Sunday, August 31, 2014

Breaking Dawn: A Mommy's Midnight Musing

Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one. - Dr. Seuss

But if it's not, I'd be okay with it. It's been quite a night... 
A late start for sleep around midnight insured a tired morning to follow, but I was surprised to wake much earlier than expected when Madelyn needed a diaper change at 1 am. And of course she was wide-awake after that. (Could this have anything to do with my rare non-decaf coffee treat at 4:00 that afternoon?) So I lay with her and nursed her on one side, and we both fell asleep. Fast forward a bit to 3:30 am when M is getting restless again. I slide her over and roll over myself to nurse her on the other side, but she won't latch & then projectile vomits all. over. my side of the bed. Nice. I mop up, lay down cloth, remove both if our pjs, change another diaper, burp baby well, wrap her up and lay her in her bed before returning to my resting spot. But neither of us can get comfortable and the dog is busy shaking her head over an itchy ear in the next room. It's now 4:15 and we're both still restless. I cave. I pick up Madelyn, swaddle her tight and attempt to nurse again to fill that emptied belly. This time I'm sitting up. I read an article on exercise & hormone balance on my phone. I must post this to Facebook. Click. 4:30 rolls in as I type this. Husband is snoring, baby is lolling off to dream land. And I am awake. Now I have to pee and am starting to feel hot. Did I turn the air back on before turning in for the night? It was such a cool evening. Get up one more time to check... and turn it on. Ahh. It's Sunday: the Day of Rest. Back to bed I go. 6:30 alarms are going to come all too quickly. Good morning mommies of the world. Happy Sunday.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Our Typical Homeschool Day, 2014-2015

The final week of iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop is here! So take a seat, grab a cuppa, and join us for a day in the life of this homeschool family!

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."

This famous quote by the poet, Yeats, inspires me. It extinguishes all the formality & drudgery that can be associated with traditional learning and kindles the excitement and passion that I desire to be the trademark of my children's learning. It's what drives me to teach my kids every day.

Don't misunderstand, I know plenty of excellent teachers that work in the traditional school setting and do an amazing job at making learning a fun adventure! (I'm sure they would agree with this quote as well!) However, I love the freedom that comes with homeschool. We are not bound to a particular district, a building, a room, a desk. I have a "superintendent" (my husband) that is on the same page with me 100% of the time, because we took the time to saturate our decisions in prayer, lay out short term and long term goals for each of our children, and he inquires of our progress daily so we can discuss any changes that may need to be made. He does not micromanage but is a constant encouragement & pillar of Biblical wisdom and strength. If we have a disagreement, we can sit down together over coffee and pour over Scripture til we are pointed in the right direction... together. I have freedom to choose our curriculum (praise the Lord!!), to alter it as I see fit, and formulate a scope & sequence suitable for each one of my children so they can learn at their own pace, in their own way. We schedule field trips and outdoor activities, playgroups, and co-ops. But we are free to be flexible -- changing our plans at a minute's notice because the baby got sick this morning or there's a need in our extended family or attitudes need adjusting so we focus on training good character & instilling good habits instead of doing the day's "book work." It's something I'm even willing to fight for. As William Wallace so memorably said (albeit in a slightly different context ;)), "FREEEEEDOM!!!!!" And I love it.

With this freedom, you can imagine that not every day looks the same for us. As we add more precious babies to our crew through the years, I'm finding that it's much more difficult to hold to a rigid schedule. So we roll with it. Each day flows a little differently, but they are usually fluid nonetheless. With a general plan and some preparation, we can easily move from one thing to the next, embracing the bumps along the way without completely giving in to them and losing focus altogether. No, I am not perfect, nor are my children, nor is our schooling. But every difficult day leads to an easier future, even if it is not the day immediately following. And that's okay. Great comfort is steeped in the words, "...for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:11-13)

Our Schedule

Still, I'd like to share what a typical day looks like in our homeschool (and I use the word "typical" loosely). Walk with me...

