5 Questions About The Green Ember Series by SD Smith

If you are a die hard Green Ember fan then you have probably heard by now that SD Smith’s new book, The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner is now available for pre-order. If you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about or if you’re in the group of people that messaged me asking all kinds of questions about this series, or if you just really really dig the Green Ember, then this post is just for you! I’m answering 5 of the most common questions sent in to us about this series.

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Q1: How did you find Green Ember and did you like it right away?

A couple of years ago my boys were getting hungrier and hungrier for a story they could really sink their teeth into. We had been reading aloud since they were tiny and they had developed a taste for a book they couldn’t quite name. Based off the explanation of their book craving, I narrowed it down to a book that called forth courage and creativity.

I looked through a few different books people had sent me, reading the first few pages of each to try and find something that would fit the bill. I noticed a book with rabbits on the cover, a gift from a friend, and I reached for it.

The very first page of The Green Ember grabbed my heart and never let go. There was something in it that I both recognized and yearned for at once. I put the other books back on the shelf and called the kids over for read aloud time.

We didn’t stop for two hours.

How could we? We were running away from wolves and being chased by raptors and standing in the middle of a beautiful guild hall with our eyes wide open and our hearts singing and our minds thinking, this is a picture of what we’ve been longing for in this life.

The boys were finally sent to bed after page 205 and I snuck the book back to my bed and finished reading it by myself in the early morning hours. C.S. Lewis has a famous quote about how a children’s story, only enjoyed by children, is not a good children’s story. I thought about that quote the moment I finished the last page and woke my husband to say, “THAT was a GREAT book.”

The next morning we skipped all our lessons so we could read together and by the end of the book my children were teary and cheering and so was I. This scene has played out with each and every book released in the series.

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Q2:  Were your kids ever scared of any of the The Green Ember books?

I have observed that my children crave danger and even darkness in their literature. They crave it because they know its real and they want someone to beat it.  Whenever I open a book they always ask “Is there a bad guy? Who gets to fight him?” They want a story with a clear division between good and evil. They like to know who to root for.  I love stories like that too. In fact, I go out of my way to find books willing to deal with darkness by brandishing truth, beauty and goodness in the face of evil. These books scare them well in the sense that they see something worth fighting, something definitely evil, and they are eager to imagine themselves in the battle against it.

My eldest shared, “This book gives me a craving to be a hero. Something about it makes me imagine that I can fight for good things and protect good things and make good things, even though I am just a kid right now. When bad stuff happens I can still do good things.”

Another son echoed, “Yeah, bad stuff happens in real life and it happens to kids. Parents dying and fires in houses and bad grown ups trying to ruin things outside before you have a chance to grow up. I like that this book talked about that and not in a little kid way.”

In other words, this is a book that treats children with respect. SD Smith delivers words with an honesty that is reassuring to children. Yes, evil is real. Yes, it is out there. Yes, it can be beaten.

It is this light in the midst of terrible darkness that draws children in and reminds them they have the power to penetrate the darkness with their own light.

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Q3: As a mom, what are your favorite things about The Green Ember series?

I’ll share two things.
1) The good guys have flaws. This is important because it keeps the book from being boring and because the boys get to see a flesh and blood character they love and admire struggle the way they themselves do. My son gave me permission to share the following story to illustrate what I mean.

During the time of our first read through of The Green Ember, one of our boys was really struggling with anger. As we read aloud his heart was pierced so deeply that he broke down and wept. This story connected his imagination to the true meaning of anger and its effects. It brought a deep understanding none of our many conversations ever had. He felt anger, but he never understood what it really meant until his imagination saw it.
He connected with a character outside of himself and that is where he found words to define his own situation. He felt personally convicted and longed for the restoration everyone else in the book wanted for the character he identified with. This was one of the most powerful moments of his childhood and he speaks of it often.

2) No one is preaching.
One of the reasons my son was able to feel this remorse so keenly was because it was self realized. He was never told to feel bad by the author. My boys can sniff a “preachy book,” as they call it, pretty quickly. It is their least favorite kind of book and I don’t blame them one bit. The Green Ember is an adventure story bursting with virtue and wisdom, while being completely devoid of anything preachy, which is a dream come true for a young boy with skinned knees, a wooden sword and a wild imagination.

This past weekend I was speaking at the Wild + Free Franklin Conference about Family Culture in the home,  I shared that, “Before I consider the spine of a book, I consider the spines of my children.” In other words, I look for books that build upon the men my boys are becoming. Reading the Green Ember is like pouring liquid courage down your child’s spine and igniting a fire for truth, goodness and beauty in their hearts. It is a magical expansion of the moral imagination. Its the kind of book I roll the welcome mat out for because it is exactly the sort of book I want at the table while we actively and intentionally build our family culture.

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Q4 What do your kids love about The Green Ember series?

When I asked them this morning they listed many, many things, but this was one response from one boy that I could not resist sharing:

“I like The Green Ember books because SD Smith is not dead.”

After a burst of horrified laughter from me and many clarifying questions from his brothers, this is the summary of what he (and his brothers) said:

The boys love SD Smith’s writing because it makes them feel welcome. They understand his words. They understand the world he made. They feel like they can play there. It feels real and alive and good and scary in the best ways possible. They wait for months and months with building anticipation for new stories to be released and while they wait, they play out magnificent stories in the backyard with their swords and capes, imagining what they think will happen next.

Not only are they enjoying SD Smith’s writing and actively playing in the world he has created, but SD Smith himself has become a hero in their eyes. Because he is indeed, “not dead,” they are watching him actively bring stories right to their hearts. They can attend his talks at conferences and listen to podcasts and watch his Facebook videos. They see clips of his workshop, “The Forge” and know that this is the place where he goes to make stories. They are watching SD Smith’s courage to create meaning in this present world. He is living out, to the best of his ability, what the rabbits in his stories are looking for. My boys are cheering him on in this endeavor and because they feel that they belong in SD’s world, it feels like they are cheering themselves on too. SD Smith is the real life rabbit with a sword.

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Q5: “MOM!!!! HAVE YOU READ THE WRECK AND RISE OF WHITSON MARINER!?!”

Yes, that was thrown at me in ALL CAPS at the breakfast table this morning. YES! I read it. Much to the horror of my children when they found out. “You read it?! Without us?!

I am a traitor, a very happy traitor. I read it three times and I can not wait to read it aloud to my boys.

This is exactly the kind of creative work I want my boys engaging with to make meaning of the world around them.  This is a book that will sharpen their minds, further define their appetites, add to their chests, expand their moral imaginations and leave them looking for chances to bring something good to the world.

I wish I was the sort of person who could wait till Christmas and leave this wonderful new book wrapped and waiting under the tree but the truth is, we’ll probably read the whole thing the day it comes in. I won’t do laundry and I won’t cook dinner. We’ll order pizza and read and read and read together. I’m ok with that. It’ll just be one more beautiful gift the world of SD Smith has brought us.

