A Few Practical Homeschooling Tips

Happy weekend before Christmas!  Are you ready?  Since my family is moving back across the country in a couple days, we elected to skip decorating or getting a tree (instead, we helped my parents get theirs) and have been relying on our awesome friends here in Iowa for the other traditions like gingerbread houses, caroling, and Christmas cookies.  So I have nothing to say about Christmas traditions today, but I am taking this packing break to reflect back on what I’ve learned about making our homeschool work this year.

First of all, I have come to accept that homeschooling is a full-time job, and the more kids you add into the mix, the less time you will have for other things like cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping!  It is totally feasible to homeschool one child for kindergarten and first grade for an hour in the afternoons while the younger kids are napping, and you can continue on with morning play groups, Bible studies, and the like, without totally changing your lifestyle yet.  With more and older kids, though, you have to spend your whole day schooling, and you’re probably not going to be able to do loads of laundry or clean the house.  When our house started getting out of hand, my husband and I sat down and instituted Saturday morning cleaning chores.  Each of my kids has three tasks, ranging from cleaning bathrooms (the big two) to washing windows and vacuuming (the little ones).  My husband and I oversee things, and by noon on Saturday, the house is as clean as it ever gets.  We didn’t need to do this when the kids were younger and I had daily cleaning tasks that I had the time to do myself, but now that my weekdays are as full as my husband’s, the weekend is for cleaning.

Along the same lines, my cooking has become streamlined in this season of life.  We love to try new recipes and learn new techniques, but now I mostly save that sort of thing for the weekend and stick with tried-and-true dishes during the week.  I use my crockpot multiple times a week, especially for the evenings when we have dance lessons or art class right up until dinner time.  Pretty much every single week, we do a whole chicken with carrots and potatoes in the crockpot, then I make broth overnight and do a soup (bacon and bean, chicken noodle, potato, etc) with it the next day.  I’ve also finally taught my kids to eat beans, so we also have a weekly crockpot beans-and-rice night, either with pinto beans (which I blend with my stick blender to make refried beans) or black beans (which we eat whole over rice and then use the leftovers in chicken tortilla soup or Mexican chicken).  Throw in a pasta night (my big kids can cook tortellini and slice up chicken sausage and put together a green salad, so that’s a night I don’t have to do a thing) and our traditional Friday night pizza-and-movie night (by now I can make pizza dough in my sleep, and the kids make up the pizzas), and that’s pretty much our weeknight meals.  Predictable, but with some variety in the general categories.

This fall, Anna rocked my world by telling me she has a set menu for breakfasts and lunches.  I’d never done that–I mean, I have a variety of options, from oatmeal to cereal to eggs, and I let the kids choose.  Choice is good, right?  Except it’s not when it literally cripples them, as it does my middle girls, who I was spending an hour or more each morning cajoling to eat.  After Anna’s pep talk, I announced that we’d be instituting a weekly breakfast menu. (We still do sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, but that’s usually not a source of conflict, so I haven’t set up anything official.) The kids whined at first, but after a week or so, my kids all admitted that they liked not having the pressure of deciding what to eat every single morning!  Here’s our rough breakfast plan:

Monday–muffins (Mondays are hard, so if I get up early and bake muffins, it sets a positive, fun tone for the week!)

Tuesday–oatmeal (overnight baked if I have time, stovetop if I don’t–two of the kids complain about it, but I still allow fun toppings–mini chocolate chips, coconut flakes, or fruit–so they’re doing better about eating it than I expected)

Wednesday–egg something–scrambled, omelets, over easy with toast, French toast

Thursday–oatmeal again (It’s cheap!)

Friday–bacon or sausage or something a little more fun, like crumpets or sausage gravy and biscuits

Saturday and Sunday–since Daddy’s home and the kids have more time, it depends.  The big kids might make pancakes and waffles, or we might do cold cereal, or if we have company, we might do something fancier.

