Author Archives: Mama

Super Simple Chocolate Wacky Cake

Oh my. We have been on a bit of a wacky cake kick. We love the classic cake, but we’ve been playing with the recipe, and have some variations that are to die for!

Actually “we” is a misnomer. I hardly get involved at all anymore. This cake is so simple that my daughters (8 and 10 yrs) are able to make it with zero help from me.

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

No need to prep the pan or dirty a mixing bowl!

It’s about a 35 minute process which makes it perfect for short notice company, sudden cravings on a busy weeknight, or when your kid tells you about the bake sale the morning of the bake sale. And it doesn’t need to have any fancy ingredients. You likely have everything you need for the basic recipe in the cupboard right now.

Let’s get started!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Grab a cake pan.  I use 9×13 Pyrex, which yields a thinner slice.
You’re going to mix your dry ingredients right in the pan, no need to grease it first.

In the pan whisk together:

1 1/2 C All Purpose Flour
1/3 C Cocoa Powder (mileage may vary by brand-I use toll house)
1 C sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Make a hole in the middle of the dry ingredients, and add:

1 tsp vinegar (I use ACV)
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 C water

Mix wet and dry ingredients well and spread evenly in the pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 minutes.

Variations:

Substitute melted coconut oil for the vegetable oil, and add 1 C shredded coconut for a tropical twist.

Substitute orange extract in place of vanilla for orange truffle cake.

Substitute cold coffee on place of the water for a mocha cake.

Use your imagination.

YUMMY!

Mother Culture Monday

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So, today I was feeding my sourdough starter, and I made a seriously Charlotte Mason quality connection.

Mother Culture;  you have to feed it, or you run out.

If you’re not a hardcore CMer you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about and how it applies to you.

What the heck is “Mother Culture”?

First let’s talk about what it is NOT. It is not a formula to be the perfect mom. It’s not even a clear path, or a collection of tips to being a good mom. The “perfect mom” doesn’t exist, and there are many, many excellent moms who never gave Mother Culture a second thought.

Here’s one of the many things Charlotte Mason had to say about Mother Culture:

“There is no sadder sight in life than a mother, who has so used herself up in her children’s childhood, that she has nothing to give them in their youth. When babyhood is over and school begins, how often children take to proving that their mother is wrong. Do you as often see a child proving to its father that he is wrong? I think not. For the father is growing far more often than the mother. He is gaining experience year by year, but she is standing still. Then, when her children come to that most difficult time between childhood and full development she is nonplussed; and, though she may do much for her children, she cannot do all she might, if she, as they, were growing”.

Essentially it’s caring for ourselves as well as we care for our families, intellectually, spiritually and physically, so that we have something left at the end of the day, to come back on tomorrow.  (Just like we feed our sourdough starter–which is literally a mother culture–MIND BLOWN–so that we always have some for the next baking.)

Simple, right?

Uh…hello?  Still with me?

Look, I’m not even sure what I’m talking about here.  I have a LOT to learn, and I’m sooooo tired!

I suspect that’s the whole point!

So I’m inviting you to join me as I study up on what this whole “Mother Culture” thing means for our lives, our families and our communities.

For the next few Mondays I’ll share something CM said, or a link, and chat about how it shakes out in my life.

Who’s in??

Who’s in charge here?

This is going to start out like a political post, but if you’ll bear with me I think I can bring it around, to NOT a political post.

And since it’s rather a rant, it won’t be my best writing. I pay the hosting, I can lay an egg now and then if I want to.

Here’s some background info that you may not be aware of:

I’m brown.

I came from a broken home.

I’m pretty sure my absentee father –who I’ve never laid eyes on– was “undocumented”. (That’s code for ILLEGAL in case you didn’t know, and I HOPE the reason I’ve never met him is that he was deported; it’s better than thinking he ditched me by choice.)

I grew up desperately poor.

I was responsible for my little brother, and a latch key kid at eight or nine.

I was often unsupervised as a child.

I even had a real, live bully in junior high.

Sounds pretty rough, right?

According to the leftist rhetoric, if anyone were going to be oppressed, it should have been me. But guess what?

