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Borrowed Books, Curious Minds, and a Digital Library

For growing bookworms and movie aficionados, a library card can save oodles in the family budget. Add homeschooling to the equation and a library card becomes a lifeline, and quite possibly a rite of passage. As soon as each of our children was old enough to write his/her name (and responsible enough with books), I gave them a bookbag and took them to receive a library card. Childhood is full of such simple pleasures. 

In their early years, we relished our local library’s Storytime, pretend play, and puppet theater. In the preschool and grammar school years, we often brought along snacks and lingered a full morning a week while each of us browsed shelves and ideas, from fiction and graphic novels to biographies and recipe books. In more recent years, the library has become a place for us to discover new writers and learn more formal styles of research, especially in science and history. The elder ones are now learning how to build arguments, connect ideas from multiple sources, and construct bibliographies on different topics. The library has an ever-evolving role in our home, a treasured one at that, yet ironically, as the years of speedy reading and academic research have arrived in our home––giving us more reason to be at the library––it is becoming more difficult to consistently get there.

I was recently introduced to hoopla digital, a service that partners with thousands of libraries across North America to offer free digital content to library patrons. When hoopla offered our family the opportunity to try out their services, clearly, I was interested in how it might serve our home’s diverse learning needs. I quickly learned that with hoopla, patrons have access to thousands of e-books, audiobooks, comics, music, and movies via their computer, tablet, or phone. For more tech-savvy homes, the app can even connect with Alexa and smart TVs. And did you catch that it is free?

Like the library itself, we have used the hoopla app and website to borrow books for a limited time, yet unlike the library, hoopla will automatically return the content on the appointed due date, meaning no late fees or lost books! I also particularly love the “kids mode” option in the account settings for my younger children to browse books and audiobooks that are appropriate for their ages and curiosities.

Over the last few weeks, we have enjoyed the simplicity of having hoopla in our routine. It is as though the library has come to us! Earlier this week, Olive found a caterpillar among the leaves and, as most children do, suddenly had the utmost interest in learning about it. By typing moth or butterfly or caterpillar into the hoopla search bar on my phone, she and her cousin instantly borrowed science books and began flipping through them, learning about the moth caterpillar in their hand. There have been dozens of moments like that over the years, and although we have a wonderful home library collected, I was keen on them having more independence in their young research.

Blythe, on the other hand, who has been recently frustrated with using a drawing compass, was inspired to use one to draw a Fibonacci spiral after flipping through a STEAM project book for kids on the hoopla app. Although her work did not turn out quite as she hoped, I loved her playful willingness to respond with a pencil and paper right at that moment. The boys have appreciated the large inventory of STEAM content for their science research just as much as they have relished access to an assortment of comics. Wink.  That said, not every activity with hoopla has been strictly academic. We have also borrowed movies and audiobooks.

Although hoopla will not replace the library experience for us, it has been a gift of time for our busy household and homeschool. In years where I am bridging many learning interests and topics, it could be the learning tool I need most to help me keep up with it all. To see if your own local library partners with hoopla digital, you can check this map here. You only need an email address and your library card number to register. Some libraries may offer you a pin to use as well. If you do not notice hoopla services in your local library, reach out to you librarians to request hoopla. I already have in our own library.

 


This post is sponsored by hoopla digital. All thoughts and images are my own. To learn more about hoopla, visit their Facebook and Twitter pages. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

A Gift Guide for the Homeschool, Vol. 04

I look forward to the Thanksgiving/Advent season all year long, welcoming the shorter days, the candlelight and handmade crafts and food, the warm drinks and countdown to Christmas. When it comes to gift-giving, I am one-part intentional, one-part pragmatic, meaning my favorite gifts are both meaningful and useful. The thought of gifts that might easily break or quickly pass with a trend or carelessly add to the clutter of our spaces ties my stomach in knots. So Mark and I hold to a simple process for support: we set a specific budget, make notes of needs, curiosities, and interests growing within our children that we want to support, and begin planning. It is incredible how quickly gift ideas rise to the surface with this approach, but also how many goods are quickly disqualified, too. Of course, because they are human, our children sometimes have their own wishlists to share with us, perhaps roller blades or a sewing machine, which we always consider, too. Wink. If you’re curious to read more about our gift giving philosophy, I encourage you to read through the older guides linked below as I share more in them.

This is the fourth year for me to share this gift guide, something I really enjoy sharing in this space and one that is often requested throughout the year. Although it is labeled for the homeschool, the ideas are clearly not restricted to homeschoolers but are a collection of books and goods to support creativity and ingenuity, just like our homeschool. I’m quite certain this is not the first or last gift guide to wander across your screen this weekend, but I hope this one inspires you just the same. For those of you who are new to space, I encourage you to sift back through the previous three guides for ideas, too, as each list builds upon the other. Enjoy, and happy Thanksgiving!

Volume One / Volume Two / Volume Three 


YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES

1 A Child’s Introduction to Art   2 Natural Charcoal Pencils  3 Waxed Canvas Scribblers Case   4 Singer Beginner Sewing Machine  5 Paint Brush Set + Case  6 Table Easel with Drawer  7 642 Things to Draw  8 Natural Indigo Dye Kit   9 OMY Paper Beads Kit   10 Animal Friends of Pica Pau  11 Cut Paper Pictures  12 Ring Toss Game  13 Ride-On Sanddigger  14 Nikon Coolpix Waterproof Camera 15 13 Artists Children Should Know

Gifts of Experience / Art Lessons, Parent-Child Pottery or Painting Class,  Children’s Museum Membership


YOUNG NATURALISTS + ADVENTURERS

16 Pocket Map Atlas  17 Mountaineering Lightweight Cot 18 Organic Terrarium Kit or Fairy Garden  19 The Wonderous Working of Planet Earth 20 Watercolor with Me in the Forest  21 Go Find It Nature Scavenger Hunt Cards 22  A Year of Forest School 23 Stellarscope  24 Organic Heirloom Vegetable Garden Kit 25 Butterfly Garden Growing Kit 26 The Stick Book 27 The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs 28 Sunography Solar Powered Photography  29 Lost Hiker Wallet Kit 30 Nature Exploration Games 31 What We See in the Stars 32 Mini Adventurer Exploration Kit 

Gifts of Experience / Rock Climbing Passes, Camping Trip, Rent an RV, Canoe or Kayak Daytrip, Backpacking


YOUNG SCIENTISTS, ENGINEERS, + TECHIES

33 Steam Lab for Kids 34 Bacteria Science Kit 35 Crystal Growing Experiment 36 Date Navigator Wooden Mechanical Model  37 ArchiTECH Electronic Smart House 38 Ada Twist’s Big Project Book for Stellar Scientists  39  What Do You Do With an Idea?  40 Earthrise: Apollo 8 and the Photo That Changed the World 41 Children’s Lab Coat  42 Newton’s Laws Construction Kit  43 Geometry Strategy Boardgame  44 Tinkering Labs Electric Motors Catalyst STEM Kit 45 Solar Rover Kit  46 Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments  47  The Girl With a Mind for Math  48  The LEGO Architect 49  Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science

Gifts of Experience / space camp, summer science or engineering camp, art lessons, weekly project/experiment hour together


YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS

50 Alice in Wonderland Zipper Pouch 51 Stripe Denim Apron 52 Blackout Poetry Journal  53 Handlettering 201: Intermediate Lettering and Design Basics 54 Superhero Book Ends 55 LuminoLite Book Light 56 Field Notes Memo Books  57 642 Big Things to Write About: Young Writer’s Edition 58 Paisley Rolling Pin 59  The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook  60 Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story 61 Babycakes Mini Cake Pop Maker 62 Fruit + Veggies Cutting Molds 63 Joseph Joseph Nesting Bowls 64 Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen 65 Library Tote 66 Bear Oven Mitts 67 The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs 68 Kid Chef 

Gifts of Experience / book club, book subscription, cooking class, weekly baking hour, parent-child date to a favorite restaurant or bookstore


Thank you Hannah Walls for your research help on this post. This post contains some affiliate links. Cloistered Away might receive a small commision on the goods purchased through those links. 

