What Worked & What Didn’t This School Year

What Worked & What Didn’t This School Year

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetWe are wrapping up our fifth year of homeschooling! This one was the best one yet. There were hard days, certainly, but there were also a lot of really great moments we had together. I thought I would share a list of what worked and what didn’t work for us this year. I like to take some to reflect on the year we just finished before I launch completely into planning for next year. (But let’s be honest, I had my master plan for next school year mostly ready in February. I can’t help it. I like to plan.)

What worked…

  1. School Room- The biggest change that worked was definitely our new school room when we moved houses in December. Our home was built in the sixties, so it has what I think would have been used as a formal sitting room. We aren’t formal, and we don’t sit a lot, so that would have been wasted space. It gets the best morning light, and it’s a wonderful size, so we made it our school room. We’ve got a big white board that Lydia puts up our CC grammar work each week. We have a big oval table and four rolling chairs around it, one for each girl. The table is almost never clean. It is used for art projects, play dough messes and lots of learning. I have a little desk and rolling chair too. Right now we have one small bookcase which is overflowing with school books, so we plan to do a wall of bookshelves in there this summer. And some paint, but I don’t know what color yet.
  2. Our Classical Conversations community- This was our second year with this community, and I loved how much our friendships got to grow this year. I tutored the youngest class this year, and getting to know the parents of my kids was such a blessing not to mention the fun, crazy, wonderful group of tutors I got to know and love so much.
  3. One day with nowhere to go- When I was planning out dance classes and violin lessons, counseling sessions, etc., I tried to make sure we had at least one day per week that we didn’t have anywhere to go. This allowed us to have a slow morning and linger in our read-aloud for a bit longer or explore an interesting composer for a few more songs. One of my primary reasons for homeschooling is so I can set the pace for what our mornings look like, but if I’m not intentional with the planning of our week then it can start to feel very choppy. We prefer days with a bit more margin and fluidity.
  4. No TV until late in the afternoon. (I would include all screens. My kids don’t have any screens other than the TV, but if they did then this would apply to all screens.) This has been a rule in our house forever, but I’m including it because I can tell on Saturdays how much morning TV drains them of their creative and learning energy. Really, I think this would be a good thing for me to adhere to as well regarding social media.
  5. Read-alouds. This is everyone’s favorite. We love books so much. We are currently reading The Green Ember, and it’s fantastic. I’ll include this below but we need to figure out a better system for our morning basket time. I’m hoping to improve this next year.
  6. Caring as much about emotional growth as intellectual growth. This is an area God has really impressed upon my heart as my girls get older. It’s an area where I’ve gotten to see fruit this year and also an area I want to continue to pour into. In that vain, we are working on habits this summer. I talk more about our summer plans at the end of this blog.

What didn’t work…

  1. Saxon math for Lydia. This is our biggest didn’t work this year. Lyd did Saxon 5/4 in the fall. I ended up getting videos for her to watch to make it better. (The videos we had were not the Nicole lady who I heard great things about but another person. They were so boring.) I was thinking we would try the Nicole math videos, but then I heard about Teaching Textbooks. They had a free trial, so Lyd gave it a try and we both love it. She loves it because it’s more engaging than before. I like it because it grades all her math stuff for me, and since I’ll have three students next year and four the year after this was a big deal to me. The price was reasonable, and it still teaches using the spiral method which I like. We just made this change a month or so ago. I’ll update after we’ve been using it a while, but so far we love it. (I am still using Saxon for Lottie and Georgia next year.)
  2. Late night Wednesdays + early morning Thursday. Our community met on Thursdays last year, and our Missional Community meets on Wednesday nights. While this isn’t the worst thing in the world by any stretch and certainly kids in traditional school deal with it all the time, I’m not sad at all that our community day is moving to Tuesdays. I’m grateful to not feel rushed to get littles to bed on Wednesday night so they aren’t grumpy for CC day.
  3. My school planner. I used one I got at Target. It was fine, and I made it work for two students, but I need something a bit more for three students with three different workloads next year. I’m going to try Emily Ley’s Teacher Planner that launches tomorrow.
  4. Planning for two semesters. For the past five years, I’ve treated our calendar like a traditional school calendar–start mid-August, fall break, two week Christmas break, spring break, end for summer before Memorial Day. It’s worked okay, but it felt like there was room for improvement. Come late-July we are all craving some sort of structure and also all the air-conditioning. January and February always feel weird because we are prepping for state-testing, and this year Lydia was prepping for Memory Master. In December we want to sit by the fire and read and sing Christmas carols and bake yummy things. All that to say, it felt like we were imposing the same structure on every season even though seasons are just that–seasons. December isn’t like May, but it felt like we were trying to make it be. My friend Erin shared how she does mini-terms instead of two semesters. Each mini-term is 4-6 weeks depending on the calendar and holidays. I thought this was brilliant, and immediately decided I wanted to give it a try with our master plan for school next year. I will still get in the same amount of school days, but they will be spaced out differently, and our areas of focus will shift with the seasons. I really like how it’s looking right now, and we’ll see how it feels when we live it out. I can share more about our specific master plan for mini-terms in a future blog.
  5. Morning basket time. We struggled with this this year, and I think it has something to do with the planning for two semesters I described above. It feels like there is so much I want to fit into this time and I struggled to do that in an intentional way. When I was reworking our master plan I reworked our morning basket time too, and I’m hoping it will be more meaningful next year.

