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Jun 28

Leave This Space Blank, Continued

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last week I shared my fears sheer panic about the summer that loomed ahead. It’s a habitual terror about the loneliness of summer and the potential for a house of bored, quarrelsome children.

I’m here to confess that in the days following my call to embrace this season, I only fell deeper into a place of boredom, lack of purpose, and patience with the inevitable squabbles that came about last week.

I’ve been pondering why these open days arrive as a challenge instead of  an opportunity to relax, and a few thoughts come to mind.

Eight of the eleven years that I’ve been a Mama have included our homeschool life.  Which means, in addition to changing a lot of diapers and laundry, we’ve been engaged in a range of purposes throughout our day.  Learning about art, crying through math, experiencing stories-my purpose in the day has reached beyond maintaining the house and being a driver for the kids. Having a sense of purpose hasn’t made life easier, but it has influenced and partially defined my role since it’s been part of my mama life for so long.

These June days have me feeling like a babysitter, letting myself believe that my only jobs in life are to clean the house and keep the kids happy.  It’s left me feeling, to be honest, unfulfilled.

Quickly that feeling leads to a view of my selfish heart, which leads to guilt, which eventually leads me back to “This is really my whole job for the summer?”

Okay, the confession part is over.

Here are a few things that have led me to a more hopeful place this tepid afternoon.

A Patient Husband

My husband doesn’t do guilt.  He doesn’t ask “Why do you have to make things so difficult?”.  He doesn’t ignore me and watch a ball game.  He’s a guy, so he’s a fixer, but after I turn down enough suggestions he’ll move to the next stage. “How can I help?”. He took an early day friday afternoon and spent a lot of time over the weekend loving on our kids and giving me some rest.

I borrowed a book to remind me of my purpose.

I know that being a mama is so much more than the day to day, it’s why I chose this career over any other.  I get to share the Word of God, guide young hearts, love through the disappointments, prepare these kids for life beyond our house.  I know that.  But mamahood doesn’t always feel like that, does it?  Most days are a series of mundane moments.

It’s been years since I’ve read Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson but I called out to friends for a copy this week because I need a reminder of how my mission mixes with the mundane.  What intention is hidden in the folds of making sandwiches and planning play dates?  I’ll let you know if I regain that sense after I’ve read the book.

I planned something for myself this week.

There are three areas I long to spend more time exploring-art, writing, and theater.  The luxury of having the summer off as the teacher is that I can build in some time for my passions-right in the middle of the day.  I signed up for an online art class by one of our favorite artists and for just $35 dollars the kids and I have spent several hours a day with our hands in charcoal and watercolors.  It’s a gift to myself to be the student instead of the teacher.  Art is extremely therapeutic and refuels me with energy to turn around and share back with the family. I’m signing up for another week long class in July and I’m planning a theater class that I’m going to teach in the fall.

We’ve been intentionally pursuing friends.

I can easily fall back into this line of thinking, “Well, none of our friends are calling or asking to get together so they must be having super fun summers and they don’t care if they see us.”  Instead, I’ve pursued a group of our co-op friends, offering up my house the first week and gathering us all together.  We’ve had two extended mornings of pancakes, playtime, and mama talk.

And finally this e-book renewed my desire to find the fun in summer, and allow for some loose scheduling.

Twice in the last week friends have mentioned making a big list of fun activities to check off over the summer.  Then I read the same suggestion in this e-book and the planner side of me has kicked back in as we fill in a calender of fun.  The Summer Survival Guide is packed with planning sheets, suggested activities, family movie and book suggestions, summer meal plan tips, travel tips, weeks of themed activities, and more.

After fighting the initial instinct to super-plan my summer in order to keep it under control, this ebook reminds me that I can put things on our calender, not to control, but to have a sense of anticipation for fun, myself included. It was absolutely worth the 9 dollars to renew my hopes for summer.  (The author of this ebook has never heard of me, I found the book on my own and I’m suggesting it to you only because it helped me.)

Now I’ve got to go do my art class assignment while the little one with the fever is sleeping!



To read the first part of this two-part blog, click here.

Jun 18

Leave This Space Blank

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2012

I can panic with the best of them.

Back in February and March it was the depths of winter homeschooling.  Seized by worry, I yielded completely to my anxious thoughts. “How can I continue to be school and taskmaster all day long?  How can I spend time with my young children instead of just keeping them occupied so that I can work with the older kids?  How can I spend less than 3 hours on saturday preparing for each week?  How can I deal with the disrespect of my pre-teen each and every day?”

After some hair pulling weeks, prayer, and wisdom from older homeschool moms we finished off the year with an overall sense of peace and plenty of enjoyment in those last months.

