The Friday Exam

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A few years ago, I handed my two eldest children their very first math test. They sat together, side by side, and commenced. Within moments they were wriggling in their seats and soon the little game of “oops, I dropped my pencil” began. I asked them repeatedly to sit still, focus, and finish–to no avail. After an hour had passed the last answer was finally recorded. The boys were frustrated and cranky, I was overwhelmed and wondered what on earth I would do once they were middle school age. This pattern repeated itself throughout the fall of that year until we broke for our usual Advent rest.

Throughout Advent we would sit by our little electric fireplace (We don’t need a real one down here!) and read for long periods of time. One day my second born brought out paper and crayons after reading time and he began to draw the first story I read some forty five minutes earlier. I knelt beside him and asked him to tell me the story. Never taking his eyes off his work, he relayed the story with remarkable accuracy and feeling. Sure, he left a few things out, but I was amazed by all he recalled. He was able to narrate with greater depth and accuracy while drawing than when standing at attention during his narration lesson. His eyes and hands had purpose now and were no longer roaming about the room while he spoke.

This was the birth of our Friday Exam, though the children call it something else. Months of observing and adjusting and tweaking eventually produced our current methodology.A way to evaluate our children in a joyful and creative way.

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I begin by covering our table in butcher paper (our roll has lasted a few years).  I set out pastels, beeswax crayons and any other useful or necessary visual aides. Then I DO NOT say, “Come and take a test.” The word test is not used. Cuz… yuck.

I invite the boys over and say something like, “Lets chat a while” or “Show me…” or “Tell me about…”

Then they begin to draw their favorite concepts and ideas from our week of study. They love jumping in with something that excites them to get their creative juices flowing.

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While I have them engaged and eager, we work through our drills and memory work. Perhaps they will recite a poem or passage from scripture they have learned, or they will work through their classical conversations memory work.  Oftentimes I will have them spell words aloud (which is the best practice for my eldest son who is visually disorganized) or I will dictate ONE FAMILIAR sentence for them to write out next to their drawings. Then we move onto science. We are studying biomes this year under MFW Exploring Countries and Cultures scope and sequence. The boys draw the biome and relay its characteristics and then they get to make up a story about one animal that lives in the biome. I love hearing their creative storytelling! If the story gets off-track, I gently reel it back in by asking a question. Ultimately, I am looking for 3-5 facts about the biome and 2-4 facts about the animal. They have grown better at this over time. Next the boys will illustrate a scene from our family read aloud and we will discuss it. This is not a time for heavy handed literary analysis! We try and relate to the story, ask questions, work through difficult concepts or spend time comparing what we have processed to what scripture says. We are growing taste, discernment, and insight.

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History, anatomy, botany, geography, art—we touch on a variety of subjects during the week with our “chase the spark” method and the place where I really see the full tapestry of their work is during Friday exam. It is always ENCOURAGING to me. Imagine that!  An exam that brings consistent encouragement? Now, if there is a lull, which can happen from time to time depending on energy levels, sugar intake, will power of the preschooler to ignite anarchy or current lunar calendar, I will pick up a pastel and draw something and they have to guess what it is and then we discuss it.  I cap the exam off after an hour. No need to strain every bit of information out of their heads. I want the children to leave feeling confident and happy and full, the same way they leave the dinner table each evening, that is what I aim for when they depart after their exam. I praise them for their work that week. We do not address any misbehavior or disappointments, that happens at another time. We end on a high note, praising what they did well so that they go into the weekend feeling encouraged.

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As the exam progresses I take notes and once the boys leave I take more. These notes provide highlights from the exams and I am always sure to record what their current interests and delights are. I also jot down areas of struggle or things we need to revisit, perhaps in a new light or meshed in with one of the things they are currently enjoying.

The exam is not given to determine what they do not know. I already know what they do not know because my class is SMALL and I am with them everyday. Why give them a test I know they will not do well on? What does that accomplish? There is no room for a red pen and a bell curve here. Neither is the exam a way to ensure that everyone knows the same thing. As whole persons with unique souls, minds and hearts, the boys are naturally drawn to different aspects of subjects at different times—unstandardized! One brother may absorb his 11 times table rapidly through rote memorization at the beginning of term, another brother may embrace it six months later in song or story form. One brother will look at the Eiffel Tower and be drawn to its structure–the physics and mechanics of wind and steel. Another brother will look at the Eiffel tower and relate to the story of the man behind its creation, its history, and patriotic value. Both children have learned truth, goodness and beauty in ways that cannot be determined by bubbles or multiple choice. I do not need a paper trail to demonstrate who my children are becoming.

