Friday, August 21, 2009

Preparing for a new learning season

"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
--Matthew 6:33

I like the image of Cousin Summer leaving with his knapsack, and Uncle Fall coming in with his books. But the weather is now muggy in addition to being hot, and we cannot expect it to feel like fall in the middle of August.

The school year has begun, nonetheless.

Declaring ourselves "unschoolers" does not free us from the dictates of the school calendar. Daddy is bound to it as a schoolteacher, and therefore we are influenced by it, too.

At church today we had our Sunday School "kickoff" -- an exciting, rather chaotic start to what I hope simply continues to create a love in my children's hearts for the Lord, His Word, His people, and our place of worship.

Tomorrow, local schoolbuses will barrel down our street at 7 a.m., dropping off kids who begin their day with breakfast at school, and stay until homework is done and parents are off work.

Even the public pool has officially declared summer over -- and I can tell you, I am not thrilled about this, since I promised to take the boys and was hoping to go this week.

But after this very busy, fun, messy summer, I have been craving routine and order, even structure. I've been seeking a map to follow to bring peace and quiet and comfort back to our days.

I've read blogs, considered resources, and stared at the mess of magnets on my fridge, trying to figure out how to fit everything in and simplify at the same time.

Fortunately, I remembered exactly where I needed to look first before making any decisions.

Somehow I fell out of our usual sanity-keeping routine. My energy level has improved, but my habits have scrambled to keep up. It's time to start the day with prayer, the Bible, and a shower. Seriously, it's that simple.

While I was contemplating a more structured approach to our learning activities at home, the boys were busy learning without any plans or schooling by me (besides sitting down and reading what they asked me to, or listening to them read what they asked to read).

Over the course of the last week, they "studied" math, phonics, astronomy, history, Bible, poetry and nature study, among other things.

Their "curriculum" sources included, library books, National Geographic channel, Mommy's brain, the front yard, the backyard, Daddy's brain, Usborne Sticker Math, and each other.

Littlest spent several hours two days in a row learning his letters and sounds on He can now spell "cow."

Eldest and Middlest worked on double-digit addition, and single-digit multiplication via stickers, and then tested each other on the finer points of spelling according the many differing rules of English phonics I've explained along the way.

This is while I was trying to decide whether to sit down and do math and language arts on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or both.

I so appreciate what this blogger has to say about the whole learning thing. And I love the daily priorities she has set for her family.

The truth is, I am a Charlotte Mason-loving unschooler in philosophy. And in temperament, I need routine and rhythm, and a sense of direction guided by Someone bigger than myself.

And so I will continue to gather, and explore, and strew, and make plans, and cancel them. I will aim for Masterly Inactivity. And hopefully get a shower when I need it. Which is definitely every day.

I will follow Jesus as closely as I can, and love my children with all the strength He gives me.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


"...The weeks pass by, and every sunny day is filled with laughter; music, and dance. It seems as if the masquerade will never end."

"But wait. SHHHH. Listen. Studious Uncle Fall is quieting the land. He puts on his spectacles, arranges his pencils and books, then sits down at his desk.

Cousin Summer slips his knapsack on his back and quickly strides over the hills and far away."

--"When the Root Children Wake Up," by Audrey Wood

Friday, August 14, 2009

Off to the Sequoias

We're heading out again this morning for our annual trek to church family camp near Sequoia National Park.

It's our favorite event of the year (seriously, right up next to Christmas!), and it was almost canceled this year. The boys start asking about when we're going back as soon as we get home. We've thought about spending a whole summer working at camp when the boys are old enough.

They love waking up and heading outside to the trees and fresh air, spending all day exploring and playing outside. I love that, and the fact that I'm not responsible for meals, and follow them around with my camera, or just sit by the campfire and knit and visit our fellow campers. Every year I come back and wonder how I could make home more like camp...

This year I was inspired to make them field bags for taking with us on our walks along the nature trails around camp. They were very easy, and I finished them up yesterday just in time. (I need a deadline for this kind of thing!)

I used two pairs of capris that don't fit me anymore (ahem, must have been the dryer...) to make four bags. I needed my own, too, of course! I was honestly surprised at just how much they liked the idea when I was done with them. I filled them with notebooks and colored pencils, glue sticks and baggies, just in case.

