Things I Learned this Term, (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 5


“Education, like faith, is the evidence of things not seen. We must begin with the notion that the business of the body is to grow; and it grows upon food, which food is composed of living cells, each a perfect life in itself. In like manner, though all analogies are misleading and inadequate, the only fit sustenance for the mind is ideas…

You aren’t actually required to educate your children. You can only help them learn how to learn and to spread a veritable feast of ideas in front of them. That’s it. They have to apprehend knowledge for themselves.

You can help them develop the habits of learning and learn to use the tools of a student. You can tutor them when they are stuck. But you can’t make them learn one single thing. They have to do the learning for themselves.

Good habits are essential. You can develop those in yourself and help your kids to develop them in themselves. This extends to housework as well as to study.

We cannot do all the things by ourselves. It isn’t healthy for anyone in our household for us to try that.  But I inevitably get tired of reminding people to finish their jobs and wind up doing them. Then I overdo it and am sorry for days. That doesn’t work around here. The boys get frustrated if I can’t do all my usual things because I did theirs. Since I struggle with chronic pain, they are very aware that me doing all of the work is going to mean that they won’t get to go and do something that they want to go and do because I won’t have the energy to make it happen.

Spread the Feast: the real work of an educator

Education happens when we get our hands on real ideas, and those are found in books and in real things. It is important to meet authors by reading their words, even though some of them require practice to understand. We need to use different tools, create with different media, perform different experiments, inspect different discoveries, and explore new places. We learn the most from things we can touch and hold and from varying voices we can read and hear. Spreading a broad educational feast will give students a broad experience of the world.

We can learn from apps, screens, and devices, but those things don’t impact us as much as the things we can put our hands on, see up close, listen to, taste and smell. Screens are good for watching documentaries, enjoying stories through films, studying foreign language vocabulary and learning from native speakers, and even creating worlds in video games, but they can’t replace the learning that takes place when we really get our hands in the dirt and experience things for ourselves.

I have more joy in this journey when I am sure of what I am responsible for and what my kids are responsible for. Are there consequences if they don’t accept and act on their responsibility? Sure. Are they fun? No. But I know that I can’t make them learn something.  I can make life uncomfortable for them if they don’t try, but discipline is not going to force any knowledge into their brains any faster.


Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 4 – Be who you were made to be

Be who you are

We only get one body, and we have to take care of it. We have to eat right, move plenty, and rest well in order to be about to do the hard work of mothering. Unfortunately, the hard work of mothering can get in the way of a mother taking care of herself, or of a father taking care of himself. We need to do our best without obsessing. I do best when I eat at home, walk several miles a day, and sleep at night. But it is hard to do all of those things while I am also trying to be a teacher, mother, driving, cook, launderer, and write. I get frustrated because I can’t do all the things for all the people at the same time, and I have to prioritize. Only Jesus can be all things to all people. The rest of us can try our human best, but we can’t do all the things. We don’t always control our situations, but we can control ourselves and our thoughts. If we choose to look at the world through a lens of grace and a sense of wonder, we have the freedom to intentionally look for Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. We have to feed ourselves also, so choose the artists/composers/poets for your children that you want to study so that they also interest you. What did you learn today?

What about YOU

That said, we also have to be realistic with ourselves about what we can do in a day, in a week, in a month, in a term, in a year. I have long been in a situation in which my To Do lists are a mile long and rarely completed. This doesn’t allow for any rest or downtime. I am making progress on some of my necessary habits, but I haven’t gotten as much of Anna Karenina or Norms and Nobility read as I want to, and I’m regularly waking up in a panic because I know that my day holds too many necessary tasks. I have a couple more weeks of this level of crazy before things start to slow down. I’ve intentionally scheduled Jon and I a few days away over our spring break. They will be working days away, but we will eliminate household responsibilities and hands-on parenting in order to concentrate. I look forward to summer break.

