Oct 19, 2015

A Day in Our Homeschool

October means Table Time in costume regalia

I am thrilled to say that we are in the middle of October, and our new schedule and study outlines are still going strong! It has been so helpful to me to have a plan that fits right into a routine that can still be flexible and fluid, depending on the timing of the day.

I think others might benefit from "seeing" what one of our homeschool days looks like, so here goes... Hang on to your hats while I present our "Keppnergarten" eclectic and quirky learning experience!

Morning Busy-ness

Since we have a young adult who nannies for a local family, and teens in our home that attend LDS Seminary class at the local charter school, we are still tied to a school schedule. Our cute nanny needs to leave our house before 7am, so we all get up early for family prayer. 

As soon as she takes off, the teens all get showered and ready for their classes, which start at 8am. That means that I also need to get ready during that hour in the morning, since I am their ride. It has been really good for me to recognize the need to be more self-disciplined first thing in the morning, rather than getting lost in my email or on Facebook. So I briefly read my scriptures, and then get dressed in my "mom uniform"*.

SIDE NOTE: I am not one of those moms that can stand having homeschool lessons while everyone is in their pajamas. Neither the kids nor I feel ready to work and engage when we are lounging around in pj's. To each his or her own, but this is what works for US.)

The teens and I race out the door at about 20 minutes (ideally) before their final school bell rings at 8:00am. On my way home from the daily drop-off, I have a heartfelt conversation with my Father in Heaven. I know from personal experience that if I take the time to get my scripture and prayer times in, I will somehow be a better mom and have a happier day. It's a true principle that proves itself day in and day out.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. on the road... Seminary class lasts for about an hour and a half. That gives me time to come home and cook breakfast. We prefer to have a homemade breakfast, instead of cereal, for a couple of reasons: 

1) We are CHEAP thrifty people and cereal for a crowd like ours get expensive. (We would go through 4-5 boxes per breakfast, y'all. And with the high cost of milk, too, that adds up!)
2) We have kids with food coloring sensitivities. Translation: Our little sweethearts turn into holy terrors when they get a huge shot of sugar coated in Red-40. It is NOT pretty. You have to trust me on this!

Okay, to cut to the chase, I make breakfast while listening to a podcast** or LDS Conference talk. (This also helps with my goal to be a nice mom.) Then it either goes in the oven or it is served the younger kiddos. I return to the school to pick up kids after the first hour class at 9:30am. My 12 year old son does the babysitting during these brief school runs, and he has done well with it.

We all eat breakfast, then quickly do our after-breakfast chores. If we are doing really well, and the kids don't avoid their chores for too long, we are on track for our...


Table Time is what I have christened our "let's sit at the table and learn" time. The kids grab our box of binders, our pencil/crayon caddy, and the basket of handwriting notebooks and workbooks, and we are off!

Here is where Charlotte Mason (CM) resources have come in beautifully handy for me. At the end of August, I was reading all I could about her methodology, and had a few BIG planning days, where I mapped out all the subjects and books I would use to teach those subjects.

Now, I am usually a seat-of-my-pants girl, but I have LOVED following my plan-- for once in my life! The cool thing is that I have a plan for each day of the week, but if I want to shake things up a bit, I can switch the order of whatever it is I have planned for that day. Spontaneity can still exist! But now, I am not so overwhelmed by possibilities. I have already made those decisions, and there is great peace in that!

Here's what we do for Table Time EVERY day:
  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture Memorization (Old Testament/Pearl of Great Price)
  3. Copywork (They copy the scripture we are memorizing that week, focusing on their penmanship.)
  4. Scripture Story (Old Testament)
  5. Hymn Study and Singing
  6. History Read Aloud (Different history each day of the week.)
On every Monday during Table Time, the kids can also pass off their memorized scripture from the previous week to earn a little treat. They have been doing so well!

MATH... Dun-dun-dun...

