Back to School #4: A Day and Week in Action

O-hayou Gozaimasu!

That’s pronounced ohiyo goyzaimas and it means Good Morning¬†in Japanese… wanna know how my kiddos learned that?

Watching Anime with subtitles.


Welcome to Part 3 of my 5 Part Back to School series where we look at how a normal day and week work in our house.

Our Weekly Schedule

Our Weekly Schedule

Here is our formal schedule for our informal school week. Seems kind of counterproductive doesn’t it?
The thing is that, like I have mentioned before, we do best when we have a rhythm to our days. You will see times written in the schedule and honestly I ignore those times completely. They are there so that I can give my reviewer an idea of how things work, not so that our family becomes a slave to the almighty schedule. I say it like that not because I am judging people who need a schedule. Because some people really do need an itemized schedule to help keep them on track, there is nothing wrong with that. Some children have to know whats coming next and exactly what time that is going to happen, if your child fits that description than this will not work for you (but thanks for checking it out!). I word it so harshly because I am the kind of person that totally stresses out if I make a tight schedule and then can’t keep it. The truth is that I cannot keep up a strict schedule. I just can not.

In one of my other posts I call it Beautiful Chaos and that is exactly what it is. We have enough order to know whats happening next yet enough flexibility to go where the winds take us.

Here is how that looks:

My children have very slow and drawn out mornings.


Sometimes that means a diaper hat


Or winter wear in summer…


Or an adorable ensemble!

They usually wake up on Monday morning (730ish) and get dressed, they know we will head to the grocery store at some point in that day.

Then they play or watch cartoons until we leave (usually closer to 10), with a quick breakfast thrown in (c. 8 am) because mommy is NOT a morning person.


This could easily be Yoda, an alien, a fairy or a gnome…to start with


Empty drink servers are also drums, building blocks and so much more


Mirror Mirror is a favorite around here and a jumping point to all sorts of studies!

Their play is intense and intricate, often including complex story lines, character development, geography, science exploration, engineering experiments and multiple costume changes. I often include that when listing their language arts, science and social studies activities for the day.

They also know that we will probably set aside some time for copy work (hello language arts that only take¬†about 10 minutes), read a book or two (again language arts), watch some movie (that’s why we call it Movie Monday) or cartoon that will end up leading to a discussion (which leads to reading more books) about a group of people, place or event in history (hello social studies). Then we will go to the grocery store were we will be comparing prices, rounding and adding (yep, you guessed it thats math). Once home, we will put away the groceries (more math with sorting) and make lunch (math, again, and health). Over lunch I might read a poem out loud, play some classical music (composer study/music) or show them a piece of art and tell them about the style (art, artist study). Ending the time with a clean up (more math with all that sorting).

That is our morning.

After lunch the younger two take a nap, sometimes the younger three, but all four will have a quiet time.

This mommy is an introvert and even though much of their play is with each other, they are still very intense and by 2:00 pm I am spent! Completely and utterly exhausted. If we do not have private quiet time than mommy gets snappy, my fuse is infentismal and I tend to yell, which none of us like. Because we live in a small apartment, we have to be creative with our quiet time arrangements. Usually Itty bitty takes a nap in the master bedroom, it is about an hour and a half to two hours of dedicated quiet. It’s lovely and because she is asleep the others have to be quiet as well. Curly Que looks at books in her room, on her bed…more than half the time she falls asleep too. Little Miss goes up to her brothers loft to read (look at books), do puzzles, color, draw or sleep. Two to three days a week she will fall asleep for about half an hour of that. Little Man reads or plays quietly on his DS in the living room with me, where I read, nap or write.

Everyone wakes up from this lull between 300-345ish and they are hungry. Which brings us to their favorite time of day, Tea Time. For Tea Time we use the fancy dish ware, set up the main table properly and enjoy a nice snack together. We talk about the stories they made up during quiet time, read poetry, work on Mad Libs together, try to stump each other with logic problems or tell jokes. Many of the jokes end with “on your face!” and lots of little giggles.


After tea is free play. Anything goes all afternoon long until Daddy comes home and we have Dinner. I try to clean while they play throughout the day but that doesn’t always happen.

Pretty much everyday works out like this.

On Tuesdays our tea time is a little more structured around poetry (each child will choose one or two poems for mommy to read out loud) and we do any errands or appointments during the morning.

Wednesday is our dedicated Library day and we go to two different libraries. One has a great selection of older, living books and it is small enough that the Librarian knows who we are and what we are reading every time we visit (which is so cool!!). The other Library is a larger county library with a larger selection in general. Then in the evening we watch the Nature and NOVA shows as a family on our local PBS station.

Thursday is our Nature study / Science day. We spend almost all morning out in nature. We have nature journals that the children use to collect specimen (via gluing the specimen into the book or drawing it), a pocket microscope, colored pencils, a tape measure and unscheduled time to roam. If there is a science interest that requires research or experimentation we do it in the Afternoons.

