Our Simple Homeschool Days

Our fourth week of homeschool is underway. School days have fallen into a nice rhythm and I’ve been constantly reminded how blessed I am to get to stay home with my children and teach them.

I’ve looked forward to homeschooling since I was a teenager roaming the halls of curriculum conferences and making mental lists of curriculum to revisit when I had kids someday. Now I get to do it.

Homeschooling is more challenging, more fun, more patience-demanding, and more rewarding than I ever dreamt.

We’re following a mostly classical approach, with a strong emphasis on stories (aka Charlotte Mason) with plenty of time to develop their imaginations and “just be kids”.

Here’s a peek into our incredibly simple, but fun, homeschool days.

Painting a map of ancient EgyptMy online search for a large Bible map was futile, so we painted one. (I was going to paint it myself, but this post inspired me to include the kiddos in *my* projects. The map turned out incredible!) 

While the children finish their breakfast, I read aloud to them, straight from the Bible. My goal is to read through the majority of the stories each year, roughly following the church calendar.

Once a week, they attend a Classical Academy and get to learn things that I’m not at all good at (like music, art, and Latin) and do things that are extra fun in a group, like science experiments and history activities.

The other days, the kids line up to recite the Apostle’s Creed and sing a song or two.

After all of five minutes, everyone is dying of thirst, so we take a water break. Parched mouths sated, we sit down around the little school room table to start our “memory hour”.

Memory Hour: 

  • Scripture Memory:  Last year at the Academy, Rose was challenged to learn two verses from Psalms a week. I didn’t think it was possible. It is! Rose and Will can both recite Psalm 1-7, plus many other verses. It’s amazing what a child can learn if you just work on it a few minutes a day! Each day, we review the Psalms and other Scripture passages we’ve already learned using a memory jar, then work on the next passage. We’re continuing through the Psalms this year, though adding in a few additional Scripture passages.
  • Latin: With the resurgence in classical education, Latin-learning has regained popularity. I know all the arguments in favor of Latin, like “English is based on Latin” (around 90% of words with more than two syllables stem from it) and “What English is now, Latin was for almost two millennia”, but what convinced me most of it’s worthwhileness was something Joshua said on a lovely ice cream date in the park (and I paraphrase) “How many children in America actually master a second language well enough to use it? Often it just fades into the back of their brains. Of all the languages to ‘be in the back of a child’s brain’ what better language than Latin?” My good friend Peggy teaches Latin at the Academy and is working on the best Latin curriculum* for kids ever. It’s complete with picture flashcards and engaging Latin stories. During our “memory hour” at home, we review a set or two of flashcards and occasionally listen to Mater Anserina, a beautifully translated collection of Mother Goose rhymes.
  • Poetry:  Still seated around our little school room table, we review and work on poetry. Just like with Scripture memory, I’ve been utterly surprised and pleased with how quickly children can master poems if you just work a little each day. Currently, they’re memorizing Little Things and The Swing.  (I’m almost done compiling an elementary poetry curriculum for my kiddos….more on that soon!)
  • History: This year we’re studying Creation through the Fall of Rome, roughly following Veritas Press’ Ancient Egypt & Old Testament and New Testament, Greece, and Rome outlines. At the Academy, I get to help tell history stories and do history-themed activities. During our memory hour at home, we just listen to the timeline song (with optional worksheets and activities after lunch).
  • Other memory: We usually use up all our time, but if there’s extra, the kids love listening to “memory songs”, like these.

Math

My friend Kathryn introduced us to the Life of Fred math books. We are hooked! The tagline of the series is Math: as serious as it needs to be. Instead of tears and endless hours of copy work, we’re reading stories of Fred, a five-year-old Math professor, and the myriad of ridiculous ways he uses math every day.

We started with the very first book, Apples. In the first three weeks, we’ve laughed and giggled our way through sets, basic algebra terminology, geometric shapes, cardinal numbers, and time-telling, plus basic addition and subtraction.

So far, the concepts have been simple enough that the short drills (aka Your Turn to Play sections) have been sufficient practice. If we ever need more, I’ll use worksheets from Math-U-See or Kahn Academy.

