homeschooling q and a, part three.

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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.

First, organization.

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.

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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).

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Second, routine.

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!

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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.

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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.

Three thoughts:

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.

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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.

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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.

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– 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.

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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!



homeschooling q and a, part two.

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Good afternoon!

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.

Sound good?

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)

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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.

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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).

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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!).

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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!

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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.

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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

12:00: Lunch

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!



homeschooling q and a, part one.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.



book club for kids: mary poppins.

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This year a friend of mine organized a little book-and-field-trip group. We meet the first Friday of every month during the school year for a field trip and three times we’ll read a book and have a “book club party” to discuss and celebrate it.

Today was the first book club meeting. It was scheduled for tomorrow but we decided to move it a day forward due to all the hurricane craziness around here; we showed up at a local park but discovered all government building/organizations are closed for the coming storm.

So our friend Kristin offered to host us last-minute in her backyard, and it turned out to be perfect. Perfect weather. Perfect grassy space for us all to spread out and eat and play.

We plan to read classic children’s books, and this year’s first was Mary Poppins, by P.L. Travers. I’ve never read the book, and Judah, Amie, and I loved it (Gabe and Noah listened in from time to time but mostly we read it after they went to bed at night). Several moms looked after the younger kids during the 30-minute book discussion, then we ate a potluck “tea party” picnic lunch, and the kids made art with sidewalk chalk, just like Bert. Kelly led the discussion this time and said she was so impressed with how engaged and chatty all the kids were. They loved the book and loved having a group of friends to talk about it with.

My kids have yet to see the movie, and I can’t wait to show it to them tonight! It’s one of my all-time faves, and the Broadway show is pretty fantastic too. I also highly recommend the movie Saving Mr. Banks, about P.L. Travers’ childhood.

We love our new group!

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august.

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Hello friends!

Can you believe that we’re in the second week of August?

We officially started school last Monday. We attempted to start back in July. I wanted to try my hand at more of a year-round-schooling schedule because I fancy myself to be one of those mothers for whom the world is a classroom and life is our education and every walk outside fosters a love of nature. Why would we take a man-made break from learning for two whole months?

Well, after about two days, we quit viewing the world as our classroom. The little boys loved it because they crave more structure, but the big kids weren’t ready. More importantly, perhaps, I wasn’t ready. I suddenly began to adore the idea of a man-made break.

So we took a few more weeks off and tried again on August 1st, and we all felt much better about the arrangement. We still started a bit early because we’re taking a week-long vacation in September, and I want to be able to leave the school books at home, guilt-free.

I know I wrote an inspiring homeschool post earlier this summer, and last week I was as organized as could be, but the truth is, it’s hard to get excited about homeschooling right now. I feel tired, and I’m still trying to coordinate exactly how to homeschool three grades now that Gabe is starting kindergarten.

But you know what I realized?

I don’t think I’m so much tired because of homeschooling, I think I’m tired because of parenting. I think it’s the natural state for parents of young children to be tired, and also it’s the natural state of people to be discontent. It’s easy to look at my public or private school friends or even my working mom friends and feel that the grass is greener on their side. But I know that just isn’t true. Life generally isn’t smooth sailing for any of us; we just have different stresses, amiright?

Tired as I am, I feel at peace with forging ahead in our homeschool journey this year. Coffee helps.

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Speaking of which, I’m drinking coffee again, even though in the past I’ve quit because of anxiety. But I’m taking a heftier dose of medication and so I just need it. For now, at least. Come to think of it, maybe the medication is another reason I feel tired?

The good news is, my spirits are better and I’m cautiously optimistic that my anxiety is lessening. I’ve had a couple really good days, and at the moment I don’t live in fear of the next social situation. Thanks for your prayers.

But back to school. By God’s grace, even with the other stresses in life, our start of a new school year truly couldn’t have been smoother. I noticed a marked improvement in the little boys’ behavior from the very first day. I realized once again that our normal routine is restful for them. They know exactly what to expect and the world is as it should be. Gabe is beside himself with joy to start kindergarten.

Now I can’t say that the big kids have the same attitude. I know they struggle to get in the rhythm of school before Classical Conversations starts, and that makes sense to me, so I’m trying to give them some space. What this means is we’re doing a lot of school-in-PJ’s.

I’m thankful for a good schedule for this year, and trusting God that we’ll get all our work in. I’m thankful that David will be teaching Judah third grade math, which takes a huge load off my shoulders and makes Judah happy. I’m thankful for lots of fun books to read aloud together. I’m thankful for the blossoming relationships among my children; this past month Judah and Gabe have been connecting in a way they just didn’t before. I love watching them go out to the trampoline together to battle.

