How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was full of people and lots of really yummy food.
Here’s what we’ve been up to lately!
Judah and Amelie had their first swim meet last weekend at USC. Judah has been swimming with Columbia Swimming for 15 months, and Amelie for nearly a year. We wanted them to have a good year under their belts before starting swim meets, and I feel like this is the perfect time.
They swam Saturday and Sunday: I’d say the first day was super overwhelming and a bit traumatic and we definitely had some tears, but the second day went way better. Navigating the crowds, noise, and constant commotion is not for the faint of heart. Amelie swam freestyle and backstroke, Judah swam freestyle, backstroke, and breast stroke.
We’re so proud of how hard they worked. Their next meet is December 10th in Rock Hill, SC, and they said they’re ready! We love our swim team!
We had a lovely Thanksgiving.
David took the kids hiking in the morning so I could bake (baking in a quiet house is one of my favorite things in the world), then we had a pot-luck dinner at Barb’s (my sister-in-law’s mom). I love that we do holidays with my family, Shari’s family, and David’s family. It keeps things simple!
After dinner Judah, Owen, and Amelie read Psalm 100 and we all sang a couple of hymns. Then, we broke out the dessert and poker (because what goes better together than family worship, pie, and poker?).
This is the first year in forever that I took ONE measly photo on Thanksgiving, but I guess you could say I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot!
On Friday some friends that we lived in India with came for an overnight visit. They’re in the States for a few months, and it was so, so good to see them — it’s been nearly three years. They got to meet Gabe and Noah. Our big kids got to reconnect. It took them about an hour, and then they chattered non-stop as if they’d never been apart.
We drank coffee and wine, ate chocolate pecan pie with mounds of whipped cream, and hiked and had a fire pit. We talked about ministry and homeschooling and travel and cooking. The kids played outside a whole lot. Seeing them was good for my very soul.
I’d never trade our life here in Columbia, but I miss our friends.
Finally, a very sweet couple from church gave David and I an overnight at Whispering Willows, a B&B about 20 miles north of Columbia. We packed up and headed out Sunday after church. We stopped for coffee and then a leisurely dinner downtown, then drove to the B&B. It was a truly wonderful getaway, so good for our marriage.
And now it’s Tuesday and nearly December already!
Can you believe it?
I’m very thankful we resisted decorating for Christmas until this week and have that tradition to look forward to (although I have not resisted turning on the Christmas music). The kids and I started an Advent unit in our homeschool for the first time, and we are loving it.
A few of you have asked if we use Morning Time in our home school. I love the idea of it, but haven’t successfully incorporated it into our rhythm yet, so I thought I’d ask my friend Kelly to tell you about her experience.
I also wanted to separate this post from my homeschool series, because I actually think anyone can do Morning Time! It could happen any time of day. I plan to work hard to create a routine like this for our summer, to give our mornings some structure.
And now, here’s Kelly . . .
It all started 2 1/2 years ago on a drive to my aunt’s house for July 4th weekend. As an introvert traveling with noisy children, I had my headphones in and was listening to an interview I had stumbled upon between Andrew Kern of the Circe Institute and Sarah Mackenzie of Read Aloud Revival. They were discussing the idea of teaching from a state of rest and the importance of not approaching the education of our children from a place of panic and anxiety to check off the growing list of boxes on our to-do list each day (here is the podcast).
This talk of anxiety and long to-do lists resonated deeply with me because I daily fight against my type-A personality. I was a deeply ingrained overachiever in school when I was a student. I was hanging on their every word and eager to drink in more of their wisdom. The idea of “Morning Time” was brought up and the name Cindy Rollins, who most consider the inventor of this genius and beautiful idea.
Essentially Morning Time was a time set aside in the day that Cindy gathered her children together to cover areas of their curriculum most filled with truth, beauty and goodness. These are the subjects that with time constraints and daily stresses, are easily pushed aside and yet they can be the nourishment that our souls, minds and hearts need the most.
Well I knew then and there that I had to incorporate this idea into our homeschool day and quickly began to look into what elements I wanted for us to cover together.
The beauty of Morning Time is that you can tailor it uniquely to your family. As with most things, it is wise to start slowly and then build on your routine rather than trying to fit in all the inspiring subjects at the beginning and overwhelm your kids and stress yourself out. In our home with a daughter in third grade and a son who is 2 1/2 this is what Morning Time looks like for us.
* Start by saying the Pledge of Allegiance
* Recite Charlotte Mason’s motto “I Am, I Can, I Ought, I Will”
“I am …. a child of God, a gift to my parents and my country. I’m a person of great value because God made me.
I can …. do all things through Christ who strengthens me. God has made me able to do everything required of me.
I ought …. to do my duty to obey God, to submit to my parents and everyone in authority over me, to be of service to others, and to keep myself healthy with proper food and rest so my body is ready to serve.
I will …. resolve to keep a watch over my thoughts and choose what’s right even if it’s not what I want.”
* Recite a Creed choosing from the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Gloria Patri or Doxology. This element was important to me, because our daughter sits in the service each week at our church and I wanted her to be actively participating in the liturgy and familiar with the words.
* Sing a hymn
* Recite a passage of Scripture we are learning together. Right now we are working on the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23.
* Review Catechism questions
* Review memory work. We are currently memorizing “I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud” by William Wordsworth
* Read poetry by a poet we are studying each term. Our current poet is William Blake.
* Recite a family motto. I drew these from Sally Clarkson’s “24 Family Ways”. One example is “We are generous with what we have, sharing freely with others.
* Finally, we read a passage from The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine Vos
Although this may look like a lot, this whole routine usually only takes us thirty minutes and on average we do this three days a week.
We gather around the kitchen table with our individual Morning Time binders which contain everything we need for our routine so everything is streamlined. Since my youngest is only 2 1/2 he does not actively participate in this routine but is with us so he can soak in the truth being spoken and also start learning the routine so he can join us as he gets older.
These days his participation looks like shouting “America!” after we say the Pledge and then clapping for us when we finish singing a hymn. The rest of the time I attempt to keep his hands busy with paper and crayons, sticker books, puzzles or snacks.
Over time as we steadily committed to it day by day, I caught glimpses of how it was impacting her heart. These glimpses came through hearing her singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” from her bedroom or watching her attempt to climb a tree to play out the poem “Foreign Lands” by Robert Louis Stevenson that we had read.
On a recent road trip I looked back into the backseat to offer an activity to pass the time and she told me she’d rather look out the window at the beautiful clouds and fields. It is through these and other peeks into her heart that I am seeing that she is learning already how to slow down and take in the beauty of what God has created.
Morning Time has been a discipline that teaches both of us to not just tackle the day’s to-do list, but instead to linger together over what is true, beautiful and good and allow our hearts to be fed. As we do this together it knits our hearts together and gives us a shared experience that tightens our bond.