It's funny, I've been reading a lot of Charlotte Mason and nature study blogs this summer, and making sure we save time for outdoor exploring in the next "school" year. But really, the boys were born naturalists. Eldest may not like to draw, but he keeps a notebook of every creature and plant he's ever seen and heard the name of in his head.

So, the bags are less for inspiration, and more a practical solution to the problem of "Mom, will you hold this pinecone for me?"

As if that were really a "problem"!

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sun, sand and old friends

We spent a lovely three days in Laguna last week, visiting friends who moved away from our hometown a year ago. Isn't it funny how you can pick up right where you left off with good friends even after a long time apart?

They took us to the beach, where the big boys got to try boogie-boarding for the first time. It was a gorgeous day, just warm enough to dry off those getting soaked in the sea.

Eldest and Middlest were so happy to finally be in the water, since our last beach trip was too cold for real water play. Littlest was happy to stay on the beach blanket eating popcorn and avoiding the feeling of sand between his toes. I have to admit, he gets that from me.

When we were finished with the sand, the sun and the crowds of the beach, we headed to Fashion Island.

If you know Southern California, you probably know of Fashion Island. It's your quintessential SoCal open-air luxury mall. We went for the carousel rides, the gorgeous koi pond, and the gelato, rather than the shopping. I just wish I hadn't forgotten my camera in the car!

We also spent a fair amount of time at the pool in their complex, and just enjoying hanging out together again.

Now we're back at home, drowning in laundry once again, and getting ready for one last weekend trip and the back-to-school season at the same time. Scott heads back to work on Monday, and we haven't quite completed our summer to-do list.

I'm avoiding the mess around me by browsing homeschooling blogs, making lists and plans for fall, and trying to catch up on my vitamins, which I, unfortunately, neglected to take with me on the last two trips. Yikes.

I've got several posts in the works, and I'll try to pop in here and finish them, but I can't make any promises. I completely forgot about World Breastfeeding Week. Duh. Anyone need any breastfeeding books?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

Can you see the urchin in the blue shirt, hiding up in the fig tree?

The figs have begun to ripen this week, so our older two boys have spent a lot of time climbing the dusty, spider-filled branches to collect the fruit. Eldest is especially fond of sitting up there, sucking up the gooey red insides until he can't reach any more.

I hope those branches will stay strong enough to hold him for a very long time.

On Saturday, he participated in his first kung fu "form competition." The students demonstrate a memorized series of stances, blocks and strikes used to develop fluency. Each class has its own form, using the moves practiced at that level.

Eldest is in the advanced kids class, but he is the youngest by a year. He practiced his form at home all week to prepare for the competition, and we were very proud of him. Middlest has also started taking kung fu, but the beginning students didn't participate in the competition. He happily cheered on his brother.

The focus at the kung fu studio is "Discipline, Diligence, and Determination." It's been a good combination for Eldest, who at times has reminded me of a cross between the Absent-Minded Professor and Maria vonTrapp, with plenty of Hagrid thrown in the mix!

We were watching "The Sound of Music" tonight, while packing for another trip tomorrow. The boys like the part when the nuns at the abbey sing about Maria.

The song always reminds me of my firstborn. How do you catch a wave upon the sand? But tonight for the first time, he recognized himself in it. I noticed a look on his face. A little bit uncomfortable, a little self-conscious.

"If I were a girl, I'd be named Maria," he said to me, rather seriously. "You'd name me that because of the movie."

He's the child who loves to wander outside by himself, listening to the trees, talking to the bees. He doesn't walk, he bounces. He loses his shoes every day, forgets to finish tasks, and entertains his brothers as often as he irritates them.

"I like Maria," I said. I want him to know that he is not a problem. He is adored, even when he is driving us a little bonkers.

We have watched him mature so much over the last year, and lately I'm just trying to figure out how to keep up with him. He already knows more than I do about most of God's creatures. He remembers everything he's ever heard on Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic.

Last week he said to me, "You know, Mom, there's a difference between unschooling and homeschooling. Can we do a little more homeschooling?"

I think that means he's ready for more input from me, more suggestions, more sitting down together to study something new. Less "letting be."

Well, sweet boy, I will make my best attempt at it.
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