Everyday Life, Parenting

Our Summer Morning Tasks

I adore summer. The warmth, the long days of sunshine, the swimming, the freedom from schedules, the way we can eat on the back porch and jump right into playing and reading and creating all day long…I could go on and on. But seven people in a household creates quite a mess of laundry and food prep and house cleaning, with or without an ongoing school year! So even though it’s summer, we have to crack the figurative whip to keep everyday work from drowning us. Enter, our summer morning task list! It’s not rocket science, but man is it life changing for us. Each day has its own special task that my three oldest kids take part in.

I love this system so much, and though they probably wouldn’t readily admit it, I can tell my kids are pretty happy with it, too. Our sudden drop in responsibilities to start the day from school to no school had us all feeling unhinged after the first week. I’m finding that even at a young age, kids crave a sense of accomplishment and collaboration to start off their days. When kids pursue all fun all the time, they can feel the imbalance of reward with no effort, but when we’ve worked together to beat a challenge, even something as mundane as a dirty living room, and then we go on an outing or simply soak up time at home building Lego creations and playing in the backyard, there’s a sense of rightness to it everyone can feel and appreciate.

Between our Summer Morning Tasks, our own fun Summer Reading program (courtesy of Pam Barnhill), and our neighborhood pool, things are almost zen around here. (If you believe that, you think better of us than you should, haha! I have an almost teenager and a 7-month-old with three kids in between, after all!) But you know you’re in a good season of life when your biggest complaint is not being able to find a good summer fiction read. Sob. Nothing I’ve read lately has ended up being very good, which makes me terribly sad. You’ve got to help me! I always struggle with novels this time of year because there’s a lot of buzz around “beach reads” and the stereotypical beach read can be kind of airy, lacking substance. I’m going to give Next Year in Havana a try because it looks so summery and rich and I’ve heard good things, but I’m taking all recs.

Until next time, happy reading and happy summer!

Children's Books, Everyday Life, Homeschooling, Nonfiction, Parenting

Favorite How-To Books for Kids

Hi, readers! Can you believe it’s almost summer vacation time! Maybe you’re dreading all that free space in your children’s lives, or maybe you’re like us right now: every May, as our school year winds down, everything we’ve been doing all year suddenly feels unbearably stale and burdensome. Our minds have already taken in a lot, and they’re begging us, “Please, not one more date and important historical event to remember, not another science fill-in-the-blank sheet! For heavens sake, do not give us another “fun” book report assignment!” As the seasons transition to more sunshine and energy, we naturally want to run and play.

So how do we finish the academic year strong?

Or how do we keep our minds engaged all summer without killing our souls with more of the same schoolish stuff?

We pull out some how-to books and learn some skills with our hands!

Here are our current favorite how-to books. I’d love more ideas if you have them!

Sewing School 1 and Sewing School 2 – These books are so perfect for kids who want to learn to sew. They include pictures and detailed instructions, patterns…everything but the actual sewing materials. The projects are very doable in just a few hours (or less!) and will appeal to both girls and boys. My six-year-old daughter, nine-year-old son, and eleven-year-old daughter have all enjoyed these projects! If you don’t have a sewing machine for the projects in Sewing School 2, this machine has been awesome for us. I am a very out of practice and mediocre seamstress, so I am totally re-learning as I go along with the help of these books.

Cooking Class – This is the best starter cookbook for ages 5-8! The recipes in Cooking Class are easy to follow along, tasty, use mostly wholesome ingredients, and don’t require trips to the store every time your student asks to make something from her very own cookbook. I gave this to one of my six-year-old for Christmas and she has made many recipes out of it. They were all delicious and crowd pleasers.

In Bloom – As I mentioned in a recent Things that are Saving My Life post, I love this book even more than my kids do. We also have several other how-to-draw books, like this one about cartoon cars and this one about horses. I have heard amazing things about the classic Drawing with Children and have had it on my shelf from my mom’s days of homeschooling for years, but haven’t pulled it out yet. Next week I plan to open it up and try it. Maybe I’ll do the Brave Learner method and sit down with the book at the kitchen table by myself, start drawing, and see what happens….

The Redwall Cookbook– Any cookbook based on whatever literature/books your kids are into right now will be a welcome change to an otherwise ho-hum school or summer day. My two oldest have been devouring the Redwall series, and my son is always raving about how good the feasts sound. Both he and his older sister were so excited to get this from the library! Until they realized it features quite a lot of vegetables…English mice and other animals have very different tastes than American children, apparently! But they have been writing up grocery lists for me based on the dessert section, and that has been worth it.

