I’m quite thrilled to announce I will be hosting a live online workshop, LIFE RE-FOCUSED, next month in partnership with Modern Thrive! A couple of years ago, I read these words from Ann Voskamp, “Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.” On my own journey toward simpler, more meaningful living, I’ve realized how easily I lose focus. Like the clothing in my closet, the toys on the floor, or the photos on my hard-drive, clutter also gathers around time and goals. I become distracted by what others are doing or by circumstances or opportunities for myself or my children. Often this type of clutter has left me stretched thinly over too many things, pulled in too many directions, or trying to do something that doesn’t actually fit with my own life or my family’s. LIFE RE-FOCUSED is a workshop for you gathered from my own journey toward simple, meaningful days. It has been designed to help you clear the clutter in your time and to create straightforward, simple goals that match your lifestyle (oppose to simply replicating my own).
Through the course, I will be discussing guiding ideas, questions, and helps intermixed with our practical, real life narrative–the specifics of how all these ideas play out in our own home and my work. How do we travel on such a small budget? How do I create quality moments with my children or work from home with them alongside me? How do we recognize when to say no or change when life feels like we’re doing too much? These are some of the questions we’ll be discussing. The workshop will be broken into three one-hour live video classes, with a forum for asking questions and interacting with other classmates. LIFE: RE-FOCUSED will run live November 01-03 at 7pm CST. If that time doesn’t work for you, the course will be conveniently recorded so you can watch it anytime. Class participants will also receive a recapped email after each class and a digital workbook of the course. Here is a breakdown of what I hope to cover:
Session One: Re-focus Your Time + Values
Clarify what you value most in life
Evaluate your time and how you use it
Budget your time and money around your values
Create a simple personal/family mission statement
Session Two: Re-focused Plan + Daily Rhythms
Understand what a life rhythm is and help you identify your own
Adapt your goals to work alongside your life rhythms and style
Use your family’s unique characteristics to customize your plan
Take practical steps toward your goals
Session Three: Re-focused Routine
Build stronger connections through shared family values
Clear the clutter around your goals
Make space for celebration and rest
As I’ve been getting more questions about this course the last few days, I thought I might clarify in longer form here. I think most people have a sense of their goals and values, a sense of what they really want in life, but we (yes, myself too) often get distracted in the process, sometimes by what others are doing, by changes in circumstances, by failure. We imagine life one way and yet it happens in another. This course is a way to clear the distractions, to remember and re-discover what you really want for your life (or family’s life).
QUESTIONS I’M RECEIVING ABOUT THE COURSE:
Who is this for? Anyone who feels a bit lost or distracted in their goals–or possibly doesn’t often think about goals at all.
What if I’m not a business owner or blogger? Yes, you too! This course is about building a life with simple goals around what you value. For some people that will be their work and for others their family is their work (largely the case for myself). There are still several distractions that revolve around running and growing a family. Like most modern parents, work is nestled somewhere in that place. You’ll particularly love class two, where we talk about life and family rhythms, clearing clutter in those places, and adapting your goals in a way that naturally fits your own life.
What if I miss one of the classes? All of the classes will be recorded for you to refer to anytime.
Will we be able to ask you specific questions? Yes! I plan to leave a time at the end of each class to answer questions. If for some reason we run out of time, I’ll wrap those questions into the following class.
Right now, the entire course can be purchased through the Modern Thrive website, where you can also read more details. After receiving several emails, messages, and comments, I decided to offer a HUGE discount on the course for exactly one week. You can purchase the entire workshop for $27 using the code ‘Refocusnow’ at checkout until October 23. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email! I hope you can make it.
Perhaps most parents want to know the secret behind keeping tidy homes and teaching children to clean up after themselves. It feels nearly impossible at times, doesn’t it? Abandoned blocks on the rug, a random sock on the sofa, books on the table, dishes in the sink, clothes on the bathroom floor. If I turned a corner in my home, I might find any one of these right now. “These are the indicators of family life,” my mother often gently reminds me. “Mess happens because life is happening. Be patient. You’ll have time for a neat house again.” I’ve always appreciated this perspective as a mother, the grace to allow the mess. In different seasons of motherhood–such as newborn stages or when life feels more frenetic–I have lived by these words. But mess is not peaceful for me. I work better, think clearer, feel happier in clean, tidy spaces. Honestly, I imagine most people do, including children. While it is impossible for our home to be both comfortable for play/work and tidy all the time, here are a few ways we have tried to keep things neater in our home over the years. Like most things in life, it is mostly a balance in effort and letting go.