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What else have we been up to?

We’ve been trying our hand at some new recipes. David made carnitas last week, and we made our first ever homemade corn tortillas. They were delicious! And then our tortilla press broke. Ah well.

He also tried grilling pizza, and, believe it or not, we made waffles last night for the first time in our married life.

David’s parents babysat Saturday morning so the two of us could go tubing on the Saluda River. We used a company that shuttled us up to the zoo, and we floated/paddled back down to the Gervais Street Bridge. It was so fun! David of course splashed around in the water and jumped off rocks, and I mostly stuck to the tube. We saw wildlife. We chatted. The water felt amazingly cold against the heat of the day, and thankfully we went early enough to avoid getting sunburned.

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We’re on a two-week break from swim team, and still very thankful to be swimming often at my brother’s pool. It’s been a lovely haven for me this summer, to be outside and with our family.

Are you watching the Olympics?

If you aren’t, please watch a bit just to see Rio! It’s probably my favorite Olympic venue ever, and I want to be there so badly! I just finished my first Ann Patchett novel, State of Wonder, which I loved, and takes place in Brazil.

I’m a HUGE Olympics fan, have been all my life. This is my favorite year to watch since we’ve had kids because they really get into it too. We have lots of little gymnasts and hurdlers around here, and I’m positive something in our house will be broken before the two weeks’ are over (hopefully it’s not a bone).

All in all, I’d say our month is off to a great start.

Happy August!



spring semester.

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We’re ten days into our spring semester of school! I always try to take some time in between to sit and evaluate our previous semester, and then make a plan for the next one. The last month or so of school dragged, friends. It felt like pulling teeth to get our work finished. There are just so.many.distractions with four kids. Day after day of not feeling like I could finish a complete sentence, much less a reading lesson in one sitting, made me feel frazzled and very tired.

I’m so glad I planned to start school at the beginning of August expressly so that we could have a three-week break at Christmas. It was exactly what I needed, time to clear my head and just be Mom. It was exactly what the kids needed too.

And I was pleasantly surprised that we were all more than ready to start back January 4th. Before we began, I sat and made my list of “What worked and what didn’t work” for our home school, and tweaked a couple of things. But as with any school, it’s still taking us a couple weeks to find our rhythm.

The biggest change we made this semester is to put Amelie and Gabe into swim lessons with Judah. We also switched to the home school swim practice from 8-9:00 on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

There are many reasons we love this new schedule. It’s amazing to have two free nights in our week again. It’s fun for the three oldest kids to do an activity together. Judah is swimming in the big pool now, but the smaller lap pool is right next to it, so they can see one another. Amie absolutely loves swim practice so far, and Gabe is warming up to it. On Tuesdays they are the only two kids in their class, and then on Thursdays there are six others, both of which they think is fun.

Initially I was terrified of taking a chunk out of our morning twice a week to do a sport. How on earth will we come home, regroup, and get our school work done? Thankfully the pool is just five minutes up the road at Columbia College. But even then I have to be on top of things to be sitting and starting Judah’s math lesson at 10:00.

But the benefits far outweigh the puzzle of trying to fit everything in. It’s wonderful for the big kids to have the exercise first thing in the morning. Judah’s like a different person already. When we’re home he’s relaxed and happy and complains about his work so much less. And honestly, I’m realizing that even though I’m an introvert, I enjoy that hour sitting with the other moms at the start of my day. Most of them have much older kids and I desperately need their wisdom and perspective. They chuckle as they tell me, “Oh honey, I remember those days, the madness of trying to homeschool with babies and toddlers in the house, the million different distractions.” Wait, they’re even laughing about it (is it funny? is the fact that they’re laughing a good thing?)!

We sip coffee out of our travel mugs and chat and there is a nice stretch of floor for Noah to push his little trucks around. Sometimes he cuddles in my lap with a baggie of Cheerios, sometimes he plays with the two other little boys who are there. In short, as an only child, he’s a breeze.

Even then, these last couple weeks were tricky. We just didn’t get through all of our subjects any of the four week days (We don’t do any work at home on Classical Conversations days). Gabe is so eager for me to do a little work with him daily, but that adds one more kid who needs my attention in the morning. Also, I tried to potty train Noah our first week back to school which was, as I’m sure you could’ve told me, a disaster.

Anyway.

By Friday afternoon my brain hurt from trying to work everything out. As I processed it all (i.e. vented) with David this weekend, I realized the biggest problem is that I’m working and working but the homeschool idea I have in my head just isn’t fitting reality. I’m rushing from kid to kid answering questions and disciplining somebody and pouring juice and getting out the iPad and making snacks and cleaning up the glass of water that was spilled over our history book.

