Friday, January 27, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A New Rhythm

Well hello there! It's been a while. I nearly forgot I had a blog.

We've been busy with a big life-style change this month, namely home school.

During the great January Reality Check Will and I realized we had to say good-bye to our beloved Wayside or else go to the poor house.

Wayside Academy is a beautiful independent school where our children were receiving a Montessori/Charlotte Mason-style education, along with sacred music, Mass and the blessed sacrament, an incredible nature study program, amazingly dedicated teachers...It was a real gift. We are so sad to leave, sad to not be part of the daily community of Wayside. We miss our friends and teachers.

This isn't the place to ramble about why we chose home school, but let's just say it was the only option.

Having been home schooled myself, it's familiar territory. It is very attractive to me philosophically.

Still, I was terrified. To me, home school is the door to complete chaos in my personal life. I feared it would bring to the surface all my worst habits: lack of self-discipline, lack of routine, pathological irritability with my nearest and dearest. I feared that I would be a frazzled, coffee addicted, exhausted, house-bound housewife, desperate to get away from her own offspring. Not exactly educator-material.

Still, what can you do? Public school is not an option for us. Wayside is no longer in our budget. 

I rolled up my sleeves and marched in, resolved to make it work.

Here's what we've discovered in the past three weeks:

Instead of chaos, home schooling enabled us to find our rhythm—the natural rhythm that makes our family work.

Hugh "reading" to Matthias 

A few small changes made all the difference—and yes, they require self-discipline, but the reward is peaceful children, a peaceful mama.

-We make the beds and get completely dressed before coming downstairs in the morning.

-I chucked the coffee. No need for stimulants when we can take the day slow, nap when we need to, design each day to suit our needs.

-Involved the children in meal prep and meal cleanup. No more rushing out the door with oatmeal all over the table. No more coming in the door at four-thirty PM with four hungry, whiny kids and no idea what to make for supper. Food is a major part of family life and I think it's important for each member to pitch in. The boys are learning little skills and responsibilities. (And man, I do appreciate the help!)

-A daily siesta. Yes, we do need a break from each other. All of us. To preserve charity. Everyone finds a different room (or at least a different bed) and a book or two, and chills out for an hour. No talking allowed. After siesta, harmony is usually restored between brothers. Batteries are recharged for the rest of the day's activities.

Siesta time for babes. Doesn't that look tranquil? (You have no idea what's going on outside the frame!)

-Began reading—fun reading—at every opportunity: Paddington Bear, the House at Pooh Corner, Farmer Boy, Narnia (again! and again!), the complete corpus of Beatrix Potter, Grimm's Fairy Tales, and untold numbers of picture books. It is so much fun and I think, though I'm not sure, that everyone's literacy has advanced...

-Discovered that the actual "work" of educating, whether sitting around the table with workbooks, or discussing a thermometer, or measuring dry ingredients, or making play dough elephants, is absolutely delicious. There is no joy on earth like seeing your child learn, watching him take in the world around 
him and then create something in return.

I won't tell you about laundry. Or toothpaste on the mirror. Or any of those things. If you have any experience with homeschool you already know all about the housework fiasco. But I'll tell you about the fun stuff.

the little stove is made out of a wooden bread box— by my brilliant and creative friend Cassidy.
I try to cover two lessons per morning—a language and a math. Afternoons are for play and projects.

-Our basic curriculum:
   -laying down the foundation of future learning with the toddler: beading, building, drawing, pouring, puzzles and "cooking" on his little stove— (I'll tell you more about that later.....)

   -alphabets and counting with the four-year old.

   -reading and math facts with the six year old.

Home schooling means having as much time as we want for art!

- I let go of my need to measure their progress against an artificial standard. (I would call our method "un-schooling" except that I know myself too well. "Un-schooling," would mean "not learning to read while mama sits on the floor and knits". I need some academic aspirations, and a schedule—no, not a schedule, but a rhythm, or it all goes to pot. )

What home schooling means to us, is that reading can begin when my child is ready, not when the Ontario syllabus says he must. He is not "behind" or "ahead". He's exactly where he should be according to his ability and interest. 

Since we started home schooling, Willie jumped the big hurdle of discovering that reading is not just a sadistic exercise invented by his mother, but the way to get a story when mama's too busy to read aloud; also, writing is not a workbook exercise but a way to create stories and make lists of things he wants to buy and write messages for papa. A useful tool.

For Hugh, on the other hand, the alphabet is completely random, unrelated to anything in the universe. He's not interested. But he can listen to really great literature all day long. He's also got piles of poetry memorized. The seeds of literacy have been planted.

Matthias will be writing novels, soon.

art table

In short, I see my boys happy, busy, interested in everything. It feels right.

There have been days when we chucked it all in favour of a craft. There have been sick days when I just lay around nursing the baby and reading Peter Rabbit. There have been days when Willie has been consumed with zeal for math and we did nothing else. (Fewer of those days, of course). There have been snow days (finally!) which call for outdoor play while the sun shines.

The house looking all pretty and half-painted

Coming home exhausted from a hunting trip. (Having caught a bear)


But the basic rhythm is there, and it's brought peace to our home. Sad as we are to say goodbye to the old, we welcome the new with great confidence.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

Eleventh Day of Christmas!

Linking back to pretty, happy, funny, real...

Pretty. Not just pretty, but beautiful! The Nativity that the boys made. (I confess to scooping out a lot of decaying plant matter before I took the picture. There was also a wooly bear caterpillar inside, but he crawled out and got lost.)

Happy. This boy is happy. We are trying to give the boys plenty to do. Will gave them a broken printer to take apart. Bliss!

Happy. This baby is happy! Always happy! Rafe, we are so glad you came. You gladden our house.

Funny. Doesn't this picture look so safe? What with the carefully-balanced four-year-old, the table-scaling toddler, and the baby lying unbuckled in his carseat? All precariously balanced on the edge of the table? Not to mention knitting needles and hot drinks? Doesn't it look like a careful, controlling, good mother is keeping an eye on things? (Rafe's carseat says "Safety 1st"—which I think is funny.)

(Thank goodness there is a good mother, over there on the wall!)

Funny. Well, not that funny. Just a little bizarre. Will with socks resting on his shoulders.


Twelve Days of Christmas

We spent most of the twelve days in cozy Combermere...

the chicken house, where dad's beloved hens are warm and spoiled....and still laying.
...which was delicious and wonderful. Everyone was sick with the flu, but Christmas is a good time for napping by the fire, sipping tea, and finishing handmade Christmas presents.

I made Matthias some little pants out of an old felted wool sweater. He looks like a little Scandinavian elf...

...and elf-like, he is nearly impossible to capture on camera. There was just enough sweater left over to make some leggings for Rafe. They protect him against drafts and the wool is so warm and cozy.

Just in time for the deep cold.

I'm knitting Will's other sock—my first pair! I don't know if I can adequately express the feeling of positive glory when I rounded that first heel. I can only compare it to Columbus' first sighting of land, or whats-his-name who was silent on a peak of Darien. The glory. The socks are beauties, but dang, even Will will have to wear them over his other socks. They are Simply Enormous.

Will studied and wrote papers all holidays, but not without getting in touch with his inner bananagram-champion. My sister and he did a Latin version of bananagrams, if you can imagine. I sat out and pretended to nurse the baby. My dad was awarded the prize for his enormous and impressive lies about word definitions. 

Back home now, we are coddling the sickies, having another cookie, and savoring these slow days of Christmas.