Monday, April 27, 2015

Homeschooling is a Scary Proposition

It's the last installment of homeschool week on the blog. For earlier posts see here and here and here.

Today we'll be looking at some obstacles to homeschooling, and how to overcome them, if you feel like homeschooling is something you'd like to try.

The question:


Hi Kendra!

I've been following your blog for a little over a year now and I really love it!  I so admire your awesome family life and your self-confidence.

I am hoping that you can give me some advice with a problem I've been wrestling with for a while now.  Homeschooling has been on my mind and the posts you've written about it already have helped me immensely.  I really have no problem with the public school system, but I really love the idea behind homeschooling that life centers around home and the family.  I have 3 kids:  Claire (3), who would be starting JK in September and twin boys, Simon and Thomas (1).  I know I can do it (though I'm also realistically prepared for hard days and challenges!), my husband supports me (God bless him) and I am blessed to already know several good homeschooling families that live nearby.  There are two problems that are still stopping me from taking the plunge: 

First, I know that I will have some pretty opinionated and loud nay-sayers, not the least of which is my mother.  I wish I could say that even if she disagreed, she would support me and trust in my decision making, discernment process, but she's already kind of made it clear that she won't.  In fact, I truly fear the constant guilt-mongering will last forever.  We happen to be close, so I am always seeking her approval... but I know there won't be many days where I probably WON'T hear about how I'm ruining my children and making them miserable by keeping them home.  Sigh.  I am very non-confrontational, so this is difficult for me.  Any advice in this area would be so appreciated!!  Did you meet much resistance?  How did you/do you deal with it?

Second, I am wondering how to start with my daughter, who is currently SO excited to go to "real school" that she wakes up every morning asking if it's fall yet.  I think that this causes me more doubt than anything else because I don't want to devastate her.  She is very social and active and loves to be out and about.  I feel that homeschooling would be really good for the whole family (especially if we have more kids because, I share your policy that you should never wake a sleeping baby EVER and that would be difficult on a school's schedule...).  I am not  "afraid" of my kids but I don't want to crush her either.  Any helpful tips on what to do?  I feel like when she's this young, it may be easy enough to just not mention school at all and keep going on our merry way, but she will keep asking and I want to mean what I say!

Thank you so much for all of your inspiring words on the blog... Oh, and your Day in the Life post was by far my favorite one last year!  In fact, I think it may have been the catalyst in my homeschooling endeavors!  It helped to have a real look at what life looks like homeschooling in a big family!
God Bless,

Michelle Sachs

 

 

The answer:


Hey Michelle,

I think what you're asking about here are really common concerns of ALL new homeschoolers.
Homeschooling, despite what it might seem like in the Catholic blogosphere, is still relatively rare and pretty counter-cultural. I think it's quite normal for even very supportive extended family to be taken aback by the idea that a family wouldn't be sending their kids to regular school. Because that's just what people DO with their kids, they send them to school.

I think the best approach with skeptical family members is to just try to let things play out a bit, and let them see that it's working for your family. I'd highlight the fact that this isn't a forever decision. This is something you feel that God has put on your heart to try, so you're going to homeschool for this year. And next year you'll decide again.

Having a supportive husband and a homeschooling community and confidence in your own ability to handle it is are the three most important pieces to the homeschooling puzzle. While also having a supportive extended family is ideal, I don't think it's nearly as important as husband and community and confidence.

Something else to consider . . . I don't personally do ANY sit down preschool homeschool with my kids. And even in kindergarten, I keep sit down instruction time pretty minimal. When I only had one in school, we did a very consistent 45 minutes or so, two to three days per week. Now that I have so many other grades to attend to, my current kindergartener gets less direct instruction time than that. But I have found that for my kids, early school concepts have come more quickly and easily if they're not started too early, and daily interactions, unstructured play time, and family outings are a more valuable use of time for my kids younger than six or seven.

I have had a couple who really were ready to begin learning to read before kindergarten and one in particular who has a deep and abiding love for workbooks, and for those kids, I did do some sit down schoolwork, just because they really loved it. But for the rest of my kids, who were happy just playing, I let them focus on that.

Also, sending your kids to preschool outside the home does NOT mean you can't be homeschoolers. My three oldest attended and loved a non-academic two day per week preschool. If the dropping off and picking up wasn't so disruptive to our homeschool day, my younger kids would be going there, too. If you have a good option for a fun preschool, and you think your daughter would enjoy it, you might want to consider it, even if you plan to homeschool.

The easiest way to smooth the transition from traditional preschool to homeschool kindergarten or first grade, I think, is to spend time around your homeschooling family friends. That way your daughter knows that there are different ways to go to school, and homeschooling is one of them. Then, whenever the subject of school comes up, you can just remind your daughter that, after preschool is done, we'll be doing school at home, like the insert-name-here family does.

It comes down to a family culture issue, really. Different families are different, and do things different ways. If my son had said, "But my friend Aidan is going to such and such a school. I want to go there, too." I would have told him, "Different families do school different ways. That school is what's going to work for Aidan's family next year. But the Tierney family is going to homeschool. That's what's going to be the best for us."

Then, for both your mom AND your daughter, you can really highlight the benefits of homeschooling. You'll have more flexibility to be able to go to the beach or a museum, or on a hike or a bike ride, or a vacation. Your daughter will be able to be home with her siblings and be a part of the rhythm of your family's day, not someone who leaves in the morning and comes home in the late afternoon. She'll be available for outings with her grandmother. You'll be able to spend time more specifically than they are able to do in a classroom. You can blow through easy subjects, and take your time on more difficult ones. You can include things that are especially of interest to her like gardening, or cooking, or art, or science, or music, that they just don't have the time or resources for in a classroom setting.

