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It’s that time of year again, ya’ll, and here is the big fat curriculum post you’ve been waiting for.

If you follow along with my shenanigans on facebook, you may have already heard me going on about some of this, but for all the other researching / curious / curriculum-confused readers just stopping in to see what another mom is using, this post has all the details.

But can we please just start with a few pictures of summer vacation? *click the arrow to scroll through*

And now on to academics!  A lot of new curriculum going on this school year, plus a couple of tried and true favorites. Here is a quick-listing of what I’ll be using, and below that, you’ll find many more details about each choice.

Our Curriculum Choices

Math: Mammoth Math plus Math-U-See blocks

Spelling: All About Spelling

WritingInstitute for Excellence in Writing (IEW)

Grammar: Grammar Fix It! by IEW

Copywork: 4 sources for daily practice (a mix of print and cursive)- Psalm 91 The Shelter, Handwriting Without Tears Cursive Success and various copywork pages from our History and Science Curriculum

Phonics & Reading (for 1st Grader and 5 Yr Old): Phonics Pathways then Delightful Reading

Bible: Reading aloud from the Bible: 1 & 2 Samuel, then Matthew and Acts.  Plus memory and devotional work from Awana (church program)

Science: Apologia  Semester 1: Apologia Zoology 3 (Land Animals of the 6th Day) and Semester 2:  Apologia Human Anatomy and Physiology

History: Studying the Early Modern Period with emphasis on American History using these primary resources as guides: George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster, The Story of the World Vol. III CDs and Activity Book, Homeschool in the Woods Time Traveler CDs and Lapbook kits {Colonial Life, American Revolution and Early 19th Century}, plus tons of additional reading sources.

And now for the detailed version of all of this~here we go!

Math

I’m switching from A Beka to Mammoth Math this year.  Oh man, people. I have changed math curriculum something like 5 times since Kindergarten, and though I’m switching AGAIN, I have to say, I really am learning what works for my daughter and what doesn’t.  My daughter is still a little less than 1/2 year behind in math, but I’m ok with that, because we’re strengthening foundations and closing the gap.

I used A Beka’s 1st and 2nd grade workbooks last year, along with the Math-U-See blocks.  And while my daughter progressed nicely, and enjoyed A Beka’s colorful workbooks, the structure often left me frustrated and having to supplement/slow down.  As is common with the “spiral approach” with math, new concepts continued to be introduced before she was ready to move on from the previous skill. Some days, we’d have lots of success with a concept like borrowing in subtraction, and we’d just be getting going, but the next lesson would have us practicing a variety of other things (which she didn’t have a strong grasp of either) and so I felt like I was continually having to sit with her, every single problem to remind or re-explain how to do it.   So  my main gripe with A Beka is that it just does not provide ample enough practice to master the skills at hand, the student can sometimes feel they’re not good at ANY of them.  Now, some people don’t mind this approach (particularly once a child has mastered their basic math facts, because the review of many different learned skills can be helpful, but before that time, it can feel very very frustrating).

The opposite of the spiral approach is a mastery approach.

A few examples of mastery based curriculum would be :
–Math-U-See
–Mammoth Math
–Singapore Math

Examples of spiral based curriculum:
–Saxon (incremental, or short spiral)
–A Beka
–Horizons

Now I was pretty sure that spiral math was not a good idea for my daughter, so why did I expect it to work well last year?  Perhaps it’s because the other mastery approach curriculum we tried (M-U-S) was not a “perfect fit” for us, and so I wavered.  Maybe I should have just stuck it out with Math-U-See, despite its redundancy and somewhat boring nature (one WHOLE year in addition concepts…then one WHOLE year in subtraction…and so on).  Aferall, we do still use the M-U-S blocks almost every single day.  My hands-on Pre K and 1st grade boys LOVE using the blocks. My 3rd grade daughter is gaining a solid understanding of place value, fact families and regrouping thanks to the blocks.  But the workbooks….meh.  Leaves you wanting more.  For a few months, we also tried the untraditional Life of Fred, mixed with Math-U-See, and although it was entertaining, it too, did not provide enough practice material for my struggling daughter.  A Beka felt traditional and schoolish, and because I really felt I should have been covering a variety of skills besides addition/subtraction facts, I gave it a try last year. It worked out alright, but in the end, we leaned back into the mastery approach by going back to the basics and worked to secure those + and – facts by daily repeated practice, using other worksheets and relying heavily on our Math-U-See blocks.

This year, I am trying Mammoth Math with my 1st and 3rd graders for a few reasons.

First, many of my Charlotte Mason-style loving friends (and online reviewers) absolutely love it.  (By the way, you can go here to see what other math curriculums are “CM approved” and recommended by Ambleside Online.) 

Mammoth Math is mastery-based.  It is complete, comprehensive and easy to use.  It has a strong focus on conceptual and mental math.  It is very affordable, and how about this: it’s a mastery-based approach that spirals back around to previously learned concepts. That means that while learned skills do continue to show up here and there, if a child is learning how to trade (borrow) in multi-digit subtractions, they will be given more than enough practice in this area before the text moves on.  If you had a child who didn’t NEED all that additional practice, you could simply speed them up and move on.

Mammoth Math allows you to purchase a downloadable version and instantly print it from your home office, or order a bound copy.  I love all their purchasing options: You can buy a full year’s curriculum, a giant elementary package, a half-year at a time, or even a theme (need a unit on fractions only? no problem).  They have SO many options, and they’re all affordable and straightforward.  If you’re interested, print a placement test to see where your child is functioning.

My daughter is going into 3rd, but I ended up buying year 2B and starting her about 1/2 way through that (which would be 3/4 of the way through grade 2).  Why? She just is not ready to begin 3rd grade material until we shore up some of her 2nd grade skills.  I love that I can pick and choose.

It does not, I repeat, does NOT make any sense, mamas, to push our kids forward to the next “grade” of this or that when they are unable to DO the work at that level.  Just slow down, be patient and deliberate, and it will come, slowly.  Meet them where they’re at.  That is one beautiful thing about homeschooling–it’s NOT one size fits all!  We can adjust and modify and support our kids right where they need it.

Mammoth Math is on Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 Curriculum List.  You can read her review here. 

Math-U-See is also on her Top 101 List–check out that review here, and if you are interested in purchasing a set of Math-U-See manipulative blocks to supplement your current math curriculum, you can do so at their website HERE.

One more thing we continually use in math is our homemade Decimal Street Poster (below).  Make one yourself with poster board and construction paper.  Such a simple, helpful visual tool that the kids really enjoy using.  *by the way, in the pic below you can see Eden is working on her Mammoth Math worksheet, and is USING her Math-U-See blocks to solve.*

Spelling

I’m finally beginning formal spelling. Charlotte Mason recommends you teach spelling in the context of dictation, copywork and reading for the first few years, but begin a formal spelling routine in grade 3. I was always a bit nervous about this when I first started out, but I am SO GLAD I waited.  My daughter is right on track for beginning 3rd grade spelling, and I can say confidently that the CM approach to teaching spelling w/in language arts and copywork really does work.
Now it’s time to amp things up and get a little more serious with a formal spelling routine each day.

After lots and lots of research I’ve decided to use All About Spelling.  This is another new one for me, but I love that I can begin w/ my 1st and 3rd grader in the same place, and move them as they are able.  After about 3 days, my daughter had finished 3/4 of Level 1 and we were able to hone right in on problem areas. This curriculum is kinethetic, auditory, AND visual.  Now, it IS teacher-intensive, but I feel both of my children need me to actually work through a lesson w/ them at this time (as opposed to telling them to get out their spelling workbook and do pages ___ on their own).  We are one week into using our magnetic white board and the handy little letter tiles and I must say, I am excited, and so are they!  Kids love anything hands-on, and this program offers that element which I appreciate.  Also–normally, I am not a big fan of teacher’s manuals.  I hate the additional expense and it’s so often just NOT necessary.  However, in this case, you’d be completely in the dark w/out it.  Once you have it though, you’re good to go, and only need to purchase additional spelling kits as your kids move through the levels.

