Teaching From Rest

Today I began reading a book by homeschool mom Sarah Mackenzie called Teaching From Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace (2015). Already I know why God led me to this particular book. Because He is speaking through it to me! I am going to do a mini-series on this blog about my thoughts as I read this book.

Here is the part of the introduction (pg. xv) where she talks about the story of Mary and Martha:

We can picture Martha in her frustration with her sister, right? ‘Don’t just sit there! Do something!’ And yet the Lord gently admonishes Martha’s busyness. Mary, after all, has chosen the needful thing. The contemplative way. The being and becoming over the doing and the checking off. I can almost hear him inverting the message to me–turning my obsession with productivity on its head: ‘Don’t just do something; sit here.’

I almost cried in relief at reading this. I needed to hear that “the contemplative way” was the needful thing. I needed this assurance that thinking and listening to God is not lazy or less important than working, which is what my husband does all day.

I don’t know how this book is going to teach me about marriage. It sounds as if Mrs. Mackenzie’s marriage is good, and her own husband doesn’t work all day (she slipped off to coffee shops to write this book though she has six children, three under the age of two). But I do know that this book is going to teach me about trusting God. And I need that teaching very much.

Homeschooling Right and Wrong List

This year’s math workbooks are officially recycled (it’s becoming quite a happy tradition in our house), and I have this need to list some things about this homeschool year that I might have done right and things I still need to work on.

Right: I switched from Ambleside Online to Five in a Row for my youngest daughter, and changed her attitude from “I hate school” to “let’s do school!”

I decided to read from Exodus and Luke for Bible class, having the kids tell the passage back to me. No curriculum, no fuss, just the Bible and us.

I did not force my oldest two to continue Spelling-You-See when we finished their workbooks mid-year. I like the curriculum, but they were burned out. So we did some free Bible spelling sheets from Garden of Praise. That went well.

I gave my son a geography workbook. Common core approved (and I’m anti-common core). It’s basically what I would call busy work. He loved it and does it on his own time. He has plans to finish it this summer.

We did plenty of art projects, some inspired by our own ideas and some following the directions of our lovely art instruction video series, Home Art Studio.

I persevered with out-loud readings (at least three a week). My middle daughter has improved her reading big-time since the beginning of the year. My youngest has also improved and is at a more advanced stage than her sister was last year at this time.

We read tons of books this year, and we enjoyed them. I read the entire Little House series out loud for the second time (upon request) and now we are in the middle of the Anne of Green Gables series. I read Robin Hood for the second time. I read Where the Red Fern Grows. And more. Lots more. We love stories.

Wow, this is really encouraging. But now I’m going to start the Wrong list, not to discourage, but to clarify what I need to do better next year.

Wrong: I frequently got too frustrated with my middle daughter’s inability to subtract. It’s not that she can’t subtract; she simply gets overwhelmed by all those numbers on the page. Patience, patience. If I stand next to her and guide her through the problems, she can handle it.

I’d like to have a more exact start time for school. Flexibility is a beauty of homeschooling, but my mornings seemed so up-in-the-air, and the children flung themselves into playing so I wouldn’t make them start school yet.

I need to combine history (so all three kids study the same thing) and forget about English history for a few years (or forever). Why on earth did I ever think Island Story was a good idea? I never learned that stuff and I was perfectly fine. In fact, I am still unlearned, and I have a hard time discussing it with my son because I don’t know what I’m talking about. Seems like a waste, although my son liked it better than I did.

I trusted Ambleside Online too much, and I got discouraged by the AO leaders who insisted things must be done such-and-such a way. We crammed in too many readings and I tried too hard to force them to narrate every reading. As a result, we didn’t enjoy some things and learned to hate narration. I think I won’t even say the word narration anymore. The N word.

Science. Well, I don’t know if this is wrong or not, but I was pretty lackadaisical toward science. We did it when the Spirit moved me. I should probably be more conscientious about that.

Nature study. We didn’t even try to keep a journal this year, and my youngest daughter missed that. I should be more conscientious about this, too.

