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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. 

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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Our Summer Rhythm and Routine

I often receive messages this time of year asking about our routine during the summer. Primarily, do we continue homeschooling or not? How do we structure our days? Or do we at all? In the homeschooling home, where boundaries of time and space ebb and flow, it can be difficult to discern transitions. There are no closing bells or good-bye parties for summertime. There may be an end to a study or co-op or music lesson or team sport, but not always. For the most part, homeschooling is an extension of the home, cyclically beginning and ending, flexing in content and activity to the needs and curiosities of the people who inhabit it. So how does our home look in the summertime? Different every year.

For the first several years of homeschooling, my husband was an educator, so we dropped all formal, structured learning in these months for home projects and travel together as a family. The single thread through them all has been reading. We always read, regardless of location and activity and season. You will find books in our car, in our purses and travel bags, and in every room of our home, minus the bathroom (because gross––wink). In more recent summers, the pattern has continued with home projects and travel, with more added structure in our days again by the end of July or the start of August. I have found too much willy-nilly-ness in our days stirs the pot of bickering around here, and sometimes all the travel and lack of routine works against us.

This year feels very different. Three of our four children will be in orthodontic braces this summer (insert: empty wallet emoji), meaning we will be enjoying more time at home, with a few inexpensive tweaks and repairs to our home spaces. Minus a few weekend trips to friends and family, we have an open calendar at home, and even more surprisingly, it feels good. Really good. Empty space, whether in our physical spaces or in the more abstract ones of time can feel uncomfortable, like we’re missing something, or needing something to fill it. But space can be one of the greatest sources of creativity and freedom, too. I love for my children to feel a sense of boredom, to enjoy an idle moment and follow where it might lead them, to wrestle with the tension of doing and being, of receiving and creating. It feels like a mini-resistance in a world of constant entertainment.

For our home this summer, we will have a mixture of structure and unstructured time in our day. Like many homes, we plan to settle into the relaxed days of summer, taking a break from new lessons and longer academically-driven days. While I am planning to keep firm boundaries of time, the space within those abstract walls is wide and vacant for their own pleasure, an invitation to re-create and enjoy time.

I know all of our homes are unique, with various goals and needs, so I am sharing this from our own. Read through it with grace and measure, gleaning what might be of value to you, and skipping the rest. Keep in mind, our children are 9-14 in age, meaning the concepts might look very different in homes with younger children. Wherever you are, enjoy it! It will change.

Summer Intensive / This list will make some of you yawn or roll your eyes, but I developed this particular list of things, based on needs and desires I noticed in my children and the conversations within our home. This is the most structured part of our week, 2-3 hours / 4 days a week. It includes:

30 Minutes of Quiet in Scripture / We’re using the She/He/Kids Read Truth as a guide through 1 and 2 Corinthians this summer, reading basically a chapter or two a day. Although we’ve read the Bible aloud together over the years, I’m ready to begin encouraging my older ones in their own spiritual disciplines, namely how to read, learn, and listen on their own. I plan to write more on this in a separate post.

Spelling / I’ve noticed slippery spelling in each of my children during this last year of writing, and wanted to be intentional about practicing this skill.  I’m using All About Spelling and began all four of them at level one, listing words via the index, to target specific words and spelling rules they may need to revisit. I plan to work the older three through the words in all seven levels this summer and pause Olive wherever I notice she needs work along the way.

Latin / The boys have been studying Henle Latin I with their CC Challenge course during the year. We’re using Latin with Andy tutorials and exercises briefly each day to keep content fresh and fill in weaker spots, especially for Liam who will move to Latin II next year. Blythe is doing a little Latin memory work before she begins her first year of study this year, and Olive is working through All About Reading level 4 with me during this time to strengthen her reading skills.

Math Facts + Laws /  All of the kids have finished their math for the year, and instead of moving into new lessons or concepts, they’re practicing math facts for a bit each day. The older ones are also reviewing Algebraic and Geometric Laws to strengthen their speed and work during the year. This is only 15 minutes or so each day.

