Living Stones Academy

Educating by atmosphere, discipline, and life

Why I keep records (hint: it’s fairly obvious)

Every state in the US has different homeschool laws. It’s legal everywhere, but some states make it more or less complicated, with more or less oversight. And then it can also depend on district–while the laws are the laws of the state, how the district enforces those laws, if at all, can vary. Some are antagonistic to homeschooling and you’ll read those stories of persecuted families quite a bit. Some simply follow up when a nosy antagonistic neighbor calls because they see 8 year olds in the backyard instead of at school. Some say, “Oh, you have kids? That’s nice.” So it just depends. In Alaska, it really appears that way on paper. You have kids? How nice for you. School? Oh, do what you want, we don’t care.

California was rather intimidating at first. I have some experience with the darling state (note the dripping sarcasm). I was born in Monterey, and when I was in 4th grade my mom decided to homeschool me. But it was not legal at the time, so I was told to tell people I went to private school. Honestly I don’t think our neighbors cared, and even at 9 I didn’t like saying that. But the conversation never happened so it was a moot point. Still, it has never been a state known for it’s friendliness to homeschooling. Ironically, any other alternative lifestyle you want to engage in, you go right ahead. Be militant about it. But homeschool your kids? Who gave you the right to take the government out of your children’s lives? Humph.

Ok, yes I’m being mean. Did I mention we left CA when I was 10? Not exactly near and dear to my heart. 😛 Anyway . . .

Times have changed (even if mindsets have not). It is now legal, and you have different options. One I’d never heard of before, called charter schools. I’ll express myself loudly on that later. Not this time. Another option is to file what is called a Private School Affidavit. You are calling yourself a private school. You even get to make up a name for yourself (how cool is that?). You have to file every October from the time your child is 6 years old, because Kindergarten is not mandatory in CA. Yet. They keep threatening to spoil that one for us. But so far, you don’t have to do anything until the child is 6. When you sign the affidavit (pay attention, this is the “fairly obvious” part), you sign a part that says you agree to keep certain records on file in your “school”. It’s not complex, and a wonderful blogger out of Sacramento has taken the stress away with this great post I won’t rehash: Legally Required Records  That post also includes the links for filing, documents you can download, etc. So it’s actually easy and straight forward, and the only thing you have to worry about is a lousy school district and nosy neighbors. 🙂 The law is on your side, if you comply.

Now, I’m not a militant homeschool parent. I believe in what I’m doing, but I also believe that if the public school system would change, it could work too. I don’t keep my kids home from fear of influences, bullying, shooting, or anything like that. Homeschooling from fear is not a good choice. Doing anything from fear is never good or healthy or wise. I’m grateful we can  avoid those things, but that’s not why I chose to. I also don’t think, as a Christian, being militant and in your face simply for the sake of being “in your face” is acceptable. Not that I won’t express what I’m thinking quite loudly, as I did here. 😛 And frankly I should probably cut that back. But I’m talking about fighting authorities or snubbing authorities just because I think I can hide behind God. This does not send good messages to the world or to my children. Years ago, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion came out, Stephen King–as in, the horror writer–wrote a piece on it for Entertainment Weekly magazine. It was very interesting. His opinion of the film aside (and he liked it), what made an impression on him was the behavior of the Christians who went to see it. In particular, an unpleasant woman who sat near him, and who was angrily telling a friend how she had to put the ticket seller in his place because he wasn’t going to let her bring in her 6 yo and younger children in with her (remember, it was rated R).

I agree with Stephen, I don’t think her young children were impacted by anything but horror in the film. And I also don’t agree with how she behaved.

The Bible is very clear that we are to respect the laws of the land as long as they don’t violate the word of God. Do some of the laws of the land violate God’s word? Yes. But if the particular law in question does not, or it does not force you to, then you are required by God to obey it. The reason is bringing either glory or shame to God. That woman did not do God glory.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.   

I Peter 2:13-15

And remember who Peter was writing to: scattered members of Christ’s church who were under rulers of different types. And certainly none of them godly! But that didn’t matter, because godly or not, God set them up, and our job is to obey them. God said it way back to the Israelites who had just escaped slavery under Pharaoh! “You shall not curse God, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28) (Think about that the next time juvenile memes about the President get circulated) Peter wasn’t the only one, though:

Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; . . . For rulers are not a cause for fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same; 

Romans 13:1-3

Paul clearly knew what kind of ruler was over the people of the Roman church. Yet he said it again. Now, does the government sometimes persecute wrongly? Obviously! Of course! But that’s never a license for us.

Wherefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

Romans 13:5

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

I Peter 2: 20

. . . but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

I Peter 3:15-16

It’s not about getting caught; it’s about what that says about my integrity–as a person and as a professing Christian–should I be caught not doing what I said I’d do. Being belligerent about the laws doesn’t help our cause, it only hurts it. If they try to add more regulations, we should be able to all produce our notebooks with our records and say, “Look, we’re keeping what you ask, why impose any more?”

I have not kept some records out of neglect–either I forgot or missed a step. That doesn’t excuse me, though, and I’ve had to repent and go add those documents double quick. The thing in California is that not only is it easy, but you don’t even have to produce it unless the worst happens! And wouldn’t you rather be prepared for that? But as it says, not just for wrath, but for conscience. If your conscience is not guided by integrity and glorifying God’s name, our conscience needs to be slapped awake.

That’s sort of why I needed to blog about this. I don’t think this is a “to each his own situation”. Using charters, yeah, that’s a to each his own, though I have my opinions, to which I am entitled. 🙂 But this is black and white. If the law says it, do it. It might violate your personal preference or sensibility, but asking you to keep attendance isn’t violating God’s law as put forth in scripture. Not even a little bit.