IMG_2539 IMG_2906 IMG_2926 IMG_3515 IMG_3576 IMG_3674

Can you tell they really like Thursdays?

Fridays are also one of their favorite days of the week. We call them free fridays. The only thing they do that even remotely looks like school is Free write Fridays. For 3 solid minutes the younger two draw, Little Miss draws according to a specific topic (we tried actually writing but she gets so frustrated and upset that we stopped that after 15 seconds, we also tried crayons so that she couldn’t erase and that was disastrous!) and Little Mister writes about a topic of his choosing (he needs a few minutes before we start to formulate his thoughts before the writing exercise begins, it may not be true free writing but its preparing them in its own way). Usually we have Piano lessons on Friday, sometimes we try to go to a local market, other days we go on field trips and some days we play in a playground all day long. It is free friday and every friday looks completely different! Our Free Fridays often turn into fun weekend trips too.

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Cape Cod

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

Information Center in Philadelphia

Information Center in Philadelphia

Baltimore Aquarium

Baltimore Aquarium

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

Reading Terminal Market, Philadelphia, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Valley Forge, PA

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Kinder Farm Park

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

Playground on Fort Meade, MD

National Cathedral, Washington DC

National Cathedral, Washington DC

Hayride to Strawberry Patch

Hayride to Strawberry Patch

Strawberry Picking, PA

Strawberry Picking, PA

Montpelier Mansion, Laurel MD

Montpelier Mansion, Laurel MD

Making and Canning fresh Strawberry Jam

Making and Canning fresh Strawberry Jam

So there you have it. A day and week in the life of US! We don’t take too much too seriously. We try to have fun in hands on ways. ¬†While we have this overarching rhythm to our days, nothing is absolute. We have even been known to do a Movie Monday activity on Tuesday and a Tuesday tea on Thursday. Each day is an adventure awaiting discovery, even if that discovery is how much fun hiding under blankets on the couch can be!

Hope to see you all next time when I post How we record all of this so that it is legal in our State!

You can also go back to to Post 3, Post 2 or Post 1 by clicking on the Hyperlink.


Back to School #3: Planning and Resources without Curriculum

Welcome Back!


Nature Study in the Rain

It’s my Back to School roundup and so far we have gone through What I’ve Learned about Homeschooling so far and How we use the Charlotte Mason and Unschooling philosophies in our house.

I did not go into any detail behind the two philosophies because honestly there is already so much out there on those subjects that I felt no need to repeat it. Also, while I honestly believe that everything we do can be repeated in any household, please recognize that my children are gifted and therefore tend to do things differently than others their age. ¬†NOT BETTER, just different. They are crazy, wild and all over the place…and I have four of them. Each one dealing with their own asynchronous learning and over excitabilities which can be a handful to begin with. That being said lets get on to todays topics, Planning and Resources!

First off is how we plan when we don’t really know what we are going to learn.

1) Quarters not Semesters or Years.

We break our year up into quarters, two quarters before December and two quarters after January. This is strictly for state purposes. Well, not strictly. Here is the thing, my little guy knows that he has to do certain things in order to place them into our portfolio for the state. We try our best to get as much of that as we can organically but they tend to be sticklers in the writing and math areas (at least the last two reviewers were) and so we (my son, husband and I) have come to the decision together to have a few pages in a composition book a week dedicated to writing and math. However, the little guy also knows that school is not all year long and will read my calendar in order to find out when our “off” time is and refuse to do any “work” during that time…such as his writings or math. Im completely fine with that.

The real reason that we use quarters is that it is much more conducive to unschooling. It’s easier to plan if we are reevaluating our topics every three months or so. So at the end of June, September, January and March we have a planning tea. I make a quiche, scones, cakes, sandwiches and tea (or we go out for one at a local Tea Shop) and we have a high tea together. I have with me a little notebook, a pen and the calendar on my phone to jot everything down. During our tea we discuss what we learned over the last year and talk about the subjects that interest us now and would like to explore more. Each child adds their interests to the list and we figure out on quarters worth of materials at a time.

2) What our Lists looks like this year

Little Man (2nd Grade):

Geology*, World War I, Fractions, Multiplication, How to write a research paper, How to write a Lab Report, Nutrition and Running a mile.

Little Miss (Kindergarten):

How to read, Addition to 50, Double digit subtraction, Telling time, Tying her Shoes (she wants to beat her big brother to it), Mammals, Birds, Write a story

Curly Que (PreK-4):

How to Read, Addition, Subtraction, Write her Name, Insects, Water Mammals

Itty Bitty (PreK-2.5):

Bugs, Fish, Farm, ABC’s

*my children chose these subjects, I have changed the wording from Rocks, minerals and land masses to geology , or subtraction with 10’s and so forth.

* The amount of input I gave to these lists is: “what would you like to study?” “Is there a time period you are interested in?” …thats about it.

3) Look up the topics together.


Learn how to read.