I’m not.

Being held down never even occurred to me. What did occur to me was working hard.

I don’t want to paint too proud a picture of myself. I was a typically bratty kid, and I had some advantages; a level playing field, if you will. Public school. Financial aid for community college. A big loving family.

Except for the latter, I’m pretty sure those are things that every American still has access to.

I’m not saying there aren’t obstacles.  What I’m trying to say is that if I can overcome obstacles, like being a poor minority, so can anyone. We don’t lack opportunities in this country,  what we lack is gumption.

Now I’m not saying don’t stand up for yourself.  I’m not saying don’t be kind.  I’m not saying don’t help.  I’m not saying if you need help you’re somehow flawed. I’m saying that help is already available. I’ve used it.  I didn’t have to throw a fit to get it, and neither do you.

It comes down to locus of control. Who’s in charge of your life? I hear a bunch of young people saying in not so many words, “My life, My choice, My rights; Your responsibility”.

That’s an external locus of control. Let me just say, if the government is in charge of your life, you’ve put them in charge.  And don’t even get me started on your right to feel a certain way (safe is the word that comes to mind). Nobody gets to choose your emotions for you.  If being different makes you feel unsafe, my guess is there’s no legislation that will change that for you.

The good news is that we can change our locus of control.  I think the current buzz phrase is “adopt a growth mindset”.

I don’t have an eloquent wrap up.  So I’ll finish by saying this isn’t a politics post. It’s a parenting post. I’m not going to waste your time by telling you how to parent, or how your parents went wrong. I don’t know you. I’m not an expert. I’m just a small town poor girl, who turned into a not-oppressed woman, who has exactly the life she wanted, because she didn’t wait for it to be legislated for her.

This guy does have some credentials though, and some great advice if you want to raise kids with an internal locus of control, who face challenges head on, rather than seeking safe spaces.

https://www.circeinstitute.org/podcast/commons-12-building-sturdy-children

Happy Saturday

My Great-Grandmother’s Commonplace Book

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“Our Wedding Day, August 1 1912, Humbold Sask” Henry and Eliza eloped in an ox-drawn carriage in Saskatchewan. She was age 15

I never knew my great grandmother. But looking through her commonplace book, I know I would have admired her. And she probably would have been puzzled by, but tolerant of my my wide-eyed enthusiasm for doing things the hard way. I can almost hear her saying ,”For pity’s sake, just use your microwave”!

What is a commonplace book anyway?

It was your great grandma’s Pinterest; a scrap book of notes, ideas and clippings related to the interests and every day life of it’s keeper.  I was lucky enough to stumble on two of my Great Grandma Eliza’s in my mom’s basement, and Mom was nice enough to let me have them.  They are full of frugal recipes, garden tips, measurements (did you know 15 lbs are in a peck?), home remedies, and housekeeping tips.  You know, mom stuff.  My kind of stuff.

11259348_611568168946949_7970244153906018005_oGrandma Eliza was born in 1897, and she married in 1912.  Her commonplace books appear to have been started in the the early 1900’s.  The earliest date noted in either book is 1915, but entries don’t appear to be chronological.  I suspect she “filled up” the pages, and then came back later to add more in leftover spaces.  It even looks as though her daughter, my Grandma Dolly (given name Hazel, my youngest is her namesake) added a note or two.  One is mostly handwritten in a record book, and the other is mostly cut and pasted into what appears to have been a school notebook.  You can see bits of History and Math peeking out from between the pasted-in articles.  I love that.

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Her recipes and tips reflect the thrift of the day, and the articles she clipped feature women making do and rising above.  One clipped article features a Mrs. HG who found herself widowed and without an income on “the shady side of fifty years”.  But she did have the family home free and clear.  She sold a piece of jewelry and purchased three tables and twelve chairs, which she used to convert her front parlor into a dining room.  She offered a luncheon of baked beans, green salad, bread, and her neighbor’s fruit preserves for fifty cents, and having such a low overhead was able to support herself nicely thereafter.  Such an inspiration!  I love that even so many years ago, my great-grandmother was interested in many of the same things I am today; frugality, good food, and creating a warm home.

