Friday, July 3, 2015

Notebooking on a Shoestring & Scheduling Simplified

As we prepare for a new school year, can I take a moment to share what I've not been doing? (Actually, there's a lot I've not been doing...)

I’ve not been thinking much about paper, printables, and organization of papers and printables. I'm afraid I just can't bring myself to battle the paper wars in preparation for a new school year. (To be honest, I still have unused printables from Cycle 2 stored in boxes sitting in the closet.) 

While printables can be a great tool for motivating our children, there’s been a gradual decrease in the use of printables in our home. I can't seem to get my thoughts together in advance enough to remember to print out new notebooking pages, much less organize them.  Herein lies that important homeschooling concept of simpler is better.  This whole process of shedding unnecessities will likely take a lifetime, but I am learning.

Regardless of whether or not I've created them, it’s not necessary to have a printable for everything (or for anything, really). In fact, a few spiral or composition notebooks can do the job of half-a-hundred thousand printables. It costs a lot less, too. (BUT... if you still enjoy using printables or worksheets, that is a-okay! It's a great tool! You can use what you and your children enjoy! This post is just to show you another way if you are seeking another way that makes planning and preparation a tad bit easier for our family.)

Notebooking Simplified

Seven Subjects (plus or minus a few).
Seven Spiral or Composition Notebooks (or just one or two).
Some blank paper or tracing paper (for geography and fine arts).

Note: There are many other (and better?) ways to use notebooks. This is just one example of how notebooks can simplify homeschooling. We don't notebook through all the subjects in this manner, but we wanted to show how you could if you desired to do so. We practice mapmaking on a consistent basis and use notebooks for daily Essentials work; on a weekly basis we will usually complete a history, science, and/or nature study page. For the other subjects, we use whiteboards or index-card flashcards to practice memory work.

History, Bible, and Science. Creating a notebook page for Bible, history, or science might include...
  • Simply copying memory work verbatim
  • Copying information related to the memory work (from a book like Story of the World or The Mystery of History or Pages of History)
  • Writing a paragraph from a Key Word Outline (as we do in IEW)
  • Writing a written narration from the historical fiction or other reading that your family is doing
  • Recording a science experiment or nature study observation
...or any number of other relevant writing. Our children enjoy drawing something related to the history or science memory work (or even drawing a cartoon of the memory work), so we use a spiral notebook that has an illustration area at the top. The one pictured below is the former version of the Classical Conversations Sketch Notebook, which has been replaced by the Nature Sketch Journal, which may be purchased from ClassicalConversationsBooks. You can also find several types of Mead Composition books on Amazon. (Click here for a wide-ruled notebook with illustration section at the top of each page. Click here for a college-ruled notebook with graph section at the top.)

Geography. With geography, we rotate through the following tasks: Tracing, blob mapping, and freehand drawing with major circles of latitude. It is also the one subject where the printable has been extremely valuable for us. (We have actually laminated our blob mapping templates so that it's not something we have to print over and over. No laminator? Page protectors function in much the same way.)

For more details on each of these, visit Blob Mapping and Drawing the World Free-Hand.

Latin & English Grammar.  Instead of copying the charts and sentence task analysis sheets from the Essentials notebook, we use a spiral notebook (for hard copies) or whiteboard (for extra practice). So. much. easier.  English Grammar memory work and Latin noun & verb endings lend themselves to whiteboard practice. In fact, whiteboards are the tool we normally use to practice these subjects, but below is an example of how you might notebook 'em. 

With more advanced students, you can start applying Latin noun or verb endings to various Latin stems.  

Math. Math fact practice in our home involves flashcards, card games, math drills (as provided in our math curriculum), and writing of math facts. When we get to unit conversions, geometry, and algebraic laws, it is still helpful to simply write and draw what it means. (Example: For liquid equivalents, it's helpful to draw out Gallon Man.)

Timeline. This takes just a little bit of forethought because your child has to choose a scale for the timeline. As I mentioned in our Accordion Timeline Notebooking post, you will likely want to adjust your timeline increments to allow for more events as you approach the present day.

