Our Homeschool Redoux with Living Books

This year I did something quite drastic as I planned our homeschool year. I sold/donated/or threw away (nearly) all of our textbooks! What caused me to do something so drastic and unconventional? Have I flipped? Before you decide, read on.

This year I have had the lovely opportunity to meet Charlotte Mason in her own writings, and this has led me on a quest to find worthy books for our home school. I find it difficult to give Miss Mason an adequate introduction, because the volumes she wrote to describe her educational philosophy are so broad. She was a British educator who lived at the turn of the twentieth century, and founded the Charlotte Mason College of Education. She was devoted to the training of mothers and governesses, and gave lectures on children and how they learn. The first of these lectures became Volume One, Home Education. (The reader is referred to volumes 1-6 of The Original Homeschooling Series, by Charlotte M. Mason, available at SimplyCharlotteMason.com) Her writings have changed how I view education, and most importantly to the subject at hand, school books.

So back to getting rid of our textbooks. I have come to appreciate that information is not education. (Yes, Charlotte said that!) To illustrate this point, what was the name of the last textbook you read? (Do I hear crickets chirping?) Now can you name a book that has inspired you, that gave you great ideas and food for thought? I’ll wager you can.

Miss Mason spoke of books with living ideas, by authors that knew and were intimate with their subjects, books that inspired ideas and questions. Books that were memorable. She spoke of spreading a wide feast of knowledge for our children, and was passionate about her topic.

imageHere is a quote from School Education (Volume 3, page 171) “I know you may bring a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink. What I complain of is that we do NOT bring our horse to the water. We give him miserable little text-books, mere compendiums of facts, which he is to learn off and say and produce at an examination; or we give him various knowledge in the form of warm diluents, prepared by his teacher with perhaps some grains of living thought to the gallon. And all the time we have books, books teeming with ideas fresh from the minds of thinkers upon every subject to which we can wish to introduce children.”

I love those words, and they echoed in my ears as I chose what to add to our bookshelves this year, and what to delete! Is this a book teeming with ideas, or is this a book of dry, dusty facts? Reading one page aloud is usually all ot takes to figure this out! If I see my daughter’s eyes getting glazed over, chances are I am not holding a living book in my hands.  image

So many books I felt I should hold onto, because “I might need to look up this fact”, but all the while they were merely cluttering my shelves, and not looking any more enticing than when I first bought them. The term “dusty textbook” was quite literal over here! Miss Mason also said that “it is accepted that the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving.” (Page 169 School Education) (Don’t you love how she writes?) An abridgment of an abridgment, usually written by a committee! Hmmm, doesn’t sound very appealing to me.

To close, I thought I would give you an example of the section in a biology textbook about frogs (I think I will omit the name) and then compare that to a section from A Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock.

The Adult Frog

“After the tail shrinks and the lungs develop, the young frog moves onto the land. An adult frog looks very different from a tadpole. The tail is gone and front and hind legs have appeared. The gills are gone and the frog uses lungs to breathe. The eyes have changed shape and now have eyelids. The frog now has an “ear” called the tympanic (tim-pä-nik) membrane which is a small flat disk that vibrates when there is sound…. The skin is smooth and has many glands that secrete mucus. This helps keep the frog’s skin moist.”

(Are you snoring yet?)

Here is the section on frogs from A Handbook of Nature Study:

The Frog

“The stroller along brookside is likely to be surprised someday at seeing a bit of moss and earth suddenly make a long, high leap, without apparent provocation.  An investigation resolves the clump of moss into a brilliantly green spotted frog with two light yellow raised stripes down his back; and then the stroller wonders how he could have overlooked such an obvious creature. But the leopard frog is only obvious when it is out of its environment. The common green frog is quite is well protected, since its color is exactly that of green pools. Most frogs spend their lives in or about water, and it caught on land they make great leaps to reach their native element; the leopard frog and a few other species, however, sometimes wonder far afield.

