Monday, November 23, 2015

Bits & Pieces : homeschooling thoughts beyond the curriculum

I said in a previous post (about what resources we've been using for homeschooling our kindergartner) that I had some other things I wanted to share.

I'm unpacking my thoughts in bits and pieces. Nothing profound here. Just things I'm thinking and working on a lot lately.

+ As a new homeschool parent, balance is tricky. I need to keep up the house. I need to make sure the kids are getting the best possible (while also reasonable) educational experience. I need to take care of myself. I want to keep cooking awesome stuff and spending a bit of time exercising and enjoying my time with Paul.  Here's sorta how I've managed to pin it down...

+ My mornings (except Wednesday) are blocked off for my top priorities: housekeeping & homeschool.  What I have found in the past three months that works best is this sort of weaving of the two threads.  I don't have Thomas sit for hours until he is finished with schoolwork. I do it in short bursts of quality one-on-one time in between cleaning. Our morning looks something like this: We eat breakfast.  Then I clean a bit. I put away clean dishes while the boys play for a moment. Then we all sit with books and I read a couple chapters out loud (or picture books if I'm reading the crowd and the crowd is already loud at 7:30 a.m.).  Then I will get up and make my bed and clean the bathroom and start some laundry. Then I will teach Thomas a lesson. Then I will do more cleaning.  Then I will teach Thomas or the boys some more.  Then maybe snacks or cooking of some kind.  Then another school lesson or activity. This is not exact clockwork. It's just essentially housework, then homeschool, then housework, then homeschool... And on and on until lunch. It literally feels like I'm braiding two cords together. I'm hoping that makes since to someone.

+ What do we really want to teach? I'm very passionate and knowledgeable about the academic portion of education, but now I keep thinking about everything else. And here the distinction between a homeschooling parent and any other parent completely dissipates. But I have to ask myself--That's great if you know something, but what can you do? That question. Or this one--That's great if you know something, but what good is it without character? It's not either/or. We have to teach both. I'm just thinking that we get it wrong often in thinking much more of the academic portion of learning (and where we send or keep our kids to learn) than we do all the other things we should be teaching: morality, work ethic, integrity, service, and so forth.

It doesn't matter how awesome the "schooling" is, or honestly, to some degree, how mediocre, or where it is taking place.  Knowledge has little place to land and take root without that foundation of gratitude and hard work and self-awareness and empathy for others.  When I was in the public school system it was those students with that maturity and character development from their home life whom I would look at and think that when it all washed out (those ways in which we measure learning in schools), it wouldn't matter what grades those students received.  They had all the tools they would need and when they bumped up or against their needs or jobs or discovered missions as adults, they would bring forth and bring to themselves all the "knowledge" they would need specifically because of that foundation of everything else that can't be measured by tests but only fed by an abundance of intentionality, nurturing, discipline, direction and love on the part of parents.

+ I'm very grateful for this. I'm glad we are here, that we are homeschooling.  I'm blessed at this time and place in my life that the way in which I'm providing for my family is the very same thing that endlessly feeds me.  I love all things teaching and learning. I always, always have.  Teaching looks different for me now than when I was teaching teenagers (and I do miss those teenagers!), but I have so much experience and passion to pull from.  I have very practical knowledge to use as well.

I think we should all be able to enjoy that feeling of being really good at something.  I've worked so hard at becoming good at housekeeping... It's a slow and steady uphill battle for me. But to be teaching again! It literally feels like a breath of fresh air every day.  I know little tricks for when Thomas is stuck or how to take a lesson and put a spin on it.  I have oodles of content knowledge and I have sober memories when I taught more than let students learn... and so I keep that in my heart and mind as well.

+ Drawing on our why. Earlier this year, I wrote down ten reasons we wanted to homeschool. Six had nothing to do with academics.  I'm glad I took the time to do that.  Comparing our school to a brick and mortar is like comparing apples to oranges. We have different aims. I won't shy away from sharing with you that I think we (our culture at large) are getting some things very wrong with early education.

Let them play. Let them pretend they've got guns. Let them stare and dig in dirt and run around. We are taking academic disappointments in America and running those fears into the way we teach small children.  I see parents panicking about preschools and maybe this is because most of us are full time working mommies now.  But c'mon people. Where is the common sense? Have you watched a child learn? Have you led them to a clean room with books and crayons and coloring paper nearby?  Why do we insist on the ridiculous demands on small children?

