Rethinking Our Homeschool

“I’ll never do a major overhaul of our homeschool.” Famous last words. Spoken by a prideful novice who was sure she’d avoided the “replicating brick and mortar school at home” box just because we didn’t have a desk, chalkboard and flag in the corner (instead we have a table, whiteboard and globe, but c’mon, those are TOTALLY DIFFERENT!). And while those 3 things aren’t going anywhere, my traditional education mindset just might be leaving the building.

Lest I sound like I look down on traditional school, that actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I had a great public school experience myself, from a small community elementary school where rich read-alouds and hands-on learning were the norm to wonderful AP teachers in highschool who taught with academic rigor and left me well prepared for college. My own degree is in special education, and while I was in college I worked in over a dozen schools through my job at the Florida Center for Reading Research. I love public school. So it’s no surprise I reached deeply into that toolbox when I started to teach at home.

I bought a big, boxed curriculum that seemed to replicate the best of what I remembered from elementary school. I loved how it started gently, and increased in rigor around 2nd/3rd grade, just like my school. It gave great suggestions for projects to make the work come alive, recommended excellent read alouds and of course, it came with a stack of all the worksheets I could need for a whole year. By sticking to this plan, I would *know* my child was on grade level and on track!

I have no regrets about our years with it. It gave me the confidence to get started in this whole schooling at home venture. For some things, the box approach has even worked well. I certainly appreciate having a math and phonics/grammar/spelling curriculum! But like a snake whose skin begins to feel too small I realized that this curriculum-in-a-box was a place to start our homeschool journey, not a place to stay.

So practically, what is going to change?

Morning Time. Ember will be 2 this year, and is already eager to be a part of whatever her big brother is doing. I wanted to create a learning time where they could both sing, listen to read alouds, review memory work, learn a new verse or hymn, or…??? Honestly, I bought a whole book on morning time called “Better Together”, so I’m sure there are more possibilities than I have yet considered.

From the limited version I’ve been doing over the last few weeks though, I know it’s a winner for our family. Not only does it wrap Ember into our day at her level, but it breaks up Caleb’s homeschool day nicely so that in the afternoon, during her nap, we’re freed up to focus on table work activities like grammar and math. Since those are always a priority to me, I found things like read alouds often got shuffled aside on busy days and became independent work for Caleb, rather than a time of connection and discussion for us, which was not okay with me because…

Read Alouds are Heart Work. This is something my eyes have only been opened to recently. Because much of our library stack corresponds with the history and science Caleb is learning, I tended to view read alouds as purely academic. I didn’t think about how many virtues, or at least ideals, were imparted to me as I was growing up through a well timed story. The bravery of Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, the racial reconciliation in Maniac McGee, the value of selfless friendship in Charlotte’s Web…my list could go on, and I’m sure yours could too. I totally credit my change in perspective the the Read Aloud Revival Podcast, and later her book, The Read Aloud Family. I recommend both resources highly. This year, I want to make sure our book buffet has a blend of academically informative and virtue formative reading.

Memory work for the trees. Read Alouds for the forest. Probably the biggest change of all is that we’ll be using Classical Conversations as our “spine” this year, not My Father’s World (the curriculum in a box). We originally joined CC for the community, the fine arts, presentation time and the science experiments. The memory work felt weird to me. I knew the tutors kept it fun through songs and games, but it still seemed so counter to everything I “knew” about education to start teaching my six-year-old Newton’s laws or how to skip count by 12’s. And yet…

My “aha” moment came at dinner one night. I prompted Caleb to share what he’d learned in school that day with David. We’d learned about Iowa. Just a few facts. He couldn’t remember any of them. Oh well, there are days like that, right? The dinner conversation continued, and we started talking about what famous people in history we’d enjoy meeting. Caleb asked, “Was it Amerigo Vespucci or Magellan who sailed around the world? Oh! Well then Magellan! Oh, or wait, maybe Columbus. Actually! All 3 of them were from Spain around the same time period, so maybe I would just travel back in time to Spain and meet all 3!” Those connections were based off of CC facts he’d learned in 1st grade.

The box curriculum teaches in a way that is familiar and comfortable to me, but it wasn’t what my child was ultimately retaining and drawing connections from, at least not when it came to details. So I realized that I wanted to start using memory work for the details (trees) and living books for the big picture (forest). How wonderful would it have been to use those facts to dive into learning about the country of Spain, navigation/maps, the effects of colonization on native peoples or a million other connections? I want to keep using the literature rich education he’s been getting through the box, but I want to build on the facts he’s actually remembering rather than the ones that are sliding away before dinner time.

