Are Holiday Traditions Too Much Stress?

Spritz cookies, candle making, sugar cookies, TV Christmas specials, Christmas Eve candlelight service, counting down the days with candy canes, advent wreaths, reading Luke chapter 2, Twas the Night Before Christmas, breaking the peppermint pig, paper crowns, pickled herring, and the list could go on.

All Christmas “traditions” we had growing up in my family. Some we did at home, others we did with the grandparents. Some were built into the weeks before Christmas in grand anticipation, others were a part of our family Christmas Eve celebration. Some were to remember Jesus’ birth and why we celebrate Christmas, others were for family heritage and family fun. As a kid, they all enhanced my Christmas experience. But as an adult, I know we can’t fit everything in every year and it can be difficult to decide what to do and what to skip to save our sanity. Holiday traditions can be stressful and in the age of pinterest and social media, the pressure to do and post all the cute stuff with our kids can be overwhelming and sometimes depressing. (For Halloween, did you carve pumpkins, hand make your children’s costumes, hand out regular-sized candy bars, AND serve hot cider to your neighbors? Did it seem like all the other moms on Facebook did?) Then there are all the memes that encourage you to abandon anything and everything that causes even the slightest amount of stress for your holiday season. But is that really the best option? Should we scrap everything? How do we decide? 

My peppermint mocha cookies I developed last year.

I feel like every year I set out to do less and still end up doing more than I planned. I’m still working on fine-tuning my filter to decide what stays and what goes each year, but I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve had on the subject lately that are helping me on my journey and might help you, too!

The first question I’ve asked myself is: What does the Bible say about traditions? The Bible actually addresses traditions in a couple ways that I think are absolutely important to consider as moms deciding what we want to do with our children each year. First of all, we are encouraged to practice traditions that cause us to remember what God has done. God commands the Israelites to remember how He saved them by celebrating Passover, repeating the stories to their children, and in Joshua 4 God had them make an alter of stones to remember how He helped them cross the Jordan river and to tell the story to their children for generations. Jesus also tells the disciples to continue practicing the Lord’s supper after He’s gone in remembrance of Him. So traditions that point to Jesus–finding ways to remember Him and retell His story to our children–whether through story books, crafts, devotions, whatever, are not only good things to do, but we absolutely need to be doing them with our kids. I’m not saying they need to be the craftiest things on pinterest, but we should be doing something to tell our children the story of Jesus in a meaningful way.

But, Jesus also warns against doing outward deeds that are meaningless to our hearts. (Matt 23:27-28) He says, “Woe to you!” So absolutely DO NOT DO the super crafty thing if it’s going to make you bitter. Find a different way to pass on the Christmas story to your children and use a medium that comes more naturally to you. The last thing we want to do is look showy on the outside but have bitter and stressed out hearts.

So what about the other stuff? What about the stuff that is just family fun? Do we scrap it if it stresses us out? Yes and no. I’ve never thought that anything worth while is going to be completely stress-free. My key now is to figure out the exact source of the anxiety. Here’s an example. Every year I get annoyed when a child spills the flour everywhere and sometimes I might even yell if the cookie making process is getting out of control. But I still look forward to making cookies with my kids each year, and so do they. They don’t remember me yelling that one time–they count down the days until we make cookies together. I’ve come to accept that life with four littles is going to be a little stressful for me because it’s going to be messy and I don’t like mess. But, this doesn’t mean scrapping the cookie making altogether. What it does mean is maybe I don’t pass out cookies to friends every year anymore. Randy and I used to give cookies out at Christmas but the more the kids want to be involved, the more chances there are for messy cookies, thumbprints where they don’t belong, and unnecessary anxiety. So I won’t give cookies out anymore because that’s too stressful. When I don’t have kids licking their fingers every two seconds, this tradition might restart. So if you used to get my Christmas cookies and don’t anymore, don’t be offended, be thankful. 😉

Do I have to do the same thing every year? No! For this question, I say, do what makes you happy. My kids are growing, maturing, and changing. They are capable of more each year, but we still have littles. So now my two older kids might be able to handle more, but I still have to weigh the fact that I have an almost-three-year-old and a one-year-old around who want to “participate” but can’t fully. Last year I might have been able to do more because I had a napping toddler and a sleeping infant. Now with two toddlers, I have to weigh my options carefully and if I decide it’s not worth going the extra mile in something, I know there’s alway next year, or the year after. I’m never going to be able to fit everything in one year and that’s also what makes it fun!

