The Real Answer to the Question: "How do you DO it?!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I’m in our favorite supermarket with the kids.  We’re at the bakery waiting for a free cookie.  Goodness knows how we love that free cookie.  

One of the girls behind the counter knows me from elementary school – knows I homeschool.  She chuckles, shakes her head, and says the words that have so often made me cringe:

“I don’t know how you homeschool.  I could NEVER homeschool my kids.  Seriously, HOW do you do it?!”

(Have you heard those words before? They are usually accompanied by a look of total exasperation at the mere thought of homeschooling her own children.)

I find these kinds of statements incredibly uncomfortable for a few reasons…

1. My kids are usually with me, which makes them feel that I’ve taken on some impossibly miserable task by choosing to be with them 24/7.  (Which, of course, is the farthest thing from the truth!)

2. The statement suggests that I’m some kind of Super Mom with powers that far surpass those of every other ‘regular’ Mom in the room.

3.  It also suggests that homeschooling is radically hard and unnatural but SOMEHOW I’m struggling to manage.  *sigh*

To read more about the REAL answer to how I Homeschool... READ ON at Hip Homeschool.  *smile*

The Truth about Teaching our Children to Read {and 5 Simple Steps for Nurturing a Love of Books...}

Monday, August 22, 2016

A couple of days ago, I shared a special moment on The Unplugged Family Facebook page.

My nine-year-old daughter had just finished reading through The Boxcar Children for the first time and was starting into the second book in the series.  It was mid-morning and our home was peacefully quiet with children all engaged in their own activities.  Audrey unfolded her legs and rose from the couch with a satisfied sigh.

"Oh, Mama... I just couldn't LIVE without reading,"  her voice was whimsical and sing-song.

I smiled and she continued,

"Reading is just delicious."

Oh, my heart.  Those four words will stay emblazoned in my soul forever.


I love her use of words - and I couldn't agree more.  Reading IS delicious and don't we DEVOUR books?  So why not delicious reading?

It took a solid 9 and a half years of nurturing a love of books for a statement like that to bubble up out of her little heart.  And it is music to my ears to hear my children tell me they LOVE to read.  It is a sweet reward after many years of investment and perseverance.  Isn't it?

And, friends, I don't believe a true pleasure in reading just 'happens'.  I mean, maybe for the occasional child, but more often than not...

a genuine love of reading is like a well cared for garden.  

It takes a ton of work.  We must create the right environment for that garden to grow, we must till the soil of the heart and mind, we must plant the right seeds, nurture the seeds - then the plants, and continue to water that garden and weed that garden and nurture that garden for as long as it takes.

And sometimes that can mean there will be many years before we see the 'fruits' of our labor.

Yep.  It takes good old fashioned TIME to grow passionate readers.

After 'teaching' three children to read (so to speak), there is one MAJOR truth that I feel every Mom, homeschooler or not, should know.  I mean, there are many (which I plan to cover in this new series on reading!) but there is one BIGGIE.

It isn't really about whether our child CAN read.  

It is much more about whether our child WANTS to read.  

Does that make sense?

In other words, the most important task you have in the journey of your child learning to read is this - teaching your kids to LOVE to read.

The less important task is the teaching of the actual act of reading words on a page.

WHEN your child learns the mechanics of reading on her own is completely irrelevant in the long-run.

Let's chat about what I mean, ok?

Our culture is loaded with kids who CAN read.  They probably even learned when they were as young as 4 or 5 at school.  But do the LOVE to read?  Now that is often a much different story.

Come on. We've all seen that Mom.  Maybe we've even BEEN that Mom (gulp). The one sitting on the library couch with their Kindergarten aged child and a beginning reader book on her lap.  The child struggles madly to read the simple words on the page while the Mom grows more and more frustrated, making the entire experience quite stressful and miserable for all involved.  The parent is visibly annoyed, the child feel defeated, and the idea of reading (in this instance) sure doesn't seem very enticing for the child, does it?

This is often what happens with the pressure of having a time-frame in which a child MUST learn to read.  Parents of children in school feel this pressure as teachers tell them their child is 'behind' or not reading on level. (I have so many friends who have gone through this!).  This creates an environment of stress where the struggling child learns that reading is hard, stressful, and unenjoyable.  They learn that reading invokes feelings of defeat, frustration, and disappointment.   This is not at ALL what we are going for, friends.

And before we go crazy pointing fingers at parents of kids in school - so many of us are guilty of the very same philosophy.  Somehow, we can't seem to shake the idea that there is this time-frame for learning to read.  If a child doesn't read by the time they are 5 or 6, well, something MUST be wrong.

This perspective is just as prevalent in the homeschooling community as it is in the school community.  We feel the heat for our kids to learn to read probably more than any other milestone. We feel it from our family, friends, other homeschoolers, even ourselves.  

But why?

Why are we so obsessed with WHEN a child learns to read?

Why aren't we more concerned about whether a child WANTS to read?

Because these are two very different goals, in all honesty.

My goal has always been to raise kids who LOVED books and desired to read.  This meant that I was very relaxed about teaching the mechanics of reading.

My first son taught himself (YES, TAUGHT HIMSELF) how to read when he was about 5 or so, or maybe he was 6? (See, I don't even remember!)

My daughter took about 2 years to really learn to read fluently. She was 8 1/2 when everything really clicked.  (All About Reading really helped her!)