That wraps up our favorite how-to books that are keeping us sane as we finish up the school year. May is also the time of the year I seek out a movie or two based on the literature or history or whatever connections to our studies I can draw. Last year we finished out with the film version of our literature read-aloud, Anne of Green Gables. This year I don’t see an obvious connection between what we’ve beens studying: The Gold Rush and Simon Bolivar, and also Newton’s Laws of Motion…any ideas for me??

I hope your school year ends well and your summer gets off to a great start! I’ll be back with some book reviews in just a few days, but until then, Happy Reading!

Everyday Life

Colored Pencils to Cookbooks to Coffee at 2:00 – Things That Are Saving My Life, Winter ’21

A few years ago, I attended a delightful favorite things party that was disastrous for me. You may know about these parties…they’re like high stakes cookie swaps. Instead of swapping cookies, you bring a small item that gives you an inordinate amount of joy, and leave with someone else’s favorite item. I went to this party and watched twenty of my friends and acquaintances share their favorite little things, and I realized I hadn’t stopped to appreciate any little things in a long time. The thing I brought to that party wasn’t really much of a favorite of mine at all.

Since that wake up call, I’ve been keeping a list. I like to save my Favorite Things list to share in the dead of winter when Anne Bogel asks on her blog “What’s saving your life right now?” February can be a hard month. We’re so over winter at this point, but hibernation isn’t an option. Drat. As I looked over my list this year, I noticed that some of my lifesavers are products but the most important are practices. So, as we enter yet another month of gray, wintery weather, I hope that seeing some of the items or practices getting me through winter will stir you to think about your own favorites and how you can make the rest of this season more livable.

Prismacolor Pencils are our favorite!
  1. 2:00 O’clock Coffee Break – Instead of asking myself at 10:00 a.m., 11:18 a.m., and 1:37 p.m., “Should I make another cup of coffee?” I have decided once and for all that at 2:00 p.m., I will sit down with a second cup of coffee. I like to read or write while I drink that second cup, but sometimes I jot down a list or grade somebody’s schoolwork. Often I’m holding/nursing my 3-month-old. But I look forward to the 2:00 o’clock cup every day, even if the “break” only lasts 10-15 minutes.
  2. Friday grocery pick ups – Here’s another “decide once” life saver. I load my Aldi Instacart all week and then pick it up on Friday morning. Finally, we have food on the weekend, and I don’t have to stress over when I’m going to grocery shop every week. I also stick to theme nights for meal planning, like Kendra Adachi recommends in her book. It goes something like Monday Soup, Tuesday Tacos, Wednesday Roast Something, Thursday Convenience Food, Friday Pizza, Saturday Grill, Sunday Leftovers.
  3. Saturday Chores – Much like the Friday grocery pick up decision, the Saturday chores give me peace all week. When Thursday comes and I think, “Eesh, our bedroom carpet really needs vaccuming!” I don’t have to expend any energy wailing “When will it ever get done?” because I know: Saturday. We clean the bathrooms and vacuum everywhere, and I thoroughly clean the kitchen. Even if that’s all that gets truly clean some weeks, we’ve got a baseline that makes me feel less crazed in the brain.
  4. Prismacolor Pencils and Sharpener – Our homeschool is so much more enjoyable with these colored pencils. We do our map work with them and whatever other coloring we do, for school or fun. They are silky smooth and rich in color, and actually last a very long time! We’ve had our set for five years and use it daily. The Prismacolor sharpener is also a must! Regular pencil sharpeners wreak havoc on these soft pencil cores. Last winter (before I spent most of my down time holding Baby #5), I really enjoyed these pencils and In Bloom: A Step-by-Step Guide to Drawing Lush Florals. I’m completely inexperienced at drawing, so if I can enjoy it, anyone can! [On the art supply front, I am in search of good markers! Crayola just isn’t cutting it, so if you have some markers you love, let me know [Edit 4/26/21: We actually have come to love Crayola Supertips, thanks to Leanne for recommending them!]
  5. Ethique Shampoo Bar – I started 2020 trying to reduce plastic use in my home. Some of my attempts didn’t work out at all. Clean Cult products didn’t actually clean very well. Darn. But the Ethique shampoo bars are perfectly amazing. I started with a sample pack and found that my favorite is the Frizz Wrangler. It both cleans and moisturizes; I don’t even use conditioner anymore. I would use this shampoo bar even if I weren’t trying to reduce plastic. I also can honestly recommend Dropps laundry detergent. I switched from Tide with Bleach to Dropps and I can’t tell a difference. Our family of seven goes through a 210 pod order twice per year, and I love that it’s a subscription I don’t have to think about.
  6. The Whole30 Cookbook – Laugh if you want but these recipes are seriously good! We use a lot of them whether we’re in the middle of a Whole30 or not. My kids love the Italian Meatball Soup and I cook the Cherry Chipotle Chicken and the Chicken Cutlets with Roasted Pears on the reg (that second recipe is on the page linked above).
  7. Kindle Paperwhite – My Kindle is a crucial part of my reading life right now. Even though I prefer paper books, I wouldn’t get half as much reading done if I couldn’t read in the dark while holding baby Peter. I bought one for my husband for Christmas this year because I knew he would get a lot more chances to read if he had a backlit e-reader, too. (Hint – the refurbished ones work great!)
  8. The Convect Bake Mode – A friend recently told me that the fancy convect mode on my oven really just means that the fan continuously blows the heat around the whole oven so the bake is even. What??? I have been bemoaning my gas oven for two years and how the bottom is so much hotter than the top. I have to put everything on the highest wrack possible and things like cookies still have blackened bottoms and pale tops! I tried convect bake a couple of times last week and the difference was amazing. I should’ve read that user manual a long time ago. (Thanks, Megan! I owe you a batch of evenly baked cookies!)