Reading James Herriot's Treasury for Children My cheesy students, reading James Herriot’s Treasury for Children—a sweet and highly recommended collection of veterinary stories

Until this point in our day, we do the schoolwork together. Even Meg enjoys sitting in on the memory and math time, and has picked up so much just by listening and trying to follow along. (Edmund’s attempts at participation are cute, but admittedly distracting. Thankfully he still takes an nice morning nap!) Not until we hit English Arts do we have to split up.

English Arts:

  • Literature: There are few things as fun as getting read to by your child, especially when the stories are enjoyable for adults too! Rose is currently reading James Herriott’s Treasure for Children (and loving it). Also on the literature list are The Cabin Faced WestBeatrice Potter’s CollectionLittle House on the Prairie; The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe….
  • Writing: Last year, at the Academy, Rose amazed me with how well she was able to write stories, but I think I pushed her too hard. This year we’re taking it slowly. Our goal is to have children that can craft good stories like the children in Lewis’ Calormen . We’re using the traditional classical method of retelling, loosely following ideas from IEW.
  • Spelling and Handwriting: While Will works on phonics, Rose pulls out handwriting paper and practices handwriting and spelling. Since Phonics Pathways laid such a good spelling foundation, we’re just using lists like the days of the week to practice spelling while she works on handwriting (a skill that needs some work!)

Phonics Pathways Fun

Will learning to read with Phonics Pathways. Since he’s not quite ready to write yet, he “spells” words with letter tiles. 

Phonics: This spring Will asked me to teach him how to read. I wasn’t sure he was up for it yet, but he kept begging and begging. It seemed cruel to say “no” to that! So we began our reading adventure, cuddled on the couch together. At first it was slow going, but he kept pulling out Phonics Pathways day after day, just as chipper as could be. Now he’s reading three letter words well and cannot wait for each day’s new lesson.

One of the things I love about Phonics Pathways is that it incorporates spelling right into the curriculum. Since he’s working on getting the hang of writing, we made little letter tiles and he gets to “spell” the words with them.

Homeschool Never Stops:  Although our official homeschool day wraps up around lunchtime, one of the things I love most about homeschooling is that the learning never really ends. Bedtime literature with Joshua, nature walks, random map-making projects, and practical home economics blend school and “life” beautifully.

And that’s our homeschool day in a nutshell.

Homeschooling Mamas? What are your days like? 

  May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWorks for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

Imagination: the Best Toy Ever

The grandest of all toys is free: it's simply a well-developed imagination.

“Mama! Today was one of the best days ever!” Will sang as he came running inside for dinner. What did we do that was so fun?

Nothing.

After a delightfully busy month, this week I cleared the schedule. I turned down wonderful sounding events so we could just stay home. Aside from our simple summer routine of memory work, story-time, and chores, I had nothing at all planned.

So the best-day-ever was almost exactly like yesterday, which was pretty much exactly like the day before. And yet it wasn’t, because of the best of all toys: imagination.

This morning Will was a farmer happily digging up dirt “to sell”. Then he was a king building a castle under the picnic table with Queen Rose.

When rain interrupted the castle construction, they came inside to read stories that transported us to faraway places.

After his nap, Will travelled on a Lego airplane to outer space… then he hid in a make-believe cave under the stairs. The rain kindly stopped in time for Will to emerge from his cave and build volcanos out of all the dirt he dug up this morning.

Parents spend hundreds of dollars on toys each year, but the simple fact remains, imagination is the best toy ever. (And it's totally free!)

Want to develop your child’s imagination? Here are five simple strategies.

Imagination: the Best Toy Ever

So you see, we hadn’t actually gone anywhere exciting or done anything new. But the mud-covered creature that came running in for dinner (and a shower!) with a huge grin on his face, had travelled around the world and through time. He was happy proof to me that imagination is the best of all toys.

His joy was an acknowledgment that in this fast-paced, electronics-dominated culture, it’s okay to just “do nothing” and let imaginations run wild.

Growing Little Gardeners

“Why try to explain miracles to your kids,” asks Robert Brault, “when you can just have them plant a garden?”

Planting tiny seeds, then waiting and watching as they sprout into fruitful plants, really is like watching many mini-miracles blossom. This is the main reason I love to garden with my children. Gardening makes us stand in awe again and again of God’s amazing creation.

photo credit 

There are many other reasons to garden together.

Follow me on over to The Purposeful Mom to read the rest. This post is part of her “Spring into Summer” Series. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts for summery fun! 

