10+ Ideas for Fun Lunches with Kids

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I get to have lunch with my kids everyday. I love to chat about how we think the day is going and to hear their silly jokes. I don’t always eat with them (I’m sometimes feeding the baby or getting my dinner prep out of the way while we’re all in the kitchen) and I often just have a salad or smoothie myself, but I still love making lunch together an “anchor point” of our day. (See previous post about the importance of having anchor points throughout the day.)

It occurred to me that many parents are now not only facing the task of supervising their children’s education from home, but they also have to prepare lunches for their kids who are normally eating at school. So I thought I’d share some of our favorite lunches as a homeschooling family. Although I love to cook, I’ve loathed preparing lunch for a while and only recently started coming around. This has been my struggle: it’s a disruption to the flow of our day, I’m often about to hit the “early afternoon slump”, and usually I want to serve something quick. When I started to look at lunch as another valuable chance to connect with my kids and get creative in the kitchen, it became more fun. So I asked them what some of their favorite lunches are, and we came up with this list. Some of these ideas take a little more time and planning ahead, but when I have the time, they make lunch more fun. Hopefully you can glean an idea or two for yourself!

Favorite picnic/outdoor lunches:

  1. Baguettes with cheese and meat. I’ve never liked packing a picnic lunch, even though I do it all the time. Making 5 different sandwiches assembly-line style tended to get in the way of our morning routine and letting the kids make their own meant more clean up for me when we were trying to get out of the house. But the task became easier when I was turned on to the idea of simply packing a baguette, some cheese, and some deli meat and letting the kids break apart what they wanted when we eat. When I started doing this, my kids LOVED it and I appreciate the simplicity. Now it’s a lunch they request weekly. Personally, I make my own baguettes because I enjoy pushing myself in the kitchen (it’s a hobby of mine) and if that interests you, I use the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and make them a couple times a week. There are plenty of other recipes you can find online!
  2. Chicken salad wraps. Any kind of wrap or pocket, really. I’ve found that simply switching up the vessel in which I serve a “sandwich” makes lunch more interesting and appealing to my kids, and me! We love a good turkey wrap, ham wrap, or chicken salad wrap. If we’re at home, they make it themselves. I simply put out the ingredients and let them have at it. If we’re picnicking, wraps are SUPER portable which is perfect for exploring.

Favorite FUN lunches at home:

  1. HOMEMADE PIZZA! This is always a winner, and it’s easier to make than you might think. Pizza for lunch feels really special to my kids so I love to treat them to it. I make my own dough (recipe below)*, but the Pillsbury pizza crust is also tasty. A little sauce, a little cheese, throw it in the oven at 425* for 10 minutes and it’s done. Really fast lunch, and super fun! Here’s how we like to change it up…
    • Make-Your-Own-Pizza day! If we don’t have a lot on the schedule, this is a treat. We don’t do school on Fridays so it’s a good day for this if we don’t have a field trip planned or co-op (like, you know, now in quarantine world). They each get a little dough and spread toppings as they like.
    • Taco Pizza! This was an idea I stumbled upon sort of by accident about a year ago in an experiment and it instantly became a family favorite. Randy gets jealous when he hears the kids had it for lunch! To make it, I add a little taco seasoning (half a packet) to an 8 oz can of tomato sauce and use that for my “marinara.” I use the rest of the packet to flavor the beef or ground turkey as I cook it (about a 1/4 lb for one pizza). To assemble, I spread the sauce on the dough, top with Mexican cheese, and flavored meat. Bake at 425* for about 10 minutes. Once it comes out of the oven, I let it cool 2 minutes, then spread sour cream on top and sprinkle with lettuce and tomatoes and hot sauce. So good! If you don’t have taco seasoning, a combination of cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and paprika will do!
    • Other Topping Ideas: sausage and broccoli, sausage and peppers, pepperoni, leftover BBQ chicken, bacon/spinach/fried eggs (My kids love fried eggs on everything! Whip up a pizza with wilted spinach, bacon or pancetta, and then crack a few eggs on top with 2 minutes left of bake time. The eggs will cook in the oven and leave a runny yolk. “Breakfast” pizza!)
    • **I started making sourdough at the beginning of the year and have discovered that sourdough pizza crust is delicious and a great way to use your discarded starter. Some people have been trying this bread during the pandemic, so if that’s you, consider giving this crust a try, too! I make it once a week. First thing in the morning, I’ll separate my starter so I can feed some for a new loaf of bread and turn the rest into pizza crust for our lunch. I’ve also found recipes for sourdough pretzels (kid FAVORITE), waffles, and other goodies that are very tasty. It is such a satisfying process for a home cook and baker!
  2. Cheeseburgers and hot dogs. As the weather warms up, this is a great lunch. Even though cheeseburgers are often supper food, they’re really quick to make and the kids think they’re getting something pretty special when it’s burgers for lunch! If I’m planning on making burgers for dinner one night, I’ll often make extra patties to serve for lunch later in the week. As someone who makes 21 meals for 7 people every week, I can attest that it’s perfectly fine to repeat favorites during the same week and the buying/prepping in bulk is so economical: saves a lot of time and money!
  3. Calzones. Ask my kids if they prefer pizza or calzones and they will say “calzones.” Ask them if they prefer taco pizza or calzones and they will say they don’t want to live in a world where they have to choose. I typically make a version of Ree Drummond’s easy calzones. It’s a good amount of work for a lunch, so they can easily be prepped the night before, or just make ’em for dinner, they reheat beautifully for lunch!

Favorite Ways to Use Leftovers

  1. Rice Bowls. For a family of 7, rice is a staple. Some dinner favorites around here include arroz con pollo, pork fried rice (any Asian rice dish, really), and risotto either as a side or a main dish. When I make rice for dinner, I always make a big batch so we have leftovers for lunch. I will take the leftover rice and fry it in a large saute pan with some frozen corn or peas (and maybe some ham if I have it and there isn’t already meat in the leftover rice), and fry eggs in another pan. Everyone gets a big bowl of the prepared rice and a fried egg or two on top. They love to use the runny yolk as a “sauce” in their rice. This is seriously a lunch my kids get excited about. I turn into the “BEST mom ever!” when this is on their placemats. And all I did was reheat dinner and fry some eggs…
  2. “Anything goes” pockets. Store bought pastry dough can turn any leftover dish into a fun “pocket” or “turnover” or whatever you want to call it. Here’s a go-to example we use:
    • Take leftover mashed potatoes and mix in a bowl with leftover ham (or turkey or chicken).
    • Add some frozen vegetables (peas or corn are what I use)
    • Add some shredded cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
    • Unfold the pastry dough and cut into squares. Fill each square with the potato mixture and brush with an egg wash to help seal in the shape of a triangle. Poke a few holes in the top of the pocket to allow steam to escape while baking.
    • Place stuffed “pockets” on a baking sheet and bake at 400* for 12-15 minutes, or until dough is golden brown and cooked all the way through. Let cool! The filling will be hot, so allow time to cool before serving. These are great dipped in ranch dressing or chutney.
  3. Leftover chicken can become chicken salad. Turn it into a wrap or serve it on a salad (this might be a more favorable lunch for Mom, but my oldest will have a salad like this any day).
  4. When I make a big batch of spaghetti sauce and meatballs, some meatballs and sauce can be reserved for meatball subs at lunch. That’s a rare and therefore special occurrence around here.
  5. Crockpot meals make excellent lunch re-heaters. Some of our favorites are slow-cooker barbeque pork for pulled pork sandwiches or tacos, pulled chicken, or even slow cooker pot roast. All great next-day lunches!
  6. Tacos. I mean, either make a huge batch the night before for dinner and then leftover lunch, or just make them for lunch… tacos are amazingly easy and delicious. Enough said.

