Last November I attended an excellent Simply Charlotte Mason Encouragement Conference in South Florida. After one of the sessions I was catching up with Sonya Schafer, who is easily one of my favorite speakers, and she mentioned the ongoing work of reproducing the original Charlotte Mason Homeschooling series. My heart almost stopped! Like many other CM homeschoolers, I treasured my original “pinks,” which had been published by the Andreola family until they could no longer make copies. Once publication of the original pinks ceased, a few “reproductions” were released that were not true to the original writings. I was always so frustrated when trying to help incoming families that were trying to understand the CM philosophy. I was grateful to have the online reproduction of Charlotte’s writings on Ambleside, but for those mothers desiring to read unabridged, unedited, paper copies of Charlotte’s writing they had only eBay to look to and the prices on there ranged from barely affordable to YIKES. When Sonya said they would be reprinting this series with the blessing of the Andreola family I felt such a rush of gratitude knowing that these new books would be authentic and authorized!
You guys know I love my books. Between rescuing and restoring old books, finding new treasures to love, and snapping up deals for my community, book deliveries are a fairly regular occurrence around here. This was probably one of the most emotional box openings ever for me! I read Charlotte Mason’s writings at a time in my life when I had prayed that God would cut through confusion and disorder and show me a clear path for my children. Through a series of events that only He could have orchestrated, I met Charlotte. Oh, how her writing pierced me! I walked away feeling like God had given me a firm plan through Charlotte’s faithful work. The influence of her writing on our homeschool life cannot be measured. When I opened the box and pulled out this beautiful new edition, I was instantly teary-eyed, remembering my first reading and thinking of all the other parents out there that now have access to these books. The love and dedication that went into preserving and publishing these beauties is evident from the moment you open the first book in the six volume series, entitled “Home Education.”
A touching forward by Dean Andreola, an endorsement by Susan Schafer Macaulay, the original introduction to the series by Dean and Karen Andreola, the original forward by John Thorley, and the original prefaces to the Home Education series and the 4th edition of the series by Charlotte Mason, are all included in the opening pages.
I am happy to say that the differences between the Simply Charlotte Mason books and the original Pinks are differences I am pleased with. No missing passages, no heavy edits, no disordering of pages. The text is complete and authentic. The text is also bigger. Hallelujah, the text is 28% bigger! No more late night squinting while I transfer words back and forth between my original books and my common place journal. Speaking of my journal, there are wide margins for note taking in these new books which means these reprints serve as both source text and personal journal.
I gave it a whirl the other night and am happy to say that reading, note taking, and journaling have never been easier when studying Charlotte’s words. The new books also lay flat when opened. If you have ever tried to transfer notes from the original books you will understand the glory of that last sentence.
Another meticulous detail I greatly appreciate? Original page numbers are preserved at the top of the newly enlarged text while new page numbers hold guard at the bottom of the page. I had to smile when I saw that, I have always loved how organized, and thoughtful Sonya Schafer is. All of the resources SCM releases are beautiful, practical and functional and these long prayed for reproductions are no exception.
I had high expectations for these books and I am so happy to say they were met and surpassed. I received an email from a brand new homeschooling mother the other day. She asked how to get started with Charlotte Mason homeschooling and how to find out more about Charlotte Mason. How wonderful to include in my response, “You can find Charlotte’s complete and original writing over at Simply Charlotte Mason.”
Thank you to Sonya Schafer and the dedicated team over at Simply Charlotte Mason for this labor of love.
Materials were received free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions stated above are my own.
I am someone that likes to look ahead. It was January 2015 when I realized that my son would be entering Essentials August 2017 and I knew very little about the program itself. This means I had a solid 2 years and 8 months for prayer, research, reflection, conversation, preparation and more importantly, surrender. I thought I would share a bit about our process of preparing for Essentials and the approach we are taking this fall.