Purchase less. Have you ever counted how many outfits you could assemble from your child’s closet? Or counted how many toys or dress up are in the bin? I love children’s clothing. I love purchasing new things. But honestly, children do not require much. My children tend to find their favorite shirt or dress and wear it over and over. Take notice of the clothing they gravitate toward and purchase a couple of those. I keep something special for dressier occasions, and unless one of them is really longing for a special toy or book for their birthday, we tend to give experiences. Owning less means managing less. It also means they own things that really matter to them.
Clean out. My children and I clean out the toys–less necessary as they get older–and their closets twice a year. This often happens with seasonal change. I fold up clothes that are in good enough shape to pass on to someone else. We might cut up the clothing that is overly stained or hole-y to use for an art project or as cleaning rags.
Use baskets (within reason). I love a good basket. They’re functional and beautiful at once, but they also can be overused and feel clutter-y in a space. Each of the children’s rooms have a couple of baskets for tidying toys or their soft throw blankets they insist on sleeping with at night. I keep two more in the living and dining, with extra blankets and floor pillows since we only have one sofa in our small living area. This makes clean up super quick at the end of the day. I also use woven baskets for laundry, as one doesn’t fit in our closet and it is prettier than a plastic alternative.
Set a regular clean-up time. Each day, around 3:30/4:00pm we stop what we’re doing and clean up. Since we homeschool and often use our dining table, it’s a great way to make sure our work is put in the right spot and our materials are cleaned-up before dinner. Books go on the bookshelf. Pencils are returned to the jars. Chalk pieces are collected. Unfinished projects are tucked in a safe place. Laundry is folded and put away. Beds are cleared of art projects, books, or toys. Shoes are collected and returned to the closet. Everything is put back in its home. This is not a deep cleaning time or organizing time. This daily clean-up is simply a returning things to their place for use the next day. We try to do it within 30 minutes, so we’re not bogged down in details. If something doesn’t have a home, I make mental note to find a home or re-organize something over the weekend when there’s more time. This little time allows us to be a mess during the day, to freely focus on our play and work, but also to reset to do the same tomorrow.
Begin with small children. If your children are little, they will of course be able to do far less, but they can still help! Give them single tasks that they can accomplish on their own while you’re nearby. “I need you to put all of these blocks in the basket while I pick up the books.” If they’re easily distracted, as most littles are, work on the same clean-up together. You may also consider having more than one clean-up time in a day, for instance, one at the end of the morning playtime and one at the end of the afternoon. On days that seem overwhelming or particularly exhausting, remember a messy home is a sign of a well-loved home. Take a deep breath and return a bit later.
Point out the rewards to your children. When our home is neatly ordered, I point out to my children how it inspires them to create and play and build. “Isn’t it nice knowing exactly where your things are? Look at how nice it is to build Legos on a clear desk.” These words are not badgering in tone, but simply a way for me to show them the gift of their hard work, the reward for cleaning up when they don’t feel like it.
My home isn’t perfect. If you stopped by at any given moment, you might find toys and books and projects spread across the floor or table top. Although my bed is often made, you might find a load of towels or clothes atop it waiting to be folded and put away. For us, tidying is about reaching homeostasis, a place where we can live and enjoy the life in our home, but also take care of it. If you follow my Instagram, you already know I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She offers inspiring and more detailed helps in this area and probably has a tidy home all the time. For us, it is certainly a process and journey.
How do you or your family handle mess? Do you have helpful tips and tricks for tidiness to share?
Living on a small budget, I really appreciate quality clothing and accessories that outlast trends and time. For those of you who know me, I tend to stick with fairly simple basics in neutral palettes that I can easily shift across seasons or occasions. Recently fresh tangerine, a boutique jewelry shop based in Seattle, WA, interviewed me about personal style, daily life, and how I wear their stacking rings over on their blog. As a mother who is often at home, I especially love how their rings make the simplest days of jeans and a t-shirt feel put together and intentional. If you’re interested, you can read the full interview over here and even find a discount code if you want to try your own.