Homeschooling is hard work and I have to admit on many mornings when we are reciting our own liturgy at home, my heart is having to repent from the impatience or harsh tones that I may have already exhibited that day. It gives me the opportunity to pause and change course and get back on track and receive fresh grace and forgiveness.
I encourage anyone who wants to take time during the day to pause with their family and sit together taking in truth, beauty and goodness that it is worth the effort. It could be as simple as reading a poem each night at dinner or memorizing a verse together every day for a month and discussing it. It doesn’t have to be formal or complicated. The dailiness is what makes it special and powerful.
Since listening to that first podcast interview, I have gleaned ideas and wisdom from many others who are also utilizing this liturgy in their homes. Here are some resources below if you want to dive in further and investigate for yourself:
The Circe Institute has available for pre-order a book specifically on Morning Time by its creator, Cindy Rollins. It’s available here.
* Mystie Winkler of the blog Simply Convivial has a great post on how to get started with Morning Time, including her memory work lists, her own plans and many other resources. You can find that here.
*Allison Burr did a very informative series on her blog about Morning Time with videos of her family and lots of resources. You can find that here.
Happy Friday, dear friends!
We’ve almost made it! I hope this series has been helpful for practical ideas, trouble-shooting your home school, or perhaps thinking through whether homeschooling might be for you.
If you have any other questions, please let me know through comments or email!
Last few for now …
Q. How do you homeschool multiple grades?
A. I feel barely qualified to answer this since this is really the first year you could say I’m schooling “multiple” grades, but here we go.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised how smoothly the transition has gone to homeschooling three grades. My best tricks for helping this go smoothly are to: 1. Be organized, 2. Practice through following a regular routine, 3. Get help.
You know by now that my house is pretty neat. Now, you do not have to have a neat house to do life or homeschool successfully!!! Some of my favorite people have messy houses and I love their laid back approach to life. I need them to balance me out.
If you want to homeschool multiple ages without losing your mind, you should find what makes you feel as peaceful as possible. For me, it’s a neat house. My brain doesn’t feel as cluttered. Our stuff doesn’t get lost or broken (or as lost or broken). Best of all, I don’t spend the time that I should be homeschooling searching for things.
The best path to a neat house is to have less stuff, and to clean up throughout the day as you go. We work on this together as a family, all of us. Everything has a place, and things should be put all the way back in their proper place when cleaning up. We also do group clean-up before afternoon rest time, and before bed.
I’ve made it a personal goal that the kids should be able to completely straighten up their rooms in five minutes. If it takes any longer, they have too many toys (we do allow them to rotate toys from the attic from time to time).
You’ve caught this theme throughout the series, but I work hard to keep our homeschool curriculum and supplies very streamlined. Our dining room shelves only contain the items we’re using right now; everything else gets stowed away for later use. If someone passes along a homeschool item and we don’t use it for several months (even if it seems great), I give it away or recycle it.
I don’t let piles of paper build up. Every child has their own basket or shelf for workbooks and art projects. I have a box for recycling in the dining closet. Art work gets proudly displayed on the fridge for a week or so, then it goes straight in the recycling box (a few very special projects get put in a 3-ring binder I have for each child).
We have a book basket in the living room where all library books live. Almost immediately after a trip to the library, I begin a cloth bag of books we’re finished with. It sits by the front door for the next available person to drop them by the library (David and his Mom are always happy to help me with book returns).
I prepared ahead of time for homeschooling multiple grades by having a good routine down pat. I’m not talking a strict minute-by-minute schedule. I just mean set times for meals and snacks, a time for starting our school day, afternoon quiet play time. I try to plan out my mornings so that I’m spending a little one-on-one time with each child, no matter their age, even if it’s just 20 minutes.
So then when that child becomes old enough for school, I just slide their school work into that slot.
My advice is that during the younger years, even before you’re schooling multiple grades, work on that routine. Day after day. Even when you’re bored. Do some group work that includes read-alouds and something artsy (play doh? coloring?), read good books, go outside together or send your kids outside to play together, carve out a little time with each of your kids.
The daily logistics of homeschooling multiple grades works best when I:
1. Start the morning with our group work
2. Rotate through and spend focused time with each child and do all their individual work during one time slot.
3. Teach older children over time how to work independently.
Here’s a revelation for you. Even with a routine. Even with organization. Even with a third grader who can do several things independently: We almost never get everything done in a day. I try to make our assignment lists as realistic as possible, but it’s a lot of work and a lot of kids and there’s always interruptions.
But if we’ve started our day with the inspiring stuff: our group work and read-alouds, if we’ve gotten outside, and I’ve tried to spend a little time working with each child, I count that day as a success, whether we’ve gotten through all the prescribed workbook pages.
I don’t like doing this often, but if I feel that we’re getting behind in an area, I’ll nix group work and read-alouds, and focus on skills work for the day. It’s not as fun, but all of the reading and handwriting and math are important too.
I’m not saying it’s perfect, but I really, really enjoy homeschooling multiple grades!
This is my favorite homeschooling year so far. I enjoy the focused time I spend with my kids as they’re learning, and I’m inspired to learn alongside them. It involves work and organization, yes, but homeschooling truly gets easier as kids get older and more independent, and so I personally feel like homeschooling multiple grades with older kids is easier than homeschooling fewer grades with really little kids in your home.
Take heart! Your time is coming too!
Finally, David has taken over teaching math to the oldest two kids this year. This has been amazing for us! He’s surprised by how much he enjoys it, Judah and Amie love the time with their Dad, and I’m beyond thrilled because math is so not my thing. David makes it creative and fun in ways I just couldn’t.
He meets with them twice a week and does two lessons each time (we have to get creative about fitting these times in because he doesn’t have a traditional work schedule). The kids still have 2 daily worksheets as their math homework, and Amie needs some help with those, but just taking out the instruction time lightens my load enormously.
If you’re married and your spouse can take over a part of school — even with one child — that will help tremendously with schooling multiple grades. If not, maybe you can ask a grandparent for help? Some people also hire homeschooled high school students for tutoring help.
Q. How do you homeschool with littles around?
A. Friend, if you’re homeschooling with very small kids in your home, especially an infant, you have all my respect (and sympathy). Actually I realize that I can’t accurately speak to this because I had two kids when I started, and then added two toddlers. So I never found myself trying to homeschool with a newborn or nursing baby.
All I can say from talking to lots of friends is it’s really, really hard.
And what I can personally say from trying to homeschool after adopting two little boys, is that’s really hard.
1. Routine is your friend. Are you tired of me talking about routine? Seriously though. Kids of all ages crave a predictable routine. Your life will be smoother — whether homeschooling or not — if you work on giving it to them. Talk to your kids about it, tell them you’re a team and when everyone works to follow the plan, you’ll have more time to spend together.