 

 

A Charlotte Mason Approach to Classical Conversations Cycle 1 Quarter 2

Its here! Our Quarter 2 book list!
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Please remember that this is not a list of everything I will be reading to my children. This is a curated list of potential (mostly in print living) books to read. Depending on our schedule, time, health, current interests, etc. I look through this list a few weeks ahead of time and decide which books we’ll be reading. I do not read all of these books aloud! I repeat, I DO NOT read ALL of these books aloud. I have to say this because every time I post a book list I always get a handful of comments and several emails from weary, upset Mamas. I am of the opinion that the feast should be a feast and not an all you can eat buffet for us to gorge ourselves on or force feed our children from. Please don’t try to read your five year old every book on this list this quarter. 🙂

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Morning Time:

You can see a list of our current morning time schedule here. We are keeping the same framework in the fall but have now added a few books and switched a few things around. We are still using our Morning Time Menus and loving them.  I keep our creed, poetry selections, memory work, Art Study, etc in there and I love having everything tidy and free of juice and jam stains.

Our Daily Collective~
Prayer
Creed
Meditation (Currently its a few verses in Philippians)
Hymn
Indescribable
Catechism
Thinking Tool Box
Laying Down the Rails

New Additions to our Day to Day Selections~
Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Julius Caesar (Plutarch’s Lives)
Hinds Feet in High Places

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Everything else remains the same in terms of history spine, Math, nature study, Latin, Picture Book study, kindergarten work, and geography study. You can find all that information in the Cycle 1 Quarter 1 post.

Towards the end of the summer I was wrestling between science curriculums and I ended up choosing neither. I ultimately went with The First Book of Plants and its beautiful simplicity has been a breath of fresh air. We read one small section every day which the boys turn into a small written narration and then we illustrate it.

Here are some additional books, on top of those mentioned in that C1Q1 post, that we will consider including in our study:

Week 7

History
Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster
-p.258-264 Hinduism
-p.267-272 Buddha
Buddha by Demi
Amy Charmichael by Janet Benge
Turning the Pot, Tilling the Land by Kancha Ilaiah (A children’s book about the brutal realities of the caste system)

Timeline
The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Spear
Beric the Briton by GA Henty
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hanula
—Polycarp
—Balinda
—Constantine
Step Back into Ancient India by Daud Ali
For the Temple by GA Henty

Science
From Egg to Chick by Millicent Selsam (eggs)
Where do Chicks Come From? by Amy Sklanskey (eggs)
Chickens Aren’t The Only Ones by Ruth Heller ((eggs)
Animals Born Alive and Well by Ruth Heller (live birth)
Starfish by Edith Hurd (fragmentation + budding)
Coral Reefs by Gail Gibbons (Fragmentation + Budding)

Geography:
The Library of Alexandria by Kelly Trumble
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Lynn Curlee
Asterix the Gaul (Just for fun!)
The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff
Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster
p.137 The Druids (Gaul + Germania)
The Young Carthaginian by GA Henty

Week 8

History
Gandhi: The Young Protestor Who Founded a Nation
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi (I have yet to read this one. It is written by his grandson)
Gandhi by Amy Pastan
The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky

Timeline
A Castle with Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 1– The Long Fall (Visigoths sack Rome)
Trial and Triumph
Chp 6 Monica and Augustine
Peril and Peace by Mindy Withrow
Chp 10 Early Creeds and Councils
Chp 17 Jerome

Science:
The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
Plants that Never Ever Bloom by Ruth Heller
Up in the Garden Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
How a Seed Grows by Helene Jordan
One Bean by Anne Rockwell (wonderful correlation with Week 1 Science Experiment!)
The Dandelion Seed by Joseph P Anthony
The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds
The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss
Seeds and More Seeds by Millicent Selsam

Geography:
Joseph Hooker: Botanical Trailblazer (Correlates travels to Himalayas with this week’s Science!)
The Pearl Diver by Julia Johnson

Week 9

History
Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster
-p. 246-257 Lao-Tzu & Confucius
The Silk Route: 7,000 years of History
The Emperor’s Silent Army: Terracotta Warrior 
The Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Timeline
A Castle With Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 2 Justinian the Great
Chp 4 The Monastery
Chp 6 Making a Nation (Franks)
Chp 7 The Scroll and the Stone (Muhammed founds Islam)
Chp 8 Charles the Hammer (Battle of Tours)
Chp 10 The Rushing North Wind (Vikings Raid)

Monks and Mystics by Mindy Withrow
Chp 6 Islam
Peril and Peace by Mindy Withrow
Chp 19 Benedict
The Vikings by Elizabeth Janeway
Viking Tales by Jennie Hall
Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla

Science:
A Tree is a Plant by Clyde Robert Bulla
Plants Stems and Roots by David Schwartz
Roots by Kathleen Kudlinski

Geography:
The Story of Ping by Marjorie Flack
Anno’s China
Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel

Week 10

History & Geography
Commodore Perry in the Land of the Shoguns
The Big Wave by Pearl S Buck
Shipwrecked by Rhoda Blumberg
Crow Boy by Taro Yashima

Timeline
A Castle With Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 3 The Earliest Explorers (Erik the Red)
Chp 9 Charlemagne
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula
Chp 11 Alfred the Great
Lief the Lucky by Ingrid D’Aulaire
Monks and Mystics by Mindy Withrow
Chp 5 Charlamagne Crowned by God
Chp 8 Vladimir
Chp 9 A Divided Church (East West Schism)

Science:
Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
Botanicum by Katie Scott
Why do Leaves Change Color by Betsy Maestro

 

Week 11

History & Geography
A Castle With Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 2 Justinian the Great
Stories of the Nations Vol 1 Lorene Lambert
Ch 2 The Ottomans

Timeline
A Castle with Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 13 The Battle of Hastings (Norman Conquest)
Chp 14 Feudalism
Chp 16 The Cross Upon the Shield
Chp 17 Lionheart and Robin Hood
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula
Chp 15 Francis of Assisi
Monks and Mystics by Mindy Withrow
Chp 11 Crusades
Chp 13 Francis of Assisi
Chp 15 Aquinas
Augustus Caesar’s World by Genevieve Foster p. 239-242 (Incas)
Machu Picchu by Elizabeth Mann (Incas)
The Sad Night by Sally Matthew (Aztecs)
Sundiata: Lion King of Mali  by David Wisnieski
Mansa Musa and the Empire of Mali by PJ Oliver
Ashanti to Zulu by Margaret Musgrove
Sundiata: Lion King of Mali by David Wisnieski 
Ancient Japan by Fiona MacDonald (Shoguns)

Science:
Flower Garden by Eve Bunting
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Flowers by Gail Gibbons
The Flower Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta

