Rule #7: Restore (or Rule #1, again)


We all need ample time to rest and to restore ourselves. As I write this, we are driving home from a trip to the mountains for a cousin’s wedding. We had a wonderful week with my brother and his family and my mother. We took notice of different activities that we did that were all restful, even if they were rather active.

We played board games and read stories together. We watched a few cartoons and read a few comic books. We cooked tasty treats and easy meals; we walked by the lake; we fished; we just sat on the porch and visited. We toasted marshmallows and smashed them with chocolate and graham crackers, and the boys had too much sugar. We tucked all the boys into their beds and sat around the fire pit with adult beverages or soda and told stories and laughed. We sang. We slept earlier than usual (though we rose with the sun every day.) We rented a pontoon and spent an afternoon on the lake. My mom enjoyed having all her chicks under the same roof, and we marveled at her joy knowing that we will understand it some day.

It was a brilliant week in which we soaked up each other and the beauty of the San Juan Range and the Vallecito Reservoir. We celebrated the wedding, and we celebrated each other. My brother and his family live in on the front range in Colorado, and we are in the green of northeastern Oklahoma, so we see each other every few months, but not as often as we’d like. It was wonderful.

Now, we are an hour from home, and my brother’s family has arrived at theirs. Tonight, we tidy up from the trip, and tomorrow we all return to our normal jobs (park ranger, art therapist, programmer, tutor/maybe-writer/mom, and volunteer/grandmother) and our kids return to their regular school routines. We’ll remember the fun we had, and we’ll loosely plan the next time we will meet. Another moment of respite will be required if we are all going to continue offering our best to our occupations and to each other.

This was a big (and rather tiring) rest. But we each build into our days the moments we need to not feel overwhelmed by the world.  I drink my coffee in quiet and read and write. My husband practices tae kwon do and puts his headphones in and pretends the rest of the world doesn’t exists while he writes and researches and programs. Our kids rest outside or in books or games. My brother hikes or fishes (often with his son in tow), and my sister-in-love runs or does yoga or creates.  My mom reads and creates. We all enjoy seeing new places, especially when we can do that together.

All rests, big and small, need to be measured and consistent if we are going to benefit from them. Sometimes rest is reduced to making good choices: good food, some exercise, some inspiring words read or heard, and a good night’s sleep. Other times, we take a chunk of time off and just do something out of the ordinary. We have to make sure we take time to rest if we are going to continue pouring ourselves out at the foot of the cross for other people. If we don’t take the time to soak in Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, we will find ourselves empty and have nothing to give.


Rule #6: Record



We record what we are studying. We keep it very simple; only a pen and a composition notebook or timeline is required. Every day, we each want to make sure that we write something down. That’s because we are more likely to remember the things that we write down… from poetry or scripture copied to the grocery list.

It’s just the way the brain works. If I just hear something, I’ll likely forget. If I read it, I may remember it, though I might shift it around. But if I write it down, it’s there in my head for a good long time.  My husband remembers everything that he tells back, and when he takes time to write down his thoughts on a topic, those ideas are in his head forever.

My kids’ minds work similarly. I have one kid who remembers everything he hears (unless it is an instruction from me… those he forgets), and two more who remember everything they read. We’ve worked to develop the opposite abilities in each of them. We’ve also worked are to conquer what seems to be a hereditary pencil allergy, one short line of handwriting at a time. (We’re still working on it, as most males in our house seem to be allergic to pencils.)

For instance, Micah, who is nearly fourteen, copied down Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “My Shadow” when he was six. He can still recite most of it now. It took him weeks of one-line-a-day work to accomplish the copying, but those lines are stuck in his memory. He gained a few new vocabulary works, and some knowledge of rhyme as well as the idea of a shadow and some observations of how shadows work. It wasn’t a unit study. It was just copywork spread out over time. Copying down someone else’s beautiful words counts when the goal is to record something every day.

Also, composing an essay, typing a story, or creating a poem or writing a letter all count towards our household goal of recording our thoughts or experiences every day. Journaling, blogging, and planner-keeping all record what we have done in a season of family life.

A habit that we are beginning this summer is that of timeline-keeping. I have kept a timeline of my own for a couple of years, and now that the discipline of starting it is over, I really enjoy seeing where in time people existed and events happened. Timeline-keeping is a personal bird’s eye view of history. A timeline brings order to the stories that we read and the people that we meet in books.

