Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Homeschool Day in the Life

This is my first time attempting to write our "day in the life" to go along with Simple Homeschool's series. So here goes...

I have four boys: Henry (8, who is attending our local public school this year*), Jude (5.5), Felix (4), and Ezra (5 months). I like to call what we do "waldorf-inspired interest-led project-based unschooling." I provide a general rhythm to our days, materials (art supplies and open-ended toys), and as much of my time and attention as I can give, while also attending to the baby and the home. I observe and support my children's interests; we don't have scheduled lessons or "school" time. Above all, I believe my job during these years of early childhood is to work on character development and instill virtues. I try to leave ample time in our days to work on patience, love, kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. Having two children so close in age certainly provides many opportunities for them to work on these qualities with one another! I am very thankful that they all adore Ezra and are wonderful about bringing him into their activities throughout the day.

Our general rhythm consists of:

Breakfast (around 7:30)
--if they seem amenable to it, sometimes I read 2-3 picture books after breakfast--
Project/activity/playtime, which might consist of:
  • sitting at the dining room table drawing, painting, writing, making all kinds of creations
  • sitting on the library floor playing playmags, legos, or dinosaurs - or a combination of all three
  • make play dough and work with it - rolling snakes, making letters, using cookie cutters
  • I might make something in the kitchen and they decide to join me (granola, bread, dinner prep - they LOVE to chop fruits and veggies!)
  • playing with their trucks and tractors - lifting and moving, filling and dumping various objects
  • over the past month, Jude has initiated writing and typing the ABCs
Snack (around 10:30)
Outside/out of the house time:
  • if the weather is conducive, we might take a walk around the neighborhood, ride their plasma cars up and down the street, jump on the trampoline, etc.
  • if it's rainy/too cold, we go to the Loyola gym to ride the plasma cars there
  • or we might do a "close to home" trip like the library or grocery store. These seem to work well after the baby's first nap but before lunch. These often push lunch later but that's ok.
Lunch (around noon) - sometimes I read aloud during or after lunch, other times I just eat
Quiet time - they watch a few shows on PBS kids or Netflix. I need this time with no one talking to me in order to be a calm and patient mama the rest of the day (not that I always am, but I most certainly won't be without it). I use this time to nurse the baby in peace and do whatever helps me to gather myself for the rest of the day. Usually just the 30-60 minutes of no one talking to me does the trick.
--There is usually some project and/or playtime either after lunch/before quiet time, or after quiet time/before teatime. This week we've been doing some embroidery in the afternoons.--
Teatime (around 3 pm) - just a fancy word for afternoon snack. This is also the time that Henry arrives home from school. This transition can be quite challenging, I'm still trying to figure out how to help him make a peaceful re-entry to our family after having been at school all day.
Playtime - if it's warm enough we go outside, if not they might play or work on projects.
Dinner Prep - I try to get everyone involved (did I mention they love to chop fruits and veggies? Jude's favorite thing right now is making fruit salad for dinner), but some days I just don't have jobs for them, or they are exhausted from the day's activities, or whatever, and they watch a couple more shows while I make dinner.
Evening routine - dinner, showers (not every night in the winter, maybe 2-3x/week), books, and bed. The goal is to have everyone tucked in by 8 pm, usually it is more like 8:30-8:45.

Outside of our general rhythm, which is quite flexible, we are part of a homeschool group that meets for weekly "Discovery Days" in different locations each week - we've been to art museums, farms, nature centers, and more. We're also doing a monthly "Wooly Bear Club" at a local nature center for 3-5 year olds that has songs, stories, arts and crafts, outdoor exploration, etc. Since it's been so cold, we've been going to an "open gym" time about once a week as well, possibly our favorite activity right now. We also have a membership to the Science Center and the B and O Railroad museum and try to visit those about once a month. Generally, I'd say we go on 1 or 2 "bigger" outings per week, the other days we're at home or only leave for an errand, the library, the Loyola gym, etc.

*A note about Henry attending school: Henry is extremely social and outgoing, and has always (as in since he was 6 weeks old!) loved being out of the house basically all day, every day. He also loves schedules, structure, routine, and predictability, which school can provide better than I can with two littles and a baby. I was pleased that his teacher said he made a seamless transition into 2nd grade. She said "I never would have known he was homeschooled!." Pretty good for no formal lessons (except the ones he requested), eh? As for next year, we will continue to evaluate what is best for each child, one year at a time.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Interest-led, Project-Based Homeschooling WIN!

A good reminder to be patient and "trust the process..."

I had recently begun to get a little nervous that at 5.5, Jude isn't writing yet (except for "J"), and can only identify a few letters. Even though I believe "better late than early," even though I believe it's absolutely not essential for him to know these things yet, even though he spends hours every day constructively making and building things, using fine and gross motor skills. I confess I had seen how well some other 5 year olds are writing and started to worry (comparisonitis! always a bad thing!). I wondered if I should set up some "lessons" with him and intentionally teach him these things.