All About Spelling also made Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List and you can read her detailed review here.  

Phonics

For my 1st grader and PreK 5 year old, I am still working through Phonics Pathways.  It’s been a great curriculum for my boys, and they both enjoy it.  We love the games they provide (I also use the Phonics Pathways Boosters from time to time).  Phonics Pathways teaches short vowel sounds first, has simple, lightly scripted lessons and just enough practice for wiggly little boys to get through each day.  You can do as many or few pages as you want per session.  One thing I found to be SO helpful for my boys was the bookmark they include (we copied onto card stock)–such a great visual of the vowel sounds.  My boys refer to their bookmark often.

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I actually wish I would have used this curriculum with my daughter.  I highly recommend it, as do others–read more here and here.

Once my first grader is doing some basic reading, I will begin Delightful Reading (by Simply Charlotte Mason) with him.  I used this with my daughter and she LOVED it!  It was such a fun, relaxing way to learn how to read, and was much needed after we had some stress from me pushing too hard using things that were not working.

Writing

Oh you guys!  I am beyond excited to be starting Institute for Excellence in Writing this year!!!!  I know only a teacher would say something like that, but seriously, this program!!

I evaluate a couple dozen kids each spring, and in peeking through those portfolios, I learn a lot about what is out there, and what is worthwhile/quality and what’s not.

I am not sure I can even begin to describe the level of improvement I have seen from students who were previously struggling writers after just one year with IEW.  It is absolutely amazing.

This program provides PARENTS AND STUDENTS with the necessary training and tools and confidence to become outstanding writers.

Also, I am not sure why their website is so totally confusing, especially to first time visitors interested in getting started, but just know you are not alone in your confusion.  Don’t let that, or the price, or the intimidation factor keep you from trying this program.  There is no WAY you will regret it.
Now, before you abandon this post and break the bank to buy a writing package, here is what you need to know:

–It’s probably best to begin this program in 3rd grade or higher.  MAYbe sooner IF your child is an established writer.

I mean, if money’s not an issue, you can buy it sooner and get the training NOW that will prepare you to be an outstanding teacher of writing, even if your kids are only in kinder or first or even second right now.  Just know that only a  minimal amount of material can be implemented in the lower grades.

Also

Shop around, and consider only buying the teacher/parent training course first (called Teaching Writing: Style & Structure)

I found mine used in near-perfect condition on Amazon, and it was $40 cheaper than if I would have purchased it new from the IEW site.

I only bought the teacher-training and am really glad I did because at the END of the {10 hours of} training, they give you a little sample-course to do w/ your students (they give you this for each level, elem-high school).

Once you are finished with the Style & Structure training, you have some choices.  As soon as you finish even the first DVD training, you can begin teaching your kids using the methods that were taught to you!  Writing can be taught within the context of literature, history or science, instead of as a separate subject.  If you would prefer to have Mr. Pudewa walk your kids through the writing lessons, you can purchase what they call Student Writing Intensive (SWI).  Younger grades can begin with Level A, and they also offer a B and C course.  These come with DVDs of Mr. Pudewa teaching a live audience of students.  Your kids (and you if you’d like) watch and take part in the classroom lectures (which are funny and interesting and engaging), then they complete the assignments given within the SWI with your support.

Another element that I love about IEW is that you can very often find a host-class in your area and sign your student to take part in it (for a small cost) without having to purchase the entire SWI on your own.

Again, after seeing first-hand what a difference this writing program makes for struggling students, I was sold.  I am very excited to be part of the IEW community this year, and I know my kids will benefit tremendously.

Grammar

I’ve decided to reinforce our writing by keeping grammar in the IEW “family” by using Grammar Fix It! (we’re using the unit titled “The Nose Tree” which is what they recommend to be completed first).  It complements IEW’s program so nicely and I love how grammar is taught in a natural story-telling and editing manner.

Basically, there is a brief bit of grammar instruction every day, after which the student corrects one sentence and rewrites it in their journal, WITH the corrections.  At the end of the year, they have a complete STORY, which they edited themselves. My daughter only has her first 4 sentences written out, but is already enjoying seeing the story begin to make sense.  One element we’ve found to be especially helpful and interesting in this grammar program is the requirement to look up a certain bold-type word from each day’s sentence in the dictionary.  My daughter is learning how to find a word and determine the meaning that fits based on the context of the sentence–all valuable skills…plus her vocabulary is expanding. Don’t you find that children love to learn and use new “fancy” words? 🙂

I am supplementing the Fix It! workbook with some of my own grammar instruction, like the preposition song, and other goodies I’ve found on Pinterest.

Bible

I have come to realize that I really do not prefer devotionals or curriculum when it comes to teaching the Bible to my little ones. What I DO love is reading to them straight from the Word of God, and to allow the conversation and questions be natural and spirit-led and free.
Last year, we ditched the Bible Study Guide curriculum about 25 lessons in because it had too much stopping for such small details and very often, we lost track of the big story, or had to go so  s l o w l y in order to give ample coloring time, etc for their lesson pages.  It dragged it out unnecessarily, and was kinda teacher-intensive, but I do have to say, all my kids did actually enjoy it.  It would be fun to use in Sunday School.  It just became a lot more appealing for me to open up the Word with my kids and READ to them.  Not long after I ditched it, I began reading through the book of Luke using The Dig, and all the kids and I really liked it, though I modified it a bit…basically, I gave them little tokens for answering questions correctly from each day’s chapter or story, and they exchanged these for candy/dollar store junk, etc.

We loved reading through the book of Luke together.  The most natural time for me to do Bible reading was during our tea-time each afternoon.  Tea and the Word of God.  Pretty great if you ask me.  However, even pulling out The Dig lesson guide ended up feeling unnatural to me (sometimes the questions they provided seemed…forced?), and so we only did Part 1, which was the first half of Luke.  We read the remainder of the book right from the Bible, and I asked questions as we went along, and reviewed the previous day’s reading each day.

This summer, I began reading through 1 and 2 Samuel with the kids, and we will simply continue that as we enter the new schoolyear, then move on to the book of Matthew which we will also watch on DVD.  The plan is to continue the story into the book of Acts, then return to Genesis since it will have been 2 years since I read it aloud to the kids.

My kids absolutely love read aloud time each day, but in the words of my 4 year old: we all “love the Bible book best.”  I get antsy and always have a million other great books I want to be reading aloud to them, and so I have to REMIND myself that the Word of God is LIFE and is far better than anything else I could be feeding to their spirits.

This year my kids will begin Awana at our church on Wednesday nights, and I am SO SO excited for the additional Bible Memory work they’ll get to do within that.

Science

If you know me at all, you know that I am 100% completely SOLD on Apologia Exploring Creation Series.  We’ve already completed Astronomy, Botany, Zoology 1 (Flying Creatures), Zoology 2 (Swimming Creatures) and this year we are diving into Zoology 3 (Land Animals) and ~Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise~Human Anatomy and Physiology at the tail end of the school year.  That’s only if we don’t die first aren’t inundated with trying to cover egads of awesome info and people and places in American History.  We’ve always done two Apologia Books each year, and so it would be ideal if we could finish the cycle of Creation this year, and begin it again next year, but some semesters it is difficult to fit in a full in-depth study.  At the same time, my gut says that I would not love staying in Zoology (or whatever) for the entire YEAR at the level where my kids are right now.  Later on, as we begin to cycle back through in Science, it would be great to allow our kids to choose some of their favorites to repeat and perhaps spend a year studying one in even greater depth.
But the way I see it, we are still going a MILE deep by remaining in one subject for 5 months.  You won’t find that in any elementary school, and it’s a shame because children are naturally very inquisitive and interested in the science of the grand world around them, and yet they are offered such piddly science material during the younger years.