Now the school work is filed away, the schedule is entirely uncluttered from demands and expectations for the day, and just like every other summer, it sends me off in a new tremor of panic.  Isn’t that bizarre? A complete flip of the situation from a few months ago and instead of relaxed appreciation for the summer, it’s “What the heck are we going to do now?!

Anyone out there familiar with this particular genre of panic?  For homeschool moms and children, the school year is spent at home and the summer is spent at home, that can be a lot of at home.  When summer arrives, suddenly daily goals which seemed so burdensome before, sound like an offering of structure and forward motion to the day.

Sure, open time can lead to creativitiy, getting out forgotten games and toys, connecting deeper with friends, it can also mean bored, grumpy kids (and a tired, grumpy mama).

I know I’m not the only momma who’s felt this way.  Just a few weeks ago a good friend and mother of five said,

So I don’t know what we’re going to do with all of this open time!  I’ve started to write down everything I can think of to fill our schedule. Library time, Regular Playdates, and anything else I can think of!

I’ll confess it felt good to know I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines.  I had been brainstorming ideas all week and had uttered these stressed out words the previous night to my husband,

I’m going to need a few hours this weekend to plan out summer, I really need to get some things locked into place.”

At that point I was pretty convinced I could plan my way out of a potentially lonely and none-too-thrilling summer.  My brain raced with ideas-prayer groups, girls bible study, regular play dates, library storytime, adult bible study…you name it, and I thought about adding it into our summer.  (You’ll notice camps and the swimming pool aren’t on the list as out budget doesn’t allow for more expensive activities.)

My next confession is that all of this panic, both in the school year and out of it, has a whole lot to do with control, and my need for it at all times.

Think about it: I want to make sure I don’t have any chances of bored, whiny kids and to ensure that I’m going to fill up every single day for the entire summer to guarantee that it will not happen.

But I wonder what I lose when I hold tight to all of that control?

Do I lose opportunities to spontaneously jump on an art project that we would all enjoy?

Do I miss the chance to sit down on the floor and meet the grumpies straight-on by playing board games and making lego figures?  (My seven year old has been asking me to do both of these.)

Do I miss being fully present to each moment, so that I can ensure the next moment will be just the way I want it to be?

And do I miss the chance to give my kids control over their own boredom/happiness level.  Is it really my job to make sure they are happy and entertained every day of the summer, or should they own some of that for themselves?  Are they going to grow into adults thinking someone else is always responsible for their happiness? (And should shovel out large sums of money to make it happen.)

As a side note, I don’t even think it’s healthy or godly for the whole summer to be about how well entertained they can be or about how calm and controlled my own life can be.  I want my kids, and myself, to open our eyes to a world that is so much larger than ourselves and find a useful place in it.

Our kids actually like to have purpose, they feel important when they realize they can be a part of something bigger, even when they are relatively small.

I can take that side note and start planning it all out with a list of “Things to do to connect my kids to the larger world”.

Or I can leave a lot of blank spaces in our summer.

I can allow some boredom and quick conflict into their lives and then ask them how they are going to change it?  Their ideas might be cheaper and more interesting than what I could schedule myself.

I can grab them and go draw wildflowers at the nearby trail just because it’s something I want to do and I left open space to do just that.

I can ask them to pray about ways they want to impact the world and then offer suggestions and help equip them in their goals.

I’ve had the summer panic attack, now what am I going to do  (or not do) about it?

To read part two of this blog post, click here.

May 6

Encouraging the Heart of the Young Artist

Posted on Sunday, May 6, 2012

I sit in the Sunday School class, in a chair much too small for me, but perfectly suited to the five 3- year olds also at the table.

Crayons in fists, with a coloring sheet in front of each child, their hands hover, uncertain.

Another teacher has just instructed them to draw the boat that Jesus slept in during the savage storm at sea.  I’m just the volunteer for the week, so I watch, wondering what they’ll do with these instructions.

“I can’t draw a boat. Can you draw me a boat?” One frustrated girl asks her regular teacher.

“Sure, I’ll draw you a boat.”  He draws a boat on her picture, and she’s done.  She lays her crayon down.

Requests spring up like popcorn around the table until almost all of the boats are drawn by the teacher.

Only the girl beside me is silent, hard at work with her chubby, broken blue crayon.

“You’re a great artist.” I tell her.

“What’s a artist?” she asks, startled for a moment by this new name.

“An artist is someone who paints or draws,” I offer my simplified definition.

“Then I’m an artist,” she declares and returns to her art.

“I’m an artist,” the boy beside her says and picks up his blunt, peeled orange crayon and a magnificent array of dots appear across his page. “Rain!” he almost shouts.

