The sign that greets me outside the treatment room is ominous, and in context the words are sobering. But as I lie there on the table—for only a few minutes; the procedure is beautifully streamlined—I think about the words on the sign and realize the core message is one worth embracing. Radiation in progress…in philosophical terms, it’s really only a stone’s throw from Education is an atmosphere, isn’t it?
I just went on a little stroll through my archives, looking for an atmosphere post to link to. I didn’t find the one I wanted, but this one popped up and gave me a few happy pangs: This First Day, about Rilla’s first day of High Tide back in (gulp) 2012. The timing pierces, because today is S’s first day of school and that means the tide is shifting for the rest of us, too. This was a good passage for me to revisit this morning.
I used to waffle about methodologies: was I a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? An unschooler? Something in between—eclectic, perhaps? But it was all just groping for a label—and not even a label for my kids; it was about how to characterize myself in conversations with other homeschoolers, so that we might better understand one another. All the while, my kids and I went on simply doing what worked for us. If something stopped working, we did something else for a while—usually this has meant facilitating a child’s need to immerse deeply into a single passion or pursuit. I grok that; it’s how I love to learn, too. This blog is a chronicle of my own sudden immersions, some of them finite, some recurring at intervals: breadbaking, gardening, sewing, Irish pennywhistle, British period drama…it’s a long list. My kids have lists of their own, each one different, some interests overlapping.
Always, always, after one of these immersions, the diver comes up for air eventually. And there’s a restlessness, a pacing at loose ends, that has, for us, always been cured by a return to morning lesson time. Rose has told me she likes having the structure there to push against: knowing there are things she is expected to do fills her with ideas for things she longs to do. One of my jobs is to keep ears open for the longings, and drop resources and opportunities in her path to help her realize them. I love that part of the job.
After this summer’s upheaval, I’m ready for a return to some of the old rhythms that have served us well for so long. Of course, everything is constantly remaking itself, and the ‘old rhythms’ are overlain with new melodies.
Addendum: here’s another 2012 post that turned up and gave me a smile (and a pang) this morning. This one’s for the curriculum-junkie homeschooling mothers of 2002. I’m going to try not to think about the boatload of books and things we left behind in San Diego—it’s time to go shop my shelves and rediscover the treasures we did bring with us. We made a lot of packing decisions in a tearing hurry and I’ve had moments of wishing I hadn’t been quite so ruthless in the purge. But we still have shelves bursting with literary riches, and my job this morning is to stock the living-room shelves with a few dozen gems. And where’s the giant world map, Huck wants to know?
The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.
The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.
Heads up: I’m the guest on this week’s episode of the Brave Writer podcast! I had a fantastic time chatting about tidal homeschooling and other good stuff with the brilliant Julie Bogart, who became one of my very first online friends in the mid-1990s. We finally met in person at last summer’s Brave Writer Retreat. I always come away from a conversation with Julie feeling energized and happy, and this interview was no exception. Enjoy!
This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)
Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces, eleven paper squares from Caves and Claws, some D&D minifigures, and 1 1/2 actual game boards. Add the minifigures, dice, and Caves and Claws squares to your Tupperware container. Throw everything else away. I know, I know, the rest of Caves & Claws is long gone and saving random game pieces is pointless, but you’re just getting started here and your heart hasn’t hardened yet. Give it time.
Next up: art supplies. This step will be easier than you think, as long as you steadfastly refuse to let your brain access budget records.
Paint in tubes and bottles: If item was first opened more than six months ago, toss it.
Brushes: If they came from a Crayola or RoseArt paint set, toss them. If your toddler dipped them in glue, face the fact that you are never going to get around to soaking it out. Toss them. All other brushes go in an empty mason jar. Place this jar on a centrally located shelf. Consider artfully leaning your old tin of beeswax crayons behind it. This display will afford you feelings of satisfaction. You will need to summon those feelings in moments of despair as you work your way through subsequent steps.
Crayons: Gather all loose, blunted, and broken crayons from around the house. Place them in a clean five-gallon ice-cream tub. (You’ll find two of those under the kitchen sink and four more stacked on the dryer.) Dig your hand into this glorious collection of crayons. Bring up a fistful and gaze upon them, recalling to mind all the times you resolved to melt them into wonderful homemade crayon balls, blocks, and tapers. As you gaze, ask yourself the one crucial question: Does this spark guilt? Of course it does. Throw them all away. Ignore any lingering pangs of regret. Ten minutes from now you’ll remember it’s your turn to bring a snack to your child’s Little League practice. The ensuing waves of panic will obliterate any memory of the broken crayons.
