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The Bookworm is now open

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It’s saturday morning at our house and the children are busy.

“Mookie, get the abacus,” Jellybean calls across the house.

I’ve already got it.  Shh, I’m adding my minutes.”

How many do you have?”

Shh, I don’t know yet.  When’s browsing time?”

Daddy says it’s in ten minutes.  Are you adding The Boy’s too?”

He has two hours, which means a dollar and 20 cents, but maybe he has some more in his envelope.”

I wonder if they’re going to raise the prices this week,” wonders Jellyfish while she waits for the abacus.

I read 7 hours this week which means I have  four dollars and twenty cents.  If I read a little longer after browsing time, I can get two chapter books.

Okay, give me the abacus, please, so I can do mine.”

A few minutes later The Bookworm bookstore, conveniently located in the family schoolroom, is open for browsing.

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Mookie, Jellyfish, and The Boy practically hop into the room, anxious to see what new books have arrived.  A few minutes of studied silence, broken by a squeal or two and finally a shout.

“I’m getting this one!” they yell at the same time, though thankfully each holding a different book.

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Mr. Darcy announces the end of browsing time,”Okay, figure out how much more time you need to read this afternoon before the bookstore opens for business. Browsing time is over.”

After chores they  happily head off to read away the minutes they need to have enough money to buy their new books. Well, the 4 year old doesn’t actually do that, since his reading time is led by mom and dad.  Really, he gets out some cars.

A few hours later 3 contented children leave The Bookworm, looking forward to the week ahead, brand new books in hand.

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This is a little peek into Saturdays at our house this summer.  Last year we started an incentive to build upon the library’s summer reading program, and this year we’ve tweaked it to a rousing success.

Here’s a summary:

What: Our family summer reading program

When: throughout the summer months off from school

Who: our three older children (though Mr. Darcy and I wish someone would do this for us)

Why: This is our family’s answer to the question “How do we keep our kids engaged in reading and learning even during our time off school.”  Last year we did a similiar incentive except that they earned real money and we took them to Borders Books at the end of the summer.  Though full of excitement, this part of the incentive was miserable for all of us. After an hour of searching through huge bookshelves, they didn’t know what book they wanted and we had to say no to a lot of choices for either poor quality or poor content.  This summer we know they are choosing great books and the selection is displayed in a much easier format for them.

How: Each week the children record how many minutes they’ve read per day. At the end of the week they add up their minutes and for every minute they earn one Bookworm penny (play money). After browsing time, they can decide if they want to read a little more during the day to make sure they have enough for the desired books. Later in the afternoon they make their purchases and save any leftover change for next week’s store. Minutes start again at zero after the afternoon bookstore.

Where: We purchased a large number of chapter books, smaller chapter books, readers, and picture books and set them out for display in the schoolroom.

From my point of view this is a win-win situation. The children read willingly, their skills improve, they are rewarded with books (not candy or movies). They read those books, their skills grow further, and in turn they get more books. A pretty terrific cycle. And if it wouldn’t take us to the poorhouse, we’d continue the bookstore through the school year.

Note: The summer bookstore has also worked their math skills: figuring out the amount of minutes each day, adding the minutes for the week, and converting the minutes into dollars and cents.

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A Secret Revealed

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I may have mentioned various reasons that prompted our life-changing decision to homeschool.  Maybe I said “We want our kids to love learning.” “We want to give them a good foundation in the Lord along with their academic studies.” “We want to cultivate family and grow the character in our children.”  After this week I’ve discovered that although these reasons seem perfectly sensible and earnest, there may be a reason that outweighs all of the others.  This one sounds less impressive and yet carries the burden of truth.

I don’t like to get up in the morning.

We’re finishing up a week of vacation bible school.  Five days of getting clothes set the night before, scooting everyone out of the beautiful summer sun and ending all evening frolics so that they can get enough sleep. Then I make sure there’s breakfast ready to go, a diaper bag packed, and my own clothes picked out. That’s the night before.  The morning begins the torturous job of rising from the warm sheets and leaving the silky smooth baby snuggling nearby. My feet hit the floor and I start barking orders.

“Everyone up, it’s time for breakfast.

No, you can’t get up in a few minutes.

No, you can’t stop at the couch and lay back down.

No, you can’t enjoy your food, you’ve got five minutes!

There will be no giggling or having fun.

Now go get dressed.

No, you don’t need help.

Yes, you do have to brush your teeth.

Nevermind, forget any other chores, we’ve got to get in the car.

Go, go, go.

Wait, we forgot the baby.

Now, we’re ready.”

And then at 2 minute intervals from the children:

“Are we going to be late?”