How to Maintain [Some] Order in a Shared Kids’ Room

Like many of you, my children share a room. Sharing a room teaches valuable lessons about simplicity, getting along and life. However, trying to fit all the toys and clothes for multiple children in a small room and leave room for playing is a challenge.

Rearranging the furniture for optimal floor space helps, but pursuing simplicity in the toy and clothes collection is essential.

Ten ways to simplify the toys:

Christmas & birthdays. Thrift store finds. Generous friends.

Before you know it, your child’s room can be overflowing with toys. Toys are meant to be played with. To loosely paraphrase Solomon, “where no children are, the toys are picked up, but happily playing children are a great blessing.” (Prov. 14:4)

Boy building blocks

 photo credit

However, more toys do not necessarily equal more happiness. A few sticks and pebbles are all some children in the world have. I’m not sure American kids are any happier with their buckets and buckets of toys.

Here are a ten ways that I try to balance fun and simplicity.  (You can see pictures of my children’s room here, though I’ve rearranged it since then.)

  1. Distinguish between durable and disposable toys. Some of my children’s toys I hope my grandchildren will play with, like Duplos. Some toys however (say the Easter eggs from the neighbor) I consider disposable and only keep for a few weeks. After the fun has worn off they are donated or tossed.
  2. Choose neutral toys, when possible. Dolls and trucks are practically indispensable parts of a toy collection, but you don’t need a pink and blue version of everything!
  3. Say “No!” Just because you’re offered free hand-me-downs or find a toy for a quarter at a yard sale, doesn’t mean your child needs it. Sometimes, you just need to say “no!” (Or let your children play with them for a few weeks and then pass them on.)
  4. Rotate the toys so that there are less toys out and they get “new” toys regularly.
  5. Set mess perimeters. I mentioned this in my post on clutter, but having a few guidelines for where and when toys can be played with makes such a difference! We have set clean-up times several times daily as well as a “no toys in the living room after dinner” rule. Play with one toy “set” at a time, then put it away (we’re working on this one!)
  6. Keep birthdays & Christmas gifts simple: Laura Ingalls was happy with a tin cup and a penny. You can show your love without going overboard. Choose quality over quantity.
  7. Gifts are a way many grandparents, other family members or friends show their love. However, sometimes the influx of gifts can get overwhelming, especially if you’re dealing with multiple children in a small room. This is a sensitive issue and may not be wise or kind in all situations, but  if possible, respectfully address overly generous gift-givers. My children have been blessed with grandparents that are so thoughtful of my children and me with their gifts. But, if you are getting overwhelmed by gifts, try to find a kind way to encourage gifts that will bless your child and you. A frazzled mom is not a good gift! A few possible ideas: offer hints for toys your child would treasure, let them know that what your child has plenty of toys and would most like would be to spend time with them (a trip to the zoo, museum, etc.) or set up an Amazon wish list for your child. (Remember though, never wound someone who loves your child over gifts!)
  8. Embrace the simple things. Boxes for boats, blankets for forts, chairs for houses. Children are so creative and content! Often, it’s the parent not the child who thinks they need more.
  9. Donate, sell or toss unused toys. Clearing out the toys that aren’t loved makes room to really enjoy the treasured toys. If you find toys consistently taken out and forsaken (for you to step on ;)) it’s time for them to go!
  10. Get outside. Let them play with the sticks and pebbles… and maybe even take a dip in the mud.

This post is getting dreadfully long. We’ll have to tackle the kids’ clothes Wednesday…

(Thank you Jenn, from the lovely blog The Purposeful Mom for inspiring this post with your comment! )

What about you? How do you handle all the toys? I would *love* your ideas (especially since we plan to add little Meg to the kids’ room soon)! 

Linking up at Handful of Heart and Better Mom Monday 

21 Ways to Clear out the Brain Clutter

We all know what a cluttered home looks like: stuff lies scattered about and we stumble over the piles of laundry and stub our toes on Duplos.

I hate clutter.

Brain clutter is like house clutter. Brain clutter dampens our focus and distracts us. Brain clutter is all the unfinished matters we need to attend to that distract us while we’re working on a task.

photo credit

 

Ever been washing the dishes and remembered, “Oh, I forgot to pay the water bill.” So, before you forget, you leave the dishes and go pay the water bill. While online, you remember an email you read this morning that just has to get answered….