My youngest son learned to read at about 7 after a really short time of very relaxed instruction with All About Reading Level 1.

See?  Even in one family, each child is so different.

But you know a common thread?

They all like to read.

Praise God, they LIKE to read.

No matter what stage in the journey our children are at, the primary goal needs to be nurturing a LOVE of reading.  

Forget about their age.  

I know, right?  But, seriously... forget about their age.

Mama, if your child is 4 or 5 and cannot read - that's OKAY.  In fact, that is completely normal.

Mama, if your child is 6 or 7 and cannot read - that's OKAY.  There are many, many children at that age who are not ready for the mechanics of reading yet.

Mama, if your child is 8 or 9 and cannot read - that's OKAY too.  Because children learn at all different ages and stages.

I have heard story after story of children who struggled with reading, learned later (as late as 10 or 11 even), and because of their parent's perseverance and patience, are now completely voracious readers.

Friends, we are not bound by a deadline.  

The world will not fall apart if Suzie doesn't read when she is 6 years old.

We are not slaves to a system.  

Have we forgotten that we broke free from these restrictions?  Why do we cling to them and judge ourselves and our children by them?  

Who in the world ever asks a teenager or adult how OLD they were when they learned to read?  No one, that's who.  And the reason why is because it is irrelevant.  When they learned doesn't matter at all - the only thing that matters is if they can read.  And they can.  So there.

But... DO they continue to read? Now that might have something to do with how they learned.

When a child learns to read is so much less important than HOW.

And by how, I mean the kind of environment in which the child learns to read.  Is it one of nurture, patience, love, respect, and understanding?  An environment filled with a love of books, lots of read-aloud stories, and peaceful and joyous experiences with books?

Or one of stress, frustration, deadlines, and rush to learn a 'skill' by a deadline?

Five Simple Steps for Really Teaching our Children to (love to) Read:

1. Start with REST.

Alright, here I go again.  Have you read Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie yet?  Yes?  Then you know exactly what I mean when I say 'Start with REST'.    No, you haven't read it?!  What are you waiting for, Mama?  And... let me explain this idea of starting with rest the best I can in a couple sentences -

This philosophy of Teaching from Rest is all about teaching from the perspective of resting wholly and entirely on the Lord's leading and Christ's faithfulness.  We are not in control of how or when our children truly learn anything.  We are simply called to be faithful in the calling God has placed on our lives to raise up our children in the best way we can according to His will and word and by His leading and grace.

Teaching to read from a state of rest means letting go.  It means trusting the Lord and trusting the process.  It means bringing our best, being obedient and faithful, teaching with love, respect, joy, and peace - and then trusting the plan God has for our children and ourselves.  Teaching from Rest means we get to be at peace with the journey.  It is a truly lovely place to start any subject.

2.  Give them a reason to WANT to read.

So, now that you've entered into a state of peaceful teaching and trust in God's timing and leading, you need to work hard at laying a good literary foundation.  Your child should learn at an early age what a read-aloud culture looks like.  This means, reading is established as a part of normal life - just as common as eating or sleeping.  We read because we breathe.  

Reading is also established as something wonderful - something of great worth.  Reading is something that makes us feel cozy, joyful, full of wonder.  There is this overwhelming sense of  togetherness when a family reads a great living book aloud together.

We must fill our shelves and our children's lives with great books.  Every kind of book too - of course, the Scriptures, fables, folk tales, great picture books, classics, novels with stories of adventure, mystery, history, biography, and fantasy, things to make us laugh out loud and even shed a tear.  This is the literary glue that will stick a love of reading to your child's young soul.

This is the kind of culture that gives them a REASON to want to read.  They must first fall in love with stories and with the act of looking in a great book to gain knowledge or experience the joy of story.  Only THEN can they develop the desire to want to read for themselves.  Not because they have to, but because they WANT to.

3. Do not push your child to learn to read.  Choose to ignore cultural pressures.

While you are (hopefully) doing as much nurturing a love of reading as possible - don't rush your child.  Just because they are 5 or 6 or whatever age you think they SHOULD learn to read doesn't mean they will learn to read at that age.  (Trust me, I know this!)  And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't even be beneficial for them to learn quite yet.  Maybe the soil of their heart just isn't quite ready.

I believe one of THE BIGGEST mistakes we can do as home schoolers is pressure our children to read.  Pushing and prodding and getting frustrated with the reading process is a huge no-no.  Not only will it prove very unenjoyable for you and your child, it could potentially completely sabotage the lovely foundation you tried so hard to lay.  You know, the one where you established a love of books in your child's heart?

Also - all that pressure might not prove fruitful anyway.  Children will always (always!) learn best when they are ready.  I have found this to be so true with our children.  I waited until I saw a readiness in my daughter and second son before introducing reading instruction to them.  And for my daughter, I did try to go through 'lessons' for phonics with her and it just wasn't clicking.  The minute I saw her getting frustrated and discouraged, I let it go.  We went back to just enjoying great books together.  I didn't want to push her and lose this beautiful love of literature she had.

Guess what?  About a year later, she was ready and picked up reading quite easily and very enjoyably.  (This is when we used All About Reading with great success!).

4.  When your child IS ready to learn, nurture a love of reading with an atmosphere of warmth, love, peace, patience, kindness, and lots of tea and brownies and more books.

I knew when our children were ready to learn to read because I could see their desire to learn the mechanics of reading greatly increase.  They were now understanding and responding well to short, simple lessons.  There was no stress in the process because they were fully on board and had a personal desire to learn.