Can a person spend his childhood savoring knowledge, gaining wisdom and cultivating a lifestyle of intellectual growth without the presence of thousands of one dimensional tests marking the way? Yes. Yes, of course he can. There is more than one way to demonstrate competency just as there is more than one way to educate a person.

This is not to say that my children will never take a “normal” test. I am sure as the years pass we will have occasion to take a few. But for my children, especially in their tender growing years, I see little need, purpose, or joy in issuing tests for each subject every ten lessons.

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So we unroll the paper and cover the table where we our minds  and hearts meet throughout the week. A button is pressed and music floods the room. We spill pastels upon the table and with the guidance of our hands they convey the treasures we have gleaned that week. We laugh and color and sing and recite and tell and share and discuss. It is not a time for fear or nervousness. Its a time for joy and celebration and the formation of new questions.

Confidence

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We had a lovely January with AYOPS.  This is one of the first months that our littlest guy was willing to tackle the large majority of projects and activities listed. These past months, I have increasingly felt his need for a little boost towards independence. We planned with his special needs in mind and picked out a number of things that we felt he could now handle on his own and we set about adjusting his atmosphere to ensure that he could tackle his new goals.

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We started with a small waldorf style baby doll.  This new friend engaged in all the activities with me before my son did. After watching for a minute or two, my son would jump in, eager to play and help his baby in case it ran into trouble. These two played in their bear den on bear day for hours! He taught baby how to clean up the toys and how to make the bed. I think this was an important piece in helping motivate our son to join in. It also took some of his focus off of his own experience and helped him learn to care for someone else and work on his empathy skills. If you have a little one that is reluctant to join in certain activities, I encourage you to think outside the box and try different ways of engaging them in play. We tried many, many different ways and experienced a multitude of failures before finally finding success this month!

I bought a wooden closet doubler rod so that the younger children could find and choose their own clothing each day. Everyday shirts are now hanging on the lowest bar. Shorts are in the baskets on the floor. Pajamas and underwear are in the dresser. The drawers are much less crowded now so its a snap for them to find what they need.

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I set out a small stool by a mirror near the doorway. The boys can now sit and brush their hair each morning and have a place to sit while they practice getting their little legs into their shorts the correct way.

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All this new responsibility gave our youngest the burst of confidence he needed to finally potty train. I’m still a little shocked at how quickly he managed to train. To be honest, I have been dreading this since we left our first evaluation at the special needs center. By the grace of God, potty training took all of two weeks and its stuck ever since!

Suddenly, our guy was on a maturity spree! Clearing dishes, picking up toys and even wanting to help in the kitchen. I’ve always encouraged him to help with chopping, measuring, sorting, etc. in the kitchen. But now there is no invitation needed. When I walk into the kitchen to make dinner, he is usually waiting for me, apron in place and hands washed and ready to work.

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I cleared out the lowest shelf in our kitchen and put all of the children’s dishes and cups there. I included several small pitchers for them to fill and set on the table and use for mealtimes. The boys have a designated drawer in the kitchen containing tools they have been trained to use. Crinkle cutters, apple corer slicers, egg slicers, potato peelers, etc.
They can reach everything they need to make their own snacks and to help with meal prep.

I love watching him work with his hands. Zero hesitation these days!

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There are still several sensations that he cannot bear to endure or process. But look at the boy in the photo below!

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A happy, messy, shaving-cream-out-the-nostril, joy soaked little guy. He radiates confidence now and that encourages me to keep pressing forward.

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The whole house continues to demand “preschool time.” I have now placed the eldest children in charge of the AYOPS activities. They love setting up for the activities and then “helping” their little brothers.

Our favorite activity this month was block painting. Everyone was eager to jump in and lend a hand. We were a multicolored mess for a few days (if you use Sargent Art Watercolor Paint, beware of STAINING!) but the boys were thrilled with the end product.

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We love our brilliant collection of colorful wood blocks. Every time I pass by that pile I recall the beautiful breezy afternoon we spent together, laughing and painting and telling jokes.

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This was the 5th month of our curriculum and it still doesn’t feel like I have spent the last five months marching my children through a curriculum. We’ve been making memories and learning together and having the most glorious time playing at just about anything you can think of.

We finished January with newfound confidence, enhanced skills, hearts bent on helping and a tremendous sense of peace with our special needs homeschool journey.