In form, the frog is more slim then the toad, and is not covered with great worts; it is cold and slippery to the touch. The frog’s only chance of escaping its enemies is through the slipperiness of its body, and by making long rapid leaps.”

image.jpgWhich would you rather read, or have read to you? Some food for thought as we begin our school year…there are so many beautiful books “teeming with ideas” that we can share with our children, and read for ourselves. Biographies, historical fiction, books of nature lore, poetry and Shakespeare too, the list is long! I hope this has helped elucidate what a living book is, and may inspire you to find books that will inspire and engage your children. I have become so enamored with searching for living books, that I am considering beginning a Living Books Library for homeschoolers in our area. I’ll keep you posted on that topic! But for now, I am excited, as we are perched on the edge of my daughter’s sixth grade year, with our shelves lined with gorgeous living books.

imageAuthor’s note: Selecting our specific books has been made so much easier this year, by having a consultation with Liz Cotrill, from A Delectable Education podcast. She helped me to choose books that would complement our studies this year, and also gave me a framework of what a Charlotte Mason education would include for my daughter’s age and ability level, and also presented me with scheduling help. If you are not familiar with A Delectable Education, but are interested in how to implement Charlotte Mason’s methods in your homeschool, I cannot recommend it enough! My cup overfloweth! *Listening to episode 6 of this podcast will help you to further recognize a living book! Liz, Emily, and Nicole are wonderful.      ~~~Tracy Born


Organizing from Behind and Doing the Deep Dive with Stories

Like many homeschooling parents, I sometimes wonder if I am “doing enough.” Our family has (mostly) bought into the idea that learning just happens and that children are learning all of the time, which is a good philosophy for my fiercely independent, creative, and authority-adverse son. So, while we use learning tools (like these fabulous Star Wars workbooks), we eschew any curriculum that would wield too heavy an influence or plot our months or days, mainly because we know it would become a struggle and get abandoned. While my son has sustained interests, I cannot see him liking anything like a unit study where he felt compelled to focus on a topic, even something he liked. Instead we check out stacks (and laundry baskets full) of all kinds of books from the library—whatever he wants—and read them at will. We do subscriptions (like Science Expeditions) instead of formal studies, watch cartoons in foreign languages that we don’t yet speak instead of watching “educational” language videos (which, yes, I also bought), play games with lots of text instead of doing formal reading lessons, and organize Nerf battles instead of participating in organized gym classes or sports. I know he’s learning. Still, I occasionally find myself wanting to “add up” the learning, to fathom (if not exactly measure) its width and depth.

At times like this, I turn to a practice introduced by the ever-wise Julie Bogart of Brave Writer called “organizing from behind.” The idea is that instead of planning what a child will learn and then helping them learn it, you “live in the joy of the presence of your child” while your child learns things, with or without help, and then you record them as narratives that acknowledge and celebrate that learning.

One benefit of this reverse cycle of learning and then organizing/celebrating is that multiple threads of topics can slowly gather together (better than if they were planned), repeating themselves and getting woven into the tapestry of learning over a longer period of time than is usually spent on a “unit,” or even spent in one school grade. Another is that it is just plain fun.

A recent example of “organizing from behind” in our family has been accounting my son’s deep engagement with classic English children’s books this year. We just returned from a trip to England (where I was doing research for my job as a university professor), which of course provided endless and somewhat overwhelming opportunities for learning. We planned a few things, like going to the British Museum and the Imperial War Museum to learn geography and history, but in hindsight, I think the most interesting learning my son did came from his repeated contact with stories that have been a part of our life for the past several years, including Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, King Arthur, Harry Potter, Treasure Island, and The Hobbit. Going to the land where these stories were written gave him a chance to perceive the many influences that go into the making of a story, the choices that authors and adapters can make, and the many different ripples and echoes a story can have over time.


Using Alice in Wonderland as an example: My son first heard this story from his overzealous parents as a toddler, and then encountered it again (and the sequel) last year as an audiobook, long before we had made travel plans. He interpreted the Jabberwocky with my husband and memorized much of it without trying. Soon they were battling with “vorpal blades.” Family jokes about “outgrabing” and other nonsense words began to punctuate our dinner conversations. We watched the Disney version of Alice and compared it to the original. In England, we happened to have a chance to travel to Oxford, where the book was written. My son saw Lewis Carroll’s photography equipment at the Museum of the History of Science, toured Christ Church college where Carroll studied and taught, saw stained glass windows filled with characters and a portrait of the “real” Alice, and played Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the wonderful Oxford Story Museum.


