Monday, September 19, 2016

Our Typical Atypical Monday

 It's hard to begin a description of a typical day because I feel like I can only describe ONE day and not necessarily show that every day will look like this, but the principles are the same to the flow and rhythm of our homeschool.  If you read my previous post you will know that I talked about how we all parent and homeschool differently and it is based on our choices that we think are best for our own family AND our own personality and what I do (and what you do) isn't a judgement on the choices of other people.
 
Personally, I can't homeschool in a super structured rigorous way.  I hate the detailed teachers guides that don't show WHAT the goal is for that lesson but only the 3 pages of monologue that I'm (apparently) supposed to use in teaching it.  After 6 years of homeschooling (I started getting serious about what to homeschool when my oldest was 4.... I wouldn't recommend starting then, but most of us will still do that anyway) I have finally owned my personality and style. 

Our style might be totally NOT what would work for you.  That's okay!  That's the beauty of homeschooling because we can tailor it to fit our own family!  Perhaps the following will still have some nuggets of encouragement, a smattering of ideas, or at least it could be entertaining.  Anyway, the Grandma enjoys reading this so there you go!  FYI, my Mom was MY teacher as I was homeschooled all growing up too!  My admiration grows for her as I travel this journey of home education for myself. 
The start of the school day started the night before with this handy dandy "spiral notebook method" that I talked about in my last post called "Choosing Joy and Not Planning Too Much."  Basically you just write down a little check list of what books and pages and such you want each child to do the following day. 

Big picture with the spiral checklist -- 
*Keep in mind how long you know a child will take with that page or activity
*Plan less to make the most room for creativity and spontaneous learning
*Think of the basics to cover so you don't pile on too much - Reading, Writing, Math
* Put a star by the ones that they will need to do with you or near by
*If they don't get it all done in a day, simply write it the next day

 

My personality also really just doesn't do so great with the big "master list" type thing.  In my head I have planned subjects and ideas and am always gathering more ones!  I have resources ready and waiting to be used.  But they aren't written down.  Ug.. Just.. no.  RATHER, I have shelves and baskets devoted to subjects and games.  Some of these resources are handier to get to because I'm planning to use them sooner and some are in other locations that will be rotated in later.  So when I write the check list for each kid I can flip through some books and look around at what I already have handy and right there!  Though still much of it is open to their choice as well, I usually rotate who might get to pick a game for instance and they can choose one right off the game shelf.
 Big picture with planning-
*If you feel confident with master lists and they make you comfortable use them!
*If boxed curriculum is your comfort zone and makes you happy totally use it!
*If master lists make you shudder and you'd rather do a more visual approach to resources do the shelf or basket or drawer method like me.  Organize like subject with like subject and label if you can.
*There is also a combination of the above where you buy books from a set curriculum but don't use the teachers plan.
*You likely already know what stresses you out and if you are more of a visual hands on person or if you are the sort to find freedom in a detailed list.  If you don't know this about yourself then try stuff and observe what brings peace and what brings stress.  Throw out the stressful stuff!
Today, these books were in our morning basket, but it changes pretty quickly as we go through them.
 It looks like I started my day with our "morning basket" and I did start our school time with this, but I didn't start it right out of bed.  I'm just not a morning person.  I groggily woke up and tried to keep my eyes open while poking on my tablet to get to   Julie Bogarts Facebook live video Highly recommend!  Such a great way to get the non morning person in a positive mood for educating and interacting well with the kids.
I talked about morning baskets in my previous post, but just to do a re-cap.....

Big picture for a "Morning Basket"- book topics to consider
* Something sciency (could even be a kids encyclopedia!)
* A Bible story book or missionary stories (if you are religious at all and that would be appropriate for your family.  You could add a passage or song to memorize if you wished in this category as well.)
*A book or two that enjoys some part of our language.  This could be a poetry book, limericks, tongue twisters, joke book, etc.
*That book that you thought would be amazing and have had on your shelf and never got to.
*One chapter book (these can all come in any order, but I like the chapter book at the end of the reading!) that they are excited about.
*They can color, play with silly putty, do lego, or mindlessly (appear) to not be listening while you read these.  I basically just want them in the room and not being too disruptive.
*Read short short bits from each book.  Maybe a page or two.  Play it by ear, but if the whole time takes longer than an hour or your kids attention is seriously flagging just cut it shorter for that day!
*Consider the younger kids in this if you need to.  A few picture books for them can help and you can  interspersed in between the other books.
*If your child is writing poetry or their own picture books of any kind you can add those to your basket and read it along with the other books! 
*Library books are great to throw in here because if everyone hates them you don't feel like you have to finish that book!  Just take it back and get a different one.  :) 

 I still need to sew the spine for my 8 years old's poetry book, but she was so excited to add it to our reading basket today!  I think she has about 10 pages in there now with drawings to go with each short poem and I read them all aloud along with our other books. 