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MFW Adventures: More States and a State of the Union

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We always start planning the upcoming school year in January. This is partially due to our involvement with Classical Conversations. I have yet to blog much about CC, I’m still trying to get a solid year of MFW and HGP blogging under my belt before I try and add in CC. It is a huge part of our lives and our school year revolves around those 24 week cycles. Next year I will be directing a new Foundations community group in our area, which is exciting and nerve wracking all at once. Its strange to start planning so far in advance when I am still in the midst of this wonderful year I worked so hard to plan last January. But the time has come for the yearly, “State of the Union” and so this is the week when I stepped back and observed all that takes place in our home and in our hearts. For us, education is not simply what we are learning but who we are becoming. The short of it is, we are loving Adventures so far. It has been a perfect fit for our family and I am so grateful for it and for the Charlotte Mason method it employs.

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I am currently in the midst of reading “Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition” by Karen Glass.  It is one of the best homeschooling books I have ever read and I am savoring every single chapter. This book echoes all that we do (and hope to do) in our own home. Its wonderful to pick up a well written book that engages the two methods of education closest to my heart.

Today, I sat on a park bench with my book and watched my 5 year old engage in a self-led physics experiment involving a steep slide and fistfuls of sand. He would walk over every once in awhile to discuss his findings. We talked about friction, inertia, motion and he would hypothesize the results of his next trial with barely contained glee. When it was time to leave, he tidied up the slide, pushed sand off the sidewalk and into the play area where it belonged, and went out of his way to pick up a piece of someone else’s trash and threw it in the garbage.  He did this without any prompting. Twenty minutes earlier I had circled the following passage in the Karen Glass book:

“…Charlotte Mason’s conception of synthetic thinking, or “the science of relations” concerned itself with placing the child in the way of forming relationships with every area of knowledge, so that the question we ask is not “how much does the youth know?” but rather “how much does he care?” When the affections are involved–when we care about a place, a person, or an idea–we are more motivated to act if action is required. When we love virtue itself, we are more likely to behave virtuously.”

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This is what I have loved about Adventures. Not the amount my children are learning, though they have grown by leaps and bounds this year, but the virtue they are cultivating and employing. How much does he care? It seems everything we are studying, all the habit training and scripture study and living books, everything is nourishing these little ones to care, to desire to act rightly.

Here is what the week looked like. We studied several states: Maine, Missouri, Arkansas and Michigan. The boys took great care in opening the tin of special colored pencils used for our States book. They were diligent in coloring each bird and flower to the right specifications. They copied down each state motto in their neatest penmanship. They closed their books and put away their pencils. They brought out the book basket and we went on adventures in four different states while the toddler shrieked in the background and the preschooler called for pretzels and juice. Everyone eventually settled down and we experienced beautiful illustrations and rich prose. The boys played with seashells while we read “Island Boy.” They acted out “Blueberries for Sal” and cooked pretend clam chowder after reading “One Morning in Maine.” We pulled out our Saxon books and halfway through our lesson, I noticed my six year old building cranes and seabirds out of pattern blocks. “Remember that story?” he asked,  “About Obadiah and the seagull?” Off he went to fetch the book. As soon as he completed his math lesson, he picked up Brinton Turkle’s tender and lovely book, “Thy friend, Obadiah” and read it aloud to his siblings, giving special attention and affection to his younger brothers. Thirty minutes later we were on a website looking at the anatomy of birds and constructing their skeletal systems over and over again. This brought us back to our study of Human Anatomy. The boys brought down the Human Organ tray and began reading each three part card and matching them with the corresponding organs from their safari toob, until the toddler stole the large intestine and chaos ensued. We resolved the quarrel and moved on to our Usbourne Encyclopedia and the boys began to question the latin names they kept hearing, so we picked up our latin work and labored over a few declensions. One particular song used to memorize the 3rd declension latin noun endings reminded them of a Rachmaninoff piece they had heard weeks before. We listened to it twice and then one of the boys asked if we could play outside. We dashed out of the house and opened the coop to let the chickens out. Once again we were talking about birds and anatomy while the 5 year old zoomed by on skates humming Rachmaninoff and the 3 year old stomped around saying “Kuplink, Kuplank, Kuplunk,” in his best imitation of little Sal dropping blueberries in a tin pail.

