Odds and Ends: March Edition

Spring is in the air even if this week will be colder than last week. We've been keeping a family Calendar of Firsts since 2018 and even though we forget to put a million things we see into it, it keeps us on our toes to notice all the firsts of the year.

This year, we've noted our first skunk cabbage, robins, grackles, geese flying north, daffodil shoots, tulips emerging, rhubarb tips, crocuses, red-spotted newt, tadpole, spring peepers, and wood frogs. 

Homeschool Day with Ages 10, 9, 6, 2, and a Baby

Welcome to my annual recording of a somewhat average day in our homeschool! I love getting a peek into the many ways different families make homeschooling work for them. So I will be linking up and reading every single entry on Simple Homeschool's Day in the Life link up and I'm also linking up with Rosie

Things are hard this winter (every winter?!?!?). I feel like I emerged from postpartum recovery and baby blues to a busy Christmas followed by pandemic fatigue. And as much as I try to shield them from worries and cares, my kids are more stressed out too. And with so much indoor time and monotony, there has been more sibling conflict and acting out in other ways too.

So in the last month or so, we have really been doubling down on connection and good habits for everyone in the family. All this is just to say that as today unfolded I could see that it went well because of the work we have been putting in. Some other days this week and month did not go nearly as well! So if your days happen to be very difficult right now, I can relate and I hope you can get some relief soon. It isn't always easy to see a path to easier, harmonious days, but I believe it is usually possible to find some way to move forward. 

As for us, my husband and I are refocused on positive parenting and working through Dr. Laura Markham's Peaceful parenting course (not an affiliate link ;-)). It is helping all of us deal with big feelings during a difficult year.

This day finds us 4 days into our third 12-week term, just after a full week off which was preceded by an exam week, so we are getting back into the swing of things. 

Teaching Kids To Write Thank You Notes

After starting a family, I knew that I wanted our kids to be involved in both gift-giving as well as thank you note writing. I didn't want them to be just passive receivers of gifts and wanted them to enjoy bringing joy to the people who loved them enough to give them a gift. In terms of gift-giving, this means that we spend time using our handicraft skills to plan and make gifts for grandparents and sometimes siblings. 

But I also help my kids write and send thank you notes for each gift they receive for Christmas and their birthday. Here is how I slowly build my kids toward an independent habit of thank you note writing without making it too hard even for my very writing resistant boys!

Our 10 Favorite Read Alouds 2020

2020 was a great year for reading. I read more books than ever. I have more kids who are reading to themselves more books now than ever. I have three "official" homeschool students this year so there were more books read this year as part of lessons. But sometimes I like to look back at the books we enjoyed together as read alouds. And I'm linking up with Rosie for her Just Because blog linkup.

Some of our favorites were read bit by bit at our morning time at breakfast and others were read chapter by chapter at lunchtime. I find that as the kids are getting older, we read less together :-( It is hard to balance togetherness with independence. But by reading at breakfast and lunch, and with bedtime reading done by Daddy, we are still completing a few dozen books per year. 

Reading Goals 2021: Back to the Classics Challenge and Schole Sisters 5x5 Challenge Plans

In December 2019 I made my first true reading goals list (here's how I did with it!). I loved having a reading plan because it got me reading outside my comfort zone. Although most of my choices were ones I would have read anyway, by including "easy" nature lore and a handful of classics, I discovered more favorite authors, made my homeschool prereading feel more purposeful and continued to inspire myself to push towards more time in nature for myself and my family.

This year, I hope to focus on classics a bit more and find motivation and focus through the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021 hosted by Books and Chocolate and I plan to choose other categories to help me read outside of my comfort zone through the Schole Sisters 5x5 challenge which I also completed last year.

Reading Goals 2020 Recap

Last year I decided to set reading goals for 2020 not knowing how well I would enjoy having such a comprehensive reading plan. In the past, I would list a few books that I hoped to read and then fill in the rest of my time with prereads for homeschooling plus whatever piqued my interest.

I chose books for two challenges: Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge and the Schole Sisters 5x5 challenge, but I double counted, so the same book sometimes appears on both lists.  I kept it realistic by including many juvenile titles on my list that I preread or preview for homeschooling and by choosing very few "challenging" titles. 

And my goals were . . . a huge success! I read more this year than any other year in recent memory thanks to pregnancy, newborn time, a blank calendar, and finally learning how to love reading ebooks (thanks to library closures . . .) And while I absolutely did not read all the titles I had initially chosen for each category, I did manage (through a final hard December push where I finished 5 books) to complete a title in every category that I set out to read.

The best part of any challenge like this is not "winning" at it, but rather discovering new genres and new authors that I will keep coming back to over and over!


