Art Matters

Sharing wonderful pieces of Art is a critical element in Charlotte Mason Homeschooling but even if you aren't hs'ing it's a wonderful enrichment for your family. This book is less than $10.00! You can't beat it, I dare you.

Each week I would look up one piece of art online, then print it out as large as possible. It would be displayed on a board for the week. The kids would color this piece during the week, and we'd learn and discuss the artist, the period, the influences. 

All these years later my very rough and tumble, Certified Diesel Mechanic son at 24, recognizes great works of art. <ah, sigh of joy>

One thing my boys have always enjoyed was coloring these pieces laying on the floor under the dining room table with the piece taped to the underside. Very Michaelango!

Art was always important in our homeschool, which was generally a humanities/liberal arts based approach initially. I will share another curriculum I adore tomorrow for exploring different media in artistic expression.

Kids love craft and all manner of things with popsickle sticks and paper plates. But a good education must involve fine art, just exposure, just enjoy it, color it, just have it around the house, love it, hate it. But expose yourself to it. The fine and beautiful things in this world are abundant, we should immerse ourselves in them

Does this look like a classroom?


John Paul II Academy
(Just a corner in our home? Or is it?)

Over these many years homeschooling we have lived in 15 houses. 
One word will have to suffice for this explanation... military.

I have had entire rooms to create a classroom. I've had a classroom in the basement, a dining room classroom, a spare bedroom classroom. I've also had zero extra space and no room to create a separate classroom. The full on classrooms were fun, more fun for me than even the kids at times. I loved creating the space. Do not discount your preferences in how your space looks. You have to be there too! So long as it is not in direct opposition to what works for your child. 

This is my son's desk, located in his room. So much learning happens in this space! He is an inventor (note the toolbox) He is an artist. He spends 9/10 of his day making stop animation movies, building inventions, writing comics, creating art, and working in robotics. He has a Lego EV3 robot and it was the best investment! He's 13. This is how I imagine Steve Jobs or Bill Gates worked at this age. 

Yes, his desk is painted in a Minecraft design. Perks of having a mom who does this work! I have never once had to tell this child to go create something or build something. More often than not, I have to tell him to STOP and come eat dinner. Or shower, which you may not realize is the bane of a 13 year old boys' existence.

One entire wall of his room is chalkboard paint. Probably, next to his Minecraft desk, one of his favorite elements of his room. It's his design wall. You can see a design he working on right now. You might well note that on the wall he has spelled 'gear' wrong, he has 'gere' - spelling is rather low on his list of priorities when he is working. It's not his strength, so you will notice the spelling power book on his bookshelf pictured below :/ Interestingly, his father is a field engineer, brilliant, talented... I am his personal spellchecker :) Our boy is a chip off the ol' block.

Now, THIS is my favorite classroom. 
I designed this outdoor space so that we could work one on one. 
Would you like this as your office?

A significant portion of our reading, documentary watching, talking and interacting happens here. Usually with our dog, who is quite the conversationalist. In the winter, there is a fire in the fireplace and the space is warm and cozy and amazing. In the summer, it's cool, and relaxing.

Welcome to my workshop, it's actually spacious and organized but stuff is sort of piled in, because finished pieces need to go to our warehouse for the big show in September. William loves to work out here with me. We spend a lot of time together in here working. It's temperature controlled, it has cable, and a dvd, a fridge. It's fairly awesome, and in the process of being painted and made even more awesome.

Our Culinary Classroom - lol. All people must know how to cook, I refuse to burden my future daughters-in-law with men who cannot help out in the kitchen. So we spend some time in here together. My daughter uses this kitchen for her bakery business and it is another classroom in our home. 

And, in the interest of full disclosure. This is how my homeschool son spent his morning. Playing an old Nintendo with Anthony. I call this "old school". Spending time with people you love is an integral piece of our puzzle. You might think this is goofing off. But he and Anthony are discussing all kinds of things as they sit here. He's building a relationship as men do, faced forward, focused on something outside themselves. One lesson learned here - the elders get the comfy chair!

You have just been given a partial tour of John Paul II Academy. For the rest of the tour, you'll need to come experience the bike trails of Madison County with us. You'll have to go on the road to all the National Monuments, Museums and Historical Landmarks. You will have to tour the city with us, and cheer our Cardinals on in Busch Stadium. You'll have to worship with us at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis each week. The experience is a beautiful adventure. One I wouldn't miss for anything in the whole world.

