Checking In

(This is an edited version of a previously published post.)

Hi!  We are mid way through our fourth week of the 2017-2018 school year today.  So far, things are going well, and this week we finally settled into a good routine.

One thing I changed this week: we actually did most of our school in the mornings this week.  In the Spring, the boys were doing better when we did school in the afternoon, so we had switched to doing our table time in the afternoons.  Sometime in the intervening months though, their optimal time for learning seems to have changed to morning, or at best, immediately after lunch.  If I wait too long after lunch, things don’t go as well.

Another thing I added/changed this week: I started letting the boys have “Tablet Time” one day a week.  Normally, when I am working with one boy, the other is working on his tray.  I decided to let them play some educational games/apps on their new tablet one day a week instead of doing the tray activities.  They loved it!  The tablet is still new to them, and it stays put away the majority of the time.  They love getting it to themselves for 15 – 30 minutes while I am working with the other brother.

And the last change I have made is splitting up Table Time.  My kindergartner’s work load is getting just a touch too big to tackle everything in one sitting anymore.  So, my new plan is Morning Basket and Round One of Table Time before lunch, and then another shorter session in the afternoon along with our read aloud time.

Not much of an update, but I wanted to keep a record for myself of what worked and what didn’t, so I could look back later!

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Lent 2017 Plans

Pinterest is lovely, but sometimes I find myself craving a sequential list with descriptions, especially when planning a “unit” or “season” of activities and lessons.  This post is really more for myself than anything, but I thought I would share with my friends in case they were looking for some meaningful Lenten activities to do with their little ones!

So, in case you hadn’t realized from the first paragraph, the majority of these plans are not my own creations!  I will link to all other websites or blogs here in this post.  So, without further ado, here are our plans for Lent!

Ash Wednesday
Post this calendar from CatholicIcing.  I printed this two years ago and laminated it.  My sons mark off each day with a dry erase marker.  I love all the liturgical colors and symbols on the path to Easter.  We have had many a conversation that stemmed from this calendar alone.  In fact, if a lot of activities overwhelm you, I would do just this one!
Do this craft and introduce this song from CatholicIcing.  Both the craft and the song help convey the meaning of Lent in a very easy to understand way for little ones!

Fridays During Lent
We will alternate devotions to do on Lenten Fridays during our Morning Basket, a Stations of the Cross Activity and a Sorrowful Mysteries activity.
Stations of the Cross Activity: This was *not* my idea in its entirety, and I cannot take credit for it.  Last year, a friend on the Internet posted about making these Stations of the Cross stones. They are just those clear pebble crafting stones from Hobby Lobby. Print small stations scenes and Mod Podge them on.  Here is what I added. I numbered them on the back, and made a Way of the Cross mat. We begin with the stones turned over, number side showing. As I read the station (from this simplified Stations of the Cross), my son finds the right number and puts it on in the mat.


Sorrowful Mysteries Activity: I printed these free rosary coloring pages from The Kennedy Adventures and laminated them.  The boys can color them over and over again with their dry erase markers.  They color the corresponding page as I read the mystery and prayers. (Note: the last time I used these, I noticed a typo.  On some of the cards, the gospel is listed as Mark when it should have been Matthew, or vice versa.  Check the Scripture beforehand so you aren’t flipping through the Bible while trying to keep little ones on task.)

Palm Sunday
This handprint and footprint craft looks like fun!  Plus, on a Sunday, I’ll have Daddy home to help!  😉

Holy Week
I plan on doing this awesome activity (again from CatholicIcing) throughout Holy Week.  It will probably take some time, but my map-loving boy will really enjoy it!  The idea is to recreate Jerusalem with wooden blocks so the kids can really see how things happened that week.  I wanted to do it last year, but we didn’t have wooden blocks.  We do this year, and I am really excited to do this hands-on approach to the events that take place during Holy Week.