Week 12

History & Geography
A Castle With Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
-Chp 7 The Scroll and the Stone (Muhammed founds Islam)
Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta
Mosque by David MacCaulay
Saladin by Flora Geyer (Muslim POV of the Crusades)
The Arabs in the Golden Age by Mokhtar Moktefi
Monks and Mystics by Mindy Withrow
-Chp 6 Islam

Timeline
A Castle With Many Rooms by Lorene Lambert
Chp 19 The Great Charter (Magna Carta)
Chp 20 The Mongols
Chp 21 The Travels of Marco Polo
Chp 25 The Black Prince, The Black Death and the White Knight of Orleans (100 years war + Black Death)
Chp 29 Rebirth (Renaissance)
Chp 28 Conquest of Constantinople
Stories of the Nations Vol 1 Lorene Lambert
Ch 2 The Ottomans
Chp 9 Kangxi, Emporer of China (Ming and Qing Dynasties)
The Travels of Marco Polo by Marco Polo
Khubla Khan by Kathleen Krull
Masters of the Renaissance by Jim Weiss
The Magna Carta by James Daugherty
Genghis Khan by Demi 

CM/CC Cycle 1 Week 1 Recap: A Typical Day

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We are back in the swing of things with Classical Conversations, which means our schedule is now back up to full speed! I thought I’d start our recaps of this cycle by walking through the 5 phases of a typical day. For week 2 (and every week after) I’ll focus on a different area of study and what we have in place for it.

Phase 1: Early Morning (time varies)
The boys started each day with their daily Top 5. They make their beds, get dressed, brush teeth, etc. They read their bible and pray. They run laps and do some exercises and then they come in and help set the table and get breakfast together while someone empties the dishwasher from the night before. Once we sit down to eat, morning time begins. I give gentle reminders and encouragement wherever its needed.

Morning Time:
Daily Devotions
Catechism Question #19
Nicene Creed
Hymn: O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus
Memory Work
Daily Character Habit: Cleanliness  or  Thinking Toolbox
Fairy Tales

We did the above every morning, except for community day. Then depending on the day, we added the following:

Monday:
Biography: William Tyndale
Paper Sloyd

Tuesday:
Haliburton Book of Marvels
Poetry Recitation
Exploring Nature with Children (Nature Walk)

Wednesday:
Mozart study (Beautiful Feet Books Music Study)
Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Exploring Nature with Children

Thursday:
Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Poetry Recitation
Herodotus 
Exploring Nature with Children

Friday:
Mathematicians are People Too!
Plutarch: Julius Caesar
Folk Song (Solfège study)
Fra Angelico
Friday Exam

Once we finish with morning time the boys clear the dishes, wipe the table and head off to play until the new hour. I typically load the dishwasher and then sit and read my bible for a few minutes and then look over the day’s schedule.

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Phase 2: Mid Morning Session (2 hours)
On the new hour we gather in the classroom for Math, Music and Latin. I am currently teaching three levels of Right Start Math   so its the first thing we tackle every day! I know I gush about this program often but I am so thankful for it! It blends perfectly into our rhythm and has made math a fun and adventurous time of the day. I always begin by reading through the lesson with the older two. They usually explain what they have learned and then start working. While this is happening the #3 is practicing his violin while #4 is playing with math manipulatives. Once I am done with the older two, #4 gets a brief math lesson. Once #1 and #2 are done they leave to practice their violin and guitar while I teach #3 his math lesson. Once the older boys return they do their Latin drill, unless its Tuesday and then they get a full Latin lesson.  While the older boys work on Latin the younger two play until the new hour.

Next I read from our history selections to the older three. #1 and #2  work on a written narration and #3 gives an oral narration.  While the older two compose their narrations, #3 and I work on his spelling and then I listen to him read for 20 minutes. During this block of time #4 is working on his Homegrown Preschooler activities which I prepare in advance. This block of time with #4 took many years of consistent, intentional training to establish.  It didn’t happen overnight. He can work/play with a tray, clean up after himself and fetch a new one.  This is a GIFT folks. He is purposefully engaged and I am free to work with the other kids.  I’m glad I listened to the older, wiser Mama that recommended we put the work in early.

Once everyone has finished the boys run off to play once more until lunch time.

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Phase 3 Lit Lunch
Lunch is always simple. We almost always have a salad + whatever the boys know how to cook. We also love to rework leftovers from the night before. We eat together for a few minutes while the boys tell me stories or share favorite things they learned that morning. Once I am done eating I begin our lunchtime read alouds. We love to linger at the table so we are never in a rush to finish.
Current lunchtime reads:
Burgess Seashore Book
Classic Myths to Read Aloud
James Herriot Treasury
Beatrix Potter (one story per day)

Once we finish our reads the boys relax until the new hour while I start a new load of laundry or make notes about what I have observed that day or I tidy up or I scream into a pillow if its been a tough morning. This brief little reset is important for me. I spend time thinking and praying and evaluating. You’ve just read through the logistics of our morning schedule without my adding much about how it all pans out when you add in 5 different personalities and a host of various learning abilities. Between math and latin you must add in the occasional squabble and at the breakfast table you must imagine a rumple haired boy fighting to get past the grumps (or surrendering to them entirely). This is real life and its messy at times. Our rhythm keeps us moving forward, keeps us dancing, keeps our purpose and reminds us to keep taking the grace God offers us.

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Phase 4: Early Afternoon Session
The older boys kick off this session with their Essentials work. They begin by copying charts, working on their spelling and vocabulary lists and working on their IEW assignment for the day. #3 and I scoot off to a corner to enjoy his study this year, Around the World with Picture Books Part 1. We read beautiful picture books together and he further extends the study with art or music. He is recording what he learns in a sweet little notebook.  Once he is finished he is free to play while I have a brief K session with #4 followed by any therapy work he needs to do.
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The older boys chime in here and there with questions or requests for help. Once I am finished with their younger brothers, I join them at the table and we diagram sentences together and then check completed work. We play a few rounds of Number Knockout or a Right Start Math game to close out. They then move on to their independent loop  and I wrap up final work with #3.

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Phase 5: Mid Afternoon Phase
The older boys now have 45 minutes of silent reading. The eldest is currently reading Father Brown and #2 is reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. This gives me time to read lots and lots and lots of picture books with #4 (#3 sometimes joins in too). Sometimes we prep for dinner or bake or do some handwork during this time. If its Friday, I use this time to help the littles with their presentations for community day. Once this silent reading time draws to a close we gather around the white board and write out our favorite ideas from the day, new things we learned, questions we have, etc. We try to find  the common themes and we end with prayer or sometimes a song.

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Then its time for afternoon story time, possibly the highlight of our day. The boys eat a snack and then do something with their hands while I read aloud or we listen to an audiobook together. This week #1 worked on illustrating his latest journal, #2 worked on his embroidery from Clementine Patterns, #3 worked on hanging upside down off the side of the couch and #4 snuggled the dog and played with Legos.