Little Miss is a Right Brained, hands on learner. We have been working on reading since she was 3, at her request! I keep telling her that it is ok if she is not ready to learn yet and she pushes the subject. She knows that there are phonemes. She can make all of their sounds. She knows her ABC’s and can make all of their sounds. She can recognize any letter when standing alone and name it. She can sound out and separate sounds in CVC words verbally. She cannot put any of these things together when trying to read it off of a page. When asked what she sees she describes, in her words, that “the letters are wiggly and really messy”, every single time. For the past year I have been fighting with pediatricians trying to get referrals and trying to get those referrals taken to find out why this is so difficult. The response is the same everywhere, “she’s too young to diagnose as having a problem” or “she’s too young to test” This year we are trying again but most of them have told us that they will not look at a child younger than 2nd grade. So this year after doing some more research we decided to toss the curriculums and go after this fully through living resources and everyday experiences.

Curly que is left brained and active. She began speaking in complete sentences before her 1st birthday, so it came as no surprise when she declared that she wanted to read too. She will be 4 in October and honestly I think she already knows how at a basic level but hides it from her big sis. This is her chance to pretend she is learning while at least progressing, and I have no qualms about giving this to her.

Charlotte Mason recommends a combination of sight words and phonics taught through play, both hands on and verbally. I plan on using this method. I have done the research and it is completely compatible with the organic, everyday learning that is recommended with unschooling. However, as long as the child is helping with the choosing, there is nothing wrong with choosing a curriculum for your unschooled child, even if some radical unschoolers will tell you so. The point is that you are listening to the requests and needs (including learning styles) of your child.



We will be simultaneously covering Geology and Biology because that is what is interesting to my children. My youngest three are all interested in animals, in a way that their brother never was. Maybe that has something to do with the amount of time spent on Nature study over the past year and a half with the girls at a much younger age or maybe its just that he has a space obsession. I do not know.

Either way this is how we get into Biology:

  • Visits to the National Aquarium in Baltimore (memberships), The National Zoo in DC, The Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, Kinder Farm, Local Lakes, State Parks, National Parks, Nature Centers.
  • Checking out every book we can find that has to do with any of these animals and read them together. We try to find stories that are written by experts, as stories that realistically show the animal and otherwise living books.
  • Watch documentaries such as but not limited to: PBS, Nova, Nature, BBC, Disney (they have some wonderful documentaries with amazing cinematography), Animal Planet or any others we can find via Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon.
  • Youtube videos, Online Scientific photos/stories
  • Cartoons or TV shows: Go Diego Go, Wild Kratts, Big World, Steve Erwin and others
  • Roadkill and grocery stores: My children know what they eat, they are not shielded from death and while it may seem morbid often these two options open up a slew of discussion topics regarding biology.


I know my son well enough to know that when he mentions any science outside of Astronomy it is because he wants to know more about that subject only so he that he can understand it in terms of Astronomy. When we studied Chemistry it was purely for the periodic elements, atom make up and reactions. Why? because he wanted to know how the stars were made. When that wasn’t enough information he studied Physics and gravity. Now he wants to know what planets, comets and asteroids are made of and so he chose geology. I won’t kid myself into thinking that I finally got him to broaden his horizons, but I will take advantage of this subject and strew the living daylights out of it! so in the mean time we will study it through…

  • Visits to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Children’s Museum in Baltimore, The Science Center in Baltimore, National and State parks (and any ranger talks we can get into), Nature Centers, Home Depot/Lowes, The Dinosaur Park in Connecticut (which has a great geology walk), quarries, coal mines turned museums (there is one in Jim Thorpe, PA that we may visit again).
  • Every Living Book, Usborne/Kingfisher/DK/Eyewitness/Field Guide we can get our hands on for free or cheap. (Thrift shops and Libraries are the best resource for this!)
  • Documentaries or Cartoons: PBS, NOVA, BBC, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu Plus, Magic school bus…I’m still searching
  • Youtube, BrainPop, Science based websites found through Google or Pinterest
  • Rock Collecting on Nature Walks
  • Ipad and online game options: Alchemy, Elements
  • Science Course for Little Man through a Local Organization and if we are lucky and they reopen, through SERC. For the Girls through the Baltimore Aquarium.


Non-Learning how to Read Language Arts

We follow some ideas from the Brave Writer Blog¬†because their ideas and products are amazing! We don’t use the products as of now but I’m not opposed to them. Instead we approach language arts as a fun past time.

