Embracing Real Life and Routines in the Midst of Transition

It looks like we are back in school. But we are taking it one day at a time. Because this living in two houses in two different states is not for the faint of heart! And I will admit, I have felt pretty faint of heart a lot lately! But sometime last week I decided that it was time to get back to some semblance of a normal routine, even if we could not stick to it all the time. Ever since we put our Illinois house on the market we sort of dropped our routine because of extra cleaning and packing, showing the house unexpectedly, and extra trips back and forth between Tennessee and Illinois. But the chaos has taken its toll on us all, and I could tell that the kids would especially benefit from more structured days again.

So this weekend, we unpacked the school books and supplies and loaded them into their new home in the dining room at our rental house. My husband went out and bought a new bookshelf especially for our growing collection of children’s literature. We reassembled the desk we had brought down from Illinois. (That thing has been through a few moves already, but it still is serving us well!) I posted a simple daily routine on a small whiteboard above the dining room fireplace, and planned out enough school work to get us through a few days, at least. Then on Monday morning, we started back where we had left off last time we had school.

It wasn’t pretty. My son was sulky and obstinate, refusing to narrate the Bible lesson and complaining about every little lesson as if it were pure torture. A simple math problem, only 2 questions in, brought on tears and frustration. My daughter was cranky after a rough night of waking up several times due to cutting a new molar. She was distracting to the max! We are using a folding table and chairs as our dining room table because the real one is still at the other house. We don’t have any shiny new school supplies because, honestly, we have plenty of old stuff that still works. I have not had time to put together new memory work for our morning time binders, so we just reviewed the old stuff from earlier in the summer. But we pushed through. I kept my expectations low, and I managed not to lose my temper completely.

Thankfully, everything went more smoothly the second day, in spite of much grumbling and complaining from my student before beginning lessons. I had found some cd’s when unpacking yesterday, and started some classical music playing softly on the computer. Also found while unpacking were some coloring books, stickers and old crayons for keeping the toddler busy. My son stayed on task without sulking or arguing. He narrated our lesson from 50 Famous Stories beautifully. Math was pleasant and tear-free. And so was the toddler, for the most part. Things were not perfect, but the morning was much better than the one before. And the only time I was really hard pressed not to lose my cool was after lessons were done and the kids were getting Kinetic Sand all over my freshly mopped floor. (Seriously, I love to play with the stuff myself, but why does it have to make such a mess!? And yes, maybe it was my own fault for letting them play with it if I didn’t want the floor getting dirty just then. #momfail)

The thing about homeschooling is that it isn’t always pretty because it is real life. And real life is not picture perfect. Every moment is not Pinterest-worthy. The house gets messy because people are living in it 24/7. The children are unruly and need disciplined because, hello, they are children! I get frustrated when my expectations are too high, or when I make unrealistic plans for the day, because I am human. But you know what? That is also the beauty of it all. We are real. We are flawed. We make messes and mistakes. And then we give grace and forgive each other and wipe up the tears and the spills and move on. And it is beautiful. Because, like blogger Bekah Jane Pogue says #realisthenewperfect so I am choosing to embrace this real life, rather than wishing for some other life that isn’t.

And in that spirit, here are some photos of our second day of school in all of its real, untidy, but peaceful and productive glory!

Homeschool Basics Series, Pt. 4: Homeschooling on a Budget

Welcome to Part 4 of my Homeschool Basics series! Missed the previous posts in this series? No worries! Part 1: Why We Homeschool is here, Part 2: How We Homeschool is here, and Part 3:Year-Round Schooling is here.

If you are thinking about homeschooling your child(ren), one of the things you will need to consider is the cost. Most families choosing to home educate are living on one full-time income, although I am hearing of a growing number of families in which both parents work full-time and still find ways to homeschool! Either way, you need to have a budget for your homeschool. If you are coming from a public school mindset, then the idea of paying extra for education may be a bit of a burden to you. But if you consider how much private school tuition generally costs, then you will likely be relieved! Homeschooling costs fall somewhere in the middle, and how you choose to home educate determines how much you will spend.

If you are anything like me, you need to cut costs and get the most bang for your buck in every area of your budget, homeschool included! Here are some ways that our family has drastically reduced our education expenses while still giving our children a fantastic learning experience.