Homeschooling: Are you Doing it Wrong? 6 Things to Consider

Homeschooling should not be agony. It should not be tears, exhaustion, fighting or yelling. If it is, may I suggest...

You Are Doing It Wrong

Now, I don't mean to say that there is only one correct way to homeschool. Exactly the opposite. There are so many ways to do this that there is a perfect fit your family, and perhaps you have not found it yet. If you dove in and bought curriculum and school supplies and cleared the dining room table and then after 2 hours or two weeks your kids are in full rebellion - you have not found the correct fit. 

Nothing, nothing at all is more important than finding the right fit for your kids.

Here are 6 important things to consider in determining if the method is the wrong fit for your family: 

6. Are you mom, really ready to do this job? 

You are capable and equipped. You are qualified. But, do you know how this is going to look, and feel? Allow that you will have much to learn. I promise it will be a good experience for you too along the way. I have changed, grown and learned more on this journey than I ever imagined, and I still do 16 years in. Homeschooling is not going to happen without your involvement. You will be daily engaged, all day, for a good while until they are older and more experienced homeschoolers. 

Homeschooling is you giving them all you have, all day. If this seems too overwhelming, keep reading!

5. Are you schooling at home?

Schooling at home is trying to recreate a classroom in your house. A schedule of work done with children at the desk or table. All subjects done daily according to a planner. If you are, you might consider this- unless you have quiet children, mostly girls who love to sit and draw, color and do workbook work... You are going to have a battle on your hands and children who are largely uninspired. Learning is not built in my humble opinion for sitting at desks and tables all day, or most the day. Actually it should be very little. If you are trying to create the classroom of the 1950's stop. You are educating children for a technology driven world. Hang it up. Children who memorize easily can do very well in this method and if you have those, and it works run with it. But you will find they are capable of infinitely more when you break that mold. What we think of as a school day was meticulously designed for training factory workers. There are no jobs for this now. Don't use this method. 

4. Have you adjusted your ideas about your home to be compatible with homeschooling? 

Your world is not going to look ANYTHING like your friends who send their kids to school. Not ever. It's not going to resemble your life before homeschooling. A lot of moms try to fold homeschooling into the life. Homeschool is a way of life. Fight it or accept it. Spend less time researching curriculum and more time learning about this philosophy. Everything about how your home runs shifts because you are homeschooling. Not one taking over the other, but a meshing to where you cannot tell where home and school meet and end.

3. Have you taken the time to assess your teaching style? 

This requires a great deal of objectivity and some time, even a year or two. Often I find moms think they are one way and they aren't at all. If your teaching style is to tell your kids what pages to do, and then go off to do housework. That is not a teaching style at all :( sorry! Teaching at home, requires your energy, your enthusiasm, and your creativity.

2. Have you selected one curriculum for all your children? 

How is this different than public school? One size does not fit all. Sure, if it does, yay for you. But I hate to break it to you mom, it's probably not going to work. Fighting this battle, is you trying to fit your square peg in a round hole. Now ask yourself why your days are so stressed and if it's really the kids "fault" or if it is a natural outgrowth of a poor curriculum choice?

1. Have you taken the time to assess your child's learning style? 

If not, well that's precisely what happens in public school. No one cares how their brains are wired. Every child is wired to learn. Your job is to figure out their brain and help them learn how to learn their very best with it. Don't guess. Are they Auditory, Kinetic, Sensory? Do your due diligence in this area. Learning about neuroscience may not be as much fun as shopping online and chatting with your friends about what books to buy, but it is the single most important thing you can do for your child. I am convinced. Know your child.

When you find the right fit for you and your children, and you create an atmosphere of learning in your home you will build children who are built for learning. It becomes easier and easier as you go. You will find more time for your housework, and yourself because you are creating an environment where they have discovered how to think. You will find this time because you built independent learners. It takes time though, be patient.

