Family Update

Things have been a little crazy here! There hasn’t been much time to sit down and write. In fact, as I am typing this, I am contemplating running upstairs to tell my children to be quiet and I can hear Macie starting to wake up and I know she will need to eat soon. This life as a mama to 5 girls is definitely not one for the faint of heart! But, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

So, what have we been up to? Besides figuring out how to survive with 5 girls? Not much!

This summer has been HOT, and so far has consisted mostly of me watching the girls swim or trying to stay in the air conditioning. We have managed to make it out for a few little trips – bounce it out, the zoo, the indoor play cafe –

But, thanks to an amazing husband and an awesome dad, our yard is pretty much as good as any local playground, so most of trips consist of only taking a few steps out the door…

When I do have a few minutes of down time I have been excitedly planning our homeschool year for this coming school year! I’ll be composing a few posts soon about what are plans are this year, what curriculums we have chose and why, and how we are really seeing God move through our decision to keep the kids “home” for school (yea – we’re actually home less than we are out..)

My husband has been diligently working in our garden and we are starting to see the fruits of his hours of labor in the form of an abundance of zucchini, cucumbers that beg to be pickled and the beginnings of some very large pumpkins and winter squash!! I can’t wait until the corn is ready to be picked! We’ve learned a lot as this season has gone on, and I can’t wait to share some more of our homesteading lessons and misadventures (chickens in the house, anyone!?)…

I have to keep this short for now, as I have a little babe who is about to beg me to be fed. This season of our life has been so amazing, I can hardly describe everything in the few short paragraphs I wrote here. I am looking forward to getting some more time to write as Macie’s newborn naps start to become a bit more predictable! For now, I’ll leave you with some pictures of my sassy littles…

Emmy’s personality in 3 seconds…

These two…

Last Import - 92 of 205

I can’t believe that this kid is 5 already!!

Life on The Homestead

I can’t believe that we have been in our home for as long as we have. This time last year, an old farmhouse with land, in a good area and not to far from family seemed like something that would never be attainable. We had just finally begun settling back to “normal” after a whirlwind move, followed by my 18 month battle with Postpartum Anxiety. We knew what we wanted, and we prayed and prayed for the right home, at the right price, to appear….

It felt like the kind of wish you wish for as a kid when you are about to blow out your candles – you know, the ones you know deep inside are asking for too much, but you still believe in the power of magic birthday candles enough to at least try?

Except,we were shown once again, that we weren’t wishing on magic candles, but instead pleading with the creator of the universe to fulfill this desire if it was His plan for us…

I mean, we felt like He had put it on our house to move home, save money, and figure out what we truly wanted our family to look like. A desire for a simpler life, one where we could get back in touch with who we were created to be, grew inside of each of us – without knowing what the other one was thinking. Until, one day we were planning goals for the future and realized that, in seeking the Lord’s will for each of our lives, that our desires and dreams had begun to take the same direction. We both envisioned a life for the girls filled with a love of the outdoors, working the land to produce and harvest our own foods, a barn with goats, chickens and a cow – all while being a short distance from family, work and Wegmans.

So, when we set out to look, we never dreamed we would find it. It just seemed as though we had too many desires: not only enough land in an area of the county that was less restrictive on its agricultural guidelines, but a house with character – old, but not falling apart – and big enough for all 6 members of our family.

We originally turned this house down. We just didn’t see the potential. There were things on our list that it didn’t have – a full size barn, pasture fencing, or many modern updates. It also had less land than we originally thought we wanted. So, we pulled our offer and kept looking…

only to be brought back to this home again and again. We could afford it. Most of the updates were cosmetic. We weren’t really ready for livestock just yet. It had enough bedrooms and a separate school room…

and then we realized that the amount of land was enough to do what we wanted to do according to the guidelines in the particular area this home was located in.

So we put in another offer, a little higher than our first knowing that there was some competition.

We waited….and waited….and waited….

and then we got the call. Our offer was accepted! We were so excited! But, a few things still needed to be worked out, so the owner decided he wanted to meet with us directly (apparently that isn’t normal real estate procedure?).