Holy Thursday
We did this craft last year, and the boys enjoyed it so much, we are going to do it again!  After we complete this model of the Last Supper, we will use it as our centerpiece on the dining room table.  (I already have my egg carton set aside!)

Good Friday – Easter Sunday
Another activity I really wanted to do last year, but didn’t have the courage, haha!  The boys are another year older and ready for this now I think.  We are going to make a Resurrection Garden!  I am going to tweak the directions on this link just a bit though.  We will assemble the garden on Good Friday, and place a peg doll “Passion Jesus” in the tomb and place the rock over it.  (Peg dolls similar to these, but I will paint my own.)  On Easter Sunday morning, I will move the rock and place a “Resurrection Jesus” on top of the tomb.

So, that’s it a nutshell!  It looks like a lot, all typed out like that, but in reality, there will be several days where we don’t do anything…  I just love this liturgical season and am looking forward to sharing the beauty of it with my little ones!

Goodness, Truth, & Beauty – My Why

I have always loved to learn.  And I have always loved to teach.  The two have always gone hand in hand for me.  I can remember coming home from school as a child and setting up my chalkboard on my easel and “teaching” what I had learned that day.

And though it may shock most of my acquaintances, grades never mattered to me.  I know people probably roll their eyes when they hear me say that, but it’s true.  What motivated me more than a red 100% on the top of my papers was simply knowing.  I love learning for learning’s sake.

And so, it probably does not come as a shock that my most difficult assignment in all of my schooling was a paper that was assigned to me in a graduate education class.  The professor was the stern, overbearing type.  I don’t think she viewed herself in that light at all, but she was intimidating.  She questioned every answer given in class, continually playing The Devil’s Advocate, to the point that it was terrifying to speak up.  In retrospect, I am certain that she felt that she was simply challenging us, pushing us to be the best students and teachers (all of us in the class were already practicing educators) we could be, but it was a bit over the edge.

Anyhow, back to the assignment.  The professor asserted that students would never listen to us as teachers unless we had a why.  We had to know why an education mattered.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Then, we had to design a curriculum that would answer the why.  Nothing extraneous.  If it did not directly answer the why, then it should not be there.

I think it was supposed to be an inspiring, thought-provoking assignment.  And while I certainly did think, I found myself more discouraged than inspired.  Suddenly, I was viewing education through a very utilitarian lens. Everything that had ever enchanted me about learning became useless.  I couldn’t make the very subjects that made my heart flutter fit into a checklist of attributes that answered the great question why.

That was in 2010.  Fast forward 5 years to the fall of 2015.  In that span of 5 years, I gave birth to two sons, resigned from my public school teaching position, and entered the world of – dare I say it – homeschooling.  2010 me would have never believed what 2015 me was up to.  But, my firstborn would be on track to enter pre-k in the fall of 2016, and I was not thrilled with the idea of him being gone all day, every day.  I was still unsure of what my solution would be when I found out about a new homeschool group starting up in my area, a Classical Conversations community.  My children were too young to start the actual program, but could be part of the nursery.  I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to see what it was all about without committing upfront.  Little did I know what God had in store for me…

Over the course of that first year, I was amazed to discover classical education.  Here I was, a two-time graduate of a university known for its teacher preparation program and had never even heard of these principles.  I had only learned about the modern educational theorists and learning styles.  How could I hold two degrees in education and know so little of the history of education?  I had been told of course, that the pendulum of fads swings back and forth, and that over the course of my career, I would have to learn many of the new trends.  But I’m not talking about “the next new thing.”  I am talking about tried and true educational theories.  How did I know nothing of Charlotte Mason?  How had I never even heard of classical education?

Of course, being the avid reader and constant learner that I am, I began voraciously reading all the homeschool books I could get my hands on.  But, my unequaled “lightbulb” moment occurred while reading a daily devotion put out by Don Schwager.

