Sunday, November 23, 2014

Our Essentials Corner

It's our first year of doing Essentials, and my daughter and I both have been a bit overwhelmed.
I love the class, because I'm learning more about English and writing than I ever have before, but it is challenging me more than any of my college classes ever did!  Ten weeks in, we're getting the hang of things, and Alathia's writing has improved dramatically. 
However, we were struggling to find time to do sentence analysis tasks.  Alathia also was feeling like Essentials was "hard" and "scary" because I was projecting that attitude, and she was just following my lead.
A wise friend suggested that I make "Essentials time with mom" a special time.  She suggested misting peppermint essential oils (essential oils for funny!) or lighting a candle, having a cup of cocoa or tea together, and making it a special bonding time in the afternoons.
I loved that idea!  I realized that the corner of the guest room where my girl does her independent work each day wasn't really being used for anything.  So, this weekend, I dolled it up and made it my Essentials Corner.  It is now an inviting space where we can unwind and review our EEL and IEW homework.  She was so excited about it that she started diagramming sentences on the new whiteboards on a Saturday!
A visual cue for my art-loving daughter!

New whiteboards were imperative, for they have given us a spot to list the week's work and to diagram sentences. 

I brought in a little glass table that was on my outdoor patio this summer to hold my Essentials bag, our books, our basket of scented pencils and candles, and our portable walls.


Visuals gloriously assist us in our quest to be audaciously astounding conquerors of the Key Word Outline.
A friend from church gave us these little boxes she no longer wanted.  They were just the right size for sentence pattern blocks!

An environment to placidly contemplate our Essentials work, where hopefully we will not squander our afternoon, but will be diligent to master the English language!
*Underlined words are from our vocabulary words this year.  Just for fun!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I sat down today to write a post on flexibility.
I am quite inclined toward being a "Freak-Out-Homeschool Mom" and need to continually remind myself that flexibility, or willingness to change things up when needed, in homeschooling is vital to maintaining my sanity.
However, as I tried to write, I got interrupted, and interrupted, and interrupted....
"Mommy, please come wipe me!"
"Mom, do you think this is a good sentence for the opening of my speech?"
"Mom, he's touching my legos!"
"Mom, can you help me finish my Boston Massacre report?"
Feeling exasperated at the landslide of demands coming my way when I sat down to steal a few moments to think and write here during a time when the kids should have been working or playing independently, I found myself feeling like I was going to snap. Suddenly, I realized that I was getting a "life lesson" on flexibility in the middle of writing about flexibility.  Oh, the irony!  My branch was being bowed by the weight of my children's requests; and I could choose to either bend or break!
I took some time to meet my children's needs, and I'm sitting down again, my third fourth attempt, to finish my thoughts here.
Sometimes we need a break.  Sometimes the book, curriculum, or method we are using with our children isn't working.  It's okay to modify things in response to our circumstances or conditions.
 Flexibility is the ability to bend without breaking.  Homeschooling will break us if we don't have the ability to yield to what glorifies God most, moment by moment, even if it goes against our agenda for the day.
Homeschooling is challenging.  Our kids' sinful natures clash with our selfishness, and regardless of your organization level, fancy curriculum, support system, or number of children, you are going to have rough days where it feels like you are going to break.  Instead of throwing in the towel and giving up, try something new. 
Take a break from that book your child doesn't like.
Go on a nature walk.
Get out the paints or the playdough, play some classical music, and put aside the usual lessons.
Bake something special together with your kids.
Forget about that craft project that's stressing you out.
Take a deep breath and tell God that you just can't do it without Him....
....because you can't.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Productive, Not Perfect