So where can I get ideas for the meaningful stuff? Many churches offer family devotions to take home around advent and lent. They might even have family events that reinforce the meaning to these seasons. This is great because you don’t have to look far for inspiration if you follow your church’s calendar of events! Another source I love for advent and lent is ohamanda.com. Her advent devotional for kids is called The Truth in the Tinsel and her lent packet is A Sense of the Resurrection. If these are too time-consuming for you, there are so many excellent books you can read aloud to your children for each season–check out your local Christian bookstore. (We like “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” at Christmas and “Benjamin’s Box” at Easter.)

If holiday traditions annually stress you out, this year I encourage you to remember the freedom you have in Christ to not do the same thing every year, and to not try to be the perfect pinterest mom. But don’t neglect the responsibility you have to pass down the story of Christ to your children! May your heart be happy and light and your fingers not be perpetually sticky. Happy holiday traditions!

Yes, we’ll be making these silly turkeys again this year, after all the other Thanksgiving preparations are finished. And it will be pure fun!

Homeschool Series Part III: What it Looks Like

It’s official. I stink at keeping up with the blog. I wanted to write and publish all three parts of this series within a week of each other and completely failed. I don’t know how other homeschool moms with littles write regularly, but I know there are some out there who do! Hats off to you, Mamas! As for me, I’m learning to accept my limitations and write when I get the chance. So here’s a little glimpse into our busy homeschool world…

If you’ve talked with anyone who home educates their children, you’ve likely heard all the benefits there are to this lifestyle: flexibility, tailored education for children, more free time. I touched on these and more in my last post about why we chose this form of schooling for our kids. (Be sure to check out Part I, too, about freedom in education.) But you might be wondering, “Ok, but what does a homeschool day actually LOOK like?” Whether it’s pure curiosity or maybe you’re thinking about educating your own kids at home and need some ideas, I’m going to address that question here.

I’ve said before that we loosely follow a Charlotte Mason style of educating our children. Charlotte Mason was a teacher in England around the turn of the twentieth century.  Along her career, she published several books containing philosophies of education. She viewed children as persons with their own ideas, interests, and desires. In her philosophy, children should enjoy the learning process through hands-on experiences, real and meaningful encounters with the materials or ideas being taught, and have opportunities to formulate their own opinions and thoughts, rather than being told what they’re “supposed” to think. She believed children should be presented with a “feast” of quality learning on a daily basis.

I’m not an expert on Charlotte Mason by any means, and I’m only halfway through the book, For the Children’s Sake, which is an informational book about Charlotte Mason’s life and philosophies of education. But everything I glean from books and podcasts about her philosophies I love. Picture studies, music studies, nature studies, and poetry studies are just a few of the things she insisted must be in a child’s education and we incorporate them all on a regular basis.

So what does our schedule look like? It’s important to note that it changes at times. Whether it’s year to year, or even week to week, the schedule doesn’t always look the same. I try hard to make my schedule serve ME, not the other way around. With two toddlers of my own and the occasional visit from our neighbor’s baby who I watch 2-3 days a week, I have to be flexible.  It’s also important to note that I keep my lessons short. This is another Charlotte Mason “trick.” I agree with her that it is better to have your child’s full attention for 5-10 minutes than to have half of their attention for 30-40 minutes. When they are giving their full attention, they will retain more information. And when they get into the habit of paying full attention, they will continue to do so when the time frames increase which is much better than getting into the habit of only half-listening or interrupting all the time. We can get so much more done in a short amount of time when we are working one on one or one on two and they are fully present in the lesson. It’s awesome! This means that most of the time, we are completely done with school by lunch. The exceptions to this are when the toddlers are really antsy or continuously interrupting us in the morning so some of the school gets pushed off until the afternoon when they might be napping. Or maybe none of us are feeling the art or read-aloud component of school in the morning and this is better saved for afternoon tea or snack time–picnicking outside on a blanket or cozying up on the couch indoors.