Fun Fridays / Since we aren’t traveling this summer, I’m trying to be more intentional about day-trips and excursions this summer. We are planning Summer Intensive Monday through Thursday and leaving Fridays strictly for fun experiences together (with friends when possible) and our family Shabbat dinner in the evening. The children and I created a list of fun things we’d like to do this summer, everything from our annual The Lord of the Rings film marathon to sleepovers with friends to swim days to s’mores and campfires to hiking. Some of the things on the list can be wiggled into our weekday afternoons, while others will be special for the three day weekend each week.

Free Time / Even having 2-3 hours of structured Summer Intensive leaves many unstructured hours in our summer days. I need personal time to be able to write and work, and the kids need time to feel that sense of boredom, of creation. In order to avoid the “can I watch a show?” or “Can I play on the ipad?” thirty-two times a day, I created a list of potential activities for them when they feel stuck. Some activities are intuitive for our kids, reading, drawing, crafting, and although those things are on the list, I wrote less intuitive things, too, for the other times when they need gentle nudges, such as: create a scavenger hunt, write a letter to a friend, build an obstacle course in the yard, make a fort, watch the clouds and name the shapes. For those of you with younger children, consider building craft boxes now that they can only access during certain parts of the day.

Entrepreneurship + Internships / This technically falls under the same part of day as free time, but it seemed worth noting separately. Liam and Burke began their own lawn business three summers ago. Last year, they brought on two more friends and their younger cousin as a bagger. Three days a week, they work this business together, and two afternoons a week Liam is interning with his father and uncle. Liam’s hours are the most full, but he is also entering his second year of high school, learning more about making the most of his hours in rest, work, and play, such an exciting time for him.

Screen Time / Yes, our kids have screen time in the summer, but it is limited to a strategic time in the week and more often reserved for two hours on the weekend.  Sometimes we opt to watch a movie on a weeknight, or I let the boys play video games during a sleepover, or I let the kids watch a movie on a rainy afternoon, but these are exceptions. Or at least I want them to be. iPad included. The iPad is used for facts practice with the app, Xtra Math, where they each race their own times, for tutorials, and for texting friends at certain times of the day. This practice isn’t perfect in our home, but managing screens––both the time and content––is something we feel very strongly about in our home. We work hard to set clear boundaries and have plenty of conversation with our children. Basically, I’ve made peace with being the “bad guy” when it comes to this topic, especially in light of what friends can and cannot do.

Summer Reading / Although reading is always apart of our routine. Summer reading is particularly rewarding because of all the programs available through the local library and bookstores. We’re all in, and the library is apart of our weekly routine. Liam has a list of 19 British Lit novels he’ll be reading next year, so most of his reading will begin there, currently Beowulf and The Screwtape Letters. Burke will mostly be reading short stories next year, so we’ve worked with him to create a list of books we think he’d enjoy (and that we’d enjoy talking about with him), beginning with My Antonia and Fahrenheit 451. Blythe is working on her list of novels for the fall, currently The Magician’s Nephew, as well as fun pieces of modern fiction. Do you know the 8-12 range of children’s literature is my absolute favorite? And Olive is steadily working through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and shorter read-alouds to me to work on her comprehension and fluency.

What I Didn’t Expect Homeschooling Teens

When I first began this homeschooling journey, I was amazed how many people would ask, “Do you plan to homeschool the entire way? Through high school?” There always seemed to be an emphasis on that last part with a little bit of judgement in the mix, implying this is all nice while your kids are young, but do you really think you can handle high school? Will your kids be socialized? Will they be able to get into university? Will they want to be at home with you instead of with friends? What about prom? What about team sports?  See how much can be heard in just a simple question? Who knew. Most of the time I just smiled and shrugged.

Some days––especially in those first few years juggling new babies and toddlers in the mix––I didn’t know if I would homeschool next week let alone in another decade. Maybe I seemed too confident, too certain of my path. Maybe they just didn’t know what else to say. But I’ll let you in on a secret––more of this journey has been about listening and observing the needs in our home, and adapting as we go. For the most part, I have not taught our children based on what I know. Instead, I have become a student with them, learning so many things right alongside them, chucking some plans, gathering others. I’ve learned that just as my kids need space to breathe outdoors. So do I. Just as their minds begin to feel flooded with too many ideas at once, so does mine. If I am excited about something we are reading, generally, so are they. Homeschooling has created empathy and discipline in all of us, although none of it in the way I expected. I thought it would be tidier, more organized and straight-forward somehow. Sigh.

