Organizing a Growing Family, One Small Step (or Book) at a Time

I never knew adding a third child would require so much organization! But, I’m not one to scoff at organization; if anything, I love my lists, I love my To-Do Binder, I love checking things off and seeing my progress, or re-arranging my day to fit what didn’t get done, and working around it. My husband is always amazed how my lists keep growing, and never seem to end, but it helps me when my brain is always thinking of a million other things to keep myself organized and keep me from forgetting something. To also be fair, adding a third child to our mix is certainly something that added to my growing lists of to-do’s, but it also showed me that if I don’t write things down, I’ll have a chaotic mess on my hands of things that I’d simply forget to do.

I also realized that adding a third meant that I’d have less time with my other two. Ollie, who’s now 3, and Holden, who just turned a year, would be getting less time with me once our Xander makes his appearance. I already split my time between them decently, but always give more time to Ollie because he’s the one homeschooling and has very high ambitions; Holden simply is learning words, and motions, and is pretty content at joining in whatever we’re doing as long as he gets to sit on my lap or make a mess with blocks a short arms reach away. Adding Xander to things will definitely rock our homeschooling world and life.

One thing I realized early on, that I can maintain as a constant, is reading time. We have so many books in our home, I feel like there’s little to no time to read them all, yet I’m always itching to crack them open! I’ve always installed a “quiet time” when Holden was napping, from the moment we brought him home from the hospital, and now I plan on doing the same thing once Xander is born in a few days time. How well that’ll turn out, I haven’t a clue. So far when I hush Holden, all he does is scream louder with a big grin on his face… He’s my little curve ball, this on;, he’s his own little man. But, at least Ollie has always understood it and respected it, and he does help me keep Holden calm when needed, but he also has come to love “quiet time” because it gives him time to do his own thing — from playing, to reading his own books (yes he can read simple books; it’s amazing how much he’s learned from us reading aloud to him), to simply using his iPad or watching cartoons on the TV (yup, we use both iPad and TV as our way to gain a few minutes of peace, and I’m not ashamed to admit it; in fact, I know my sanity will be relying on those two devices this winter when they can’t burn off energy outside).

But, as winter came closer and I finally stepped out of the denial that it was coming, whether I wanted it to or not, I knew I’d be spending a lot of time inside the house with my boys (winter, in New England, along with a newborn, is not a place you want to venture out a lot in). So, I had made a long list of books to read, or re-read, not just for myself, but for my boys as well. We have a large library collection growing within our home, and the public library is less then a three-minute drive from our house (and along Daddy’s route home), so books will never be scarce.

Back in November, I began filtering through our books, not just mine and my husband’s collection, but the boys as well, reorganizing, donating duplicates, recycling books that were too damaged from Holden’s teething phase from us not stopping him quick enough, and doing a quick glance at books that were gifted to us that I hadn’t decided if they were worth keeping or appropriate for our home.

  • So, I sat down and went through the boys’ books first. I was amazed at how many duplicates we were actually gifted, and how many we hadn’t touched! I reorganized the books on a sheet of paper of preference of what we’ll be reading first, and on down the list, until we got to books that Ollie voiced he was excited to re-read.
  • Next, I did the same to mine and my husband’s books; filtering through so many unread books didn’t take quite as long as it did for the boys’, but it felt really good to organize myself and our many books. These I organized from appropriate enough to read aloud (Sherlock Holmes series, anyone?), to ones that I’d read quietly on my own, and ones I’ve been itching to re-read.
  • Following all that fun organization, I ran through my lists of books I’ve been wanting to borrow from the public library, and made an actual list instead of all my sticky notes, and highlighted titles in my various homeschooling books (The Well Trained Mind, Honey For A Child’s Hearty, The Read-Aloud Handbook, among many more), and my cell phone notes, and screenshots of books I came across on Pinterest and walking through Barnes and Noble. I actually wrote them all down on a list (preference didn’t matter, I was just excited to have everything in one spot) and even made a digital list on the public library’s website so when I’m ready to rent the books, I simply log on, click, and when it’s available the hubby will swing by and pick it up for me!

