Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Planning: 2015

I have taken particular joy in planning our advent activities this year. Levi is getting older and able to participate in more aspects of the season and in general, Brian and I have been trying to add more ritual and liturgy into our home throughout the year. Advent is an especially meaningful time in the church year; it has been enlightening to learn about different traditions and choose which ones would work well in our family during this time of life. I'm excited to continue some old traditions and start some new ones! 

Advent Plan 2015:

Friday after Thanksgiving: Pick out a tree with my Mom and siblings, take Christmas photos for each other 

Thanksgiving weekend: Decorate the house and tree. Set out the Christmas/winter books. Prepare the advent calendar.

Starting December 1st: I made an advent calendar with 24 tiny baskets hanging on twine. Each basket holds a piece of paper with an activity written on it that we will do that day (see ideas below). I have scheduled these out very specifically, so the activity makes sense for what is happening in our schedule on that day. Some days, I might add a little treat to the basket, like a piece of chocolate or lollipop. I'm putting these in at the last minute, for obvious reasons (aka, a smart and mischievous 4 year old sweet tooth!).

Each basket also holds the Jesse Tree ornament for the day.  We are using "Unwrapping the Greatest Gift" by Ann Voskamp. Each night, Brian will read the passage/devotion and one of the kids will hang the corresponding ornament on the Jesse Tree (simply some branches in a vase). While we do the devotional reading, we also light the candle on our wooden advent wreath and move the wooden figurine of Mary along the spiral.

Throughout Advent, we are trying a new tradition called "Preparing the Manger". I put out an empty "manger" (another small basket) and I cut pieces of raffia to lay around the manger. When someone in the family does or says some especially kind or loving, that person can put a piece of hay into the manger to make it more soft and to prepare it for baby Jesus. The idea is that one way to prepare our hearts for Jesus is to treat one other with love and kindness. (‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40.) On Christmas Eve, one of the kids will lay baby Jesus in the manger which will hopefully be full of soft hay!

Morning Basket: For our school "morning basket" time, I will add some advent elements. For example, we will be learning a Christmas carol, reading and memorizing parts of Luke 2, and doing other Christmas/Advent readings. Stay tuned for a more detailed post about this. 

Some activities from our advent calendar:
Read the Christmas story (Luke 2)
Do a Christmas craft (TBD!)
Go to the library to find books about Christmas
Take a drive to look at the lights
Have a family sleepover in the living room by the tree
Popcorn and "The Polor Express!"
Decorate a gingerbread house
Invite friends over for a Christmas poetry tea 
Make Christmas cookies
Christmas music dance party
Read/tell Christmas jokes
Make peanut butter/seed pinecones for the birds
Bake cookies for police men
Choose gifts for people in need (Compassion Catalog)
Make popcorn/cranberry garlands
Go Christmas shopping for your sibling
Wrap gifts
Watch a Christmas movie
Go to the Christmas Eve service, have a sleepover at Grammy's

Here's to a fun, peaceful, intentional, meaningful and memorable advent season!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Morning Basket - Introduction and Autumn Term

(My bookworm and a few of our current morning read alouds)

This year we began the homeschooling practice of Morning Time. I fill a "Morning Basket" with readings, prayers, memory work and other activities that we engage in each morning, usually around the breakfast table. Our morning basket is always changing, but I try to keep the four "R"s always in rotation (Ritual, Recitation, Reading, Relationship). This practice has proved to be a beautiful way to begin the day and a blessing to our life, schooling and relationships.

Our Autumn-Term Morning Basket Plans (September-November):

First, I light a candle in the middle of the breakfast table and we recite Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation". (Sometimes I use this time to talk to the kids about what it means that God is our light and what it means that he also wants us to be lights.)

Mom: "The Lord be With You"
Levi and Magnolia: "And also with you." 

Next we write in our prayer book; we list what we are thankful for and what requests we have for ourselves or others. Then we pray about these things. I am working on creating a photo prayer book of our friends and family that we will pray though, one by one. 

