Friday, September 30, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 5

The end of our first full week of homeschool - yay!  I'll admit that it is rather exhausting to homeschool on top of my normal household chores, errands, and house remodeling.  I'll adapt and it will get easier, but this week was hard!

This morning we did our Daily Grammar and then a speed sheet from the Making Math Meaningful website.  Then we talked about the Minoans and what we know about them, plus what we thought they might have done with their boats.  Instead of creating a summary for the boys to write I assigned copy work in their penmanship notebooks (from Paper Scissors Stone).  I love these little notebooks and have used them for a few years now.  I had noticed T-Guy floating his letters in his main lesson book and wanted him to work on writing them on the baseline, and I also noticed some numeral reversals in J-Baby's work (still, even though he doesn't have any signs of a learning disability) so I assigned writing numerals to him.

J-Baby worked on finishing some math work from earlier in the week and both boys did their spelling.  It was an easy morning but in general we do keep Fridays easier and lighter.  It used to be our free day but now I find that I can't get in all the main lesson blocks if I don't plan lessons on Friday as well.

J-Baby had piano and I tutored my friend's daughter. Then we headed to the park for our weekly gathering with homeschool friends.  The weather was nice, warm but not unbearably hot.

I didn't take a picture today!  Instead I offer this (un-retouched) photo of the Greek food we were able to find at Trader Joe's on Wednesday.  I'm sure they had baklava as well, but as it isn't gluten free we didn't buy any.
We had some of the olives and cheese last night with dinner.  Yum!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 4

Last night I had a kind of ugh moment.  As in, ugh, why did I plan for us to do a lesson from Live Education that involves painting ceramic bowls?  I don't have the supplies, don't want to go out to get them, and if I had been thinking about it would have realized that the project more properly belongs in the afternoon lessons will be having during our second Ancient Greece block, where we'll be studying the arts and crafts of Ancient Greece.

Moving the lesson made the most sense, so I was left trying to figure out what to teach this morning. Should I start Friday's lesson early, giving us more time for the planned drawing?  Could I find a program on Ancient Greece to stream?  I puzzled over it for awhile.

My boys already have a pretty deep knowledge of the myths and history/culture of Ancient Greece.  I knew this going into the block and still chose to go with it because most of what they know is head knowledge.  This week they've drawn an olive tree, created a labyrinth on paper, and jumped over an ottoman bull; these are the things I want them to do to bring the knowledge into understanding.  It can be very hard to create a sense of us (versus other), but that is the goal. The ancient Greeks aren't just a people who lived a long time ago; they are humans, they are US. Their stories and history are ours.

Thinking about this I ditched the idea of streaming a program on Ancient Greece for the boys; it isn't Waldorf and more head knowledge isn't what they need. I decided that we would move forward with the next lesson in Live Education.  After grammar and math we did some writing and we learned about Minoan sailing vessels.
T-Guy doesn't particularly like to draw, but he made a good effort.  Neither boy is fully back into drawing Waldorf-style, hence the hanging suns vs. diffuse light.
J-Baby does like to draw, but he was not in the mood to give me good work today.  He clearly enjoyed drawing the rigging, however, and tried to be very accurate.

Because I like to keep it real I'll point out that we had some resistance, once again, to the idea of doing one's best work.  J-Baby's letters float, they change size, and he has a hard time remembering to space the words.  It isn't a case of not being able to; he just wants to rush through and be done. He can write very neatly, in straight lines with nice spaces, when he wants to.

Sometimes I feel like he is doing this to spite me, to show me how unimportant he thinks it is. It is writing that I assign, not writing that he chooses. I don't really know what to do other than to persevere, to keep the expectations high, and to help him understand why. I'm also going to bring in form drawing again on a weekly basis during practice time. I love that forms need to be done a certain way and look wrong if we don't do our best work. They teach discipline.

Some might advise shifting more toward unschooling, but it isn't right for these children. While they do well with filling the abundant free time that they do have they need lessons to anchor their day. When we don't honor the rhythm and their need for structure things tend to fall apart. Summer break can be rough for us and I need to make sure that we don't fall into unstructured days.  It has always been this was for J-Baby; I have written about it before and even tried creating structure without it involving lesson work.  But T-Guy loves lesson work; he has a lot of his mama in him.