I’ve resisted the label for years, but I guess it’s official…we are classical homeschoolers…at least for now. Because if experience has taught me anything, we might overhaul our approach to schooling one day again πŸ™‚

My summer reading list. Just got my new Foundations guide today! I already devoured Teaching from Rest and am about 1/3 through The Read Aloud Family.

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February 2018

What a month! At 20 months old, Ember is all toddler. Suddenly, she loves being read to, making animal sounds and saying, “Ugga Mugga” with a big headshake to her Daniel Tiger book. She also insists on putting on her own pants and shoes each day, which means making sure I leave *plenty* of time for the getting dressed process. Despite my comfort-over-style nature, this girl loves nothing more than wearing fancy shoes, a poofy dress and one of mommy’s necklaces. Figures.

Her favorite fancy shoes

First pig tails ❀

I have this book memorized @_@

Ember loves pretending to be a little Mama and puts her “hoot hoot Ow-wel” “nigh nights” many times each day, smothering, cough, I mean wrapping her in a blanket, hugging and rocking her close and laying her on the couch. Other than the ever coveted Eevee of big brother’s, Hoot Hoot is her special buddy right now. She’s the only one she asks for by name and sleeps with each night. Speaking of sleeping…this month Ember finally started sleeping through the night. Which is a wonderful milestone overall, but it also means weaning is well underway and while not final, I know our days are numbered.

Toddler going on teenager. This is her post nap-strike, “I’m not tired at all” pose πŸ˜€

Caleb continues to want more grown up chores and responsibilities (mind you, that doesn’t stop him from whining about completing his usual chores!). He loves to perch on the counter and put the high dishes away for us. He’s also on a puzzle kick again and completed a really cool 3-D globe puzzle all on his own.

His favorite part of the month was probably a special visit from our friends who live just outside of Philly. Not only did he have 2 kids near his age to play with all weekend, we all went to Chocolate World together and took the tour! We learned about Milton Hershey earlier in the year when we learned about the state of Pennsylvania and ever since then he’s been asking to go. It was the perfect end to a great visit.

We did not purchase this πŸ˜€

Both kids enjoyed the spring weather that visited us in the middle of February. I canceled homeschool and we took full advantage of the 70 degree weather for 2 days!

Of course, February brought plenty of cold weather as well. When there’s not snow on the ground, markers are a favorite activity for both kids.

Ember loves imitating her big brother and “writing” ❀

On everything.

Caleb draws a line to defend his territory. Sometimes it works πŸ˜‰

January 2018

As I’ve said in other places, 2017 kicked my butt in a big way. As the new year began, I started asking myself what I missed doing since life got crazy and, surprisingly the blog came to mind. When you consider I wasn’t able to *drive* for several months, not having time to blog seems a little irrelevant, but I’m unashamedly sentimental. Even with facebook status updates and instagram pictures, there’s something different about sharing the whole story of each month here on our family page. I treasure seeing the posts from Caleb at the same ages and want to be able to look back on Ember’s childhood in the same way. I decided not to let the “lost months” hold me back from recording the months to come.

It seems appropriate to start now, as Ember turns 20 months old. Months 0-18 she was mostly my sunshine baby and while I’m sad I didn’t blog much about those months, perhaps photographs and frequent status updates about those milestones that come fast and furious in the first year of life, were really the best way to record those fleeting baby days.

Not a baby anymore!

This past month, she’s morphed into a spunky, opinionated toddler who keeps me on my toes in a completely different way- both from her former baby-self or from her big brother at the same age. Ember is such an imitator and wants to be a big girl so much! Anything her brother does, she wants to try. I recently found her shoving all of her plastic play kitchen silverware into our silverware drawer (one of brother’s chores) and kicking his soccer ball down the hall (with great accuracy!). She also want to say “HI!” (loudly, a million times over) to every single caller including doctors offices and sales calls. She’s a big climber who has a keen sense for when a bag or box has food in it so she can try to help herself before she gets caught.

Toddler!

Also toddler…

Mmm Hmm…Toddler!

Her language is also taking off. Each week seems to bring a few new words.

  • “Eeeady!” (Ready!) she squeals as she rolls a ball to us.
  • “P! P! P!” she screams. When I still don’t understand she finally blurts out, “Pizza” clear as can be. She got pizza. Hahahaha.
  • “Ead Buuh” (read book) is another new one. After months of having 0 interest in being read to (so different from brother) a switch has flipped and she will bring us book after book. She even calls her favorites by name: “BOOP!” (her version of “Oops”) for Green Hat, Blue Hat. “Boo! Boo!” (her version of “peek a boo”) for Where is Baby’s Belly Button?, and her Daniel Tiger book (because as a second born she absolutely gets to watch TV before age 2 and already loves Daniel, hahahaha).
  • “Eeee! Eeee!” She always wants to hold brother’s special Eevee (pokemon) stuffie…and he usually lets her.