In the school realm, I’ve long bemoaned the fact the public schools are cutting down recess time, but I’ve only this year truly committed to giving my kids a solid half-hour recess every morning at 10:30, rain or shine.  In good weather, they have to be outside, running around, riding bikes, roller skating, or jumping rope.  In bad weather, I turn on the La La Land soundtrack and we dance!  I used to try to just push through with schoolwork until lunch, but frustration levels decrease and concentration increases when we take a good brain break.  (Also, this is usually when I tackle the breakfast dishes, take a shower if I didn’t get one in before breakfast and school started, and do any set-up or photo copying for school stuff.)  Sometimes they’re playing so well that it’s hard to pull them back in.  Sometimes I just pull one kid in for a quick one-on-one phonics or Latin lesson.  Sometimes I let the little girls stay outside and keep playing (because they’re often basically done with school by that point) while I drag the big kids in for more schoolwork.  Sometimes the kids are begging to come inside after two minutes, and I tell them they can’t come in until the timer goes off!  Regardless, it’s a really important part of our day.

I’ve alluded to our four-day-a-week schedule before, but this semester, while we’ve been temporarily living in a new place, it’s been a key part of our homeschool life to spend four days on all our formal seatwork then take a field trip on the fifth day.  I picked up these amazing field trip journals this summer (designed by a homeschool mom for homeschoolers!), and according to them, we’ve been on 18 unique field trips this fall, not counting the repeat visits to the local children’s museum.  I’m a huge believer that exposure to museums, monuments, and presidential libraries is an essential part of a well-rounded education.  (Sometimes the field trip is just to the local library, which is more low key for me, but still fun for the kids, too.)  In addition, each child has a nature journal for our nature hikes, park trips, and botany studies, which we actually have time to do when we have that free fifth day.  We don’t use textbooks for science, because I literally remember nothing I read in a textbook before high school, but our journals allow the kids to record the things they want to remember and refer back to them.

And lastly, this is a silly thing, but our other favorite new discovery for the 2017 school year has been Frixion erasable pens.  They really work, they’re amazing, and I will never back to regular pens again!  I’ve long been a pencil (Ticonderoga only!) and colored pencil (Prismacolor!) snob, but the kids think it’s such a treat to write in pen, and when it can be erased just as easily as a pencil, I can be the cool mom and let them.  Somehow a math practice page is just less daunting with a pink pen in hand.

What practical homeschool (or homemaking) survival tips have you figured out this year?  Will you be switching anything up after the holidays?

 

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Posted in Good Food, Homeschooling, Practical Housekeeping | 1 Comment

Deep Roots

We’re living in Iowa for the fall, so of course the kids and I have been out hiking in this wonderful Midwest countryside, learning all about Iowa plants, especially prairie grass. Prairie grass can grow higher than my ten year old’s head, but even more remarkably, its root systems are three times as big as what you see above the ground!

As my kids were sketching away in their nature journals, I reflected on how these deep prairie grass roots are similar to the roots I’m investing in my kids’ lives each day. You usually can’t see the literal blood, sweat, and tears that I put into my children, morning, noon, and night, but that doesn’t mean that the unseen, mundane mothering is not essential for the visible flourishing. When you see my tall, happy, healthy ten year old boy who is helping boost his little sister up to drink out of the drinking fountain or who quickly goes and rounds up everyone’s coats while I’m saying my last goodbyes at church, I see the thousands of hours of reading, playing, and snuggling together that I’ve invested so that our relationship is one of security and deeply felt love. I see the hundreds of times I’ve had to follow through with consequences when he hasn’t immediately obeyed me, training him that we obey “right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart.” I see all the sibling squabbles when I’ve had to drop everything I was doing and referee, sometimes for hours, and the extra time I’ve invested in making sure that he doesn’t just obey me and share with his sisters, but that I actually reach his heart and help him see how important it is that he see those three little girls as precious gifts, not just inconvenient pests. I see the times that he’s down on himself for failing again and I have to speak words of encouragement and praise for the progress he’s made in other areas. Anyone who has helped their child overcome a sinful tendency knows just how often our attention and assistance are essential to this little person with an immortal soul. Even as I’ve sat and typed out this paragraph, I’ve had to pause about six times for a parenting investment!

We full-time mothers often struggle to articulate what is so wrong about those working mom blog posts that insist they do everything we do—and put in 50 hours a week at the office, too. Such a comparison is ridiculous, of course, because it’s only focusing on the visible things (yes, we all feed our children dinner and drive them to soccer practice) and pretending that a human soul can be adequately tended merely on evenings and weekends. It’s like comparing two plants, both which grow to ten feet tall, without noting that one has roots that will hold it secure in a thunderstorm while the other is rooted so shallowly that anyone can come along and pull it up. If you’re on a nature hike with a two year old who has managed to push her stroller over the side of a hill dropping 30 feet into a ravine, which kind of plant would you want her to encounter on the way down? In our case, catastrophe was averted for both toddler and stroller because the deep roots of the prairie grass held fast and stopped her close enough to the top for us to hoist her back up. Deep roots are important, even though you can’t see them.