In-depth study is not the only reason I love Apologia.  It’s “living” literature, written by a single, enthusiastic author who writes to the student, and cares greatly about her work.  We all know how wonderful it is to sit under a good teacher who is passionate about the subject matter, right?  It comes across in the teaching, and so too does Jeanie Fulbright’s enthusiasm for science translate across the page as it draws you and your kiddos right into the amazing study of God’s creation.  Compare that to a dry textbook and you get the idea.

I love that she includes Creation Confirmations in each and every lesson.  Ms. Fulbright is a young-earth creationist who is solidly, unapologetically biblical in her teaching and writing.

This is a one-size fits all or at least most in your family.  Even my preschooler, since age 3, has joined around the table coloring and listening and learning as we’ve explored the planets, vegetation, flying and swimming creatures.  I used to (half) joke that he knew more about Astronomy than most adults. Forget teaching 2 or 3 different sciences to your gang–with Apologia, it’s one main text for the whole family, and individual journal for school-aged kiddos.

There is a junior version of the journal for the younger grades (the junior journals have coloring pages and age-appropriate lines for beginning writers, but are otherwise the same).
Each year, I find myself running upstairs to copy the beautiful coloring pages supplied in the journals so that my little boys can color as they listen.  This year I decided to pre-copy these pages (along with little space for journaling) in advance and bind them.  Now my younger boys, who aren’t quite ready for full journals of their own, can at least keep their coloring and basic journaling pages in one place for science.

Here is big album you can click through of our adventures in Apologia science the past 3 years…you’ll see pics of our studies in Astronomy, Botany, Zoology Flying Creatures and Zoology Swimming Creatures with lots of hands-on stuff added in.

Finally, I love that the journals serve as a valuable reinforcement of what is being learned.  The students can fill in the pages with pictures and facts that they narrate back after each day’s reading.  Each lesson contains puzzles and fill-in-the-blank pages, a lovely scripture copywork page, suggested resources, experiments (which use household items) and a full-color cut and paste mini-book that the students can complete and glue into the journal.  The completed journal is literally a precious keepsake, filled with all the wonderful things that were learned together throughout the school year.  My daughter often thumbs back through her old journals to see her work.

Know of a better science curriculum? I’d like to see it.  At least for the elementary years, there is only one in our book: Apologia. It too, makes Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List.  

I will, however, echo a caveat voiced over at Ambleside Online (where they also recommend Apologia) and it’s this:

This Science curriculum takes time.  It is interesting and fascinating and top-notch, but there are some families who just feel they do not have the time to dedicate each week to the reading and journal work.  We are able to do so because we use History as well as Science as our CORE and so our literature and writing and arts all support either History or Science, instead of being treated as  separate “subjects.”
For example, last year when we studied flying creatures, we took field trips and read books and did art that fit right into what we were doing in Science…

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The rest falls pretty evenly into the History department as we use the Classical Approach of teaching chronological, literature-rich history.

But trust me when I say that for us, it is more than enough each week “just” to fit in Science and History~because within those two “subjects” most other subjects can be found.

Ok, I’ve saved my favorite for last:

History

Many of you know we’ve been using Story of the World for the past 2 years, and I honestly believed this year would be no different.  We’ve been cruising right along on the timeline, beginning with the Ancients, then moving through the Middle Ages last year, and into Early Modern Period this year.  Story of the World is also Charlotte Mason friendly since they encourage you to use it as a “skeleton” curriculum, and fill in with many “living books” from the library and other sources.  In the past 2 years, we have never have any problems filling it in with all sorts of fantastic literature and hands-on activities and events.  We are a history-loving family, through and through, and Story of the World has been a great timeline guide for our chronological study of History, and has truly been a great spring-board.

However, this year, as we leave the age of Exploration and enter the period of colonization, I am finding that I want to “hone in” a bit more on American History.  My daughter is entering 3rd grade, and so will not have this period of early American History again (on the 4 year cycle) until 7th grade.  There is so much fantastic literature and people and events to cover just within American History itself in this period, that I was not feeling good about continuing on around the whole world, as is the habit of SOTW curriculum.  Sure enough, once the curriculum arrived, I saw for myself that only a smattering of chapters were dedicated to American History, and the rest of the time, we’d be traveling the world, so to speak.

So for the first time, we are really departing quite a bit from SOTW and are using a few other texts to drive our studies in history this year.

I am quite alright with this, as I realized last year that some of my children’s most memorable units in history were the ones in which we also read a historical fiction chapter book which fit into the period.  A Door in the Wall drove home our learning about Monasticism.  Robin Hood clinched England, knights, feudalism and life in Europe during the Middle Ages.  

Quality literature drives the learning far better than ANY textbook ever could.

This year, I am embracing this more than every before.
We are using the timeline as our ultimate guide, and we will be filling in the many pages of dates by reading about the fascinating people and stories that make up the history of the Early Modern Time Period.

We’ll be traveling from Christopher Columbus to George Washington, then from the American Revolution all the way on through to Pioneer Days.

My primary guides are:

* The Chronological Timeline of History (hanging right in our homeschool area)

* Story of the World Vol. 3 (select chapters only)

* George Washington’s World by Genevieve Foster and

* Time Traveler CD/Lapbook kits by Homeschool in the Woods

–Colonial Life
–American Revolution
–Early 19th Century

 

I believe that (with young children particularly) history is best taught as storytelling and role-play.

To give you an example of how this looks for us, here is an idea of our first few months:

To understand how English persecution led to the puritan and sepratists movements, we’ll read the chapter book: The Betrayer’s Fortune ~ The Story of Menno Simons and the Anabaptists

To further relate to those pilgrim saints who broke away even further by traveling all the way across the ocean to seek religious freedom, we’ll read: A Journey to the New World: The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple

To keep things hands-on, we’ll be building a paper model of the Mayflower!

To learn about the hardships that the early colonists faced, we’ll do History Pockets: Life in Plymouth Colony (<—geared more for my PreK and 1st grader) while reading A Gathering of Days (<—to drive home learning for my 3rd grader with storytelling) and gaining some perspective while no doubt, being grossed out together as we read through The Dreadful, Smelly Colonies.  

To understand Colonial Life and the many inter-twining faces and places of the American Revolution, we’ll be spending a few months using the absolutely wonderful book by Genevieve Foster called George Washington’s World as our guide, and filling in with dozens of additional chapter and picture books…and not to sound like a broken record, but Story of the World and ALL of Genevieve Foster’s books make Cathy Duffy’s Top 101 List as well.  

 

All of this while doing some awesome lap-booking using Homeschool in the Woods’ Time Traveler CDs!  I can’t recommend these Lapbook kits highly enough!  The finished product is amazing, and each CD provides MONTHS of learning.

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The flipside is that you have to have the content printed somewhere (at home is easy but eats up lots of ink and paper). These unit studies can feel overwhelming to some home educators.  We love creative stuff, so the projects and lapbook-making (all lessons are heavy on colored-pencil coloring) are fun for my daughter.  My younger boys will NOT be making full lapbooks but will join us as we do some of the more hands-on parts.  These are really more appropriate for 3rd or 4th and up.  I got 3 kits this year, but realistically, we won’t make it through more than 2.

Some of you have indicated that you are interested in knowing what chapter and picture books we’ll be using this year in American History.   I’ve got a (shorter) post coming which lists them all, so keep an eye out for that.

But here is a picture sneak peek where you can see plenty of titles to get you started piecing together your own library.

Well that’s it for this year’s curriculum post.  I’d love to know–what are you using and loving?

 

**linking up with friends at Living and Learning at Home**

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It’s mid July, which means we’ve been on summer vacation for 6 weeks already, and already I’m starting to see a few tell-tale signs that I MIGHT be ready to get back to our regular routine here in a couple weeks (we do June 1-Aug 1 summer vacation).  Ask me last week, and I would have said heck no, I’m not ready! But oh man, already, I’m starting to get that itch!