Our current afternoon reads:
The Secret Garden
Brighty of the Grand Canyon
The Little Prince

We do this every afternoon except Fridays which is reserved for Poetry Tea Time.

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Finally we move on to Blessing Hour (never takes a whole hour these days). I have a list of chores broken up into four zones and each boy is assigned to a zone. We play music and bless the family by cleaning together. Its amazing how quickly the house is restored to rights when 5 people clean together rather than just one tired mama. Its done in no time at all! The house is cleaned and we can spend the last four or five hours of the day enjoying one another and relaxing. The boys run off to play and wait for Dad to come home and when he does they happily get lost in whatever he wants to do that evening. Music, farming projects, basketball games, etc.

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Once this terrible suffocating heat subsides we will have more and more lessons outside or at the beach.  How we are looking forward to it!

GIVEAWAY! Peaceful Press- Precious People Ancient History Study

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Happy Tuesday dear ones! We are settling back in after a trip up north to visit my sister and her family. CC officially starts next week and we are getting back on track and the boys are thrilled to be studying Ancient History once again. They have plans to build a working shaduf in the yard this week (PRAY for my husband!!! haha!). For those that are still searching for a great Ancient History fit for this year I have a sweet surprise for you!

Today we are partnering with The Peaceful Press to giveaway a copy of their Precious People guide along with their World History Timeline cards. Precious people is a literature and project based curriculum.  You can find out more about the program here, including subjects of study. There are also two links at the bottom of the site which allow you to see a full book list and overview of study along with a free sample of the study.

To enter the giveaway simply comment below and then share the original Facebook post! Giveaway CLOSES on Thursday August 9 at 5pm.

 

Morning Time Tips: Your Job is NOT to Make it Magical (or Kids Can Make Breakfast)

Our Morning Time takes place around our dining room table every morning. We have tea and breakfast together. We feed our bodies, hearts, minds and souls.  We do this every day.  Kids still squabble, there are still grumpy morning vibes (mostly from me) there are still messes and disappointments. Good or bad it all happens around our table where we gather for breakfast and morning time, every single day.

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If someone had showed me a picture of our current morning time back in oh, circa 2011ish, I would have probably wept and asked, “What? How? When? HOW?!?!?!” Back then all the kids were teeny tiny and absolutely everywhere all at once. Back then I was the only person not wearing diapers. Back then I’d take 10 minutes to scramble eggs so my kids could throw it all on the floor and scream for cereal. Back then I was very much in survival mode thanks to my roaring case of PTSD. Back then the only consistent habit I had was exhaustion.


So how did we get here?

The simplest answer is probably my realization that my kids were and are capable human beings and that I did not have to do all this alone. We were homeschooling TOGETHER. I was homeschooling WITH my children. I was not in charge of whipping up magical environments for them every day. Nope. I was learning alongside them and each person had some element of beauty to add to the family experience of homeschooling. If we wanted peaceful, inspiring mornings, we would all have to get there together.

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First there is the realistic part of morning time. Breakfast won’t make itself. How do we get kids to pitch in? Toddlers in their little “me do it” phase are the best place to start.

“ME DO IT!”  tiny person demands.

“Yes, you do it,” bigger person affirms.

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Then you let them do it. Help them learn how to “Me do it” correctly. This will take time. Lots and lots of time. This will make a mess. Lots and lots of mess. Do it anyway.

Teach them how to make their bed and brush their teeth and have them do jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. Try not to plop them in front of the TV first thing in the morning, it will train their attention spans to become very very short and align their expectations towards entertainment instead of discovery and creation.

Ask them to carry napkins to the table. I know you can do it faster and better, ask them to do it anyway. When they’ve got that done move on to forks, then plates, then cups.

Missed the toddler phase? Its never too late. I really believe that. Have conversations, ask what your older children would like to learn about or enjoy in the mornings, or what they would like to learn to cook. Come up with a schedule together. Share the load!

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Our biggest game changers? Teaching them how to unload the dishwasher from dinner the night before and teaching them how to make breakfast. Wow. Those two things changed our lives RADICALLY.  Younger kids set the table and engage in smaller prep work like chopping strawberries or pouring half and half into the creamer. Older kids commandeer the toaster or make skillet pancakes or scrambled eggs. I can have 10 minutes to myself to read my Bible and “look into the face of God before looking into the face of man.” I can walk out of my room and greet my boys who have already completed their Morning Top 5 (different for each child but its some combination of 1. Pray 2.Make Bed/Get Dressed 3. Brush Teeth/Wash Face 4. Exercise 5. Chores). Breakfast is well on its way to being finished and the table is set. We sit down and have our morning time together. The little one stays for about 20 minutes before drifting back to his room to play with his toy animals while the rest of us finish morning time (45 minutes-1 hr 15 minutes start to finish). When its done the boys carry the dishes to the sink and I load the empty dishwasher while they wipe the table and sweep under it. Then we all start music practice or math lessons and the day marches on. This whole scenario is made possible by children. It took YEARS of teeny tiny steps to get here.

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If you are a Charlotte Mason mama you may have that quote about the mother that takes pains to endow her children with good habits ensuring smooth and easy days for herself blaring through your mind right now.

Confession? The longer I homeschool, the more I cringe when people pull that quote.

In some ways, YES, these good habits ensured a smoother start to our day, HOWEVER my kids are still human. They sometimes wake up grumpy. Hell, I wake up grumpy more often than not. My youngest child has SPD and there are some days when little man is just NOT having it. Smooth and easy days all the time? Nope. That will only happen in heaven. Good habits don’t make our days perfect, but they certainly give us a leg up on most problems and these good habits are S L O W L Y  becoming character which is the real goal, not just easier mornings. I am talking about character for myself by the way. Lets always start with ourselves.

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I am not a morning person. There is no glossing over that fact.  If its 7AM and the limpkin outside my window is screaming, I’d rather shoot it than nature journal it. But that would be illegal because the little devils are protected by federal law (looked that up three days into their mating season last spring).  Morning Time is a holy mercy to our family because without all that peace and beauty, these kids have their sometimes grumpy mother to contend with. I value morning time because it fortifies, encourages, uplifts and inspires me right when I am at my worst, right when I need it most.

But….

If I had to make breakfast by myself every day AND clean dishes AND sweep AND get beds made and kids dressed AND all the other stuff….I wouldn’t be able to do it every day because I am not that girl. I’m just not. Having my boys unload the dishwasher and make breakfast is HUGE for me. It blesses me and they know it. I remember this later in the day they are at their worst and need mercy from me. I step in their gaps the way they step in mine. Breakfast and morning dishes are my gap.  Breakfast is half the battle of morning time. The other half is getting kids to sit down for morning time, more on that next time!