If you are a new mom holding a baby who is sleeping or crying most of the time, and you don’t see that producing breastmilk or mixing up a bottle is building any roots, think of the security and nurture that you are giving your child with skin-to-skin contact, gazing into each other’s eyes, knowing each other’s smells and sounds and facial expressions. As a certified foster parent, I can tell you countless stories of kids who don’t have that bond in their early weeks and months and struggle to adapt for the rest of their lives.

If you are a mom in the trenches with two or more little people, plus a baby, wearing spit up on your shirt and reaching into your purse for your wallet and pulling out a sippy cup instead, don’t let the world tell you that you’re wasting your talents or (strangely, often simultaneously) that your company is not enough for your child. The kind of socialization your preschoolers need is not a room full of other three year old narcissists overseen by one or two unrelated childcare professionals (no matter how sweet). Your little people need to know how they fit into a family unit, the basis of community, and they need to be cared for by an adult who loves them and who will never stop loving them or praying for them to grow into men and women of integrity and faith. There are many important jobs out there, but nothing is more important than the tending of a human soul.

If you are a homeschooling mom like Anna and Bethany and me, don’t measure yourself by your failures (as opposed to the homeschooling supermom you follow on Instagram). And if you haven’t noticed, we can’t do it all, either. Notice that we’re not doing much blogging anymore? Our own housefuls of students are keeping us busy. Repent openly to your children when you lose your temper, ask the same of them, and remember that each new day is a new chance for you and your kids to grow in self control and diligence. Don’t let yourself think that nothing was accomplished because “all” you did today was math, spelling, and reading aloud. Even if your kids need a calculator and spell check when they’re adults, they won’t forget the comfort of snuggling on the couch, reading Farmer Boy or Charlotte’s Web or The Hobbit. You’re the primary influence shaping their tastes and aspirations, and you know better than anyone else when they need a read-aloud day (and when they just need to buckle down and do their Latin and drill their math facts and finish that writing assignment). You are the world’s leading expert on your child.

Go tend those roots!

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Posted in For New Moms, Importance of Mothers | Leave a comment

Hidden Art Friday 

You guys, I just had the best banana bread of my life. If you don’t have ripe bananas, go buy some now. You need to make this browned butter buttermilk banana bread recipe, stat. I am in love with browned butter, and it makes your kitchen smell divine.

Do you do a special breakfast for the first day of school?  Our first day will be Tuesday, which is rather late compared to most of our friends, but we just moved across the country after my 6 year old had major surgery this summer, so we’ve taken all of August off.  Most of the year, we just have oatmeal or granola for breakfast, but I do like celebrating the start of a new school year with a special meal.  In the past, I’ve done muffins, cinnamon rolls, or French toast.  I’m thinking banana bread (because we’re in love with this recipe) and bacon this year.  Any other ideas I just have to try?

Happy September!

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Posted in Good Food, Hidden Art Fridays | 2 Comments

Book Review: Classical Me, Classical Thee

After I reviewed Eve in Exile on here (back in May), Canon Press contacted me to say that Bekah Merkle had written another book, this time on classical Christian education, and would I be interested in reviewing it? I was thrilled–anything Bekah and her sister Rachel write is an auto-read for me (I feel like I’m on a first-name basis with them because I listen to their podcast and follow them on Instagram)! But I clarified to Canon that we’re a blog for stay-at-home moms, not exactly the target audience for a book written expressly to high school students. As it turns out, this blog isn’t such an odd place to talk about the book, after all.

Classical Me, Classical Thee is indeed a quick read (I finished it over my morning tea) that eloquently and concisely articulates the reasons for a classical Christian education and its associated odd subjects for a skeptical teenager.  It’s also a good refresher for a parent like me who has spent years developing my philosophy of education and yet found myself stuttering this week when my ten year old looked over my shoulder while I was lesson planning and asked with a groan why he had to spend so much of his school day doing Latin this year.  And I think it’s a great, brief read for a young mom who is just starting to figure out what she thinks about the school options for her four year old.  At the very beginning of this philosophical journey, a long, detailed treatise (Bekah’s father literally wrote the book on classical Christian education) might be too much at this stage, and a detailed how-to-manual (I recommend The Well-Trained Mind, which provides the structure for our family’s particular flavor of classical Christian homeschooling) can look too crazy overwhelming.  Enter this little book–a brief fly-over of the topic that will hopefully have high school students turning back to their Latin translations with a bit more zest and certainly was just what this quasi-veteran homeschooler of six years needed to remind me of the big picture of why I’m being so counter-cultural in my children’s education in the first place.