“I’m an artist too,” announces the next child, a girl with serious eyes and freckles. Then she looks around skeptically, “And so are the other kids at this table, but not that one or that one,” she points to the the two adults in the room.

“Oh, they are artists too,” I nod my head, “God is an artist.  He painted the sky and the trees and the animals, and we’re made like God, so we’re all artists.”

My own three-year old daughter chimes in, “I paint.  I’m an artist too!”

Crayons dip, drag, and dance, led by little artists.

I remember the joy of creating as a child.  The magic of combining words to make stories, the first line I ever spoke on stage, and yes, crayons let loose on paper.

Other memories play in my head, intertwined with the good, adults dropping critical words on my hopeful creations like stones dropping on glass.  As the words replay, I understand why it took me until my thirties to find again that freedom and confidence in making art that I first had as a young child.

I’m now on a mission to encourage and sustain the artist hearts of children.  It’s been a learning process over the last 11 years to find out what that means for my own kids and more recently, other kids, when I taught at our co-op.

Here are some guidelines to consider when talking to kids about their art:

It starts with you.

“I can’t draw,” you apologize as you push the paper back over to your four-year old when he asks you to draw a car. You just effectively planted the seed in your child that some people can draw and some people can’t. Maybe he falls into the category of “can’t”.

First of all, the car you draw is going to seem like a Picasso painting to your little boy, even your stick figures will impress him. If you want to instill an “I can do anything” attitude then model one!

“Well, I don’t draw very much honey, but I’ll try.”  And then draw the car.  (This is much harder for me to do when it comes to singing or fixing toilets, I need this reminder for myself all the time).

If still seems hard to think of saying those words “I can draw”, go ahead and check out the book Ish by Peter Reynolds.  When you read it with your child you’ll find out you can at least draw a car-ish.

“What is it?”

When your child approaches you with his masterpiece, don’t start with “What is it?” or “That’s a great ______”. Your child is absolutely sure that his squiggles and dots look as much like a horse chasing a lion to you as they did to him when he drew it.  As soon as you ask, “What is it?” that confidence is shattered, and the seed of doubt is planted.  It’s the same thing if you name his picture, and get it wrong.

Instead say, “Tell me about you picture.” It works with toddlers all the up through the ages, and you’ll most likely hear details you never would have heard with those other questions and statements.  You’ll get a window right into the heart of the child, because art is a window. And you’ll see the glow of pride at his accomplishments brighten as he talks about his work.

Coloring inside the lines is over-rated.

Coloring inside the lines is a skill that has gotten way too much attention!  Everyone can eventually learn how to color inside the lines, but will a child learn how to draw (or paint or write) the world as he sees it (different from every other child in the world).

Set aside those coloring books, and give your child a blank sketchbook.  My mom gave my now 11 year old a blank sketchbook when she was 2 and we’ve never looked back.  We still watch the video of her delightfully making her marks all over the page and telling us the details about the pictures.  Also try tools other than crayons.  For the last three years crayons have been out of vogue in our house, the youngest only wants pencils.  Every child is different.

Give Specific Feedback.

The child has just spent forty five minutes working on their drawing and she runs to you and flashes her treasure.  ”That’s really great” and “That’s good, honey” aren’t equal to the effort she’s just expended.

Start with, “Tell me about it.” Really pay attention to the details and comment on the specific aspects of the drawing. You’re not trying to come up with something that sounds good, your looking attentively and telling the truth.  And you don’t have to know art vocabulary to make meaningful comments.

“I really like…”

…the colors you chose, they really make me feel the sunset.”

…the facial expression on the boy, I can tell he loves riding his bike.”

…how you made her legs, she looks like she’s really running.”

…the shading on your trees, I can see the light flooding in and it’s makes the trees pop of the page.”

My 11 year old showed me a sketch yesterday and before she showed it to me she said, “Now I want to hear more than, ‘That’s good.’ I want more feedback, tell me exactly what you like.”

Don’t force a compliment when your child is frustrated.

We deal plenty of frustration around here.  From the artist who has needed to draw perfectly since she was four to the younger brother who doesn’t think he can draw at all compared to his sisters.

When a child says his drawing is awful and you say, “No, it’s great, I love it.”, you’re trying to offer encouragement and build his confidence.  But you’re actually implying that his feelings about his artwork aren’t true.  It’s tempting to think you can talk your child out of being unsatisfied with his art, but I haven’t found that to be the case.

Instead, if you truly do like it, but also want to help your child through the process try, “Well, I like it a lot (generic, I know) but tell me what your unsatisfied with.” Listen to the child and try to narrow down why he/she isn’t happy with it. Ask questions.  ”What do you wish was different?” Sometimes it’s just one detail.