I can’t tell you how happy I was when I saw my list back in November! I was so proud of myself for being organized and ahead of the curve when it came to this, because I knew once Xander came, homeschooling would basically be out the window until not only was I ready to start our new routine, but Xander was ready for a routine, and Ollie and Holden were ready to start a new routine. Homeschooling will now become a household event, I feel, where as before, we could do it during nap time, or when Holden was preoccupied with rearranging my kitchen drawers. Now, I feel like we’ll need to work homeschooling into and around our “new routine.” But in November, I felt like at least our days would be filled with literature (even if it were to be for five minutes a day; I’d take what I could).

But, as December rolled around I realized that even if I could read to my sons for five minutes a day (or more preferably), it wouldn’t be “enough” for Ollie. I thought we’d be taking a break from “school” starting the week of Thanksgiving on until after Christmas, start a tad bit after Christmas, then drop everything again right before Xander was born… Oh, was I wrong on all accounts. My oldest would ask to do school at least every other day. He loved our routine, he loved what he was learning, and that flame of learning had already been ignited, and he didn’t want it to go out, and I couldn’t be the one to extinguish it. Here I was thinking he’d love a break, he’d love to just play all day and not do a thing; next thing I know he’s picking up his own books and reading them to himself or to Holden, asking me to read to him, asking me to “do school today.” My idea of a break completely went out the window! So, we’d do school when he’d ask, and I realized my original “grand plan” back in November was not going to cut it come January. I went back to the drawing board and came up with another game plan:

  • Go through the workbooks/printables I had collected for Ollie, rip the pages out of the books, organize them by easiest to hardest, and subject matter (if possible), and place them in a clear sleeve in a binder (preferably five pages to a day or more to offer variety). If possible, even attach some with sticky notes that could be used along with the book lists I designed back in November so he’d have something to do while I (or a relative who’s moving in with us for a month to help) read to him.
  • Also, I went through all our supplies of art and craft items (glue, paint, foam cut outs of letters and images, pom-poms, pipe cleaners, construction paper, etc.) and stocked up on what I was short on. If I (or my family helping) needed a break and Ollie wanted to do something more constructive and independent, I could just lay it all on the table and let him go to town without needing much from me other than a little supervision.
  • Going through the kiddos’ art supplies gave me a light bulb moment to where I could probably organize at least two coloring pages, two arts and crafts, and one book with activity planned out per day in the same binder I had originally created for the “To-Read” list. (I doubted this would work for every day, but the beauty is that it can always get pushed back, or pulled ahead, and I had options available for my kiddo other than the iPad or TV. It also gave options to those helping us the month of January into February to easily find something entertaining to do with Ollie).

But, those are my plans, at least as to what might help gain our sons some sort of stability, some sort of scheduling, but also make my life easier as I try to maneuver this new world of having three sons, a lively dog, managing our home, homeschooling, and being a good wife and partner to an amazing husband. Some of it might work, some of it might not. But, the beauty of homeschooling, the beauty of adding a curve ball to our routine, is that we get to try new things, and we get to explore these new ventures as a family. God planned our family, we didn’t, and it’s all been amazing exploring His plan for us as a growing family. We trust in Him to help guide us, because no matter how much organizing I do, there’s no way to plan for it all. I just pray that what I have put together will help make things a tad bit easier on me, the husband, the boys, and those coming to help us for the month. Either way, everything is in God’s hands, and that puts my heart and mind at ease.

Experiential Learning

Growing up I remember hands-on learning as something that was incredibly valuable to me.  I liked to be active, on the go and busy. Now as a parent I am seeing the value in slowing down, and can truly appreciate the effort my parents went to when taking us out and about!

In the very early stages of schooling still with our preschooler, we are looking for ways to engage our child in learning while still sparking her need for play and imagination.  Over the summer she participated in three days of “Critter Camp” at the local nature center; she continues to explore and learn more about nature and asks to take hikes, read nature books, and visit outdoor learning spaces. Our library hosted a speaker who is a homeschool senior and advocate for honeybee education, preservation, and hobbyist beekeeping. They had hands-on models of bees, large posters of their environment and needs, as well as how we need them for our eco-system, and they answered questions about bees. Due to this learning opportunity, potentially in the spring we will add a beehive to our little homestead.

Recently another nature center in our area sponsored a “Meet the Raptor” program and specifically had a session for younger children.