Am I the only one?

Recently, I read Blogging with Amy’s post about how to keep your inbox clean. That post finally turned the brain clutter light-bulb on. I used to read an email, then think about it while I did laundry, then read it again (sometimes days or weeks later) before finally getting around to responding. My response was generally late and I wasted so much mental energy!

I teach my children, “play with your toys, then put them away before you get something else out.”

You and I may not play with toys like a toddler, but the same principle still applies. Finish the task at hand.  

My brain is still cluttered at times, but it is getting tidier and I feel so much more productive! Would you like to join my journey to de-clutter the brain and keep it cleared? 

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to post 21 practical tips to help eliminate brain clutter. Not all tips will be practical for everyone, but I hope we all walk away encouraged!

  1. Start each day recognizing Whose you are. Jumping into the day feet first may seem more logical, but as Christians, we are not our own. Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over you and your plans. As Passionate Homemaking encourages, start your day by getting dressed in your spiritual clothes.
  2. Identify the tasks you tend to procrastinate on, then do them early in the day! For me that means get dressed before breakfast. Otherwise, the day picks up speed and before I know it, it’s ten and I’m still in my pajamas… which for some (rather logical) reason, makes my brain feel cluttered and behind. Get the tasks you dread out of the way first; it helps clear your mind for the rest of the day!
Do you struggle with brain clutter? How do you eliminate it?
linked up at Proverbs 31 Thursday and Hearts 4 Home and Finer Things Friday

Learning to Say “No”

Christmas is around the corner. The calendar and pocketbook are being tugged at from every corner.

Cookie exchanges, Christmas performances, and holiday get-togethers vie for our time. It seems like every time I enter a store or turn on the computer, some new item that no one on my Christmas list needs, but would be so fun to get anyway, shows up. On sale of course.

The temptation to over-commit and over-spend is strong.

We must learn to say “no!”

Even to some of those incredibly delightful sounding parties or tempting books on sale for $5.50. Not so that we can play Scrooge, but so that we make room for the best, with no regrets come January.

We must make room to treasure the true Meaning of Christmas.

It's the season of love, joy, and endless demands on the schedule and pocketbook. Learn to say "No!", so that you can say "Yes!" to the best.

photo by Benjamin Earwicker

Learning to Say No

I hate saying “no” to events. Partly because I don’t want to miss out on any of the fun, partly because I don’t want to offend a friend. After numerous times of reaping the consequences of over extending myself, I’m slowly getting better.

As Crystal from Money Saving Mom points out, the purpose of learning to say “no” is so that we can say “yes” to the best.

We simply cannot do everything. (Or buy everything.) Time and money are limited resources. Saying “yes” to one thing of necessity means saying “no” to something else.

Prioritize

 Choose what is most important for your family, at this season of life, and let go of the rest.

Know your limits

 Some women can bounce from activity to activity without letting it affect their home, their family life, or their attitude. I cannot. Just because another woman/family is hostessing or attending fifty activities doesn’t mean it would be wise for me to.

Likewise, each of our Christmas budgets are different. We’re working intensely on paying off school loans. In the long run that’s a much better gift to our children than a large play set (that probably wouldn’t even fit in their room!)

Don’t commit immediately

It’s not an earth-shattering idea or anything, but it has been so helpful since I read about it a few months ago (I wish I could remember where!) Graciously say you need to check your schedule and/or talk to you husband before saying “Yes!”. This helps avoid an impulse decision that you’ll regret or, even worse, have to back out of later. (Don’t ask me how I know!)

Clear out the clutter

De-cluttering in December is weird. It’s also a very strong motivator to avoid impulse purchases. Many of those “50% off TODAY ONLY!” items will end up in the donation pile within a few months.

Simplify other areas of your life

The schedule is almost always more full at Christmas, so simplify other areas if you can. Unless you are forced by budget constraints or pressing health needs, lighten up a bit on yourself. As Joshua reminds me, “It’s not a sin to use paper plates!”

Most importantly, give thanks!

 We’re celebrating the greatest Gift ever given to mortals: God Himself as our Redeemer! No celebration can come close to being more lavish than that Gift. Yet don’t let the celebration cloud the Cause!