If you feel comfortable, try offering some suggestions.

If your child is early in the drawing process and is stuck on one part of his work, encourage him to continue on with the rest of the picture and come back to the trouble spot at the end.  Often times, the area that seemed “so wrong” doesn’t seem as important once the rest of the work is finished.  In the “I love 2 Bake” picture below, my daughter was very frustrated with the hands, but once she moved on to the arms, apron, and filled in the color, the hands seemed less important and she was pleased with her artwork.

This is not a guaranteed or easy process. There might be a continued period of frustration, in which you have to try your best to remain the calm half.  A younger child may need to take a break and come back to it later. But I’ve found as the kids grow, if we can stay the course and arrive at something the child feels at least mildly happy with, we’ve both succeeded, and the child slowly gains the ability to narrow down what he’s disatisfied with, work on it a bit, and finish successfully.

“Successfully” doesn’t mean the product is beautiful in your eyes, it means your child didn’t give up in the throes of frustration but persevered, and that’s a life skill that will eventually also lead to better artistic skill.

(The area of frustration is one that really needs an entire blog post unto itself).

Focus on the process, not the product.

Because my girls have come quite a long way in their artwork, I’m tempted to get more “product” focused then “process” focused. I forget what their work looked like when they were younger (and so do they) and my expectations for my 7 year old land way over the mark.

As I listened to Peter H. Reynolds a few weeks ago, I realized I needed to start hanging up more of my son’s work, not just the best (in my eyes) of his work.  His enjoyment of the process, and willingness to stay in it and believe he’s an artist is so much more important than the final product.

There’s a chance you’ll need to lower your standards and cheer for your child’s artwork a lot more than you’ve been doing.  Maybe his work doesn’t seem nearly as impressive as that other kid in your co-op, but that doesn’t matter. He has a life of creating ahead of him, if you help sustain his artist heart.

If you haven’t done so, read The Dot with your children then tell them to sign their most recent art work and hang it in a beautiful frame!

Is this an area of struggle for you?  Have you learned any lessons in your own creative life, or in guiding your child?

Apr 13

National Poetry Month

Posted on Friday, April 13, 2012

I do love when several elements in life and homeschool collide together and enhance our experience in a way that I didn’t foresee.

Over Easter is happened with our read aloud,  Treasures in the Snow.  Our slow, delayed reading of the book meant that we ended up readng it the week approaching Easter and it fit perfectly into our discussions of sin, hearts, and Jesus.

Last spring, a spontaneous study of birds through a program at the local nature center arrived along side our study of bird and animal artist Charley Harper and study of Poetry, forming a beautiful tapestry of learning.

Maybe I shouldn’t admit that these incidences seem to arrive by luck and not intellectual smarts and careful planning.

Ami’s Creative Writing class was a surprise, it certainly wasn’t on my horizon for this spring.  How could I know this past fall, that when I put The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan into our read aloud basket, I would pull it out just in time to coincide with our poetry writing. The Dreamer is  a chapter book about real life poet Pablo Neruda who loved words so much as a child he kept them on little papers in a drawer in his room and eventually his passion for words won out against his father who told him he would never amount to anything because Pablo was so absent-minded, a dreamer. (The audio of this book captures the accent and language of this Chilean poet in a way that I can’t quite do myself, though I try.)

And even though last spring we studied poetry and I knew that April was National Poetry month, I completely forgot about it until I read it on a blog last week.  A perfect fit with our writing and our read aloud!

I’m so thankful for these happy accidents, since often times my labored lists of plans only feel burdensome and forced.  I receive this month’s coincidences as a gift.

If you’d like to celebrate National Poetry Month, here are some resources for teaching poetry.

Resources for Teaching Poetry

Just One More Poetry Resource (Okay, Two)

And here are a few other posts related to poetry/writing:

The Partly Successful Poetry Lesson

When Push Comes to Shove

Creative Writing Week 1

Creative Writing Week 2

Dialogue Detectives: A Writing Exercise

Story Squares: A Project with Possibilities

Calender Idea for Writers and Young Artists

Mar 27

Creative Writing Week 1

Posted on Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ami, from Walking By the Way and Homeschool Share, recently shared a 9 week Creative Writing course just in time to freshen up the last few months of school.

Finding the Right Way to Write

I’m passionate about writing and it’s a creative process that’s exciting to share with the kids.  I say exciting and I also mean absolutely scary.  ”Writing” and “petrified” find themselves butted together often when I talk to other homeschool moms.  We want our kids to be good writers and because most of us don’t like it or know how to do it or teach it, we turn to curriculum that spits out a very cardboard, yet properly formulated paragraph.

