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.

-Becky

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*~

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

~*Erica*~

*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?

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

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

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

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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.