When I first began homeschooling 5 years ago, I was a "freak-out homeschool mom" who wanted
to do everything right.  So, I did all of the typical things that FOHMs do: 
I tried to do public school at home.
I took on too much, researched curriculum constantly, and worried too much about whether or not my daughter was on track. 
I also allowed perfectionism to dictate my homeschool day. 
It's been said that if a perfectionist can't do it absolutely perfectly, then they won't do it
at all.  That was me!  I had this picture in my head of how our homeschooling day should go.  I pictured mannerly children saying the Pledge of Allegiance and listening to lengthy devotionals with rapt attention.  I could see us singing hymns together, reading the Little House Books while snuggled up together on the couch, and my kids cheerfully tracing the alphabet.
What I didn't count on was homeschooling in the midst of continual chaos.  Instead of being a chipper and energetic mom with a totally organized homeschool area, I was a tired mama who had been up all night with a fussy baby, was battling post-partum depression, and had 4 kids 5 and under.  Instead of having smiling children, I had a toddler who got into the markers and decorated the walls....again.  There were diaper blow-outs, cold viruses, stomach bugs, and potty-training accidents.  There was screaming, crying, and whining and a strong-willed child who challenged me on everything.  My little children often fought while I read aloud.
Even on the better days, if I couldn't do things "in a certain order" I would feel like a failure, even if we had gotten most of our work done.  I had a hard time counting our day as a school day if I didn't do everything on my checklist.  If life interrupted, which it did frequently, we would forget about doing any school because it couldn't be done perfectly.  I was drowning in my life and wondering why homeschooling was so opposite of what I had expected.
However, in order to have "perfect school days" I would have to be a perfect person and my children would have to be flawless.  Perfect school days are a figment of the imagination.  Let me repeat that for those of you who are new to homeschooling:  they don't exist!  Perfect school days don't exist in any school, whether public, private, Christian, charter, preschool, etc.
I have had to let go of perfectionism in order to be a successful homeschooler.  Over the years, I have learned that you can be consistent (Milk the cow!) without having perfection.  I may not always wake up before my kids, be able to start our school day at 9 a.m. sharp, get to everything on our list, or feel energized and alert, but we can still work hard and learn a lot during the day.
Because I have simplified our homeschooling, through Classical Conversations and through learning to say "no" to the good things so that I can say "yes" to the best things, we can accomplish most things on our list each day.  I still make goals and strive for great school days.  But if I happen to sleep in late, have grumpy kids, or have an unexpected interruption to my day, we roll with it and keep on doing what schoolwork we can do for that day instead of cancelling school.  If we don't hit everything on the list, the world doesn't fall apart! 
I have a list in my mind of things that are non-negotiables.  If we have a really stressful or unpredictable day, we can throw the extras out of the window and just get these basic school tasks done.  Your non-negotiables might look different from mine and that's okay!  Every family is different!
My Top 8
1.  Read from the Bible (Josiah does this one at bedtime)
2.  Boys practice reading (I use The Ordinary Parents' Guide to Teaching Reading)
3.  Math booklets (Justus does 1 page, Jer does 2, and Ali does 3)
4.  Review Grammar for the week (takes 5-10 minutes)
5.  Read-aloud together (The Children's Book of America, Story of the World)
6.  Prescripts Cursive writing (Ali and Jer each do 1 page a day)
7.  Explode the Code (Jer does 2 pages a day)
8.  Ali works on Essentials tasks (tracing charts, making keyword outlines, etc.)
Most days we can also get to reading a devotional lesson together, map tracing, working on presentations, singing our Bible memory work song, playing a review game, doing math flashcards, Justus and Katri tracing alphabet worksheets, doing an English lesson for the boys, doing calendar time with Justus, puzzles or playdough for Katri, Classical notebooks, singing the Timeline or United States song, and journaling or writing exercises for boys, but if we don't that's okay!
Simplifying our days and letting go of perfectionism has caused me to LOVE homeschooling!  Though our days aren't perfect they are productive!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Back to School

We spent an afternoon in the park last week with friends taking school pictures. 
These are my favorites from the shoot!



Saturday, August 23, 2014

Fall Chores

One phrase that has been skipping through my mind all summer is, "A lazy mom does all the work herself."  I'm not sure where I heard that but it stuck with me.  At times, I have been a "lazy mom" because it can be so tough to let kids "help" when their "help" feels less like help and more like a hindrance.  This summer, my kids have been doing a lot of chores, but in an un-organized way, such as if I see the living room needs vacuuming, I'll just tell one of them to do it.  It's worked fine for a relaxed season but with school starting up again I decided that we needed a chart they could reference.  My two kids that are natural leaders (and very strong-willed) absolutely LOVE this chart and try to get everything done that they possibly can in the first hour of the day.  They love conquering things!  My two laid-back kids felt a little overwhelmed at first seeing it all before them, but I explained that most of the jobs just take a few minutes and I demonstrated what I expected so they felt better about it and got their chores done easily too.
Ali, posing with my new chore board.  Can you tell which group of kids she fits in?  I used permanent marker so it wouldn't smudge.  When it's time to erase it, I will go over it with a dry-erase marker and it will wipe right off!