I saw it with my own daughter a few years ago.  We started one of those programs and all of her inventive ideas were quickly inhibited by “Am I putting this sentence in the right place?” and “Let me look at the book, okay, it said 3 adjectives about color in this sentence.”

We ditched the program, but then what?  The fear that maybe if we try this our own way, if we play, if we listen to some of the advice from Bravewriter, maybe my kids won’t learn the PROPER way to write.

Well, so far we’re continuing to hack through these doubts and comparisons and experience the joy of ideas that make it onto the page without a sensor blinking on and off, “wrong!”.

Still, how to teach revision, editing, how to approach non-fiction writing?  Well, we’ll hack down the barriers as we find them.

The First Week of Ami’s Class

Ami’s class on Creative Writing is designed for her co-op of 6th and 7th graders and she hits all of the important topics of writing like using metaphors, including sensory details and working through the revision and edition stages.  This is a completely FREE course with all instructions, activities, famous quotes, poems,and printouts included.

My kids older kids are 4th and 5th, but because we’ve done various writing projects and activities over the last year and half I thought they could understand the assignments and I plan to adjust as needed along the way.

Here’s some of the work from their first week, which focused on avoiding cliches and overly used words and instead using metaphors.  All of this work is unrevised or edited, as we plan to go back in later weeks and take a second look.

Assignment: Read the poem “A Loaf of Poetry” and write your own recipe for something.  You can write it as a poem or paragraph.

(Full Discloslure: The girls hemmed and hawed about this assignment, so we made up some examples together before they tried it on their own.)

(The 9 year old)
Recipe for a Book Birthday Cake

1/2 cup sillyness
2 overflowing cups climax
4 tsp sadness
3 tsp violence
1/4 cup creepiness
2/4 cup weirdness
1  1/2 overflowing cups happiness
1/2 cup adventure

Preheat 325 F.  Lightly grease cake pan.  Mix creepiness, weirdness, sadness, and violence in bowl.  Mix climax, sillyness, adventure, and happiness in separate bowl.  Mix both bowls together.  Pour into pan and bake for 15 to 30 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Serve, in a soft, cozy bed, relax, and read.

(note: her reference for adventure and violence come from books like the Narnia series!)

(The 11 year old)
Recipe for a Summer Day

10 cups of sunshine (the brightest you can find)
15 cups blue sky
1/4 cups of bees and wasps
2 cups birds
1 cup of green grass
1/2 cup flowers

Mix the sunshine and the blue sky together in an extra large mixing bowl.  In a smaller bowl mix the wasps and bees and birds. Mix grass and flowers in another small mixing bowl, stir only until combined.  Let all ingredients sit for one hour.  Next get out a large pan, pour flowers and grass on the bottom, layer on bees, wasps, and birds and lastly the sun and sky. Bake for five minutes.  After baking is done sprinkle on the breeze and enjoy.

Next Assignment: Read the Metaphor Poems.  Go outside and find an object you want to write about, comparing it to something else, like the examples from the poems page.  The object you describe is also the title of your poem.

(Full disclosure: they also hemmed about this assignment as well, often it’s just, “go do it!)

(The 9 year old)
Train Tracks

Mountain of rocks
path of steel
on the top
for the train,
to come over

(The 11 year old)
Flower Pot

A natural tea pot sitting on your porch.
Your tea is not made with herbs
but with the soil of the ground.
When water is added the special seasoning spreads
and gives the tea flavor.

This week we start Week 2 and I’ll be sharing some examples soon.

Georgia Heard has two books that have helpful, explorative, writing exercises.  Check out all of her books, but particularly Awakening the Heart and The Revision Toolbox.   Also, check out this book for combining nature and poetry, A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow.

Does the subject of writing scare you?  Have you found a program that you’re satisfied with, or is there another subject that you find yourself sweeping away the doubts and heading down your own path?

(Thanks, Ami, for this inspired resource!)


Jan 6

Learning that Lasts

Posted on Friday, January 6, 2012

With all the talk of kids and early learning it’s a relief to find out, in my mid-thirties, that learning doesn’t end when we reach the end of school.  In fact, I would be willing to bet that I’ve learned more in my years out of school, than in my desk wearing knee high socks.

As an adult and homeschool mama, learning again through a child’s eyes, I’ve discovered, among many other things, that:

- I can paint

- I enjoy hiking in the woods

- I can be good at math

- I love learning about birds

- Great children’s book are still great when the reader is no longer a child

- And history is one of my favorite subjects (this one makes my husband particularly excited)

I hope my kids actually learn plenty during their school years, but I also hope they get these joyful moments of discovery for the rest of their lives.