That's seven (or eight) subjects, and those seven (or eight) subjects constitute our normal daily memory work. However, those are not the only subjects for which we use this simple technique of writing-on-paper. For instance, there's art and composer study. While it can be useful to have a printable with staff lines for music theory study, or a notebook page with a composer's portrait or an artist's work (especially if you don't have the artwork available in another form), you can still use plain paper to write about an artist's biography or to trace an artist's work. In listening to classical music, our children simply draw what they hear on a blank sheet of paper as we talk about instrumentation and dynamics.

We also have the other language arts (literature, vocabulary, and spelling), all of which can be included in the same notebook. In fact, keeping a literature notebook is a great way to keep up with characters, setting, quotes, and other elements of a story.

Sometimes, our son's spelling and dictation assignments look like this:

or this:

It's always amazing to me what they come up with when they are given a blank sheet of paper and a pencil!

Finally, for our kindergartner last year, "other language arts" was simply some sort of copywork. I only include this to show how easy it is to incorporate copywork and notebooking into your school activities even with young children. For more about copywork, dictation, and note booking, visit Copywork, Dictation, Narration & Observation: A Beginner's Guide.

Using a Notebook for Daily Tasks

Then there's the very act of writing down the student's daily assignments, which can be done on a spiral index card notebook. In preparation for a new day, I usually plan out the next day's activities for each of my children. Using a few minutes the night before to plan out the following day falls in line with the idea of starting your day in the evening. ("The evening and the morning were the first day." Genesis 1:5)

Maybe it's because I'm not a morning person, but it definitely helps me to have everything in place when we wake up first thing in the morning. The boys know what it is expected of them and can work through the checklist. I don't have to think so early before I've had my first pot of coffee, and no questions are asked about when they will be finished. (The above is an example because I just now decided to start using index cards for this instead of writing it down on the whiteboard each night.)

Scheduling Notebooking

As far as notebooking is concerned, you don’t need to do every subject every day! (In fact, I would highly recommend not doing every subject every day!) Just cycle through them in a way that allows you to review the subjects. As an example for the schedulers...

As an example for the loopers...

The loop schedule allows you to cycle through the tasks you'd like to do without worrying about totally missing out on Fine Arts Friday, for example. If you don't get around to fine arts on Friday, just do it on Monday. Even though I have plans scheduled into our planner, we often fall "behind schedule" because of things like illness, drama rehearsals, field trips, or Distractible Mom Syndrome. In this case, we just pick up where we left off the next day and don't worry about not getting it finished on a particular day. I haven't yet figured out how to reflect this in our planner. (Any ideas? Leave a comment!) If this loop scheduling thing is of interest to you, be sure to go and watch this webinar which explains the concept in greater detail!

Total notebooking time usually takes less than 30 minutes for our family. You can do two or three subjects in a day, or just one. It just depends on what fits your family's homeschooling rhythm.

So there you have it.
No costly subscriptions.
No expensive toner or printer cartridges.
No remembering to print something out.
No spending a day (or days) printing, filing, and organizing weeks of printables.

Just pencil and paper.

You know, I might have saved our family quite a few toner cartridges if I had only recognized the beauty in simplifying our notebooking earlier in our homeschooling journey...

Other related posts:
Our Classical Notebook (for those who still would like notebooking pages, here are some free ones!)
Free Handwriting Resources and Workbook (which includes instructions on how to make your own note booking pages, and a link to download a free handwriting book for connecting letters, which we used between Prescripts Level 1 and 2)
Copywork, Dictation, Narration & Observation: A Beginner's Guide
Continental Blob Maps

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Friday, June 19, 2015

A Humbling Reality Check

This article has been republished from the archives (original article written August 2013). Sometimes... I just have to remind myself of these things.

"Comparison is the death of contentment." 

Before I write any more posts about what we do (or plan to do) as a family, it is ultra-important to me that anyone who reads this blog knows the truth of our reality.  [You probably remember that I'm not very good at cooking and cleaning? Yes, I'm much better at making big messes and ordering pizzas.  But I am trying very hard right now to actually cook supper on a regular basis. I still use a microwave way too much, but my excuse is that I'm still in the grammar stage.]

Here's my disclaimer (one of them, anyway):  I rave about certain things because we absolutely love them, but that does not mean that you should love them, too.  I'm just a curriculum addict, especially when it comes to unit studies. We just like 'em a lot.

