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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Planning a Homeschool Year

Over the last two or three weeks, we have been flooded with questions about planning.

How do we plan a homeschool year? How do we plan with multiple curriculums and multiple children? How do we make sure we get everything in?

The response is simple. We plan with grace in mind.

You can find a hundred and one free planners, organizations tips, bedazzled homeschool room tours and end-all-be-all lists of curriculums. You will not have any trouble finding “answers” for planning a school year.  If you are looking for a post that lays out a fool proof plan, you have come to the wrong place.

Planning is hard work. The thought of shuffling it up each year with some massive layout is exhausting to me. So we use the same rubric each year, eleven things we plan on.

Farmhouse Schoolhouse recommendations for best laid plans….

1. Plan on constant changes.
No two school years are ever the same, make that ‘month’, no two months are ever the same. The children are growing! Personalities and learning styles are evolving. New needs arise each month. Last year felt like roller coaster: #1 needed extra help with phonics and then #2 needed lots of attention in the math department, and then it flip-flopped and… wait…oh, it flip flopped again! We started school five weeks ago and the pattern has continued.  It keeps me on my toes. Pay attention, you need to keep adapting! An iron-clad, year-long schedule would end up as scrap paper around this schoolhouse. We don’t schedule, we do rhythms. And that rhythm is really more of a framework, that somehow becomes both looser and stiffer with time. We know the goal of each hour but what occurs in each block depends on the ever-changing pattern of our days.

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2. Plan on saying “Not right now”
What worked last year may not work this year– and that is ok! One of my favorite activities last year no longer works for our family because my youngest has sensory issues that require more of my time and energy. We’ve had to add new elements into the mix which necessitated a departure from our previous schedule.  I’ll admit, it was hard to let go of something that had worked so well for us.  But in the end, saying “not right now” and cutting back, opened the window for some truly beautiful things in our lives. You don’t have to say “no.” No is a pretty loud closed door that can isolate communities and friends. “Not right now” says “We’ll get back to you some other time.” I love saying, “Not right now.” It leads to so many other possibilities! I can say “YES” toddler, lets read that book! My eldest children have time to decide what they would like to do next. Unscheduled play. Freedom! Time to be artists, explorers, discoverers. Time is one of the greatest childhood gifts. Its good to have spare time, isn’t it?

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3. Plan on not fitting EVERYTHING in.
When we first started, I knew absolutely nothing about this enormous world of homeschooling. I knew I wanted to be with my kids and that I did not want them anywhere near our modern school system.  I began to research and soon fell in love with Montessori, Charlotte Mason and Classical Christian Education. As I tried to gain my footing in understanding these approaches, I began to get some heat about our decision to homeschool. Suddenly, my kids and I were in a position of having to prove that homeschool was working. The pressure was on to pull out the organ grinder and call the crowd in, “Look everyone! They are not jumper-clad freaks AND they can read by age 4! Dance, little monkey, Dance!” (Disclaimer: not a single one of my kids read by the age of 4).

I started adding things in and handing out worksheets. 3 weeks into this insanity, my eldest, four years old at the time, looked up and said, “These papers are hurting my heart. Mom, will you run away to the woods with me so we can play?” I had turned my homeschool into everything I wanted to get away from. Why? I was scared of missing out on something. I was scared that my kids would not get the best education possible. I was worried that I could not do it all. I did not like the way people said, “Homeschooling??? Why???”

Truth is, I can not do it all. No one can. It is impossible to teach someone every single available piece of information out there. We made a list of things that were important to our homeschool. Every piece of curriculum, book, handout, etc that comes into our classroom needs to meet those standards. If it doesn’t, we don’t need it.  We don’t worry about EVERYTHING; we celebrate our Big Fifteen! We teach from a place of rest.