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Calves Brains With Potato Balls and Tomatoes. YUMMY!

Aside from giving a glimpse at the sort of things Grandma Eliza was interested in, her commonplace books offer useful information.  Okay, I admit I’m not likely to need directions for maintaining a kerosene cookstove, and honestly, I’m not keen on tasting calves brains with potato balls.  But you can bet I’ve tried her method for cleaning and seasoning cast iron with great success!  And my girls, who have been learning about proper tea etiquette, will be very interested in the article she clipped on Table Service In The Home.11217604_611568282280271_1343129495048705349_o

I’m inspired to start keeping a commonplace book of my own.  Yes, I know my great grandchildren will probably be able to look back on my facebook, pinterest and even this blog if they are interested, but how much more valuable to have a book to hold in their hands, leaf through, and use as a resource for “old timey” wisdom?

Oh and as a side note, as I was putting my girls to bed this evening, the two year old asked “Mom, where’s my notebook?”  Yes, she actually speaks that well, and her notebook was jumbled in her covers.  All three of my daughters adore notebooks and journals. My husband is a serial note-booker, so I always figured they got it from him, but now I realize that they may have come by some of those tendencies on my side as well!

How about you?  Do you keep a “commonplace book”?

Special thanks to my mother and cousins for filling me in in dates and details of Grandma Eliza’s life, and for the wedding photo.  I would love to hear from any of you who have more stories to share!  

Venison Pasties – A Christmas Tradition

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First things first. You’re going to want to bookmark this recipe. Trust me on this. You do not want a Google search for “Pasties” on your browser history.

Now then, moving along.

I really enjoy sharing old traditions and starting new ones with my little family. One of our newer traditions is having the extended family over for Venison Pasties on Christmas Eve.

Never heard of Pasties? If not, I’m guessing you live somewhere west of the Rockies. And you’re reading it “paste-ees”, which is not correct.  I like my in-laws, but I do not invite them over to swing festive reindeer booby tassels for Christmas. It’s p-A as in apples-sties.

Pasties. Handheld meat pies, traditionally from Cornwall, and particularly popular in the mid-western US. Think hot pockets, but good. Wiki has a fascinating history of the pasty here.

On to the recipe.

I typically double this depending on how many guests I’m expecting, and I make them smaller since we have them with other finger foods, cookies, candies and general Christmas gluttony.

I also mix up the filling, and pie pastry the night before.  This is not necessary, but since I’m making so many at a time, I like to minimize my work the day of.

You will need:

One double pie crust recipe, prepared and chilled

1 pound venison, cubed

2 med potatoes peeled, and cubed

1/2 C rutabaga (I find it easier to grate rutabaga than chop)

1 small onion, diced

1 carrot (adding carrot is strictly frowned upon in Cornwall, but we like it in WA)

Salt and Pepper

6 tsp butter

egg wash to brown tops

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix meat, veggies, and seasonings in a bowl.  Divide pastry dough into six balls and roll into six-inch circles.  Place about one cup of filling on each pastry, and top with one teapoon butter.  Fold pastry over and crimp edges.  Pierce pastry tops with a fork and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Brush tops with egg wash and bake for about one hour.  My mother in law grew up in Wisconsin, and she says these are “perfect” every year!

I usually only make pasties at Christmas, but they do also make a great lunch on the go, or make ahead for a busy weeknight dinner.

I hope you enjoy this taste of our Half Acre Christmas!

photo credit: The Richards

<ahref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/92873332@N00/103774533″>A taste of home!…</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>

What Am I Going To Tell My Children?

I see a lot of folks asking what they should tell their children.  Regardless of who you voted for an whether or not you felt you “won”, I believe you should tell your children this:

  1. Tell them that you love them.
  2. Tell them that we can only control our own behavior.
  3. Tell them that we don’t need anyone to tell us its okay to be kind.
  4. Tell them that we live in a fallen world, but we don’t need to wallow in it.
  5. Tell them that in a democracy, the pendulum swings both ways.
  6. Tell them that this is where we are now, we may be somewhere else tomorrow.
  7. Tell them that they can change the world by good deeds, but never by whining.
  8. Tell them to pray for our leaders, that they may have wisdom and fortitude.
  9. Tell them that you love them.