Delete your Pinterest account.
Glance at your kitchen. Realize people are in there making snacks. This will never not be the case. You will never KonMari your kitchen. Move on.
If, however, you open a cupboard one day and find a refillable plastic cup from the local zoo—it will be giraffe-colored with an accordion-pleated straw—discard it immediately. You are never, never going to remember to take it with you for the 20¢ discount.
Toys. One does not KonMari toys. That way lies madness. You can’t pick up every single toy and ask a question about it. That process would spark many feelings, and none of them would be joy. Anyway, most of the time the question would be “Why is this sticky?”
Here is what you do with toys: gather assorted large cardboard boxes or, if you are one of those fancy types, Rubbermaid storage bins. Dump random armloads of toys in these boxes/bins. Label them Box 1, Box 2, and so on. Allow only one box into the house at a time. Three weeks from now when your children are bored, make them refill Box 1 with all the toys they’ve dumped out in the interim. Swap it out for Box 2. They’ll greet its contents like long-lost friends. Repeat this process, rotating through boxes, at monthly intervals or on the third day of a rainy streak. Store the other boxes in your garage or attic. Your children can deal with sorting and purging these items when they’re grown. I mean, you can’t possibly be expected to remember which My Little Pony is the one that must be kept for all eternity.
Eh, while you’re at it, stick the lidless Tupperware container from Step 1 into one of the toy boxes. There are probably at least three other Caves & Claws pieces in there somewhere.
Look, those nondescript rocks and pebbles are VERY IMPORTANT to someone in your home. If you do not understand what Marie Kondo means when she talks about things “sparking joy,” ask your seven-year-old if these are his rocks and observe the expression on his face. That’s the feeling you’re chasing here.
Clothing. There is no point in attempting to KonMari your children’s drawers and closets. Those places are subject to particular laws of physics which cause any neatly folded or hung matter to expand and accumulate in untidy heaps. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does your child’s sock drawer. Who are you to alter the laws of space and time? Move on.
Craft supplies. (You can distinguish these from art supplies because they exist in a different room of your house and usually involve thread.) Outfit yourself for an archeological dig, because that’s what this stage will be: an expedition through the strata of your previous selves. A dozen fabulous iterations of you will be unearthed as you work your way through the layers. You, the erstwhile quilter. You, the maker of beaded jewelry. You, the needle-felter. You, the handstitcher of faceless cotton dolls. You, the…wait, what’s quilling?
Do not lament the incomplete manifestations of these past selves. Each of them was awesome for at least a week, maybe a whole second trimester. Also, each one of them undoubtedly sparked an enthusiastic blog post which inspired some other woman with more follow-through to actually become accomplished at said pursuit. I mean, that has to count for something, right? Right?
Anyway: here’s what you do with all these craft supplies. You say airily, “Oh, hey, [insert name of nearest child], any interest in [random craft]?” Rotate through children’s names until someone gasps with delight. One of them will, and you’ll look extremely cool for having all the materials on hand already.
You knew it had to come, sooner or later. The homeschooling materials. Brace yourself. This is just a warm-up for your books, which is where the real pain lies.
First, assemble all packaged curricula. If an item is intended for second grade or younger, box it and give it to that sweet-faced young mom at park day, the one with a kindergartener and two babies. She’ll be delighted and will leaf eagerly through the instructor guides, each item sparking joy. As a courtesy, strongly advise her not to use any of it, just as you wound up not using it. She’ll ignore you, and this coming September she’ll suffer through one impossible week in which she tries to “do school.” Then she’ll stuff it all on a shelf and avoid looking at it until her oldest is in college, at which time she’ll repeat this time-honored cycle. This is a necessary stage in the metamorphosis of a homeschooling mother. In inflicting these materials upon her, you’re simply participating in an inevitable, natural process. I mean, really, it’s the same thing as planting milkweed.
Survey your remaining materials. You will be surprised to find that’s it’s all good stuff that your family actually uses. That’s because you successfully emerged from the homeschooling-mother pupal stage about the time your fifth kid was born, and also you were too broke to order anything new.
Have someone sharpen all the stray pencils and put them in a jar next to the paintbrushes. Post a picture of this on Instagram. We’re sparking now!
Who put all these pigeon feathers in the linen closet??
You’re getting kind of bored with this and anyway, Lent is almost over. You know you have to deal with the books. It’s impossible, but there’s no avoiding it. Marie Kondo says to begin by assembling them all in one place. This is good advice. Gather every single book in the house into one place, preferably the living-room floor. You’ll be bombarded with emotions as you handle each book. Do not, repeat DO NOT, stop to flip through Brambly Hedge or Swallows and Amazons. It is acceptable to sing “Bed in Summer” while adding A Child’s Garden of Verses to the pile.