After a decade of handling an enormous load of chores mostly alone as I dealt with pregnancy, newborns, toddlers, and little ones, I can't tell you how EXCITING and WONDERFUL it is to finally have a LOT of help with the running of this household!  Ali's been helping for a long time, and Jer has been helping for a couple of years, but this year it feels like the four of them are finally carrying more of the load than the work they create.  Hurray!  Though it does take effort to train them and oversee their chores, it is SO NICE to share the workload!

P.S. Magellan is our pet bunny.  Can you guess which week of Cycle 2 we got him in?

Keeping it Simple for Back-to-School

We're still enjoying the outdoors for a couple more weeks before our CC group starts, spending restful days in a nearby canyon with our friends.
Everywhere you "turn" online, there are posts and articles from excited homeschool moms gearing up for a fabulous year.  I have seen a myriad of great resources and ideas for the coming year. 
But for the most part, I'm tuning it out. 
Five years of homeschooling has taught me how limited my time really is.  The days go fast and the more "rabbit trails" I can go down with our studies, the less time we have to really master the core stuff.  So, I will jot down an idea here or there that might work for us, but I also continually remind myself that I have more than enough to keep busy with in Foundations and Essentials this year without adding more to my life. 
When I had a teacher's manual that contained lots of fun activities, crafts, recipes, and extras to add to the lessons, I couldn't say no to all of the suggestions.  I felt like I had to do it all to be doing a good job at homeschooling.  I grew frustrated wtih my enormous workload and longed for simplicity.  I tried to cut back, but then when I did, I felt guilty.  Thankfully, God brought Classical Conversations to our attention and a group started in our town that fall.  Now, with my Foundations guide, I am thrilled with the simplicity of each week's work.  I don't want to "re-create" the stress of feeling like I need to do several crafts and activities each week.
So, I share my plan for the year here in the hopes that it will inspire you to keep things simple as you gear up for another year.  Your family is unique; you are unique; your kids are unique.  You may enjoy handling a full day of crafts, worksheets, and projects.  Your homeschool schedule may look a lot more impressive than mine.  That's okay, because we all have to do what works best for our own families.  This is what works for ours! 
Alathia - 4th Grade
AWANA Bible Memory work
Foundations grammar (which covers geography, science, history, math, Latin, presentations, etc.)
Essentials (English grammar program, which covers writing, vocab, and spelling too)
ACE Math paces (3 pages per day)
Prescripts Cursive Handwriting (American History)
Reading the Bible, historical novels, free reads, and reading together as a family
Daily practice with math flashcards and map tracing
Extracurriculars:  Missoula Children's Theater, Drama Club at the Library, Homeschool Swimming Lessons, AWANA, helping Mom cook and sew for practice in those areas
Jeremiah - 2nd Grade
AWANA Bible Memory work
 Foundations grammar
ACE Math paces (3 pages per day)
Prescripts Cursive Handwriting (World History)
Explode the Code 2.5 (2 pages per day)
First Language Lessons (1 lesson per day)
Reading aloud to mom and by himself each day, read-alouds with the family
Daily practice with math flashcards and map tracing
Extracurriculars:  Lego Club at the Library, Homeschool Swimming Lessons, AWANA, CC Lapbooking group with friends while his sister does Essentials class.
Justus - Kindergarten
Bible memory work - verses about kindness
Foundations grammar
ACE Math paces (1-2 pages a day)
Prescripts Cursive Handwriting (World History)
Daily lesson from The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading
First Language Lessons (1 lesson per day, with his brother)
Daily practice with math flashcards and map tracing
Read-alouds with the family
Playing with playdough, tracing letters in salt or shaving cream, putting puzzles together, coloring
Extracurriculars:  Lego Club at the Library, Homeschool Swimming Lessons
Katrielle - Preschool
Bible Memory work at home (with Justus)
Foundations (abecedarian group)
School Games for Preschoolers (a dry-erase book for tracing letters and numbers and doing preschool activities)
Read-alouds with the family
Adventures in Odyssey Devotional (daily at breakfast)
Story of the World (correlating to our history work for the week)
Little House on the Prairie series
Fictional stories about American History
(I've been making a pile from our bookshelves and will no doubt look for more at the library)
Non-Fiction books about different states, or about American History
Imagination Station Adventure Books (The kids LOVE these!)
Song School Latin 1 (If we have extra time--a fun way to get some Latin learning in!)
Practicing Spanish a little bit at mealtimes (my brother's family is bilingual so the kids have picked up a lot from their cousin)
Nature Hikes (as many as we can squeeze in before it starts snowing)
Service Projects: Helping with our new church addition on workdays, filling backpacks for the school backpack program that provides food for needy kids, looking for ways to bless our neighbors, making Thanksgiving baskets, Operation Christmas Child, etc. etc. etc.
Biking - we love to bike as a family so we will be doing a lot of bike rides and going to the local skate park and dirt jump bike park to ride