After Table Time, the kids each take a turn doing their math on one of our three computers. We use two online programs that have worked really well for us. 
  • XtraMath: This is a free website that helps kids drill basic math facts up to basic division. A parent has to set up an account for each child, but then they can sign on easily with their own PIN number.
  • CTC Math: This subscription website has been a LIFESAVER for me and my older children. I love that the lessons are NOT Common Core aligned (They are based out of Australia), and that the instructor is so good at explaining each lesson. The kids have never asked for my help with math since they began this program. They can independently learn without the distractions of other subjects and fun videos. (Which has been our issue with Khan Academy.)

My beloved Mary Englebreit weekly planner, from whence all homeschool planning flows.

A Change of Pace

In my last post, I talked a little about Swedish Drills, so I won't go into them in detail, but we do that next, after moving into our living room area. I have found that it's been really important for my kids to have different types of things to do. Table Time is sitting at the table, math time is at the computer, drills take the kids moving all around the house, and reading aloud times are spent lounging around on furniture. The variety keeps them excited and their minds ready for new things.

Each day of the week, we focus on a different read aloud subject from "living books," as Charlotte Mason called them. So I am reading aloud from a few sweet, old books I found for free, or VERY cheaply, on Kindle: 
  • "Famous Men of the Middle Ages" by John H. Haaren
  • "An Island Story" by H.C. Marshall (British History)
  • "Shakespeare's Stories for Children" by Edith Nesbit
  • "The Boys' and Girls' Plutarch"
  • Various classic fiction (We just finished "the Light Princess" by George MacDonald. It was so wonderful!)

One of the things I really love about Charlotte Mason, is the idea that lessons and read aloud sessions should be SHORT. This has kept my kids interested and engaged, even when they are young. Another thing I have added after every thing I read is Narration. This is a CM activity that solidifies what was just read in to the children's minds. (I also like to add in some Socratic discussion, as well.) Narration has been extremely helpful for my kids' attentiveness. They listen much better during our read aloud sessions, as a result.

Weekly Subjects

As you can see from the photo above, each day we focus on a few different things. I love the variety it brings to keep interest high, but also helps me to cover the subjects that I've always intended to study with the kids, but never could fit in.

Here are the subjects we study once a week:
  • Mondays- British History, Poetry
  • Tuesdays- Plutarch, Music Study
  • Wednesday- Middle Ages, Art Study
  • Thursday- Latin, Shakespeare
  • Friday- Homeschool Classes with TJLA (I take the big kids and disappear for a few hours to teach a Shakespeare class.), Handicrafts with big sister
One thing I have not written down is Nature Study/Science. This is one area that I leave completely free-form, and strongly encourage the kids to head outside as much as possible. It's still HOT here right now (90's and low 100's), but as the weather gets gorgeous this winter, they will be outside more and more. With a couple parks within walking distance, we are ready for Nature study!

Afternoons and Evenings

This is the time each day when Nature Study occurs, as well as independent study for older kids, projects, and lots of PLAY time. (This is when mom can clean, read, do laundry, write blog posts, go shopping, etc..)

If there is a subject like Art or Music study, or some reading aloud that we didn't get to in the morning, I can easily slip that subject in randomly in the afternoon hours. 

Evenings are when we all wind down and enjoy one another's company. (Though I do spend a little time running a daughter to ballet lessons 2 evenings a week.) This is Dad's favorite time to read aloud to the kids. He is in the midst of reading "On the Banks of Plum Creek" to our little girls, and they love it!

At the end of the day, we gather for family scripture study and prayer.

Peace and Progress

I have had such a wonderful time seeing my children improve in their studies! They can look through their penmanship notebooks and already see their progress as the time has slowly rolled on. When I review their math studies, I can see what they have worked on, where they are succeeding, and where they still need to work. I wake up in the morning and already know what I will be teaching in the new day!

My hours of planning in the late summer has given me such peace in the here and now. It was worth all the hard work and time that it took to learn and to work out a schedule. Who knew that being prepared could be so much fun?! 

Wishing you all the best,

* My personal "Mom Uniform" includes a skirt, a comfy blouse, and an apron.
** My favorite podcasts include Dave Ramsey, BYU Speeches, and Power of Moms

Oct 6, 2015

Walk Beside Me

For my final post in this series about the changes we've made in our homeschool, I thought I'd just share the resources we have found that are helping us on our journey, as well as share some of the things we have been doing that are working well in our homeschool. 