“God gives us the freedom to choose whom and what we will love and not love.  We can love the darkness of sin and unbelief or we can love the light of God’s truth, goodness, and mercy.  If our love is guided by truth, goodness, and that which is truly beautiful, then we will choose for God and love Him above all else.  What we love shows what we prefer.”

All the reading I had been doing and all the podcasts I had been listening to were swirling around in my head.  The echoes of “goodness, truth, and beauty,” – principles of Charlotte Mason education, and the refrain “To know God and to make Him known,” – the motto of Classical Conversations…

It all came crashing to a screeching halt that morning.  And I finally understood why that one assignment had always challenged me and had always haunted me.  I had made an “A” on that paper, but I had never been truly satisfied with what I had written.  But on that brisk fall morning, as I read my daily devotion and watched my boys play under a brilliant blue sky, I sat back and basked in the moment that I had finally found my why.

Where to Begin?

I love a good book.  I love learning about learning.  Put those two together, and well, I am sorry if you run into me because I will be gushing about what I am reading and learning.  I can’t help myself.  I am a sharer.  If something thrills me, I cannot keep it to myself.  Everyone must know.  And everyone must like it as much as I do, haha.

This past summer, I was able to spend a lot of time reading.  My boys are to the age where they play reasonably well together, and so we spent many a morning in the backyard – they, scaling the swingset and digging up dino bones, I soaking up some Vitamin D and reading & learning.  I read several books on homeschooling and learning in general and thought I would share a brief review here.

If you are considering homeschooling, I highly recommend reading a few books.  The Internet is wonderful, but if you search Pinterest long, you will discover a multitude of blogs.  All very wonderful and useful, but if you don’t know how you feel about homeschooling and learning, you may find yourself following a method and curriculum that is better suited to someone else simply because you saw it on a blog.

Perhaps the first book I would recommend is Teaching in Your Tiara by Rebecca French.  She gives an excellent overview of the different schools of thought regarding education: classical, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, eclectic, etc.  It is also a great introduction to all the lingo that comes along with homeschooling!  Then, once you have a general idea of a method that you think might suit you, start reading some books that go into more detail.

An excellent read on the Charlotte Mason method is For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  I highly recommend this book to all parents, regardless of whether or not they plan to homeschool.  I would say this is a parenting book actually.  It is incredible to me that Charlotte Mason had such insight into children when she was not a parent herself.  She was a British educator in the early 1900s.  Her ideas were revolutionary at the time.  If you are a fan of Miss Stacy in the Anne of Green Gables series, you need to read this book.  I feel like I am a more patient, gentle, intentional mother for having read this book.

Here are some of my favorite Classical Education resources:
The Core by Leigh Bortins
Perhaps more than any other read, this book clearly lays out what exactly Classical Education is, and why it is effective.  As a former public (modern) school teacher, the first time I read this book, my mind resisted at every turn.  This was not how I was taught to teach.  It couldn’t be right.
And yet, I couldn’t quit reading it either.  It was intriguing.  By the time I reached the end, I was coming around to the idea of Classical Education.  The second time I read the book, I was sold.  In particular, the second chapter Why We Need Classical Education is riveting.
When I taught high school, I was constantly amazed at how many students didn’t seem to know basic facts.  Over time I realized it was not because they were unintelligent, but rather because memorization is no longer valued as an important skill.  Children as young as elementary school are “doing algebra,” “applying content to real world situations,” etc, but drill them on their multiplication tables and you might be shocked at how little they know.  In an effort to push our children to higher levels of accomplishment, we are actually depriving them of a very important step in their cognitive development.
I loved this passage from this book: “While rote memorization is currently considered unnecessary by many educators (as exemplified by the allowance of calculators before college math), classical educators consider it advantageous for two main reasons: 1. It strengthens the student’s brain by straining it a little more each day, and 2. the student takes in quality content that informs an educated person.  These differ greatly from the ‘edutainment’ offered to encourage elementary students to ‘enjoy’ school.  Classical educators prefer to prepare children to work hard at learning until the skills become enjoyable.  Consider this important difference: classical teachers prefer to teach children to like memorizing quality content (such as a rhyme or sonnet) so that one day they can enjoy difficult assignments.  We want their self-esteem to be based on actual accomplishments.”

