Sunday, October 16, 2016

Living & Learning Update #1: A New Weekly Newsletter

I've been very quiet on the blog lately. I need to ease back into it, and what better way than with a weekly newsletter?

Monday was Thanksgiving Day, and it was an interesting one! We were going to go to my in-laws for dinner, but they lost power (Thankfully the turkey was done cooking!). We hadn't left home yet, and I invited them all over here. This would normally have been no problem, except that Stephen was working on putting in a door in the living/dining room, and it was cold, wet, and windy in there. (The picture is from a couple of days before, when the weather was still warm.) So I laid out all the food in the kitchen, and then we all traipsed upstairs and ate in the bedrooms where it was warm. Our power went out too, but not until the evening.

Wednesday morning MM(4) fell down the stairs and pulled a muscle in his neck. He ended up lying on the couch for two and a half days straight. Since he wasn't sick, that meant crankiness!

Wednesday evening SA(8) came down with a nasty bug. Since then the other boys have also gotten sick, though they just seem to have a bad cold.

Needless to say, with all that sickness, our lessons went down the drain this week. SA(8) and I did get to go to our French class on Tuesday afternoon. I am so pleased with this class! The main benefit to us is that the children are learning from a teacher whose native language is French. There are seven homeschooled children in the class, mostly around 8-10 years old. The class runs from 3-5 PM. I must admit that I worried a little about taking my son who is used to Charlotte Mason style short lessons to a two-hour class. My fears were groundless. The teacher switches activities often enough that no one loses attention. There is also a break in the middle. This week they learned numbers from 1-20, played hangman to reinforce the alphabet in French, and learned the conjugation of "avoir," using it in sentences.

We are still reading through Robin Hood at bedtime (When AO Year 2 ended, I decided to finish the book as a bedtime read-aloud). We also read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle in the last two weeks. It was good, silly fun. While all the boys are there at our bedtime story time, I often read a chapter from one storybook for the little ones first, and then another for the older ones.

My own reading has sadly dropped off a little since our school year started...I think too much mental energy was being expended. However, I have managed to keep up with the Iliad for my study group, and Till We Have Faces for my book club. I love both groups...both are for homeschooling moms who are interested in self-education. I don't make friends easily, and these groups who share common interests are a pure joy to me.

While I was out and about for groceries this week, I stopped at our local library for their used book sale. I found a hardcover copy of The Lord of the Rings series at $1 per volume! I also found a beautiful edition of Arabian Nights (this one), also for $1.

Some things I've been thinking about lately...

How Getting Rid of 'Stuff' Saved My Motherhood by Allie Cassazza
I handed this to my husband after I read it. I hadn't realized that this being stressed because of too much stuff is a real "thing" for women. I've gotten rid of ten boxes of stuff since I read this a month ago. Not that anyone can tell yet. I just keep on keeping on...

The Joy of Less: 4 Decluttering Epiphanies that have Changed my Life by Michele Connolly
I really liked number 3.

Anchoring: An Organizational Tool by Renee Tougas
This post changed my life several years ago, and I still live by it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Daily Planning Routine

I've mentioned my "average day" schedule before. Now that I'm in the swing of things this school year, I'd like to share what I do every day to keep things going smoothly.

I have a clipboard full of plain lined paper.
Every evening I look at my schedule, I look at my Ambleside Online charts, and I think about what else I have planned for the next day.
Then, I quickly write down a checklist of what lessons we will do together as a family, and little checklists of what lessons I will do with each child individually.

And that's all there is to it! Ten minutes, tops.

I find that if I'm ever too tired in the evening and skip this step, the next day is practically guaranteed not to go smoothly. I think it's not the list that makes the difference so much as the process of making the list. Making the list helps me mentally walk through my day before I find myself in the middle of it.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins have often thought that if I could have one wish, I would wish to have wisdom without having to live through difficult and painful experience. I think it would be nice to have this wisdom now, while my children are young, rather than waiting until we have been through many dangers, toils, and snares together. This wish comes out of an earnest desire to get mothering and homeschooling right. I like doing things right the first time, as my mother could tell you.