I’m so thankful that David can bring some perspective to bear on my drama. He is in and out of the house during the week, he talks to the kids and sees what they’re doing. He encouraged me that progress is being made; all of our kids are learning and growing.

I began to take a deep breath, and then to sit down once again with my calculator and stack of textbooks to make sure we’re on track to finish our work in the 16 weeks of school we have ahead of us. And we’re in good shape! We really are, even with the craziness. That’s God’s grace, pure and simple, because this sure has been a year of adjustment.

And then as I was catching up on blogs this afternoon, a line from a post jumped out at me: “You probably know to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ Here’s a way better question: ‘What are you willing to struggle for?’” (the entire post is worth a read, in my opinion).

This stopped me in my tracks.

I’m approaching this whole home school year wrong. I’m trying to find a way to make it easier, less tiring.

There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But maybe I’m not actually going to solve the puzzle of how to make it feel smooth and idyllic and stream-lined. Maybe it’s just going to be hard for this season. Maybe it will be full of distractions and I will pray for grace to be faithful and keep turning back to the work over and over and over again. Maybe we will spend more time doing school in the afternoons.

And the question is, is it worth it? Do I want to homeschool my children bad enough to struggle for it?

I know the answer in a heartbeat: Yes. Yes, I do want this. Yes, I want to struggle for it.

It is hard but it’s good.

Why do I keep chasing the illusion that I can be happy without having to struggle?

I’m suddenly realizing how many areas of life I need to apply this principle to. When I’m willing to let go of “easy” and accept “struggle,” I feel inspired. I’m inspired to keep working at homeschooling. I’m inspired to make room in my week for exercise. I’m inspired to make better eating choices so that I feel better and have more energy. I’m inspired to repent to my husband when I snap at him so that we can be closer. I’m inspired to wake up morning after morning and read my Bible and pray so that I can know Jesus better. I’m inspired to keep working at relationships, because the people I love are worth it.

Accepting the struggle is so freeing.

The converse is true too. There are actually things I do not have to struggle for. I don’t have to struggle under the weight of the repeat recording of lies in my head, telling me I’m a bad mom, a bad wife, that I’m failing at bonding and schooling and friendship. I don’t have to give in to paralyzing fear of the future. I don’t have to struggle to be a perfect homeschool mom who takes nature walks and creates Instagram-worth moments of my kids at the table doing artwork with beeswax crayons and 100% recycled paper in the afternoon sunlight. I don’t have to struggle with worry about what people think of me.

I want to struggle for the right things this semester. I want to let the wrong things go.

And so, I’m ready to press on!



homeschooling with four kids.

To be honest, I was scared-stiff about attempting to homeschool with four kids in our family. Especially when two of them are new-to-us. David and I considered and prayed through our options this summer, and in the end, we both felt in our gut that, even with its challenges, this is the right path for our family. But it was with fear and trembling that I began school on August 3rd.

Like I said in last week’s post, every moment of the day is not smooth. We have lots of interruptions, and Mommy loses her temper sometimes. There was one particular Disastrous Day when David stopped by the house at 11:00 am to find school work abandoned at the table and all of us sitting, dazed, in front of the TV, watching Reading Rainbow on Netflix. Of course that’s the one day my husband comes home early!

But on the whole, I’ve been so very surprised at how well it’s going. Perhaps the main reason is that our kids thrive in structure. All of them. And so, even if they don’t love every part of our school morning, now that they all know what to expect every.single.weekday, they’ve settled into this rhythm and we can learn together.

Here are a few other things that are helping us enjoy this school year:

1. I’m prepared in the right ways.
This is a huge, very-welcome change from the last couple years. You’d think it would be the first rule of thumb as a home educator, and I did prepare in the past, but not always effectively. I did a good job planning out our year, and I knew how much material we needed to cover each day in our textbooks and reading, so each day I just moved to the next thing. I then recorded what work we completed in a homeschool planner.

I can’t explain why that felt so hard and cumbersome.

But this year I take a good two hours over the weekend to prepare for the coming week. A friend I met this summer gave me a fantastic idea for planning our week by using colored folders.

Judah and Amie have a different color for each week day (minus Mondays, because we’re at Classical Conversations). In the left-side pocket I hand-write their assignment list for the day, which includes chores and playing with their brothers, and in the right-hand pocket are their worksheets for the day. They check off work as it’s completed and move their worksheets to the other side of the folder.

This visual is very helpful. Instead of me nagging them to do the next subject, I can say, “Check your folder; what’s next?” [Hint: I help Amie with this since she is still a beginning reader, but I want her to be in the habit of it by the time she can read her assignments.] They have a little flexibility of when to complete things. And because everything is right in front of them, they rarely ever ask, “Can we be done with school now?”