I split the lesson; tomorrow we'll talk about why the Minoans might have wanted to sail, but it will still leave the morning a little light since they did their drawing today. We can use the time; I'll give a longer writing assignment (they will help me with the summary) and we need to finish up a little earlier on Fridays anyway since J-Baby has piano lessons and I do tutoring with a friend's daughter.

Thursday afternoons are scheduled as "make-up" time to give the boys a chance to finish any drawings or writing that they didn't have time for during the week. We were mostly caught up, however, so we ended a little early in the morning and used the afternoon hour for spelling and other learning games. J-Baby also decorated his writing pages which he often attempts to skip (simple borders and coloring the background).

It was a lower key day overall; Papa had asked me last night how I was going to top jumping over furniture in the front yard. The truth is that not every day can be as exciting as that, but it's okay.  Lower key, meat-and-potatoes learning days are just fine.

Speaking of meat and potatoes, we had a semi-Greek meal for dinner.  Braised leg of lamb, potatoes, Kalamata olives, and Greek feta.  We should have had a vegetable but what I encountered in the produce bin wasn't lovely.  The potatoes are New World and not something that would have been eaten in Ancient Greece, but in this house lamb and potatoes go together, lol.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 3

Oh my, was today fun!

Our morning began, as usual, with grammar and math.  T-Guy was struggling with the concept of combining sentences and using prepositional phrases but then it clicked and he got it.  Knowing that I had planned some writing for later in the morning we did the grammar lessons orally; I find that it works just as well and allows us to do more examples.  Math was more practice on long division and long multiplication.

As we've been settling into our morning routine I hadn't asked the boys to do any writing Monday or Tuesday, so today they wrote simple summaries in their main lesson books. I told them that since they are both now middle schoolers that I expect more writing from them. There was some complaining, but I expected and ignored it.  The writing was far from perfect but this is only day 4 of our homeschool year.

We started the main lesson by talking about frescoes (which they already knew all about) and looking at one specific fresco, The Toreador, which is a Minoan work from 1550 -1450 BCE.  It depicts bull jumping, which is believed to have been a sport or religious ritual from the ancient Minoan culture.  That led us to the real fun of the day: bull jumping.  Okay, ottoman jumping, but it is really fun when Mama lets you carry the ottoman outside and jump over it.  We had:

 Leapfrogging
 Missed take offs
 Bad landings
 Cartwheels
Somersaults

... and several other attempts to leap the bull, all of which were very fun.  The boys spent at least 20 minutes on this activity and returned to the house huffing and puffing, but very happy.  We were able to talk about modern gymnastics and how the vault is similar to bull jumping (minus the live, moving bull, of course).

We finished out the morning with Spelling City on the big computer and multiplication fact drills on the iPad (a sneaky way to get in extra math practice).  This afternoon the boys have their PE class; this session is flag football which has been fun so far.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 2

This morning we started with grammar and then some math review.  My boys seemed to have lost some of their long division skills over the summer and T-Guy asked for multiplication review as well.  Perhaps we will resume Life of Fred math next week.  I also want to take a look at our Making Math Meaningful curriculum and bring that into our lessons.  But today was simply worksheets.

When I planned our block I almost skipped the Live Education lesson for today; the boys know the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur inside out and backwards.  I think we borrowed The Hero and the Minotaur from the library 25 or more times over several years; it was one of J-Baby's absolute favorites.  However, the activity of drawing a labyrinth looked so fun that I decided we would do it.  The boys worked on drawing labyrinths while I read them the version of the myth from Gods and Heroes, the book recommended by Live Ed.

Tuesday is going to be our literature day (afternoon lesson) but I've decided to read our books based on the month, not the block schedule.  I'm working with my own boys for the next few months as a trial for teaching a literature class to other home-schooled children.  So instead of literature we had a long play date with good friends.