My favorite of the ones she's written so far is this -
Racoon, Racoon.
Sleek, sly,
your tail's a lemur. 
your mask is a weasel.
Racoon, racoon.
in a log, in a tree,
in a hole, in a patch
of grass.

I had this spiral bound myself.  It doesn't come that way in case you wondered!
 Before I started the reading time, I checked the girls list of what to do and showed them the coloring and so forth they could start to work on while I read.  I love how the Thinking tree books ease them into school work as they can start with coloring while they listen.  The book above is one my 10 year old is half way through.  She has started a Minecraft journal as well, but likes to switch occasionally.
 This particular one has date pages so 10 full pages roughly in one day.  She doesn't like the to-do list (maybe she gets that from me?) but my 8 year old loves to write to do lists!
 She easily did these pages while I read from the morning basket!
 And the nature study page while I read and also the illustrations from the reading time.  As she isn't a strong reader we do the reading page a little differently.  I've been having her practice reading for only 10 minutes.  Her glasses and eye therapy has helped a lot, but I'm not pushing it.  Just want her to practice enough to get over that hump of it being a struggle to reading being more enjoyable.
The spelling time on the left says to find 20 seven letter words, but it has been stressful for her to do that with the eye issues.  Instead she chose a letter and found 20 (different) words from books that all started with that letter.  Easier on her eyes, but still had the benefit this was going for.  Finding and copying words in context is great for learning how to spell!
 The spelling page above she worked on after the morning basket reading was over and I was helping her younger sister write a story in her journal, but the meal plan page she did while I read.

My 8 year old is enjoying this one as she really likes to work with me when she does school.  You can find it at this link.
I loved how much time she spent coloring this picture while I read.  She doesn't always do her school with patience and do the best work she can.  She's been known to be sloppy on purpose so it's lovely to see her work so carefully on her picture

Gel pens are seriously fun, am I right?  My 8 year old finished coloring the picture above by the time I'd finished reading from our books and then we wrote the story together.  I started with a sentence and then she wrote a sentence!  (While we were doing this my older daughter was doing the word search shown previously by the meal planning page.)

The Big Picture for the story writing part of school-- 
*Writing original content isn't about learning spelling and grammar. 
 Learning to spell happens in copy work and spelling practice time. The purpose of the story writing is to connect the thoughts of the writer to their pen. If your 8 year old (or 13 year old!) Doesn't spell a word right when writing original thoughts don't worry about it, and there isn't even a need to bring it up in that context right then. *Focus on the creative side "what do you want to say?"
The parent can act as scribe for the child so that they don't have to dumb down their language to match their mechanics. 
*Children almost always can read and understand at a higher level then they can write.  This is normal growth for learning to read and write.
Sounding out, invented spelling, typing rather than handwriting, dictating to someone else what they want to write, cutting up typed or magnetized words to manipulate are all valid ways to express their inner voice (and this is as long as they need!  7 to 14 even!)
 *If we can keep spelling and grammar lessons separate from the emotions and sharing of their inner thoughts and person hood they will eventually connect the two without trauma and hurt feelings. 
 Creative writing and editing use two different parts of your brain, and if you insist on the editing side to work while doing a first draft of original writing to make it all perfect, then the creative side will often get stuck and creativity and original thought will almost always stall.

I am so happy to see my daughter wanting to write her own thoughts! The fact that she can read them and I can even figure out what she is trying to say too is a huge success!

Note our little homeschool helper "Pumpkin" the hamster who is put on pages of books or in a play grocery cart and pushed around the house for about 10 minute increments through out the day!  She is super sweet and fun.
My oldest doesn't feel comfortable trying to invent the spelling of words, so usually doesn't like to write her thoughts out.  I talked in my last post about how she used magnetic words to come up with her own writing and then she copied that!  The picture above is her writing page and she wanted to copy a funny poem from our chapter book.  She laughed about it and kept repeating the verses for quite a while afterwards!
 The picture above on the right hand side was what my 10 year old drew while watching the documentary "The Story of Tea" which I'd gotten from the library a few weeks ago and started while we were having lunch today.
Really interesting show by the way! 
      Of course, if you incorporate something like this you can work in an interest in geography and history!  After we finished lunch we all colored while we watched it.

My 5 year old found a page with tea cups in her Coloring book for two! 

Such a sweet book!  It also has places to write in it so if you were taking dictation for your little one you could totally just use this book like a journal of your teaching interactions and color together!  We have a lot of the thinking tree coloring books, but this is totally near the top of my favorites list.  :)
 My girls love to drink tea and coffee and so on, so it was fun for us all to learn about where tea came from.  I should point out that they weren't all into putting on the movie... at first!  I just did it and said we were going to watch this because I wanted to watch it.  They asked to watch other things actually, cartoons of different sorts, but I just decided to go for this.  Sometimes they lose interest when I do that, but more often then not they will find something that sparks their curiosity as well.

