Signs of Autumn

I spent what felt like the whole weekend switching out summer clothes for winter. That may sound like an exaggeration, but in a six person household, it really is a huge job. The leaves outside are changing, there's a chill in the air, and we've been wearing long sleeves for a week or so now. It was time. Each year, I find that our seasonal rhythms come more naturally and feel more comforting. This is our second year celebrating Michaelmas and the kids have already integrated it into their seasonal expectations. Will we make dragon bread? Let's light the dragon candle! Don't forget to draw a new picture on the chalk board, Mama! I enjoy these rituals as much as they do, and am grateful for the extra push from them to follow through on everything involved.

This past week, we focused all our lessons around Michaelmas. On Monday, I told the story, which they pretty much remember word for word from last year, but love hearing again and again. On Tuesday, we worked in their main lesson books, drawing a picture with beeswax crayons and writing out a sentence. On Wednesday, we acted out the story. We set the scenes throughout the playroom and got all the characters into place. I narrated the story while the girls acted it out. On Thursday, which was the actual day of Michaelmas, we were planning to go to the Festival of Courage at the local Waldorf School Eli attends, but it was cancelled due to rain. It was still a wonderful day though, as we had Nature School in the afternoon and came home for a cozy evening of gluten-free dragon bread and lentil soup.

Wishing you all a wonderful week! Happy New Year to those who are celebrating Rosh Hashanah!

[10/5/16] The Waldorf School of Baltimore rescheduled the Michaelmas Festival for yesterday and we were able to go! I thought I'd add some pictures here to keep everything in one place. :)

Do you see Michael up on the roof above?!

After all the Michaelmas storytelling and celebrating of last week, the girls were thrilled to experience the festival at the Waldorf School of Baltimore yesterday. The children all looked and sounded so lovely, singing and acting out the story in their brightly colored costumes. We have a few more years while Eli is still going to school there to take part in these festivals, so I want to appreciate it while we can! Or maybe they will eventually set up some kind of program for homeschoolers so we can continue to take part! Wouldn't that be wonderful? 

How We Document Our Homeschool Year

Our homeschool year has come to include summer since camps and vacations provide such great opportunities for learning, so it is just now that I've been able to print out some final pictures and wrap up our homeschool records from last year. What a beautiful feeling of completeness! Homeschooling can often feel messy and overwhelming, so having a concise and organized record-keeping system can help create some order in the chaos. I've had a lot of questions and interest in my homeschool records from friends, so I thought I'd put together a post about it. My records for last year consisted of a few main elements:

  1. Main Overview Binder: Here is where you get the best sense of the whole year. The binder is divided into seven areas: Rhythm, Language Arts, Math, Nature, Art & Craft, Festivals, and Circle.
  2. Student Work Binder: This is where all student work is kept that was not selected to be included in the Main Overview Binder.
  3. Main Lesson Books: This is where most of Fiona's Main Lesson work from our First Grade Christopherus Curriculum lives. She has a Language Arts, Math, and Form Drawing book.
  4. Curriculum Binder: (Not Pictured) This serves as a record as well as it holds many of the projects and lessons for the year and I take notes and date things throughout.
  5. Mama's Planner: A general record of how we spent our days.
  6. Portfolio: (Not Pictured) Each child has a portfolio that holds any projects that don't fit in a binder.

Rhythm is the anchor that holds it all together, so it felt important to start our Main Overview Binder by giving rhythm its own section. This section includes our weekly family rhythm (above left) and the rhythm for homeschool mornings with my parents (above right). It then includes a photo sheet of each learning space in which the girls spend time: Home, Neighborhood, Parks, World House (the homeschool co-op we were in last year), and Mimi and Granddad's House. A huge part of homeschooling for us is creating and spending time in spaces that facilitate natural learning, so highlighting how we achieve that is important. Below, you see a spread that highlights a few learning spaces in our home.

Next in our Main Overview Binder, we get into the subjects: Language Arts, Math, Nature, Art & Craft, Festivals, and Circle. Each subject section starts with a sheet that gives a basic explanation for how that subject was handled.

Above, you see the beginning of the Art & Craft section. On the left, there is an overview of when and how we handle this subject and a list of select resources and projects. To the right, you see the first photo sheet that documents our time making painting boards. The little caption in the upper right says:

PAINTING BOARDS
cut, sanded, decorated, and sealed by hand
AUGUST 2015

My goal was to have at least one photo sheet (front and back) for each month in each subject. I was easily able to achieve that. The goal is to get an overview, not to document every moment of every day.

Each section also includes examples of best student work and informational flyers in clear sheet protectors for any classes taken or events attended in that subject. Below, you see select pages featuring Nature School photographs, the Michaelmas Festival of Courage photographs and flyer, and some examples of Fiona's Language Arts work.

The Student Work Binder, seen on top in the picture above, is just what it sounds like. It houses all the work that wasn't featured in the Main Overview Binder. It is also divided into subjects. Below, you see Fiona's Main Lesson Books.