Occasionally, recording comes in the form of snapping photos or creating art, but usually, we just write something down as neatly as we can.

Rule #5: Read


As a girl, I received discipline often for reading under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be sleeping. I now understand my parents’ frustration with the fact that I wasn’t sleeping when I should have been. Even then I recognized reading under the covers after lights out was dreadfully naughty, but I just had to see what happened next in the tale spun on the pages before me.

In our house, books are normal, and reading is a habit. We joke that our home is well-insulated against Oklahoma’s scorching summer heat and frigid winter blasts by our library. My husband and I are both avid readers, and we aren’t very good at sending our paper friends and teachers away from our shelves when we are done with them. Our children have the same compulsion. The books they love are well-loved, and they don’t want to send them off. So, the books stay in the our household library, guarded by the dread dragon Draco (a beardie), when they aren’t being read in our house, unless they journey to be enjoyed by a friend.

I did teach each of these guys how to read, and they each became fluid readers around the time they turned eight. Reading is a skill that is usually taught, but the desire to read isn’t taught. It is caught. My bookworm husband and I read books to ourselves, to our boys, and sometimes to each other. We both tend to stash something to read near any spot we often occupy.

We want these boys to know that reading is a cozy activity that this family just does.  They need to me to read with and to them, and they need to see me reading for and to myself. Even more so, they need to see their father reading, and it is awesome if he is willing to read aloud. My husband is not a fan of fiction, but he enjoys reading aloud histories or biographies or well-written science titles. It is covert bedtime education for all of us.

Often, we find a boy curled up in an odd space (like in a closet, under a table, or upside down on the couch) with a book, completely engulfed in story. “Children should have the joy of living in far lands, in other persons, in other times – a delightful double existence; and this joy they will find, for the most part, in their story books” (Mason, Home Education, 153). I’ve lived in Narnia, visited Rivendell, walked the moors of England, inhabited a garrett in London, and shivered in a little house on the prairie. My boys have lived in most of those places also, and we have visited some of them together.

Once in a while, a book drags one of us in and doesn’t let go when it ought. The freedom to roam literary lands is a treat that grows strong readers. Most characters don’t compel their audience to read far into the night, so these infrequent journeys are allowed. Even if it causes an occasional grumpy morning, the delight of immersion in another world is not to be missed.

#4: Reason, part 2


My morning started with light saber repair.  Gideon couldn’t figure out why the button that makes it light up and make noise was stuck, so we took it apart while he told me all about the problem. He said that the button was stuck down and had been for some time, so therefore the batteries must now be dead. Reasonable reasoning for a boy who is nine.

When we solve a problem, we apply reason and logic to the information we have in order to exclude non-solutions until we can put a finger on the solution. We weed through facts and lies and arguments until we find Truth. That’s what we do when we repair a broken toy. It is also how we unravel logical fallacies in articles in the paper or on the internet.  That is how we decide which statements made by presidential candidates are true and which are not. We have to work through the words we hear and compare them to the plumb line of mechanics and physics or Scripture or the Constitution in order to decide what is Truth and what is not.

Sometimes we have to take apart a sentence to understand the truth in it. This is why we need an understanding of grammar. Charlotte didn’t address this subject until students were at least ten. That makes a lot of sense because most students are reading and writing fairly easily by the time they are ten. Why would you make a student deconstruct a sentence before he can read one or write one? Thinking through the job of each word in a  sentence and how the words work together makes us better writers, readers, and listeners.

Oh – and the light saber: The final diagnosis was a stewardship problem. It turns out that if you leave your light saber out in the rain, it probably won’t work well anymore. Once the wiring is nasty, there is no amount of new batteries that will be helpful. I bet Yoda didn’t need to teach Luke to keep his light saber with him so that it didn’t get soaked.

#4: Reason, part 1


Charlotte Mason lists Reason as one of her Twenty Principles: “We teach children, too, not to ‘lean (too confidently) to their own understanding’; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs” (Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education xxxi).

Reason is an all-encompassing topic. It addresses all manner of truths of our natural world, those things that can be learned by observation or deduction. It involves looking for patterns and considering the way ideas work together. We all reason all day long all the time. Sometimes we do science experiments without thinking about it. We pour a little red wine in the stew to add acidity and deepen the flavor of the onions and beef. Other times, we carefully plan out an experiment just to have it work too well, and leave us cleaning something off of the popcorn ceiling over the kitchen table. (Ahem.)