Maybe it's not actually happening at the school you send your children, but it is increasingly all too common. Ridiculous PC nonsense. Fights from parents for just slivers of recess. Upped and upped pressure on kindergartners to read (even though the research has again and again and again and again shown that this is a crap approach).  Loads of homework going home this very afternoon with kids who should be going home to play and sit with mom and talk to dad over dinner and not be thinking about more math.

Whew. I could just not ever stop on this one.  Anyway, yeah. Six of our reasons (mind you--for a kindergartner only) had nothing to do with academics and I still feel just exactly like that way. This isn't to say we aren't doing some rigorous, high quality things with the academic portion. It's just that when I'm watching Thomas read to the twins or make lunch with me or build Legos or putz around the backyard, I can't help but think I'm nearly fighting for that margin in his life right now because it is one of those things I feel immensely passionate and super convicted about.

Okay, I'll stop there. Maybe more later.

Chat with me in the comments.  You know you know you know I love chatting about this stuff.

And sorry for the grammatical errors. I wrote this in a rush and Thomas is up from a nap and asking me questions about termites now.

Also, Thomas recited a wee poem. Here's the video if you're into that sort of thing.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Home to Me

Home. It's nearly my whole world (and especially so since I started staying at home when the twins were born). Paul and I have been building up our home in bits, whether in the duplex we started in when newly married or the ranch style house we bought almost 5 years ago. I have much to be grateful for and too much to say.  The following I'm sharing with you is little bits and pieces, notes and highlights of our happy home strung together day after day, year after year, moment to moment. Come on in and sit. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and imagine it was really me. 


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Home is comfort. Warm mugs of tea. Soft blankets for cuddling on the couch with the kids. Bowls of soup familiar. Cold winter nights, dark enveloping us early. Dim lights and soft music. Candle flickering, encouraging me to keep bright my own flame.

Home is loud.  Saturday family dance parties to Metallica (+orchestra) songs. Three small boys shooting invisible guns and roaring their lion jaws.  Paul stomping in to tackle & tickle & destroy. Music streaming through all the speakers: Taylor Swift singing us through pick up time.

Home is humble. Popcorn ceilings and blinds to be replaced---someday. Tiny fingerprints on the windows & a dining table with happy scars from lingering meals with loved ones. Our things made beautiful by our use of them. This is no museum home. This is the real thing. Wooden floors that know our dancing feet. Walls that listen in on our reading voices.  A counter that has held a thousand meals. 

Home is intimate.  Vulnerability lays her head here with us. We are challenged & split open. Spilled milk. Long days. Whiny kids. Disappointing each other & saying sorry & trying again and again to love with our hands pouring coffee and setting the table. This family here--we know, we see each other & ourselves--this is our chance to come to harbor & drop anchor only to be shaken on shore just as we were rocked at sea, to get so close that we can't help but understand more, know more, to see truth and set pain free. 

Home is color.  Vibrant children's book illustrations. A heap of just clean laundry on the dining table. Thomas's watercolor paintings & the mess of toys at my feet. And the food! Red peppers slices and green beans snapped by little hands. Muddy faces and green leaves to stare up into and through on warm summer days. Sparkly eye shadow applied with stolen moments from kids. Pumpkin bread, butter melting, on a crisp fall day. 

Home is creativity. Blank canvas propped on the easel. Long financial conversations for us to come together & think big. Little routines & habits built daily by intention. Family values set to work in real time. A new recipe posted to the fridge for Saturday. Making a simple dinner from bits of things found in the fridge--and somehow, by magic... by love, feels special all the same. 

Home is school. Textbooks marked with bright post-its for tomorrow's lessons. A school basket stuffed with exciting things to learn. Math manipulatives lined up on the kitchen counter while I cook just three feet away. Sharp pencils, eager & ready. Broken crayons. And books everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.  Words lift up off the page and make us laugh, make us think, make us know. We savor all those things in books like little threads of gold weaving into our hearts & minds. But then we get up off the couch & off the floor & learn by doing. Our life is our school. We touch truth in the physical. In crawling caterpillars and bark peeled, in awkward conversations with neighbors and the hateful kid at the Y.  How to measure flour and clean a toilet well and fold socks into each other and the time it takes for the cupcakes to bake.  

Home is renewal.  Clean sheets. Sunday naps. Sitting in one of our big chairs just to simply sit and be silent.  Nights of vegging out with Netflix, slow mornings with pancakes, laughing (coffee cups in hand) at the funny things the kids are doing. Hot showers for thinking & resetting. Thick socks. Lotion pressed into cracked feet & clean clothes ready to face another day to be filled in with little, colorful notes of pride in hard work and gratitude for good things. 