Here are 10 reasons you know you might just be ready again for another homeschool year:

1) The homeschool area has a fresh summer makeover and is lookin’ lovely and as tidy as can be. Inviting, too.

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2) Stacks of new literature fill the shelves and you have to keep a book or two going at all times to pre-read them all.  We’re going into Early American History this year, and so most of our new books fall into the category of “living history books.”  Cannot.wait.

3) You are unable to resist buying piles of no. 2 wooden pencils and presharpening them all (and sniffing them nostalgically).

4) You get a cool, breezy (fallish?) summer day and your heart skips a beat and you think it MIGHT be sorta nice to have a wee bit more routine around here. Plus morning school routine in August isn’t so bad when you can still spend your afternoons at the pool.

5) You find yourself out with homeschool girlfriends, and you spontaneously spend hours talking about, planning and scheduling in units and field trips and outings for the next school year.

6) You begin dreaming big about all the cool things you would love to do in the next year (visit Colonial Williamsburg w/ best friends?), and you actually begin fund-raising to make it happen (wanna buy a cookbook anyone?)

 

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7) You start reviewing and thinking seriously about curriculum and begin choosing between the lesser of the evils carefully making your selections, while reminding yourself that there’s no such thing as a perfect curriculum and living books are proven to be more effective anyway.

8) You forget #7 and convince yourself that somewhere out there, there MUST really be a perfect math curriculum (or at least one that doesn’t make your daughter cry) and you decide at the last minute to buy it (thus changing math curricula for the 5th time in 3 years).

 

9) You start cleaning and organizing like a mad-woman because there is NO WAY you can think about starting school in 2 weeks when the house looks like this.  You lose a few pool days, but in staying home and working hard, you suddenly have an office space that you actually want to be in!  And wow, the pantry is not exploding anymore. And you finally finish painting and setting up your daughter’s bedroom (<— ok, that one hasn’t happened yet, but it will soon).

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10) You remember that you really do love doing this thing called home education.  It’s fun and adventurous and richly rewarding to learn alongside your children and to have the privilege of being their teacher and mentor and guide.  You get to sleep in, stay home, steal endless snuggles on the couch reading, and selfishly, you love that for right now, you get to have all their hours and days, their great big smiles, belly-laughs and even their tears.  You’re thankful for it because you know that this thing called childhood is fleeting and you won’t always have them so close.

So embrace it, mama. Be enthusiastic and live fully for what’s left of your summer, but know that the next school year is a whole other adventure, just waiting for you, and you know what? It’s going to be wonderful.

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If you’ve been reading here long, you know that our classical-style homeschool is modeled closely after the beautiful, natural Charlotte Mason Philosophy and Method of Education. Yet, if you were like me a few short years ago, just beginning your homeschool journey, you may be wondering who IS this Charlotte Mason lady, and what do her methods look like exactly?

 

Where to Begin?
This topic is vast, and I could write much about how our home life and home education changed for the better since we began pursuing a CM education with our young ones, but for now, I wanted to share my favorite CM resources and also present you with a summary of her key ideas so you can get started researching on your own.

Recommended Charlotte Mason Resources:

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
I often say that this gracious and inspirational book was a total “game changer” for me, both as a mother and as a home-educator. It is a short and simple read, and was my first introduction to the Charlotte Mason Philosophy. The author’s beliefs and experiences about child-rearing and educating were based upon the methods and principles of a woman I’d never heard of…who was Charlotte Mason exactly? It left me wanting to learn more and once I did, it took my homeschool atmosphere from rigid, arduous and sometimes artificial, to relaxed, adventurous, and full of life. I highly recommend this book to any mama.

***
The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola
Another tremendous resource, each chapter speaks truth and has you nodding in agreement as you see yourself and your own children in the experiences shared by this renowned home-education mama, who sought to provide her children with a true Charlotte Mason learning experience (and did so, quite successfully). You will be encouraged with many practical tips and ideas for implementing Miss Mason’s “gentle art of learning.”

***
Laying Down the Rails: A Charlotte Mason Habits Handbook by Sonya Shafer
Here’s another great resource to keep on hand that lays out Charlotte Mason’s philosophy about discipline. This was a great help to me as I began early on, to build strong habits in the 12 areas that Charlotte Mason wrote about in her Home Education series. This book presents strategies and tips, with original quotes from Charlotte weaved throughout. The margins allow for note-taking, which I have found to be helpful as well.

***

Favorite Online Charlotte Mason Resources:

Ambleside Online
Are you curious to know which types of curricula are considered “Charlotte Mason approved?” How about detailed book lists (all living books of course!) by grade level and subject from Year 1 through High School?  Poetry selections, dozens of free online books including CM’s original 6 Homeschool Volumes–you’ll find this and so much more at my favorite CM online resource–Ambleside Online.  Just the supplemental reading suggestions alone are worth it, but I’ve also used it to check to see if a particular Math curriculum I’m interested in fits within the CM philosophy.  Truly an incredible resource, so be sure to check it out.

***

Simply Charlotte Mason

Want to have your child’s learning schedule broken down so that you are guided as to when to teach each subject and how? Check out SCM’s free curriculum planners and schedules as well as many other free resources.   Or perhaps you have some questions about CM methods?  At SCM you’ll find discussion forums containing Q&A from other parents and home educators in practically every topic imaginable, from how to build habits with your kids to making nature walks a regular part of your day, to discovering how to use the powerful tools of copy-work and narration in your homeschool–it’s all there, with practical suggestions so you can get started today.

I continually return to these two free, online resource hubs for guidance and I am certain you will love them both.

***
Finally, I wanted to share, in the words of Miss Mason herself, a summary of her key ideas, excerpted from her Original Homeschool Series, first volume (pp. 177-178), as well as her last volume (pp. 18-19). {Any emphasis is my own}

Charlotte Mason’s Summary of Key Ideas

~That the knowledge most valuable to the child is that which he gets with his own eyes and ears and fingers (under direction) in the open air.
~That the claims of the schoolroom should not be allowed to encroach on the child’s right to long hours daily for exercise and investigation.
~That the child should be taken daily, if possible, to scenes- moor and meadow, park, common, or shore- where he may find new things to examine, and so observation should be directed to flower or boulder, bird or tree; that, in fact, he should be employed in gathering the common information which is the basis for scientific knowledge.
~That play, vigorous healthful play is, in its turn, fully as important as lessons, as regards both bodily health and brain-power.
~That the child, though under supervision, should be left much to himself- both that he may go to work in his own way on the ideas he receives, and also that he may be the more open to natural influences.
~That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are generally to be deprecated.

~A child is a person with the spiritual requirements and capabilities of a person.
~Knowledge ‘nourishes’ the mind as food nourishes the body.
~A child requires knowledge as much as he requires food.
~He is furnished with the desire for Knowledge, i.e., curiosity; with the power to apprehend Knowledge, that is, attention; with powers of mind to deal with Knowledge without aid from without- such as imagination, reflection, judgment; with innate interest in all Knowledge that he needs as a human being; with power to retain and communicate such Knowledge; and to assimilate all that is necessary to him.
~He requires that in most cases Knowledge be communicated to him in literary form; and reproduces such Knowledge touched by his own personality; thus his reproduction becomes original.
~The natural provision for the appropriation and assimilation of Knowledge is adequate and no stimulus is required; but some moral control is necessary to secure the act of attention;  A child receives this in the certainty that he will be required to recount what he has read.
~Children have a right to the best we possess; therefore their lesson books should be, as far as possible, our best books.
~They weary of talk, and questions bore them, so that they should be allowed to use their books for themselves; they will ask for such help as they wish for.
~They require a great variety of knowledge, – about religion, the humanities, science, art; Therefore, they should have a wide curriculum, with a definite amount of reading set for each short period of study.
~The teacher affords direction, sympathy in studies, a vivifying word here and there, help in making of experiments, etc., as well as the usual teaching in languages, experimental science and mathematics.