Preparing for Essentials
My first step was prayer. I felt utterly overwhelmed at the thought of my barely able to read dyslexic child entering such a rigorous program. I wasn’t sure it would work with our Charlotte Mason style. I began to ask God whether or not I should delay a year and allow him to join in the 2018-2019 school year alongside his brother. I prayed for God to illuminate the right path for our family and that He would bless us with discernment in knowing how to prepare and encourage our son.
Next, I began reading The Core and The Conversation, both by Leigh Bortins. They were tremendously helpful in casting that beautiful long term vision for what we are doing now and where we are going. With this excellent road map in hand, I began to read the arsenal of articles on IEW’s website about reading, writing, speaking, and listening. I started speaking to Essentials parents, talking to my local area support team, and chatting with Essentials students themselves. Then I made sure to review our English grammar memory work as much as possible without over doing it. There is a fine line there. Memory work comes naturally at this stage of learning and you don’t need to beat a dead horse. Once they have it, move on.
When the 2016-2017 school year hit, I felt confident with the game plan God had led me to. We purchased IEW’s Student Intensive A and began slowly working through the lessons at our own pace. I cannot begin to express how beneficial this was for us. Those first 6 intense weeks of Essentials? We just had a year to work through those units at our own pace. It was the perfect gentle introduction! My second born (12 months younger than the eldest and a gifted learner) joined in for these lessons and loved them. The lessons are written with squirrely, active children in mind. I don’t know that the boys would have tolerated another program half as well. I never had to ask them twice to come and read about slime eels or sea snakes. All of the stories drew them in and every exercise gave them the material, tools and confidence to write on their own and to do it well. I am amazed at how much they accomplished this year! I did not push them farther than they could bear. It was important to me that their writing time be filled with encouragement and excitement. Hear me when I say that the cook setting on this operation was LOW AND SLOW.
We also picked up IEW’s fantastic Spelling program, Phonetic Zoo, which is auditory based and worked beautifully with my son’s dyslexia. So many spelling programs out there are geared towards very young learners and my son was instantly turned off by their abundance of stickers, graphics, and curriculum “twaddle” that instantly offended his taste for rich language gained through our living read alouds. He wanted something on his level! This program is based off of a zoo full of interesting animals, with clever rhymes to remember spelling rules. The spelling words are presented through the audio CDs (or mp3s) by Andrew Pudewa and another fellow my children refer to as “The Gentleman Pirate.” They insist that he sounds like a man with a touch of sea salt to his voice. They imagine that he is a sea Captain of some sort, though not the pillaging sort hence “Gentleman” before “Pirate.” They have also enriched his backstory to include a possible foray into the world of science as a mechanical engineer and inventor of silly machines like “The Handy Dandy Tea Stirring Robot.” Needless to say, they love the audio CDs and always remind me that we have to do spelling every single day. The children used this spelling program completely on their own, freeing me to do work with my younger children while granting them an enjoyable responsibility that felt very much like freedom in and of itself. My eldest now has the experience of independent work. He knows how to care for materials, pull out what he needs, set work up on his own, discipline himself to work through his portion and put everything away when he is done. Surprise! We got a boatload of character and habit training with our spelling program.
Where does that leave us now? Well, we feel that we are ready for Essentials. Not because he has mastered reading, spelling or writing, but because we feel the Lord telling us it is time. I also feel that my son needs a year of Essentials on his own, away from his brothers, to test his own mettle and to forge deeper friendships with others.
Here is our approach for Essentials this year:
1) Consistent, protected steps:
We have THREE years with this program. Making room in our schedule for daily, small portions of work is important. I am protecting my son’s time and space by scheduling his Essentials work at a time when his mind is sharp and clear. For him, this is in the afternoons. One of his best dyslexia superpowers is skilled memorization abilities. I am not too worried about those grammar charts (EEL). However, writing is exhausting so we will allow for writing some charts and filling in other charts with laminated labels. On days when his dyslexia is really exhausting him, we will save the writing portion (IEW) for the evenings when his mind and creativity really come alive. I am a night-owl writer too and can empathize with that need to put a creative burst born of the midnight hour to good use. These dedicated allotments of time each and every day will yield much by the end of the week.