Of course, that's not how it works. And even if I was perfectly wise and had all the experience in the world, my children would still be themselves, and it would still take the amazing grace of God to save them from their sin and the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth.

Cindy Rollins' new memoir Mere Motherhood spoke to me. It told me hard and overwhelming things. It told me that even when a young Christian mother is earnest and intentional and hard-working, she is not exempt from potentially costly blind spots and mistakes. It told me that the results are not guaranteed. My boys will grow up and make their own choices, and their choices might not look like my hopes and dreams for them.
"Perhaps our roles as caretakers just give the Holy Spirit ample scope to humble us and remind us how little we know and how very little we control... Maybe the greater part of our sanctification comes as we remember  that those around us were not born as appendages to us; they are unique individuals made in the image of God." (p. 6)
This book also gave me hope. It taught me that I will never regret anchoring myself and my children in the Word of God and in prayer. It told me that I will never be sorry for "tethering" them to a heritage of all that is good, and true, and beautiful. These little things that I keep doing faithfully every day matter, even though I cannot control what fruit they will bear in my children's lives.
"Mama, you are the first pillar of education. You are a vital part of the infrastructure of culture, family, and even the body of Christ. This is not about having the perfect family or the perfect school. Your success or failure doesn't rest on your perfection, just your faithfulness." (p. 160)
Lest you think this book is all earnestness, I must tell you that it has some great laugh-out-loud moments. Cindy weaves in an abundance of understated humour and, happily for me, literary and biblical references that I actually 'got.' For example:
"Jayber Crow had a barber shop in town, and Barney Fife was our one policeman."
Isn't that a delightfully quick way to give a person an accurate view of what the town in question was like?

Before I began to read this book, I intended to pass it on to my sister after I was finished with it. Once I read it, though, I handed it to my mother first. As a homeschooler of the same generation as Cindy Rollins, there were parts of it she could have written.

There is something for every homeschooler in this book. Young, newly minted homeschoolers will be encouraged to faithfully weave what is good, true, and beautiful into their daily lives. Some may be disturbed at the idea that they are not in control of the outcome, and yet the warning is necessary and the hope Cindy points to is rock solid. Christ is the one who covers all our sins as mothers. Homeschoolers in their middle years will find this a book for the journey when things are hard and perhaps not turning out the way they expected. Even mothers who have finished their homeschooling journey may find encouragement to trust and not be afraid.
"I am less tempted to fear for my children these days. I still worry, but not as much as I used to. I know bad things can happen, but I also know that God is up to the challenge. He is trustworthy and I can give my precious family to him. I do not have to clasp them tightly in my hands. As Corrie Ten Boom said, 'Hold everything in your hands lightly, Otherwise, it hurts when God pries your fingers open.'" (p.4)
I commend Mere Motherhood to all homeschooling mothers, not just those of the Charlotte Mason persuasion. Cindy Rollins reminds us of what is really important in this journey we're on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Show and Tell: The "Schedule"

I use the term "schedule" loosely in my homeschool...being tied to the clock does not work well with babies and toddlers in the house! However, we do have a routine, and I have found it helpful to post our "average day" on the wall so the children know what to expect.

In keeping with my habit of pinning our school activities to normal household routines that always happen no matter what (meals and snacks, for example), I have divided our chart into smaller charts. Somehow it seems slightly less overwhelming that way too...

This routine is very similar to our routine last year, except that this year, I have a new Year 1 student! I have planned to do several lessons together with my Year 3 student (the Morning Time and Tea Time routines are done together), but I still need about 45 one-on-one minutes with JJ(6). That's 10 for math, 10 for phonics and reading, 10 for piano, and 15 for beginning narration.

When I total it up, total school time for my Year 1 student is 2 hours and 15 minutes, and for my Year 3 student is 2 hours and 30 minutes. This does not include our "Morning Time" routine, but it does include our relaxed "poetry teatime" routine and 20 minutes of Phys. Ed. and play in the middle of it all. For me, of course, the total is more like 3 hours and 45 minutes. I hope that will decrease a little if SA(8) gets more independent with some of his lessons. 