That’s all for now. If you have read to the bottom of this post, then I hope it was helpful or interesting. Mostly, it was helpful and interesting for me. Sometimes I have to write stuff out to understand what I’m thinking.

Praise for Five in a Row

This is the time of year to evaluate our little homeschools. The best thing I’ve done this year: use Five in a Row for my six-year-old daughter. I decided to use Volume 2 since Volume 1 included many picture books we were already familiar with, and Volume 2 only included three or four that we were familiar with. For twenty weeks my daughter and I have delved deep into twenty lovely picture books. I liked them all, she liked them all, and we are both happy to say that we are doing it again next fall! With Volume 3, probably.

Did we learn anything? Sure! Five in a Row acquaints us with history, geography, relationship issues, science topics, art (lots of different things about art, such as cross-hatching and perspective), even math. Plus, we learn a bit about authors and illustrators, how books are made, ideas behind stories, truth and fantasy, research, and writing techniques. That sounds like a lot for a six-year-old, but because it is all done through the medium of a picture book, and because I got to pick and choose the subjects that we discuss each day, and because I get to make it as laid-back and cozy as we like it, then the learning comes naturally. We have loved the little Friday habit we have of standing on a kitchen chair and sticking the story-disk of the week on our world map. Interesting how the stories stack up on the US east coast and the European west coast. I plan on doing a little ceremony next week of taking the story-disks off the map and pasting them on a chart I made of the books (I copied and pasted the book cover images off Amazon).

Is this a costly curriculum? Not at all! I bought the teacher’s manual used. As for the picture books, I already owned three of them, and the rest we checked out of the library. If it wasn’t in the library’s system, I requested an Interlibrary Loan, which the librarians were happy to assist me with. In one case, the librarian even bought the book for the library so I could check it out! She says I have good taste in children’s literature.

I’ve enjoyed having a special curriculum for my youngest daughter, and my other daughter has enjoyed listening to it as well:) Sometimes my nine-year-old son would listen, and definitely he read the library books by himself, but his learning type is very different from my girls, so it goes to show that different people need different curriculum approaches. I am so glad I decided to try out Five in a Row.

School All Day Long

Sometimes I think I don’t do enough school in my homeschool. Those are the days when we’ve done all the subjects we need to do in two hours or so. I shouldn’t worry, though. It all evens out. There come days when we do schoolwork all day long. Today, for instance, we began with our normal schedule of schoolwork. I planned on staying home all day, so I decided to work on a fun project we had prepped for a couple weeks ago. This project involved cutting apart paper bags and taping them into large sheets of paper, then tracing my kids on the paper, then cutting out the outlines. Then came the fun/educational part for the kids. They cut out the various words and phrases and sentences they dictated to me a couple weeks ago (things about themselves) and glued them all over their paper bag bodies. Then we hung them up on the walls. Then we read some more of Little Town on the Prairie (We love Almanzo! We love to hate Nellie Oleson!). At some point I had to make supper and feed the calves and cats. We looked at the clouds outside (cirrus, we think) for our new science unit study about clouds. Afterward we came back to the book and the body art. They read the words and acted out the different things (silly! wild! wiggly! sensitive… how do I act sensitive? My son says, “Easy, I’ll punch you and you’ll be sensitive to it.”) We did normal getting-ready-for-bed things. They were still interacting with their fun school project. But then they got too wild and silly and wiggly and I had to put them to bed. But hey! It was a good day.

My thoughts after this evening’s book study meeting…

Another evening with five ladies and Miss Mason’s philosophies on education. We discussed curriculum, and the wideness of the range of ideas brought to the children. We discussed science and math and how to keep the children from getting bogged down by technicalities. We discussed hanging works of art in our bathrooms. We discussed loving music and hating it, loving history and hating it. I think we are all agreed that we homeschool partly because we like how much we’re learning. It’s like we’re making up for those awful history textbooks, those hours of sitting in desks doing nothing, those teachers who did not inspire us the way good books do now.