When he doesn’t, we get to see this month’s other big milestone: Facedown Crying. So much face down crying. I think there are days David wonders if they have boarding preschools πŸ˜‰

Seven year old milestones are subtler but just as special. This month, I noticed a growing pile of dirty clothes in Caleb’s room. When I asked him to please make sure they all got into the basket in my room (aka laundry grand central station), he told me he was saving them so he could start doing his own laundry. So that weekend, he carried his full basket down the basement stairs and learned how to use the washer and dryer. Proud Mama moment! We’ll see how long it takes for the thrill to wear off, haha!

Making Valentine’s play doh for his sister with just a little supervision from Mom ❀ ❀ ❀

January also brought the first long work trip for David since the worst of my health issues began. It was a difficult, but necessary milestone, and I’m thankful both for the growth I saw in myself, but also the help and encouragement from friends who live nearby. Thankfully, the trip was not the full 2 weeks, due to David being sent home in the middle with the flu. By God’s grace, everyone else remained healthy while he finished his trip the following week!

We also had a special visit from David’s brother Josh and his beautiful family. We’re so excited to having family living in the Mid Atlantic now and we’re happy we got to share one of our favorite yearly events, Ice Festival, with them.

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Cousins!

Sister in laws! (Both in the 30 Club now) πŸ˜€

I can’t tell you how much I am loving having family living “near-by” (3 hours instead of 14-20 hours) for the first time in our marriage. It’s so special to be able to celebrate milestones together. It was a great way to start the year!

 

 

On Living with an Invisible Illness

It’s not glamorous, but if you’ve been a good friend of mine for any length of time, you likely already know I have GI issues because…they affect my life! It’s not exactly anyone’s favorite topic, and I try not to discuss the details, so what you might not know is that I’ve struggled with what we believe are IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) flares for about 13 years now. (***I call my issues IBS in this post because that’s what we’ve believed them to be for the past 13 years. As you’ll read near the end, I’m also being tested for a more serious condition. IBS itself can range from mild to severe.)

IBS is one of many “invisible” illnesses, where a person looks completely healthy, but never the less has a condition that affects their daily life. While I’ve written about my chronic pain in the past (which I’m currently experiencing basically ZERO of right now, praise God for healing that has let me take care of my precious Ember girl!) I’ve never shared publicly about IBS because…it’s a little embarrassing! But with 25-45 million American’s affected by it, it’s something we should be willing to discuss. I’m sure every person’s experience with it is unique, but in the interest of raising awareness for how much even a more mild GI issue like IBS can affect your life, here’s what it looks like around here:

While even “routine” IBS isn’t easy to live with, during a flare leaving the house in the morning is especially challenging for me. During flares I try to schedule important appointments in the afternoon since mornings are my worst time of day, but flares are unpredictable and I get complacent when things are easy. So then I end up having to reschedule when I realize there is no way I can make that morning appointment I made during a non-flare time a month ago. It makes things like signing my child up for day camp or volunteering at VBS challenging. Will I be able to make it? Once I’m there, will I need to keep visiting the bathroom? When I show up 10 minutes late, I nod at the jokes other moms are making about how hard it is to get kids out the door, but the reality in my house is, I’m the one making us late and that makes me sad.

Over the past 13 years I’ve had several flares so bad I’ve lost a concerning percentage of my body weight during them. Once the scale hits a certain number, I find I feel weak, tired and cold most of the time. On top of that, no matter what I do or how I change my diet, until the flare is over, it’s very hard for me to stop the weight loss process. I’ve gotten low enough in the past people have asked me if I have an eating disorder. During these times it’s very hard for me to do anything remotely physically demanding. Carrying laundry up the stairs, taking the kids to the park by myself, weeding the flower beds, even going to the grocery store is too much some days. On top of the general crummy feeling being underweight brings, IBS causes fluid loss so if I try to do these things before I build that back up, I may find myself flat on my back due to low blood pressure.

I’ve mentioned “flares” a lot. You might be wondering what causes them. Meeee too! Let me know when you find out πŸ˜‰ . Seriously, though, sometimes I can identify that my IBS was triggered by stress or hormones (which usually subside once the trigger is gone) but the flares like I wrote about in the above paragraph last for weeks and weeks with no obvious cause or solution and resolve just as mysteriously.

