Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Wee Little Man, a Wee Little Mama, and a Savior Who Sees 'Em Both

"Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he...
he climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see..."

Lately I find myself singing these lines for my wee ones at least ten times a day, sometimes in a row and sometimes spread out over all the important moments of the day (meals, snacks, bathroom breaks, quiet time...). Whether it was genius or stupidity to break this old Sunday school song out over breakfast last week remains to be seen, but I'm guessing it's middling somewhere between the two. It is cute to see their little eyes glued to my lips while their own lips overemphasize the shape of the words, slightly off beat with their interpretive miming, of course.

Being the favored one that he is at the moment, it was no surprise to have Zacchaeus' song requested as the last hurrah before bedtime blessings tonight; what did come as a surprise however, was how potently the simple words struck me. Truth be told, today was one of those crap days were nothing went right, then I berated myself for nothing going right, and then our whole home atmosphere fell to such minuscule pieces that nothing could piece it back together by bedtime. It was (not at all) lovely. But as I sang the simply phrased story of Zacchaeus, I suddenly recognized myself right there with him.

". . . And as the Savior passed on by, He looked up in the tree...
and he said, 'Zacchaeus, you come down, for I'm coming to your house today..."

For a mama who's weakly propped in her proverbial tree straining hard to see Jesus over the host of bad attitudes (her own lumped in there) and un-cleaned dishes of who knows how many meals, this is the hallelujah moment.


Long after the bedtime blessing was sung, cold feet propped against my side, fingers tangled in my hair, and eyes fidgeting on the edge of actual sleep, I leaned more heavily into the headboard and popped open my phone to a half-read article - "My Biggest Mistake as a Mother." Perfect, just the thing for wrapping up the day - guilt and self-introspection.


"Trust the Lord and do good."

The words of Psalm 37:3 might as well have been in flashing neon letters. Now here was something that wee little me cringed at the backwardness my memory had served me in this command, and so, apparently, did the author:

"When I put doing good before trusting God, guilt dogged my mothering. If a toddler threw a tantrum, I thought, my discipline is not consistent enough. If my teenage was spiritually lethargic, I believed, my discipleship is not compelling enough. If my child feel behind, made a mistake, or sinned in any way, I berated myself, you're not helping them enough. . . .
When I put doing good before trusting God, fear stalked my mothering. I worried that my efforts would result in failure. I worried that my limitations would hold them back. I worried that my sins would scar them for life. I worried that my hopes and desires for my children would end in bitter disappointment."

Forgive my copious quoting but this, this right here was exactly why I was feeling all choked up about a silly kid song, why I was up my tree looking for Jesus. Defeat. Failure. Emotional and mental death by imperfection. Just typing that out makes me laugh, but it's a real thing and it's deadly.

The anecdote? The invitation straight from the lips of Jesus?


Just like the author of that beautiful article went on to say, the good in all this is that He is good and ever doing good; we can trust Him because He is trustworthy. I know this but most definitely forget to translate it out of the philosophical realm into the here and now.

I can trust the long seasons of no one sleeping through the night and our groggily making it through the days to Him, because He is trustworthy.

I can trust the picky wee ones who turn their nose up to all the healthful options to Him, because He is trustworthy.

I can trust the relationship between the little women in this home to Him (despite the biting, flailing, screaming, and locking of doors), because He is trustworthy.

I can trust all the heart convicting and faith building business in our home to Him, because He is trustworthy.

This was what I suppose could be a current day version of that hallelujah moment I mentioned earlier. No climbing tree too tall, no circumstances too small for Jesus who calls to those look for Him (even weary mamas), "... Come down, for I'm coming to your house today."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Second Grade's Feast (Term One)

Well, it's been awhile since I've sat and allowed my fingers to fly over this old keyboard. The silence has been full though, very full.

In these few short months we finished up first grade with Lanna, sold a home and moved ourselves several states over, experienced two breathtaking seasonal changes here, settled ourselves into a new church home, widened our circle to include new friends and drew closer the dear people already there, filled the space around our table (and then some) many times over. . .