Staying Active in our Homeschool During a Challenging Season

I've been thinking and scheming about how to keep my kids active all winter (and all year) for almost a decade. As our homeschool schedule and needs change and my kids grow up, I continue to think and plan how to keep all of us active during the winter months when after-dinner hours are pitch black outside, sometimes bad road conditions keep us homebound, and single-digit temps keep me inside with small babies.

It is a constant work in progress. Here is how we are planning, scheduling, and playing this year . . . at a time when we opt not to visit indoor places with lots of people!

How I Changed our Plans After Baby

Every year I try to plan a reasonable schedule. I try to take into account my energy, my children's individual abilities for working independently, and how toddlers and babies are going to affect the rhythm of our days. So far, I've been able to make reasonable plans for 1 student, 2 students, 2 students and a baby and a preschooler, and 2 students plus a kindergartner and a toddler. 

But this year, with 3 students a 2-year-old toddler and a new baby, my carefully laid plans did not work!

Oh well. After 3 intense days, I saw the writing on the wall and our 2-week old baby took an awesome evening nap which gave me just enough time to hammer out a new schedule. After a few more tweaks, I found a way to get most (but not all) of the things accomplished each day and week. Here's how (even though, full disclosure that we aren't actually getting to the art or handicrafts as scheduled! We'll get there eventually.):

Why didn't my first schedule work?

It all comes down to my own lack of imagination. I just completely failed to appreciate just how much my third grader and first grader would need my attention to do their best work. And I didn't realize how hard it would be to try to split my attention between 2 kids and juggle the interruptions of an independently working fifth-grader plus 2-year-old Harry and baby George. 

So now my day takes MUCH longer to accomplish because I am splitting my time into different blocks spent with each child individually. But I'm able to enjoy the time spent with each child instead of falling apart from constant interruptions or realizing that a child has been daydreaming instead of working for the last 10 minutes ;-) And I can see that everyone is thriving instead of floundering. Oh, and I'm a lot more patient and resilient instead of irritable and cross.

Some other takeaways from our first 5 weeks of homeschooling

Peter was totally ready to manage his own checklist and work independently. Most mornings he gets up before I do and starts working so he can be the first one done. At first, I expected him to grab my attention for spelling, which was frustrating for both of us. But now I have scheduled it into my day so that we both have a set time to do it that works for us. He narrates to me using the voxer note to self feature and that is also working great.

It is hard having a new student who needs to get used to the schedule, the subjects, and the expectations. Sylvia just turned 6 so she is a very young 1st-grader and she is a very different student from Peter who started first grade reading fluently and doing lots of math but not writing very much and John who really struggled with reading but felt very comfortable with math and tolerated handwriting.  Sylvia does not know how to add yet, but she is picking up reading quickly and she writes fairly well. 

Speaking of reading, John has been making great progress. He is finally able to pick up books and read them!  Explode the Code online as well as these Primary Phonics readers have been big helpers recently. To solidify everyone's reading ability we've been having a read aloud challenge where the kids are reading aloud to someone 10 minutes a day. 

Half the battle in our homeschool is teaching everyone how to deal with frustration and what types of complaints and behaviors are not acceptable. I'm pretty tolerant of emotions . . . but that doesn't mean I can handle dramatic outbursts on a daily basis. This is easier for some than others. It took a few weeks, but everyone is doing better at completing schoolwork without hostility. If only sibling conflict would disappear during school time. That would be nice ;-)

And finally . . . I am so glad I planned to start homeschooling this year with a break week after 5 weeks of homeschooling. Right now is our break week and besides finding time for a dentist appointment and a couple of park visits, I've been using the time to take care of myself, take care of the house, and do some food preservation and bread baking. I'll make a big grocery run this weekend and hopefully be well-rested and patient when we begin our next 5 weeks of homeschooling.

I hope your homeschool year is off to a great start!

Quick baby update

Our baby is here! George Henry was born at home on Thursday evening weighing in at 9lbs 14oz!!!!

Big brothers Peter and John were there to enjoy the special moment with us. All of his siblings are totally crazy about him . . . especially 2-year-old Harry who loves to hold him and check on him all the time.

I'm mostly hanging out in my room bonding with George, resting, and eating. From past experience, I know that all this quiet time with George will make me more able to return to full-time duties, including the start of our regular homeschool lessons, with more patience and energy. We are so thankful that Matt is able to focus on keeping things going at home and taking care of me . . . made possible with lots of help from family, friends, and our postpartum doula. 

I still have my last homeschool planning post to publish about Peter's homeschool year but it was already written beforehand. I wouldn't want anyone to think I was working so hard on a blog post after just having a baby ;-)

3rd Grade Charlotte Mason Homeschool Plans, 2020-2021

This is my second time around planning a full year of Charlotte Mason style plans for a third-grader and I know these plans are MUCH more realistic than the first time around. Below are the books and resources I am planning to use for 8-year-old John this year.