Over the last few months, some new and concerning symptoms developed and while I’m pretty used to challenges in this area, I knew it was time to talk to my doctor. So last month she had me take a test I’ve done several times before, which has always come back negative. Except this time, it was positive. Which meant I’d just won my very first colonoscopy appointment.

So today, after a far easier prep than I was expecting (thank you for all the prayers). I found out I had a large polyp (which he removed) that was causing at least the most concerning symptom. He also took biopsies to check for inflammatory bowel disease (a more serious condition than IBS that can masquerade as IBS) We have to wait for the biopsy results on the polyp to see how often I’ll need to go through this wonderful process again (likely every 3-5 years) and to know for sure if I have IBS or IBD, but today, I heard that I do not have colon cancer and I am so incredibly grateful.

IBS is not an easy issue to live with and IBD would be even more challenging, but I’m extremely grateful for how much health I *do* have. Every time I face one of these scary health times, it reminds me that our time on earth is so very short and I want to use it well. So often, I live as though I believe I’m the main character in this story. That’s a lot of pressure and I crack under it. What if it is cancer? What if my kids have to grow up without me? But the reality is, I’m just one little, very loved person in a very big story all about a God who loved the whole world so much, he sent his only Son to redeem us and bids us, “Come.”. I have 2 seconds here. I don’t want to spend it trying to make much of myself. I want to spend it making much of Him. I want to spend it being his hands and feet to my husband, to my children, to my family and friends. And I know that no amount of GI acronyms will thwart that plan for my life. And that is a very good story indeed.

Reflecting on First Grade

Today was the final day of 1st grade and someone is sooo sad (hint: not me! hahaha), which I find ironic considering the amount of cattle prodding I felt like it took to get us to the home school table some days. While it had it’s challenges, this year was actually easier than I expected. Here are some of the highs and lows:

What worked well…

Homeschooling with two kids:
Not as hard as I expected it to be thanks to a sunshine baby who actually naps. We did our “table time” during her naps and did fun-schooling (projects, science exploration, drawing, music etc.) while she was awake. Moving to a curriculum from a box rather than trying to create my own was also one of the best choices ever. I still ended up adapting and supplementing quite a bit for Caleb’s needs, but having the bones already there was such a relief.

Ember and Caleb at the beginning of first grade

Caleb and Ember at the end of first grade

Confidence:
I always hesitate to write about our exact methods because I know there are big feelings about the “best” way to school, both inside and outside the homeschool community. So rest assured if you read on that at the very least, we are adhering to all homeschool laws in our state and, at the best, feel we’re giving Caleb the ability to thrive academically despite some of his unique challenges, which I don’t currently talk much about on the blog or facebook for privacy reasons.

Seeing Caleb blossom academically this year gave me confidence to keep doing what we’re doing. As you might remember from my post about K last year, I’m pretty classical/charlotte mason by morning and unschooler by afternoon. My philosophy is that if I give him good bricks (fundamentals) to build with in the mornings, the afternoons take care of themselves and for the most part, that’s been true.Β  I knew there would be behavioral benefits to letting my super active guy have daily unstructured time, but I had no idea how much of that time he’d spend doing things that would help him grow academically, like drawing and labeling his own pokemon books (fine motor, handwriting, grammar, spelling), tons of independent reading, snap circuits, DIY science experiments, and of course, lots of lego inventing.

I feel confident that he is much further ahead in reading and writing than he would be if I had tried to get him to the same level at our table time. Just giving him space to read books of high interest to him (The Boxcar Children and Magic Treehouse series are his favorites) and write about things that interest him has done so much more than I ever could have. That might not be the same recipe we use when Ember’s at the same age, but it sure is working well for Caleb right now and I’m thankful for that!

Dad Involvement: David started to teach Caleb coding this year using free a “hour of code” program called lightbot. It was hard, but Caleb persisted and eventually completed the program. Seeing David give him his certificate was priceless. I’m so thankful David took the initiative to do this with him ❀

Community:
This topic was in my “needs improvement” category last year, but I am happy to say, I think we’ve found our sweet spot. In addition to our once/month extracurricular co-op, we added a weekly co-op that meets every Monday. Caleb is really thriving in that environment and loves having recess and lunch there each week. We also signed up for soccer with his local school team this past fall. He loved it so much we’re back again for spring and going to soccer camp this summer. His coaches have been absolutely fantastic and he’s learning to be a team player- literally πŸ™‚ And of course, he is learning to share and think about others in a whole new way now that Ember can move around πŸ™‚