Mathematics clearly falls under this heading. As we grow familiar with numbers and learn to manipulate them, we combine them in different ways. We use some math curricula for this, but if I were a more creative mother, we could conquer this stage with games and toys and whiteboards. I am, however, declared “un-fun” by my children, so we follow our MathUSee consistently and wander through Life of Fred intermittently. Neither of which are un-fun, and both of which require outside of the box thinking on a regular basis. Have you met Sir Cumference? He isn’t un-fun either.

The study of Mathematics forces you to think about things entirely from their logical roots and relationships, providing substantial practice at the art of reason.  There are other subjects that also require a lot of reasoning, but we’ll get to those tomorrow.


Rule #3: Remember


In our home, we have two particular habits that help us remember what we have learned and where we have been. Those two habits are memory work and narration.

Every school morning after chores and breakfast, we cozy up on fluffy couches with books and memory work notebooks and my second cup of coffee. Everyone is in favor of me having a second cup of coffee, but I don’t make them all special hot drinks at this point in the day.

I set a timer for twenty-five minutes, and we work our way through the day’s sections in our memory work notebook. We aim to finish what is in each section before the time beeps. If we don’t goof off too much, we can just make it.  If I allow myself to be distracted, we don’t make it.

Our memory work notebook includes Bible verses. We hide chunks of scripture in our hearts. It also contains hymns from the hymnal our tiny church uses. We learn at least one poem from each poet we study (about four each year), and we learn the poems from IEW’s Linguistic Development through Poetry series. There are folk songs from my childhood that my kids otherwise wouldn’t know, like “Oh, Susanna!” that are culturally or historically relevant, and patriotic songs, such as “America the Beautiful.” Because we are a part of Classical Conversations, my younger boys’ Foundations memory work is in the binder also.

That sounds like a lot to memorize, doesn’t it? There are several things to keep in mind as you read this.  First of all, we didn’t just start out with this amount of memory work overnight. We’ve been adding to this particular binder for two years, and before that, I was keeping track of what we memorized more haphazardly. Secondly, each month, there are only three or four new things to learn.  Everything else is review. Finally, when the timer beeps, we quit. Occasionally, we are really close to being done with the day’s review when we are interrupted, and in that case, we might go ahead and finish. But, the rule is to stop and close the notebook when the time is up.

Narration is much simpler. It is really just developing a habit of telling a story of something that you read or experienced. We tell a lot of stories around here.

Some stories we find in books.  When we read aloud, someone always has to tell back the story we read. Since we tend to read from several books in the same thirty or forty minutes, I pick up a book and ask, “Now where were we in this story?” and a boy sets the scene while I find the page, and we all settle in to hear what happens next.

Some stories are tales of our own adventures. These usually start with “Remember when…?”. Occasionally, we flip though a family photo album and talk about the boys when they were younger. We’ll remember together the day a brother fell in the pond at the pack and the day another brother sunk a winning basket in a great game. We’ll remember when Daddy got his seminary degree and when the baby was here for only a few months. We tell our own stories, and some of those are tied to the calendar. We talk about births on birthdays and deaths on Glory Days and our wedding on our anniversary.

Some are family stories. We tell cautionary tales about the time Grandma almost lost her hand to a gar while fishing in an Oklahoma lake. We tell stories of familial entrepreneurial success and failure, of remodeling success and of appliances breaking, of beautiful old cars and of automobile accidents that may have been preventable. Where there are people, there are stories, and those stories beg to be told and retold. Beautiful words in hymns and poetry beg to be remembered and imitated, sometimes unknowingly. If all things are to be compared with the plumb line that is Christ, then we must tuck the truth of scripture away in our minds so that we can find it easily when we need it. We are formed by our memories, and so we must choose to remember.

Rule #2: Relate

IMG_1406For some reason, I find this second Rule very hard to describe.  Let me give you some examples of things we make sure we do that strengthen our family.  Some of them are stupid simple – which may be why writing this feels silly to me.

