When a Good Plan Goes South…

Shaving Cream for spelling or handwriting practice...

Ever had an idea that you were sure would be a big hit only to find it tank?  Homeschooling provides me many of these.  I like to keep our learning literature-rich, engaging, multi-sensory and as effortless as possible.  You know, the kind of learning where they don’t even realize they are doing any active learning until later???

While that is my overall goal, sometimes an idea doesn’t always come off as planned.  And sometimes you just need to put in some good, hard work whether you want to or not!

Case-in-point: Today.

Since you can’t major on everything, I pick something that no matter what life throws at us that day, we try and get THIS done.  Our Phonics/Spelling program is my hill-to-die-on for this year for the bigger two. {Faithful follow-through in obedience is it for the four year old!}

With the craziness of the holidays behind us, I find myself wanting to ease back into routine.  So this week, the boys started back with that. After a morning spent at the zoo, I decided to add a fun, {messy} twist to our spelling practice time.  Remember when I posted about our ‘taking a snow day’ a couple of years ago?  In the midst of their ‘play’ they engaged in some impromptu handwriting practice. As I prepared for our activity, I could hear the cheers of excited little boys!!! Plus, taking the pencil away and turning the handwriting in a more ‘gross-motor’ direction typically makes it easier for us to squeeze in more words than usual.

And really, what could be more fun than cookie sheets, shaving cream and some good ol’ spelling practice?!?!?!


Spelling1 Spelling
{Keegan’s favorite picture.}
It was fun for the first couple of words, but the novelty wore off quicker than I anticipated.  Whining and complaining commenced, punctuated with the joyful boasting from the 4.5 year old that he got to play with dinosaurs…
Spelling6b Spelling6
The boys learned an important lesson: even if the ‘fun’ has dissipated, the work still remains and must be done.  Those that apply themselves get to play.  Those that don’t, run out of time.  A lesson in perseverance and working hard.

Mama learned that maybe something like this might seem more rewarding when compared to the usual routine instead of the joys of vacation.  I’m planning a do-over in a few weeks!  Poor timing can derail even some of the best ideas.

Sometimes life’s lessons are tough.

Thinking OUTSIDE the School Desk

There is just something about 6 year old little boys, or at least my 6 year old little boys…  They have a high desire to practice their spelling and improve their reading skills, but very little desire to pick up that little pencil.  The desire is especially potent right now because my middle son wants to join his big brother in playing Ticket to Ride.  But his reading skills need to improve a bit more before he can play completely on his own without help…

So penmanship practice took place largely outdoors this summer – even in our intense summer heat.  ICE kept us cool for about 15 minutes before we meandered back indoors, leaving our words to quickly fade away.  Even the 8 year old begged to do his spelling words outside too afterwards!  The four year old lasted a couple of minutes before abandoning ice in favor of his stick horse and some far-off battle.  And of course Greta is pleased to be wherever we are and happily played next to us…

The beauty of homeschooling is that you don’t have to be tethered to a desk.  We can go outside, write with ice-cubes, spray messages with squirt bottles and take advantage of any and every location imaginable!

Have you taken your learning adventures into any new venues lately?

Planning for the Unplanned

Delighting in the adventures of the day. Recognizing their value and promise.

Yes, there are days I feel overwhelmed, under prepared and ill-equipped.

But I serve a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing and never gives us more than we can handle. Learning happens all the time. Education is an atmosphere. Training opportunities are at every twist and turn of life’s journey.

Sometimes, these opportunities don’t fit in the neat and tidy box that we like to call ‘SCHOOL’. But they are very real and of far greater value than the sit at a desk with a text book.

Sometimes it is chasing butterflies outside. Sometimes it is learning how to get along with siblings.

Sometimes it is learning responsibility and how to properly do chores.

All are blessings. All are rich with opportunity and promise. We just need eyes to see it.

“Today is a gift that is why it is called ‘The Present!’”

Today I record those unconventional learning moments in my lesson plans.  While they were not ‘my plan’, they happened.  Those lessons had value.

In those moments when I wonder what we are doing, what they have learned, I look back and read through what I’ve recorded in our ‘Spontaneous Explorations’ category.

Today it was learning conflict resolution and the ‘give and take’ necessary in making {sibling} friendships work.

Today was learning the why’s and how-to’s of washing the barf bucket.

Today, it was a discussion of Hagar and Ishmael and how it relates to the Arab-Israeli conflicts that continues to this day. Gotta love having a reader who now asks questions about news headlines.

And I need to remember these moments.

Because they count too.