Favorite ways to re-imagine “classics”…

  1. Homemade mac & cheese. This is actually not much harder to make than a boxed mac & cheese. The longest part of either process is waiting for the water to boil and the pasta to cook. The rest is a piece of cake! And when you make it yourself, you can change up the cheese, flavoring, and additions. To make the cheese part, I start with a couple TBs of butter, melting in a pot. Once melted, add about 1/4 cup of flour. Whisk together and cook until flour is completely mixed in with the butter. I then add about 1 TB of dijon mustard, and a dollop of sour cream (not necessary, if you don’t have sour cream, no biggie, I don’t always use it, but it adds good depth to flavor). Then I quickly whisk in about 1 1/2 cups of milk and continue whisking over high heat until thickened. (The higher the fat content of the milk, the faster this will go. Whole milk is a great option.) Then I turn off the heat and add my cheese, anywhere from 1-2 cups of shredded cheese, depending on how cheesy you like it. Season liberally with salt and pepper and add in the cooked pasta (I always use a whole pound of shells, or 2 cups of elbows pasta). Done! If you want “plain” mac and cheese, use shredded cheddar jack. You can add some frozen peas or chopped spinach to get those veggies in. OR use a sharp white cheddar cheese and add in some broccoli and cooked chicken or ham. Changing up the cheese and pasta on occasion is a fun surprise for the kids!
  2. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. I have ordered grilled cheese for my kids from restaurants only to get a barely melted piece of cheese between two barely toasted pieces of bread. Forget that. This grilled cheese is ooey, gooey, and oh, so flavorful. I make this when I want a “gourmet” lunch for myself! And the kids love it because… it’s grilled cheese! In the food processor, I put whatever cheese I have left on hand (a bag of shredded cheddar is a great option, but cheese in multiple forms is a staple in this house–blocks of cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan are usually in the fridge so I often add those to the mix), half a stick of butter, a handful of spinach, a pinch of salt, and some fresh basil. Pulse until well combined. Scoop a spoonful or two between two pieces of bread (sourdough or white) and grill until melted and the bread is toasted. I also add a little shredded parmesan and chopped basil to our tomato soup–we buy the organic Imagine brand. It is so smooth and “creamy”, but no dairy. This is truly a “gourmet” soup and sandwich lunch.
  3. Instead of PB&Js, try... Peanut butter and jelly (or fluff) Ritz crackers. I also love to spread Nutella or cream cheese on these and top them with fruit. And of course, cheese and pepperoni make great cracker “sandwiches.” A variety of crackers with creative toppings is always a crowd pleaser and fills them up.

In a hurry but no leftovers…

  1. If I need to get lunch on the table fast but don’t have leftovers in the fridge, I often just put out a sampling of veggie sticks with dressing, fruit, cheese, and crackers. Separately these all make great appetizers, but served together, it can be a healthy, filling, and easy lunch!
  2. Yogurt, fruit, and granola. This is a super easy lunch and satisfies my kids, especially if they’ve had a big breakfast or a snack mid-morning.
  3. If I don’t have time to make sandwiches, it’s often better if I simply put out the deli meats, condiments, and bread. They love making their own sandwiches and they often eat the whole thing when they’ve made it themselves (ownership of creation and everything). 🙂

Next up, Fuel-Filled Breakfasts for “Homeschool” Days, stay tuned!

*Here’s my pizza dough recipe (not sourdough):

  1. Mix 1 TB sugar and 1 tsp of dry, active yeast in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Set aside.
  2. Combine 3 cups of flour, 1 tsp salt, and about 1/4 – 1/3 cup olive oil in a large bowl.
  3. Stir the water/yeast mixture into the flour mixture until well combined. Add up to another cup of flour (slowly) if needed. Knead into a ball and place in a bowl with olive oil and roll the dough in the oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise 1-2 hours. This should make enough dough for 2 pizzas.
Cheese pizza on sourdough crust!

Thriving During Distance Learning

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” Marcus Tullius Cicero

There is a beautiful sentiment of simplicity behind this quote and perhaps in today’s digital age, the “library” could be replaced with the “internet” though many would still shudder to think so. But now that we are being temporarily stripped of our usual luxuries and even confined to our homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, this ancient quote is being put to the test. Children are having to practice “distance learning” since attending school is not an option and parents who didn’t ever plan to homeschool are struggling to figure out how to ensure their children stay on the educational path while juggling everything else on their plate, possibly even working from home. Can we really find satisfaction without our restaurants, movie theaters, and shopping excursions? Are books and outdoor exploration really enough to educate a child? Many parents are now having to ask themselves this question along with, “How are we going to get through this unfamiliar territory in one piece?!”

As a former-public-school-teacher-now-homeschool-mom, I hope I can offer a bit of encouragement here, but not alone. My friend (and veteran homeschool mom of four now-adult children) Jane and I worked together to compile a list of tips, tricks, resources, and encouragement for parents who are now faced with the seemingly daunting task of educating their children from home. We hope these insights prove helpful and encourage you to THRIVE through this unique time, not just survive it!

So get ready, this is a long one. Grab a beverage, and put the kids in front of a screen and don’t feel guilty this time. 😉 Here we go!

Thriving While Distance Learning… A Few Points to Remember

  1. School at Home is NOT the Same as School in the Classroom… You don’t have to recreate the school day. *You might want to find a way to occupy your children for 6-8 hours a day, which is a different topic and we’ll have some helpful resources for that as well, but first, please release yourself from the idea that you have to be teaching or your child has to be “actively learning” for 8, 6, or even 4 hours each day. It’s simply unrealistic.* Public school is designed for many children in a classroom setting. At home, learning goes much faster one-on-one. Try to set realistic expectations including shorter bursts of learning, frequent breaks, and motivate with rewards. Remind your child that you’re in this together. If you both can put in effort to get through an assignment, then you can both enjoy a reward (make a fun snack, take a walk, watch a movie, etc) together afterwards. We will give sample at-home routines later on. See learneverywhere.org for free printables and resources for covering subjects at home. Also remember that worksheets are “busywork” and might be necessary in the classroom so the teacher can assess everyone’s knowledge; but at home, if your child can answer a science/math/social studies question orally, they don’t need to write it down (unless you’re assessing their writing skills, too). And if they can complete six math problems quickly, efficiently, and correctly, then they don’t need to do 16. That is exasperation and will lead to burn out. More practice is needed only when more practice is needed.
  2. Focus on the Basics and Keep It Simple… It’s important to note that most of what our kids learn for science and social studies is repeated year after year in public school. So if you are also working from home, or you’re short on time, don’t stress over those subjects. Science can be really fun to do at home but if you’re not a science person or the thought of social studies intimidates you, let it go. Reading and math are the foundational skills kids need to “keep up” in school so give yourself freedom to focus on those, especially if your child needs extra practice with either.
  3. You are Not Alone… As a former public school teacher, I can imagine teachers everywhere trying to figure out what this classroom hiatus will do to the rest of the school year or the start of the next. If you can remind yourself that everyone is going through the same new situation, you can take some pressure off yourself to do this “right.” Reach out to your teacher friends and your homeschooling friends. Seek advice when needed (the digital socializing will be welcomed, I’m sure). But avoid comparing to what it looks like your neighbors are doing. Every family is unique and gifted in different ways. You are the right parent for your child and you do have the ability to teach them!

So HOW Do we Thrive While Learning at Home?

Set a Goal. Ask yourself, “What do I want to be able to say about this experience when it’s over?” Matthew 6:24 says that we cannot serve two masters, and Jesus was constantly calling people to demonstrate their devotion to Him by giving up something else they held precious. I believe this principle (if we are not intentional about serving God, we are serving something else) can be applied here. Sarah Mackenzie, author of Teaching from Rest* and the Read-Aloud Family*, and host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast said in a recent episode that if we are not intentional about setting a goal to a desirable outcome, we are probably working towards an outcome we might not favor. When your kids go back to school, you might say something like, “Well, we finished all the work the district sent home” or “we ‘did school’ for 4 hours a day” or “it nearly killed us, but we survived.” But if you’re intentional about setting a desired outcome, you will be able to say so much more.

