school days!

While summer days are enjoyed — gardens watered, kiddie pools filled, camps attended, grill fired up repeatedly — my mind is already far ahead, somewhere in September, dreaming about new books and new pencils and new routines. Snippets of time have been stolen to toss old markers and used workbooks, choose and collect books for a new year, write out lesson plans and ponder new chore schedules, and generally prepare myself for a new exciting year of learning.

And I am excited! Want to see which books we’ll use? (Is there anything homeschool moms enjoy more than a show and tell? Please feel free to share yours in return!)

Math will be Teaching Textbooks for the boys and Bob Jones for the girls. Beatrice is old enough to begin TT, but I think the workbook format for one more year will better suit her (easily distracted) personality.

Handwriting will be Getty-Dubay for Fiona (as I’ve used with the others), and something new for the older three. I want them all to learn cursive well, so despite the protests from the boys who see handwriting practice as a bit of a pain, I am sticking to my guns. (Also, their handwriting clearly needs practice!)

Some of our Language Arts will be covered with these books: Explode the Code for Fiona, who is still chipping away at basic reading skills; Bob Jones English for Beatrice, who would do creative writing all day and will love nouns and verbs as much as I did; and a surprise find (cleaning out the school cupboard can be awesome!) that will come in useful with the boys as we diagram sentences to review things they’ve already learned, as well as some poetry study and writing skills that we’ll incorporate into other subjects.

For science, my younger three students will continue nature study — observation, research, and recording their finds — aided by new books that I just love! Jameson will strike out on his own, doing Apologia’s Physical Science.

But of course, in my world, all of those things take a back seat to the real exciting stuff: history!! This is where we end up doing most of our literature, our writing assignments, our geography and social studies, our philosophy and ethics and poetry and art. This year we will tackle World War Two, and I am beyond excited. I’m also overwhelmed (so much to learn, so many direction we could go), sober (just an afternoon of preparation had me feeling so unbelievably sad), and expectant (“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — these are important things to study and be warned by.) I have too many novels and biographies and resources and movies and songs collected, but I am starting to create a plan. To break things up, every six weeks or so we will pause and zero in on one of the major countries of interest (Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and Japan), and study its geography, learn a few words in its language, read a folk story, and make some food!

Of course I always dream so much and then there’s the reality of dentist appointments and toddlers crying and dinner needing to be made and that pesky thing about 24 hours and only 24 hours in each day.

But we’ll aim for the stars and hit the moon, right?

For now, I’m enjoying afternoons outside, reading my (you guessed it, WWII) novel.

keep learning!

If there’s one thing I think every homeschool mom says, it’s that we’re learning all of these amazing things that we didn’t get a chance to the first time around. I love that! In fact, my excitement about what I’m learning sets the tone for everyone’s attitude about knowledge. So, Mama, don’t just wait for a new piece of info to grab you. Press into learning, right along with your kids! Watch, read, ponder, research… even if they don’t think everything you’re awed by is amazing, they’ll see your awe.

Last fall we studied the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement. As with much (all?) of human history, this left all of us quiet and sober and righteously angered many times. I had several documentaries and movies in my queue that I ultimately decided we weren’t quite ready for, given how upsetting it all was. Some stories and research left my William grappling in a deeper way with faith, and he woke after one sleepless night with his first original worship song. Learning is so real. It should be. For me, I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin for the first time and was so, so moved — so many moments had to pause as tears made the words blur, and I had to stop, silent in the face of such evil. I was moved by the book itself, and moved by the idea that this woman (Stowe) was a trailblazer, a champion, a trumpeter on the wall in a culture largely removed from the heinous issues of the day.

We’ve moved onto the Civil War, and I just finished Gods and Generals, as well as Killer Angels. Wow. Forget the didactic books on leadership; grab these and draw your own conclusions. My kids are used to my far-off gaze suddenly ending with a comment on character being what it all comes down to, or the question of those signatures on the Declaration and what that all meant, or was there another way? We put ourselves in those shoes and we ask the questions men and women faced in the past, and we recognize that there is nothing new under the sun and courage, righteousness, and bold decisions will be required of us all.

So I keep learning. All of life is school, and wisdom is calling to be found.