Classical Me, Classical Thee begins and ends with a premise that I love telling my kids: “[R]eal life doesn’t begin in college.  You’re deep in it already.  The choices you’re making right now drastically affect your actual life.” (p. 10 of my ARC).  That might sound melodramatic but see my posts to the teenage girl who wants to be a SAHM someday.  I completely agree that we can’t wait until we’re 18 (or 22 or 30…) to start preparing for real life.  We want our kids developing good habits and character now.  The goal of a classical education, simply put, is “to turn you into a leader” (15), and not just any kind of leader–

They want to see you go out into the world with your loyalties intact; they want to see you stand for the right things, and fight for the right things, and persuade others of the right things, everywhere you go throughout your life.  They want to see you “enchant the souls” of all who come into contact with you as you display the beauty of the gospel in a full-orbed and robust Christian worldview.  They want you to know what you think and why you think it and be able to winsomely explain it to others.  They want to see you leave a mark on the world. (Ch. 8)

That’s an exciting vision!  Though my son is younger than the target audience, I’m planning to take him out on a mom-son date next week and read him this paragraph as we talk about the school year.  My girls are still in the I-love-all-of-school-because-I-get-to-sit-next-to-Mommy-and-be-a-big-kid stage, but I want to communicate this goal to them as they enter their tweens, too.

On to specifics, for those who are interested–my advanced copy was just 90 pages, but they pack a lot of punch.  There’s a chapter on Latin that argues the benefits, even if you forget every declension and conjugation.  (“As you expand your vocabulary, you’re learning much more that lists of words.  You’re learning about the universe.  You’re parsing feelings, sensations, actions, categories…You are broadening your mind.”)  (32-33) As a former high school literature teacher myself, I agreed emphatically with her chapter on the value of actually studying literature and not just our feelings about literature.  (“You are being taught to answer the question, “What does it mean?” and that is a fundamentally different question than “What does it mean to you?””) (40)  I’d probably add in more about the value of participating in the Great Conversation–that we read from the Canon because our intellectual discussions today don’t come out of a vacuum.  But she touches on the importance of context in her history chapter, and she has certainly spent more years teaching high schoolers than I did.  She probably knows what their actual hang-ups are more than I do.

The chapter on logic emphasizes the capacity for clear, logical reasoning as a form of “self defense,” and she explains in the rhetoric chapter that politics isn’t the only career path that requires clear communication and persuasion.  Even her chapter on math and science, subjects where the content might not be different from a public school class, points out that the context will be different because “If you study math and see it as a reflection of your Creator-as the work of an artist with love and intentionality behind it-then you view math completely differently than someone who believes everything we see is the result of blind chance.” (64-65)  I already quoted from the worldview chapter, but she underscores the importance of actually providing a moral and spiritual foundation for all the learning: “Because, and I acknowledge this cheerfully, if you graduate with all of the skills but none of the discernment, then you’re actually turning into a monster.”) (61)  Throughout the book, I enjoyed the solid, practical analogies.  A road map, a card game, a twisty mall, a puzzle–there are lots of fun pictures that help bring high-level philosophical ideas down to earth.  The style is chatty, approachable, and fun.

If you couldn’t tell, I heartily recommend this slim book for the high schooler or the young parent.  I will say that this book presumes that students are in a brick-and-mortar classical Christian school.  I’ve never lived close enough to a CC school for that to be an option for our family (though there is a classical Christian high school in Santa Monica that we like the looks of, if we could afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to send all our crew through), and obviously you know that all of us E2S founders are homeschooling our families.  I believe Classical Me, Classical Thee can be part of the home library toolbox for families, regardless of where their children end up receiving their education.

 

I received a copy of the ACCS pre-release edition directly from Canon Press in return for my unbiased review.  All the book links are affiliate links, so if you click through them and order any of the recommended books, we receive a tiny percentage that we use to help cover our blog hosting fees.

Posted in Book Reviews, Homeschooling | Leave a comment
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