Rainy Day Play

As the rain pitter-pattered down, I settled into a chair on the back porch with my hands wrapped around a mug of warm soup. My precious two-month old is napping inside.  Warm fills me while the wind nips at my arms, chilling them.  I slowly breath in the lovely smells that accompany a desert rain.
Meanwhile, boys race around the yard on {stick}horseback.  First they round up cattle and drive them to the train station.  Then they are off to the races – steeple chasing and coaxing other great stunts from their {stick}horses.  This is the last week of our horses unit and they are entranced with all that they have discovered.
It is a rainy day, a lazy day and yet always, always a learning day…
To live is to learn and they are busy at this work of learning – incorporating it into every aspect of their play, tapping into that creativity that God placed inside each one of them and honing their relational skills as they navigate working together.
Rainy days have a relaxing, calming effect on all of us.  Inside, the 5 year old pulls out our Global Twister map, the continent boxes and an assortment of other toys for some impromptu geography review.

Penguins take up residence in the antarctic regions, always on alert for predators like the leopard seal and the killer whale.

A discussion arose about the Liberty Bell which relocated from its original placement in western Canada to its rightful position in New England.

And Xander spent time studying his sister.

Apparently rain doesn’t have a calming effect on everyone because these moments were soon followed up with some conflict resolution training as the three year old came in and laid claim to half the toys…
Life is all a learning experience, isn’t it?!?

Goals are Meant to be Held Lightly…

(a just because pic.  My birthday boy.)

Well, at least when it comes to goals we set for our children…

Why?  Their development and life’s circumstances are simply unpredictable.  I’m always so tempted to have very lofty goals for both myself and my children.  It is one thing to set them for myself.  It is always amazing what I can push myself to do if a goal is set before me.

When it comes to our children though, this can have very unpleasant if not disastrous effects.  I’ve seen it taken to extremes and sadly experienced bits of it myself.  There is so much going on in their little brains and especially when it comes to things that are developmental and academic need to proceed with caution.

Requiring something of our children that their brains simply aren’t wired for yet is unfair to do.  As such, when I’m setting goals, I’ve learned to be careful to take into account normal ranges of development and then be ready to hold my goals lightly and take each children on an individual basis.

So when a good friend asked me a couple of weeks ago how I did on meeting my goals for last semester after I shared my goal sheet with you all, my face brightened when I told her about goals we had met and how exciting it was to see growth.  While several goals weren’t met, I felt very comfortable with our semester.

There are a variety of reasons why we don’t always meet our goals.  Sometimes the timing just isn’t right.  One of my spiritual goals for Xander was to discuss the importance of communion with him.  He joins us for singing and the message on the last Sunday of the month.  I feel that it is important that he see how the body as a whole worships each Sunday instead of simply going to a Sunday School class all the time.  I assumed that he would start asking questions or showing an interest in communion since we take part each Sunday.  But he didn’t.  Since he didn’t show an interest and due to his young age, I chose to drop this goal.  Communion is something that is a bit abstract and I don’t see any benefit to rushing this too early.  I want to wait until there is interest that will drive his desire to understand and seek to participate in this special time.

With other goals, we saw definite growth, but by no means ‘arrival’.  Character goals tend to line up here.  While our overall goal this past semester was to grow in obedience, I’ll be the first to tell you that they have NOT mastered that one by any means.  Was there growth?  Yes.  Probably most importantly, it helped me stay focused on that aspect of their training and patiently having that expectation with them.  Obedience is a central character goal that will be staying on my two younger boys goals for character development this fall.

Life situations also lead to the tweaking of goals.  We ran into problems with one of our children lying a lot.  So of course, this took center stage as something that we intentionally worked with him on.

With academic goals, I also try and make them open-ended during these younger years.  Instead of saying that I wanted my oldest to progress to reading __ kind of chapter book by the end of the semester or progress to ___ point in our spelling/phonics program, my academic goal for him was to focus on reading.  I knew that he was at the age where the wiring is usually falling into place for this to easily happen and I kept it open-ended.  It was our special focus.  So if there were exceptionally busy days or days when some of the family was sick, and we could only cover math or phonics for the day, we chose phonics.

Now chores…  :happy sigh:  Having specific goals this last semester was so incredibly helpful.  While they don’t do it perfectly, I’m pleased as punch that my kids now know how to separate laundry and fold/put away/hang up all of their clean clothes.  With a fourth little person due to add her laundry to the pile, I’m ever so thankful that I have efficient little helpers!

So what are our goals for this semester?  Well here are a few of them…

Spiritual: fairly consistent across the board.  When I prayed about this one, “Daily Bread” is what kept coming to mind.  We are working at incorporating short Bible readings into our daily meals.  So far, we’ve been most consistent with this at lunch.  (I’m sure pregnancy hormones are coming into play here since I have a serious NEED to be in the Word halfway through the day.)  Our simultaneous goal for the semester is to have a 30 minute window set aside for time in the Word and prayer.  The two older boys are very excited about having their personal time with God and we’ll just have to see how the 3.5 year old takes to it.  I guess if nothing else, he’ll get 30 minutes of quiet room time. 🙂  And since waking up before the rest of the house to spend time with the Lord won’t be feasible this semester as we go into newborn/mommy survival mode, I’m hoping this will give me some focused time as well.  (Then again, I’m holding everything lightly since I have no idea about my little girls needs or personality, how I’ll react to moving to four children or how much ‘training’ my 3.5 year old will need with learning how to play or read his little Bible ‘quietly’ w/out setting out to distract his brothers.)