 

Schooling Outside The Box

Homeschooling has been such a blessing this year.  I love being with the kids (most of the time 😉  ) and I love watching their wheels turn, while they make new connections, and discoveries.  And while I’m sure I still have TONS to learn, I feel pretty confident sharing our successes and tricks.

A topic that has come up more than once when I’m over-zealously sharing our experience with public school moms is “I’d be scared I’d miss something”.  That is a valid concern, particularly for someone such as myself, who didn’t want to use a “box curriculum”.  Not only do we not have the budget for a complete “open and go” curriculum, but I fear I’d get bored and toss it anyway, or dislike parts of it and just not use those parts, which would lead to–you guessed it–those pesky gaps in learning.  Depending on your philosophy, and your state’s law, that could be a problem down the line.  I happen to believe there will always be gaps, whichever education you pursue for your child, so philosophically, gaps weren’t a huge concern for me.  But there is a certain continuity needed for skill building–I’m thinking math and language arts here– and it’s important to comply with your state’s laws.  (More on my opinion about gaps here)

One tool I’ve used to be sure we’re meeting our state’s requirements is a Course Of Study. Simply put this is a one page outline covering what we plan to do for each subject for the year. It may sound overwhelming, but if you’re at the point where you’re researching homeschool, chances are you’ve already started this process mentally.

The first step is to find out which subjects are required by your state.  If your state doesn’t set requirements for homeschool, you’ll need to decide which subjects are important to you.  Some considerations are future college goals, necessary life skills, and any obstacles you anticipate for your student.  We live in a state that requires 11 subjects, but doesn’t specify when, how, or at what level each subject is to be covered.  For my Course of Study/outline each subject is a heading.

Now that I have my headings, I just plug in what materials or resources I plan to use for each subject.  Some activities, and resources may cover more than one subject, and that is okay.  I simply list them separately for each subject.  For instance I have Garden listed under Occupational Ed. and Health.

If you’re not sure what to use for a particular subject, a simple google search will provide an overwhelming number of options.  I’d recommend you start by asking homeschool families in your area what they are using, and if they would consider letting your observe a school day, or subject period.

Here’s my Course Of Study for 2016/17

Half Acre Cottage School
2016-2017
Course of Study
Required subjects: reading, writing, spelling, language, math, science, social studies, history, health, occupational education, and art and music appreciation.

Reading

  1. Araya will read independently and narrate back to me from her choice of level appropriate books.
  2. Montana will read with me using Mc Guffey Readers, word building with scrabble tiles, Moby Max
  3. Whenever possible the other subjects will be literature based (ie living books for history, natural science etc.)
  4. Weekly library visits

Math

  1. Math Mammoth (workbook)
  2. Xtramath/ Moby Max

Science

  1. Nature notebooks (observations lead to questions/research)
  2. Weekly nature hike
  3. Burgess Bird Book For Children
  4. Museum and Dam Field Trips

Language arts (language/writing/spelling/grammar)

  1. Reading (living books for history, science, literature, and free reads)
  2. Copy work from the Bible, literary classics, (and Mc Guffey Readers for Montana )
  3. Daily journal prompt
  4. Vocabulary and spelling taken from reading selections
  5. Araya will compose written narrations for some readings.
  6. A Child’s Garden Of Verses

History/Social Studies

  1. An Island Story
  2. Fifty Famous Stories Retold (emphasize that some stories are based on real people/events but heavily fictionalized)
  3. Viking Tales
  4. Biogrophies: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Buffalo Bill

Health

  1. Daily life-conversations with mom, meal planning
  2. Gymnastics
  3. Weekly nature walks/hikes
  4. Garden

Occupational Education

  1. Life– chores, daily responsibilities
  2. Volunteering/ Camp Fire
  3. Garden
  4. Handicrafts (sewing and cooking at present)

Art and Music Appreciation

  1. Artist Studies
  2. Nature Journal
  3. Composer and Folk Song Studies
  4. Handicrafts

Remember, while we do have laws we need to follow, many of us choose to homeschool so that we can give our children a customized education.  Hopefully this helps you get an idea how to put together your course of study in such a way that you don’t forget any required topics.  Feel free to comment with questions on how to actually use any of the resources I’ve listed.