But as a classical educator all you need is the 4Rs at the grammar stage:
  1. Reading
  2. wRiting
  3. aRithmetic
  4. Recitation
I guess you could say the rest is just fluff.

What do I mean?  Well, last year... was a humbling experience.  At the beginning of the year, I had grandiose plans, but then life happened.  Unfortunately, we started out the year over-involved in soccer, 4-H, cubscouts, piano lessons, two full-day tutorials, Essentials, Titus 2, and other things I can't even remember right now.  We were already down to only 2-3 days of school-at-home per week because of our busy schedule.

And then my ophthalmologist said I should have eye surgery after struggling with Map Dot Dystrophy for a year-and-a-half.  [For those wondering what Map Dot Dystrophy is, the surface of my eyes would not stay attached to the basement membrane - the corneas would tear off repeatedly resulting in what I'd call very-much-pain.]

So... for about two months we lost another day per week as we scheduled multiple pre-op appointments in preparation for the removal of the surface layers of both eyes.  [For those in Essentials, imagine doing your entire week's worth of Essentials assignments in just 1-2 days. every. single. week.  aack!]

Needless to say, all the extra fluff fell by the wayside. All my grandiose plans were ON HOLD.  We reverted to:  Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic and Recitation.  We spent a lot of time on Recitation just by listening to our memory work CD in the car, since we were driving several hours per week.

The surgery on my eyes put me out many days before surgery... and after surgery.  And there was an extended period of recovery time that I struggled to even read large print in a book.  I had to ask our oldest son to take over the books I normally read aloud due to the strain.  It took me much longer than expected to recover.  I felt like I would never be able to see normally again - and that my eyes would always burn, that my tear film would never re-establish itself, and that my eyes would continue to dry out constantly.  [But fast-forward 6 months, and God has completely healed me - not only from Map Dot Dystrophy, but I also now have 20/20 vision for the first time in almost 30 years! Friends, this has been an amazing journey!]

After the initial recovery, we had other stuff:  an unexpected death in the family, extra out-of-town trips that threw our school schedule off even more, just a bunch of stuff.

In short, we overbooked ourselves and then life overbooked us even more.

Essentials was the only thing we finished each week, but it was not without MUCH stress and frustration.  (I do not recommend trying to cram your at-home Essentials assignments into 3 or less days per week. Especially if you have a perfectionist child who wants to do everything his tutor mentioned.)  We never even started our Latin curriculum last year. Although we did our math assignments, we didn't actually finish our math books last year. As far as unit studies or other activities, we only did one week's worth of "digging deeper" when we studied the atmosphere.  Just one week.

This entire experience led me to realize that at the grammar stage, we are emphasizing skills, not subjects.

I was always a bit confused about this, thinking that CC spanned (or surveyed) such a large amount of history but then argued that we should master - not survey - subjects.  Huh? It seemed contradictory to me.

Last year when life interrupted, we simply emphasized skills, not subjects.  We didn't "dig in deeper" but fell back to the 4Rs.  And despite our year of setbacks, our children still learned an amazing amount of information.  They really mastered it... without the digging-in-deeper stuff.  In fact, they mastered more than they ever did before.  Later, it occurred to me that when we dig deeper into each and every week's memory work at the grammar stage, perhaps we are neglecting the mastery of the material to pursue the surveying of the material?

Lo and behold, I discovered that our children will thrive if we simply memorize and recite at this stage.  They don't have to understand each and every thing we ask them to recite.  That will come later.  It will come up when we come across it in our normal reading.  It will come up in some of the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times.  And it will be built upon with more formal understanding, discussion, and debate when our children embark on their journey through Challenge.

I share this just to let you know, if you see our lists of links, or you see our reading plans, or you see our curriculum choices, or you see our notebook, or you see our obsession with Homeschool in the Woods, and you think, "Whoa!  This woman is crazy!" Well... of course I am.  You all know that.

But no matter what we plan to do, we fall back onto what is necessary.  That is the reality. [Not the short glimpses you see in a post of how a certain activity went.  It's imperative that you know that not every day is like that around here.  Some days I am in survival mode.  In fact, some days I have even been too blind to take care of myself, much less my own family.]

So can I say it just one more time?