I must say, as I’ve said before . . .I’M NOT PERFECT IN THIS!! I speed when I drive. Ok, I’m wracking my brains, that’s honestly all I can think of at the moment. :} I know I’ve violated laws in other ways. I know for a fact I’ve violated God’s laws in a million ways today. In fact when it comes to telling the truth, I cannot say I’m perfect. I won’t lie to the insurance company about how some damage was done. I won’t lie to the housing office about how a door broke. And we didn’t lie to the appliance company about how our refrigerator shorted out (long story that I won’t tell, sorry). But I’ve fudged it here and there, I admit it. Not proud of it–I wish I was braver. But darn it, where I CAN obey the law, I will.

Rich Mullins once made an interesting comment, and like many of his it resonated with me. (Anyone who knows me can roll their eyes and grin now . . you knew he’d work his way in, didn’t you?)  He said he didn’t consider himself a very good singer. Someone who heard him say that asked him, “Then why do you sing?” His response:

” I go, ‘Because it is the most reiterated command in the whole Bible.’ And I figure there must be a reason why it says over and over and over, sing sing sing sing sing. I also kind of go, this is a lot easier than loving my enemies so maybe I should start with the easy stuff and maybe by the time I am really old I will have been able to tie the more complicated knot.”

from his interview on 20 the Countdown Magazine transcript

I’ve always found that to be true. There are things I can obey well, and things I can’t. I’m sure it’s true for everyone. But the Bible calls us fools if we don’t heed instruction and help to get those things we struggle with right. It also calls us fools for not recognizing those things, let alone fixing them.

So that’s the long answer to why I keep records: because I said I would. Let’s be a people that keep our promises.

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Time to start Espanol!

I am so excited to start a new program with the kids:

Speaking Spanish with Miss Mason and Francois is based on the works of Francois Gouin. He was a 19th century Latin teacher in France who was dissatisfied with the methods of teaching languages that he was using. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by telling his story in my own words–haha, considering I teach narration, the irony is not lost on me, I assure you. So you can read about the series method and how/why he developed it here:

I read about his works in Charlotte Mason’s Home Education. She used this method in her schools to teach 3-5 languages to even her youngest students. Of course she chose relevant languages of her day and culture–French, German, Italian, Latin, etc. As much as I prefer French over Spanish (sorry, everyone, but I always have), I recognize the need for Spanish in our culture, especially as we currently live in San Diego and it’s everywhere!! I still consider French relevant, but it will come later. Or maybe, like Miss Mason, I’ll add it in next year.

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Mother growing

I was reading Brandy  Vencel’s post over at her blog on “mother culture”, which led me to the Parent’s Review article on which she based it. (Briefly, the Parent’s Review were magazines that were edited by educator Charlotte Mason and full of articles by teachers and parents on education, children, parenting, etc). Something particular struck me that I suppose should have been obvious, but I think in all the posts I’ve read on mother culture, the phrase itself has been less defined than the purpose of it. Yet the phrase should be defined better because the word “culture” has new meaning now. Maybe this has been covered, maybe this has been explained, and I somehow missed it or didn’t read the particular blog. And also, maybe, I’ve got it wrong. But I think not.

When we speak of “culture”, we speak of education or experience or the experiences we have. Culture is arts, entertainment, surrounding atmosphere. But I think the way the term “mother culture” is used in this article, it means something different:

There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing!

I think the term “culture” is being used, not as a noun for “mother” to be the adjective for, but as a verb that is happening to mother as in biology, “maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth”. Possibly it could be a noun but again in the biological definition as in: “the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients.’the cells proliferate readily in culture’; a preparation of cells obtained from a culture, ‘the bacterium was isolated in two blood cultures’ ; the cultivation of plants, ‘this variety of lettuce is popular for its ease of culture”. But I definitely think, regardless of part of speech, it is being used in the biological sense. Although “growing” has been emphasized in other posts on this subject, I still was taking “culture” to be a noun meaning surrounding influences or atmosphere of the mother. I now think it is not that.

Mothers spend a lot of time educating themselves when they have children, but it is all to do with the children. How to raise them, discipline them, feed them, cloth them, even how to let them play. And even that has been robbed of strict “play” and now everything we allow our children to do or structure for them has to be of some educational or developmental value. It is apparently not good parenting to let our children enjoy play for it’s own sake, but the good mother makes everything a learning experience. I love this quote from Edith Nesbit’s Five Children and It about Uncle Richard being the “very best kind of uncle”:

He took them into a shop and let them all choose exactly what they wanted . . .and no nonsense about things being instructive. It is very wise to let children choose exactly what they like, because they are very foolish and inexperienced, and sometimes they will choose a really instructive thing without meaning to do so.

But I digress. I was talking about mothers.

While it is good to seek out advice about how best to raise our children, much of it would come naturally, and we’d learn to do more by instinct than instruction, if we would only cultivate ourselves:

She must see which is the most important–the time spent in luxuriously gloating over the charms of her fascinating baby, or what she may do with that time to keep herself “growing” for the sake of that baby “some day,” when it will want her even more than it does now.

It reminds me of the verse in the Bible that says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I have always taken that to mean, instead of reading book after book on how to live, simply seek first His kingdom and HIS righteousness in HIS book, and you’ll naturally do those things that please Him. It is the same with being a mother. If we would be more concerned with growing ourselves in areas other than simply parenting, cultivating our personal selves, and balance that with growing our children, we would find much of parenting to come naturally and more easily. We’d find the strength to get  to the end of the day, we’d find the balance between being a mommy and “me time” (which is thrown way out of whack one way or the other), and we’d find refreshment for our souls each night.

I don’t see the point in blogging about how to do that, Brandy does an amazing job, and of course Karen Andreola not only has a blog but a CD seminar on the topic. But I do see the point in clarifying the phrase. “Culture” doesn’t mean you have to learn to love classical music or art if you don’t already love them. It means grow yourself. Keep growing, and don’t ever stop growing, or one day you will be irrelevant to your children because they have grown past you.