Maybe you've heard it said before - WHAT we teach isn't nearly as important as HOW we teach it.  I love this sentiment because it is so, so true with homeschooling.  It also completely mimics Charlotte Mason's philosophy on the Atmosphere of the Home being of utmost importance in teaching our children.  Well, the atmosphere of how we teach reading has the same affect.

If we want to establish and preserve a love of reading in our child's heart and mind, we NEED to teach them to read in a room filled with warmth, love, peace, patience, and kindness.  They need to know we are SO on their team and are willing to do whatever it takes and work for however long is needed to help them achieve the ability to read for themselves.

In our home, we snuggle up, have snacks and special treats, giggle and just enjoy that special time of learning to read together.  Which leads to the last point...

5.  Enjoy the journey.

We will only have these precious children with us for such a short time.  Really, in the course of a life-time - we have our babies for a blip, it seems.

I can't believe my eldest will turn 12 this year.   I honestly BLINKED and he went from 2 to 12.  Let's just commit to surrendering our fear, anxiety, stress, and feeling of overwhelm and ENJOY the journey with our children. Because, honestly, this journey will not last forever.

It is a miraculous thing, how a child learns.  It truly is a holy experience.  And we get to be part of it as homeschoolers!  Every step of the journey, we are privileged to share with our children, walking hand in hand.  And learning to read is one of the most wonderful and powerful things they will learn.

It is HUGELY rewarding to play a leading role in teaching a child to read.  I have always been overcome with emotion when each child starts really 'getting' it for themselves.  But that doesn't mean rushing the 'getting it' part of the journey.  It will come in the right timing.  I promise.  Enjoy this blessed and special journey with your child- breathe in the reality that you will teach her to read but once.

It is a precious time and should be treated as such.

Above all, trust. Trust in the Lord's divine leading and will for your child.  And trust in your child.

The rewards will come, and they are breathtaking.

This is a worth-while link to check out - videos from Sarah's official  Teaching from Rest book club.


Other 'Learning to Read' Posts coming soon:

-Nurturing the developing/emerging Reader (ideas, tips, things that have worked for us)
-The Powerful Role Family Read-Alouds play in Nurturing Passionate Readers

-Wow! My child can read!  Now what?
-How to Make your Kids Hate Reading (mistakes I've made, mistakes I've seen)
-Do I really need a fancy Reading Curriculum? (Thoughts and experiences)
-Continuing to Nurture a Love of Reading AFTER they know 'how' to Read

The difference between a Schedule and a Rhythm (and how Rhythm brought Rest to our Homeschool)

Monday, August 15, 2016


A. a plan for carrying out a process or procedure, giving lists of intended events and times.  

B. to arrange or plan events to take place at a particular time.


A. a strong, regular pattern of movement or sound.  

B. a repeated pattern of events marked by natural flow and regular reoccurrence of certain activities.

When I first started my Homeschooling journey,  I tried desperately to create (and re-create) very specific Homeschool Schedules I wanted us to follow.  These comprised of many boxes and many little increments of time, all filled in with exactly what we would do every second of the day.

When the children were preschoolers and toddlers, I tried something like this:

8 am - Break-fast
8:15 am - Wash hands and faces, stack dishes in sink
8:17 am - Leave Kitchen and enter the Learning Room
8:20 am - Morning Time prayer and songs
8:25 am - Morning Time calendar 
8:30 am - Poetry Reading
8:35 am - Letter Review with songs

Um... who wants to guess if THAT worked with a 4, 2, and 1 year old?  *cough*

When they were in early elementary and preschool, I tried something like this:

9 am - Morning Calendar
9:15 am - Printing
9:25 am - Math
9:45 am - Drawing
9:55 am - Snack
10:10 am - Story time

Nope, that one didn't work either.

These rigid schedules never (ever, ever, EVER!) worked for our family.

By the time our kids were 7, 6, and 4,  I was so done with the fight and I remember literally writing out a "Schedule" that poked fun at the whole thing.  It looked like this - 

Monday through Friday: do homeschool stuff.


This is also about the time I 'met' Charlotte Mason and my philosophies on life, education really started to change. 

I was actually a bit surprised to find out that CM advocated for quite a strict schedule for her students, even in the homeschool.  

It has made me question if we have been doing things 'right'.  I mean, why couldn't I get my kids to just do what I wanted WHEN I wanted?  Why wouldn't they just follow the schedule?  Why couldn't they do Math when I said so and keep Drawing to the allotted time frame and move flawlessly through the tasks on my little checkmark system schedule?!

Instead of offering the structure, flow, and productivity I was hoping for, these rigid schedules brought frustration, burnout, and full-on meltdowns.  

At that season (when the kids were younger), if I let that Schedule rule my day, my emotions, and my reactions it wasn't good.

I saw that it wasn't working but I couldn't understand why.  It seemed like so many other Homeschoolers were using these types of time-slotted schedules and their kids were following along.  I mean, seriously, just google "Homeschool Schedule" and you will find countless schedules that aren't that different from the ones above.  And THOSE Moms even have stars and velcro charts and all sorts of fancy things to go along with the time slots. 

Look at the past Charlotte Mason schedules and they seem so perfectly boxed out and should work, right?

Well, I've come to realize, after many years of homeschooling, that it is OKAY to not have a Schedule in my Homeschool.