  • Movies, Games and Cartoons: We approach visual media in much the same way that we do books. We analyze them as we watch or play them. Right now my children are in love with all things Pokemon. We find books about pokemon, we categorize the Pokemon, we talk about the story lines. Who are the main characters, who is the protagonist (we do use this word followed by good guy/main person just to get them used to the terminology) or antagonist. What is going to happen next? Did this episode relate to the last episode? How?…we also use more traditional options for the integration into the subject. We watch movies or shows based on books and then discuss the similarities and differences. They watch shows specifically meant to teach a language skill, like: WordWorld, Wordgirl, Martha Speaks, Pinky Dinky Doo.
  • We read books. Go figure! We actually read a lot of books…usually mom reading out loud but that gets tiresome so sometimes we have quiet book time, the ones that can’t read LOVE to pretend that they are reading and often make up stories based on the pictures. There are favorites that we read repeatedly, classics that we try out, chapter books occasionally…they take a while and my guys are wiggle worms!
  • I strew books like Basher’s Grammar¬†or Super Grammar¬†and the little guy reads them, repeatedly.
  • I pad and online options: bookworm, Storybird, Bookworm heroes, PBS Kids, ABCYA, Turtle Diary
  • Writing projects that we use to meet his goals: Free Write, Copy Work (he started copying one sentence, than one complex sentence, followed by one paragraph and eventually a short paragraph…this may take all year or until next year, I’m fine with that), one or two research papers and a handful of Lab Reports (probably as a part of a science course). Little Man absolutely hates writing but he knows that it is necessary and so we try to minimize how much we have to do for now. The girls on the other hand love it and want to do Copy work or Free write almost everyday.


Social Studies

The girls get their social studies interests as we read books and usually will ask for more after we have read a particularly interesting subject. Or they will focus on a single subject and want to know everything about it: like pirates or ninjas. At least thats what happened last year and so the best thing to do is be prepared for anything. Which is where google and pinterest come in handy.

Little Man is a different story. He watches documentaries with us or reads encyclopedias for fun and decided what he wants to learn so:

  • he finds books
  • we watch documentaries or cartoons
  • he navigates through sites like Brainpop, Mr. Nessbaum, youtube, and any others we can find
  • we go to museums and memorials



This is the subject that we do the least “work” with but practice most often.

  • We play games like :Dominoes, card games, dice games, Battleship, Yahtzee
  • We cook together: measurements, fractions, counting, adding, subtraction, time is all a natural part of cooking
  • We grocery shop together. Little Miss looks for the best price and Little Man adds it all up after I round it (out loud) to the nearest half dollar.
  • We have math games galore on the iPad and computer that they have free reign to play. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, fractions, time, measurement, patterns, greater than and less then.
  • We do math problems written on a piece of paper for the journal three times a week.
  • khan academy is available to them to use at their leisure. Last year they used it regularly but the mastery challenges were not quick enough for them and they were frustrated with not seeing their progress fast enough.


Health and PE

  • Wii sports, Wii fit,
  • Running at the track, Rock Climbing (at the playgrounds)
  • Nutrition: talking about healthy foods, reading books, talking to doctors, cooking, cartoons like magic school bus
  • Hygiene: brushing teeth thoroughly and twice daily, cleaning your body, washing hands, covering mouth, germs, bacteria


The Arts

  • Children’s theater or concerts at local colleges and community centers
  • Art museums in DC and Philadelphia
  • Street Artists
  • Online music (pandora, spotify, etc)
  • Videos of Operas, symphonies or theater performances online or through PBS Masterpiece Theater
  • Creating art projects
  • Piano Lessons



  • Weekly Sunday School
  • Weekly AWANA
  • Memorization for AWANA
  • daily Bible readings
  • VeggieTales, VHS bible stories, 3-2-1 Penguins!


I hope this can be of use to someone who is trying to plan without always knowing exactly what will happen next!

Good Luck and Happy Hunting!

Back to School #2: Unschooling Charlotte Mason Mashup

Post #2 in a series about getting back to school!

Water Discovery on a hot day.

Water Discovery on a hot day.

The days of summer are beginning to fade. The long nights are not quite so long. Backpacks and uniforms can be found in every Target, Walmart and Mall. Summer Reading lists are being crammed. Parents everywhere are jumping for joy. So are we. Not because our children will be leaving us for hours everyday, giving us that long awaited peace (which really sounds quite lovely at times!), but rather, because all of our favorite places will be ours alone once more!

No more wading through crowds to get to our favorite Smithsonian museums, or waiting in line to go down our favorite slides. No, no,no, it will be us against the world as we head out to supermarkets during school hours, braving curious and vocal strangers at every turn! Lets face it, we are not the norm. Not only do we homeschool but we unschool. If we tell people that we homeschool the next question is almost always what curriculum do you use. Depending on how brave, or talkative I am, I will either say “I make it up” or “we are unschoolers” because the first will bring questions but the second will bring shock and immediate judgement.

Yes, we unschool. Yes I allow my children to tailor their own education. Yes my oldest is 7, which is second grade for us, then we have my 5 year old who is in Kindergarten, my 3.5 year old is in Preschool and my 2 year old, she’s just a toddler. Yes, we do school. Yes, we have rules. No, I’m not a hippy…although I wouldn’t mind being one someday ūüôā

You see, we are unschoolers who dabble in Charlotte Mason. I love the philosophy behind Charlotte Mason’s writings. I love the Literature rich environment, the focus on Nature, science and the Arts. I love the idea of 20 minute lessons and using Copy work, Narration and Dictation to help build language skills. Here’s what i don’t like, the scheduling! I used to think that I needed to introduce history in chronological order but you know what happened? My kids and I were bored, and history has always been my favorite subject! I just couldn’t do all those subjects in those orders, it was too forced for us.