 

 

 

Autumn Chores for a Cozy Winter

Ah fall!

It’s my favorite time of year. The colors, the crisp air, bonfires, warm soups and, even the ever present autumn cliche: Pumpkin. Spice. EVERYTHING!

It’s also a busy time on the ol’ farm.

Not only is there a lot that just didn’t get done with the crazy summer schedule, and getting our homeschool legs under us,  but there’s a lot that needs done every year to prepare for a smooth and restful winter.

With frost the past two nights, and a forecast for snow at 3000 ft, winter is definitely knocking on our door!

Here’s a basic list of the things we do to get our 100 year old farm house, and grounds ready for winter.

1. Clean And Mend Chicken Coop.  

We clean our chicken coop every spring and fall, by shoveling out the bedding and droppings into a compost pile where they can “cool” for use in the garden next year.  We replace it with several inches of clean pine shavings.  This is also time to replace light bulbs, cover windows with plastic, make sure water heaters are in good order, and in our case, secure the big blue tarp on the roof.  We’re just so classy.

We planned a new roof for the coop this year, but had some very expensive and unexpected repairs to the actual home, so the chickens get to be the trashiest neighbors on the block for one more winter.

We’re also using this time to enlarge the chicken run, and fix our rookie mistake of fencing the run with chicken wire.  Real fencing, folks.  Free Range chickens can be charming right up until they scratch up your spring plantings and poop on your front porch, and picnic table, playhouse, lawn mower seat. . .you get the idea.  They’re sort of gross.

2. Winterize the Rabbit Hutch

Rabbits are generally much happier with winter than summer, so they don’t need much.  We’ll give them a good deep bedding to burrow in, and make sure we have extra water bottles on hand for when they freeze.  During freezing weather we only fill the bottles half full.  Twice a day we take out a fresh bottle and bring the frozen ones back into the house to thaw.

3. Cover Windows With Plastic

We still have (possibly original, definitely old) single pane windows in our house.  We use clear shrink film on the downstairs windows, and  6 mil “clear” (it’s NOT clear) plastic in the upstairs bedrooms to help reduce heat loss.  It’s not the most elegant solution out there, but it does make a significant difference.

4. Drain and Store Hoses

It’s hard to believe we were still watering the lawn just a little over a week ago!  And the hoses are still strung all over the property.  Time to drain, roll and stash them in the shed.

5. Stock Fire Wood

We have electric heat, unlike a lot of the older homes in our area, so we’re lucky to not be entirely reliant on wood heat.  But is there really anything lovelier on a cold winter evening than snuggling up next to a crackling fire?  I also like to have enough wood on hand to see us through a power outage.  We were without power for five days once, before we lived in a home with wood heat, and we had to find friends to stay with.  I like the thought of being able to stay home and welcome friends next time.

6. Run the Mower Out Of Gas  

We could also use an additive to stabilize the gas, but we generally use the mower to clean up the last round of leaves (if the snow doesn’t get ahead of us), so we’re usually able to time it right to just go ahead and run the gas out.  And speaking of leaves…

7. Rake Rake Rake 

Shade trees are awesome.  They really do improve the quality of life in summer.  To the point that we usually don’t even need to use the AC.  In fact we didn’t ever use one until the crazy hot summer of 2015, and only a few times last summer, largely because we have huge shade trees on the sunny side of our house.  Huge shade trees full of leaves.  Which will fall over the course of six weeks or so, and need to be raked or otherwise removed several times.  We’ll use some of the leaves to mulch garden beds, some for jumping in, and the rest will get mowed into the grass.  Good times.

8. Put the Garden to Bed

The garden.  Let’s just not talk about how that went this year.  Suffice it to say there is a lot of clean up to be done.  Weeds and spent plants need to be pulled and burned, rabbit manure spread, fence mended, and perennials need pruned and mulched.