The picture gives a glimpse into our new homeschool space; I'll plan a full tour for another post.  It's working out really well for us, even better than I imagined.  We're still working on making sure it is neat and tidy after lessons, but we'll get there.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ancient Greece I Day 1

We began the morning with grammar and math; I realized right off why public schools always start the year with math review because clearly we need some review on math facts and the four processes.  Our grammar unit is on prepositional phrases, which I have always found easy so I hope it goes well for my boys.

Our main lesson assignment was to draw a map of ancient Greece. I knew that wasn't going to go over well this early in the year so we compromised and I printed a nice map for them to color (which they haven't yet).  We moved on to learning about olive trees and the importance of olives in ancient Greece.  The boys drew olive trees in the main lesson books.
J-Baby put some care into his drawing but still really doesn't buy into the idea of doing his best work in his main lesson book, at least not when it comes to writing.  One of my goals this year is too significantly improve the boys penmanship through daily practice as well as higher expectations on my part.  It is no longer enough for me to know that they are at least trying to write; now that I know they can we have to work on making it neater and straighter.

Our "afternoon" lesson for this block is cooking/eating the foods of ancient Greece.  Having not gotten to the store we couldn't actually cook anything, but we used olive oil at lunch and had Kalamata olives at dinner.  Later this week we'll buy some Greek yogurt, some honey, some feta cheese, and the like.



Friday, September 23, 2011

And we're off ...

Forgive me for not getting these posts up earlier.  I have a bad habit of starting posts, getting busy with something else, and leaving the posts to languish as drafts for weeks or even months.

Friday was our first day of homeschool and it went really well.  We didn't walk, say a verse, or have circle, but that is okay.  These are big kids we are talking about, middle schoolers, and they are transitioning past some of these things.  Not the walk, of course, but that is always going to be catch as catch can.

We oriented ourselves to the homeschool area, learning where the lesson books and art supplies are, etc., talked about our plans and goals for the year, and then we got to baking.  Yes, our first lesson of the new homeschool year was baking fruit crisps for our afternoon autumnal equinox celebration at the park.  A friend took a photo of how they turned out, which was just beautiful.  There were delicious too.

Photo Courtesy of D. Joseph

We reviewed kitchen hygiene, preparing our space and ingredients, working the steps in order, and patience (waiting for the crisps to bake).  But we also learned about the satisfaction of hard work and the joy that comes from giving of ourselves to our friends.  By including the morning's baking work in our homeschooling I was also able to model time management and I reduced my stress significantly as I wasn't trying to do two things at once.

Our celebration was wonderful; the weather was warm but not stifling and the trees in the park were starting to turn color.  We enjoyed eating good food and spending time with good friends as we reflected on the unity of the equinox and the turning of the season.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Preparing

We begin our homeschool year this Friday; we're all getting really excited!

I always plan the first day to be very easy and fun. This year I think we will take a short walk, light our candle and say our opening verse, possibly have a short circle, orient ourselves to the new learning space and talk about keeping it clean and tidy (it is now in a main living area of the house), go over our plans for the year, and decorate our nature table (fireplace mantel).  The afternoon will be spent celebrating the autumnal equinox with our homeschooling community.

Our new learning space is nearly finished; we still need a map for one wall and a magnetic whiteboard for the other.   Whiteboards are generally frowned upon in Waldorf education as they are not natural or aesthetically pleasing, however, Papa detests blackboards and insists that we not be creating chalk dust in the same room as the computer.  As a person who has worked with computers since he as a child I trust his judgement.  I do my chalkboard drawings in another room.

Still, I don't feel ready.  Our house is still in upheaval and I haven't done much reading in preparation for our first block.  I am supposed to choose and order our source books for Ancient Greek History and have only a few days to do so.  (I stopped writing this blog post long enough to order our source books.)  I try to be relaxed about our homeschooling and I know that whatever I choose will be fine, but still I wish I had spent more time with the books I borrowed from the library.

But sometimes that is the reality of homeschooling.  We are knee deep in home remodeling and renovation and most days I feel like I am chasing my own tail.  At least now that we are so many years into homeschooling I feel like I have the philosophy and method down well and that I know my children and how they learn.  I don't start each year from scratch (and I think that is one reason that traditional Waldorf education is brilliant, having the teacher move up each year with the class rather than having the students and teachers start over each year) and we can learn as we go along.  So I breathe and remind myself that it will be fine.  It will be.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Flow of Food

I have been accused of being too organized.  I can't help it; it is how my brain works and how I keep my life calm.