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We get lots of requests for breakfast recipes. I’ve resisted because I am not great about measuring when I cook. If you are great with measuring, you will probably hate the next three minutes of your life. If my Tia Racky reads this she will be cringing the whole time. This is my best guess for these recipes. If I don’t list an exact amount its because I trust you to figure it out.

Without further ado, here are our FAVORITE kid-friendly recipes for Morning Time

  1. The Skillet Pancake (cuz nobody has time to flip 20 small pancakes around here)
    10 minutes of Prep
    30 minutes Bake time
    Preheat 375 degrees

    1 Cup All Purpose Flour
    2 Tbsp Sugar
    2 Tsp Baking Powder
    1/2 Tsp salt
    3/4 C buttermilk or whole milk
    1 egg
    1 Tbsp melted butter

    Mix it, pour it into a cast iron skillet and let er’ bake till golden brown. Slice it up like a pie and serve warm

    Topping options: Chopped strawberries, blueberries, peaches, mangos, chocolate chops, maple syrup, honey, etc. Sky is the limit!

    My 9 year old LOVES making this one.

  2. The Crossainwhich
    Prep Time 15 minutes
    Bake Time 20 minutes
    Preheat 375

    **This depends on your stance on packaged food. If you know how to make your own croissant dough, hats off to you! I buy the Immaculate Bakery dough whenever its on sale.

    Croissant dough
    Favorite cheese
    Sliced Ham

    Roll em’ up, cook em’, serve em’.

    The 5 year old is ENTHUSIASTIC about rolling these puppies up.

  3. Parfait Factory
    Prep Time: 10-15 minutes

    Granola
    Whole Yogurt (Try for something low on sugar and high on probiotics)
    Chopped Fruit
    Honey

    We get a little assembly line going here. This is a crowd favorite the day after we go grocery shopping since the berries are still fresh. My eldest has been on a yogurt embargo since 2010 so he usually makes himself toast.

  4. Gluten Free Souffles
    Prep Time: 15 minutes
    Cook Time: Depends on your oven!
    Preheat 375

    Muffin Tin
    Eggs
    Ham
    Spinach
    Cheese
    Favorite Seasonings (Ours is Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning)

    Grease that tin! Drop in some chopped ham, a little bit o’ spinach and then drop in a whole egg or if your kids prefer scrambled (mine do) pour some whipped egg mixture into each hole. Sprinkle with cheese and bake! Kids love commandeering this one!

  5. German Pancakes
    Prep Time: 10 minutes
    Cook Time: 30 minutes
    Preheat 350 degrees

    1 C milk
    1 C All Purpose Flour
    6 eggs beaten
    1/4 C butter
    Salt to taste
    1 tsp Vanilla
    pinch of cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top

    Pour the mixture into a dish and bake till golden and puffy and bubbly and amazing. Serve with honey or syrup or whipped cream and raspberries. Many thanks to our friends Justin and Victoria and their two sets of twin girls for introducing us to these.

  6. The Hodge Podge
    Thats what I say when its every man for himself. More often than not we boil a bunch of eggs (my FAVORITE way to get a toddler to stay engaged with morning time is to give him a hands on breakfast like a boiled egg and a clementine, he peels while I read!).  Then we toast all the toast, chop up fruit and serve up some tea. With each kid grabbing something different, it eventually rounds out well. I know this is not technically a RECIPE, so think of it as a recipe for creativity. We don’t have to plan out every last detail. Spontaneity is a great gift on the first day of your period when the kids are wired and its raining all day long and your spouse is working late. This is when I call for the Hodge Podge morning time, a strong pot of tea and a healthy dose of Bear Grylls episodes afterwards.

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If you have especially great eyesight and have spotted our favorite Keesh-Ways (Abuela’s way of pronouncing Quiche) in our Instagram stories or in pictures and are wondering why I didn’t share the recipe above, well, its not my recipe! It belongs to my friend Sally Clarkson. You can find that recipe in her book: The Life Giving Home. (Read her book no matter what because its FANTASTIC, but know that her rocking’ quiche recipe is in there and my kids love making it).

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Remember friend, our kids can bring something to the table. Even if their range of abilities means their contribution is a smile and song, we can all add beauty to our mornings together. Get those kiddos cooking, picking flowers, singing hymns and listening to God’s word!

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You can find some helpful kitchen tools in one of our Christmas Guides for little chefs HERE  (Amzn affiliate links)

 

 

Making the Most of a School Year

I’ve received many questions lately about homeschooling year round so I thought I would take a few minutes today to answer them and provide a clearer picture of what we do. Below I answer questions sent in the past few months that I’ve kept track of.

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How did you end up schooling year round?
I have four boys and live in an enclosed space with them. That is my main reason. I can not leave them untethered all day long because our house would probably go up in flames. I also found that when I had to “fit everything in” according to the traditional school year calendar they had way less free time! Schooling year round has gifted us all with way more free time. We have the time to go more in depth and to take breaks more often throughout the day. Its a gift! Lastly, summers in Florida are hellish. It is rare to find us outside between the hours of 10AM and 4PM in the months of June, July, August, September or especially cruel Octobers, unless we are fully submerged in the ocean or in a pool. Its miserable. Also, we are spoiled during the year when we have the city to ourselves. Once school lets out there are kids everywhere and lines are longer and well, we’d just as soon be inside reading and learning.
What do you consistently do year round, what never changes?
Morning time, family read alouds and math. Every week day. All year long. Math doesn’t mean we do a worksheet every day, sometimes we just play card games or logic games or strategy games.  We read aloud every day. We usually have three read aloud books going at a single time (currently enjoying The Hobbit, Little Britches and The Hatchet). By read aloud I mean books that I read aloud to my children for the pleasure of it. No tests, no comprehension questions. The boys also have their personal books that they read to themselves every afternoon. The house becomes quite for about an hour and its heavenly. HEAVENLY! Morning Time happens first thing in the morning and changes with the seasons. Once Classical Conversations begins it aligns with whatever we are studying there. When we are away from Classical Conversations it aligns to other topics. I’ll give plenty of examples below.

Why do you do math all year?
First, I do math all year so that math will be shorter every day. If its all spread out, we can take more bite-sized chunks. I teach four levels of math. I need the bite-size chunks. Second, math brings harmony and reason into our home. My kids haven’t caught on that I am terrified of it, though growing less terrified the more I reclaim my education and learn it for myself. They hear me affirm math often. They have expressed delight and satisfaction in how reliable and comforting math is and what a spectacular part of creation it is. I want to keep that momentum going, therefore we do math every school day.

When does the school year START for you?
Our new year always starts the first week of June.  Its hot and gross outside every morning and in the afternoon we are besieged by brutal lightning storms. Its the perfect weather for digging in and being cozy with one another. We found what worked for us!

Does everything start afresh?
Nope. Sometimes it takes us a full year and a half to work through a foreign language book or an art history book. I’m ok with things extending past the calendar year. I’m also not a huge fan of grade levels so I tend to ignore that and go with what my kids need or what excites them.