9. Clean and Store Garden Tools

After the garden is put to bed it’s time to clean and store garden tools.  I’ll admit I suck at this.  I usually run around the yard picking up shovels and rakes after the first dusting of snow, and hastily toss them in the shed.  This year I mean to actually clean, oil, and properly store my yard and garden implements, before I have to find them under the snow.  This is also a good time to stage snow shovels, ice-melt and sleds near the front door.

10.  Snow Gear

While it’s not exactly a “farm” chore, I also like to take this time to pull out all of the winter coats, boots, etc. to see what we need to replace.  Outgrown items can be cleaned up and sold, donated or stored for a younger child.  We did some of each this year.  Can you believe we somehow accumulated three pairs of size 4/5 snow bibs over the years?  I gave away two, and stored one for the toddler to grow into.  We shifted some gear from oldest to middle kid, and know what we need to replace before snow.  If you’re down with used gear, this is a good time to find stuff on craigslist of facebook selling groups.  We just snagged a good pair of boots this morning. It’s also a good time to hit discount stores for the best variety.  We waited a little too long on Costco coats last year, and the girls didn’t get the colors they wanted.  Horrors.

11.  Finally we have to make a dump run.  

We accumulate trash.  It seems like every spring and fall we’ve managed to accumulate a bigger-than-the-weekly-can heap of broken outdoor toys, ragged tarps, and other bulky refuse.  I try to have it hauled off before it’s buried under snow to grow mold all winter.

I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting to list here, but these are the most relevant to our household, and top priority.  Everything else will either wait, or be forgotten and we’ll mitigate in the spring.  Life does go on.

Happy Autumn!

Why You Need a Routine

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Have you ever noticed how exhausting a week off is? Needed a vacation to recover from your vacation? I know I have.  We have this week off of school, and I tell you I’m beat!

It’s from all the fun activities and extra projects, right?

NOPE.  Haven’t done a single honey-do, catch up or special treat.  We’ve been surfin’ the ‘net, watching too much tv, eating at weird times and flopping around the house.

It’s been the perfect week for an epiphany, because somewhere in all the hours of “free” time, I read about something called Decision Fatigue. And so much of what I’ve always believed about the power of a routine clicked on an even deeper level.

You see, whenever my kids lose their minds, or are just generally turds, I can almost always trace it to a deviation from the routine.  You’ve seen it.  The first week of summer break, Christmas, a new sport, whatever it is, it exhausts your kids and they turn into beasts, until you return to your regular routine or the new norm is established.  But I never extended that to myself.  I’ve been impatient, cranky and exhausted this week, even though I’m not “doing” anything extra.  Or am I?

Here’s the deal.  When you stick to a routine, you get into habits.  The joy/curse of a habit is it is effortless. When I let my good habits (in this case it’s following the school routine -with built in household chores) run my day,  the decision is already made.  I don’t have to think about every little thing.  I’m going to get up, space out and drink two cups of coffee, then the screens go off and the music comes on. Breakfast then chores then math, copy work, circle time, literature and lunch.  I don’t even have to think about it.  I get no push-back from the kids.  It’s EASY!  

Here’s what some smarter-than-me folks have said on the topic.

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”  – Samuel Johnson

“We are all mere creatures of habit.  We think our accustomed thoughts, make our usual small talk, go through the trivial round, the common task, without any self-determining effort of will at all.  If it were not so– if we had to think, to deliberate, about each operation of the bath, or the table–life would not be worth having; the perpetually repeated effort of decision would wear us out.” – Charlotte Mason

“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.”
–Charlotte Mason

I know you’re wondering what my point is and it’s this:  If you’re exhausted for “no reason”, and you’ve ruled out health/sleep issues, it may be Decision Fatigue.