Silence hasn't exactly equaled stillness but I'm content here in the quiet, for I'm finding that things unnecessary are being hushed and things good strengthened in it. Living this quiet yet full life has somehow been the method of God's taking all the harsh dryness of these last couple of years and setting it ablaze with His goodness, despite the fact that I may be the lone pair of eyes seeing and singular voice wondering aloud over the splendor. He's a gracious one, this God of mine. Oh goodness, and this new home! I've fondly started calling it our Juniper Tree house after the memory of a dear place of rest in the middle of southeast Asia. Juniper, in case you're puzzling over that, is mentioned in some versions of the Bible as the tree that Elijah was resting beneath when he was ministered to by the Angel of the Lord. If only I could bring you all here to have a breath of the peace God has seemingly breathed into this little spot.

Anyway, what I really sat down to type out is our plans for second grade.

How odd it feels to say that. First grade was so anticipated that it wasn't really a surprise when it's time came, but second grade? It has more of the "whoa, we're really doing this" factor to it. Nonetheless exciting though.

I originally planned on just throwing up a few quick Instagram stories to share the books that we're using this year, but I wavered over that decision last moment and took a poll - blog post or stories? Blog post almost overwhelmingly won out, but for those who voted IG stories - Keep an eye out! I'll most likely highlight the books too. For reference, we're still using AmblesideOnline as our foundation - their book lists are solid and I'm a fan of the way they plotted out the history studies. As you'll see below, we just like to supplement and expand where we can, which I think is actually common for those who use AO.

As far as the format of the year, I adopted Charlotte Mason's practice of breaking it up into 3 terms of 12 weeks. Our state requires a certain number of days of attendance per school year (not uncommon), and 36 weeks fits that requirement perfectly. I did add an extra week at the very end of the year just in case we needed it, but even with that extra week the school still only runs from the last week of August to the end of May.

I can't tell you how much easier it is to plan this way, you guys! The wiggle room for adjustments that inevitably come up isn't a big deal anymore because it's already there, and the holiday breaks fall at great spots per term. You can see how I spaced the terms in the photo above - Term 1 in red, Term 2 in blue, Term 3 in green. So to clarify, I planned the general topics for the entire year, but only specifically so far for Term 1  - this post covers only that term (red, in case I lost ya already).

The AO plan for year 2 covers 1000 A.D. to the Middle Ages using Our Island Story, This Country of Ours, and A Child's History of the World as "spines" (the foundation, essentially. These are our meaty bones, we can add on from here though we don't necessarily have to because they're second to none as it is). The beauty of the AO plan is that the reading is already all plotted out, weaving these three together into one narrative of that period of time we're studying rather than three separate narratives that we have piece together. Generally, even though we have this thorough story happening with multiple books, we're still only reading 2-3 chapters per week. Not bad. That's only two days of history studies, really (the chapters are not long). I'm wanting three days so there isn't so much time between readings, so I snatched Robin Hood from the literary pile and added it here instead. At one chapter or so per week of that title, I now have three days of history, voila. And all I really had to do was buy the books, I'm already off to a good start.

The only other thing I'll mention here is a timeline because I know we're definitely going to do one for the sake of a visual of how the centuries neatly roll out and where people we're reading about belong in them (more on that right here). I'm still weighing the options but I do know that we're going to use a condensed version of the one we all probably picture in our minds (the room-wrapping kind). I might print a column version and put it in Alanna's binder (like so), or do something more along the Riverbend press version and hang it on the wall (as seen here), or bank on the familiarity of the "hundreds chart" version (isn't it interesting?). I'll get back to you in Term 2 with what we decided on that.

Again, I'm leaning heavily on AO here, but similar to last year, we're choosing classics that I really want to read together. The Children's Story Bible and Poetry book are on a daily rotation, but otherwise, to make it simple, I have one book for each major school day of the week (Monday - Thursday). Essentially, Pilgrims Progress for Monday, Parables from Nature for Tuesday, Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Wednesday, and A Wonder-book for Girls and Boys for Thursday. They're stacked in this order so that any given day I just have to grab the first within reach then stick it on the bottom, repeat. I arranged our books like this last year in a moment of inspiration brought on by the Morning Basket loop schedule that everyone seems to like a bunch, and it was so nice! I wasn't constantly referring back to my list and asking, "which are we supposed to read today?..." and we were still feasting on a mass variety every week.