This afternoon as I prepped potatoes and chicken for dinner I thought about the flow of food.  I was roasting 5 split chicken breasts; I knew we would eat only 2 at dinner.  I pulled the meat off the bones of the remaining 3 to use in tomorrow's dinner as well as in lunch salads for the next couple of days.  The bones with the clinging meat went into the slow cooker along with the leftover pan gravy; the stock will simmer overnight and will be the base of tomorrow's soup.

I scrubbed 8 potatoes, rubbed them with olive oil, pricked them with a fork, and put them in the oven to roast.  We ate 4 at dinner; the other 4 will be cubed and fried tomorrow morning for a simple breakfast with sausage and a fried egg.

Some years ago I made a commitment to reduce our food waste and our food budget and I have succeeded at both.  I simplified what I buy and I started thinking farther ahead than I ever had before.  Now when I buy a cabbage I am not only thinking of sautéing half of it for one meal: I know that I will sauté part of it, shred some finely to top tacos, serve a cabbage salad or cole slaw one day, and use the rest in a soup. A quart of buttermilk is used in pancakes, to start a jar of crème fraîche, as the leavening in a soda bread, and as the base of a simple and quick buttermilk cucumber soup.

Thursday's soup becomes Friday's lunch.  Friday's pot roast and rice will be Saturday's lunch.  Almost every time I cook I am thinking ahead to another meal.  Monday we will have leg of lamb; the leftovers will be minced and frozen for shepherd's pie another week.  When I make stock there is always more than I need, which I freeze and then use one week when I don't have time to make stock.  Bananas that go spotty are peeled and frozen for smoothies and muffins (and I make a double batch and freeze the extras).  Even milk that is about to sour is cooked into a tapioca pudding.

I don't think of what I do as being out of the ordinary; I suspect that the flow of food plays a large role in cultures where food is scarce or expensive.  Only in very wealthy countries can we afford to use only half a cabbage or one fourth of the carton of buttermilk.  Only where food is outrageously abundant can we toss chicken bones into the garbage and routinely forget about fresh milk until it is spoiled.  Somehow we have forgotten how precious food it is.  On an evening like tonight I pause and remember.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Organic? Conventional? Which Is Better?

In a perfect world I would buy everything organic.  Of course, in a perfect world I would have enough money to do so.  In this imperfect world that isn't always the case, and sometimes when I do want to buy organic what I find simply isn't up to standard.  Sometimes the organic produce I find is less than fresh; it might be wilted, shriveled, overripe, or starting to rot.  It often travels long distances and sits in the market for days or even weeks.

I don't shop at the same market each week; sometimes I go to the local supermarket, sometimes the health food store, and sometimes Trader Joe's or Costco.  Even less frequently I make it to a store like Henry's or Whole Foods.  Lately I've been to a few specialty markets; a small Asian market, an Asian supermarket, and my local Latino market.

In general, the produce at the specialty markets isn't organic, but overall the prices beat out even the conventional produce at the chain supermarket.  While the tiny little Asian market doesn't carry much produce and as such the produce it does have doesn't appear to be very fresh, the Asian supermarket and the Mexican market and both full to bursting with great looking produce.

I looked for organic broccoli and cucumbers at the health food store yesterday, but the broccoli was limp and yellow and the cucumbers were dented and shriveled.  Conventional broccoli is fairly safe, but I do try to buy organic cucumbers whenever I can.  In the past we used to do without when I couldn't find them organic, but now we just peel the skins off and discard the seeds.  I finally decided that feeding my child conventionally grown cucumbers was better than him not eating salad at all (and cucumbers are an integral part of his daily salad).