If learning happens when you are sitting at the table with a book open and mom is either lording over you or off somewhere folding laundry, they become dependent on the method, the book, the look, the feel, and on you. If they learn to dive in, to read in comfy chairs, to go find answers on the computer to build, paint, create and do work as long as they want on things they are passionate about - then you will serve as the inspiration, the director. This is the sweet spot my sisters. It's like walking in high cotton.

One method to explore is the Charlotte Mason Approach. You don't have to marry yourself to any one method. Explore it and find your way. 

Consider, if this isn't a joyful, abundant, experience, you might be doing it wrong.

I love this quiz from Cathy Duffy for new homeschoolers or for homeschoolers who are tired of fighting and are ready to embrace some new ideas about how to do this effectively.

#homeschool #homeschooling #CharlotteMason #CathyDuffy #learning #education

Essential Home School Mom Mantra

I blogged about seeking a rhythm as opposed to a schedule. Over these years I've had as many schedules as I have had favorite coffee cups over the years. Here is the skinny from my perspective on schedules.

Schedules are good for only one reason in my opinion. They give us North. When we lose our way, they point us in the right direction and allow to reset our course.

Aside from that I've seen them mostly serve to make mothers feel like failures.

When you spend so much time planning and preparing a schedule. You color code it, laminate it and post it on the wall and it's great for a few days (maybe). Then the following week you have to 2 sick kids, a missing cat, and an unexpected house guest. The schedule hangs there, taunting you. Proof! Proof I say! you can't homeschool. You don't know what you're doing. This was a terrible idea. They haven't learned a thing all week. Someone is going to report you and they aren't going to get into a good college. they will probably live in your basement their whole life.

To top it off when their grandma calls to see how the sick ones are, she asks how school is going today and they say they are watching Frozen for the 7th time this week and haven't done school in a long time.

And there is it. FAIL.

Schedules are for trains and planes. Not people. 

Never stop a child who is reading and tell them to get to school work. How does it make any sense, any sense at all to take a kid who is zooming through a workbook and stop them so they can get all their other lessons finished for the day? Don't do it.

When they are on a roll, let it roll. 

Keep book work to a bare bones minimum. I do mean a minimum. Some writing each day, some math, but the rest of their day should be them engaged and exploring. 

This requires that de-schooling. In your mind I bet you see teachers handing our papers and kids sitting quietly doing them. Nope. Homeschooling is you in the trenches with them, sleeves rolled up talking, playing, building and doing it with them.

You can't put that on a schedule. I dare you. Try it, and let me know how that's workin' for ya ;)

If you have a baby - hello. Game. Set. Match.

So, instead of a bossy schedule. Create a peaceful rhythm in your home. Set it to music. Classical is quiet study and book work. Praise music in the morning. Disney for playtime, whatever floats your boat.

Have targets. 
Dressed and fed by 9 am
Morning Chores 
Lunch between 11-1
Dinner prep around 4
Bed 8 or 9

Huge swaths of time are there for you to learn with them and get the bookwork in. The sooner they learn to be self paced, the better you will all be.

Now, lest you doubt me. As my kids prepared and went off to college I spoke and worked with many admissions counselors, and advisors. They all told me their favorite trait about home schooled students was their ability to be self led. Unlike most incoming freshmen who have been spoon fed, hand held and accountable to everyone to keep them on track hs'ers especially by high school are just swimming along. This puts them heads and shoulders above their peers.

When they get to high school, you will have more of a schedule for them. A schedule you create together, again more with targets than down to the minute plans. That is a very different time, and has very different needs. Breathe, relax. Prepare to be adaptable.

Master this essential homeschool mom mantra...


Elaborating on De-schooling

It isn't until you withdrawal completely from traditional schooling that you will begin to understand the depths to which you have been indoctrinated. Now, now, I don't mean indoctrinated in the worst possible sense of the word so don't get twitchy.

What I mean is, in it's most most basic definition - what you know, what you think, what you believe about education, the way you have seen it, experienced it, and been taught is the ONLY means that exists.

Not so. Thus, de-schooling is required if you are to open your mind up, question the status quo, question norms, and chart a course that is as individual as you and your children, for your homeschool to be successful.

For every homeschooler I have known over the years, the ones who struggle the most are the ones who can't get this idea of schooling out of their head. So, if you are about to begin, and you would like to spare yourself years of frustration, agonizing, feeling like a failure, and tons of tearful days, consider what I'm saying. If you find it useful great, if not, move on, won't hurt my feelings.