We saw a theatrical version of the story that remixed the characters and ended with Alice battling the Jabberwocky to conquer what these adapters interpreted as her fear of growing up, which was a great chance to learn about literary interpretation.


The Wind in the Willows also got a deep dive. I also read this to my son when he was a toddler, but this year we read two versions of the story at home, side by side—a graphic novel version and Inga Moore’s beautiful illustrated version—because we couldn’t choose between them. Of course, we then jumped on the chance to see the new musical written by Julian Fellowes (of Downton Abbey fame) with a London homeschooling group and loved it. We have been listening to the soundtrack constantly since we returned, debating which characters are our favorites (my son’s is definitely Mr. Toad) and which sing the best (and what it means that there are so many female characters and singers in the musical version vs. the book being mostly male characters). We played in an amazing exhibit version of Badger’s house, again at the Oxford story museum, complete with a picture of Neil Gaiman dressed as Badger and a blurb saying why he idolizes the character. (We also went through the train station at Oxford near where Kenneth Grahame’s son killed himself, though I didn’t tell my son that. And I happened to read about the debates over Grahame’s fitness as a parent and to see some of the original letters that Grahame wrote to his young son telling the story of Mr. Toad on display at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.)

And this is all without even talking about our side trip to Glastonbury to see mythological King Arthur sites!

I don’t think I could have planned this better. Each repeated exposure to the different stories reinforced and deepened my son’s thinking and learning. “Organizing from behind” is a chance for me to savor this depth, to know that it is more than enough and to understand, even better, that it will continue to expand.


Back to School, Baby!

Last Monday, we began our family’s sixth year of home education.  Things have changed since our rookie season.  Back then, one child was homeschooling (second grade).  One child was attending a local pre-k program, and our baby girl was one year old, happily coming along for the ride.  I jumped into the classical method because I had friends using it.  It also made a lot of sense to me, a former doctoral student in education.  The classical philosophy meshed well with what I believed about learning, so we dove right in.  We belonged to a small but inspiring little co-op that met in a fabulous botanical garden.  It was positively dreamy.

Now, our home life–and thus, our educational atmosphere–looks quite different.  We have four homeschooling students.  This “school house” of ours contains a seventh grader, a fourth grader, a first grader, and a 3-year-old preschooler.  We have a one-year-old daughter who complicates things while also helping us to keep a light, cheerful spirit and a humble perspective.  While I still value many elements of a classical education, we have shifted into a Charlotte Mason style of learning and living.  We live in a different state with a very different climate.  We belong to a far larger co-op inside a lovely church.

So much change.  But our love for learning at home remains strong.  Some of our motivations are the same, and new ones have come.

Now we begin 2017-2018.  I love planning a new year of books, activities, and exploration.  I love that Charlotte Mason folks think of education as a “feast” with many tantalizing offerings to taste and enjoy.  Isn’t that a terrific image as we approach education as a joy and an adventure?


I’m excited to have a preschooler again.  His natural curiosity is delightful, and his growing hunger for books warms my heart.  In week one, we read and played with Blueberries for Sal.  This week, I’m offering him Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  I’m planning simply, low-preparation activity boxes to help keep him engaged while I attend to other kids, but I also hope to maintain the sense of fun as we dig into new stories.


Whether you are simply exploring homeschooling, continuing a year long schedule, or returning “back to school” as I am, I wish you peace, growth, and happiness on your journey.



Groundhog’s Day and Candlemas

A re-post from my personal blog, six years ago.

I don’t know why I love Groundhog’s Day so much.  I guess it’s just the silly fun of it.  Maybe it is the midwinter longing for a little spring weather.  My love might also have something to do with a rotund critter who visited our  backyard for many summers of my childhood.  We named him “Chubbs.”  Whatever the reason, I was excited to celebrate with my boys on February 2nd.