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4. Plan on Toddlers
Like most homes, the first set of toddlers received lots and lots of attention. I was pretty obsessed with them. What they ate, what they played with, what they learned, what their poop looked like.  The second set came along and it was pretty much, “Go forage in the pantry for your snack and don’t break anything please!” Last year, while schooling my eldest children, I caught myself shouting at #3 “PLEASE! We have a zillion toys in here, just go and play with something and leave me alone with your brothers so we can finish!”  It hurt him. I could see it in his eyes. He didn’t want to go play with a toy. He wanted me. He should get to have me. Trying to plan out a school year with toddlers in tow is like trying to dance a tarantella blind-folded while someone follows you around yanking on your arm and dribbling yogurt down the side of your leg.  Its a demanding, frenzied whirlwind. My littlest guys deserve wonder and curiosity and discovery and confidence-building habit training. They shouldn’t have to settle for entertainment or mindless occupation. Is it difficult? Yes, its incredibly difficult. To be honest, I needed to repent of my selfish heart and lazy attitude. I needed to die to self and read “Blueberries for Sal” a hundred times because this is the only chance I have to do that. Mere months from now the opportunity will have vanished. That is what it comes down to: toddlers are an opportunity, not a distraction from older children’s schoolwork. This year I am putting on my big girl panties, mustering up the last dregs of my excitement and energy and pouring everything I can into my youngest kids.  I need to plan spaces of emptiness. Pockets of time that belong to them. Then I need to prepare myself to include them outside of those time blocks so we can all join them in their wonder at any given time of day.

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5. Plan on sickness.
We organize our curriculum with manilla folders. On the outside of these folders I write down all the possible resources, pinterest ideas and activities that we could use on that given week. However, I never expect that we will complete everything on the list. Because tiny people get sick. If its a bad case of the sniffles, I adjust accordingly. We scratch that big outdoor walk or the trampoline game or anything extra snot-inducing. If they are projectile vomiting we will scrap that whole kitchen experiment series or save it for another week. I never write down dates in ink. No way will I commit to the planner, “Finish Unit 8 by Sept 8.” That is just asking for failure and days of self loathing and doubt. We adjust, we scale back. The kids pick what interests them. We are always learning, but there is never any pressure to learn it all. Ten years from now they may not remember everything they learned on that healthy week 16, but they will have many memories from that difficult week 17. #2 often reminds me, “Remember that once upon a time when I was sick and you wrapped me up in a quilt and gave me a mug of soup and read me all those books about animals? That was my favorite day.”  We didn’t do arithmetic or science that day. Ah well, who cares? He remembers coziness, hot soup, the soothing comfort of good books read by the voice of one who loves him. To me, that is the greater lesson and a memory to cherish. Learning that drips down to the very core of who he is.
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6. Plan on flexibility!
If its in ink, I am in trouble. I have tattooed my failures, now memorialized in a spiral-bound book I paid $15 for. One of the greatest boons of homeschooling is the flexibility, yet most of us are determined to schedule it away!  Flexibility is a homeschool mother’s gift of grace to herself and her home. Please don’t plan yourself into a hard place that, weeks down the road, will make you feel less-than. I think goals are wonderful! Please, write down things you are aiming for this year.  How lovely to look back and see what was accomplished. But if your planner is a relentless task master that only works as a whipping post for your sense of worth, scrap that sucker and run to Jesus! If He has called you to homeschool, He will equip you. I believe that with my whole heart. Pray about your school year. He cares about it! Talk with your spouse. Make a tentative plan and inject it with grace and flexibility. Leave room for mistakes.

Schedule GRACE DAYS so that you have entire days devoted to getting back on track. If you have stayed on track, use the grace day as a celebration day or day of thankfulness! 

Your identity as a person is not the planner. Put the planner down and back away slowly, please.  Don’t plan on perfection. Plan on flexibility. My hubby repeats it at least 9 times a week, “Have some grace for yourself.” I am really hard on myself. I shouldn’t be. This is not the time for my house to look like a magazine cover. Expect legos everywhere. Expect dirty dishes. Expect irremovable stains from science projects. Invite friends over, even when the house is a mess. Take a few extra days to really explore something your kids really enjoyed.

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7. Plan on learning alongside them.
I spoke with a group of mamas at a recent homeschool conference and we all agreed: We are susceptible to overcompensating our children’s workload, because of our own perceived academic insecurities. We see the gaping hole in our own education and there is this visceral reaction to run out, find some beefed up program, and shove it at our kids. Take a deep breathe and accept the fact that you suck at math (or whatever your achilles heel is. If you have no achilles heel and are a paragon of academia, congratulations, move on to #8 but know that our chances of being friends just decreased by about 15%). Accept your weakness, then humble yourself and get ready to learn alongside your child. Don’t respond by cramming your schedule with something you are terrified of or loathe unto death, in a blind attempt at insuring your child’s academic perfection. Guess who is currently working her way through Saxon 2? Me! Yup, second grade math. I’m rocking it right now, but in a few short years I will be knee deep in a pit of “Have mercy, Jesus!” Yes, my kids will see me miserable working hard to learn something I failed to learn before.  Maybe it will encourage one of them to press on with something they don’t like.  Or hey, maybe they won’t learn a single lesson from my sufferings, but at the very least I will finally learn some math! The answer to my insecurity isn’t to blitz my kids with math worksheets today, its to start working hard alongside them now so I can demonstrate that learning is possible.