I am trying to get most of the work done in the morning so the afternoon can be much more free. I will be trying throughout to do as much as is reasonably feasible outside, even during the morning.
We have been having a break from screen time this summer, and I will continue with that as long as the weather is nice. In the winter I will probably return to our usual allowance of screen time at 4:00.
Keep in mind that this is only my plan! No doubt it will evolve over time as we work it out.
How do you organize your school days?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Show and Tell: Maps for the New School Year

I'm sure a lot of you do the same thing as we do: go back and forth from the dining room table to the couch, to the backyard to do your homeschooling. We have a normal-sized house, adequate but not expansive space for a dedicated room for homeschooling here!

I had an idea this year for all the maps we need for our lessons. I put a tablecloth on the table, laid out the maps, and put a clear vinyl tablecloth (from the dollar store) on top of it all.
I'm finding the vinyl tablecloth a little thin and will be looking for one of a bit heavier weight, but I think the idea will serve us well. I may also look for some clips to hold it all in place. The vinyl has been sliding a little bit, though the tablecloth underneath and the maps stay in place remarkably well.
Most of the maps are outline maps, unlabeled. We will write in the names of the places as we read. The map below is one of Newfoundland, the Maritimes, and part of Quebec for our study of Jacques Cartier this term. I also have maps of Canada, Europe, the Great Lakes, the Exodus from Egypt, and the Mongol Empires of 1200-1480 AD. All of these relate directly to our lessons coming up this year.

For the maps themselves, I searched online for maps in the public domain, saved them, and sent the files to Staples to print them in the format I requested. Most are 11x13 on cardstock. 11x13 was the largest size I could print before the price jumped from 89 cents to $14.99, and I thought cardstock would be a bit more durable than paper. If you are using Ambleside Online, I realized just after I did all the work of finding maps that the forum there has links for all the maps you might need!
We also have a world map and a Canada map on the wall next to the table to give context to these smaller maps.
What about you? How do you use maps in your homeschool? I'd love to hear how everyone else does it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Deciding What to Combine in AO Years 3 and 1

As we begin this coming school year, SA(8) will be in Year 3 using Ambleside Online, and JJ(6) will be starting Year 1. I also have two preschoolers: MM(4) and AJ(1). I think I mentioned last time that planning for two official students seems like a huge thing for me. (Feel free to smile, you moms of many. Some day I will be where you are.) This process of deciding what to do together and what to do separately is a personal one. Some people combine, some don't, some just combine a few things. This is just my is prescriptive for no one but me!

Pre-Reading...The First Step When Choosing What to Combine
I started my planning by pre-reading week 1 of Year 3. Pre-reading is becoming more important now as I plan to have SA read more of his lessons on his own. (Narrations will still be oral, of course.) I am hoping to keep a few weeks ahead of him if I can. I take notes in my bullet journal that I can refer to as we set up the lessons...names to introduce, places to find on our maps, and words to define so they don't bring him to a screeching halt in the middle of a lesson (I try not to do more than three per lesson...many words are easily understood from their context.). I also jot down sentences that might be good choices for copywork.

Besides these things, pre-reading the first week of lessons before even beginning to think about scheduling allowed me to easily see which books might be good options to do with SA and JJ together, which books SA can probably read on his own, and which books I should continue to read aloud to him.

Some Obvious Things to Combine
There are some things that we have been doing together all along, and we will not change that. These things are:
  • Bible reading and narration (JJ will just begin to take his turn narrating along with SA.)
  • Pilgrim's Progress
  • Bible, hymn, and catechism memory work
  • Poetry reading and memorization
  • Folk songs
  • Picture study (again, JJ will begin to take his turn describing the pictures)
  • Music appreciation
  • Drawing lessons
  • Nature walks
  • Chores
  • French
  • Handicrafts
These things already have a place in our routines, and it will not take much to add one more "official" student to the mix.

Readings I'm Planning to Combine
This takes more thought. In the first place, having JJ participate in some of SA's Year 3 lessons means taking away some of the Year 1 lessons in order not to overload him. We might be able to circle back to some of them in the future, but it's hard to leave out books that I loved reading with SA in Year 1.

