Homeschool Planning, Expectations and Child-Led Learning

I’ve been reflecting a lot on our first year of homeschooling and what worked best for us. There were days that went so well and others that went terribly. I have a tendency to force things sometimes, particularly art and handwriting. I have this idea of how things should look and sometimes I forget that I’m working with a 7 and 4 year old…

The two things that could ruin a perfectly good day were – not planning our day out and having unrealistic expectations of my children and myself. As I plan for the upcoming year, I am constantly taking these two things into consideration. 

A few living history books we will read this year. Many more are on my Amazon list or will be checked out from the library.

Last year my oldest, Draven, was in 1st grade and we used Ambleside’s curriculum guide that follows Charlotte Mason’s method of teaching. I have really grown to love the use of what Charlotte Mason describes as living books to teach children a range of subjects from history to geography to science and beyond. Oftentimes you can combine subjects with living books. 

A few months into last school year I made adjustments as some of the books have difficult language for a six year old, and sometimes for his mom as well. This year I’m feeling a bit more adventurous and have created my own syllabus based around living books and tailored to our interests (a copy is at the bottom of this post if you can’t wait). I did keep a few books Ambleside suggested and we are following their bible guideline because I think it’s spot on. 

Read aloud literature selections for Draven. The third book from the left is My Side of the Mountain, one of my husband’s favorite childhood books.

We won’t follow the syllabus exactly every week but it will be used asmore of a guideline so we don’t leave anything important out and stay on track for the year. We may not even get to everything because sometimes we end up spending longer on a book or subject matter or discover something else that interests us. This is where child-led learning comes in and where it’s important for me to keep my expectations in check. While I’ve created our curriculum around my children’s current interests, I’ve also left room for things that spark new interests and am willing to deviate a little from our original plan. So keep in mind as I share my syllabus, that it is a working document and will most likely be edited several times as our interests develop. My plan is to share resources, successes and failures throughout the year. 

Independent reading for Draven based on current interests.

Our day starts around 7:30 with breakfast. I typically read a few poems aloud while they eat. We don’t analyze anything at this time, just read and enjoy the words. We also work on memorization before leaving the table. For September we will be reciting The Lord’s Prayer, The Pledge of Allegience and Karate Concepts 1-4 (something they must memorize for belt tests at their karate school). After breakfast we move to the backyard or living room to practice yoga. My kids love doing yoga with me and especially enjoy meditating. This doesn’t last longer than 10 minutes and it’s a great way to get focused for the day. They may practice their karate forms at this time as well. We always end our yoga time with prayer and daily intentions. 

Give Your Child the World has over 600 book recommendations from around the world. We will be studing a continent each month using these books and also working through our Pin It Maps curriculum.

The majority of our work is done between 8:30 and 12. Draven will work on math independently after a little instruction (we use Math Mammoth) and I will give Cullen his reading lesson (we are working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons). I realize it’s early to teach reading (Cullen is 4) but he is very interested so we will through the lessons as long as he stays engaged. I will read aloud several stories for both boys and we will work on a map project (using Pin It Maps) or watercolor painting. We use Waldorf’s wet on wet water coloring technique. It’s quite easy and always turns out beautiful (expectations friends).

Examples of Draven’s original books, narrations and science diagrams from last year.

The kids will then have a bit of free time to play while I get lunch ready. After lunch, the paintings are dry and we use them as base for Draven to write his narration and Cullen to write letters and simple words. They create beautiful backgrounds for their work. If you’re unfamiliar with narration, it is simply the retelling of a story back in your own words. This is our writing, grammar and spelling rolled into one activity. Last year, I had Draven tell me each narration after a story while I wrote it down. I read it back to him and we made changes together before he copied it onto his paper. As he copied, we focused mainly on handwriting and punctuation. This year he will be writing his narrations from memory which is much more difficult but will allow us to go deeper with grammar and sentence structure.  After the boys are done writing, they will add an illustration to go with their story.
A few of our favorite science resources. The open book on the bottom left is Cellular Biology by Super Smart Science Series. I highly recommend these books! The boys also enjoy working through the Awesome Science Experiments and playing with their circuit board.

After narrations are complete, the boys may work on a science project, craft project, or Spanish, which is done Online through Foreign Languages for Kids by Kids. This is their only source of technology in our school day and a treat they look forward to.
Read aloud selections for Cullen. The top right book is The Jesus Storybook Bible which has the sweetest stories and most beautiful illustrations. My other favorite is Over the Hills and Far Away, a collection of nursery rhymes from around the world.