A note about Shakespeare - I recently found out that a local theatre group here puts on Shakespeare in
the Park events. I fully intend on taking advantage of these and corresponding the plays we read with those that we manage to attend. This will be our first year with Shakespeare and actually seeing the plays seems like an amazing beginning. I'm still working on how we'll handle character confusion, which I hear is the most common trouble (maybe family trees?)

Free reads/ Language Arts, reading:
You knew I wasn't going to neglect these, right? I have a whole basket pulled from both AO and my shelf in general, but I had Alanna help me choose just two as a start for this term. Without much of pause, she handed me Brighty of Grand Canyon and Heidi. These end up being the books we enjoy as a family, reaching for when we're cozy on the couch together or going through the bedtime thing. 

Now Alanna did progress to short chapter books last year, and her reading abilities are kind of amazing (small print, close lines already, kid? Sheesh), but I'm still looking to keep it simple for her this year by focusing on building enjoyment in reading alongside her literacy. We went through a lot of readers last year, but found this cute Sophie Mouse series toward the end. It's simple, sweet, has plenty of titles to keep a new reader busy, and I wouldn't consider it twaddle any more than I would consider Little Bear or Frog and Toad so. If we run out of steam there, I have the Fairchild Family and Cobblestreet Cousins as backups. 

We started with Singapore last year and I wasn't impressed, plus I had it from my family and friends who've used it into the upper grades that it gets ridiculously difficult and hard to understand down the road. No thanks. So we switched barely before we began and I'm glad we did because it had me researching the topic of math all year. Math Lessons for a Living Education came in at just the right time and ended up being our "math spine." It was pretty good and made for a pleasant starting line in math, which is a good thing in my book. The story that runs through it can be helpful for visualizing tough concepts and it is a fun way of handling math for students who just don't enjoy it, but we do like math here so toward the middle of the year I ended up leaning more heavily on the concepts from Simply Charlotte Mason's Math instruction. I wish their Elementary Arithmetic had come out sooner, it's a really amazing curriculum that is so thorough yet gentle, but that's okay because I'm banking on the next in the series which should be released later this year and will last for the next couple of grades. To bide our time, we're using Book 2 of Math Lessons for a Living Education and working out the problems on oversized graph paper rather than the worksheets. 

We're also continuing with our adopted practice of a little daily "mental math" (word problems worked out orally) in each lesson. We used Ray's Primary Arithmetic last year for this, and are adding Strayer-Upton this year. Basically, this just looks like 2-5 word problems read aloud and worked out mentally. It's a game changer, trust me. For Fridays (which tend to be our more relaxed days), I'm using games from the Kate Snow series (subtraction and possibly multiplication this year, but she has others). They make for a nice break in the routine and pleasantly wrap-up the week. The women, who is coincidentally a homeschool mother and math teacher, knows her stuff.

We left off handwriting practice in a place of block letters and puzzling out where periods and capitols go, so rather than practicing the form of lettering this year, the focus lies more in neatness and proficiency. Essentially, just writing practice. Armed with erasable pens, notebooks, and the CM concept of "copy work" this is exactly what we're doing. 

AO has a seasonal poetry anthology for early years, so one day I just scrolled through and chose 2 or 3 poems per school month, plopped them into a document, and printed out the whole kit and caboodle to stick in my binder. When we start, Lanna will have one poem at a time and can copy out 2-4 lines in her special copywork notebook. At the end of the week, I take a look at it for neatness and basic punctuation, pointing out lines that can be redone (rare after the first correction, no one wants to redo) or pointing out some new aspect of punctuation she had to use. We did this for a short time after finishing a handwriting book last year and it worked well, especially the whole idea of copying real sentences rather than lone words or letters (necessary for a good foundation, but after that? Tedious stuff).