In my personal experience, there is NO SHORTAGE of opportunities for socialization in the homeschooling world. My kids participate in a wide variety of activities. They all play on multiple sports teams at our local park. The boys do Boy Scouts, and the girls do Little Flowers. We have weekly parkdays and monthly field trips with our Catholic homeschool group. I host a bi-monthly science class in our home, where a scientist comes in and teaches our group, which includes us, plus a few other families from our homeschool group. My boys are altar servers and my older daughter helps out on the doughnut committee at our church. We are quite involved, and my kids have really close friends.

And the best thing about it is that their close friends share our family values. I can't guarantee that you'll find the same among all Catholic homeschooling families, of course, or that you wouldn't find the same thing in a Catholic school (hopefully you would), but we have been just incredibly blessed in the companionship of our homeschool group friends. There have been disagreements over the years, of course, but very few. And not one time in the eight years I've been homeschooling have my kids come to me sad because another child has teased them about their physical appearance, or our family rules, or our faith. It has never happened. I do have one child who has more trouble than the others in getting along in a group setting, and who has sometimes gotten a hard time from the group of kids, but it's always had to do with my child's behaviors and actions, and never with physical appearance . . . which I think is a very important difference.

You still have lots of time to reflect and resolve and figure things out. But if homeschooling is what's right for your family, as it has been for mine, I think you'll find that it just ends up manageable. The couple of months my son attended our parish school, it never felt quite right, everything was off kilter. As soon as I brought him home to try homeschooling, things fell into place. That's not to say it isn't hard, of course, any type of schooling is going to have its challenges. But if you are meant to be homeschooling at that time, you will find you have the grace to do it, and to handle all the direct and indirect challenges that come along with it.

Good luck!

Please let me know if this answered your question, and if there's anything else I can do to help.

Cheers,
Kendra

p.s. here are some posts that might be of interest . . .

Creating a Family Culture

Quit Worrying About Preschool. Seriously, Stop It.

How to Start a Little Flowers Girls' Club


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Friday, April 24, 2015

Homeschooling Multiple Grades: MODG hacks and other things I've learned the hard way

It's still homeschool week on the blog. For earlier posts see here and here, and come back Monday for one last installment.

Today, I'm answering another mailbag question, and sharing how I handle six kids preschool through middle school all at once, plus a toddler and a fetus.

The Question:

Dear Kendra,

I’m drawn to MODG, but I’m a little scared to commit to it. I’d love more details on the day to day life of how you use MODG. Which online classes do you use? Is it difficult to teach all the different history lessons to your different aged kids? What substitutions do you make to the curriculum? How do you get everything done each day?

Thanks for your time. I love reading your blog, and I incorporate a lot of your ideas into our family life!

Leah

The Answer:

Thanks Leah,

I really do love the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum, it goes with my gut, and I am convinced that their classical methods are time tested and prepare kids well to become lifelong learners, which is my goal. (For more on the founder, Laura Berquist's, methods, check out her book: Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education.)

I have been using the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum for seven years, and have followed it very closely for kindergarten through seventh grade -- making only one major substitution. I love all the poetry and stories and art, and the memorization, and discussions, and retellings. I find it to be a very charming and thorough way to homeschool.

But. Having many kids each doing their own MODG school day is challenging to impossible, depending on how you look at it. When I had one kid in school, we sat down each morning and did everything on the syllabus together. Now that I have five kids in five different grades, plus a preschooler and a baby and another one on the way . . . well, I've had to come up with a few survival strategies.

1. Older Kids are Responsible for Their Own School Work

This one is the most important. Because, really, when people ask, how can you homeschool all those different grades? The answer is, um, you can't. But once kids can read, they can direct their own school days. And they must, so that I can work with younger kids who need direct instruction for each subject. I expect my kids grades three and up to be able to gather their own supplies each morning, and take themselves through their syllabus, checking things off as they are completed, and making a note next to things that they need to do with me. Then I expect them to seek me out and ask me to do that work with them, as many times as it takes for me to be able to do it with them.

Recently, I've been making a point of having my older kids follow a system while working independently. We've had a lot more success doing it this way, than we did when I let them just do things on their own and just check in with me at the end of the day.

The key aspects of The System are these:
  • Gather all materials you will need for the entire school day first thing before you sit down for school
  • Sit at a table in a common area of the house with enough privacy that you won't be distracted, but enough supervision that you won't be distracted. My oldest is in seventh grade and works almost completely independently. I don't do any regular daily direct instruction with him, so he doesn't sit at the dining room table with the rest of us, but it didn't work for him to sit alone in his room. So now, he sits at the kitchen table, by himself, but I can see him from where I sit in the dining room.
  • Once you sit down to start your school day, no getting up without permission. I have wanderers. They end up wasting a TON of time between assignments, then they don't have open blocks of time later in the day to play or do projects of their own choosing. If I keep them on task and not wandering in the morning, they finish in a reasonable amount of time and have plenty of free time to do as they please. Whether or not they have free time in the afternoon really changes their perception of school.
  • Do the things on your checklist in order.
  • Estimate the time you will need to complete an assignment, then set a timer and try to complete the work in that amount of time. If the timer goes off and you're not finished, realize that you are not focusing and working as efficiently as you could be. Resolve to do better, and finish the assignment.
  • Check things off as they are finished.
  • Check in with mom verbally between assignment.
  • When you think you are done for the day, double check each thing on your checklist.
  • Get your checklist signed off by mom or dad.

The System has made my older kids more efficient and more accountable. In a big family with lots of different grades, it's easy for kids to purposefully or inadvertently skip assignments. If I get busy (as I often do) and don't check in with them, more and more things get skipped, and it reinforces the behavior pattern. Then weeks or months later, it all comes to light and it's a huge crisis and a big hassle. But if we follow The System and stay on top of things, that doesn't happen. The kids learn to do their work in a reasonable amount of time and to get it all done. If they've skipped something, we figure it out right away and it gets done, so there's no incentive to let things slip through the cracks, and they get lots of time for free play and outside interests.

