or person they studied––a practical choice for sticking to a budget, as the price varies on the size of the book and the amount of pages. I also chose to have my kids’ books assembled in a specific order, since I wanted their nature studies together and their scientists together and so on. This took a bit more time but was as simple as deciding the order and then paginating each piece on the back in pencil. I should note, you also have the option to have your child’s artwork returned to you for an additional fee. I didn’t opt for this, but that might be helpful for parents who aren’t quite ready to part with the original pieces. You can also include images within the book, ad I selected one image from the school year of each for their title page. The rest of the book I reserved just for the written and illustrated work.

Plum Print sent me an email when they received my boxes and then another one when each book design was ready for preview. I tweaked a few things, like fonts, background design, and a couple of pages that were in the wrong books. They promptly made the changes and the books went to print, arriving at our door a couple of weeks later.

The kids LOVE them! I wish I had had my camera ready when they first flipped through them, with bright eyes and giddy expressions. Olive squealed “this is the first book I’ve ever made!” And I can relate. There’s something about seeing my own work printed onto a page and bound professionally that makes my heart soar, too. It feels weightier, and somehow more precious.  I love how they flip through one another’s books, too; one reading the other’s words or admiring their sibling’s artwork. As we begin notebook-ing again next month, I hope this will inspire them.


This post is in partnership with Plum Print, a small business encouraging parents to make beautiful archives of their children’s creativity. Cloistered Away readers can enjoy $15 OFF of each order until September 30 suing the code ‘CA15’. As always, all thoughts and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that help keep this space afloat. 

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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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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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Although I did well in maths growing up, teaching it is an entirely different story. For me, each class during my childhood to early-adult years was a practice of mastering one section of a puzzle without understanding its connection to the next. What I mean to say is: I have never felt intuitive with numbers in the way I do with language, which intimidated me at the beginning of our homeschool journey so many years ago. It might sound odd to feel terrified of teaching Kindergarten maths, but I kind of was when we first began.

Like so many parents who decide to take ownership of teaching their children, when we first decided to homeschool, I began with tons of curriculum research. I was too academically driven at the time for a no-curriculum approach, something I wish I could go back in time and speak more confidence to with my younger self. Instead, I will speak it to you, dear readers, in the event you find yourself terrified of teaching maths (or any other area) to your little ones, too. Do not be afraid.

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It is good to know as a parent that every child will take to pencil and paper work differently. Some children will struggle because of dyslexia or dysgraphia or underdeveloped fine motor skills or simply because of the hardship of sitting still for longer period of time. There are only a few things necessary for learning about numbers in the early years (roughly ages 3-6).

If your child loves paperwork, you can begin with most any workbook or curriculum for practice with writing numbers. But maths needn’t be strictly for paper, and in my experience, children will enjoy it more if you begin with a chalkboard and something familiar for play. I keep a small basket of wooden people on a bookshelf, which Olive uses for pretend play, for art, and as it turns out, for math. Anything of this type in your own home will work. Here’s a few ways how:

Counting || You can use anything you have around your house for counting: toys, crayons, blocks, Legos, beans, and so on. Begin with counting forward to 10. When your child can do that, count backward from 10. Move up to 20. And backward. Move up to 30. And backward. Continue until you get to one hundred before you begin equal groups (or skip counting).

Sorting || Practice sorting by shape, color, or any other characteristic you can imagine. This process can be done over and over again with materials already around your home: laundry, blocks, crayons, and so on.

Ordering numbers || Numbers give us order. Use language such as first, second, third, and so on. This is particularly easy in the kitchen. As your child become more familiar with the terms, change it up a bit. “I need to add the carrots second. Do I need to do something before this?” You can use manipulative (such as the wood people), too. Giving oral instructions for your child(ren) to follow.  “[named girl] is first in line and [another named girl] is second. Who shall we put third?” This application can work with most any set of instructions around the home.

Drawing || Art and math are intrinsic to one another, and if I’m honest, I didn’t realize how much so until my adult years as a homeschooling parent. As your child learns shapes, you are teaching beginning design and form. Draw often during maths in early years. Encourage your child to draw pictures of their math stories if they enjoy it, or rather look for shapes together in your child’s existing art. Can you find a line? A circle? Rectangle? And so on.