Even if you’re barely getting actual school done, focus on your morning routine. I’m gonna be controversial and say that I think small babies can be put on a regular routine too with benefits for everyone. That way your big kids know they will get time with you at some point in your day.
Make having your older kids play with the younger ones part of the routine. So I typically bring one child into another room to do our focused one-on-one school work, and the others play with the boys (or just Noah). I know for really young toddlers you need to supervise more, but try to be creative with this. It’ll get easier, I promise.
I also used TV way more when my kids were smaller. They watched about an hour a day, just so I could get through some school (or honestly, just so I could get through the day!). Don’t feel guilty for that. You’ll eventually be able to transition away from it and won’t even miss it.
2. Teach your kids to obey. The time you spend disciplining your children is an investment that will pay dividends in your homeschool (and life) later on. Your kids can and should learn to obey you. Discipline is not yelling or being a slave-driver. It’s calmly telling your kids what’s expected of them and carrying out consequences when they don’t listen.
Very small children can learn to obey. Adopted children can learn to obey. Wiggly, strong-willed boys can learn to obey.
Now, the reason I started with routine is because I think you should try to set your kids up for success as much as possible before you discipline. Are they getting enough sleep? Eating regular meals? Limiting sugar? Getting enough exercise and outdoor time? Do they know what to expect from your day?
If so, then begin the work of expecting first-time obedience (“with a happy heart” we say in our family). Bad attitudes and talking back and temper tantrums are disobedience.
My mom used to say, “All families have different rules, and that’s okay! The most important thing is not so much which rules you choose, but that you are consistent about communicating and enforcing them.”
Every good relationship is grounded in respect, and our kids will respect us when “mean what we say,” by following through with rules, rather than allowing them to argue/manipulate/ignore us. We are not victims of our kids! God created us to be a loving authority and shepherd in their lives. I truly believe they love us better when they respect us. It paves the way for a smooth homeschooling experience as well.
We’re also setting our children up for success in life. We’re teaching them appropriate ways of expressing themselves. For the rest of their lives, they’re going to be told what to do and have to listen and deal with their emotions. They’re going to have to learn that they can’t have their way all the time. And as they learn that, they can begin to look beyond themselves and learn how to serve other people.
Guys, I understand that setting up a predictable routine and expecting obedience are not easy tasks. If you have more than one child, those tasks plus meals and housework can feel like a full-time job alone, forget trying to homeschool.
They take time, consistency, lots of tears, lots of repentance.
I do not do these things perfectly, ask anyone who lives with me.
But I can’t tell you enough the difference it’s made in our home to stick with these practices, day after day. We worked with Judah and Amelie when they were little. We spent so much time last year teaching Gabe and Noah to obey. Our homeschool was interrupted countless times.
But guess what! It’s over! In the end a year or four is nothing compared to a more peaceful life in my home with my kids. We are all happier as a result.
It was worth every second.
3. A fenced in backyard and a trampoline work wonders. I know this simply isn’t possibly for everyone, I know that. And after nearly two years in high-rise apartments in India, I pray I never take our beautiful backyard for granted. But seriously. I don’t think I could homeschool boys without these two things.
Q. What do you do for kindergarten in your house?
I’m not one to push preschool or 4K, but since adopting the boys, we do 4K because, 1. They want so bad to be big kids and do school too, and 2. We start to get in the habit of some school work to help the transition to older grades become smoother.
In my mind, 4K and kindergarten really blend into one. We spend two years on these grades, but instead of following any set curriculum, I simply move on, skill by skill, with my kids. Come to think of that, I do that with all grades. For example, Amie is doing some first grade work this year and some second grade work.
I’m very relaxed about 4K and kindergarten, and I do not follow a set curriculum.
Here’s what I do with Gabe right now:
– All my kids have about 15-20 minutes of educational iPad work each day, mostly just to break things up and add something fun into our day.
– Gabe sits in my lap and does his first app, Handwriting Without Tears. I love this one because it has helped my kids learn to form their letters correctly and gives me words to use as I’m reminding them how to form letters. He chooses two letters.
– I do speech with Gabe at home with input from a friend who is a retired speech therapist. We use the Articulation Station app for letter sounds and this also has been hugely helpful.
I like it because you only purchase the letter sounds you need. Gabe chooses two games to play from the letter sound we’re currently working on, and I make sure to be present to help guide him through pronunciation. This is also special fun time for us, we laugh and cuddle. I’m so proud of how hard he works on this and how well he’s doing.
– He then moves to the table for 2-4 worksheets in his Explode the Code preschool workbook, which he loves. This focuses on handwriting and beginning letter sounds.
– Finally I choose one more activity for us to do together. He reads his 100 number chart to me and I’ll point out numbers for him to identify. We review his letter sounds flashcards. He puts foam numbers in order. We start some basic adding and subtracting (very basic, with fun counting games).
– Starting around age five, when my kids have all their letter sounds down well, I beginning pulling out Ordinary Parents Guide to start more formal reading lessons. With each of my three oldest, this has at first involved trying a lesson or two, then putting the book away for awhile. I think blending letters into words is a skill that just clicks into place at a certain age — that age could be different for everyone. I want reading to be as enjoyable of a process as possible, so if I sense they’re just not ready to start reading, I put the book away for a couple of months. In the meantime we practice identifying letters, looking at words to try to sound them out, etc, but in a very fun, laid back way.
– Someone told me once that kindergarten is about teaching kids that school is fun, so that is always my focus. I do not push them. They spend lots of time playing with toys and lots of time outside.
– All of the above takes about 30 focused minutes. Gabe and I both love it!
– The rest of his school includes CC on Mondays, our daily CC review time, and fun little projects with his siblings that I mentioned on Wednesday. I don’t make him sit in for chapter books, but typically he half-listens while doing art or playing at the table. None of my kids have really started enjoying listening to chapter books until about 6 years old, and I’m fine with that.
– Finally, I read picture books with the three youngest kids — during our school morning if possible, and again at night before bed.
I do a few things with Noah this year, just for fun, but I’ll be honest, guys. Some mornings I do not get around to spending time with him because I’m so busy with the older three. I hate that and it’s something I plan to work on once we finish CC for the semester on Monday.
Noah will be four next month (can you believe it!?), and though he was by far the most challenging in the beginning, he’s by and large a happy, contented, cooperative guy now, who likes to be at the table with us, outside, or hanging out with his siblings. He loves CC and also gets lots of social time at swim practice.
He also plays well by himself. He likes the Starfall app on the iPad and does that most days.
I feel excited about adding him into the mix bit by bit.
And that’s it!
There are three questions that I didn’t tackle in this series. I plan to answer them as stand-alone posts over the next few weeks because I think they apply to non-homeschoolers as well:
-How do you raise kids who love reading for fun?
-How do you keep your sanity homeschooling (or raising) a big family as an introvert/highly sensitive person?
– Do you do Morning Time? If so, can you tell me about it?
