Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Homeschooling Baby Steps Into the New Year

I would say that I am a go-getter.  Goal-oriented, list-driven and all sorts of lovely adjectives that show how much of a control freak I am.

Wait.  Control freak?  Do I really want to go there?  Alright, so maybe not a complete control freak, but a "git-'er-done"-kinda girl, I am.

The new year is always exciting to me.  I approach the year with pretend energy and enthusiasm that I have mustered up from the few pitiful remains of my leftover Christmas baking.  I'm full of good intentions and ways that this is the year I figure out how to get it all done.

Except this year.

There are only crumbs and the enthusiasm, while present, is a bit more muted and realistic.  The main way this is manifesting?  Our school year.

We started school back up yesterday with not the usual roar, but with a subdued "meow".

We are babystepping our way back into a full school schedule complete with a daily schedule now crammed with extracurricular activities.  Instead of jumping in with both feet, we're dipping our toes in, taking our time, making sure chores are getting done and the kitchen is clean.

And then mixing terrible metaphors.


Here's the thing with homeschooling... we get to call the shots.

We started with Math and English today.

That's it.  Honest.

And you know what?  It was perfect, exactly what we needed, do-able.

If your new year is not exactly the breath of fresh air that you were hoping for and you're still struggling with the exhaustion from the whirlwind called the holidays, you do not have to buy into the mindset that everything in the new year has to be new and fresh and the perfect opportunity to start everything all over again.

Give yourself permission to ease into it.  Don't compromise your sanity and ability to take in the moment because everyone seems to be saying that this is the way you should do it.

At the beginning of any race, the key is to pace yourself.  You don't want to feel like throwing in the towel next August, right?

Okay, so I had to squeeze in a couple of overused idiomatic metaphors.

I know, I know.

Pitiful.  I'll add reducing my usage of them to my list of goals for this year.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Resolution One: Exercising the Writing Muscle Again

This place seems unfamiliar and big, at best.  Scary and overwhelming, at worst.

The writing portion of my brain hasn't been exercised in awhile.  Like other unused muscles in my body, it feels like a bit of a stretch, especially uncomfortable because this used be familiar and easier.

Now here I am starting back at square one.

So here I am, a bit frayed around the edges, but ready to get back, ready to exercise again and remember how good this feels.

But like all exercising, it will probably take some time to build back up to where I was, letting my fingers glide over the keyboard instead of them almost stammering, looking for the right places to land.

The new year is the perfect and natural opportunity I needed to get back here, to reach out and hear your hearts and watch what God is doing in your lives and families and share what He is doing in ours.

I love the new year.  It's a clean slate, stretching out in front of us, as of yet, uncluttered, free, lovely and simple.  Soon, those calendar days will be filled in again and this unfettered moment will seem like a distant dream.

Let's enjoy these days, shall we?

2015, for us, like many of you, was not an easy year.  It wasn't bad or chock full of regrets, but not easy, nonetheless.  Writing was not something I could do.  It was too raw and uncomfortable, too revealing, at times.

2016 holds no promises of ease or days...weeks...months of comfort and relaxation.


It's going to be so good.


Because God.

And He.  Is.  Good.  All the time.

I can tell you what I am praying for, for you...for us... that it is a year that at then end of it, we look back and say, "Yes, I see the presence of Jesus with us every moment."  I pray that it is the year of breakthrough, of peace, of the impossibilities to us becoming possibilities because of Christ.

And that will be a very good thing, indeed.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What True Love Looks Like

Twelve years ago today, a boy proposed to a girl.  It really was a no-brainer, there was never a question that she would say "no".  He was still pretty cute with all of his adorable nervousness.

She knew (kinda) what it meant to put that ring on her finger and then immediately started working on potential wedding dates, colors, and the cake.

After all, they were in love, right?  That meant singing birds and shooting stars and never having to say we're sorry.

Let's fast forward through those twelve years, shall we?  Twelve years of true love.

Twelve years of....

...grocery store trips.

...late night bowls of ice cream.

...choosing to love hard.

...budget talks.

...uncontrollable giggles.

...road trips.

...brilliant ideas and not-so brilliant ideas.

...weight gain and weight loss and weight gain (mine).

...talking and re-talking and then talking through it again.

...dancing in the kitchen.

...intense, pressing-in kind of prayers.

I have a precious friend who is seriously contemplated marriage within the next year.  What could I share with her?  What does love look like, day in and day out, for real life?

Love looks different than I had imagined it the day he put that ring on my finger. 

Different, but infinitely better. 

True love looks like a husband making sure his wife has gas in her car.  It looks like laughing as you're cleaning up after sick children in the middle of the night, lots of laughing at mediocre jokes and forgiveness for not having a certain favorite shirt washed when it's wanted or having eaten the other person's left-overs.

Do you know what it also looks like?  It looks like rejoicing and laughing and eating and sleeping and trusting and delighting in each other.  It looks like being each other's biggest cheerleader and advocate, date nights, DIY projects that take forever and blow the budget, watching each other change the baby's diapers and holding hands and grossing the kids out.

