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?

breakfast

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.

mulligan

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.

~*~Erica~*~

 

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*~

dsc_0264dsc_0272

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.

dsc_0217

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.

Everyday Lessons

I am sure I’m not alone in loving the everyday lessons that arise as a homeschooling family.  Sure, I feel great when I pull off a well designed lesson plan, and the learning meets my expectations.  However, my heart positively soars when I see my children gaining solid knowledge in organic ways that simply pop up as we do life together.  Life skills are never far away, and if we walk through life slowly enough to have the luxury of doing tasks in careful, mindful ways, then these lessons are ready-made!

dsc_1019

dsc_0691

Are you ever struck by the “are we doing enough?” question as a homeschooling family?   I wrestle with those concerns weekly.  I think about the specific tasks that “should” be done but sometimes fail to make the top of the daily to-do list.  I feel the stress creep in as the joy gets pushed out.  Then I force myself to make a mental list of the life skills we practiced that day.  My household has five children in it, so there are many opportunities to practice sharing, negotiation,  compromise,  selflessness, organization, categorizing, decision-making, leadership, and forgiveness.  We exercise our bodies, our minds, and our creativity.  Every single day.  Even on the down days when we lounge a bit and read a lot, we are practicing many skills that will be valuable long past these “school years.”

dsc_0696

When I think about my deepest reasons for homeschooling, I come back to appreciation.  For my children (and myself!), I desire an appreciation for the beautiful Earth that has been given to our care, an appreciation for music and art, an appreciation for my kids’ own abilities to create music and art and objects of all kinds, an appreciation for their unique personalities and capacities for learning and sense of humor, and an appreciation for meaningful friendships.  In our particular family, an appreciate for God as a loving Creator is of foremost importance.* I want my family to have the time to appreciate these things and more–all those wonderful intangibles such as honesty, integrity, humility, and grace.  Don’t forget the very concrete skills, too.  We experience our share of laundry, sewing, dusting, digging, and cooking (and on and on and on).  So much life to live!

Everything I have listed can be found in the unique and brilliant lives of families who choose public and private schools as well.  I do not doubt that!  However, I love the opportunity to thoughtfully craft a life for my family that makes room for these things purposefully and without hurry.  When I have doubts and worry about the many, many subjects to cover in the fleeting years we have, I give thanks for the everyday lessons we share together.  They add up to a magical sort of life.  ~Erica~

dsc_0923

*Neighborhood Homeschool has a diverse staff of bloggers from a variety of lifestyles and faith traditions.  This is an welcoming space where people can share their unique experiences and points-of-view.

Market Street

This blog began because a friend of mine and fellow homeschool mom said, “Hey, where are the urban homeschool blogs?”  She was right.  The story of urban homeschooling can be hard to find on the big internet.  The same can be true in children’s books.  Many stories written for children depict the quaint county side, the lively farmyard, or an odyssey through the wilderness.   Of course, the world of busy streets and brick row houses isn’t completely absent from children’s lit, but it seems more difficult to find than horses, log cabins, and woodland creatures.  I get excited when I find a great depiction of city life.

This week we are reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (illustrated by Christian Robinson.)  This Newberry Winner depicts a tender relationship between a boy and his grandmother, a woman who “always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.”  The book takes a gentle look at poverty and gains its real meat from the themes of gratitude and perspective.  Along the way, messages of appreciation, beauty, and selflessness come through.

The illustrations are charming and meaningful in their own right, and the writing borders on poetry, making Last Stop on Market Street a delightful read-aloud selection.

In our homeschool, we used the story as a place to jump into some city artwork. I love that my kids ignored the restrictions of paper size (notice the pages taped together) and of time limits; at 3pm I quit teaching, but the kids were at the table much longer.  I call that a successful activity!  ~*~Erica

dsc_0780

DSC_0781.JPG

DSC_0783.JPG

DSC_0784.JPG

To Market

Oh happy day!  Our farmers market is back.

Every year I imagine that I’ll be really devoted to shopping the market, buying all of our produce from friendly, local farmers.  Instead, each trip looks a little more like a visit to the carnival than an actual agricultural haul.  My children spend the time asking for popcorn, snow cones, and lemonade.  No one gets excited about the basil or the beautiful asparagus.  Well, except me.

But it’s still really fun.  I like farmers markets in much the same way that I like many other romanticized iconic ideas–like pen pals and tree houses and my record player.  They represent things that characters in storybooks do.  The farmers market is simple in a way that the big grocery store never can be.  Surprises pop up now and then, like the aqua colored chicken eggs and the dried apple slices with cayenne pepper!  Neighbors really do convene at the farmers market, and we happily chat with friends while our kids examine a cool (yet creepy) cicada.  Someone plays guitar and sings familiar songs behind us.  We go home with warm kettle corn (couldn’t resist), a big cup of lemonade, asparagus, and kale.

No, we don’t gather a family’s worth of local produce each Thursday, but we mark our calendars for another week and relish the simple fun that is always found at our farmers market.