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I hope this post will be of help to some of you as you start to document the upcoming year. I am excited to get started on our binders for this year soon. I'm sure our system will grow and evolve as we do, but I think we're off to a great start!

I'd love to hear about how other homeschoolers document their year. Do you have a system or resource to share? And let me know if you have any questions!

A New Beginning

A new homeschooling year has begun, and with it, a resurgence in my desire to align my goals with my actions, my knowledge and ideas with my lifestyle. I haven't posted much here in years. In that time, I have turned inward. I have done a lot of work on myself and made quiet, sometimes winding, incremental changes in the way our family lives, eats, moves, and learns. We have come a long way, and have a long way to go. I'd like to return to this space to write again about our journey, both to share knowledge and to stay inspired. Where should I begin?

It seems there is so much to say and so many gaps to fill, so let's start with something simple: Our homeschool schedule for Fall! Every homeschooling parent will tell you about the huge expenditure of mental energy that goes into creating the year's schedule. What classes to take where, what gatherings to attend and with whom, when to simply stay home... It's a 15,000 piece puzzle that takes an exorbitant amount of time and thought to fit together. This is what I came up with, with each day having a morning and afternoon focus:

Monday: Life & Lessons with Mama :: Homeschool Friends Gathering
Tuesday: Life & Lessons with Mama :: Nature School at Irvine
Wednesday: Life & Lessons with Mama :: Speech Lessons
Thursday: Life & Lessons with Mama :: Nature School at Irvine
Friday: Life & Lessons with Mimi & Granddad :: Afternoon at Home
Saturday: Gymnastics :: Life & Lessons with Daddy
Sunday: Life & Lessons with Mimi & Granddad :: Family Adventure

I hope we've found a good balance between academic lessons, nature time, quiet time, family and friend time, movement time, etc. Time will tell! I hope to break down each component of our rhythm and talk about some overarching philosophies in future posts. I hope you'll follow along!

So that's it for today. Thanks for being here!

$1200 nap mat for sale

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When we made the decision to send Fiona to school this year, I knew I wanted to send something Mama-made with her. A handmade nap mat seemed like the perfect way to send some Mama love with her to school.

Well, if you read my last post about Fiona's first day, you know I was feeling a lot of feelings about the transition to not spending quite as much time with my girl. What I didn't fully express was just how mixed those feelings were. By the end of the first day, I knew it was too long of a day, and by the second, I knew we had to make a change. My heart was saying - no, screaming - that 8:30am - 3pm, Monday through Wednesday was simply too much for us. We have spent nearly every day together for the last 4.5 years. We needed to step back, reevaluate, and make a change. We did make that change, and Fiona's schedule will now be mornings only, 8:30am - 12noon, Monday through Wednesday. I am relieved and excited for the year to come, and feel we've reached a good balance. I've also gained a more realistic view of the future. Things may change again, or we may continue on this path. These decisions are hard and complicated, and we will keep an open mind when it comes to how we will handle schooling in our family. And to be clear, we are thrilled with the school itself! They have really helped us navigate this process and Fiona absolutely loves spending time there.

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Anyway, back to the nap mat! When I told my mom my plan to make one, she quickly offered to help and told me to bring the girls on over and we'd make it together. (Being my mother, she probably recognized that my plans were just a tad ambitious for the small amount of time I had!) We all went over there and got to work. By the time we were finished, this silly little nap mat had taken hours and hours over the course of three days. Sheesh! When we finally finished, my mom joked that we could sell them on Etsy... for $1200... to, you know, account for the exorbitant amount of time invested. ;)

Luckily, this is just the kind of thing that my Mom finds gloriously hilarious, because when I told her Fiona would no longer being going full days, and therefore would no longer be napping at school, she laughed and said that now we really could sell the nap mat... for $1200. I think it's quite funny, too.  

So, anyone want a nap mat? (I kid.) It turned out quite cute if I do say so myself. 

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Or maybe we'll just keep it for Perry the Purple Rabbit. He does look quite cozy in there. 

I'm heading out early tomorrow morning for the Taproot Gathering at Squam. I've been anticipating this trip with excitement, and a bit of trepidation, for many months. I am worried about leaving the girls, though I know they are in able hands. I'm worried about how much I'll miss my family. And I'm nervous about participating in my first art fair. But what is life if not an adventure? Off I go! I'm sure I'll have lots to share upon my return.

Fiona's First Day

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Dear Fiona, 

Today is your first day of school. I sent you off into a new world to create a life in which I am not front and center. You will build close relationships with your teachers and new friends. You are joyful and carefree and ready for new adventures. You ran ahead of me through the hall and I walked behind you and watched. When Daddy, Elsa and I arrived in your classroom, you had already put on your apron and started shaping dough into balls. Your class will have the rolls for snack this morning. I came in and knelt next to you and asked you some questions then helped you wash your hands and get your hat on to go join the other kids outside. You were so ready for your school day to begin, but didn't rush me out. I think, in your wise, young heart, you knew your Mama needed to linger a bit. 

