The Homeschool Review: A Fall Confessional, 2018

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Get this. Our homeschool life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Nor is it always a grand adventure.

Especially when in the midst of a busy season (is there any other kind of season?) I tell myself that we’re doing great (which was true) and that we can just roll with sickness and projects taking up break week and move into a new term without resting on the pillars of review–weekly or otherwise (all of which was not true).

Spurn the rhythms of life and you will find them scowling back at you–or in less personified and more metaphorical terms: you might just regret your choice to skip all the rests in the score of life when you find you have rushed ahead and are now out of step with the music, not knowing where to jump back in again.

Those are my melodramatic thoughts for you anyway.

At any rate, here I am on the other side of that break week that didn’t happen, crashing and burning after an insanely busy weekend where my weekly review didn’t happen.

Lessons are being learned, friends. And not just by the kids.

My body can’t really handle running hard two days in a row without a break in between. I could attempt to will through it, but I might just land myself in bed for a week.

Neither can I power through two terms without a real break in between.

On the plus side, I’m recovering now from that crash-and-burn. And fall is here for real, which makes me happy.  🙂

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See? FALL!!!!!!!!!  😀

And, as it turns out, we have had a pretty good past few months of school (there has been some sunshine and roses even if they haven’t been all over the place). Here are the highlights (or perhaps I could say rose petals):

My firstborn turned 9 and my baby turned 7. We enjoyed celebrating them on their special days: my husband took off work for each and we enjoyed one day at home playing Legos and another trapsing around Little Rock. Nope, no school on birthdays around here. Since there are only two of them, we can get away with this without our attendance record suffering.

We continued schooling through the summer following an interval schedule. For our family that looks like schooling six weeks out of an eight week period year-round (with a four-week term for Advent). I try to allow five of our days off to float on the calendar (to be used where needed) and keep the other five reserved for “Break Week” at the end of the term. That has worked pretty well, though the reason “Break Week” didn’t really happen last term is because it coincided with sickness and me preparing for my first-ever three-hour presentation.

Yeah, I should time those kinds of things better.

Math and Language

C-age-9 continued working through Right Start Math Level D (finishing up with a lot of fun drawing lessons!) and has recently begun Level E.

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We’ve switched to the second edition for this level, and I’m quite pleased with the new layout and organization! It’s also gradually working toward more independence for the student, so our lessons are consistently shorter than in past levels, making it easy to just jump right into them without balking at how long it might take (an issue I had previously).

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D-age-7 is making his way through Level C. He thoroughly enjoyed the drawing section (where the T-square and traingle tools were giddily introduced to him for the first time), and now we are getting into the section of the book that I found the toughest for my oldest son. I’m prepared to supplement if necessary as we tackle adding SEVERAL three- and four-digit numbers and then move into mentally subtracting two-digit numbers (with borrowing, no less).

It’s agressive, but I’m going to let D-age-7 attempt these “jumps” and see how he does. This second time around I’m just better armed with the expectation that it is difficult and meant to stretch him. My expectation is that he won’t master it right away. It’s taken some time to realize that trying and failing is ok in the learning process. The goal isn’t to get a good grade on every worksheet. Our goal is to learn. So in these difficult lessons, our focus is on trying, correcting, and practicing some more.

Math is character-building for sure.

UPDATE: Adding several numbers has been a successful learning process spread over about three days (kind of like my writing this post is getting spread out over about three weeks). Not without struggle, mind you, but with much more patience from me as a teacher than the first time around. Win!

We recently took a break from our First Language Lessons to prepare for the local spelling bee. D-age-7 won third place in his age group!

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In other language news, we’ve been working through Foreign Languages for Kids‘ Spanish courses online. The videos are fun and the quizzes are a great way to review. We paid for a one-year subscription last year on Black Friday, so we’re working to get the most out of it before it expires. This program is quite expensive if you want to purchase it complete with DVDs, workbooks, and all. So subscribing to it for a year has been a great, affordable option for us (though I have looked longingly at the printed workbooks–they’d be much easier to work with than the online version!).

Books, Books, Books

What have we been reading lately? Well, in Morning Time we recently finished Story of the World Volume 2 (covering the Middle Ages) and have just begun Volume 3. We’ve also enjoyed Archimedes and the Door of Science (just finished it today!) and Trial and Triumph (so far a great read on church history).

In the evenings, my husband has read aloud The Bronze Bow (a story taking place in the time of Christ), which we finished last month, and most recently On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (the first book in his Wingfeather Saga). I can’t express how much our family has enjoyed both of these books. Check them out, though be aware they each contain some scary or violent elements that very young children (younger than 6, perhaps) might not be ready for.

The boys are each doing some of their own bible reading, and we go over the Proverbs of the day at breakfast (my husband usually shares a couple verses and thoughts related to them before he goes to his office/room for work). When we can, my husband also reads the bible to us after dinner.

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C-age-9 is a voratious reader–hard to keep in books! Some of what he’s read lately includes: By the Shores of Silver Lake, Heidi, Treasure Island, The Long Winter, The Story of Dr. Doolittle, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle, This Country of Ours, Our Island Story, Otto of the Silver Hand, The Sugar Creek Gang series, The New Way Things Work (a big one to slow him down a bit! muahahaha!), and a book on Marco Polo. Whew!