Complete the process by placing your copy of Home Comforts on the top of the heap. At this juncture, your floor will collapse under the collective weight of your family library, and your entire house will be swallowed into the abyss.
Congratulations! You’re now a minimalist!
Footnote: you’ll notice this guide, and your Kon Mari endeavor, ends before Step 13, the garage. You’re welcome.
• Earworms German (Rilla and Huck)
• U.S. Presidents song
• 7 times table practice
• Visited a neighbor (Rilla and Huck)
• Read “The Lion Man” chapter in Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories: A Children’s History of Art (Rilla and me)
• Scooter and walk (Huck and Rose)
• Did art journal pages inspired by the Lion Man chapter (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Listened to Mozart’s 40th symphony while painting
• Read Frederick by Lio Lionni because it tied in so nicely to the Lion Man text (Rilla, Huck, me)
• Beanie did a lot of her usual Beanie stuff—German, geometry, working on a paper for British lit, reading cool books, taking a Photoshop class, piano practice
• Falconry test prep: studied five questions (Rose, Beanie, me)
• Looked up taxonomy mnemonic (King Philip Came Over For Good Soup)(Rose, Beanie, me)
• Boisterous game involving all Mom and Dad’s pillows (Huck and Rilla)
• Read-aloud: two chapters of A Lion to Guard Us (Rilla, Huck, me)
And then it was time for lunch. 🙂
The art history book landed on our doorstep as an unexpected review copy from Laurence King Publishing—and in a flash Rilla and I had a new history plan for the year. This book was love at first sight for both of us. Of course, it’s early days yet; as you can see above, so far we’ve only read the first chapter. So consider this a first impression, not a review. But I’m loving the format. The art prints and photos are augmented by gorgeous handpainted illustrations, and the text is engaging and fresh. We learned about the Lion Man carving (c. 40,000 BC!) in the context of the daily lives of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers. The depiction of the unknown artist laboring for hundreds of hours on the mammoth-tusk carving reminded me of Lio Lionni’s Frederick the Mouse soaking up sunrays, colors, and words while the other mice bustled to collect food, so of course we had to pull out Frederick afterward.
We decided to make pages in our sketchbooks inspired by the Lion Man. I copied the illustrations in the book; Rilla invented her own mammoth-and-lion scene. Huck painted a happy guy. 🙂 Rilla and I are hoping to fill our art journals with drawings based on our Vincent’s Starry Night readings through the year. I’ll try to post updates here if we stick with the plan.
Our current read-aloud is Clyde Robert Bulla’s chapter book A Lion to Guard Us, the adventures of three English children who travel to Jamestown after their mother’s death to reunite with their father there. Huck expresses less enthusiasm for this book than our last few readalouds—he expresses it, and yet every time I start reading (“You don’t have to listen, buddy, you can go play”) he gets sucked right in and has lots of commentary to add. We were amused to note the book’s similarity to our last readaloud (The Family Under the Bridge, which was a rousing success)—down-on-their-luck kids, big sister, middle brother, little sister.
Scott and I took Jane back to college over the weekend (sniffle), so summer is officially over in Chez Peterson. I’m more than a little freaked out by how deep into the month we are already. Too fast, y’all.
Wrote this post yesterday and then didn’t post it.
We’re swinging back into high tide here, some of us. Wonderboy started seventh grade today (I KNOW, RIGHT?!) and I’ve planned a little block of time where I can do some extra fun stuff with the two littles. It’s so strange this year—with Rose graduated (but still home and planning to remain part of our history studies as long as she lives here) and Jane heading back to college next month, I will have only three students in my little homeschool. Been a long time since that was the case!
And of course you know I don’t do much formal “schooling” with my very smallest fry. Huck is reading very well (thanks in large part to Calvin & Hobbes) and has an uncommonly good head for math. Which means the last thing I want to do is make him DO math and start disliking it. So: his life rolls on with games and read-alouds and mental arithmetic challenges and nature walks (or, these days, spying on the baby mourning doves on our porch) and messy painting sessions. Now and then we do a little writing practice. He likes markerboards and chalkboards. He’ll absorb whatever history and science I’m doing with Rilla. Oh, and they have their Shakespeare passages to learn; this year we’re starting with the “willow cabin” speech from Twelfth Night.