When my kids go back to school/things return to “normal”, I want to say that…

  • we grew closer to each other
  • we grew closer to the Lord
  • I helped my child master a concept he/she was previously struggling with *Remember that public school is not really designed for mastery. It’s nearly impossible for one teacher to ensure that 30 students master a subject before they move on and many kids pass from one grade to the next with C and D grade averages. You have a rare opportunity to zoom in on an area of struggle for your child and help them get over the hump so they’ll be more successful when they return to school. It’s okay to push other things aside to give more attention where needed.
    • Need help mastering math facts? Check out www.mathantics.com or mathusee.com. There are also several math game apps that can be used on tablets and smart phones. Math games such as Boggle, Rummikub, Farkle, and even Battleship are great to play with your kids. (Public school teachers employ these in the classroom, too, TRUST ME.) If YOU are struggling to figure out how the teacher wants your child to solve their math problems, now is a great time to discuss with your child how you would do it and give them an alternate way to solve the problem. This might help them figure out how to explain to you how they learned it. (Now THAT is number-bonding with your child!)
    • Need help with spelling? Check out spellingyousee.com. Play Scrabble, Scrabble Jr., or Bananagrams (one of our favorites).
    • Need to work on printing or handwriting skills? Bible verse writing and copywork are great ways to enhance this and can be easy components of morning work. momstronginternational.com has FREE Bible verse copywork in printing and you can get cursive by joining the site for $10/month. What a great way to commit the Bible to memory, or something you can work on WITH your child! Writing letters is also a great way to improve handwriting and I’ll address that in more detail further down this post.
    • Check out Worldly Wise for help with vocabulary enhancement!
  • I helped my child learn a new skill or I learned a new skill with my child! Youtube has so many tutorials for things like crochet, whittling, and art! (My kids and I learned Chinese brush painting through youtube and it was so much fun!) Check out https://simplycharlottemason.com/store/handicrafts-made-simple/ for more video tutorials on handicrafts. These are great for your kids to do during movies or read-alouds, especially if they are naturally on the fidgety side.
  • We improved our morning routine or got better at household chores. Parents of littles know that it is a daunting task to teach our children how to do a chore WELL. You have to put in a lot of effort up front to see a good return in the future. So if you’ve ever felt like you couldn’t help them get better at a chore or improve your morning routine because of busyness, now’s your chance! Get that morning routine down pat so it will be automatic when school restarts. Help them learn how to wash dishes, make their beds, or even cook a meal start to finish.
  • We did a unit study on a topic my child shows intense interest in! Visit unitstudy.com for ideas and helpful tips and how to integrate school subjects into one unit. greatcoursesplus.com is a good resource for highschoolers, too!
  • My child “got over the hump” in reading and now enjoys it! This may seem like a stretch to those with reluctant readers, but it IS possible. So, let’s talk books…
    • First, I encourage everyone to subscribe to the Read-Aloud Revival podcast! It’s not just for homeschoolers, but for everyone who desires to “make meaning connections with their children through books.” You won’t regret it.
    • You can have a “family book club” or a “parent/child book club” or even a “virtual friend book club!” Pick a book, read it together (or separately during your own quiet times) and discuss them. That’s a literature class. And if you read a book that takes place during early American history, ancient times, the middle ages, or a biography; you’re also covering social studies! Visit https://readaloudrevival.com/rar-booklist/ for booklists in every category including struggling readers, first novels to read-aloud, and favorite picture books!
    • Listen to audiobooks! These are a great form of entertainment that doesn’t include staring at a screen. You can listen to an audiobook while doing a puzzle, a handicraft, coloring, or even cleaning the house or cooking a meal! If you have a struggling reader, it is perfectly acceptable to allow him or her to listen to an audiobook while following along in their own hard copy. It is a GREAT way to learn pronunciation, nuance, vocabulary, and fluency in reading.
    • Books that make good family read-alouds:
      • The Chronicles of Narnia
      • The Green Ember Series
      • The Wilderking Trilogy
      • The Penderwicks series
      • The Vanderbeekers series
      • The Bronze Bow (*great for Easter)
      • Vinegar Boy (*another Easter book)
      • Lost on a Mountain in Maine
      • The Golden Goblet
      • The Door in the Wall
      • Running out of Time
      • My Father’s Dragon series
      • The Little House Series (The Long Winter would be especially relatable during hard times, and these make FANTASTIC audiobooks–they are extremely well done!)
      • Anne of Green Gables
      • YWAM – Christian Heroes Then and Now
      • My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish (*good for struggling readers)
      • Magic Treehouse series
    • Books you can read and then watch the movie (compare/contrast):
      • The BFG
      • Matilda
      • James and the Giant Peach
      • Because of Winn Dixie
      • The Tale of Desperaux
      • The Little Princess
      • Little Women
      • Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings Series

So now that we’ve released you of the pressure to do things “just so” (you’ll choose what’s best for your family, right?!) how exactly will you keep these kids occupied all day?!

  • Have a schedule and follow it loosely. I like to say “rhythm” rather than routine. A schedule is good for everyone’s mental health. Children thrive on structure, honestly they do. But you also need to allow yourself grace, especially during an uncertain time such as this. A good suggestion is to have “anchor points” during your day. These are times that give your day structure and are largely stuck to, even when other things go astray. Meals, for instance, would be anchor points. And then you can ask yourself, “what do we want accomplish before lunch, or after?” In our house, quiet time is a big anchor point. It’s always after lunch, after the kitchen is cleaned. We read a picture book and then it’s naptime for the youngest children. The older two sit quietly in their designated areas for 30 minutes of quiet self-directed study. They can read, do activity books, practice origami, etc. Then they get an additional 30 minutes to play math games on their tablets. After that, they can play together quietly (usually legos or a board game together) until their siblings wake up from their naps. This is the most blissful time of my day! We all need a little break woven into our schedules. A certain time of day for physical activity (gonoodle.com) or outdoor exploration is a good anchor point, too.
  • You might try a designated start and/or finish to your “school” day. Maybe you open with devotions or a read-aloud time and you end with a nature walk? In our family, we do devotions during breakfast and then the older kids get right into their kitchen chores. When that is done, they have a checklist of morning work to get through on their own. If your child has a packet from his/her teacher and some of it can be done individually, now might be a good time to do it. Then I lead a lesson in whatever our topic is for the day, and we’re usually done by lunch, sometimes before. Then we focus on keeping a clean house, going for walks, reading aloud, art, music, or cooking in the afternoon.
  • Allow time for your child to research a topic of interest to them. This might be a “golden hour” everyday, or we have “Wonder Wednesday” when the kids get to “ask Google” about something they’re interested in or wondering about.
  • Write letters! I know this might seem archaic in our digital age, but consider that if writing a letter to a friend or family member is your child’s ELA lesson for the day, how they might enjoy it! Make sure you check for proper spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and letter format. The skill of complete sentence, paragraph, and letter writing are almost lost these days and you will be giving your child a good advantage if you hone these skills! If you’re feeling artistic, you can paint and design your own postcards to send to friends and family together. Letter writing could be done once or twice a week.
  • For additional ways to fill your days, look into https://www.themailbox.com/ for freebies and resources. Doing a craft after a read-aloud is a great way to use up time! For younger kids, try making your own playdough, baking, painting, drawing, and imaginary play. For older kids, the book Look, I’m an Engineer* has so many fun science experiments to do with household objects. (I will link other miscellaneous resources at the end of this post.)