“Pursued under these conditions, “Studies serve for delight,” and the consciousness of daily progress is exhilarating to both teacher and children.”

8648939198_4dd3ec6cf8_z Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? 
Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. 
Even all the hairs on your head are numbered. 
So do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
Matt. 10:29-31
Here with our eyes we read plainly that we ought not be afraid since our Lord’s tender care of even the tiniest and most insignificant creatures is evidence of His ability to care for our needs, yet, how often our wavering hearts still fear and doubt His affections toward us, his own children!
This is the way of humankind, to continually battle our own “vain imaginations,” despite His certain Word, assuring us of the opposite.
We find ourselves worrying, and believing as Zion did, that–
My way is hidden from the Lord; My cause is disregarded by my God” (Isa 40:27) and, “The Lord has abandoned me;the sovereign master has forgotten me” (Isa 49:14).
This very day, words not unlike these spilled from my mouth as apprehensive tears ran down my cheeks.
Perhaps a believer’s greatest strongholds of doubt and fear lie with the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of their own precious earthly children and family members.
This was the arena in which I battled today.
In my distress, my ever-compassionate Lord responded with words from scripture that reassured this Mama’s heart:
“Can a woman forget her baby who nurses at her breast?
Can she withhold compassion from the child she has borne?
(Yet) Even if mothers were to forget, I could never forget you! Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms; your walls are constantly before me.”
Isa. 49:15-16
In this beautifully tender passage, the Lord goes on to assure his people, Israel, that very shortly He will act on their behalf to oppose their enemies, and to “rescue,” “deliver,” and “protect” his own.
In that final day of deliverance, He says, they “will recognize that I am the Lord;”  furthermore, He declares that “those who wait patiently for [Him] are not put to shame” (v. 23).  While we recognize this as a sure promise of God’s enduring commitment to the (now wayward) nation of Israel, Gentile believers who have been “grafted in” have the privilege of standing upon it as well; for He could never forget any of His chosen ones–those whom He knew even “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4-5)!
Behold, dear believer, El-Roi–the God Who Sees.  What comfort we can take in knowing that He is ever watchful over ALL of our paths (Prov. 5:21); He sees not only our coming, our going, our resting and working, but in every trial and hour of distress, He watches over us.
The Bible tells us of another mother’s experience in the wilderness of distress: In Genesis 16, after fleeing from Sarai her master, God Himself visited Hagar and spoke words of encouragement to her about her future.  From this encounter, Hagar declared “You are the God who sees me!” and, “Truly here I have seen Him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13).  Note how personal–the God who sees ME, who looks after ME.  El-Roi is indeed, as the Psalmist observed, “intimately acquainted with all MY ways.”Not long after, Hagar again found herself in the desert, and this time, all hope of a future seemed lost.
“When the water in the skin was gone, [Hagar] put the boy [Ishmael] under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.”
And as she sat there nearby,
she  began to sob.
God heard the boy crying,
and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her,
What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid;
God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
And God was with the boy as he grew up
(Gen 21: 15-20).

What comfort we, as parents can take from these scriptures.

Here, not only does God see, but He hears also–and what’s more, He hears the cries of our children. How precious they must be in His sight!  When it comes to our own sweet ones, do we trust that He will be “with them” as they walk through this life?

Whether it is our five year old child crying out to God for companionship, the parents of a twenty-five year old “child” crying out for their son or daughter in a season of rebellion, or simply a “child of God” who’s lost the way and is in need of the Father’s assurance, we can be certain that God always hears the cries of His own. He sees, He hears, He knows, and He has not forgotten!

After declaring El-Roi’s omniscience in the 139th Psalm, David said this unto the Lord who sees all:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; SEE if there be any offensive (wicked, idolatrous) way in me, And lead me in the everlasting path.” (Ps. 139:23-24)
Will we entertain doubts and fears about our own futures, and those of our loved ones, or will we give permission to His Spirit to probe, test, examine and SEE what “offensive way” remains which keeps us from fully trusting in His tender provision?
Paul’s advise echoes that of the Psalmist when he said: Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy (vain imagination, speculation, false argument, or loose thought),and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5-6, Phillips)
This is no less than a call to battle; to bring each doubt and every false speculation (suggested by none other than the enemy of our souls) under the authority of Christ Jesus and the truth of His Word.
Finally, we can be comforted that in addition to seeing us, El-Roi, the God who sees, watches carefully over His own Word.
Jeremiah tell us that the Lord is “watching over [His] Word to perform it!” (Jer 1:12), invariably, so that we, His saints can stand upon it in full faith and blessed assurance.
Be consoled today if you are His own, that He has not forgotten, abandoned or disregarded you or those you love.
You have a Maker who formed your heart– who knows your name as well as your every thought; a Father who sees each tear that falls, and who hears you when you call!
Know too, that the God who sees and hears is also the God who remembers and acts on our behalf.
Truly, “those who wait upon Him shall not be put to shame.”
The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed,
A refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know Your name will put their trust in You;
For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.
Psalm 9:9-10
Lord, by the strength of your Spirit, we commit to battle and bring down every false argument that arises in our mind; to take captive every vain imagination and anxious thought until they are subject to You and Your Word.  Search us and see, El-Roi, if there remains any offensive tendency in us which would repel your Spirit and hinder Your will.  Help us in our weaknesses and in our wildernesses!   Turn and give ear to our cries, and the cries of those we love.  Thank you, Lord, for Your innumerable thoughts towards us, Your beloved children.
Why do I feel discouraged Why do the shadows come And why does my heart feel lonely
And long for heaven and home When Jesus is my portion,
My constant friend is He
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
So I sing, because I’m happy
And I sing because I’m free
His eye is on the sparrow
And I know He watches me.
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{Re-Posted from the 2011 Archives}

{A warm welcome to readers switching over from our old site, The Crafty Homeschool Mama!}

I’ve been wanting to create a running chapter book list for some time, and this week, as school came to a close, I finally got around to doing it.

Like most of you, here in our home, we read aloud daily.  On an ideal day, we read first around the breakfast table, then again during formal school time, then again at teatime, and lastly, at bedtime. On a busy day, we still manage to read during school hours as well as bedtime.  Life can and does often become very hectic, but I  have a general goal to read with the children, at minimum, two hours a day.
While picture books are also read frequently during read-aloud, today’s post is to do with chapter books.

It goes without saying that picture books are magical in their own right. They are a child’s first step when entering the great world of reading.  It is beautiful indeed to see young ones curled up in a cozy spot someplace, “reading” the pictures of their favorite familiar picture books, long before they can ever sound out a single word.  Picture books are delightful. They are akin to taking a leisurely stroll down the lane together, or exploring the back yard or the woods and streams near your home, and like a favorite path or spot in nature, children will want to return to them again and again and again.
But Chapter books? Reading longer chapter books to your young children is like giving them an invitation to come along with you on an adventure, long and far.  You may be away some time as you explore strange and marvelous new worlds and stretch your minds and imaginations. Of course the beautiful thing is that children don’t have to be able to read the words on their own in order to come along on this quest.  You are their guide and their leader.  You hold the keys that unlock the wondrous world of literature.

 

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  -Jacqueline Kennedy

My daughter is just finishing the 2nd grade and my 3 little boys are ages two, four, and six.  Our children have been television-free for nearly 3 years now, and reading is truly a large part of our day, after school and play. But what exactly does read-aloud look like with a pile of little ones?

Well, unless it’s bedtime, the boys tend to wiggle, play with their toys as I read, and generally make too much noise.  But I’m pretty sure that’s how little boys pay attention 90% of the time, and so we try to endure it.

My daughter, for as long as I can remember, has loved read-aloud time, and sits nearby at quiet attention (often drawing or coloring while listening) when a story is being read.

