• the learning arts,  wonder and inquiry

    Digging deep…

    pumpkinwindow newstrategies solarium rocketboys

    We have settled into the new school year in earnest the last few weeks, settled down to a strong, gentle rhythm of days. It really feels lovely. The children seem to calm and settle and dig in deeper with each passing week in a way I would not have imagined possible when we began homeschooling again last year. Yet it is here, a blessing giving dividends. I see their trust in themselves and their own innate learning grow as they realize that the world is truly at their door and they have only to explore it. We have a set course of study, of course, but already in a short month’s time they have covered vast swaths of things borne out of their own questions that I could neither have imagined or foreseen when I sat down to plan out the fall term a month ago. The best sort of explorations.

    I have seen the fruit of my focus on mastery come to fruition as we began to dig in this year. Such immense improvements in reading and writing across the board with all of my students. Three, almost four students (another month or so!) can work independently and easily now across their subjects, which means I return to my desired role with my older students- guide, companion, tutor.

    Our curriculum across the board consists of a mix of Memoria Press (Latin, Composition: Fable, and Ellianna’s kindergarten curriculum), Ambleside Online (all of our literature selections this year), Story of the World, Modern Era (Well Trained Mind Press), and an eclectic mix of math depending on the child (Math U See, Rod and Staff, and Math Mammoth- Ben is using the Prentice Hall Classics as recommended by Memoria Press) and Institute for Excellence in Writing.

    Grammar lessons are pulled either from our Shakespeare memorization for the month or from Ambleside Online copywork. The younger children copy whatever it is for the day; the older children work with me to diagram the sentence and copy it into their notebook. (All told, about a 10 or 15 minute lesson in sum). I had barely begun to do this exercise before attending the Circe workshop last year, but was encouraged by all that was said to continue it, and it is this short grammar lesson each day that I do solidly believe has made the largest difference in their reading and writing mastery. We use Maria Montessori’s approach for grammar- we label each word with the appropriate symbol, and borrowing from IEW, we underline any tell-tale endings that suggest a verb (-ing), adjective (-ly, -ness) and so on. Even Ellianna can quickly identify such things as pronouns and articles now, and it has been painless for all. To them it is a game- they race each other to pick the correct symbol first.

    Lorelei and I have been trying something new with her spelling words, which she laughingly refers to as her “one weakness” (ala Dorcas Lane in Lark Rise to Candleford, although when Dorcas says it, she’s usually referring to things like chocolate or match-making). Lorelei’s reading has vastly improved in a year’s time but her dyslexia most makes itself known when it comes to spelling. What a struggle it is. Anyways, though we have been using All About Spelling for quite some time, we added some new tweaks this year and so far, we are both impressed with the results. First, I have her write her spelling words three times using colored pencils. Blue for beginning sounds, purple for consonant teams, red for vowels, orange for vowel teams, green for ending sounds.  The next day she finds all the bannanagram letters for her words. The third day, she pulls out those same letters and marks them with little plastic game markers that correspond to the same letters. The fourth day, she writes a sentence with each word. The fifth, we review. So far we’ve had a hundred percent retention, which is a vast improvement. Prior to this, she’d retain about a third of ten words. As she enjoys it and it seems to be working well, we’ll continue to do it until (and if) we need to change it up. I can see her confidence growing in her other writing, too, which is the most important thing for me. She no longer thinks “I can’t do this”. She is getting quite courageous in her written narrations, and tears no longer come when she can’t spell a word she wants- I watch her use all sorts of strategies now to guess, (often getting it right!), and she will come to me when she needs help instead of getting discouraged.

    Overall, our school day is much shorter than it was last year, and the afternoons are almost solely devoted to their own explorations. The older children have been very fascinated by this election cycle, so they have been researching the processes as to how the President gets elected, how the electoral college works, how political parties are formed, conventions run, delegates chosen. They have demanded to watch all of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates so far. With my degree in History, I must say it is fascinating to be a listening bystander as they explore and watch this election. I have been careful not to make my own views known, and have watched all the goings on silently. Because they are currently studying World War II and its aftermath, so much of their running commentary on the election proceedings relates back to that era, as well as Ancient Greece and Rome (as Ben is studying the Illiad). Watching them make connections that I hadn’t even begun to think of prior to this is the best part! It is a case study of watching learning in action: watching them hang new learning on the rungs of what they already know- making connections, scaffolding knowledge. Such a beautiful thing.