I’ll elaborate more soon. But for now, I’m done.
Which that leads me to my last tip of the week:
Take a break from thinking about homeschooling!!!
I love it, I truly do, but I’d literally go crazy if that’s all I thought/talked about.
Researching and blogging and trading ideas with friends is super fun, but I sometimes I just need to stop already, know what I mean?
There are many others things I enjoy! I love reading books, photography, cooking and baking, gardening, and travel. What are some things that you love? Make time to pursue them and I promise you’ll be a better homeschool parent!
Have a wonderful weekend! Hugs!
This is the second of a three-part series answering homeschooling questions. Part one talked about Classical Conversations and homeschool groups.
Today I’ll focus on curriculum and planning. Friday, I’ll speak to homeschooling with littles and homeschooling multiple grades.
Friends, I know all of this is super information overload. Truly, it’s easier for me to write in all here in one week, but do not try to read it all at once! The minute it becomes a burden or overwhelming, just stop! You can always file it away and come back to it as you have time. The last thing I want is to discourage you or make you call into question what you’re doing.
Q. So you use CC and Sonlight, how do you choose the remainder of your curriculum? What textbooks do you use?
A. CC and Sonlight give us the overall structure for our year’s material and most of our books, but you’re right, there are some gaps to fill. I like the fact that parents have the freedom to choose their own math and language arts curriculum. There are so many good choices available, and everyone has an opinion, so as you’re getting started, I highly recommend some sort of a guide.
Maybe that’s asking a few homeschooling parents you know what they use and why. For me it was incredibly helpful to be apart of our accountability organization, SCAIHS, for two years. We had our own homeschool guidance counselor, and she sat down with me each summer, asked lots of questions about my kids and their learning style, and gave me some ideas for curriculum.
To me that’s the best-case scenario, because she’d been a first grade teacher for years and years, had worked with homeschoolers for years, and knew which options were weak and which were tried and true.
I decided not to continue with SCAIHS this year because I felt that a lot of the services overlap with Classical Conversations, and like I mentioned, the older the kids get, the more CC takes over our curriculum. In SC, homeschoolers are legally required to be registered with a homeschool organization, so we’re currently using a group called TSCHAA. However, if we ever left CC, I would immediately go back to SCAIHS.
(Whew, that is way too many acronyms for one paragraph)
So yes, if at all possible, please have someone help you with curriculum ideas, but I always hate to tell people the exact skills textbooks we use because in the end, this is an area that is so subjective. There are many solid options out there. Don’t let yourself become paralyzed by a desire to make the “perfect” choice. There is no perfect choice.
When you’re starting out, just choose something, stick with it for a year, and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, whether it worked for your child’s learning style or not, whether it made you want to bang your head against the wall as a teacher, or whether it suited you both. Every year you will know your child and your household dynamic a little better, you know the people and websites you trust, and can very slowly start to make these decisions for yourself.
A word to the wise:
I’ve learned that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. It is so tempting to try a new phonics workbook or math curriculum every year as you hear what other people love. Our guidance counselor said, “It’s okay to switch curriculum when you need to, Julie, but just remember, every time you do, there will be gaps in your child’s knowledge. Try to save switches for the times you really need them.”
That makes so much sense to me!
And it helped weed out my motivations: sometimes one of my kids was really struggling with something and needed that switch, but usually they were just bored or I was bored and found something that seemed more fun or attractive.
Guys, a lot of school is not fun. Especially these skills they’re learning. There is no magic curriculum that will take away the need for hard, daily work: reciting multiplication tables, learning to form letters correctly, reading.
Q. Do you use the same curriculum across the board for your kids, or tailor it to each child? Please tell me what books you use!
A. The only way to homeschool several kids is to keep things as simple as possible. So it works best for me to just plan, more or less, to use the same curriculum for all of my kids, and only change if I absolutely need to. Thus far, we’ve made it work without switches thanks to what we’ve learned from our wonderful guinea pig, also known as the oldest kid: Judah.
Here’s what we use:
Math: Saxon (starting with Saxon 1: do not buy that kindergarten book! It’s a complete waste of money)
Reading: An Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (we use about half of this book and then transition to Pathway Readers)
Phonics: Explode the Code workbooks (and we use their preschool workbooks, but I don’t purchase the teacher’s guide)
Readers: Pathway readers: this is what my kids use to practice reading aloud to me (just the books, not the workbooks)
Grammar: First Language Lessons
Spelling: ACSI (we start spelling in the second grade, I don’t purchase the teacher’s guide)
Handwriting: Zaner-Bloser handwriting (print and cursive)
Copywork: Prescripts cursive copywork (made by Classical Conversations, I switch from Zaner-Bloser to this once the student is fluent in cursive)
We reuse curriculum as much as possible and just cannot afford to buy two separate Math or grammar books.
Because of this, if someone is struggling, my first plan of attack is always to tweak what we’re already doing. Should lessons be shorter? Are they bored and need to skip ahead? Should I assign fewer Saxon worksheets than what is assigned, or should we practice our math facts in a different way sometimes?
Do I need to find a better way of explaining things? Judah dislikes grammar and sometimes just the act of pulling out one of those little Target $1 whiteboards and letting him do his lesson on it helps. Sometimes we diagram sentences from Harry Potter or The Hobbit.
Amelie struggles with Math, and we were advised to switch her to a different curriculum. But not only did I not want to spend the money, I felt like it would make my head crazy to try to follow two whole separate math systems for my kids.
So we’ve changed Saxon for her by using lots of hands-on manipulatives, colored pens, hey, even Shopkins toys, to liven up the lessons for her. Of course we won’t let her sink and fail — if we need to buy a different book we will — but even just personalizing the curriculum has helped her leaps and bounds (I also strongly suspect that now doing math with her dad instead of her mom helps).
Q. How do you plan out your year/assignments?
A. Ready for my planning system? It’s probably way less exciting than you imagine.
In South Carolina we’re required to document and keep track of days starting in first grade. I do not document kindergarten!!! (except for my sweet child’s favorite school work pages, and that is for their benefit alone). Some people ask if they should use kindergarten to get in the habit of tracking days/curriculum, and to that I say, “Heck no!” Give yourself a break. You’ll never get it again.
So all of the following applies to first grade and up:
I print out a simple, no-frills homeschool attendance form for each child and put it in my 3-ring planning binder. I sketch out known vacations/holiday breaks from school, and divide the school year into first semesters, then quarters.
So we need to complete 90 school days per semester, 45 per quarter. I make sure to circle my end-of-quarter dates, and really use that quarter chunk of time as my guide to make sure I’m staying on track: both with days of school, and with the work we need to get done. It overwhelms me to look beyond the quarter that we’re in, so I don’t. I also write lightly in pencil next to each month how many school days we need to complete to stay on track (it usually ends up being about 19).