Our family has a 7:30 breakfast rule. Because of Sunday morning church and Saturday morning sports, this is a 7-day rule right now. Breakfast is at 7:30 everyday and you must be dressed with your bed made and ready for the day when you come to the table. On homeschool days, this is when we do Bible. We are able to discuss our devotions for the day over breakfast as a family. Immediately following breakfast the kids have a few chores to do and then it’s right into school. Abby is usually starting her spelling by 8:15. So here is what our daily schedule might look like written out:

  • 7:30 Breakfast/Bible
  • 8:15 Abby – spelling, Noah – play with Emmalyn & Eli
  • 8:25 Abby – ELA This varies daily from mini-lessons on grammar, oral narration, oral composition, written composition, dictation, poem memorization, copywork, picture studies, or week-long units on a different fairy tale which I’m incorporating myself. The lessons almost never go over 10-15 minutes.
  • 8:40 History for Abby & Noah This is usually in the form of a read-aloud and then a IMG_20180910_123457368retelling of what they remember. Sometimes there is an accompanying fun project or video. At the end of the week, Abby writes a summary of the topic or person we’ve studied.
  • 9:00 Abby – book basket (quiet reading from any of the books I’ve placed in the book basket for the week) Noah – kindergarten letter work, reading, number sense, etc, with me.
  • 9:20 Math We usually do a hands-on lesson with manipulatives on the living room floor or kitchen table. Noah participates with us. When the lesson is over, Abby does written practice in her math workbook. We use Singapore. 
  • BREAK/SNACK AT 10:00
  • 10:15 Science/Art/Other We don’t do science everyday but when it’s scheduled, we usually do it right after snack. We might have an art project to do, a music study, or something else that’s “special” planned and that would go here or after lunch.
  • After lunch we might play a math or reading or letter game or take a nature walk. Then I read aloud before quiet time.

There’s our schedule. It doesn’t always look exactly like that, but it’s close. I can’t emphasize enough that every homeschool looks different and it’s not always “picture perfect.” But I love this homeschool life, I really do. And I honestly think my kids do, too.

Whether you do homeschool, private school, or public school with your kids, Mamas, I hope you remember the freedom we have in our education choices and to change our minds when something doesn’t seem to be working. There is no “one-size fits all.” I’d like to leave you with just a few of my favorite quotes about children, education, and homeschooling.

Children want to be sparked like flames, not filled like barrels.” – Heraclitus

Whatever curriculum you use, remember to give yourself and your children three things: something to love, something to do, and something to think about.” – Karen Andreola

Homeschooling is about freedom. But not just doing things the way we want. It’s also about our children’s freedom. Let’s not hold onto our methodologies so tightly that we forget the reason we’re doing this in the first place. Children are born persons, after all.” – Ainsley Arment

Free time is necessary for the fruit of creativity. It grows out of a rich life. All children respond to this abundance with ideas, plans, imagination, playing. They solve problems, think, grow. Children respond to life by living. They need this time to grow.” – Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

 

Homeschool Series Part II: Why We Homeschool and It Works for Us

In my last post, I talked about how we have freedom in our education choices and should choose carefully what we feel is best for our families. I’m attempting to answer the popular question I get asked, “Why did you decide to homeschool?” in perhaps a round-about way.  One reason it can be hard for me to answer that question is because the reasons my husband and I decided to homeschool in the first place are not necessarily the same reasons we continue to do so. We’ve only been at this for a few years and are by no means experts, but I think our attitudes and beliefs about homeschooling have already evolved from when we first started even thinking about it.

When my husband and I were engaged and I was finishing up my student teaching in my last semester of college, he told me that if we had kids he wanted me to be a stay-at-home mom and wanted us to homeschool. I adamantly disagreed on both accounts. I was finishing my degree and I planned to use it! I also didn’t know much about homeschooling but my initial thoughts were something like: weird and unusual and why would I do that? Randy’s main reasons for wanting to homeschool had to do with having a negative school experience himself, wanting his kids to know and believe the Bible before anything else, and his political leanings. Being a libertarian, he tends to want to stay as far away from heavily government funded/influenced institutions as he can. I thought he needed to chill.