Just like with any other decision you make for your homeschool and family, you need to know your "why".

If you are going to plan and implement a strict Schedule - why?

If you are not going to plan and implement a strict Schedule - why not?

Simple as that.

You must (MUST) know why you are choosing one or the other.

Schedule VS. Rhythm

So, to me, a Schedule means just what it's definition says - a plan and list of events (or lessons/activities) to take place at a specifically given time. When you have a Homeschool Schedule, you want to see Math happen every day at 10am.

A Rhythm, on the other hand, is quite different.  A Homeschool Rhythm is a regular, established pattern of work/activities based on a natural flow.

See the difference?  The Rhythm works wonders for us, so I want to encourage you that it might really work for your family too.  Especially if you've been trying more strict schedules and been really struggling.

These days, we have an extremely simple Homeschool Rhythm. I spoke about it in my Morning Time and Family Loop Plans post and it is up on the kitchen wall, but more for decoration than anything.  

Our Rhythm goes like this:

Morning Time (all together)
Morning Rotations (Individual Work)
Family Loop

There is no real time frame in terms of an hourly, time-slot type schedule.

There are several subjects and tasks that we want to accomplish every day and we work towards accomplishing them.  Period.

Every day, we wake up, we spend time together, we do Morning Time, the kids know what Individual Work they have to do, and will rotate through spending time with me to accomplish their Morning Rotation.  Then, at some point, we will fit in our Family Loop subject (either History, Geo/Bible, Nature Study, or Hands-on Science).  We have a daily pattern that is predictable and reliable.

The kids know what we are doing even though it is not rigid or tied to the clock or a checklist.  They know what is expected and move freely within those expectations.  We are pretty relaxed but have enough of a pattern that everyone still feel secure and productive in that daily 'beat'.

We DO try to do Morning Time in the morning because, well.... you know.  

Honestly though, beyond that - it's just got to be done by the time the sun sets.  Or sometimes, not even.  Sometimes (gasp!) we carry over work that we didn't do on Monday to Tuesday or even Wednesday.  (I know, I know... unheard of, right?)

And OH, the peace this structure brings to our home, friends!  I can't speak highly enough of this kind of relaxed, yet purposeful plan.  We are not lazy.  We are free.  And within that freedom we are actually more productive because we have nurtured the atmosphere that lends itself to peaceful, restful learning.

Let me express to you some solid reasons why I strongly advocate for adopting a Homeschool Rhythm instead of a timed Schedule-

Rhythm leaves more room for God's leading and life's 'divine interruptions'.  

C.S. Lewis talked about this when he said: 

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.”
Now, I don't think all the interruptions to our days are unpleasant.  In fact, many of these little interruptions are sweet and beautiful!  But nonetheless, these unscheduled events and needs can often be seen as annoying interruptions if we are set on a specific schedule that runs in a minute-by-minute time frame.

Honestly, I desperately want to live with eyes wide open to where God is leading and what ways I can reach out to our children, love on them, love on others - family, friends, the children in our lives.  If we are faced with the question of choosing between 'doing homeschool' or encouraging and helping a friend in need - I want to be the ones who choose people over tasks every time.

And the strict schedule makes choosing the unexpected very difficult - especially when you feel tied to the schedule, 'or else'.

Rhythm allows for more play and more creativity.  

I'll admit it - there are mornings when we are barely starting Morning Time before 11am.  It's not because we've slept in for hours or watched videos or are just lounging around eating chocolate in our PJs.  (I wish!)

If we're getting a 'late start' to the day, it's almost always because the kids have been completely engaged in something else that I deemed worthwhile to let them continue.  Whether it is building with Legos, painting a picture, creating a play together, building a fort for reading, making something with the sewing machine, spending time with the chickens, nurturing relationships, etc.

When the children are happily engaged in productive projects, activities, and play, I usually leave them be.  This is part of that space Charlotte Mason called 'masterly inactivity'.  Where the parent chooses to 'let the child alone'.  So she can create, imagine, dream, play, and grow in her own giftings, skills, and focus.  This IS 'school', friends.  It is the most profound type of education because it is that self-education we so desire for our children to grow into.

The minute-by-minute schedule would never allow for me to do this 'letting alone' as much as I do.  I would constantly feel behind because we would NEVER be starting (or finishing) on time.  I prefer to breathe deep and enjoy this time for them to just be children.  We get to the 'work' eventually.  Some days, it just takes longer to get to my plan because they are first doing some 'work' of their very own.  *wink*

Rhythm allows for more Delight-Directed Learning.  

Apart from having more time to play and be creative, having a Rhythm allows for more time to take educational detours.  I love to watch for the sparks in our children and work hard not to ignore them, but to instead, nurture them.

So, if we are reading about some aspect of Early Modern History and all of a sudden our kids are completely captivated by Queen Elizabeth - we are likely to camp there for a while to nurture that interest and soak up all the delight-directed learning we can do.  We just have more freedom.  If 'History' takes 2 hours, that's okay.  There's nothing telling us we have to rush to the next time slot.

Rhythm removes the pressure to blaze through things.  

When you're supposed to be done Math at 10:15 so you can start Spelling at 10:16, and done Spelling at 10:30 so you can start Copywork at exactly 10:31 - um, it's a bit stressful.  The temptation is the get through the first thing so that we can flawlessly move on to the next thing, so that we can again move on (quickly!) to the NEXT thing on the schedule.  If we lag behind, the whole day is just messed up.  And if you are an A-type Mama, that will drive you NUTS.  So, guess what?  You'll rush through things to stay on schedule.  It just might become about that darn schedule instead of about the little person in front of you and the learning that is or is not taking place.