Chores: Teach Xander how to make oatmeal so that he can help with breakfast prep several days a week.  Keegan will focus on emptying the dishwasher daily and Trey will help with silverware.  I also need to help Trey to become more helpful and consistent during clean-up times.  (hahaha, he’s not the baby anymore and his days of getting away with things are over.)

Academic/Physical: After re-reading so much on brain development over the last 6 months and the importance of movement I want to incorporate a lot of skipping, hopping, galloping and other gross motor activities into our lives.  With a new baby, I’m sure there will be plenty of energy that will need outlets.  And all of that tumbling, climbing and playing does so much to wire their brains to learn.  My goal for the two younger boys is to encourage this as well as LOTS of read-aloud time.  Fostering those important brain connections that wire the brain to learn and building vocabulary are the two biggest things one can do in the early years to prepare little one’s to learn.  I have a whole list of ideas on ways to do this in my Reading-Readiness Activities handout that is also linked up top in my Cultivated Learning page.

Keegan has pretty much met most of my expectations of what I want him to cover in kindergarten in a huge spurt of growth this summer, so I’m planning on just following his lead on phonics/math for the rest of the year.  He’s pretty driven and wants to keep up with Xander, so I’m very comfortable going with whatever pace he decides to set.  For Xander, my goal is routine with him.  With being 7 now, aside from the time we take off after the baby, I’m working on getting him into a steady routine with his core subjects (reading/spelling/math) and a more formal routine for the day.

Well that’s just a peak.  I know that this semester even more than any other’s that I’ll need to hold everything lightly and continue to pray and seek the Lord as we proceed.

I’ll sign off for now since I promised my husband that I’d be good and go lay down again…  It has been a day full of contractions and laying down usually calms those down.  A trip downtown to the Children’s Museum with 116 degree weather proved to be a bit much, I guess…  With the due date just a month from now, we are all getting excited to meet this little girl!

Setting Goals

As I’ve said before, I love setting goals and casting vision.  It really helps to keep me focused!  I’m also a big ‘to-do’ list person.  Can anyone else relate?  There is something just so satisfying about checking things off…

Continuing in the tradition of my mother, I’ve been in the habit of making ‘semester’ evaluations since I was in college.  It is nice to take some time to sit back, pray and take stock of where I am at and what direction I feel the Lord is leading me towards in many different areas of my life.  Now that I have children, I’ve taken to setting semester goals for them as well.

Because we seek to live integrated and holistic lives, my goals for my children encompass far more than just academics.  We write down our priorities and goals for each of our children in the following areas:

  • Spiritual – I pray about how to reach each child and help them draw closer to Jesus.  In this section, I outline areas that I would like to see them grow or things I would like to relay to them.   For instance last semester I hoped to talk to my oldest about communion, have opportunity for a clear gospel presentation with my middle and help my youngest start talking to God (prayer).
  • Character – It is tempting to me to work on character development in a variety of areas, but that can easily get overwhelming and the impact is lessened if we are not focused.  So I try to pick one character trait per child to focus on specifically while allowing for life circumstances to certainly give clues to needed adjustments.  This last semester, obedience was a huge theme in our family and coincided nicely with our curriculum which is based around character traits and focused on this trait.
  • Academic – While there are many things that we learn and explore at any given time, I’ve found it helpful – especially with core academic subjects, to have a special focus.  I try to always be mindful to make sure that goals and expectations are attainable and age-appropriate.  It is easy to get ambitious in these areas and set goals that our kids brains simply aren’t wired to do yet.  Doing flashcards with your 3 or 4 year old in an attempt to get them reading early and reducing them to tears is one example that comes to mind…
  • Chores – With the arrival of our chore chart, this has become so much easier to keep up on.  I try and pick a new chore skill that I want my children to learn how to do per semester.
  • Physical – Especially since I know how much movement and exercise play into other aspects of their lives – like neurological development and future academic success, not to mention burning off an abundance of energy allowing everyone to stay sane, I like to set goals for this area as well.

Of course, I don’t leave myself out of the equation.  At the bottom of this sheet, I have a section for myself with areas to write goals for my roles as a child of God (spiritual), as a wife, as a mom, for my home and physical.

As I look back at last semester’s goals I’m quite please, overall, with progress made and aware that some of our goals I failed to work on or are ones that are simply still in process.  But it sure is nice to have a general game plan.

I plan on unplugging for the next week or two and spending focused time in prayer as we seek His will on what our family needs to be focusing on.  In the meantime, I thought I would share my goal sheets with you all in case you might find them helpful.  I’ve included a one page goal sheet for 2,3 or 4 kids + mom as well as a sheet with more room to write if you want a separate sheet per child.  I prefer to keep one sheet with all of us on it and place it at the beginning of my lesson plan notebook so I can reference it often!

I’d love to hear how you set goals and any approaches you have found helpful as well.

I’ll be back in a week or two…