Everyday there is something coming at us in terms of food and health.  Recently it was that children with ADHD have more pesticide residue in their urine.  The conclusion was that pesticides cause ADHD.  Now, it may be true that pesticides contribute to ADHD, but it might also be that children with ADHD don't process pesticides in the same way that neurotypical children do.  It could be that some children are susceptible to pesticide poisoning and develop ADHD because of it but that not all children are susceptible.  It could even be the different lifestyle that families who choose organic whole foods tend to live, with less stress and fewer synthetic food chemicals overall.

I'm trying to be smart about it.  I do choose organic when I can afford it and when it looks fresh.  I have a hard time believing that an ancient organic melon shipped a thousand miles is healthier for my child than one grown conventionally in my town and picked within the past day to two.  I believe that variety in produce is a good thing and would rather serve organic cabbage one night and conventional broccoli the next than organic cabbage night after night.

Before the economy faltered (Is that too nice?  Did it really tank?) I bought almost everything organic and I spent a heck of a lot of money on food.  It felt great and I'm glad I did it when my children were little, but what happened with the economy made me realize that I needed more money in my savings account even if it meant taking away from the grocery budget.  Even if it meant buying conventional broccoli and watermelon.  Even if it meant not traveling 50 miles to the closest Whole Foods Market so that I could find decent, fresh organic produce.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Math Fear

If there was only one thing I could give to myself and every other homeschooling parent I know it would be the banishment of fear.  Most of us come from the public school system (or private schooling, another institutionalized form of education) and that is what we know.  Most of the people we associate have children in public or private schools, and so that is what we hear about.  The media screams the idea that schools and children are failing and that the only cure is more.  More drills, more tests, more homework, along with earlier introductions of everything.

Today I would like to talk about math fear.

My public elementary school didn't teach multiplication or fractions in 2nd grade.  Multiplication, even single digit, was taught in 3rd grade.  Fractions were taught in 4th grade.  I was tested and identified as gifted in the 2nd grade and bumped into a 3rd grade math class, so I did learn some things earlier, but I can tell you that what I remember from that class is learning to write supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in cursive.  In 3rd grade I was in a combined 3rd/4th clustered gifted class and I don't remember the academics at all; my memories are of playing Super Friends on the playground (Wonder Twin powers, activate!) and of the two sisters who weren't allowed to participate in learning the Virginia Reel during P.E.  In 4th grade I went to a school that clustered 4th/5th/6th graders and divided us out according to ability (I have since learned how unique this was) so I took 6th grade math, I remember doing simple geometry and more complex fraction work.

In 5th grade I was forced to take 5th grade math as the 6th graders were no longer at our school and I'd taken 6th grade math already.  In 6th grade I went to middle school and got to take 6th grade math again, with the same teacher I'd taken it from in 4th grade.  The point of this is explain that while I may have been allowed to work ahead early on, I then got to spend two years learning nothing new in math.

7th grade was pre-algebra.  8th grade was algebra, taught only to the gifted students and counted toward our high school graduation requirements.  I took two math classes in high school, geometry and advanced algebra.  If anyone had been paying attention to my math aptitude I would have been encouraged (or even required) to take trigonometry and calculus, but my parents left those choices to me, so I did things like took an extra period of band and worked as a teaching assistant for several teachers (my parents approved and considered it akin to an unpaid internship).  My mother was math phobic and my dad thought I should pursue a teaching degree; math just wasn't important to them.  It didn't end up mattering; I majored in English and the hardest math class I was required to take at university was college algebra.

My point it, my parents weren't afraid that I wasn't taking enough math.  They didn't do anything during 5th and 6th grade when I was bored out of my mind and they didn't freak out when I didn't take four years of high school math (or effectively, five years).  Likewise, they didn't worry in kindergarten that math meant coloring shapes and learning numbers, or that 1st grade was basic addition and subtraction.  I was young, after all.

Papa has a college degree in computer science with a minor concentration in mathematics.  He took more high school math than I did; he took four years but only ended up with one more year of high school math because of the algebra I took in junior high.  At no point during his elementary or secondary public education did he work ahead in math.  He didn't have to know place value in 1st grade or long division in 3rd grade.  He learned decimals and percents in 6th grade, didn't take pre-algebra until 8th grade, and took algebra in 9th grade.  This was considered advanced for a student.  It has served him well and he didn't miss out getting into college because of what math classes he took.