Home is happy.  Memories of years past twinkling on the Christmas tree.  Happy heart ache for small bodies quickly growing out of clothes.  Leaning into just being & letting things be.  Cooking side by side and remembering all those other times aproned up and arguing, making too much & cooking big & loving it.  Board games. Lifted glasses. Feet intertwined under table while we talk with our eyes and ignore just a little the kids surrounding us from every reach. 

Home is goodness. Interruptions that pierce selfishness. More water for little mouths. A bowl completely full of eggshells and still not enough. Clothing the naked (all the time naked). Wiping tears. Listening carefully. Choosing peace, building it up. Pouring on the grace & giving space for ugly, bumbling growth. Praying for our daily bread. Loving as Christ urged--because even though I've said yes to these people, they are still imperfect and hurting and hoping like me. Fully loving them and not just in beautiful aims but hard won small acts of service is a daily yes, an hourly yes, a constant yes to love in ways I didn't think I was capable of before, in ways I wasn't capable of before.  Home is the sacred place opened up to me, door wide- a gritty real, a beautiful domestic, a humble space to dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. 

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This post is part of the “Home to Me” blog hop, hosted by Julie Walsh of These Walls. During the two weeks from Friday, November 13 through Thanksgiving Day, more than a dozen bloggers will share about what the concept of “home” means to them. “Home” can been elusive or steady. It can be found in unexpected places. It is sought and cherished and mourned. It is wrapped up in the people we love. As we turn our minds and hearts toward home at the beginning of this holiday season, please visit the following blogs to explore where/what/who is “Home to Me.”

November 13 – Julie @ These Walls

November 14 – Leslie @ Life in Every Limb

November 16 – Rita @ Open Window

November 17 – Svenja, guest posting @ These Walls

November 18 – Anna @ The Heart’s Overflow

November 19 – Debbie @ Saints 365

November 20 – Melissa @ Stories My Children Are Tired of Hearing

November 21 – Amanda @ In Earthen Vessels

November 22 – Daja and Kristina @ The Provision Room

November 23 – Emily @ Raising Barnes

November 24 – Annie @ Catholic Wife, Catholic Life

November 25 – Nell @ Whole Parenting Family

November 26 – Geena @ Love the Harringtons

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Homeschool Notes: Year 1, Week 12

We are in our 12th week of our first year of homeschooling.  I thought this would be a good place to stop and gather some notes about where we are at and how it is working.

This post is right up the homeschool junkie's alley.  Lots of specific details about our right here, right now homeschooling.

(Note: I'm on easy street at the moment.  Homeschooling one 5 year old--labeled kindergartner, doing a lot of 1st grade work.  Managing toddler twins and trying to include them in as much as we can but also not stressing over a set of goals or curriculum for them just yet.)

+ Reading instruction 

Last year we worked through 100 Easy Lessons. This year we are working through Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading (lesson 109 as of today).  I did not like the Ordinary Parent's Guide the first time I attempted to use it. I think the poem used to teach vowel sounds is more overwhelming than it is helpful for a blossoming reader (and we actually lurve poetry here, so... yeah). I skipped that section. Everything else has been G O L D. It's extremely thorough. I'm a huge fan. We are on track to finish by May.


We just started First Language Lessons this week, so I won't give my opinion yet. From what I can tell, it will fit our needs nicely.  We shall see. There are 100 lessons in this book. I'm aiming to complete this by end of year.

We started the year with a handful of poems to memorize. I eventually ditched that. Momma gut. It just didn't feel right to me.  I know just about every homeschooling family memorizes poetry. We will do that.  Just not now.  I'm starting right where we are at: 1. We already love it so we will keep reading lots and lots of it.  2. Building up a collection of resources.  My mom & dad gave us a little bit of money to use for homeschooling and we used it to buy, among a couple other things that were sitting on my Amazon wish list for forever, A Child's Book of Poems by Gyo Fujikawa.  Totally swooning over it.  I'm going to have "Little Things" memorized in no time.

+ Independent reading

Thomas declared a goal to read all of the Elephant & Piggie books. He has one left that we are waiting for from the library.  I keep beginner readers in our morning basket so that he always has quick access to those. It's my gentle nudge for more practice, but mostly he reads all the picture books we have in the sunroom (A LOT).  He reads everything though. He is really hitting a stride, and I'm amazed every single day at his growth.  He's starting to read comic books as well. I'm excited to see what he will be able to read by the end of the year, but I feel very confident that no matter what we do--he'll be fine.