 I sat between my 5 and 8 year old girls while we watched the show so I could color with both of them (they both really like that) and my 8 year old finished her math when the documentary was over.  She was excited to use a calculator for the multiplication part, and I always point out how we say it and what it means "2 times 10.  That is ten, two times."  Or ten twice, and so on sometimes adding in manipulatives or other visuals to help.  It's been great to see math click for my girls as they grow and we talk through these concepts.
The second page I had on the check list for my 8 year old was this one, but it was actually the page before the writing.  Yes, we do them out of order as we need to.  It wasn't convenient till later to do this page so we went with the flow and just came back to this.

 The 5 year old had a game on her check list and chose the one above!  I'm happy to say that they have been choosing a variety of games when they get a chance.  I think I am probably the one who gets in a bigger rut with games then they have, so it is wonderful to let them choose the game from the shelf themselves.  :)
I'm loving our little "coffee table" that came from the dumpster!  Well, it was next to the dumpster at our apartments here anyway.  I brought it inside and cut off the legs at the exact height to work with the kid chairs I had.  You've got to get creative with multiple purpose areas when you homeschool in a 1,000 sq ft apartment!
 Such a sweet game for herb and natural remedy lovers. I also love the story that goes with it and the parallels to my girls Grandparents house. Climbing up the hill by her house and pulling carrots out of her garden and being with cousins and huckleberries and such.

 The tea documentary combined with the herbal game right after that got everyone inspired to take care of our own herbs and pick some mint to make tea!
 That big round pot in the middle there is my peppermint patch!  My container garden is growing and I'm loving it!
 Fresh mint tea?  Yes and yes. 
I'm not necessarily super thrilled with her choices at this point, but just look at her enthusiasm!  Totally read them to her with excitement and interest and talked about the points of view in the frozen book (which tells the same story from Anna's first person perspective and then from Elsa's.)
The school day was dwindling as it was about 4pm at this point, but my 5 year old had been doing games on my tablet (school games, but still) while I did the morning basket reading so I wanted her to get her chance and let her pick 4 books (any that she wanted!) and all the time I'm developing a plan for dinner.

See, when we started lunch and the tea documentary the handy man at our apartment complex had to come to check out our dishwasher.  Which is totally on the fritz.  My husband spent a couple hours the day before doing dishes for me and I didn't really want to make another dinner by scratch and have tons more dishes to deal with (we even use paper plates already.  It's just a lot of people and a lot of meals all at home every day!)  So after the stories and snuggles with the little one I announced my plan!

 Enter, Sushi Buffet place!  My girls love sushi but we usually make the rolls ourselves at home.  After they heard about this place from a date night the mommy and daddy had last week they were keen to try it too.  We almost never go out to eat because of the gluten allergy (and my gluten AND corn allergy) but it worked out!  I had to bring our own gluten free soy sauce, but that seemed fine and they had enough choices in the buffet that my girls were totally thrilled.
Also, hello, we had Jasmine tea!  Furthering the "Story of Tea" documentary experience.
 The 5 year old's favorite part was getting to choose anything she wanted and even getting chocolate pudding!  The pudding was the bomb apparently.  ;)
Jasmine tea!  We had two pots of this.
 Between the dinner part and dessert part I read a chapter from our chapter book "while we digested" and everyone was wonderfully full at the end and I didn't have to do even more dishes than were waiting for me at home!
It had rained while we were eating and after the grocery store the sky looked like this!  Everyone ooohed and awwed.
 After the restaurant we had to run to the grocery store.  Normally I don't plan to go ANYWHERE on Mondays.. no appointments, no driving anywhere!  It seems like every other day we have something going, so Monday has been my Saturday in many ways.  We might stay in our Pjs all day or just do what we want.  The main point though is that I don't want to plan something.  If we feel like driving somewhere that seems to work... just not the pre-planned thing.

My 10 year old saw the clouds and pulled out some information that she'd hear me read from the weather book that morning about clouds!  It's always nice to hear them talking about things that we've learned, but it usually only happens in normal conversation and not when someone asks "What did you do in school today?"  -- never would she say "I learned that the reason clouds look darker before rain is because the clouds are so full of water that the light can't shine through them.  Clouds that are less full of water droplets allow room for light to pass through."  Nope.. the usual answer is something like "We played and watched shows today."  But, that's okay.  If learning feels like play and the documentaries are put in the "show" category like any other movie I think we are doing well.

 Of course when we got home after putting away groceries and washing the dishes by hand we HAD to play Sushi Go!  Such a cute and fun and fast game!  I don't know many kids that like sushi so well as ours.  Our family is probably pretty unique in that way (at least in our culture), but all families are different and unique!  I think it's kind of special to have our own traditions and a family culture of our own.
 After the game we watched a Star Trek Voyager and talked about Time Travel and possible outcomes from multiple choices while everyone colored and I exercised.  The little one was so into coloring she asked if we could read our chapter book so she could finish!  So she could finish that whole page!?  People are probably not going to understand why this is significant but with no screens going and an attention span that is usually quite short it was such a lovely sight to see her working so carefully on her picture and asking for me to read more!
The splat of stuff there is how the room was left for the day.  We'll just pick right back up tomorrow and at some point it will be tidy, but just long enough to pull something else back out.
Our day was left with a few things on their check lists undone.  I will likely move them to the next day and possibly assign less.  Tomorrow is our library day, but for now this is the close.  We were busy all day long, had big juicy conversations, were 80% happy and working well together, and I no longer see the parts that were undone as a failure.  We might not have done "all the things," but we did other things that I hadn't planned on and somehow everything wound together to create a cohesive whole.  What we learned was reinforced with other activities and honestly, I don't think I could have planned it in advance this well.  Whenever I try to plan too much ahead I hear more groans from the girls as they are just NOT into it right then, or I'll be too tired from the planning and prep that I can't enjoy the moment.