Then, on Friday morning, he informed us that he is ready to learn to write letters and numbers. He got out the sticky notes we gave him for Christmas and some envelopes. He asked us (Dan was there too), "How do you write a ___?" and proceeded to write several letters (first tracing, then copying our models) - "M" for Mommy, "D" for Daddy, "J" for Jude, "F" for Felix, "E" for Ezra, and so on. I also pulled out a letter and number writing practice book I bought back in August for just such an occasion - tucked away on the bookcase until he indicated he was ready. He chose to practice his numbers and traced them all from 0 to 9 six or seven times.

This is the same way I remember Henry learning his letters - based on the people and things he loved the most. He loved to write the words "joy" and "hot." Haha. As well as "Mommy," "Daddy," "Jude," "Felix," and "Henry4" and then "Henry5." He always wrote his age after his name those two years, it was so cute. Anyway, back to Jude. He's been writing letters - so far, the first letters of people's names - every day since then, and he is so excited about it.

Because his particular area of interest right now is writing notes to people, I went out on Sunday night and bought a set of 200 notecards and envelopes in rainbow colors and set them out on the table for them to find Monday morning. They were thrilled and went to town "making mail." Then I remembered something I had seen in the book Playful Learning that I had been meaning to do for years - make a family post office. I kept putting it off because my vision was unrealistic; I imagined mailboxes made from natural, plant-dyed felt, blanket stitched edges in contrast colors, eclectic buttons for closures, each family member's name embroidered on the get the idea. Yesterday, though, I remembered something Jamie Martin has said on Simple Homeschool (where I get the majority of my ideas and inspiration) about not worrying about things being beautiful or perfect and just "making it happen." So that's what I did. We folded 9x12 pieces of acrylic felt in half, stapled the sides closed, wrote our names on masking tape, and affixed to each "mailbox" folder. Tacked them to a cork board. DONE. I do not mean to criticize those who do things much more artistically or intricately, but this was just right for us in terms of time commitment and their attention spans. When I asked Jude at bedtime what his favorite part of the day was (part of our new "secret question" tradition at bedtime), he said "making the mailboxes."

The moral of the story? Trust yourself, trust your child. He will learn new skills at just the right time, when he is ready.

(Yes, we are gently working on correcting his pencil grip. Got these to help:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A cold, cold day

This morning, Jude and Felix used up the last of our Christmas tree and gingerbread play-dough. My personal favorite was Jude's cyclops gingerbread man.

Midday, they went outside - I prepared bottles of colored water for them to spray onto the snow. It was so cold, I didn't bring Ezra out today. 

In the afternoon, we made "snow dough" which turned out great! Hopefully they will play with it more tomorrow.

Clearly I am going to need a lot more ideas for winter projects, especially indoor ones. Even with everything we did today, which felt like a lot to me, they still wanted more to do. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One of "those" days

Today was one of "those" days...where something, seemingly small, happens in the morning...but it sets off a cascade of events that snowballs and in the end, essentially ruins the day. Or at least leaves me feeling utterly exhausted. It all started this morning with Henry throwing a toy down in frustration. Then, instead of acknowledging it and apologizing, he argued with me about it..."I lightly TOSSED it, not THREW it, Mommy." Sticking with the conversation until he admitted what he had done meant I was now running late...then he woke up the baby...then while I was nursing, he decided the eggs I made him weren't enough and he would make more. Then his brothers decided they would make themselves eggs when I emerge from my room with Ezra, ready to leave for church, there is an enormous mess in the kitchen and the boys are each stirring their own bowls of eggs - a full dozen in total. I am proud to say I did not yell or freak out. I did tell them I was very upset and that we would talk about it - but first I cooked all the eggs and made sure they ate them all. I sure as hell wasn't going to waste those eggs.

By the time the eggs were cooked and consumed and I'd cleaned the kitchen, church was almost over. I was resolute that we would go as planned, so even though Ezra was tired again by this point I packed them into the car and drove to church. I had them apologize to Dan that we missed the service, and I had Henry apologize to the priest that he didn't make it, as he was supposed to be crucifer. They asked if they could have some food at coffee hour - "No," I said solemnly, "the food is for people who ATTEND the service." All of this seemed to make a bit of an impression...I think.

In the interest of natural consequences I then announced, "Since you guys used up all the eggs, now we need to go to the grocery store to get more." This turned out to be a punishment for me more than anything else...I have never seen whole foods so crowded. Not even the day before Thanksgiving. It was so hard to navigate all three boys through the store, and poor Ezra was really tired by this point and understandably fussy.

