Romp and Stomp

Vector_illustration_of_Happy_family_Fapp_30I recently ran across this quote by Miss Charlotte Mason (an educator whose philosophy on education continues to grip my heart with each passing year) and I just loved it!

We all know the natural conditions under which a child should live; how he shares household ways with his mother, romps with his father, is teased by his brothers and petted by his sisters; is taught by his tumbles; learns self-denial by the baby’s needs, the delightfulness of furniture by playing at battle and siege with sofa and table; learns veneration for the old by the visits of his great-grandmother; how to live with his equals by the chums he gathers round him; learns intimacy with animals from his dog and cat; delight in the fields where the buttercups grow and greater delight in the blackberry hedges.

I see this being lived out daily in our home…and while it frustrates me at times, fathers really are for “romping”.  As Miss Mason said, it is a natural condition under which a child should live.  Shamefully, I must admit that I have often become so irked at bedtime when Kevin gets the children all riled up again, when at the very moment I think peace is about to ensue under this roof, children are rolling on the floor in screams and fits of laughter.   Help me, Father, to embrace such moments.  For certainly, I need to realize that such is the great blessing of a father…when the strong hands of the one who provides and shepherds and leads, lovingly bends to tease and tickle, to romp and stomp.

 

Insufficient Me

I keep thinking there will be time…time to paint my toenails, time to read a good book, time to sit and write a blog post. But the reality is with five kids age 9 and under and one of those being a most adorable eight week old, there is no such thing as “me-time”! Thankfully Kevin has arranged for me to get out each morning for an hour walk/run and without that time alone with the Lord, I might lose my mind!! But in all seriousness, I love my days…I love my children, I still love homeschooling and I love, love, love my little Maggie and every part of getting to be her mama. And I love that the self-sacrifice required to care for all my little people and my husband each day is the very road God chose for me to learn to an even greater degree that I have no choice but to depend on Him, hour by hour, minute by minute. Each morning as I hike up the hill to enter my own little walking sanctuary (a sprawling cemetery on one of Atlanta’s highest points with a view of the entire city skyline!), I begin my time of prayer acknowledging my own insufficiencies, which pierce me to the core. Never in my life have I ever felt weaker than recovering from a hard delivery, being up all night with a newborn and sitting down to teach US history with excitement and zeal…and of course, there’s still laundry, meals and all the regular stuff not to mention my desire to get to know our new church members and neighbors! Yes, my limitations and insufficiencies are crystal clear. And often these weaknesses result in sin…I’m angry or anxious or overwhelmed or irritable or complaining. How could I complain about taking care of the gift that I begged God for for months and months? My sin runs so much deeper than I could ever imagine. But as I acknowledge my desperate need for grace upon that beautiful hill, God is so quick to remind me that He loves to supply me with all that I need, that He is more glorified in my neediness of Him than He ever is in my attempts at this perfect performance I so often feel entrapped by. And I’m reminded that Jesus’ performance was all that ever mattered and how thankful I am each day that His righteousness has been imputed to me.

One day, not too long from now, I’m sure there will be more time. And on that day, I’ll get around to writing more…because I really do miss it! But that day will mean my little doll won’t be so little anymore and so for now, I just want to treasure up her littleness and not miss one smile or coo. Oh, and you should get to enjoy this little smile as well!

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For the Children’s Sake – A Book Review