In the second place, I have been seriously thinking about beginning JJ's Year 1 with more of an emphasis on Canadian history, and less of an emphasis on British history. Canada is his own country, and he naturally has more of an interest in and relationship with Canada. I listened to the History podcasts (episodes 11, 12, 14, and 15) from A Delectable Education a few months ago and was quite convinced that learning about their own country was the way to go in the early years of a child's education. This actually works quite well when it comes to combining, as SA is just beginning Canadian history now in the AO history rotation.

So here are the books I'm planning to do together in the first term:
  • Pagoo (leaving out The Burgess Bird Book for JJ's Year 1. But I think I may come back to it, possibly when MM starts Year 1 in two years.)
  • Trial and Triumph (I'm planning to add this to our breakfast circle time, in rotation with Pilgrim's Progress and selections from Paterson-Smyth's commentary on Exodus. If I was doing Parables of Nature, I'd add it to this rotation, but I think I'll skip it again this year.)
  • Cartier Sails the St. Lawrence (A wonderful Canadian living book - will review soon! This actually has quite a few pages, and I'll regretfully have to take out both Benjamin Franklin and Our Island Story for this term.)
  • Tales from Shakespeare
Deciding Where to Plug Combined Readings into the Routine
For me, it makes the most sense to add these readings to activities in our routine that we're already doing together. Trial and Triumph will be added to our breakfast circle time (We have two circle times...Breakfast for Bible-related things, and Tea Time for poetry and art.). Pagoo, Cartier, and Shakespeare will all be added to our Tea Times.

This is as far as I have gotten in my planning. The next part is even harder... deciding how and when to do the lessons that will be done separately. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

It may seem like I'm going off-topic from my usual homeschooling theme here, but please bear with me. This is what I'm thinking about these days, and this blog is the place I have to write through it. And the truth is, this applies to homeschooling too, even though that wasn't the point of pain in this particular story.

My husband is going through a career change. At the end of the month, he will be quitting his job as a computer technician, and he will become an elder in our church and minister full-time there. He will be preaching three times every Sunday, leading a mid-week Bible Study, and doing whatever pastors do as he begins to study towards becoming a pastor himself.

The interesting thing about God calling a man into ministry is that at the same time God calls the man's wife to be a minister's wife. And I don't feel like I have what it takes.

I have seen good pastor's wives. They are warm, and caring, and kind. They connect people. Their homes are open. They are intentional and wise.

I am introverted. Caring conversations do not come easily to me. I feel insecure about opening my home. I do not have the spiritual resources in myself to do the job God is calling me to.

There's something else to this story. My husband has actually been preaching for years on the side as a lay preacher. We have been part of a lovely congregation, one that gave him grace as he worked more than full-time and just did not have the time to do many of the things pastors do. In many ways we were allowed to be a blessing just by being there... I could feel that I encouraged just by adding my voice to the singing, and by taking our young boys to church amidst an aging congregation. But my expectations of myself have changed now that my husband has changed his focus and decided to go full-time.

Is this a question of expectations of myself that are too high? Maybe that is part of it, but I don't think it is all of it. I do still see my callings as wife, mother, and educator as primary in my life. I ask myself what God expects of me in this new role he has suddenly placed me in. I believe He wants me to love His people and to show that love. And the openness required in showing love is not something that comes naturally to me.

"I'm going to need help, Lord," I prayed last night. "I'm willing, but I'm not sure I have what it takes."

And this morning (I was reading Spurgeon's commentary on Matthew) He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Poor in spirit. What can that mean but that a person doesn't have what it takes, spiritually speaking? I realized that this place I am, where I realize that I don't have enough love, or openness, or wisdom for the job God is calling me to is also the place where I know I need Him. This is a good, a blessed place to be, however uncomfortable it seems.

Since this is a homeschooling blog, I'll take it back there. I've always been quite confident in my ability to homeschool. I've seen this as a blessing. I know that none of it is worth anything unless the Lord blesses it, unless the Holy Spirit teaches my children. But this is a place of confidence, not of pain, for me. But some of you are poor in spirit when it comes to homeschooling. Perhaps you know God has called you to do it, but you don't feel have the spiritual resources to teach your children for his glory. You are blessed. Blessed! You know with all your heart that you can't do it without Him. You may not have what it takes, but He has everything that you need.

Yours is the kingdom of heaven.