Also we did not start out as Unschooling enthusiasts, we started out as classical enthusiasts…my early blog posts are proof of that. I tried, I really did and the Classicist in me (literally my undergrad was in Classical Studies!) wanted nothing more than to create mini-classicists in my children. The thing is though, that my son is a natural scientist, my daughter is a natural artist, my little fireball is a book worm and our youngest is a mashup of all of them!

So after this long intro here is how we make this work in real life…in Bullet form to make it easier.

– My Children choose the subjects. I will go into more depth in my next post but basically I ask them “What do you want to learn this year” and then we make a list.

– Once the list is made we follow it, and any rabbit trail that may pop up along the way.

Have Stick, will pretend.

Have Stick, will pretend.

– I give LOTS of suggestions. Almost to the point of bombardment. They are not required to do any of the suggestions but the idea has been planted.

– We live in a state that requires a twice annual review that proves that there has been instruction and I will dedicate an entire post to how we prepare for this but our children are highly involved with the process. We invite our¬†children to be¬†a part of this preparation process starting on the first “day” of “school”…which is usually an arbitrary day after our family vacation in July.

I remind them that we have to have things written and available to prove that they are learning and they choose what they will make or write. They each chose to have a single composition book to prove weekly math and writing.

– So how does that fit into our unschooling household? Simple, my children are responsible for setting their own parameters. For example, my son does not like to write. It is the bane of his existence. He knows that he has to show that he can write. We talked about what that would look like and this is what we came up with: (I made lots of suggestions and he said yes or no).

-Copy work is twice a week at most (usually once a week),

-Free write on Fridays (10 minutes of constant writing)

-One story a month on Storybird.

If there are any other writings that occur they are entirely his choice. For example, he wants to learn how to make a lab report and write a research paper so we will need to build up to that.

– We allow our children to decide on the consequences of unfinished homework.

Those assignments mentioned earlier break down to one assignment every other day and he has all week to complete them: 7 full days were his decision upon realizing that he would end up with 6 writing assignments and then 9…he didn’t like the idea of getting stuck at the end of the month or quarter with that many assignments so he gave himself a limit…we suggested this.

-We then asked him if at the end of that week his assignments were not done what would be the consequence (making him responsible for his own choices) and he chose to lose tv until the work was complete.

– We mix the how’s of learning from charlotte mason (copy work, dictation, living books) with the why’s of unschooling.

In our house that looks like this:

1) Son “How does the sun burn hot enough to warm Earth and all of the other planets” while staring out the window on the way to the grocery store.

2) My response “Well, the sun is a Star and stars are made up of burning gases. Why don’t you look up what happens when the gasses explode on my phone?” followed by me passing my phone back in the car.

3)  He then types why is the sun hot or similar query into my Safari search engine (asking every other letter to make sure he is spelling it correctly) and then reads the results out loud until we find an answer.

4)  Then he reads it out loud, we watch a video together or we find a documentary we can watch at home.

5) After watching the documentary and answering his initial question we then go to the library the next day and find all the books we can on stars, solar systems and chemistry/ elements.

6) At home, or in the park, we read the books together (with his sisters who are now also engaged)

7) I ask him to tell me what he’s learned (which is narration)


He might choose one of the sentences in the book to be his copy work that week


He may choose to write a story about a boy who goes to the sun

or perhaps, and really most likely in our house,

He will use the new information to transform his pretend time with his sisters…i’ll use that as narration too.

– We do weekly nature studies (the kids pick the park and we spend hours outside letting them explore as they wish),

– We go to the theater as often as possible,

– Museums a few times a month

– We listen to a composer (of their choosing from a list of possibilities) while driving

– We have art from a specific artist or time period strewn about in the house.

Learning about play in the 1700's

Learning about play in the 1700’s

– We have weekly activities that keep our house moving to a solid rhythm.

No schedules or minute by minute checklists, they work for some but definitely not us. We move to a rhythm, a set of weekly activities that keep us moving, both academically and as a family.

Such as Tuesday Tea time with Poetry readings and practicing manners.

I will go more into this later on when we tackle scheduling…or unscheduling…muahaahaa. (ok that was unnecessary, but fun so I will keep it!)

I have gotten pretty long winded here so I will save the rest for later. If you have any questions or want some more specific examples let me know, I love helping people figure out how to make things work for them!

Find Post 3 (Planning and Resources without Curriculum) here.

Back to School 2014!

at the Farm

At the Farm

Last year we began our homeschool journey, again. We ditched almost all of the curriculum, changed gears radically and fell in love with learning. I most definitely call 2013-2014 a success, so it should come as no surprise that, with all the back to school hoopla thats taking over the airwaves, facebook feeds and weekly circulars, my reevaluation of this upcoming year is pretty simple. In fact thats my keyword for the year (again). Simplicity is the name of our game.