This past year of homeschooling could be summed up in one word…crazy!  We started out great and had a solid six weeks of learning before life got turned upside down.  Between moving in the fall, staying with my parents for six weeks, moving again to Georgia, and then getting settled into a new community and a new church, which has an insanely busy schedule, school became strictly about survival, not about prospering!  During the stay at my parents, however, I had a little more time to evaluate and reflect on our current model of education and it was during this time that God began to give me a discomfort with the direction we were heading.  Our curriculum consisted of pulling together a variety of books, all sources listed in Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind.  Most of the books were great in and of themselves, but the pace and the methods (particularly large amounts of strict memorization) were just not working for Mikias.  He was getting more and more frustrated with school and feeling more and more defeated.  I was feeling more and more disappointed because we spent such large amounts of time just trying to grasp the basics of the information, that we never had any time for the fun extras like history activities and art projects.  Once we got settled in Georgia, I began to seriously pray about what God would have us do next year for school.  I knew something had to change but I wasn’t sure where to start.  But I love when we get to that place of not having a clue what God would have us to do and then He so clearly speaks.  I ran across this post on my friend Tara’s blog.  I had heard of Charlotte Mason before and even looked into her briefly, but I decided I needed to know more.  Funny enough, that same week I had lunch with a new friend from church who also home schools, and she randomly mentioned to me that she was in the process of switching to a complete Charlotte Mason education with her children.  I came home from lunch, e-mailed Tara and she recommended starting with “For the Children’s Sake” by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay to wet my appetite in Charlotte Mason’s educational ways.

I ordered it, and promptly dove in.  Its a book about education, but it focuses largely on the work of a Christian educator named Charlotte Mason (1842-1923) from Ambleside, England.   This post could never contain all of the wonderful ways that Mason thought of children and wrote of the ways in which they best learn.  But I will share the three propositions of her philosophy that have impacted me the most.  First, education is a life.  I need not look at our time in the school room as the only time that I am educating my children.  Instead, when I correct a disagreement and require reconciliation, I am educating my children.  When a child stands beside me with the mixer as we prepare a cake, I am educating my child.  When the children gather around the coffee table to tackle a load of laundry, I am educating my children.  When we discuss the verses of a favorite hymn, I am educating my children.  What a marvelous way to think of our everyday life…even in what seem to be the most mundane of days, my children are still learning and I am their primary source to learn of the world around them and the God who made it all.  But if I want to give them the best, I won’t only offer them great life experiences “but also the best mankind has produced in art, books, music, ideas and many more areas” (p.83).  Secondly, children are born persons.  Obvious, right?  But oh how often I fail to respect them in the individual ways that God has created them and appreciate who they are!

Charlotte Mason was, however, a realist.  She accepted the little child exactly as he was.  She did not romanticize him, but she appreciated him and looked with wonder at what she found (p. 14).

Lastly, and probably what I love most about Charlotte Mason’s method was her use of living books. Living books are whole books of well-written literature which are used in the curriculum instead of standard textbooks.  And typically they will always wet the appetites and tastes of young children far more than a bunch of mumble-jumble facts from a textbook.  So we work our way through good books about history, science, literature and we read fables and stories and poetry.  And, instead of taking a multiple-choice test or completing a worksheet, the children are then required to narrate back or re-tell what they have just heard.  I know…it sounds a bit out there at first, but a few days in and I’m already seeing how the principle works.  Once a child is required to tell back the information they have just heard (whether its a poem about your shadow or the landscape of Ancient Egypt), they have no choice but to train themselves to listen carefully, to internalize what they are hearing and to then make it their own by using their own choice of words to explain what they have just heard.  And once they’ve done that, they most likely won’t forget what they’ve learned.  Of course as they get older, the children will write out their narrations and not do everything orally.  Nevertheless, I’m finding it to be such a more effective way of learning and it especially seems to fit the way God has wired my children.

We are two days in to our 2012-2013 school year and I’m more excited about what we are learning and how we are learning it than I ever have been before.  Just today we spent an hour and a half on a nature trail, exploring whatever we could.  Molly Kate and Miles spent a good majority of the time fascinated with big black carpenter ants and before we left, Molly Kate made an entry in her nature journal with an amazingly accurate drawing of the ant.  During her observation, I gently guided her, encouraging her to see how many legs it had, how many parts he had in his body and told her the names of those parts.  She had the opportunity to watch it and linger over it and truly experience it…and she enjoyed it.  How vastly different from my science education where I was required to read about the ant in a textbook and then memorize and label its parts on a worksheet, never really caring much at all about where the ant lived or how fast he could move or the fact that my all-powerful God created so many different kinds of ants.