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Create number stories || Introduce math operations through stories. Begin with addition. “We have ___ and add ___ more. How many do we have now?” This is the simplest plot that can be elaborated in millions of ways to become more details. When this becomes more comfortable or predictable, add subtraction stories, where something is taken away or disappears. Multiplication story plots (later) always include sharing and equality of groups. Division’s plot (as they grow older) tells of a generous person who is giving all they have away to a specific number of people and wants to make sure they all have equal amounts. You get the idea.

Since we often use our wooden people, Olive will create the story around the people and possibly a road trip or playtime at a friend’s house. I’ll prompt her with questions along the way: “Where are we going? Who is going with us?” I record the numbers on the board and she writes the answer. Now that she is older and has practiced math for a while, I’ll ask her to identify the two primary functions or addition and subtraction on her own. “If more people are coming, what sign do we use?”

Numbers in daily living || Numbers give form to the abstractions of time and space. With numbers we can gauge the seasons, weather, calendar, time of day, how to make a recipe consistently, or know how much something costs to purchase. By them we can travel the world and space or, in the very simplest of ways, bake bread. When possible, I try to connect the importance of numbers in daily living, even still with my older children. Numbers are consistent and absolute, even when they are relative. While your preschooler doesn’t have to understand all of these things yet, these years are wonderful for pointing to numbers in every day life.

math books for littles we’ve loved || Anything by Tana Hoban | How Much is a Million? series | Mat Man | Beas, Snails, & Peacocks

 

 

 

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We tend to keep the holiday season in our home fairly simple in terms of gift giving, both the quantity and expense. This isn’t from a desire to be Scrooge-like or withholding, but instead another way we’ve learned over the years to simplify, to stay within our financial means, and to help keep our home filled with fewer things we really enjoy and can manage well. Living in a small home has taught me a valuable life lesson: less really can be more, but it means making tough decisions. Buying less, means I choose something far more carefully. My husband and I often pick high quality gifts, something that can easily be passed down between siblings, family, or friends when they’ve outgrown it. We also love giving gifts that engage their interest and skill sets, tools that can double for our home school experience, too.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few emails and comments and texts from other parents asking about Christmas gifts for their own homes, wondering what we’re getting our children or asking about our favorite books or toys or nature books. Although it took me a bit of time to collect a few, I created this gift guide as a way to share both our favorite learning tools and ones still on our wishlist. I added “gifts of experience” section to each category, because often we have given experience over things to our children for Christmas or their birthday. It can be a fantastic way to give something meaningful without carting more things into your home or when finances are a little tighter. Clearly, this is not a finite list, nor is it strictly for the homeschool or Christmas season, but I hope it in itself is a tool of inspiration. Enjoy.

gift-guide-nature_cloistered_away_homeschool[ THE YOUNG NATURALIST ]

1. Kanken mini backpack | full size 2. Suunto compass 3. Wild Explorers Adventure Club membership 4. Critter Cabin 5. National Park pass (4th graders are free!) 6. Nature Anatomy 7. Cavallini Insects wrapping paper (frame it as a poster)  8. Fujifilm instant film camera 9. Strathmore watercolor journal 10. Animalium 11. laminated local pocket field guides 12. Magiscope

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | museum passes | a state or national park pass | handmade coupons to use during the year for weekend camping, star-gazing, fishing, or hiking | Wild Explorers membership

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[ THE YOUNG FOODIE ]

13. Odette Williams apron set 14. Farm Anatomy  15. A Kid’s Herb Book 16. Garden in a Can 17. Le Petit Chef Set 18. Chop Chop: A Kid’s Guide to Cooking Real Food 19. The Simple Hearth play kitchen 21. Mini Woven Basket 22. Moleskine Recipe Journal

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 20. local cooking classes | handmade coupons for special kitchen time together | meal at a special/favorite restaurant

gift_guide_artist_homeschool_cloistered_away[ THE YOUNG ARTIST + DOODLER ]