True love takes care of the orthodontist bills and remembers birthdays and anniversaries.

True love has work gloves and boots on.  But, oh, my dears, it also has a sparkly red gown on.

Because even though it is work, it is also a delight, a refreshment to our souls and downright FUN!

I'll take that over the shooting stars and singing birds any day.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nine Ways To Organize Your Homeschool

I am neck-deep in my super-charged, time-to-get-'er-done season of ultimate school planning and organizing.


Secretly, I love it, but shhhhhh, don't tell anyone.

I love the challenge of going through all of the curriculum and getting it organized and planned out.  There's something about taking chaos and turning it into order that soothes every homeschool mama's heart and slight OCD compulsions.

But before I show you how I love to organize our school year, schedule and room, I am so excited to share these lovely ideas that you might be able to use.  You have to know that I found these on Pinterest, of course, because well, why wouldn't I?

Anything else would just be non-sensical.

If you're looking for some color-coordinated organization love, this post from Mrs. Terhune's First Grade Site! is so full of fun ideas!  Many of her ideas can be easily modified for a homeschool room.  I've implemented a just a few of her ideas so far, but keep visiting her site to get more inspiration.

My precious friend, Heather came up with this free printable a couple of years ago to help parents set goals throughout the year for their kids.  Plus, her blog (heatherhaupt.com) is simply encouraging, especially as a former homeschool student now homeschooling her own kids.

Intentional parenting means setting goals. Pray, plan and then act intentionally. {free printable semester goal sheets}
This post from Life of a Homeshool Mom is a great starting point for when you're beginning to plan out your year.  It's thoughtful and thorough, reminding her readers that this is what works for her, not necessarily for everyone.
Homeschool Planning 101 A 7-Step Guide to Planning Your Year
We homeschoolers LOVE anything free, right?!  Look at how cute these free printable binder spine labels are!  Many thanks to Vanilla Joy for making these available.
notebook binder spine labels free printable
This next one is something that is one of my favorite ways to organize my year.  Pieces of Us shows how she tears her workbooks apart then files the pages in the appropriate weekly file.  I do this with our workbooks as well, I'm just envying her rainbow colored folders!
This will be our first year of the high school portion of our homeschool (oy vey!) and this post from Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus gives some very practical ideas of how to bless and encourage your highschooler.
6 Ways to Organize Your Homeschooled High School Teen @ Tina's Dynamic Homeschool Plus
Do you need some encouragement in remembering why you're doing this?  Ed Snap Shots gives ten fantastic ideas of things you want to be doing with these days.
The 10 Best Things You're Not Doing for your Homeschool
I love labelling things, don't you?  These labels from Live, Laugh & Learn in Second Grade aren't printables, but I think they would be pretty simple to make and they're so cheerful!
I saved my favorite for last.  Please, don't forget the most important thing to do for your homeschool is to pray!  This is a lovely list from Life as a Homeschool Mom will give you several different verses to use throughout your year. 
We are all always looking for ways to be more organized and prepared for our school year.  We take on massive amounts of responsibility and it can consume so much of our attention.  My goal is to hopefully have given you a few ideas of things that you can do to make your days (and year) more smooth, enjoyable and lovely.
Happy planning!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Because Apparently Homeschoolers Are Supposed to Have Chickens?

I was in a conversation recently with an acquaintance and mentioned that we were planning on raising hens for the eggs.

His response? "Well, of course you are.  You ARE homeschoolers."

Oh.  I didn't realize these things were mutually exclusive.

There must be some unwritten rule somewhere that if we teach our children at home, that chickens are part of the package deal.

I wish someone would have told us sooner.  Here I've been, teaching my children for nine whole years now without the very necessary aforementioned laying hens.  How have we made it so far?

Now that we have our five ladies clucking around in their coop, I can't recall any of them asking us, pinning us down with their very beady-eyed looks, if we were homeschoolers, preparing to refuse to go with us if we answered in the negative.

I'm so thankful that if they had asked, though, we would have been able to answer correctly.  We really dodged a bullet there.

We have Maggie (Jack named his after his big sister), Lucy and Ethel, Camilla and Katherine strutting around, cackling, probably somewhat surprised that their names are nothing like Fluffy or KFC.  Our children have very exquisite taste in selecting chicken names.  I think they inherited it from me.

As we are learning about them, we are understanding the meaning of the phrases "hen-pecked" and "pecking order" in a whole new way.  Part of our education is how chickens can be so mean to other chickens who they view to be as outsiders.

However, nothing too terrible has happened yet and we're busy feasting on our fresh eggs they so lovingly give to us.

After all, we are homeschoolers.  Would you expect it any other way?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why You Need to Read Aloud to Your Children Now

Book Club

I have given birth to five bookworms.

(They're also Mexican jumping beans.  Well, only 1/4 Mexican jumping beans, but I digress.)