D-age-7 has happily read through Sammy and His Shepherd (a story book study of Psalm 23) as well as some Boxcar Children books. He’s currently in Paddle to the Sea, Our Island Story, Fifty Famous Stories Retold, The House and Pooh Corner, and James Harriot’s Treasury for Children. Most of these selections come from Ambleside Online’s Year One curriculum. I have found Year One to be a great starting point for my boys once they are pretty solid readers, though I am by no means following it in its entirety or even as scheduled. I did this with C when he was 7 and found he could do the readings independently, and they were the right length for training his narration skills (which were non-existent if I let him just sit and read a whole book in a day).

We of course read many things from AO’s list (among others) out loud to our children, but in terms of things assigned particularly for them, I prefer to have them read independently as soon as able. After Year One, we kind of spring into our own book list which we are building as we go with my oldest and in reference to several lists out there: AO, Robinson (which my husband grew up with), Honey for a Child’s Heart, and the Clarkson’s Whole-Hearted book list (which we are referencing here), to name a few.

My husband likes the boys to write reports on the books they finish, so that is a part of our routine as well. Having narrated to me orally about the smaller sections of the book over the course of several days or weeks, and seeing as how we do their first book reports orally with my writing out their narrations, the boys are doing pretty well with the process of learning to summarize a story at the meta-level. C-age-9 has now graduated from using a book report form to simply writing his thoughts out on blank lined paper (complete with fancy lettering for the book titles!).

All the Other Stuff (Including some Adventures)

We’ve also dabbled more in playing our bells, poetry, composer study, hymns, folk songs, geography, health, nature study (our luna moth finally hatched! and observing and drawing changes in the trees), art study, scripture memorization, US presidents, science experiments, etc. I say “dabbled” because we haven’t been particularly consistent with any of these, but they HAVE been happening. Exposure breeds taste, right? So this is at least accomplishing something even if it’s not all I have idealized in my head. 😉

Our Archeology and Plant Use History Class continued to meet once a month through the summer and we enjoyed our last day on the mountain in September. My favorite moment from that last day was getting to throw atlatls.

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You better believe this mama got in on the action! Even if there isn’t any photo evidence…

The boys have also taken a cooking and culture class with our local co-op. They aren’t meeting more than once a month, but it’s still been fun to make Ratatouille while learning about France and then lassagna in a class dedicated to Italy.

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Socialization is totally a thing among homeschoolers (just in case anyone needed a reminder). We’ve attended park days, skate days, gymnastics, and birthday parties.

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And a lovely fall nature hike.

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In my homeschool-mom world, I had the pleasure of giving an intensive on Homeschooling the Early Years (yep, that three-hour thing I mentioned above), and our local Schole Sisters group has recently begun reading through Charlotte Mason’s Volume 6: Toward a Philosophy of Education, gathering at a coffee shop to discuss. Both of these have been fun oportunities for me to dig deeper in study and produce more in writing–with the amazing blessing of getting to hash-out ideas among sharp, godly mommy-friends.

Really, that’s the best part.

I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful it is to connect with other ladies in your area. Meet in person. It doesn’t have to be very often–for us it’s once a month with kids in tow and once a month with books and no kids. 🙂 It’s such a blessing to have this fellowship–around homeschooling/education, yes, but also in the Lord.

Heart = Full

Now that fall weather has pretty well settled in and the amazing colors along with it, our family is venturing out a bit more to enjoy it. We’ve done a bit of hiking already and hope to do some backpacking in the near future. You know I’ll report on that next time.  😉

I’ll sign off with a scenic view we enjoyed at the end of October (fall colors just setting in).

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And since we’re a week into November now when I’m actually publishing this, here’s an updated picture from that same location (and at a way more interesting angle, right?).

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What’s going on in your homeschool world? Enjoying the colors? Gearing up for the holidays?

 

 

Learning to Enjoy the Journey

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Are you one of those people that gets so focused on the destination that you forget to enjoy the journey?

I sure am.

There’s something to be said for determination and focus, but when it comes to living life well and joyfully these would-be virtues can sabotage the whole thing if they’re allowed to put the pedal to the metal without some reasonable restraint.

Sometimes that restraint comes from a fellow passenger encouraging you to stop and smell the roses with them.

And sometimes that restraint is a child in the backseat who has to pee. Right now. Or, closer to my experience of late, who happens to be puking.

I think we all know there are fun ways to “slow down” that we would do well to implement before the more catastrophic pauses are forced upon us.

But what I’ve been learning lately is not just to stop and smell the roses, and not just to slam on the breaks to care for a sick child.

What I’m learning lately is that if the destination is worth it then the steps it takes to get there are worth it, too.

A couple weeks ago my husband and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. [Insert shouts of jubilation!] We had two nights at home without the kids.

It was glorious.

But we stayed up late the first night watching a movie. And this after being rather low on sleep for the past several weeks.

I don’t function very well on low sleep.

And the next morning my husband had to drop his truck off in town a bit early while I took a little longer at home to get ready for the ballroom dancing class we took that day.

Because when you’re close friends with the lady who teaches the ballroom dancing class, you can do things like have it scheduled for the day of your anniversary. Yep, she’s a good friend. 😉

Anyway, I have this history of getting stressed about having to get ready to go somewhere. Especially when I have to get little people ready to go somewhere. Our anniversary was different, of course–no kids!–but the anxiety still threatened to steal my joy. I worried about what to wear, changing outfits about five times. I worried that I would be running late and that my husband would be upset with me.

I think I was able to identify what was going on with me on this day, however, partly because it was such a special day that I knew I ought to just enjoy, and partly because I’d just read a chapter on anxiety in a book called Fututre Grace.

I didn’t think I had an issue with anxiety until I read that chapter and found it quite convicting. Quite.