The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer & Jessie Wise
This mother-daughter duo literally write the book on Classical Education.  I will confess that I haven’t even read the entire tome yet.  I have read the overview and the early years.  I found myself nodding my head throughout my reading.  In particular, I enjoyed this passage: “In the elementary-school years – grades 1 through 4 – the mind is ready to absorb information.  Since children at this age actually find memorization fun, during this period education involves not primarily self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts and training in basic thinking skills: rules of phonics and spelling and how to use them, rules of grammar and understanding good sentence structure,  poems, the vocabulary of foreign languages, the stories of history and literature, descriptions of plant and animals and the human body, how numbers work and the basics of mathematical thinking – the list goes on.”

I could literally write on this topic for hours.  But little tummies are rumbling, and that is probably enough for today.  Happy Reading!

CC Cycle 2 Week 6 Ideas

Hello all!

I’m not sure if this would be helpful to many people or not, so feedback would be greatly appreciated!  I thought I would try to post a few of lesson plan ideas for each week that tie-in with the CC Foundations Guide, as well as share the link to my Pinterest board for the week.  Let me know if that’s helpful!

My son is 4, soon to be 5, and though this is our second year to be part of a CC Community, it is his first year in a Foundations class.  Since he is so young, I am only focusing on Geography, Science, Timeline, Skip Counting, and the Presidents song consistently.  I will include the other subjects if I feel like he is up for it.

Science Memory Work
For this week’s Science Memory Work, we are having a little fun!  We watched The Berenstain Bears Don’t Pollute (Anymore!) and School House Rock Earth!  We may do some of the activities featured on the Pinterest board as well.

History Memory Work
This week, I decided to try out the History Sentence, which focuses on the Renaissance Period and mentions Shakespeare.  We read this cute, quirky book, Will’s Quill or How a Goose Saved Shakespeare by Don Freeman (author of Corduroy).  And wouldn’t you know the feathers were on sale this week at Hobby Lobby?  So, we brandished our quills (and had I had the forethought, I would have gotten some ink as well), and pressed the ends onto an ink pad and tried at our hand at writing with quills.  We decided pens were a marvelous invention.  😉

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Pinterest Board
Here’s the link to my Pinterest board for this week: https://www.pinterest.com/mamimeg/cc-cycle-2-week-6/.

Happy Homeschooling!

That We Should Live in Them

“You seem so happy,” my mom commented for not the first time in the past two months.  And she is right.  And the best part?  It’s not just a fleeting, savoring-my-favorite-flavor-of-ice-cream happy.  It’s a bone-marrow deep joy bubbling up in my soul.  It has caused me to pause and reflect on our current station in life.

You know what I didn’t see coming with homeschooling?

The complete and utter transformation of my heart. God is so good, and He knew that this homeschooling thing – it would be more than just a “thing” for me and so very much what I needed to be a better mother.  (Please note that I said “better,” not fantastic or great or even just good.  Each of these revelations listed below is coupled with some embarrassing admissions on my part about my human nature.)