For me, I never thought much about how I planned to educate my kids. I guess I assumed they would go to public school like I did. Just like I never thought much about whether I would breast or bottle feed, or what I planned to name my children… until I actually became pregnant and was forced to start really thinking about these things. And though I was against homeschooling at first, over time I can say that God changed my heart. Although I loved my job and was really passionate about teaching ESL, when I became pregnant with my first child, I had an overwhelming desire to stay home with her. At the time this was out of reach. I continued working full-time until my second child turned one, but my desire to stay home never left and I started clinging to the idea of homeschooling because if Randy wanted it to happen so bad, I was sure he’d find a way to make it financially possible. And though I don’t want to get into all the details here, as a public school teacher, I saw so many flaws in the system that homeschooling continued to appeal to me. (It’s not that I don’t care about the education of all children or that I felt that my kids would really suffer in the public school system, but my heart and mind were being softened to the desire my husband already had for our family.) Homeschooling would mean getting to teach the way I wanted and giving my kids a quality education that centered around love, family, Biblical principles, and hands-on learning. So those might be the reasons we had in mind when we agreed to pursue homeschooling, but why do we continue?

Why DO we homeschool?

The first and simple answer for me is… I just love it. For a while, I didn’t think this could “count” as an answer. It doesn’t seem legitimate. But isn’t it? If I can give my kids as good, if not a better education at home, shouldn’t I first WANT to do it? These days, it’s not a popular opinion to love being around your kids. But I seriously do. It’s not that they don’t drive me crazy at times or tire me out; but in general, I really love spending my days with them.

My kids get a one-on-one (kind of), tailored-to-them education that is fun for all of us. They might not consider everything we do fun, because there is an element of work and rigor, of course. However, we get to do hands-on experiments, outdoor exploration, crafting, reading aloud, and kitchen learning that my kids don’t necessarily consider “school”, but I know better. 😉

Another reason homeschooling really works for us now, that we couldn’t have predicted back when we began, is that our family schedule has become unique and not at all what we envisioned when we first started a family. My husband isn’t home for dinner Monday through Friday. We used to say that we would always make family dinners a top priority in our family. But now it’s family breakfast. And quite frankly, I’m not sure our breakfasts would be able to be as leisure and meaningful as they are if we all had to run our separate ways early in the morning. Homeschooling allows us to have real family time in the morning so that if the kids can’t see Daddy before bed, it’s not as big of a let down. Homeschooling allows us freedom to be flexible with our schedules in other ways–to go shopping in the morning when stores aren’t as crowded, to take field trips at discounted rates on “homeschool days”, to take vacations on “off” weeks, or go out for lunch somewhere along Daddy’s route so we can have a family lunch out! And because the rigorous parts of school don’t take quite as long when you’re working one-on-one or one-on-two, we have way more time to explore other interests. Noah borrows books on outer space from the library, and Abby is working on writing her second “book” in a series. (Yes, she is quite an ambitious little girl… look out, world!)

Finally, homeschooling forces us to do family devotions and Bible learning. I am confident that we would want to do family devotions even if our children were being educated outside of the home. But I wonder how difficult it would be–especially with our unique family schedule. We use a curriculum that builds Bible learning into the schedule and weaves it into the other subjects whenever possible. So when we have our family breakfasts we do family devotions. This year in kindergarten, each unit that Noah studies focuses on a letter of the alphabet that stands for something God made. He is learning about God’s creation, A-Z. In second grade, Abby’s Bible theme is the different names of Jesus and she has a new memory verse every other week. She also gets her own devotional from time to time to do just with me or independently, but I am very grateful that our core Bible learning is already planned out for me and we have time in our day to fit it.

Now that I’ve made homeschooling sound so appealing… (right?!)… HOW exactly does it work? What do our days actually look like? And who is this Charlotte Mason woman I applaud so much and why was she so great? That’ll be in my next post, part three. 🙂

Here we are getting ready for breakfast during the first week of school this year. Everyone had a name card that had the meaning of their name on it and Abby got a new Bible.

 

 

Homeschool Series Part I: We Have Freedom (and Responsibility) in Education Choices

I’ve wanted to write about our decision to homeschool for a while. It’s a question that often gets asked, “What made you decide to homeschool?” And I wish I didn’t struggle so much with how to answer it. So maybe the process of writing it out will help me form a better verbal response the next time someone is curious. But I also want to share the joy and beauty of homeschooling with anyone who might be looking at their kids’ education options. I don’t think homeschooling is the only or always best option, but I do think it’s a great one! And I definitely can’t fit all I want to share about homeschooling in one blog post. So I’ve decided to create a 3-part series on homeschooling. The common thread through this series (besides homeschooling itself) is that we have FREEDOM in the choices we make in how we educate our children. So I hope you will find this encouraging and maybe even a little enlightening.