9. Adoration – Introduced to me by Sara Hagerty’s book Adore, this idea has really meant a lot to me lately.

I’d love to hear what’s saving your life this winter, too! And for more Favorite Things on this blog, follow the links below. May the rest of your winter be warm and cheerful and full of good things, especially good books!

The Things that are Saving My Life Right Now – A Favorite Things Redemption Story

Favorite Things, 2018 Winter Edition

What’s Saving My Life, 2019 Winter

Cherries and Wicker – A Summer Favorite Things List

Everyday Life, Homeschooling

How We Homeschool Multiple Grades Together

Raspberry Cordial!

Hello, readers! I hope you’re having a great summer of fun and good books! I’ll be back with some summer reading book reviews on July 15th. Today, I’m addressing the slew of questions I’ve gotten lately about homeschooling.

Schooling choices loom large for parents this year. With the strange kind of world children’s education has been plunged into thanks to a pandemic, all our hot summer days filled with pool splashing and popsicles are tinged with the ever tingling question, “What should we do this fall??” There aren’t any easy answers. Since we’ve been homeschooling for a while now and many parents are considering giving it a try, I’ve received lots of questions about what curriculum we use and how we homeschool multiple grades. The answers to these questions are bound up in each other, so I’ve decided to layout what books and programs we use to homeschool together, from 1st grade to 6th.

But first, a disclaimer! Homeschooling is a work in progress always, and there are very few experts. I am not one of them. The beauty of teaching your own children is knowing them well and making choices based on that knowledge. If you have this freedom to teach your kids at home, whether it be just for one year or for ten, I hope you also feel the freedom to make your family’s needs and culture a top priority in how you go about it. Everything doesn’t have to be mastered in one year. Homeschools aren’t one-size-fits-all, and families are so very unique and give something completely different to the world than the next family. All that being said, I’m happy to share what’s working for us and what we like

We are now homeschooling our 11-year-old, 9-year-old, 6-year-old, and 3-year-old. Yes, I’m including the 3-year-old, because we are all together all the time!

For the 2019-20 academic year, I had two goals when it came to curriculum choice: it had to flex for multiple grades and it had to be something I would enjoy using. If the teacher dreads the material, what student wouldn’t? Our school year in 2019-20 was our best yet, so I continued most of the same curriculum for 2020-21.

Math – We have used Horizons since the beginning. I chose this one because of its engaging, colorful workbooks and open-and-go nature (it’s a spiral math curriculum, for anyone wondering). Each child does his or her math lesson at a desk, and Dad, the math teacher, rotates around and helps anyone who needs helping. We start with math because that way Dad can teach it before he goes to work each day.

Math Time!

Language Arts – After a short break, the kids are back at their desks. First-grader Violet pulls out her phonics (Sing, Spell, Read and Write) and does a few pages in her workbook. Then we practice reading together. (Note about the SSRW program – we do the “Off We Go!” book for Kindergarten and don’t start “The Raceway” book until 1st grade). Fourth-grader Isaac and 6th-grader Ella do a literature based program called Brave Writer Arrows that incorporates copywork/handwriting, spelling, grammar, and writing. I like it because I get to co-write it, but that’s my inner English major nerd talking. =) I customize their assignments in this program based on ability and grade level. Last year Isaac also went through a Handwriting Without Tears book to get him writing well in cursive. He really liked it! I would choose that over the Bob Jones handwriting that my oldest did, especially for kids who don’t like to write or have short attention spans.