Big picture-
Enjoy the moments unhurried.
Slow down the orders of what to do next and look at and truly see your child.
Be curious with them. 
Be spontaneous in little or big ways.
Get the important stuff in and let the rest go for another time.
Create the routine and culture in your home that you can appreciate yourself. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Choosing Joy - and not planning too much


 I started our new school year a few weeks ago, feathering in the subjects and routines slowly so we could get back into the swing of learning in a more regular way.

Before starting up though, I was feeling overwhelmed and a bit worried that if I was tired BEFORE starting, how would this year of continual planning, spontaneous learning, daily questions, messes, crying, laughing, following rabbit trails, goofing off, loving, being "bored" and all the other things that make up this 24/7 job of mothering and educating look like by the new year?

Enter the gathering of encouraging words from other homeschoolers! Blogs, podcasts, periscopes, Facebook lives... The online community of homeschoolers like me who are less concerned with looking perfect and more concerned with just doing our best for our kids.  If I read something that makes me feel more stressed, then I throw it out.  If I read or hear something that gives me courage and strength, I hold onto it.
And this blogpost is going to be all about the parts that have brought me encouragement for the start of this year.

It's not about perfect ideology, educational theories and that "perfect" curriculum.  These are simply resources to use. The real journey is understanding what our kids need and almost more importantly understanding what resources and needs we have as the mother and teacher so that we can live our lives before them in a state of rest and joy.

The best teachers are not the ones that are anxious and stressed out and "getting it done" but rather being curious, enjoying life, and living honestly.

"Teaching from Rest" author Sarah Mackenzie had a blog post about being afraid and feeling like she would fail her kids and choosing to continue homeschooling even in the midst of her fear. "Be afraid, but do it anyway." Somehow recognizing this and owning it gives me more courage than if I tried to deny or cover up the anxiety that I feel. 

I think often as homeschoolers we try to cover up our feelings of fear and anxiety by planning more (or trying to) but then we inevitably see life messing up our careful plans (That "open and go" curriculum lost a bit of get up and go on the "and go" part, am I right?) and guilt or more feelings of failure usually grow as we see the carefully laid plans falling apart.

Brave Writer Julie Bogart, who has writing programs to develop writing voice at each age level and has a coaching community for homeschool parents, has so much great advice that I have a hard time choosing what to impart here. But one quote has stuck out to me that specifically goes with the planning. 

"Minimal planning allows for maximum creativity." She goes on to say that no planning usually leads to anxiety on the part of the parent and possibly boredom on the part of the kids while too much planning can lead to stress and guilt and a harried feeling in our days. The tight plans also don't leave much room for migraines, sicknesses, or following inspiration and diving deep into a subject that lights up our kids.

Julie Bogart created a "Permission Slip" for us homeschoolers to print out (print for free and hand them out to your homeschooling friends!)
Here is an excerpt from her post about the permission slip- 

It occurred to me that what might be missing—what had been missing for me at various junctures—was permission to simply enjoy homeschool. Such an odd revelation! As though I needed to be told that it was okay to get a kick out of my kids, to pause to notice the sweetness of the read aloud, to play soccer in the backyard and count it as “on task.”
The original Brave Writer motto was “Joy is the best teacher.” I had to scribble it at the top of notebooks to remind myself that when the crying comes, the lesson’s done. It was important for me to return to joy—not through a program, but through permission. I could have the homeschool I wanted—I just had to be willing to live it, to not discount it, to not undermine it when it showed up. I got permission from my best friend’s daily example. Her wholehearted entry into her children’s world reminded me that I could do the same, and homeschool would sing.

BraveSchooler Permission Slip
"Homeschool would sing..."
Isn't this what we want? The love of learning, growing, and enjoying each other?

I decided to write out the permission slip on my chalk board as a way to remind myself right now.
Some thoughts I've been working through in the past few months (and longer on a rotating basis.)

What is your goal as a home educator?
What do you want your kids to look back at by the end of their school years and think about?
Will it matter when they are 20 if they were reading on grade level in 4th grade?   
More than knowing facts, how much do they care -- about each other, the world, and whatever they choose to do beyond?
How can our home nurture the goals that I have?
Which curriculum do I have that works for us and which make me feel stressed that I should let go of?
How can I create a plan like a frame allowing for creativity?
What can I do daily to keep stress low and enjoyment of our learning experience high?
What am I naturally good at and why do I keep trying to be something I'm not?