Note: The schedule below is in block format (see page 36 of the 4th edition Foundations Guide for a great explanation of this system!) My son has a one hour block of time to complete his allotted Essentials work for the day but he likely will not take the full hour, leaving him with a free chunk of time to play or rest before beginning the next block on the new hour.
2) Rightly sized portions: Again, three years to master this stuff. I don’t see the need to do everything all at once. After viewing several helpful webinars and reading many handouts on Learning Pathways (Ask your Director!) and reading several excellent articles on CC’s Writer’s Circle, I am confident in our decision to take small bites this year. Aside from rotating between writing and labeling our charts with laminated cards, we will not be doing the editing exercise this year and I will be scribing for him. I will also help with typing his papers for class. These papers are not a hill of mom-pride expectation I want to die on. We will master a small layer this year and tack on another layer next year.
3) Rightly sized attitude:
I plan to recite the following often: He is not a product. He is a soul. Its not about what he is learning. Its about who he is becoming. Its not about perfection. Its about practicing.
He does not have to know this all by next April! Heck, I don’t even know it all right now! Before I bought school supplies for Essentials, I picked out Bible verses brimming with grace and encouragement to give my child on those tough days. This isn’t just about grammar and writing. Working on hard things requires right attitude before the Lord, dedicated effort and willingness to persevere. This gifts us with ownership over what we have earned. It shapes character and sets habits in place. When done for the glory of God, these things point us to wisdom.
4) Partnering in learning Lets not ask our children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Its not up to our tutors to make this a successful year. We need to dig in and model life-long learning for children. How we use our time speaks loudly. Lets say with our days, this material is so worthy we are giving our own time to do it! We are not just the teachers, we are the lead learners in our homes. Find your place at the table and work alongside your child. Carve out the best space in your learning schedule and reserve it. Maybe your spouse would like to join in too? One of our local Essentials tutors makes the parents in her class do all the charts. I love that. I love it so much I am requiring all our parents to do the chart work each week. I’m even making checklist sheets for the parents and kids to sign when their partner has completed their daily chart work for the week. Relationship building through grammar charting? Yes, please.
5) Holding the handle bars: Where did that CC metaphor of bike riding come from? I stayed up too late last night to remember it now. Someone, somewhere along the way, spoke or wrote about our children’s educational journeys on the extended metaphor of learning to ride a bike. Our littlest ones learn the parts of the bike and sit upon them with training wheels securely fastened before peddling away to spin in little circles around the driveway. When connections and questions begin pouring forth we take off those training wheels and walk alongside those shiny bikes and their occupants, gripping those handlebars tightly as everything wobbles back and forth. I’ve thought about that metaphor often these days. I see now that the time for letting go is on the horizon. Ownership, Discipline, Freedom, Choices, Consequences, Leadership all lay further down the road and at some point I have to let go so that bike can get there. But right now, I am holding the handlebars, and recognizing that each individual rider reaches that ready point in his own time. I watch and observe. The rider might one day shout “I can do this! Let go!” and sail off down the road without a backward glance. Or I might observe until the spirit nudges me to wisely let go and allow a few bumps and scrapes to occur before that bike goes sailing off on its own. But for now, my job is to hold the handle bars without losing sight of the rider or the road ahead. How do I accomplish this? I equip him. I encourage independence and ownership in small little steps. We’ve organized our Essentials notebooks with these things in mind. We will partner together to further his education and to continue redeeming my own. We look beyond grammar and writing and fix our eyes on wisdom, knowing that the struggle for this knowledge leads us somewhere worthy and wonderful. We order our days wisely so we that by God’s grace we can complete our daily portion. We stick with it, one day at a time. I hold on to the handlebars, without losing sight of the rider or the road ahead. I remember how I came to hold these handlebars in the first place. I’ve been blessed, called and equipped to stand here. Fear has no place alongside the joy of this confidence.