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The only curriculum

“Consider, too, what an unequalled mental training the child-naturalist is getting for any study or calling under the sun — the powers of attention, of discrimination, of patient pursuit, growing with his growth, what will they not fit him for?” (Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1, p. 61)

I was recently in a discussion (loosely called, in my opinion) about what I “should” be doing in my homeschool. This is probably the least irritant to most homeschooling mothers since many are drawn into “discussions” about how homeschool is bad for their children. I have been fortunate enough not to meet with direct comments on our decision. But instead I am being told . . .well “given suggestions”, about what I should be doing. Initially it was about co-ops, but as there aren’t any in the area that’s not something I can do. Then it was suggested I do 4-H. While I have thought about that, there aren’t any groups meeting near us (to me, in San Diego, near means less than 1/2 hour freeway time, one way). That steered it toward “Start your own group”. I tried explaining that organizing something of that nature–something, really, above and beyond (extracurricular) our planned schooling–is not something I want to do. I did not have an opportunity to explain that it drains me, distracts me, makes it hard for me to maintain a schedule, interrupts our days, etc. Yes, we do things like Play Well classes, swim lessons, we’re looking at dance lessons. But not only are those temporary enrichment and life skill classes . . .someone ELSE is in charge! If I’m going to be in charge of something, it needs to be directly related to our school work.

That’s when the funny happened. I said that I had been considering starting a weekly nature study group. I had literally only got out that exact sentence–“I’ve thought about starting a weekly nature study group”–when the question seemed to shoot out at me, “Do you have enough curriculum for 3 years worth of nature study?” I was so taken aback by it I could only say, “Yes, it’s nature study.”

I suppose it comes from not understanding the Charlotte Mason approach to nature study. How can anyone hope, in a lifetime, to learn all there is to know about the natural world around them? What curriculum is necessary but the tree outside your front door? We could spend an entire term observing the trees in the park down our street. The ants, the snails, the bees, the leaves, the roots, the soil, the bark of the tree itself . . . seasons, weather. We noticed that dry hot clear days do not bring out the snails, but cool or muggy days bring them out in abundance. We even saw snails mating one time, though I didn’t explain that’s what was happening. 🙂 And I had never seen a family of snails before in my life, but one day we saw a whole group, including babies, gathered around an iron pipe covering, of all things. What started as a 15 minute walk to our mini-mart became an hour (or longer) observation of snails–which trees them seemed to prefer, what colors, which way the spirals went, where they hid and why, how they blended into their surroundings at times, the slimy trails they left. All of my children–from the 3 yo to the 8 yo (and that’s 4 kids in that range, by the way)–couldn’t stop yelling, “MOMMY, ANOTHER SNAIL!!” When we returned home they dragged out their coloring pads and nature journals and practiced making spirals. We had found an abandoned snail shell once, and my oldest son used that as a model to draw his own. We read in Handbook of Nature Study about the snail and what he eats.

What more curriculum do we need? I know that so many people are so ingrained in how our education system works that they feel the need for workbooks and textbooks for everything. That’s natural (well, it’s become natural at any rate). But one thing I’ve learned from Charlotte–and I admit, even I have to keep relearning it so I don’t fall back onto old crutches–is that education is more than what some dry old scientist or historian put into a thick tome of meaningless words. Education truly is a life.

ImageThis is what my children did at every stop along the way on our recent road trip. They aimed for the trees, and either tried to climb them or find what secrets they held. My 3 year old, who only a month before liked squishing any bug he found just to make his older brother mad, now looks to his big brother to learn how to catch and hold and appreciate all the bugs he sees.


This is the only textbook we need. The world around us. Oh of course we need reference books to understand it and answer our questions. But curriculum? Look out your window, there it is. We go out, we find something that sparks our interest. We look in our Handbook, we look in our field guides, we look online for pictures and videos. We draw in our nature journals, collect for our nature box, we do copy work. We read nature stories and biographies of naturalists. Then we go outside and find some more. I admit we have not made a scheduled weekly nature study priority in our school, but the desire has been there. Even when it wasn’t scheduled, though, we were doing it on every walk, every outing, every visit to the zoo. Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

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Laying Down the Rails: obeying and being still

I suppose since I’m an infrequent blogger I’m going to have to go back and explain this some time. For the moment I’ll just say to check out the books in the Laying Down the Rails series from Simply Charlotte Mason. To sum up, it expounds on Charlotte Mason’s own teachings about habits, and about as parents being deliberate in our training, rather than either extreme of permissive or reactive.

Ok, on to latest application of this.

Yesterday was one of those days that started off simple. 8 am appointment for the baby, her one year well-baby check-up. My toddler had had pinworms (confirmed), and I was concerned that my baby did too. The doctor said most likely, then said, “So they gave the whole family the medicine of course?” Well of course not. I had thought it strange but when my husband asked the doctor that saw our son–actually, nurse practitioner–she said no, only if they all show symptoms. Well, suffice it to say that was wrong. So while I waited to get my baby immunized, the nurse came back and told me that the clinic didn’t have any of the necessary meds and we’d have to go to Balboa Naval Hospital. As locations in San Diego go, it’s not far–15 minutes by freeway and side streets–but it’s still not an easy trip with 5 kids, nor was it in the plan. (And anyone that knows the hospital layout will understand my reluctance to do that trip, even alone, really not a fan of the place). In addition, I’d already made arrangements to pick up items for sale by local moms after my first appointment. Long story short, we (me and 5 children ages 1-8) left the house at 7:30 and didn’t return home until after 2pm. Then I left again for another appointment, once my husband returned home, at 3pm. I was home by 3:45.