Fast-forward a decade and we’re here. In just a few weeks, Liam will be wrapping up his first homeschool year of high school, and Burke his first homeschool year of middle school. They have both been in a local Challenge class through Classical Conversations, a one day/week program for discussion and tutoring in six different seminars they work through the other 3-4 days at home. Liam is finishing Challenge 1 and Burke is finishing Challenge A. The year has been a joy for them both, and difficult for me in all the ways I didn’t anticipate. I have no idea what I fully expected, but in our conversations last Summer, we primarily focused on the subjects and thoughts that would fill transcripts and personal essays on college applications. I looked forward to connecting with them in more dynamic, rich ways. We discussed ways they would carrying more ownership and responsibility in their education. My lens was shifting toward their individual gifts and how Mark and I might help them grow into them. In so many ways, each of those things are happening, and as a parent, it’s both beautiful and affirming to watch each child unfurl.

Still, last fall was painfully difficult for me emotionally, although I couldn’t quite articulate why. I kept trying to find our rhythm, our groove for the new year. Instead, I felt like a spinning top. The days and the rhythm within them felt so foreign somehow. In addition to the Challenge program, Liam was playing on a traveling basketball team; the girls were taking a weekly art class; Burke was newly (and happily) carving out his own days academically. I was grieving. It seems overly sensitive and a bit ridiculous to write it out, but I was grieving! The landscape of our life was evolving, and I felt a bit lost. In the little years of mothering, so much time is spent corralling. We connect with our children in such pragmatic ways by taking care of their needs, by holding them, by including them in our work at home, by leading them in new skills. What should seem obvious is how that changes. Didn’t I want my children to take initiative and ownership in their education? Absolutely.

In Kim John Payne’s book The Soul of Discipline, he describes the transitioning parent roles of Governor, Gardener, and Guide over the course of parenthood. It was one of the more helpful parenting books I read last year, considering I am in all three stages currently. What the book offered me was language for my evolving role, not just as a mother, but as a homeschooling mother, too. I realized my educational role with my boys is quickly moving toward being their Guide, allowing them to take ownership and lead their own path with me alongside them asking probing questions, checking in on them, rather than simply directing them. Again, this may seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet after years of homeschooling together, I didn’t expect the loss I would feel when that changed. I should also clarify that just because I feel a sense of grief over a season of their childhood that is passing, that it is the wrong move. These guys are thriving.

As for beginning this current semester, I have felt calmer and more emotionally prepared. I pulled the girls out of art this semester to help simplify our family routine for the time, to enjoy more quality time with them at home and less time in the car. The boys still happily plop down with me and the girls at times when I’m reading aloud or when we’re talking about something they’ve read before or a topic they want to be apart of, and they share their presentations and work with us. I suppose these are the perks of living in small-ish spaces together. We’re always still aware of what the other is doing.

I realize there are hundreds of options and opportunities now for students wanting to homeschool during the upper school years, and we have chosen only one. It has been a humbling reminder that even now in the quite familiar journey of motherhood and homeschooling, I am still learning.

English Lessons Through Literature (and Art)

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I don’t often write about specific curriculum here, mostly because I believe children and parents can thrive together in learning at home regardless of the specific tools they choose. Some homes prefer guides that offer specific directives and concrete helps, while others will find the same guides stifling or unfit. There is room for both on this journey, and there is certainly not a right or wrong way to approach learning. I hope the tools I share here are always understood in this context: do what works for your home and forget the rest.

I also love sharing with other parents that for all the writing I do now, I wasn’t very good at grammar or writing as a child. I always loved reading, but I never really unpacked the structure of language or how to write clear, concise sentences until university. In those years, and later while working at a junior college, I learned to seek out the answers I needed in books or colleagues or the Internet. I hope this is an encouragement to lighten the load as parents: our children don’t have to know everything to become who they will. They simply need the desire to seek it out.

