“Aim high!” my middle school teacher solemnly intoned one restless spring morning. We could not have been a less inspiring bunch, I’m sure, more worried about who would win wiffle ball at recess than how we might one day change the world.
Nevertheless, her injunction rings in my ears to this day. Her touching belief in her rapscallion crew fuels my best efforts to make something of my life. In taking us seriously, she kindled my hope that, by God’s grace, I might one day contribute something worthwhile to His kingdom.
And yet, as I sweated over homeschool plans all summer, I felt my heart longing to aim just a smidge lower. Could it be that I’ve taken myself too seriously all these years? Could the world possibly keep turning if I eased the bar down ever so slightly?
So I decided to make this the year I would go with the flow, adjust as needed instead of brandishing my polished plans, expect the unexpected, remember that my girls are still little.
Week 1 dawned with sniffles all ‘round. By mid-week I had lost my voice and was down for the count. I recovered my voice only to lose it again from reading mountains of picture books to ailing daughters. “Yes, Lord, you certainly do have a sense of humor!” I chuckled through gritted teeth.
But despite a rocky start, we nestled into our rhythm faster this second year of homeschooling, even though I have two scholars this time around. We even tried that narration thing I’d dreaded for so long. Imagine my shock when instead of giving me surly stares, the girls fought over who could tell about the story first.
Still, maybe things were going too smoothly (can’t ever leave well enough alone, right?). Are we doing enough? Is our school day long enough? Or too long? They only gave a one-sentence narration – is it time to push for two sentences?
Of course, when plagued by self-doubt the best thing to do is stay up late poring over all your homeschooling books while simultaneously listening to podcasts from a dizzying array of perspectives. They’ll tell you to narrate every blessed thing your child reads, or not to narrate at all, or to make dioramas, or to never add hands-on activities because just books are enough, or not to spend more money on your homeschool except for just this one seminar they taught that costs a mere three-digit figure.
As you can see, I’m very good at driving myself crazy. But every now and then, if I put all the stuff away and shut off all the competing voices, a quieter, saner voice whispers through my frenzy. This time I heard the voice suggesting that I don’t need to simply lower my expectations. I need to ask whose expectations I’m aspiring towards.
If I’m trying to fulfill the decrees of every homeschool mom who ever wrote a book or made a podcast, I truly will despair. I’m utterly grateful for the accumulated wisdom that’s so easily accessible to us newer homeschool moms these days. But sometimes I have to ask myself why it’s so much easier to turn to books and podcasts instead of spending a few quiet moments with my Father. He knows exactly how He wants my girls educated, He sees exactly who He wants them to become, and He’s the only one who can get them there.
I’m finding myself breathing just a little easier these days. If I want to construct a diorama, I’ll construct a diorama (if only to learn why people hate dioramas). If I find we’re getting joy out of making little notebooks about our reading, then we’ll make notebooks despite blogs saying it’s not what the Charlotte Mason purists do (thank God!). I won’t accelerate my gray hairs trying to determine the fault line between narration and discussion nor which method is superior for producing reasonably sound human minds. And if in three months I read back over this and find I’ve gotten it all wrong again, I’ll pray and adjust once more.
The things I’ve learned in my illustrious, just-over-a-year-long career as a homeschooling mom can be distilled into four brief points. I don’t claim to know much of anything, but I’m gaining confidence that living out these four points just may be the ticket to homeschooling, mama-heart freedom.
- Slow down, simplify, buy less.
- If a curriculum and / or method makes us all happy, refuse to consider a new one, no matter how happy it makes other people.
- When all else fails, read the BOOKS. Reading books formed the entire education of people like Abigail Adams, George Washington Carver, Louisa May Alcott, and so many others. If books and conversation were enough for them, I’m sure they’ll be more than adequate for us. And on days when we can’t even muster a conversation, then…more books!
- Live the life that is before me right now with the people who are beside me right now. I love my ideal picture of how our homeschool life should look, but my God-given duty and blessing is to love the life and people He’s given me. I’m realizing more than ever that when ideals and real life collide, I must allow some margin for compromise if we’re all going to survive the day. Then the Father can cover the multitude of our shortcomings with His grace. Oh, how I pray He will!
So, would you like to take a little peek inside our school days and the books we’re savoring? Not because I think we’re awesome, but because it’s fun to share and because I’d love to hear about your school days too.
Okay, here’s what we’re up to so far:
Sunrise Service: Upon arriving downstairs unconscionably early, the girls pile on the couch while their stupefied mother chugs her first cup of coffee and muddles her way through a stack of picture books. Once revived to a modicum of coherence, I gather everyone around the candlelit breakfast table. We read a Scripture passage and a chapter from Kenneth Taylor’s Devotions for the Children’s Hour. I mostly really like this devotional. It builds a thorough foundation of theological concepts in very simple language and has sparked some great discussions. I do occasionally find myself adjusting the wording to clarify that we are not saved by loving God or obeying God, but only by faith in Christ, so do be aware of that if you choose to use this devotional.