  1. How do you best learn? How do you best teach? What do you love?

I love books. I like pens and paper and music and poetry and order and languages. Jon loves math and logic and science and chaos. So, at our house, we’ve worked to teach our kids to love those things also. While the more orderly of us constantly struggle against the chaos of the others and we work to instill reasonable habits of putting things away, we also demonstrate to our children that they should love music, books, languages, math, logic, and science. Your children will learn to appreciate what you appreciate, so if you want them to love music, you need to listen to music with them. If you want them to learn to love books, you need to read in front of your kids, read aloud to your kids, and show that you value books by owning some. Our business is to give children the great ideas of life, of religion, history, science; but it is the ideas we must give, clothed upon with facts as they occur, and must leave the child to deal with these as he chooses.”

It isn’t about you

You don’t have to already love everything that you want your kids to love. You do have the privilege of choosing what you think about and what you listen to and read and watch. You don’t have to know advanced algebra to teach arithmetic. You can learn as your students do, staying ahead of them enough to guide them. You don’t have to read Latin already to include Latin in your homeschool. You just have to be willing to learn algebra and Latin. It’s like everything else – you can put in the time to learn and teach the subject, you can pay someone else to teach the subject, or you can not teach the subject. If you don’t teach Latin, you’ll need another way to get a foreign language credit. Algebra must be taught in order for your student to progress in both logical thinking and mathematics. Learning it well will increase their ACT and SAT scores and earn them better scholarships. You can consider good math education as an investment that will pay off later.

Feeling inadequate? Great! Because His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

Give your Best Effort. Do it afraid.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 3 Purpose

As in any large project, stating your purpose for your homeschool is an essential part of the process.  What are you trying to do here? What do you expect to do? How do the struggles and dreams that you have had over the years make you a better teacher? How do you like to learn? How do you best teach? How do your children best learn? Where do they struggle? What do they dream about? Where are they in their studies? What do they need? What do they want?  What does your family need from this experience? Ask all these questions. Pray about them. Discuss them with your husband or a fellow home educator or both. Where is God leading you?

Write down your purpose. Refine it. See if it rings true. Keep it handy. Check in with it often.

Now.  You have to make up your own purpose for your own family, but this is the one that Jon and I decided would work well at our house after a lot of thought and prayer. Our official family purpose is: “To seek after God and develop wisdom and virtue as we grasp the fullness of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that God provides for us.”  It is important to us that our children are seeking after God and His purposes and not just seeking grades (good or not). We want them to develop godly wisdom and virtue and to find Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the process. We work to set their feet in a large room and to teach them to care as much as we lead them to learn to know.

Now that we know what we are trying to do, we can look for the best way to accomplish it. You might try more than one idea before you hit on the thing that will work in your house. You might have some failure in the process. And, as you and your kids change, you may have to shift your methods. Your school day will be vastly different when your kids are 9, 5, and 4 then it will when your kids are 15, 12, and 11 and when they are 19, 15, and 14. Your purpose should remain steady, though. You’ll know where you are going for sure, and the plan will have room to develop as you go.

That’s a really good thing, because I don’t control all of these boys’ choices, and I am losing more and more control every day. That isn’t a bad thing as much as a sign of growth. Gone are the baby days, when their boundary was the length of my reach or the baby gates on either side of the playroom. Actually, even the playroom is gone – turned into the household library because their toys now fit in their rooms and naps are a thing of the past. We can compel them to make right choices through explanation, reward, or discipline, but there are many things in their days now that we can’t make them do. I can’t make a boy copy something neatly. I can assure him that he can do it, I can encourage him along. But it has to be his decision to pick up the pen and make marks on his paper. I can’t make a boy write every step of his math problem down, but I can encourage him to develop the habit of doing so because it will make high math much simpler. Also, the more he writes, the faster he will get at writing and the easier it will be for him. There are other things I can’t will a boy to do if he doesn’t want to. I can make his life rather uncomfortable if he refuses, but I can’t make a boy weed a garden, practice an instrument, tie his shoes, or load the dishwasher. Yet, these tasks need doing, and most need doing daily. We accomplish many things through teamwork or duty to household or orchestra. But at some point, each of us has to choose to do what is right. That choice is no longer mine. It is his.