If you are considering home schooling your own children, I would highly recommend spending some time considering Charlotte Mason’s philosophies of education and I would recommend this book as a starting point.  I think you’ll find it fascinating and then be asking yourself, much like I did, why haven’t I thought of this before? It makes so much sense!

The Best for Last

So I thought my favorite room in the house was the kitchen, then I thought it was my master bath…but this week I discovered the best part ever…our school room.  It was the one thing I had truly hoped God might bless us with and this week, I’ve been able to witness and experience so many great blessings in this one room.  Its the room set aside for learning…its the room set aside for growing…its the room set aside for experiencing new things…together…as a family….and I love it.  And what I realized is that kids can do school anywhere…really, they can!  But this mommy, with her multi-task, task-oriented brain has a very hard time focusing solely on school when I’m in the middle of my kitchen.  Instead, I try to teach, clean, do laundry, etc. and my kids don’t get the full attention they deserve.  My all-knowing God knew this and knew this was how He made me and knowing my desire to teach my children in the home, He’s taken all those components and provided us a beautiful, peaceful, light-filled room in which to learn.  Thank you Father…this room is more than I hoped for and I pray all of our learning will ultimately result in my four little people knowing and loving Jesus with all of their hearts.

Our school room! The only major purchase was the Ikea bookcase pictured...such a great solution for all the books, papers, puzzles, markers, etc. that we've accumulated along the way!
The couches where we learn to read! And where the littlest ones curl up while waiting for Mikias to finish!
One more view...the Pier 1 Entertainment center that we've owned since we got married and ran out of room for has now reappeared and makes a great piece for hold all of our board games! This room has become a great room for family games after dinner...one more reason to love it!
Mikias re-creating the Trojan horse and the burning of the city of Troy...this was hilarious! Bullseye was the largest horse we could find 🙂
Molly Kate working on math while Mikias sets up the battle!
Madden just being cute Madden!
Miles is the true engineer in our family...he was quietly designing something amazing in the corner!
My favorite part of the day...Mikias wanted to show King Menelaus getting Helen back and the only woman we could find downstairs was Jesse from Toy Story...this is the result 🙂
This picture is for all my Louisville friends...please come see us and stay in this beautiful room! You'll enjoy a nice private patio, full bath and kitchen and of course, large media room! Seriously...we want you to come see us and the kids miss you, so plan a vacation to Atlanta and just let us know when you'll be here!!

From Dinosaurs to Wedding Bells

Some days I struggle like crazy to love the life God has called me to…the responsibilities and daily demands of taking care of five other people on my body, heart and soul are continually draining and I have to pray and fight to remain joyful when I am just plain tired!  But then there are days like today…I have been so sick this week, Madden is even more sick than I am and none of us wanted to do school today.  I prayed that God would excite our hearts to learn and that we would be focused.  We must have had a million interruptions and my head was all over the place, but still we gained new insights (like learning there were probably dinosaurs on the ark) and reached new goals (Molly Kate read a whole story and Mikias mastered some handwriting problem areas).  And to top off the day, we had a wedding!  This is what I love about schooling at home…we were almost finished with our study of dinosaurs and it was time to prepare lunch.  Molly Kate had adorned herself in full wedding attire and Mikias suggested Miles wear an old tuxedo given to us by the Wheelers.  She was “ready to get married so she could have a baby!”  I knew the wedding needed to take place before lunch and while Madden was still napping, so I had Mikias take a break from his history activity to take on his role as father of the bride.  With Canon in D playing softly in the background, our beautiful bride met her groom (a.k.a. brother Miles), was given away by her father (a.k.a. brother Mikias) and married by the minister (a.k.a. Mommy).  The best part was the kiss…Miles could barely lift the veil and immediately after planting a big smack-a-roo on Molly Kate, he announced that his nose was running!  I video-taped the entire ceremony…it was just too cute.  And as we watched it over lunch, I thanked God for letting me be a part of this life.  My children really are such precious treasures.

The handsome groom awaiting his bride!
Preparing for the Bridal March!