What does this have to do with child training? How do YOU think 5 children behave in a doctor’s office or hospital pharmacy? 😛

At the clinic it wasn’t too bad, since I had 3 Kindles to pass around. But even then I was chasing someone or stopping someone or telling them to sit down, get away from the door, don’t touch that, etc. By the time we finished lunch and went to the pharmacy, one Kindle was nearly dead so I decided not to bring any of them into the pharmacy. Why, I don’t know. At any rate, in the hour we were at the pharmacy, I would tell them to sit down nicely in the chair and not get up. Uh huh, they got up, or slouched, or kicked, or attacked each other. Steven (my toddler) actually bit the baby’s finger in play at one point. Or they bumped into people with walkers and wheelchairs. Or I told them to sit on the floor against the wall legs folded so they didn’t trip people in the hallway (the pharmacy is under renovation–of course it is–and the pick up window is a small room down a long hall, too small for them all to stand in their with me). They would sit there, until I turned my back. Within less than 5 seconds (and I timed it) they would be kicking, picking each other’s noses (I’m not making this up), lying down legs sticking out . . . .it just went on. I was so frustrated and done when we left that I made the rash pronouncement that everyone would get in pajamas once we got home and spend the rest of the day confined to their beds, only allowed out for dinnertime.

Thankfully, I took the time driving home to cool down and pray. I realized that punishment wouldn’t train, but only cause ME more anxiety (imagine trying to keep 4 kids in beds at 2 in the afternoon all the way to bedtime . . . not my smartest idea), and it would never teach them what they should do. Because that’s what we’re learning through all of our reading and growing and praying. It’s not enough to teach them what NOT to do. We have to teach them what TO do. That’s the idea behind Doorpost’s Put On . . . chart, and it applies to all areas of habit training as well.

Instead I apologized to them for my rashness. I then explained there would be training when we got home and that it would last a long time. (They are familiar with what training is now) I told them the training would earn them tickets (another blog for another time . . . ), and that we would repeat the training all week.

The training goes like this:

Child A sits on the living room floor (when my husband was home with them during my 2nd appointment, he had them sit on the couch), with no one else in the room but a parent. Child A must sit as told, quietly, for a given amount of time, while Parent watches (for the toddler it was only 2-3 minutes, for the older kids 4-5). Once that time is completed, Child is given a few seconds of wiggle time, then told to sit again for same amount of time, but this time is expected to obey while Parent is out of the room or otherwise not watching. Child A is dismissed, and Child B comes in to do the same exercise.

Once all four (obviously baby was exempt from this) have done their individual time, they do it in pairs, because it’s a lot harder to sit still with someone near you who wants to play. So Child A and Child B are put through the same exercise together, then Child C and Child D.

Once that is completed, all four children have to sit together for the same exercise.

Will this be successful? I have no idea. But it seemed to make more of an impression than simply sending them to bed. We’ll repeat this exercise for the next 4 days, then test them out somewhere. Wish us luck!

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A new approach

For what seems like the 100th time, I revisited our schedule/plan. But this time, I think I’ve got it.

Now I have no idea how to do fancy things like screen shots and frankly it’s past my bedtime so I’m not interested in trying. I will do my best to explain it.

I’ve been using both Ambleside Online and Simply Charlotte Mason as guides in setting up my year and curriculum. Not following either exactly, just using them as models. One day, however, I found that I wanted to do SOME school with the kids–what was supposed to be a week break turned into 3 weeks–so while nursing the baby I sat the oldest two down, pulled up AO’s Year 1 reading schedule, and read 2/3 of Week 1. What I mean is, I looked at what they’d scheduled for Week 1 of Year 1. (For those unfamiliar, you can at least see what I mean at this link) I decided not to to “Parables of Nature” and “Just So Stories”, only because we’d read them before. But in less than 30 minutes I read the others suggested, we narrated and discussed, then I sent them off to use paper and pens to illustrate one of the stories (Caleb, my oldest, chose to show all of them plus demonstrate constellations . . .more on that some other time lol). That inspired me.

To make this shorter than my usual novellas:

I devised a schedule that puts each Week of AO into one day. So, what they have laid out as 35 weeks, I put into 7. It sounds like a lot and overwhelming but it’s not really. In fact, this week we were able to fit in math, reading practice, penmanship, and even science in addition to the reading. The boys are retaining well. But I’m not trying to cram a full year into 7 tight weeks. Instead, what I’m doing is alternating weeks.

So here’s how it looks.  Week 1 on AO was Monday. Week 2, Tuesday. Week 3, Wednesday . . .you get the idea. So we’ll follow that this week.

Next week, no following anything. We do daily reading practice, numbers/math, penmanship, but we explore further what we read this week. We FINALLY put together a timeline or Book of Centuries and start filling it in. We explore science. We do field trips–we’re already set to visit the Safari park on Monday because we read about cheetah’s today and they have them there. We’ll visit the science center because we read about Alexander Graham Bell (not on AO, did I mention I’m not following their booklist exactly either?) and we’ll explore the science of sound. We’re studying Rembrandt’s pictures and the local museum has some of his works.

Since it is November, we’ll probably not follow anything the next week either, as it’s Thanksgiving. But I DO have a Thanksgiving packet from Living Books Curriculum that we’ll do at least one day that week. Plus the added education of making gifts, cooking, preparing menus, cleaning, etc.

The week after, we’ll pick up MY Week 2 (which is really AO weeks 6-10). The week after that, no plan, just explore. The week after, my Week 3.

Hope that makes sense. 🙂 Now that will not give us a 36 week year. So I simply followed the same outline and principle that I’d already mapped out and made 17 weeks of reading plan. With alternating, special holiday weeks, and the interruptions of life, that’ll give us 36 weeks (plus some) of good schooling.

I’m already less stressed. We’ve stayed on top of the readings this week. When I discovered the possibility of a field trip or two or three, I didn’t have to worry about it interrupting our school day. All I had to do was pencil it in on the calendar for next week, our off week. We’ll be able to accomplish so much, and we already have.

I’m sure CM purists are gasping for air right now, but I’m not really worried about being a purist in this. I love her method, I love the style, I just have to be realistic and tweak it to fit where we are right now. I would LOVE to follow it stringently some day. Now, however, is not the time.

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We watch Phantom of the Opera a lot. Either the movie or the stage production. The opening scene, when the auctioneer cries for illumination, is what came to mind.