I borrowed the idea for these cupcakes from Gourmet Mom on-the-Go, but I decided to go with cupcakes instead of cookies.  I love cupcakes.  They just seem more festive.  That being said, if you visit the link above, you must look at the groundhog hot chocolate.  Too cute!  We enjoyed our cupcakes when Daddy got home from teaching around 3pm.  We had a little tea time celebration with cupcakes and decaf tea.  Earlier in the day, we worked on our new winter playscape.




In the evening, we celebrated Candlemas for the first time.  What fun to embrace a new tradition.  For weeks, I’ve been reading about Candlemas, researching its history, customs, and potential for creating a meaningful teaching moment for our family.  The internet is full of sources about this rather obscure little holiday, but here is the quickie version.  Candlemas marks the end of the 40 day period after the birth of Jesus.  According to Jewish custom, Mary would have gone to the Temple for purification (40 days postpartum for a boy baby, 80 days for a girl).  This would have been the day of Christ’s first visit to the Temple, His Father’s house.  The event is recorded in Luke 2:22-40.  While I consider myself pretty familiar with the Bible, I didn’t remember so many of the wonderful little moments in this story.  A figure named Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Upon seeing young Jesus in the Temple, Simeon acknowledges that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.  He gives thanks to God that he may now rest in peace.  Also, an elderly prophetess named Anna acknowledges and blesses the baby.  Such a beautiful moment in the early life of Jesus!





I drew and laminated some simple figures for the kids to use in acting out the story.  We even enjoyed a spirited rendition of the story by Daddy at the dinner table!

From my quick research I learned about several interesting Candlemas traditions.  Because the date also marks the center point between with first day of winter and the first day of spring, people eat round foods to remember the sun.  When the holiday is given its Christian identity, the acknowledgement of the sun also becomes the acknowledgement of the Son of God, the light of the world.  Candlemas has potential pagan roots in the Gaelic festival, Imbolc.  I find the parallel to be a wonderful statement about the way God shows up in creation and how He designed the world to reflect the presence of Jesus in all things.  We ate our round foods (cheeseburgers; sliced potatoes baked with olive oil, salt & pepper; carrots in “coin” shape; and orange slices) with candles on the table and talked about Jesus as the Light.  Other traditions include bringing candles to church for a priest to bless them and watching the weather for a prediction of spring’s arrival (“If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.“).  Not hard to see the Groundhog’s Day connection!

It was a special evening, and I hope our family embraces this new-to-us holiday for many years.  It proved to be a great teaching tool and a sacred moment in the middle of a regular old week.   ~*~Erica~*~

Taking it Back

img_0829This year marks the eleventh year since I first began homeschooling. So many starts and re-starts, so many times I have thought “Am I doing a good job?” Well this year I have a new motto. “I am taking it back!”
I have come to realize that not every day of our home education program is going to be worth a journal entry. Some days…well, some days I’d just rather not talk about. My father would often remark to me on a difficult day, “Like the old song goes Daughter, ‘Some days are diamonds, some days are stones’.” (I finally listened to it, just today, on You Tube…good old John Denver) There is definitely some truth to that! But when I am having a day that seems more like an old rock, and not like a glistening diamond, I thank God that tomorrow is a new day. The days spent worrying about wether I am doing enough, or comparing myself to others turn stony. The days I remember God’s grace and extend that to my daughter-shine brightly.

On that note, back in September I wrote a journal entry that I thought was worth sharing with you. I had begun thinking about those things I wanted “IN” our days, and those things I wanted “OUT”. In the past few months it has helped me to refocus my efforts. Character training is at the top of my list, and being academic for the sake of being academic, is out! For me, this means embracing the Charlotte Mason method of home education…deciding to go “whole hog” there! The things that tend to creep in that don’t line up with my IN list, I can put a stop to, rather than granting them a hall pass. I am taking back her education, and mine!

img_0299I homeschooled my sons from their fourth and sixth grade years, through high school graduation, and now my daughter is in fifth grade. I have been keenly aware lately, that I have about eight years left with her at home. (Perhaps this has been magnified by my turning 50 last August!) I do not want to look back and think “I wish I had done things this way” and had left out the other. I do not want to have a mountain of worksheets, and forget to teach her to learn. It is such a priveledge to teach our children, let’s remember that. Let’s take it back. Take back what matters most to you, write up a little IN list, and look at it regularly! Be aware of what you want OUT. When OUTS threaten to squelch your joy-say Sayonara to them without reservation. It will free you up, I guarantee it.