Back to School

Monday began our first official day of school…I can’t believe summer is over and yet I really like the structure and routine that home schooling brings to our days.  In the last two days, I think I’ve gotten more accomplished than in the prior two weeks!  The last time I posted about schooling at home, several of you had questions about curricula and such.  I thought I’d give a brief glimpse into our daily school routine and the curricula we’re using this year. As I was starting out in thinking about home schooling, I always wondered what a typical day for most moms looked like…well, here’s ours!

I wake up by 6 am in order to have time with the Lord (this is oh so important prior to me pouring myself out to my kids all day!), exercise, shower and get dressed before breakfast. The three oldest children wake up by 7:50, get dressed, attempt making their beds and read (or look at) their bibles until I come to get them for breakfast.  Somewhere between 8:15-8:30 we sit down to breakfast where we work on our Scripture memory (the children are memorizing the 10 Commandments this fall; every Friday is a review day of all our verses…they memorized 11 verses last year!) and read from The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos.  I always ask each child a few questions after we finish the daily reading to make sure they are listening and comprehending!  After breakfast, we brush teeth, clean up and I get Madden changed.  By 9:00, everyone is gathered at the kitchen table to begin our school day.  We always open with prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and singing a hymn from the previous Sunday’s worship service.  The children then take turns changing the daily calendar and telling the class the day of the week and date as well as the weather outside.  We then run through a few counting exercises and practicing our left and right.

Except for Tuesdays and Thursdays (when Miles will work on his Finding the Answers or Rod and Staff workbooks), Miles and Madden are then moved into the big kids’ room to play and watch Baby Einstein or Barney.  Mikias begins with his Zaner-Bloser handwriting workbook and then does one page of copy work.  Molly Kate and I move into the den for her to work on her reading using The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading.  Once we finish, we return to the kitchen where I teach Mikias his spelling lesson from Spelling Workout: Level A, Student Edition and give him the instructions from his workbook pages.  Then I flip back to Molly Kate and get her started on her handwriting in Letters and Numbers for Me or Handwriting Without Tears workbook.  About this time, Madden is ready to go down for his morning nap (he adds an interesting and sometimes humorous element to school this year…half the time I’m teaching, he’s either up on my hip or walking around chattering to everybody!).  Molly Kate finishes up handwriting and goes off to play with Miles for a while until we start math.  With the three younger kids occupied, I can focus on reading with Mikias.  Mikias’ reading has come along very s-l-o-w-l-y and as of yesterday, I decided it was time for us to switch books.  The Ordinary Guide just isn’t working for him and so today we started with Phonics Pathways: Clear Steps to Easy Reading and Perfect Spelling (Jossey-Bass Teacher) and he loved it!  He understood the blending sounds easily and read the words without hesitation or trouble, which greatly boosted his confidence.  I hate that I’m going to have to use two different books, but as my friend Stephanie reminded me, this is the beauty of home schooling, that I have the freedom to pick and use what works best for each child.  When Mikias finishes reading, he and Molly Kate enjoy a quick snack break and then move on to their respective Saxon math books (Mikias is actually already in second grade math and Molly Kate is using the kindergarten course).  I bounce between the two with math, though Molly Kate’s lessons are very short and once she finishes, she and Miles will head off again into their imaginative worlds of play!  Mikias’ lessons and work take a bit longer, but he can usually keep working while I start preparing lunch.  Madden re-joins us between 11 and 11:30 and is always ready to eat, so I have to be quick with lunch!  By noon, we are eating lunch and I teach the history lesson from The Mystery of History (which I’m loving!!). History is really only for Mikias, but I knew Molly Kate would love some of the activities, so I just let all the kids hear the lesson and then after lunch the oldest two tackle the activities. Wednesday will the be the odd day where I won’t teach history, but instead we’ll do science and art.  For science, I’m simply following the ideas in The Well-Trained Mind where we’ll spend part of our time on animals, part of our time on plants and part of our time on the human body.  For this, we’re using The Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals (Kingfisher First Reference)Green Thumbs: A Kid’s Activity Guide to Indoor and Outdoor Gardening (A Kid’s Guide series) and The Kingfisher First Human Body Encyclopedia (Kingfisher First Reference. For art, I’m going through The Little Hands Art Book (Little Hands!) which has fun ideas that are simple enough for even Miles to participate.  By January, Mikias and I will also try to tackle some basic drawing work.  Once Mikias is reading well, he’ll also begin grammar, but he needs to improve his reading first, so we’re going to really focus on that this first semester.  By 1:00 or so, we’re finished for the day!  When Madden later goes down for his afternoon nap, I take about thirty or forty-five minutes to read to the kids from their library books or books of their choosing.  This is probably their favorite time of the entire day and I love the quiet time we spend cuddled on the couch reading.  In the next few weeks, Kevin will also begin teaching piano to Mikias and Molly Kate and they are super-excited to learn to play their first instrument!