Rhythm gives children more say in how they manage their own time and tasks.  

It's okay to let our kids decide when they want to accomplish their work.  I've actually realized that my children work far better under these less restrictive perimeters.  My eldest really enjoys reading his personal reads in the evening, so that's when he reads and often narrates to me.  My daughter loves to get her work done early in the morning because she feels a weight off her back by getting it done!  My youngest likes to wait until I am fully available so he can sit on my lap, play with my hair and just completely enjoy his time with "Mama".

There are days when another project (say Lego or an Art project) overpowers my child's desire to do Math work.  And that's okay.  The Math can wait if a child prefers to do it a little later in the day.  The child still knows they need to do it and they are still learning through the activity they are currently engaged in.  In fact, they are probably learning MORE than they will during that Math lesson.

This method helps children learn about when and how they work best and how to manage their own time and tasks on a daily and weekly basis.  It is worth noting here that this structure also really helps with atmosphere - it keeps the kids MUCH happier because it respects them as people.

In fact, I feel so strongly about this, I'll make it another point...

Rhythm helps maintain a peaceful and productive home atmosphere (at least in our home it does!).  

Guess what?  I'm going to let you in on a little secret -  kids often have their own little agendas.  They don't always WANT to do what we want them to do, when we want them to do it.  I know, right?  Wait... you already knew that?

So, if I'm aiming for peace in the home and homeschool, I'm going to try my best to understand how I can structure our days for the most peace and productivity.

I work with how I function best and also consider how each of the individual little people in my home functions best.  What makes them most capable of learning and absorbing these great ideas I want them to contemplate?  What helps them thrive?  What really frustrates them and hinders them from learning?  What times of day or types of situations push their buttons?  And what kind of atmosphere renders them incapable of learning (literally)?

Identify these things and don't be afraid to work with exactly where your children are at.  It's OK.  You are not being a push-over or overly accommodating to acknowledge their personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and unique learning styles.  This is part of the whole reason so many of us chose to homeschool - to have the freedom to educate our children in an individual manner that helped them learn in the most optimal way.

I'll tell you something - I write this blog usually between 10:30pm and 1am.  Partly because that is the only time I have to myself (chuckle) but mostly because it is the time of day when I think, organize ideas, and write most coherently and effectively.  It might sound absolutely insane to some people, but it is the way I've been since I was very young.  I don't think it could have been trained out of me - this is just the way I tick.  (PS.  It is 11:15pm as I type this...)

Kids are no different than us.  They have personalities and their own needs and likes/dislikes surrounding their work and their play.

This is a lesson I had to learn the hard way through many, many months (years?) of tears, arguments, melt-downs, and complete frustration in our homeschool.  I thought things should be done the way I wanted every single time, no compromises - and it caused so much upset and much of it was avoidable.  It was simply a matter of taking into account my children's' personalities, abilities, and personal limitations.

Some quotes from Charlotte Mason:

"We should have a Method of Education not a System of Education.  A method is flexible, free, yielding, adaptive, natural.  A system is endless rules and very rigid.  The system would teach the child how to play but then he has no initiative. A wise passiveness - let the children take the initiative; follow the lead of Nature."

"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."

"We are very tenacious of the dignity and individuality of our children... Do not take too much upon ourselves, but leave time and scope for the workings of Nature and of (God)..."

Want more inspiration?  Check out Julie Bogart (from Brave Writer) in this video about Schedule VS. Routine.

I will end this post by saying - obviously, I am very pro-Rhythm.  But that doesn't make me entirely anti-Formal-Schedule.  I'm anti-Schedule in my own home because it doesn't work at all for us.  And, honestly, because of what I know about children - I think a formal and rigid schedule will be hard on most every child.

I do, however, I have friends who say they could not function any other way than on a strict schedule.  

So, to each her own.  If you are a strict Schedule Mama, power to you if it works!  *smile*  I am simply sharing my thoughts and my heart on why tossing the strict schedule and adopting more of a relaxed Rhythm has worked for our family.  

The hope is to encourage other Moms, like me, who feel pressured to adhere to a Homeschool Schedule when it isn't working for their home and to express how Rhythm can bring rest and peace to the atmosphere of home.


Our Choices for Individual Studies / Morning Rotation - 2016, Term 1 and beyond. {Language Arts, Math, Reading, and Notebooking...}

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

So, last week I posted about our Morning Time and Family Loop plans for this year, Term 1.

If you haven't read that post and are genuinely interested in how our year (or a creatively put-together, Charlotte Mason-inspired year) looks like, I'd definitely start there.  A huge part of our learning is covered in our Morning Time and Family Loop.

Once we finish up Morning Time, the kids move into their Morning Rotations (Individual Work).  This is where they are covering their Language Arts, Math, Notebooking, and Reading.  

This year Simon is our 6th grader (oh, my goodness!),  Audrey is in 4th grade, and Alex is in 3rd.   I can't believe how fast these kiddos are growing up...  I don't really like the whole 'grade-level' thing but I add this to give perspective for our planning.  Simon is 11, Audrey 9, and Alex just turns 8 at the beginning of September.