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Three Ways You Can Sabotage Your Homeschool Year

1. Take on too many commitments.

Say yes to any and every opportunity that comes your way. When someone asks you to babysit their kids, teach a Sunday School class, or do them a favor, don't consider how it might affect your schedule or your family. Join a gym, a couple of Bible studies, and a Mom's Playgroup and answer the phone every single time it rings. Get involved with lots of ministries, home business opportunities, lots of friends, and let your kids be in several extracurricular activities each. If you homeschool, try to do every craft project mentioned in your teacher's manual and read every book that literature experts recommend for your child's age bracket. Attend every playdate, home sales party, Girl's Night, and event you are invited to.

On the other hand....if you want to experience a smooth and peaceful day with your children.... careful with your time.

Only you and your spouse know how much is too much for you. We all have different abilities and personalities,so you will have to determine how many activities and commitments you can have in your week. In our rushed society, it's all too easy to get over-committed, whether it's with volunteer work, home businesses, playdates, sports and kid's activities, church committments, etc. Moms often try to do too much because they earnestly want their children to have as many enriching opportunities as possible. It's freeing to say "No" to things that are not in line with your top priorities.

2. Don't have a food plan.

What's for dinner tonight? Stand at the fridge at 5pm, banging your head on the door while wishing there was a Dinner Fairy whom you could summon daily. Order pizza....again. Dig random, weird, ice-crystal-covered things out of the freezer and try to throw them together and pass it off to picky kids as an edible casserole. Sigh everytime the kids ask for another snack and tell them they can chew on some old celery that's hiding in the back drawer of the fridge. Start your day frustrated because you forgot you were out of milk and now you aren't sure what to make the kids for breakfast. Go the store every day or so, with cranky kids in tow and purchase whatever sounds good. Hit up the fast food drive-throughs routinely and blow your grocery budget. Feed the kids Cheerios for supper.

On the other hand...if you like your hair and don't want to end up pulling it all out.....
...plan ahead for meals and snacks.

I know it's difficult to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with running a home and being a wife and mother. It's a lot of work to plan menus, stick to your budget, and cook healthy meals. But, not having a plan only sets you up for disaster, because like it or not, kids have to eat.....every day.....several times a day. Having a plan allows you to shop less and feel confident that when dinnertime rolls around, you know what you are having and you have the ingredients on hand to make it. Some moms like to plan meal ideas in their head, others use paper or their phone, and some just buy their favorite items in bulk and keep a well-stocked food supply so they can "wing-it" knowing they have plenty of ingredients on hand to make a healthy meal each day. However you do it, the point is that you have some kind of a plan in place so you aren't caught off guard by the inevitability of your family's hunger.

3. Don't de-clutter regularly.

Refuse to get rid of anything because it all holds sentimental value. Keep every birthday gift your children have ever gotten. Let your kids go yard-saling and thrift-shopping with you. Don't get rid of toys, dress-ups, craft materials, etc. because after all, you might need those someday! Only go through the kids' toys and clothing once or twice a year. Let them keep beading kits in their rooms and take legos outside. Make sure they have at least 20 outfits each in their closets. Don't limit the number of books in your home, after all books are educational...the more the better!

On the other hand...if you value your sanity and don't want to spend all of your time managing things
...have less stuff.

  Homeschooled kids are in the house all day long, and that means EXTRA mess. Having less means less to clean up and maintain. The more you have, the more you have to manage. My kids know that they have fewer chores when they have fewer toys so they often beg me to put most of the toys away in the shed so they have less work each day. Thanks to grandparents, hand-me-down bags, birthdays, Christmas, carnival goodies, VBS prizes, Happy Meals, birthday party favor bags, and the kids buying toys with their own earned money, I need to ROUTINELY work on de-cluttering. A one-time purge just won't cut it. Going through the house weekly or monthly and finding things to throw in the Yard Sale or Thrift Store box makes my life much easier.


While these three things aren't the only things moms can do to make life easier, they are a good place to start. Guarding your time, planning your meals, and de-cluttering your stuff will go a long way toward helping you soar this year as you homeschool!