Friday, June 24, 2016

The Last Day of Our Year

Today we celebrated our final day of the school year with our first trip to the beach of summer.  The weather cooperated beautifully (and you never know if it will in Maine).  I sat at the water's edge, keeping watch over Little B and the others, thinking that even splashing around on a lake is part of an education.  And I prayed that I would let this sweet, so-very-short season of summer have it's way.

I wrote a post about a month ago, talking about the many things that have made this school year a truly great one.  I'm glad I wrote that post, because I have found myself in several crises of faith since then, battling the homeschooler's constant enemy- the enemy of "Am I doing enough?"  I reread that post and remember the reason why I do what I do.  It reminds me of the things that are most important to me. And that we had a wonderful school year.

Tonight we fired up the brick pizza oven and ate outdoors. And then we made s'mores in the oven for the first time (perfection, really).  As everyone licked their fingers and wiped melted marshmallow from their lips, I asked them to think about the things they were most proud of this school year, areas where they had grown or matured.  The conversations we had were priceless.  Mister has difficulty seeing his strengths, but with some coaching, he was able to name some.  Josh and I shared our observations as well and you could see him swell with pride.  Brown-Eyed Girl had a list of four things and it made me so happy to know she was proud of herself in these areas.  Because she should be. She has made huge strides this year.  Hearing all the talk about her siblings, Petite kept saying "What about me? What about me?"  And we were happy to hear her thoughts and share our own with her, and to see her smile with pleasure as we praised her. 

Homeschooled kiddos rarely get recognized for their hard work in tangible ways.  Much of what they do is only seen by mom, maybe by dad, and maybe their siblings.  While I have always wanted to have an end-of-the-year ceremony for friends and family, it just hasn't happened yet. Taking this evening to wrap-up our school year, at least as a family, with encouraging words and the first s'mores of summer, was a good thing.  I pray, and I believe, that this will stick with my kiddos.  We are so very proud of them, not just for their hard work, but for the young people they are becoming.  They are precious and priceless to us.

And though they didn't tell me what an a-mazing teacher I am, Brown-Eyed Girl asked me a simple question that made my whole homeschool career worth it.

"You're still going to read to us this summer, right?"

Of course they are thrilled to put away the school books, but they love to have mom read to them.  And that fills my heart with joy.

Yes, oh yes, I will read to you this summer. I have more books to read to you than I will be able to! I promise.

Welcome, you lazy days of summer.  I will try hard to savor you while you're here.

And just because it makes me happy, I want to share all the books I read aloud to the kids this past year (or listened to via audiobook).  These are just the chapter books. There are many more books I read to them, including biographies, tall tales, poetry etc.

Gone Away Lake
Strawberry Girl*
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle's Magic
The Sign of the Beaver*
The Birchbark House
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch*
Justin Morgan Had a Horse
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (for the 3rd time)*
The Hobbit (audiobook)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond*
Calico Captive
Johnny Tremain (audiobook)*
Toliver's Secret
Three Go Searching
Ben and Me
Ramona Quimby, Age 8*
Ellen Tebbits
Stuart Little (audiobook)
The Cabin Faced West
Bound for Oregon*
Henry Huggins (audiobook)*
By the Great Horn Spoon*
Matilda (audiobook)*
Caddie Woodlawn

It is too hard to pick favorites as all of these were wonderful, but I have starred a few that really did stand out.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Still Going Strong (But Still Counting Down Our Days!)

I've been thinking how I usually have a whole plan for next school year by now.  Here it is May and I don't! This makes me happy and I'll tell you why.

Next year isn't going to be better.

That's usually the motivation behind all my New Year's homeschool planning (and purchasing!).  It's this idea that the current year has reached it's peak of enjoyment. We are tired of what we are doing, and next year will be way better because we'll be studying something new, or using a new curriculum.

"Next year will be better!" so many of us are thinking as we slog through the final months of school.

 But in my discontent, my boredom, or more likely my weariness, it is so easy to forget :  each morning I have a new day with my kids. I don't have to muddle through til next school year to have a great school year NOW.

This 2015-16 school year, I returned to my roots, so to speak. Our first five years of home schooling were spent doing unit studies.  The next three years I purchased an all-in-one curriculum with all the subjects planned out for me.  This  year I really wanted to study American history with the kids, in depth and for as long as we wanted to.  I already had so many great books, it didn't make sense to buy another all-in-one package.  I was a little nervous to take back responsibility for planning, but also really excited to do so. (I like being in control! I am an INTJ  homeschool mom!)