We are now several weeks into our school year and have been reading oodles of fables together lately, samples from the more familiar Aesop’s Fables to India’s Jataka Tales to West African Folklore, and while the characters and cultures these tales represent dramatically shift, the themes within them often do not. Each in its own manner offers a simple lesson on how one ought to live or possibly in some instances, such as the devious Anansi or other foolish characters, how one ought not live at all. Perhaps one day we will think on your childhood summers in a similar manner, unique versions of the same narrative, personal tales and images that become a tonic when life demands us to be more focused and diligent.
Naturally, as you each grow older, life will require more diligence of you. It is the mark of maturity, the preface to adulthood. While you are young, I hope to store enough adventure and courage in your thoughts and heart so that you learn to seek it on your own someday, a tonic for the harder parts of adult living. You are children now, and while I can’t imagine it differently, you will not always be. It is the nature of every living thing to change and grow, and so it is with you. Part of this portrait project has been a catalogue of this change, a small way to bottle your childhood for all of us to enjoy when it is gone. Maybe one day, like the simple fables, you will sift through them and discover lessons tucked beneath our play, travel, and silly stories. At the very least, I hope as adults, they will remind you to leave space for frivolity, room to cast off form and simply play or explore possibilities when necessary. Wisdom and discipline require the balance of a wild, courageous heart. These too are lessons for us in how one ought to live.
You will soon discover that some seasons in life will force you to create or make something with very little. You may feel overwhelmed by possibility and endless choices. Perhaps then you might remember the feel of our paper roadmap in your hands, not a smooth, glass computer, but paper, bound and wrinkled with use. You might recall the way you traced your small fingers over red and blue and green lines, each one overlapping and leading some place distinct. Like that map, your life also will one day freely spread across veins of unknowns. It will require courage, as doing anything new or unknown often does. I hope then you will also remember your toes in the cold Pacific Ocean or climbing the red rocks in Southern Utah or picking fresh blueberries on the mountainside of North Carolina or even random no wheres on the road in between. All paths lead to distinct, unknown places, and you will need courage and wisdom to get there. Like our own summer travels, you’ll discover in life also, the longer, harder journeys often have the sweetest rewards.
As a mother, I am learning my own lessons of sorts, the hardest being how to slowly release you. My maternal instinct naturally cringes at watching you climb or slide down boulders, walk across waterfalls, or coast down rapids, but right now we are with you and have the privilege to participate with you. It’s exhilarating to see how you come alive with accomplishment and how you manage unknowns. These moments, too, are a gift, ones I will return to when you are older and off on your own adventure without us. I am grateful it’s not time for that quite yet. Travel has been one of my favorite experiences with you all. While I know most lessons from your childhood will come through our everyday living. I expect our summer adventures will always hold a special place in each of our hearts. I’m so proud of you.
Although the American West has my heart, this summer we traveled East, leaving Georgia and South Carolina as the only states we haven’t visited in the Southern half of the U.S. While your father and I were in Taos, you all were at grandparent camp with Nina and Papa and your cousins. They make that time so special for you with night swims, library trips, art projects, and fun excursions. You each look forward to this week all throughout the year. And of course, I don’t have a portraits of you that week since I wasn’t there. At the back end of summer we visited PoPo and JoJo, who took you to a trampoline park and introduced you to eating crab legs. Olive, I had to sit there and crack every one for you, to which you’d turn and say, “can I have some more of that white meat?” as though it were just that easy. On the other hand, Liam and Burke, you loved having a meal that required tools in order to eat.
In July, we spent a week in Asheville with good friends in a beautiful cabin generously lent to us. There the older three white-water rafted, while Olive and I enjoyed our own time together playing with friends, reading together, and picking blueberries for dinner. Blythe, Dad says you giggled the entire time on the rapids, and I can’t wait to do it again when Olive is a bit bigger. Blueberries grew right off the back porch, and each day before meals you all would take bowls and fill them. Liam, you often led the initiative knowing it might amount to blueberry pie or pancakes, which it did. We hiked beautiful trails, although Burke, you informed me you prefer the Rocky Mountains in the West, to the dense forests of the East. I appreciated having this little inlet into your thoughts. We only briefly strolled the downtown area, visiting the general hardware store and listening to the rotating musicians play outside its doors. We also ducked into a small art gallery before it began to rain and we headed home. We rode bikes through the incredible Biltmore Estate and walked through the warm house, if you can even call it a house. On our way home, we visited Dave and Kara in Alabama, where we again hiked gorgeous green woods, played with new friends, went to the science museum and walked around large space rockets. As they prepared for work one day, Olive asked them, “you have to work during the summer?” and I realized how special this warm season really is for us. We have chosen a smaller life in effort to have time, and I don’t regret it one bit.