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I am not teaching my children for the sole purpose of ensuring successful performances on tests that cannot measure love, sense of wonder, compassion, joy, faithfulness, goodness, or creativity. As Karen Glass says, “If we answer the question ‘What is man?’ with ‘man is a living soul created in the image of God,’ our educational task will be much different, as we seek to discover all the potential in each child so that he can become everything that God meant him to be. All that we can give him will not be too much nor go to waste.”

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Week 23 was a slower week in terms of topics covered but it was a rich week nonetheless. On these slower weeks, I love to get out into nature with the boys. That prescheduled Friday nature walk is something I make sure to enforce. I make every effort to protect that part of their schedule. In many ways, it is the capstone to all we learn in the classroom.

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Our son’s godfather came to visit with his son and so our nature walk for Unit 23 took place at the beach. It was a nice tie in for all those “salty” books we read about Maine.  The boys tumbled about the tide pools and played in the surf. They collected seashells and felt the sand between their toes. They experienced life and their souls were nourished by the sea air and warm water.  Little scientific observations were sprinkled throughout the day. It happened naturally. “School” is not something they go to and then leave after a few hours. There are no compartmentalized subjects. It is not a chore.

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Learning is life and it brings them joy.

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Orderliness + Sensory Play: October

IMG_8177October has come and gone. It was an incredibly busy month for us. I am still trying to process all the things we learned together. I brought in lots of extra ideas from The Homegrown Preschooler this month. My newly minted 5 year old is quite over the moon whenever he gets to do “baking math,” my 3 year old is over the moon about the end product of “baking math.”

IMG_7180I love having my little Team B on this AYoPS curriculum together. It is fascinating to watch how they approach a new skill or activity. Add in sensory issues, speech & developmental delays and two very different personalities, and its a research field day of love and laughter!
IMG_7597I set out the invitation to play. Usually on a surface at his eye level and equipped with baby wipes or a small bowl with water and a dry towel, ready and waiting in case someone becomes overwhelmed by something. While the eldest children dive right in, my youngest always approaches new material with caution.  Sometimes it takes him awhile to acclimate to a new sensation or a formerly distasteful, but currently acceptable, sensation.

***Side note: Please never ever force your child to touch something that freaks them out. It will not “cure” their sensory issues. 

IMG_7624At times he will pause midway through an activity and stare at his hands this way. Wonder, watching, waiting? I’m not sure what he is doing, but he does it almost every time.  I leave out the invitation and walk away. He approaches and deals with it on his own terms. Its been working for us and his confidence is gaining momentum.

I love that his curriculum and therapy bring him JOY. That is a big, big deal.

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IMG_7927 I remember paging through “A Year of Playing Skillfully” while standing by the Homegrown Preschooler booth at the FPEA convention last May. The month of October listed the  character trait: Orderliness.  I wondered how it would manifest itself in our home.

Yes, the boys put clothes and shoes away. Yes, they helped tidy up dishes and even swept under the tables for me. But the real surprise with Orderliness was ordering their world to the extent they did. The boys loved reading “A House is a House for Me,” last month. It carried over to the month of October and into the trait of orderliness. Finding a birds nest on the ground means that my little guy will carry it in and fill it with his toob birds. Tucking socks inside shoes because, “Go home, sock!” Making the bed because, “Go home, bed!” Wanting to put bananas back inside their peels because, “Go home manamana!”  Last month he would count when putting toys away, this month he would say, “First, and then, and then, and then.”

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Meanwhile, the 5 year old ate up all art and music activities this month!
IMG_8399IMG_8406We currently have an orchard of family trees and more yards of apple stamped butcher paper than I know what to do with. “Don’t worry, Mom. We’ll tell every one its jingle bell paper and use it for Christmas,” he said with a sly smile. Ah, yes. Fall colored jingle bell paper. Perfect. 🙂

IMG_7655We went on many walks in October. After reading “Counting on the Woods” by George Ella Lyon and making ever so many Nature Counting books, the boys are now on a constant watch for math in nature. “5 Kestrels and 4 vultures, ahoy!” Being outside with them is my favorite. Nothing to make or prepare beforehand, nothing to clean up afterwards. Just the boys and I and all the time the day has to offer.

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They come home with dirty toes and a million ideas.
IMG_8064Nature calms and soothes my little guy. On days when I know the invitation to play will be asking a lot of him, I make sure he gets time outside in the wide open.

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We made our pile of leaves out of rubberwood tree offerings. The boys like to restock and form the pile anew almost every day for more jumping and leaf throwing. It was probably their favorite activity of the entire month and it required next to no preparation from me.