One particular area is made easier by knowing our purpose. Having a purpose helps us to limit activities for each student in order that we may have a plethora of good things without feeling overwhelmed. Even with this knowledge, I struggle to give everyone what they need without going overboard. This semester that we are just finishing was particularly hard because activities were spread out into slots that we needed to have free for schoolwork at home.  For years, I could control the whole schedule. Now, we have members of two different orchestras, violin lessons, basketball, and theater, as well as park trips, nature study, field trips, and time with grandparents.  All of these things are blessings, but I said No to spring soccer this year because we can’t do one more thing. Josiah and Gideon played soccer last spring. Rec league spring soccer is fickle in Oklahoma because it takes place during the rainy season. Our schedule is set enough that if a practice is rescheduled or postponed we probably won’t make it. Last year, we missed half the practices and several games. This year, I just said no. Not “No” to meeting friends at a park with a soccer ball… just “No” to the scheduling nightmare that last spring became. I know that doing a soccer league would be fun for the boys, but it would interfere with our purpose.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 2

Our job is not to raise perfect children. We are raising adults. The next generation is here now, and it is our job to show Jesus to them.  So we pray for these future adults, and we do our best to follow His lead.

For a long time, I tried to homeschool in a way that would please a well-meaning relative. She is a wonderful woman who cared for and taught many people. She also was one of our state’s unsung heroes: a public school teacher. From the moment we chose to not enroll our kids in public school, there was no way for me to please her. I finally quit trying.

Then I tried to do things just the way that Susan Wise Bauer suggested. That resulted in a To Do list that was too long, a kid who refused to do anything that involved a pencil in the hour his brothers were actually all napping, and a constant headache for me.  I started looking for a different plan.

Then I discovered Charlotte Mason, and I tried to do everything in my house just as she would have done it… you know, if she had had babies and toddlers and was pregnant and trying to keep everyone not-filthy and not-starving and the house clean enough to not cry if there was company ringing the doorbell. Then, my sister and I started a playgroup that grew in two years into a hundred family group of associated nature study groups and book clubs, and we were trying to please all of those people.  I was exhausted. My kids were happy and getting plenty of outdoor time. We were reading aloud great stuff. But I was spending more time solving other people’s problems than I was spending schooling my own kids.

Then a friend introduced us to Classical Conversations, and my family decided to try it out because our older son needed some help learning how to function in a group setting that wasn’t outdoors. At that point, I had read enough Charlotte Mason to know that there were things about the program that she wouldn’t like and that there were other things about it that seemed to mesh with some of her ideas.  We just finished our ninth year in CC, and it is a fit for us as long as we keep Charlotte’s principles in mind at home.

It took me a couple more years to finally wrap my head around the fact that neither Leigh Bortins or Charlotte Mason was going to come to my house and tell me that I was doing things the wrong way. There was, of course, a good chance of my well-meaning relatives telling me that I should leave this folly behind and put my boys on the big yellow bus, but that was pretty much guaranteed no matter what I did.

I finally realized that I only needed to figure out the things that God was calling our family to do, and then do those things to the best of my ability. I don’t need to please anyone else. No one knows my kids like I do. And it is my job to figure out what they need and how to give it to them.

And so I decided I’d better figure out what our purpose is so that I could order our day to reflect what we wanted for our kids.

Things I Learned this Term (or, Enjoying the Journey) pt. 1

I think most of my people who know me for real … my friends with skin on… would say that I am a fairly calm and balanced individual. I can make a task list and keep a calendar and knock out the work without being fractious and whiny. I can usually see a graceful way out of a situation for a friend who is asking advice. I can usually pull together a plan to get things done. I can usually see what to cut out. I can usually salvage my mood, feed the people, assign the chores, grade the math, edit the essay, translate the Latin exercises, learn the music and talk another mom out of her tree.

But this spring, not so much.