 Before starting up for real, I was looking around at the resources that I have (I have gathered SO much!) In one way, it is totally great that I have choices of books and subjects for myself as well as the girls, but this is when decision fatigue started to rear its ugly head.
Open my wardrobe, and you'll see there at the bottom shelf possibly half of my stack of resources for myself to work in.
 I have a great stack of books for my own encouragement that talk about education, mothering, building a nurturing home. I have "mom books" from The Thinking Tree that I love and that encourage me as I pursue my own education in how to educate and love my family better. What you can't see in the picture above is all the podcasts I've saved on my computer to listen to later (usually while doing dishes or making dinner) all about education and teaching.  I pay for a monthly coaching community with more readings and podcasts to work through that might talk about planning and scheduling or personality types or specific educational theories and practices.  I have new resources on brain integration to help my girls in all the ways I can.  I love all this and have been so encouraged.  I feel more at peace and ready to start this new school year than I ever have before. The big question is, "With all these great resources, where to start?"  Also, how do I keep the decision fatigue away?
A few years ago, I bought a full Sonlight core on World History. I trimmed it back to only what I know we will love and I still have a full shelf ready and waiting!
 I love the literature rich curriculum styles, but I was too stressed by their teaching schedule that I didn't even open it till over a year after I bought the Sonlight core. Knowing about myself that the extremely detailed teachers resources are a source of stress for my personality type and that I should stop trying to be something I'm not is pretty huge for me. Someone could be on the other side of this coin where their ideal idea of how to teach is being spontaneous and delight-directed and become overwhelmed with having to be creative with what to teach their kids because their personality loves the detailed plan!
Beautiful stack of Thinking Tree Books that we have waiting in the wings while we finish the ones we are working on now.
 I love the Thinking Tree books because the style fits right in with what I value and what my personality kept trying to do in our homeschool even though I didn't know it at the time.  But even though we will use these books eventually there were SO many books to choose from! Decision fatigue, feeling overwhelmed -- where do I start?  How do we do all of this?  
Look at the usual beginning-of-the-year, "These are the books we are using" blogs and "This is the schedule with a free printable for you!" posts. Those send my personality into stress paralysis.

Recognizing this about myself and owning it rather than fighting against it is what this school year start is about for me.

I've stressed myself out so much with trying schedules and plans and lists and all the stuff that is supposed to help the usual person stay on task -- and so I was a little afraid to try this new way (for me) of planning our school days.
But I do need a plan to fall back on and coming up with ALL of it in the middle of the day with people telling me they are hungry, bored, have an invisible pain, want to watch a movie, or don't look enthusiastic about the idea of starting school for the day isn't usually the best time to come up with the entire plan.
 I needed a frame for the daily plan. While I have the shelves and baskets and the books all set, there is just too often a feeling of "where to start?" and then trying to do too much.
 I got this idea from this blog post about spiral notebooks 
I made the idea even simpler for my style.  I don't have a master list. I just have their baskets of books for right now  and shelves and school drawers. When I go to write the list, I basically think about getting in, well, the basics.  Reading, Writing, and Math.  I've already got other subjects incorporated in other ways, but for their lists, this is what I keep in mind as I decide which books and how many pages to write on their check list. I am NOT a morning person, so doing this before bed takes about 15 minutes total, and it gets me in the right frame of mind to set up the next day.  If we are going to be out on a field trip, for instance, I won't put as much on the checklist.

Since starting this, I've noticed that my girls seem to be more ready to start school sooner and even pull out their own books while asking me questions about getting going on that particular book. It's saved me from having to wait till my second cup of coffee as I get myself going enough to work up the stamina to get THEM going as well.  This way, we all kind of get going at the same time, and it's less pressure on me to make decisions before I can see straight. Did I say I'm not a morning person?  I'm really, really not a morning person. And our morning starts out different almost every day, but by the end of the day, they have gotten in the most important parts -- and I can feel like we did what we needed to do that day.
Besides the wardrobe shelf (and other shelves,) I've got this area in our apartment all set with teaching resources and plans

Morning basket choices
Have you heard about the "morning basket" that many homeschoolers have talked about?  I've seen posts about what people have put in their morning basket time, which is basically a stack of read-aloud type books that the Mom has going that can start the school day. Maybe before or right after breakfast is a good time to wake up everyone's brains with the read aloud stack. The kids can color or play with Lego or something while you read snippets from books on various subjects. Cuddling and just starting the day on a positive note and actually getting to those resource books that you thought would be amazing (but never seem to have time for) is the basic idea of the "morning basket."

Again, for me, it's all about the big picture when planning. I can tell you specifically what is in our "morning basket" right now, but I think it is more helpful to understand the principle and basic outline for the types of books you can choose. 