Stop thinking that learning happens in school. It really doesn't. Not at all. Squeezed in to a busy and a busywork kind of day at school your kiddo is going to be presented with information. Information which YOU will sit with them to review, study, and practice for hours at home. I've got some news for you. You are already homeschooling.

School is a building. That's it. The learning, your child does on their own, mostly with your help, sometimes with the help of the teacher. Children learn all by themselves. If you think you are going to be the teacher, you might find yourself disappointed. Their brains do the work. Your only work is to inspire, direct, provide opportunities, assist and discipline. You will help them find mastery, you will help them discover. But the learning, is all their credit.

No human being wants to be dumb. No human being is born without curiosity about their world. Children want to learn. Think about it. Don't your young children bombard you with questions? Don't they crave to know everything about everything? When they are young they want to help you do the chores, they long to push past their limitations and do more.

People wonder why that seems to change. It's my firm belief and experience that it is this idea of school. School takes what is wonderful and vibrant and makes it dry and boring. It takes what is fun and makes it work. It takes the simple elements of living life and caring for oneself and turns it into drudgery from which you need a recess, a winter break, a summer break, a spring break. no!!

Those are some thoughts to get you questioning this school thing. How about this?

When you think about homeschooling are your first thoughts? When will we school? How long will we school? Where in the house will we school? Will we have desks? A classroom? Will I sit up front? What time will we start? What will the schedule look like? What curriculum will I use? How will I figure grades? What about graduation? Transcripts? College!!!?? (and your kid is 6, I know been there done that :)

When you are fully de-schooled you will not really think about most of these things. What?! It's true.

You will realize that learning happens everyday, all day, all year. You will embrace that idea and then the most spectacular things begin to occur. You will find a million curious things about your world too. You and your kids will start diving into things, stumbling over them, digging into them. You'll start seeing your whole life as a classroom.

Now lest this whole thing make you a Nervous Nelly, I'm not even talking about un-schooling. I'm not, I promise. I will say this about un-schooling. I have seen it go beautifully, okay, and not too well - depends on the people.

Instead of those School questions, ask these of your child:

What are your favorite things?
What do you wonder about?
What is confusing?
What is cool?
What is scary?
What would you do if you could do anything in the whole world?

Ask your spouse these questions:

If we had to choose, would we want a saint or a scholar?
Do we want them to do what God calls them to do?
Do we want them to find their gifts?
Do we care what people think?
Do we parent, with how others will view us, in mind?
What do we want them to have the chance to love? Music, Art, Mechanics, Sports, etc.
What are their natural inclinations, we can already identify?
Are we still learning and growing?
Are we modeling love of learning?
Are we modeling that our work is drudgery?
What atmosphere do we want in our home?
What are the priorities based on how we spend our time, money and energy?

Gosh there is SOOOO much more, but this is a start. This is much less fun than buying colorful posters for the wall and playing school in the dining room. I know. But it's the real heart of homeschooling.

If you have any other questions please just shoot them to me. I'm happy to offer whatever I am able.


#homeschooling #deschooling

A Living Book

I've been a Charlotte Mason Homeschooler for about a decade and half. If you aren't a homeschooler, or if you aren't a Charlotte Mason Homeschooler, you may not even understand the term Living Book.

My husband asked me a few moments ago what I was blogging about tonight.

"Living Books." I replied.

"What's a Living Book?" he asked.

So there ya go. We've been a Charlotte Mason Homeschool family for 15 of our 16 years and he doesn't know either. Don't sweat it.

Funny though, I decided to google it before I continued to blog about it, just to be sure my understanding hadn't veered from the original or official definition. It hadn't :)

Ever read a textbook? An Encyclopedia? (Well kids, before there was the internet and Google there were these things we called reference libraries, and resource books like Encyclopedias were in them...)

They are written dry, boring, information based, spewing out facts, states, in chronology. Lots of information not really tied together.

A Living Book is not a novel or a work of fiction even, but rather a book in which the author writes in a narrative style about a subject for which they have great love and passion. Their interest and enthusiasm for the subject is evident. My favorite kind of books are Living History books. America: The Last Best Hope Volumes I, II, and III are some of my favorite books of all time.