Do you get any breaks throughout the year?
We school six week on and one week off, all year round.

What happens once CC starts?
Classical Conversations lasts 24 weeks with a 6 week break right between the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  These 24 weeks include extensive Grammar and Writing for my eldest children. All children participate in a weekly science project or experiment and they each do a presentation in front of their peers. They have 6 weeks of Fine Arts Drawing, 6 weeks of Orchestra & Composer Study, 6 weeks of Artist study and 6 weeks of Music Theory.   From August through Thanksgiving and from the week after New Years until the beginning of April, we have a bustling schedule!

Winter break stretches from the week of Thanksgiving through the first week of the New Year. We focus on Advent during that time. We visit friends and make gifts and go caroling.  We also spend those weeks more immersed in cultural field trips (Handel’s Messiah, The Nutcracker etc). We also spend a great deal of time refining our handcraft techniques.

Once CC resumes in January we go back to our regular schedule.

Do your kids play any sports?
We’ve been on and off with sports for a few years. Most recently my kids spent a great deal of time in MMA and BJJ training about four to six hours a week in the late afternoons. This winter we will be playing basketball, though not all four boys would be involved. Year round sports are more than likely not in our future.

What about music?
Now this is one area we definitely keep up with. All four boys are in Suzuki violin, the older two are also learning Suzuki guitar. We have lessons one morning each week and all four boys practice during our math hour. I am a classically trained singer and my husband plays the drums and the piano so all four boys have interest in these areas to varying degrees.  Music is a year round, lifestyle deal for us.

So WHAT do you do all year?
I’m sure you gathered from the above questions that we have SEASONS in our homeschool year.  Below you will find each of our FIVE seasons detailed with what we study during those seasons. I have used the current 2018 calendar year as our example. Remember that we school 6 weeks on, 1 week off during all FIVE seasons. The table below shows a typical Morning Time schedule during the CC year for us. We do not do every single topic every day, it is more spread out. Remember that the topics are brief. 5 minutes for Geography, 2 minutes for Hymn study, 7 minutes for poetry, etc.

Spring Morning Time Schedule:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Devo/Bible x x x x x
Catechism x x x x x
Hymn x x x
Geography (5 minutes) x x x x x
Poetry x x
Art Study x
Composer x
Shakespeare x
Fairy Tales x x x x
Biography x x
Nature Study x x x
Architecture x
Memory Work x x x x x

1) Spring sessions (Jan-early April)
Morning Time: Devotional, Catechism, Geography, Bible, Composer, Art Study, Nature Study, Architecture, Poetry, Fairy Tales, Biography, Hymn Study, Shakespeare, Memory Work 
Music/Math/Foreign Language: Practice Violin/Guitar. Right Start Mathematics (older 3), Essentials math games, math numeracy drills, Latin (Memoria Press)
History: American History
Lit Lunch: Burgess Bird Book / Picture book
Language Arts: Handwriting (all four kids), Spelling (3 eldest), Chart work & IEW papers (eldest), IEW Intensive A (2nd born) Phonics/Read aloud 20 minutes (3rd born) 
Reading: 45 minutes of reading quietly for older two, 20 minutes of quiet reading for 3rd born, I read aloud to the youngest for 15 and then he listen to an audiobook while I read.
Science: work on Spring Science Fair projects 
Blessing hour: Clean home

2) Early Summer session (early April- end of May)
Morning Time: Catechism, Devotional, Hymn, Poetry, Folk Songs, Science biographies 
Outdoor Time: Plenty of beach days and hikes
Museum visits: Art museums, Japanese garden, Science museum etc
Nature Study: average is 1 hour on days we don’t have field trips
Afternoon Tea: 1 hour of tea and reading aloud
Math: Right Start Mathematics
Science: Biology
Blessing hour: Clean the house
3) SUMMER session (June-early August)
Morning Time: Devotional, Catechism, Geography, Bible, Composer, Art Study, Nature Study, Architecture, Poetry, Fairy Tales, Biography, Hymn Study, Plutarch, Shakespeare 
Music/Math/Foreign Language: Practice Violin/Guitar. Right Start Mathematics (all 4), Essentials math games (2 eldest), math numeracy drills (all 4), Latin (2 eldest)
History: Ancient History
Lit Lunch: Burgess Seashore Book / Picture book
Language Arts: Handwriting (all four kids), Spelling (3 eldest),  Read aloud 20 minutes (3rd born) Phonics (4th born) Written Narrative Work (2 eldest)
Reading: 45 minutes of reading quietly for older two, 20 minutes of quiet reading for 3rd born, I read aloud to the youngest for 15 and then he listen to an audiobook while I read.  
Blessing hour: clean the house
(Fridays: Friday Exam, Poetry Tea Time and Symposium)

4) Fall Session (August-November)
Morning Time: Devotional, Catechism, Geography, Bible, Composer, Art Study, Nature Study, Architecture, Poetry, Fairy Tales, Biography, Hymn Study, Plutarch, Shakespeare, Memory Work 
Music/Math/Foreign Language: Practice Violin/Guitar. Right Start Mathematics (all 4), Essentials math games, math numeracy drills, Latin (2 eldest)
History: Ancient History
Lit Lunch: Burgess Seashore Book / Picture book
Language Arts: Handwriting (all four kids), Spelling (3 eldest), Chart work & IEW papers (2 eldest), Read aloud 20 minutes (3rd born) Phonics (4th born)
Reading: 45 minutes of reading quietly for older two, 20 minutes of quiet reading for 3rd born, I read aloud to the youngest for 15 and then he listen to an audiobook while I read.  
Blessing hour: Clean the house
(Fridays: Friday Exam, Poetry Tea Time and Symposium)

5) Winter Break (Thanksgiving- early January)
Morning Time: Catechism, Advent, Hymn, Christmas Art study, Christmas Read Aloud 
Outdoor Time: Plenty of beach days, hikes, caroling
Nature Study: average is 1 hour on days we don’t have field trips
Afternoon Tea: 1 hour of tea and reading aloud
Math: Right Start Mathematics
Independent Study: Each boy choses a topic to investigate and we load up on library books for them. 
Handcrafts: Knitting, sewing, crochet, candle making, soap making, etc. 1 hour per day
Blessing hour: Clean the house

** I have to note hear that I have several schedules posted under our rhythm section if all the above confuses you. This was just meant to be an overview of topics we study during the year. For more detailed scheduled please look under the Rhythm or Classical Conversations tabs of this blog.