Two Philosophies

I have been homeschooling since 1999, y'all. I am not new to all the buzz words and learning styles that have been out there for the past sixteen years! I have definitely heard about Charlotte Mason over all that time, and even have the complete set of her original book series on education. However, in the past I had only thumbed through the books a few times and discussed her methodologies with homeschooling moms now and then.

I was going strictly child-led with our homeschooling, and so as wonderful as I felt Charlotte Mason's ideas were, I dismissed her based on her parent and/or teacher-led philosophies. My kids were doing whatever they wanted with their learning, and I was just there to get them the resources they needed, and to help now and then when they might get stuck doing their learning of choice.

During the first 14 years of our homeschooling, we had a flurry of baking, reading, insect-hunting, game-making, DIRT, play, and SHAKESPEARE going on with the students in our home. I was a very busy mom who was running around trying to organize and lead a homeschool community, blogging, speaking at homeschool events, directing plays, and sewing intricate Shakespeare costumes.

It was a lot of fun (and I love fun!), but it was also very, VERY chaotic. I am not a big schedule person, and so my kids never knew what to expect from day to day, and neither did I-- or my husband. But because we were all child-led, all the time, I felt that the flexibility lent itself to the style of learning we were attempting to follow, and I didn't think we needed to change anything. Our kids would learn ALL they needed to know, and I was not worried!

Reality Sets In

I had always loved my teens; they were model youth! We had lots of fun in our homeschool group, in our Shakespeare plays, in our family circle, and I was sure that they were going to grow up to be amazing people who would make a real difference in the world.

Until the time my children began to discover that they had never done any real, sustained learning. And when studies got difficult for them, they would just drop the subject at hand and move on to something easy. I started to see these warning signs, but was completely unequipped to know how to deal with these disturbing trends. My personal philosophies kept me from requiring anything of my children, at least academically. (We had lots of requirements when it came to household duties and family rules.)

And then, we had a couple of very, VERY difficult years in our family. And it wasn't just with one child. One of our older children has autism, and so I knew she had to do things in her own way-- I did not push her for most things, or we would have even bigger problems. But our very ambitious child began to realize that his education had been severely neglected, and so he lost almost all respect for me, treating me accordingly. Then another child started dealing with depression and some very, VERY serious issues that greatly affected self-esteem and lead to alarming actions.

I began to realize that I had been neglecting the education of my children, right when they needed my guidance the most. And as a result, they no longer felt they could look to me or trust me as their homeschool teacher.

Searching and Stumbling

We took some steps back, at this point. I was leading a homeschool group at the time, and started simplifying everything I could with the group, in our commitments, and in my personal interests, so that I could focus on my family-- doing whatever it took to get us "back on track." 

We poured all of our efforts into our family's spirituality, desperately trying to heal the broken family culture that we had unwittingly created. In the midst of doing everything possible to save my children from spiritual death, I gave birth our last two children, directing a musical while pregnant with one, and costuming a Shakespeare play weeks before giving birth to the other child! (And also turned 40 years old. Yay?)

I remember pleading with the Lord to help me know what to do. We were also beginning to require a few minimum things from our children academically, now: MATH, and penmanship. The kids seemed to grab hold of having requirements, and I began to study more and more about the one-room schools from early American history. I was seeing the value in daily requirements for myself, and the principles of the Law of the Harvest kept coming to mind, resonating in my heart. 

As daily order was coming into our homeschool, some of the fun DID leave. But I had to choose between keeping learning exciting, or keeping my children's hearts. And so I chose the latter.

Probably the final nail in the coffin of child-led homeschooling philosophies for our family came when my newly-called missionary son looked at me, about a month before leaving our home, and said: 
"I can't believe you're finally really homeschooling, now that I'm about to leave. I'm happy for the other kids, but I wish you had done this with me."

Humanities-Based Education

Once much of the smoke from the spiritual battles in our home cleared*, I began studying again, looking for just the right fit for our newly formed homeschool ideals. I still adored rich, full, classic books, music, art, and history. I no longer worried about keeping things fun and exciting, so that the kids would want to study. Rather, I again saw how valuable studying the truly good works throughout history was for our family culture. 