Joy, peaceful days, the love of lifelong learning, quiet moments with my child…I am taking it back! Tracy Born


Hibernation Mode

It’s no big surprise that Pittsburgh is a grey city. This place has many, many cloudy days. In fact, it ranks in the top five major U.S. cities for # days in which the day is more than 3/4 covered in cloudy skies. (We are #4, with 203 days/year of “heavy cloud”.) All of these cloudy days equates to winter feeling like a long, often dreary season, especially when it’s cold, wet, or – most likely – both. Even in what was once an old Victorian boarding house, our home can start to feel like the walls are closing in on us, but I have been working hard to combat cabin fever, and have realized that we all feel better if we do so by slowing down, staying home, and entering what I like to think of as “hibernation mode”.

Reading on the couch.
Reading on the couch.

After a month of holiday festivities, visits with friends and family, and too many sweets, this first month of the year in our home has been embraced as family time. Now, we as a family, and particularly as a homeschooling family, spend quite a bit of time together. But January takes that up a notch – our calendar stays purposefully clear, jammies are worn all day, and we spend days inside. While hibernation often conjures up thoughts of sleep or laziness, our time is quite the contrary. Yes, it’s slowed down, in that we won’t be rushing around to get anywhere on time, climbing in and out of the van, trying to pack lunches and make playdates. But we ramp up our reading and imaginary play, as well as taking advantage of what we can walk to within our own community, having our world shrink down to about a square mile. Despite living in a neighborhood that does not have a high score on the walkability scale, we do have a corner grocer, a library, dance class for my daughter, and a neighbor who gives many of the local children piano lessons. And unless the windchill is down in danger zone territory, we are walking to those places.

Walking to piano in the rain.
Walking to piano in the rain.

A few snippets of the past few weeks include exploring the structural integrity of the various weights of blankets when building forts; delivering hand-written notes to neighbors up and down our block via scooter; cheese runs to the grocer for grilled cheese and tomato soup lunches (a family favorite on rainy days); building snowmen on our single snowy day thus far; and of course, books and legos. So many books and legos. There are a lot of moments when three children, age 7 and younger, running circles around our house make me question our choices and my sanity. But turning a corner to find them snuggled together on the couch while the oldest reads books to her brothers melts the tension away and helps me remember why we homeschool, why we have worked so hard to build and support this family-focused life, why sometimes hibernating is just what we need.


New and Hard

New things are fun!  Over the weekend, we went ice skating for the first time in two years.  Two years ago, we had a 9 year old, a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a one year old.  Only the older two truly skated.  The 3 year old held on to a bucket most of the time.  What a difference.  Now, we have five children, and four of them skated!  The buckets (shown in the picture) were still helpful, but everyone tried skating freely.  Most of the time we were smiling.  Most of the time we were laughing.

But new things are also hard–skating included  Ankles were tired.  Knees were sore.  Patience grew thin, and confidence was bruised.  We had to cheer for each other and encourage one another to get up again and again.  We paused to warm our hands by the fire and hopped back on the ice.  Some of us had a little more fun than others.  But you know how I know that this was a good experience?  Even the boy who had the hardest time was already asking when we will go again.  That, my friends, is learning at its finest.

Whether you are eight or 108, learning new things is hard.  You feel clumsy.  You feel worn.  But how dull would life be if you didn’t throw yourself out on the ice and glide?  ~*Erica*~


Riding the Waves

Sometimes I, like Erica, try to categorize what sort of homeschoolers we are. I know we’re unschooly, as we don’t force learning in any way for my six-year-old son, but my husband and I are eager lovers of learning and do a lot more “strewing” of materials than most unschoolers, I bet. I first got interested in homeschooling when I read Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling, and I love her ideas, but I can’t remember the last time my son actually had a project that we called a “project,” though he’s always making things (most recently, a huge Nerf gun tower that resides in our living room). Last year sometime, I heard a podcast about something called “Tidal Homeschooling,” by Melissa Wiley and I think this perhaps comes the closest to describing what happens in my family, at least so far.