 

What I’d like to do better this year…

Fun and Life Skills are still on the list: Although we’re doing better with having fun around here day to day (I’ve made a commitment to play with each of the kids at least 15 minutes a day and we do it, most days!), I haven’t done the best job tapping into all the great resources in the area. With Ember getting older, I’d like to get back to library story time and with us doing American History this year and living in the very historic state of PA, I’d like to do more field trips and exploring. Life skills…Caleb’s chore chart hasn’t changed much since he was 4. I definitely need to get on training him for some new tasks around the house. He is a big helper with silverware, vacuuming the dining room and dealing with his clean laundry, but I know he can do more!

Space: The biggest thing not working for us right now is the set up of our home. With Ember spending more time awake and able to reach more things, keeping all our curriculum out on the homeschooling table is not working out. I need to clean out the book shelf this summer and be prepared to put it all back and the end of our time each day. I’ll be glad when the stage is passed, but thankful to be getting to experience it again!

Ember’s favorite…tiny slips of paper right at her level, ready to crumple!

Timing: We tried to school with the traditional calendar this year to give me a “maternity leave” over the summer with Ember. It does not work well for us! Technically we did not finish our curriculum for the year. Since Caleb is working past grade level I’m not concerned about this, but once he reaches the age we report to the state, I need to make sure we’re getting an official 180 days. So we’re taking the month of June off (both the kids have bdays, as well as 2 camps!) and then we’ll start back in July. This will allow us to still take plenty of time off during the year for family visits and still get our 180 days in πŸ™‚

Thankfully, learning never really stops ❀

September 2016

Ember started off the month with her 3 month growth spurt. She ate,slept and pooped at a prodigious rate and by the time it was over, I’m pretty sure she had at least one more roll on her thighs than she started with. Thankfully, her feasting was limited to the day time hours. Actually, for about 2 weeks, she was sleeping through the night, which I’m quite thankful for because shortly after that…

We went through the 4 month sleep regression, which both my children have gone through at 3 months. They’re advanced sleep regressers πŸ˜‰ Basically, it’s the time babies develop more adult like sleep cycles, and where we would roll over and go back to sleep, the poor things have no clue what to do as they wake every 45 minutes day and night. Thankfully, some very very gentle sleep training seemed to help Ember a lot (or we just got really lucky and she would have started sleeping better again anyway) and she’s back to 1-2 night wakings for food. Naps are still a challenge, but I expect those to improve as she gets older and more mobile.

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We continue to be amazed at how many opinions our tiny girl has and how adept she is at communicating them. If you hold her while she wants to play, sit with her when she wants you to stand (or vise versa) or try to feed her on the couch when she wants to be rocked in the rocker…she will let you know about it! She doesn’t always get her way, but she always lets us know when she isn’t haha.

Caleb has fallen in love with the Boxcar Children this month and even built an entire scene from the book with his legos. I absolutely love his creativity and imagination.

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Lego Boxcar Children!

He also started playing soccer with the local school we’re zoned for. He absolutely loved it and can’t wait to play again in the spring!

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September was also a busy month because we took our first trip as a family of 4. The first part of our long weekend was a joyous occasion- the baptism of our friend’s 3 children.

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The second half was an emotional visit with other dear friends, as Drew dealt with the final stages of terminal cancer. It ended up being our last visit with him and David and I will hold the conversations we were able to have that weekend in our hearts for the rest of our lives.

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Early morning story time

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A picture from a visit a few years earlier.

At the end of the month, we were blessed to receive a wonderful visit from more of our amazing family. God sent them at just the right time because I also came down with a wicked case of mastitis at the same time and we really needed the help. They brought us food, took Caleb to soccer games and drove me to the walk in clinic until we figured out the medicine I needed to get better. We were able to have a little fun before then- a family field trip to the Udvar Hazy center! Caleb absolutely loved it and kept our guide busy with questions!

August 2016

After the recovery that wouldn’t end, this was the month that I feel like I really really started getting to enjoy Ember. Not that I didn’t before, of course, but you can imagine that feeding every 2-3 hours around the clock while having an infection and trying to still be somewhat functional for your 6 year old is not the easiest time to savor the moment.