Anyone else starting Essentials for the first time this year? Any other learning SUPERPOWERS out there? Chime in with your thoughts, ideas, verses, favorite brand of ice cream below in the comments!
IEW links above are affiliate links. All opinions of IEW products are my own. All IEW products used in our home were purchased by us.
We are faithfully working our way through Beautiful Feet Book’s Ancient History pack. I had planned to use this beautiful program slowly, stretching it out over the course of one whole year. My boys, however, ask for it every day and so we now find ourselves a mere 30 lessons away from completing the whole thing.
This is probably the most concentrated formal academic growth for them I have ever observed. I am so glad we waited!!! I see the fruit now. I am witnessing this coming of age and for them, its happening swiftly and with great confidence. No pushing, cajoling, begging, etc. They are eager to find new ideas and encounter great thoughts.
One lovely evidence of this change is found within their personal research journals. Simple composition books filled with written narratives, drawings, quotes, maps, and a detailed glossary in the back. They treasure their notebooks! I believe they value them because they OWN those notebooks. The information contained within was truly taken in, processed and then put forth by them into their journals. The truth of Charlotte Mason’s words, “What a child digs for becomes his own possession,” shines forth here for us and it has been such a great encouragement to my heart. Oh that I could travel back in time and encourage my fretting self.
We have not lacked for living books around here. We are constantly reading and I am thankful that the older two are now confident in their independent reading. We are reading the Bendick, D’Aulaire and Padraic Collum books aloud as a family. The rest are enjoyed here and there with individual children or independently during their self-imposed “research hour.” Let me be clear, my children do not devote an hour to independent study every day of the year. This typically happens in the sweltering months of tropical heat when no one really wants to be outside. In the lovely winter months all “research” is conducted out of doors, preferably up a tree.
The boys have built up their independent reading time to a little over an hour now. I love seeing them nestled in my grandparent’s old armchairs, sipping tea and reading. My little one is typically in his room listening to an audiobook and partying with his stuffed animals. The third born and I like to work on his Right Start Math during this time.
Speaking of Math, we are still THRILLED with the Right Start Mathematics program. I am so thankful we found it early enough to rectify/reverse a lot of confusion. Their math fluency has increased so rapidly these past few months. We are almost ready to begin the next level! The older boys love to bring out the card games book and play through their favorites. Their next youngest brother usually joins in by the end of the game.
The short, focused lessons fit in so nicely with our CM style of learning. We have played around with a few different ways of organizing the materials so the children can use them and care for them well. I think we’ve found one method that works well, a few more weeks should let me know if we’ve found the right solution! Once I know for sure, I will be sharing it on here. I also plan to keep sharing about Right Start on our daily Instagram stories so keep an eye out for those!
Lastly, we have finally finished our Latin books from Memoria Press. We enjoyed them so much! We’ll be taking a break from Latin until August when we start up the next volume.
These summer days are focused on History, Math, Music, Writing and Spelling and whatever goodness we serve up for morning time. We have found a good rhythm for our days— feasting on beautiful ideas and plenty of time for lingering, thinking and resting.
I have received hundreds of requests for the information below which details our Charlotte Mason approach to Classical Conversations. Please understand that this is not the only possible approach to CC with CM. You do not need to have every single book on this list. This is simply what works for my particular family, in my particular home, within our particular schedule, with my children’s particular learning styles and my particular teaching inclinations. In other words, dear reader, I am sharing this in the hopes that it gives you inspiration to compile your own schedule for your own family’s needs. Keep in mind, this is not the only way!