What I consider in choosing books for the "morning basket" is this:

-- One or two books that enjoy language in a different way.
(This could be a limerick book, a tongue twister book, poems, a joke book!  It could be long or short, but usually, picture book size is what I've been using in this spot.)
-- One or two books of science, history or animals. (Sometimes, these subjects are combined, and sometimes, this will be two separate books.) I have even read a few pages from a children's encyclopedia in this category! Often when I read a bit from this part of the morning basket, we will end up Google searching an animal or map and spend an extra 10 minutes looking at pictures to better understand what we just were introduced to!  Do you know that Cows float?  Google that to find out why and you will all get a laugh!
-- One book of Bible stories or missionary stories. If you aren't religious, you could change this category to something else.
--  A few books for the youngest child especially. Because my 5-year-old isn't as interested in the other choices, I like to have a few books that she will especially enjoy.  Sometimes, she is already off doing her own thing so I don't read them to her at this time, but it's just good to be aware to include some picture books between the others so the littles feel included.
-- One chapter book that is fiction and really interesting to them! I kind of adore stopping at the end of a chapter and hearing my children say "WHAT?" and beg for more. ;)  While the other books are read in various orders, I always end with the longer one that they are super excited about!

I use most of the books in the "morning basket" for snippets of readings.  We are talking like a half-page to two pages most of the time. The idea is that they don't know what they might be interested in learning if they don't know what they don't know!  I think of it as a little buffet of food and they get a sample of different topics to taste. I also take mental note of what sparks their interest!  This method is great for the parent that wants to get going on a more delight directed approach but their kids don't know what they want to study. 


Before I get into more specifics about some of the things we did these past few weeks, I want to share a thought I have been chewing on since I first heard it.

The word "School" - Where does that word come from and what did it originally mean? 
From Latin "schola," meaning intermission of work, leisure for learning; learned conversation, debate; lecture; meeting place for teachers and students, place of instruction; disciples of a teacher, body of followers, sect." From Greek "skhole," meaning spare time, leisure, rest ease; idleness; that in which leisure is employed; learned discussion;"

I have been doing the morning basket ever since my oldest was 5 but didn't know this was a valid thing. I thought I was being lazy for not planning ahead and just being spontaneous about what we read about in our stack!  I didn't understand what "school" meant. How did the idea of enjoying the stretching of one's mind to do in your leisure time turn into the idea that we are doing something arduous and distasteful?  Learning things that bore us or that we don't need to know just because we are "supposed to know" them?

I was homeschooled growing up and the thing that I value the most from that experience was the freedom and time to follow my own interests and the good relationship that I especially have with my Mom (who inspired me by being amazing at reading books aloud!)

So as I homeschool now and read from a stack of books and follow our interests spontaneously, it  just feels natural to me. Maybe I thought that our school days weren't valid if they weren't a struggle because of how school systems look and what our society values (no child left behind!)  If we were enjoying our day and our learning didn't stem from a plan was it really "school"?  Truthfully, yes.  But I didn't know that this was a valid way to homeschool.  

I'm reluctant to share how someone can be more free and "delight directed" with their learning environment because I wouldn't want the mom on the flip side of my coin to feel like she was failing at homeschooling because her personality really does need to follow a strict plan to thrive.  On the other hand, there are so so so many blog posts about those detailed planers and type A moms and the "perfect curriculum" choices that I think I'll risk it and explain what some of this can look like.  Just know that knowing what brings you joy and what works for you is the goal... Not stuffing yourself into an ill fitting box.

The spontaneity can come in with Google searches, doing an experiment that a book talked about, or  all deciding to make acrostics of words because you just read about that in "Fancy Nancy," or possibly try to make art like the famous painter you just read about! While, yes, this will take a tiny bit of extra time since the prep isn't already done, the kids are generally excited about it and will wait more patiently than if you were trying to do that experiment you spent way too long planning for that they are totally just NOT into and whining about.

However, if the idea of a frame of a plan and being spontaneous makes you want to run for the hills, then don't do it! You know your personality. You know what won't work for you and your kids.  There are so many ways to homeschool from online classes to unschooling to part-time to co-ops.

Too many of us try to shoe-horn our personalities into a style that we couldn't maintain. I would "fail" at that ideal and then feel guilty and terrible.  If we can shoot for 80% happy in our days and routines with our kids, I think we will be in a much better place.

You will have to feel out how much planning ahead you personally need and how much you need to leave space for.  Watch your own stress level and also watch for the energy level in your kids.  Finding some sort of balance between what we all need isn't something that anyone else can do for you.
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 And now into some more specifics about the stuff we did.  Please note these are highlights from two weeks, not everything we did in total or even everything in one day.  For us, each day looked different, but all had some amount of reading, writing, and math with history and science and so on in there at different times.
Our first day of school was a poetry tea time with a friend. That was all! Just easing into our school year and starting off with something they all love seemed like the best way to kick off the new school year.