So this school year has been one of meandering through American history, utilizing the notebooking method, and lots of wonderful read-alouds to make history come alive. It has really been a great year. Even with a baby in the house.  Yes, I am pressed to get it "all" done every single day, but I am also learning to slow down.  I don't have boxes to check in an Instructor's Guide. I'm spending much more time on the Revolutionary War than I expected.  I'm not cramming information in just for the sake of a syllabus.  We are savoring our studies more.

I'm not anxious for next year. Because this year is good. And I'm glad it's not over. There is so much more I want to do with the kids.  There are sooooo many books I want to read to them.  We won't get everything done that I had planned, but I am glad. Because that means we get to do it again next year (and all summer if we want!). I plan to just keep going with history and keep doing what we've done.  Next year won't be better, because this year is great!

These are a few things that have helped me slow down and enjoy our days more this school year- they are at the heart of what I really love about  homeschooling:

1) Lots of reading aloud.  I've read so many wonderful books to the kids this year, mostly complimenting our study of American history.  The benefits of reading aloud are incredible, but more than that, we all just love it. It is what brings me the greatest joy in our homeschool. I love  running my finger along the shelves in our library and seeing how many of the books we have read.  Lots!   I love when the kids beg for another chapter. I love when they are eager to find out what our next read aloud is.  And we have learned so much history through The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Johnny Tremain, Bound for Oregon, and biographies by the D'Aulaires.

Side note: If you love reading aloud, or want encouragement to read aloud more, please check out Sarah McKenzie's Read Aloud Revival blog and podcast! You will be inspired!

2) Togetherness.  I am occasionally blown away that I have four children.  And I am even more blown away when I see them all interacting together, playing, laughing, teasing, provoking.  I love that we are all home together, every single day. I love that my three school age kids get to watch their little brother grow up.  I love that he gets to watch them and learn how to do practically everything.

Now you know we have crazy days. You know there are days I want to quit.    This isn't a walk in the park. But we're all here together. And it's one of the best things about our year.

Mister is an amazing big brother, and loves to help out with B.

3) Time off.  Instead of trying to cram our required 175 days in as soon as possible, I have allowed for time of.  Josh and I took a trip in November and that was a welcome week off.  Holiday breaks, of course.  We took a family vacation in early March.  We may take more days off before our 175 are complete.  Because having built in breaks has kept us going strong instead of fizzling out.

4) Days out of the house.  As my kiddos have gotten older, their craving for friend time has increased, and I have purposefully built more days into our schedule to get us out with friends.  This is hard for me sometimes, because  I am a homebody and I really hate interruptions in our schedule. But it means so much to the kids, and I love the time with my mom friends as well. Roller skating days, MOPS meetings, and co-op are appointments on our schedule to look forward to.  We all need those!
I need excuses to escape the ever-present laundry pile- because in the grand scheme of life, laundry is pretty small, even if the pile is huge!
 5) Letting go of some crazy ideas, like "We need to finish the whole curriculum before the year ends" or "We need to do every subject every day".  Where do these strange measures of homeschool success come from? I'm daily trying to put them to death and we are all the better for it.

6) Holding to my values, my  ideals.  I wholeheartedly believe homeschool is the best way for my family, even on my worst day.  I have faith that it is making my children, and me, into the people we are intended to be.  More and more it feels like the road less traveled, but I'm also learning to stop trying to run other people's race and put  my energy into running MINE.

7) Education that is a mile deep vs an inch deep.  We are taking as long as we want on a subject.  We are diving in, reading from more than one resource, getting more than blurbs, feasting on one person at a time, one moment in history at a time.  We have had so many wonderful discussions as we have done this.  Recently, as the Constitution came up again, and as I read more of what it states, Mister asked me, "Is there anyway that document can be destroyed?" Oh, what a great talk we had about how the principles, and governing laws, that our nation was founded on have been under scrutiny and constant interpretation. We can't possibly touch on every topic under the sun.  Every education will have gaps. But because I'm not trying to keep up with a preplanned teacher's guide, we have time to chase rabbit trails and go deeper into  our studies.

Now  I confess, I got the latest CBD homeschool catalogue in the mail the other day. And I did flip through it and circle some items in black Sharpie.  But I'm not thinking too long and hard about next year. After all, there are new mercies for me each day -for marriage, mothering, and home education too.  No need to wait til next year to do what we really want to do, or to scrap what isn't working and choose something that does. (Early on in our year I chucked Apologia's Human Body book for their book on flying things- and we've only done the first six chapter on birds- because we love birds! No guilt!