7-7:30 a.m.           Children are waking, Mom nurses baby
8-8:30 a.m.           Breakfast/Bible reading
8:30 a.m.              Morning chores
9:30-10 a.m.         Begin school day
11:30-1:00 p.m.    Lunch/Bible reading/Finish up school work, if necessary
1-2:00 p.m.           Free time, Afternoon clean-up
2-4:00 p.m.           Naps/Quiet time
4-5:00 p.m.           Reading/Free time, Mom nurses baby & begins dinner prep
5:30 p.m.              Daddy's home!!!
6:00 p.m.              Dinner
8:30 p.m.              Bed time/Family devotions

I hesitate to assign specific time frames to our day, but I think I can honestly say this is generally how our days go, with lots of wiggle room. When you're nursing a baby, you're at her beck and call 24/7, so other things have to give way. Thankfully, much of our learning is done through reading, so the other kids can just pile around me on the couch while I nurse and I can read aloud to the group or big sis' can read aloud instead.

Our Subjects

I like to try to begin at least every other day with "Circle Time" -- a time to gather all the children together to pray and work on our Calendar, Morning Board, memory verse, sing a song or two, and discuss our virtue/habit. Then, big sis' will begin working in her Daily Learning Notebook independently while I read some picture books to the younger two. If she finishes before we're done, she just joins us on the couch! Once we're done reading, the little ones go off to play and the first grader and I get some time to work alone together.

As far as subjects go (see Our Curriculum here), I took a cue from The Unlikely Homeschool and we are working in TRIOS this year. Meaning, we break our work up into subjects like this:

1. Core (Language Arts or Math -- requires Mom's assistance)
2. Living literature (Reading, Read-Aloud, History -- reading based)
3. Project (Science, Handwriting/Copywork, Handicraft -- hands-on or independent)
BREAK (short, 5-min), Repeat with another TRIO

So far, I'm loving this method as it allows naturally for brain breaks and the work doesn't seem to pile up and overwhelm any of us.

Now, things will be changing up a bit next week as we start integrating more preschool work into the day. I have a stack of ocean books we'll be reading, & we'll begin a little math and pre-reading practice with workbooks and games! I'm a bit nervous for this transition and am praying things go smoothly & that my toddler doesn't begin to feel left out... She is welcome to join us for anything, but it doesn't take much for her to become hard-up for some Mommy time! Hopefully, I can figure out the best way to help her stay involved and close by without boring her, stifling her own creativity & sense of adventure. It will just take more practiced planning on my part, I think!

There you have it! A quick look at these precious days at home. I hope you've enjoyed this journey into our homeschool life. Don't forget to pop by the iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop to check out what other families are doing this year! It's been a pleasure to be a part of the adventure.

Come back next week when I hope to share more about our workboxes and delve into more of the nitty-gritty of how we do school! And, get this... there might be a YouTube video or two!!

Thanks for joining us this month! Now I'd like to hear how YOU do things. Share in the comments below!

Monday, August 25, 2014

First Day of School, 2014-2015

We've been back to school now for two whole weeks. I wasn't even 100% ready for the school year to begin, and we've already put in 2 weeks?! Yikes! Time flies.

Like many families, we like to commemorate our first day with a fun photo. And, though bad hair days and pajamas are frequent and even welcome parts of homeschooling, we do try to "class" it up for that first day. (My kids still pick out their own clothes & dress themselves, so matching, trendy outfits are definitely not guaranteed but at least they're not on backwards *today*. And maybe, just maybe my daughter combed her hair... Ok, I'm not that classy peeps! Still keepin' it real.)

At any rate, we pull ourselves together for the day, then Mommy frantically positions the children in various loci around the front yard, trying desperately (and rather unsuccessfully) to avoid the glaring sun and subsequent shadows and sweeten any souring attitudes (and faces... gotta have gorgeous smiles for that "special day!") The results of this race? See for yourself.