Rhythm, Routine, and Vision for the New School Year

In an ideal world I would be able to keep up with all of the things my heart wants to do at the present, including writing here more often, and in an ideal world, you would not just peek through my life on a screen, or message/email questions about our days, but instead walk through our door and experience life in our home, most likely with something to eat or drink. You would find heaps of books everywhere––table surfaces, nightstands, bookshelves, and beds––but unlike a library where members read or work in quiet, steady noise and energy abound here. The conversations turn with the wind: a Latin translation, a comment about the weather or a recent movie, a favorite part in a book, a need for the dog to go outside, a grumble about Algebra, an encouragement about Algebra––who is responsible for dishes?––a reading lesson, an illustration, a child skateboarding through the room, a read aloud with the youngest, a nostalgic read-aloud moment for one of the eldest, a side-conversation born, a question about Logic, a blank look in response, a revisit to the lesson, a clay project––have you started your laundry? what about the clothes on your floor?––puppy snuggles, writing struggles, a study group, a walk outside––do you remember the book we read on Copernicus? You get the idea.

Perhaps the largest misconception of motherhood or homeschooling is its tidiness of time, experience, and learning. We ask one another what is the curriculum? Or how will you teach Chemistry? Or how do you know you have done enough? How do you know your children are learning? And so often my honest inward reply is I don’t know. I know some skills are learned best when repeated in small ways over a long period of time. I also know I grow bored of repeating small skills over a long period of time, so mindfulness and self-discipline apply to me just as much as my children, as do breaks in routine and the need for the outdoors. I know as modern learners, we have access to millions of books through bookstores, libraries, and apps, and as an undercurrent to all of these years of learning together, I want my children to experience books not just as something to consume, but also as tools that help shape us, our ideas, our curiosities, and talents. I know my children do not learn in the exact way I do, and some days that’s truly difficult. But it’s also a tremendous gift, a way to learn one another, to practice empathy and compassion first within our home and next outside of it.

Still, the hours of our days feel chaotic and symbiotic at once, a smattering of random conversations and stories and moments that all seem to connect together. I do not plan the hours in the same manner I did when they were younger. In previous years, it was helpful for me to block hours of our days for specific activities or studies: morning hour, math + reading, nature study, read aloud, outdoor play, quiet hours, etc. In those years, all of the children worked through similar blocks together and this made sense. I still do this for my youngest, but as my eldest children have entered the upper school years, they are organizing their hours more on their own. During the week, I loop through time with each, helping on their hardest lessons or the ones needing conversation, mostly Latin, Logic, Algebra, and writing/Literature, while reserving time for brief structured lessons with my youngest. With the elder ones, sometimes I work through lessons alongside them, most often in Logic and Latin. Sometimes I simply ask probing questions checking their understanding or dialoguing about something they’re reading. Sometimes I’m clueless and simply check their work with the answer key (always with math).


planning

Planning looks different now too. The eldest three, in middle or high school, each follow their own curriculum with a weekly seminar-style class day through Classical Conversations. I meet with each of them following their weekly seminar to talk through their plan for the week. The eldest, Liam, now in 10th grade, is responsible to chart his own path through his weekly work, whereas my 7th-grade daughter, Blythe, still has her work broken up with a weekly plan from her seminar tutor. My 8th-grade son, Burke, is right in between, planning much of his work on his own with my oversight. I still plan Olive’s lessons (4th grade) in 4-6 week increments, making book-lists and keeping a basket of books for her, and working slowly through lessons in math and reading and handwork projects.



vision

In August, Mark and I went away to California for a time of rest and vision for our home. (I have more details on that trip finally coming soon.) I had been praying, searching for a word or theme to guide this upcoming year. I wanted something to cling to in the ebb and flow of learning, a light for the path ahead juggling so many different needs and micro-paths under one roof. I heard the word on a seven-mile hike that wove through the coastal hills into a canyon. It was magnificent. We paused for lunch among the Redwoods after a somewhat steep descent into a canyon. We wandered off-trail for a while afterward, only to realize we had to turn around and climb the canyon path again to return to the original path. There, in that moment of hiking upward, with my legs and lungs burning, I heard the word ASCEND. All at once I could envision a picture of our stage of parenting and homeschooling and the parallel to what I was feeling physically in that moment. Honestly, I feel the burn in our homeschooling right now, in motherhood, in my personal work. We are figuratively breathing hard, as our path grows more strenuous and steep, as our home grows into maturity. Some days, I want to throw in the towel.

Although each of my children are older and far more independent in their work, the way I need to parent/lead/nurture them requires so much rigorous attention. Not smothering. Not control. Not making their decisions for them. But watchful care as they carry more of their own weight, as they make more of their own decisions, as they come of age and climb into their adult years away from home. In that moment ascending, I could see that while everything feels harder and somehow more difficult, this is not the time to stop. We have always taken our decision to homeschool one year at a time, and this year is the same. We are moving forward, each of us climbing upward together. We pause and take care of ourselves. We slow our pace when needed and pay attention to our stamina, but our home is ascending just the same. I’m adapting as a mother to a different pace, stretched now between the high school years and grammar school years. This isn’t anything new. I am not the first. But it is a first for me. And holding all of these things, I have needed to shift my attention inward at home. I have needed to change our rhythm, to pull back from online spaces for a time, to recover hours that are needed elsewhere right now.

I write all of that to offer perspective, to offer a visual of your own path. Some of you have babies and preschoolers. Your figurative hiking should accommodate your home’s needs of short distances, flat, steady grounds, and sweeping vistas as often as possible for perspective. Like hiking with a young child, you may not go far, but you’ll have more time to notice the details, the grass, the flowers, the sky. Soak it up. There is such sweetness in the slower pace of the early years. Many of you will find yourself somewhere in between. I encourage you to take a moment  to envision your parenting/homeschool journey as a hiking path. What would the terrain look like for you right now? How can you adjust your pace and intention accordingly? 

Because practicals are still wonderful, here is a glimpse of our routines and rhythms right now, as best as I can write them. I have included first a weekly rhythm of how we sort out cleaning, meals, and the structure of learning (projects for the youngest, library trips, etc). This rhythm would be in addition to the regular daily work of home I hope it’s a helpful glimpse, but as with everything, keep only what might fit for your own home. 