A Charlotte Mason Approach to Classical Conversations Cycle 3 Weeks 1-6
Book of Narrations & Book of Centuries Each week the child can choose two pieces from the TIMELINE to study and narrate. I have included a list of books we use for these, if there is no book available then we use the timeline card. If the child is too young for written narration, I will record his oral narration and then type it out. He will then illustrate the narration and put it into his Book of Narrations. An older child will write their own written narration and illustrate it for their own Book of Narrations. With each passing year we add more pieces to our Book of Narrations, slowly moving towards a completely narrated Timeline. We will update our Book of Centuries with new information as we go along. One series that we use for Timeline study is Olive Beaupre Miller’s A Picturesque Tale of Progress Complete Set, Volumes 1-9” If you can find the set, (check eBay, abebooks, thrift books, amazon used, etsy) the illustrations are lovely and the words are lush and engaging. Our set was published in 1929. History: Each child will receive a composition notebook for recording their History study notes. We will read a portion of the chosen book and then narrate and illustrate it. I am listing several choices but only reading a few each week. We will also be reading through “A Child’s First Book of American History” by Earl Schenk Miers, illustrated by James Daugherty as our main history text. The boys will probably listen to The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child, Vol. 3: Early Modern Times audio at night before bed.
Map Work: The children will practice their map work by tracing a state each day onto a piece of paper and illustrating the state bird and state flower alongside it. Then they can work on their larger laminated map for a few minutes. The youngest child (age 4) will be using these free Crayola state sheets. Handwriting: We will continue using developmentally appropriate Prescipts from Classical Conversations. Latin: We will memorize our weekly Latin alongside our consistent use of Memoria Press Latina Cristiana 1. Math: We will continue using Right Start Math and memorizing our math cycle. We start each math period with memory drills through song. Language Arts: My eldest is now in Essentials. (Deep breathing) My second born will finish Student Intensive A from IEW and then use one of the smaller writing books for the rest of the year. Both children will use the independent auditory spelling program from IEW. My third born will continue using his current language arts routine. I have listed several family read aloud choices. I will probably let my children choose which ones we read. I don’t know if we will finish one each week or if we will just select a new one every other week.
We will study our chosen Artist, Poet, Hymn, Shakespeare Play, etc on a loop. The Family Read Aloud list will be featured at the end. The rest of the our morning studies will commence from the lists below. We use the CC memory work to launch into subjects that correlate. I will be blogging through each week so you can get a better idea of how this list comes to life.
We have wrapped up our study of Ancient Egypt. I’ll be honest, I wanted to stretch this Ancient History study so it would last the whole year. If we keep up this pace we’ll be done by August! The truth is, my boys did not want to stop once they started. We do a lesson a day (sometimes two) and even after I leave the classroom, they keep working away on their study. We’ll see if this trend lasts through our study of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome!
I’ll say once more that one of our favorite books for this unit was “Ancient Egypt and Her Neighbors” by Lorene Lambert. We also listened to the excellent Jim Weiss recording, “Pharaohs and Queens of Ancient Egypt.” We enjoyed a special Poetry Teatime Ancient Egypt Edition thanks to the book, “Voices of Ancient Egypt.” The boys wanted Ancient Egyptian food but after an overwhelming week we stuck with our normal fare and simply pretended it was Ancient Egyptian. We giggled quite a bit, “please pass the mummified scones and a scarab biscuit please!” Lastly, If you are able to find a copy of the book “The Egyptians Knew” by Tillie S Pine, it is a lovely addition to this study. The boys loved reading about how things were done then, how they are done today and how they could do it at home.
As for our long term projects, we finished our little homemade Tales of Egypt book, which was comprised of our narration work for the Roger Lancelyn Green Book. We also completed our field notes for David MacCaulay’s “Pyramid.” I gave each of the boys a small journal and told them to fill it with their favorite bits and pieces from the MacCaulay book. They could pretend to be chief architects or stone masons, taking notes and drawing observations. I loved seeing how each child had a different approach to this project. One was drawn to the technical side of building, another to the social side of constructing a pyramid. The boys also made a book report about “The Golden Goblet” and finished their report on Ancient Egypt. Strange how they are suddenly ready for so much more. I am so glad that I did not push them to do things before their time.