My tendency to overplan? That’s just me trying to maintain control, which stems from fear rather than faith.

My tendency to run through all possible outcomes and plan for every contingency? Yep, anxiety. I might flatter myself that I’m just some kind of planning mastermind (that would be called pride), but God’s word tells a different story when I come face to face with its call to live by faith, casting all my anxiety on Him because He cares for me.

This concept of living by faith in future grace helped me to see things more clearly on a temporal level as well.

As I drove into town, mulling over these things in my heart and mind, clear thinking finally broke through.

I’m going to enjoy my anniversary with my husband. He’s not upset with me, he’s happy to be with me. Even if I am running a little behind (which it turned out I wasn’t!), I’m the one who signed us up for the ballroom dancing class. Not him. He won’t be embarrassed if we’re late. He’ll just go with it. I’m the one putting this pressure on myself. 

If I’m excited about what I’m getting ready for (a date with my husband) why shouldn’t I enjoy getting ready??? 

This was a pretty defining moment, concentrating a lot of big ideas and messy struggles down into something I could remind myself of when stress builds in places it shouldn’t:

If I’m going to enjoy the outcome then I ought to appreciate the steps it takes to get there.

A new Bible reading plan has me reading rather large passages in the Old Testament in one sitting. I have to admit, some mornings it’s been a little hard to feel up to it. But I love the result of having taken in much of God’s word and seeing it in a sweeping movement of history and redemption. And so the day-to-day plodding through it is worth it. I can even take joy in it.

Similarly, I’ve managed to set myself up with several deadlines for projects that require a lot of reading, research, writing, planning, and people-coordinating. And these each are culminating in social engagements.

I’m doing a lot of extroverting for someone who is such a die-hard introvert.

While I often enjoy reading, researching, and writing in their own right, I usually do them on my time, my whims. Adding the time constraint and the social aspect to the mix makes for more demands on my time, energy, and mental resources than I am used to handling.

And my husband has been out for work travel these past two weeks.

And the past two days there’s been the puking.

But again, in each of these cases, there’s an end goal in mind that is worth the discomfort.

I love getting together with my sweet friends for a book study. The refreshment it brought made all the preparation for leading it so worth it. And seeing this ahead of time helped me to enjoy that process (and the resulting refreshment!) all the more.

I love getting to share what I’ve learned with others, so the presentation I’ve been working on, though it has been challenging, especially given the timing of craziness in our family right now, has been one giant exercise in learning to enjoy the nitty-gritty work and headaches that are just a part of producing something worthwhile.

And as a mother, oh, as a mother, the “interruptions” of sick kiddos are also worth it. So, so, so worth it. Because I love them and responding to their needs is just one “stop” along the road–a road that culminates in, well, not so much a destination as in a story. A story of learning to love them the way God loves me.

It’s a story that involves a lot of mistakes and repentance, but I think you get the idea.

In the past I’ve just done the grit-my-teeth-and-bear-it thing telling myself somehow it will be worth it in the end, all the while giving in to complaining and anxious, faithless worry. I’m learning that not only is this sin that needs repented of, it’s also not that effective in the long term, either. Go figure.

If I take no joy in the journey, will I be able to fully enjoy the result? Won’t I still be begrudging much of the discomfort it might have cost me if I have allowed myself to indulge in the habit of kicking and screaming through the whole process?

Yep. Better kick that bitterness at the process before it steals the joy of the end result.

I’m thankful that the Lord has been at work to convict me and bring growth through what could have been an utterly overwhelming and stressful couple of weeks. He’s good.

The refining that He ordains for us isn’t always easy, but we can take joy in it, too, knowing that the result of being made more like Christ and bringing glory to Him–well, that is certainly worth it.

Five Things You Don’t Want to Miss

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Hey friends! From time to time you may see a post from me that highlights deals and free resources that I and my family have found valuable and enjoyable. I hope you’ll check them out! For this installment, here are five things I didn’t want you to miss–starting with the most time-sensative. Don’t miss the free resources at the end of the list!

Here you go. Five things you don’t want to miss:

ONE: [EXPIRED] The Preschool Prodigies Back to School Sale and LAST CHANCE to get in on the Lifetime Membership! (Check out why my family loves the Lifetime Membership.) This sale ends (and so does the opportunity to get Lifetime!) on September 4th. Don’t forget to use the code KEPT at checkout to save an additional 5% off your entire order.

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TWO: Mystie Winckler over at Simply Convivial is offering her six-week Humble Habits e-course from September 7 to October 19. I got in on the first run of Humble Habits at the beginning of the year, and it was game-changing! The godly focus on building faithfulness bit-by-bit and the regular accountability and encouragement was such a blessing to me. And since these are habits that have stuck, I’m still reaping the benefits months later. Check it out! Registration closes September 8! [Check her website for current/upcoming courses.]

THREE: Order the latest Lego book from my friend Sarah Dees (of Frugal Fun for Boys and Girls): Genius LEGO Inventions with Bricks You Already Have! There are some boys I know who will be getting this for Christmas. 😉

It’s no secret that our family loves all things LEGO. But Sarah’s books top our list for generating great ideas and providing entertaining reading to boot. If you haven’t seen her first two books, check them out:

FOUR: I’ve been a big fan of the Close Reads Podcast–they’ve introduced me to some great books and it’s been fun and enlightening to listen to the on-air banter and discussion. But now there are two new podcasts available from Close Reads: The Daily Poem, a short introduction and reading of a famous poem each weekday, and The Play’s the Thing, where the plan is to cover all of Shakespeare’s plays! They’ve recently just started King Lear, so it’s a great time to jump in! Of course you can look any of these up on iTunes or Stitcher.