2. I Combine Grades When Possible

I've only been doing this for the last couple of years, but it's really worked well for us. History hasn't been an issue, because in the MODG program, kids don't start history until third grade, and by that time my kids are all able to do their reading independently. The subjects that take up most of my direct instruction time are math and spelling. So, whenever I can make it happen, I combine grades for those subjects.

I mentioned at the top that there is one major substitution the we make, and it's in our spelling program. MODG recommends a book called The Writing Road to Reading. It's a giant book of theory about why phonics is the way to go, with some spelling lists at the back. There's a booklet written by someone else, that goes along with it, as kind of a user's guide, but I found the whole thing to be very cumbersome and non-intuitive to use. After years of struggling with it, and not doing as much spelling as we should, I made the switch to All About Spelling, which is also a phonics-based program, but very user-friendly, and set up in individual lessons. I am very glad we made the switch.

We do spelling ALL together.

The All About Spelling program uses a multi-sensory approach. There are magnets, and flash cards, and the kids use white boards. It's a big change from the rest of our school day, and it's fun to be all together for a change. Well, all except the seventh grader. But my kindergartener, and second, fourth, and fifth graders all do the same lesson together. Usually the preschooler sits in too, and enthusiastically shouts out the names of phonograms that may or may not be the one on the card I'm holding up. For us it has worked really well. I just cycle through books 1, 2, 3, and 4. We can usually do two to three per year. The older kids get to review when we do the early books, and the younger kids just follow along as best they can in the more advanced books, but they all practice the phonograms, and I give them age appropriate phrases and sentences to write out, so it all works out.

MODG uses Abeka consumable math workbooks for first through third grades, then in fourth grade, they switch us to Saxon Math , a non-consumable, textbook-based math program. I think the progression works, but most of my kids have needed the lessons to be taught to them by me. Trying to do a fourth grade math lesson then a fifth grade math lesson just wasn't working for me, so I bumped the fourth grader up to the fifth grade textbook as well. There is a lot of cyclical repetition in the Saxon math program, so I think it's possible to move kids around within a year up or down from their current grade, and still get much of the same material. If you've got kids within one grade of each other, this might be a good solution.

Other things we do as a whole school together are morning exercises (running, stretches, sit ups and push ups . . . I do realize it seems silly, but it really helps my kids get the wiggles out before we settle down for school, plus I think exercise is good), morning prayers, and a morning Bible story out of the kindergarten/first grade Children's Bible . Over lunch I read aloud to the kids from a chapter book. Since we have a wide range of ages and interests, I just try to pick books we can all enjoy. Sometimes they are more sophisticated: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, War of the Worlds, Moby Dick, sometimes they're more traditional kidlit: Charlotte's Web, Pollyanna, Stuart Little, Freddy Goes to Florida, The Secret Garden. We're reading Kidnapped right now. But, I really do find that all the kids can find something to enjoy about each book.

3. Older Kids Help Younger Kids

There just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything on the syllabus done for my kindergartener and second grader who need help with pretty much everything on there, and also help where needed with the fourth and fifth graders, and check in on the seventh grader. So, if I need to be working with one of the older kids, I have a different older kid take over for me and do one or two subjects with the younger kids. That way we can all still be working.

My seventh grader is teaching Latin to the fourth and fifth graders. And he and my fifth grader do the majority of the daily work with my kindergartener.

4. Some Things Aren't Going to Happen

This was a tough one for me to accept at first. But it's true. There are many lovely things on the kindergarten and first and second grade syllabi that I always, always, always did with my first two kids, that just aren't getting done regularly with numbers three through five. Art cards, singing hymns, growing bean plants . . . those things are great, but they aren't a priority, and when things get busy they are the first to go.

But really, we go to museums as a family and enjoy art there. We sing hymns at Mass. We have a garden, and the kids help grow things there. I think there are things on the MODG syllabus for younger kids that are lovely for filling up the day when you only have one or two kids to instruct. But I don't think they are crucial to get to each day if your days are very, very full with many different grades.

For older grades there are subjects I've learned to handle better over the years. One focus of the classical approach that MODG uses is having the student listen to a story, then retell it in his own words as the teacher writes it down, then the student copies out the retelling. My oldest could listen to the assigned four Bible stories one day, then the next day retell them nearly word for word. He would end up with eight pages or more of work to copy out. And I would have him do it. Since then, I've figured out what I like to call the "Good Parts Version" (a la The Princess Bride). I read all the assigned stories for the week aloud, then have the student choose ONE of the stories, and the retelling must fit on ONE page. Less writing, fewer tears, and it makes my kids focus more on the content, and what was important in the story.

Another subject that took up a lot of time for us was Saxon math. I like the "spiral approach" and my kids do well with the no-frills textbook. The problem for us was that the suggested timetable in the syllabus calls for 45 minutes for a math lesson, but doing all the problems in each lesson was often taking my kids closer to two hours. We didn't have time for other things, my kids were frustrated, I was frustrated . . . so I cut the math lessons in half. My kids do odd number problems for odd number lessons, and even number problems for even number lessons. THAT they can accomplish in 45 minutes.

5. I Outsource When Possible

The MODG online classes are a good way to make sure that the important stuff doesn't also fall through the cracks. Like I said, for us, art and music appreciation are the first things to go when things get busy. So this year, I signed the second, fourth, and fifth graders up to do those classes once a week online with a teacher and a group of adobe-meeting classmates. They are able to do those subjects with a teacher who is not me, so *I* can use that time to work with my kindergartener or seventh grader. Many things being accomplished at once always feels nice. My fourth and fifth graders are also taking a private online math lab, with one-on-one (well, one-on-two) instruction by a math teacher. Math was a subject my fifth grader was struggling with, so I wanted to get her extra instruction and another perspective and teaching technique. They sit down at the computer and can see the teacher's computer and can type answers, or talk about things over the headset.