I overheard this quote last night as my husband watched a documentary about the historian, David McCullough. He’s speaking about my epiphany with history (even if he didn’t know it at the time).

“History is not about dates, and quotes, and obscure provisos. History is about life, about change, about consequences, cause and effect. It’s about the mystery of human nature, the mystery of time. And it isn’t just about politics, and the military, and social issues, which is almost always the way it’s taught. It’s about music, and poetry, and drama, and science, and medicine, and money, and love.”

Jan 4

The Softer Side of Starting back to School

Posted on Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I don’t know about you, but I can only describe December as a whirlwind month on a sugar high.  By the day after Christmas my brain turned itself off in an act of self-preservation in order to recharge from the planning involved in the previous month.

Planning school, planning advent, planning presents, planning a service project, planning food- What a relief to find a week of nothing to plan and no lists to make.  I put off anything related to planning (school, groceries, other life responsibilites) until the very last day or two of my husband’s generous vacation time.

And then when the planning brain did turn itself back on again, fully charged, my synapses and fingers were clicking on endless great ideas-a hymn study over at Practical Pages, Composer Studies from Harmony Arts Mom, music lessons for the kids from the husband, new science curriculum that hadn’t been cracked open this year, grammar for the 11 year old…

With the planning brain now on overload and as the cut-off to vacation life drew closer, I considered post-poning school an extra few days or maybe a week (this is a perk to homeschooling, I can add on extra days at the end of the year to make it right).  But experience has shown me that we didn’t need an extra week to flounder about (the kids) and feel grumpy about responsibilities(me).  It would take us down a road of fighting and general discontent which can aptly be titled- Chaos.

Thankfully, around monday evening I remembered The Soft Start.  I reminded myself that if I added all of my ideas into our first week back there might be a few of us no longer here by the end of the week (namely me, I’d probably be driving to the beach).

So I arranged my list by what I wanted to start with the first week, add in the second week, third, and by the end of the fourth all of my hopeful plans would be included in the schedule.

An example of what this might look like:

This Week:

  • Bible
  • Math
  • Reading
  • History

Next week

  • All of the above plus,
  • Science
  • Hymn Study
  • Art

Third week:

  • Composer study
  • Music Lessons with Dad
  • Flesh out weekly schedule

You’re soft start might look slower or faster than the example above based on the ages and numbers of your children, family illness or other extenuating circumstances.

The Soft Start is about feeling successful, for everyone. The entire family gets to feel successful in getting back into a normal schedule, with a lighter load of academics in the first week, and ease into the realization that we actually like normal life quite a lot.

This Soft Start was actually even slower because, on monday, when we planned to take down the christmas decorations, we went out for hot chocolate instead and then took a nap.  Which means today we took down the decorations and brought order to the school room and peace to my mind.

You might not need a slow start.  If you have older children, who are quite capable of managing their work, and no little ones to call out for snacks and books and people to play with them, than I bet you can hit the week running.

But if you’re life this past week, minus school, has already felt full with working through sibling fights, accepting the fate of the grocery store, looking around at potential chores in every room, and finding one quiet moment to kiss your husband, and you’re wondering how in the world your going to start schooling multiple children in multiple grades, then consider the slow method.

And when you do start, start with the most important thing, the thing your kids(and you) need more than anything else, start with the Word of God, first thing in the morning, right at the table with your pancakes and cereal.  Then you’ve tasted success before you’ve even finished breakfast.

Nov 23

The Partly Successful Poetry Lesson

Posted on Wednesday, November 23, 2011

I stare at my daughter, mortified that the source of her crying came from my own hands.

She has just finished part three of her poetry assignment.  Monday was free-writing, Tuesday she created a poem from her free-write, and today is the big “R”, revision.

Until today they have done some light revision but we’ve never used the “R” word.  Last week they heard an author speak about his writing process and how his book went through five drafts before it become a published book.  He shared that the process was hard on him but he had no doubt that the final draft was a much better book than his first draft.

So I couldn’t hide the “R” word anymore.  But I tried to put the right spin on it.

I even started with an inspiring moment, designed to reveal that revision didn’t equal “wrong”.  Based on the idea from Georgia Heard’s book The Revision Toolbox”, I brought out a geode.

“The first draft is like this geode.  You definitely have something there. It’s a solid idea.”

And then I dramatically got out a hammer and we broke that small rock open to find the glimmering beauty inside.

“This is what happens when we go back to our first draft and crack open the first ideas to find the gems inside by looking at word choices, sharpening images, losing extra words.  It’s not that the first draft is wrong or bad, this is just the next step to finding your poem or story.”

Inspiring, right?