OUR AUTUMN RHYTHM + ROUTINE

weekly rhythm

Sunday | planning day:  write lists and questions, gather books + materials, grocery shop; dinner: something simple (BLTA sandwiches, rotisserie chicken with salad; crockpot; soup)

Monday | laundry (girls); weekly afternoon library trip, copywork/narration/illustration and presentation prep for youngest; writing final drafts, weekly assessments, project completion for eldest three; dinner: vegetarian (curry, soup, pasta, stir-fry, etc)

Tuesday | weekly campus day; eldest three map out their week’s coursework after class and share their plan with me; dinner: community tacos 

Wednesday | project/ handwork for youngest; laundry (boys); weekly study group for eldest; dinner: poultry (grilled, roasted, or pan-seared) + vegetables

Thursday | copywork/narration and project/handwork for youngest; laundry (mom); deep clean bathroom, wash floors, launder bath mats; dinner: random (leftovers, combine meals with friends/sister, etc)

Friday | bi-weekly math tutoring; monthly field trip; laundry (linens); dinner: Shabbat meal (fish, grilled or roast meat)

Saturday | family and individual rest/play/day-trip day; no work or school work; dinner: eat out/date night


daily rhythm

5am  My Quiet Hours | quiet attention and intention toward my own person; meditation and prayer, reading, writing, and work (blogging, editing images, emailing, social media, etc)

7am  Morning Wake-up | Mark wakes-up children (more challenging feat these days) while I go for a run or do a home workout and shower; breakfast, kitchen responsibilities, make bed, pick up clothes, wipe down bathroom

8am  Morning Hour | gentle, intentional hour together to frame our mindset for the day, Scripture, read aloud, prayer, encouragement

9am  Morning Block | My lesson-time with the girls.

Blythe and the boys begins their independent work, while I begin lesson work with Olive—reading lesson and practice, read aloud, and copywork/ narration or hand project. Mid to late morning, we swap. I often check-in with the boys to make sure they’re on task. Wink. Olive begins her independent work in math and memory work and I work through Latin with Blythe and talk through whatever she needs help with in other studies, often revising her writing or science research with her.   

NOON  Lunch | eat, check texts + social media, go for a walk, etc. 

1pm  Afternoon Block | My lesson-time with the boys.

Blythe finishes her afternoon work independently, and Olive plays. I check in with both boys about their morning work and how they’re doing with their day. They each take breaks to play or go outside as needed. I work through Latin and Logic lessons with Burke, or possibly help him find news articles for his current event topic, resources for his science research, or writing. With Liam, our time is often more discussion. He really is doing more self-instruction and research, and so my role is shifting toward asking more questions about his readings, helping guide his writing and analysis, listening to what he’s learning about the artists and composers he’s studying and his Biology modules, and being a place of accountability for the quality of his work. Our time each afternoon is really more my searching out his understanding of what he’s doing on his own. He takes weekly/bi-weekly assessments in Algebra, Biology, and Logic which help me find areas we need to work on together, too.

4pm Clean Up | We put away our work and clear tables. They play outdoors or catch up with friends, and I catch up on whatever I need to online, or listen to a podcast or music, often with a celebratory glass of wine. 

5pm Dinner Hours | Prep and eat together. These are the hours I begin to slow down again and turn inward, so I’m happy to send the kids out and chop or prep on my own, when possible.    

7pm Evening Routine | Mark and I often take the dog for a walk together to connect. The kids finish kitchen clean-up, begin showers, and hang out together. 

9pm Bedtime | The girls have lights out at 9pm, and the boys at 10pm. Ideally, I’m in bed with a book at 9p, but that doesn’t always happen. I’m often happily asleep by 10pm.



grammar school resources (Olive)

reading | Olive is still growing as a reader, and we are pursuing some testing this Autumn for extra help and clarity. In the meantime, we are working through level four of All About Reading, a wonderful resource, especially for students who are busy-bees or who struggle with letter recognition and pulling together sounds.  

history | Olive and I are studying Ancient History this year, using The Story of the World as our spine text, adding in many read-aloud books and hand projects from this activity guide. I strongly considered using Beautiful Feet Books Ancient History, since I love their studies and book choices so much, but ultimately decided she might not be quite ready for that yet. I’ve gathered read aloud ideas from various places: online searches, the library, the activity guide, Tapestry of Grace’s Year 1 reading list, Beautiful Feet Books.

Classical Conversations Foundations Program | This year, we opted to return to CC as an entire family, instead of just dropping off for the Challenge class. The younger programs require the parent to remain on campus, which has been a huge shift for me. The Foundations program is only 24 weeks and leads the children through playful songs and activities to help them memorize facts in six subject areas, with an art/music block and science experiment. Olive loves it! And I enjoy that she’s having regular science experiments again (my weakness!) and review of math facts and other building blocks of learning. Of course, her favorite part is being with people in her own weekly class–it fills her extroverted spirit right up.

grammar, science, and other things | Both science and grammar are organic subjects for her right now. We talk about it in her application or curiosity or during discussions with the elder kids. She’s memorizing terms and practicing experiments with CC, and that helps for keeping things simple for now. She’s curious about writing stories, so I’m going with her interest and building some mechanical and grammatical discussion into her own work. I am focusing on small details of quality penmanship and am hoping to begin spelling again with her later this fall. We love All About Spelling and English Lessons Through Literature and highly recommend both for those of you looking for more spelling or grammar instruction. 

hands-on learning | I imagine all children enjoy hands-on learning, but some children seem to learn best by experimentation, by trial and error, by doing. This is true of Olive. So I’m giving plenty of room for her to be in the kitchen, toying with her own recipes, experimenting. I also offer her old worn-out clothing to cut up for sewing or making, as well as art materials for building and creating. 



upper school resources 

Classical Conversations Challenge Curriculum | As I’ve mentioned before, the three eldest are in the Challenge program with CC, a complete 30-week faith-based classical curriculum for grades 7-12. It is intense and has required an adjustment for me as a parent, but a worthy one since my children love it so much. They each have a weekly seminar class, and for the most part, this directs their reading and studies for the academic year. The other 22 weeks in the year are used for self-directed reading and projects, holidays, play, entrepreneurship, etc.

math | We have always used and still use Saxon Math, adding the DIVE Math videos at Math 5/4 and up. There have been times I’ve used other curriculum or workbooks to support or reinforce a year. I know Saxon Math is polarizing. Homeschooling parents generally love or hate it, and that’s okay. I’ve wrestled with it myself and made peace. Haha! Truthfully, there are many wonderful options, but I encourage you to find one and try not bounce around each year. There’s more opportunity for holes since each curriculum builds uniquely in its own style. Other options friends of mine use and love: Math-U-See, Teaching Textbooks (often a semester or entire grade level behind, so expect to level up), Singapore Math, Kahn Academy (it’s free!)

science | Liam is studying Biology this year with Challenge 2 (10th), including eight formal lab reports and weekly science experiments. Burke is studying scientific origins and the history of astronomy this year in Challenge B (8th), researching a new scientist chronologically each week, writing a weekly essay and illustration/model to present to his class.  Blythe is learning skills in scientific research this year in Challenge A (7th), beginning with the natural world this fall–a perfect segue from our nature studies last year–creating citations and scientific drawings. She will participate in science fair later this fall and transition to a study of human anatomy in the Spring.

grammar | The Challenge program uses Henle Latin to introduce students to the grammar of language. We’re learning about the patterns of sentences and the roles of nouns and how to recognize them by their word endings. I know Latin studies can sound a bit pretentious, but we have had so many wonderful conversations from it about history and culture, plus similar vocabulary words in English and Spanish. We’re rolling with it. Blythe is in her first year, so she will work through the first quarter of the Latin I text with me. Burke is working through the first half of the Latin I text, and Liam is working through the Latin II text this year, heading toward translating Caesar in the Spring. 