For those in Classical Conversations, you do not need anything besides:
  • A Bible (No fancy curriculum needed.  Just read the scriptures together.)
  • The Foundations Guide
  • A Tin Whistle
  • If possible, the Classical Acts & Facts History Timeline Cards. [If your children ask who, what, when, where, how or why about Charlemagne, take out the timeline card and read it together!]
  • A math program (We use Saxon, but that's another long story....)
  • A language arts program (until your children are old enough for Essentials).  We use a spelling program that teaches phonics, and then we teach sentence structure, punctuation, parts of speech, etc. via copywork and dictation. Our family no longer uses a formal English Grammar program before Essentials. We found it's not necessary for our family.  
  • A library card.  Your book selections need not even match up with your history or science memory work.  Just read anything that your children enjoy!
  • Paper and pencil
I'll mention now what I learned last year, mainly as a reminder to myself.  Give yourself some wiggle room (don't cram your schedule too full!).  Make your plans and goals but don't hold yourself or your family to hard-set expectations. Choose enjoying your children over trying to make everything fun.  Don't compare yourself to another. Do what's best for your family, your teaching style, and your circumstances (no matter what you see someone else doing).  And, most of all, remain flexible [and be still] as you trust the Lord in all things.

Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it's the Lord's purpose that prevails.  Proverbs 19:21
[His] love... reaches to the heavens, [His] faithfulness to the skies.  (Psalm 36:5)

Past thoughts and ramblings:
Are you struggling with feelings of failure?  Read When Failure Becomes Success
Are you frustrated with planning?  Read Improving Our Vision
Are you struggling with balancing life?  Read A Great Balancing Act
Do you harbor feelings of fear? [Are you finding it difficult to trust God?]  Read I was Scared. Really Scared. or From the Heart or Down to the River
Do you feel discouraged?  Read In Times of Discouragement

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, let me know if you'd like me to pray for you! I really will!

Finally, to be honest, I feel like this post is redundant (yet not). I feel like a broken record, but for some reason I am compelled to mention these things one last time, just to make sure.  (Of what?  I don't really know.)  My wordy writing is mediocre and full of errors, but God sometimes uses even a "cracked pot" like me to touch another's heart.  So... even though deep down I fear criticism, it's worth it to put myself out there if just one person is encouraged by this newest set of ramblings.  As always, thank you for reading.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

When you're not sure you measure up

This is a repost of an article I wrote two years ago.  The message is so important to me that I include it once again as we spend the summer preparing for a new school year.  May God help us all to realize that we are enough, simply because He is enough.

A little girl digs deep inside trashcans at the local park to find bottles and cans that can be recycled for money. With grimy hands and a happy grin, she looks up at her mother, who is doing the same thing in the trashcan a little farther down the sidewalk.  Together, they take their tattered treasures to the recycling center to earn a few feeble dollars. And her mom splits that money with her to say, "Thank you for helping provide for our family once again."

What probably should have been a shameful and embarrassing experience for me was one of my favorite memories from childhood... simply because my mom was doing something with me.

You see, my mom has never been one of those crafty moms. She never sewed or knitted or baked.  And we could not afford to go places together.  But she would spend time with me.  And she made me feel important to our family.  And that's all that mattered.

Do I measure up?
After reading an article about the phenomenon of moms searching the Internet for the next best idea (all the while feeling like we don't measure up and wondering how in the world we can sort through all the Pinterest pins to even start to do something with all these great ideas that other creative moms apparently do with or for their families all the time), I was reminded once again that my children just want to be with me. And it doesn't matter what we do together.  What they don't want to hear me say is another, "Just a minute," that ends up being another hour because I'm trying to find a fun 15-minute activity for us to do together just because it fits in with our history lesson.

You see, my sons have never seen the Pinterest pin that's plaguing me.  They don't know that I've never mummified apples with them.  They don't even know mummified apples exist.

So why do I feel less than par if I don't find the time to make mummified apples with my children?

Because... I've fallen victim to something.  It's this thing called comparison-motherhood:  comparisons to other mothers, comparisons to my own ideals of perfection.  Comparison-motherhood makes me less than what I really am.

In this day and age when every Pinterest pin, every Disney Family Fun craft, every cute & cuddly cupcake recipe, and every blogpost or facebook update by {insert supermom's name here} results in those feelings of inadequacy...