Mixed in throughout the day, the boys are helping with household chores and their baby sister. Cullen may play with Storie while Draven and I read a difficult book and Draven may read books with Storie while Cullen and I practice sounding out words. 

Several of our nature study resources. Much of our free play will be centered outside in the garden or on nature walks. The brown nature journals are by Molskin. We use colored pencils to draw and label plants and animals.

We are so fortunate to be involved in a wonderful co-op this year that meets every Monday for additional literature, art and science studies. We also attend classes at our local library and parks, lead a Wild Explorers Club, regularly go on field trips, train in karate and Draven will begin guitar lessons this fall.

Below is our syllabus for September which outlines our core reading, written work, memorization and all other activities. I also created a weekly schedule to reference until we get back into the flow of regular school days. I’m happy to send one or both in excel form if you comment below with your email. Currently, I’m researching Waldorf methods for Cullen and Storie and plan on sharing our daily rhythm soon. Happy homeschooling friends!

Operation Police Project

“Everyday he sees people on the worst day of their life,” she said.

I let that sink in.

My friend was talking about her husband who is a police officer in Austin. Strangely I had never thought about his job that way. I have always had the upmost respect for police officers; they protect our neighborhoods and keep our families safe. But until recently I never really thought much beyond that. I didn’t think about the deplorable things they must see, the disrespect they endure, the life or death decisions they may have to make, the uncertainty they must feel when pulling someone over, the beloved families they leave each day not knowing if they will see them again.

And the plain and simple fact that they don’t have the luxury of having a bad day.

Everyone they serve is having a bad day. 

I want our officers to have more good in their days and just feel valued by the people they serve. 


The kids and I normally do small acts of kindness together throughout the year like handing out granola bars to the homeless or taking food to the food bank but it just occurred to me that we could serve our police officers. This would be so easy to do with children and a special way to show our appreciation to those who really need it now. Plus, police officers are like super heroes to my boys. So Operation Police Project begins! Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with so far but I’m hoping some of you reading this may have more insight and offer suggestions.  

  • Take snacks to our local police department like cookies, fruit or chips.
  • Make handmade cards to just say thank you and drop off at a local station. 
  • Talk to a police officer and tell them thank you when when see him or her out. 

  • Offer to buy an officer coffee or lunch at a restaurant. 
  • Tell the police officers you know (and their families) that you appreciate what they do everyday to keep us safe. And keep telling them. 
  • This last one is more for my husband and me and it’s to simply be kind in all interactions with law enforcement, even when, especially when, it’s hard (see my post from last week). 

I would love any suggestions friends, especially from those of you close to a police officer. We want to serve them in the best way possible! 


A few notes:

The lovely pictures of our family were taken by the talented Amy Melsa. 

Don’t forget that politics and the media thrive on division. We don’t have to choose friends. #blacklivesmatter #bluelivesmatter #chooseunity

Compassion, Kindness and Gentleness

We just arrived home yesterday from our family vacation on the coast of Florida. For some crazy reason we decided to drive the 788 miles from Texas with our three kids. My husband thought it would be a good idea to leave around 2am so the kids could sleep for the first leg of the trip. So off we went last Saturday in the middle of the night.


We hadn’t been driving for more than an hour when we got pulled over. We were on the side of the highway so the officer came to my side of the car. I had my window rolled down and he asked us to roll the window down behind us (they are heavily tinted). He shined his light in the back where all three kids were sleeping. I was already annoyed (mostly at my husband for speeding) but at this point I snapped at the officer telling him that my baby was asleep. He immediately let us roll the windows back up and asked us where we were headed. We told him we were going to Florida on vacation. Then he explained to my husband that he was going over 15 miles above the speed limit and that’s why he stopped us. He asked if there were any weapons in the car to which my husband replied yes and pointed to the glove box. He asked him if he had a concealed weapons permit and my husband said no. End of conversation. He looked at my husband’s license and sent us off with a warning telling us to be safe. And that was that.


My goal in sharing this is not to condemn the officer who pulled us over or make broad generalizations about the mindsets of our police force who risk their lives each day. But as the week went on and the tragedies started happening I really began to wonder if our traffic stop would have been different if our skin was a different color. I was outraged, devastated, and felt completely helpless. I looked around and everyone everywhere seemed to be enjoying their vacation without a care in the world but I couldn’t stop thinking about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. My husband patiently listened to me sort through everything that happened. I monopolized conversations and sobbed through our date. Then finally he gently pointed out that this is not a police problem or a black problem or a white problem, it’s a heart problem. We have barriers up that prevent us from uniting but we must begin to break down the walls that divide us if we ever want peace. And I realize now that this change has to start from within. So I made a list, because that’s what I do, and I’m sharing in case anyone else is struggling with where to go from here. Here goes:


– I will pay attention and speak up when I spot injustices because silence is acceptance. 