We spent one last day learning about Vivaldi and Corelli with our History of Classical Music Study. The boys had asked for “just a little bit more time!” and of course I could not say no to that. The correlating Music Masters CD that comes with the curriculum plays more than once a week at our house. We’ve been enjoying the music of Vivaldi as we set the table before meals, tidy up during blessing hour or when I send the kids to their rooms for quiet time (usually after someone sustains an injury after a poorly regulated light saber battle in the living room). We are so looking forward to beginning our study of Bach. The Story of the Orchestra book has started to cement a better understanding of the music periods in the boys minds. I quite enjoy their burgeoning conversations about music, everything is so awkward and limited right now, but I see the growth and it makes me smile.
My third born is progressing with his FIAR study and we continue to read through the Ambleside read aloud together. The older boys have been joining in on some of them. Recently we began reading the Burgess Bird Book for Children again, our third time through as a family, and the older children are still enchanted by each story. They pulled out the craft paper and began painting the Old Orchard, the Briar Patch, etc. and filled each tree with this beloved winged characters that brighten our lunch hour each day. We have done this story map exercise before, but this time the boys led the way alone. They helped their little brother walk through the story, pointing to the different characters as he giggled and narrated each tale.
Guys, I am in love with Right Start Math. I am so sad that I didn’t find it sooner, but I am relieved I found it in time. I am blown away by how much my children are learning, how greatly their fluency has increased, how much deeper their understanding of math is. My eldest has done a complete 180. Saxon was quite a burden for him because of his Dyslexia. The constant busy work was tantamount to torture for him. He is so thrilled to have so many games and tools and visual aids to lock these concepts in with. After struggling with place value for years, this two day exercise, the Cotter’s Tens Fractals, along with his abacus training and new terminology for number (i.e. one ten seven, instead of 17) helped establish a clear understanding of place value in his mind. He stopped guessing because he finally understood! In two days he went from uncertain computation of two digit numbers to confident addition with 4+ digits. I am thrilled and thankful.
We wrapped up our second year of Playing Skillfully and now our youngest will be repeating his favorite activities from the year along with a new round of in home therapies starting in June, including Suzuki violin. We are beginning a new focus on music training for our family and I am in the midst of tweaking our schedule once more to reflect this new change. I love that schedules are ever changing, it demonstrates how much growth is happening around here.
For those patiently waiting for our Charlotte Mason Approach to Classical Conversations Cycle 3 (what a mouthful!) we’ll be posting it by the end of next week!
We are in the final weeks of our second year of playing skillfully with The Homegrown Preschooler. You can read all about our first experience here. After such a wonderful first year with my then 3 and 5 year old, we knew we wanted to repeat the year once more. A Year of Playing Skillfully is designed for multi-age use which makes it ideally suited for repetition because the activities are organized with several levels of ability in mind. My boys were able to repeat familiar activities with higher mastery by virtue of having simply aged one year. Some activities that were not suitable last year, fit perfectly this year. They are growing up alongside it and nothing about this second year felt boring or unchallenging.
All that messy joy and contagious wonder has covered our family with so much grace. I never feel guilty with AYoPS. There are months when we do the majority of the activities listed and its wonderful. There are months when we only do half and that is wonderful too. There is so much freedom within these pages that I feel at complete liberty to let my children linger as they need. This isn’t a checklist of curriculum that must be finished by the end of the year or else. Its a gathering of experiences with the potential to become memories.
Lingering feels like a lost art these days. We took a long walk in the woods the other day, collecting natural elements to place on our color wheel. We chatted back and forth, laughing and making memories. No pressure to rush off somewhere or check something off a list. We were learning together, sharing a sensory-rich experience in nature. The boys hands were filled with gathered treasures, forming relationships in their minds and in their souls. We see this play out in almost every activity we do. At its heart, AYOPS joyfully teaches us to learn with all our whole selves, to embrace the beauty of poetic knowledge, to relish understanding something because you have experienced it through wonder, relationship and love. Wonder is not just a glittery word for cute childish learning. Wonder is a powerful word for that humbling moment when you embrace the mystery of life and encounter the stirring of passion and curiosity.