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8. Plan on gratitude!
Maybe last year wasn’t a banner year at your house. Maybe you couldn’t afford to get the curriculum you really wanted. Maybe you didn’t have the budget for a classroom makeover. Maybe it was a bit more serious than all the above…maybe it was a devastating year. Loss of loved ones, life-altering illness, depression, cross-country moves, upheavals in your home church, problems in your community, job loss, foreclosures. Life is hard. Homeschoolers get to face the hard all day long, all together. I’ve known some hard. Hard is hard to plan for because it usually creeps up with all the subtlety of a tornado.  And disappointment is rich fodder for that bitter root to take hold and spread fast, tangling up the whole family in its life-sucking thorns. So make room for gratitude in all circumstances. It is breathtakingly difficult at first. But once that gratitude leads to unexpected, life-giving joy over something seemingly insignificant and small in your day, that very gratitude becomes necessary for your survival in the hardest of places. Be grateful for the resources you were blessed with. Thank the Lord for that shabby dining room table your children gather round each day to learn about the God of the universe. Find gratitude for the tiniest things in the midst of overwhelming grief and darkness. Gratitude is a game changer.

9.Plan on going outside
Go outside. Go outside often. Nature should be a part of everyone’s childhood. If you are urban locked, find a park and make it your special place. The best part of my boys’ day is when the door swings outward and the world is opened to them.

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10. Plan on self care.
POOF. Where did Mom go? Do your little ones a favor and disappear. You need a break once in awhile. You need time to yourself. Even if all you do is wander around Target alone looking like the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, get thee to Target! You don’t have to spend money. Go sit on the seashore. Climb a tree and sit up there by yourself with the squirrels (totally did that once).  Sit in a coffeeshop. Leave the kids with your spouse, sister, friend, grandparents, whatever. Leave the kids and GO! And if at all possible, claim a few days of the year for a personal retreat. Not a romantic getaway with hubby (those are important too) I am talking about time just for yourself. Don’t wait to hit rock bottom before you ask for help. Take care of your own health. Schedule your yearly exam. Get your blood work done. Get that funky mole checked out. Take care of yourself. GO ON A PERSONAL RETREAT. If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, right? Get happy. Get time with Jesus. Get peace and quiet for a few days. You, your hubby and your kids will be the better for it.

11. Plan on fun!
I have a picture of my two eldest children taped on the wall of our classroom. They are tiny little tots, seated at an old play table, scribbling away. I look at it every day. It reminds me that time moves quickly and now is their only chance to be little. Whenever I am tempted to overwhelm their lives with academic nonsense, I look up and remember to keep it simple and let them play. Read lovely books aloud, for the minutes are ticking by. Let them build the transcontinental railroad out of legos instead of filling out a meaningless worksheet. After all, they are only 7 for one dazzling rush around the sun. Yes, lets make a mess. Yes, lets go for that walk. YES. YES. YES. Let us have fun together. You can plan on it!
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MFW Adventures: Jamestown & Reevaluations

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There are times when my children prove with resounding flourish that there is an art to gentle learning. This was definitely one of those weeks.  These kids kept slowing me down! I wanted to press on and they dug in their heels and demanded a slow walk through the unit. They wanted to savor their learning like a delicious meal. It was a good reminder to only give them the very best. Even though I found 12 books on Jamestown at our local library, I only gave the children 4 to look through. Good, true and beautiful is the standard. IMG_4906

After years of careful, parent-led gleaning, they are starting to filter through things a bit for themselves. “This book is….not that great. What are they trying to tell me? It doesn’t seem like its anything good or true or useful,” my eldest mused.  He can’t put many words to his assessments yet, but he can decipher richness from twaddle. This is incredibly encouraging to me!

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Jamestown is mighty good fun, Mom! Lets study it again and again!” said the second born.

IMG_4851We spent the majority of the week in just this way; boys coloring pictures or building forts out of lincoln logs, while I read aloud from books.

This was so pleasurable for everyone, it almost felt like a vacation!