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The main reasons I often struggle to answer the question about why we decided to homeschool is because I’m afraid of being judged and I fear others will think I’m judging them. But this fear is not rooted in Christ. Because of the Gospel, we have freedom to make many different choices; we are no longer bound by the law. As Christians, sometimes when we’re passionate about something, (without necessarily meaning to) we can turn it into a sin-issue in our minds, even if it isn’t one. Both Jesus (Matthew 15) and the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 10) reminded us that we cannot be made “unclean” by what enters our body, but only by what comes out of our hearts and minds. I think the decision we make about formally educating our children is a lot like this. It is not a sin to choose one way or the other, though sometimes we judge each other as if it were. And though we have this freedom in Christ, it also comes with responsibility. We have the responsibility to weigh our options carefully and choose what will be best for our family and children. And in a way, we all have the responsibility to “homeschool” our children, but I’ll get into that more later. First, I’d like to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding homeschooling and some of the reasons we worry about judgment…

Because we’re Christians, it is often assumed that my husband and I are trying to shelter our kids from the “evil public schools”, or that we think all Christians should be homeschooling their kids if they can. Neither of these are true. In fact, because my husband and I are Christians, we know that the only thing that can save our kids is Christ. And that because of the Gospel, we have freedom to choose the kind of education we feel is best for our children–because we believe that God works in all education modalities and there isn’t one that is best for all. Just like sharing a hobby one loves with others, I want to share the joy of homeschooling with others, but this doesn’t mean I think everyone should be doing it or should even want to. God made us all unique and all of our children unique, and that is a beautiful thing!

On the flip side, sometimes it is wrongfully assumed that homeschoolers are not doing their part to help take care of their community, or we receive judgment for not “adequately exposing” our kids to the diversity around us. But there are several ways homeschoolers can and do support public schools and help take care of their community. We donate supplies, participate in community activities, financially support community programs, and some families even volunteer their time at local schools as a family. And it’s also important to point out that exposure to diversity does not automatically equal loving kindness to one’s neighbors. That needs to be taught and can be cultivated in a variety of settings, not just a public school. Don’t get me wrong, homeschooling is difficult and does take a lot of time to prepare and can cause us to focus a lot of our attention inward while we’re working so hard for our families. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we have a responsibility to our community, as well.

Are public school teachers and homeschoolers on the opposite side of the education aisle? Can we even be friends? Of course we can! And if we have the best interests of children in mind and desire a strong education for all kids, we are very much on the same side. Rather than judging or condemning each other, we should be praying for and supporting one another. As a former public school teacher, I can certainly speak to the fact that teachers need our prayers! They need prayers for grace, patience, wisdom, guidance, and stamina. And they covet prayers for their students, too. Homeschooling families need prayers for much of the same. The parent/teacher/child/student relationship can be a tricky one to navigate.

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I mentioned earlier that as parents, we all have a responsibility to “homeschool” our children. We have freedom to choose whatever mode of formal education we deem best for our family, a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. But we have the responsibility to educate our children about God’s laws, His Word, His Son, and also the things of this world, no matter where they are going to get their academic education.  We need to have an open line of communication with our kids so we can be aware of the influences in their life and set an example of what a humble servant of Christ looks like. And if we are teaching our children about these things as we should be; in a sense, we are all “homeschoolers.”

So with all this freedom we have to choose whatever kind of education we want for our kids, why on earth would anyone choose to be the one to do all the planning, prepping, and teaching math, science, history, reading, and keep their kids home all day when a bright, beautiful, yellow school bus could come and take them away for six hours a day??? I’ll get into why and how homeschooling works for our family in my next post…

10 Goals for a Year of Homeschooling

I was a little aghast when I logged onto my blog site to see that my last post was dated April 18! I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it had been THAT long! I never even wrote about our final author study from last school year or concluded my series on our studies. I have pictures of recipes I planned on recording here, as well, which never happened. I have no profound reason for this other than four small children, the busyness of finishing our school year plus wrapping up my work at our church. I hope to write more this year about food, homeschool, and life but I’m not making it an official goal because my goals this year revolve more around DE-stressing, not adding more to my plate. 🙂 So let’s just say hopefully you’ll hear from again soon and on a more regular basis, although I’m making no promises.