Final tips to leave with you…

  • Remember that you’re teaching a child, not just material. Put your relationship before the curriculum. Don’t focus on what your child needs to learn, focus on what your child needs: you, comfort, security, connection, structure, love. You’ll do just fine.
  • Focus on the process, not just the outcome. You probably won’t find instant outcomes, so don’t look for them. Just focus on fostering relationship and learning with your child.
  • Expect pushback. Your children will struggle to see you as their “teacher” at first. Remember that you are their parent first and teacher second. Be honest. Acknowledge that you will do things differently than their teachers and that you’re learning together. Don’t take it personally when they exhibit a bad attitude; this is an adjustment for everyone.
  • Model a love of learning for your child. You’ll both be better for it in the end.
  • Plant a garden together. Read books. That’s really all you need.

Additional Resources:

*This post contains affiliate links.

When Will Daddy Be Home? (Finding Strength When Dad Works Long Hours)

It’s Friday night, our typical “date night”, but like this Friday night, we don’t always get to enjoy it. And like every other night this week, I put the kids to bed alone as they asked if they’d still be awake when Daddy gets home. (They won’t be.) Yes, it’s “peak season” at UPS which means while everyone else is trying to get more family time in for the holidays, we’re getting less of it. But though I’m no “newbie” to having a husband work long, odd hours; I’m still a work-in-progress when it comes to dealing with it graciously. (Mercy is not my strongest quality, you may know.)

So before I dive a little into my journey with this issue, I just want to say that…

  1. This post is not a way for me to put down my husband. I hope that will be clear. He works really hard for our family and I’m proud of him!
  2. I’m not seeking sympathy, and I know I’m not alone. In fact, most of my friends have husbands who work LONG hours or odd hours which leads them to manage their homes accordingly. I know there are many husbands out there who work longer than mine or are away from home for longer periods of time. I don’t want to compare. All moms have hard things they deal with. Period.

When Randy and I first got married, he was working third shift (11pm-7am) and had Thursday/Friday nights off. He was “emergency staff” which meant that he didn’t get any holidays off unless they happened to fall on his normal “weekend” and if someone called out sick for the day shift, he would sometimes get forced to stay and work a double. About six months into our marriage he also went back to school full time. And I got pregnant with our first child while working full time myself. We thought we were busy then! I longed for a time when he would work a “typical” 9-5 job. I dreamed we’d have family dinners, put the kids to bed, and then snuggle up on the couch to watch our favorite show, and then go to bed TOGETHER. And for a brief period after he graduated and we had two then three kids, he did work a “9-5” job. But he also worked part-time Mon-Thurs from 7-11 pm. No enjoying the evenings together. No going to bed together. A little over three years ago, for good and necessary reasons (that I didn’t understand then and won’t get into here) he gave up his two jobs and began working for UPS. His 8-hour days quickly turned into 10-hour days minimum, 12-14 hour days during busy seasons or difficult weather. And while yes, he was now home “more” in the evenings, he wasn’t home for dinner or bedtime–probably the most trying and tiring time of day for any mom. And then we had a fourth child. And now we have five. And I have accepted that I will not get the “typical 9-5” schedule I thought I wanted. And honestly, I’m okay with it. But it doesn’t mean that it feels normal when a week goes by and he hasn’t come home earlier than 10:00 p.m. or when he has to start working Saturdays during the already busiest season of the year.

When the long weeks hit and I’m forced to be “it”–responsible for all decisions, scheduling, planning, in addition to my regular tasks–I quickly realize from where I’m trying to pull my strength. Sure, I could last one day. I would get the text that it was going to be a “late one” and I would feel sorry for him. I would put on a brave face, tell the kids Daddy would be late, and I would take care of everything myself and make sure his plate was saved (if he even wanted to eat that late at night) in a clean kitchen. I would shut down the house stoically. Then the next day when the same text arrived, I would explode. Surely more than one day of this was too much to ask! I’ve been home with these kids all day and I need help! It felt personal. I knew he wasn’t doing it on purpose, but it still hurt. I didn’t remember signing up for this. And because I wanted to hurt him back, I would respond in anger. And then there were the Saturdays. Tell me you’re working a Saturday and I will accuse you of not putting your family first. I mean, they can’t make you, right…?

I remember listening to a podcast a couple years ago on this topic and one of the hosts described wanting to hurt her husband “back” for working long hours by giving him the silent treatment, willing him to cross her so she could explode. I thought I was listening to myself for a second. (Seriously, check out Risen Motherhood if you haven’t already. I can’t say enough good things about their book or podcast!)

But wait. The reason I take it personally when he works so much is because I believe that I am “owed” a certain amount of time by my partner. My teammate. My co-parent. Isn’t he “supposed” to be putting in a certain number of hours with us, too? But the reality is, my identity is not a mother or a wife, but a daughter and servant of God FIRST. And yes, He has given me the joy of being a wife and mother next and those are roles I take very seriously. But within them, whatever comes my way day to day, are really between God and me. My job is to do my best with it. Just as Randy takes what comes his way each day and does his best. God never promised I would have a “working 9-5” husband, but He did promise that He would take care of me and my needs. And that He would always be there for me, even 9-5, when I’m “supposed” to be running the house myself. And even in the middle of the night, when I’m getting up again with the baby/toddler/child.

And consider this: though it isn’t a personal attack on me when my husband works late, my sin really is an attack on Christ. And his response is not to hurt me back, but quite the opposite. And that’s the way I’m called to love my husband.

The truth is, I can only love him well when I’m rooting my identity and strength in the Lord and letting Him satisfy me fully. When I do that, He helps me show love and mercy, even when it’s hard.

So how do we make it work? Here are some practical things that we do in our house to keep our marriage and family strong, and help me maintain my sanity when the long hours hit…

  1. Find a routine that works and keep it up. It doesn’t mean it has to be a strict “schedule”, but a routine that becomes familiar to everyone is helpful so that whenever Dad gets home, he can easily recognize where we are in the routine and jump in if needed. For us, this means I’ve had to let go of the dream of family dinners for a while. We get them on the weekends, and they are a priority! But during the week, it’s family breakfast. We are now a family of early risers so that we get meaningful morning time together because we never really know what the evening will look like. I can remember when Randy first started this job and he would tell me when he “thought” he’d be home. If it sounded early enough to have dinner together (like, 7:00) I’d try desperately to keep the kids up and happy so we could eat together. But 7:00 would soon turn to 7:30, then 8:00. He didn’t quite know how long things took yet and whether he was going to be sent out to handle an emergency somewhere. And then I’d be left with hungry, tired children who I had to feed, bathe, brush teeth, and put to bed all alone. Much later than I wanted. So we decided that for my sanity, we had to maintain a decent bedtime, which meant dinner had to happen by 6/6:30 no matter what. We save a heaping plate for Daddy every night.
  2. My personal time with the Lord is vital and our time as a couple with Him is that way, too. We both have our quiet times in the morning. I get my workout in, and then we do devotions together at 6:30. (I told you we’re early risers.) Breakfast and family devotions are at 7:30 and then he supervises the older kids cleaning the kitchen so that by the time he leaves for work at 8:30, we can start our school day or whatever we’re doing all dressed and clean and ready to go.
  3. Family time is the best time! We have family movie night, family game night, family nature walks, family book club. Everything we do as a family is a big deal and it’s super fun. If we have to clean the house one Saturday, we play loud music and make it a big family affair. We take family day trips and overnight trips. We make the most of our time together because we know how precious it is.
  4. We save things for Daddy. Whatever happens during the day or whatever we discover, we make it a point to share with Daddy when we see him. (The kids recently saved him 2 pieces of origami paper so he could discover just how fun they think it is to make paper animals.) We save him what we bake, and save the biggest, best portions of supper for him. We video call him when we can and if possible, bring him a latte if his route is close to where we are. We do our best to include him in our day.
  5. Likewise, if Randy happens to come home early and I’m still preparing dinner or the house is (just a little) chaotic, his first words are always, “Hello, beautiful. How can I help?” When Randy is home, he’s PRESENT. He makes it a point to participate in our day when he’s able to.
  6. I don’t allow myself (anymore) to dwell on the negative. It was so easy to feel sorry for myself when day in and day out I was doing everything alone. But I’ve realized it does no good. And when we go to events without him, I smile politely and answer the “where’s Randy” questions quickly. It doesn’t do any good to try to garner sympathy from others by emphasizing his absence or trying to explain why he needs to be at work (or sleeping when he worked nights). I know he’d rather be with me than at work. My goal is to make him look good in public and especially in front of my children. (I do have my good friends who “get it” because they’re in the same boat. We vent every once in a while in a healthy way, trust me! Just because we know it’s necessary, doesn’t mean it’s always easy.)

