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.

Friday Favorites {game changer caffeine, bullet journaling, good reads, a homeschool idea, and how to make a roast chicken}

Friday Favorites {game changer caffeine, bullet journaling, good reads, a homeschool idea, and how to make a roast chicken}

It’s been a while since I did a Friday Favorites, so this one is all over the place! (Much like my brain these days. Ha!)

Nespresso + Aeroccino//Our hotel in Quebec had a Nespresso machine in every room. We loved it (and every other part of Quebec), so we asked my parents for one (the Nespresso, not Quebec) for Christmas. Ours came from Costco and included the Aeroccino machine which turns milk of any kind into something magical. There might be unicorns that live inside it. I can’t say for certain.

Bullet Journal//I have recently sent this blog from the Lazy Genius Collective to many friends who wanted to know more about how to bullet journal.

Power Sheets from Lara Casey//After seeing a friend recommend these, I did some research. I liked the idea of having ONE page each month that listed my goals. And I like that I can remove it and stick it on my fridge so I see it all day. The Power Sheets plus the Bullet Journal are helping me feel much more sane as well as bring shape to the goals that rattle around in my brain. As a stay-at-home + homeschool mom, it can be easy to get lost in the day to day tasks but not really see the big picture. The Power Sheets are lifting my head so I can see the lasting purpose of the day to day tasks.

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner//You all know slow is an anthem for our family, especially in this season. I loved this one.

Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah//I love all of Hannah’s books, and this one was no exception. I especially loved learning about Leningrad under Stalin’s rule. Hannah captures both historical nuance and human relationships so beautifully.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi//Through various viewpoints and spanning generations, this book tells the story of two half-sisters and the twists their journeys take both on the Gold Coast of Africa and in the southern United States.

Morning Basket: I got this homeschool idea from the Learning Well IG community. The idea is to gather a basket of good reads that the mom reads aloud to the kiddos to start the school day. I was drawn to this idea 1. because I love reading and 2. because starting with workbooks just didn’t seem very inspiring. The routine we’ve been trying out since starting back in January is breakfast>Mom does Bible and coffee while kids play>morning basket>morning chores and get ready for the day.

Right now in our morning basket we have…

Adoption Prayer Cards//I read the verse and prayer prompt, and one of the girls prays for E. (Thank you, Linda, for sending these to us!)

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones//This is a devotional book by the same author as the Jesus Storybook Bible

Then Sings My Soul by Robert J. Morgan//With my word being Altar this year, I bought this book of hymns along with the story behind each hymn. We pick one each day and read the story and sing the hymn.

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein//I want at least one book of poetry in the basket each month. The girls love the silliness of Shel.

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet//A children’s biography of our favorite author. We just finished this one today and loved every page.

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder//I wanted to be Laura when I was a kid. There are quite a few hilarious stories about this, but I reserve those for really close friends.

Three recipes I’ve made every week of January that all lean on each other. Healthy and delicious!

Easiest Roast Chicken: This recipe comes from Matt’s step-dad. It doesn’t get much easier than this, and don’t let a whole chicken scare you! Take your whole chicken and remove the little package inside it. If it scares you, just throw it away. If it doesn’t you can put what’s inside in your bone broth (see below). Wash the chicken under cold water and then pat dry with paper towels. Place the dried off chicken in a cast iron skillet (cast iron skillet is important!) breast side down. Liberally coat the exposed skin with a good layer of salt. The salt forms a crust that keeps all the juices inside. Cut a lemon or two in half and stuff in the cavity. Then put it in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. At the end of the 30 minutes, remove the cast iron and flip the chicken so the breast side is now up. Cover that side with salt and put back in the oven at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes. When that timer goes off, leave the chicken as it is but bump the heat to 400 degrees and cook for a final 30 minutes. (1.5 hours total cooking time.) When your last timer goes off, remove the chicken and let it rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Homemade Bone Broth: After dinner, remove all the meat you can from your chicken and save any leftovers for Lemon Dill Soup (see below). Then, take the carcass and place it in your Crock-Pot. Throw in an onion quartered, a few carrots cut into big pieces, and some celery cut into big pieces. (No need to chop these small or anything.) Add some garlic, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and fill the remaining space in the crock pot with water. Cook on low overnight, 12-16 hours. The next morning, pour the liquid through a strainer into jars or a large bowl with a lid. You will get roughly 4ish cups of yummy broth.

Lemon Dill Soup: Now, you need a way to use that bone broth. Enter this delicious, easy, and healthy Lemon Dill Soup from Shauna Niequist. It’s really just a basic chicken and rice soup with a bright touch added from the lemon and dill. I use all the leftover bits of chicken from my roast chicken.

Have a great Friday!


Our First Year of Homeschooling: Some Resources, Ideas & Thoughts

Our First Year of Homeschooling: Some Resources, Ideas & Thoughts

IMG_3741I should preface what I’m about to say with this . . . I am a total rookie to this homeschool thing. (Also, I will probably say that every year because if it’s anything like parenting every year will bring new and different challenges, and I will feel completely inadequate almost always.) But given my must-read-everything-I-can-on-the-subject personality I thought I would share our experience from this year in case it might help someone else scouring Google for resources. If you aren’t homeschooling, skip to the bottom for my favorite banana pudding recipe. (Which has nothing to do with school except we made it to celebrate finishing our first year.)

