Friday, January 6, 2017

Harmonious homeschool?

When homeschooling first crossed my mind, I dismissed it confidently. With faith, kindness, hygiene, and general survival lessons to constantly teach, adding academics seemed likely to overwhelm the parent-child relationship. I feared that the parent-child bond would drown in dramatic battles or quietly mounting resentment. How would there be breathing space for happy times together in such a mountain of moral, behavioral and academic requirements?!

Despite these concerns, I started down the homeschool road when our oldest was in kindergarten. He already knows the K-level material, I told myself, so just for this one year it won’t be such an oppressive burden. That year, we fell in love with homeschooling for a host of reasons and are now in our third year, but as I’ve sorted through options and ideas it’s always been with an eye to minimize the strain on our relationship. To my surprise, I’ve found that minimizing academic power struggles has guided us to a culture of learning that builds harmony, not friction.

Our homeschool is built around discovering new topics together rather than lecturing and drilling for enrichment subjects like science, history, art, music. For the core subjects of math, reading, and writing, which aren’t conducive to a team discovery format, I arrange our studies to allow the kids to independently accomplish their own work. Team discovery enriches our family relationships and individual “seatwork” strengthens our kids’ self-motivation. Both present learning as an ongoing journey toward mastery of a subject.

So often childhood is marked by a one-way torrent of instruction from adults, but homeschooling allows for a more collaborative learning environment, with parents and kids learning side-by-side. As we learn about topics as a family, we are put on a more equal footing. Often it is a child who notices a new bird and points it out, who asks a brilliant geology question that stumps us all, or who pushes to keep reading about the human body. It creates a joyful open space to value one another and share our thoughts on a fulfilling journey toward better understanding of a topic. Learning together also leads to an increased likelihood for one of us to point out connections to things we’ve learned, thereby cementing our understanding with an experiential context.

For their “seatwork” which focuses on math, reading and writing, I aim to arrange their work so it can be done mostly autonomously. I set it out the night before with post-it notes on each book so that they can move through it without my direction. For us, it helps if they start as soon as they wake up before they get distracted by other activities. Most of the assignments in their stack of seatwork are very familiar. We’ve used the same math curriculum all the way through, a similar journal format, the same phonics series, etc. Usually just one post-it note in the stack of seven or so assignments instructs the child to ask for my help – for a new math lesson overview, or to explain a grammar rule they’ve been missing. But I try to minimize the amount of time these lessons take and keep my explanations brief. I want them to know that this is their work, their responsibility, and give space for them to take ownership.

The intensive “seatwork” time is followed by playtime, and then the rest of the day provides opportunities for other studies. It’s been exciting to grow in learning together as a team, not only do I see the kids delighting to tackle big topics, my own love for learning has grown dramatically. It’s also been rewarding to see Luke and Eleanor individually take ownership for their schooling and settle into habits to get their work done. The draconian schoolteacher that alienated me from the idea of homeschooling does make appearances, but more often I feel like I’m a facilitator and a co-learner alongside my kiddos. It’s things like table manners and not bothering your sibling that are still a daily strain, but homeschooling is usually a sweet opportunity to work together and cheer them on!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Art log—washi tape resist watercolor paintings

Many afternoons the kids and I can be found clustered around the kitchen table with paints and markers spilling off the edges. Art activities soothe our over-exuberant moods with focused industry. They brighten our gloomy moments with the satisfaction of creating something new. Plus I love having beautiful personal pieces to display. One time I went around and counted how many pieces of original art hang in our home… it was more than 60!

So I thought I’d chronicle some of our winners because I think it’s always inspiring to see what gorgeous pieces kids of all ages can make. Yesterday we welcomed the unofficial start to winter with some snowy scenes. First I taped off trees and other scenery in consultation with my little artists. We gave each painting a horizon line, and we talked about painting below it with mostly cool colors and above it with warm sunset shades. As they applied the liquid watercolors, we sprinkled on kosher salt, to soak up excess paint and add a pretty mottled texture. Once the paintings dried, I brushed off the excess salt (we were quite generous Smile ), removed the tape, and revealed our masterpieces!