reasoning | Blythe is learning to identify arguments this year, reading and separating main points from supporting ones, and later this year, she’ll learn about logical fallacies. Burke is studying informal logic and formal logic this year. I am working through this with him and sometimes both of our heads hurt, but he’s enjoying it! Liam is studying formal logic again this semester and reading through Plato’s Gorgias in the Spring.

literature + composition | This, of course, is my personal favorite. Books and writing. The Challenge A + B reading list feels a bit light for avid readers, in my opinion–ten novels for Challenge A and five novels and fifteen to twenty short stories for Challenge B–but reading more slowly allows more opportunity for them to internalize the novel and think more critically about it. Their writing is also quite simple at this point, instructing them in the basic structure of a persuasive essay and thesis in a very simple way using The Lost Tools of Writing ––a program I highly recommend for older writers! They build elements of writing into their work with each novel they read. Blythe is reading through ten Newberry novels this year, some for a second or third time. Burke is also reading other Newberry novels as well as short stories in the Spring, to begin discussing literary elements and gain exposure to more difficult writing. He also will be writing his own short story in the Spring, something I know he will really enjoy! Liam is reading 18 pieces of British literature this year––some of my personal favorites––so I’m enjoying hearing about his experience with these works. His writing is growing up a bit this year, learning to evaluate literary elements more deeply and form analytical comparisons. It’s certainly stretching!

debate | Blythe is memorizing the geography of the world, and the names of every country within it this year. The goal is to be able to draw the entire world from memory, orienting them to the locations of things happening in the world as they begin to pay more attention to politics and cultural current events. Burke is researching current events on major topics prompted by his tutor for their weekly class discussions. My recent favorite was the use of tablets in lieu of textbooks in the classrooms or learning environment. So pertinent! He will write and present a speech to Congress later this Autumn and spend the rest of the year in preparation for his first Mock Trial at the end of the year. Liam will continue with team debate this year, but is also studying Western Cultural History through art and music. This has been an intense strand for us but also a delight, as there’s so much to see and hear and experience. 

Creating a Simple Homeschool Office

I often pride myself on the flexibility homeschooling brings, the freedom to bend our home’s learning, to do things differently. Go to a park in the middle of the day? Yes! Read books in our pajamas? Of course! School in the summertime or on the road or in a field with binoculars? Works for me. For all the freedom allowed us––a true privilege and point of gratitude––there are many details to keep tabs on as well. In the US, each state holds different expectations and requirements of homeschoolers, and if you are new to homeschooling or considering it, I recommend doing some research in your own area. Some states require attendance, lesson plans, portfolios, or state testing, and, if like us, you are approaching the university years, keeping tabs on a transcript is important, too. Regardless of the size of your home or your affinity for organizational systems, it is important that you create one that fits your home.

Last year, I felt myself swimming in loose ends and paper trails, too often asking or answering the question, “Have you seen ___?” There were too many bits and pieces that went unchecked last year simply because of the lack of organization. This year, I wanted a central, permanent spot for my children to hand-off their finished work on their time table, and for me to pick it up to read and check on my timetable. Naturally, there’s some amount of joyful chaos during any day juggling so many agendas, but I love knowing where our resources and work are right when I need it; you too?  

That said, you do not need a lot of space to create an office for your homeschool.  Books and guides can reside on any bookshelf in the home, and notebooks pre-filled with cardstock, page-protectors, and folders can be a wonderful way to keep tabs on learning in the younger years. For those of you gathering artwork, workbook pages, writing assignments, or tests from your children, keeping a single spot to receive them will be a gift for all of you. This is the first year we are using this system, and already I can see the benefits.

When I partnered with Staples this month, I knew I needed some help. As a homeschooler, I love shopping online for specific needs, but walking through the store is helpful for feeling products and pulling together ideas, whether supplies, resources, or organization tools. In fact, according to a recent survey commissioned by Staples and Fatherly, 85% of parents prefer to do their back-to-school in stores. Surprising, right? The Staples associates were so helpful and directive, going out of their way to answer questions and help me find the right things for our home, from folders with metallic unicorns for my daughter to art supplies, calculators, clipboards, and now file folders that would look nice on my kitchen counter. Maybe I decided the final part about the kitchen counter, but having Staples associates available to answer any and all questions was a game changer, especially as a homeschooler when I do not have a schoolteacher to share their additional expertise.

I wanted to create a small homeschool office in our kitchen, one that fit functionally and aesthetically with the rest of our home, and I needed a system that was simple enough for each of us to follow and lovely enough to not want to move it to a closet. I immediately loved these folders and file sorter for our space, and they’re exactly what we needed! But Staples had so many other lovely choices, too, like these bright Poppin’ paper trays. I even picked up a planning notebook to keep ideas, questions, books, and grading for all of the children in one place this year. (But if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than a Moleskine planner or simple spiral, the Day Designer definitely caught my eye.)

To set up our new system, I labeled each of the files with one of my children’s names for the front sorter. Anytime they finish something that they need me to read, revise, or grade, they simply drop it in their file. This allows them the freedom to hand-off their completed work while saving me from collecting random papers throughout the day. High-five! I check their files as I have time and record grades for the older ones in the back of the planning notebook, then hand them back for final drafts or to go in their page protectors inside their notebooks. In the back section of the file sorter, I keep a large envelope to hold any important papers I might need to keep track of during the year, along with the planning notebook and curriculum guides for the elder ones. The kids each have folders in their notebooks for their random papers, and I have a system for my own. There is a printer and laptop we use nearby and fresh paper in the cabinet below. Everything has a place this year, and I’m thrilled!  It’s incredible how a square foot of well-used space can create an office for our homeschool, but it is exactly what I needed. How do you keep all of the papers ordered and in place? Also, to see our larger supply list and how we create our notebooks, read here.

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This post is sponsored by Staples. All opinions and images are my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat.

Organizing Notebooks + Supplies for the New School Year

This time of year always feels a bit like Christmas. New books arrive in the mail and fresh paper and pencils fill our shelves. Although our routines and studies flex each year, these late summer months always cultivate expectation for us. We flip through books and organize notebooks and consider how best to arrange our spaces, excited (and sometimes a bit nervous) for what lies ahead.

As a homeschooler, I aim to keep our supply list simple and neatly divided into three general categories: books, notebooks, writing and art supplies. I find it helps me better organize our needs during my planning and also prioritize simplicity of time, space, and budget when purchasing new things for the homeschool.  

That said, I do love gathering fresh school supplies with my children. It is a small pleasure among the other hours spent planning, and the joy shows in them too! We partnered with Staples this year and enjoyed browsing the variety of supplies there to use in our own home and work. Plus their back-to-school sale and in-store expertise was a wonderful bonus! They were so attentive.Keep reading to hear more about the supplies we purchased and how we’re using them to build our notebooks for the year.

 

ART + WRITING SUPPLIES

In my philosophy, if children have access to high-quality art and writing supplies, they will naturally want to use them. In that thought, I always make sure we are stocked with the basics. For us this includes: Staedtler graphite pencils, Prismacolor colored pencils and watercolor pencils (we love Lyra, too), Sharpie pens, Staples wood rulers, white cardstock, lined notebook paper (college and wide-ruled), lined Stickies, Post-It tabs, and non-toxic Crayola Air-Dry Clay and chalk. I may at times purchase drawing notebooks or watercolor paper, but since the cost can add up quickly, I find a weighty cardstock suits well enough for our use.  