Levi attends AWANA at our previous church and he has one memory verse to memorize every other week. We spend a few minutes learning his new verse and reviewing the verses he has already mastered.

Next, we read one devotional reading from "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing" by Sally Lloyd Jones and a story (or more) from a children's Bible. 

At the beginning of each month, I read a poem from "A Child's Calendar" By John Updike and we talk about what is special about the month that we are currently in (holidays, nature etc.)
We also use this time to look over a nature calendar that we get from the Audubon society quarterly magazine. This lists things that we might see in nature during the month on our nature walks. 

Next, we practice a poem and/or prayer that we are memorizing. They just finished memorizing "Day by Day" by Richard of Chichester. I try to come up with hand motions to help them memorize, which they love.

We are learning/singing a hymn each month. In November, we learned "To God be the Glory" by Fanny Crosby. Usually, I sing it, Maggie hums happily and Levi drums a beat. :P

Each month I choose a new artist to study. We read a book about the artist (as an art teacher, I have MANY to choose from) and then I choose 2-3 paintings that we spend a few moments looking at each day. We look at it, describe it, find the beauty in it, become "friends" with it!

To end morning basket time, we sing "The Doxology" with our hands open and facing up. 

Next, depending on how the kids are doing, we do a little or a lot of reading aloud of classic stories, poems and books. This part of our morning time varies, but we try to choose living books that encourage goodness, truth and beauty. We read until someone falls apart or we have something else on the schedule. :)

For more inspiration on the practice of morning time:

(post-morning time, grinding Mama's coffee beans) :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sea Kettle School - 2015-2016 (Levi, Age 4, Magnolia, Age 1)

The question is not- how much does the youth know?  When he has finished his education - But how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care?  In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
-Charlotte Mason

This year we continue to do light preschool activities at home. Our "curriculum" is mostly Charlotte Mason inspired (with a Classical twist? haha) and our aim is to provide our children with a feast of the great ideas, literature, art and music and to gently foster an insatiable curiosity and love of learning. We don't do every subject every day, and our schedule varies, but here are some of the intentional activities we are engaged in these days. 

Morning Basket:
This year we have started a morning basket time(inspired by Pam Barnill).  We begin each day at the breakfast table and go through the activities in our morning basket. At it's most basic level, our morning basket includes the four R's; Reading, Recitation, Ritual and Relationship. We light a candle, list things we are thankful for and things we need to pray about, pray, memorize Bible verses, read from the Bible, sing our monthly hymn, memorize and read poetry and read aloud. Some days we do more, some days we do less, but this is a habit we have formed this year and it has really transformed our days. Most of the activities are geared more for Levi, but Magnolia has picked up on many of our rituals and readings and will participate quite a bit. She is actually sometimes more attentive than her big brother and is a good role model! The books, songs and poetry in our basket will change throughout the year and I hope to share what's in our basket throughout the seasons. 

We continue to work through various booklists inspired by Charlotte Mason's philosophy(here is a great one from Ambleside Online (year 0). When I choose books, I'm looking for books that are well written, aren't dumbed down and encourage goodness, truth and beauty. Current favorites: A Child's Garden of Verses, The World Treasury of Children's Literature, Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories. Sometimes I ask Levi to explain what happened in the story or encourage him to draw something that happened in the story. These are our little beginnings of narration. In general, I try to read aloud to the kids as much as possible. We read around the breakfast and lunch table, at various points throughout the day and Brian reads to Levi before bed at night. Recently we started inviting friends over for "Poetry Tea Times" where we gather around the table to drink tea (or hot chocolate, as the case may be), eat a small treat and read poetry. I have been listening to a great podcast, The Read Aloud Revival, which is wonderful inspiration for those of us who aspire to "build our family culture around books". We aren't doing any formal reading program yet, but Levi recognizes all of his letters and numbers from books we've read and works on writing them every so often at his new (picked up from the side of the road) desk. ;)

For Math, we continue to talk about numbers throughout the day as we do our daily tasks. We count, add and subtract as we cook, walk, work, read and play. This year, I also bought a simple math activity kit. This kit has some fun little games to play that involve counting, sequencing and number recognition.