Along about the beginning of March, I drowned in my schedule. You see, this year, I signed up boys for group strings lessons thinking they were all on the same day in the same location back to back. But, that wasn’t how it worked out. We love music, but this schedule had us outside of our house before noon two days a week every week from mid-August to mid-May (except for Christmas). When you add in our community day, a class my husband was teaching that I needed to attend, classes I was teaching, drama practice and private music lessons and basketball… we had to be out of the house multiple times every single day of every single week. I held it together for a while. We all became decently skilled at doing math in the care, carrying around work and getting it done when we could, and in reading things on the go. But that isn’t the best way for us to work. We all like to stay home, though some of us need to stay home more than others.

It was insane. But we couldn’t stop things without letting other people down, and so we kept going.

I don’t know if I would make that choice again. Micah’s schoolwork suffered this last six weeks because he was doing twelve hours a week of music outside of his personal practice time (at least another seven hours a week, and more if he had a bunch of new stuff to learn). That didn’t leave him enough time for eight hours of class and twenty-four hours of schoolwork in a week. He isn’t finished with biology or Algebra 2, and he didn’t memorize his Latin vocabulary. He learned a lot about himself and how much he can handle. He stuck out his commitments, and he made a lot of musical progress. He did read a lot of British literature and Western cultural history and wrote about all of it and discussed it with his class.

Josiah and Gideon’s work suffered less because they had less to do. But I didn’t do a great job of keeping up with their writing assignments or grading their math. They did their work, but I didn’t get my job done because I was busy doing all the other jobs.

So, I really didn’t enjoy the journey at all this term, but I’ll have to tell you how I plan to enjoy the next one another day.


Getting Habits Started in Your Home

Are there things that you ought to do regularly, but that you don’t? Would you like to get them done? If you could them into your day as habits, they are easy to accomplish. St. Paul tells us that we are capable of taking our thoughts captive… of making them do what they ought. Charlotte Mason says that we train our thoughts to run like a train runs on rails – that we can make some activities so habitual that we don’t have to think about them. Here are some hints for how to manage this at your house.

  1. Start small: What is one thing you want to change?

You can’t change all of the things in one fell swoop and expect the changes to stick.  It’s kind of like dieting. If you restrict your calories and exercise, you will lost weight. But if you don’t change your diet permanently and pick up a habit of exercise you will probably gain all that weight back and more. If you start small and continue working on the project consistently for a long period of time, you are more likely to have long term success. The more often you complete such a project, the less you have to think about it the next time you need to complete the task.

If you need a suggestion for a house-keeping habit to start with, I’d suggest tidying your kitchen before you head to bed. If you never go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes, you’ll never wake up to a sink full of dirty dishes and have to wash them before you can make breakfast.

If you need a suggestion for where to start for a homeschool habit, I’d suggest reading scripture with your children at some point during your homeschool day.  If you already do that, try adding another read aloud too. Reading together is an excellent way to shakes both your time and your love of reading with your students.

  1. Attach them to habits you already have: What are you already doing?

You probably brush your teeth every morning. You also put on deodorant, fix your hair, and get dressed. Chances are that you do those things in pretty much the same order nearly every day. You might even do them at roughly the same time each day. That’s just how it goes when you need to leave the house quickly in the mornings – You make a routine and stick with it for the most part. If you are already reading a bit of Scripture to your students every day, put a volume of poetry by your Bible. Start reading one short poem aloud every day after the Scripture portion. Build the poetry habit on the back of the Bible habit. You can stack other things also …. You could stack wiping the sink down so that it is directly after you brush your teeth..

  1. Persevere

Did you miss a day? Don’t worry or punish yourself. Just do that task RIGHT NOW! and then consider whether you need to alter your pattern or just try again tomorrow. It takes about 21 days to form a habit.