That's the thing: you get to college (if you go to college) and you take a math placement test and they figure out where you should start.  I moved right into college algebra, my mother-in-law (who was attending college at the same time Papa and I were) started with remedial math.  She took what she needed to and still got her college degree and teaching credential.  I never took a math class in college past that college algebra.  I too received a degree.  Papa took a lot more math classes because he wanted to pursue a degree and career that required a lot of math.  We all got where we wanted to go.  We all have differing math skills and yet we all function as adults in this society.

These days though, oh my!  The math starts early and hits harder.  More and earlier are the battle cries of school administrators and government representatives.  When I look at it from the outside it seems to me that they can't figure out how to help children understand math so they have moved to dumping it on the students early and often with the hopes that something will stick.  Americans have pinned their hopes on the math skills of children under the age of 7.

What I encounter are children who are absolutely math phobic, and I don't only mean children who attend brick and mortar schools.  There are plenty of math phobic homeschoolers as well; they take the standardized test if they are charter school students, get a result that the teachers don't like, the teachers use scare tactics with the parents (improve these scores or sign your child up for special education), and the parents freak out and put more pressure on the kids.

What I see happening is too much math taught way too early and an entire generation growing up afraid of math because the educational system refuses to wait until their brains are developmentally ready to learn more than basic counting and shape identification.

Growing up it was okay not to like math, but you did it anyway and no one really worried and we didn't have to be afraid that our test scores wouldn't be good enough.  Tutoring centers for elementary school children didn't exist in my world.  We didn't have math homework until junior high school, and then it was something that took less than 30 minutes to complete (or was completed in class).

I didn't prep for the SAT, meaning I didn't pay someone to teach me how to take it.  I took it once my junior year, was pleased as punch with my scores; they were well above average for both males and females but they didn't earn me a mention in the newspaper.  My math score beat out Papa's even though he'd had more math than me.  I didn't try to improve my score by taking the test again my senior year; it didn't matter to me that I had friends who had scored better and my score were good enough to get me into the college I wanted to attend.

I had to deal with some math fear from my own children, a fear that I didn't instill in them.  No, children's books and movies, even the gentle ones, are full of math phobia.  They also have math phobic friends.  One day, in grade 4 I believe, I heard the dreaded words I HATE MATH.  Oh-my-flipping-no-you-don't was what ran through my brain, but I stayed calm and talked to the child in question and realized that he had no idea what he was talking about.  He loves math, he is even math-gifted; what he hates are math practice worksheets.  It makes sense with this child; in general he hates work of almost any kind.  And when math comes easily math worksheets can seem pointless.  But he makes errors on them, so sometimes we still do them.  That is a self-discipline issue and a topic for another blog post, but also something that I am going to research so I can bring practice work to the boys in a way that doesn't created hatred.

I don't worry about where my boys are with their math skills.  Sometimes J-Baby will say that he is behind where he should be in math and I don't even know where he gets that from.  Has he been introduced to every math topic that a 5th grader in public school has been introduced to?  I'm sure he hasn't.  Have they done complex algebra and worked intuitively with other number bases?  Maybe.  Does the math that those children have been introduced to having meaning?  I doubt it.  Do a lot of those children hate math?  I can guarantee it.

We don't like things we are afraid of, plain and simple.  So like I started with, I wish I could gift parents and children with the absence of fear.  I wish them the knowledge that it all works out in the end and that they really don't need to worry and fret and try to overcome the fear by heaping on more of whatever they are afraid of.  Because it is a strategy that doesn't work.  Plain and simple.


Finding Our True Rhythm


I've been thinking a lot about what we mean when we talk about rhythm.  Grace wrote a great blog piece about it here and I am completely in agreement with her.  I think of rhythm as being the living, breathing part of our days, weeks, months, and years.

Rhythm is the big pieces ~ waking, eating, bathing, activity, rest.  It is also the turning of the seasons and the special days that punctuate the year.  We don't choose the beating of our hearts, and while we can impose structure to our breathing with conscious effort, as we get caught up again in daily life it will quickly fall back into its own rhythm.  We don't choose the weather each day or when spring arrives.  We are not in charge of when the leaves turn color or the first snow falls.  We can ignore hunger or fatigue but they always arrive and need to be sated.