This little bit of preparation helps my part of the day flow much better too. I’m not scrambling to grab books and worksheets, or remember what’s next. I can follow along with the folders too.

 

2. We have a great schedule.

David helped me come up with a new daily schedule. I hesitate to write it out for you, because there’s no one right way to schedule your homeschool day, and sometimes reading the details of other people’s is burdensome. But in summary, the thing that’s saving us this year is block scheduling. We divide our school day into three blocks, that are each about 1.5 hours long:

Block 1: History and Math

Juice (the other kids can take a break or listen in on Gabriel’s Sonlight read-alouds)

Block 2: Language Arts (we eat our snack during this block)

Lunch

Block 3: Finish Language Arts (if necessary) and Classical Conversations memory work

1:15 Nap/Quiet rest time for everybody. We are usually finished with our work by this time, but if not, I finish with the big kids during part of their rest time.

7:00pm(ish): Gabe and Noah in bed, Sonlight read-alouds with the big kids

I utilize the clock in my school morning to make sure we start school at breakfast-time, and always take our breaks for juice, snack, and lunch. I need those times to cuddle with the boys, and all the kids need their blood sugar stabilized around 10:00 with a healthy snack.

The little guys are involved with our learning on and off throughout the morning; and I do some one-on-one work with Gabe during Block 2. I’ve built in times for the big kids to take turns playing with them, either outside or inside, and that helps everything run more smoothly. This year I started using the iPad. Each of the kids gets 10 minutes on the iPad doing an educational app during the morning, and they love it.

It helps my state of mind to divide our day into blocks. Rather than become overwhelmed with the whole day, like I used to do, I simply focus on the block we’re in. Whatever we don’t get finished in that block becomes homework for later on. So far we’re doing a great job of actually getting all the work done.

 

3. I love our curriculum.

We’ve compiled a wonderful selection of books this year, largely thanks to our guidance counselor, Emily, at SCAIHS (who I can’t recommend highly enough). I’ve let go of my desire to fit myself into one homeschooling system or philosophy. Most of what we do follows the classical model because we’re apart of Classical Conversations, but I don’t follow all the CC recommendations for supplemental work, and we branch out on our own in some areas. I’m finally at peace with that.

Over the past three years of homeschooling, I’ve found myself becoming both more driven and more relaxed. I’m more organized and focused about staying on top of our schedule and school work  — in a healthy way I think, because the older my children get the more demanding their work.

But I’m growing so much more relaxed about both my abilities and limitations as a homeschool mom. I’ve struggled a ton with insecurity in the past, but have reached a point where I see that there will be gaps in my kids’ education (as there are in every child’s education, no matter where they learn). I’ve begun to let go of comparison, and can now stop trying obsessively to find the perfect homeschooling system, because it doesn’t exist. What’s right for my friend’s family may not work for mine, and I don’t need to feel bad about that!

With good resources and accountability and a support system, I can do this. My kids are learning to read and love books and do math and spell and are soaking up history and geography like sponges.

 

4. We are learning!

I can’t tell you how much confidence and relief I feel now that Judah is in second grade. Kindergarten and first grade are fraught with big challenges — like learning to read and write. So many things are new. Attention spans are short. Handwriting can be nigh unto illegible.

But oh, second grade, I love you so much. Judah has gotten the hang of weekly spelling tests, and math flash cards. He can sit still for longer than 10 minutes, and is much more focused in his subjects. And very best of all, he’s a reader! The thing I feared would never happen on my watch has happened! He reads whole chapter books in a day, and I can hardly make enough library trips a week to keep the boy in Magic Treehouse books. It’s a joy to watch his love of reading take hold. And, as you know, it makes every single other subject easier. He can do more independent work now. Most of all, it’s given his overall confidence in learning a great big boost.

Having a second grader gives me so much more patience with my other children. Of course that’s patience I wish I would’ve have with Judah (I’m so sorry, dear firstborn). Instead of worrying how Amelie and Gabriel are faring next to their peers or stressing that they will ever read well or catch onto math concepts, I’m enjoying their process. They’ll get it. I find that I love homeschooling three grades at once, because I get to see each unique child learn at their own speed, with their own particular strengths and weaknesses, and the subjects we get to do together are just so much fun.

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This is a very long blog post to say: school is great! The addition of Gabe and Noah and their endless zest for life has actually served to motivate and energize the big kids. Is Noah a handful? Yes. What two-year-old isn’t? But I’ve seen him grow even in six short weeks of school, and he can now sit on the floor and play toys by himself for several minutes, or choose to sit in my lap and draw while I work with one of the others.