We went to Houston with your father, and while he attended meetings at Rice, we cruised through both the Fine Art and Natural Science Museums and swam in the hotel pool–a rare luxury. At one point we attempted a midday walk around Hermann Park and nearly melted, and opted to go back to the room and watch episodes of Shark Week instead. When we finally returned home, you all attended a local drama camp, where you made your own costumes and participated in a small musical. Liam you sort of despised the singing and dancing parts but loved making costumes and developing the set. Burke, you were the laugh of the show playing the giant with an over-sized head. Girls, you both adore singing and dancing and felt right in your element. What a great finale to summer’s end (and a helpful way for me to get a few projects in order before the school year began). I’m so grateful for every bit of it. And for you.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. – Ecclesiastes 3:1
After our trip alone to Taos this summer, my husband and I realized we needed more boundaries between work and rest. Our current season of life doesn’t naturally afford stops (apart from night sleeps), so we needed to intentionally carve out time to restore spiritually, physically, and relationally. We have always been intrigued by the idea of Shabbat (Sabbath), a traditional Jewish practice of rest, family togetherness, and spiritual attention, but with our Protestant backgrounds, this concept was intimidating and foreign. Over the last couple of years, we have talked with several friends about the ways they practice rest within their homes, and this summer, we took more to read and learn about importance of Shabbat.
I’ve always thought about time in terms of utility, something used for something else entirely. In his book, The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel describes time not as a commodity, but as something holy in itself. He refers to Sabbath days as cathedrals of time which create a sense of longing within us, and poetically notes, “[Shabbat] is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” Sabbath is the enjoyment of time itself and the weekly recognition that time is a gift from God.
Last month, we began our own formal practice of Shabbat in hope of living deeper in Jesus together and not allowing our lives to be ruled by work. In just a few weeks of practice, already the Sabbath, especially the Sabbath meal, has become a place of longing and expectation for all of us, even the children. My husband let go of his Saturday work, and I have limited the amount of my own. It is helping us create the boundaries we have longed for, but more importantly, it is teaching how to trust God with our time, to know when to stop working and to celebrate. We are building the habit of saying enough to our work and the “acquisition of the things of space.” We are obviously still learning, but this is a good beginning. Below I have shared a little bit about how we prepare for this time as a family. Naturally, it will look a little different for everyone, but I hope there will be something to glean for you, something to help you treasure the holiness in time.
On Thursday each week, the children and I write out our weekly meal plan and shop for groceries after school work is finished. On Friday mornings, we work through whatever schoolwork we can complete, and we stop at lunch time. Friday afternoon is for deep cleaning our home: putting things away, but also larger jobs like washing floors and scrubbing down the bathrooms. It’s shocking how dirty our home can become during the week. I often turn on loud, upbeat music for us to enjoy and we pause for an afternoon snack somewhere along the way. This cleaning period requires most of the afternoon, and then we transition to preparation for our Shabbat meal.
I begin by making our weekend cake, a rotating baked dessert we can enjoy all weekend. The children begin by setting the table with a large, white linen tablecloth; our china that we picked up at an antique store in Kansas City ages ago; cloth napkins; candles; and fresh flowers. They often make name cards, practicing their cursive on nice white paper, and position silverware and glasses near each place setting. We fill bottles with water to refrigerate for dinner and begin chopping vegetables or preparing meat. Since it’s still quite warm here, we’ve mainly prepared fish that we can grill for these dinners, although I look forward to oven roasts for colder days in upcoming months. We often roast some vegetables and make a complimentary salad. Although we’re hoping to make our own challah bread at some point, right now, we pick up a couple of loaves of baked bread from the grocery bakery for ease.