So Matt and I went out to the house to meet with the owners, who turned out to be an incredibly sweet, kind, caring and generous older couple. The man and Matt hit it off immediately and we were told the story of the day our offer came in…

The owner was driving to meet his real estate agent to sign an offer that he was going to accept, only he couldn’t remember where they were supposed to meet. Apparently, after going to the wrong place, he decided to just go back home and figure it all out later that day. While he was back at home, our offer came in – slightly higher and non contingent. If we had waited until the next day, the house would have escaped out grasp. It was as if it was all orchestrated to fulfill a part of our family’s plan…

And shortly after moving in, we knew that it had. This house has turned out to be more than we could have imagined. The girls are THRIVING here, we’ve made it our own, decided to add one more member to our family, drawn closer together and successfully finished our first full year of homeschooling.

We brought some baby chicks into our family, and built the a chicken coop. We’ve seen the girls grow in responsibility as they learn to care for the chickens, and our new farm dog Sophie, and we can’t wait to add more animals to our family a little at a time.

We’ve also begun our first garden here, and its huge. I can’t wait to see all of the vegetables growing on our property. We’ve discovered apple trees, pear trees, cherry trees and raspberry bushes as well. We can’t even believe how blessed we are.

Its amazing to feel as though we are exactly where we are supposed to be this season…

and since we are new to this whole lifestyle, I’m starting a new, semi-regular series, documenting all the ups and downs of building a homestead. It should be pretty comical, as I can barely keep flowers alive. We are reading and devouring everything we can on various topics, and then trying out what we have learned! Its been so much fun, and our home isn’t just a place we live anymore, but its also our hobby, our interest, and our refuge.

I’m including some pictures of the house itself, and parts of the yard, since I know some of you have been asking to see it. Its hard to get everything in a few pictures, but I’ll be adding more with each additional post, so stay tuned!

A Typical Day..

Never actually looks the same around here.  I think that has been the hardest part about homeschooling, finding out the routine that works best for us!

When I was lesson planning over the summer, I had all of these amazing ideas of how our week would love, filled with lots of reading, laughing, projects, exploring and of course – school work.

At the end of our first week, I cried. I realized I had no idea what it would really be like, and that my expectations were way too high. I overwhelmed myself with books on different methods of teaching, and for a month I was convinced I was doing everything wrong.

See, there a a million different types of homeschooling families and a ton of different ideas on HOW to teach kids…

Some of the main methods of homeschooling are:

“Unschooling” – also referred to as “child directed learning.” The least structured method of schooling, parents that choose this method allow their children to follow their interests in choosing topics, then they attempt to organically fit in the different subjects taught through the lens of that topic. I believe it varies from family to family, but I assume that being mostly child led, each day would look a lot different from the rest. I know a lot of families who have fallen in love with this method, but I knew right away it wasn’t for us. I wanted something a bit more measurable, with somewhat of a routine…

So then we looked into another method of learning – “Unit Studies”. I wanted to love this idea. I began planning our months around specific units (history and science typically), and then included writing assignments, reading, health, and bible around these topics. It went well in the beginning, but I began to crave even more structure to our day…

So we moved onto researching what I thought would be my most favorite method – the “Charlotte Mason” method. Modeled after the teachings of Charlotte Mason herself, this curriculum focuses a lot on reading, dictation, and time spent outdoors. It incorporates a lot of life skills to reinforce subject matter and prides itself on not “watering down” subject matter for children, but instead pulling them up to the level of the subject matter. On paper, this is my absolute FAVORITE, the ideals of instilling a love for learning, independence in developing new skills, and the emphasis on great literature fits completely with our values…

But, actually translating those ideas into our “new normal” turned out to be too much of a culture shock to our household. We had to scale back, and while we still enforce a lot of the ideals of Charlotte Mason in certain subjects, I wouldn’t call our schooling style “Charlotte Mason” by any stretch of the imagination.

What I did find, was that I was gravitating more towards a classical education for my children, without even knowing! I had stayed away from researching this more structured, and rigorous form of educating children because I thought that it would not fit our family style at all. Then one day, out of sheer desperation for direction, I cracked open my obligatory copy of “The Well Trained Mind”. As I was reading, I realized that classical education was much different than I thought! The emphasis on good writing, excellence in reading and the mastery of academic skills necessary for adulthood actually DID fit in with our ideals. I also realized that, while some classical families tend to follow a more demanding academic routine, classical education could be molded into slightly less structured, yet still academically sound curriculum that allowed us to add in some of the best features of each of the other schools of thought!