And so we have our own little one-room school house happening this year, and there are moments of joy and satisfaction in it every day. Even when it makes me crazy, I feel very grateful for my life and my work.



the start of school.

We’re in our fifth week of a new school year. Our days are not idyllic or without interruptions, but I’m here to report that we’re off to a great start. We are learning and laughing and, for the most part, very much enjoying being together.

This is due to a whole lot of God’s grace, and also, I think, two main factors: 1. We found a great daily schedule, and 2. We love our curriculum. More on that later this week, but for now, some photos!

Happy Labor Day!

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back to school.

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Yesterday was back to school for us, after almost a three-week break.

If you think it sounds crazy attempting to homeschool with two new-to-our-family toddlers in the house, you’re right. It is.

I spent an hour during naptime on Mother’s Day spread out at the table, trying to make it all work on paper. Legally, we have to both complete 180 days of school a year, and also get through a certain amount of curriculum. Thankfully after looking everything over we seemed to be in good shape: 17 days of school and we’re on track to complete our material by then too.

It’s been a three-ring circus around here in the mornings, adding school into the mix, but then I remind myself — it’s a three-ring circus anyway. Why not try to squeeze some education in while I’m at it??

And guess what — as of this moment, we now only have 15 days to complete! We can do this!

Actually I really believe that the structure is good for all of us. It’s just being patient while everyone learns the structure.

My friend Tara gave me a genius idea for the big kids: use notebooks to keep them on track with their work. I grabbed a couple of those inexpensive black and white composition books at Publix, and in the evening I write tomorrow’s date and their to-do list for that day with boxes next to each item. Here’s the best part to me: the to-do list includes their chores. The first three items are: “Make bed, get dressed, brush teeth.” So by the time Judah and Amie come out of their bedroom in the morning, they can immediately check off 1-2 items, which they love.

I can already see how notebooks and lists are empowering for them, because they can choose when to do their work, and it keeps me from nagging them to get things done. If Judah asks, “When can I be done with school?” I just refer him to his notebook to tell me what he has left. He helps Amie read her list (I can even add, “Read Amie a book today,” which allows him both to practice reading and gives them quality time together).

I’ve realized this month that I never did a good job teaching J and A to help me around the house beyond the bare minimum, and I’m regretting that now. So I’m using their notebooks as a tool to give them some more responsibilities over time: vacuum the kitchen and dining room, fold laundry, wash dishes, etc. At the end of their daily list I write: “One extra chore for Mom,” and I show them how to do something. So far, they think it’s cool.

Gabriel wants so badly to help out and do whatever the big kids are doing. He already clears his dishes after meals and cleans up his own toys, so now I’m teaching him to wipe the dining table after breakfast.

Another item on J and A’s list is to babysit Gabe and Noah so Mom can work with the other one.

This morning I decided to start doing some “preschool” with Gabriel first thing, and it made a big difference in his contentment throughout the morning. We’re learning his letters and numbers. He loves the little foam letters we worked with. He’s also great at puzzles, colors, and shapes.

Please don’t think I’m super woman, or even that all of this goes smoothly after just two days: it doesn’t. at 10:00 a.m., after three whole hours of people calling, “Mommy!”, discipline, dirt tracked through the house, requests for snacks and juice, sibling fights, tearful outbursts, and overseeing school work, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom until David gets home from work.

However.

I’ll give it time. It’s good for the little guys to learn the world does not revolve around them. It’s good for the big kids to learn the world does not revolve around them. Heck, it’s good for me to learn the world doesn’t revolve around me either, ha!

And I see a big improvement in Judah and Amie’s spirits already now that we’ve resumed our school routine. They’re getting more attention from me, and it makes them happy. Now that their tank is filled, they’re initiating playing with their brothers a little more. And they’re still getting lots of play dates with friends so I can spend time with Gabriel and Noah. I feel sure we’re on the right path here.

If you’re wondering about our plans for the fall, I’ve been all over the map with that one. But as of right now, I feel like all the reasons David and I decided that homeschooling works for our family still stand. I want to give it one year with all four kids at home before making any drastic decisions. So I registered Gabe for the 4-year-old class at Classical Conversations in the fall and Noah will be in the nursery. I think both boys are going to do awesome. Judah and Amie will each start an extra-curricular activity in the fall which they’re excited about.

So as of right now, we’re aiming to finish this school year by the end May, take all of June off, then start back again three days a week in July. This continues to give us structure, helps us “practice” school time together, and it gives us some wiggle-room next year for traveling/taking days off.

Ok, now I need a nap!