FIVE: And finally, don’t miss out on being present with those you love. Here’s a free app I’ve started using to intentionally manage my phone use. I’ve found the features to match exactly what I was hoping to accomplish in terms of monitoring and limiting social media usage.

 

There you have it! I hope you find some of these resources helpful!

Alone? Unseen? You’re in Good Company.

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It was one of those less-than-ideal Sunday mornings.

The church meeting was to be at our house this week, but we had been busy and the weekly housecleaning hadn’t exactly happened when it was supposed to.

So, as has been the case more times than I care to admit, quite a bit of tidying was left to be done on Sunday. You know, the day of restful, refreshing time with the Lord and His people.

Yeah, Sunday.

Usually my sweet husband takes care of breakfast for our family on Sunday mornings and even helps straighten up when we’re hosting, but this particular Lord’s day, breakfast was all he had time to contribute. I found myself not-exactly-joyfully decluttering the living room, coaching the kids on sweeping the floors, and cleaning up the breakfast mess in the kitchen. Not to mention preparing the elements for communion and doing something (anything!) to make myself look presentable.

My personal quiet time with the Lord didn’t happen that morning, either. Instead of recognizing Jesus was with me anyway, I pouted. Instead of serving the saints with joy, resentment began to build.

There were probably several things building up to this point, but I can’t remember all the details. I just know I felt very alone in my work. Ragged, unnoticed, uncared for, and alone.

I’m pretty sure the resentment didn’t die down in time to greet people warmly as they arrived. In fact, I remember finally coming downstairs after changing into sensible clothes and doing something with my hair and makeup to find that everyone was seated in the living room.

It was hard to sing joyfully.

But then came time for communion.

It’s difficult to hold on to your resentment when the bread and wine silently tell of the One who died for it. 

My thoughts began to spin. I felt alone. He bore my sin alone. I can’t remember, but I think one of the men mentioned something to that effect as they served the Lord’s supper.

Wherever they came from, the meditations on communion spoke to my heart. I’d had a lot of resentment–not just this particular morning, but as a pattern recently. For times when I felt forgotten, alone, neglected, and unhelped in my work–in the cleaning and regular upkeep of life, and most freshly in getting the house ready for church.

Well, I considered, Jesus was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by His followers and friends when He faced His greatest trial, His most weighty work. Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin utterly alone. It wasn’t right. And yet He submitted Himself to it without grumbling, but as the will of God.

He laid down His rights.

There was no defending my resentment at this point. There was only room for repentance.

And comfort.

After all, Jesus, my High Priest, could identify with everything I was feeling. And in all the places where sin merged with those feelings, He had made provision for that, too.

Isn’t the Lord’s table such a precious gift to the body of Christ?!?

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After communion, my thoughts turned to the hidden care of God. When my service and work is overlooked, or taken for granted, or underestimated, I can remember that God is all the time doing good to people who do not see it or appreciate it.

When God says to “do in secret” and that He rewards what is “done in secret”, I don’t think it is only a test of our awareness of God and our desire to please Him. It certainly is this, but I see something more. I think the command must also procede from the character of God–that He Himself delights to “do in secret” and that we should be like Him.

The flowers of the field, we are reminded in the same passage, are beautifully arrayed. The lesson of God’s greater care for His people is clearly connected to our observation of the flowers we can see, but have you ever thought of the fact that God makes beautiful flowers that no human eye sees before they whither and die?

If we aren’t there to behold it, does it mean that the beauty and glory of God isn’t there? No.

He creates beauty and shines light in places where we have yet to venture. So much of His handiwork is unseen to us. I can’t help but think He must take some pleasure in His own work regardless of man’s interaction with or appreciation of it. 

The implications of this on homemaking are numerous, though I won’t slog through the details here. Suffice it to say, these thoughts exposed yet again how far my self-focused and praise-hungry heart is from the heart of a God who lays down His life for His enemies and who lavishes the earth with unseen and unsung goodness.

Is it too much that I’m called to find joy in serving others? Too much that I have a home to care for and that most of that work falls to me? Too much to trust and persevere even when I feel alone and unnoticed? Even when I am alone and unnoticed?

No. I’m not really alone in any of it. There’s one who sees and cares when it seems no one else does.

My great God and Savior has been there. He knows what it is to be alone. He knows what it is to be unappreciated, and on a scale far greater I can imagine.

Yes, I’m in good company.

We, dear sisters, are in good company.

 

The Love Chapter … For Homeschool Mamas

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We know our well-laid plans will inevitably meet up with real life sooner rather than later. But sometimes real life hits while you’re in the middle of laying those plans. And you end up not dealing well with either.

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Last Monday I was slated to read 1 Corinthians 13-16 in my Bible reading plan. But I went to the gym that morning, and when I got home I jumped right into what I knew would be a crazy-busy first day of a crazy-busy week, in which I hoped to “do all the things”.

I was most excited to get a good start on planning for school since our start date was just one week away. So there I was, reviewing where we’d been and making wonderful plans for where we were headed.

Idealism was running high.

But I had been running on less sleep, so I was a bit irritable. Maybe the gym wasn’t what I needed that morning.

The boys were super hyper. They need school in their lives, I kept telling myself. Stop fighting! Calm down! I kept telling them.

The library couldn’t recheck my books over the phone–I’d be adding a trip to town today.

Our dinner guests for that night had to cancel, but only after much deliberation trying to make it work. It was somewhat of a relief, except for the amount of time it took.