I know I’m only two days in, but I am so genuinely encouraged in the attitude God has given me about school this year.  When I think of all our options, I’m so grateful that I have the freedom and ability to keep my children under my wings while they are so young, to be their primary source of information and education and to help them understand the world around them through the lenses of Scripture.  At the end of July, Kevin took all four kids for the majority of a Saturday so that I could sit and plan this year out.  That time was certainly invaluable and I can see that our days are running so much more smoothly because I am prepared and know exactly what work needs to be accomplished each day.  One specific prayer I’ve had this summer is that God would give me an excitement for learning that would foster a zeal in my children.  I see the Lord answering this prayer as I’ve been able to shrug off the thinking of “we’ve just got to get through this” and I’ve truly been genuinely excited to sit with the children and teach them.  Thanks and praise be to God, who supplies us with everything we need to carry out His will in the way which gives Him the most glory!

Below are our First Day of School pictures!  And always feel free to shoot me any questions you may have!

Mikias
Molly Kate
Miles

The Finish Line

Tuesday wrapped up my first official year as a home school mom.  I’m surprised by the sense of accomplishment…I really had no idea what this first year would entail, and I certainly wasn’t in the easiest set of circumstances to begin such an undertaking.  Nevertheless, I feel like our schooling went better than I anticipated and with my first year under my belt, I am actually excited about next year.  It definitely takes a while to work our the kinks, to figure out the ways your child(ren) learn best, to multi-task between helping multiple children learn different things while all sitting at the same table, and to get in a rhythm of a daily school time.  Then, you’ve got to figure out how to squeeze everything else you’re responsible for into the remaining hours of the day!!  But I’m amazed how it all began to fall into place during the year…I’m so glad I didn’t give up after those first few months!

I wanted our last official day of school to be special and we ended up having a blast.  We finished Mikias’ last math lesson and then pulled out our goals that we set at the beginning of the year.  I laughed at what under-achievers we were when we set our goals…both kids (Mikias and Molly Kate) far surpassed their goals.  For example, Molly Kate set the goal to recognize all the letters of the alphabet by the end of the year.  She is three (almost four) and she actually began reading a few weeks ago!  So, she can recognize the letters, knows all of their sounds and can now put the sounds together!  Mikias had the goal of counting to 100, but he can now count to 1000 and finished first grade math this year though we were only doing kindergarten work.  They were super excited to see how far they had come!  After reviewing our goals, we headed to the backyard for a bit of a field day (think water balloon toss, kick ball and an obstacle course).  They had so much fun and there was plenty of laughter!  Our day ended with a pizza/ice cream party where I let the oldest two make our pizzas.  Maybe not our most tasty dinner this week, but they loved it!  Now we’re fully enjoying our summer break…Molly Kate has listed out multiple activities for me now that I’m not so consumed with teaching (play baby dolls with her, have a tea party, paint, etc.).  And I’m really looking forward to a few weeks of just playing with my children and having the freedom to spend our days however we so desire!

Ready for Field Day
Easy with those water balloons!
Making up their own game/obstacle course when we were finished!
Madden wanting to help with the pizzas!
My two little chefs!