Finally, I had a revelation! After months of doubting, questioning, wondering and having full blown panic attacks over choosing the “right” school of thought for out family, I realized that I didn’t have to pick just one! We went into homeschooling to educate to the best of OUR CHILDREN’S needs, not the direction of one book or another on how to teach!

IMG_3078_Fotor

So where does that leave us? Somewhere in between all of this! I realized that our family does better with a combination of structure and freedom, and that is OKAY!! We tend to do all of our subjects in the same order, so that the kids become used to the routine of school at home, but we start and end at different times, depending on what outside classes the girls have that day. Two mornings a week we are out for playgroup for the preschoolers, and gymnastics for Autumn, so the bulk of the work is completed in the afternoon, where we also typically don’t do any formal preschool work because of the additional instruction the little girls are getting from sources outside of the home. The other days, school work is done first thing in the morning, and ends in the early afternoon, where crafts/projects/free time or resting time will take up the rest of the day until dinner. Fridays is typically swimming, which rounds out the girls gym requirement (dance, swimming and group sports games at Awana fill in the rest of that requirement).

Our typical schedule looks something like this:

IMG_3098_Fotor

Bible during breakfast – reading, discussing or following a devotional, we let where we are that week lead our bible study time.

Math for Gabbi – which is mostly independent because we purchased a computer based instructional program. I do sit with her at least one day a week to go over all the problems she has struggle with to see if we need to add in any remedial work, or if we need to take a step back and repeat a concept. During this time we also do our “formal” preschool – which is usually a letter study, small craft, song, counting and simple math, and then independent crafting.

Grammar – Writing  well is such an important skill, so we study grammar daily. We use a more rigorous Abeka curriculum, as well as editing all journal entries and writing assignments together to fix grammatical errors. I have seen a huge improvement this year!

Writing – Also focused on daily, we study different types of writing through our unit studies, grammar focus or just for fun. We don’t use a curriculum because writing is my happy place! We have studied: journaling, creative writing, responsive writing, persuasive writing, writing letters and we did a full research paper this year! Moving forward this year we will be covering character development, theme forming, setting, poetry and more story building techniques! I’m so thankful that this is my daughter’s favorite subject because it allows us to have fun everyday.

Reading – Another area where we don’t use curriculum, we are using reading time to both enhance the girls vocabulary, comprehension and writing. I made a book list at the beginning of the year and we spend time daily reading both out loud and independently. I use note taking methods with Gabbi to see where her comprehension is, as well as verbal discussions of each chapter. Were going to be looking more closely at character, setting and theme development the second half of this year using more fiction! The first half of the year we read a lot of non-fiction and focused on the ability to learn concepts through reading.

Science and History – this is where we focus solely on unit studies!! We are using a two whole units of curriculum for history by Homeschool In The Woods (stay tuned for a full review on this FUN way of teaching history!!), New World Explorers for US History, and Ancient Egypt for world history. The girls are VERY excited to start Ancient Egypt in a few weeks! For science we have done a unit on the human body, a unit on nutrition and will be doing a second unit the human body covering diseases and hygiene later on this year. We group health into science, because for these units go hand in hand. The best part about these unit studies are that the little girls love to join in and I can really modify each activity so that everyone can participate at their level!!

The rest of our days involve studying topics of interest, learning new skills, spending time outdoors, or enjoying our extracurricular classes!

This post got much longer than I expected it to! So, I am going to end it here for now. Next week, I will tackle the topic of socialization – the ever popular question that we get from concerned citizens who don’t truly understand what homeschooling your children is REALLY like!

Homeschooling?

Why would you want to do that?

This is a question we get asked A LOT. Thankfully, it’s mostly by moms who are genuinely curious about this education option that many seem to be unaware of…

So I figured that I would do a little background on why we chose this route for our family…

First of all, let me state that homeschooling is a legal alternative to public or private education. There are millions of kids across our country that are homeschooled, and homeschooling can look different for each family. Some families may use a relaxed approach, while others may use a rigorous curriculum or online school. What each family has in common is the desire to provide a tailor made education for each of their children. In NYS, homeschooling families must register with their school district. We send in a letter at the beginning of each school year stating our intent to homeschool, followed by a detailed outline of the grade levels of each of our students, what topics we intend to cover that year and what method or curriculum we will use. Homeschooling families provide quarterly reports to the district, just like teachers within the school district itself. At the end of each year, each student is assessed by someone other than the parent – either by test or review of samples of work from the year. While other states have much more loose restrictions on homeschooling, NYS requires the most oversight from the district.