4.  Add another habit
Some more suggestions for habits

The Habit of Attention: Charlotte starts her list of Habits by letting mothers everywhere know that their children must be able to attend before they can do anything else. She makes all sorts of suggestions for how to build a child’s attention muscles. She suggests ways to teach a child to be more observant and to take in the world around him. She, of course, didn’t have screens to contend with. Perhaps it was easier to get children to look at still tree trunks when Minecraft wasn’t a siren calling. Now that Minecraft and other games are constantly calling my children, we have to be very intentional about limiting their time with devices so that they don’t miss the ants that are trailing across the patio and the bees that buzz through the clover.

The Habit of Obedience: Charlotte also talks about teaching the habit of obedience. Whether or not your child should instantly obey you is debated in our society today. Generally, I am on the side of “yes, he should.” Today, we had a chemistry experiment go awry, and my student’s quick obedience saved us from noxious fumes. In these cases, obedience is important. (Charlotte discusses obedience in volume 1, Home Education pgs 160-164.). I mean, think about it… if your kid won’t obey you, homeschooling is exceedingly difficult. (I have one who prefers his will to mine, and it was quite a struggle until I employed outside resources to help him see that I really was directing him on a good path. He is enjoying his schoolwork much more now.)

The Habit of Best Effort:  I have one boy who loves basketball, and he has friends who love basketball. They all play for the same league, but they are on two different teams. This weekend, those two teams will face off. My son is concerned that if his team wins, his friends will be sad, but if his team doesn’t win, he’ll be teased by them. We’ve told him to just set that aside and go play basketball. All he needs to do is play his best game. Hopefully, his friends will also play their best game. What more could we ask? What should they ask of themselves? The only option is to play their best and see how things come out. Charlotte doesn’t actually put the rest of the habits that she suggest in any particular order. My favorite of them is the Habit of Best Effort, but she calls it the Habit of Perfect Execution. If you read what she says about it in Volume 1 pg59-60, you can see that she is very specific about the kind of perfection she is looking for. We’d call it Best Effort, and that is how I refer to it with my children and my Challenge students. Did you put forth your best effort? Did you do it a little bit better than you thought you could? Different students have different abilities, but each one has his or her Best, which can vary with circumstances or subject matter. My Best on the evening of Community Day isn’t the same as my Best after a day hiking or my Best after a day hanging out with my people and enjoying myself.


Seven Habits that Keep Our Homeschool Going

 The Habit of Daily Math: Math isn’t something that is learned in one big lump. It takes a little daily study over a long period of time with much explanation and play with the concepts. I’ve learned a few things about teaching math over these years of home educating. First of all, starting too soon just makes it take longer. Secondly, lessons longer than twenty minutes for younger kids or forty minutes for high school students are long enough as long as the student isn’t dawdling. If there is work left to do after that point, it works well to take a break from math and do another completely different subject before returning to finish up the assignment. Giving the brain a break has prevented many tears around here. I’m not looking for leaps and bounds, but just steady progress.

The Habit of Daily Writing: We all write something almost every day. For me, it is usually a list or a post, notes in my Bible or lines in my commonplace book. For them, right now, they are working in CursiveLogic’s The Art of Cursive book for about fifteen minutes a day and doing copywork, and they typically type something too – if not a typing lesson, then a story or part of an IEW paper or part of a program or an email to a friend or relative. Micah has been known to leave comments on YouTube videos, too. He spends more time writing than his brothers because he has more writing to do for school. He also writes stories in his free time.

The Habit of Daily Reading: Years ago, when I read Teaching the Trivium, my largest take away was to read to and with my children for two hours a day, every day. Between what the boys read to themselves and what I read aloud, we are still at about two hours a day of reading time, plus whatever they do on their own. We probably read a total of an hour together, and they each have at least one hour of school reading spread over the day. I have about thirty minutes of slow reading in the morning and about thirty more of fun reading at night, and other studying in-between. Watching these boys grow in their love of books is one of my favorite things about homeschooling.