Though our little guy does take his time putting the pile together.

“First this, and then this, and then this, and then this, and then this…..”

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Pin it! Maps—Geography lessons in action!

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We have been using Pin it! Maps for our geography lessons since the end of July. I thought I’d provide a little update on how we have been using our maps this past month.  I’ll share a bit about our favorite map, utilizing free material on the site, using the maps with differing learning styles, and finally, I’ll share some of the ways we have used these maps with the littlest Farmhouse Schoolhouse students.

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The farmhouse favorite is definitely the Land and Water Forms map. This 9×24 map is a manageable size for my kids to set up on their own. I often discover my second born in the classroom with the map and accompanying pins set out.  He practices sounding out the words on each flag and then finds its location on the control map that he sets up in front of his pinning map.  He often invites his eldest brother to come and play. Yes, play! They race each other to find the correct features on each map. They quiz each other. Last week they made up a silly song with all the vocabulary terms they deemed silly or strange. “Archipelago and Fjord bought roller skates.

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Three days ago, we were cuddled up in the boy’s bunk beds reading a chapter book. I turned the page and a little voice cried out, “LOOK! An Alpine Lake! Do you see that picture? Right there! That right there! That is an Alpine Lake.” He settled back into the covers with a little smile, “I knew that all by myself.”

I love that my boys can use these maps on their own, absorbing geographical placements and vocabulary terms in a hands on way and then relating it to other areas of study in a natural way.  Not to mention the way it has enhanced their play. I know my boys are learning well by how they are playing. When someone shouts, “Corral the troops west of the delta!” or “We’ll sail to the archipelago and search each individual island for signs of the treasure!” I know things are clicking.

Pin it! Maps has a wonderful tab on their site: FREE TEACHING MATERIALS.

Love me some free teaching materials—and these printables are flawless!

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Above you can see the Land and Water Form cards. I printed, laminated, hole-punched, alphabetized and then placed all the cards on a large ring. What is an inlet? Look it up! The cards provide a graphic of how the feature appears on the map along with a picture of the feature “in real life!” (My son loves saying, “This is how the fjord looks IN REAL LIFE!”)  I have made key rings for every available set of cards and they have taken the maps to the next level. I never ask the boys to use them. I simply place them by the maps and then walk away. The boys love being able to investigate the information for themselves. They learn how to manipulate the cards and they practice their ability to sort through alphabetized material quickly. They relate the material back to the maps and double check their work.

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Yesterday, my son pulled out the World Map. He set up his pins, pulled out the laminated key ring, took out a command sheet, set up his control map and began to work.
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The command sheets walk the boys through each pin command.  Right now my boys are on Level 1, simply familiarizing themselves with the pins and their placements. They are already asking when they can move on to Level 2 so they can begin recording their answers on the recording sheet. (All of these pages are available for free in the link above!) My son worked his way through the commands and then went to find the Biome cards.

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He worked through each Biome, placing the beautiful pictures into each appropriate category. He referred back to the map often, exclaiming with wonder, “I never knew there was a desert there! I can see it in my mind now!” These maps really are set apart from other maps, the beautiful hand-drawn shading adds such sharp distinction between biomes. The boys can now quickly identify grasslands from jungles and coniferous forests.

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Pin it! Maps has also proven to be a multi-functional resource in terms of its ability to meet my children’s different learning styles. My eldest used to be absolutely overwhelmed by detailed maps crowded with writing. He could not focus on the words he needed to find and often flipped his letters around in his panic. Earlier this week, our Classical Conversations community studied The Assyrian Empire in geography. I made up rhymes and a story to help my boys learn the placement of each sea, gulf and city.  My eldest seemed to be following along well enough, but it was tough to gauge precisely how much he was understanding. This morning we used our Pin it! Map and that is when I saw the light go on for him. Having those words standing up on individual pins helped him to understand placement, space, relation, etc.

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These maps also provide a welcome challenge to our second born. He is a voracious reader and can never sit idly by. His hands are always looking for something to do. He loves teaching himself how to take on new skills and challenges. To be honest, its exhausting for me at times! He knows how to make a mess and get in a jam! When our maps arrived, he was instantly drawn in by the challenge. He loved that it was an independent activity capable of providing deeper learning opportunity without a finish line.

My third son is a kinetic learner and is not reading yet. He is also using these maps along with his (almost) three year old brother.