In some ways we are on an eternal vacation from school. Those strict regulations are being stripped away as I become more and more unschooled and we are left with the brilliant truth that learning is living and abundant and pleasurable.

The boys learned so much from their Beautiful Feet Books—Pocahontas and Jamestown, New World Adventure.  We are just thrilled with their Early American History Guide thus far.  We colored in our next 3D map and built a model of Jamestown (pictured above) which we found in a free sample lesson from Homeschool in the Woods.

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Then came the unexpected punch in the gut from my eldest.

“Mom, I loved school this week. It was so nice to not feel stupid.”
“WHAT? You have felt stupid? Why? When? You are not stupid, not in the least!”
“I am such a slow reader and no matter how hard I try to remember what I learned, I just cant. It doesn’t make sense when I look at it and I never know which way things are facing. My heart beats really fast and I feel kind of sick.”

Yeah.

MFW 1st grade phonics was a huge hit with my 6 year old. He’s a duck in water when it comes to reading. Everything clicked. It all made sense. It was all so incredibly effortless. He is reading chapter books on his own now. He is always reaching for something new to read.

My eldest did not do well with MFW 1st phonics. He struggled. It was painful to watch and miserable to teach. We added in Explode the Code halfway through the year and he improved a little bit.  But here we are on the threshold of second grade and it feels like he is regressing.

Do I press on? Do I stop all together? Do I hold the six year old back until the seven year old gets a more solid foothold?

I felt overwhelmed by all these questions at first. Then I remembered to be thankful for them. We are so blessed to homeschool. We can stop if we need to. We can slow up or speed down. No matter what, we have the opportunity to do what is best for our children without worrying about someone else’s timetable. What incredible freedom! What a gift to our children!

We are sticking with MFW and Beautiful Feet as planned but with expectations adjusted for each child. I have taken out a few of our tougher language arts books for now. We will resume Writing With Ease once we’ve had time for remedial reading work. We will continue using First Language Lessons along with our Spelling program. We have ordered All About Reading and will commence with this program once it arrives.  My eldest will work on this program with me in the afternoons. We are hoping AAR will help him decode words and build his confidence! The second born will use this time to read books and make new vocabulary lists to record in his composition book, which we have titled “Discovery Dictionary.” He jots down all unfamiliar words throughout the course of the week and we look up their meanings on Friday afternoons.

We will keep using lots and lots and lots of read aloud books. IMG_4848
We had torrential downpours all week long.

The backyard fort is infested with mosquitos.

Studying Jamestown gave these boys fort fever! So we built forts with pillows and blankets. We built forts with crackers and cheese. We built them with paper and toothpicks and glue.

The boys really melted into their play this week.

I believe with all my heart that there is no better learning than that kind of deep, engaged play. I’m glad we cut back on the unnecessary busyness in our life.

I see our schoolwork transforming into lifestyle.

Books start informing their play. Projects start melding with their dreams and ideas. Chores link up with character studies.

Even if the house is a bit chaotic and I am not using even a tenth of all the great ideas I had scribbled down while planning our Adventures year, learning is seeping into every minute of our day. I see the transformation from those once “busy hectic days” into “full rich days.”

Hard weeks can bring rich blessing into our lives. I am grateful for the revelation my son gave me and for the chance to slow things down and help him. I am thankful for God’s mercy in showing me all the ways these loose threads of many years are coming together to make something lovely.

My Father’s World Adventures Year: Getting Ready

I can’t believe second grade is upon us, but here we are! After a lovely  “Summer in Spring” break, we are ready to start My Father’s World Adventures.

For all you MFW Mamas out there—here is a breakdown of how we “organized” our year, what extras we tossed in and what we took out.

I know lots of über-organized Moms like to label, laminate and make special work boxes for each subject, etc. God bless you, wonderful organized women!  I am not gifted that way.  If I tried to buy one of those rolling rainbow carts I keep seeing on the Facebook page for Adventures, it would end up hijacked by toddlers driven wild by malicious intent to destroy shiny newly discovered object. The once lovely homeschool cart would end up a fully weaponized derby cart for chickens before the week was out.  So yeah, this post won’t feature work boxes of doom.

BEHOLD!
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I call it, “Basket of Curriculum.”

Don’t everybody pin it all at once.