I set the two halves of the geode on the desk and handed them some questions to help them think over their poem. And left the room.

Which brings us back to the sobbing child in the chair beside me.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“My poem’s not poetical anymore!” cried my 9 year old.


“I loved my poem yesterday,” racks of sobs and broken breath continue, “but now that I’ve read those questions I don’t think my my poem’s even a poem anymore!  I hate my poem,” the sobbing turns into a heavy slump upon the table.

This is when teaching stinks.  All of my teaching is trial and error, which means sometimes I get it so right and sometimes I have a day like this one.  I don’t mind making mistakes, but I don’t like to do them at the cost of my daughter’s creative process.

I warned them when I handed out the questions.

“I’m figuring out how to teach this to you as we go.  This step of working on your poem might work great or one of you may love it or everyone may hate it.  We’re just going to have to try it.”

Well, the almost eleven year old (who’s also pretty relaxed about her creative process) worked through the questions and declared, “This is fun, these questions are great, they helped a lot.”

You already know how it turned out for the other one-who, by the way, is two years younger.  When the author last week said that in art, as well, the first draft is never the best, Jellybean declared he was wrong(privately, to me, later, thankfully).

“My first tries in art are always my best,” she explained.

Is it just age, is it also personality?  She had written five pages of a poem and then decided it was no longer a poem!

Sure I should have seen that one coming.  I should have handed her older sister the paper with questions for her poem, and allowed the younger to recite a beautiful rendition of her five page poem and call her poem done-but I didn’t. Because sometimes it’s trial and error.

The learning curve for this teacher is deep and wide,  how is it for you?  Have you had successes so far this year, or many nearly successful moments?

Nov 10

When Push Comes to Shove

Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2011

(The assignment discussed in this post is from A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra.)

One of the challenges of being the teacher is facing the sigh.  The low groan.  The roll of the eyes, when I announce a certain subject or assignment.

Along similar lines, it’s also difficult to watch a child struggle with a lesson and be the teacher who has to keep her on the road through the hard stuff.

By 9:30 our day had ricocheted way off track from our original school plan, punted by outside circumstances with my Dad that couldn’t be avoided. After lunch I gathered the grumpy, out-of-sorts crew (myself included) together to get started with school.

The atmosphere was not ripe for a poetry lesson.  My ten year olds face looked so glum her frown was sliding off her chin like  unset jello.

We’re going to do a poem today about the weather.”  I pointed to window, indicating the autumn day taking place outside.

A heave of the shoulders and then through tight teeth, “Fine.”

“First you’re going to make a list of action verbs associated with people.”

“What do you even mean!”

“Not common verbs, pick interesting ones like ‘swallow’ and ‘erase’.” Picture a lot of enthusiasm in my voice, I was attempting to transfer it with the right intonation.

Then make another list of verbs associated with animals-”

“-I thought this was a poem about the weather!!” my 9 year old cried out, exasperated.

“It is. Just wait and see. Think of verbs like ‘pounce’ and ‘perch’.”

“It sounds hard,” my ten year old mumbled down to the floor.

Reader, this is is when it gets hard for me.  I forget that struggle isn’t a thing to be avoided and the mama in me wants to do something to ease it.  Especially when I’m the source of the frustration!  But I knew they could get this assignment.

“You don’t have to use all of the verbs but use some of them to write a poem about the fall weather.  Here’s an example by an 8 year old-


Wind nibbles
on the walls of the buildings.
When it hunts
in the forest it rubs its chin
on the trees
and wipes its mouth
on their leaves.

There was a slight lift in the frowns.  I grabbed at the moment.

“Grab a sweatshirt and your notebooks and go outside.”

Reality set in, they were really going to have to do this assignment.

The cheer in my voice rose hoping to cajole their spirits up and out of the dumps.

“Here put on Daddy’s warm sweatshirt.  You put on your big sister’s,” and then I added lightly,  ”Guess we better have some hot chocolate in a little while since it’s cold out today.”

I admit it, that last bit was pure bribery coated in chocolate.

Turning to math with my six year old, I occassionally glanced at the girls sitting on the driveway with their notebooks.

Twenty minutes later we heard someone burst through the side door and then my ten year old appeared.  Cheeks the color of gala apples, her dad’s sweatshirt hanging to her knees, and excitement buzzing around her entire body she said, “I’m finished!”

She waited.  She wanted me to ask to hear the poem.

“Can I hear it?”


Dramatic Pause.  A rush of breath-

Sometimes the wind
is a message bearer, whispering
to the trees news of what
I do not know.
But some days the wind
is a wild cat, pouncing
on leaves and dragging
them to its lair.
Some mornings when I wake up,
the wind flies through the window
and burrows under my covers, driving
me out of bed and into my clothes.
The wind is its own person,
changing each day.
To me
the wind is alive.