My seventh grader is taking six online classes: math, Latin, art appreciation, music appreciation, religion, and history book club. I basically just signed him up for everything I could, in the hopes of creating more accountability for him. It really didn't work for that, since he is still the one who needs to keep up with his assignments, and that's where we were having trouble. Also the teachers are so nice that they really don't give the students a hard time about when assignments are turned in. But he kind of needs that. So we instituted The System. And we have had success with that. But I've still been glad he is doing the online classes. It's nice for him to get some direct instruction that I don't always have the time or expertise to give him, and he also gets a little bit of social interaction with the other kids in his classes.

So there is my very, very long and complicated answer to your short and simple question. I hope it helps some. If I misunderstood or didn't quite address your question, please let me know. and let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.

Cheers,

Kendra

You might also enjoy . . .

A Homeschooling How We Roll

 

A Day in the Life of Me, Kendra Tierney, in Which a Lot of Things Happen and Often I Don't Yell


Most of the links above are affiliate links, which means if you click through and shop, you are supporting this blog at no additional cost to you. Thanks!
 


Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Homeschooling for Beginners

All this week, I'm sharing questions I've received from readers about homeschooling, and my answers to those questions. Just in case they might help you decide if homeschooling is right for your family. See the first installment here.

Today's question is all about some ways to get started.

The Question:

Hello Kendra!

First of all (and I'm sure you get this all the time!), THANK YOU for blogging. Thank you for posting truths of the faith and for sharing your family with us. Your advice is invaluable, and I appreciate that I can "get advice" from you on parenting and sharing the faith with my kids when I can't get it elsewhere.

Also, I ardently hope you are feeling better soon! Morning sickness is so tough and you are in my prayers.

Now to my questions. :) We want to homeschool. (My background sounds a lot like yours, so this is all new to me.) I have a five year old son, and two daughters, two and a half and six months. I'm doing some phonics work with Joe and other preschool-type activities; he's mildly interested, but not super interested. I'll be starting kindergarten in the fall, I think. I notice you use Mother of Divine Grace - do you have advice for me starting out with this? (I've researched and it's the way I want to go.) Any other thoughts to starting to homeschool with other littles around?

More specifically: Joe enjoys the activities we do, but often gives up quickly. If he doesn't know, he says, "You tell me." If I ask him if he wants to do some schoolwork, he will say "no" but if I just start doing an activity with him he will usually comply alright. Does this mean he's just not ready yet, or is there some way I can help him try a little harder without giving up so quickly?

Thank you!! You are wonderful, and your sweet family is in my prayers.

Blessings,

Kate

The Answer:


Kate,

Thanks so much. Yes, I am feeling MUCH better and catching up on the mailbag!

That all sounds totally normal to me.

I really think the most important thing I did in the early years was be consistent about a time we were "doing school" but to keep that time really, really short. Like 30-45 minutes, two or three days a week. Then, during that time, we. are. doing. school. So, there's really no use complaining, it's not going to do any good. (And we know what God does to complainers.) And keeping each subject REALLY short, like 3-5 minutes for most things, maybe 10 minutes for reading/phonics doesn't really allow time for kids to get restless.

I have found what worked best in our home when my oldest was starting homeschool, was to schedule school time when the baby was taking a morning nap. I would set myself up at the dining room table with him, with all the supplies we needed and everything all ready to go. If the toddler wanted to join us, that was fine. I had a stash of special "school stuff" that she was allowed to do during school time at the table with us, if she could do it without being disruptive. It was things like coloring or sticker books, mostly. Or, she could play quietly in the playroom. But *I* need to be AT THE TABLE at all times during school time. If I ever tried to give him an assignment, then go finish up the dishes, it was always a disaster.

So, set school time, keep it short, minimize distractions, be present.

Then, we just always did what was included on the Mother of Divine Grace syllabus. There was never a question of whether we felt like doing it or not. During school time, we do our schoolwork. But really, for us, the only times I got push back from him, were the times I tried to give him an assignment and leave. My kids have all done really well with me working with them one-on-one. Of course, the more kids you have in school, the less that's possible (more on that on Friday), but at first, it IS possible, and it always had a very high rate of success for us.

My focus throughout the elementary years, but especially, especially before third grade, is to:
  1. foster a love of learning
  2. instill personal responsibility and good study habits
  3. get them reading (at the child's own pace, sometime between four and eight) and doing arithmetic
In that order of importance.


Once they can read, they can do school work much more independently, which is GREAT. But really, after that, learning specific information is a secondary goal. If they love learning, and can read, and have access to books or the library or the internet, they can learn anything they'd like the whole rest of their lives.

So, I follow the Mother of Divine grace syllabus, because for my kids it's been an appropriate amount of work, and I like the material and the methods. I like the memorization, and the retelling of stories, and the little discussions about the Old Testament and famous paintings. But I don't think my kids learning any of the specific material is as important as my kids learning to finish what they start, or to keep trying if something is hard, or sometimes, to set something aside for a bit and try again another time. All of those are good life skills to have.

Just know going in to it, that if you are anything like me, your expectations with your first will be way too high. You will mellow with each subsequent kid, and you'll learn that the process is more important than the results. But that doesn't mean there don't have to be some results. It's a balancing act. But, somehow, it all works out.

Cheers,

Kendra

One more thing . . . as for what I do BEFORE Kindergarten? The answer is absolutely nothing structured. In fact, I'm pretty strongly against it. There is plenty of time for structured learning, and I really don't think it's necessary or helpful in the pre-school years. Here's more on that:

Quit Worrying About Preschool. Seriously, Stop It.