But rhythm is not the same thing as routine or schedule.  Gathering for the evening meal is rhythm; serving chicken soup each Tuesday is routine.  Waking each day is rhythm, setting the alarm clock is imposing schedule on the rhythm.  It isn't bad to impose schedule or routine; indeed, many of us need it.  For me, routine creates the space and calm I need to function as a human being.

When we first started homeschooling I thought we needed a very strict routine and I attempted to create that and impose it on our rather relaxed, yet solid rhythm.  They didn't mesh well at all.

This is what happened.  For grade one I started with the idea that our homeschool day needed to look just like Donna Simmons describes in her books.  I was absolutely convinced that we had to do our work in the morning because the syllabus said that was when we were freshest for learning.  I imposed a schedule on our morning: wake, eat, dress, walk, circle, lessons.  I tried this consistently, was met with resistance, and had kids that fell apart in the afternoon.

Why wasn't it working?  Other experts and books all said the same thing: we should do lessons (or head work) in the mornings.  But Enki also suggested that we begin by staying home and observing our natural rhythm.  So we did; I observed and saw what was happening.  After the long separation of sleep my boys wanted to play with each other.  They might stop to eat breakfast, but play was necessary for them.  After an hour or two things would start to get contentious and that was a good time for me to bring in structured activity (a walk, a short lesson, reading out loud, crafts, etc.).  Then we'd have lunch and quiet time (quiet time evolved so nicely from napping that I think of it as part of our overall rhythm) and settle into lesson work.  It worked beautifully.

Can you believe I jettisoned the easy rhythm and routine again later, starting once again in the morning thinking that the experienced educators must be right and that I must be wrong?  And that I tried to tell myself that it was working?  My boys are older now, and I can make a morning crammed with lessons work, but it is usually at the expense of harmony.  It is far better to allow our days to flow around our natural rhythm and to give up the idea that anyone else knows what is best for our family.

I think finding our true rhythm is a big part of successful family living.  Knowing whether someone is an early riser or a night owl.  Knowing when hunger arrives, when the need for sleep arrives, when we require quiet or activity.  Sometimes I will talk to a mom who says "we have no rhythm at all" and I gently suggest that yes, they do.  They wake, they eat, they sleep.  Note when that happens (or needs to happen) and fill in from there.  What time does each family wake and how does each person meet the new day?  Are people hungry immediately upon waking or do they need to wait a little while?  When do the children play harmoniously and when do they need direction?  When are the parents at their most overwhelmed and when are they at their best ?  What home chores are done daily and are they happening in a way that makes sense for the family?

Observation is a gift.  When we pay attention we see the reasons behind behavior and are more likely to approach our children with compassion.  Just today after lunch T-Guy fell apart while washing the dishes.  He touched a hot pan (he wasn't burned, just surprised) and it was just enough to let the flood gates open "I don't know how to do this!" (He does, and it would have been more accurate for him to say that he didn't remember how.)  I had been observing all morning and had noted that he was tired and a bit lethargic.  Papa himself came down with a cold yesterday evening.  Putting it all together I guided him to his room to lie down, telling him that I would help him with the pan later when it cooled. I offered empathy and a solution (rest).  An hour later he was much better, happier, and more resilient. He got dressed and noted that he had probably been dressed too warmly for such a hot day.  We washed the pan together, the incident fully behind us.  He wasn't simmering and thinking that I had been unfair and I wasn't worrying that I had a recalcitrant child.

Close observation helps us discover our true rhythm.  It's there, pulsing underneath everything that we attempt to pile on top of it, waiting for us to acknowledge its course and work with it rather than against it.  Our homeschool year will start soon, and I will remember that my children need to connect in the morning before I require lesson work from them.  We will wake, and eat, do our morning chores, play, and then move into our lessons and practice, knowing that some of it will happen after our noon meal and quiet time, and not worrying that anyone thinks we are doing it wrong.