And please take note of our elegant “prayer jar,” made of scrapbook paper, lace and Mod Podge, that quintessential of all homeschooling supplies. I found flowers 70% off at Michaels, hot glued them to popsicle sticks, and wrote the names of family and friends we want to pray for on the sticks. The girls love picking a flower to see who we’re going to pray for that day, and I love having a focus for our erstwhile scattered prayer time. After prayer, we sing the hymn of the month with our Happy Hymnody friends. The girls like hymns so much more when they can sing them along with other children. Then we read the poem we’re currently memorizing, check the calendar, and discuss any plans for the day.
Morning Chores: These are pretty simple: clear plates, get dressed, put away laundry, and make beds. I’m thankful we worked on this routine over the summer so it’s not a huge struggle now.
Math: After chores, the girls hop to math class, leaping from one flashcard to the next as they give correct answers. Everyone arrives to math in a good mood this way. We’re using Abeka again this year after all our “adventures” (as I can now call them) with various curriculums last year. I like Abeka’s slow, steady, sensible progression. And the cute, colorful worksheets are routinely (and to my utter amazement) met with cheers of “Yay, worksheet time!”
Science: I never knew how much fun science could be until I started studying with my kids. The books are wonderful and it’s so easy to find hands-on ways to experience what we’re learning. For our autumn term, we’re reading about all the animals that live right in our Big Woods: mice, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, skunks, woodchucks, raccoons. Mama raccoon and her three babies have most helpfully come to steal our bird suet every night, allowing us plenty of firsthand observation. Today we sketched the little, suet-y footprints they left all over our deck.
The girls have a special love for mice because of the adored Mousekin books, so I thought a hands-on project would add extra fun. I found pieces of bark left over from a massive tree felling project and we glued them to boards to look like a hollowed-out tree. Then the girls ran around outside gathering leaves, moss, and thistledown to build nests for their mice (the cheap-o catnip variety from Amazon). Imagine the girls’ surprise upon waking the next day to find that their mice had babies!
True confession: I did go overboard and made a diorama. I admit this was totally for my own gratification since it was too complicated for the girls to help much. Now that it’s done, I don’t feel the need to ever make another, so that’s one burden rolled off my shoulders. The girls always want to know which animal we’re studying next, so I hide the little animal figurine for them to find before we start reading the book about that animal. Sometimes it’s the silly little things that add a touch of joy to our day.
History: We alternate science and history in our after-math timeslot. I’m using Alice Dagleiesh’s America Begins for our history spine with sundry and divers rabbit trails. Right now we’re exploring Native Americans with some fabulous books:
Recess: i.e. trampoline jumping time!
French: Having descended from entirely French-speaking grandparents who passed not one word of the language down, I’m determined to revive that bit of family heritage. We’re keeping it simple this year: French folksongs on YouTube and Little Pim videos (which make them surprisingly eager to come back from recess!). I fear some of it is actually sinking in. When I asked Flutterbudget if she wanted a banana for snack, she replied with a distinctly sarcastic undertone, “Don’t you mean une banane?”
Phonics / Reading: Again steady and slow Abeka has been my lifeline for reading lessons. While I work on reading with one daughter, the other works on:
Singing and Drawing: I know nothing about singing and drawing, but I want my girls to grow up with some measure of confidence and fulfillment in these areas. We’re enjoying the short video lessons from Sing Solfa and Children of the Open Air. And the Art with a Purpose packs are adorable, require only basic art supplies, and are simple enough for the girls to complete mostly on their own. The packs begin with basic coloring, cutting, and pasting, progressing slowly and steadily through all the basic elements of drawing and painting.
Lit. Lunch: I love Farmhouse Schoolhouse’s Lit. Lunch concept (“lit” as in candles and literature). Lunchtime reading has been solely responsible for my picture-book loving girls tolerating novels. We just finished Pippi Longstocking and are planning to tackle others on the Read Aloud Revival’s list of Favorite First Novels.
Teatime: Ah, my favorite time of day! We pull out the thrift store tea set, light candles again, and feast on tasty treats. Sometimes teatime is super simple, like popcorn, hard boiled eggs, and apple slices. If we have time to bake, we often enjoy one of these favorites:
We gather for tea three times a week, rotating through artist study, composer study, and fairy tales and fables. I chose Winslow Homer because his works are so child friendly and because of his sojourn in my home state of Maine. I’m slowly learning not to try to squeeze any particular response out of the girls but just to notice and wonder together. After reading the delightful Two Scarlet Songbirds: A Story of Anton Dvorak, we’ve been listening to The American Quartet, Bagetelles, and “Going Home” from the New World Symphony. And we read, and sometimes dramatize, stories from The Aesop for Children and Hans Christian Anderson.
Bedtime Memory Work: We look forward to our bedtime memory work because not only are we memorizing our way through the alphabet with Abeka’s ABC Bible Memory Cards, but we’re singing our way too with The Harrow Family’s Sing the Word From A to Z . How lucky that the songs coincide almost exactly with Abeka’s ABC memory verse choices! Singing together is such an amazing way to begin and end the day. After we say and sing the verse, we read a picture book, pray, and call it a night.
What books and rhythms infuse your homeschool days with beauty?