NOTEBOOKS

Notebooking is a favorite way for us to keep track of our learning and reading during the year, and also practice writing and illustration regularly. I’ve noticed in years past, if the supplies are not in place, we can quickly lose papers and interest altogether. Setting everything in its place at the front of the year is key.

During the early years of homeschooling, my children have kept three notebooks: Literature/History, Science, and Poetry/Bible. As my older three children are bridging into upper school years, they each have six notebooks, one to match each seminar in their Classical Conversations classes: Exposition, Logic, Reasoning, Research, Debate, and Grammar.  

Regardless of age and different studies, each notebook is composed the same way: heavy or medium weight page protectors, a two-pocket folder, and pre-loaded paper (lined or cardstock, depending). Each of the children picked out their own folders for their notebooks, each suiting their personalities––from solid colors to bicycle-riding bananas and metallic unicorns! They’re helpful for holding handouts and helpful learning tools to reference, like algebra laws, diagrams, or vocab lists, during their studies. The folder’s primary job is to keep loose papers in place.

The page protectors become a storehouse for finished essays, paintings or illustrations, copywork or narrations. As the notebook becomes full, I can slide out the pages to store away on the shelf until the year’s end, when they each have a catalogue of their learning. I have learned the hard way that all of the writing and artwork can easily pile up during the year if it does not have a home.

How do you like to organize your work during the year? Do you keep notebooks or another system?

 

#BackToSchoolSpecialists


This post is sponsored by Staples, but all images and opinions are 100% my own. Thank you for supporting the businesses that help keep this space afloat. 

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A Gift Guide for the Homeschool

Gift giving is my love language. Whether it’s something handmade, something gently loved and no longer needed, something you can experience, or something new, I love gifting things that would mean something to the one receiving. I think we all do on some level. But I confess, I get easily overwhelmed this time of year inventorying what my children (or other people we gift to) need or what they might enjoy after a trend has passed. We do not purchase much for our children during the holidays, but what I gift them, I want to be special.

I began this gift guide two years ago as a way to share gifts that I discover in the search for meaningful and high-quality gifts for our own home. Many years, we have gifted experiences to our children, which you’ll find in the very first gift guide. These guides are not sponsored, although I do use some affiliate links to favorite businesses we support. But ultimately, these guides are a gift to you, dear readers––a gift of time on my part to ideally save some time on yours. I hope you find something or some idea that fits just right. I should also note, these gift guides build upon one another. Because I select things our home will enjoy for years (and multiple children), the gifts in my guide two years ago apply just the same today. You can find my first gift guide and my second gift guide here.  Happy holidays, friends. xx


GIFTS FOR YOUNG ARTISTS + BUSYBODIES 

1. Kinderfeets Bamboo Balance Bike  2. eeboo Learn to Draw books  3. Oragami Chic  4. Owl Cross-stitch Kit  5. Everyday Watercolor  6. Windsor & Newton Water Colour Pocket Sketch Box  7. Grimm’s Wooden Rainbow Bell Tower  8. Derwent Graphite Drawing Pencils 9. Making Waldorf Dolls  10. Woodstock Chimalong 11. Bamboozler Wooden Puzzle 12. Lino Cutting Set  13. Basket Making Kit  14. Melissa & Doug Wood Work and Project Bench  15. Seedling Create Your Own Dolly  16. Uncle Goose American Sign Language Blocks  17. Little Diggers Garden Tool Sets

GIFTS FOR YOUNG NATURALISTS + ADVENTURERS 

18. Birds of Prey 48″ Kite  19. Original Audubon Bird Call  20. The Pocket Scavenger  21. Mini Fairy Garden  22. Women Who Dared  23. Pocket Guide to the Outdoors: Based on My Side of the Mountain 24. National Geographic Hobby Rock Tumbler  25. Estwing Rock Pick  26. Swurfer Tree Swing  27. Rosie Research Solar System Bracelet Kit  28. Opinel Pocket Knife and Brown Leather Sheath  29. Animal Camouflauge  30. Knot Tying Kits  31. Treasure Hunter’s Game  32. Carson BugLoupe Magnifier  33. Flower Families: A Go-Fish Game  34. Large Moon Lamp  35. Botanicum  36. Uncle Goose Constellation Blocks  37. Children Rustic Walking Stick 

GIFTS FOR YOUNG ENGINEERS + SCIENTISTS 

38. Iggy Peck’s Big Project Book for Amazing Architects  39. Crystal Radio Kit  40. Wooden Wonders Dr. Maple Medical Kit  41. LEGO Women of Nasa Set  42. STEAM Kids  43. Science Experiments You Can Eat  44. Leatherman Multi-Tool for Kids  45. Compounded Chemistry Board Game  46. Rosie Revere’s Big Project Book for Bold Engineers  47. Thames & Kosmos Air + Water Power Experiment Kit  48. Hape Quadrilla Wooden Marble Run  49. Seedling Design Your Own Marble Maze   50. Young Architect City Planner Set  51. Grimm’s Wooden Fraction Circles  52. Prime Climb: The Beautiful, Colorful Mathematical Game  53. The Curious Kid’s Science Book  54. 11 Experiments That Failed

GIFTS FOR YOUNG TECHIES + INVENTORS

55. Piper Computer Kit  56. Wright Flyer Model  57. Tegu Magbot  58. Make: Paper Inventions  59. Tech Will Save Us Micro:Bot Pack  60. Kamigami DIY Lina Robot  61. Cozmo Programmable Robot  62. BOSEBuild Build-It Yourself Bluetooth Speaker for Kids  63. Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code  64. Smithsonian Maker Lab  65. Make Your Own Mud Clock  66. Tot Tube Playset  67. Ukranian Bridge Wood Puzzle  68. Castle Logix Game  69. Coding iPhone Apps for Kids  70. Thing Explainer 

GIFT FOR YOUNG FOODIES + WRITERS

71. Tombow Beginning Lettering Marker Set  72. Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly  73. A Year in the Woods  74. Organic Cotton Hanging Nest  75. Star Wars Death Star Ice Mold  76. Mini Alphabet Stamps  77. Children’s Kitchen Tool Set in an Herb Pot  78. Start Where You Are: A Journal of Self-Exploration  79. Large Moleskine Cahier Journal in Pastels 80. Tovla Training Chopsticks for Kids  81. How to Cook in 10 Easy Lessons   82. Toysmith Deluxe Root Viewer  83. Plays Children Love 84A Child of Books  85. Crayon Rocks  86. Harry Potter Kids Aprons  87. MasterChef Junior Cookbook  88. Curious Chef Nylon Knife Set

A Reader’s Survey | The Origins and Evolution of this Blog

I began this blog a decade ago next month, just after Blythe’s first birthday––before Olive, before homeschooling, before any personal financial collapse, before Instagram or sponsorships, before a dramatic family move, before cohabitation with my sister’s family, before the slow and pending DIY renovation of our current home, before cloistered away meant anything else than simply being tucked away in the quiet recesses of motherhood and home life. This blog began as a pragmatic solution, one where I could share the images and updates our families wanted, while also channeling my creative spirit and desire to journal about motherhood. Like Flannery O’Conner, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Over the years, this space has helped me process the emotion and experience of motherhood (or at least the parts I wanted to remember––wink), our journey into homeschooling, and even at times the changes and hardship our family has endured. In many ways, it has helped me become.