Some verses that serve as good reminders for me:

  1. Proverbs 15:1 “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.”
  2. Romans 15:5-7 “Our God is a God who strengthens and encourages you. May he give you the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. Then you can give glory to God with one mind and voice. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has accepted you. So accept one another in order to bring praise to God.
  3. Philippians 2:13 “God is working in you. He wants your plans and your acts to fulfill his good purpose.”
  4. Psalm 62:5 “Yes, I must find my rest in God. He is the God who gives me hope.”
  5. Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are tired and carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. Serving me is easy, and my load is light.”
  6. James 1:12 “Blessed is the person who keeps on going when times are hard. After they have come through hard times, this person will receive a crown. The crown is life itself. The Lord has promised it to those who love him.”

I wish I could say I no longer get disappointed or have hopes and expectations of shorter days at times and that my reactions are always gentle. I’m working on it. God is helping me. And while mercy may not be my strongest suit, He’s blessed me with a husband who is very quick to forgive.

When the days are long, we tire quickly. It’s a good thing I have two laps even though I’m only one person.

Left: Randy helping with our Resurrection cookies last Easter. Right: Noah practicing his reading with Daddy. You can tell he jumps into our family life as soon as he gets home.

Advent Means Waiting…

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great LIGHT…” Isaiah 9:2a

We are a few days into Advent. Are you feeling overwhelmed with everything on your to do list? Are you already a little “behind” in the plan you had in place to achieve with your kids or personally this month? Maybe you want to cut back but you don’t know what to cut out… All the events, activities, and “plans” seem so wonderful!

Something Randy and I try to do is cast a vision for our family at the start of each school year. This allows us to set goals and helps us decide what events, extra curriculars, and other things are doable. Does it fit into our family vision? If not, we don’t do it. This year’s vision is all about rest and family togetherness. We are allowing ourselves to learn what it means to be a family of seven (!) without a lot of outside pressures. So when the busy season hit, we had to pick and choose which things encouraged rest and family closeness and what didn’t.

This Advent, we are using Truth in the Tinsel from Amanda White (ohamanda.com) which encourages a simple craft to go along with a scripture reading everyday for the month of December, and we have our family Advent wreath which we light each Sunday and read scripture and sing a hymn together. This may seem like a lot, maybe the opposite of rest to some; but trust me when I say we’ve stripped away many other things. These activities just happen to be the “big rocks” in our jar. Everything else is the sand that falls in between.

I sincerely hope you are not feeling weighed down by all the options and stressed from all the running around. Advent means waiting, anticipating; after all. How can we do that if we’re busy doing all. the. things??? (Spoiler alert: you can’t.) But I also encourage you to find some way to shed LIGHT on the true meaning of Christmas in your home. Decide what your “big rocks” are and let everything else fall away. You’ll be happy you did!

Pics from getting and trimming our tree, always a good time and my favorite way to celebrate my birthday…

Beautiful Feet Books: Africa

I am loving the Beautiful Feet Books curriculum, “Around the World with Picture Books” which we are using this year. With this post, I hope to highlight some of the reasons why…

Once we finished North America with My Father’s World (you can read about that here), it was on to Africa. This is where I put down MFW and picked up Beautiful Feet Books. MFW’s “Exploring Countries and Cultures” curriculum walks through the continents geographically: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. But I wanted to travel based more on the ecosystems we are studying. So while we were talking about deserts, Africa was the next logical choice; that way we could continue our desert mural we started while in Mexico.

MFW only covers Kenya in detail, but Beautiful Feet Books has units on Morocco, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, and Tanzania. These units are so beautifully done; using quality picture books as the backbone to almost every lesson, incorporating educational videos from online, and encouraging artistic notebooking on everything learned from geographical features to samples of cultural artwork to indigenous animals. The book, Maps* by Aleksandria and Daniel Mizielinska, that is used is a unique “atlas” that presents the special features of each country with lovely artwork that resembles something like an “I Spy” book. I think that’s why my kids love it so much! They can spend an hour or so just staring at a country’s page and finding all the fun features (animals, cultural costumes, geographical sites) it shows. Each page is as interesting as the country it’s representing.

For me, the notebooking has been the most fun. I bought three Japanese notebooks* of high quality and I am loving adding to my own! And while my kids don’t necessarily appreciate the value of the notebooking process yet, I’m confident that one day they will! For now, they really enjoy practicing water colors and making their own maps of each country. I believe they are learning so much more by creating their own maps than by simply studying one in a book. They get to pick which features of the country are most interesting to them and add those to their map. And in the notebook it goes, along with their own examples of artwork and animals from each country.

Some of our favorite books from Africa were Mirror* by Jeannie Baker (Morocco), The Day of Ahmed’s Secret* by Florence Parry Heide (Egypt), Emmanuel’s Dream* by Laurie Ann Thompson (Ghana), and Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears* by Verna Aardema. Our favorite crafts were recreating Kente Cloth (using paper) from Ghana, and painting animals in the Tanzanian “tinga tinga” paint style.

If you know me and my love of food and cooking, you won’t be surprised that I set out to make a meal for each country we “visit.” While studying Africa we made a lot of chicken and rice and enjoyed some fried plantains. We even had an elaborate Moroccan feast and invited my parents over to sit on pillows in our living room surrounded by candles and Moroccan music while we enjoyed a five-course meal.

African animals are fun to learn about! And although we didn’t add as many details to our desert/grassland mural as I would have liked, we took field trips to the zoo and Worcester’s EcoTarium, where they have the African Communities animal center. Our pastor and his wife go to Rwanda every year and she agreed to talk to us about their trips and what life in Rwanda is like. She even brought in lots of trinkets, jewelry, and native clothing, which was awesome! I gave us an extra week in Africa to wrap up any unfinished notebooking and fit in our field trips. (I’m determined to not keep a super strict weekly schedule so we can take extra time in interesting places if we want.)

A Brief Word on Nature Walk and Collecting…

Even though we are not studying forests anymore, we are continuing our weekly nature walks. They are their own entity. I find that scheduling and making them a priority has helped all of our mental and emotional healths. So rather than say we’ll try to fit it in after school, we often do it almost first thing on Thursday mornings. (Thunder Thursday, remember?) Then we come home and drink tea and do the rest of our school work. Because we had an extra week in Africa, it also allowed us more time to do nature art. We had a great time collecting interesting things in nature and then putting them together to form animals and designs. We’ve also started listening to Chopin’s piano concertos but haven’t talked about his life, yet. We’re easing into our music study while we do other things. This is why we homeschool. Days like this are beautiful.

Here are just a few extra photos from our time in Africa… playing a geography game, Mancala (believed to have originated in Africa), and an afternoon movie party of the “live-action” Lion King complete with animal cracker snacks and spicy popcorn!

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Zooming In on Our First Units: North America, Forests, and Author Studies

I’ve always been a fan of unit studies, so I love that this year’s curriculum lends itself easily to unit style learning. I know this goes against everything Charlotte Mason advocated, and I’m okay with this area of disconnect. Though I do find it funny that while she disliked unit studies, she did advocate for the study of a single artist or composer at a time… sounds a little “unit-esque” to me. 😉

In a previous post, I outlined what curricula we’re using for which subjects, and what our days look like. In my last post, “What’s in a Name“, I touched on how our weeks are structured as a whole and how we’re managing to fit in all the “fun stuff” on a regular basis. If you read those, you know I spent a significant amount of time over the summer planning out our school year. Though not necessary for all homeschoolers, I like to get a big picture of our year and then zoom in on each piece or unit, and enhance it if I can. I rearranged the countries that were outlined in My Father’s World to suit my preferences. (I wanted to study Antarctica in January rather than late spring–call me crazy–which led to rearranging the other units as well. I was happy with the result, though!) Then I added in the units from “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books, the combined 3rd and 1st grade sciences, and the author studies for first grade.