Learn to work hard…

learn to play hard…

learn to love hard.

So many ways to grow, so much to learn — and I am helping to set the pace.

Show me Your ways, oh Lord;
Teach me Your paths.
Lead me in Your truth and teach me,
For You are the God of my salvation;
On You I wait all the day.

a moment

I don’t know what you picture when you think “homeschool.” I know that what I imagine isn’t what my reality ends up being most of the time. We don’t have a school room, but rather a kitchen table — as well as a couch, a piano, the floor, and other random places school occurs all day long. We don’t all sit for 2.5 hours, break for lunch and recess, and then reconvene. Sure, we eat together 3 times, and there’s our Circle Time, but otherwise it’s a lot of managing moving parts.

And so today, when I got them all situated for our weekly painting session, and even the baby was happy nearby, I had to take a picture. No talking, just paint; we all need quiet, I said. And look, all those sweet head bowed around the table. 7th grader to kindergartener working happily while music played in the background. My soul took a deep breath and I smiled.

autumn catch-up

Oh, another month of living, pressed down and running over — that’s the only way to measure these incredibly full days. Days full of beauty and adventure, or the refining rhythm of routine, read alouds we love and workbook pages that must be done, church things, work things, school things, family things… So much, and most of it with a baby in arms, which is why my thoughts tend to stay jumbled in my head instead of getting straightened out into neat and tidy sentences here.

Tonight, while I laid in bed with Enid next to me, amusing herself with the crinkly package of baby wipes, I looked through pictures and was a bit astounded to realize how long ago the end of September already feels. And so, a quick photo / memory dump:


Daily work with this eager kindergartener.


Thursday’s nature journaling, packed up and moved to the park.


A Sunday afternoon with the whole family, soaking in September sunshine.


Farewell to this old friend, and even more, to my favorite neighbors EVER.


Paint and journals abandoned and Mama left just sitting in silence. I may or may not have sat there for quite awhile.


Getting rounder, cuter, and more smiley all the time.


A crazy day that managed to get collected and calmed and tied up with the comforts of Autumn.


Another year of CFA begins!

We made it to John Brown’s House, near Lake Placid. We are history buffs and history buffs in the making and studying the Underground Railroad is all the more real with trips like this.

Our day doubled as an autumn holiday in the mountains.


Besides the stunning leaves, the array of mushrooms caught Beatrice’s eye.


Passing through and noticing three friends playing piano together in the evening, and realizing, somehow in a very profound way, that this moment is their real life.


And another moment that stopped me in my tracks: turning around to see my brand new baby playing on her tummy with toys. *sigh*

That’s all for now. A son is in need of tick removal. Life never stops, does it?

first week of school!

A whole first week of school with my precious kiddos is already done. I meant to take a photo of them all on Monday, but you know. We got busy.

We had such a good week. Kids so excited and whole-hearted, diligent and focused, and eager to take on a new year of chores and routines and growth. Not every first week has been so free-from-drama, my own included, so I know to be thankful for this unique gift. Ha!

Day One: Ridiculously hot and humid. Our outside time was spent in the sprinkler. Another “unique” start to a North Country school year!

Multi-tasking: Jameson is so good with Enid, and I found them here. She’s getting a head start on Harriet Tubman’s life.

Mornings: Starting early outdoors, before temps reached into the 90s. And we even needed blankets! September is so strange.

Ordered chaos: What homeschooling looks like in real life. This is the silent version; now imagine a boy practicing piano in the other room, another boy listening to a math lecture, and all three of these little girls talking to me. I had to laugh.

Day Two: We brought our lunch to the park, did our history reading by the river, and spent our play hour on slides and swings. Enid and I opted for quiet shade and observation.

Breakfast Duty: Jameson has assumed full responsibility for the children’s breakfasts. He has a rotating menu he’s learned to bake or prepare, and by 8am he has it ready, table set, a classical musical selection playing, and is calling the family to the table. This is the routine I’ve been implementing for several years, but somehow putting him in charge means the kids suddenly LOVE the music. So besides the wonderful benefits of having him grow in this responsibility, I also have the makes-my-heart-sing benefit of hearing kids singing Beethoven piano sonata themes randomly throughout the day. And Fiona singing the theme from Rhapsody in Blue? MADE MY WEEK.