So simple that I am going to get rid of the little bit of curriculum we bought at the end of last year. We are jumping in with full force, as in curriculum free! There will be no reading curriculum, no math curriculum…nothing but living learning for us! This year will be a continuation of our experiment, because it is an experiment that we tweak according to results, from last year. More Unschooling and more Charlotte Mason, less, no, I suppose a better word is no, no workbooks.

To prepare me for this moment I have done a lot of research. More research than ever before over the past year trying to figure out how people make homeschooling¬†work in real life. I’ve read blogs, participated in multiple Facebook groups and a few forums as well. Here’s what I’ve learned about homeschooling in general.

1) Every family is unique every year. What worked last year may not work this year. What worked for kid #1 may not fit kid #2. Successful homeschooling families learn to roll with the punches and sometimes that means just letting go of things that don’t work, even if they cost lots of money.

2) There are a TON of free or cheap resources out there! Seriously more than I can count! Holy cow, I am always amazed at how much there is on Pinterest, teachers pay teachers, ihomeschool network¬†and many other places. Some of these things are workbooky, some meant for lap books, others are teacher guides, or read a louds, and a few are full curriculums (like MEPs, a completely free math curriculum that rivals Singapore math!). It may take some digging but you can find resources for any and every subject without buying a curriculum…which makes traveling down rabbit holes so much less expensive!

3) There are many technological resources that go unnoticed because people are looking for paper formats. Youtube¬†has SOOOOOOO many (yes, it requires that much of an emphasis) amazing science, history and hands on videos that will blow your mind and foster your child’s interests. Brain Pop¬†is Amazing for all sorts of information. Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime have such a great selection of not only educational cartoons but also documentaries and PBS/BBC specials that are not only fascinating but also highly entertaining (my budding chemist has watched¬†Hunting the Elements¬†about four times in the last few months alone!). We have gone so far as to cancel our cable subscription and rely on those three providers fully (its our opinion and we are not getting paid for it).

4) Homeschoolers don’t spend¬†a lot of time at home. Funny how home is in the name and all, but in reality, we are rarely ever home! In our house Mondays are grocery days (which ends up being a math and health lesson), Tuesdays are PE days and we go to the track (training to run a 1 mile kids fun run in October) as well as lots of fun at the playground, Wednesdays are library days, Thursdays are for Piano lessons and Nature Study, and Fridays are for field trips. Not to mention any class we may sign up for along the way. Granted it’s all totally flexible, but still we have a rhythm to our days, our week, our month and it keeps us all sane.

Visiting the Montpelier Mansion's English Gardens

Visiting the Montpelier Mansion’s English Gardens

5) Homeschooling in general is about relationships over stuff. It is time spent fostering good relationships with each other. It is making the time to build or maintain friendships. It is focusing on learning how to love learning. Its about finding your spiritual center and making it a priority in your home (regardless of what religion you practice or if you practice). It is above all rejecting the idea that things make you happy.

Outside the Smithsonian

Outside the Smithsonian

In general, no matter what style you eventually settle on, how you school will depend entirely on how your family works. There are so many options out there (school at home, online school, everything prepared and planned out for you curriculum in a box, subject based curriculums that are completely separate, Waldorf, Montessori, Classical, Thomas Jefferson or leadership, Charlotte Mason, Unschooling, Project Based, and any hybrid you can think of) and every one of them is as viable as the next as long as they fit your personal dynamic. I enjoy using great literature to learn through everyday life. We don’t require subjects, daily activities or impose things like bedtimes. Everyday in our house is filled with active and inactive learning.

In order to save space, I am going to turn this into a series,which is a new concept on this blog, so expect a 5 part Back to School series over the next week. Post #2 will look at Unschooling and Charlotte Mason philosophies or more specifically, how we utilize the philosophies in our own home. Post #3 will look at how we plan for our year and how we find resources that will help us on our journey. Post #4 will look at a day and week in the life of this crazy bunch and Post #5 will look at how we record our progress so that everything is legal in our state.

Join me! ūüôā

Beautiful Chaos

Two weeks have passed since their family of six moved the half mile from their townhouse with a gorgeous wood lined back yard to the new third floor apartment. Money needed to be saved and expenses cut if they ever wanted to claim their goal of being debt free. She walked the twenty feet from her bedroom door to their crowded living room. Passing with each step the signs of their recent change.

Clean laundry piles towards mountainous heights throughout the small hallway. Breakfast dishes, in their multicolored arrays, create a rainbow against the silver linings of the sink while the countertops are filled with dish ware awaiting a home. The harmonies of little voices ranges from melodious laughter with a low lying rhythm of arguments to high pitched yelling littered with calls for mom.

The new apartment is still too new. Order and routine slip through the cracks of unpacking monotony. The space that confines requires a daily escape. The stuff lays untouched with beautiful purpose as they try to focus on the importance of relationships over objects.