– I will teach my children from a non-European perspective, our country’s real history and how it was founded on the exploitation of African slaves and indigenous people. 

– I will commit to seeing things not through my own privileged lenses but through others whose life experiences and realities are so much different than mine. 

– I will strive to make real, genuine friendships with people who are not like me even when it is outside my comfort zone.  


– I will wrap my arms around the people I know in my community who are affected the most by prejudices – my black brothers and sisters, my LGBT brothers and sisters, my Hispanic brothers and sisters and the police officers I have the privilege of knowing. 

– I will try to spot and overcome my own racial biases that were ingrained in me and be brave enough to confront them. 

– I will surround myself with people who challenge me and gently guide me to think outside my very small worldview as a white American. 

– I will remember that everyone’s individual experiences shape how they see the world and be kind and patient with those who see things differently than me. 

– I will engage in rational, non-emotional dialogue with others who’s views may be different than mine in hopes that we can better understand each other. 

– I will choose unity over division always. 


We are so much stronger united friends. May we all choose compassion, kindness and gentleness. 

Excess and Privilege 

“American privilege,
keeps blurring my vision,
inherited sickness.”
Allen Stone

Excess.

It’s all around me. 

In my closet, my newsfeed, my life. 


There are days I look around and am so aware of it that it’s almost suffocating. Yet the next day I think nothing of buying something I didn’t even know I wanted. I have moments where I am encompassed by overwhelming thoughts of my privileged life and just how unfair it is that my family’s daily struggles center around a fight over a Lego or where we should go out to eat while there are millions who don’t even have access to clean water. I mean, can you even imagine? We take it all for granted friends. At least I know I do. 


Here’s the thing, my eyes have been opened to the injustices in the world – the orphans, the oppressed, the slaves, the poor. I desperately want justice for the voiceless. Yet when it comes down to it, I embarrassingly stay rather complacent in my very comfortable life. 


It’s all just so overwhelming. 
How can I do more? 
Where do I start?
How do I add something to my plate with all my other responsibilities? 
What is the greatest need?
Can I really make a difference?


These are the questions that have been circling around in my head for about two years. And what have I done? Not much. I’ve helped out here and there, volunteered for a day or two, donated a little money, had conversations with my husband and children about philanthropy. But real work? Messy work? Nah. 

Two years. 

Seeing those questions in print really makes them look a lot more like excuses. 

See I’m surrounded by some pretty incredible people doing amazing things like running non-profits, helping struggling mothers get back on their feet, caring for foster kids, adopting children, creating inclusion programs for kids with disabilities, providing medical care to refugees, working to bring dignity to the homeless community, the list goes on. It’s big stuff. Fighting through the noise and excess each day, they are nothing short of heroes who have found a way to push the excuses aside and just say yes. 


Watching the work my friends are doing lights this incredible fire in me. So where do I go from here? Well I still don’t have that figured out yet but I’m sure thankful for the beautiful examples that have been perfectly placed in my life. 

Stay tuned. 

How to Have a Crazy Awesome Exploring Adventure

“In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir


One of the many nice things about homeschooling is that we get to decide what is important and what we spend our time on. Our homeschool curriculum introduced us to weekly nature studies and they quickly became part of our rhythm and something everyone looks forward to.


I have witnessed incredible changes in everyone’s behavior, attitude and overall happiness when we simply get outside. Some days we may just go for a walk on the trail in our neighborhood and look for bunnies or head down to the pond to try and spot fish or tadpoles. Other times we might check out a new park with an awesome waterfall or creek we can dip our toes in. And then there are days we set out to intentionally study our surroundings and bring our journals and colored pencils to document our finds.


We recently started an online adventure program called Wild Explorers Club where the boys receive weekly assignments to complete and earn patches at different levels. It’s an awesome program if you want to add a little structure to your adventuring or don’t really know where to start. My boys look forward to the assignments each week and don’t even get them started on the patches!

 

Nature walks, adventures or studies are something anyone can incorporate into their life. I learned a few things the hard way when we first started all this so I thought I would share some things that have made my life easier when trying to get out the door with three kids in tow.