Plan Your Year

I can't write this post without acknowledging how much Plan Your Year helped me plan this year.  I had never really looked at each of our children individually, evaluated their strengths and weaknesses and set actual, straight-forward goals for their upcoming year.  This is a new practice for me and it was SO helpful.  I also used a ton of the planning tools and print-outs to help organize our kids' individual work and curriculum choices.  I honestly love all Pam's resources.

Plan Your Year Ad

The Plan Your Year resources come with several printables as well as an ebook that walks you through the entire planning process.  It is an amazing resource.

One of the Goals Worksheets that helped me pick and choose our focus and the right resources for each child.

Morning Rotation

The reason I call this part of the day Morning Rotation is because, well... I basically stole the term from Sarah Mackenzie.  *wink*  But really, it's a great name for this part of our day because we do the same thing she does - the kids rotate through having individual time with me.  Sometimes they can do a bunch of this work on their own, but often they need me to help walk through it with them.  They take turns with Mama, rotating through... so... yea, "Morning Rotation" works.  We also often call this their 'Individual Work/Studies" and they know what that means.

How we Roll...

I also feel like I need to add - I'm not super normal in the way I use resources. (Or the way I do anything, for that matter... ) 

Many Moms pick one resource and work through the whole thing from Lesson 1 to the last Lesson and that's that.  We usually (wait, sometimes...) get through entire programs, we just do a bit of bouncing around while we work through it. 

So, you might see that one of my children has 3 writing programs listed in the plans.  Well, that's because we will literally move from one to another and back again as we feel led or as I see fit.

There are a lot of great resources out there and we use bits and pieces of many different 'programs'.  I may LOVE one aspect of one but not implement other aspects.   So, please don't think I'm a crazy person, making our kids do unimaginable amounts of work (hardly...)!  We just use resources in a creative and flexible way which allows us to tap into more than one curriculum, especially with Language Arts.

Choosing a Focus

In the spirit of Charlotte Mason, our kids have quite the 'feast' set before them every year with regard to reading, learning, curriculum, and ideas presented within the home.  In the midst of this we will be choosing a focus.  This is one area that needs work that will get some extra attention through the school year.  

This year, our focus is Language Arts - 

specifically Reading, Discussion Studies, Writing and Spelling.


Notebooking is a huge part of our homeschool.  I haven't added it into the individual spaces below because I wanted to talk about it here.

The children all use Notebooking for their Individual Work/Rotation as well as some of our Family Loop work.  This includes adding copywork, poetry, scripture, quotes, as well as pages in nearly every 'subject' area - Art and Picture Study, Composer Study, History, Geography, Nature Study... you name it.  If we are studying it, we are probably Notebooking about it too.

I have shared extensively about our Notebooking experiences and just how much we rely on Notebooking to carry us and enforce the wonderful things we are reading and learning about.  I couldn't imagine homeschooling without Notebooking!

I couldn't imagine doing all the Notebooking we do without our membership either - so I always recommend this site to homeschoolers looking to get into a lot of Notebooking.  *smile*

Notebooking Pages LIFETIME Membership

Thoughts about Brave Writer...

Ummm.... ?!  

How have I not heard of Brave Writer before this year?   

I feel like I must have been living under some kind of writing curriculum rock to have not heard of this amazing program before now!!!  Especially as a Charlotte Mason-inspired Mama...!  So, in case you're out of the loop like me - it is imperative that I share this discovery with you!

The wonderful people at Brave Writer were generous to offer me the opportunity to review The Writer's Jungle  (that full review is coming this month!).  I feel like this chance to review The Writer's Jungle will be a revolutionary moment in our homeschool writing journey. Until now I have struggled SO HARD with finding writing resources that fit our philosophy of education.  So many are boring, too formulaic, full of busy work, and drive me and my kids to run from writing instead of nurturing a love for writing.

I'm extremely excited to implement several aspects of Brave Writer this year.  We will be using the philosophies and ideas/assignments in The Writer's Jungle all together, each child is doing their own titles/level of their Language Arts program (A Quiver Full of Arrows for our youngest and The Arrow for the other two), and we will be adding Poetry Tea Time as well as the Friday Free Write to our weeks.  (Yeah, I went a little Brave Writer crazy, but I'm in LOVE!)

I purchased A Quiver of Arrows for our 8 year old and The Arrow issues for our 9 and 11 year old through the Homeschool Buyers Co-op.  I actually got a really great deal price-wise, but the even better deal was for The Arrow!  I was able to purchase back issues/units in the titles I wanted!  Rather than subscribing to the 2016-2017 year, I actually got to choose which books we would use this year.
This allowed me to purchase 10 issues and I added the free unit they have on their website, so 11 issues of The Arrow in total.  Simon will use 6 of those, Audrey will use 5.

Although they are using the same level of The Arrow, it is imperative (IMPERATIVE!) that they do their own individual studies for Language Arts.

I used 1 1/2 inch binders and printed out all the units and placed them in the binders with dividers for each book.  It works!

The Writer's Jungle was sent to me as a PDF from Brave Writer.  I had it printed at Staples and Bound for about $30 (SO expensive to bind/print ... but worth every penny!).

The titles for A Quiver Full of Arrows - these titles do not change, there are 10 titles for this level and they come in a package.  I got a great deal (40% off) on the pdf download at Homeschool Buyers Co-op.

Titles I chose from past issues of The Arrow.  Not photographed - James and the Giant Peach.