Let me just be real with you and say... I don't make cute and cuddly cupcakes.  And I don't really like messy crafts very much.  Nor do I make homemade soap or any other number of great and phenomenal super-mom things.

But my sons still love me for who I am, not who I am NOT.  

After reading Todd Wilson's Lies Homeschooling Moms Believe, I felt compelled to share our real-life experiences with others. As many people know, I am a super-planner but not always a super-implementer.  I am intense - not because I want to be (it's much the opposite, in reality) but because it is how I am geared. My husband says he married a Buzz Lightyear.  That's a pretty good description of me.

Although I frustrate myself because I am often misinterpreted due to this intensity, I have come to realize that God loves me just the way I am.  And my husband loves me just the way I am.  And my children love me just the way I am.  I don't have to change to be someone I am not.

But we all seem to measure ourselves against circumstances and people who aren't really real.

At times, we think:
Everyone does more than I do.
No one else ever gets frustrated like I do.
I'm not doing a good job.
Everyone else is a better wife/mother/teacher than I am.
No one else has a messy house.
Everyone else is more patient than I am.
No one else has doubts about what they're doing.
Everyone else's children act better, are more talented, or are just plain smarter than ours. Will these wonderful blessings God has bestowed upon us EVER show that I've at least TRIED to teach them MANNERS?!?!?
What we see of others' lives is not the WHOLE STORY.  All of us are making messes.  All of us get exhausted.  And ALL of us fall short when we compare ourselves to perfection and Utopian ideals.

So, let me just go ahead and spill the beans - just in case you might ever start to think I'm some supermom extraordinaire.  I'm not a gourmet cook.  I don't bake my own bread.  And sometimes we have cereal for supper.  In fact, a few weeks ago I finally realized why we shouldn't have Ramen noodles for lunch every day.  Though we've never actually RUN OUT of clean clothes to wear, most of the time the clean laundry is in baskets on top of the washer and dryer, DESPITE my love for Flylady routines. I wad up my fitted sheets and stuff them in the linen closet because I'm too lazy to fold them up the right way. And I hardly ever iron.

Sometimes... my home looks like this.
I'm impatient.  I tell my kids Wait a second when I should hurry.  I tell my kids Hurry when I should wait a second.

Crafts are not one of my strengths.  Neither is teaching preschool-aged children. I still have not settled on a favorite math curriculum despite my rather extensive background in mathematics. I'm always planning to try out new things only to find out how much I don't know about [such and such].  In fact, you can read (and laugh) about my rather pitiful attempts at gardening, and why we still don't own any livestock on our farm.  You can even read about how we did not meet my rather lofty goals for this school year.  Why would I post things like this? Because it's that important to me to be real and not feed into lies others believe about themselves or others.

Yes, we all strive to be better moms, but let us not forget the moms we already are.  God chooses to use us even though we're not perfect.  And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness..." (2 Corinthians 12:9).  His strength is made perfect in our weakness - in our every imperfection - in every mistake we make as moms.  We are covered by God's infinite power, love and grace!  As our pastor once preached,

He'll take the manure of our lives and fertilize our gardens with it.

(In case you're wondering, yes, we live in the country.  These are the types of metaphors we fully understand and deeply ponder every Sunday...)

So no matter how imperfect we may be - no matter how much we feel like we just can't get it together - no matter how many times we may feel like we completely blow it as a mom - love trumps over all, for our love for our children covers all our sins.  (Proverbs 10:12)


Your children love you for who you ARE, not who you are NOT.  All they want is time with you.  And it doesn't have to be building a LEGO Periodic Table, either.  It can be... just a little game, or just a little talk, or just a little dance, or just a little book, or just a little silliness. 

As I challenge myself with these thoughts, I also extend my challenge to you:  Don't let all the ideas of what you're NOT doing seep into the time you could actually be spending with your children.  

God chose you to to be the mother of your children.  And, in their eyes (and His), you already measure up.

Article modified and reposted from the archives. 
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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Plan vs. Reality: When You Spend All Year "Tapering"

I always look forward to sharing our plan vs reality at the end of each year. It's my chance to show you just how much we don't have it all together. So... here we are once again, looking back on another year gone somewhat awry.