Circle Time: The boys take turns holding Enid during the first portion, so I can lead the family in some worship. She is well loved.

Change it up: Thursday we did a mid-morning grocery run, followed by lunch and history reading in another park. And I finally remembered to take a picture of the crew. Happy Fourth Day of School! (Is that a thing?)

Science meets Art: We’re trying to be diligent about nature journaling this semester. I’m feeling pretty good about a full week of staying on track, culminating in our Thursday afternoon painting session. Making Charlotte Mason proud.

Outdoors on Friday: Before our homeschool group begins their Friday group program in October, I like to spend that fifth day of the week exploring the outdoors. We live in such a beautiful area! Last week was spent near the St Lawrence River with friends; yesterday we followed a trail along the Raquette with one of my sisters. The temps broke and yesterday was a perfect low 70s. What a perfect day for a day of integrated learning: everything from trying to find “north” the way fugitive slaves did while in the woods and spotting the prettiest varieties of wild mushrooms to being patient with younger siblings and handling an auntie’s dog.

a new start

The sun is rising. (Gloriously.) It’s Monday morning. The beginning of September.

All sorts of new happening here.

I don’t feel quite so new. I feel a bit more… old and tired and kind of wanting to go back to bed. But I’m watching this sunrise, this incredible thing that is still thrilling after thousands and thousands and thousands of times, and remember that each morning truly can be full of new because of the Spirit that lives in me.

Though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

You can go ahead and put it on your calendar for this morning: “Be renewed by the Spirit of Christ.”

*****

Also new today: the official start of our school year. Fiona in kindergarten, joining the ranks of enrolled students. Jameson beginning 7th. I am definitely starting to feel less like I’m teaching one class with a bit of age variety and more like a one room schoolhouse.

We are doing some tried and true things that just seem to work for us. (An hour of Circle Time right after breakfast and morning chores. Going outside even if it’s -10. Reading out loud.) I am trying some new things. (More independence for the boys. A few points of structure in a more fluid day.) We’ll see how this all actually works once it gets off of my scribbled notes and fancier charts and into real life.

However all of those details go, what will work is being together, and learning, and growing in love for one another and for the Lord.

I was going to pray for our year last night and ask for His help, and suddenly felt so silly. Of course He’s going to help! So instead of requests, I just began to articulate thanksgiving in advance. There are some checks you can cash ahead of time. I can already know that He is going to do great things in our lives as we seek Him first this year.

So we will do:

Teaching Textbooks for the boys
BJU Math for the girls

BJU Spelling for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
BJU English for Beatrice, William, and Jameson
Explode the Code for Fiona
Cursive through Pictures for the boys
Getty-Dubay Italics for the girls
Typing for boys
Rotating the above throughout the week

Nature study for all, including reading, observing, and painting our findings.

A Literature-based study on the Underground Railroad for all. (And of course this is where I get most excited; who doesn’t love reading, writing, watching good films, and letting your heart be expanded as you grow in your understanding of people, good and bad?)

Piano, programming, letter-writing, tons of outdoor time, baking, personal and family devotions… We will have no trouble filling our days.

Those are the details and the tools I have at the ready. But the best part of this homeschool journey is being continually reminded by the Holy Spirit of the big picture, the overarching task of disciple-making. That vision is what my heart needs to be tied to, not these particular tools. So, while I’m very excited about the beautiful nature books in a basket and the crisp pages of the workbooks and how after Huck Finn is done I want to do a bunch of Shakespeare in our Circle Time, I’m not tied to those tools. (Remind me of this regularly.) Any one of them needs to be set aside happily should I find it is not helping to accomplish The Grand Plan.

Because ultimately, I am shaping hearts and investing truth and growing people, armed and equipped for their purpose here on earth.

*****

And so I am in over my head already, as anyone can see, on this fresh morning on Monday in September at the beginning of a school year. I don’t know what I’m doing, really, and the things I do know tell me that I am not equal to the task in and of myself.

But my eyes jump back a few verses and land on this:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. (2 Cor 4)

So happy Monday, happy School Year, happy New Morning. May you find yourself renewed and bursting with the treasure of His Spirit.