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To Homeschool Happier: A Little Recap and Refresh, Part 2

Well, it’s taken me a bit longer than I had planned to get back to write the second part of this post! But here I am, nonetheless! To recap, last time I wrote about the end of our school year and how burned out I felt, essentially. Today, I am sharing what I am doing differently going forward in order to have a happier, healthier homeschool!

First of all, I have decided to switch from the year round school schedule we have been using to a more traditional school year schedule. There were several factors that helped me make this decision. Even if we had been finished with our previous year’s work by the end of December, I was leaning in this direction anyway. My husband’s work is now completely tied to the traditional school year, for one thing. My daughter will not be old enough to start Year 1 of AmblesideOnline until April, and I think she will be even more ready for that in late summer/early fall. My son will be doing Year 5, and I need him to continue building some independent study skills before diving into that next step up. Plus, I need much more time to begin pre-reading for Year 5! Instead of rushing us all to be ready when we aren’t, we will just wait and start a new school year in August or September!

So what, you may ask, are we doing in the mean time? Well, we are taking a step back from AmblesideOnline, but we are still doing things in a mostly Charlotte Mason style while “fun-schooling” a little bit. I have lightened the load for skill work somewhat while still keeping a daily list that includes some math, handwriting, spelling and such. I created a binder for my son that has all his weekly work already organized and laid out for each day, and that has been a HUGE blessing for us both! We are doing all of our books together as read-alouds in a “morning basket” style setting right after breakfast, which is working well for our daily routine.

For the current 6 week “term” we are doing an in-depth study of Chinese history and culture using a mixture of picture books, nonfiction, missionary biographies and folktale-inspired fiction. We have been watching a lot of fun videos of traditional Chinese music and art forms, as well. I chose this themed study partly because we have friends who live in China and because I travelled there for a few weeks before beginning college. Plus, we all love Chinese food, ha! 😉 Our normal school studies center very much on the western world, which makes sense, since that is where we live! But I do want my children to have an idea of the broader world in which we live and also have a heart for the people of other cultures and locations. We are all really enjoying this time learning together, and I am so glad I decided to give our homeschool refreshing change!

Of course, it isn’t just the schedule or subjects or routine that have helped make our homeschool a little happier. I am also being much more intentional about being totally present when it is school time, not distracted with my phone or trying to multitask and do housework when the kids are doing lessons. And perhaps more importantly, I am placing the emphasis on enjoying being together and learning together instead of just checking off the boxes. I am listening to my kids and seeing how they learn best in different subjects and trying to find ways to make the most of those strengths. I am looking for opportunities to practice grace and patience, and I am prioritizing relationships over academics right now. Of course I want my children to succeed academically, but more importantly, I want them to love each other, to know that I love them, and most of all, to know and love God with all their hearts. Because THAT is the key to true and lasting happiness in this life and the next!

To Homeschool Happier: A Little Recap and Refresh, Part 1

I’ve wanted to share how our homeschool year ended up, but it is hard to get it all out in words. The year 2020 was a very rough one in our homeschool, if I am to be perfectly honest. It was not just the stress of COVID, either. Yes, having less time out and about with friends and having much more limited access to places like the library and even, for a time, local parks and green spaces, definitely took their toll on us.

But moving to a new state mid-year, during COVID, was probably the bigger stressor on our life and homeschool routine. It was also challenging for me to keep up with everything with both kids when I needed to start really working with my daughter on letter and number skills. We fell “behind schedule” by about 6 weeks from where we would usually be and ended up not finished my son’s AmblesideOnline Year 4 books until mid-February. But we DID finally finish!

Looking back, there were many things we did not do as well or as thoroughly as I thought we would when we started Year 4, especially written narration, which I completely forgot about until after we had finished the year! Oops! We did start a Book of Centuries, but many weeks I completely forgot to have my son work on it, and it still is mostly just a timeline, which I know is not entirely “correct” in terms of following Charlotte Mason’s intent for the BoC. But we tried to do something along those lines, and hopefully in the future it will improve. We also did start Latin, although we primarily just used Duolingo for practice a few times a week and only just started memorizing some verb conjugations near the end of the year.