** PLAY TIME is also a crucial part of our schooling ALL YEAR ROUND. 

How do you plan a full year?
I start by looking at what our topics for CC will be that year and then I write down all that they will be tackling so I can see it laid out. I typically make a chart divided by months and I fill each month with what we will be studying. Those CC months are academically heavy! I don’t bother filling in with things like art projects and science projects during those 24 weeks b/c the kids are getting that on community day. For our months without CC I plan to dive deeper into areas we don’t have time to tackle during the CC Year. We go more in depth with science, art, handcrafts, etc. Its really all about balancing! We have our seasons of more intense learning but my goal is to make sure that even the intense seasons are still restful for all of us. This is an important topic to understand! If you have yet to read Sarah Mackenzie’s Teaching From Rest, please do so!

Do you recommend year round homeschooling for all families?
Here is my favorite thing about homeschooling– you can do what works for your family. That is the whole point! You’ve thrown off the shackles of government education and depending on your state requirements, you get to decide what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Figure out the rhythms of where you live, of your specific family and their needs, of your spouse’s work schedule, of your local co-op schedule etc. Find a way to make it harmonize with the education and life you want for your family. I won’t say whether or not children should be schooled year round, I only know that it works for us.

HOWEVER, I will say that I highly encourage mothers to homeschool themselves year round. Keep learning, Mama. This all starts with you.  Read good books, go back and learn whatever math you didn’t learn at school, memorize poetry, take an art class, pick one small thing and do it each and every day for a few minutes. If you have 8 children 3 and under ( or it feels like you do) spend 10 minutes a day listening to a piece of beautiful music or taking in a beautiful piece of art and let that be your daily deposit for yourself. Art Middlekauf says “that which emanates from the parent” is the atmosphere of education.  I have this quote written on the first page of my commonplace journal to remind me every day that I am setting the atmosphere here.

 

 

5 Essentials for Essentials: Our First Year

We finished our first year in Essentials at the start of April. I’ve been processing it ever since.

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We prepared as best we could before the year started. My son had reached a point with his dyslexia where we were pretty much done with remedial programs and we began looking at ways to alleviate secondary “symptoms” with vision therapy, diet changes and essentials oils. I had worked and reworked his schedule to try and find the optimum time of day for him to do his Essentials work.  We gathered our supplies, I researched blogs and spoke to other moms of kids with dyslexia and came up with strategies.  I was his Essentials teacher at home and happened to be his tutor in Essentials class and I was an Essentials student myself. I knew that I needed to go in with the right perspective and expectation, otherwise I could unknowingly do a lot of damage.  I made sure to communicate our expectation for the first tour, not by setting the bar low, but by being realistic about what a huge amount of work lay before us. We prepared as best we could and dove in.

This year did not go the way I thought it would. I was wrong about so many things its almost laughable.

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I thought it would be a year fraught with frustration and tears, instead we found a year of battling for the worthy and coming out the other side bruised but victorious and closer than ever.

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He soared.

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Newly minted Memory Master giving his Faces of History Paper as Ethan Allen

I am still in awe of how well he did. This year was, without a doubt, a success. Not because he completed every single paper (He didn’t) or because he is now a national number knockout wiz (He isn’t), not because he achieved memory master for the first time (He did!) or because he gave a beautiful faces of history speech as Ethan Allen (He did!). This year was a success because of how he grew in character, determination, self awareness, and responsibility. He is 10 years old and has a deeper understanding of the word humility than most adults I know and this is something to be deeply grateful for.

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Essentials encompasses what should be his worst areas of study, yet he was able to hold his own in there. I witnessed how well the classical method works, not only in in learning about grammar and writing but in instilling virtue and wisdom. I didn’t expect to see the fruit so early on, but we have.

Many of you were asking for a recap of our year and some insight into things that worked well for us. I decided to share about the benefits of memory work, practical tools we used, recognizing limitations and setting healthy expectations, humility and respect and finally, how prayer played a big part in our year.

  1. MEMORY WORKIN’ IT!
    He may have been a “late” reader, but his excellent auditory and memory skills, which we lovingly refer to as his “dyslexia superpowers,” helped him ANNIHILATE those charts. During our time in Foundations we have paid attention to the English section of our memory work each week. We found songs on CC Connected and we would listen to them in the car. The three year old memorized the entire prepositions list on a road trip one year. I cannot begin to tell you how helpful that was when we sat down to do the nitty gritty work of Essentials Grammar this year. We copied each chart at least once a week by hand. The rest of the time we sang the charts or recited them. He would close his eyes and run down them in seconds. I would take the master card stock copies of my charts with the corresponding pieces all cut out and he would place them in the right spaces like puzzle work. My friend Liz copied hers in different colors and I’ll be doing the same this year when I make fresh copies. We would race each other. We would rattle off lists in funny accents. Charting was fun. I did not see that coming! Since we weren’t stuck memorizing things, we moved on to seeing how things worked. Instead of spending 20 minutes writing one chart, we’d take one minute to recite it all and then I’d ask questions about it. He ended up using the vast majority of his time to  explain how things worked. He was teaching.By week 6 I found myself staring at him while he parsed a sentence on the board in class and explained why it was correct, Wait….is he AWESOME at grammar? Yes, yes. He is awesome at grammar. How did that happen? He has dyslexia! He isn’t supposed to be good at this and yet he is rocking this! HOW??? He memorized the charts. He was told repeatedly to use his superpowers. He had moments early on where he met with success and that gave him CONFIDENCE which then blossomed into MOTIVATION.  He had already done the hard work of memorizing it all when he was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and all he had to do now was PLAY with it. Wow. All the praise hands for the classical method.
  2. TOOLS
    Visiting a behavioral ophthalmologist was life changing for us. We knew about his dyslexia, but we didn’t realize how many other secondary issues were going on that we could FIX thereby decluttering the rocky path for him. We discovered his over convergence and ordered special glasses. We began eye exercises to help strengthen his eye muscles so he could sustain focus for longer periods of time without growing tired or developing headaches.
    Here are a few other tools we picked up that helped tremendously.61V9epg4jML._SL1500_.jpgA Visual Edge Board that achieves The Harmon Distance, which is the optimum degree for reading comprehension, writing, processing etc.  We love the portable one shown above. It is a functioning magnetic white board, has a book catch and clipboards at the top. This has been a multi-purpose work horse for us. I was a bit incredulous when it was first recommended to us but after seeing the benefits I am now saving up to purchase these for the rest of my kids.71FnYYevz6L._SL1280_.jpg

    Colored Reading Strips continue to save our bacon. He used much bulkier ones when he was younger, but these thin ones are just the ticket! He prefers certain colors and he can use them discreetly in class and they double as bookmarks.

    I know many people hi light their charts to death but my guy couldn’t stomach the smell of hi lighters so we use hi light TAPE instead.

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    Yes! Even my neurotypical children use these noise reducing ear muffs! We have a pair of these and they have been so helpful on days when we are working on a new skill that requires high levels of focus and concentration. When his sensory needs brother is singing at the top of his lungs in the corner, he can pop these on and sail through his work undisturbed. He wears these often while we work on sentences for our IEW papers.