Nature Studies:
This is a subject I really want to bank on this year, what with our new environment and so much wildlife around us. I followed ideas gathered from A Delectable Education Podcast and Sabbath Mood Homeschool resources and am looking mostly to lay a foundation of curiosity, wonder, observation skills, and humility in these early years. A tall order but attainable with a whole lot of patience, diligence, and grace, I think. Since our homeschooling neighbors are up for joining in the fun here (hallelujah hands), we're going to use Exploring Nature With Children together once a week. I wanted to use this little handbook last year but am so glad I waited. If I'm not mistaken, the idea underlying it is to explore the change of seasons through observation, dive deeper with literature, and pay note to the little details that strike wonder. 

Besides the once a week thing, we're adding nature lore readings to our stacks, and to keep things interesting the theme there will change every term. This term we're leveling our eyes toward the birds, and as you can see, we have some Audubon things and field guide things, as well as the Burgess Bird Book on Librivox audio

Need I even mention Nature Journals? Yes, I probably should. We are keeping nature journals this year (yes, I am too), but swapping out the structured "this is nature journal time" for "please make at least two entries a week of things you observed on your own and we'll share together" format. I'll probably try to add in some things to encourage this, like a trip to our local Audubon center and the odd nature hike here and there. Regardless, we'll see how it goes, I have an inkling that this is something we're going to adjust and grow in a lot this year.

This is something we added to our first year plans at the last moment and were pleasantly surprised over how easy and enjoyable it's was. Literally as simple as pulling out a US map, pointing out the states we already know, then adding a new one. Painless. I'm focusing on the US first, by the way, because taking the walls of the world our students live in and pushing them out slowly and steadily makes sense to me. I can't remember where I read that specifically. . . probably one of the CM volumes.

We also did the AO suggestion of mapping out Paddle to the Sea by Holling and had a lot of fun with that, but we did start our mapping too late so it was a little troublesome. I won't be making that mistake with Tree in the Trail and The Book of Cowboys this year. All the books you see between the two I mentioned are titles I had already snatched from book sales here and there and have particular portions marked off to give richness to what we'll be covering in Tree in the Trail and The Cowboy book. 

I know composer studies are traditional in CM homeschooling, but the people who create music are only one side of the coin and I have this lurking suspicion that it's impossible to appreciate what they've done without having some understanding of it. Something like. . . when you take a wee one to see a painting, "look how beautiful, little one!" "Oh, it's fantastic!" they say. And it is, because maybe they appreciate the beauty and maybe know a little of the master who made it, but really they have no idea what it is, no context to measure it against or vocabulary to appreciate it, so their marvel is trapped there.

That's essentially where we're picking up this year.

About the only thing we did musically last year was listen to the Nutcracker and Can You Hear It. Literally, listened to them for months upon months. My comfort there is that little ears were gaining the patience and intricacy of truly hearing, but still, I know more direction than that is needed. Enter Alice in Orchestralia and the Intro to Classics audio series. The former I snatched from a favorite bookseller and it's essentially Alice in wonderland... but exploring instruments and their sounds. Brilliant, right? I'm super excited about that one (which we'll tackle at the rate of roughly a chapter a week). Listen to the Birds is just what its title describes, listening to birds... from various musical pieces and composers. Talk about a delightful way to train the ear! Birds is just the beginning of the series, there's also amazing water and legends and talesWe'll work our way through those slowly, always narrating of course (ie: "Tell me the instruments you hear. Draw what you hear.")

Has anyone read A Touch of the Infinite by Hoyt, yet? No? I raved about it all over Instagram and can't help but have a little of that spill into this post - if you get one book to help increase richness in your school year, make it this one. Aside from a little listening, the odd Opal Wheeler book, and maybe instrumental lessons, music is such an un-mined subject.

All the logic of what I mentioned about music can probably be applied here too, but I know a precious little and have less a passion for it. Still, that doesn't mean I get to neglect it, so I called in the help of the "Every Child Should Know" series. 