My new 1st grader was beaming all morning. Praise the Lord for one who is excited about school!

This guy is starting pre-school this year. (Curious what that means for us? Check out our curriculum this year.) He seems pretty happy about it. :)

Here are the sibs together! Jenna was insistent on getting one with her brother and specifically directed him where to stand, how to smile, etc. Our little bossy-boss. But I'm glad she did.

And, of course, little sis had to get in on the action. She's not in school yet, but as I was scooting everyone inside, she struck a pose and said, "CHEEEEESE!" I couldn't pass that up, now could I? Sadly, her pose lasted only as long as her "cheese," so I missed it. Ah well.

Now our days aren't quite so "put together" as that first day (if you can call that put together), but they are getting more and more enjoyable! Boy, do I love this homeschool thing.

Cheers to a rockin' school year! Whether you're just now starting, have been at it for weeks, or are still kicking up your summer heels. Whether you school at home, co-op, on the go, public, or private. Whether you send them on the bus, carpool, or do all the shuffling yourself. Here's to bright mornings and smiling faces (and even those gloomy days and not-so-smiling faces). Have a great year!

This post is part of week 3 of 4 weeks on iHomeschool Network's "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop. Don't forget to check out Our Curriculum (week 1) and the Homeschool Room Tour (week 2) too!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tour Our Homeschool Room! 2014-2015

We did it! We officially have our first two days of school under our belt. The first day was pretty much a breeze... Daddy was home and it was Homeschool Day at the Iowa State Fair, so FIELD TRIP!!! We had such a great time seeing all the animals and learning about agriculture in our great state. They've done a fantastic job of making exhibits hands-on so there are literally new and different learning opportunities around every corner. Such fun! Our second day was more low-key and "ordinary" as we schooled at home. We tested out a lot of our new curriculum, and I (still) think it's going to be a great year.

The last couple weeks have been a flurry of paper, books, and pencils as I have organized and re-organized our homeschool materials... maybe twenty times. I think I've got everything just about how I want it, so now I can finally get around to sharing our homeschool space with you!

Come on in, please take your shoes off at the door...

Our back door opens up into our dining room, which extends into our homeschool room. Here's what you see as you walk in:

Not a huge space, but it is SO nice to have! I love that it is connected to our dining area (because we used the dining table a LOT last year), and it's literally 5 steps away from the kitchen and living room. (We don't have a large house by many people's standards, and I like it that way! Less to clean = happy mommy.)

I'll take you around the room clockwise, because I'm American and that's how we do things. :)
The first thing you'll see is our chalkboard cabinets and puzzle/game storage. The cabinets we purchased years ago and are just white kitchen cabinets from IKEA (which, if you don't already know, is my favorite place in the world... I could live there, and practically do, as you can tell by my home furnishings!) I painted the door fronts with chalkboard paint & have always loved using them. Now that we're homeschooling, they have a specialized purpose! Below the cabinets is our old TV storage unit (BESTA from IKEA, I believe... See? You're noticing the trend already.) The tube TV we have bowed the top shelf, but it works great for our puzzles and games. It also houses a basket for library books. Above the cabinets I keep my own notebooks & lesson planner, magazine files that store magazines for art collages, homeschool catalogs, and various curriculum and workbooks that we don't use regularly (i.e. past NaturExplorer units & kids' cookbooks).

Inside the cabinets...
On the bottom shelf (L): my daughter's personal notebooks, a 3-hole punch, our cans of pencils, scissors, and dry-erase markers, boxes of markers and crayons, do-a-dot style markers. Middle shelf (L): dry-erase boards and games, a box of basic co-op supplies. Top shelf (L): my kids' VTech games and handhelds, VTech laptop, and Hot Dots cards & pens.
On the bottom shelf (R): library books for assigned reading or read-alouds pertaining to topics we're currently studying, books on DVD set (these are GREAT!!), a letter tray with construction paper and workbooks. Middle shelf (R): box of flashcards, Spanish sticker set, reading & spelling games. Top shelf: math games and manipulatives, jars of magnetic letters.