And so we finally depart the house, leaving thirty minutes before we would normally just be sitting down for breakfast. Maybe we would be making some oatmeal on the stove with fresh blueberries.  The first person done would jump in my lap.  We’d spend the next 20 minutes reading Bible stories and our daily devotion.  After a brief prayer, we’d split off in our different directions to start morning chores.  The baby would be snuggled, the children rested, and mom much less grumpy!!!

Although I write some of this with tongue and cheek, I do believe that our choices fit our family.  The idea of keeping that hurried routine night after night and day after day, not to mention the time driving in the car, makes me realize I take for granted our mornings.  We ease into the day, flow in and out of learning academics with chores, reading, imagining, snuggling, and resting.  Also playing, cooking, working through struggles, and helping out friends.  Life intertwined with learning and we’re not late for anything.  It’s all right here.

It would be misleading to say that every morning and the day following proceed without wrinkles simply because we don’t have to set our alarm clock.  But the extra moments in bed with snuggly kids and the chance of actually getting to eat breakfast at my home are moving the reason to the top of the list.

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What Shouldn’t Be in Our House

Update: We emailed professor Steve Murphree at Belmost University and this is what he said “The insect in question is a species of leaf-footed bug (Hemiptera: Coreidae) and maybe in the genus Acanthocephala.  http://bugguide.net/node/view/164566 .  These bugs are predators of other insects so good ones to have around.  They would only bite a person if forced to do so.  The only species in this family that is a pest is the squash bug.”

Some friends and I were comparing creepy critter stories the other night.  

We each had a different tolerance level for spiders, snakes, and skinks(in our house, that is).

But what about this handsome creature?  The girls and I came home to find this fascinating bug on our door.  It was the size of my thumb! We haven’t figured out what it is yet, but I’ll post back again if we do.

Until then, what’s your most memorable creature to close for comfort?

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The Family that Performs Together…

note: We’ve decided from here on out to give the kids “stage names” for the blog. Friends and family should be able to figure out who is who, but you can go to the ‘about’ page to know more about each of the kids.

 

It was a straight forward assignment.

“I have to write the whole poem?!” Mookie exclaimed.

“Yes.”

“And I have to memorize it?” she looked at me with eyes that said “Mommy, are you nuts?”

“And,” I added, “You get to perform it for Daddy when you’re ready,” trying to  appeal to her theatrical side.

She slumped.  She sighed.  She looked at me again waiting for sympathy to spread over my face.

“Okay, get to it.”

She did find, when she sat snuggled up with me as I nursed Sparkles, that she could tolerate the copywork.  Even though she came to  enjoy the cozy moments on the couch each day, I still had to remind her to get her work done.

On the day of the performance, the sun rose upon a frazzled mom.  Chores were a chore, baby girl wasn’t napping, and we were on a long detour to get to the day’s school work.

“Mommy, I have to work on my poem!” Mookie announced over the sound of the baby and my voice shouting out chores that still weren’t done.

‘What poem?” 

“Mommy! I have to do it for Daddy tonight”

“Oh right, go work on it and let me know when you’re ready to show me.”

Twenty minutes later, in a calmer moment, she called me back for a preview. Afterward, I gave her some tips on diction and how to calm her nervous body.

“Also, tell us the poem the way you like to hear stories.  Let us know something exciting is happening.  Picture yourself as a fairy in your head, awed by each new season.”

She looked at me.  Then asked me to leave.

Thirty minutes later I was called back again. She’d added a British accent and a lot more expression.

A few hours passed as my mind turned to other tasks of the day.

As Daddy’s arrival drew near, I pulled her sister aside and gave her a little pep talk about being supportive and focusing on Mookie during her recitation(since she had heard the practicing all week, I worried she might be lacking in enthusisasm when the real time came).  Then she surprised me.

With a playful smile she said, “I’m not a part of audience, I’ll be doing something else, just wait and see.”

I was stumped.  Then I started noticing some things. The Boy was missing. Sounds from the rehearsal room told me he was with the actress.  

“Do you know where my flashlight is?  And do I have some dark clothes, like that might blend into darkness?” Jelly Bean asked.

The Boy came out holding pink gloves, “Help.”

Mookie, in the hours I had gotten busy, had recruited stagehands!  For the next hour, the actress, the director, and the spotlight technician busied themselves with preparation.  There was a stage to be set, lighting to be adjusted, proper backstage attire to found.  Hair to be fixed, costumes to be approved, and of course a few more run throughs.

Finally, when the black cloth was positioned for a stage, and the lightning was just so, the performance began.

With a 4 year old announcer and director, a 6 year old operating the spotlight, and an 8 year old giving the performance of a lifetime, you can imagine it was quite a show.

Later that night, thinking back on the “simple assignment”, I loved how it had turned into to something that so suited the individual talents of each of the kids. And how it had turned in to a family affair.

Afterward, Mookie and I sat on the couch together.  “At first when you told me I had to memorize a poem I thought ‘Boring’ but then this whole thing turned into real theater!”