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Here are a few of the ways we have employed our maps for littles (ages 3-5)

  1. Biome Card Game: These cards are available for free on the website. My 4 year old spent a few weeks familiarizing himself with these cards and organizing the pictures into appropriate biomes. Now we play a game called “Decorate the World.” Based off of the shading and drawing on our World Map, my son can easily find the biome each region belongs to. When I point to the Sahara Desert, he quickly grabs a picture card featuring a desert landscape and places it on the Sahara Desert and shouts, “DESERT!” We play through the deck and decorate all the features.
    2) BINGO BABY!: The 4 year old insists that I inform my readers—he alone invented this game. He is also the Captain of this game. Baby Bingo happens at least once a day. My 4 year old takes down the control map of the world which features brilliant, multi-colored continents and all the oceans. He then gives “the baby” (ahem, 3 year old) a stack of green bingo chips and a stack of blue bingo chips. He points to a spot on the map and asks “What is this? Water or Land?” His brother responds by placing either green (land) or blue (water) on the map. They will do this for twenty minutes at a time. TWENTY. MINUTES. Thats enough time for tea and a piece of  chocolate, folks!
    3) SAFARI TOOB: We also love to place animals from our Safari toobs around our maps. Grizzlies in Colorado, panthers in Florida, Elk in Montana, etc. We have also used landmarks with mixed results. Animals they get, a tiny replica of the Eiffel tower…not so much yet.
    4. YARN: A simple string of yarn goes a long way with these boys. We shape them around the continents very carefully and then whip them away very fast. They think its hilarious. I’m happy that they are focusing carefully and quietly on a task with their hands while familiarizing themselves with geography.
    5) Rice Game: Another game we made up. I give my four year old a cup of rice and a small piece of wood that has been sanded smooth, its about 4 inches long. I then dump the rice on the control map and tell him to put all the rice on Australia. All the rice has to be IN Australia. Then I switch to another continent. He loves feeling the rice, pushing it around gently with his hands or the wood stick and then making it fit within the borders. He laughs when I pull out the magnifying glass to inspect his work. After we are done I gently wipe down the control map and store it away again.
    6) Mr Thumbkin & The Family Band Travels: Yup. We draw little faces on our fingers and go for a tour of the world. We visit different cities, make up stories, learn about biomes. The possibilities are endless with this one. Sometimes the older brothers chime in with the things they are learning. “If you are going to India, you had better stop by the Ganges Delta near West Bengal, I think you might be able to find your missing purple scarf there.”  Lots and lots of playacting, voices, adventures and honest to goodness GEOGRAPHY! I always ask them to point out the “pin home” before we leave an area we have named.  The “pin home” is the spot where the pins are inserted (according to my eldest boys). My littles don’t use the pins yet, I am training them even now to only place the pins in their homes.

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We are in the process of finishing up our North America map and Africa map and the boys can’t wait to start using them as we gear up for our studies of the United States with Adventures and Africa with Classical Conversations.

I am really thankful to have found Pin it! Maps. I love being able to support a fellow homeschooling Mama in this courageous endeavor to provide beautiful, quality, affordable maps to families. I love seeing my boys engage in joyful learning together. It feels good to use resources that create a space for all learning styles to combine.

I can’t wait for the US Map series to be unveiled in December!

UPDATE!!!!!
Pin it! Maps has graciously extended our PROMO CODE until the end of OCTOBER.

Farmhouse Schoolhouse readers will get 10% off their orders with the code: FARM

Happy Pinning!

The Real Distraction

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The desperate questions we homeschool moms toss back and forth amongst ourselves. I’ve asked them one hundred times before, “What do you do with your little ones while the older ones are learning? How do you stay organized? How do you get anything done?

We ask it in our communities and co-ops, over the dull roar of one hundred kids with biblical appellations. One Mom is shouting, “Hosea Jeremiah! Don’t you dare!” and three unrelated children have turned in response to the sound of their name being called. We lean in closer, “Seriously, what do you do!?! EVERYTHING is falling apart.

We ask in the quiet sanctuary of our local Chik-fil-a’s, yoga pants parked on the pleather booth seats, while we sip milkshakes and watch the lineup behind the plexiglass window go berserk. “What do you do? What should I do? I feel like a disaster, oh no, am I a disaster?” 

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With a meager 4 years of homeschooling under my belt that no longer fits, I can say with some confidence that there is no infallible 7 step Plan to Peaceful Perfect Homeschooling. This is because our homeschools contain gaggles of progeny made up of tiny sinful humans comprised of all our worst faults and annoying habits in all their second generation glory. (Don’t even get me started on the leadership!) We cannot organize our humanity away. Homeschooling is a joyful, wonderful, messy, chaotic thing. Oftentimes it comes with toddlers attached, so multiply the previous statement by a million.

