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.
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!
Breaking from the normal book reviews today to post about my new favorite book on homeschooling. If you’re not into this topic, check out our favorite kids books or some summer reading updates from the past and come back soon for more new book reviews soon!
Whew, it’s June! We made it through May! Time to eat watermelon and sleep in at least once and get in some swimming and maybe pick some berries and all the summer things! But wait…what curriculum are using next year? Did you sign up for a co-op yet? Have you picked out a planner?
This is the homeschooling parent’s state of mind! If you’re like me, you would love to just breathe for a bit (like, maybe a year), to rest and recover from a busy and sometimes/totally draining school year. Yes, homeschooling children gives us so many benefits and rewards, but no one says it’s easy. We desperately need a break at certain points of the year, depending on what kind of homeschooling schedule you choose for your family. I just finished my fifth year of homeschooling, and even though it might have been our best year yet, I still feel this way! Before I urge you to do anything else, I can’t encourage you enough to take that break! Throw the books in a box for a full week and don’t think about them! It will do you all good. Spend a day doing something fun, taking a hike or playing at the beach, and don’t even consider counting it as a school day! (this is an act of will for some of us, haha).
But then, after that break, we have to dive back in, don’t we? It’s a good idea to use some of the time off from regular school to get ready for what’s next. Most of us look at new curriculum, maybe gather ideas for unit studies, pick out the perfect planner, or what have you. But first! I’m boldly giving you an assignment to do first this summer, before you look at curriculum and sign up for anything: read The Brave Learnerby Julie Bogart.
Why should you? Prepare for a gushing.
I loved this book so much. It presents learning philosophies from a very different angle than anything I’ve seen. It doesn’t just focus on the mind, or the schoolwork, but on your complete lifestyle and approach towards learning of all kinds. It’s such a wholesome and healthy approach! Enchanted, interest-driven learning is the big idea of this book, but don’t let that scare you. Bogart heavily focuses on practical, day-to-day wisdom for a family, as well. She is a rare person who can be the most sensible, down-to-earth voice about being a homeschool parent while at the same time introducing and completely convincing her readers that the best way to learn is from a place of enchantment and fun. It sounds impossible, but I’m telling you, this book is both insanely practical and inspiring. And in case you’re wondering or even worrying, Bogart is neither promoting nor demoting the “unschooling” philosophy. The ideas she presents can breathe life into pretty much any homeschooling approach (aside from a highly legalistic one, but who wants to claim that?).
Since I loved every page, summing it up is proving extremely difficult, but I’ll share a few of my favorite parts with you in hopes that you’ll go grab a copy, too!
~Many of her ideas come with specific suggestions on how “stage the home” for fun and interesting learning. The “stage the home” sections in chapter 4, “How To Harness the Four Forces of Enchantment” are especially helpful. And the chapter titled “House Schooling” might have been my favorite—all about evaluating what you have and embracing it + changing your mindset to see at is what you need.
~The “Continents of Learning” exercise changed my view of how learning can stay fun and still encompass the necessary branches of traditional schooling (page 24).
~The idea of keeping a monthly narrative—writing a paragraph or two on what each child learned/embraced/was challenged by/was involved in— as part of homeschool record keeping revolutionized my attitude. I went from a “have we done enough? I feel like we aren’t doing enough!” crisis to a “wow, we have done so much and come so far!” mindset.
~This saying in the chapter titled “Liberation from School”: “classical education in the fall, unit studies in winter, and unschooling in spring.” Also, I needed to have the idea put into clear words that you can ditch the books when inspiration strikes for great fun combined with excellent learning, but in the day-to-day, but most of us also need those school books to keep us going when inspiration is lacking.
~Throughout the book are clear and varying examples on how the writer used her own children’s likes and interests to develop both personal character and a thirst for knowledge that inspired me to embrace the things my children like instead of what I think they should like.
The Brave Learner has helped me embrace the freedom of homeschooling, without shirking the weight of educating my children. After reading it the first time through in the month of March, I’m more excited than ever to head into a new school year (after a fully restful and wonderful summer–fingers crossed!). I plan to read it again this month and do more of the exercises I didn’t have time for during the school year, while using it to help guide my planning for the 2019-20 school year.
Seriously, TheBrave Learner is the perfect combination of practical and inspirational. It’s the most successful homeschool book I’ve ever read when it comes to walking the fine lines between the tensions of philosophies of education, along with Teaching From Rest. There is wisdom on every page, and even a chapter on homeschooling through hard times.
I hope you have a happy and restful summer, whatever you end up doing, and if you pick up The Brave Learner, come back and tell me what you learned so we can keep on learning together!
Taking a break from writing about books and book culture in our homes to answer this frequently asked question:
How do you homeschool with little ones always around?
Wait, I should be the one asking this question, right? I’m the new homeschool mom with little kids! This is our 5th year homeschooling and my brain is finally catching on: “Ohhh. I should know this now…” Up until this point, my answer has been so unhelpful. A shrug and a “some days are better than others!” is all I’ve mustered because (1) I hate to sound like I’ve got it all figured out and (2) I don’t have it all figured out! But I do know this: We want to instill in our children a love of learning, the ability to learn for themselves, and the strength of character that comes through hard work and good relationships. Our ideal for our homeschooling days may be full of warmth and beauty, but the chaos that comes with babies, toddlers, and/or preschoolers wages war on our ideal. How can this ever work?