 The Habit of Practice: Music isn’t made by magic. It takes dedication and discipline to develop the skill of making beautiful music. Micah is in his fifth year with his violin and first year with a viola, and he practices about an hour and a half a day between the two instruments, plus he tinkers around with this piano and the guitar in his free time. Josiah is a beginning cellist, and he needs to practice about twenty minutes every day. He is working to develop that habit. As for me, I continue as the temporary church pianist for our tiny church, and I do my best to sneak in ten minutes of technique work and ten minutes of song practice… more if there is time or if I get sucked in to helping a boy with his practice.

The Habit of Beauty and Goodness: It seems like the practice of seeking out the lovely in this weird would be easy. In reality, I skipped over poetry and picture study this morning for want of time. We had to get to orchestra practice, and so we hurried through memory work and let the beautiful plans go.  But, I missed it. Tomorrow, I will slip that in and see if we can get the composer listened to also.This habit gives me permission to just enjoy a piece of music, poetry, or art just for its own sake in the middle of a busy morning. My soul needs that breath. I’m not sure that my man-cubs need it like I do, but I know that they absorb more of it than it seems when they are jostling each other for a better look or talking when they are supposed to be listening.

The Habit of Planning Ahead for Beauty: If I didn’t plan ahead for the Beautiful and True, we’d never get to it. I can no longer expect that we will look at art until we can recognize a world like an old friend or listen to a composer until his melodies are familiar if I don’t have a plan to make it happen. We see beauty because I made a plan in the summer, I ordered the books we needed to achieve the plan, and I keep all of the supplies that we need for our artist, composer, poet, and Shakespeare right next to where we do our Council Meeting. The music is on my phone or computer. Painting are chosen and catalogued on the Resource page on the blog for the month. All of the things are at my fingertips. That is how we manage to get some beauty in most days (except for today, when we substituted a hunt for a missing left shoe for looking at Remington’s illustrations.)

The Habit of Planning Ahead for Other Schoolwork: I also plan ahead for copywork and reading assignments and read alouds. That way I can make sure that the books we need for those things are in house and available when we need them. I figure if it is worth assigning, it is probably worth buying. I tend to buy as many of the books for the Ambleside Online year the boys are working on as I can. Since most of them are older books, I often happen on to them at used books fairs or stores. And I decide how much I expect to be read in a week (usually according to Charlotte’s page counts per term, and sometimes adjusting up to allow my bookworms to devour a story I know they will love). I usually do this planning in the summer so that I can start school in August with a good idea of our trajectory for the year. I usually schedule a little more than we can do and wind up dropping a book or two along the way.

Seven Habits and Routines that Keep Our Household Running

There are a few habits that we have cultivated (or are actively cultivating) to help hold things together at our house. We do them with our Best Effort, but we rarely get them done perfectly. I am sure that you have different things working for you at your house, but these are seven things that keep things running in my house.

  1. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 1: Planning Ahead

Some things just make life easier and cheaper. I feed five people three meals and two snacks a day. So, it is a good thing that I like to cook. On Friday evening or Saturday morning, I check the fridge and pantry for things that need to be used and make a meal plan and grocery list. Then, we stop at Aldi to get most of the stuff. I’ll run to Costco on the way home from CC, and maybe hit Trader Joe’s between two activities later in the week. I may wind up making meals in a different order as the week unfolds, but if I follow my list, I can avoid end-of-the-day decision fatigue by following the plan.

2. The Habit of Eating Well, pt. 2: Dinner

We set a goal to eat dinner together at least five nights a week.  Sometimes it evolves into a long conversation, and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, dinner keeps my husband involved in what they are learning and gives us many opportunities for discipleship. We will shift the time if we have do. If dinner needs to be late, we have a larger snack in the afternoon. If dinner needs to be early, I’ll make sure no one snacks. Sometimes the evening activities can pre-empt our half-hour if we aren’t careful, so we purpose to guard this time. For our family, it has been very beneficial.

3. The Habit of Fun

Movie night is usually a hit over here. We will stay home and watch something on DVD, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. Occasionally, we actually go to the movies. We saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi a few weeks ago, and this week we really enjoyed The Greatest Showman. Movies add to our family culture like books do – when we watch them together, little quips and jokes are added to our common pool of shared expressions. Using those memories draws us closer together.