A photo from one of my roughest days. Pasty skin, dark circles and a smile that's not quite making it to my eyes. So thankful for healing <3

A photo from one of my roughest days. Pasty skin, dark circles and a smile that’s not quite making it to my eyes. So thankful for healing ❀

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August brought healing for me, longer stretches of sleep for her and the ability to just rock her, snuggle her, smell her hair, admire her toes and feel grateful. I started feeling more confident going out and about with them both, although I still choose to do errands in the evening or on weekends until she can sit up on her own in the grocery cart or until David’s first work trip when I don’t have a choice, whichever comes first, haha.

Speaking of work trips…David was supposed to have a 2 week trip this month, which was thankfully shortened to 3 days! On top of that, my parents were able to come up during that time!!! We were all over the moon to finally be together. Seeing them meet Ember for the first time was so precious and my Dad and Caleb seemed to have an extra strong bond this time.

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After my parents went home it was time for school to begin! It really snuck up on me, but thankfully I’d done most of my curriculum prep this past spring in anticipation of the crazy newborn days. We’re using My Father’s World curriculum for the first time this year and I am loving it. It has simplified my prep time, has a good scope and sequence and incorporates learning about the Bible and memorizing scripture without being cheesy.

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First day of school ❀

We also had a special visit from Josh and Brianna this month. I loved getting to see them meet Ember for the first time. The visit got even more exciting when they told us our kiddos will have another cousin in March! So excited for them and for Ember to have a cousin almost her age like Caleb has been blessed to have!

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And of course we can’t forget Caleb’s big news…

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Last, but not least, my favorite story from this month:

While trying to explain a line from Farmer Boy about being “old enough to know better” I told Caleb,
“It’s like how little sister sometimes kicks you right now. She can’t control where her feet or legs move, so is she old enough to know better?”
C: “No.”
Me: “Right, but if she kicked you while she was a big 6 year old, would I punish her?”
C: “Well…I would take her punishment! Just like God took ours.”

He said it so sincerely my eyes filled with tears. He loves his little sister something fierce and apparently, he really is listening during Bible time ❀

 

Reflecting on Kindergarten

For me, preparing to begin our 2nd year of homeschool means thinking back on the previous year- what worked well, what didn’t and how I’d like to move forward from here.

First, things that worked really well:

Β Routine. This one is so so critical for our family. Caleb does a great job of being internally driven if he knows what’s coming next and is put in charge of it. He gets frustrated when he doesn’t know the plan and is “interrupted”. Making a written schedule was one of the best things I did for our school year. It told Caleb what time homeschool would start, when he would get free play, when he had chores, when meals would be and when special time with mommy would be. Sounds great, right? Well, I don’t know about you, but we also needed…

Flexibility. Things don’t always happen by the clock. We had several long talks about how sometimes things need to start a little sooner or a little later than we planned. But I tried to keep to the schedule as much as possible. I also had to give myself flexibility. I was pregnant with Ember all 9 months of the school year, which meant I spent the first 3 months getting sick multiple times a day and feeling awful in between and the last 3 months feeling big, sore and tired. How did I complete an entire school year? Spoiler alert- we didn’t. We in no way schooled 180 days last year. Kindergarten isn’t mandatory in our state for any child (homeschooled or not), so this is not an issue. Not only that, but Caleb was a young kindergartner so if we needed to spend all or part of the next school year working on more K skills, I was totally fine with that. Realistic expectations for both of us made the school year a happy, rather than stressed, one. Amazingly, Caleb completed all his K milestones and has had no trouble moving into first grade this year. Which leads me to…

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38 weeks and helping lay out his science fair poster. I felt so much bigger than this picture would suggest, haha.

Unschooling. We are not unschoolers by any means. For those who follow educational philosophies- I’m pretty firmly on the classical/Charlotte Mason end of the spectrum when it comes to “school time”. Which means a big focus on mastering fundamentals and building good habits. However, the time that Caleb isn’t at the homeschool table, he naturally “unschools” himself- takes the building blocks he’s learned in “class” and applies them to high interest activities.

At the end of Kindergarten he was reading 3-5 letter words fairly fluently, doing copy work (but not spontaneously writing with invented spelling), and adding and subtracting numbers 0-20 when carrying/borrowing was not involved. After a summer of reading his lego phonics books to himself 100 times he can now tackle most level 1-2 readers with little help and is advancing quickly. After a summer of labeling his drawings with one-sentence descriptions, I can see him applying phonics rules to his own creative writing. After a summer of solving math problems from his dad periodically, he’s adding and subtracting 3 and 4 digit numbers as long as no borrowing/carrying is required. Speaking of the specifics of what Caleb is/isn’t able to do…

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After he turned a cardboard box into an AT-AT Walker, he wrote “This machine is not to be bothered with.” πŸ˜€

Patience/avoiding comparison. We all know every kid masters skills on their own time table. This can get hard when homeschooling though because whether or not your child can do xyz that most other kids his age are doing feels like a direct reflection on you and on homeschool being a right/wrong choice for your child. Which is funny, because if a child is a little behind in an area in public school we don’t usually assume it’s a flaw in the teacher or the choice to public school (at least, as a former teacher, I hope not!). We assume they need more time and more practice. And that is something I had to keep reminding myself of.