For several years I’ve felt like homeschooling was something we needed to try. There were many reasons, but a big one was knowing there is a decent chance I will need to homeschool our adopted child to catch him or her up and to teach English. Knowing that, I wondered about teaching our other kids. Originally, Matt was hesitant, but he came around and has been our biggest supporter this year. I thought we would try it out for PreK since that seemed like a low-risk situation. I told myself, “How badly can you mess up her education in PreK?!”

Through several friends, I had heard about Classical Conversations which is kind of like a combination of a homeschool co-op and curriculum. It covers history, timeline, Latin, geography, music, science, art, and basic math and English things. I went to a preview day for a local CC group and loved it. It gave me the accountability and community I was looking for, and it gave Lydia the friendships and outside influences I wanted for her. CC gave us a basic structure, and then I could add on as I wanted. For PreK we kept it very simple. With CC, you are responsible for choosing a comprehensive math and language arts curriculum. I chose to do Saxon math because I liked how it told me exactly what to do and say. Math was the subject that most intimidated me, so this helped calm my fears. (Side note: several people mentioned to me that most kids can work one level up with Saxon so we did the Kindergarten level this year, and that worked well for us.) For language arts, I chose All About Reading. I wanted a curriculum that was heavy on teaching the rules of phonics instead of just memorizing tons of sight words. You all know I’m a word person, so I did a lot of research in this area. Lydia and I both loved AAR. We did Level 1 this past year, and on their website you can take an assessment to see which level is best for each child to start on. Next year, we will add All About Spelling by the same group. The thing we did the most this year was read. I read to Lydia from chapter books almost every time I fed Georgia. She got the Chronicles of Narnia set on CD for Christmas and listens to those during rest time and before bedtime every day.

And that’s all we did this year. We focused on the basics, and I had to tell myself no a lot. We didn’t do many field trips, although we did take a lot of nature walks with her field guide. We didn’t make a paper mâché volcano or create a tornado from a two-liter. During our CC days, she got to do all sorts of science experiments and art projects, but we didn’t do these at home. The first half of the year I was very pregnant, and the second half I had a newborn, so we kept things simple. And I’m glad we did because it allowed us to go slowly and enjoy the learning journey.

Next year, we will be official, and I will have to report grades and attendance and such. We will be adding a few more things to our lesson plans, but I’m still trying to keep things simple. We are doing Classical Conversations again, and I’m excited because we learn all about Africa this year in our geography lessons. Like I said earlier, we are adding All About Spelling, and we’ve been doing Handwriting Without Tears and will continue that as well. The umbrella school that we are registering with requires a Bible curriculum each year, so I’m praying through what that looks like. (After originally writing this, a new friend recommended Grapevine studies, and I think we are going to do their Old Testament study in the fall.)

Regarding our schedule, we do most of our school in the morning while Georgia is napping. Charlotte is in the kitchen with us. Sometimes, she wants to “do school” and I give her a math manipulative or a little slate to “practice” letters, but that’s only if she asks. She does sing the US presidents while brushing her teeth which is pretty comical because about the time she gets to Lincoln, Johnson, Grant and Hayes little toothpaste bubbles are dribbling down her chin. All the girls have rest time in the afternoon. The younger two take naps, and Lydia has quiet time by herself. This gives me a much needed sanity break mid-day.

Homeschooling is hard–hard because it demands time and patience and energy which, let’s be honest, often feel like they are in short supply. But if your heart feels stirred to try it, I would encourage you to explore it and see if it might be a good fit for your family. Several years ago when I started my list of life goals I wrote, “To teach my kids to read.” Sitting beside Lydia at our kitchen table with the early morning light casting lines through the blinds and hearing Lydia read her first sentence was a moment I won’t forget. I loved watching her little finger tracing underneath letters that were now unlocked and the look on her face that day when Daddy came home and she told him, “I can read!” That moment made all the hard moments worth it. (And trust me, there were some hard moments. Sometime in person, I can tell you the “milk” story, but let’s just say I thought I was going to lose it one day over that four-letter word.) We started out the year with the mantra “We can do hard things.” And we did.

Lydia loves a good party and requested a little celebration a couple weeks ago after we finished our last day of school. So, I made her favorite roast beef sandwiches, and she and Charlotte helped me make banana pudding, which means Lydia helped and Lottie licked the remaining whipped cream from the container. I got this recipe from Miss Nan’s cookbook, and every time I make it I think of Miss Nan and all she taught me.

Jackson Banana Pudding
– One small package of instant French vanilla pudding mix.

– 1 can of Eagle brand condensed milk

– Large Cool Whip

– Vanilla wafers

– Bananas

Make pudding according to package directions. Fold in the can of condensed milk. Then, fold in the Cool Whip. Layer with vanilla wafers and bananas. It makes a ton!