Here’s what you can do :

  • Set up a routine to follow until you don’t have to think about every little thing all day.  (I know, setting up the routine initially requires some decision making, but it will lighten the future load on your decision making muscle, so it’s going to pay off!)
  • Use a checklist for your new routine until you no longer need it.
  • Make your decisions ahead of time, or early in the day if you know you’ll be going off your regular routine.
  • If you don’t like the idea of living by a timer, at least decide what you’ll do first, next, then, last.  (Notice my list earlier in the post didn’t say “8-8:32, drink coffee, 8:32-8:45, chores” etc.  It’s just knowing what to do next)

As for me, I’m planning now for the rest of my “days off”, and looking to Monday with eager anticipation.

And that is something I never thought I’d say!

 

Teaching Multiple Ages, One Room Schoolhouse Style

One thing that initially drew me to homeschooling, and especially the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education was the idea that “school time” should not take all day. I love the idea of being done with our sit down work by noon, freeing up afternoons for “a scamper on the lawn”, nature walks, and handicrafts (translation: afternoons are mostly free time, with occasional input from me).  Learn more about Miss Mason’s Methods here.

But I have three kids. The Baby is very busy, and requires a lot of attention to keep her out of trouble. The middle girl is a struggling reader (we’re pursuing the possibility of dyslexia) and will need me to read everything except her reading practice to her. Finally my oldest is a voracious reader, holds her own in math and is a self-professed nerd. But she is also a video game addict who tends to think she already knows everything, so I have to watch her to make sure she isn’t rushing or skating.

If I were to work with each of the school aged girls separately while also attempting to juggle the toddler we’d be at it all day.

My solution is to combine as many subjects as possible and have my oldest read for the younger two as necessary.

In practice that means we combine everything except math and language arts (reading practice for the 7yo, spelling/vocab for the 9yo).

Since we follow a literature and narration based curriculum rather than a traditional textbook/fill in the blanks type curriculum found in most public schools it hasn’t been a problem starting them at the same level.  Levels in this system don’t necessarily correspond to traditional “grade level”, and students generally graduate somewhere between level 9 and 11, with a few outliers finishing up in level 8 and some moving onto level 12.  Parents who have used this program and sent kids on to college have reported that level 8 is approximately equivalent to grade 12.

We read great literature, live with art and music, and observe nature. Each student makes her own connections and takes from the material at her own level.  Again we are doing math and language arts separately, so they are getting skills practice at their appropriate “grade level”.  (As a side note I’m finding that my 7yo struggling reader is able to retain and narrate at a deeper level than my 9yo voracious reader.  Both comprehend well enough, but I suspect that the 9 year old is deeper ingrained in the fill-in-the-blanks mentality.  It is hard for me to resist asking pointed questions rather than let her struggle to retell the selection in her own words.)

How does it work out on the daily?

Monday – Thursday

Each kid has a spiral notebook with the day’s work laid out for them.  It’s really just a checklist. If they are up early enough to finish #1 before I’m coffeed up they may have some electronics time.

Next comes Bible and Breakfast. (Reading, Music and History, for the record)  While I’m making breakfast I play either hymns or Seeds.  We eat breakfast together and then my older girl reads the day’s bible story.  I’m not following the AO Bible rotation this year.  Instead we are reading together from The Story For Children.

Next is Morning chores. (This is Occupational Ed, for the record) They get dressed, make their beds and feed and water the animals.  We try to keep it to 20 minutes, but sometimes I have to crack the whip to get them back inside after they feed and water.

After Morning Chores comes math.  (You guessed it…this is math) We haven’t settled on our Math curriculum yet, so for the time being the younger one is practicing 2nd grade math using worksheets printed from the internet, and the older one is doing Khan Academy.  I try to keep Math to about 15 minutes.

Now it’s almost 9:00 and up next is Copy Work.  (penmanship, grammar, spelling) This looks different depending on the age of the child, youngest students start with letter formation, then move onto short words etc.  Right now both of my school girls are working on developing the habit of always making their best effort.  I require either five minutes of perfect effort,  or perfect execution, whichever comes first.  Right now they are using printed handwriting worksheets with short phrases, but will move on to copying selections from their reading freehand when they consistently produce nice work.