  1. Use a free or inexpensive base curriculum. As I mentioned in previous posts, we use a free Charlotte Mason style curriculum available from AmblesideOnline.org. The booklists, reading schedules, parent resources and support, etc., are all completely free of charge! All you have to buy are the books, although even many of those can be found online for free (see next point). If you are not interested in a Charlotte Mason style education, I have heard many homeschool moms use and like the free curriculum from Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool. If you know of other free or low-cost curriculum choices, I would love for you to leave a link to it in the comments!
  2. Get free books via Kindle, Gutenberg and Librivox. One of the things I love about AmblesideOnline is that the moms who created it were very careful to choose books that were widely available at a reasonable cost while still being high quality classics. This means that many of their choices are books that are old enough to be in the public domain. The AO booklists link to any book that has been converted into electronic format and is available for free online, whether via Gutenberg.org, Amazon Kindle, or in audio format on Librivox. I used these resources heavily when I was pre-reading for AO Year 1 before deciding to purchase in print books. Some people who have either serious space or budget limitations use these free e-books almost exclusively. This is a great way to have a great living books education without spending a lot on building a large home library.
  3. Make use of the library. Speaking of libraries, if you homeschool, you need to make your librarian your friend! No matter what style of homeschooling you choose, you can probably find most of the books, magazines, dvd’s and more that you need right there at your public library! Just be sure to return things on time so you don’t end up spending a fortune in overdue book fines!
  4. Shop for used books cheaper at thrift stores, library sales or online. Because I have 2 students that will be using the same books eventually, I decided that it was worth the cost for us to go ahead and purchase as many physical books as we can from the AO lists. However, I am rarely willing to pay full price for a new book unless I cannot find it cheaper used somewhere. I never stop in my local thrift stores without going over the book shelves pretty thoroughly. I have found some real gems for only $.50-$1! Another great place to find inexpensive used books is your local library’s book sales. Most libraries have these once or twice a year, and you can often find great titles at a fraction of the price you would pay elsewhere. If you prefer to shop online, I have had great success with finding used books via sellers on both Amazon and AbeBooks. You do need to check shipping prices and reviews, however.
  5. Use free reading and math curricula, at least for lower grades. If you do a little research, you will find a plethora of free or low-cost options for teaching basic phonics and reading skills, as well as math and handwriting. If I had known about these options my first year homeschooling, I probably would have saved a lot of money! Although I did not make use of a free reading curriculum, I have had a great experience using MEP math, a complete free math program from the UK. Amy Tuttle’s Discover Reading is a good, inexpensive guide to a Charlotte Mason method of teaching your child to read.
  6. Free or low-cost supplementary materials.  If you are going to do composer study, find free versions of the songs you will use on Youtube. Again, AmblesideOnline has links to videos of their chosen pieces for each term. Another choice, if you already have an Amazon Prime membership is to use the Amazon Prime Music app to find the songs for your composer and create a playlist for use in your homeschool. We will be trying this out in the coming year. For our artist study, we started out using the computer, but I soon decided I would prefer having physical prints for us to look at without staring at a screen. Instead I used document printing from our local Staples to get 8×11 prints of all our artwork and spent only $13 for the whole year. The same can be done at Office Depot.
  7. Cheap school supplies on clearance or at Dollar Tree. Of course, you will need some basic school supplies for the year, and the best time to buy these is when they are on clearance in the fall. You can also find some inexpensive school supplies at the Dollar Tree. Some of my favorite things to buy there for school are actually their little workbooks and flashcards that my toddler can play with and feel like she is “doing school” with her brother.
  8. Repurpose and reuse. When it comes to consumables, some things will just need replaced every year, like used up spiral notebooks and worn out folders. But if you can reuse more costly supplies like binders, page protectors, etc., do it! Most kids really don’t need completely brand new school supplies like pencils and crayons every single year. But when you do know your supplies are getting worn out or running low, try to plan ahead and buy when they are on clearance.
  9. Simplify. Even though there are some really wonderful options out there, you truly don’t need fancy curriculum to have a great education for your children. I know a lot of people like to decorate their school rooms and fill up their shelves with fun manipulatives, games and activities; but the fact of the matter is, you don’t need to do that. Read well-written, living books. Practice reading, writing and arithmetic skills. Go explore outside in nature. Listen to good music. Look at beautiful art. Teach your children how to cook and clean. Love on your kids and give them space to use their imaginations. Do these things, and your children will have a rich education. All the money in the world can’t buy what your children need most–your love and guidance.

 

Homeschool Basics Series, Pt. 3: Year-Round Schooling

Welcome to Part 3 of my Homeschool Basics series! Missed the previous posts in this series? No worries! Part 1: Why We Homeschool is here, and Part 2: How We Homeschool is here

It is July, which means many homeschool families here in the United States are knee deep in planning for the coming school year! A lot of families have actually already started school, too. Some start in July because it gives them more time off for the winter holiday season. Others because the area in which they live is just so stinking hot in the middle of summer that they might as well stay inside and so some schooling! Then they take a longer break in the fall when the weather cools off again. One big advantage of homeschooling is that you really do not have to stick to the traditional school year if you do not want to!