About this time last year, we were welcoming a fourth baby boy into our family. As we adjusted to life with a sweet lil ole young'n, I shared about my oh-no-I'm-a-homeschool-mom-and-have-to-teach-three-other-boys-while-balancing-a-newborn panic attack and my husband's Mr. Fixit plan of a tapered start. Well, the truth is... we never made it to a full-fledged schedule as my sleep-deprived mind envisioned. We were still "tapering" our school year up until our last week of school. Isn't that refreshing and unimpressive all at the same time?

To get a feel for what the plan was, you'll want to refer back to Of Curriculum and Schedules and a Tapered Start. And then... you can laugh.

So, first, let me tell you what we didn't do.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Why I Attend Practicum, a Husband's Perspective

I am sometimes asked questions about how I do it all.  

The first very-important truth is... I don't. This blog consists of five years of projects, ideas, reviews, rabbit trails, and general nonsense. If you recorded all of the stuff you did (or thought about) in a five-year period, I would venture to say that you would have way more than the amount of material I have posted here at Half-a-Hundred Acre Wood. (And... it would likely be much, much better.)

The second very-important truth is... my husband believes in me. He believes in home education and my vision for helping others in whatever way I can here from our log home in rural middle Tennessee. He willingly sacrifices himself to give me time to do these things. Without him, none of this would exist.

So... today, I want you to meet Gary, the most amazing man in my world, better known in these parts as "Brandy's Husband."

Why I Attend the Classical Conversations Practicum
by "Brandy's Husband," Gary Ferrell

When I walk into a CC Practicum one thing immediately sticks out like a sore thumb. Me.

Amid the crowd of children and moms milling around, signing in and catching up with friends, I am generally the only man in the building old enough to vote. It takes a bit of getting used to as I am introduced as "Brandy's husband", or just simply "the Dad".  It is understandable that most men do not have the flexibility to attend practicum, but I just wanted to let some of you know why I go, in case you have the opportunity and are wondering why in the world you would.

CC practicums are held for the purpose of equipping parents to homeschool their children with the classical model in a God-centered way. During these three days, the model is explained, examples are given and parents are able to participate in the grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric phases of the program. This enables us to see the vision of education that is at the heart of CC. For parents to be able to learn the model, participate, discuss potential challenges, and learn from veteran homeschoolers is fantastic. But this is not why I attend practicum.

Homeschooling is a frightening concept to most parents when they begin, and even afterwards! As we ask ourselves "How can I possibly teach?! I was a horrible student!" or "Am I going to ruin their lives forever?" it is comforting to see families that have already completed the journey with some of their children. As we hear their success stories, and as we learn that there is grace in educating our children, the weight of the burden eases and allows us to breathe. Having attended practicums for several years now, it is exciting to see these moms each year and to follow along in their journeys. These women are indeed on the front line of a cultural revolution in our country, and it is a pleasure to know them and to fellowship with them. But this is not why I attend practicum.

The success or failure of the homeschool philosophy rests mostly on the shoulders of these women. They are called to not only be a mother, with all the duties that that entails, but also to guide their charges through math, literature, writing, English grammar, science, fine arts, spelling, composition, and Latin all the while being questioned whether they are socializing enough, testing enough, participating in sports enough, or whether the kid will ever be accepted into college. And these questions start at age 5! I see that burden on my wife's shoulders and I want to help. But I'm a fix-it type guy, and there is no easy, quick fix for this one. This is not a battle to be won, it is a journey to be taken which is full of doubts, obstacles, and tears. But it is also a journey full of wonder, gratitude, and joy, such as when a child grasps a math concept, or when he gets excited about an adjective that describes exactly what he means, or when he sees a phrase in Latin above an institution and has an understanding of what the founders believed. I can't always be there for those moments, for either the tears or the joy. But I can show my wife that I believe her job is important, more important than mine. I can show her that I support her and the way she is educating our children. I can attend the practicum. And that's why I am here, in a room full of women, talking curriculum.

Dads, you might not be able to schedule three days off to attend CC practicum, and that is understandable. But if you have a chance to spend a morning, or an afternoon, or just drop by for lunch, you are making a statement not only to your wife, but to your children. You're saying, "This is important, this is worth my time. I approve." That's about the strongest statement you can make.

And don't forget to wave at the other guy across the room. I'll be there, every chance I get.