But this year, a lovely thing happened with my Kindergarten son.  The year began with him unable to last much more than 10-15 minutes when I would read a (picture-less) book aloud to everyone (the younger ones generally last even less time).  But as we continued reading, and reading, and reading, and I was careful to choose certain books which would stir his young masculine heart and hold his boyish attention, I witnessed his appetite for learning and for reading increase one hundred fold.  Soon, it was my son bringing me the chapter book as I worked around the house, my son begging me to come and read the next chapter of Hardy Boys or Narnia or Robin Hood to him. It was my son who sat wide-eyed on the edge of his seat, listening to every word, the richness of one good book after another saturating his growing mind.
Seeing a child’s appetite for literature grow and develop is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Still, none of the younger boys (now ages 2, 4, 6) hold a candle (yet anyway) to my 8 year old daughter’s voracious reading appetite.  Long after the littler ones have drifted off into dreamland, she is there, asking for yet another chapter.  Rather than move on ahead of the boys, this year we developed a great system where we all work through one book all together at tea and bedtime, but when the boys fall asleep, Eden and I pull out whatever book she and I are reading together.  In this way, we are able to read 5 or 6 books to the little boys’ one.  She is just now getting to the point of reading some simpler chapter books alone (like Magic Tree House), but I know that all my kids will continue to enjoy hearing books read aloud even once they can read them for themselves.

“Five years from now, you’ll be the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books that you’ve read.” -John Wooden

What to Read?

I am choosy about our read-aloud material, since reading aloud is a commitment of time, and time is already so limited. Only the best will do.  I regularly check out or purchase from suggestions made by grade at Ambleside Online, various Classical literature lists and this year, for my daughter, we read many from Ann Voskamp’s recommended list of girls’ books.

Here are the chapter books we read together during the 2013-14 school year.  I must say, each of them were enjoyed, but some were absolutely and dearly loved (see my kids’ favorites at the end of the post).

Titles marked with an * fit within our history curriculum {Middle Ages} for the year, and those marked ** accompanied our Science studies {Sem. 1 Flying Creatures & Sem. 2 Swimming Creatures}

2013-2014 Read-Aloud Book List

The Door in the Wall by Margurite De’Angeli*
The Tanglewood’s Secret by Patricia St. John
Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Robin Hood by Howard Pyle*
Midsummer’s Night Dream (and several others) by William Shakespeare*
Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek and Roman Mythology, Specially Arranged for Children 5 and Up by William F. Russell*
Sir Malcolm and the Missing Prince by Sydney Baldwin (dramatic audio)*
Teddy’s Button by Amy Le Feuvre (dramatic audio)
Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The book of Genesis, the Bible
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLauchlan
The Boxcar Children, book 1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers (part 1 only) by J.R.R. Tolkien
In Grandma’s Attic (books 1-4) by Arleta Richardson
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Betsy-Tacy Series (books 1-4) by Maud Hart Lovelace
The book of Luke, the Bible
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien 
All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Other Notable Picture Books & Poetry We Enjoyed this Year:

The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
Insectlopedia, On the Wing and In the Swim (all Poetry collections) by Douglas Florian**
The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon by Jacqueline Davies**
The Most Wonderful Doll in the World by Phyllis McGinley
The Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress by Oliver Hunkin
Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman*
Joan of Arc by Diane Stanley*
Burgess Bird Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess

We are currently reading through (and loving!) Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and Book 4 of the Betsy-Tacy series.

And I’ve been compiling a few other books for our

Summer Reading List:

The Giant Killer by Charlotte Maria Tucker
The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (unabridged)
Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson
The book of Acts, the Bible
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

 

Of these, which did the kids like best?

My daughter’s top 10 from the year:

1. Betsy-Tacy Series

2. Understood Betsy

3.The  Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

4. The Hobbit

5. The Tanglewood’s Secret

6. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

7. All of a Kind Family

8. The Door in the Wall

9. In Grandma’s Attic

10. The Year of Miss Agnes

 

My 6 Year old’s Top 5 Books:

1. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

2. In Grandma’s Attic

3. Robin Hood

4. The Hardy Boys – Tower Treasure

5. The Hobbit

 

My 4 year old’s Top 4 Books:

1. The Door in the Wall

2. Robin Hood

3. The Hobbit

4. In Grandma’s Attic

I did want to mention that the the largest number of books that are enjoyed by my younger 2 boys (ages  2 and 4) on a daily basis are still picture books, with the most natural time for read-aloud being their naptime.  Typically I allow each one to bring 3 or 4 books of their choosing to me as we snuggle in bed.

I would encourage you, no matter what age your children are, to begin carving out a set time  each day to begin to read-aloud to them.  It will grow to become a tradition they will cherish.

What are the Benefits of Reading Aloud to Our Children?

We read aloud in order to:

  1. Entertain, delight, and relax our children
  2. Model how to read with enthusiasm and fluency
  3. Allow them to develop large, complex vocabularies
  4. Increase their attention span
  5. Encourage them to become lifelong learners
  6. Create within them an appetite for reading quality literature
  7. Provide them with noble and honorable character role-models
  8. Feed their spirits, transform their hearts, & speak LIFE
  9. Stretch their growing minds with higher-level content and language than they can read on their own
  10. Fuel their imaginative play

It’s never too early or too late to begin reading aloud to your kids~why not grab a good book and start today?

What are you currently reading and loving with your kids? 


 

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Linking up today with Trivium Tuesdays!

*This post contains affiliate links to products I highly recommend!

 

 

 

  02e21525-ab27-4ae6-9757-6d1b322b085b_zpscbcfc3d1 Hellooooooo world!!!!  Finally, finally, we have the new blog site up and running are beginning to get it all organized. A big huge welcome to all my returning friends, and to new readers as well.  I can’t wait to get writing over here and have been working on a whole pile of new posts for you, but I thought it was only fitting to show old readers the reason for my blogging absence these past 3 months…. Many of you already know we were under MAJOR house construction, and oh my gracious, had I only known how hectic and frustrating that would be with 4 little ones, and how much it would turn our entire family, routine, homeschool and sense of privacy UPSIDE DOWN, I am 99% sure I would have said no way, Jose. I just had no idea.  It was a bit of a trialand with respect to writing and creating, it was a TOTAL and complete creativity squasher.  Three months of nothin’ is what ya’ll got and I am sorry about that. Our construction craziness also showed me how precious and sacred HOME is, and made me appreciate it all the more. But let’s move on to happy things and rejoice that we are indeed moved IN to our new space, this mama does not have to spend my mornings, afternoons and many evenings with contractors coming in and out and drilling, banging, sanding and generally interrupting life. We are now happily moving back into routine and structure (just in time for summer vacation, ha!).  😀

 