Yes, its about “saying yes” to fun and laughter and memories, but its also about saying yes to laying foundations for learning, firmly rooted in hungry curiosity, ecstatic creativity, necessary humility and powerful wonder. These are life-changing character traits that lead to life-giving learning. Two years in and I am seeing this fruition in my children. From the eldest children to the youngest, spanning the ages of 9-4, I am seeing the fruit of AYOPS in all stages of their learning. They are willing to experiment and make mistakes, they are eager to investigate and ask questions, they are holding on to play and imagination. Funny how each one of those activities added up over time. Hour by hour, story by story, day by day, its all adding up to something really beautiful. Someone asked me the other day if I was worried about how much time my children spend playing. The answer is no. I am not worried. I am rejoicing.
AYOPS taught me to place a high value on play. Have you read the original book “The Homegrown Preschooler?” I cannot recommend it enough. Find it. Read it. Live it.
Protecting their right to play, changed their lives. AYOPS’ constant reminder to “say yes” and to embrace that much needed time for play, for sorting emotions, for ordering the world, for sensory experience, has produced radical results in our home. I never hear my children say “I am bored.” They have been conditioned to play and when time presents itself, they know exactly what to do with it. When faced with a challenge they recall events they encountered in their playtime that help them make a plan and see it through.
Another beautiful aspect of AYOPS is the gentle monthly reminder for habit and character training. Affirming them as valued members of our family and household has opened a door for these boys. They want to help. They are eager to take part in things. They enjoy the ordering of things after the mess has been relished.
I must confess that having children participate in chores makes for painfully slow housework at times. Yet the rewards of this time spent are seen everywhere. My youngest knows that he is capable. What a gift! He is capable. He can learn how to do anything. He is important to us. We need him and what he has to offer. He is valuable. We repeat these through word and action each month as we reintroduce and affirm these skills. He is not a limited child stuck within the boundaries of a sensory disorder. His is beloved and brimming with possibility.
Now I’ll share specifically about my six year old and this curriculum. Facing the constant pressure to HURRY UP AND LEARN EVERYTHING NOW, I chose instead to slow down. I chose to teach phonics at his pace and to gift him with another year of AYOPS. I have said it before and I will say it again, its not just about what they are learning, its about who they are becoming. And at this oh so tender age of six, its not just about giving them an education, its about protecting their childhood. I gave him the gift of more time.
Time to nap under a flowering bush after we read “Billy and Blaze” for the hundredth time. Time to create an elaborate mud mural on the sidewalk.
Time to ask as many questions as he needed. Time to discover things in his immediate world and build relationships with them. Another nap picture? Yes. It was a great theme in our home this year. I would often see him surrounded by books or bugs or knitting needles and half an hour later see him nestled in a blanket, fast asleep. I always snapped a picture to remind myself of his littleness. I would gaze at these pictures every time a person, article or book suggested that our children need to be reading by the age of four or it was game over.
His world expanded this year. Yes, he was reading by the end of the year, but only because he was ready! In the meantime, his world expanded. He fell in love with Van Gogh, Picasso and Paul Klee. He discovered that he loves water colors and crochet work. His favorite time to take a nature walk? Sunset. He found composers and writers and poets and musicians that thrilled him and he wanted to invite them to his birthday party. He discovered that he still loves to play “Doggie Doggie where is your bone?” He wasn’t too old to play skillfully, he was just right.
The truth is it was just right for all of us. A month ago I was describing AYOPS to a friend and the following conversation occurred:
Me: “Its my favorite curriculum we’ve ever done.”
Friend: “I’m so excited to try it!”
Son: “Excuse me, Mom? Its not a curriculum.”
Me: “Its not?”
Son: “No! Its a tradition! Because every fall we go on a hot air balloon journey and before you know it its time for pumpkincano and then in December we always paint the windows and….”
This went on for quite some time.
Friend: “I thought you bought AYOPS for your youngest two?”
Son: ” Trust me, its for the whole family.”
So, will we attempt three years of playing skillfully?
Yes! Yes, we will.
At this point I must concede that we have been conditioned for a lifetime of playing skillfully. Its a part of who we are. Its in the fabric of our family story. We are a family that plays together.
