another school year begins

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I have been trying to get this post up for two weeks now but we have been busy getting our “school legs” back under us again, and also I’ve not been feeling well with full-body hives all over since Tuesday morning of this week (honestly made me feel really strange).  So, here I am with a post at long last, and a good long one for you today, too!

We are wrapping up our second week of school today, and it has been good to back in this rhythm, finding our way once again through what always feels a bit like new and unfamiliar territory.  This is our fourth year homeschooling.  Phoebe is in 3rd grade, Noah is is 1st.  I’m not doing any formal schooling with Philippa or Wren, although Philippa is participating for the first time in our weekly co-op (Classical Conversations) in her own class so she is getting some instruction here and there.  However, there’s no real pressure or expectation on her yet.  She’s only 4 years old and I’ve always erred on starting my children later than earlier, longing to give them as long of a childhood as possible to explore and wonder without busying up their day with book work.  Philippa can join in and do whatever work she finds interesting but when she tires of it she happily trots off with Wren.  I see a new little bond forming between the two younger girls as they begin to have longer morning stretches playing together while the older two are engaged in work.

Every year this endeavor becomes both more comfortable and more daunting.  Children grow and change, their needs, weaknesses, and strengths fluctuate and we keep a close eye on where help is most needed.  While I gain more understanding of my little learners and myself as a teacher, there are always new wrenches thrown into our best laid plans and the home dynamic changes as the littles grow and interrupt in different ways.  I understand now why older more seasoned homeschool mommas told me at the outset 4 years ago that I would need to be prepared to be more tired than I ever imagined.  I can feel that now and we aren’t still that far along.  Truly, this is such a monumental task.  Teaching to multiple ages, keeping a close eye on their progress, adjusting as needed, juggling the work of being both their mother and teacher–it truly is far harder than I imagined.  I am learning so much about myself, and also my understanding of “education” is really shifting and morphing, coming from a traditional public school background.  I studied Outdoor Education in college, which falls under the umbrella of experiential education.  I fell in love with that major because I found it to be so effective, teaching and learning experientially.  I am thankful for that background which helps just ever so slightly as we find our way along this arduous journey.  I never imagined giving so much of my life and mental energy to this work, but I do truly love it, even despite the many days and moments where I feel totally overwhelmed and under qualified.  I don’t know where this journey will lead us, but I feel confident we are in the right place.

And so we embark on another year.  Even as a child, I loved the beginning of a new school year, the fresh supplies, the excitement about growing older and discovering new things.  I try to fill our children’s hearts with that same eagerness, purchasing some fresh supplies, filling our morning basket with new books, showing each of them what they’ll be tackling this year and asking them what they hope to learn as well.  I love dreaming up a few field trips or ways to bring learning to life.  I love surprising and delighting them.

Occasionally I get questions about what curriculums we use and I always hesitate to answer because I guess I feel inadequate in a lot of ways and it feels vulnerable to open our little humble home school to others opinions.  I also feel like there’s a lot of temptation for us mommas to compare ourselves to one another and measure ourselves against one another, which is never the goal.  However, if those specifics can be helpful to someone, then I’m happy to share.  I’m still learning and fumbling my way through this in so many ways, and nothing is done perfectly.  We have many frustrating moments, and there are tears and arguments had by all.  Such is the nature of being together 100% of our time.

I have always used The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer as the backbone for our curriculum choices.  We have also always done one day a week with our classical community (Classical Conversations) which takes a bit of pressure off as they provide basically everything except language arts and math.  I love the emphasis on memory work through music and am always amazed at my children’s capacity to memorize huge amounts of information.  They always astound me!  This year I am beginning to do more Ambleside Online readings as I’ve always been drawn to move fully in that direction.  Charlotte Mason’s philosophy has resonated with more than any other approach I’ve encountered.  Some other books that have been instrumental in shaping our home school have been For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay, Mother Culture by Karen Andreola, Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola, The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart, Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie, The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins, and Home Education by Charlotte Mason.  There are many I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but these have been so helpful and memorable.