23. Tabletop Paper Holder 24. Pottery Wheel 25. Paint Jar Holder 26. Lrya Rembrandt Polycolor pencils 27. Strathmore Mixed Media Journal 28. Lyra Ferby colored pencils (best for little hands) 29. Lost Ocean coloring book  30. WhatchamaDRAWit  31. Fun with Architecture book and stamp set  32. Drawing with Children  33.Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series  34. Stockmar Beeswax crayons  35. Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Places Real and Imagined  36. Stockmar watercolor paint

GIFT EXPERIENCE | 37. art museum membership or trip | art lessons | meet a local artist in a similar medium

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[ THE YOUNG WRITER + BOOKWORM ]

38. Bookrest Lamp  39. The Puffin In Bloom Collection  40. Emoji Stickers  41. Personalized Pencils  42. Postcard Set  43. Calligraphy + Lettering Set  44. Mamoo Bookbag  45. The Storymatic Kids Game  46. Tell Me a Story  47. Wood Small Moveable Alphabet  48. Wool Writing Journal  49. Don’t Forget to Write (elementary grades) | (secondary grades)  50. Rip the Page! Adventures in Creative Writing

 GIFT EXPERIENCE | tickets to a play | homemade coupons for a new monthly book | summer writing camp | create your own story prompts

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[ THE YOUNG TINKERER + BUSY BODY ]

51. Lap Loom  52. TinkerCrate subscription  53. Things Come Apart  54. Morakniv Wood Carving Junior Knife  55. Rulers and Compass  56. Seedling Fashion Design Kit  57. The New Way Things Work  58. Wooden Child-sized Real Tools  59. Child’s Natural Broom  60. Playful Math Kit  61. European Math Kit  62. Sewing Kit  63. Child’s String Mop

GIFT EXPERIENCE | build or make something together | sewing or woodworking classes | tickets to a science museum or the Exploratorium in San Fransisco

 

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Although it can be challenging to find the time, I really enjoy sharing bits of our homeschooling journey with others here and elsewhere to help encourage and inspire them on their own path. I recently wrote a bit about how we memorize poetry in our home for Babiekins Magazine, which you can now read today, and also have a tutorial for making wildflower seed balls in their current print issue. This month, I also wrote quite a lengthy article on how we are preparing our children for college (and adulthood) for Wild+Free, which you can find in this month’s bundle “Woodland.” Some other bits I’ve written in the last few months that you may find helpful (and linked in one place):

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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!

PRINT

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!

 

simple_play-1simple_play-7simple_play-6The girls received beautiful play scarves from Shovava last week, and the timing could not have been better as it has rained almost every day of the last two weeks. We’ve had almost 30″ of rain since January. The boys keep joking that they almost played soccer this season–since they’ve had more games and practices canceled than they’ve actually played at this point. A soul-crushing reality for 10 and 11 year olds.

The kids have gone out to play in the rain several times lately, although I suppose they only want to be cold and wet for so long before they return to the porch or the indoors again. After our more formal studies are finished, our time indoors generally drifts toward art-work or books or various sorts of indoor play. The boys will sometimes play basketball in their room or build Legos across the floor. The girls tend more toward pretend play, sometimes mimicking everyday life like making food or taking care of babies, and other times living in stories as animals or fairies or queens.  The scarves have added a fresh flavor for the girls’ daily pretend play. Roza, the owner/deisigner of the Australian-based shop, draws and paints the wing designs by hand before screen-printing, and the light and soft material gives the wings such presence and flight during play. This week they have worn them as wings and head wraps and neck scarves in almost every variety of role. It’s so amazing what a piece of cloth can inspire, yes?