When dinner prep is complete, I fill two more glass carafes, one with red wine and another with Italian soda for the children. We quickly wipe down counters and wash the dirty prep dishes, although some weeks we run too close to dinner-time for this and clean-up happens afterward. We all get dressed for dinner, freshening up and putting on something nicer than our ordinary daily clothes. This dinner is special for us, and we want to dress accordingly. Our home is generally very casual and our family dining out is as well, so our Sabbath meal is also a great way to teach our children simple rules of dinner etiquette, such as placing a napkin in your lap, keeping your elbows off of the table, or requesting/waiting for someone to pass food to you.
My younger sister, Kristen, is married to my husband’s younger brother–I know, crazy! Brothers married to sisters. Since traditionally the Shabbat meal is intended to be a family event and they live nearby, each week, we all share this meal together. Before grocery shopping, Kristen and I talk about which meal we want to make and divide up the dishes. Sharing the meal preparation is such a gift! They arrive to our home, dressed, and we all sit down in our named places. Everyone has a place at the table, toddlers included.The baby might be playing in her infant seat or on a palette of blankets on the floor near the table. When she’s restless, we all take turns holding her.
The first part of our meal time is quite formal. My husband wrote down several Messianic Jewish prayers on a notecard that we use, including a blessing of the meal, lighting the candles, sharing of communion, a formal hand washing as a posture of our hearts, and a formal blessing of sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers. Communion and the blessing of the family parts is by far my favorite portion of this time in our meal. Although brief, it celebrates and recognizes each family member and declares noble truths over each person.
After the blessing and prayer time, we pour drinks, serve plates, and eat. This part has been the greatest surprise for me. The adults and children slowly enjoy a nice meal and conversation together, even the youngest ones. It is not rigid or dogmatic but a natural enjoyment of all of our work and effort. As the children finish their meals, they head off to play, while the adults linger and talk together.
After the mealtime when Kristen and Tim leave with their family, our own family piles on the couch for a movie night together. Bedtime is pushed back due to our movie night, a pleasure for all the children, with the intention that everyone can sleep-in the next morning. From the moment the Shabbat meal begins, work ceases. We do not check emails or any other work related thing (unless an emergency) until after sundown on Saturday. This can be the most challenging part, especially since I work from home, So I usually tuck my planner and notepad away and stay clear of the computer during those hours. Although difficult at times, this has been the most restorative practice for me.
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath
Sleeping-in on Saturday morning is highly respected by everyone in our home (a perk of older children). Our youngest child is six (and often one of the last to wake up), so everyone is old enough to entertain themselves quietly until everyone is awake. During the Sabbath day, our routine is not open and flexible. We usually begin with fresh fruit pancakes my husband and Burke make together, and after that we relax as it seems fit for the day.
As the weather cools more in the next few months, we hope to make day-trips to hike, but until then and while we’re indoors more, we tend to read or play games with sporadic walks or trips to the park during cooler parts of the day. I often let the kids have time playing video games (since we rigidly limit this during the week). Whatever we do, the point is to do it together and enjoy time without the obstacles of home projects or work.
I hope to have more to share about this part the longer we celebrate this day. I’m curious, do you practice the Sabbath or another time period of regular rest in your home?
Although I have spent much time during the last 18 months discovering ways to simplify, de-clutter, and organize our daily living and home, I admit I am a complete mess in terms of digital photo archives. The hard drive on my computer is currently full, as is the memory on my phone. I know. Don’t judge me. Although everything is already backed up, I have yet to empty my hard drive for fear of losing something, and that mostly because my files are chaos. My hard drive is much like staring at a closet heaped with disorder–a large shoe pile, clothes on hangers, clothes not on hangers, shoeboxes, piles, and so on. I know I need things in the closet, now or at some point in the future, but the disorder keeps me from using it properly or at all. A back-up drive gives me the luxury of copying it, so technically I know every file is there. Only now I have TWO messy closets–and, honestly, am I likely to go fishing through the back-up drive for those files either? Honesty is the most important part in de-cluttering any aspect of our lives, and truthfully I am a digital hoarder.