  • Start someplace small and easy to get to, especially if you have younger kids or ones who aren’t used to walking long distances. You don’t want to overwhelm kids with too much walking right away or you may never get them back out on the trails. 
  • If you haven’t been to a trail before, it’s a good idea to take another adult with you until you get the lay of the land. I also carry a pocket knife my husband bought for me. Another mom I know carries pepper spray. 

  • Check out your local parks. Many have nice secluded nature trails where you are relatively close to civilization but still feel like you’re in a far off place. 
  • Relax and walk slow. Let your kids stop and observe what they see, listen to what they hear, collect a cool rock, etc. It’s not so much about the final destination but the journey. 
  • Teach your kids the importance of staying on the trails and how to identify important plants. Poison ivy is all over the place in Texas and hard to avoid if you don’t know what it looks like. You can get a field guide to help you identify foliage. My kids love recognizing a plant they know along a trail. 

  • Carry a small first aid kit with a few band aids, sting relief and antiseptic wipes. You can get a pocket size one with the basic essentials for a few dollars. 
  • You can’t go wrong if your hike ends up near the water. Even if the kids just dip their feet in, there’s something so therapeutic about the water. My kids could be happy all day in a creek without a single toy. I always enjoy watching them use sticks, rocks and whatever else they find as something to play with. Leave the toys at home and see what happens! 

  • Keep it simple when packing. Remember, you have to lug all your stuff down and back. I also make my boys responsible for carrying their own stuff in their pack. This means they pack their snacks, water bottle, nature journal, resource books and anything else they may want to bring and they carry it themselves. I have been known to cave a time or two with my little guy and help him carry his pack but he’s gotten pretty used to carrying his own share.
  • I typically bring a blanket to lay down for the baby but everyone ends up on it at some point. Some moms I know use an old sheet because it’s lighter and less bulky. Either way, it’s nice to have a spot where everyone can gather to eat or just rest. 

  • Consider joining a nature group. We are part of a forest school and local Wild Explorers Club. A friend of mine also recently told me about Hike It Baby, an awesome free group where you can join families across the country on hikes. REI also has some great classes that look really informative and lots of parks offer guided hikes. My point is, there are many options out there. 
  • I love getting dirty outside with the kids but I do not like dirt in my car. I keep a big towel and wipes in the back and before anyone gets in the car, we wipe down and clean ourselves off. I also recommend WeatherTech mats for anyone with kids. 


I am by no means an expert on hiking or wildlife. I am simply learning everyday alongside my children. You should also know, my goal in getting them outside is not only for their benefit but also for our earth’s. Because as they learn to love our precious earth, they will become compelled help protect it. And our earth certainly needs more protectors. 

Happy exploring friends!

Mother’s Day

“Mothers and their children are in a category all their own. There’s no bond so strong in the entire world. No love so instantaneous and forgiving.”―Gail Tsukiyama

I don’t know if it’s because Mother’s Day is tomorrow or the fact that all three of my children turn one year older this time of year, but I am a mess.

It’s 8:30, all three kids are asleep and I’m stalking my own Instagram feed filled with – wait for it – 1,811 photos, almost entirely of them.


I also probably shouldn’t tell you that I have 11,663 photos on my phone and need to increase my iCloud storage. 

Again.


It started with Cullen. He broke my heart by turning 4 a month ago. He looks quite happy about it, doesn’t he?


I swear his baby fat was gone overnight and replaced with insanely long legs. He’s still a baby. Some might say I’m in denial but he just is. 


Then today we celebrated Draven’s 7th birthday. 7 is officially big kid. Like “I really don’t need your help Mom” big kid. 


But he’s not actually 7 until Monday so I’m holding on to that. It just makes me feel better.


I’m really bracing myself for next month though, when the precious being that has captivated our entire family, turns one.  


As if it weren’t enough that I will have a 7 and 4 year old, Storie Rose will now have a full year of life. 


 Tears are running down my face now so that’s all I have to say about that. 


I do so love watching them grow and learn new things and develop into such interesting individuals but some days it is just plain hard. 


I second guess everything I’m doing and wonder if I’m teaching them enough. Am I teaching them the right things? Am I being too hard on them? Expecting too much? Am I feeding their souls and preparing them for this crazy, messed up, wonderful world? 


But then I remember that both of my boys told me I was “the best mom in the entire world” tonight before I turned off their light and I look down at Storie lying right next to me and know we are right where we are supposed to be. 


Man I love being their mom. 

Happy Mother’s Day! And sorry for the shameless post used as an excuse to look through my pictures and smile and laugh and cry. 