    I’ve had this quote of Laura’s pinned on my desk for a while now. It seems to sum up what I’m aiming for lately.

    “This is why I believe that the most important thing you can do as a homeschooler is to ask yourself the hardest question of all: who do you want your children to be as people when they leave your home, and what benchmarks will you use to measure your progress on the way? It is simple to hope your children are kind, loving, inquisitive…it is harder to imagine what you can do to help them on the path of kindness, love, curiosity. I want my children to be confident, to believe in their worth as humans and as contributors to this world, to feel connected to place and people, to be interested both in learning new things and the connection between ideas, to feel capable. I want them to recognize and appreciate beauty, to be able to participate in wonder. I want them to be equipped to live a simple life of peaceful joy.”- @lbkrause

    This a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.


  • Books,  the learning arts,  wonder and inquiry

    Fill er’ up…


    A few homeschooling reads I re-visited this summer. Teaching from Rest should be one of those that you re-read anytime you start to feel the walls closing in, not just once a year in the summer!

    1./ Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting Off the Beaten Path

    This came out early last summer, and it was so inspiring. Re-reading this year, I’ve been reminded again to look at the overall picture of our schooling days and years. I’m so excited about Heather and Ben’s collaboration, Home Grown Education.

    2./A Mother’s Rule of Life

    It’s good on all levels, but I was specifically re-visiting this one for scheduling considerations as we move into the new year. Our rhythm has really changed over the last year and needed tweaking. Jen Mackintosh’s planning posts are also super helpful!

    3./Teaching from Rest

    If you read no other “homeschooling” book, make it this one. Worth its weight in gold. Revisit as often as needed, whenever needed. (Circe Institute’s Restful Teaching seminar is a close second!)

    4./The Well-Trained Mind

    I hadn’t picked this up in a long while (and it’s obviously an older edition) but since we use so much of Susan’s curriculum for history, it was nice to check back in. I think everyone should read an edition of this, regardless of whatever eclectic homeschooling style you may choose to go with- it’s just a really good, solid reference to refer to when needed.

    5./Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home (out of print)

    Elizabeth wrote this many, many moons ago. I thought I had lost my copy, actually! But it was a good re-read. If you aren’t familiar with Montessori type approaches for young ones, it’s a great place to start. She blends a lot of Charlotte Mason in too. It holds up to the test of time. Good luck finding a copy!

    Part of the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.


  • celebrations,  the learning arts,  wonder and inquiry

    A generous education…

    stemfun porchwork ellyalphabet doctortosie airandspace luluhouse flatcoins zreading ellyastronaut treehouse ellyworksheet tosieastronaut daffodilelly

    We finished up our school year just under a week ago. We’ll be taking the rest of the month off and a teensy bit of August, and then we’ll jump back in. I wasn’t exactly intending to become year round schoolers, but given our wacky and often unpredictable schedule, it fits just right. Looking back over these pictures just from the last month or two, my heart is so full. This year was so, so, rough, but I look back over these and I just see all the fun and joy we were having in the midst of it all; how much learning was going on even when I couldn’t be intentional about it. I look at these pictures and see my small intention and God’s mighty increase, filling us up. This year was full of so much overflowing grace. I can’t begin to express how much happier and more joyful this year of homeschooling has felt compared to our past homeschooling years prior to public school. It is like night and day.

    And my goodness, did the test scores show it. To me, testing is for the birds and a ridiculous anachronism of our industrial schooling model, and a rather odious one. I was so stinkin’ nervous about the stupid things. Our state requires them by law, and given all we endured this year, I was a ball of knots going into it, especially given some of the learning challenges we face. I should have known better after trusting the words of wise counselors. Everything I learned from Andrew Kern and Matt Bianco, Sarah Mackenzie, Christopher Perrin– about mastery, about scholé- and put into practice- showed in those tests.

    The proof is in the pudding, dear readers. I’m a restful teaching, classical learning, read aloud lifer after this. 😉  It’s not that these arbitrary numbers matter, but it gets the state off my back, and I, for one, am super grateful. Y’all, I cried some happy tears getting those results back. It was so encouraging to see. I had nothing to do with it. This was all them, all God. He is faithful. 

    This is a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.