Rilla will get the lion’s share of my Charlotte Mason-flavored attentions this month. And here again we’ll be doing what has worked so well for us before: literature-based history explorations, a lot of art, nature study and (to put a name on it, but not a curriculum) earth science, poetry, composer study. You could probably boil my “method” (it isn’t a method) down to: fill the room with good stuff and see what happens.
I realize this isn’t terribly helpful when you’re a homeschooling parent trying to figure out your own plan. Lists of books we love are probably more practically useful, and this year we’ll be drawing again from that giant booklist in my sidebar—Books to Read With My 9-Year-Old. She’s ten now, but I said last year that it would likely take us several years to read everything on that list. I refreshed her shelf last week with some new treasures and now I have to resist the urge to dive into everything all at once.
Possibly more useful on a practical level is the short routine (if you want to call it that) Huck and Rilla and I enjoy at the start of a high-tide morning.
First, some yoga stretches (this is mostly for me, to get me moving), and during the planks we do some skip-counting. I can just about get through the sixes before I collapse. So right now, we work two planks into the series of stretches, one for sixes and one for sevens. Nothing fancy, just chanting “6, 12, 18, 24” and so on.
Then we sing our memory songs. The Horrible Histories English Monarchs song (thanks again, Penny, for introducing us to that a while back); the U.S. Presidents song from our old Singin’ Smart cassette (we no longer own a cassette player but the older girls and I remember the melody); and sometimes a French children’s song or Scottish folk song. I mean to add the U.S. State Capitals song (also from Singin’ Smart) soon.
And then we finish up with our Shakespeare speeches. One line at a time, a couple of lines a week. Takes but a moment. Huck always insists he can’t “rememberize,” but then Rilla starts reciting and he joins right in. So, yeah.
This routine (if there were more of us, we might call it ‘circle time,’ but we’re more of a triangle now) takes only 10-15 minutes. It happens around 9 in the morning, after breakfast, chores, and (for Rilla) piano practice. I try to keep it mellow—as mellow as anything is going to be with a seven-year-old boy doing planks. What I mean, though, is I try to keep it low-key and low-pressure. Just goofing around together having fun. Most days, it works.
A lot of the replies to my blog-topics post asked for more glimpses of our tidal homeschooling days, especially how I work with my teens and my elementary-aged kids at the same time. So here’s a peek at a fairly typical Tuesday morning. The broad strokes—the basic rhythms—of our days stay consistent, four days a week (with one morning given to group piano and [for Beanie] literature classes). The details (what exactly we read, do, discuss, sing) vary, but the shape is the same—sort of like a muffin pan. Yeah, that’s it. Our days are like muffins, alike in shape, but we vary the recipe quite a bit. Make sense?
So—during high tide, we do lessons from 9 to noon, more or less. Noon to 1 is lunch and (often) a read-aloud. From 1-3 the younger kids get gaming time (iPad, Wii) and then they play outside most of the rest of the day. The older girls spend their afternoons reading, writing, gaming, walking, and whatever else they have on tap. I work (write) in the afternoons, and sometimes pop out to teach weekly classes to other homeschoolers. For example, I wrapped up a six-week poetry workshop yesterday with a lively group of boys who always keep me laughing. Love those kids.
Anyway, here’s our Tuesday morning.
9 a.m. Beanie is outlining her Tempest paper for the weekly literature class I teach to her and a few friends.
Huck is playing with refrigerator magnets.
Rilla has drawn a scene from the story of Elissa of Carthage, and is now writing a description under the drawing, complete with Phoenician letters for the names.
Now Huck is noodling around on the piano.
Read Stone Soup to Huck. Rose stopped unloading the dishwasher to come listen—she says it’s one of her favorite stories from childhood.
While I read, Rilla finished her Elissa of Carthage passage. Beanie moved to another room for better concentration.
Rose finished the dishes and began making pretzel rolls for our teatime. Huck, Rilla, and I did our morning stretches and recitations. That word sounds so formal! What we do is quite casual. About four mornings a week, we gather in the living room for some singing, memory work, and movement games. It goes something like this:
—We move through a series of stretches (this is mostly for me) which include two planks. During the first plank, we skip-count by sixes; during the second, by sevens.
—Practice the Shakespeare speech or poem we are currently memorizing. Huck, Rilla, and I learn these all together, and usually the older girls wind up knowing them too, because they’re hearing us recite them all the time. This year, I’ve been using Ken Ludwig’s Midsummer Night’s Dream passages from How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare. I had already had Pucks “merry wanderer” speech in mind for Huck and Rilla to learn this year—I earned a small scholarship for performing that one during college, so I’m extra fond of it—when I read the Ludwig book (last summer) and decided his approach meshes perfectly with mine. So: this year they’ve learned “I know a bank where the wild thyme grows,” the merry wanderer monologue, the “Lord what fools these mortals be” speech, and now we’re working on Puck’s final speech (“If we shadows have offended”).