Five bookworms they are, and five bookworms I am planning on them staying.  Reading to me is as natural as breathing and the love of books ranks high on my list with chocolate truffles and coffee. There is never a time when there is not a half-read book somewhere in my general vicinity.

There must be something in the genes or perhaps passed along through the umbilical cord, as life-giving as oxygen and nutrients.  There was never any question in my mind that my children would be readers.  Just like they had no choice in their genetic makeup, they had to know that they may as well have been born holding a library card.

I remember my very first readers that my parents bought for me.  Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel and Little Bear by Else Minarik became dog-eared, the spines cracked and read until they were falling apart.  I loved them so.  Neither of my parents were habitual readers nor particularly inclined to read aloud to us.  I remember compensating by reading aloud to myself as soon as I was able.  I never thought twice about it.  The simple act of knowing the words and putting them together in the building blocks of literature had become as necessary as sleep, overshadowing dolls and being outside.

One of the greatest pleasures in going to school for me was when my teacher or librarian read aloud to us.  I remember the kindly librarian introducing me to the Anne of Green Gables series with a twinkle in her eye and the whisper of, "Oh, you're just going to love this." As we progress on our own homeschooling journey, I always try to make sure we're knee-deep in a piece of literature that gets us out of our school room or family room and transports us somewhere new, old, familiar, or different.

I've heard for quite a while that reading aloud to your children is highly beneficial.  To me, it's simply a lovely thing to sit and peek at their faces as I'm reading, watching them experience the beauty of language and the power of a good story.

As I researched the benefits of it, for all age groups of children, it has become more apparent how important reading aloud to them is.  Babies who are read to at age 8 months have a more varied and well-rounded vocabulary by age 3.  A better vocabulary means that when they start school, they will be able to listen to instructions given by their teachers.  Early education is based on oral instructions because children are usually not reading enough to get all of the information they need to complete work.  The less they're able to succeed in doing their school work, the more likely they are to drop out, setting themselves up for a much harder life.  Reading also stimulates memory, curiosity and motivation. (source)

Here are a few things that I've noticed on my own with my children, no fancy research here, just plain living:

  • Children automatically turn their attention to the rhythm of the written word, whether it rhymes or not.  It's a given that if I sit down to read with my four-year-old, all of my kids will crawl out of the wood work to come and snuggle up on the couch.
  • The physical closeness is a lovely thing.  Even my older ones tend to come closer to feel their arm against mine or choose to pull a younger brother on their laps.  Reading aloud, I can pretty much rest assured that no one will be hitting or kicking one another.  It's beautiful.
  • They learn so much about other cultures and time periods.  They are learning history and about other kinds of people, just by picking up a story book.
  • When it's illustrated, my kids are feasting their eyes on art while listening.  The colors, the shapes and the words produce a harmony that appeals to several of their senses.  If there aren't any illustrations, their imaginations are hard at work.
  • They are learning different literary devices that will help them with speaking and writing later on down the road.  Things like allegory, similes, metaphor, idioms and hyperbole are all things that will give them a better understanding of the world and people around them.
  • Even though they may be reading at a certain grade level, they listen at a totally different one.  Don't be afraid to read books that are too hard for them on their own or even revisiting the ones they loved when they were younger.  
As we cracked open The Magician's Nephew tonight, by C.S. Lewis, none of my children made one motion to move away from the table.  I loved hearing their guesses as to what was going to happen next and listening to my youngest as he processed the words I was reading.  I have so much satisfaction of coming into a room and finding one of my older ones curled up with one of the younger ones, responding to, "Please read to me."  I have many dreams and desires for my children, like all mothers do.  Reading to them all now is one of the ways I can help them later on in life.

I challenge you to use this summer to read aloud to your children and then stand back and watch them grow.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Homestretch

Every mama knows about the homestretch to the end of the school year.

It doesn't matter if your kids are in public school, private school, homeschooled or in a charter school whose niche is learning to weave rugs on a loom using the wool the students sheared off of the sheep in PE.

We all know it, love it, loathe it, breathe a huge sigh of relief when we're through it.

This is our reality and the reality is that we're tired.

Everything gets a little lax this time of year.  Clothes don't match when we go out in public places, library fines start to add up, and that spelling test on the lesson plans?

Yeah, right.

Summer is beckoning and we would be fools to not heed its call.

We are all longing for some breathing space in our days, extra time for the children to bicker and get on each other's nerves.  We need days with swimming and movies with popcorn and being curled up on the couch with a book.

We are almost there, friends.  We're so close!  I can smell the alluring scent of sunscreen gently wafting in through the windows as well as seeing the glazed look in my children's eyes as we read through our history lesson.  Heck, I have the glazed-over look myself.

We can do this thing, right?

In the mean time, it's back to packing lunches, making sure everyone has clean clothes, or trying to read the history lesson even though you continue to fall asleep.

We've totally got this.

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