As some of you remember, I took an inspiring online class last year with life:captured–a school for modern memory keeping which I entirely adore. Through that class, I previewed a bit of Ronnie’s very organized files and was utterly inspired by her. If my online files are like a hoarder’s closet, hers are like a dream with clothing and accessories neatly aligned by color, style, and season. It is the sort of closet I enjoy in reality, where I knows exactly what I need, when I need it, and also when it’s time to get rid of it. Sigh. In terms of finding and creating files on a computer, doesn’t that sound peaceful? While I’ve made several adjustments to my file labels since that class last year, I am really needing a larger tutorial on file organization. In short, it is time for me to learn how NOT to be a digital hoarder.
When Ronnie asked me to join a group of bloggers working with life:captured and artifact uprising for the project “Unravel Your Photos”, how could I refuse? These are the exact lessons I need–and an opportunity to put this more abstract part of my life in order, too! Over the weekend, I completed my first lesson, “No File Left Behind,” an overview of the benefits and basic principles of file organization in Lightroom (my favorite photo editing software–bonus). Again, Ronnie has such a gentle manner of organizing her class materials that makes large, intimidating endeavors feel manageable. Still this could get messy, folks, and you know I’m going to take you along for the ride. Wink.
Since I have a full hard drive, I needed to clear space to work. Now thanks to my sexy date night purchase, I have two fresh external hard drives and am currently emptying my cluttered hard drive onto the first. At my brother-in-law’s encouragement, I’ll tuck that aside in a safe place for the peace of knowing I DO actually have all of my files. This week, I will be clearing my computer hard-drive and starting fresh. In short, I am emptying contents, so that I can clean and create fresh order. As I learn to organize my files in a new way, I won’t feel distracted by what already exists, by the filing mistakes I’ve made in the past. The second hard-drive will be used to back-up files from this point on and as I have time or need to retrieve old, disorganized files, I will catalogue them according to the new system. I’m expecting I’ll learn some tricks over the following weeks concerning that, too. As Ronnie encouraged us in the lesson this week, “start with your current photos.” The best way NOT to become a digital hoarder begins with what I do right now. I like that.
Everyone relates to planning differently. Some depend on it. Others despise it. I’m definitely in the “I love plans” group, but I also love change and spontaneity–go figure. I enjoy re-creating old ideas and nurturing self-directed learning in my children within a little structure, so in our homeschool days, it’s best for me to have structure with flexibility, days or blocks of time that can be shifted around when necessary without throwing everything into chaos. Plans may give you chills and cause paralysis. If that’s the case, please know that the greatest gift you can give your children and family is to understand your own family style and pace. Be challenged and stretched and inspired by others, but always understand what your own family and children need, and build your own style around it. That’s my disclaimer, otherwise, I hope this inspires you. It’s long, but fairly thorough so grab a cup of coffee. Also feel free to ask questions in the comments if you feel they might be helpful to other readers, or you can of course email.
As I mentioned here, last year was a harder year for us. I felt burned out and tired by what we had been doing (even though they were good and worthy things) the previous years. We had also moved twice within one year, which I know added a bit of hardship, too. We decided to rest from the local Classical Conversations group we helped start and enjoy a little time experimenting with other interests we have as a family, namely the arts. As Lilian kindly commented in that post last May, I should refer to last year as a sabbatical year, and honestly, that’s exactly what it was. We had an unset routine with little scheduling (or screen time) and worked in some way each day reading, exploring, and building. By the end of the year, I had a better idea of what my children needed in our learning and how we moved through our days in our new home. I also knew we needed more structure and sharper boundaries between work and rest.
This summer, I’ve been gathering notes and reflections from our years of home education. I loved the way art and creativity was again a norm in our days last year and wanted that to remain an integral part to our learning. I decided to save money for better quality art supplies and tools. I had also been cleaning out and ordering our home last spring after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It was such a valuable resource concerning our homeschooling materials. I knew there were a lot of things and books on our shelves taking up space physically and emotionally that we no longer used–or worse had never used at all. So I took the room apart and went through each bit Marie Kondo style, asking myself what really brings value/joy to our learning versus what feels burdensome or even a haunting reminder of what I’m NOT doing. This took me two weeks, but was so worthwhile. As I put the book and tools on our shelves, it helped give me a clear picture of learning together, of organizing our academic year around these specific tools and ideas. Below I’ve included our own family’s ideal plan for this year, followed by the resources we’ll be using. I’m sharing them in hope they inspire and somehow compliment your own planning this year.