So here’s a “zoomed in” look at our first units: studying the countries of North America, forests and deserts, and author studies on Laura Numeroff plus the start of Eric Carle.

We started in the U.S.A. with a review of what we were learning last year through our exploration of United States history. We also began our unit on forests. Both curricula we’re using this year call for quite a bit of notebooking and rather than try to make it all work together and exasperate my children with an intense amount of writing and recording, I decided we’d make a mural out of butcher paper for each ecosystem studied in lieu of an ecosystem notebook. It makes a nice addition to our homeschool decor and it’s fun to see the scene come together over time.

While studying deciduous forests, we used our home field advantage and took several nature walks and field trips around the area. We’re attempting to take a nature walk every week this year but in addition to that, we climbed Mt. Wachusett, hiked Quabbin Reservoir, and took other walks off the beaten path…

To help keep Emmalyn included in our studies, she had her own “units” on trees, leaves, autumn, and the changing colors. I also found these cute “cut & paste” papers on ecosystems for preschoolers. They are a great way to practice those scissor and glue skills and make a nice addition to our mural! We did lots of nature collecting on our walks and made these neat field guides with leaf prints on the covers. In the end, we had a pretty awesome forest mural happening…

After the United States, we hit Canada, while staying within our forest unit. This allowed us to expand to talking about coniferous forests as well. (You may have noticed the very hastily completed “pine tree” that graced our forest mural…) While studying Canada, we made “Inuit sculptures” out of soap, and “poutine” for dinner one night!

Before I talk about Mexico, I should mention our author studies. When Abby was in first grade, I split the curriculum into two years because I started her schooling at a young age. So with only half of a one-year curriculum to complete, it was easy to fit in monthly author studies with their own lessons. This year, we are essentially trying to do 3 different curricula in one year PLUS the author studies, so it’s not as easy to do all the lessons. But just as Charlotte Mason saw the value in studying a single artist or composer at one time, I still see the value in zooming in on a single author to study their voice, style, and genre. We may not do all the lessons and activities that I wrote a couple years ago, but we still learn a little something about each author as we go. We began with Laura Numeroff and transitioned into Eric Carle when we started Mexico because his books are easily found in Spanish and I thought it would be fun to do some side-by-side reading! Eric Carle’s art is really fun, too, so we did find a way to fit that in! To find out how I structured those author studies when Abby was in first grade and to download the material for FREE, click the links for Laura Numeroff and Eric Carle.

On to Mexico! And deserts! We finished up North America by spending an AMPLE amount of time in Mexico; reading Spanish picture books, studying deserts, making plenty of tortillas and churros from scratch, blasting mariachi music while we cleaned the house on “Work Wednesdays”, and I even found an old movie I watched as a kid called “Friendship’s Field” about a family who hired Mexican workers to help them on their farm in the 1960s–that brought back memories! Capped it off with a family dinner at a local cantina and decided our homemade salsa was just a little bit better. 😉

Next, we head to Africa and continue our desert study. Hopefully I can get that post up soon!

What’s in a Name?

I’ve come to realize that names, or titles, are extremely important to my children.

“Is it “Family Movie Night?” Because just watching a movie is different from “Family Movie Night.” If it’s “Family Movie Night” that means they can get their blankets and pillows and set up in the living room. And there should definitely be snacks. But if we’re just watching a movie, there are no expectations. So you know, important titles like that.

When I first introduced the idea that this year after breakfast Abby, Noah, and Daddy would be in charge of cleaning up the kitchen while I did “preschool” with Emmalyn and Eli, there was groaning. Mostly from the kids… 😉 But the next day, when asked if they *had* to clean the kitchen, I said, “Yes! You guys are the ‘Kitchen Crew!'” No joke, everything changed after that. They have not whined about cleaning the kitchen after breakfast ever since. They have a title. They are a team. With Daddy. Some mornings, he even announces, “Kitchen Crew, spring into action!” Now it is fun. Just. Like. That. One title became a game-changer.

For Emmalyn, it’s the word “school.” Whatever activities I call “school”, she is eager to do. It helps her feel older, included, important. Puzzles. Blocks. Singing songs. I’m a big advocate for learning through play so, it is her school. 🙂

This is why I jumped at an idea I read in a book about a month ago. I was struggling to find a rhythm for our homeschool. Not only that, but I was struggling to get the kids excited about what we were learning. They bemoaned whenever I said the word “geography.” I get it. It’s a boring word. But it’s the very essence of what this year is about: exploring countries and cultures. The geography lessons are supposed to be the best part! I was already following a “block” schedule, meaning I wasn’t doing every subject everyday; instead, lumping science for the week into 1-2 days, geography into another, etc. Yet, I still wasn’t fitting everything in and housework wasn’t getting done at all. I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and worse, the year I was really looking forward to teaching wasn’t turning out to be much fun so far. It didn’t seem like I was really tapping into the freedom and beauty that a homeschooling lifestyle is supposed to afford.

In the book, The Call of the Wild and Free*, by Ainsley Arment, she mentions a schedule one of her friend’s follows that has a theme for everyday. In addition to math and language arts on Monday through Friday, her days look like this:

  • Sweet Sunday: worship, hospitality, family walk, board games
  • Magic Monday: art, music, poetry, baking, tea
  • Time-Travel Tuesday: history and geography
  • Work & Wonder Wednesday: household chores, letter writing, and time for wonder
  • Thunder Thursday: adventure, nature walk, nature collecting, audiobooks
  • Favorites Friday: library, nature journaling, science at Grandma’s house
  • Skillful Saturday: homesteading, prepare for Sunday

Sounds amazing, right?! And totally doable, when tailored to my schedule. You see, we already made it a point in our house to worship, practice hospitality, and have family game night on Sundays. By some coincidence, writing a letter is already built into our curriculum for every Wednesday this year. I had already resolved to go on a nature walk once a week, Fridays we have co-op and library (a big favorite among my kids), and Saturdays have long been the day we make it a point to prepare for Sunday. The rest I could easily make fall into place. We may not have a homestead, but we have skillful soccer on Saturdays! We don’t do science at Mimi’s house, but we have co-op and other favorites built into our Fridays. We are big lovers of audiobooks. And now I could fit in the beautiful things like art, music, poetry, or baking first thing in the week rather than put them off and then wonder if I’m ever going to get to the “fun” stuff that I long to do with my kids. “Geography” has been replaced with “Travel Tuesday” and I can’t begin to tell you how wonderfully freeing it has been to have household chores built into our school schedule! It’s a mid-week reset that is much needed.

Following this new “schedule” has been refreshing and fun for our homeschool. Each day is purposeful and special in its own way and I am constantly hearing how much the kids love “Work Wednesday”, “Magic Monday”, or any of the days, really. When you have little kids, life is constantly changing and once you find something that “works”, you usually have to change it shortly thereafter. The nice thing about having themed days like this is that the themes can probably stay the same, even if the specifics need to change. Either way, I’m really happy that we’re finding our rhythm… for this year, at least.