At the beginning of the year, I sit down with all our textbooks and figure out how many pages or lessons I need to complete to finish our 180-day year. I then divide that amount up into quarters. Finally I make a handwritten chart for my students telling me how many pages/lessons we need to do that subject in a week. This chart is what I refer to as I plan out our week’s worth of lessons (and it’s now in my bullet journal!).
I’ll take a super quick tangent to say: in my house it works much better to do most subjects in small portions every single day (we have a 4-day week because of Classical Conversations). It gets my kids into the habit of their subjects, keeps them from asking, “Do I have to do spelling today?”, and keeps lessons blessedly short.
Does all of this make sense?
By doing all of that work and making a basic chart, I’m able to really streamline my weekly planning.
Q. How long does it take you to plan out each week?
With no distractions, I can easily plan out our week in an hour or so. I do it over the weekend, and try to make sure I’m distraction-free — either while the kids are watching cartoons or when they’re all outside.
Each week as I sit down to lesson plan, I first open my planning binder and fill out the school days we completed the week before. That way I have a weekly check-up on our school attendance and don’t get behind.
Next, I pull out the workbooks we will use (I keep these stowed away in a cabinet all week).
It works well for me to just tear out the appropriate worksheets in a subject for the whole week and put the kids’ work for the week in pocket folders in my drawer, where I can pull them out a day at a time.
This year we’re using clipboards for daily work, and they’re great! It really keeps Judah and Amie from getting overwhelmed with all they have to do by looking at a whole big workbook, and I like that the clipboard can easily be carried into another room to work (of course we do handwriting at the table).
One day’s worth of worksheets goes on a clipboard and in the kid’s basket on our gray homeschool shelf. Any non-worksheet books they’re using this semester go in that basket as well (grammar book, Pathway readers).
For assignment lists we use Sarah Mackenzie’s method of spiral notebooks. I turn to a blank page, write the date, and list out that day’s assignments with boxes for checking off completed work. I always include chores too, and if there’s anything special going on that day I list it so the kids have an idea of what our day looks like. Note: these spiral notebooks double up as my legal record-keeping of work we did!
Ideally I write out a week’s worth of pages at a time, but I’ll be honest and say that lately I’ve written them out before the kids get up the morning of and that’s been okay too.
Judah’s in third grade this year, and a big academic focus for me is getting him working independently. So every day he has some work he does with me and then a list of independent work. I come after him and check those things when he’s finished. If he has a question while I’m working with one of the other kids he knows to circle the problem, skip it, and move on.
This is working so well for us! You guys, it’s a game-changer to start having more independent homeschool students. But more about on that Friday!
Finally, once I’ve plotted out our workbook-y stuff, I make a plan for our Classical Conversations week, which is really my favorite part.
I check on that week’s memory work, hang the appropriate timeline cards on our wall, and find a few ways to supplement our material. So this year CC counts for all of our history and science work. I search Pinterest for very simple little projects to supplement the work, and I’m talking simple, people.
I invest in nice colored pencils for my kids (here) that they may only use for school projects or for the little guys, when supervised, and I use that to justify the fact that I do almost nothing else that’s crafty. I take that back: I always have white paper, pencils, construction paper, scissors and glue sticks accessible to them, and it’s amazing what projects they come up with!
So when I say I search Pinterest, I mean something that involves the above supplies (you can see my CC board here). But if I’m enthusiastic about it and/or print something off the Internet for them to color, they’re thrilled! Sometimes we’ll watch a little Youtube video to help explain something. I also try to buy a children’s encyclopedia of some sort every year and so usually we’ll look up the appropriate info for our CC work. Finally, like I mentioned Monday, we have read-alouds that fill in our history, science, and literature work.
This first hour and a half or so of our day is the most fun, and is probably my favorite thing about doing Classical Conversations. I love that all my kids can learn together. They all have the same memory work, just modified to each age group, and it gives them a common vocabulary and common memories as they giggle over hand-motions or songs or their tin whistle lesson.
Noah isn’t in a traditional class yet (he’ll be in 4K next year), so I don’t make him join in but he always wants to. We sing review songs, locate countries on our dry-erase maps, draw continents, do our little projects, and then all the kids choose to draw or play with special bins of educational toys while I read aloud. To me this is the “meat” of school, and this is where I put my planning energy by find ways to learn the material that are interesting to me too. All the worksheets are necessary, of course, but I find they go much smoother if I make sure to begin our day together, enjoying learning.
We’re almost done, friends! One more question for now:
Q. Do you follow the same routine every day?
A. I still tweak what we do from time to time, but yes, we have more or less settled on a daily routine and it’s this:
8-9:30 am: Group work (CC Review, CC project or extra material, chapter book read-alouds: one history and one literature/fun book)
9:30-10:30: Gabe and Noah play outside, Judah Independent work, Amie one-on-one with Mom.
10:30: Snack, read picture books on the couch
11-12:00: Amie Independent work or play, Judah one-on-one with Mom, G and N play/puzzles
12:30-1:00: Gabe one-on-one with Mom, other kids play with Noah or finish up school work
1:00 – 3:00: Afternoon play time in bedrooms
3:00: The rest of our day!
As you can see this is kind of a loosy-goosy schedule. As my kids have gotten older and are more able to self-entertain, I find I don’t have to plan out each hour so much. We have CC Mondays, and swim Wednesday/Thursday until 9:30 am, so truly I have two “normal” days per week. I end up shortening things on swim days or we do a little work in the afternoon.
Friday is a more relaxed school day. We try to do a fun CC review game with chocolate chips. Instead of read-alouds, we watch an episode of Planet Earth or Magic School Bus. Sometimes we take field trips.
And that’s all for today, folks!
I’ll be back Friday to talk about homeschooling with littles and how to stayed organized with multiple grades.
In the meantime, I need a nap!
Hi there, friends!
First things first: I love hearing from you, whether by email, text or comment! Please don’t ever feel the need to leave a comment, but if you want to (hint, hint), I know the system I used was a little un-user-friendly. I had it installed because of spam, but I’d really love to encourage more dialogue here, so I just switched back to the original format. I’ll be on the lookout for spam, and I hope it makes it easier for you to chime in!
Remember when I wrote a blog post about homeschooling, oh, about five months ago? I fully expected to write a follow-up, giving some more details about our homeschool routine, but I guess life got in the way.
Most of the questions I get right now have to do with how we homeschool, as in, what does our day look like? What curriculum do we use? How do I homeschool multiple grades? What do we think of our homeschool community, Classical Conversations, and how does it actually help with our school week?
So I’m here this week with a little three-part series in which I’m going to attempt to give you some answers!
If you’re not a homeschooler or a parent, have no fear! Next week I’ll have a series that I hope you’ll find more relevant.
This first post has to do with your Classical Conversations and homeschool co-op questions, and my approach to our family’s home education in general, and on Wednesday and Friday I’ll talk more about our school routine and homeschooling multiple grades.