I had to make a complicated decision about another social event that day, too.

The interruptions drew me away from my planning. The boys bickered and bugged and bombarded. And I lost my temper more times than I care to report.

Our “break week” was off to a very stressful start.

Before heading into town (library books, remember?) I took a peak at my Bible plan.

*Insert deep sigh.*

1 Corinthians 13? Yes, I definitely should have started the day there.

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My husband gave the ok for me to spend a little extra time in town to process away from all the hubbub at home. I ran straight to 1 Corinthians. I was not disappointed.

Well, except that I was disappointed that I hadn’t run there much, much earlier.

God’s word is good and true. It brings conviction, but it also brings comfort. Reading it in the morning isn’t some magic pill that zaps us into holiness, but it is a tool in God’s hand to soften and mold our hearts–whenever we humbly approach it.

The Lord just happened to use all of last Monday to humble me before I got there.

Tuesday morning I made a point of writing out 1 Corinthians 13 in terms that were immediately applicable to my circumstances.

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It’s tempting to put confidence in our accomplishments, knowledge, or sacrifices. The Corinthians thought they were spiritual for such things.

But love is greater than all of these.

And my confidence is in the accomplishments, knowledge, and sacrifice of Another. And He leads with love.

Fast forward to today. The boys’ alarm clock will blare its rousing tones in precisely nine minutes. And our first day back to school will officially begin.

My plans are (mostly) laid now. Most everything is in place. Best of all, as I now move into putting my plans into practice, I have this reminder of what is most important.

The two greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “to love your neighbor as yourself.” Including the little “neighbors” that are about to come tumbling down the stairs asking for breakfasst.

Lord willing, I’ll greet them with a smile, pray over them earnestly, and readily give a back rub or a tickle instead of a lecture when stress begins to mount in our days.

The Lord knows I need His word and His grace to follow through. But that’s my prayer for our homeschool this year.

What’s yours?

1 corinthians 13 love chapter homeschool mama

The Afternoon Checklist — A Homeschool (or After School!) Life Hack

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Do your kids have a favorite activity they default to in their free time? Do you wish they would spend at least some of their time on other enriching activities? Music practice? Other games or toys? Homework? Playing outside?

Do you also want to teach your children to be a bit more self-directed? And maybe give yourself some space to tackle a project with minimal (or at least less than constant) interruptions?

As an INTJ homeschool mom who highly values focused work time, I sure do.

Maybe you can relate to what I used to face every day after lunch (just replace “Legos” with your child’s current obsession):

“Mama, can we play with Legos?”

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“Is your room clean?”

“Mama, can we play with Legos now?”

“Hmm…have you even finished your school work?”

“Can we NOW??”

“Just a minute, I’m [cleaning something, on the phone, solving a problem in our budget, in the middle of cooking or writing, etc] … Uh…sure?”

Then shouts of jubilation trail behind the eager engineers as they scurry off to their Lego corner.

And about thirty minutes later I realize there were at least two other things I would have liked for them to do first.

Sigh.

Now, my kids are not ruined because I didn’t have a nice, neat list for them ready at hand (and neither are yours, to be honest), but my own sanity and ideals sure do take a beating when I allow this scenario to become our default routine.

While I might buy myself some uninterrupted time by just giving in to the kids’ repeated pleas, regret inevitably sinks in later when I realize the house is a mess, school supplies are still out, or they haven’t been outside at all on a beautiful day.

I began to realize a little forethought could make a big difference.

My kids love their Legos, and I do, too! But I know they need more than just Legos in their lives. So at the beginning of the summer I created an Afternoon Checklist for each of my boys.

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I thought through the daily responsibilities I wanted them to fulfill and put those at the top. These must all be completed.

Then, I added two more sections, one focusing on creative or mind-building activities that could be done inside, and one listing some productive or nature-study related activities to be done outside (weather permitting). They are required to choose one from each section.

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We value things like handicrafts, nature study, life skills, art, and science in the education we’re trying to give our children, but I’m a bit of a low-energy mom and I have found it difficult to always be the one to make these things happen. Now, I know we’re getting to them consistently without a lot of effort from me.

It’s a win for everyone.

The particular activities listed usually don’t require my help to initiate, but sometimes they do. Whether or not an activity is approved may depend upon my project workload that afternoon, but I try to say “yes” most of the time.

This does two things for us: it gives my boys boundaries within which they (usually) have freedom to choose whatever they like, and it still gives me some veto or redirection power with a list of options right there in front of me (no more decision fatigue!).

I also put one activity on their lists that DOES require me. I can’t just check-out all afternoon, only interacting with my kids on a utilitarian basis (a mode which I find all-too-easy to fall into). So I built a little bit of accountability for ME into these cards as well. Both my boys appreciate this, but I know my particularly sociable one (likely an ESFJ) absolutely needs it.

While both of my boys enjoy the predictability of their afternoon checklists (hey, it’s nice to know what’s required of you!), my six-year-old particularly loves his, calling it his “Ticket to ride the fun train!”

And no, I did not feed him that line! That’s all him!

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I used regular index cards and these nifty laminating pouches. 🙂

It may not be Legos in your home. Maybe it’s soccer. Or screen time. Or playing dress-up. Or even something so wonderful as reading! Whatever it is, it’s good in it’s proper place, but a “good” part can crowd out the “better” whole of a well-rounded childhood.

Of course, my oldest has a birthday this week and his one request (with the day off from school and his Papa home from work) is to spend the entire day playing Legos.