Some of you have asked how I have time to write or photograph or blog, so I’ll add a bit of that here, too. I generally wake up at 5am, sometimes a little earlier, during the week. I often write or edit photos or answer emails during this time. This year, I’ll be alternating those morning wake-ups with running or meditative yoga, as a way to take care of myself and nurture my own time with Jesus. I’m not a morning person, but I am more introverted, which simply means having time alone before my children wake up sets my spirit and mind in a good place to begin another day. I usually leave my big camera nearby us so I can grab a quick shot when the moments present themselves. My phone is usually in my back pocket, and this summer I’ve been practicing leaving it there more. I love the connections I’ve made and inspiration online, but sometimes I can lose important time there. So there’s that.
7:00 am | MEET AT THE TABLE
7:30 am | MEMORY WORK
8:oo am | READING, SPELLING, HANDWRITING
9:00am | MATH
10am | NATURE
10:30 am | ENGLISH LANGUAGE
11am (on TR) | HAND WORK
NOON | LUNCH
1:30 am | SCIENCE or HISTORY [alternate days M-R]
I know, I know. 7 am feels too early to formally begin a day, and honestly, I would prefer to begin sometime between 8 and 9. But my husband has to leave for work around 7:15/20, and I discovered during our Spring semester, our days go smoother when we all begin together. Plus it’s a small way to connect him with the rest of our day since he works full-time outside of our home. During these first 30 minutes, the kids arrive to the table dressed, teeth brushed, and beds made. We eat a simple breakfast together, read a portion of the Bible together, and pray. This is short and sweet, but still meaningful way to begin. The children will each be in charge of making one breakfast/week, but I will share that in a different post.
Although what we memorize changes, memory work has and will always be a part of our learning. There’s plenty of research about the value of memorizing during early years, and the funny part is CHILDREN NATURALLY LOVE TO MEMORIZE and feel accomplished when they can recite for others. We currently have three parts to our family’s memory work: Bible, poetry, and historical timeline. When possible, I try to find a song or a rhythm to help make this time more engaging or easier for them to recall. We’ll begin with memorizing Proverbs 3 this fall. Each of the children will work on their own poetry. Liam most recently memorized “If” by Rudyard Kipling (a poem each of our children will be required to memorize) and is now working on Psalm 1. Burke is currently working on “If,” and the girls will begin with shorter works from Robert Louis Stevenson and Christina Rossetti, both included in their language studies. We’ll be using Classical Conversation’s historical timeline, which includes 161 major events and dates, set to music. They also have timeline cards, which have the historical event, time period, and a painting/sculpture from a famous artist representing the event. I’m not sure if this resource is available to people not involved in a CC community, and if not Veritas Press offers something similar.
READING | SPELLING | HANDWRITING
My three oldest are excellent, fluent readers, a huge milestone in our home education journey. Olive is a beginning reader and should be moving into early chapter books sometime this year. I used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons for my boys, which was wonderful for reading but seemed to leave a gaping hole in their spelling. For the girls, I wanted to move back into memorizing phonograms and learned of the Spalding method. However, I was so intimidated by the methodology, texts, and workshops introducing it. Instead, I used All About Readingfor my girls, which felt like a slower, but more methodical path to reading. They both have a better understanding of word segmenting (sounding out words) and spelling. I used All About Spelling for my oldest three and loved it for the same reason. They’re both a solid, multi-sensorial introduction to building and decoding words. That said, I’ve struggled with how time consuming both programs are, especially with four children at different levels needing their own lessons. It took forever, which also makes it difficult for consistency. This year we’ll be using Reading Lessons Through Literaturefor all of my children, expecting to consolidate time between reading, spelling, and writing practice. It is a spelling introduction to reading, which I also expect will give my readers a stronger foundation in spelling. The older children will quickly review all of the phonograms and word lists, while Olive will move more slowly at her own pace. For handwriting, we’ll continue using Handwriting Without Tears methods, a program I highly esteem and wrote about for an upcoming article in Wild+Free, but will practice writing using sandpaper letters, chalkboards, and our own primary composition notebooks. The older three will review print letters and practice cursive more intently.