On her website, Wiley writes, “We have high tide times when I charter a boat and we set sail with purpose and direction, deliberately casting our net for a particular type of fish. On these excursions I am the captain; I have charted the course. But the children are eager crew members because they know I value their contributions. And also I provide generous rations. No stale or moldy bread on this ship: no dull textbooks, no dry workbooks. My sailors sink their teeth into fresh, hearty bread slathered with rich butter and tart-sweet jam . . . And we have low tide times when we amble along the shore, peering into tide pools and digging in the sand, or just relaxing under beach umbrella. The children wander off in directions of their own choosing; they dig and poke and ponder.”

Though I am not quite comfortable with the image of myself as captain and suspect that Wiley’s homeschool is more structured than mine during high tide, the ebb and flow that Wiley describes is very familiar to me. Indeed, it seems to be what we’ve naturally fallen into as homeschoolers. Sometimes my son seems to be learning at a rapid pace, sometimes aided by my husband and I, and other times he tinkers around, plays, and dreams.

I notice the ebb and flow the most when the flow is on, which has been the case since the New Year turned (this means, in hindsight, that much of October-December was a sort of ebb). I’ve always gotten a lot of energy from times of the year that feel new and since 2017 hit, my son has also been on a learning and creating wave. He’s been starting to recognize words, he’s been calculating equations in his head (of course, he always does this), and he’s been coming up with more intricate narratives for play.

The most fun part of this wave for me has been that my son has become interested in painting again. I say “again,” because when he was a toddler, I bought tons of art materials and dozens of art books and we painted all of the time. But as a 4 and 5-year-old, he mostly lost interest in anything painting or drawing-related, though he has continued doing the art that comes most naturally to him, large art installation-type machines and photography. Boxes of crayons, watercolors, construction paper, and markers sit on a table in our living room largely untouched. (I am not invested in him necessarily doing art one way, but I also want him to feel like he can use all of the materials available.)

The reason he’s been interested lately is that I have been doing a lot of creative work myself. As a professor at a research university, my job requires writing, which is sometimes hard to make happen amidst my overpacked teaching and advising schedule. So far this semester I’ve gotten a lot of leverage from combining writing days with dreamy sessions of playful artmaking and intuitive painting. I have been taking an amazing online art course called Lifebook 2017 (offered by Tamara Laporte), which features a lot of inspiring lessons including painting kind animals to symbolize qualities that might help us in the new year, and, perhaps also relevant to my son’s interest, I have been collecting shiny new art materials to do the sessions. Brave Writer’s Julie Bogart calls doing activities for ourselves that inspire our children “awesome adulting,” which I suppose I will own! I’ve had to buy extra watercolor paper because my son has become so prolific. And it’s been fun for me to rediscover a love for painting and drawing, which I did a ton as a kid, but largely ceded to my sister as we got older, since she was the one deemed to have more artistic talent.


As soon as I began to use the wonderful materials arriving at our house—posca pens, gel medium, collage papers, watercolor crayons, acrylics—he immediately became interested and painted up a storm, usually inviting me to sit beside him, contributing too. I’ve noticed that he really likes collaboration—and tools, always tools. One night he wanted to sleep with an ink brayer.


He’s moved back to his large installations a bit now—but with new ideas, like taking all of the packing peanuts from the boxes my art materials were shipped in, smashing them, rolling them in gel medium, applying paint, and gluing them to a large industrial pallet.

In all of this, I’ve realized that there are two kinds of flow—the kind that is really active and productive, and the other that is open, connected, and immersive. Often, they go hand in hand, but sometimes not. This is why perhaps the ebbs are so important; sometimes they are just processing and downtime and sometimes they are flows of a different kind.–Anne

Finding a Rhythm

We are definitely eclectic homeschoolers.  While I feel most connected to the Charlotte Mason approach and I envision our homeschooling through that lens, I happily adopt elements of other educational models.  In particular, I love aspects of the Waldorf tradition*.  The concept of rhythm–a foundational element of the Waldorf lifestyle–resonates with me.  Rhythms happen naturally.  The ocean has a rhythm.  The days and nights have a rhythm.  Even the newest babies have a rhythm to their sleeping and waking, their hunger and alertness.