That said, I’ve had several people ask me about our language studies, about the materials we use in our home. Naturally, they’ve changed over the years, based on the kids’ ages or what styles best fit us, but I’ve generally looked for materials that introduce and build grammatical concepts in a beautiful way. Language studies, like maths, can leave a bad taste in ones mouth if reduced to worksheets. I wanted my children to enjoy dimension and color in our studies, the practice of structured skills balanced with art. This year, we have used Kathy Jo DeVore’s English Lessons Through Literature as a foundation for our learning, a curriculum that describes itself as a balance between the thoroughness of classical education and the gentleness of Charlotte Mason. I honestly think it could be applied even more broadly, depending on the home.

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Currently, there are five levels of ELTL, loosely corresponding to grade equivalents, although not restrictive in any way. I’ve used three different levels this year: level one for Olive, level three for Blythe, and level four for Burke. Liam’s language studies evolved this year into Latin studies, but that is a different topic for another day. Each level’s lesson builds around a brief book list, which is used for grammar and writing practice. Each level includes poetry, folk tales or fables, and picture narration around famous artists, but everything loops in a way that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. The lessons are substantial but only three per week, so I typically spread them out over 4-5 days, omitting things that might not work or be necessary for us at the time. Grammar studies begin in level two and diagramming in level three. Both are introduced slowly and gently. Although grammar terms were a part of my children’s copywork this year, I think I may have them create memory cards instead for review of terms, like the parts of speech or the various roles of noun. I’ve realized that long gaps between using new terms in any subject area makes it harder for them to recall in practice.

This year, we’ve created notebooks for our language and history/science studies, a simple three-ring binder that contains each child’s writing and illustrations from the their reading. I began this when my children were little but became discouraged at various points in the follow-through and then eventually stopped altogether. After longing for more art work and color in our school work again, we began building little books sporadically last year and more intentionally this academic year. I’m loving flipping back through their work this year, and I imagine they will one day, too. Jodi Mockabee, an online friend and inspiring homeschool mother, shared more specifics about notebooking in Wild+Free this month. We use many of the same tools and practices. My favorite thing that she does is type and print her children’s narrations for them to hand copy. Genius! For years, I’ve been handwriting their narrations, and this is so much easier.

english_language_through_literature_homeschool-4english_language_literature_homeschool-2OUR CURRENT ROUTINE

We set apart a 90 minute block of time at the back part of our morning for independent language studies. It’s not necessary to take 90 minutes (or even 30 per child), but I like not feeling rushed and making time for read-a-loud with each of them. On lighter days, we don’t require as much time, and that feels like a bonus. No one ever complains about extra free time. Wink. I begin with Olive, since she requires the most help from me, and send the other two off to do their reading and begin their writing for the day. Liam is working on his own independent work during this time. I read aloud to Olive, typically a poem or a fable and a chapter of a book we’re reading together. I may have her narrate to me or she’ll pick out a favorite part/line from the story to copy and illustrate. I move on to time with Blythe and Burke. Depending on the day, I sometimes combine their grammar lessons since they’re close in age, introducing something new and giving them each a chance to write a sentence from their individual reading on one of our chalk walls. We label and diagram together. At different points they’ll each narrate to me their independent reading that day. Sometimes that’s their writing practice, other times we just leave it as an oral narration (a test for comprehension). Sometimes I work through building a brief summary or literary analysis with them individually. Although we have a daily block for language, M/W/F tend to be our heavier days, and significantly lighter on T/R. This is helpful for spreading out work over the course of the week. If we don’t get to all of a lesson on one day, or even skip language altogether in a day. We always have space to make for it elsewhere in the week.

OTHER RESOURCES WE’VE LOVED

Punctuation | Eats, Shoots and Leaves:Why Commas Really do Make a Difference by Lynn Truss | A hilarious picture book for children about the purpose of commas. She illustrates the same sentence side-by-side with different comma usage, a helpful visual for adults, too. She also has written a this book for adults or teens about punctuation. Truly, she makes it light and fun to learn about the proper place for all punctuation. Also love: Twenty-Odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts! | The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes

Parts of Speech | Any picture book by Brian P. Cleary. They’re silly and simple, and so helpful for clearly recognizing words in their roles, over and over again. I especially appreciate the Adjective and Adverb books, as those two always seem to get jumbled.