Next to the cabinets is kind of my "hub" for now. It has a metal rolling cart where I store manipulatives,  calendar time supplies, workbox supplies, pocket chart items, our collection of rocks, and a basket of prizes. There is a drop-leaf table from IKEA which I adore (NEW this year for us!) that will eventually serve as our homeschool table so that I am not having to constantly clear off our dining table, but right now it houses our computer and printer since our office is without internet access. (Great planning on our part, huh?) Behind that is our Circle Time board, and to the right is our calendar and workboxes.

Yes, I sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. I put it out to use while pregnant, but have left it there because I've come to prefer it! And the kids like to play with it, too. :)

Close up of my rolling supply cart.

Below our Circle Time board is a large pocket chart that I hope to use some day... Right now it is pretty much blocked off because of the computer/printer set-up. Ah, well.

Our workboxes! More on these later.
Keep roaming about the room and you'll see two small desks under the window. We were gifted these by my best friend. Her grandfather built them years ago for her two children, but they've long outgrown them (her oldest is in our youth group now!) We're so happy to give them a home and know they will get used well. Our kids love them!

In the corner of our room is the only bookcase in our space. *GASP!* How can a homeschooler only have ONE bookcase?! Well, naturally, like most other homeschoolers we do not stay stationary in our learning. We're all over the house, outside in nature, in the van, etc. So are our books! Well, they're not outside, but you'll find books in every single room of our house... and probably the van. These are just mostly curriculum-related books and such, my laminator & laminating sheets, large construction paper, plus our CD player & some CD's. The bottom two shelves are more toddler-friendly and are home to a small assortment of picture books, some coloring books and crayons, magnetic & large dry-erase boards, and a box of busy bags.
Next to that is a hamper full of games (more adult-friendly). A craft paper roll, fine-motor monkey, and play-doh station sit atop the hamper.

Not seen in this picture, but possibly worth mentioning are the large curtained windows along this side of the room. Our brute of a black lab broke through not one, but TWO of these windows since we moved in 2 1/2 years ago. We have replaced some of the glass, but they were still leaking air badly. As new windows are not in our budget, we have redneck-fixed them with insulation and wood plinth. It's not beautiful, but it's doing an efficient job for now. The plan is to buy a large piece of hardboard (or shower board) to place over it. Then we will have a massive white board to use as well!
Below the "mended" windows, is a comfy chair for reading or relaxing and these two IKEA LACK side tables. We've had them for ages too, and they keep getting shuffled around the house. This is where they've landed for now and just serve as extra table space. Underneath are two wooden boxes with toys for toddler (& big kid) play.

We've made it full circle around the room now! Just above as you look into our dining room, you'll see this curtain wire from IKEA. It's where we proudly display things we've been working on. Right now, there are still art and co-op projects from last year up there. We look forward to filling it up with this year's work!

There are a few other storage solutions I'd like to share with you, but I am thinking of doing a video update as I am able to change a few things through the year so I will just include those then! Tune in regularly so you don't miss it!

Thanks for checking out our space! I hope it was useful or at least fun for you. :) To sneak a peek into other homeschoolers' homes for inspiration or encouragement, go on over to the "Not" Back-to-School Blog Hop at iHomeschool Network!