The MFW manual has planned out the curriculum by week. I have found that the homeschool planner term “week” is equivalent to a thumbtack-encrusted anvil about my neck. Weeks 1-4 will be fairly smooth, but you know by the time 5 hits someone will be throwing up on Tuesday and on Thursday you will need to make a meal for your super pregnant friend who is on home lockdown with her 9 kids. You’ll have to mash tons of lessons in on Friday and miss your nature walk, all for the sake of getting that crisp week long unit in.

So I ignored the word “week” and subbed in “unit” or “theme.” The lid is off the pressure cooker AND if we are having a great time on a certain topic we can stretch it out a bit without feeling like we are behind.
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Each unit has its own high-tech manilla folder. I write out all the various themes, supply lists, Draw Write Now page numbers, pinterest ideas, correlating Magic School Bus episodes, etc., on the outside.  I enjoy pulling it out for the sheer pleasure of gazing upon its state of the art efficiency.

Thankfully, there are lots of loose hand outs this year.

Yaaaaaayyy.

Gone are the days of 1st grade spiral-bound splendor.

Last year, my Christmas list had a comb binder on it (take a moment to absorb the coolness of that confession) so we traded spiral binding for comb binding…

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The boys each have four bound booklets.

1. States Notebook (State sheets from MFW)
2. State Motto Copywork book. (Extra handwriting practice)
3. My Father’s World Scripture Copywork (Scripture sheets from MFW)
4. Student Sheets Notebook

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The rest of the basket contains:

1. Saxon Math 2
2. Spelling by Sound and Structure
3. Writing With Ease Level 2
4. First Language Lessons for the Well Trained Mind
5. Usborne Scince (Included in MFW Curriculum package)
6.  Teach Them Spanish Grade 2 (A cheap win!)
7. Star-Spangled State book
8. Maps
9. CTB Bibles
10.Early American History: A Literature Approach for Primary Grades
11.Classical Conversations (which includes our new grammar, Art, Music Theory and Science)

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Most of my reference books I stack next to my other basket, which holds timeline cards from Classical Conversations, tin whistles, flashcards, etc.

Explode the Code, Draw Write Now and any other remedial teaching aids I need to access quickly rest against that basket.

If its one area I don’t skimp on, its books! I am a mathematics disaster zone so the personal library overload is a bandaid on my numerically illiterate heart.

The boys have small book baskets on their bed, filled with read alouds from the library.

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I am encouraging them to keep a simple log of their favorite books this year.

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Found this puppy at convention last month in the Rainbow Resource booth. I have no doubt that this particular item will either be a total hit or miserable miss.

I have also surrendered my counter space in the classroom to our History books. We received many of these when a local library closed and everything else was found at thrift stores or thrift sites. I’ve added several books off of the Sonlight core reading list for American History, which I bought used.

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And now for a quick look at the setup in our classroom  (which was once a garage, refurbished into an office space by the family that lived here before we bought the farmhouse).

This is the cleanest my work space will look all year. I am more than ok with it looking a bit messy. I love those Montessori preschool spaces with their airy light and open bookcases and trays of educational goodness, free from pesky bourgeois germs, boogers and crayon marks. Alas, this classroom is dripping with books and papers and life, and so the lofty Montessori Play Space pins remain in the graveyard of my pinterest board.

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The work table. A donation from the basement of my generous in-laws’ home. I go through at least one bottle of Goo Gone on that table alone each year.

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The upper cabinets are stocked with art supplies, audiobooks, math manipulatives, science supplies and yard after yard of lovely fabric and bundles of yarn, relics from when I used to have this amazing thing called “Time.”

The rest of the classroom is outfitted for the imaginative play needs and heavy-handed dictatorial demands of the preschoolers. Nothing matches and everything is covered in a fine layer of cracker crumbs.
I love our play stand, which is rarely used as pictured in the catalogues. It is, in fact, a jungle gym for marine training, and occasionally moonlights as a covered wagon, submarine, wigwam, and/or a Starbucks.

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The book nook was built by my Hubs and Father-in-law. I modge-podged pages from a science book onto the back wall. The lower cubbies hold a science center to the left, puzzles and cars to the right. When the curtains unfurl they display a terribly inaccurate map of the globe courtesy of Urban Outfitters.

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I try to stack things in corners for the nosey ones to sort through: lacing cards, magnet tiles, a basket of peg pirate people. By the end of the school day these shelves are typically empty and some enraged tiny person is standing on its wiry top, shouting down at the rest of us.

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All of our Schleich toy animals live in wooden sorting crates under these science posters. They do take frequent sojourns throughout the house, but this is their main landing place.