And here are a couple other related posts:

Why I Homeschool Like That

Homeschooling: One Room Schoolhouse Meets Three Ring Circus

My Top Ten Books for Teaching Kids

 



Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


P.S. Speaking of homeschooling . . . You may have seen news of the tragedy involving a Wisconsin homeschooling family. The husband was killed when their car was hit by a deer that had been involved in an accident with a different car, while driving his wife to the hospital to deliver their eighth child. The wife and the other seven children who were also in the car were unharmed. Since a couple of friends of the family shared their Go Fund Me page with me, the story has been picked up by national and international news outlets and there has been an amazingly generous outpouring of support for the family. I feel like this is one of those causes that really brings our community together. Perhaps you can spare a few dollars and be a part of something big to help this family. Get the details and donate here.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

How to Get Your Husband on Board With Homeschooling

So . . . it's spring, and that means decision time for a lot of folks on how to school the kids next year. Of course, you can always change your mind. We did. Our oldest son went to our parish school for a couple of months, before we decided to give homeschooling a try. But even though no schooling decision is immutable, it is still a decision that needs to be made. In case you're considering homeschooling, I thought I'd share a few mailbag questions on the blog this week, that I've received over the past couple of months. Perhaps they are questions you've had, too.


The Question:

Hi Kendra,

I want to first thank you for your blog. I love your wit and wisdom, and I always learn something new! Second, if you don't mind, I would like to ask for your opinion about homeschooling. God has placed certain homeschooling mothers in my life for the last seven years, and I feel there has been a constant little tug on my heart to learn about homeschooling and be intrigued about what if I did this?

However, my two children in school (second grade and kindergarten) LOVE going to public school. We live in a small town of about 1,500 mostly Catholics, and my husband grew up here and went to this school. The roots are deep and meaningful. I don't know what would happen if I pulled them out of school and starting homeschooling.

I am a teacher by trade but stopped teaching when we had our first child (we now have five children), so teaching is naturally a calling for me. During the summers and on days off from school, I use Seton and Mother of Divine Grace materials with them, and try to both public educate and dabble in home schooling.

I love my children and am happiest when all five are under one roof. When the older two go off to school, the three little ones and I feel a little void and can't wait for 4:00 when they return. But then, it's 4:00, and I get resentful that I haven't been with them all day knowing what they are doing. Then the second-grader has homework, and I just want her to go play and be a kid. I think we could have all this work done by noon if she was homeschooled.

But, she would miss her friends. She is naturally more of a shy kid, and going to school has helped her come out of her shell. Yet, I see a little worldliness starting to happen with asking about name-brand labels and wondering if she is a "tomboy" or not. So, I am unsure of what to do.

My husband currently does not feel called to have our kids homeschooled, yet we are trying to stay on top of the Common Core standards and testing changes going on in Ohio. I have asked him to pray about it, and for us to pray together about what God wants us to do. We want our children to be the saints God has called them to be, and we don't know if that is through public school or homeschool.

My husband and I are both naturally social and like to be involved, so maybe we are called to be that family trying to be a light in the public realm. I know it can happen. We are blessed to have other good, strong Catholic families around here, and we have also started up a Little Flowers and Blue Knights Catholic program here. Maybe we are meant to be in the public system, yet I think about how nice it would be to choose the curriculum and be with my kids all day. Any suggestions for us? I am sorry this message is so long, and I do appreciate your thoughts and prayers!
Sincerely, Angie

The Answer:

Thanks Angie,

Well, my answer would be completely different if your husband was on board (on indifferent), but . . . homeschooling is wonderful and challenging and I really think both parents have to be convinced that it's the right thing to do. I NEED my husband's support on days when I'm having discipline issues, or if we had field trips during the week and have some schoolwork to catch up on during the weekend. I need him on board when I have to vent a bit because it was a rough day. If your husband is really convinced that traditional school is a better fit for your family, I think all those really regular moments could end up a source of struggle in your marriage.

And I'm not going to be too much help because I TOTALLY agree with all the conflicting things you wrote here. Yes, the Catholic school system needs good Catholics in it. Yes, they need motivated, devout parents who can make a difference in the lives of those around them.

But, also . . . yes, when my oldest son was in kindergarten at our parish school the younger kids and I really missed him. I missed having him be a part of the regular rhythm of our day, and being able to interact with his siblings all day long. He really liked going to school, but I was seeing some changes in him that I didn't love, and the schedule of getting him to and from school was really difficult for me to manage. I am NOT a crier, at all, but I sat there and cried at the lunch table when we brought him home in November to give homeschooling a go. It was just so nice to have all my kids there at lunchtime. I really do prefer to have all my kids with me during the day. And he adjusted to homeschooling pretty easily.

If you're interested in pursuing the idea of homeschooling, I'd, first and foremost, pray about it. That's always better than nagging for convincing husbands of anything, in my opinion. One well-timed novena will make all the difference, if God is truly pulling you towards homeschooling. The other thing is to hang out as a family with homeschooling families. Let your husband meet them and interact with their kids. A BIG hang up for me before we started was the stereotype of "weird homeschool kids." But then we got to know homeschooling families, and guess what, there are some really cool homeschoolers. There also totally ARE weird homeschool kids, but there are weird kids everywhere, because there are weird parents everywhere. And I even found out that once I got to know the weird ones, I liked them too. There are all kinds of homeschoolers because there are all kinds of people.

In my experience, the older kids in homeschooling families are the best advocates there are for the institution. Most of them we know can chat with adults, can keep toddlers happy, can change diapers, can help with dishes, and just generally be very impressive to fathers.

If you do get the opportunity to give homeschooling a try, I wouldn't worry too much about your kids being able to make friends. Different communities are going to have different homeschooling resources, of course, my my kids have plenty of friends and opportunities for socializing. My kids do sports, and clubs, and scouts, and Little Flowers, and I host weekly science classes at our home. Plus we have a weekly homeschool parkday where the kids get to see their friends and I get to see mine. It's lovely.