Also I should say I feel slightly guilty for the photos I am about to show you. Please do not think these reflect all of our school days: they just reflect what I’ve done with our dining room/school room this year and what a happy place it’s become. I picked a bright sunshiny morning with lots of natural light, moved a couple stacks of papers, waited until the boys were all out on the trampoline, and snapped away.
Some of our moments are quiet and idyllic like this. Most are loud and messy.
Here we go!
Q. Are you still doing Classical Conversations (CC)? Do you like it?
A. It’s hard to believe we’re halfway through our fourth year of CC. I won’t give an in-depth explanation of it here, but if you’re interested, see this great post that gives an overview of the program. You’ll find a couple of other helpful links there if you want to know more. If you’re interested in becoming part of a Classical Conversations community, I highly recommend the book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, by Leigh Bortins, which I’ve read and underlined and dog-eared.
Even four years into it, I am not a die-hard CC person. It has strengths and its weaknesses. I do not think it’s the only way to homeschool successfully. In fact, if you know me well, you know I re-evaluate (probably way too much) every.single.year whether it’s still working, or whether we should make a change.
At the end of the day, yes, I do really like CC, and the reason we keep on with it is because it works for our family.
Both the social/classroom aspect and the academic aspect are a great fit for us. Our campus meets on Mondays, and all four of my kids enjoy going. They love their tutors. They love their friends.
I’d even go so far as to say I don’t think I’d be homeschooling Judah without it, or without a similar program. There’s something about the experience that meets a need in him, and inspires him to do his work at home the rest of the week. CC is only a 24-week program, so I have a chance to keep homeschooling during its breaks and observe the difference, and I’ve found that he stays much more motivated and focused during the CC year.
The major “con” of CC in my mind is that it’s not a drop-off program. I wish I could drop my kids off for three or four delicious hours all to myself. Instead along with the other parents, I sit in my kids’ classes (rotating week by week), listen to the tutor, and help out as needed. In some years, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed that. The past two years I’ve found it exhausting.
But I still recognize the intent and the benefit of being on campus. I’ve learned to be a better teacher by watching the tutors, I enjoy learning with my kids and have a good barometer of how they’re doing and what to focus on at home. I know when to push a child in an area and when to lighten up on another. I’ve learned how to help my kids work through conflict.
And best of all I’ve made lifelong friends with other homeschooling moms by being right there in the community with them. The picnic lunch we have on Mondays after school is like a built-in weekly play date, where we all get to be with our friends.
Q. Does CC actually help you with the rest of your week, and if so, how?
A. I’m going to try to keep this simple, but here’s my basic philosophy for education in these early years:
1. Give my children a solid foundation of knowledge through memory work.
2. Make that knowledge come alive through great books.
3. Learn some necessary skills (math, reading, writing, etc)
So yes, CC does help us because gives us the big-picture plan and structure to do that.
Each week the kids memorize facts in seven areas of education: History timeline, History story, Science, English Grammar, Geography, Math, and Latin. They do this in a three-year cycle. Therefore, every three years the cycle begins again, and since this is our fourth year of CC, we’re now repeating a cycle of knowledge we’ve already gotten.
CC also helps with our homeschool because it gives us weekly classroom presentations (public speaking), science projects, art and music appreciation and projects.
Those are things I just know I’d really struggle to get to on my own. I’m not a project or crafty-type mom. It’s a tremendous help to me simply to not have to think about those aspects of education for now.
So, back to the memory work.
People have very firm opinions on making young children memorize lots of facts, especially when they don’t understand everything they’re learning at this point. Personally, I love it. CC makes memory work (mostly) interesting with chants and songs. We spend a few minutes practicing the week’s memory work in the morning, and then listen to CD’s in the car throughout the week.
Here’s why I don’t think this memorization is pointless: All of these things actually happened or are actual parts of the way our universe works (like the Hundred Years’ War or the phases of the moon).
I want my kids to understand that the world isn’t all about them, right here, and life, right now, but that they’re part of a much larger story. I think it’s through learning about this story that they begin to find their place in the world.
So for us, the CC curriculum is foundational. It’s my guide as I plan out our year. It gives structure to our week. It provides a framework for everything else we do.
It’s also teaching the kids great skills for learning as they’ll have to memorize things for the rest of their lives (an example of this in my current season of life is learning about gardening and plant/tree names).
This is our first year repeating a cycle of memory work, and I can personally attest to the fact that the method is useful. Because Judah (and to some extent Amelie) has studied this information once before, it comes back quickly this time around. He’s older and more mature, so he’s able to begin really processing the facts he’s learning. He has questions. The big picture is coming together for him; now we can dive a little deeper into understanding.
I’ve studied the CC philosophy quite a bit, and I follow the advice of consistently practicing memory work, but more or less let my children make the connections on their own. So they’re eating apples for a snack and Gabe suddenly says, “My apple has a core and the sun has a core,” because he’s just learned the parts of the sun. We read about Michelangelo going to Rome and Amie says, “Rome was founded by Romulus and Remus.”
I can’t tell you how often this happens.
I realize the criticism is that all these pieces of knowledge can just puff kids up with pride because they can recite a bunch of facts. Yes, sometimes that happens, but I disagree that it’s the fault of knowledge. The true gaining of knowledge should lead to humility, because the more you learn, the more you discover how much you don’t know; the more you begin to understand just how big the world is and the sacrifice of people who have come before you.
Knowledge inspires wonder as you discover ways that the world and history are connected.
So the problem with pride isn’t in learning facts about the sun or ancient Rome; it’s in the human heart, which always tends toward pride. If we teach with an atmosphere of wonder and humility — showing kids that all of this knowledge is merely a jumping off point, rather than an end in itself, I believe that kids become excited to go deeper.
In our family, CC has inspired interest-led learning as our kids seize on a piece of memory work and want to know more. Judah is now passionate about geography because he’s had to draw maps and learn, one by one, the countries of the world since he was five. And when we watch Animal Planet, the kids know the mountain ranges referenced and the tallest peaks of the world. If I just waited to study what my kids tell me they’re interested in, I’m not sure they ever would have discovered these particular passions.
This foundation of knowledge allows them to enjoy and connect to what they’re learning even more. It’s a guide.
It’s produced kids who see the world as big and grand, and who are interested in it.
Charlotte Mason said that at the end of the day, the goal of learning isn’t how much you know but how much you care. And so I’d say that that’s the goal of our homeschool: to learn a lot, yes, but to let that learning shape us into humble, compassionate, empowered people. People who care.
I will say that a couple years into it, I found our CC memory work pretty dry and tedious. That’s when I decided to incorporate Sonlight literature into our curriculum. This is our second year doing it, and it makes all the difference. Like I said before, I want my kids to have a foundation of knowledge, but I believe knowledge comes alive through stories.