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Its hard to teach with littles around. You had set goals, you had a schedule, you printed such lovely things to use. You pinned that picture of a gorgeous montessori space with the delicate shaft of light flowing through the room <insert children, outrageous expectation and false hopes here>. You read that terrific book by that homeschooling mother of thirty seven children who always does laundry on Monday no. matter. what.  It was all going so well until you stopped planning it and tried doing it. Your family showed up and ruined it. You yelled and then you cried. Then the toddlers picked up the mangled corpse of your expectations, colored on it with permanent marker and then flushed it down the toilet.

On the eve of my first day as a homeschooling motherload of awesomeness, I wrote out that oft touted John Trainer, M.D. quote, “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” I taped it to my planner as my rallying cry for my first school year.

Children.

Children required organic meal plans, schedules, mommy and me classes, vitamins, story time, heaps of books and lots of laminated chore charts. Children are the most important WORK. I was a Stay at Home Mom. Lets get a big schedule together so I can show my WORK.  I proceeded to hush my tasmanian toddler and fussy baby so my older children could learn. I spent months in a downward spiral of frazzled nerves and empty bottles of whiteout until I landed in a motherload of awfulness.

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Then one day I gave up.

I threw out the expectations and invited happiness back in. We made messes. We tossed out the schedule and adopted a rhythm that worked for our family.  We didn’t do the laundry every single Monday. I stopped combing blogs for one size fits all answers for our home. Instead they became springboards of encouragement for greater research into the ever changing chemistry of our family.  I stopped comparing and started caring. As the elder children advanced in their classes, I stopped treating my toddlers like distractions by scheduling distractions for them. Instead, I invited them to come and learn alongside us. I encouraged their wonder and curiosity.

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And you should know that this is never perfect, far from it. Team A has learned that school always involves Team B. Math goes on even if the toddler is in full on tantrum mode. The blocks of time that make up our day press on. Language Arts could very well happen next to a giant pile of laundry.  I was thankful when our first grade curriculum called for “Science with Water” because I knew we’d finish science every day, even if it was in the bathtub.

The preschoolers get the chance every day to learn alongside their big brothers. The big brothers get the chance every day to die to self and understand that they are not the center of the universe. They know that family takes commitment and love and sacrifice and ear plugs. The other day our six year old commented, “Being a Dad will be the hardest and best job in the world, I think.”

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As our school days get longer, it takes a firm resolve to preserve wonder for my children. There are days when I have to renew the commitment to take things slow with my little ones. To ignore the constant calls for perfection from the world around me. The four year old doesn’t care about big brother’s latin homework. He cares about stories on his Mama’s lap. The two year old does not care what the house looks like. He cares about kisses and cuddles and jumping in puddles. My soul does not care what the daily agenda is. My soul cares about spending time in God’s word.

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There will be bad days. Very bad days. Days rife with opportunity— the chance to get on my knees and humbly beg forgiveness from my children for letting my pride get in the way of my loving them well.

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We are in this for the long haul. This road where life, love and learning mingle together, inseparable. And still I am tempted to ask the questions. Because for me, those questions have little to do with a truly peaceful home and a lot to do with perceptions of myself as a mother, homemaker and teacher.

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This crazed rush to prove ourselves as homeschool moms? THAT IS THE REAL DISTRACTION. Its not crying babies, or laundry, or curious toddlers, or whining children, or endless To-Do lists. Its that devil dialect that drums a tattoo pattern of doubt across our days, tricks us into thinking we are insufficient, lures us into dissatisfaction and blind desire for optimal conditions.

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I’ve stopped looking for perfection. I am content to practice. We practice a lot.

We practice habit training. We practice loving each other well. We practice forgiveness and laughter. We practice balance and second chances. We practice patience with tiny people hell bent on ruining our morning. We practice learning together.  And failure? Failure is just an opportunity for more practice.

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Pin it! Maps—Hands on Geography for Everyone!

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When we first started homeschooling, teaching geography was quite the achilles heel for me.

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Like all new challenges, I started slow. We began by building our vocabulary of maps and legends. We would pull a laminated map out each morning, the minute we sat down at the table, and the boys would begin tracing states, continents, etc.