You guys, I didn't realize how great this series is until I was paging through and choosing art pieces to feature this term. We're talking 48 masterpieces with a small, "living" chapter about the artist, a few interesting things to note about the featured painting, and 4 - 8 more to look up from said artist. It's art appreciation that can pretty nearly last all 12 school years condensed into one little book. Anyway, since I have this gorgeous oversize art book (another book sale find), I decided to choose 6 separate masterpieces whose artist's blurb was also in Pictures Every Child Should Know. Next year I'll do the more focused study of one artist per term, but since I already had the oversize book of plates and I'm mostly looking to develop "our eyes to see," so to speak, this seemed to fit the bill for now.

Picture study is something we did on and off last year and really enjoyed, I just wasn't consistent so it tapered off around Christmas break. Essentially, each picture had two weeks of study. Out the picture would come on "art day" to be propped on the table, then we would look at it as closely as we could for a few moments, take it away and try to describe it (mental picture), then look at it again. The picture was then propped up in a place of honor on the piano (where we could see it every day) and we would read a little about the artist. The following week we would pull out the picture to be propped on the table yet again and we would try to replicate it with whatever Lanna had an interest in using to do so - pencils, watercolor, crayons, paints, etc. Let me remind you too, this is all just one day out of the week. Pretty simple stuff, but nonetheless good.

Drawing is something that ties in with almost every other subject whether it be by drawing narrations for history or what we're hearing in music studies, noting our observations in a nature journal or replicating for our picture studies, etc. Given this overlap, drawing isn't something that I haven't specifically planned serious studying for, it's just something we do. Still, I try to have some "helps" to encourage it.

I really can't remember what I had last year, but this year I picked up Drawing Made Easy, Drawing Cute Birds, and Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling (not pictured). These go in a basket on the table with paper and art supplies - an open invitation, you could say.

Foreign Language:
I think I might be crazy, friends. I've tossed and turned this one over in my mind agonizing first whether to even study languages yet, which language to study, then why said languages would be good to study right now. . .  but I always come back to this crazy idea I've had all along though, so I think I'm just going to accept it as inspiration from the Lord Himself and go with it. 

Rather than choosing a readily available language out there like German or French or Spanish, I think we're going to shoot for Sgaw Karen.

Told you it was a little bit crazy. And if you're wondering why there is no photo to accompany this plan that would be because I'm still working out how we'll go about doing it - some mixture of Youtube, Drum publications, and finding a Karen family willing to teach us, most likely (we "happen" to have a whole community of them near us now). I'm going to be spending a lot of time studying Celeste's experience with Italian before developing a real plan though.

Other Details:
Aren't these nifty? Someone on the AO forum took the time to turn all the reading schedules there into bookmarks then was kind enough to share them. So grateful to whomever it was who did that, we're definitely using them.

The other little items up there are checklists. Well, tickets, more specifically. I'm trying to encourage diligence and cut back on the amount of nagging that getting things done around here requires, thus free time tickets. Finish off the things and turn in your ticket for free time, simple as that. But wait, that's not all - finish the items on your weekly ticket (mostly new things we're adding this year that I anticipate feet dragging over) and turn it in for your weekend treat. 

Now I would much rather just motivate with "do it because it's your responsibility and thus right for you to do," but that's not going to fly. So, the responsibility before pleasure route it is. 

(The general idea for this as well as the templates for both types of tickets are from Brandy over at Afterthoughts blog)

Last but not least, this is the planner that I'm using this year. I can handle change and flexibility pretty well (or maybe that's just in my mind, who knows), but I still have to have an organized plan to begin with. Using a regular school planner last year worked alright, but I so appreciate that Diana took the time to create a planner that's simple, beautiful, affordable, and organized by term. I personally didn't need all the pages, so I just printed off what I needed (sometimes multiple copies) and shuffled it all into a binder in the same order that my brain has the year sorted it out. 

I'm sure I'm forgetting things here and there, but that's the gist of second grade's feast for us. As I mentioned before, I'll try to put up some IG stories highlighting just the books for this term and why I chose a few particular editions (I drool over that kind of thing). Do share your own plans as well, and feel free to bounce ideas with me, I very much enjoy chatting this type of thing.