I wanted to start our school year by recording some of my goals for the year, so here I am. These aren’t academic goals for my children, these are goals for me as their teacher, and our school year in general. So hopefully when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or discouraged, I can come back to this and remind myself what I set out to do at the start. And if they provide any other homeschool mamas with ideas, encouragement, or wisdom, then I’ll be doubly blessed.

Goals for My Homeschool Year

  1. Connect with my children. We [loosely] follow a Charlotte Mason style of homeschooling for the most part. She was a HUGE advocate for getting to know the children you are educating and treating them like people with opinions of their own. One of the benefits of homeschooling is the time you get to spend with your kids. I would be squandering that gift if I let our days pass by simply trying to get stuff done and not paying attention to what my kids are thinking, feeling, exploring, and learning. I do not want to sacrifice this grand opportunity to really get to know my children in order to finish the page, book, lesson for the day.
  2. IMG_20180819_071453058Schedule “margin” into my routine. I’m a planner. It’s pretty easy for me to set a routine and it’s not too difficult for me to stick to it. But what I don’t do often enough is schedule the “margins.” I’m learning to do this with time it takes to get ready or get somewhere. With four young kids, I’ve learned that it will take more time than I think it should to get out the door. So I plan for that. It’s a little bit harder to do with my school schedule, but my goal is to get better at it this year. Then I don’t have to get frustrated when a math lesson takes longer to complete than I expected. My kids sense my frustration, which leads to them feeling like they failed or at least, let me down. By scheduling “margin”, I hope to avoid (or lessen) these feelings of frustration on both ends.
  3. Remember to re-evaluate. This year will be my first year following an official curriculum for more than one child. My son has always been able to sit and listen in on his big sister’s schooling, and he has had his own little books to complete as well. But this year he’s more “official” and I’m a little nervous. So I want to remember to re-evaluate periodically. I need to re-evaluate our schedule to make sure both kids are getting the amount of time with me they need. I’ll need to re-evaluate our days, and maybe even our curriculum. I never want to become too set in my ways that my children suffer simply because I’m trying so hard to make something work that just isn’t working.
  4. Remember that I have nothing to prove. This is a tough one. The homeschool world has come a long way and so has acceptance of the idea. But in many cases, homeschooling is still considered unconventional. This leaves many homeschool mamas feeling like they have to prove they made the right decision. We feel like we have to prove that our kids are learning just as much, if not more, than traditionally educated children. We feel like we have to prove that they’re “being socialized” enough. And we have to prove that our children are enjoying every single day of this homeschool journey and THAT’S what makes it so “worth it.” But the reality is, not every day is a joyful journey. Just like anyone else’s school days, some are good, some are better, and some are pretty terrible. And you know what? My children’s and my identities are rooted in Christ alone, not other people’s perception of our homeschool. And I believe that He called my husband and I into this particular education style.  I do think that parents should weigh the education options they have and if they have a choice, choose the one they feel will be best for their kids and family. But we all have freedom in that choice because of the Gospel. WE are not our children’s saviors and homeschooling is not going to “save” my kids… from anything. (Other than maybe having to wait in the snow for the bus to come! One of the many things I love about this choice.) 😉 Only God can do that. So I need to remember that all of this is for His glory; not mine, and not my kids’.