Although it wasn’t initially intended, this space has now evolved into a personal business––a joy and gift for our home in financially fragile years and circumstances. It has also become a humble resource guide for thousands of readers, and I’m so immensely grateful. Yet as my readership has grown and evolved, so has the content of this space. I’ve felt more protective of my family, especially my growing children, and their own voices and stories. It can be tricky finding the balance of authenticity and privacy, but I’m always seeking it.

Still, it feels time to do some housekeeping of this space, some clearing out and directing of content again. And I would love your input!What do you love about this space? What would you love to receive here?  Would you do me a HUGE favor and take 2-3 minutes and fill out THIS ANONYMOUS SURVEY? The info is ONLY for my personal use and help in better gauging the needs and readership of this community, and it will be so helpful, whether you are a first-time or long-time reader. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Beginning Again | Our Resources for the New School Year

I tend to get more emails this time of year wanting to hear what resources and materials we’re using in our home. Early in this journey, I felt awkward sharing public details about our annual plans or routines. It sounds a little silly to me now, but it also reveals the level of insecurity I felt about charting an unknown course in such a public manner. If you scroll back far enough on these pages, you’ll find there’s no direct course at all, no magic trick to the best education, or must-use curriculum for every child or family. Routines and process have ebbed and flowed here with our family’s needs. As it turns out, the unknowns I felt so insecure about in the beginning have become the most important and life-giving element in this journey. What I have learned is this:

pay attention, recognize the needs in your home, and plan accordingly. Fear and doubt are prone to creep into any choice one makes, but they should never be the decision-makers. A beautiful story waits to unfold in those unknowns. 

As I mentioned here, Liam began high school this year, and aside from the emotional strangeness of entering his final years at home, I find myself stretched in a new way to meet the needs of a high school, junior high, and grammar school under one roof. It changes so quickly. They change so quickly. While I am no longer having to consider nap-times or potty training, I am now considering PSATs and college admissions and keeping transcripts right alongside reading and spelling lessons and experiential learning for my younger two.

I’m mentioning this because you’ll notice the shift here, even as I write out the resources we’re using this year. The boys are both in the Challenge program with Classical Conversations (at their request), and following a designed, socratic-style curriculum with a once/week classroom seminar. Their learning feels like an organic step from our home toward preparation for the college years, learning how to plan for deadlines, how to study or annotate a book, how to take notes in a class, how to form an argument and listen/respond to someone else’s, etc. Although the content they will be studying this year is selected ahead of time, the quality of what they learn is still largely dependent upon them, so they are slowly learning how to manage time and take responsibility for their education in a new way. Their descriptions below will feel more robust than the girls right now, simply because their curriculum is designed ahead of time, and the girls, who are still learning in a more self-directed manner appropriate to their ages are not. We will add activities or reading to their year more naturally as we go, instead of planning the entire course on the front end (which in past years has been too cumbersome for our home).

As for the way these two paths intersect in our home, I spend more time with the girls in their learning, whereas the boys are working far more independently. I am available to answer questions and help both the boys during the day, and I work with each of them on one seminar of their choice each day. All four children are still using Saxon math, and I will say, these teaching videos are life-saving for me!


Liam / Ninth Grade

Liam will began Classical Conversations Challenge 1 program this year. It’s a 30 week, one day/week program with seminar style classes, classical pedagogy, and a Christian worldview. There are six seminars covered each year in Logic, Grammar, Science, Rhetoric, Exposition/Composition, and Debate, although the specific content changes at each level. This year, the content will build around American government, economics, and literature. He will study (and memorize selection from) several American documents, the history and foundations of the US government and economy, read 20+ American novels, short stories, and essays exploring the relationship between government and freedom, which will also be the fodder for his writing of persuasive papers with the help of this writing curriculum. He will continue with Latin studies and also study drama and music theory, reading his first full-text Shakespearean play, The Taming of the Shrew, three different times over the year with his class, and separately studying the connection between math and music. For math, we’ll continue with Algebra 1 and will use these teaching videos to help him with greater understanding, self-teaching, and review. Math is still his most challenging subject, but he’s committed to learning how to do it, which I love! He will also study Physical Science, learning to study from a textbook for the first time and also how to keep a formal lab notebook and write lab reports. Although some parts of the class divert from my own style (and pace!), this will be Liam’s third year in the Challenge program, and he absolutely loves it. His academic workdays are as full as they sound, and although it’s a lot to manage, he is rising to the occasion. The structure has been so good for the both of us in different ways. Plus, at almost fourteen, I’m grateful for him to have a peer class experience without other family members. He is also playing basketball this year, which has been good for so many reasons, and will be wrapping up his summer lawn business with Burke very soon.

Burke / Seventh Grade

Burke is beginning his first year in the CC Challenge program in Challenge A, at his choice, and he is also loving it! The seminar style learning and six classical blocks are the same in his level, although the content serves more as an introduction to several skills that carry through the program. He will begin Latin studies this year and will begin learning the structure of persuasive writing and rhetorical argumentation using the Lost Tools of Writing. The content for these papers derive from the 10 novels he reads for the course, many of which are favorites he’s already read and loves (i.e. The Magician’s Nephew; The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, The Door in the Wall; Amos Fortune, Free Man; Number the Stars, to name a few). Science will be similar to what he has been doing already at home, studying the natural world and anatomy, researching, writing a weekly paper with illustrations, and presenting to the class. He is learning how to study texts and use a highlighting system for retention and review. He is also studying cartography, one of his favorite seminars, slowly learning to trace the entire globe, labeling all of the countries, provinces, and major features by memory. Burke wasn’t interested to play a sport this year, but he is interested in music. We’re not able to do music lessons for him quite yet, but I’m wanting to help him learn the keyboard or a string instrument on his own, maybe? If anyone has thoughts, I’d appreciate to hear them.


We have so many books and curriculums accumulated over the years, so this year, instead of purchasing new ones for the girls, I decided to simply go through our bookshelves together, asking them about their own interests. It’s been a refreshing way to approach the year, and I’ve been happily surprised by some of their choices. I have restocked supplies (paper, quad notebooks for math, art supplies and materials) and will seek out small things we may need as go, but for the most part, we’re using what we have already.

Blythe / Fifth Grade

Blythe will continue with the same pattern of notebooking this year––writing and illustrating her learning for this year. We’re still building her reading list for the fall, but there will be an assortment of literature in classics, science, history for her to choose from and copy/narrate passages. I plan to adapt some lessons in descriptive or analytical writing for her from this book, and she will begin studying grammar more formally this year, too, which she is excited about, preparing her for Latin in the upcoming years. I’m using an old edition of this guide from the class I used to tutor, but if you don’t have access, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature, as it’s a structured and gentle introduction. Spelling instruction is a must, although I’m not positive which curriculum/method I’ll use with her yet, we have a few and I’m sampling out to find the right one. Blythe loves drawing, painting, and hand-lettering and has been begging for art lessons the last two years. I’m so happy both girls will be taking a weekly art class this year, and I also purchased two new illustration books for her (this one and this one) to practice design and pattern. She will continue with Saxon Math 7/6 and she’s interested to go through this History of Science study she and the boys and I read through and loved a couple of years ago. I’m happy to enjoy it with her and Olive this year again!