To any readers wanting to try A Year of Playing Skillfully, I have a special promo for you! 10% off with the code FarmhouseSchoolhouse. Enjoy!
Homeschooling the midst of transition is tough. New home, new baby, new job, illness, etc. Its difficult to keep balance in the midst of change. One of our biggest (and longest) seasons of transition came when I got pregnant, my husband graduated from grad school, we moved across the country, had a baby and moved back across the country again. It was a rough 18 months! Homeschooling looked different back then. For a while Morning Time became Afternoon Time! When the dust finally settled we found ourselves back in Florida with four small children and a rental house that felt like a small sanctuary, a soft landing place to heal and recover. Once the boxes were all unpacked I thought long and hard about what our homeschool would look like moving forward. I have these meetings with myself at least once a year. A days long session of “are we on the right track? what is the end goal? does our daily work point toward that end goal? who are my children becoming?” Four and half years ago I stood in our new dining room and stared at the empty bookcase by the wall. It was the only space I had for my homeschool materials. Where were we going? How would we get there? What kind of foundation was I actively or passively laying?
I took a deep breath and reminded myself, “Morning Time. I need Morning Time back on track. Before we start anything else, I need Morning Time again.” By then I had learned that Morning Time was what worked best for our family. Some of our richest learning took place in those early minutes of the day. I knew that the familiarity of this family tradition would help bridge these days of change to the place I longed for us to settle into.
I also sensed that my older children were capable of more. At this point in time they were 5, 4, 2, and nearly 1. Our morning time consisted of prayer, a story, a poem, a song and math. I decided to play with the possibilities a bit. We would gather around the table, pray, eat breakfast, read a story and then progress to our new schedule. First we introduced a more in depth music time. Practicing rhythm, song exercises and learning new hymns. This would last 10 minutes on the dot! I never gave them a minute more no matter how much they begged. This ensured that the next day they would be excited for more music. Next we would work on our calendar, counting, days of the week and our weekly poem. The two year old would typically color or play with playdoh during this time, though he is a tornado of personality so most days he would join in and answer all the questions before anyone else could.
By now the boys would be hungry again, so a snack was in order. This is the time of day when I would go with them to the kitchen and teach them a new skill or supervise one they were in the midst of mastering. Learning how to squeeze juice, make toast, slice cheese, core an apple, etc. I still had a reserve of patience at this time of day and I was more willing to sit and instruct them in snack preparation. By the time dinner rolled around I just needed to whip up something quickly and easily without kids underfoot. Morning snack was the perfect opportunity to foster independence in a slow and steady way.
Next, we had our nature study time. Having a baby made me less willing to spend countless hours outdoors. The boys would go outside and play for awhile and then they would return and we would learn about a new animals or plant. We would take turns learning how to draw that animal or plant. Then my kids each had a turn to “report” on what we learned. One of my boys, a budding zoologist, pretended to be a veterinarian with his own TV show. He would take on the vocal cadence of Sir Attenborough and recite all he had learned while the other children watched, captivated by their brother’s excitement and joy. This taught me that embracing your children’s interests a few times a week goes a long way with them. Listening to your son talk endlessly about trucks or bugs or dinosaurs helps build a relationship of listening. Asking questions builds curiosity and dialogue. It also slowly sets the stage for reciprocal listening. “Remember yesterday when you told me all about trucks and I asked questions and you answered them and we had so much fun? Today, I thought I would share with you about _________, afterwards we can ask more questions and we’ll have so much fun!”
Don’t fast forward through transitions, use them wisely! Embrace the changing seasons by digging deep right where you are. If you have a baby on your hip, enjoy that baby. You don’t have to teach ALL the things ALL at once. Start somewhere small and slowly add new things in. If you can only add one or two things, that is just fine. In fact, its wonderful that you can recognize your current boundaries. One day you will be able to add more. Babies don’t keep. Toddlers grow into preschoolers. There is time ahead for all the extras.