We eat together, particularly in the evening. Sometimes, the boys have a snack in the middle of the afternoon because having dinner together will mean that dinner isn’t until 8pm. (Of course, the boys think that we should have popcorn nearly every afternoon anyway. It’s the afternoon read aloud treat if we are at home together.) We do a large portion of our schoolwork together on the couches in the living room, and the younger boy who needs lots of snuggles sits very, very close to me and shares my book. The other guys sprawl out on couches or rug. And we discuss what we are reading together and on our own.

We have a common language. We discuss Ralph Moody and work ethic and economics and Frindle. We find ourselves singing history sentences or quoting poems we’ve memorized. We relate repeatedly through recitation and reading and discussion. This is simply our family culture.

We work together. There are five people and three businesses and two organizations in our house, which is no more than medium-sized. We have to keep our things put away, or there won’t be room for the next project. It only all fits because much of our work is done online. We do laundry and cook and clean together. And we try to find the fine line between personal responsibility and demonstrating love for another through service. These are habits we work on. I am still chief cook and housekeeper, but these boys are getting to be quite efficient.

We also relate in (debatably) less healthy way. Again, we have five people and three business and two other organizations running in our small to medium sized house. We get in each other’s space. Micah’s big Lego project may be accidentally damaged in a Nerf war, and Gideon’s art project might not fit well with my cooking chores. We have plenty of room for growth in the whole putting others first department. While we like our small house because it is easy to clean and in a cozy neighborhood, we have to manage the stuff in a way that is both functional and attractive. (And my version of attractive is not the same as the attractive designed by a boy.) We like each other – most of the time – but we are family, and we get on each others’ nerves also.

We go together out into the sunshine, to walk in a forest, to work in the garden, to run through the park. We often take a longer lunch to meet up with our buddies in the park to walk or fish or play. Sometimes we take a short lunch so we can meet up them a little later. Outdoors is good for us, and out is better together. We are very fortunate to have many home educating friends who live near our home or are frequently in our neighborhood. We are part of two different (and overlapping) home schooling communities, and we are part of a tiny church. We have a bunch of family around, including all of our kids’ grandparents. There is a lot of relating to do.

Rule #1: Rejoice


Rejoicing actually begins with me before my children are out of bed. Our day is better if I have some time with Jesus and some time to drink the first cup of coffee and work before the boys open their eyes.   It makes me a better mom.

By nature, I am an ugly, critical perfectionist. I try not to be, and I am far harder on myself than anyone else. Inside my head, I expect that I must do all the things, pick up all the slack, and be everyone that my people need all at once. Now, I know all of that is impossible and unrealistic. It looks more than a little crazy typed out here.  This is who I am without Christ – an ugly nut case, from whom you would never want to hear.

Jesus makes me better. Grace makes me better. Love makes me better. Rejoicing makes me better. Rejoicing is a conscious decision, made in my heart, to believe that I am who God says I am because of who He is and who He made me to be and to look for evidence of that in my day. Some days, that is easy. Other days, it is a lot of work. Every day, it is necessary.

I have kept a physical list of these blessings. Sometimes I photograph them so that I can return to them later, and sometimes I need to hold blessings in my hand. That is how I crawl from the black hole of deep grief. If I just hold on to proof that God cares about me, I survive. I don’t remember most of 2005, when Danny died five years after he made me a mother, or 2009, when our fifth son, Isaac, was born and died three months later, but I survived those seasons. For several years now, my days are colorful, and there is no whirling darkness threatening to engulf me. Occasionally, a smoke blows in, and I find myself anxious and exhausted and blind to blessings. It is the grace of God, and rest, and a re-evaluation of this particular habit of rejoicing that clears the air

Choosing to rejoice is still a critical part of my every hour (though sometimes I fail). Abiding in Christ and in His Word must happen each morning. The decision to worship needs making every day. These habits are as life-giving to my spirit as coffee is to my body. A good day doesn’t start without them. While my boys and I do worship and read God’s word together most days, this part of our Rule of Six starts with me in the quiet of early morning.

Why do I need a Rule of Six?

IMG_1052I need a Rule of Six to make sure that I can get it all done. I need my list of subjects to cover and experiences to have to be short and memorable. I need time left over after school to take care of other things. That allows me to walk, to read, to study for the classes that I tutor, and to write.

I need my short of list of six things to tell me what is important. I need to know how to order my day. And at the end of the day, when I am completely exhausted, I want to be able to look back and see that I did what I believe is important for my family and for my home.

I like that if I have done with my children the six things on this list I can mentally check the “I home educated today” box that is in my head and move on to less intentional educational work.