In the fall, we took a 2 month break from learning to read. Try as he might, Caleb could just not fluently blend many words. He was frustrated, I was concerned about killing his love of reading by making it a chore (not to mention nauseated- thanks first trimester!) so we just took a break. We kept going in other areas, I read aloud to him and we worked on blending sounds orally as we drove in the car or I folded laundry and when we came back to it…he flew through the rest of the curriculum and absolutely loves to read now.

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Community. We were blessed to be part of a once/month co-op that met to do extracurriculars like art, music, PE and science experiments together. While it was wonderful to be able to do those things in community, for me, the co-op was worth it’s weight in gold because of the time I got to talk with other mom-teachers, get ideas, hear stories and share difficulties. If you’re considering homeschooling, I can not recommend finding a co-op enough.

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Caleb and one of his special friends from Co-Op building a marshmallow catapult together.

What I’d like to do better this year:

Fun: If you know us well, “fun” is neither David or I’s middle name, but we’ve become convinced adding silliness and fun into the family life is essential for helping our kids feel connected and cared for. It can be easy for this to get brushed aside when you feel like you’ve already spent all morning together doing school. I try to make sure to set aside at least 15-20 minutes each day to just play a game, build legos or get outdoors with Caleb. This year, I’d like to add in a family ritual like Friday family fun night where we do something a little extra special together like staying up late to watch a movie or ordering pizza and playing a game. Especially as Caleb gets older, I want our home to be a place he *wants* to be and I know part of that is starting these things while it’s still cool to hang out with mom and dad.
Life Skills: Again, this is something critical that’s easy to lose sight of teaching as we strive to nurture Caleb academically and spiritually, yet having time to teach Caleb life skills is one of the reasons we chose to homeschool. Whether it’s talking about body safety rules, how to prepare a simple meal, how be responsible with money or how to do specific home maintenance skills we want to make sure we’re covering more than just academics each year.

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Helping Mama make dinner ❀

Deeper Community: Last year, in addition to the once a month Co-Op, we attended library story time, went to the roller rink and gymnastics open play times and met up for play dates at the park. We’re fortunate to have kids his age in the neighborhood and at church, but I still didn’t feel like he was getting enough time with other kids his age. This year, we’re adding in a once/week Co-op and he’ll be playing soccer with classmates from the local school we’re zoned for. I’m trying to find that line between connected and over-commited. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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July 2016

July was full of ups and downs as I continued to struggle to recover from Ember’s birth. I won’t go into the medical details, but there were lots of little things that let me know something just wasn’t right. They (correctly) suspected I had a lingering infection, so had a small procedure and some more antibiotics and have felt much better since, but it definitely felt like the recovery that would never end for a while there…

I am so humbled and grateful by all the ways God provided for us during those hard weeks. Friends brought meals- not just for the first two weeks when our official meal-train was scheduled, but for the next 3 weeks after, calls kept coming in offering to bring us a dish. Then David was scheduled to go on a work trip (which was thankfully canceled) and a friend heard he was going and contacted me to say she’d like to stay half the week with me. Then on my first week back to having the kids all on my own, another good friend called out of the blue to ask if Caleb would like to come over and play for a few hours one afternoon.

As I wrote in my journal:

My little faithless heart was so worried how I would cope without my mom here, and while I still want her well and able to come with all my heart, I am teary when I see how God provided for us through our church family, friends and neighbors- not just sufficiently, but abundantly.

Part of that provision was a wonderful visit from David’s next youngest brother, his wife and their son. Not only did we have a great time visiting and making memories, by the end of it, I was ready to ask Amy to move in! She was a total baby whisperer during Ember’s fussy times. They were all such a blessing to us and Caleb and Zachary had so much fun together, Caleb told me afterward, “But Mommy, I don’t know how to play alone anymore!” ❀

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Baby whisperer!