Last year was such a challenge with our mornings being interrupted with a baby who needed mid-morning nursing and nap time and who was frequently up in the night, leaving me very groggy and slow to get up in the mornings.  It felt like we weren’t getting into a good groove until 10 am.  This year I am enforcing a stricter schedule for our morning and it’s been making a huge difference.  I am getting up far earlier to ensure that I have time to enjoy coffee, the scriptures and some knitting before our day begins.  Phoebe begins promptly at 8 am with math, which is her most challenging subject and it is her preference to tackle it first rather than dread it.  (My aim this year is to recapture her wonder and love for math, if at all possible.)  By about 8:30 am Noah begins and I bounce around between them both doing hand writing, copywork, grammar, spelling, reading, and math until about 10am.  Then we break for snack and morning time — scripture reading, hymn singing, catechism memory work, poetry, ambleside readings, or whatever else strikes our fancy.  Then we get back to work wrapping up whatever we can until 11:30 am.  If the weather allows we head out for a walk.  By noonish we are having lunch, some read aloud time, naps, and then everyone has a quiet time from about 1-3pm.  This break allows them to read or play, while the little girls sleep.  During this time I usually catch up on housework, workout, rest/knit, or work on this blog!  If we still have work in the afternoon (usually history, science, nature journaling, or art), we will finish that up between 3-4pm.  Then they are free for the remainder of the day and usually encouraged to spend the rest of the afternoon outside.  As the warm days give way to cooler temps they will enjoy being outside for longer stretches.  Of course we still do some read-aloud or game time in the evenings before bed and we finish our day off with scripture and prayer once again.  I try to allow for at least one day a week that we do lighter work in order to be able to get out for a fun outing or hike.  I’m also trying to fit in a few more extracurriculars, like music lessons and sports.  Anyway, that’s a loose picture of what we are attempting this year and so far it is working more smoothly.

I finally named our school this year after deliberating over it for, well, the past few years.  A name that we will carry with us throughout the years feels important and shaping somehow.  So, I have named it Scattered Beams Academy after a very favorite quote of mine from Jonathan Edwards:

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.  To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here.  Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows; but God is the substance.  These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun.  These are but streams.  But God is the ocean.”

And these words by Matt Papa in his book Love and Live reflecting on this quote:

“The creation is ‘scattered beams’–God’s artwork, full of glory and dignity.  But Christianity is not secularism–we do not run to the world.  We don’t feast upon the world for its own sake, because these are just ‘scattered beams.’  They are not the sun, and thereby they are unable to bear the full weight of our worship and interest.  To be a Christian means we don’t from the world, and we don’t look to the world.  To be a Christian means we look through the world.  Idolatry looks at the world in amazement.  Worship, true worship, looks through it in amazement.  To its source.  To the One who is infinitely more amazing.  More interesting.  These things God has made–these shadows, these scattered beams, these shallow streams–are good.  And God is better.”

Romans 1:20 tells us that God has revealed his invisible nature and eternal qualities in everything that He has made, so we can look at every subject as a scattered beam that points us back up to the source, the brilliant Sun which we cannot gaze on directly but by which all things are visible, beautiful, enriched, alive.  Every creature and every subject of study has value and finds its place in the kingdom of God, revealing His nature, His beauty, His order, His brilliance, His delight, His creativity.  I could go on. 😉  It is our aim to see everything through that lens and find Him in everything.  (Hello, name of my blog..)

So that’s a little bit about us, four years in.  To everyone else who is beginning a new year, whether homeschool or public, private or some combo in between, may we do that work before us (of shepherding our child’s hearts and minds) with diligence, with curiosity, with fresh eyes and faith, with joy and dependence on the one who breathes the energy and ingenuity into our sails daily.  And to the students, which is hopefully all of us in one degree or another, let us keep an open learning mind!  Know that I’m cheering you on from here, dear ones!

our first week

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So many firsts this week I hardly know where to begin.  Even though our homeschool co-op began a couple of weeks ago, we had our official first week of school this week and it went surprisingly better than I had thought it would.  I spent a lot of time this summer dreading, moaning, and complaining to my husband about school starting up and all the new things I would be juggling this year versus last year, all my fears and worries and things I wasn’t sure how to approach.