I just began reading 1776 by David McCullough with William this past week. I've read it in our school before, and now I have one last child to share it with. <sigh>

Living Books teach a thousand times more than any textbook. They impart multiple subjects at once, they grab the reader and inspire an interest and often a love for a subject they never saw in that way before. Whether you homeschool or not, every person should seek Living Books - if you don't think you enjoy history, you might change your mind.

1776 gives opportunities for learning vocabulary, sentence structure, literary devices, critical thinking, cause and effect, geography, of course history and it opens up dozens and dozens of rabbit trails. Here are a few we have stumbled upon in the first few days.

  • How did Kings originally "get" their Kingdoms? 
  • Who were the first royals?
  • Who built the castles?
  • Where did Kings get their money?
  • What kinds of ships did they sail, were they like the Viking ships we just studied?
  • What kinds of guns did they use?
  • What was happening here where we live? Was it discovered yet?
  • How far is it across the sea to England?
  • How big is England compared to the US? Now? Then?

Some of the vocabulary words were formidable, grenadiers, Hanoverian Creams, and gilded.

What is so wonderful about this method of education is that I didn't go through and carve any of these words or questions out. My job is to read this book with him aloud. The rest just happens in discussion. We grabbed the map, we googled, we wrote a few notes on the board to remember.

Doing this book as our first step back into a new school year was exactly what I needed to remind me why I love homeschooling and why I love a Charlotte Mason approach.

Oh, for CM homeschoolers, I'm no poster child for CM. I do an eclectic bag here and you will find I'm hard to box in to any method across the board, but it's what has worked for us and I am staying the course. There is so much about CM that I love and use though. Just don't point to me as the model for a CM education. Heck now that I think of it, don't hold me up as model for anything!

#charlottemason #homeschooling #education #history

Corners are the secret to happiness

The pain peaked in the time that I posted yesterday. It was a glimpse into the very worst part of what my life is like. After many hours it began to subside some.

It was heightened because I had spent a long day (much longer than I am really able to do) out, about, active, on my feet and then in the chair.

I am blessed with a strong tolerance for pain, natural childbirth was a great confirmation for me.

So, in those times, I shut down lights, noise, and my busy brain. I make myself as comfortable as possible in bed, loose clothing, soft pillows and I begin to meditate (or pray if you prefer). For me, my happy place is Psalm 23. It is always, only Psalm 23.

He takes me to green grass, the shade of tall trees, gentle breezes and sunshine peeking through, I sit there beside the water and I am restored. I am.

It isn't about the restoring of my pain in those moments but rather of my troubled soul, which unlike this broken body will not pass away. In our time together, in that suffering I feel Christ so completely. I do want to die. I want to slip away to be with Him and end suffering, worry and all the trials of this life. But my attachment to this world, to my children, to my husband is so strong, and despite pain, I cling to every moment I have with them. I will not surrender. My words fail in expressing what I experience. I apologize.

It feels like an education. Like lessons in life, in suffering, in death. I learn more in suffering than I do in  health.

In this meditation I lost all track of time. What felt like 10 or 15 minutes it turned out was more than 3 hours. This is without pain medication allow me to remind you. The pain was tolerable after.  I switched on a dim light across the room, Steve brought me some juice. Another hour passed and I could eat some crackers and chicken salad. Another hour and I was ready to try to sleep.

This morning, His mercies abound. The pain is at a dull ache, maybe just a 4 on the 1-10 scale. I am weak, shaky, but this feels like a million bucks by comparison. I'm so happy to have it. My children busy themselves straightening, and doing dishes as I can hear by the clanging of the plates. So I know the responsibilities which would nag at me, are being met. My husband works in the yard, my oldest is coming home for the weekend. I have work, orders, clients waiting, but nothing too pressing that I cannot pass the day enjoying the weather from my hammock, or writing beside the window in my room.

Corners are the secret to happiness. Wherever you are, no matter how dark it might seem, soon you will turn a corner. You can never know what is around that corner. You can't see ahead, you can't see around them. You have to walk to them. Knowing that they come and that whatever your state, it is only temporary, is the secret to happiness in this life.

When things are good, you should likewise know, that corners are coming, and they will bring difficulties, but those too are temporary. In everything there is joy. Count it all joy.