 Often my morning basket has library books in it, which is such a great way to explore ideas and topics without spending money on things they aren't going to be into.  My coffee cup right there has ice cream in it!  See, we have tea and lattes and even ice cream while we do school some days.
Not ashamed.  ;)
While I read, sometimes the 5-year-old works on a puzzle or colors or makes messes or snacks or plays with her hamster.  Getting ideas off of Pinterest for the little one to do school type projects can be helpful.  Here, she is playing with this special play sand (that you can mold and re-shape) pressing the letters in to make a word!
 The picture makes you think she was enjoying this activity for the full hour I was reading.  Let me just say that normally if she sticks with one thing for 10 minutes, then I will count it as a win!  Also, when she is done, I do have to help her clean up all the projects spread all over.  This is normal.  This is okay.  It is also okay if the kids don't want to help you clean, then they can learn patience while they have to wait.  Own what you need to do to keep your sanity and don't force other people to live up to your standard.
 This was the scene one day while I was reading aloud from our basket.  The 5-year-old is now on my tablet playing with Google Earth.  Some days, we are on the couch and floor for this time of reading aloud.  Some days, I don't get to the "morning basket" till right before bed when I read some of the books then.

First day back with doing "Life of Fred" together included ice cream.  Apparently the threat of brain freeze makes math more exciting to everyone.  Haha, just kidding... we just wanted it so we did it.  :)
 Some days, we did more individual work that I created on their notebook check lists, and some days this past week, we focused on group activities. 
The 8-year-old's favorite writing method right now is my old red typewriter. It has been magical for her! 
 After our second poetry tea time of this new school year, all my girls spontaneously wanted to write their own poetry and my middle daughter's favorite method of getting her thoughts out is on the typewriter, which I've rigged up with a role of paper.
 She has been writing little poems and then taping or gluing them to a sheet of paper and drawing pictures to match.  She made about 8 of these total, and we are sewing the spine so that she has her own poetry book to read aloud at our poetry tea times.

She is in the invented spelling stage of writing and I'm trying to be really careful not to discourage her from continuing on.  I don't want her to lose that beautiful writing voice and try to stop her thoughts because she thinks too much on writing perfectly or is afraid of spelling something wrong.  She does copy work and I've also acted as her editor as well and explained that all writers need proof readers when they write something unique!
The author hard at work and proud of her skills!
 Before bed when I decide what I want on their checklist, I consider these things (besides the getting in reading, writing, and math)
-- Which book are they into right now?  It could be one of their journals or a spelling book or copying a story they recently wrote.  Because the journals incorporate spelling, writing, and math, I will look at the next few pages in their book to decide how many pages (mentally calculating about how long it will take them to complete!) and if I need to have math practice or add some spelling practice.  If their journal that day has a page of spelling words, it doesn't work to have them do two pages from their spelling book that same day for instance.
-- What are we going to do the next day? If we have doctor appointments that will take up half the day, I'm not going to plan all five things for them to check off AND a poetry tea time AND the morning basket AND our "Life of Fred" time together. (All of that represents about 5 to 8 hours at least and possibly more if we follow bunny trails!)
For instance, this particular day we were going to be out of the house for half the day and these two things to check off combined with the things I added represents the rest of the school day.

I try to think realistically and plan on the least amount so we have the most opportunity for creativity and spontaneity. I have noticed that when I hit on that right amount where they don't feel overwhelmed they do better work and often spend more time doing their school than if I packed on more and more. 
 For my 10-year-old because of the eye therapy, she's been going through and discovering the right glasses to help her, she was feeling a little behind reading and writing skills. She has adored her little animal spelling poetry book though, and since she just finished the whole book and was ready to move on, I told her to pick her three favorite poems from it. I then wrote down all the words of those poems on a piece of magnet paper (it's actually for a printer!) and then I cut apart all the words so she could use a magnet board to create the poem again and then move the words around to make her own poetry!
Cutting down on how much she had to think about is helping her move forward in a positive way.  She isn't comfortable inventing spelling like her little sister, but she wants to write and express her thoughts. This was the perfect solution for her.
These spelling books can be found at Funschoolingbooks.com
 The next day, she worked on this project again (because she wanted to make another poem!) and first alphabetized all of the words she already had all on her own initiative. Also, every time she needed a new word, I simply wrote it down and cut it out so she had it right away.

On Friday, I announced that all we were doing for school was "Life of Fred" and the read-aloud basket and then they could choose any school book or school project to work on because it was "FREE CHOICE FRIDAY!" (echo echo) For some reason, that inspired them and everyone got excited about school!