Schedules, on the other hand, are imposed upon us, or we impose them upon ourselves.  Schedules tells what to do at what time.  At 8 o’clock, I must eat breakfast.  At 12 o’clock, I must eat lunch.  The reading lesson starts at 1 o’clock.  Dance class is at 5.  You get the idea.

Perhaps this kind of rigidity works well for some people, but in my family, a schedule is a promise of failure.  I can guarantee that someone will have a dirty diaper at breakfast time.  Phonics will take longer than the time I allotted.  We’ll fall in love with our latest novel and not be able to stop.


So instead of watching schedules be unmet day after day, we follow a rhythm.  I love reading “day in a life” posts and articles, so I hope you’ll enjoy a glimpse into how our days run–the rhythm that keeps this family of seven moving forward.

Morning.  I wake up with the baby.  Sometimes that is 5am.  Sometimes, like today, it is a glorious 7am.  Usually, we are up for the day between those hours.  I change the baby, and I get myself ready.  I make breakfast for my husband, and our toddler usually wakes up during this time.  I make the little guy breakfast, too.  I sit down at the computer to breastfeed our youngest.  She’s four months old.  While we nurse, I post to my doula business page and the organizing support group I lead on Facebook.  Ideally, I spend some time in my Bible at this point.  One of my goals in 2017 is to make my Bible study time more of a priority, so I’m trying to read the scripture before I jump on Facebook.

I put in a load of laundry.  Slowly, the other kids make their way downstairs.  The big kids can make their own breakfasts, so they busy themselves with cereal and bagels while I nudge the young ones toward getting ready for the day.

I glance at my meal plan and the to-do list in my bullet journal.

Everyone is wide awake, and the inevitable squabbles are starting.  Milk has probably been spilled.  Oatmeal is probably getting cold.  Eggs are probably sticking to a pan.  I have already let the dog out about six times.

The process of morning chores is underway.  Each child (except the baby, of course) is responsible for bringing his or her breakfast dishes to the sink, dressing, brushing his or her teeth, and tidying his or her bed.  I don’t say “making the bed” because I want to make the job as easy as possible.  As long as the comforter is neat and the pillow is at the head of the bed, I’m happy.  I don’t need to know what dwells beneath the blanket!

When I think enough time has passed for everyone to be ready, I sit down at the piano with a baby in my lap.  I play a few simple songs (sometimes with one hand).  This is our “school bell.”  The kids know that it is time to come to the dining room.  I hope that we will come together for school by 9am, but that doesn’t always happen.  We sing a bit.  We read a bit of scripture, and we dig into our current family read-aloud book.  Right now, it’s Little House in the Big Woods.  Sometimes, we read a few pages.  Sometimes, we read a few chapters.  We do the picture study from Ambleside Online, and we listen to a piece from our current composer (also from http://www.amblesideonline.com).

The rest of the morning is spent on handwriting, language arts, math, and history.  I move from child to child and back again.  I attend to diapers, spit up, the dog, and the toddler who isn’t quite ready for formal school activities yet.  He and I do a puzzle together.  I eat a pretend bowl of soup with a pretend piece of birthday cake in it.  I savor it with a hearty “yummmm,” and my son laughs, his chef’s hat askew.  I switch the laundry.  I nurse my daughter half a dozen times. I sneak a peek at Facebook and chastise myself for doing so.

I coax my middle son back to the table.  He hates writing, but we manage to inch our way through his assignment.  I give instructions (again) through clenched teeth and remind myself to stay calm.  I shove down my fears about the standardized test he will take this year, and instead, I focus on the huge notebook of drawings that he wants me to see.  I praise him and kiss the top of his head.