Here are some pics from a few of our “Work Wednesdays.” I love that I have built in time to teach my kids how to really clean something. I instruct them on how to organize their papers, their rooms, their toys. I demonstrate how to wield the vacuum and the toilet brush. We have a weekly checklist with rotating “add-ons” which are bigger chores that don’t necessarily need to be done every week such as cleaning the refrigerator. We blast whatever music we’re in the mood for and go to town…

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6 Weeks In: What Our Homeschool Looks Like This Year

Maybe I shouldn’t be writing this. There’s a laundry basket full of clothes to be folded, another load that needs to be started, new clothes from birthdays that need to be put away, and I still need to solidify my lesson plans for the upcoming week. But I’ve been in this cycle for about 6 weeks now (school work, house work, repeat) with no end in sight and decided I needed to just force myself to break it this once–even if it means I’ll be “behind” for a day or so. These past weeks since we started school have been CRAZY. I am overwhelmed, I feel overworked, I am exhausted, a little depressed, but I am also grateful. Overwhelmed because there is so much good stuff I want to do/read/incorporate in our homeschool. Overworked because schooling kids with a baby and toddlers in tow is exhausting. Every time I go to do SOMEthing, I am interrupted by a little one with very real and very immediate needs (hunger, diaper, potty, runny nose, etc). Exhausted because of both those things, plus if I ever DO get a break from the needs of the children, there are dishes, laundry, or that email I started 2 days ago but haven’t finished or sent yet. (Yes, this has happened on more than one occasion recently and is entirely out of character for me.) I have been depressed because I set out this year aiming to truly “teach from rest” and I don’t feel like that’s what I’ve been doing because I’m so exhausted. But I am so grateful for this time with my children. I’m grateful for the hard days we have together when I get to witness some really touching interactions or triumphant breakthroughs. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn and explore with my children.

First day of school!

But let’s talk practically for a minute. Even though the days are hard, things ARE getting done. So… how? If you are thinking of homeschooling, or already homeschool and are trying to figure out a rhythm, you’re in GREAT company. We’re all trying to figure out our rhythm. These past 6 weeks have been our testing period. And now that I think we have a new groove to settle into, we’ll keep at it for 6 more weeks or so and then reassess. I’ll let you know if it’s still working then. For now, here’s how our days look:

I’ve got Abby in 3rd grade using My Father’s World ECC (Exploring Countries and Cultures), Noah in 1st grade using My Father’s World Learning God’s Story, Emmalyn doing her first year of preschool, and Elijah (2) and Logan (6 months) tagging along. I knew that structuring this year was going to be tricky so I spent much of the summer gathering our supplements and drafting a rough plan for our year. That way I’d be able to spend time during the school year working on our daily schedule and I’d never have to wonder “what’s next” theme-wise. This school year is unit-based and one of the things “teaching from rest” means to me is that each unit can be as long or as short as we feel like while we’re in it. We are exploring countries and cultures, and I fully anticipate that we’ll be more interested in some than others so we’ll explore accordingly. Math and ELA will still be done everyday at our own pace.

What We’re Adding On: We are supplementing with another literature-based world geography curriculum called “Around the World with Picture Books” from Beautiful Feet Books. I am so in love! I think the countries we learn about from this curriculum will be our favorites. Their book lists are short and quality choices. I bought the art supplies from the BF supply list and we are excited to get our paint on and improve our skills! It’s going to be a beautiful year! I’m counting this and any other art projects we do from the book Global Art as our art for the year.

For music we are using Simply Charlotte Mason’s Music Study with the Masters: Chopin. I plan to use my own piano skills to teach a few things and if Abby wants to further explore the instrument, hopefully she can take lessons next year. This year was just too crazy! We’re also using the MFW 1st grade music: a study on Peter and the Wolf. Speaking of my own skills… we’re learning Spanish this year! Or, I’m teaching Spanish to my children this year. Slowly and gently. I love the website languagelearningathome.com for help with this.

For science, we are learning about the different ecosystems that coincide with our countries by region. I’m using the MFW 3rd grade resources for this, but I also went through their 1st grade science and pulled experiments that I liked and could link to different ecosystems and fit them into my outline.

First Ecosystem: Forest

First grade is my author study year, so we are doing that as well, though not quite as in-depth as we did it when Abby was in 1st grade. We have a lot going on! But I still want to incorporate them as much as possible and I chose a few different authors that I thought would appeal more to Noah. For more information about what I do with author studies, check out that post from a couple years ago.

Starting our Eric Carle & Spanish book unit!

How We Structure Our Days:

7:30 breakfast/family devotions: We are reading through the book of Matthew, focusing on Proverbs for Noah, and using Window on the World to talk about missionaries around the world.

8:00 Kitchen Crew/Preschool Time: Abby, Noah, and Randy make up the “kitchen crew” and they are in charge of getting the kitchen cleaned after breakfast. Emmalyn, Elijah, Logan and I head to the living room for “preschool.” Over the summer I picked preschool units to coincide with the rest of our school. Some “match” clearly, others don’t and are separate themes. We do a lot of interactive play, sensory activities, puzzles, singing, work on motor skills, block building, etc. This is basically time I get to spend with the little kids right away to help satisfy their desire for mommy time. I’m not saying it magically makes them play on their own for the rest of the day, but I do believe it helps soften the blow when I can’t give them the attention they want later.

Matching letters!

8:30 Morning Work/Continue Preschool Time: Randy leaves for work and Abby and Noah are to start their morning work/individual work. This includes daily math, handwriting, spelling, and simple worksheets that reinforce what was discussed the day before, etc. They each have a list that I type out the night before and paper clip it to whatever work the are to do on their own.

9:00 Table Work: We are all at the kitchen table; Emmalyn and Eli are probably coloring or Emmalyn might have a specific worksheet or activity to do. I also have tactile boxes for them that I’m putting together for each of our ecosystem units, which they can use and play with at this time. I help Abby and Noah with their ELA and reading. Usually I’ll help Abby first and then she does 15 minutes of silent reading while I do reading instruction with Noah.

10:00 Snack/Math (Just what it sounds like!) Emmalyn and Eli have been dismissed from the table by this point and are playing independently or maybe watching a toddler DVD.

That is our basic morning schedule and when those things are done, we fit in science, geography, art, music, and more when we can. And to be honest, sometimes the morning schedule goes longer than I’d like. As I was typing them out, I was thinking “hmm, this doesn’t seem so bad, so why do I feel so stressed out?” Well it’s because our mornings are constantly interrupted (we do have a baby and a potty-training toddler). We are not schooling in a vacuum. The transitions between subjects can sometimes be a hassle in a small space, as well. But we are getting the hang of it. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that I can still teach from rest and be tired, because I have a baby. Babies are tiring. Plain and simple. So I’m giving myself grace on that end. I’m going to be tired for a little while longer, and that’s okay.

Morning Work

After I got our year and our days structured, I thought I was done. Turns out I wasn’t. Something was missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And that’s another blog post of its own, hopefully I can get around to it soon!

A weekend planning session at its finest!

On Entering the Season of Busy…

Whether or not you homeschool, or if you have 1 or 5 kids, the end of August/beginning of September typically gets busy. The lazy days of summer are ending and the crisp air brings with it a fresh motivation to get back into routine and cross things off our lists. School starts. Sports start. For many of us, this marks the true new year.

As I look at my own lists, I can’t help but feel a little nervous. The busyness looks, well, busy. We’re starting a new homeschool year with five children. We will have soccer, piano, gymnastics, and co-op this year. New curriculum, new extracurriculars. We are house hunting and it’s already beginning to take a toll on my emotional and mental space. (Hey HGTV House Hunters, can you guys just come and do the work for me please? That’d be great, thanks.) We have a major plumbing project (not a repair, just a project, thank goodness) set to start at our own house on…. (drum roll, please) the day I planned to start our homeschool year. (Talk about throwing a literal monkey wrench into my plans! hehe. Sorry. Had to.) I’ve also got an almost 2-year-old who is absolutely insistent on “using” the toilet. So I guess potty training is happening. New friends, new get togethers, new social calendars. It’s all wonderful stuff, really, but it can be overwhelming when it’s all at the same time. So here are some things I’m making a priority right now so I can combat the stress of it all and not feel overwhelmed.