And so it was.

A simple assignment.  With a lot of heart.
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Gallery of Great Works

Norman Rockwell, Edgar Degas, Grandma Moses.  These are a few of the artists we’ve met this year since adding Picture Study to our learning time.  Picture Study is a Charlotte Mason inspired idea.  

At our house, picture study looks like this.  

  • I pick an artist and find a nice large book containing his/her paintings from the library.
  • Each week, for six weeks, we look at one piece of art from the book.  I keep it displayed prominently in our family room, so that as we pass by it seeps into our memory.  
  • Sometime during the week, I take the book down and we look at the painting together.  We spend five minutes trying to remember as many things as we can about the painting and then I close the book.  Everyone takes turn sharing what they remember.  We open the book and see how we did and add elements we might have forgotten.  
  • Like the click of camera, now we have added the painting to the gallery in our mind.
  • If I find interesting books or videos about the artist, we add those as well.
  • Every 6 weeks, we start a new artist.

This takes us up about 10 to 15 minutes in our whole week, and already we have begun building a gallery of great works.

This week, I felt inspired by another element of picture study added by this family.

I confess, I was nervous about M and J’s reactions.  “I can’t draw that, ” seemed the least of the worries.  Falling to the floor and giving up completely because they couldn’t BE the artist was more of my concern.

So last night I showed the girls samples from the blog above and we talked about how we weren’t trying for perfect and all of our sketches would look different.

Today we tried it and it went great!  I know that having this positive experience is going to make the next time that much more fun and enthusiastic.  Here are the girl’s work side by side with our artist’s painting of the week, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Marc Chagall.

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Life is Learning

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In my secret heart of hearts, I’m an “unschooler”.  For those of you who may not know that term, it’s describes a philosophy behind homeschooling that means learning by what the day brings and where your children’s interests take you rather than with a stack of school books and a lesson plan.

We move in and out of various philosophies.  This year, as I saw pregnancy and baby ahead, I leaned much more toward lists and plans and official curriculum to make sure school was happening even on the low days.  Last year, we had many fancy free days of learning through trips to the zoo and hands on projects.  The unschooling approach I usually save for the days when all plans escape us due to sickness, exhaustion, or undeniably great weather, it’s when I look back at the day and see their make-believe games and the cooking we did together,wipe my brow and say, “See, the were still learning”.

There are major influences that build up my fear of unschooling more of our days.  Expectations from family and non-homeschooling friends, the comparative standards of our school system, the neighbors who might report me for neglecting my children’s “proper” education, and then my own etched memories of conventional school all group together to form a strong voice.  Despite that, a deeper voice tells me there is a better way to learn than at a table.

This past week we came to a day that I lacked good judgement and scheduled dentist appointments(for 3 children), swim lessons(for 3 children) and an night excursion for myself.  School, as the mainstream think of it, just couldn’t happen for this mom to stay sane.  So between getting teeth cleaned and putting on bathing suits the children went outside in a perfectly breezy spring day for four and half hours.  

Then spent most of those hours drawing.  

With an enthusiasm far beyond their regular art lessons(even though we all like those too)  they drew still life, self-portraits, and one another.  Later, as we traveled in the car we listened to the story of Hudson Taylor, the missionary to china.  We didn’t have to call it history or Bible Time to be just that.

That day was a day their minds were wide open.  Joyful.  Learning without calling it “school” and all the better for it.

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What They’ll Remember

Hopefully, when the girls look back on their homeschooling years, they’ll remember sweet hours of reading a good book with a spoon of cookie dough on the side…

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Small Space with a Big Purpose

We live in a 3 bedroom house.  We are expecting baby #4.  And we have a whole room for homeschooling.  You do the math and it doesn’t seem to add up to just the right amount of space for our growing family.

But I’m just not convinced that bigger(and more for me to clean and maintain) is better.  Our culture certainly says that every child needs their own room, not to mention that great media room, a guest room, etc.

But after a mad rush to re-arrange and accommodate the coming arrival of our sweet baby girl, I’m amazed at how satisfied I am with our space.  

Over the next few days(if I’m not too tired or busy having a baby) I’m going to post pictures of what we’ve been doing to make every space functional!  

Since it’s 6am and I am tired, here’s just a small idea of something that helped in our school room.

I struggled with the question that all moms with kids in school(home or public) battles with-what to do with all of their artwork!

First we hang in their gallery here:(this isn’t my favorite idea, but convenient for now-I’d like them each to have their own attractive gallery on the walls with frames)

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Then as they put up more artwork, they would transfer their older works to these shelves.  Well, the shelves we always overflowing and messy(since their math and copywork went here too).