Since my husband works in academia, the traditional school calendar actually would work well for our family, but we also have a fall birthday to work around. Because we are currently using Ambleside Online as our curriculum, we really wanted to wait to start his Year 1 work until after his 6th birthday. We also had been doing some more traditional school at home before I discovered Charlotte Mason, and we needed some extra time to relax and refresh our family rhythms after finding that too stressful.

Enter, Year-Round schooling with a January start! Sounds strange if you haven’t heard of it before, but it is pretty simple, actually. We start our school year in January, and every 6 weeks, we take a week break. I think I first heard about the 6 weeks on, 1 week off schedule from Mystie Winkler of Simply Convivial. I plan for about 5 weeks for summer break, and we also take a break from Thanksgiving through New Years. I got this idea from Dawn Garrett, who blogs as LadyDusk, who calls this long winter break their Yuletide Session. Setting up our school year in this way allows us a good amount of rest times throughout the year in which we can enjoy the weather when it is good and enjoy the holidays without the added stress of trying to push through schoolwork. It also gives me time to plan when it is cold and dreary outside instead of when it is prime outdoor playtime in the summer.

This year, however, we do have the added problem of being in the middle of a move that is not on a schedule. We had planned on going ahead with school and just stopping when the actual moving date got near, but once we were a few weeks into our summer school session, it was clear that this was not going well. Being in transition for a long period of time has taken its toll on all of us, and we just needed to back off from the “we have to do this!” mindset and focus on relationships for a while. Our winter break might get shortened, but that is ok. We are never really “behind” because we home educate, and we are learning every day, even if it does not involve sitting at a table and doing math worksheets!

How about you? What sort of schedule do you use for your homeschool year? What do you do when “life happens” and your schedule needs to change? Leave me a comment below!

This post is part of the Homeschool Nook Link-up Party.

Chaotic Bliss Homeschooling

Homeschool Basics Series, Pt. 2: How We Homeschool

Welcome to Part 2 of my Homeschool Basics series, “How We Homeschool.” If you missed Part 1, “Why We Homeschool,” you can go back and read that post now, then head on back here when you are finished!


I cannot tell you how many times I tried to start writing this post. The theme seemed simple enough. I just wanted to write about what style or method we are currently using in our homeschool. But for some reason I kept trying to come at it from the angle of retelling our journey and how we got where we are today, and that was just not working. But I still do want to tell that story, just some other time. So, without further ado, let’s dive in to how our family is home educating!

 We are human beings, persons, created to live. To have life more abundantly. Wonder together; grow together. Together share the struggles of knowing we cannot perfectly follow God’s law. We are fellow pilgrims. We walk side by side as human beings under the love and authority of Him who made us.

~Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

If you are familiar with the book For the Children’s Sake, you may have already guessed our preferred approach to homeschool. In it, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay discusses her own family’s journey to finding the Charlotte Mason method of education for their children. And that is the method we have chosen as well. If you have not heard of Charlotte Mason before, she was a British educator, teacher trainer, and author in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Miss Mason looked at the trends of the education system at the time and felt that they were not truly meeting the needs or the abilities of student, nor their God-given human nature. So she set out to craft a philosophy and methods based on both classical and modern insights. She then trained parents and teachers to use these ideas and methods with the children under their own tutelage. With the advent of the internet, Charlotte Mason’s own writing as well as several curricula are now readily available to today’s homeschool families as well!

What I love about Charlotte Mason education:

  • The emphasis on valuing the relationships and persons in the home classroom, not just the academic material.
  • The basis of texts called “living books” and hands on materials forming the curriculum rather than textbooks or workbooks.
  • The centrality of the fine arts (music, visual arts, poetry and plays) as parts of the curriculum rather than extra-curriculars.
  • The importance of nature study and time outdoors observing and interacting with creation as a foundation for the sciences.
  • The foundation in biblical Christian principles (although there are many secular CM-style homeschoolers out there, as well!)

Miss Mason’s ideas were both rooted in her understanding of classical education from the Greeks and Romans to Medieval times, as well as forward thinking using the latest theories in child development. When I look at the list above, it makes me chuckle because Mason was a huge proponent of a “multi-sensory” approach to learning before that was even a buzzword!

If you are interested in learning more about the Charlotte Mason method and her philosophy of education, there are a few great online resources you should check out.