This is a “rule” but it isn’t a straitjacket. Sometimes, it is set aside because it is 78 degrees outside in January, and we have to meet some friends at the park. Sometimes, I miss something key in the beginning and never find my way fully back to what the plan for the day was.

For instance: today, I was unsuccessful in rejoicing. I got up this morning early and tinkered around with the website. I was about to start writing when I made a discovery that brought a lot of disappointment in one of my sons and started the day on the wrong foot. Then, I read online of an event experienced by an acquaintance of mine that stirred the Grief Monster, which still rears its ugly head every once in a while. As the day went on, I sank. Instead of looking for things to be thankful for, or worshipping, or praying, I cried and grumped and scolded. That kind of day doesn’t happen often anymore, but today it did. It never ceases to amaze me that the simple act of rejoicing keeps both my heart and my head in a much better place than it otherwise would be.

We did accomplish the remembering, the reasoning, the reading, and the recording today, but my lack of rejoicing certainly interfered in how I related to everyone I saw. Because I have a Rule for what I want in a day, I can look back over this day, but my finger on the problem, and think “Tomorrow! Tomorrow I will take care to rejoice.” Because, like Anne Shirley says, “Tomorrow is a new day that doesn’t have any mistakes in it yet.”

What is a Rule of Six? How did I find it?

Rule of six instagram
A Rule of Six isn’t fancy. It is just six words or ideas that you want to meet regularly. It isn’t intended to make you tired or to be a judgment on whether you had a good day or not. A Rule of Six is meant to bring rest – to allow you to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing because you know what the Main Things are for your family. You won’t be as tempted to go chasing after every new curricula that pops up after you know what works in your house, and what is important to your family.

I am not completely sure of the origins of the Rule of Six, but I first read about it in 2007. That was a crazy year around here.  You see, we have five sons. Our oldest son, Danny, died when he was five years old in 2005 due to a nasty genetic disorder. That left my husband and I and Micah, preschooler. And then we had babies in 2006, 2007 and 2009. So, in 2007, I was struggling to recover from my own grief, help my husband and Micah recover from theirs, home educate that now-kindergarten-aged boy, and care for our almost Irish twins (our double blessing boys, Josiah and Gideon, who arrived 14 months apart). I was exhausted. I went searching for ways to simplify, and I found the idea of the Rule of Six appealing, but I was too overwhelmed at that moment to really think it through.

I was reading Ann Voskamp’s A HolyExperience daily because I had found that counting blessings was the only way to crawl out of the grief hole into which I had (quite understandably) been sucked. I was intrigued when Ann posted a list of Seven Daily Rungs that her homeschool hung on. That was back before she was famous, but after she started keeping her One Thousand Gifts list. You’ll find that post here:

Then I found the idea again on Elizabeth Foss’s blog as I continued my search for holistic education ideas. She wrote about a Rule of Six in 2006 and 2007 and likely some other times also. These were simply six things that she was striving to give her children daily. Those posts are here: and here:  (If you haven’t read Elizabeth Foss’s book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home, please do. Especially if you are in the season of many small children, she has some practical advise and curricula ideas for the first eight school years, as well as ways to avoid burnout.)

Elizabeth Foss led me back to Melissa Wiley, here: Melissa Wiley had her own (different) six things that she plans for her family.

All three ladies had different rules of six, but they had the same purpose – to bring peace and efficiency to their home educating homes that allowed them both structure and freedom as they created family life and wrote books and blogs and articles while they were at it.

Much more recently (after multiple rounds of simplifying and making our homeschool look like I want it to), Sarah Mackenzie, who hosts the Read Aloud Revival Podcast over at and who also wrote the little guide Teaching from Rest: A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace, did a Master’s Class to help her members sort out a way to decide what is the most important things for their own homes.  (If you join the Read Aloud Revival membership site, you can watch the recording of this class and several others)

After watching the catch-up video of the first in the two class series, I hurriedly scratched down six words that are things we have been trying for in our house. I finally grasped that I wasn’t supposed to take someone else’s idea of what would be good for this house of boys (now 8, 9, and 13) and their author-editor-publisher-parents. I needed to write what would work for us. And I needed to start with what is currently working and see where that leads. So, that is what I did.

I suggest you try it also. (I’ll explain more about why I chose the words I chose in the next few posts).