This is about what our homeschool life looks like every day. There are crumbs on the floor, a babbling baby at the table, and a conglomeration of papers, pencils, and crayons scattered everywhere. We are all together the whole time, from youngest to oldest, either at the kitchen table or at desks in our schoolroom, like a crazy one-room schoolhouse in 1858. How in this madness do we (a) learn together and (b) still like each other?? How do you homeschool with littles in the mix? I’ve thought and thought about how to answer this question, and I keep coming back to one over-arching practice in our family. I wish it were a quick fix, a busy bag solution or a magic scheduling technique, but it’s nothing very pinnable like that. It’s totally uncool because the word “longsuffering” comes to mind. But let’s leave out “longsuffering” and use the word commitment.” My one answer to homeschooling with Littles is an everyday commitment to practicing togetherness.
So fun and snappy, I know. And what does it even mean? Well, after Day One of my homeschooling career, I realized my ideal of one child doing schoolwork with me while one child played quietly with toys and another napped was never going to happen. That just doesn’t fly in the world of kids under age 5 who have to be touching me/each other all day every day or spontaneously combust. Right away, I could see there would be no separating small children from our schooling. But if these tiny people expected to be included in the homeschooling fun (and they did), they would have to also expect to BEHAVE. No interrupting, no whining, no singing songs that sound strangely similar to Benny and the Jets out of tune incessantly under their breath. I guess the idea became if they wanted to be treated like students, they would have to behave like students. It’s crazy to expect this from a two or three-year-old, right? Maybe, but after weeks of consistent (and sometimes frustrated) training, an amazing thing happened – they behaved. They could sit and listen to our read aloud, they could color and be quiet during history, and a lot of times they could even answer many of the same questions about the lesson that their older sibling(s) could. I was floored.
I’m not really sure in those early days if I had an epiphany about setting schooltime behavior standards or if it just sort of happened out of necessity, but I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re plunging into homeschooling with little ones in your home, or you’re already wading through it, maybe practicing togetherness—welcoming the younger children into the experience along with setting standards of behavior—could change your days as much as it changed mine. Separating them from our homeschool life certainly didn’t work for me! To make our home the peaceful and loving place I envision it to, I have to keep practicing this togetherness of welcoming the small ones into our school environment.
Crazily enough, now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think having someone like my four-year-old involved actually enriches the experience. For one thing, she is hilarious, and laughing is good for our souls. But more importantly, our family culture being built on shared narratives and histories gives us a lot to talk about and imagine further as we learn it all together. But that never would have happened if we hadn’t set some expectations at the beginning!
So that’s my answer, my one big homeschooling with Littles discovery – if you expect great behavior from them and teach them how to do that…well, some day, it might just happen. =) I realize so much of it has to do with what personalities I’m dealing with and my own upbringing (I was the oldest in a homeschool family). But because it’s worked so great for me, I figured I would give sharing it a shot, and finally give a straight answer to that frequently asked question!
And now for some more fun and snappy side notes I’ve learned to stick with along the way ~
Keep hands busy – drawing, playing with play-doh, building with blocks, or other quiet thing will stretch an attention span beyond your wildest imagination. In fact, some studies show that busy hands make brains learn more easily! My oldest now likes to stay focused while she’s listening to lessons by taking notes, but up until this year, she was sketching or molding dough along with the others.
Take it outside – literally, take all of it outside any chance you get. Little people are happier out of doors. Fact.
Snacks are golden learning opportunities – while many homeschool families do their ‘morning time’ or cultural studies first thing, I find that a 10:00 gather round the table with a snack works best for us. We have a snack, read some poetry or listen to a composer/hymn or study a piece of artwork, do some literature or geography, read a Bible passage, and the whole time the little people are (relatively) happy because they have their little hands busy and bellies full.
When you have a breastfeeding baby, find a favorite educational show. I know, I know, TV is a crutch, but some babies don’t eat well when there’s a lot of action around them. A 20-minute Wild Kratts or Wishbone gives just the right window for giving the baby a good feeding in the mid-morning, hopefully followed by a nap, and that 100% makes the rest of the morning go better.
Share some responsibility – There are some things we just can’t do all together. During these times, we trade responsibility. One child is responsible for keeping the baby happy, while the other student is taught by the parent, and then we trade off. This works best if I set an expectation for how long and why I need one of the kid’s help, so that they can understand the important role they’re playing in our family and so that they don’t get frustrated with being asked to help when they feel like they should be having a break.
Family dynamics are unique and ever changing, but I’m pulling for you as you figure out what works best for your amazing family in your homeschooling journey. And if you have any epiphanies about what works for you, please share!
Made my first meme today. It’s brought to you by the moment when I leave the house in the morning. Pretty much every time I leave home, I look around at the utter chaos and disorder, and say to tell myself:
If I arrive somewhere looking like I just barely made it out alive? It’s because I did. It’s like a bank heist gone wrong, a calculated plan poorly executed that doesn’t have as much to do with not tripping sophisticated alarm systems but more with getting the dishes done and beds made before exiting the building. (Although, a one-year-old??? Talk about a sophisticated alarm system. Do NOT take that Tupperware lid away from her). This is especially true when we’re going to be gone for most of the day and we’re packing picnics, leaving dishes strewn across the counter and drawers and cabinets open everywhere, forgetting to put away hairbrushes, toothbrushes, pretty much everything. Why not just stop to clean it up? Why not navigate here and hire a maid to do that? We’d be a good hour late, maybe two, and I’d be hoarse from all the “come back and put away!”-ing. Better to call it a morning and pick up the pieces of dismissed outfits and twelve water bottle lids when we get home. The silver lining? A wrecked house to clean up is a good excuse for making an afternoon cup pot of coffee.
So, yes, we need some better leaving the house practices. It’s definitely a delegation issue at this point in my parenting. But for now, may the coffee be strong, the afternoon productive, and the evening full of something similar to if not necessarily Chick-fil-A.