Another lesson to add to the daily journal, somewhere down the line we can call that school, she thinks as she jots down the thought in the spiral binder that permanently lives above the waves of stories. She glances at the two youngest in the brood sitting nicely while the older two give “school” lessons in their pajamas.

“The sun is the center of the solar system. We live on a planet that orbits the sun, it’s name is earth.” Her seven year old lectures patronizingly to his three year old sister who is desperately trying to reach the pony he has hidden behind his chair.

“Let’s sing the ABC song, they need to know the abc song” her five year old announces, cutting off big brother in the process.

“I know my abc’s” her three year old retorts indignantly. “My pony needs me, we need to check her heart rate before she endures too much stress!” She starts whining loudly with tears slowly gracing her face at the the thought of being unable to treat her dearest friend.

“Fine, I’m done playing school. You be the witch of winter who is trying to destroy the light in the universe with her blizzard powers. I will be the knight sent by the princess to find the seven elemental swords that can end the darkness. Farewell! I must go on a quest!” Her seven year old began galloping off as he searched the house for the hidden gems.

“Gallop slowly, there are people who live downstairs” she reminded the gallant knight as he left for his journey. Apartment living is only short term she reminded herself for the fourth time that morning.

“Wait, I’m the princess and I am not going to just sit in my castle! If I can find the sword of earth and the horse of earth than I can control every land mass in the universe! I’m coming with you” her five year old demanded as she ran across the living room.

“I want to be the witch! I’m going to surround you in a black hole!”the three year old cackled, instantly forgetting her friend and patient.

She chuckled internally, wondering if her little fireball even knew what a black hole was. The notebook was returned to it’s home and she turned to face the mornings dishes.

“Me read book! Me read book!” The two year old found her chance for unadulterated attention, had created a pile of books on the couch and was now wrapped between her mothers legs urgently asking for story time.

The scene is nothing new. The location had been recently changed, but the events of the day were the same as any other. But she was different. The mess bothered her now. Things needed homes. Laundry needed to be hung up, all of the clothes in the house needed to be unpacked. Books needed to be sorted and organized, at least by genre so they could find what they were looking for.

Their home was always busy, always covered with clutter and messes that proved a family indeed lived within the walls. However, this was completely unorganized, and it stressed her with every glance.

She was not a type A person, she did not need glorious organizational systems and perfectly maintained book shelves, but she did need order and beauty. There needed to be a balance between beauty and chaos. She needed a beautiful chaos.

Toys and books strewn about where lesson waiting to be learned. Crayons, colored pencils and markers visibly laid across the small children’s desk was proof that today’s masterpiece was in the works. Clean laundry on the couch was sign that there would be clothes to find tomorrow. That was all normal and good.

Beauty needed to come from having something hanging delicately up on the walls. Beds that were built and had at least been made once. Toys having shelves or boxes as homes when she called out “clean up time” to the minions.

It was time to restore the beautiful chaos, even if it needed to be relocated to a tiny apartment. But first there is a toddler demanding that Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and The hungry little caterpillar be read, again, with voices and no thought of skipping pages.

The Birth, Death and Rebirth of a Writer

The awakening began at a young age. Entranced by words of all kinds. Emboldened by images that frolicked in the fields of her mind. Unaware of the weirdness that lie beneath.

Imaginary worlds were grown in the free play between siblings and neighborhood friends. Intricate story lines involving evil sorcerers and heroic princess’ being directed by a five year old to a group of children just wanting to play.

Never ending poems and songs being sung for HOURS while climbing trees and arranging Barbie dolls. Using the blocks to create a mall for the Barbies to shop in with their fabulous accessories while terrorist Gi Joes infiltrated the encampments searching for stolen jewelry to fund their campaigns. Always commanded by her little brother who was happy to play along if it meant warfare was immanent.

A world where anything could happen was fostered by her loving family. She was told she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. So she followed her passions, desperately trying to find enough information to quench her thirst. Her days filled with exciting explorations and action packed adventures, even if the only thing they did that day was go to the grocery store.

The heart of an artist was born when that tiny baby entered the world. The mind of an artist was cultivated in that dorm apartment of a young early childhood education major and her young seminary student husband. They read to calm her insatiable hunger for more. They sang to her and introduced her to their own passions. They raised a creative soul.

Then like all great parents of the time they enrolled her in a local school when the time was appropriate. They were active parents. A room mom and a supportive dad always there to help with homework and stand by as cheerleaders.

But there was something they didn’t notice. You see the other children and the teachers had expectations and she was so bright that she noticed what those expectations were. She knew what they wanted from her. Their actions and reactions spoke louder than any words.

They were quick to silence her questioning, her talking, her daydreaming. This was a place for learning. Pay attention. Stop talking. Don’t doodle on your homework. You’re such a bright child but you need to stop talking. Why don’t you apply yourself. If you’d just apply yourself you would be a success.

Sometimes through actions, others when they thought she wasn’t listening (but she was always listening) and other times straight to her face.