  • Staying in the Word. You’ve heard the adage that you can’t fill other people’s cups until yours is full first? While I appreciate the concept, the saying has always left me feeling a little… empty. I’m supposed to FILL my cup??? I have 5 kids to take care of! And then something in this morning’s devotion stuck with me. The author rejected this phrase and said that rather than worrying about making sure we’re full, we just need to make sure we’re constantly connected to the One who can pour His love and grace and mercy through us; like a vessel. I used to stress about getting enough Bible reading and prayer time to make myself “full”, as if that was actually possible. But really, as long as I’m grabbing hold of the True Source of love and grace without letting go, I can still dispel those things to the people around me. I stay connected by reading the Bible and my devotion on YouVersion while nursing, listening to Bible study podcasts, and through constant prayer.
One of my favorite podcasts, “Risen Motherhood”, produced this lovely flower printable as a reminder of the four parts of the Gospel. It’s on display in my bathroom (where I spend a lot of time meeting kids’ needs) and serves as a good source of encouragement for me.
  • Staying connected to our “peeps.” Family, church family, close friends. Right now Randy and I have pulled back from almost all of our regular church responsibilities we used to have while we adjust to our growing family, homeschool co-op, and house hunting. We have a lot going on right now! But we know the value of staying plugged in, even when we don’t have to be there. And while we need to be protective of our family time and our calendar right now, we also have to be intentional about scheduling time with friends and family. We need our circle to lean on, keep each other accountable, relax with, pray with, and do life with! We’d be lost without them.
This past weekend at a cookout we coordinated, we had 5 families including 22 kids present! They had a duct-tape warfare battle and it was epic. Though the night was fun and soul-feeding for us adults, it was the same for our kids. They need this too. (Excuse the blurriness, there was some serious action happening here.)
  • Exercise. Seriously. For the past eight weeks I’ve been following a training program and consistently gone for a workout/run four days a week. And on my “off” days, I’m practicing pilates or intense stretching to keep my body limber. And in return, I feel so good. My mood is better in general (not that I don’t have my, ahem, moments), I feel stronger when I play with the kids, and I have satisfaction in knowing I’m taking time for me and it’s actually doing my body GOOD. Along with eating better, this is true self-care.
I love that my “new” routine also brings me closer to my fitness-loving husband. And he’s more than happy to take the reigns of breakfast duties now and then if I oversleep a little or just have a really long run that morning. It’s amazing to come home to homemade oatmeal hitting the table or the smell of bacon already sizzling in the oven. He’s kind of the best.
  • Plan time for rest. Randy and I have scheduled date nights every Friday and there is very little that will get in the way of those. We need the time to romantically connect after the week and really relax. We eat what we’re in the mood for–either something delicious we cook together or order out–after the kids have gone to bed, and talk about anything and everything. But in addition, it’s important for me to know when my next “real break” is coming. We have a weekend away with friends coming up in a couple weeks. Hello, mini vacation! After that, I’ll be scheduling our first break from school and our next family getaways. Randy and I also try to get away for a night or two at least once every year. It’s such a great opportunity to recharge our marriage batteries, especially if we’re in the midst of an extra busy season!
  • Limit social media. I find that during highly busy seasons, this can be pretty tricky. That’s because when we’re stressed or anxious or over-worked, it feels good to mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Facebook. But if I’m constantly doing that, it does nothing to improve my mood or lessen my stress. In fact, it actually limits the time I have to do the things I should be doing to wind-down (see previous four things listed).

So with that, while I work on limiting my time on IG and FB, I’ll also be signing off this blog for about a month. I need to focus on getting our homeschool underway and in rhythm and figuring out how to make our fall schedule work for us while we also do everything else! I’ll occasionally share some old posts about homeschooling on my other profiles as we kick off this season.

I can’t wait to share about what we’re doing in school this year. I’ve worked hard this summer weaving together multiple curricula and lining things up the way I want them and I’m seriously stoked about the upcoming school year. I’m approaching this year in a whole new way (for me) with a fresh mindset. I’ll likely be writing about that and how it’s going next.

What’s on my nightstand right now. (Audible books obviously not pictured.)
Another way I unwind. 🙂

What I’ve been Reading and Listening to Lately: Recommendations for You!

Summer is about half over. HALF over. It’s not over yet! Target dollar section, I’m looking at you… (There’s a sad story there about a girl in search of swim goggles only to find school supplies. At the end of July. Sigh.)

There is still plenty of time to enjoy a good read or podcast on the lake, beach, or by the pool on a lazy day. I am finding so much encouragement and soul-feeding in my podcasts and books lately and I wanted to pass on the goodness, so here goes…

If you’re looking for one last book to read to complete your summer…

  1. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read this one to the kids in the beginning of the summer (and we finished it on Audible when we were driving to and from VBS one week) and had my mom and sister-in-law read it, too, and we had “book club” while on vacation! It’s an easy read, which is great for summer and the theme of “coming alive” and being surrounded by beautiful things couldn’t be more perfect for the season.
  2. The Read Aloud Family by Sarah Mackenzie. I listened to this on Audible, also, and loved it! Not only does it have so many great ideas for how, when, and what to read aloud to your kids, it’s filled with helpful information about the importance and impact of reading for everyone. This is one I’ll be revisiting often.
  3. Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown. This was recommended by a friend and I ended up having a small group book club with it. Very thought-provoking and spiritually stirring, you could honestly do a whole study group on the book and stretch it out over several weeks. You will find yourself closely identifying with one or more of the main characters and will undoubtedly do a lot of spiritual self-reflection.
  4. The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. A middle-grade novel series, I read the first one to the kids, and Abby and I are reading the rest on our own but at the same time. We’re having our own “book club” and our first meeting is this Saturday to talk about the second book! This is such a sweet series and super fun to read. Might be my favorite pick. Think “Little Women” but in modern times, with charm and humor.
  5. Currently, I am listening to A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle, but I haven’t finished it yet. It’s great to listen to on a long walk and full of poignant quotes like this one:

“We can surely no longer pretend that our children are growing up into a peaceful, secure, and civilized world. We’ve come to the point where it’s irresponsible to try to protect them from the irrational world they will have to live in when they grow up. The children themselves haven’t yet isolated themselves by selfishness and indifference; they do not fall easily into the error of despair; they are considerably braver than most grownups. Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don’t look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.” 
― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

This made me think of homeschooling and the false judgment that we are attempting to shelter our children from the world. I do not wish to shelter them (fully) from the world as they grow, but I want to properly equip them to deal with it. And that is something I can do much better at home.

Looking for a good listen while you wash the dishes, go for a walk/run, or while on a road trip? Here are the podcasts I have stored up on my phone…

  1. Risen Motherhood*. This is my favorite podcast and my number one recommendation! I’ve been an R/M listener for over a year and I can’t get enough. They take a break in the summer so I used this as an opportunity to get caught up on episodes I hadn’t heard before. This is a podcast that is full of love, laughter, encouragement, and Gospel-truth for the weary mama! Topics range from sleep-deprivation and mom-bods to education choices, screen time, etc. I’m so in love.
  2. The Read-Aloud Revival. This is Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast and it is delightful. Author interviews, book recommendations, and tips and tricks for home education, though even if you don’t homeschool, you can benefit from this podcast!
  3. Wild + Free*. This podcast for homeschoolers refreshes my mama soul and reminds me of the importance of letting children be wild and free and unstructured at times. It reminds me that homeschooling is NOT about recreating public school at home but about creating relationship, love of learning, and family memories to last a lifetime.
  4. Heidi St. John. Heidi’s podcast is a Bible study, poignant political discussion, interesting interviews and Q&A all rolled into one. I don’t always agree with her politics 100%, but I love her Bible studies and she is grounded in Biblical truth which I appreciate.

*These podcasts (Risen Motherhood and Wild + Free) both have books coming out this fall! I have pre-ordered them on Amazon already! If you give them a listen and like what you hear, I encourage you to do the same… click on the links above. 🙂