Lunch.  Lunch is often a hodgepodge that happens some time in the vicinity of noon.  I plan to give everyone an entire hour for eating and playing.  I make a few peanut butter and jelly wraps.  I make a grilled cheese sandwich.  I serve yogurt, fruit, and veggies with hummus.  This isn’t gourmet.  The kids eat and talk.  I call my mom for a quick minute.  Sometimes that quick minute turns into a long one, and I have to rush to gather everyone back together for school.  On other days, I take the rest of the lunch hour for myself.  I nurse  the baby, read, or mess around on the internet.  I enjoy this time while I keep one ear open to the sounds of my children playing with zero agenda.  There are arguments to moderate, but mostly, they play well together.

Afternoon.  We finish up our history lesson.  We do science, art, or music.  Sometimes all.  Sometimes one.  The toddler takes a nap (on some days).  On Wednesdays, we go to a homeschool history class at the public library.  We’re done with everything by 1 or 2pm.  I bring all activities to a hault so that we can do a quick clean-up before the kids run off to play.  The oldest reads for pleasure, making his Mama’s heart sing.  I put on music, and it isn’t unusual to find someone dancing.  I scramble to do a bit of cleaning, make things less chaotic before Daddy gets home.  That’s the goal.

Evening.  On Mondays, my daughter goes to dance class.  We have dinner afterward.  On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we have church activities at 6pm, so we eat dinner before heading out.  The kids set the table, and they clear their own dishes afterward.  I contemplate how our chores need to evolve as these children grow and mature.  They are ready for more.  I wipe up spills and marvel at the number of utensils under the dining room table.  How does this happen?  My husband starts the dishes, and I give him a big hug from behind.  The baby is in a wrap, sandwiched between us.  The rest of our evening involves board games, stories, and a little too much wrestling.

On Fridays, we attend a homeschool co-op from 9am to 12:30pm.  We have lunch there, and the kids have some playtime with their friends.  Co-op is such a blessing to us.  I love watching my children form meaningful relationships with kids from a wide range of ages.  When the weather is nice, they play outdoors and run off some of that wonderful childhood energy.

This is how our days roll.  We move from one thing to the next.  We have interruptions.  We go with the flow.  We make messes.  We recover from the messes.  The next day comes.  It is predictable yet entirely new.  I soak in these moments and give thanks for both their comforting rhythm and their inevitable surprises.


*Waldorf education is founded on Anthroposophy, a philosophy by Rudolf Steiner.  Waldorf schools all over the United States and internationally celebrate festivals that have Christian and pagan roots.  Some elements of Anthroposophy do not align with Christianity in the way that I practice it, so I do not adopt Waldorf as our primary mode of education.  I do, however, have a great respect for the lifestyle, as well as the right for every family to choose the style of education that works best for them.  For more information, please visit http://www.waldorfeducation.org.

The Shapes of Letters

How well do you know your numbers and letters?  I recently learned that I know them way better than I thought I did! Let me explain….

My son and I are doing kindergarten this year. Each week we are working on a different letter and number.  We read books about a letter based theme for the week (A is for Apples etc.) and talk about the shape and sound of the letter. Pretty standard stuff; nothing terribly remarkable there, right?

The remarkable part for me has come in watching my son dissect, analyze and draw the shape of each letter. In doing so he is recognizing the patterns which are visible throughout the numbers and letters which make up our written language.

For example, did you know that the number 5 looks a lot like an S if you straighten out those corners?

5 to S.PNG

Did you realize that the letter P is hidden inside the letter B?


Have you noticed that M and W are the same shape flipped upside down?

M and W.PNG

Did you see the J hidden inside the U the last time you wrote it?

J and U.PNG

My grown up brain has long since ceased to recognize these similarities because the numbers and letters have taken on their own meaning for me.  Through years of reading and writing, the letters have become parts of words rather than drawings. They are sounds; they are vowels or consonances; they are shapes in their own right.  I have failed to continue to see them as combinations straight lines and curved lines.  Someday I hope my son will do the same!

I am enjoying the process of re-discovery which is going along with our homeschool journey. Seeing the world through a fresh set of eyes is helping me to appreciate the complexity I have come to take for granted even in something as seemingly simple as the shape of the letters which make up our language.