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Soon we progressed to drawing maps with tracing paper, eventually adding in some blob mapping by the end of the year. I would ask the boys questions as they worked, “Show me Augusta, Maine?” or “Tell me what this body of water is?” It worked well for us but it was hard to gauge our progress at times.

Then during a playdate, a friend pulled out a gorgeous (and frightfully expensive) Montessori map. It came with pins for the different national flags so the children could mark the countries they knew. My boys loved playing with this map. I thought it was lovely…just not $150 lovely.

You can imagine my excitement when we discovered Pin it! Maps, which was founded by a wonderful, Montessori-loving Mama who decided to make affordable pin maps.

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And she did not stop with national flag pins! She included labels for land and water forms, country capitals, islands, lines, etc. These maps are extensive and a tremendous bang for the buck!

Our World Map set included:
(1) large pin map (18 x 24)
(2) control maps (12 x 18): continents & oceans, land & water forms.
69 color coded flag labels
Flag poles and bases
Scotch tape
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Our Central America map set had a similar layout but also included national flag pins for each country in Central America & the Caribbean.

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Our maps arrived in a sturdy package, no bent corners for us! We purchased the actual pins from our local JoAnn Fabrics. Assembling the completed pins took three half-hour sessions. The perfect scotch tape of corresponding width was included in the package. The assembly process was simple but definitely required some time. First take a pin, place it next to the flag and secure with the appropriate size tape. Fit the pin with a tiny plastic pole and base. Repeat many, many times and then, Voila! Finished! I corralled all the pins into a plastic box with a lid for storage. The labor was worth the final product.

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The seven and six year olds were the first to tackle these maps. We set our pin map on its styrofoam backing  and then propped a control map up behind it. The boys took turns reading out the labels and finding the locations on the map. They loved getting to see how much they already knew without referencing the control map. They also enjoyed racing to see who could find the answer on the control map first.

IMG_5310Their curiosity was stirred by the elements we had yet to study. The World Map Set includes a beautiful legend with pictures of various biomes. The legend itself promoted whole new discussions about biomes that stay consistent within their latitude across various continents.

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Here are some of the comments made while using their Pin it! Maps:

~”Hmm, I’ve traced that area lots of times and I had no idea there was a volcano there!”
~”I never knew the Tropic of Cancer ran through there!
~”Sometimes on a regular map, all the words get mish-mashed. Look here! I can tell what all the words are now and it doesn’t get mixed up in my brains.”
~”Look at all the deserts in Africa. This country is almost all desert. I didn’t know that.”
~”Look at all these flags, Mom! Can you believe that is how much I know? And look how much I have left to go!”

All around, a fantastic tactile experience for the boys that provided a great visual progress report.

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The four year old was up next. We used the control map of the continents as a play mat. He placed different animals on the 7 continents. We sang through our songs about oceans and continents. I had not planned on busting out the pins for him until he asked to use them. I pulled out pins for the seven continents and read each one aloud before surrendering the pin for placement. He did a wonderful job and best of all, he had a great time placing the flags and repeating everything back to me.  After a few sessions with this routine, I will add in water and landform pins, building his repertoire as time marches on.  Younger children will require careful explanation of these materials and the care they require. I plan to build the care and maintenance of this set into our habit training lessons.

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I am impressed with these maps, affordability did not mean compromising on quality. I love the clearly marked legends and lines. Sturdy bases and poles, unique pin points to help with identification, lovely colors, and thoughtful details throughout each set. It really felt less mass-produced and more thoughtfully crafted. These are maps my children can grow up with. I deeply appreciate investing in resources that are not one-season wonders.  These maps are a lifelong tool.
We will be using various map sets for our personal home study as follows:

Classical Conversations Cycle 1: Africa Map set, Asia Map set, Central America Set
Classical Conversations Cycle 2: Europe Map Set, South America Map Set
Classical Conversations Cycle 3: North American Map Set
MFW 1st: Asia Map Set
MFW Adventures: North America Map Set
MFW Exploring Countries & Cultures: World Map Set (No national flag pins in this set! National flags are in the continent specific sets!) and the Landforms Map Set.

(note: Pin it! Maps does sell map bundles with all continents included!)

If you like what you see, Pin it! Maps has graciously extended a promo code for all our Farmhouse/Schoolhouse readers.

10% off with the code: farm

This offer expires 10/31/2015.

Happy Pinning!

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I purchased one map set and received another in exchange for this review. All opinion expressed above are completely my own and were not influenced by any outside sources.