But again, please don't think homeschooling is the only option for good Catholic families. It isn't. And there are good and bad parts about all types of schooling. For as long as your kids are in a traditional school, try to celebrate its benefits. You get one on one time with your little kids, you can take them to kids' museums and the zoo. I can't do that with my little kids. You can have the house to yourself during naptime. I stay up until the wee hours of the morning, to find some uninterrupted time to answer mailbag questions! :0)

I love homeschooling, and I do believe it's what we are called to do, but nothing this side of Heaven is perfect, and kids can flourish in a wide variety of environments.

Cheers,
Kendra



Some related reading . . .

Maybe Homeschooling Isn't For Me?

The Secret Truth About Why I Homeschool

See Me Homeschool

Seven Odd Things I've Come to Appreciate About Homeschooling




Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


p.s. I'm also at Blessed is She today typing deep thoughts about what it is we're laboring for . . .

“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life.”

In my home, in my relationships, I have a tendency to do stuff for people, rather than to do stuff with people. I’ll happily spend time cooking meals for them, or baking elaborate cakes for them, or rearranging closets for them, or creating organizational systems for them. Acts of love and of service, and those are good things. Clearly hot dinners and accessible closets are good things in themselves as well.

But the problem is when I stop there. . . .
read the rest here (and if you haven't subscribed already, you can do that here!)


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Friday, April 17, 2015

How To Introduce Kids to Poetry, Fine Art, and Classical Music

Mailbag time! As school winds down for the year for many of us, homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike, many of us are looking for ways we can make the summer an educational time for our kids, but without trying to keep up the same rhythm of the school year. . . .

Question:

Hi Kendra,

My kids are 6, (almost) 4, and 18 months. We also recently found out #4 is on the way. My oldest is currently in kindergarten at our parish school and though I feel small tugs at my heart toward homeschooling, I don't believe that is what is best for our family right now. As a former teacher (and a daughter of a teacher), however, my kids and I do a great deal of learning outside the classroom and throughout the year.

At an early age, they have all learned the essential Catholic prayers, but it has never occurred to me to teach them to memorize (other than nursery rhymes and songs). I would really like to start this with them and was wondering which poems you would recommend for young children? What does the process look like at the beginning of memorization and as they grow (your expectations, their willingness, etc.)? How do you do the poetry recitals?

Also, I was wondering if you had any resources for helping my young children gain an appreciation for the arts. I was thinking of doing some study of classical music and art over the summer and was wondering if you knew of any books or learning materials that would work well with young kids?

Thank you so much! I hope you are feeling better and I look forward to each new post you write!

Sincerely, Leanne

Answer:


Thanks Leanne,

I'm feeling much better, and am trying to get caught up on the mailbag! So let's jump right in here, shall we?

- Poetry -


The poetry memorization we do during our school year is really one of my favorite parts of the syllabus. One, it's just adorable to hear kids reciting poetry. Two, memorization is, in general, a very useful skill to have. Three, it fills their little heads with good and beautiful patterns and forms of writing. Later, as they are writing for themselves, they can call upon those reserves of beautiful writing stored up in their minds, and try to base their own patterns of writing upon them. All good stuff.


The book we use is an anthology called The Harp and Laurel Wreath . It was complied by Laura Berquist, who designed the Mother of Divine Grace curriculum that we use. It's got an excellent selection of age appropriate poems to memorize. I really can't recommend it enough.

We just work on each poem in chunks, at a pace that works for that particular child. I have a couple of really good memorizers, and a couple for whom it's more difficult. So, we just work at the pace that works for that particular kid. First, I read the whole poem aloud and explain it, and set it in a historical context if I can. This is important, because it's harder to memorize something you don't understand.

Then we just take it chunk by chunk, usually two to four lines at a time. I say it aloud, he says it back to me in as large a chunk as he can handle, sometimes that's just a couple of words. Eventually, he's able to say that section on his own, and we review it the next day or two, then move on to the next. Slow and steady. We usually do a family poetry recital every couple of weeks. The kids get m&ms for successful recitations, which makes it very popular.

- Fine Art -


For fine art, I like having art cards. There are books of them available, but you can also visit museums and buy a bunch of postcards there. Then, kids can look at them and interact with them and answer questions about them. It is especially meaningful to my kids when we have art cards of paintings that they have seen in real life.



We have multiples of the same cards so that we can play memory matching games with them, and we have multiples of the same artists, so we can play Go Fish with them. "Give me all your Kandinskys." "Don't have any. Go fish." "I drew one!" . . . is pretty awesome.


We also have some great picture books that have helped my kids become family with great artists. The Katie and the . . . art series is about a little girl who goes to museums with her grandmother and climbs into paintings and interacts with them. They are very cute.


Laurence Anholt also has a large series of picture books in which artists interact with children.

Finally, we visit museums, with our kids. All of them. Even the crazy toddler. I think it's really important to teach my kids that they can appreciate fine art. So many folks go through life just thinking art and museums just aren't something they know how to do. I want to make sure that that isn't the case for my kids.



We usually buy a book in the gift shop with some of the paintings we saw in it, so the kids can look through it again at home. There is almost always some level of undress in those books, but we just explain to our kids that art is art but they still have to wear their clothes.

 - Classical Music -


For music there is a great series of CDs called Music Masters . They combine selections of music by a great composer, with a narrated biography of his life. There are eighteen of them in total, I believe.


The are great for listening to in the car, or for putting on while the kids sit at the table and color. If you want to REALLY embrace the theme, you can have your kids color a picture of the composer from this coloring book while you listen to the CD.