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Lastly, the littles enjoy these Big Joe chairs (which lost their shapes 5 months after we purchased them). I usually leave the elders working on an assignment so I can cuddle up with Team B and a few books.

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And that is how we pulled stuff together this year for MFW Adventures. We are adding in our preschool curriculum this August so stay tuned for that bit of lunacy.

The Morning Hour: Listening, A Way of the Spirit

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The morning hour is one of the best times to work in reading aloud into our daily rhythm. Specifically, breakfast time.

I have a captive audience upon which to pour out beauty–for my children and for myself to soak in.

Starting the day off with something beautiful and purposeful, gently nudges us in a good direction. Even when kids are crabby and upset (TANTRUM), its good to know that we have this block of uninterrupted time to move slowly and work out kinks. Breakfast is a long affair at our house. Not fancy, just slow. The boys set out their dishes, napkin, cups. They pour out their drinks and sit down to wait for their food. Sometimes its just Ezekiel bread right out of the bag with a pat of butter on it.

We set things up, we pray and then, we experience beauty!

We are never in a hurry to finish.

They need time to think and absorb and process.

There are days when it takes 7 minutes start to finish and they are racing off to find an activity.

But there are also days when little hearts have questions they don’t know how to ask aloud and gentle patience is needed.

So I read to draw out their hearts. I read to pour in a piece of truth that will soak down into those soft pink ears to light upon their souls.

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We are currently reading through several poetry collections. We read one or two poems in the morning as a fun warm up. Oftentimes the kids will beg for more or ask for one long poem to be read out loud again. They have surprised me by memorizing several small poems after only a few readings. My boys love the cadence of poems. The certainty of what the next sound will be and the uncertainty of where the poet is taking them—calculated suspense! Poetry is adventure.

Next, we will read a lovely story. This book is almost always focused on virtue or character building.  We have read excerpts from biographies, short stories, children’s fiction, and allegories. The qualifications are simple: beauty and truth.

Composer study, Artist study, and hymn singing are also treasured parts of the morning.

Lastly, we read a brief devotional from a study to close out the breakfast hour. We are currently reading through some devotions by Sally Michaels, who has become a household favorite! (I will include all book links at the end of the post).

1 or 2 poems
A story
1 small devotional

That has been the routine for many years. But now, we have a pair of second graders ready to read the Scriptures on their own.

I have never taught anyone how to read Scripture. Perhaps I will have fancier goals as time marches on, but for now the goal is simply this…

I want my children to be confident navigating the Word so they can feed themselves from Scripture.

I don’t want them to be depending upon me for their sole Scripture reading. Not at this stage in the game.  We will still read the Bible as a family, but they must now take up their swords and learn how to wield them on their own.

Our four and two year olds will be excused after the short devotional and the two elder children will be studying their own Bibles for 5 minutes.

The Discoverer’s Bible is a large print Bible for early readers. We have incorporated the Child Training Bible program to help them in learning to navigate this precious tool.

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The CTB includes 6-7 heavy-weight pages of guide material. The guide provides boxes with key struggles in grid form. References are provided so parents can hi-light and tab, related Scripture. My kids can open their Bibles and study the topic of “Anger,” together. They will read the prompt and discuss an example from the life of Jesus that I read to them. Then they will find the yellow box that says “ANGER”,  they will look in their Bibles and find all the yellow tabs on top, which lead to pages containing anger related verses hi-lighted in yellow. They are free to discover these verses and read them aloud or to themselves. Overtime they will become more familiar with where books of the Bible are found and will have read over 200 scripture references concerning struggles like “Fighting, Not Listening, Fear, Pride, Disobedience.”

I do wish the CTB incorporated other topics, like the Fruit of the Spirit, but for now it helps us in behavior training and Scripture training in a valuable way. I am glad that they have a thorough section entitled “The Gospel.”

I’ll let you know how things progress as the kids learn to feed themselves from Scripture!

Check out Ann Voskamp’s routine: “Listening: a Way of the Spirit” for more inspiration!

