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!