As with the museums, I also mindfully expose my kids to a very broad range of music. We like pop music, and Irish folk music, but I also put on the classical music station quite a bit. In fact, it's all we listened to in the car during Lent. We listen to whichever opera is playing on Saturday mornings as we drive around to various kid sporting events. When Anita was three, she once remarked, "Probably they put the opera on on Saturdays, because they know how much kids like opera." So, weird homeschool kid moment? Perhaps. But what I loved about it was that it proved that my kids are able to be open to listening to lots of different kinds of music. They haven't closed their minds off to entire genres.

I really think that's all we're trying to do with any of this. We do work on memorizing poems, and recognizing artists and composers, but my expectation really isn't that my kids would retain that memorized information. It's that they would grow up with a general sense that they are able to appreciate and enjoy sophisticated writing, art, and music, as well as what popular culture is offering in those departments.

I hope that helps some. If I misunderstood or didn't quite answer your question, please let me know, and let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.

Cheers,

Kendra

Related reading . . .

My Top Ten Books for Teaching Kids 

 

Mailbag Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Here We Go Again: a Spring/Summer, Maternity/Postpartum/Nursing Capsule Wardrobe

Well, I don't expect to be able to compete with Betty's capsule wardrobe, obviously. But I said I'd share mine, too. And so I shall.

The main concern I hear from readers who are interested in trying a capsule wardrobe, is that they couldn't manage it because of the whole motherhood cycle so many of us are in. I never can say for sure what size I'll be a few months from now. But, for me, that's a strength, rather than a limitation, of the capsule wardrobe.



Having a closet crammed full of clothes that I can't wear is just plain depressing. Having a small, specialized selection of items that work for me right now with the body and life I have right now is empowering and makes it a lot easier to find something to wear each morning. I'm totally sold on it.

I'm planning on sticking with it long term, doing three different capsule wardrobes per year, storing things I'm not using now but will use again, and donating the rest. But I have to admit that I was a bit concerned about this particular go round. I wanted to switch my wardrobe over for Easter and use it until the weather cools down in the fall. However, there's the little matter of me having a baby right smack in the middle of that window.

But I do like a challenge. I'm twenty-five weeks along right now, and I think I've come up with forty items that will fit for the next fifteen weeks or so of pregnancy, and the squishy few weeks after that. I figure by sometime in September I'll be ready for pants that button. And aside from a few of the dresses, I'll be able to nurse in all of it as well.


Even pregnant, the majority of my wardrobe is not maternity clothes. I do have some maternity items, jeans, and a couple dresses, but I really prefer to shop at regular stores, just with an eye for stuff that will work for me pregnant or not. (I know not everyone can do that, but it has worked for me.) My favorite stores are Anthropologie (especially the little back room of sale stuff) and modCloth, I love the whole whimsy/retro vibe they have going. I also find things at Target or on Amazon, and used from thredUP. (They have maternity clothes now!) Here's a closer look at everything in my closet right now . . .

Links are affiliate links, clicking through and/or shopping through these links helps support this blog at no cost to you. So, thanks!


Red/orange tunic, from J Crew, many years ago, but here's something similar.
Red stripe tunic, modCloth.
Chambray crossover shirt, Gap via thredUP.
Green shirt and ivory lace shirt are both many years old, from Anthropologie.


Fake layered top was from Costco.
White high-low tunic, from Amazon .
Green crossover top, modCloth.
Blue and teal maternity tops are from Target over the past couple pregnancies.
Red tank, modCloth.
Gray top, modCloth.


Maternity jeans and khaki cargo shorts, Pea in the Pod via thredUP.
Maternity crops, old from Old Navy and Target.
Khaki high waist skirt, from Amazon.
Navy crop leggings, modCloth.


Knit jacket, thredUP.
Embroidered cardigan, modCloth.
Paris sweater, from Amazon .
Orange sweater, found here.
Navy shrug, from Motherhood Maternity.
White cardigan, modCloth.


Blue knit dress, and red/gray knit dress, Target.
Navy eyelet dress, Motherhood Maternity.
Denim dress, eShakti.
Apple dress, found here.
Denim dress, green maternity dress.
Knit and lace dress, modCloth.

Patent leather sandals, Payless.
Metallic flats, Easy Spirit via Amazon .
Fringe wedge sandals, Minnetonka via Amazon .
Navy wedge espadrilles Kenneth Cole via Amazon .
Gladiator sandals Steve Madden via Amazon .
Old lady yellow dress sandals (SO comfy), Miz Mooz via Amazon .
Red suede espadrilles (also very comfy), Miz Mooz via Amazon .
Blue running shoes.

And here's how it all goes together (mad props to my favorite eleven year old photographer) . . .





And . . . that's what I'll be wearing for the next four months. Including the New York secretary sneakers with a dress thing AND the leggings as pants thing.

Related reading . . .

On Not Wearing Maternity Clothes 

and more on Capsule Wardrobes . . . 

Shopping for 'Tweens in Three Steps, and Betty's Capsule Wardrobe

An Inspired Capsule Wardrobe

The Capsule Wardrobe Post In Which I Show You ALL My Clothing, 'Cause That's Totally Not Weird



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Monday, April 13, 2015

Shopping for 'Tweens in Three Steps, and Betty's Capsule Wardrobe

Shopping for little kids has always been pretty straightforward and easy around here. New stuff, gifts, hand-me-downs, all work great. Especially since someone invented adjustable waistbands -- GENIUS. But then, sometime around nine or ten years old, things seem to get more complicated.

All things have fit my all little kids, well enough anyway. But then . . . 'tweens.


My 'tweens have a body type. Not everything fits right or is flattering. Sizes seem to vary drastically between brands, but the kids are still growing too fast to get a handle on which size they are at which store. And their sizes aren't changing as predictably as when they were younger. Sometimes they'll be able to wear something for a couple of years, sometimes they'll jump multiple sizes over one season. For that reason, it's a challenge to decide whether to invest in more quality pieces. I'm concerned about modesty and appropriateness more than when they were younger. They also have . . . preferences (dum dum DUM). I'd like to honor those, as much as possible, anyway.