How about you? Do you have a homeschool room or do you prefer to spread out all over? What are some of your favorite tools and spaces for learning? Please share in the comments below!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Futurecast: A Reflection in Mommydom

I don't know about the rest of you, but here in central Iowa, we have been enjoying unseasonably mild weather. And I'm loving it! Today was no exception, and as I stepped out onto my back porch this afternoon I was happily greeted by a cheery blue sky, delightfully warm sunshine, and a cooling blessed breeze. Since my mother-in-law had already swept my three oldest children away for play and "quiet" time at her house, it was just me and the babe, who was getting restless for her afternoon nap. So we embraced the beautiful day and went for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. As we walked, I talked with her about the sights around us and calmed her with sweet sentiments from my mommy heart to her tiny ears. (And I'm sure all you mommies out there know that when I say I talked with her, I really mean I talked at her, though it truly felt as though we were holding a genuine conversation.) In my musings, I mentioned to her how I love these precious days of infancy when she is so perfectly innocent, and I treasure watching her grow and discover and achieve milestone after milestone as her mind and body develop... But I am just SO excited for her to be two like her big sister, when she will become more independent and not so tied to this eat/sleep routine. When we can, as a family, envelop ourselves even more in glorious days like this one -- soaking in the golden rays of sunlight until they fade under a rainbow horizon, together digging our hands into the rich, fertile soil of our garden to work the ground and keep up with the weeds (now overgrown in our present-day garden plots) & harvest the great, nutritious fruits of our labor, climbing fences & trees, hiking forest trails, and picking prairie wildflowers. My soul longs to commune with the creation around me and I desire my children to all know the same longing and seek to satisfy it daily. I was explaining all this as she sweetly listened, never interrupting. "Doesn't that sound lovely?" I said. "And then your sissy will be eight, so she will be such a big help. And your brother will be six, so I'm sure he will be much more helpful as well..." My voice trailed off. Suddenly the realization of my aging little ones started to sting. My bright & shiny forecast for our family's future became overcast and dim.

Have you ever gauged your life by your youngest child? You know what I mean...  "When my youngest is finally weaned, my husband and I can start having date nights," or "When my youngest is finally in school, I will finally be able to spend time excercising regularly and get fit." Or in my case in this instance, "When my youngest is two, I will be able to spend more time outdoors and keep up with my garden." It's an easy thing to do, especially when you are in the midst of a season of little ones. I know that I go through this very thought process every time I have a new baby. They just take so much out of you! And when you're having them Every Other Year, it can feel endless. Oh, the things you can do without a tiny baby in tow who is dependent on you for every basic need! But the problem with making plans for when your youngest gets older is that... your older children are also getting older! 

When I caught myself daydreaming about the glorious future we will have, the numbers eight, six, and four dropped like an anchor to the bottom of my stomach. Immediately I began backpedaling in my conversation (or soliloquy, as it were). "But you can take your time getting there, my Little Bean. Two does not need to hurry. Let's enjoy this quiet walk on this glorious day, and well get to two when two gets here." Because I'm not ready to give up 1, 3, 5, and 7. Not yet. Not even for more sunshiny days, afternoon walks, or the largest green garden in the world. Not ever.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Our Homeschool Curriculum, 2014-2015

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Images

Summer's end is rapidly approaching and the new school year is right on its heels. Has it caught you unprepared?

We bade farewell to kindergarten in the spring, which means... First Grade! Perhaps it is the old state laws that required homeschool families to report their students' work and progress at this particular milestone that lit the fire of urgency in my mind, but for some reason "first grade" meant "business" to me. So I really began my planning for this year before we even ended the last school year. And as silly or unfounded as my first grade apprehensions might have been, it was beneficial because it got me thinking and set the ball rolling before our new baby arrived at the beginning of the summer. (Before I continue, can I just throw my hands up & get a "Halleluyer!" for our new state homeschool laws!! NO REPORTING NECESSARY! Praise the Lawd.) So I searched the public library, read books, scoured online blogs and reviews, and asked questions of other homeschooling friends regarding their favorite curriculum and homeschool materials. I was able to take advantage of our homeschool support group's buy/sell/trade used curriculum event and attend our state homeschool convention, which included both a used curriculum sale AND a fairly packed vendor hall FULL of amazing resources and homeschool wisdom. As June (and Baby's due date) closed in, I could almost say that my purchasing for the next school year was complete! Phew.