They loved the idea of "Free Choice Friday" and said, "I get to choose any of my books?"  Yes.  SO the 8-year-old worked on her Minecraft journal and then wrote and illustrated poetry all afternoon.  (!) And my oldest wrote another poem with her magnet letters and copied it into her book.
 The final page is above and even has extra room if she ever wants to write more about the Tiger.
 The 5-year-old dictated her poems to me for our Poetry Tea Time and came up with some super silly ones. Mostly about things flying that normally wouldn't. Much laughter and connecting with each other went on through this whole process. This poetry tea time lasted about 3 hours!
It's not always easy to stop what I'm doing to focus on what they are wanting to tell me or show me, but it was so important to me that my own Mom did this that I want to do that for my kids too.  Even if it's just an eye connection and a nod of approval that might be all your child needs as they share their project with you!  Try to restrain the helpful ideas and ways to improve something if you can!
I have a hard time with this as I'm so often full of ideas and ways to make things better (or just different!) I say "Ideas are like manure, you've got to spread it around to help young things grow!"... but too much can burn the tender plants and.. well, that image is just good to remember to keep from overdoing the ideas thing. 
"Pumpkin" in this picture is demonstrating how she can hold a full grape in each cheek. Pretty impressive considering that when we first got her the limit was 4 almonds on each side and now she can hold a totally of 16!  8 on each side!  What?  I see some videos coming in the future with how quickly she can stuff in the almonds.  See, she is helping with math concepts.
We got a "school pet" this year, and her name is Pumpkin. She is mostly for my 5-year-old who kept interrupting school time and was constantly asking to go places (and after going places would want to be home again!  You know the deal.) I'm happy to report that she isn't hard for me to maintain and she is helping with the energy of our school times as the girls love to have her crawl on their paper while they work.  My youngest will often hold her through out the day for about 15 minutes at a time getting some entertainment by someone other than me! 

 I love how pictures hide the mess and dirt that was going on in this picture.  In the daily moments, I tend to see too much of the negative and less of the positive. With my back problems this week, I was having to live in that plan B mode and take my time with everything I did.  Even so, I saw my girls engaging with what they were learning and I saw that 80% happy going on in our days.  Yes, there were the fights and the times of teaching them to get along (again) but that is all apart of this journey as well.
I am understanding my own personality more and valuing my own frame of mind before I try to teach them something (as in, if I'm cranky, I need to recognize what I need to do to rest so I can move forward in a positive way rather than just plowing ahead while being negative.)

One morning, we started the day NOT with the morning basket that sounds so ideal, but with a movie.
Yep.  Totally started the day with a movie! Sound irresponsible?
Wait, it was a movie that was based on a book.  The plot had 3 story lines from different times in history that all wove together with multiple characters.  We enjoyed it, and we cuddled, and I even got some exercising done during the show AND best of all, we had some big juicy conversations about the plot and the characters and the culture in the different times in history.  I got the rest that I needed to start the day in a positive way--and everyone benefited!  It was so easy after the movie to move right into doing the work on their checklists while the little one did Wii Fit, and I took a shower.

But it seems that we start our school day differently each time, and I'm actually finally okay with that.
Other days start out for us even slower with the girls playing and cluttering up our tiny living space before I'm even down the stairs.  I find cereal spilled all over the floor as I try to make my morning coffee, and I usually make "brunch" later for us all as I mostly just try to get my own brain going enough to catch up to the kids.  We did all spend most of the day in our pjs at one point because they were clearly ready to learn and I didn't want to interrupt the momentum for us to all shower and dress!  Some days have started out with a long drive to the vision therapy place, or with stretches and attempts on my part to get my back and shoulder working again (threw it out this week), other days started with tea and lattes all around and math first thing. Another day we might go to the library, have a poetry tea time, or just simply do whatever I have on the checklist for that day and then call it good.
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While our routine is less structured than other people might prefer, it is perfect for us, and this year is the first year that I can see that and own it rather than feel like I'm doing something wrong.

Each homeschooler is on their journey to find not only what works for their own kids, but what works for them as the parent as well.
What is the culture of your home?
What is your personality type and your kids?  Choose what works for you, and it probably won't look like mine! 
Moms in general and homeschoolers in particular need to support each other.  My choices for my own kids aren't a judgement on your choices. They aren't. They are based on what I think is right for us and what we need, just as your choices are based on your own families needs and beliefs and values.
Can we support each other even if we don't operate exactly the same? I think we can and we should!


What I am loving about this year so far is that our days are filled with curiosity and creativity.  My oldest daughter said something this week that I want to hear more often (or at least BE more often) "Mommy is so much happier today. She laughed a lot!"


To end this post about beginning again, I will quote the permission slip from Brave Writer.
(Go here to print one out for yourself!)

I hereby grant myself permission to-

*Trust joy to be my guide.
*Listen to my kids with curiosity and follow their lead.
*Change course, take risks, experiment.
*Make space for rest and relaxation.
*Dream my ideal family life while accepting the limits of our current circumstances.
*Back my children as they pursue their passions.
*Pursue my passions.
*Enjoy my life and my family with love and levity, today and any day I choose.


What I'm looking forward to this year is resting in my choices, enjoying this journey, and living honestly as I am.  I look forward to cuddling with my girls and enjoying books, and I'm looking forward to laughing at new facts we discover together as we follow rabbit trails.  I'm looking forward to growing and learning alongside my kids as I follow my own interests and help them follow theirs.  I'm looking forward to playing games with them and sipping tea and just being together.

This is why I wanted to teach my children at home.