We’ll indulge him on his special day.  Because a well-rounded childhood can include that sort of thing, too.  😉

 

As you may have noticed, part of the motivation for these afternoon checklist cards has been to carve out a bit more peace of mind for me while simultaneously meeting the needs of my children. One thing that has helped me to see those needs—and especially how my children’s budding personalities differ from my own!—is Mystie Winckler’s Practical Personality Portfolio. In fact, she’s got a live chat on Educating All Types scheduled for Thursday, August 2 for anyone who has purchased the Personality Portfolio. I’ll be tuning in! Will you?

 

Materialism, Faith, and the Heart of the Matter

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I tend to be swayed, not by the arguements of atheists, but by their habits of mind. Just going on autopilot I end up living out my “Christian routine” with a heart set on this world, as though this were all there is.

Materialism in the existential sense gets hold of me by way of materialism in the pragmatic sense.

I slip into a callousness to spiritual things quite easily when distracted by my own work, relationships, etc–and by the many voices to which I daily choose to expose myself.

But they aren’t voices making logical arguments. They’re voices saying, “You want this” or “You need that” or “This is urgent” or “important” or “valuable”.

These voices slip in by emotional or physical appeal and sheer force of influence. And I let them in without thinking because they come at me so fast and so many that my defenses are worn down. Viewing and deleting an email advertizing more make-up from the brand I prefer seems harmless, but when I deal with ten such emails a day, plus ads and other people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram, every image and urging builds in me more and more of a materialistic worldview. Circumventing my reason in a sheer battle of attrition, they go straight for the heart.

It’s hard not to be a default materialist in a world of constant consumerism.

But when I examine my hands–real, tangible, sensory things–and consider that these real, non-digital hands can bend and move and twist and point and snap and anything else I might think of the moment I think of it, I can’t hlep but marvel at the ingenuity.

Not mine, of course, but God’s.

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Ah, but it takes a very intentional pause from my daily routine and my daily news and email feeds to be able to remind myself that I am not a materialist.

Every time I stop long enough to examine that perspective, to try it on, if you will, I find it utterly untenable. I don’t beleive that what I see is all there is. I don’t believe my hand, with all its precision and dexterity, could have come about by mere chance. It’s too beautifully and brilliantly crafted. Like a machine, only so much more than a machine. Like a work of art, only so much more than a work of art.

So why this disconnect between what I know to be true (not just in my heart of hearts, as the expression goes, but in my most clear-headed moments of the mind) and the flying on agnostic-at-best autopilot? Why this practical atheism?

While I could again mention the nature of our modern world, it seems this is a human problem afflicting the ancient world as well. Why else would the Apostle Paul find it necessary to exhort his readers to “keep seeking the things above” if not for the fact that it is so darn easy to fall for lesser things?

Worldliness, idolatry, and the patterns of thinking and behaving characteristic of each are not a new enemy of faith and reason.

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It’s hard to set your mind on these things when you’ve sated your senses on the world, leaving no room–and no taste–left for the things above. Even this time of meditation and writing has not been entered into without a struggle.

But it started with prayer. Or rather with fighting for it. And praise–though I have to admit I’ve been out of that practice as well, outside of the usual routine.

Trying to pray and praise when your heart is cold–and because you know that your heart is cold–is an uncomfortable and difficult place to be. But, praise God, He met me in that place and is answering my cries for help to pray and to praise Him.

I started off praying, “God is good,” etc, while wondering inside whether I actually cared.

If He is real and He is good, then I ought to care. The dullness I felt on the matter led me to examine my hands and question my base assumptions, and finally come out aright again.

He is real. He is there. He is good. He is personal. He is a magnificent, intelligent Creator.

Yes, I care about those things. Yes, I want to know Him. Yes, He is worthy of praise.

That may not amount to a deep theology, but it is the foundation for everything else, at least in my experience. All the details of salvation are moot points if I’m not sure about spiritual reality to begin with.

But once I am, all the rest of it matters.

 

 

 

The Homeschool Review: Summer 2018

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It’s time for another homeschool review post in which I give you a peak into what homeschooling looks like in our very real day-to-day life.

Springing into Summer

Summer is officially here now, though we’ve been relishing summertime activities for a good month-and-a-half already.  You might as well when you live in the south, right?

This is our third year of gardening, and it’s our best yet. We decided not to start seedlings indoors this year, since we neither have room for this nor success in hardening plants. That’s made for a much easier time just planting cucumber, lettuce, spinach, carrot, and green bean seeds directly in the soil.

lettuce garden homeschool review summer

We’ve also put in tomato plants and sweet potato slips. The boys helped with the process and we’ve all enjoyed harvesting the lettuce and spinach before it died off or got eaten by deer.

 

We now have cucumbers and tomatoes aplenty and anticipate we’ll be learning to can this summer!

 

Along with regular work outside and chores inside we kept at schooling consistently through all of April and half of May. Activities always tend to pick up in the late spring, and this year has been no exception. We attended the Red Fern Festival in Tahlequah, OK;

homeschool review summer spring red fern festival

the kids and I started attending a once-a-month Archeology and Plant-Use History class an hour from home;

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our Schole Sisters group continued meeting once a month—twice at a park and once for swimming this quarter; there was our homeschool group’s curriculum share, where I got to take a peak at other people’s favorite curriculum and win a few items to use next year; I helped coach a group of little girls at a local running clinic, which culminated with a 5K in mid-May; and Nathaniel and I were once again in charge of our homeschool group’s Field Day event, which also took place in mid-May, meaning the time leading up to it (basically this whole period I’m reflecting on) had its fair share of planning and delegating going on.