The books were definitely the highlight of Year 4, even the hard ones that started off rocky. Here are some of our favorites:

  • George Washington’s World (my son read this one independently and really enjoyed it)
  • Abigail Adams (a hard book which I read aloud, but one we all learned to appreciate by the end of the year, including my 5-year old who tags along)
  • Kidnapped (this started out being one of my son’s least favorite partly because of the dialect, but he ended up being very sad when he finished)
  • Incredible Journey (an easier book and one that my son definitely enjoyed reading every week)
  • Minn of the Mississippi (we have really come to love Holling C. Hollings books over the years)
  • Robinson Crusoe (I almost forgot this one was even a Year 4 book, it seems to long ago we read it, but it was and is one of our favorite books!)

All in all, the thing I regret most to say about this school year, at least the second half, was that we lost our joy and pleasantness in the midst of all the difficulties of the year. I tried to re-infuse some of that with extra special morning tea time snacks after we got settled in our new house, but that also became somewhat of a stressor for me eventually. By the end of the year, everything felt like we just had to press on and check things off the list so that we could say we had done it. This was obviously not the spirit or atmosphere I want to have in our homeschool. Something had to change.

In the second part of this series, I hope to write a little bit about how I am attempting to make positive changes to make our homeschool a happier place again. So far, a few days into a new routine, I think it is making a difference! Stay tuned to hear more next time!

Mary, Martha, and Me: Learning to Serve Wholeheartedly

As I shared in my most recent posts, I have struggled lately with negativity and a sense of constant overwhelm. There just never seem to be enough hours in the day, enough energy in reserve to do all I should do, or enough of me to go around. My persistent frustration and anxiety was starting to be a real drain on me and, consequently, on the entire family.

At the same time, after I finished up my previous Bible reading plan, I decided that in February I wanted to do more actual Bible study instead of just doing daily reading and checking that off my list. I am a member of the Simply Living for Him community, where Karen DeBeus posts daily devotionals, hosts Bible studies, and more! She hosted a study on Mary and Martha starting January, so I decided to jump in and do that one this month. Let me tell you, the Lord knew it was exactly what I was going to need right now!

I’m sure we are all relatively familiar with the account of Martha and Mary and their encounter with Jesus in their home, but for the sake of discussion, let’s reread this passage together:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.
But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,
but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10: 38-42 (ESV)

I think in the past whenever I have heard people teach on this passage, all I’ve heard was that Martha was too busy doing things, and she should have been sitting there with Mary just listening to Jesus. I always thought that Jesus was rebuking Martha, but as I looked at this passage more closely for myself, I realized that simply was not the case. Jesus does not say “Martha, Martha, you are doing too many things and serving too much.” He says, “…you are anxious and troubled about many things.

Serving is not a bad thing. Being busy and having a lot of work to do is not necessarily a problem, if it is the work God has set before us in a season. The problem Martha had was that her heart and mind were anxious and troubled about many things. Other translations of the roots of those words are “worried,” “bothered,” “disturbed,” or “disquieted.” Martha was distracted by many cares. Her heart was divided. She was serving her Master outwardly, but her heart was inwardly focussed on herself. So she became resentful and accusatory toward her sister. Ouch. Been there. Done that.

So Jesus gently redirects Martha’s focus. He reminds her that to have an undivided heart is the key to true service, true worship. One thing is necessary. One thing only cannot be taken from us. That one thing is our relationship with Jesus Christ. He cannot be taken from us, even when we are busy with much serving. We can be busy about the work He gives us to do while keeping out eyes and hearts focussed on Him.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Colossians 3: 23-24 (ESV)

Also, I want to note that there is hope for us, as there was hope for Martha. If you look at John 12 in which Jesus returns to Bethany before Passover and eats at Martha and Mary’s house again, you might notice some similarities and some differences with the Luke 10 passage.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.
Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”
He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

John 12: 1-8 (ESV)

Martha is serving again, busy about the meal. Mary is at Jesus’ feet again, this time pouring out what may very well have been her most valuable earthly possession. But does Martha scold? Does she again demand that Mary stop this anointing nonsense and get to work in the kitchen? Nope. This time Martha is quiet and working in the background.

Of course, Scripture doesn’t spell it out, but I do wonder if over time spent with Jesus, Martha has learned how to serve with a whole, undivided heart. I know that that is what I want to learn to do. And spending more time with Jesus every day, sitting at His feet like Mary, is how I hope to do just that. If you are worried and distracted by many things, I would encourage you to do the same.