Rachel the Peregrine falcon and Gonzo the turkey vulture were the guests of honor. I think this visit was perhaps more exciting for Daddy than anyone else. Although our shy preschooler didn’t ask questions, she watched and listened intently. After we left she began to process the experience and ask more about raptors.

As we try to implement experiences and hands-on learning, I am hopeful that it leads to organic growth of interests in our children. After taking our oldest to baby and parent music classes since she was an infant, she has a love of music and desire to learn how to play, sing, and enjoy music in our daily lives. I am curious to see what other types of adventures we can take.

I would love suggestions from others on what their early learners enjoy doing that is experiential and hands-on.

Outdoor Activities You Can Fall For

My boys are outdoor country boys through-and-through! They wake up and beg to go outside before breakfast is warm and table is set. We coax them into waiting until their bellies are full (and mom and dad are dressed), and in the summer we have to debate about the usefulness of clothes on a young boy as well. When fall swings around, there is no damper on the boys’ excitement for the outdoors, but we do have to change the experience slightly.

Less Sun, Still Fun?

The sunny, warm summers meant the boys could run free morning, noon, and night. They’d come in the house with crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, roly-polies, caterpillars, lady bugs, frogs, lizards, and handfuls of other cringe-worthy organisms. They knew just where to look to find the best critters.

When fall comes around the leaves die, the tiny bugs and reptiles seem to hide, the wind is cold, and the boys grow…bored. Where we used to coax them into staying inside during the hottest parts of the day, now we have to convince them there is something worth finding outside after the first run of the morning. We don’t get much snow in even the deepest months of winter, but in October? Nothing but gusty, brown cold. Mom and Dad have to put on their thinking caps when the seasons change.

Routine, Routine, Routine

The R-word is one I hate, and I’m not fond of that word either. The only thing routine about our family is the places we go through the week at the same time every week: church, taekwando, Celebrate Recovery, my mom’s, repeat. During the winter, if we don’t slip outdoor play into our daily routine, it just won’t happen.

This year I’ll be talking a lot about practical life schooling, which is my focus in my homeschooling with my boys. They’re using an online curriculum for their main academics, which means Mom’s role is practical life application. Part of the challenge will be to include outdoor activities during cold months!

Practical Outdoor Play Made Easy 

First, make sure you know what your kid likes to do outside, how they like to learn, and how they burn their tiny-human energy. If it’s looking for critters (spatial, logical), then maybe they’d also like to look for other forms of wildlife — or proof of wildlife (nests, scratches, tracks, droppings). If your kid likes to dig in the dirt (kinesthetic), maybe he or she would also like to stack firewood, rake leaves — and jump into them — and paint a fence.

Here is my list for this October/November:

  1. Yard Work: Clearing trash, brush, weeds, leaves away so that next year our yard can flourish (and we can enjoy the snow more thoroughly this winter).
  2. Nature Hikes: To find nuts, nests, bones, turtle shells, etc., that point to life in the woods. Also bird-watching is fun this time of year because some leave, and others arrive.
  3. Building and Maintaining a Bird Feeder: Build a bird house or feeder for those winter birds that stick around. Let the kids photograph the birds and make a book that they can add to as seasons change.
  4. Stacking Firewood: Mainly because the kids unstacked our firewood this summer, playing, they can stack it this fall. Discuss fire, responsibility, safety, and gain a little exercise.
  5. Fun Play Ideas: Dodgeball, catch, freeze tag, Olympic competitions, leaf/finger painting, and an internet’s worth of other outdoor activities to choose from.
  6. Star Gazing: I don’t know one kid that doesn’t like a bonfire on a fall night. This is a great time to star gaze with your students. If you have a telescope of your own: BONUS. If you don’t, your local library may have some to check out.
  7. Local Nature Excursions: Our regional Nature Center has fantastic programs, and many specific to homeschoolers. They also have backpacks full of themes activities for two-week check-out. If you live near to a nature center, conservation area, or zoo, there are many similar programs for homeschoolers. Also, many regions have fairs, fall festivals, and orchards with regular programing.
  8. Camping: My family loves to camp, and unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity this summer. So we’re planning one fall campout before the weather turns too cold for our littles. If you are a camping family, plan ahead, and choose a camping area that has some educational programming during you stay.
  9. Have Fun: Your outdoor play may not be part of your specific schooling, but it is part of staying healthy! Set an example by spending time outdoors, and do something you love to do outdoors. Your enthusiasm will show.
  10. Include Others: Activities can be more fun when you include people you enjoy to hang out with. Spend time outside, then come in for some hot cocoa and popcorn by the fire.