After Field Day, I needed a break!

I tried crunching numbers to see what kind of break I could justify while at the same time wondering about scheduling and planning for the coming year. After working over several ideas I’d seen on interval planning, my husband suggested we start counting out weeks from January (to keep things simple), and then I can take off a certain amount of time every eight-week period. Doing the math that way, I could see that we’d been pretty faithful through the beginning of 2018, despite quite a bit of sickness. Based on the paradigm we came up with I had 14 days to play around with!

I immediately took ten days off at the end of May. 😊

We kicked off schooling again in June with a morning of blueberry picking and an afternoon of easing back into our regular lessons. The next day we decided to throw Vacation Bible School in the mix! It is summer, after all. 😉

Along with the paradigm shift my husband and I came to, we also firmly decided that we would now school year-round. The schedule we’re working from will give ample time off on a regular basis, and the eight-week terms are fixed on the calendar, so that I can plan material for us to cover in that definite chunk of time. Having had a very unpredictable schedule in the past, this is such a relief to me! I’ll share more about how we’ve got this set up in another post…soon!

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For now we’re continuing on in Right Start Math Levels B and C, First Language Lessons 1 and 2, McGuffey readers, Story of the World volume 2, and lots of good books. I have also introduced a new way to narrate—the boys have been retelling what they’ve read with their Lego minifigures. Suffice it to say, this is a big hit.

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Christopher Robin (the astronaut) is up in a tree looking down at Pooh and saying, “Silly old bear!”

We recently finished reading Pilgrim’s Progress in Morning Time and have now moved on to Archimedes and the Door of Science.  Admittedly, this is a bit beyond my kids, but they were interested, so we’re giving it a go. We’ve also started going through a Health text book that I snagged for free at a curriculum sale. It’s been a good springboard for discussing a topic that we haven’t directly addressed at all yet—and it’s been a good, simple refresher for me on the basics of healthy food and exercise habits.

Over the past few months of family bedtime read-alouds we finished both Swiss Family Robinson and The Phantom Tollbooth. The latter was definitely our favorite of the two. We just began reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, thus arriving at a major childhood milestone: entering into Narnia for the first time.

Our Preschool Prodigies Music lessons are back in the afternoon again, especially since this season we’re needing more time outside in the mornings given the heat we encounter later in the day. In addition to the progression of music lessons with singing and bells, we’re now also starting Recorder Prodigies!

Where we’ve sometimes struggled to get to these wonderful lessons (among other lovely things like art and nature study) after lunch, I recently set up afternoon activity checklists for my kids so that they don’t ask me 4 billion times a day if they can play with Legos yet. Now they have to make sure they’ve done several other activities first.

homeschool afternoon checklist kids

This has been a win on so many levels.

They still love their Legos, but they’re also enjoying a broader variety of fun things now that I don’t let them just automatically default to their favorite interlocking brick system when I can’t think of what else to tell them to do. I’ll post more on this little sanity-saving tweak again soon!

Some of the other activities we’ve enjoyed this quarter have been watching a variety of flowers come up in our wildflower patch, dog sitting, building swings, watching a string quartet concert and a magic show, canoeing and kayaking, keeping track of the different birds we see each season, attending several other live music events in our community, and most recently swimming lessons.

We also caught a luna moth caterpillar last week and it promptly hid itself away in a lettuce leaf and began spinning its silken sleeping bag. We’re eagerly awaiting the change.

Shadows in the Sun

While we’ve had many bright, fun outings and adventures in the past few months, there’s also been a shadow cast upon our days: a shadow of grief.

I wrote last time about how we gave our dog away to friends in February and dealt with sickness and an impending job change in March. Those were trying times in their own right, but things have gotten a bit heavier since.  In April, my in-laws’ dog Freckles, regarded by all in the family as the best dog in the world, died. As we told the boys and all shared tears, they remarked that this was worse than giving Luther away.  At least they knew there was a possibility of seeing Luther again. They understood that Freckles was gone.

Fast forward to the end of May, and we received news that my grandfather, my PopPop, died at home in his recliner. He was 95 years old and his heart just stopped. It was his time. The boys were precious as they tried to take this in, each in their own way. One burst into tears immediately, the other sat quietly as his lip began to quiver. They loved playing games with their Great PopPop. And they knew this was a bigger deal than a dog dying. They knew it would hurt for longer.

And it has. Partly due to the nature of losing a loved one, and partly due to the fact that the Celebration of Life and military burial were scheduled to occur three weeks later, in mid-June. 20180619_144041

Grief is compounded when it is shared. Not in a bad way, it just is. Especially when you finally get to mourn with those who are most deeply affected by the loss. And so we grieved in our own way for three weeks as we waited for our trip down to Texas.

When we finally arrived it was a joy to be with so much of my family—it truly was a good time. But we also grieved together, and that was good, too, but hard. The boys got to pass out programs at the Celebration of Life, looking simultaneously like little gentlemen and silly boys. I know they prompted a lot of smiles as guests arrived.

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What does any of this have to do with homeschooling?

Well, everything.

And no, I’m not referring to the “learning experience” of getting to see a National Cemetery and witnessing the giving of military honors, as though I’d try to reduce something so momentous to the level of a field trip.

If the goal of education is character formation and ordering the affections–learning to care about what is worthy of our care–these times of growing and grieving together are at the core of the curriculum. A curriculum we didn’t choose, mind you, but one we follow nonetheless.