 Why We Added a 4th Floor to Our Home We live right smack in the middle of suburbia, in a three story now FOUR-story townhouse we bought in a wonderful neighborhood where God so graciously guided us almost 10 year ago, before we had even one child.  In his goodness and merciful foresight, he placed us in the building right at the end of our culdasac, and on the very edge of 75 acres of undeveloped woods, filled with streams and gullies and hills and breathtaking views.  We had no idea back then, before kids came along, how much we would appreciate this gift. It didn’t take long before this born-and-raised-in-the-country mama grabbed the kids and took to the woods and streams surrounding our home.  Thanks to a few faithful walkers, there are nearly 100 acres here that are now well-marked with familiar trails where we spend our days exploring and hiking, or relaxing closer to home at our campsite.  It has been  nothing short of a gift to be raising our family here. Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 6.07.57 PM However…as our family size increased, we felt more and more squished inside our townhome living space.  Our 3 boys were sharing one long and narrow bedroom, and our daughter was busting out of an even smaller room. Again, by His grace, God continually provided for us, even when we felt that maybe we were outgrowing this home, or when we longed for a bit more indoor space to spread our legs.  Each and every time I would go into my boys’ room, exasperated, ready to move their furniture around once again to make things work better, God met our needs and always allowed me to see creative solutions.  I can honestly say it never turned into discontent.  I love our home and enjoy making it homey and cozy and beautiful. Still, winters have always been hard when everyone is forced indoors for months and months.  This year, more than ever before, we felt the walls pressing in on us, and in December, my husband really felt the desire to poke his head up into our attic “crawl space” to see if we could create some type of bonus room for the kids to play in…just something to help alleviate all the pressure we’d been feeling in our upstairs living quarters. Well, he poked his head up, and I poked mine up, and what we saw did not look promising. It was dark and there were beams criss-crossing every which direction, making it difficult to see how much space really was up there.  Loose insulation covered the rafters and floors.  It was a creepy, dark, dirty crawl space, and we were pretty sure there wasn’t room to do much. Still, we couldn’t let go of the idea to create a small loft off of the boys’ room, and so we had a contractor come out to take a look. The night he came out, he went up and into that dark creepy place with his measuring tape and flashlight, and came back down to tell us we had a 22×30′ space to work with. So there we were in the middle of February, making up plans for a boys’ room and trying to figure out whether or not we should put in a bathroom (all the plumbing was there) or not. Well, friends, it took about 6 hours from the time we met with the contractor until we decided that if we could indeed finish it, there was no WAY we were going to give that space to the boys. We wanted to design and create our OWN deluxe master bedroom space. We started dreaming and this mama got to sketching right away.  We had so many ideas and some of them never made it into the finished product –the gas fireplace and exposed beams both got nixed– but many of them did turn into a reality–a sitting area,  built-in dressers, skylights, continuous hardwood flooring in the bed and bathroom–and a few special, unplanned surprises were added along the way, like a new (used) claw foot tub, a his and hers closet and (free!) antique french doors. IMG_6420

The plan was that once we moved UP, each of our kids would get a room upgrade.  The three boys would all move into our (old) master suite, our daughter would move into the bigger boys’ room, and we would use the small extra bedroom as a library/office/bonus homeschool room again. Three months later, and it’s done!  We made it through and we are just overflowing with gratefulness because it has totally and completely freed up all of our living spaces!  Every person in the family is beyond excited with their new, improved bedroom.  My husband and I, for the first time ever, have not just a bedroom–we have a sanctuary.  It is charming and unique and lovely and clean, and the kids sometimes wake up downstairs below us, and they kind of forget we are upstairs and they just start playing and we can actually sleep in a little bit!!!  (like 7am, people!) We have lots of finishing details still to come, but we are working away at it steadily and it’s JUST SO FUN to have this wonderful, calming, lovely space that is our own. Click through the gallery to see a few photos of the work in-progress…

Welcome to our finished Attic Master Suite! I divided the whole space into sections because there are lots of photos and details to share!  So first up– Sitting Area, Build-Ins and Skylights IMG_6489From the beginning, we wanted to use as much space under the slanting eaves as possible. We did this by having 6, extra-deep custom drawers built (4 for this side of the room and 2 for the other side).  The drawers are absolutely huge and fit so much. We also wanted to have a little sitting/reading area up here where either of us could kick our feet up and relax, read in the morning, or work on our ipads. We envision having a lovely wingback leather chair there in the corner, but for now, we just shopped the house and brought up this small wicker chair.  I stole the paper wreath (still half-finished), pillow, and the pouf from the living room. The only “new” item here is the wood stump which I actually got for free and painted with trim paint to be used as a place to set a coffee mug or cell phone. We love this area and it’s already getting lots of use! Opposite of the sitting area is my husband’s dresser, a lovely antique passed down from his great, great grandpap! The deerhead and wreath still need hung above it. Everyday I come up into this space, I am so, so thankful for the natural light! The view day and night is beautiful and one of the best things about the 3 Velux skylights we put in is that we got them “used” but brand new on craigslist for $40 each (regularly $450+ per window!). Natural light really does make all the difference in a room (and fresh flowers do wonders too!)

Bedroom Space Peeking into our bedroom from the sitting area, you can see we currently have a HUGE king sized bed up in our bedroom! (we literally had to fold and bend the mattress in half to get it up the steps and around the corners). Both my husband and I have lower back issues and have been in need of a new FIRM bed for a few years now (if the fact that our mattress can be folded in half is any indication), and so that’s really next on the list to buy.  For now, our bed will remain on the floor.  We’ve been sleeping great up in our new, super-quiet space, but having room for my own nightstand, lamps and books is something I am really looking forward to. One problem we’ve run into in our new space is that we have very few full-length walls, and so lamps and mirrors, etc that worked in our other bedroom just don’t work up here.  That mirror, nightstand and lamp will all be moved out in the coming weeks~these things just takes time, and we’re ok with that.  In the photos below you can also see a glimpse of my “nook” there on the left.  It’s basically my closet space, and the desk was only up here temporarily until we finished painting the office downstairs.  I’m not totally sure what I will do with the cute space back there, but maybe a little parson’s table for writing? The metallic gray dresser in the photos was a new purchase from a re-sale shop. It was actually purchased originally to be turned into a bathroom vanity, but it was a little too bulky and I am so happy to have it as my dresser up here!  My husband’s closet is actually a bit deeper than it looks–the hanging bars go in about another foot and a half to the left. At some point, the “plan” is to put a television where my mirror currently sits.  Ya’ll know I’m not a fan, but I’m not the only one who lives up here. 😉 I have to just say that the triangle wall behind my bed drives me batty, and you can expect to see some sort of DIY headboard going up in the near future to draw the eye away from that horrid slant. :-/  However, I do love, love, love my view FROM my bed, which is a wonderful thing.

Moving right along…. The Master Bath This was fun to design.  It sorta made me think good and hard about style.  What look was I going for in this space?  I hit the pinterest boards hard and drove all my followers crazy by pinning every subway-tiled bathroom I found. In the end, I realized I’m a farmhouse-vintage-industrial-modern-rustic-shabby chic kind of gal.  Hehehe, I’m pretty sure I got a little of each, but you can let me know what you think. Having to create a workable bathroom space when the ceilings are coming down into the sides of the room is a wee bit challenging.  In some ways, it helped us narrow down what went where in the space –we need the vanity and shower in the tallest areas– and naturally, the tub and toilet got tucked under the eaves. I chose a natural 24×12″ ivory/beige travertine for the master bath, after finding it at clearance prices online.  Natural stone needs sealed a few times before it’s installed but it wasn’t bad.  What WAS bad was how many times I changed my mind before I settled on this tile.  Major decision-making deficiencies here, people.

Our contractor did a great job building the exact bench I dreamed up, and we are so happy with how it all turned out.  Eventually (our favorite word these days) we’ll put in a glass shower door.  And get real bath mats so my sheepskin isn’t totally ruined. The tub.  So I kinda got talked into a claw-foot tub.  I’m not exactly a “bath person” but when we found this beauty used and CHEAP on Craigslist, we snagged it up and purchased new plumbing on ebay.  It’s pretty amazing and I’m so glad we went for it.  It’s beautiful, HUGE, relaxing, and I love, love, love the vintage hand-held shower for rinsing!  It’s super relaxing and the kids are pretty much forbidden to touch it (occasionally I find them playing telephone with the shower head).  I so want one of those rustic wooden boards to put over the tub to hold my bon bons and books and stuff while I’m soaking.  Maybe I just need to DIY it. We went with an open vanity from Home Depot online, and I am so pleased with it.  It was a big purchase for us, and it turned out lovely in our space.  It’s solid oak with a white marble top and I paired it with a thrifted mirror that I spray-painted silver, and two simple sconces (via Overstock). The baskets underneath are from around the house, except for the silver metal one which was given to me by my grandpa.  It was totally rusted and vintage looking, but to make it pop on the shelf, I sprayed painted it silver. Finally, the cream dresser.  That’s yet another antique, given to my husband when he was a baby, except then it was a walnut-stain.  My boys have been using it as it’s slowly been falling apart the past few years.  I kind of hated the way it looked, but it had good “bones” so I  painted it with some chalk paint and gave it some shabby-chic life. It holds my jewelry and face and hair stuff, blow dryer, etc.  I’m in the middle of changing out the knobs on it and it still needs another coat of chalk paint and maybe some wax before it’s done.