This is Luke’s mountain cabin scene and Eleanor’s alpine forest:

lukes      ellas    

Some close-ups of the salt + paint effect:

close    close2

And here they are displayed together in our kitchen:


Supplies needed:

-washi tape (mine was from target, you could also use any thin tape that removes cleanly from paper)

-thick paper (Watercolor paper with a lot of texture might allow paint to get under the tape, so if you don’t want that effect a smoother paper would be better. But it also might look pretty to have the colors seeping into the taped area! We used smooth multipurpose paper.)

-liquid watercolors (I bought ours here, the ‘Tropical’ Colorations set of 8)

-kosher salt from the grocery store

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kitchen reveal + Christmas cheer

So I started to record the process of our kitchen renovation more than a year ago… is anyone out there wondering if we’re still living with plywood counters and unfinished walls? Thankfully, we finished off the renovation last December, just a little shy of our due date deadline. Then we promptly took “after” pictures, documenting the completed kitchen with a dash of Christmas decor.

But between our new baby and Christmas festivities, I didn’t have a chance to post the photos on the blog until the Christmas season had passed. So I’ve been holding them until now when they’re once again in-season. So without further ado, a much-belated reveal of our Wild Oak cocina!

We brightened up the room with tile going all the way to the ceiling on one wall, using tumbled marble on the sides and a patterned porcelain tile over the stove (which resists stains better than marble). I also love the pretty pencil edge tile that separates the two. Yes, that’s a real baby in the pot, we couldn’t miss a moment to document our other masterpiece of 2014!!

Last year we spent a week in southern Spain for my sister’s wedding and were inspired by the gorgeous tile patterns and rustic roomy elegance of the European version of a country kitchen. Hence the vintage chandelier, farmhouse sink (ikea), and brass accents. We were delighted to find marble at a cheaper-than-corian price point and used it on the counters (danby marble from Vermont).

Opposite the newly enlarged window is a vintage chalkboard (craig’s list) hung above our former upper cabinets (now reused as lower pantry cabinets).

Facing the kitchen is a smaller family room space, with our sparkly tree and other Christmas touches.

Now let’s look back to when we first moved in to see how much things have changed! By selling the old granite and appliances, reusing cabinets, and buying used appliances and doing the work ourselves, the whole project came in well under our $10K budget. Most of the cost was for the wood flooring that we installed in both rooms, but what a difference that made in tying them together and flattering the stone fireplace. Here is the old view toward the sink.

And an old zoomed out view of the living space and kitchen (we removed that partial wall).

The expanded kitchen has become the hub of our home and it’s almost hard to remember it any other way, or the awkward but promising partial renovation stage. It’s such a fun space to decorate for the holidays, and I’m looking forward to pulling out our Christmas bins again soon!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Happy 4th!

What a lovely weekend… a few lush hikes in the blooming desert of a rainy year, all three kids put miles on new-to-them bikes/trailers, three merry meals with friends, swimming at “Little Tamaya” (aka our backyard), seeing L & E use sparklers and set off fireworks for the first time, skyping with much-missed family, trying to keep up with our crazy crawler-cruiser babe, and an espresso machine on loan from a friend! (: Hope you had a blessing-filled holiday!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Levi’s arrival

On the morning of my 34th birthday we headed to the hospital for our labor induction appointment. Our previous two delivery arrivals had been punctuated by contractions and preoccupied with timing intervals. This time all was peaceful. My parents were in town, our kids were safely in their care and I half wondered if this was some sort of rare date with my husband. Without two kiddos to corral, there was plenty of time to appreciate the mild November morning that beckoned for a stroll, a few last leaves still green on the trees, even the traffic seemed quiet and harmonious. They quickly assigned us to a delivery room but it wasn’t until the afternoon that they started the induction. In those strange waiting hours, my eyes were always drawn to the empty bassinet, knowing that before they let me leave this room, I’d have to produce a baby in it. An impossibly brazen exit requirement! But I was certainly ready to meet our sweet babe, and what a euphoric introduction it was at 6:48 that evening. When the midwife placed Levi on my chest he opened his inky blue eyes and gazed, not inquisitively but with a serene warmth as if we’d known each other a long time already. It melted away the intensity of the moments freshly past. Could he be thanking me?