My children did not know all the wonderful, beautiful, inspiring things that were out there, but I did!!!

I kept going back to the lovely works that spoke to my heart-- the things that the kids had groaned about when they were running the show, so I would drop them. (Child-led!) With me taking my children by the hand, we could now explore the beautiful things I had always wanted them to experience-- TOGETHER!

I found myself looking for a homeschool experience that was similar to majoring in Humanities in college. I was praying with all my heart for such a thing, wondering if in the end I would have to create something on my own.

But then, I rediscovered Charlotte Mason.

Befriending Charlotte

One of the ladies in my homeschool community started talking about Charlotte Mason. In fact, she taught a class on Charlotte Mason at our very local LDS homeschool conference. I was interested, but also thought maybe I'd give this lady my set of Charlotte Mason books-- I wasn't using them. Luckily for me, she had her own set, and so I kept them. 

This same woman started sharing more about Miss Mason's philosophies in the community, and I was learning more on the side, as well. I was cracking open the books, reading here and there, and was beginning to feel very, VERY drawn to the method, but felt very overwhelmed at the same time. (If anyone has read Charlotte Mason's original books, you know how rich and deep every word is!)

And then, the same lady and some other friends hosted a small gathering where they simulated a Charlotte Mason homeschool day. It was intended to show what a CM co-op type experience was like, but it resonated so deeply with me that I was overcome with emotion. 

I COULD DO THIS!!! I wanted to do this in my home, to give my children this type of beautiful homeschool experience. With free resources like Ambleside Online and inexpensive options like Simply Charlotte Mason, I finally felt the support and help I needed to move forward.

I began to walk beside my children, sharing a beautiful, inspiring feast of beauty and richness with them, guiding them, leading them to the things that I, as their mother, feel are important for them to learn.

Our New Homeschooling Day

And so we are walking, hand in hand, among the beautiful and good in our homeschool every day, with a PLAN for each and every day. 

The younger children and I have a set time where we do what I call "Table Time," with devotional (scripture memory, scripture story, hymn study & singing), and copywork (Copying the scripture we are memorizing, of course!). 

Then the kids each take a turn at one of our three computers to do math. (HOORAY for CTC Math!!!)

Next, I do some reading aloud from Living books (Plutarch for children, Shakespeare, Poetry, or English History) and then we practice Swedish Drills, which the kids are really enjoying. (I am loving the lessons in attentiveness and obedience that happen naturally as a result of these exercises!

We also throw in Art study and Music/Composer study once a week, which the children also enjoy. I love hearing little voices pronounce the names of our French artist of the term (Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot), or talk about how Brahms' Lullaby makes them feel deliciously sleepy!

One thing I had always heard, but was never able to really latch onto during all my homeschooling years, was the idea that homeschool is life.

I came to realize that we can stop and read ANYTIME. If I don't get to one of my planning reading during the morning, I can stop in the afternoon, or just after dinner, to read Plutarch, or poetry. We can listen to our current Composer's music while cleaning or cooking, or playing and creating.

I should mention that a couple of my teen daughters have decided to take some classes part time at our local charter school, and that is working out really well. Our older children also still meet for some homeschool classes (This year it's Civil War, Chemistry, Writing and our old favorite, Shakespeare.) once a week, where I have even gone back to teaching Shakespeare again. (And I'm LOVING it!!!) We do use Khan Academy for a few high school subjects, where the older kids work on filling the gaps in their high school transcripts. (Plans really are wonderful things!)

After everything we have been through, I have been pleasantly surprised at how peaceful and wonderful mother-led education can be! Of course, I had to spend the last few weeks of August planning, studying, researching, writing, and planning some more, but the work I did then is paying off big dividends NOW.

And so, I Lead, Guide, and Walk Beside my children on this wonderful, ordered, JOYFUL homeschool journey, little by little, every day. 

Thank you for joining me!



*(The spiritual war still goes on, especially for one child, but those battles are no longer fought right in our home.)

To learn how to start using Charlotte Mason's ideas in your home, check out the "How to Get Started" page on the Simply Charlotte Mason website. It helped me immensely in knowing how to plan and start this first year!