It's a lot to consider.

The solution has come in three (relatively) easy steps:

1. Shop in person

I am a big, big fan of late night online shopping. I order most of my own clothes online, and most of them work, because I know what I like, and what looks good on me, and what size I wear at my favorite stores. For my younger kids, we get lots of hand me downs from family and friends, but when I need to supplement that, my mom or I will order things for them online.

That same approach hasn't been successful with my 'tweens.

I need to SEE the clothes in person. I need to be able to tell what that design is on the shirt, and what the fabric is and whatnot. And, more importantly, we need to . . .

2. Shop together

Again, this would not be my preference. But it's worked for us for many reasons.

It can be frustrating and disheartening to have a box of clothes arrive and have NONE of them fit properly or be appropriate. That's not my kid's fault. It just is what it is. But if we're at the store, we can grab another size or another style and still walk out of there with something with which we can both be happy. I think that's a better way to approach clothing without creating issues.

Once my kids get to a certain age, not all styles of clothing flatter them anymore. I want them to learn how to pick things for themselves that fit our family guidelines for price and modesty, are appropriate for their needs, and that look nice on them. Shopping together is a great way to accomplish all of those things.

It also helps us avoid surprises once we get the clothes home. Some things that look like they'll be too short, actually end up looking nice. And some things that look appropriate on the hanger turn out to be bafflingly low cut or see-though or some such nonsense.

3. Keep the wardrobe minimal

Especially since their sizes can still change quickly, and I can't count on necessarily being able to pass things along to the next sibling (because they don't all have the same body type), I mostly shop at mid-priced stores with only occasional purchases of nicer items for special occasions.

I limit clothes shopping (for myself AND the kids) to three times per year. We shop before school starts, before Christmas and before Easter. Crazy growth spurts notwithstanding, of course. Sometime they need new church pants or new shoes and it won't wait. But other than that, I get them set for a particular season, donate what doesn't fit or we don't need, then I don't let myself buy stuff we don't really need during the rest of the year.

The most effective way I've found to not spend too much on 'tween wardrobes is to not have much in the closet at once. My twelve year old son, Jack, has about 25 items in his wardrobe, including shoes. He's got 5 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, a jacket, 2 school polos, 3 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of casual pants, 3 church shirts, 2 pairs of church pants, plus church shoes, casual shoes, sneakers, and sandals. We do laundry often enough that that's plenty.

My eleven year old daughter, Betty, needs a bit more variety than that. But not TOO much more. We just figured out her entire wardrobe for spring and summer this year, and it's 35 pieces.

Here's the whole shebang . . .



Since many of you have specifically asked about Betty's wardrobe, let's take a closer peek, shall we?

She is eleven years old, and wears a 14-16 in the girls' department, or a small or extra small in the women's department. We shop for her occasionally at modCloth and thredUP (but those are online only, so they break my rules steps) and mostly at Target and Old Navy. She also gets some hand me downs.

Links are affiliate links. By clicking through and/or shopping through these links you help support this blog at no cost to you. So, thanks!


  • Black and white ruffle sleeveless blouse was a hand me down from me. But here's something similar
  • Gray ruffle top from thredUP.
  • Ruffle-front three-quarter sleeve button up was mine, too.
  • Coral and white sleeveless blouse, color knit top, and pink three-quarter sleeve top, all from Target last season.
  • Two graphic t-shirts from Target last season.
  • Ribbon trim split neck tee was new this year, found here.
  • Sleeveless white eyelet button-up, from Old Navy.
  • Crochet overlay tank top new this year, found here.
  • Striped maxi skirt from last year, similar.
  • Button from chambray skirt, new, found here.
  • Purple knit skort from the American Girl store.
  • Higher-rise skinny jeans, similar.
  • Jean shorts, new, found here.
  • Embroidered demin capri pants, Target.
  • Overalls, new, from Old Navy.
  • Yellow long sleeve, Boden.
  • Teal three quarter sleeve, Old Navy.
  • Coral windbreaker, Old Navy.
  • Pink hoodie, Target.

  • High-low colorblock knit dress
  • Teal lace overlay dress, new, found here.
  • Royal blue with pink flamingos, new, found here.
  • Navy and teal chevron, new, found here. (It is CRAZY short on their model, but knee-length on Betty.)
  • Two school dresses, from Land's End.

Here are some of the outfits she can put together . . .


And the pieces she has will mix and match into plenty more.

A couple final notes: I have my girls wear camisoles under everything and bike shorts under all skirts and dresses. It allows them more flexibility in necklines and more freedom of movement when wearing skirts and dresses.

I don't have hard and fast "modesty" rules for my girls. For Mass we cover our shoulders and keep skirts close to the knee. Other than that, modesty, for us, is more an attitude (and a conversation) than a set of specific guidelines. I think modesty is more about how and why a young lady is wearing something, rather than exactly what she is wearing. So, we talk about dressing in a way that is appropriate to the activity and to our particular culture and time period, and about trying to find clothes that are flattering to and appropriate for our particular body types. But we also talk about not dressing or behaving in a way that tries to get attention for how we look on the outside rather than who we are on the inside. My hope is that this approach will be more useful to my girls in the long term than a tape measure would be.

Related reading:

Kids and Modesty or, How I Got My Kids to Quit Getting Naked in the Yard

And more about Betty:
 

The Bookish Little Mama

So 'tween mamas, I hope that helps a bit. And if you can't get enough of the capsule wardrobe thing, you're in luck. Because I'm planning to share MY spring/summer third trimester/postpartum/nursing capsule this week too. So don't touch that dial.

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