I don’t think we’re really doing this for ourselves. We all have strong convictions about home education being good for our children. But I do know that my selfishness could extend in two branches, one desiring a quiet chunk of time during school hours for my personal writing and housework, the other desiring to teach things that I really enjoy. Either way, I’m certain my children would survive. Homeschooling isn’t really about survival, at least not in my case. It’s about making a choice to lead my children down a certain path which I believe is better than the other paths available.

It is God’s grace that the good path to lead them down is one I also enjoy to walk.

Beginning Five In A Row

After fifteen weeks of school, my first-grader went from “I love school” to “School is boring. I’m bad at it.” So I decided Ambleside Online is not really working for her. It wasn’t too hard to decide what to do instead. When all my kids were preschool I used a booklist from the curriculum called Five In A Row. That excellent booklist had been on my mind. I did a little research on Five In A Row, discovered it was a literature-based unit study approach to homeschool, read a very positive review by Diana Waring (who writes homeschool articles I read almost every week), and ordered a fairly inexpensive copy of the Volume 2 teacher manual. It is very flexible. You can choose the order you do things.

I chose to read a book we already owned first. It is Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully. I was a little apprehensive about the repeated readings (read the same book five days in a row) because that is very much NOT something Charlotte Mason would approve of. This style of schooling does feel very different from Ambleside Online. Whereas AO gives a feast of many great things, FIAR feels more like a cozy, intimate family meal. Conversational. Familiar.

It’s too soon to tell is FIAR is going to improve my daughter’s attitude toward learning, but I’m enjoying it even though it’s a little more daily work on my part. After all, this had been my third year of AO Year 1, and I was struggling to keep up the enthusiasm, too. I’m still using AO for my third and second-grader, who respond well to it. I think my second-grader does well to be right in the middle and nosy about everyone else’s business. She benefits from that wide range of learning. I hope we all benefit from adding a new curriculum into the school day.

Space and Time

Homeschooling has its ups and downs. Some weeks I feel behind. This week I felt like we had time to do everything. We even got to the art project I’ve been telling my kids “we might get to that later today” for the last three weeks. We finished reading Peter Pan this week, which the kids have been begging me to reread for exactly a year. I finally gave in. Now we’re reading Ben and Me by Robert Lawson, which is another reread, but I love it (way more than Peter Pan). We are nearing the end of our first Ambleside Online term, which means we are nearing the end of two books (Understood Betsy and The Princess and the Goblin). It also means we are finishing up our artist study of the term, which is Mary Cassatt. I am so happy to share her artwork with the kids. I think they like it as much as I do!

This is one of those posts I write mostly for myself. I tell myself, space and time opens up. Just when I’m feeling cramped and pressed and squeezed and processed, life opens up like a big Georgia O’Keefe flower painting. God gives me time to finish off loose ends. He leads me through paths of fresh air, down lanes with big climbing trees, through lawns covered with crisp leaves. He gives me opportunities to really, truly help a person. He leads my thoughts away from bad things. He gives me words to read and write. He empties my fridge of boring leftovers so I can cook interesting things.

Strangely, He encourages me through my own discouragement. I sometimes read or hear about other homeschools, and instantly I know my weaknesses. I’m not a certified teacher, and I know very few technical tricks about how to get different areas of my children’s brains working. I dislike talking my children through social aspects of their training (shaking hands, looking people in the eye); I’m not sure why, but I always feel foolish talking to them about things like that. I feel like some rambling hypocrite. Too much talkie-talkie, as Charlotte Mason might say. So I get discouraged because I think I’m failing concerning these things. But God helps me fight this discouragement. I am good at other things. I persevere. If I’m quiet, well, I’m living by example, then. If I’m inexact in my teaching, well, we don’t stop. We keep moving forward. We enjoy a literary rhythm that perhaps certified teachers might envy. I am their mother, and I am probably the best person for them to be around all day because I care the most.

So I write to myself, even when bad things happen, life keeps moving forward, opening up in new ways. Keep going. Keep going outside. Don’t worry about sleeping too much or too little. Keep eating. Drink Mt. Dew, but drink it moderately. Make yourself some tea, too. Read new books and old books. Go to Bible study. Pray in the shower.