I can see God’s hand in our lives preparing my boys for the new and difficult experiences they have faced so far in 2018. And I can see how He has been building us up as parents so that we can gently lead our children through hard times.

I marveled that the boys were wrestling with the loss of dogs in Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows prior to experiencing those same emotions in real life. And the loss of beloved animals paved the way for grasping and bearing the loss of a dearly-loved great-grandfather. All the while, Nathaniel and I have gotten lots of practice not only at grieving ourselves, but of walking with others through grief—and especially with our children. It’s new territory for us, as well.

This has everything to do with homeschooling because our schooling has everything to do with living out this life together with our children until we launch them into whatever may come when they are grown. The literature they read isn’t just for practicing literacy. It’s helping their little hearts and minds prepare for real-world challenges. The time at home with us isn’t just so that we can shield them from harm or bad influences. It’s an opportunity for us to walk with them in these formative years, guiding them and encouraging them as they learn to navigate the sometimes turbulent waters of life.

It’s easy to get lost in the seemingly endless number of lessons we have scheduled. A man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. We get to spend our days in God’s classroom with the children He has given us and with the freedom to respond to the lessons He chooses.

What’s He teaching in your homeschool lately?

Dear PopPop

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My grandfather passed away on Sunday evening, May 27th.  I have been processing the grief, gratitude, and flood of other emotions this week in many different ways; this is one of them.  

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At Christmas, 2017

Dear PopPop,

There are many in the wider world outside our family who I expect can offer grand and wonderful stories and accolades for your life’s accomplishments, and I intend to soak up every single one of them.

But while some have called you “Captain”, “friend”, and “hero”, there are very few people–three to be exact–who know the distinct honor of calling you “PopPop”. My most treasured thoughts of you will always be through a child’s eyes.

20180531_140545.jpgYou have been a constant in my life from the day I was born, a rock in our family. A year has not gone by that I haven’t seen you at least once, if not many more times.

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My first Christmas, 1984

 

You were always faithful to make a child smile–with magic tricks, golf-cart rides, jokes, story-telling, homemade rootbeer, pretending–and sometimes NOT pretending–to steal the food off our plates, playing pool and card games, the “shlabashka”, references to the “huntin’ lodge” and scrapple, homemade cookies and peanut brittle, and making sure each grandchild had a few quarters to take home every time they left your house.

Your Navy uniforms and plaques haven’t lost their glow in my imagination, and I still look on your many beautiful paintings with big, 5-year-old eyes, inlcuding the one that hangs in my kitchen today.

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“How does he do that?”

Grandfathers have a way of being larger-than-life to their grandkids, and PopPop, you are no exception.

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You and Grandma attended every one of my softball games that you possibly could. And graduation. And my wedding.

And I’m so thankful that in recent years my two boys have had the privelege to know you, though some of the old antics have been replaced by games of “hide and seek”:  you clanking your way around the house with your cane or walker while the boys picked out terribly obvious hiding places. You always found them. They always found you. Their boyish giggles and unhindered smiles rivaled only by your own.

2016 Christmas in November (5)Just as you did when I was a kid, you always tried to make sure your great-grandkids went home with quarters in their pockets–only this time there was the chance of getting a double helping since you might forget you’d passed them out already.

Watching you with my own children has helped to keep my child-eyes open. I still see you in awe and wonder with a heaping dose of playfulness and fun.

And while we commit you to the Lord’s keeping, honestly not quite ready to let you go, we hold tight to every precious memory and give thanks for the 95 years of life you were given on this earth. I’m especially thankful for the last 33 of them.

I love you, PopPop. And I miss you.

Love,
The Pumpkin

An Honest Blog Post

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Well, friends, I seem to be at an impasse.

I have so many ideas spinning around in my head that I can’t seem to get any of them out on paper (or in pixels) in any way that makes sense or can be tied up with a pretty bow fit for a blog post.

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Some things I have the writing for but no pictures, and some things I have pictures for but nothing written. Other things are half-written or half-baked.

Despite the fact that I’ve been working hard to catch up on many of my real-life responsibilities–and have been quite successful, praise the Lord–I still can’t seem to get my writing out-put to match my intentions.

What does this mean for the blog? Well, not a whole lot, really. I have no intentions of quitting. On the contrary, I have felt a lot of upward momentum in terms of the ideas I have that would be fun, encouraging, and hopefully helpful.

But having more ideas has only lead so far to further decision fatigue and my writing productivity has fizzled out.

My goal has been to post to the blog twice a month. It’s not a lofty goal, but it’s been difficult to crank out even as my own ideas and expectations are eager for even more.

I’ve sat here at Starbucks for an hour attempting to work on one particular writing project to no avail, so instead of trying to force something beautiful when it isn’t happening, I’m writing this post from precisely where I’m at.

Ending sentences with prepositions and all.

I’ve heard this is life as a writer sometimes. It doesn’t come easily. It takes work. And sometimes the most necessary work is simply to start writing, whatever comes.

Well, here you have it.

Nothing crafted, nothing planned. Except perhaps a slice of humble pie which the Lord is serving as a side to all of my grand ideas.

Honestly, as I take a bite, I think it tastes better than I would have thought. It’s refreshing, at the least, to know that even when the page I wanted to write is either empty or jumbled beyond sorting out, the Lord is at work in me to accomplish something better than my own plans.

Perhaps in being honest with myself and with you, my readers–in this post that is neither planned nor pollished–I’ll be free to begin to really write.

I hope you’ll stick around to see what comes of it. Somehow I don’t think the wait will be long.

God bless.