Can't wait to share more in my full review of this amazing 'life-style', as Brave Writer calls it!

So, now... on to sharing some of our resources for Language Arts and Math:

I may just be over-thinking this, but I honestly struggle so much with sharing our resources.  

I struggle because I know SO WELL that what works for our kids may not work (at all) for yours.  And what worked for one child last year, may not work this year.  And what I think is going to work - may completely bomb.  OR what I think will bomb will completely work.  Yeah, there are a lot of variables.

So, I share here to simply give ideas, to share resources you may not have heard of or considered - not because these are the only ones that work or the "BEST" even.  Just because they are what has worked for us or what we are trying out on the recommendation of others or based on my own research for my kids' needs.  These resources help us but they do not rule us... we use them as we can and as they fit into our learning philosophy.

  Plans for Simon - age 11

Here are some of the resources we will be using for 6th grade Individual Studies/ Morning Rotation:

This is Simon's 4th year with Teaching Textbooks.  I can't express enough how much I love this Math Curriculum.  There is a computer based component where the concepts are taught in a fun, interactive, professional way and then a book based component.  The concepts are taught thoroughly and clearly.  There is minimal busy-work and no 'drill and kill' style worksheets.  It's awesome! He is thriving with it, so I plan to stick with TT all the way through.

I did share above about my Brave Writer discovery, so I won't babble on and on.  The plan for Simon is to work through the activities in Writer's Jungle as well as The Arrow Language Arts.  We will also be trying our hand at the Friday Free Write, which I'm slightly nervous about but also excited to see if we can make the kind of progress that so many other families seem to make with this simple method.

Books Simon will be studying for The Arrow -

I actually have full reviews of both of these resources coming very soon.  I love everything Simply Charlotte Mason puts out.  Their stuff is just so gentle, so engaging, so easy to use, and so effective.  Spelling Wisdom is a dictation program and Simon will be using Book 1.  Using Language Well goes along with Spelling Wisdom (you can't do Using Language Well without it).  Simon will be working through the dictation and language arts throughout the year.

This is a completely free Dictation program from the early 1900s.  Last year I downloaded PDFs of year 2 through 6 and had them printed together in a bound book.  Both our older kids actually really like this program.  It is super easy to follow and gives Dictation exercises for every day of the week - TONS.  They progress slower than many of the Dictation programs I've seen, which works well for daily use.

Simon is currently at the very end of the 2nd year.

  • For Reading 
Simon is a voracious reader.  I can't keep books in this boy's hands long enough!  It is actually hard to keep up with his book 'appetite' sometimes.  Especially since it matters very much to me that he is reading quality literature.  I don't need to time him or ask him to read - he does this freely and in huge blocks of time.  Especially between 9 and 11pm!

It is hard to say exactly what titles he will have read and narrated from by the end of the year, but here are just some of the titles on his reading list:

Plans for Audrey - age 9

Here are some of the resources we will be using for 4th grade Individual Studies/ Morning Rotation:

As I said above,  I love this Math Curriculum.  Audrey is able to use all the computer-based CD-Roms that I purchase for Simon.  All I needed to do was purchase her a new workbook ($40).  If you are using Teaching Textbooks with multiple children, that is a major bonus! 

Math is definitely not her favorite, but she loves this curriculum because it is easy to understand, there is minimal busy-work and no 'drill and kill' style worksheets.  It's awesome! 

 The plan for Audrey is to work through the activities in Writer's Jungle as well as The Arrow Language Arts program.  

We will also be doing the Friday Free Write, which I'm sure Audrey will absolutely love.  Writing comes naturally to her, and she loves to use her creative mind to put ideas to life on paper.  I'm excited to see how using these Brave Writer resources will help her improve her writing skills and ability to discuss and understand more complex pieces of literature.

Books Audrey will be studying for The Arrow -

Audrey will also be working through (throughout the year) Write Shop Junior, Book D.  I will be reviewing Write Shop in full in the coming weeks and months.  It is a wonderfully hands-on, engaging writing program that will appeal to my tactile, language-driven, eager-to-learn daughter. 

 (Yes, my 4th grader will be using TWO Writing programs this year - but we will move through them at a relaxed pace.  Besides, she's my girl who so longs to write and is always asking me for 'more work'!) 

From what I've seen so far, I would describe Write Shop to be like the All About Reading / All About Spelling of the Writing Curriculum World.  Very hands-on, very organized, bright, colorful and high quality, and very much open and go.  The program even includes Notebooking pages.  *smile*

There are even packs you can purchase to make things easier for you (pre-prepped games, cut outs, etc.).  Click here to see what we got for this year.  There is a nice combination of language games, encouraging reading aloud (and tracking your reading), a bit of fun grammar, and writing projects/assignments that are clever, direct, and seem fun to work through.

The games will also be shared with her brothers during family learning times because they will be so much fun to do together.

I will give much more detail in my review, once I've had a chance to work through a few lessons with Audrey and a few games with all the kiddos!

WriteShop: Teaching writing has never been easier!

  • Dictation Day by Day
This is a completely free Dictation program from the early 1900s.  Last year I downloaded PDFs of year 2 through 6 and had them printed together in a bound book.  Both our older kids actually really like this program.  It is super easy to follow and gives Dictation exercises for every day of the week - TONS.  They progress slower than many of the Dictation programs I've seen, which works well for daily use. 

Audrey is mid-way through Year 2.