Soothing my concerns with his sweet calm for almost an hour, then eating well and falling into a peaceful sleep. Our little Levi, an angel babe for sure.

Levi means "joined in harmony". We named him praying that he will be joined harmoniously to the close friendship of his siblings, to us his parents, and to the Lord. His middle name (also Erik’s middle name), Gregory, means "watchful and alert" which suits his alert gaze and our great God’s watchful care over his arrival. The most precious birthday bundle.

This peaceful soul was unfazed by the giddy big sibling excitement when we brought him home too. Luke the proud big brother,

And Eleanor the marveling big sis.

Levi you have our hearts, precious boy!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Waiting for Levi: A party, 4 books & a poem

Let’s backtrack to just before Levi was born to remember that eager season of awaiting his arrival. We’d already wonderingly anticipated our first child, then waited for our first girl with hearts and bows, and now we got to see our kids marvel at an addition to our family. During the pregnancy, Luke often informed us of his plans to teach the little one all sorts of things, from Legos to making mud balls. Eleanor loved shopping for the babe and playing with her dolls became a favorite activity.

Two of my friends were expecting babies within a week of me, and also each had a little girl Eleanor’s age. So to build up the big sibs in their special new role, I hosted a Baby Party about a month before the real babies arrived. Everyone brought a baby doll and I prepared a bag of baby supplies for each big sib. We practiced diapering, feeding, and swaddling the dolls.

We read books about babies and invited the kids to talk about their new siblings. Then we put the dolls down for a nap and painted pictures for the babies’ nurseries.

The little ergo-style baby doll carriers sewn out of fabric and ribbons would be a terrific craft for a baby party but my kids didn’t seem interested in those… and amidst my late-pregnancy discomforts I wasn’t looking for any unwelcome projects! But a special lunch to celebrate the big sibs and build confidence and excitement for all the changes a baby brings was a worthwhile endeavor. A baby shower for the big sibs!

It was harder than I expected to find good books on a new baby sibling. We read a bunch of them and the majority focused on a big sister or brother’s frustration with the changes a baby brings. I don’t mind a couple well-done books with that plot line (such as the humorous Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes for elementary age kids) but I think it’s important that kids who are unsure about a new baby aren’t inundated with the idea that babies ruin their lives! Here are two we did like, though there must be many more good ones out there.

How to be a Baby by Me, the Big Sister by Sally Lloyd-Jones : This made my kids laugh and communicated in a fun way that they were in charge of how they respond to the baby.

What Sisters Do Best / What Brothers Do Best by Laura Numeroff : Perfect when there’s an older sister and brother, the two-books-in-one layout appealed to my kids and I think they liked how it focused on the big sibs, not the babies. A kid pick though, not a literary one.

I also like having a few informative books about new babies. Five-year-old Luke preferred What to Expect when the New Baby Comes Home (by Heidi Murkoff) with its baby diagram and Q and A format. Three-year-old Eleanor was more interested in What Baby Needs (by William Sears). I liked the way it rang true to life with a baby but it was quite dogmatic on attachment parenting, which isn’t for everyone.

The kids also liked my poem for our baby-waiting season. We would laugh about how Levi kept us guessing about his arrival!!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Hello, blog! + spring pics

Well it certainly has been a while since this blog has seen some updates! I’ll just jump back in with some favorite spring pics, taken under the riotous blooms of the crabapple tree that sold me on this house three years ago. We have sibling love,

A silly princess,

A thoughtful knight,

AND…. the newest angel-babe! It’s Levi, now six months old and much overdue for an official introduction of his own. Here he is at four months, climbing trees and picking flowers for mom. Such a cuddle bug!

In addition to more timely family updates, I’d love to write here with reports on our home schooling adventures. We just finished Luke’s kindergarten year and have been trying out a number of approaches for learning together. One focus has been poetry, so here’s a poem from our porch chalkboard. My ode to the pink tree that ushers in spring at Wild Oak!

spring poem