I may say that God spoke to me. But some might be put off by that. All I can say, then, is that I thought one thing, it led to another thought, then a question occurred to me, and I attribute it to the LORD.

Stress has been a part of my life recently. With Steve’s illness, he’s unable to lend a hand like he used to. It used to be that I could give myself a break on any given day, because I knew he’d be able to handle dishes, the dinner, clean up, baths, etc. But not anymore. His daily struggle with fibromyalgia fluctuates so much. Fellow sufferers will understand. Now, on any given day, he will come home and instead of being able to lend a hand, I now have to add taking care of his physical needs to my day. I’m not complaining, just stating how it is. So with the house being out of control, a full week last week of craziness, not being able to get on top of things due to discipline issues and a clingy infant, I’m getting discouraged daily.

Today was no exception, and in fact was turning into my weekly burnout day. I managed to get out for a short time with just the baby and Makenzie, and even that was a struggle (Makenzie is no easy little girl on outings). I came home and Steve had pushed himself past his limit to do some straightening and to make dinner. Still, I felt the weight of what we still need to do to make this house functional.

Then after a negative bedtime, I had my first thought.

If only I could have everyone–even the baby–out of the house for one day, I could get it all in order. If only they were quiet for a full day, I could think well enough to plan and organize.

Then the next thought: but who am I cleaning and organizing for? My family. That means my husband and children. So I can teach them to keep house, do school, teach them responsibility.

Then the next thought: but the reason I can’t get it in order is because of the kids.

Then the illuminating thought: so if I could have a fully clean and organized home, the perfect household management binder, the perfect routine, the perfect budget . . .and no children so I could manage that, would I be happy?

The answer: no. My life would be empty.

The illumination continued . . .

So why am I emotionally and mentally making an organized home such a priority?

Which brings up the dichotomy of being a parent. Having a well managed home should be a priority for a parent, particularly a Christian parent wanting to pass on the values of a diligent life to her children. However, it should not be a priority if it means resenting her children because she can’t do it. So on the one hand I can’t let it go, yet at the same time I need to let it go.

But the bottom line is that I found that I was emulating the very attitude I detested as a child, that the ends of a clean and organized life were more valuable than my children, who were in essence a form  of chaos. And that is why I found and have found my children acting out and rebelling and not listening to a word I said. They listen to daddy pretty well. But not mommy. We couldn’t figure it out–we both maintain the same disciplinary standards, neither of us is indulgent or lax, we show the same values. But this is it. They know that I am placing a higher value on my home than on them.

Yet, they ARE my home. They are my heart. I gain no greater joy than seeing them learn, hearing their stories, witnessing their love for each other and us, observing their activity.

No grand conclusion to this. I could probably think of one if I wasn’t so tired (and the mojitos don’t help, I’ll admit). But that’s where it stands. This illumination that I pray illuminates every moment of my day tomorrow . . .and the next day . . .and the day after that . . .

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How do I do it?

This question cracks me up. I get it all the time. I have 5 kids ranging in age from 4 months to 7 1/2 years old (3 boys, 2 girls). I homeschool, I’ve quit using convenience foods (canned and boxed), I bake our bread and experiment with canning (lightly, I have all the equipment but haven’t done it in a while), my husband recently was diagnosed with fibromyalgia . . .and usually people only see the 5 kids in tow when they say, “Wow, I don’t know how you do it”, then often add, “I can barely keep up with my 2.” It makes me wonder, how I do what exactly? How did I conceive and birth them? Because that’s really all I’ve done. They are only seeing me for one minute in public. I know much better, that I am barely doing “it” daily. I will say that my husband and I have had an alteration in our hearts and minds over the past couple of weeks and doing much better. So I guess now I can only say, “With God’s help.” Because at least now I feel like we’re “doing it”, whatever “it” may be, and actually doing it well only with God’s help.

So what does “it” look like? Right now, school. And instead of taking over my day, as it used to, I’ve allowed that to be a fluid process like everything else in our lives. I have to stay teachable, stretchable, and moldable, or we’re never going to survive as a family.

So school is the “it” I’m describing here.

I have a plan. I have a definite schedule. But although it’s laid out in an ideal way, I have finally learned not to be bound by the ideal. It is instead now a checklist or guidance for me.

For instance, here’s the actual plan:

6am: on my own, shower, dress, read Bible, plan day

7am: start diapers (I use cloth, so each morning I wash a load), eat breakfast, prep kids breakfast

7:30: kids eat

7:45: Bible time with kids (usually using the “Put On” book from

8am: task time (training my 4 year old in chores, the older two do theirs, I nurse the baby, do some work, etc)

9am: school starts with Basket Time (idea from other homeschool blogs); this is for family subjects like Hymn/Art/Composer study, poetry and literature, character training, nature study, etc

10-10:30: I nurse the baby and work with (read “play with”) my toddler, the older ones do independent things (puzzles, coloring, self-teaching things like the Palette and penmanship work, etc)

10:30-11: Preschool time with the 4 year old, others play with toddler or do more independent pursuits

11-11:30: reading lesson with 7 year old, others play

11:30: lunch, I do tasks and/or eat (we all know eating is optional for mommies)

12-2: rest time (excuse me while I laugh . . .ok done now), tasks, computer time, nurse baby, etc

2-2:30: snacks, review school time

2:30: workboxes for everyone

From there, once done, we play it by ear. Nursing the baby, reading to a toddler, get dinner ready, have dinner, one bath/shower per night (each child has their own night).

This is the ideal plan.
We’ve done this a total of 0 times this week, the first week of school.

Yes, you read that right: 0. Now, normally (read: last month), that sort of “failure” would immediately discourage me and burden me, and we’d end up way behind. Instead, it’s been freeing to realize how much we’ve accomplished each day in spite of this. And we’re not behind at all.

For instance, on Monday, I got through all school work with all kids, though totally out of order (per my schedule), and I was relaxed enough to cook dinner.