I want to die

I'm about to do what I have never done. I am writing to you from the deepest, darkest, worst part of my battle with Multiple Sclerosis. I'm in the throes of the beginning of a terrible relapse. The pain is unyielding. It's the pinnacle, the worst part, the highest pitch in the battle cry. I never share what this feels like. never.

The pain is so intense it is blinding. I want to keep my eyes closed and fall into the pain until it consumes me. I don't want to hear anything but the sound of my fan. I want to no comfort, no consolation. I don't want to see anyone or talk to anyone. So all consuming it is as if I am laying upon a torture rack having every part of my body besieged with assault.

I feel nauseous. There is no food, no drink to ease this. Only the strongest of medicine would do and those make me so sick I cannot stomach them. They make my blood pressure and my heart react dangerously. There is no refuge but injection at the hospital.

I long for them right now. I do. But they would only come at the end of hours of waiting, tests, and probes, lights, noises, questions and questions. I want to rip out my own hair just thinking of their stupid questions.

In this awful, awful moment, I feel the enemy stalking me. "I want to die." He whispers. And I consider it. I do. I'm not ashamed to tell you. Death cannot be more painful. Only love calls me to live. Love overflowing, love that is real. But I cling to the knowledge of it, not the feeling right now. I can't feel anything but pain.

I cry it doesn't help. I muffle my frustrated aches and moans when the pressure and severity peaks and wanes.

It will pass. My head knows it but I don't care. This feels endless. It feels hopeless. Despair washes over me and I wish it would just make me sleep.

This day has been coming. Creeping on me day after day for weeks. From upright to the chair, to this.

There is no prayer as I try only to seek the stillest possible position in my brain and body.

This writing has taken too long and too much of me already. It has stolen that stillness and caused me to submit to self pity. My most wretched enemy.

I will just lay here and try to disappear.

I lay it down

It takes so little for me to stray from my faith, from my purpose for even existing. I am prideful and self centered. I am not a good person. The moment I blink in my constant gaze upon you I seem to falter. I falter in my thoughts, I give in to sarcasm, anger, frustration, even hate. I fail to be thankful. I fail in my stewardship. I fail in love. How can I be so small in love sometimes? I fail to forgive. I give in to sloth, and gluttony. I give in to my every thought and emotion and wrap myself in them instead of You who is my everything. I surrender to self pity as if I were never taught to be a warrior of prayer and sacrifice.  I question your plans and Providence and will for my life. In truth I wish for a different plan, one without the brokenness and suffering, even as I know I dearly those very trials have blessed me. I am so sorry. So sorry Lord, I lay it down at your feet this morning and I beg you to lift me up and restore yet again. I will never cease in my failings, I know, though I despise them.

Everything I am, everything I long to be, I lay it down at your feet.

I share with you my sorrow this morning in my many failures, and my prayer ever enriched by Matt Maher in this song Lay it Down. I turn to this song so often.

#MattMaher #Christ #Faith #MS
Man it was C O L D this morning. I let time get away from me and didn't warm up the van and so I had to walk the daycare kids to the bus stop...aaahhh! The wind was freezing.

My kids were still sleeping snug in their beds when I left. They came sleepily dragging down the stairs as I came back in. They cozied up on the couch with a blanket, trying to wake up. A little while later they had their breakfast.

I read an article a fellow homeschooler sent

It's really amazing. I have been trying to follow Bill Gates and his mission to redo the public education system in this country.

1:30 in the AM

Craft day today was so much fun. Thanks to the other moms for coming!!

I worked on things until about 10 pm! Which explains why I am still up at this hour. I was gonna pull my best Scarlet O'hara and just think about it tomorrow but I am up, and still going so why not do a little cleaning & laundry.

I had about 1 1/2 cups of coffee with caffeine today. I haven't had any palpitations and I got all the perks of the caffeine!! as evidenced by my perky personality at this time of the morning, and my house which is all put back together, my hubby's coffee that is set, his breakfast & lunch made, and his favorite jeans in the dryer.

Not to worry I am staying away from the stuff as a rule. I know my system just can't process it.

I think I will run through the imaginary phone booth in the hall and turn back into my secret identity as a mild mannered homemaker...well the homemaker then.