  5. Be flexible. I should really try to be more flexible in all areas of life, but particularly IMG_20180820_124821840the homeschool front. I recently read Sarah Mackenzie‘s book, Teaching from Rest, and loved every minute of it! Along with the idea of scheduling in margin, another thing I gleaned from the book was to be flexible with my plans because #1: they may not be God’s plans and therefore, don’t matter; and #2: who can predict exactly what will happen over the course of the year/month/week/day??? A recent example of this was the way we started our school year. I had planned on starting with Abby (2nd grade) on Monday, August 27. Noah would start kindergarten on September 4. But then we were invited to a lake with a homeschool group for August 27 and the weather for that day and the following days looked gorgeous. And it just so happened that the week prior, our van was in the shop and the weather was pitiful. So Abby and I had a “soft start” a week early while we were stuck inside and didn’t make it a big to-do like the first day of school usually is. That freed us up to enjoy the next week outside and with friends. It wasn’t what I planned the beginning of our school year to look like, but it was definitely for the better. I hope I can continue adjusting with such ease as the school year progresses.
  6. Read-aloud ALL THE TIME. Okay, so this honestly stresses me out just a little bit. That’s because there are SO MANY great options for read-alouds and there is absolutely no way we can get to all of them! Right now, I’m reading 3 different chapter books aloud to my children. Abby is reading her own chapter book (and frequently requests to read chapters aloud to the rest of us) and I have 2 books going on my own. Not to mention the picture books we read before Emmalyn and Eli’s nap times. It is overwhelming, but in the best way. We are so fortunate to have so much great literature at our fingertips. I know I can’t get to every single great “classic”, so I’m not going to make that a goal. It would turn into a list I felt I had to follow and I’d stop re-evaluating and being flexible with our reading time in lieu of checking books off a list, and I don’t want that to happen! So I just want to read aloud as often as possible and make sure we are never without some interesting book to immerse ourselves in!IMG_20180812_191552991
  7. Pray always. This is another continuous “goal for life” that almost goes without saying. But sometimes it doesn’t, so I wanted to make sure I did. 😉 (Did you get that?) I want to make sure my plans align with God’s plans for my family and our schooling, so I need to stay connected with him. And while it’s easy to remember to turn to Him for the big things, sometimes I overlook the little things that could easily turn into big things if I don’t give them to God first.
  8. Get enough rest. I’m talking about me, here. I’m useless to the children I’m supposed to be caring for and teaching if I’m staying up too late planning, reading, or watching TV and not getting enough sleep. Even though I’ve always known I needed it, this has never been easy for me. So I’m making it a goal to make sleep a priority.
  9. Put the phone away. I have seriously cut back on screens for myself and my kids lately. It’s usually not that hard to do when the weather is nice. But specifically, I haven’t had Facebook on my phone in months and I really limit my log-ons these days. I love it. Days that I don’t go on Facebook at all are the best days. And take a look at goal number 6! How do you think we have time to read all those books? We’ve also been playing a lot more board games lately, which we love. But my phone can still be a hindrance to school time if I’m texting a friend, checking email, or hopping on Instagram. And since I no longer need it for work purposes throughout the day, it goes in the bedroom behind a closed door during school. We have enough distractions with the little ones running around, I don’t need to add to them myself.
  10. Take regular “field trips.” This year we’re studying U.S. History in 2nd grade and I feel so fortunate to live in New England during this time! Such small states so close together, and lots of American history right in our own backyard! So this is a more year-specific goal, but I want to take full advantage of our flexible schedule and prime location. I’m excited for a great school year!