We have and still use Saxon math. It is a non-frilly, but thorough math program that we use because it’s what I know at this point. Olive is finishing up Math 1 and will be moving to Math 2 sometime this year. The younger ages provide worksheets for them to use, which I enjoy as she’s still learning to write. For the older three, using Math 5/4 and up, they each have a large, quad-ruled composition notebook, where they write out their daily work. Over the last year, I’ve tried to add more application and play into our maths, inspired by Montessori and Waldorf methodology. After reading books and researching on Pinterest this summer, I plan to add more projects for my non-worksheet loving children, which I’m excited about.
This will be a more fluid rest period after a more focused morning of work. We’ll always be outside during this time, running, playing, collecting, building, painting, etc with nature. Essentially, I wanted a time for the children (and myself) to interact with nature in a way that we need for that day. Sometimes this might evolve into its own study, but more often I imagine observation, play, and enjoyment of the seasons.
Last year, we used Michael Clay Thompson’s Island series for our language study, a more gentle and story-filled approach to language, diagramming, and writing. This year, I’ll be using English Lessons Through Literature, something I’m very excited about again for its consolidation. The lessons are only three days a week, the reason our language block will be longer on MWF mornings. On TR, each child will complete their reading for the next lesson, practice their memory work, and do a bit of copywork or dictation. We will study works of art, read classical children’s literature, memorize and read poetry, and also learn (or review, for the boys) the parts of speech and sentence diagramming. Most of their writing will be kept in a large composition notebook. However, every book they read and poem they memorize will be copied/narrated and illustrated on single paper with watercolor, crayons, or pencils for them to keep. These will be kept in a separate binder. Although we used notebooks for this last year, the kids were frustrated when their paintings or illustrations bled onto the next page. Ideally, this will curb that problem. Wink.
We added more hand work and home skills into our learning last year, and we all loved it! But there are so many skills I don’t know myself, so this year I wanted to build in a more formal time for learning new skills together. This fall, we plan to begin with sewing, pottery, and candle-making. For Christmas, we plan to give each of the children their own straight knife (yikes, I know!) and to introduce wood carving and weaving in the spring. Although hand work will be apart of the children’s routine everyday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings will be a more focused time to learn together.
Most of our studies in science have been through experience, nature walks, and books. We’ll definitely be continuing that this year using Nature Anatomy, Farm Anatomy, and Animalium. Gardening is a large part of our scientific learning, and this year I hope to include more of their own artwork and learning in its own binder (much like the language binder). They won’t carry around the binder, only add to it when they finish their artwork or writing. This will work both as a record of our personal garden space and their own reference for the future. The older children will also be reading biographies and doing small experiments about several pivotal scientists in history. The History of Scienceas a guide for this, learning about the ancients such as Archimedes, Pythagoras, Aristotle, and Galen to Galileo and Di Vinci and more modern inventors like Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, and Benjamin Franklin. Some of this reading we will do together, and some they will read on their own. Narrating/summarizing and painting/illustrating will be a part of this process, too. Mostly, I hope this study will help them understand the connection of thought and scientific breakthrough in a bigger picture, to see how one idea builds off of another.
We still love The Story of the Worldand will continue with Early Modern history two afternoons a week this year. We will keep track of our history readings as well, but I’m still waiting to see in which way works for us. I do know we’ll create some sort of project around our studies for the week, making sure our hands stay as busy as our minds.
PUTTING IT ON PAPER
I’ve written before about planning on paper. It’s a simple way for me to gather ideas and for the children to see what they’re doing in a day. If and when we don’t finish an area of work, I either let it go or begin there the next day. I created this sheet really quickly using a table in Google docs and made one for each day of the week.
Here are some of my favorite helpful references for practical homeschooling and home ideas. I write monthly for Wild+Free and Babiekins Magazine’s blog right alongside several other inspiring parents. There are a plethora of creative homeschoolers on Instagram and you can find several following links connected to the print and blogs below. I hope these offer you much as you prepare for another academic year. Happy planning, friends!
If you haven’t read Jodi Mockabee’s last blog post, you should. She’s a long-time online friend and homeschooling powerhouse. You’ll notice several of our resources happen to overlap, which I love. She steered me toward the language lesson books, which I’m thrilled to be using this year. (Thanks Jodi!) I also highly recommend Kirsten Rickert’s blog (another brilliant online friend turned real friend) who always draws attention to the earth and art in learning. More recently Kirsten has been including a variety of contributors around specific themes, such as honey and water.