What Are We Doing Here? (A Writing Update)

My family room and dining room are under renovation. Dust is flying as my husband sands drywall mud off the patched spots on the walls. I am over in the finished living room (that was under construction during the holidays), sitting under my cozy blanket writing this post while the puppy dog sleeps on his pillow a few feet away. The kids are in bed, so I have some time to sit and write for a while.

A couple of days ago I published a long blog post out of the blue after almost 2 months of quiet. I have been wanting to write regularly again for some time, but I always got stuck on the idea that if I didn’t have time to sit down and make everything perfect and pretty, I needed to wait. But you know what? That time is never going to come. And if I don’t just sit down and start writing, it isn’t going to get any easier. So I gave up the idea of waiting until I had crafted the perfect post with gorgeous graphics and meaningful quotes. I decided it would be better if I just wrote something and put it out there. So I did. And you know what? It felt good.

But now for a little backstory…one of the big reasons I am getting back to writing on the blog is that I am leaving Facebook and Instagram again. This time, it’s permanent. My husband and I decided that after so much that has happened on and through social media over the past year, it was time for us to make a change in how we use it. For me, that means my permanent departure from all things Facebook related. I am trying out MeWe, but since I have very few contacts there, I am not spending much time or energy on that platform.

Instead, I want to return to the habit of long-form writing, both on the blog and in emails and letters to friends. I will likely be devoting more time to the subject of long-form writing in a post very soon because it has been on my mind so much of late.

That is what we are doing here…returning to this space, this writing habit, this “outdated” form of communication…and I couldn’t be more pleased about that! Perhaps you’d like to join me?

Faithfully Moving Forward While Honestly Looking Back

This year started out much like any other for me, though perhaps with less anticipation and expectation than most. Call me jaded, but I had no illusions that the world would suddenly return to pre-COVID, pre-election peacefulness and predictability once we flipped the page on the calendar. No, instead, as much as I may yearn to go back to what seemed be better days, I knew that the outside world and culture would continue on in much the same way it has been. And this knowledge did not encourage me one single bit. In fact, to tell the truth, I’ve been a bit of a Negative Nancy here lately.

Moving during a “pandemic” and trying to find a new church, new friends and even new places to shop and get library books is not easy, let me tell you. Some bad attitudes and some complaining, and some long periods of loneliness are sure to crop up, especially when winter weather in the Appalachians compound the problem by keeping us home more. But even in the midst of these challenges, we do have a regular hiking group we see at least once a month, a church in which we have been able to start serving in a small way, and the option of Walmart pickup only 5 minutes from our house, not to mention 2 small local libraries to browse. So my situation was not really a good explanation for all the negativity.

This week I had to admit that most of my personal pain points have had more to do more with setting too expectations for myself a bit too high and not making enough of an effort to organize both my attitude and my life. I realized this ugly truth this week as I did some honest evaluation of how I truly spend my time on a typical day as well as an audit of our homeschool over this winter season. When I came to questions about how much time certain parts of our routine take, I was completely stumped. It suddenly dawned on me that our days have become so helter-skelter and unpredictable that I don’t have the foggiest notion how much time we are spending doing lessons or even how much time we should be spending at this point. Oops…

As much as this honest reflection hurts, it is also a necessary and beneficial step in moving forward. I have to identify what is not working, as well as what is, if I want to have any hope of changing things for the better. Although it is of some value to keep trudging on and doing the next thing, I think that truly being faithful involves more than just checking things off the list and going through the motions out of a sense of duty and drudgery. Faithfully moving forward should involve not only a choice to obey but to rejoice in obedience. And I certainly have not been modeling an attitude of joyful obedience recently. So it is time for an attitude adjustment, as well as some serious, prayerful consideration of how to adjust things in out house and homeschool to set us all up for success.

Even though I had felt for some time that things were going poorly, it wasn’t until I sat down and had an honest look back that I was able to see some of the causes of that feeling. It hasn’t been easy to stare my faults in the face like this, and more soul searching is definitely in order, but I do look forward now with hope for positive change. And I know now how to pray for guidance in taking the next step and move forward with faithfulness, and joy!