So, what led us to this decision?

This answer isn’t as simple as “we don’t agree with public school”, or “we have such strong convictions about…”. For some families, these answers may fit and that is totally OKAY, but for us the decision was more about what we wanted for the girls vs. what we didn’t want. It is no secret that our schools are filled with so many kids that it becomes nearly impossible to reach every single student, and it is impossible to create a tailor made education for each individual student allowing for strengths to shine and weaknesses to be attended to. Teachers do an AMAZING job at trying their best to accomplish these things, but their are limits to what one can do with so many kids and a restricted amount of time. What I envisioned for my kids was an education where they could each thrive individually. I wanted to be able to research curriculum and choose what would help each of them learn best. I desired the ability for them to try new concepts and work at each one until they felt as though that had mastered it. I longed for the idea that they could not only discover their own strengths, but also have endless time in their formative years to strengthen their own weaknesses. But, above anything else, I wanted them to learn how to learn, to develop a passion for seeking out answers to their questions, and to figure out how to gain knowledge in something on their own! This invaluable skill, in my eyes, would lead to a lifelong ability to grow, learn and discover anything they desired to. It would create well rounded members of society, adults who didn’t run from problems but discovered how to solve them…..

I could go on and on, but I won’t. We have been so blessed with the ability for me to be at home with my girls, to have the time to study them and learn how they learn and then to provide them with the tools they need. I am so thankful to be able to give them access to curriculum, literature, classes and other adults who are masters in various fields. I am thrilled to be able to walk this journey with them. Is choosing homeschooling a sacrifice? In some ways, yes! We are committing to me staying home indefinitely to be able to provide our girls with the best education we can. We are saying no to things in order to say yes to the time we need to devote to this adventure….

But, even more importantly, we feel like we are saying yes to God in this season.

Because, for us, we feel like this is the direction our family is being called to!

Do I disagree with public education? Not at all. I think access to education is an amazing gift that we take for granted in this country. I can’t believe the plethora of people there are who devote their lives to educating the coming generations, and I believe that they do not receive the credit (or the pay!) that they deserve.

Do I think that homeschooling works for all families? No. I am a firm believer that every family’s story is supposed to be specific to them. There is no right or wrong way for a family to look. Loving your kids and committing to raising them to the best of your ability, following your convictions and striving to live joyfully and peacefully is so much more important than finding the “right way”.

However, for us, being almost a whole school year in, I think that we have made the right choice. As you will see in future posts, we are having a blast. I love being with the girls, and they are thriving. We change our lesson plan almost daily as I witness them whip through something I assumed would be difficult, while finding we need to devote more time to things I thought would come easy. The girls’ personalities are evolving as they see themselves growing…

And if I can brag on my kids for just a second – my 4th grader is exceeding every expectation I had. I have discovered that she CAN do well in math if given the time, but the perfectionist in her struggles with self-doubt when things are done incorrectly. I have watched her take the time on a difficult lesson, only to come running to the kitchen to excitedly tell me that she only got one problem wrong. I have discovered she is a fantastic and incredibly creative writer, a deep thinker and she has become an avid reader.

My 4 year old is learning to take risks. She has discovered courage and bravery this year. She is amazingly artistic, while being equally logical. She doesn’t love reading yet, but thrives on stories. And this girl can follow directions better than her 9-year-old sister! She is such an attentive listener….

My wild child is learning to spend time alone and become independent of her, only slightly, older sister. She loves to be taught ANYTHING and begs to “do school”. She is a math whiz and loves to dance. She asks a million questions and is beautifully fascinated by everything.

And the baby is no longer a baby. She can literally figure out how to do everything on an iPad. She speaks in full sentences and loves to make everyone laugh. She wants to be like her older sisters and will sit and copy everything they do. She loves to count money and stairs and is so loving and encouraging to her sisters. She is learning all about how babies grow and loves to talk to Macie. I can’t believe she will be old enough to “do preschool” next year!

I will continue to update this series with specific projects we are doing, curriculum reviews (honest and unpaid!), events we are a part of and answers to various popular questions regarding homeschooling. I truly hope that, even if homeschooling is not written into the story of your family, that you will find this section encouraging and inspiring as you participate in all aspects of your children’s education!