4. The Habit of Play

We also love to play board games together. Like family movie night, we enjoy doing this a couple of times a month. We don’t always achieve it, but when we do we have a blast. We played Tsuro with the cousins over the holiday. We also played countless rounds of Spicy Uno and Dominion.  If we have plenty of time, we like Catan or Ticket to Ride. Sometimes we need something is quick and easy and allows for people to move in and out of the game – Chess or Spoons or Nertz.

5.The Habit of Cleaning Up

Chores are a necessary beast for all of us. We have tried several systems, and it turns out that the best one for us is to change it up often. So, people have assigned days to be the dishwasher, the sweeper, or the launderer. Jon and I fill in as needed, and we continue to teach these boys to clean all the way. They need to know how to clean a kitchen and a bathroom. Those convenient horizontal services that collect items that we were too lazy to put away correctly the first time sure do fill up fast! Doing this one daily is absolutely necessary because I need the house to be somewhat presentable, and all we have to do to achieve that is tidy a little bit at a time.

6. The Habit of Identifying Problem Areas:

So, we manage these few things (chores, meals, fun and games), but we fail repeatedly at other household habits to the extent that it is embarrassing. We are terrible landscapers and yard-keepers. We aren’t great at completing repairs. We get things tidy, but the floor usually needs mopping, and the stovetop is always dirty. We just can’t do all the things.

7. The Habit of Continuing to Refine Habits

We are all working on getting out of bed when we ought in order to complete what needs completing in the time that we have to complete it. The boys are working on putting things up when they are done with them and not waiting until I command it. They also get to work on attending to the answers they get to their questions. I’m working on giving them space to take care of things themselves before I remind them and to remind them with kindness and humor. I’m also working on my own attitude when people aren’t doing what they ought.Being grumpy and whiny, isn’t the proper way to encourage them to do as they should. It’s a rather bad example of how to handle Other People’s Attitudes. I should react differently.

These seven simple things aren’t as simple as they seem, but they do keep things from getting out of control over here.

Seven Habits that Keep Me Sane

We are intentional around here about developing and functioning on habits and routines. There are some that are mostly mastered (like tooth-brushing), and some that require constant attention (like putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not on the counter). Some are educational: we do instrument practice, memory work, math and handwriting nearly every day. Some are part of our family culture: we have a morning meeting most mornings… on the weekend, it may include Dad also.  I’ll talk about household and educational habits and routines later. For today, here are the little things that keep me sane when I do them.

The Habit of Bible Reading and Prayer: I usually make coffee while it is still dark. It is cold when I carry my mug and my blankie to my desk. I know I only have a short time before I am interrupted. I try to resist the urge to check email before I have read something else. I read the day’s devotional and recommended Bible reading. I pray. I may read a few pages of one or more other things also. I check my lists for the day. I need to start the day by praying and reading just a little bit to sustain my thoughts though all of the adventure and monotony that is motherhood.

The Habit of Slow Reading: There is a time for swallowing a book whole, but some books demand more time. There are ideas and characters need to be met and moved on from, and then there are others who need to live with us for a while.  Last year, I read A Tale of Two Cities, and I thought about sacrifice and salvation. Two years ago, I spent a year thinking on redemption and grace with Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. Three years ago, it was The Count of Monte Cristo, and I considered damage done by revenge. This year, I’ve invited Anna Karenina to stay for a while. She has a lot to say about marriage and relationships. I’ve also invited Charlotte Mason (volume 6), David Hicks (Norms and Nobility), and Karen Glass (Mind to Mind and Consider This) to help me define classical education. I may also read 99 other books this year, but these are the ones who will have a place on the shelf next to my desk until I am finished with them. I will read them slowly.

The Habit of Timeline Keeping: One habit that I’ve worked on personally for several years is that habit of writing the people and events that I come across in my reading onto a timeline. It took me a couple of tries to get it arranged in a way that would work consistently for many entries. After I finally got it set up, I copied the CC Timeline events onto as anchors for other events. Then, I put the philosophes and events from the history book I was reading. I continued, so on and so forth, not adding things even every week, but building it over time. It has been an amazing way to see connections between ideas and events about which I am reading.