Since your birth, you have been my constant companion and my partner in life. We have spent most of our time together doing everyday kinds of things. Taking walks, getting coffee, preparing and eating meals, straightening the house, talking and playing. We will still do all of that together, but not quite as much. You are branching out and your world is getting larger. While I know this is a natural and beautiful part of life, it is still hard. There is a part of me that wants you to never leave my side. A part of me that mourns your babyhood when you were in my arms more hours than not. A part of me that knows that I can only revisit those times in my own mind, because while that experience lives through you in your joy and confidence, the memories will fade for you. You will grow up and make new memories and new relationships. You will build a life, and one day build a family of your own.  But for me, being a Mama to you and your brother and sister will continue to be the single greatest joy of my life and the greatest gift I've ever been given. Becoming a mother, in so many ways, is when my life began.

You won't read this until you are much older and you may not fully understand it until you have your own children. My sincerest wish is that we give you the love and support you need to build a joyful life that fulfills you deeply. I hope to keep you close while not holding on too tight. Just know that I am here. I will always be here, cheering you on with pride, joy and a little bit of an ache in my heart. You are everything to me Fiona. I love you so very much. I hope you have fun at school today.

Love,

Mama

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growing shifting changing

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This summer will be one I remember. The earth is shifting under my feet and I alternate between wishing it would stop for a moment and being ready for the next phase already. As a family, we've made some big changes in course and I'm still adjusting to our new path.

The biggest shift, and the one on my mind most these days, is that Fiona will be starting school in the Fall. I am excited and terrified at once, and I'm not sure I can articulate my thoughts on this well. We planned to homeschool for a long time, but have changed our minds. When Sheldon and I added up the pieces of our life–who we are, who our children are, where we live, what we do–then added a bit of what's your gut telling you? to the mix, the answer came back clear. We will be sending Fiona to The Waldorf School of Baltimore three days a week in the Fall, along with Elijah. They are both so, so thrilled. I feel that this will be a beautiful thing for our family and is the right path for us. That said, I know the adjustment won't be easy and I fully expect to be holding back tears when I drop her off that first day. My girl is growing up. Our family is growing up.

Change is not my most comfortable state, being the grounded, practical person that I am, but when I look into the eyes of my children, or watch them play or draw or learn to ride a bike, time really does stand still for a moment. I will find my peace there.

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for luck

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Our St. Patrick's Day activities yesterday continued with a couple shamrock inspired crafts. These themed holiday crowns are becoming a regular around here. You can't help but feel festive with a crown on!

To make a crown, just cut a strip of crown paper (I bought ours at our local Waldorf School, but I found it online here.), cut a shape out of wool felt with two slits in it, then slip it over the paper. I punched two holes in the back and tied a bow through them with ribbon to secure the ends together, but you could also use a stapler or tape.

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We also made some shamrock bracelets. These have become a regular craft, too. They are a modified version of our Fairy Head Wreaths. I just narrowed down the flower color palette to green! I bought the paper flowers at my local craft store and punched two holes in each flower. The kids thread the thin ribbon through and we tie the ends in a bow.

Oh, another quick note. For both of these crafts, I used my 1/8" hole punch. If you don't have one, get one! You will not believe how many reasons you'll find to use it. (I have actually had this conversation with other crafty mamas. It's a must.)

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After all the singing, crafting and celebrating, it seems our little leprechaun had a late night. I found him passed out on his rainbow this morning. ;)

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I'm feeling kind of low energy today. It's a cold, blustery day and it's as apparent as ever how affected I am by the weather. Oh please, Spring, you can't come soon enough. I am long overdue for some leisurely, wandering walks in the bright sun.

the little leprechaun

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At circle time all week, we've been singing St. Patrick's Day songs. I didn't know any off the top of my head and wasn't having much luck searching my books or googling, so I asked Sarah Baldwin of Bella Luna Toys if she had any suggestions. She was kind enough to share this little song on her Facebook page: (She also shared many more with me over email. Thanks so much, Sarah! These cute songs made our week.)

The little leprechaun went skipping 'cross the ground.
He found a four-leaf clover with petals all around.
He made a secret wish that his day be filled with joy.
Then he ran to share his luck with every girl and boy!
(To the tune of "Itsy Bitsy Spider")

Much of Fiona and Elsa's pretend play has centered around the holiday, too. They have been pretending to be little leprechauns. Stealing 'gold', playing tricks and generally being little trouble-makers. (Hm, sounds familiar.)

Today, I have a special day planned. We started the morning by dressing in green and singing songs. Then I told them I had a special surprise. Fiona asked, "Is it a little leprechaun toy?!" Um, yes! Apparently, I am quite predictable!

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I made a little costume for one of our dollhouse dolls. It turned out quite cute. I am aware that this little project could easily fall into the this girl has way too much time on her hands category, so to be clear, this took me less than one episode of The Americans to finish. ;)

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I have a few little crafts planned for the rest of the day and I'll share those tomorrow. Hope you all are having a lovely week!