Enter: Summer. Now I can kick my feet up and relax poolside with an icy, refreshing tea and a great book while my well-sunscreened children splash playfully and... Oh, who am I kidding. I am the mother of four young children! This kind of scenario never. happens. Instead, I find myself in the never-ending balancing act that is motherhood (precious bliss as it is!) -- changing diapers, potty training, cleaning up spills, washing sheets after the *ahem* third accident of the day, wiping faces, fixing meals, and nursing an infant, oh, pretty much constantly. But I digress. :) Truly, this summer has been wonderful and I do enjoy all the habits of mothering (most of the time). But there is definitely no time for idleness! I have found myself multitasking as much as possible to continue laying out the plans for our 2014-15 school year. More blog browsing, Pinterest pinning, review reading, catalog combing, and ledger logging. It sometimes seems never-ending! However, I think I have finally nailed down what curriculum we will be using. Let's here it for this mama! *hooray!*

Not only will we be doing first grade with my oldest daughter, but we will also be doing some preschool work with my son who is now 4-years old. He is a boy (obviously), and at four he has boundless energy. As of yet, he has really shown no interest in school, though he LOVES books like his sister does and is especially enamored with all things bat, whale, squid, and/or invariably every deep sea creature ever discovered. Wait. I said he has no interest in school... So why are we doing preschool? Well, I use the term veeeery loosely, but what I really mean is intentional, focused reading in the areas that interest him (something we always do anyway, but now we'll do more of it), introducing letters & sounds, numbers 1-20, some fine motor practice to prepare him for writing, games, games, games!, and simply allowing him to be a part of what big sis' is doing in her schooling.

Now, down to the nitty gritty. THE CURRICULUM. bum-bum-buuuuum! I'm very excited about what we are going to be using this year! Come take a peek. (This post contains affiliate links.)

First Grade


Language Arts



We have family Bible time most evenings before bed when we read from a storybook Bible, sing Psalm 23, and pray as a family. However, I like to begin each day in the Word with my kids as well, because God's Word is SO IMPORTANT, and I want them to immerse themselves in it so that they grow to love it. Mornings are important too, because I want them to form the habit of first beginning each day with the Lord. I want them to have a heart like David, who said, "O God, You are my God. Early will I seek You. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water"(Psalm 63:1). To foster this attitude, I will read aloud a chapter in the Bible (Psalms & Proverbs are our favorites) or we will listen to a chapter using the YouVersion Bible app on my iPad.


We Choose Virtues - We will be using these handy flashcards to reinforce what we learn with Laying Down the Rails. (See Preschool Curriculum.)



Sonlight, Core A - This curriculum uses living literature, maps, and timelines to explore and learn history & geography. We love this approach and are looking forward to adding this bit to our schooling!



Language Arts:

Math: As I mentioned before, we are simply focusing on very basic math concepts. To count, recognize, and begin writing numbers 1-20. We'll use various workbooks, manipulatives, and fun games as desired to learn and reinforce ideas we discover & discuss in real life.


Laying Down the Rails - This may be the highlight of our formative learning for me. Charlotte Mason strongly emphasized the importance of forming good habits in children, and I have observed the same in my own parenting experience, especially in my son. We will focus on ONE habit for six weeks before moving on to the next, going back to reinforce habits as needed. This will be a year-long endeavor, not just a school year subject, which means we should have 8 new habits every year! We 
will begin this year with Attentiveness. Have I mentioned how pumped I am about this? Woo!


That about sums it up! We will be sprinkling different unit studies & field trips throughout our year as well to keep learning delight-directed and fun. I'll probably share bits of those as they come. Also, we are participating in a homeschool co-op again, which I am very excited about! More on that later too. :)

Happy learning!

Oh, and hop on over to iHomeschool Network's "Not Back-to-School" blog hop to see this post and check out what tons of other homeschoolers are planning this year!

I'd love to hear what your school plans are for the 2014-15 school year. Please leave a comment & share!