Learn to say “No!”, so you can say “Yes!” to the best

Learning to say “No” is hard, but so totally worthwhile. Every time we say “Yes!” to something, we’re saying “No!” to something else. By learning to prioritize, recognize our limits, and simplify, we can make sure we have room in our hearts and schedules to say “Yes!” to the best.

How do you stay sane during the holidays? (And have you ever had to back out of a commitment?) 

Simplify the Children’s Wardrobes

“He was clad rather shabbily (but, as it seemed, more owing to his mother’s carelessness than his father’s poverty) in… very wide and short trousers, shoes somewhat out at the toes, and a chip-hat, with the frizzles of his curly hair sticking through its crevices.”

Many years later, Hawthorne’s description of “the little urchin” in House of the Seven Gables lives fresh in my mind.

None of us want to be that careless mother. Thankfully, it no longer takes the average mom hours with a needle in hand to make enough shirts to last her son through the summer.

Our problem is generally quite different: an over abundance.

As moms, the goal is simple: to start the morning in clean clothes. (Who can vouch for them after an hour at the park?!) You don’t need a dresser full of clothes or half a dozen pairs of shoes to accomplish this!

In fact, a simple wardrobe makes it easier to keep the children presentable. Have you ever stared blankly at a full closet wondering “What in the world should they wear?” By limiting the selection to a few durable outfits you (and they) like, when morning rolls round you don’t have to wade through a heap of clothes to find something appropriate. And matching.

Too many clothes is most American’s problem. Why not hand the excess on to someone who really needs?

Two simple questions help determine how many outfits your child needs to avoid “urchin status” and keep the wardrobe manageable.

How many messy is your child? My toddler can easily go through two or three outfits a day (and sons are, reportedly, even messier), but usually it is more like one to two outfits daily.

How often do you do laundry? Of course, if it isn’t dirty, don’t wash it! There’s nothing wrong with wearing the same outfit two days in a row.

With those two questions in mind (and using  need in the loosest sense possible) what clothes does your child need to be presentable, cute and clean?

This list works for us:

  • Dress clothes: Two or three outfits.
  • Everyday clothes: Seven or eight outfits.
  • Pajamas: In the summer a clean t-shirt and shorts work great. Then in the morning they’re set to play. In the winter a couple warm snugly pairs are nice.
  • Shoes: dress shoes and a pair for everyday play (if they’re neutral all the better!)
  • Socks and undies: a 8-10 pairs of  socks for every day and a couple pairs of nice socks… and about twenty pairs of underwear if you’re potty training!
  • For girls: Hair bands, ribbons and bows. The simplest difference between “urchin-like” and presentable is simply making sure hair isn’t covering the eyes.
  • Summer fun: Swimwear, “wet shoes” (we LOVE crocs!) and a sunhat or two.
  • Winter warmth: Jacket, gloves, hat and winter boots.

Another way to keep it simple if you have boys and girls is to gravitate towards neutrals. I’m all for masculine boys and feminine girls, but coats and play sandals, underwear and everyday socks don’t need to be covered in dolls or trucks. Leather, tan, chocolate, or any shade of green works for well for either gender.

What works for you?

photo by Siewlan

Top 10 Baby Toys

Tomorrow, my little princess turns three. Rosalind has been looking forward to June second for weeks. I can hardly believe it’s almost here: that for three years we’ve had her bubbling joy fill our home.

And that in three short years I have answered 5,620,103 questions. At least.

Watching your child open a gift and see the look of joy in their eyes delights a parent. Yet it is generally acknowledged that little children prefer non-toys. Rosalind cried her first Christmas when we took the wrapping paper away and gave her the teddy bear.

A baby’s gift is exciting just because it is wrapped. These are my baby’s favorite toys:

  1. Wrapping paper
  2. Pacifier (for chewing on, of course)
  3. Water bottles
  4. A ring of metal measuring spoons (more sanitary than keys, but still so fun and jingly)
  5. Refill wet wipe container
  6. Plastic cup
  7. Pots and pans
  8. Mommy’s mouse, camera or cellphone
  9. Child proof vitamin bottle (forget the rattle, folks–and fill with beans or something safe, just in case!)
  10. Shoes

The blocks may cut it for a few minutes, but then it is off to find something more exciting. Like my water bottle.

It constantly amazes me how content children are with the simplest of “toys”, especially if mommy plays with them!