She liked being the good girl and so she conformed to their expectations. She stood in line when she wanted to dance. She wrote in sentences even though she thought a picture would describe it better. She tried to stop talking but her mind was racing so fast that she needed to let the ideas escape and so she found herself talking to anyone who would listen. She saw patterns in everything and when she pointed them out the teacher rejected it, saying that she wasn’t paying attention to the lesson. She would look out of the windows and imagine dragons and knights battling on the playground equipment only to be admonished for daydreaming.

The other children called her weird and bossy. Every year was a new school, a new system to figure out and new rules to adapt to. The imagination was always there but never vocalized, not any more. By the time she reached fifth grade she had killed off the writer inside. Buried her under all of the expectations she felt needed to be met in order to be a good girl.

She was praised for getting right answers, praised for doing as she was told and praise was good, so she did more. She was teachers pet but at the same time she was painfully aware that if she acted too smart then the other kids would turn on her and so she walked that delicate balance. Trying to please everyone, always.

After a decade of pretending, she was a broken shell of herself. Unable to cope with the expectations any longer.

She tried to find herself again. She followed her interests and battled the need for acceptance. For 15 years she fought the need to please everyone else. She fought the need to live up to others expectations and actually do what SHE wanted.

She was broken and trying to find an answer. In the darkness and solitude of the crowded world surrounding her she quietly picked up a pencil. No one saw her. No one noticed. But she felt alive.

You see, she was successful, she had become what everyone else had molded her to be. She had successfully created an image that others would approve of. Others were envious of her ability to do so much. She was happily (truly happily) married, she had intelligent and fun children, a Masters degree and an ability to make it look like she juggled it all.

It took her 25 years to come to the realization that she was a writer and perhaps an artist. That she needed to let those stories escape the prison her mind had become. She needed to express the incessant chattering and imagery that had always filled her mind.

It took motherhood to break her free.

It took seeing herself in her rambunctious, knowledge thirsty children with wild imaginations to realize that this was an integral part of her that could not be killed off.

It took playing with words at 2 am, nightly.

It took walking away from a night at home to a night at a coffee shop, surrounded by the peaceful silence of strangers chatter, with only her mind and a pen as company.

A writer was born.

A creative soul was created by an almighty creator.

Who are we to tell her that she needs to die?

Read some of Tabitha’s projects at¬†Under the Fig Tree

My Apples Fell Close to this Tree!

For 1 week now we have been living in an Apartment. It has not been unpacked yet, we are still finding homes for everything and it is tiny for this family of 6! Before we moved here I spent about a month (because that’s all the time we had between the decision to move and the move out date) purging the unnecessary clutter. Upon moving in we have come to a few realizations.

1) We own large furniture. Almost everything we own is a hand me down, pretty much everything we own was once located in a very large house and almost everything is 10 years old or more. The exception being our ikea shelves that I bought for toy storage. With only 1000sq ft it’s very obvious that our furniture is oversized!

2) I have no real cleaning routine, and that will change. Not because I want to be more responsible. No I will be cleaning much more often because our appliances are tiny and cannot handle too much. Our sink gets full after breakfast dishes…after dinner the dishwasher is full AND I still have a sink full of dishes. One load of laundry is 1/3 of what I used to do, in fact washing only the days dirty clothes for everyone in the house fills up the washer. That is one outfit person… Half of which are toddler sized!

3) My children are my clones. They have many of their fathers attribute and tendencies but when your in a tiny apartment with thin walls and can hear every conversation you get a better understanding of how people think and my littles are undoubtedly mine!

Their imaginations come from me…all the way down to make believe mythical worlds that must be saved from aliens and time bending bad guys. The love of all things nerdy also comes from me…it is because of my love of sci-fi/fantasy that my 7yr old requested a sonic screwdriver for his birthday and why my 5 year old DAUGHTER loves Star Wars (and Dr. Who!)!!

Their sensitivities come from me. Living in this chaos gets under my skin and makes me highly irritable…now multiply that by 4. We are all living on edge because our environment is in shambles. Daddy is the most level headed one of us all…for now, poor guy.

Temper tantrums are always viable options. I wonder why my kids are always melting down and then whilst freaking out due to the stress of it all (because I’m an idiot to plan a move in less than 30 days and start the school year at the same time while also packing for a week long family vacation!) I realized that I still have temper tantrums. I’m just more able to rationalize why.

Sometimes I need to just do. I need to go somewhere new, do something different, make something that’s creative or think something radical. Surprisingly so do my children! As long as the change is only temporary then anything goes for all of us and if there is too much routine we all get cranky. But what they create and how willing they are to just go (right now they all want to move to Japan and then South America just to experience it all and learn new languages!) surprises and astounds us regularly.

In fact, so much of what makes me quirky is what makes them awesome. Some of the very traits I looked at with insecurity in my youth, are now what makes my wild, crazy, sensitive children so much fun to be around!

So there you have it…I take responsibility for having minions of awesomeness that have spawned upon this earth. Your Welcome.