Olive / Third Grade

Olive is still a busy bee and loves working with her hands, so all of her learning takes on a natural kinesthetic vibe. She will also be notebooking a couple of times a week from readings in literature, history, and science, and I imagine doing a lot of self-initiated crafts and forts. Wink. She is still growing in her confidence as a reader, so we’re pulling abridged classics from the shelf for her to practice reading aloud or independently. We are using this book for spelling and for reading practice with me. If you’re interested in hearing more about our family’s long journey in teaching reading, you may find this webinar helpful. She finished Saxon Math 3 over the summer, but I didn’t feel confident about her speed and confidence with multiplication facts to move onto 5/4, so we borrowed this math book from a friend (which we both love), and are spending this semester reviewing concepts and strengthening her fact skills. We’ll re-evaluate in January whether to begin 5/4 or do something else. We’re not doing any formal grammar this year. She’s not interested, and I honestly don’t find it necessary right now. It’s more important to me that she’s confidently reading (and enjoying it!) and practicing skills she’s interested in right now. I think having older children has made me appreciate how simple these years can be. She’s listening and enjoying the History of Science study with Blythe, and she decided she also wants to listen to this history on Ancient History (MP3 audiobook here) and trace maps. She refers to this as “her history.”  Like Burke, she has a general interest in music, but we havne’t been able to do formal lessons yet. I’m hopeful we can work something up here at home sometime this fall, but I’m open to feedback and ideas for any of you who may have them!

GENERAL SUPPLY + RESOURCE FAVORITES

Check out both of my Homeschool Gift Guides here and here. Or follow the bunny trail of past years here, here, and here.

Other helpful resources from friends: Wild+Free bundles. Jodi Mockabee’s “Schoolhouse Curiosities” guides. At Home podcast. Jennifer Naraki’s main lessons. The Peaceful Preschool and Playful Pioneers both here. Salty Tribe homeschool videos. And Pinterest.

Our Homeschool Year Rhythm + Resource Guide

I know it’s mid-June, and most every parent in the northern hemisphere has already blocked last school year out of their brain and moved into summer. But I discovered a drafted blog post I wrote in the fall talking about our plans, rhythm, and resources. Don’t ask why I never posted it. But anyway, I’ve tweaked it, more as a reflection of the past year, a broad reflection, to give you a better idea of how our year looked and our favorite resources. I had also begun a Civil War/slavery resource guide in the Spring, based on books our family read this year. Would that be helpful to share, too? Can you tell I’m recovering pace and reflecting right now? Wink. Either way, enjoy!


I have shared here and on Instagram thoughts about doing less in our homeschooling, about not having to accomplish everything in a day, a week, or even a year. I wanted to expand on that thought a bit here, too, as it feels ironic considering we were doing far more this last year than any other. What I mean is I would love to go back in time and assure that young, uncertain mother: it’s okay to not do everything right now. Now that my children are older and the oldest three are confident, independent readers, with my fourth also now entering more fluency, I understand how their capacity for learning has increased and blossomed and how my own has too. We can do more, not from a place of striving to do more and check off subjects, but because their natural capacity and curiosity has grown. For young families on this journey, please don’t belittle the power of quality play time, outdoor exploration, read aloud, and artwork. They take in SO much and all of you will enjoy the learning even more than tons of assigned paper work. Encourage your child’s love of reading as much as possible, as it will be the greatest asset to future learning of any sort as they grow.

It is difficult to discuss the way anyone chooses to educate their children without first acknowledging the temperament of the family members, and also the culture of the home. Some parents are more relaxed and some tend to worry. Some need high structure and others prefer to move on whim. None of us can be all or do it all. Nor do we need to. After the first five years of homeschooling, working to fit several wonderful curriculums into our day and cover all the subjects, I burned out and was even ready to throw in the towel altogether. I didn’t sense any of the creative freedom I had once imagined and prized in homeschooling. I felt boxed in by my plans and our segmented studies. I felt frustrated and grumpy. Exhausted and overwhelmed. Some of this had to do with other stressful circumstances our family was navigating at the time. My children seemed to be happy, but for the first time I wondered whether I actually had the capacity for homeschooling any longer. That was three years ago. We looked at school options for our children again, and once again did not feel peaceful about any of them. Instead I took a less obvious route and ditched almost everything we were doing: our weekly homeschool group with other families, my job tutoring other students, extra-curricular activities, and most formal curriculum. Although I still began the year with some plans and ideas, we paired down to formal lessons in only reading and math for the year and added space and time for more flexible read aloud, art, and outdoor play into our day again. I said no to a lot of my personal work and opportunities (so hard!) and most of my formal plans went out the window. I learned instead to listen to the needs of our home, to listen to my own soul’s needs. Over the course of that initial year, my heart began to grow and I fell in love with homeschooling again.

In the last three years, here’s what I’ve learned about myself and our home: I won’t stick too closely with rote plans, even the best ones. I love the hands-on approach of Montessori, the seasonal attentiveness and artwork/handwork of Waldorf, the literature in Charlotte Mason, and the skeletal strength of classical education––and I’m learning better all the time how to glean the things we love in each area. And of course, never belittle the quality of natural learning.


OUR CURRENT FAMILY RHYTHM

I realize it’s now mid-June, and many homes have already moved into their own summer rhythms, some choosing to put aside their formal learning for a while and others choosing an annual approach. I typically try to get a post of this nature out before the school year instead of near the end, more in sync with all the questions I receive about curriculum and routine, but I figured it might interest to some of you in the coming months as you think about your own home and homeschool. I’m also writing up some ideas and thoughts on our summer, too, since I have received many questions about what summer will look like for our family. So stay tuned.

Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what this last school year would look and feel like, as so much has changed for our home last year. To begin, Mark is now working from home and homeschooling the children in the morning while I work––(inserts: streamers and high fives for so many reasons). Liam just finished a Challenge B course with Classical Conversations at his request the year before for Challenge A, taking a once a week seminar-style class on his own with friends and learning so many new things and skills at home through research, writing, and discussion. The work load has been a big change for our home’s rhythm, but he loves it! My sister and her family recently moved down the street from us and also began homeschooling her younger children, so Olive spends an hour or so in the morning at her house down the street, practicing reading, handwriting, and playing. In the afternoon, her son Shepherd joins all of us for read-aloud, nature study, and mapping. This is a gift for our social seven/eight year olds, and a logistical help to both of us right now. And a few times a month, our family meets with friends for nature school, enrichment projects, field trips, and presentations of our week’s work––a way for them to play with and learn from friends and also share their work. The pace of our days have changed, but it’s good.

Writing this out, it sounds like we do a lot. A whole lot. But we don’t accomplish all of it in a day. Some things might not even happen each week. We have foundational skills each child works through daily, Monday through Thursday: Latin, Logic, and Pre-Algebra for Liam; math, spelling, handwriting, and independent reading for Burke and Blythe, and reading practice, math, and handwriting for Olive. Different books are often read aloud in the morning, afternoon, and before bed because we love it! And that’s it! Everything else [illustration, handwork, grammar, copywork and writing, mapping, nature study] feels like a wonderful bonus, and they cycle through our week in intervals, often only once or twice a week. Also many practices overlap with the other; for instance, the kids will sketch or paint or practice their handwork while I read aloud. We try to read books aloud that tell us about history, people, and different cultures. Those books serve as a springboard for other valuable self-directed activities, too. For younger families, take the pressure off yourself to do or study everything.