Wednesday, not only had I managed to do all school with everyone, but we had a 2 hour outing midday, and I managed to fold all the laundry (putting it away is another matter, but I take what I can), AND we had a movie night watching “Jumanji” and part of “The Black Stallion” (finished that up tonight).

So what does “school” look like? For those that still think it’s extraordinary. 🙂

Caleb, my oldest. A self learner (thank you, God, for giving me at least one!), he loves to get out his globe and atlas and compare the two. I dare you to find another 7 year old who can point out Iran. 😀 And I take no credit except for this: one day a few weeks ago (mid summer), we took the song by They Might Be Giants, “The Alphabet of Nations”, and found all countries mentioned. We used the atlas first, and I showed him how to use the index and read the map key. So on top of already knowing his continents, he can point out now 26+ countries accurately. All because of a song on a kids cd that he’s been listening to for over a year, and an atlas and a globe and 15 minutes or so with mommy. His other subjects:

Reading: he knows enough now that I hand him a book–either his official readers/textbooks “On Cherry Street” and “McGuffey First Reader”, or the Bible or a random book in the house–and have him read a text. Any word he doesn’t know we write in a book or on a wipe board. When he’s done we go back and play with that word: find what word family it belongs to (if any), learn a new phonics rule, practice spelling it, etc. This is the most time intensive subject any day. On some days I’ll simply let him practice reading by reading me a story, something he loves to do.

Penmanship: I give him something to copy and he copies it. We go over it and talk about what looks “neat and tidy” and what doesn’t. That’s all of 5 minutes. Some days he simply does fine motor skill exercises with no actual writing (I just bought “Operation”; that was penmanship today, and he did fabulous).

History: I’m reading about the Middle Ages with him and Isaac. Just story books, some discussion, explanation, crafts, etc. This week it’s been fairly light, just reading and talking. Our spine book right now is “If You Were There in 1492”. I had planned out something different for him, but since we intend to go to a Medieval fair in October I thought I’d switch it up a bit. When we return to his plan he has various storybooks we’re going to read for a mixture of Canadian, Mexican, and world history. I’m considering have Isaac (my 6 year old) as part of that too.

Math: wherever and whenever it comes up. I’m serious. We have no textbook. Ok, we DO, but I’m not using it. We have an abacus that he’s learning to use. Doing science the other day we incorporated math when we read the fact that 3 babies are born every second. We figured out how many that is in a minute. He now knows his 3 times table. Another day we read, “How Many . . .is 1,000”. The following day we made popcorn and showed how 350 kernels, not popped, made barely 1/4 cup. Once popped, they filled up 3+ bowls! So my only goal is to each day incorporate math learning into something. Today he used a self teaching toy we have and that’s it. Checked it off the list.

Science/nature study: this is going to be trickier, and I do have a plan. But I’m also taking their lead. I’m not going to force a unit on astronomy when they have this sudden fascination with the human body. So I found a book at the library and am using that as a springboard to look at other books. We’re reading, building models, drawing, etc. That’s it.

So that’s my 2nd grader (if you want to call him that).  My first grader isn’t much different. For reading, he was really struggling. The ONLY reason I started teaching him last year is that he wanted to so badly; I didn’t want to start yet. Sure enough, he’s having a rough time. We barely got through half the lessons in his curriculum. So instead I took a step back. We have a set of sight words that we practice with. We have letter cards that we do phonics games with (I say a word and he has to listen for the sounds and pick the right letters based on the sounds). That’s it, we play. Math is the same as for his brother, as is science (although his all around fascination is with dragons and dinosaurs, so we go back and forth with him) and penmanship (he’s not copying letters yet, just practicing using writing utensils).

My preschooler and toddler: this is the easiest. We play games. Each day I have a different focus. It’s either letters/phonics, colors, shapes, motor skills, or numbers. Yesterday my preschooler and I played “Candyland”. Today the toddler and I played with a sock sorting set from Lakeshore learning, then with lacing buttons, our focus being to use only red socks and red buttons. There, done. Just give them educational activities and involve them in family lessons and they’re covered.

So really our days are about hitting the bullet points but in no particular order. They are also about priorities: I know it’s not detrimental if we didn’t hit on our science lesson for the day–for crying out loud, they’re just kids! We’re trying to keep it about Charlotte Mason’s ideal, that “Education is a life; that life is sustained on ideas”, and that is also a discipline. As long as we keep filling their plate with ideas, and that we are talking and communicating and loving our children, they will learn and grow. That’s how real it is right now. 🙂