—Then we sing an assortment of memory songs and folk songs. Today it was: U.S. Presidents song; United States song; Horrible Histories English Monarchs song. Yesterday was the same lineup plus Skye Boat Song—a family favorite. This is an informal (meaning not planned-in-advance) part of our day, and basically I just starting singing things and the kids join in. Our Presidents and States songs come from an old Singin’ Smart cassette (cassette!!) I bought back when Jane was little, circa 1999. I wish I could find the booklet—there were some other useful tunes in there. I remember the melody for the U.S. Capitals song and have been meaning to print up a list so my littles can learn to sing along. I’m a big fan of music for anything requiring rote memory. We lean heavily on Schoolhouse Rock around here. Last year our mornings were dominated by French songs, as you may recall.
—This week I started Huck and Rilla on the Latin vocabulary chants from Latin for Children Primer A. We are not doing the workbook—just the rhythmic vocab chants: amo, amare, amavi, amatum and so on. Again, this was something that worked really well with my older set and is a solid, painless way to implant a bunch of Latin roots. We also enjoy my friend Edith Hope Fine’s Cryptomaniacs workbook (Greek and Latin roots)—Rilla will be using that steadily next year.
Rose’s rolls are in the oven. She’s playing piano. Beanie is doing German on Duolingo. I send the littles outside with a snack.
Rose heads to her room to maybe do some math? She’s taking business math this year. Yesterday we slogged through the compound interest chapter together. I know you’re jealous. Beanie’s studying geometry, which I find much more entertaining.
I call Huck and Rilla back inside for some history. I read them the Elizabethan Era chapter from A Child’s History of the World—Walter Raleigh, Roanoke, Shakespeare. Long side-discussion of tobacco was sparked by a mention in the chapter. Also a lot of discussion about Roanoke because who isn’t fascinated by that story? I mention to Rose (who is back, checking on her rolls) that Gwenda Bond has a YA novel about Roanoke she might enjoy. This reminds us we need to return some books to the library.
Rilla has done a little Math-U-See, and Huck and I had an impromptu chat about the short E sound. He is reading incredibly well these days, devouring Boxcar Children books with ease. I picked up an easy spelling workbook a couple of weeks ago and pull it out occasionally to talk about sounds with him. Rilla is the first of my kids to need some deliberate, steady spelling instruction (she’s using a Spelling You See book this year and really enjoying it because it came with a set of erasable colored pencils, which (art supply) is the key to her heart. With Huck, age 7, I’m now casually pulling out some light spelling games to help him start making those phonics-y connections.
Okay, so that was going on but only for a few minutes, and now Rose’s pretzel rolls are ready. We hurry to the table to enjoy them while they’re warm. Tuesday mornings are our Poetry Teatime—which for us generally means Something Rose Baked and a glass of milk. I usually grab our battered Favorite Poems Old and New and read six or seven poems. Not a week goes by that they don’t beg for their favorite, “My Son, Aged Three Years and Five Months”…some days I have it in me, and other weeks I’m not up to the performance. When you do that poem, you gotta DO that poem. 🙂
Huck and Rilla have gone off to play together. This usually means I will find my bed turned into a fort later. Last week, it became some kind of Monkey Kingdom and I had stuffed primates hanging from the miniblind cords all week.
I go grab a sweater from my room. Sure enough, every pillow in the house is piled high. I send Huck and Rilla to get their shoes on. Rose and Beanie are at the piano again, working out a duet—Beanie began taking violin lessons a few months ago and likes to try to work out simple accompaniment to the pieces Rose is working on for piano class.
Everyone piles into the minivan for a quick library run. We have a million things to return. Rilla found a new graphic novel, Jellaby: The Lost Monster, that looks fun. Rose recommended Sarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies for Beanie—a YA historical novel I read for the 2014 CYBILs and passed along to Rose when I finished.
Home for a late lunch. I forgot to read our chapter of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! I’ll have to try to squeeze it in after dinner. This is because—in an unprecedented development—I went into Scott’s office (aka our boys’ bedroom) to give him a package that had arrived, and I stretched out on the bed just for a second and fell asleep. I never nap.
I guess I napped. Scott is amused. I’m totally discombobulated. Wonderboy is just arriving home from school and the littles are already deep into Terraria. Jane is pinging me from college. My afternoon has begun.