She’d had that moment.  That moment, determined to fail and yet looking at the wind, and giving it living breath on her page, she found out that with her own words the wind really was alive.


I tumbled into adulthood afraid of things that were hard.  I didn’t want to try anything new, worried that it might take effort or might end in failure.  It’s a fine line to walk as mom and teacher but when I get it just right between the “yes go do it” and  the “let’s celebrate with hot chocolate” the results are worth the earlier struggle.  I can see in the child a little more confidence and little less fear of the next challenge.


Aug 10

The Messy School Plan

Posted on Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I’m joining with some other homeschool moms to share a confession about real homeschool life. It’s not always like we plan for in our heads,full of projects and organized school time….

I sit down beside my Dad, letting my bag of school books settle on the floor beside my seat.

It’s not one of his good days.  Actually he hasn’t had what I would call a good day in a very long time.

I lean forward and look into his eyes.  ”Hi, Dad.”

He stares back at me but doesn’t say anything.

“I love you Dad.  I’ve missed you, it’s really good to see you.”

He continues to stare at me, eyes the color of the turbulent green sea.

I talk to him about deep sea fishing, the book I just read, the kids trip to florida. But my one-sided conversation can’t sustain itself forever, so I get out the computer and show him pictures of the kids. The cloudy eyes stare and he moves his hand to tap the computer.

I settle back in the chair and get out my school books.

Planning school is challenging, often overwhelming at the beginning of the year.  But there’s another side, too.  When the schedule, book lists, and ideas gather into a nice tidy braid, it’s very satisfying, not at all like what I’m doing with my Dad.  I can control what we do, I can see the outcome, I can make lists of what we’ll accomplish in convincing black and white. School planning seems very alluring, a way to distance myself a bit from the darker waters in my heart.

I open my brand-new, crisp planner, blank with possibilties.  But other, not so tidy thoughts, interrupt.

My Dad’s presence, the tubes and the small shared room press me and I can’t help but realize I’m trying to look at my Dad’s stuggle and our homeschooling journey as if they’re on two seperate pieces of paper.  But that’s not the truth of our life or even my goal, for that matter.

After six years, homeschooling is no longer defined as the portion of our day assigned to academic study.  It’s seeped into the ebb and flow.  We read about history  and science to know the God who made the world and us.  We learn when the baby is sleeping or when we’re all schlepping around a big lake.  We study art together, but we also do art when we feel like doing it. Learning follows us when we’re in our school room or out of it, and the tide and waves shift when we’re having a baby or when my Dad’s in the hospital for four months.

The learning within our home and family  feels very connected to our actual world, not a school world before “real life” begins.

It’s taken time to get here.

But still I forget.

And then I remember where I’m sitting and who I’m sitting next too with my bag full of what we need to learn.

And then I remind myself. Again.

What’s happening with my Dad is part of  what we’re learning.

It’s a messy part that doesn’t look great in my planner.  But I’m trying to grow kids who are engaged in a world bigger than themselves, and with a God bigger than my own well-typed plans.

It was two school years ago that my Dad went into the hospital for four months.  As his only family in the same town,  we needed to be there for him in some way every day.  School flowed, trickled, and reached a full stop.  I worried about what the neighbors would think when they saw the kids outside in the middle of the day.  I worried about our families and whether they would accuse us of neglecting our children’s education.  But mostly I longed for us to live in a different era.

I thought of a time when families took care of the stuff of life first-planting, sowing, baking, caring for aging family, and the academic studies came along when the plants weren’t growing or when mom wasn’t busy making the meal for the day.

Last year a friend called and reminded me, “They will look back and remember that you cared for your Dad when he needed it.”

What does this really mean for me, books in one hand, the slow end of life happening on the other?  It means we might hear difficult news this week about my Dad.  I might not have a year long plan fully conceived with a lovely table set for the first day, a special breakfast, and a freshly painted schoolroom (I really want that new paint).  It means I have to be careful about not taking refuge from what’s really happening inside the very predictable and safe world of planning.  I might have to accept messy planning that happens throughout the year instead of now (if I were really honest, all of my before school planning just makes me feel good, I never adhere to any of the schedules I make anyway).

We need to start where we already are in our lives and see how our formal learning can ebb and flow with the plans the Lord has already put into place.  Or we might miss the best lessons, which are the ones not planned by me.

Like all things I’ve learned on this journey, I’m going to need to tell myself again and again.


To read other personal stories of homeschool moms, head over to Sunflower House to see a full list of blog posts.