The rest of the afternoon and evening were just your garden variety not listening, not following directions, asking for things multiple times after I've said no, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I am so very thankful for each and every day I have with these boys, and I hope that my actions and reactions to today's events taught them something important....but oh my goodness, I am spent. Now I am supposed to be addressing the Epiphany cards (read: Late Christmas Cards), to be sent with the birth announcements I got the week Ezra was born but never mailed out, but I can't find the birth announcements anywhere. And I am NOT sending the cards without the announcements. So instead of scouring the house for the birth announcements and staying up late getting them ready for the mail so they will arrive someday close to January 6, I am giving up. I am going to drink tea and eat a cookie and go to bed. Maybe this is what people mean when they say "Don't be so hard on yourself" or "Have grace with yourself." Maybe I will find them tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reflections on our year; mourning Tom's death

As 2014 comes to a close, I am grateful for so very much, most of all my wonderful husband and my four beautiful boys. 2014 brought us sweet Ezra - at this time a year ago, he was no bigger than my fingernail, now he is rounding out 9 month size clothing at 4.5 months old! Thanks be to God for a healthy family.

I am also acutely aware, in the wake of Tom Palermo's death last Saturday, that we are not guaranteed anything in life and that it can all be over in an instant. As the wife of a Baltimore cyclist, I mourn with his wife and children, though I do not know them. I cannot imagine the pain they are going through, but I sympathize knowing it could just as easily have been my husband cycling on that stretch of road just a quarter mile from our house.

Life is fragile. I am reminded now more than ever to live each day to its fullest.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Babies don't keep

Ezra insisted on napping with me today, so when I started to feel unproductive and unhelpful for spending the afternoon in the rocker with him, I decided to re-read this lovely poem.

Song for a Fifth Child by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton (1921- )

Mother, oh mother, come shake out your cloth!
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She's up in the nursery, blissfully rocking!

Oh, I've grown as shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby, loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping's not done and there's nothing for stew
And out in the yard there's a hullabaloo
But I'm playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren't her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo.)

Oh, cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
But children grow up, as I've learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust, go to sleep.
I'm rocking my baby. Babies don't keep.

The mothering work I am doing right now is hard, intense, and draining...but I strongly believe I will look back on these years of having babies and young children as the most treasured time of my life. I know it's cliche, but I do try to treasure this time now, in all its messiness, joy, tears, and exhaustion.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Special Outing: B & O Railroad Museum

(Jude took this one - you can see how tired Ezra was, but he refused to sleep!)

So I stayed up till midnight last night ordering Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers - last minute, I know - I was going to do it earlier in the week, but then the stomach virus hit on Sunday night and pretty much swallowed up my entire week. Oh, plus our washer/dryer was non-functioning from Sunday through Thursday, and our bathtub drain was clogged all week (and still is). So it was a long week. I am trying to see the opportunity in having no bathtub or shower for the weekend (new plumbers are coming Monday) - for example, this morning Dan offered to watch the boys while I went and took a shower all by myself at the Loyola gym, which was quite a treat. And this evening, Dan bathed Ezra in the kitchen while I made our pizza, which was fun. Tomorrow we're going to take the boys to the gym for showers - Felix is so excited, he was threatening to wake Ezra up so we could go tonight. Rather than being frustrated that we have no bathing capabilities, I'm trying to see it as a bit of an adventure - and be grateful for all we do have.

Anyway, as soon as I laid down in bed last night, Ezra woke up to nurse and I was up with him till 1:30 (not sure why it was so long, maybe I drifted off). Then he woke up at 5:15 and was wide awake. This was the first time he's ever been awake after his early morning feeding, usually he goes right back to sleep and sleeps until 7 or 8. Maybe he was excited about celebrating his four month birthday because he hardly slept all day.

I learned a few years ago that the best thing to do on my most tired days is to pick a fun destination and get out of the house. If I stay home when I'm especially exhausted, all I can think about is how tired I am and I feel sorry for myself. But if I take the boys on a special outing, it usually turns into a great day. (I was reminded of this last Thursday with our very successful outing to the Natural History Museum). I wanted to visit the "Choo-choo museum" as the boys call it while they had their holiday displays up, and the boys always love going there, so today's outing was an obvious choice. They were so excited, I don't think I've ever seen them get ready so fast! As I said recently, we haven't been going on many outings lately so this was especially exciting for them today. We had a great time and picked up a gingerbread train kit at the gift shop that they made with Henry when he got home from school. Top it off with a Thomas train Christmas movie for movie night tonight and it was a wonderful "train day" for everyone. (Actually, Dan and Henry were at Lessons and Carols, which I was sad to miss but it was way too late for Ezra to be out). Tomorrow I will attempt to put the train together. 

Here's hoping Ezra sleeps better tonight and tomorrow than he did today!