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Cousins and best friends ❀

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Family ❀

July 11th was our first day doing a mini-homeschool time post baby. We updated the calendar, Caleb read a book to me (Runaway Bunny, his current favorite, paired with lots of mommy snuggles), then I read him one about the history of the White House, then I taught a math lesson and he practiced some problems, then practiced writing numbers after mommy noticed some were facing backwards after 6 weeks off. I don’t know who was happier to have our routine back- me or him πŸ˜€

July was also the first time I took both kids out by myself. Most adorable moment from our first outing:

I let Caleb run ahead to the playground while I got Ember out of the car. By the time I caught up to him, he’d already made 2 little friends, to whom he declared, “There’s my new baby sister!” in the most proud voice I’ve ever heard. They came rushing over and asked, “Can we see the new sister?” Adorable!

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Ember is happy to sleep anywhere πŸ˜€

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Caleb was happy to be out of the house!

The end of the month brought my 30th birthday. I knew it would be a wonderful one, despite the health challenges and sleep deprivation, just having my little girl in my arms when last July I was in the process of being tested for a host of fertility related disorders. David made sure it was made even more wonderful though by planning a special girls night at home for me with 3 close friends. We ate brownie sundaes and Married Mr. Darcy (in a card game) while he walked and rocked Ember since it was during her fussy time of day. I could not be more in love with that man…

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Β And of course, July 4th, Ember turned one month old!
IMG_6895There aren’t words to describe how much I love this precious girl…

Stitch Fix #4

But wait you say…what happened to fixes 2 & 3? Well…Fix #2 came a few days after we found out we were expecting our precious girl. Not only did buying new clothes not seem like a great idea, I was also feeling extremely sick by that point and not much up to writing. For the record though, Stitch Fix gave me a new stylist and I probably wouldn’t have kept any pieces regardless. The clothes were adorable, but not my personal style.

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I’m so beyond excited to have a poppy seed in the oven ❀

Fix #3 was a maternity fix. I kept one maternity shirt as a treat to myself, but overall, I’m definitely not a fan of paying Stitch Fix prices for something I’ll only wear a few months.

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37 Weeks in my Fix shirt ❀

Which brings me back to Fix #4. This postpartum mama is very thankful flowing tunic tops and leggings are in style because that is going to be my fall uniform. For my Fix, I asked for 2 tunic length cardigans to try and 3 shirts that could pair with either skinny jeans or leggings. The results:

First the shirts (excuse the messy hair. I’d just spent the last 3 hours trying to help a wee one get to sleep)-

41 Hawthorn Queensland Dolman Jersey Top: $48

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Pretty cute from this angle…

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But not super flattering to my post partum pooch and just kind of a weird fit overall.

Verdict: Returned

Skies Are Blue Dillard One Pocket Top: $58

While I loved the colors in this top, the fit did nothing for me and the price @_@ There is nothing special about this top. It’s a standard light flannel you could easily find similar to at Target for less than half the price. Verdict: Returned.

IMG_7164 IMG_7166Market and Spruce Gunvalson Lattice Detail Tunic: $68

IMG_7171 IMG_7172 IMG_7173I wanted to love this top. I’ve been on the quest for the perfect non-see-through white shirt, with some cute detailing, to pair with jeans. This one didn’t pass the non-see-through test, wrinkled easily and was a little more formal than I’m looking for. Verdict: Returned.

Gentle Fawn Boris French Terry Jacket: $84

Another one I wanted to love. The color and style of this cozy cardigan really speaks to me and would have been my top pick except…

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Really cute, right?

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But when I move around and let the seams fall naturally…

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This happens. Instant bag lady.

Verdict: Returned. With a few tears πŸ˜›

Pixley Potina Draped Cardigan: $68

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While a more basic piece than I expect to add from Stitch Fix, this ended up being the winner. I have a similar sweater in black that I wear constantly so I know this will get a lot of use. It’s a different color, has more detailing and is a heavier weight, so I don’t feel like I’m just replicating a piece I already own. Verdict: Kept.

Four fixes in, my over all thoughts on Stitch Fix are:

Pros: I love the fun/social aspect to getting a Fix. Opening the box and being surprised, modeling for David, sending pictures to my close friends for discussion, looking through the box with my mom, experimenting with clothes I might not have tried on in the store, trying on clothes after the kids are in bed from the comfort of my home with pieces I already own…to me, that is totally worth the $20 styling fee a couple times a year.

Cons: It really stinks when none of the 5 pieces are a home run. The clothes are pricey and while I’m ok with that for the occasional high quality, beloved piece, it’s hard to swallow when none of them hit that mark. Which is why I’ll likely only get 2-3 fixes a year.

If this review has inspired you to try your own Fix, please consider signing up by following my referral link:Β https://www.stitchfix.com/referral/5628099

Thanks!