There you go! (I should mention I felt the need to have the same number in each list, but I curbed my perfectionist tendencies and left you with 6 and 5. That’s growth, people.) I’ll share more about next year’s master plan and the plan for morning basket time in a future blog.

Our summer term will be 8 weeks long. We are going to read some great books through Read Aloud Revival, work in the garden a lot and learn about habits using Sean Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Happy Kids. On rainy days we will watch Our Planet on Netflix and Monty Don’s Gardeners’ World on Britbox. And, of course, time with grandparents and cousins and friends and ice cream… lots of ice cream.

It’s been a really good year, and I’m incredibly grateful for the memories I’ve gotten to make teaching my smart, creative, delightful girls. Lydi and Lottie, you make me a better learner. I’m so glad we get to do this adventure together. All my love.

Digging

Digging

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetI had to take a little break from the blog for another project. That project has been sent off, and there’s a lot swirling around upstairs. The last five months–wow–it’s hard to believe it’s been almost five months since Eve came home. So much has changed, and, yet, it’s hard to remember life before the six of us were together. Her dedication was this past Sunday and our friend Stephen said he had seen a picture of our family from February. He said it looked like there was a big hole in the picture, a gap where our Eve girl wasn’t there.

At dinner last night, Peach asked Matt for a “campfire,” meaning fire in the fireplace. So, after bath times and pjs we all sat in front of the fireplace reading books. Lottie wanted to give Evie her bottle. (Yes, we still do one bottle a day for her because it’s a bonding moment, and we missed 20 months of those.) I looked over at them and thought of this time last year when our first court date was coming up in December. We walked through so much this year. But the gifts throughout this hard year have been beautiful and plentiful.

Saturday, I planted nearly 200 bulbs in our front yard. The big girls helped me while the little girls played in the dirt. The blade of the shovel cut through the dirt and I tucked in bulb after bulb, each one hidden beneath several inches of dirt to protect it through winter. There is nothing to show for my work right now, except a bit of a bruise on my right palm from all that digging. But I’m believing that come spring tulips and narcissus and later in the summer anemones and ranunculus will bloom.

Somewhere around bulb #89 the obvious metaphor hit me. This is what growth looks like. There’s digging, and it’s dirty. There’s planting, and it feels hidden. There’s growth, and it feels slow. But wait. Because the beauty is there already. And in time it will bloom into something that reflects the glory of its Creator.

If We Don’t Give Up

If We Don’t Give Up

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Every time I walk out to the front yard I feel like I have super powers. (Then I walk back in, and my kids remind me I most certainly do not.) Last year, my dad gave me a shoot off his blackberry bush. It was maybe eight inches long. I planted it at the end of last summer, and now that little bush is taller than me and giving us giant handfuls of blackberries every day. We made mountains of blackberry pancakes Saturday morning and ate them on the patio while we listened to old hymns and watched Lottie try to feed the dogs bits of syrupy food. At some point, I noticed both girls had purple lips and purple fingertips and a little syrup in their bed head hair. Such is the way of Saturdays.

Beside the blackberry bush is my hydrangea. That one tested me this year. Last year I only got a couple blooms because of a late freeze. When the late freeze came this year, I batted my eyelashes at Matt (and promised snickerdoodles) and asked him to help me cover the hydrangea bush and all its tiny, confused buds with old bed sheets. We used clothespins to fasten the sheets to the branches as the ice pelted down, and by the end of it our yard looked like it had a gigantic blowfish that had taken up residence in the flowerbed. We had to refasten the sheets a few times because the strong winds kept blowing them off. I wanted to give up, certain the buds were already frozen and dead. But we kept fastening and covering until the freezing days were over. And now, all over the house, I’ve got vases and jars and pitchers full of the lacy globes.

There’s a verse I pray every day for Matt and myself, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9, NIV). 

I’ll be honest and tell you I’ve never been more weary. We are taking an adoption class right now, and I’m realizing one of my biggest fears surrounding our adoption is that I won’t have the energy, the stamina, or the caffeine supply to parent well–both our biological kids and our adopted child. Loving and leading and listening–those are the good, hard things we pour into those around us. They drain us and leave us collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day. But it’s the last promise in the passage that keeps me going, “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).

I’m staring at a big bunch of hydrangeas on my dining room table right now, and the etching in the pitcher that holds them is throwing a rainbow onto the runner, a hidden gift since I just finished reading about Noah and the flood, about second chances and walking with God. I’ve just closed my Bible, and this stubborn soul of mine is reminded once again that this is where I get my strength. From Him. From this Love Letter He has written for me. With the light casting lines across the wood grain, I can see sticky fingerprints I missed last night. The blessing doesn’t look like a clean house or kids that always make wise choices. The blessing looks like dirty floors and piles of laundry and this messy, beautiful thing called family. The blessing doesn’t sound like awards and prestigious titles. The blessing sounds like forgiveness and vulnerability. And the blessing doesn’t make me feel like I’ve got it all together. Rather, it leaves me on my knees in acute dependence on my Sustainer. It’s with a weary heart that I discover the harvest of blessing isn’t some thing. It’s Someone.