Exploring a New Year…

 

The most frequent response I get when I tell people I homeschool has been, “Wow, I don’t have the patience for that,” or “You must be a very patient person!” My answer is that it takes a lot of patience to parent. Homeschooling isn’t that different, just extended.

One thing that has really helped me to be patient in our homeschool has been to remember my children are people first. When I remember that they are people, I can be more compassionate. Jesus told us to “let the little children come to Him” in a time when children were thought to be a nuisance and in the way. Things haven’t changed much in that aspect. Adults tend to want children to do what they are told, when they are told to do it, how they are told to do it. In fact, when I was a young girl if I was told to jump, the reaction expected was to ask “how high” as I was starting to jump.

One of the blessings of homeschooling our children is that they are able to develop their own sense of identity…except we don’t always appreciate that independence when it comes against us. It is possible to harness that independence, to use it to enhance their educational experience.

I don’t want a carbon copy of me. It would certainly be easier to predict their desires, interests, and actions, but it would be boring. My sons have different interests, different life goals, and they are still discovering them. My job is to help them discover their path in life, to discover God’s calling on his life. When I remember this, it puts life, and school, into perspective.

Our homeschool journey includes exposing the children to many different options. Sometimes we do weird, crazy things to explore those options. We’re often researching topics of interest, no matter how strange they may seem to be. You can use all of those options to teach all of the subjects needed. We’re stepping into junior high this year, and that makes it a transition year… It’ll be an interesting journey as we move forward.

My advice as we move into a new school year: Don’t be afraid to throw out the books sometimes and explore the weird things in life. Let the kids find their own passions and use those passions to teach what they need to know to succeed in life. Get hands on, and discover what’s available in your community to reach your child’s interests. Forget about the path you had planned, and let them discover their own.

School’s Out for SUMMER!

Summer is upon us in the western hemisphere. Thank goodness!

Homeschooling is full of blessings, but it also adds a special kind of intensity to life. You personally have taken on the education of your children — putting them in your presence pretty much 24 hours a day. Families with kids in school face many other stresses, but the care of their children is given up to someone else for six or more hours every day. That gives them a little bit of breathing room. When you are with your kids nearly nonstop, there are constant reminders that you are their primary example in nearly everything. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Besides an emphasis on growth in character, values, work ethic, and relationship with Christ, your days have been full of math, reading, writing, history, spelling, science, penmanship, grammar, languages, and more. For most of us summer is a welcome deviation from the routine. You may do like our family does, and have a revised summer schedule —just Bible and math, in our case; or you may scale back moderately on academics; or you may chuck anything curriculum related entirely. No matter your approach, the change is a break from a full schedule of daily plodding, and it’s a welcome respite.

Our summer has already started with work skills as we begin our home addition, and we’ve made travel plans to incorporate some much-needed fun. There are also plans for outdoor church and summer campouts with our church family. My son wants to do a little bit of math all summer, too, “so my brain doesn’t forget,” as he says. The aura is different, though. It’s not driven so much as elective.

I hope that no matter how you treat your summer break, that you leave plenty of time to refresh both mind and body. Possibly more importantly, parents: Prioritize some time to refresh with God, too — maybe a new Bible study plan, extra prayer time, even something simple like cultivating the spirit of constantly listening to Him. Your academic schedule will be faced with more enthusiasm next school year by both you and the kids if you’ve enjoyed a season of rejuvenation.

The SDA Homeschool Families blog is also going to take some time off to rest and refresh. We’ve had a dedicated crew of busy writers this year. They’ve spent a lot of time sharing information, resources, and personal experiences that they hope have benefited and blessed you. Many of us will be back in the fall, and hopefully we’ll gain some new writers too. If you have an interest in writing once a month, or even less periodically, for this blog, please contact us by sending a Facebook message to LaDonna Lateadah, Susanna Joy, or me.

See you back here in September. Happy Summer!