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The minimalist homeschooler

Life has gotten in the way of school this year. Not that being in school would be any different. There are half days, teacher workshop days, assemblies, snow days, staying home sick, 3 day weekends . . .and being on a military base, there are military family days (not making that up, this is an air force base–we’re navy–and they call them PACAF days. . .don’t ask what that stands for, but it means no one goes to work or school). So even on our worst week I don’t think my kids are missing out on much.
It’s just that our lack of school has been for entirely different reasons. I became pregnant, and my first trimester was rough. I was nauseous, hungry, and fatigued all at once for more than 3 months. Midway through that fun time, my husband became ill. It’s a long drawn out story, but to sum up he was hurting all over and had trouble breathing, and we spent most days worrying and going to doctor appointments. Nothing ever came back with any results, and finally he was sent to an army hospital in Hawaii where they determined that he has nothing fatal, and what he does have they have no idea (thanks for that). We are now about to embark on a move to San Diego, where he’ll be attached to the military hospital there until he gets better . . .or they decide he’s not going to. We think it’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but that’s not official.
So, needless to say, add to that Thanksgiving and Christmas, and getting school done has been impossible. We’d get a good week in here or there, even a few good days, then it would fall apart again. I would evaluate the kids once in a while–ask what some word says, present a math problem when setting the table, etc. They’d even offer up evidence of their learning, so I have never been concerned that they aren’t where they should be for their age/level. I have the added advantage of being their mother, so I know that even if my oldest is behind his peers, he is exactly on track for his personal ability and we’re moving at the right pace. I also enjoyed the peace of knowing I wasn’t answerable to anyone for my children’s whereabouts. Being pregnant and sick I did not want to be dragging 4 kids 3 blocks in the snow to meet a bus 5 days a week, or scrambling to find someone to do it for me, or to pick up kids when I couldn’t make it due to a doctor’s appointment, etc.
Still, I’ve been frustrated. I WANT to be schooling. I spent all summer hammering out THE perfect (if I do say so myself) schedule and plan. It worked like magic for the first month so I knew it was good. We even have workboxes and a system. Not being able to do any of that has been tough on my ego. Plus I would just get all mentally and physically ready to jump back in, only to find out it was going to be impossible. I HAVE to focus on getting us ready for our move, then once we move we’ll be in limbo for a couple months while we find a place and wait for our stuff to arrive. So what to do?
One morning, I was so tired from doing so much the day before, and dealing with round ligament pain. I was determined to do SOMETHING, so I called my preschooler to the couch with her preschool book. We had a cozy time doing her work. That was so easy I called the kindergartener over with his reading book (TANGENT: I was not going to teach him until next year. But one day he spent time with his paper and crayons writing letters, then he brought it to me and announced, “This is my reading lesson just like Caleb.” Well, rather than have him go unguided I reluctantly started small lessons with McGuffey and “Really Reading” from Tanglewood Curriculum. He loves it.) We had a good lesson, so I threw in some of his lessons from “Our Home Kindergarten”, anything we could do sitting comfortable on a sofa.
That went so well, that I picked up my oldest son’s reading book. I’ve developed my own similar to Simply Charlotte Mason’s “Delightful Reading”. It involves letter and word tiles that need to be sorted on a table. Hence our inability to do much of it while I’ve been unwell (sitting at a kitchen table was killing me for a long time). But I came up with a brainstorm. I glanced at the lesson, and put it on the coffee table. I took the McGuffey reader (that was the assigned reading for the next few lessons), a wipe board, a paper towel, and a pen. Rather than tell him to make a word with his tiles, I asked him to tell me out loud what letters he needed to make a word. I then wrote it on the board. If we agreed it looked right we went on to the next one (if the word was “will”, I asked, “How would you make that say ‘spill’?”). Then I had him read. From there I read him his science book, and his geography reader. We then did his math reader and played with counting.
This was a major breakthrough. I’d actually done all school that we needed to do for the day from the couch in less than 2 hours. It started my brain working hard. What if I chucked the original plan/schedule (much as it pains me) and just found a way to cover all necessary subjects in a different way? In a minimalist sort of way?
I now have all school that we need for the next few months, through all the craziness of our move, in a laptop suitcase. For all three kids. They will each have a backpack during the transition that will carry coloring materials, books, games, and other activities strictly for them. Any “curriculum” they need will be in my suitcase.
And that is how we’re doing school these days. The kitchen table may be trashed, but that’s ok. I’ll just push the clean clothes over on the couch and sit down with a book and a kid..
So how is this working out? Beautifully. My kindergartner was doing subtraction while doing his chores. “Mommy, there were 3 glasses, and I put away one, so now there are 2. I put away one more, mommy, now there is one.” He and his older brother were practicing counting by 2’s, 3’s, and 5’s just last night while eating snacks. My preschooler is getting excited every time she sees me sit down with a Brain Quest, because she knows it’s her turn. I’m getting one-on-one time with my toddler, something he needs a lot of before the baby comes.
So here’s what they are all using:

Caleb (first grade)
-reading program with McGuffey primer
-Blink card game (matching 3 elements in different combinations: shape, number, color)
-Brain Quest (critical thinking skills as well as math and phonics)
-his personal history and geography book (short reviews)
-nature and science exploration as they present themselves in daily life
-Bible and memory work (Sparks), including how to use a grown up Bible

Isaac (K)
-McGuffey primer and Really Reading
-Brain Quest
-Dinosaur book and lap book
-Bible and memory (Cubbies)

Makenzie (Pre)
-Little Hands to Heaven (preschool curriculum, 2-3 easy activities per day)
-Brain Quest
-phonics flash cards (also using those for the boys)
-Bible and memory (Cubbies)

-listening to classical music
-observing works of art
-listening to character development stories
-discussing safety and health (using games to teach both)
-life skills in the form of family teamwork and chores

I can carry all this with us on our move without being overburdened, and the kids are bugging me (this minute even) to do their schoolwork.
What I realized in all this is that I was falling into the same trap or rut as public education. Thinking you have to do a lot a certain way to be doing anything worthwhile. Making learning a burden for me and my children.
Does it matter if we stick to the plan as long as they get what they need? And that’s the other thing, I was getting diverted from real needs to purported needs. All the fabulous stuff out there that’s available to homeschoolers makes it harder–a friend of mine dubbed herself a curriculaholic. 🙂 It’s so true of many of us, there are such great products out there for home education. But we get caught up in all that and forget why we are doing what we are doing.
This is what home school is about. The kids are learning, and so am I. I am learning to be a better teacher by being flexible and able to adjust. By not staying trapped in a plan or schedule but feeling free to use it as a guideline and checklist for what we need to do.
Do I want to use my plan to it’s fullest some day? Absolutely. School does need structure and discipline, this I know from Charlotte Mason and from life. The system I’ve worked out will make things run smoothly and efficiently. Is it absolutely necessary for learning? Of course not. What is necessary is to remember why I’m doing this, what my goals are, and who we are as a family.
That’s home school. And that’s doing it “right”. If there is such a thing.