 

Eventually. 😉

 

Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoyed the tour of our attic master suite and are inspired to create your own beautiful, unique spaces.  Stay tuned for more house-posts in the coming months.

{Ideal for Younger Children}
Scheduling continues to be one of the most requested topics I get asked about from other mamas.
  New-to-homeschooling moms are dying to know how to even begin to structure their day to “fit in school” plus everything else, and even veteran homeschoolers are often seeking help in this area of time-management and the establishment of routine.
There is a reason we all want to tear into these sample schedules like hungry vultures.
Each of us desperately craves routine, order and organization.
We are aware of how full our plates already are as stay-at-home moms, and when you add homeschooling to that?  It can be intimidating and overwhelming to say the least, especially for those just starting out.
Ultimately, we all want to find what works for us, and maybe if we see what works for someone else, we can get started on our own goals.  At least that’s the idea.
My fear, however, is that someone out there will take a sample schedule like the one I have provided here, and they’ll lock into it, and stress out over it when it doesn’t work for them…but guess what? it wasn’t designed for them, it was designed for us.  And each of us are vastly different.
I also  hesitate because someone will read this schedule and feel exhausted before they’ve even begun.  It’s just sorta crazy seeing it all SPELLED out like this.
Just.one.day. is so very, very, very full when we have little ones underfoot.  But I am reminded that the days won’t always be so full, and that these precious years are fleeting, and that I desire to be a woman who numbers her days aright, and lives life fully with those whom God has granted me to journey.
I also remember as I was just beginning our homeschool journey, someone at a workshop handed me a sample schedule, and I clung to that thing like it was precious gold.  It looked crazy-busy, yes, but it gave me an idea of what I was getting into, and how I could possibly structure my home and school and life in an organic way where everything flowed together seamlessly.
3 years into it, we still haven’t reached seamless, and certainly never will, but I am grateful to see how school and home-life truly have blended so beautifully in these past couple years for us in particular.
Still, this is worth repeating:
This schedule is NOT how life looks for us everyday.
Remember, this is the ideal.
I am not locked into the times and what needs to be done when, nor do I beat myself up when I fail to follow this routine.  Quick example.  No-where in the below schedule will you see anything about grocery shopping, running errands, paying bills, volunteering, doctors visits, or co-op days.   Of course those things do happen here–on a weekly basis, just the same as they do in any home.
And obviously school looks different on those days.
This schedule is what an ideal day (spent at home with my children) looks like.
Because that IS my aim–to be home, 90% of the time with them, serving and loving them well during these years.  Babies and toddlers especially don’t do well being carted all over town and so I try to keep my weekday running to a minimum.

I hope this sample schedule is helpful as a guide for those of you who are looking for a place to start, and who desire to have school and home function together a bit more smoothly.(To print, click each page of schedule, save as photo and print)

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Additional Helps:
 
 
 
 
 
 
Interested to read more about our daily tea-time? I’ve got a post coming for you soon!
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Linking up with Trivium Tuesdays


Psst.
You’re Invited…

Those in the greater Pgh area are invited to join us THIS Saturday, March 8th for the 

29th Annual Greater Pittsburgh Homeschooling Workshop & Curriculum Fair 

where I’ll be offering a dynamic workshop titled 

HANDS-ON HOMESCHOOLIN

with Joanna Silveira

Join blogger and Classical / Charlotte Mason homeschooling mom of 4 (<—That’s me, ya’ll!) as she shares how to make active, meaningful and creative learning a regular part of your homeschool.

**Are you homeschooling elementary aged kids with babies, toddlers or preschoolers underfoot? Are you wondering if it’s possible to do more hands-on learning without getting totally burned out in the preparation & clean up?

Joanna shares how she incorporates in-depth unit studies, lap booking, art, history reenactments, and continuous nature study in a one-size-fits-all-ages style where mom is relaxed and learning is always an adventure. 

Can’t wait to see familiar faces and meet many others at this year’s Fair. Please consider attending if you are local~you can even register late right at the door. Here is the workshop link for you (brochure is not fully updated, but general info is correct).
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Hope to see many of you there!


This week we pulled out this wonderful little shoe box diorama that the kids and I made last February. It’s a perfectly calm and quiet wintery scene and pretty much mirrors this month’s weather here in western PA.
Because we utilized the box’s lid as well, we were able to close it and store it easily on a closet shelf and bring it out from time to time for imaginative play.

To make this diorama, we started with a very sturdy shoe box and painted a sunset scene with acrylics on the bottom (which becomes the back when you stand it up on its side).

We then gathered some crafting moss, pebbles, glass rocks, sticks from outdoors, and some of our leftover artificial snow and mini trees from our Christmas display.  These were hot-glued down into the box to create the woodland scene you see.  We added some confetti snow flakes on the back of the box, and then added in our forest animals.  The small cardinals are from the craft store, as is the bit of fencing we added.


Playing at breakfast…lookout little deer, I see a wolf!
 Children tend to love dioramas~maybe because they are their own little magical worlds, and lend themselves so well to imaginative play.  Perhaps we’ll celebrate the changing of the seasons by making a spring box this year.  But for now, we’re enjoying this winter landscape from indoors!  


Do people still decorate Valentine’s Day boxes to hold the special cards and notes received on February 14th? As a child, this was one of my most favorite parts about Valentine’s Day, and my mom always let us bust out the craft supplies and she’d sit with us around the table as we created our special boxes.

Now each year, I enjoy taking a bit of time to help my own kids design and decorate their own card-holders the week before the holiday.  We are still working on this year’s boxes, which I promise I’ll share with you if once we get them finished, but today, I thought I’d round-up the boxes we’ve done in the past for you to see.

This post features the birdhouse box, as well as my oldest son’s first car box.

This post details the instructions for making this ultra-cool race car box  My 5 year old is still using his as a keepsake box/ piggy bank up on his shelf.  
How cute is this guy? And yes, that is a homemade Valentine’s Day box.  I never shared the instructions for this puppy dog box I made with my son last year, so I thought I’d give you a quick photo tutorial of that one…
Supplies needed to make this super-cute Valentine’s Day pet box: 

:: 1 small oatmeal or coffee canister :: 
:: Faux craft fur (got mine at hobby lobby)::
:: Foam ball ::
:: Half of a paper cup ::
:: 1 black craft pom for the nose ::
:: 1 Pair of extra large googly eyes ::
:: 4 Wooden dowels for legs (you could also use tp rolls) ::
:: Hot glue ::
:: Utility Knife ::

*One thing we did to add some extra stability to our puppy dog was to wire the foam “head” onto the “body” using a thick piece of wire.  This kept the head from popping off, since toddlers are not exactly gentle with their toys, and sure enough, a year later, our puppy is still hanging around the house in pretty good shape…though the boys did take it upon themselves to give it a haircut a few months ago, leaving him a bit bare in some spots. 

Looking for something a little different than the traditional shoe box or tissue box to start with? 
Last year, my daughter bought a paper mache mailbox and decorated it similar to this one, and it turned out great.

Need some more all-BOY box ideas?
Check out this mama’s post!  I am lovin’ this guy’s airplane!

My 3rd wanted to make a minion box this year, so that’s what we’ve been working on with this pic as the inspiration:

And my daughter and I are working on something fairy-ish at this point–though, with construction about to begin in our house this week, I will be amazed if it gets finished in time. Fingers crossed!
Happy Valentine’s Week, and enjoy creating some special things with your kiddos.