BOOK LIST

Poetry Collections:
A Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevens
Now We are Six by AA Milne
The Oxford Illustrated Book of Children’s Poems Edited by Donald Hall
101 Great American Poems
Favorite Poems of Childhood Edited by Phillip Smith

Stories:
10 Boys Who Made History by Irene Howat
10 Boys Who Made a Difference by Irene Howat
10 Boys Who Used Their Talents by Irene Howat
10 Boys Who Changed the World by Irene Howat
10 Boys Who  Didn’t Give In by Irene Howat
(Girl counterpart books found here).
Trial and Triumph by Richard Hannula
Boys of Grit Who Became Men of Honor by Archer Wallace
The Children’s Book of Faith by William J Bennet
The Children’s Book of Virtues by William J Bennet
Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman
The Quiltmaker’s Gift by by Jeff Brumbeau
When Daddy Prays by Nikki Grimes
The Circle of Days by Reeve Lindbergh
Song of Creation by Paul Goble

Devotions:
Five-Minute Devotions for Children by Pamela Kennedy (Many in the series)
Training Hearts Teaching Minds by Starr Meade
God’s Names by Sally Michaels
God’s Promises by Sally Michaels
God’s Wisdom by Sally Michaels
God’s Providence by Sally Michaels
God’s Battle by Sally Michaels
God’s Word by Sally Michaels
Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd Jones

Daily Rhythm

One of the first questions fellow homeschool Mamas ask me?

“What is your homeschool schedule like?”

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It is a common misconception that homeschoolers are stuck at home with nothing to do all day. Unless you live in a very remote area, the opposite is true! There are so many programs, co-ops, classes, lessons, groups, etc. Truly, the mind boggles! Every spring I am inundated with emails, flyers, messages packed with information. Summer camps and science programs. Athletic organizations and music academies. Your schedule starts to feel like a vise around your head before you’ve even committed to anything. Mommy guilt stampedes through your brain, demanding your compliance in sacrificing every free evening upon the altar of team sports for four year olds. Saying “no” on behalf of your family is somehow equated to denying your sweet child the best learning opportunities.

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A number of years ago, Ann Voskamp wrote up a lovely post about the seven phases of her family’s day. It has provided a purposeful, meaty framework for our schedule.

The Seven Rungs
1. Listening: A Way of the Spirit
2. Love: A Way of Sacrificing (The heart of everything we do)
3. Labor: A Way of Serving
4. Loveliness: A Way of Seeing
5. Literature: A Way of Seeking
6. Language: A Way of Speaking
7. Logic: A Way of Scaffolding

We then applied our own homeschool rhythm. I teach my children in blocks of time, which is a concept I picked up from Leigh Bortins of Classical Conversations.

If maths start at 1pm, the children have one hour to complete their work, if it only takes 15 minutes then they have the rest of the hour to play. If it takes 30 minutes then they will have the remaining 30 minutes to play. Each hour of our school day is blocked off in this way.

I find this method especially successful for our four rowdy boys.

They engage with a subject and are then released to refresh and renew. Quite often, their play is focused around what they just learned. This is particularly true of history and science… Lewis and Clark move their expedition outside. Nature notebooks are not taken inside but remain in the backyard to acquire more colored bark impressions. They have the choice to continue to enjoy what they are learning about or break from a frustrating challenge and unwind with a long bike ride or a bit of archery.

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We have meshed the rungs and our block schedule to create a daily schedule that allows for LIFE and flexibility in our family.

Here is a sample schedule for the older children (second grade) in our home:

Wake up! Stretch! Breakfast!
8AM Listening: A Way of the Spirit
Devotionals , Memory Work, Family Meeting and Prayer Requests
8:30AM Love: A Way of Sacrificing
Find a way to serve someone in the family/Send notes of encouragement to members of our community.
9AM Loveliness: A Way of Seeing
Art, Music, Handicrafts, Review Core Memory/ Free Play upon completion
10AM Literature: A Way of Seeking
History, Bible/Free Play upon completion
11AM Lunch & Literature
Read books aloud while we eat/Free Play

1PM Language: A Way of Speaking
Phonics, Grammar, Copywork, Writing, Foreign Language Study/Free Play upon completion.
2PM Logic: A Way of Scaffolding
Math, Science/ Free Play Upon Completion.
2PM-4PM Occasional remedial work/Music Practice/Free Time
4PM Labor: A Way of Sacrificing
Blessing Hour
5PM-8PM Family Dinner/ Read Alouds

For Further Clarification:

*Free time can mean anything on the farm. Reading books up in trees, shepherding the chickens through the back hollow, bike races, or playing in the mud pit. The boys are in charge of their own free play. As long as they don’t kill anything or set any fires, its pretty much a go.