We’ve followed the Sonlight Core A and Core B literature/history/science read-aloud lists, and this year they happen to complement the CC cycle we’re studying perfectly. So as we’ve memorized facts about the Renaissance period and learned European geography, we’ve read stories about Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists. [I will say here that I don’t purchase the Sonlight intructor’s guide. I think it’s great if you’re officially following their curriculum, but not necessary when just reading the books together.]
There are so many great book lists available on the Internet. In the end, I settled on Sonlight for much the same reason we do Classical Conversations: It came highly recommended by people I trust, and I wanted as many of the big-picture curriculum decisions as possible made for me so that I could just get down to the business of reading and learning with my kids.
I also chose Sonlight because their book lists introduce my kids to a variety of social issues (poverty, race, adoption, endangered species, homelessness) in age-appropriate ways that work toward our goal of learning to care.
I know myself, and I believe that I still homeschool successfully, not because I’ve found the perfect curriculum, but because I’ve taken out as many decisions as possible from our process.
I’ve found a plan and stuck with it, even when it’s not perfect.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the flexibility of homeschooling. I love the freedom to find what works for our family, and tweak things as needed.
But I think I can easily become paralyzed with all of the available options and decisions, become enamored with the newest curriculum on the market, or call everything into question when our friends choose something different from us. And honestly, sometimes I just get bored and want a change. But if I’m not careful, suddenly I’m spending my energy laboring over searching for the “best thing” or the “most creative thing” rather than actually educating my kids.
To me, simply following the plan, day after day, year by year, is like a wonderful safety net. It allows me to relax into learning.
Q. Do you plan to continue on with CC for Essentials?
A. For those unfamiliar with CC, the reason someone would ask this question is that starting next year, in fourth grade, Judah will move from just a morning of CC to an afternoon program as well, called Essentials (which parents are also present for). Essentials is a three-year intensive writing and grammar program.
Then, in 7th grade, students start Challenge, which encompasses middle and high school. This is a once-a-week all-day tutorial program where parents do not attend, and it includes all the students’ curriculum. This, my friends, is what I’m pressing on towards. I’ve heard fabulous things about the Challenge program, and it looks perfect for Judah’s learning style.
The truth is, I don’t know for sure if we’ll continue all the way, but as of right now, yes, we plan to do Essentials next year. Like I said, Judah loves CC and has a very sweet class of boys he’s anxious to move up with. I also realized that even if we don’t do CC next year, I want to use the same writing program (which is this one). So I may as well be here with him, learning how to teach it.
Like I said, we take everything a year at a time. But I feel at peace about sticking with our plan next year.
Last question of the day!
Q. CC or some other co-op sounds amazing, but it’s not possible for my family right now. Am I screwing my kids up by not being part of a co-op?
A. Absolutely not!!!
I said this at the beginning, but I want to reiterate: Classical Conversations or a homeschool co-op are not the only way to homeschool successfully.
In fact, my hero of homeschooling, Susan Wise Bauer, said that homeschool co-ops simply didn’t work for her family. They exhausted her. Her kids didn’t need them. So they quit, and never looked back.
Friend, if SWB doesn’t need a co-op, you don’t need a co-op!
I would say, take stock of your child’s personality and needs in this season of life, as much as you can, and find some sort of social outlet for them. They need community with other kids and other homeschoolers. You need community with homeschooling parents. I do think it’s helpful for kids, as they get older, to learn some classroom skills, like how to sit still, walk in a line to the bathroom, to speak respectfully to adults in authority, and to wait their turn to speak. For me, it’s also very helpful to have adults other than myself tell my kids what to do. It helps our relationship at home.
Many cities offer homeschool field trip groups. You can do sports or music. You could also sign up for classes at the zoo or the state museum (which in our city are very affordable). You could do Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Several families we swim with view our twice-weekly swim morning practice as their kids’ homeschool social time rather than being apart of a co-op.
And as your kids get older, there are many more options for local classes, clubs, and online courses they could take. This is a wonderful era in which to be homeschooling. You’re more likely to find other families who do it and resources to help you with your journey.
A friend of mine created a monthly field trip and book club group, which I’ll blog about from time to time, and some of the families involved do another co-op as well, while others feel like that our once-a-month meetings are the exact right amount of homeschool social interaction and community.
I hope this encourages you!
On Wednesday, I’ll be back with more.
Happy Friday, dear friends!
Here are six things that are making my life a little happier these days:
1. We have a holiday and birthday cinnamon roll tradition. David’s birthday was October 7, but we had a few busy weekends in a row, so I finally made his cinnamon rolls this week. Homemade cinnamon rolls are something I was intimidated by until my friends in India showed me how very easy they are. Now I’m teaching Amie how to make them.
2. A monumental event happened in our house yesterday: at 11:45 AM I told my children I was going in my room to exercise for 30 minutes, and I’d make their lunch when I was finished. Well, they got hungry and decided to make their own lunch (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), and the big kids made one for Noah.
Of course they scampered in and out of the room asking questions, chatting with me, picking up free weights to follow along, but I did it! I did the entire work-out and when I was finished: my kids had eaten lunch, carried their dishes to the sink, and we could move on with our day!
This may just be the dawn of a new era, folks.
3. One more note on fitness. A few weeks ago, David and I started ROMWOD, which is the CrossFit daily stretching program. I am not a CrossFit person and doubt I ever will be, but I can carve out 15 minutes a night to stretch alongside my husband. We do it immediately after we put Gabe and Noah to bed, and the big kids often join in. It feels very restful (so much so that Amie has been known to fall asleep on the floor by the end of the routine).
This habit has been so, so good for us! I’m gaining some flexibility, my posture is improving, and my form is better when I exercise. Perhaps best of all is that my psychiatrist and doctor have been after me to do daily deep breathing exercises for my anxiety, and ROMWOD includes that.
Having said all of this, fitness and exercise still do not come naturally for me. I’m learning that, at the end of the day, taking care of my body doesn’t involve some grand game plan or even subscribing to an expensive program but small, daily choices to get up and move around.
4. I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I don’t know if it’s the deep breathing, the medication, the therapist, prayer, boundaries, or all of the above, but David and I noticed this week that in some ways I seem to be much more like my old self.
Anxiety is a funny thing: I can now become obsessed with looking for these improvements and then spiral down if I have one bad day, so I’m trying to be very even-keel about these latest victories. We had a wonderful new members’ class at our house two weeks ago with 40 people here. I felt happy and calm and loved cooking chili for them all. And we’ve had a couple other social events this past week that I thought would send me into a tail-spin of panic, but turned out to be enjoyable.
Now the other temptation is to say, “I’m all better!” and start stacking back up commitments and obligations. So I’ll resist that. My life continues to be stream-lined to the barest of necessities. And when once in awhile we add something in and it goes well, I give thanks.