For Science, we work on nature study throughout the week. We meet with other homeschooling families regularly to go on a nature walks and to draw/make observations in our nature journals (although I'm not pushing this right now). We also collect things to put on our seasonal nature table, such as shells, rocks, pinecones, colored leaves, seed pods and wildflowers. We make careful observations of the world around us, notice the seasons changing, watch the birds in our window feeder, ask questions and read books about things that interest him. (As a sidenote: he's also really into watching old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy) :)

We aren't doing anything very formal, but I have picked up a few living books about the history of America that we read on occasion. We talk simply about different time periods and events as they come up in our reading or if he asks questions about something he has heard about.

We listen to it, sing it, play it, dance to it.  I play music all day in the background; classical, folk, jazz, rock and roll, you name it. Family jam/dance sessions happen regularly and there are a plethora of instruments around the house to play. Levi is quite partial to the drums and he even got a few real drums for his birthday this year. 

Levi is much more interested in drawing/art this year (which is good for his Mama's soul, haha). We try to keep drawing, painting, lacing materials easily accessible at all times. We spend a lot of time at the Peabody Essex Museum, especially enjoying their special exhibits, maker lounge and expansive children's area. 

I'm really enjoying these early years of simple discovery, nature exploration and lots of good books. Slow and precious days, these are.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

this and that

a little bit of this and a little bit of that....

- I don't know how to get back into this old blogging habit of mine, but after probably a little TOO much time and effort mulling over the pros and cons, I think I will try. The desire is there, so if I can just find a little smidgen of time to do it, I'll be golden! I'm working on creating more margin in my life, so hopefully this is something that can come back in some way or another.

- In the days to come, I'd like to do some catch-up and post a bit about our summer.  The plan all along has been to print out hard copies of my blog eventually and have it as a diary of our life as a family.  I'd like to try and close that huge gap, if possible!  

- This fall,  Brian and I have spent a great deal of time thinking, reading and praying about our family life and homeschooling philosophy.  In particular, I've been thinking critically about how to use time wisely and thinking through what our family rhythms and habits will be. I imagine that it's harder to put these in place when the kids are older, so I'm doing my best to order our days and priorities accordingly.  It's been a joy-filled process and I'm quite excited about what lies ahead for our family and our little home school. 

- Levi and Magnolia are growing and learning and I love being a part of it all. Of course we have our moments (PLENTY of them), but overall our days are slow and happy and full of discovery.  We are starting each day with our morning basket (more on that to come), reading piles and piles of books, reading and reciting scripture, making art, listening to music, memorizing poetry and spending lots of time outdoors. It all feels very right and good. (a more specific and detailed post about this year's homeschool is forthcoming!)

- Brian graduated with his Master's in English and Creative Writing in May, so his time has freed up in a lot of ways.  He is enjoying more time to work on his own creative (non-school) projects and we are enjoying our less busy and less stressed Papa. He is currently using his degree in very important ways like telling his children the most magical stories every night before bed and writing his wife beautiful love letters on his typewriter. We're not complaining. ;)

- I think one of the reasons I stopped writing here for so long is that I didn't know how to write about the death of my Dad. I still don't know what/if I'll process through any of that in this space, but know that my broken heart has good days and bad days and I imagine it will be this way for a while.  The last months of his life were the most precious and hardest of my life. But, my hope is in the Lord. I put my Dad's picture where I see it often and I cry a lot and I make sure my kids remember their Grampy and we talk about happy memories. I think often about the day in January when my Dad broke down, knowing he was in his last days and he just wanted all of us to lay on his bed with him, just like when we were young. I am living those days right now and I'm well aware that these are very days that I will probably long for when I'm looking back at my life. So, I guess you could say that I'm savoring these seemingly mundane moments like never before.