“A Child should Execute Perfectly. No work should be given to a child that he cannot execute perfectly, and then perfection should be required from him as a matter of course…Set him six strokes to copy; let him, not bring a slateful, but six perfect strokes, at regular distances and at regular slopes. If he produces a faulty pair, get him to point out the fault, and persevere until he has produced his task; if he does not do it to-day, let him go on to-morrow and the next day, and when the six perfect strokes appear, let it be an occasion of triumph. So with the little tasks of painting, drawing, or construction he sets himself–let everything he does be well done… Closely connected with this habit of ‘perfect work’ is that of finishing whatever is taken in hand. The child should rarely be allowed to set his hand to a new undertaking until the last is finished.” – Charlotte Mason

After Copywork comes our daily “circle time”. (Music)  We stretch, wiggle, and listen to/sing a folk song (usually a new one each week) to break the tedium of seat work. I also give each kid a chance to share something.  I usually ask a leading question such as “what was your favorite part of…”? We finish up Circle Time with a poem.  This week we are working on memorizing “Foreign Lands” from A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Up next we move onto our literature selections for the day. (The Literature selections cover History, Geography, Natural History/Science, Social Studies and of course Reading, but not necessarily all every day) We are following Ambleside Online Year One, with a few modifications for books we happen to have already read, or that I’ve chosen to substitute something else for. We are skipping Aesop, because we had already heard most of them, and Trial and Triumph because I didn’t manage to get it purchased and also because some other mothers on the AO forum thought it was boring and skippable. (how’s that for honest?) I’ve also added some independent reading for my older girl.  More about that later. The folks at Ambleside have been kind enough to lay the readings out in a 36 week schedule and allow each family to break the weekly readings up in whichever way works best for them.  I find that it works out to about two literature selections per day.   I try to pair a shorter reading such as one of Fifty Famous Stories Retold, with a slightly longer one such as a Parable from Nature, so that I don’t end up reading for ten minutes one day and 40 another.  This way it works out to about 30 minutes of reading and narrating each day.  Some readings have to be broken up over multiple days.  For short stories, I read the whole selection and then listen to narrations. For longer ones I’ll find a natural stopping point and have them narrate before reading more and having them narrate again.

Next is language arts.   I work directly with my middle girl on reading practice, while my oldest reads independently.  Reading practice with the middle girl is phonics flashcards, word building puzzles, and her reading aloud from beginning readers.  The older girl is reading from Lamb’s Shakespeare.  (Two Gentlemen of Verona, at present) Each day she narrates to me what has happened so far in the story and looks up the definition for one word that I have selected from the passage.

We finish up before lunch (around 11:00) and after lunch we have a mandatory Quiet Time/Reading Hour.  I put the baby down for a nap, put on some spa music, and the older two take books to upstairs for an hour.  I hope they read, but honestly as long as they don’t bother me, wake the baby, or burn the house down I don’t care if they doodle, daydream, gossip or sleep.  (Translation: Mama either gets to take a nap or get some writing done)

After quiet time they have free time – I strongly prefer and urge that they play outside in the mud, trees or water- (Nature Study) until 3:30 when we listen to classical music while doing afternoon chores. (More Music and Oc Ed) Afternoon chores typically include a quick clean up of any dishes, toys and books that are lying out, then sweeping and vacuuming while I tidy the kitchen (read: scrape off the top layer of mess) and start dinner.  At 4:00 they are given a snack to take outside so that Daddy doesn’t come home to a messy house full of loud children.  In September Gymnastics will start again, so whichever afternoon that ends up being on will also end up being our library/town/errand day, in which case we’ll head for town right after Quiet Hour.

Friday is reserved for making up anything we missed during the week (we haven’t had to do any catch up yet–there seems to be plenty of time M-TH), Nature walks/Nature Journaling, Art Study (Science, Art, and PE, for those keeping track of subjects), visiting friends, and planning for next week.  More about Friday later.

So far keeping the kids on the same AO year has worked well even given their different reading levels.  I love the simplicity of the approach, and the flexibility of being able to add, sub, or skip where needed.  Most of all I love being “done” by lunch and the structure that having a daily checklist has added to our home.

All that said, we’re a whole 4 weeks in here…give me some grace if I have to change things up later 😉