+ Read aloud stuff

I'm a little sad that our read aloud experience isn't the same as when Thomas was 4 and I would read him to sleep every day. It was so lovely and I have so many fond memories.  RIP Thomas's naps.

But we have to be true to our season and so that's how it is.  Now our read aloud time looks like this: We put the twins to bed.  I clean up the kitchen a little. Thomas plays with Lego on my bedroom floor and I read to him from my bed.  [No, we don't include the twins in read aloud time right now. We will eventually. We did last year and it pretty much felt like a pot of boiling water with a lid on top. Right now we just read lots of picture books to them and poetry too.]  So far this year we've read The Green Ember, My Father's Dragon, and Hoot. I'm really, really wanting to start the Chronicles of Narnia series. Too soon?

+ Our picture books goal

I made a goal to read 1000 picture books this year.  This experience has been awesome. We are behind a touch, but I still think we can still do it by the end of the year. I've been taking all sorts of notes about the books we read.  There have been some really awesome ones, and I've grown to love children's lit in a whole new way.  We just signed Thomas up for a library card this week. Now we will be able to check out 100 books rather than only 50 at a time. True sign of a homeschooling family. One library card does not cut it anymore.

+ Handwriting

Thomas flew through the kindergarten level of the Zaner-Bloser book. He's about a sixth of the way through the 1st grade ZB book now. He told someone this past week that handwriting is his favorite thing to do for school. However, he also told a man in Walmart two weeks ago that his favorite part of school is the breaks. I'm sure the guy thought we were really hitting the books hard... or hardly.  Next semester I'll have him to a bit of copy work from either The Harp & Laurel Wreath or other bits of beautiful language and wise words I've collected.

+ Math

We are making our way through the 1st grade Saxon curriculum.  I was slow to warm up to the Saxon program, but I'm seeing how the spiral method is so good for Thomas.  I still think that a great teacher can make almost any resource shine. However, I give Saxon two thumbs up so far.  We also started Life of Fred this week <heart eyes>, and Thomas and I have really enjoyed it. It's a world apart from Saxon, so I think it's a great way to switch things up. I also set Thomas up on Kahn Academy and let him practice there every once in a while.  I think it's great for him to see math in different formats to reinforce what he learns primarily with the Saxon materials.


This year we've read the 1st Story of the World (The Ancients) book. We are about halfway through the 2nd book about the Middle Ages. We read 2-3 picture books a week that are either on the topics we are reading with the SOTW book (castles, the feudal system, Marco Polo, etc.) or are just social studies/history books in general.  We plan on taking a trip to D.C. next year for our family vacation. I'm rolling around in my head how we can utilize homeschool to really prime Thomas (and the twins??) for all the awesome things we will see.

+ Science

We read 3-5 science picture books a week.  We look through a lot of science materials we have on hand (children's encyclopedia and other science reference books).  We do *some* science experiments when I have extra time.  I love that we are learning oodles. I do not love that we are not doing it in an organized manner or even just recording it in an organized manner.  Even though reading & math (in my opinion) trump science education at this age by far, I still want to be a bit more orderly in the way we approach things.  Working on it.

+ Art

We manage about 1 formal art lesson a week. I have him practice simple concepts related to art, complete different activities with materials that are more open ended, or we imitate the art of someone else.  Last week we just painted together.  About a third of the art we complete is just that. It's art that has a natural purpose and prompting to it, and isn't set up as a structured activity.

+ Music 

We could definitely do better with this.  We sing lots of songs with the twins, listen to lots of classical and international music, and read (as with everything else) some picture books that are music related. I just listened to Pam Barnhill's Morning Basket podcast about music appreciation, and that was very helpful.  It's time we beefed up this area of learning.

+ Other Stuff

We do a lot of learning in the kitchen. Thomas cooks with me several times a week. We work on communication skills with a lot of intention (Thomas loves to talk, but we are both working a lot on listening right now). We also practice a lot of practical life skills-- everything from manners to matching socks to fixing things around the house.  I realize every mom does this, but I am noting it. I think it's just as important as phonics and subtracting numbers, and I would like to give even more thought and planning to this area of our schooling.

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Oh gosh. I've barely made a dent into what I was going to type. Maybe I will do another post on all the other stuff about homeschooling: ordering our home and day, finding balance, where we are headed, the fulfillment I've found, the stuff I'm working on and thinking about, my observations on the learning process, and so forth.  I have tons and tons I could say.

Any questions for me on the nitty-gritty stuff? Anything I left out that you want to know? Ask me anything. And if you're homeschooling, how's it going?