  • wonder and inquiry

    Rhythm and grounding…

    readtome latin mathtracking ribbonflags

    Thought breeds thought; children familiar with the great thoughts take as naturally to thinking for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education. – Charlotte Mason 

    I said the other day that I could not imagine our life right now without homeschooling. It truly provides us with a rhythm and grounding that we wouldn’t have otherwise. I continue to stand by that statement, but I’m sure you may be wondering how in the world it all comes together for us right now in the midst of these continuing storms. How do you learn together when the schedule is hardly ever predictable, or when one or more students may be too sick to “learn”?

    First of all, it isn’t easy. However, I know that my children are constantly learning and absorbing whether I am directing their learning or not, so I try not to stress too much when things get really whacked out. The environment I’ve built here is very rich. We have an extensive library of good, solid books that they can pick up any time of the day- books about nature, astronomy, history, biography, art. There are drawing materials available all the time. We have a microscope; we have lots of hands on manipulatives to work with- tangrams, popsicle sticks, clay, pipe cleaners, and the like. We recently added some magnetic blocks and an abacus. On any given day whether “proper” school happens or not, you will find the kids engaging with all of these things. While we’ve recently gone back to being tv-less during the week, my children also are allowed to access learning sites like Prodigy, Khan Academy, and others whenever they wish. They all love Prodigy, in particular, and will beg to play on it daily. It is a Pokemon style math program that challenges the kids’ skills while they battle- using their math knowledge. If our day has gone completely sideways but I have seen creative work in these areas, we’ve read aloud a book or two, and some children have worked online, I call it good and let it go for the day. Even if this is all they get during a particularly tough day, I know they received solid, good food.

    Obviously, I’d like a bit more structure to our “normal” school days, but it isn’t always possible. I’ve also found that many of the ideas for planning just don’t work for our particular situation. I used to be a plan the whole year or at least a semester type of planner- the smallest chunk of time I was willing to go was about six weeks. I learned very quickly as we all started here at home last July that my planning, while wise, just wasn’t granular enough for the needs of my children. In the long run we have generally accomplished what I originally thought we’d do, but in the short term, it seemed really outlandish. I would describe our planning as a cross between block scheduling and looping.

    With the exception of my eldest, none of the children could really properly work independently, and I had planned with that expectation at the beginning of the year. Aside from my eldest, none of them could really read or write in a way that would allow them to pursue their own interests. This was my first and absolute bedrock goal. July to January was spent rolling back to foundational skills and building confidence in those areas. I found that two weeks was as far as I was willing to extend my planning because the needs were constantly shifting. One child would make epic strides, another would struggle. I found two weeks was a small enough chunk that I had a plan but it was flexible enough to account for this.

    In the mornings, we have a Circle Time that includes Shakespeare, History (Story of the World: Modern Era), and a current read aloud based on where we are in History. We work through Montessori-style grammar lessons based on our Shakespeare memorization. Sometimes they help write the symbols on the large white board- sometimes they work independently on the sentences and compare notes. When that is done, we generally split into writing groups. Ben works off by himself using Writing with Skill (Well Trained Mind); Isaiah and Lorelei work with me using IEW Primary; and the youngest boys copy a sentence or paragraph from a white board that we’ve previously created (this comes from a section of IEW Primary as well). When I do my planning, I plan both this ‘chunk’ of time and our afternoon chunk. I order the library books for the next two chapters of History, look over and decide what grammar will be based on, what concepts I’d like everyone to focus on for writing.

    By this time, it’s nearly lunch usually. The children will pull out their Explode the Code (Ben works in a Spelling curriculum), and when they finish that, they will work through their next lesson of Math. (We currently use Math U See.) Whoever finishes first prepares lunch- that’s often Ben or Lorelei. The rest of us wrap up by the time lunch is ready.

    After lunch is when most of our one on one time occurs. I tutor Ben through Latin, Ben and Isaiah through Physics, and work one on one with Lorelei and Isaiah in reading and writing, and we do our All About Spelling work during this one on one time. We often work through and edit the writing we’ve done earlier in the day. All three of the older children will work through some Logic. I check in with Ben on all of his work and the projects he’s interested in, correct work, discuss interests and options. He works entirely independently and is often pursuing interests beyond what I’ve assigned him, which is absolutely as it should be! I love it. We are definitely reaching the stage where he feels more like a colleague in learning than a student, even though he’s only thirteen. I love some of the discussions we get to have. The kids not in conference with me are often are using Prodigy or Khan Academy during this time or reading.