Cultural Studies – We read a devotional together and then rotate between an artist, composer, hymn, poet, fable/legend, and poem memorization. I have used A Gentle Feast’s Morning Time book, which is beautiful and easy to implement, for four years now. This year, I’ve chosen one art anthology, one poem anthology, and one composer biography collection to work through, because I would like to try more of a survey approach to these subjects instead of just doing a few artists/composers/poets each year. I do highly recommend A Gentle Feast’s booklets if you’re just getting into these types of cultural studies (or some call it a “beauty loop” or “morning time”), for its ease of use and guidance.

Science (2x per week) – We will be using Science in the Scientific Revolution by Jay Wile from the Berean Builders curriculum. We used Science in the Ancient World last year. I was drawn to this curriculum because it introduces science on a historical timeline (I am a history lover, not necessarily a science lover…). Each lesson contains a very doable experiment or illustration that does not require special equipment. Best of all, it is written for many grades to work together! At the end of each lesson, there are assignments broken down for younger students, older students, and oldest students. The target age is Kindergarten to 6th grade, but truly, I am learning so much as an adult from this book! This year I also purchased the new student workbooks for my rising 4th grader and 6th grader to make applications even less confusing.

Science in the Ancient World

A note about science: Up until our oldest entered 4th grade, we did a lot of nature science assigned in A Gentle Feast‘s curriculum. We read the Burgess Bird Book, Burgess Animal Book, nature readers, and went through Exploring Nature with Children. We all liked this format for 1-3 grades, but when we reached Form II in the Charlotte Mason style curriculum, we weren’t fans of thes books assigned, and that both science and history were scheduled every single day of the week. The Berean Builders science has been a huge improvement for our family’s schedule and sanity, but I do appreciate and miss the value of nature studies, and plan to get back into Exploring Nature with Children again this year to supplement our other science studies, especially for the benefit of my 1st grader.

History (2 x per week). Oh, how we love history! We read lots of historical books, but our core structure comes from The Story of the World Series. Last year we read The Story of the World, Volume II: The Middle Ages (400-1600), which overlapped with our science time period. We read two chapters a week, and I used the maps and activities in the companion activity book to flesh out the information and include geography in our history lessons; the two subjects are intrinsically linked, anyhow. We also use blank maps for tests and geography quizzes on Seterra.com. We also like these map coloring books. This year, we’ll do more of the same with Volume III and the activity book that contains the maps and other applications.

Literature – I choose various read-alouds based on what I think everyone would like, what history period we’re studying, and what I can match up with the Brave Writer Arrows. Last year we completed Frindle, All-of-a-Kind Family, The Sign of the Beaver, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, Anne of Green Gables, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Usually during this time the kids are sketching or creating something. I never require them to only sit and listen. Modeling clay, sewing, drawing, painting, whatever can be done quietly at the kitchen table or on the living room floor goes! (I count this as “handy craft” time). The littlest plays with whatever she wants as long as it’s quiet. A lot of times, a snack is involved. =)

Raspberry Cordial!

Foreign language – All three of the kids have a Spanish lesson once a week at our homeschool co-op, and the older two have recently gotten really excited about learning French with the Duolingo app this summer. I picture this being an afternoon thing this school year.

And that’s the bulk of our curriculum guided work! I don’t currently choose “readers” for the kids to read on their own. My oldest two are voracious readers, and I keep an eye on what they read, but I mostly let them choose for themselves. I am thrilled that they both love to read and don’t want to burden their joy with assignments! We have ballet, basketball, and other various sports mixed in throughout the year. Once a week the kids go to a co-op where they do P.E., Spanish, science, art, and literature. My oldest was tutored in art by a family friend last summer, and she is continuing to practice all she learned at home. Seasons of busyness and more intense home-learning come and go. It’s an ever-changing endeavor, and we have found it both rich and rewarding, especially when we take the time to jump in with both feet when a student expresses an interest in a certain topic or new skill.

I hope this post gives you some ideas on how to make homeschooling doable for your family, whether you’re in it for years to come or for this one crazy pandemic year. If you’re looking for further reading, two books that have influenced my homeschooling practices are The Brave Learner and For The Children’s Sake. I’d also highly recommend Teaching from Rest and Honey for a Child’s Heart (this one has awesome book lists!).

See you back here soon for more bookish discussions!

Everyday Life, Reviews, Saturday Cooking

Cooking and Coronavirus

Hey readers! What are you up to these in these strange days? As a homeschooling parent, this new normal didn’t seem all that different to me at first. Now, after weeks of no events or family/friends or even parks, plus never being able to find bread in the supermarket, it’s getting real! But we are healthy and happy at home, and remembering that this is temporary, even if it already feels like it’s gone on too long. And it’s spring, so hurrah!