  1. AmblesideOnline.org: This fabulous (and free!) website has not only the full text of Mason’s 6 volumes (her books on education) available to read online, as well as modern paraphrases of each, but also a vast number of articles published by her magazine “The Parents Review.” Even more than that, AmblesideOnline has a complete curriculum for FREE online! This is the curriculum we have been using over the past year, and I absolutely love it. Another great resource is the AmblesideOnline forum, where you can ask questions and have discussions with other AO parents, including the amazing women who created the curriculum in the first place. I really cannot say enough good things about AO!
  2. Charlotte Mason Institute: CMI seeks to promote education about Charlotte Mason and her principles to people all over the world. They host conference and retreats, have an informational blog and also have a new curriculum for sale. Although I personally have not used many resources offered by CMI, I know many homeschool families find it to be a help.
  3. Simply Charlotte Mason: Another great place to find not only information about Charlotte Mason education, but also curriculum for sale, as well as a discussion forum for parents using their curriculum.
  4. Charlotte Mason in Community: This is a little different than the previous 3 resources in that it is no much a place to get information, but rather a place to find other CM families in your local area. Whether you are looking for a nature group, book study group, or just a group to get together and chat with while your kids play at the park, this is one of the first place to check and see if there is a CM community established near you!

Those are just the beginning of the wealth of knowledge that is out there for those of us trying to incorporate Mason’s principles into our homes and lives. Sometime I will probably write a post including my favorite podcasts, blogs and other places online to get inspiration for a classical, living books education at home. But I think that will be all for today.

Thanks for joining me here at Tuning Hearts today! See you back here again next week for Part 3 of our Homeschool Basics Series all about how we schedule our year. In the mean time, I would love to hear from you about what style of homeschooling you follow!

P.S.–There are now a couple of new printings of Miss Mason’s original volumes available for purchase! One is from Simply Charlotte Mason, and the other is available via Amazon, reprinted by Living Books Press.

Read the next post in this series, Year-Round Schooling, here.

Homeschool Basics Series, Pt. 1: Why We Homeschool

Welcome to Part 1 of the Homeschool Basics Series! In this first post I will discuss why we chose to homeschool our children. I hope you will join in the discussion!

According to an article published at CNSnews.com on May 19, 2015, the number of homeschooled children in the United States had risen nearly 62% between 2003-2012. No doubt about it, that is a HUGE increase in parents choosing to educate their children at home! As the popularity of homeschooling rises, so do the varied reasons that parents cite for choosing home education over public or private school settings. Kyle Greenwalt discusses this change in his 2016 article for TheConversation.com, saying that although the initial catalyst homeschool movement of the 1980s was primarily religion-based, research on the recent trends shows that is no longer the case. The current homeschooling community is actually about as diverse as the nation’s population itself.

Since every family has its own unique reasons for homeschooling, we really can’t make assumptions or generalizations about the reasons that friends and acquaintances are keeping their children home. What led your family to make this decision may be entirely different than the catalyst for mine. So why do WE homeschool?

I think that the above quote from The Liberal Arts Tradition sums up our reason for home educating better than anything I could say.

Education is more than the transference of knowledge; it is the transmission of values, culture, and the proper ordering of loves.

As a parent, I feel that it is my responsibility to be the primary influence over my children’s education, and not just in the academic arena. Academics were certainly a big reason we chose to homeschool, especially since my husband works in higher ed himself! But an even stronger driving force in our decision to homeschool was the desire to foster a different culture in our home than what is prevalent in America today. We truly are interested in passing on our values and loves to our children, and the best way for us to do that at this time is to keep them home for their schooling. Even though the idea of being solely responsible for educating my children was very intimidating at first (and still is when I think about later years), I came to recognize that this was actually God’s calling for me as a mother, to disciple my children.

There are certainly a lot of perks to homeschooling. I don’t have to rush my children out the door every morning and then bring them home late in the afternoon to do homework all evening. I can create an individualized education plan for each of my children based on their own needs and interests. I can more adequately and easily provide for our family’s dietary needs and restrictions without the hassle of sending special food and notes to school each day. My kids have time and space to be kids and pursue their individual interests. We can choose curricula that supports our beliefs and ideals as a family. I can easily adjust our schedule to work around vacations, appointments, illness or whatever else comes up. But all these advantages are not the main reason we chose homeschooling.

Perhaps the best way to sum up our main motivation for home education is the command God gave to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-7:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

For me, homeschool is about discipling my children. It is about having the time together to really know my kids and how they tick so that I can better prepare the soil of their hearts to receive the seed of the Gospel. It is about passing on our family values and traditions that make up our unique family culture. And on hard days when it seems like we just need to get through the next handwriting worksheet or math lesson without a meltdown, I need to remind myself of these things. It is not just about the “three R’s”. It is about the Relationships.

How about you? Have you considered educating your children at home? If you do homeschool, what was the driving force behind your decision? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Read Part 2 of this series, How We Homeschool, here. Read More