The Habit of Writing: For many years, I scribbled a little here and there. I blogged a lot as we were first grieving for Isaac because I knew that I wouldn’t remember that season at all if I didn’t document (like I don’t remember most of 2005, which is the year Danny died). I’ve poured out my thoughts by hand in journals and typed them at Its Not Nothing and in hidden files on my computer. I was a scribbler, a processor, a record-keeper, but not a writer. I found a high school journal and in it I had quoted my favorite English teacher, who used to tell us that “All you have to do is write to be a writer.” I dedicated a few minutes a day to writing – nothing big or important – mostly just dumping my brain at and leaving room for developing ideas. This has become a blessed end to my day, even though it takes a little time.

The Habit of Exercise:  It is easier to learn a new habit in company than alone. We are working on an exercise habit, and it is proving difficult. I like to walk in the neighborhood with my husband. I have to stick to the low impact exercises that don’t damage my already sore joints. That kind of stinks because I’d burn more calories if I was running or CrossFitting.  However, walking is better than nothing. We’d all rather be walking and running outside… but not when it is just too cold. One of us usually wants to go to the Y in a day, and the rest of us tie on our tennis shoes and get in the van. The decision to go is easier because of the one person’s desire to work out. Perhaps, one day, we will each feel the need to move consistently individually and have the gumption to make it happen.

The Habit of the Little Bit: Here’s the secret to why my reading moments work: I don’t try to read a lot at once. I read just a little bit, and then take time to turn the characters and ideas over in my head while I do more mundane tasks, like the dishes. The work of continuing education for a mother isn’t done in free luxurious hours. It is done in the tiny moments, in little snatches, in short spurts. I can’t wait to do it perfectly, I can just do what is in front of me.  I manage writing little bits and pieces in my little corner of Instagram, and that is my best little bit at this time. But I least I got to the Little Bit.

The Habit of Doing It Now: My mother trained me to “Do it now” – to not “put it done unless you are putting it away.” Unfortunately “away” can get out of hand when the drawer in question won’t open or close because too many wrong things have been stuck there. This afternoon, I had to hunt for a CR2032 battery. Once I removed something, I couldn’t put it back in until I sorted the whole mess. Wiggling everything back in, shutting the drawer, and pretending the mess disappeared was not an option. It was either sort the stuff or leave the mess on the kitchen counter. When I finished, a third of the contents of these two drawers was in the trash, and everything else was neat and tidy.  I was grateful for my mother’s wisdom yet again.

Educating Our Oaks in Advent 2017

Because I am so tired, a goal for Advent was to do less. We work hard for the fifteen weeks that make up a CC semester, and then we need a break. So, for the last couple of weeks, I have required each boy to do these things:

  1. Chores
  2. Participate in the Council of Oaks
  3. A math lesson (until they reached their goal for this term… which was roughly half the book)
  4. Read for an hour (can be broken into segments)
  5. Practice your instrument.
  6. Go outside and move as the weather permits.

That was pretty much what I did also. A little math, a little reading, a little exercise, a little fellowship.

For our Council meetings, we read bits from Cindy Rollin’s Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah   and we listened to Handel’s Messiah(Each word is linked to a different version, but both albums are available through Prime Streaming.)  Cindy leads us through the entire Messiah, not just the first part, so that we don’t miss the purpose for the birth of Christ: that we all can, through His sacrifice, be forgiven for our sins. There are poems and scriptures to read and ponder in the book, including Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, which is what we agreed to memorize here and worked on.

I am pondering a focus word for next year. I think we can agree that I wasn’t great at creating Margin in my world this year. It is simply very difficult to get everyone where they need to be around here. I did get better at working in the small moments of time. I am looking at some new habits to work on next year in the areas of exercise, health, and downtime. Those ideas aren’t fully formed yet.