The Call to Homeschool

It was almost a year ago to the day that I told my husband I didn’t want to go back to work and instead stay home and homeschool our children. I had been thinking about it for weeks and just knew he would have a million questions for me. 
How would I homeschool my 1st grader with a newborn and 3 year old to look after as well? 

Did I know how to teach 1st grade? 

Why would I even want to homeschool? 

I mean, I managed customer relations and social media at Nordstrom. I wore designer shoes to work everyday. Homeschooling my 3 children was about as polar opposite from my current life as I could get. And then there was the matter of whether or not we could afford for me to walk away from my job with the company I’d spent 10 years of my life working for.  


When I finally got up the courage to tell him what I wanted to do, his answer was a simple “Okay, if that’s what you want to do, we’ll make it happen.”

WHAT?!?

No questions? No maybe we should think about this? I don’t even think I’m qualified to do this! I haven’t even been inside our son’s school more than three times all year! I’m the parent who never has time to volunteer. And, I’m about to have our third child! Who even has three kids nowadays? Oh, what have I just done?


I think part of me wanted him to challenge this idea because even though I was so sure I wanted to homeschool, I was so unsure in my ability. But I played it cool and charged ahead learning everything I could about homeschooling, unschooling, Charlotte Mason, Waldorf, Montessori and every other homeschooling method out there. I poured over books, blogs and Pinterest boards but still couldn’t put into words why I wanted to homeschool when someone asked me. 


I usually ended up giving some generic answer like “I just want to spend more time with them.” But honestly my desire to homeschool was based solely on faith. Faith that it was in the best interest of my children and our entire family. 


A few weeks ago I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night compelled to put into words the tangible reasons I started us on this journey. Here are those key things in no particular order. 

  •  I want my children to learn compassion for those who need it most – the homeless, the outcast, the addict, the mentally ill.
  • I want them to know about the millions of orphans, the children forced into slavery and those without a voice.
  • I want them to know that every purchase we make has a real cost that goes beyond our dollar spent. The cars we drive, the kinds of clothes and food we purchase, the plastic toys we buy have a real affect on others and our planet.

  • In a world obsessed with media, consumerism and overconsumption, I want to teach them less. Less TV, less Internet, less radio, less toys, less greed. 
  • I want to teach them our country’s true history in all of its ugliness and the injustices we still witness today because of it. I want to teach them to spot those injustices and take a stand against them. 

  • I want them to know that our nation’s farmland is in crisis and we must fight by supporting our local farmers. 
  • I want them to learn how to become self-sustaining, to farm and hunt, but above all respect and cherish our Earth.
  • I want them to know that while we have fresh, organic food at our table every day, there are millions in our country that live in food deserts with very few choices or healthy options and even more that are literally starving in our own city and throughout the world. 

  • I want them to know they have the power to demand change for our country. 
  • I want them to discover their true passions, the things that make them feel alive. 
  • I want to teach my children to take pride in all that they do whether it’s writing a letter, helping their sibling or cleaning up trash at a park and know that when they do, they are glorifying God. 

  • I want philanthropy to become a way of life for my children. I want them to know there is always a way to help with our money, our voice or our time. 
  • I want to teach them that Christianity is not about being concerned with what others are saying or how they are living but about their own personal relationship with God. 


These are the reasons I felt so compelled to homeschool but couldn’t put into words until now. The things that truly matter. The reading, writing and math will come but nothing can replace the time we spend together focusing on their hearts. As our first year together comes to a close I’m amazed at how many of these things we have been able to discuss at 6 and 4 years old. I’ve grown to admire my children so much in their ability to listen thoughtfully and ask questions about how and why things are the way they are. My hope is that our homeschool environment will continue to challenge them and in turn push them to challenge themselves and the world around them. 

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Our days are always more relaxing for everyone when we get outdoors but some days that’s just not possible with a baby in tow. It’s been raining A LOT lately and that means we’ve been spending most of our days inside. We’ve also recently joined The Wild Explorers Club and have been dying to get out and complete some of our assignments. Today started out just as rainy as the past few days so to keep the natives at bay I suggested we build a tent under the dining room table.

imageOf course the kids were ecstatic.

imageI love this little fire they made using some of their toys and rocks from our front yard garden. That’s a marshmallow Cullen is roasting made out of K’NEX pieces.

imageI read aloud while they colored.

imageDraven wrote a narration of Buffalo Bill and finished with an illustration.

imageThis was school today. Pretty simple.

imageThen miraculously the sun showed her face so we hurried outside while we still could.