  • For Reading - Nature Liberty Readers + various titles
Audrey started reading later than many children.  She wasn't REALLY reading until about age 8.  We used All About Reading with her and (just like her brother) she grew in leaps and bounds in a very short period of time.  I honestly LOVE All About Reading and can't say enough wonderful things about the program.

Now?  She's a great reader and enjoying early to mid-range chapter books and wonderful stories. She really enjoys the Christian Liberty Nature Readers and will be working through Book 2 and 3 this year along with Narrating from them.  She also has a whole bunch of other titles on her reading list.

The goal is 15-20 minutes (at least) of independent reading time or reading to Mom. 

Some of the titles on Audrey's reading list this year:

Plans for Alex - Age 8

I can't believe my little baby turns 8 years old at the beginning of September.  Where on earth is the time going?  I honestly BLINKED.

He has grown by leaps and bounds over the past year.  I really think age 7 is a magic number for boys when it comes to academics.  Trying to do much before then for me is almost pointless (this is my experience anyways).  He learned how to read (oh, how we LOVE All About Reading!), improved greatly in his printing skills, and starting doing wonderful narrations from Aesop's Fables.  

He also participated in Morning Time and all our Family Rotation work. 

This year's plan?  Focus on Language Arts.  

Here are some of the resources we will be using for 3rd grade Individual Studies/ Morning Rotation:

Alex is super excited to start the awesome Math he has seen his siblings doing for the past few years!  TT starts with Math 3 - so this is the starting point for Alex this year.  He is also able to use all the computer-based CD-Roms that I previously purchase for Simon.  All I needed to do is purchase him a new workbook ($40).  If you are using Teaching Textbooks with multiple children, that is a major bonus! There is minimal busy-work and no 'drill and kill' style worksheets.  It's awesome! 

I chose A Quiver of Arrows for Alex because I think this Language Arts program will fit him perfectly.  We own and have read nearly every book in the program already but will read the ones we haven't read and re-visit the ones we have as we move through them this year.  

I will do a full review of A Quiver of Arrows in the next month or so.  It honestly looks like such an amazing Language Arts program and I'm really excited to see how Alex grows and develops with this added challenge!

Some of the titles from A Quiver of Arrows -

  • Narration from Aesop's and 50 Famous Stories Retold
Last year we took the advice of many experienced Charlotte Mason educators and introduced Oral Narration to Alex with Aesop's Fables.  I purchased the Milo Winter version of the book and we just read through them.  I read aloud, he narrated.  It worked fabulously and his skills in narration are quite good.  This year we will continue through Aesop's and also introduce some of the stories from 50 Famous Stories and have him do Oral Narration from those as well.

  • For Reading - reading aloud with Mom from various readers and early chapter books.
We are total believers in readers.  (Oh, that rhymes!)  I kind of subscribe to the same philosophy that THIS post by Sarah Mackenzie communicates.  We are in the 'giving our kids easy to read/series books' stage for Alex.  He used All About Reading over the past year and absolutely loved it as well as FLOURISHED in his reading skills.  

Now, he's ready for lots of books that are simple enough to read but nurture his love of reading.  

Reading happens every day for Alex - the goal this year is 10 minutes a day of individual reading and reading aloud to Mom.  Hopefully, by the end of the year he will be curling up on his own to devour great books.

Here are just a few of the titles he will read this year:

A Few More Thoughts:

We will be using Write Shop Junior, Book D this year in our Morning Time.  This writing program offers a ton of hands on activities that work well in a group setting.  It will be a challenge for our youngest but a good fit for the other two children.  I'm looking forward to seeing how adding 'grammar games' to our Morning Time works out.

Although both older children are using The Arrow from Brave Writer this year, they are studying different books.  Sometimes it is just necessary to give kids (even kids who are working at the same level in a subject) their own work.  I realized this a couple years ago when our homeschool days were constantly upset by competition between our two eldest kids.  They just needed their space.  So, they will each have their own Arrow work to do.

I was able to purchase past issues of The Arrow at a great price through Homeschool Buyers Co-op.  This was AWESOME and I highly recommend checking out this option if you are interested in using the Language Arts programs from Brave Writer!  I was able to pick and choose the titles I wanted to study with the kids (I picked ones we wanted to read and titles I already had on hand to keep things a little less costly).  The transaction was flawless and the price was awesome.  I'll be honest, the site looks a bit sketchy (not sure why...?) but it is legit!  It totally worked like a charm and I'm really excited about my savings and my titles.

Family Read-Alouds

I included several of our Read-Aloud options in my last post about our Morning Time and Family Loop, but I wanted to post our Family Read-Alouds here too.  

This is such a HUGE part of our homeschool, friends.  Reading aloud is what keeps us passionate, excited about learning - peaceful, connected to literature.  Reading is just a family culture we've established, so reading through large quantities of books has just become the complete norm for us.  We are blessed.

These are our novel read-alouds.  This does not include read-alouds for History, Geography, Nature Study, Morning Time, etc.  These are simply books that we read together for enjoyment as well as to further our learning in certain topics/time periods, etc.

This reading is usually done in the evenings or during quite times in the afternoon or while the kids eat lunch.

Some of the titles on our read-aloud list this year:

A little freebie -
Printable Writing Prompt Collection free for subscribers (limited time)

I hope and pray this post is encouraging or inspiring to you in some small way.

Blessings as we prepare for another brand new 'year' of homeschool.

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