    The younger ones are often playing during this time, but sometimes they’ll be working right with us at the table on their own little projects- drawing, building, threading beads. When the older children are done for the day, I switch off to our afternoon chunk. This often falls just before our afternoon tea time, which is roughly at three o’clock. We stop what we’re doing and clear the decks, put all the books and projects away (our school table is our dining table), and we have a small snack: cheese, fruit, and a cookie, usually. I found some strong yet small little mugs with plates from Ikea that is dedicated for snack time. They eat and I read- usually more of our current read-aloud- sometimes poetry.

    Afterwards, the younger boys and I (and almost always Ellianna) play math games and reading games. I base these games on what I see the children struggling with in their more formal work. Sometimes we count M and Ms or Cheerios by 2s, 5s, 10s, or play hopscotch, jump on vowel teams or play games from IEW Primary’s Phonics Game book…the possibilities are endless, but I’m usually focusing on a particular skill. The point is always PLAY. These I plan in two week chunks as well.

    This probably sounds intense (really? All day till nearly five?) but it’s work spread out over a whole day. We are very laid back. I’m sure we could buckle down and get all of that work done in two or three hours if we wanted to, but we all like to wander and change tack for a while, come back. With his Sensory Processing Disorder, Isaiah definitely needs breaks in between subjects to pause and absorb and the other children seem to benefit from the slow transitions as well. I don’t set a time limit on it, but I generally pull them back into the next subject or task when they start to get buggy with each other.

    So what happens when it all goes sideways, as it seems to do more often than not? Our basics without fail are Explode the Code and Math. Even if I’m at the hospital, my older kids can help my littles do their work. The last three weeks, for example, have been basically this, plus some reading aloud and a some writing work when we get a chance. They are still making steady progress. Benjamin continues working on his assignments- Latin sometimes has to take a back seat, as does Physics sometimes- but often Physics we can maintain because the boys read and then we discuss, often around the dinner table. We do the Physics related math as we can, often in the late, late afternoons. We use the Tiner series from Memoria Press.

    As things settle down, I will re-assess needs. If we’ve completely departed from my last two week plan (and I haven’t been able to keep planning forward), we start there and finish whatever is left there. Then I will reboot and plan the next two weeks forward. As this year has progressed, the older kids are starting to say, hey, I can do that with so and so, and so we’re not falling so far off the track when things get wackadoodle. I love that this is happening. When Isaiah and Lorelei are ‘teaching’ or playing the games with the younger ones, they are getting lots of wonderful reinforcement of areas they are weak in while boosting their confidence in what they know. It is so much fun to watch. Both of them are starting to own their educations and seeing their confidence in telling a younger student what thus and such is and know it for sure is just awesome. I really hate that this medical stuff really throws us for a loop, but there are always silver linings.

    Because of the steady, incremental work we’ve done in reading and writing skills, all of my students can now read and write independently. As Spring comes on I think we will begin to include some more of our favorites like nature study and formal art and composer studies. These have all been happening on their own, essentially, but I think we will begin more formal studies now that everyone feels a bit more solid. I’m looking forward to it- if the medical shenanigans can calm down for a while. Josiah’s next big surgery will be mid-April, so we have a bit of a break to breathe for a bit and focus solely on our learning.

    This is a post in the continuing series, Wonder and Inquiry.



  • wonder and inquiry

    Wonder and Inquiry: Special Needs Resources

    resourcesThis is by no means a complete list, but it’s plenty to fall down the rabbit hole with:

    Best Laid Plans: When Anxiety Throws You For A Loop (article)

    When Your Child Has Sensory Processing Disorder (article)

    Little Kids With Big Worries (article)

    Homeschooling Children with Sensory Stuff (article)

    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

    The Simply Classical Forum (Memoria Press)

    Cheryl Swope’s blog

    Visual and Auditory Processing Definitions

    Homeschooling A Struggling Learner Resource Center (HSLDA) 

    Using Sensory Integration Strategies to Improve Handwriting (article)

    Homeschooling with Dyslexia (Blog)

    Reading Aloud to Kids with Special Needs (RAR Podcast) 

    Raising A Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child With Sensory Processing Issues

    Simplicity Parenting

    The Soul of Discipline 

    Playful Learning