The reality is that it is always better to just get going and work out the kinks as they come.  I always feel a big sense of relief once we just get started.  I’ve made some changes in my expectations and my managing of household duties that I think will really help our school year.  For instance, instead of trying to quickly get school done in the mornings so we have time before lunch to run to the store, library or park, I’m devoting all of our mornings to being home until lunch time.  If we finish earlier, great, but at least I need to remove that pressure from all of us.  Errands will have to be run in the afternoons after the little one’s naps (which is not my preference), and some errands just devoted to weekends or evenings.  Already I can tell that one little shift has made a big difference in my stress level with school–we have all morning to be home and to work.

This year, I feel like I jumped from homeschooling one child to homeschooling three.  Since Noah is now busy for a bit in the mornings with school, Philippa also wants to have “work” to do until her brother/compatriot is free to play.  (I’m a big fan of letting children be children for as long as possible and not beginning any formal educating until 5 or 6 at minimum, but this little precocious 3 year old just won’t be left out.)  I also know that if we don’t get started right away and I don’t capture their attention early in the day, they lose focus and motivation pretty quickly.  It just so happens that this week Wren has been unusually fussy and skipping naps like crazy, and I realized she was cutting her first two teeth.  Of course that would need to happen this week!  So on top of trying to figure out how to jump between two kids asking questions and Phoebe’s adjusting to not having mom’s full and undivided attention, a 3 year old who wants to be in on the game, there’s been a lot of time shushing a hysterical overtired baby.  However, with all that said, it really went pretty well.  I feel more calm and relaxed, I have a better understanding of how to approach teaching phoebe (with some insights that we received from the state-required testing she did over the summer), and I’m learning that we have more space and time to experiment, stretch, and savor than I think we do.  It’s funny, teaching kindergarten to another child, chanting the “five vowels” poem with another little one and remembering how far we’ve come, Phoebe and I, since then.  So I’m telling myself to slow down, to enjoy these precious days because they will never come again.

The work, the planning, the weight of knowing their education is on my shoulders–it is the part of homeschooling that I like the least, but in reality, I so treasure and love this work.  I can’t believe we get to do this, and I’m so thankful.  So very thankful.  We may barely be able to pay the bills, but it is worth it to have this time with them during these fleeting years.  And God is faithful!  He always provides.

We are continuing to make some changes to our little school room, some improvements.  I am working to keep us more settled in that room as we work versus spreading out all over the house (as we used to last year).  It is helping as well!  Brandon has been building me a nice big chalkboard because I simply can’t do without it any more, as well as a “floating” sort of desk for Phoebe.  I’ll share some photos of them once we’re done.  Weekends are everything–so much that has to be packed into those two precious days!  Slowly we are getting little house projects done.

In other news, Wren has moved into her big-girl crib in Noah’s room and also started her first solids this week.  She isn’t terribly productive or interested in eating yet, but she is curious and feels very grown up to be eating like the big kids do.  She is really changing and growing so quickly and I did cry a little when I saw those two bottom teeth poking through her little gums.  I remember how it felt like it took FOREVER for Phoebe to turn six months old, eat solids, begin teething.  I couldn’t wait for her to move onto the next thing!  Now, I just want to slow it all down.  It seriously feels like we just brought Wren home from the hospital and already she is beginning the first real stages of growing up and growing independent.  Of course, it’s all good but you parents know what I mean–these are bittersweet changes.

Crunchy leaves are beginning to accumulate in our yard bringing the earliest feeling of fall, even though September in our neck of the woods can be quite humid and sweltering so I keep telling myself the worst of summer’s heat isn’t behind us yet.  Those fall winds are almost here and then with all the busy activities of October (my favorite month!) and the birthdays and holidays of November/December, it will be New Year before we know it.