Oddly enough, just when I should be posting the most about books that you finally have time to read, what I’ve been reading is…cookbooks. Womp, womp. If you know me at all, this may surprise you because meal prep is not my fave. As different types of people go, I’m the type who does not think about what they’ll eat for dinner when they wake up in the morning. That is why I need cookbooks so desperately– to get me thinking about what food to buy and what to do with it. Like it or not, food preparation is a big part of life with a family of six who eats three meals a day at home, even in the best of times! So here are some cookbook reviews for you. (Psst: I always check out cookbooks from the library before I purchase them!)

Holiday and Celebration Bread in Five Minutes – I adore this cookbook. I haven’t bough it yet, but when I borrowed it and made some recipes over the holidays, I felt as legit as Mary Berry. Of course, you can’t really make these breads in five minutes–can you do anything in the kitchen in five minutes?– but you can make a big batch of basic types of dough in say, twenty-thirty minutes. The idea is to have dough in the fridge, ready to go, and then at baking time, you pull off a chunk of dough for a specific recipe and have that bread ready pretty quickly. I did two of the recipes and can’t wait to do more! Swedish Tea Ring, anyone? Putting this one on my birthday list in June may look a little strange based on the “holiday” title…but I’m doing it. Five stars, even if it does have “5 minutes” in the title. [I take issue with any cookbook with “minutes” in the title. 30 minute meals? A myth. Every dinner takes me an hour. From the minute I turn the light on in the kitchen to dinner on the table, it’s always an hour, even when it’s just leftovers. I can’t explain it. I guess I could blame the four kids interrupting…]

Magnolia Table – This is the cookbook I wish had been out when I was a newlywed. I didn’t know how to make so many home-cooked favorites that my husband enjoyed, and the Joy of Cooking and Southern Living cookbooks I got for wedding presents assumed I already knew a lot. This cookbook has pictures and instructions on even certain brands to buy, and everything I’ve made has turned out beautifully. If you’re assuming it’s all fried chicken and biscuits, there are more than just Southern cooking recipes included, as Joanna Gaines has Korean, Tex-Mex, and other influences in her culinary tastes. Still, you’re not going to stay svelte eating out of this book for long (how does she do it??). The dessert section is enormous. But once a week or so, an entree or treat out of this collection will thrill your family (and yourself). After getting this cookbook from the library, I bought it as fast as you can say “fluffy pancakes,” and I’m using it several times a week. Five stars from me and everyone else in my household.

Healthyish – I checked this one out from the library in the fall and then put it on my Christmas list and lucky me, got it! It includes a lot of recipes that only require a few ingredients, similar to Real Simple Magazine recipes. I like that the recipes are doable and nourishing, without swinging all the way into “eat this, not that” rules. My only downside is my family hasn’t loved the recipes I’ve made out of it as much as I have. Four stars.

Smoothie Project – We eat a lot of smoothies here, but also get in ruts with the combinations and flavors, and that’s why this book has been so great. I appreciate that there are ideas for healthy but optional add-ins (ex: collagen). The best thing about it is my ten-year-old grabbed this off the library stack and ran with it. She made “Nice Cream” and marked a bunch of other recipes to copy for her recipe book. Lesson learned: kids can make smoothie recipes. Game changer! Four stars.

A Homemade Life – Part cookbook, part memoir, and very reminiscent in style to Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine. However, I give Bread and Wine 5 stars and this one 2. The writing is descriptive and nostalgic, but these recipes are pretty hard, require ingredients I don’t have on hand, and the memoir selections were not really my cup of tea, either. Sadly, I liked the theme of the book better than the actual book itself. One star.

The Laura Lea Balanced Cookbook – I love reading this cookbook and the recipes look great…but I haven’t tried anything out of it yet. Some of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me (tamari?) and I don’t have things on hand like coconut sugar or tahini. But really, I think I can make good use of it if I take the plunge and buy a few of the staples Laura Lea uses in this book to make familiar recipes in a healthier form. It would be great for anyone trying to go gluten free without completely changing the kind of meals you usually enjoy. No stars yet.

In addition to these new cookbooks, my go-to’s remain The Whole30 Cookbook because it is delicious, the Damn Delicious website (she has a cookbook out now that I need to check out, too!), and Moe’s To Go. Wait, what? I meant Mom’s recipe cards, not Moe’s To Go! Did I say Moe’s? I did not mean Moe’s…or Marco’s…

See you soon for an update on novels and children’s literature! Follow me on Goodreads for real time updates and book reviews. Happy reading and cooking and whatever else you do to stay sane in a crazy world!

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