How bout you, homeschool moms.  Have you planned or even  purchased curriculum for next year yet?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Baby B Turns One!

It's been such a sweet year here at the Mathews'.  Baby B join us a year ago, March 6th, a little after nine in the morning. Our fourth child, my first c-section,  our second son.  He has been such a gift from the Lord to our family.  I have known in my head that children are a blessing from the Lord, as the Psalm says, and of course I have felt it too, but Baby B has really planted this belief firmly in my heart, even since before his conception.  Since that promise that I was going to have another son. (Somewhere I have written about that!)

Baby B has changed everything!  With siblings that are 12, 10, and 6 years older than him, he has brought the joys of babies back to the house... but we experience it in a whole new way because now we experience it through our older children as well.  To see their joy as they watch him grow and learn, to see their interactions with him, it is just priceless.  It sounds silly, but sometimes I feel bad for my oldest two because they only  had Josh and I to adore them (They were close in age.   They are best buds but they didn't adore each other!) And Petite got a little bit better deal because she had Josh and I and the oldest two to adore her. But Baby B gets the best deal because he has five people in this house who constantly adore him!  It totally disproves the whole argument that you have to divide up your love and time and resources more and more with the more children you have.  This house just totally overflows with love!

Now, it totally overflows with laundry too. And toys. And garbage that needs to be taken out. And crumbs and dust, too. And noise. Lots of noise. In fact, I would say Baby B proved some other cliches true for me.  I am now the mom with mountains of laundry. My oldest two do their own, even. But I constantly find myself with a pile of laundry that needed to be washed, folded, or put away four days ago.  Maybe longer.  I am always wondering where it all comes from and how on earth four people can create so much of it!  I have been conquered by laundry.

 I've also fallen prey to the "I can't get anything done!" cliche.  I used to manage the house pretty well, educate the kids within reasonable hours, find time to read for my own enjoyment or watch a movie, and read bedtime stories to Petite.  Now, Me Time is something I have to prioritize to 15 minutes or so while Baby B has his afternoon nap.  Despite all that is left undone around the house, I have to force myself to take this break. Because it will all have to be done again tomorrow, anyway, and I need a moment. But this is all new to me.  I never totally understood the whole "I can't get anything done!" complaint from moms. I just thought "Hey, get off Facebook".  Now, I realize it may be more than a Facebook addiction :)  It might be the incredibly busy job of running a home and managing a family (and maybe a job too!).  I had always heard that after three children, you could handle anything.  Hmmm... maybe after four?

It has been a new level of exhaustion.  I have never slept so well (even though Baby B continues to wake up in the night to eat).  I sink into a chair and stare into space.  My brain isn't empty, but it goes blank.  Read a book that takes focus?  Hardly! I get why moms start reading mindless, predictable Harlequins (though I don't recommend it.)  I am on my feet most of the day and I'm usually going strong til about eight o'clock.  But then my Super-Mom cape gets ripped off and I'm ready for everyone to just go to bed.

So all of this sounds like motherhood rocks, right?

It sure does.

These kids are such gifts.  They are priceless.  It is such a joy to watch them grown and learn.  What a blessing to watch Baby B this year as he began to smile, to roll over, to crawl on his belly and then his knees, to take his first steps, to shake his head no, then yes (why is no first???), to clap his hands, to say mama (first!) and dada (second!)  and kitty (third!).  How fun to see him dancing to the music we play, to hear his giggles and outright laughter as we tickle him.  His life is irreplaceable.  We wouldn't be the Mathews without him.

We celebrated Baby B's big first birthday with a small family party.  There were gifts (of which his favorite is the toy cell phone!  He wouldn't put it down and freaked out when it turned off!).  I made a chocolate chip cake which he devoured with gusto.  He was just as adorable as ever.

Of course it is bittersweet to have my baby no longer be a baby, but a toddler.  We are going to try hard to call him Little B now that he isn't really Baby B.  :)  But then, maybe one more year of Baby B :)

The Lord has given me a Scripture verse for each of my children, a verse to pray over their life, a verse that has been so encouraging in times of difficult parenting.  The verse usually comes as I am just reading through my Bible on an ordinary day. Until today (March 7th), I hadn't been given a verse for Baby B.  Every once in a while I'd remind the Lord that he needed to give me one.

Today, as I finished up the book of Deuteronomy, I received my verse for B.

"Of Benjamin he said,
'The beloved of the Lord dwells in safety.
The High God surrounds him all day long,
and dwells between his shoulders."

Deuteronomy 33:12


And Happy Birthday, Baby B!  
Here's to a sweet 2nd year of Life!