With four children spanning age 8 to 13, the skills and needs vary so much. I’ve learned so much about understanding home rhythms from reading about Waldorf and Charlotte Mason guides. Much of it is intuitive, but I’ve found it’s helpful to focus our routine around the energy and pace of our home rather than a particular subject. It is an art I’m still learning. Here’s roughly how our day rhythm was structured this last year, with resources included below.

8:00 am | THE MORNING TABLE a nurtured beginning

We do our best to begin at a consistent time in the morning, although it does flex a bit. We eat a simple breakfast together, read 1-2 chapters of the Bible together, practice memory work, and pray together. We try to bless our children into the day, briefly speaking something true and encouraging over them. I hope this beginning to our day will happen more often outdoors as the days begin to cool off. It always seems easier to wake up outdoors.

8:30 am | MORNING RHYTHM  focus + independence

maths, logic, independent reading and read aloud (emphasis: 19th century history and literature), spelling, handwriting, play

For our home, it has always turned out well to begin with the work that requires the most focus and attention. After a full night’s sleep, our brains tend to be most alert. Coffee can help make up the difference for the adults. Wink. Young children and toddlers tend to be more calm and happy, too, making it easier to carve out a small window for a brief reading or math lesson with an older child or for self-directed play/learning. As mentioned, Mark leads this part of the day right now. They do not necessarily keep with a rigid schedule for the morning, although they tend to begin with math and carve out generous time mid-morning for read aloud in the backyard. In the morning this year, we read books aloud about or written in the 19th century––i.e., Of Courage Undaunted about Lewis and Clark; SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War about friendship and the war of 1812, Frankenstein, and more about Commodore Perry, Napoleon, Queen Victoria, and several books surrounding the Civil War this last Spring.

Burke and Blythe also have a mixture of assigned and self-selected independent reading covering the same time period, which they find time for at some point in the morning, often while Mark is working through a Logic lesson with Liam. Burke and Blythe are also responsible to read aloud to Olive a bit each day, a way for them to practice their own intonation and storytelling and also connect with their younger sister. All of our children struggle with spelling––don’t ask why––so it’s something we try to practice a bit each day.

We give each of our children a lot of flexibility in how they work through their more intensive morning work, but we strongly encourage each to respect one another’s work and to pay attention to what others are doing when you enter a space. At age eight, Olive has the least amount of independent work, so we encourage her to self-directed play, handwork, or art while she waits for a playmate. She also spends an hour or so at my sister’s each morning for a reading lesson with her cousin and free play, which is such a gift for her social self. Throughout the day, we encourage a lot of play, and when Mark or I notice any of the kids struggling to focus, we tend to send them outdoors to romp around a bit, to get their heart pumping and lungs breathing deeply.

NOON   | THE RESTING TABLE an intentional pause

We keep meals easy at lunch, often sandwiches or leftovers or bento-style, and everyone makes their own. At this time I try to wrap up whatever I’ve been working on and swap roles with Mark. We try to clean up from the morning, although that doesn’t often happen, and also save texting and emailing for this time.

1:00 pm | AFTERNOON RHYTHM  exploration + expression

read aloud of children’s classics and the Holling books, handwork, map work, painting, nature study, grammar, writing, Latin, play

After lunch, there’s always a different sort of energy, more erratic and noisy, so we save the more expressive and active learning for this time. Since our home is no longer a napping home (insert: tears), we try to help the kids notice when they need quiet or a break from the crowd. Mark built a few tables for Liam’s party, and we moved one inside to replace the old preschool sized table before it. I keep a pile of our favorite illustrated nature books there with a wooden tote of colored pencils and paint brushes and a stack of thick cardstock nearby on the shelf. We don’t have much formal nature study, so I encourage them to flip through the books and sketch/paint whatever interests them while I read aloud ( The Wind and the Willows, Dicken’s A Christmas CarolLittle Women, or books from the library). On the charmed weather days, we’ll take the wooden tote and nature books to the backyard to sprawl out on blankets, using a slab of plywood for a desk surface. The kids might also carve wood or weave during this time, too.

One day a week, instead of The Wind and the Willows, we read a bit of a Holling C. Holling book, using the book and this study as a guide through US geography. We read and mapped Paddle-to-the-Sea , Tree in the Trail, Minn of the Mississippi, and Seabird. It was wonderful! Several people have asked me about the maps we used, and I highly recommend them. I didn’t purchase them at first because of the expense and also the want for my children to create their own maps, but I changed my mind in the first few weeks and am so pleased! They’re beautiful and large enough for all age groups. And my kids love mapping!

What happened after this depended on the day, my energy, and the spirits in the home so it’s hard to write out neatly here. Sometimes we stop after read aloud. Sometimes we go for a walk or to the park. Sometimes we meet up with friends. But I tried to practice writing with the youngest three and my nephew once or twice a week, as it is a foundational skill of expression:

Burke + Blythe | In the fall, one to two days a week, I pulled a couple of sentences from whatever they read that day, dictated one sentence each for them to write on our chalk wall. We parse it together and discuss the parts of speech and jobs of the words. It takes 10-15 minutes. It’s a natural and brief extension to our reading and a preparation for when they begin foreign languages. One afternoon a week, they write a paragraph or two about their reading (any reading). I often help them draft an outline and they write it on their own and I revise it with them. I’m not using a formal curriculum for any of this, but if you prefer one, I highly recommend English Lessons Through Literature for a gentle approach to language, which I wrote more about here (diagramming begins at level 3). Also, the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) has a geography-based writing curriculum that compliments the Holling Geography study.

Olive + Shepherd | Two afternoons a week, they copy a couple of sentences from our reading and illustrate it. We tried to organically discuss parts of speech, but I let that go sometime in the fall. We stuck to writing and illustration primarily.

Liam | Liam did much more of his work independently this year. In the afternoon, I quizzed his Latin vocab or checked his translation/parsing, read his writing and helped him think through his composition/research papers. This often times might happen organically during dinner meal-prep or in another setting.

4:00pm | CLEAN-UP

5:00pm | MEAL PREP + PLAY

6:00pm | THE EVENING TABLE unwind + reflect

We each share our best/worst part of the day, and often eat with another family or friends. The kids play afterward and we bathe and have read aloud. We’ve read the entire Wingfeather Saga this last year and loved it! We’re finishing book four this month. I highly recommend it for family read aloud.


RESOURCES

mathSaxon math for all the kids. It’s rote and straightforward, but it works for us. If you have younger children, here’s something I wrote about introducing math concepts without a curriculum. If teaching math overwhelms you, I also recommend Teaching Textbooks as a helpful alternative.

reading lessons | My sister is using All About Reading with the kids, which is wonderful if you or your children love all the activities. Last year I used Reading Lessons Through Literature and loved it. I did fill in the gaps in places where I felt she needed extra practice.

read aloud and independent reading| reading lists from Tapestry of Grace, Ambleside Online, and our own personal love of literature and research

spelling | word lists from Reading Lessons through Literature; also recommend All About Spelling 

geography | Beautiful Feet Books

writing + grammar | taken from reading

nature study | exploration + quality nature books

extras this year | canoe trip, apiary, participated in A Christmas Carol play, seaside daytrip, trip to Gettysburg and Washington DC, flower studies