*We taper in seasonal activities as needed and try to adhere to the rungs as much as possible on those days. The heart of our schedule is our rhythm. The boys like knowing the purpose of each hour. It teaches them to try and live their days well. It helps me remember
that my time with them as small children is fleeting.

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We have learned the art of saying “no” in open-ended ways. “Right now, this is not a good fit for our family.” Things might change, we could be up for it some other time, we aren’t slamming the door in your face but “right now” is not the time.

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We have also embraced the “YES.” Yes to reserving time for jumping in mud puddles and reading favorite stories over and over. Yes to collecting a million sticks for the sole purpose of building teepees for our chickens to play in. Yes to valuing our children’s time! Their season is so sweet and so very short. Yes, lets read another book! Yes, lets have a sword fight! Yes, lets climb that tree. What we say YES to is just as important as what we say NO to.

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Do you value your time? Does your schedule reflect that? What is important to you? Family meal time? Tucking your child in at night? Are the activities you are involved in adding joy and learning or stress and fatigue? Plow through the hard questions you need to ask yourself and wipe the slate clean if need be!

Whistle While…

Time for “keeping the home” is an essential part of our rhythm.

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I have learned the importance of building in times for cleaning the house as a family, instead of on my own.

Is it easier to clean something quickly by myself?

Today it is.

But slowing down and teaching a child to take on the task for himself today, yields over time, a greater independence and self sufficiency later in life. We clean for the future, people!

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And so the image of a home in a magazine cover has disintegrated and we never “clean up,” we “practice cleaning up,” because the eventual goal stands firmly at “adults that are knowledgable in the arts of housekeeping and home repairs.”

So we slowly pick our way through chores and the house is rarely ever “all clean, all at once.”

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We work side by side “practicing dishes” or “practicing floor sweeps” etc. It is the slow and steady work of someone who is learning to master a skill. My time table is not pleased with this concept, but the future me demands it.

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This year we are starting each day with our morning five, which is tailored for each individual child. I have traced their Daddy’s handprint and on each finger is an item they must complete. When the work is done, they get to give Daddy a hi-five! (Many thanks to the incomparable Jill S. for showing me this trick last year).

When schoolwork is done we make sure the classroom is put to rights. The boys use the carpet sweeper under the table. We wipe down the desk and put away supplies, books. etc.

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“Blessing Hour” is essential to my health. In the hour before dinner, our boys clean the home while I prepare our evening meal. They understand that their work blesses everyone in the family. “Blessing Hour” relieves the stress I feel as primary homemaker. “Blessing Hour” gives grace to Dad when he walks in through the door feeling tired and run down. “Blessing Hour ” blesses our boys with a relaxed Mom and Dad that now have free time after dinner to join in games and read books and play music. In the seasons when “Blessing Hour” falls to the wayside, I feel its loss keenly.

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I am not a Martha (neither Biblically nor of the Stewart variety). When it comes to tending house,  I would love to be Martha! Having the skill set and flawless time management needed to keep an immaculate home–wow! But in reality I am a Messy Martha. Someone who desperately longs for cleanliness and order, but am led astray by my rather wild spirit, tendency for creative disasters and propensity for misbegotten adventures that leave my home looking less than clean at best and slightly catastrophic at worst.

I often have to talk my defeated Martha side away from the cliff of despair, which towers over the pit of never-ending laundry, or alternately, the abyss of Legos and crushed cheerios. (I rarely need to dispense encouragement for my Messy side– It is well and thriving, thank you very much!). My husband repeats almost daily, “Have some grace for yourself!”

It is hard enough to balance out my own housekeeping tendencies—add in the four tornadoes I have in constant tow and let the picture complete itself.

If you happen upon our schedule, don’t read “Blessing Hour” and interpret: Immaculate Familial Harmony. It is likely the loudest volume level of our day.

Its a frantic race to throw legos in bins, shove couch cushions in place and scrape whatever that mysterious purple mass of gelatinous quality is, off the wall and into the trash.

There is probably a heavily-armed toddler presiding over this activity, wooden hobbit sword in hand readily leveling out swats on unsuspecting behinds thereby generating an ear piercing cacophony of indignant squalls and protests echoing throughout the farmhouse.

And yet this time of day, carved out with the purpose of blessing, accomplishes just that. Despite the horrific noise level and dubious cleaning jobs, it blesses me bone deep.

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It does what tending a home should do. It somehow, miraculously, gives me rest.