Rule #3: Remember

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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

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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?

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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: http://www.aholyexperience.com/2007/05/way-of-holistic-homeschool-seven-daily/.

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:  http://ebeth.typepad.com/reallearning/2006/10/rule_of_six.html and here: http://ebeth.typepad.com/reallearning/2007/05/revisiting_the_.html  (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: http://melissawiley.com/blog/2006/10/26/my-rule-of-six-and-whence-it-came/. 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 http://amongstlovelythings.com 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).

Everyday Goals for Oaks and Acorns

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At the Read Aloud Revival, I have been part of a Master Class called “Focus and Align”  in which we were encouraged to create a Rule of Six.  These are the things that bring us balance, that make our home work, that make us who we are as individuals and as a family. This Rule of Six is the road of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness that we travel on the journey to Wisdom and Virtue and Jesus.

Here is the list of things we want to happen in our home. every. single. day. (Note: I said that they are things we WANT to happen.  We try. And then we try again.)

  1. Rejoice:
    • Worship and pray.
    • Seek beauty and grace intentionally throughout the day
  2. Relate:
    • Converse; treating others as we want to be treated
    • Care for each other and for our home and our stuff
    • Play
  3. Remember:
    • Memorize poetry, scripture, and other things
    • Talk about stories we have lived and those we have read.
  4. Reason:
    • Math and Logic; Chess and Legos
    • Grammar
  5. Read:
    • to ourselves
    • together
  6. Record:
    • Write down something… anything … with care
    • Make art to look at, to eat, to use.