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My children play at home in quite creative, simple ways. I do allow them a bit of daily screen time, usually toward the dinner hour, and I’m not entirely rigid on this topic. Yet I learn so much about them during their play, whether the characters they become or the buildings they create. They also learn much about themselves, their dreams, their ingenuity. When they speak the word bored, I kindly remind them that boredom is their responsibility to resolve, but I usually offer them a few options to get their brains ticking. Our culture is full of passive entertainment with screens–and our family certainly enjoys that part, too–but as a parent, I want my children to begin learning now how to take responsibility for the way they live, even in small ways and at young ages. Life is something we choose, something we create daily. As adults, we choose daily how we spend our limited resources of time and money, and sometimes it requires great creativity and problem solving. These habits and lessons begin in our children in quite small, seemingly unimportant ways. Giving them space and time to create and play on their own seems small and trivial. However, it is teaching important skills necessary in adulthood, such as problem solving and decision-making, even lessons in compassion, empathy, and change of perspective.

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We love reading books around here. And I particularly love books that celebrate imagination and ingenuity. Here’s a few of our favorites. If you have a few of your own to recommend, I would love to know so we can find them on our next library trip. Wink.

PICTURE BOOKS

CHAPTER BOOKS

 

 

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We’ve never used a formal science curriculum over here. Instead, we’ve learned more through reading about and observing the natural world. My children will tell you it is one of their favorite parts of our days. This year, we have primarily focused on anatomy, and each has created their own body book (an idea inspired by my friend Kirsten).  We took a break from anatomy for much of March and April, as we spent more time preparing for our garden and working in the yard. As my children grow older, I’m more aware of how our school work ebbs and flows with our life work and seasons. I’m noticing patterns, more of which I hope to plan around better for next year–but that’s a different topic. Thus far, we have read about the circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems. As we are turning back to our books this week, we’ll aim to complete the respiratory, skeletal, muscular, reproductive, and endocrine systems. (Yikes–that’s a lot.) We’ve taken more unanticipated breaks through this study, but the nice part of homeschooling is not being in a hurry, or limited to a particular schedule, to complete a project. And so, we gather our resources and begin again.

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reference books | During our study, we’ve used many books from our local library in addition to the books we own. We’ve referenced everything from science encyclopedias to early readers, adapting as we go. I’ll usually browse several books ahead of time, to choose the ones that might work the best for us. We take turns reading and usually have several books open at once for visuals. Some of our favorite references this year have been The Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia, a neatly organized and detailed reference, and The Way We Work, by David Macauley, a robust and cleverly illustrated reference. We’ve also used simple readers we’ve collected over the years at used book stores or during our library trip, such as Usborne books, Let’s Read and Find Out Science series, The Magic School Bus series, and sight word readers.

projects | When possible I try to include a few projects or experiments since, like most kids, my own children love making or playing with ideas. This year we’ve done a few projects, such as taking our pulse/heart rate, identifying our senses by using a blindfold, or crafting a brain replica with clay.

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body books | This year, we’ve used the simple primary composition notebooks found in office supply stores to create our body books. The primary one is set up with partially ruled/un-ruled pages as shown. Next year, I’ll move to using the Strathmore notebooks, as they’re a little larger. Each lesson, my children sketch and color an image pertaining to the day’s reading. They then illustrate, label, and write a bit about what we’ve read together. The boys enjoy creating their own sentences, so after they’re finished, we look for spelling and grammar corrections. They record their misspelled words in their spelling notebooks, which become a part of a future spelling lesson. For the girls, I still rely on the narration/dictation/copywork model. We talk about what we’ve read. They give me a sentence or two, which I write and they copy. It’s a little advanced for Olive yet, but like most youngest children, she wants to do what everyone else is doing.

making mistakes | You’ll notice Liam still struggles with spelling, but he understands the concepts and how to create clear, concise sentences, as does my left-handed Burke who still struggles with letter reversals and capitalizing mid-sentence. In earlier years, I tended to correct them along the way, often seeing their mistakes as a reflection of my poor teaching–especially if it’s something someone else might see. I’m sharing the imperfections here so you see, no one is perfect, especially not this mother. Be patient with yourself and your children and try not to control the learning process, combing for results. I’m learning to move them forward in certain areas, while returning to basic skills in other areas over and over until they master them. That means Burke still does simple handwriting exercises and Liam is still in earlier spelling years, even though they both read voraciously far above his years. We repeat again and again, knowing it will catch one day. These mistakes are a part of life, a part of our body. They do not make any of us failures.