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The school of outdoors

Today was the first day in a long time that we’ve had no rain. Or at least, none at the beginning. We have a tropical storm hitting in the next couple of days too. So there was really no question what I was going to do with the kids. I’d told myself that when we have unending days of bad weather we WILL take advantage of a good one. So what do to—keep inside and do the workboxes I’d lined up and hope the rain holds off until we’re done? Or go straight outside? You got it—we went straight outside. After I had 2 pancakes, a Shakeology, some scrambled eggs, some coffee, and poured a glass of orange juice to take with me (no I’m not a pig, I’m in my first trimester of pregnancy, and if I stop eating for more than 20 minutes I get sick . . . .it’s been fun).

But did we do school today? You bet!

The kids got much needed exercise. Riding bikes, learning badminton, tossing balls, and generally running in circles. The badminton and ball toss was fine and gross motor skill as well as hand-eye coordination practice for my delayed one (the oldest).

Got some read aloud in when my 2nd oldest fell on his bike and this was paramount to the world crumbling (yes, ON it, not OFF of it; hence the enormity of the drama). He specifically said, tearfully (don’t get misty eyed, he overblows everything, so rather than be touched I’m highly amused, but usually don’t laugh in front of him), “Mommy, can I just sit here and you read me stories?” Fortunately I’ve loaded up my Kindle for just such an outdoor occasion, so I started The Adventures of Pinnochio. Tangent: I’ve never read it—like most I grew up with the Disney film. Which I still love. I also enjoy the Veggie Tales adaptation, “Pistachio”. But this book is delightful. I had to stop several times to laugh out loud. And I’m only on chapter 2. Pick it up, if you never have. Or get it free for your Kindle.

There was artistic creation. My daughter made a whirlwind of colors on the ground with chalk, and proclaimed it fireworks.

There was imaginative play and exploration. Once he’d recovered, my 2nd oldest son pretended to be fishing in the water-filled holes in our yard. He also went collecting flowers (he loves to do that and bring them to me). His baby brother, who had been blowing “bubbo” (bubbles) in the garage, joined him and found lots of flowers to destroy.

There was, of course, nature study. I found a ladybug in the grass and directed the children to it. My oldest is particularly taken with bugs and creatures. I asked him to describe it’s colors and shape. We captured it, gave it dirt and leaves, and he sat—I kid you not—for 20 minutes on our porch step watching it. Which is really funny considering it didn’t do much except huddle near the top of it’s enclosure. But we talked about how many legs (6, which makes it an insect), what is on it’s head (antennas), wondered how it managed to climb walls and hang from ceilings, etc. My 2nd oldest decided it must have honey on it’s feet, which is why it’s sticky.

Nature study continued later when I decided we should walk to a nearby park. Actually, I had no idea how nearby it was. I had accidentally discovered it months ago—it may even have been last year, I don’t remember. I saw it down a dead end road off a side road. It didn’t appear to have any outlet near us; the one place I thought it might seemed to be blocked off. So I made a picnic lunch and brought other snacks (mostly for me), and got ready for a long walk. It turned out there WAS an opening. I don’t know if it was recently made or I just hadn’t noticed it before. But there it was. So it wasn’t as far as I thought. At any rate, on the way there we stopped to examine dragonflies, unusually colored berries on trees, wondered why a branch from a conifer lying on the ground would be brown and orange and not green (because it’s no longer on it’s tree so it doesn’t have food or water), looked at fuzzy balls that looked like moss but turned out to be seed pods from trees, and used all the puddles in potholes on the gravel road to talk about lakes, ponds, rivers, and oceans.

The park was delightful. Except for the fact that it has no drainage so it was practically a marsh or swamp because of all the rain. We were not wearing boots. Mostly it was just sticky squishy mud, but there were parts where one step put you ankle deep in muddy water. My toddler fell almost immediately in the mess (they all had baths later). My daughter got more coordination exercise pumping her legs on the swing. My sons ran up the mound. There is a huge mound with  different ways of getting to the top, where a long slide brings you down. You can go up one side by scrambling halfway then using carefully placed car tires as steps. You can climb up actual wooden platform steps on the other side. Next to that, you can walk a mini log bridge then scramble up a rope ladder, then pull yourself up the pilings. Or you can just run from bottom to top. At the very top is a little lookout post, then you go down a couple of steps to the slide. Here in Japan, there are lots of slides that aren’t a sheet of metal or plastic, but entirely made of small rollers. So you get rolled down the slide (I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a stateside park). That’s what this one was. I went down once with my toddler, then stupidly tried to let him do it himself. Once he’d gone a few inches I suddenly had a panic attack that he might try to stand up (it’s quite a drop from the top). His older brother ran to the rescue, scrambled up the steps and got himself down the slide to the baby and helped him the rest of the way. The last time down I walked the baby up and put him in his brother’s lap. Then my daughter got behind him, then my oldest, and they all went rolling laughing down. No I did not bring the camera, I’m not that bright. We had our picnic on one of the many benches placed around the park.

Afterwards, we got culture practice. I counted my yen and decided to try out a new bakery I’d seen up the street. We also had safety lessons as we walked on narrow roads with big cars rumbling past—in Japan there are many roads that we Americans would consider one way but that the Japanese squeeze their cars through going both directions. Fortunately we only had one direction at a time to deal with, it’s not a busy side street. At the bakery they said hello in Japanese, excuse me to a lady going out, and my 2nd oldest chatted it up with an American couple while I went through the shop and picked out breads. In bread shops and bakeries, there is a table or counter with trays—remember lunch trays from school (if you went to public school)?—and a container with metal tongs. The appropriate way of shopping is to choose a tray and a pair of tongs, then go through the shop, taking any bread you want with the tongs and placing it on your tray. When you’re done you bring the tray and tongs up to the counter where they bag your goods and ring you up. It’s rather fun, I think. Smile I enjoy bakery shopping. Besides which they have many unusual things. The children said, “Domo”, and we headed home, where baths did indeed occur. Then they sampled the goodies I’d bought.

So we had a full day of learning without once opening a workbox or looking at a textbook. And when the kids are 6 1/2, 5, 3 1/2, and 20 mos, that’s exactly as it should be.

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