Pictures from our lake day on what would’ve been our first day of school. So glad we opted for flexibility! 🙂

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I’m so glad she’s developed such a strong love of reading!

1st Grade Author Study: Patricia Polacco

I adore Patricia Polacco’s books! I think the first one I every read (as an adult, anyway) was Thunder Cake. I remember thinking I couldn’t wait to read it to my children and then actually go through the process of making the cake ourselves. There are many things I love about homeschooling, but one of the biggest is that my kids and I get to experience things (books, in particular) together. We are not limited by such tight schedules and other constraints. So when a book has a recipe included or a fun activity, we can make it!

With this author study, I wanted to focus on the journal aspect of the unit. Most of Polacco’s books are about her own life. This gave me the opportunity to really highlight the skill of “making connections” while reading. (Fellow teachers, this unit is a “Text-to-Self”, “Text-to-Text”, and “Text-to-World” paradise!) So rather than do cross-curricular activities or “cutesie” crafts with each book, we simply journaled about the stories after we read them. The reflections in my author study journals have always been the same. But in our past units, we have glossed over some of the questions or didn’t do a journal response to every book because I didn’t want to bog Abby down with the weight of them. But now we’re near the end of 1st grade and she’s capable of more mature thinking and her writing stamina has increased greatly!

Some of Polacco’s books deal with more serious situations and many of them are suitable for upper elementary students. (The Lemonade Club is a good read and about two characters struggling with cancer, Thank You, Mr. Falker deals with some severe bullying.) But I liked that Abby and I could talk about these topics through the lens of story plot and literature. Some of the books we read and enjoyed include: My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother, Chicken Sunday, The Lemonade Club, Babushka’s Doll, An “A” From Miss Keller, Thank You Mr. Falker, Thunder Cake, The Keeping Quilt, and more! Here is the link to the printable author study journal I created: Polacco Author Study Journal Pages

Of course we made a “thunder cake” according to the recipe in the book, but there was no thunder when we made it, so it wasn’t genuine. Ha! Abby also has plans to make a “keeping quilt” with her Mimi–we’ve already picked out the photos for it! This was a fun study and Polacco’s unique, auto-biographical style brought a fresh perspective to the the collection of authors we’ve studied thus far.

If you want to take a look at any of the author studies we’ve done this year and get free printable downloads, click the links: Eric Carle, Laura Numeroff, Jan Brett, Dr. Seuss

Mission Accomplished: Leftovers

 

I’ve never been one to eat leftovers. I don’t really enjoy microwaving old food, even if it “reheats well.” But I also have a propensity to cook way too much food for a meal! (I’m hoping this trait pays off when I have 4 teenagers in the house.) These two characteristics of mine don’t exactly “gel.” Luckily, my husband has always loved eating leftovers and will feed them to the kids, too. But now that our evenings are getting busier with extra curricular activities, leftovers are becoming a regular and essential part of our dinners. Sometimes the meal can just be reheated on its own (a big pan of baked sausage rigatoni needs only to be thrown back into the oven for a bit and maybe a little extra sauce added to the mix–delish!) but other times a little creativity is needed to “transform” the leftovers into something seemingly new and exciting. I was particularly proud of last night’s transformation…

IMG_2131Mondays have become one of our standard leftover nights since Abby has paint class at 5:00. Sundays I like to make a big after-church dinner so I can usually get away with serving those leftovers on Monday night and my week starts out with an easy dinner. So Sunday I made a marinated pork loin, rosemary-sweet potato risotto, and balsamic broccoli. As someone who doesn’t LOVE pork to begin with, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about these leftovers. There also wasn’t enough pork to go around a full second time.

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I applaud the leftovers eaters of this world, truly! We need you in order to stop the food waste! I just can’t seem to get excited about this scene…

Starting with the broccoli, I dumped it into a small baking dish and added some frozen corn. I sprinkled it with a little shredded cheese, crumbled crackers, and poured some melted butter on top–voila! Baked at 375* for about 15-20 minutes and we had a small broccoli casserole. For the kids, I served this with “Cap’n Crunch Chicken Fingers” from Ree Drummond’s new cookbook (thanks again, Kristen!). I made these once before and they are an instant hit! So the kids enjoyed some chicken and broccoli for their supper.

For Randy and myself, I got a little more fancy. Risotto is a very cheesy, creamy, sticky rice. To me, leftover risotto screams RICE BALLS! So I shredded the leftover pork in my food processor and mixed it in with the risotto. Using my melon baller, I formed little round balls, about the size of small meatballs and then stuck them in the fridge to firm up. You could also “flash-freeze” them for 10 minutes or so, but I knew I had time before Randy got home from work so they’d be in the fridge for a couple hours. Then I dipped the firm balls into an egg wash, then bread crumbs mixed with parmesan cheese (you can never have enough cheese, in my humble opinion). I fried the balls in the same oil I used for the chicken fingers, which was also leftover from our sweet potato fries we had Saturday night! See, it pays to not square away your leftover oil right after use. 😉 I actually attribute my quick change in dinner plans to said oil staring me in the face Monday afternoon. Ha!

I beamed with pride as I presented Randy–who was expecting microwaved pork, rice, and broccoli–with a dinner of fried risotto balls (dipped in Thousand Island dressing) and broccoli casserole. I, myself, opted for a salad with a few rice balls on the side. I needed that burst of freshness to balance out the density of the leftovers. Still wouldn’t call myself a “leftovers” person, but I’m thinking I might have a chance at “Chopped: Leftovers!” That’s all I’m saying. 😉