  1. It makes me a more intentional mother.
    Some mothers are really good at this, even without homeschooling.  I am not.  I do not naturally find ways to tie learning into our daily life, mostly because I am really bad about doing everything myself because it is quicker and easier.
    Homeschooling has caused me to include my boys in more daily tasks and to find the teaching moments as we go.  We baked blueberry muffins last Friday.  The boys scooped and measured; Creed wanted to count how many holes were in the muffin tins, so we skip-counted by 3s to see how many there were; we talked about how baking, blue, and berry all start with the letter b.  Yesterday while reading our morning Bible story, there was a footnote about the Minoans, one of the civilizations mentioned in the CC timeline song.  Creed was so excited to recognize the word.  None of these are solely “homeschool” practices, and I am certain that they are things my mother did with me when I was a child.  For some reason or other though, I am much more intentional in our daily life now that we have a focused school time as a small part of our day.  Our actual instruction time only takes 45 minutes – 1 hour, but I find that it bleeds over spontaneously into the rest of our day.
  2. It makes me a more patient mother.  
    It is a rather pathetic character flaw of mine that I am more patient with people I am not related to than with my family.  Nothing is more humbling than the moment you realize that truth about yourself.  Seeing my children as students has caused me to be more patient with them.  But never fear – one can not simply turn off “mom mode.”  They will always be first and foremost my children.  🙂  The role of teacher/student though has definitely been a positive change around our home.
  3. It makes me a more peaceful mother.  
    Because I did not want school time to fall to the wayside, I have tried to establish a routine for our little school-house.  Oh my!  That has been such a boon to my housekeeping skills, as well as to my attitude towards chores.  I am easily overwhelmed when there are many items on my to-do list.  When my environment is cluttered, so is my mind.  When my mind is cluttered, I lose my patience.  But knowing that there are built-in times in my day when I will get x, y, or z done has been such a relief to my mind.  I can rest and focus on our Morning Basket when I know that during Morning Break, the boys will play and I will do dishes, make beds, and start laundry.  I can concentrate on Table Time knowing that after lunch, I will finish laundry and do what ever daily task that needs tending to.

Above all, I am reminded of these words from Scripture: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.”  (Ephesians 2:10) More than at any other time in my life, I feel certain that I am living out the good works that God had prepared for me.  I have always felt called to teach; my time as a public school teacher is full of treasured memories.  But there is a peace beyond telling in my current role as a teaching mama. What joy it has been to seek out “the good works that God has prepared” and to “live in them.”

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An Ode to the Unnoticed Hero

This morning, as the early dawn’s rays filtered through my bedroom window, I began to waken to the day before me.  Anticipation built in my head and my heart as I pondered what lie ahead.  After taking an extended weekend to spend time with family, and then our CC Community Day yesterday, we were finally getting to settle back into our routine.  How I had missed it!

The boys woke and began playing so sweetly together.  I fixed my hot coffee (unusual for me – I’m a hot tea girl), and then encouraged the boys to come out on the back patio with me.  They played; I enjoyed my mug of coffee, and then we came back in for Morning Basket.  We prayed, we read the Bible, we practiced our Memory Work, we went on a voyage around the world with our maps, we recited poetry, we read a story from the Treasury.  Then it was time for “Morning Break,” and the boys continued to play well together while I stripped the beds for sheet-laundering day and did the dishes.  I listened to my boys chatter while simultaneously listening to homeschool podcast.

In preparation for “Table Time,” I got out my lesson planner and weekly assignment binder.  And then it hit me, how this was all possible.  Other than God (who of course is truly The One who makes all things possible), my days – these dreamy, frustrating, lovely, sometimes exasperating days – are made possible by one sweet, quiet, steady man.  My husband.

He is so reserved.  It is so easy, scarily so, to forget, to take for granted the sacrifices he makes for me, for our sons.  He has an hour commute one-way each day, to a job with unpredictable hours.  He is gone much of the day.  He is so reliable.  Never do I question whether he will be able to hold down his job.  Any doubts I have regarding homeschooling do not stem from his role as a homeschool dad.

People often comment to me that they “couldn’t do that” when they find out that we have begun our homeschool journey.  But you know what I couldn’t do?  My husband’s job.  And he does it so unflinchingly, so steadily.  So today, I just wanted to proclaim my gratitude for the member of our family who makes it possible for me to do what I love every single day.  And he’s pretty cute to boot!  And he belongs to me!