~*~Erica

DSC_0026

DSC_0016

DSC_0019

DSC_0022

DSC_0028

DSC_0018

DSC_0024

DSC_0021

DSC_0030

 

May Days

The month of May has its own vibe.  Summer is close.  We can almost reach out and touch it.  Word is spreading of farmers’ markets, plant sales, and park playdates.  The weather, in this area, can be unpredictable (nearly 80 degrees yesterday, calling for frost on Sunday), but the promise of warm days in a nice long stretch is out there, and the possibility makes concentration on the sit-down work a little hard to come by.  My children are very aware of the warm joy (and a little extra freedom) building as we close out our official academic year, but they aren’t the only ones.  I feel that tingle, too, and I find myself cutting lessons short in order to embrace the equally (if not more) enriching experience that the outdoors provide.

But I have something else drawing my enthusiasm.  Planning!

P1020134

I love planning for our new homeschool year.  When I plan our subjects and the experiences that will accompany them, I have the opportunity to dwell in the blissful possibilities.  I allow myself to imagine my ideal weeks without the interruptions of dirty diapers, pet dramas, dental and medical appointments, ill-timed broken pencils, apparent math aversion (Is that genetic?), irritation with irregular verbs, and the other realities of home education.  I like to just dream, make lists, wish, read inspiring books  and blogs, and roll around in the happiness of it all.  Of course, I eventually have to explore the realities of our homeschool, our budget, and the needs of four (soon to be FIVE) children.

But these May days are set aside for dreaming, for gathering, for living in the certainty of the magic that will come when my dreams and my real plans converge in another homeschool year.  I’ll get to the nitty gritty in June and allow those days to take on an excitement of their own.

What does planning look like for you?  ~*~Erica

Up and Down the Alley

IMG_2955copy

We don’t own any sheep.

We don’t arise at dawn to shuffle off to the pasture to feed and water our miniature flock of friendly fluffy animals. We don’t lovingly shave off their wool, hand card it, spin it ourselves, and dye it using all-natural concoctions that we have made out of flowers we picked on our last forest walk around our property.

No, we haven’t got any of that around here.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Why is it that I know so many homeschooling families that live in the city, and I have the hardest time finding any city homeschooling blogs?” Sometimes I would like to kick back and read some stories from another mom or dad whose kids spend their days riding scooters up and down the sidewalk and take weekly trips to the museum, because while it might be nice to have acres of land on which to turn my kids loose, that’s not my family’s reality. It’s not my family’s goal or desire. We like having a rec center down the block and around the corner. We like having a dozen friends within walking distance. We like having pools and spray parks in our neighborhood. We like sharing a fence.

So, here we are, a handful of families who have also made the decision to educate their children, not removed from the hustle and bustle of city living, but right in the heart of it. It’s exciting, exhausting, and LOUD. It’s frustrating, annoying, and entertaining. It’s dirty, smelly, and friendly. There’s a lot of broken glass. It’s home.  ~Foster

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Welcome to Neighborhood Homeschool, a collaborative blog established by a group of homeschooling friends who love educating their children in urban settings.  Together we imagined an online space where we could tell our stories in our own unique voices.  We wished to showcase the exciting and ever-changing locations where homeschooling can take place in urban communities.  Our families are different; our reasons for homeschooling are different, but we share the desire to narrate our families’ lives and celebrate the urban setting.

This is the inaugural post!

I’m Erica, and I’m going to kick off this new blog with an introduction of my family and a look into our week.

I was not the parent who brought up the issue of homeschooling.  Nope.  My husband was drawn to the idea first.  We were both educators at the time, and we were in love with our first child, a little son.  Contemplating the big kindergarten questions–when ,where–my husband brought up home education.  I hesitated.  I admit I carried some negative stereotypes about homeschooling and homeschoolers, and I’ve never been one to go too far outside of the norm.  I didn’t think I could face the questions, the stares, the potential criticism.

But then something kind of magical happened.  After moving 1000 miles away, I kept meeting families who were educating their children at home, and I saw that they weren’t actually home much at all.  I was reminded of an article that I read years before–a piece that really stuck with me and probably represented the true beginning of my homeschool journey.  It appeared in the May-June 2008 issue of Mothering magazine when I had one almost-three-year-old at home and a baby on the way.  “The Never-At-Home Homeschoolers” by Patricia Zaballos sparked my interest and allowed me to contemplate what learning could look like with many of the traditional boundaries taken down.  (You can read a pdf version here.)  I pulled out that article again during the big kindergarten contemplation, and even though we ultimately found a good kindergarten class for our son at a small Christian school, homeschooling stuck in the back of my imagination.

We finally made the choice to educate our children at home in the winter of 2012, and we officially began homeschooling in the fall of that year.  I was the parent-teacher of a second grader, a preschooler (who still attended a preschool a few days per week), and a one-year-old.  That was our beginning.

Today, our school holds a fifth grade boy, a second grade boy, a preschool girl, a two-year-old boy, and a baby due this summer.  We’ve moved, created a new home in a new city, and transitioned through several homeschooling methods and styles.  Yet, through all that change, the exciting possibility of learning at any time and in any place still holds a joyful appeal.

This week, the beautiful weather drew us outside more and more.  We explored a local art sculpture that inspired a fun, rather math-y discussion about polygons and division and colors and motion. As a homeschool mom who worries a lot (far too much) about math and lack-of-math, I was totally thrilled!  The sculptor Guy J. Bellaver created this piece called “1970.” This is the beginning of a little project that we are doing as we explore outdoor art.  ~*~Erica

P1010979P1010984P1010987