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    We used brightly colored index cards for vocabulary, spelling, and IN PLACE OF OUR QUID ET QUO!!! We wrote one word on each card and tacked it onto the whiteboard or spread it out on the floor and then I would ask the questions aloud so we could further define each word within the Quid Et Quo. I’m so glad we didn’t skip out on Quid Et Quo and using these bright little cards and making adjustments as needed for him, allowed us to make the most of QEQ!

  3. LIMITATIONS AND EXPECTATIONS
    I knew that part of our success with Essentials would fall on MY consistency with it. After all, I was an Essentials student too and the LEAD LEARNER in my home. I needed to sit down and take out my composition notebook and copy my charts and write my papers and make my corrections. I needed to model consistency. I needed to set healthy limits for myself and model that as well. I needed to find a balance between modeling consistency and staying on top of everything else I had to do. We were told over and over at practicum and in our Essentials Guide intro that First Tour students only catch so much. I was a first tour student too and I needed to set my limits for each day. How much more did my 10 year old need limits? Two weeks in and I learned quickly what his limits were and that helped us form a right expectation for our weekly work.Here is the thing that probably helped us the most this year…I NEVER LET DEMANDS DRIVE HIM TO THE POINT OF ANGER OR FRUSTRATION. 

    He has many tell tale signs that he displays when he is getting frustrated (insert hair tugging, weeping and growling frustration emojis here). I learned to pay attention to those a long time ago. There are times for pushing towards excellence and there are times for recognizing that shattering self esteem is not worth a completed assignment.  When he started displaying those signs of frustration I stepped in to assess. Did he need more explanation? Did we need to think outside the box and lay things out a different way? Was he hungry? Tired? Was there something else weighing on him? How could we best equip him to meet the challenge? Did we need a brownie Stat? Did we need to take a break? Sometimes there were no other issues, it was just a difficult concept that exceeded our current limitations. When that happened we caught whatever we could before moving on. On those days, I documented our experience in my guide and wrote the date down. I’m hoping that with the benefit of one more spin around the sun, he’ll reach greater understanding next year and I can encourage him by saying, “Hey! Look how much farther you came this year!”

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    4. HUMILITY & RESPECT: Asking and Giving Help

    Grammar was a breeze for him, writing was another story. We had to adjust and readjust constantly those first few weeks. I quickly saw that he needed to break up his writing differently than what the IEW schedule put forth. As his Essentials teacher, I made the call to do things differently than what I, his Essentials tutor, told everyone to do in class.

     I have sat through several lectures and listened to many, many podcasts by Andrew Pudewa. I have heard him reassure parents over and over and over again to HELP OUR KIDS AS MUCH AS THEY NEED. Well, if he was going to bother saying that publicly a hundred times I figured I needed to bother putting it into practice.

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    Here is thing about helping our kids as much as they need— helping as much as they need is a HUGE inconvenience to us. It eats away at the little time we have. It calls us to die to ourselves a little more than we already have. It creates more possibility for us to lose our cool when explaining something for the 900th time that day. Helping more is tough! I tried to look at it as a chance to grow in forbearance and patience and gentleness and self-control, but there were more days than I’d care to admit when I just about lost my mind. I wish I could make it sound like it was all rainbows and butterflies but it wasn’t. It very much mirrored what I was asking my own son to do, work diligently at something worthy really hard, over and over again, as long as needed. Strangely enough, by the 20th week I realized that being consistent in this difficult area brought so much depth to our relationship as mother and son, teacher and student, student and fellow student. It became a gift.

    How did I help my particular student as much as he needed? I scribed for him. I transferred his Key Word Outlines onto notecards. I copied out a zillion adjectives for his story sequence that I privately named “Adjective Purgatory.” I wrote other words on notecards and helped arrange and rearrange them a half dozen times. I sat patiently while he learned to use the synonym finder and sat patiently again while explaining why that particular word wouldn’t work for that particular sentence and then I sat (a little less) patiently while he expressed his displeasure that his word wouldn’t work and then we worked to find one that would work. I wrote notecards with words for potential sentence openers and let him choose his favorites for his own paper. I listened while he came up with alliterations for his dragon book and even allowed him to write a paper on dragons instead of the Statue of Liberty as a way to motivate him through a rough patch with IEW. I did whatever I needed to do to help him learn well. Sometimes I had a cheerful heart about it and sometimes I did it, but the bottom line is that help was given where it was needed.

    An unexpected side benefit in all the above was that we learned how to ask respectfully for guidance and help instead of just shouting in frustration. We learned to humble ourselves and reach out to someone when we needed it. We learned to humble ourselves and help when someone reached out. Its amazing how Essentials is about so much more than just grammar, writing and math.

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    5. PRAYER
    We started with prayer. Before we opened a notebook or wrote down a single word, we prayed. We praised Him for being the Word and for the abundant beauty He created within the word and within the world spoken into being. We thanked Him for the opportunity to learn together at home. We asked God to go before us and help us. We asked Him to clear our heads and help us see more of Him through each exercise. We asked that He would bless our time together and give us grace for one another.

    This put us in a position of humility before we even began. We knew we needed help. We put our desire to learn into words. We were united from the get go. We were on the same team. We tried to start this way every single time we sat down to do Essentials. There was a marked difference on the days we did, not because God rewarded us with an awesome day, but because we approached it with the right attitude.  I’m not peddling the deathly stench of prosperity gospel here, we were NOT “blessed with success” because of our prayers. We were aligning our hearts and attitudes with God’s will and any merciful insights given to us along the way were counted all grace.

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    August 2017

How much has changed since last year? Well, he still has dyslexia. We still talk about super powers. We are working harder than ever to accomplish things that are easy for most others.  We have known the joy of working hard for something worthy and we are determined to press on. We are learning how to keep humbling ourselves so we can respectfully ask for help. My son has known victory and his confidence has grown. We are more flexible and more eager to think outside the box than ever. No conveyor built, factory style learning for us! He is writing more and more on his own. He’s keeping journals and diaries of animal behavior and plant life and dragons and little by little his spelling is improving.  We are learning to guard our limitations while still urging one another to soar. I’m realizing more than ever that all these homeschool/life goals, all the life-giving learning and character shaping and habit training and wisdom seeking, all of it starts with me.

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I loved tutoring Essentials so much that I opted to step down from Directing so I could continue tutoring Essentials before directing Challenge A.  This means that I’ll tutor both my boys in Essentials next year along with being their Essentials teacher at home and an Essentials student myself. I’ll have the added twist of setting new expectations and limitations for a 2nd tour student and new expectations and limitation for a 1st tour student that is entirely different from his older brother. There is so much more to learn! I should probably feel overwhelmed but I don’t. I feel comforted knowing that we will be doing this together. In the end, our relationships are what grew the most this year and as result many other things were able to blossom. We press on!