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So we took an idea from this great book 

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http://www.amazon.com/Familyfun-Home-Creative-Practical-Family-Friendly/dp/0786853999/ref=sr_11_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1234438841&sr=11-1

and made art portfolios for this year.

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Simply take two large posterboards and attach 3 sides with duct tape or packaging tape.  Let your child decorate his portfolio.  And voila, now you have a compact storage space, marked with the year.  At the end of the year I plan on going through each portfolio with the child and selecting their favorite works to hold onto for the long run.

Now their artwork moves from a display on the wall to their portfolio.

Note: With our 3 year old, who doesn’t produce quite as much art work, we made a smaller version with smaller sized sheets of posterboard.

Check back for ideas on closet and toy organization.

Next on the list, sleep!

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Meek and Quiet Redefined

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Even though I’ve studied the words “meek” and “quiet” in many bible studies over the years, it’s been hard for me to give up the instinctual picture of a woman described with those words. I picture a woman who fearfully does her husband’s bidding, who never shares her opinion, a woman who is more like a shadow then a vibrantly colored soul.

With that weak image, I haven’t spent a lot of time wishing myself into that picture or those words.

When I picked up “Homeschooling with a Meek and Quiet Spirit”, I started it more on the recommend from other friends than on a real interest in my heart.

Within, the first chapter, the Lord has wiped away my very un-biblical idea of the words and instead placed in my heart a real desire to embody them.

My favorite definition of meek is “mild of temper, not easily provoked or irritated“. And for quiet it is “peacable, not turbulent, contented.”  

Even as I write the definitions a little sigh escapes me.  Acquiring these qualities makes life seem so much more-easy.  Not easy of course, that’s not really what I mean.  But if I’m not so quick to find frustration in every aspect of the day that doesn’t go my way-if I’m not easily provoked by the fighting over toys before we even start breakfast, by the child who doesn’t want to do her schoolwork, but the little boy who just wants attention, by the chores that lay ahead and might not get done. If I can ride those waves instead of fall under them, doesn’t life sound so much-more.  More joy(for everyone), more contentment, more invested in the moments of the day instead of how to pass them by quickly to the end.

This is the best book that I’ve read on homeschooling in a long time. (and really on life as well).  After introducing the idea of a meek and quiet heart, she goes on through the chapters to talk about what robs us of attaining this heart.

Speaking about Moses she says,

“What made him meek? I would suggest that, as with Jesus, it was his intimate, personal time with the God who called him to lead the people of Israel.”

More than turning to a new curriculum book, a friend who has all of the answers, or just quitting all together, Maxwell urges her reader on to seek the Lord at every turn.  And she does so with examples from her own life.

“I know there are plenty of other activities I could have done…during that half-hour..I spent with the Lord. We could have done more schooling, had a cleaner house, more fun playtimes, more ministry, more individual time with each child, more writing, more sewing, more exercise or more sleep! I know there is nothing that could have had the impact on my life, or the lives of my family members, than time with the Lord.  Any other decision for that time would have been one more robber of a meek and quiet spirit.”

When I see a problem in my life and go looking for the solution, it is often to gird up, to invest more time, to TAKE CARE of that problem.  If I’ve struggled with the care of our house, work harder and get more organized.  If I’ve struggled with a parenting issue, buckle down on discipline or spend more individual time.  If I’m not sleeping, well, then it’s certainly my right to sleep whenever I can grab the chance.  So it’s easy to justify the putting off of time with God-because I convince myself the effort I’m putting forth in that said time is what God would have me do.

But the author says give to God first.  Our only real need is Jesus.

In some ways there is rest in that idea.  Instead of doing it all on the strength I can muster, I can first give it over to God, sit with Him, and then see what the rest of the day brings.

Right now, there’s a pretty clear “robber” of my meek and quiet spirit.  I’m 35 weeks pregnant and not sleeping more than a handful of hours.  After a few weeks of this, it’s hard to keep out the crankiness in my voice and actions.  And the whole family has picked up on it pretty quickly.

Which means that other robbers, like issues to work out with the kids, daily chores and school, and a busy husband at work, seem tripled in size at the moment.  

But for the last week, the Lord has been telling me in a pretty loud voice “Come to me.  Pray to me.  Have absolute faith in my when you ask.”

Finally this morning I gave in.

Here’s a word for my next week, day, hour:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”
Psalm 119 

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February Craft Ideas

Here are a few ideas we’ll be trying at our house for the month of February:

This Cute Heart Garland, I think the girls will be able to put it together on their own…
(found thanks to mommysecrets)

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and this Fun Heart Wreath, I think we’ll take one to decorate my Dad’s door at his assisted living facility. (found thanks to theclarkchronicles)

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and this Candy Necklace, I don’t know if I’ll have the girls make these, or if I’ll make them for their treat on Valentine’s Day.

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Share your ideas!

Hope you have a lovin’ time at your house this month!

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