I know this probably deserves a blog post on its own, but I really can’t describe how good this time of my extreme limitations has been for my family. I’m home more. I’m not rushing around frantically trying to please a whole load of people and live up to an image I’ve given myself. I have more energy for homeschooling and for gardening and exercising.
I feel like I’m truly learning, in tiny fits and starts, to live out of a place of rest instead of a place of performance and striving.
5. I’ve started my first bullet journal!
This is something I’ve had my eye on nearly this whole calendar year, through the blogs I follow. At its simplest, bullet journaling is just using a blank notebook to create your own day planner and organizer, tailor-made to your needs. I thoroughly read these two posts as I got started: one from the official Bullet Journal website, and this detailed one from the Lazy Genius Collective, and at their advice, practiced for a couple of weeks in a cheap notebook to make sure I like the method.
Per both of those websites (and a post here for all you Modern Mrs. Darcy lovers), my bullet journal is very plain and simple. No fancy drawings or artwork. I love looking through the elaborate journal spreads on Pinterest but I know that trying to keep up with that would stress me out. So I stick to the basics.
The biggest reason I like the bullet journal method: all the random thoughts and bits of paper scattered throughout the house and notes on my phone and craziness in my head are now consolidated into one place. It travels with me in my purse. It keeps me from staring at a screen. I even use my bullet journal for my grocery list.
David has seen how well this new system is working for me, and ordered his own notebook today. Actually Amie started her own bullet journal with a pretty notebook someone gave her, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that thus far her pages are as fancy and colorful as mine are plain. I love it. Soon I’ll give you a blog post with our favorite tips.
6. And finally, the things we see/hear on news are depressing, but there is so much good in the world, you guys. Let’s look for the good and also be apart of the good, in small, faithful ways. One story: our friends from church, Ben and Jeanette, are approved to adopt a five-year-old boy from China (see photos of him on Instagram @thewalkersadopt). They had an adoption fundraiser on Sunday night with live music, chili, and s’mores, similar to ours in 2014.
And they raised $10,000 in one night.
That is just one example of many I could tell in the life of our church and our community. The generosity and courage of the people around us is heartening. God is at work.
Have a wonderful weekend!
I’ve had these photos in the queue for a couple weeks, waiting for a blog post, but David’s been working so hard that they’re are already outdated. Ah well. I’ll show you what I’ve got and next week I’ll post some more!
But first, a quick trip down memory lane. We bought this house because we had a vision for our backyard. We hoped the fact that the house was small (1,450 square feet) would give us a good nudge to spend more time outside. In essence, we wanted to make a little homestead, complete with an “outdoor living room” where we could read and play and work and be. We knew that all of this would take time and money and work, but we felt it would be worth it.
Here’s a reminder of what we started with, just over three years ago. We did have the concrete slab, but other than that the yard was quite overgrown with pine trees, ivy, shrubs, and weeds (and a random light post).
The two biggest projects we had done in our first year of home ownership were to have a privacy fence installed and 8 pine trees removed. David (and sometimes our friends) also did lots and lots of clearing, and he put in a raised garden bed — and rebuilt it when it was crushed during pine tree removal. Oh yeah, and built a play house from scratch, no big deal. David is nothing if not an overachiever.
The very same month that his parents moved here from Pennsylvania, David corralled his dad to help build the pavilion, which our friend Spencer designed for us. And Steve has been very kindly doing projects for us ever since. Actually my mother-in-law and I have a joke: when I really want something done around the house, I ask Steve to do it, and when she wants something done, she asks David.
We finished the pavilion, we adopted two kids, and oddly enough, house and yard projects were nearly non-existent for a year.
The trampoline is the best investment we never made in our yard: it was a hand-me-down from some neighbors — right before Gabe and Noah came to live with us — and has gotten more use than anything else in the yard.
We did decide to hire a landscape architect from a local nursery to give us a design for the entire backyard. This summer when we were ready to start seriously considering landscaping, we had two different companies come give us a quote for the backyard and were dumbfounded by the cost to have the yard landscaped for us.
So David decided to take those plans and work around the yard himself piece by piece. We’re saving money by buying smaller size plants than the landscaper recommended and mulching with pine straw and doing lots of watering the old-fashioned way. Our shrubs and trees will grow and fill out over time — if there’s anything we’re learning as home-owners, it’s that patience is a virtue.
And so, my friends, here’s where we stand today:
If I had to sum this process up, I’d say the first three years felt like a whole lot of work and waiting. We’ve always enjoyed our backyard, but when we looked around, all we saw were the projects. More and more and more to be done.
But these days, we’re having so much fun with our yard. Of course there’s still more to do, but we’ve both been thrilled with the impact of beginning to landscape the borders, while we’re also keeping up with the vegetable garden.
Now don’t get me wrong: I do almost none of the grunt labor. My side of the bargain includes runs to the local nursery to buy what we need, and holding down the fort with kids and meals and laundry while David weeds and digs and plants.
You know what I find interesting about my battle with anxiety? It’s keeping me home more, and therefore making me open my eyes to what’s right here, in front of me.
Who would’ve thought I’d ever start gardening? That I’d care to learn the difference between a Camellia Sasanqua and a Japonica? That I’d remember to water both indoor and outdoor plants on a regular basis?
That I’d find joy in it?
Moreover, I’m surprised by the way running my hands through the dirt and emptying a red plastic Solo cup of water onto the base of a plant calms my very spirit.
I’m still a very, very beginning gardener. There’s so much I need to learn, like when to prune shrubs and to buy my potted mums before they’ve bloomed so they’ll last longer. David and I are a team; some days he weeds and waters, some days I do.
But I’d say the big difference is that these days I’m interested. I want to learn this new vocabulary. I daydream about what annuals to plant in the little bed next to the pavilion next spring, collect plant clippings from my mom, and ask my mother-in-law how to deal with the slugs that seem to be taking over our yard this month (ugh). I adore popping by the nursery during my afternoon out and peppering the staff with my questions.
Isn’t it funny how embracing a new hobby is like having a light bulb turned on? You suddenly see the world in a different way. On my run I study neighbors’ trees and bushes and try hard to remember their names. I reread At Home in Mitford and notice every single reference to Father Tim’s garden, building it in my mind’s eye.
By now I can tend a planted bed! I found out how to turn my browning aloe plant green again (filtered sunlight)! I can water and pull weeds and clip kale. I can even, under duress, remove and kill the caterpillars that ravage our leafy greens.
Mostly I feel so very grateful that we haven’t moved, that we’ve stuck it out in this one spot, with its limitations and aches and pains. There is no perfect house. There’s no perfect yard.
But there’s something that feels very right about doing what we can to make this place we live better than we found it. It feels good to take over our yard, bit by bit, to beat back the ivy and the pine needles, and to create new soil with compost and attract butterflies and bees.
There’s something very right and very peaceful about having eyes to see and enjoy right where we are.